“Good morning out there.” The voice on the radio woke Amber as her alarm came on. “It’s another beautiful Monday. Rise and shine.”
Monday, Amber thought with a sigh. A check of the tree outside her window showed no baby birds yet. She dressed quickly and went downstairs to have a bowl of cereal. Soon, Melissa and Laura were knocking on the door since the three of them had planned to ride their bikes to school together.
“Do you have your homework?” Laura reminded Amber.
“No, just a minute, I’ll get it.”
After a few minutes, Amber shouted. “Mom, do you know what happened to my homework?”
“No, Amber, where did you put it?”
“It was right here on the desk yesterday.”
“I saw some torn-up bits of paper in the laundry room by Domino’s bed,” her dad shouted out. “Do you think he might have gotten it?”
“I don’t know,” Amber said. “What did you do with the torn pieces of paper?”
“I threw them in the trash.”
Amber looked in the trash can. There were tiny pieces of paper mixed with eggshells and other goo from breakfast. “Nothing I can salvage out of that,” she said.
On the way to school, Amber thought about what she was going to say to Ms. McGuire. This was the second time this month that she was missing her homework. The first time, it must have dropped out of her binder on the way to school. Ms. McGuire had been understanding and given her credit for it anyway. Maybe she would do that again.
As the girls locked their bikes into the bike rack, they noticed Logan Green and his two friends, Chris Bishop and Spike Smith. Spike’s real name is Mike (actually Michael), but everyone calls him Spike because of his spiked hair. (Melissa says it is because of his spiked tongue.) The boys were looking at Amber and laughing about something.
Amber sometimes wondered why these three boys were friends. They seemed so different from each other. Logan and Chris are about the same height, but that is where the similarities stopped. Logan, who is tall and thin, always looks so neat with his polo shirt tucked into his jeans. He wears his light-brown hair short in a tidy crew cut. Chris is more friendly and easygoing than his two friends. His appearance is kind of casual, with baggier jeans and long T-shirts. His longer brown hair is usually brushed to the side or combed over his forehead. Spike likes to use plenty of gel in his hair and, sometimes, even colored hair spray. The other students are no longer shocked to see him with a red or purple spike. His other way of showing off is to wear shirts with sayings. Today he was wearing a shirt that said, “Homework destroys trees.”
“Like he really cares about the environment,” Melissa said when she saw it.
When Amber thought about it though, she realized that her friends were different from her in lots of ways. Although Amber and her two friends dress pretty much the same every day—in jeans and T-shirts—Melissa calls hers designer jeans and fashion tops. Even more important are her accessories. She is always loaded down with jewelry, shiny belts, and fancy headbands. Amber’s mom called it dressing to the nines. Amber thought that sometimes Melissa dressed to the eighteens or even twenty-sevens.
Laura is the smart one who always gets good grades. If Amber or Melissa come up with an idea that might get them in trouble, Laura is the one who talks them out of it. When she wasn’t around, Melissa called Laura “the goody-goody girl.”
Their teacher Ms. McGuire was young, probably in her late twenties. She has been a teacher at Bluesky Elementary for the past three years. Amber thought she was lucky to have a nice teacher like Ms. McGuire. She also liked the way Ms. McGuire dressed. Sometimes she wears skirts with cowboy boots, but most of the time, she wears tan, khaki pants and shirts with buttons. Some days she pulls her shoulder-length brown hair into a ponytail, but most of the time, she wears it down in soft waves.
Ms. McGuire seemed especially enthusiastic for a Monday morning, and Amber wondered what she could possibly be that excited about.
“Today, class,” Ms. McGuire began, “we are going to start a unit on careers. There will be several parts to the unit. We will be reading some stories about people in different careers, and later, we will have some guest speakers, maybe even some of your parents.” Most of the kids groaned when they heard that.
“The most exciting part of the unit will be the oral report. Each one of you will select a different career to research. Then you will give an oral report to the class.” Amber was thinking that didn’t sound too exciting, and looking around the room, she felt pretty sure her classmates didn’t either.
At lunch, the girls talked about what careers they might choose. Laura didn’t have to think twice about what she wanted to do for her report. Laura’s favorite thing to do is cooking. Amber and Melissa weren’t at all surprised when she chose to give her report on becoming a chef. Melissa loves swimming, and she loves dolphins. She was thinking about doing her report on marine biology. Amber listened to them talk about their ideas, but her mind was blank when it came to deciding what she would like to do.
“I have a career suggestion for you.” Spike was sitting nearby and overheard their conversation. “How about mud wrestling?” Then he and Chris doubled over in laughter. Amber shot a dirty look at Logan, who only shrugged.
“What was that all about?” Melissa asked when the boys were gone.
“I fell in the mud yesterday at the park,” Amber explained. “Logan saw it, and I guess he told his friends about it.”
“What a jerk,” Laura fumed. “Boys, who needs them?”
“I like boys,” Melissa said. “Especially mature ones like Kyle.”
“If Kyle was your brother,” Amber said, “you’d change your mind about that.”
Their first class after lunch was math. Amber hadn’t told Ms. McGuire about her homework yet, but she couldn’t put it off any longer. As the students filed into the classroom, Amber went up to Ms. McGuire’s desk.
“What is it?” Ms. McGuire looked up from her paperwork.
“I don’t have my homework,” Amber admitted.
“My dog ate it.” Amber stared at her shoes.
“That’s the oldest excuse in the book,” Ms. McGuire told her. “What do you expect me to do?”
“Could you take my word for it that I did my homework?”
“Didn’t you have a similar problem a few weeks ago? It seems like your homework fell out of your binder that time. I did accept your explanation and gave you credit for doing the homework. Now you’re here with another excuse. I think you need to take responsibility for turning in your work. I can’t give you a break this time.”
Amber thanked Ms. McGuire anyway and went to her seat. “I sure hope Domino enjoyed his snack,” Amber said under her breath.
After school, Amber told Melissa and Laura about the shuffleboard tournament on Saturday.
“Would you like to go with me?” she asked. “We could be the cheering section for Betty Jenkins.”
“I’m not sure shuffleboard is a very exciting sport,” Melissa said. “It’s just for old people.”
“I don’t think that matters,” Laura said. “Mrs. Jenkins is our friend, and we can support her in the tournament.”
“Okay,” Melissa sighed. “I guess you’re right.”
The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon