Last week we announced that Laurel-Ann Dooley’s BEST FRIEND THIEF was our new Kids Corner Book of the Week and the sponsor of thousands of great bargains in the Kids Book category: over 250 free titles, over 500 quality 99-centers, and hundreds more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!
Now we’re back to offer a free Kids Corner excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded this one already, you’re in for a treat!
by Laurel-Ann Dooley
Nathalie can’t believe it. Her best friend Reagan is ditching her to be BFFs with the class popular girl. They’d been best friends forever, but when Queen Blair decides that she wants Reagan to be her BFF, Reagan is gone in a flash.
Catherine and Isabel can’t believe it either. They’re best friends just like Nathalie and Reagan, and the four of them always hung out together — but now what? Will Nathalie get Reagan back? Does she even want her back? Will the group ever be the same again?
Confusion and hurt feelings take over — and that’s just the start of it!
* 1 *
“STOP DRINKING IT ALL!”
I dropped the cup of lemonade I was filling and spun around, like I’d been caught stealing.
“I’m not! I’ve only had –”
“You’ve had like ten cups.” My best friend Reagan was scowling at me with her hands on her hips. “How are we supposed to sell anything if we don’t have anything to sell? She continued to glare and then burst out laughing. “Gotcha!! You really thought I was mad, didn’t you?” She smiled triumphantly.
“I did not!” I retorted — even though I really had. I hate to admit it, but Reagan can really fake me out. You’d think that by now, after being best friends for three whole years, I’d know a fake-out when I saw one. But no, I pretty much always fall right into the fake-out trap. If she wasn’t my best friend, it would be annoying, but since she is my best friend, I don’t mind. Well, maybe a little. But it’s just one of those best friend things I have to put up with.
This was our third lemonade stand of the summer. We kept trying new locations to see if we could sell more than a few cups, but it seems that people just don’t pull over to buy lemonade, no matter how much of a discount you put on your sign. Or maybe it was our jumping up and down and waving our arms like maniacs that scared customers off. “This lemonade rocks, people!” I’d yell at each approaching car. “Only fifty cents! Buy one, get two free!”
Reagan got really mad at the cars that didn’t stop, which was pretty much all of them. “HEY, WHAT”S THE MATTER WITH YOU? DO YOU HATE KIDS OR SOMETHING?” she’d yell. Come to think of it, maybe we should revise our customer relations strategy.
Reagan peered down the street and sighed. “Can you believe school starts in like two weeks?” she asked.
“Yeah, I know. I can’t believe we’re going back already.”
“I know, right.” She said it like “riiiiiiiight,” really dragging out the “i” sound. The “riiiiiiight” was another trademark Reagan thing, just like the fake-out.
“Do you think we’ll all be in the same class again?” I asked.
“All of us? You mean me, you, Catherine, and Isabel? I doubt it. We’ve been together for two years in a row — there’s no way it’ll happen again,” she said.
You’re probably wondering who the heck Catherine and Isabel are, so let me explain. They’re best friends just like Reagan and me, and together, we make one big best friend group.
Catherine and Isabel live next door to each other and have known each other their whole lives. The two of them make a funny pair — Catherine is tall, thin, and has a serious, quiet, way about her. She’s into math and science and is very logical. Isabel is basically the total opposite. She is super-energetic and gets excited over just about everything. Catherine wears jeans whenever possible; Isabel wears skirts and owns about a million sparkly headbands and jewel-y hair clips.
So, that’s our Best Friends Club: quiet Catherine, bubbly Isabel, flighty, scatter-brained Reagan, who is all into music and fashion, and me. I’m Nathalie. What can I say about me? Let’s see. I like to read, write, and draw. Clothes? Love ’em. People tell me I’m funny (and I do crack myself up sometimes). My mother says I have a unique take on things and a very active mind. No idea what that means.
Anyway, the four of us do tons of stuff together, like having sleepovers and going to movies and making friendship bracelets and creating secret codes. We always email and text each other’s cell phones (well, our moms’ cell phones — until we get our own for Christmas. That’s our plan anyway, even if our parents disagree). But the way it works with us being four friends is that whenever it’s one of those things where it can only be two people — like the buddy system or sitting together on the bus during field trips — then it’s always me and Reagan, Catherine and Isabel.
