Alexa Kroshatt’s mind whirled with escape plans: injury, illness, blackmail. Sweat clung to Alexa’s forehead like a sticky Band-aid. She scrunched herself into a tight ball—like if she made herself smaller, she might be invisible.
The soft, lavender comforter that was babyish but Alexa’s only protection from evil was thrown off. “Alexa,” a firm voice sounded next to her. “Get. Up. Now.” Gleeful giggling came from another voice.
“Five more minutes…” Alexa grumbled, turning over. She suddenly had forgotten all of her ideas for how to get out of school.
“Now, Alexa,” her mom insisted. “You know today is the first day of MS Junior High, and no daughter of mine is going to be late on the first day.”
Alexa had nimbly evaded her mother’s grasp at first, but when her mom got to the “daughter of mine” bit, there was no refusing. Amy, her seven-year-old little sister, scampered off and out of her room down the hall, probably going to annoy Ellen or Matthias.
Alexa pulled on her hand-picked outfit: long shirt and mini-skirt, knee-high socks, and her Cat ‘n Jack slippers. She reluctantly started her daily routine, which began by waiting in line for the bathroom. Ellen was in there, brushing and styling her hair, washing her face, putting on lipstick, putting in earrings, dabbing her face with weird lotion, and checking herself in the mirror for the bajillionth time. Ellen finally walked out, and Alexa went in, but before she could close the door, Ellen dashed back in because she had forgotten to trim her eyebrows. By the time Alexa was done, she was late for breakfast. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, she thought. Maybe I’ll end up being too late to go to school.
Alexa trudged down the stairs to Matthias eating sloppily, Ellen gabbing on the phone, and her mother handling Amy.
Her mom shoved a blueberry muffin and her backpack into her hands. “Bye, Alexa! Don’t miss the bus!” she said, pushing Alexa out the door, while Matthias gave a skeptical grunt. “Have a good day and make some new friends!”
Friends. The word rang in Alexa’s mind as she hurried out the door. That was what she was most nervous about. There was the good kind of friend, like Stella and Maddie from back in Wisconsin. And then there was the bad kind, the stuck-up vain kind who dumped you just as soon as you started to trust them. Alexa stepped onto the bus and into the bustle of paper airplanes, loud voices, and stomping feet. She chose an empty seat and crouched down, almost hiding herself from view, and envisioning her lavender comforter as an invisible shield.
“Um, is this seat taken?”
Alexa looked up. A girl with brown hair pulled in a ponytail was staring at her, backpack slung over one shoulder. She was dressed in a rose-colored cardigan, blue jeans, and a tight purple shirt.
“Sure,” Alexa answered, scooching over. The girl plopped down onto the empty seat.
They didn’t talk to each other the whole ride. As they started putting on their backpacks and stepping off the bus, the girl suddenly asked, “Are you new here?”
Alexa nodded. “How’d you know?”
“You’re using both shoulders to carry your backpack. Everyone else here does it with one.” Her blue eyes glinted. “But two’s cool. I’m Holly Andrews.” She stuck out her hand.
* * * * * * * *
Turned out that Alexa and Holly had homeroom and Spanish together. Holly sat first and motioned for Alexa to sit next to her.
“You’re going to love Mr. Gavin,” Holly whispered. “Sometimes he’s strict, but he’s still really funny.”
“Cool,” Alexa said, not really listening. She was looking around at all of her classmates, hearing snippets of their conversations about summers and movies. She sensed their excitement about a new year.
“Holly!” someone called. Holly turned and brightened when she saw a girl with dark hair and chocolate eyes shimmy over.
“Hey, Catrina!” Holly called back. The girl beat a beefy boy to the seat next to Holly’s and triumphantly thumped down her backpack.
“Who’s this?” she asked, looking at Alexa.
“Alexa Kroshatt,” Holly answered, looking pleased with herself. “She’s new.”
“Is she one of us?” Catrina asked hesitantly.
One of us? thought Alexa.
“I don’t know yet,” Holly answered, and then, dropping her voice, continued, “but once she meets the other Bombs, we’ll know for sure.”
“Bombs?” Alexa asked. “Why do you have bombs?”
“For nuclear explosions, of course,” Holly and Catrina answered simultaneously. Then Holly giggled, and Alexa realized they were joking.
