Authors: Sally Warner
Standing Up to Jared
“Hey, loser,” Jared calls out to me on the playground on Monday morning before school, even though you're not allowed to call anyone that at Oak Glen. But what does Jared care? He's like a third grade giant! “Did you ride your tricycle to school today, or did your
drive you again?”
“Shut up,” I tell him, which you are also not supposed to say.
We have a lot of rules at our school, but no grown-ups are around.
We don't have any official bullies in our class, not the kind on TV shows, but Jared is the boy who sometimes comes closest to being one. And like I already said, Cynthia Harbison is the girl version of him. Next in the mean line for the boys comes Stanley Washington, Jared's friend, who is back in school today. I wonder if he obeyed Jared's command and decided to be the grasshopper, from “The Grasshopper and the Ant”?
“Loser,” Jared jeers again. “If we ever have a skating contest, you can be in charge of watching.”
“Yeah,” Stanley chimes in right after stuffing some orange tortilla chips into his mouth. I guess he's feeling better.
He's been keeping a close eye on Kevin and Jared, I can tell.
Maybe Kevin and Jared's new friendship is as weird for Stanley as it is for me.
“Yuck,” Cynthia says, skipping by arm-in-arm with Heather on their way to the chain-link fence, where they like to hang out. And sometimes they just
, a few inches off the ground. “Keep your mouth shut when you chew, Stanley Washington. Don't you know anything?”
Cynthia thinks she is the big expert on manners around here.
Jared would probably say something back, but I think he kind of likes Heather. A little, anyway. He blushes whenever he talks to her.
“If we ever
have a skating contest,” I tell Jared after Cynthia and Heather have skipped away, “you'd better know how to do more than just push your board down the sidewalk. That's not skating, that's scooting,” I add, repeating Corey's put-down of how far Jared and Kevin have gotten with their skating skills.
Of course, I still can't even
Jared's cheeks are getting red, and his twirly, sticking-up hair seems to bristle with rage.
“Shut up,” Stanley tells me.
That's the same thing I just said to Jared, which proves that what Ms. Sanchez claims is true: that saying bad words can be contagious, like the flu.
“You shut up,” I say to Stanley. “I have a board, you know. So maybe we
have a scootingâI mean
âcontest,” I add, turning back to Jared. “That way you and Kevin could show all the kids how great you are.”
“And me too. I'm learning, too,” Stanley pipes up, his hair flopping over his glasses. “I'm already way better than Kevin.”
“We'd do it in a second,” Jared tells me, his chin up. “Only we're not allowed to skate at school. In case you forgot.”
“There's always the park,” I remind him.
The Eustace B. Pennypacker Memorial Park is the park nearest our school. It's where Jared and I had our so-called fight that time.
“Mmm. Maybe,” Jared says, like he's trying to figure out if the the park is challenging enough for all the advanced tricks he, Kevin, and Stanley can land. “I'll look at it.”
“He'll look at it,” Stanley echoes.
“Go away, grasshopper,” I tell him just as the buzzer sounds.
“Hey,” Stanley says, scowling. “How did you know about that?”
“I'm a real good guesser,” I say over my shoulder as we head for class.
“Loser,” Jared calls after me, but I'm barely even listening anymore.
Standing up to Jaredâeven a littleâfeels good, like I'm getting closer to my goal.
Henry and Fly
It's Tuesday afternoon, and I'm not any better at skating now than I was on Sunday.
. Over here,” Fly Reilly calls out in his bossy way from the big turnaround area at the back of Henry's driveway. Henry and Fly are going to build a plywood ramp and something they call a grind box there some day. Maybe they'll even let me help, Henry said. But plywood costs a lot of money, it turns out, so I'm not holding my breath.
How much stuff costs is a total mystery to me. I can see how a decorated birthday cake might cost a lot of money, because everyone loves birthday cake, and it's hard to make those frosting roses. My mom tried to learn once, and we got to eat the mistakesâfor a while, anyway.
costing a lot of money? It's all over the place!
I don't know what Fly's real first name is, and it's not like I'm about to ask. But Henry told me in private that Fly got his nickname when he was four, because his aunties thought he was so cute.
Personally, I don't see it. When I first met Fly, I thought he was called that because he's always moving around. It's like he thinks someone might be spying on him from the bushes, and he'd better keep moving,
“Hey, EllRay,” Henry says in his usual friendly way, and he gives me a grin.
Henry Pendleton is tall and super-skinny, “all arms and legs,” my mom says when she talks about him.
“With some banged-up knees and elbows thrown in,” my dad usually adds, shaking his head.
And that's not even mentioning the road rash and bruises Henry wears on his body like they are badges of honor.
Alfie acts even girlier than usual around Henry, so I try to keep her away from him, and definitely away from Fly. Fly doesn't have any little brothers or sisters, so he has zero tolerance. Alfie can be kind of a pest, I'm the first to admit, and sometimes I get the feeling Henry and Fly are barely tolerating
. Fly, anyway.
