Wish Upon a SleepoverSuzanne Selfors
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For my mom, Marilyn, who helped me plan the best sleepover ever: pajamas, waffles at noon, and a trail of riddles that led to buried treasure. Thanks, Mom!
There is a famous story about people working together to take something quite humble and turn it into something quite extraordinary. Best known as “Stone Soup,” the story has traveled the globe, from the terraced mountains of China, through the bustling cities of Northern Europe, to the sun-dappled islands of the Pacific. Across continents and oceans, the story has flown, and wherever it touches down, that culture makes it their own.
But this particular version has never been told until now.
The Boy Who Is So Very Rude
I don’t like the boy on the third floor.
Actually, I hate him.
I know hate is an ugly word, and I tried really hard not to feel that way, but sometimes feelings can’t be helped. Last week, Tutu told me that bad feelings are like pimples, and when they pop up, you can squeeze out the toxins, or you can cover them and pretend they don’t exist.
“Are those my only choices?” I asked.
She nodded in her very wise Tutu way.
“Just stay away from him,” Mom said.
“But there’s only one elevator, and that’s where I keep seeing him.”
“Then take the stairs.”
“Why should I take the stairs? I’ve lived here longer.” It was a matter of seniority. Plus, walking up six flights was not something I wanted to add to my daily routine. I was already incredibly busy spying on the Haileys.
There are six Haileys at my school. Hailey, spelled with an I. Haighley, spelled with a GH. Hayley, spelled with a Y. Heyley, spelled with an EY. Heeyley, spelled with three E’s. And the most confusing of all, Heighleigh, spelled with two E’s, two I’s, and two GH’s.
My name is Leilani. It’s a Hawaiian name that means “heavenly flowers.” Tutu’s real name is also Leilani, but we call her Tutu because it means “grandparent” in Hawaiian. She’s actually my great-grandmother, but she doesn’t like being reminded of that fact because it makes her feel old. Tutu’s from Hawaii, but now she lives with us in Seattle. She grew up on Kauai, the garden island. I visited Kauai when I was a baby, but I don’t remember the trip. Mom and I haven’t been back since my dad died. I was a baby then, too.
Tutu and Mom are full Hawaiian, but I’m hapa haole, which means “part.” My mom and my dad both grew up in Seattle, and that was where they met. Mom’s name is Alani, which means “orange tree.” My dad’s name was Conrad, which is an old Germanic name that means “bold.” I know the definitions of everyone’s name because I bought a book of names from the dollar bin at the public library. I looked up each different spelling for Hailey, and no matter how you spell it, it always means the same thing—“a hayfield.”
The reason I spy on the Haileys is because I want to join their group. It’s my goal for sixth grade. It won’t be an easy feat. The Haileys are like an exclusive club that you have to be invited to join. They’re super popular, and even though I haven’t spoken much to any of them, they all seem nice. And they’re always having fun. At some point in first grade, their names brought them together, and they’ve been inseparable best friends ever since. If I lived in Hawaii, there’d probably be more Leilanis at my school, and maybe we’d all be friends. That would be great.
At lunch, the Haileys sit at the big round table and swap food. At break they hang out in the concrete tunnel and share secrets. And after school, they wave good-bye and blow kisses and promise to call one another if anything exciting happens on the ride home.
The most exciting thing that happened to me on my ride home was when my bus driver got an attack of acid reflux and had to pull over. We thought she was going to barf, but all she did was burp super loud a whole bunch of times. I tried using acid reflux as an excuse not to go to school the next day, but my mom knew I was faking. She’s a nurse, so it’s nearly impossible to fool her.
I considered changing my name, as a way to infiltrate their group. Maybe I could spell it Hey! Lee! I thought that was funny. But I knew the change would upset Tutu. Besides, as soon as the Haileys get to know me, they’ll want me in their group, regardless of my name. I’m sure of this. I just need the perfect moment to get their attention. The more information I gather, the better my chances of creating that perfect moment. And then we’ll all be friends.
But that boy from the third floor—I no longer care about being his friend. When he moved in last month, I thought, Great, a new kid in the building. I tried to be nice to him, three times in a row, but he ignored me. The first time went like this—he was already in the elevator when I ran into the lobby. I’d just gotten off the school bus and I was starving. “Hey, hold the doors, will ya?” I called. But the elevator started to close and the boy just stood there, staring at his shoes. I shoved my hand inside and practically got it cut off. “Why didn’t you hold the doors?” I asked as I squeezed in. I pushed button number six.
He didn’t say anything, just kept staring at his shoes. They weren’t sneakers, like most kids wear. They were brown leather and scuffed. His hair was so blond I could see right through to his scalp. And his face was so pale I could see a blue vein at his temple.
My backpack bumped against the side of the elevator as I tried to find a comfortable place to stand. It was pretty crowded in there because the boy had a huge leather suitcase that was covered in stickers of places like London, Paris, and New York City. He also had a plastic pet carrier. “You moving in?” I asked.
He didn’t say anything.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out a pack of gum. “Want a piece?”
