After the teacher handed the graded tests out, I was afraid of turning the stapled pages over to see the inevitable. Even though she didn’t speak, I heard her sneer, “Daisy, I am disappointed in you.”
I stared at the blankness of the back page visualizing an F on the front. Struggling in algebra was nothing new for me, but I have to get a B to pass the class or I will be in this lovely school again during the hot summer months. I barely maintained a passing grade since Christmas. If I don’t get a B or higher, there goes my summer. Taking a deep breath, I slowly turned the pages over. My eyes first focused on the all the red lines and checkmarks then they focused flatly on the large red D at the top of the page. My summer is now officially ruined.
The kid in front of me Mica Malone, the school jock, the mysterious semi-newcomer who moved here as a freshman three years ago, the teacher’s favorite, slid his graded test paper in his book bag but not before I saw the ‘A+ Good Job, Mica!’ written in red on the top. Great. Just. Flipping. Great. Can a teenage girl die from embarrassment? He glanced down at the paper clinched in my hand and I quickly jerked it up stuffing it in my backpack while gritting my teeth.
Mom will ask me if I got the test back today, no doubt. She will wait till dinner when we are all around the table and I will have to say I got a D and have to take Summer School in front of everyone. When my brother gets home from college and hears what happened, he will bellyache about driving me to and from class and my bad math skills have ruined his life, well, his summer anyway. My dad will be disappointed and I will have to listen to him talk and talk about the importance of math and taking school seriously. Like I don’t already know that! They probably picture me living in a van down by the river for my future. Why can’t an asteroid hit the earth, or an episode of the Walking Dead become real life and civilization end? Am I being dramatic? Yeah, so what!
I was lost in my dreadful thoughts when I saw Mica looking at me with pity.
“What!” I sharply cracked in a whisper.
He shook his head back and forth whispering, “Daisy, it isn’t that bad. I mean it isn’t the end of the world.”
I flinched; it was as if he could read my thoughts, “What do you know?” I snapped back. Mica has ignored me all year and now he wants to take interest in my bad grade? I was shocked he even knew my name. What is it with him and his fading accent that seemed to come and go? Is he doing it on purpose or is it a speech impediment? He rarely talks unless it is to answer the teacher’s questions.
Mica tried reassuring me again for reasons I could only guess at, “I know if I talk to Ms. James I may be able to get you another test. And I know I can help you pass the next one.”
Staring into his dark eyes, I asked, “We have nine days left of school, why would you do that for me?”
“Daisy, your older brother Joe was the only upperclassman that ever talked to me when I moved here, it meant a lot. Now I have a chance to help his little sister. He was the reason I tried out for football. I didn’t know you were his sister till I heard the guys talking about it earlier and this goes against my ‘keep my nose to myself’ but,” he said grinning looking at my hair, “I like redheads.” He flipped my notebook over and scribbled his phone number on the back page.
My eyes rolled so far back in my head I am sure I saw the math formulas I needed to use on my test hiding behind my hippocampus! “Let me get this straight. So the mighty warrior Junior football star is offering to help out the lowly math-deficient sophomore? I was smart enough to be placed in this class to begin with I will have you know. Thanks, but no thanks,” I knew the words coming out of my mouth sounded meaner than I intended but it was too late to take them back now.
His eyebrows puckered together, and he huffed, “Fine, have fun in summer school.” He turned his back to me to face the front of the class again.
Sitting there contemplating the implications of summer school and hearing my older brother complain every morning about driving me to and from class made me want to vomit. Of course, the words that were about to come out of my mouth were going to make me vomit as well. I took a deep breath and pushed the words out. “I’m sorry, Mica. You were trying to help. I…” gritting teeth, “would like you to talk to Ms. James and see if I can take the test again. Maybe even you can help me with the formulas.”
Slowly he turned around surveying my sincerity, then he grinned wide which made me want to slap his memorized algebra formulas out of him. “I would be happy to, you fiery redhead. I will talk to her and will let you know after school by the Bear Claw statue out front. Wait for me. I guess I should have told you Ms. James likes my dad. So, I know for a fact she will let you take the test over again.”
Pressing my lips together tightly I squeezed out the words, “Great. Nothing could go wrong here. Does your dad at least like her back?”
He shrugged his shoulders and explained, “My dad is oblivious to her tactics, he misses my mom so he doesn’t think anything about the fact she calls and emails about every little accomplishment I have. But if I can see what she is doing to get his attention then she isn’t being shy about her crush on him.”
