The Secret of the Green Paint
by Ann Carol Ulrich
“Aren’t you going
to eat anything before you go?” Mrs. Vetter opened the curtains over the kitchen
sink. “You can’t think right on an empty stomach.”
“Mom, I’m late.” Annette grabbed her purse and notebook. “The bus left ten minutes ago. Now Penny and I will have to ride with Tim... if he hasn’t left already.”
“Well, it wasn’t my fault you overslept on the first day of school. I called you at a quarter to six.”
The screen door slammed behind Annette as she hurried down the porch steps. Her new outfit felt stiff and uncomfortable. She was peeved at herself for sleeping late on the first day of school. Last night she had felt she would never get to sleep, worrying over whether she’d get up on time this morning.
Two sharp barks came from the direction of the barn. Annette saw her collie bounding toward her. “C’mere, Ginger,” she called, “here, boy!” She bent down and rubbed his white mane of fur and he tried to lick her face, his tail wagging vigorously.
“He better come in the house,” called Mrs. Vetter from the porch. “Otherwise he may follow you over to Duncans’.”
“Go on, boy,” said Annette. She reached the end of the winding driveway that led up to the Vetters’ farmhouse. “You stay with Mom.” Then she hurried down Ogden Road to the Duncan farm.
Her mind swam with anxieties. Who would be in her classes? She knew Penny would be in three of the eight. As soon as they had received their schedules in the mail the week before, they had consulted each other and compared. Penny was in Annette’s gym class, Driver Ed and Geometry. She had hoped they would be in more classes together than just those.
Another dog ran to greet Annette when she started up the Duncans’ driveway. He was a large, white, shaggy animal with a stub for a tail and a long pink tongue. He was Penny’s Bratislavian sheep dog, which she had brought home with them from their vacation to Colorado. Annette patted the dog’s head and thought again how wonderful it was that Penny’s mother had let her keep The Cheeze.
“Well, good morning there, Annette,” greeted Ray Duncan, Penny’s father. He made his way to the house from the barn, dressed in blue coveralls, and was wiping some grease off his hands with a rag.
“Hi, Mr. Duncan. How’s the milking machine today?”
“She’s been giving trouble again, I’m afraid.”
“Gee, that’s too bad.”
“Oh, it’s working now,” said Mr. Duncan. “The cows are happy, but I’ll have to call Dick Slater over this afternoon before she breaks down again.”
The porch door opened just then, and a tall, dark-haired boy swung down the steps, jiggling a set of car keys. “Hi,” he told Annette with a smile.
“Hi, Tim.” Annette
followed Mr. Duncan up the steps. “I hope Penny’s not mad because I overslept.”
“Go on in. I think she’s almost ready.”
Annette’s nose was greeted with the delicious smell of bacon. She was suddenly sorry she hadn’t eaten anything before she left home. In the kitchen, Mrs. Duncan was frying eggs and making toast. “Hello, Annette.” Penny’s mother was dark-haired like Tim and Penny, and wore an apron around her plump figure. “Penny will be down any second.”
Annette suffered patiently while waiting for her friend, wishing her stomach would stop rumbling. “Why don’t you sit down and have a bite to eat?” invited Mr. Duncan.
Before Annette could answer, Mrs. Duncan said, “Ray, you know Helen Vetter wouldn’t let Annette out of the house without something in her stomach.”
Penny’s footsteps sounded on the stairs. A moment later, she hurried into the kitchen, brushing her long dark hair furiously. “Gee, Annette, your dress looks great on you.”
“Don’t brush your hair in the kitchen,” scolded Mr. Duncan.
“Oh, hi, Dad.”
Penny grabbed her purse and led Annette outside. “I feel terrible for
oversleeping this morning.”
“You, too?” Annette laughed.
“I guess we’re just lucky we can get a ride to school with Tim.”
They rushed over to Tim’s Chevelle. The motor was running and he was checking the tires when they climbed into the back seat.
“Got your schedule?” asked Penny.
“Yes,” said Annette, “but I don’t really need it. I’ve memorized it already.”
“Me, too,” said Penny.
“Here comes The Cheeze.” The shaggy dog ran toward the car, barking.
