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Wonder Mom-Mom






Kathleen Long


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination, or, if real, are used fictitiously.





Text copyright ©2017 by Kathleen Long



All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in an information retrieval system in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, taping, and recording, without prior written permission from the publisher.



First edition 2017

SteeleHouse Press



Visit the author at kathleenlong.com

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

About the Author



For Annie—coolest panda,
master of cuteness, queen of the unicorns.


Never stop dreaming.



CHAPTER ONE


Date: Thursday, September 20th

Location: Westmont Elementary playground

Weather: Mild and sunny

Notes: Dodgeball is fun…said no one ever


I spotted the Great Blue Heron at the exact moment a large rubber ball connected with the back of my head. My thoughts went something like this: Ardea herodias! Excited silent scream. Then: Janie Howell. Frustrated internal groan.

As a matter of fact, I said, “Heron!” just as my head snapped forward and I staggered across the blacktop.

“Sorry,” Janie yelled. “It slipped.”

The spot where the ball hit the back of my skull throbbed instantly, and my glasses slid down my nose. The only reason they didn’t fly off and land on the blacktop was that I’d become a frequent target of Janie’s slips. My reflexes had gotten so fast my hand automatically went to my nose anytime I sensed an incoming object. Unfortunately I tripped at the same time and landed on my knees, pain shooting straight into my bones.

Beside me, Izzy Roswell growled. The sound rumbled from somewhere deep inside my best friend, as if a primal beast had awakened. Which it had.

Izzy grabbed my hand and pulled me to my feet. Then she fisted her hands on her hips and pivoted, shooting a death glare at Janie. Izzy stabbed one finger at the bridge of her own glasses, a move that typically signaled a stroke of brilliance or violence. She pushed her brown hair behind her ears and narrowed her eyes.

Definitely that second thing.

Janie shrugged. The demented-looking bunny on her T-shirt sat beneath a caption that read, “It’s cute how you think I’m listening to you,” and her hair looked like she’d done nothing more than finger-comb it for a month. Her expression had grown even scarier than normal. I couldn’t help but wonder what I’d done to deserve her wrath this time.

She hadn’t acknowledged my existence in fourth grade. Pretty much no one had. I was OK with that, though. Some kids wanted to fit in. I simply didn’t want to stand out.

But ever since the start of fifth grade, Janie had chosen me as her target. What I couldn’t figure out was why?

She raised her eyebrows as if to say, “What are you going to do about it, Becky Willowbee?”

I sighed. I’d never fought Janie. I didn’t want to fight her now. I was a scientist, a lover of birds, a kid who had no idea why the class bully had picked me.

The heron lifted from the bank of the pond where he’d settled, his magnificent grayish blue wingspan spreading wide as he flew out of my sight. My heart sank. I hadn’t even had a chance to log the sighting in the Audubon tracker I kept wedged in the back pocket of my jeans.

Izzy, however, had also launched into motion, flying across the blacktop to stand nose to nose with Janie.

Other students drifted closer, leaving behind soccer games and monkey bars to see what was happening. The teachers remained gathered in their usual corner of the blacktop, but a few heads turned our way. A soft chant rose from the fourth and fifth graders. “Fight. Fight. Fight.”

“Izzy, no,” I yelled. One more disciplinary notice and Izzy would be on after-school detention until she was thirty-five.

An odd sort of clamminess broke out on my face, and my glasses began a slow slide down my nose. I willed my feet to move, but could manage nothing more than standing there, wishing away the queasiness in the pit of my stomach.

Mrs. Jenkins, best science teacher in the world, broke away from the pack of teachers and moved to my side. “Looks like you could use some help out here.” She shot me a sympathetic smile, then rang the hand bell Westmont Elementary still used to signal the end of recess. “Saved by the bell, Willowbee,” she said before she turned away.

Bloodthirsty fight goers scattered, gathering up lunch boxes and environmentally friendly drink bottles.

Izzy, however, stood her ground, somehow appearing six inches taller than normal.

Janie smirked. “Later, loser.”

While most kids held up their fingers in the sign of an L when they spoke those words, Janie held up three fingers in the sign of a W. Then she walked away, one of her minions gathering up her lunch paraphernalia as they headed back to class.

“Isabella Roswell,” Mrs. Jenkins called out from where she’d stopped partway across the blacktop. “We’re doing a gravitational-pull experiment you won’t want to miss. Let’s go.”

Izzy reluctantly turned back to where I waited, and together we made our way across the blacktop toward the back door of the school. My gaze dropped to our feet, my battered Keds and her polished Mary Janes. Shoes said a lot about a person, I thought. Mine said I was pretty lazy when it came to footwear. Izzy’s said that no matter how tough she appeared on the outside, she loved her Mary Janes on the inside, and she was brave enough to wear what she wanted.

“Thanks for standing up for me,” I said softly.