“I am sorry. Are your parents divorced?” I asked stupidly and wished I hadn’t after he answered!
His mouth twisted as if he were contemplating on whether or not to share with me and then began, “No, she passed away almost four years ago. She got sick and she left us quickly. That is why we moved here. My dad wanted me to have some normalcy,” He said with finger air quotes. “Four wheeling, fishing, horseback riding through creeks and bar-b-ques. He grew up here and wanted me to have a piece of what he grew up with.”
I watched him as he spoke and truthfully, this was the most he had spoken the entire time he sat in front of me. I asked, “Did you not have normalcy? If anyone can really ever have that.”
“Not like this. You know what I did this past weekend? I camped in a tent and loved it.” He whispered as he laughed. Even though he was sharing information with me, he was still very guarded the other kids around us didn’t hear him.
I found myself hanging on his every word. I hooked my feet around my chair legs and leaned in. “You loved it? So what you are saying is you were not normal to begin with… and you think camping outside… in a tent… on the ground… is normal now?” I teased him.
He chuckled, “Sounds crazy doesn’t it?”
“Not for this town. You aren’t crazy, you are a normal resident of the town of Fur Springs. Are you sure you weren’t born here?” I joked. Talking with Mica seemed more normal than I thought it would be. He wasn’t some handsome jock ignoring me all year because he thought he was better than me. I think he is private until you get to know him a little. Hiding behind a quiet façade and behind the pain of losing his mother. I’m the one that’s been the jerk.
We noticed a handful of kids around us eavesdropping on our conversation. Tommy, Brick, and Emma. Mica immediately shrunk back in his seat and slightly turned his head towards me and repeated, “Outside after school by the Bear Statue?”
“Yes, sir. Outside after school.” I said as I side-glared at Emma and the other boys.
Mica Malone always wears the same black watch every day and if it wasn’t such a prominent piece on an average dressed kid, it may not stick out so acutely. It looked more like a security device but then again, maybe I’ve watched too many spy movies with my older brother. I mean I don’t think he literally speaks into the watch like a phone but it looks like he could. It had a square large face and a black metal band. I have wondered about that watch for a long time. I looked at the kids who were listening to us moments before and they were lost in their own conversation again. I leaned forward a bit so only Mica could hear me, “That is an unusual watch. Is it a watch?” I asked, suspiciously.
His face froze looking genuinely tongue tied by my question, he finally answered, “Yes… it… tells time.” He clearly did not want to discuss his arm decor.
Yes, it tells time? What kind of answer is that? It tells time! Duh, what else does it do? I mocked to myself.
His forehead creased with worry as he turned his seat facing forward ending our conversation. Maybe his mother gave it to him? Who knows…
Sitting on the gym floor during PE wearing a ridiculous uniform an epiphany hit me like a brick upside the head. I really do hate school. I am over school and I wish I was graduating with the seniors this year and starting my life away from this town. I am not even sure what I want to go to college for, everyone around me seems to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives, but I don’t. I just know I want to get a degree and be finished with school. Of course, if I can’t pass an algebra class that ain’t going to happen.
I need to start applying for summer jobs and saving money. No one has asked me to babysit yet for the summer and I usually have gigs lined up by now. Of course, the kids I babysat are older now and can probably watch themselves. That is the problem when you babysit, when the kids get older, your job is done.
It didn’t take me long before I could see out of the corner of my eye Jake Baker watching me. What is it about these Jocks taking an interest in me today? I did change shampoo. Maybe the shampoo’s honeydew smell is putting off an attraction aroma. Probably not. I turned slowly and met his gaze, raising my eyebrows then looking away. I pulled a section of my hair up to my nose and gave it a whiff. Nope, nothing. Everything smells like gym socks in here.
“Daisy, do you want to be on our team?” Jake asked with a throaty confidence.
I shook my head no.
He lifted his chin, smiling ear-to-ear and shaking his head yes back at me, playfully and trying again, “Daisy Day, we pick you for our team.”
It is better than being picked last again, I guess. “Sure,” I answered hesitantly. A few seconds later, I found myself surrounded by six large guys protecting me from getting hit with a dodge ball. I am not sure what was going on but if this keeps up, I may make an A in gym for the first time in my life.
We won that game and the next game, and the game after and I must say, it felt great to win a game when I was usually the first one out. Being a large athlete does have its benefits, and if you aren’t a big guy, make friends with large athletes. Not sure, how I did that today but if I knew, I would share the information.
