Chapter One: Four Bad Days
I'm Jake -- Jake Drake. I'm right in the middle of fourth grade. One thing I like about fourth grade is that I'm not in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, or third grade anymore. And I'm not at Miss Lulu's Dainty Diaper Day Care anymore either.
I think fourth grade is my best grade so far. It's so good that I have to think hard to remember anything about it that's bad at all. Like right now? I can only think of one day that wasn't so great. That was the day I thought my teacher Mr. Thompson was being unfair.
It was because of the way he treated Shawn Underwood that day. First of all, Mr. Thompson picked Shawn to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Then Mr. Thompson let Shawn take the attendance sheets to the office. During math, Mr. Thompson asked Shawn to write the answers on the chalkboard. After morning recess, Mr. Thompson let Shawn pick out the new chapter book for class read-aloud time. And then Mr. Thompson picked Shawn to line up first for lunch.
I know it sounds like I'm making too big a deal out of these things. But it was like Shawn was Mr. Thompson's favorite. It was like Shawn was the teacher's pet. And that's not fair.
Turns out I was wrong about Shawn, though. After lunch that day, Mr. Thompson said, "I have some good news, and some bad news. The good news is that at the end of the day we're going to have a party with cake and ice cream. But the bad news is that it's a going-away party for Shawn. Tomorrow Shawn is moving to another state, and we're all going to miss him a lot."
Mr. Thompson was being extra nice to Shawn because it was his last day. So Shawn wasn't really the teacher's pet. And I was glad because I liked Shawn, and being the teacher's pet is one of the worst things that can happen to a kid at school.
You know what stinks about being a teacher's pet? Everything, that's what.
I know this for sure because of what happened last May, right near the end of third grade. It all happened in four days -- less than a week. But to me, those four days felt like four years. Because for those four days, I was in great danger.
I was in danger of losing my friends. I was in danger of losing my reputation. I was in danger of losing...my mind.
Because that was the time I became Jake Drake, Teacher's Pet.
When I was in third grade, we got five new computers in our classroom. Mrs. Snavin was my third-grade teacher, and she acted like computers were scary, especially the new ones. She always needed to look at a how-to book and the computer at the same time. Even then, she got mixed up a lot. Then she had to call Mrs. Reed, the librarian, to come and show her what to do.
So it was a Monday morning in May, and Mrs. Snavin was sitting in front of a new computer at the back of the room. She was confused about a program we were supposed to use for a math project. My desk was near the computers, and I was watching her.
Mrs. Snavin looked at the screen, and then she looked at this book, and then back at the screen again. Then she shook her head and let out this big sigh. I could tell she was almost ready to call Mrs. Reed.
I've always liked computers, and I know how to do some stuff with them. Like turn them on and open programs, play games and type, make drawings, and build Web pages -- things like that. So I got up from my desk, pointed at the screen, and said, "Mrs. Snavin, if you double-click on that little thing right there, then the program will start running. And then you click on this, and that opens up the part about number lines."
So Mrs. Snavin did what I told her to and the program started running. Because that's the way it works and anybody knows that. Except Mrs. Snavin.
When the program started playing this stupid music, Mrs. Snavin smiled this huge smile at me and said, "Jake, you're wonderful!" And she said it too loud. Way too loud.
She said it so loud that every kid in the classroom stopped and turned to look at us, just in time to see Mrs. Snavin pat me on the top of my head like I was a nice little poodle or something. An embarrassed poodle with a bright red face.
So I mumbled something like, "Oh, it was nothing." Which was a mistake.
Because right away she said, "But you're wrong, Jake. I get so mixed up when I work with these new computers. And to think that all along I've had such a wonderful expert right here in my classroom, and I didn't even know it! From now on you're going to be my special computer helper!"
I sat down fast before she could pat me on the head again. But the worst part hadn't happened yet. Because Mrs. Snavin walked to the front of the room and said, "Class, if any of you has trouble with the computers during math time this afternoon, just ask Jake what to do. He's my special computer helper!"
By this time, my face was so red that I felt my ears start to get hot. I kept my eyes on my desk but even so, I knew everyone in the room was looking at me. And I was just waiting for someone to start making fun of me, especially the kids who know tons more about computers than I do. Like Ben. Or Shelley Orcut. She's the biggest computer brain in our whole school.
But just then the first period bell rang and it was time to go to art class. So I was saved by the bell.
Miss Cott's room was a big mess that morning. That's probably why I've always liked the art room so much. It's the one place at school where you don't have to worry about neatness. Or spilling stuff. Or getting everything done in a hurry.
The first thing we did in art class was put on our giant shirts. They're supposed to keep paint and glue and junk off our clothes. I put on an old blue shirt of my dad's. The other kids put on their giant shirts too, so we all looked like our legs had shrunk. Which is another fun thing about art class.
So on that Monday I went to work at an easel near the windows. We were supposed to be making pictures for Mother's Day.
