Authors: Lisa Yee
Bobby Ellis-Chan flung himself to the ground just in time. One second later and he could have been hit or even killed. Or at the very least, he might have lost an eye. There was no telling how fast that football was going.
“Son, are you okay?” a deep voice boomed.
As he rolled over and squinted up, Bobby could make out a giant silhouette looming over him. His dad was so big that he blocked the sun.
“Sorry about that,” Annie said, rushing over and yanking her brother up off the ground. “But you walked right in front of us. That was dumb. Hey, are you okay? You look funny.”
“I'm fine,” Bobby insisted. His leg was sore and he had scraped his elbow, but he didn't dare let Annie know he was hurt or else she might call him a wimp. His big sister was brave and never complained when she was injured â like the time she broke her finger but refused to go to the doctor for two days.
Annie put her helmet back on and tightened the strap. “Dad and I were just throwing spirals. You want to join us?” When Bobby hesitated, she teased him, “Come on, it won't kill you. Football is fun!”
Bobby pretended to think it over before saying, “No thanks. Maybe some other time,” which meant “never.” He picked up his skateboard and hobbled toward his mom and Casey.
“Look!” Casey cried, holding up something wiggly and slimy. “A baby snake! Bobby, say hello to Snakey Snake Snake!”
“That's a worm,” he pointed out. The worm looked distressed. “You'd better put it back.”
Casey pouted. “But I want to invite Wormy Worm Worm to a tea party. Princess Becky says to be nice to nature.” Bobby's little sister adored the TV show
Princess Becky's Planet
so much that she wore her Princess Becky costume and crown every day.
Mrs. Ellis-Chan set aside her basket of yellow and red zinnias. “Bobby, it looks like you're hurt,” she said. “Let's get you cleaned up.”
As his mother bandaged him up inside the house, Bobby could hear his father's booming voice outside.
“You've got a great arm, Annie!”
“That last pass was perfect!”
“You sure know how to make your father proud!”
“I'm sorry,” his mother said. “Did I put the bandage on too tight?”
He shook his head. “It's nothing,” he said. “I'm fine.”
Bobby trudged up to his room and stayed there for the rest of the morning. He had important things to do, like drawing pictures of friendly aliens and their pets, cleaning his fish tank, and peeling off the sparkly stickers Casey had stuck all over his skateboard helmet. Finally, he decided to head to Holly's house and see what she was up to. Maybe he could talk her into going rock hunting. Or better yet, if he timed it right, maybe Holly would invite him to stay for lunch. Bobby was feeling a tad hungry, and Mrs. Harper, Holly's mother, made wonderful homemade bread and soup. She was the best cook. Everyone knew that.
Bobby's mom was back in the garden studying her flower bed. “It needs something,” Mrs. Ellis-Chan mused. “But what? Maybe a small fountain or statue?”
Casey looked up with interest. “How about a castle?” she asked. “Or a moat. We should have a moat, then we could get an alligator and a whale, and Wormy Worm Worm could go swimming!”
“Be gentle with that worm,” Bobby said. He didn't know much about worms, but he did know a lot about his little sister and how excited she could get.
gentle, Bobby,” Casey insisted. “Look! Wormy Worm Worm is hugging me!” Sure enough, the worm had curled around Casey's finger.
Bobby stepped onto his skateboard and pushed off. He breezed down the driveway and did an impressive ollie along the way, getting high in the air. The thought of a big bowl of Mrs. Harper's soup was making his stomach growl.
Mr. Ellis-Chan and Annie were laughing and talking as they did push-ups on the lawn. “That Bobby,” he overheard his father say when he skateboarded past, “he's not like me.”
“That's for sure,” Annie answered.
Suddenly, Bobby wasn't hungry anymore.
n Monday morning, Holly was waiting on her front porch. She leapt up when she saw Bobby. They high-fived with their right hands, high-fived with their left hands, stuck their thumbs in their ears, wiggled their fingers, and shouted, “Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!”
When they finished their supersecret greeting, Bobby noticed that Holly had combed her hair again. It was a useless habit she had picked up over the summer, and that was over a month ago. If that weren't bad enough, today Holly was wearing a pink dress. Bobby tried not to shudder. Not only did dresses make Holly look like a girl, but pink was his least favorite color. Bobby's most favorite color was cerulean, a darkish shade of blue. He loved saying
Bobby even had a cerulean paint chip from when he went to the hardware store with his dad once â just the two of them. Afterward, they feasted on glazed buttermilk donuts at Benny's Donut Palace. That had been a great day.
“Is that what you're wearing for the class picture?” Holly asked.
“That's today?” Bobby had forgotten all about the class picture â not that he would have dressed any differently. “What's wrong with my clothes?” Bobby sniffed his Troy Eagle skateboard T-shirt. He had about one hundred Troy Eagle shirts. Well, if not a hundred, then at least seven, one for each day of the week. His shirt didn't smell too bad. Bobby's father was in charge of the laundry, which meant that it didn't always get done.
Mrs. Ellis-Chan worked at an office, while Mr. Ellis-Chan stayed home and took care of Casey and the cooking and cleaning. Three years ago, when he was the star linebacker for the Los Angeles Earthquakes, a National Football League team, Mr. Ellis-Chan could count on a football arena filled with cheering fans. These days, the only thing he could count on were laundry baskets filled with clothes to be washed. Still, he claimed to love being a stay-at-home dad, even if it was “a lot harder than playing pro ball.”