“Oh no,” groaned Penny. “He’ll want to come along. Every time we go somewhere, Cheeze thinks we’re not coming back.”
Tim opened the front door. “Hey, Pen, get that dog in the house, will you?”
“Why don’t you? He doesn’t have to go in the house.”
“He’s your dog,” replied Tim. “Hurry up or we’ll be late.”
Reluctantly, Penny got out of the car and went to the house. The Cheeze bounded after her, and she let him inside, then hurried back to the car before anyone could let him out again.
Annette’s stomach growled all the way into town. When they arrived at Ravensville High School, the first bell had just rung, so they hurried to their assigned lockers. Students still swarmed in the halls, trying to find their home rooms.
“I’m sure glad we’re not freshmen this year,” said Penny. “Remember how confused we were last year on the first day of school?”
“Yup,” agreed Annette. “We better hurry to our home rooms. The second bell’s gonna ring any minute.”
“Where’s yours?” asked Penny.
“Room 58. Where’s yours?”
“Room 32. I better get going.”
“Okay, see you in Driver Ed.” Annette watched Penny bury herself in the swarm while she hurried in the opposite direction.
Classes were only twenty-five minutes long on the first day of school, so Annette thought she couldn’t get too bored until she sat in French class, first hour, listening to Miss Gable’s nasal voice. The teacher spoke French so fast, no one could understand her.
Annette was only too glad to walk into Art, second hour, and sit down at an empty table. It was her first year taking art and she was fascinated by everything in the art room. Paint brushes and jars were out on some of the tables already, and there was an inspiring odor of turpentine and linseed oil in the air.
The teacher, Mr. Hendrickson, stood by the windows gazing out at the sunshine. Annette studied him. He was a new teacher at Ravensville High, of medium height, and with light-colored hair. If she were to guess, he was probably no older than 30. Annette thought right away she would probably like him.
“Excuse me... is this seat taken?”
Annette turned to face an attractive blond girl smiling quietly at her. She had long eyelashes, a cute nose, and her hair was worn in a reverse flip, carefully styled and tucked behind her ears. She wore a smart-looking turquoise blue skirt with matching print top that had a low neckline and puff sleeves.
“No.” Annette smiled back at the girl, who sat down beside her and stuck her purse under her seat. She turned to smile at Annette once more, then gazed around at the room in awe.
“You’re new here, aren’t you?” Annette asked timidly.
“Yes.” The girl smiled.
Annette stared into her lap, trying to think of something to say.
“I’m a junior,” the new girl ventured. “Are you?”
“Oh no, just a sophomore,” said Annette.
The girl looked like she was going to say more, but the bell rang and then the teacher, Mr. Hendrickson, cleared his throat and told everybody to quiet down while he took attendance.
Annette learned that the new girl’s name was Chris Hilgert, and she studied Chris out of the corner of her eye.
Mr. Hendrickson began lecturing on what he expected of his students and how he planned to teach them.
“I like your outfit,” Chris whispered to Annette.
“Thank you,” murmured Annette. She could feel Mr. Hendrickson’s eyes on her as he talked. When his gaze shifted, she asked Chris, “Where did you move from?”
“Out East,” replied Chris, “near Baltimore. How do you like living in Ravensville?”
“Actually, I live in the country,” explained Annette, “but I think Ravensville’s a nice little town. The school’s okay, too.”
“The one I went to was just awful. I think...” Chris’s voice dropped off as Mr. Hendrickson’s monopolized their conversation.
“If you two young ladies don’t mind,” he said harshly, “I want to make one thing very clear the first day.” His eyes focused on the two of them. The room was silent as Mr. Hendrickson continued. “I will not tolerate any meaningless chitchat while I am up here trying to make a point. Now is that clear?”
Annette nodded her head. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Chris stare into her lap. Mr. Hendrickson went on with his discussion, but Annette wasn’t paying attention to any of it. She felt terribly embarrassed. A glance up at the clock told her that the bell would ring in another minute, so she reached for her purse. As she did so, something fell and rolled over the top of their table. Before she could catch it, there was a smash of glass.
Mr. Hendrickson stopped talking in mid sentence. Everyone turned to watch Annette. She hadn’t noticed the bottle of linseed oil that had been left near the edge of her table. Color rose in her cheeks as she stared down at the bits of broken glass and the messy puddle of grease.
