After the teacher passed the graded tests out, I was afraid of turning the stapled pages over to see the inevitable. Even though she didn’t speak, I heard her say, “Daisy, I am disappointed in you,” in my mind. I stared at the blankness of the back page visualizing an F on the front. Struggling in algebra is nothing new for me, but I have to get a B to pass the class or I will be in this lovely school again during the hot summer months. I barely maintained a passing grade since Christmas. If I don’t get a B or higher, there goes my summer. I studied for hours for this test but my brain just doesn’t want to make those math formulas work. Taking a deep breath, I slowly turned the pages over. My eyes first focused on the all the red lines and checkmarks then they focused flatly on the large red D at the top of the page. My summer is now officially ruined. The kid in front of me Mica Malone, the school jock, the mysterious semi-newcomer who moved here as a freshman three years ago, the teacher’s favorite, slid his graded test paper in his book bag but not before I saw the ‘A+ Good Job, Mica!’ written in red on the top. Great. Just. Flipping. Great. Can a teenage girl die from embarrassment? He glanced down at the paper clinched in my hand and I quickly jerked it up stuffing it in my backpack while gritting my teeth.
Mom will ask me if I got the test back today, no doubt. She will wait till dinner when we are all around the table and I will have to say I got a D and have to take Summer School in front of everyone. When my brother gets home from college and hears what happened, he will bellyache that he will be driving me to and from class and my bad math skills have ruined his life, well, his summer anyway. My dad will be disappointed and I will have to listen to him talk and talk about the importance of math and taking school seriously. Like I don’t already know that! They are probably picturing me living in a van down by the river for my future. Why can’t an asteroid hit the earth, or an episode of the Walking Dead become real life and civilization end? Am I being dramatic? Yeah, so what!
I was lost in my dreadful thoughts when I see Mica looking at me with pity.
“What!” I sharply cracked in a whisper.
He shook his head back and forth whispering, “Daisy, it isn’t that bad. I mean it isn’t the end of the world.”
I flinched; it was as if he could read my thoughts, “What do you know?” I snapped back at him. Mica has ignored me all year and now he wants to take interest in my bad grade? I was shocked he even knew my name. What is it with him and his fading accent that seems to come and go? Is he doing that on purpose or is it a speech impediment? He rarely talks unless it is to answer the teacher’s questions.
Mica tried reassuring me again for reasons I could only guess at, “I know if I talk to Ms. James that I may be able to get you another test. And I know I can help you pass the next one.”
Staring into his dark eyes, I asked, “We have nine days left of school, why would you do that for me?”
“Daisy, your older brother Joe was the only upper classman that ever talked to me when I moved here, it meant a lot. Now I have a chance to help his little sister. He was the reason I tried out for football. I didn’t know you were his sister till I heard the guys talking about it earlier and this goes against my ‘keep my nose to myself’ but,” he said grinning looking at my hair, “I like redheads.” He flipped my notebook over and scribbled his phone number on the back page.
My eyes rolled so far back in my head I am sure I saw the math formulas I needed to use on my test hiding behind my hippocampus! “Let me get this straight. So the mighty warrior Junior football star is offering to help out the lowly math-deficient sophomore? I was smart enough to be placed in this class to begin with I will have you know. Thanks, but no thanks,” I knew the words coming out of my mouth sounded meaner than I intended but it was too late to take them back now.
“Fine, have fun in summer school,” he huffed as he turned his back to me to face the front of the class.
Sitting there contemplating the implications of summer school and hearing my older brother complain every morning about driving me to and from class made me want to vomit. Of course, the words that were about to come out of my mouth were going to make me vomit as well. I took a deep breath and pushed the words out. “I’m sorry, Mica. You were trying to help. I…” gritting teeth, “would like you to talk to Ms. James and see if I can take the test again. Maybe even you can help me with the formulas since I can’t seem to keep them straight.”
Slowly he turned around and the grin he had on his handsome face made me want to slap his memorized algebra formulas out of him. “I would be happy to, you fiery redhead. I will talk to her and will let you know after school by the Bear Claw statue out front. Wait for me. I guess I should have told you that Ms. James likes my dad. So I know for a fact that she will let you take the test over again.”
Pressing my lips together tightly I squeezed out the words, “Great. Nothing could go wrong here. Does your dad at least like her back?”
