When my morning began with a lumpy bully, a fire drill, a mysterious stranger, and a cootie attack-all by recess-I knew it would be one of those days. A day when you wish you'd strangled your alarm clock. A day when you wish you'd perfected that fake cough and stayed home sick.
Unless you're a detective, that is. We eat trouble for breakfast, with a side order of danger, hold the mayo.
The whole thing started with the plop of a pop quiz onto my desk.
Mr. Ratnose's quizzes are scarier than a broccoli-and-liverwurst smoothie. Especially when you haven't done the homework.
I stared at the sheet. The questions made about as much sense as training wheels on a Tyrannosaurus rex. Cold sweat trickled down my cheek.
Only one thing could save me....
Ring-ah, ring-ah, ring-ah!
The fire bell.
A smile curled my lips. Saved by the drill.
Mr. Ratnose's pointy kisser wore a puzzled frown, but he gave us our marching orders.
"Single file, everyone," he said. "Line up."
We formed a line and trooped out the door. Just my luck, Shirley Chameleon cut right in front of me.
"Oh, hi, Chet," she said, as we walked down the hall.
She had big green peepers and a long, curled tail. If I went for dames, I might have thought she was pretty cute.
But this gecko doesn't go for dames.
"It's...um, would you...er," Shirley mumbled.
"Spit it out, sister," I said.
She turned a delicate pink. "Would you be my valentine?" asked Shirley.
"Really?" she said.
"Yup," I said. "When monkeys fly out of my nostrils."
Shirley's face fell like a kindergartner's home-baked cake. "Chet Gecko, you are so mean!" She rushed off, taking her cooties with her.
Just ahead of me, Bitty Chu, a goody-good gopher, turned in place. She gave me a dirty look.
I gave her a dirtier one. She turned back around. What makes dames so ding-y around Valentine's Day?
By this time, we had reached the playground. Lines of kids covered the grass like army-ant sauce on a sundae. Natalie's class stood by ours, but my mockingbird pal was out of earshot.
Teachers huddled at the front of the line, swapping complaints. We weren't going anywhere, so I checked out Natalie's class.
Like my own, it was packed with mugs, mopes, and misfits. I recognized Wyatt Burp, a bullfrog who could belch like an opera star, and Paige Turner, a spoiled titmouse in a cashmere sweater.
Paige waved at Bitty Chu. They stepped across the gap between the lines and began whispering. All I caught was something about a "moldy falcon."
Secrets fascinate me. I drifted toward the gossiping pair. Then I bumped into what felt like a tree trunk.
"Hey!" said the tree. I glanced up. A tall, spiky reptile with enough peaks on his back for a small mountain range was glaring down at me.
"I'm allergic to hay," I said. "Can we make it clover?" (Not one of my best quips, but why waste the good stuff on a stranger?)
"You bumped me, mate," he rumbled. "Apologize."
"All right. Sorry you got in my way."
The lumpy-looking mug snarled. "Wise guy, eh?"
I smirked. "Not really. I'm a C-plus student."
"I oughta teach you a lesson," he said, clenching his fists. The big guy eyeballed Paige and Bitty, who'd turned to watch.
"Fine." I put my hands on my hips. "You can start by teaching me what kind of wacko reptile you are."
The creature's eyes narrowed. The spikes on his head got spikier.
"What dipstick doesn't know a tuatara when he sees one?" he said.
I drew myself up. "The kind who's never seen a too-ra-loo-ra before, that's who. Dipstick yourself."
We stood toe-to-toe, locked in a sneer-a-thon.
Soft wing tips brushed my arm. "Chet?"
It was my partner, Natalie Attired. A mockingbird with impeccable fashion sense, she was sharper than a vice principal's tongue. Just then, she wore a worried frown across her beak.
When she tugged, I stepped back.
"Ah, you've met our exchange student," she said. "Little Gino, Chet Gecko."
The tuatara bared his teeth. "And he'll be flat gecko if he keeps buggin' me."
Before I could make a snappy comeback, the school bell rang all clear.
"Come along, class," called Mr. Ratnose. "Let's move out."
I nodded at Little Gino.
"Next time, mate," he said with a sneer.
"Promise?" I asked.
As I turned to march back to the room, I reflected. It's a good thing I don't have much to do with Natalie's class, I thought. You couldn't pay me to hang out with those weirdos.
But just like the kid who took a pop quiz blindfolded, little did I know how wrong I was.
Copyright © 2003 by Bruce Hale
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