It was perfect. I didn’t want it to change. “But it’s possible we could be together,” I said.
“Yeah, anything’s possible. Just don’t get your hopes up,” Reagan replied.
We were both silent for a moment. Then I had a flashback. “Remember Kayla Kremmins?”
Reagan looked at me. “Yeah,” she said, somberly. Suddenly, the sunny, lemonade-y mood of the day was gone. We were both silent, lost in thought about poor Kayla Kremmins who’d been separated from all her friends last year in fourth grade. At first, Kayla had hung around with the Serena and Emma crowd, but they were more math and science clubby than she was. So then she kept to herself for awhile. Finally, she’d made friends with someone in chorus. What if that happened to us?
“Anyway!” Reagan said, tossing her black hair back over her shoulders. (She wasn’t one to stay sad for too long.) “We get to do the costume contest this year. What country should we be?”
She was talking about the International Day costume contest. Each grade does a different project for International Day, and this year it was our turn to do the costume contest. That meant every fifth grader had to find a partner, pick a country, and put together outfits that had something to do with the country — like kilts and bagpipes for Scotland, or flamenco dancers for Spain. Last year, the kids who got first prize were dressed as marble statues of ancient Greek gods — Zeus and that god of the sea one — who is that again? Oh yeah, Poseidon. Anyway, we could basically do anything we wanted so long as it was connected to our country in some way.
Then, on International Day, we would put on this big fashion show in front of the whole school in the auditorium, and all the other grades would vote for the best costumes. The winners would be announced the next day over the P.A. system. It’s like that reality show — Project Runway.
So the country we picked really mattered. It had to be a place with cool clothes, so we could have shot at winning. No, not a shot — we wanted to be the absolute, way-better-than-everyone-else, first-place winners!
“How about France?” I suggested. “We could wear those little hat thing-ys.”
“Berets? Yeah, but what else? Berets won’t be enough to get first prize,” Reagan said. She had a point. I thought some more.
Reagan jumped up. “I know! We could be Antarctica! No one’s ever done that. We could get fake fur and glue it on our coats — we could use hot pink fun fur!”
“Okay, first of all, I don’t think a native Antarctica costume would have hot pink fur. Do people even live there? And we’d never be allowed to glue pink fur on our coats anyway. Plus, I don’t think Antarctica is even a country. Isn’t it a whole continent?”
“Country, continent — same thing,” Reagan muttered. “You always worry too much about little details that don’t matter.” She turned away and looked down the street.
I felt bad. I probably shouldn’t have rattled off so many reasons why I thought hot pink Antarctica costumes were a bad idea. “Well, we could maybe be . . . Iceland . . . or Greenland . . . ”
“Just forget it.”
An SUV with a blue school bumper sticker drove by. “Hey, that was someone from our school and they didn’t stop!” Reagan cried. She ran into the street and yelled after the disappearing SUV. “We know who you are! We wrote down your license plate number!” (We hadn’t really but she was caught up in the moment.) She turned back towards me. “Can you believe that?”
I was as mad as she was. Everyone knows that parents are required to buy lemonade any time they see a kid selling some. It’s the law of lemonade stands.
“That was really lame,” I said.
“Yeah, totally.” Okay, we were good again. Back on track.
“Hey, I’ve got it!” Reagan jumped up again. I know who we can be! India! We can make awesome costumes if we’re India! We can use those scarves you have –”
“YES!” I said, holding my hand up to high five. “India is perfect! And the scarves will totally work. Plus we can put bindis on our foreheads.” (Bindis are the red dots some Indian women have on their foreheads — I’d learned the right word for them last International Day from Mrs. Parashar who was serving garlic nam bread at the lunch.)
Reagan beamed. “We are sooooo going to win!” she said happily.
I was even more excited than she was. I loved putting outfits together and was known for my fashion ideas at school. I had a reputation to maintain! Plus, I’d never won anything before. Everyone had won a ribbon for something, or at least it seemed that way. But not me. All I’d ever gotten were certificates for participation and those don’t count as anything. This was my big chance. If I didn’t win at something I was actually good at, then what chance did I have for ever winning at anything? This was it.
* 2 *
We couldn’t wait to get started on our costumes.
