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Lemonade Mouth – excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Olivia: An Introverted Virgo of the Worst Kind

It started like this:

Detention that day was downstairs with Mrs. Reznik, the music teacher. When I walked into the music room, a cluttered, windowless basement space near the A.V. closet and the school’s boiler room, the little radio on Mrs. Reznik’s desk was playing a commercial with a catchy jingle, that “Smile, Smile, Smile” one about teeth. It kind of stuck in my mind. That’s not unusual for me. There’s always some tune or other drifting around in my head.

Anyway, just as the bell rang I took a seat near the back. I was trying to concentrate on my breathing. I sometimes get panic attacks in stressful situations and right then I needed to keep calm. Nobody spoke. Mrs. Reznik sat at her desk, coughing and scowling as she leafed through a giant pile of paperwork. A tiny, narrow-faced lady with a body shaped like a piccolo, skin like worn shoe leather, and a startlingly large nest of lustrous brown hair, she was a sight to behold. I’d seen her reduce kids to tears with one look. There were rumors that the school administration had been trying to force her into retirement, but they couldn’t get rid of her. I could understand why. The woman scared the pee out of me.

I studied the blackboard where she’d set down the law in sharp, spidery chalk letters.

DETENTION RULES:
1. No gum chewing, food or drink in the classroom.
2. You will remain seated.
3. You will not talk.
4. The first time you break a rule, your name will go on the board. The second time, you will receive another detention.

At my old school, St. Michael’s in Pawtucket, they didn’t even have detention. St. Michael’s is an alternative school, a place where they send kids who don’t fit in somewhere else so they can get an education “without walls.” But Brenda, my grandmother, told me back in July that we couldn’t afford the tuition anymore so now I found myself back among the walls.

My chair squeaked and I almost jumped. Mrs. Reznik looked up. “Name please?”

The other detainees, two boys and two girls, turned to look. I tried to smile. I may have been an introverted Virgo of the worst kind, but at least I was working on it.

“Olivia,” I reminded her. “Olivia Whitehead.”

Mrs. Reznik frowned and scribbled something on a piece of paper. “You can all read the rules. I suggest you use this hour to work on something productive.” Some pop song came on—Desirée Crane or Hot Flash Smash, somebody like that. Still, it was the “Smile, Smile, Smile” commercial that looped through my mind.

The other kids went back to staring into space. I only recognized two of them. Wendel Gifford, a kid who always seemed to dress in crisp, preppy clothes, was in my Social Studies class. We’d never actually spoken, but he’d embarrassed himself during a presentation that morning and I felt sorry for him. The Amazon girl with the leather skirt, savagely ripped tights, and short spiky hair was Stella Penn. After she’d pulled that crazy stunt at an assembly earlier that week, everybody knew who she was. The other two I didn’t know. Tapping nervously on his desk at the far end of the front row sat a sullen, thick-necked boy with an overgrown mop of frizz. To my left fidgeted a skinny Indian-looking girl with long dark hair, big brown eyes and, at her feet, a huge, gray double bass case. She was biting her nails like a stress-fiend.

After a while, Mrs. Reznik went into a coughing fit. They were dark, rumbly coughs that seemed to come from deep in her chest. Everybody looked up. After a moment she stood and stepped toward the door. “I’ll be back in one minute,” she said, still coughing, and then left the room. When she came back she seemed better. In her hand was a green and yellow paper cup that said Mel’s Organic Frozen Lemonade. It must have come from the machine I’d noticed at the top of the stairs. She set it on her desk and sat down.

I guessed the no-drinks rule didn’t apply to Mrs. Reznik. Not that I was going to say anything.

Wen and Stella stared vacantly at the wall, the frizzy-haired boy tapped on his desk and the skinny girl absently fingered a pile of rubber bands. In a poster hanging near my chair, four old guys in short pants and feathered hats were playing accordions and tubas under this huge willow tree in the middle of what looked like some quaint, pastoral German village. I gazed at it and imagined myself into the picture. I’m pretty good at that, imagining myself somewhere I’m not. I find I can visit the nicest places that way. In my mind I was relaxing on the ground in front of the four guys, listening to their music and feeling the grass between my toes and a gentle breeze in my hair. Soon, the music transformed into the tooth song and I realized the commercial had come back on Mrs. Reznik’s radio again.