A couple of boys sitting behind Annette began to chuckle and carry on, but Mr. Hendrickson shot them a threatening look. Then, he sighed, and stalked off into his office, returning a moment later with some rags. He held them out to Annette without a word.
Just then, the bell rang, but there was so much tension in the room, no one moved. Annette swallowed, then took the rags from the teacher. Mr. Hendrickson turned to the class and said, “Okay, you’re excused.” Then he glared back at Annette. “Except for you.”
Students bustled out of the room while Annette got down on her hands and knees and tried to wipe up the linseed oil without cutting herself on the fragments of broken glass. Her heart pounded and her cheeks were still warm, but she was glad the bell had rung when it did.
Then, someone was kneeling down beside her, carefully picking up pieces of glass. It was Chris, and she smiled at Annette. Then her hazel eyes shifted to the teacher, who stood at the door, watching the activity in the hall. “What a grouch! Anyone could see it was just an accident.”
Annette sighed as she stood up. “Thanks for staying to help me,” she said. “I hope you won’t be late for your next class.”
“I won’t,” replied Chris. “I have algebra. It’s just down the hall.”
They dumped the broken glass and wet rags into the waste basket, then gathered up their purses and notebooks. Students for third hour were already filing into the room as they left to go to their next classes.
“Thanks, girls,” called Mr. Hendrickson as they went out the door.
“Looks like you have a run.” Chris pointed at Annette’s leg.
“I do?” Annette glanced down at her new pantyhose, where her stocking must have caught on something while she was on the floor. “Oh great, my mom will kill me.”
Chris grinned. “Oh, it happens to everyone.”
All during English and Biology, Annette worried about what had happened in Art. She planned to talk to Penny about it in Driver Ed, but Mr. Neubauer had immediately assigned seating in alphabetical order, so they sat at opposite sides of the room.
It wasn’t until last hour, in Geometry, when Annette got a chance to tell her friend about the broken bottle of linseed oil. Mr. Raymond let everyone sit wherever they wanted, took the attendance, then spent the remaining twenty minutes of class flirting with the new home economics teacher across the hall.
“That’s awful, Annette,” said Penny. “I wanted to talk to you, too, but that old hawk in Driver Ed...” She lowered her voice so no one else could hear. “Guess how many classes Steve Newton and I are in together?”
“How many?” asked Annette.
“Four!” Penny bubbled. “Four! First hour, third hour, fourth hour... and this class!”
“And you worried about it all summer.” Annette giggled.
Penny glanced across the room, where Steve Newton and a bunch of boys were goofing off in the corner. Steve was good-looking and the most popular boy in the sophomore class. Then her face grew serious. “I wish you liked someone, Annette.”
Annette sighed. “Maybe one of these days, who knows? Honestly, Pen, that seems to be all you ever have on your mind.”
Penny had been thinking. “That art teacher sounds like a real bear. If I had knocked that stuff over, I would have told him to go clean it up himself. After all, you didn’t leave it on the table where somebody could come along and bump it...” By now Penny’s green eyes had flared up in humiliation. She dug through her purse to find her comb.
Annette sat back in her desk, marveling at how Penny could get so wrapped up in other people’s problems.
“By the way,” said Penny, “since it’s only a half day, and the bus won’t come until two o’clock or so, do you wanna hitch a ride home with Tim?”
“All right,” said Annette. She glanced up at the clock. It amazed her how Penny could be upset one minute, then so calm the next.
“Where did you get
that run?” demanded Penny, who had caught sight of the white streak which had
gradually worked its way down to Annette’s heel.
“In Art,” said Annette.
“Can’t go anywhere as long as two hours without running your stockings, can you, Annette?” chided Penny. “What will your mother say?”
“Oh, I don’t care,” grumbled Annette. “Everything’s gone wrong for me today. What will happen next?”
“You dropped this.”
Annette felt a tap on her back. She swung around in her desk to face Steve Newton, who held her purse out to her. He smiled at her as she took the purse, and then he went back to his friends, who were folding paper airplanes and throwing them across the room.
“Thanks,” murmured Annette. She was positive he hadn’t heard her, but he turned around and smiled at her again.
