Alexis and the Missing Ingredient
CHAPTER 1 The Best-Laid Plans
Most people would be thrilled to have off a couple of random days from school in the middle of the term, but me—not so much. I hate to lose momentum. I also dislike it when my schedule is disrupted. I know it sounds nuts, but I’m the kid who listens to the radio on snow days hoping they don’t say my school’s name.
So all this is why I was just a little bit bummed out that it was Teacher Development Week at my school, and we’d have off Thursday and Friday. I know, I know, it’s crazy, but like I said, I’m a creature of habit and I like structure.
I also do not really like making social plans. I am happy to go to most things that other people plan, but thinking up activities and getting everyone on
board isn’t my favorite thing to do. Don’t get me wrong; I love planning most everything else. I plan almost all our budgets and projects, but something like what we’re going to do on a Saturday afternoon . . . not so much. I leave that to my friends in the Cupcake Club: Emma, Mia, and Katie. In fact, I mostly just count on Emma, who has been my best friend since we were little. We like to do the same stuff, and I always include her if I want to do something, like go to the movies, and vice versa. Somehow it just always works out that there’s something to do.
Mia, on the other hand, is great at coming up with fun ideas, like, “Hey, let’s all go to the mall and get our nails painted neon” or “Let’s go to the department store and try on one of every kind of accessory” or “Let’s do a time capsule!” Katie, too, comes up with clever plans, like making a gingerbread mansion or building a haunted house for Emma’s little brother and his friends. I do admit I had a fun plan one year, when I convinced us all to go to the homecoming parade and game in costumes—with boys!—but that was an exception since it came from my desperate need to spend time with my crush, Matt Taylor.
So now I’m faced with four empty days in a
row and no plans, and Emma has the nerve to be going away!
Sure, she gave me plenty of advance warning, but her saying she’s going camping with her family and my realizing I need to dream up some plans were not connected in my mind until the last minute. (For me, the last minute means the weekend before.)
Emma and I were lying on the floor in my room, watching cute animals on YouTube, and she was counting out the reasons on her fingers of why she was dreading camping.
“Bugs, cold, uncomfortable, no bathrooms, bad food . . .”
“Right! No you, only boys except my parents . . .” Emma has three brothers. That’s a lot of brothers.
“Wait! When are you gone from?” I asked.
Emma sighed. “We leave Wednesday, right after school. In fact, from school, I think. And then we don’t get back until Sunday morning!”
“OMG. Four nights. That is long. And meanwhile, I’ll be—Wait! What will I be doing?” I’d suddenly realized I had ignored my number-one motto (Failing to plan is planning to fail) and had
not made one plan for the weekend. I sat upright in shock. “So, wait. Wednesday night, I’ll . . . do homework. Thursday day I can . . . do a little more, like, extra-credit homework and tie up any loose ends with Cupcake Club business. Maybe work on my speech for the Future Business Leaders of America summit.” I relaxed a little, realizing I could fill the days with getting ahead on my work. I took a deep breath. “But Thursday night, Friday? Friday night? Saturday and Saturday night? Oh no. That’s a lot of time to fill!” I twirled my hair nervously. “What should I do?”
Emma looked at me. “You are so lucky. I’d kill to be doing nothing.” She sighed.
“So stay! You can totally stay with me!” I started to relax again immediately, imagining the luxury of having a built-in best friend for four days. I grinned. “There’s so much fun stuff we could do. I’m sure you’d have lots of great ideas!”
Emma sighed again heavily. “I can’t. It’s required. My mom thinks it might be our last camping trip as a family before Sam goes away to school.”
My heart sank. “Humph!” I said.
“Maybe you and Dylan could do something?” she asked helpfully. “Go somewhere?” She shrugged.
I scowled. “Going anywhere with Dylan is not
exactly a laugh a minute,” I said. Though my older sister can be nice sometimes, mostly she doesn’t want me around, and isn’t afraid to show it or let me know it. “Even if she would do anything with me,” I added.
“What about your grandparents’?”
“Wow. Wait a minute! That is not a bad idea! Even for a night that might be fun. I’ll ask my mom to ask them.” My grandparents live about an hour away in a rambling old farmhouse that’s filled with cool stuff, and they have lots of land and a trampoline and a barn and everything. That could be good. I felt a tiny bit better just thinking of it.
Emma thought again. “Maybe Dylan would take you to the city?” she suggested, then we both laughed. If Dylan was going to the city, it certainly wouldn’t be with me. “Okay, okay. Just brainstorming.”
“Hey! Speaking of brainstorming, we’ve got to resolve that PTA meeting menu.”
“Oh boy.” Emma closed her eyes and put her head in her hands.
We’d had one of our rare Cupcake Club blowups the day before, just talking about what we should bake for the PTA meeting we were hired to cater in two weeks.
Our business, the Cupcake Club, bakes and sells custom cupcakes for all kinds of events. Along with Mia and Katie, Emma and I have built a pretty good business of baking, with regular clients and signature recipes and great reviews on our website. PTA meetings and things like that are good venues for us, because there are lots of local parents all in one place, so we get to wow them with our skills and hopefully get new business out of some of them. It’s a great way to earn some money and it’s a ton of fun, too.
I am the business-minded brain of the group—the CEO. I plan our schedules, do the purchasing and manage the inventory, work out pricing—stuff like that. I realize it’s funny that I am great at plans and schedules for work and for school, but terrible at it socially. It’s just the way I am. My mom always says, You can’t be great at everything, so be great at the most important things. That’s what I try to do.
