Lila opened her eyes up extra early today and saw plastic eyes staring at her. She whispered “Good morning Beebee” and Beebee said it back with her eyes. Lila was eight now, and as long as she could remember, Beebee’s eyes had been open. She thought that was sad.
Lila pet Beebee’s hair one, two, three times, put her on the bed, and sat up. Now what? Get off the bed, put on dress number two because today is extra sunny. Say bye to dress one and dress three, don’t be sad, there are more days. Put on tip-toe socks.
Now close the door – shhh, slow over the noisy part. Now pass the big bedroom, really slow. Step one fine, step two good. Step three squeaky, hop over. Love tip-toe socks. Wait for loud snore - ew - now tippy-toe into the kitchen.
First, grab Captain Crunch. Find special pink bowl, not the blue one, yes that one. Find milk, sniff first. Yuck! Sour patch kids snuck in again. It’s okay, Captain Crunch is just as good without milk.
Can’t forget morning jobs. Go into the big room, pick up pillow and put it over couch-rip. Throw empty cans in big trash. Brush chips under couch, shhh nobody knows. Back into kitchen, check ceiling rain cup. More full than yesterday. Hm.
Pick up Smuckers sandwich - only two left in the box already? - throw in backpack. Anything else? She hadn’t checked drippy sink yet, but old Hello Kitty watch said it’s time to go! Extra careful with squeakies on the front door, worse than the room door. Remember not to use bad arm.
Lila skipped through the yard. The ground made extra-loud crunchies when she skipped. She stopped at the pottyhouse with its broken door. Three knocks on the door for good luck. Just like when Mommy was here, three knocks to make Lila come out when she was hiding. When she was hiding in the pottyhouse with eyes closed.
Lila walked past the big trees, so tall and lonely. This was where she was supposed to turn right, but she didn’t. She knew the special way. She kept going through the big trees and found the shiny fence. Nobody knew this, but there was a tiny little hole at the bottom of the shiny fence. Lila could always find it because the big red stop sign was right above it. Too perfect!
She snuck under the hole. It always made her dress look dirty, especially dress number two. Bad arm hurt a little bit, but she made it! She skipped onto the other side. Not as many crunchies over here, though. It was different on this side.
She called this side the Greens. Everything was just so green over here. Clean, too. Lila loved walking through the Greens. Every street had a name, and they were all bird names! There was Pigeon Lane, and Bluebird Lane, and Owl Lane.
Things were just different in the Greens, and she liked the different. Just weird things like how they didn’t have pottyhouses! She could spend a whole day walking through the Greens. But usually it was just mornings before school.
Today was a special school day for Lila. She went over to her class line-up on the blacktop, second from the four-square court. That’s it! Mrs. Travis’s 3rd grade class. They lined up here every morning with the whole school. So cold out sometimes! But not today. She was wearing dress number two today.
“Good morning, Lila,” whispered Mrs. Travis, smiling as Lila walked past.
“Good morning Mrs. Travis!”
Mrs. Travis always smelled like lemon - her favorite. Remember, arms behind back, walk in straight line. Sit criss-cross-applesauce in line, hands in lap. Wave good morning at Jimmy, he’s looking at you.
It was a special school day for Lila because today was Student of the Week! The best thing every Friday on the blacktop, even if it was cold.
Lila wanted to be Student of the Week so bad. She had the whole pledge of allegiance memorized, and wanted to say it in front of the whole school. She knew it was important to say the first part Ready, begin before you start. A lot of kids forget that and everyone starts too soon. She could do it better, if only it was her class’s turn!
Oh look, Mr. Cunningham is going to talk. Okay, okay, say Happy Friday, Mr. Cunningham really slow like everyone else. Why do people talk so slow in big groups? Look, he’s talking about Student of the Week now. Yes, we know we do it every Friday. Whose turn is it?
Finally! Everyone is sitting straighter all of a sudden. Mrs. Travis is walking up to the front now in her nice flowery skirt. She always wore nice flowery skirts.
Lila loved Mrs. Travis. Her voice was so high and nice and she would whisper when she got close so she wouldn’t scare you. She always said nice things about Lila’s dresses one, two, and three. Mrs. Travis made Lila want to be so good. Made her want to sit up straight and put hands in lap and sit criss-cross-applesauce. Made her want to write and spell and do all her pluses and minuses. She was extra good at spelling, too.
Lila knew so much about Mrs. Travis. Knew she was 35 years old, and her favorite color was yellow. Knew she liked planting flowers and wearing flower skirts. Even knew her house number! 12 Bluebird Lane. Lila learned this when they were all writing their house numbers to put on fancy envelopes. Hers was tricky though, no number on her house. Mrs. Travis had to show her what to do.
Lila knew Mrs. Travis had a husband and his name was Jeff. He would come into class sometimes all quiet and sneaky and surprise Mrs. Travis. He drove a bright blue car and parked it right in front of school, every time. His voice was really nice too, just like Mrs. Travis’s. You could tell she really liked when Jeff came to visit.
Mrs. Travis was almost at the front now! Lila wondered who she was going to pick. It had to be her. She always walked the straightest and did good at spelling and raised her hand before talking. She loved to talk to Mrs. Travis before school too about her flowers. It had to be her…but what if she picked Jimmy? He always had his hands in his lap and always tried to get in line in front of her so Mrs. Travis could see him best. No, don’t let it be Jimmy.
