Angie and Pen Have a Problem
Angie and Pen. They were night and day, bottom and top, turtle and hare. They were opposites. They also were sisters, and the best of friends. Angie was nine, going on ten the summer this story took place. And Pen, whose name was short for Penelope, had just turned eight. Angie had just finished the fifth grade and already she was looking forward to the sixth grade. She was one grade ahead of most kids her age. Being an extra-hard worker, she had skipped past the fourth grade. Pen, on the other hand, had been held back one year, so she had only finished the second grade. It wasn't that Pen wasn't smart. She was. She just didn't apply herself, that's what everyone said. But Angie was so serious that people sometimes said, "Relax, Angie. Have a little fun."
Angie had calm brown eyes and brown, straight, sensibly short hair. She had a quiet smile and a small, pleasant laugh. On her side of the bedroom she shared with Pen, she had a pet turtle she had named Steady Freddy.
Pen had red hair full of springy curls that were hard for her mother to comb. And to go with her red hair, she of course had freckles, and a big grin. Her pet was a rabbit she'd named Hiphop. Her father said Hiphop was a kind of music, but Pen said it was short for "hippity hoppity."
One Saturday in early summer, Pen wanted their dad to take her to the zoo to look at the new tiger, but Dad said 'no,' he had work to do. Pen got a little mad and said he had to take her. The girls' mom said, "You and your dad are two peas in a pod as far as bossiness goes. That's why you're always arguing." Angie had planned to go to town with Mom, because Mom had promised to take her for a new battery for her watch, but Mom forgot, as she sometimes did, and planned lunch with her girlfriend. She told Angie they'd go another day, which disappointed Angie. Angie had trouble understanding her mom, because Angie was a careful planner and she seldom forgot.
Since they had nothing else to do, the girls went to the school playground. Pen ran down to the far end of the playground and tried to swing as high as she could while blowing on her silver whistle. She left Angie to climb the blue, dome-shaped jungle gym her sister liked. A thin boy with brown hair falling in his eyes came and stood at the base of the dome. Angie had seen him before. His name was Jerome. He was two grades ahead of her. Angie felt a little nervous because she could be shy with older boys. She was six rungs up the side of the dome when Jerome put his ripped red tennis shoe on the first rung and started to climb up behind her. As he got up close to Angie, he moved one space to his left so he could climb right up alongside her. He didn't say a word. Angie found herself more and more nervous. She looked at Jerome and said "hi" softly. Just then he reached down and put his hand around Angie's right foot and pushed it off the bar it was on.
"Don't," Angie said sharply, suddenly feeling very scared.
"Why not?" he asked. "I can do what I want."
Angie hurried up to the next level of the dome to try to get away from Jerome. He caught up to her and reached over and yanked one of her hands off its bar. Angie put it back on, but he shoved it off again and then quickly he reached over and pushed off her second hand. Angie lost her balance and slipped through the bars and landed hard on the rocky sand on the inside of the dome, skinning both her knees and an elbow. She felt very upset. She was ashamed and scared and mad. She felt her face get hot and red and she wanted to get away from Jerome, who was still up above her on the dome. Without even brushing the sand from her stinging knees, Angie squeezed through the jungle gym just above the lowest bar and ran across the playground to Pen.
"C'mon," she said in a rushed voice. "We're going home."
"Wait," said Pen, grabbing Angie by the arm. "What's the matter? You're all dirty."
Angie started to cry a little. "That boy Jerome knocked me off the dome."
"That jerk!" Pen said. "Did you knock his block off?"
Angie shook her head.
"Did you give him a piece of your mind?"
Angie shook her head.
"What did you do?"
"Nothing," said Angie.
"Nothing? You didn't even yell at him?" Pen's face had turned as red as Angie's.
"Yelling wouldn't do any good," Angie said sensibly, through her dribbling tears.
"Gees, Angie, I would have beat him up. I still will, if you want. C'mon, let's go over there and I'll give it to him."
"That would be stupid Pen. You'd be acting just like he did."
"So what. He deserves it. Do you have a better solution?"
"No," said Angie. "I just did nothing. I didn't have time to think of what to do."
Pen was exasperated. "You're so weird Angie. You're not supposed to take time to think when someone messes with you. You just clobber 'em."
"I don't think so," said Angie, frowning with uncertainty. "I don't think that's a good solution."
Now Pen was getting mad. "If you want to act like a mouse with an overgrown brain, that's your business."
