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Maya’s house is the best house for sleepovers because of two things: the basement, and the ice cream. The rest of her house is nice, too, but she has the best basement out of all seven of us by far. It’s got a thick comfy carpet, so when you sleep on the floor in your sleeping bag you don’t wake up all creaky and cracky, and a big-screen TV that we spread out blankets and watch scary movies in front of. Plus, her dad likes to play the guitar down there, and the walls are soundproof--so when we close the door, we can play music really loud and make up dances and not worry that we’re bugging her parents or her sister. She also has this long staircase that echoes, so you can hear way in advance when someone’s coming down the stairs. That’s really important for sleepovers. You can’t hear that in our basement, and Jack’s scared us a few times or heard things I wish he hadn’t when we were playing truth or dare.
The second best thing is that her mom always--always--has the best ice cream. She doesn’t get it at the supermarket like most moms; she gets it at this little ice cream shop called Uncle Charley’s in the center of town, and she always has hot fudge and whipped cream and maraschino cherries to go on top. Perry loves the cherries--she eats two or three right out of the jar then loads five onto her sundae. I like cherries enough to do that too, but Mom said it’s not very polite and I should just stick to putting two right on top of my ice cream. Maya also has those sundae glasses like you see at old-timey ice cream shops, and for some reason the ice cream just tastes better when you eat out of them--the hot fudge pools at the bottom, and the ice cream gets all swirly and muddy-looking and perfect. If it’s a special occasion, her mom might make brownies so we can have brownie sundaes, and they’re so good I promise we don’t even ever want to leave.
Since we were celebrating Rory’s birthday, Rory’s mom had brought over a cake. It was square and decorated like a computer, because that’s Rory’s favorite thing in the world aside from the six of us. Rory’s really smart with computers. She taught herself how to code last year so she could build websites and design stuff, and she’s always making the coolest animations and doing homework faster than the rest of us because she builds programs and stuff. This year in computer class we’re all learning how to code, but Rory already knows the basics, so she’s doing what Ms. Robertson calls an “independent study,” which just means that Ms. Robertson gives her harder stuff, like middle school-level coding, even though we’re only in fifth grade and Rory’s the youngest one in the class. Everyone thinks it’s really cool that Rory’s so good at coding--except Bailey, who’s usually the best at everything and doesn’t love it that Rory’s so ahead of her, even though she tries to be nice about it.
“Cheer up, Bailey,” Perry said after last computer class, when Bailey got really frustrated that she couldn’t figure out a certain string of code we were supposed to be writing. “I think it’s good for you not to be amazing at everything.” Bailey glared at Perry then, and Perry turned a little red and changed the subject. I kind of agreed with Perry, even though I didn’t say so out loud.
Rory’s mom was chatting in the living room with Maya’s mom while we were eating pizza. Anjali and I had gone over to Maya’s house earlier so we could help decorate for the party. Anj and I had made a big “Happy 10th Birthday, Rory!” sign that was hanging over the table, and we’d decorated party hats with tassels and pom-poms and googly eyes. We were all wearing them--even Mackenzie, who sometimes is too cool for that kind of stuff--when Rory’s mom brought in the cake. Rory turned all red and couldn’t stop smiling, and I felt so happy because I knew she was loving the party. Rory doesn’t really like to be the center of attention, and sometimes I feel bad because it can be easy for her to slip into the background. She’s not as outspoken as Mackenzie or Anj or Perry, but she’s just as funny in this dry kind of way. She’s the kind of friend who never asks for anything, which is great until you realize that sometimes she needs to be celebrated too.
After cake and ice cream we went down to the basement and did what we always do on Friday nights: turned on Taylor Swift and danced around Maya’s basement. Since it was Rory’s birthday, Maya played all her favorite songs first. Rory’s the best dancer, and I’m pretty bad, so I usually try to stand behind her and copy the moves she makes up.
“Ooohh, cool spin, Rory!” Perry said. Perry’s not the best dancer either, but she’s very funny, and she makes us all laugh by running back and forth like a crazy person while we spin and twirl until she’s out of breath and collapses on the ground.
“Guys!” Anjali shrieked suddenly. “We should make up a routine for the winter dance. It’ll be so cool!” The winter dance is something only fifth graders are allowed to go to at Willowbrook Elementary, and it was six weeks away. It was basically the only thing keeping us going since Halloween.
"Yeah!” said Bailey and Mackenzie. Rory clapped her hands together. “Fun!” she said.
Perry and I looked at each other and shrugged. “If you’ll teach me, I’ll follow,” I said.
“Cool!” said Maya. “But before we do anything for the winter dance, let’s focus on what we’re celebrating right now: Rory!”
“Yeah!” everyone shrieked.