“My dad is oblivious to her tactics, he misses my mom so he doesn’t think anything about the fact she calls and emails about every little accomplishment I have. But if I can see what she is doing to get his attention then she isn’t being shy about her crush on him.”
“I am sorry. Are your parents divorced?” I asked stupidly and wished I hadn’t after he answered!
“No, she passed away almost four years ago. She got sick and she left us quickly. That is why we moved here. My dad wanted me to have some normalcy,” He said with finger air quotes. “Four wheeling, fishing, horseback riding through creeks and bar-b-ques. He grew up here and wanted me to have a piece of what he grew up with.”
I watched him as he spoke and truthfully, this was the most he spoke the entire time he sat in front of me the whole semester. “Did you not have normalcy? If anyone can really ever have that.”
“Not like this. You know what I did this past weekend? I camped in a tent and loved it.” He whispered as he laughed.
I made a face and said, “You loved it? So what you are saying is you were not normal to begin with… and you think camping outside… in a tent… on the ground… is normal now?” I said smiling at him.
He chuckled, “Sounds crazy doesn’t it?”
“Not for this town. You aren’t crazy, you are a normal resident of the town of Fur Springs. Are you sure you weren’t born here?” I joked. Talking with Mica seemed more normal than I thought it would be. He wasn’t some handsome jock ignoring me all year because he thought he was better than me. I think he is private until you get to know him a little. Hiding behind a quiet façade and behind the pain of losing his mother. I’m the one that’s been the jerk.
We noticed a handful of kids around us eavesdropping on our conversation. Tommy, Brian, and Emma. Mica immediately shrunk back in his seat and slightly turned his head towards me and repeated, “Outside after school by the Bear Statue?”
“Yes, sir. Outside after school.” I said as I side-glared at Emma and the other boys.
Mica Malone always wears the same black watch every day and if it wasn’t such a prominent piece on an average dressed kid, it may not stick out so acutely. It looked more like a security device but then again, maybe I’ve watched too many spy movies with my older brother. I mean I don’t think he literally speaks into the watch like a phone but it looks like he could. It had a square large face and a black metal band. I have wondered about that watch for a long time. I looked at the kids that were listening to us moments before and they were lost in their own conversation again. I leaned forward a bit so only Mica could hear me, “That is an unusual watch. Is that a watch?” I asked, suspiciously.
His face froze looking genuinely tongue tied by my question, he finally answered, “Yes… it… tells time.” He clearly did not want to talk about his arm decor.
‘Yes, it tells time? What kind of answer is that? It tells time! Duh, what else does it do?’ I thought to myself.
His forehead creased with worry as he turned his seat facing forward ending our conversation. Maybe his mother gave it to him? Who knows…
Sitting on the gym floor during PE wearing a ridiculous uniform an epiphany hit me like a brick upside the head. I really do hate school. I am over school and I wish I was graduating with the seniors this year and starting my life away from this town. I am not even sure what I want to go to college for, everyone around me seems to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives, but I don’t. I just know I want to get a degree and be finished with school. Of course, if I can’t pass an algebra class that ain’t going to happen.
I need to start applying for summer jobs and saving money. No one has asked me to babysit yet for the summer and I usually have gigs lined up by now. Of, course the kids I babysat are older now and can probably watch themselves. That is the problem when you babysit, when the kids get older, your job is done.
It didn’t take me long before I could see out of the corner of my eye Jake Baker watching me. What is it about these Jocks taking an interest in me today? I did change shampoo. Maybe the shampoo’s honeydew smell is putting off an attraction aroma. Probably not. I turned slowly and met his gaze, raising my eyebrows then looking away. I pulled a section of my hair up to my nose and gave it a whiff. Nope, nothing. Everything smells like gym socks in here.
“Daisy, do you want to be on our team?” Jake asked with a throaty confidence.
I shook my head no.
He smiled ear-to-ear shaking his head yes back at me, playfully and trying again, “Daisy Day, we pick you for our team.”
It is better than being picked last again, I guess. “Sure,” I answered hesitantly. A few seconds later, I found myself surrounded by six large guys protecting me from getting hit with a dodge ball. I am not sure what is going on but if this keeps up, I may make an A in gym for the first time in my life.
