Chapter One: The New Normal
Chapter One The New Normal
I woke up this morning feeling totally at peace, even though it was a Monday.
But after a few weeks of middle school, I finally felt like I had the hang of things: I knew exactly how long I had to get to each class, where I could hide and take a phone break, and the best locker to grab when I had to change for PE.
One thing I didn’t like, though, was that our seats weren’t fixed in all our classes. In elementary school, my BFF Casey and I would pick our seats right next to each other on the first day of school, and those would be our seats for the year. We could relax.
Now I’m scrambling to try to get a seat next to Casey at least half the time. And if we don’t time it right, we’re way far apart.
I wish I had the hang of that.
Still, I’ve kind of been loving the routine of middle school. It’s funny, because all my life I’ve dreamed about getting out of Bellgrove, my tiny hometown where everyone knows everyone else’s business and routines.
But lately, I’ve been kind of liking it. I’ve felt happy knowing exactly where I had to be, what I had to do, and who would be with me every day. For the first time, it actually felt good knowing everyone in town, and having all of them know me. It felt like things were under control.
Speaking of control, my grandmother’s kind (but bossy) voice floated up the stairs and curled under my door.
“Lindsay? Sweetheart? Are you up yet? Rise and shine!”
Nans comes over every weekday morning to get me and my younger brother, Skylar, to school. Ever since our mom died two years ago, our whole extended family has helped in different ways to fill the giant Mom-size hole in our lives.
My mom’s mom, my grandmother Mimi, is our only relative on her side of the family. Mimi lives in Chicago, but she still tries to visit us as much as she can, and every once in a while, we go to see her. It’s really hard on her that my mom is gone, so we comfort each other in both directions.
My dad’s family is from Bellgrove and they all settled here. Our family owns a restaurant called the Park View Table, or the Park for short, that’s like the hub of our town. It’s centrally located and overlooks our beautiful town park, and inside it is a small donut shop called Donut Dreams.
Almost everyone in my family has a job at the restaurant: there’s my dad, Mike (he runs Donut Dreams); me (donut counter); my grandpa (manager); Nans (chef); my dad’s sister, my aunt Melissa (finances); her girls Kelsey (donut counter with me), Molly (a “runner” or bus girl), and Jenna (waitress); my dad’s brother, my uncle Charlie (ordering and inventory); and Charlie’s son Rich (waiter) and daughter Lily (hostess).
My aunt Sabrina is a nurse and my uncle Chris is a carpenter who also teaches shop at our town high school, but even they help out at the Park from time to time. We all pitch in together and take care of each other, though lately it’s mostly been all of them taking care of me and my family.
All of this has been great for me and Sky and my dad, and I know that. It’s just that I really wish my mom were still here. I wish I could have her back, even for a minute, even just to talk about some boring thing in school, or what was going on in her garden.
My mom was an artist, but she was crazy about flowers. She had a beautiful garden out behind our house (it’s gotten a little wild, I hate to admit), and she loved planning it and tending it and cutting and arranging its flowers. My mom often said she could have been a florist almost as happily as an artist and art teacher.
“It’s the same skill set—shapes and colors!” she used to say.
At the very end of my mom’s illness, she told me to remember that after she died, whenever I saw a flower, it would be her saying hi.
And whenever I saw a blue flower it would be her sending me a huge hug. Mom’s favorite shade of blue was one she used to make using purple, white, and gray paint and she called it “true blue.”
It’s made me notice flowers a lot more, which I guess was her point.
“Flowers bring joy,” she would always say. “Seek out joy!”
But now that fall was settling in, there weren’t too many flowers around, and certainly not any blue ones. All I’d been seeing were those tubs with ginormous balls of Halloween-colored mums in them, orange and yellow and rusty red. Yuck.
I missed my mom.
“Lindsay!” Nans called again.
“Coming, Nans!” I whipped off my comforter and scrambled to get ready.
Downstairs, Skylar was already at the table, eating his bottomless bowl of Coco Snacks, or whatever the flavor of the week was. The kid is always starving, and Nans lets him have junky cereal for breakfast because it’s easier to get him out of bed that way.
“Some call it bribery,” Nans would sigh when asked. “I call it time management.”
My morning job was to get our lunches ready while Nans fixed breakfast. Since our family owns and runs the Park, we’re all pretty comfortable in the kitchen.
Nans was making me a quick omelet, just the way I like it with cheddar and chives, while I made ham and cheese sandwiches in whole-grain pita pockets with mustard and baby spinach for me and Sky.
I wrapped them in our new reusable Bee’s Wrap waxed cloth (my dad’s gone environmental lately as part of some research he’s doing for the Park) and filled two small Tupperware tubs with corn chips. Then an apple and a stainless-steel water bottle each, and it all went into our soft, reusable lunch coolers.
I set the coolers by the back door and sat down just as Nans was putting the piping-hot omelet at my place.
“Perfect timing!” she said, kissing me on the head. “Toast?”
“No, thanks,” I said as I dug in.
The omelet was delicious—the perfect start to a Monday morning.
“Mmm. Tastes just like fancy restaurant cooking!” I said, grinning. That’s a family joke of ours anytime one of us cooks anything.
Nans swatted at me playfully with the dish towel and turned back to the counter to clean up.
