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You Pedal, I'll Steer. part 2

As you may recall we left our intrepid hero last week making his way on his early morning paper route after he and Alec made peach cobbler all over the street car tracks....
And now...the exciting continuation of You Pedal, I'll Steer. Part 2

Chapter 2
You could tell that lots of kids lived in our house just from one look. Everybody else had green lawns all trimmed with hedges and raked up like on TV shows. Our lawn was dirt with a trampled stone flowerbed. The porch rail looked like someone’s mouth who lost a whopper of a fight, and all the bent up bikes and broken toys looked like they’d just dropped out of the sky. The reason was because all the other mother’s on the street were smart enough to shoo their kids away so everyone would play hopscotch, spud, matchboxes, jump rope, and no touching floor at our house.
Mom said she’d rather have kids where she could see us but Dad always complained. “We have five children. Why do they need friends when they have each other?” But the other’s weren’t friends like Alec and me. Besides us there were the big boys, Eric and Jeff, who were in high school and fought all the time. Then there was our sister, Kate who was eleven. We also had Gulliver, our dog, and two cats, Jake and Bigelow. Throw in the parents and it was a busy house.
When I got back home that morning, Mom was waiting. It’s hard to describe her because she was just Mom. She had her hair pinned up in a bun and she didn’t take any nonsense. “Where have you been, John? I was about to go looking for you. If you can’t move faster, you’ll have to give up that paper route. Now get a move on or you’ll be late for school - again.”
“I’m going, I’m going.” I said. I could take some heat, after all, I’d just save the world from evil.
“Honestly! You’d think it would take less than two hours to drop off six papers. Now, get some breakfast.”
Everyone else had already gone. She made me rush around and change my clothes and scoop up the homework I didn’t finish while she dished up a gloppy old bowl of porridge that had been on the stove for two days. It floated like a lump of congealed snot in warm milk and rode down your throat just as nasty. The only way to swallow it was covered in so much brown sugar that you couldn’t taste it. But that was sugar and you already know how Mom felt about that. I got to the table trying to think up excuses not to eat it. She’d heard them all.
 I was working up a stall so she’d just send me to school when she gave me a look like I was covered in worms. “Sweet Heaven, you’re not wearing that sweater?” It sounded like a question. But it wasn’t.
I looked it over. Just my plain old grey sweater like always. “What’s wrong with it?”
“I can smell it from here.”
“Aw, Mom. I can’t find anything else.” Which was true. My bedroom was knee deep in toys. Alec and I were in the middle of a Meccano challenge.
She blew out air like she was trying to fill a balloon. “I’ll find you something. Eat your breakfast.”
I looked at the bowl and let out a moan as she hit the stairs. As soon as she was out of sight I initiated secret backup plan XR-7: Feed It To The Dog. Gulliver was already sitting under the table with his chin in my lap. I dropped the sloppy mess to my knees and he wolfed down the entire works in three slurps. When she got back I was swishing what was left in the bottom of the bowl with my spoon and acting like I was swallowing hard.
She didn’t say a thing. She just yanked off my sweater, handed me another one and shoved me out the door. “After school you’ll be cleaning your room. It is a pigpen up there! Now scoot or you’ll need a note. I’ll see you at lunch.”
I headed off feeling worse than if I’d really swallowed that oatmeal. It wrecks the whole day when you know you got a chore waiting after school. It weighs on your brain all day long because you can’t make any fun plans. I’d much rather have it sprung it on me when I got home.
A couple doors up and across the street lived a real live witch named Miss Hatten. You could tell she was a witch because her lawn was two feet tall and she kept her dented up old garbage can chained to her driveway like somebody was going to steal it. If a baseball ever landed in her yard, it was dead to us. Some mornings she’d stand on her porch and yell at kids going to school, and late at night, when Gulliver was out taking a pee or a bark, we’d hear her barking right back at him. There were stories that went back for thousands of years about kids disappearing inside that house and we were sure as spit she’d buried them in her backyard. No one knew what kind of magic she used to lure them in so it was best never to look directly at her house, especially if you knew she was on the porch. I flew past her house and down Pine Street straight to school.
