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