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Who Put That Hair in My Toothbrush?
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Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of Maniac Magee
A Sneak Peek of Space Station Seventh Grade
A Sneak Peek of Eggs
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THE SADDEST SHOWER of all is the one you take the night before school starts in September. It's like you're not just washing the day's dirt away, you're washing the whole summer down the drain—all the fun, all the long, free days. So it's sad. So the last thing I needed, taking my end-of-summer shower, was something to make it even worse. But that's exactly what I got.
It started while I was washing my hair: someone flushed the toilet and the shower water turned scalding hot. "Toddie!" I yelled, scooting on my heels to the other end of the tub. My little brother is the only one who goes to the bathroom while I'm taking a shower. I peeked around the curtain. No Toddie. No anybody. But the door was open. "Shut the door!" I yelled. The door slammed shut.
I figured that would be it. Wrong. A couple minutes later, just as I got all soaped up, the water changed again, this time to freezing. I jumped back—and rammed my hip into the soap dish—pain! I peeked out, massaging my hip. Steaming hot water was gushing from the faucet in the sink. Again: nobody there, the door open. I knew right then who was behind it all.
"Shut the door!" I yelled. The door stayed open. I had to get the door shut and the sink water off. They were both too far to reach from the tub. I pushed the curtain outside the tub, then I stepped out onto the floor with the curtain still in front of me. Dripping. Hip killing me. Door still a long way off. I inched away from the tub. I was getting closer, but with every inch, more and more of me was sticking out from behind the curtain. Pretty soon the only thing covering me was the red plastic triangle of the curtain's lower corner. I reached out my leg as far as it would go; my big toe wiggled way short of the door.
Only one thing to do. I dashed for the door, leaving the curtain behind. Right then, in mid-dash, is when things really started happening fast: suddenly Toddie was standing—gawking—in the doorway; I froze; I screamed; I dashed back to the curtain; I banged my leg against the toilet; I wrapped myself in the curtain; the curtain, like a machine gun, came pop-pop-popping off the rod; I screamed again—
Then my father came rushing in. He saw the shower running in the bathtub, he saw the water boiling into the sink, he saw his daughter, wrapped in the shower curtain, dripping and screaming in the middle of the bathroom—and what did he say? "Hey, your dimples don't show when you're screaming."
I screamed louder.
He turned off the sink water and the shower. "Okay, okay, Dimpus. Now what's going on?"
"I'll kill him," I swore.
He looked around, pretending not to know what I was talking about. "Kill? Who?"
"You know who."
He rubbed his chin and pretended to think. "Hmm, let's see now. You said 'him.' So it's a 'he' you're going to kill. Can't be me. That leaves two other 'hes' in the house." He turned to Toddie, who was still standing goo-goo-eyed in the doorway. "You're not going to kill your little brother, are you, Megin?"
"Daddy," I said, "he's making Toddie do stuff to me. He made him flush the toilet and turn the water on."
"Toddie," my father said gently, "did somebody make you do that?"
Toddie stuck out his chest. "Nobody make me do nuffin'."
"Daddy, he probably paid him off. He pays him to torture me. Look in his pockets. Go ahead—look." My father reached into Toddie's pockets and pulled out two nickels. "See!" I screeched.
"Megin," he said, "you can't convict somebody on two nickels. That's not proof."
My hip and my leg were killing me and I felt like I was being swallowed by a giant fish, and he was talking about proof. Still drenched, I stormed out of the bathroom and over to Grosso's room. I could hear barbells clanking inside. His door was locked. I started kicking it and banging and screaming. "I'll kill him! I'll kill him!" By the time my father dragged me back to the bathroom, my feet and fists were sore too.
But I wasn't about to give up. I slipped from the shower curtain into a towel and had my father put the curtain back up. Then I made him stand guard outside the door while I went on with my shower. Sure enough, in about a minute the water changed again, to ice. I screamed. I could hear my father tearing downstairs. When he came back, he looked sheepish. "Sorry, Dimpus," he said, "Mommy started the washer."
"… forty-eight… forty-nine… fifty."
Done. I was ready If she was ever going to notice me, this would be the day.
