Ethan Marcus Makes His Mark
CHAPTER ONE Frankenstorm
As worst days go, the Monday after Thanksgiving break is right up there with the last day of summer vacation. Not as bad, I’ll give you that. But hear me out. The alarm goes off at seven fifteen. You jolt awake, and then three sad facts slowly materialize in your brain: (1) The little party you had going on in the family room with constant televised sports and unlimited snacks is over. (2) Three months of winter are ahead. No more wearing shorts, shooting baskets on the driveway, or going outside without a jacket. And (3) School. You have to go back.
Enough said? Yeah, I thought so.
On top of that, you’re still recovering from Thanksgiving itself. The stuffing-related stomachache, your relatives interrogating you, and having to sit next to Grandpa Jerome, who kept yelling “WHAT?” while
spitting half-chewed turkey on your arm. Luckily, you had a fancy cloth napkin to use as a shield.
Unfortunately for me, today is that Monday.
I drag myself out of bed and grab a T-shirt and jeans from the pile of clothes on my beanbag, then go downstairs to the kitchen, where my sister, Erin, is spreading peanut butter on a piece of toast. Perfectly even, making sure to completely cover each corner.
She sighs. “I thought this day would never come. I’m so happy to be going back to school. Being home gets really old after a while.”
I make a grumble/growl noise because words are just too much effort at the moment.
She cuts her toast into six equal squares, then pops one into her mouth. She chews it exactly five times before swallowing. She’s very precise about chewing. And everything else.
I stumble to the cabinet, take out a bowl, plunk it on the counter.
“I’m so excited to start the historical-fiction unit in language arts,” Erin says. “I heard we get to dress up as our favorite character at the end. How fun will that be?”
I get the cereal, milk, a spoon. “I can’t think of anything I want to do more.”
She rolls her eyes, then smiles. “Oh, Ethan.”
Erin’s only eleven months older than me, and we’re both in seventh grade, but she’s sounding more and more like Mom every day. This is not good on a lot of levels.
I stand at the counter, hunch over my bowl, start eating.
Erin finishes her toast, then rinses the dish and knife and puts them into the dishwasher. She hoists her backpack onto a stool and rifles through it. “Wow, this is so unlike me. Good thing I checked. I almost forgot my mechanical pencil! I think I left it in my room. Be back in a sec.” She runs out of the kitchen.
I keep eating my cereal, but even Cheerios aren’t cheering me up.
When Erin comes back, I ask, “Where’s Mom?” Dad leaves for work at five a.m., so he’s never around in the morning, but Mom usually is.
“She had to run out early for a staff meeting. I assured her we’d lock up.” Erin glances at me. “You better get moving. The bus will be here in . . .” She checks the time
on her phone because she doesn’t trust the clock on the microwave. “Ten minutes.”
I scoop up the last soggy circle, then put my bowl into the sink.
Erin tilts her head. “Dishwasher.”
I groan but open the dishwasher door and put my bowl and spoon inside. After everything that happened with Invention Day a few weeks ago, Erin and I have a different kind of deal going on. A sort of peace-ish treaty. We get how the two of us are day and night and black and white and all that. But that doesn’t mean we don’t still annoy each other. Fairly frequently.
“Where’s your backpack?” she asks.
I look around the kitchen. “Upstairs?”
“Were you planning on getting it anytime soon?”
As I was saying.
A few minutes later I have my backpack and we’re out the door, with Erin checking that it’s locked about ten times. She even goes, “Okay, okay, the door is locked.”
“Yes! It’s locked!” I pull her arm. “Let’s go.”
At the bus stop, most people’s eyes are half-closed, and some kids are swaying a little, like they’re asleep
while standing on the sidewalk. When the bus gets there, I take my usual seat next to Brian Kowalski.
We understand each other perfectly, and have since kindergarten.
People are quiet during the ride, and I know for certain that every single kid on this bus is dreading the first sight of McNutt Junior High. Every kid except one. Erin’s in the front row talking to Parneeta, who’s definitely asleep. Eyes closed, head plastered to the window, mouth slightly open. But that doesn’t stop Erin from describing in great detail the “supposedly riveting” historical-fiction book we’re going to read in LA.
Too soon, it’s 8:20 a.m., first period, and I’m in math with my butt planted in a chair. Mrs. Genovese peers at us through her giant round owl glasses and grins. “Welcome back, everyone!” She gestures to the whiteboard. “Let’s get right down to work. Go ahead and start the warm-up problems. I hope your brains aren’t still full of turkey!”
