Authors: R. L. Stine
“I have to make a call,” I tell her. “To China.”
“You're not funny,” she says through gritted teeth. “Give me back my phone.”
“No. Really,” I say. “My uncle is in China. One of his business trips. I have to call him.” I start pushing numbers on the dial.
“No. Give it back,” Lucy cries, grabbing for the phone again. “You can't call China. It will cost hundreds of dollars!”
“That's why I'm doing it on
phone,” I say.
But, of course, it's a total fake-out. My uncle isn't in China. He's in Cincinnati. And why would I call him in the middle of school?
“Miss Dorrit?” Lucy shouts. “Rick has my phone.”
What a snitch.
Up at the front of the room, Miss Dorrit rolls her eyes. “Give her back the phone, Rick,” she says. “No phones in class.”
I hand Lucy back the phone. “I was only helping her with it, Miss Dorrit,” I say. “Her phone had a problem, and I fixed it.”
“Liar,” Lucy mutters.
I laugh. You have to think fast in school. Most kids don't know how. That's why they're losers.
“Quiet down, people,” Miss Dorrit says. That's teacher-talk for shut up.
She's so pretty. She's really young and she has wavy blond hair and amazing green eyes and a funny laugh that sounds like she's hiccupping. She's the most popular teacher in school, at least with the boys.
“Everyone take out a sheet of paper and number it from one to twenty,” she says. “We're going to have a quiz on last night's science chapter.”
Last night's science chapter? I didn't read it. I had too many TV shows to watch. I had to catch up on a bunch of episodes of
. I mean, which would
chooseâyour science textbook or Cartoon Network?
In the front row, Josh Cratchit raised his hand. “Does this t-t-t-test c-c-count on our g-grade?” The little mouse-faced wimp has a hilarious stutter.
I raised my hand. “M-M-M-Miss Dorrit?” I asked. “Does the t-t-t-test c-c-count or is it just p-p-p-practice?”
Some kids laughed. I can stutter even better than little Joshy. I saw his face turn bright red.
Miss Dorrit's expression turned angry. “Mister Scroogeman, I'm going to pretend you didn't say that,” she said. She always calls you by your last name when she's angry at you. “I think you owe Josh a big apology. And I'm warning youâdon't ever do that again.”
“S-s-s-sorry,” I said.
A lot of kids laughed. Josh turned even redder. He kept his head down. He wouldn't look at me. He should know I was just having fun with him. No hard feelings.
Miss Dorrit opened her mouth to scold me. But the classroom door swung open, and Davey Pittman walked in with the big wet spot on the front of his jeans. “Sorry I'm late,” he said.
I could see that everyone was staring at his pants. What a riot.
“What kept you?” Miss Dorrit asked.
Davey pointed at me. “Rick splashed water on the front of my pants.”
“Liar,” I said. “Davey, you don't have to be embarrassed to tell the truth.”
An angry screech escaped his throat. Like a monkey who didn't get his banana.
I had to laugh. It was one of those perfect moments.
Miss Dorrit told Davey to take his seat, and she passed out the quiz questions. “Do your best, everyone,” she said. “This is the last quiz before Christmas vacation.”
I glanced down the list, and I could see I didn't know any of the answers. I knew what CO
was. But what are Au and Li?
That's why I always try to sit next to Lucy. Lucy is very smart and she always does her homework. She gets everything right on Miss Dorrit's quizzes, and she does a very bad job of covering her answers. I mean, she doesn't even try to hide her test paper.
That makes it easy for me to see the right answers, too.
I just lean toward Lucy's desk a little bit and take very quick glances at her paper. Some people might call this cheating. But I think
way a person finds the right answers is a good thing. At least you're learning.
I mean, I learned that
stands for “gold” in the periodic table. That was Lucy's answer, and I knew it was right.
I was sailing along, taking quick glances at Lucy's test paper, writing down the right answers. About halfway through the quiz, Miss Dorrit's voice interrupted me. “Lucy? Rick? What exactly is going on, you two?”