“Your head OK?” Izzy asked.

I nodded.

“Your knees OK?”

I nodded again. Confusion and disappointment danced inside me. What had I ever done to Janie? Why couldn’t I be brave like Izzy? Would I ever see the heron again?

Then I asked. “Did you see the heron?”

Izzy sucked in air through her teeth and shook her head. “Blue? Or Great Blue?”

“Great.”

“Awesome.”

“Yeah, awesome,” I said, a little sad about everything.

In the moment before I stepped across the threshold that separated steel doors and linoleum floors from blacktop, playground, and the county park that bordered school property, I sneaked a look back at the crisp September sky.

I hoped for one last glimpse of the majestic bird, but the great blue heron was nowhere to be seen. He and his amazing wingspan had fled the scene.

Smart bird.




Later that afternoon, as my younger brother, Will, and I headed home on the Route 6 bus, it wasn’t the recess drama or the gravitational-pull experiment that bounced through my brain. Nope. It was the Westmont Science Fair.

I’d had a lot of trouble concentrating after recess. I kept thinking about the playground, and Janie, and the heron. I’d been wishing I were invisible so Janie would leave me alone to watch birds all day, when Mrs. Jenkins had told us all about the upcoming science fair and the one-hundred-dollar grand prize.

It was almost like she’d known exactly what to say to snap me out of my funk.

Here’s the thing. For the past three years, I’d dreamed of attending the Fall Festival in Cape May, New Jersey. Each spring and summer, tens of thousands of birds migrated past the shores of southern New Jersey, and for more than forty years, HawkWatch had been part of the fall festival.

For a few days each October, migrating raptors filled the sky over the southernmost tip of the state. Once, the daily count had reached over twenty thousand birds.

A shiver of excitement raced up my spine just imagining what the skies must look like.

So, what did the Fall Festival have to do with the Westmont Science Fair?

Well, I’d never asked to go to HawkWatch. Not once.

I knew better.

My parents were all about inclusion. They believed in doing things as a family. The Cape May Fall Festival was never going to be one of those things, because Will was terrified of birds.

But the science fair gave me an idea. What if I won enough money to go? Mom and Dad would never say no. Sure, someone would have to drive me the two hours to Cape May, New Jersey, but they knew how much I loved birds. Heck, I spent most afternoons sitting outside logging bird sightings in my field journal.

If I could win the science fair, maybe my parents would let me take the trip of my dreams even if it represented the thing my brother liked least.

All I needed now was a science fair entry that would be a sure-fire winner. I sat back against the fake leather of the bus seat and sighed. The scientist in me knew my plan wasn’t foolproof, but the dreamer in me knew anything was possible.

My heart did a little dance inside my ribs, and I did my best to stay calm. Think, Becky. Think. What sort of project would be so spectacular that no one else could beat me?

Will squirmed beside me and began to rock back and forth.

I put my hand on his knee and waited for him to look me in the eye. When he did, I smiled. Then I stuck out my tongue. He laughed and stopped rocking.

This was our thing.

Some people liked to label him. On the spectrum, they’d say. Autistic, they’d say.

As far as I was concerned, the only label Will needed was brother. My brother.

No sooner had he stopped rocking when he leaned toward the window. The bus driver had turned onto our street, so I figured Will was excited to see our house.

I was wrong.

“I know this one,” he said.

“What one?” I asked, stretching toward his side of the bench, but not seeing anything other than our neighbors’ houses.

“Wonder Mom-Mom,” he exclaimed in an excited rush of breath.

Behind us, the hum of conversation faded.

“No wonder you’re such a weirdo, Willowbee,” Janie called out, drawing my last name into four syllables. I didn’t have to look to know she was holding up her three-fingered W.

Laughter exploded inside the bus, and Janie called out, “Willowbee’s a weirdo.”

Will slid his small hand inside mine.

“Knock it off,” the bus driver hollered, but then she fell silent as she glanced toward our front lawn. “What in the—”

“Wonder Mom-Mom,” Will repeated, and this time I spotted the object of his attention.

Our grandmother danced in a tight spiral in our yard, arms outstretched, feet pounding down Dad’s prized Kentucky bluegrass. She wore a red, white, and blue bathing suit, a large gold belt, blue tights, a pair of red rain boots, and a gold tiara.

Dread knotted at the base of my throat, and I swallowed against the lump.

The thing was, Mom-Mom loved costumes. She always had. She was, as my dad liked to say, quirky. But when you’re eleven years old, sitting on a bus full of fellow students, just about the last thing you want to see is your grandmother jumping around in a costume on your front lawn.

“Wonder Mom-Mom,” Will whispered excitedly.

I said nothing as I tightened my grip on his hand and led him into the aisle toward the steps. My heart thumped against my ribs and the pack of Cheetos I’d eaten instead of my peanut butter sandwich rolled into a blazing fireball inside my stomach.

