Episode 079

Melinda’s Journal

Sunday, December 10

Shopping List:

1. Mom

2. Dad

3. Joey

4. Papa

5. Nonna

6. Grandma

7. Grandpa

8. Pat???

Melinda’s Story

After Mass on Sunday morning, Deacon Bob was greeting parishioners in the vestibule. As soon as he saw me, he gasped.

“Melinda! What happened?”

“I slipped on the ice.”

“And you walked all the way here?”

“No.” I gestured to the boys behind me. “Deacon Bob, this is my boyfriend, Pat. He drove me here. This is my mentor, Walter. He’s the one who figured out how to get me here.”

“Well, it looks like you are in capable hands. I’ll see you Wednesday?”

I bit my lip. “Actually, no. I had to change my sport and now I have games every Wednesday. I won’t be able to come. What are the other nights there’re classes?”

“They’re held on Saturday mornings. Nine to ten-thirty. But they’re at our parochial school.”

“Oh.” Even if I didn’t have classes on Saturday morning, I still would have no way of getting to the next town, where the school was located. I frowned. “Yeah, there’s no way I can make that, either.”

“We could probably arrange a home study for you. Why don’t you email Mrs. Martinez and explain the conflict? Tell her you spoke to me.”

I pictured the frazzled woman who checked us in and out each week. “Is she the lady with the clipboard on Wednesdays?”

“Yes. She’s our program director.”

I nodded. “Okay. Thanks. I will.”

As promised, Pat dropped off me and Walter at the dining hall before returning the car to the TRAC parking lot. As we headed into the building, I told Walter about my afternoon plans. “Sarah and I are going to the mall this afternoon. She’s getting her dress for the ball and I’m going Christmas shopping. You wanna join us?”

“That depends. Is it just you two?”

I shrugged. “Well, Crystal’s here, so she’s coming. But we were on the fence about making it a girls-only trip. Figured I’d ask you first.”

Walter sighed. “Yeah. Mall sounds good. Should I invite Zayne?”

“Are you gonna invite her to the ball?”

Walter nodded. “Can you do me a favor? Can you invite her?”

“To the ball?” I smiled. “I don’t think she’ll go with me. I’m not her type.”

“To the mall and you knew that. What’re you eating?”

I left Walter by the trays, heading straight to the grill. The woman manning it smiled at me.

“What can I get for you this morning, sweetie?”

“Can I have an egg and cheese sandwich?”

She reached for an egg from the gigantic carton beside her. “Of course. Why don’t you go pick out your bread.”

I hobbled to the toaster, where there was an extensive selection of breads and rolls. My egg would go perfectly on an English muffin. But how was I supposed to carry it across the servery? I glanced around. I had no idea where Walter had disappeared to. With a sigh, I returned to the grill.

“Um, I’d like it on an English muffin, but I can’t carry it.” I rested on my good foot so I could wave my crutches in the air a little.

The woman smiled. “Oh, of course. I can get it for you.”

Walter appeared as the woman placed my sandwich on a plate. I thanked her as I took it, placing it on Walter’s empty tray.

I raised my eyebrows at him. “Wait. Where’s your food?”

“Already on the table. This is your tray.”

“How sweet,” cooed the lady behind the counter.

I rolled my eyes, but Walter didn’t seem to notice the woman’s tone. He turned to her, pointing to my sandwich.

“Can I have one of those?”

“Of course, dear. Go select your bread,”

Walter took my tray with him to the toaster. While he picked out his bread, I spooned some home fries onto my plate. I then grabbed a glass of orange juice and some water from the beverage island. While Walter waited for his sandwich, I headed to our usual table.

At this hour, there was next to no one in the dining hall. I texted Sarah while I waited for Walter to bring my food. By the time he sat down, Sarah had replied.

“So, Sarah’s gonna invite Larry to the mall. Should I invite Pat or not?”

Walter considered for a moment. “I’ll ask Pat if you talk to Zayne.”

