Puddin' Page 1

Author: Julie Murphy

Series: Dumplin' #2

Genres: Young Adult



I’m a list maker. Write it down. (Using my gel pens and a predetermined color scheme, of course.) Make it happen. Scratch it off. There is no greater satisfaction than a notebook full of beautifully executed lists.

A long time ago, I decided to make a list of all the things I could control, and what it came down to was this: my attitude. Which is probably why I’ve been able to psych myself into thinking that a 4:45 a.m. wakeup call is humane. Listen, I’m a morning person, but 4:45 doesn’t even count as morning if you ask me, and I’m an optimist.

After swiping away the last alarm on my phone, I roll out of bed and pull on my fuzzy baby-pink robe with a scrolled M embroidered onto the collar. For a moment, I stretch my whole body and yawn one last time before sitting down at my desk and pulling out my floral notebook. Across the hardcover front in gold letters, it reads MAKE PLANS, and below that, in cursive, MILLIE MICHALCHUK.

I smack my lips together to rid myself of the taste of sleep. Normally, I’m militant about brushing my teeth, but the other day Amanda said she read online that if you’re experiencing writer’s block, you should try writing first thing, before your brain even has a moment to turn on. I figure it can’t hurt to try. With my mint-green GIRL BOSS pencil poised in hand, I examine all the false starts I’ve scratched through this week.

I believe in the power of positive thinking.

Most people don’t know what they want, and that’s the real reason they’re stuck. Me? I know exactly what I want.

Webster’s Dictionary defines journalism as the activity or job of collecting, writing, and editing news stories for newspapers, magazines, television, or radio. I define journalism as

I turn to a fresh page and I sit and I wait. I stare down the blank page, hoping for the lines to morph into words, but instead they stay perfectly static.

I’m a good student. Not as great as Malik or Leslie Fischer, who was destined to be our class’s valedictorian the moment she won the third-grade spelling bee when she was only in first grade, but I’m in all AP classes and I’m doing better than most of my peers. I rarely feel daunted by an exam of essay questions or even a timed trigonometry test. But this personal statement is turning out to be an entirely new kind of beast. In fact, it’s got me feeling more like a girl failure than a girl boss.

After ten minutes and nothing to show for my time except a few crossed-out words and a doodle of two stick figures who I imagine are out on a date and who might even be me and a particular someone . . . I shove my notebook back in the drawer of my desk.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow will be the day when the right words come to me. I open my laptop and scroll through my video library until I settle on When Harry Met Sally. This is one of me and my mom’s favorites—the kind of rom-com we can quote in our sleep—even if my mom does fast-forward through the orgasm scene and we still watch the VHS copy she recorded years ago. (My mother has yet to discover that I can just watch the full-length version online.)

Above my computer hangs a cross-stitch I copied from Pinterest. An intricate floral vine weaves around the quote YOU HAVE AS MANY HOURS IN A DAY AS BEYONCÉ. (I made one for Willowdean that replaced Beyoncé’s name with Dolly Parton, both of whom are goddesses in my humble opinion.)

Beside that is a piece of découpaged wood that reads WHEN I LOOK INTO THE FUTURE, IT’S SO BRIGHT IT BURNS MY EYES. —OPRAH WINFREY. Above that is another cross-stitch that reads LIFE IS TOO COMPLICATED NOT TO BE ORDERLY. —MARTHA STEWART. And those are just a few of my masterpieces.

I got my love for inspirational quotes, cross-stitch, and crafts from my mom. Our whole house is lined with handmade embroidered pillows emblazoned with encouraging quotes and watercolor prints of Bible verses that are darn near good enough quality to be sold at The Good Book, our local Christian bookstore.

It’s like me and my mom are a pair of birds, always adding to our nest, and the project is never quite done, but with each addition we feel a little more at home. At least that’s how it’s been until now. But in the last few months, my hopes and dreams are growing in the opposite direction of what my mom wants for me. Slowly, I’ve been redecorating my nest.

The cross-stitches and découpages hanging on my wall today are a departure from the inspirational diet quotes I surrounded myself with last summer and the eight summers prior to that at Daisy Ranch Weight-Loss Camp. YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE EXCEPT THE WEIGHT was always a personal favorite.

Fat camp. Yes, I went to fat camp. But that’s all history, because for the first time in nine years, I’m not going back to see my friends or Ms. Georgia, my counselor, at Daisy Ranch. Entering and winning runner-up at the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant changed the game for me. I did things I never believed possible. I played my ukulele for a crowded theater and walked the stage in a beautiful gown—not to mention the swimsuit portion of the competition! I even went to a dance with a boy. I did all that in this body. Which is why I can’t afford to waste another summer weighing in every morning and eating rabbit food in the hopes that someone will notice that I’ve dropped six pounds on the first day of school.

Now if I could only just figure out a way to explain that to my mom. And then, watch out, world! Millicent Michalchuk, trusted news anchor, is coming to a television screen near you.

But first I’ve gotta finish this dang personal statement for the Broadcast Journalism Boot Camp at the University of Texas in Austin.

I know it’s going to take more than summer camp or even a degree. We’re talking internships and years of grunt work. But I’m willing to do all that, because I want to be the face people come home to every night—a voice they can trust. A voice that will inspire. And maybe even change the world. I guess that’s a silly thing to expect from a news anchor, but my grandparents are as religious about the local news as they are about, well, religion!

I hear them talking about things people have said on the news channels they watch, and there are times that I don’t even think we’re living in the same world. It’s got me thinking that sometimes it’s about more than the facts. Sometimes it’s about how and which facts are presented. Like, when same-sex marriage was legalized, all the news outlets I pay attention to online treated it like a celebration, because it was! I went over to my grandparents’ house, and by the sound of their television, you would have thought we’d been invaded by a hostile enemy.

Maybe it’s different for everybody, but people like my grandparents? Their opinion of the world is shaped by the person who delivers their news. That’s real responsibility, and I don’t take that lightly.

I know. They don’t put fat girls on the news. Well, they didn’t let fat girls win runner-up in the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant either. But everything happens for the first time at some point, so why can’t that first time be me?

After I’ve removed all my curlers, I reach for the black leggings and mint sweatshirt I laid out for myself last night. The sweatshirt is the result of a Mother-Daughter Crafturday Saturday—a fading monthly tradition, now that I’m working for Uncle Vernon—and has a fabric-paint-lined iron-on transfer of a puppy with a butterfly on its nose. (It’s as adorable as it sounds.)

I add a touch of light pink lip gloss and close my laptop, leaving Harry and Sally behind. Lastly, I get the coffeepot started for my parents before driving to work.

At 5:45 in the morning, Clover City is just barely buzzing awake. The only evidence of life is the flickering light that spills into the street from Daybreak Donuts and Coffee and the handful of runners I see before pulling into the parking lot of Down for the Count, my uncle Vernon and aunt Inga’s boxing gym.

Dad tried telling them that the name of the gym felt a little defeatist, but they weren’t hearing it. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Inga connected on a Rocky fan-club message board. Inga was a recent transplant from Russia living in Philadelphia, and they met for the first time at the top of the infamous Rocky steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Against my entire family’s protest, because no one in my family except me can really wrap their head around falling in love on the internet.)

I’ve never been to Philly, but Inga has promised me that we’ll go after graduation—a true girls’ trip. I just hope it won’t take climbing all seventy-two Rocky steps for me to get the happy ending to my own love story.