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Authors: James Howe

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BOOK: Totally Joe
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As for Skeezie, he lives with his mom and two younger sisters in this little ranch house (painted a truly unfortunate mushroom-soup color) over on Wellington. His dad left town a couple of years ago, and Skeezie hasn't seen him much since then. His mom works pretty hard, so Skeezie ends up having to take care of his two younger sisters a lot. I know he loves them and all, but I get the feeling he's not too happy having to act like a dad to
them sometimes. His house is even messier than mine, and everybody seems tired. His sisters—Megan and Jessie—are kind of whiny, but I think it's because they wish their mom was around more. When she's not working, Allison (that's their mom) tries to be a good parent, I think, but she has this habit of falling asleep. When that happens, Skeezie gets so angry at his dad for doing this to their family that he just grabs his sisters and takes them to the movies where they all pig out on popcorn and try to forget.

Bobby's family has had a hard time of it, too. His family is only him and his dad, Mike, because his mom died when he was seven. That's still kind of a hard thing for me to talk about because I loved his mom (she was a big hugger, like my dad), and I remember when she got sick, and it made me sad, but even more than that, it scared me to think that your mom could die. Bobby and his dad are really close, and Mike is nice to everybody and always orders out pizza for us when we hang out there—even though I know for a fact that they watch every dime they spend. Bobby even has to work part-time to help out.

The thing is, in all our families—mine and Addie's and Skeezie's and Bobby's—we have a lot of room to be whoever we are. (Aunt Pam said that to me once.) Even if
I haven't exactly told my parents everything about who I am, I guess I know deep down that it will be okay when I do, because they've never been uptight about, you know, the dolls and my dressing up and, until the lasagna incident, the Easy-Bake oven phase. Except for not wanting her to play with Barbies, Addie's parents have pretty much encouraged Addie to be her own true self. And Skeezie and Bobby—well, I think their parents are so busy worrying about putting food on the table that they can't be bothered with much more than making sure their kids don't get into trouble.

It's only Colin who doesn't have the room to be himself. He told me one time that his parents never get mad, they just get disappointed. I said, “You're lucky they don't get mad.” He said, “I'd rather they
did
get mad.” I think I said something brilliant back like, “Huh?” Because I didn't get it. But now I do. Totally.

LIFE LESSON FOR PARENTS
: Love your kids. Let them play with Barbies. Let them pick out the stuff in their bedroom. (Hello.) And don't tell them that “people like that” make you uptight, because for all you know your kids just might be “people like that,” too.

G is for
THE GANG OF FIVE

THE GANG OF FIVE IS WHAT BOBBY, SKEEZIE, ADDIE, AND I HAVE CALLED OURSELVES SINCE THE SECOND GRADE. MISS HASKELL WAS
out of school for a week with the flu or something, and we had this sub named Mrs. Esley, who, trust me, was a TOTAL NIGHTMARE!
Anyway, Skeezie, trying to trick Mrs. Esley into thinking he was a lot dumber than he is (which, no offense to Skeezie, isn't that hard to do), kept giving her the wrong answers to everything. For example, one day he insisted that 2 + 2 = 5. At lunch he said, “We should call ourselves the Gang of Five, because remember: Two plus two equals five.” This is an example of Skeezie's humor at the time. He was
so
not funny.

Even though this happened in April, we didn't think much about being the Gang of Five until the next fall.
Remember how I said that Bobby's mom got real sick and died? Well, that happened during the summer after second grade. When we started school again in the fall, Bobby was quieter than ever (and if you know Bobby, you know he can be really quiet) (unlike
moi
). Even though he didn't come right out and say it, I think Skeezie and Addie and I understood that his being so quiet had to do with his being sad and maybe a little scared.

And then this really creepy thing happened.

We were out in the playground at recess, and this mean kid—I don't remember his name because he had just moved here and he moved away a month later, so I'll just call him MK (for “mean kid”)—came over and said to Bobby, “What's your name?”

Bobby said, “Bobby.”

MK said, “That's not your name.”

Bobby: It is, too.

MK: It is not. I heard it's Little
Orphan
Bobby.

Bobby: What is that supposed to mean?

MK: It means your
mommy
died. So you're an
orphan!

Then he started singing this “Little Orphan Bobby” song he made up! Bobby's eyes got all, like, watery. Skeezie told MK he was a jerk. I told him he was a
double
jerk. And when he wouldn't shut up, Addie slugged him.

MK said he was going to tell the principal, but Addie
said if he did,
she
would tell the principal what he'd said to Bobby, and Mrs. Wishnie would punish him by making him clean every single toilet in the whole school. For the rest of his life. With his bare hands.

(I never thought about it before, but maybe that's why he moved away.)

Anyway, afterwards Bobby said thanks to everybody for sticking up for him, and Skeezie said, “No sweat. We're the Gang of Five, remember?” And that's when we remembered we
were
the Gang of Five, and we've never forgotten.

