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How to Do the Twist
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Winter 1997
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And we played it to the hilt. Antics, anything we could think of: simultaneously stepping out of line when Mrs. Tomlinson wasn't looking; and, at noon, switching clothes, blouses, skirts, even socks, but only one sock so that we'd be wearing mismatched pairs when we came out of the girls' restroom. At night while we were supposed to be studying Mary Beth came to my house after dinner whether or not her family had company we'd plot the next day's activities. And I changed how she looked. Replaced braids with a ponytail; even if her hair frizzed, at least it flew freely now. And no more buttoning up just the top button of her cardigan like an old lady.

Our classmates noticed. During those long afternoons while Mrs. Tomlinson droned on about geography or the decimal point, they amused themselves with our latest change of clothes. They laughed, seeing our synchronized jumps in and out of line. Mrs. Tomlinson never did find out who caused these commotions, nor did she ever notice our wardrobe switches. And that way the other students joined me and Mary Beth as partners in crime. The truth, of course, is that was the way we joined them.

Success wasn't without its drawbacks. Our grades dropped, Mary Beth's most noticeably since she had been an A student. So I shouldn't have been surprised when, after our next report card, Mrs. Polk stormed into the house one night and stood wild-eyed over the table. She looked at Mary Beth and then at me. "This isn't good," she said. Then she ranted about Mary Beth's slipping grades and languishing interest in piano lessons.

"You noticed," Mary Beth quipped, at which point Mrs. Polk yanked her out of her chair saying, "You girls must be separated."

Afterward, alone at the table, I felt like a thief who'd been enjoying the loot and had finally gotten caught. My free ride was over. And it didn't help that Mother came in and threw the incident in my face again. "See, I told you that girl's no good."

As it turned out, Mrs. Polk commuted the sentence and allowed me and Mary Beth one hour a day together after school, between Mary Beth's piano lesson and dinner. I don't know what changed her mind, whether Mary Beth threw an untamable tantrum or what. Point is, we made the most of that hour. We studied. Both of us got straight As. Mrs. Polk was happy and soon allowed us all the time together we wanted. At school we kept up our silly antics, but our sudden good grades proved intriguing to our classmates, a new twist. They bet potato chips and their mother's homemade chocolate cake on which one of us would score highest on the next test. Which is how the annual spelling bee turned into such a big deal.

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