“So, do you want to keep doing this?” Reagan asked unenthusiastically, dragging her finger through a puddle of spilled lemonade on the plastic tablecloth.
“No, not really. We’re not selling anything anyway.”
Reagan grabbed the tower of paper cups and the empty money box. “C’mon, let’s go!” We both knew exactly where we were headed without saying another word. Straight to my room to get my silky scarf collection.
Reagan pawed through the plastic storage box I kept under my bed. She plucked scarf after scarf from the box and tossed them over her shoulder. A long, purple one, a silky square one with yellow butterflies . . . “So what else do you have?” she asked when she got to the bottom of the box.
“I have a ton of scarves!” I said defensively.
“Yeah, I know, the scarves are great, but we need more than that. We can’t just wear scarves.”
“Oh, yeah. Right.” (I said it the regular way — the plain old r-i-g-h-t right way.)
Reagan leapt to her feet and grabbed the purple scarf. Giggling, she wrapped it around her T-shirt and shorts and then draped a gold glitter-y one over her head. “I’m on the catwalk, oh yeah, the catwalk,” she sang, strutting across the floor doing a supermodel walk.
I reached into the pile of scarves and made my own wrap dress with a long turquoise one. “Waahh la waahh la,” I hummed, trying to make Indian music sounds, even though I had no idea what Indian music sounded like. Twirling and moving my arms in circles above my head, I was completely absorbed in my performance when I heard Reagan squeal with laughter.
“Oh my gosh! Your dress is falling off! You’re going to be totally naked in front of the whole school!”
I stopped twirling and saw that my turquoise wrap had unraveled and was around my knees. I looked at Reagan. “We need to go to the mall,” I said. “We seriously need to go to the mall.”
We’d been planning to go Northway Mall to get new outfits for the first day of school. Now it would be a dual-purpose trip — first day stuff plus India stuff.
“Let’s call Catherine and Izzy and see if they can come,” Reagan suggested.
“Catherine’s still at sports camp, and I don’t think Izzy’s back from visiting her grandmother yet,” I said.
“Oh, yeah. Riiiiiiight.”
“C’mon, let’s go ask my mom if she’ll take us.”
We clomped down the stairs to find my mom in her office and, by some miracle, she agreed to take us right then, which never happens.
On the way to the mall, we talked about getting matching shirts for the first day from Harmony, which is basically everyone’s favorite store, but Reagan wasn’t that into it. (She wasn’t into the matching shirts, that is — she was always into Harmony.) “Can you imagine what Rachel would say if she saw four of us wearing the same shirt?” Reagan said. “Actually, she wouldn’t say anything — she’d just get that stupid ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ expression on her face like she did when we got Converses that were the same color.” She sighed. “It’s not like I care what she thinks, but it kind of spoiled it anyway.”
Rachel is Reagan’s older sister. She was starting high school this year and she thought that made her totally superior. Actually, she’d always thought that, but now it was even worse.
When we started shopping, it turned out that our allowances weren’t enough for shirts anyway, so we switched to identical mood bracelets and got four. They’re just like mood rings, except that they’re bracelets (obviously). They had clear glass stones on them that changed color to show what mood you’re in. The stones didn’t really change much, though. Reagan’s stayed blue, which, according to the mood chart, meant she was “melancholy.”
“I don’t know what ‘melancholy’ means,” said Reagan, “but blue’s my favorite color, so who cares?”
Mine was this swirly, green-y, purple-y color that looked like algae. There wasn’t any mood on the chart for that. So basically, I had an ugly bracelet that had no mood. Oh well, at least we had our first day accessories all picked out, and there was nothing about them that stupid Rachel could make fun of.
“Okay, now let’s look for costume stuff,” I said, scanning the forty percent off shelf for potential Indian apparel. I held up a pack of bangles. “What about these?”
“Those are great!” Reagan said. “And look — check out these earrings!” She held a pair of dangles to her ear.
“I don’t have pierced ears, remember?” I responded glumly.
“Oh yeah, sorry.” She was always very sympathetic about my earring-less plight. “Well, we’ll think of other stuff . . .”
