You could attend Emerson Hicky Elementary for a long time without knowing its substitute teachers. And you could know its subs for a long time without meeting Barbara Dwyer.
And that would be just swell.
Barb Dwyer was a sourpuss porcupine with a face like a bucket of mud. From the tips of her many quills to the shapeless hat on her head, she was a surly sub, and she didn’t care who knew it.
I could have gone my whole life without meeting her. But because Mr. Ratnose called in sick one gray Wednesday, we were stuck with the dame.
Through math and English classes she had ridden us hard, like a rhino going piggyback on a house cat. We were taking a breather, doing some silent reading. Most of the kids favored Winnie the Poobah, our assignment.
I had slipped the latest Amazing Mantis-Man comic book inside old Winnie.
Private eyes like to live dangerously.
A gentle whisper broke my concentration.
“Chet?” It was Shirley Chameleon, leaning across the aisle.
I gave her a look. She was worth looking at. Shirley had big green peepers, a curly tail, and a laugh like the pitter-pat of raindrops on daisies.
Not that I cared about any of that. She was also a major cootie factory.
“Mm?” I said, glancing back at my comic book.
“Do you, um . . . are you going to the fair on Friday?” Shirley toyed with her scarf, one eye on me, one eye on the substitute teacher. (Literally. Chameleons have some gross habits.)
I leaned over. “Depends. Will they have clowns?”
“Why?” she said.
“Because I hate clowns.”
“Who’s whispering?” a voice snapped. Ms. Dwyer scanned the room.
We clammed up. A minute later, Shirley bent back across the aisle.
She batted her eyelashes. “I don’t know about clowns,” she whispered, “but I do know that they’re having a dance.”
I knew it, too—the Hen’s Choice Hoedown, where girls ask boys.
“I was trying to forget about that,” I said.
Ms. Dwyer thundered, “No more whispering. Eyes on your books!”
Shirley gave it a rest for another minute. Then she murmured, “If you’re, um, going to the fair, maybe you’d come to the dance with me? As my date?”
“Your date?!” I spluttered, shattering the quiet.
“That’s it!” cried Ms. Dwyer. She waddled up the aisle toward me, quills bristling. “You! What’s your name?”
Although I wanted to say Seymour Butts, I stuck with the truth. “Chet Gecko.”
“You’ve disrupted my class enough for one morning.”
I let my book drop. “But she—”
Ms. Dwyer noticed my Amazing Mantis-Man. “And you’re reading this . . . this trash? A comic book?”
“It’s research,” I said. “For my science report.”
“I don’t care if it’s War and frikkety Peace,” she growled. The porcupine held her hand out for the comic. I gave it to her. “You, mister, will sit outside until you learn some manners.”
Bo Newt chuckled. “Guess I’ll see ya next year, Chet.”
The substitute wheeled on my friend. “Would you like to join him?”
“Uh, no sir,” said Bo.
“No sir, ma’am,” said the newt.
Ms. Dwyer gritted her teeth, then glared at me. “Well, what are you waiting for? Go and reflect on your bad behavior.”
It’s no use arguing with a walking pincushion. Followed by Shirley’s mournful gaze, I rose and ambled out the door.
Five minutes of sitting on the hard cement ...