“‘My name’s Lila! It’s really nice to meet you. Are you nervous? I’m not. If I was nervous, I would be talking fast. Oh no! I’m talking fast, aren’t I?’ She paused. ‘Hi! My name is Lila! It’s really nice to meet you. Are you–‘
‘I actually am sort of nervous. My name is Penny. I’m new here,’ I interrupted.”
Penny, September 9th
Beep! Beep! Beep! I rolled over and threw my pillow under my bed at the alarm clock. As usual, I missed. Groaning, I got up and crawled under my bed where I kept my alarm clock. I felt around in the dark trying to find it. I found more than few long-lost library books and then my shrieking alarm. I whacked it.
Then, I stood up and started for the door, bumping my head and getting a giant bruise in the process. My tangled, brown hair was covered with dust bunnies. I went down the stairs walking almost zombie-like. I sat at the still brand new table and started on the bowl of Cheerios.
“So!” my mom said while spreading jelly on her eggs (She’s a horrible multi tasker.) “Are you excited for your first day at Lincoln?”
I shrugged. In August, my family had moved to this small town in Pennsylvania. Today was the first day of my new middle school.
After breakfast, I grabbed my stuffed (and really heavy) backpack and ran out the door. The bus was just leaving. I ran after it, waving my arms up and down. The driver looked at his mirror and suddenly stopped the bus with a screech. The doors opened, and I stumbled inside.
As I walked towards the back of the bus, I noticed a pair of striking blue eyes staring at me. I put my head down and walked to the nearest empty seat. I sat down and opened my book.
“Hi!” said a perky voice.
I jumped. Next to me was a girl with short, red hair and green eyes.
She looks like a talking Christmas card! I thought.
“My name’s Lila! It’s really nice to meet you. Are you nervous? I’m not. If I was nervous, I would be talking fast. Oh no! I’m talking fast, aren’t I?” She paused. “Hi! My name is Lila! It’s really nice to meet you. Are you–”
“I actually am sort of nervous. My name is Penny. I’m new here,” I interrupted.
“Oh cool! What grade are you in?”
“I am too!”
Nice! I thought. Maybe this school won’t be so bad after all!
I had managed to find my way through the crowded hallways and found a seat next to my new friend Lila. We were in the same homeroom! (Room 305)
“Okay, class! My name is Ms. Hicks. Today we will be reviewing some four-digit long division.”
The class groaned.
“But first, we have a surprise for you!”
Everyone exchanged glances. What was the surprise?
“We are going to have ballroom dancing lessons!” Ms. Hicks said.
This was followed by more groans.
“Allow me to introduce you to Miss Willow, your ballroom dancing teacher.”
Miss Willow? I thought. Ballroom dancing? What century is this?
A woman wearing a bright yellow skirt that blended into the classroom walls and a cherry-colored shirt walked into the room.
“Okay, everyone,” Miss Willow said. “Let’s move these desks.”
Once the screeching had ended, Miss Willow began to speak.
“Today, we will learn the first few steps of the merengue,” Miss. Willow said. “But before that, I am wondering if anyone has any questions.”
“I do!” The same pair of blue eyes glanced at me. “Uhm, I was–I was wondering if we would have uh, uhm, partners.”
Some girls started to giggle. Miss Willow raised her hands for quiet.
She looked at a piece of paper in her hand.
“Yes, Timothy.” So that’s his name! I thought. “We will have partners but they will not be permanent. We will choose your real partners later. Any more questions? No? Okay. Let’s get started!”
After everyone stopped giggling and screaming whenever they were told to dance with someone, the class actually went pretty well! Miss Willow was a kind and silly teacher. (The best kind!) In the class, she made sort of half-jokes to help us learn.
Once, when she was teaching us the positions, she said, ”Never touch the lady’s hips. Her father will come and get you!”
Of course, that set the gigglers off again. A lot of partners made faces at each other. Lila stuck her tongue out at me. I waved.
My partner, Timothy didn’t do any of these things. He just smiled and chuckled instead. I tried to say something cool or interesting. In fact, I wished that I could have just said anything! Even just a “Hi!” would have been nice. But no. My throat was so dry that my “Hi!” turned into a coughing fit. Great first impression, Penny, great.
After the class, I went to English. There was no teacher in sight. On the whiteboard in big, bold letters were the words: “Read independently. I will back soon. – Mrs. Brown”
I happily plopped down in a chair. I looked around. Lila wasn’t in the class. Timothy was. I saw him and moved over a desk so he could sit next to me. He saw and sat down in it. He smiled at me. He had very white teeth. I giggled. He heard and smiled again. I blushed, then stuffed my nose into my book.
We sixth graders have the earliest lunch in the school. It’s third period. In fifth grade, I had a sixth period lunch. Weird, right? Today, we had an even earlier lunch because at third period, an electrician was coming to fix the lights in the cafeteria. Anyway, I had just ran from English class to here. (The situation with Timothy had gotten worse.)
“Hey Penny!” called Lila, “Over here!”
I plopped down in the seat that Lila had saved me.
“What happened to you? Your face is as red as my hair!”
Chocolate milk spurted out of my mouth.
“Oh, uhm. Nothing,” I laughed nervously.
“What do you mean nothing? You can tell me. Come on.”
Luckily, my sentence was interrupted by–well, guess who?
“Hi, Penny! I, uhm, I was wondering if you wanted to come to my party on Sunday,” Timothy said.
I felt my face go red.