Suddenly I was nervous. Terrified. God, this is it! What if she still didn't notice me? What if I still looked the same? What if those million sit-ups went to waste? What if she met somebody down the shore over the summer? What if…
Stay calm, stay calm. I sat on the edge of my bed and started taking long, deep breaths. Relax, relax. Ever since school had ended in June, I had had only one goal in life: to make myself good-looking enough so Jennifer Wade would have to notice me. I got subscriptions to Muscles and Body Beautiful. I exercised and lifted weights. I covered myself with Coppertone and tanned in the sun. I used Sassoon shampoo and Sassoon conditioner and Sassoon rinse, and I brushed my teeth with Close-up at least four times everyday. I drank Pro/Gain and I ate tons of eggs and raw vegetables and fruit and red meats. Plus potato skins. I read they're good for the complexion.
And now it was time. One final first-day-of-school series of curls (25 each arm), push-ups (50) and sit-ups (50), and the job was done. I went to the bathroom and checked out my summer's work. I was re-created. A new kid. A sort of Sassoon-Pro/Gain-Coppertone Frankenkid.
But I still felt the same inside.
I washed my face but couldn't find a towel. I was ticked. I hauled my wet face right into Megamouth's room. There they were: one towel wrapped around her head, one on a chair, two on the floor.
"Dad-dee! Dad-dee! Greg's in my room! Get outta my room!"
I grabbed the towel on the chair and got out. I felt something hit me in the back.
"Somebody better do something about that room of hers," I told my parents in the kitchen. "We're gonna get roaches."
"You know," my father said, "it amazes me that two children in the same family can be so different. One so neat, one so sloppy."
"Doesn't amaze me," said my mother. "Greg, pancakes?"
"Not even on the first day of school? I don't do this all the time, you know."
Megamouth came in mocking. "No thannnks, no thannnks. He doesn't want to junk up that beautiful body of his."
"Once you get roaches, you know, you can't get rid of them."
"Greg, you're going to have more than that milk shake, aren't you?"
"It's not milk shake. It's Pro/Gain."
"If you don't want the pancakes I got up early to make you, then what?"
Megamouth swooned. "Oh, Jennifer, my darling, I love you, I adore you."
"Greg, I'm waiting for your order. I only do this one day a year, you know. Now what'll it be?"
"A grapefruit. Y'know, roaches've been around since before the dinosaurs."
Megamouth made a smooching sound. "Oh, Jennifer, I'm wild about you! I simply went crazy without you all summer!"
She kept interrupting like that, but I ignored her. "They hang around where there's food and darkness," I said. "Just what's in that room."
"Why, Jennifer, don't you recognize me? It's Greg. Greg Tofer."
"If somebody comes in here and sees that room, they could sic the Board of Health on us."
"That's right! Remember ugly old Greg Tofer?"
"I read this article—once you get roaches, you might never get rid of them."
"Since you saw me last, I lifted my dumbbells and I shampooed with my Sassoon and I drank my proteins and now look at me—I'm gorgeous!"
"Even my zits are smaller!"
My father stood up—as usual, this big grin on his face. "Well, family, I'm off to support you now. Don't forget: Help your father—push somebody into the mud."
He always says that. He's an appliance salesman at Sears, and one of the things he sells is washing machines.
I finished my grapefruit, grabbed a potato skin from the refrigerator (my mother saves them for me), and took off.
You might have thought just a weekend had passed, not a whole summer. As usual, Old Mrs. Greeley next door was sweeping off her sidewalk. (You could eat off her sidewalk.) Valducci was waiting at the first corner, Poff at the second. Just like always.
But everything wasn't the same.
Valducci jumped out in front, whirled, and did a high-kick in our faces that stopped us cold. Valducci is into karate or something. "Hey, baby! We are now"—an open hand snapped down to split an invisible cinder block—"chakkah!—ninth-graders!"
"Big rip," said Poff, who is built like a visible cinder block.
Fast as a lizard's tongue, Valducci's hands flicked out, tattooed Poff's head up one side and down the other, then shot back before Poff could raise a hand. Valducci's quick, you have to give him that. "Ninth grade, man! We're gonna rule that school!" Valducci went kicking and jerking and chopping ahead of us. "We are—sokka!—kings now, babeee—Look out—sokka!—teachers—look out—sokka!—everybodeee—Gonna rule—sokka!—that—sokka!—school—sokka sokka Chakkalahhh!"
