Name: Jen Hill
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction (Ghost Story)
Title: Secrets Of The Upside-Down Treehouse
Inside the old stone walls of the Palindrome Academy for Learning Arts sat B. Lee Banks, alone on the stage of the great auditorium. Any minute now her fellow spelling bee competitors would begin to arrive, and B. Lee knew she had just a few more minutes of solitude before the room would begin to buzz with chatter. She fished a filigreed barrette out of her leather satchel and held it tight as she reviewed the vocabulary in her head. She knew good-luck charms were for silly-hearts, but this was one superstition she allowed herself. The barrette was a family heirloom, passed down on her mother’s side, and it gave B. Lee peace of mind. She preferred not to wear it in her hair because that would break the rules of The Bun, which was her one and only hairstyle. The Bun was a tidy up-do in the manner of an old-fashioned schoolmarm. It was a serious hairdo. It was also the opposite of cool, but B. Lee wasn’t destined for being cool. She was destined for a far greater purpose.
In her head she began a conversation with Christopher Palindrome, the boy for whom the school was named over one hundred years ago. He congratulated her in that old-timey voice she imagined him to have, and gave her a friendly punch in the arm. “Catching up to me, I see,” he said playfully. B. Lee smiled. “One more win and we’re tied,” she said with a wink.
“Oh yay, a seat next to B. Lee Banks!” squealed Ramona Romano as she plopped down in the chair next to her and shook her out of the pleasant fantasy. Ramona was being sarcastic of course, because nobody really ever wanted to sit next to B.Lee. “Are you looking forward to the trophy you’re going to add to your trophy shelf?” she teased.
“As a matter of fact, yes I am. And can you please not antagonize me for a change?” B. Lee folded her arms over her chest in a defensive gesture she hoped would convey attitude.
“Antagonize? Seriously B.Lee, why do you always have to show off with your fancy words? Jeez.” Ramona rolled her hazel eyes so high they seemed to skim her thick black bangs. “I see you’ve worn your business suit today, as usual,” she continued with a smirk, and reached out to tug on the men’s tie that hung around B. Lee’s neck. “One of your dad’s?”
“Nope. These ties are from my own collection,” said B. Lee, yanking it out of Ramona’s busy hands and smoothing it down against her crisp white shirt. She tried to think of a clever put-down of Ramona’s annoying penchant for pink, but she wasn’t very good at comebacks. She just wanted to be left alone.
The surrounding seats had begun to fill up and B. Lee hoped Ramona would find another person to bother, but Ramona was having too much fun. “Did you play ‘coffee shop’ this morning?” she pressed, twirling her chin-length hair around a pink-nailed finger.
“I didn’t ‘play’ coffee shop– I run a coffee shop. And yes, it was very busy this morning, thank you,” said B. Lee defensively. Why was it so hard for people to understand that she had a side business? No one ever questioned little kids having lemonade stands. And duh, lemons cost so much more than coffee. Lemonade stands don’t earn money, they’re just cute. And B. Lee was interested in making money. Adults drink coffee like fiends, and B. Lee knew it, which was why the coffee stand she set up in front of her house each morning was such a success. It was genius, she thought. Pity the fools like Ramona who were too simple to get it.
But that reminded her: she’d skipped her usual trip to the bank to deposit the sales money because it was more important to be the first one at school than to risk not getting her favorite seat. She clutched her bag nervously, and snuck a peek in to make sure the money was still there. Of course it was. Phew. But the idea of carrying around so much money made her edgy; she’d have to get to the bank right after school.
“Whatcha got in there? A cheat sheet for me?” smirked Ramona, leaning in to get a better look. B. Lee snapped the bag closed and held it in her lap. “None of your business,” she warned. “Seriously, Ramona, can you please just stop?” Ramona was so irritating.
“Right. A perfect student like you would never cheat. Oh well. have fun being valedictorian or whatever. “
“I intend to,” said B. Lee, turning to Ramona with a confident smile.
Indeed, B. Lee Banks’ sole purpose in life was to be the best student ever– better, even, than the legendary Christopher Palindrome. A very tall order, but she knew she could do it.
