Tamiko and Sierra can’t stop talking about the dance coming up at their school. There’s a dance coming up at Allie’s school too, but it’s not the same without having her two BFFs with her for support. Two friends, two dances, two schools—Allie is sandwiched in the middle everywhere! Can the girls figure out a way for all of them to feel like they are part of a crew again?
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Ice Cream Sandwiched
I put the finishing touches on my book review as the school bus pulled into Vista Green School.
“Perfect Pairing,” I typed into my tablet. “Eat a scoop of banana ice cream sprinkled with toasted coconut to taste the flavors of Barbados. Although, I’m pretty sure that the Puritans did not approve of ice cream!”
Puritans, ice cream, and Barbados. Okay, that sounded a little weird. But I’d selected The Witch of Blackbird Pond as my first book to review for the school newspaper, the Green Gazette. I’d chosen it because I’d thought it would be good to start with a classic, and this book had won an award (a Newbery Medal, which was a big deal for books). The Witch of Blackbird Pond was about a girl from Barbados who, in the 1600s, moved to New England and had to adapt to a Puritan lifestyle. I’d checked to make sure the school library had a copy of it, in case my review inspired anyone to read it.
My new friend Colin was the paper’s assistant editor, and it had been his idea for me to add an ice cream pairing to each review. I knew that book reviews didn’t usually include food pairings, let alone ice cream suggestions, but my mom just happened to run the newest ice cream parlor in Bayville. Colin knew that I liked to suggest ice cream flavors to customers by asking them about what books they liked. So he’d thought it would be fun to do that as a newspaper column.
I hadn’t waited until the last minute on the bus to write the review; I’d tweaked the piece at least seven times already, wanting to make sure it would be perfect before I submitted it to Colin. But today was my deadline, which meant now or never, so I took a deep breath and uploaded it to the shared drive just as the bus came to a stop.
I was still fairly new to Vista Green, and I didn’t have any real bus friends yet except for Amanda. Amanda, her mom, and her sister lived in the same apartment building as my dad. But I got to sit on the bus with her only when I was staying with my dad, and today I was coming from my mom’s house.
If that all sounded confusing, that’s because it was! My parents had gotten divorced right before I’d started seventh grade, and even though they were being very cool about it all and didn’t scream at each other or anything like that, I still hadn’t quite adjusted. They had sold our old house in the town we used to live in, and so most days I lived with Mom in a beach bungalow near the ice cream shop, while the other days I lived with Dad in a high-rise apartment with a pool on the roof. It might sound cool to have two houses and two rooms, but I didn’t quite feel at home in either place yet.
My new address at the beach house in Bayville also meant that I was going to a different school from my friends, who all went to Martin Luther King Middle School, which was one town away. In my heart, I still felt like I was a student at MLK.
Luckily, I’d managed to make a few friends at Vista Green: Colin, Amanda, and Eloise, who sort of came as a package, I guess. I wouldn’t exactly call them nerdy or geeky, but they were definitely not part of the cool club at Vista Green. And by that, I mean that they didn’t dress the same and have the same opinions as everyone else, something I’d seen a lot of at my new school.
At least, that was what I’d thought. But that morning, I would learn that the Vista Green Fall Frolic was one event that had just about everybody at the school falling in line.
After I got off the bus, I headed to my locker. For the first time I noticed the Fall Frolic posters plastered on every sage-colored wall I walked past. And everyone was talking about the dance too.
“I have been waiting for this since last year!”
“Did you get your dress yet?”
“I still haven’t found the right shoes!”
A few feet away from my locker, I saw Amanda getting her books out of hers.
“Hey, Amanda,” I greeted her.
She looked up and smiled, her brown eyes friendly through her black-framed eyeglasses.
“Oh, hey, Allie,” she said. “What’s up?”
“It seems like everybody is talking about the dance,” I said. “Is it a really big deal here?”
I had the bad luck of asking the question just as two girls were passing by: Blair and Palmer. Colin liked to call them the “Witches,” but I was starting to think that doing that was insulting to female practitioners of the magical arts. Because there was nothing magical about Blair and Palmer and their other friend, Maria. They were usually just mean—although Blair was by far the worst offender. That was why I had nicknamed the group the “Mean Team.”
The girls both stopped in their tracks.
“Is it a big deal?” Palmer repeated, with a flip of her long, straight, brown hair. “It’s only the biggest event of the year!” She turned to Blair and asked, “How could she not know that?”
Blair responded with a flip of her own long, straight, sandy-brown hair. “Maybe she’s too busy dishing out ice cream at Mommy’s store,” she said, and then she and Palmer walked away laughing. It actually did kind of sound like cackling, so maybe Colin’s assessment was correct.
