Twelve-year-old Madison Finn is allergic to change. Her two best friends are away at camp and Madison is not sure she’s going to survive the summer, let alone the beginning of junior high. Good thing she has a new laptop, which she uses to write and store all of her thoughts on friendship, her parents’ divorce, and her fear of being called a loser for not liking sushi!
At first, change seems like the worst thing ever, but with the support of her family, friends, and little pug, Phin, Madison realizes she can handle anything that comes her way.
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Only the Lonely
From the Files of Madison Finn, Book 1
By Laura Dower
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2001 Laura Dower
All rights reserved.
"Hnnnnnnugh! what is your problem?" Madison grunted at her new orange laptop computer. She was smack-dab in the middle of downloading a picture of a super-cute Ursus maritimus (a.k.a. polar bear) when the screen just froze.
She knew her hard drive had plenty of memory and her virus program was up to date.
She punched all the right keys.
CAPS LOCK wasn't on.
Sometimes in the past, Madison's computer screen would freeze, but only for a blip. This time, something was different. Maybe the computer wasn't really the one with a problem.
Maybe Madison was the frozen one.
Madison Francesca Finn had a dreadful case of late-summer brain freeze. It was not the kind of brain freeze you get when you drink a Grape Slurpee too fast. This was the kind of brain freeze that happens when your thoughts get stuck in a whirly swirl of loneliness, friendlessness, and total and utter boredom. This was the chronic, moronic, pain-in-the-brain freeze that happens when everyone you know is at camp but you're stuck at home with Mom; the summer reading list you were supposed to be finishing up hasn't even been unfolded; and you have no pool options on 95° days.
"Ugh!" Madison yelped, jumping up from her desk chair. "Laptop fail, Phin! Why me?" She glared at her dog, Phineas T. Finn, who was curled up next to a giant metal file cabinet in the corner of her bedroom.
Phin poked up his wrinkly nose into the air and sneezed. "Rowroooooooo!" This pug hated it when his nap was interrupted.
"Well, I'll just restart it just to be sure everything's okay," Madison said out loud, groaning and hitting a few special keys. Pressing Control+Alt+Delete at once was a trick her dad had taught her.
Dad was the one who had computerized Madison in the first place. He had shown her what HTML meant before most of her classmates had clicked on their first mouses. And Dad always shared the best apps, games, and cool tools—all of them educational, of course. He loved computer jokes, too, even though he told the same ones more than once.
"Hey, Maddie, why did the Net chick cross the road?" he would ask.
"I dunno, Dad ... why?" Madison would say with pretend interest, even if it was the third time she'd heard it.
"To get ONLINE!" Dad would laugh.
And that was one of his better jokes.
Just this year, her parents had bought this new laptop in Madison's favorite color. Dad uploaded all the latest desktop-publishing programs, too. He even got Madison an ice-cream cone--shaped flash drive so she could backup her documents and photographs.
"It's a great way to organize your thoughts, honey bear," Mom had suggested as they unpacked the computer back in May. "Just think, you're on the cutting edge of technology. This fall, you'll be the smartest seventh grader at Far Hills."
It made Madison uncomfortable whenever Mom talked about how smart Madison was, like she was a computer genius or a writing genius or anyone with "genius" potential. Madison knew her way around the Internet, but she didn't exactly feel like a "genius"—yet.
The laptop beeped and zinged, and Madison's desktop wallpaper appeared once again. The polar bear was right there in its own box with a collage of white rhinos and mountain gorillas in the background.
Madison always used pictures of endangered animals as her screen savers. In fact, she considered herself an official animal advocate both on the computer and off. She fantasized about working for the National Geographic Explorer TV show, or becoming a super vet, or maybe even becoming a documentary filmmaker like her mom.
With the laptop finally unfrozen and ready to go, Madison logged onto her favorite web site, TweenBlurt.com. Here she could read about the latest and greatest trends; scan true stories shared by a whole bunch of girls she didn't know; and chat with kids who liked the same things she did.
Best of all, the chat room helped Madison break through a case of brain freeze better than most things. Of course, she knew meeting new people online wasn't the same as having actual, in-the-same-room friends whose hair you could braid or who could play hoops, but it was better than being alone all the time.
She'd logged onto TweenBlurt for the first time a year ago with Mom's permission. The administrators in charge of the site were super-sticklers for safety.
The homepage was designed like a giant fishbowl. Everyone chose a fish as his or her avatar. Madison's was a rainbow fish and her chat room screen name was "MadFinn," which was pretty funny, considering she was a "Finn" among the fishes, so to speak. Once she clicked, her rainbow fish swam into a waiting room.
