Number one kid, p.1

Number One Kid, page 1


Number One Kid
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Number One Kid

  For Jillian Rose O’Meara,

  our darling,

  with love

  Special thanks to Laura Giff and Jimmy Giff, who told me

  stories of the afternoon center


  • • •

  For Helen and Harry —A.B.



  Title Page


  The Kids of the Zelda A. Zigzag School

  Chapter 1 - Friday

  Chapter 2 - Monday

  Chapter 3 - Still Monday

  Chapter 4 - Tuesday

  Chapter 5 - Wednesday

  Chapter 6 - Thursday

  Chapter 7 - Friday

  Chapter 8 - Saturday

  Chapter 9 - Still Saturday

  Chapter 10 - Monday-Prize Day

  About the Author




  Mitchell McCabe looked up at the classroom clock.

  Were the hands moving?

  Maybe not.

  School would never be over.

  This was only the first week in his new school. A million weeks until next summer!

  His teacher, Ms. Katz, was giving out permission slips. “We are lucky to have an Afternoon Center at the Zelda A. Zigzag School,” she said. “Take these slips home. Get them signed.”

  Afternoon Center? What was that?

  “We’ll have swimming and art and ballroom dancing.” Ms. Katz poked at her glasses. “Trampoline, kickball. Lots of things, even homework help.”

  In the next seat, a girl was drawing something.

  It looked like a pony, Mitchell thought. It had a fat stomach and four legs.

  The girl raised her hand. “How about trips? Maybe like the Bermuda Triangle. Or Hawaii.”

  Mitchell leaned forward.

  Ms. Katz closed her eyes. “I don’t think so, Yolanda.”

  Mitchell put his slip in his desk. No good. He wasn’t going to the Center. It would be filled with kids he’d never seen before. Even sixth graders.

  At last, the bell rang.

  Mitchell sped down the hall.

  He slid down the banister—

  And landed on the floor.


  “Careful,” the principal called after him.

  Mitchell leaped out the door. Free.

  He looked back. The Zelda A. Zigzag School was long and low. The bricks were as yellow as a stick of butter.

  It wasn’t one bit like his old school. That one was tall, like a cereal box. It was red.

  And friendly.

  Too bad they’d had to move. Too bad his father had a new job.

  A window opened on the second floor.

  Ms. Katz leaned out.

  One room down, another window opened. Was that his sister Angel’s room?

  Yes. Her head, her skinny neck, and even her shoulders hung out.

  Mitchell hoped she wouldn’t fall. She’d land on her mouse-tail hair. He opened his mouth. “Be care—”

  Behind him, the doors banged open. Kindergarten kids came out. And some huge sixth graders.

  “Hey, loser,” a sixth grader called.

  Upstairs, Ms. Katz snapped her fingers. “That’s enough, Peter Petway.”

  Mitchell took a quick look at Peter Petway. He was gigantic! Did Peter think he was a loser?

  Mitchell dived behind a green bush. He landed on someone.

  “Oof!” It was that boy from the class across the hall. The one with the hair that stuck up in front.

  Two voices were calling, “Mitchell.”

  One was Ms. Katz’s.

  The other was Angel’s.

  “You forgot your permission slip, Mitchell,” Ms. Katz said.

  “He does stuff like that,” Angel said. “He loses things. He forgets things. And he’s supposed to walk home with me.”

  Mitchell shook his head. He’d forgotten that.

  “I’ll come get his slip,” Angel told Ms. Katz.

  Mitchell leaned against the bush. It was full of thorns. Ouch!

  He swallowed. He wouldn’t cry. Not even if a tarantula landed on his head.

  Next to him, the boy was almost breathing on him. The boy’s arm was a mess of poison ivy.

  Mitchell took tiny breaths. He tried not to breathe in the poison.

  Above them, both windows closed again.

  Mitchell took a deep breath. Oops. Poison ivy must be twirling down his throat.

  The kid scratched his arm. “I’m Habib. What are you doing here?”

