Middle school is a lot like elementary, except the building is bigger and there are more people. There’s something called Homeroom and mine includes “upper classmen” who eye me like I stink. Which I don’t, because I showered this morning, so I guess it has to do with me being new. But nothing makes me more painfully aware of my newbie status than when I rush into the restroom.
There’s a boy standing at the wall in front of a teardrop-shaped, low curved sink. His arms are in front of him … he’s holding …
I must make a sound, because his face turns to me. Gasping, I fall back against the wall.
I’m panting like a race horse and now I’m really going to pee if I don’t find a toilet soon. To make matters worse, there’s another boy trying to come in as I’m trying to get out. It’s Mike Newton and his stiffly gelled hair.
“Bella! Babe! This is the guy’s restroom,” he says like I haven’t already figured that out. “Or were you looking for me?”
He’s blocking my way. “Let me out, Mike.”
“This is too good,” he laughs and wraps a hand around my wrist. “I need to get a photo of this, hold on.”
“Not on your life,” I growl. “Let me go.”
But he’s raising his iPhone, his damn iPhone, and I’m still in the doorway and inside the boy’s restroom, unable to escape his grip.
“Newton, cut it out,” I hear a boy say behind me. Probably the one I caught doing the deed. I’m panicking at this point, imagining a school newspaper with photos of me trapped in a boy’s bathroom.
“Oh, Principal Greene, I was just leaving,” I say to open space behind Mike’s head.
Mike finally releases me and I race across the way to the girl’s bathroom. I don’t breathe a sigh of relief until my pants are around my ankles. Resting my elbows on my knees, I stare down at the tops of my blue tennis shoes. Darn, darn, darn it! I’m such an idiot. When I raise my head, I see my washed out reflection in the polished steel of the bathroom stall. I make a face, but can’t really see any detail, which is just as well. I’m sure I’m still red as a tomato.
It’s Rose’s voice. Outside the door.
“Uh, yeah?” I ask.
“Why is Mike outside saying that you tried to go to the bathroom in the boy’s restroom?”
My sigh of frustration is covered by the flush of the toilet. “Because he’s an a-hole,” I say and bang the stall door open. It crashes against another door and Rose jumps like she’s been singed. She’s dressed in short leg jean overalls and has braids today, with the perfect scowl to go with her outfit. I’m sure my scowl doesn’t go half so well with the sundress I’m wearing.
“You look like you need some Pepto,” she laughs.
“You didn’t know that was the boy’s restroom?”
“Obviously. Can we please forget it now?”
“Dunno if that’s possible.”
I stick my pinky out at her. “C’mon. Pinky swear to me that you will forget this happened.”
“No way.” She puts both of her hands behind her back. “Mike’s already telling everybody he sees.”
It’s the first time I’ve ever said the F-word out loud.
. . .
My favorite class is art. The room’s desks are grouped in fours, which are pushed together to form a big square. It’s weird, but it’s kind of cool. I’m sitting next to a girl pink crop top and blue jean mini skirt on. She arches her eyebrow at me. Across from me is Jasper, who crosses his eyes when he sees me looking, and a mammoth of a boy whose name I don’t know.
Our teacher, dressed in jeans, a white t-shirt underneath a blue button down shirt and dark eyeglasses, tells us that he is Mr. Meyer. He looks young. He looks fun. He . . . wants us to draw him our names.
“Get creative,” he says. “An A, for example, can be in the shape of a mountain, or maybe an A is a closed fist with the thumb out—sign language. Or maybe your A is tiger-striped, or filled with a fire’s flames, or looks like calligraphy.”
As he talks, he slowly walks around the room with a drawing in his hands. When he’s close enough for me to see what’s in his hands, I gasp. It’s his name: Mr. Meyer. But he’s drawn Disney cartoon characters into the shape of the letters. Mickey Mouse stands tall with his arms drawn up into wings as the shape of the M. Pluto the dog, in the shape of a curved dive, forms the r. It looks like he’s trying to dive over the next letter M, which are Dumbo’s ears. Nemo forms the e, and Olaf, looking as if he’s trying to catch Pluto, holds his sticks out just so for the letter Y.
I’m enthralled. I’ve never seen such a thing before. “It’s beautiful,” I breathe.
A couple of people laugh. Mr. Meyer grins down at me and just like that, I’m in love.
