Authors: Patricia Reilly Giff
It wasn’t his mother. It was Angel.
First his mom had signed the slip. Then Angel must have filled in a bunch of stuff.
“Ballroom dancing.” Ms. Katz poked at her glasses. “Nature. Swimming. Opera? Can you sing?”
Wait till he saw Angel.
“I’ll put a check next to Homework Help,” Ms. Katz said. “You could use it. And you, too, Habib.”
They rushed to the lunchroom.
A girl from his class was helping out.
Mitchell remembered. Her name was Destiny Washington. On Friday she’d had a braid down her back.
Today she had a white stripe in her bangs. She looked like a friendly skunk.
“My mother is a hairdresser,” she had told him.
Destiny gave Habib four poppers. She gave Mitchell only three. “I’m running out,” she said. “Sorry.”
“Don’t worry,” Mitchell said.
“Hold your nose while you eat,” Habib told him. “You won’t smell the plastic.”
Mitchell held his nose with two fingers. He took a bite. “It works!” he told Habib.
He sat there and chewed. Maybe the prize was a gold medal. Or silver.
Maybe it was a trip to Japan … right around the icebergs.
He might take Angel with him. “You’re the best,” she’d say.
But how could you win if you weren’t good at anything?
How could you win if you were a loser?
Even Angel kept calling him Number Eighty-seven.
He shoved another popper in his mouth.
He had to think of something.
itchell stopped to look at Angel’s castle.
She had painted it gold. Lumpy gold.
Now it looked worse than a gas station.
It could be a landing dock for UFOs.
Two kindergarten kids stood in the doorway. They chopped the air with their hands.
“I’m Trevor, the Karate Kid,” one of them said.
Mitchell jumped. Then he saw that Trevor was crying. “What’s the matter?”
“My mask is gone,” the boy said.
Mitchell swallowed. “Did it have a clown nose?”
“Yes. It made me look tough. Just like Zelda A. Zigzag.” The boy sniffled. “I wrote my initials on the back.
, for Trevor Petway.”
Mitchell gulped. “Peter Petway is your brother?”
Mitchell closed his eyes. “Did you tell him about the mask?”
“Good idea,” Trevor said.
“Don’t do that,” Mitchell said quickly. “Couldn’t you make another one?”
“I’d need scissors and markers. All that stuff.”
The other kid punched at the air. “It’s tough to make those masks. Mine’s great. It says
. for Clifton Dunbar right on the teeth.”
“Don’t worry, Trevor,” Mitchell said. “I’ll find it.”
“Thanks.” Trevor and Clifton gave each other high fives.
Mitchell headed for the lunchroom. How could he have lost that mask? And what if Peter Petway found out about it?
“Don’t forget Homework Help,” Ms. Katz called from the end of the hall.
Hot dogs were left over from lunch. Now they were cut in half.
Destiny handed them out. “I’m the lunch lady’s helper.” She gave two hot dogs to Mitchell. She gave one to Habib. “It’s only fair. Habib got an extra last time.”
Mitchell ate one. He took the other to
Homework Help. He had to work on a story of his life so far.
He’d use the hot dog for an eraser. He always made mistakes.
Ellie, the other college helper, smiled at him. She looked like a TV star. She had three tiny freckles.
“I’m the homework helper,” she said.
Only a couple of kids were there.
Mitchell sat down next to Habib.
Habib was staring up at the ceiling. “I have to add stuff. Seven apples and six oranges. I don’t have enough fingers.”
“Use your tongue,” Mitchell said. “That’s what my father told me.”
“Excellent idea,” said Ellie.
“Yes,” Mitchell said. It really didn’t work. His tongue always got mixed up.
Ellie leaned over. She began to count with Habib.
Mitchell opened his notebook. He was glad he had to write about his life so far. It was easier than math. He took a bite of the hot dog. Then he began.
I used to be in another school
Angel’s room was far away
She had no friends in my class
She didn’t know what I was doing
Mitchell read it over.
Good work so far
, he told himself in Ms. Katz’s voice.
He erased some marks on the paper with the hot dog. Then he bounced it off the table. It landed on Habib’s paper.
Habib bounced the hot dog back.
“We could win a prize for bouncing hot dogs,” Mitchell said.
Ellie laughed. She looked at her watch. “Enough for today.”
She plastered a sticker on Mitchell’s shirt. It was a killer rabbit. She gave one to Habib, too.
“Come back tomorrow,” she said.
“I guess so,” Mitchell said.
Out in the hall, he and Habib ran into a hundred kids.
Some were on their way to the gym. Some peeled off at the art room.
Mrs. Farelli was the art teacher.
She was almost as tough as Zelda A. Zigzag.
Mitchell inched his way along. He kept his eyes open for the mask.
He hoped it wasn’t on the floor. It would look as if a cow had run over it.
In the gym, Sumiko was swinging on a rope. She was almost to the ceiling. “I know two other words,” she called.
Sumiko would probably win a trip to Japan.
Mitchell would have to cross that prize off his list.
Terrible Thomas, the cat, had sneaked in again. Mitchell hopped over him.
Thomas swiped out his paw.
“Yeow!” Mitchell yelled.
Mitchell looked into the music room.
“Meeee meeeee meee,”
a girl sang. She sounded like a singing chicken.
She wore a loopy pearl thing around her neck. It hung down to her waist.
“That’s Gina from my class,” Habib said. “She wants to win a prize for opera.”
The music teacher held his head. Maybe he had a toothache.
Mitchell knew he wouldn’t win a prize for singing. He sang like his dog, Maggie.
The music teacher saw them. “Come on in.”
They walked into the room. Slowly.
Everyone began to sing. Mitchell sang without making a sound.
Tomorrow Mr. Oakley was taking them to the nature center. That would be better than singing.
He was going to give nature his best try.
itchell ate his snack in one gulp. It was string cheese. His favorite.
He had to hurry. He was late for Homework Help.
No one was there except Habib. And Ellie.
Habib had taken off his sneakers. He must be counting on his toes.
Mitchell wrote in a quick burst:
Sometimes losers should get a pris
It would make them feel good
Ellie leaned over. “What’s a pris?”
Mitchell slapped his forehead. “Prize.”
He pulled out the hot dog. Too bad it was falling apart.
He erased the s. He wrote
“Excellent,” Ellie said. “Just stick an
on the end. You’re all set.”
He wrote a little more.
Then it was time for the nature center. He raced upstairs with Habib. They passed Peter Petway. He was heading for the gym.
That reminded Mitchell. He’d heard Angel talking to Yolanda. “I hate to walk home with Mitchell,” she’d said. Now Yolanda must think he was a loser, too.
Habib poked him. “Come on.”
They shot outside. Just in time!
Ramón led the line. Mr. Oakley came next.
Mr. Oakley said he was in love with nature.
Angel and Yolanda were up in front with Destiny.
Today Destiny’s hair was green. “In honor of nature,” she said.
Habib was juggling. He scrambled for the balls.
Mr. Oakley walked to the end of the line.
He walked with Mitchell. “Hello there,” he said.