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Authors: Sally Warner

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BOOK: Excellent Emma
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“I didn’t think of that,” Annie Pat says, her navy blue eyes wide.
“And I’m not gonna trot around after Lettice holding her stupid silver cup, either,” I inform Annie Pat. “If
that’s
what my dad has planned.”
Mrs. Masterson pokes her head into Annie Pat’s room. “Are you girls hungry for a snack?” she asks. “Because I have chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen, if anyone’s interested.”
Chocolate chip cookies! And it’s only ten thirty in the morning! See what I mean?
“Want a cookie, Emma?” Annie Pat asks, tugging a sweatshirt over her head.
“No, thanks,” I say reluctantly. “Because I’m in training.”
I skip the part about going out for pizza with my mom tonight.
Mrs. Masterson looks surprised, probably because I have never before turned down a cookie, which is one of my favorite food groups.
“Well,
I
want a cookie,” Annie Pat says, sounding stubborn. “I’m not going to win any prizes next week anyway, so I have nothing to lose.”
“Good! I’ll pour you girls some orange juice, while I’m at it,” her mom tells us. “And then I’m going to nap while the napping is good.”
This must mean that Murphy is already asleep.
“Can Annie Pat and I go to the park this morning?” I ask quickly, before Mrs. Masterson disappears from Annie Pat’s room.
“Hmmph,” Annie Pat mumbles, irked that I have basically jumped a piece—like when you play checkers—and asked her mom this question when she, Annie Pat, should have been the one to do it—if she even wanted to go to the park, which she does not.
“I suppose so,” Mrs. Masterson says, pausing in the doorway. “If you stick together. But be home in time for lunch, okay, sweetie?” she tells Annie Pat.
“Okay,” Annie Pat says, sighing.
“I’ll put your snack on the kitchen counter,” Mrs. Masterson tells her. “And your nice healthy juice, Emma,” she adds, turning to me.
I am already feeling sad about that lost cookie.
But I can’t tell Annie Pat and her mom that I’ve changed my mind, can I?
There is such a thing as pride.
7
So Harsh
“Want to practice?” Kry Rodriguez asks a bunch of us on Tuesday, during afternoon recess. “If you jump downhill, you go farther,” she confides, having just discovered this by making a spectacular leap that somehow ended in a graceful somersault.
But then, Kry is good—without even trying—at everything kids do outdoors, whether it’s sports or playing, so it’s not as if she needs those extra inches when she jumps downhill. Strange as it seems, I think she’s actually trying to help the rest of us.
It is perfect outside today, cool and warm at the same time, and the wind is blowing the tree branches back and forth, and a few puffy white clouds are floating around in the sky. You would think it was an ideal day to jump and run, but
no-o-o-o
. That’s not the way
some
kids see it. They are in a really terrible mood, and it’s all because of Winter Games Day, which is on Friday afternoon.
Each of these gloomy kids sees this event as a bad thing, but for different reasons. Take Cynthia, for example. “No, I
don’t
want to practice,” she says, even though she usually kisses up to Kry a little. “If the PTA is too cheap to buy everyone prizes, why should we even bother?”
“Yeah,” loyal Heather chimes in, because she usually kisses up to
Cynthia
. “They’re just trying to make us feel bad about ourselves, that’s what I think. And that’s not very nice. I think maybe it’s illegal, even.”
“It’s not the PTA’s fault,” EllRay mumbles, still sensitive about his mom being the one who made the announcement. “They can’t help it if they’re poor.”
“It is so their fault,” Stanley says. “They want us to make fools of ourselves in public—for nothing!”
“I wouldn’t make a fool of myself even for
something
,” Fiona McNulty says, shuddering. “But luckily I have an excuse for not trying. My ankles,” she adds, reminding everyone. She waggles her feet as a visual aid. “But I think I should get a prize anyway, just for showing up,” she says, trying out this idea on us.
“Good luck with that,” Cynthia tells her, obviously not meaning it.
Other kids in my class—like me, and Annie Pat, too, I think, deep down inside—are looking forward to Winter Games Day, and it’s for one reason: we think we’re going to win something. Take Jared, for instance. “I’m not going to make a fool of
my
self,” he announces proudly. “I’m going to run faster and jump farther than anyone, and I’ll leave you guys in the dust. You’re gonna be
amazed
.”
“So why aren’t you practicing, if you’re such a champion?” Kry challenges him. Kry is the rare type of person who can say challenging stuff like that in a not-mean way. I don’t know how she does it.
Jared blushes a little. “I want it to be a surprise, how good I am,” he says.
“Yeah,” Kevin McKinley says eagerly, pushing his glasses up. “Jared is going to be awesome, and he’ll win every single prize.”
“Even the
girl
prizes?” Cynthia teases, pretend-hiding her smile.
“Don’t get your hopes up about that,” EllRay says. “Because I don’t think there will be separate boy prizes and girl prizes. But if there are,” he adds, sounding hopeful, “there should be tall prizes and short prizes, too, shouldn’t there?”
“No one’s as short as you,
EllRay
,” Jared says. sounding bored and mean at the same time. “But don’t worry,” he adds. “Maybe they’ll put you in with the first-graders, and then you’ll stand a chance.”
