A/N: I'm a little frustrated at all the people who have bad things happen to FH characters in their stories, so to get things back on a more positive spin from the last few stories that are being put up, I am putting up a few of my former attempts at FH books. This one is PG of course, but only for some very mild stuff toward the end, and theoretically I guess it could be G but I go by the book in my ratings. Full House characters are products of Warner Brothers, and the book characters are, too. Big Brothers and Big Sisters is a great organization which I also don't own. :-) Any original characters are mine, though.
Nine-year-old Michelle Tanner focused on a kickball as it rolled toward her. She ran up to it and swung her foot.
Giggles rose around her. She had missed the ball. Her shoe, however, went flying.
She grinned. She bowed toward the laughter before putting her shoe on again. Laughter didn't embarrass her if she treated it as applause. After all, she could have done that to be funny. She enjoyed making people laugh.
For some reason, the laughter continued. She frowned. Why were they still doing that? Her schoolmates normally quieted quickly when she took pleasure in their laughter.
She realized the laughter was directed at someone else. A boy she'd never seen had just gotten off his bus. He stood half way between the kickball diamond and the school building. His shoes were coming apart at the seams. He was quite dirty and messy.
"They shouldn't make fun of him," she told herself. It wasn't his fault if he didn't have good clothes.
Michelle decided to do something about the teasing. She marched toward the middle of the playground. The boy stood near a group of third through fifth graders. His clothes looked old and worn. His hair was quite messy. He appeared very embarrassed.
She grinned warmly as she walked up to him. Michelle stood beside him and turned to the gathering of students. She glared. The others milled around the two in a half circle.
Michelle put a hand on the boy's shoulder. The look on her face said "this is my friend. If you tease him, you tease me." She couldn't believe nobody else was trying to make him feel welcome. Not even her two best friends, Cassie Wilkins and Mandy Metz. They weren't chiding the boy. However, they weren't doing anything to help.
"Hey, Michelle, who's that old scarecrow," teased a fifth grader.
"Hey, kid," shouted Ronald Persley. "Do your feet come apart like that, too?"
Cassie and Mandy quickly left the crowd. Several other children followed immediately. They joined Michelle beside the boy. Michelle's best friends passed her grateful looks. Michelle figured they had been afraid to stand up for the newcomer.
As the first tardy bell rang, only half a dozen taunters remained. The boy no longer felt like crawling under a rock. However, Michelle was more and more upset. She wanted to lecture the ones who continued to laugh. "How can they hurt someone like that?"
Fed up, Michelle's face reddened. She usually hid her feelings well. But, now she needed to say something.
Still, she didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. The principal, Mr. Posey, was walking toward the group, anyway. Maybe he would say something.
She couldn't wait. She remembered one of her sister Stephanie's sayings. She hated to be a copycat. Nothing else good came to mind, though. So, Michelle used it. "As Stephanie would say, 'how rude!'" "The tone sounded a little different than Stephanie's. So, I really wasn't copying her."
The principal smiled at her before looking at the others. "No more teasing. It's time to go in, anyway," he told the remaining taunters.
"I'm sorry those kids were so mean to you," Michelle said sorrowfully as they entered the building. The new boy thanked her, and walked to Mrs. Wexley's third grade class. She presumed that was his class.
Cassie breathed a sigh of relief. "Thanks, Michelle. I felt scared to say anything. I think there were more than twenty kids there at first."
"Yeah," Mandy said, her cheeks slightly red from embarrassment. "I remember last year when I was new. I felt really lonesome, too. But, I just didn't know what to do for him."
The three deposited their backpacks in their cubbies. "I know," Michelle said matter-of-factly. "Sometimes you just have to be the first." A tinge of worry to hit her.
Cassie read her mind. "There were a few third graders who stepped out right after Mandy and I did."
"He'll have friends in there," Mandy agreed.
"Michelle's got a boyfriend," teased Rachel Tilly. "So, when are you gonna kiss him? Or are you gonna make him take a bath first?"
Michelle glared. Rachel was wearing all pink. She was too upset at Rachel's comment to think about clothes, though. She growled while trying to think of a good comeback. She feared she wouldn't develop one until after she got home.
Mrs. Yoshida, Michelle's teacher, spoke for her. "Rachel, that comment was uncalled for," the teacher spoke in a slightly scolding manner. "Michelle did a very nice thing by being friendly to that boy. We shouldn't judge people by their appearance, or make fun of it."
Michelle's face lit up. She couldn't resist this line. "Yeah, besides, my dad could beat your dad in a cleaning competition any day of the week!" Her father, Danny Tanner, always seemed to be cleaning something. He kept everything spotless around their house.
"Oh yeah, well my mom could beat your..." Rachel smiled victoriously. "Oh, yeah," came the smug remark. "That's right, you don't have a mom."
Michelle sighed. She'd walked into that comeback. It was still wrong to say it, though.
Michelle's mother died when she was a baby. Her dad, Danny Tanner, had needed help raising Michelle and her sisters, Stephanie, now 14, and D.J., now 19. So, his brother-in-law, Jesse Katsopolis, and his best friend, Joey Gladstone, moved in to help. Later, Jesse married Becky Donaldson. She co-hosted a local TV program with Danny. Now, Michelle's Aunt Becky and the couple's four-year-old boys, Nicky and Alex, also lived there.
Michelle ignored the jibe. She didn't need anyone to tell her she had a great family even without a mom.
She spent part of her day wondering about the new boy. If Rachel acted as mean as she did toward her, what kinds of things might children say about him?
She wanted to get to know him. Unfortunately, the third graders ate and had recess with the lower grades. She probably wouldn't run into him until after school. Around mid-morning, she asked Mrs. Yoshida if she could be excused to go talk to him.
Mrs. Yoshida smiled. "He'll be fine, Michelle. I'm sure Mrs. Wexley is handling things well. She'll make him feel welcome."
"But, Mrs. Yoshida, kids have gone to lower grades to help before." She especially recalled her first day of Kindergarten. She'd felt very lonely. So, she snuck out and went into Stephanie's fourth grade class. Stephanie had walked her back. She stayed for a couple minutes and helped Michelle make friends. She was such a super big sister!
Mrs. Yoshida recalled hearing about that incident. "It's a lot easier to help in Kindergarten. The kids would respect you more there. You'd be a lot older." She would, of course, be only four years older. However, the teacher knew that four years was a lot to Michelle.
She comforted Michelle with this. "I'm sure if he's lonely, your gesture on the playground will help him more than any visit could."
Michelle admitted defeat and returned to her seat. "I wish there was something I could do."
Michelle, Cassie, and Mandy threw a frisbee during lunch recess. "You know what's funny," Michelle considered aloud. "I missed the bus this morning. D.J. was all ready to leave for her college classes. Otherwise, I wouldn't have been early enough to help." She leaped to catch the frisbee, and popped it into the air. She grabbed it with one hand as it fell.
"Cool catch," Cassie told her. "With all those people in your house, you would have come on time, I'm sure."
"Yeah, maybe. Anyway, I was thinking. How about we let him join our secret club." Michelle threw the frisbee to Mandy.
Mandy caught and threw as she spoke. "Great idea. Just one problem. We don't have a secret club."
"Unless it's so secret, we don't know about it," quipped Cassie.
"We can make one," noted Michelle. Her eyes widened. The frisbee whizzed over her head. Before she ran to get it, Rachel began walking toward them. "Oh, yeah, did you guys see Rachel?" Michelle asked. She then ran to get the frisbee.
The other girls glanced at her. "Cool clothes," Mandy remarked. "Except she looks like a crayon."
Rachel strolled up to Michelle. She threw back her head. Her incredibly long brown hair shook as she did this. "Hey, I bet you didn't notice my gorgeous outfit. This is the best in fashion."
Michelle stopped to examine her. "So, is a crayon company paying you to put their name on your shirt," Michelle wondered.
Cassie chuckled. "Yeah. With 'hot pink' written down one pant leg."
Michelle laughed. She knew such jokes didn't hurt Rachel. Not like they would have that new kid. Besides, Rachel brought jokes upon herself by bragging about her wealth, her talent, or in this case, her clothes. That boy couldn't help how he looked.
Rachel chuckled and shook her head. "You think you're so funny." She said she got the idea from her sitter. "My mom's busy this week. And, the lady who usually watches me can't. So, my mom had to stoop to hiring someone. Our au pair has a bad case of the flu." She pretended to sound sorry while talking down to them. "Oops, I forgot. You wouldn't know what an au pair is." The sitter wasn't really a professional. Rachel liked to call her au pair, though. It was just another way for her to sound better than Michelle and her friends.
"I know what au pair means," Michelle said casually. "You need a pair of sitters. One for yourself, and one for your huge ego."
Cassie and Mandy clapped hard. "That's the comeback of the week," shouted Mandy.
"Maybe of the year," Cassie complimented her.
Michelle beamed. "That more than makes up for the trap I set for myself earlier."
"Ho, ho, ho," Rachel said sarcastically. "It just so happens I spoke with Lewis, while you were practicing wisecracks."
Michelle shot Rachel a puzzled look. "Who's Lewis?"
"That new kid," Rachel explained. She explained that as they walked to lunch, she'd asked the hall monitor where he was. She'd spoken to him as they were going out to recess.
Michelle scratched her strawberry blonde hair. Something wasn't making sense. "Rachel Tilly apologized without being told to? But, why?"
Michelle raised her eyebrows and leaned forward a little. Rachel told them she'd used the excuse that she wanted to say she was sorry. After all, she had been one of the teasers. That's how she found Lewis. She then invited him to join her club.
"How could Rachel have stolen our idea? I just had it a minute ago."
"What club is that," Mandy inquired, genuinely curious.
"I told my sitter all about me. I told her about the dog shows, the dance competitions, and all my other awards. She said I could pass for a Junior Flamingo," boasted Rachel. She walked away proudly. She quickly glanced back at Michelle. "I know you'll never be in such a cool club."
