Authors: Patricia Reilly Giff
For Jillian Rose O’Meara,
Special thanks to Laura Giff and Jimmy Giff, who told me
stories of the afternoon center
• • •
For Helen and Harry —A.B.
itchell McCabe looked up at the classroom clock.
Were the hands moving?
School would never be over.
This was only the first week in his new school. A million weeks until next summer!
His teacher, Ms. Katz, was giving out permission slips. “We are lucky to have an Afternoon Center at the Zelda A. Zigzag School,” she said. “Take these slips home. Get them signed.”
Afternoon Center? What was that?
“We’ll have swimming and art and ballroom dancing.” Ms. Katz poked at her glasses. “Trampoline, kickball. Lots of things, even homework help.”
In the next seat, a girl was drawing something.
It looked like a pony, Mitchell thought.
It had a fat stomach and four legs.
The girl raised her hand. “How about trips? Maybe like the Bermuda Triangle. Or Hawaii.”
Mitchell leaned forward.
Ms. Katz closed her eyes. “I don’t think so, Yolanda.”
Mitchell put his slip in his desk. No good. He wasn’t going to the Center. It would be filled with kids he’d never seen before. Even sixth graders.
At last, the bell rang.
Mitchell sped down the hall.
He slid down the banister—
And landed on the floor.
“Careful,” the principal called after him.
Mitchell leaped out the door. Free.
He looked back. The Zelda A. Zigzag School was long and low. The bricks were as yellow as a stick of butter.
It wasn’t one bit like his old school. That one was tall, like a cereal box. It was red.
Too bad they’d had to move. Too bad his father had a new job.
A window opened on the second floor.
Ms. Katz leaned out.
One room down, another window opened. Was that his sister Angel’s room?
Yes. Her head, her skinny neck, and even her shoulders hung out.
Mitchell hoped she wouldn’t fall. She’d land on her mouse-tail hair. He opened his mouth. “Be care—”
Behind him, the doors banged open. Kindergarten kids came out. And some huge sixth graders.
“Hey, loser,” a sixth grader called.
Upstairs, Ms. Katz snapped her fingers. “That’s enough, Peter Petway.”
Mitchell took a quick look at Peter Petway. He
was gigantic! Did Peter think he was a loser?
Mitchell dived behind a green bush. He landed on someone.
“Oof!” It was that boy from the class across the hall. The one with the hair that stuck up in front.
Two voices were calling, “Mitchell.”
One was Ms. Katz’s.
The other was Angel’s.
“You forgot your permission slip, Mitchell,” Ms. Katz said.
“He does stuff like that,” Angel said. “He loses things. He forgets things. And he’s supposed to walk home with me.”
Mitchell shook his head. He’d forgotten that.
“I’ll come get his slip,” Angel told Ms. Katz.
Mitchell leaned against the bush. It was full of thorns. Ouch!
He swallowed. He wouldn’t cry. Not even if a tarantula landed on his head.
Next to him, the boy was almost breathing on him. The boy’s arm was a mess of poison ivy.
Mitchell took tiny breaths. He tried not to breathe in the poison.
Above them, both windows closed again.
Mitchell took a deep breath. Oops. Poison ivy must be twirling down his throat.
The kid scratched his arm. “I’m Habib. What are you doing here?”
Mitchell raised one shoulder. “I’m Mitchell. I like to sit behind bushes. But not poison ones. How about you?”
“I’m making mud balls. They’re great to juggle.”
Mitchell crawled around with Habib. They made a ton of mud balls.
Then Angel came out. She was with another girl.
It was someone from his class.
He tried to think.
The Bermuda Triangle girl. Yolanda. She lived on their street.
He hoped she and Angel wouldn’t be friends.
She might tell Angel everything that went on in his classroom.
His mother would find out if he did one thing wrong!
He waited for them to go down the street. “See you,” he told Habib.
He followed Angel and Yolanda home, sneaking from bush to bush.…
He made sure they didn’t see him.
He felt a worm of worry in his chest.
More than a worm. A snake of worry.
Was Peter Petway right?
Was he turning out to be a loser?