“Nans,” said Skylar though a mouthful of Coco Snacks. He was already on his third bowl.
“Yes, my love?” said Nans as she scrubbed the frying pan.
“When’s it my turn to bring donuts to school for my class? All the kids are asking.”
Nans turned off the water and looked at Sky with a smile. “Have you checked the chart?”
Sky shook his head.
Since so many people in the family and in town ask for free donuts all the time, Nans and Grandpa finally had to make a giveaway chart to hang at the Park to keep track of donations.
My aunt Melissa is the accountant at the restaurant and Donut Dreams, and she runs all the finances. She said we’d fall into financial ruin if we didn’t keep better track of our donuts.
“You can’t keep giving away all your products for free to every bingo night in town! Here are the rules: twice a month, four dozen at a time. That’s all we can afford. Tell people to sign up early,” she said.
So those are the rules. Each of the seven grandkids gets a turn to bring donuts to school once a year, and we try to time it with our birthdays. Some families bring cupcakes to school, but we bring donuts. People love it.
The best part is that when it’s your turn, you get to go into the restaurant really early in the morning and fill the four boxes with the four dozen donuts in the flavors of your own choice.
My BFF, Casey, is totally down with this tradition and starts reminding me the week leading up to my birthday how much she loooooves our cinnamon donuts.
As if I didn’t know that by now. As if I wasn’t already slotting an entire dozen cinnamon donuts into my birthday assortment way in advance!
Nans continued, “Okay, I’ll check the donation calendar for you when I get to work and I’ll let you know this afternoon. Your birthday is next month, Sky-baby, so it’s coming up!”
Sky grinned, and some gluey chocolate mush oozed through his teeth.
“Ugh!” I groaned, and I brought my dishes to the sink and grabbed my things for school.
Minutes later, we were in the car and on our way.
Right after our morning meeting, I saw Casey walking toward the lockers.
“Hey!” I said, coming up behind her and pulling on one of her long, dark curls.
“Hey, girl!” Casey said, twirling me around and grabbing me in a hug.
“Long time no talk,” I joked, since we try to always text right before we go to sleep and right when we wake up.
We’re on a Snapchat streak right now—haven’t missed a day in two weeks—and we’re trying to keep it that way. We like setting silly goals like that for ourselves.
“I have a big scoop!” said Casey, her dark eyes wide and her eyebrows scrunched way high in excitement.
But before she could fill me in, we were interrupted.
“What’s up, chicas?” said my cousin Kelsey, popping open her locker.
She’s in my grade, as is her sister, my cousin Molly. They aren’t twins, which is confusing since they’re almost the exact same age. My aunt and uncle adopted Molly from Korea and then my aunt had a surprise baby, Kelsey.
I liked having them both in my grade—they were so different that they each added a lot in different ways—but we all had our own small friend groups.
“Hey, Kels,” I said.
I wanted to hear Casey’s news, but I wasn’t sure if it was for public consumption. I glanced at her and she looked ready to burst.
“Guess what?” Casey said, looking all around the busy hallway. She lowered her voice to a throaty whisper, and Kelsey and I leaned in. “We’re getting a new student today!”
“A new student? Now?” blurted Kelsey loudly, swiveling her head and generally making a Kelsey-like scene. Kelsey doesn’t do anything in a small way.
“Shhh!” said Casey. “My mom will kill me if she thinks I’m spilling news.”
Casey’s mom, Mrs. Peters, is the assistant principal of our school. I love her, since she was my mom’s best friend and she’s my best friend’s mom, but she can be intimidating at school. Very formal-like.
“A boy or a girl?” I asked quietly.
I didn’t really need any new friends, so I hoped it was a boy. A new girl might mean reconfiguring our seating in a class or someone I’d have to—gulp—share Casey with. A new girl would upset my rock-solid middle school routine.
“A girl,” said Casey with a grin. “That’s all I know!”
My heart sank. How could Casey be happy about this news?
“Where’s she from? Why’s she starting so late? What’s her deal?” Kelsey peppered Casey with questions, but Casey threw her hands in the air and backed away, laughing.
“We’ll find out soon enough!” she said.
“If you find out more, will you text me?” said Kelsey.
Kelsey loved our town and was always eager to show people around, maybe even boss them around, if you want to know the truth.
“Yes, I’ll text you,” agreed Casey. “After school.”
We’re not allowed to use our phones at school, and Casey’s mom is always on the prowl, looking for rule breakers. I’m always looking for spots where I can hide for a minute and watch a video or two, just to relax.
Kelsey sighed dramatically. “Why does everything have to take so long in this life?!”
She spun on her heel and marched off to class, while Casey and I laughed affectionately as she disappeared down the hallway.
“The new girl’s in some of our classes,” whispered Casey. “That much I do know, ’cause my mom asked me to be nice to her. Let’s go!”
We linked arms and set off for study hall and to meet this new mystery girl, but my heart wasn’t in it. Our classroom was abuzz as we entered, which was saying a lot for a Monday morning.
What was the deal? Was it because of the new girl?
I scanned the classroom and spotted two big white bakery boxes on Ms. Ogden’s desk. They were just like the kind I always used when I had to bring in donuts. There was no other bakery in our town, so what were these and where were they from?