Excerpt for I’m Not Weird, I’m Just Quiet by , available in its entirety at Smashwords










I’m Not Weird
I’m Just Quiet!

J.F. Wiegand

















© 2017. All rights reserved.

Illustration by sylverarts / 123RF Stock Photo.

Full cover by the author.



Visit the author’s website at www.jfwiegand.com




CONTENTS


1) Survival Skills

2) The House Guest

3) The Bet

4) Fire Drill

5) Practice

6) Taco Tuesday

7) The Brick Wall

8) The Debate

9) The Recovery










CHAPTER 1
SURVIVAL SKILLS


I know what’s coming. It’s the same three words that have been used to describe me two-hundred and seventy-eight times over the first twelve years of my life.

This chatty redhead who sits next to me will have the honor of delivering these words for the two-hundred and seventy-ninth time. She’s describing each of her classmates’ personalities to a new girl who’s starting in our class today.

She points to the boy sitting in front of me. “That’s Ronald Winkler. He has bad breath and wears the same shirt every day. I’d stay away from him.”

Then her eyes shift to me. “That’s Colin Quigley.”

Here it comes. Number two-hundred and seventy-nine.

“He’s really quiet.”

And she says it like I have a disease, as if I was born with this hopeless medical condition. I can picture the doctor handing me to my parents. “Sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Quigley, he’s quiet.”

I already know I’m quiet, so I’m not sure why people have to remind me every couple of days.

As I watch the new girl’s reaction, I’m surprised to see a smile spread across her face. I was certain that she would pile on, but she’s smiling as if she understands what I’m going through. Maybe she’s quiet too. It’d be nice to add another member to the team. That would make three in my class: Ronald, the new girl, and me.

Another person who understands is my teacher, Ms. Walsh. Although Ms. Walsh has to talk a lot during class, I’m pretty sure she’s quiet too. Whenever I see her in the teachers’ lounge, she’s sitting by herself reading a book.

Ms. Walsh knows I’m quiet, so she treats me differently than the other students. She never calls on me unless I raise my hand, she avoids asking me questions that require more than a one-word response, and she finds ways to give me time to myself.

After taking attendance, Ms. Walsh scans the class over the rim of her glasses. Her eyes lock with mine. “Colin, can you take the attendance sheet down to the office?”

Yes! Three minutes alone!

She’s supposed to let the students take turns bringing down the attendance sheet, but I go at least once a week.

On my way to the office, I see Principle Reiland farther down the hall, his dress shoes clicking against the floor as he walks. I slow down so he doesn’t see me. If he sees me, he’ll want to talk, and I’ll have enough talking to do during lunch so I need to conserve my energy.

Just to be sure he doesn’t spot me, I kneel down and pretend to tie my shoe. It’s not actually untied, so I have to untie it first and then retie it. I do the same thing with my other shoe. After he disappears around the corner, I continue to the office.

Most of my day is made up of these little encounters, or lack of encounters. They’re crucial to my survival because talking is exhausting. I think it’s that way for all quiet kids.

My talk-capacity, as I like to call it, is three-hundred and thirteen words. Once I reach that limit, I get frustrated, grumpy, and eventually shut down. And the only thing that can restore my talk capacity is time to myself. So whenever I have an opportunity for alone time, even if it’s just a minute, I take it. That way, when I do have to talk, I have enough energy to get the words out.

***

I eat lunch with Perry Miller and Nate Dabrowski, my two best friends at John Quincy Adams Middle School. We’re all in the seventh grade, but this year we’re only in a couple of classes together. They’re quiet like me, which is why I’m friends with them. I don’t have any close friends who aren’t quiet. It just wouldn’t work.

We sit at a table in the corner of the cafeteria, as far away from the talkative crowd as possible. I’ve noticed that the chattier someone is, the more likely they are to sit in the middle of a room. So the closer we can sit to a wall, the less chance we have of being sucked into a conversation.

“Have you seen the new janitor?” Perry asks, joining me at our usual table. “That dude’s an alien.”

Perry’s not kidding when he says that. He’s obsessed with aliens. He’s convinced that all of the cleaning and cafeteria workers are from another planet. What’s funny, though, of all the people I know, Perry looks the most like an alien. He’s tall and lanky, with hollow eyes and long fingers.

Nate drops his lunch down, giving us a weak wave. He sits down next to Perry, lets out a yawn, and looks over at me with droopy eyes.

“What are the odds that you fall asleep today?” I ask.

“Do you want it as odds-for, odds-against, or a percentage?” he asks.

“Percentage.”

“Ninety-one,” Nate says. “He talked until 12:06 AM.”

Nate has a twin named Dexter, who is one of the nicest guys in school, but also talks an awful lot, which doesn’t work well with Nate’s personality. Plus, they share a room, so it’s hard for Nate to get any time to himself.

