A surprise ski trip with her dad is just what Maddie’s winter vacation needs. And when Dad says she can bring along her BFF Aimee and her pug, Phinnie, it’s guaranteed to be the best week ever. But things keep going wrong: First the group gets a flat tire, and then there’s snow in their hotel room. It seems like Maddie has the most terrible luck ever—and to make matters worse, she and Aimee can’t stop fighting. Can a ski class full of cute boys turn this vacation around?
About the Author
Author Laura Dower has a lot in common with Madison Finn: They’re both only children and they both love dogs, the color orange, and books! Laura has written more than ninety kids’ books to date, including twenty-five in the series From the Files of Madison Finn. Her other books include the new Palace Puppies series and For Girls Only, a guide to girl stuff. When she’s not writing, Laura loves to garden, sing (loudly), and volunteer as a scout leader for her daughter and two sons. She and her family live in New York. Want to be keypals? Drop her a note at www.lauradower.com.
Read an Excerpt
Give Me a Break
From the Files of Madison Finn, Book 18
By Laura Dower
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2004 Laura Dower
All rights reserved.
"Ready, aim, fire!"
Madison jumped out of the way just in time to see a snowball go whizzing past her earmuffs. It hit one of Madison's BFFs, Fiona Waters, instead of her.
"Ooof!" Fiona cried, pretending to be wounded. She collapsed onto the snowy ground, hands on her chest, laughing.
"Good one!" Chet Waters said, giving Walter "Egg" Diaz a high five. Chet was Fiona's twin brother. All afternoon he'd been aiming for his sister, but Egg was the one who had finally struck the target.
"I can't believe it was you who threw it!" Fiona said as she stood up and brushed the snow off her grape-colored corduroys.
Aimee Gillespie laughed, too. "Maybe Egg doesn't like you so much after all."
Another one of Egg's snowballs scored a direct hit, on Aimee this time. The entire front of her parka was soaked.
Chet doubled over with laughter. If this was a snowball match of guys versus girls, there was no question who was winning. So far.
"You'd better run! You're in trouble, Egg," Hart Jones said to his friend. He shoved his hands into his pockets. "Aimee's going to get you for—"
Hart groaned. Now he'd been hit in the face with a very cold ball of snow. He wiped off his chin and turned around to see who had thrown it.
Madison jumped into the air with glee. "Gotcha, Hart!" she said with a big grin. She pumped her arm as if to show off a muscle, which of course was invisible underneath her winter coat. "Maybe I should try out for the softball team?" she asked, still giggling.
Hart leaned over and picked up a fistful of snow. "Don't move," he warned Madison, pulling his arm back like a major-league pitcher.
That was when snowball chaos broke out.
Hart threw another snowball at Madison, who ran for cover behind a tree. Chet fired three snowballs in a row at his sister, narrowly missing her each time. Egg wasn't even making snowballs anymore. He just chucked clumps of snow wherever he could, including the side of the house. Fiona and Aimee tried running away, but they tripped over themselves in the snow and fell to the ground, laughing uncontrollably.
The six friends had come over to Aimee's backyard after school to hang out. Winter break was coming soon, and no one felt much like doing homework or taking school seriously.
"Hot chocolate!" Mrs. Gillespie called out from the kitchen door.
Aimee threw her arms into the air. "Truce!" she said, so that everyone would stop the snowball fight. "Hot cocoa!"
The friends shuffled through the snow and ice toward the house. They peeled off layers of wet clothes and their jackets, gloves, and socks inside the back entryway. Then they all planted themselves somewhere on one of the two huge, tattered sofas in Aimee's basement—boys on one sofa, girls on the other. Mrs. Gillespie brought down cups of steaming hot chocolate.
"Your cheeks are so red," Hart said to Madison.
Naturally, she felt them get even redder when he pointed that out. But they weren't hot; they felt like ice cubes.
"Hey, this is even better than Mom's special recipe," Chet said to Fiona as he took another sip of hot chocolate.
Fiona blew on hers. "You're right," she said to her brother. "Thanks for having us over, Aim. This is a great time. I love snowy days like this."