Madison scanned the list of different chat rooms she could join.
I am sooo bored! Hello!
Tell me anything u want GRRRLS ONLY
****animal lovers here*****
Private! Wanna be keypals?
Pictures of cute boyz can u help me
only the lonely
Madison clicked "animal lovers here" and went inside. She was sure she must be in the right place. Maybe she'd meet a fellow polar bear admirer?
MadFinn has entered the room.
Downtown Boyz was an all-guy singing group whose lead singer Jimmie J was pretty cute but ... wait a minute! Madison wanted to talk about animals. This was the "animal lovers here" room. Why were they changing the subject? Who cared about Jimmie J? And why wasn't Iluvcats girl responding?
Iluvcats has left the room.
As soon as cat girl left the room, Madison left, too.
She went back to the room list in search of someone who would talk about animals or computers or something besides Jimmie J. She saw one other room that looked semi-interesting.
only the lonely (1 fish)
That was exactly how Madison felt. She missed her best friend, Aimee, who was away at ballet camp twirling around; and Egg, who was away at computer camp URL-ing around.
She clicked on "lonely" and hoped for the best.
Of course as luck would have it (and Madison's luck usually ran a little sloooooow these days), she entered and introduced herself with a quick "MadFinn" hello, but then nothing happened.
There was no "hello" back.
There was no "how r u?"
There was nothing. Madison waited almost three whole minutes before the "(1 fish)" responded in any way at all.
Madison waited a little longer.
Madison felt even more alone than when she had logged on, so of course she logged off immediately. She wasn't in the mood to be lonely anymore.
After that chat room fiasco, Madison went into her super-special computer files. She accessed the files with a super-special password which was so super-special that even she forgot it sometimes. Luckily, she had it taped inside the top drawer of her desk.
In the last few weeks (partly out of boredom and partly out of a desire to get her life together), Madison had begun a new system of personal information storage on the laptop.
She had been collecting magazine clippings like a pack rat for months and uploading them onto her computer. Mom had a cool app on her smartphone that could transfer photos and letters to Madison's laptop.
One by one the images popped up in boxes on the screen, one on top of the other. Now Madison needed to add the special effects. She logged onto funkyfotostudio.com and downloaded the images into a rainbow folder there marked "Madison." Once the pics were downloaded she was able to add borders, color, funny captions, and more. She hoped Mom and Dad would let her have her own Web page or even her own Web site one day. Maybe the genius she was destined to be really was a Web site genius?
Mom would love that.
In addition to the photos, Madison decided she would also keep an online record of her most important feelings, fears, and thoughts. Of course, most people would have called this a "journal," but Madison thought that sounded way too obvious. Instead she just called it: The Files of Madison Finn.
Madison had friend files. She had homework files. She had nothing-in-particular files. She classified, collected, controlled, and computed everything. Here, inside this delightful orange computer, Madison was in the process of creating password-protected miles of files. And she backed them all up on her ice-cream flash drive.
She opened a recent one.
That made her laugh. On the screen before her was a graph on which Madison had plotted Mom's predictable fast-food dinners. After sixteen straight nights in a row of egg rolls, tacos, fried chicken, and other "scary" dinners, Madison was inspired to keep track. As of tonight, the graph showed pizza running neck and neck with Chinese food, with PB-&-J sandwiches lagging behind.
Tonight, Madison decided to open a brand new file in honor of her hour on TweenBlurt.com.
Madison closed her eyes for a second. What to write? Sometimes going online was great: all the people, all the chatter, all the things to click and search. But it was also a little lonely. She mused about what had happened to "Bigwheels" and why "Iluvcats" had just disappeared. Was it something she'd said?
Madison hoped in her heart of hearts that she'd get a hundred e-mails tomorrow! And if not, well ... everyone in Far Hills would be home soon to fill in the gaps.
Madison longed for the speedy return of Aimee and Egg. She secretly wished that even Daddy would come home again.
She tapped her thoughts out on the keyboard.
Is absolutely everyone having a good summer except for me? I mean I went to Brazil for a nature documentary film location scout with Mom. Ever since she started working for Budge Films she makes nature shows. We saw lots of weird-looking tree frogs there. They were slimy and the truth is I was sicker than sick of the frogs and fast food and planes and strangers, especially strangers.
I wish Aimee and Egg were right here, right now, right away. I wish I had a brother or sister. I wish I wasn't only the lonely. I wish seventh grade would just start already. Of course, I probably won't be able to deal with the change. I never have before.