Amid the shuffling of seats and checking of microphones, B. Lee concentrated on the words she had spent countless hours mastering. She scanned the room as auditorium seats filled up with the students of Palindrome Academy. Besides Ramona, she had a few peeves with certain classmates and preferred to know where they sat so she could avoid looking at them.
At the top of the list was Maud Brindlebee, who told tall tales, dressed oddly, got the worst grades and always, always seemed to be stealing attention. She was the new girl that year, having just appeared at the start of 5th grade. B. Lee couldn’t find the yellow-haired girl anywhere she looked. Probably won’t even show up, she thought dismissively.
“Attention students!” boomed the merry voice of Principal Grimaldi, whose lanky figure stood at a microphone in the center of the stage. “Welcome to the hundred-and-sixteenth annual Palindrome Academy Spelling Bee!” The audience cheered.
“Let us give a warm round of applause for all the brave students who have chosen to compete this year. Competitors, please stand and take a bow.” Principal Grimaldi turned to the children on the stage, offering them a mustachioed smile as they bowed for their audience. He then took his place at the podium at the side of stage.
First up was Isobel Antler, who misspelled the word “crumb”. This is going to be too easy, B. Lee thought with a smile on her face she couldn’t hide. One after another approached the mic, some sighing with relief after a correct spelling; some crumpling with defeat. Her name was called, and, hoping for a really difficult word with which to dazzle everyone, she approached the microphone.
“Please spell the word ‘fidget’, as in, ‘Please do not fidget in your seat.’”
Simple! Not the complicated word she'd wished for, but she’d have plenty of others later in the day.
“Fidget,” she began confidently, “F-I-...”
But before she could continue a clanging sound came from the back of the auditorium. Everyone turned to see a disheveled girl who, dragging a tin can on a string, was attempting to creep in unnoticed. The black beret she wore over her curly hair gave her the air of a mime or old-fashioned artist. People snickered at the sight of her.
Ugh, thought B. Lee, she pursing her lips in outrage. Of all times to interrupt, Maud Brindlebee had to choose the exact moment when B. Lee was about to shine in front of the entire school. Typical! Maud Brindlebee, who told tall tales, dressed oddly, got the worst grades and always, always seemed to be stealing attention. That ridiculous mop-like hairdo of hers with those silly curls: what did they call those– ringlets? B. Lee thought Maud looked just like a girl from an old black-and-white movie singing about lollipops. Her weird baby voice made the image even more believable.
“Miss Banks,” prompted the principal, “please finish spelling the word ‘Fidget.’ ”
B. Lee began to sweat. She could not remember where she had stopped. Did she get to d yet? Yes, she must have- that was always where everyone else messed up. She tried to relax and continue where she had left off, for starting over would disqualify her.
“...G-E-T. Fidget.” She smiled at the principal, flouncing off to her seat.
“I’m sorry, that is incorrect. Please take a seat in the audience.”
No, no this could not be, there must be some mistake. How could she have been wrong? She knew that word inside and out! What had she missed? Oh, NO! Horror washed over B. Lee in a cruel wave as she realized she had indeed forgotten the ‘D’. Then the magnitude of this error truly hit her.
Her perfect record was ruined. Not just this year’s, but forever. Thanks to this error, she would never grow up to claim a perfect academic record. All because of Maud Brindlebee and her disruptive entrance. Humiliation, rage, and contempt were having a screaming contest in B. Lee’s brain, and all three were winning.
Mrs. Toole, her teacher, met her with a sympathetic smile and led her to a seat in the audience, where she would remain for the rest of the bee. It was torture to have to watch someone win the victory which should have been hers. Not to mention hugely embarrassing. B. Lee banks did not lose– EVER. She could feel everyone staring at her. Their whispers were a swarm of mosquitos around B. Lee’s ears. This couldn’t be happening. The ache in her heart rose up through her eyes, and B. Lee struggled with all her might to keep herself from sobbing audibly.
Worst of all, she was seated just behind the frizzy head of Maud Brindlebee.
“You and your horrible can!” she hissed at Maud through tears.
“His name is Poppy,” corrected Maud.