Without even saying no thank you, he turned his back to me. What was his problem? Maybe he was shy. Shy people need a little extra understanding. I know because my best friend’s so shy that sometimes, if she gets really nervous, she pees her pants a little. But she really doesn’t want me telling anyone that. “So, my name’s Leilani. I live on the sixth floor. What’s your name?”
He didn’t answer, just kept ignoring me. I decided to try again.
“What’s in there? Is it a cat?” I tapped on the top of the carrier and heard a soft meow.
The boy slid the carrier behind his suitcase so I couldn’t reach it.
Maybe the cat was shy, too. You never know.
“Where do you go to school? Where’d you live before you moved here? Have you been to all those places on the stickers? How old are you? I can show you around if you want.”
The elevator stopped on the third floor and the doors opened. The boy grabbed the handle of his suitcase and the handle of his cat carrier and darted out.
“Let me know if you want a tour of the neighborhood,” I said.
He didn’t look back.
Weird, I thought.
The second time we rode the elevator together, I tried
to make polite conversation, because that’s what a nice person does, but again he said nothing.
The third time, when he got off on the third floor, I decided he wasn’t shy, because even a shy person can say one simple word, like bye.
“Never mind,” I told him, but he was already heading down the hallway with his cat carrier. “I don’t have time to give you a tour. I’m way too busy.” I pressed the sixth-floor button again.
But just as the elevator doors shut, I heard him whisper, as if he were talking to a teeny, tiny mouse, “My name is William.”
Autumn, Not Fall
Mom, Tutu, and I live in apartment 6B, on the top floor of our building. There’s nothing special about our building. It’s made of bricks, and the lobby floor is cruddy old chipped tile. A plastic plant sits in the corner of the lobby, near the mailboxes. The manager, Ms. Grutch, thinks real plants are too much of a bother. The fake plant is covered in dust and spiderwebs. Recently, someone started tossing cigarette butts into its green pot. It’s real sad-looking. One time, Tutu shoved it into the garbage can. “Put it out of its misery,” she said. But someone fished it out.
The building across the street is only a few years old, and it has condos instead of apartments. The doorman wears a gray uniform, and he holds the door open when the owners have groceries. That’s where Hailey spelled with an I lives. She doesn’t ride my bus because she gets picked up after school. I can see right into her apartment when I look out my living room and bedroom windows.
Mom says I shouldn’t look into other people’s apartments. But Tutu does it all the time. She knows when the old Croatian ladies are playing bridge, and when the man with the white beard gets a new stack of books from the library. And I know when Hailey Chun is having another one of her sleepovers.
The Haileys have sleepovers every weekend. And they only invite each other. Heeyley with three E’s had a cupcake sleepover. She brought little cupcake-shaped invitations and handed them out at the big round table during lunch. The plan was to bake and decorate cupcakes and then eat them while watching movies. It sounded super fun. Who doesn’t love cupcakes?
Haighley with a GH had a beauty sleepover. They brought makeup and nail polish and gave each other makeovers. And Hayley with a Y had a dance party sleepover. They made up dances to their favorite songs.
I always eat lunch next to the big round table on purpose so I can hear all about these parties. And I’ve watched a few from my bedroom window.
“They’re planning another sleepover,” I report to Autumn.
Autumn Maxwell has been my best friend since kindergarten, when we met in the principal’s office. I was there because I’d kicked Jeremy Bishop in the shins, and she was there because she’d peed her pants a little. If you kick someone in the shins at school, even if that someone was pulling your hair, you get a lecture from the principal and you get sent home with a note that has to be signed and returned. If you pee your pants at school, they make you choose a clean pair from a bin that is kept in the nurse’s office. The bin’s full of old, ugly sweatpants that no one wants to wear—that’s why they ended up in the bin. So Autumn had to spend the rest of the day in a hideous pair of orange sweats that went all the way up to her armpits, and I had to spend the day worrying if my mom was going to take away my TV privileges.
She did. I didn’t get to watch the Disney Channel for a whole week.
“I’m in Mr. Wren’s class,” I told Autumn.
“I’m in Ms. Pearl’s class,” she told me. She scratched her nose. Autumn has the kind of skin that is super pale and covered in freckles, like a connect-the-dots picture. When we were in second grade, I did try to connect them, with an ink pen, and it took three whole days for the lines to wash off. I felt really bad, so I drew on my face, too, so we’d match.
“Why’d you pee your pants?”
“I felt anxious.”
“What’s that mean?” I’m pretty sure Autumn was the only kid in kindergarten who used that word.
“It means ‘nervous.’”
“How come you felt nervous?”
“Because I don’t like Sharing Time.”
Wow, how could a person not like Sharing Time? You got to stand in front of the class and tell them something amazing about yourself or your family. I loved it! That very day I’d brought a can of macadamia nuts, one for everyone in class. But there was this kid whose head would blow up like a balloon if he ate a nut, so I had to promise I wouldn’t open the can. I told the class how macadamia nut trees were brought to Hawaii over a hundred years ago to plant around sugarcane fields, to protect the cane from strong winds. And then I told them that if you ate too many macadamia nuts, you’d get diarrhea. I’d learned that the hard way.
