I wish I knew all the answers, how to be perfect, attractive and witty. But I’m just a human being with all the regular faults and it seems no matter how hard I try, I can’t change that. I spend half of my time wondering what other people think about me and the other half berating myself for caring what people think. It’s a game I can’t win.

So I tell myself that I’m a teenager and everybody says being a teenager is supposed to be screwed up and terrible, so I’m actually quite normal. That thought does comfort me to some degree.

My name is Ramona Nizhoni Morgan and I am fourteen years old. The fact that I am fourteen is a story in and of itself but this morning, I decided it might help to focus on something else for a while. Something other than my boob size, hair and eyes, and whether or not I sound stupid every time I open my mouth. To my surprise, at breakfast, that new focus was provided without any effort on my part.

I was sitting at the table eating huevos rancheros1when Dad announced that we would soon have another member of the family. We all looked at Mom and in the general location of her belly, hidden below the table.

“Not a baby,” Mom said, laughing in my direction, “a distant cousin. Your cousin Daniel is coming to stay with us for a while.”

“Who’s Daniel?” asked my brother Jacob, shoveling another bite of beans and huevos into his mouth. He always mixes his food together in one big, unrecognizable pile and then shovels it into his mouth like he’s mucking out a stable.

“He’s the stepson of my cousin Jerry,” Dad explained. “He’s about your age, Jake.”

“Jake just turned twelve,” Mom said to Dad with a smile, “Daniel is fourteen—Ramona’s age.”

“Oh, great!” I muttered, not knowing what to think about this news. Surely it was bad. What could be good about it? But in spite of myself, I felt a little excited at the thought of a teenage boy I’m not related to staying here. Then a knot of nervousness developed in my stomach and I said, “Oh, great!” again.

“Oh, great!” repeated two-year-old Anna with my same sarcastic tone.

Mom made a face at me and I grinned apologetically in her direction. Jake wiggled his eyebrows and took a breath that sounded mean even before it exhaled. I knew the next thing out of his mouth would make me mad so I started talking fast and furious.

“How long will he have to stay? Why is he coming? Is he going to take my place in the training this year, because you already promised I could help, Dad—”

“Hold it, missy,” Dad broke in, laughing. I squirmed in my chair, hating my own idiotic babbling and embarrassed about Dad laughing at me.

“Daniel needs our help,” Dad explained, looking at me with a smile that seemed serious and a little worried. I sat up in my chair and forgot my own discomfort.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“His dad is in some trouble and Daniel doesn’t have anybody else to go to right now.” Dad explained. “My cousin Jerry called me and asked if we could take Daniel for the summer. Maybe longer, I don’t know—”

“What kind of trouble?” Will asked. He’s my oldest brother, twenty going on forty.

“He’s going to jail for a while. He got drunk and stole a car. Anyway—don’t talk about that around Daniel. Just treat him like one of the family. He’ll have a lot to learn, he’s a city boy.”

“Sheesh,” my brother Will said with a grimace that pretty much summed up my own thoughts.

“Holy macro!” added my sister Susanna, also known as Squeaks.

“Mackerel,” I corrected her automatically.

“Cool!” exclaimed Jake. “It’ll be fun to have another guy around this place. I’ll take him hiking and camping.”

“Thanks, Jake,” Dad said, reaching over to ruffle up Jake’s hair as he rose from the table. Jake slicked his short brown hair back down to his skull and jumped up to follow Dad.

I wondered if I would be invited on those camping trips. It had always been me, Jake and Will that went camping. Somehow, I sensed that this summer would be different. I sighed. It was bad news.

If only things could just stay the same, I thought.

“I’m going to need you boys’ help, keeping an eye on Daniel and helping him get used to us,” Dad continued, pausing at the front door to look back at us. “We don’t know what kind of kid he might be now . . . he might have some problems of his own. I want you guys to be kind but careful, okay? He gets here tomorrow.”

This last comment left us all in silent contemplation. I wondered what kind of problems Daniel might have and if they would affect me.

