“Time for bed, Ethan.”
“Just five more minutes, please, Dad?”
“You’ve been studying that word list all evening.”
“But I have to know every word to beat Blake in the spelling bee tomorrow. He’s the best speller in class, and he’ll be sure to wear his lucky socks.”
“Lucky socks?” Dad questioned.
“He has the ugliest pair of socks I’ve ever seen—red with little gray and white diamonds. He wears them every Tuesday when we have our spelling test, and he’s only missed one word all year.”
Ethan’s father laughed. “And you think that it’s because of his socks?”
“It must be,” Ethan said. “Blake even says so.”
“Well, you won’t do well at the spelling bee if you’re tired, so off to bed now.”
“All right. These words are all beginning to look alike anyway.”
The next day after lunch Mrs. Miller said, “Class, today is the first round of our spelling bee. The words that you draw from the box today are from past tests. Tomorrow we will use the new words from the list I handed out yesterday. Cindy drew number one, so she will be first.”
Cindy stirred the folded slips of paper in the box, picked one, and handed it to her teacher. Mrs. Miller removed the tape, unfolded the paper, and read, “Official.”
Cindy smiled. “Official,” she repeated. “O-f-f-i-c-i-a-l. Official.”
“Correct,” Mrs. Miller said. “Blake, you’re next.”
“Come on, socks, do your stuff,” Blake muttered, handing a word slip to the teacher.
“Community,” Mrs. Miller said.
“Community. C-o-m-m-u-n-i-t-y. Community.”
Ethan drew special and spelled it correctly. By the end of the seventh round, only Mary Ann, Blake, and Ethan had spelled all of their words correctly.
“Time’s up,” Mrs. Miller said. “We’ll start tomorrow with the new words.”
After school Blake asked Ethan if he wanted to play baseball.
“Aren’t you going to study for the spelling bee?” Ethan asked.
“But the new words are a lot harder than our old test words were today,” Ethan said.
“I don’t have to study. I’ll just wear my lucky socks again. They worked for me today, didn’t they?”
“Well, I suppose, but …”
“You’ll see,” Blake said.
At supper that evening Ethan asked, “Dad, do you think that lucky socks can really help someone spell well?”
“Are you kidding!” Ethan’s sister chortled. “Socks have nothing to do with spelling well.”
“That’s true,” Ethan’s father agreed. “Let’s set up a hypothetical situation: All the students have studied and know the words, and one student has a special good-luck charm—”
“Like Blake’s lucky socks?” Ethan broke in.
His father nodded. “This student really thinks that the charm will help him, and because he believes that he has more ‘luck’ than anyone else, he has more confidence and he does do better.”
Ethan thought for a minute. “But what if he doesn’t learn the words and only counts on his lucky socks?”
“What do you think, Ethan?”
“I think that he’s in a lot of trouble.”
“I think that you’re right,” his father agreed, smiling.
“Today,” Mrs. Miller explained the next morning at the beginning of the spelling bee, “all of you will take part, but yesterday’s three finalists may each miss two words before being disqualified. The rest of you may only miss one. The winner will go to the all-city contest next week.”
“Blake, you will be first,” Mrs. Miller said.
“Go, socks,” Blake said, grinning as he picked a word out of the box.
“Definition,” Mrs. Miller read.
“Definition,” Blake repeated, his smile fading. “D-e-f-a-n-i-t-i-o-n. Definition.”
“I’m sorry Blake,” Mrs. Miller said. “That’s incorrect.”
Blake sat down and tugged on his socks. If he missed one more word, he would be out of the competition.
Blake and Ethan both advanced to the third round, along with four other students. When it was his turn, Blake stirred the words in the box twice before finally handing one to Mrs. Miller.
Blake looked confused.
“Vegetable,” Mrs. Miller repeated.
“Vegetable. V-e-j-t-a-b-e-l. Vegetable.”
“I’m sorry.” Mrs. Miller shook her head. “I don’t understand it, Blake. You’ve always done well before. Didn’t you study the word list that I gave you?”
“Well, no,” Blake admitted. “I didn’t think I needed to this time.”
“Why did you think you didn’t need to study this time?” Mrs. Miller asked.
“Because I’m wearing my lucky socks,” Blake said impatiently, pulling his pant legs up so that Mrs. Miller could see his red socks. “My mother washes them every Monday, I wear them every Tuesday, and I always do well on my spelling tests.”
“Blake, don’t you think that studying the workbook every Monday is what really helped you to learn the words for the test on Tuesday?” Mrs. Miller asked.
Blake dropped his pants legs back down over his socks and slowly nodded in agreement.
Only Ethan and Mary Ann remained after the fourth round, and Ethan drew the word apothecary. He couldn’t remember if the sixth letter was an e or an a. He spelled it with an a, and because he had missed poinsettia earlier, Mary Ann was the winner.
“I’m sorry you didn’t win, Blake,” Ethan said on their way to lunch.
“Thanks, Ethan, but I should have studied. I’m sorry that you didn’t win.
You must have worked hard on those words.” “I did,” Ethan admitted. “But so did Mary Ann. She won fair and square.”