* all ages
Friday the 13th
by Elizabeth Goode (aka saraliz78)
When Jim Frayne woke up, he knew it wasn't going to be a good day. The night before at the Sleepyside Junior-Senior High School basketball game, he had taken the elbow of a nearly seven-foot senior from the other team to the collarbone. It had been established that nothing was broken, but it was still embarrassing to hit the gym floor in front of the entire school, and it still hurt this morning. After the game, the Bob-Whites had gone to Wimpy's, and somehow ended up in a shouting match with some fans from the other team, who insisted that Jim had fouled out their player on purpose. Calm, collected Brian Belden had been angrier at the suggestion than Jim was himself, and it took Di and Honey both to talk him out of a confrontation. Trixie, Jim grinned ruefully at the memory, had not been much help. He smiled at the memory of her glaring at the player who hit Jim from the bleachers, and at the sight of Nick Roberts yanking her back down into her seat so she couldn't storm the gym floor. At Wimpy's, Trixie had treated him to a root beer float, stating that he deserved it for being the wounded sports hero of the night. That root beer float had gone a very long way toward repairing his wounded pride.
At breakfast, it was clear that it wasn't shaping up to be a good day for anyone else, either. Honey was nearly in tears over a misplaced homework assignment, Miss Trask was absent due to a very bad cold, and Cook was in the hospital having surgery to remove her appendix. It was a glum sight - Mrs. Wheeler had done her best to provide breakfast for her children in the absence of the usual staff, but her best was cold cereal, toast, and milk. Mr. Wheeler was actually a very good cook, but he was apparently stuck in an airport in Vancouver, unable to get home.
"Your father is trapped in Vancouver and won't be home until tomorrow. I'm sorry about the breakfast situation, but it was the best I could do. You know how I am in a kitchen." She paused, noticing the stiff way her son held his right side. "Jim, are you all right? You took quite a hit yesterday. I know sports can be rough, but do you think you need to see a doctor?"
He shook his head vehemently. "Just a bruise and some serious embarrassment. I'm good."
She smiled at him. "You let me know if it gets worse."
Madeleine Wheeler turned her attention to her daughter, who was still digging desperately in her school bag. "Where were you when you finished it, dear?"
Honey turned watery hazel eyes to her mother and brother. "My room. I finished it last night in my room, and now it's gone! I don't know what to do!"
"Did you work on it with Trixie or Diana? Could one of them have put it in their bag by mistake?"
Shaking her head miserably, Honey said, "Di doesn't have it. I phoned her this morning. She's staying home sick today and won't be at school. I guess Trixie could have it, but no one answered the phone at Crabapple Farm this morning when I called."
At this, Jim frowned. No one answered the phone at the Beldens' place on a Friday morning? Usually, they were up with the dawn over there. "Why don't we leave now and walk over there? You can ask Trixie about the report, and we can just hop on the bus with the Beldens?"
Honey brightened somewhat. "Okay! I'm ready to go if you are, Jim!"
Waving goodbye to their mother, they grabbed their bags and hurried toward Crabapple Farm.
On their way, they passed Regan, who was apparently in a huge rush. The sedan was running, and he didn't even bother to complain about how much he disliked driving.
Concerned, Jim ran up to the window of the car and asked, "Everything okay? You seem rushed."
"It's Danny. Maypenny called and said he'd taken a fall and needs stitches! I'm on my way to take him to Doctor Ferris. If you kids don't mind, get his homework for him? I'm keeping him out of school at least for the day."
Honey nodded. "Of course. Tell Dan we said hi and I hope he feels better!"
Jim winced as Regan backed up and barely missed the stone post that marked the top of the driveway. He raised his arm to wave, and winced again when his injury from the game throbbed painfully. He let out a short laugh. "What a day! Missing homework, Dan getting hurt, no Cook, no Miss Trask, Dad stuck at an airport ... not to mention the Ogre of Sunnyside slamming me to the ground last night, and Brian almost getting into a fight ..."
Honey shook her head. "I'm almost afraid of what we're going to find at Crabapple Farm!"
He groaned. "Don't say it out loud! That's like when someone in a movie says things can't get worse and you just want to throw something at the screen because you know it can and it will get worse!"