“Works for me.” I bit into my sandwich with a shrug.

When I got back to the dorm, I went straight to the third floor. Unfortunately, our dorm was one of the few buildings on campus without an elevator. By the time I got to the third floor, I was exhausted. I took my time glancing at the doors, glad they still had their nametags from the beginning of the school year. When I found Zayne’s single, I knocked lightly, hoping she wasn’t a late sleeper.

“Come in.”

I opened the door, hobbling inside. “I hope I didn’t wake you.”

Zayne was sitting up in her bed. “Nah. I was up. I just didn’t want to get out of bed yet.”

“So, Sarah and I are going to the mall with some of the guys. Walter wanted to know if you wanted to join us.”

“Are you buying dresses for the ball?”

“Sarah is. I’m not going to the dance.” I held up my broken ankle. “I’m Christmas shopping.”

“Do you think Walter is gonna ask me to the ball?”

I smiled. “Do you want him to?”

“I haven’t decided. I kinda like him, but I dunno if I like him, like him, you know?” When I shifted my weight, she sat up a little, pointing to her desk chair. “Oh! Sit! I forgot about your foot.”

I was glad to get off my feet. “Sorry. It’s so annoying. Anyway, I think Walter likes you, too.”

“Wasn’t he with Ava last term? And that crazy girl who was expelled? Are they the kind of girl he likes? Cuz, I’m not like either of them. At least, I hope I’m not.”

“Don’t you think if he liked girls like that, they’d still be together? He realized Ava was sort of the exact opposite of what he likes. As far as Bella—”

Zayne giggled. “Yeah, I heard about what she did. Well, it might be fun to come to the mall with you guys. Who else is going?”

“Definitely Sarah and Walter. Sarah’s sister Crystal is visiting, so she’s coming, too. Probably Larry, since he and Sarah are joined at the hip.”

Zayne joined my giggles. “But they’re so cute together! Just like you and Patrick McGregor. Is he coming?”

“I dunno. Walter was gonna talk to him after breakfast.”

She sent me a confused look. “I thought you were his girlfriend.”

“You know he’s Walter’s brother, right?” When she nodded, I shrugged. “Walter wanted to talk to him about something, so he said he’d invite him for me.” I decided against sharing that the something else was warning Pat to leave him alone on this group date. “Anyway, I think that was everyone.”

“Sounds fun. Mind if Morgan and Dante join us?”

“I don’t mind, but I have no clue who they are.”

Zayne giggled. “Yes, you do. Morgan lives next door. Dante’s her boyfriend. You’ll recognize her when you see her. What shuttle did you wanna catch?”

“We were hoping for the 12:30.”

Zayne checked the clock. “I better shake my tail feather.”

“I finally get to meet Zach?” I did my best to look up at Pat. He was standing behind me while we waited for the shuttle in front of the MAC. His arms were around my waist and he didn’t seem to mind me resting against him. It was nice to take a little weight off my crutches for a few minutes.

Pat had two roommates. I had met Frank, the one who had a crush on one of my friends. But, I had yet to meet Zach, who had spent last term in Spain. Since he had been spending a lot of time with Pat’s friend Chloe, I was pretty sure the guy approaching the bus stop with his arm around Chloe’s shoulders was probably Zach. There was something familiar about him, but I just couldn’t seem to place him.

“Hey!” He did some strange, complicated handshake with Walter before turning towards me.

Pat pointed as he made introductions. “Melinda, Zach. Zach, Melinda.”

I squinted as I wracked my brain. “I know you.”

Zach put a hand to his chest. “I’m offended. I can’t believe you don’t recognize me, Rocket.”

It was the nickname that sparked my memory. “Captain Marshmallow!”

“How’ve you been?”

I held out my broken ankle. “Been better.”

“I heard. But you got this guy helping you out.” He slapped Pat on the shoulders. “You didn’t tell me Rocket was your girlfriend.”