I was steaming. MLK wasn’t perfect, but there I’d had the safe little bubble of friendship with my best friends, Tamiko and Sierra. MLK had a lot of different groups of kids and not one big Cool Club. You could kind of do your own thing, and I’d never had to worry about being a mean-girl victim.
“Well, that was lovely,” Amanda said dryly, and then the bell rang.
I headed off to my first class, science with Ms. Conyers. She wasn’t my favorite teacher at Vista Green—that would be Ms. Healy, my English teacher. Ms. Conyers was supersmart and kind of reminded me of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court justice, with her small frame, pulled-back hair, and big eyeglasses. But Ms. Conyers could be a little boring sometimes, even though we were studying Earth’s geological history, which should have been really interesting.
It turns out, though, even Ms. Conyers was excited about the Fall Frolic.
“Is anyone in this class on the music committee of the dance?” she asked, and a boy named Logan raised his hand. “Please make sure there aren’t too many slow songs this year. I could not get my groove on last fall.”
She mimicked a funky dance move, and everyone laughed. Maybe she wasn’t as boring as she seemed. As the morning went on, I realized that the Mean Team was right—the dance was a big deal. In my next class, Italian with Signore Bianchi, we all learned how to say, “Are you going to the dance?” (Stai andando al ballo?) And in art class a small group of kids from the dance committee worked on decorations while the rest of us had our regular lesson.
When it came time for lunch in the cafeteria, I was anxious to get the scoop from my Vista Green friends. Amanda, Colin, Eloise, and I sat at a table with Preston and Haruo, two boys Colin had been friends with since kindergarten. The three of them were, like, best friends, so they usually spent the whole lunch period talking with one another and ignoring us.
“So, the Mean Team set me straight this morning,” I began as I unpacked my lunch. Then I filled Colin and Eloise in on what had happened. “I guess this dance really is a big deal.”
“Well, first of all, ignore Blair and Palmer, as always,” Colin said. “But yeah, I guess it is kind of a big deal here.”
Eloise nodded in agreement, her blond curly hair bouncing on her shoulders. “It’s a really big deal,” she said. “Everyone dresses up, and they hire a professional photographer and DJ. It’s pretty cool.”
Amanda rolled her eyes. “I guess. If you like that kind of thing.”
Eloise nudged her. “Oh, come on, Amanda. You like it just as much as everybody else.”
Amanda frowned and ate a bite of her sandwich.
“You said everyone dresses up,” I said. “Just exactly how dressed up do you mean?”
I was thinking of the sixth-grade dance at MLK, which was pretty casual. A lot of kids just wore jeans and nice shirts. I’d worn a dress and regular flats, but not a fancy dress.
“Well, all the girls shop at that boutique in Upper Springfield,” Eloise said, and Amanda rolled her eyes again.
“What boutique?” I asked.
Eloise started tapping on her phone. “It’s called Glimmer,” she said. “Everyone gets a short dress, not a long one. And everyone gets thin straps.”
She showed me a photo on her phone of a model wearing a slinky silver above-the-knee dress with very thin straps. It didn’t look like a dress I would ever wear—unless I was going to be walking the Hollywood red carpet. And it definitely didn’t look like a dress Mom and Dad were going to let me wear.
“Does everyone dress like that?” I asked.
Eloise shrugged. “Most girls. You look out of place if you don’t.”
“Even you guys?” I asked.
Eloise nodded, and Amanda bit her lower lip.
“It’s just . . . I like dancing,” Amanda replied. “And this way I don’t have to stress about what to wear. I just go to Glimmer and pick something out. It’s easy.”
“And then we fit in,” Eloise added. “Which is not a bad thing, because we don’t normally fit in around here.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “That kind of dress is just not . . . my style.”
I looked over at Colin, to see if he had an opinion, but he had inserted himself into the conversation between Preston and Haruo. I guessed that the topic of girls’ fashion wasn’t his favorite.
“You should get over to Glimmer soon,” Eloise suggested. “All of the good dresses go early.”
“Thanks,” I said, and I thoughtfully dug into my salad. Once again I wondered what my life would have been like if my parents hadn’t divorced and I were still going to MLK. I knew that the MLK seventh graders got more dressed up for dances than the sixth graders, but I was pretty sure that short, grown-up dresses weren’t mandatory.
I sighed. Even if the dresses hadn’t been an issue, I knew I was going to miss being at the dance with Sierra and Tamiko. I was glad that I’d met Colin, Amanda, and Eloise. But Amanda and Eloise were best friends already, so I usually felt like a third wheel when just the three of us were together. And Colin was great, but he was a guy—and hanging with Colin was not the same as hanging with my two best girlfriends, whom I could share anything with.
I was so happy that Sierra and Tamiko had agreed to work at my mom’s ice cream shop every Sunday. I was guaranteed to spend time with them at least one day a week. But one day a week still didn’t feel like enough.
I missed having my Sprinkle Squad around me every day!