Mrs. Travis got to the front and took the microphone. Her skirt moved a little in the wind. She said some things about how her class was best and we should all get the award (not Jimmy, he shouldn’t) and how she loves us all. But still she had to pick one and that person was…
Lila got out of criss-cross-applesauce and walked super quick (don’t skip, don’t skip) to the front. She knew it! She loved Mrs. Travis and Mrs. Travis loved her. She got up there and saw the big flag and Mr. Cunningham next to it, smiling and clapping. Other people were clapping too, so nice! Mrs. Travis leaned down and whispered “Congratulations, sweetie,” and handed her a big paper. It said Student of the Week in huge letters and her name was right under it! And there was Mrs. Travis’s name at the bottom in her perfect printing. Lila wanted to write just like her.
Lila knew everybody was looking but she gave Mrs. Travis a big hug. She felt Mrs. Travis’s skirt and smelled lemon, her favorite. She took the microphone, remembered not to use bad arm, and said put your right hand over your heart, face the flag, now Ready, begin.
Lila skipped all the way back through the Greens to the big red stop sign where she got dress number two a little more dirty. She popped up on the other side, and walked through the big trees. So quiet now. No clapping over here. She was holding her Student of the Week paper with her name and Mrs. Travis’s perfect printing.
She felt the crunchies under her feet. Three knocks on the pottyhouse door for good luck, just like Mommy used to do. She walked all the way up to the front door. She slowly squeaked it open with one arm, holding her paper with bad arm. Please don’t be there, she thought.
But he was there. He was sleeping on the couch, right on top of couch-rip. Lila looked at the table. Six empty cans sitting there. But she cleaned those this morning! He was snoring again - ew - she slowly closed the front door so it wouldn’t squeak.
But it did.
He jumped up and looked at her. Eyes redder today. They moved slowly down to the paper in Lila’s hand. She didn’t want to say anything, but she had to.
“Look what I—”
“What did I tell you about morning jobs?” he growled.
“Do them every morning, or—”
“See the sink? Look at it.”
She looked over at drippy sink. Two dishes in there.
“Daddy, I’m sorry, I forgot, but—”
He stood up. “And what happens when you don’t do morning jobs?”
“Daddy, don’t, I—”
She took a step back. He stumbled, knocked over empty cans. He hit his hand on the table. “What happens when you don’t do morning jobs?”
He started walking toward her.
She closed her eyes.
Lila didn’t open her eyes up again until very late that night. When she did, Beebee was staring at her again with plastic eyes.
She got up, felt her face was sticky and her eyes puffy. One of them more puffy, though. Feels like a bad eye. Just when bad arm was getting better, too.
She looked around. It was dark out. And she was still wearing dress number two. Oh look at this, one of her hands was holding something. Bad arm didn’t want to let go. She opened her fingers slowly, and pulled out her paper from today. Student of the Week. She saw her name written right there, and right under it was Mrs. Travis’s printing.
Mrs. Travis’s perfect printing.
Lila knew today was a special day. She looked at Beebee, those plastic eyes that never closed. She used to think that was sad. But tonight, she wanted to keep her eyes open just like Beebee’s. She whispered “Good night, Beebee,” and pet her hair one, two, three times. She left Beebee on the bed.
She took her backpack, one Smuckers still inside, and put the paper in with it. Her special paper. Say bye to dress one and dress three. Now put on tip-toe socks. Now close the door – shhh, slow over the noisy part.
Now out into the hallway. Big bedroom is right there. Have to be extra quiet this time. Super slow, now listen for snore - ew - keep going. Step one fine, step two good. Step three squeaky, hop over.
Listen for snore. Nothing. Don’t move.
Wait three seconds, now the snore. Step four, great. Love tip-toe socks. Go into kitchen. Say bye to couch-rip, ceiling rain cup. Almost all the way full now. Ten empty cans on the table, don’t have to clean up. Open front door, very slow. No squeak at all. Good, good, remember not to use bad arm, good. Don’t put on shoes.
Tip-toe socks on crunchies is different, but so quiet. Remember not to skip. Don’t look back. The light won’t turn on, everything will stay dark. Don’t look back.
Walk past pottyhouse with broken door. Keep going, no time to stop. Everything is so dark. Pass big trees, so tall and lonely. Don’t go that way, you know the special way. Is that a light? No. Keep walking. Love tip-toe socks.
Get to shiny fence - harder to see in the dark, not shiny anymore. Big stop sign is still there. Are those red eyes in the trees? No they’re not, keep walking. Stop sign is right there.
Squeeze under the fence, dress number two is so dirty by now. No more crunchies, now you can walk fast, the Greens aren’t as green in the dark. Keep going, is the light on? Is someone coming? Don’t look back, he’s there. Don’t look back.
Look at the street signs. Keep eyes open now. Can’t close them in the dark, or he’ll come. Remember the bird names? Go right at Pigeon Lane. Keep going. No pottyhouses over here.
Feet are hurting now. Scratches beneath tip-toe socks. Can’t stop and look. There’s Owl Lane, turn left here. Can’t stop now. Keep eyes open.
Someone’s coming. Crunchies everywhere. Don’t look, no lights here. Only street lights. Is that him beneath one? Red eyes? No, keep walking. Almost there.
Turn left on Bluebird Lane. He’s walking faster now. He’s right behind you. Don’t look back. Scratching at your feet. Five…eight…ten…don’t close your eyes. It’s too dark. Keep eyes open. Twelve.
12 Bluebird Lane.
Pass Jeff’s blue car out front. So quiet. Look at the flowers. No crunchies here. Walk up the steps. There’s the door. Everything smells like lemon.
Don’t look back now, never look back. Keep eyes open. That’s the door right there.
Three knocks for good luck.