"So basically we're the idiot girl who goes upstairs to investigate a weird noise in her underwear and ends up getting chased by axe-murdering mutants?"
Chuckling, Jim said, "Something like that."
When they reached Crabapple Farm, it was apparent that bad luck was simply in the air this morning. There were feathers everywhere. And, the house was dark, as though the power was out.
Jim hailed a harried-looking Mr. Belden, who was clearly late for his job at the bank. He wore his usual business suit, but was adorned with several chicken feathers and had an oddly rumpled appearance. He waved to Honey and Jim, then got in the car and sped down the driveway. Mart ran past, shooing chickens toward the gated pen. When one refused to enter, he picked it up and set it inside the gate, which he slammed closed with a frustrated, "And stay there, Wanda! Shoo! Go lay an egg!"
'Wanda' squawked loudly and flapped indignantly away.
Honey spoke first. "Mart? What the -?"
He interrupted her. "Chaos, my dear Miss Wheeler. A squirrel gnawed through an electrical cord and blew a fuse. We all overslept, and then discovered that someone left the henhouse gate slightly ajar, and the chickens spent the night running for their lives from foxes and God knows what else! Trixie's freaking out over some report she can't find anywhere, and Brian can't get the jalopy started. What an atrocious commencement for the day!"
At this, Honey wailed, "If Trixie can't find HER report either, then how could she have mine? Oh, what am I going to do? I'm going to have to fake sick and rewrite it or something!"
From inside the Belden house, Trixie shouted, "But Moms! I did do the report, I worked on it with Honey, but all I have is HER report, not mine! What am I going to DO?"
The bus became visible on the horizon of the road, and Jim ran up to the kitchen door and stuck his head inside. "Hello? Trixie? Brian? The bus is coming!"
Mrs. Belden also looked frazzled. Her blonde hair was frizzy and flyaway, and a chicken feather was stuck to her shoulder. "Hello, Jim. We Beldens are having a morning of it! I'd offer you and Honey some breakfast, but I can't make anything without electricity. Peter said he'd send a repairman from town "
Honey raced past them, bounding up the stairs to Trixie's room, calling out, "Trixie! You have my report?"
Jim shook his head. "You Beldens aren't the only ones, Mrs. Belden. Things haven't been any better up the hill Dad's stuck in Vancouver, Mother had to make breakfast, Miss Trask is sick, Honey's report is missing, I can't raise my right arm after the game last night, Regan's driving Dan to the doctor because he hurt himself and needs stitches "
Mrs. Belden laughed and shook her head. "If I look outside at the yard and see Reddy curled up with a cat, I won't be surprised. Well, it couldn't have happened on a better day, I suppose. It IS Friday the Thirteenth, after all."
He glanced to the calendar that hung beside the phone in the kitchen, and saw that she was right. "I've never been particularly superstitious, but "
Jim's sentence was cut off by a loud thump from upstairs, followed by the sound of shattering glass, a shriek from Honey and a yelp from Trixie.
"Bobby! Your ant farm oh, gross!"
Trixie's report turned out to be in Mart's backpack he had picked it up from the kitchen table with his own homework by mistake. Both girls, clutching their reports, sprinted toward the end of the drive to wait for the bus. Jim waited for Brian and Mart and then did likewise. After ten minutes, it became apparent that the bus was not coming. Just as Trixie was about to run back to the house to inform her mother, Mrs. Wheeler pulled up in her light blue vintage sedan.
"The school called and said that the bus has had a flat tire at the other end of Glen Road. All of you pile in, and I'll drive you."
This was only the second time in the year and a half that Jim had been a part of the Wheeler family that he had seen Mrs. Wheeler drive a car. Honey had an odd look on her face that suggested that it was an unfamiliar sight for her as well.
Honey asked, "Mother? Why didn't you send Tom?"
At this, Mrs. Wheeler smiled ruefully. "I would have, only Celia told me that poor Tom has food poisoning. He ate some shrimp at a friend's bachelor party last night and woke up in misery. Poor fellow! Your father and I had an absolutely debilitating case of food poisoning three years ago in Paris. I told him that I thought one was not supposed to eat seafood during a month containing an 'R,' but he assured me it was the opposite." She shuddered at the memory, then adjusted the rearview mirror while Trixie and Honey squeezed into the front seat to avoid having to sit on laps in the back. "Don't look so surprised, Honey. I do have a driver's license."
