Chapter 12

 

Creepy-Crawly

 

 

Death came to Walrock twice that summer.  First to go was Beany Boy the Mighty Beagle, aged seventy in dog-time but only ten by the people-clock.  Which disturbed Vicki and her friends (who’d been born the same year as Beany Boy) and caused Kris to lavish tearful caresses on her own dog Ness (who wasn’t getting any younger, or less droolish).

 

A memorial service was held in the Walrock alley.  The girls gathered round Junior Hull to console him and quiet his sobs so Mr. Frank’s eulogy could be heard:

 

“When da good Lordt whistles, ya gahda hafta go over by dair.  Troo rain or snow or sleet or hail, right uptada endada line.  Dat” [choke] “dat was our little Beany.  No gloomada night could stay him from compleeeetin his appointed rounds!”

 

(Amen.  Let his Mighty Beagleness endureth forever.)

 

Not so the lifespan of old Mrs. LoCascio, which sputtered to a close after so many false endings that everyone was skeptical she’d finished the job.  She had, though, Bad and Good Mrs. Lo alike; and got deposited beside her long-gone macaroni-maker husband.

 

The Franks ended up inheriting all her birds.  (The ones in cages, at least; Junior had to shoo the others out the window.)  Mrs. Frank, bereaved of Beany Boy, came out of mourning as she tended to Luigi the ageless Amazon parrot; and before summer vacation was over, she had him croaking Wanna sahsidge sammitch?

 

Apartment 1W got a fresh lick of paint and a new pair of tenants as the Grusza sisters moved downstairs.  Candice and Corliss had graduated from high school and been hired by Braniff as airline stewardesses, so they (like the birds they replaced) flew in and out and were gone for days at a stretch.  Their grandmother, left on her lonesome, invited a brother-in-law’s widow to share 2E and divvy up its piano lessons.  And maintain its twinniness, despite the two ladies only being related by marriage into the Partridge family (as it were) and so having no business looking like grown-old Gruszas.  Which was especially eerie since you never quite saw both of them at once.

 

Hayley, who’d quailed at auditioning for the Fischel Ballet Academy, proved to be happily nimblefingered at the piano—until the Mrs. Partridge seated with her on the bench opened her mouth to say something, and the words came from the other Mrs. Partridge out in the kitchen.

 

“Well... maybe they’re throwing their voices,” Sarah-Jill suggested.  “So they can teach ventriloquism too.”

 

“All I know is it scares me,” said Hayley.  “Yesterday I was trying to practice ‘Für Elise,’ and I got so spooked it turned into ‘I’ve Been Working on the Railroad!’  ‘Cause the one that wasn’t there told me to concentrate, while the one that was there’s lips moved!  And how could I concentrate, after a thing like that??”

 

*

 

How could anyone not feel spooked when the new school year began?  Life was intimidating up on Reulbach’s third floor.  Enter the washroom and find it dominated by eighth-grade girls with bulging chests, who not only hogged the sinks and mirrors while slapping on cosmetics, but casually flicked lighters and ignited cigarettes right there in front of you.

 

The Blue Meanies (or BMs, as Brenda bluntly abbreviated them) took this as a sign it was time to abandon childhood.  No more playing with dolls, wearing little-girl outfits, watching Saturday morning cartoons—all were now babyish, fit only for the second floor, to be strictly eschewed from now on.

 

The Peaches could see logic in some of this.  Their mothers, however, were unanimously opposed to “getting too big for your britches,” and seldom bankrolled the purchase of anything remotely mature.  (Unlike BM moms, who filled their daughters’s fancy purses with spend-as-you-like money and chic-as-you-please catalogs.)

 

“At least we get to wear britches this year,” said Brenda.  Reulbach’s dress code had relaxed to the point where she could defy the elements in plain denim dungarees.  More fashion-conscious Peaches wore varicolored hip-huggers—floral, striped, jacquard—on days they didn’t don skirts (that were never as mini and always more “kiddy than those sported by Blue Meanies).

