Sophie LaCroix looked up from the library table into the disdainful face of B.J. Schneider. Disdainful was a word Sophie's best friend, Fiona, had taught her, and this word definitely worked when B.J. or one of the other Corn Pops narrowed her eyes into slits, curled her lip, and acted as if Sophie were barely worth the breath it was taking to say something heinous to her.
"As a matter of fact, yes," that same Fiona said as she tucked a strand of dark hair behind her ear. It popped back out and draped over one gray eye. "We thought we'd dish up some sautéed roaches on a bed of seaweed with a nice snake venom sauce."
Sophie dragged a piece of her own hair under her nose like a mustache.
"It is so disgusting when you do that," said another Corn Pop, Anne-Stuartwith the usual juicy sniff up her nostrils.
Not as disgusting as you and your sinus problems, Sophie thought. But she didn't say it. All of the Corn Flakes had taken a vow not to be hateful to the Corn Pops ever, no matter how heinous THEY were to the Flakes.
B.J. put her hands on her slightly pudgy hips. "I KNOW you aren't really going to serve something that nasty for your culture project," she said.
Fiona pulled her bow of a mouth into a sly smile. "Then why did you ask?"
B.J. and Anne-Stuart rolled their eyes with the precision of synchronized swimmers.
"What are y'all doing for your presentation?" Sophie said, adjusting her glasses on her nose.
"We AND Julia and Willoughbywe're doing a folk dance," Anne-Stuart said. "And we're going to make the whole class participate."
"You're going to 'make' us?" Fiona said.
Sophie cleared her throat. Sometimes Fiona had a little trouble keeping the vow. It was hard with the Corn Pops acting like they ran Great Marsh Elementary, especially when school stretched into Saturdays at the town library.
"Then everybody can get used to dancing with each other," Anne-Stuart said. She sniffled. "That way, SOME people won't feel so lame at the graduation dance."
"What graduation dance?" Sophie and Fiona said together. Sophie's voice squeaked higher than Fiona's, which brought a heavy-eyebrowed look from the librarian.
"What dance?" Fiona said again.
B.J. and Anne-Stuart both sat down at the table with Sophie and Fionaas if they'd been invitedand B.J. shoved aside the Food from Around the World book they'd been looking at while Anne-Stuart leaned in her long, lean frame. Sophie was sure she could see moisture glistening on Anne-Stuart's nose hairs.
"The dance the school is having at the end of the year for our sixth-grade graduation," she said.
"Duh," B.J. put in.
"Who decided that?" Fiona said.
"Just the entire class. Back in September." B.J. gave her buttery-blonde bob a toss. "You were probably off in one of those weird things y'all domaking up stories"
"No," Fiona said. "I wasn't even HERE yet in September. I moved here in October."
"I know YOU were here," Anne-Stuart said, pointing at Sophie.
Sophie shrugged. She knew she had probably daydreamed her way through the entire voting process. That was back before she'd gotten her video camera, and before she and the Corn Flakes had started making films out of their daydreams instead of getting in trouble for having them in school and missing important things like voting for a stupid dance.
"What were the other choices?" Fiona said.
"Who cares?" B.J. said. "We're having a dance, and everybody's going to wear, like, dress-up clothes, and"
"So if you didn't even know about the dance," Anne-Stuart said, "then you obviously don't have your dates yet."
"Dates?" Sophie said.
"You mean, as in boys?" Fiona said.
Anne-Stuart snorted and covered her mouth. B.J. waved at the librarian, whose eyebrows were now up in her hairline.
"You know," Anne-Stuart whispered. "Boys. The ones with the cute legs."
"Cute LEGS?" Sophie's voice squeaked out of her own nostrils, and she was sure Anne-Stuart was going to drip right out of her chair. B.J. kept smiling at the librarian.
"People are actually coming to the dance with DATES?" Fiona said.