We won that game and the next game, and the game after that and I must say, it felt great to win a game when I was usually the first one out. Being a large athlete does have its benefits, and if you aren’t a big guy, make friends with large athletes. Not sure, how I did that today but if I knew, I would share the information.
After gym class, Jake Baker was waiting at the girl’s locker room door. It almost looked as if he was waiting on me? What is going on! I have Mica Malone waiting for me outside by the Bear Statue and this dude waiting for me now outside gym class. I tried moving by him quickly but he stayed in pace with me as I walked.
“Daisy, would you like to go to the Dairy Cone with me? We are all going to hang out now.”
“We?” I asked trying to figure out who ‘we’ were.
“Me and the guys. A few cheerleaders. Our group.”
“Your group,” I chided.
“Classmates.” He corrected. “Our group of classmates.
I narrowed my eyes at him trying to read the expression on his face. I have known Jake Baker since I could remember, he has annoyed me for years and the interest he is showing in me today was peculiar. I was tired of being kept out of this big secret that everyone else seemed to be aware of but me! Jake Baker doesn’t just talk to a girl that isn’t a cheerleader. I flung around and stepped toe to toe with him, albeit I was well over a foot shorter but I wasn’t scared, “What are you guys trying to do? Why all of a sudden is there interest in Daisy Day?”
“I just… I just thought… you don’t have to go if you don’t want to.” He said as he tried to turn away.
“Jake Baker, that is not it! You guys have not even acknowledged me all year and now at the end of the school year you seem to be interested in what I am doing and trying to include me? What gives Baker?”
He shrugged his shoulders and muttered sourly, “Nothing.”
I stepped closer to him and raised an eyebrow.
You could see him visibly contemplate the thoughts he was sifting through in his mind before he answered, “Well, there is talk about your brother getting drafted to the Pros, we saw it on ESPN and we know he is going to be home soon, we wanted to talk to him. I mean how cool would it be that a Kennedy Bear Claw football member could play for the NFL! That is awesome, Daisy. And we were hoping he would be at football camp this summer showing us what he has learned.”
I could not speak. Not. One. Word. They didn’t like me at all. I mean I knew they didn’t but a small part of me was a little hopeful. As my jumbled thoughts were flying around, I looked out gym doors and saw Mica through the large bay windows, past the stupid Jake Baker standing in front of me. I stomped down on Jake’s foot as hard as I could without thinking about the consequences.
“Ouch!” Jake screamed.
“Suck it up buttercup!” I hollered back as I rushed past Jake to Mica to give him a piece of my mind as well.
I smacked the exit door with the palms of my hands so hard it felt like I broke my wrists but I didn’t flinch. The noise it made got the attention of the other kids standing around so I knew I now had an audience. Great. Just. Great.
My eyes narrowed on Mica Malone, “So you and your stupid pigskin throwing friends thought you could worm your way in to my life and my brother’s life? You think he is going to be some kind of football star? Well, let me set the record straight, he is coming home from college and I am going to tell him what kind of creeps you all are so I would hide when you see him because he could twist you like a pretzel.” As I turned to walk away, my mouth mumbled the word ‘Jerks' loud enough for everyone to hear.
Two more weeks of this school year I told myself as I walked away. Only two more weeks… and summer school. I let out an audible scream, “AUGHHHH!”
I had made it through the entire dinner without my mother asking about my test but she was distracted with the news that my brother would be home tonight and not this weekend like first planned. My day just keeps getting better and better… sigh.
Their favorite child will return home to a mom and dad who thinks the moon and sun hangs in his butt. Joseph Day, the boy who left this small town to pursue bigger dreams and hit the big time. The jock who had the looks, smarts, talent and charisma to mesmerize the masses. I love him but he really is a pain in my rear sometimes.
Dad looked at me and said, “When Joseph gets here I have a surprise for you both. You are going to be happy.”
I doubt that but we will see.
Mom sung out from the kitchen, “Mathew, don’t get her hopes up. We need to see if she will be stuck in summer school.” So she hadn’t forgot.
No, mom, definitely don’t get your hopes up.