Cassie and Mandy glanced at Michelle. Their friend appeared distracted. "Hey," Cassie remarked. She noticed Michelle was lost in thought. She tapped her on the shoulder. "Was that really Rachel?"
"Probably," muttered Michelle. She racked her brain. "Flamingo? Why does that sound familiar?"
Mandy gazed at her friend. "You look troubled."
"Guys..." Michelle couldn't decide how to continue. She considered where she might have heard that term. Could it be something one of her older sisters mentioned? She wasn't sure. She only sensed an uneasy feeling. "Does Flamingo mean anything to you?"
Cassie spoke first. "Yeah. Tacky lawn ornaments." The girls giggled.
"I don't think I've heard of them. Other than the bird," Mandy confessed.
A soccer ball gone astray bonked Michelle in the head. "Ow." She rubbed the back of her head while Mandy threw the ball toward the players.
Cassie asked if she was awake now. "I know Rachel being nice is..." She struggled to describe it. "Well...it's really weird. But, maybe that sitter had an impact on her."
Mandy concurred. "Maybe she saw someone watching her because she liked it for a change. Not because it was her job."
"That could be true," Michelle admitted. However, as she told Mandy, "there's just something about that word. And..." She pursed her lips. "I don't know."
She shook her head and exhaled deeply. D.J. had made the honor roll in high school. There were clubs for very bright, gifted students. Could part of such a club involve helping others? The Flamingoes might be a club of people who won lots of awards.
"Maybe I worry too much. My dad's awfully protective. Maybe I'm taking after him."
Even if she was, she wanted to ask Stephanie or D.J. about it. Something seemed strange. And, she felt Lewis needed another friend besides Rachel.
After playing for a while, Michelle studied fractions. She sat in the living room. Her father was rambling about the subject. "It's funny how kids are. When they're little, they know what a half is. They're two and a half, or three and a half. You even knew you were four and three quarters. Or, maybe they don't. Maybe they just know they're really close to the next age. But, they don't understand what that means."
Michelle examined her math problem. She glanced at him. "How was all that supposed to help me learn what percent four fifths is?"
"Oh, sorry." He returned to the couch. He began to explain the conversion of fractions.
Joey entered the front door. "Guys, guess what. You know that program I signed up for," he inquired.
Michelle looked up. "You got a computer program? I hope it's a video game."
Joey and Danny laughed. "Actually, I mean the volunteer program. I'm going to be a Big Brother," Joey reported. He glanced at Michelle and grinned. She knew he was going to crack a joke. "And I bet you thought my mom was way too old to be having kids, huh?"
Michelle laughed. The professional comedian was a joy to have around. She'd heard of Big Brothers and Big Sisters, though. "Cassie has a cousin with a volunteer big brother, Uncle Joey." The children liked to call him Uncle Joey even though he wasn't really an uncle. "Plus, Mandy and her sisters were in Big Brothers and Big Sisters before their mom remarried."
Joey suddenly recalled. "That's right. Anyway, if you remember, I got a match."
"But you don't smoke," Danny teased him.
Joey ignored the one-liner. "He's coming tonight for dinner. His mom's bringing him here." He turned to Danny. "He's a little messy, so..." He trailed off, hinting that nothing should be made of it.
"What would I say," Danny asked defensively.
Michelle giggled. She held a hand to her mouth to stifle the laughs. Her dad was the King of Clean. Even if he tried not to, he might start talking about cleanliness out of habit.
"Look, just don't be too fussy," suggested Joey. "Lewis needs to feel accepted. We can work on other things later."
Michelle didn't think about it being the same boy. Instead, she remembered she wanted to talk to Stephanie. She and her friends had raced upstairs while Michelle was playing.
She jogged up the steps. Her room door was closed. When she opened it, the three teenagers were deep in thought. "Hey, guys."
Stephanie looked tiredly at Michelle. "Excuse me, we need this room right now."
"But it's my room, too," insisted Michelle. She disliked it when Stephanie kept it all to herself.
Stephanie glanced at her watch. "You can have it in about fifteen minutes. Got your camera, Darce?" Darcy Powell patted her backpack. She turned back to Michelle and explained. "We're planning something for the yearbook next year. Then, we're going over to Anthony's for pizza."
"Wait, I have to ask you something," Michelle told them.
"You got the contract, right, Allie?" Allie Taylor nodded.
Michelle was amazed at how Stephanie could concentrate on several things at once. Unfortunately, one of them wasn't her question. Stephanie walked over to her and gently pushed her out the door. "We have to get the right wording for their ad. Plus, if we really impress them, we might even get to interview the manager for next year's yearbook. You'll have to wait." She put a "do not disturb" sign on the knob, then closed the door.
Michelle stared longingly at the door. Finally, she lowered her head and left. "Oh, well, maybe later tonight."
The term continued to annoy her as she went downstairs. If only she could have talked to Lewis. Unfortunately, he left on a different bus. Michelle's bus departed rather quickly. She would almost have to miss her bus to see him.
"Dad," she called. She walked up to Danny as he was about to enter the kitchen. "I want to stay after school a few minutes for something. Could someone please pick me up tomorrow?" She thought of asking to walk home. However, even if Cassie and Mandy walked with her,her dad might still be worried. Besides, Michelle enjoyed riding better. It ws much more relaxing.
Danny turned toward her. "Do you need help with your schoolwork?"
"No, I..." How would she explain this? "I'm helping someone else with problems. Not with school, although it is a little." She felt she rambled like Stephanie. "I guess you could say I'm counseling someone." The idea sounded odd. But, she really did want to counsel Lewis.
She added something which she knew would convince her dad. "I've got such a wise father. I guess it just rubs off on me."
Danny chuckled. "You don't have to flatter me. I've always taught you girls to be helpful. I'm glad you're doing this. Don't be afraid to ask for help if it's too much, though."
Michelle agreed. She didn't see what could be so hard, though. She merely wanted to befriend Lewis.
Soon, she noticed Lewis entering the door. "Lewis, you're just in time for supper," Joey told him as he showed him to the kitchen. Her dad called the rest of the household to the table.
Michelle was excited. It was the same boy.
Lewis recognized her. He hadn't gotten her name earlier, though. "Hi. What's your name?"
"Michelle." She told Joey "Lewis goes to Fraser Street Elementary, too."
"I figured," Joey said. "He moved into the school district yesterday." He introduced Lewis Wellington to everyone.
Michelle strained to hear Joey talk to Danny. "They have real problems at his home. His mom really doesn't pay attention to him or their apartment. So, they move a lot."
"Do you like it at our school, Lewis," Michelle wanted to know.
"I like Rachel," Lewis told her.
A red flag went up in Michelle's mind. But, how would she explain the problem? Rachel had friends; toward the end of the school year she'd become a little friendlier, even to Michelle and her friends. Sidney Wainwright was her best friend. However, it wasn't like Rachel to befriend someone who was so poor.
"Look, Lewis..." She struggled with her words.
Joey spoke to the people at the table. "Right after supper, I'm taking Lewis downstairs to my place. I'm going to show him my puppets. I want to get him back by eight. But, it'll let us get a little more acquainted. He's got a great sense of humor. We're thinking of writing some skits together."
Michelle knew Lewis would enjoy that. Joey was very funny. She thought of him as another dad. But, in some ways he was just a big kid. "That's great, Uncle Joey. Listen, I wanted to talk to him, too. Cassie and Mandy and I wanted him to join our club." Of course, they still had no name, no purpose, and no meeting place. However, everyone had to start somewhere.
Michelle had no time to explain. "That's great," Joey began. "You can talk to him at school tomorrow. He and I need time to get to know each other. After all, I became a Big Brother to be a role model to kids like him."
Michelle slowly agreed. As they ate, she appreciated the funny and lively discussions. She knew Lewis would find something fun in one of the chats. Their dinners were always enjoyable.
Lewis seemed to fit in well. Joey involved him in everything. Michelle even began to forget about Rachel. Maybe there was no problem after all. Maybe Cassie and Mandy were right.
Still, something nagged at her. And she needed to figure out what it was.
Michelle swung on the swings with Cassie and Mandy before school. They watched Rachel and Lewis. "This is strange."
Cassie looked at Michelle. "But you told us Joey's Lewis' Big Brother."
"Yeah, that should make you feel good," Mandy told her. "Joey seems like he'd be a great help to anyone."
Michelle nodded. "True. But, what does Rachel see in Lewis? She's really rich with her dad's national bakery chain. She doesn't always talk to us politely. And, we're not real poor like he is," came Michelle's summary.
"Well, that's why I think that sitter helped," Mandy remarked. "Rachel has improved since we met her. Seeing someone do good deeds really makes you want to copy."
Cassie agreed. "I don't know how I'd learn without my parents. But, they always let me help them. We like to do things for elderly neighbors. And, I take old toys to the Salvation Army, too."
Mandy asked Michelle if she'd spoken with Stephanie or D.J.. Michelle shook her head. She wished she'd had a chance. However, except for the one time, both had been studying like crazy. Neither had had any time for her.
She related something further. "I arranged to be picked up today. You guys can come, too, if that's okay." It was. "You just have to say you're helping me counsel someone. Lewis takes a different bus. So, I want to talk to him before he gets on it."
"Good thinking," Cassie told her as the warning bell rang.
The day passed uneventfully. However, when it ended, Michelle noticed something odd. Rachel left almost too quickly.
Michelle rubbed her chin as her friends walked up to her. "Didn't she say something about not taking the bus," Mandy wondered.
Michelle nodded. "Yeah, her sitter's older brother was getting her. He's about D.J.'s age."
"Maybe the school was on his way somewhere," Cassie suggested.
Michelle nodded slowly. She grabbed her backpack. "Come on. Let's go find Lewis. He's my main concern."
Michelle, Cassie, and Mandy walked to their old classroom. They learned Lewis had left. Most of the class left quickly. So, the girls thought little of it. Michelle felt better. Perhaps he'd made a new friend from that class.
