Chapter One: Slaying It!
CHAPTER ONE SLAYING IT!
“Tamiko, you’re going to be late for your first day of school!” Mom yelled up the stairs.
“COMING!” I yelled back. Mom was being unreasonable. I still had ten minutes to get to the bus stop, and I needed to upload my blog post before I left.
I’d just taken a mirror selfie of me in my back-to-school outfit: baggy ripped jeans and a white T-shirt with cartoony bright orange carrots on it. I started typing.
“And here’s the winning outfit! Thanks for voting in my poll yesterday. I brought home so many cool outfits from Tokyo that I couldn’t pick one.
“Now I’m off to start another year of school. The good news is that I finally have a class with my bestie, Sienna! ”
“Sienna” was the code name I used on my blog for one of my best friends, Sierra. My other bestie, Allie, was code-named “Anne” because her favorite book was Anne of Green Gables.
I started to type, “The other good news is that I don’t have to take art this year with Mr. Rivera. I love art, but that class bored me to tears!” But I deleted it after just a few words. Before the summer had started, I’d gotten into some big trouble for posting something negative on my blog that I’d meant to be funny. So I was trying to be really careful about not posting anything hurtful.
Instead I typed: “If you’re going back to school today too, remember to be your fabulous self, walk tall, and don’t let the haters get you down! That’s Tamiko’s Take.”
I studied the selfie, making sure I was okay with the image. My face was covered up by a huge bunny emoji. I knew I was following basic online privacy rules, but I had to admit that the emoji made me look a little silly. Oh well.
I quickly checked over the text for typos, and then, with a satisfied sigh, I uploaded the post.
I tucked my phone into my backpack, slung the bag over my shoulder, and bounded down the stairs and into the kitchen. Dad was seated at the kitchen table, calmly drinking a cup of coffee.
“Why is everything so loud this morning?” he asked.
“Yeah, why?” parroted my older brother, Kai, who was halfway out the front door. Outside I could see a blue car parked in front of our house.
“Who’s that? Are you getting a ride? Can I get one too?” I asked.
“That’s Kevin, who’s a senior, and no,” Kai said.
“But—” I protested.
Kai closed the door behind him, and Mom ran up to me and handed me a lunch bag and a granola bar.
“You need to get to that bus stop, Tamiko,” she said. “I’m bummed that you didn’t come downstairs earlier. I made the pancakes and everything.”
I glanced over at the stove, where pancakes that looked like smiling frog faces were stacked on a plate. Mom had gotten a pancake mold when I was four years old, and she’d made me frog pancakes on special occasions ever since—and always on the first day of school.
“Save them and I’ll microwave them tomorrow,” I said.
“You’re welcome, Tamiko,” Mom said. Then she looked me up and down. “This is the outfit that your blog readers picked?”
I did a twirl. “Yup!”
Mom sighed. “I voted for the white shirt with the black jumper. It looked so cute on you.”
“My readers have spoken!” I said. “Bye-eee!”
I raced out the door and jogged down to the corner bus stop. Even though it was September, the temperature still felt summery, and I was glad to be wearing the T-shirt today. When the bus came, I found a seat, tuned out the noise and the smell of middle school BO, and took out my phone. First I checked my blog. Three comments already! Then I texted Allie.
Have a great first day of school! Bet you can’t wait to see Colin!
She texted back: You too! Bet you can’t wait to see Ewan!
I groaned. Served me right for teasing her about Colin. I replied with a tongue-stuck-out emoji and leaned back in my seat.
Last year I’d had art class with Ewan Kim, and he was nice, and funny, and definitely the best thing about that class. And during the summer when I’d been in Tokyo, he had texted me almost every day, sending me pictures of stuff in Bayville so I wouldn’t feel homesick. And now I was kind of confused. I liked talking to him and wanted to hang out with him more, but I was pretty sure I didn’t have a crush on him. At the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe Ewan liked me. It was hard not to think about it when Allie and Sierra were constantly teasing me about him!
Allie texted back with another tongue-stuck-out emoji. I locked my phone and stared at my lock screen—me and Grandpa Sato with our heads together, smiling into the camera. I’d had a blast in Tokyo, just like I did every summer. My dad had been born there, and Grandpa Sato still lived there, so we visited him every year.
This year had been extra fun because I’d been on special assignment for Molly’s Ice Cream shop, which was owned by Allie’s mom, Mrs. Shear. Sierra, Allie, and I worked there on Sundays, and I handled social media for the shop on the side. Mrs. Shear had given me fifty bucks to try as many flavors as I could of Japanese soft cream, which was basically like soft-serve ice cream here in the States. They had so many cool flavors in Japan. I’d tried black sesame, soybean flour, and even miso-flavored soft cream. (Yes, the same miso that’s in miso soup.) Everything was really delicious. I couldn’t wait to see if Mrs. S. was going to come up with any new flavors based on my research.
The soft cream posts had been a big hit on my blog too, but given how well my blog was going, I thought I could post pictures of paint drying and that would be a big hit. That’s why they called me the queen of social media! And by “they,” I meant me and sometimes my friends, but I was confident that more people were going to get the hang of calling me that soon.
The school bus came to a stop, and I walked out into a scene of pandemonium. Everybody was super-excited to see one another after the summer. I spotted Sierra and our friend MacKenzie and ran up to them.
