“Just three more days until school starts.”
Tulie's announcement came as no surprise to Brenda and Freddie Foster. They had all been counting down the last days of summer vacation that seemed to go faster and faster. The three of them were perched on branches high up in the maple tree in Tulie's back yard. They liked to sit there, way up where the wind caught the leaves and only the birds could overhear them. This is where they had their most private talks. Often lately, they talked about what it would like when they became teen-agers two years from now. The idea made all three of them kind of nervous.
“Do you think we will have to go to dances, like the prom?” Freddie asked more than once. “Every girl in our class is taller than me.”
“Some of the third grade girls are even taller than you are, Freddie,” Brenda reminded him. Tulie gave Brenda the look that meant she should say no more.
“Will I be able to learn Latin or should I take Spanish when we move on to Junior High?” Tulie wondered, changing the subject. “I don't even know where they speak Latin. Maybe in Rome?”
“Latin is a dead language,” said Freddie.
“Then why do we have to learn it?” Tulie asked. Nobody knew the answer.
“I've been practicing all summer long, and I still can't turn a cartwheel,” worried Brenda. “The cheerleaders in Junior High School have to turn cartwheels and if I can't, then I won't be on the squad. My Mom said the reason I can't turn a cartwheel is Ôcause I'm too heavy.”
“That's just puppy fat,” Tulie said. “My mom says your mom just worries because she's nothing but skin and bones herself and thinks everybody should be that way.”
“Brenda, if your mom is worried about your weight, why does she always bring home burgers and fries from Burger King every day?” asked Freddie.
“Because that's where she works and she says they are fringe benefits of her career.”
“Well, personally, I'd rather be the fattest kid in school than the shortest kid,” Freddie said. He was the shortest boy in their class, even though the fact that his straw-colored hair stood straight up on end, adding another five inches to his height. Freddie said hair gel was the answer to his prayers.
“Don't worry, you'll have your growth spurt soon,” Tulie assured him. “Just look how big your brother Ralphie is! And your dad. He's practically a giant. I read an article that said smart kid's brains grow first and then their height catches up.”
Freddie Foster was always fretting about something and Tulie always reassured him, even if she had to tell white lies to do it. Freddie's family lived across the street in a house trailer without wheels because it was never going to go anywhere. Freddie's Dad drove a delivery truck for Bannister's department store and his mom worked in the school cafeteria. Neither of them liked to garden but they did like flowers and the path leading to their front door was always lined with colorful blossoms. There were daisies and roses and daffodils and tulips all year Ôround, even in winter. They were all plastic.
With only three days left of summer vacation, it was not surprising that the conversation taking place in the top of the tree this Friday morning was mostly about school.
“I wish summer vacation lasted forever. I wanted to finish cataloging my collection of original Broadway cast CDs this summer,” Freddie complained. “On school nights I'm not allowed to stay up past ten-thirty and all the really good programs come on TV after that. Don't you just hate school?” he asked.
Brenda was munching on the potato chips she'd brought up the tree for a snack. But she didn't have to answer because they all knew she liked school.
“Personally, I don't hate school,” Tulie said. “I just like some parts of it more than others. I like English and history. I like singing in the chorus and writing book reports. I like being able to use the computer in the library any time I want.”
“What don't you like?” asked Brenda. One thing Tulie also liked was how Brenda always asked the right questions.
“I don't like gym class. I don't like mathematics. And I don't like Katherine Bannister,” Tulie decreed, then added, “Not necessarily in that order.”
“You just don't like Katherine because she's the richest girl in town and she lives up on the hill and hangs out with other rich kids. She's not so bad,” Brenda said.
“Oh, she's nice to you because you're a cheerleader and she's the captain of the junior squad. Katherine thinks she's better than anybody. Being rich doesn't make you better.”
“Don't get started, Tulie,” interrupted Brenda and she turned to Freddie. “What about you?”
“In this order. I like art class, drama club of course, and the library.” said Freddie. “But I wish Mrs. Mosher hadn't called Tulie and me her two little bookworms in front of our whole class.”
“Yeah,” agreed Tulie. “If I wanted to be popular, which I don't, that would sure have killed any chances.”
“Well, at least nobody calls you Sissy Freddie Four-eyes. I can't help it if I have to wear these glasses.”
“The mean kids just call you that because you don't like sports, not because you wear glasses,” said Brenda.
“I have a doctor's note.”
“Oh, Freddie, it's not like you want to be a professional football player someday like your brother does,” Tulie said. “Sports aren't everything, no matter what people around here think. Besides, everybody knows you're the best artist in school. You're probably going to be famous someday with paintings in museums.”
Freddie sighed. “Yeah, but I'm still not sure whether I should be an artist and live in Paris or go to New York and become a Broadway star.”
“It's always good to have something to fall back on,” said Tulie, shaking her head thoughtfully. “You've got two choices and I don't even have one. Mom says I don't really have to decide until I'm in college, but gee, I don't know where we're going to get the money for me to go to college.”
“I'm not going to college. I don't have to,” Brenda stated emphatically. ”Models don't have to go to college and I know I want to become a model. My mom and dad think I'm going to be a nurse like my sister, but I'm not. Not even if I get a scholarship like she did.”
“But models are always real skinny,” Freddie said and Tulie again flashed him that look of warning. She'd have to have another talk with him. He could be thoughtless sometimes and weight was a touchy subject where Brenda was concerned.
“The Chinese family moves in tomorrow,” Tulie said, changing the subject again to one she had been talking about more and more as their arrival drew near. “I'm so excited. I can't wait to meet Winsome Lee. Mom told me I can't just rush over the second she arrives, but I'm sure she will want me to show her around and tell her all about Garfield and introduce her to you two. I just know we're all going to be great friends. And of course, I'll have to get her all settled into school on Monday.”
Brenda and Freddie looked at each other but didn't say anything.
Tulie continued, “I know she's just going to hate that pale pink color Mom made me paint her room, so I'll help her re-paint it in red or maybe orange.”
“You're sure she'd like red or orange better, are you?” asked Brenda.
“Tulie knows best,” Freddie teased.
“I can't help it if I'm usually right about things.”
“Usually?” Freddie and Brenda both said at the same time.
“Well, if I said I was always right, you'd say I was bragging or being bossy.”
“Oh, not you, Tulie,” said Brenda, pretending to be very serious.
“No, not you, BossÉoops! I mean, Tulie,” Freddie added, laughing.
Tulie pretended to frown and pout at them, but then joined in the laughter. “You'll see, Winsome Lee will be very, very glad to have me for a friend. Now let's climb down and sit on the front porch. This morning Gran made a batch of her famous chocolate chip peanut butter cookies, the ones with pumpkin seeds in them, and I'm sure she'll make some lemonade for us too.”
The three friends clambered down the branches of the tree, Tulie in the lead, as always.