The good thing I can say about Friday was that the bully dogs stayed home. I made it to school at my usual time, just at first bell, when I could blend with the herd as we all walked through the halls to our rooms and sat at our desks. Like I said, the less I had to do with Marcy and Sue, the better my day went.
Today was the exception, as I knew it would be. The Big Day of Sixth Grade Volleyball Team Selection. During P.E. the teams got picked. The girls’ team leaders were, you might have guessed, Marcy and Sue. In front of the sixty-eight people, there seemed a 100-percent chance I would be the last and least-wanted player to be chosen.
I wasn’t disappointed. Annie was picked second by Sue, and I kept hoping against hope that Sue’s team would be one short at the end and have to take me.
That’s the way it worked, but Sue stalled so long in doing the obvious that Mrs. Aster, the principal, finally waved me over.
“Well, now,” she clapped her hands, like she always does, “that’s settled, and we can draw for the serve.”
Everyone knew you don’t draw for the serve, but we pretty much tolerated ditzy Mrs. Aster, if only because she’s the principal. So we waited, without a sigh or snicker, until our P.E. teacher, Miss Ford, finally spoke.
“Perhaps we should flip a coin for first serve.” We all smiled at Miss Ford and nodded.
“Oh!” Mrs. Aster smacked her hands together again. “Then, team captains come forward!” Marcy and Sue were already standing in front of her, but they each took another step closer. “Call it, girls!”
The quarter pinged onto the floor and rolled, almost getting to the bleachers before Miss Ford stepped on it. “Heads. Marcy’s serve. Line up!”
I was third to serve and got two balls over the net, but only one point. I may not be liked by the team captains, but I know I’m a good player. We’re all pretty good, but Marcy and Sue are terrific at this game, fast and right there under the ball all the time, it seems.
Maybe a lot has to do with the fact they both belong to the YWCA and play on other teams after school. Ursala and Annie serve well and can return net balls. The rest of us are okay by comparison, usually botching the fab-four’s serves one way or the other. But occasionally someone else saves the game with a lucky move. The teams were pretty evenly matched, and our tournament ended in a draw.
“Nice game!” Marcy slapped Sue’s extended hands.
“Yeah,” Sue replied, “wish we could play a real game, like against St. John’s.”
We all agreed. We were the only school that didn’t have a girls’ volleyball team in the Catholic Youth Organization. To get into the CYO league, we needed a coach, uniforms, and permission from the principal.
“Why don’t we ask Miss Ford to coach us?” I suggested.
“Yeah, why don’t you do that, Fran?” Marcy quipped with a toss of her long, blonde hair.
So I went over and asked Miss Ford. “Well,” she hedged and then smiled, “why not? I’m sure Mrs. Aster will give us permission. You’ll need money for uniforms, though. And each girl will have to pay a league fee. I’ll get the necessary paperwork turned into the CYO and set up the practices at Sandalwood Junior High if you can get money for the uniforms and league fees.”
Two down and one to go. Annie came up with a brilliant idea. “Let’s have a car wash! The eighth grade earned enough money to go to camp, and they only had one car wash on a Saturday!”
“My dad might let us use three of his extra-long, heavy-duty hoses!” volunteered Tina, and then someone else added, “I’ll bring rags and soap.”
“But where are we going to have this car wash?” asked Sue. She’s not only smart, but practical. “Ritchie’s dad let them use his car lot on Main Street.”
“That’s why they got so many cars, too,” grumped Ursala. “They were right on the busiest street in
Marcy turned to me with a sneer. “Well, Fran, where are we going to have it? Maybe you can just go up to Ritchie and ask him if his dad will let us use his lot, too.”
“I don’t even know Ritchie,” I shot back, trying hard not to let that too-familiar hot flush transform to tears. “But we can think of something!”
“Sure we can,” Marcy rolled her eyes and then tapped Sue on the shoulder. “Let’s go.”
Annie and I walked back to class together. “Gee, Fran, it seemed like a good idea. Too bad, huh?”
I didn’t reply, though I wished I had. It still seemed like a good idea.
Mrs. Hammershaw handed out a printed list of words as we filed through the classroom door.
“Study this list,” she announced, “for the spelling bee next week.”
I looked down the rows of words. Nothing I couldn’t handle. Maybe I could beat Steve this year, although he had taken the regionals last year. But I had been making my own lists from the books I’d been reading, and I planned on giving it my best shot this year. Even if I wasn’t a straight-A student like Steve, Marcy, Sue, Annie, and Ursala, I did better on the weekly spelling tests than anyone in class.
The dismissal bell caught us in the middle of the Spelling Round Game, just before I would have had to tackle “conceive.” I guess you could say I was saved by the bell.
When I got home, my grandmother was having coffee with my mom. “How’s Granny’s Franny?” She grabbed me as she always did in a bear hug and squeezed me for all she was worth.
“Oh, all right, I guess.” I wiggled out of her arms, which was easy because she’s shorter than I am. Mom gave me the look that said “Be nice to your grandmother.” As far as grandparents go, Granny’s okay; she spoils me, but sometimes she treats me like I’m still six years old.
“You don’t look too happy. What’s wrong?” Granny slipped two pieces of caramel candies into my hand.
After unwrapping them, I popped both in my mouth and shrugged. Mom started to say something, but I remembered to add, “Thanks, Granny,” only I had a big wad of candy in my mouth, and my teeth sort of stuck together, and the words came out muffled.