“It never occurred to me you guys might know each other.” Pat raised his eyebrows. “How do you know each other?”

I smiled. “Our dads used to work together. The company had family picnics in the summer and holiday parties in the winter. Our dads were both junior partners, so they were sent off on these annual seminars. Our families would go, too, and we’d go on excursions, like museums and stuff, while our dads were learning about tax laws or whatever.”

Walter smirked in my direction. “Rocket?”

Zach laughed. “When we were kids, I asked Melinda what she wanted to be when she grew up and she said a rocket.”

I smiled at the memory. “No, I said a Rockette. You just misunderstood.”

Walter turned to Zach. “And you wanted to be a marshmallow?”

I giggled. “A Superhero. He ran around with a cape for about three years.”

Chloe smirked. “Did you wear tights?”

Zach pretended to glare at her as more of our friends joined us. Our shopping party created quite the crowd at the bus stop. Morgan and her boyfriend had agreed to the trip, and I immediately recognized them both as they approached the MAC with Zayne. Morgan had switched into my English class this term, and Dante had been in my math class last term, but had switched out last week.

Pat’s other roommate had also joined us. He had invited my friend Dre, who had invited the girl across the hall from her, my friend Jade. Jade was holding hands with her boyfriend, Leif, a friend who lived down the hall from Walter.

I leaned closer to Pat, keeping my voice soft. “Do you realize that there’s more than a dozen of us?”

Pat rested his chin on my head, whispering in my ear. “It’ll make it easier for Walter to talk to Zayne. Hey, you didn’t tell me Crystal was coming.” He released me slowly, giving me a chance to put my weight back on my crutches before he waved to Sarah’s sister.

As soon as she saw him, Crystal waved adamantly at Pat before signing furiously. Last month, Crystal had been elated to learn that Pat had become fluent in American Sign Language for the part in his latest movie.

Behind me, Pat laughed. “Slower! You know I can’t sign as fast as you.”

Crystal and Pat had a silent exchange for a few moments until the rumble of the bus had everyone looking towards the road. Crystal went to join her sister as Pat returned his attention to me.

 “So, who do you still need to shop for?”

“Um, everybody? I haven’t done any shopping.”

The bus pulled to a stop and Pat followed me to a seat near the driver. He held me close, speaking near my ear.

“Am I supposed to buy you a gift?”

“It feels weird. Like, we haven’t been together long enough to spend money on each other.”

“You don’t even let me pay at the MAC Attack. But, I get what you mean. It’s fine. But, I wanted to make something for you. You don’t have to give me a gift.”

“No! I like the idea of making you something.”

“Sick. So, we’re having a party over break. Walter doesn’t know yet, because I just started planning it this second. You and I can exchange gifts then.”

I smiled. “Okay. But what if my mom doesn’t let me come to the party?”

“She will. She likes me.”

When we reached the mall, the girls wanted to go to the formal dress shop while the boys started discussing food. I suggested to Pat that he should hang out at the food court, and most of the boys thought this was a fantastic idea. Ultimately, Zach and Chloe went off on their own while the rest of us went to Fabulous Formals and the boys went to eat.

My friends all seemed to find their dresses quickly. So quickly, they had trouble deciding which one was perfect. They each took several selections to the dressing room, while Crystal and I sat on a nearby couch to offer our opinion to each girl. Although it was fairly easy to understand Crystal’s facial expressions, she texted me whenever I had trouble understanding her.

Crystal giggled as my phone beeped. “It’s like a fashion show.”

I nodded to her, watching Dre parade in front of us. She was wearing a long midnight blue gown with white sparkles rising from the bottom, reminding me of a night sky in the city.

Dre frowned at herself in the mirror. “I still can’t decide. The red one looked good, too.”

I shook my head. “No. The red one’s nice, but this one is wow.”

“Are you sure?”

“Definitely,” agreed Sarah from behind.

I made a face. “I don’t like it.”

