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Middle School: Save Rafe!
Illustrated by Laura Park
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Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek at Treasure Hunters
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The End Is Near!
Something tells me this story isn't going to have a happy ending.
I'm hanging on the side of a cliff by the jagged edges of my broken-off fingernails. The only thing between me and the ground is about half a mile of air, and I don't know how much longer I can hold on. Once I lose my grip—and I'm betting I will, any second now—it's going to be like taking the world's fastest elevator ride to the bottom. Without the elevator.
Good-bye, cruel world! Tell my mom that I love her. Also that there's a half-finished meatball sub under my bed. Knowing her, she's going to want to take care of that sooner rather than later.
This is it! The end of the line for me!
Except… wait a second. Here's the part where my whole life flashes in front of my eyes. And what do you know? Looking back, I guess I've been falling for a long time now.
Falling like Niagara.
Falling like my grades.
Falling like the leaves in… well, you get the idea. Just take a look. I don't have much time here.
It all started on the day I was born.…
It didn't get any easier after that either. Mom said I had an "adventurous spirit" before I could even walk. Like for instance, the first time this happened.
And then there were the falls I never saw coming. Maybe I should have… but I usually didn't.
I mean, I know that everyone's life is supposed to have ups and downs. But for me, it's been more like ups and downs… and downs… and downs. I wouldn't have minded a few more ups once in a while. Sometimes I didn't have a whole lot of choice in the matter.
And just for the record, I want to say that not all of these disasters were my fault. Like for instance, this one was Jeanne Galletta's fault. (Technically.)
So I guess it makes sense that I'd wind up like this—dangling half a mile off the ground and waiting for gravity to turn me into sausage meat once and for all. I just wish I had a little more time. Then I might have a chance to prove I'm not a total loser.
But that's not going to happen. I'm down to my last fingernail, and there's no one around for a hundred miles to save me. I'm completely out here on my—
Wait a minute. That voice sounds familiar. Still, I can't believe it. I look up, and there she is—the last person in the world I expected to see.
"Georgia? Where'd you come from?" I scream. How did my little sister even get here that fast? It doesn't make any sense.
"Don't worry about that!" she says. "Just give me your hand!"
"I can't!" I yell. "If I let go of this branch, I'm going to fall!"
"Well, in that case," she says.…
Just a Dream
Hoo boy! That was a close one. Or at least, it sure felt that way.
I sit up in bed and look at Georgia standing there.
"I was having the craziest dream," I say. "There I was, hanging off the edge of a cliff, ready to drop. I even got to see my whole life flash before my eyes like they do in movies."
"Oh yeah?" Georgia says. "Did your recap include all of your colossal screw-ups? You got kicked out of Camp Wannamorra. You practically got kicked out of Cathedral School for the Arts. And don't even get me started about Hills Village."
"Yeah, yeah, thanks for the reminders," I say.
"You better hope Airbrook Arts School takes you back," Georgia says. "If not, then maybe you should start looking for a cliff, because Mom's going to kill you. You don't have too many chances left, Rafe."
My sister isn't just a world-class pain in the butt. She's also annoyingly smart. I never would have thought of it that way, but she's right. That nightmare of mine makes perfect sense.
"Oh, one other thing," Georgia says. Then she reaches under her chin, pulls back the loose flap of skin hanging there, and PEELS HER ENTIRE FACE RIGHT OFF HER SKULL!!!
Okay, Now I'm Awake
Wow," Georgia said, standing next to my bed. "Are you hard to wake up, or what?"
Or what. I still had a few more weeks of summer vacation left, and I wanted to make them as good as possible. And by "good," I mean as Georgia-free as possible. She'd been home from Camp Wannamorra for two whole days now, and that was two too many, if you ask me.
Unfortunately, that morning, everything was about to take a King Kong–sized turn for the worse.
"I have some bad news for you," Georgia said. But I didn't give her the chance. I got out of bed and shoved her right back into the hall where she came from.
"Come back when I'm awake," I said.
"But you are awake," Georgia said as she started to push her way back into my room.
"Yeah, thanks to you," I grumbled. And then—SLAM! I shut the door in her face before she could get on even one more of my nerves.
Anyone want to bet whether or not that stopped her? (Spoiler Alert: It didn't.)
"Your school is closed!" she yelled from the hall. "Airbrook Arts is shutting down—permanently!"
See, this is what I mean about Georgia. Only she could think that was bad news. For me, it was more like the opposite—NO SCHOOL! And this was no dream either. This one was for real.
