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Ronald kept staring at the officer's badge. "You like that," the policeman wondered. He was talking with Mrs. Yoshida's class about the dangers of drugs and gangs. He'd been to Lewis' class already. "Every class has a kid who looks at this badge like it's a gold medal. A kid who thinks I'm the coolest person in the world because of it."

He turned to another topic. "Who in here likes radar guns? Anyone like watching the scouts time the pitchers at ball games?" Jeff and several others raised their hands.

Officer Mark Greenbaum smiled at Jeff. "You like radar guns, huh?" Jeff nodded. "I used one when I joined the police force. Kids think that kind of stuff is really cool. But, there's nothing like coming in and showing kids how to avoid the dangers in their world."

He strolled around the room. "You know what a ‘high' is? It's the excitement of knowing you helped someone. Of knowing there's people who look up to you. Kids who think you're the coolest person in the world. And teaching them something positive, knowing you helped them become better human beings. There's nothing better in the world."

Michelle grinned. That sounded a lot like Stephanie. She knew Stephanie loved helping her. Stephanie got such a thrill from that. And, Michelle really liked it, too. She knew she needed help sometimes.

"Take this young man." He walked over to Ronald. "No, don't take him, we need him here. But, he might see me and decide that he wants to grow up and speak to kids around his city as a D.A.R.E. officer. He might want to help them spot the dangers. Or, if it's just my gun, he might be a major league scout."

Jeff laughed. "Would you give Randy Johnson a ticket next time he comes to town. Maybe then he won't throw so hard and we can actually beat him."

The officer laughed, then turned back to the class. "That's okay, if he follows me. I have his best interests at heart. I would never tell him to do anything that could hurt him. Not everyone cares like that, though. What you need is to learn how to spot those who think they're cool, but who really aren't."

Officer Greenbaum led the students in role playing games and discussions. He used more time than he'd planned. Mrs. Yoshida had little time to start anything after he left.
Once the final bell rang, Rachel motioned Michelle over near the classroom plants. "Look," she whispered so nobody else could hear. "I just wanted to...well..."

Michelle figured Rachel wanted to thank her. Gratitude didn't come easily for Rachel. Maybe a compliment break the ice. "You did a great job role playing."

"I've always known I could be a great actress." Rachel stammered a little more. "Look, I'm glad you did what you did yesterday. I never thought of how dangerous some stuff can be. So...I wanted to say thanks." The last words were almost inaudible.

Michelle smiled. "Hey, I meant what I said. I'll always be there to help." She snickered. "Whether you want me to be or not."

Michelle wished Rachel had her desire to help others. She just had to keep showing how much better kindness was, though. Then, bit by bit, Rachel would become as nice s Michelle.

They walked toward the cubbies. Michelle asked what the Tillys would do for a sitter.
Rachel grumbled as she put her arms through her backpack. "Oh, yeah. That's the worst part. I'm supposed to walk the twelve blocks home. And guess who's walking with me? Stephanie."

Michele pointed at herself. "Stephanie? My Stepahnie?"

"Yes, your Stephanie." The girls walked behind Cassie and Mandy. "My mom hired Stephanie for the next couple days." Rachel rolled her eyes. "I'd rather just sit at my au pair's bedside."

Michelle couldn't believe Rachel said such things. "Come on, Rachel. Stephanie's the best sister in the world." She thought a moment longer. Grinning, she decided she had to admit it. "Okay. She does talk a lot sometimes."

Stephanie was standing near Michelle's school bus. She waved to the four girls.
Rachel rolled her eyes, then started toward Stephanie. She turned slowly back to Michelle. "Sometimes? I didn't think my mom would get a word in edgewise with Stephanie telling us all about those Flamingoes. Though I am really...well..."

Rachel looked at the ground. Michelle could hardly hear her. "I'm glad you two were there for me. I guess I kinda like being friends with you. You really are nice, you know that. Even when I wasn't. I'd like to be like that. It seems really cool."

Michelle was elated. Rachel was going to become one of her friends, too!

In her normal voice, Rachel continued. "But, please. Don't bring up the last few days ever again," she insisted. Rachel walked in a huff towrd Stephanie.
Michelle grinned. Mrs. Yoshida was right. Rachel appreciated her. And, there was something even better. Rachel would stay far away from drugs and Flamingoes.