  Mitchell raised one shoulder. “I’m Mitchell. I like to sit behind bushes. But not poison ones. How about you?”

  “I’m making mud balls. They’re great to juggle.”

  Mitchell crawled around with Habib. They made a ton of mud balls.

  Then Angel came out. She was with another girl.

  It was someone from his class.

  He tried to think.

  The Bermuda Triangle girl. Yolanda. She lived on their street.


  He hoped she and Angel wouldn’t be friends.

  She might tell Angel everything that went on in his classroom.

  His mother would find out if he did one thing wrong!

  He waited for them to go down the street. “See you,” he told Habib.

  He followed Angel and Yolanda home, sneaking from bush to bush.…

  He made sure they didn’t see him.

  He felt a worm of worry in his chest.

  More than a worm. A snake of worry.

  Was Peter Petway right?

  Was he turning out to be a loser?



  The weekend was too short.

  Monday was too long.

  The afternoon bell rang.

  Mitchell went down the hall. He trailed his fingers along the wall.

  His thumb hit Zelda A. Zigzag’s picture.

  He stopped to straighten her up.

  She had been the principal a hundred years ago.

  Poor Zelda had a crumpled-up face. She looked as tough as a wrestler.

  She probably ate nails for lunch.

  He tried to remember the new principal’s name. He snapped his fingers. Mr. Randolph, that was it.

  Mitchell kept going. He banged his head against a shelf. It was Angel’s class shelf. Angel’s castle was in the middle.

  At home he had fallen over it. He had bashed in the tower.

  By accident.

  Angel came down the hall. “My castle looks like a gas station,” she said. “All your fault.” Her eyes watered.

  “I’m sorry.” Mitchell pulled at his I’M #1 T-shirt. His grandmother had given it to him. Nana thought he was Number One.

  Angel said he was Number Eighty-seven.

  “It’s time for Afternoon Center,” Angel said, “Down in the basement.”

  Mitchell sighed. “Go ahead. I’m coming in a minute.”

  “It’ll be fun. If you pay attention to things.” Angel sped away.

  Mitchell went downstairs. He sat on the bottom step. He wasn’t ready for the Afternoon Center.

  Habib clattered down behind him. “I’m a first-class juggler.” He threw two mud balls into the air.

  They went flying—

  Straight into the kindergarten shelf.

  The shelf was filled with scribbly paper shapes. They went flying, too.

  Now kids were pounding down the stairs.

  Mr. Oakley raced by. He was the grandfather who helped out.

  “Are you going to Afternoon Center?” Habib asked.

  Mitchell leaned away from Habib’s poison-ivy arm. “I have to go,” he said. “My mother signed my slip. All because of Angel.”
  Angel was getting to be a real tattletale.

  Then Mitchell remembered. “My slip is still upstairs. It’s in my desk.”

  He saw Angel in a doorway. She was watching him. Frowning.

  “I have to get my slip,” he told Habib.

  He saw a mask on the floor. It had cut-out eyes and a clown nose.

  He stuck the mask on his face. “Bonk,” he said.

  “Bonk,” Habib said back.

  Mitchell headed for his classroom. He probably wasn’t supposed to be there after school.

  He kept the mask on. No one would know who he was.

  The school might be filled with tattletales. Like Angel!

  He threw his books out of his desk.

  The slip was all the way in the back. It was crumpled up like Zelda A. Zigzag’s face.

  He went downstairs again. He barreled around Jake the Sweeper.

  He dropped the mask on the bottom step.

  “Hey,” Jake said. “Don’t make a mess.”

  Jake was a little grouchy.

  So was his cat, Terrible Thomas.

  Terrible Thomas sneaked into school sometimes.

  Mitchell put the mask on a table in the hall.

  Habib was standing next to the table.

  “You should see the sign-up line,” he said. “It’s like a jungle fight. Everyone wants to be first.”

  “Not me.” Mitchell peeked in at the gym.