After gym class, Jake Baker was waiting at the girl’s locker room door. It almost looked as if he was waiting on me? What is going on! I have Mica Malone waiting for me outside by the Bear Statue and this dude waiting for me now outside gym class. I tried moving by him quickly but he stayed in pace with me as I walked.
“Daisy, would you like to go to the Dairy Cone with me? We are all going to hang out now.”
“We?” I asked trying to figure out who ‘we’ were.
“Me and the guys. A few cheerleaders. Our group.”
“Your group,” I chided.
“Classmates.” He corrected. “Our group of classmates.”
I narrowed my eyes at him trying to read the expression on his face. I have known Jake Baker since I could remember, he has annoyed me for years and the interest he is showing in me today was peculiar. I was tired of being kept out of this big secret everyone else seemed to be aware of but me! Jake Baker doesn’t just talk to a girl that isn’t a cheerleader. I flung around and stepped toe to toe with him, albeit I was well over a foot shorter but I wasn’t scared, “What are you guys trying to do? Why all of a sudden is there interest in Daisy Day?”
“I just… I just thought… you don’t have to go if you don’t want to.” He said as he tried to turn away.
“Jake Baker, that is not it! You guys have not acknowledged me all year and now at the end of the school year you seem to be interested in what I am doing and trying to include me? What gives Baker?”
He shrugged his shoulders and muttered sourly, “Nothing.”
I stepped closer to him and raised an eyebrow.
You could see him visibly contemplate the thoughts he was sifting through in his mind before he answered, “Well, there is talk about your brother getting drafted to the Pros, we saw it on ESPN and we know he is going to be home soon, we wanted to talk to him. I mean how cool would it be a Kennedy Bear Claw football member could play for the NFL! That is awesome, Daisy! And we were hoping he would be at football camp this summer showing us what he has learned.”
I could not speak. Not. One. Word. They didn’t like me at all. I mean I knew they didn’t but a small part of me was a little hopeful. As my jumbled thoughts were flying around, I looked out the gym doors and saw Mica through the large bay windows, past the stupid Jake Baker standing in front of me. I stomped down on Jake’s foot as hard as I could without thinking about the consequences.
“Ouch!” Jake screamed.
“Suck it up!” I hollered back as I rushed past Jake to Mica to give him a piece of my mind as well.
I smacked the exit door with the palms of my hands so hard it felt like I broke my wrists but I didn’t flinch. The noise it made got the attention of the other kids standing around so I knew I now had an audience.
My eyes narrowed on Mica Malone, “So you and your stupid pigskin throwing friends thought you could worm your way in to my life and my brother’s life? You think he is going to be some kind of football star? Well, let me set the record straight, he is coming home from college and I am going to tell him what kind of creeps you all are so I would hide when you see him because he could twist you like a pretzel.” As I turned to walk away, my mouth mumbled the word, “Jerks,” loud enough for everyone to hear.
Two more weeks of this school year I told myself as I walked away. Only two more weeks… and summer school. I let out an audible scream, “AUGHHHH!”
I had made it through the entire dinner without my mother asking about my test but she had been distracted with the news my brother would be home tonight and not this weekend like first planned. My day just keeps getting better and better… sigh.
Their favorite child will return home to a mom and dad who thought the moon and sun hung in his butt. Joseph Day, the boy who left this small town to pursue bigger dreams and hit the big time. The jock who had the looks, smarts, talent and charisma to mesmerize the masses. I love him but he really is a pain in my rear sometimes.
Dad looked at me and said, “When Joe gets here I have a surprise for you both. You are going to be happy.”
I doubt that but we will see.
Mom sung out from the kitchen, “Mathew, don’t get her hopes up. We need to see if she will be stuck in summer school.” So she hadn’t forgot.
No, mom, definitely don’t get your hopes up.
Joe’s car lights lit up the dining room wall and I knew their prince had arrived. I didn’t move from the table. I sat there pushing peas through my potatoes waiting for Joe to grace us with his presence. Mom and dad ran out to greet him. I used to look up to him but with a brother so perfect, it makes it hard to follow in such a big shadow. That is exactly what it is too, a shadow. He got the strawberry blonde hair that feathers perfectly and I got the straight fire engine red hair. He got the perfect smile and I had braces for 3 years. He tested out of algebra and I am looking at summer school. Jerk. I should be happy for him but after today, I’m finding it difficult to be happy period.