Glancing over my shoulder, I see Dexter sitting at his usual table in the middle of the cafeteria. Dexter and Nate aren’t identical twins, but it’s still hard to tell they’re brothers. Aside from their pale skin, they look and sound completely different. Dexter is animated and his face bright, whereas Nate talks in a monotone voice and rarely smiles.

I don’t think I’d do well with a twin. I could handle the matching outfits, but the constant interaction would exhaust me, especially if we had to share a room.

Then we all begin to eat. We have an unspoken rule about keeping our conversations short. I love unspoken rules.

“Can I join you?” a girl asks.

I look up and see the new student from my class. I think her name is Sophia.

Perry and I glance at each other and then back to her. She sits down before we can answer, and my loud-girl radar immediately goes off. I can already tell Sophia’s impatient, a good indication she’s a talker.

“So you believe in UFOs?” Sophia asks Perry.

He taps his alien-like fingers against the table. “That sure seems like an odd question.”

“Not really,” Sophia says. “Your shirt has a picture of a UFO on it ... and underneath it says I believe.”

Perry shrugs.

“You know, if you’re interested in UFOs,” Sophia says, “you should read The Earthling from —”

Outer Space, yes, I’ve read it,” Perry says.

Sophia smiles. “A fellow science fiction reader ...”

I’m a science fiction reader too, but there’s no way I’ll tell her. If I tell her, she’ll just want to talk about it.

“You should read The Sixth Galaxy,” she says to Perry.

Perry sighs. “Yes, yes, I’ve read it. And I’ve read the sequels too, The Seventh Galaxy and The Eighth Galaxy.”

“I hear there’s going to be a fourth,” she says. “Fourth book I mean, not fourth galaxy.”

Perry rubs his eyes and exhales. His energy level is fading. I need to step in and save him, otherwise things could get ugly.

“You know, you might want to try that table,” I say to her, motioning to a group of loud kids who are blabbering away at another table.

Nate rubs his eyes. “That’s an excellent idea.”

“Why?” she asks.

“We just think you might, you know, have more in common with them,” I say. “Those kids are a little more talkative.”

“No, I’m good here,” she says, and then studies my face. “You’re Colin, right?”

I nod. I like questions that don’t require a verbal response.

“So how do you like Ms. Walsh?” she asks.

Now this type of question I’m not crazy about. It’s open-ended, the worst kind of question for quiet people. I keep my response short, hoping the lack of detail will discourage additional questions. “She’s good.”

“What do you like about her?”

Okay, so that didn’t work out so well, and after six more open-ended questions I’m spent. Sophia seems nice, but she talks way too much. It’s time I ended our conversation.

“I’m going to class,” I say, shoving the rest of my salami sandwich into my mouth.

“Really?” Sophia asks. “What time is it?”

I raise my forearm and rotate it so my watch is facing her. This saves me the few words it takes to say the time.

“It’s only quarter after twelve,” she says, squinting at my watch. ”Lunch isn’t over for another fifteen minutes.”

I swallow the last bite, pulling my arm back. “I know, but I forgot to do my history homework.”

This isn’t true, and I feel bad for lying, but it’s the only way. I need that time to myself to recharge.

As I begin to walk away, I hear Nate snoring.

***

My goal on the bus is to sit by myself.

As I board the bus in the afternoon, I begin scanning the rows for empty seats, starting with the back. Most kids sit toward the front, so the back of the bus tends to be less crowded. But I don’t sit all the way in the back because that’s where the troublemakers sit. They tend to take up the last few rows. So I try to target the third or fourth row from the back, This gives me the best chance of sitting alone.

And just to be safe, I pick a seat that’s in bad shape. I’ve been riding bus 310 since the fall and there’s a seat four rows from the back, along the right side, that has a bad tear in it. The tear keeps kids away.

Larry and Stanley Botchaway, two brothers who live next to me, stroll down the aisle. I position myself in the middle of my seat and glance out the window. The lack of available seat space deters other riders from sitting next to me. I also never look anyone in the eye because that’s an automatic invitation to sit down.

The Botchaway brothers pass my seat and continue to the back of the bus. Now, I do consider Larry and Stanley troublemakers, so they may have sat in the back regardless, but still, I’ve had a seat to myself for forty-seven straight days. I must be doing something right.

Using these strategies throughout the day allows me to have a sufficient talk-capacity at home. It’s here, at four Queen Street in northern Virginia, where I am the talker.

But it’s only possible because being quiet runs in my family. I just happen to be the loudest of the bunch. My father is quiet, his father was quiet, and his father’s father was quiet. I’m sure it goes on and on after that. Naturally my father married a quiet woman. My mother tends to be a little more talkative than my father, but just barely. And when a quiet father and a quiet mother have children, those children are always quiet. My sister Violet is fifteen, three years older than me, but she’s much quieter. In fact, it’s been an entire week since I’ve heard her speak.

