In The Cards

crunch time
head games
true meaning of cleavage
in the cards
the smart girls guide to tarot
fatal distraction


Sometimes I think it's all Eve's fault.

Then I think that's stupid. Just because Eve is crazy doesn't mean everything is her fault.

But she was the one who said we should do it. The one who said it was lame to be scared and that we had to try it or we'd never know.

But I listened to her. So really, it's my fault.

Other times, I think Sydney's to blame. If she'd just been stronger, said, Guys, this is wrong, maybe I wouldn't have listened to Eve.

Only Sydney did say it was wrong, and I listened to Eve anyway. So we're back to me. It's my fault.

I hate it when things are my fault.

I try really, really hard not to let that happen. And when it does happen, I try to figure out what I did wrong, what I could have done differently. Where did I make my mistake?

Except it's not that simple. A mistake doesn't always feel like a mistake when you're making it.

For example, you can say that none of this would have happened if I hadn't taken care of Mrs. Rosemont's cats. But I couldn't say no to her. She was an old lady, she didn't have anyone else.

Eve would say I never should have even talked to Mrs. Rosemont, that she was boring and a pain. Even Syd, who's an animal freak, didn't like visiting the cats because she thought Mrs. Rosemont was strange. But you can't say to someone, Get away, you're boring! You're strange!

Well, not if you're a wimp like me.

But it is true that if I had never talked to Mrs. Rosemont in the elevator, she wouldn't have asked me to feed her cats.

And if she had never asked me to feed her cats, we wouldn't have had that talk about the future.

And if we hadn't had that talk about the future, she might not have left me these cards when she died.

Because that's where the whole thing started. The cards.

I still have them. They're in the box they came in, the leather one with the strange carvings on the top. When all the craziness was over, I put them way in the back of my closet, along with the book that explains what each of the cards means, how to read them, understand them!

All I can say is, I wish we'd understood them a whole lot better.

* * * *

Chapter One



1. Attend ACT NOW Rally.

2. Try to sing off book in chorus. (Say something nice to Bridget?)

3. Ask Mr. Fegelson for an extension on biology project.

4. Water Mr. Keiser's plants.

5. Walk the Dunphys' dog.

6. Get mom to adopt Mrs. Rosemont's cats.

Does everyone think about bizarre things when they're brushing their teeth or is it just me? The day after Mrs. Rosemont dies, I'm squooshing toothpaste in my mouth when I think, What is dead, anyway?

Yesterday Mrs. Rosemont was here,and now she's not. But what does that mean, except I won't ever see her again?

Is she just nothing? Or is she a spirit, floating around somewhere?

Part of me thinks she's a spirit. Because I can't believe she's gone. She doesn't feel gone. I remember my mom telling me that Mrs. Rosemont had died in the hospital, but I don't feel the least bit sad. It's only when I think about her cats,Beesley, Tatiana, and Mouli, lost and missing their human,that I get upset.

Which is terrible. When someone dies, you should be sad about them.

I spit, then wonder, So, if I died tomorrow, would anybody care?

My mom and dad would definitely freak. Russell would demand he get my room. Eve would be psyched, because it'd be all macabre and she could wear black and flip out. But then she'd get tired of it and move on to something else.

Syd would be sad, though. Genuinely sad. And they'd probably do something at school, have an assembly, tell people it was okay to cry if they wanted to.

But I'm not sure how many people would cry. More likely, they'd be like, Anna? Anna who? Oh, her. Yeah, she was!okay.

My little brother Russell is waiting for me at the door. He has two pencils stuck up his nostrils. Today, apparently, he is a walrus.

Russell is eight years old, but he's been strange since the day he was born. This doesn't seem to bother most people, for example, my parents, who you'd think would be a little worried that their only son lives on a diet of tuna fish and boogers. Just the fact that he's usually pretending to be some kind of animal should raise a red flag, right? I once looked up the traits of a psychotic personality. Russell had almost every single one. I told my mother, but she said, "He's just trying to be funny, Anna. Let him have his thing." Which made me wonder, Do I have a thing? And if so, what is it?

On the way to school, I keep thinking about Mrs. Rosemont. This is the first day she isn't here, the first day she's missing. Everything that happens from now on, she won't know about. And yet we're all just going along without her.

Once she gave me a piece of butterscotch candy, and I didn't eat it because it was old and kind of sticky. But she acted like it was this big deal and she wouldn't give it to anyone but me. Now I wish I'd eaten it. Even though I hate butterscotch.

As we wait for the light, Russell sways and snorts and claps his hands like they're flippers. I tell him, "Walruses smell. Walruses get fat and roll over on baby walruses and crush them." He immediately starts shrieking like a baby walrus being squished.

