Our second novel in the series featuring Josh, the underdog and Eddie, the bully is now available at amazon.com.  Read the first two chapters below FOR FREE!!!

Zoo'd

CHAPTER 1

“Ed-die! Ed-die!” The chanting started.

I was the only one not joining in. Eddie, my crazy step-brother, was in the throes of blowing a gigantic bubble. He wanted to set the world’s record for biggest bubble and since bubblegum was not allowed in middle school, he knew he’d have to set his record on the school bus. Never mind it wasn’t allowed on the bus either.

“Ed-die! Ed-die!” The chanting was getting louder as the bubble got bigger. My friend Paul nudged me to join in. I did, even though part of me was a little jealous and the other part of me was a little worried about getting into trouble.

“POP!” In a flash, the gooey mess exploded like a thousand sprays of silly-string with most of it landing on Marina, Chelsea and Bria.

“Eeeewww!” was all I heard from the girls as they scrambled to remove the pink sticky globs from their hair.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Eddie said to them over and over, but they ignored him.

I swear I heard Marina mumble, “Idiot.”

“Josh, did you see that?” Eddie asked me. I was busy looking at Manny and Paul’s diorama that had shattered in a million pieces on the bus floor.

I nodded in disbelief. The bus looked like a giant bubblegum bomb had exploded.

“I was so close. I think I need more gum.” Eddie’s bubblegum obsession started right after our little sister was born. He even kept ABC, Already Been Chewed, gum in our freezer. It was gross!

As we were getting off the bus, the driver stopped Eddie, “Edward, a minute please.”

Eddie froze.

“See you later, Eddie,” I said and hurried to homeroom.

The principal’s office waiting room. That’s where I sat. On the most uncomfortable chair on the planet with the most uncomfortable feeling in my gut. It was all Eddie’s fault, of this I was sure. Look at him there. Sitting comfortably and as cool as a cucumber. The principal’s office never rattled him. I guess if you spend as much time in there as he has, the terror wears off.

“I know you think this is my fault,” he said, “but I can assure you, I’ve done nothing wrong today.”

“Really?” I said.

“Really,” he replied.

“Bumblegum,” was all I said.

“Oh, yeah, right,” he chuckled. “That was really funny.”

Eddie was right. It really was funny, but not so funny now.

“I just don’t know why I’m here,” I said.

“Oh, about that, when the bus driver asked me where I got the gum, I told her it was yours.”

“What?”

“Well, it was the truth.”

“Dang it Eddie! I could, I could…” I was interrupted by the sweet smell of strawberry as Marina, Chelsea and Bria entered the principal’s office. Obviously, they had tried to remove the strawberry gum from their hair but had just made it worse. Marina’s long brown hair stood straight out, Chelsea’s curly black hair looked like two swirly horns and Bria was sporting a blonde Mohawk.

“You!” Marina pointed at Eddie. “You are so in trouble now!”

Neither one of us could answer, we were laughing so hard at her hair. This just made her angrier and she sat down in a huff. Chelsea and Bria imitated her to let us know they were angry, too.

Our two best friends, Paul and Manny, entered the office next with their prized diorama in pieces. They sat down and shot Eddie daggers.

“What happened to your diorama?” Eddie asked them.

“Like you don’t know,” Paul spat.

“Honestly, I don’t.”

“When your bubble popped, it was so loud that Manny accidentally dropped our diorama on the floor,” Paul said.

“No way? It was loud, wasn’t it?” Eddie boasted. “I mean, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for that to happen.”

Principal Hamilton’s door opened and she poked her head out. One of her eyebrows was raised higher than the other in a questioning look. She glanced at the girls’ hair, then at the busted diorama and then at Eddie and me. Her other eyebrow caught up with the higher one. A look of surprise was on her face.

“Alright, inside all of you,” she said as we followed her into the office.

We all squished onto the benches and chairs in her office and she sat behind her desk. Her office was neat and tidy and was full of certificates all over the walls. It was kind of intimidating.

