UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Project : family Maggio, Lauren Ann 2004

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PROJECT: F A M I L Y By LAUREN ANN MAGGIO B.A., Tufts University, 2001 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL F U L F I L M E N T OF T H E REQUIREMENTS FOR THE D E G R E E OF M A S T E R OF ARTS in T H E F A C U L T Y OF G R A D U A T E STUDIES (Children's Literature) We accept this thesis as conforming to the required standard  THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH C O L U M B I A September 2004 © Lauren Ann Maggio, 2004  JTJBCl THE  UNIVERSITY  OF  BRITISH  COLUMBIA  FACULTY  OF  GRADUATE  STUDIES  Library Authorization  In presenting this thesis in partial fulfillment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of my department or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying or publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission.  V Name of Author  (please print)  Date (dd/mm/yyyy)  Title of Thesis:  Degree:  Ç . U ^ w A  Department of The University of  British Columbia  Vancouver, B C  Canada  q:'.'i'J  i:v.!!>-1 H S  ScVi c o\  3  Ç  (WW. t ^ v c  \4<^  ABSTRACT A middle grade children's literature novel about a soon to be nine year old boy, Patrick, who is struggling to find his place in his lively family, in his classroom, and as the guest of honor at his ninth birthday party. As the third son of four, Patrick narrates a humorous view of his hectic family life complete with brotherly revenge and breakfast table flatulence. Woven into Patrick's narrative are his very real feelings toward the family's tight budget, his relationships with his brothers and parents, his weight problem, and his angst surrounding his upcoming birthday party. As every year, Patrick's well-intentioned, but somewhat misguided Mum plans a costume party for his birthday, which is close to Halloween. Faced with the possibility that his classmates might "forget" his party again this year, Patrick tries to deter his mother, but with little success. In addition to Patrick's efforts to craft a birthday party escape plan, he also gets stuck being partnered with Amelia, a spunky, but utterly geeky classmate, for a project. Like his birthday party, Patrick can find no way out of this project in which he and Amelia must examine families. Despite initial reluctance, the pair become friends. Through this friendship Patrick begins to better understand and appreciate his own family, which in the end he realizes make the best birthday party guests of all.  T A B L E OF CONTENTS  Abstract Table of Contents Acknowledgements Project: Family  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This thesis is submitted for the degree of Master of Arts in Children's Literature offered by the University of British Columbia's multidisciplinary Master of Arts in Children's Literature Program. This program is offered jointly by the Departments of Creative Writing, English, Language and Literacy Education and the School of Library, Archival & Information Studies. Thank you to my thesis supervisor, Professor Alison Acheson, and members of my thesis committee, Judith Saltman and Bryan Wade. I also thank my dear husband for his invaluable support and inspiration.  Project: Family  Some people are born with friends coming out their ears. They have short friends, skinny friends, homerun hitting friends, secret-keeping friends, after school friends and even cool kid friends. But I didn't really have any friends: no tall friends, fat friends, butter-finger friends, loose lips friends or even fair weather friends. No, not me. I had something el se entirely....  Chapter 1 "Patrick, Michael, Paul! Breakfast's ready!" Mum hollered up the back stairs. Mike and Paul lazily rolled off their beds. There was no rush. Since Mum's latest health food kick, breakfast had gone from bacon to granola faster than I could say lowfat. "Corning, Fatty? Oops, I mean Patty." Mike smiled from the doorway. "Ha Ha. Good one." I rolled my eyes. Someday, I figured, he'd finally lay off the fat jokes. A few minutes later, I balanced the last plastic soldier into formation and headed for the kitchen. Halfway there, I smelled them: sweet frying pancakes. I leaped down the rest of the stairs and burst into our yellow kitchen. Everyone was already chowing down. Sucking in, I squeezed behind Dad's chair and plopped into the chair between him and my baby brother Timmy. I lifted the metal saucepan lid off the serving plate to assess the damage. Two teeny tiny pancakes! And one was burnt and the other soggy. "We never run out of pancakes," I groaned, throwing myself against the spindly back of the wooden chair. I wrinkled my nose as I watched my barnyard brothers gobbling up the golden pancakes. My  goldenpancakesl  "That's what you get for playing with your little dollies," Mike said with a sneer. He popped a forkful of pancake dripping with syrup into his wide-open mouth. Bits got caught in his braces as he chewed. "They're not dolls, Brace Face. They're soldiers." I looked over at my oldest brother, Paul. His plate was covered with pancakes missing their middles. He always ate them from the inside out. Next, I shot a glance across the sunny kitchen to the stove. No more pancakes were popping or even sizzling in Mum's heavy frying pan. Instead, Mum was seated and blowing on her steaming tea. "Mum, we need more pancakes," I said, as she sliced into her own short stack. Timmy joined my request by banging his sippy cup on the plastic tray of his highchair. "Patty Pumpkin, we have plenty," Mum said. She picked up the maple syrup jug and stared at the nutrition facts.  "Whatever, Mummy Squash," I grumbled, leaning forward and propping my head on my hands. Mum took a big sipfromher tea in her stupid #1 Mum mug. #1 Mum, my bum, I thought. Every few seconds, I stared at the pancakes. Boy, were they small. Mum called them silver dollar pancakes. I thrust out my bottom lip and lowered my eyes. "What, Patrick?" Mum sighed, holding her fork in mid air. A brown strand of maple syrup dripped to her plate. "Nothing," I said, shaking my head. Mum glanced at the pancake platter. "Have those two and if you're still hungry there's cereal." Mum pointed towards the wooden cabinets above the overflowing dish strainer. "Yeah, Patsy, we have those bran chunks with frosting," Paul piped up and rubbed his belly. "Yummy!" Dad rustled his newspaper. Not a good sign. Perhaps, I should just eat the crummy, soggy, floppy pancake and its crispy counterpart. Nah, one last try: "But Mum, we need...." Mum stopped straightening Timmy's "I love Niagara Falls" bib and started to push back her chair. "Molly, he obviously doesn't need any more pancakes," Dad said. He tilted his paper in my direction, dashing my golden pancake dreams. Thanks, Dad. Like Mike needs more ammo to attack me being fat. As I slouched in my chair, my stomach rolled over the waistband of my pajama bottoms. Across the wooden table and over the metal napkin holder, Mike was puffing out his cheeks. It was his favorite fat impression. I quickly scanned left andrightto make sure I was off Mum and Dad's radar. All clear. Just as I was about to give Mike a well deserved one finger salute, I felt something cool splash across the side of my face. "Bad Timmy!" Mum said through giggles. Timmy's milk dripped down the side of my face. He had finally managed to explode his sippy cup all over me and his tray.  Mike was doubled over in a pee-your-pants kind of laughing fit. Even Paul, my oldest brother, was slapping his knee he thought it was so funny. I scowled at my family. "Oh, Patrick come on. There's no use crying over spilled milk," Dad said, breaking into a loud laugh. He tossed me a dish towel. As I wiped my face, I already knew it was going to be a bad day.  Chapter 2 I thwapped the pancakes down on my plate and drowned them in golden swirls of syrup and butter. Mum cleared her throat as I lopped off another chunk of butter. I ignored her and dug into my pancakes. They were rubbery. It was kind of chewing on our station wagon's tires. "So Patrick, what should we do for your birthday?" Mum asked. Pancake stuck at the back of my throat. Gulp. It slid down slowly. "How about another costume party this year?" she continued. "I guess." I popped another soggy pancake bit into my mouth. I figured a full mouth would shield me from further birthday talk. My need to dodge the birthday discussion was simple: Jacob Perlman, AKA the Birthday Bandit. Last year, Jacob, whose birthday is three days after mine, decided to steal my big day by taking the entire class to the movies for his birthday. Meanwhile, I was stuck at my party alone, dressed up in an ugly homemade lion costume. Mum called it a scheduling mistake. Really, it was a premeditated evasion tactic. I had a funny feeling that this year wasn't going to be any different. Mum's lips still hadn't stoppedflapping."Maybe I'll make an ice cream cake. I'd just substitute frozen yogurt and shape it like a witch or even a pumpkin." She winked at me. Geez, when was she ever going to get tired of that stupid pumpkin joke? I was going to be nine soon! "Maybe we could bob for apples at the party," Mum suggested. "Or play spin the bottle." Mike puckered up his lips. "Maybe pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey," Mum glazed over Mike's suggestion. Red Alert! Red Alert! Mum the Party Monster was in full effect. Mum lived for parties—any kind of parties, but birthdays were her absolute favorite. She would plan for weeks designing decorations, hunting down bargains and, for my birthday, sewing costumes. "Um.. .Mum? Nine really isn't that important of a birthday anyway."  "For my ninth birthday we made pizzas. It was awesome. Remember, Mum," Paul interrupted. I growled at Paul. "Thanks a bunch, Pizza Face," I mouthed in his direction. I stared at the big red zit invading his nose. "Yeah, on my ninth birthday we had a space invaders party. It was the coolest," Mike chimed in. "Remember Patsy, Mum dressed you up as an alien." Mike smiled at me and pretended to shoot me with his indexfinger.He blew away imaginary smoke. "Come on, Pumpkin. It will be fun." Yeah, about as fun as eating earwax, Mum. "Besides every birthday deserves a party. You should be grateful. When I was a little girl I never had a party or even a...." "We know, Mum, you didn't even have a cake," Mike interrupted Mum's favorite childhood story. "Yes, Michael, or even a cake. Just shows how lucky you boys are." Okay, this meant I needed to call in the big guns. Primary target: Dad. He was a bit of a tight wad. Here goes nothing. Ready, aim, fire: "But maybe we could save the money this year. You know for important things like braces, a new car, college..." Dad pressed his eyebrows together. They looked like two gray fuzzy caterpillars kissing. "Patrick, don't worry about that stuff. But if you don't want to make a big deal out of it...." Dad looked at Timmy. He was chewing on a paper towel. "You can share your party with Timmy. His birthday is only a few weeks after yours." Mum kissed the top of Timmy's head. "How about that my little pilgrim?" she cooed to Timmy. He squealed and then continued munching the paper towel. I curled my upper lip at Timmy. Party or no party, I wasn't sharing my birthday with the baby! That would be awful, especially since a first birthday overshadowed a ninth birthday any day of the year. I imagined my presents halved and everyone fussing over Timmy and his poopy-pants playgroup friends, while I sat all by myself. No way! I sensed a long battle ahead on the birthday party battlefield and this was definitely the time to make a hasty retreat. "Dad, can I be excused?" I laid my fork next to my plate and fidgeted in my chair. I hoped he'd tMnk I needed to go to the bathroom.  "Patrick didn't drink his milk!" Mike pointed out, kicking me under the table. His blue eyes dared me to return the boot. "No, but he did wear it," Paul joked. He thought he was such a comedian. I ignored my brothers. I'd get them later. I swirled the milk in my cup and gulped it down. It was a little warm. "Now Dad?" I asked, holding up my empty cup and leaning on the edge of my chair. "What's your hurry, speed racer?" Paul asked. He carved another circle from his pancake. "I'm picking the TV show this week. So cool your jets." "Patrick, wait until we finish," Mum said. "Plus we still need to discuss party details." "Fine," I grumbled and stared down at my plate. I needed a plan. I shifted my weight towards Dad. There was a soft rumble from the seat of my wooden chair. I imagined a cloud of smelly gas floating above the kitchen table. My unsuspecting family continued eating. I sent out a few more seat tremblers. Mum lifted up Timmy and sniffed his diaper. Then I let out a real trumpet. Oh boy, that's gonna be a stinker. "Patrick George!" "What are you looking at him for? First one who smelt it dealt it, Mum," Mike pointed out. "Patrick, go to the bathroom," Mum said. She pointed towards the stairs. "And don't forget to brush your teeth."  Chapter 3 Through the bathroom heating vent, I heard the TV flipping between baseball highlights and music videos. Mike and Paul were battling over the remote, which meant I had time to avenge their breakfast teasing. The white bathroom counter was covered with Mum's makeup tubes, a crumpled gray hand towel, Dad's salt and pepper beard stubble, a few comic books, and a dish of soaps shaped like bows and flowers. I climbed up on the counter and swung open the mirror above the sink. The medicine cabinet smelled like Dad, woody and sweaty. There was nothing on the narrow glass shelves, except for Mum's makeup and a crusty bottle of cold medicine. Bubble Gum flavored, yeah right. I hopped off the counter and knocked our toothbrushes into the pink seashellshaped sink. Perfect! I snatched Mike's blue toothbrush and Paul's yellow one and headed to our playroom. I weaved around a fortress of blocks, zigzagged past a halfplayed board game, and headed straight for the green glow of the familyfishtank. Really it was Paul's tank, but once he started high school he felt he was too cool for fish. When we first got the tank, we each picked our ownfish.Mine was named Stripe. He was silver with a thick black line from the tip of his tail to his nose. Well, he was silver with a cool stripe until Timmy'sfishkissed him to death. After that, I wasn't so keen on thefishtank anymore. I admired the thick layer of green junk lining the tank's walls. Once I looked it up in my encyclopedia and learned that it's algae. Supposedly, it's natural. Natural or not, it would look great stuck between my brothers' teeth. I emptied the toy box and pulled it over to the tank. Stepping up on the crate, I peered down in to thefishworld. It reeked. I think Timmy'sfishgrinned at me. "Murderer," I mouthed at him. He whooshed away to size up his next target. Gripping the toothbrushes, I reached into the tank. My bathrobe got soaked as I rubbed the bristles on the side of the tank. Green chunks came off and swirled around like floating bits of lettuce. I hoped enough was staying in the bristles. My brothers had big teeth after all and Mike definitely had a lot of metal. Thefishwere all freaking out.. .well, except for Timmy'sfish.He was circling a little too close to my arm with his lips puckered.  The tank had a few cool fish toys: a pirate ship, a giant clam shell with a pearl, and even a mermaid. I made sure to polish them. Back in the bathroom, I locked the door and ran the brushes under water. I hoped some fish poop was still deep inside the bristles just waiting to get caught in someone's unsuspecting molars. Bam, Bam, Bam! Someone pounded on the bathroom door. I quickly returned all the toothbrushes to the holder. "Patrick's pooping!" Mike yelled. The whole neighborhood could hear him. I froze. Mike broke into song. "When you're slidin' into first and you feel something burst..." Mike paused and then added in a window-rattling yell: "Diarrhea! Diarrhea!" I grabbed my squeaky clean green toothbrush. No fish poop for me! Mike was now squeezing out armpit farts and throwing his shoulder against the door. I flipped back the door latch. Mike burst into the tiny bathroom holding his nose and making gagging noises. I grabbed the toothpaste, squeezed out a huge blue blob onto my squeaky clean toothbrush, and handed the tube to Mike. "Why's my toothbrush all wet, Fatty?" Mike flicked his toothbrush at me. Fortunately, my bathrobe took the brunt of the fish poop attack. I shrugged my shoulders. White foam bubbled out of the corners of his mouth and white specks splattered onto the oval mirror above the sink. I tried hard not to smile as he raked the grotty toothbrush up and down his front teeth.  