Chapter 1 1
I GUESS YOU COULD SAY this whole disaster started right where most monumental things in my life do (the great prank call caper of fifth grade, the incredible exploding Mentos experiment, and of course the epic Extreme Smelly Sock™ battle)—in my aforementioned former best friend Burt’s room.
So there we were, the first Wednesday of summer break, sitting on Burt’s top bunk checking out the latest Dr. Fantastic and the Planet of Doom. There’s nothing better than a brand-spanking-new Dr. Fantastic. You know, while it’s still fresh and crisp. Before it gets all smudged and bent and crinkled around the edges and starts looking like the stuff you stick in the bottom of a hamster cage.
Only problem was, I couldn’t see a thing. Not with my end of the bunk sagging about two hundred feet lower than Burt’s, leaving me staring at the bottom of his stinky right foot. To make matters worse, Burt had been pretty much hogging the brand-new comic ever since we’d picked it up at Grady’s Grocers that morning.
“Ooh, check out Dr. Fantastic’s new super laser blaster of destruction,” Burt said. “Lord Dracor is so going down!”
I leaned in closer and held out my hand. “Cool! Let me have it a minute!”
“Uh-uh.” Burt shook his head. “Get your own!”
Yeah, okay. In my dreams. With my allowance I could afford maybe one a month. Not one per week like Burt here.
“C’mon, just for a minute, Squirt!”
Burt stuck out his tongue and held the Dr. Fantastic to his chest.
“Okay, how about one second! C’mon!”
Burt held the shiny comic over his head and smirked. “Nope!”
“Well, now you’re asking for it!”
I launched myself full force right at Burt. The bunk bed frame rattled and banged on the wall, and he yelped. Something below us creaked ominously. I ignored that and pinned Burt by the chest with my left arm. My right arm stretched toward the Dr. Fantastic. Burt wiggled to the side, and I brought a giant leg down on him with a thump.
Ha! Almost got it…
“What the…?” Burt’s eyes grew wide. The mattress sank, the creaking grew louder, Burt started to scream, and…
Burt and I fell straight down with a thud. A pile of pillows and blankets landed in a heap on top of us. For a split second we stayed frozen in stunned silence.
Finally, Burt yelled, “Holy cow!” and squirmed his way out from under me. Then we both looked up in shock. All that was left of Burt’s bed was the corner of a sheet that got tangled around the top post and hung there like a flag of surrender. Fortunately, Burt’s little brother, Darren, had vacated the bottom bunk about a half hour earlier with his Pokémon card collection jammed in his back pocket. Otherwise we’d have been sitting on top of a pest sandwich.
Burt caught his breath and let out a loud whistle. “Holy cow!” he said again. “Maybe you ought to lay off the doughnuts for once!”
“Maybe you should’ve just let me have the Dr. Fantastic for once!” I snapped back, my face turning hot and my mouth dry and sticky. I had a sudden craving for a nice cold glass of cherry Kool-Aid. And a Tastykake.
I licked my lips and coughed. Only one proven way to defuse a situation like this—I lifted my right leg and let a real honker rip.
Burt cracked up, yanked a blanket over his head, and yelled, “Ack!”
“You’re welcome!” I said. Burt snorted and laughed even harder.
Well, you didn’t expect anything less from a guy named Farley, now, did you?
That’s right, Farley. As in Fart, Fartley, Farty. Take your pick.
Just don’t ask what Mom and Dad were thinking when they saddled me with that name. Maybe Mom was still delirious after delivering me in the front seat of our car (unmedicated, just ask her!), while she and Dad were stuck in a traffic jam caused by a runaway herd of cows that decided the middle of Route 2A was the best place to stop and chew their cud. (As a result, the framed baby photo over our fireplace features yours truly dressed in a hooded cow onesie and posed next to a barn. Yeah, try living that down.)
Unfortunately, that wasn’t all Mom and Dad did.