“Uhm, okay, uh, sure!”
I took his invitation with shaking hands and stuffed it into my pocket. He smiled, then went back to his table of loud boys. I turned around to Lila making kissing noises.
“Hey!” I said.
“What?” Lila said, “You can’t deny it.”
Penny, September 15th
I looked at the blue dress, then the red one. Then the blue one, then the red one. I had just woken up and was trying on different outfits to wear to Timothy’s party. (It’s today!) I sighed then reread my invitation.
Come to My 12th Birthday Party!
Where: 233 Oak Street
When: 8:00 to 10:00
Activities: Dancing! Games! Fun Stuff!
Even though I was super excited to go to the party, I needed major help. Then, I remembered. Lila had given me her phone number! I picked up the phone and dialed the number. Ugh. Voicemail. I tried again. Nothing.
That was strange. I thought. Lila always answers my calls. Maybe she was abducted by aliens! Or was attacked by a creature with seven legs! Or–
Then, I remembered that she was on a plane to California to visit her Uncle Joe. Oops! It was going to be a long morning.
Once I had decided on a dress (the blue one) and brushed and curled my hair and ate breakfast and brushed my teeth about five times and ate about a thousand breath mints that smelled like cherry soda, I was ready to go. I bought a present for Timothy, then climbed into the car with my dad.
“So Penny!” my dad said. “Is this Timothy a friend of yours or maybe a boy–”
“Dad! Shut up! I–”
“Hi, Penny!” Timothy was outside the car window waving at me.
I ran out of the car and followed Timothy into his house.
Timothy’s house had velvet chairs and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. It did not seem like a place where loud music and flashing lights would be, but there they were. I joined in the the dancing. Timothy came over.
“Uh, hey Penny,” Timothy said.
“Hi,” I said.
“Uhm, what are you doing tomorrow?”
“Uh, no–nothing. Why?”
“Well, I was wondering if–”
Timothy was interrupted by a weird looking boy with long, red hair and dozens of freckles.
“Hey Timothy! Is that your girlfriend?” he said.
My face turned beet red.
“Shut up, Frank,” Timothy muttered.
“Is she? She better not be. She’s a total dork. And her friend Lila, don’t even get me started.”
“Frank!!!” Timothy screamed.
He turned around towards me, but I was already out the door.
I ran through the now pouring rain with rivers of tears streaming down my face and questions running through my brain.
What was Timothy trying to ask me? What if I really was as dorky as that boy said? Why had Timothy stood up for me like that?
I turned the corner and found what I had been looking for. A huge, brick building towered above me. The library. I climbed up the moss-covered stairs and slipped through the door. The inside was musty, and the chairs were breaking, but it was the safest place I could think of. Soaked and panting, I collapsed into a chair.
“Hello, Penelope!” a nearby librarian chirped.
“Hi, Beth,” I said quietly.
“What’s wrong, sweetheart?’
“It’s nothing,” I replied.
“Well, all right. If you need me, I’m always willing to listen.”
Beth smiled, then went back to stocking books.
Penny, September 16th
Ring! Ring! Ring! Ring! Ring! Ring!
“Fire drill!” yelled Ms. Hicks, “Everyone make your way to the door!”
A horde of kids began to push their way to the door. I tried to walk forward while being jolted around, but it was almost impossible. I sighed, then made my way back to my desk. After the rest of the class had filed out of the classroom, I peeked around the doorway. The coast was clear. I finally ran out of the classroom to reunite with my class.
I tumbled down the stairs, then across the hall to the main door. I yanked at the door but it didn’t budge. I pulled it again. Nothing happened. Starting to panic, I ran across the hall to the other door. It didn’t open. Desperate, I ran over to the windows and try to pull one open. It didn’t move. I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself down. Clearly there was no way out. I’d just have to wait until my class came back and explain then.
As I sat in front of the door waiting for the drill to end, something strange happened. I began to smell smoke.
Timothy, September 16th
I watched Ms. Hicks as our worried looking history teacher whispered something to her.
“Oh my god!” Ms. Hicks exclaimed. “Uhm, okay everyone, I uh, need to take care of something. I’ll be right back.”
I looked around for Penny. I wanted to talk to her about last night. She wasn’t there.
That’s strange. I thought. Where’s Penny?
I tried to remember when I last saw her. Well, I remembered seeing her in the corner of the room standing there when I left…OH! Why am I so stupid? While Penny patiently waited for all of us to get out of the building so she could leave, Mr. John (our principal) locked the door behind us. I sighed. Now she will never talk to me.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I saw a cloud of smoke rising from the school.
“Penny!” I screamed.
Everyone looked up, then began to scream and cry. It was chaos. Teachers started to herd kids away from the school. I ran to our science teacher, Mr. Ross.
“Penny’s in there!”
His eyes grew wide, then he raced towards the fire, pushing though students and teachers. He unlocked the door, then cautiously pulled open the door.
“Stand back,” he warned.
As the door creaked open, an ash-covered hand poked out. I grabbed it, then gave a mighty pull. Out came Penny, covered in dirt and ash, but fine. She looked at me gratefully, then began to cough up tons of ash. Stunned, I stumbled backwards. Soft but strong hands catched me, then turned me around.
“Let’s go,” Mom said.
Nodding, I let her lead me back to our car and put me in my seat. I stared out the window looking at the familiar buildings that we drove by, but only thinking of the beautiful, brown eyes, covered in dirt, but shining like diamonds.