 

Whether or not you wore jeans to school, fifth grade tolerated no slacking off from fourth.  On the contrary: instead of Miss Durbin (young and dynamic, though strict) they now had Miss Slagle, who was strict and elderly and immobile in her judgment.  As she demonstrated during her first roll call:

 

“Eileen Agnew.”

 

“MmmmHere.”

 

“Ruby Agnew’s sister?”

 

“...mmmmYes?”

 

Gimlet squint by Miss Slagle.  Transferring Ruby’s outstanding debts, in toto, to the luckless Eileen.  Ditto in toto for the rest of the class—“Chad Chiese’s sister?  Skip Goldfarb’s brother?”  Frankie Levitch’s, Jackie Maxwell’s, Kate Rawberry’s, Garrett Shapiro’s, Peg and Glenn Vespa’s, Tricia Volester’s—each older sibling pinned conclusively to the pigeonholed younger.

 

Alphabetical was the rule with Miss Slagle.  She started everything with Eileen Agnew; while Vicki Volester, Ordinary Mark Welk, and the rest of the tail-enders (which just sounded rude) had to bring up the rear (equally rude-sounding) from now till next June.  That did keep them at a distance from Miss Slagle’s gimlet squint, but also meant peering around Keith Vespa to see what was going on.  And Keith, already big, seemed to grow bulkier by the hour and block even more from Vicki’s view.

 

Fortunately all the Peaches had P-to-V names and so sat toward the back of the room.  The Blue Meanies, befitting their big-britchiness, mostly sat up front.  The exception was April Tober, tucked between Keith and Hayley Tamworth; and while she didn’t appreciate Hayley as a neighbor, April seemed to relish being set apart from the other BMs.  Which reflected her present status in their pecking order.

 

Melissa Chiese, for as long as Vicki could remember, had repulsed every challenge to her supremacy as Meanest of the Mean—till last spring.  Then came Stephanie Lipperman’s recruitment of Nina Gersh, and things went from eenie-meanie to even-steven.  Now it was Stephanie & Nina vs. Melissa & Eileen, with April as tiebreaker.  If not queenmaker.  If not gloating-satisfaction-taker, as she played one twosome against the other:

 

My-mother-told-me-to-pick-the-very-best-one-and-you’re-not-IT-you-dirty-double-dishrag-you!

 

Curry April’s favor, or get pidged.

 

That was the Peaches’s impression, at any rate.  If you eavesdropped too openly, all five BMs would dry up and give you dirty (double dishrag) looks.  One of them would lob a snide wisecrack, the other four would snortle, and then they’d resume their latest brouhaha with lowered voices.  Which you could still overhear during a heated debate—such as which Osmond Brother the new boy in class most closely resembled:

 

“I say he looks like Alan!”

 

“And I say he looks like Jay!”

 

“You’re both wrong,” April overrode them, through a mouthful of tuna noodles.  “He looks most like Rick Springfield” (an Australian crooner who’d begun throbbing hearts in 16 magazine).

 

Vicki, though not consulted, thought Rick Springfield an even stew-pider choice than the Osmond Brothers.  Anyone with the slightest collection of ballet posters on her bedroom wall knew the new boy looked most like Rudolf Nureyev.

 

His name was Jonathan Dohr.  He always wore a dark brooding-mystic expression to go with his dark flowing-aloof hair.  When the school year began, this hair was longer than any other fifth-grade boy’s, and Miss Slagle almost sent it and the rest of Jon to the Principal’s office.  But she didn’t, after he outstared her with dark dreaming-somber eyes; and now most of the boys were noticeably shaggier.

 

Jonathan had even less to say than Nina Gersh, which was saying something.  He could communicate fluently without uttering a word.  As was borne out that same afternoon, after Wernie Ball barfed up tuna noodles over his own desk and Eileen’s beside it.  Eileen dissolved into hysterics (“Is it on me??  Did he get any on me??”) so Miss Slagle asked Melissa to take her to the school nurse, while Jon escorted Wernie—after slithering their befouled desks into the hall for Mr. Coakley to decontaminate.

 

“Thank you, Jonathan,” exhaled Miss Slagle.

 

Don’t mention it, expressed Silent Jon.

