Authors: Chris Woodworth
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To Beverly Reingold,
for seeing the story I should write,
for encouraging me to write it
Instead of answering the school secretary, Georgie stared at the shiny plaque mounted on the freshly painted wall:
GLENDALE MIDDLE SCHOOL, ESTABLISHED
Georgie had been to a lot of schools, but this was the first new one.
When she didn't respond, the school secretary called out, “Georgia Collins?”
Two other girls were also in the office waiting area. Georgie leaned forward and looked at them as if to see if one could be a girl named Georgia Collins. Then she looked at the secretary and shrugged.
The secretary puckered her forehead and disappeared into the guidance counselor's office.
It was a momentary reprieve, but it made Georgie feel a little better.
School started in one week and Georgie had come to pay her book rental fees. After taking her money, the man at the school bookstore had ripped off a note stapled to her form and handed it to her. “Says you're to go to the guidance office and see the counselor, Mrs. Donovan.”
“Why?” Georgie asked.
He shrugged. “Guess you'll find out when you get there.”
Only kids marked as troublemakers were sent to the guidance office, and school hadn't even started yet!
Georgie had made her way through the maze of unfamiliar halls to the office, but she didn't want to be there. No way was she going to make this easy on the secretary.
The secretary came back, followed by a tall woman in a jacket and skirt.
“Georgie, I'm Mrs. Donovan. Would you please come in now?”
“Sure thing,” Georgie said, giving the secretary a wide smile as she walked by. The secretary stared at her with her jaw hanging. Georgie had the urge to put her hand beneath the woman's chin and close her mouth. She didn't do it, but urges were always hard to resist.
Mrs. Donovan's desk faced the wall, so that when she turned her chair around, it became part of a circle of empty chairs. She said, “Please sit down, Georgie. Anywhere is fine.”
Georgie had already pulled out a chair, but when Mrs. Donovan said to sit, she threw her new books onto the chair instead.
Georgie could see her little game. “Anywhere is fine,” as if it would be just dandy if she chose Mrs. Donovan's chair. It was a “We're friends” game. Well, Georgie was onto it and she wasn't falling into any traps.
She walked over to a set of shelves displaying trophies and books. In the very center, with a little spotlight on it, lay a bottle with a ship inside.
Mrs. Donovan said, “Feel free to pick up anything you see.”
Georgie turned away from the shelves and sat down.
Mrs. Donovan let out a little breath and sat down, too. “How do you like it here at Glendale?” she asked.
“How did you put the ship inside the bottle?” was Georgie's answer.
“My father did it, actually. He made each tiny piece that you see. Then he placed them through the neck of the bottle. It took forever to build because his hands couldn't fit inside. He used special, long tools that were awkward to work with.”
Mrs. Donovan walked over and picked up the bottle. She gently rubbed her hand over it. “I used to watch him for hours. It was such hard work. Yet when people asked him how he built it, he always just said, âA little at a time.' I was amazed that he made it sound so simple.”
When Georgie didn't say anything, Mrs. Donovan put the bottle back on the shelf.
“He passed away two years ago,” she said. “I still miss him terribly.” She sat down again. “So, I told you about my dad. Why don't you tell me about yours?”
Georgie picked up Mrs. Donovan's letter opener from her desk and turned it over in her hand. “He's a major in the Air Force, stationed in Vietnam.”
“And?” Mrs. Donovan prompted.
“And he doesn't build boats in bottles.”
Mrs. Donovan sat back, waiting. Finally she said, “Georgie, your mother was here last week. We had a long talk about you. We also talked about your father.”
Georgie stared at the bridge of Mrs. Donovan's nose. She wore glasses, so it was easier to find a spot on the nosepiece to look at. Georgie let her eyes sort of relax. When Mrs. Donovan became blurry, Georgie felt detached. She tried this at home, but it was harder with Mom. For one thing, Mom had a way of looking around the room when she talked. And she didn't wear glasses. The nosepiece was a definite plus.
Mrs. Donovan's voice finally reached her.
“Georgie? Did you hear anything I said?”
“Yes, of course, Mrs. Donovan. May I go now?”
“Yes, Georgie.” She sighed. “But I do hope that once school gets under way, you'll drop in any time you feel like talking.”
She followed Georgie into the waiting area. The secretary gave Georgie a look that would have wilted a weaker person. Georgie winked at her.
The secretary blinked, caught off guard again. She turned her back to Georgie and said, “Mrs. Donovan, here is the file you requested.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Sanders.”
“Oops!” Georgie said, and quickly turned around. “Forgot my books in your office. Can I get them?”
Mrs. Donovan said, “Certainly,” as she scanned the report.
She was so trusting, not coming back in with Georgie, just as Georgie had suspected she would be. It took Georgie only a minute to do what she needed to do. Then she picked up her books and went out to the waiting area.
