The problem stuck in her mind throughout the morning. She barely spoke at lunch. In a way, she sympathized with Rachel. Michelle very rarely had outside sitters. Her family was so large, there was no need for one. However, D.J. and Stephanie babysat for children outside the family. Those they watched trusted them totally. Why wouldn't they? Their parents had said they were okay. Rachel would want to trust a sitter for the same reason.
On the other hand, that bottle was too big to ignore. She neeedd to protect Lewis. But, now she thought Rachel could have problems. In fact, she worried that...
She shook her head. No way. Not Rachel. She couldn't be tempted by that alcohol.
Then again, Stephanie certainly worried that Michelle had been. In fact, it sounded like Stephanie herself had been tempted to do some pretty bad things.
"Hey, can I have the rest of your fries," Cassie wondered.
Michelle glanced at the clock. There were only two minutes till recess. "Sure. I've got to figure out how to approach Rachel about this." As Cassie ate the fries, Michelle spoke regretfully. "If only that D.A.R.E. officer was coming today, and not tomorrow."
Cassie held up a fry. "But, his coming tomorrow means our science test is put off till Friday."
Michelle appreciated the practical comment. "Thanks. I'd rather take a science test than think about that Flamingo. And what she might tell Lewis to do." She snickered. "Come to think of it, I'd rather take D.J.'s physics exam. With all that stuff about neutrons, protons, croutons, Cantons, whatever."
Mandy knew D.J. had spent all her time in the library the last few days. "I'm sure D.J. would rather you take it, too," she said. The girls laughed.
Out on the playground, Michelle and her friends approached Rachel. "Say, Rachel," Michelle began. "Did Sue tell you who the Flamingoes were?"
"I already told you," she spoke in a huff. "The best and coolest kids in John Muir Middle School. They even let home schooled kids in."
Michelle didn't like Rachel's attitude. Since this problem began, any friendliness there was towartd Michelle had vanished. However, as hard as it was, she knew she should be nice first. "Look, Rachel, I'm sorry, but we're really trying to help."
"I don't need your help," she spoke haughtily. "Sue was very nice and offered to make Lewis feel welcome. And, she's doing a lot more than you and your phony secret club. Ha!"
Michelle held out her hands. She wished Rachel would consider others' feelings for once. She pleaded with Rachel to see her side of things. "Look, maybe there's no problem. But, things looked very different to me. Rachel, Sue gave Lewis alcohol. You need to stay far away from anything she does!"
"And you got her in trouble," spouted Rachel. "They warned the whole school!"
Thinking of her mom's accident usually wasn't really painful. But, maybe if Rachel thought about the pain, she would understand. Michelle related what her dad had said. "She got herself in trouble. Rachel, if Sue or her brother are drinking, they should get help. The drunk driver who killed my mom might have started very young. He made very bad choices. With Sue around, you could suffer from choices like that. I don't want you to be hurt like that," Michelle insisted. She hoped Rachel understood her heartfelt words. Michelle wouldn't wish what had happened to her family on anyone. Not even Rachel.
Rachel closed her eyes for a second. "Oh, you don't need to worry about me," came the prideful voice. "Nothing's going to happen. Some drunk might have killed your mom, but nothing like that will happen in my family."
Michelle's cheeks burned. She pursed her lips tightly, and glared at Rachel. She pointed a finger at Rachel's chest. Michelle got upset thinking about the pain of the accident. She didn't remember it. But, she knew it had to hurt a lot. And yet, Rachel totally ignored that. She refused to accept the dangers. Dangers Michelle's dad had said were very real. Her voice cracked with emotion as she let off steam.
"Rachel Tilly, you have a very bad attitude." She inhaled deeply. Her voice rose as she put her face right in Rachel's. Rachel's lower lip quivered slightly. "The drunk driver who killed my mother could have just as easily killed anyone's on this playground. Including yours! You could be the one who's had to live your whole life never knowing what it was like to have a mom! You could be the one who's had to suffer mean comments like yours! You had better be thankful it hasn't happened to you! Because if you do something dangerous you could get hurt! And if your dad owned all the money in the world, all that money couldn't add one second to anyone's life! Not his, not your mother's, not yours, nobody's!"
"All right, Michelle," came Mrs. Yoshida's soothing voice. "Let's go sit and calm down." Michelle felt her teacher and best friends guiding her away. Her eyes burned with tears. She sniffled, and allowed them to lead her.
Cassie and Mandy sat beside Michelle in front of the school entrance. They rubbed her back to try and pacify her. They could tell their friend was upset. Cassie tried to introduce some humor. "That was a great lecture. For a minute I thought my mom was here today." Michelle's frown lessened.
Mandy agreed. "Although I think she went beyond ‘Mom' to ‘Army drill sergeant.'"
Michelle managed to grin. A few tears snuck down her face. However, at least she didn't feel rotten any more. She tried to remember when she'd last cried. She probably hadn't for a long time. And, she couldn't remember ever crying at school.
Cassie smiled. "You know, some kid on the bus is gonna ask ‘who was that teacher bawling someone out? She was so mad!' And I'll say ‘that was no teacher, that was a student.'"
Michelle chuckled through tiny tears. She couldn't believe she'd lost control like that. She normally kept her feelings hidden so well. She rarely considered the sadness of not having a mom, though. She'd done so today to try to get Rachel to understand why she worried about her. But, it had backfired. Rachel had acted as snobby as ever.
Worrying about Rachel, Lewis, and the Flamingoes was getting to her, too. She realized the problem had grown too big for her to handle.
"Look, Rachel," she heard Mrs. Yoshida say, "I don't know what happened. The important thing is Michelle is more upset than I've ever seen her."
Michelle looked up at Rachel. She heard a half-hearted "I'm sorry" rise from Rachel's lips.
After Rachel left, Mrs. Yoshida knelt in front of Michelle. The girl took the tissue that was offered. "Would you like to talk about it?"
Michelle sniffled and wiped her eyes and face. "Oh, Mrs. Y., I just feel so awful. That teen who was here with the bottle babysits for Rachel. I tried to warn Rachel. I tried to explain how it feels to not have a mom. And, how that could happen to her. But, Rachel just acts like it never could have happened to her."
Mrs. Yoshida gave a smile of understanding. "When Rachel first came here, I talked to her dad. He thought she was too sheltered at her private school. That's why he put her and her brother Michael in public schools out here. Nobody likes to think it could happen to them. But, that was an even worse problem for Rachel. I'll make sure the D.A.R.E. officer talks about how it could happen to anyone." Michelle thanked her. "You probably wouldn't feel like talking about your mom, would you?"
"Normally, I don't mind mentioning it. I know I have a great family. So, I don't think about not having a mom. But..." She trailed off, lost in thought. It usually didn't hurt nearly as bad as this. But, worrying about the alcohol on the playground, plus Rachel's comments, made it impossible.
Mrs. Yoshida understood completely. "It must be very hard sometimes. Rachel knows not to talk like that. Maybe when you feel better, in a quiet way, you and she can talk. She kept saying she didn't mean to say it. So, whatever she said, you must have had some impact. She must have realized something."
"See, Cassie's right," Mandy said. "Rachel knows the body was Michelle's. But, the voice was really her mother's."
Michelle began laughing now. She hugged her friends. "Thanks. You guys are the best."
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