But there wasn’t much else at Harmony that would work for Indian costumes. So now we had bracelets and scarves that would fall off and leave us naked. Maybe we could staple them on or something. I wasn’t worried though. I knew we’d think of something. We had to. Because we were going to win.
* 3 *
The next day, the principal, Mr. Fulmer, sent an email saying that class lists were going to be posted on Monday, August 21, at 8 a.m. This meant that you could find out who your teacher was and who was going to be in your class at that time. Reagan and I begged our moms to get us there as soon as the lists went up. We were dying to see if we were going to be together again. I was secretly afraid that I would be all by myself in one class, and Reagan, Catherine, and Isabel would all be in the other one. I didn’t say anything about it though. Saying it out loud would make it even more of a real possibility.
There was already a crowd clustered around the lists on the wall of the gym when we got there, right at eight o’clock. What the heck, had these people camped out overnight or what? I was trying to push my way past Billy Higgins who was in sixth grade and as big as a high school kid when I heard Reagan’s voice from somewhere at the front of the pack.
“Oh my God! I can’t believe it!”
“Same class?” I yelled, from behind Billy Higgins.
“Yes!” she screamed back. “I am so psyched!” She squirmed back out of the kid pack and we hugged and started jumping up and down.
“Me, too!” I said, doing my trademark sideways peace signs. “This is so cool!”
“So you guys are together again?” Reagan’s mother came walking over. “That’s great! And Reagan, what did you just say?”
Reagan was silent, like she didn’t know what her mother was talking about. Then a look of comprehension flashed across her face. “Uh, I said — I mean I meant to say — ‘Oh my gosh.’”
“I thought so,” said her mom, giving her one of those mom looks. You know the one — the raised eyebrows direct stare look. (Do all moms get an illustrated how-to book on mom looks when they have a baby and leave the hospital? “Here’s your baby, here’s a blanket, and here’s the Look Book.” You’ve got to wonder.)
“So,” I said, cutting short another inappropriate-language-for-kids discussion and turning to Reagan. “All of us are together again. I really can’t believe it. The chances of that were, like, one in a zillion.”
Reagan froze. “Oh no, I’m actually not sure about Cath and Izzy — I forgot to keep looking! I saw your name under mine and stopped! Hold on —” She wormed her way back into the crowd.
“No,” she called when she got to the gym wall. “They’re in the other class.” She pushed back out. “We’re in Mrs. Rosen’s and they’re in Ms. Singer’s.”
I knew it had been too good to be true. Odds like one in a zillion are pretty hard to beat. “Well, at least we’re together and they’re together,” I said after a moment. “We can all sit together at lunch and do stuff after school. Plus recess.”
Reagan thought this over for about two seconds. (She’s not one to dwell on things.) “That’s true,” she said. She grabbed my arm and started walking towards the parking lot. “Come on, let’s get out of here before the meet-and-greet-your-teacher thing starts!”
The next few days flew by and before we knew it, it was the first day of school. Reagan got there first and saved me a seat. We switched lockers so they would be close together. Mine was on top and hers was right below it. We’d brought stuff in to make them really cool — I taped up a Dynamo Girls poster that was the perfect size to fit on the back of the door. Reagan stuck a light-up magnetic mirror on hers. When we had both doors open, it looked awesome. I think all the other girls were jealous of our lockers. They were by far the coolest. Oh yeah, this year was looking good.
And then came Blair.
* 4 *
Blair had never been in our class before but we knew who she was. Everyone knew who Blair Bennett was. She was one of those girls that other girls want to be like. And I don’t really know why because she’s not that great when you think about it. She doesn’t seem that super fun or that nice. She’s pretty, but not that pretty, so it’s not about that. But still, it was like she was special in some way.
Anyway, there we were, showing each other our pencil cases, when Blair came in and sat down in the empty seat on the other side of me. Reagan and I looked at each other. Her eyes were wide with surprise. I made mine wide back at her, saying in eye code: “Yeah, I know — Blair Bennett!!”
What was she doing sitting with us? But I sort of knew the answer.
Blair used to be best friends with this girl, Ana. There were some other girls who hung around with them, but they weren’t really friends. They were more like a fan club, and Blair was the star. Ana was her main friend, but even she didn’t really seem like a real friend — more like a personal assistant. But Ana had moved over the summer, and the rest of the fan club was in Ms. Singer’s class.