“Mrs. Donovan? Thanks. I feel a lot better now.”
“Well! That's wonderful, Georgie,” she said in a surprised voice.
Georgie walked around the corner and peeked back. When Mrs. Donovan reached her office, she stopped dead in the doorway and let out a small cry. Georgie hefted her books and headed down the hall. She knew that Mrs. Donovan had seen her dad's bottle on her desk, where Georgie had put it. The cork had been removed and her letter opener had been rammed into the center of the bottle, cutting off the ship's mast.
“Ouch!” Georgie cried out as she pulled the baby's sticky fingers from her hair.
She looked into the baby's blue eyes. “Shannon? Or are you Jennifer? Whoever you are, you're the reason I'm never having kids.”
The baby squealed and reached for Georgie's hair again. Georgie quickly sat her down on the picnic blanket, hard enough that she heard the diaper squish.
Georgie wiped her sweaty forehead with her arm, peeking under it to see if Mom had noticed. Mom was struggling to lift the playpen out of the station wagon, so she couldn't have heard. Georgie decided to pretend she hadn't, either. Changing diapers was definitely not Georgie's bag.
Georgie looked at John, who was three and a tattletale.
“No, she's not. I made that sound, see?” Georgie tried to make squishing sounds with her mouth.
“Uh-uh.” He shook his head.
“John?” Georgie wiggled her finger, beckoning him to come closer. He squeezed a toy truck to his chest and continued shaking his head.
“But it's important,” Georgie said.
John took a step back, away from her.
“Okay, fine. I'll tell someone else.”
John blinked his eyes. When Georgie acted as if she was going to leave, he slowly walked toward her.
Georgie waited until he was right in front of her. She leaned toward him and shouted, “Scram!”
The toy truck flew up and John fell flat on his behind. The truck bounced between his sprawled legs.
Georgie howled with laughter. Today might not be so bad after all.
Georgie's mom straightened from the playpen and said, “Whew! That was work, but it will keep the little ones from roaming. What was that yelling I heard?”
“John and I were playing.”
John grabbed his truck and ran behind the playpen. Georgie had to give him credit for not crying. Maybe he wasn't a totally worthless snot.
Georgie's mom gathered up the three youngest kids and settled them inside the playpen.
“Tell me again why we had to bring these brats here,” Georgie said. “And why we had to come at all.”
Mom sat beside her. They had the same thick, brown hair that stuck out in every direction, but that was all Georgie had inherited from her. Georgie had grown taller than Mom a year ago and Mom wasâwell, she wasn't
just sort of round. Dad always said she was soft, in exactly the right way.
“Sugar,” she said, “if we're going to live here, I think it's important to take part in the town's celebration.”
“You sound like we're gonna stay here. No one has officially decided that, Mom.”
“No, but maybe we
officially decide that.” She reached one arm around Georgie to give her a squeeze. Georgie leaned forward to get a banana out of the picnic basket. She didn't want the banana, but she wanted the squeeze even less.
“It's a nice place,” Mom said. “And they don't have a preschool. You know the plan has always beenâ”
Georgie cut in. “That when Dad comes home from Vietnam and is discharged from the Air Force, we will
decide where to live. Then you can start a preschool. I know the plan, Mom.”
“Yes, that was the plan.” Georgie's mom lifted her heavy hair from her neck. She softly said, “And your dad liked this place when we moved here, soâ”
“Okay, okay, I get your point.”
One of the babies began crying, and Mom reached into the playpen to pick her up.
“So we're here for the town's party,” Georgie said. “But why did we have to bring the brat brigade?”
“Shhh,” Mom said. “Don't call them that. And you already know why. Until I get the preschool up and running, I babysit.”
“But Labor Day is a holiday. A
” Georgie repeated for emphasis. “You have them all week. This is your day off.”
“And their parents are paying me double because it's a holiday.”
Georgie shook her head, then looked around at all the families on blankets with their grills set up and radios blaring. According to the newspaper, years ago there were two small towns side by side, Glendale and North Ridge. Over time they kept growing until you couldn't tell one from the other. Now North Ridge was officially merged into Glendale. They had become one town, and this was the big celebration, a huge picnic and a ceremony with the mayor and all the town bigwigs, followed by fireworks later.
Georgie couldn't care less. The only thing that affected her was the new middle school, which combined the two old ones. She would be a seventh-grader there, starting tomorrow.
Georgie's family had moved to Glendale, Indiana, at the end of May, and it had seemed like the perfect place. With Dad's family from Georgia and Mom's from Wisconsin, it felt right to be in the middle. Dad liked that Glendale wasn't too far from Grissom Air Force Base, and Mom liked that it was far enough away that she wasn't
base. Plus, with the schools consolidating, all the students would have to get to know those from the other school. Georgie wouldn't be the only “new” kid this time.