Houston, We Have a Klutz!
I can feel it coming. That awful feeling you get when you know someone is talking about you and that they’re not saying nice things. Do you know that feeling? If you do, I’m really sorry, because honestly, it’s the worst. The sad thing is, I’ve been getting that feeling more and more lately. And I’m not really a conspiracy-theorist kind of girl. So I’m sort of thinking people really are talking about me more. And by people, I mean my fellow students at Sands Middle School.
“Grace, watch out for that . . . ,” Matt warns me.
“Step,” he is about to say. But I miss the bottom step before Matt can get the word out. I fall flat onto my face and my books go flying. Again.
“That’s the third time this week!” I moan.
“Maybe your feet are still stuck in 1951,” Luis whispers.
“Or your balance,” Matt chimes in, smiling.
I hope you don’t get the wrong impression about Luis and Matt. They’re totally great guys, and I’ve been friends with them forever. They’d do anything for me, and I would for them. But it’s easier for them to laugh off an uncomfortable situation, like watching me fall on my face, than to deal with real feelings. Which I know is their way of trying to make it all seem not so bad. And it wouldn’t be, except for the crowd of other kids who just saw my free fall.
I try to get myself back up to standing again without making too much of a scene, but since that involves my foot sliding across one of the books I’ve just dropped, in the middle of lifting myself to a standing position . . . Well, you can imagine it’s not a very pretty picture. Good thing I didn’t wear a skirt today.
And maybe Luis has a point. Maybe my feet are stuck in 1951. Because you would think that after having the kind of once-in-a-lifetime, mind-blowing experience like the one we just had, I’d have come out differently on the other side of it. A little wiser . . . a little more polished . . . and definitely with the ability to put one foot in front of the other and not trip over it. Except in my case, not.
I can’t tell you too much about it, time-traveler code of honor and all, but if you’re wondering where all this talk about 1951 comes from, let me give you a hint. It involves a magical book, a librarian, Matt’s grandfather, and a trip through time that I would have never believed possible. Confused? Join the club. I’m still not sure that it even was possible. But more on that later. Right now, back to the awful feeling.
I don’t even have to guess that the buzzing murmurs from the crowd mean they’re all talking about me, because it’s so obvious that they are. They’re not even trying to hide it anymore. I can feel my cheeks burning as Matt and Luis hand me the books they have just collected from across
the hall floor. It’s beyond embarrassing.
“Move it, klutz,” Jason Coppola says with a laugh as he pushes past me, almost causing me to toss my books again.
“What’s up, Graceless?” Jessica Flannery laughs from in front of her locker.
“What’s your problem, Jessica?” Matt snarls.
You gotta love that boy. I know Matt thinks that I don’t know kids have been calling me Graceless since second grade. He’s sweet like that. But if I didn’t know about that nickname, they could call me Clueless, too. It’s not that big of a leap of creativity, really. Grace—Graceless, I’m not impressed.
I am embarrassed to be living up to their stupid nickname, though. And my heart feels like it’s being squeezed in someone’s hand when I notice that in the midst of Jessica Flannery’s giggling fan-girl group is Morgan Stevens.
I’ve known Morgan since the fourth grade, when we were both into the same fantasy book series: DragonDamsels. We used to spend hours in our rooms talking about the damsels, we’d doodle in each other’s notebooks, and we even
took an oath to never tell anyone but each other our DragonDamsel names. (Sorry, I can’t do it. Even if she is laughing at me now, I will never break that oath.) Last year when Morgan was having trouble in history class, we spent hours together in the library reviewing Roman Empire facts. She ended up getting an eighty-nine in the class with my help. As Shakespeare would say, Et tu, Morgan? You too?
So the feeling—that feeling—well, it’s a little hard to hide right now. I can feel the tears collecting in the ducts underneath my eyes, so I tell Matt and Luis I need to stop at the bathroom before I go to class. All I have to say is “girl stuff” and they scurry away as if I just told them I had the measles.
Once I pull myself together, the rest of the morning isn’t very eventful. All of my teachers are happy to see me—they always are. I’m happy to have schoolwork to focus on, and even if my classmates aren’t as happy about the work as I am, at least it keeps them busy.
I will admit, there are a couple of times when I think I hear my name, or my nickname, whispered
in the back of the classroom, but I could be wrong, so I am choosing to ignore it.
Until lunchtime, that is. The thing with being super clumsy, which I have no problem admitting that I am, is that the more you think about it and the more you try to overcome your natural tendencies, the more anxious you become about them. And then that anxiety fuels those tendencies like anger fuels the Hulk and well . . . clumsy to the infinitesimal power is the result.