So Blair didn’t have anyone.
I turned towards Blair. She was smoothing the top of her ponytail. “Uh, hi,” I said, as Reagan leaned forward.
Blair made a final adjustment to her ponytail and then turned to me. “Hi,” she said calmly.
Reagan leaned forward. “Hi,” she said. We all stared at each other and no one said anything else. It was awkward.
“Hello, everyone,” Mrs. Rosen announced from the front of the class. Phew, awkward moment over. School had officially started.
When recess came, we headed to our favorite section of the field across from the tennis courts to wait for Catherine and Isabel, but it turned out that their class hadn’t finished its essay yet so they weren’t coming to recess. So it was just us. Reagan, me, and Blair. Blair had been behind me when we lined up to leave the classroom and sort of stuck with us when we got outside.
It felt weird. Take the awkward moment when Blair first sat next to us and multiply that by about a thousand. This was one uncomfortable recess.
I tried to break the ice. “So,” I said to Blair, “You’re in Mrs. Rosen’s class, too.” Ugh, that was really stupid. I shot a look over to Reagan to say “C’mon, help me out here! Say something!” But she didn’t say a word, which was a rare thing for Reagan. Usually, you couldn’t get her to stop talking. Getting her started was never the problem.
I forged on. “How was your summer?” I asked Blair.
“Fine,” she answered. Not exactly a jump-right-into-conversation response. But at least her voice sounded a little friendlier than it had with her initial ponytail-smoothing “hi.”
I continued tentatively. “Did you go anywhere?”
“We went to the beach.”
Suddenly, the newly quiet Reagan broke her silence. Boy, did she break it.
“Oh, the beach! I love the beach! Was there a pool? Do you like to swim? I love to swim!”
What the heck? Reagan had gone from mute to talking maniac! Blair didn’t seem to notice. She smiled, like this was the most normal way in the world to behave. “Yes, there was a pool,” Blair said. “I don’t like sand so I basically stayed in the pool the whole time.”
“Oh my God, that must have been so great. I love pools. Pools are like my favorite thing,” said Reagan.
They are? Since when? I mean, Reagan liked to swim, but it wasn’t her all-time favorite thing or anything. At least it hadn’t been until now.
“It was okay,” said Blair. “It was really all there was to do.”
“Oh, yeah, I mean pools are okay, but they’re not the greatest thing — I mean, there are lots of things I like to do more than swim . . .” Reagan was backpedaling so quickly she could barely get her words out.
“Did you go anywhere?” Blair asked her.
“No, not really. Just to my cousins’ cabin.”
Okay, this was too much. Reagan loved going to her cousins’ cabin in the mountains. She talked about it so much that I almost got jealous, wishing that I had cousins with a cabin in the mountains, too. But now she was making it sound like she hadn’t even wanted to go.
“I went to sleep-away camp,” I said.
“What did you do at you cousins’ cabin?” Blair asked Reagan.
Reagan appeared flustered, like she wasn’t sure what the right answer was and really didn’t want to get it wrong. “Uh, not much,” she said.
“We made s’mores every single night at camp,” I said. No response. From either of them. This was definitely an unusual first day.
At lunch, Blair followed right beside us as we walked to the cafeteria. It felt weird. Like a new ingredient had been added to an already-good recipe. I wasn’t sure I liked the taste.
Catherine and Isabel were already seated when our class got there. “You guys!” Isabel jumped up and waved her arms when she saw us. (She’s a jump-up-and-wave-her-arms kind of girl.) “Over here!”
They were sitting side-by-side at a table by the window and had put their lunch boxes across from them to save spots for us.
There, I thought happily, just like old times. I scootched past the drink machine to get to our table. I hope Catherine’s got one of those crunchy peanut butter bars. I slid onto the bench across from her at the end, trying to see if I could see a package in her lunchbox.
Ah, yes, there we all were: Catherine, Isabel, Reagan, and me.
Catherine and Isabel were both silent as Blair slid in after me. Isabel’s mouth hung partly open. It wasn’t every day that Blair Bennett sat with us. In fact, it wasn’t any day. It was like an honor had been bestowed upon us by a queen.