Principal Hamilton’s clear blue eyes honed in on Eddie. “Is there something you need to tell me Edward?” she asked. I knew why she’d asked him first. Trouble kind of hung around Eddie. He might as well wear a sign around his neck that said trouble. Come to think of it, he did have a t-shirt in the fourth grade that said, Here Comes Trouble. I wondered what happened to it.

“Yes, there is. I must confess,” Eddie began and paused, then continued, “I confess, that you look very pretty today.”

“Uh-huh. I see. Well, I think you know why you are all here.” She glanced around the room, stopping at Eddie. “Edward, I believe you owe these girls an apology.”

“I’m sorry you guys. I really didn’t mean to get gum all over you,” Eddie said.

The girls just glared at him.

“Ladies, go see Mr. Jeffries. He might have something in the cooking lab that can get that bubblegum out of your hair. If anyone can get it out, he can.”

The girls left, but not without giving Eddie a final glare. He acted like everything was okay and said, “Alright, see you guys in language arts. I’m glad we could clear this up.”

Principal Hamilton cleared her throat. “Eddie and Josh, what do you think we should do about Paul and Manny’s diorama?”

Josh? Why was she including me in the destruction? Oh yeah, my gum. Not fair. Not fair at all. Thanks Eddie.

“We could explain to their social studies teacher that it was our fault and we could help them rebuild it after school,” Eddie said and added, “I’m really sorry my expert bubble-blowing ability ended up making you drop your diorama.”

“That sounds reasonable. Do you agree Josh?” Principal Hamilton asked.

“Um, yeah. I’m sorry, too, that Eddie’s the bubble master and trouble follows him wherever he goes,” I said even though I didn’t think I should be held responsible. I sounded pathetic.

“That’s okay with me,” Manny said. Of course, he would agree quickly. Manny’s easy going and he’s one of my best friends. Best friends don’t stay mad long.

“Paul, is this acceptable to you?” Principal Hamilton asked.

“Yeah, but it has to look just as good as it did before,” Paul grumbled.

“It’ll look better!” Eddie said and I knew he was right. Eddie was an amazing artist. The diorama was themed From Harvest to Table, and to be honest, it didn’t look that good before the gum catastrophe.

“You two are excused,” she said to Paul and Manny.

“Now, Josh and Eddie what do you think your consequence for this action should be?”

“I really feel like I learned my lesson already,” Eddie said.

“Try again,” she muttered.

“Excuse me, Ms. Hamilton, I don’t really think I should be held responsible for Eddie’s actions,” I said with all the courage I could muster, which wasn’t a lot.

“Interesting,” she replied and took a deep breath. “Josh, I was just wondering if you could tell me our school policy on gum?”

“It’s not allowed,” I mumbled.

“Of course it isn’t. Do you know why?”

“Kids blow bubbles and it gets everywhere. Also, we stick it under our desks.”

“Um-hum. So you know you broke the rule by supplying gum to a fellow student. Do you still think that you shouldn’t shoulder some of the blame?”

“Honestly? No. I know I shouldn’t have brought gum to school. But I wasn’t the one who blew the bubble.”

“I see you still have much to learn, Josh,” she said disappointedly.

I didn’t care. I was so sick of Eddie always dragging me into trouble with him. Sure it was a fun ride along the way, but when we got to the end, boy did we pay. I’d never been grounded before Eddie became my stepbrother a year ago. Still, I was smart enough to see I wasn’t going to get out of this without some major butt kissing. So I said, “Maybe we could write a report on how important it is to keep our school gum-free?”

I could write a report in ten minutes flat. Not to brag, but I’m a straight-A student and this seemed like the easiest way out of a sticky situation, no pun intended.

“I do think it’s important to keep our school gum-free. Gum is a messy business and no good has ever come of it.”

“Some gum helps you clean your teeth,” Eddie added in his most innocent voice.

“How many cavities have you had, Edward?” Ms. Hamilton asked.

It was a trap. I knew it, but couldn’t warn him. Principal Hamilton was too smart for Eddie.

“Three,” he answered.

“Obviously, you do not chew the kind that cleans you teeth. Do you know what you will be cleaning during your lunch period?”

“My teeth?” he whispered.

