"Sophie! Answer me!"
And could you please not call me "Sophie"? I'm Antoinettefrom France.
"Are you all right?"
Sophie felt hands clamp onto her elf-like shoulders, and she looked up into the frowning face of Ms. Quelling, her sixth-grade social studies teacher. Sophie blinked her M&M-shaped eyes behind her glasses and sent the imaginary Antoinette scurrying back into her mind-world.
"Are you all right?" Ms. Quelling said again.
"Yes, ma'am," Sophie said.
"Then why didn't you answer me? I thought you were going into a coma, child." Ms. Quelling gave a too-big sigh. "Why do I even plan field trips?"
Sophie wasn't sure whether to answer that or not. She had only been in Ms. Quelling's class a month. In fact, she'd only been in Great Marsh Elementary School for a month.
"So answer my question," Ms. Quelling said. "Do you or don't you have a buddy in your group?"
"No, ma'am," Sophie said. She wasn't quite sure who was even in her field trip group.
"You're in the Patriots' Group." Ms. Quelling frowned over her clipboard, the skin between her eyebrows twisting into a backwards S. "Everybody in that group has a buddy except Maggie LaQuitaso I guess that's a no-brainer. Maggie, Sophie is your buddy. LaQuita and LaCroix, you two can be the La-La's."
Ms. Quelling rocked her head back and forth, sending her thick bronze hair bouncing off the sides of her face. She looked very pleased with her funny self.
But the stocky, black-haired girl who stepped up to them didn't seem to think it was the least bit hilarious. Sophie recognized Maggie from language arts class. She drilled her deep brown eyes into Ms. Quelling and then into Sophie.
Don't look at me, Sophie wanted to say out loud. I don't want to be La-La either. I am Antoinette!
Although, Sophie thought, this Maggie person could fit right in. She looks like she's from a faraway kingdom, maybe Spain or some other romantic land. She can't be "Maggie" though, Sophie decided. She had to be Magdalena, a runaway princess.
Magdalena glanced over her shoulder as she knelt to retrieve the leather satchel, stuffed with her most precious possessions
"So are you getting on the bus or what?"
Maggie's voice dropped each word with a thud. She hiked her leather backpack over her shoulder and gave Sophie a push in the back that propelled tiny Sophie toward the steps.
"Sit here," Maggie said.
She shoved Sophie into a seat three rows back from the driver and fell in beside her. In front of them, the other four Patriots fell into seats and stuffed their backpacks underneath. They twisted and turned to inspect the bus. Somebody's mother stood in the aisle with Ms. Quelling and counted heads.
"I have my six Patriots!" she sang out, smiling at their teacher. "Two boys, four girls!"
"Eddie and Colton, settle down!" Ms. Quelling said to the boys seated between the two pairs of girls. Eddie burrowed his knuckles into Colton's ball cap, and Colton grabbed the spike of sandy hair rising from Eddie's forehead.
"Dude," Maggie muttered. "I'm stuck in the loser group again."
Sophie squinted at Maggie. "I thought we were the Patriots."
"They just call us that so we won't know we're in the loser group."
"Oh," Sophie said.
She craned her neck to see over Colton and Eddie's heads and get a look at the other two Patriots. The girl with butter-blonde hair squirmed around in her seat to gaze longingly toward the back of the bus.
SHE hates being in the loser group too, Sophie thought. Actually she was pretty sure the girl, whose name she knew was B.J., hadn't lost anything but her usual knot of friends. She and three other girls always walked together as if they were attached with superglue.
B.J.'s lower lip stuck out like the seat of a sofa. Next to her sat a girl with a bouncy black ponytail. Ponytail Girl tugged at the back of B.J.'s T-shirt that read Great Marsh Elementary Schoolthe same maroon one all of them were wearing. Sophie had selected a long skirt with daisies on it to wear with hers, as well as her hooded sweatshirt. She always felt most like Antoinette when she was wearing a hood.
B.J. leaned farther into the aisle. The only thing holding her onto the seat was the grip Ponytail Girl had on her.
"B.J., you're going to be on the floor any minute," said Chaperone Mom. "How about you scoot yourself right back up next to Kitty?"
"What?" B.J. said. She whirled around to Kitty and yanked her shirt away.
"B.J., what's the problem?" Ms. Quelling said from farther down the aisle.
B.J.'s sofa lip extended into a foldout couch. "If I could just be with my friends in the Colonists' Group"
"And if ants could just have machine guns, we wouldn't step on them!" Ms. Quelling said.
"But they don't," Maggie said.
"Exactly." Ms. Quelling stretched her neck at B.J. over the top of the clipboard pressed to her chest. "I separated you because y'all talk too much, and you won't hear a word your guide says. You show me my best B.J., and we'll see about next time." She smiled like she and B.J. were old pals. "You can start by hiking yourself onto the seat before you break your neck."
As Ms. Quelling moved down the aisle, Chaperone Mom stepped into her place.
"Maybe you'll make some new friends today, B.J.," she said.
"I'll be your friend!" Kitty piped up.