I was about half done with my painting when I decided I needed a smaller brush. So I went to the big sink to get one. About fifteen or twenty brushes were sticking out of a bucket full of brownish greenish yellowish water. I grabbed a handful of brushes and looked for one that was the right size. Then I felt someone come up behind me. So I hurried up and rinsed off all the brushes under the faucet, took the one I wanted, and stuck the rest on the rack above the sink.
I looked behind me, and Miss Cott was standing there. She had this goofy look on her face, and her head was tilted to one side, and she was smiling. At me.
"Jake! That is the sweetest thing anybody has done in this room all week!" Which didn't make sense since it was only Monday morning and there hadn't been much of a week yet. But I guess that didn't matter to Miss Cott.
I gave this lame little smile and said, "I...I need a smaller brush so I can finish..."
Miss Cott said, "And instead of working to finish your picture, you've stopped to help clean up the brushes! That is so sweet!" By then, the whole class was watching us, and I was wishing that Miss Cott would stop saying "sweet" like that.
But Miss Cott wasn't done. She turned to all the kids in my class and said, "If all of you would be as sweet as Jake is and help clean up a little, then maybe this room wouldn't be such a mess all the time. Thank you so much, Jake!"
And as she said that, Miss Cott patted me on the head.
I took my small brush and hurried back to my easel. I started working on my picture again, trying not to feel so embarrassed.
Then I heard Ben whisper something to Mark. In addition to being great with computers, Ben Grumson was probably the meanest kid in my third-grade class. So he whispered extra loud so I'd be sure to hear him. "Hey Mark, don't you think Jake is just about perfect? He's so sweet!" I pretended not to hear, but I know my face turned redder and redder.
After art, we went back to our classroom for reading and social studies and nothing much happened.
Then right before lunch, we had gym class. Mr. Collins was having one of his tough-guy days. You can tell when Mr. Collins is having a tough-guy day because on tough-guy days, he calls all the boys and girls "troops."
After the bell rang, Mr. Collins blew his whistle and shouted, "Okay, troops, listen up. Get in a straight line here at the middle of the court. Come on, troops, look alive! Today we're going to play...dodgeball!"
Half the class groaned, and the other half cheered. The kids who always get whomped by that fat, red ball groaned, and the kids who are great at throwing and catching cheered. I was one of the kids who groaned. For me, dodgeball means trying to stay alive.
Mr. Collins clapped his hands. "All right, troops! Everyone whose last name starts with A through L, over to the far side of the court. M through Z, over here behind me. Let's hustle! Go, go, go!"
Mr. Collins started the game by rolling the ball along the black line down the middle of the gym. Glen Purdy ran out and grabbed the ball for the other team.
There's something...weird about dodgeball. I don't know why it brings out the worst in some kids, but it does. Take Glen Purdy, for example. In real life, Glen is a pretty good kid. He's friendly, he's a good partner in math or reading, and he's good to have on your side in a basketball game because he's so tall.
But when a game of dodgeball starts up, all of a sudden this nice guy turns into a beast. And his arms are so long that when Glen throws that fat, red ball, it's like it was shot from a cannon.
So Glen had the ball, and right away, our whole team backed all the way against the wall. We knew that Glen was going to whomp someone. And he did.
Me. Right on the shoulder.
It took only about four minutes for the rest of my team to get knocked out, and then Mr. Collins clapped his hands and said, "Let's go, troops, another round, and this time it's a two-ball game."
And he rolled both balls along the black center line.
Which meant that now it was possible for some kid to get whomped with two fat, red balls at the same time. And that's what happened. To me. On the first throw. Again. I got one ball on the ankle and one ball in the stomach.
Here's what the next four games of dodgeball were like for me that day: WHOMP! WHOMP! WHOMP! WHOMP! Six games of dodgeball, and I was the first kid to get knocked out in every one of them.
But did I ask if I could go to the nurse when the third WHOMP knocked me down and I skinned my knee? No. And did I ask if I could lie down on the mats when the fifth WHOMP got me right on the head and made me see little rainbows all over the place? No. How come? Maybe because I was being stupid. But it's probably because I'm not that big so even if I get hurt sometimes, I don't want anybody to think I'm a quitter.
Anyway, I was so glad when that gym class was finally over that I was the first in line at the door to be dismissed for lunch.
Mr. Collins came over to the doorway. He gave a blast on his whistle to quiet everyone down. Then he said, "Listen up, troops. You all played great today. Good job. But the Player of the Day, maybe the Player of the Month Award goes to a special guy. Did everyone see who took the first hit in every game today? Did that person complain? No. Did he whine and groan? No. Why? Because he's a real trooper, that's why. Jake Drake here deserves my Gym Class Medal of Honor, and you can all take some lessons from him on how to be a good sport. All right, troops -- Dismissed!"
And of course, as Mr. Collins was talking about me, what was he doing? He was patting me on the head. And as he was talking, I was looking at the other kids, and I could tell they didn't think I should be getting all this attention just because I stink at dodgeball.
Standing there at the door of the gym with Mr. Collins patting me on the head, I got this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Because Monday was only half over, and I was already well on my way to becoming the most unpopular kid in the history of Despres Elementary School.
Copyright © 2001 by Andrew Clements