by Meg Cabot
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And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
"'Tis the fairy Lady of Shalott."
"You are so lucky."
Trust my best friend Nancy to see things that way. Nancy is what you would call an optimist.
Not that I'm a pessimist, or anything. I'm just . . . practical. At least according to Nancy.
Apparently, I'm also lucky.
"Lucky?" I echoed into the phone. "In what way am I lucky?"
"Oh, you know," Nancy said. "You get to start over. In a whole new school. Where no one knows you. You can be whoever you want to be. You can give yourself a total personality makeover, and there won't be anyone around to be all, 'Who do you think you're kidding, Ellie Harrison? I remember when you ate paste in first grade.' "
"I never thought of it that way," I said. Because I hadn't. "Anyway, you were the one who ate paste."
"You know what I mean." Nancy sighed. "Well. Good luck. With school and everything."
"Yeah," I said, sensing even over the thousand-mile difference between us, that, it was time to hang up. "Bye."
"Bye," Nancy said. Then added, "You're so lucky."
Really, up until Nancy said this, I hadn't thought there was anything lucky about my situation at all. Except maybe the fact that there's a pool in the backyard of our new house. We never had a pool of our own. Before, if Nancy and I wanted to go to the pool, we had to get on our bikes and ride five miles -- mostly uphill -- to Como Park.
I have to say, when my parents broke the news about the sabbatical, the fact that they were quick to add, "And we're renting a house with a pool!" was the only thing that kept down the vomit that started coming up in my throat. If you are a child of professors, sabbatical is probably about the dirtiest word in your own personal vocabulary. Every seven years, most professors get offered one -- basically a yearlong vacation, so they can recharge and try to write and publish a book.
Professors love sabbaticals.
Their kids hate them.
Because would you really want to uproot and leave all your friends, make all new friends at a whole new school and just be getting to think, "Okay, this isn't so bad," only to have to uproot yourself again a year later and go back where you came from?
No. Not if you're sane, anyway.
At least this sabbatical isn't as bad as the last one, which was in Germany. Not that there's anything wrong with Germany. I still exchange e-mails with Anne-Katrin, the girl I shared a desk with in the weird German school I went to there.
But come on. I had to learn a whole other language!
At least with this one, we're still in America. And okay, we're outside Washington, D.C., which isn't like the rest of America. But everyone here speaks English. So far.
And there's a pool.
Having your own pool is a lot of responsibility, it turns out. I mean, every morning you have to check the filters and make sure they aren't all jammed up with leaves or dead moles. There's almost always a frog or two in ours. Usually, if I get out there early enough, they're still alive. So then I have to conduct a frog rescue expedition.
The only way you can rescue the frogs is to reach down into the water to pull the filter basket out, so I've ended up touching all sorts of really gross stuff that floats in there, like dead beetles and newts and, a few times, drowned mice. Once there was a snake. It was still alive. I pretty much draw the line at touching anything that is capable of sending paralyzing streams of poison into my veins, so I yelled to my parents that there was a snake in the filter basket.
My dad is the one who yelled back, "So? What do you want me to do about it?"
"Get it out," I said.
"No way," my dad said. "I'm not touching any snake."
My parents aren't like other parents. For one thing, other people's parents actually leave the house to go to work. Some of them are gone for as many as forty-five hours a week, I've heard.
Not mine. Mine are home all the time. They never leave! They're always in their at-home offices, writing or reading. Practically the only time they come out of their offices is to watch Jeopardy! and then they yell out the answers at each other.
No one else's parents know all the answers to Jeopardy! or yell them out if they do. I know, I've been to Nancy's house and seen the evidence for myself. Her parents watch Entertainment Tonight after dinner, like normal people.
I don't know any of the answers on Jeopardy! That's why I sort of hate that show.
My dad grew up in the Bronx, where there aren't any snakes. He completely hates nature. He totally ignores our cat, Tig. Which of course means that Tig is crazy about him.
And if my dad sees a spider, he screams like a girl. Then my mom, who grew up on a ranch in Montana and has no patience for spiders or my dad's screaming, will come in and kill it, even though I've told her a million times that spiders are extremely beneficial to the environment.
Of course, I knew better than to tell my mom about the snake in the pool filter, because she'd probably have come out and snapped its head clean off right in front of me. In the end, I found a forked branch, and pulled it out that way. I let it go in the woodsy area behind the house we're renting. Even though the snake didn't turn out to be that scary once I finally got the guts to save it, I kind of hope it doesn't come back.
Excerpted from Avalon High by Meg Cabot. Copyright © 2006 by Meg Cabot. All rights reserved. Excerpted by permission of the publisher. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.