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'Leo, don't let it touch you, man! It'll burn your skin off!' Shad Shifferdecker grabbed his friend's arm and yanked him away from the water fountain just as Lily Robbins leaned over to take a drink. Leo barely missed being brushed by Lily's flaming red hair.
Lily straightened up and drove her vivid blue eyes into Shad.
'I need for you to quit making fun of my hair,' she said through her gritted teeth. She always gritted her teeth when she talked to Shad Shifferdecker.
'Why can't you ever just say 'shut up'?' Shad asked. 'Why do you always have to sound like a counselor or something?'
Lily didn't know what a counselor sounded like. She'd never been to one. If Shad had, it hadn't helped much as far as she was concerned. He was still rude.
'I'm just being polite,' Lily answered.
Leo blinked his enormous gray eyes at Shad. 'Shad, can you say 'polite'?'
'Shut up,' Shad said and gave Leo a shove that landed him up against Daniel Tibbetts, his other partner in seeing how hateful a sixth-grade boy can be to a sixth-grade girl.
Just then Ms. Gooch appeared at the head of the line, next to the water fountain, and held up her right hand. Hands shot up down the line as mouths closed and most everybody craned their necks to see her. Ms. Gooch was almost shorter than Lily.
'All right, people.' Lily was glad she didn't call them 'boys and girls' the way the librarian did. 'We're going to split up now. Boys will come with me girls will go into the library.'
'How come?' Shad blurted out, as usual.
'The girls are going to a grooming workshop,' Ms. Gooch said. She raised an eyebrow because Ms. Gooch could say more with one black eyebrow than most people could with a whole sentence. 'Did you want to go with the girls and learn how to fix your hair and have great skin, Shad? I'm sure they'd love to have you.'
No, we would not, Lily wanted to say. But she never blurted out. She just turned to Reni and rolled her eyes.
Reni rolled hers back. That was the thing about best friends, Lily had decided a while back. You could have entire conversations with each other, just by rolling your eyes or saying one key word that sent you both into giggle spasms.
'No way!' Shad bellowed. 'I don't want to look like no girl!'
'Any girl,' Ms. Gooch said. 'All right, ladies go on to the library. Come back with beauty secrets!'
Lily took off on Reni's heels in the direction of the library. Behind her, she heard Shad say just loudly enough for her to hear 'That grooming lady better be pretty good if she's gonna do anything with Lily!'
'Yeah, dude!' Leo echoed.
Daniel just snorted.
'Ignore them,' Reni whispered to Lily as they pushed through the double doors to the inside of the school. 'My mama says when boys say things like that, it means they like you.'
'Gross!' Lily wrinkled her nose.
Besides, that was easy for Reni to say. Lily thought Reni was about the cutest girl in the whole sixth grade. She was black (Ms. Gooch said they were supposed to call her 'African-American,' but Reni said that took too long to say) and her skin was the smooth, rich color of Lily's dad's coffee when he put a couple of drops of milk in it. Mine's more like the milk, without the coffee! Lily thought.
And even though Reni's hair was a hundred times curlier than Lily's naturally frizzy mass of auburn, it was always in little pigtails or braids or something. Her hair was under control, anyway. Lily's brother Art said Lily's hair always looked like enough for thirty-seven people the way it stuck out all over her head.
But most important of all, Reni was as petite as a toy poodle, not tall and leggy like a giraffe. At least, that was the way Lily thought of herself. Even now, as they walked into the library, Lily tripped on the wipe-your-feet mat and plowed into a rolling rack of books. She rolled with it right into Mrs. Blain, the librarian, who said, 'Boys and girls, please be careful where you're walking.'
It's just girls, Lily wanted to say to her. And I'm so glad. Wouldn't Shad Shifferdecker have had something to say about that little move?
Reni steered her to a seat in the front row of the half circles of chairs that had been formed in the middle of the library. The chairs faced a woman who busily took brushes and combs and tubes of things out of a classy-looking leather bag and set them on a table. Lily watched her for a minute.
The lady wore her blond hair short and combed-with-her-fingers, the way all the women did on TV; her nails were long and polished red, and they clacked against the table when she set things down on it. Lily could smell her from the front row she smelled expensive, like a department store cosmetics counter.
Lily thought about how her mother grabbed lipstick while they were shopping for groceries at Acme and then only put it on when Dad dragged her to some university faculty party. As for having her nails done high school P.E. teachers didn't have fingernails.
Lily's mind and eyes wandered off to the bookshelves. I'd much rather be finding a book on Indian headdresses, she thought as she looked wistfully at the plastic book covers shining under the lights. Her class was doing reports on Native Americans, and she had a whole bunch of feathers at home that she'd collected from their family's camping trips. Wouldn't it be cool to make an actual headdress
'May I have your attention please, ladies?'
'I'm Kathleen Winfrey,' the lady was saying, 'and I'm here from the Rutledge Modeling Agency here in Burlington.'