In Crowda, my new town, there are two elementary schools, one Jr. High school, and one high school. In Chicago I had gone to middle school and been in the eighth grade, one of the oldest students in school. Now I was pushed back to being crammed in the middle and looked down upon by uppity nineth graders.
On Sunday, three days after our move and the day before I started school, my mom gave Mrs. Allen a call. That's how I got stuck walking with Daniel Allen, who I was sure was going to be as annoying as his mother.
"Mo-om," I whined when she told me. "I don't want to walk with Daniel. He'll probably drive me crazy talking about the Boy's Aid Society or Fundraisers or something."
"Belle Liberty," Mom replied, calling me by my real name as she did when she was angry, "I am surprised at you. I know you didn't really like his mother, but that doesn't mean Daniel isn't a nice boy. I don't want you walking alone on the first day, anyway, and Sue Anna's kindergarten is in the opposite direction so I won't be able to drive you."
"Okay, okay," I muttered, and that's how I end up sauntering along towards Mrs. Allen's house a couple of blocks away at eight in the morning. When I get there, he is already waiting for me on the stairs along with another girl.
"Hi," he says. He is kind of cute, medium-tall with blond curls and glasses. "I'm Danny. You must be Bunnie Liberty."
"Billie," I correct him with a twinge of annoyance. "It's short for Belle, but Mom thought Belle Liberty sounded too girly and patriotic, and besides, my grandfather's name was Billy."
He shrugs in apology and says, "Well then, shall we go? We still have to pick up the Mandell twins on the way." Wow. Our little walk was turning into a regular block party.
The girl that was with him doesn't say anything until we are walking down the sidewalk. She is pretty, short and african-american with huge brown eyes. Her hair is fixed into dozens of springy braids. She trots along quietly behind Daniel and I am about to ask what her name is until he speaks.
"This is Justice. Isn't that interesting? You're Liberty and she's Justice, just like in the Pledge of Allegiance. Only, Liberty is your last name and Justice is her first."
"Hi, Billie," she chirrups. "I was so glad when I heard that a girl had moved in to the old Frasier place. I was getting tired of all those boys." She grinned sideways at me. "Crowda Jr. High is a great school. Everyone does a sport, though." She stopped in front of a small yellow house. "Danny plays basketball and I'm captain of the cheerleading squad. Maybe you can join. The Mandell twins are only in seventh grade, but they're both into baseball."
In spite of myself, I smile back at her. "That sounds fun," I say. "Maybe I'll--"
Just then, the door of the yellow house flies open and two boys burst out, both with reddish-brown hair and freckles dotting their cheeks. "Hey, Justice," They shrieked. "Hey, is this the new girl?" One of them turned towards me. "I'm Adam," he said. "This is my brother Dougie. We're identical." As if I couldn't tell. "Are you going to be a cheerleader? Justice said she'd ask you, but you don't look like one."
"Shut up, Adam," Justice replies good naturedly. "She can be a cheerleader if she wants to. Or she could play girl's tennis or volleyball or even do track next spring."
Danny laughs and puts his arm around her shoulder. At my puzzled glance he explains, "We're together. Like, together, together. My mother doesn't know, though. Don't tell her or she might not let me hang around with Justice anymore, and we've lived next door to eachother for years."
Just like me and Laurie, I want to say, but don't. Instead I say, "That's cool. I had a boyfriend back in Chicago. His name was Jimmy."
"Ooh la la," one of the twins yells, and they both start laughing hysterically. Justice rolls her eyes. "Grow up, you two," she says. "We're here, anyway. Billie, this is Crowda Jr. High."
The redbrick building is a lot smaller than my middle school in Chicago. "Well..." I say finally. "Thanks for walking with me."
"Oh, it was no problem," she replies. "We walk together every morning. And, Billie, the cheerleaders have practice after school today in the gym. You should come check it out."
I smile at her. "Okay, I will. See you later."
Then I take a deep breath and go inside.