Chapter 1 from Mosquito Madness
Becca Williams leaned against the wall of the gym with the rest of her fifth-grade class, bored out of her mind. Being stuck in school was boring most of the time, but she wouldn’t have minded it so much if they could go outside. Washington Elementary School’s fields and playground had been covered with frost and dirty snow since November, with new snow coming regularly about every week. Becca bent forward to touch her toes, her brown hair falling down in front of her, and wished she could do something, anything, exciting. In January the days seemed endless. At least February is short.
“It’s time for kickball,” Ms. Peters, the student gym teacher, yelled and then began to explain the rules of the game, even though they’d been playing it since they were little kids.
“I can’t believe we’re stuck with kickball again,” Becca said to her best friend, Jo Chau.
“You were expecting figure skating?” Jo replied. Her grin took up her whole round face, stretching up to the end of her short black hair, just below her ears. Jo was happy as long as she could run around, indoors or out.
“Yeah, we could go down to the river and I’d do my flying camel,” Reagan Lebowitz joined in, leaning against the wall next to Becca. The curly haired girl often came up with a smart answer.
“You mean flying elephant,” Ellena Carter said. Becca scowled as Reagan blushed even though Reagan was used to cracks about her weight. Ellena, with her long blond hair and sky blue eyes, always made the insults sting a little more. She could get away with it too. Pretty, popular and mean, Ellena always seemed to get her way, usually at the expense of others.
“Quiet,” Ms. Peters said, but no one really paid attention.
“Come on, Reagan,” Becca said, moving in front of her friend. “Don’t let Elevator Mouth get you down.”
“Elevator Mouth! Don’t call me that,” Ellena said, her pretty white face turning red.
“Then don’t put my friends down,” Becca said, with a flip of her hair. “You’re like an elevator that doesn’t work. You just take people down instead of up.”
Ellena moved in on Becca. She looked mad enough to knock her down. Becca smirked. Maybe something interesting would happen today after all. Behind her Reagan started to sniffle.
“Girls, stop the talking!” Ms. Peters yelled. “Becca, Peter, Reagan, Sam, Marta, Giovanni, Joanna, you’re out in the field. Everyone else line up to kick. No talking.” She tossed the ball to Jo.
“Let’s get her,” Becca whispered as she went by Jo. The other girl nodded, watching Ellena turn on her heel and line up with her nose in the air.
Jamie was up first and he smacked the ball, but Jo jumped high and caught it. Gordon came next, and it dribbled to the left, but he made it to first. Conner got him to second base. Then it was Ellena’s turn.
“Ok….” Becca said, softly behind Jo. Jo threw the red ball fast and low, trying harder than she had with the boys.
Ellena smacked it back, and it passed both Jo and Becca. Marta, who didn’t usually pay attention in gym, caught it as it rolled, but it was too late. Ellena had made it to first, Conner on second, and Gordon was on third.
“Get me home,” Ellena called when Thomas O’Dell came up. The sandy haired boy nodded. He was the best athlete in school and the only person Ellena seemed to try to gain favor with. Jo sent the ball bouncing towards him. He kicked it high, headed to the rafters of the gym. Ellena took off, speeding away from first base. Jo backed up, her sharp narrow eyes scanning for the ball. Becca saw it coming down behind her and rushed forward, not seeing Ellena as she rounded second. The three girls collided with a loud thump.
“OWWWWWWW,” Ellena howled. Jo started laughing in the pile of legs and arms.
”You’re bleeding,” Jo told Becca between giggles.
Becca leaned back and grabbed the ball before it rolled away. “You’re out!” She tagged the still sobbing Ellena.
Ms. Peters rushed over. “Are you ok?”
“Yeah, I am fine,” Becca said, untangling herself from the mess of limbs. She did feel a little light-headed, but it hurt less than falling off her bike last summer. A little blood was worth getting back at Ellena for Reagan.
“I am not,” Ellena whimpered and then pointed at Becca. “She did it on purpose.”
“Me?” Becca said. “I am the one with the bloody nose.”
“But I hurt my leg. You tripped me!” Ellena accused.
“Didn’t either. We just ran into each other!”
“I saw you talking to Jo when you went out to the field.”
“Big deal! I talked to my friend!” Becca waved her hands. “I told her to get you out. You were a jerk to Reagan, but that’s all I meant.”
“Joanna,” Ms. Peters said. “What did Becca say?”
“I thought she said let’s get them,” she said looking very sincere. “I thought we were just getting ready to play. We’re supposed to try and win, right?”
“Ok…” Ms. Peters said, closing her eyes in frustration. “All three of you up to the office and wait there. I’ll be there when this class is over.”
Ellena made a big show of limping as they walked out of class. Becca tilted her head back to try and stop the bleeding, and Jo guided her up to the Principle Hanks’ office. Nobody spoke. Becca felt a little sick now, not so much about her nose, but about what Grandmother would say when she learned she’d been sent to the office.
Mrs. Glatner, the office secretary, looked up with irritation when the three girls came in. Five kids already waited in the chairs while a woman in a brightly colored sari with a boy about their height stood outside Principal Hanks’ office. “I should sell tickets,” Mrs. Glatner said. “Why are you here?”
