This time her fifth-grade teacher was furious!
“Oh, oh,” Flora moaned, bolting for the door. “This time I’ve really done it! Can’t Tad ever leave me alone?”
Outside the classroom, Flora leaned against the wall, trying not to cry. Not only had she lost her temper again, but she’d also torn the one nice dress she had. It’s all Tad’s fault, she thought. If only he and his friends wouldn’t tease me!
Poor Flora. The kids did tease her. They teased her about her tousled blond hair. They teased her about her mismatched skirts and blouses. They teased her because nobody liked her. And nobody liked her because when they teased her, she got angry—screaming, hitting, chair-throwing angry.
As Flora stood silently blaming everyone else for her problems, the new girl in her class appeared in the hall on her way to the library. “Why’d you go and do that, Flora?” Jerri Ann asked. “It wasn’t Tad’s fault that you missed so many words on the spelling test.”
“It was, too,” Flora shot back. “He makes me nervous, and he covers his paper so that the teacher will think I’m copying. Anyway, what’s it to you?”
Jerri Ann didn’t blanch at the rude question. “It just seems to me,” she said, “that it would be a whole lot easier to study and get a hundred and show Tad that you don’t need to cheat. I’d be glad to study with you anytime.” With that, Jerri Ann turned and walked on to the library.
Humph! though Flora. Tad was always teasing her, and he seemed to enjoy her tirades. But I’ll get even with him—if I’m not suspended! she thought, suddenly remembering her teacher’s earlier warning. She quietly opened the door to the classroom and tried to slip unnoticed into her seat at the back of the room. No such luck—Tad saw her and gave her a big grin that said, “Oh, boy, are you going to get it now!”
At recess, Tad found Flora and started in on her: What punishment had she received? What had the teacher said to her? What had the principal done to her? And on and on. Flora felt herself getting red in the face, and her fists tightened around the jump rope in her hands. She wanted to hit Tad, or scream at him, or something! She threw the jump rope to the ground and was storming toward Tad when Jerri Ann ran up and asked her to play tetherball. As Jerri Ann coaxed, Flora began to calm down. Finally she agreed to play, and the two girls ran off together, leaving Tad to himself.
“You see,” said Jerri Ann as she served the ball to Flora, “if there’s nobody to make mad, Tad’s little game isn’t so much fun for him. Why do you let him make you so mad?”
“Let him!” Flora yelped. “I can’t stop him!”
“You just did. He’s not here now, is he?”
“No. But he doesn’t always go away so easily,” Flora said. She thought about what Jerri Ann had told her, and wondered, Do I really let Tad make me throw temper tantrums?
During the next few days, Tad continued to tease her, and Jerri Ann continued to point out what she ought to have done in each case. Flora wondered why Jerri Ann tried to help her—they hardly knew each other, really—but she began to listen. And she surely did admire the way Jerri Ann was always so cool.
One day Flora actually walked away on her own from Tad’s taunts. But the next day she lost control and threw her books on the floor when she missed five words on the practice spelling test. Afterward she felt so bad that she went straight home and studied her spelling words, and the next day she beat Tad on the final test. He gave her a grudging smile and didn’t tease her even once at recess.
Little by little Flora learned how to avoid getting angry by being prepared and ignoring—or at least pretending to ignore—her classmate’s insults. Tad had even commented, “Boy, Flora, you’re no fun to tease anymore!”
And not only was Flora keeping her temper, she was gaining a friend! She’d never had a real friend before; she’d always scared most of the kids away. But Jerri Ann seemed to like Flora, and Flora definitely liked Jerri Ann. Whenever she found herself getting angry, she could turn to Jerri Ann, and together they would find a way out.
Flora came to depend on her friend, and she felt lost one Friday when Jerri Ann was absent. At first Flora began to tell herself that it was going to be a bad day, that she would never be able to cope alone. Then she wondered what Jerri Ann would say to that. Maybe if she tried to think of what Jerri Ann would do, she could make it through the day. Well, she’d give it a try!
And things went well all morning! Even recess had presented no challenges. This is going to be a snap, Flora thought happily. Then, at lunchtime, trouble came. Tad had challenged her to a game of tetherball, and they had no more than begun the game when a sixth-grade boy came over and said, “Hey, creep. Don’t get cooties on the ball. I might want to play.”
Flora tensed up, but before she could say anything, Tad sprang to her side and seemed ready to punch the older boy. Flora was so amazed by Tad’s standing up for her that she forgot to be angry! “It’s all right, Tad. I’m not mad. He’s probably afraid that I’m going to win and doesn’t want to have to play me.” Flora turned and gave the boy a big grin. “Isn’t that right?” Flora knew that she could never beat Tad, much less the sixth grader. But it didn’t matter, because she had kept her temper! And Tad had stuck up for her! Whatever the outcome of the tetherball game, Flora was a winner!