I turned right around and opened the door again.
"Seriously?" I said.
"Seriously," she said. "And Mom needs to talk to you about it, right now."
"Okay, but first—LOOK OVER THERE!"
"Where?" Georgia said, just before I whipped past her, ran across the hall and into the bathroom, and locked the door behind me.
Georgia absolutely hates it when I get to the bathroom first.
"Open up!" she said, pounding away. "I haven't even gotten to the real bad news yet. Are you listening?"
"NO!" I said.
"If you aren't listening, how could you answer me?" said my super-logical, super-brainy, super-loser sister.
"I'm busy! Just go away!" I said. It turned out that the bathroom wasn't such a great idea after all. Now I was trapped, and there isn't a door in the world that can block out my sister's voice once she gets going.
"Listen to me, Rafe!" she shouted. "Airbrook Arts is closed for good! Haven't you figured out what that means yet? There's nowhere left for you to go—except back to Hills Village."
That part hit me like a slow-motion hammer to the head.
"What?" I said. "Hang on… wait… what?"
I was pretty sure I'd heard Georgia right, but I needed to be positive. If what she said was true, then I might have been better off falling from that cliff for real.
"You heard me!" she shouted on the other side of that door. "YOU'RE GOING BACK TO HILLS VILLAGE MIDDLE SCHOOL!!!"
Top Ten: The Best of the Worst
Maybe you think I was overreacting. Or being crazy. Or both. But that just tells me you never read my first book. Because if you did, then you'd know that the worst years of my life all started right there at bad old Hills Village Middle School.
You might remember the crazy amount of rules that place had. You might also remember my plan to break all of them. After a bit of that, I sort of got kicked out.
I had a million reasons why I didn't want to go back to that place, but I won't bore you with all of them. Just the top ten. So here you go—
#10: NOT ALL MIDDLE SCHOOLS ARE CREATED EQUAL. If I had to be in middle school, at least Airbrook was going to help turn me into a real artist. The last time I was at HVMS, it helped turn me into a real criminal (and a big-time disappointment to my mom).
#9: VICE PRINCIPAL IDA P. STRICKER. Mrs. Stricker is in charge of discipline, misery, and suffering at Hills Village Middle School. And let's just say that she's very good at her job.
#8: JEANNE GALLETTA. Okay, don't get me wrong. At this point I was pretty much in love with Jeanne. But if you've ever been in love and happen to be as completely lame as me, then you know that the only thing worse than never seeing that person is seeing them all the time, when you have all kinds of chances to make yourself look about as smooth as a bowl of gravel.
#7: MATH… SCIENCE… ENGLISH… SOCIAL STUDIES. Do I even need to explain this one? Classes haven't exactly been my strong suit.
#6: RULES, RULES, RULES, RULES! Hills Village Middle School has more rules than anywhere I've been. (I think Mrs. Stricker has something to do with that.) When I was at HVMS before, I broke a couple (like maybe eighty-six of them…) and ended up getting expelled.
#5, 4, 3, 2, and 1: MILLER THE KILLER. Let's just put it this way: The last time I came face-to-face with Miller, there was blood involved. If you're following the story so far, you can probably guess it wasn't his.
Beware of the Bacon!
Here's the deal in my house: When there's pancakes for breakfast, it means Mom doesn't have to work that morning and she has more time for cooking.
When there's bacon, it means Mom made some extra-good tips at the diner that week, because we can't afford stuff like that all the time.
But when there's pancakes with blueberries and bacon? That's when you have to watch out. Usually, it means there's some bad news coming for dessert.
Mom was flipping pancakes when I came into the kitchen. Grandma Dotty and Georgia were already there, sitting at the table and demolishing a couple of short stacks.
"Good morning, Rafe!" Grandma said. "Ready for an absolutely terrible day?"
Dotty's an awesome grandma, but you kind of have to get used to her. Like, just because she shouldn't say something doesn't mean she won't say it.
"Here you go, sweetie," Mom said, sliding a plate in front of me. "Fresh off the griddle."
"Thanks, Mom," I said. "Georgia already gave me the bad news about Airbrook. And about me going back to Hills Village too."
"Yes, well, that's what the pancakes are for," Mom said. "Kind of a consolation. I'm sorry, Rafe, I know how much you wanted to go to Airbrook instead."
Georgia piped up then, while passing Grandma Dotty some more bacon. "So then, what're the blueberries for?" she said. "What else is wrong?"
So I guess she'd figured it out too.