Violet looks a lot like me. We both have light brown hair, brown eyes, and we’re a little on the short side. I guess the only difference, aside from her being a girl, is that her hair is longer. In fact, Violet’s hair is halfway down her back. She says she’s growing it out, but I think she’s afraid of getting it cut because that would require a conversation with a hairdresser. I’m certain she wants no part of that.

Tonight is Friday and that means we’re having pizza. My family is one of habit and every Friday is pizza night. It’s our usual order: one medium cheese and one medium pepperoni. We Quigleys don’t get too crazy with our toppings.

It’s my night to set the table. I go every Tuesday and Friday. On each placemat, I add a plate, napkin, fork, knife, and spoon. The napkin goes on the left side with the fork on top of it, and the knife and spoon go on the right. We probably won’t need utensils for the pizza, but I like to be consistent. We also have assigned seats. My mom and dad sit at the heads of the table, and Violet and I sit on each side, with my seat facing the window. It’s a nice view into the back yard.

“Let’s eat,” my father says. It’s usually the only thing he says during dinner.

I bite into my first slice and then get the dinner conversation rolling. “I got an A on my math test.”

My mother’s face brightens. “An A? That’s terrific.”

“I also came in second during the mile run in gym,” I say. “I finished in seven minutes and nine seconds.”

“That’s fast,” my mother says.

“And during music class, I—”

Violet clenches her fists and huffs.

My mother doesn’t have to ask her what’s wrong. She already knows. Violet wants me to stop talking so she can eat her pizza in silence.

“Colin’s just telling us about his day, honey. You know, you should try being more talkative like your brother.”

Violet shakes her head and her long hair snaps in the air, whipping back and forth.

“Okay, Violet,” my mother says, holding up her hands. “You can go eat in the—”

Violet is in the family room before my mother can finish her sentence.

I like Violet, mostly because I can relate to her. I understand what she’s going through, so I try to limit my talking when she’s around. I like my mom and dad too, and the good thing about having quiet parents is that they rarely embarrass me in front of my friends. Embarrassing me involves talking, and that doesn’t happen too often with my folks.

That night in bed, just before I fall asleep, one final thought drifts through my head. I have a nice, quiet life.








CHAPTER 2
THE HOUSE GUEST


A strange sound awakens me on Saturday morning, one that I don’t hear very often downstairs. It sounds like ... talking, and not just a few exchanges. There’s serious babbling going on down there and lots of it.

I get dressed and head down. The chatter is getting louder as I approach the kitchen. It’s a girl’s voice, one I’m not familiar with. Whoever she is, she talks loud, real loud. I enter the kitchen and discover the source of this annoying, squeaky voice. The girl, probably my age, has short, spiky black hair and a gigantic mouth. And I’m not saying that because she talks a lot. Her mouth is literally gigantic, like she could fit a grapefruit into it.

“Colin,” my mother says, “this is your cousin Reagan. Do you remember her? I know it’s been awhile.”

Reagan’s a lot bigger than I remember. She’s about three inches taller than me, and her arms and legs are about twice the size of mine. She’s the daughter of my Uncle Tom and I think she lives in Texas. I hear that everything is bigger in Texas. I guess that goes for people’s mouths too. My Uncle Tom is even quieter than my mom so I’m shocked that Reagan is so talkative.

“There’s no way he remembers me,” Reagan says. “I look different now.”

Yeah, your mouth has exploded since I last saw you, is what I’m thinking, but I try to be polite. “No, I remember you.”

“The only thing I remember about you,” Reagan says, “is that you were like crazy-quiet.”

Make that two-hundred and eighty.

It wasn’t the usual three words, but I still count it. I accept several variations. I’ll be honest too, I’m not sure it’s exactly two-hundred and eighty. I think it’s pretty close though. The exact number since I started counting at age six is one-hundred and thirty-eight, which works out to twenty-three a year over six years. So I did the math: twenty-three times twelve equals two-hundred and seventy-six, and I’ve had four more since my twelfth birthday. A grand total of two-hundred and eighty.

I think about how pointless Reagan’s statement is. If I’m quiet, and she calls me quiet, what have we really accomplished?

“I didn’t offend you, did I?” Reagan asks. “I know some kids don’t like being called quiet.”

I raise my shoulders. “I don’t care.”

“Colin’s quite chatty now,” my mom says.

Reagan shakes her head and snickers. “I’ll believe it when I hear it.”

“Did your father tell you?” my mom asks me. “Reagan’s going to be staying with us for a few weeks.”

My mouth drops open. “What? Why?”