“Time to open presents!” Maya said, grabbing Rory’s hand and leading her to her dad’s recording booth, where we’d hidden all the brightly wrapped boxes and gift bags.
Rory’s hands went to her mouth. “Oh wow!” she said. “Thanks, guys! This is so nice!”
“Open mine first,” said Mackenzie, handing Rory a thick rectangular package wrapped in blue with a green ribbon that looked suspiciously like a book.
“I think it’s a book,” Rory said with a smile.
“Open it!” said Mackenzie.
Sure enough, Rory ripped open the paper and squealed when she saw the title: The 20 Most Iconic Female Leaders of the 20th Century. It was a really good present--and so something Mackenzie would give. Kenzie is a natural-born leader; she wants to be a senator or maybe even the President when she grows up. She’s already gotten a pretty good start; she’s the President of the fifth grade class at Willowbrook Elementary.
Perry rushed over when Rory opened the book to look at it over her shoulder. Perry loves reading, and she’s a really good writer. It’s hard to make writing funny, but Perry is the funniest person I know, and she’s really good at making you giggle when you read her emails or even her homework assignments. But she’s also really good at the serious stuff too; our teacher always uses her journal entries as examples of what you’re supposed to do. Perry already speaks two languages and spends all her free time writing in this little notebook she carries around and gets really weird about when people try to read it. It totally makes sense that she wants to be an international journalist some day.
My secret plan is to start an online magazine with Perry and Rory when we grow up. I’ll do the business stuff while Perry does the reporting and writing, and Rory can code the site so it’s beautiful and fast and you can find stuff you’re looking for. Maybe Kenzie can even write opinion pieces sometimes! They all like making stuff people can read and see; I kind of like making sure everything works behind the scenes. It’s why I’m excited to work on stage crew for the fifth grade play this year. Anjali’s a really good singer and actress, and she can’t understand why I think it would be fun to wear black and build the set and do the lights without anyone ever seeing me. But I like putting all the pieces together to make something beautiful.
The other girls got Rory really nice presents too: Anjali got her a Taylor Swift DVD, and both Bailey and Perry got her computer games. Maya, who’s a really good cook, made her a huge batch of delicious peanut butter chocolate fudge--Rory’s favorite--and tied ribbons around every single piece. We all had some, even though we were pretty stuffed from cake and ice cream. I’ve tried to make fudge before, but it came out all hard and burnt. This fudge was nice and creamy and sweet. Maya really likes science and says that’s all cooking is--just one big science experiment. We had science lab one time and I exploded the beaker, so when Maya said that I thought it made sense that cooking is kind of a mystery to me.
Rory opened mine last, and I was kind of nervous about it because I’d made it, and what if she didn’t like it or thought it was stupid? I held my breath as she untied the ribbon and opened the little box I’d found to put it in. The room went quiet as she put her hand to her mouth.
“Oh wow, Cara!” Rory said. She plucked the bracelet from the box and held it out to everyone to see. “Did you make this?” she said, looking at me.
“Oooh,” the other girls were saying.
“Yeah,” I said anxiously. “I made it last Sunday with my mom--do you like it?”
“Like it?” Rory said. “I love it! Look--it’s my favorite colors! And that’s an “R” for Rory, all delicate and perfect!”
“Yes, it is!” I said, relieved.
“It’s gorgeous, Cara!” said Anjali. “It looks kind of grown up, but still really fun.”
“Thanks, Anj,” I said, trying not to smile too proudly. My cheeks felt warm.
“I’m gonna put it on right now,” Rory said. Perry leaned forward to help her with the clasp, and everyone “oohed” again as she moved her wrist and the blue and green beads sparkled in the light.
“That’s so pretty, Rory,” said Bailey. “It looks so good on you!”
“I wish I had one,” said Mackenzie.
“Me too,” said Maya.
“And me!” said Perry.
“We should all have them!” said Rory. “Like friendship bracelets!”
“Ooooh!” said Bailey. “That’s a great idea!” She turned to me. “Cara, would you want to make them for all of us?” She put on a sweet puppy dog face. “Pretty please?”
“Even better,” I said, thinking of an idea. “I’ll teach you all how to make them, and we can do them together at next week’s sleepover.”
“Perfect!” squealed Maya, clapping her hands together.
“Is it next Friday yet?” Perry wailed.
“I’m so glad we’ll all have them,” said Rory.
I beamed. “I’m glad you like it,” I said again.
“It’s perfect,” Rory said. “I can’t wait for us all to wear them, because we’re the best seven friends there ever were.”
“Hear, hear,” said Mackenzie.
I leaned in then and gave Rory a big hug. Because she was right--there was nothing better in the whole wide world than my best friends.
Continue to Chapter 3
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