Chapter 4 I retreated down the hall to our bedroom. I threw my arms up in a wide V. Fish poop teeth were a lot worse than spilled milk jokes. I swept the army men off my bed and flopped down on the green and whitestriped bedspread. Model fighter planes hung over the bed. My favorite was the red, white and blue Thunder Bird, which dangled over my pillow. Dad and I had put it together from a kit. It matched the Air Force poster that I got at the air show last summer. The planes were awesome doing loops and flips. I wanted to be a pilot when I got older—well, if I could ever squeeze into the narrow cock pit. I rolled over on my stomach and grabbed Mike's social studies bookfromhis bedside table. The book fell open to the Civil War. Mike had drawn glasses on the Confederate soldiers and had given the Union men beards. Halfway to Gettysburg, I saw the outfit Mum had laid out—my new jeans and one of Mike's old sweatshirts. The jeans were a mega problem. I'd worn them last week to school. It was torture. They stretched so tight over my stomach that at any moment the top button could blow off. I stuffed the jeans under my bed and headed to the closet. Mum called it her walkin-closet, but with all of her too-tight dresses and the humungous collection of hand-medowns, there wasn't room for much walking. After a good look into the closet's dark depths, I found a black t-shirt covered with glow-in-the dark sea turtles. Digging deeper, I pulled out a pair of Paul's old overalls. They were green corduroy with a big chest pocket and no holes. Iflungmy bathrobe into the corner and was soon dressed. The overalls were also a bit tight across my belly, but the threat of bursting buttons was minimal. "Michael, stop playing in the sink and get dressed," Mum yelled. She was approaching fast. I was a dead man if she found out that my new jeans didn't fit. I'd only worn them once and Timmy wasn't ready for my hand-me-downs just yet. Mum pushed open the door and stepped into my room. Timmy was bouncing on her hip and gurgling. His hand was curled into her blonde ponytail. Everyone in my family had blonde hair, except for me. My hair was red, the color of a rusty bike chain. "No TV this morning?"  "Nah," I answered with a shrug. Mum plopped Timmy down next to my toy box. He peered over the edge and reached for the new fighter plane that Dad and I were working on. Mum slipped his stuffed mouse Pip in his hand instead. "Is something wrong, Pat?" Mum asked, narrowing her eyes and scanning the room. "No, I was just playing with my soldiers," I said, pointing to the soldiers spilled near the foot of my bed. "Remember to pick them up. Timmy puts everything in his mouth," she reminded for the billionth time. Why couldn't the little ankle biter just stay in their room? Last week, Mum and Dad had moved Timmy's crib into our room. It definitely made for tight quarters. "What happened to the outfit I put out?" Mum asked, glancing towards my bed. "I just don't feel like wearing jeans today." Mum always encouraged us to say what we really felt as long as it didn't involve her cooking. However, I had thoroughly protested Timmy's move to our bedroom and that got me nowhere. "Well.. you'll be warm in those today." She pointed at my overalls and headed towards the dresser. "Plus, they're a little tight in the tummy." Mum tugged open the top drawer. Library books spilled off the dresser and thudded to the carpet. She picked them up. "Fighter Jets, Battles Fields, World War II: A Hero's Story," she read as she piled the books back on top of my dresser. "Doing a report?" "No, they're just some books Grampa lent me." "Keep these away from Timmy," She smiled at Timmy and bent to pinch his nose. "No more chewing, Little Man." Grrr... last month Timmy had munched on Mike's library books on the Titanic. We all got yelled at for an hour while Timmy napped. "You'd be more comfortable in your new jeans. They'd go with that nice red shirt Aunt Peg gave Mike for Christmas." She held up the bright red shirt with white stripes. Great, I'd look like a fat walking candy cane.  "But Mum.. .1 like these. Can't I just wear these, please?" I tried not to beg, but it was tough with the imminent threat of those jeans. Mum crossed her arms. "Okay, but no complaining if you get hot. Promise?" I nodded. Mum unhooked one of my shoulder straps and loosened it. "By the way, Aunt Peg's going to your school open house this week. Dad has to go to Paul's school and I have to meet with Mike's new teacher." Figures, of course they would pick Mike and Paul over me. I nodded and looked at the floor. "Do you mind if Aunt Peg goes?" Mum asked. I shook my head because my dad's sister, Aunt Peg, was kind of like my mother anyway, but cooler. She didn't make us go on any stupid diets and she let us watch TV on school nights if we were good. "You're getting so big," Mum said refastening my strap. "You know, Dad and I are sorry about the pancakes." Yeahright,if you were really sorry you would have more made pancakes. I forced a pout. Timmy yanked on my pants leg. I tried to shake him off without Mum noticing, but he was stuck on like a baby leech. "Next week, come down earlier." She reached up to ruffle my hair. I took a giant step back. "How about this: Today you can sit up front with me and Dad when we go out." "Uh,okay...." Mum scooped up Timmy and walked to the door. Before leaving she added with a smile: "We're going leaf peeping."  Chapter 5 I slid across the tan cloth front seat of our station wagon and buckled my seatbelt. I had brought the M-N-0 encyclopedia along for the ride. Every month, Dad brought home a new volume. I was up to "nickel." I watched Dad strapping Timmy into his car seat. Timmy squealed and flailed his legs as Dad wrestled with him. Mike tapped on the window. He was poking around in his pocket. "Hey, Weirdo. Mouse in your pocket?" He laughed and smushed Timmy's Pip against the window. I laughed too, thinking about his stinky teeth. "Alright guys, all aboard," Dad shouted. Mike and Paul piled into the back seat. Paul was bopping his head to the country music blaring from his headphones. Mike was flipping through his fat stack of baseball cards. And Timmy was chewing on Pip's tail. I watched Mum lock our red front door and jiggle the knob. From her arm dangled a white plastic shopping bag. I groaned. Great, a packed lunch and definitely no surprise hamburger stops. My stomach rumbled thinking about the two teeny tiny pancakes I'd eaten for breakfast. The engine sputtered to life and the car rolled out of the driveway. Dad tried to turn around to see behind us, but he couldn't. I was in the way. "Patrick, could you move over, please," Dad asked, with a huff. I leaned, squished, and even thought skinny thoughts, but there was no budging. "Patrick, switch seats with Paul," Dad said. He adjusted the side view mirror. "But Mum said!" I turned my head to look at Mum. She was squished up against the door. Mum frowned and glanced back at Paul. Even though he was five years older than me, Paul was a heck of a lot skinnier. "Patrick, please switch with Paul. It's just not safe." "Yeah, Fatty, you'll tip the car over," Mike cracked from the back seat. "Shut-up," I shot back and tried to twist around in my seat. Mum held out her hand to quiet me. "Michael, what did I tell you about making fun of your brother's problem?" My shoulders rolled forward. Thanks for painting a big red bullseye on my bum,  Dad adjusted the tree air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror. I surrendered and unbuckled my seatbelt. Mum sprung open her door. "Thank you, Patrick for being so mature unlike your brother, who won't be watching TV later." Mum's warning didn't stop Mike. He charged onwards. "Come on, Mum. Make him sit in the way back so we can pop a wheelie. Woo Hoo!" "Michael, enough." Mum stabbed the back window with her finger. I slid into the hostile territory of the backseat.  Chapter 6 On our drive we saw many, many leaves—green leaves, red leaves, and more than our fair share of brown leaves. Everyone was relieved when we finally pulled into a rest area to eat lunch. We parked between a car from Louisiana and a Winnebago from Minnesota. The Winnebago was covered in bumper stickers from all over the country, even Hawaii. We always stopped at this rest area. I wasn't a big fan of it or its splintery picnic benches. It was only a matter of time before I got speared in the bum. Plus, there were tons of old people walking around with funny hats and big sunglasses. Really the only good tMng about this place was that it smelled like Christmas trees. "Okay, there are four turkey sandwiches and one peanut butter sandwich for Paul," Mum said, passing tin foil chunks around the wooden picnic table. Mike and I glared at Paul. He smirked and slowly unwrapped his "special" sandwich. Paul said turkey made him want to puke. And since one pretty disgusting Thanksgiving episode, he'd been excused without question. I had tried telling Mum I felt the same way about vegetables. She didn't buy it. I slowly peeled back the foil. The bread was brown with lots of seeds and other healthy junk sticking out. Flipping up the top revealed lettuce, tomatoes, and some alfalfa sprouts. I definitely didn't see the turkey Mum promised. Next, Dad passed around small cartons of sugar-free juice boxes. "Taste free," Mike declared. He punctured the container with his straw. Dad glared at Mike, but it was half-hearted. Like me, Dad would much rather be sinking his teeth into a juicy burger. "Come on guys. It's not so bad. You'll be grateful someday," Mum said. She smiled at Timmy on her lap and handed him some dry cereal. He stuffed it in his mouth and clapped for himself. In Timmy-language that meant he wanted more. Mike elbowed me and held up his juice box. "Remind me to thank you for this later, Fatty Boom Balatty." I had no doubt that Mike would be manking me for Mum's health kick forever. As I worked through my sandwich a sweat swamp started to pool behind my knees. Mum wasrightabout the overalls. Uggh....  "Hey Patsy, maybe you could have these sandwiches for your party," Mike suggested. I tried to stomp Mike's feet under the table, but my legs were too short. "What do you think, Pat?" Mum asked. She held up her sandwich. I shrugged. "We can decide later," I said hoping to ground the party talk. "Okay, but not too much later. Remember what happened last year..." Mum reminded. I challenged Mike to make a comment by narrowing my eyes. I knew if he took my bait, it would be lobbing a bombrightover Dad's line of decency, which would mean kissing goodbye to TV for a long while. Dad's line of decency was funny. For example, I could make fun of Mike's braces all day and all night. However, if I even dared lob a bomb, even an itty-bitty test fire, about his poor sporting ability, look out. Dad would be on me like toilet paper to a shoe. It wouldn't be pretty. For Paul, pretty much anything set off the parent detector. However, making fun of me was fair game even though they tried to stop Paul and Mike from picking on my size. But that only made it worse. After lunch we headed with Dad to the bathroom. "Make sure you go. Even if your back teeth are floating we aren't making any pit stops," Mum called after us. The bathroom was a wooden shack set into the woods. It smelled like Timmy's diaper pail. As we approached, I saw a shiny soda machine. This rest area was finally starting to look up. Mike ran his hand over the rounded front of the machine. I pushed the white selection buttons hoping a can would magically roll out. No such luck. Soda was forbidden in our house, unless it was Christmas. Mum claimed it would rot the teethrightout of our heads. I imagined Jacob's party with soda cups bubbling over. My brothers and I looked back and forth from the soda machine to Dad. Getting us sodas would skyrocket him into the esteemed ranks of "Cool Dad." It would even make up for my earlier relocation to the back seat. Dad jingled the spare change in his pocket. Yes! I pumped my fist. We were in.  "Okay, guys. I have enough for one soda. Just pick something and split it, okay." Dad handed me the silver change. "I'll meet you guys back at the picnic table," he said. He winked at me. I checked our choices: Orange, Cola, Limeade, Lemon, Diet Cola, and water. Why would anyone want boring old water when they could have sweet bubbly soda? "I don't got all day. Let's go." Paul stepped closer to the machine. "Hot date tonight, big brother?" I slid my hands to my hips. Paul cocked his head to the side and huffed. Mike joined in. "Gee and I thought the kennel was closed on Sunday." "Very funny." Paul pushed play on his Walkman. He jumped as the music blasted through his headphones. We laughed at him. I looked sideways at Mike. He seemed ready to make an alliance, but I knew that was always risky. "Let's go, let's go," Paul screeched. Before I could even imitate his voice, Paul lunged and grabbed the coins out of my sweaty hand. He slipped them into the thin slot. They clinked as they hit the bottom of the machine. The red numbers glowed: seventy-five cents. All systems go. Paul reached for the Cola button. "Whoa, Paul, Cola? How about Limeade?" Mike said quickly. "We're getting Cola. Deal with it." Paul moved his finger closer to the cola button. "No," Mike stood with his hands on his hips. It was a standoff. We all lunged at the machine. Elbows flew in every direction. I fell back against the button panel. We froze and backed off the machine. The selection buttonsflickered,the machine whirred, and a silver can of Diet Cola came banging out of the machine. "Maybe it's trying to tell you something, Patsy," Mike said and headed off to the bathroom.  Chapter 7 As soon as I stepped into the classroom the next morning, I saw them: fat white squares on every desk. As I got closer and closer, I realized they were invitations—Jacob's invitations. A sickening picture of me waiting in my costume for birthday guests to arrive flashed through my head. I could see the pumpkin cake melting and Mike and Paul laughing at me. It would be last year all over again. I balled my fists. "Good morning, Pat," Mr. M said, as I approached my desk. "Hey," I said without looking awayfromthe envelope. On Friday, my desk had been temporarily relocated right next to Mr. M's desk for bad behavior. It wasn't so bad. Mr. M, which was short for Mr. Mammarandoni, was cool. He was studying to be a teacher, but he was already a billion times better than loony old Mrs. Reynolds, my real teacher. I plopped into my seat and ripped into the envelope. It was a great white shark with black googley eyes. As I opened it, I ripped the shark's dorsal fin. Across the shark's body was written: Get Ready to Make Waves at Jacob's Birthday Party! My eyes scanned down to the date: Saturday, October 27 at the Aquarium. What! October 27 was my birthday. My real birthday. His birthday wasn't even until the thirtieth! I glared in Jacob's direction. He was surrounded by smiling friends, who should have been smiling i  at me. After all he was stealing my birthday AGAIN! "Can I see?" asked Mr. M holding out his hand. Black arm hair was poking out of his sleeve. "You're the teacher. Aren't you?" I shrugged and held out the invitation. The ripped dorsal fin flopped.  ;  Watching Mr. M flatten out the torn invitation, I realized that I needed a battle plan fast before Mum went further on the party. Mr. M. slid the invitation back on my desk. I stuffed it into my grammar workbook. "Not a big fan of the Aquarium, Pat?" I grunted. "Isn't your birthday coming up, too?" Mr. M pointed his stubbyfingertowards the "birthday of the month" poster. "Any big plans?"  "Nah," I mumbled thinking about last year's party. It was a defeat right in my own living room. I could feel Mr. M staring at me for a few seconds then he went back to correcting Friday's long division quizzes. The one he was correcting was covered in blue check marks. He wrote "Excellent Amelia!" across the top of the page. Amelia Gibbons was the class's mega-geek and the real reason why my desk was moved. Last Friday, I made fun of her a bit, but no more than usual. However, on Friday Mrs. Reynolds was extra grouchy. In my defense, I couldn't help it. Amelia's such an easy target. She always raised her handfirst,had her face stuck in a book, or was asking for extra credit work. I mean who really enjoys extra vocabulary words? Plus, if everyone was laughing at Amelia they weren't laughing at me. "Hey, Patrick, you coming to Jacob's party?" Ricky Mitchell yelled over to my desk. "What's an aquarium without a whale?" I shouted back. There was a sprinkling of laughter across the classroom. "You going, Ricky? I'm sure they need feederfish."I rubbed my belly. I moved towards Ricky and tried to think of how to look like a whale. That was a tough one. Instead, I put my hand sticking straight up on top of my head and acted like a shark. I even pretended to take a big chomping bite out of Ricky's arm. He played along, shouting, and thrashing. Of course, just then Mrs. Reynolds sashayed into the classroom, her blue high heels clicking on the woodfloor.She gave us the evil eye and kept walking. I headed back to my seat as the PA speaker crackled, "Good morning..." The voice announced the magazine drive results and reminded us about parent teacher night. Halfway through the announcement, I caught Ricky looking in my direction. I sank lower in my desk chair and remade my shark fin with my hand. I darted my eyes around in search of prey. A few more kids turned to watch. I grabbed my grammar workbook and pretended to take a big bite out of it. Jacob's invitation slid out of my book and landed under Mrs. Reynolds' desk. Mrs. Reynolds snatched it up. After the announcements, instead of striding to the black board, Mrs. Reynolds headed straight for mel I swallowed. "Patrick, is this for your party?" She slid the battered invitation onto my desktop.  I looked down at the invitation. I wished it was for my party. "No," I answered and looked down at my book. I could see my bite marks in the shiny cover. "Well, then why were you acting like a shark?" She slid her hands down around her skinny waist. Three silver bracelets clattered at her wrist. "I.. .1 wasn't. I was just ah.. .hungry." The classroom erupted in laughter. I couldn't help smiling. That was my mistake. Mrs. Reynolds inhaled deeply through her tiny nose. It made a whistling sound. She glared at the class. The laughter stopped. "I thought your new seat would have fixed your attitude." Just get on with it already, I willed. What is it going to be? No recess? Stay after school? "Perhaps you would prefer to sit next to Principal Ginch?" I looked down at my desk and rolled the corner of my book. "Nothing to say, Patrick?" I shook my head. "Well, hopefully you'll find something to say to Principal Ginch."  