He sure was taking a long time to get in the house. My curiosity got the best of me and I stood up and peeked out the window. He and dad were embraced in a hug on the sidewalk. It almost looked like Joe was sobbing. That doesn’t even register, that boy hasn’t cried since he popped out of mom’s baby hole. I watched the scene unfold and then mom embraced him as well. Then I saw them… The wooden crutches next to him. He was injured. The football star, his lively hood, his future was possibly taken from him because of an injury. Am I jumping to the worst conclusions? His gaze met mine and he quickly wiped away his tears and adjusted himself on the crutches. I couldn’t look away. What did this injury mean? Would he recover? Do I even ask? Will he talk about it in front of me? Why would he talk about it in front of me, I have been the real jerk. Me and me alone. Well, me and those jerks at school.
I sat back down and waited for him to come in the house. Once he was within arm’s reach, he ruffled my hair as he moved his crippled leg and crutches by me.
“Are you okay, Joe?”
“Me, I am great. This is minor and I will mend quickly. I just need rest and have a few months with no weight on it.”
“A few months? What is wrong?”
“Don’t worry about it, it will be fine. How has school been treating you?”
He clearly was trying to change the subject. “School is a jerk.” I explained. “Guys are jerks, teachers are jerks and so on.”
“I see. So, same as last year and all the years before?”
The silence after our small exchange was uncomfortable. Joe had his leg propped up and it was a reminder of what we weren’t talking about, and the fact he didn’t want to talk about it made it weirder. When I was in third grade and broke my elbow on the jungle gym, I told everyone how it happened. EVERYONE. All I had to hear was an “Awe, poor little girl,” when they saw my cast and I began relaying the whole story before they could blink. Not Joe though, he wants to keep what happened a secret which makes it seem like he was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing and doesn’t want to get caught.
He finally turned his attention to dad, “What did you want to talk about? You said you had some good news when you text earlier, and I could use some good news.”
Mom swept in quickly and gave Joe a bag of ice for his knee. He gently laid the bag over his knee and she moved back to the kitchen. Next, she brought Joe a plate of food and picked up other dishes on the table then returned to the kitchen.
Dad smiled intriguingly at us both, whatever he was excited to tell us, mom must have not thought it was as great as he did.
“Well kiddos, you know I have taken over managing the Planter Office Tower in downtown Seattle and they have a front desk. I have secured you two responsible children of mine a job. If you want it, that is? It pays around fifteen dollars an hour, which is not bad for a summer job in a nice building. Daisy, you have two days a week part-time and Joe you have three days a week and it will be the easiest job you will ever have. All you do is sign for packages and point people towards the elevator and tell them which floor to go to. What do you say?”
“Fifteen dollars an hour! My first job! Sign me up, daddy!” I said excitedly as I jumped from my seat and hugged him.
“You are welcome, sweetheart. So Daisy says yes! What about you Joseph?”
Mom from the kitchen chimed in and reminded us, “We have to wait to see if Daisy gets summer school before she commits to any job, Mathew! And let’s not forget her Driver’s License test this summer.”
“Don’t make a face at your mother, Daisy. She is right. Can you find out tomorrow if you passed the Algebra class?”
Joe’s mind was quick and he jumped to the conclusion before I could leave the room, “Dad, if she has to be in summer school who will be driving her to and from? And if it is me, then I won’t be able to work. Her poor study skills are going to cheat me out of a good summer job. One where I could rest my knee and not have a lot of movement. Who is going to pay me to be her chauffeur and babysitter?”
I glared at him. Even though he was a hundred percent right. Ugh! I am going to have to call Mica, apologize, and pimp out my brother’s friendship to pass algebra. All men are jerks. I want to move to an island and sit on the beach all day, oh wait that is out of the question because I burn in the sun and would have no money to get there!
Joe then blurted out, “I don’t know what we are all freaking out about, if it is one thing I have learned with living with Daisy Violet Day is she can fall in a pile of garbage and come out smelling like a rose every time, without fail! She will somehow pass this test.”
“That is not true, Joe! I do not fall in garbage… all of the time…” I said in a hush.
“You may fail and screw things up a lot but it always somehow works out for you. I don’t know how you do it but you do it. In fact mom and dad should have named you Rose.” He argued while I rolled my eyes.
“Rose?” I asked regretting I had to ask him something I knew would be a put-down.
“You fall in garbage and come out smelling like a rose, Rose!”
I rolled my eyes.
Joe pushed his plate aside and became serious, “I will help you with studying if you want? I have stakes in you passing as well.”
“Uh, no. I have it handled.” My brother helping me pass algebra would have been worse than just apologizing to Mica and asking him to help me study.