Don't Wear Polka-Dot Underwear with White Pants: (And Other Lessons I've Learned) (4 page)

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“How do you know it's me who made him cry?”

Mom gives me her “I know everything you do” look and stares at me down the point of her nose.

“Okay, fine,” I say. “Will squeezing caterpillars really kill them?”

“Yes,” Mom answers. “Plus, you could get a disease.”

“I won't squeeze them again,” I promise. But only because I don't want them to die, not because of the disease part.

“Sorry, Timmy,” I call as I run through the back door. I trot up the stairs to my bedroom, open the pillow-gate to my Magic Mountain Wonderland, and place my bag of gummy bears on my lap. I take out a red one and pinch it between my thumb and finger, then I stick it in my mouth.

And don't tell Mom, but I do not even wash my hands first.

CHAPTER 4
George and Me

THE NEXT DAY MRS. SPANGLE
makes Natalie and me be reading partners, which is almost as horrible as being reading partners with Dennis. Natalie is very serious, and I am very not serious. She never calls out or has her initials on the board or gets a warning from Mrs. Spangle.

Plus, Natalie thinks that she is a better reader than me, and that is just a lie.

I slump down in the Reading Corner next to Natalie. “I'll read first,” I say.

“No, you went first last time,” Natalie says. “It's my turn.” Natalie is very into turns, and I am very into going first. She opens the book to the place where we had left off. It is a story about President Lincoln, but I learned everything there is to know about Abraham Lincoln way back in kindergarten, so this story is not interesting to me.

“ 'President Lincoln delivered the famous Gettysburg—' ”

“How about if we read something different?” I interrupt Natalie's reading.

“We're supposed to read this,” Natalie argues.

“But Mrs. Spangle will never know if we just—” I look behind me at the books stacked up in the Reading Corner, which all look much more interesting than this silly Lincoln book (plus, I bet they have many more pictures)—“read this one.” I pick a book off the shelf, and I don't even care which one it is just as long as it is not about some silly speech.

“No,” Natalie says. “We have to read this.” And this is why Natalie and I are not friends.

I slump back down next to her and rest my elbows on my knees and my chin in my hands. Natalie's glasses are framed in black, which seems like a waste. If I were lucky enough to wear glasses, I would make sure the frames were a stand-out-and-shout color like periwinkle, or at least red.

“Can I try on your glasses?” I interrupt Natalie's reading again.

“No,” she answers.

“Just for one single second?” I ask. “Please?” I am super polite, just like Mrs. Spangle's rule, because even black glasses are better to try on than no glasses at all.

“No,” Natalie says again. I sigh so that she knows I am not pleased, but Natalie just keeps reading this Abraham Lincoln book. Natalie reads
with no expression and I read with a lot of expression, but Natalie won't let me read one word before it is my turn.

“There is an exclamation point there,” I interrupt her again. “At the end of that sentence. You did not read it.”

“You don't read punctuation, Mandy,” Natalie says, like I am some kind of dope or something.

“I
know
.” I say “know” real loud because Natalie is making me angry. “But you have to exclaim when you say it. Like this.” I try to pull the book out of Natalie's hands to demonstrate.

“It's not your turn!” Natalie holds on tight to the sides of the book and lets out a big exclamation point.

“See how you did that?” I say. “You made an exclamation! Like, 'Wahoo!' ” I am a very helpful reading partner, I think.

“I'm telling.” Natalie stands up in a huff and a puff and marches off toward Mrs. Spangle's desk.

Natalie is a big tattletale.

Mrs. Spangle tells Natalie and me to stop reading together, which is the best news I've heard all day. She does not tell me that I will be George Washington in the assembly, though, which would have been even better news.

When we are packing to go home, Mrs. Spangle
has the Paper Passers hand out sheets to take to our parents. “Make sure your moms and dads see this as soon as you get home,” she says. “It's their invitation to our Presidential Pageant.” And this is my big chance.

I shoot my hand in the air, following the “No calling out” rule and everything.

“Yes, Mandy?” Mrs. Spangle calls on me.

“Do I get to be George Washington?” I ask.

“I haven't assigned parts yet,” Mrs. Spangle says. “Later this week.”

“Don't make Polka Dot George Washington,” Dennis says when Mrs. Spangle isn't paying attention.

“Stop it, Dennis,” Anya says, because she is my friend and Dennis is not.

“Yeah, stop it, Freckle Face,” I echo. “You don't know anything.” And Dennis pets his Mohawk and sticks his tongue out at me.

When I get home, I put the invitation for the Presidential Pageant in front of Mom's nose right away so she cannot miss it. I know if I wait too long, Timmy or the twins will start crying and she will forget. So I hold the paper way high up so it touches the tip of her nose and is right in front of her eyes.

“Are you trying to give me a paper cut?” Mom takes the sheet from my hand and pulls it away from her face.