Chapter 8 Principal Ginch was legendary. Mike told me—and he should know—that when Principal Ginch yelled you could see that little punching bag at the back of her throat. Plus, he pointed out, she had flower wilting bad breath. When I got to Principal Ginch's office, Ms, Shreve, the secretary, was on the phone. I slid onto the office's wooden bench, smoothfromgenerations of guilty bottoms. Above my head hung a mammoth corkboard. There was a notice for parent's night. I wondered if my parents felt bad that they weren't going and, if they did, how could I use it against them later. I tried to sneak a peek into the Ginch's lair. The door was closed. No light was escapingfromthe cracks. Yikes. Ms. Shreve hung up the phone. "Can I help you?" she asked. Her voice lost the sweetness it had when she was on the phone. "Ah...." I started to sweat behind my knees. She leaned her head to the side and squinted at me. "Were you fighting?" I shook my head hard. Myfrontteeth rubbed against each other and my cheeks jiggled. The phone rang. "Yes, Principal Ginch won't be back in until next Monday. I'll give her the message." I began to breathe normally again. Well, as normal as possible considering my pants were so tight.  i  "Well, then what's your name?" she asked. "Patrick, Patrick Manning." "Patrick Manning?" She raised her eyebrows. "Paul and Mike's little brother?" I ran my hands through my red hair. No one ever thought we were brothers. "Mike definitely spent a lot of time on that bench." She chuckled. That wasn't a surprise. There was a loud double rap on the doorframe. In walked Amelia Gibbons. "Mrs. Reynolds wants to know if Patrick may come back to the class now, Ms. Shreve." Ugh. Her politeness made me want to hurl. "Yes, he's ready, Amelia," Ms. Shreve answered and winked at me.  Amelia shuffled quickly down the hall. Her long brown ponytail swished between her shoulder blades. I followed, taking slow baby steps. There was definitely no rush to get back. At best, the class had only finished checking the math homework. I stopped at the water fountain next to the cafeteria. The water was a bit yellow. I let it run. Amelia stared at her watch. "I don't have all day," she huffed. "Um, Ms. Shreve is Patrick ready?" I mimicked her in my specially crafted Amelia style high-pitched whine. I took another long sip. Unlike most nerd bombers, Amelia wasn't a bit shy. "Leave some for the fish," she said. I kept drinking even though the water tasted funny and was warm. I loved that I was driving her crazy. Finally, I took a step back from the fountain. "Ahh...." I wiped my mouth with the back of my sleeve and gave her a big smile. Amelia sighed loudly and shuffled towards the classroom door. "Ladies, first," I said with a sweep of my hand. I figured I'd let Amelia go first just in case there was any enemy fire from Mrs. Reynolds.  Chapter 9 "Okay, when I clap my hands please form groups of two," Mr. M announced from thefrontof the classroom. There was a buzz as pairs quickly formed. I looked around. John was with Ricky. Evan with Darren. Frank was with Jacob! Wait a minute, who was going to be my partner. Even smelly Stephen was pushing his desk next to Eric's. I looked at Mr. M. "Don't worry, Pat. Work with Amelia," Mr. M said and blinked his eye. Amelia!?! Wait a minute. Does he have something in his eye? Was that a wink? There is no winking when Amelia is involved. Blech.... "Patrick, we don't have all day," Mrs. Reynolds's voice whinedfromthe back of the classroom. Great.... I dragged my desk over. I hoped it would leave, a long angry scratch on thefloor.It didn't. This was going to be awful. Throughout the entire lesson, I could hear Amelia wheezing. It sounded as if she had swallowed a tiny kazoo. Amelia always wheezed, especially in gym class. She had asthma like Mike. From the little bits I listened to, I knew that we were learning about teamwork, but I was more focused on breaking the news to Mum about the party. She wasn't going to like it. I started drawing a picture of a shark chomping on a pumpkin. It was kind of funny. I hoped the pumpkin would give the shark gas. I started drawing in fart bubbles. Amelia elbowed me in the ribs. "Ouch." Everyone looked at me. "As I was saying, Patrick, you'll work on this project untilrightbefore Halloween," Mr. M said, raising his voice and thick black eyebrows. Some of the boys in the class groaned. I was the loudest. That meant weeks working with Amelia on.... Wait, what were we doing? In a few minutes, I learned that Amelia and I had to think of a team that does an important job. We were supposed tofindout stuff like who was the team leader, when the team began, how the team was run, and who could be on the team. There was more, but I started drawing again. This time I drew Mrs. Reynolds in her blue dress. It looked more  like a garbage bag with a belt than a dress though. I also made sure to include her puffy hair, pointy teeth, and the hairs that poked out of that huge freckle on her cheek. Mr. M waited at the board with a piece of chalk. "Can anyone name a team they think is important?" Frankie shouted out the Red Sox. I followed it up with "Go team!" Amelia glared at me. Rita said the police force. Her mum was a policewoman. Amelia leaned forward on her chair and shot her arm into the air. "How about a family, Mr. Mammarandoni?" "Great idea, Amelia. You and Patrick should run with that." He wrote Amelia's suggestion on the board in capital letters. "Great idea, Amelia," I mimicked. Kids made suggestions until the entire board was filled. Then Mr. M passed out huge sheets of white paper and markers. The markers had all different smells like raspberries, mint and even chocolate. Every time we used the markers the entire class ended up with a rainbow of colored dots on their noses, even Amelia. And of course someone made the joke about me eating the markers. "What are we doing?" I asked Amelia in a whisper. In red she wrote, Family in the middle of our sheet. "Don't you ever pay attention?" "Well, yeah," I sputtered. Next Amelia wrote Dad in blue and Mum in pink. How original. "What are you waiting for?" Amelia said, sitting up straight in her chair. "So...?" I looked at her, digging for more explanation. She wasn't budging. I glanced at Veronica and Jean's paper. Their sheet was already filling up. "Okay, okay. Just write down words about your family. We're brainstorming so pretend that you actually have a brain." "Very funny." I reached across Amelia for the box of markers. "You could ask," she said, rolling the brown marker across the paper to me.  Amelia in her ultra-neat printing was rapidly adding stuff like dog, home, dinner table, car, and allowance. I couldn't let her win. I propped myself up on my elbows. This was kind of tough, plus she had stolen the easy ones. I started to write "brothers" but stopped. Instead, I drew them. It was kind of tough with just a brown marker, but I made sure Paul had a few spots on his face and that Mike had braces. Timmy looked like a blob, but I drew squiggly lines near his diaper to show his stinkiness. Amelia sat back and folded her hands in front of her. "If you were listening, he told us to write words, not draw stupid cartoons. Why can't you ever..." "Hey guys, great team work," Mr. M . interrupted. "Keep going." Mr. M knelt down to get a closer look. He pulled out his own black thin marker and handed it to me. "For the details." A few kids peeked over at our sheet and soon everyone was adding pictures. I sneered at Amelia. She went back to writing, but sprinkled a few hearts next to "love." Next she started to draw something next to father, but scribbled it out before she finished. Amelia wasn't a very good drawer. The dog she attempted looked more like a bus with a tail. I drew our fish tank with Stripe. I left out Timmy's monster fish. Next I tried to capture my house, but it was tough because my house was covered with vines and there was a big tree out front. A l l those leaves were driving me crazy. Plus Amelia was being stingy with the green marker. "Okay, everyone stick your sheets up on the board," Mr. M said. He had pieces of tape waving off the ends of his fingers. I slid the paper away from Amelia and headed to the board. I put it right in the middle. "Hey, when's the wedding, Patsy?" Jay asked as we waited for Mr. M to tape our sheets down. I threw my weight and squished him into the blackboard. There were some advantages to being fat.  Chapter 10 Later that day Mrs. Reynolds morphed into the "Cleaninator." "I don't want chalk in the erasers, papers on the floor, or even fingerprints on the windows! This classroom must be spotless," Mrs. Reynolds lecturedfromthefrontof the room waving her hands around in thick pink rubber gloves. With a dull clap everyone pushed their desks against the walls and started cleaning them out. I had notices for Mum, a tennis ball, my Air Force pencil case, and books. "Hey Patrick, big date this weekend with Amelia?" Jay asked, loud enough so the whole row could hear. I am pretty sure the kids across the room caught at least the words, Date and Amelia. "Awww, isn't that cute," Evan, three desks down, cooed. "Well, I am quite the ladies' man, you know," I said puffing up my chest and sucking in my gut. "Hey, you guys can go to Jacob's party as a couple," Nigella shouted diagonally across the room. "I'm not going to Jacob's party," Amelia said looking upfromher book. Her desk was already spotless. She tucked her silver bookmark in her page. "I have somewhere better to be that day." Was there some huge nerd convention I didn't know about? A roar ripped through the classroom. Mrs. Reynolds had stuck her pointy blue heel in a thick patch of bubblegum. Oh brother...Julia Fishbein was in for it now. She was the gum chewing queen of the class andfromthe color of the wad it looked like Berry Delicious, her favorite flavor. Mrs. Reynolds took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "Whoever's gum is stuck to my shoe please step forward. One, two...I don't hear anyone...." All eyes turned to Julia. She looked as if she might pee her pants, which we all knew was a possibility since she had done just that in the first grade. I don't know what made me do it. I just did it. I stuck one foot out and then the next until I was standing right next to Mrs. Reynolds. "You! This is your gum, Patrick?" Even she knew it was Julia's.  "Umm...yeah." "Well.. .well then. Your parents will hear about this later tonight." Tell them all you want. They won't be here, I thought. Aunt Peg would be cool with it once I told her about Julia. At least I hoped. "Okay, everyone back to cleaning," she said and stormed out of the room with the gum, trailing behind her. We swept, straightened our desks, and clapped the erasers outside. Finally we moved our desks back into position. Mrs. Reynolds had returned. "Patrick, move your desk next to Amelia." I groaned. The rest of the class snickered. "Nah, I'm okay over here. I like sitting next to Mr. M . " "Well, I like you next to Amelia. So move your desk this instant," she said and pointed at Amelia who was hunched over a book. Great....I picked up my desk and plunked it down right next to Amelia's so that it blocked the aisle. Mrs. Reynolds gave me an evil look and flared her nose like a dragon. Grateful that she couldn't breathe fire, I nudged my desk into place. Amelia was still buried in the thick book. I tried to peer around at the cover. She turned her body away from me. "What are you reading?" I asked. It was probably some kissy, mushy love story. Amelia thrust the book in my direction. The Life and Times of Amelia Earhart, I read off the black and white cover. "Any good?" I asked. Amelia nodded and flipped the page. "I have a book about pilots, too," I offered. Amelia put the book down. "Yeah?" "Yeah, it's pretty cool. Lots of jet pictures and there's a timeline with stuff like the Wright Brothers and I think Amelia Earhart is on there, too." "Of course, she's on there." "Alright class," Mr. M interrupted from the front of the room. "You did a great job cleaning today. Your parents will be proud." Maybe mine would be—if they were coming.  Chapter 11 "Any last words before I head off, Pat?" Aunt Peg asked from the doorway. She had stopped by my house before going to the open house at school. "Don't drink from the water fountains and watch out for Mrs. Reynolds. She bites." I bared my teeth and clawed at the air. I figured it wasn't a bad idea for Aunt Peg to go into the meeting relating Mrs. Reynolds with a rabid dog. I heard the front door an hour later. It was Aunt Peg. "Hey Kiddo, let's go get some ice cream." "Scooper Bowl?" I asked with high hopes. With Mum's health kick and the high prices, we almost never went out for ice cream, especially not at the Scooper Bowl, which was my favorite. "Scooper Bowl it is, Bud." Mike and Timmy weren't around. There was just me. Paul had locked himself in his room with the telephone as soon as Aunt Peg had left. We sat on the round red stools at the counter of the Scooper Bowl. I ordered a scoop of peppermint stick ice cream with hot fudge, rainbow sprinkles, whip cream, and a cherry on top. Aunt Peg got a fudgeripplesundae. We watched the teenage scoopers make our sundaes. They never put enough whip cream or sprinkles, except for when they made a Belly Buster. "Aunt Peg ever heard of a Belly Buster?" She shook her head. "It's an enormous sundae made with forty-four ice cream flavors, whipped cream, nuts, strawberries, hot fudge, and anything else you want." "Sounds like a Belly Ache to me," said Aunt Peg. "Nah, it's awesome. It takes three singing scoopers to carry it out on a stretcher. Mum once tried to make one at home, but she only bought vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. It just wasn't the same." "Cherry?" Aunt Peg held out her cherry by its stem. I loved the sugary ice cream cherry. "So Patrick, I hear you talk a lot. Is this true?"  "Well, sometimes." I took a big spoonful of whipped cream and squished it between my tongue and the roof of my mouth. "How about having your friends over after school? Then you can joke around all you want." I shrugged. "What friends," I mumbled. "I don't have any friends." "Sure you do. What about.. .what about Richie or Steve? Don't they just live down the street?" "Richie moved to Milwaukee and Steve is Mike's friend." I swiveled back and forth on the stool. Our long silver ice cream spoons scraped on the sides of the glass dishes. "Well how about some friends from baseball?" "Nah. It's different Aunt Peg. I just don't have any regular friends like Mike or even you and you're ol...an adult." "Good catch, Mister." Aunt Peg smiled. "Yeah, I do have some friends. But do you know who my best friends are?" I shrugged. "Your Dad, Uncle Sam, and Uncle David. They're my best friends and always will be." Pictures of Mike dunking my head under water, Paul "accidentally" slamming my fingers in the car door, and Timmy peeing in my eye flashed through my head. I couldn't imagine them as my best friends. Let alone my friends. They were something else instead. They were my brothers. "So tell me about your birthday plans. Mum says another costume party." I rested my spoon next to my empty ice cream glass. "I guess." I shrugged. "What's up?" "Nothing. Oh, did I tell you about our field trip coming up?" I hoped she would take the change of subject bait. "Where to?" she asked. Thank goodness.  Chapter 12 For the next two nights, I continued to dodge the birthday party discussion on all fronts. However, Mike and Paul enjoyed slipping in favorite birthday memories whenever Mum was around. Thankfully, she was working a lot of the night shifts at the hospital as an emergency room nurse. But then on Friday night, three weeks before B day, I came under fire. "Patrick, come down here, please," Mum called up the back steps. I sucked air through my teeth. What did I do now and how could I blame Mike? I headed downstairs slowly. Mum and Dad were talking in the dinning room. They didn't sound angry. Mum was humming and Dad was baby talking with Timmy. However, I knew that it could just be a trap. The dinning room table was covered in a rainbow of construction paper, sequins, chunks of colored fabric, glitter and even some straw. "Come on in, Pumpkin. Let's work on your invitations," Mum said. She dumped out a box of colored pens. "Your birthday will be here before we know it." I looked at Dad for help. He was busy wiping off Timmy's sticky hands with a dishtowel. "Any ideas, Patrick?" Mum picked up a handful of black sequins. They slipped through her fingers and back onto the table. They looked like a shiny anthill. "Ahh...." I looked over at Dad again. He was still A W O L with Timmy and his grimy paws. "Well, I had a few loose ideas." Mum slipped a paper out from under her elbow. It was a night scene with a whole bunch of fuzzy pumpkins with funky cutout faces. The invitation was pretty cool, but pumpkins or not, I still didn't want a party, especially since Jacob had stolen my birthday again. "I was thinking we could glue down the straw now. Then while the glue dries we can cut out the pumpkins." Mum held up a few squares of bright orange felt. I rubbed my finger over the soft pumpkins. "So what do you think? We'll invite all the boys in your class, right?" Mum  Timmy yanked on my pants leg. "No, Timmy," I shouted and shook my leg.  