“Dude, you’re never gonna take the dress off,” Jimmy snickered at me. He snickered under his elbow, so the teacher and the guest speaker wouldn’t see him, but he was still snickering. “You’re gonna put that thing on and you’re gonna like it so much you’re never gonna take it off.”
“Shut up,” I said. I wished I hadn’t told him. “Show me the pictures of the rabbit again.” If I could get him playing with his smartphone, maybe that would distract him.
“Change is coming to Applesey,” the guest speaker announced to us. He was almost shouting, and he seemed really excited. He was burly and had a head like a salt shaker, smooth and shiny and sprouting out of his checked-shirt-covered shoulders without the benefit of a neck in between. Ms. Perkins had introduced him as Professor Hooke. She had said he was a Professor of Everything at Applesey College. Today he was talking to us about trains.
“Yes,” Ms. Perkins nodded. She stood in the corner of the classroom. It was her classroom, but she always went to the corner when we had a guest speaker. Usually, she sat in a hard wooden chair in the corner with her hands folded across her lap. Today she stood instead, and shook a little bit from time to time like Professor Hooke was saying something really exciting. She usually wore dark grey sweaters over light grey dresses, but today she had a yellow dress with red flowers printed on it. I didn’t have time to wonder about her unusual clothes, thought, because my friend Jimmy was teasing me.
“No, because first of all, dissected rabbits are gross. I never should have let you talk me into taking pictures in the first place. And no, because second, I don’t want Ms. Perkins taking away my phone.” Jimmy paused, and then grinned. He wasn’t going to let it go. “Tomorrow you’re gonna wear it to school, I bet. We’ll be sitting in the lunchroom, and you’re gonna tell me how comfortable it is. How you like to feel the gentle breeze on your legs. And I am so totally gonna blog every minute of it.”
“The dress is just for my mom’s party,” I reminded him. “You’d do stuff for your mom, right? And dissected rabbits are science. Science isn’t gross.”
“Everyone knows that things around here will change when the train starts running after the grand opening next Monday,” Professor Hooke went on. “The questions we should ask are, first, how will things change, and second, are those changes for the better?”
“Oh, yes,” gushed Ms. Perkins. She made a gesture like a spastic hand clap, only at the last second she didn’t clap her hands together, so it made no sound and just looked really silly. She looked like a seal begging for a fish.
“The good news is that you won’t have to change your name. That was some impressive foresight your parents showed, giving you a girl’s name.”
“Francis is not a girl’s name,” I muttered, sinking low into my chair. “There’s lots of famous boys named Francis.”
“For starters, we can expect that property values will go up. Because the train will connect us to the City, people that didn’t want to live in Applesey before might give us a second look. They’ll want to buy houses, so house prices will rise. And higher property values means a bigger tax base, so more money for the schools.” He smiled mildly at Ms. Perkins.
“Oh, yes!” Ms. Perkins snapped back, like the fish had been tossed and she was snatching it out of the air with her snout. This time her hands did connect, in a single loud slap.
“Hmmn,” Jimmy pretended to think about it. “Like Frances Hodgson Burnett?” he asked, his face all innocent.
“Frances Hodgson Burnett was a girl!” I shouted.
Professor Hooke stopped talking and blinked at me, a shiny bald owl surprised in its hollow tree. Ms. Perkins wheeled and stared at me like she had suddenly discovered the taste of rancid fish in her mouth, and it was all my fault.
“Francis Delaney!” she barked.
Jimmy exploded into a gangle of laughing arms and legs. “Exactly!” he chortled, and he slapped his desk. “Exactly!”
“James Koster!” Ms. Perkins was red in the face and her eyes shot lasers at us both from across the room. “Both of you, down the hall, now!”
I glowered at my friend, but it wasn’t an I hate you glower. I was going to detention, but at least I wasn’t going alone.
* * *
I’m working on my second significant rewrite of The Devil’s Interval (if you’ve been watching the sidebars on the left, you’ll have noticed its title shifting around a bit — no guarantee it’s come to rest yet). Above is my new and current opening.