“The bus. It’s a mess and you two will work as a team to clean it up. I hope I don’t hear about any more bubbles, Edward, or any more gum, Josh. Report to Mr. Foley, the head custodian to let him know you’ll need some cleaning supplies and then go to your first class. You are excused.”

“Why’d you have to say you got the gum from me?” I asked Eddie as we walked to see the custodian. “Now we’re both in trouble.”

“Because I knew I’d get in trouble and it is more fun having punishment with a friend,” Eddie answered.

“A true friend wouldn’t tattle.”

“A brother would always have your back, even when you had to clean the bus.”

I couldn’t argue with that. Eddie was my brother. Well, my step-brother, but he hated when I added the “step” in front of the word “brother” so I just stopped doing it. It was useless to argue with Eddie. He always seemed to say something to bring you over to his side. He didn’t used to be like that. He used to bully you to get his way. He changed last year when his mom married my dad. We became friends somehow, despite the fact that he had picked on me mercilessly since kindergarten. Still, I wasn’t ready to let him off the hook yet.

“You know Eddie, since you’ve been my brother, I’ve been grounded seven times, had two detentions and one suspension.”

“Hey, you’re right! Wow. That’s cool!”

“Ah, no it’s not. You always get me in trouble!”

“Josh, you’re looking at it the wrong way.”

“What other way could there be?”

“My way. See, since you’ve been my brother, I’ve only been grounded seven times this year. That’s excellent! Last year I was grounded fourteen times. You helped me cut my average in half! Not to mention I had six, yes, six detentions the year before. That’s even, well, more than half! You’re good for me!”

“Well, you’re not good for me,” I said but regretted it right after I said it when I saw the look on his face.

“Oh,” was all he said.

CHAPTER 2

After we got the Gum-Out, two paint scrapers, and a bunch of rags from Mr. Foley for later, we went to our language arts class. Mrs. Kairys, our super cool language arts teacher, was asking if any of us had experience naming a baby. Eddie’s hand shot up instantly as he took his seat.

“Yes, Eddie?” she asked.

“I named my baby sister Alwilda,” he said proudly.

“Oh, interesting…” she said but looked confused.

“I know. I’m really good at naming babies. Would you like me to name yours?” he said referring to the fact that she was pregnant.

“That’s really kind, but I think my husband and I can manage. We were thinking of Hannah because it’s a palindrome.”

“That’s the name I chose!” I shouted before I realized it.

“Good to know we’re on the same page, Josh,” she answered.

“I meant, that was the name I chose for my baby sister, but Eddie won the dare and…”

After I said, “the dare” all eyes turned to me. It was like I was starring in a movie. It got super quiet. Everyone knew about how Eddie and I used dares or bets to solve our disagreements. It got us into a lot of hot water last year in the fifth grade, when one of our dares went too far. Let’s just say it involved me and Eddie running across the cafetorium in our underwear during lunch time. We were legendary for that dare, but the dare to name our sister was not common knowledge. Although I knew it would be soon, now that I blabbed.

“What I meant to say is Hannah is a cool name. I like how it’s a palindrome; you know, how it’s spelled the same backward or forward,” I rattled on, which I tend to do when I get nervous. That and I turn red as a beet, which I was right now. But Mrs. Kairys was so cool, she continued like nothing happened.

“Anyway, there is a contest to name the new patas monkey at our local zoo, so after we do some team research on the patas monkey, each team will get to submit one name. Now students, I want you to really do your best because the team that wins will get to spend the night at the zoo!”

Cheers and hollers from all of us. Spending the night at the zoo would be awesome!

“Do we get to stay in the Tree House?” Eddie asked without waiting to be called on.

“I don’t know, I suppose so. I think that’s the only place for overnight guests,” Mrs. Kairys said.

“Too cool, I heard they just added zip-lines over the zoo,” Paul couldn’t contain his excitement.

“That’s true. My dad told me about it,” Manny added.

Mrs. Kairys looked worried. “I had no idea the zoo was so progressive.”

We all looked at each other. What did progressive mean? We all just shrugged our shoulders. Mrs. Kairys realized we didn’t know the word.

“Does anyone know what progressive means?”

Eddie raised his hand.

“Yes, Eddie.”