Now, I'd done it. Timmy took two sharp intakes of breath and then let out a loud wail closely followed by two trails of tears. Mum scooped Timmy up in her arms. He stopped crying and seemed to smirk at me. I narrowed my eyes back at him. "Pat, when is that other boy's party this year?" Dad asked. He was looking at Mum's sketch. Finally a little help from Dad. "Yeah, urn, that's the thing. Jacob's party might be on the same day as mine again this year. So...." I let my voice trail off hoping that they would get the clue. Of course they didn't. "Well, let me call his mother. We'll work something out," Mum said. "Wait, Mum! I'll just ask Jacob tomorrow." "Are you sure?" Mum looked behind her as she pushed back her chair in case Timmy was underneath. He was crawling everywhere. I held my hands out like a traffic cop. "Mum, I'm sure." "Well, if they haven't given out invitations yet they're probably not planning for the twenty-seventh. They seem to plan further ahead than we do." Mum settled back in her chair. She held up her sample invitation again. "Let's get started." Before I knew it Mum and I were both gluing smiling pumpkins onto sheets of black construction paper. M y eyelids were droopy by the time we finished, but they looked awesome. M y favorite part was the pumpkins' faces. Too bad there wasn't going to be a party. Maybe we could save them for next year or add some pilgrims and use them for Timmy's party. "Okay, let's let the glue dry and we can talk about your costume." Well, at least the costume wouldn't go to waste. I had big plans for trick or treating. Mum pulled out a sketch of a fat round pumpkin with a big toothy smile. "Get it? Patty Pumpkin!" Mum smiled and nudged my side with her elbow. What?!? Mum steamrolled on. "I've been working with a few ideas. I think I can cut out the mouth to be a giant pocket for your candy." Mum was drawing arrows and squiggles all over the diagram and speed talking.  I curled my lip. A pumpkin party was one thing, but a pumpkin costume was over the top. I definitely didn't need a big smiley mouth on my stomach. As if there weren't enough fat jokes about me. Plus, I wanted to be a fighter pilot. I heard footsteps coming down the back stairs. I hid the pumpkin sketch under my armpit. Mum saw. "Is there any ice cream?" Paul shouted from the kitchen. I heard the squeak of the fridge door. "Paul, cut up some apples," Mum hollered back. Turning back to me, Mum said, "Patrick, it's just an idea, but you do need to decide on your costume." "Okay, how about a pilot?" "I guess, but a pilot costume just doesn't shout Halloween." Mum frowned. "Mum, maybe I don't want to shout Halloween. I definitely don't want to scream Patty Pumpkin. I'm going to be nine, no more pumpkin stuff." I stomped my foot. " A very important birthday, might I add," said Paul, as he passed into the dining room. He was eating frozen yogurt out of the container. "Let me see." Paul plucked Mum's costume sketch from under my arm. He raised his eyebrows. "Mum, the pumpkin invitations are cool, but the costume has to go," Paul said and licked his spoon clean. I smiled at my brother. Sometimes he could be cool. "Well, Paul any ideas?" Mum squeezed her lips together and cocked her head to the side. The front door quickly opened and then slammed shut. Mike was home. "Howdy," Mike said dropping his back pack in the front hall closet. "Mum can I go to Jaime's sleepover tomorrow." Another sleepover? That would be the second one this month! I'd never even been to one sleepover. "We'll talk about it later." Mum was determined to duke out the pumpkin fight immediately. Mike shrugged. "What are you guys making?" He approached the table and before I knew it he was holding the costume sketch. "Orange is definitely your color, Patsy," he said with a snigger. "You'll make a delightfully round pumpkin." "I'm not going to be a pumpkin." I crossed my arms over my chest.  Mike pointed at my name at the top of the sketch. "Oh, but Patty Pumpkin it looks like you are." "So Mum, i f I'm a pumpkin, what are Paul and Mike?" I asked. Mum took a deep breath. "Paul and Mike are arranging their own costumes this year, but Timmy...." Mum reached down and brushed his blonde hair out of his eyes, "Timmy will be a mini version of you." This was getting worse by the minute.  Chapter 13 Later that night, Mum and Dad let us watch the baseball game on T V . Mum even made popcorn. No butter—of course. I still hadn't brought up Jacob's party. M y plan was to drop that bomb when Mum was tucking me in later. The clanging of the phone cut into my brothers' shouts at the TV. Paul answered it. "Patrick?" he asked the caller. He held the receiver out to me. "Patsy, it's some girl." Paul fluttered his eyebrows and made kissing noises. Oh, man. I was never going to hear the end of this. "Yeah," I answered. Mum glared at me. "I mean hello." It was Amelia. She wanted to meet about the family project this weekend. "Who is it, Patrick?" Dad asked. He started to walk towards me. I waved him away, but he kept coming. "Dad, it's for me." I shook my head at his outstretched hand. "Well I have to ask my mum. We might be really busy this weekend," I said into the phone. I was clutching the receiver to my ear. It hurt. "Mum, aren't we really busy this weekend?" "Patrick, what's going on?" Mum and Dad were now both standing up. I was testing the limits. "Can someone come over to work on a school project this weekend?" I asked pressing the mouth piece against my palm. "Yes, that's fine, but I should talk with this someone's mother." Mum headed to the phone in three steps. She had long legs. "Hey, my mum wants to talk to your mum, okay." Amelia sighed and yelled for her mother. I reluctantly handed the phone to my mum. "Who is this?" she asked, holding her hand over the mouthpiece. "Mrs. Gibbons," I answered and walked back to my spot on the couch.  Mum and Mrs. Gibbons carried on a pleasant "Mum" conversation. By the time she hung up, it was affirmative that Amelia was definitely invading, but Mum did say she would bake a cake. Mum hung up the phone. "Girlfriend already, Patsy? Paul, maybe you should take lessons from the little butterball." Mike threw his dirty sock at Paul. "Michael, enough. I want you and Paul to finish watching the game in our bedroom." It was obvious that I was headed for deep trouble. They bolted for the door. I wondered i f Amelia had finked on me about the principal's office. I ran across the living room to claim the recliner Paul had just vacated. The seat was warm. I hoped it wasn't because he'd been farting up a storm. "Is there something you want to tell us Patrick?" Mum asked. Dad clicked off the T V . I was dead in the water. "Umm...." I looked at Mum. Her blank face gave me no idea what she was digging for. Dad looked just as clueless as me. "Umm.. .me and Amelia are...." "Amelia and I," Mum corrected. "We're doing a project on families for school." I scanned Mum's face. Her eyebrows were crinkled. "Patrick, Mrs. Gibbons mentioned that Jacob's party is on the 27 . th  I sank into the chair. I wished the cushion would just swallow me up. "Why didn't you tell us, Pat?" Dad asked, leaning forward. He was frowning. "You and Mum worked so hard on those invitations." I shrugged. Mum put her hand up to tell Dad to hold on. "I'm going to call Mrs. Perlman now and straighten this out. Did you bring home Jacob's invitation?" I shook my head and thought about the shark wedged in the bottom of my backpack. "Do you remember when it starts? Maybe we juggle the times or change your party to Sunday."  "No! Saturday is my birthday. My real birthday." I pouted and smacked my palms on my thighs. "Don't worry, Pumpkin, we'll figure it all out." "I'm not a pumpkin!" I yelled and stomped my feet. "I don't want a stupid party." There I said it and I felt a bit better. I looked down at the floor to avoid Mum's sad face. "Okay, it's late," Dad said. "Let's talk about this fresh in the morning." Typical Dad's just blowing me off again.  Chapter 14 I could barely hear my parents' voices over the bubbling teakettle. Mum had just got home from her night shift at the emergency room. Sitting perched on the top of the stairs, I listened closely. So far so good—no party talk. I think I heard them kissing. Yuck. They were always doing stuff like that. I hoped that we didn't have to include that mushy junk in the teamwork project. It seemed like stuff Amelia would be interested in. "Is Patrick up yet?" Mum asked. I froze in my dinosaur pajamas. Mum took a few steps towards the stairs. "Molly, have your tea first. I'll talk to him after baseball today," Dad said. I pumped my fist. With Dad, maybe I could negotiate. With Mum, forget it. "Don't forget to remind him how important a party is. I don't want him to regret missing his ninth birthday party. I know I regret not having parties." "But Molly, after last year, you can't blame him for not wanting a party." Exactly! I heard the kitchen chairs creak as they sat down at the table. "It'll be different this year, Liam." Dad sighed and they moved on to boring parent talk like the water bill and car repairs. I slowly backed away from the stairs and tiptoed back to bed. I felt as i f I'd already won half the battle. Back in our room, my brothers were getting ready for school. Paul, as always, was in front of the mirror putting some junk in his hair even though Mike and I always told him that it looked awful, all stiff and greasy like that. "Hey Patsy, you inviting your girlfriend to the party?" Mike asked pulling a red sweatshirt over his head. "She's not my girlfriend and there's not going to be a party." I pulled my green comforter up over my wrinkled sheets. "Why not, Patsy?" Paul asked. "Don't you want us to meet her?" He raked his fingers through his stiff hair a few more times. "Amy, Annie...what's her name? We always wanted a little sister," Mike said.  "What about that one?" I pointed at Paul in front of the mirror who was now examining a big zit on his forehead. Mike laughed at Paul and then he mussed up Paul's "do." They started wrestling and landed under Timmy's crib. Somehow he slept through all of this. Finally Mike and Paul headed to breakfast. My stomach was rumbling, but Mum was still in the kitchen. "Is Patrick up?" Mum asked my brothers when they got downstairs. My brothers mumbled. I don't think they gave me away. Finally, I heard Mum climb the steps and her bedroom door close. The coast was clear. I zipped past her door and down to the kitchen. On the foot of the stairs there was a shoebox of my party invitations. I felt like kicking them. I was done with the party idea. I just wanted my birthday to be over. I bent over and looked closer at the smiling pumpkins. Right above them Mum had glued a shiny tin foil moon over the date and had written in October 28. October 28! That's not my birthday. I stormed into the kitchen. Paul was eating his cereal and Dad was cutting the crust off our sandwiches. "Good morning, Patrick," Dad said and smiled. "Oatmeal's on the table." Yuck, oatmeal was gross. I stared into the fridge. Chicken cacciatore leftovers were piled high on the glass shelf. I rooted behind them and found nothing that looked very tasty. I surrendered to Dad's lumpy oatmeal. He loved to say that it stuck to your ribs. As if that was a good thing.  Chapter 15 "Okay, today I want you to decide and A G R E E , " Mr. M said, raising his eyebrows, "on a person on your team who you would like to interview. Then I want you to think about a few interview questions." There was a lot of mumbling around the classroom. Nigella suggested asking about the person's favorite food. Natalie wanted to know her team member's age. Jacob thought the person's birthday was important. As if Jacob, A K A The Birthday Bandit really cared about other people's birthdays. "Okay, let's get to it," Mr. M said with a loud clap of his hands. As we began moving our desks, Mrs. Reynolds announced, "Make sure to use your vocabulary words from this month. Bonus points if you can use more than ten." Mr. M rolled his eyes at Mrs. Reynolds. Amelia waved me to her desk. "Come on over, lover boy," Jay shouted in my direction. He copied Amelia's wave. "Jealous, Jay?" I ran my hands through my hair like I'd seen on TV. Jay's face reddened as the class laughed at my joke. Nicely deflected, I thought. I began to wonder i f the class understood that I had to work with Amelia. It was all Mr. M ' s fault. At least no one seemed to know about Amelia's weekend visit. If that got out, I would be sunk. I stood up and pushed my desk next to Amelia's. Before my bum even hit the chair, Amelia had pulled out a blue notebook. "Project: Family" was written in bold black letters across the top. The first page was covered with notes, charts, and squiggles. "1 came up with a few ideas," she said sweeping her hand down her tiny print and quickly flipping through the pages. I glanced. I didn't want her to think I cared. However, maybe working with Amelia wasn't so bad after all. At least, I wouldn't have to do much work. She'd already done it all. I tilted back in my desk chair and folded my hands behind my head. "Ready?" she asked, smoothing her hand over the white lined paper. "For what?" Amelia rolled her eyes. "Interview questions, duh." "Looks like you've got it covered." I pointed my chin at her notebook.  Amelia glared at me. For a moment, I thought she might push me over. "Patrick, I've told you a thousand times. Do not rock in your chair!" shrieked Mrs. Reynolds from across the room. I pitched forward in my chair. The edge of the desk dug into my stomach. Everyone in the class was staring. Great. "Now, apologize to Amelia who is working hard on your project." It felt like the entire class leaned in to listen. "Sorry, Amelia." "Alright now. Where is your vocabulary book?" Mrs. Reynolds asked and made a clucking noise. "You could use a few more bonus points." She was standing over my desk now. I could see straight up her nose. It was hairy up there. I tilted my desk forward and fished out my vocabulary book. "Now who should we interview?"  -  Amelia looked over at our poster. It was by far the best, despite Amelia's sorry attempts at pictures. "Hmmm...let's skip mothers or fathers. They're boring," Amelia suggested. "I have some fish." I offered and squeezed my cheeks together to make a fish face.  ;  .  . :  Amelia didn't want to laugh, but she did. She tried to hide her smile, as she flipped through the vocabulary book. Amelia pointed at Sibling. "Let's interview a sibling;" "You mean a brother?" I asked. Amelia nodded. "Then on Saturday we can really interview your brother. It will be like extra credit." "Brothers," I corrected. "Wait a minute, what about your siblings?" I didn't want Amelia within a million miles of my brothers. It would be a disaster. I had to tread carefully. "My brothers aren't so great." "I don't have any siblings." Amelia looked at her desk. She licked herfingerand erased a stray pencil mark. "Not even one?" Amelia shook her head.  "You mean you're an only child?" Lucky duck. Perhaps she'd like to borrow Timmy. Amelia nodded. "Do you have your own room?" "Yeah. Don't you?" "Of course," I lied and rolled my yellow pencil between my fingers. It had a few bite marks up near the eraser. "You should now be thinking of interview questions," Mr. M announced from the front of the room. "Don't forget. Vocabulary books out,'' Mrs. Reynolds reminded as she walked out of the classroom. Hopefully we wouldn't see her until recess. Amelia took out her pencil. She always had the same one. It was refillable. Once I stole it. She was so angry I thought her head would pop off, but she didn't tell Mrs. Reynolds. For as geeky as Amelia was, she wasn't a tattletale. We had Susie Curtis, who did enough tattling for the entire school. "So we will interview your brother-S." Amelia wrote her name on the top of our lined paper. I added my name above hers in capital letters. Amelia cleared her throat. "Let's ask your brother Mike." Amelia's pencil rolled to the floor. She quickly ducked under her desk to pick it up. "You know my brother's name?" Amelia blushed slightly. "Well, yeah. He was in Mrs. Tetrazini's class last year." Amelia added quickly, "They had the same recess as us, remember?" How could I forget? All year, I dreaded being wedgied beyond recognition or being planted in a snow bank. However, Mike left me alone in school. He seemed to prefer attacking on the home front. "Yeah, he drove Mrs. Tetrazini crazy. He claims that her gray hair is all because of him." I was proud of my big brother and his Tetrazini torture. Amelia wrote down some topics: favorite color, age, middle name, favorite book, etc. "Whoa, these are super easy." I leaned over Amelia and started writing in the answers. Black, 13, Peter, I stopped at favorite book. "Amelia, these are boring."  "Well do you have any better ideas?" she huffed. I thought for a minute and bit my lower lip. "Got it. Ask him what really happened when Dad caught him playing guns with Joey Pagliacci." Amelia wrote frantically. "Or if Mum washed his mouth with soap when he swore at Gramma," I added. "This is good stuff, Patrick," Amelia said. Her pencil was ready for the next question. Wait a minute; I was supplying the enemy with grenades. It was definitely time to plant a decoy. "But... you know what. I have another brother who is even better. You'll love him. His name is Timothy." "Timothy?" Amelia wrinkled her nose. "What's so great about him?" "Well, what's so great about Mike?" Amelia shrugged her shoulders. "You're not giving Timothy a chance." It sounded funny calling Timmy, Timothy. "You just have to meet him. He has this great smell about him and a certain way of talking that is all his own. You'll see." Amelia raised her eyebrows. She didn't look convinced at all, but I knew an interview with Mike would be like dancing with a great white shark.  