Anyway, during our meeting yesterday, all four of us had different ideas. Some of us wanted to go plain and basic, others wanted to really go wild and show what we were capable of. Two of us felt it was all about how great the cupcakes would look, while one said it was all about how they would taste, and
the fourth member couldn’t decide which was more important.
“All I know is, we need something really great because it’s an ideal marketing opportunity for us. All those parents in one place . . . Those are our customers! Think of the birthday parties they organize, never mind book clubs and baby showers!” I said now to Emma.
Emma agreed. “I know, I know. I don’t know why that turned into such a big fight. Mia and Katie were pretty irate.”
“Well, they did seem better today, but that’s probably because none of us brought it up.”
Emma nodded. “We’ll need to figure it out soon.”
“A stitch in time saves nine,” I agreed soberly.
Later, when Emma was leaving, she said, “Hey, don’t forget Mia and Katie are around next weekend . . . at least for part of it. They’ll have something fun going on for sure. Call them!”
“Right,” I said. “Will do.” But, in fact, I probably wouldn’t. Even though I spend a lot of time with Mia and Katie, it’s kind of like our foursome is a combination of two pairs: Mia and Katie are one, and Emma and I are the other. All together, the four of us are a great group, and two by two, we are good
pairs. But I have never really hung out with just Mia or just Katie, and I don’t really ever hang out with them without Emma. It’s just the way it works out. I would almost be kind of nervous to hang out with them without Emma. I know it sounds nuts, but that’s just how I feel. Anyway, I still had weird feelings about them since the PTA fight. I figured I’d be laying low for a while.
As soon as I shut the door after Emma, I called up to my mom, “Mom! Can you call Grandma to see if I can go stay with her this week?”
Then I ran to my desk and sent out an e-mail asking the Cupcakers to meet next Sunday to brainstorm some ideas for the PTA meeting. It was chicken of me to do it via e-mail and to put it off for another week, but whatever. At least it was being addressed. Phew.
Anyway, that’s how it came to be Thursday morning and how I was putting my toothbrush into my already-packed overnight bag to go to my grandma’s house. My granddad Jim was picking me up at nine, and I was really looking forward to my two nights at their house. (???Jim is actually my stepgranddad, but he’s the only one I’ve ever known.) Tonight we would have a feast and watch
scary movies and eat popcorn and my grandma’s caramel brownies. Tomorrow we’re going to go on a long hike around the property and then to see the new kittens in the barn and lots of other fun stuff. My grandma is a great cook, and she isn’t stingy with the butter or sugar the way my health-nut mom is. I knew I’d be eating well and sleeping well and getting lots of personal attention at the farmhouse, since Dylan was staying home so that she could go to the city with friends for the day. (She always has major plans, way in advance.) It was going to be great.
I heard the phone ring as I started down the stairs and kind of absentmindedly noticed it was a little early for the phone to ring. When I got to the kitchen, my mom was speaking urgently and had one hand gripping the countertop so hard, her knuckles were white.
My mom spoke anxiously into the phone. “Is she going to be okay? What did the doctor say it was?” She looked at me but didn’t really register my presence. I dropped my bag to the floor. Who was she talking about?
“How long are they keeping her?”
“Can we come out and help you?”
Dylan walked in and stood next to me, and we watched our mom talk on the phone.
Who? mouthed Dylan.
My mom stared blankly at us.
“Okay, well, please call me as soon as she comes back and I can drive out there later this morning. Thanks so much, Jim. Give her a huge hug from all of us.”
Dylan and I looked at each other in shock. Grandma?
My mom hung up the phone and sat heavily at the kitchen table.
“Mom?” I asked quietly.
She looked up, and her eyes were teary. “It’s fine. It just caught me off guard. Sorry. It’s Grandma but they think she’s going to be okay. She fell down the last step to the basement and bumped her head, so they took her to the hospital to make sure she was okay.”
“Oh!” My hand flew to my mouth.
My mom smiled. “Well, you know Grandma can be a little clumsy. Jim said it could have been a lot worse, and she’s in very good hands. They really think she’s going to be fine. They’re keeping her at the hospital for observation, just to be safe. She’ll need to rest and take it easy for a few days.”
“That’s scary, Mom,” said Dylan, reaching over to rub my mom’s back. I wished I’d thought of that.
“Poor Grandma!” I said. “You’re going to see her later?”
My mom nodded. “Jim said I didn’t need to come, but I hate to think of him out there at the hospital all alone. I’ll go into work for a bit this morning, then head straight out and probably spend the night at the house. And you girls can—Oh, Lexi! I just realized! It was your special trip today. I’m so sorry, honey!” She got up to give me a hug.
“That’s okay,” I said into her shoulder. “Do you want me to come with you to the hospital, anyway?”
She let go and smoothed back my hair. “No, but thank you. I think I’d better go alone. Maybe Dad could take you girls out for a treat tonight, since you’re missing your trip, Lexi.”
I nodded. “Okay. And maybe we could watch a movie.”
“Sure,” she said. She picked up her cell phone to look at her day’s schedule and then she called my dad to tell him the new plan.
Dylan and I looked at each other. “Well . . . ,” she said.
“I’m going to just do my homework today,” I said.
I could see her relief. “Okay, are you sure?” Dylan asked. She stared at me for a moment, making sure I wasn’t really upset.
“Totally,” I said. Nobody wants to go where they’re not welcome.
And that was that.