“Uncle Tom received a job offer in Virginia. They’re going to be moving here.”

“It doesn’t sound like a good job if he can’t afford his own house.”

“No, silly, they’re getting their own house. They just wanted Reagan to get started with school while they sell their place in Texas. Isn’t it great that your cousin’s going to be staying with us?”

What’s the opposite of great?

“So how many kids are in your school?” Reagan asks as she shoves a wad of bubblegum into her mouth.

I rub my eyes, still trying to wake up. “Uh ... I ... I don’t know.”

“How many kids are in your class?” Reagan asks.

“Do you mean like the entire seventh grade or ... just my class?”

“The entire seventh grade.”

“I’m not sure.”

She blows a bubble and continues talking. “What about your class?”

I peek around the bubble as it expands in front of her face. “I think there’s twenty-one.”

“Does that include the teacher?”

“No. Why would it ...” I stop myself, too tired to finish the question.

The bubble pops. She peels it from her face and slides the gum back into her mouth. “Do you have stadium seating in your classrooms?”

“Stadium seating? Like a movie theatre?”

“Yeah. That’s what we have at my school in Texas.” She shifts her legs and puts a hand on her hip. “Texas is big and so are the schools.”

“No, we don’t have stadium seating. They’re just regular classrooms.”

“So what does your school serve for lunch?”

The questions just keep coming. I can’t keep up. She’s already worn me out and I haven’t even had breakfast.

“It depends which day,” I say.

“What about Monday?”

I close my eyes, trying to recall the schedule. My brain is starting to hurt. “I think ... I don’t know ... I’d have to look at the lunch calendar.”

“You’re not a morning person are you, Colin?”

If she’s going to insult me, I wish she could at least do it with a statement and not another question. It’s bad enough, but now I have to respond.

The weekend goes downhill from there. Although the questions gradually slow, the talking doesn’t. I spend the rest of the day listening to Reagan talk about her dog, her trampoline, her shoe size, her favorite shirt, her favorite pants, her favorite TV show, her favorite lumberjack—that’s right, lumberjack—her dessert preferences, her juggling skills, sugar cereals, waffles, grits, an explanation on the different types of eggs, how much she can bench press, how much she can curl, the danger of swallowing gum, football, hockey, horseshoes, the Battle of the Alamo, the difference between affect and effect, witches, ghosts, vampires, and why it’s bad to look directly at the sun.

And that’s just what made it through. My brain rejected everything after that point because I had reached my listening-capacity limit. My listening-capacity is much higher than my talk-capacity, but she still managed to deplete it in a matter of minutes.

***

I step softly down the stairs on Sunday morning. Since we only have three bedrooms, Reagan is sleeping on the couch and the last thing I want to do is wake the talking-giant.

I was a little surprised that my parents made Reagan sleep on the couch, but what option did they have? They know that to Violet and me, our bedrooms are everything. They’re where we go to reenergize. Without our bedrooms we’d be walking zombies, unable to function in society.

I step through the kitchen like a fawn pattering by a sleeping lion. Reagan is snoring and it sounds like someone playing the trumpet, but badly. I quietly fill a bowl with my favorite cereal, Rice Krispies, but as soon as I pour the milk and my cereal starts to pop, the beast awakens.

“Is that Rice Krispies?” Reagan says, springing off the couch.

I should have gone with Cheerios.

She plops down at the table, her large mouth salivating. “I’m starving. Pour me a bowl too.”

I sigh and grab another bowl.

“No, no, no,” she says. “I like to use big bowls for my cereal. You know, like a bowl you would mix something in.”

“I don’t know where we keep those bowls,” I say.

Her eyes scan the kitchen. “What about a pot? Do you have any big pots?”

I search the cabinets until I find our biggest pot. I think my mom uses it to make spaghetti. I fill the pot with Rice Krispies, pour half a jug of milk over it, and then grab a spoon.

“That’s too small,” Reagan says. “I want a bigger spoon, like a serving spoon.”

“What’s a serving spoon?”

“It’s one of those spoons you serve macaroni and cheese with.”

I find an oversized spoon and jam it into the gigantic pan of Rice Krispies. Reagan licks her lips and her eyes widen. She slides the pot in front of her, shoves a massive spoonful of Rice Krispies into her mouth, and begins jabbering away.

“I think they should add a fourth Rice Krispies character,” she says, looking at the front of the cereal box.

I sit down across from her. “I like the three they have.”

“No, they need to add a fourth. They could call him Bam.”

“Bam?”

“Yeah, you know, snap, crackle, pop, and BAM!” As she says it, four Rice Krispies fly out of her mouth and onto my shirt.

I brush them off. “But Rice Krispies don’t go snap, crackle, pop, and ... bam. It’s just snap, crackle, and pop.”

