Oh no newf, p.1
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       Oh No, Newf!, p.1

           Tui T. Sutherland
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Oh No, Newf!






















  I bet no one at school would believe it if I told them who was with me when I found the dog.

  That’s because no one knows that we’re friends. We’re secret friends. We don’t talk to each other much at school. It’s not my idea. I would totally be friends with him, but he was like, “No, it’s lame to be friends with a girl.” Which is silly — I have lots of guy friends. But I figured, OK, if that’s what he wants.

  It’s weirder this year, though, because he hardly has any friends at all now. His best friend, Kevin, moved to California over the summer. And I keep telling him he should just sit with us at lunch or talk to me in the hall, but he won’t, even though we’ve been friends since we were super-little. I also tell him he doesn’t have to be such a jerk all the time. I bet people would like him better then. But he doesn’t care, or he says he doesn’t.

  Maybe I should back up and tell you more about me.

  At the beginning of the school year, our teachers always have us stand up and say something about ourselves. What I should probably always say is: “Hi, I’m Heidi Tyler, and I’m an enormous klutz, so watch out!” I’m serious! I’m the tallest girl in sixth grade. I can’t do anything without knocking stuff over or breaking something or spilling ketchup all over myself. I was already the tallest girl by third grade. Isn’t that unfair? And I’ve just kept on getting taller since then. I’m still not used to it. I’m always surprised to find my elbows and head and knees banging into things I don’t think they should reach.

  And I lose things all the time, too. I’m like the opposite of my mom, who always looks perfect and never loses anything. Can you imagine? Never losing anything? I swear I lose something new every day. I don’t know how she does it. Once I tried to follow her around to see if she’s keeping notes or something (Earrings: on the dresser; Shoes: in the hall closet), but then I kept accidentally bumping into her until finally she was like, “Heidi, would you please stop getting underfoot!” (Daughter: underfoot.)

  Wait, I’m getting distracted. That happens a lot, too, I should warn you. What was I talking about?

  Oh, right: my secret friend … Avery Lafitte.

  I know, it is weird. He’s the biggest, meanest bully in the whole class and all my non-secret friends seriously don’t like him.

  But he wasn’t always like that. I know, because I’ve known him forever.

  See, his mom and my mom were best friends in high school. They’ve always lived right here in our town, and after they met their husbands and got married, they moved into houses right next to each other on the same block just like they always said they would, and then they had babies at the same time, who are Avery and me (well, he’s four months older than me, but I’m at least four months more mature than him, so there).

  Only things didn’t go so perfectly from there, at least for his family.

  One night when I was four years old, my mom knocked on my door after I’d gone to bed. I wasn’t asleep, because I was pretending to read under the covers, which I’d seen a kid do on TV. Only it’s harder than it looks because the sheet keeps falling in your face and I was having trouble holding the flashlight and turning the pages all at the same time, plus I’d only just started learning to read so mostly I was looking at the pictures and trying to remember how the kid on TV had juggled everything.

  Then came the knock on the door. It startled me so much I jumped, which made me drop the flashlight with a thunk on the floor, and then when I leaned over to get it, I fell out of bed with a huge thud and then The Lorax and all the covers and stuffed animals on the bed came tumbling down on top of me. So when Mom opened the door, I was in a tangled heap on the floor with a flashlight rolling away under the bed.

  Mom gave me a confused look.

  “Heidi, get back into bed,” she said. “Kelly is bringing Avery over.”

  Kelly is Avery’s mom. I’m supposed to call her Kelly instead of Mrs. Lafitte, which is only not weird because I’ve known her my whole life, so by the time I noticed that it should be weird, I was already used to it.

  I rubbed my head where the book had whapped me. “But it’s bedtime,” I said.

  “I know,” Mom said, helping me climb back into bed. She shook out the sheets and the blanket and tucked them neatly around me about a zillion times faster than I could have done it. “Avery’s staying in here with you tonight.”

  “Why?” I asked. I sat up in bed and watched her laying out blankets and pillows to make a bed on the floor.