Michelle motioned for her friends to follow her. They walked out to the playground. Michelle spotted her Aunt Becky's car. Becky was reading a book, so she didn't notice Michelle. "That's right, Dad's making dinner tonight," she remarked. "Aunt Becky's probably doing this before running some errands."
She glanced around, trying to find Lewis. Michelle spied a gaudy pink bow in someone's hair. "Look," she commanded, pointed at it.
Mandy's angle let her see better. A teenage girl wore it. She was behind a large tree on the playground. The bow was way too big for her head. "Just like your lawn ornaments, Cassie."
Michelle chuckled. "Yeah. That looks really tacky. I wonder what..." Suddenly, the teen left. Lewis also walked out from behind the tree.
The girls eyed the teen. She walked over to a medium sized brown car and got into it. An older boy was at the wheel.
Rachel was spotted walking toward the car. "I guess that's Rachel's sitter," spoke Cassie.
Michelle agreed. "The boy might not be in college. But, why is the girl out of school so early?" "Guys, go talk to Rachel about that teenager. Think of an excuse."
"We want to make sure that's not a stranger," offered Mandy.
"That's good, use it. I want to see Lewis."
They separated. Michelle was thankful to have friends she could rely on to help her. She walked up to Lewis. The boy smiled, quickly recognizing her. "Hi, Lewis, it's Michelle. Remember me?" He did. "Who was that teenager?"
Lewis shrugged. "Rachel called her a Flamingo. She said I can be in her club. They've got a part for elementary school students."
"What a coincidence," remarked Michelle. "It was busy last night, I don't know if you remember. But, I've got a club, too, with Cassie and Mandy. We'd like you to join."
Lewis looked puzzled. He brushed some dirty hair out of his eyes. "Can I be in two clubs at once? What do I have to do?"
"Do? Why would he have to do anything to be in a club?" "You just join, I guess. Why, what did that girl say you had to do?" "And why do I feel nervous about that question?"
"She said I gotta take something home as a dare. She said I could try it." Lewis pulled out a clear, unmarked bottle. It was half empty. Michelle's heart skipped a beat. "What do you think it is?"
Michelle quickly pulled him behind the same tree. She asked him for it. She took a whiff. "Pee-yoooo!" She waved her hand in front of her nose. She thought she knew what it was
Her backpack slid off her back. She made sure nobody else could see them. She closed the bottle and slid it into her own backpack. "Listen. Don't take anything from that girl ever again. She's very dangerous. Did she say who she was?" She hadn't. "And, she said she was a Flamingo?"
Lewis shuffled his feet. He looked very disappointed. Michelle supposed she understood. How was he supposed to know who his friends were? They had probably told him their club was great. "Yeah," he said.
Michelle bit her lip. She noticed Cassie and Mandy walking toward them. "Look, just trust us."
Lewis saw children piling into his bus. He looked quite confused. However, answers would have to wait. "Well, gotta go. You want that?"
Michelle felt very tense. She wished she had more time to talk with Lewis. She needed to explain many things. And, there was a lot more she didn't know that she wished she could explain. "Look, Lewis, you never saw Rachel or me. Just join our club. We won't make you do...uh..." How would she describe it? Dangerous? "Well, we'll see you tomorrow."
"Yeah." He ran off.
Michelle shook her head. Suddenly, things had become much more complex - and scary.
Michelle was thankful Cassie and Mandy were there. She anxiously peeked at her backpack. Then, she carefully slung it over her shoulders.
"What's wrong," Cassie wanted to know.
Michelle glanced around, looking worried. Now, she couldn't change her mind. She pulled her friends behind the tree. Out of earshot of everyone, Michelle motioned them closer. "I'm trying to protect Lewis."
"So," came Mandy curiously.
"So, that was Rachel's sitter, right?" Both girls nodded.
Mandy told Michelle what they'd learned. "Rachel says her sitter's home schooled. She just turned fifteen. Her brother works in one of her dad's bakeries in town."
Cassie added to the story. "They were in a bind. Mrs. Tilly usually spends all her time watching Rachel. Mr. Tilly sometimes does when Mrs. Tilly is working with fashion shows, banquets, and other things. But, he's on a business trip. And, their regular sitter got sick. Her mom's putting on a fashion show Saturday." Michelle could imagine Rachel boasting about all this. "This girl learned about their bind, and volunteered quickly."
"Normally I'd say Rachel's learning how to care. I would think I was right," Mandy told her. "But, your face says you learned something bad."
That was for sure. "Lewis just took a half-empty bottle from that girl. I took it from his backpack and put it in mine. I'm gonna sneak it into the trash. Then, I'll take out the garbage when I get home."
Mandy glared at Michelle. "A bottle? You mean like..." Michelle nodded slowly.
Cassie spoke bluntly. "I just have one thing to say. Are you nuts?"
Michelle shrugged. She was glad her friends told her the truth. "Maybe I am a little. But as snobby as she is, I don't want to get Rachel in trouble for bringing that sitter here. And, Lewis has enough problems. Uncle Joey mentioned some after Lewis left. I don't want to add to them." She shuddered to think about Lewis drinking that stuff. It could have happened. She knew she would never touch it herself, though. So, it was safe with her.
Mandy shook her head. "It sounds like you're trying to use a washing machine to clean an eraser."
The three laughed hard. Michelle was grateful for something to take her mind off Lewis' problems. "I guess you think I'm going overboard, huh?" Her friends agreed quickly. "Where did you hear that comparison," Michelle wanted to know.
"I just made it up. And, I think it fits well. It's a crazy solution. You're doing way more than you need to," Mandy said.
Michelle agreed it was possible. She was glad her friends were honest with her. She always tried to be truthful with them. However, she reminded herself this was a strange problem.
"Oh, hi, Michelle," spoke her Aunt Becky as the girls entered her car. "I didn't see you come out. I was so wrapped up in my book."
"That's okay. Cassie and Mandy are coming with us. They'll call their moms when we get home." Becky nodded her approval.
Michelle leaned on her bookbag very carefully. She sat gingerly between her two friends. She hoped Becky didn't notice.
Becky dropped the girls off before driving on to her next stop. They entered Michelle's home. Her four-year-old cousins, Nicky and Alex, ran to her. "Michelle, Michelle," they cried gleefully as they plowed into her. "Come play with us." The bundles of joy took all her attention away from her problems.
Danny approached wearing an apron. He looked weary. "How was school today, pumpkin? Uncle Jesse and Joey left to do their radio show. Can you please entertain the boys? I want to try a new recipe and they won't let me start."
Michelle nodded. Her dad liked to try fancy new creations. Some of them were quite unusual. But, they generally tasted good. Especially if she didn't think about what they contained.
Cassie and Mandy each called home. They could stay for half an hour. The girls asked the four-year-olds to grab hula hoops from the back yard shed. Cassie and Mandy remained with the preschoolers. Michelle ran up to her room to deposit her backpack. She slid it off and...
She heard a little splashing. "Whoops, I forgot about Lewis' bottle. Oh, well, there's no time to get rid of it now."
She hoped it hadn't spilled. She pushed her bookbag under her bed, so nobody would find it. That way, no one would wrongly suspect the bottle was hers. Or ask whose it really was.
She hurried outside. She hoped to teach the twins to hula hoop. They played for a while. The boys' energy seemed endless. Soon, they were jumping through the hoop. They almost ran into each other going opposite ways.
Cassie spoke about the club. "What will we do in it?"
"Maybe think of silly games for preschoolers. Sort of a Parents' Helpers club. Like Steph and her friends have their babysitting business," Michelle said. She gazed at her cousins. "We'd certainly be entertained."
"They remind me of my brothers." Mandy had several younger brothers through her mom's remarriage. "I don't think our family is as funny as yours, though."
Michelle chuckled. The twins squeezed inside the hula hoop together. They were trying to spin it. Instead, they kept turning themselves and getting very dizzy. They looked really silly stumbling while wedged into a hula hoop. "Few families could be."
Michelle turned around. She thought about fetching her Uncle Jesse's camera. He would love to see this picture. His boys were being so cute!
Suddenly, Michelle noticed Stephanie's friends. Darcy and Allie jogged toward her. She detected concern in their faces. "Stephanie wants to see you in your room right away," Darcy said urgently.
"How come?" Michelle was perplexed. If Stephanie were really mad about something, she wouldn't send for her. She'd come herself. Besides, Michelle hadn't been in her sister's stuff lately.
Allie spoke evenly. "She wouldn't say. She just said to come get you." Cassie and Mandy looked at each other, but said nothing.
The twins wanted to come, too. Darcy remained behind to entertain them and the girls.
Michelle walked upstairs with Allie. She grew increasingly baffled. Especially when she saw the "do not disturb" sign on the bedroom door.
She stepped inside their room. Stephanie's hands were almost white. "Why would she be wringing her hands?"
Stephanie instructed Allie to leave them alone. "Go play with the twins. Try to write some interview questions with Darcy, if you can." Once Allie left, Stephanie shut the door. She heaved a deep sigh, and turned around. She leaned against the door, as if collecting her thoughts.
Michelle gawked strangely at her. "She seems really worried about something."
Stephanie closed her eyes and lowered her head for a moment. Finally, she stood. She took several firm steps toward Michelle. "Let me smell your breath," commanded her older sister.
Michelle gulped. She suddenly realized what had happened. "Stay calm," she told herself. She tried not to look more nervous than she was. She opened her mouth and exhaled
The next order came quickly. "Say the alphabet backwards."
Michelle obeyed. Her voice trembled slightly. Although, at least it wasn't her dad. She didn't want to have to explain the situation. She didn't want anyone else to get in trouble.
She also thought Stephanie would believe her more easily. She wasn't totally sure he would.
Stephanie took Michelle's hand. The younger girl wavered as her sister led her. Part of her longed to tell Stephanie everything. She wanted to get this over with quickly. Another part desired to hide everything, though.
