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The Short Seller

Chapter One

Sweet Spot

Lindy yawned and weighed the options on the table.  She could start her homework, or she could start eating her plate of warm mini cookies.  Like there was even a choice.  She stacked two of the cookies and bit into them together.

“Double decker,” Howe said.  “You should eat one at a time so they last longer.”

“Nah,” said Lindy.  She sucked a blob of melted chocolate off her finger.  “That’s no fun.”

Howe slid into the booth opposite her and looked upside down at the books spread across the table.  He barely even glanced at Lindy’s plate of cookies, which didn’t surprise Lindy but still amazed her.  Somehow his dad being a baker had made Howe immune to the allure of sweets.  Lindy thought if her dad worked at the Sweet Escape, she’d eat nothing but dessert.

“Are you ready for the math test on Friday?” Howe asked.

“Ugh, of course not.  Steph’s going to help me when she gets here.  You should sit with us too.  I can use all the help I can get.”

Howe didn’t try to hide his dislike for Steph.  “I have to help my dad,” he said, nodding toward the counter.  “But if you have questions, you can call me later.”

Lindy looked at her math book as she ate her third cookie.  “Expect a call.”
A chime signaled the opening of the door, and Howe’s sliding out of the booth signaled that it was Steph who entered.  She was decked out in winter gear, including gloves, scarf, hat, and long, puffy coat.  The hood of her coat was up, too, creating a spaceman-effect with just her eyes and nose visible.  But it had to be Steph in there.  Her family used to live in Arizona, where it was always warm, so they prepared for the New Jersey winter the way they would a trip to Antarctica.  Lindy knew Steph didn’t wear all the layers just for warmth, either.  She had never owned a coat or any winter accessories before moving, so now, three years later, the novelty still hadn’t worn off.

“Hey, Lindy!”  Steph said as she began removing layers.  “Hello, Howard.”

“Hey,” Howe said.  He stuffed his arms into the sleeves of his gray windbreaker, his only jacket, no matter the weather.  “I have to go help my dad.  Later, Lind.”

“Bye.”

Steph slid into the booth, piled her clothes next to her, and shook out her long brown hair.  “Why does he always leave I arrive?”

“Maybe because you call him Howard.  He hates that name.”

Steph smiled.  “That’s why I call him it.”  She helped herself to one of Lindy’s cookies.“I stopped next door and picked up the new Teen Scene,” she said.  “It’s got five pages of quizzes.”

“Let me see,” Lindy said.  She and Steph were suckers for quizzes.  They liked ones that promised to predict your future, but even better were ones that claimed to interpret the present.  “Are You Too Stressed?” Lindy read.  “If the answer is yes, do you think my mom will let me stop doing chores?”

“Probably not.  Parents never appreciate the truth of magazine quiz results.”

“What’s the Best Hat for Your Face’s Shape?”

“Ooh,” said Steph.  “What do they suggest for a heart-shaped face?  That’s what I have.”

Lindy looked at her friend and realized that her face was kind of shaped like a heart, with her center-parted hair forming the perfect bumps at the top.

“What shape is my face?” she asked Steph.

Steph didn’t even need to consider.  “Oval.”

“And Howe’s?” Lindy asked.

“Circle.”

Lindy looked at him behind the counter and saw that Steph was right.  His face was round, while her own was longer.  Clearly Steph had given this some thought before.  “Impressive,” she said.  She went back to the magazine.  “Who’s Your Celebrity Twin?  I hope those answers are better than What Is Your Spirit Animal?”

“Shh!” Steph said, grabbing the magazine back from Lindy.  “We promised to never speak of our spirit animals.”

It was true; the results were too humiliating.  Steph’s was a sperm whale, which was embarrassing on multiple levels, and Lindy’s was a bull, which Lindy thought was exactly that.

“Here we go,” Steph said.  “Are You Really Best Friends?”

“We know the answer to that,” said Lindy.  “How about, ‘Will You Be Able to Do A Triple Axle Next Week?’” she said.  She and Steph were starting ice skating lessons next week, and they’d taken to trying triple axles in their living rooms, in the hallway at school, and even as they walked down the street.

“We know the answer to that!” Steph said.  “We’re going to be naturals.”

“Okay, then,” said Lindy.  “Do they have, Are You Going to Pass the Math Test on Friday?”  She frowned.  “I think I know the answer to that too.”

Steph sighed and put the magazine away.   “All right,” she said, “let’s work on the homework.”

But the minute Steph started talking through the first problem, Lindy found herself losing focus.  Something about numbers just made her zone out.  She tried to concentrate, but she found herself wishing she could lie down right there in the booth and fall asleep.

“Hey.”

Lindy blinked and brought herself back to reality.  Howe was standing at the side of the table, and he was holding a paper plate full of chocolate chip cookies that were a deep brown.

“Do you want these?” he asked.  “This whole tray got kind of burnt, and my dad was going to throw them away, but he said you could have them if you want.”

“We don’t need your cast-off cookies, Howard,” said Steph.

“I wasn’t offering you,” Howe said.  “I was offering Lindy.”

Lindy looked at the cookies.  “Thanks,” she said, “but that’s okay.”

Steph smiled sweetly, but Howe just stared at Lindy.  “Are you okay, Lind?”

“Yeah,” she said, “I’m just really tired for some reason.”

“Too tired for free cookies?” Howe said.

“No one wants your burnt cookies, Howard,” said Steph.

Lindy rubbed her eyes.  She wasn’t in the mood to listen to them argue, and she certainly wasn’t in the mood to focus on homework.  “I think I’m going to go home.  I’ll call you guys later.”

Steph pouted.  “You’re just going to leave me here?” she said.

“Leave you here, in the Sweet Escape, surrounded by deliciousness?”  Lindy laughed as she filled her backpack.  “I think you’ll survive.”

On her way out, she held the door open for Cassie, another girl from their class, and they smiled at each other.

“Hey, Cassie,” Lindy heard Howe say.  “Do you want these cookies?  They’re a little burnt, but you can have them for free.”

“Serious?” said Cassie.  “Awesome!”

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The Short Seller

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