Dre’s eyes grew wide. “You just said you did.”

“No, Dre. Yours is perfect. Go for the blue one. I don’t like Sarah’s.”

“What’s wrong with it? I can’t put my finger on it.”

“It’s unflattering,” Crystal said. “You’re skinny. That dress just doesn’t hang on you the right way. I think it’s meant for someone with a bigger butt.”

Everyone giggled after Sarah had translated her sister’s signs.

Zayne nodded as she made her way to the mirror. “Yeah, she’s right.”

Sarah turned around. “Oh! That dress is gorgeous, Zayne.”

She had found a bright green dress with a scoop neck and billowy sheer sleeves. It swept out from an empire waist to Zayne’s ankles, flaring at least twice as wide when she moved in a circle. The overlay was sprinkled with multicolored dots that shimmered in the light.

“You look like a Christmas tree.” Morgan smiled as she emerged from her dressing room. “In a totally awesome way.”

Jade nodded. “I love it.”

An hour later, everyone had found a dress and we could start our holiday shopping. Sarah glanced at her phone. “Larry says Pat and Frank-Pete ditched them, but the rest of the boys will find us if we stay in this area.”

Dre rolled her eyes. “I’ll text Pete.”

“Thanks. I hate these things.” I wiggled my crutches.

A moment later, Dre reported that Pat and his roommate were busy and would join us later, but didn’t elaborate on what the boys were actually doing. Since we were all searching for something different, our large group eventually splintered into smaller factions and it did not surprise me to find myself alone with Larry, Sarah, and Crystal.

I glanced at them while they waited for me by the escalator. “I’m just gonna slow you guys down. If you wanna go off on your own, you can.”

Larry put an arm around my shoulders. “No, we like hanging out with you. Besides, I need all the help I can get. I have no idea what to get Kenzie.”

We brainstormed ideas for Larry’s five-year-old sister as we wandered the first floor. When we reached the toy store, we went in different directions. I found some model cars I thought my brother might enjoy, since Joey had taken up the hobby during the summer. I put them in my backpack and headed to the register. On my way, I noticed a display.

“Larry! Get over here. I found the perfect gift!”

Larry and Sarah followed my voice to the display of plush dolls from Kenzie’s favorite animated series, C.I.Amy. In addition to the title character, they also had her best friend, Sammy McSmartypants.

“It’s perfect!” Larry exclaimed. “I’m getting her both of them. Thanks Melinda!”

We found Crystal and headed to the register. Sarah sent Larry a confused look. “Why do you have two Sammys?”

“One’s for Walter.”

“Why?” Crystal asked.

While Sarah did her best to discourage Larry, I tried to explain to Crystal that Walter was the voice actor who portrayed Sammy. Although Larry insisted on buying a doll for Walter, he promised to wait until we got back to the dorms to tease his friend, since Pat was the only other person on our shopping trip who knew about Walter’s alter ego.

Pat finally caught up with us in a store that sold accessories for girls. “Who could you possibly be shopping for in here?”

I turned to face him. “Hey! Where you been? Sarah and Crystal are both trying to find things for each other without the other knowing.”

“So, are you all set?”

“Not quite. I got something for Joey, but I still need to get everything else. But, I know what I wanna get. I’m just hoping I have time to get it all. I could order online, but—”

Pat played with my hair. “Good. You can help me. I haven’t even started.”

“What’s that?” I pointed to the bag in his hand.

Pat quickly hid it behind his back. “No peeking. That’s for you.”

I smiled. “Well, I’m getting my mom a candle.”

“Ooh. I like that. Okay. One down.”

“Meghan would probably like it, too.”

Pat nodded. “Sick. Two down.”

“My dad and grandparents, calendars.”

“Good plan. What should I get Walter?”

“I’ll know when I see it. You might find him a sport of the day calendar or something.”

Sarah and Larry also liked my candle idea, so we made our way to one of the fragrant candle shops, where we all found nice little gift baskets for our mothers. Larry bought a second one for his grandmother, but Pat decided to wait before buying one for his sister.