“That’s what I’m saying, they should change it. They should make them go snap, crackle, pop, and BAM!” she says, slamming her fist against the table.

“But they’d have to change how the cereal sounds when you pour the milk on. How would they do that?”

“I don’t know, they could figure it out. They were able to make it go snap, crackle, and pop, so I’m sure they could change it to go snap, crackle, pop, and BAM!” Both her hands pound against the table. “Or you know what, maybe it should be snap, crackle, pop, and BOOM! Wait, no, they should alternate it. First it would be snap, crackle, pop, and BAM! Then it would be snap, crackle, pop, and BOOM! BAM! BOOM! BAM! BOOM!”

After the final boom, I’m certain the entire house is awake.

A moment later, Violet walks into the kitchen. She sees Reagan and stops, her eyes bulging open. Holding her breath, Violet steps backwards until she’s out of the kitchen, and then turns and hurries back up the stairs. My sister would rather starve than be in the same room with Reagan.

***

When I board the bus on Monday morning, I’m exhausted. I’m normally at one-hundred percent talk-capacity on Mondays because I’ve had extra quiet time over the weekend, but not today, not even close. I’ll be lucky just to get a few words out.

Reagan follows me onto the bus. This will be her first day at John Quincy Adams Middle School. I take my usual seat, the one with the rip, but Reagan doesn’t notice and scoots in next to me. My streak of forty-seven straight days of sitting by myself has ended.

Reagan comments on how small the bus is and proceeds to talk for six and a half minutes about the school buses in Texas. Then she goes on an eleven minute rant about her old gym teacher, Ms. Hammerfield, who apparently can bench press four-hundred pounds, slam dunk a basketball, and kick eighty yard field goals. Who knew gym teachers in Texas were so amazing?

I barely process any of it. I just stare out the window wondering how this girl could possibly be related to me.

***

In first period, Ms. Walsh hands me a hall pass and tells me to get a drink of water. She must have noticed the dark circles under my eyes and wanted to give me some relief. Ms. Walsh sure knows a tired, quiet kid when she sees one.

At lunchtime, I’m the first one out of my class. I power-walk down the hall and make it to the cafeteria before anyone else. Arriving early, and the fact that I packed my lunch, should provide me with valuable alone time. By my estimation, I should have approximately four minutes before anyone arrives at my table, and I need it too. Although I was quieter than usual during my first few classes, I’m still functioning well below my talk-capacity due to the last few days with Reagan. But before I can take a bite of my sandwich, Sophia arrives. She has also packed her lunch. I wasn’t counting on that.

“Hi, Colin,” she says, her face bright and smiling. “The lunch-packers always reach the table first.”

“I’ve never noticed that,” I say, then look away, hoping to avoid a conversation.

“What are you having for lunch?” she asks.

I’m going to have to work on my looking away skills. They’re not as effective as they once were. I turn back to Sophia, and as I do, I notice a striking resemblance between her and my mother. She’s like a younger version of her, just a hundred times more talkative.

“Just a sandwich,” I say.

She leans forward and looks at my sandwich. “Chicken?”

“Turkey.”

“Close,” she says, still smiling. “What are your sides?”

I show her my pretzels, apple slices, and grape juice.

“Check it out,” she says, and whips outs potato chips, grapes, and cranberry juice.

This is unusual behavior for someone so talkative. It’s normally just us quiet kids who have such organized, well balanced lunches. Loud kids are much more spontaneous with their food choices. In fact, last month this loud kid brought a jar of pickles to the cafeteria. That was it, just one jar of pickles. That was his entire lunch.

Perry and Nate finally arrive. Nate sits between Sophia and me, blocking the line of communication. I’ll have to thank him for that later. Perry looks weary, like he hasn’t slept in days. I’m used to seeing Nate like this, but not Perry.

“What’s wrong?” I ask him.

“There’s this new girl that started today ... she’s been in all of my classes,” Perry says with a whimper. “And twice they put her right next to me …” He takes a few deep breaths, trying to gather the energy to continue. “She doesn’t stop talking. She’s like a jackhammer. Rat-tat-tat-tat ...”

His head drops to the table with a loud thud.

“Does she have spiky hair and a mouth the size of a large pizza?” I ask Perry.

“Yeah ... it’s the biggest mouth I’ve ever seen.” He lifts his head. “Do you know her?”

“She’s my cousin.”

“That’s impossible. She can’t be related to you.”

“I know. I think she might be adopted.”

A tray slams on the table. “Perry!” Reagan’s voice echoes through the cafeteria. “You know Colin? Awesome. We can all eat together.”

Perry’s head crashes back down.

“Perry, you don’t look so good,” says Reagan, sitting next to me.

“He doesn’t feel well,” I say.