Honey leaned over to kiss her mother's cheek. "Drive carefully Friday the Thirteenth is in full swing!"
As she drove, the Bob-Whites filled her in on the misfortune at Crabapple Farm.
"Poor Helen! Perhaps I'll stop by on my way home. If nothing else, I can at least commiserate with her."
The ride to school was without further incident, but they were nearly twenty minutes late. Mrs. Wheeler parked the car, and followed the Bob-Whites into Sleepyside Junior-Senior High to explain their tardiness to Principal Stratton.
"Honey, you and Trixie hold onto those reports. Don't let them out of your sight! Jim, you're sitting out at practice this evening, don't you forget! Be careful of that arm."
She turned to Brian and Mart and smiled. "You two just be careful. Apparently, this day has it in for the Beldens and the Wheelers alike!"
The day hadn't exactly gotten worse, but Jim wasn't quite sure if perhaps he was just losing his ability to be surprised when something else went wrong. All morning, he had been trying to keep his sore arm out of the way of jostling students in the halls between classes to no avail. By lunchtime, he was seriously considering making a sign and taping it to his sleeve. In the chem lab, he and Brian's experiment had done the unexpected and blown up, sending shards of beaker flying across the aisle. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but he and Brian had been arguing about whose fault it was ever since. He carried his lunch tray carefully across the cafeteria and sat down beside Mart, who was the only Bob-White present.
"Done burning down the chem lab, James?"
Jim sighed. "I see you've spoken with Brian."
"I have. According to him, your attention was anywhere but on the Bunsen burner. "
Too tired to get mad, Jim shrugged, then regretted it when his shoulder twinged. "Well, according to me, Brian went right on to step four without bothering to look at step three, which was in my hand, ready to go."
Mart chuckled. "I'm on your side, my friend. Brian needs to understand that he can have an off day as easily as the next guy. I think he's still rattled from almost getting into a fight last night."
Smiling ruefully, Jim said, "I guess I can understand that, and cut him some slack, since it was my defense he was running to."
"Don't cut him too much slack. The old chap could do with a bit more disruption in his routine. Trixie called him 'Gramps' for a week when she was ten because he complained so much when his socks weren't rolled just right from the laundry."
The mental image made Jim laugh. He often found himself wishing he had known the rest of the Bob-Whites when they were all younger.
Mart pulled some papers from his bag and passed them to Jim. "Dan's assignments from Lit and Sociology. He's in your History class, right?"
Jim nodded and stuffed the papers into the blue folder labeled, "Dan" that he had created during homeroom. He caught Mart's expression at the sight of the folder and met his stare levelly. "Yes, I really am that organized. Not all of us use our textbooks as a filing system like you and your sister do."
At that moment, Trixie, Honey, and Brian arrived, setting their trays down on the table to join their friends. Unfortunately, just as Honey's tray made contact with the table, someone at the opposite end of the table pulled on the other half of it, causing her tray to clatter to the floor, spraying chili across everyone's shoes. At the other end of the table, Lester Mundy stood, a look of horrified apology on his face. He scrambled to pick up Honey's tray.
"Honey, I am so sorry! I didn't see your tray was on the crack, and I just pulled the table. Crap, I really am sorry, you guys!"
Always tactful, Honey gave Lester's shoulder a gentle pat. "It's okay. I know you didn't mean to."
Trixie looked down at her chili-fied sneakers and laughed. "The way this day is going, chili-feet is actually the least traumatic thing that's happened today. Heck, Brian and Jim almost caused a fire in the chem lab, Dan had some kind of bizarre wood-chopping accident and busted his head, my entire family overslept because a squirrel chewed a wire, Honey and Jim's dad is stuck in Vancouver, and our school bus had a flat tire this morning. And that's just the beginning!"
Lester shook his head. "I'm still sorry. Man, it seems like you guys just need to go home and start over!"
Trixie laughed. "Oh, and my little brother knocked over his ant farm this morning. It was horrible, the poor things scurrying around, trying to figure out where their little tunnels and caverns had gone. I guess if we think we have it bad today, at least we're not living through Antpocalypse!"