They stopped in front of Michelle's bed. Stephanie sat on it. She cupped Michelle's hands in hers. Michelle felt a little relief at her sister's calmness. A stern, yet loving look showed on Stephanie's face. She looked Michelle in the eye. "Michelle, did you ever drink alcohol," Stephanie asked.
Michelle's first reaction was to ask "are you nuts?" The idea of drinking was totally ridiculous to her.
Her sister glared. It startled Michelle, making her more nervous. Her face felt warm. "Oh, no! Stephanie might assume I'm hiding something now. I must look mighty embarrassed."
"Yes or no," came the firm voice. The young teen stared directly into Michelle's eyes.
Michelle frowned. She thought Stephanie knew her better than that. "Steph, I would never drink. You know that."
The voice became gentler. She shook Michelle's hands slightly. "I know how it feels to be tempted to do wrong things. You want to do what's right. But, you want to please friends, too. Or you think you'll be cool. You can tell me anything and I won't be mad. I'll talk to Dad with you. I'll help you through whatever your problem is. But I need to hear the truth first."
Most of the worry left Michelle's face. She hoped that relief didn't make her look guiltier.
Unfortunately, it probably did. Stephanie asked again. "Now, for the last time, have you ever taken a drink."
Michelle continued to look her sister in the eye. She knew Stephanie needed to hear the truth, and only the truth. She uttered a decisive "no."
"Then how do you explain this?" Stephanie pulled Michelle's bookbag out from under the bed. She revealed the bottle for a second. The booze had leaked onto her books. "That stuff smells! It probably started splashing a bit when Nicky and Alex ran into me. No wonder Stephanie found it." She returned it to the backpack and placed both under the bed.
Stephanie grinned warmly. She patted the bed. "Have a seat."
Michelle gladly sat beside her sister. She didn't want Stephanie asking more questions. She disliked having to look her in the eye for a long time. Her sister would have noticed if she avoided answering something.
Stephanie launched into a speech. Michelle guessed that she'd practiced it while waiting for her. It sounded much like one of their dad's. One difference was that Stephanie seemed a little teary at times. She was definitely anxious.
"Michelle, I've grown up a lot in the last year or so. I've tried very hard to be a much better big sister than I had been."
Michelle agreed silently. Stephanie had become more patient with her. She was much more forgiving. She also seemed much more willing to talk about things, despite her refusal the previous day.
"I used to think too much about just myself, or boys, or my own friends. But, I have a duty to help you. I've tried to do that, I really have."
She hastily turned toward Michelle. Michelle wondered if she planned to surprise her with another question about the bottle.
Instead, Stephanie placed a hand on Michelle's knee and continued. Michelle leaned back a little. "But Michelle, if there's any way I'm failing, I'm sorry. And, I'm sorry I kicked you out yesterday. I realize now you had something very important on your mind. I want you to always feel free to come to me. No matter when. If it's important, I'll listen."
Michelle's eyes grew wide. She gazed nervously at Stephanie. "Does she think I wanted to talk about drinking yesterday? That makes it sound even more like I did it."
"Michelle, I remember sixth grade. I was only a couple years older than you. I was made to think I had to smoke and steal and hurt people to fit in with the crowd. I am very glad I didn't believe that lie. I can fit in with the important people. I can fit in with friends who care, and I don't have to do that stuff."
Michelle nodded slowly. That's what she wished to say to Lewis. She wanted to tell him he shouldn't join a club where he had to do bad things - to himself or to others - to belong. She just didn't know how to say it.
She began to tune her sister out. Stephanie droned on about girls who thought they were popular. She talked about this clique at her school. Everyone thought they were cool. Few people realized how mean the clique's members really were.
Suddenly, Michelle's eyes brightened. She recognized the word "Flamingoes." She quickly sat up and listened.
"Michelle," came the gravely concerned voice. "Are there kids trying to get you to drink? Or to do something else wrong?" Michelle watched as Stephanie waited. She had to notice Michelle's reaction to the word "Flamingo," didn't she? She certainly sounded more bothered. "Michelle, are they trying to reach fourth graders? Have the kids been talking about the Flamingoes in your school?"
Michelle wasn't sure what to do. She had heard the name. However, she didn't want to say that they were until she knew all the facts. She didn't want to create even more problems
"I'm glad you're talking to someone, hon. But you can tell me, too." Michelle gulped. She looked up. She stared directly into her dad's worried face.
Michelle was in a quandary. She certainly didn't want her dad interfering. First, it was her problem. Second, she worried about Lewis. What if he kept Lewis from coming over? Lewis needed a friend like Joey.
If she denied everything right away, though, it might sound suspicious. Of course, Stephanie had agreed to talk to Dad with her. Michelle could tell Stephanie about it. But, what if Stephanie told him everything.
Danny studied her closely. He continued. "I thought I smelled something strange. I peeked in to make sure things were okay. You don't look like you've been drinking. I don't have much to add to what your sister said. Except to insist that you promise me something. Promise me you have never taken and you will never take a drink of an alcoholic beverage."
Did he suspect her now? How much had he heard? She hoped she could get him out quickly. Suddenly, she would much rather tell Stephanie everything. At least then, she might not have as many problems.
She looked him in the eye. "Dad, I have never had a drink. I am never going to. But I had to protect..."
She paused. She was extremely mad at herself. "I can't believe I almost gave that away."
Danny sat beside Michelle. He asked what he'd smelled.
Michelle felt Stephanie's gaze. She knew what it meant. Did she want to tell their dad, or should Stephanie?
All Stephanie could say was that a bottle was in Michelle's backpack. That sounded very bad. So, Michelle told a little about the teen. "Some girl with a big pink bow was on the playground. She put this bottle there. I picked it up so nobody else would get it. I was gonna throw it away when I got home, then I forgot."
Danny asked why she hadn't told a teacher. Michelle knew that's what she should have done. However, that could have meant problems for Rachel. It was Rachel's sitter, after all.
Danny turned her face toward his and looked her in the eye. "Michelle, that girl had to give it to someone. If it wasn't you, who was it?"
When Michelle wouldn't answer, her dad's voice became gentler. "Honey, do you know how your mother died?"
Michelle didn't like to think about it. She nodded slowly and mumbled. "Mom was killed by a drunk driver."
"That's right. If Cassie or Mandy or anyone else has a problem, you need to tell us now, so they can get help," Danny emphasized.
Michelle couldn't believe how much everyone talked. Why didn't they just let things go peacefully?
Stephanie added to the conversation. "Michelle, they would never do this. But, suppose Allie or Darcy were drinking or using drugs. I would let them confess it themselves. If they wouldn't, I'd be the first to tell their parents, teachers, whoever I needed to tell. I would also be right by their side making sure they got help. Because I'd be doing it as a friend." She smiled. "I'd rather have them mad for a moment than ruined forever. I wouldn't be a friend if I let a life be ruined while I did nothing."
Michelle understood what Stephanie meant. She would want to help her friends, too. However, she thought that this was a slightly different situation.
It didn't matter to her dad. He continued to discuss the drunk driver. "He might have started when very young. I'm coming home right after the show. That way, I can take you to school. I'm going to make sure that girl isn't there again. Then, I'm going right into the principal's office. I intend to make sure the school stops this problem before it spreads."
Michelle spoke hesitantly. "Uh...thanks, Dad." Her voice held little enthusiasm.
She glanced down, then up again. She spoke lowly. "I'd like to tell Stephanie about this. It's..." How could she explain? She wasn't sure. So, she made a guess. "It's a teenage problem."
"I'm only nine. Is that really going to work? Maybe. It is really complex, just like some of Stephanie's problems.
Stephanie spoke up for Michelle. She was trying very hard to help her. It was just difficult for Michelle to recognize this. Her sister had lectured more than their dad.
"Dad," Stephanie spoke sincerely, "I'll tell you what's going on. I'll let you know if there's a real emergency. And, I can come, too. You can write a note so I can get to home room late. I'll get a description of this girl. If I find something out, I can tell people at my school."
Michelle frowned. Did Stephanie plan on asking lots of questions? Would she do this on the playground? That might not be much better than having her dad snooping around. She felt like such a baby. Older people were doing everything for her.
Than again, it wasn't the worst thing. At least they believed Michelle. They knew she hadn't been drinking. Stephanie could be tactful, too. Indeed, she often tried too hard to coach Michelle in tact. If anyone could avoid embarrassing Michelle, it was Stephanie.
Danny allowed her to tell Stephanie. He would ensure the principal and teachers found things out tomorrow. He hugged Michelle. "I'm proud of you for saying 'no.'" He took the bottle to throw it away. He also took her backpack to clean the wet spots.
When the sisters were alone, they sat on Michelle's bed. They leaned against the wall. Michelle began her story with Lewis being teased. She related all that had happened since.
She'd been reluctant to tell anyone anything. However, now she felt incredible relief. She was surprised how good it felt to reveal it. A huge burden had been lifted. She started to be glad she didn't have to do everything alone. Plus, she could learn about the Flamingoes.
"So, Lewis took it. I knew I couldn't let him take it home. I tried to think of the best way to protect him. So, I brought it home." She blushed slightly. She admitted it was a dumb idea. "I should have just told Mrs. Yoshida. I guess I worried about Rachel. I don't know why, though. I wouldn't think she would be involved." But, what if she was? She hadn't thought of that before, but now?
Stephanie nodded slowly as she listened. "Definitely a teenage type problem. Your secret club idea is a good one. Have you told Uncle Joey? He should be able to help with Lewis."
"I'd like to be the one to help Lewis. He needs a friend at our school. There's another thing," came the slightly frustrated tone. "I'm worried about him and Rachel."
Stephanie agreed hastily. "I understand. You're right to be concerned about Rachel. She's pretty arrogant. She needs to be informed. Otherwise, she's the kind of girl who might join the Flamingoes later. And, she might cause more problems for Lewis because of the Flamingoes now. I'll warn her about them."