Autumn and I waited in the principal’s office forever. Then the principal handed me my note. “Be sure your mom signs this,” she told me. “And no more kicking.” Then she handed Autumn a clear ziplock plastic bag. “Don’t forget these.” Autumn’s pee-soaked jeans were sealed inside. “Take this back to your classroom.”
Autumn held the bag between her thumb and pointer finger. “Are you trying to humiliate me?” she asked the principal.
I didn’t know what that meant, but I instantly knew this girl was different. I grabbed the bag and stuck it into my backpack so no one would see it as we walked down the hall.
From that moment on, we were best friends. After school, we’d hang out at my house. And on weekends, we’d go to the community center pool. Even though Autumn couldn’t swim, she’d still go with me. While I did the lazy river and the slide, she’d sit on the steps in the shallow end and read whatever magazine she’d found in the lobby. We did everything together, and we still do. Except for spying on the Haileys. That’s my thing.
“Yep, it’s another sleepover,” I confirm. It’s lunchtime and we are in our usual seats near the big round table.
“While I’m no fan of the Haileys, I appreciate their predictability,” Autumn says. She pulls the lid off a Tupperware container. It has separate compartments. Her sandwich fits in the sandwich spot. Her orange is sliced to fit into the fruit spot. And her juice box fits perfectly into the juice box spot. She eats the same thing every day. Monday or Friday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Wednesday, Autumn has apple juice, orange slices, and a crustless cheese sandwich with iceberg lettuce and no mayo. It’s the kind of fake cheese that if you roll it up into a ball, it bounces. Autumn always saves a special treat for the very end—a chocolate-covered macadamia nut. Tutu introduced them to her when we first became friends, and she’s loved them ever since. And eating only one a day won’t give you diarrhea.
“It’s a barbecue sleepover,” I tell her. I rub my neck. Sometimes it gets stiff because I have to lean my head to the right so I can hear the Haileys better. “I love barbecue.”
“I’ll never understand the allure of sauce-drenched meat.” Autumn carefully lifts her sandwich from the box. She doesn’t like it when one piece of food touches another piece of food. I’d already pointed out that the sandwich, oranges, apple juice, and chocolate-covered macadamia nut all end up touching in her stomach, so what did it matter?
“Everything matters,” she’d said.
Autumn is named after autumn, the season, because that’s when she was born. Maybe her parents figured that Fall wouldn’t make a very good name. I think they should have named her after someone smart, like Einstein. Autumn is the smartest kid at our school, only she’s too shy to let anyone know.
I lean sideways. “Oooh, Heighleigh’s dad is going to get the food from Voodoo Barbecue. That’s the best. Especially the shredded pork.” I lean some more. That’s when Hailey Chun stops talking, turns, and glares at me.
“What’s your problem?” she asks.
“Uh, oh, hi, Hailey.” I open my yogurt and stir the peaches up from the bottom of the container, acting like I haven’t been listening. Acting like I don’t care.
But I do care.
Having only one friend u
sed to be fine with me. Autumn and I get along perfectly. And we’re almost always together. But her parents got divorced last summer, so now Autumn spends every other weekend at her dad’s new house, way up in Bellingham. Which means that when she’s gone, I don’t have anyone to hang out with except for Mom and Tutu. Mom is usually busy working the weekend shift, and if Tutu isn’t watching TV, or napping, or complaining about the lack of sunshine, the only other thing she wants to do is walk to the corner market for snacks. Once, I convinced her to go to the community pool, but she refused to get into the water. “It’s too cold!” she complained. “And the chlorine makes my eyes burn!” She grew up swimming in the Pacific Ocean, where the water is so blue and so warm she even swam in the rain. So while Tutu sat in the lobby, in her plastic swim cap and pink bathrobe, telling everyone that they should move to Hawaii because there’s no chlorine in the water, I realized that having only one friend wasn’t the best situation to be in.
Well, it’s going to change this year. The Haileys have a party every weekend, and they don’t know this yet, but soon they’ll start including me. I just have to figure out how to get onto their radar.
They huddle closer together and lower their voices. With all the racket in the rest of the cafeteria, I can’t hear them any longer. So I eat my yogurt. Autumn takes tiny bites of her sandwich, working her way around the edges. She chews with her front teeth, like a squirrel. She has big, round squirrel eyes, too. My mom always says that Autumn is as cute as a button.
“There’s this new exhibit at the science center about the human brain, and I was thinking we could go,” she says.
“Yeah … maybe,” I mumble. Then I put down my yogurt container. “Hey! What if I have a sleepover?” The idea sends a shiver up my spine.
Autumn lowers her sandwich.
“That’s what I’ll do! I’ll have one and invite the Haileys, and then they’ll see that I’m super fun and they’ll start inviting me to their parties.” Somebody shine a spotlight on my head, because my idea is brilliant!