I knew I was caught. I had to think fast.
“Lucy has been copying off my paper,” I said. “I didn't want to get her in trouble.”
Lucy made a choking sound. I slapped her back a few times to help her stop.
“That's not exactly what I saw, Mister Scroogeman,” Miss Dorrit said. “Are you sure you're telling the truth?”
“Pretty sure,” I said.
Lucy ran her eyes up and down my test paper. “He copied every one of my answers,” she told the teacher.
answer,” I said. “I'm only on number nine.”
Some kids laughed. But Miss Dorrit didn't crack a smile. “I'll see you in here after school, Rick,” she said.
“I can't come,” I said. “I have rehearsal for the Christmas play.”
“I need to talk to you about that, too,” Miss Dorrit said. “Come after school and don't keep me waiting.”
“ButÂ â¦ I'm supposed to give snowman-building lessons to my brother, Charlie,” I said. “My mother told me to help him. Charlie doesn't know how to build a snowman, and he needs lessons really bad.”
“That's a good one,” Miss Dorrit said, rolling her eyes. “I haven't heard that one before.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“Charlie will have to build his own snowman,” she said. “Don't be late.”
I took a deep breath. “Does this mean I'm in trouble?”
She didn't answer.
After school, my
friends were starting rehearsals for the Christmas play in the auditorium. But I made my way toward Miss Dorrit's classroom.
The hall was nearly empty. Most kids had hurried out into the snow to have fun. It had snowed about six inches the night before, and the snow was fresh and soft and perfect for packing tight wet snowballs.
I love creeping up behind kids and smashing a hard snowball into the back of their head. They never know what hit them. It's such a riot.
Some kids brought their ice skates to school. They planned to go directly to Oxford Pond beyond the elementary school playground to skate. Fun.
I'm a good ice-skater. I love skating really fast and cutting right in front of people, surprising them so they have to come to a sharp stop. Sometimes they lose their balance and fall right on their butt. Ha-ha. They look so funny.
But no fun for me this afternoon. I knew I was heading into a lecture by Miss Dorrit. As I walked, I lowered my head and stared down at the floor and practiced looking sorry for what I had done. Whatever it was.
I turned a corner andâwouldn't you know itâthere was Josh Cratchit bending over in front of his open locker, pulling books from the locker floor.
I knew I should walk right past. But I never can resist when it comes to Joshy. With his skinny runt body and his pale face and thick eyeglasses and that horrible stutter, Josh is the perfect victim.
Everyone likes to pick on him. I'm not the only one.
“Josh! HeyâJosh!” I went running over to him. “Be careful!” I cried. “Did you hear? There's an angry pit bull loose in the school.”
“Huh?” He turned and his eyes went wide with fright behind his glasses. “A d-d-dog?”
“I'll protect you,” I said. I picked him up by his waist and lifted him into his locker. And then I closed the locker door with him inside.
“Heyâlet m-m-me out, Rick!” he shouted.
“You'll be safe now,” I said.
Josh was still shouting and pounding on his locker door as I turned the corner and strode quickly down the hall. I knew someone would find him sooner or later.
Sure, I knew that I shouldn't have done it. But Christmas just puts me in such a bad mood. I can't help myself.
Besides, it was pretty funny.
I forced the smile off my face as I stepped into Miss Dorrit's room. She stood behind her desk with her arms crossed in front of her. I guessed she'd been waiting for me.
She was wearing a green sweater that perfectly matched her green eyes. Her blond hair was tied back in a neat ponytail. She had a stern expression on her face. I could see she didn't call me in to give me the Good Citizenship Award.
She pointed to a wooden chair right in front of her desk. “Take a seat, Rick. You and I have to talk.” She sat down behind her desk and kept her cold, green-eyed stare on me.
“I have to pick up my brother at the elementary school,” I said.
She rolled her eyes. “I know. I know. Snowman lessons.”
“No, reallyâ” I said.
“This won't take too long,” she replied. She tapped a pencil on the desktop. “How old is your brother, Rick?”