  Ms. Katz sat at a table. She must be the boss of the Afternoon Center.

  In front of her was a girl in Mitchell’s class.

  What was her name? Sumiko.

  Her mother and father were from Japan.

  It was in the Arctic Circle somewhere. Or maybe the equator. You couldn’t drive there, anyway.

  Sumiko was probably the smartest kid in the school. She knew seven Japanese words.

  Hello. Goodbye. Your room is a mess.

  Angel was stuck in line with Yolanda. They were standing behind that monster Peter Petway.

  Mitchell hoped Angel was safe there.

  He didn’t want to go near Peter Petway.

  “Let’s go out to the schoolyard,” he told Habib. “See what’s going on.”

  “Why not?” Habib said.

  Mitchell grabbed the mask. He followed Habib upstairs and out the door.



  Outside, Ramón was playing ball with some of the kids. He was a helper from college.

  Mitchell sank down against a wall. It was the end of summer. Even the bricks were hot.

  He and Habib listened to the noise inside.

  Mitchell put on the mask. He crawled over to the basement window.

  He crawled carefully. Junk was all over the ground. Crushed-up Doritos. Old pens. Ants.

  Jake’s cat, Terrible Thomas, was eating Doritos. Maybe he was eating ants, too.

  Mitchell looked in the open window. It was covered with wire. Inside was the lunchroom.

  Kids raced down the aisle. They dumped their backpacks on the tables.

  The lunch lady came out with a tray. She wore a shower cap. Only her ears stuck out.

  “Snacks?” Habib said. “No one told me about that.”

  “No one told me, either,” Mitchell said.

  He tried to see what was on the tray. They were probably healthy snacks.

  But healthy snacks were better than nothing.

  “I’m starving to death,” he told Habib. “I haven’t eaten since lunch.”

  It had been a terrible lunch. Cheese poppers, bread things with cheese stuck all over them. The cheese tasted like plastic.

  Habib poked him with his arm. The poison-ivy arm.

  “Look what they’re giving out. The rest of the cheese poppers.”

  Yolanda looked up. “Hey. Someone with a mask! I think it’s a robber.”

  Someone else screamed.

  Not a robber, Mitchell thought. A loser.

  That made him sad.

  He backed away.

  He and Habib crawled to another window.

  They looked in at the storeroom. It was filled with old desks.

  Angel was hopping across the desks. She waved her skinny arms. It was a good thing Ms. Katz wasn’t around to see her.

  Angel looked up and screamed.

  Mitchell jumped. The mask!

  Angel would be having nightmares tonight. Screaming like a baboon.

  He sighed and lifted the mask. “It’s just me. And Habib.”

  “Whew.” She stopped hopping. “Did you sign up for the Center?” She narrowed her eyes. “Mom said—”

  “Don’t worry.” Mitchell crossed his fingers. “I’m in.”

  “You don’t look in to me.” She waved her arms. “I’m practicing. Afternoon Center has swimming. It’s at the Y.”

  She leaped across a desk. “They’re giving prizes. Next Monday. I want to win one.”

  A prize! He’d never won a prize. Not unless you counted a monkey on a stick. He’d won it at the carnival.

  It had fallen apart in two minutes.

  What if he could win a prize?

  That monster Peter Petway would say he was terrific.

  “Let’s go sign up,” he told Habib.

  They went into the gym.

  Ms. Katz smiled. “I thought you’d forgotten.” She looked at the slip. “Your mother signed you up for a lot of things.”

  It wasn’t his mother. It was Angel.

  First his mom had signed the slip. Then Angel must have filled in a bunch of stuff.

  “Ballroom dancing.” Ms. Katz poked at her glasses. “Nature. Swimming. Opera? Can you sing?”

  Wait till he saw Angel.

  “I’ll put a check next to Homework Help,” Ms. Katz said. “You could use it. And you, too, Habib.”

  They rushed to the lunchroom.

  A girl from his class was helping out.