After the bell rang, Annette and Penny headed for their lockers. Penny exploded with excitement. “Annette! Did you see that? Oh-h-h, Steve Newton! He smiled at you! Oh, Annette, how lucky can a person get? Twice he smiled at you!”
Annette shook her head and began to work the combination dial of her locker. “Pen, you’re crazy.”
“Just wait’ll I tell Tim!”
“For heaven’s sake, Penny,” cried Annette. “I dropped my purse, and Steve Newton picked it up and gave it to me. And that’s that. Who cares whether he smiled at me? Certainly not me. And why do you have to tell Tim?”
“Because Tim will be jealous.”
“Tim?” Annette laughed as she swung the locker door open.
“Sure,” insisted Penny.
“Tim,” remarked Annette, “would be the last boy on earth to get jealous over a silly thing like that.”
Penny appeared not to have heard. “Steve Newton,” she groaned, leaning against the open locker door. “Goll-lee!”
They found Tim talking to a girl out in the parking lot, and climbed into the back seat of the Chevelle before he even noticed them. Penny still had Steve Newton on her mind and didn’t notice the boy sitting in the front seat, watching them as they slammed the doors. But Annette noticed him. He was that new boy in her Biology and History classes, and there was something special about the way he looked at her when she locked her door and rolled the window down to let in some fresh air.
Penny then noticed the boy and nudged Annette with her elbow. The silence in the car was so unbearable that Annette didn’t know whether to be embarrassed or relieved when Penny started talking about Steve Newton again.
“Hey, who said you could have a ride?” demanded Tim when he opened the driver’s door. He glared at his sister in the back seat.
“Whadda ya mean?” Penny pouted. “The bus won’t come till close to 2 o’clock.”
Tim grinned at Annette, then turned to sneer at his sister. “The least you could have done was ask.”
“That’s the worst thing we could have done,” Penny shot back.
Tim climbed in and started the engine, then shifted into reverse, glancing over his shoulder as he backed out of the parking stall. “So how many frosh did you step on today?”
“None,” said Penny. She wrinkled her nose. “They’re all so small this year, you can’t see them well enough.”
Tim chuckled. “This summer, you and Annette were so sure of yourselves. You just couldn’t wait to get back to good old Ravensville High to stamp out all the freshmen.”
“Don’t forget you were a freshman once,” Annette reminded him.
“That was three years ago.”
The boy in the front seat next to Tim, who had been watching out the window all this time, suddenly turned and asked, “Hey, isn’t somebody going to introduce me?”
“Oh, yeah,” said Tim as he approached a stoplight. He turned to Penny. “That’s my bratty sister,” he smirked. Then his eyes swept over Annette. “And that’s Annette Vetter.”
The boy managed a shy smile. “You’re in a couple of my classes,” he told Annette.
“I know,” she said. “You must be new here.”
“His name’s Pete Randt,” said Tim. “His family just bought the old Anderson place on Gaston Road.”
“Oh, we know where that is,” said Penny.
“When did you move here?” asked Annette. She studied Pete’s dark hair and soft brown eyes.
“Just last week,” he said. She noticed his right cheek creased a little when he tried to smile, and it caused her heart to flutter.
“Pen and I used to go exploring around there,” she said. “Gee, I don’t think anyone’s lived there for years.”
“Yeah, Tim and I are in Mechanical Drawing together,” said Pete.
“Steve... Newton...” sighed Penny, gazing out the window.
“Who are you moaning about?” asked Tim.
“You mean... you don’t know who Steve Newton is?” cried Penny. She grabbed the back of Tim’s seat and leaned forward. “Oh, he’s the most darling boy in the whole sophomore class! Blond hair and blue eyes! And he smiled at Annette today in Geometry.”
Annette frowned at her friend. “Cut it out,” she grumbled.
Tim turned to grin at Annette. “Sure... I know his brother, Fig. So... it’s you and Fig’s brother. I get it!”
“No, you don’t,” retorted Annette. She could feel her cheeks getting warm. “Penny’s the one who’s in love with him. Not me! She can have him.”
“Hey, watch out!” hollered Pete.
Tim slammed on his brakes. A girl had stepped out in front of the car. Annette and Penny felt themselves being thrown forward as the car came to a screeching halt.
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