I know the anxiety’s going to start the second I step foot into the lunchroom. I try to do some of the strategies I practiced with my dad. I stop, take a deep breath, and keep my eyes focused on the goal.
The goal is: Grab a lunch tray, choose the least offensive food offerings, and carry it to a table, hopefully one where no one who would be whispering about me is sitting. I tackle the first two steps successfully. Even though beef patties aren’t my favorite item, they are a lot more edible than the cardboard-flavored pizza that is baking under the cafeteria’s hot lamps. I grab a side salad and fill a little cup up with dressing. Sometimes I
slip and miss the little cup, but today there is not even a drip down the side. I sigh with relief.
I’m feeling pretty good, so I keep my eyes focused on my target—an empty table—as I walk past Jessica Flannery. I hear something squish underneath my feet, but I am determined to just get to the table and ignore everything that might distract me. Until I hear Jessica shriek.
“Way to go, Graceless,” Jessica moans. “You just got ketchup all over my new boots. Thanks a lot!”
I look down and see that she’s right. The squishing sound came from a ketchup packet I’d inadvertently stepped on. I mean, it’s not really my fault, because I wasn’t the one who put the ketchup on the floor, but I don’t think Jessica’s going to buy that argument.
“I’m sorry, Jessica,” I say. “I didn’t see the packet there. Is there something I can do to help?”
“Yeah,” Jessica says. “Stay away from me. As far away as you can get.”
The girls at Jessica’s table all roll their eyes and giggle.
“My mom is going to freak when she sees this,”
Jessica tells them. “These boots cost mucho dinero, as my Spanish teacher would say. A lot of money!”
Jessica’s words, and the giggling, echo in my head as loud as an ambulance siren. I look over at Morgan and her eyes quickly dart away from mine. Forget Graceless. I’m Hopeless!
I take my tray over to the empty table and slump down onto the bench. I don’t feel like eating anymore. Matt and Luis come and sit next to me. If they saw what happened with Jessica, they’re doing a good job pretending they didn’t. Matt starts to talk about his big game later that afternoon. It’s time for me to tune out.
I settle into my seat and realize that I feel so alone. It’s strange. I have two great friends sitting on either side of me. I’m in a lunchroom filled with laughing kids whom I’ve had good times with in the past. But right now, in this moment, I am like my pet snail, Swifty, during the winter—trapped alone inside my shell.
“Earth to Grace! Are you in there?” Luis calls into my ear.
“I’m here.” I smile at him. “I just have a lot on my mind.”
“Sure you do.” Luis laughs. “Or you just find Matt’s baseball talk as boring as I do.”
“Hey!” Matt protests. “I thought you guys like baseball now!”
“We do,” I tell Matt.
“So come check out my game after school today,” Matt says. “I’m pitching, you know.”
“Not today, Matt,” I say. “I’m going to go home and read. I’m really into this new book.”
“Oh yeah,” Luis says. “Which one?”
“Um . . . I can’t remember the title right now. I left the book home,” I say, flustered, because I can’t even think right now.
“Right,” Matt says disbelievingly. “No worries, Grace. We’re here if you need us.”
“Always,” I say. “I know.”
• • •
That afternoon when the dismissal bell rings, I keep my head down as I scurry toward my locker and quickly pack up my books. I just want to blink my eyes, disappear from Sands Middle School, and reappear safe inside my own bedroom, but I don’t have any magical books to transport me at the moment. It’s up to me, and only me, to get
from my locker, through the crowded halls, and out the school doors without any major mishaps. Fingers crossed.
I’m actually doing a pretty good job of zigzagging through the daily throng of middle schoolers without being noticed. Now I just have to get past the library and down the stairway, and them home free! Except . . .
THWACK! CRASH! BANG!
I’d like to ignore the commotion coming from inside the library, but given my recent history in there, I just can’t. And when Ms. Tremt, our school librarian, appears at the door, her usually neat hair looking like a bird’s nest and her crazily colorful scarf almost falling off her neck, I know my dreams of getting to my room are doomed.
“Is everything okay?” I ask Ms. Tremt.
“It will be, Grace,” she replies. “But at the present time, sadly, it is not.”
“What’s not?” I ask. “Maybe I could help?”
Ms. Tremt takes a step closer to me and then leans her face toward mine. She stares into my eyes, her nose nearly touching my nose. If it
were anyone else, I’d be busting out laughing right now, but it’s Ms. Tremt, and she’s looking so super serious that I’m getting a little nervous.
“You know, Grace,” Ms. Tremt finally says, so close that I can feel the breath she takes with each word. “I believe you may be able to.”