 

He was the only one of the four to return within the hour, tacitly persuasive there were good reasons for this.  Melissa Chiese supplied them when she popped back shortly before the final bell rang:

 

“Teeny-Weenie didn’t just lose control of his stomach.

 

“You mean...?”

 

One cold lip curled into half an icicle smile.  “It was like when we had to housebreak Foxyface.  Except a lot more disgusting.  Drip-drip-dribble, all the way downstairs—they’ll have to condemn the whole school!”

 

Jonathan Dohr, referred to for corroboration, turned crypto-pensively away.

 

That enigmatic stillness—even more than the Nureyev face and hair—landed Jon on Dunk Gunderson’s list of “flaming twinkleturds.”  Wernie, of course, was a charter member of this index, as were butterfingered Lefty Levitch and thickwitted Lawrence Hersenspoel.  (Whom Vicki would always think of as “Brainwashed Larry,” even after his upgrade to Miss Slagle’s room.)

 

A few non-athletes had always managed to get along with Dunk.  Jimmy Maxwell and Billy Goldfarb went so far as to test this abnormal lenience with one of Billy’s sporting ditties, chanted to “A Horse With No Name”:

 

  We’re out on the playground in a kickballin’ game  
  It feels wet when we play in the rain  
  On the playground, you take a whole lotta blame  
  When your kickball rolls all the way down the drain—  
  La-la-la LAH la-la-la (splash) la-la-la LAH lah...  

 

Dunk’s only response was an extraordinarily mild-mannered (for him) “Pipe the hell down, ya buttwipes.”

 

He chose Billy and Jimmy to be on his team for the big indoor Guts Frisbee game that November, along with Swede Swedebach and Brainwashed Larry (the latter to serve as scapegoat in case of defeat).  Keith Vespa, captain of the other squad, took Ordinary Mark along with Lefty, Wernie, and Jonathan Dohr.  The boys lined up opposite each other while the girls formed two rooting sections on either side of the gym.

 

“I don’t see why we only get to play volleyball,” groused Brenda on the Peach side, miming a Frisbee-fling with guillotine momentum.  “I’d love to de-head a coupla BMs!”

 

“That couldn’t actually happen, could it?” Hayley murmured.

 

“Guess we’ll find out,” said Kris.  “Betcha Wernie gets knocked down, at least.  At least twice.

 

A wager swiftly won: Dunk’s first throw bowled Wernie off his never-steady feet, and his second sent Lefty lunging full-tilt into Wernie, depositing them both on the floor.

 

“Okay—double-or-nothing he pukes again,” Brenda offered.  “And that Eileen has another fit when he does.”

 

“(You guys)” tutted Hayley.

 

Dunk’s third throw, the most tremendous one yet, was aimed squarely at Jonathan.  Who neither blanched nor flinched as he plucked it from mid-air.

 

“OoooOOOOoooh,” went the rooting sections.

 

Jon sent the Frisbee skimming back to be bobbled by Jimmy and dropped by Swede: point for Keith’s team.  Swede’s return throw got batted from Ordinary Mark to Jonathan, who caught it cleanly.  He zoomed it over in Dunk’s direction, yet the disc swerved like a spitball to carom off Billy’s skinny chest: another point scored.

 

Dunk Gunderson thereupon lost his head and spent the rest of the match trying to lop off Jon’s.  Again and again he launched a rocketing throat-level buzzsaw; sometimes Jon tipped it over to a teammate, but more often he simply reached out and made another catch.  As impassively and detachedly as though he were off on the sidelines, watching with the girls—down whose spines he kept delivering shivers.  Not creepy ones, either.

 

“He’s like a matador,” the shining-eyed Sarah-Jill said to Vicki.  Who could sort of see what she meant: Jon sweeping a masterful red cape past an infuriated, hard-charging bullfrog.  Dunk the Toad of Dunk-Toad Hall!  Through whose flippers the elusive Frisbee slipped, scoring the 21st and final point for MataDohr & Co.