“It means the animals are very dangerous because they are so pro-aggressive and if you fall off the zip-line, you will get eaten.”

“No, no. Anyone else?”

“My dad has insurance called Progressive, does that mean the zoo needs insurance because the animals might eat us if we fall off one of the zip-lines?” Bria asked.

“First of all, no one is going to get eaten by the animals at the zoo. I’m sure all the zip-lines are very safe.” Mrs. Kairys sat down at her desk. She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. She looked tired.

“Where was I? Oh yes, progressive. It means to always move forward and make use of the most modern ideas, like adding a zip-line. Our City Zoo was the first zoo to provide kayaking as a way to explore the zoo, too.”

We did have the best zoo. I really wanted to spend the night there. My thoughts were interrupted by Mrs. Kairys.

“Okay, I’ll give you a couple minutes to break up into teams. There will be three teams with seven students each. Each team must have boys and girls together and each member of the team will be responsible for researching one key fact about the patas monkey.”

Eddie and I instantly sought out our two best friends, Manny and Paul. They seemed to be over the gum incident. Manny is like that, though. Nothing ever ruffles his feathers for long. Even though he grew a few inches over the summer, he’s still the shortest boy in our class; however, he’s the fastest runner in the school. No one can catch Manny. Paul is tall and blonde and lanky. He’s the only kid taller than Eddie. He didn’t used to be, but he grew over the summer too, and passed Eddie.

“We need some girls,” Paul said. “Let’s ask Marina, she’s the smartest girl and Josh, since you’re the smartest boy, we’ll have a great team.”

“I don’t think they want to be around me and Eddie right now,” I said.

“Hey, Bria do you want to join us?” Manny said. I knew he’d asked her because he had a crush on her, which was kind of funny because she was the tallest girl in our class and he was the shortest boy. She was short last year and kinda chubby, but she had a growth spurt over the summer, too, like Paul.

“Sure,” Bria said and walked over. Her long blonde hair was now gum free and fashioned into a braid down her back. It looked pretty but a little greasy.

“Wow, you smell great!” Manny said, “What is that?”

“Oh, it’s peanut butter. Mr. Jeffries used peanut butter to get the gum out of our hair and then he braided our hair to make it look better. He’s way into fashion. It’s funny because you can still smell the strawberry gum and now it’s mixed with the peanut butter. I smell like a PB&J.”

“Peanut butter takes gum out of stuff, who knew?” Eddie said to no one in particular.

Chelsea joined us next. She was super cool and really pretty. She had brown skin and black hair, which was twisted into two braids right now, courtesy of Mr. Jeffries, the family and consumer finance teacher. I kind of had a crush on Chelsea, but I kept my distance because she still seemed a little mad. But, she was nothing compared to the steam engine that was making her way towards us now.

“Traitors!” Marina hissed to Chelsea and Bria.

“Come on, Marina. Get over it. It was kinda funny,” Bria said.

Marina just plopped onto an empty seat and sulked. She played with the end of her new French braid.

We all scooted our desks together and waited for the next set of instructions.

“Here is a list of each fact that needs to be answered about the patas monkey.” Mrs. Kairys said as she handed each team a research sheet. “Take a few minutes to decide who will get what fact and then we’ll go to the media center.”

Marina, done sulking now that there was a job to do, grabbed the sheet right away and designated herself as our leader. She was kind of bossy that way.

“Okay, I’ll read the facts and then we can pick who gets what.” She read: “habitat, eating habits, social hierarchy, newborn care, lifespan, physical description, and interesting facts.”

“I’ll take physical description,” Manny said and Marina wrote his name down on the worksheet.

“Aw, that’s what I wanted,” Paul said.

“Oh, okay, you can have it.” Manny’s good nature shone through once again.

Marina erased Manny’s name and wrote down Paul’s.

“No, that’s okay. I just wanted it because it sounded easy. You can have it,” Paul said.

Marina erased Paul’s name and rewrote Manny’s.

“That’s why I wanted it, but really, you can have it,” Manny insisted.