At this, all of them laughed, even Lester and the now-lunchless Honey. Jim broke his sandwich in half and handed half of it to his sister, and Trixie dumped out her potato chips on her tray to share them.
Brian passed her his chocolate pudding, unopened. "Here, you can have it. I don't need any sugar jazzing me up. I'm still on edge about what happened in the lab."
Honey accepted the gift with a smile, even though Jim knew for a fact that she didn't like pudding at all. Honey might think that Trixie and Di were the only ones who knew she had a crush on Brian, but Jim saw how her smile brightened and how she sometimes blushed when Brian gave her a compliment.
Before anyone could take so much as a bite, Principal Stratton entered the cafeteria and announced that the school day would be ending early due to an accident near the bank that had resulted in a broken water main. The water would be out for the rest of the day.
Trixie spoke for all of the Bob-Whites when she declared that it was about time someone else's bad luck did them a favor. No longer stuck eating cafeteria food, the Bob-Whites instead decided to walk to Wimpy's for lunch before calling someone's parents for a ride. As they made their way across town, the flashing lights of a police car signaled that they were approaching the scene of the accident that had broken the water main.
Mart pointed, shading his eyes against the afternoon sun. "Isn't that "
Jim nodded. "Yep. It is."
The girls squinted into the bright sun, and Trixie gasped, "It's Regan! He's crashed the sedan into a fire hydrant!"
On the sidewalk, Regan stood talking animatedly to Sergeant Molinson, while Dan leaned against the side of the library in the shade, a white bandage covering his right eyebrow. He looked pale and a little unsteady.
The Bob-Whites raced to the scene, and Brian immediately led Dan to a nearby bench to sit down.
"You okay, man? I heard you fell and whacked your head!" Brian reached out to give Dan's shoulder a squeeze.
Dan offered a wan smile. "We were pulling out of the pharmacy parking lot and old Mrs. Crimper pulled out in that crazy land yacht of hers and was about to t-bone us in the passenger side. Uncle Bill panicked and steered the other way, right into the hydrant."
Trixie and Honey sat on either side of Dan on the bench, and Honey asked him, "What happened to your head? We heard that you fell and that's about it."
"It's actually sort of embarrassing. I went outside this morning to get some wood for the fireplace, and tripped over the axe I used to chop it with last night. I went down like a sack of boneless chicken."
"Eeww." Honey made a face. "Thanks for that."
Interested, as always, in anything medical, Brian asked, "How many stitches did you get?"
Dan closed his right eye experimentally, then winced at the pain from moving it. "Ten. I pretty much split my eyebrow. Fortunately, the Mangan genes will cause the hair to grow back pretty much immediately." He gave them his usual cocky grin. "No danger of going bald here!"
Satisfied that Dan was all right, the Bob-Whites turned their attention to where Regan and Sergeant Molinson stood.
Old Mrs. Crimper was examining the bumper of the sedan Regan had been driving, and declared loudly, "There's barely a scratch on it, young man! I don't see why you're so worked up!"
She poked the bumper with her umbrella. "See? Perfectly stable "
At that moment, the bumper sagged nearly to the concrete, leaving Mrs. Crimper with nothing to poke with her umbrella. She said only, "Oh, my."
By this time, firemen and city workers had arrived to put the hydrant and water main to rights. Sergeant Molinson issued a citation to Mrs. Crimper and arranged for a tow truck to remove the sedan to a garage, and Regan plopped down on the bench next to Dan.
Jim felt sorry for him. Regan hated driving to begin with, and to have something like this happen while transporting his injured nephew in a car that belonged to the Wheeler estate and also involved a nice old lady like Mrs. Crimper was just too much for Regan to deal with.
"Listen, we were just about to head to Wimpy's for some lunch because school let out early due to the " Jim grimaced at the hydrant and sedan " um, well the hydrant was attached to a water main, and you kind of got us out of school early for the day. You and Dan should just come to Wimpy's with us and we can either call Mother to come and get us, or wait for Mr. Belden to get off work at the bank."
Regan glanced at his nephew. "You feeling up to it, Danny?"