“Frances,” my mom objected, but Granny cut in, putting her hand back around me.
“That’s all right. Finish chewing it, and tell your granny what’s wrong.”
I’m taller than Granny, and when she drapes her arm around my shoulder, she reminds me of a puppet dancing on tiptoes.
I finally swallowed the huge caramel lump in one gulp. “You know, we could make the deadline for CYO if we could just find a place to hold the car wash, but Marcy said why don’t I ask Ritchie, and I don’t even know him!”
“What?!” both Mom and Granny said at the same time.
I explained the whole thing, sitting between them on the couch. I couldn’t help the tears that came, even though I tried not to cry after I had said the part about not having a place to wash cars like Ritchie’s dad’s lot.
Granny searched in her purse for a tissue, then dabbed my face. I took the tissue from her and blew my nose. She tapped my knee. “Say, I’ve got an idea!”
And when Granny gets an idea, it’s usually a beaut! “Why don’t you ask Uncle Ryan if he’d let you have your car wash at his gas station?”
“Perfect!” I whooped, jumping to my feet. “Do you really think he’d let us?”
“Call him and find out,” replied Mom. “I’ll look up his phone number.”
“Couldn’t you call him for me?” I hated the telephone, except for special calls to my best friends, Carol and Annie. Worse than answering the loud-mouthed thing when it interrupted the middle of a television program, was calling someone and going through the whole rigmarole of ”Hi, how are you? I’m fine” and then trying to come up with something to say without sounding lame. But Mom, being a mother, shook her head.
“It’s your project, dear. Just be done with it.” She gave me a slip of paper with Uncle Ryan’s number on it. “Remember to say who you are when he answers the phone.”
I had to do it right then because both of them were going to sit there staring at me until I did. Luckily, Uncle Ryan answered the phone himself.
“Um.” I was at my best on the opening line. “Uncle Ryan.” I speeded up, and the words kind of tumbled out, “This is Fran, your sister’s daughter.” He sounds like he’s laughing whenever I talk to him, but he’s nice enough. “Granny said to call you and ask if I, I mean, my class, well, it’s our volleyball team, really, can have a car wash.”
“You need a clean car to play a game with volleyballs?” he joked.
“Oh, yeah, we do. I mean, we need to raise money for our uniforms, and I thought maybe you would let us use the gas station to have a car wash. We’d bring hoses, soap, rags, and buckets. There’d be about six or eight of us there.”
“Do I get a percentage of the profits?” he asked all serious.
I hadn’t planned on anything this complicated. “Uh, I don’t know.”
He burst out laughing. “I was kidding you, Fran. Sure. You want to do it on Saturday or Sunday?”
“You mean it?” I squealed, hating the way I do that when I get an answer I don’t expect. “Oh, I don’t know. I’ll have to ask the others what day.”
“Well, call me when you find out. Either day. We’ll make arrangements, okay?”
“Yeah, okay!” Then I hung up, only to see that same old look of my mom’s that reminded me too late that I hadn’t said thank you.
“I have to call him back; then I’ll thank him, okay?”
Mom didn’t say anything because Granny piped up. “You’d better call your teammates and get the ball rolling,” then laughed at her own joke. I laughed, too, but stopped when I thought about all those phone calls I had to make.
“Um, Granny,” I began, but Mom headed me off before I could finish my sentence.
“Wouldn’t it seem silly, Frances, if anyone but you called your teammates?”
“Yeah, I know.”
I saw Mom taking out the list of addresses and telephone numbers from the directory. She handed me the blue sheets. “Go to it.”
“Couldn’t I read for just an hour? It’s been a rough day, Mom.” But nothing doing, not until I had done what she wanted me to do.
Because I figured it would save me a hassle, I made the decision that Saturday, noon, would be a good time for the car wash. I called Annie first, and she got all excited about our big project. She told me not to worry about telling Marcy and Sue; she would take care of it. Boy, that was a relief!
By some miracle, everyone else was home, and I got eleven girls to promise they would be there. After making three return calls and getting only busy signals, I finally got Uncle Ryan. Then I had to wait one horrible minute while I thought he’d say no, but he must have had to check his calendar or something.
“All set, Fran. You’ve got the time and place. Now, hope for the sun and cars.”
I hung up and looked out the window. The sky was clouding up, and the wind was blowing.
“No one will want to come to the car wash if it’s raining!” I felt like howling, stamping my feet, and beating up the weatherman. “I hate Seattle!”
“Oh, Frances, calm down; it’s not the end of the world.”
“It might as well be! The car wash is my idea.” Those darn old tears came again, and my mom gave me that look that meant, “Must you cry?” but I couldn’t help it. “Just once, can’t things turn out right?” On top of it, I had the hiccups.
“Look, Franny, at the way the wind’s blowing those old clouds. Maybe it’ll just blow them away.” Granny was trying her best to cheer me up.
“It could rain tonight and clear up for tomorrow,” added my mom.
Granny pulled me down onto the couch next to her and began to rub my back. “Now, don’t cry. Granny just knows it’ll be a good day for you.” When Granny says it that way, I always have hope.
“You know what they say, don’t you, Franny?” Granny paused, shook her finger, and took a big breath to answer with “Granny’s words of wisdom.”
Before she could say it, Mom and I sang out in unison, “Tomorrow’s always another day.”
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Bully Dogs is the first in a series of middle-grade fiction stories about bullying and growing up by Jacquie Ream. Illustrations by Phyllis Emmert.