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The Only Girl in School, Page 2

Natalie Standiford

  Only MY name. Not Webby’s or Henry’s or anyone else’s.

  It’s so unfair.

  So I had detention after school. It was the first day of school. Nobody else had detention. There hadn’t been time for anybody to do anything bad. Except me, of course.

  Detention is in Ms. Ruiz’s room this year. I sat alone in the classroom with her. I didn’t have anything to do, not even homework. Mr. Harper let us off easy for the first day.

  Ms. Ruiz sat at her desk reading a Star Time magazine. I read the graffiti kids had scratched into the desk where I sat. I stared out the window. I saw Henry and Webby ride off somewhere on their bikes.

  I think Ms. Ruiz felt sorry for me, so she read some of the juicier celebrity gossip out loud.

  “Did you know Taylor Swift loves red cotton socks?”

  I told her that, no, I didn’t know that.

  “Listen to this—Kim Kardashian has a secret twin. They were separated at birth!”

  To which I said: “Oh wow.”

  I was supposed to stay for an hour, but she let me go fifteen minutes early.

  “Don’t let the boys get you down,” she told me as I was leaving. “Stay strong, sister.” She’s nice, Ms. Ruiz.

  Still, Mom and Dad got mad at me when I came home late. After I explained, they said they understood. Mom said she’d talk to Mr. Unitas about being more sensitive about my situation.

  I’m afraid talking to the principal is not going to be enough. Things are bad without you, Bess. It’s going to be a long year.




  Welcome to Day Two.

  Last year, the best thing about being the only two girls in school was having the girls’ bathroom all to ourselves. Our beloved clubhouse.

  Mr. Jones painted it over the summer, so all of our drawings and poems from last year are gone. When I first walked in yesterday and saw those blank walls, it made me sad.

  But then I thought: New year, blank slate. I can record the history of this year on the walls. Like cave paintings. Trouble is, there’s no one around to see them but me. Being in our clubhouse without you makes me miss you the most.

  Luckily I brought some things from home today to make the clubhouse cozy. I put a few of my favorite books on the shelf, next to the extra paper towels. Mom made me a pretty blue cushion just the right size for the windowsill, so now there’s a window seat! I can sit there and read during free periods. I brought pictures of Bruno and Starshine and taped them to the walls. I drew frames around the pictures—a red frame with flowers around Bruno, a blue frame with stars for Starshine.

  Instead of subjecting myself to the gross cafeteria again, I ate lunch in the clubhouse. I finished my sandwich and started drawing pictures on the wall to record the history of my first day of fifth grade. I drew a picture of me getting bombarded by balls in the gym. I called it “The Dodgeball Massacre.” I made Webby look evil, with long, sharp teeth, snarling as he hurled a ball at me. I drew a halo around my head, like an angel.

  I know I’m not an angel, but it’s my cave and I can make the paintings any way I like. And it’s not like anyone else will ever see them, except Mr. Jones, and I don’t think he even looks at the walls while he’s mopping the floors and restocking the toilet paper. At least, he’s never said anything to me.

  Then I drew the lunch incident: “Poison Pizza.” It had two parts. Part 1: I’m gagging from the hot sauce. Part 2: I’m getting scolded by Mrs. Grimes for attacking Webby. Unfair.

  Once the drawing was done, I sat on the window seat and looked around the bathroom. It’s a very nice clubhouse, but a club with only one member isn’t much fun.

  The rest of the afternoon was fairly calm. We had math and social studies. Then three-thirty came. Soccer practice.

  I’m excited because this year our team gets to play against other schools. I really, really want to play center forward. Center forward is my spot. I love to kick those arching shots into the goal. I love the feel of the ball smacking against my right foot.

  As you know, I was the high scorer on the team last year. Any sane coach would let me be center forward.

  We don’t have a sane coach, though. We have Pow-Pow.

  Webby told Pow-Pow that he wanted to play center forward. Pow-Pow said, “Cool, I’ll watch you and Claire during practice and assign positions to everyone next week.” Henry’s got halfback sewn up, and Yucky Gilbert wants to be goalie. Nobody else wants to be goalie, so the job is his.