“You been practicing your stance?” Fly asks me, scowling, one foot jiggling up and down on his board. He looks like a spider about to scoot across its web to devour some dumb mosquito that got trapped in it.
“Yeah, I practiced,” I say. “Inside. On a rug,” I admit, saying this almost against my will. But there's no point trying to pull anything over on Fly, I remind myself. He's already got the stink-eye aimed at meâprobably because he's got nothing to gain having me hang around him and Henry. What's Fly gonna learn from me? How to land a kickflip or something? Yeah, right.
Fly can already do a five-o grind better than anyone I've ever seen outside of YouTube. He showed me a video on his phone of him doing it from this time he was skating at another kid's house. A kid who has a grind box.
At least I
it was Fly on that video. You couldn't really tell, the picture was so small.
Henry kind of
to invite me over every so often, even though he's ten and I'm eight. We're next-door neighbors. We even played Battleship once when it rained. That game's hard! And I hadn't played an actual board game since I was Alfie's age and Dad used to beat me at checkers, trying to teach me to be a good sportâwhich is something I'm still working on, by the way.
MeaningâI hate to lose.
Anyway, Henry won the game, and I somehow managed to hide my clenchy fists and the sparks coming out of my ears long enough to say, “Good job, Henry. Congratulations.”
But I'm nothing but a pain to Fly, who is eleven years old, remember. He's got three years on me. That's almost the same difference as between me and Alfie!
Fly is in between me and Henry when it comes to tallness, like I said, but he's a lot fussier than either one of us about his hair, his clothes, his shoes. His everything. I guess having to go to all that trouble when you get dressed is the price you pay for looking so good.
“Practice some more,” Fly commands me. “Right here on the driveway, on your board. Not on a rug. If you fall, you fall. So be it.” And he flops onto the little patch of lawn next to the Pendletons' turnaround.
“Or just practice pushing and turning,” Henry suggests, like he can tell I don't want to stand there on my board in front of Fly. He probably knows I'm afraid the board will turn against me, and I'll end up planted facedown on the driveway.
No doubt Fly would get
on his phone, too, and I'd be a joke all over the world in about six minutes flat. He'd probably add some funny music while he was at it!
“I get the pushing part, but how do you make the board turn?” I ask.
“You kind of
. It's hard to explain,” Henry says, getting back to work on his ollie, which is the most basic skating trick there is. It's how you get your board in the air so you can do stuff. But it's harder than it looks, and for some kids it can take like a year, even if they're usually pretty coordinatedâlike Henry. Fly is tutoring him, and this is what he says about doing an ollie:
It's hard to explain, but ollies are important. All other skate tricks are based on them.
For example, even though you can skate
a curb onto the street without knowing how to do one, you need an ollie to jump your board up onto the next curb.
“Did you bring any food, kid?” Fly asks me as I take my stance on my board and cautiously push off with my right foot. I pretend-cross my fingers for luck, since I'm afraid to cross them for real. One more thing to remember and I'll topple over for sure.
“Nuh-uh,” I say, jumping off the board, because I don't know how to stop it yet. Food? I was supposed to bring food?
“Well, we're hungry,” Fly informs me. “And if you wanna hang with us, you gotta payâwith food, 'cause that's all you got going for you. That's the rule. It's not like we're
. Which reminds me, tell your little sister to stop peeking at us.”
“She peeks at you?” I say.
“Yeah,” Fly says, scowling. “From your upstairs window, and sometimes through the fence. She gets on my nerves.”
“Alfie's not so bad,” Henry objects, his voice mild. “And EllRay doesn't have to bring any food.” His feet are making the required wide V shape, and his right foot is way toward the back of his board, like Fly said.
“Bend your knees more,” Fly says from the lawn, barely looking at him. “Kind of
before you make the board jump. But I'm hungry,” he says to me, like that's the second part of his sentence. “And Henry told me your mom makes really good snacks.”
“I could bring food next time, I guess,” I say, like it's this great idea that just popped into my very own head.
“Only if you want to,” Henry tells me, crouching as directed. And
comes the weight of his back foot at the very end of his board, and
goes the nose.
And down goes Henry.
“Dude, slide!” Fly shouts. “You didn't slide your front foot forward fast enough to level the board in the air. And you're supposed to land with your knees bent, too. Not
And he jumps up and does a couple of perfect ollies like they're nothing at all.
“Do it again,” Fly tells Henry, his hands on his hips.
And, to me, “Food. Next time. And it better be good,
I shrugâlike maybe I'll bring food, and maybe I won't.
But I will.
“And do something about your stupid little sister,” Fly adds, scowling.
“She's not stupid. But I'll talk to her,” I say, hating the words even as I say them.