“I’m looking for whatever you can imagine for me on the page, whatever shape or story you can tell me, as long as it’s clear that it’s your name. Any questions?”
“Will we be graded on this?” the girl at my side asks. Her voice sounds weird. All high and breathless.
“Absolutely,” Mr. Meyer says. “Have fun. That’s the key. What are you interested in? What are your hobbies? Start there. I’ll be around to visit with each of you to see if you need any help.”
I’m frowning down at the blank paper on my desk when the girl leans over to me. She’s got pink eye shadow on all the way up to her eyebrows, and ugh—way too much perfume. “You’re Edward Cullen’s sister, aren’t you?”
I give her a cool look. “Who wants to know?” Then I ruin it by sneezing.
And then she raises her eyebrow at me again.
“Yeah, that’s Edward’s sister,” Jasper says. “I’m Jasper, his second best friend. We do pretty much everything together. Who are you, pretty girl?”
I don’t know why he thinks his charm will work on this girl. Sure, Jasper’s cute, but he’s still short and skinny and this girl doesn’t seem like the type who’d go for him. When she turns back to me without addressing him, I feel bad for my brother’s ‘second best friend.’
“I’m Tanya. Your brother is smoking hot. Does he have a girl friend?”
I gape at her.
“Does he date at all? Because I’d love to go out with him.”
“He’s only fifteen,” I say. He can’t even drive yet.
“Can I have your phone number? Oh, I know, maybe we can have a sleep over this weekend!”
From the corner of my eye, I see Jasper’s hand raise. He’s wearing the brown sock puppet he calls Sprock. “You don’t even know her name,” Sprock-as-Jasper says to Tanya. “Besides, Edward won’t be home this weekend. He’s going camping with Jasper and Emmett.”
Beside Jasper, Mammoth Boy does a double-take.
“What are you, 5?” Tanya snorts. “And besides, I know her name. It’s Isabella.”
“Bella,” I say.
“If you knew who she was, then why did you ask her?” Jasper’s out for blood. “Dummy.”
“Shut up, freak.”
She physically turns her whole body to me. “So. How about next weekend?”
“Uh,” I rack my brains to come up with an excuse. “I’m only allowed to have two people over at a time. And that’s Rose and Alice, my best friends.” I shrug.
Her pink-lidded glare is fierce.
And that’s how I make my first frenemy.
. . .
Emmett is being unbearably smug. “How are you liking middle school, young ‘uns?”
We’re at lunch, all six of us, the only period we have together since he, Alice and Edward are a grade above me, Rose and Jasper.
“Bella walked into the boy’s restroom outside of History class,” Rose announces. I give her a look before I cover my face in shame. She wasn’t supposed to say anything. I knew I should have made her pinky promise.
I peek at them all through the fingers over my eyes. “It wasn’t marked,” I say in my defense. “And I had to go really bad.”
With a grin, Alice leans across her tray of spaghetti and meatballs. “How far did you get before you realized it was a boy’s bathroom?”
“Too far,” I say. My face heats up as I remember the boy who was standing at the urinal.
“Who was it?” Edward wants to know. He’s not laughing like everyone else. In fact, he looks kind of mad.
At that, Emmett bursts out laughing.
“Why does that matter?” Jasper asks. He looks almost as uncomfortable as Edward does.
Then he raises his socked hand to give me Sprock’s input. “Talk about sixth grade initiation horror. I hope you’re not scarred for life.”
“I’ll survive,” I say.
“Put that thing away,” Rose hisses. “People are looking.”
“Let them,” Jasper as Sprock says. “I’m second-hand embarrassed for Bella.”
Rose scoffs. “Be embarrassed for yourself.”
Time to change the subject.
“Three girls have asked me if I was your sister,” I say to Edward. “I didn’t know you had a harem.”
A soft pink tinge colors his cheekbones. “Shut up, Bella.”
Emmett laughs. “This girl Tanya has tried to kiss him I don’t know how many times. Last year, she cornered him in Wood Shop and laid one on him beside the soldering machine. He hates her.”
Now I’m laughing with him as Edward throws his straw wrapper at Emmett’s head.
“She’s got cooties,” Edward says. It’s such an unexpected thing for him to say that I choke on a meatball.
But his face is even redder now. What does that mean? He’s avoiding everyone’s eyes by keeping his face down, concentrating on his food. And . . . I have the sudden epiphany that he doesn’t hate her at all. Ewwwww.