  “Because his mom is staying over here, too,” Mom said, which totally wasn’t an answer.

  “Why?” I asked again.

  She sighed. “Because Avery’s mommy and daddy had a fight. OK?”

  I thought about that for a minute while she stuffed pillows into pillowcases. I didn’t think I’d ever seen grown-ups fight before.

  “Did he pull her hair?” I asked. “Danny Sanchez did that to me last week at preschool and I was so mad!”

  Mom frowned at me. “Why did Danny pull your hair?”

  “Because he’s a stupid boy,” I said. “And also maybe because I wouldn’t let him have the blue Legos.”

  “Heidi,” Mom said, “I thought you were better at sharing than that.”

  “They weren’t for me!” I said. “Charlie was using them to make the ocean! And he’s littler than us. So I was helping.”

  “Hmmm,” Mom said. She sat down on the bed beside me. “That does sound helpful. What did you do when Danny pulled your hair?”

  Oops. I’d forgotten I wasn’t going to tell my mom this story. “Um … I kicked him,” I admitted. I hid my face behind one of my toy dogs.

  “Heidi!” Mom said.

  “Sorry,” I said. “I guess Kelly didn’t kick Avery’s dad.”

  “No,” Mom said. She covered her mouth with her hand for a second, then added, “But I think she probably wanted to.”

  “Why were they fighting?” I asked.

  “It doesn’t matter,” Mom said, kissing my forehead. “I’m sure everything will be better by tomorrow.”

  A little while later she brought Avery in and showed him where to sleep. He sat down on the blankets and yawned. His hair was all mussed and he was wearing red pajamas with a fire engine on the shirt.

  “No talking,” Mom warned as she shut the door. “Both of you go to sleep.”

  I waited until I could see again in the dark. My little night-light shaped like a Saint Bernard was glowing next to my bed, so I could see the lump of gray blankets that was Avery below me. He was lying on his back, looking up at the ceiling. “Hi, Avery,” I said.

  “Shh,” he said. “We’ll get in trouble.”

  “What were your parents fighting about?” I whispered.

  There was a long silence. “I dunno,” he whispered finally. Another long pause. Then, even more quietly, he added, “Me, probably.”

  I didn’t know if that was true or not, so I didn’t know what to say. He turned over so his back was to me and pulled the blankets over his head.

  “Hey,” I whispered. “You want a dog?”

  At first I didn’t think he heard me. Then he pushed the covers down a little and rolled over to look at me. “You don’t have a dog,” he said.

“I have lots of dogs!” I said. I sat up and started piling my stuffed animals around me. “This is Snowball,” I said, holding up a fluffy white dog, “and this is Snuffles.” I made my wrinkly shar-pei toy walk across my blanket toward him. “And there are lots more — JoJo and Rexie and Mr. Snooper and Hippo —” (I was a little confused when I named that last one. I mean, I was four.)

  “No,” Avery interrupted. “I don’t want one.” He pulled the blanket over his head again.

  This was clearly serious. “OK,” I said. “I’ll pick one for you.” I pulled my favorite dog out of the crowd. He was black and white with floppy ears and a big sweet face and shaggy soft fur and he was very squeezable. I called him Arfer. I thought that was pretty clever, myself.

  “Here,” I said, leaning over to hand Arfer to Avery. He didn’t move. I leaned a bit farther and poked Avery’s shoulder with the dog’s black nose. “Take him,” I said. “This is Arfer.”

  Avery still didn’t move, so I leaned out just a little more to drop it on the other side of him and — bet you can guess — fell out of bed with a yelp, right on top of Avery. Stuffed dogs rained down on our heads.

  “OW!” Avery roared, even though I’m sure I didn’t hurt him at all.

  “Sorry!” I cried, scrambling up again. “Sorry! Sorry!” I could hear my mom’s footsteps hurrying to our door. I gathered my dogs up in my arms, leaped into bed, and pulled the covers over my head just before she threw it open.