“What’s wrong with him?” she says.

“It’s complicated.”

Reagan tosses a tater tot into her mouth. “Oh well.”

I can feel Reagan’s huge leg rubbing against mine, and every time she sucks down a tater tot, her elbow hits my arm. The table seems so small now.

Reagan notices Nate. “Who are you?”

Nate looks over at her with a straight, tired face. “Nate.”

“Who is this dude, Colin? He seems weird.”

“He’s not weird. He my friend.”

Reagan shakes her head at him. “Well he doesn’t look good. I think he caught whatever disease Perry has.”

Nothing that a little alone time couldn’t cure.

Reagan’s elbow bangs against my arm again as she hurls three more tater tots into her mouth.

“So what do you want to do after school, Colin?” she asks. “I was thinking of organizing a neighborhood football game. What do you think? Do you play football?”

“I’ve only played once. It was with Perry in my backyard and he broke his arm on the first play.”

“You should play. You could be my kicker.”

“Your kicker?”

“Yeah, I need a field goal kicker, and you kind of remind me of a kicker. They’re quiet and a little weird.”

Technically she didn’t call me quiet, so I decide not to count this as number two-hundred and eighty-one. Although I am annoyed that she threw in the word ‘weird.’

“How do you know kickers are quiet?” I ask.

“Because they never talk to anyone. They just wander around on the sidelines by themselves.” Reagan scans the table for potential players, and then looks back to me. “Do you have good hang time on your kicks? I need a punter too. They’re not as quiet as you, but they do tend to be loners.”

Okay, I’m counting that one. That’s two-hundred and eighty-one.

As Reagan starts gabbing again, this time about starting a school arm-wrestling team, I realize I’m in deep trouble. If I have to spend my entire lunch talking to her, I’ll be wiped out.

Wait, I know.

“Hey Reagan, do you know Sophia?”

They talk for the next twenty-four glorious minutes. I’m able to make it through the rest of lunch with only saying eleven more words.

***

I come into the kitchen that night, my eyes heavy. Even with my quick thinking at lunch, Reagan has depleted most of my energy. Then I find her sitting in my seat at the dinner table. I stand there, pointing, my mouth open.

“Are you okay, Colin?” my mother asks.

Reagan turns and looks at me. “Why are you pointing at me?”

My arm stays outstretched, my eyes locked on the chair. “I’m pointing at the chair.”

“Why are you pointing at the chair?” Reagan asks.

“Because it’s my ...”

“You’re over here tonight, honey,” my mother says, waiving me to the other side of the table. Violet is sitting at the corner, cowering by my mother’s side.

I lower my arm. “But ...”

“We got the office chair for you,” my father says, rolling it out from underneath the table. “Genuine leather.”

I sigh, and then walk around the table, my feet dragging. I sink into the chair, which sits much lower than my usual seat. My head barely clears the table. I reach under the chair and pull the lever, attempting to raise it.

“It’s not moving.”

“Yeah, sorry,” my dad says. “The lever’s broken.”

My shoulders sag. “You said it was genuine leather.”

Reagan shakes her head. “The leather doesn’t make the chair go up and down, Colin.”

I stare over at her. She has her knife and fork gripped tightly in each hand as if she’s going to attack the spaghetti rather than eat it. I look down at my plate and utensils. I’m missing a napkin, and my fork and knife are both on the right side.

“This isn’t right,” I say.

“What?” my mother asks.

“The place setting. It’s all messed up.” I move the fork to the left of my plate, then notice something else. “And where’s the spoon?”

“Why do you need a spoon for spaghetti?” asks Reagan.

“That’s not the point,” I say. “Each place setting should have a knife, fork and spoon.”

“It was Reagan’s first time,” my mother says. “And she’s right, we probably won’t need the spoon.”

I lift up my plate, looking underneath. “But there’s no napkin either.”

Reagan props her elbows on the table, the knife and fork still in her hands. “They’re in the middle of the table, where they belong.”

I shake my head, grab a napkin, and then place it under my fork.

“Okay,” my dad says. “Let’s eat.”

Reagan devours her plate of spaghetti before I can even take my first bite. Then she grabs four pieces of garlic bread. My mom made eight, which normally works out to two a person. That’s assuming there are four people, but tonight we have a guest, and that guest ate four pieces herself, leaving only one each for the rest of us.

“How was your first day of school?” my mother asks Reagan.

“I made like a hundred friends, organized a weekly football game, started an arm-wresting club, and joined the debate team.”

My mother’s eyes widen. “That’s some first day.”

“I’ve had better,” says Reagan, raising her shoulders.

“So what else do you like to do, Reagan?” my mother asks. “I think Violet was still into princesses at your age.”