Chapter 16 "Here it comes, Patsy," Dad yelled, from the dugout. A looping fly ball soared in my direction. I put my glove up and waded in a few steps. "I got it!" I yelled. Thunk. The ball hit the groundrightbehind me and bounced towards the back fence. Shoot! I chugged towards the ball. Angry groans came from my teammates in the infield. I grabbed the ball. A runner was driving towards home. I hurled the ball towards the catcher, but with a swish of his hands the umpire called the runner safe., The rest of the game went just as bad. My team, the Pirates, got clobbered as usual and this time by the Orioles, the other worst team in the league. At the end of the game some parents were chewing Dad's ear off and pointing in my direction. Dad was our coach. Mike and I were both on the team. Paul used to be on the team too, but he got too old. I was the youngest on the whole team, which you'd think would mean that I could occasionally drop a ball or strike-out, but it didn't. "Come on, fellas. Bring it in," Dad said clapping his hands. I grabbed a few of the bats from the backstop. They were all covered in light brown dust. "Two, four, six, eight. Who do we appreciate, Pirates, Pirates, Yeah Pirates!" chanted the winning team. I rolled my eyes at them. "Alright guys. There were a few times I thought we had them. We'll get them next time. Next practice, I want to work on some fielding." Mike poked me in the side with his bony elbow. "And a little hitting." Mike stomped on my foot. "Alright, all in." We formed a circle and stuck in our hands. One, two, three. "Pirates," we yelled and pulled our hands away. We had as much enthusiasm as flat soda.  Soon the kids peeled off like onionskins and headed to their parents' idling cars. I started stuffing bandages and ice packs back into the first aid kit. Mike came behind me with the bat bag. "Great game today, Lard Butt." "Nice pop-up, Brace Face." I snapped shut the kit. "Whatever." Mike pushed past me. "Let's go." I followed Mike to our station wagon. "Hey, Manning!" It was Peter Hume. He was in Mike's grade. We waited for him to catch up. "Looks like you Pirates were sunk this game." Peter laughed at his own lame joke. "By the way, nice game, Tubby." Mike dropped the bat bag he was carrying in front of Peter's long legs. Peter lurched forward over the bag. His palms scraped on the black top and he ripped a hole in his pinstripe pants. "Better watch your step there, Mr. Hume," Mike said, scooping up the bat bag. "Let's go, Pat." Thanks, Mike. Peter swore at Mike under his breath. I knew he'd be too chicken to say or do anything back to Mike. Besides being legendary for outwitting teachers, Mike was also a force on the playground. No one messed with him. I stuck out my tongue at Peter as he stomped off to his mother's new red sports car. "You aren't getting in this car with all that dirt and look at your hands!" Peter's mother yelled at him. We leaned against our station wagon waiting for Dad. Its blue metal was hot from the afternoon's sun. I was in no hurry for Dad tofinish.I still hadn't crafted a birthday diversion plan. "Tough game today, huh guys," Dad said as he approached the car. Mike and I both grunted. Dad popped open the car locks. Mike got the front seat. I buckled myself in directly behind Dad. That way he couldn't see me in the rear view mirror.  Dad eased the car into traffic. "Alright, let's stop for pizza to bring home. It's been a long day." "Pepperoni," I shouted from the backseat. "Check the coupons, Mike." Dad pointed to the glove compartment. Mum always stashed coupons and bunches of napkins in there. "Ah, we got one for a Pizza Supreme, but it's for Pizza Ring World." Mike held up the coupon. I leaned forward resting my elbows on the seat. The pizza supreme dripping with cheese, pepperoni, sausage, and meatballs looked like it was just my style. There wasn't a vegetable in sight. "Alright guys, meat supreme it is," said Dad, drumming hisfingerson the steering wheel. "But, Dad we can't get it from Pizza Ring Worm. They grind up worms in their special sauce," Mike whined. "Michael, we have a coupon. So unless you want leftovers...." Dad didn't even have tofinish.No one wanted leftover chicken cacciatore. We pulled into the parking lot. Dad handed Mike a crisp twenty-dollar bill. "Okay Mikey, don't forget the change this time." I started to undo my seatbelt. "Patrick, wait with me," Dad said Great.... Dad turned off the engine. The car was quiet and still. Next to us a motorcycle idled. Theriderwas a little nerdy guy in a suit. Not what I expected. "How was school today?" "It was okay." I clipped and undipped my seatbelt. I liked the clicking noise it made. "So, you don't really want a party. Do you?" I shrugged. A party would be good, but I didn't think that anyone was going to come. I mean who would really skip Jacob's aquarium bash for my boring house party? "Well your mother thinks it's a good idea." I grunted. This was typical dad behavior. Whatever Mum said, Dad did.  How about something different?" Dad suggested. That was a surprise. "Like what?" I couldn't imagine Mum giving up on the costume party idea too easily. After all there were some new pumpkin decorations next to her sewing machine yesterday. "Oh, I don't know. Is there anywhere you want to go?" "Um.. .Disney World?" It was worth a shot. I could see Dad raise his eyebrows in the mirror. "How about a little closer to home?" I thought for a moment. My mind was as blank as a fresh notebook page. "Nah, nowhere really." Maybe Dad had an idea up his sleeve. Sometimes, he was cool like that. "Do you have any ideas?" I asked. "Give me some time." "But what are you going to tell Mum?" I thought about the doctored pumpkin invitations. "Don't worry about her. I'll talk with Mum. She only wants the best for you." For some reason I wasn't so sure I believed him, especially since he was as solid as Jell-0 around Mum.  Chapter 17 I peered through Mum's lacey white curtain for the hundredth time. I was on the look out for Amelia. As I waited, I checked the coordinates of my family. Mike was bumping around in the front hall closet searching for his stickball bat. Mum was humming and frosting the cake in the kitchen. It was chocolate cake with white frosting— my favorite. I could barely remember the last time Mum had made a cake. Dad was at the food store buying groceries. Paul was shut in our room doing his homework. Timmy was napping. The only snag was that Mike still hadn't found his bat. I really wanted him gone before Amelia arrived. Mum and Dad had warned Mike and Paul not to tease me in front of Amelia. However, I feared that their warning was like dancing a red cape in front of two bulls and then slapping their bums. Plus, Mum made everyone help clean. That was like pulling their tails. Finally, Mike appeared with his bat and a grubby tennis ball. "Be home for dinner, Mum," he shouted, swinging open the front door. Just as Mike stepped out the door a shiny silver sports car pulled up. It looked like a rocket ship. Amelia popped out of the passenger side with her orange backpack. Mike winked and poked me in the stomach. "Girlfriend's here, Patsy." He jumped down the front steps in one big leap. "Show off," I mumbled. Mike was nearly at the end of the walk and almost past Amelia when I started to relax. Bad move. "Hi, Michael, I'm Amelia Rose Gibbons." Amelia stopped right in the middle of my front walk. Right in front of Mike! She offered Mike her hand. Oh boy.... "Hi, Amelia Rose. Nice to meet you. Patrick's told us all about you." Amelia looked past Mike. She raised her eyebrows at me. Mike tossed his ball in the air and caught it behind his back. Show off! "When I get home, I'll fill you in on Patrick. In the meantime...." Mike leaned closer to Amelia and whispered in her ear. Amelia giggled. I'd never heard Amelia giggle. What was going on here?  Mike shot me an evil grin and headed on his way. Amelia, with a big dopey grin watched him heading down the street. "Are you coming in or what?" I crossed my arms in front of my chest. I'd had enough. It was time to get this over with and find out what Mike had said. "Patty Pumpkin?" Amelia asked and stepped inside. What?!? Didn't he know some family secrets were sacred? "Well, hello. You must be Amelia." Mum said. She had snuck up behind me. "Patrick, take Amelia's coat, please." I curled my upper lip. Amelia slid out of her backpack and handed me her green fleece jacket. I threw it in the closet and followed them into the kitchen. Mum sat Amelia at the head of the table in front of shoeboxes labeled Paul, Michael, Patrick, Timothy, and The Manning Family. Mum had pulled out the big guns: the family photos. "Amelia, would you like a drink?" Mum asked. "Um.. .may I have some water, please?" Was she always polite? There weren't even any teachers around! "Patrick, get Amelia water, please." Mum startedflippingthrough the box marked Patrick. She handed a stack of pictures to Amelia. "Someday, I'll get these in order. Make nice albums with little scraps of bits and pieces for the boys," Mum said. "My mother has albums made every year. They're on a shelf in the living room." "That's nice." Mum paused at a picture of us sticking out our tongues. "I'm sure your brothers and sisters will appreciate them someday." "I'm an only child." Amelia handed back her stack of pictures. "I don't have any siblings." Vocabulary words on the weekend!?!? Mum swiveled in her chair as a thud from upstairs cut the silence. It sounded like Timmy was dumping his toys over the side of his crib again. "Here, Amelia." Mum handed her a picture of when I was just hours old. "I'll berightdown. I handed her Amelia's glass of water. "You were kind of wrinkly back then." Amelia held up the picture.  "Yeah, yeah." I took back the photo. "I thought we were here to talk about families, not me." I tossed the picture back in the box and dug out a few boring shots of Christmas, my fifth birthday party, and a class trip to the zoo. "Did you bring any pictures of your family?" I asked. I spread the neutral pictures out in a fan. "Well, I was going to, but my mother doesn't want them to get dirty," Amelia said, rolling her brown eyes. "So we'll have to use your pictures for the project." She picked up the picture of Mike making bunny ears behind me. "Do you have any more with your brother in them?" I started looking through the Manning family box. "Hey, what's in that box?" Amelia pointed to another shoe box on the bottom step. I shrugged and grabbed the box. More pictures, I figured. Amelia popped off the lid. I saw a blur of orange and black construction paper. "NO!" I lunged for the box. I was too late. Amelia grabbed a handful of my birthday invitations. "Sunday, October 28? But that's not your birthday," Amelia said. She rubbed herfingersover the fuzzy pumpkins. "No kidding." "Did you change the date because of Jacob's party?" "I guess," I said, reaching for the invitation. I dropped it back into the box and shut the lid tightly. "So what are you going to do?" she asked, folding her hands in front of her. "What do you mean, what am I going to do?" "About your party.. .1 mean, shouldn't you give those out soon?" Amelia pointed at the box. "It's only two weeks away." "It doesn't matter. No one's going to come." I dug my fingers into the side of the box. I wished it would disappear or at least that I could. "Well, I'll come to your party." Amelia reached for the box. I yanked the box off the table. "There isn't going to be a party," I said dropping the box onto the bottom stair. "Okay.. ..You don't have to be a jerk about it."  I didn't mean to be a jerk. I just wished she'd stop talking about it. "My birthday was crummy, too." "Huh?" "The girls I invited didn't even want to talk to me. All they wanted to do was play on my computer and laugh at jokes I didn't understand." "Yeah, but at least kids showed up." Amelia rolled her eyes and rested her chin on her palm.  Chapter 18 We kept digging through the stacks of pictures. I felt a little better knowing that Amelia's party was a bust, too. "Do you have any pictures with your entire family?" I handed her the first family shot I saw. We were sitting in front of our Christmas tree dressed in matching green and red outfits. I didn't look too bad. At least, I had my front teeth in this one. Amelia held up the pictures and stared at me. "You don't look like your brothers or your Mum and Dad." "No, I guess not." "Are you sure they didn't switch you at birth?" I shook my head even though I had wondered that more than once before. "So which brothers are which?" She handed me the family photo. "Paul," I pointed at Paul. He looked extra goofy in the red and green striped turtleneck. "But, I thought he was Timothy? Aren't we interviewing Timothy?" Amelia pointed at Paul leaving a greasy fingerprint on his chest. Oops. "Yeah, well Timothy wasn't around for this picture." "So you're the youngest?" Amelia opened her notebook. "Well, no..." I heard Mum coming down the stairs and Timmy laughing. I was dead in the water. "Amelia, this is Patrick's baby brother, Timmy," Mum said. She tried to make Timmy wave at Amelia, but he was too busy pulling Mum's hair. He gave Amelia a big grin showing off his new front teeth, which Mum constantly bragged about. Mum plopped Timmy in his highchair. Amelia, like everyone else who gets near the little poop bag, was all goofy. If she started baby talking with him, I was definitely going to throwup, preferably all over her head. I cleared my throat three times before Amelia finally turned back to our project. She gave me an evil glare and dragged her neon pink eraser across the page. "How old is Timmy," she asked my mother.  "Eleven months this week," Mum said pinching Timmy's nose. Timmy squealed. Amelia took notes. Timmy was thrashing his legs and pointing at me. "Patrick is Timmy's favorite brother," Mum said. Amelia raised her eyebrows towards her brown bangs. Timmy reached out and grabbed my finger. He pulled it towards his two famous teeth. Everyday, I was amazed how much stronger he got. "When Timmy was a brand new baby, Patrick read to him every night from his plane books. Remember you refused to call him Timmy; instead you called him Patrick's baby." "Yeah, yeah," I mumbled and pulled my finger away from baby Jaws. "We got work to do here." I thrust another stack of pictures at Amelia. It was definitely time to move on. "If I had a sister, I'd read to her all the time." "I bet you'll have a sister someday," Mum said, parting Timmy's blond hair to the side. "My mother says she's all finished with children." Amelia tucked a stray brown curl behind her ear. "But what about you? You're a child?" I pointed out. Mum shot me a death ray over Amelia's head. Guess I wasn't supposed to say that. We heard the front door open and the crinkle of plastic shopping bags. "Groceries!" Dad yelled. I jumped up and waved for Amelia to follow. The station wagon was crammed with white shopping bags. I quickly introduced Dad. He handed Amelia the bread bag. I got giant cans of creamed corn, stewed tomatoes and smushy peas. Not fair. Back in the kitchen, Dad and Mum put the groceries away while Amelia and I continued working. "Let's stick to the original plan and interview Mike," Amelia said. "Mike will be home for dinner or you can interview our oldest son, Paul," Mum offered.  Thanks, Mum. Maybe, I should have been less afraid of my brothers and more worried about Mum. "Perfect," Amelia said. She wrote MICHAEL in capitals at the very top of a clean sheet. This definitely wasn't going as I planned. "Are there any pictures of him?" she asked, staring at the box with his name on it. I slid the box towards Amelia hoping there were pictures of Mike on the potty. Amelia pulled out a few of the whole family. Every year we lined up on the stairs or in front of the Christmas tree. The pictures never seemed to change. Amelia paused at a beach picture. Mike was stomping on my sand castle and I was shouting at him. I looked like a goober, with a big white stripe down my nose, my baggy neon swim trunks, and a big goofy hat. With my milk white skin and red hair, the sun was definitely my enemy. "Where is this?" Amelia asked. "Umm.. .Hampton Beach. We went for a whole week and had our own cottage and everything." "Really?" "Yeah, it was awesome. We went swimming everyday and had big barbecues at nightrightin the sand. Mum even let us make S'mores. Have you ever stayed in a cottage?" "No, we always stay at hotels." I took back the photo. "I've never stayed at a hotel. How about an airplane? Ever gone on an airplane?" I asked. Amelia nodded. "Yeah, when I went to Hawaii." "Whoa...like Pearl Harbor, Hawaii?" I was super impressed. I spun around in my chair. "Mum, Amelia's been to Hawaii." Mum smiled. "That's nice. Are you guys ready for cake?" she asked. Mum set the biggest piece in front of Amelia. Mine was a whole lot smaller and had a bald spot; some frosting was missing. I looked for an explanation. It wasrightin front of my face. Timmy was sucking a glob; make that my glob of frosting off Mum's finger. Grr....  