Joseph’s car lights lit up the dining room wall and I knew their prince had arrived. I didn’t move from the table. I sat there pushing peas through my potatoes waiting for Joseph to grace us with his presence. Mom and dad ran out to greet him. I used to look up to him but with a brother so perfect, it makes it hard to follow in such a big shadow. That is exactly what it is too, a shadow. He got the strawberry blonde hair that feathers perfectly and I got the straight fire engine red hair. He got the perfect smile and I had braces for 3 years. He tested out of algebra and I am looking at summer school. Jerk. I should be happy for him but after today, I’m finding it difficult to be happy period.
He sure was taking a long time to get in the house. My curiosity got the best of me and I stood up and peeked out the window. He and dad were embraced in a hug on the sidewalk. It almost looked like Joseph was sobbing. That doesn’t even register, that boy hasn’t cried since he popped out of mom’s baby hole. I watched the scene unfold and then mom walked out the front door and embraced him as well. Then I saw them... The wooden crutches next to him. He was injured. The football star, his lively hood, his future was possibly taken from him because of an injury. Am I jumping to the worst conclusions? His gaze met mine and he quickly wiped away his tears and adjusted himself on the crutches. I couldn’t look away, it was like a train wreck in slow motion. What did this injury mean? Would he recover? Do I even ask? Will he talk about it in front of me? Why would he talk about it in front of me, I have been the real jerk. Me and me alone. Well, me and those jerks at school.
I sat back down and waited for him to come in the house. Once he was within arm’s reach, he ruffled my hair as he moved his crippled leg and crutches by me.
“Are you okay, Joe?”
“Me, I am great. This is minor and I will mend quickly. I just need rest and have a few months with no weight on it.”
“A few months? What is wrong?”
“Don’t worry about it, it will be fine. How has school been treating you?”
He clearly was trying to change the subject. “School is a jerk.” I explained. “Guys are jerks, teachers are jerks and so on.”
“I see. So, same as last year and all the years before?”
The silence after our small exchange was uncomfortable. Joe had his leg propped up and it was a reminder of what we weren’t talking about, and the fact he didn’t want to talk about it made it weirder. When I was in third grade and broke my elbow on the jungle gym, I told everyone how it happened. EVERYONE. All I had to hear was an “Awe, poor little girl,” when they saw my cast and I began relaying the whole story before they could blink. Not Joe though, he wants to keep what happened a secret which makes it seem like he was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing and doesn’t want to get caught.
He finally turned his attention to dad, “What did you want to talk about? You said you had some good news, and I could use some good news.”
Mom swept in quickly and gave Joseph a bag of ice for his knee. He gently laid the bag over his knee and she moved back to the kitchen. Next, she brought Joseph a plate of food and picked up other dishes on the table then returned to the kitchen.
Dad smiled intriguingly at us both, whatever he was excited to tell us mom must have not thought it was as great as he did.
“Well kiddos, you know I have taken over managing the Planter Office Tower in downtown Seattle and they have a front desk. I have secured you two responsible children of mine a job. If you want it, that is? It pays around fifteen dollars an hour, which is not bad for a summer job in a nice building. Daisy, you have two days a week part-time and Joseph you have three days a week and it will be the easiest job you will ever have. All you do is sign for packages and point people towards the elevator and tell them which floor to go to. What do you say?”
“Fifteen dollars and hour! My first job! Sign me up, daddy!” I said excitedly as I jumped from my seat and hugged him.
“You are welcome sweetheart. So Daisy says yes! What about you Joseph?”
Mom from the kitchen chimes in and reminded us, “We have to wait to see if Daisy gets summer school before she commits to any job, Mathew! And let’s not forget her Driver’s License test in July.”
“Don’t make that face at your mother, Daisy. She is right. Can you find out tomorrow if you passed the Algebra class?”
Joseph’s mind was quick and he jumped to the conclusion before I could leave the room, “Dad, if she has to be in summer school who will be driving her to and from? And if it is me, then I won’t be able to work. So, her poor study skills are going to cheat me out of a good summer job. One where I could rest my knee and not have a lot of movement. Who is going to pay me to be her chauffeur and babysitter?”
I glared at him. Even though he was a hundred percent right. Ugh! I am going to have to call Mica, apologize, and pimp out my brother’s friendship to pass algebra. All men are jerks. I want to move to an island and sit on the beach all day, oh wait that is out of the question because I burn in the sun and would have no money to get there!
