"Look, Soph," Daddy said. "I can't break it down for you any further. The answer is no. End of discussion."
Sophie wailed anyway, pipsqueak voice rising to the kitchen ceiling. "I'll be the only one in the whole entire school who doesn't get to see the movie."
Daddy squinted at her as he shrugged into his black NASA jacket. He didn't like whining either. "I'm sure there are other parents who don't want their twelve-year-olds seeing a PG13 movie about gangs."
"It's a documentary!" Sophie said. "It's about real life."
Daddy's dark eyebrows shot up. "That makes it okay?" He picked up his laptop case and ran his other hand down the back of his spiky hair. "Drive-by shootings and foul language are not a part of your real life, and I'd like to keep it that way."
"What do I tell Mrs. Clayton and Ms. Hess?"
"Tell them I'll be calling your principal with a full explanation."
When Sophie opened her mouth, Daddy closed it with a black look. He didn't like arguing more than he didn't like anything.
He's calling Mr. Bentley? Sophie thought as she hoisted her backpack over her shoulder. That is the most humiliating thing I can think of.
It was probably worse than humiliating. She'd have to ask her best friend Fiona Bunting, the walking dictionary, for a word to describe feeling like a kindergartner in a seventh-grade body.
"Don't forget, it's your day to watch Zeke after school," Daddy said from the doorway. "Walk you to the bus stop, Baby Girl?"
How about NO! Sophie wanted to shriek. But she didn't even want to find out how much Daddy didn't like shrieking.
As she trudged to the corner, Sophie felt as if she had a chain attached to her ankle, and for somebody as small for a twelve-year-old as she was, that was not a good thing. She could almost imagine it clanking on the sidewalk. But, then, she could imagine almost anything.
But I don't have to imagine how heinous this situation is! she told herself. It wasn't just having to babysit her six-year-old brother while her mom, who was going to have LaCroix Kid Number Four in a few months, cooked dinner. Zeke wasn't even that bad since he'd figured out New Baby Girl wasn't going to wipe out life as he knew it. And it wasn't just that Daddy wouldn't let her go to the movie that everybody in the entire school was seeing that dayexcept her.
It's just all of it, Sophie thought.
She climbed aboard the bus and slumped into her usual seat behind Harley and Gill, the two soccer-playing girls Sophie and her friends (the Corn Flakes) referred to as the Wheaties.
"Hi, you guys," she said.
But they only nodded at her vaguely. Their eyes were glued to the other side of the bus, a few rows back.
"Dude," Gill said, her green eyes wide. "Cell phones?" She shook her head so that two lanky tendrils of reddish hair fell out from under her wool, billed cap.
As usual, husky Harley just grunted.
Sophie swiveled around to catch sight of two girls sitting on the reserved-for-eighth-graders-only side. The very blonde one with even blonder highlights had a phone pressed to her ear, and her striking blue eyes were dancing a reply to the person on the other end. She pulled her hair up in a handful and let it fall like a fountain of blondeness to her shoulders as she laughed.
"It's only eight o'clock in the morning," Sophie whispered. "Who could she be talking to?"
"Probably the girl next to her," Gill said.
The talker's seatmate was a slender girl with a wispy cut to her honey brown hair that made her look like a stylish elf. Her lips were moving, but she seemed to be chatting to nobody.
"Where's her phone?" Sophie said to Gill.
"In her ear," Gill said. "See the wire coming down?"
Just then the girl glanced their way, and Gill and Harley turned in their seats like they were about to be shot. But although there was an unspoken rule that seventh graders didn't stare at eighth graders, just like they didn't even venture into the eighth-grade halls, Sophie couldn't pull her eyes from the girl's golden brown ones as she raised her teen-magazine eyebrows at Sophie. Even though they'd been riding the same bus for three months, it was the first time she seemed to notice Sophie. Being seen by a girl who looked so together was like being under a spell.
The girl spread out her palms as if to say, "Well?"
"Sorry," Sophie said. She shriveled back into her seventh-grade world.
"I can't believe they're taking cell phones to school," Gill whispered over the back of the seat.
"I'll never even own one 'til I'm out of college or something," Sophie whispered back. Even her fourteen-year-old sister, Lacie, didn't have one, and she was in high school.
Sophie scooted closer to the bus window and gazed out through her glasses as Poquoson, Virginia, went by in a November mist. I'll never even get a phone in my room, she thought. My conversations with my friends might as well be on the six o'clock news.
Not to mention the whole rest of her life. In less than an hour, everybody in her section at school would know that her parents didn't think she could handle a PG13 movie.
They're way overprotective, Sophie thought. And then she squirmed a little. Back in October, when Mama and Daddy had come to the school to stand up for her, she had liked them being her guardian angels. But this was way different, she decidedand way confusing.
She ran her hand over the top of her very-short-but-shiny light brown hair like she always did when she was confused, and she closed her eyes. Time to imagine Jesus. And of course, there he was, with his kind eyes, waiting for her questions.