“Charlie is seven,” I said.
“Does he look like you?”
“A little,” I said. “He has kind of the same face. But he's skinnier than me. He's skinnier than
. Mom says he looks like a pencil. Totally thin with red hair on top. You know. Like an eraser. I look more like my dad. Dark hair, dark eyes.”
“And how do you treat your brother?” she asked.
The question surprised me. “Excuse me?”
“How do you treat your brother?” she repeated. “Are you mean to him? Are you nice to him? Do you stomp really hard on his feet and try to hurt him a lot?”
“No way,” I said. “He's my little brother. I'm responsible for him.”
She set down the pencil and leaned toward me over her desk. “Responsible for him?”
I nodded. “You know my dad died last year. And MomÂ â¦ wellÂ â¦ One day she took me aside. And she said, âYou're the man now, Rick. I want you to take care of Charlie. From now on, I want you to look after Charlie and be responsible for him.'”
Miss Dorrit didn't say anything for a long moment. She just kept her eyes on me. She appeared to be thinking hard. “So you don't play tricks on Charlie or push him around or give him a hard time?”
“No,” I said. “WellÂ â¦ not too often.”
That made her smile. But the smile didn't last long. “Did you ever think of treating the other kids you know, the kids here in school, the way you treat Charlie?”
“No,” I answered. “Never.”
She blinked. “But wouldn't it be better if you treated your friends the way you treat your little brother?”
I shrugged. “I like to have fun,” I said. “I like to goof on people. You know. Joke around.”
Miss Dorrit tugged at her ponytail. “Rick, what if your brother had a bad stuttering problem?” she said. “Would you make fun of him?”
“My brother doesn't have a stuttering problem,” I said.
She sighed. “I know. But what
“I don't know,” I said. “It's pretty funny to imitate it. I probably couldn't resist.”
She narrowed her eyes at me. “You couldn't resist making fun of a stuttering person becauseâ¦?”
“Because it's funny. I like to be funny and make people laugh. My dad always said I had a good sense of humor.”
“But what if your humor makes someone
?” she said.
I shook my head. “I don't get it. Why would someone cry at a joke?”
Miss Dorrit sat back in her seat. She started tapping the pencil on her desk again. “Rick, I don't think I'm getting through to you.”
“So can I go?” I started to stand up.
“No. Sit down. We need to finish this. I need to make you understand.”
I dropped back onto the chair with a groan. “You want me to apologize to Josh?” I said. “Okay. I'll go get him. I locked him in his locker. I'll go pull him out and apologize.”
Miss Dorrit jumped to her feet. “You
? You locked him in his locker?”
I nodded. “Yeah. It just kind of happened.” I couldn't keep a smile from creeping across my face.
She ran out of the room. I could hear her out in the hall rescuing Josh. When she came back into the room, she was breathing hard.
“This is just what I was talking about,” she said. “This is what I'm trying to get you to realize, Rick. A lot of kids don't think you're funny. They think you're really mean.”
echoed in my ear.
“Huh, me?” I said. I couldn't keep the surprise from my voice. “Me? Mean? Because I like to kid around?”
Miss Dorrit settled back in her chair. “There are some things you need to learn, Rick. You tried out for a part in Mr. Pickwick's Christmas play, remember?”
“Yes, and I was the best actor there,” I said. “The others who tried out were total wimps who muttered onto their chins.”
She locked her green eyes on me. “Well, don't you wonder why you didn't get a part? Don't you wonder why Mr. Pickwick made you the stage manager instead of letting you act?”
I returned her stare. “Because he's a jerk?”
She groaned. “Rick, it really isn't a good idea to call your teachers names. Especially in front of another teacher.” She shifted in her chair. I don't think she was enjoying our talk. I
I wasn't enjoying it.
“Rick, you didn't get a part in the play because the other kids were afraid of you. They were afraid of what you would do to them onstage during rehearsals. They were afraid you would bully them.”
“Bully?” I repeated the word.
“We've talked a lot in class this year about bullies,” she said. “You remember, don't you?”