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Rated: E · Short Story · Teen · #1301563
Prissy wonders if the phrase 'no good deed goes unpunished' will apply to her today...
Just when she thought the day couldn’t get any worse, she looked up from the crusty mashed potatoes and pressed chicken-like patty her school dietician tried to pass off as lunch to see Brandon, the guy of her dreams, sitting down at a table with Bree. Of course he would like Bree! Their names even sounded good together. Almost like someone made them up. Brandon and Bree – the new Ken and Barbie! They were both perfect, so why wouldn’t they be perfect for each other? And why would he ever give Prissy a second thought? She could never compete with Bree. Prissy, short for Priscilla, was cute but not pretty, smart but not brilliant, funny but not hilarious, whereas Bree was beautiful and, therefore, did not need to be smart or funny. She certainly didn’t need to be nice and, of all the adjectives used to describe her, Prissy didn’t think ‘nice’ had ever been uttered in the same sentence with ‘Bree.’

Prissy hung her head, content to stare at the crusty potatoes and pressed chicken plank rather than look at the two of them together. She wondered why her life seemed so hopeless these days. Nothing seemed to go her way, and she seemed perpetually depressed and gloomy. Weren’t these supposed to be the best years of her life? She had looked forward to eighth grade, but now she longed to be a silly kid again. She used to have so much fun with her friends, and never felt self-conscious. She remembered back in fifth grade how she had stuck a straw in each of her nostrils, then turned around, causing her best friend Emmie to spit milk out all over the table. She’d laughed so hard that she almost pee’d her pants! This thought almost brought a smile to her face until she remembered that Bree – even then a thorn in her side –complained to the cafeteria monitor that they were grossing her out, and they’d all been sentenced to study hall.

She knew that she was growing up, but no one had told her how it would make her feel. She did not like how she felt, in her head and in her heart. She realized that, for the entirety of her thirteen years, she had never really felt sad, but now she felt unreasonably, illogically, inconsolably sad just at the sight of Brandon sitting with Bree. Prissy was mature enough to know that it was not rational to be so upset about Brandon. She seemed to ‘like’ a different boy every week. Prissy would ‘like’ them intensely for a few days, obsessing over their every move and utterance, but just as quickly, for no reason apparent to anyone, she would instantly find them repulsive, juvenile, immature, silly, or most often, just boring. So it was not rational to feel sad that Brandon liked Bree enough to sit with her at lunch. Her head knew this, but her heart felt like it was being squeezed by a strong hand.

She looked over at them again, just to punish herself, and saw Bree laughing at something Brandon had said. She laughed so well, as if she’d practiced the perfect laugh. She smiled her toothy white smile, revealing just enough of her perfect teeth to dazzle anyone who happened to be looking. And that was usually everyone. Everyone looked at Bree. And no one looked at Prissy. Especially not Brandon. And now she was glad, because to look at Prissy after having gazed at the perfection which was Bree would just highlight her plainness, her ordinariness. Before Prissy started analyzing all her imperfections, she decided that she’d had enough fun for one day, and picked up her tray to leave. The crusty potatoes and chicken-like patty remained untouched. She wondered if the cafeteria staff secretly saved the untouched servings and served them again on another day. She threw her napkin and milk carton in the trash bin, and slid the tray into the metal slot.

As she was walking out the cafeteria to go to Science class, she heard a sweet voice call her name. It sounded almost like a bell tinkling. “Prissy. Prissy!”

She looked around to see Bree standing up and walking in her direction. “Prissy, I wondered if you could come over to my house after school today.”

Prissy thought maybe this was a joke. She’d seen TV shows about kids pulling mean pranks on each other. Maybe Bree wanted to pin a ‘KICK ME’ sign on her back.

Bree said, “I thought we could study together. You’re so good at math, you know. I suck at math. Can you?”

All the kids at Bree’s table were watching her – Bree’s Fan Club, all trying to dress like her, talk like her, be like her - wondering what she would say. Prissy also wondered what she would say. This was not a scenario she had ever imagined in her head. Everyone was still looking at her, so she had to say something. “What is it you want to study?”

