An Excerpt From
Double Dog Dare
Most wars begin with a bang, or a blast, or an enormous KABOOM!
The war in room 43H began with a simple question.
“Students,” Miss Sparks said to the eight members of the Media Club gathered in her classroom that Tuesday morning, “it’s time to decide who should be the news anchor for the spring semester. Who would like to do it?”
The Media Club was not normally a place of battle. Normally, it was a place of great cooperation, of friendship and camaraderie. After all, the club members had a job to?do—produce and film the morning announcements, each and every day—and they knew it was important. But sometimes even the best of friends can have differences of opinion.
“Anyone?” Miss Sparks said. “Let’s see a raise of hands.”
Three hands went up—Brendan King’s, Francine Halata’s, and Luis Maldonado’s.
“Wonderful. Brendan, why don’t you tell the class why you’d like the job?”
With a grand “Ahem,” Brendan King rose to stand. He placed one foot on his chair, then another on his desk. And before the members of the Media Club knew what was happening, Brendan King was three feet in the air, pounding his chest with his fists and hollering, “I should be news anchor!” He shouted the words to the ceiling. “Because I’m the best in the world!”
Brendan’s best friend, Andre Jackson, rose to his feet, too. “Yeah!” he hollered, not quite as loudly, but almost. “The best in the world!”
Emma Finewitz giggled.
Miss Sparks nodded calmly. She was the rare breed of?teacher who didn’t believe in much discipline in the classroom. Miss Sparks always said that it was best to let children?express themselves, that her students needed to learn to settle their own arguments in the way they saw fit. It was probably for this reason that, throughout Auden Elementary, Miss Sparks was known as the best teacher in the whole fourth grade. But she wasn’t an easy teacher. Quite the opposite. Miss Sparks could silence an entire classroom with a single frown.
“Thank you, Brendan,” she said as Brendan jumped down from his desk. “That was a very compelling argument. You may sit down now.”
Brendan sat. Andre did too.
“Francine?” Miss Sparks went on. “How about you?”
Francine Halata did not climb up on her desk. Francine Halata was not a climbing-on-her-desk sort of girl. Instead, she stood, slowly, and turned to face her fellow Media Club members, tucking a strand of straw-blond hair behind her ear. “I’d really like to be the news anchor next semester,” she told them.
Francine had wanted to be news anchor from the very beginning of the year. As far as Francine was concerned, news anchor was the best job in the club. But when the group had voted Alicia Halladay the first news anchor, Francine hadn’t complained. She’d just decided to work extra hard in her job as camerawoman to convince everyone that she should get their votes for the spring. “I need the practice, for when I’m a famous animal trainer, with my own TV show.” Francine looked to her best friend, Natalie Perez, who offered an encouraging nod. “And I think I’d be really good at it. Plus, I’ve never missed a single?day of Media Club, I’m always on time, and sometimes I stay late after school to help Miss Sparks move equipment.”
Brendan mouthed something to Andre then that looked suspiciously to Francine like teacher’s pet, but Francine soldiered on.
“So,” she said, “please vote for me. Thank you.” And she sat down.
“Thank you, Francine,” Miss Sparks said. Brendan made a gagging noise, and Andre gagged, too. “Luis?” Miss Sparks continued. “Would you care to tell us why you would like to be news anchor?”
Luis shook his head. “I don’t want to be news anchor,” he said.
“Then why’d you raise your hand?” Alicia asked.
“Because,” Luis explained, “I want to nominate someone else.”
“Oh?” Miss Sparks said. She leaned back against her desk, where her dippy bird sat—its red head with its funny blue hat continually dunking its beak into a nearby glass of water for a drink.
“Yes,” Luis replied. “I’d like to nominate Kansas.”
Up until that point in the conversation, Kansas Bloom had been resting his head comfortably on his arms. Kansas could not care less about who got to be the news anchor. As far as Kansas was concerned, 7:05 in the morning was too early to care about anything, especially when school didn’t actually start until 8:05. Kansas was the newest member of Media Club—and the newest kid at Auden Elementary, having just moved to Barstow, California, with his family the week before. He was not particularly fond of it so far.
“But—” Kansas began, but Luis cut him off.
“He’s new,” Luis explained, counting his reasons off on?his fingers, “so it would be a good way for him to get to?know the school. Plus, he’s good at reading stuff, and super nice.”
“And super cute!” Emma exclaimed, then immediately slapped a hand over her mouth and burst into giggles.
Kansas’s face turned eggplant purple.
“He is pretty cute,” Alicia whispered to Natalie, who nodded enthusiastically.
Francine scowled. There were more important things in life than cute boys.