Okay, so what is WITH Mama and Daddy lately? she murmured to him in her mind. The baby that hasn't even been born yet has more privacy than I do!
Sophie opened her eyes and squirmed some more. It didn't feel exactly right to be complaining to Jesus about her parents. There was that whole "honor your father and mother" thing to consider.
She was still pondering it when she got to her locker. Most of the other Corn Flakes were waiting for her. That was the name they'd given themselves when the Corn Pops, the wickedly popular girls, had said they were "flakes." To the Corn Flakes, that meant they were free to be themselves and never put down other people the way the Corn Pops did.
"How come you weren't online last night?" Fiona tucked back the wayward strand of golden-brown hair that was always creeping over one magic-gray eye. "I wanted to IM you. I tried emailing, but you didn't answer."
"Guess," Sophie said. She dropped her backpack and went after her combination lock.
"Lacie had another paper to write," said Darbie O'Grady. She swept both sides of her reddish bob behind her ears. "I bet you were up to ninety."
In Darbie's Irish slang, that meant Sophie was ready to explode. Sophie nodded and yanked her locker open.
"You're so lucky you're an only child, Darbie," she said. "You too, Mags."
"Huh." The sound that came out of Maggie LaQuita was as square and solid as everything else about her, including the blunt cut of her Cuban-dark hair.
"You don't have other siblings reading your emails and getting into your stuff," Fiona said. "Not like Sophie and I do."
"But my mother is the only other person in my house," Maggie said. "If I close the door to my room, she says I'm shutting her out."
Sophie looked up, her literature book poised in midair. "Really?" she said. "I thought you and your mom got along really well. She makes all your clothes and everything."
"Huh," Maggie said again. She looked down at the bright turquoise-and-orange poncho that covered her chest. "She hasn't figured out that we don't have the same tastes anymore."
"And does she say you're giving her cheek when you complain?" Darbie said.
Maggie frowned. "You mean like I'm talking back to her?"
Maggie's dark eyes answered for her.
"I have the same problem," Darbie said. She leaned against the bank of lockers opposite Sophie's. "When I first came here, I liked it that Aunt Emily and Uncle Patrick were always protecting me from scary things. But I've adjusted"
"You're practically American now," Fiona added.
"But they still turn the channel every time someone says a cross word on the telly, and they look at me like I might go mental."
Sophie gave her locker door another shove and smiled at all of them.
"What?" Fiona said.
"I'm glad we all have parent problems," she said. "I mean, I'm not glad about the problems, but I'm glad at least we all understand what we're going through."
"So we can empathize," Fiona said.
"Define," Maggie said.
"It's better than sympathizing, where you just think you know how somebody feels. When you empathize, you really do know how the other person feels."
"That's why we're the Corn Flakes, isn't it?" Darbie said.
"Is empathizing part of the Corn Flake Code?" Maggie said.
Fiona counted off on her fingers. "Never put anybody down even though they do it to you. Don't fight back or give in to bullies; just take back your power to be yourself. Talk to Jesus about everything because he gives you the power to be who he made you to be."
"I didn't hear anything about empathizing," Maggie said, words thudding.
"It's got to be in there somewhere," Darbie said.
"We can add it," Sophie said. "Corn Flakes are totally loyal to each other and will always empathize."
"I love it," Fiona said. "And a Corn Flake will help you with the things your parents can't help you with." Her pink bow of a mouth went into a grin. "Like dealing with them!"
"Who are we dealing with?" another voice chimed in.
Sophie shoved her shoulder against her locker door, which still wouldn't close, as Willoughby Wiley joined them. Her wildly curly brown hair was springing out of a messy bun in just the right way, and her hazel eyes were shining. Sophie always thought you didn't have to see the red, white, and blue Great Marsh Middle School pom-poms sticking out of her backpack to know she was a cheerleader.
"We were talking about parents," Fiona said.
"And I'm talking about you getting away from my locker so I can get in itplease."
That came from Julia Cummings, the tall, auburn-haired leader of the Corn Pops, who had trailed in behind Willoughby with her fellow Pops at her heels. On-the-chubby-side B.J. Schneider nearly plowed into the back of Julia as she glared at Willoughby.
Cheerleader envy, Sophie thought. The Corn Pops were still mad that they had been kicked off the seventh-grade cheerleading squad while Willoughby, a former Corn Pop herself, was now captain. But they don't dare do anything about it or they're toast, Sophie added to herself. They'd gotten into enough trouble for harassing the Flakes to last them until graduation.
Which was probably why, Sophie decided, Julia gave Darbie an icy smile as Darbie said, "Oh, sorry," and stepped away from Julia's locker. Pale, thin Corn Pop Anne-Stuart sniffed at Darbie as she moved, but, then, Anne-Stuart was always sniffing. Sophie had never known her not to be in dire need of a box of tissues.
