I'm having a terrible day.
This morning, the bus driver drove off even though he could see me running to catch the bus. I had to ask Dad to give me a ride, and he was angry because he'd been telling me to hurry at breakfast.
In math, Mr. Tedesco gave me detention for talking even though I was only telling my friend Quincy what the assignment was. Tedesco didn't listen to me and threatened to double the detention if I kept protesting.
In the hall, a huge eighth grader slammed into me from behind and called me sixer trash and told me to watch where I was going.
Then, in language arts, Ms. Tremont gave me another detention because I couldn't find my homework and stoppedme when I tried to convince her that I must have left it in my locker.
"Homework needs to be here at Longview Middle School, Jackson, not someplace else," she said, and some people laughed.
Now in gym class, Mr. Tieg is making us run three laps around the track and timing us even though it's freezing outside.
"This stinks," I say to Trenton Cromarty.
"Tell me about it."
"No talking," Tieg barks out.
On the other side of the track, Diego Jimenez is in the lead. That's more bad news. Our basketball team, the Jets, has its first game in a week, and we're playing this year on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Diego works on his uncle's roofing crew on Saturdays so he's going to miss half the games.
"Pick up the pace, slackers," Tieg shouts. He's a former Marine who thinks gym should be like boot camp.
I keep plodding around the track. Nothing's going right. Gym was my favorite class back in elementary school when we played games. Now in middle school, it's one of my worst. Tieg said running would warm us up, but he's wrong. I feelso cold my skin might fall off. I might be the first kid ever to get frostbite in gym class in November.
At lunch, my friends and I sit at our table in the back of the cafeteria and practice signing our autographs with black Sharpies for when we're famous. Isaac Wilkins takes a bite of stuffed-crust pizza and a gooey cheese string hangs down his chin.
"Looks like snot," my best friend, Gig, says.
"It's cheese." Isaac grabs it and eats it.
"It's not. It's snot." Gig shakes up his chocolate-milk carton.
"Why are you doing that?" Diego asks.
"It tastes better when it's bubbly, Padre." Gig, whose full name is Spencer Milroy, uses Diego's nickname. He tried to get us all to use nicknames at the start of school, but like a lot of his ideas, nobody else joined in.
Diego and Isaac experiment with different styles on their autographs, but mine all look alike. I turn to Diego. "Is there any way you can play in our games on Saturdays?"
"No way." He puts extra loops on the z of Jimenez. "My uncle won't let me miss a day of work."
Mr. Norquist, our assistant principal with the thin moustache, walks by, and Gig lets out a big sigh. Norquist grabsCody Bauer and Lance Dahlgren, two big hockey players from the next table, and escorts them down to the office. Gig sighs heavily again.
"What are you doing?" Isaac asks.
"Don't you know, Ike? Norquist's first name is Cy, short for Cyrus." Gig sighs again. "It's funny to sigh every time he goes by."
"You're weird," Isaac says and nobody disagrees.
"Why's your mom here, Julio?" Gig asks me, using my name from Spanish class.
I turn around to look but don't see her.
"Got ya." Gig laughs.
"That's really immature." I put salsa on my taco.
"No, it's not," Gig says. "It's funny."
Quincy Pitman and Dante Lewis, who played football with us, set their trays down.
"Sorry about that detention in math," Quincy says.
"Sorry enough to take it for me?" I bite into my taco.
"Not that sorry," he says.
Dante sits down across from Isaac, two basketball stars at the same table. "We're still looking for another shooter on the traveling team. You should think about it," Dante says.
Isaac shakes his head no.
"I promised my friends I'd play on the Jets with them."
"But the traveling team is so much better," says Quincy, who was Isaac's favorite receiver in football. "If we had you, we could win the league."
"No." Isaac takes his last bite of pizza. "Diego, Gig, Jackson, and I promised each other that we'd stay together this year."
"But we need you," Dante says.
"We need him more," I say. "With Isaac, nobody's going to beat us."
"Think about it." Quincy opens up his milk.
"I've already decided," Isaac says.
I peel my tangerine and am glad Isaac's being so clear about sticking with our deal to stay together.
In FACS, which stands for family and consumer science, Mrs. Randall is reviewing true or false questions that might be on our quiz. "When finished eating, you should put the silverware on the plate. Raise your hand if you think that's true," she says in her Alabama accent.
Isaac raises his hand and so does my friend Ruby, so I do, too. I watch Ruby, who's got her reddish brown hair pulledback in a ponytail and is wearing a tan sweater that looks good on her. She's drawing on the front of her notebook, which has her name on it in big red letters and three words underneath:
Act ... Sing ... Love ...
"That's true," Mrs. Randall says. "Here's another one. A left-handed person should rearrange the settings to the other side."
I raise my hand for false with everybody else. It's not fair to lefties, but lots of things aren't fair.
"Two more," Mrs. Randall says. "True or false? It is acceptable to put your forearms on the table."
Isaac and I both vote false, but Ruby votes true.
"True," Mrs. Randall says. "No elbows on the table, but forearms are okay."
Ruby looks over at me and smiles, and I smile back. No matter how bad the day's going, things feel better when she's around.
"Last one, y'all." Mrs. Randall checks the clock. "It's all right to cut up all your meat at once."
Caleb says something about meat in back, and some kids burst out laughing.
"This isn't funny," Mrs. Randall says. "Etiquette is important. If you do well on the quiz tomorrow, we'll make smoothies. If not, we'll spend the rest of the period reviewing table manners."
The bell rings and we all scramble up.
"False," Mrs. Randall shouts. "Don't cut up all your meat at once."
Isaac and I walk out of FACS together.
"You're not thinking about playing with those guys on the traveling team, are you?"
"Don't worry," he says. "I'm sticking with you."
TAKE YOUR BEST SHOT. Copyright © 2012 by John Coy.