 

“Man, can you ever play Guts!” Keith informed Jon, clapping him on the shoulder; while Dunk gave Brainwashed Larry’s a rancorous punch “for standing there like a dumbass and losing us the game!”  He hurled the Frisbee across the gym, where it struck Wernie in the stomach and caused him to gag but not retch.

 

“MmmmEWW,” went Eileen anyway.

 

“Aw c’mon, that was close enough for double-or-nothing!” said Brenda.

 

“Nope—just for double-dishrag,” said Kris.

 

*

 

In January all the teachers in The City went on strike for two full weeks.  “Don’t even think that means you get to loll around in bed all day,” Felicia warned her indignant daughters.  (As if they ever lolled!)  No, their education must go on uninterrupted, with or without formal trappings.  (Goof’s too, which required more of a steel-jaw trap.)

 

Hayley was semibrokenhearted that her birthday fell during the strike, meaning no acknowledgment of it at school; but also no insults from Blue Meaniedom.  Plus she still got cake and presents at her regular party, during which the Peaches agreed to let Sarah-Jill tutor them—so long as she wouldn’t be too dry about it.

 

“Hey, I can make it enjoyable!”

 

“Course you can!” said Brenda.  “I hardly ever fall asleep anymore when you explain long division.”

 

If nothing else, their parents would have to admit they’d made an effort.  But leave it to Sarah-Jill to have a lesson plan all syllabussed when they gathered at her house for the opening seminar.  Nor were they surprised that she’d brought all her textbooks home when the strike began, or that each was neatly covered with an ex-grocery bag still as undoodled-on as it’d been last September.

 

On the outside, that is.

 

First subject, as in Miss Slagle’s class, was Social Studies.  Sarah-Jill opened her book to a chapter on 19th Century inventors and handed it to Vicki, who promptly fumbled it shut.

 

“Wow!  How scary are the pictures?” Kris wondered aloud.

 

Vicki stuck out her tongue, re-opened the book—and found the inside paper cover decorated with hand-drawn initials in various styles, simple to elaborate.  All of them J.D.

 

Sarah-Jill gasped.  So did Vicki, when she realized J.D. didn’t stand for John Denver.  Hayley, Kris, and even Brenda gasped when they clustered round to see what Vicki saw.  After which no one dared be the first one to say anything—though the same word leaped unbidden into everybody’s mind:

 

“MataDohr??

 

Four of the Peaches then begged pardon for rocking the room with laughter; but Sarah-Jill remained in a Slagle-like snit for the rest of the day. 

 

Other instruction during the strike came, with gusto, from Cynthia Dollfuss.  She conducted what she called “pre-teen rap sessions” in Vicki and Tricia’s bedroom, with no subject off limits if kiddy-bashfulness allowed its being broached.  Thus the Peaches learned a great deal about Becoming a Woman, and the challenges life posed to attractive high school sophomores.

 

Tricia, lolling on her bed as she did her nails, contributed an occasional nod or “She’s telling the truth” or indulgent eye-roll when Cynthia embarked on a giggle-jag.

 

“Growing up isn’t all fun and games,” Tricia warned while Cynthia paused for breath, midway through an anecdote concerning a hamfisted guy and a brand-new bra.

 

“Oh, but it should be!” Cynthia smiled.  “You gotta make it be, girls!  Otherwise you’ll be left crying over busted underwear.”

 

*

 

The strike, to Sarah-Jill’s relief, ended in time for Reulbach to prepare for its annual Science Fair.  This was the first year Miss Slagle’s students could participate; till now they’d only been permitted to watch respectfully from the second floor.

 

Miss Slagle, mellower than usual after two weeks on a picket line in near-zero weather, suggested they split themselves up into groups of five for project-planning.  They could even ignore the alphabet, so long as both girls and boys were in every group.  The class, offended by this stipulation, bargained it down to one boy endured by four girls, and vice versa. 

 

Vicki won Sarah-Jill’s forgiveness for revealing her J.D.s by accepting a trade to Keith Vespa’s group, in exchange for Jon Dohr joining the Peaches.  April Tober asserted her independence by swapping over to Dunk Gunderson’s group, from which Brainwashed Larry got booted to the aghast BMs.