“I’m not crazy about princesses, Mrs. Q. The ones in the books are kind of wimpy if you ask me.” Reagan licks spaghetti sauce from the side of her mouth and continues. “But if I did have to pick one, I’d choose Jasmine because she’s the richest and has the biggest palace. And palaces are great places to hear echoes. I love hearing my voice echo.” She leans forward in her seat, excited. “ECHOOOOO!”

Reagan listens for the echo. “I didn’t hear it. I think your house is too small. I can hear it when I do it at my house in Texas.”

She shoves a piece of garlic bread into her mouth and keeps talking as she chews. “I wouldn’t pick Aladdin as my boyfriend though. He’s way too quiet. And his three wishes were terrible. If I were Aladdin, my first wish would have been to get rid of that annoying monkey, my second wish would have been to get a better monkey, and my third wish would have been to get a million dollars.” She finishes the rest of her garlic bread and keeps talking. “I guess Ariel would be okay. It would be cool to swim through the ocean like she does. I’d swallow tons of crabs and lobsters.”

The image of Reagan as a fish goes through my head. I envision her as a Big Mouth Bass.

She points across the table. “Can you pass the spaghetti, Mrs. Q?”

“Reagan, you can call me Aunt,” my mother says.

“I can’t, Mrs. Q. I get the willies when I say the word Aunt. It reminds me of ants, you know, like the bugs. I also don’t like saying Uncle. Sorry, Mr. Q.”

“What’s wrong with using Uncle?” my mother asks. “What does that remind you of?”

“It still reminds me of ants. Not because Uncle sounds like ants, but because aunts and uncles are kind of like the same thing, so saying uncle reminds me of aunts, which reminds me of ants.”

“Okay ...” my mother says, raising an eyebrow. She passes Reagan the bowl of spaghetti and then turns to me. “You’ve been quiet tonight, Colin.”

That makes two-hundred and eighty-two. And from my mother no less!

I shrug, unable to even open my mouth.

“I think Reagan has moved ahead of you as the talker in the house,” my mother says.

As Reagan fills her plate with more food, she peers over at me and grins. I don’t have the energy to fight back.

It’s official. My reign as house-talker has ended.









CHAPTER 3
THE BET


I lie in bed the next morning staring up at the ceiling. Although I slept for thirteen hours, I can’t stop yawning, and it doesn’t take me long to figure out why. The answer is sleeping on the couch downstairs.

And if this is my condition after a few days with her, I can’t imagine how I’m going to feel in two weeks. I wonder if there’s medicine I could take, something that would make me immune to loud people.

Through half-open eyes, I spot my mom walking by my room. I throw off the covers and hurry toward the door.

“Mom,” I whisper, waving her inside.

“What is it, Colin?” she asks, stepping into my room. “Why are you being so quiet?”

I ease the door closed. “I didn’t want to wake Reagan.”

“Well that’s considerate of you.”

As I open my mouth to respond, I hear my alarm clock go off, blasting a high-pitched beeping through the room. I gasp, dart toward my nightstand, and dive, slamming my hand on the snooze-button.

“Colin, what are you—”

“Shhh!” I listen for movement downstairs. It’s quiet.

I let out a slow breath, get up, and then drag my mom to the corner of my room, as far away from the door as possible. I am still trying to be considerate after all.

“What is going on?” she asks. “Is everything okay?”

I keep my voice low. “Yeah, yeah, I just wanted to talk to you about something.”

“Sure. What?”

I look down and fiddle with my fingers. “It’s about Reagan.”

“Okay.” she says, crossing her arms. “What about her?”

“How long do you think she’ll be here for?”

“Just until her parents sell their house.”

“Do you think they’ll sell it today?”

“I doubt it. It will be at least a month.”

I swallow hard and look up. “Why does it take so long to sell a house? I sold my old bike in like an hour.”

“It’s a little more complicated with a house.”

“But couldn’t they give like a prize to the person who buys it?”

She scratches her head, tilting it to the side. “A prize?”

“Yeah, that’s what I did with my bike. I offered Timmy Nugent a Kit Kat and that sealed it.”

“Well, I’ll certainly give Uncle Tom your suggestion, but if no one goes for the Kit Kat, it could be a few months. Maybe even a year.”

My eyes open wide. “A year.

“Possibly. Why? Is there a problem with Reagan?”

“Well, she doesn’t ... seem to fit in with us.”

“Maybe not so much with Violet, but I thought the two of you would be up every night gabbing away.”

I’d rather be eaten by a lion.

I shake my head. “I don’t think we’re going to have too many gab sessions, Mom.”

“Okay, okay.” She unfolds her arms and clasps her hands together. “What can I do to make it better?”

“Could Reagan stay in the backyard, like in a tent?”

My mom stares at me. “I’m not going to make Reagan sleep in the backyard.”