“Yay, carrot shirt!” MacKenzie said. “I voted for that one.”
“Well, I voted for the purple-and-red minidress,” Sierra said. “But you look adorable in this, too.”
“Thanks!” I replied, and then I eyed Sierra’s look, a pleated gray-and-black skirt that fell to just above her knees, and a short-sleeved red sweater. Her thick, curly hair was pulled back with a black headband. “You look fabulous, Si. I need to do a blog post about fall fashion with you.”
Then I looked at MacKenzie, comfortable in skinny jeans and a green T-shirt with a rainbow across the front.
“You could join too, Kenz,” I offered.
MacKenzie laughed. “No thanks, Tamiko. I’m not into fashion like you two are.”
“One of these days,” I said, and then we made our way into the building.
I dropped my lunch in my locker and then headed to my first class, Spanish. As I made my way through the halls, I got stopped by a few kids, most of them complimenting my outfit.
“I read every single blog post you put out this summer,” my classmate Kyra told me. “Tokyo looks like an amazing city. I hope I can go there someday.”
“It’s a long plane trip, but totally worth it,” I told her with a huge grin.
It was really cool to know that I still had so many blog readers. I mean, I always got a count of who was reading my posts, but to get feedback in person felt great—kind of like I was a celebrity!
Finally I got to Spanish class, and there stood Ewan! He smiled as soon as he saw me.
“Hey, it’s the world traveler,” he said.
“Hey, it’s the guy who was stuck in Bayville all summer,” I replied.
Ewan laughed. “It wasn’t so bad. You know, people come from hours away to spend the summer in Bayville. The beach is great.”
“This is true,” I agreed. “Hey, let me see your schedule.”
Ewan showed it to me, and I frowned.
“This is the only class we have together!” he said.
“Really? That’s disappointing,” I said. “But hey, look on the bright side! At least we—”
A woman with short, black hair walked into the room.
“Me llamo Señora Hernandez,” she said. “In this class we will be seated alphabetically. So escúchame, por favor. I will call out your names. Leesa Allan, please take your seat here in the front row.…”
I looked at Ewan and frowned. “You’re a K, and I’m an S, so…”
“See you at lunch, I guess,” he said.
Señora Hernandez had a lot of energy, and class was very intense, in my opinion, for the first day of school. She even gave us homework!
The rest of my day went pretty smoothly and uneventfully. That was a little disappointing, actually, because I was hoping for something exciting that I could write about in my blog. “Food fight in the cafeteria! Teacher who wears crazy ties! Gym class confessions!” But everyone behaved themselves at lunchtime, we didn’t even suit up for gym, and only one of my teachers wore a tie: Mr. Miller, my third-period English teacher, and his was a very tasteful navy tie with black pinstripes. Nothing to blog about there.
The highlight of my day was science class with Sierra, my last class of the day. The teacher was a guy about my dad’s age, with dark black hair and a cool-looking mustache.
“I’m Mr. Olabarietta, but everyone calls me ‘Mr. O.,’?” he began. “Please take a seat where you feel comfortable.”
I looked at Sierra and beamed. We could sit together! Some boys got the best seats in the back row, but we found two seats next to each other right in the middle of class.
“We’ve got a lot of exciting topics coming up this year,” Mr. O. continued, “but I’d like to begin the first day of school by getting to know you. Please introduce yourselves by name and tell me what your animal mascot is.”
“What if we don’t have a pet?” somebody asked.
Mr. O. shook his head. “No, I mean an animal that you relate to, that you feel shares some of your personality traits,” he explained. “For example, my animal mascot is a cheetah, because I like to run. Now, who wants to go first?”
There was an awkward moment as just about everybody stared down at their desk, hoping they wouldn’t be called—including me. I could be outgoing at times, and I liked getting attention on my blog, but Allie had recently explained to me that I was what is known as an ambivert—someone who is partly introverted and partly extroverted. The introverted part of me could spend hours and even days happily by myself, creating things. And sometimes I could get shy.
Sierra, however, was a true extrovert, and she raised her hand.
“My name is Sierra Perez, and my animal mascot is a cat—not a big cat, like a cheetah, but a house cat,” she said.
“And why is that?” Mr. O. asked.
“I have a cat named Marshmallow, and she’s so curious and excited about everything,” Sierra said. “And that’s just like me!”
You know how they say that a person’s smile lights up a room? That was Sierra. She beamed when she was talking about her cat, charming everybody. It was like this special magic that she had.
The extrovert in me wanted to get in on some of that magic, so I raised my hand.
“My name is Tamiko Sato, and my animal mascot is also a cat,” I said.
“Why?” Mr. O. asked. “Do you also have an adorable cat at home?”
“No. It’s because I rule over my house, I never obey commands, and I love treats,” I said, and everyone in class laughed—including Mr. O. I’d nailed it!
“Well, I did not expect that,” he said, wiping his eyes. “I think we’ve found our class clown.”
“I’m not a class clown,” I replied. “I have a much better fashion sense than that. But you can call me ‘class queen.’?”
“Hmm. I think there’s only room in this class for one monarch, and that’s me,” Mr. O. teased. “Okay, who wants to follow that?”
I smiled. I liked my classes, I liked my teachers, and everyone thought I was funny. A thought popped up in my head.
I can feel it. This year is going to be the Year of Tamiko!