 

“This,” Melissa seethed, “is going to be the horriblest Science Fair ever!”

 

Vicki couldn’t help suspecting she was right.  The boys in her group, inspired by a recent TV episode, wanted to do their project on what happened to a girl’s nose when a football struck it.

 

“You leave my nose out of this!” she told them.

 

“S’not a problem,” said Keith, quoting one of Jimmy’s oldest jokes.

 

Yet Vicki had nothing against Keith other than his sightblocking size.  She went along with his other idea for a science project—“Our Friend Breakfast Cereal”—since it was Keith’s favorite food; the Vespa cupboards were stocked with every kind of Krispie and Freakie and Pebble and Critter.  Though not with Sir Grapefellow, which turned milk a revolting shade of purple and reeked like a bad Halloween.  Goofus consumed a bowl of this every morning and mailed in enough proof-of-purchase seals for three Sir Grapefellow biplane gliders (all quickly wrecked).

 

Vicki collected and organized nutritional information about all the cereals.  Keith did the taste-testing, assisted by Ordinary Mark and hindered by Lefty Levitch, who (as always) tried too hard, too often, too noisily, and with too many excuses.

 

Which was still a lot closer to success than Wernie Ball generally got.

 

(Sigh.)

 

“It’s—it’s nice out today,” went a timid stutter at Vicki’s elbow.  Exactly like the White Rabbit: anxious peek into her face, then over his shoulder, then up on tiptoe.  “Is—isn’t it?”

 

“How should I know?” snapped Vicki.

 

Melancholy little sigh.  This time like the Gnat’s, since it seemed to heave Wernie wholly out of sight.

 

Vicki hated to hurt his feelings; but Wernie Ball did too much heaving altogether.

 

Meanwhile the April-less BMs were deadlocked on how to pursue their survey of “You and Your Skin.”  (And the effect of cosmetics upon it: a perfect opportunity to slap on makeup in the third-floor washroom.)  Brainwashed Larry agreed with whichever side spoke to him last, and both sides when they jabbered simultaneously; thus ongoing stalemate.

 

“So,” Vicki asked Hayley and Kris with exiled diffidence, “what’re you guys doing?”

 

“It’s called pair o’ psychology—yknow, ESP and stuff.”

 

“Howdja get Miss Slagle to say that was okay?” Vicki began, before joining in on the obvious answer: “Sarah-Jill!  Is there anything she can’t talk a teacher into?”

 

“Sure,” said Kris.  “Less homework—extra lunchtime—doughnuts every Friday—”

 

“Oh don’t,” moaned Hayley, struggling with another diet.  “I haven’t been by the bakery for nine whole days.”

 

“Better keep away from cereal too,” Vicki advised.  “Even flakes that aren’t frosted come with sugar in them.”

 

Hayley moaned louder.

 

“Wouldn’t it be cool if they had hot dog-flavored cereal?” said Kris.  “It’d be like going to Biff’s for breakfast—”

 

Please stop!”

 

“We’re sorry, Hayl.  Maybe Sarah-Jill can find a mental-blocky-type thing so you won’t keep thinking about food.”

 

“I hope so,” said Hayley.  “‘Cept I’d rather it made me think grapefruit tastes like French fries.”

 

“This isn’t about hypnotism,” scoffed Sarah-Jill when appealed to.  “We’re investigating psychic phenomenons.

 

As she described in detail when the fifth-grade classes presented their Science Fair projects out in the third-story corridor.  Parapsychology, she announced, was the science of clairvoyance and mental telepathy, and had been recognized as a science by the American Association of Science three years ago.  (So there.)  Sarah-Jill cited astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s use of Zener cards in outer space; Kris, Hayley, and bored-looking Brenda held these cards up on cue.  Circle, square, star, cross, wavy lines—Kris caught Vicki’s eye with a wavy-lined smirk, and Vicki had to smother laughter with a fake coughing attack.

 

After waiting reproachfully for her to recover, Sarah-Jill proceeded to the group’s own psychic experiments, all of which (colossal surprise) revolved around Jonathan.  Whose reserve turned to stricken foreboding as he suddenly backed away, unnoticed by the Peaches, and “went through himself” (as Jimmy always said when Jon Dohr entered a washroom).

