Bonus Scene: Fists and Friends, a bonus scene for Rules and Roses
“Cooper Brennen,” the teacher called.
“Francesca—” I grimaced. “–Curtis.”
The kid sitting next to me crossed his gray-green eyes and I wrinkled my nose and then focused on the teacher again. He lived in my apartments and I’d seen him outside a couple of times, but I hadn’t met him before class today.
I was nervous enough about being here. My tummy kept doing these weird flippy flop things. Mom had told me I wasn’t allowed to cry so I hadn’t. I also had to be good, so I was doing my best. I’d been to pre-school before, but I had friends there. It was in the same building where Mom worked.
This was not.
And it was so much bigger.
I didn’t know anyone.
Tears pricked my eyes but I blinked them back because a girl at another table just started crying. When all the attention swung to her I let out a breath. The kid next to me crossed his eyes again when I glanced at him and I frowned.
“Fran-Chest-Ca?” he sounded out my name and I scowled.
I liked Frankie way better. Francesca was a terrible name.
Mom only called me that when she was mad.
The kid grinned. “That’s a boy’s name.”
Ugh. I made a face. Then stared at the board when the teacher started talking again. She had the crying girl all cuddled up when she called us to sit in a circle. We got to tell each other something about ourselves. I didn’t have much to say, but I did get to tell them I was Frankie and the teacher promised to remember my name.
By lunchtime I was exhausted, we got to go out on the playground right after food. We didn’t get our first break because we got to go to the library instead.
I loved the library.
The lady in charge of it was Mrs. Fredkins. She was the nicest lady ever and promised that by Christmas, we would be able to take books from the library home to read then bring them back.
I could already read. That was something not every kid in the class did yet. I could even write most of the alphabet neatly. I ate as fast as I could because as soon as I finished I could go outside. The kid who sat next to me in the class also sat next to me at lunch. But like me, he was hungry, so he ate as fast as he could, too.
I won and shot my hand up in the air. My teacher laughed and told me I was excused. I remembered to throw away my trash along with the brown paper bag and then raced outside. It was hot and sunny and there was playground equipment. I knew I had to be careful of the dress, even if I hated it, but I never got to go to the park.
Mom never had time. She had to do a lot of work and it was important that I entertain myself. This was the best part of preschool and I needed to know if it would be the best part of school school too.
The playground was huge.
I wanted to do everything.
I was up the slide in a heartbeat and flying down.
Stupid skirt got in the way, but I bunched it and made it work. I had on shorts underneath.
The boy from class was at the top of the slide when I got to the bottom and he wooted as he raced down. Then I was back up again.
Next was the jungle gym and I watched him scamper across the monkey bars and I was right behind him.
He laughed when I jumped off and landed next to him. “Swings?”
We turned and he ran into another kid. “Hey,” the kid groused and shoved Cooper. Cooper stumbled into me and then shoved the kid back.
He was a bit bigger than Cooper. But I was taller than Cooper too. Then the kid hit Cooper. I scowled. “You want a knuckle sandwich?” I demanded.
The other kid smirked at me. “Give it to me,” he demanded and pushed right at me. I balled up my fist and socked him. The big bully landed on his butt in the dirt. My hand hurt and the kid on the ground stared at me for a beat and then burst into wailing tears.
What a baby.
I was so disgusted.
Cooper stared at me, wide-eyed with his mouth open as one of the teachers charged over to us.
An hour later, I had to explain for the third time why I punched the boy—John—in the face. “I asked permission,” I argued tartly. I didn’t understand the problem. We weren’t supposed to touch other kids without their permission. I learned that last year. So I asked.
My teacher seemed to be struggling, mightily. The principal who had come in to talk to me was a big guy and I was a little scared when he’d first come in, but he listened to me tell the whole story and then he and the teacher both seemed like they were going to cry.
“Am I in trouble?”
“Francesca,” my teacher began.
“Frankie,” I said. “Please.”
“Frankie,” she continued, this time with a smile. “I am going to have to call your mother.”
My stomach dropped. I was in trouble. Mom was gonna be so mad. “But I asked first.”
“Yes, you did,” the principal said with a sigh. “We have to talk to your mom because those are the rules, and I need you to not ask other kids if they want a ‘knuckle sandwich’ again.”
I frowned. “He said yes.”
“John claims he didn’t know what it was,” my teacher said gently and I scowled. “That said, you shouldn’t hit.”
“He was being mean to Cooper and shoved him.”
“Then you get a teacher,” the principal told me. “I know this is new for you, but you have to follow the rules, too.”
I folded my arms and leaned back in my seat. “I did follow the rules. I didn’t touch him without asking.”
The principal cleared his throat. “I’ll leave Frankie with you, Ms. Diaz.” Then he left the room. It sounded like he was choking or coughing as he left.
Then it was just me and Ms. Diaz. The other kids weren’t here, they were in another classroom. I’d had to come sit with Ms. Diaz and talk after the fight. Not that it was a fight. John was just a big ol’ baby.
“Frankie,” she said, pulling my attention. “Do you understand why it was wrong?”
“No, because I asked first. I didn’t touch him without asking.”
“That was good. But even if you ask for someone’s permission to hit them, you shouldn’t hit.”
That didn’t make any sense. “Do you have to call my mom?”
“I’m afraid so, sweetheart. That’s the rules. You’re also going to need to sit out from the playground for the next couple of days.”
That wasn’t so bad. Mom was going to be so angry.
“But Mom is at work and if you interrupt her at work, she’ll get mad.”
“I’ll take care of it. You don’t worry. Okay?”
Yeah. I worried.
By the time the other kids came back and Cooper and I were sitting at our table, my stomach was in knots. Not because I was scared of school, but because I was scared of going home.
Cooper leaned over when the teacher told us to color our sheets and whispered, “Hey Frankie…will you be my friend?”
Really? I blinked and stared at him. “Okay.”
“Yeah?” he said, grinning.
He bumped my shoulder and then shared his crayons.
I didn’t get to play for the next couple of days and Cooper sat out with me. He wanted to be called Coop. I called him Coop.
Mom picked me up that first day and she wasn’t mad at all. She did ask me about it, but she wasn’t angry. If anything she laughed then asked me if I really hit the kid hard and I told her I had. She nodded and that was that.
Mom picked me up every day after school that week and she met Coop’s mom and then…the next week, Mom took us both to school and Coop’s mom picked us up after.
It was awesome.
Three weeks later, I was in the principal’s office again. I’d torn my last dress and I had a bloody nose. Felicia MacNamara had a black eye. I made sure she hit me first. But she’d been really mean to Coop and called him names.
So I made her mad.
They called my mom.
I got in trouble for this one.
Totally worth it.
Coop wanted to be my best friend after that.