It's more than just being friends, this Gang of Five thing. We need each other. We're the kids the other kids make fun of. (Although maybe that's changing now that three out of four of us are going out with kids who are more or less popular.) The problem is that the kids who have laughed at us or called us names have never bothered to get to know us. All they see is this fat and quiet kid (Bobby). And this tall, skinny, and
not
quiet girl. (Earth to Addie: It's okay to shut up once in a while!) And … well, I'm not sure what they see when they look at Skeezie. He's got this whole 1950s, Elvis Presley kind of thing going, and, as more than one teacher has been known to remark, he “marches to his own drummer.” I guess you could say that's true of me, too, but with me, it would be more like, “He dances to his own soundtrack.”

Anyway, we have each other and we don't really care
what other people say about us. We know that the Gang of Five totally rocks. And now, after running for student council a few weeks ago (and losing, but, oh, well) and actually having the nerve to get up in front of the entire school at the campaign assembly, maybe we're not the only ones who think so.

Starting at the beginning of the sixth grade, we (the Gang of Five) have met every week for something called the Forum (Addie came up with the name) (I still don't get it), which is where we meet at the Candy Kitchen and talk about Important, News-Breaking, World-Shaking Topics while eating ice cream or other junky food. Addie usually comes up with the Important, News-Breaking, World-Shaking Topics (which are so
not
), and she writes down everything we say. Personally, I don't think everything we say deserves to be written down, but it's easier just to let Addie have her way about most stuff so she can think she's the genius of the century.

These are the minutes from our last Forum:

Addie:

Today's topic is “What I'd Do for Love.”

Skeezie:

Do we barf now or after we've eaten?

Joe:

That is
so CosmoGIRL!

Addie:

Meaning?

Joe:

Meaning:
cool!

Skeezie:

Well, I don't think it's cool. Just because the three of you have gone and fallen all goo-goo in love doesn't mean I have to roll around in it.

Bobby:

Roll around in
what?

Skeezie:

The goo-goo. The mess. What are you looking at?

Joe:

The goo-goo? You are so strange.

Skeezie:

“Thank you. Thank you very much.”
But can we
please
talk about something else?

Addie:

Like what?

Skeezie:

Like when is our food going to get here?

Addie:

All you think about is food.

Skeezie:

Why shouldn't I? You can eat food. You can't eat love.

Joe:

Ooo. Addie, did you write that down? “You can't eat love.” Brilliant. Can't you just picture it on a T-shirt?

Skeezie:

Shut
up
, doofus.

Joe:

Be nice, Schuyler.
No name-calling, remember?

Addie:

Thank you, Joe. What I wanted to say was this: Yesterday, DuShawn said this kind of mean thing about somebody—

Joe:

Who?

Addie:

It doesn't matter. Anyway, I'm embarrassed to admit this, but … well, when he said it, I just kind of let it go.

Bobby:

What do you mean?

Addie:

I didn't say anything.

Skeezie:

Wait. Addie Carle, whose first words were “In
my
opinion,” didn't say anything?

Addie:

That's right. And then I thought, Oh, no, I'm letting him get away with this because … because, you know …

Skeezie:

Because you
loooooooove
him.

Addie:

Shut
up
. But yes.

Bobby:

Maybe you didn't want to make him feel bad by pointing out that he was being stupid.

Addie:

He wasn't just being stupid, he was being mean.

Joe:

What did he say?

Addie:

It doesn't matter.

Joe:

Was it about me?

Addie:

No, Joe. It was not about you or any of us. It was about someone in his family, if you must know, and I don't want to repeat what he said. The point is, if you love somebody—and Skeezie, if you start singing some dumb Elvis song,
I'll squeeze this entire ketchup bottle down your shirt, I swear—if you love somebody, do you go along with them even when you don't feel right about it?

Joe:

Hmm. I know what you mean. Colin wants to keep our going out a secret—and I understand, I really do, but at the same time …

Addie:

At the same time, that is so last century.

Joe:

Right. But I don't want him to feel bad or break up with me, so I'm going along with it.

Addie:

What about you and Kelsey, Bobby?

Bobby:

Oh, we don't have any problems. Of course, we don't talk much.

Skeezie:

Big surprise there.

Addie:

I don't know. Sometimes I think it's easier to stand up to the whole school—or the whole world even—than it is to stand up to one person, especially if that person really matters to you.

Bobby:

That makes sense to me. I have trouble telling my dad things sometimes. I don't want to let him down.

Joe:

It's the same with me and my dad.

Addie:

But you both have the
best
dads.

Bobby:

So do you.

Skeezie:

Okay, another thing? Can we
not
talk about who has the best dad? Oh, hey, our food! Oh, man, I didn't ask for a BLT! I asked for a grilled cheese with bacon!

BOOK: Totally Joe
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