Egg stood up and surveyed the bookshelves in the Gillespie basement. "What are all these?" he said, pointing to a large collection of record albums against one wall.
Aimee shrugged. "My dad collected those. He has this huge collection of eighties music. He says they're worth something. But I don't see the point. We can't even play them anymore."
Egg lifted up a few album covers. On one record was a photo of some odd-looking band members with red plastic plant pots upside down on their heads. The band was called Devo. Another album was called Tears for Fears. "He listens to this?" Egg asked. "What kind of a band name is A Flock of Seagulls?"
"When are you guys leaving for California?" Hart asked Fiona and Chet. Before living in Far Hills, Fiona and Chet's family had lived in California. They were flying back that week for a family visit.
"We're leaving after the big hockey match," Fiona said. "When is that again?"
"You forgot already? I told you it's on Sunday," Chet said to Fiona.
"Gee, I'm sorry!" Fiona cracked. "What? Do you expect me to remember everything?"
"Yeah!" Egg said. He and Fiona had been "going out" for a little while, but sometimes they talked to each other as if they'd been together forever.
"Is next week's hockey match really all that important?" Aimee asked.
Hart clutched his chest as if she'd just shot him with a dart. "Are you kidding me?" he said.
Egg gasped, too. "Yeah! Are you kidding us?"
"All hockey games are important, Aim," Chet said. "Not that you, Maddie, or my sister would ever show up to watch us play."
"Good one!" Egg said. The three boys laughed.
The truth was that Aimee, Madison, and Fiona had gone to a few hockey games—and practices, too. Fiona went because her brother was on the team and because she wanted to see Egg in slap-shot action. Madison went to ogle Hart in his ice skates. And Aimee went whenever she didn't have dance practice, because Fiona and Madison were there.
"Actually," Hart said. "Since we all have our skates with us, maybe we should head over to the lake and practice a little."
"That's a killer idea!" Egg said, jumping up from the couch. "Let's go."
"Let's go," Chet repeated, putting down his now-empty mug.
"You guys, it's going to be dark in a half hour," Fiona said. "Chet, Mom will kill you if you're over at the lake when it gets too late."
Chet shrugged. "She won't kill me. She'll yell. Whatever."
Fiona rolled her eyes. "I am not sticking up for you."
"Like he cares," Egg said.
Fiona crossed her arms and pouted at Egg. The boys collected their semidry coats from Mrs. Gillespie, booted up, and headed out the back door again.
"See you tomorrow, 'kay?" Egg said to Fiona.
She managed a small smile. "Fine," she whispered.
After the boys had left, Madison collapsed back onto one of the sofas with a sigh.
"I have an announcement to make," Madison said. "This is going to be the most boring winter break in the history of the world."
"Why?" Fiona asked.
"I don't want to hang out in Far Hills doing nothing but watch them play hockey," Madison complained.
Aimee nodded. "I wish I were going somewhere exciting, like you, Fiona," she said. "You're so lucky to go back to California on school vacations. Sun, surf, cute skater boys ..."
"Yeah," Fiona said. "But you try flying across the country sitting next to my brother!"
Aimee and Madison chuckled.
"I just wish I didn't have to work at my dad's bookstore," Aimee said. "He makes me shelve books for hours. And after that I have to clear tables in the Cyber Cafe. Isn't there some kind of child-labor law about that?"
"I thought you liked working at the store," Fiona said.
"I did when it was the Christmas rush. But that's because Ben Buckley kept coming in to see me," Aimee said with a grin. "He must have brought me fifteen candy canes. That was so nice."
Ben was Aimee's seventh-grade super crush and the smartest guy in their class, hands down.
Aimee stood up from the sofa. "What are we sitting around down here for? Let's go up to my room. Mom just got me this all-natural makeup kit she saw in a health-food store. It smells nice. Let's give each other minimakeovers."
"Healthy makeup? What is it made from—tofu?" Fiona giggled. "Your mom is a health nut, Aim."
"You're just figuring this out?" Madison said.