“But?.?.?.” Kansas tried again. He had only signed up?for Media Club because his little sister had begged to be?in Art Club, and their mother had made him pick something too, so they could take the early bus together. Kansas had begged to get out of it, but apparently he wasn’t as good a beggar as his six-year-old sister. “I don’t really want to be news anchor.”
Brendan sneered at him. “You think you’re too good for news anchor?” he said.
“Yeah,” Andre said. “You think you’re too good?”
“No,” Kansas said carefully. “It’s just—”
“What would you rather do instead?” Brendan asked.
“Yeah,” Andre repeated. “What’s better than news anchor?”
What Kansas really wanted to do was move back to Oregon, where he belonged. Where the two best friends in the world, Ricky and Will, were waiting for him. Where there was no such thing as Media Club.
Brendan and Andre were staring at him, waiting for him to answer. Everyone else seemed to be waiting, too.
“I?.?.?.” Kansas opened his mouth, then closed it. How had he gotten in this argument? “I just?.?.?. I don’t know. Me and my friends back home, we used to do dares and stuff.”
Emma’s ears perked up. “Dares?”
“Yeah,” Kansas told her, glad to be finally talking about something other than Media Club. “Dares.”
“What kind of dares?” Natalie asked. She twirled a?lock of curly brown hair around and around her finger.
Francine huffed. “I thought we were supposed to be talking about news anchor,” she said. But no one seemed to hear her.
Kansas turned to Natalie. “Double dog dares,” he told her. “Me and my friends Ricky and Will used to do them all the time. Like popping a wheelie on your bike while sitting backward. Or eating chili with mashed-up banana in it.”
“Ooooh,” Emma said. And she swooned a little bit as she said it, so that the end of the ooooh dipped into a sigh. “That’s so great.”
Alicia nodded in agreement, and Natalie’s hair-twirling grew faster and faster.
Francine huffed again.
“No way you did that,” Brendan told Kansas.
“Yeah,” Andre agreed. “No way.”
“Did too,” Kansas replied. “I did double dog dares?practically every day. Ricky and Will used to call me the King of Dares, ’cause there wasn’t a single dare I wouldn’t do.”
When Miss Sparks clapped her hands together, the whole class snapped to attention. They had pretty much forgotten she was there.
“I think we’ve gotten off track,” she told the students. “We were deciding who was going to be our news anchor, remember?” The eight members of Media Club nodded. “Well, then. Are there any more nominations?” The eight members of Media Club shook their heads. “Okay. Then it’s time to take a vote. Everyone, please put your heads down and raise your hands when I call the name of the person you’d like to vote for.”
They voted, in secrecy and silence.
When the voting was over and Miss Sparks told them they could open their eyes, there were three names written on the chalkboard, with the number of votes scrawled next to each one.
“Well,” Miss Sparks said, as the students took in the results. “It seems we have a tie. Francine and Kansas, would you care to split the job? It might be nice to have co-anchors at the desk for a change.”
Francine did not want to split the job. She’d earned it. That news anchor spot should have been hers, all of it. She narrowed her eyes at Alicia, then Emma, then lastly at Natalie, three girls she’d always thought were her friends. One of them must have voted for Kansas Bloom. But which one was it?
Kansas did not want to split the job either. He hadn’t joined Media Club to make a fool of himself in front of the whole school every morning. “I’d rather lick a lizard,” he muttered under his breath.
“Well,” Brendan said, narrowing his eyes at him,?“why don’t you?”
Kansas’s head snapped up.
A slow stretch of a smile spread across Brendan’s face. It was not a particularly friendly smile. “I double dog dare you,” he told Kansas.
“What?” Kansas said.
“What?” the rest of the class exclaimed.
The smile on Brendan’s face grew even more sinister. “I just think there should be some sort of tie-breaker,” he said. His voice sounded friendly, but Francine, who had known Brendan for years, detected a hint of a snake in it. “Between you and Francine. So, why not a dare? Since you do them all the time and everything. Whoever does the most dares wins.”
“Yeah,” Andre agreed. “Whoever does the most?wins.”
The other members of the Media Club—turned in unison to look at Miss Sparks. But Miss Sparks was busy erasing the names off the board. When she finished and turned around, they were still staring. Miss Sparks thought about it. “As long as you don’t disrupt any other students,” she said, setting down her eraser, “or violate any school rules, you are free to solve this problem in whichever way you as a group see fit.” Their eyes—all sixteen of them—went wide with possibilities. “Just let me know before winter break who the news anchor will be.” And she strolled to her desk, leaving the members of the Media Club to their own devices.