“You need to put this on your calendar right now,” I say. “Mrs. Spangle says so.”

“A Presidential Pageant,” Mom reads. “That sounds exciting. I'll mark down the day.”

“And no twins allowed,” I say. “And no Timmy, either.”

“Timmy will be in preschool,” Mom says. “And I'll have Grandmom babysit the twins. Don't you worry about a thing.”

“Good.” I nod with satisfaction.

“Who are you playing in the assembly?”

“George Washington,” I answer, even though I am not sure that this is true. Because if I am not George Washington, I am not going to show up at all.

One of the twins starts crying then, of course, because they do not know how to do anything else. Mom groans, and I wonder if she thinks the twins are annoying too. “Be right back,” she tells me. “Then I want to hear all about your part.”

Mom leaves the kitchen and heads for the twins' bedroom, and I am alone again. Which is better than being with Timmy or the twins, I guess.

I walk around the kitchen saying, “I cannot tell a lie” over and over with all kinds of expression to see what sounds best. I decide I might as well practice my George Washington part now, so
that I am ready when Mrs. Spangle finally tells me that I am playing him in the assembly. I try to roll the sides of my hair into curls like he did, but it does not look right because my hair is straight and brown and not white like George's. Even if I do not like white on pants, I like it on hair because it reminds me of Grandmom and Rainbow Sparkle.

I cannot pretend to be George Washington with no white hair, so I open the sugar container on the counter and tap some sugar on top of my head. I study my reflection in the oven door, and I look a little better, so I run back and tap on another handful. And then I decide that I should stop before—

“What do you think you're doing?!”

—Mom finds me.

“Being George Washington,” I answer, which I am pretty sure Mom should know by looking at me. “I cannot tell a—”

“Amanda,” Mom says. “I am going to count to three.”

I know then that I am about to get sent to my room. At least I still have half a bag of gummy bears and my Magic Mountain Wonderland there waiting for me.

CHAPTER 5
Gymnastics Champion, Only Not

IT IS VERY, VERY HARD
to get sugar out of hair, I've learned. Because sugar is sticky and it gets slimy when Mom pours water over my head, and this sticky gook only makes Mom redder in the face.

It is Mom's fault, though, about the sugar, because she went to the twins' bedroom when I was talking about my George Washington part and she did not listen to me much, so I do not even feel too bad about the whole thing.

I am not allowed to watch Rainbow Sparkle's
show on TV for a whole week now, which is a much worse punishment than sitting in my room with gummy bears, so I am pretty unhappy. Plus, my hair is kind of sticky.

“Touch my hair,” I say to Anya the next morning at school, because I want to see if my hair still feels like a sucked-on lollipop.

“Why?”

“Because it is sticky,” I say.

“Ew, I don't want to feel it, then,” Anya answers. “It looks shiny, though.”

“Really?” I had not looked at my hair much since my bath except to make sure it was not white anymore (because I did not want Dennis to come up with another name-call for me when I only have one for him).

“Mm-hmm,” Anya answers, so I decide it is okay that my hair is sticky as long as it is shiny, too. Because everybody knows that shiny, sparkly
hair is the best kind, even if it does feel like old candy.

Natalie sits next to me in the cafeteria and tells me not to unwrap my sandwich so loudly, and this is ridiculous because there is no way to unwrap a sandwich quietly. At least Mom made my sandwich with grape jelly today, which tastes so much better than that seedy strawberry stuff.

I take a bite of my sandwich, and a big glob of jelly shoots out of the bread and lands with a splat on the cafeteria table. I mop it up with one finger and stick it in my mouth because I do not want to waste one bit of no-seeds jelly.

“Ew,” Natalie calls. “You can't eat off the table. It has germs.”

“It was not on the table long enough to get any germs,” I tell her. “And also, it is none of your beeswax.”

“You are probably going to get a disease,”
Natalie says, and I am positive that Natalie would not touch a caterpillar, which is why Natalie and I will never be friends. “Here, you can use my napkin to wipe up the rest.”

“I don't need your silly napkin,” I say. “I have a perfectly good finger.” I slide my finger against the table and pop the rest of the jelly into my mouth.

“Yuck,” Natalie says. “That is disgusting.” And I do not even answer her because Natalie doesn't understand why you should never waste grape jelly.

The lunch aides are standing by the slide when we get to the playground, which does not seem like a very nice thing to do.

“No more Squash the Lemon,” they say. “Someone is going to get hurt.”

“What are we going to do now?” I ask Anya.

“Let's go see what the other girls are doing,”
Anya suggests, and we walk over to the grassy part of the playground, where I try never to play. Usually the girls who play here do only “Miss Mary Mack” and “Down by the Banks” and other hand-clapping games, and they are no fun at all, especially because I can never remember where to put my hands.

Of course, Natalie plays here almost every day.

“What are you guys doing?” Anya asks.

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