"Don't insult me," Angie said, trying to stay reasonable but feeling like even her sister wasn't her friend.
At dinner that night, Pen told her parents what had happened to Angie on the playground. Mom got mad. "That obnoxious boy," she said, pounding her fist to the dinner table. "You should have gotten even with him, Angie. Pen's right."
"Fighting wouldn't have solved anything," said Dad. "Two wrongs don't make a right." Mom and Dad got into the same argument Angie and Pen had had. The girls could see their parents had no solution and they stopped listening and started talking to each other. After a while though, they noticed that their parents had stopped arguing. They were talking about something else.
"I met the most peculiar, funny-looking woman today," Mom was saying. "I was at the grocery store. I've never met anyone so odd."
"You never know," Dad said, as if he had experience with this kind of thing, "sometimes people who are a little different can have a lot to offer." He turned to the girls and said, "Let that be a lesson to you two. Don't be too quick to judge people who are out of the ordinary. See what they have to offer, and if it's something wise and useful, be sure to listen carefully and see what you can learn."
Angie nodded thoughtfully and Pen listened with her eyes wide, though neither girl felt she entirely understood what her father was talking about.
That night when the girls went up to their room to get ready for bed, Angie felt down in the dumps. Sitting on her blue bedspread, she kept thinking about the boy who had knocked her off the dome. She didn't want to see him again, not ever, not in her whole life. She hated him and felt ashamed of what he'd done to her. If she went back to the schoolyard, she might see him again. So where could she play? She was afraid it was going to be a long, bad summer.
On the other side of the room the girls shared, Pen was lying on her candy striped bedspread, her brow as tight as a shut faucet. Her mind was filled with pictures of Angie and that boy, Jerome. Pen punched the air with her fists as she imagined what she'd like to do to him. She felt confused though, because Angie was smart and Angie had said that beating up the boy was a lousy solution. What would be a good solution? Pen didn't know. Not even her parents seemed to know.
Angie went to her closet to get her pajamas. Even though it was only eight o'clock, she felt like going to sleep. An unexpected color caught her eye. It was a bright red hue coming from deep in the closet. She reached toward the color and found her new white blouse, or what used to be her white blouse, because now it was strewn with beautiful, shining red spots. Angie pulled the blouse out from among the other clothes, then she went back to her bed to sit down because she was feeling too shocked to stand. The blouse lay across her lap looking like a holiday decoration. Angie just stared at it, her mind in a muddle.
How could this happen to her blouse? It looked so intentional, not like the accidents that sometimes happened when her mom forgot to separate the white clothes she washed from the bright-colored ones. Angie could think of no explanation at all. She hesitated to show Pen. Magic, Pen would say with an easy wave of her hand, but Angie didn't believe in magic. She felt too tired to answer another difficult question when she already had the question of Jerome to answer. Tomorrow she would figure it out, she thought sleepily. She tucked the blouse inside her nightstand and put on her pajamas. "Good night," she said to Pen, whose light was still on. Then she rolled toward the wall because she didn't want to talk. She didn't want to think either. She only wanted to sleep with the image of the merry red spots before her eyes .
A few minutes later, Pen started shouting. "Spots! Red spots! Angie, wake up!" Pen had gone to her closet to get her pajamas and had found her new white shirt in the same spotted condition as Angie's.
Angie sat up in bed. "I know," she said. "Mine's that way, too. What could have happened?"
"Don't you know, Angie?" asked Pen. She counted on her older sister to know almost everything.
Angie shook her head slowly.
"Wow," said Pen, studying the lovely spots. "Wowie-kazowie. Look at these. It's almost like....magic."
"I thought you'd say that." Angie pulled out her own blouse and examined it one time. She could swear the spots were almost dancing, but she figured she must be too sleepy to see straight.
"Well, if it's not that, what is it?"
"I wish I knew." Angie yawned. "Do you think you can sleep?"
"Maybe," said Pen. "If I don't think about anything."
"Good. We'll figure this out tomorrow."
Through the night Angie tossed and turned. She dreamed that a horridly mean giant was trying to push her from a tall building. In the dream, she tried to escape by climbing onto a rainbow. Pen slept soundly. She dreamed of a monster who made her so angry that she blew up into a huge red balloon. She got so big she was afraid she might pop. Then she started drifting high up into the air, in the direction of...the rainbow. The sisters didn't share their dreams. Had they done so, they might have thought it funny that they both dreamed of rainbows that night.