Valducci was right, even if he did get a little carried away. No longer were we seventh-grade zeroes or eighth-grade halfways. Suddenly I felt a little bigger in the world. I grinned. "Yeah, right, ninth-graders now."
"Big rip," said Poff.
Coming up to the school, I only had one question: Where was Jennifer Wade? I couldn't go obviously gawking around after her; nobody in ninth grade knew about my thing for her, not even Poff and Valducci, and I wanted to keep it that way. So, while the outside of me was slapping hands and saying "How was your summer?" the inside of me was like a sack of blinded eyes.
A couple times I saw girlfriends of hers, once I thought I heard her voice, but by the time the door opened, I still hadn't spotted her. I was almost relieved. I didn't know what I'd do if I saw her, anyway. The whole idea was to have her see me. All summer long I had been directing this little movie in my head:
Time: First day of school.
Place: Avon Oaks Junior High.
Somewhere in the hallway.
JENNIFER. Hi, Greg.
ME. Hi, Jen.
JENNIFER. Gee, you look great.
ME. Thanks. You're looking pretty good yourself.
JENNIFER [blushing]. Thank you.
ME. My pleasure.
JENNIFER. Say, Greg, that's a great tan you have.
ME. Thanks. You have a pretty good one too.
JENNIFER [blushing]. Thank you.
ME. My pleasure.
JENNIFER. You weren't down the beach all summer by any chance, were you?
ME. Nah. I just love the outdoors, that's all.
JENNIFER. Well, that golden tan really sets off your eyes nice.
ME. Thanks. So does yours.
JENNIFER [blushing]. Thank you.
ME. My pleasure.
JENNIFER. And your forearms, I can't help noticing them. They seem so strong, so rugged. And wow—look—look at that vein running down there, how it's popping out!
JENNIFER. That's really great.
ME. Thanks, Jen.
Time: Next day.
JENNIFER. Hi, Greg.
ME. Hi, Jen.
JENNIFER. How's school going?
ME. Pretty good, thanks.
JENNIFER [shyly]. Say, Greg, do you mind if I ask you something?
ME. Not at all.
JENNIFER [adorably]. Well, I'm having a party Saturday night, and I was wondering if you'd like to come—with me, of course.
ME. Mm… okay. Sure, Jen. Sounds good.
JENNIFER [excitedly]. Oh wow! Great!
Not for one second did I stop squeezing the little rubber ball in my hand. I swore no matter where or when I met her, my forearm vein was going to be humping out. Like a python on a sidewalk.
She wasn't in any of my morning classes, and I didn't see her in the hallways. When I couldn't spot her in the lunchroom, I really started to worry. Afternoon: still no Jennifer.
At the bell I rushed outside and hung around bus No. 4, the one she always took. I saw every person who got on, saw the bus take off, without her. Squeezing the rubber ball like mad, I ran back inside, to the office.
The secretary looked up. "Yes?"
"Uh—it's not important, just wondering about something."
"What is it?"
"Uh—a student, ninth-grader, I think. A girl."
"What about her?"
"Well—uh—ah never mind—"
I bolted from the office, my face on fire. I couldn't do it. But I had to. Couldn't. Had to. Suddenly, coming toward me in the dusky hallway, one of her friends. We passed. I turned, kept walking backward, called, breezily, "Hey—Karen."
She turned. "Hi."
"You—uh—still friends with that girl? What's her name? Jennifer something?"
"Yeah, that's it."
"What about her?"
We were still backing away from each other, so we were practically shouting by now. "Didn't see her today!"
"Moved! To Conestoga!"
I breezed on out the door, nonchalanted it down the steps, whistled a football fight song, cooled it all the way out to the curb, where the last bus was leaving. I stood right behind it and let its gas-fart smother me; then I wound up, and with all the summer and strength in my arm, I fired the rubber ball. It hit right where a bug-eyed seventh-grader had his stupid nose mashed against the back window.