Rude Awakening: I'm allergic to change.
I mean, I know I'm allergic to pollen, grasses, and mold spores. But change makes me break out into big hives. Just the thought of seventh grade gave me a giant pink welt right here on my shoulder. Gross.
Last summer after fifth grade Aimee and Egg were not far away at stupid camp. They were here with me, dancing in the sprinklers on Aimee's lawn like we did every summer, getting cooled off, and laughing like we did every summer. We were laughing really hard about some things I can't remember but I know they were great. I know we ate all the Dreamsicles we wanted and we watched scary old movies like The Mummy.
Not this summer.
Mom would probably say that at least it's a good thing that I've identified my bizarre allergy and maybe it just doesn't matter if I fix it right now. All that matters is acknowledging it, right? The rest is just details, right? Mom says that we learn things in steps. So this is just step number one, I guess. This is just step number one in learning about life.
I can't wait for step number two.
The cursor blinked on the empty space. Madison stopped and stared at what she'd written so far. The screen went black.
Seriously? It was frozen again?
Madison leaned down to scratch the top of Phin's head.
In that moment, Madison decided she just didn't care if she got the "safe to turn off your computer" message or not. She just pressed the power button and walked away.
As she turned, Madison crashed into a purple blow-up chair in the middle of the room. It squeaked as she landed on her backside. She plucked open the little plastic thingie that kept air in the chair—Pssssssssssssss— but capped it again quickly.
"Madison!" Mom yelled from downstairs.
It was time to go to bed. But this time, as she stood up, Madison lost her balance and fell backward.
Madison groaned. She wanted her friends, but thanks to camp they were gone. She wanted her Dad, but thanks to the divorce he was gone. How could she ever handle a switch into seventh grade when she kept slipping backward ?
"Rowroooo!" Phin growled. He could always tell when Madison was upset.
Madison pulled her body up and into the bathroom. Her brain was stuck in REWIND, but she had to find FAST FORWARD and get through this moment.
At this point, Madison Francesca Finn wasn't sure she could survive the end of the summer, let alone the beginning of a new school year.CHAPTER 2
The next morning, Madison woke up to wet kisses from Phin. Smelly kisses of course. Dog breath.
"Oh, gross. Phin get off! Yeah, I love you, too." Madison gazed into his brown pug eyes. "Are you trying to tell me something, dog? Like W-A-L-K maybe?"
Phin danced on his back paws, jumping at the bed. Even Phin knew how to spell.
Madison wanted to lollygag around, but nature was calling—calling Phin, anyway. She pulled off her orange polka-dotted pajamas and slipped into short overalls so she and Phin could make a quick trip around the block.
Morning walks with Phin were the easiest. Madison walked out the porch door, down the corner to Grove Street, up a few more streets, and then around the block to the intersection before turning back home.
But for some reason this morning, Phin was being difficult. He wouldn't pee, so Madison took a detour onto Ridge Road, the scenic route.
It smelled like honeysuckle. Phin's nose started sniffing a mile a minute. Madison's eyes scanned the neighborhood. Everything looked different here from the way she remembered. She even saw a new-looking green house where the old Martin family had lived for years. Everyone thought that house was haunted. But today it was a whole new house, freshly painted and all.
Just as Madison was staring at the green house, a young girl walked out onto its front steps.
Madison knew she should look away, but she kept staring.
The girl stared straight back.
Madison stared some more and she kept smiling—it was easy to be friendly at a distance. But after a few moments of shared stares, the girl started to walk toward her. That's when Madison panicked. It was never as easy to be friendly up close.
She felt the urge to run, run, ruuuuuuun! Her brain was screaming: GOOOOOOOOOOOO!
And Madison could have dashed away from that green house lickety-split, too, if it hadn't been for Phin. Just when she thought she'd gotten a head start down the block, the pug turned and tugged her right back to where she had started.
"Hi!" the stranger said, cheerfully. She walked right up to Madison, smiling at Phin. He loved the attention.
"I'm Fiona. Do you live around here?"
Madison managed a feeble "Uh-huh," in response.
"Oh cool, do you live on Ridge Road?" Fiona asked.
"I live ... uh ..." Madison pointed behind her, in the general direction of Blueberry Street. It wasn't her most eloquent moment of all time.
Suddenly a woman called out from the door of the green house. "Fiona! Let's go, young lady!"
Excerpted from Only the Lonely by Laura Dower. Copyright © 2001 Laura Dower. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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