  You know how there’s always a giant mud puddle in front of the goal whenever it rains? Well, it rained yesterday. Gilbert stepped right through the puddle and huddled in front of the net. By the end of practice, he was covered in mud and yuckier than ever.

  The whole field was muddy—the mud spattered all over my legs as I ran. We started scrimmaging. I intercepted the ball. I was headed for the goal when Webby ran in front of me and tripped me—right in front of the giant mud puddle. I fell into it face-first.

  Pow-Pow blew his whistle. Webby laughed. He tripped me on purpose! Anybody could see that. I waited for Pow-Pow to give him a penalty or at least yell at him, but he didn’t say a word. He just asked if I was okay. I said, “Webby tripped me!”

  Pow-Pow looked at Webby. Webby shrugged and said, “I didn’t mean to.”

  I looked at Henry and said, “You saw him, right?”

  Henry used to take my side against Webby all the time. But not this time. He shrugged like Webby and said, “I didn’t do anything.”

  “Long as nobody’s hurt.” Pow-Pow helped me up. Then he blew his whistle and shouted, “Resume play!”

  We started playing again, and this time I swiped the ball from Webby, even though we were on the same team. Shrieeeek! went Pow-Pow’s whistle. “Claire Warren! You don’t sabotage a teammate!”

  A few minutes later, Webby stole the ball from me—just like I did to him. Only somehow Pow-Pow didn’t see it this time. Webby scored a goal, and Pow-Pow said, “Nice job, Webby.”

  I wanted to take a big handful of mud and rub it in Webby’s face.

  After practice, I wiped the mud off my legs and changed. I couldn’t take a shower, because I don’t have one. I have to change in the clubhouse. They turned the girls’ locker room into Pow-Pow’s private office. I guess he figured, since there’s only one of me, I don’t need a locker room all to myself. He probably likes having an office with his own shower in it.

  Tonight at dinner, Mom asked, “How was school today, kids?”

  Gabe gushed about how much he loves his teacher and how great it is that there are no girls in his class. I said that’s exactly what I don’t like about school this year.

  Then Jim, Mr. Big Shot High School, showed Gabe how to make spitballs and spit them through straws at a target. The target being me.

  “Mom!” I cried. “Jim and Gabe spit this at me!” I peeled a spitball off my forehead.

  “It wasn’t us,” Jim said. “Smuggler Joe did it.”

  “No spitballs,” Mom said, but she laughed at the Smuggler Joe thing.

  Even at home I’m the only girl. Except for Mom, and she doesn’t count.

  It was still light out after dinner. I wished I could go visit you at your house, like I used to. But I couldn’t, so I saddled up Starshine and went for a ride. Bruno came along. He likes to trot beside me and Starshine, wagging his tail and barking at squirrels.

  We rode over to Eliot Point to look at the water. It calms me down to watch the sun set over the river. While we rode, I sang Starshine’s special song to him.

  I don’t think I ever told you about Starshine’s special song. I haven’t told anyone, so the fact that I’m telling you now, IN WRITING, is proof that you are my closest friend.

  You could probably guess the song if you think about it. It’s “Good Morning, Starshine”! Mom used to sing it to me every morning when she woke me up. She still does sometimes, when she’s in a sunny morning mood. I sing it to Starshine even when it’s not morni
ng, because I named him after the song. I can tell he likes it because his ears twitch in time when I sing it to him.

  Now that you’re gone, I guess Starshine and Bruno are my best friends.

  Stupid Henry.

  Miss you,


  Dear Bess,

  Sorry I haven’t written since last week. The rest of the week at school was more of the same, only worse, and I didn’t want to bore you. Your school sounds like heaven. You really have milk and cookies every afternoon? And so many sports teams! I’m jealous. That girl you mentioned, Anna, sounds nice.

  The big news here is the fall regatta, of course. It’s two weeks away, and I haven’t found a crew to replace you yet. I was going to ask Henry. I figured he’d be flattered to be asked to crew for the captain of the boat that won last spring.

