It was raining hard by the time the final bell rang at the end of the first school day. Everybody ran to get on the school buses as fast as they could. Not Tulip O'Brien. She ducked into the girl's restroom until the noise in the hallway stopped. Then she came out and got her stuff from her locker. It would take her more than a half-hour to walk home but she would rather do that than face Winsome Lee on the school bus. Of course Brenda and Freddie would wonder why she had missed the bus but they knew that Tulie sometimes walked home even when she wasn't upset.
Tulie's umbrella had belonged to Gran a long time ago. It was big, with a handle carved to look like the head of a parrot. Even when it wasn't raining, Tulie liked to carry it and imagine she was Mary Poppins. The big umbrella opened with a loud pop and Tulie walked along listening to the pitter-patter of the raindrops drumming on the canvas.
James Thurber Middle School was in an old brick building on Main Street. It was the only building that was ever busy. Since the mall was built, most of the businesses had moved there. Even the five-story building that used to be Bannister's Department Store, founded by Katherine's great-great grandfather, was boarded up. Four years ago Bannister's new store opened at the mall and it had escalators and a fountain in an atrium. Tulie liked the old store better because it used to have an old elevator that looked like a cage and nice old Mr. Wiley in his elevator operator's uniform used to allow her to ride up and down in it for hours sometimes.
Tulie walked in the rain, down the hill leading to the railroad tracks. Even the sidewalk in town was rundown now. It got more and more uneven as it left the little downtown and wended its way past the big old houses that were now apartments if they weren't empty. Some of the old stone slabs had been pushed way up by the roots of the big old shade trees and Tulie liked to imagine it was the result of an earthquake even though there had never been an earthquake in Ohio that she'd heard of. She thought about what the town must have been like in the olden days when the trees were little and the sidewalks were new and there were horses and carriages instead of cars on the street. Whenever Tulie felt bad about anything, she let her imagination take over. As she plodded along, enjoying the splashes her shoes made in the puddles, she imagined herself to be a beautiful old-fashioned lady in a long dress and a big hat covered with feathers and that her umbrella was a parasol trimmed with lace.
By the time she reached the bottom of the hill, crossed the railway tracks and climbed the front porch steps of her house, Tulie's shoes and socks were soaking wet, but the big umbrella had kept the rest of her nice and dry.
Gran was at the front door waiting for her. “There you are! For goodness sake, Tulie, why didn't you take the school bus home on a day like today? Raining cats and dogs and you go for a stroll! Just look at your good shoes. I hope they'll be dry for school tomorrow. Give them to me and I'll stuff them with newspapers and put them near the heater.”
Tulie surrendered her shoes to Gran and went to her room to change into a sweatshirt and jeans. She was just getting out her books to start her homework when there was a tap on her door.
“I made you some cocoa, honey,” said Gran, bringing in a tray with a steaming cup and a plate of brownies. “Starting your homework already? I thought you'd be telling me all about your first day at school before you did any homework. I want to hear all your news.”
“Oh, you know how it is,” Tulie mumbled with a shrug. “New books, new teachers. The same as it is every year.”
Gran looked suspicious. Tulie knew her grandmother was not easily fooled. But she also knew that Gran understood when she had to keep something to herself.
“Well, you get on with your homework then. Your mom should be home from work soon. I'll call you when supper is ready. We're having meatloaf.”
* * *
After supper, when the dishes were done and Tulie had just finished putting them all back into the tall glass-fronted kitchen cupboards, the doorbell rang. When she opened the door, she was surprised to see Brenda and Freddie.
“Hi, Tulie. We thought we'd just come over and hang out,” said Brenda.
“Yeah, I wasn't doing anything special, and my brother is watching some dumb basketball game on TV,” Freddie said.
Tulie knew that her friends came to visit because they understood how upset she was at lunch. She could count on them. But she certainly wasn't going to talk about Winsome Lee. Not one word.
“Are youÉare you, okay?” Brenda asked, studying Tulie carefully.
“You weren't on the bus coming home and we thoughtÉwell, I don't know what we thought,” Freddie's words trailed off softly.
“Oh, don't think I'm upset about Winsome Lee! No way,” Tulie said. “If she wants to be friends with Katherine and those stuck-up kids from up the hill, let her. She'll be sorry. I won't be surprised when she comes around here wanting to friends again. But I won't be interested. Not one bit.”
Freddie looked relieved.
“Aren't you being kind of silly, Tulie?” Brenda asked.
“No, I'm not. And I don't want to talk about it any more,” Tulie said and glared at Brenda who just rolled her eyes. “Let's go up to my room. We can play with the cut-outs,” she said as she led the way upstairs.
Soon they were seated on the floor with the contents of the shoebox spread out around them. Freddie didn't even pretend he wasn't interested anymore. As they rummaged through all the little clothes and paper figures, they shared their discoveries with each other.
“Oh, look at this dress with the stripes!”
“Here's a raincoat with a matching umbrella!”
“This paper doll looks like a movie star, doesn't she? I think maybe it's supposed to be somebody I saw on TV once,” said Brenda. “Somebody in some old movie, I think.”
