FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
Beep, beep. Six thirty. I turned off the alarm, threw off my covers, and popped out of bed. My insides did flip-flops. There was something exciting about the first day of school. Especially when it was everybody's first day of school. Not like last year, when we moved to Pensacola in October and I was the only new kid in class. This year, the first day of school meant new notebooks, new pencils, new shoes, new teacher, and a new seat at the back of the class. Everything would be new except for me.
I wondered if Mr. Clark would be my teacher this year. He gave out treat coupons when students got the correct answers. Or maybe I'd be assigned to Mrs. Lindsey. She designed the butterfly garden outside the fifth-grade wing. Her students got extra time outside to take care of the garden.
Instead of sitting in the front of the class like my teacher, Ms. Gordon, made me do last year, I planned to pick a seat at the back near the window. That way I could watch butterflies dart around the salvia in the garden. It was going to be a get-off-the-bus kind of year.
Then I walked inside the school and everything changed. The school secretary grinned at me from behind the registration table.
"Good morning, Piper Reed! How was your summer?"
"How did you know my name?" I asked her. There were hundreds of kids at our school.
"Piper Reed, everyone knows your name. You're famous at Blue Angels Elementary School." She handed me a piece of paper. "Here's your room assignment."
"There must be a mistake--308 was my room last year," I said.
She shook her head. "There's no mistake. We have more fifth-graders this year, so we had to put one class in the fourth-grade hall."
Getting room 308, again, meant I'd have to change my plans. I wouldn't be able to see the butterfly garden. Then I remembered the tree outside the window. Instead of watching butterflies, I'd watch squirrels and birds.
On the way to class, I ran into Michael and Nicole. Michael didn't look happy either. "Room 308 again. Boring!"
"I'm in room 405," said Nicole as she headed toward the real fifth-grade hall.
Michael and I walked into 308 together. It even smelled the same--old paste mixed with stinky sneakers. We rushed to the back of the room and chose seats in the row nearest thewindow. Outside, a cardinal landed on a branch of the huge tree. Watching birds wasn't like watching butterflies, but it was better than the blackboard.
A moment later, Ms. Gordon walked in. How could a teacher forget it was the first day of school? Maybe she forgot something in her old desk drawer.
"Sorry, Michael and Piper," she said, "but that's not going to work. You two need to take your former seats, where I can keep an eye on you."
I stayed seated. "Ms. Gordon, this is a fifth-grade class now."
Just then, Hailey entered the classroom, followed by show-off-know-it-all Kami.
"Hi, Ms. Gordon," Kami said, prancing to the same seat where she sat last year. "I'm so glad you're our teacher again."
I picked up my new notebooks and newpencil case and walked to my old desk. The first day of school loses all its specialness when you get last year's teacher and have to sit in your same old seat in the same old classroom.
That first week dragged like an ant climbing Mount Everest. We reviewed fractions, learned how to write in different tenses, and studied our vocabulary lists. It was exactly like last year, only Nicole wasn't there. Lucky Nicole got Mrs. Lindsey and had already started working in the butterfly garden.
"We planted purple coneflowers today," she told me. "They attract the Viceroy butterfly."
Finally Saturday arrived. The Gypsy Club was due at my house any minute. Paint fumes filled the living room. Mom was busy painting the backdrop for my big sister, Tori's, middle school play. Her drama coach asked Mom to create it since she was the art teacher at the elementaryschool. She'd set up a makeshift table out of plywood and two sawhorses. It ran the entire length of the living room, leaving no space for the Gypsy Club. We'd have to find a new place to meet.
Last year, when I was in fourth grade, Mom substituted for our art teacher who was on maternity leave. Now Mrs. Kimmel wanted to stay home with her baby. So Mom got to be the art teacher officially. At first I thought it would be cool having Mom as a teacher, but I soon learned there weren't any benefits. She never said my art projects were the best, even if they were.
My little sister, Sam, was probably the only one who got special treatment because she was six and the baby of the family. My parents thought everything Sam did was spectacular. They practically broke into applause whenever she remembered to feed her goldfish, Peaches the Second.
While I tried to figure out where to hold the meeting, the doorbell rang. I answered the door and found the other three Gypsy Club members--Michael, Nicole, and Hailey.
"Follow me," I told them. We had no choice but to go to my room--the room I shared with Sam. This afternoon, she'd posted a sign on the door that read QUIET! WRITER AT WORK!
Inside the room, Sam sat cross-legged on the bed with a thick tablet on her lap. She was probably writing another princess story. That's what spelling bee prodigies do in their spare time. They weren't like normal six-year-old kids who ride bikes and play hide-and-seek. Spelling bee prodigies read and write for fun. Tori wasn't a prodigy, but she liked reading and writing, too. Chief said someone had to break the mold. I guess I was the mold breaker because I hated to read and write.