"You meet your date at the dance, and he doesn't dance with anybody else but you the whole night." Anne-Stuart put her hand on Fiona's and wrinkled her forehead. "You don't HAVE to. I mean, if you can't get a boy to be with you, then you can't."
"I don't WANT a boy to be with me, thank you very much," Fiona said. She snatched back her hand.
Sophie was doing the mustache thing with her hair again. What boy in their class would she even want to get within three feet of? One of the Fruit LoopsTod or Eddie or Colton? The thought made her feel like she had the stomach flu coming on. She shrank her already tiny form down into the chair.
Tod Ravelli had a pointy face like a Dr. Seuss character and acted like he was all big, even though he was one of the shrimpiest boys in the class. Acting big included trying to make Sophie feel like a worm.
Colton Messik wasn't any better. He seemed to think he was cute the way he could make the Corn Pops squeal when he told a joke. Sophie and the rest of the Flakes thought the only thing funny about him was the way his ears stuck out.
And Eddie Wornom was the worst. He acted like Mr. Football, but mostly he was what Sophie's mom called "fluffy" around the tummy, and he was louder than the other two put together, especially when he was calling their friend Maggie "Maggot" or some other lovely thing.
"I doubt any boy would ask you anyway," B.J was saying to Fiona. "Not unless it was one of the computer geeks. Vincent or one of the boy-twins orI know! Jimmy Wythehe's like the KING of the computer geeks. You could go with him."
Fiona let her head fall to the side, closed her eyes, and pretended to snore. Sophie watched the librarian march toward them. B.J. lowered her voice. "But you'd better hurry up because there are more girls than boys in our class. You COULD get left out."
"We have to go," Anne-Stuart said. She grabbed B.J.'s hand, pulling her from the chair, and cocked her head at Mrs. Eyebrows. Silky-blonde tresses spilled along the side of Anne-Stuart's face.
"We tried to get them to be quiet, ma'am," she said. She and B.J. trailed off.
"Come on," Fiona said. "Let's wait for Kitty and those guys outside."
Sophie left Food from Around the World on the table and followed Fiona past the glowering Mrs. Eyebrows and on outsidewhere a corridor of trees sheltered the library and Poquoson, Virginia's City Hall from the road. Big, fluffy hydrangea bushes provided a getaway spot for the two of them. Sophie sat down on the curb and wriggled herself under a snowball cluster of blue flowers with Fiona perched next to her.
"Just when I think they couldn't GET any more scornful, they reveal yet another layer of contempt" Fiona's eyes narrowed, Corn Pop style. "They're evil."
Sophie nodded. "And Julia wasn't even with them. Or Willoughby."
"Julia always lets them do the dirty work, being the queen and all. And Willoughbyyou can hardly tell if she's even a Corn Pop anymore. Have you noticed that sometimes she's with them and sometimes she's not?"
"I invited her to hang out with us that one time"
"And the Pops snatched her right back. Even if THEY don't want to be her friends, they don't want US to be her friends. I told youthey're evil."
Sophie squirmed. "What about this dance thing?"
"It's lame. I vote the Corn Flakes just don't even go. We have better things to do. HeyI have an idea." Fiona nodded toward Sophie's backpack. "Get your camera out. Let's hide in this bush and film Kitty and Darbie and Maggie when they get here."
Sophie felt a grin spreading across her face. "Let's pretend we're secret agents"
"Hired to do surveillance on"
"A new group of agents being gathered for a special mission"
"Quickhere comes Maggie's mom's car!"
As Senora LaQuita's big old Pontiac pulled into the parking lot, Sophie climbed into the hydrangea bush with Fiona, fished the camera out of her backpack, and became
Agent Shadow. With a practiced handand eyeAgent Shadow framed her fellow agent in the lens. Wide-set brown eyes, dark chin-length hair, and a classic jaw line revealed her Latino heritage. An experienced agent knew these things. The dark-haired agent didn't say goodbye as she drew her boxy-square frame from the car, but, then, according to classified information, this was not a smiley spy. Agent-from-Cuba was known as the most serious of this collection of agents from all over the world.