The cake was delicious even if Mum made it from a box and had used applesauce to make it healthier. "So, who takes all of these pictures?" Amelia held up a photo of my parents, my brothers and me. "Oh, my Aunt Peg takes them. She's cool." I lowered my voice. "She's my favorite." Amelia nodded and put her index finger over her lips. I was a bit surprised that I had confided this information to Amelia. She was pretty easy to talk to. "She's corning for dinner later. She always does. We're having turkey. It's her favorite." I pointed towards the oven. The light was on and I could make out the shadow of the turkey roasting inside. "You have turkey even when it's not Thanksgiving?" "Yeah, don't you?" "No, only on Thanksgiving, but this year we just brought in food, instead. My mum says a turkey's too much trouble for just three people." "I guess." "Are your cousins coming, too?" "Huh?" "Your Aunt Peg's kids?" "Oh, Aunt Peg doesn't have kids. She has us instead." "Hmm...." Amelia looked over at the turkey and at her wristwatch. "Maybe I should stay for dinner. That way, I could meet your Aunt Peg. Plus, we'd have more time to interview Michael." I looked over at Mum. I willed her to tell Amelia to hit the road, but instead she said, "Amelia, we'd be delighted if you stayed for dinner." "Thank you, Mrs. Manning. I just need to call my mother." Amelia was already half way to our yellow wall phone. So that was it. Amelia was staying for dinner. Now there was no avoiding Mike. Turkey was his favorite, too.  Chapter 19 As dinner got closer, Mum moved us into the den. The den was my favorite room. Not only did it have the TV, but Mum had designed it to look like a beach. The rug was a sandy color, the couches were blue, and the wallpaper was covered with lighthouses. "Okay, so who's the most powerful in your family?" Amelia asked. She opened her notebook to another white sheet. We sat in silence for a few minutes. I stared at the black TV screen. That was a tough question. Maybe the answer was Mum, especially since she almost always got her way. Like the time Dad promised to take us to the movies and instead we went to some stupid flower show just because Mum said so. "What about your family?" I asked. I was tired of talking about my family. Amelia chewed on the back of her pencil. "Well, my mum, I think. My father isn't really ever home to have power." "Where is he?" "Well...." Amelia bit her thumb nail. "Work." "My dad goes to work, too, but he's always home for dinner or baseball or if we do something bad." .. . "Oh." Amelia traced the striped pattern dn the couch with her finger tip. I wondered if Amelia ever did anything bad. Looking at her neat clothes and white sneakers, I didn't think so. "This power junk is boring." Amelia agreed. "Let'stiiinkabout some good juicy family stories instead. Mr. M always gives extra points for creativity." I raised my eyebrows and pretended to take a big bite out of a burger or whatever would be juicy - maybe a watermelon.  '••  "You know.. .like long lost cousins and rich old aunts." "Well, there was this cousin^ Edgar, I think. Every year he sends us cheese, but that's more stinky than juicy." I heard the front door swing open. "Hello," Aunt Peg called in a booming voice. "Aunt Peg," I yelled back and sprang fromthe sofa. Amelia's markers rolled all over the coffee table as I jumped up.  Aunt Peg was hanging her jacket in the closet. She picked Amelia's up off the floor. "Turkey smells good tonight, Patrick," Aunt Peg said. She raised her eyes over my shoulder. I turned around. Amelia had also come out to meet Aunt Peg. "Hello, I am Amelia Gibbons." Amelia walked closer to Aunt Peg with her arm out in front of her. "I'm Peg. Nice to meet you. Are you Patrick's friend?" Aunt Peg shook Amelia's hand. Amelia nodded. Hey, wait a minute. She wasn't a friend. She was Amelia. Amelia looked tiny next to Aunt Peg. Aunt Peg, who was a self proclaimed heavy duty beauty, dwarfed skinny minnie Amelia. "Potatoes done, Patrick?" Aunt Peg pointed towards the kitchen. I shook my head. I loved making mashed potatoes with Aunt Peg. She let me add as much butter and milk as I wanted. "Did your mother make that cake recipe I gave her?" "Well, Mum made a cake, but...." I felt a smile coming to my lips and I looked back towards the kitchen and lowered my voice. "It came from a box." Aunt Peg nodded. "Well maybe next time. Let's go see about those potatoes." We followed Aunt Peg to the kitchen. The turkey was out of the oven, the table was set, and the potatoes were already on the table. Mum definitely didn't use any butter in them. Plus, I could see the lumps all the way from the hallway. Paul was already sitting at the table. He had a bowl of canned spaghetti infrontof him. "Now, Amelia, have you met my favorite sister?" Dad asked. He placed two gallons of milk on the table. "His only sister." Aunt Peg winked at Amelia and motioned for her to take a seat. Amelia sank into the chair next to Timmy. He banged on his tray to say hello. "That puts you in range, Amelia. Timmy loves throwing stuff when he eats," Dad told her. Amelia just shrugged and smiled at Timmy. She let him hold her finger. He giggled and slobbered all over it. Amelia didn't seem to mind. Actually she seemed quite happy playing with Timmy.  Everyone but Mike and Dad finally settled into their seats. Dad went to fetch Mike. He was going to be buried in trouble up to his big floppy ears. Hopefully, he wouldn't dig himself out until after Amelia left. I stared at the turkey in the center of the table and the bowl of steaming stuffing. My stomach was staging its own rumble war as we waited. "Patrick, update us on your school project," said Aunt Peg. She passed around the milk. "Umm, now I'm writing some family stories." I felt a sharp jab in my side. Amelia cleared her throat. "Okay, we're writing some family stories." Aunt Peg nodded in Amelia's direction. Amelia beamed. Whose side was Aunt Peg on anyway? "There's plenty of stories in this family," Aunt Peg said to Amelia. "Well, it's not about this family. It's just about families." I tried to stress before any embarrassing stories started popping out. Too late. The lid was off. Aunt Peg steamrolled my protest and jumpedrightinto a story. "You were just a little guy then Patrick, but if you could have seen your face!" I looked at Amelia. She was leaning forward in her chair sucking in every word like the story was a frosty glass of soda. "So, I was cooking in my kitchen. Tuna casserole, Itiiink.Anyway, I looked out back to check on the boys. They'd been awfully quiet. With three boys that is never a good sign." I was trying to unscramble my memories. We used to play at Aunt Peg's all the time. I remembered when Mike fell out of a tree and when Paul broke Aunt Peg's bed. I didn't have too many memories of when I was a "little guy." I felt like I had been a big guy forever. "So, I looked out the window. They were digging up my backyard with their trucks and seemed okay. I went back to the casserole. About an hour later, I hollered that lunch was ready. Mike and Paul trudged up the steps dragging their mud behind them, but there was no Patrick. I asked Michael." Aunt Peg chuckled. "Remember, Paul?" She held her open palm towards Paul. "What did he say?" Paul turned red and shrugged his shoulders. "Mike said, and get this, that Patrick was a taken prisoner."  "Oh, yeah I remember this now," Paul screeched.  ,  "So, I ran to the window and there was Patrick tied to my giant maple tree with a jump rope." "Really?' Amelia looked at me and then back to Aunt Peg. "Are there any more? Stories, I mean." Mum chuckled. "Don't get Aunt Peg started. She's spilling over with stories." Yeah, great embarrassing stories about me. "How about you, Amelia? Tell us one of your family stories." "Well, sometimes.. .err...." All eyes were on Amelia. She looked as if a teacher had just caught her with the wrong answer. It was weird seeing Amelia squirm. She almost always had an answer to everything. "I've got one." I jumped in. "Once, when I was in first grade. Amelia, you weren't in my class that year. I told a dirty joke. Mum and Dad got yelled at." Amelia looked relived. Mum did not look amused. "Hey Patsy, what about when you sprayed stuff in your eyes?" Paul offered. He twirled his spaghetti around his fork. I shook my head and looked at Mum. "When you were four you accidentally sprayed glass cleaner in your eyes." Mum filled in some of the blanks. "Yeah, I held your head under water and flushed your eyes out," said Paul. That was cool of him. I blinked and stretched my eyes. I could see the brown kitchen perfectly and to think it was all because of Paul. "Oh and then there was that time when... ."Aunt Peg was interrupted by the slamming of the front door and footsteps pounding towards the kitchen.  Chapter 2 0 As soon as Mike stepped into the kitchen, Mum's radar zoomed in on the gaping hole in the knee of his pants. This was the second pair of pants he had ripped in a week. I thought Mum might explode. The idea of picking pieces of Mum out of my mashed potatoes wasn't appetizing. For the time being, Mum was biting her tongue in front of Amelia, but later Mike would definitely get punished with a capitol P. The moment Mike's bum hit his chair, I leaned across the table and grabbed the turkey fork. Dad cleared his throat. "Whoa, ladies first, Patrick." What?!? I handed the fork to Amelia. She speared one of the golden wings. It was my favorite part. Mike reached in with his grimy hands and grabbed the other. "So, Patsy how's your project coming?" Mike asked. He took a big scoop of squash. "Good," I mumbled through my mashed potatoes. They were pasty. Mum's always were. "Very good," added Amelia. "Actually, we want to interview you after dinner. If that's okay?" "Of course it's okay," answered Mum. Mike nodded. My fate was sealed. "So Amelia, how's the fourth grade so far?" Mum asked. She leaned over Timmy and wiped his face. He seemed to be the only one really enjoying the carrots. "It's okay." Amelia shrugged her shoulders and scooped some peas onto her spoon. "Mrs. Reynolds isn't a very good teacher. She can be pretty mean sometimes." "I see," said Mum with a nod. What? I'd been telling Mum the same exact thing for weeks and she never believed me! "So, Patrick, how are the birthday plans coming?" asked Aunt Peg. I shrugged my shoulders. Dad jumped in. "They're still up in the air, Peg."  I glanced at Mum. She was feeding Timmy some broccoli. He spit it out and then rubbed it in his hair. She seemed okay so far. I guess Dad had spoken with her. Go Dad! Maybe Mum wasn't the most powerful family member after all. "There are three choices. First, there's an exhibit at the museum on aviators." My ears perked up. That sounded super cool. Mike and Paul both groaned. "The museum's having a replica of Electra, Amelia Earhart's last plane," Amelia piped up. Mike and Paul still didn't look impressed. "I'm named after Amelia Earhart," she continued. "She was very brave. I could almost feel the heat of my mother's thousand watt smile. I bet she'd trade kids with Mrs. Gibbons in a heartbeat. Never mind, make that a half a heartbeat. "Now wait." Dad put his hands up infrontof him. "Or we could go on a haunted hayride up near the old Jefferson mansion or...." "Hayride! I vote hayride," shouted Mike. He drummed his thumbs on the table. "Now, it's Patrick's decision. Let him decide," said Aunt Peg. Paul added his two cents: "It's a no brainer, Dad. Dusty museum over a hayride? I don't think so." Paul reached for a second helping of string beans to mix into his spaghetti. I shifted in my seat. I kind of wanted to go to the museum, but the hayride sounded cool, too. However, did I really want to be trapped in the museum with Mike whining all day? Plus, if I picked the hayride now, later I could bargain for the museum since it was educational. I looked at Amelia. I knew she thought I should pick the museum. "But don't forget option three," Mum added. Option three? "I still think a costume party is the best idea. You can invite all your friends." Apparently Dad hadn't clued Mum in after all. Figures—he never stood up to Mum, especially not for me. "Besides it's not fair that you go to everyone else's party and then don't have the  Hmmm.. .Mum had a point. I thought about Ricky's beach bash and Camille's make your own pizza party. Was I willing to risk never being invited to another birthday party again? "Well...." I looked at Mike and Paul. "The hayride is cool, but..." I said. I still wasn't one-hundred percent sure, especially now that the thought of being barred from all birthday parties was thrown in the mix. Thanks, Mum. "All right, it's settled. Pat, how about bringing a friend?" Dad asked quickly. Amelia sat up taller and folded her hands in front of her. Did she expect me to invite her? She turned out cooler than I'd have thought, but I still wasn't ready to share my birthday with her. "Aunt Peg, do you want to come?" Dad asked. "Count me in." Wait! This was totally out of control. I still wasn't sure. Mum sighed. "I hope you don't regret this, Patrick." Me too, I thought. Dinner continued. Timmy rubbed squash on his face. Paul complained about his homework, and Mike threw carrots when Mum wasn't looking. It was a pretty normal dinner, except for Amelia and now this new party dilemma.  Chapter 21 "Name?" Amelia asked Mike. He was seated across from us at the kitchen table. Amelia asked him the basics like his name, hobbies, and favorite food. For the first time ever, Mike was actually behaving. Well sort of. He was definitely bending the truth. I knew for a fact that his favorite color wasn't pink and that he hated asparagus. I didn't care though as long as we finished our project. I started drawing a picture of Mike on my notepad. I even toned down his big ears. "Do you have a girlfriend?" Amelia asked. My ears perked up. "Of course I do." "You do?" Amelia and I asked at the same time. This was definitely ammo worth saving up for a rainy day. I leaned forward in my chair. My pencil was now in note-taking position. "What's her name?" Amelia fired. Cool. Amelia was aiding my mission. Mike smiled. His braces glinted in the overhead light. "Birgita," he said. "Birgita," Amelia said through clenched teeth. "Birgita?" she asked again. This time she looked a little more hopeful. "Yup, we go back a long time." Mike rocked back in his chair. He laced his fingers together behind his head. "How far back?" Amelia asked. "Oh, I don't know years, months, minutes. It's hard to tell when you are in...," Mike leaned in and whispered, "1-o-v-e." Amelia and I stared at Mike. A smile sprawled across his face. "So will you marry what's her name?" Amelia asked. She was digging the tip of her pencil into her notebook. It had torn through the page. Married? What? Like with babies and everything? "Sure, yeah me and Bridget. Any day now." I wrote married on my sheet in big letters. I underlined it twice. "Bridget? Don't you mean Birgita?" Amelia asked. She flipped her pencil to the eraser side.  The tips of Mike's ears turned red. "Err... yeah." "Mmmhmm." Amelia hummed and rolled her eyes. "Okay, that's all for now. Thank you," Amelia said. She stood up quickly and offered Mike her hand. Wait, what was she doing? I had millions of questions, especially about this B-girl and she was handing him his walking papers. "But Amelia, you didn't even ask about..." "I'm going to catch some tube," Mike said and snuck away. "We're done, Patrick. We might as well have interviewed Timmy instead of that liar." Amelia huffed and closed her notebook. "I should go." "What's the big deal? It doesn't matter if he tells the truth about some girl. It's just a make believe project. I mean who really cares if he has a girlfriend?" Amelia bit along the edge of her thumbnail. "I need to go." I pointed at the phone. Why was she being such a weirdo? Everything was okay, until Mike let out the whopper that he had a girlfriend. Wait a minute. Could she? Did she? No, she couldn't have a crush on Mike. He was a brace face loser. I thought back to Amelia turning bright red at the mention of Mike's name, her wanting to see more pictures with Mike, and then her detennination to interview Mike. Oh brother! "My nanny's coming in ten minutes." I nodded. Amelia's face was wobbling between a deep frown and a fake smile. And all because of Mike! I wondered if I should tell her that he sucked his thumb until he was nine or that he pulls out his eyebrows when he's nervous. "Hey, Amelia?" "Hay is for horses," she said. I neighed. Amelia let a small smile slip onto her lips. Mum came into the kitchen with Timmy. He was asleep on her shoulder. "Do you need a ride, Amelia?" Mum asked in a whisper. "No thanks. My nanny is coming." "Oh, babysitters. Lately no one wants to watch these little monsters." Mum patted my head. "My nanny watches me almost everyday or when my parents go on business trips." "Do they bring you back stuff?" I asked. Once Mum and Dad went to Chicago for Dad's work and they brought us home baseball caps.  "Sometimes," Amelia said looking at thefloor.She stood with her feet in a perfect V. We all stood there in silence for a moment. Then I had an idea. "I'll be right back." I dashed upstairs to my bedroom. I grabbed my favorite pilot book off the bookshelf. There was a section on Amelia Earhart. Maybe that would cheer her up. If not I'd tell her about the time I "accidentally" spilled lemonade on Mike's baseball cards. When I got downstairs, Amelia's babysitter was at the door. Mum was trying to convince her to watch us. We would be a rude awakening after watching Amelia. I handed Amelia the book. "You can give it back on Monday," I said. Amelia smiled at thefighterjet on the cover. She tucked the book under her arm, turned, and left with a wave. After she left, I checked the rest of my books for information on Amelia Earhart, but I couldn't focus. Instead, I kept thinking about Amelia—my Amelia. How could she like Mike? He was mean and nasty. Plus, he drooled in his sleep. Perhaps his damp pillow would be worthwhile mentioning in our project. Not that I like Amelia, but she wasn't such a bad person. As I was thinking, I heard Timmy heading towards me. He was getting so big and seemed to crawl everywhere. Timmy propped himself up on the side of the couch. "Come here, you sack of potatoes," I said and lifted him into my lap. He giggled and tried to grab my nose. I pulled my head back and tapped his tiny nose instead. "Got your nose, Timmy." Timmy grabbed at my hand. Obviously, he wanted his nose back, but was soon distracted by Grampa's book. "Oh, no you don't," I said thinking about Timmy's appetite for library books. I lifted it out of Timmy's reach and started to read to him. He pointed at the pictures and clapped. Soon Timmy leaned back and twisted hisfingerin his short blond curls. He was warm in my lap and smelled like baby powder. His breath whistled through his nose. Having a baby brother was okay. Amelia didn't seem so happy not having any brothers or sisters. Not even an older one. Maybe I could loan her Timmy, but not for too long.  