It turned out to be a drizzly morning, dark clouds overcast, but not cold. My sweater felt good. A jacket would have been too heavy and hot, and I would have ended up carrying it all the way, but I had a hard time convincing my mom I didn’t need it. Because she’s cold, she thinks I’m cold, and it just isn’t so. Finally, I told her I’d carry it, not wear it, and she became reasonable and said it was up to me.
I was in no mood for the bully dogs as they came after me, so I picked up a thick, short branch and was going to swat the Lab across his nose, but Old Man Wessenfeld yelled for them, and they went scurrying home. They turned around so fast they ran into each other, like three clowns trying to get their act together. Annie wasn’t on the playground or by the doors, so I read until the bell rang to go in.
It was a pretty quiet morning after prayers were said and reading groups assigned. I got promoted another level, and I dreaded having to deal with the thicker packets of worksheets. Steve and I were in the same group, and like always, he was all smiles and quips.
“Hey, Franny, this is no problem; this is easy.”
Easy for him, but I had to work at it. I don’t know how it was for the other two in our group, but I almost wished that I wasn’t so good in reading, because it wasn’t only spelling “comprehensive” that I had trouble with; it was reading comprehension. The questions get harder and the answers more confusing each level, but I supposed I’d manage to get through those last eight weeks of school all right.
If only I could have gotten through school without having to deal with Marcy, Sue, Ursala, and my one-time friend, Annie. I found out the hard way that “friend” doesn’t always have the same meaning two days in a row.
Annie didn’t eat lunch with me but came up to me at noon recess. “Fran, come over and we’ll talk with Marcy and Sue. Let’s get this thing straightened out so we can all be friends.”
“I’m not going over there, Annie. Thanks anyway, but maybe you shouldn’t get involved.” I had a bad feeling about this, and I was irritated with Annie for butting into my business.
“Oh, Fran, how do you ever expect to make them your friends?” Annie almost shouted at me. But she lowered her voice at the last minute and waved the group over to us. “Come on; let’s talk it over.”
As they came over, Annie became all sweet and smiles. “Marcy, don’t you like Fran?”
“What’s there to like?” Marcy had a way of curling her lip that she thought made her look cool. To me she looked dumb, like Old Man Wessenfeld’s Lab.
“Fran always looks like she’s just walked out of a hurricane. Or maybe she thinks that’s the latest in hairdos.” Marcy laughed as I imagined a hyena laughs.
Annie turned around then and asked me, quite seriously, “Yeah, Fran, why don’t you do something about your hair?”
At this point, Annie was no longer my friend. Sue eyed me like I’d seen salespeople who want you to buy something from them. “And why don’t you wear a bra, Fran? It’s disgusting.”
“Yeah!” agreed Marcy, enlightenment all over her face.
“Because I choose not to. Because I don’t let anyone think for me, thanks anyway you guys.”
Ursala walked away, and I liked her for that, although she was still Marcy’s friend. I also left, knowing full well they stood there discussing my attributes. Maybe they should’ve tried to solve some of their own personality problems instead of mine.
During math, Annie slipped me a note, apologizing if my feelings had gotten hurt over what Marcy and the others had said at recess. Mrs. Hammershaw must have seen me take the note because next thing I know she was beside my desk, demanding I hand it over.
She called me to her desk for a conference. “What is this all about, Fran?”
“It’s nothing, Mrs. Hammershaw. We had a discussion on the playground at noon is all.”
So, of course, she called over Annie, Marcy, Sue, and Ursala to tell their versions. Marcy spoke up first.
“Fran wanted to know what we thought about her, so we told her that she could do something about the way her hair sticks up all over.” Marcy wiggled all her fingers in the air over her head.
Mrs. Hammershaw eyed me. “Fran, in the future you might think twice about inviting criticism.” She tapped the note with her finger. “And do you think, Marcy, that it is your moral duty to tell Fran what you think are her shortcomings?”