“I’ve got Mrs. Buford for Algebra, and she’s really tough. I just don’t understand any of it. Do you? Of course you do. You’re so smart. Will you help me?”

Prissy was stunned at the nerve of this person who had never paid any attention to her through eight years of school together, just passing by her every day like a familiar chair. A wave of anger came over her, followed by a warm rush of embarrassment at the thought that everyone else knew Bree was trying to use her, and that Prissy, like everyone else, would consent to be used. The simple fact was that, in this school, she could not say no. She could not stand up and object because it would bring too much attention on her. And to Prissy, too much attention was far worse than too little. She could handle being ignored – she’d had enough practice – but the frenzy her refusal would generate would be more than she could bear. Prissy looked around at all the expectant faces focused, for once, on her, and said, “Sure.”

For the rest of the day, Prissy’s stomach was tied in a knot. Her temples pounded, and she found it hard to concentrate. She usually enjoyed Science class, but today she just sat in her seat, staring blankly at her book. She didn’t know why she felt so nervous and apprehensive, since she was the one who understood Algebra and Bree did not. Bree needed her help, so Prissy was in the position of power. So why did she feel so vulnerable? Bree was just a girl, not a vampire! But Prissy knew that Bree was not just any girl. She was the most popular girl in eighth grade. She had the best hair, the best clothes, the coolest friends, and Prissy was just, well, Prissy. Just a mere mortal.

Although Prissy had never aspired to be one of the ‘popular’ girls, she couldn’t help wondering if helping Bree would somehow boost her image and improve her social standing. Prissy could almost hear her mother say, “Good deeds are not done for recognition,” and “It’s better to have one good friend than a busload of false friends.” She was sure her mom would not approve of this motive. Her mom had often told her that she had not been popular in school, but had a small circle of true friends who could always depend on each other. And Prissy supposed she was the same way. Her friends Lisa, Madison and Emmie could trust each other to tell the truth about anything, good or bad, and not stay mad about anything too long. She could spend hours talking with her friends and never get bored, and was comfortable talking about anything, secure that her friends would not ridicule her or, the cardinal sin, gossip about her. So her mom would be disappointed that Prissy would even consider helping Bree in order to gain even a small measure of popularity. And Prissy felt ashamed for thinking it. The act of helping someone, regardless of how they’d treated you, should stand on its own, and being kind to someone who’d treated you poorly should expect no reward. But somehow the phrase ‘No good deed goes unpunished’ kept popping into her consciousness.

When the final bell rang, she felt a sickening sense of dread as she walked toward the main hallway to the front of the school. They had agreed to meet on the front steps and walk together to Bree’s house. As she turned the corner by the gym, she felt a tug at her jacket and looked around to see Emmie smiling at her. “How on Earth did you get talked into helping Bree?”

“I guess good news travels fast. What else did you hear?”

“You’re helping her with Algebra at her house after school.”

“Yep. I think everyone in the cafeteria was looking at me. I didn’t know what else to do. Maybe it won’t be so bad.”

“Well, at least you can see what her house looks like. I bet it’s just like a magazine inside. Her closet’s probably the size of my kitchen!”

“I guess I’ll find out. She’ll probably have good snacks!”

“Yeah, probably caviar!”

Prissy was feeling better already, just joking around with Emmie. “I better get going. Wish me luck!”

Prissy walked down the long corridor, hoping that Bree wasn’t really so mean as to be pulling some elaborate prank on her. Hopefully, she just needed help with Algebra. And Prissy could handle Algebra. She luckily seemed to just get it, sort of intuitively. She knew most people weren’t so fortunate. She could spare an afternoon to help someone less fortunate. That thought made her chuckle out loud. Less fortunate! No one had ever considered Bree less fortunate! Prissy walked out the front double doors into the afternoon sunshine, and marveled at the brightness of the colors in the natural light. The world always looked beautiful to her after being cooped up inside with fluorescent lights all day. The greens were so green, the blue of the sky so intense. She really couldn’t continue to be so cynical while surrounded by such a marvelous day.

Just then, Bree appeared and said, “Okay, let’s get this over with!”

“Sure,” said Prissy, realizing that Bree was no more enthusiastic about this arrangement than she was.