They made a pit stop in the kitchen on the way up to Aimee's room, placed their empty cocoa mugs in the sink, and grabbed a bag of whole-wheat pretzels.
Aimee's room was a disaster zone. Pink ballet gear had been thrown into every corner of the room. A pair of toe shoes was hanging from the dresser knobs. Across her bed were a few well-worn copies of En Pointe, a ballet magazine she'd borrowed from the studio where she took lessons.
"What's this?" Madison asked. She held up a letter printed on bright yellow paper that she'd found on the floor.
"Oh, you can throw that out," Aimee said. "It's just a dumb chain letter someone in my ballet class gave to me."
"What?" Madison exclaimed. "There is no such thing as a dumb chain letter."
Fiona giggled. "Maddie, you're the most superstitious person I know."
"Just toss the letter in the trash, Maddie," Aimee said again.
Madison clutched the letter to her chest. "Aimee, did you even read what this says? It says here that if you don't send this letter to five other people, then you will have five years of bad luck. You don't want five years of bad luck, do you? That would mean you'd have bad luck through your entire years of junior high and high school."
"Oh, Maddie," Aimee scoffed. "Give me a break. I don't believe in bad luck. That's just some kind of scam."
Madison wouldn't give the letter back to Aimee. "We have to send it to someone."
"I know what we could do," Fiona said. "Let's leave a copy in Ivy Daly's locker."
The three BFFs laughed and crouched down on the floor together, sitting knee to knee. Ivy was their number-one enemy. They called her Poison Ivy. The way Fiona figured it, if there was bad luck to be had ... why not give it to the enemy?
"That's perfect!" Madison said. "Maybe passing Ivy the letter means she will get cursed, and then she'll get five years of bad luck."
"Yeah," Aimee said. "And then she'll stop muscling in on Hart."
"What are you talking about?" Madison said.
"Hart," Fiona said. "Your Hart."
"Well, I don't know about Hart these days ..." Madison said, her voice trailing off.
"What?" Aimee said. "Are we talking about the same Hart who you were just flirting with in my yard and my house?"
"I was not flirting," Madison said.
"You're such a liar!" Fiona and Aimee both cried at the same time.
"I'm not lying," Madison said. "Can't I change my mind? It's winter break, right? Maybe it's time I took a break from him. Maybe I should find a new crush."
"Are you feeling okay?" Aimee asked, a little more seriously. She actually sounded concerned. "I thought you really, really liked Hart. Don't you?"
"I guess I like him," Madison replied. "When he isn't acting like a boy."
The trio burst into laughter.
"Well, Maddie," Fiona said, "If you really don't like Hart anymore, then you'd better be careful, because he might go out with Ivy after all ..."
"Bite your tongue!" Madison said.
"Maybe it's a good thing," Aimee continued. "It's spring break. Maddie can find some new guys to crush on."
"In Far Hills?" Madison said, sounding not very enthusiastic about her prospects.
They lay back on the floor and flipped through some of the books and magazines around the room, talking more about crushes and boys and about how slow everything felt in the middle of winter. Aimee showed off her new, all-natural makeup set, and they took turns putting eye shadow and eyeliner on one another. The all-natural stuff didn't come in any shades other than brown and browner (no hot pinks or neon oranges in this set), but it was still fun to do makeovers. It always was.
After it got dark outside, Mrs. Gillespie came up to Aimee's room and asked the girls to stay for dinner. But Fiona and Madison both decided to head home instead. Fiona had to get home to pack for her cross-country trip, and Madison wanted to spend a little time with her mom and her pug, Phinnie.
On the short walk up Blueberry Street to her house, Madison thought more about her crush on Hart. She realized that it wasn't exactly fading, but it was getting a little stuck. Neither she nor Hart seemed willing to put themselves out there and really find out whether the other person was "in like." Through friends they had learned some key information. They'd discovered that they had some things in common. They had even shared a bucket of popcorn at a group movie date. But that was it.
Wasn't there something more? Was this how it worked with all boys?
Dinner was already on the table when Madison walked through the door. Her mom had made spaghetti with vegetarian nonmeatballs and some special marinara sauce that Gramma Helen had sent to them. Gramma always cooked and knit during the winter and sent Madison and Mom care packages.