Our next stop was the calendar store. I was excited to find a daily calendar showcasing a different hole from famous golf courses each day. It was the perfect gift for my father. Even better was the one that featured a unique pair of shoes each day for my footwear-obsessed Nonna. Papa was getting a wine of the day calendar, and my Grandma and Grandpa Luzzelli were sharing a calendar featuring National Parks, since they spent their retirement traveling around the United States in their RV.

Pat found a daily recipe calendar for people with diabetes and decided it was perfect for Meghan, who was learning to cook in order to take better care of herself. He also found a daily classic car calendar for his father, whom he said collected cars the way most musicians collect guitars. Since I had seen the guitars, I could only imagine the size of the car collection.

I was looking through what Pat had dubbed the nerdy calendar section when I found the perfect one for Walter. I called over to the next aisle. “Hey, Pat! Get over here a sec!”

He was beside me a moment later. “Sup?”

I said nothing. I simply handed him a box entitled Daily Nuggets. Each day was a page containing a cartoon chicken nugget and a talk bubble containing a random, useless fact of the day, such as the longest word in four different languages.

Pat was awestruck. “It’s food, and it’s trivia. It is so Walter, it should be named after him. You should give it to him.”

“Not uh. I’m not getting him anything. Just tell him I picked it out.”

As we left the store, Sarah turned to me. “Are you done?”

I nodded. “I need to get some craft supplies. But, I’m done Christmas shopping. I can wrap these when I get home.”

“Good plan. Okay. I need a few more things. Meet you in the food court at five? Dinner here or dining hall?”

“Dining hall.” Larry held up the bags in his hand. “I’m spending enough money today.”

Sarah giggled. “Okay. We’ll catch the 5:30 shuttle.” She had memorized the bus schedule our first weekend on campus.

Pat and I found a craft supply shop where I was able to buy what I needed to make Pat’s present. I had the perfect project in mind and, even though it wouldn’t be very difficult to make, it could be time consuming. I might have to work on it during basketball practice. The best part was, even though Pat was with me as I picked out the supplies, I knew he had no idea what I was making. And he was going to love it when it was done.

Pat’s Story

After Mass on Sunday, Melinda introduced us to her CCD teacher, Deacon Bob, and discussed her Wednesday conflict before I drove her and Walter back to campus. I dropped them off in the back of the dining hall before parking down at the TRAC and heading to my dorm.

After swapping my khakis for jeans, I sat decided I wasn’t all that hungry for breakfast. I settled onto my bed with a protein bar and my phone.

I was catching up on my emails when Walter knocked on my open door. “Can I talk to you a sec?”

I glanced at my roommates. Frank was still asleep in the lower bunk and Zach was reading in his top one. I nodded my head at the door, indicating to Walter we should go elsewhere. He seemed to understand.

We settled ourselves in the common room. Walter sat on one couch and I sat facing him on another. I figured whatever he was doing here had to be important for him to find me instead of sending me a text.

“What’s wrong?”

Walter took a deep breath. “Melinda started planning this trip to the mall. You’re invited, by the way. And, well, I asked her to invite Zayne.”

I punched him lightly on the shoulder. “Way to go. Is she coming?”

“I don’t know yet. Melinda didn’t text me back. But, if she does—I just don’t want—Can you—”

“Can I what? You don’t want me going?”

“No. I do want you going. It’s just, I want you there as Melinda’s boyfriend, not my brother.”

“So, what? Am I not allowed to talk to you again?” I wasn’t entirely able to mask the bitterness in my voice. “She already knows I’m your brother.”

“It’s not that.” Walter swore. “Things with Ava just never seemed to go well. I don’t want today to be like that. And I just don’t want to have to worry about my big brother teasing me and making it worse.”

“Have I ever teased you in front of her?”

