“I hate my hair!”
Sophie took a pair of socks out of her top drawer and counted to herself silently. One, one thousand . . . two, one thousand . . .
“I HATE M Y HAIR!” Her older sister, Nora, shouted it louder this time. Then she slammed the door of the bathroom cabinet before turning on the hair dryer full blast.
Even the hair dryer sounded furious.
Sophie sat on the end of her bed and reached for her sneakers. There once was a time when the next thing to happen would have been Nora’s storming into their room, hurling her hairbrush onto the dresser, and snarling, “Don’t talk to me,” before Sophie had even opened her mouth.
Then Sophie (the old Sophie) would have tried to cheer Nora up by saying something dumb like “I have curly hair, too, and I like it.”
Sophie couldn’t believe how much she’d matured in two short months.
Since Nora had moved up to the attic and Sophie had turned ten, Sophie had started seeing things in such a new light that she felt as if she could easily be eleven.
Or even twelve.
The thing was, Sophie wasn’t in a rush to be eleven or twelve. It would bring her that much closer to being fourteen. After observing Nora for the past few months, Sophie had decided that fourteen was a very emotional age. She would have liked to keep a list of all the things that made Nora furious so she could start practicing not letting them bother her when she was fourteen. But ever since last year, when Sophie had discovered that everyone in the family had been reading her lists even though she’d kept them carefully hidden, she had given up lists.
One particular day last fall had made it final.
She and Nora were still sharing a room. Sophie was sitting at Nora’s desk, intently reading a list written in purple ink that she’d found in the desk drawer Nora had labeled KEEP OUT! and didn’t realize her sister had come in until Nora shrieked.
Then Sophie, who was so shocked by what she’d read that she completely forgot she’d taken the key to the drawer from its hiding place taped inside Nora’s winter boot at the back of the closet, looked at her sister and said, “‘Mr. and Mrs. Ian Bishop’? ‘Mrs. Ian Bishop’? ‘Nora Hartley Bishop’?
“Nora!” Sophie had cried. “You’re married?”
Looking back, Sophie couldn’t believe how young she’d been when she was nine. While Nora pounded on the door of the locked bathroom door where Sophie had sought shelter, Sophie had sworn off lists for the rest of her life. Hers or anyone else’s.
Lately, though, she wished she hadn’t been so hasty. In order to remember everything, she had to walk around muttering, “Boys, parties, nose, hair, thunder thighs, Lisa Kellogg—boys, parties, nose, hair, thunder thighs, Lisa Kellogg,” under her breath. Since the day Nora had overheard her and gotten mad about that because she said Sophie was making fun of her, Sophie had been forced to repeat that list in her head. Since her head was already crowded, it meant there was hardly any room left.
All she knew was that noses should be small, hair should be straight, and boys and parties were good unless they didn’t like you or you didn’t get invited to one. Then they were bad. She wasn’t sure what Lisa Kellogg had done to make Nora hate her, or what thunder thighs were, but they were both definitely on the list. It was all very complicated.
What worried Sophie most of all, though, was something Nora had said a few weeks earlier. She and Mrs. Hartley had been arguing about a pair of expensive jeans that Nora said all the girls in middle school wore and Mrs. Hartley said they couldn’t afford. Sophie was only trying to help when she said, “You should do what I do, Nora. Sew or glue things on your old jeans to make them look different.”
“Butt out, Sophie,” Nora said. “Nora!” said Mrs. Hartley.
“It’s none of her business.”
“We’re in the kitchen,” Sophie said. “When you’re having a conversation in the kitchen, anyone can join it.”
“Oh, is that right?” Nora sneered at her in the way she’d perfected in middle school. “You think everything’s so hunky-dory all the time. Just you wait, Little Miss Sunshine. Your time will come.”
Nora had stormed up to her room before Sophie could ask exactly when Nora thought Sophie’s time would come and what would happen to her when it did.
“She means you’re going to become a teenager.” Mrs. Hartley got up to put her mug into the dishwasher and muttered, “Heaven help us,” under her breath.
“I heard that,” said Sophie. “It doesn’t help, on top of Nora.”
“Sorry.” Her mother flashed a fake smile. “Who knows, Sophie? Maybe you’ll be the first adolescent in history to become a teenager who doesn’t have temper tantrums or grow a mustache!”
“You know I won’t,” Sophie said gloomily. “Even Thad changed. Remember how he suddenly grew hair all over his arms and legs and went around giving us beard burns and flapping his arms to show off his hairy underarms?”
“Please.” Her mother picked up her briefcase and started for the hall. “Three teenagers in one house,” she said. “What were we thinking?”
It wasn’t very comforting.
What if Nora was right and Sophie had no other choice than to become a teenager who burst into tears one minute and was hysterical with happiness the next? And who argued with almost everyone in her family?
Sophie didn’t want to become that kind of person. For one thing, she didn’t like to argue. For another, she liked the people in her family. Now that she was fourteen, Nora seemed to hate most of them. She ignored Sophie whenever she could and argued with everyone else, almost every day.
Mr. Hartley was safe because he was on the road so much of the time, and Maura still talked in oneor two-word sentences. Even Nora couldn’t argue with a toddler who said only “Wow!” and “Okay!” As for John, he had a way of ignoring everything that went on above his head. Since he was seven and short, he managed to avoid most family arguments.
Nora argued constantly with Thad and their mother. Her temper had started to affect everyone in the family. Mrs. Hartley had been much grouchier than usual lately. After she and Nora had had a particularly heated argument one afternoon, Sophie found her mother in the family room, pacing back and forth and muttering, “Be the rock . . . Be the rock . . .”
“What rock?” Sophie asked.
“Mothers are meant to be the rock their children build their lives on,” Mrs. Hartley said grimly. “On days like this, I feel more like sand.”
Now, as if on cue, Sophie heard the bathroom d...