Marina erased Manny’s name and tore a hole in the paper. “Enough!” she yelled. “Look what you two made me do. I hate holey paper, it’s so imperfect. Manny, go get us a new sheet. Paul, pick something else, Manny called physical characteristics first.”

Manny scrambled to Mrs. Kairy’s desk.

“Well, Paul?” Marina said

“I’m too scared to remember the other categories,” Paul said.

“How about lifespan? That’s even easier than physical characteristics.”

“Yeah, that sounds good,” he agreed.

“I’ll take social hierarchy because that’s probably the hardest one,” Marina said writing her name down on the new research sheet Manny provided. In the end, Bria ended up with eating habits, Chelsea ended up with habitat, Eddie ended up with interesting facts and somehow I got newborn care.

We all sat in the media center, at a large kidney bean shaped table to review the information we had gathered from books, magazines and the internet. Marina had loads and loads of index cards covered with notes, Bria had one sentence on her index card, Chelsea had one full index card, Manny and Paul had one index card between them and I had a full index card front and back. Eddie ran up to the group and plopped in the last chair.

“I got some great stuff! Really cool!” he said.

“Let’s all tell one thing we learned while researching, and we’ll keep going in a circle until all our facts have been said,” Marina said. “I’ll start. As you know, my category was social hierarchy. Here is fact one…”

“Dang, you could have said two facts by now,” Eddie interrupted and I agreed with him.

“As I was saying, patas monkeys usually live in groups,” she stated.

“Patas monkeys are reddish-brown with some white and grey hair, and they have super long legs like a greyhound for running really fast,” Manny said. “That’s all I have.”

“Really? We’ve been researching for half an hour,” Marina said.

Manny looked crestfallen.

“I actually found something really interesting about their appearance,” Eddie added.

“Cool, thanks Eddie,” Manny said.

“You’re welcome. I found a website that said that the monkey’s white mustache makes it look like an old British military officer. So I came up with a name for the baby monkey, it’s…”

“Hang on, we were all supposed to work together to come up with a name,” Marina said.

“Well, if you would let me finish, you’ll see my plan involves everyone’s help. You see, I thought the name Chortles would be a cute name for a baby monkey…”

“That’s good, Eddie,” I interrupted. “It’s friendly and makes it sound like the monkey likes to laugh.”

“That’s what I thought! Who sees a monkey laughing and doesn’t laugh, too? Except that mean one who threw that banana at you a couple of years ago, Josh.”

“Only because you threw it at him first,” I answered. “I’m pretty sure that he was aiming it at you.”

“Then that monkey had terrible aim and should’ve practiced more. Anyway, if we name him Chortles, then we could each give him a name based on each letter. What’s that called again?” he asked.

“Acronym,” Marina and I answered in unison.

“Yeah, an acronym. Let’s give him an acronym using the research we found.”

“Eddie that’s brilliant!” Marina said and I swear I saw Eddie blush a little.

“Hey, I know, since my category was physical characteristics, I’ll start his name with the letter “C” for colonel, since he looks like a British soldier,” Manny said.

“That’s brilliant, too,” Marina added.

Eddie looked a little deflated to lose his brilliant title so quickly to Manny.

“Next is “H.” Anyone?” Marina asked.

“Huffingpants,” Paul said.

“That doesn’t tie back to our research,” Marina said.

“Yeah, but it’s funny,” Paul said.

“If we’re going to use an acronym, then we need to do it right,” she insisted. She wrote the word CHORTLES really big on a piece of paper. “Now let’s brainstorm what we’ve learned and apply it to the letters.”

After a few minutes of everyone working together, we came up with the following:

C = Colonel, because their mustaches and scowls make them look like colonels

H = Hamstery, because they can hold food in their cheeks like a hamster

O = Omnivorous, because they eat insects and vegetables

R = Racer, because they are the fastest monkey

T = Treenap, because they sleep in trees

L = Lionel, because lions like to eat them

E = Ever-ready, because they always have a scout on lookout for danger

S = Scruffers, because their long red and gray fur is scruffy

“So the long version will be; Colonel Hamstery Omnivorous Racer Treenap Lionel Ever ready Scruffers, or C.H.O.R.T.L.E.S. for short,” Marina said, and we all agreed.

   

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