The emotion-charged first weeks of junior high, boys, bathing suits, body image, and her own insecurities...
Laura finds out that, Ricky, the boy who created her horrible nickname, "Lard Butt," has moved back into town—and immediately schemes to keep him quiet. After all, she can't let her new swim teammates, especially drool-worthy Noah, hear the horrible name! No way!
She's determined to put a million years between grade school and junior high—even in the face of a father who drives an éclair, a would-be-movie-star mother who suddenly moves back home, and a past that comes back to haunt her with the dreaded nickname.
Although Laura's embarrassed about how she looks in a swimsuit, she tries to stay true to her vow to take risks. She even lets Maria talk her into going to the school dance, where she braves negotiating a truce for a quarreling couple.
New friendships form, Laura's mother starts getting too domesticated for Laura's comfort, and hints of romance start to develop—or do they?
"Laura! Wait up!"
A buzz louder than a thousand bees trapped between a window and screen filled the school hallway. But I recognized Maria's voice and stopped so she could catch up with me. I totally needed her by my side.
"Sorry I'm late!" Maria exclaimed. Her dark brown hair was shiny and softly curled under, just hitting her shoulders. With her white top and colorful print skirt she looked fresh and, well, just about perfect. "I can't believe Mama gets so excited. She insisted on driving me all the way over to Gramma's so she could take my picture on my first day of high school."
At least her mother was around to get excited.
Maria's brown eyes sparkled. "This is it! The year we take risks—the year we pull out all the stops."
"This is the year we vowed to speak up in class and try to sit with a group in the lunchroom," I said, hoping to get her—and me—to relax. I loved Maria’s enthusiasm, but I needed to calm down. Since we both finally made a friend in sixth grade—each other—that inspired us to try to expand our world. We wanted to put a million years between grade school and junior high school. But looking around the long hallway, it seemed as if everyone else in school looked older, more together, and full of confidence. Maybe it felt that way to all the new kids, and maybe we’d all soon feel differently. I hoped so.
I spotted locker number 499 and stopped. Maria, as planned last spring, was right next to me at 500. I twiddled the dial on the padlock on my door. Okay, I begged the junior-high-school-hallway gods. I don't ask for much. Just let me be able to work the combination.
The junior high school was so much bigger than the grade school. There were way fewer windows and the school’s navy blue color made everything seem so dark. I knew it was just a school building, but somehow it seemed scary.
"Life as we know it is going to be different!" Maria pointed her index finger skyward. Her voice rang with exclamation points. She was brave when it was just the two of us. It was only in front of others that she was shy. At least shyness was something she might someday outgrow. I was never going to outgrow my big—
"Hey." A skinny boy with red hair and a slightly crooked-toothed grin tapped my shoulder. "Long time, no see."
Oh, no! It was Ricky Andrews. I hadn't seen him since he moved away at the end of third grade. In second grade he'd tagged me with my despised nickname and ruined my entire grade-school existence.
Once he'd labeled me "Lard Butt," no one remembered my real name, if they remembered me at all. I wasn't super smart or athletic. And, despite inheriting Mom's blondish golden brown hair and blue eyes, not what you'd call pretty. Not with Dad's pudgy face and "generous" (his words) hips and thighs. Even in second grade the name Lard Butt had fit. Disastrously.
Kids teased me every day. I learned to keep quiet, so I wouldn't be noticed. For the rest of grade school I sat in the back of the classroom. I chose a table in the far corner of the lunchroom. I hid behind trees on the playground. Hiding helped scale down the name-calling, little by little. By fifth grade my nickname had finally disappeared, but I had continued to play it safe.
And now Ricky Andrews had to show up again on the first day of junior high school, the first day that I'd vowed life was going to be different. The first day that I was going to take risks.
Ricky tapped my shoulder again. "How are ya, Lar—?”
I punched his arm. Hard. I could barely believe I did that! Ricky's books sailed to the floor.
The bell rang.
In the confusion I tugged on Maria's arm. "Let's go to homeroom." We fought our way through the blob-like mass oozing its way down the hall. "We can pick out seats together. In the front of the room. Starting today, life is going to be different!"
Yes, life would be different. If I could figure out a way to stifle Ricky Andrews—permanently.
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