EllRay Jakes and the Beanstalk (8 page)

18

Freedom

By the time the end-of-school buzzer sounds, I feel like I know
way
too much about the kids in my class from the papers they read. My head is bursting. For instance:

  1. I know that Corey likes being a fast swimmer the way the hare is a fast runner in “The Tortoise and the Hare,” but his parents want Corey to be a swimming champion more than he does.
  2. I know that Annie Pat Masterson was sorry she chose “The Little Mermaid” as her story, once she read all the sad and foamy details, but she still wants to be a fish scientist when she grows up. Not a mermaid scientist, though.
  3. I know that Jared chose “The Pied Piper” not only so kids would follow him around, but also because he wants to be a kid with lots of friends. He didn't say it in those exact words, but you could tell.
  4. I know a lot more about Kevin, too, and why he did what he did.

I think even
Ms. Sanchez
is glad class is over for the week. Maybe she knows too much about us now, too! I hope that next week, we'll go back to plain old spelling tests and times tables instead of having to blab about “why this story is special to me.”

“Move it, EllRay,” Stanley says in the cloakroom as we grab all the stuff we're supposed to take home for the weekend. “Go climb a beanstalk or something.”


You
go climb a beanstalk,” Emma McGraw says, jumping to my defense. She does that sometimes, even though I wish she wouldn't. “And leave EllRay alone, Stanley. He got hurt being brave. Being a
HERO
. Are you going to the skating contest at the park anyway?” she asks, turning to me.

“Yeah. I'll stop by for a couple of minutes, I guess,” I tell her.

Technically, I'm supposed to go straight home from school, but the park is on the way home, isn't it? And I won't have any fun, so it should be okay.

“But
you
aren't going, are you?” I ask Emma. “You and Annie Pat don't even skate.”

“Not yet. But Kry does,” she tells me. “And we want to watch. It's
Friday
,” she adds, like that explains everything.

And in a way, it does. Friday has its own special personality, I think, especially on a day like today when the sun is shining, the wind is blowing, the clouds are bouncing around the sky, and everything outside smells good. That's because it's April, my mom says, and April means spring. But who cares what month it is?

It just feels good to be outside!

Corey has already been picked up by his mom for swim practice. But in the playground, kids with bikes and skateboards are racing over to the pen, where the custodian is standing near the open gate like a sentry. The third grade kids, especially, are eager to grab their boards and take off for Eustace B. Pennypacker Memorial Park.

It's a terrible park—just grass, trees, and a couple of benches for old people to sit on and do whatever it is they do. And it's really small. Us kids hardly ever go there.

But it's nearby, and there are some paths we can skate on. Or at least scoot on.

Other kids can, I mean. Not me.

I limp down Oak Glen's wide front steps and wave good-bye to the principal. He's always there to see us off on Fridays. Corey says the principal just wants to make sure we're really leaving.

And suddenly, I remember the exact way I felt one week ago today, how I wanted to know the secret feeling those other kids had as they picked up their skateboards from the pen at the end of the day.

I wanted
freedom
.

But on Friday afternoons, I see now, it's as if everyone in the whole school is escaping from an even bigger pen, an invisible one. And the same weekend is waiting for all of us! Anything fun could happen—even if you're a kid who is temporarily in trouble, like me.

So
I
get to have that freedom feeling, too! We all do.

I'll probably end up playing horsie with Alfie all weekend, I think, smiling anyway as I work my way through the crowd of kids toward the sidewalk leading to the park. Or I'll be forced to help her sell lemonade, so she can make enough money for that Golden Sparkle Corral she wants so much. But who cares? At least Alfie's not the one covered in bandages.

I saved her from that.

“Hey, EllRay,” Jared yells when we're finally at the park. “Watch this.” And arms out and legs stiff, he starts scooting his board down a sloping path. Goofy foot, of course. It's like he's surrounded by prickly cactuses, he's being so careful.

A couple of girls clap their hands, including Heather.

That should make Jared at least a little happy—as if he has some extra friends.

“Watch
this
,” Stanley says, and he swoops down the same path, knees bent.

“EllRay,” my old friend Kevin shouts. “Watch this!” He heads down the path, too, only he manages to swerve back and forth a little as he goes.

We
are
a bunch of posers, I think, smiling as I give him a thumbs-up. None of us is all that good at skating, not yet. But who cares? We're all having fun, even the kids like me who are only watching. And fun is what
COUNTS
.

Of course, having the right audience helps.

“Hey,” someone calls out. “Watch this!” And down the sloping path comes Kry Rodriguez, her pink helmet glittering in the sun. Knees bent, swooping, shiny black hair flying behind her. And—
up
she goes.
She's on the curb.

