MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Bell Kirby was supposed to be drawing a map of Central America. If any of his classmates had bothered to look, they’d have seen him hunched over his desk, scribbling furiously with a black pen. They’d never guess the curves weren’t the borders of Honduras or Guatemala, or the straight lines weren’t longitude, or that it wasn’t even his social studies notebook hidden in the halo of his arms.
And that was just fine with Bell.
He needed all of silent work time to sketch and resketch those strange puzzle pieces his dad had sent. Was one of them a crown? A spinning top? A faucet? He paused, cracking his knuckles and rubbing his ink-stained palms together. All he had to do was concentrate a bit longer, and he was sure he’d have it. Not even Parker Hellickson could distract him—Bell was that zeroed in.
But then Daelynn Gower touched down in his classroom like a tornado.
The door burst open, and a backpack slid across the floor, spewing its contents everywhere: colored pencils, pink erasers, unicorn folders, a purple glasses case, and three mandarin oranges. A pair of green-handled lefty scissors spun dangerously close to Bell’s foot, forcing him to lift his legs before his sneaker got skewered.
Just behind the backpack rushed a girl.
“I am so sorry! I forgot to re-zip after I got my glasses out, and I didn’t know the door was going to open like that! I’ll clean it up! Here!” the girl said as she scampered around. She chased an orange all the way up to Mrs. Vicker’s desk, then veered toward Bell, leaning down to pick up her scissors. Blushing, he lunged over his notebook to hide what he had drawn …
And found himself staring into a rainbow.
The girl’s hair was cut short, like a candy-coated cap, and it was dyed turquoise and yellow and magenta. Her glasses, as thick as the ones Bell used to wear before he got contacts, had blocky red rims. When she looked up at Bell, he stifled a gasp.
Her eyes were two different colors, too. The left was a regular shade of eyeball-blue. The right was startlingly green.
She smiled sheepishly at him, revealing two lines of braces, each one featuring a multicolored rubber band. Bell shifted silently in his seat. Inside, he was screaming at the girl to go away. Every second she was near him was a moment that Parker Hellickson was watching, too.
Clenching his teeth, Bell scooted her scissors forward with his toe until she found them and hurried back to the front of the classroom. He only exhaled once he saw that Parker’s eyes were narrowed at the new arrival. Still, Bell curled up as small as he could at his desk, just in case, and he pulled a few locks of his shaggy blond hair down like a curtain for good measure.
“Class,” Mrs. Vicker muttered after looking skyward and shaking her head. “This is the new student I was telling you about. She’ll introduce herself in a moment. Can we remember who we are by helping her pick up the things she’s dropped?”
A few kids closest to the front slid from their desks, scrounging on the floor for erasers and colored pencils. The girl opened her hands, but she couldn’t hold everything, and a couple of erasers escaped to bounce underneath the nearby bookshelf.
“Thank you, Adrienne, Chris, and Zayne. And welcome…” Mrs. Vicker paused, checking a piece of paper on her desk. “Die-lynn?”
“It’s ‘Day,’” the girl replied, pushing up her glasses. “But that’s okay. I get all kinds of different things. You can call me ‘Dye’ if you want. I guess I’ve got the hair for it.”
Bell chuckled briefly, though he bit his lower lip and looked down at the floor when he saw that nobody else was laughing.
“And where was your old school, Daelynn?” Mrs. Vicker asked, hitting the “Day” particularly hard.
“There wasn’t one,” Daelynn said. “I did homeschooling.”
Bell felt every muscle in his neck and back tense at once. He had to force himself to keep breathing. Daelynn rubbed nervously at the logo on the sleeve of her jacket. It looked to Bell like a deer, or maybe a moose. Underneath the jacket, she wore a T-shirt with several anime characters drawn across the front. Her pants were covered in patches, and the one on her left knee seemed to be a flower of some sort. The right knee patch was another of the moose things, just as colorful and shocking as her eyes.
Is this how homeschooled kids dress? he thought.
At least her bright red sneakers looked kind of normal.
Mrs. Vicker cleared her throat. “And where was home?”
Bell’s teacher nodded appreciatively. “Portland! That’s a long way from Cincinnati!”
“Yes, ma’am,” Daelynn replied, “and we drove.”
“Well, welcome to Village Green Elementary, home of the Pioneers!”
Daelynn smiled, and Mrs. Vicker led her through a few more questions. Bell contemplated opening his notebook again—normally, he’d have spent the entire class with his head hovering a few inches from its pages, pretending to take notes while he drew. This Daelynn, though, was hard to ignore. And it wasn’t just the colors, or her breathless entrance, or the homeschooling, or her laugh, which ended just like the last flutters of air squeaking out of a balloon. She was a new variable in his system, kind of like when they moved the snack table inside for morning recess. It jammed everyone up at the same double doors, especially on chocolate-chip granola bar days. It took Bell three weeks to redesign his route outside, and he’d been tripped and teased and had his granola bar stolen a half dozen times as he tried to figure it out. That had been a bad time.
And, based on the scene Daelynn had made when she came in, this had the potential to be much, much worse.
After homeroom on Thursdays, the fifth-grade classes split up for specials. Some of them had computer. Bell had music. So did Parker Hellickson, which meant getting out of class safely was a tricky proposition. The way it was supposed to go looked like this:
• Bell drops one of his pens at 8:56.
• Bell leans down to get it at 8:57 and uses the opportunity to untie his left shoe.
• Mrs. Vicker hands out graded homework at 8:58.
• Homeroom ends at 9:00.
• Bell waits forty-five seconds, tying his left shoe while the rest of the class leaves.
• Bell approaches Mrs. Vicker to ask about his homework at 9:01.
• Mrs. Vicker explains how to do the problems (he always makes sure to get at least one wrong).
• Bell exits the classroom at 9:03, giving Parker enough time to have cleared out of the hallway.
• Bell takes his special route to music, avoiding Parker and arriving with five seconds to spare.
Copyright © 2019 by Jake Burt