Mrs. Burton always makes the VIP announcement at school the very last thing on Friday afternoon. “VIP” means very important person, and you have to turn in all your work and be a really good citizen all week long if you want to be the VIP.
I thought I would explode when she said, “Our VIP for next week is Margie Martin.” Me! I was VIP! My face must have turned as red as my hair when she said that. Everyone looked at me, my best friend, Susan, grinned at me, and I felt great.
The VIP of the week gets to be class leader and has lots of responsibilities. On Monday morning I got to school early, just in case Mrs. Burton had any special jobs for me to do. As I went to hang up my jacket and put my lunch box in the back of the classroom, I saw Mrs. Burton talking to a new boy. He didn’t look like much. His hair stood up in back like a rooster’s tail, and he almost didn’t have a chin. He was wearing faded jeans and a plaid shirt, and his sneakers were all holey. Besides looking kind of grubby, he looked mad.
I stood by my desk and waited for Mrs. Burton to notice me.
She saw me and said, “Margie, I’m glad you’re here early today. This is Delbert Wiggins. He’s new to our school, and since you are this week’s VIP, he is your responsibility.”
“Hi,” I said.
Delbert Wiggins didn’t say anything. He just looked at the floor.
“First,” said Mrs. Burton, “please take Delbert around the school. Show him where the cafeteria and the rest rooms are. The bell will ring soon, so hurry back. We have a lot to do today.” She started listing assignments on the chalkboard.
“Come on, Delbert,” I said, trying to sound friendly.
We started down the hall, and Delbert muttered, “There’s no way I’m going to be your responsibility!”
“What?” I asked.
He stopped and glared at me. “I said I’m not your responsibility. I’m going outside, so buzz off, hotshot.”
“But I have to show you the cafeteria and—”
“No way. Get lost.” He looked around, and when he saw the exit door at the end of the hallway, he ran for it.
“Wait!” I yelled. “You’re not supposed to run in the halls.”
But he went out that door like a horse bolting. I stood there a minute, then went back to the classroom.
Mrs. Burton was still writing on the chalkboard. She saw me and asked, “Where’s Delbert?”
I felt terrible. I had failed my first job as VIP. “He said he wouldn’t be my responsibility, and he went outside.”
“All right, Margie,” said Mrs. Burton, sitting at her desk and scribbling a note. “Thank you for trying. Please take this message to the office. Wait for an answer, then hurry back. It’s almost time for the bell.”
I got back to class just as the bell rang. And there was Delbert Wiggins in the desk behind mine! Being VIP isn’t so wonderful after all, I thought. I put the note from the office on Mrs. Burton’s desk and sat down without looking at Delbert.
Mrs. Burton introduced him to the class. Then she announced, “Today we will have the classroom spelling bee to determine who will represent the fifth grade in the school spelling bee on Friday. I hope you’ll all do your best. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the fifth grade won? It’s never happened before.”
Susan raised her hand. “Mrs. Burton,” she said, “why don’t we save time and choose Margie? She’s the best speller in the class.”
“The rules say that there has to be a classroom spelling bee, Susan. Everyone, stand, please. If you miss a word, sit down.”
We spelled words for nearly an hour, and finally everyone was sitting down except—Delbert Wiggins! He beat me, I thought. And just because I mixed up the e and the i in foreign. I felt sick. This awful, new boy was going to represent the fifth grade on Friday!
Well, it was a terrible week. Delbert wouldn’t be my responsibility. He wouldn’t let me help him study the spelling list for Friday. Every time I tried to help him, he said, “Buzz off, get lost.” He called me “birdbrain” because my last name is Martin, and he made fun of my red hair.
Finally I got mad. I stamped my foot and yelled at him, “All right—I’ll get lost. But I hope you lose! You don’t deserve to win!” Then I went to the girl’s rest room and hid in a stall and cried.
On Friday the whole school was in the auditorium for the spelling bee. It lasted forever. But for the first time, the fifth grade won! That Delbert Wiggins spelled down everyone, even the eighth-graders!
Our class went wild. Everyone crowded around Delbert as if he was a movie star, and said things like, “You’re really great!” “Terrific job!” “Boy, can you spell!” Everyone but me. I just stood against the wall and watched. I thought, I won’t tell him he’s great. I’m no fan of his.
“Margie,” said a quiet voice beside me. It was Mrs. Burton. “I expect it’s hard for you, but try to be a good sport. Maybe this success will help Delbert to be a nicer person.”
Ha! I thought. But all I said was, “I don’t think it will.”
After a minute I had another thought. I asked, “Am I still responsible for him?”
“Till the new VIP is announced,” said Mrs. Burton.
“OK,” I said. I took a deep breath and squared up my shoulders the way I do when I have to give a speech in class. I went over to where the kids were still bunched around Delbert, and pushed my way through them till I was in front of him. I said, “Congratulations. You did a good job.”
He looked surprised. His face got all pink. He rubbed his hand over his hair. Then he scowled and said, “Thanks.” He looked at the floor and turned away a little bit, then sort of looked sideways at me. And he smiled! “Thanks,” he repeated.
“You’re welcome,” I said. And for the first time since becoming responsible for Delbert Wiggins, I was glad I got to be VIP.