“Your family seemed a little … um, frazzled this morning,” Abby’s best friend, Hannah said as they walked to middle school with Mason, another close friend.

“That’s putting it mildly,” Abby said.

Just seeing her friends’ cheerful faces was a relief. Abby could have hugged them when they showed up at her door.

“When we came to pick you up, it sounded like a madhouse,” Mason said. “What was going on?”

“First, we had a major highway pileup in front of the bathroom door,” Abby explained. “Then, a few minutes later, Isabel and I collided in front of the dishwasher. Eva dropped a pitcher of juice in my father’s lap. And my mother fell over Alex in the front hallway.”

“Whew,” Hannah said.

“We were like crazed bumper cars!” Abby said.

Mason teased, “Your family needs traffic arrows to point them in the right direction.”

“Arrows? That’s dangerous,” Abby retorted. “I wouldn’t put any kind of weapons in my sisters’ hands.”

“Nope,” Hannah agreed. “I know Eva and Isabel. When they aren’t getting along. Stay out of the way. The sparks fly!”

“I’ve been burned many times,” Abby said. She often wished that her sisters would stop fighting. But they almost never did. “At least I have my purple room to disappear into.”

“You have one of the coolest rooms ever,” Hannah said.

In fifth grade, Abby had painted her room a deep, rich purple. The desk, bookcase, chair, bedspread, and curtains were purple, too. It was like living inside a grape.

“It’s my Purple Palace,” Abby said. “Thanks goodness I don’t have to share it!”

Hannah sighed. “Not like me. My little sister Elena insists on sleeping in my room every single night. If I say no, she throws a terrible-two’s tantrum.”

Abby sighed in sympathy. She was lucky to have a place where she felt so peaceful. And she was especially lucky to have friends who lived nearby and could rescue her when her family was just too much to take.

As the three friends crossed the street, they saw steams of kids heading toward the school. Yellow buses were turning into the drive.

“There’s Simon!” Hannah exclaimed.

Abby’s heart pounded. Her face suddenly felt hot. She had a crush on Simon. Only Hannah knew about it.

“And Natalie’s with him,” Hannah said.

“Natalie?” Abby repeated in surprise, “I didn’t know they were friends again.”

Hannah shrugged. “Why shouldn’t Natalie and Simon be friends? They’re musicians, aren’t they? They’re part of the same band.”

Abby didn’t reply. She knew a secret about Natalie that only she and Simon shared. Natalie seemed uncomfortable around her and Simon now, even though Abby had kept her promise to not tell anyone. She hadn’t even told Hannah. Simon had kept Natalie’s secret, too, as far as she knew.

“What’s the big deal about Simon?” Mason suddenly demanded. “All the girls in this school are googly-eyed about him.”

“Not all,” Hannah said. “Not me!”

“Not me, either,” Abby quickly said. It wasn’t really a lie. She had a crush on him, but she wasn’t googly-eyed about Simon. At least, she hoped not.

“So what is it about him? Mason said again.

“He’s smart, talented, and really nice.” Abby blushed. “And he’s cute,” she added.

Mason didn’t look pleased.

Hannah poked him. “You’re cute, too, Mason,” she said playfully.

“Nah,” Mason said. “Not me.”

“You’ve changed since elementary school,” Abby said.

It was true. Since fifth grade, Mason slimmed down and shot up. If he wasn’t such an old friend and if she wasn’t used to thinking of him as the big burper, his fifth grade nickname, Abby might have thought that Mason was good-looking, too.

Abby’s thoughts were interrupted by the loud blare of the bell. She and her friends hurried into school.