"Well…" Mom said. "I was going to wait until after breakfast, but Rafe and I have a meeting at the middle school this morning."
"We do?" I said.
"I got an e-mail from the principal's office saying we need to come in and discuss a few things," Mom told me.
You might think that part would make me lose my appetite, but it didn't. I mean, come on! It was blueberry pancakes. I figured I might as well have an awesome breakfast first, and then go back to my absolutely terrible day. Because whenever some adult says they want to "discuss" something with a kid, you can bet your last piece of bacon it's not going to turn out great for the kid.
In the meantime, I didn't complain or give Mom a hard time. Why would I? She was barely done being mad at me about getting kicked out of Camp Wannamorra. When she and Grandma came to pick me up that day, I think she was about ready to drop me off at the trade-in center for a new son.
Instead, Mom gave me the silent treatment for a while, and then yelled some, and then worst of all, cried some too. If you know me, then you know there's nothing I hate more than seeing my mom cry.
The point is, even if I didn't like how things were going now, it was my own fault. I even felt sorry for Mom, having to deal with me all the time. I mean, if I had a kid just like me…
Well, actually, that might be kind of awesome. But still, I felt bad for Mom. She deserved way better. So I decided right then that I was going to do whatever I could to make this next part go right.
Hills Village Middle School, here I come. Like it or NOT.
Look Who's Here
Walking into a school in August is like walking onto a ghost ship. You feel like you shouldn't be there, and you're never sure who—or what—you might run into.
It was especially weird coming into HVMS. Nobody had to remind me where the principal's office was either. I could practically see my old footprints, wearing a path to Principal Dwight's door.
When Mom and I got to the admin center, the front part was empty but the principal's door was open. I figured Mr. Dwight was back there, sitting at his desk and waiting to yell at me about… whatever I was there to get yelled at about.
Except, it turned out I was wrong. Mr. Dwight wasn't at his desk.
Ida P. Stricker was.
"Hello… Rafe," she said.
"Did you and Mr. Dwight switch offices?" I asked, hoping like crazy for a yes.
"No," she said. "Mr. Dwight is no longer with us."
"He died?" Mom said. "That's awful."
"Actually, he won the jackpot on a Bucks for Life scratch-off ticket," Stricker said. "I think he's in the Bahamas right now."
"Oh," Mom said. "How nice for him."
"I suppose," said Mrs. Stricker, like she'd just bit down on the sourest puppy in the whole patch.
I never thought I'd be jealous of Mr. Dwight in a million years. But I sure was now.
"And how are you, Mrs. Stricker?" Mom asked.
"It's Principal Stricker now," she said. "And I'd like to get right to business."
She picked up her phone and pressed a button. "Charlotte? Would you come in here, please? And bring Rafe Khatchadorian's old file."
I could tell that even Mom was getting a little ticked off by now. "What is this about, exactly?" she asked.
"I'm going to let our new vice principal explain the details," Stricker said. "But to be clear, we're not here to discuss when Rafe will be returning. We're here to discuss whether or not he'll be returning at all."
"EXCUSE ME?" Mom said.
I felt like someone had just popped open my skull and thrown a firecracker in there.
Stricker sat back in her chair. She might even have smiled, but with her, it's hard to tell. Let's just say that old Ida liked me about as much as I liked her.
"But you're required to enroll Rafe," Mom said. "This is a public school."
"Yes," Stricker said. "A public school from which Rafe was expelled not too long ago. That expulsion still stands, unless Rafe proves that he can abide by the rules."
"I can't believe this," Mom said. "There's nowhere else for him to go! There must be something we can do."
"There is," Stricker said.
Just then, a lady I'd never seen before walked into the office. She had a smile that was about as big and friendly as Mrs. Stricker's. It looked like this:
"You must be Rafe and Mrs. Khatchadorian," she said.
"Yes," Mom said, sounding more annoyed by the second. "And you are?"
When the lady reached over and shook Mom's hand, I'm pretty sure I heard some knuckles crunching.
"Vice Principal Charlotte P. Stonecase," she said.
Get with the Program
When I heard that name—Stonecase—I knew right away who she was. This lady was a legend.
"You teach at Airbrook, don't you?" I said.
"Wrong," she said. "I used to teach at Airbrook."
"Oh, right," I said. Airbrook Arts Community School was gone, gone, gone. Duh. That was what I was doing there.
I'd never met Mrs. Stonecase before, but at Airbrook, they called her the Terror from Room 666. She had a killer reputation and kept a real human skull in a jar on her desk. Supposedly.
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- Jun 23, 2014
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