Walter nodded. “The other night, when the rest of us were reading that stupid short story. You said the imagery was obvious and said I was an idiot for not recognizing it.”

“No, doofus. That was your best friend.”

Walter considered for a moment. “Are you sure?”

“Yes. I happen to think she was right, but she said it first.” I gave Walter a minute to digest that before continuing. “Are you gonna ask her to the ball?”


“No, doofus. Zayne.”

“Yeah. I was gonna ask her. I don’t know when. Or how.”

“Find a chance to get her alone while we’re at the mall. Ask her if she wants to go for a walk, or maybe offer to buy her an ice cream or something. Then, while the two of you are alone, just ask her. And, whatever you do, DON’T talk with food in your mouth!”

Walter punched me, not very lightly, as he stood. “Thanks.”

Since Walter didn’t give me enough information, I texted Melinda to find out when the shuttle was. I also asked if she minded me bringing a couple of friends along. I wasn’t sure if Walter realized it, but Melinda and Zayne, and I assumed Sarah, were going shopping for dresses for the ball. I didn’t want to sit through that alone.

I convinced Zach and Frank to join me, but Zach insisted on bringing his girlfriend, my friend Chloe. Frank was inviting the third-form girl he had been flirting with but whom he had not yet asked out. She was one of Melinda’s friends.

We all gathered in front of the MAC while we waited for the shuttle to arrive. I stood behind Melinda, holding her close, and she leaned into me slightly instead of balancing on her crutches. I was enjoying being this close to her, my chin resting on her head as I watched our friends migrate towards us.

Zach approached with his arm around Chloe and did his ritual handshake with Walter. I then finally got to introduce him to my girlfriend.

“Melinda, Zach. Zach, Melinda.”

Melinda cocked her head to the side. “I know you.”

Zack put a hand to his chest. “I’m offended. I can’t believe you don’t recognize me, Rocket.”

“Captain Marshmallow!”

They exchanged pleasantries a moment before Zach clapped me on the shoulder. “You got this guy helping you out. You didn’t tell me you were with Rocket.”

Although I found the nickname amusing, I couldn’t help but notice my protein bar was not settling in my stomach very well. I held Melinda a little closer.

“It never occurred to me you guys might know each other. How do you know each other?”

Melinda explained how her father used to work with Zach’s father, then she and Zach explained the nicknames. Apparently, Melinda wanted to be a Rockette when she grew up, but Zach had thought she said Rocket. Zach, meanwhile, wanted to be a superhero named Captain Marshmallow.

Zach turned to talk to Frank and Walter started chatting with Zayne and some friends she had brought along. Melinda spoke in a quiet voice.

“Do you realize that there’s more than a dozen of us?”

I whispered in her ear. “It’ll make it easier for Walter to talk to Zayne.” I was about to tell her how nervous he had seemed earlier when I saw her roommate emerge from the MAC with her eleven-year-old clone beside her. “Hey, you didn’t tell me Crystal was coming.”

I waved to the girls. Sarah’s younger sister held a soft spot in my heart. I had learned American Sign Language for the last role I had filmed, and I thought I had become fairly fluent. I could converse with my teacher, the on-set interpreter, and my co-star with no problems.

The first time I met Crystal, I was blown away by how fast that girl could sign. I had never seen anyone do that, not even my co-star. I had fallen in love with her instantly. Well, the way I would love a little sister. Or a cousin. Something like that.

Of course, as soon as Crystal saw me, she started signing at that furious pace. I kissed the top of Melinda’s head and let go of her gently, giving her a chance to rebalance on her crutches.

“Slow down!” I said as I signed to Crystal. “You know I can’t sign as fast as you.”

Crystal giggled. “I forgot. I said I was glad you’re here. There’s a lot of people here I don’t know.”

“Me too.”

“You too, what?”

“I’m glad you’re here. There’s a lot of people here I don’t know.”

Crystal giggled again. I heard the bus lumbering towards us and pointed it out to Crystal. She tugged on her sister’s sleeve and asked about her visitor ID, which she needed to use the bus.