“Never mind,” Holly said as they walked toward school. “If you stand in the back when they take the photo, the wrinkles won't even show. So, what about the class musical? I can't wait to find out about it!” When Bobby didn't respond, she asked, “Aren't you the least bit excited?”
“Nope.” Bobby shook his head. He stopped to pick up a small black rock and slipped it into his pocket.
“Well, why not?” Holly asked. “It's going to be so fun.”
Singing, dancing, and embarrassing yourself in public were not Bobby's idea of fun. Fun would be painting the garage with his dad, or skateboarding, or rock collecting.
Holly was still talking about the class musical when they neared the Parting Place. At Rancho Rosetta Elementary School, it was considered weird for fourth-grade boys and girls to be friends. Not too long ago this is where Bobby and Holly would have split up so no one would see them together. But they marched right past the Parting Place. Ever since Bobby and Holly ran against each other for student council representative, they were determined not to let what other people thought bother them. Well, not too much.
As they approached Mr. Kirby, the ancient crossing guard, he slowly rose from his lawn chair and gave them the peace sign. Gently, Bobby and Holly helped him across the street, then they ran to the playground, where Bobby joined the boys and Holly joined the girls.
Mrs. Carlson was writing the date in cursive on the white-board. Bobby admired his teacher's handwriting. It was pretty and precise, like her. Mrs. Carlson looked especially nice for picture day and had a real flower pinned to her sweater. Bobby tugged on the collar of his shirt and noticed that it was crusty where some food had dried.
Lots of the girls were wearing party clothes and had done complicated things to their hair. Bobby noticed that some of the boys didn't look normal either. Jackson's hair was plastered down and combed to the side, making him look like a dork. Chess, Bobby's other best friend besides Holly, was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and a tie. Bobby didn't even own a tie, or a long-sleeved shirt, although he did own a pair of gold antique cuff links that Gramps had given him.
The morning flew by. In social studies, Mrs. Carlson talked about freedom of speech. “We are lucky to be American citizens because we have the right to express ourselves. In some places, people can get sent to prison just for saying something that the government doesn't agree with. It's called
when people are unjustly punished for speaking out, and those who do it are oppressors.”
Without warning, St. James stood on his chair and yelled, “I am the king of everyone!”
“Please step down, St. James,” Mrs. Carlson said. She acted like she couldn't hear the entire class roaring with laughter. When he continued standing on his chair, Mrs. Carlson crossed her arms. “NOW,” she ordered, “or you will be sent to Principal Coun's office!”
“I was just expressing myself,” St. James muttered as he sat down.
Jillian Zarr and the rest of the girls glared at him. They would make good oppressors, Bobby noted.
“Now for something really fun,” Mrs. Carlson announced. “As you know, every year my class puts on a musical. This year's show is
Bobby raised his hand. “Annie is my big sister's name,” he said proudly.
“It's a lovely name,” Mrs. Carlson told him. When she smiled, Bobby felt good â important, even.
Mrs. Carlson went on to tell her students that
was about a spunky girl who lives with the evil Miss Hannigan in an orphanage. During the show, Annie befriends a dog named Sandy, and is later adopted by a rich man named Daddy Warbucks.
“In the Broadway musical, all the orphans are girls. However, in our Rancho Rosetta version, the show will be much shorter, plus our orphans will be boys and girls. Here is the sign-up sheet and a list of parts you can play. Write down your first, second, and third choices,” Mrs. Carlson instructed. “And remember, this show isn't about who's the best singer or dancer, it's about all of us having fun and working together.”
The room suddenly got loud as the sign-up sheet made its way around the class. Several girls wanted to be Little Orphan Annie, and lots of the boys wanted to be Daddy Warbucks. Bobby just sat on his hands and studied the crack in the ceiling. It looked like a spider with five legs. He didn't want to be in the musical at all, unless, of course, he got the only role worth playing. But with his luck, that was sure to go to someone else. Last year, for his third-grade play, Bobby was a tree, and not even one of the trees near the front of the stage. He was a back tree.
“All right then!” Mrs. Carlson said. “I'm going to review the list. If more than one person has signed up for a particular role, I will draw names. After recess I'll post the results. Remember, we'll be taking our class photo later this afternoon. So try not to get your clothes dirty.”
The boys raced to the handball courts, while the girls gathered in clumps on the playground. Bobby lost his first three games, but won the fourth one against Chess when he hit a spectacular low ball. Handball wasn't nearly as dangerous as softball, basketball, or especially football. As far as he knew, no kid had ever been seriously injured playing handball. In football, players were always getting hurt.
Bobby could remember going to his dad's LA Earthquakes games when he was little. Whenever his father was tackled, Bobby would hold his breath until he got up and waved to show he was okay.
Later, as the class piled back into the room, everyone pushed forward to the bulletin board where Mrs. Carlson had posted the
“All right!” St. James yelled, pumping his fist in the air. He was Daddy Warbucks.
Chess and Jackson were orphans, and so was Jillian Zarr. Holly was Miss Hannigan, and Swoozie, a girl who barely spoke, had the title role of Annie. Bobby scanned the list for his name, and when he saw it, he lit up. He got his first choice: Bobby would play Sandy, the dog!