There’s a meme about an old lady who arrived in heaven and Saint Peter said, “Look out, here she comes.” That was Mom-Mom.

She’d moved in with us after our Pop-Pop died. Not right after, but like a year after.

She said we needed her. Honestly, I think she needed us more.

The bus had gone quiet, as though our fellow students had become so mesmerized by the spectacle of our life they’d forgotten how to speak. My face heated with embarrassment as Will and I made our exit. Then Janie found her voice one last time.

Why not? The sight of my grandmother standing in the front yard in a Wonder Woman costume would provide bullying ammunition for months.

“Nice grandmother, Willowbee.”

I was used to her calling me a weirdo, but the rest of my family was off-limits.

I spun on my heel, but I’d forgotten I held Will’s hand. My sudden motion sent him slamming into the divider between the steps and the first row of seats. His features crumpled like I’d betrayed him in the worst possible way. Tears flooded his bright blue eyes, and he blinked rapidly.

“Accident, Will,” I said, feeling horrible. “It was an accident. Bad Becky. Bad Becky.”

Then, instead of saying anything to Janie, I turned back toward the door and our escape from the bus.

“Bad Becky,” Will repeated, and my heart squeezed.

Outside, on our front lawn, Mom-Mom stopped spinning.

“Look,” I said, tipping my chin toward the yard, and Will’s expression shifted from one of hurt to one of pure joy.

“Wonder Mom-Mom,” he said with a laugh. He slipped his hand free from mine and bounded down the steps and out of the bus.

I followed Will, then stood on the curb, squeezing my eyes shut momentarily, trying to pretend I hadn’t just backed down from Janie. Again.

The sound of Will’s happiness was almost enough to erase the memory of the last few moments.

“Have a good evening, schoolchildren of Westmont,” Mom-Mom called out in a singsong voice, waving dramatically as the bus pulled away.

Almost.



CHAPTER TWO


Date: Still Thursday, 20 days to Science Fair

Location: Willowbee kitchen

Weather: Cloudy with a chance of superheroes

Notes: Hope is a thing with wings


Mom pulled her fourteen-year-old Hyundai into the driveway just as Will wrapped his arms around Wonder Mom-Mom.

Our mother had gotten pretty good at arriving home exactly when we got off the bus. She went somewhere every day, which left me curious. Her daily adventures didn’t seem to bother Will. As long as Mom was here by the time we walked through the front door, my brother was happy.

I’d asked Mom-Mom what Mom did every day, but she never answered me with anything more than a shrug.

I had my theories, of course. After all, I was a scientist. I had narrowed the possibilities down to three: secret job, secret family, or spy.

I liked the last possibility the best and the second possibility the least. Secret job was a good option, too, although unless the secret job was being a spy, I couldn’t see where that would be exciting.

I’d once thought maybe she went to the grocery store every afternoon, but our pantry was never what anyone would call bulging at the seams. Which brought us back to the mystery. What did she do all day?

Her real job was a freelance writer. Apparently she’d written plays and short stories once upon a time, but now she wrote a steady stream of content—as she called it—for other people’s websites.

She spent the hours after Will and I went to bed each night writing sentences, paragraphs, and pages for the internet. You know those About Me pages or Company History pages? Some of those are my mom’s. So are some of those crazy little articles you see advertised in the margins of your email: Is your dog really happy? Who do you call if you slip and fall at the mall?

You name it, Mom could write it.

I’d heard Dad tell her she should write for herself, but she seemed perfectly content doing what she was doing. Except for never being here when we got home.

Mom’s smile lit up her entire face as she stepped out of her car and took in Mom-Mom’s outfit. Her dark brown hair swung forward, brushing her jaw before she hooked the strands with one finger and tucked them behind her ear.

I practiced the same move in the mirror almost every day, but I could never manage to make it look as easy as Mom did. Apparently, I’d missed the effortless hair gene in the family. My hair had a life of its own, capable of getting tangled even when I was sitting around staring up at the sky.

“How was your day, my loves?” Mom asked.

I pointed—slowly and dramatically—at Mom-Mom and Will.

Mom tipped her head to one side, like a dog trying to understand what someone was saying. Her perfect hair slipped from behind her ear, and she let it be.

“What is that?” she asked. “Superhero?”

“Wonder Woman,” I answered.

“Interesting,” she answered. Then she called out, “Mother Willowbee, how was your day? I love the new costume.”

“Greetings,” Mom-Mom said, giving a quick salute. “My day was terrific. This is an outfit, not a costume, and how was your day?”

“Lovely,” Mom said, in the same half-distracted voice she used whenever I asked her to look at a cat video on YouTube. She pointed to the tail end of Will’s silver scooter, peeking out from beneath one of the front bushes. “Will, honey, did you leave your scooter out last night?”

