“FLOYD, don’t forget it’s picture day!” Annette called as she rushed out the door. She never took the early shift because she so enjoyed seeing her husband off to work and getting the boys ready for school. But being that this was the height of flu season, she had to do what she had to do.
“COME ON FRANKIE!” his dad nudged him and pulled the covers from over his head. “Your breakfast is cold. Don’t make me come up here again!” Dad stomped down the stairs, he had hollered up from the kitchen several times already and even sent Frankie’s little brother to get him out of bed.
Frankie plopped into a chair behind a cold plate of scrambled eggs. Eyeing the four little triangles of toast smeared with grape jelly, he picked one up then slowly worked the entire thing into his mouth. His little brother laughed at the jelly oozing down his chin.
“You’re gonna miss the bus,” Dad picked up Frankie’s napkin to hand it to him. “Finish up,” he shook his head. “Don’t forget to brush your teeth.”
“FRANCIS EUGENE DWYER,” Dad’s voice seemed to vibrate every wall in the house, starting with the stairwell!
Frankie was really late! He spit the last of the toothpaste in the sink, then dug in his top drawer for a T- shirt. His first smile of the day, he slipped his favorite over his head, then turned to dash for the bus. Grandpa and Grandma gave him the treasured T-shirt for his birthday almost two years ago. He thought about replacing it when he and Paulette visited the space center, but it wasn’t the same. The new ones weren’t as soft. Sure the NASA logo with a rocket ship blasting off was faded, that didn’t matter.
Dad was waiting with the screen door open in one hand and brown paper lunch bag in the other. He slipped a foot over to prop it open, freeing a hand to wipe the excess toothpaste from Frankie’s lip. “Your brother’s already out there.” Frankie’s eyes finally popped open as he took all three of the front steps at once then darted across the yard. Dad scolded for all the neighbors to hear, “You better not miss that bus!”
* * *
“Don’t get too comfortable,” the first period teacher greeted the class as she walked in the room. “Everybody line up.”
Frankie’s eyes popped even bigger then when he took the first big step out the front door. Picture day, he mouthed silently then looked down at his favorite shirt and finished his thought. Mom’s gonna kill me!
“Nice shirt, Dork,” Scrawny Ronnie ribbed his best friend as their classes passed in the hall. They must have been part of the first batch of kids to get their mug shots taken.
“Frankie, fix your hair.” It was Paulette; her class was stopped in the hall right next to his in front of the cafeteria.
“I love picture day,” he overheard Rita the Redhead say. She was right behind him in a pretty pink dress, bow in her hair and an old pair of shoes. He looked down at his raggedy old T-shirt that he’d worn every other day for as long as he could remember. Mom really was going to kill him.
“You look pretty,” Paulette said to Rita as she reached over in an attempt to mat down some of Frankie’s wild hairs standing straight out to the side.
“Do you like my new dress?” Rita delicately lifted either side and twirled a little to the left then right. “Well it’s not brand new, but it’s new to me.” Frankie and Paulette’s eyes met as a sad knowing smile grew on her face. Rita’s family didn’t have much; this was a special occasion for Rita.
He tried everything to fix his hair as the line inched closer to the door. Licking his fingers and holding those wild hairs down as hard as he could just wasn’t working. Then he could almost feel them lift him off the photographer’s stool as the greasy guy in the cheap suit told him to drop his hand and smile. That would be his final smile of the day, too bad it was a phony. All he could think was, Mom’s gonna kill me!
* * *
“Pictures are in,” the first period teacher announced.
Frankie’s shoulders dropped as he let out a sigh, it had been almost two weeks. He reached up to check for hairs standing up. No need to look down, he knew what shirt he had on, the one with NASA still somewhat printed across the front. “Mom’s gonna kill me,” he muttered.
“What’s that?” A little voiced behind him asked. “I can’t wait to see them!” Rita’s eyes were wide and cheeks rosy with excitement. Turning back around Frankie didn’t even reply.
When he got off the bus, mom’s car was sitting in the driveway. He could hear her in the kitchen as he raced up the stairs. Thinking quick, he dug in his book bag for the big envelope marked DO NOT BEND, then stuffed it under his mattress. Frankie crossed his fingers and hoped that maybe she had forgotten.
* * *
Frankie was washing off the dinner dishes as his dad scraped scraps into the trash when mom called from the dining room. "Francis, did you ever get your school pictures?”
Dad’s face squished closed as his head sank into his shoulders like a turtle. Frankie couldn’t lie. Besides, his mom and Paulette’s mom were best friends. No doubt the pretty little girl’s pictures were perfect. Surely they were already framed and mounted on the living room wall for everybody to see. On top of that, Dad knew he brought them home; Frankie just had to tell someone!
“Time to face the music, Kid,” Dad was once again standing tall. “Your mom’s gonna kill me.”
Dad and Frankie slinked into the dining room like a couple of kids preparing for a scolding. The Dwyer boys sat across the table from Mom. Frankie slid the envelope across the table, neither had the guts to look her in the eye.
“Oh my,” she said. Frankie braced for the worst. “These are beautiful. They’re fantastic! Look Honey, they captured our little Frankie perfectly!”