Chapter 22 "Patrick, go get ready. We're heading to the mall for some new jeans." Mum said, as I handed her my cereal bowl. How did she know about the jeans? Maybe she did have eyes in the back of her head. At the top of the stairs, Mike was waiting for Paul to finish in the bathroom. Since he started high school, he seemed to stay in there forever putting gel in his hair and popping zits. "Hey, lover boy," I sang as I walked past Mike. I ducked, fully anticipating an attack. I cringed, but nothing came. Not even a poke in the stomach. "What can I say, Patsy? I have a way with the ladies." He ran his hand through his blond hair and tried to look cool by leaning against the wall. He just looked dumb. I couldn't help myself. I laughed right in Mike's brace face. "Hey, Chubster, your girlfriend didn't think I was funny." I jumped at Mike. His bony elbow caught me in the ribs. "Is she coming on Dad's haunted hay ride with us?" "Shut up, will ya," I shouted and lunged at Mike's knees. Glug glug. The toilet flushed. Paul barged past us and slammed the bedroom door. He'd been so moody lately. He never seemed to come out of the bathroom. Mike slipped into the bathroom locking the door behind him. He was singing and running the faucet. "Hey Patsy, I think there's a leak in here. All that running water. Kind of makes you have to pee doesn't it?" I headed to my bedroom before I really did have to go. Buzz The doorbell rang. I clomped down the steps to investigate. It was Amelia and her babysitter. "Forget something?" I asked. "Actually, Amelia wants to invite you to the pilot exhibit at the museum. The Gibbons are members," Mum said with the big Mum-in-front-of-company smile. I looked quickly at Amelia and then at Mum. "Can I go?" I asked. If she said no I was ready to make a run for it and jump into the Gibbons' tiny car through the sun roof.  "Of course, but you'll need want to change out of your pjs." I looked down at the red flying saucers and blue Martians on my pants. Oops, I didn't really mind. It was only Amelia after all and apparently she only had eyes for Mike. In a flash, I raced upstairs to change. I sucked in my stomach and wiggled into my jeans. I threw on a big sweatshirt to hide my belly and raced downstairs. Mum handed me a wrinkled ten-dollar bill. "Save your change for lunch," she hollered after me as I slid onto the cool leather car seat. However, I had other plans that mostly involved the gift shop. Thanks to the Gibbons' membership, we walked into the museum as if we owned the place. It was awesome. I'd only been to the science museum once on a field trip. My family almost never went to places like this. It was too expensive with the six of us. Amelia led me and her babysitter quickly towards the pilot exhibit. We passed a booming lightening display, a snarling T-Rex, and even a wave tank with starfish and shells. I wished she'd slow down. When we got to the special exhibit hall there was a line wrapped around ropes and poles. It was like we were a giant people snake. I hoped the babysitter would wave the magic membership card again. She didn't, and we had to wait. The line moved quickly though and soon we were in. The exhibit was in a long room crowded with lots of kids and parents. Maps and charts lined the walls. There were also tall glass cases filled with flight suits, military medals, and one case even had a piece of the wing of Discovery, a space shuttle. Plus they had an interactive exhibit. If you wanted to wait in the super long line you could sit inside a cockpit and try out hundreds of blinking buttons and silver levers. Most people, including Amelia, were crowded at the end of the exhibit hall checking out a scale model of Amelia Earhart's plane, Electra. I edged my way to the front and stood next to Amelia. She looked like she wanted to step right over the ropes and climb into the silver cockpit. Amelia was trying to draw the plane in her notebook. It wasn't coming out well. "Let me try," I said pointing at her pencil. I hoped she hadn't been chewing the end of it lately.  She glanced back at the plane and then at her drawing. She handed me the notebook with a weak smile. I gave it my best shot but it was a lot tougher to draw than I ;  thought. I was used to drawing planes from my imagination or from library books, but that was nothing like seeing the real thing so up close. As I drew, Ameliafilledme in on a whole bunch of facts like Amelia Earhart being thefirstwomen to fly alone across the Atlantic in 1928, her friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt, and all about her last attempt to fly around the world. After a few minutes, I gave up. My drawing looked more like a bus than an airplane. We both checked out the rest of the exhibit. The Electra was by far the best part. As we neared the exit, Amelia's babysitter appeared and we headed to the snack bar for a quick lunch. Thankfully the babysitter paid for our burgers and fries and then we set off for the gift shop. The gift shop was crammed with cool stuff like shark teeth, polished rocks, and even a volcano that really erupted, but I was more interested in the aviator section. I picked up an Electra model kit. $22.50 - whoa. I quickly returned it to the shelf. I crumpled the ten-dollar bill in my pocket. Amelia came over checked out the model I was looking at. "Cool huh," she said holding up the package. "Yeah, it's awesome. Check this out." I took the box and flipped it over to show her the decals it included. "I have a few modelfightershanging in my room, but they're not as cool." "Are you going to get it?" she asked. "I'm getting this." Amelia was holding a thick book about women aviators. "Nah." I put the model back on the shelf. "I'm all set." Ten minutes later we were buckled into our seats and heading home. The museum was awesome and even Amelia was pretty cool. Maybe I should ask her to come on the birthday hayride—everyone else was going to be at Jacob's party anyway. I looked over at Amelia. She was already buried in her new book. "Hey, Amelia:" Amelia looked up and put her finger on a spot in the book. "Um.. .would you like to come on the haunted hayridewith my family?"  Amelia smiled. "Yeah." "Well, I mean if you're not going to Jacob's party or somewhere else." "Yeah," she said. "Yeah, what?" "I'd like to go." "Cool. Ummm.. .my family is planning on dressing up. Mum's making us," I lied. I really wanted everyone to dress up, but I threw Mum in there just in case Amelia thought that dressing-up was for weenies. "That sounds cool. I'm going to be Amelia Earhart for Halloween so I'll just wear that costume." She held up a smiling picture of Amelia Earhart. "What about you?" A smiling image of a plump pumpkin flashed through my head.  Chapter 23 "Hey, Mum, I'm home." I burst through the front door and headed for the kitchen. Mum was sewing Timmy's pumpkin costume. "How was it?" Mum mumbled. She had pins sticking out her mouth. "Cool. We cut all the lines. Our family should be members, too." "Did you thank Amelia and her babysitter?" I nodded and peered into the refrigerator. "Is there anything to eat?" The shelves, covered with yogurt cups, leftovers, and cut-up fruit, definitely didn't count as something to eat. I grabbed a granola bar from the counter. "I asked Amelia to come on my birthday hayride." As the words flew out of my mouth, I saw the box of invitations on the table. Oh boy.. .It was going to be a showdown. I gulped. "About the hayride..." Mum began. Man your battle stations! "You should really consider having a party. It's something that you will always remember." Just like last year, I'll always remember that everyone ditched my party. "But Mum, what if it's like last year? Plus, I can't even have it on my real birthday." "Oh, Pumpkin." I narrowed my eyes at her. "Patrick, I mean. It won't happen again. Last year was a mistake." "But what if...." "Patrick, there won't be a what if. We'll have the boys RSVP and I'll talk to their mothers." Great—so now everyone will think I'm a mega-geek. "Come on it'll be fun. I bought lots of candy on sale and you guys can have the run of the house." Ought oh - you guys. You guys didn't necessarily include Amelia. "What about Amelia? She can't come to the party with all of those boys."  "Well Patrick, if you asked her to come on the hayride then you need to invite her to your party, too. Besides, she'll know the boys from your class." "I guess," I mumbled. Mum put down her sewing and peered over her glasses. "By the way, I'm starting your costume. I might have to pick up some more fabric, though. This little bit isn't going to cut it." Mum held up a big square of orange felt. Wait a minute. She was still pushing that pumpkin idea. "No! I'm not being a pumpkin. I want to be a pilot." As if surrendering to the party wasn't bad enough, I definitely wasn't going to be a pumpkin. Mike walked into the kitchen. "Oh come on, Patty Pumpkin. No pumpkin costume for you this year?" I pursed my lips and shook my head. Knowing Mum's tendency to lean towards theme costumes, I asked Mike, "What are you going to be?" "Me?" Mike pointed at his chest. "Dressing up is for little kids." I looked at Mum. Why wasn't she saying anything? "You mean not even for the hayride and what about the candy on Halloween?" "Get over it. I'm an adult now." "But Mum, I don't want to be the only one dressed up." I took a bite out of my granola bar. It was oatmeal raisin—yuck. Mum was giving Mike the evil eye. "What?" Mike responded to Mum's look. "I'm in middle school now." "Well, Paul's dressing up," Mum said. She tore the orange thread between her teeth. "What's Paul doing?" asked Paul, entering the kitchen. Mum didn't look so happy to see Paul. "Dressing up," Mike said with a smug grin. Paul frowned and was about to argue. Then he saw Mum's face and realized he would be smarter to keep quiet. Mike stomped his feet. "Well I'm not dressing up and you can't make me." "What are you, five years old?" Paul pointed at Mike's thrust out chin and his arms crossed over his chest.  "It's just not cool," Mike answered and stormed up the stairs. "If they're not dressing up then neither am I, especially not as a pumpkin." "But Patrick, I've already made Timmy's costume. Plus we have been over this. A pilot is just plain boring." Mum went back to her sewing. "Well it might be boring, but at least it's not stupid." I put my hands on my hips and thrust out my chest. "Patrick, go to your room before there is no party or costume to worry about." I stomped up the stairs. Later that night, I brought my pilot book down to dinner. It was opened to a page of flight suits. I left it on Mum's chair.  Chapter 24 The next morning the shoe box of birthday invitations was at the foot of my bed. Mum had neatly written kindly respond by October 24 and our phone number across the bottom. Hopefully, that would do the trick and I would find myself swimming in cool presents and with a party full of kids. If not it would be a repeat defeat and I'd be celebrating along—again. Oh man... I left for school early that morning to sneak the invitations into the boys' desks. When I arrived at the classroom, Mr. M was stringing white cobwebs across the windows. He had already hung up cardboard tombstones, paper skeletons, and placed a few pumpkins around the room. "Quite the early bird today, Pat," he said from his ladder. "Gotta get that worm, Mr. M." Mr. M laughed and stepped down. "What are you up to?" I felt red creep into my cheeks. "Passing out my invitations, that's all." "Let me see." I handed the top invitation over to Mr. M. He rubbed the fuzzy pumpkins with his thumb. "Maybe you should do the room decorations." I shrugged. He handed me back the invitation and I started passing out my invitations. I still wasn't sure what to do about Amelia. Later that morning in the coat closet Jacob asked, "Hey, Pat are you coming to my birthday party?" I hung my bag on its peg and slipped out of my coat. "Pat?" Jacob elbowed me. "Uh.. .no I have to go.. .to go out with my family that day." Jacob just shrugged and walked away. He didn't care and he wouldn't miss my book. Mum always made us give books as presents, which was cool for me or someone like Amelia, but not too cool for everyone else. I'd thought a lot about Jacob's party. Of course I could go, but I didn't want to celebrate Jacob's fake birthday on my real day. I plopped down in my seat next to Amelia. "Good morning," she said. "Hi," I grunted and fiddled with the silver spiral on the side of my notebook. Her invitation was tucked in the front cover.  When I looked up, Ricky was standing in front of my desk. "Hey Patrick." Ricky approached my desk with his hands in his pockets. "I can't go to your party. I have a soccer tournament that day. Sorry." "Oh, ah, yeah no problem." A vision of me breaking my birthday pinata all by myself rushed through my head. "Party?" Amelia asked. Oh brother. "Ah, yeah..." "A party and the hay ride?" "Hey Pat, we can't make it either. We're all on the soccer team." Jay said. He, Ricky, Evan, Jimmy, and Steven were all standing together. "No biggie." Six down, but that still left five other boys in the class who hopefully could make it to the party. "Wow, Pat, how did you pull off the hayride and the party?" "Umm.. .yeah so I decided to have a party after all, which means the hayride is cancelled. So...." Oh please just get the hint. "So?" Amelia tucked her hair behind her ear. "Here." I pulled out Amelia's invitation and quickly slid it onto her desk. "Cool," she said flipping it over in her hands and then tucking it into her notebook. "By the way, we need tofinishour project soon. It's due Friday. Can I come over again?" "Umm.. .let's go to your house instead." Amelia rolled her pencil between her fingers. "I guess...."  Chapter 25 In her front hall, Amelia lined her sneakers up next to a straight row of high heels, boat shoes, and her babysitter's beat-up high tops. I copied her and followed her into her house. I hoped she wouldn't notice that one of my socks had a gold toe and the other didn't. "The carpets," she said. "Huh?" "We have to take our shoes off because of my mother's carpets. They're egg shell." Amelia pointed at the floor. "Oh." I looked down at the rug. It looked just plain white to me. We set up our stuff in the family room. If my family room looked like a Cape Cod beach, Amelia's family room looked like the North Pole. Everything was white and gray, including the leather sofa, coffee table, and curtains. "So we're almost finished." Amelia pulled her notebook out of her backpack. The cover was starting to fall off. "We just need to add some pictures to our poster. Plus, do you mind if we use your aunt's story? You know the one about you and the tree." "Nah, I don't mind." "Didn't think so." Amelia swung open a large cabinet and revealed a mammoth computer monitor. At my house we had a computer, but it was old and not nearly as big. She bumped the mouse and the screen blinked to life. "Hello, Amelia," said an electronic voice. Neat! My computer just barely ran forget about saying hello. Amelia clicked her way to the story. "I'll just print it." As the printer spit out our project, Amelia asked, "How are the birthday plans coming?" I shrugged. My party was the last thing I wanted to talk about. It turned out that most of the boys in my class played soccer. When Mum found out she called everyone's mother and rescheduled the party so the soccer players could come for at least the beginning. So in a compromise, eight of my party guests would be leaving early for a soccer tournament, two had family plans, and the remaining Teddy Hodges hadn't yet  been reached for a comment. Really the only kid attending for the duration was Amelia. Mike and Paul were never going to let me live it down. The whoosh of the front door closing cut into my thoughts. "No, that won't do. Reschedule my ten o'clock and tell the noon appointment that they will have to wait." A tall woman entered the room yakking into her cell phone. She flipped her phone shut with one hand and propped thick black sunglasses on her head with the other. She didn't look like a mum or at least like my mum. "Well, I thought I saw an extra pair of shoes out there. I'm Mrs. Gibbons, but please call me Mrs. G. What is your name?" "Patrick," I said and curled my toes. I didn't think the Gibbons family ever worn mismatched socks. "Please make yourself at home." I took a sweeping glance around the ice palace. "Thanks," I mumbled remembering my manners. Amelia had turned back to the computer. "Will you join us for dinner? I'm ordering pizza," Amelia's mum said. Pizza! I couldn't say no to pizza, especially since pork chops were defrosting in my fridge. "Yes, pl...." The jingle of her tiny cell phone cut off my second attempt to be polite. "Do I have to do everything myself?" Mrs. Gibbons launched into conversation and walked quickly into the next room. I joined Amelia at the computer. She was playing solitaire. I pointed at the seven of clubs that she kept missing. Amelia clicked her mouse and the game disappeared. "You don't have to stay for dinner if you don't want to." Amelia turned towards me. "Turn down pizza?" Amelia shrugged and started to pull magazines off one of the tall bookshelves. She dumped them on the coffee table. What was her problem? "Let's use these for the rest of the pictures we need." "Can't we just use your albums?" I pointed to the line of black leather spines on the top shelf of the bookcase.  