It's funny how you can think you know someone pretty well, and then something happens or they do something that makes you understand that you didn't really know them at all.
My homeroom teacher, Mrs. Ambler, is that way. I always figured she was just another long-suffering adult who was sick to death of dealing with junior high school kids. I also always thought that she was at least fifty. Probably well on her way to sixty. You know, old.
Then one day she came into homeroom with two lovebirds. I'm talking the feathered variety, not the gross pimply kind you see swapping spit behind the locker rooms.
Anyhow, these birds would've looked perfect on the shoulder of a midget pirate. They had orange faces, green bodies, a little splay of bright blue tail feathers, and I thought for sure they were baby parrots.
But when Mrs. Ambler parked the white domed cage on her desk and Tawnee Francisco asked, "Are they cockatiels?" Mrs. Ambler smiled at her and said, "No, they're lovebirds."
Now, this may seem like a perfectly normal exchange to you, but (a) I didn't even know there was actually such a thing as a lovebird, and (b) Mrs. Ambler's voice when she said "lovebirds" was all soft and sweet and...feathery.
Then I noticed her face. It was all soft. And sweet. And...well, not feathery, more glowy.
It was not the Mrs. Ambler I was used to seeing, that's for sure. I glanced at my best friend, Marissa McKenze, who sits way up front in the corner, and she was sort of blinking at Mrs. Ambler, too.
Then Heather Acosta pipes up with, "Lovebirds, Mrs. Ambler? How adorable."
I rolled my eyes and Marissa did the same, because ever since end-of-the-year elections for Class Personalities started drawing near, Heather's been on the world's most revolting kiss-up campaign.
The whole idea of Class Personalities is stupid to begin with. It may be a "tradition" at William Rose Junior High School, but what it really is, is an overblown popularity contest. But since popularity is the pulse that drives Heather's blood, I guess that explains why she's dying to win something. Anything. You should see the way she's been circulating through campus lately, oozing a diabolically contagious form of congeniality. She's nice. She's sweet. She's helpful. She's concerned. And she's all that with such true-
blue sincerity it's frightening.
Unfortunately for her, after nearly a full school year of her schemes and lies, I think that most people are smart enough to be suspicious, except for one thing--Heather's also been acting contrite. You know--she's just so, so sorry for her part in any trouble this year. I've heard her tell teachers, "I know I made mistakes, but I've learned so much!" and "You know, I'm just so grateful for the experiences--I feel I've really grown as a human being!"
That's the kiss-up game she's been playing with other people, anyway. To me she's been whispering, "Count 'em and weep, loser."
Please. Like I care if she wins some stupid popularity contest?
She's not just after Friendliest Seventh Grader, either. Oh no. She's hedging her bets by going for Most Unique Style, too. One day she comes to school looking like a punk princess in black and chains and ratted red hair; the next she's all decked out like an old-time movie star, wearing satin shoes and a matching handbag, her hair all smoothed back.
It's so transparent it's pathetic.
But anyway, the minute Heather finds out that Mrs. Ambler's birds are lovebirds, she kicks into total kiss-
up mode. "Oh, how adorable," she gushes. Then she asks Mrs. Ambler, "Were they a gift from your husband?" like that would just have been the sweetest, dearest thing a man could do for his wife.
Well, Marissa and I may be able to see right through Heather, but not Mrs. Ambler. She goes from, like, forty watts of glow to about seventy-five and gives Heather the brightest smile. "How did you know?" Then she nuzzles her nose at the cage and says, "He gave them to me for our anniversary."
"How romantic," Heather sighs. "How long have you been married?"
Mrs. Ambler smiles at her again. "Fifteen years today."
"Fifteen years? Wow! And he buys you lovebirds? He must be terrific." Then she asks, "So how'd you meet?"
Mrs. Ambler keeps on letting herself be suckered. "In graduate school," she tells Heather. "We got married shortly after I got my master's degree."
Whoa now! A master's? A master's in what? Honestly, all I've ever seen Mrs. Ambler do is take roll and read the announcements and reprimand kids when they get out of line. I know she's in charge of the yearbook and has some class with special-ed kids. Oh, and she teaches eighth graders how to study or get focused on their goals or...I don't know what. But nothing that would seem to take a master's degree.
So while I'm busy trying to digest that, I'm also chewing on the math involved in this new Ambler Information. I mean, let's say you're twenty-two when you graduate from college. A master's is what? Two more years of college? So even if you tack an extra year on for good measure, Mrs. Ambler would have been at most twenty-five when she got married. And if she'd been married for fifteen years, that meant that this fifty-, well-on-her-way-to-sixty-year-old woman that I'd seen nearly every day for the whole school year was only...thirty-nine or forty?
I was stunned. I mean, forty is plenty old, but not nearly as old as I'd thought she was. And she was probably also a lot smarter than I'd given her credit for. Plus, at that moment she wasn't just my boring, worn-out homeroom teacher, she was a woman who was embarrassingly in love with her husband.
"I hope I find a man like him someday," Heather was saying.
Excerpted from SAMMY KEYES AND THE DEAD GIVEAWAY © Copyright 2005 by Wendelin Van Draanen. Reprinted with permission by Yearling, an imprint of Random House. All rights reserved.
Sammy Keyes and the Dead Giveaway
- paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Yearling
- ISBN-10: 0440419115
- ISBN-13: 9780440419112