She blushed at that, and to tell you the truth, it made me feel good to see her uncomfortable while Mrs. Hammershaw stared at her. People always gave Marcy only compliments—”good going,” “nice try,” or “terrific idea!”—even when she’d goof up, and maybe she got a taste of how she could make others feel sometimes.
Mrs. Hammershaw looked down the line from Marcy to Sue to Ursala to Annie and, at last, to me. “I think you girls should give some thought to how your words can affect others. I’d like each of you, except for Fran, to write me a one-page paper on how the Golden Rule applies on the playground as well as in the classroom.”
“Mrs…..Mrs. Hammershaw,” I sort of stuttered. “We were just talking it over, like I said.” I sure hated to see Ursala get into trouble over this since she hadn’t really been in on any of it. It would have been so much better for me if no one had gotten into any trouble.
“Well, Fran, I’m sorry that this had to happen at all. I’m much too interested in what everyone has to say about their actions to let it go unnoticed.” Mrs. Hammershaw folded the note in half and stuck in the top drawer of her desk. “You girls may go back to your seats.”
Then she stood, as if she needed to watch each one of us to make sure we took our right seats. “Now, class, take out your math books and please start on page forty-one, set nine. I want this classroom quiet while I am in the office copying your English worksheet.” When she left the room, I glanced around at the others.
If looks could have killed, I’d have been dead as lead. At that moment, I wondered if God disliked me, too. He must have had bigger worries than mine to take up His time because He sure wasn’t helping me out.
I didn’t say anything to my mom. I didn’t want to hear any more advice from anyone, let alone from my mother. I just wanted at least a good showing at the volleyball games and to make it until the end of June without anymore confrontations. My grades were decent, and I would get another merit award for attendance at the school year’s last assembly.
Or I would have, if the bully dogs hadn’t cornered me the next day for what seemed like hours. There I stood, huddled against the knurly oak tree, waiting for one or all three beasts to attack me when the golden retriever whirled around, sniffed the air, and all of them took off after a cat. Because of them, I was late to school for the first time ever. I always got a merit award for zero tardies and absences, and now that little record was ruined.
At recess, I said practically nothing to Annie but hi and absolutely nothing to Marcy or Sue. Ursala and I exchanged a “Hi, how are you?” and even worked on a science project as partners. I felt kind of misplaced, but it didn’t get any worse than that.
All the girls on the team showed up for game at Holy Rosary on Saturday. Marcy, Sue, Ursala, and Annie went about their business as if I didn’t exist, and we didn’t have anything much to say to one another on the volleyball court. It made the game interesting, and I was very glad when it was over but sorry as anyone that we had lost it. We weren’t out of the play-offs, but our chances of winning three games in a row were slim. Miss Ford told us we had played a good game against a tough team, but I wondered if we could have played better if we hadn’t been mad at each other.
Sue and Marcy walked close by me, and Sue talked to Marcy loud enough to make sure I heard. “Next year, we’ll have someone else other than Fran’s mom get the coach’s present, someone with better ideas.”
I guess I could have told them that it would have been fine with my mom, I’m sure, but I didn’t. If Marcy and the others really felt that way, why didn’t they say it to my mom’s face? It might have solved a lot of headaches for everyone, although I doubted Sue or Marcy could have gone up to my mom and said that to her. I didn’t think they were that gutsy—or stupid.
On my way home from school Friday, I could see Old Man Wessenfeld’s yard from across the street, and all three bully dogs were sitting in a row at the chain link fence, panting and looking like little kids pooped out from playing hard. The big black Lab cocked his head and watched me, while the cocker spaniel and bird dog tilted their heads so close together they almost touched noggins. They should have been circus dogs, or court jesters. And I would have been king for a day and commanded them and some other subjects. There’d be an end to some squabbling in my realm, for sure.
I just wished it were that easy. You know, easy like all the grown-ups say kids have got it. Things never are that easy, especially of course, if you’re talking to an adult. Then your whole life gets complicated.