Amelia shook her head. "I bet if you just asked your mum it would be...." "No," she said in aflatvoice. I wasn't going to argue, and started to leaf through a business magazine. Amelia was already snipping away and soon the white table top was covered with pictures of smiling kids, station wagons, people hugging, and dogs playing in backyards. Next she started to glue them all over the poster board. "How about working on the lettering?" Amelia handed me a pack of markers. Using every color in the pack, I wrote Project: Family in thick letters at the top of the poster. It looked pretty cool and I was glad to be finished with the project. Working with Amelia hadn't been bad. It was just the other kids that were unbearable. I was not looking forward to our final presentation. Amelia's babysitter poked her head around the corner. "Dinner." I followed Amelia to the dining room, which was also decorated in white, except for the long dining table. It was all glass and metal. I sat next to the two steaming pizza boxes. I watched my toes wiggle through the glass table top. The babysitter carried in three white plates, napkins, and glasses of green frothy juice. "Your mother ran back to work, Amelia. She said to eat without her." "What's new," muttered Amelia. She reached for the pizza box and popped open the lid. Something that wasn't quite pizza was staring back at us. Where was the sauce? Where was the cheese? There wasn't even any pepperoni! Instead there was some lumpy white sauce and funky looking vegetables. I think I recognized broccoli, but I wasn't too sure. Gross.... At least my family knew how to order pizza. Plus what was that green junk in my glass? Amelia grabbed a slice and started munching. I followed her lead. After a few bites, I knew it was a poor excuse for pizza, but I was still hungry. I was about to reach for another slice when I wondered if there'd be enough for her parents later. "When will your dad come home?" The babysitter cleared her throat and looked down at her jean-covered knees through the table.  "My dad's not coming home." "He's on a business trip?" I reached for another slice without any guilt. "No, he moved.. .to be closer to work." Ameliarippedoff a piece of crust and stuffed it between her molars. "Oh," I mumbled through my bite of pizza. Her dad being MIA was a surprise and one Amelia didn't look comfortable sharing. I wondered what it would be like if my dad moved closer to his job. He'd finally stop grumbling about traffic, but then again he wouldn't be able to help build model planes or to drive me to school. Nah, an on-duty dad didn't seem like a bad thing at all.  Chapter 26 "Are you sure you have everything? Do you want me to come pick it up? Will it get wrinkled on the way there?" Amelia asked. "Yes, no, maybe," I answered. This was Amelia's third telephone call on the day our project was due. She really needed to relax. Project: Family looked awesome, from its freshly glued family photos to Amelia's thick typed report. Plus Dad was driving me to school to avoid any threat of fire, flood, or wrinkle. I carried the poster infrontof me as I walked across the school yard, being extra careful not to hurt it in any way. Half-way across the yard someone yelled, "Patrick!" A ratty tennis ball was bouncingrightat me. I let go of one side of the poster and caught the ball. At that second the wind tore the posterfrommy hands. Itflewtowards the chain link fence. "Aghh!" I dropped the ball and ran to rescue the poster, but I was too late. The wind hadrippedthe new pictures off leaving obvious bald spots in the middle of the poster. What was I going to do? I carried the poster back to Dad. He was chatting about last week's baseball game. I held up the mangled poster. "What happened?" "The wind. It blew off the pictures." I pointed towards the row of buses idling in their fumes. "A few went under the bus. What do I do?" "Well, just explain to Mrs. Reynolds what happened. It'll be fine. You and Amelia worked really hard. Plus you still have your report." Dad obviously didn't know Mrs. Reynolds. She wasn't going to accept my explanation and neither was Amelia. "But, Dad could you get a few more picturesfromhome, please." I pointed to the gaping white spots where the photos were. "Alright, I'll drop off the pictures in about an hour, okay?" "Thanks, Dad." I crossed my fingers that he would pull through this time. As I walked away I heard him restart his baseball conversation. What was he doing? Couldn't he see I needed the pictures now.  I rolled the poster into a long tube and left it in the coatroom. It was way past the wrinkle stage. Hopefully we would be presenting later, much later. Upon entering the classroom, I triggered the Amelia sensor. "Where's the poster?" she asked immediately. "Oh.. .ah.. in the coat room. I don't want everyone to know that we have the best one just yet," I said blocking her view of the coatroom, as if she could see through the wall or something. "The competition's stiff. Have you checked out the project on the police or even the one on nurses? Pretty cool...." I glanced over at the other projects. They were stiff competition, especially since our project looked like it had just eaten breakfast with a very hungry pit bull. Throughout morning announcements, I checked the sweeping hands of the clock every twenty seconds. What was taking so long? Come on, Dad. Finally, the loud speaker crackled. "Patrick Manning, please report to the main office, thank you." I skidded into the main office and picked up the envelope from Ms. Shreve. I pulled out the pictures. There was a shot of me reading to Timmy, another of my whole family crowded around the Christmas tree, and one of me and Aunt Peg mashing potatoes. Plus he had stuck a roll of tape in the envelope. Way to go, Dad! I hustled back to the classroom. The groups were assembling. Amelia was pacing around her desk. An extra copy of the report was on her desk. "Two seconds, okay," I said and headed towards the coat closet. Thankfully no one noticed me slip out. I quickly taped the pictures to the poster and leaned it against the door frame just outside the coatroom. I popped back to my seat just before Rose and Susan began their presentation on nurses. Amelia wasright.They did a good job. "Who's up next," asked Mr. M. Amelia's hand shot into the air. I grabbed the poster and secured it to the board with four super strength magnets. "Project: family," began Amelia, but she didn't get any further because Stephanie Miller let out a room rattling burp. "Mr. M, I don't feel well," said Stephanie cradling her stomach.  Mr. M sprang into action. "Allright,I'll berightback. Everyone check out your friends projects." He led a green-tinted Stephanie to the nurse's office. "Quietly!" Mrs. Reynolds insisted looking up from her desk. The class began milling around the room asking questions and bragging about their own projects. "Where are your photos, Amelia? Don't you have a family?" Jacob asked and leaned closer to our poster. Amelia looked at the floor. "She has a family, Jerk Face," I said and clenched my fists. "Oh, yeah I forgot. You guys are a couple. So she has a nice BIG happy family." Jacob puffed out his cheeks. Weak laughs sprinkled around the classroom. I took a step forward. Amelia didn't deserve this, especially not from Jacob, the Birthday Bandit. "Very funny, Jacob," Amelia said, her voice tight and high. "Almost as funny as when you peed in the sandbox and blamed it on the kindergartners." Laughter erupted around the classroom. Way to go, Amelia!  Chapter 27 "Patrick, your costume's on your bed," Mum said from the stove. She had been chopping, baking and, from the smell of it, burning food all morning for my birthday party. I grunted and grabbed a handful of cherry tomatoes off the veggie platter. I loved the way they burst on my tongue when I crushed them. I wasn't in a hurry to try on my Patty Pumpkin costume. Despite all my protests, Mum had held firm. "Well...." Mum pointed towards the stairs with a big dopey grin. I think she was actually enjoying the torture. Dressing up your already fat kid like a big orange pumpkin must be against the law somewhere. I climbed the steps, stomping all the way to the top. Visions of a round orange belly and a big green stem hat invaded my thoughts. Timmy was sleeping peacefully in his crib. I peered over the wooden rail. Obviously he didn't realize that he was about to turn into a stupid pumpkin. Finally, I turned to face the music, but instead of bright orange pumpkin suit there was something else. Something completely different. It was perfect. Mum had made me a flight suit—a real flight suit with patches on the sleeves and my name in black across the chest. She'd even bought me a pair of black and silver sunglasses like the pilots wear in the movies. I slipped them on. I was cool and I was nine. As I winked at myself in the mirror, I caught sight of Mum. She was still smiling and standing in the doorway. She stepped forward and flipped up my collar. "But what about the pumpkin?" I asked feeling a bit guilty. "Well, you'll always be my Patty Pumpkin, but I realize you're growing up. You have your own ideas and even though you'd make a great pumpkin...." Mum sighed. I rolled my eyes and gave her a quick hug. "Thanks, Mum," I mumbled. "You're welcome, Pumpkin. Now let's head down to that party." I started to follow Mum, when something shiny glinted on Mike's bed. It was a pair of sunglasses just like mine and under them was a flight suit. I looked quickly to Paul's bed and saw another matching suit. "Them too?" I pointed at Mike's bed.  Mum nodded. "You know I can't resist theme costumes." But will Mike and Paul resist them, I wondered.  Chapter 28 "He fakes left, spins right, and he scores!" Steven threw his hands in the air as he dribbled an imaginary soccer ball around his teammates. They were all huddled around the bowls of chips and pretzels wearing their blue and white uniforms. I intercepted bits and pieces of their conversation about corner kicks and an off-side rule. I'd always wanted to play soccer, but never got the chance. Dad was into baseball and since he was the coach we played for free. With my parents there was definitely no way to argue with "free." Only Amelia and I were really dressed-up. She looked just like her hero with oldfashioned goggles and a white scarf tied around her neck. Her brown jacket was also covered in aviator patches. Amelia was hanging out with Timmy and keeping a low profile. I propped my sunglasses on my head and headed over to the soccer circle. "Remember that game against Middlebury?" Ricky asked the group. They erupted into a series of "yeahs," high fives, and a loud declaration from Frank that their team had in fact "creamed 'em." "Cream? Did someone say ice cream?" I asked rubbing my belly. A few people in the group laughed. It was a bad joke, but it worked and I stepped into the circle. Everyone wished me a happy birthday and then returned to soccer strategy. Tharikfully at that point, Mike and Paul clomped down the stairs. They were both decked out as pilots. I looked over at Mum. She winked at me. "Hey Patsy, happy birthday," Mike said. He lowered his shades and headed for the snack table to grab a handful of chips. Thanks, Mike. Soon Mum started passing around her famous fried chicken, which she somehow made in the oven. I took a drumstick and nudged a wing onto Amelia's plate. She reached for seconds as the platter passed by her. We hurried through the chicken and fixings so that the soccer players could head to their game, but before we could cut the cake Ricky's mum was beeping outside. "How rude," Amelia said as Ricky's minivan pulled away. "I hope they get fried chicken cramps."  I nodded. It was a jerk thing to do, but at least kids came this year even if they did only bring one big present between all of them. In a few minutes, Mum stepped out of the kitchen carrying a chocolate cake topped with ten burning candles. She started singing Happy Birthday and everyone joined in. As we began digging into the cake, everyone stopped talking. There were no yums or mmmhhm noises just silence. The cake was gross. "Oh dear, maybe it was the sugar substitute," Mum said digging her fork into her piece as if she would find the rotten ingredient. "Or could it be the egg substitute?" I began to wonder if there was anything real inside my birthday cake. "Mum this is awful." Mike planted his fork into his slice and slid his plate on the table. "It's done." "I see you still haven't gotten around to my cake recipe. How about some presents then?" Aunt Peg suggested. Irippedinto the colorful wrapping. Aunt Peg got me binoculars. Mum and Dad bought me two new pairs of jeans and a World War II history book. The soccer players had bought me a video game, which would have been cool if our old dinosaur of a game system could play it. Mum said we'd return it later despite Paul and Mike's protests that it was definitely time for a new game system. I saved Amelia's present for last. It was a small package with a bright blue ribbon. Irippedinto the wrapping and uncovered the model plane kit I had been checking out at the museum. Awesome! "Thanks, Amelia," I said,flippingopen the box top. I saw Mike smile. An insult was on the tip of his tongue, but being my birthday he swallowed it with a big sip of juice. It was probably the best present he could give. Amelia was avoiding Mike. She didn't even say hello. Instead, she tried to talk to Timmy a lot. Timmy gurgled and spluttered back at her, which usually meant he liked her. After we finished, Mum lined us up for pictures. She and Aunt Peg took a million. When they were finished I could seeflashingspots in front of my eyes. "I've got an idea," said Aunt Peg. "We're all dressed up with no place to go. How about we head out for some ice cream?" Mum and Dad exchanged glances. "My treat," added Aunt Peg.  Mike and Paul were already heading for the door. Amelia and I weren't too far behind.  Chapter 29 "We are seven and one high chair." Dad told the hostess at the Scooper Bowl. "Right this way." The hostess handed Dad a stack of menus and led us deep into the back of the ice cream parlor. On the way we passed families and a few teenagers devouring ice cream cones. Paul and Mike had their shades firmly over their eyes as we passed a table of giggling girls. The waitress sat us in a huge clamshell-shaped booth made out of red vinyl, the kind your legs would stick to in the summer. Thankfully for my brothers we were far away from the "gigglers." We all slid in. I sat in the center between Amelia and Paul. "What'11 it be," asked the server. He pulled a pencil out from behind his ear. We all turned to Aunt Peg. "How about one of those Belly Bumpers?" "Belly Buster, Aunt Peg, Belly Buster," Paul corrected her. "Yeah, we'd like one of those with the works. We're celebrating a birthday tonight—a ninth birthday." Aunt Peg raised her eyebrows. My very own Belly Buster! She remembered. Thanks, Aunt Peg. "Coming right up." The waiter retucked his pencil and headed towards the kitchen. "Have you ever been here?" I asked Amelia. Amelia shook her head. "No, but it's cool. Look at all the memorabilia." She pointed over to a juke box, an old Red Sox pennant, and a rusty unicycle hanging from the ceiling. I nodded and pointed in the direction of the brown old fashioned movie posters. They were my favorite. "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls behold the Belly Buster!" shouted a scooper from on top of the front counter. The whole place started clapping as the Belly Buster entered the room on a stretcher carried by four waiters. It was an extra large Belly Buster. The waiters buzzed around the restaurant blowing whistles, banging a gong, and tinging a tiny silver triangle. When they got to our table the scoopers broke into Happy Birthday. Soon the whole place joined in. Even my brothers were getting into it. Perhaps this wasn't turning into a bad birthday after all.  The waiters set the Belly Buster on the table in front of me. I leaned in with my spoon to scoop a frothy white cloud of whip cream. "Wait," broke in Mum, "we need a family picture." "Just push the red button." Aunt Peg handed the scooper her camera. We all crowded in close around the Belly Buster, except for Amelia. She was leaning back and hiding behind Paul's fat melon head. "Amelia," Iflailedmy arm to get her attention. "Get in." "It's a family picture, Pat. I'd ruin it." I pulled her forward into the picture. "One, Two, Three...," counted off the waiter. "Cheese," my family and oh yeah, Amelia yelled.  (Insert a family photo with Amelia)  Epilogue So even though I didn't have piano-playing friends, older friends^ or even a best friend, I did have Amelia and my brothers and maybe that wasn't so bad—really. It was just something a little bit different altogether and that was alright with me.  


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