I let Melinda go in front of me and slid beside her into a seat near the driver as she placed her crutches between herself and the window. I pulled her as close as I could with her cast.

“So, who do you still need to shop for?”

“Um, everybody? I haven’t done any shopping.”

I tried to remain nonchalant as I asked a burning question. “Am I supposed to buy you a gift?”

“It feels weird. Like, we haven’t been together long enough to spend money on each other.”

I smiled. “You don’t even let me pay at the MAC Attack. But I get what you mean. It’s fine. But, I wanted to make something for you. You don’t have to give me a gift.”

Melinda wiggled in her seat a little. “No! I like the idea of making you something.”

“Sick. So, we’re having a party over break. Walter doesn’t know yet, because I just started planning it this second. You and I can exchange gifts then.”

Melinda smiled. “Okay. But what if my mom doesn’t let me come to the party?”

I remembered what Melinda had said last night. “She will. She likes me.”

Shopping with girls isn’t all that fun. They think about where they want to go entirely too much. As soon as we got off the bus, we gathered in a huge knot at the bus stop, in the cold, while the girls figured out what to do. They took a good ten minutes deciding while we guys stomped around trying to keep warm. Couldn’t they have at least done this inside?

Apparently, the first item on the agenda was getting their dresses for the Snowflake Ball. I could tell by the looks on almost ALL the guys faces that none of them had anticipated this. Really? Girls and parties. They should have known better.

Melinda turned to me. “I’m not even picking out a dress. Why don’t you go hang out in the food court or something and I’ll text you when we’re done?”

“Hey, that’s a good idea,” Larry said.

“Chloe and I will catch up with you later.” Zach winked at me as they walked away, hand in hand, whispering to each other. I really didn’t want to know where they were going.

While the girls went in search of the perfect dress, the rest of us headed to the food court. Unfortunately, as soon as the girls were out of sight, Frank pulled me aside.

“I’m not trying to sound like one of them.” He pointed in the general direction where the girls had just disappeared. “But I have nothing to wear to the dance.”

“What about what you wore to the Victory Ball?”

Frank grinned. “Bianca had a good time at the ball. When she was thanking me, she may have gotten a little . . . aggressive.”

“Stop. I really don’t want to know the details.” Normally, I probably would ask for more information. But Bianca was my ex-girlfriend. I didn’t think highly of her and had no problem with Frank taking her to the dance, but I didn’t want to think about her and Frank together in that way.

“The point is, I need a new shirt. And new pants.”

“She ruined your pants, too?”

“Grass stains don’t come out very easily.”

“I said I didn’t want to know.” He had piqued my interest slightly, and I probably wouldn’t have stopped him if he had shared, but instead we went in search of a men’s store.

Frank can be such a girl sometimes. When Dre, his almost-girlfriend, texted him that the girls had found their dresses, he was still trying to find the right outfit. He spent thirty minutes deciding between a suit or just pants and a shirt. I just sat there on my phone trying to figure out what to buy my parents. It was incredibly difficult to shop for people who already own everything and can buy anything else themselves.

When Frank finally finished, we found Dre with some of her friends, but there was no sign of my brother or my girlfriend.

“Walter and Zayne went back to the food court,” one of the friends told me. I was pretty sure I had never seen her before. She must have been new to the group. “Melinda went off with Larry and Sarah and Sarah’s sister.”

“Thanks.” I ditched them in a hurry. I found a craft store and bought what I thought I might need to make what I wanted for Melinda. I wasn’t great at crafts, but what I planned didn’t seem too difficult.

The mall was too big to hope I would just run into Melinda. I was about to text her when I caught sight of her on the first floor, heading into a store that sold accessories. The kind for teens, not adults. I couldn’t imagine why she would go there, since I doubted her brother would want necklaces or bracelets.

I was still on the second floor, but there was an escalator nearby. She was still in the store when I got there. I snuck up behind her.