  Yeah! Go, us!

  Everybody knows Swifty is the fastest 420 on the island and you and I are the fastest junior team anybody can remember. Since we broke every record last year, I thought those dumb boys would line up to crew for me this year. I’m scared to ask Henry, with the way he’s been acting. I’m afraid he’ll say no, even though he’d be crazy to turn me down. Doesn’t he want to win?

  Listen to this: Yesterday after school I went out back to the dock to get Swifty rigged up for a sail. She’d been covered up all week because of the rain and because I haven’t had much time for sailing since school started.

  I thought I heard a funny noise when I got close to the boat, kind of like a thump. I didn’t think too much about it.

  When I got closer to the boat, the tarp looked funny. Just off a little bit, not tied tightly.

  My heart was beating fast. A tingle in my bones told me something wasn’t right.

  I ran into the house. “Mom! I think someone is hiding in Swifty!”

  Mom wasn’t immediately convinced. “What does this intruder look like?” she asked.

  “I don’t know,” I told her. “I’m afraid to peek under the tarp.”

  “Maybe it’s Smuggler Joe!”

  Not funny.

  “He’s not real,” I said.

  “Sure he’s real. A real ghost, anyway.”

  I didn’t know whether she was teasing me or not.

  “What’s he doing hiding in my boat?” I asked.

  “I expect he’s taking a nap. Let’s go out and see.”

  She was definitely teasing me.

  We crept outside. The tarp still looked lumpy. It moved!

  I grabbed Mom. She gasped and jumped back a foot.

  “Ghosts don’t make lumps—do they?” I said.

  “Only one way to find out.”

  We stepped closer, quietly, quietly … The lump stayed still, but I could hear someone under there breathing, or more like panting.

  “On three,” Mom said. “Ready? One, two, three!”

  I yanked off the tarp.

  Bruno jumped up and licked my face.

  “But it could have been Smuggler Joe,” Mom said as we walked back to the house.

  “What would we have done if it was?” I asked.

  Mom shook her head. “I don’t know. Asked him to come in for some iced tea?”

  This seemed to me a rather friendly way to deal with a ghost thief. “Really?” I said. “But wouldn’t he hurt us?”

  “He’d never hurt a Foyes Islander. We’re his people. Our ancestors hid the smugglers way back in the old days. They lived here among us, and when the government officers came looking for them, we’d just shrug and say, ‘Joe? Never heard of him.’ ”

  “How do you know all this?”

  Mom smiled. “My parents told me, and their parents told them, and their parents told them …”


  “In fact, people say he spent a lot of time at the Three Fiddlers Pub.”

  “The Three Fiddlers Pub? I never heard of that place.”

  “That’s because it doesn’t exist anymore. It was knocked down by one of the big hurricanes. But do you know where it once stood?”


  “Right on this very spot.”

  Freaky, right?

  “So Smuggler Joe used to hang out right here?” I asked.

  “Well, we can’t say for sure he was even real. But if he was, he would have been here. It was a smugglers’ hangout.”

  Your family’s not from the Island originally, Bess, so maybe you never heard those old stories. But you’ve heard of Smuggler Joe, of course. Because he—or his ghost—gets blamed for everything around here.

  People like Mom talk about him as if he were a real person. But no one really knows if he was or wasn’t. Sometimes I think he’s just a legend, like Bigfoot. But who knows?

  Not me. That’s for sure.

  Later tater,



  Today I finally asked Henry if he wants to crew for me in the regatta. Do you know what he said? You’re not going to believe it. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BELIEVE IT.

  He said,

  and I quote:

  “I won’t crew for a girl.”

  Then he walked away.

  Does that sound like Henry to you? OUR Henry?

  What happened to him?

  Maybe he never actually liked me. Maybe he only hung out with me to be near you. Is that true? If that’s true, you better tell me. Don’t be afraid of hurting my feelings.

