Friday, February 15, 2008

Gone: A Novel for Middle Grade Readers

Chapter 1

Cooking spray on the girls’ bathroom toilet seat requires payback. Period.

That’s what I was thinking as I spread the last of my glue stick over Joey Singh’s desk chair.

“Oh, man! I’m out,” I said, shoving the empty glue tube into my coat pocket, “Quick! Give me yours.”

Katie looked away from her post at the classroom door. Her normally almond-shaped eyes were as round as two jawbreakers. “You’re kidding, right?” Still bundled in her parka and toque, sweat was beading on the bridge of her nose.

“Quick!” I said, “We need to get back outside before The Beetle notices.”

Katie ran to her desk and lifted the top. A pile of papers sprung loose sending pieces drifting to floor. For Katie, this was normal. She kept everything.

“Hurry!” I whispered. Outside, kids were yelling like crazy. Someone playing kick ball must have scored.

Katie finally pulled out her glue stick and tossed it to me. “Don’t use it all,” she said, running back to the door, “It’s brand new.”

I popped off the lid and cranked it up. There was enough to do Sebastian’s seat, too, if I worked quickly.

I had just finished off Joey’s seat back when Katie said, “Uh, Michelle…”


“I think she wants to tell you I’m here.”

Uh oh.

Mrs. Bee filled the classroom door wearing the long, black leather coat that had earned her the nickname ‘The Beetle’ from the entire 6th grade. A new hat made of what appeared to be the pelt of a full grown beaver sat on top of her head.

“The two of you will clean up the mess you’ve made of that chair, then go straight to Mr. Bruno’s office.”

Luckily, wet paper towels and hand soap from the girls bathroom were enough to make Joey’s seat clean again. I have to admit I was relieved. If we’d had to bother Claude the Creepy Custodian during his lunch hour it would have been worse than three trips to Mr. Bruno put together. With that done, Mrs. Bee marched us to the front office.

“Is Howard in, Marjorie?” asked Mrs. Bee. Marjorie Dugan was the school secretary. Every one said she’d been here when Mr. Bruno was a student. She had to be at least a hundred but you’d never guess. She could see and hear things better than Grandma Louise, and that’s saying something.

“He’s in, but he’s on a call.” Mrs. Dugan pointed a crooked finger at the little orange light on her phone.

The Beetle flicked a leather-gloved hand toward the waiting area, implying we should sit. Katie chose one of the four wooden chairs that faced the secretary’s desk. I sat down next to her and counted the number of times Mrs. Bee sighed as she paced back and forth across the room. I was up to thirteen when Mrs. Dugan said, “He’s off now.”

The Beetle spun on her heel and rapped hard on Mr. Bruno’s office door. Without waiting for an answer she went in and closed the door after her. I listened hard but could only hear the odd word over Mrs. Dugan’s typing.

“…do something… property… stop…”

I stole a look at Katie. Her face was snowball white. This would be twice in one week for her. On Monday she’d been caught sending me a note during French that was written in English. Apparently Mrs. Bee wants us to keep to the curriculum even when we’re breaking the rules. Katie’s dad had threatened to take away her phone if she got in trouble again before Christmas, so this could be it.

“How come you didn’t hear her coming?” I whispered.

Katie kept staring at her hands that were folding and refolding on her lap. “She got mukluks.”

“No talking, girls,” said Mrs. Dugan, not missing a beat.

Sure enough, when Mr. Bruno’s office door opened, The Beetle reappeared wearing the furry brown Eskimo boots in question. Her steps were silent.

“You girls can go back to class now—,” said Mrs. Bee.

Katie let out a huge sigh as we both moved to leave.

“—Someone will come get you when your parents arrive.”

Back in class, Mrs. Bee started teaching fractions. Math is not one of my better subjects and the current situation didn’t help. It was my turn to do a problem at the board when there was a knock at the classroom door. For a split second, I was almost relieved.

“Never mind, Michelle. You and Katie go with Mrs. Dugan. Joseph, let’s have you try this one.”

“No problem, Mrs. Bee.” Joey slid out of his seat, two back from mine, and nudged me on the shoulder as he strutted toward the front of the class. Sometimes I hated him so much my teeth ached.

“Now, Michelle!” Mrs. Bee’s voice was so needle sharp I think half the class jumped.

Five words ran laps through my head as I followed Katie out into the hall: Please let it be Dad. Please let it be Dad. Please let it be Dad. Please let it be Dad…

When we got to the office, my mother and Katie’s father were already seated in the two arm chairs facing Mr. Bruno’s desk. Mom’s eyes were closed and she was pinching the soft spot between them the way she does when Grandma Louise calls. Next to Mr. Wu is his fancy grey suit, Mom looked tired and thin and kind of old still wearing her uniform from the restaurant. A blood vessel, pale and blue, twitched near her temple. This was new.

Suddenly I felt bad. Really bad, like when I accidentally dropped Nana’s gold brooch down the sewer. It didn’t matter what Mr. Bruno was going to say. I was sorry already.

Read Chapter 2 here.

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