They walked the four blocks to Bree’s house which was, naturally, large and elaborate. Prissy would have been surprised had it been anything less. Bree used her key to let them in the front door, and quickly keyed her pass code into the alarm panel. She walked to the kitchen, with Prissy following, and put her backpack down on the breakfast room table. Emmie had been right – Bree’s house did look like a magazine. Beautifully decorated with tailored drapes, coordinating upholstery, interesting accessories, and immaculately clean and tidy. There was very little evidence that anyone lived there. It looked like the model homes Prissy and her family had looked at when they had been deciding where they would build their new house, which would fit inside Bree’s house twice. Bree walked over to the refrigerator and said, “Do you want a drink? We have soft drinks, bottled water, and orange juice.”

Prissy said, “Thanks. I’ll have water.”

Bree took a Coke, and brought Prissy’s water over to the table. Prissy said, “Thanks. Maybe we should get started. I have to be home by five,” and started taking her books out of her bag. “Maybe you could tell me what you need help with.”

Bree laughed, and said, “That’s easy. Everything. I don’t get anything. When Mrs. Buford starts talking, it all sounds like Greek to me. How can a letter stand for a number? I just don’t get it. I’ve tried. I’ve really tried, and I just feel defeated.”

Prissy rubbed her chin and said, “Well, we could just start at the beginning. Let’s go to the first chapter in the book. Luckily we’re only on chapter four now, so it won’t take long to catch up.”

“Oh, you sound pretty confident. You don’t know how lost I am.”

“Let’s just start.” They both opened their books to the first chapter. Bree had been right – she was lost. She hadn’t understood anything, so Prissy went slowly, and used a simple equation with a variable : 2 + x = 6.

Bree got that one right away, so Prissy gave her a harder one: 2 times a = 6. She thought about that one a minute, then tentatively said, “Three?”

Prissy said, “Right! I thought you couldn’t do this?”

“These aren’t as hard as the ones in the book. Those always trip me up.”

“Okay, let’s look at one of the exercises for chapter one.” Prissy flipped to the end of the first section and picked an exercise. “Here’s one. Solve x - 12 + 20 = 37.” Prissy wrote the problem down on her notepad and said, “The first thing you do is to add the negative twelve and the twenty together.” Then she wrote down, x + 8 = 37. “Now, the next thing you do is to get rid of the eight on both sides of the equation, which will leave just the x on the left.” She then wrote, x + 8 - 8 = 37 – 8. She looked at Bree and said, “What’s next?” and handed her the pencil.

Bree looked like a scared kitten, and reluctantly took the pencil. She said, “Well, eight minus eight is zero, and thirty seven minus eight is twenty nine.” She crossed out the two eights on the left side of the equation, and wrote ‘x = 29.’

Prissy beamed like a proud mother, and said “Great! See, it’s not so hard. Just remember that whatever you do to one side of the equation you have to do to the other.”

“You make it seem so easy. I hope I can remember this when Mrs. Buford is standing up at the board.”

At that moment, Prissy heard the door open from the garage, and a tall, tanned, beautiful woman walked in wearing a tennis outfit, carrying a towel and a racquet bag. When she noticed them at the table she said, “Well, hello girls. Bree, who’s your friend?”

Bree sat up straight in her chair and said, “Mom, this is Prissy Carter. She’s helping me with Algebra.”

“Isn’t that nice of you. Bree needs all the help she can get. I was never good at Math. So Prissy, where do you live?”

Prissy could feel Bree’s mother’s eyes assessing her, looking at her clothes, her hair, her shoes. Sizing her up. She said, “We live on Rivercrest, over by the golf course.”

“Oh, yeah. I know where that is.” Then she turned her hard eyes on Bree and said, “Bree, dear, do you think you really need that Coke? That’s an awful lot of calories, and it’s not good for your skin, either. How do you think you’re going to stay on the teen board at Macy’s if you get fat as a butterball?”

Prissy could see Bree shrink in her chair. She pushed the Coke can away from her and said, “I think I’m starting to catch on to Algebra. Prissy was a big help. I’m going to go back and do some of the exercises again and see how I do.”

“Well, that’s great. You’ll never get into a good college if you don’t do well in Math.”