Mine obviously is. I forgot my pencil case in my
locker and have to raise my hand to ask for a pencil. Mrs. Genovese has an emergency stash for people like me. Nice, but if you don’t return the pencil, sharpened, at the end of class, she writes your name in a little notebook. It affects your grade in some way. It’s happened. I’ve heard.
She hands me a pencil, and I stare at the first problem. I’ve also forgotten how to do any kind of equation. How many days until winter break? Fifteen. Correction: fifteen long, boring, scoma-inducing seven-hour days of school.
Yeah, I’m still having scomas. Scoma = school-coma, in case you forgot. After making the desk-evator for Invention Day, I had high hopes. The concept was brilliant—it really was. Even if the prototype was made from spatulas, chip clips, a broken cutting board, and an entire roll of duct tape. Don’t ask.
My plan—my dream—was that kids would clip it onto their desks and be able to stand up in class when they needed to stretch their legs and defog their brains. It didn’t win or anything, but afterward, Erin got people to do a serious protest in LA about how long we have to sit in school. The protest was amazing—everyone did
it! We’ve—uh, she’s—been working on a report about the benefits of standing desks, and we’re going to present it to Mrs. D’Antonio, the principal, but until then my butt remains sadly in my seat.
I was sure I’d be scoma-free by now, but Erin says there are a lot of “facts and figures” to “compile” and she’s been “really busy.” Busy with what, you want to know? Busy being Erin.
I squint at the whiteboard and try to remember what a polynomial is, then look out the window for help. Sometimes that works. Like the sun pierces my brain or something. But instead I see something better than help. A big, fat snowflake drifting past the glass.
A minute later I spot a second one. Then a third, a fourth, and, suddenly, a bunch more falling from the whitish-gray sky.
This is good. Definitely good.
A blizzard is supposed to hit some parts of the Midwest today. The weather people are calling it Frankenstorm. But last night Mom and Dad weren’t buying it. Dad packed up his work papers like usual. “They often blow these things out of proportion,” he said. Mom
agreed and told us to plan on going to school since it hadn’t been canceled.
Mom and Dad are not panicky-type people. They always stick to their Parenting 101 philosophy: stay calm, be patient, and let your kids make their own choices. Except, apparently, in the case of snow predictions. Because I would’ve decided to stay home. You know, just as a precaution.
When math is over, I give Genovese the pencil so she won’t write my name in her pencil-criminal notebook, and then I go to social studies. It keeps snowing. Science. More snow. By now nobody’s concentrating or even listening. The view out the window is hypnotizing us.
People are whispering and sneak-texting under their desks. A rumor starts floating around about an early dismissal. And another rumor that tests are going to be moved back and homework deadlines will be extended.
In Spanish, Señora Pling is more jittery than usual, her bracelets jangling wildly as she sweeps her arm toward the window, shouting, “¿Qué pasa?”
Then the best rumor of all hits the McNutt hallways:
not only an early dismissal, but a possible snow day tomorrow. Everyone’s saying it’s supposed to keep snowing all night. I hear eight inches. Ten. Twenty! A hundred!
Zoe Feld-Kramer, Erin’s best friend, rushes up to me as I’m walking into the cafeteria for lunch. She grabs my hand and squeezes it because I think she thinks we’re going out. “Maybe if there’s a snow day, we can have plans!” she says. “Hang out? Do something fun?”
I clear my throat. “Uh . . . maybe.”
She zooms toward the table where she sits with Erin and the rest of their friends.
At Invention Day, Zoe kissed me. Yes, on the lips. We went to a movie once. Just her and me. It was a dumb movie and Dad drove us and the whole deal was really awkward, and now I have no idea about anything.
“Marcus!” Brian calls, waving at me. “Get over here!”
I haven’t even unwrapped my sandwich when Mrs. D’Antonio’s voice crackles over the loudspeaker. “May I have your attention please?”
The cafeteria is 100 percent silent. People are holding their water bottles in mid-drink. Forks and spoons are
down; eyes are wide. No one’s even blinking. It’s like a sitting freeze dance.
“Due to the snow, we will be dismissing . . .”
And it’s official. We’re getting out of here at two p.m. Mrs. D says more, but I can’t hear because the cafeteria more or less explodes. The guys at my table stand and applaud. The theater table starts singing a song from Wicked, I think. The people at the popular-kid table are taking pictures and immediately posting them (#mcnuttearlydismissal, of course). Brian throws his banana high into the air, then catches it behind his back with one hand. Mrs. Hinkley points at him and blows her whistle. She’s blowing her whistle at everyone.