Joseph then blurted out, “I don’t know what we are all freaking out about, if it is one thing I have learned with living with Daisy Violet Day is that she can fall in a pile of crap and come out smelling like a rose! Every time, without fail! She will somehow pass this test.”
“That is not true, Joe! I do not fall in crap… all of the time…” I said in a hush.
“You may fail and screw things up a lot but it always somehow works out for you. I don’t know how you do it but you do it. In fact mom and dad should have named you Rose.” He argued while I rolled my eyes.
“Rose?” I asked regretting that I had to ask him something that I knew would be a put-down.
“You fall in crap and come out smelling like a rose, Rose!”
I rolled my eyes.
Joe pushed his plate aside and became serious, “I will help you with studying if you want? I have stakes in you passing as well.”
“Uh, no. I have it handled.” My brother helping me pass algebra would have been worse than just apologizing to Mica and asking him to help me study.
As I laid in bed thinking how I would start my apology to Mica I could hear voices downstairs, probably talking about Joseph’s knee and his future. I am not sure why they wouldn’t talk about it in front of me, I guess I am just a kid in their eyes.
It dawned on me that Mica had written his phone number down on my notebook earlier in algebra. I quickly got up and grabbed my notebook then unplugged my phone from the charger. I slowly typed in his number and saved it under the name ‘Jock Strap’. Climbing back into bed I got comfortable in the pile of blankets and stared at my phone screen thinking of the right words to type. How does one text, ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t need you but now I do… so I am sorry. Please help me pass Algebra.’
I took a long slow deep breath and began typing.
“This is Daisy. I wanted to say I was sorry I lost my temper on you after school. I am sorry for my actions. You were trying to be nice and I lumped you in with Jake and his stupid comments. Again, I am sorry.” I read it several times and finally hit send… and waited. And waited…
I must have fallen asleep holding my phone because when it buzzed it startled me out of dream I was having about Mica and me in a dark school being chased by a group of people. He was holding my hand as we were running from whatever was behind us.
I lifted my phone up and saw the name Jock Strap lit up across the screen. I really need to rethink the name I saved for Mica.
I opened the text and read, “Tomorrow at lunch Ms. James said we can study for your make-up test. If we study every day this week she will let you take the test next Tuesday.”
I immediately began to type the words, “Thank you!” When another text popped up from Mica that read, “The fiery redhead is forgiven.”
*Eye roll* and a small smile broke across my face. I opened up the edit button on my phone and typed Mica Malone, and deleted the name Jock Strap. I typed ‘thank you’ and hit the send button.
I didn’t sleep very well last night and I was wide awake when the alarm went off this morning so that doesn’t explain why I am running so late. What could explain it was me changing my outfit three different times and running a curling wand through my hair. I usually never go all out on my appearance for school but I didn’t want look like I was homeless either. I guess a little bit of me wants to… No, I am not going to think it much less say it! Mica Malone has nothing to do with me wanting to be a little prettier today. Nothing.
The emerald green dress shirt showing my shoulders and black leggings is a normal outfit. Totally a normal outfit. I mean I have worn it. Not a lot, not to school, but I have worn it. Mica has nothing to do with it. Nothing.
My brother yelled from downstairs, “Hey Rosy, if you want to ride to school I can drop you off but you need to step it in gear or you can catch the bus! I need to be at the doctor’s office at 8:30. Let’s get moving!”
“Yes, I want a ride. Don’t leave! And stop calling me Rosy!” I ride the bus every morning, I guess I could ride today but I am one to never say no to a ride to school.
He does love me, I think. Even though we have had our all-out wars and name-calling. I believe he would stick up for me when push came to shove and he does try to protect me. Plus, I may have to utilize his football skills to pass algebra so I need to cut him some slack.
In the car, I tried asking Joseph again what was wrong with his knee.
“I twisted it. The school doctor said it just needs to heal and the swelling to go down and it will be as good as new. I don’t want you to talk about this with anyone, got it?”
“Joe, there is talk about you playing for the NFL? Pro Joe? I mean if you hurt your knee this bad... Football just seems like a dangerous way to earn a living.”
“I’ve heard the chatter about the pro talk. Don’t believe everything you hear or read,” He answered.