Wonder Mom-Mom gave two dramatic spins, then pointed at the bush. “That was me. Went out for a spin today on my Invisible Segway.”

Mom reached for the bridge of her nose and squeezed, a move synonymous with forgotten science projects, whining, and Will’s video game obsession. “Invisible Segway?” she repeated. “In keeping with the costume. I mean, outfit.”

Mom-Mom nodded.

“Fair enough. As long as you wore a helmet, ride on.” Then she turned and headed for the house. “Let’s get inside. Your dad’s planning to skype in about five minutes.”

Our dad traveled a lot. Not because he wanted to. Not even because he liked to. Nope. Our dad traveled because he had to.

He worked for a pharmaceutical company, and his job was to visit hospitals all up and down the East Coast to tell them why they should buy their medicine from his company.

Some weeks, like this week, he’d been away for days. Some weeks, he stayed home. Those were the best weeks of all.

I hitched my backpack up over my shoulder and followed Mom. Will skipped along beside Mom-Mom, clutching her hand as if he might never let go.

I had to smile at that.

Will wasn’t one to hold hands, and he certainly wasn’t one to skip. Yet Mom-Mom, or rather, Wonder Mom-Mom had captured his attention and made him forget about both.

He also smiled, his grin huge and bright. And that, somehow, seemed to make all the bad in my day fade away.




That night after dinner, Mom-Mom and Will played in the backyard. Will bounced on his trampoline, something he did every night for exactly thirty-one minutes. Mom-Mom jogged in a circle around the trampoline’s frame, her red cape fluttering in the September breeze. She paused every few moments to strike a superhero pose, to which my brother belly-laughed.

Mom hooked her arm around my shoulders. “Look at them,” she said, affection dripping from her voice. “How lucky are we?”

Well, I thought to myself, we’d be a lot luckier if the entire Route 6 bus hadn’t seen my grandmother dressed like Wonder Woman.

Then Will yelled loudly, “Bird!”

Mom and I were in motion so fast we didn’t manage to fully free ourselves from each other until we were partway through the back door and into the yard.

Outside, Will still stood on the trampoline, but instead of happily jumping he paced frantically from side to side, hands clamped over his ears.

Above Will’s head, the great blue heron soared, its wings even more majestic than I’d realized back on the playground.

“Great blue,” I said on an amazed breath.

“Becky,” Mom said sharply. “Your brother. Focus.”

“Sorry,” I mumbled. But even as I headed for Will, I could only look up.

“Look, Will,” Mom-Mom said, running back and forth quickly, trying to shift his attention away from the bird.

“I’ll get your brother,” Mom called out. “You get rid of that bird.”

Get rid of that bird? Was she kidding? Didn’t she know how magical it was to see a Great Blue Heron soaring over a back yard in suburban New Jersey?

I’d once read that the Great Blue Heron was a symbol of curiosity and determination. Surely seeing this bird twice in one day was a sign. Maybe it was a sign I was meant to win the science fair. Maybe it was a sign Will was meant to like birds. Something. Anything.

I wasn’t sure. I was sure that I wasn’t going to chase the bird away just because my little brother had a fear of anything with wings.

I planted my feet and crossed my arms. “No.”

Mom-Mom stopped running and my mother turned to face me, her eyes narrowing.

“What did you say to me?” she asked.

I pulled myself as tall as possible, remembering how tall Izzy had seemed when she’d stood up to Janie.

“I said, ‘no.’”

My mom blinked. Then she smiled. But it wasn’t an oh-honey-I’m-so-proud-of-you-for-standing-up-for-what-you-believe-in smile. Nope. It was more of an I’m-a-little-hungry-and-I-think-I’ll-eat-my-young-now smile.

The pasta we’d had for dinner did a quick flip deep inside my belly, and I concluded my experiment in talking back to my mother hadn’t been too smart.

Great Blue, seeming to sense my predicament, swooped low, coming so close to my mother’s head that she ducked. Then the bird zoomed past my head and banked sharply to avoid hitting our back porch.

Mom straightened back up, saying nothing.

I simply stared, watching as the heron lifted above the evergreens that edged our backyard and disappeared into the dusky sky.

“Elizabeth Anne Willowbee,” Mom said, and I cringed at the use of my full name. “Help me take care of your brother. Now.”

So I did.

I walked to the edge of the trampoline and pulled myself up. The surface gave beneath my feet, but I did my best to keep my footing and make my way toward where my brother now knelt, his arms folded over his head.

“He’s gone, Will,” I said. I reached for my brother’s back, gently touching two fingers to the space between his shoulder blades. He flinched, and I pulled back my hand. Then I tried again, this time placing my palm flat against his back.

Mom had climbed up onto the trampoline beside me, and she stroked his head, her moves slow and careful.