 

Vicki tried to snag Sarah-Jill’s attention without further interrupting her, but got no more than a brief pinched frown.  (Well fine then: do your own realizing.)

 

“He’s gone to throw up,” said a voice in Vicki’s ear.

 

Mental telephathy?  No: Wernie Ball, in a hurried nervous whisper.

 

Vicki recoiled from his lips.  Enough with the vomit already!  Hadn’t they just watched Mr. Coakley mop up the model volcano Dunk’s group had overfueled with vinegar and baking soda?  (April, clairvoyantly anticipating the stew-pidest outcome, had taken shelter behind Jimmy and Swede before that eruption.)

 

“And now,” Sarah-Jill declared, her glasses glinting coquettishly as she turned to where Jon wasn’t standing, “all will be revealed—”

 

—as Dunk Gunderson, crawling under the display table, reached up and yanked down Sarah-Jill’s flares.  Demonstrating the drawback of their having an elastic waistband with no belt.

 

Also, more scientifically, how shock can drain color from a face and make eyes look as inert as the lenses propped before them.

 

It happened so quickly, so unexpectedly, that there followed a very long moment of very dead silence.

 

Broken at last by a fresh eruption: this one of Blue Meanie belly laughter.  “Gray panties!” shrieked Melissa and Stephanie.  “She’s wearing gray panties!!”

 

Vicki lunged forward to help Kris shield the spectacle as Sarah-Jill collapsed in Hayley’s arms (sobbing “They’re s-s-silver, I though they were p-p-pretty”) while Brenda overturned table and display in furious pursuit of Dunk.

 

“Children!  Children!” went the faintly-heard Miss Slagle.

 

“Hey, I just dropped my pencil is all!” Dunk objected as he got collared by Mr. Brown, a sixth-grade teacher who (though balding) was tall and male and strong enough to ward off Brenda with his other arm, as he hauled Dunk away to the Principal.

 

Brenda advanced instead on the BMs, now half bent over with raucous glee.

 

“Oh yeah? oh yeah?  I s’pose you’re used to him pantsing YOU, hunh Chiese??”

 

Melissa straightened up like a shot and spat out a word missing from fifth-grade vocabulary lists.  Brenda, not needing to consult a dictionary, clenched both fists and would’ve employed them had nearby boys not been sent in to impose order.  (It took both Keith and Swede to hold Brenda back; Lefty Levitch tried grabbing Melissa and got smacked upside his sorry head.)

 

“For this we went on strike,” Vicki heard Miss Slagle mutter to another teacher.  “Eleven days on the picket line in January, for this.”

 

Principal Overland was kept busy for the rest of that day and the remainder of that week.  Vicki, who’d never set foot in Old Overalls’s office till now, had to do so all by herself and provide testimony.  She was the only girl who’d properly witnessed the Incident, since the other Peaches had been beside or behind Sarah-Jill, and the Blue Meanies claimed Dunk couldn’t be held responsible if Sarah-Jill was too scrawny for her double-knit britches.

 

Dunk got formally suspended, a distinction he took pride in despite its small-potatoes cause: “She ain’t got nothing worth looking at nohow.”  His parents, however, hit the roof.  They both worked at the Pfiester Park Y, Mr. Gunderson as a fitness instructor and Mrs. Gunderson in member services; and both considered their Duncan to be the quintessence of Muscular Christianity.  According to them, Duncan was so engrossed with the Science Fair that he had dropped his pencil—coincidentally near a child who, unwisely, wore oversized clothing.  The Incident would’ve been avoided had that child’s parents sent her to school in a sensible dress, as God intended.

 

The Shapiros hit several roofs when this theory was hypothesized.  Millie and Moe demanded a special meeting of the Reulbach PTA, seconded by other Peach parents, though a couple of fathers hinted they should keep their cool.

 

“I mean, it wasn’t like he pulled up her skirt and, y’know, ‘tried’ anything,” Ozzie told Felicia.