Catrina opened her mouth to answer, but an odd-looking man clapped his hands and called for attention.
“That’s Mr. Gavin,” Catrina whispered to Alexa. “He was alive when the dinosaurs roamed the earth.”
And for the first time that day, Alexa smiled.
* * * * * * * *
At lunch, Alexa sat down next to Holly. “Trade you cookies for pizza,” she offered.
“Sure.” As Holly swiped the cookies, Catrina and another girl sat down across from them. The new girl had bushy red hair, freckles, and a pink dress.
“Alexa, this is Penelope Weinstein,” Catrina said. The girl waved.
“She’s our Treasurer,” Holly added. “And I’m Vice President. Catrina’s Secretary.”
“Secretary of what?” Alexa asked. “And who’s the President?”
At that very moment, a fifth girl appeared with had an air of authority about her. Sheets of straight black hair fell to her hips. She wore a tight black shirt and black leggings over her pale skin. Her pale blue eyes were keen and focused.
“And that’s our President, Violet,” Holly finished. The girl plopped down on the bench next to Penelope.
“New recruit?” Violet asked, eyeing Alexa curiously.
“Hopefully,” Penelope replied.
“Does she know anything?”
“Then we’d best fill her in.”
They abandoned their half-eaten lunches (though Holly grabbed the cookies) and followed Violet to a quiet nook.
Penelope burst out, “Just look at her, Vi! She’s totally one of us.”
“One of what?” Alexa asked? Holly and Violent exchanged glances, and Violet nodded.
“One of our club,” Holly said, the words rushing out. “We’re the Bomb Squad. The ‘Beware Of Mischievous Boys’ Squad. We support girls at school when they are being teased by boys.”
“We’re also friends who just like to hang out,” Penelope interrupted, as Holly stopped for air.
“Yep,” Violent piped up. “We have meetings every Wednesday, and we hold fundraisers and the profits go to the club, which we use every month for a Bomb Squad pizza party.”
Everyone stared at Alexa expectantly. She took a deep breath, taking it all in, and asked, “So, you’re inviting me to join your club?”
“How about we give you time to decide? Tell us after school lets out today,” Violet suggested. The others agreed.
Just then, the bell rang. The girls scattered, and Alexa headed to English.
* * * * * * * *
Alexa’s last period of the day was art. She grabbed a pencil and paper as soon as the art teacher started talking. Art was one class where she didn’t usually have to pay attention. She could just let her mind wander.
Alexa thought about what it would be like to join the club. She liked the idea of teasing Matthias about it. And the girls seemed really nice. But what if the girls weren’t really as friendly as they seemed today? Maybe she’d be better off alone. It would be worse to join and then get kicked out of the club than not to join at all. Doubts swarmed in Alexa’s mind. She looked down at her art project to see that it was all scribble. She pushed the doubts away and grabbed a Sharpie to fix things.
Do what you think is right.
Alexa froze, her mother’s voice echoing in her ears. She could clearly remember the time her mom said that to her years ago while she was reading Alexa a picture book.
Do what you think is right. Don’t let things get in the way.
“Alexa?” Ms. Bixby, the art teacher, stood over her, frowning down at her mess of a drawing. “Perhaps you need to work somewhere quieter where you can focus?”
* * * * * * * *
Holly, Violent, Penelope, and Catrina met Alexa in the throng of kids outside the school’s main entrance. Alexa was ready for them.
“Well?” Violet asked, and her eyes betrayed a gleam of hope. Holly, Penelope, and Catrina leaned forward excitedly. “What will it be?”
* * * * * * * *
“Honey, is that you?” her mom asked as Alexa shut the front door and slumped her backpack on the chair.
Alexa was grinning so big she felt her teeth might pop out. Alexa Kroshatt was new to this town. She had faced the impossible. But she survived. And she had achieved something she never thought she’d do.
“Mom?” Alexa called. “I joined a club.”
Avah Dodson is 11. She is the author of three books. Her shorter works have won numerous prizes—including in the Royal Nonesuch Humor Contest, the Kay Snow Contest, and The Writing Conference Contest—and have appeared in Skipping Stones Magazine, The Writer’s Slate, Bazoof! Magazine, and others. She lives in California with her family and two adorable tabbies.
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