Finally Read online

  His eyes widen and he backs up against the closet door.

  “Don’t tell him that,” Mom scolds. “You know how sensitive he is.”

  I want to remind her that I’m sensitive, too. She knows how hard it’s been for me not to be able to do things every other kid my age can. I try to keep my spirits up, but sometimes it’s hard. Sawyer doesn’t know how easy he’s got it. At three years old, all it takes to make him happy is for my dad to burp. Just one burp, and the boy is filled with glee for hours. And a fart? Forget about it. He’ll laugh till he practically chokes. I’ve got to admit, though, that I do benefit a little from his weirdness. His laughing will make me laugh, even if I’ve had a really bad day at school. Plus, all he’ll eat is pizza so we have pizza pretty much every night for dinner. He gets bonus points for that. Now, with the big T-W-E-L-V-E looming ever closer on my horizon, my spirits have lifted themselves right back up, even without his help. “Sorry, Sawyer,” I tell him, ruffling his hair. “I’m sure you’ll figure out the whole potty training thing one of these days.” He smiles gratefully and edges closer. I wrinkle my nose. “I think he needs a change.”

  “Be my guest,” Mom says. “If you’re going to start babysitting soon, you better get used to it.”

  I shake my head. “No, thanks. I saw enough of that last month looking for the dime.”

  “Whose fault was it he swallowed the dime in the first place?”

  I pretend not to hear her as I fold up the box top. I had this grand plan of paying Sawyer ten cents to innocently approach my parents and inform them that his sister is the only sixth grader on the planet without a cell phone, but the plan collapsed when Sawyer swallowed the dime, was rushed to the doctor’s office, and then handed over to me to “wait for the dime to pass.” It was a very long forty-eight hours of examining the contents of Sawyer’s diapers, made longer by the fact that I was grounded as punishment for endangering Sawyer’s digestive system. Once I turn twelve and get to babysit, at least I’ll be getting paid for changing diapers. I’m sure I’ll be a great babysitter. I already know Rule #1: Don’t give coins to toddlers unless you enjoy sifting through what used to be pizza when it went in, but no longer looks (or smells!) anything remotely like pizza when it comes back out.

  But really, babysitting is a means to an end. In exchange for the privilege of getting a cell phone, I have to pay for my own “replacement insurance.” My parents don’t trust me not to lose the phone, which, frankly, is a little insulting. I haven’t lost anything in at least three weeks, and I didn’t really like those socks anyway, so it’s not like I cried when I realized I’d left them in the locker room at school.

  I’ve already snooped around the house to find out what model phone they got me. My mother must have changed all her hiding places, though, because I couldn’t find it. Hopefully, this means I’ll get to pick out my own phone. If so, I know exactly what I want. Hot pink, flip style, qwerty keyboard, touch screen, Internet capable, 12-megapixel camera/video, MP3 player, unlimited pictures and texting. Oh, and you can talk on it, too.

  “There’s still time to change your mind,” my mother says, scooping up the smelly, squirming Sawyer. “You can have a party instead.”

  Usually I choose having a small party over getting a present (the two options they give me every year), figuring if I have a party, then my friends will get me presents. But it’s not like my friends are going to get me a cell phone. (Although one time Annabelle’s dad got a free phone through his job and they offered it to me, and my mom was like, “Oh, are they going to pay the bill, too?” And then her dad took it back.)

  Mom is watching me hopefully, but I shake my head. “No, thanks, I’m good.”

  She sighs and slowly closes the door behind her. Poor Mom and Dad. They’re not handling this impending birthday very well. It’s going to be almost as big a change for them as it will be for me. I suspect they are not going to surrender without a fight. But I’m prepared to counter every argument they throw my way.

  After pushing the box to the very back of my closet, it’s time to move on to Part Two of my plan for the night. I reach under my bed and feel around for the old red shoe box. I’ve been putting notes in there for years, and after tomorrow I won’t need it anymore. I pat the cover lovingly, then pull off the lid and shake out the contents of the box. Folded-up notebook paper, old napkins, a brochure, and a place mat from the Willow Falls Diner flutter gently to the floor. The last thing out of the box is a puzzle piece, which lands with a satisfying plop. I had been visiting my dad’s jigsaw puzzle factory one day over Christmas break last year when I overheard two of my dad’s coworkers talking about me. “Cute kid. Too bad she has to wear those dorky glasses. They take up half her face!” (Okay, he might not have said dorky, but he may as well have.) The other replied, “Yeah, totally.” In response to this conversation, I reached for the bin labeled IRREGULARLY SHAPED AND BROKEN PIECES, found the largest piece, and scribbled “Get contact lenses” on the opposite side.

  Now I turn the piece over in my hand before pulling out the giant chart I made for my list. The word FINALLY (short for When I’m Finally Twelve) is written in big fancy letters across the top in my neatest handwriting. I sketched out the design in art class last week when I should have been drawing the inside of an orange. My chart is divided into two halves: BIG THINGS and SMALL THINGS. The Big Things are the ones that require a certain amount of planning (and/or $$) to achieve. I should be able to do the Small Things whenever they come up over the course of a regular day.

  It’s now time to use my notes to fill in the chart. I can tell just by the shape of the paper what they say. I pick up the very first one I ever wrote. I was seven. It was dinnertime. We were eating meat loaf (this was pre-Sawyer). I had asked for — and been denied — one yellow-spotted iguana.

  “A pet is a huge responsibility,” Dad had replied, not even bothering to stop chewing. “You can get one when you’re twelve.”

  “If you still want one,” Mom had added, clearly hoping I wouldn’t.

  “When I’m twelve?” I’d repeated. “That’s a zillion years from now.”

  “It’s only five years,” Mom had said. “It’ll go by in a flash.”

  I put down my fork, perhaps a bit forcefully since Dad flashed me one of his rare stern looks. “Five years is forever!” I’d protested. “Five years ago I was two!” I’ve always had excellent addition and subtraction skills.

  But they didn’t budge. After dinner I had gone directly to my room, ripped a page off my rainbow-colored notepad (receiving a painful paper cut in the process), and wrote, “Get a pet.” Then I folded it into a tiny square and looked around for a place to store it for five long years. It had to be somewhere safe, where the ravages of time couldn’t hurt it. All I could find was the red shoe box that my new sneakers had come in. It seemed sturdy enough. Plus it was red, my favorite color.

  In the five long years that followed, the box slowly filled until the lid barely stayed on. But it did the job, and now I’m ready to get to work sorting out my notes. The most recent one is only a few weeks old, and it’s not even a regular note. It’s an invitation to Natalie Karp’s twelfth birthday party. She’s one of the most popular girls in our grade, and I don’t even mind that I only got invited because Annabelle and Natalie are, like, second cousins on their moms’ side. If Natalie’s party had been before I turned twelve, I would have had to hear about it afterward from Annabelle and Sari at lunch. Sari’s parents are normal — which is something no one would ever call my parents — so she can do normal sixth grade stuff. Before, she could only do it with Annabelle. But now the world of boy-girl parties will finally be open to me and I won’t get left out anymore. I can’t wait!

  I lovingly place the invitation to the side, and reach for the others. I have to admit, Mom was right when she said I might change my mind about some things. I no longer have any interest in getting a perm after witnessing the poodlelike results on a girl a year ahead of me at school. I no longe