Michelle groaned. She merely wanted Rachel to stop befriending Lewis. She wanted someone to help him who genuinely cared. Stephanie was going to make a mountain out of a molehill.
One bright spot existed, though. She enjoyed pondering it. Rachel might receive one of her dad's or Stephanie's rambling lectures.
Then again, she'd still feel embarrassed. Everyone would say she was fighting unfairly, because she used older people to fight her battles.
"You ought to start some kind of awareness campaign in your club. Maybe you can use it as class president, too," Stephanie continued. "I'll help. We see lots of films at our school about the dangers of drinking and things. Plus, I have my Health class notes from last year."
Michelle shook her head. "Sorry. I've got to do something myself."
Stephanie suddenly looked sad. Michelle hoped she hadn't disappointed her. She gave her sister a hug. She was very grateful to have her. Stephanie just tried too hard sometimes. "Thanks for listening. If I can't handle this, you'll be the first person I ask."
"That's fine," came Stephanie as they embraced. "I'm proud of you for saying 'no,' too."
Michelle was very proud of herself for that. She just hoped drinking wasn't the big problem her dad and sister feared it was at their school.
Danny drove up to the playground. Stephanie and Michelle got out of the car. Danny parked near the front of the building.
Michelle glared at her older sister. "If you hold my hand just once..." she whispered in a teasing threat.
Stephanie laughed. "Don't worry, Michelle. I was in fourth grade, too."
Mr. Tanner walked into the school. The schoolchildren failed to notice Danny, though. All eyes focused on Stephanie.
Jeff Farrington chuckled. He walked up to the girls. He held his thumbs to his ears. His fingers stuck out like antlers and spoke like Bullwinkle. "Hey, Michelle. Do you need someone to help you make friends?" He laughed, remembering their first day in Kindergarten. Michelle greeted her new classmates the same way that day. She'd thought being funny would get them to like her.
Michelle struggled for a response. Jeff was the class clown, but also a good friend. She knew Jeff wouldn't try to be mean. However, she didn't need any reminders of her sister being there.
"Never mind him, Michelle. He just wants your attention." She whispered, "Remember how he hung around you all the time trying to rehearse for that play? I think he likes you." Michelle blushed slightly. Jeff was the most popular kid in the class. "Just show me where Rachel is," Stephanie requested.
At that moment, Rachel hopped off the school bus wearing all pink. Stephanie had said the Flamingoes wore something pink every day. Michelle pointed Stephanie toward her.
Cassie and Mandy were right behind Rachel. Michelle spoke thankfully. "Am I glad to see you guys!"
Stephanie walked over to speak with Rachel. The three best friends ran to the swing set. Mandy glanced at Stephanie. She then looked to her left. "That's your dad's car, isn't it?"
Michelle confirmed it. She whispered to her friends. "He came from work to take me. He's going back to the station afterward. It's not as bad as it could have been, though."
"Except your older sister is on the playground with you," added Cassie.
"And your dad is who knows where." Michelle told Mandy he was telling the principal about the alcohol left on the school lawn.
Cassie recalled something that might relieve Michelle. "Hey, D.J. was one of my favorite babysitters. I didn't know you were related when we met. D.J. just told me one night that you were sisters. Maybe the kids won't realize Stephanie's your sister."
Michelle chuckled. Cassie wanted to look at the bright side. But, what her friend suggested was impossible. "Five-year-olds don't notice that stuff, Cassie. We didn't even know each other's last names for weeks. Besides, I'd think they might remember her."
Cassie agreed. Michelle had a point. She whispered again. "So they know it wasn't yours?"
"That's the good thing," Michelle told them. "Well...no dessert for a while since I took it. I guess that is kind of bad."
"Especially the way you like ice cream," Mandy said.
Stephanie walked up to them. "I got the sitter's name, but I don't think Rachel believed me."
Mandy wondered who the Flamingoes were. "Do they do a lot of mean stuff?"
Stephanie thought a moment. "They'll do anything to win. They act like they own the school and can do whatever they want. But, in a way, I'm surprised. I'd never heard about any Flamingoes drinking or using drugs. Though I wonder about a couple of them."
"Steph and I talked till well after my bedtime about the Flamingoes last night," Michelle reported. "They think they're really popular. They boast about being the coolest in the school."
"That's Rachel, all right," concluded Cassie.
"She thinks she's so good just because of how rich her dad is," Mandy complained.
Michelle related several incidents. "She mentioned them a few times. I remembered she said they weren't very nice, but that's about it. She wishes she'd told me more, but she didn't want to scare me. I guess a little of Dad's protectiveness rubs off on her even when she doesn't know it. She said there's other things the Flamingoes have done, too. Don't tell anyone, but she could be right. I might have been scared," Michelle confided to her friends.
"The sitter's name is Sue Givens. My friends and I will ask about her. We'll try to confront her about it, if we see her," Stephanie promised. She noticed their dad motioning from the car. "Oops, I gotta go. Otherwise I'll be late for my first class. Love ya." She patted Michelle on the head, mussing her hair a little.
Michelle waved at her as she left. "You too." It hadn't turned out badly. She just hoped Rachel understood. She didn't want her causing any more problems.
Rachel walked over to them as kids got off Lewis' bus. "Your sister's crazy," Rachel said.
Michelle wanted to accuse Rachel right away. However, she knew she should give her the benefit of the doubt. "Rachel, do you know what that girl gave Lewis?"
"Whatever she gave him, she said it was a harmless joke. She just wanted me to find some poor kid and introduce her." Rachel sneered. "You get all worked up over nothing. You think you have to have your hand in everything."
Michelle shook her head. She didn't want to hear any more from Rachel. She got off the swings and walked toward Lewis. He seemed to be having fun talking with several classmates. "Hey, Lewis. I see you're making some friends," she spoke cheerfully.
Lewis nodded. "This is Mike. He likes jokes, too."
Michelle smiled. She was glad he had at least one friend there. The boy, Mike Lefferts, played on Jeff's baseball team. She'd met him a couple times.
"I was telling him about the mascots I've seen," Mike told her. "Rachel's one of the best," the third grader told Lewis. "She skated as a penguin for 'Yuks on Ice' this year. She was hilarious."
Michelle rolled her eyes. It was just a coincidence that Mike had seen the performance in question. Still, she wanted to take Lewis' mind off Rachel, in case Rachel was heavily involved with that Flamingo.
"You know, Lewis, your Big Brother, Joey, wrote the script for that," Michelle told him.
Rachel spoke from behind her. "You should have heard the crowd. I was the star of the show," Rachel boasted.
Michelle groaned. Rachel loved to brag about that. And yet, she gave no credit to Michelle for giving her the part.
Michelle speedily changed the subject. "Lewis loves humor. He and Joey plan to write some funny stories." Lewis nodded.
Michelle turned toward him. "In fact, we could do that, too. Mandy, Cassie, and I are having a club meeting after school." She may have just planned it in her head a second ago. But, it was still planned.
"What club," Mike wanted to know.
"If I told you that, it wouldn't be a secret," Michelle remarked jovially.
Rachel scoffed. "You don't have a secret club."
Michelle shook her head. She shot Rachel a "duh" look. "If it's a secret club, of course you don't know about it."
Lewis shuffled his feet. "Maybe tomorrow. I'm goin' to Rachel's this afternoon. Sue's gonna let me become a Junior Flamingo."
Michelle forced herself to act casual. However, she was quite concerned. "Really?" He nodded. "Uh, that's not a good idea."
"How come," Lewis wondered.
"You shouldn't be a Flamingo because..." She hesitated. She couldn't think of a nice way to tell him. So, she turned to Rachel. "Rachel, the Flamingoes aren't in the business of being nice. Sue might make you do something that could really hurt you. You'd never be able to be the star you want to be."
"Says who? Sue has been really nice to me. She says the Flamingoes are all stars. Everyone at your own sister's school knows that. You and you false accusations. I've had enough of you," she declared. She stomped off toward the door as the first tardy bell rang. The warning bell told everyone to get to their classes. Michelle had no more time to talk to Lewis.
As she entered the school, she couldn't help but think there was more to this problem.
Michelle considered how to approach Rachel. If Sue was home schooled, that didn't erase the alcohol issue. But, Rachel just couldn't see that.
The problem stuck in her mind throughout the morning. She barely spoke at lunch. In a way, she sympathized with Rachel. Michelle very rarely had outside sitters. Her family was so large, there was no need for one. However, D.J. and Stephanie babysat for children outside the family. Those they watched trusted them totally. Why wouldn't they? Their parents had said they were okay. Rachel would want to trust a sitter for the same reason.
On the other hand, that bottle was too big to ignore. She neeedd to protect Lewis. But, now she thought Rachel could have problems. In fact, she worried that...
She shook her head. No way. Not Rachel. She couldn't be tempted by that alcohol.
Then again, Stephanie certainly worried that Michelle had been. In fact, it sounded like Stephanie herself had been tempted to do some pretty bad things.
"Hey, can I have the rest of your fries," Cassie wondered.
Michelle glanced at the clock. There were only two minutes till recess. "Sure. I've got to figure out how to approach Rachel about this." As Cassie ate the fries, Michelle spoke regretfully. "If only that D.A.R.E. officer was coming today, and not tomorrow."
Cassie held up a fry. "But, his coming tomorrow means our science test is put off till Friday."
Michelle appreciated the practical comment. "Thanks. I'd rather take a science test than think about that Flamingo. And what she might tell Lewis to do." She snickered. "Come to think of it, I'd rather take D.J.'s physics exam. With all that stuff about neutrons, protons, croutons, Cantons, whatever."
Mandy knew D.J. had spent all her time in the library the last few days. "I'm sure D.J. would rather you take it, too," she said. The girls laughed.
Out on the playground, Michelle and her friends approached Rachel. "Say, Rachel," Michelle began. "Did Sue tell you who the Flamingoes were?"