Freddie snatched the paper doll out of Brenda's hands and studied it carefully. “Hey, I know who this is. It's Grace Kelly!”
“Who's Grace Kelly?” the two girls asked in unison.
“Don't you girls know anything? She was a big movie star a long time ago and she became a princess in real life. I've seen all her movies on TV.” He looked at some of the other paper dolls and identified them too, declaring the whole idea to be awesome. “This one with black hair is named Hedy Lamarr and this one is Doris Day, I think.”
“What funny names,” Brenda said, with a giggle. “You know the strangest stuff, Freddie.”
“Oh, I knew those names too,” said Tulie with a bit too much certainty. “But I don't like to show off, you know. Now here's what we should do. Let's sort out the clothes into separate piles for each paper doll and then we'll know whose are whose. Okay?” Tulie didn't wait for her friends to agree with her plan. They always did. They were so busy that they didn't even hear the doorbell ring.
A knock on the door made them look up and then the door opened and there stood Winsome Lee. The three friends looked at each other. Freddie looked surprised. His big blue eyes widened behind the glasses that already made his eyes look bigger than they were. Brenda looked embarrassed. Tulie's chin jutted out and her eyes narrowed.
“Your grandmother said to come on upstairs,” said Winsome in a very soft voice.
“I'm surprised to see you,” Tulie said in a tone that was so icy she saw Brenda actually shiver.
“I wanted to make sure you are okay. Like, you said we were going to sit together on the bus home and then, hello? You weren't like, on it. Brenda said you were probably walking home, but it was like, raining.”
Tulie could feel her face starting to turn the same color as her hair. She stood up, walked right up to the taller girl and shook her finger in her face. “You've got some nerve, Winsome. It's time you got an earful and I'm just the girl to give it to you. Coming over here as if nothing happened after the way you behaved at school.”
Winsome stepped back as if she had been smacked. Her eyebrows shot up and her mouth dropped open. “What are you talking about, Tulie?”
“You didn't sit at our table at lunch, that's what I'm talking about. You were so interested in your new little friend, Katherine Bannister.
“Well, of course I want to make friends at school. What's wrong with that? Katherine is like, totally cool. Can't I be your friend and Katherine's friend, too? I don't see why we can't all sit together in the cafeteria.”
“We don't like the kids who live up on the hill and they don't like us.”
“Why not?” asked Winsome. “They're nice, really they are.”
“Not to us, they're not!” said Freddie. “They haven't been nice to us since the third grade!”
“First grade, you mean!” Tulie corrected with an emphatic nod.
“Well, first grade was a long time ago. I think Winsome's right and we ought to give them another chance. You could be wrong about them, you know, Tulie,” said Brenda.
“Whose side are you on, Brenda?” asked Freddie.
“They're snobs,” insisted Tulie.
“Are you sure you're not the snob?” asked Winsome. “Katherine and Billy Chapman said you three are always hanging out by yourselves and you never want to be included.”
“Included in what?” asked Tulie.
“Going shopping in Chicago?” asked Brenda.
“Playing basketball?” asked Freddie.
“There's other stuff those kids do, if you'd give them a chance,” reasoned Winsome.
“Name one interesting thing. Go ahead, name one,” challenged Tulie.
“Okay, I will. Katherine Bannister is having a sleepover party a week from next Saturday,” said Winsome.
“Oh? And I'm sure you're invited,” said Tulie, with a smug nod.
“Yes, I'm invited.” Then Winsome grinned with an expression as smug as Tulie's. “So are you, Tulie. And you, too, Brenda.”
Tulie and Brenda looked at each other in amazement.
“Not me?” asked Freddie.
“Don't be silly, it's just for girls,” explained Winsome, shaking her head in wonder.
“Wait a minute, wait just a minute here,” said Tulie. “Katherine Bannister never invited us to any of her parties before. Why this one?”
“Well, it was kind of my idea,” confessed Winsome.
“And Katherine liked the idea?” asked Tulie.
“Yes,” said Winsome very, very slowly. “Katherine was like, ÔI'm having a sleepover Saturday, would you like to come?' And I'm like, ÔSure, but I'd like it if Tulie and Brenda were invited too.' And she's like, ÔWhat a great idea! Why don't you invite them to come with you?' And I'm like,' I'll ask them.' And so, I'm totally inviting you. It will be lots of fun!”
“See, Tulie,” Brenda said. “You were wrong. Admit it.”
Tulie frowned a little. “But what are we going to do at the party? I don't really know Katherine or her girlfriends. What will I talk to them about?”
“You could listen for a change, Tulie,” said Freddie. Tulie didn't listen to him.
Winsome looked down at the floor where the paper dolls and their clothes were spread. “I have an idea! Why don't you bring your paper doll collection to the sleepover. I'm sure all the girls would like, think they are really like, totally awesome.”
“Yes, Tulie! That's a great idea,” Brenda said enthusiastically.
Tulie thought a moment. Then she nodded. “Like, totally cool,” she said, already practicing how she would talk to Katherine and her girlfriends at the pajama party.
Brenda and Freddie laughed out loud at that. Tulie had no idea what they were laughing about.