“Who could you possibly be shopping for in here?”

She turned with a smile. “Hey! Where you been? Sarah and Crystal are both trying to find things for each other without the other knowing.”

“So, are you all set?” I didn’t see any bags, but I thought maybe her roommate was carrying them for her, with the crutches and all.

“Not quite. I got something for Joey, but I still need to get everything else. But, I know what I want to get. I’m just hoping I have time to get it all. I could order online, but—”

I smiled. “Good. You can help me. I haven’t even started.”

“What’s that?” She pointed to my bag.

I quickly hid it behind my back. “No peeking. That’s for you.”

Melinda smiled. “Well, I’m getting my mom a candle.”

“Ooh. I like that. Okay. One down.”

“Meghan would probably like it, too.”

“Awesome. Two down.”

“My dad and grandparents, calendars.”

“Good plan. What should I get Walter?”

Melinda wrinkled her nose adorably. “I’ll know when I see it. You might find him a sport of the day calendar or something.”

We headed to a candle shop where we all bought gift baskets for our moms. I didn’t find any that screamed Meghan, so I opted to wait. We could always come back if I found nothing else.

After the candle store, we hit the calendar store. It was a lot bigger than I expected and had hundreds, possibly thousands, to choose from. I wandered the cooking aisle and found a recipe-a-day calendar for people with diabetes. It had a ton of desserts in it. Meghan had been cooking a lot lately, and I had a feeling she would love it. Plus, a lot of the recipes were for two people, so she could cook for the boyfriend I was pretty sure she wasn’t telling me about.

I was looking through the science fiction calendars for Walter when Melinda called me from the nerdy aisle. I was by her side almost immediately.


Melinda said nothing, but handed me a boxed calendar. I read the back carefully. It was called Daily Nuggets, and on each page a cartoon chicken nugget had a talk bubble with random, useless facts. The example on the box had the longest word in four different languages.

The calendar was perfect for my brother. “It’s food, and it’s trivia. It is so Walter, they should name it after him. You should give it to him.”

Melinda shook her head. “Not uh. I’m not getting him anything. Just tell him I picked it out.”

After the calendar store, Melinda made plans to meet up with her roommate and she and I went shopping on our own. She was done, and I only had to buy things for my grandparents. I figured I would shop for them online. I led Melinda towards the craft store I had found earlier, without me actually telling her that was where we were heading. I was pretty sure she already had figured out what to make me, since she bought a lot of supplies, although I had no idea what it would be.

Zach was alone in our dorm when I got back from the mall.

“So, that’s Melinda. I like her. She’s good for you.”

There was something in his tone. “But?”

Zach shrugged. “I haven’t seen her in a couple of years. I’m trying to picture her as a mature high school student, not a naïve little middle schooler. But isn’t she a little young for you?”

“Probably. But I’m crazy about her.” Actually, I was pretty sure I was falling in love with her, but Zach was not the first person I was going to share that information with.

“You can’t sleep with her.”

“I’m waiting ’til I’m married. You know that.”

Zach frowned. “Yeah, but don’t you want to?”

“Of course I want to. But, I’m not going to.”

“But I just thought that once you had a girlfriend, you would change your mind.”

I shook my head. “Having a girlfriend has made me even more positive that I want to wait.”

Zach shook his head slowly. “I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.”

That night, I spent second study hours making Melinda’s present. My roommates were so busy studying, neither seemed to notice that I wasn’t doing actual work. That was a good thing, since I figured they would probably make fun of me if they found me out.

I had found foam cutouts in the shape of a tree. I glued them to the front of a blank writing journal. Using a silver permanent marker, I spelled out Daphne on the apples, then placed them along the leaves. I couldn’t wait to give it to Melinda. I knew she was going to love it.

Attention Hammerheads

Melinda is always trying to build her vocabulary. What were some words in this episode that were new to you? She will add them to her vocabulary journal.