Mom-Mom stood beside the trampoline, her expression serious, yet soft. “Will, honey,” she said. “He’s gone.”

“Gone?” Will asked, his voice muffled from beneath his arms.

“Gone,” Mom repeated.

“He was nice, though, Will,” I said, unwilling to let the heron be the bad guy here.

Mom shot me a glare, and I stopped talking. I rubbed Will’s back, wishing my brother didn’t hate birds, wishing the heron would come back. Heck, I wished the heron would stay. Maybe then Will would learn to like birds.

Surely having a Great Blue Heron living in your backyard could only be a good thing. Right?

And that was when I got the idea for the most amazing science project ever.

I’d set up a habitat. I’d make a home so amazing the Great Blue Heron would move right in. There would be water and nesting materials. I’d take pictures and draw diagrams. I could imagine my winning posterboard right then and there.

Sure, there was the minor detail of convincing my parents to let me invite a giant bird into the backyard, but maybe this was exactly what Will needed to get over his fear.

When he looked up at me, I stuck out my tongue. Just like always. And when he laughed, I felt relief, but I also felt something else. Something wonderful.

I felt hope.



CHAPTER THREE


Date: Friday, 19 days to Science Fair

Location: Mrs. Jenkins class

Weather: Storm front approaching

Notes: Sooner or later, everything blows up


The next day, during science class, after a miraculously uneventful recess, each student presented their initial concepts for the science fair.

After my brainstorm in the yard the night before, I’d spent the evening researching and diagramming Great Blue Heron habitats. I’d used every bird book I owned, and thanks to my abundant collection of markers and sketchbooks, I’d left diagrams, charts, and plans spread across every inch of floor space in my room that morning.

I was ready for my presentation. Sure, my heart beat a bit faster than normal, and my palms were a little clammy. OK. They were sweaty. Flat-out-no-doubt-about-it sweaty.

I wanted this science fair win, and I wanted it badly.

There were the usual suspects. Egg drops. Magnets. Global warming. And then it was time to present my Great Blue Heron habitat plans. Izzy shot me a serious head nod just before I pushed out of my seat and headed up the aisle.

I’d told her about my plan, and she’d declared it brilliant. She was good like that.

Mrs. Jenkins straightened in her chair as I showed a few of my design ideas and the diagram I’d drawn of the placement of the habitat in my family’s backyard. I assumed she sat up because she was excited about the idea, because she was hoping I’d let her stand next to me in my picture for the local newspaper…heck…for Science Quarterly.

I mean, how often does a fifth-grader attract a majestic Great Blue Heron to a suburban backyard?

Instead, she said, “Becky, you do realize it’ll be almost impossible to pull him that far away from the lakes to nest at this time of year, don’t you?”

I deflated as if she’d opened a valve and let out all my air. Grown-ups didn’t ask that sort of question when they thought you’d come up with the best science fair project ever. They asked that sort of question when they thought you were in over your head.

I pulled myself up taller and took a deep breath. I knew better. I knew a backyard sighting of a heron was rare, but I’d seen him not once, but twice, here and at home. All I had to do was tell Mrs. Jenkins. All I had to do was explain.

All I had to do was speak, and yet I said nothing. As excited and nervous as I’d been to present my idea, I found myself unable to say so much as one word to defend my idea. Mrs. Jenkins’s question had taken all of my reasoning and tossed it out the window.

In short, I froze.

“Becky. You may take your seat now.” Mrs. Jenkins said.

The class fell silent, and a few students held hands over their mouths like they were trying not to laugh. Janie Howell proudly held up a three-fingered W on her forehead. Only Izzy sat quietly, her expression as pained as I felt.

I walked slowly back to my seat, each step taking me farther and farther away from what should have been a show-stopping presentation.

Suddenly my sure-fire science fair win didn’t feel so sure-fire after all.

“Next up,” Mrs. Jenkins said, “Janie Howell.”

“This ought to be good,” Izzy muttered as I took my seat beside her.

“Let’s show our respect for our fellow students by giving them our full attention,” Mrs. Jenkins said.

Izzy rolled her eyes so that only I could see, and the tiniest bit of weight lifted from my shoulders.

When Janie launched into her explanation of her science fair project, my disappointment quickly turned into disbelief.

A baking soda and vinegar volcano. That was her project. Seriously.

This was fifth grade. Baking soda and vinegar volcanoes went out in first grade. Second grade, tops.

Beside me, Izzy leaned over to draw a surprised emoji in my notebook. Round cheeks. Wide eyes. Above it, she drew a word bubble and added one single word. Kaboom.

Up at the front of the class, Janie blathered on as if she were presenting the cure for cancer instead of a science experiment most people could do in their sleep.

I giggled. Then I snickered. Then I snorted.

I pressed my lips together to hold in any other random noises I might make. I wasn’t a kid who typically laughed at another student, even if that student was Janie.