 

“And just suppose it was Vicki’s slacks he ripped off?”

 

“I’da killed the little punk bastard!”

 

This was thrilling to hear (with ear pressed to wall) but Vicki worried that now she’d have to re-testify in front of the whole PTA, and so be branded for life as a snitch.  Leaving herself wide-open for retribution—and suppose it was forcible strippage?  Maybe not just of her jeans?

 

She would have to kill herself.

 

And how could you accomplish that, when you were only eleven?

 

Maybe by getting bored to death at a special PTA meeting.  Neither Vicki nor any other student was invited to contribute.  Plenty of parents had plenty to share; but this year’s PTA president was Carmel Sanborn Chiese, unmistakably her daughter’s mother, who wielded the gavel as though hammering nails.  She cut off every speaker before they got anywhere near full flow.

 

“Pantsing a girl is assault,” insisted Millie Shapiro; pound pound pound went Carmel’s gavel.

 

Not even the Gundersons were permitted to say their piece in its entirety, despite Melissa’s rumored pre-teen familiarity with Dunk’s Christian muscularity.

 

“Take a breath, people!” Mrs. Chiese commanded.  “Let’s keep touching base here.”

 

Which reminded the fathers that she had an enviable job in the Friendly Confines box office, and maybe they should ask her about ticket deals since baseball season was imminent.

 

*

 

That night, just before bedtime, Felicia got off the phone after a long conversation during which her expression had gone from dismay to disbelief to masked amusement.  She took Vicki aside and put an arm around her.

 

“There’s nothing to fret about, darling.  Sarah-Jill’s going to be fine.”

 

“Why?  What happened??”

 

“Well—long story short—she got her first period.”

 

Vicki’s alarm yielded to consternation.  “But... she’s younger’n any of us!  Her birthday’s not till July.”

 

“I know, I know, but it’s perfectly normal.  Except that her parents were, um, kind of flustered, and rushed her to the hospital.”

 

Hoot from Tricia, ostensibly not listening across the room.

 

“Patricia Elaine—”

 

“You’re right, I’m sorry, poor kid.  (Wait’ll I tell Cynthia...)”

 

“It wasn’t their fault!  They’ve all been under so much stress, nobody was expecting this to happen, it’s not like they went through it with Garrett, poor Sarah-Jill was so frightened Millie lost her head—well, any mother would—and you know Cynthia wouldn’t find this funny.”

 

“MUTH-er.”

 

“Well okay, but she’d be sweet about it.”

 

Vicki was torn between concern for her friend and the idea that Someone Somewhere had cheated on a major test.  Of course Sarah-Jill would never dream of doing such a thing.  But still: why should having her underpants exposed (and they were so gray, not “silver”) let Sarah-Jill skip to the head of life’s line?  So she could gaze with pitying condescension—not just on Blue Meanies but also her fellow Peaches—as a Newly-Become Woman?  When she was still only ten?  Four-and-a-half months younger than you?

 

No more explicable than the now-you-see-one but-hear-the-other Mrs. Partridges.

 

Chalk it up to psychic phenomena.  And speaking of which: why had Jonathan Dohr gone off and thrown up a couple minutes before the Incident occurred?  And why’d Wernie Ball been so aware of this that he felt compelled to whisper about it in Vicki’s ear?

 

She couldn’t believe they’d been clued in ahead of time.  No, not by Dunk Gunderson, who was as liable to pants them as he would any girl.  But if there really was such a thing as parapsychowhatsit, and Jon had ESP’d about the Incident—

 

—why wouldn’t he have tried to prevent it, like a brooding-mystic gentleman?  Whose initials were all over Sarah-Jill’s inner book covers?

 

Only one conclusion was possible.

 

ALL boys—be they tall or short, strong or weak, handsome or repulsive, extrasensory or extrastewpid—were naturally creepy-crawly.

 

And at next year’s Science Fair the girls ought to do a project about that.

 

 

    

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
   

 

Return to Chapter 11                          Proceed to Chapter 13

 

 

A Split Infinitive Production
Copyright © 2010-2011 by P. S. Ehrlich

 

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