Smile, smile, smile!
Would you like the perfect smile?
Don’t you want your first impression to be great?

I looked up. Every head in the room was nodding with each oomp-oomp-oomp of the tuba.

Bernbaum Associates, Bernbaum Associates, Bernbaum Associates
Can fix your smile—DON’T WAIT!

Soon after that, Mrs. Reznik’s cell phone rang. She put it to her ear and a second later she stepped out of the room again to take it, only this time she switched off the radio before she left. It took me a minute or so to adjust to the silence. My eyes drifted back to the rules again, and I found myself pondering Mrs. Reznik’s skinny D’s and the steep slope of the tops of her T’s when I suddenly noticed that something felt wrong. I looked around.

Everybody in the room was looking at me.

That’s when I realized I’d been singing the smile song. My face went warm. After a moment, Stella laughed. Wen shrugged kindly and turned back around, and then everybody else did too. I wanted to die.

There are different opinions about what happened next.

Mo, who of course I now know was the skinny girl, says it was Charlie, who at that time I only knew as the frizzy-haired boy, tapping on his desk that started it. Charlie says it was Mo. She picked out a rubber band, stretched it between her thumbs and flicked it with her fingers. By changing the length she altered the pitch, making the same bouncing notes as the tuba in the commercial. I don’t remember who was first, but it doesn’t actually matter because before long they were doing it together. And it sounded good.

Boom tappa boom tappa boom.

Oomp-oomp-oomp.

Stella and Wen looked up. The next thing I knew, Stella shot out of her seat. She hopped over a row of desks to where Charlie sat.

“What are you doing?” he whispered, shrinking back from her. I wondered if he thought she was going to hit him. Big as he was, Stella looked like she could take him.

“Don’t stop tapping!”

On the wall over his head hung a beaten-up ukulele. She reached across, grabbed it off the hanger and took it back to her seat. After adjusting the tuning pegs, Stella started strumming the chords of the jingle along with Mo and Charlie. The ukulele sounded tinny and crazy. But in a good way.

By that time I guess Wen wanted to get into the act. He went to the storage closet and rummaged around. Eventually, with a big silly grin, he held up a kazoo.

“Yes!” Stella whispered.

Still plucking her rubber band, Mo giggled. I kept glancing over my shoulder at the door, expecting Mrs. Reznik back any second. They played through the full song—the verse and even the Bernbaum part. Wen had the melody. It was a joke, but it still worked. The music from their makeshift instruments sounded so unusual, so exciting. My heart pounded. I suddenly didn’t care if Mrs. Reznik showed up.

The next time the verse began, I sang the words.

Smile, smile, smile!
Would you like the perfect smile?
Don’t you want your first impression to be great?

Hearing myself sing in front of people felt weird. I’d never thought I had a very pretty voice. Instead of a pure, clear sound like the singers in, say, a Disney cartoon, mine is kind of low and scratchy, like a three-pack-a-day smoker. It’s always been that way, even when I was little.

But Stella nodded, Wen winked and everybody was grinning.

Then dial, dial, dial!
Change your life, improve your style!
Call our dental experts ’fore it gets too late!

It felt like one of those perfect moments where everything comes together. But like I said, I don’t believe in accidents. Even if this strange, musical moment, the final result of a long chain of seemingly unlikely events, never came to anything else, it was meant to be.

Something new had been born.

We were just starting over again when Charlie suddenly lost his grin and stopped tapping. I looked behind me.

Mrs. Reznik was standing in the doorway.

In the silence that followed, it was obvious she’d heard us. We waited for her to speak but she only stared, wide-eyed. Something important had just happened. Looking back, I could feel it even then. I think we all could. Only nobody knew what it was.

And none of us could have imagined it would change our lives forever.

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Delacorte Press Books
Hardcover: ISBN 978-0385737128
Library Binding: ISBN 978-0385906470
ebook: ISBN 9780307974396
Kindle: ASIN B0084TWN22