Michelle finished setting the table. It was almost dinnertime. She walked up to her room as Stephanie was leaving it. "Hey, Steph. Supper's about ready. How was Rachel?"

Stepahnie motioned Michelle into their room. They sat on Stephanie's bed. "Michele, when you were little, I thought Dad let you get away with everything. I thought you were really spoiled. I now take back everything I ever said or thought about that."

Michelle nodded. She knew she'd had a bit of a bossy streak as a preschooler. So, Rachel must have given Stephanie some really hard times. "Quite a handful, huh?"

"You were nice and compassionate as a preschooler. Even as a toddler. When you were bossy, you didn't mean to be rude. You didn't know any better. But, Rachel should know better. That makes her attitude worse than yours ever was."

"I was hoping you could help Rachel be nicer. She's started, but she'll need lots of help," Michelle said.

"Let's just say we talked. I tried to encourage her. But, I'm no miracle worker. She's starting to be nicer. She's willing to be your friend now, although part of that might be because you won't be class president anymore once you get to fifth grade. But, while she won't treat you mean, it's going to take effort for her to lose her arrogance," Stephanie said. "Half the time she acted miffed that she was grounded for your year-end class picnic next week."

"At least we started. Did Sue just want to bring that stuff into our school," Michelle asked.

Stephanie related what she'd heard. "Mrs. Tilly discovered last night that Sue stole from them. Money, a little jewelry, that sort of thing. She may have been trying to get Rachel hooked. But, it also looks like she wanted a good excuse for the missing items. Sue probably planned to sell them to support her habit. But, it would look like Rachel was stealing from her mom, instead. Either that, or they'd be too worried about Rachel to pay attention to missing stuff."

Michelle shook her head. "Those Flamingoes sure are bad news," she mumbled.
They got up. Stephanie paused. "One more thing, Michelle. I peeked into your backpack when I got home. Just to make sure."

Michelle shot her a dirty look. "I thought you trusted me," came the hurt voice.
Stephanie smiled. She put a hand on Michelle's shoulder. "I do. I knew I wouldn't find anything, and I was right. But, you wouldn't believe how scared I was when I saw that bottle a couple days ago."

Michelle might not have understood it otherwise. But, after what she'd gone through with Rachel, she could. She hadn't been close to Rachel, and she'd cared about her. She didn't want anyone to get mixed up in anything dangerous.

As for Lewis, she'd been concerned because he didn't have a stable home life. But, at least he had Joey. Plus, most of his schoolmates supported him. He had begun to get the right kinds of friends. Michelle and her friends would help, too. All that could keep him out of trouble.

She'd been bothered by those problems. So, Stephanie must have been really bothered thinking about her. "I guess that shocked you, huh? If I was worried about Rachel..." She trailed off.

Stephanie hugged Michelle. "Oh, Michelle. I've heard of kids messing up their lives so badly, even in Middle School. To think that my baby sister could be doing that, it was terrifying."

Michelle's complaint sounded weak with her head cradled in Stephanie's chest. "Steph, I'm not a baby."

"I know." Stephanie and Michelle look at each other. "But if I live to be a hundred, and you're 95, you'll still be my baby sister. And, I'll still feel like I need to help and protect you."

Michelle smiled. "I guess I can't get away from it, huh, Steph?" Nor would she want to. She wanted to be on the right side. The side of people who did what was right no matter what others said or did.

Stephanie rubbed her back as they walked downstairs. "You're going to face lots of temptations as you grow. Smoking, drinking and all that; then with boys in a few years. Like Jeff?" Stephanie gave her a knowing smile.

Michelle felt her face get warm. She was looking forward to playing ball with Jeff at the picnic. She just hoped Stephanie wouldn't start to kid her like she did to Stephanie. After all, Stephanie had recently predicted in her diary they'd go to the prom together and wind up married for over fifty years.

Stephanie chuckled. "It's just part of growing up. You two make a cute couple. You're both funny, you're good friends. Even when Jeff cheated off you, he told the truth rather than see you get in trouble. And, that one incident aside, you're both nice young people. I know you're good enough to resist temptation on your own. But you might need help sometimes. And I'll be there for you. So will everyone else."

Michelle smiled warmly at her. "Thanks. I'm glad I have someone like you to help me when I need it."

The END! Back to Story Index