Bernie woke up, as it were, on the wrong side of bed.
Mrs. Sand’s dog, Rommel, was barking furiously outside. He didn’t usually bark, but when he did, he had the most irritating bark of any dog in the history of the world, and Bernie groaned. No way she could catch an extra few winks like this.
As she kneaded the sleep out of her eyes and tried to get ready for school, she stubbed her toe against the bed post. Her glasses clattered to the floor. “Ow! Son of a…” she started, and then remembered that Mom forbade her to say dirty words.
She examined her glasses and saw that there was a slight dent in the wire on the right side. Bending the frame back in place and muttering under her breath, Bernie swept her glasses off the bedside table and plopped them on her face.
She hurried to the bathroom, but found the door closed.
“Eliza, hurry up!” Bernie called as she rapped on the door. “I need to pee!”
There was no answer.
“Eliza?” Bernie rapped the door harder.
“Hang on!” her sister replied at last. “I’m almost done.”
But it was too long for Bernie before Eliza finally opened the door. Her face looked funny, and her makeup was not quite even, unusual for the normally perfectionistic Eliza, but Bernice didn’t care to notice.
“Finally! You’re so slow.” Bernie brushed past Eliza as she rushed inside, making sure to give her sister an extra dig in the side for holding up the bathroom so long.
“Ow! Bernice!” Eliza started, but Bernie had already slammed the door.
During breakfast, Mom appeared distracted as she served the girls pancakes. Bernice bit into hers and then immediately spat it out.
“Mom! Did you put salt in the pancakes?”
“Did I?” Mom took a bite and made a face. “Oh dear, I must have sprinkled salt instead of sugar. But it’s not that bad. Just use a little extra syrup.”
“Forget it,” Bernie said. “I don’t want salty pancakes.”
“Bernice! You sit down here and finish your pancakes!”
Suddenly, Mom’s eyes were afire as she slammed a fork on the table to make her point.
Bernie flinched. Mom usually didn’t get angry, but when she did…
“I’m sorry,” Mom sighed. “I didn’t mean to…”
“Forget it,” Bernie cut her off. “I’ll eat the stupid pancakes.”
Nothing went right at school, either. Bernie’s best friend, Alice ignored her all through first and second period, when Bernie tried to talk to her about what they’d wear to the upcoming school dance.
Then Mr. Lawson, usually Bernie’s favorite math teacher was listless and boring during class, and when Bernie got home, Mrs. Sand next door ran up the sidewalk to greet her and begged her to come over and walk her silly dog while she went to run some mysterious errand that lasted for so long that Bernie gave up waiting for Mrs. Sand to return and took Rommel home. When Mrs. Sand finally came to pick Rommel up, she didn’t even pay Bernie for her trouble.
By the time Bernie actually entered her house, she couldn’t wait to finish her homework, watch some TV, and go to bed.
“Worst day ever,” she muttered to herself as she lay in bed.
The next day, Bernie awoke with a strange feeling. Something felt off–what was it? Rommel was barking.
Again? Bernie thought to herself.
She fumbled for her glasses and rolled out of bed. As she got ready for school, she stubbed her toe against the bedpost and dropped her glasses.
“Son of a…! Wait.” Bernie peered at her glasses and saw the same bend that was there yesterday. Was it her, or did it look identical…?
Unnerved, Bernie quickly fixed the problem, walked to the bathroom and raised her arm to pound on the door. “Eliza, hurry up! I need to pee. Eliza?”
“Hang on, I’m almost done.”
Bernie counted silently in her head. Sure enough, Eliza opened the door just as Bernie got to 100 mississippi. Bernie started to brush past her, then stopped. And stared.
“What?” Eliza said, trying to duck. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Your face…” Bernie said.
“What’s wrong with my face?” Eliza said, a bit angrily.
Bernie blinked, but it was still there. Written across her sister’s forehead were the words: I BROKE UP WITH MY BOYFRIEND YESTERDAY.
Bernie removed her glasses to clean them. The words disappeared. When she put them back on, there they were again, written as if in black ink on her sister’s face.
“You broke up with Todd?” Bernie said, gentling her voice.
Eliza blinked at her. “How did you know?” she said, and then burst into tears.
By the time Bernie finished comforting Eliza, they were running late for breakfast. Quickly Bernie used the bathroom then ran downstairs to eat.
“Pancakes again?” Bernie said as she looked down at the plate.
“What do you mean?” Mom frowned as she looked at Bernie. “I made you guys oatmeal yesterday.”
“But…” Bernie stopped as she looked up. There, on Mom’s forehead, were the words: I AM WORRIED ABOUT DAD.
Bernie remembered that her grandfather had recently had a mini-stroke and was being cared for by her aunt across the country.
“By the way, is Grandpa doing okay?” Bernie asked.
Mom blinked at her. “Actually, your aunt called this morning to say he’s taken a turn for the worse. The paralysis is more pronounced on his left side. If this keeps up we might have to hospitalize him.” Mom sighed and hung her head.
Bernie stood up and gave Mom a hug. “Don’t worry Mom, I am sure he will pull through.”
“Mom?” Eliza said. “Do these pancakes have salt in them?”
At school, when Bernie saw Alice, she saw the tell-tale black letters on her friend’s forehead: I FAILED MY LAST MATH QUIZ AND MY PARENTS WON’T LET ME GO TO THE DANCE.
Bernie’s hand, which was raised in a wave, slid back to her side.
“How did you do on that math quiz you were telling me about last week?” she asked Alice as nonchalantly as possible as she slipped into her seat beside her friend.
Alice groaned. “Not good at all. Now Mom is threatening to ground me this weekend if I don’t do well on tomorrow’s quiz.”
“Hmm,” Bernie said. “Do you need help studying? I can go over some of the concepts with you during lunch.”
Alice brightened. “Yes please! I wish Mrs. Starr were as good a math teacher as your Mr. Lawson. That would help so much.”
In third period, Mr. Lawson’s forehead was inscribed with: I HAD A FIGHT WITH MY SON LAST NIGHT AND HE SAID HE HATED ME.
Before she left class as the bell rang, Bernice went up to the teacher’s desk.
“I just wanted to let you know that you are my favorite math teacher, and the whole class loves you.”
Mr. Lawson’s face, which had been tight and unsmiling all through class, softened. “Thank you Bernie,” he said. “That means a lot more than you know.”
After school, Bernie smiled as she saw Mrs. Sand running up the sidewalk toward her.
“Hello Mrs. Sand, is there anything I can do for you today?”
As soon as Mrs. Sand was close enough, Bernie saw what she was expecting: big black letters on the older lady’s forehead, reading: MY DAUGHTER IS HAVING DIALYSIS BUT NO ONE IS HOME TO WATCH HER SON WITH AUTISM.
“Oh, Bernie! Could you please be a dear and take Rommel for a walk today? I have some family emergencies to take care of and I can’t bring the dog with me.”
“Of course, Mrs. Sand. Don’t worry. I’d be happy to help,” Bernie said.
At night, after Mrs. Sand had picked up Rommel and Bernie finished her homework, Eliza knocked on the door.
“Come in,” Bernie said.
Her sister crossed over and sat on the bed. There were no more letters on her forehead.
“I just wanted to say thanks,” Eliza said, “for this morning. You’re usually so grumpy in the mornings, I didn’t want to tell you, but…thanks for understanding.”
“Of course,” Bernie said, giving her sister a tight hug.
As she watched Eliza head back to her room, Bernie examined her glasses. They looked normal. But what a help they’d been today.
Bernie smiled as she drifted off to sleep. “Not a bad day, today,” she thought to herself. “Not bad at all…”