  Mitchell remembered. Her name was Destiny Washington. On Friday she’d had a braid down her back.

  Today she had a white stripe in her bangs. She looked like a friendly skunk.

  “My mother is a hairdresser,” she had told him.

  Destiny gave Habib four poppers. She gave Mitchell only three. “I’m running out,” she said. “Sorry.”

  “Don’t worry,” Mitchell said.

  “Hold your nose while you eat,” Habib told him. “You won’t smell the plastic.”

  Mitchell held his nose with two fingers. He took a bite. “It works!” he told Habib.

  He sat there and chewed. Maybe the prize was a gold medal. Or silver.

  Maybe it was a trip to Japan … right around the icebergs.

  He might take Angel with him. “You’re the best,” she’d say.

  But how could you win if you weren’t good at anything?

  How could you win if you were a loser?

  Even Angel kept calling him Number Eighty-seven.

  He shoved another popper in his mouth.

  He had to think of something.



  Mitchell stopped to look at Angel’s castle.

  She had painted it gold. Lumpy gold.

  Now it looked worse than a gas station.

  It could be a landing dock for UFOs.

  Two kindergarten kids stood in the doorway. They chopped the air with their hands.

  “I’m Trevor, the Karate Kid,” one of them said.

  Mitchell jumped. Then he saw that Trevor was crying. “What’s the matter?”

  “My mask is gone,” the boy said.

  Mitchell swallowed. “Did it have a clown nose?”

  “Yes. It made me look tough. Just like Zelda A. Zigzag.” The boy sniffled. “I wrote my initials on the back. T.P., for Trevor Petway.”

  Mitchell gulped. “Peter Petway is your brother?”

  Trevor nodded.

  Mitchell closed his eyes. “Did you tell him about the mask?”

  “Good idea,” Trevor said.

Don’t do that,” Mitchell said quickly. “Couldn’t you make another one?”

  “I’d need scissors and markers. All that stuff.”

  The other kid punched at the air. “It’s tough to make those masks. Mine’s great. It says C.D. for Clifton Dunbar right on the teeth.”

  “Don’t worry, Trevor,” Mitchell said. “I’ll find it.”

  “Thanks.” Trevor and Clifton gave each other high fives.

  Mitchell headed for the lunchroom. How could he have lost that mask? And what if Peter Petway found out about it?

  “Don’t forget Homework Help,” Ms. Katz called from the end of the hall.

  What next!

  Hot dogs were left over from lunch. Now they were cut in half.

  Destiny handed them out. “I’m the lunch lady’s helper.” She gave two hot dogs to Mitchell. She gave one to Habib. “It’s only fair. Habib got an extra last time.”

  Mitchell ate one. He took the other to Homework Help. He had to work on a story of his life so far.

  He’d use the hot dog for an eraser. He always made mistakes.

  Ellie, the other college helper, smiled at him. She looked like a TV star. She had three tiny freckles.

  “I’m the homework helper,” she said.

  Only a couple of kids were there.

  Mitchell sat down next to Habib.

  Habib was staring up at the ceiling. “I have to add stuff. Seven apples and six oranges. I don’t have enough fingers.”

  “Use your tongue,” Mitchell said. “That’s what my father told me.”

  “Excellent idea,” said Ellie.

  “Yes,” Mitchell said. It really didn’t work. His tongue always got mixed up.

  Ellie leaned over. She began to count with Habib.

  Mitchell opened his notebook. He was glad he had to write about his life so far. It was easier than math. He took a bite of the hot dog. Then he began.

  I used to be in another school.

  Angel’s room was far away.

  She had no friends in my class.

  She didn’t know what I was doing.

  Mitchell read it over. Good work so far, he told himself in Ms. Katz’s voice.

  He erased some marks on the paper with the hot dog. Then he bounced it off the table. It landed on Habib’s paper.

  Habib bounced the hot dog back.

  “We could win a prize for bouncing hot dogs,” Mitchell said.

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