“Ms. Peters sent us,” Jo explained. “She’ll be up after class.”
“Great,” Mrs. Glatner said. “Becca, are you bleeding?”
“Don’t get it on the carpet. Go to the bathroom and get some paper towels. I really don’t have time for you today.” She bent her gray head down behind the computer again.
Becca looked at her face when in the bathroom mirror. Her nose was red, but not as red as Ellena’s face had been. You’d think she was the one who had a bloody nose. It looked fine except where the blood had dried. At least it wasn’t on her clothes; maybe she could get by without her grandmother finding out.
No, Grandmother would be walking with the Galloping Grannies tomorrow and Ellena’s grandmother would be there with five other gossiping ladies. By then, if not before, Ellena’s grandmother would have told her the story or at least Ellena’s version.
The two girls had been enemies for as long as they had known each other. Anything that Ellena liked, Becca thought was stupid. Anything that Becca did, Ellena made fun of. They were rivals in everything that they did.
Ok, Becca told herself, having washed the mess as best as she could. Better face Mrs. Glatner before she comes looking for you.
There were two more kids in the office when she returned, but the boy and the mother were gone. Ms. Peters had just arrived, standing nervously in the corner, playing with her blond ponytail. “So what’s the deal, Peters?” Mrs. Glatner said.
“I am not sure but I think Becca and Elena were fighting,” Mr. Peters said.
“It’s Ellena, not Elena. You would think teachers would know my name,” Ellena sniffed.
“Yes, we all do,” Mrs. Glatner said. “Joanna, what happened?”
“We crashed playing kickball,” Jo said. She looked bored.
“Becca tripped me,” Ellena said. “I heard Becca say something to Jo before it happened.”
“I said ok. Is that a crime?” Becca frowned at the girl who was starting to sniffle again.
“Not if it means wipe me out!” Ellena snapped.
“If Becca wiped you out, then why does she have a bloody nose? Jo, you and Ms. Peters get back to doing what you should be doing. I don’t have room for this many kids. Peters, don’t bring down things you ‘think’ are problems.” Mrs. Glatner put quote marks up in the air. “I have enough of my own.”
The younger teacher looked sad. “I am sorry…,”she started to say.
“Just get out of here,” Mrs. Glatner said, waving her hand. “Go wear some kids out. The rest of you sit down and be quiet.”
If the kids were scared of Mr. Hanks, they were petrified of Mrs. Glatner. Ms. Peters scurried out of the office, faster than Jo. Mrs. Glatner had been there longer than any teacher, and some parents said she was there when they were in school. She knew every kid’s name, and some parents’ phone numbers were on her speed dial.
Principal Hanks came out with the Indian woman and her son. “Dr. Singh, Ramesh, it was very nice to meet you. I am sure Ramesh will enjoy our school.”
“I hope so,” she said, patting the boy’s wavy black hair. “He’s a very sensitive young man.”
“And smart too,” Mr. Hanks said. “He’ll do fine.” Ramesh didn’t say anything.
He walked out the door and escorted them down the hall. Two more kids from fourth grade had shown up by the time he was back.
“Geez, Mrs. Glatner,” Mr. Hanks said, “they run out of desks in the classrooms?”
“Looks that way, Mr. Hanks,” she said with a shrug.
“Let’s triage,” he said. All the kids looked confused.
“Yes, sir,” she said. “Courtney Taylor has an unexcused absence.”
“Send her back to class.” The fifth-grade girl stood up and left.
“Larue, Jonathon, and Alex were throwing food during breakfast.” She indicated the three boys with stains on their t-shirts.
“Alright,” he said. “I want you back in class and then after lunch, you’ll help clean up in the cafeteria. Give them a pass.”
“I wasn’t throwing food at them,” Jonathon protested.
“Were you sitting with them?” Mr. Hanks asked.
“Yeah…but I didn’t-”
“Don’t care,” he said. “You can clean up after lunch.” He turned to the girls. “Rebecca Williams, Ellena Carter, to what do I owe this pleasure?”
“Becca ran into me,” Ellena said, sniffling like she was about to cry. She had been texting before Mr. Hanks looked at her.
“I was playing kickball, and we collided,” Becca said, shoving her hands into the pockets of her jeans.
“She said something.”
“I am sure she did. Ok, you both go back to your classroom. However, if you end up together again in my office for any more physical contact,” he said in a stern voice, “there will be serious consequences. I am not tolerating violence of any sort this year in school. Now go. Don’t talk to each other for the rest of the day, or you’ll be back here facing me again.”
They walked back to Ms. Limon’s room glaring at each other. Ellena had her phone out, even though she was supposed to leave it in her backpack all day, no doubt texting her mother more lies about Becca and maybe some of the truth.
When they returned to their classroom, Ellena flounced over to Thomas and Gordon’s table, and Becca slumped down next to Jo. “Are you alright?” her friend whispered over the math work sheet.
“Mr. Hanks said there’ll be big trouble if we fight again.”
“So there’s going to be big trouble, huh?” Jo grinned.
“Yeah, unless Ellena buys a new personality,” Becca glared over to Ellena’s table. “She’s such a jerk!”
Jo shrugged. “At least it’s Friday.”