Sticks & Stones - Abby Cooper

1

WORDS

Some people don’t think that one word can make a difference.

They’re wrong.

Sure, some words need to be around other words to make sense. They need to hang out together in a book or a song or a text message, or else you’re stuck wrinkling your nose like HUH? That doesn’t make any sense.

But some words don’t need others. They have big-time serious meaning all by themselves.

I knew that better than anyone.

Like when it came to talking about me going to middle school this year. Mom said it would be different. Dr. Patel said it would be challenging. Dad said it would be fine.

They just needed one word each to sum up what they thought a whole year would be like … and, so far, they were right.

One word nobody used, though? Mysterious.

And right now, that was the most important word of all.

I reached into my pocket and dug around until I found the folded blue paper again. Maybe it was a letter from a secret admirer or a gift certificate to Soup Palace, otherwise known as the Best Place on Earth.

Maybe it was nothing at all.

But it had to be something. It had my name on the front, after all, and was taped to my locker. I was dying to open it, but even if I found a way to read it sneakily, Ms. Sigafiss would probably see me and read it to everyone or rip it up or something. And that was if she was in a good mood.

I looked around the room, thinking about words.

Different.

Challenging.

Fine.

Mysterious.

They were just words, but they could change my whole life.

In fact, they already had.

2

LURCHES AND LETTERS

If there was one person who could make me forget about words and mysterious notes for a second, it was Liam. Dumb, beautiful, horrible, amazing Liam. I may have been a little confused about how I felt, but the one thing I knew for sure was that one quick look into his greenish-brownish eyeballs as he entered the classroom made me completely forget everything. It also made my heart get all lurchy and poundy, which I seriously did not appreciate. Was this feeling really necessary every single time I saw him? I pulled my pink polka-dot scarf up over my face before anyone could see the major redness that usually followed lurchy heart. Not a good look for school.

Like I had done the past few days, I tried my very hardest to think about something un-lurchworthy. Sitting in Chicago traffic when we go to Dr. Patel’s. Actually being at Dr. Patel’s. This class. Boring, boring, boring. Perfect.

But then Jeg shot me a sideways glance from the seat next to me and Liam started chatting with Snotty Ami and my heart lurched all over again, big-time, and not in the overly excited kind of way. More like in the I-really-don’t-like-this-one-bit kind of way.

I returned Jeg’s look. “This stinks,” I whispered.

“Totally,” she said.

“Quiet!” Ms. Sigafiss rapped on her desk with a ruler.

She usually scared the bejeebers out of me, but at this moment she was my hero. Anyone who could make Liam and Snotty Ami stop talking to each other was automatically an awesome person, even if that person always wore frilly clothes and was permanently cranky.

“For the last ten minutes of class, please take out the assignment you began yesterday and continue working,” she said.

I picked up my pencil and tried my hardest to concentrate on the paper in front of me, but it was way less blue and mysterious than the paper I really wanted to look at. And it was much less greenish-brownish than those awesome/evil eyeballs of