I picked up the small appointment card on the seat between us and asked, “This says you have an appointment at an orthopedic surgeon. Are you looking into surgery?”
“No, no. They want to check my ligament. I will be fine.”
“Why do I have a feeling I am not hearing the whole story. How did you twist it?”
The face he made I knew I pushed his chauffeuring generosity. He pulled over a block from the school and told me to get out. He was done babysitting and I asked too many questions.
“You know Joe, sometimes you can be a real spaz. What is it with you football guys that think they can just do what they want?” I opened the door and stepped out on the curb but not before I turned back around and said, “Maybe while you are at the doctor’s office you can check into that lobotomy you are in desperate need of. I could take up a collection from your fan club.” I slammed the door so hard the sound hurt my ears, so it had to be extremely loud in the car, which gave me gratification. I should have rode the bus. I can’t believe I was thinking all those nice things about Joe! Mom and Dad are so blind to his faults!
Stepping on to the School’s grass, I could see a familiar figure standing at the flagpole unfurling the American Flag and clipping it on the flagpole. Mica.
He slowly raised the flag to the top of the pole as I walked up behind him. “This is different, I thought you jocks would slide underwear up the flagpole.” I said as I smiled at him, squinting trying to keep the sun out of my eyes.
He shook his head at me and finished fastening the chain to the pole. “My grandfather served in the Army and I have been taught to respect the flag. I would never do that.”
‘Off to a great start, Daisy’, I thought to myself.
He picked up his book bag and followed my lead in through the double doors.
“Your dad’s dad? Is he the one that served in the army?” I asked trying to redeem my stupid underwear up the flagpole comment.
“Yes. He is the one we are living with now. He is a fascinating man.”
“I don’t know my grandparents they were all dead by the time I was born. It is nice you get to spend time with him.” I am not sure if that sounded as morbid to him as it did to me but it is said and done now.
“Are you ready to become an Algebra Ninja? I am quite the math tutor.” He asked.
“Yes, when I pass do I get a cool Ninja uniform to wear?”
“Uniform? That is a negative. However, your brain will ultimately become a lethal weapon with math formulas and we will have to register it with Homeland Security. Daisy Day, are you ready for this level of commitment?”
I stood at attention and put my hand to my forehead to simulate a soldier and answered, “Yes, Sensei.”
“You really have your branches of the military confused too. We should fit time into learning the differences.” Mica laughed.
“You are funny, tent camper. Let’s focus on keeping me out of summer school.” I said as I walked away towards my locker.
While I was still in earshot, Mica hollered out, “By the way Daz, you look great in green today.” I slowed my pace but only stopped for a second. My back was to him thankfully and he couldn’t see the smile that spread across my face. Then resuming my pace I continued to class.
While sitting in first hour English, the only class I am getting an A in, I couldn’t keep from daydreaming about Mica. Could he really like me? Is he trying to get close to my brother Joe? Will I wind up in summer school no matter how much I prepare? What if Mica tries to kiss me? I have never been kissed! He better not try to put the moves on me. Although, if he did, would it really be that bad? Amber turned around and handed me a crossword puzzle. This is what is nice about English class, it was easy for me and now that school was almost over, we had nothing else to do but crossword puzzles and watch movies.
Amber asked, “Daisy, where have you been? I thought you were going to the library last night to see the new book they were offering for the book club next month. Ms. Ruby said she hadn’t seen you there.”
“How do you forget, we have been doing that since the beginning of the year on Mondays.”
“Joseph came home last night. I just had a lot going on.”
That was all it took, her eyes lit up at Joe’s name. “Joseph is home? He is home right now? At this moment?”
“I don’t know about right now, but he is home for the summer.” The thing about Amber is she doesn’t like him because he plays football. She has liked him since the first time she laid eyes on him when we were in prekindergarten and he was in second grade. She would walk barefoot over hot coals to reach him if he needed her to. She has been to my house, birthday parties, school functions, and other situations where Joseph was in attendance, but I bet you he has no idea what her name is. She just loves him anyway. It is sad… and gross.
Amber is a pretty girl, dark straight hair and an only child. Her social skills are a little lacking but who am I to talk about that. I’m not exactly class president material. I guess we make a good fit. I am not sure I could say I have a best friend, but if I did, she would fit in that column.