In a move sure to cement my status as village jester, Mom and Dad were thoughtful enough to give me the middle name Andrew. Now, Andrew’s a pretty good name actually. My grandpa’s name. And my grandpa’s awesome. He can stick his tongue right between his gums and top teeth. And if he gets sick of listening to someone, all he has to do is turn down those speakers in his ears and smile and nod. I wish I could do that. There must be a million situations where that skill would come in handy. For example…
Burt stuck his head out from beneath the blanket, yelled, “Is it safe to come out? Ack, nope!” and dodged back under.
So on its own, Andrew would be nothing to complain about. But here’s the thing—my last name’s Turner.
Think about that one a minute: Farley Andrew Turner. F-A-T.
My name spells fat.
And, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m not exactly small. “Husky” is what my mom likes to say. But I’m not stupid. I know what that means. There’s a reason all my pants have elastic in the waist.
I cleared my throat and poked Burt’s fleece-covered back. “Think we can fix it, Squirt?” I said hopefully.
Burt pulled the blanket off his head, stopped laughing, and wiped his eyes. We silently surveyed the damage. It looked like someone had just smashed the bunks together with a giant mallet. A colossal game of Whac-A-Mole gone wrong.
“Yeah, I don’t think so,” Burt said. “I flunked industrial arts class. I’m not allowed around the power tools.”
“Right,” I said. “Well, we might be able to just wedge the mattress back up there.”
Burt shrugged. “Yeah, maybe. Worth a try, I guess. C’mon, give me a hand.”
We each grabbed an end of the saggy mattress and heaved it up in the air. Man, this thing was awfully heavy. Maybe it wasn’t entirely my fault it fell down.
“Almost there,” I panted, shoving my end into the upper frame. “Just a little bit more…”
Suddenly, Burt dropped his side, and in an instant it thunked right back onto the bottom bunk. My end slipped off the bed and bonked me on the head.
“Ow! What the heck, Squirt?” I rubbed my noggin.
Burt didn’t answer. He peered out the window, between his blue and white soccer ball curtains. I looked too. A big yellow moving truck had pulled up to the curb across the street and was spitting out chairs, beds, tables, and boxes.
“Yeah. Big deal. Trucks stopped being exciting when I turned five. Sheesh.” I seized the opportunity to grab the crumpled Planet of Doom from the rubble and have a seat on the floor. I flipped to where we’d left off on page twelve. Finally!
“Huh,” Burt said, still staring outside. “I didn’t think they were coming until next month.…”
I closed the comic, leaned forward, and narrowed my eyes. Then I saw who Burt was talking about. She stood at the end of the driveway, bouncing a basketball. Even though she was taller, her hair wasn’t in pigtails anymore, and she wasn’t wearing a Hello Kitty T-shirt, I’d recognize her anywhere.
“Wait,” I said. “Is that… Anna Murphy?” Without warning, my voice cracked.
Burt nodded. “Yeah. Mom said something about them transferring back here this summer.”
Burt’s mom is a Realtor and has sold pretty much every house in this town, so she’d know. In fact, if you ever happen to be in Middleford, Massachusetts (home of the Flying Squirrels!), you’re quite apt to see Mrs. Miller’s giant hair-sprayed head go cruising by on the side of a bus, the back of a moving van, or the bottom of a shopping cart seat. She’s the closest thing to a real-life celebrity we’ve got around here.
“And you didn’t tell me?”
Burt, Anna, and I had been pretty much best buds all through preschool, kindergarten, and first grade (the year Anna convinced Burt to let her cut his hair—aka “The Year of the Hat”). We used to build sandbox forts together, catch toads in the woods behind Burt’s house, and yeah—watch Dr. Fantastic cartoons.
“Guess I forgot.” Burt shrugged. “I mean, it’s been, like, what, seven years since they left?”
Actually, five. Five years since Colonel Murphy got a new assignment, and Anna and her family left town. Which also made it five years since I’d stuffed a small, unsigned paper heart into Anna’s backpack on the last day of school. My cheeks burned at the memory.
