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Stuck Excerpt (part of Chapter 1

by Becky Mushko

© 2011 

Chapter 1: The Worst Day


Nicole Fannerby kicked my chair. “You’re hogging the markers, Jacie!” she whined for about the fiftieth time. “I need the black one.”

It is not my fault she left the tops off her markers and they dried out, so I ignored her. All I had to do was outline “Stay On the Sidewalk” with the black marker and I’d be finished with my safety poster about how jay-walking is a very bad idea. I was way ahead of Nicole who unfortunately sits right behind me.

I was just finishing the y in “Stay” when the intercom came on: “Jayne Celia Addison, report to the office!”

Everybody in Mrs. Clark’s fifth grade class looked at me. I looked at my teacher.

“Go ahead, Jacie,” Mrs. Clark said. “You don’t need a pass.”

“I’ll bet you’re in big trouble now,” Nicole Fannerby whispered low enough so nobody but me could hear. “And it serves you right!”

When I got to the door, I looked back to see Nicole grab the black marker right off my desk. Then I started the long walk down the hall.

I figured I was called to the office because of what happened yesterday when Mrs. Clark had sent me and Nicole to the restroom after art to rinse the paint cans and wash the brushes.

I was so happy because my Valentine picture had just been voted the best in the whole fifth grade. Mrs. Clark had pinned the picture of me and my mom in the spot of honor on the wall. I painted Mom with long golden hair like angel wings, and it wrapped around me like a hug. We were smiling at each other. Around the two of us, I painted a big red heart. It was my best picture ever.

Nicole’s picture was second, so that’s why she got to help clean up. She painted her mother wearing a business suit and high heels and carrying a brief case. Only the brief case was a little smeared, so it looked like a bulldog was biting her mother on the leg. Nicole didn’t put herself in the picture like Mrs. Clark said we should do. Nicole is not big on following rules except when it suits her. She was mad that her picture didn’t get pinned in the spot of honor.

“It isn’t fair,” Nicole said as soon as we were in the restroom and no one else could hear. “You cheated! Everybody knows your mother doesn’t have hair like that!”

I didn’t say anything. I just kept rinsing off brushes.

“Does your mom’s head still look like a bowling ball?” Nicole stopped washing the cans even though they still had some paint in them. She primped in front of the mirror for a minute or so. When she saw I wasn’t going to say anything back, she got right in my face and said, “Bald like a bowling ball!” Then she giggled, like she knew she’d hit a nerve with me.

I slapped her. She fell back against the wall with a THUNK and the paint cans clattered to the floor. I picked up the brushes and stormed out. I wasn’t going to stay around and give her a chance to hit back.

If Nicole was gonna tattle, she should have done it yesterday. Maybe she did, but the principal had been too busy to get to it. Anyhow, when Nicole finally came back to class, she didn’t say anything to Mrs. Clark.

While I walked down the hall to the office, I rehearsed what I’d say to the principal: “My mother is very sick and the treatment made her hair fall out. Nicole made fun of how she looks. That’s when I snapped.”

I liked the word “snapped.” It makes it sound like I couldn’t help myself. I hope the principal didn’t call Mom in the hospital. Mom wouldn’t feel better if she knew I’d slapped someone. Even if I did have a very good reason.

When Dad and I visited Mom last night, she was asleep so I didn’t have to tell her about Nicole. Dad and I sat by her bed for a while. He held one of her hands and I held the other. When she’s asleep, Mom doesn’t look like she’s in pain.

“Let’s not wake her up,” Dad said. “She needs her rest to get stronger.”

He could tell I looked disappointed. I really wanted to tell Mom about how my picture of her was chosen the best in the class. I could hardly wait to give her the picture.

“How about if we eat at McDonald’s tonight?” Dad said.

“OK,” I said. I knew it was easier for Dad if he didn’t have to try to cook.

We didn’t talk much while he ate his Big Mac and I ate my chicken nuggets, so I never told him about slapping Nicole. I told him about the picture, though.

“I’d like to give it to Mom as a welcome home present,” I said. “When will she come home?”

“The doctor didn’t say,” Dad said. “He mentioned something about more tests just to be sure. I’ll ask him tomorrow morning.”

“Maybe she’ll be home soon.” I popped the last nugget into my mouth.

“Maybe.” Then Dad slurped his milkshake and made me laugh.


I can’t wait for Mom to come home. We will do so many fun things when she gets better. Like have a party and get a puppy.

She hated that she’d been too sick from her chemo treatments to give me a tenth birthday party last July. She wanted to do something big to celebrate what she called my first double-digit birthday. Last November, though, when the doctor said she was in remission, Mom promised she’d make it up to me. That’s when we started planning my eleventh birthday party. Mom told me that eleven was really in the teens so I’d be a teenager.

“Eleven-teen, Jacie!” she said. “That’s a big deal. We’ll do something special! Maybe by then I’ll be strong enough to go dog-walking with you, and we can get a puppy.”

We talked about what kind we wanted. Finally, we decided to get a black and white one as soon as Mom was able to walk all the way around the block. Then we talked about the decorations and who I’d invite to my party.

The dining room would be decorated in pink and lavender, my favorite colors. We’d serve red velvet cake with pink icing and lavender candles. Five of my friends would come for a sleepover. Mom helped me make invitations on the computer so they’d be ready to print out when I decided just which five to invite. I knew I’d invite my best friend Chrissie, but I couldn’t decide which others. I knew I wouldn’t invite Nicole, but I didn’t tell Mom. She and Mrs. Fannerby used to work together and they were sort of friends.

Mom wanted to celebrate not only my birthday but also stopping the chemo that made her hair fall out. She said if her hair hadn’t grown back by July 16th, she’d wear her wig so her bald head wouldn’t scare anybody.

“Your hair will probably grow back by then,” I said.

“Maybe so,” she said. Then we looked through catalogues and picked out some new clothes for her. She’d lost a lot of weight since she got sick.

“I need a new look,” she said. “New hair, new clothes, new beginning. Oh, Jacie—it’ll be like you have a new mom!” Then she added, “And when I’m better, I promise I’ll get you a puppy.”

She was so happy when her new clothes came right before Christmas. She really liked the pink dress I picked out for her.

“Maybe I’ll wear it on New Year’s Eve,” she said.

But she didn’t get to. Five days after Christmas, she got sick again. She spent New Year’s Eve in the hospital hooked up to all sorts of machines. But the cancer hadn’t come back. It was some kind of infection because she was so weak. She was back home in a few days. Then on Ground Hog Day, she got sick again.

“It’s just another infection,” Mom said. “I’ll be home before you know it, Jacie. I promise.”


Miss Clancy, the guidance counselor, was sitting outside the principal’s office. “Go right in, Jacie,” she said.

When I opened the door, the principal wasn’t there. Dad was. He had a strange look on his face. I guess the principal had already told him about how I slapped Nicole. 


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