B.J. glanced at her over her shoulder. "No offense or anything," she said. "But I already have friends."
Chaperone Mom gasped. "Now, that isn't nice!" She patted B.J. on the head and continued down the aisle.
"Busted," said Colton, wiggling his ears at B.J. Eddie let out a guffaw, and Colton punched him in the stomach.
"Boys are so lame," Maggie said. Her words placed themselves in a solid straight line, like fact blocks you couldn't possibly knock over. She looked at Sophie. "How come you hardly ever say anything?"
Sophie pulled her hood over her head, in spite of the Virginia-humid air. She wasn't sure when she could have squeezed a word into the conversation. Besides, she'd been too busy trying to figure out the possibilities.
Possibilities such as, what does "B.J." stand for? Bambi Jo? Probably more like Bad Jerky. B.J. looked as if she had just eaten some and was about to cough it back up.
And what about that Kitty person with the freckles? She must be Katherine, kept locked away in a tower, and she's so desperate to escape she clings to anyone she can reach. I'll save you! Rescue is my mission in life!
Antoinette tucked her long tresses beneath the hood of her dark cloak as she crept to the castle wall and gazed up at the tower.
"What are you looking at?"
Maggie's voice dropped on Sophie's daydream like a cement block. Sophie blinked at the bus ceiling above her.
"You think it's going to rain in here or what?" Maggie said. "I think you're a little strange."
"That's okay," Sophie said as she pushed back her hood. "Most people think I'm strange. My sister says I'm an alien from Planet Weird."
"Is that your real voice?" Maggie said.
Sophie didn't have a chance to tell her that, yes, the pipsqueak voice was the real thing, because the bus lurched forward and all its occupants squealed.
"Colonial Williamsburg, here we come!" Chaperone Mom shouted over the squeal-a-thon.
B.J. whirled again, her eyes fixed on the back of the bus like a jealous cat's.
Sophie turned to the window and curled her feet under her. As she watched the yellowing late September trees flip by in a blur, a heavy feeling fell over her head and shoulders, almost like a cloakand not Antoinette's beautiful black velvet cape that shrouded her in soft mysterious folds from the dangers of the night.
This cloak felt like it was woven of sadness, and Sophie had been wearing it for six whole weeks, ever since her family had moved from Houston to the small town of Poquoson, Virginia.
Houston was a huge city with parks and museums and big libraries full of dream possibilities. Poquoson was mostly one street with a Farm Fresh grocery store and a Krispy Kreme Donut shop attached to a gas station, where hordes of mosquitoes flew through solid clouds of bug spray to gnaw on Sophie's legs.
The school was way different too. Here, Sophie had to change classes for every single subject, and that made it hard to keep up. It seemed as if she would just get settled into her seat in one classroom, when the bell sent her running to the next one, hauling her backpack, and leaving her work unfinished.
Of course, her new teachers had already told herand her parentsthat if she didn't stare out the window and daydream so much, she could get her work done before the end of class. In Houston the other students were used to her going off into daydreams. She hardly ever got teased about it there. But then her dad got promoted by NASA and moved the whole family to Virginia.
So the staring and taunting had started all over again since school started. This field trip was the first thing that even sounded like fun since they'd left Texas.
"Won't Williamsburg be amazing?" Sophie said to Maggie.
"No. Walking on the moon would be amazing. This is just historical."
Sophie sighed. "I wish it were French history. I want to learn about that. I'm into France."
Maggie pulled her chin in. "France? This is America."
"Is it?" Colton said. "Is it really? Hey, Eddie! This is America!"
Colton gave him a left hook. "Maggot just said this is America. I thought we were in China, man."
"Don't call me maggot," Maggie said.
Sophie pulled her knees into a hug. Although her family hadn't had a chance to explore yet, Sophie's mother had collected brochures about the places they would go and had put Colonial Williamsburg at the top of the pile.
"They've restored one whole area so it looks just the way it was before and during the American Revolution," Mama had told her. "They say it's like stepping right back into the past."
"How long till we get there?" Sophie said. Maggie didn't answer. She whacked Colton with his own baseball cap, threw it at him, and then threatened both boys with their lives if they didn't stop calling her maggot.
"It isn't nice to hit boys," Chaperone Mom said. "It isn't nice to hit anybody."
"Why should I be nice to them?" Maggie said. "They sure aren't nice to me."
Sophie once again stared along the dense woods lining the highway and saw a sign appear, reading, "Colonial Williamsburg." It had a little green shield on it, and Sophie felt a familiar flutter in her chest. This was real! It had its own little green shield and everything.
Sophie didn't hear Chaperone Mom's answer to Maggie. She geared up her imagination for an adventureone that didn't include maggots or lame boys or anything not "nice" at all.
The Patriots' Group followed Vic across the brick bridge that led away from the Williamsburg Visitors' Center. Sophie scanned the cobblestone and brick streets for a place Antoinette might appear. Maggie's foot smashed down the back of Sophie's sneaker. I didn't think being field trip buddies meant we had to be Siamese twins, Sophie thought. She picked up speed.
