“Audrey, breakfast!” a voice called up the stairs.
“Coming!” Audrey Jones finished pulling on her jeans and swept her brown hair into a ponytail. A quickly thrown-on pair of socks later, she was skipping down the stairs. She slid into her seat at the table and took a gulp of juice. A stack of pancakes was piled on the plate in front of her, and her mouth was already watering. Her mom’s pancakes were the best.
“It’s about time, girl,” her older sister, Genevieve, said from the seat next to her. “Five more seconds and those pancakes would have been mine.”
Audrey knew Genevieve wasn’t joking. She was always first at the table in the mornings and usually had seconds before Audrey had firsts.
“No, mine!” Dorrie, her little sister, countered from the other side. “Mine, mine, mine!”
“I’ve got some right here for you, sweetie,” Audrey’s mom said, sliding buttery pieces of cut-up pancake onto Dorrie’s plastic plate. “Audrey, could you put the syrup on for her?” Mrs. Jones asked as she went back to the stove.
Audrey reached for the bottle of syrup and obligingly poured a quick stream onto her little sister’s plate.
“Can you give me a refill on the juice?” Genevieve asked, lifting her glass in the air and tipping it toward Audrey.
Audrey set the syrup down and, with a small sigh, reached for the carton of juice. She filled the glass halfway and watched her sister take a long sip, then hold out her glass for thirds, which Audrey obligingly poured (while shooting Gen a cold look over the top of the carton).
“Please pass the napkins, Aud,” her father said without looking up from his paper.
Audrey closed the juice, passed the napkin holder to her dad, and wished for the hundredth time that her seat was at the end of the table. It wasn’t, of course. It was in the middle, just like Audrey. No matter how hard she tried, Audrey couldn’t escape her middleness.
She was never first, like Genevieve. She was never last, like Dorrie. She was born, and quite apparently destined to remain, squarely in between.
The chicken clock in the kitchen squawked and Audrey’s head jerked up. It was almost time to leave for the bus. No time for butter. She quickly poured some hot syrup onto her pancakes and took a bite. No sooner did the bite pass her lips than she knew it had happened yet again. She’d sat down in front of something warm and delicious, but by the time she actually got to eat, it was cold. Well, not cold, exactly—more like lukewarm. Tepid. Uh, yum.
Audrey told herself to look on the bright side. Her mom was such a good cook that even lukewarm pancakes were better than the breakfasts the majority of her friends ate before school. She knew for a fact that there was a lot of cold cereal and toast going on behind the doors of most middle schoolers’ homes—if that.
As if cued from offstage, Audrey’s best friend, Carmen Angelo, blew in through the kitchen door with a whoosh of cold air.
“Ooooh, pancakes,” Carmen said enviously as she eyed the plates on the table. Her cheeks were rosy from the cold. She was a member of the cold cereal club.
“Here, I’ve got one hot off the griddle,” Mrs. Jones said, slipping the golden brown cake onto a plate and handing it to Carmen. “Audrey, will you get her some syrup?”
“I got it, Mrs. J,” Carmen replied, grabbing a chair across from Audrey and reaching for the brown bottle. “Soooo delicious,” she said, chewing. “Fluffy, hot, and perfect!” She squinted at her friend’s plate through long dark lashes. “Yours are looking a little chilly, Aud.” She forked a bite from her own plate and held it out to Audrey.
Audrey leaned across the table and took the offering. It was perfect. And hot. She swallowed and beamed across the table at her friend. At least someone put her first.