I want to jump and high-five the cafeteria window, but Hinkley’ll nail me. So I shout, “Thank you, Frankenstorm!” For saving my sad, scomatized butt and turning an absolute worst day into an absolute best day.
This is terrible.
I know, okay? I know what you’re thinking. How could I not be happy about an early dismissal and potential
snow day? The thing is, and maybe I’m in the minority here, but I like school. Actually, I love school, and I’m not embarrassed about saying it. Always have, always will.
Each year, when I tear open the new school-supply pack Mom orders from the PTO, I’m in heaven. There’s nothing in the world like six beautiful blank spiral notebooks and the anticipation of filling them with my neat, organized notes all year long. The scent of the clean, fresh paper gets me every time! I use index cards too—for studying and review—and thankfully, a package of five hundred is always included in the box.
I was so looking forward to discussing the periodic table in science. I studied it all during break, so I was well prepared. And in LA, Mr. Delman was going to distribute the new novel and read the first chapter aloud. We were supposed to begin talking about point of view and fact versus opinion!
But instead, at 2:01 p.m., what am I doing? Trudging to my locker, putting everything into my backpack, and filing out the back door toward the buses.
Now it’ll be another long, slow afternoon at home, trying to find things to do. I was already going stir-crazy
over Thanksgiving break. I completed a one-thousand-piece puzzle, watched movies, finished two books, even reorganized all my dresser drawers. And, of course, continued my research for the report on standing desks.
When I have lots of assignments and projects for my classes, my heart just feels happier. If I can get into bed with everything crossed out in my assignment notebook, I know I’ll sleep well.
Brian and Ethan are in line at our bus, doing the breaststroke as if they’re swimming through the blizzard. I stand behind them, and in a few seconds my hat and backpack straps and jacket are covered with snow.
“We might not make it out alive!” Brian shouts.
Ethan laughs. “Every man for himself!”
My brother picks up a handful of snow and plops it onto Brian’s back. Brian whoops, then does the same thing to Ethan. At least the two of them have the sense not to walk home like they usually do. It actually does look kind of bad—I can hardly make out Zoe waiting in her bus line. Still, I don’t see why we couldn’t have gotten through the last two periods of the day.
I settle into my regular seat behind the driver and
next to Parneeta, who’s got a huge smile on her face. “Isn’t this excellent?” she says. “As soon as I get home, I’m catching up with all my favorite beauty blogs. There’s usually a ton of new posts on Mondays.”
I hold my backpack on my lap. “We’re going to have to make up what we missed, you know. An extra day in June, I’m sure.”
“So? Who cares!”
The bus is louder than normal—everyone’s talking and shouting and throwing crumpled wads of paper. The driver, Joe, isn’t even telling us to “dial it down a notch” like he usually does. He’s singing and drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.
Finally we start moving. My phone buzzes, and I pull it out of my backpack. Text from Zoe: If there’s a snow day tomorrow, maybe we can all hang out.
By “all” she means Ethan.
Maybe, I reply.
I should probably review some math problems, I say. And I’m still working on the report for Mrs. D’Antonio.
Erin! Snow days are a gift! You have to do something
fun on a snow day. It’s a law. She sends me a bunch of smiling emojis. And snowflakes.
Ha-ha. I’ll think about it.
Zoe has decided she’s in love with my brother. I told her I’m okay with it, but the truth is, just between you and me, I’m trying but I don’t exactly see it. He has some charm, and can be funny in a sloppy-clueless way, and I guess a lot of girls think he’s cute. And don’t get me wrong, I want my best friend to have some romance in her life. But you can’t let love take over everything else. Besides, what do they even have in common? I mean, Zoe’s not even focusing on the Be Green Club anymore! That was everything to her prior to the Invention Day kissing incident.
The bus crawls along. What’s normally a twenty-minute trip takes twice the amount of time. Finally we reach our stop and I get off, along with Ethan and some other kids. My brother and I clomp through the snow toward our house. The streets are barely plowed, and icy pellets are pinging my face. Unpleasant. Aggravating. Just, ugh.
“Isn’t this awesome!” Ethan grins, kicking piles of snow as we walk. His jacket’s not even zipped.
Now it’s me who grunts, like he did this morning. “I’d rather be at school.”
“You’re crazy!” Ethan shouts, then clomp-runs the rest of the way home.
Maybe. But he’s crazier.