“Problem, Miss Willowbee?” Mrs. Jenkins asked.

I bit my lip and shook my head. “No, ma’am.”

“Very well. Continue, Janie,” she said. But I knew that somewhere deep inside, Mrs. Jenkins must be snickering, too. Right?

I mean, come on.

“And I will prove,” Janie said, “that the combination of baking soda and vinegar can be—” she paused dramatically “—explosive.”

The room burst into applause, and Izzy dropped her head to her desk. Her forehead landed with a thunk.

That’s when every giggle and snort I’d been holding back escaped. Once I started laughing, I couldn’t stop. Tears poured from my eyes, I hiccupped in between snorts, and I’m fairly confident my nose started to leak. Not to be gross or anything.

For someone who was usually careful and calculated, I was out of control.

I wasn’t sure how much time passed before I realized Izzy was shaking my arm.

Mrs. Jenkins stood squinting at me, her head tilted much like Mom’s had been when she’d first spotted Wonder Mom-Mom. Everyone had turned in their seat to stare at me. Janie stood at the front of the class, her cheeks flushed bright red, her eyes glowing like lasers. She clutched the side of her volcano poster so tightly curled into her white-knuckled fists, the cardboard shook. I wasn’t sure her she’d ever be able to smooth out the creases. Based on the anger in her expression, I was guessing she didn’t care.

A wave of regret washed away every trace of laughter inside me.

“Sorry,” I said quietly. “Something in my throat.”

Mrs. Jenkins recovered control of the class pretty quickly after that, even though Janie shot periodic glares in my direction.

As for me, I was grateful I hadn’t been sent to the principal’s office. This way, at least, I’d spend what time I had left before Janie killed me free from captivity.




I was more than a little bit scared about what Janie might do after I’d laughed at her, so Izzy and I hatched a plan to walk the one point two miles home after school instead of risking the wrath of Janie on the bus.

It was a beautiful afternoon, and we’d asked the school secretary if we could call home for permission. Mom-Mom and Izzy’s mother had both said yes. I mean, what adult wasn’t going to choose fresh air and exercise over riding on a bus?

Our scheme backfired when Janie and a handful of other students followed us down the front steps and along the sidewalk toward Main Street.

I did my best not to expect the worst, but my nerves were tumbling around my stomach, and warning bells were ringing in my brain.

No one said a word as we made our way toward Collins Avenue.

I heard nothing but the slap of Mary Janes and sneakers against the sidewalk—that and the steady beat of my terrified heart.

Sweat pooled in my shoes and under my arms, even as I told myself to stay calm. Will walked beside me, oblivious to the trouble walking behind us. Izzy straightened her spine and shifted her backpack to one arm, ready to do battle.

My house was in sight when Janie hit me from behind. Once. Twice. Three times. A push. Another push. A shove.

Izzy dropped her backpack and spun around, fists raised, but two of Janie’s posse grabbed her, each taking an arm. They pulled her toward the wide trunk of Mr. Carpenter’s apple tree and held her there as she wiggled and fought to get free.

“Run, Becky,” Izzy called out. “Run.”

I hesitated for a split second—Fight? Flight?—and Janie tackled me from behind. My right shoulder connected with the hard ground, and she was on top of me before I could so much as push to my knees to run away.

I tried to see what had happened to Will, but I couldn’t spot him. The familiar chant rose from the crowd. “Fight. Fight. Fight.”

“I can’t believe you laughed at me,” Janie said, pushing my face down into the dry, autumn grass. “That wasn’t very nice.”

Not nice! What did she call this?

“Are you kidding me?” I asked, then I pushed against her with all my might, trying to roll out from beneath her.

She planted an elbow solidly between my shoulder blades just as Will called out, “Wonder Mom-Mom!”

Red boots entered my line of vision, and I groaned a little bit. For once in my life, I wanted to fight my own battle, and the last thing I needed was another appearance of Mom-Mom in costume.

“Unhand my granddaughter,” Mom-Mom said.

“We can take them, Mom-Mom Willowbee,” Izzy shouted as she broke free from the captors who weren’t so tough now that an adult had arrived.

Janie loosened her grip, and I lowered my head. Maybe if I concentrated hard enough, I could force myself to wake up as though this entire day had been a bad dream.

Then Janie tumbled off my back.

She landed in the dirt beside me, her expression one of utter shock. Will—half her size, but five times as angry—straddled her like he was riding a pony. He slapped her shoulders, rapid-fire. Slap. Slap. Slap. Left hand. Right hand. Left hand.

“Get off me,” she yelled, as Mom-Mom and I scrambled to Will’s side, trying to dodge his arms and catch them at the same time.

“Will,” I shouted. “It’s OK. She’s not worth it.”

Janie glared at me. Even though she was receiving a pounding at the hands of a second-grader, she’d no doubt logged my words in her endless catalog of reasons she despised me.