"You're not supposed to touch other people's lockers," Cassie said to Darbie. She tossed her very long, almost-too-blonde hair as if she were adding punctuation. Cassie was the newest of the Corn Pops. It seemed to Sophie that she was always trying to prove herself, especially to Julia.
Willoughby turned her back on them completely and widened her eyes at the Flakes. "What about parents?" she said. "You all looked bummed."
Darbie groaned and Maggie filled her in, with Fiona adding details. Sophie listened while she fought with her locker door, which was now jammed half open and half closed.
"You know what?" Willoughby said. "Maybe it's because I just have a dad and not a mom, but I have way a lot of freedom. Y'all can escape to my house anytime."
The bell rang. "How about now?" Fiona said. "I don't really want to go see that lame gang movie." She gave Sophie a sympatheticor maybe empatheticlook.
"You better come on," Maggie said to Sophie as they all hurried toward the hall.
"You all go ahead," Sophie said. "I have to get this thing open so I can close it."
"That makes total sense," Julia muttered as she and the Corn Pops sailed away.
"Makes sense to us," Fiona said. Although there wasn't time for the official Corn Flake pinky promise shake, she held up her little finger and wiggled it, and the rest of the girls did the same.
I would LOVE to escape to Willoughby's, like, tonight! Sophie thought as she put one foot up on the locker below hers to brace herself for one more tug. But then she felt a pang of guilt. I want to escape from my own house?
She pulled on the locker with both hands, but her fingers slipped off and she dropped to her seat on the floor. At the end of the row of lockers, feet rushed past, and she was sure she heard Colton Messik say, "Oops, Soapy, you fell. Too bad."
He was one of the absurd little creep boys the Corn Flakes had named the Fruit Loops. At least there were only two of them now, since Eddie Wornom was no longer around.
Two too many, Sophie thought as she got to her feet and readjusted her glasses. I need to escape from them too.
Actually, she thought, as she gave up on getting the locker open and shoved at it with her backpack to get it closed, she didn't really need to go to Willoughby's or anywhere else to shut it all out. Escape was never more than a dream character away.
And do I need one now or what? Sophie thought. Hello!
She stopped pushing and headed for the hall. Somebody who could protect the right of kids to grow upthat's what she saw taking shape in her dream-mind. Maybe the leader of a good gang.
What could her name be? Goodie?
Nah, too sappy.
My name will be revealed on a need-to-know basis, thought the tough little woman with the smooth muscles that made her T-shirt sleeves curve outward. I don't tell it to just any punk who shoves me in a crowd, she told herself as she dodged passing elbows like a championship boxer. They can see that I can't be pushed around.
But though she was tough, she didn't swagger. It was sheer confidence that drove her straight into the thick of the danger on the street
"Sophie LaCroixdo you want to tell me what you're doing down here?"
Sophie blinked and found herself standing in the middle of an eighth-grade hall.
"What are you doing way down here?"
"I don't know," Sophie said.
"Why doesn't that surprise me?" Miss Imes looked over Sophie's head at the students surging past. "Slow it down. You'll all get a seat."
Nobody talked back. Even eighth graders don't mess with her, Sophie thought. Rumor had it that eighth graders really didn't take orders from anybody. She'd never had a chance to check that out firsthand. She'd never even been in an eighth-grade hall.
"You'd best get yourself to class before you're marked tardy," Miss Imes said to her. "I don't want you getting into any trouble that will keep you out of the new Film Club project."
"What new project?" Sophie could feel her eyes popping.
"You'll find out at lunch," Miss Imes said. "It's exciting."
Nothing actually sounded exciting when it came dryly out of Miss Imes' mouth. After all, she was a math teacher. But if she said it was, it was.
"No tardies," Miss Imes said.
Sophie turned and followed the throng toward the main hall where she could cross to seventh-grade territory.
And the sooner the better, she thought.
It was different down here. There were boy-girl couples holding hands and girls striding as if they were going down a fashion show runway and guys spewing out language Sophie hadn't heard since Eddie Wornom had been sent away to military school.
But even all that didn't dampen the promise of a new project. Sophie went into a higher gear. No way was she going to be late and mess up being able to participate.
Not only that, she thought as she ducked around a hugging couple, I don't want to get kicked off Round Table either.
Round Table was the handpicked council of students and faculty members who figured out how to help kids who got in trouble and needed to change more than they needed punishment.
The tough little good-gang leader quickened her steps. There was so much work to be done. The more punk-wannabes she could get out of trouble, the better.
Sophie was three long leaps from her first-period-classroom door when the final bell rang. She slipped in just as it was closingone of the few benefits of being the smallest kid in the seventh grade. Inside, everybody was standing up, yelling "Here!" as Ms. Hess, the younger of the two English/ History block teachers, called out their names so they could head to the gym for the movie.
Excerpted from Sophie Flakes Out 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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