  In a way, knowing that he never liked me would make me feel better. At least it would explain why he’s acting so weird. The only other explanation I can think of is that he’s possessed by a ghost who hates girls.

  I’m sorry. I’m so upset I have to stop writing now.

  Okay, I’m back.

  After Henry turned me down I went into shock. I went numb. But when I wrote down what he said and saw his words in black and white … well, it hit me, really hit me. Henry might as well have slapped my face, that’s how much it hurt.

  I made a tent in my room, just like we used to do when you spent the night here. I tied a big blue sheet between the posts of my twin beds and made a tent. Then I sat on the rug between the beds and looked at how the sheet filtered the sunlight in my room and made everything in the tent look blue. My hands turned blue, and my arms, and my feet, even my toenails. Blue, blue, blue.

  I felt sad for a long time. But then I started to get mad.

  I’m the best junior sailor on Foyes Island, and Henry doesn’t want to crew for me because I’m a girl?


  I’ll show him.

  I’ll show everyone.

  I’ll win the regatta again this fall, two races in a row. And next spring too. Nobody’s ever won three Foyes Island regattas in a row. I’ll be the first. Girl or no girl.

  The trouble is, I can’t win all by myself. I need somebody to crew for me. I’ll ask around tomorrow at school. The next best sailor after me and Henry is Webby, but I can’t ask him. There’s got to be somebody else.

  Well, good night, Bess. I’ll let you know what happens tomorrow.

  I’m getting used to fifth grade now. It’s been a few weeks. Mr. Harper’s not bad. I wouldn’t call him nice, exactly, but he tries to be fair. That’s more than I can say for a lot of the other teachers at that school. (Pow-Pow, ahem ahem.)

  My favorite part of school is hanging out in the clubhouse. I eat my lunch in there every day now, which sounds gross, but it’s not. Nothing’s grosser than an all-boy cafeteria during lunchtime. When I do set foot in there, I usually come out covered in bread crumbs or with smushed banana stuck to my shoe or something.

  I eat fast, and then I read or draw on the walls. I’m reading The Black Stallion, which is really good, but not as good as Misty of Chincoteague. Misty reminds me of Starshine a little bit. The Black Stallion is a lot more fiery and noble than Starshine. I love Starshine but he pretty much lives to eat apples. He’s not, like, a hero horse who rescues people or anything.

  Every day I draw the sad story of my life on the walls. I drew my
boat with Bruno popping out from under the tarp. I drew a picture of me in Starshine’s stable, reading The Black Stallion to him.

  Meanwhile, I have news about my crew for the regatta. Not good news. I asked every boy in the class—well, every boy except one. I would have done anything to avoid asking that one boy to crew for me. I even asked some fourth graders. They all said no. These boys, it’s like they’re in a cult or something and they can’t have anything to do with a girl.

  Finally I asked the boy who was my last resort. I don’t have to tell you his name. I’m sure you can guess.

  His initials are Y.G. And guess what.

  He said yes.

  I have to hand it to Gilbert. He might be the yuckiest person ever born, but he’s the only boy who’s willing to go against the other boys. Maybe the Webby boys don’t want him around because he’s so yucky. Oh well. Yucky Gilbert will be crewing for me at the regatta.

  I know, I know. He’s a terrible sailor. He has no sense of direction. We’ll have to practice a lot, which only makes the whole thing worse. I told him I have a lot of rules on my ship, but the first and most important rule is: No Slobbering.

  Dear Bess,

  Gilbert here. How’s California? Everyone misses you here on Foyes, but Claire misses you most of all, I think.

  Did she tell you I’m going to crew for her? When she asked me I was so happy! She’s the best sailor on the island! The best kid sailor, anyway. I’ve never won anything in my life, so I can’t wait to finally win the regatta! If we win. Knock wood.

  Here’s the thing: I’m so nervous. I’m not as good a sailor as you. You won with Claire last year. That’s why I’m writing to you—well, besides wanting to say hi and how are you and all that. Do you have any tips for me? What can I do to help our boat win? How can I keep Claire from getting mad at me? She’s always yelling at me.