Mom-Mom, however, stepped back and opened a large, red umbrella.

Snap. The sight and sound took everyone by surprise.

One spiny arm poked through the red cloth and small tear ran along a seam, letting sunlight shimmer amid the shade the umbrella cast.

“What the—” Janie’s question hung in the air, unfinished.

Will stilled, blinking his eyes as though he’d just awakened from a dream. I wrapped him in my arms and pulled him clear.

Janie scrambled into a sitting position, then pushed to her feet. “We were just playing,” she said.

I pulled a face. Did she honestly think anyone would believe her?

“I have unfurled the umbrella of truth,” Mom-Mom said, “and I believe you owe Becky an apology.”

Then Mom-Mom looked at me and Will, her gaze full of grandmotherly concern.

“We’re OK,” I said, and she turned back to Janie.

The handful of kids who had followed Janie scattered, and Izzy ran to my side. She brushed dirt from Will’s knees, then from my back. She was good like that.

Janie huffed out a breath and shook off her apparent embarrassment. “Sorry,” she said.

I watched her walk away, amazed at how quickly Mom-Mom’s appearance had ended our fight. I felt a little sorry I hadn’t solved the problem myself, but I had to admit, I was glad it was over.

“Has this happened before?” Mom-Mom asked, studying me carefully.

I hesitated, trying to decide how to answer, but Izzy nodded.

“I see.” Mom-Mom shut her umbrella. “Have you told your parents?”

I shook my head.

She took off her tiara, transforming from Wonder Mom-Mom to plain Mom-Mom. “Should I tell your parents?”

I bolted upright. “Please, don’t.” The only thing more embarrassing than the fact I’d just been rescued by my grandmother—in costume—would be if my parents showed up at school the next day. “I can take care of myself.”

Mom-Mom stared at me while Izzy helped Will to his feet. Then she spoke slowly, like she was choosing her words carefully. "I trust you, Becky,” she said, and somehow those words felt heavy, like a weight of responsibility on my shoulders.

Mom-Mom set her tiara back on top of her head as we walked the rest of the way home, and I thought again about how quickly she’d rescued me. Maybe this costume wasn’t a costume after all.

As if reading my mind, Izzy said, “Are you Wonder Mom-Mom?”

“Of course.” Mom-Mom shrugged. “Who else would I be?”




CHAPTER FOUR


Date: Still Friday, Still 19 days until Science Fair

Location: Willowbee backyard

Weather: Did someone say ice cream?

Notes: There’s no place like home


Late that afternoon, in the hour before sunset, I sat in the back corner of our yard and imagined my Great Blue Heron habitat.

Mom-Mom had kept her word. She hadn’t said a thing to Mom about the walk home from school, and I was ready to stop thinking about Janie and start thinking about winning the science fair and going to HawkWatch.

The blueprint I’d downloaded called for a thirty-foot pole with nesting rests built at the top. Great Blue Herons nested in groups, which I knew, of course. If my habitat worked, maybe more than one heron would move into our backyard. Maybe Mrs. Jenkins would be so impressed she’d call a reporter. Maybe my project would do more than win the Westmont Science Fair. Maybe it would become famous. Maybe I’d become famous. Maybe the herons would become famous.

Will burst through the back door just as my thoughts started to take on a life of their own.

“Dad,” he hollered. “Dad. Dad. Dad.”

Dad.

Dad’s trip had felt even longer than normal this week, and I couldn’t wait to see him.

Hey, I thought in the millisecond it took me to jump to my feet. Maybe I could build Great Blue Heron nests all up and down the East Coast and become a traveling scientist. Just think of the birds I’d be able to log in my journal.

My heart did a little pit-a-pat thing at that thought.

Dad,” Will repeated, snapping me out of my daydream.

My brother ran in a small circle in the middle of the yard, so I raced to meet him. I hooked my arm in his and held my ground until he came to a stop.

“Dad,” he said one more time, his bright eyes dancing.

“He’s home?” I asked, and Will nodded.

I reached to pull him into a hug, something I didn’t do terribly often—not because I didn’t want to, but because Will didn’t like it. He tried to squirm away, like he always did, and disappointment edged out the excitement I’d felt a moment earlier.

He used to give the best hugs. Arms-wrapped-around-your-neck-so-tight-you-thought-you’d-never-be-able-to-breathe-again hugs.

“Let’s go see Dad,” I said softly, letting go, even though everything inside me wanted to hold tight for just a moment longer.




“This is new,” Dad said, as he and Mom talked after dinner. “The superhero thing.”

I watched them from the steps that went down into our family room. Mom stood a few feet away from the kitchen, absentmindedly drying a bowl while she listened to Dad. Dad scratched his head and grinned.