Prissy could feel the tension in the air, and wondered what was going on with Bree’s mom. She didn’t seem anything like her friends moms. They were all nice.

Bree stood up and said, “Thanks for helping me, Prissy. It’s a quarter to five. I’ll walk you halfway.”

Prissy put on her jacket and grabbed her backpack. They walked out together, and neither said anything for several minutes as they walked down the sidewalk.

Bree said, “I really appreciate your help. You didn’t have to agree to come over. I was wondering if you’d mind coming over again in a couple of days, after I’ve tried some more problems on my own.”

Prissy thought for a moment, and said, “Maybe you could come to my house next time.”

Bree said, “Sure, I guess. I’ll just walk with you all the way to your house so I’ll know where it is.”

They walked together some more, quietly, when Bree said, “How many brothers and sisters do you have?”

“Two brothers and one sister.”

“How old are they?”

“Brian and Blake are ten, and Samantha’s eight.”

“What’s it like having all those people in your house?”

“Oh, it’s okay. I guess I don’t know what it would be like otherwise. It’s always loud, it’s always chaotic, but it’s always fun. I resent having to help sometimes, but that’s just being selfish. Everyone has to help. Then we all get to do fun stuff.”

“Do you have any privacy?”

“Not much. I do have my own room, and my own bathroom. Our house has plenty of room, but there is a lot of noise. And we all have friends over all the time, so there’s usually more than four kids in the house. Every weekend someone sleeps over. And the twins have friends over to play every afternoon after school.”

Bree said, “I bet’s there’s never a dull moment.”

They walked the rest of the way to Prissy’s house, and Bree thanked her again for helping. Prissy wondered how she would treat her tomorrow, but figured she’d wait and see. Bree really didn’t seem that bad. But her mother was another story. Prissy walked in the front door, and was instantly greeted by the rich aroma of her dad’s secret spaghetti sauce. She was glad to be home with her noisy, rowdy, happy family. She always felt content to be home where she could be herself and everyone loved her as she was.

Her dad walked into the foyer, wearing his white apron and chef’s hat and said, “It’s about time you got home! We were getting worried.” He wiped his hands on a towel, and came over to give her a hug. Prissy’s dad, Rob, was a bear of a man. He was tall and solid, with graying hair and piercing blue eyes that could sear the truth from you. She knew better than to ever try to pull one over on him. Besides, the very thought that he was upset or disappointed with her was enough to bring tears to her eyes. She hugged him tightly and said, “I was helping Bree Parkland with Algebra.”

“The Bree? Isn’t she the girl at school who ratted you out a couple of years ago in the cafeteria?”

Prissy was surprised that he remembered that story, although it had been the only time the whole year she’d been sentenced to study hall. “Yes, The Bree. She hit me up for help in the cafeteria with everyone watching, and I really couldn’t say no. I guess she’s not as bad as I thought. She’s coming here to study next time.”

“Great! Maybe she can stay for dinner. I’ll make lasagna.”

The thought of Bree with Prissy’s family, together around her grandmother’s huge round oak table, with everyone trying to talk at once, laughing at goofy jokes, made her wonder if Bree would feel as uncomfortable in Prissy’s world as Prissy felt in hers. She wondered if Bree would even stay for dinner. Lasagna was probably not on the Macy’s Teen Board diet.

Prissy carried her backpack upstairs to her room, and unloaded her books on her desk. She still had tons of homework. She walked into her bathroom to wash her face and looked into the mirror. Such a stark contrast when compared to the perfect Bree. Practically everything about them was opposite. Prissy’s hair was a tangle of auburn curls, past unmanageable, thick and just touching her shoulders, although if you straightened out the curls, it reached almost to her waist. Her face was a creamy white except for the sprinkling of freckles across her nose, and a small pink zit situated unfortunately between her eyes. No makeup had touched her skin, and she couldn’t imagine sacrificing even five minutes of glorious sleep in the morning to apply anything to her face to change the way she looked. What difference would it make, anyway? Prissy stood all of five feet tall, even in her Birkenstocks, which, well worn and a bit dirty, seemed to go with everything in her closet. Her sturdy frame was clad in olive drab cargo capris and a pale yellow baggy tee shirt with a YMCA logo. Prissy had a closet full of baggy, nondescript but comfortable clothes. She wanted to blend in, disappear in the crowd. Her only fashion accessory was a knitted beanie cap. She had a drawer full. In drab colors. Maybe covering up part of her head would draw attention from the frighteningly red hair which was always pulled into a tight braid. And she was one of the only people in eighth grade who still had braces. Thank goodness she didn’t have glasses, too! If Prissy could choose a mutation, like one of the X-Men, she would choose invisibility. She would be content to disappear at will, and only appear to those people she cared about.