"I already told you," she spoke in a huff. "The best and coolest kids in John Muir Middle School. They even let home schooled kids in."
Michelle didn't like Rachel's attitude. Since this problem began, any friendliness there was towartd Michelle had vanished. However, as hard as it was, she knew she should be nice first. "Look, Rachel, I'm sorry, but we're really trying to help."
"I don't need your help," she spoke haughtily. "Sue was very nice and offered to make Lewis feel welcome. And, she's doing a lot more than you and your phony secret club. Ha!"
Michelle held out her hands. She wished Rachel would consider others' feelings for once. She pleaded with Rachel to see her side of things. "Look, maybe there's no problem. But, things looked very different to me. Rachel, Sue gave Lewis alcohol. You need to stay far away from anything she does!"
"And you got her in trouble," spouted Rachel. "They warned the whole school!"
Thinking of her mom's accident usually wasn't really painful. But, maybe if Rachel thought about the pain, she would understand. Michelle related what her dad had said. "She got herself in trouble. Rachel, if Sue or her brother are drinking, they should get help. The drunk driver who killed my mom might have started very young. He made very bad choices. With Sue around, you could suffer from choices like that. I don't want you to be hurt like that," Michelle insisted. She hoped Rachel understood her heartfelt words. Michelle wouldn't wish what had happened to her family on anyone. Not even Rachel.
Rachel closed her eyes for a second. "Oh, you don't need to worry about me," came the prideful voice. "Nothing's going to happen. Some drunk might have killed your mom, but nothing like that will happen in my family."
Michelle's cheeks burned. She pursed her lips tightly, and glared at Rachel. She pointed a finger at Rachel's chest. Michelle got upset thinking about the pain of the accident. She didn't remember it. But, she knew it had to hurt a lot. And yet, Rachel totally ignored that. She refused to accept the dangers. Dangers Michelle's dad had said were very real. Her voice cracked with emotion as she let off steam.
"Rachel Tilly, you have a very bad attitude." She inhaled deeply. Her voice rose as she put her face right in Rachel's. Rachel's lower lip quivered slightly. "The drunk driver who killed my mother could have just as easily killed anyone's on this playground. Including yours! You could be the one who's had to live your whole life never knowing what it was like to have a mom! You could be the one who's had to suffer mean comments like yours! You had better be thankful it hasn't happened to you! Because if you do something dangerous you could get hurt! And if your dad owned all the money in the world, all that money couldn't add one second to anyone's life! Not his, not your mother's, not yours, nobody's!"
"All right, Michelle," came Mrs. Yoshida's soothing voice. "Let's go sit and calm down." Michelle felt her teacher and best friends guiding her away. Her eyes burned with tears. She sniffled, and allowed them to lead her.
Cassie and Mandy sat beside Michelle in front of the school entrance. They rubbed her back to try and pacify her. They could tell their friend was upset. Cassie tried to introduce some humor. "That was a great lecture. For a minute I thought my mom was here today." Michelle's frown lessened.
Mandy agreed. "Although I think she went beyond 'Mom' to 'Army drill sergeant.'"
Michelle managed to grin. A few tears snuck down her face. However, at least she didn't feel rotten any more. She tried to remember when she'd last cried. She probably hadn't for a long time. And, she couldn't remember ever crying at school.
Cassie smiled. "You know, some kid on the bus is gonna ask 'who was that teacher bawling someone out? She was so mad!' And I'll say 'that was no teacher, that was a student.'"
Michelle chuckled through tiny tears. She couldn't believe she'd lost control like that. She normally kept her feelings hidden so well. She rarely considered the sadness of not having a mom, though. She'd done so today to try to get Rachel to understand why she worried about her. But, it had backfired. Rachel had acted as snobby as ever.
Worrying about Rachel, Lewis, and the Flamingoes was getting to her, too. She realized the problem had grown too big for her to handle.
"Look, Rachel," she heard Mrs. Yoshida say, "I don't know what happened. The important thing is Michelle is more upset than I've ever seen her."
Michelle looked up at Rachel. She heard a half-hearted "I'm sorry" rise from Rachel's lips.
After Rachel left, Mrs. Yoshida knelt in front of Michelle. The girl took the tissue that was offered. "Would you like to talk about it?"
Michelle sniffled and wiped her eyes and face. "Oh, Mrs. Y., I just feel so awful. That teen who was here with the bottle babysits for Rachel. I tried to warn Rachel. I tried to explain how it feels to not have a mom. And, how that could happen to her. But, Rachel just acts like it never could have happened to her."
Mrs. Yoshida gave a smile of understanding. "When Rachel first came here, I talked to her dad. He thought she was too sheltered at her private school. That's why he put her and her brother Michael in public schools out here. Nobody likes to think it could happen to them. But, that was an even worse problem for Rachel. I'll make sure the D.A.R.E. officer talks about how it could happen to anyone." Michelle thanked her. "You probably wouldn't feel like talking about your mom, would you?"
"Normally, I don't mind mentioning it. I know I have a great family. So, I don't think about not having a mom. But..." She trailed off, lost in thought. It usually didn't hurt nearly as bad as this. But, worrying about the alcohol on the playground, plus Rachel's comments, made it impossible.
Mrs. Yoshida understood completely. "It must be very hard sometimes. Rachel knows not to talk like that. Maybe when you feel better, in a quiet way, you and she can talk. She kept saying she didn't mean to say it. So, whatever she said, you must have had some impact. She must have realized something."
"See, Cassie's right," Mandy said. "Rachel knows the body was Michelle's. But, the voice was really her mother's."
Michelle began laughing now. She hugged her friends. "Thanks. You guys are the best."
Michelle had calmed down completely by the end of the day. She was ready to talk to Rachel. She asked Cassie and Mandy to grab her things. That way, she could follow Rachel.
Rachel left quickly as expected. Michelle wasn't sure how to approach her outburst. However, her friends made her feel a lot better with their jokes. She decided to try the same tactic. "Hey, Rachel," she called. She ran to catch up to her near the playground entrance.
Rachel turned and stared at Michelle. "I'm in a hurry. What do you want?"
She spoke remorsefully at first. "Well...I just wanted to say I'm sorry I screamed at you." Her emotions were again well under control. So, she kept from telling Rachel she deserved it Instead, she grinned. "I bet I sounded like your mom, huh?"
Rachel paused a moment. She seemed to debate how to react. Finally, she admitted it. With a slight grin, she told Michelle she was close. "My mom says 'young lady' when she lectures me. But, otherwise, you sounded a lot like her."
Michelle chuckled. Soon, her giggles infected Rachel. This greatly excited Michelle. Children forgot their feuds so readily. Why couldn't adults do the same, Michelle wondered sometimes. "Even the finger in the chest," she asked Rachel.
"No, but she's taller," Rachel said. She pointed at Michelle. "And here's one I'm sure you've never heard. She uses this a lot. 'I hope you grow up to have children just like you.'"
Michelle laughed hard. She'd never heard that saying. But, she could imagine someone wishing such children on Rachel. It would be great to see her get a taste of her own medicine.
"No, I haven't heard that one. But, if I had, I probably would have said it." She hoped Rachel understood she wasn't joking. Her giggles probably made it sound like she was, though.
She forced herself to sound serious. "Look, Rachel," she began. "I know you don't think it will happen. But, if you ever have a problem, I'll be there for you." She hoped Rachel knew she was talking about the Flamingoes. She didn't want to renew their argument by being more specific.
Instead, she referred to what she went through. "It might never happen. But, say, for instance, your mom or dad would get hurt or even die, come to me. I won't say 'I told you so.' I'll just listen. And you can talk or cry or whatever you need to do."
Michelle hoped Rachel recognized how she cared. It was so hard to love one's neighbor when that neighbor didn't love back. She had thought Rachel could be a good friend when she first met her. She soon realized Rachel wasn't very friendly. There had been improvement, but nothing big. Still, she tried to be nice to her when she could. Could Rachel understand how sincere she was?
Rachel didn't exactly smile warmly. However, she grinned a little, and sounded somewhat thankful. "I won't need you. But, I'll remember that, anyway."
With a final, mumbled "be careful," Michelle watched Rachel walk away. Michelle shook her head and grumbled slightly. "Not even a 'thank you?'"
Mrs. Yoshida came up behind her. "I'm proud of you, Michelle.."
Michelle smiled at her teacher. "Thanks, Mrs. Y." She looked back at Rachel. She and Lewis were walking down the street. Her sitter was probably waiting out of sight. The authorities would be watching for the car, after all. "I just wish she would at least thank me."
"She will someday. Maybe not until she needs you. But, she will if that time comes."
Cassie and Mandy ran up to Michelle. She took her backpack from Cassie and flung it over her shoulders.
As they walked toward the bus, a second grader came running up to the principal. The child had been walking to his home a couple blocks away. "Mr. Posey," he cried out. "I think I saw that brown car. Two blocks that way." He pointed. "A girl and a boy were getting in it."
Michelle spun around. "That would probably be Rachel Tilly and Lewis Wellington, Sir. Rachel told me the girl was her babysitter."
"Thanks, Michelle, that helps," the principal told her. A teacher ran with the boy to see if the car was still there.
Michelle shook her head as she sat in the bus with her friends. "I know I ask a lot..."
Mandy interrupted her. "Say no more. We'll come home with you again."
Cassie agreed. "We need to get to the bottom of this fast."
Michelle, Cassie, and Mandy soon got off the bus. They entered Michelle's home. "Good afternoon, pumpkin," Danny spoke, looking up from his dusting. He walked over to Michelle and her friends. "You know, it's a good thing we warned everyone about that girl."
"How come," Michelle wanted to know.
Danny explained that Stephanie had discovered something disturbing. "She called a few minutes ago. Apparently, Mr. Tilly didn't have any time to check references. That sitter isn't homeschooled. She goes to John Muir, like Stephanie suspected. But, she'd been suspended for the last few days."
"Suspended? Rachel said Sue was home schooled."