Mom-Mom had worn her full costume to dinner, which wasn’t a surprise. She hadn’t worn anything else since Wonder Mom-Mom made her first appearance. Dad hadn’t said a thing about it at dinner. Instead, we’d talked about everything he’d missed this week while he was away.

After dinner, I’d said I had to finish my math homework. The truth was, I wanted to stare at my habitat plans a little more. I’d told Mom and Dad about the science fair, but I hadn’t told them about the habitat. I needed the perfect moment to pitch my idea so they wouldn’t say no birds. I just wasn’t sure when that moment would be.

On my way back downstairs, I realized they were talking, so I’d stopped, partway down the steps, too far down to turn back without being noticed, not high enough up the steps to come down without them realizing I’d overheard their conversation.

“You know your mother loves her costumes,” Mom said.

Dad nodded. “Always has. Sometimes I wonder if she’s still trying to find herself.”

They both laughed a little at that, which I didn’t quite understand. I mean, I was pretty sure Mom-Mom knew exactly who she was. Sometimes I thought she was a lot like Izzy. She did her own thing and didn’t worry about what other people thought.

“She seems pretty serious this time,” Mom said. “Like she really thinks she’s a superhero.” She was quiet for a second, then she said, “I was wondering if I should call the doctor.”

Dad took the bowl out of my mom’s hands and pulled her into a hug. “So, she thinks she’s a superhero,” he said. “It could be worse.” Then he asked, “Does she have a name for this one?”

“Wonder Mom-Mom,” Mom said. She looked up at him and smiled. “Will loves it.”

“Then I love it, too.” He kissed her on the nose. “And you don’t need to worry.” Mom pressed her lips to his, and they stood there like that—stuck to one another—for what seemed like forever. I tried not to gag.

“Becky’s spying,” Will said from behind me. Loudly.

I slipped off the step where I’d been squatting, landing with a jolt. Another brother might have known better than to announce me to Mom and Dad. Another brother might have sat beside me and made faces with me as our parents kissed.

Not my brother. My brother ratted me out.

Mom’s expression shifted from calm to concerned to cross in the blink of an eye.

“Hey, kids,” Dad said, his voice giving away no sign of annoyance about the fact their private conversation hadn’t been so private after all.

He gave us a little wave, and the skin crinkled around his pales eyes like it did when he was amused.

Mom, on the other hand, got right to the big question. “How long have you been sitting there?”

I shook my head and stammered. “Not long.”

“Becky’s spying,” Will repeated.

I fantasized about clamping my hand over his mouth, but that was another thing you didn’t do with Will. No hugs. No birds. No hands over mouths.

Instead, I channeled my best innocent tone.

“No, I wasn’t,” I said, stretching each word into its own melody. “I just got here. I didn’t want to interrupt.”

Mom narrowed her eyes, but Dad clapped his hands.

“Who wants some ice cream?” he asked.

Relief flooded through me. I’d been saved by a frozen dessert.

I pounded down the steps just behind Will, following Dad toward the kitchen and my escape.

“Did someone say, ‘ice cream?’” Mom-Mom called out from behind us as she came down from her bedroom.

She skipped down the steps in her blue tights, red rain boots, bathing suit, and cape. But instead of heading for the kitchen, she crossed to where Mom stood. They faced each other silently for a few long moments, then Mom-Mom said, “The thing I love about ice cream is that it smooths away all the little stuff. Don’t you think?”

And then Mom smiled. Not a polite smile, but a real smile, the kind that lit up her whole face. The tiny vertical lines above her eyebrows vanished.

They walked toward the kitchen, where Dad, Will, and I waited.

“You know, you’re right, Mother Willowbee,” she said, her voice light. “Thanks for reminding me.”

“All in a day’s work,” Mom-Mom said with a swish of her cape. “All in a day’s work.”



CHAPTER FIVE


Date: Saturday, 18 days to Science Fair

Location: Westmont Elementary Soccer Field

Weather: Sunny with a chance of sheep

Notes: It’s all fun and games until it isn’t


“When are you going to ask them?” Izzy said, her voice a little muffled as we stood side by side watching my brother’s soccer game. She’d taken over as school mascot the year before, but I’d gotten used to having our conversations through the giant papier mache head she wore.

We’d been talking about how I still hadn’t shown my parents my science fair plans or told them how much I wanted to go to HawkWatch.

I shrugged. The truth was, my brain was getting tired of thinking about when the perfect time would be to bring up the topic.

“Just tell them,” she said, which was easy for her to say. She was one of those people who said whatever they thought. I was one of those people who thought about everything they said.

Which was exactly what I did just then. I stood on the sidelines, thinking about hawk migrations and heron habitats, saying nothing, while everyone else watched soccer.

Saturday morning soccer was a serious tradition at Westmont Elementary. Players were divided by grade, with four teams per age group. Everyone either played or came to watch their friends play.


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