Authors: Jess Keating
Copyright Â© 2014 by Jess Keating
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Cover design by Liz Casal
Cover illustrations by Liz Casal
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To everyone trying to find their bravest, truest self.
This book contains real-life situations and stuff that has actually happened to me. I'm talking lots of awful boy behavior, wretched girls, best friends who are missing in action, and ridiculous amounts of elephant poop. This book is not for the faint of heart, or anybody who has recently had a big meal or is suffering from a heinous zit anywhere in the chin region. Oh, and don't read it if you're afraid of snakes. I mean, you shouldn't be afraid of snakes, because they're really nice animals and not at all as terrible as their bad reputations make them out to be. But still.
âAna Wright, Anonymite Extraordinaire
Rattlesnakes are born without rattles.
That's sort of sad, isn't it? I mean, what good is a baby without a rattle? Not that snakes are cute at the best of times, but is that their fault?
It was the day before my twelfth half-birthday, and I was spending it holding the business end of a crocodile.
That's the end
the teeth, by the way. But it can be just as dangerous and infinitely smellier.
“Just keep a nice firm grip with your legs, kiddo,” Mike said. Mike is the head keeper in the Crocodile Pavilion of the city's Zoological Park and Gardens. He was sitting on the end with teeth. At nine feet long with black, beady eyes, Louie was a favorite here, but Mike said he hadn't been eating his food like a good little reptile. That meant that the zoo staff had to wrangle him, secure him to this surfboard contraption, weigh him, and then feed him gross-looking brown liquid with a tube. All while making sure
didn't become dinner in the process.
“Okay, everybody,” Mike said. “We've got the feeding tube secure. Graham is going to pump some food into him now, so just hang tight.” His voice was calm and assertive, the exact opposite of my heart, which was dancing around like a Mexican jumping bean on a sugar rush
Please, let this be quick.
I gripped my legs tighter on the thick, grayish-green scales. The rough sides of Louie's stomach expanded in and out, like a breathing rock. I knew Mike and his crew were only letting me help because my mom asked them. See, my parents (both zoologists) work at the zoo. Instead of playing video games or hanging out at the mall like regular,
kids, my brother, Daz, and I spend most of our extra time mucking around behind the scenes, cleaning up elephant poop or counting crickets or tossing fish heads to penguins. You know, glamorous stuff.
Daz loves it because he gets to feed his favorite animals, the snakes. Something about watching the crickets get snapped up makes him cackle like a witch over a cauldron. He also has snakes at homeâseventeen to be exact, including an ancient boa named Oscar that he constantly hides in my bed to freak me out. He's living the reptile dream.
Which, let's face it, is more of a nightmare for anyone who thinks animals should have those pesky things called “legs.”
A bead of sweat worked its way down the back of my neck. The humidity was always suffocating in the pavilion, and with the hot May sun streaming through the skylights, I felt like an army of itchy ants was crawling all over me. I dipped my head, secretly trying to blow a stream of cool air down the front of my brown uniform. This was one time my glaring lack-of-chesticles was a good thing, but even my superlame training bra was itchy on my skin. I was just glad no one from school was here to see me, frizzy haired and sweating up a stink storm on the back of a reptile. Easy, breezy, beautiful crocodile girl.
As Graham was feeding the disgusting brown goop to Louie, I peeked down at my watch.
My fingers drummed against Louie's tail. I had seven minutes to ditch this crocodile and make it to the break room where my laptop was waiting. My chest tightened as I watched Mike take down measurements. Seven minutes until my life would be back to normal. Until everything would be on its way to being
I had to make it in time. I just
to. My eyelids fluttered closed, picturing the look on Liv's face when she heard my amazing idea. Who would have thought a cupcake could fix everything? And what perfect timing, with my half-birthday being tomorrow?
It had to be fate.
Ever since we were six and a half years old, my best friend, Livia, and I haven't missed a single half-birthday. We've made a wish on every one and have a pact to do it every year until we die. Last year, we wished for rollerblades on Liv's eleventh half-birthday and got them. My half-birthday before that was for tickets to see
, our second favorite musical, after
, of course. Got that too. Liv says half-birthdays are even more important than regular birthdays because that's when you're at the highest point of your “birthday year,” so you get the most amount of magic from your wish.
Ana and Livia's Rules of Half-Birthday Wishing are simple:
We have to wear the special homemade chocolate lip gloss that we made on her last half-birthday, so we can smell extra nice for the cupcake we're wishing on.
We both have to bite our cupcakes at the exact same time. No cheating.
We both have to wish for the same thing. This gives the wish
magic and helps it come true faster.
Usually, it's easy to do all this. But this time things are a lot more difficult. In fact, they're almost impossible.
That's because four days, seven hours, and forty-three minutes ago, Liv moved to New Zealand.
And I mean the
New Zealand. With the sheep and the hobbits.
In geography terms, that's 7,968 miles away from me in Denver. In best friendship terms, it's just totally sucky. Why did her dad have to take that stupid job, anyway? There are plenty of jobs around in
country. This is why our wish this year had to be worth it.
It has to work.
It was our only chance.
In exactly five minutes, I was going to tell Liv what we should wish for this year.
Just as soon as I got off this crocodile.
“Only a little longer, guys. Everyone's doing great. Last-minute blood sample and we'll be done,” Mike said, keeping an eagle eye on Louie's wrapped snout. A surge of pins and needles ran through my leg as I shifted on my knees. Not only was I roasting, now my butt had fallen asleep.
