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Resa raced up the stairs to homeroom. She hated waiting almost as much as she hated losing. So she leaped up the steps two at a time, burst through the door, and crashed into the shoulder of someone who wasn’t moving at warp speed.
Both of them tumbled to the floor amid a shower of sketchpad papers. An oversize pencil case landed with a thud at Resa’s feet. Resa recognized that perfectly sorted case. She borrowed pencils from it pretty much every day.
Her best friend, Didi, was on her knees, picking up her tortoiseshell eyeglasses, which had been knocked off. She pushed her long, chestnut-colored hair behind her shoulders and shot her friend a “Really, Resa?” look. Over the years, Didi had had plenty of practice using that look.
“Sorry, Didi,” Resa panted, collecting the papers.
“Teresa Marie Lopez,” Didi said, pretending to scold her. “Where’s the fire?”
“The fire,” said Resa, getting to her feet, “is in my gut.”
“Did you put expired milk in your cereal again?” Didi said, concerned. “You should always check the expiration dates.”
Resa laughed and extended a hand to pull Didi up. “No, I’m just fired up! For the announcement!”
Didi looked at her blankly.
“Ms. Davis is announcing the sixth-grade trip today, remember?”
“Oh, yeeeeah,” said Didi. “Right.”
The girls walked the few remaining steps to their lockers. Resa’s was on the top row in prime locker real estate, which she was grateful for, because who wanted to crouch down clumsily every time you had to grab a notebook? Of course, Didi, whose locker was on the bottom row a few doors over, didn’t seem to mind. But then again, there was a whole world, a whole galaxy, of stuff that Didi didn’t seem to mind but drove Resa crazy.
An elaborate collage covered the inside of Resa’s locker door. There were photos of Resa with Didi, plus photos with her mom, dad, and little brother, Ricky. At the center was a photo of Serena Williams hurtling herself toward a tennis ball, her racket frozen in the moment just before it hit. Looking at that photo always energized Resa for the day ahead. So did the postcard taped at the top of the door, which her mom had sent her at sleepaway camp last summer. It read: “A woman is like a tea bag. You can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”
Resa tossed her jean jacket into the locker and grabbed her science, math, and social studies textbooks.
“Maybe the sixth-grade trip will be to the art museum in the city,” Didi said hopefully. She hung her hand-knit sweater on the little locker hook. The inside of her locker door was bare, except for a small mirror. She inspected her reflection, fixing a wonky wave in her hair.
Resa groaned. “I hope not. The art museum’s more boring than school. All those portraits of old guys? Ugh. You seen one, you seen ’em all.” She slammed her locker closed. “Maybe it’ll be to the science museum, the one with the bed of nails you can lie on. That would be amazing.”
Didi shuddered. “I still have nightmares about that.”
“It doesn’t hurt,” Resa exclaimed. “Because of physics, I think. I’m fuzzy on the details.”
Resa, unable to wait a second longer for Didi to fix her already-fine hair, shut Didi’s locker for her.
“Hey,” objected Didi. “I wasn’t done!”
“Yes, you were,” said Resa, yanking on Didi’s hand and pulling her down the hallway. “Your hair looks great.”
Didi started to protest, but Resa had let go of her hand to run the last few steps to homeroom. She could tell from the din that the classroom was beginning to fill up. So much for getting to school early.
Every morning, she rushed to homeroom to beat Val there. Every morning, she failed. No matter how early she was, Val was always earlier. Sometimes Resa wondered if Val slept at school, just to come in first every time.
Sure enough, Val was next to Ms. Davis’s desk, stapling packets like the helpful assistant she was.
From the outside, Val looked harmless. She was tiny, even shorter than Resa, who was one of the smallest kids in their homeroom. She had flaming-red hair, worn in a pixie cut so you could see every one of her freckles and her tiny, pointy fairy nose. In her T-shirt with a blue-sequined peace sign on the front, Val looked as sweet as cotton candy. But Resa knew better. She was as tough as that bed of nails Didi had nightmares about. Whatever the competition was, Val was in it to win it. And she almost always did.
Val looked up from her stapling as Resa ran in.
“Late again, huh?” she asked with a smirk.
“Homeroom hasn’t even started yet,” Resa shot back as she raced to the seat she’d been sitting in all year, next to Didi’s.
“You know what Shakespeare said about punctuality?”
“No, but I’m sure you’re gonna tell me.”