As Madison helped set the table, Phinnie rubbed up against her ankles.
"There he goes again," Mom said. "Looking for a pug hug!"
Madison loved the way her dog always let her know what he needed. Why couldn't boys be the same?
After dinner, Madison carried Phin upstairs. She booted up her laptop and headed for her favorite website, TweenBlurt.com. She was hoping to chat with Fiona or Aimee, but neither of her friends was online. In fact, no one from Madison's buddy list, not even her cross-country keypal, Bigwheels, was online.
The next destination was Madison's files.
News flash: My friends think I am bonkers, but I've decided to rethink the whole Hart thing. It breaks my heart (Hart?) to do this, because he is hands down the cutest guy (I think) in seventh grade. But I wonder if maybe it wasn't really meant to be between him and me. That would be my bad luck, wouldn't it?
My hugest crush was (and is) Jimmie J, the lead singer of my fave band, but there's no chance he'll ever even know who I am, unless I suddenly became a rock star and meet him on the red carpet somewhere. Hey, that could happen! 8:-P
There's that guy Toby next door. I wish he didn't have a gf. Then again, he's too old for me.
And then there's Mark. He wasn't really a crush. He was something else, something real (:) But I totally BLEW IT with Mark. I never even e-mailed him after I got back from Gramma's house--and after I'd kissed him! On the lips! Actually, he never e-mailed me, either. At first I was super happy about knowing him because Mark is so nice and it was summer when we met and the fireworks were so romantic. So why did I wimp out? Maybe I was scared? I mean, he's the only boy I've ever kissed. That's a HUGE deal.
The truth is that inside I was a little sad. No matter what, I think I wanted HART to be the first everything, not some stranger named Mark.
Maybe I still do want Hart to be everything. Ugh. That sounds so sappy.
Madison glanced away from the laptop screen. It was hard to think that one of her biggest dreams—to be part of a couple with Hart—just couldn't seem to work. Madison hit the backspace key to erase the last part of her file entry. She had to stop writing about and start forgetting Hart.
Aimee was right. Right?
Winter break was a good time to crush on some new boys? Right?
"Maddie!" A voice yelled from downstairs. "Maddie! Pick up the phone! It's your dad!"
Madison jumped up from where she'd been sitting on her bed, stubbing her toe in the process. She limped to Mom's room and grabbed the phone.
"Dad?" Madison said. She heard Mom hang up the extension.
"Maddie," Dad wheezed. "I just got the best news, and I wanted to call you right away!" he said.
"Were you just running?" Madison asked. "You sound breathless."
"No, no!" Dad chuckled. "Maddie, I'm just excited! I am calling you about winter break. You still don't have any major plans, do you?"
"No ..." Madison was intrigued.
"Well, pack your bags!" Dad exclaimed. "We're heading to Big Mountain!"
Madison's head started to spin as Dad explained.
He'd gotten last-minute time off from work, and one of his clients had given him an incredible gift: a weeklong reservation for Treetops Lodge, one of the most exclusive lodges up on Big Mountain, which was a ski resort in the Adirondack Mountains. Stephanie, Dad's new wife, was taking time off from work, too; and they wanted Madison to join them. It meant packing and leaving for the trip at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning.
"Wow," Madison was speechless.
"That's not even the best part!" Dad cried. "Stephanie and I want you to bring Phin. This lodge has babysitting and dog-sitting."
"Really?" Madison said, still dumbfounded.
"And that's not all!" Dad said, sounding like a game-show host who was announcing the big-prize package. "We want you to bring a friend."
"A friend?" Madison squealed. "Really?"
Now her head was spinning. She'd only gone skiing once, and she'd never gone on vacation with a friend. This could be a lot of fun.
Without warning, Madison's winter break was beginning to morph into a very real escape—at one of the ritziest ski lodges around.
And Madison knew exactly whom she would invite.
Excerpted from Give Me a Break by Laura Dower. Copyright © 2004 Laura Dower. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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