She begins explaining the problem to me. It involves Ms. Tremt’s glowing, magical pen. I know that I said before that I am bound by the time-traveler code of honor, but if I don’t explain this, you’re going to be totally lost, so here it goes. . . .
Matt, Luis, and I found out the truth about Ms. Valerie Tremt not very long ago. The first clue was her name. Check it out—if you unscramble the letters, they also spell out “time traveler.” And that’s the truth. Our librarian, who seems a little zany with her wacky colorful scarves and her instinctual ability to put exactly the right book into each of our hands, is actually a time traveler. Or rather, a time-travel facilitator, at the very least. Because while I haven’t actually seen Valerie Tremt travel through time, she was the reason that Matt, Luis, and I got to travel back
to 1951. Are you following me? Good, because I know it’s a lot.
The way we got to time travel was by using Ms. Tremt’s special magical pen to write in The Book of Memories. It’s like this weird portal to the past (and maybe future, who knows?), but it’s also an actual book, and you need to “sign it out” using the magical pen to write in the details of your destination. You know, time, place, that kind of stuff.
Anyway, right now Ms. Tremt cannot find the pen and she has searched high and low, but sometimes she can be a little scattered, so I suggest that we do a systematical search again. I may be clumsy in my movements, but my brain is a nimble beast.
Ms. Tremt, however, seems to be really flustered at the moment. She keeps mumbling something that sounds like, “tim-rah-vel-teer.” I’m not sure if that is some secret time-traveling chant, or a foreign language phrase, but the way Ms. Tremt is saying it gives me the feeling that it’s not a good thing.
“Ms. Tremt,” I interrupt. “We need to focus.
Now, think hard. Where is the last place you remember using the pen?”
Ms. Tremt starts mumbling to herself again, and I’m sure she says “Patrick” and “Luis” in there, but she clearly doesn’t want to tell me the details, so I decide we’d better try another strategy. It’s one my mom taught me.
“Let’s divide the room into levels,” I suggest. “We can start with the bottom level first, in case it fell on the floor or rolled off a table, and then move up from there.”
“An excellent plan,” Ms. Tremt agrees.
We split up, head to opposite sides of the room, and get on our hands and knees. Crawling around the library floor isn’t exactly how I’d planned to spend my afternoon, but at least there’s no danger of me tripping.
It turns out there is danger, though, and it’s hiding behind the historical fiction bookshelf. That’s where I find this massive grumpy guy, looking like he’s walked out of the pages of Viking Explorers. He’s got a thick, furry red beard, a giant sword and shield, and a winged metal hat.
“Oh great, Erik,” Ms. Tremt moans.
“As in, ‘Erik the Red’?” I ask.
“The one and only,” Ms. Tremt replies.
The Norwegian explorer looks like he’s a little lost, and not very happy about it. He grumbles and growls and knocks over stacks of books and topples tables and chairs.
“I think he’s looking for his Viking warriors,” Ms. Tremt whispers.
“Are they here too?” I ask.
“They don’t seem to be.” Ms. Tremt sighs. “Which is a relief. But this . . . this is a very big problem, Grace.”
“I’m starting to see that,” I agree. “Can you send him back?”
“Not without my pen,” Ms. Tremt says.
Erik is making a big mess, and it’s more doubtful than ever that we’ll actually find Ms. Tremt’s pen. So my logical brain starts to buzz again.
“We need a plan B,” I tell Ms. Tremt. “He looks like a powerful guy. Maybe you could put him to work here.”
“He’s a little too rough with the books,” Ms. Tremt says doubtfully.
“I wasn’t thinking he’d make a great librarian.” I laugh. “But he looks like he’d be a good gym teacher. Look at the way he’s using his sword and shield—I bet the girls lacrosse team could learn a thing or two from him.”
“I like the way you think, Grace.” Ms. Tremt smiles. “If I can’t find the pen by tomorrow morning, Sands Middle School may have a new substitute coach on the lacrosse field.”
“And in the meanwhile?” I ask.
“I’d better start researching some Viking recipes, because it looks like I’ll be cooking for Erik the Red tonight.” Ms. Tremt laughs.
“Well, you’d better get started on that at home,” I say, “before he does any more damage in here.”
Ms. Tremt heads over to Erik the Red, takes his hand, and stares into his eyes. She definitely has an instantly calming effect on the Viking.
“One last thing,” I call to her as she heads out of the library. “Whenever I forget where I put things, it’s always because my mind is on something else . . . usually something I’m worried about. So if you can, try to get that
thing out of your head for a while, and then you might be able to remember the last place you had your magical pen.”
“I will try, Grace,” Ms. Tremt says, waving good-bye. “I will certainly try.”