Anna’s red curls sparkled in the sun as she turned and shot the ball toward the hoop over the garage.
My stomach did a funny little flip.
Burt smoothed out his shirt and stood up straight. “We should probably go out and say, ‘hey,’ right?”
“Huh? No,” I said, catching my breath. “No!”
“No? Why not?”
I had to think fast. I wasn’t prepared for this. “I mean, they’re probably busy. We don’t want to get in the way. Besides, we’ve already wasted too much valuable Dr. Fantastic time trying to fix this bed. My mom will be here soon to get me.”
I rolled my eyes at Burt and punched his leg. He hesitated a moment, then let out a sigh and flopped down next to me.
“You’re right, Fart.” He snatched the comic off my lap. “Oh man. What would I do without you?”
“Beats me,” I said.
But here’s the sad truth: I didn’t want to go out there and welcome Anna back to the neighborhood with Burt at my side. See, the thing about Burt is, even though he does goofy stuff like fall in ditches and pee his pants on field trips, he’s the kind of guy all the girls like. And I mean like like. When Burt falls in a ditch, a half dozen girls in puffy jackets show up to help him out.
If I fell in a ditch, sure, I’d draw a crowd. And I’d probably even get a helping hand or two. But that would be thanks to my highly realistic beached-whale impression that was making everyone laugh.
I inspected Burt sitting there with the comic on his lap, scratching his armpit while chewing his bottom lip, and wondered how he did it. How he’d become that guy.
I mean, it’s not like Burt looks all that different than he did when we were ten. Okay, so maybe he’s taller and probably covered in a little less mud. But he’s still got those same skinny legs with the bruised knees, the same messy hair, the same little gap between his two front teeth, and that tiny bump by his right ear.
Burt turned his head in my direction and caught me staring at him.
“Don’t even think about it, Fart!” He smirked. His hand shot back up in the air. The comic book flew around again, glossy pages flapping against one another.
But this time I knocked him flat with one push and grabbed the Dr. Fantastic.
Yeah, still the same scrawny Burt.
It’s just that something happened last year about halfway through sixth grade. Something I can’t explain. Like a switch got flipped inside Burt, and all the girls in our class turned into a bunch of moths swarming a flame. Next thing you know, Addison Jenkins is passing him notes in homeroom to see if he likes girl A, B, or C, just ’cause she happens to be doing some sort of survey on the subject. And suddenly his phone starts buzzing all the time after school, and there’s a Snapchat of Addison’s new puppy surrounded by hearts filling the screen and a couple of dancing teddy bears wearing top hats.
My phone doesn’t ring.
I don’t get notes.
I definitely don’t get teddy bears.
I guess nobody bothered to flip on the Farley switch. Either that or I didn’t come with one installed in the first place.
And that was the problem.
Everyone around me was changing—Burt, obviously; Josh, who had grown three inches last summer and scored a spot on the travel soccer team; and even Anna, who was covered in finger paint the last time I saw her and now was… well, not a little kid anymore.
But I was still Class Clown Farley, the one famous for running around the gym and popping kickballs just by sitting on them. The one who tried to light his own fart for the general amusement of Cabin 5 at Camp Fun-N-Sun. (Note: I don’t recommend this trick at all. One, fire hurts. Two, trying to explain a burn mark in the back seat of your nylon shorts to your mother is not easy.)
And there was no way that guy was marching outside to welcome Anna Murphy—the coolest kid in our kindergarten class—back to the neighborhood.
I sat up straight. Now that I thought about it, maybe it didn’t have to be that guy reintroducing himself to Anna.
Maybe it could be somebody totally new.
After all, Anna had no idea what had become of Farley during those five years she was gone. I could have become anybody.
And I had the whole summer to do just that. Seven entire weeks before school started to wipe the slate clean and write myself a new story—with yours truly as the hero, not the comic relief.
How hard could that be, right?