I will have to talk to my mother. Russell is way too casual about death.

When we get to school, Eve is waiting for me on the steps. Today, she's wearing her Cute Makes Me Gag T-shirt. It has a picture of a kitten and a red banned circle on it. Now, if Eve died, everybody at school would remember her. I don't know if they'd cry a lot, but they'd all have an Eve story. "Remember the time she farted at the mime show?" "Remember when she made Ms. DeLisi cry in English class?" "Or the summer she chopped off all her hair?"

Sometimes I worry that I'm too tame to be Eve's friend.

As we go into school, I say, "Did you hear about Mrs. Rosemont?"

"Why would I hear about Mrs. Rosemont?"

"Because she died."

Eve shrugs. "Well, she was like a hundred and nine."

"God, Eve!"

"Uh, hello, old woman I met twice now dead, I'm supposed to be all boo hoo?" Eve sees my face, says, "Okay, okay. Sorry. God, you like!care about everything."

Annoyed, I say, "I don't care about everything, but she's dead, you know? Have a little respect."

Eve puts her head on my shoulder, which is her real way of saying Sorry. "It's ACT NOW. It's making me borderline postal."

"I get that," I say as we head up the stairs to assembly. Because I do. Eberly, our school, is heavily into "doing things." Penny drives, donating food, cleaning up the park. Our principal, Ms. Kenworthy, has a sign on her door, "A good citizen is an active citizen." So, every fall, they kick off the year with a big ACT NOW rally to tell everyone what events are planned and how they can get involved.

Which sounds great, but sometimes I wonder if Ms. Kenworthy really knows what goes on at this school. She might tell us we're all the same and not to look down on anyone, but the fact is, there are a lot of kids at Eberly who live to look down on people. They wouldn't have it any other way. It's absolutely understood: there's a top ruling clique, made up of the Uber Cool. You have to at least be rich and at least be hot,so forget it for me and Eve right there (although I think Eve is very pretty, even if she isn't skinny skinny and has her hair all cut up Goth style). These kids make fun of people for not wearing designer, so it's a little hard to imagine them caring about the homeless.

Then on the other end, there's the freaks, the lowest of the low. It's not as obvious how you get to be a freak. It's not about being ugly or strange or not having money,although those things help. What really does it is if you're targeted by the Uber Cool; if they decide to make you their little joke, you've had it. And that could happen to anybody; people try very hard at Eberly to stay out of the Freak Zone,which usually means joining in on the torture of existing freaks.

This is why I'm not sure if Ms. Kenworthy has the least clue. She should. All she has to do is look out and see how everyone's sitting. Uber Cools like Chris Abernathy and his cro-magnonic bud Kyle are, of course, near the P&Ps (what Eve calls the Pretty and Perfects) like Elissa Maxwell and Alexa Roth. Whereas Crazy Nelson Kobliner is sitting all the way off to the side, as is Planet Janet Epstein. (Janet's a little!heavy.) If Ms. Kenworthy did take the time to look, she'd see Chris pitching a balled-up Chinese menu at Janet right now. She'd see Elissa giggling and pointing at Sara Reynolds' hand-me-down sweater.

She'd also see Declan Kelso, as well as every girl in school staring at Declan Kelso. Declan is, without question, the hottest guy at Eberly. And not just in the 8th grade either. I bet there are sophomores who would date Declan.

And what's really funny is that up until this year, Declan was a major freak. Not even freak,geek. You know Ark-Ark on Ovidian Planet? The dorky alien who's always screwing up? That's what Declan looked like. People actually called him Ark-Ark. They knocked his books out of his arms, drew on his clothes with pen, and repeated whatever he said in a retarded voice until he almost cried. Some people found it quite hilarious.

But this year, when he came back to school, nobody recognized him. He was taller, wider, "babe shaped," as Lara Tierney put it. The glasses were gone, so everyone could see he had big blue eyes with the longest lashes. The brown hair was a little longer, so it didn't stick out anymore. The old Declan was always making weird jokes nobody laughed at. This Declan doesn't say much, just goes around with his head down and his hands jammed in the pockets of his army jacket.

Declan is the first major crossover from Freak to Uber Cool, and every girl in school is crazy about him. The P&Ps think he's a babe, but geek girls think they have a chance because he used to be one of us. Naturally, everyone wants to see who he asks out, what group she belongs to. It's a big topic of discussion on Zoe's World, a website run by official school gossip Zoe Friedlander. She even has a list of top candidates of future G.O.D.s (Girlfriend of Declan's).

Needless to say, my name is not on the list. I'd like to say I don't care. That I find all this fuss over Declan Kelso pathetic and really he's not that cute!

But I'd be lying. I think he's amazing.