“Shut up,” EllRay mumbles.
I feel bad for him, but I have learned not to try to defend boys. It only makes them mad.
“I think you’re gonna do great,” Corey tells EllRay. “It’ll be fun!”
“I don’t care
what
the PTA says,” Cynthia tells us, as if all the parents and teachers combined are standing right in front of her. “My mom says I’m a winner, and she and my dad are the only ones who get to vote.”
“You
are
a winner,” Heather agrees solemnly.
Next to me, my friend Annie Pat frowns. “Well, my mom says I’m a winner, too,” she says, looking a little scared—as if Cynthia might be about to argue with her, or even challenge her to a duel to see who’s
really
the winner. That would be a sight to see.
“Same here,” Stanley says gloomily. “My mom and dad keep saying how good I am at everything, like that’s gonna make it come true, and I’m just
not.
I mean, I’m good at some stuff, but not everything. Wait till they find out the truth about me—that I’m a loser, not a winner.”
“Yeah, because parents will bring video cameras and everything,” EllRay says. “They’ll have proof of how bad you are, and that proof will last forever. It might even go on the Internet,” he adds.
“You’re good at eating,
Stanley
,” Kevin points out, not in a nice way.
“Shut up.”
“But everyone can’t win,” I say, trying to think it through as I speak. “Not in an official, silver cup way, at least—or else winning wouldn’t mean anything.”
“You got that right, Emma,” Heather says, flipping her little decoration braid back over her shoulder. “Someone’s gotta be bad at stuff, and maybe it’s you. And Annie Pat,” she adds.
“Leave me out of this,” Annie Pat mumbles.
“Corey is a winner,” Kry says, after shooting Heather a warning look. “He’s probably the only one here who’s actually won
anything
. Anything real, anyway, from total strangers. And that’s what counts.”
We all turn to look at swimming champion Corey Robinson, who will probably be in the Olympics someday, a lot of people say. Corey blushes under his freckles and looks like he wishes he could disappear. “But it’s different with swimming,” he says, almost croaking out the words. “With swimming, you either come in first or you don’t.”
“That is so harsh,” Heather says, her voice soft with sympathy.
“‘
So harsh!
’ Oh, I’m gonna hurl,” Jared says, giving Corey—who is now even more embarrassed—a shove.
“Me, too,” Kevin says. “Poor widdle Corey.”
“Quit it,” Corey says, trying to smile as he regains his balance. “
I
never said it was harsh.”
“Let’s run,” Kry urges us again. “Let’s do
something
, anyway.”
“You have ants in your pants,” Heather informs her. She is probably quoting her mom, who acts like this big expert on other people’s kids. For example, there was the time during our school’s open house that she told Mrs. Jakes in front of a bunch of other moms—and even some kids, including me—that she thought EllRay had ADD, and that’s none of her business, if it’s even true. “And it’s cheating if you practice,” Heather adds, making up this rule on the spot.

What
?” Kry says, as if she is about to start laughing.
“It is,” Cynthia says, sounding sorry to have to break the news. “It’s like trying too hard, Kry, and that’s just lame. But that’s okay. You’re still kinda new. You didn’t know.”
Krysten frowns. “I don’t think practicing is—”
“The bell’s about to ring,” Annie Pat interrupts, peering at her watch.
“Think fast,” Jared says all of a sudden, bouncing a red kickball—which is supposed to be kept on the playground—off Fiona’s head. He cackles out a laugh, and Stanley, Kevin, and EllRay laugh, too.
“Ow-w-w-w,” Fiona cries, clutching at her head. “Did it leave a mark?” she asks Heather, and Heather examines Fiona’s head as if she’s gathering evidence for a future lawsuit. The rest of us girls cluck our sympathy.
All but Kry Rodriguez, who has a better idea. She jumps to her feet and grabs the kickball. “
Think fast
,” she repeats to Jared, and she tosses the ball in the air—and then spikes it down harder than the best beach volleyball player you ever saw.
Wow!
The ball bounces off Jared’s rear end with a hollow-sounding
thonk,
and EllRay has to scramble to recover it, Kry hit the ball so hard. “Hey,” Jared yells, furious. He clutches at his rear like a cartoon guy who has just been stung by a wasp.
“Did you
see
that?” Stanley is whispering to Kevin. “That was awesome!”
“Sorry, Jared,” Kry sings out, all innocent and everything. “My mistake. I thought you were ready for it!”
And Jared doesn’t say a
word
.
8
Think Slow
“Why so blue, sweetie?” Mom asks on Thursday night. “The weather forecast said the rain will stop by tomorrow, so Winter Games Day will go off without a hitch.” I am curled up on our saggy green sofa with my head on a flowery pillow on Mom’s lap, and we have both been reading library books. I’m collecting Required Reading Points, because I have to have at least forty by the end of January, but my mom gets to read just for fun.
Well, reading my book is fun, too. But when the grown-ups at Oak Glen turned reading—one of my favorite things—into points-gathering, they ruined it, in my opinion. That’s probably the way Stanley felt when they turned exercise into “a punishment,” as he put it.
BOOK: Excellent Emma
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