Right now, Liv would be loading up her video chat and clicking on my name. I couldn't stop the trembles of anticipation in my toes.
“Great work, people,” Mike said, snapping me out of my daydream. “Food is done. Measurements are looking good. Dale is going to go around and untie all the roping, and we will all jump off when I say. Kiddo, I want you to shimmy right back to the tip of his tail. You'll be safest there, and Ben can move back to cover you,” he said.
The three men on Louie's back nodded, shifting their weight to prepare. I scooted back, resting my weight on the heels of my boots. My butt and left leg ached.
Two minutes 'til I talk to her.
“All right, three,” Mike said.
“Two.” Everyone took a deep breath.
We all leaped and dodged away from Louie's back, with Ben grabbing my shoulders to steer me out of trouble's way. With the ropes gone, Louie ambled away to his pool instantly, leaving the rest of us to sigh with relief. Mike beamed at me and clapped his clipboard against his palm. “Awesome job, kiddo. Not bad for your first croc wrangling, huh?”
I tried to force a smile on my face, but my heart was pounding in my ears. Mike didn't know I was about a minute away from saving my entire best friend future.
“Thanks, Mike,” I said, hurrying to follow him through the heavy door out of the exhibit. “Maybe next time I'll take the end with teeth.” I grimaced.
“You'll be a pro soon enough. You can be the star of the zoo!” He winked.
“Heh, maybe,” I mumbled, scooting away.
Over my dead body.
The break room of the Crocodile Pavilion was empty when I rushed through the door. I had thirty seconds left. I couldn't keep the smile from my face as I jerked open my laptop on the table and clicked frantically.
Liv's face burst onto my screen as a beaming mess of pixels. She looked small next to the pile of boxes and furniture scattered around her new room.
“Hey!” she exclaimed in a tinny voice. Liv never wore a watch, but that didn't stop her from checking her wrist dramatically and clucking her tongue. “You're late.” Her nose scrunched up like it always did when she was joking.
I wiped my sweaty forehead with my sleeve. “I know, I'm sorry. I was on the back of a crocodile,” I said.
“Some things never change.” She crossed her arms over her chest and fiddled with the tip of her blond hair.
I settled into my chair and pulled the laptop closer. It was so good to see Liv's face, even though it reminded me how much I missed her. It was just
for a best friend to move away. Like pouring orange juice on your cereal wrong. “So listen,” I started. “I figured it out. I figured it
Liv's eyebrows lifted. “You finally discovered what that disgusting smell is in Daz's room? Was I right?” Her blue eyes twinkled deviously. “Was it a sacrifice to the Annoying Brother Gods? Is he now their king?”
I shook my head. “No! This is serious! I'm pretty sure he is their king, though. But really. I figured out what we need to wish for tomorrow! And I can't believe we didn't think of it until now!” I bounced in my chair.
“VIP tickets to see
on Broadway? I don't care what people say, that guy is still hot even though his face is all messed up,” she babbled. She leaned over in her chair to reach a bowl of cereal and started shoveling spoonfuls into her mouth.
“Even better!” I couldn't stop beaming now.
. “We're going to wish you home!”
Liv's hand froze in midair, her spoon dripping with milk. “What do you mean? Like wish that we never had to move here?” Her eyes darted around her room.
I blinked. “No, we can just wish for you to come home now! Isn't it great? Every other wish we've made has come true, so this is perfect! I think fate made you move when you did so we could use my half-birthday to undo it!” I leaned back and propped my feet up on the table. “Pretty great, right? It can be like you never left at all!”
And this is the part where she
have said, “Oh, Ana! This is the best idea you've ever had! Then I can come home and we can go back to being best friends who actually live in the same place again! What would I do without you?!”
Instead, she made a face. “What makes you think that will work?”
I rolled my eyes. “All our wishes have worked! Why would this be any different? We just both have to
, like always,” I explained. Honestly, how she was not jumping up and down at my idea was beyond me. This was my best idea since peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches.
She resumed chewing again and shrugged. “I don't know. It seems like it might be a waste, you know?”
My heart sank. “A waste?! How would wishing for you to come back home be a waste? Don't you want to come back?” A dark feeling twisted around my chest.
She sighed. “It's not that,” she said quietly. “It just seems like it would be a really hard wish to come true. And then when it didn'tâ¦”
, though!” I interrupted. “You have to trust me. Tomorrow, at exactly eleven in the morning your time on my half-birthday, we have to make our wish. All you need to do is remember the rules, wear your lip gloss, and we'll do it together. And I promise, it will work.” I nodded eagerly at the screen.
I held my breath as Liv puckered her lips the way she always does when she's thinking something over. Part of me wanted to shake her. But the other part knew that deep down, she was probably just afraid we'd be disappointed. I couldn't blame her there.
“Okay,” she said hesitantly. “We can try it.”
I grinned. “Excellent! I'll find you here tomorrow right after school, okay? Get your cupcake ready!” I lifted my hand in triumph.
Liv nodded. “Armed with frosting!”
I clicked off the video chat and leaned back, letting a slow smile take over my face. The orangutan and “Save the Rain Forest” posters in the break room seemed to be cheering me on. By this time tomorrow, our wish would be made.
going to work.