Yeahan international group. That was good, Sophie decided.
As Maggie plodded up the library walk with her leather backpack, Sophie panned the camera, but Fiona gave her a poke and pointed back to the parking lot. A van was pulling up.
"There's Kitty," Sophie whispered to Fiona.
Agent Shadow focused the camera and watched the girl hop down from the van, her black ponytail bouncing. Agent Shadow continued to film Agent Ponytail as she stood on tiptoe to talk through the window to the driver. Agent Shadow was sure Ponytail was getting ALL the instructions about when to be back at headquartersfor the fourth time at least. This agent's documents had revealed that she could be scatterbrained at times. Just as Ponytail turned, Agent Shadow got a good shot of her profilean upturned nose that looked like it had been chiseled out of china. Agent Ponytail was very un-agent-like. That must be part of her cover.
"Hey, Mags!" Kitty called up the walk.
Agent Shadow jumped and collided with Agent Big Words, nearly tumbling the two of them from their hiding place
"Better let me," Fiona said. She picked up the camera from where it teetered on a hydrangea branch.
Agent Shadow grew more intent as she crept deeper under cover. She had been in the field for forty-eight straight hours without sleep. Perhaps it was time to let Agent Big Words take over the filming.
She watched, her mind razor-sharp, as Agent Ponytail hugged the neck of Agent-from-Cuba. Agent Ponytail appeared to be the slobbery type. Agent-from-Cuba obviously was not.
"Pssthere comes Darbie!" Fiona hissed.
Agent Shadow swiveled her gaze to the figure getting out of a BMW. She was the newest agent to be recruited into this gathering. Recently arriving from Northern Ireland, she would have much to add to the mission internationally speaking, especially when Agent Shadow determined just what the mission waswhich would come later. It always came later.
Refreshed from her short break from the camera, Agent Shadow snatched it back from Agent Big Words and zoomed in on the subject striding up the walk. She was swinging her arms and her reddish hair and taking in everything with flashing black eyes.
"Agent Irish will be helpful in giving each of our agents new names and identities," Agent Shadow told herself. "Once we figure out what dangerous, risky, and utterly vital mission we'll be on. But first I must see just how observant she is. Can we remain hiddenor is she just as sharp as her file says she is?"
Even though Agent Shadow burrowed herself deeper into the treacherous tangle of brush, she could see Agent Irish growing bigger in her lensand biggerand bigger
"Don't be thinking you're sly, you two," Darbie said, her nose pressed against the camera lens. "You're just a bit obvious."
"But we got you on film!" Fiona said. She crawled from behind the bush, shaking tiny blue blossoms from her hair. Sophie wriggled out after her.
"Our next Corn Flakes production should be a spy film, I think," Sophie said.
"My mom could make us trench coats," Maggie said.
Fiona bunched up her lips. "That's better than dance dresses."
"DANCE dresses?" Kitty's clear blue eyes were lighting up like tiny flames. "That's rightthe sixth-grade dance!"
"You knew about it?" Fiona said.
"Of course she did. So did I." Maggie shrugged. "They do it every year."
Darbie gave a grunt. "You won't be seeing me at a dance. Those Corn Pops already made me feel like an eejit about my dancing when I first came here." Eejit was idiot in Darbie's Northern Irish accent. It was one of her favorite words. "I'd rather be making a spy flick," she said.
"Exactly," Fiona said.
Sophie looked at Kitty, who was poking at a weed growing up through a walkway crack with the toe of her pink flip-flop.
"You WANT to go to the dance, Kitty?" Sophie said.
"Kind of," Kitty said. "It would be fun to be all, like, dressed up. We don't HAVE to dance." Kitty's voice was starting to spiral up into a whine. Whining was one of the things she did best.
"You just want to get dressed up and go stand around?" Fiona said.
"Maybe we could just dance with each another"
"And pretend we're agents in disguise, keeping the Corn Pop organization in our sights," Sophie said.
