On the first day of school, Laura walked along the well-trodden path past the blooming wildflowers, wondering what the new year would be like. She hadn't seen most of her friends since May and looked forward to hearing about their summer vacations. Perhaps someone had visited another state or even another country.
She was almost to the red brick building when she saw her best friends, Annie White and Yvette Zimmerman. Annie had red hair, brown eyes, and freckles. Yvette, whose mother was from New Orleans, had dark brown hair and an olive complexion.
"Hi, Annie and Yvette!" Laura greeted them.
They turned their heads at the sound of her voice.
"Hi, Laura!" said Annie. "How was your summer?"
"It was all right," Laura replied. "We mostly just stayed around here. Amon learned how to sign a lot of new words."
"I think Merry will be walking soon," said Annie. "She's already pulling herself up holding onto furniture." Merry was Annie's little sister who'd been born last Christmas Day.
"We got a new puppy," said Yvette. "His name's Spot."
They entered the building and went upstairs, then walked down the hall to the fifth grade classroom. The lower classes were on the first floor, and the upper classes were on the second floor.
The inside of the room smelled like chalk dust, and at a desk at the front of the room sat a pretty lady with curly dark brown hair. She looked up and smiled as they entered.
"Hello, girls," she said. "I'm your new teacher, Mrs. Craig."
The girls introduced themselves and found their seats. Annie and Yvette sat together in back, just like every year, while Laura sat near the front, also just like every year. After the bell rang, Mrs. Craig stood and addressed the class.
"Children, we have a new student this year. Let's all welcome Jo English."
Jo had long honey blonde hair, which she wore in a pigtail, and brown eyes. She sat near the front, a few seats behind Laura. She smiled as everyone said hello to her.
When lunchtime came, Laura, Annie, and Yvette sat together. They saw Jo walk into the cafeteria alone and look around for a place to sit. Annie called to her and waved her over, and she sat down with a grateful smile.
"I'm Annie White, and this is Laura Brimmer and Yvette Zimmerman," said Annie.
"I just moved here from Boston," said Jo. "My Dad got a job transfer."
"You're a Yankee, then," Yvette replied. "I'm a half Yankee. My Dad's family is from Pennsylvania. During the war, my Uncle Albert got arrested on suspicion of being a spy. They let him go, but first they kept him for a couple of days and asked him a bunch of questions. After that happened, my Dad changed our family's last name to Carpenter, and then when the war ended, he changed it back to Zimmerman. That was a few years before I was born, of course, but my Mom still gets called 'Mrs. Carpenter' sometimes."
"My Dad was in the war, but he was on the wrong side," said Laura.
"The 'wrong' side?" Annie and Yvette giggled.
"Yeah." Laura blushed. "He was a Prisoner of War for a little while, and after the war ended, they let him go."
"Why didn't he go back to Germany?" asked Jo.
"He met my Mom and fell in love," Laura replied.
"Ah," Annie and Yvette chorused, resting their cheeks on their folded hands and batting their eyelashes as Jo giggled.
"Know what?" Annie leaned forward conspiratorially. "We might soon have Negroes in our schools. They call it 'integration' on television."
"Really?" asked Yvette. "I don't think I even know any Negroes. Do you?"
"My grandparents are friends with a Negro family," said Laura. "I've met them a few times. They've always seemed perfectly nice to me."
"Going to school with them still sounds kind of weird though," Yvette commented. "Don't you think so?"
"I don't see what's so weird about it," Jo put in. "They were in my classes in Boston."
"Things must be really different up North," Annie remarked. "So what's your favorite television program, Jo?"
"We don't have a television," Jo replied. "I did just get a new Guy Mitchell album, though. I was wondering if you guys would like to come home with me after school and listen to it."
"I love Guy Mitchell!" Yvette squealed.
"So do we!" Annie and Laura chimed in.
After school ended for the day, Laura, Annie, and Yvette used the free five-minute telephone in the hallway to call their mothers and tell them they'd be late coming home, then walked home with Jo.
The English home was a white wooden house, small but cozy looking. On the front porch sat a little girl holding a cat. She looked a lot like Jo except that her blonde hair was curly. She wore a light blue and white checked dress with a stiffly starched skirt and white sandals.
The cat saw the four girls coming and ran away.
"This is my little sister, Jeannie," Jo told her classmates. "She's in third grade. Mom let her stay home today because she has the sniffles. Jeanie, these are my new friends Annie, Laura, and Yvette."
The girls exchanged greetings, and Jo led her guests into the house, where Mrs. English came out of the kitchen to meet them.
Jo introduced the other girls and told her mother they'd come over to listen to the Guy Mitchell album.
"That's fine," said Mrs. English. "I just baked some fresh brownies if you girls would like one."
The girls chose their brownies, thanked Mrs. English, and then followed Jo back to her bedroom.
They had so much fun they ended up staying until almost dinnertime.
"Thanks for having us over," Laura told Jo and her mother as they left.
"You're very welcome," Mrs. English replied. "Come back anytime you want. I'm so glad Jo's already met such nice girls."