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Chapter 1 . . . I am going to talk to Milo Sanchez today. Today I’m going to talk to Milo. I must talk to him. Now. Okay, now-ish. Unless I wait until tomorrow. Maybe today I should just buy a slice of pizza and head home. No, that would be insane. No one comes to the Pizza Den for the pizza. Their crust is way soggy and the service stinks. When you order a slice of pepperoni, there’s a very good chance you’ll get sausage instead. Its atmosphere is even worse. The place is so dark and musty, they should change their name to Animal Den. Still, practically every seventh grader at Fiske Street Junior High hangs out at the Pizza Den after school because that’s where everyone goes. It’s where things happen. And I had just realized something.

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4

Leslie Margolis

There are people who make things happen, people to whom things happen, and then there’s everyone else: those who hang around and watch. I’ve been watching for too long and that’s got to change—now. Well, soon. I glanced across the room at Milo, leaning against the post that holds up the sagging ceiling in the corner. Arms crossed, head tilted, dark hair falling over his big brown eyes, Milo leans better than any boy I know. He’s probably the best leaner in all of Brooklyn, or at least in Park Slope, which is the neighborhood where we live. He could win a gold medal for it. Nike would offer him sponsorship if they knew, but Milo would refuse because he’s not a sellout. I don’t think so, anyway. I don’t know him all that well. Okay, fine—we haven’t actually spoken. Except for once, last month when I followed him too closely and accidentally stepped on the heel of his left sneaker and it came off and he stumbled and turned around to look at me. Not annoyed, like he thought I’d done it on purpose. More like confused, and I said, “Sorry,” and he said, “ ’sokay.” And he smiled. I think. It’s entirely possible that I imagined the smile part. It happened so long ago I can’t be certain, but none of that matters. All that counts is now—this very moment—because we’re about to have a real conversation.

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Girl’s Best Friend

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We have to, because the hole in his navy blue sweater is huge. I sit behind Milo in science, and three weeks ago his sweater looked almost new, with just one loose thread at the seam near his shoulder. But then he pulled at it during Mrs. Gander’s lecture on isotopes and it ripped. That rip turned into a hole and I’ve watched it grow every single day. Inch by inch, or, as Madame Curie would say (before she died of radiation poisoning), centimeter by centimeter. I promised myself I’d talk to Milo before his sweater unraveled completely. I just couldn’t figure out what to say. What’s the homework in science? Too obvious. Congrats on winning the all-school speed chess match? Too nerdy. I saw you heading into Southpaw last Saturday with a guitar strapped to your back. Are you in a band? Too stalkery. I don’t want him to think I followed him, because I didn’t. I only went three blocks out of my way, in the pouring rain, because I felt like taking a walk that day. It’s not pathetic because I had an umbrella. Nothing seemed right, but then last night it finally came to me: the perfect in. So simple it’s brilliant. I walked over, fast, before I could wimp out. “Hey, guess what? I walk a dog named Milo.” There, I said it. Blurted it out, if you want to get technical. “He’s a puggle, which is a cross between a pug and a beagle.”

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Milo didn’t respond. He didn’t even look up. “He’s got that smushed-in pug face but a thinner body and longer legs,” I went on, stupidly, as if there were nothing more captivating than this new hybrid dog breed. Milo said nothing. Then he went on to say nothing some more. As a cold panic spread through me, I wondered if maybe I should run. Or hide. Or act like I was talking to the person behind him. Except there was no person behind him— only the grease-stained wall. Could I pretend like I was talking to myself? No, that would be worse. I began to turn away when Milo raised his head and scrunched his eyebrows together. I stopped and smiled what I hoped was a tiny and extremely casual smile. A smile that told him I didn’t care one way or the other if he replied. A smile that didn’t hint at the fact that I’d been having pretend conversations with him in my head all week— and that not one of them sounded anything like this. Suddenly he moved—raised one hand to his ear and tugged out an earbud.

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Milo had been listening to his iPod. He wasn’t ignoring me. He just didn’t hear. I let out my breath, not realizing I’d been holding it, and waited. So did Milo. Oh, right. Now I had to start all over again. I paused so he could take out his second earbud, but he didn’t. Which got me thinking—why only one? Does he think whatever I’m about to say isn’t important enough for both ears? I tried not to take it personally. “I walk a puggle named Milo.” I spoke louder this time, since I had to compete with his music. “Um, what?” Milo tilted his head. Progress. True, Milo had no idea what I was talking about, but at least he acknowledged me. And he didn’t seem horrified or anything. He squinted a friendly sort of squint. Like he was smiling with his eyes. Big beautiful brown eyes—the kind that, gazing into them, made my stomach flip over like a half-cooked pancake. “I walk this—” “Um, Maggie.” Someone interrupted me. “You don’t have a dog.” I cringed. The way she said it— all accusing, like

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my not having a dog was some horrible offense— told me, without a doubt, that my least favorite person heard everything. And in case I needed the confirmation, Milo looked over my shoulder and said, “Hey, Ivy.” So I had no choice but to turn around and face her: Ivy Jeffries. She’s got shiny dark hair that’s parted in the middle, falls just below her ears, and always stays in place. No bangs. Her big blue eyes, dusting of freckles across her nose, and tendency to wear pastels make her seem sweet and innocent, but I know the truth. I know because she used to be my best friend. “I never said I had a dog,” I told her, standing up straighter. “I said I walk dogs. It’s my after-school job.” I still felt cool, since not a lot of kids I know have jobs, and mine is a good one. Much better than babysitting. That’s what every other seventh grader who works does, unless you count Lucy, who knits hats to sell on Etsy— but I don’t because her only client is her grandmother. Ivy pressed her lips together like that was the only way to keep from cracking up, but I knew it was just an act. “You’re a dog walker?” she asked, as if it were absurd, and burst out laughing. So did Eve and Katie, her current best friends. Not that I was about to let them get to me. “Yes, I’m a dog walker. So what?”

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Girl's Best Friend by Leslie Margolis  

Imagine a young Nancy Drew—with a dog-walking business, a twin brother, and a thoroughly modern, fresh perspective. Dogs are disappearing...

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