It rained most of the morning, until around one o’clock. Although the sky was overcast, there was no wind, and it wasn’t too cold for the ten of us that showed up. Uncle Ryan let us wash his car first, and then came over with his wallet open.
“How much?” he asked.
I hadn’t thought of the price, yet. “Two dollars?”
He looked over his car where Tina was still wiping off the headlights. “Fair enough. Do you guys…er…girls have a sign made up?”
I hadn’t thought of that, either. “No,” I said, looking helplessly at Annie. Marcy groaned. I turned around and blasted her. “Well, you didn’t think of it, either!”
Before a real honest-to-goodness fight got under way, Uncle Ryan spoke up. “Look, I’ve got some white cardboard boxes you could break down and black felt markers to write with—just make your sign bold and clever. One or two of you should stand on the sidewalk and wave customers in.”
Marcy and Sue volunteered, which suited the rest of us just fine. They certainly had the mouths for it. To be honest, they also had the spunk to wave and shout and kid around with people.
We worked like dogs all day until six that night, but made only fifty dollars. We needed at least seventy. We were all standing around, down in the dumps, when my mom drove up.
“Can I get my car washed?” She looked all happy and excited. “Nice weather for a car wash, huh?”
I threw down my rag and started collecting our stuff. “Yeah, only not enough people wanted their cars washed today. We didn’t make enough money.” The others were getting ready to go, too.
Uncle Ryan walked over, tossing my mom a package with windshield wipers in it. “Not a bad turnout, don’t you think?”
“They didn’t make their quota,” my mom said softly, tapping the box against the dashboard.
“Well,” Uncle Ryan turned around and, with a sweeping motion of his arm, addressed us, “why don’t you do it again tomorrow? The weatherman says it’s going to be a sunny day. I don’t mind if you guys…er…girls come back.”
Half of us were willing; half not. So six of us agreed to come Sunday at noon and hustle ten cars to wash.
Things went a lot smoother without Marcy and Sue. Ursala took the duty of walking the sign up and down the sidewalk, like an old-time town crier proclaiming a big event. We had twelve cars in four hours, mostly parents that hadn’t come yesterday.
“We did it!” I shouted as I handed my mom the seventy-four dollars. “With four dollars to spare.”
The six of us gave each other the high-five victory hand-slap and cheered, “Four, six, eight. Aren’t WE great!” It even felt like we were a team.
“What are you going to do with the extra four dollars?” my mom asked in her most motherly, practical voice.
“Buy an extra-large pizza at the end of the season party!” chimed Rachel, which we all agreed to with enthusiasm.
“Umm,” my mom stalled in her ‘let’s be reasonable’ way, “maybe add it to the money collected at the end of the season for the coach’s present?”
It was hard to argue with her logic, so I said, “Okay, keep it and buy Miss Ford something really neat.”
So everything started off pretty good. Practices were set up for Tuesday and Thursday evenings, but only ten girls made it for the team. That left us with four substitutes per game, if every girl showed.
Miss Ford made us run two laps around the court before we even got started, then had us volley the ball to one another to get down the correct way to return the ball over the net. We had a practice session with the parents one night, and boy, did they have some bad habits! My mom was the worst of the lot, too, stepping out of the server’s box every time. Miss Ford said she’d have to take one whole practice time to correct our return serves. Probably the next time we played our parents, if Miss Ford lets us, we would wax them if they played by the rules.
The week went by fast, and things were looking good, for a change. The bully dogs were out only one morning, and I was far enough down the street that they missed seeing me, so I made it to school without being hassled. Once at school, though, it was a different matter.
As I said, the playground is like a barnyard, and the sixth-grade boys were just like pigs. They grabbed the soccer balls before any of us girls could get to them, and the only game they let us in on was kickball, always their rules, of course, which meant they won all the time. Usually I didn’t play because the rules changed in mid-game, especially if it looked as if the girls were going to score.
Marcy, Sue, Ursala, Tina, Rachel, and Annie liked to get out there and run up and down, squealing as if they were having all the fun in the world losing at the boys’ game. Most times I stood by the gate and watched, not saying much, if anything.
“Hey, Marcy, why don’t ya get Franny to play on your team? She could stand in front of the goal and block the ball with her big head!” Brian yelled loud enough so everyone for miles could hear.
He should talk; he was so overweight. I sneered at him in disgust, thinking that he looked just like a big hog out there, rooting in the field. “Brian, you’re a porker,” I muttered, not caring that he couldn’t hear me.
The new kid in seventh grade, Dean, came over. He was nice but stuttered a bit, and the guys gave him a bad time about it. “Hey, Fr…Fran, want… to shoot some baskets?”
“Sure, but just a couple, okay, Dean?” I liked Dean’s quiet way of asking me, and he didn’t go on and on, boring me with a lot of talk about himself or stuff I could’ve cared less about.
As I walked over to the basketball court with him, Brian the Porker snorted, then bellowed, “Hey, lookit! Fanny and D-D-Dean! A match made in heaven!”
I got the ball on the rebound but missed the basket. Dean’s face was all flushed, but neither one of us said anything. I didn’t know what Dean was thinking, but I wished I’d had a good comeback. Instead, I just kept trying to get the darn ball in the basket.
“Want to practice again tomorrow, Fran?” Dean bounced the ball from hand to hand.
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
I glanced back at the playfield and caught the last play, just as the bell rang to go in. Steve’s kick went wild, shooting out the gate, right towards the parking lot. “Stop it, Franny!” he ordered, running towards me.
Maybe he could just stop it with his mouth; I wasn’t going to move a muscle. He pushed me, hard, and I fell down, my pants all muddy along the side.
Back in class, Mrs. Hammershaw asked me why I was crying. “I’m not, something’s in my eye,” I mumbled.