Maybe I could help him. Maybe it was good news after all. I started imagining myself as a serene and beautiful heroine that would bring inner peace to Daniel’s troubled soul. He would fall deeply in love with me but I would be hesitant to involve myself with someone so troubled.

What kind of troubled? What could be more troublesome than just being fourteen? I started to feel very sorry for Daniel. I knew I had the perfect life and it was hard enough for me to stay sane. If Daniel had lousy life and was fourteen on top of it—holy macro—what a bum deal!

Dad and the boys went out of the house and paused on the porch to stretch in the morning sunlight. It was another gorgeous New Mexico day: cloudless blue skies, cool air, warm sun. The spring winds were nearly gone and a perfect summer lay ahead.

I got up and started to help Mom clear the table, lost in my own thoughts until I caught my little sister sneaking out the kitchen door.

“Squeaks, get back in here and help with the chores!” I called after her.

“Please,” I added, before Mom could say anything.

Susanna chuckled at her own cleverness but came back in through the door willingly and began to fill the sink with soapy water. She is actually a pretty good worker for only nine years old.

“The door was calling me. It said,
‘If I were blue, pink, green and red
you’d dance right through and back again
and think I was the rainbow’s end . . . ”’

Susanna sang, making up a new song and dancing on her tiptoes. I rolled my eyes but couldn’t help smiling. Baby Anna was clapping and trying to twirl in the middle of the floor. She was soon too dizzy to stand up so she bent over at the waist and put her forehead on the floor with her butt in the air.

Thinking about Daniel’s lousy life made me start going over all the positive qualities of my own.

I really have an awesome family. I get mad at Jake a lot and Susanna can drive me nuts, but when I am thinking logically I have to admit I really have the best family on earth. We all love to be together, working and playing. I feel comfortable with my family and I think that is probably unusual. I know they love me and I love them so much that thinking about any of them dying or getting badly hurt makes me freak out and start crying. Maybe that’s because I’m fourteen.

Will is my hero. He bosses me around all the time but he’s also a pretty awesome person. He’s handsome, smart and good. I would totally marry somebody like my brother Will and be happy forever—even if he is bossy. He works really hard and is constantly studying something he wants to learn. He can figure out how to do pretty much anything.

Jake is a lot of fun when he’s not provoking me. He makes everything more entertaining and interesting. One time, he went away for a week to visit our grandpa. That was the most boring week of my life. I was really surprised at how dull it got around here without Jake to liven things up. He always has good ideas about things we can do that would be fun. Jake and I have built a million forts and tree houses on this land.

Susanna floats around on her tiptoes like she’s connected to a hot air balloon. She is always humming some song and singing about whatever she is doing or thinking. While this embarrasses me when we have company, I kind of enjoy that little weirdness about her when there’s just us around. It’s like listening to a fairy minstrel sing about my life. She has a really good voice and has been singing since long before she could talk. That’s why her nickname is Squeaks. She is really pretty too, like a dandelion fluff, all sunshine and gracefulness. I know she’ll be prettier than me when she is fourteen, so I’m glad I’m first. Right now, she just looks like a little kid.

I can’t tell yet who or what Anna will be but at two years old, she makes us all laugh and want to play. I love to blow on her belly and kiss her chin. She’s so cute and funny.

Mom and Dad are a lot like me and Jake. Dad is like Jake, lots of fun and energy, and sometimes provoking. Mom is quieter and is always thinking and learning something. Just like me and Jake, they like to do stuff together and sometimes argue about how it should be done. Unlike me and Jake, they don’t usually end up yelling at each other and stomping off in opposite directions. They are constantly talking to each other, taking walks and coming up with new ideas. It’s like they’ve always been together. I wonder if I’ll ever meet a guy that I’ll want to be with all the time. It doesn’t seem possible.

How the heck is Daniel going to survive out here? Our life on the farm has got to be way different from what he is used to in the city.

I am not going to imagine being Daniel’s beautiful heroine again. That was dumb.