Frankly, I thought Declan was cute when he was Ark-Ark. Only I wasn't going to ask Ark-Ark out, right? Serves me right, because he's way beyond me now.

Ms. Kenworthy stands up and taps the microphone. "People, could we all calm down now and give our full attention to the matter at hand?"

Despite the fact that I think she's clueless about certain things, I sort of admire Ms. Kenworthy. All the things she wants us to think about are good things, and she is very!forceful. She's the kind of person you can imagine as a statue one day.

Now she says, "We have many exciting events planned for this semester. This year for Halloween, instead of the traditional dance, we will ask students to take to the streets in costume to ask for donations to Habitat for Humanity."

Eve frowns. "Whoa, no Halloween dance? That sucks."

Over the murmur of disappointment, Ms. Kenworthy says, "For those of you saddened by the loss of the Halloween dance, you will be happy to know that at Thanksgiving, in addition to our canned goods drive, we will have the first annual Eberly Turkey Trot, and then the Holiday Party just before the start of winter break."

Oh. No. The Turkey Trot? Is she kidding? If it were anybody but Ms. Kenworthy, people would boo.

Raising her voice, Ms. Kenworthy says, "Finally, as we start this school year, I'd like each of us to think about how we could be kinder to one another. Humanity can be expressed in many ways. Even by reaching out to someone we don't know, and asking them to lunch."

Hm. Maybe Ms. Kenworthy isn't so out of it after all. Without thinking, I look over at Nelson Kobliner. Since Declan went Greek God, Nelson is now officially the weirdest guy in school. He's got a strange jar shaped head, and he's always getting into fights. Kids might ask for a donations to charity, but no way is anyone asking Nelson Kobliner to lunch.

Then Ms. Kenworthy says, "Thank you" and everyone is up and headed for the door. As Eve and I struggle to make our way through the crowd, I see Declan edging along his row to join the aisle. If I time it right, he will reach the aisle just as we pass.

I know it's dumb. I know I have no shot. And yet, I slow down. Because, I don't know. It can't be coincidence that we're about to collide like this. Eve pulls on my arm, but I don't speed up. Just a few more seconds!

I feel someone pass behind me and look up. It's Crazy Nelson Kobliner and instinctively, I back off. Maybe it's mean of me, but there is something scary about Nelson. He's so big and it seems like he's always about to hit something. He carries this weird battered notebook everywhere. I can't imagine what's in it.

Then I feel bad. Two minutes after Ms. Kenworthy told us to be nicer to people, I'm already dissing Nelson. I try to smile at him, but he scowls and shoves past me. As he does, I move to make room and bump right up against Declan.

Which is totally perfect. But as I turn around, I hear, "Hey, Anna, ready to take over the altos this year?" The voice is Southern. And loud. And about three feet over my head.

It is Mr. Courtney, music teacher and chorus master.

It's useless to pretend I didn't hear Mr. Courtney; everyone hears Mr. Courtney. But I have to try,and I have to hope Declan didn't hear him. Because I do not want Declan finding out I am in chorus.

If being ugly or strange is a good way to join the Freak Zone, being in chorus is even better. It's a well established fact that only losers, nerds, and geeks sing in chorus. But I've been in it since second grade because I like singing, even though I'm not so good.

Mr. Courtney has only been here a year. Old chorus teachers knew chorus was uncool and put up with what they got. Courtney is always trying to recruit people. Now, totally blocking the aisle so Eve, Declan, and I are trapped in front of him, he says to Eve, "You gonna sing in my chorus?"

Eve narrows her eyes. "Uh, how about I would not be caught dead?"

"Wouldn't be caught dead? Gal, you don't join my chorus, I'll catch you and kill you. Declan, when you coming to chorus?" Declan does a little half smile, shrugs. "You want to be in chorus, believe me. You want to meet girls, right? Well, the best girls are in my chorus. Girls like Anna Morris here!"

I cannot even look Declan in the face. Someone please tell me: what did I do to deserve humiliation at the hands of Mr. Courtney? Meanwhile, Mr. Courtney's still yelling: "Still time to change your schedule, you know. I expect to see a whole bunch of you young men in my chorus next week."

Then he strides back down the aisle. For a long, awful, weird moment, Declan and I just stand there. Then I smile. Because, maybe he's standing there for a reason, maybe he wanted to talk to me!

Only Declan doesn't smile back. He says, "Sorry,can I get by?"

I leap aside. "Uh, sure. Sorry. "

"Thanks." As he steps past me, I pray that no one saw me make a total fool of myself.

But my prayer is not answered as Eve says, "Okay, how long were we going to keep that little secret?"

Head Games

The True Meaning of Cleavage

Fatal Distraction

Crunch Time

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