1 | Prelude
August in the south is a trial run in hell. It was hot as a firecracker in the classroom and sweat rolled down Franklin’s back. He squirmed on the hard wooden seat. Mrs. McClellan was reviewing absence policies, PTA meetings, and such. Boring.
There was some new stuff now that he was in eighth grade and at a different school. All the eighth graders had been merged into a single school – something about a space crunch. Changing classes, having more than one teacher, having your own locker – this was all new. And scary.
Franklin looked around the room to see how many kids he knew. Maybe half of them. There were a bunch from his old school, but also a lot he had never met. It was like starting over.
He checked out the girls. Some of them had bosoms pushing at the front of their blouses. A few of them had been fooling around with make-up. Franklin’s friends were fascinated with bosoms. He didn’t get it. Maybe that was just him.
2 | The Corner Pocket
“Coming through!” Bart shoved his way through the crowd blocking the classroom door and wedged himself into the hall. The other students looked lost, and Bart remembered that feeling. This year he wasn’t lost; he was lonely. Repeating eighth grade meant Bart had been left behind by the friends he’d had since fourth grade. He was starting over.
His closest friends and football buddies had gone on to high school, where they were doing well. Murdock and Fairley were even going to play on the varsity team. They were skipping junior varsity altogether.
Bart knew he could play on the varsity if he ever got to high school. His father had been a badass football player. Bart was determined to be better.
His new classmates made Bart sick, especially that suck-up Franklin Gibson. I went to scout camp and I hope to make some new friends this year. In his mind’s ear Bart mimicked Franklin in a high-pitched, sing-song voice
3 | Sign-Ups
Franklin saw a knot of students at the front of the class, all trying to get out the door at once. Then Bart Wagram came busting through the group, pushing and shoving like it was fourth and goal. What was the hurry? There was an hour before sign-ups, and the field wasn’t fifteen minutes from school. Bart seemed mad at the world. Franklin would bet anything that Bart didn’t have to call home to report in.
But Franklin had to call his mother. She made him promise to do it, just like when he was a kid. Franklin read about mothers who practiced smotherhood, not motherhood. They hovered over their kids so much that the kids never got to make an independent decision, a mistake, or a choice of their own.
That’s my mom, Franklin thought. And if Bart had a mother like mine he wouldn’t be cussing and bullying people and flunking grades in school.