I THOUGHT Sue Ann was going to pee herself, she was so excited.
"D'jah hear about the girl from California?"
"What about her?"
"The girl from California!"
"Didn't you hear about her?"
"Sue Ann, we just started junior high school an hour ago."
"I know, but everybody's talking about her already."
"What about her?"
"I don't know, all kinds of stuff. They said she's really something."
"Yeah. Really something."
The girl from California—that's all I heard about. Every five minutes Sue Ann came rushing up with a new report: "She wears silver sandals!" "An anklet!" "Two anklets!" "Green toenail polish!" "Green eye shadow!" "Big hoop earrings!" "Her name's Zoe!"
"Zoe?" I screeched.
"Yeah. Can you believe it?"
"Nobody's name is Zoe."
"Megin"—she squeezed my arm—"she's from Cali-for-nia."
Well, I never saw her the first day. She wasn't in any of my classes, and I guess she wasn't in my lunch shift either. On the second day, coming to school, Sue Ann pointed to a crowd near the door.
"She's in there."
"The girl from California."
"How do you know?"
"I just know. She's in there. Go ahead, take a look."
She was pushing me.
"Sue Ann! Knock it off! I gotta lotta things to do around here without having to listen to you jabber all the time about some weirdo from California. Now, are you going out for lacrosse with me or not?"
Suddenly she was yanking me around. "Look, Megin! There she is! Look!"
"Oh cripes." I smacked her hand away. "You're disgusting." I marched into school and absolutely refused to look.
Best friend or no best friend, Sue Ann can be a pain sometimes. She gets so—I don't know—flighty, hyper. I didn't have time to be bothered. By the end of the day, I had signed up for stage crew and lacrosse. I picked lacrosse because it's the closest thing to ice hockey, which is my all-time favorite sport. In lacrosse you get a stick with this fishnet pocket in it to carry and pass around a hard rubber ball. I was only on the field a minute before the coach came blaring her whistle.
"What's your name?"
"What do you think you're doing, Tofer?"
"What exactly did I tell you to do, Tofer?"
"Uh, practice carrying the ball?"
"On the stick? By yourself?"
"Did I say anything about charging into somebody else and stealing her ball?"
I glanced at Sue Ann, who was wearing a big pout on her face. "No."
"Take a lap," the coach snapped and walked off. "With your ball and stick."
Sue Ann started to snicker. "Baby," I hissed at her.
The coach whirled. "What?"
Ten minutes into my first lacrosse practice and I was ready to quit. Bad enough that I had to take the laps, but every couple steps the ball would bounce out of the stick pocket. The first two or three times I just picked up the ball and put it back in the pocket. Then I heard the coach's voice booming across the field: "Scoop it with the stick, Tofer! Scoooop it!"
"Scoop you," I whispered.
Next time the ball bounced out I tried to scoop it; instead I only knocked it farther away. When I finally caught up with it, I started beating it with the stick.
"Three laps, Tofer!"
Halfway through the third lap I was practically a cripple. Ice hockey was never like this. For the millionth time the ball bounced out; this time it hit my foot and went shooting off toward the sidewalk. I staggered after it, and next thing I knew I was tripping and falling flat on my face. I just lay there for a while, taking a rest and spitting out grass and waiting for boomer-voice to go, "Four laps, Tofer!" When I bothered to look for the ball, I saw it just a few feet away. There was a foot on it—a foot with a silver sandal, an anklet, green toenails. It was a long time before I looked up and finally, finally saw the girl from California.
Set of weights. Almost new (used 2½ months). 10-lb. dumbbells. Can of Pro/Gain (unopened). Back issues of "Muscles" and "Body Beautiful." CHEAP.
I PUT the ad away and went downstairs to wait for my mom to come out of it. She looked dead on the sofa, her hands folded over her chest. I swear, every time I see her come out of it I think of a vampire rising out of a coffin.
I never believed in self-hypnosis until my mother actually learned it a couple of years ago. "If I don't, I'll never make it. I'm surviving" was what she said—whatever that means.
At first she said she was going to do it just for the summer, to "survive" having all us kids around all day. But when school started, she kept on doing it, every afternoon from 3:00 to 3:15. Now she "survives" till 3:30.