“Steve pushed Fran down on the playground, Mrs. Hammershaw.” Tina pointed to Steve who looked madder than ever.
“It’s all right, really,” I said, trying to get to my seat without another big scene.
“No, it is not!” exclaimed Mrs. Hammershaw. “Steve, I wish to have a conference with you.”
The room got real quiet, except you could almost hear everyone’s thoughts about Steve, who never got into trouble, the one-and-only hotshot in soccer, basketball, and baseball and an A student, and my putting him on the bad side of the teacher. I wished it had been the bully dogs after me, instead.
Steve had to write me a note of apology, only he made sure to add a part about it being my fault that he had to shove me out of his way to get to the ball that I wouldn’t stop. I jammed the note inside my trapper-keeper with all the other papers and left it at that.
And wouldn’t you know it? Steve and I tied the last round of the spelling bee. I had to hand it to him, though, he got some pretty tough words—“synonym” and “self-explanatory”—but I got lucky and spelled “pseudonym” correctly. Our rematch would be the spelling bee with the seventh-graders tomorrow.
In the bathroom during the last morning recess, I overheard Sue talking to Rachel. “I hope she doesn’t make it. Steve deserves to win more than she does.”
I didn’t linger washing my hands long enough to hear what Rachel replied, but I could guess it wouldn’t have made me feel any better. I didn’t want to tell them, but they were wrong. I don’t think that you deserve to win because you’re liked but because you’ve done the best. And if you lose, no big deal; you can try again.
I did feel a lot better after acing a math test, but it seemed the day had been too long. I checked what I had written down on my homework-to-do pad and realized I’d left out some of the assignments that were up on the board. That meant I still had to do religion and science, as well as English. My day was shot, what with piano lesson and volleyball practice that night. If I stayed in for last recess, I could finish my English and I’d have at least a little reading time before lights-out.
Which worked out fine because I had the feeling I wasn’t welcomed out at the barnyard, anyway. I also wasn’t much inclined to talk to the playground supervisor, our principal, Mrs. Aster. Her favorite subject was religious principles and how they applied to each individual’s life. She used a lot of words, but it seemed she didn’t make a lot of sense.
“Now, do I have your attention?” she’d always start off a lecture. “Can anyone tell me how the Golden Rule applies to our everyday lives?”
Usually someone in the seventh or eighth grade would spout something meaningful with a straight face, and you’d get the feeling that Mrs. Aster was going to reach out and pat that person on the head. Sure, every one of us could give an example, but I’m willing to bet none of us thought twice about it when Mrs. Aster left the room. And if there were a few minutes before Mrs. Hammershaw came to lead us back to our room, you can bet there was a lot of joking about what “do unto others” really meant in our daily lives. Mrs. Aster should’ve heard some of the things the kids said at recess when no adult was around. Boy, would she have gotten an earful of “meaningful dialogue.”
The only thing I hated, no, disliked (I reserved hate only for certain people), more than recess was singing with Mr. Breen every Thursday at two o’clock. He was a fussy little man in a wrinkled suit, white shirt, and out-of-date tie, who waved his arms a lot and urged the girls to sing without breaking for a breath and yelled at the boys to pay attention. The songs were all too high for comfort, to sing or listen to, but we had to give an hour each week toward “music appreciation.” I couldn’t tell you how much I appreciated it being over at three.
I was glad my mom was waiting to take me to my piano lesson and all I had to do was walk across the parking lot to the car. One less potential run-in with the bully dogs. I liked going to Mrs. Nieman’s house for my forty-five minute lesson because it counted as practice time and she was a cheerful type of person that smiled a lot. Not that she didn’t come down on me like a ton of bricks when I hadn’t completed all my music theory or I’d skipped an assignment! But mostly we had a pleasant enough session. If there was a minute or two to spare before my mom came, Mrs. Nieman would tell me some interesting historical facts about musicians and composers that I liked. I always had a question for her, and sometimes she gave me a book I could take home to read. Mom would give me five minutes off of practice time for reading about music, so I’d try to borrow the bigger books.
“So, how’d it go today?” my mom asked for the thirteenth time already that afternoon.
“Fine, wonderful, great, good,” I replied, then looked quickly to see if I’d overdone it and annoyed her. “I aced my math test.”
“How was the spelling bee?” she said, with a little note of hope in her voice.
“Oh, it’s a draw. Our rematch will be in the next round with the seventh graders. Then all-school, inter-school, city, and regional.”
“You seem pretty confident that you can do it.” She pulled into McDonald’s drive-thru and asked, “Are you thirsty?”
“Yeah! You bet!” I laughed because it was a joke between us. She says that the first thing I say when I get into the car is “I’m thirsty,” but I hadn’t said it that day, and that made it even funnier. I figured she’d probably say “Gotcha.”
“Gotcha.” Then she laughed, and I laughed even harder.
“Can I have a medium coke?” I knew she’d be surprised I wasn’t asking for a large one. “And fries?” She was in a pretty good mood and maybe she’d go for the extra inch she always accuses me of taking.
“Oh, all right.” She gave me that ‘I’m indulging you’ look. “I guess it won’t hurt this time.”
“Hey, since we have volleyball practice at seven, can I have dinner here?” I knew I was pushing it, but I went for the off-chance she’d say yes.
She ordered fries and a medium coke. “No,” she said a bit louder than necessary, I thought, “we’re having beef stew tonight.”
“All right, my favorite! With those muffins, too?” I poked the straw into the lid, real careful so the drink didn’t squirt out.
“Yes, ma’am.” Mom smiled and pointed at a rainbow over the Nike-shoe billboard. “We should go look for the proverbial pot of gold at the rainbow’s end.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, happy enough with the way the day was turning out, after all. Little did I expect what was going to happen at volleyball later on.