"That definitely has possibilities," Fiona said, rubbing her chin. "What if we could foil their plans with their 'dates'?"
"Define 'foil'" Darbie said.
"I think that means mess them up," Sophie said.
Darbie giggled. "You mean, like mix them up so they end up dancing with each other's boyfriends?" she said.
"The only thing is," Sophie said, "we can't be hateful to the Pops just because they're hateful to us. Corn Flake code."
"I knowbummer," Fiona said. She sighed. "But you're right. We'll have to think of some other mission."
"Whatever it is, we can't let them see us filming them," Darbie put in.
"WE don't have to dance with any boys though, do we?" Maggie's voice was thudding even harder than usual.
"Absolutely not," Darbie said. "We'll have nothing to do with those blaggards."
Blaggards, Sophie thought, repeating the word blackguards in her mind the way Darbie had pronounced it. With her Irish accent, Darbie could make anything sound exciting and exotic and worth doing.
"We might look a little suspicious not dancing with ANY boys," Kitty said. "It's not like ALL of them are blackguards."
"The Fruit Loops definitely are," Fiona said with a sniff. She dropped down on the grass and the rest of the Corn Flakes joined her.
Darbie nodded slowly. "But those boys that are always raving on about computersthey aren't THAT bad."
"You mean like Nathan and Vincent and Jimmy and the twins?" Sophie said.
"Ross and Ian," Kitty said.
Sophie peered at Kitty through her glasses. Kitty was looking suspiciously dreamy, and Sophie had a feeling it wasn't about being a secret agent.
"I can't keep any of them straight," Darbie said.
"Nathan's way skinny and he got first place in the science fair, remember?" Kitty said.
"No," Fiona said. "Why do you remember?"
Kitty's cheeks got pink. "His dad's in my dad's squadron. I see him at picnics and stuff."
"Carry on," Darbie said, pointing at Kitty with a piece of grass.
"Like I said, Ross and Ian are the twins"
"Round faces," Maggie said.
"Not Eddie Wornom-round, though," Sophie said.
"Noeew," Kitty said. "What else, Darbie?" Her eyes were shining, and Sophie could tell she was enjoying this role.
This might come in handy when we make our secret agent movie, Sophie thought. She was already thinking of plot twists that could make use of Agent Ponytail's powers of observation.
"Vincentwhich one is he?"
"Curly hair, braces," Fiona said.
"And he has kind of a deep voice," Kitty cut inbefore Fiona could take her job away from her, Sophie thought. "Only it goes high sometimes."
"I know exactly who he is," Darbie said. "He isn't as much of an eejit as a lot of them."
"You left out Jimmy Wythe," Maggie said matter-of-factly.
Kitty shrugged. "I don't know that much about him. He's quiet." She gave a soft giggle. "That kind of makes him mysterious."
"Or a geek," Fiona said.
"Okay," Sophie said. "So when we come up with a mission, if we have to dance with any boys it'll be just those not-mean ones. Is everybody in?"
Fiona stuck out her pinky finger, and Kitty latched onto it. Maggie hooked onto Kitty's, and Sophie crooked her pinky around Maggie's. Only Darbie was left.
"Are we promising there will be no dates for us though?" she said.
"Not a chance," Fiona said.
Darbie gave a serious nod, and then she curved one pinky around Sophie's and the other around Fiona's.
"It's a Corn Flakes pact then," Fiona said. "No one breaks it."
"We better get to work on our culture project now," Maggie said.
Kitty giggled and hiked herself up onto Maggie's back, right on top of her backpack. "Can't we talk about our dresses first?" she said.
"Costumes," Sophie said. "For the film."
As the Corn Flakes meandered toward the library door, Sophie held back. She had a feeling this was going to be the Corn Flakes' most important movie yetand maybe even Agent Shadow's most important mission. It was going to take some serious dreaming to get it just right.
Excerpted from Sophie and Friends by Nancy Rue Copyright © 2013 by Nancy Rue. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERKIDZ. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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