  Avery and I both lay perfectly still, like we were fast asleep already. Which now I realize must have made it extra-obvious that we were pretending, but Mom just went, “Mm-hmm,” and shut the door.

  “Your fault,” Avery whispered.

  “Fine, go to sleep,” I said. “See if I care.” I started arranging my dogs back into their usual sleeping pile. Halfway through, I realized that Arfer was missing.

  I peered into the darkness below my bed. A bit of moonlight was coming in the window. Between that and the night-light, I saw that Avery had fallen asleep. He had his arms wrapped around Arfer.

  The next day, Kelly and Avery were gone when I woke up. Arfer was gone, too. I hunted through the blankets and under my bed, but all I found was the flashlight with the batteries dead.

  I would have asked for him back, but then my mom told me that Avery’s parents were still fighting, and that Kelly had taken Avery to his grandma’s. And later I saw Avery’s mom and dad yelling at each other right in their front yard where everyone could see them. I was so glad that my mom and dad didn’t fight like that, I decided maybe it was OK with me if Avery had to keep Arfer until things got better.

  And then things never got better. Whenever Mom talks about Avery’s family, she just shakes her head and goes, “What a mess.” The short version is, his parents got divorced, and then a couple years later they got married again, and then a couple years after that, they got divorced again, but they still see each other all the time and mostly they just fight and fight and fight and yell at Avery and send him over to our house to get him out of the way while they fight some more.

  It’s no fun being Avery. I try to remember that whenever he’s super-obnoxious at school. But sometimes I get mad at him and sometimes I say things I feel bad about afterward. Like in the first week of school, when Avery was making fun of Parker Green’s new dog. Parker’s dog is this gorgeous sunshine-colored golden retriever named Merlin, and he loves Parker so much that he escaped from their yard so he could follow Parker to school on the first day. How cool is that? Parker acted all embarrassed, but I wish that was the most embarrassing thing that had ever happened to me!

  Anyway, so everyone saw Parker go out to the playground to catch Merlin, and everyone was talking about it. Avery and I even talked about it on the way home from school. He kept saying how funny it was, and then I said I thought Parker was embarrassed, and he got this mean look on his face and right away I said, “Avery, don’t. You better not tease Parker about it.”

  But the very next day, Avery came over to our lunch table and started making fun of Parker, like, “Awww, Parker misses his wittle puppy,” stuff like that.

  So I got mad — I mean, it was like Avery was trying to make me mad, too. And I blurted: “Shut up, Avery. You wish anyone liked you as much as that dog likes Parker.”

  Well, it worked. It shut him up and he went away. But I felt so bad afterward. I felt like the meanest person ever, meaner than Avery ever is. See, you don’t even know the saddest part of Avery’s story — but I’ll get to that later. The point is, I knew it was a really mean thing to say, and I shouldn’t have said it. He didn’t talk to me for two weeks.

  Mostly I was busy those two weeks, hanging out with my friend Ella and her dog, Trumpet. I don’t know if you can tell from what I’ve told you so far, but I really really love dogs. I want one so badly. I’ve loved them my whole life. If I had a dog, I think I would be happy all the time, just thinking about my dog all day long. I’ve asked for a dog every year for my birthday and Christmas, but my mom kept saying no. She said they were too messy, and we didn’t have time to take care of a dog, and what would we do with it while we’re on vacation, and on and on down this whole list of excuses.

  So all I could do was hang out with my friends’ dogs, and luckily Ella didn’t seem to mind me coming over to play with her and Trumpet. Trumpet’s a really smart dog. She’s a beagle, and she loves to sing along when Ella sings. Ella’s a “musical prodigy” — that’s what my mom says.

  Anyway, so I was at Ella’s house a lot, getting ready for the talent show, but whenever I stopped to think about it, I felt bad about being mean to Avery. So when I saw him in his yard the Saturday after the talent show, I figured I should go apologize.

  He was bouncing a ball off the old dark green wooden shed at the back of their driveway. He didn’t turn around as I came out our back door and went through the gate in the white fence between our yards. I guess maybe he didn’t hear me coming, because when I said, “Hi Avery,” he jumped, and the ball flew over his shoulder into a bush.