“She’s gross, Edward,” I tell the table. “And mean, too.”
“She wants to spend the night with Bella,” Jasper says. “But not this weekend, because you won’t be there.”
Edward blanches. “What?”
“You lucky dog. She’s mean, yeah, but man. I’d hit that.”
“Jasper Hale!” I gasp. I thought he hated her, too.
And then the boys are talking about girls they’d like to ‘hit’ and I want to gag. I feel sick. Obviously I don’t know them like I thought I did.
. . .
Edward catches me as I’m coming out of the bathroom in just a towel. It’s a big towel, but I’m still wet and I’m freezing cold, and he won’t budge.
“I get wet when drying,” he breaths. “I get dirty when wiping. What am I?”
“A pain in my butt!”
. . .
One night in mid-October, dinner is especially tense. Mom and Dad aren’t talking to each other, and I hate—absolutely despise—smoked sausage. It’s greasy and salty and I can chew it ‘til Kingdom Come. Plus, it’s burnt, so it also tastes like tar. Or what I imagine tar would taste like.
Something bumps my foot under the table. It’s Edward. His eyebrows are raised at me, but I don’t know what’s going on any more than he does, so I kick him back. Then he kicks me again. And I kick him again, only he’s moved out of the way and my foot swings into empty space and my stomach bumps the table.
“What’s going on?” Dad asks.
“Earthquake,” I say. He gives me a dark look. “Earthquake in my stomach. I don’t feel very good. Can I be excused?”
“Rinse off your plate and put your dishes in the dishwasher,” Mom says crisply. Her hair is unkempt and there are shadows under her eyes. She knows I’m lying, plus she knows I hate smoked sausage. And she’s in a bad mood.
Feeling like I’ve escaped prison, I dart into the kitchen with a sigh of relief.
“You chicken,” Edward says to me later. “You just left me there. Thanks.”
“Sorry. I really didn’t feel very good.”
He sighs and settles beside me on the couch. We’re in our favorite room in the house: the basement. My nose is cold, but nothing could send me back upstairs right now.
“There’s something going on,” Edward says and pulls at the blanket.
“Hey! I’m cold.”
“Come here.” He stretches out on the couch and pats the space in front of him. With a huff, I fall beside him and he covers us both up. “So like I was saying, there’s something going on with Mom and Dad. They didn’t say two words to each other. They didn’t even look at each other.”
I shrug. “It’s just a fight. They’ll get over it like they always do.”
He snakes an arm around me and I’m finally getting warm. “It’s getting worse, Bella. I can feel it. Can’t you? Or are you still pretending?”
I shake my head, suddenly unable to talk. There’s a lump in my throat.
“I’m afraid,” he whispers.
Me, too. I put my arm over his where it rests against my stomach. And I grip him hard.
“They’ve got to be okay,” I choke out.
They just have to be.
I remember how Jasper was when his parents got divorced. He was only seven, same as me. He used to be really quiet. For months, he hardly said a word. Then came Sprock, a hand puppet made out of one of his dad’s dress socks. To this day, Jasper is never without that sock. If our parents got divorced, would I need a sock puppet of my own to deal with it? Would Edward?
I smile at the thought of Edward with a sock on his hand, even though I’m nearly in tears.
“We’ve got to help them,” I say. “Maybe we can plan dinner tomorrow night, just for them, and you and I can eat down here.”
Edward is quiet.
“Or maybe we can insist that they go out to dinner, and we can eat here. I can cook, you know.”
Now he’s laughing.
“Shut up! It wasn’t my fault the sausage got burnt.”
His chuckles die down. “It’s a good idea, but I don’t . . . I don’t think it’s going to work.”
“Well why the heck not? They have to eat and if we’re not with them, they’ll have to talk to each other.”
Excited and filled with purpose, I sit up and turn to face him. “It’s worth a try, Edward. Right? Right?”
“Maybe,” he agrees, but it’s grudgingly. He knows something. Something I don’t.
“Maybe,” he repeats. “What would we make?”
“Spaghetti, I say. “I’m good at making spaghetti.”
“All you have to do is the boil the noodles,” he snorts.
“And toast the garlic bread, and chop the salad,” I tell Mr. Know It All.
His eyes are lighter somehow as he looks at me. I push at him and then spread my arms in a question.
“Alright. We’ll do it.”
“But not right now.”
And he pulls me back down and we watch American Horror Story until bedtime.
. . .
. . .