Danny continued. "I tried to call the Tillys, but nobody answered."
Michelle's heart sank. "Rachel said they were joining the Flamingoes this afternoon. Now, what are we going to do?"
"Thanks. Is Steph home," she inquired. She tried not to sound too worried.
"She said she, Allie, and Darcy were going over to Anthony's Pizza. They were doing an interview for their yearbook."
The girls thanked him and left. "Now what," Cassie wondered.
Michelle led them into her dad's study. "It's official, guys," she told her friends. "We need help with this problem."
Mandy scratched her head as Michelle pulled out a phone book. "What are you looking for?"
"The number for Anthony's Pizza," Michelle said casually. She found it, and picked up the receiver.
Cassie shot her a baffled look. "How is ordering a pizza going to help?"
Michelle's dad knocked on the door. He needed to get something from his desk. Cassie opened it for him as Michelle spoke. "Hello, I need to speak to a Stephanie Tanner. This is her sister, Michelle."
"Is there a problem," Danny asked. Cassie and Mandy shrugged.
"Look, tell her I know she's busy, but...it's a Flamingo problem." Michelle heard a very confused waiter relay this message to Stephanie.
Stephanie quickly grabbed the phone. She tried to hide her frustration. "Okay, Michelle. I know I said I'd be there for you any time. But, I sort of meant when I was home."
"Look, Steph, Rachel said she and Sue were gonna help Lewis join the Flamingoes. Sue and her brother picked Rachel and Lewis up. He was dropping them at Rachel's house. I want you to meet us over there," Michelle told her.
"Well...isn't Dad there," Stephanie asked. "Can't he go with you?"
Michelle knew her dad would insist on going. And, that was a very good idea. "He's not the problem. We need someone who knows the Flamingoes."
"But, Michelle, Rachel thinks I'm nuts." Stephanie sighed. "Okay, I guess I'll come. I promised. Plus, I can confront this girl myself." Michelle heard Stephanie asking Allie and Darcy to take over. Her sister also requested a ride. "I'll be there in about ten minutes."
Michelle hung up the phone. "I'm coming with you," Danny informed her.
"I figured." She smiled at her dad. "I kind of feel bad asking everyone for help, though."
Danny smiled. He sat in his desk chair and looked lovingly into her eyes. "It's great to be able to do things yourself. But, we need to know our limits, too. Asking for help is the most grown up thing you can do. Because everyone needs it sometimes. I needed it desparately after your mom died. And, if I had never admitted I needed help then, Uncle Jesse and Joey never would have moved in."
Michelle hadn't thought about that. She supposed it wasn't too bad to ask for help. She just hoped the problem wasn't as bad as it could be.
The Tilly home stood in a cul de sac. All the neighborhood's houses were new.
Michelle and her friends gawked at the large house. The porch had enormous pillars. As they pulled up, Michelle remembered being inside another time. "The maid, Lenora Pennington, will probably answer the door. Let me talk, please, Dad," she requested. They got out of the car. "She'll let us in faster since we're Rachel's friends."
Danny smiled. "That makes sense. As long as I can come in, too."
Just then, a pizza delivery car pulled into the drive. Stephanie got out of the car, and it left. Mandy quickly recognized her. "Stephanie, do you deliver pizza?"
Stephanie shook her head. "No. I just waited till they were done with a delivery near here."
"So, if you hadn't gotten here in thirty minutes or less," Cassie wondered, "would Michelle get another sister for free?" They laughed as they walked up to the Tilly home.
Michelle knocked at the door. A lady wearing a gray suit answered it. She wore a large apron and held a feather duster. "Miss Pennington, I'm Michelle. This is Cassie and Mandy. We're friends from Mrs. Yoshida's class." The maid seemed to recognize the names. "This is my dad, Danny Tanner, and my sister Stephanie. They wanted to come in for a minute, too."
"Oh, come on in," Lenora Pennington told them. She looked at Michelle. "Michelle Tanner? You're the nice girl who gave Miss Rachel your penguin job, aren't you," she spoke sweetly. "You must be such a wonderful little lady." Danny beamed.
Michelle raised her eyebrows. Had Rachel said that about her? Did she say nice things about people when away from them? Had she been wrong about her all this time? "Y-yes," came the startled voice. "Did Rachel mention me?"
Lenora laughed. "Are you kidding? Miss Rachel doesn't talk like that. Miss Sidney, on the other hand, comes over here a lot. And, she has mentioned you."
Michelle asked if Rachel was home.
"Yes, dear. I didn't know she was expecting so many playmates. Then again, she did talk about this club." She led them toward the basement.
"That's what we're concerned about," Danny remarked as he gazed around in awe. "Miss Pennington, I am so impressed at how clean this home is. Anyway, I don't know if you heard my phone call about a half hour ago."
"I was running the vacuum for a while. So, I wouldn't have heard the phone. Messages are the Tilly's business," Lenora said. "I don't listen to their personal stuff."
Michelle's dad related what he'd learned. He said he'd called Sue's parents, as well. They were on their way over to the Tillys.
Michelle and her friends reached the large basement rec room. They found nobody there. "Where could they have gone," Lenora wondered. She hollered. "Miss Rachel! Miss Rachel, your friends are here!"
The sitter walked up to them. Michelle recognized the oversized pink bow. She also thought the girl was walking funny. Was this what Stephanie looked for yesterday?
Danny and Stephanie noticed the same thing. "Young lady, you are drunk," Danny told Sue.
"I haven't been drinking. I've been breathing," Sue said. Her speech was quite slurred.
"That doesn't matter. You are doing serious damage to yourself. Plus, you are not fit to watch a child right now." Danny suggested that the housekeeper call Mrs. Tilly. "She may be busy, but you need to tell her what happened. She needs to come home right away." The maid and sitter left.
"She's a Flamingo, all right," Stephanie remarked. "I've seen her at their lunch table. And they even shy away from her sometimes."
"She must be bad news. What was that about breathing," Michelle inquired.
"She means..." Danny froze. He suddenly looked alarmed. "Everyone split up, we have to find Rachel and Lewis. I'll explain later." He dashed upstairs.
Michelle wasn't sure why her dad sounded so urgent. She said a short prayer anyway as she ran into the laundry room. She discovered Rachel and Lewis hiding beside the washer. "I found them," she hollered.
"Michelle, what are you doing here," shouted Rachel. She looked upset. But, her voice contained a mixture of scolding and relief.
How would Michelle explain this? She glanced at the aerosol cans in the center of the room. "I was going to say your sitter's drunk," came the puzzled voice. "But, all I see are spray cans."
Stephanie ran into the room next. "Oh, thank goodness you're all right. Let me smell your breaths," she commanded them.
Lewis exhaled right away. "We didn't breathe anything."
"Breathe anything?" Michelle turned to Stephanie. "I thought you were worried about drinking."
Cassie and Mandy ran into the room. Stephanie shot Michelle a look. "I'll explain in a minute." She then stared at Rachel. "Rachel, did you inhale anything out of any of those cans?"
"No, of course not," Rachel said defensively.
Lewis told them Sue had. "Then her words got all runny. After that, the maid said you were here. Rachel wanted us to hide."
Danny ran into the room. "Good, you two are safe. Sue's parents are here for her. The maid's talking to them. They're taking her to the hospital, just in case. As well as treatment for her problem. I said we'd stay with you for a couple minutes till your mom came home."
"My mom?" Rachel glared nervously from Danny to Michelle. "How dare you call her? She's got a very busy schedule. She's in charge of a very important fashion show Saturday. You didn't have to make her mad by having her come back here."
Danny spoke quietly but very sternly. "You're lucky she's not coming to take you to the hospital, young lady."
Michelle turned to Cassie and Mandy. "I bet that sounded like her mom." They nodded.
Danny continued. "Inhaling anything from household products can take all the oxygen out of your lungs. It could easily suffocate you. You could have died within minutes, Rachel."
Michelle's mouth dropped open. She had no idea anything could be that dangerous.
"I never inhaled any of that," Rachel said. Rachel was trying hard not to sound scared. But, she was clearly very frightened.
Stephanie took Rachel's hands. She spoke softly. "Rachel, it's okay. As long as you didn't do it. If it wasn't for my older sister D.J., I would have stolen Dad's phone card to join the Flamingoes one year. I thought it was just a joke. Just like you thought what Sue was doing was a joke. But they planned to use it so one girl could call her boyfriend thousands of miles away. It would have cost Dad lots of money."
A lump formed in Michelle's throat. What if they hadn't gotten there? She couldn't stand to think of Rachel being hurt or dying. No wonder Stephanie had been so scared the previous day.
"Just because someone says something's harmless doesn't mean it is," scolded Mr. Tanner.
Mrs. Tilly came running down to the basement moments later. The lady wore a big, fancy hat with a rose in it. "Oh, Rachel! Lenora told me on the phone about the sitter." She hugged Rachel. "She said Sue was drunk or something. Did she do anything to you? Are you all right?"
Danny spoke before Rachel could. "She was trying to pressure Rachel to join this club called the Flamingoes. It appears they were going to breathe in some dangerous things as an initiation of sorts. But, it seems Rachel didn't do it. I don't smell anything on her breath. I don't see any other signs, either."
Mrs. Tilly smiled proudly at Rachel. "Oh, Rachel, we knew you could refuse that stuff. I guess you must have heard our voices saying 'no,' huh?" Michelle thought Rachel's mom sounded a little too prideful herself.
Rachel mumbled something. Nobody could quite make out what it was.
Michelle asked what she'd said.
Rachel glared at her. She shouted this time. "I said it was your voice, okay!"
Michelle was stunned. "Mine?"
Rachel grumbled. "Yes, yours. Sue started sniffing that stuff," Rachel said. "She made it sound cool. I thought it couldn't be that bad if it came from our house. But, I couldn't do it. I kept hearing you telling me 'no.' It's bad enough I have to hear you at school. Now that little voice telling me to stay away from bad stuff is going to sound like you, too!"