Bree, the antitheses of Prissy, was tall, probably five nine. Her long limbs looked delicate and tan, and her complexion was flawless, having never sported a single blemish. Prissy bet that if Bree ever had a zit, her mother would transport her to the nearest dermatologist office for immediate treatment, and Bree would miss school until all signs were gone. Bree’s hair was a testament to electrical appliances and high-tech styling products. Long, straight, golden amber with strategically placed highlights, and glossy in an almost inhuman way. Her perfectly straight teeth were unnaturally white, a virtual advertisement for modern dentistry. And Bree’s clothes were the most fashionable that Macy’s had to offer. Every outfit perfectly coordinated, down to the belt and shoes. For what Bree spent on clothes, a family of four could be fed for a year! Bree was one of the ‘beautiful people.’ Her friends were all good looking, tan, and fashionable. But none could compare.

Prissy pulled off her beanie, and splashed some water on her pale face. She loosened the braid, letting her wild hair fall loosely around her face. Her rich brown eyes surveyed the zit between her eyes, grateful to see that it had decreased in size and intensity. She dabbed a tiny swab of zit cream on it, and headed back to her desk to tackle some homework before dinner. Pre-AP history would take the longest to complete, with an entire chapter to be read, and a dozen questions to be answered. The likelihood of a pop quiz was always high, so she had to concentrate. She settled down on her bed, pillows propping her up against the headboard, with the huge textbook in her lap, and a page of notebook paper for jotting down ‘quiz-worthy’ facts to study later.

A few blocks away, Bree was preparing her own dinner. Lean turkey breast on whole wheat, a sliced apple, and ice water. Bree’s dad was in Boston on another business trip, and her mother had showered quickly after tennis and headed back out to meet some friends for dinner at the club. Bree was on her own again, like most nights, dreading her English homework, and just wanting to watch TV for a while. What she really wanted was some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, but of course there was nothing like that in their house! Her mom probably had some kind of alarm installed that would shriek like a banshee if anything with more than three hundred calories made it inside. Her mother was thirty-eight years old, and liked to boast that she could still wear the same bikini she wore in high school. Why not? She ate nothing but spinach salads and some kind of ‘vitamin’ she got from her doctor. Bree doubted it was really a vitamin, but it seemed to provide energy, since her mother was always flitting around like a bee, never still, and never quiet. Always talking, when she was home, asking Bree what she had eaten today, when was the last time she cleansed her face, how many miles she had run on the treadmill. Telling Bree how when she was a teenager, she was already making TV commercials for cosmetics and beauty products. Bree remembered when she was twelve asking her mom if she could play soccer. Her mom went nuts, telling Bree she could not afford to get kicked in the shin and be bruised or, Heaven forbid, get a cut or scrape that would leave a scar! She had everything she needed to succeed, the rest was up to her to protect her assets and develop her talent. All her free time was spent auditioning for print ads and commercials, or tanning or exercising to stay pencil thin. Sometimes she just wanted to eat pizza with friends and watch movies. She wanted to pull her hair back in a pony tail, and wear jeans and t-shirts and flip flops. Ride her bike or walk a dog around the neighborhood. That’s how normal kids lived. But Bree was not normal, at least according to her mom. Bree was special, with all the right stuff to be the next great super model.