"Yeah. I'm actually pretty hungry. I didn't manage to catch any breakfast before I landed in the woodpile." Dan gave his uncle a friendly clap on the shoulder. "Don't worry about the car. I heard Molinson talking to one of his officers about this being the third time Mrs. Crimper has done something like this. He's going to talk to her son about her glasses prescription and driver's license right away."
At this, Regan seemed to relax some, and Jim reassured him, "Dad isn't going to blame you for the car. The sedan is for the use of the whole household, and the damage is only cosmetic. Mrs. Crimper could have pulled out like that on anyone."
Trixie jumped in, "She almost winged Moms at the grocery store last week while we were loading the car."
Having convinced Regan that the world was not going to come to an end, the group made their way into Wimpy's, where a disheveled Mike appeared to be leaning on the counter for support.
Concerned, Honey asked, "Is everything all right? You look exhausted!"
Mike shook his head, offering a smile that was a ghost of his usual friendly grin. "It's been a heck of a day, that's all. I regret to inform all of you " He looked directly at Mart. "And especially you, that we, Wimpy's Diner, named after the character from Popeye cartoons who liked burgers so much, are out of beef."
Mart's jaw dropped. "Say it ain't so, Mike!"
The waiter explained that their usual meat supplier had issued a recall on all of the meat delivered the day before, and that the truck bringing new meat was caught in a terrible traffic jam somewhere outside of New York City. Jim looked over Mike's shoulder to the calendar hanging on the wall beside the phone. Someone had drawn a frowning face on today's date. Before today, he would have sworn up and down that there was nothing to Friday the Thirteenth, but evidence had been piling up since morning. He was beginning to suspect that the Earth was about to be hit by a giant meteor and that they all had only moments to live.
He frowned slightly. Or was that the plot of the science fiction flick he'd seen with Mart and Brian last weekend? Aloud, he said, "I don't know about you guys, but I'm going to sit down and order something. We can look at this as an opportunity to explore the rich variety of the Wimpy's menu."
Mike shook his head dolefully. "It's pretty much just burgers, man. The only other meat we have is chicken."
Glancing at the Bob-Whites minus Di and plus Regan, Jim made an executive decision. "We'll have seven chicken sandwiches and a pile of fries big enough to swim through. Put it on me and Honey's credit line."
To his surprise, no one protested or threw money down on the table. He chuckled to himself. Things were definitely bad If Brian Belden didn't protest about paying for his own food.
The group sat talking and laughing, and Jim looked from Regan and Dan to the Beldens and then to Honey. Regan was laughing at something his nephew had said, and Jim could see how much it meant to Dan to spend time with his uncle.
Mart tucked into his chicken sandwich, declaring with a devilish gleam in his eye that he was naming his sandwich, "Wanda," after the chicken that had led him on a merry chase that morning.
Brian was working on some kind of diagram, which he thrust triumphantly toward Jim. "See? I worked it out. It seems that you put step four in before I'd finished with step three. But, I should have said something. I wasn't paying enough attention either. Truce?" Brian offered his hand.
With a laugh, Jim accepted the handshake. "Truce. I was thinking about basketball practice, and hoping the coach wouldn't send a note home with me to make a doctor's appointment for my shoulder."
Honey was giggling furiously at whatever it was that Dan had said, slurping down a chocolate shake in a most un-ladylike manner.
Even on a spectacularly rotten day like today, Jim found himself feeling profoundly grateful that he had ended up here, with this group of people. If even one little thing had gone differently back when they had all met if Trixie and Honey hadn't found him, if he'd gotten on that cattle boat and sailed away, if Regan hadn't brought Dan to Sleepyside, and for that matter, if the Wheelers had never moved into the Manor House to begin with?
Across the table from him, Trixie gently kicked his shin under the table to get his attention. "Still not a believer in the destructive power of Friday the Thirteenth?"
He shook his head. "You know I'm not superstitious, Trix."
She made a face at him. "You blew up the chem lab, and you're still maintaining that this is all some kind of coincidence?"
Taking Brian's diagram, he pushed it toward Trixie for her inspection. "It wasn't me. I'm not the loose cannon. It was mutually assured destruction!"
At this, Trixie's face broke into a smile, and he thought that Friday the Thirteenth could just do its worst, his day was fine just the way it was.