They make me feel like I'm slipping backward.
I start pushing with my right foot again, mostly just trying to stay on the boardâand to keep Fly from yelling at me.
I'll try turning tomorrow.
“Dinner's ready. Wash up, you two,” Mom calls up the stairs at six o'clock sharp, because that's when we always eat. Dad has been home for about half an hour.
My father's complete name is Dr. Warren Jakes, and he is a big, strong man who wears glasses. He is also very smart. Unfortunately, I do not resemble him in any wayâ
âexcept that we both like meat, and plenty of it.
When my dad is away from home, doing research about rocks or something, we eat weird things like eggplant lasagna and stir-fried tofu and vegetables. And pretend cheese, which is just wrong. Cheese should be cheese, or you should just skip it.
No wonder I'm such a pipsqueak, which is what Jared called me one time.
Dad promises I will grow taller, but I am beginning to have my doubts about that.
As we wash our hands, Alfie and I have our usual shoving match at the sink in the bathroom we supposedly share, even though her bottles of shampoo and bubble bath are starting to crowd me out. I'm afraid I will use something of hers by accident in the shower one morning and go to school smelling like flowers or pineapples and mangos.
Like I could live
Do something about your stupid little sister,
Fly said about an hour ago, talking about Alfie. What's his problem? She's only four!
“I won,” Alfie says, a big smile on her face, as she wipes her little starfish hands on her ruffly skirt.
“You can't âwin' washing hands,” I inform her.
“But I came in first, EllWay,” she says. “And that's the same as winning.”
“Let's just go eat,” I say, and she sprints off down the hallâso she can be the winner going down the stairs before me, I guess.
Our family has this thing my mom and dad call “civilized conversation” when we eat dinner, and here are the rules:
“And what was your worst thing today, Louise?” my dad asks my mom, after she has finished telling us her best thing, that she found the perfect girl's name for her new fantasy book. It's Aisley, which means “dwells at the ash tree meadow” in old Saxon, which I think only my mom understands anymore. That'll be on Dad's quiz tonight for sure, if there is one.
My mom writes fantasy books for grown-ups, which is why Alfie and I have such weird names. My real name is Lancelot Raymond, which fortunately got shortened to L-period-Ray when I was little. And that got shortened to EllRay.
Where was my dad when all this goofy baby-naming was going on? Didn't he get a vote?
“My worst thing was dropping the spaghetti box when I got it out of the cupboard,” Mom tells us, making a funny face. “It was like pick-up sticks times one hundred. And now it's Miss Alfie's turn,” she says, turning to Alfie, who has made a hand puppet out of her napkin and is snapping at me with it under the table.
Calling Alfie “Miss Alfie” is my mom's way of reminding my little sister to be polite, I think.
“Okay, me,” Alfie says. “My best thing was when Henry-next-door said I wasn't so bad,” she reports, a sunny smile spreading across her round face as she remembers this fabulous moment in history.
spying on us,” I say, scowling. “Fly was right! He said you're always peeking through the fence.”
“Fly Reilly was at the Pendletons' house again this afternoon?” my dad asks, matching my scowl. My dad likes just about everyone, as much as he even notices them, anyway, but I can tell he's not all that happy about Fly. He doesn't like me hanging out with him, that's for sure. He says it's because Fly's too old for me, but I think it's more than that.
Good thing Dad doesn't know what Fly said about Alfie! He'd probably never let me go over to Henry's again, in case Fly was there.
learn to skate. I'd be a poser forever.
I mean, I don't like Fly either, not after he complained about Alfie. But you don't have to like someone to learn from them, do you?
And Henry's really cool, and Henry likes Fly. So how bad could Fly be?
my dad says, reminding me that he asked me a question.
“I didn't know he was going to be there,” I say. “And Alfie shouldn'tâ”
still my turn
for best and worst,” Alfie interrupts, furious. “Just because I'm little doesn't mean you get to talk all over me!”
“Alfie's right,” Mom says in her most soothing voice. “What was your worst thing, honey?”
“When everybody talked all over me at dinner,” Alfie says, her arms folded across her chest. “My very own family.”
“I'm sorry, Alfie,” my dad tells her. “It won't happen again. Everyone deserves to be heard.”
“Especially me,” Alfie says, lifting her chin.
“But EllRay,” Dad adds, turning to me, “I think we need to continue our conversation about who you're spending time with. We have to establish some ground rules, son.”
“After dinner, maybe?” my mom says, passing the salad for the second time. Alfie peers suspiciously into the bowl for anything that's not lettuce, then helps herself to a couple of sprigs of green.
Mom has a way of suggesting things that's really more like saying, “Look, this is how it's going to be,” at least at the dinner table. And my dad always agrees with her.
They're a team.
“After dinner,” Dad agrees, helping himself to more salad. “But
after dinner son. In my office.”
. Dad's office!