Since Prissy was the oldest, she supervised the cleanup after dinner. The twins were responsible for loading the dishwasher, and Samantha had to clean off the table and the countertops. Their dad was such a clean cook that all the cookware was already washed and stowed before dinner was served. Prissy’s mom, Dana, went through the kid’s backpacks, making sure all homework was done, and reviewed the work returned from school. This was such a familiar scene in their home. There was a nightly routine, and everyone was comfortable knowing what was expected. That was not to say that things didn’t frequently happen to disrupt the routine. Last week in fact, the routine was severely disrupted by the stray dog that showed up at their house. The boys found the dog in the garage when they took the trash out that night after dinner, and begged and pleaded to keep it, promising to take care of it, walk it, feed it, clean up after it, and play with it. But Dad noticed that the dog was wearing a collar, and checked the tag for a phone number. Thankfully, there was a current rabies tag, and sure enough, there was a phone number. He told the boys that he had to call the dog’s owner to try to return the dog to its home. How would they feel if their dog was lost and someone just decided to keep it? So he called the number and left a message, and told them that the dog could stay in the garage overnight if the owner didn’t call back soon. If the owner hadn’t claimed the dog by tomorrow, which was Saturday, they should put up some posters around the neighborhood.

Brian and Blake were so sure the owner wouldn’t call that they started making major plans for their dog. They brought an old blanket out to the garage, a bowl of water, an old GI Joe that was missing an arm and all of his clothing (must have been a horrible battle!) They couldn’t wait to take her for a walk, and see if she could catch a Frisbee. Prissy and Samantha weren’t so impressed with the dog. The tag said her name was Abby, but Samantha thought it should be Flabby. The poor thing was shaped like a sausage. Abby had scraggly black fur and a white face with beady brown eyes. Besides a distinct lack of physical beauty, the dog emitted an aroma like rotten cabbage. After just a few minutes, it became clear that the dog had a flatulence problem, with no noises to serve as fair warning. The owner did not call back that night, so they left Abby in the garage with her blanket and GI Joe, and went to bed. The next day was not to be a good day for anyone. In the morning, they discovered that Abby had not only destroyed her blanket, but had pulled their coats off the pegs in the garage and shredded those as well. She had torn open a bag of potting soil and scattered the contents all over the floor, and chewed a pair of Mom’s gardening gloves beyond recognition. When Samantha saw what had happened, she screamed, then started laughing hysterically and had to be sent to her room.

After surveying the devastation, Dad immediately called the owner’s number again, leaving a more urgent message, saying something about the ‘dog pound.’ Since the boys wanted a dog so much, Dad insisted that they clean up the mess. They responded as typical ten year old boys, with righteous outrage. Half way through the cleaning process, their enthusiasm for this dog, or any dog, was non-existent. When they finished, they quickly made the posters and by ten o’clock had stapled them all over the neighborhood. Rob made a leash from a nylon rope, and tied Abby to a tree in the back yard with a bowl of water and some Cheerios, and left her outside while he started preparing food for the party he was catering. Rob was a master chef, having worked at some of the best restaurants in town, but started his catering business after Samantha was born. He’d been busy ever since. He had been able to completely redo their kitchen, enabling him to work from home, which allowed Dana to pursue her career. He knew she was not the stay at home type, and loved her job as an academic counselor at the University. They were far from wealthy, but certainly comfortable and content.

Any idea the boys had had about ‘playing’ with Abby were eliminated when they went to check on her in the back yard after posting the signs. She had dug small holes all over the ten foot circle allowed by her leash. She’d completely chewed the head off of GI Joe, and one of his legs, and chewed the water bowl into little plastic bits. Deposited around the perimeter were several large piles of poo which emitted the now familiar rotten cabbage odor. By two o’clock everyone was becoming concerned that the dog’s owner had not called. Rob told the boys to walk her around the neighborhood, thinking she might recognize her home, but after an hour they headed back with no success. By four o’clock, Rob was preparing to leave for the evening and told the boys to move everything that Abby could destroy in the garage to the top of the workbench, and put her out there with a metal pan for water. If the owner didn’t claim her by noon tomorrow, she would have to go to the animal shelter. He expected them to protest, but they did not utter a word.