“‘Better three hours too soon than a minute too late,’” Val said in her most patronizing tone. Then she hit the stapler especially hard, as if to emphasize her point.
Resa started to tell Val that she was a minute too late in shutting up. Thankfully, at that moment, Ms. Davis gestured for Val to take her seat in—where else?—the front row, and she called the class to order.
Ms. Davis wasn’t the most popular teacher in the sixth grade. A lot of kids thought she was too strict, but Resa liked her no-nonsense attitude. She talked fast, got to the point, and expected kids to deliver. Some teachers, with enough tears and excuses, could be persuaded to let things slide. This was not Ms. Davis. You could cry her a river about how your guinea pig died and you were too devastated to take the math quiz, but Ms. Davis would just hand you a tissue and say, “I’ve heard geometry helps grief.”
Resa didn’t always see eye to eye with her, and they’d had plenty of clashes, but Resa still liked her. Today she stood in front of the class in her usual uniform—a pair of black pants, a crisp button-down shirt, and smudge-free, black eyeglasses.
“Good morning!” said Ms. Davis. “Let’s settle down, please. I want to talk to you about the sixth-grade trip and fund-raising project.”
Resa, bubbling over with anticipation, tapped her toes, clad in red Converse, on the floor.
Ms. Davis shot her a “cut it out” look. Her toes froze.
“I’m excited to tell you that for the sixth-grade trip, you’ll be going to…” Ms. Davis paused, enjoying the rare moment of silence in the classroom. “Adventure Central!”
The class erupted into whoops, cheers, and laughter. Resa could hardly contain her excitement. Roller coasters were high on her list of favorite things, right below tennis and high-stakes gin rummy. She’d spent hours researching the world’s best roller coasters, and it was her dream to ride every single one. Adventure Central didn’t have any world-famous coasters, but it had some good ones nonetheless, and she never got to go as often as she wanted because her little brother, Ricky, was terrified of amusement parks.
“Listen up!” called Ms. Davis. “This is an expensive trip. You’ll need to raise the money to pay for it. So the whole grade will be taking part in a fund-raising contest. You’ve been grouped into teams, and each team will run a lemonade stand. All the proceeds will go toward the trip. Now for the really fun part—”
She waited for the chattering to die down before she continued. “The team that earns the most money will win VIP tickets to Adventure Central.”
“What’s that mean, exactly?” Resa called out.
“As always,” Ms. Davis said, “I’m happy to take questions if you raise your hand.”
Resa raised her hand and repeated the question.
Ms. Davis consulted a piece of paper in front of her. “VIP tickets include free concessions, signature Adventure Central T-shirt and sun visor, and a pack of four QuickTix.”
Even Ms. Davis couldn’t stop a celebratory cheer from breaking out.
Resa swiveled to Didi and grabbed her arm. “Indira Singh,” she said, looking her friend hard in the eyes, “I must win this contest.”
Didi nodded. “Okay.”
“You don’t understand.” Resa shook her head. “QuickTix allow you to completely skip the lines so you don’t waste all day waiting.”
Didi nodded. “Sounds cool.” She liked the carousel at Adventure Central and, if she was feeling daring, the Ferris wheel, but the prospect of riding a bona fide roller coaster made her queasy. So QuickTix were pretty much useless to her, but she could see they were important to Resa. And when something was important to Resa, it was important to Didi. That’s what it meant to be best friends.
Ms. Davis clapped to get everyone’s attention. “The contest starts this weekend. I’m passing out packets with all the info you’ll need, including team assignments.” She handed a large stack of papers to Val to distribute. “Do not—I repeat, do not—ask me to change your team assignments. There will be no switching. There will be no trading. There will be no changes of any kind made. Are we clear?”
There were calls of “yeah,” “okay,” and, from Val, a chirpy “Crystal clear, Ms. Davis!”
“Good,” Ms. Davis said. “One more thing: Be sure to plan your stand ahead of time. The more you plan this week, the less work you’ll have this weekend. If you wait until the last minute to get organized, it may not go so smoothly. I know some of you tend to procrastinate.” Ms. Davis raised her eyebrows and gave the students her “you know who you are” look before finishing: “Don’t procrastinate with this one.” She clapped her hands together. “Okay, that’s it. Good luck!”
Didi turned to Resa. “I hope we’re on the same team.”
Copyright © 2019 by The Harold Martin Company, LLC