They passed along the side of a massive brick building with a curving wall and stopped in front of a tall iron gate. "This is the Governor's Palace!" Vic informed them. "Several royal governors lived here, including Governor Alexander Spotswoodnot a very nice character!"
Surely there's a place for Antoinette beyond these gates, Sophie thought. She squirmed through the Patriots to get a closer view. Those high walls held who-knew-what amazing secrets. But with Colton and Eddie howling and B.J. repeating "What?" over and over, Sophie couldn't even FIND Antoinette.
"We'll visit the Governor's Palace at the end of your tour!" Vic said. Sophie caught up to him and gave the palace a wistful, backward glance as they walked along, right in the middle of the street.
"Where are the cars?" she said.
Vic looked down at her with the same surprised expression most adults made when they heard her speak for the first time. "Young lady," he answered, "you will find the Duke of Gloucester Street precisely as you would have in the eighteenth century!"
I love that! Sophie thought. At that very moment, a carriage rumbled past, driven by a man wearing white stockings, a coat with tails, and a three-cornered hat. Sophie closed her eyes and listened to the clip-clop of the horses' hooves.
Antoinette LaCroix peeked from inside the carriage, her face half hidden by the hood of her cloak. All around her colonists hurried to and fro, calling to each other in English. She could understand them, but how she longed to hear her native French.
Something smacked Sophie on the top of the head. She blinked at Maggie, who was holding her map rolled up like a billy club.
"Come on," Maggie said. "You're supposed to stay with the group." She dragged Sophie forward by the wrist to where the group stood on tiptoes at a cemetery wall.
"This is Bruton Parish Church!" Vic said. "We'll visit here on our way back too!"
"Will we get to look at the graves?" Maggie said.
"Gross!" B.J. said. "Who wants to look at dead people?"
"Tombstones here date back to the 1600s!" Vic said, walking backward and beckoning the group with both hands. Sophie felt a delighted shiver.
Next they stopped in front of the courthouse. A man in a sweeping waistcoat and white silk stockings emerged through the tall wooden doors and shouted, "Nathaniel Buttonwick! Appear before the judge, or you will forfeit your recognizance!"
"What?" B.J. and Kitty said together.
Sophie didn't have any idea what recognizance meant either, but she loved the sound of it. Outside the courthouse two guards pushed a man's head through a hole in a wooden contraption and lowered a wooden railing over the man's wrists.
"In the stocks till sundown!" one guard shouted.
"He has to stand there until dark?" Sophie said.
"It's not real," Maggie said.
Antoinette was appalled. She had never seen such treatment, not in the gentle place from whence she came. Had it been a mistake to come to the colonies? But Antoinette shook her head until her tresses tossed against her face. She must find her mission.
Sophie wished she had a costumelike that little girl she saw across the street pushing a rolling hoop with a stick. She had on a white puffy cap and an apron-covered dress down to her ankles and white stockings that Sophie longed to feel on her own legs. A boy chased after her, trying to knock over her hoop.
I guess boys have always been annoying, Sophie thought. She caught up with Vic in time to hear that the powder magazinean eight-sided brick building with a roof like a pointy hathad once stored the cannons and guns and ammunition of Colonial Williamsburg's small army.
Sophie wanted to skip as they passed through an opening in the fence. A man with a big barrel chest suddenly blocked their path and bellowed, "Halt!"
"What?" B.J. and Kitty said.
"It's not real," Maggie said again, although she looked up at the giant of a man with reluctant respect in her eyes.
The man's tan shirt was the size of a pup tent, and the white scarf tied around his massive head framed a snarling face. Sophie swallowed hard.
"Fall in!" he shouted.
Colton fell to the ground, sending Eddie into a fit of boy-howls.
"That means fall into a straight line!"
The rest of them scrambled into place. The big man picked Colton up by his backpack and set him down on his feet next to Sophie.
"Hey, dude!" Colton said.
"You will call me Sergeant! Let me hear it!"
"Yes, Sergeant!" Sophie cried out.
Eddie went into convulsions of laughter. Colton said, "Yes, Sergeant," in a mousy voice.
"Youand youfall out!" the sergeant roared.
Eddie and Colton were banished to a blue wagon full of long poles, where the sergeant told them to stay until further notice. When Chaperone Mom started to march over to them, the sergeant yelled, "You! Fall in!"
"Oh, no, I'm the chaperone!" she said.
"We need every able-bodied individual! We are no longer a small militiawe are part of the Colonial Army! If Lafayette and his troops do not arrive in time, it will be us against the Redcoats!"
Lafayette? Sophie thought. That sounds like a French name.
"Eyes left! Eyes front! Eyes left!" the sergeant commanded. When he said, "Pick up your arms!" the group scurried for the blue wagon and got their "guns"long sticks almost twice as tall as Sophie. The sergeant told Eddie and Colton that he would give them one last chance, and they grabbed their sticks to line up with the rest.
Excerpted from Meet Sophie by Nancy Rue Copyright © 2013 by Nancy Rue. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERKIDZ. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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