But queen or no queen, five in a group can be a problem. Lunch is a perfect example. Four people are supposed to sit at each table, so last year, it had been ideal. Now, Blair was squished in the middle of us, between Reagan and me. It was like she was our guest or something. And she kept talking to Reagan, which left me falling off the end of the bench with no one to talk to but the back of Blair’s head.
Tuesday was the same. Except on Tuesday, Blair grabbed Reagan’s hand when we got to the field and ran with her over to our spot. I repeat — our spot. I didn’t want to run behind them like some sort of puppy, so I just kept walking until I got there.
On Wednesday, Blair brought a koala bear key chain just like the one clipped on her backpack and gave it to Reagan. Right in front of me! She didn’t give me anything! In fact, she basically ignored the fact that I was standing right there.
I don’t care about a stupid koala keychain, but come on. I mean, does this girl know anything about manners or what?
Reagan apparently loved the stupid koala. “Isn’t he cute?” she asked me that afternoon. She’d clipped the bear onto the front pocket of her backpack, which she slid along the floor towards me from where she was sitting in the bus line. “Feel how soft he is,” she said.
The stupid koala face was coming straight at me. “No, that’s okay,” I said. “I don’t really want to.”
Reagan pulled her backpack back by its strap. “Blair is just soooo nice,” she said.
I didn’t say anything.
“Bus Number Two,” Ms. Poinard called. Ms. Poinard was the teacher in charge of afternoon dismissal. Everyone waited in the line for whatever bus they took, or in the line for carpool pick-up, or in the after-care line. Reagan took Bus Number Two. She gathered her stuff and stood up.
“Bye,” she said. “Call me later.”
“Okay,” I said. But I went to after-care and my parents didn’t pick me up until late. So I didn’t have time to call by the time I got home. Plus, I didn’t really feel like it anyway.
Thursday was even worse. When I got there that morning and walked into the classroom, I could not believe what I saw. Blair was sitting in my seat!
“Uh . . . what are you . . . doing?” I asked, kind of slowly because I really could not believe she was sitting there.
“What do you mean, what am I doing?” she responded, all innocently, like she just couldn’t imagine what on earth I might be talking about.
“Why are you sitting in my seat?”
“It’s not your seat. Mrs. Rosen didn’t actually assign seats.”
“Yeah . . . she . . . did,” I stammered, because hearing her say that made me realize that it was true, Mrs. Rosen hadn’t actually assigned seats. “Well, she didn’t “assign assign” them in, like, some big official way, but everyone knows that the seat you get on the first day is your seat for the rest of the year. That’s why it’s important to get here early on the first day.”
Blair just looked at me and said nothing. Her face showed absolutely no reaction. Was I talking to a statue here?
“I mean, look around,” I pointed out. “Everyone is in the exact same seat as they were on the first day.”
“Actually, I’m not,” said Casey Owens from two seats down. (Why do you call some people by their first and last names, and others just by their first names? I have no idea.)
Anyway, Casey Owens had apparently been watching this little scene unfold. “I was sitting over there” — pointing to the seat where Carlos Ramirez was. “We traded so that I could sit by Miranda and he could sit by Isaac.”
Blair and I both turned to stare at her. Casey Owens is one of those people who’s always interrupting in the middle of things that have absolutely nothing to do with her. It was really annoying. Especially, at this particular moment.
“Casey, no one was talking to you,” I said, although Blair was now nodding in agreement with her and had this smug smile on her face.
Right then, Reagan walked in. She came to an abrupt stop when she reached her desk, which now had Blair next to it instead of me.
“Oh, so did you guys trade seats?” she asked, looking back and forth between us and then dropping into her chair.
“No, not exactly,” I grumbled.
“I sit in the middle in the cafeteria,” Blair noted brightly to Reagan, “And now I’m in the middle in class!” (We had maintained the lunch bench seating order from the first day. Because once you sit in a place it becomes your spot. Just like it’s supposed to be with desks.)
“You’re right!” Reagan smiled.
Yeah, she was right, all right. And at that moment, I reached a definite opinion about this whole Blair situation. What had started out as an unexpected honor on Day One, had become a bit of an annoyance on Day Two, pure rudeness on Day Three, and, now, was one thing and one thing only: outright theft. Blair Bennett had stolen my best friend.