Kry's the first one of us who can do an ollie! But nobody hates her for it, because she's Kry.

Like I said before, I don't know how she pulls that off, being so nice.

“That was cool,” Kevin says, edging up to me. “I wanna learn.”

“Me, too,” I admit. “But I'm grounded from skateboards for a while.”

Until I'm thirty.

“Oh well,” Kevin says, smiling as he shrugs.

“I liked your story about the shivers,” I say, trying to sound normal, even though it feels weird to be talking to him again. “That was funny, about the ice water.”

“Yeah,” Kevin says. “But it's a messed-up story, especially when he has to marry that princess.”

We don't mention the end part of Kevin's paper, when he told us why the story was special to him. When he talked about needing to have some adventures and hang with new people, even though he wanted to keep his old friends, too.

And Kevin doesn't mention fighting random giants or climbing any beanstalks.

We don't need to go over old stuff like that, because that was then.

And now is now.

Stuff changes. But for today, anyway, things are okay.

In fact, things are better than okay!

Want more EllRay jakes?
Turn the page to read a chapter from his next adventure

1

Keeping an Open Mind

“It's time for you to listen,” Ms. Sanchez tells us as we accept our fate and slump into our chairs. “I have an important announcement to make, and I want you to keep an open mind about it.”

This does not sound good. When grown-ups say “Keep an open mind,” they're usually about to tell you something you don't want to hear.

Besides, a couple of kids in our class—namely Jared and Stanley Washington, the closest guys I have to enemies around here—already have minds that are so “open” they're almost empty, in my opinion. For example, Stanley says there's only one squirrel in Oak Glen, California, which is where we live. He swears that this lonely squirrel follows him around—and likes him. I think Stanley believes that because ever since he was three, his mom has said, “There's your little squirrel friend!” whenever they see one. I've heard her do it.

Meanwhile, back here in class, Heather raises her hand and speaks at the same time. “Well, whatever the announcement is, I'm not doing anything that's against my religion,” she says, sliding a glance at the rest of us—especially Cynthia—to see how we are taking this news.

Since Heather has been yapping about it so much lately, I happen to know that she and her family started going to a new church only three weeks ago.

“Nobody would dream of asking you to,” Ms. Sanchez says, her voice calm as always. “And please wait for me to call on you after you raise your hand. You know better than simply to blurt out whatever pops into your head, Miss Patton.”

My name is EllRay Jakes, but I'm “Mr. Jakes” when I mess up in class. That's one of Ms. Sanchez's things, to get more polite the worse we act. But we usually don't act too bad, because we like Ms. Sanchez so much. Also, she's the prettiest teacher at Oak Glen Primary School.

And she's going to get married pretty soon! I feel funny thinking about it, but that sounds weird, too. All the parents are giving her a wedding shower in the cafeteria late next week. They are arguing by email and phone-tree about what her present should be, and who owes what. I think they should just give Ms. Sanchez a sack of money. That's what I'd like if I were her.

“So, here's what's up,” Ms. Sanchez says. “Our principal has decided that Oak Glen Primary School should have its very own talent show next week, during Friday's assembly, which will be at two in the afternoon. He says that will help all the grades get to know each other better.”

Emma raises her hand. “But it's already April,” she says when Ms. Sanchez calls on her. “Why do we have to get to know each other better now?”

“I don't know,” Ms. Sanchez says, sighing as she sneaks a peek at her sparkly engagement ring—which is her hobby, I think. “Maybe he thought things were getting a little dull around here and that you kids needed something fun to grab your attention. The point is, all grade levels have to take part in the show.”

“I'm pretty sure talent shows are against my religion,” Heather says, shaking her head like that's that, she's out of this thing free and clear.

“And we're going to need at least five volunteers from this very class for the talent show tryouts. Five,” Ms. Sanchez continues, as if Heather hasn't said a word.

Okay. Keeping an open mind is gonna be hard.

“Corey can swim for everyone,” Jared says, cracking himself up.

“Or Kry could do mental math,” Kevin jokes.

“And that's about it for talent in this class,” Emma finishes, sounding sad.

“Oh, I don't know about that,” Ms. Sanchez says, her brown eyes sparkling. “I'm sure some of you are taking music lessons, or acrobatics. Or how about a martial arts demonstration? Anyone?”

We all clamp our mouths shut and shake our heads.

“Listen, people,” Ms. Sanchez says. “Cheer up. It'll be fun! And the third grade has to participate. We can give it a try, at least. Remember, trying out doesn't mean you'll get in the show.”

“Really?” Fiona peeps.

“Really,” Ms. Sanchez says. “But I'll tell you what. I'll let you sort this out among yourselves. Just remember, we need five volunteers on Monday, because that's when the tryouts are.”

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