  Avery scowled at me. “Look what you did,” he said, stomping over to the bush. He picked up a stick and started poking and shaking the branches.

  “Hey, you’re the one that didn’t catch it,” I said, trying to be funny. He didn’t smile. I got down on my knees and crawled under the bush. Twigs snagged in my hair and I got my elbow stuck in a root, but finally I felt the bumpy rubber under my fingers. I tugged the ball loose and wriggled out into the open again.

  “Here you go,” I said, tossing it to him. He turned it over in his hands like it had changed into a poodle while he wasn’t looking. I stayed sitting on the grass, brushing dirt off my jeans.

  “Hey, um,” I said. “So, like … uh — I just wanted to say I’m sorry.”

  He squinted at me. His eyes are kind of this neat dark blue color, but I don’t think anyone’s ever noticed, because he’s always scrunching them up to glare at people. “What for?” he grunted.

  “You know,” I said. “For what I said. A couple weeks ago. In school.”

  Avery shrugged and threw the ball at the shed again. “Whatever.”

  “Well,” I said. “I mean, I just figured … I just wanted you to know, I didn’t mean it, and I felt bad because I bet you were thinking about Stitch, too —”

  “I don’t want to talk about Stitch,” Avery said, slamming the ball into the wall and catching it without looking at me.

  “OK,” I said. I watched him throw the ball a few more times. “Anyway, it’s not true. What I said, I mean, about nobody liking you.”

  “Ha,” Avery snorted. “Yeah, except it is.”

  “Nuh-uh,” I said. “People like you.”

  “No, they don’t,” he said, “and I don’t care anyway.”

  “Kevin likes you,” I said, wrapping my arms around my knees. “And I like you.”

  “Gross, Tyler,” he said. “I don’t need to hear about your enormous crush on me. I just ate.”

  I smiled.
That was more like how he normally talked to me. He was always joking about how I was really madly in love with him. (Which, in case you’re wondering, is totally not true.)

  “Aren’t you going to congratulate me on winning the talent show?” I asked.

  “That thing is rigged,” he said. “Just like American Idol.”

  “Oh, you loved it,” I said. “You wanted to take off your shirt and throw it at us like a screaming fan, I bet.”

  “Well, that would have made your day, wouldn’t it?” Avery said, and then he kind of smiled, and then we were friends again, and I felt much better.

  So that’s the important stuff you need to know before I get into the real story. This story begins two weeks later, the day we got detention … and met the biggest dog in the world.

  Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not, like, a delinquent or anything. I’ve hardly ever gotten detention, and this time it was really unfair because I was actually trying to stop a fight but I got in big trouble anyway, which figures, because if anyone can just fall into a mess, it’s me.

  It was a Thursday morning, and I was biking to school when I heard my friend Danny Sanchez calling me. I like Danny because he’s funny and he’s taller than I am. Not many of the kids in my class are taller than me, but Danny and Avery both are, so I don’t feel like such a clumsy giant next to them.

  Although, of course, the first thing I did when I heard Danny was fall off my bike. Well, it was his fault! He startled me! It was no big deal because I was fine, but I tore a hole in the knee of my new jeans, and I knew my mom wasn’t going to be very excited about that. Every time she finds a new hole in my clothes or a new scrape on my shins or a new scuff mark on the wall, she says, “Heidi, you are simply mystifying.” I used to think “mystifying” sounded like a good thing, like maybe I could do magic or turn into mist or something, but I’ve figured out now that what she means is she doesn’t understand how anyone can be as much of a ridiculous disaster as I am.

  I walked the rest of the way to school with Danny and his friends Parker, Troy, and Eric. Danny just got a new dog, too, and I hadn’t even met her yet, and then they told me that Eric got a new dog as well, and it was like torture that all my friends could have dogs and I couldn’t. But Danny said I could come to the park with them after school if I wanted and I was like, YES PLEASE DOGS NOW PLEASE YES.

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