When the phone rang, everyone in the house rushed to answer. Rob answered, while everyone stood around expectantly. Finally the dog’s owner had called, and everyone listened anxiously, trying to get the gist of the conversation. As it turned out, the owner had been at the hospital with his elderly mother, and left Abby in his fenced back yard where he thought she’d be safe. When he returned, he noticed she had dug a hole under the fence. He was about to leave to look for her when he saw the red light on the machine and listened to the message. He came to pick her up right away, and they were all touched by how happy he was to see her, and how grateful he was to have her back. And Abby was simply transformed when she saw her master. She pranced, and spun around in circles, jumped into his arms, and licked him ceaselessly on the face. He was such a nice man and had so much affection for the poor smelly creature that Prissy felt her eyes beginning to water. She was such a sentimental sap. She felt that if this nice man could care for poor Abby, with all her faults, she really should be more eager to find the good in others. At the time, she had no idea how soon she would get the opportunity to apply this philosophy.

Prissy awoke the next morning after helping Bree with a feeling of dread that manifested itself as a hard lump in the pit of her stomach. She’d chosen her clothing more carefully today, selecting her most fashionable jeans and a plain brown tee shirt, less baggy than most, and braided her hair more carefully, making sure no errant strands had escaped. She chose a tan beanie and pulled it down over her forehead, noticing that the zit was just a faint memory. She hated feeling that everyone would be looking at her, but knew she would be the hot news today. She wanted to believe that Bree wouldn’t talk about her behind her back or make fun of her. But that was Bree’s usual behavior. She skipped breakfast, and just grabbed her backpack and started the walk to school. She walked to Emmie’s, and they walked together to Lisa’s. The three of them walked slowly the rest of the way so Prissy could fill them in on the gory details. She told them how nice Bree had actually been, what her house looked like, and especially about Bree’s mom. Prissy said she actually felt kind of sorry for Bree, because she really didn’t seem to have any fun. Emmie and Lisa both snorted at that statement.

Emmie said, “She only has fun at other people’s expense!”

Lisa rolled her eyes and said, “I hope she’s not just setting you up. Leopards never change their spots.”

Prissy just shrugged as they walked up the front steps, and said, “I guess we’ll find out.” She entered the eighth grade hallway and noticed people looking at her, then turning away. Maybe she was just paranoid, but she felt like they were assessing her for damage. Did they think Bree was going to use her for help with Algebra, then try to kill her? Did they think Bree would steal her life force, leaving her wasted and weak? She realized most kids in eighth grade saw Bree as some sort of alien creature, so different from them, as different as someone from another planet. Prissy had felt the same way, but now she knew better. Prissy turned the corner and saw Bree talking to one of her friends, looking like an ad for Abercrombie in her skin tight jeans and pink polo, hair glistening on her shoulders. She saw Prissy, said something to her friend, then walked over to her.

“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe how much better I am at Algebra! I went back and worked every single problem in the first four chapters, and it just got easier and easier! Thank you so much for helping me.”

Prissy saw everyone in the hall stop, and realized they were looking at them and listening. She shrugged and said, “I told you you could do it. You just had to get the basics.”

“Well, I can’t wait for Mrs. Buford to ask me a question!”

Prissy looked around and saw that everyone was still watching them, peeking around from behind lockers, and over the tops of books. Bree noticed too, and said, “Hey people. Get a life!”

They both laughed, and Bree said, “I really appreciate you helping me. I know I’ve never been exactly nice to you. I wouldn’t have blamed you if you told me to just get lost.”

Prissy said, “That’s okay. If you need any more help, let me know.”

Bree said, “Thanks,” and started to walk away, then stopped. She said, “Prissy, we have a test next week. Would you mind studying with me?”

Prissy said, “Sure. This time at my house. You can stay for dinner. My dad makes great lasagna.”

“Really? What day?”

“How about Monday? The test is on Wednesday, right?”

“Yeah. Okay, Monday. I’ll be there! Thanks!” With that, Bree turned around and walked toward the gym.

Prissy stood there for a minute, trying to understand what had just happened. She’d just invited The Bree to her humble home, filled with noise and chaos, but also filled with people who loved her. She spent the rest of the day being stared at but not laughed at, so she knew Bree had not trashed her. Maybe leopards could change their spots, or at least leopards could grow up. They would all grow up eventually and, if they were lucky, they’d learn a few things.

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