Mrs. Tilly shook a finger at Rachel. "You better be thankful that voice is there. I could be visiting you in the emergency room, young lady!"
Stephanie smiled. "Don't worry, Rachel. That 'little voice' will sound like you pretty fast. Just remember to obey it when it says to stay away."
"Yeah, so what if it's mine," Michelle kidded her. "At least it's not Barney's voice." She knew Rachel really disliked the big, purple dinosaur. All but Rachel chuckled.
Michelle listened as Danny praised Lewis for saying "no" as well. She decided the next thing that needed done was to inform Rachel's mother about the real Flamingoes. "Steph, you need to tell Mrs. Tilly the truth about the Flamingoes."
Stephanie nodded. She explained all about Sue, Lewis, and the bottle. "I'd love to tell you everything the Flamingoes have done. But, my friends are waiting for me at Anthony's Pizza."
That sounded like a great idea. Michelle could start her club, too. "Let's all go there, Dad. Why don't you bring Rachel, too, Mrs. Tilly."
"I think that's a good idea," Mrs. Tilly remarked, glancing at Rachel. "I'd like to know about these 'Flamingoes.' And then, we are going to need to talk about many things, young lady." Rachel looked uncomfortable.
Michelle told everyone they would have the first meeting of their club at Anthony's. "And you don't have to do anything to join. You can even be in it, Rachel."
"Yeah, sure," Rachel chided her. "And what do you call your 'club,' anyway?"
Michelle laughed as she thought of a name. "The 'Say No to Flamingoes' Club."
Ronald kept staring at the officer's badge. "You like that," the policeman wondered. He was talking with Mrs. Yoshida's class about the dangers of drugs and gangs. He'd been to Lewis' class already. "Every class has a kid who looks at this badge like it's a gold medal. A kid who thinks I'm the coolest person in the world because of it."
He turned to another topic. "Who in here likes radar guns? Anyone like watching the scouts time the pitchers at ball games?" Jeff and several others raised their hands.
Officer Mark Greenbaum smiled at Jeff. "You like radar guns, huh?" Jeff nodded. "I used one when I joined the police force. Kids think that kind of stuff is really cool. But, there's nothing like coming in and showing kids how to avoid the dangers in their world."
He strolled around the room. "You know what a 'high' is? It's the excitement of knowing you helped someone. Of knowing there's people who look up to you. Kids who think you're the coolest person in the world. And teaching them something positive, knowing you helped them become better human beings. There's nothing better in the world."
Michelle grinned. That sounded a lot like Stephanie. She knew Stephanie loved helping her. Stephanie got such a thrill from that. And, Michelle really liked it, too. She knew she needed help sometimes.
"Take this young man." He walked over to Ronald. "No, don't take him, we need him here. But, he might see me and decide that he wants to grow up and speak to kids around his city as a D.A.R.E. officer. He might want to help them spot the dangers. Or, if it's just my gun, he might be a major league scout."
Jeff laughed. "Would you give Randy Johnson a ticket next time he comes to town. Maybe then he won't throw so hard and we can actually beat him."
The officer laughed, then turned back to the class. "That's okay, if he follows me. I have his best interests at heart. I would never tell him to do anything that could hurt him. Not everyone cares like that, though. What you need is to learn how to spot those who think they're cool, but who really aren't."
Officer Greenbaum led the students in role playing games and discussions. He used more time than he'd planned. Mrs. Yoshida had little time to start anything after he left.
Once the final bell rang, Rachel motioned Michelle over near the classroom plants. "Look," she whispered so nobody else could hear. "I just wanted to...well..."
Michelle figured Rachel wanted to thank her. Gratitude didn't come easily for Rachel. Maybe a compliment would break the ice. "You did a great job role playing."
"I've always known I could be a great actress." Rachel stammered a little more. "Look, I'm glad you did what you did yesterday. I never thought of how dangerous some stuff can be. So...I wanted to say thanks." The last words were almost inaudible.
Michelle smiled. "Hey, I meant what I said. I'll always be there to help." She snickered. "Whether you want me to be or not."
Michelle wished Rachel had her desire to help others. She just had to keep showing how much better kindness was, though. Then, bit by bit, Rachel would become as nice s Michelle.
They walked toward the cubbies. Michelle asked what the Tillys would do for a sitter.
Rachel grumbled as she put her arms through her backpack. "Oh, yeah. That's the worst part. I'm supposed to walk the twelve blocks home. And guess who's walking with me? Stephanie."
Michele pointed at herself. "Stephanie? My Stepahnie?"
"Yes, your Stephanie." The girls walked behind Cassie and Mandy. "My mom hired Stephanie for the next couple days." Rachel rolled her eyes. "I'd rather just sit at my au pair's bedside."
Michelle couldn't believe Rachel said such things. "Come on, Rachel. Stephanie's the best sister in the world." She thought a moment longer. Grinning, she decided she had to admit it. "Okay. She does talk a lot sometimes."
Stephanie was standing near Michelle's school bus. She waved to the four girls.
Rachel rolled her eyes, then started toward Stephanie. She turned slowly back to Michelle. "Sometimes? I didn't think my mom would get a word in edgewise with Stephanie telling us all about those Flamingoes. Though I am really...well..."
Rachel looked at the ground. Michelle could hardly hear her. "I'm glad you two were there for me. I guess I kinda like being friends with you. You really are nice, you know that. Even when I wasn't. I'd like to be like that. It seems really cool."
Michelle was elated. Rachel was going to become one of her friends, too!
In her normal voice, Rachel continued. "But, please. Don't bring up the last few days ever again," she insisted. Rachel walked in a huff towrd Stephanie.
Michelle grinned. Mrs. Yoshida was right. Rachel appreciated her. And, there was something even better. Rachel would stay far away from drugs and Flamingoes.
Michelle finished setting the table. It was almost dinnertime. She walked up to her room as Stephanie was leaving it. "Hey, Steph. Supper's about ready. How was Rachel?"
Stepahnie motioned Michelle into their room. They sat on Stephanie's bed. "Michele, when you were little, I thought Dad let you get away with everything. I thought you were really spoiled. I now take back everything I ever said or thought about that."
Michelle nodded. She knew she'd had a bit of a bossy streak as a preschooler. So, Rachel must have given Stephanie some really hard times. "Quite a handful, huh?"
"You were nice and compassionate as a preschooler. When you were bossy, you didn't mean to be rude. You didn't know any better. But, Rachel should know better. That makes her attitude worse than yours ever was."
"I was hoping you could help Rachel be nicer. She's started, but she'll need lots of help," Michelle said.
"Let's just say we talked. I tried to encourage her. But, I'm no miracle worker. She's starting to be nicer. She's willing to be your friend now, although part of that might be because you won't be class president anymore once you get to fifth grade. But, while she won't treat you mean, it's going to take effort for her to lose her arrogance," Stephanie said. "Half the time she acted miffed that she was grounded for your year-end class picnic next week."
"At least we started. Did Sue just want to bring that stuff into our school," Michelle asked.
Stephanie related what she'd heard. "Mrs. Tilly discovered last night that Sue stole from them. Money, a little jewelry, that sort of thing. She may have been trying to get Rachel hooked. But, it also looks like she wanted a good excuse for the missing items. Sue probably planned to sell them to support her habit. But, it would look like Rachel was stealing from her mom, instead. Either that, or they'd be too worried about Rachel to pay attention to missing stuff."
Michelle shook her head. "Those Flamingoes sure are bad news," she mumbled.
They got up. Stephanie paused. "One more thing, Michelle. I peeked into your backpack when I got home. Just to make sure."
Michelle shot her a dirty look. "I thought you trusted me," came the hurt voice.
Stephanie smiled. She put a hand on Michelle's shoulder. "I do. I knew I wouldn't find anything, and I was right. But, you wouldn't believe how scared I was when I saw that bottle a couple days ago."
Michelle might not have understood it otherwise. But, after what she'd gone through with Rachel, she could. She hadn't been close to Rachel, and she'd cared about her. She didn't want anyone to get mixed up in anything dangerous.
As for Lewis, she'd been concerned because he didn't have a stable home life. But, at least he had Joey. Plus, most of his schoolmates supported him. He had begun to get the right kinds of friends. Michelle and her friends would help, too. All that could keep him out of trouble.
She'd been bothered by those problems. So, Stephanie must have been really bothered thinking about her. "I guess that shocked you, huh? If I was worried about Rachel..." She trailed off.
Stephanie hugged Michelle. "Oh, Michelle. I've heard of kids messing up their lives so badly, even in Middle School. To think that my baby sister could be doing that, it was terrifying."
Michelle's complaint sounded weak with her head cradled in Stephanie's chest. "Steph, I'm not a baby."
"I know." Stephanie and Michelle look at each other. "But if I live to be a hundred, and you're 95, you'll still be my baby sister. And, I'll still feel like I need to help and protect you."
Michelle smiled. "I guess I can't get away from it, huh, Steph?" Nor would she want to. She wanted to be on the right side. The side of people who did what was right no matter what others said or did.
Stephanie rubbed her back as they walked downstairs. "You're going to face lots of temptations as you grow. Smoking, drinking and all that; then with boys in a few years. Like Jeff?" Stephanie gave her a knowing smile.
Michelle felt her face get warm. She was looking forward to playing ball with Jeff at the picnic. She just hoped Stephanie wouldn't start to kid her like she did to Stephanie. After all, Stephanie had recently predicted in her diary they'd go to the prom together and wind up married for over fifty years.
Stephanie chuckled. "It's just part of growing up. You two make a cute couple. You're both funny, you're good friends. Even when Jeff cheated off you, he told the truth rather than see you get in trouble. And, that one incident aside, you're both nice young people. I know you're good enough to resist temptation on your own. But you might need help sometimes. And I'll be there for you. So will everyone else."
Michelle smiled warmly at her. "Thanks. I'm glad I have someone like you to help me when I need it."