I hated school almost as bad as I feared the witch. I hated studying, hated recess, hated my teacher. Worst of all, I hated the bullies. I was born with a split lip that had to be sewed up from nose down to my mouth. So it made my mouth kind of crooked and puffy. Just having to live with that seemed like punishment enough but there were boys who figured that was a good reason to laugh and call me names. It wasn’t my fault I looked different. But that didn’t matter. They made up a new name for me almost every week and I even heard my teacher, Mr. Pratt, use one once. The other thing that got me teased was being really young for fifth grade. I was only nine and most kids were almost two years older.  The worst bully was a sharp eyed creep named John Johnson who linked arms with his gang and marched around the school yard singing, “We don’t stop for nobody!”. Then they’d trample any kid fool enough to stand in their way. Since I was real shy anyway, I learned early that the best way not to get teased was to keep to myself.
That’s why I timed getting to school just before the bell rang. I ran straight upstairs and thumped into my seat. I could feel Mr. Pratt’s bug eyes following me the whole way.  “Good of you to join us, John,” he said. By the pile of giggles he got you could tell he was a real comedian for the girls.
He was a floppy eared guy with thick pink lips that looked like the scar left from a bad cut. He always played teacher’s pet with kids he liked and took it out on the ones he didn’t. After morning recess he would bring a cup of coffee and rustle around in the cloak room behind his desk to steal cookies from kid’s lunch bags. Then he’d sit at his desk and dunk our brownies or chocolate chips in his coffee. No one knew who got hit until you heard a wail of disappointment at the lunch table from some poor kid who had to go without dessert. I went home for lunch most days but when I didn’t I never took cookies in my lunch. There was no way I wanted old Pratt to enjoy anything that was mine.
That morning, Mr. Pratt said something interesting. He handed a stack of green mimeographed pages to the kid at the front of each row. “Take one and hand the rest back just as if you were normal children,” he said, chuckling like this was the first time he’s used that stupid line. “I want you to take this home and have a parent sign it.”
It read: PET SHOW in big letters at the top.
“We’re going to have a pet show at the end of the month,” Mr. Pratt continued. “Each of you will be allowed to bring in a dog or cat or bird, in a cage of course, to show and talk about. We will have contests and prizes.”
I read more. “All pets will be judged for talent, beauty, and best behavior.” This was perfect. Gulliver could win all of those things. He was the best dog in the world. And the smartest, and the prettiest. Here was my big chance for Debbie Bell to notice me. I glanced up at her desk. She was three rows in front of me. Me and Gulliver would zip in on the Fantam cycle and Gully would hop out of the sidecar and show John Johnson his teeth. We’d take the stairs two at a time and Gully would open the classroom door with his mouth. I could just imagine Debbie telling me what a great dog he was and asking to pet him. Then I’d invite her for a ride on my souped up motorbike.
“Mr. Lunn?” I heard a voice say. “Mr. Lunn? If you’d like to rejoin the class?” I heard laughter and saw everyone staring at me. “Welcome back to class.” It was Pratt. “We’re reviewing last night’s spelling homework. Could you tell us how you answered number three?”
I was still holding the pet show page. Everyone else had their books open and giggled while my face got hot. “Um,” I stalled and reached into my desk and pulled out my notebook. The homework page was still folded up from when I took it home last night. I quickly looked down to number three. ‘The study of the human body is called A------.” My mind was blank. I’m sure it was easy if I wasn’t in a panic.
“I didn’t get that one,” I mumbled without admitting that this was the first time I saw it.
Pratt pursed his lips like he was going to puke and then turned to someone else. “Donald?”
Of course, Donald had the answer. “Anatomy. A.N.A.T.O.M.Y.”
At least the spotlight was off me. Debbie had her hand in the air for the next question. I kept my head down staring at the page like I was checking my answers and promising to myself that I’d do all my homework from now on if he didn’t call on me again.
The day dragged on like that until the three o’clock bell finally rang. On the way home, I started a new daydream about my entire class on a jet plane going to Hawaii for a school trip. The pilot got sick and lost control over the Pacific Ocean and I had to step in and fly us to safety. We got knocked way off course and couldn’t radio for help but I managed to crash land us on a small desert island. No one got hurt. Well, all except for Pratt who got banged up because he wouldn’t wear his seat belt.