The bee zigzagged past buzzing loudly. I frantically waved it away nearly falling with the effort.
"He won't bother you if you don't bother him," said Jan. She was pulling a workbook from her stack.
"I don't want to get stung," I yelled trying to regain my sitting position.
The sun was bright in the sky. The intermittent chorus of cicadas filled the air as birdsong melodies accompanied from the branches above us. We were sitting on the tar papered roof of the neighbor's chicken coop. There were no longer chickens housed here, only the empty bit of yard fenced in with the old weed infested coop. Jan, Jill and I had climbed up top of this roof to study the lessons due next day at school. Second grade brought on new responsibilities that our parents said must be done before going out to play.
It was such a beautiful day filled with warm breezes and sounds of nature that Jan had suggested we study outside.
Climbing up to the sky was an adventure for us, being seven. Pencils and workbooks in tow, we made it to the square of roof and spread out the school books.
"I don't think they are after you, Rickey," said Jill. "He's just looking for flowers and pollen. See those little white puffs in the four leaf clover patch. That's what he's lookin' for. All the others are bouncing from flower to flower. Just leave them alone."
"All I know is I got stung around gran-momma's fig tree and it hurt."
"That was a yellow jacket. I remember you saying that."
"Yellow jackets, bees. They're flying stingers. I don't wanna get another sting."
"Do you remember what the teacher said about our lessons?" It was Jan, always the diligent one.
"No. I didn't listen," I said.
"Boys! Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails. They don't ever listen," said Jill her eyes rolling.
"Well," said Jan, "we need to fill out the workbook for tomorrow. Do you have yours?"
"Uh, no. I forgot. It's too pretty to work on that stuff." I had my satchel but there was no workbook. It was back at the house. Probably on the couch where I threw it before Jan had called on the phone. The phone had rung twice which meant it was my grandmother's ring. One ring was the house across the street, two rings meant us and three rings belonged to the house next door. It was a three party line. Since no one was home I had answered it like I was told to do on two rings. "Be polite," was the next admonition so I had answered very politely.
"Hello," I said. "This is the Parnelle residence. May I help you." Such a polite boy I was.
"Rickey! Why don't you bring your books over and we can all study outside. We have a special place in the sun. You'll like it."
"Sure, I'll be right down."
In my haste I'd forgotten to pick up the workbook. I meandered to their house. The ditch beside my grandmother's held some water from the rain a couple of days before. Lillies were opening up in the pond like surface under which tadpoles wriggled from point to point. I picked up my pace waving at the lady on the porch. She sat in her rocker watching the events of the neighborhood. The house next to hers was empty and the car missing from the drive. A large field had been next to Jan and Jill's house but a foundation had been laid to build recently and it was deserted as well while the cement dried in place. I could see the twins looking at me moseying along.
"Will you hurry up!?" They shouted together.,
"I'm coming!" I shouted. As I passed their driveway I saw Tommy, their older brother, in the back yard. he was digging.
"What's Tommy digging for?"
"How should we know." Their exasperation was evident.
"Can we go see?"
"NO! We've got homework. Mamma said we gotta finish it before anything else."
I acquiesced and followed along unknowingly preparing myself for marriage in later life.
"We're going up there," said Jan.
"Is it safe?"
"Yeah, we've done it before."
"Mr. S--- doesn't mind?"
"He never said so."
I shrugged and slipped my satchel over my shoulder preparing to climb the ladder set next to the coop. I went up followed by the twins.
We were finally settled when Jan asked about the workbook. I climbed back down and ran to the house and got the workbook. Huffing and puffing I climbed back to the roof.
"OK. Got it."
"Page ten," said Jan. "We need to fill in the blanks. In cursive."
"What's cursive?" It was a new word to me.
Jill looked at me. Her workbook open to page ten, pencil in hand she shouted, "You don't know what cursive is? Hahahaha! Boys."
"Yeah, I'm a boy. So?"
"So boys are just dumb! None of you ever know what's going on. We've been studying cursive all week."
"Maybe your class has. I'm sure ours hasn't!" I yelled back trying to remember what it was and if we had studied it.
"Look," said Jan holding her pencil up. "You join the letters together with a line like this. It helps write without stopping to print each letter. See?"
"Oh. I know how to do that..."
"Yeah, sure you do." It was Jill again, rolling those eyes.
"Do too! Watch."
I printed each letter drawing a line at the bottom to connect them. R_I_C_K_E_Y.
Both girls burst into laughter.
I looked down at my hand written name.
"What's wrong with that?"
I had to wait until they stopped laughing.
"No, Rickey. This is how you do it." Jan biting her lip in concentration and painstakingly bore down on her pencil making deliberate rounded letters joined quite differently from mine. The letters were dark and round and placed within three blue lines. The capital R touched the bottom line and grazed the top. The small case letters stayed within the two lower blue lines.
"That's called cursive writing."
"It looks like you are drawing," I said.
"Yeah, kind of."
"Lemme try." I opened my workbook and lay pencil lead to paper. Down and up and loop and connect then loop and loop and down and loop again.
"Not bad for a beginner," said Jan.
"Thanks." I looked at her and smiled. "Are we finished now?"
"We need to go over these answers then we are."
Clouds drifted across the sun and beyond bringing mottled shade across our work. The bee returned buzzing around my head. Once again I frantically waved it away. Jan smiled at my antics. Jill just shook her head. The afternoon drifted by like those clouds overhead.