“Could we put her in the basement?”

“She’s not a dog, Colin.”

“What if she got her own apartment, like in the city?”

No. She’s twelve.” My mom puts her arm around me and pats me on my shoulder. “I know she can be a little overbearing, but give her a chance, okay. I think you’ll grow to like her.”

My mom crosses to the door. “I’m going down for breakfast. Do you want me to pour you a bowl of Rice Krispies?”

“No! No Rice Krispies!”

***

History is my only class with Reagan. Although she sits three desks away, it doesn’t stop her from talking to me.

“Colin,” she says, as class is about to begin.

I peek around the students between us.

She presses two of her fingers together as if she’s pretending to hold something. “I need a pencil.”

I keep three extra pencils in the front pocket of my backpack, so I guess I can spare one. I’ll just have to remember to replace it as soon as I get home. I pull out one of the pencils and hand it to the girl sitting next to me, who then hands it to Ronald Winkler, who’s sitting next to her. Ronald stares at it. He’s wearing his usual brown shirt and based on the look on Reagan’s face, I think his breath still stinks.

“Can you pass it to Reagan?” I ask Ronald.

Before he can do anything, Reagan snatches the pencil from his hand.

“Thanks weirdo,” she says. “And buy yourself a Tic Tac, would you?”

Ronald’s face goes red. I wish Reagan would keep her opinions to herself. Not only is her comment rude, it’s also inaccurate. I don’t think you can buy Tic Tacs individually.

As Mr. Melacki begins his lecture, Reagan calls to me again. “Colin.”

I sigh, then mouth the word ‘what’ to her.

“I need paper too,” she says.

What does she carry in her backpack? Just tater tots?

I flip open my notebook, tear out a piece of paper, and then hand it to the girl next to me, who hands it to Ronald. He holds the sheet out in front of him with two shaking hands. Reagan yanks it from him.

“Colin,” she says.

I sit there, looking straight ahead, pretending not to hear her this time.

“Colin,” she says again. “I need a pencil with a better eraser.”

I don’t answer.

Colin.”

Ten minutes later, my head is pounding, but this time it’s not from Reagan, who ended up taking Ronald’s pencil. It’s from Mr. Melacki. He’s going on and on about the Boston Tea Party. His entire summary of the event could have been accomplished in one simple sentence: A bunch of angry colonists threw tea into the harbor because the British government was being mean. See, was that so hard?

Mr. Melacki then asks, “Does anyone know when this happened? When this iconic event in American history took place? When this turning point was in the colonists’ resistance?”

He’s already mentioned the date six or seven times, but I guess he forgot. I also don’t know why he has to ask the same question three different ways. I raise my hand, hoping a direct answer will put him back on track.

He stares at me. “Uh ... Cameron?”

Quiet kids don’t raise their hands that often, and because of it, teachers have trouble remembering our names. But they never have trouble remembering the loud kids’ names, and why would they? The loud kids are always being told to be quiet.

“It’s Colin,” I say.

“You’re too quiet, Colin, that’s the problem. Why don’t we make a deal ... you stop being so quiet and I’ll start remembering your name.”

Okay, I’ll go ahead and count that as two: two-hundred and eighty-three and two-hundred and eighty-four. Oh, and no deal Mr. Melacki.

“Is it December sixteenth, 1773?” I ask.

“It is,” he says. “You’re a bright kid, Connor. You should speak up more.”

I don’t bother correcting him this time. He’s just going to forget it again.

“So who can tell me the names of the three ships involved in the Boston Tea Party?” Mr. Melacki asks.

No hands go up.

“I’ll give you a hint,” he says. “One of the ships was named after an animal.”

“Tiger!” says Reagan.

“Nope,” Mr. Melacki says.

“Giraffe!” says Reagan.

Mr. Melacki shakes his head.

“Zebra!!” Reagan’s voice is rising with each guess, as if her chances will improve the louder she shouts.

“Not a Zebra, “Mr. Melacki says.

This is ridiculous. There must be like ten-thousand different animals. How long is he going to let this go on for?

“A Great White Shark,” says a girl sitting next to me.

We’re including sea creatures now? Sharks aren’t even mammals!

Mr. Melacki leans back against his desk. “I’ll give everyone another hint. It’s furry.”

I doubt Mr. Melacki’s latest clue will help. I can’t think of an animal that doesn’t have fur, except maybe a lizard.

As students continue to guess the name of the ship, I start to drift off, wondering what it would be like to sail my own ship across the Atlantic. I’m envious of the modern-day sailors who have sailed around the world by themselves. I heard it takes like four months. Talk about serious alone time! If I sailed around the world by myself, my talk-capacity would be so stocked up when I returned that I might come across as a regular person, at least for a week or so.


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