When we entered the room, Sam frowned. "Hey! I'm busy writing."
Hailey plopped on to Sam's bed.
"I have to have my Gypsy Club meeting here," I told her. "Mom's backdrop is swallowing the living room."
"Well," said Sam, "if you're going to have the meeting here, then I get to be in the Gypsy Club." She was always trying to weasel her way in.
"No way," I told her. "Besides it's my room, too."
Sam glared at Hailey and Nicole. "Then Gypsy Club members aren't allowed on my side of the room."
Hailey bounced up from Sam's bed and switched to mine. But Nicole stayed seated. "I love stories," she told Sam. "What is yours about?"
Sam smiled, probably thrilled to have an admirer. "A princess."
"Nicole," I said, "come over on my side. We need to start the meeting."
Nicole slowly inched over the invisible line that now divided our room.
I stood at attention. "Everyone stand so that we can say the Gypsy Club creed."
Together we recited the words that began each meeting. The creed reminded us that we were Navy brats, moving every couple of years or sometimes sooner.
"We are the Gypsies of land and sea. We--"
In a loud voice, Sam said, "Once upon a time ..."
We ignored her, raising our voices. "We travel from port to port--"
Sam continued, " ... there lived a beautiful princess in a beautiful castle who had to share a room with her mean, ugly sister."
Nicole stopped and turned toward Sam, but the rest of us kept reciting. "And everywhere we go, we let people know--"
Sam shouted, "Everyone loved the beautiful princess, but no one liked the mean, ugly sister who wouldn't let the beautiful princess be in her club." She stretched out on her stomach.
"Okay," I said, "let's get out of here."
"Great idea!" said Michael.
"Stupendous idea!" said Hailey.
"But I want to hear the rest of Sam's story," said Nicole, looking longingly toward Sam.
Sam stared up from her page. "You can stay."
I grabbed Nicole's hand and led the Gypsy Club out of my room and into Tori's. We'd be safe there since Tori went with her friends to the base movie. At least I thought we'd be safe until the lumpy tower of clothes in the corner started to move toward us.
"What's that?" Nicole yelled.
We froze, waiting for a giant rat to emerge from the pile. Instead our dog, Bruna, popped out from under the blue jeans, T-shirts, and shorts.
"Oh, it's just Bruna," Michael said, but I heard the relief in his voice.
Bruna wagged her tail and went over to each of us, waiting for a pat on the head.
We stepped over the shoes with pointy heels scattered on the floor until we got to a clear spot. Movie star posters covered her wall along with one that said EMILY DICKINSON IS COOL. A framed picture of Ronnie Cartwright was on her nightstand. He didn't give it to Tori. She'd found skateboard boy's image on a Web site and printed it out.
I cleared my throat. "Now as I was trying to say, Halloween is around the corner and--"
"GET OUT OF MY ROOM!" Tori yelled from the doorway. The movie must have ended early. Her face was red.
Her eyes bulged. Her hands curled into fists at her sides.
Nicole took off. She rushed past Tori and down the hall. We heard her feet thump down the steps and the front door squeak open and slam shut.
As Hailey and Michael eased backward out of Tori's room, I tried to explain. "We had no choice."
Tori's hands flew to her hips. "There are always choices. And sneaking into my room is not one of them." She pointed toward the door.
A moment later, Hailey, Michael, and I joined Nicole outside. Nicole wrapped her arms around her body like a ball of tightly wound string. "Your sister is scary."
"Both of my sisters are scary," I said. "They're aliens from Jupiter."
I missed my tree house in San Diego where I could escape Tori and Sam. But after Chief gotassigned to NAS Pensacola, Florida, we moved into military housing. Now we lived in a small townhouse with a tiny yard and one puny tree. There was hardly enough room for Bruna to run around.
"We need another meeting place," Hailey muttered. "We could meet at our house, but I have a pesky little brother."
Michael dug in his pocket and pulled out a folded magazine picture. "I have an idea. I was going to show this later, but now is the perfect time."
We watched him slowly unfold the picture until it revealed a clubhouse with a window box and wood shingle roof.
"Get off the bus!" we hollered.
Just then thunder rumbled and a raindrop landed on the tip of my nose. A few seconds later, it began to sprinkle. Then, as if someone flipped a switch, the sprinkle turned into a downpour.
When we dashed inside the townhouse, I accidentally knocked over a can of paint next to the sawhorse. Periwinkle poured out onto the drop cloth, forming a puddle.
"Piper!" Mom yelled.
We needed that clubhouse quick.
PIPER REED, PARTY PLANNER. Text copyright © 2009 by Kimberly Willis Holt. Illustrations copyright © 2009 by Christine Davenier. All rights reserved. For information, address Square Fish, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.