She came out of it at 3:30 on the dot. She didn't seem in any big hurry to get up. She just stared at the ceiling for a while, not even blinking. I felt like an intruder in a tomb. I cleared my throat to let her know I was there. Her head turned, her eyes were staring straight at me, but somehow I still wasn't sure she saw me.
"How do you get an ad in the Tradin' Times?" I asked her.
She blinked. "Phone it in, I guess."
I hung around. I wasn't ready to leave.
She noticed. "Greg?"
"Something the matter?"
"Okay, never mind."
Sometimes my mother infuriates me. Like, she never asks what's the matter twice. I figured I'd give her another chance. "Guess you noticed the Sassoon shampoo's gone."
"I'll get you more next time we shop."
"I don't mean that. I threw it out."
"Won't need it anymore."
"No-Frills'll be good enough."
Infuriating. Crazy mother. How many ninth-grade guys talk to their mothers about girl stuff? But this mother makes you want to. How? By not listening. And the more she doesn't listen, the more you want to tell her.
She got up and headed for the kitchen. Okay, one last chance. "What's for dinner?"
"Guess I won't eat."
"Thought you like fish cakes."
"Lost my appetite."
"Just… lost it."
I gave up and went upstairs. I had to talk to somebody. Had to. But who? My mother was useless. Valducci? Forget Valducci. He could never shut up or stay still long enough to listen. How do you talk to a jackhammer? Poff? I could talk to him about some things—sports, bodyweight (hard stuff)—but not something like girls (soft stuff). Poff is the maturest guy I know. He's a man, really. Sometimes it startles me to see him heading into junior high school. Oh, Poff would listen, all right, and he might even say more than "Big rip," but behind his eyes he would be losing respect for me. Girls, love—Poff is above those things.
I even thought of Leo Borlock. A lot of kids—mostly girls, actually—go to him for advice. But just the thought of Poff catching me coming out of Leo's was enough to make me scratch that idea.
So what did I do? I took a shower, and as I looked up at the shower nozzle it seemed to say to me: Let it all out, kid. I'm listening to ya. "Y'know," I said, "it doesn't make things any better knowing she only moved over to Conestoga. Ten miles away might as well be Alaska, for all I can get there… And the crime of it is, I look a whole lot better than I did three months ago, when she saw me last." I posed for the nozzle. "Right? I mean, if she didn't like me before, she just might like me now, right? Because this is as good as I get…
"Okay, okay… so, say she saw me and she still didn't like me. Okay, fine, at least I would've had my shot, right? That's all I ever asked for. My shot. And the tragedy of it—want to hear the rock-bottom, cold-blooded, murderest tragedy of it? I'll tellya: she was starting to like me."
I decided to have dinner after all. Megamouth didn't shut up the whole time: "What happened to Jennifer Wade?… Heard she moved.… Where's the Sassoon?…"
"Megin, enough," my mother snapped.
"May-gin," my father sang across the table, "one of these days you're gonna have yourself a boyfriend, and what are you going to say if Greg teases you like this?"
"I don't care," Megamouth said, and went on: "Who are those skinny muscles gonna impress now?… Bet she's having a good time in Conestoga.… Lotsa cute boys over there in Conestoga."
Finally my mother had had enough. "Go, Megin. Upstairs. Leave the table."
Toddie cheered, but I was the one who stood up. "That's okay," I said. "She doesn't know what she's talking about. So happens I'm going out with Jennifer Wade"—I tapped my fork twice on the table—"Saturday night"—and I walked out.
SATURDAY NIGHT I stayed over at Sue Ann's. We lay in the dark with her TV on—the picture, not the sound. The only sound was our voices.
"So," she said, "when're you going to tell me what you think?"
"Think about what?"
"You know. Her."
"What do you want me to say?"
"I don't know. Something. How can you see her and not say something?"
"Well, you're thinking something. Tell me you're not."
She hit me with her pillow and we both laughed.
"Tell me what you think," I said.
"I've been telling you all week long what I think."
"Uh-uh. You been telling me things about her. Facts. Not what you think about her."
- On Sale
- Apr 1, 2000
- Page Count
- 225 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers