Jazz practically sprinted all the way home, her long, jet-black hair flying out behind her. The cool September air that flowed over her dark skin as she ran felt good on her flushed cheeks. “Grrrr,” she said, scowling at a squirrel that scolded her as she ran by its tree. She was so angry! This wasn’t new for Jazz. Anyone who knew her—her parents, her family, her friends—stayed clear when Jazz was in such a mood. It didn’t normally, however, happen at school. Jazz loved school! But, Joey Danfried—that guy could get anyone going with that smug expression on his face and that lazy, mocking tone of his. “Just you wait, Joey Danfried,” Jazz repeated out loud for the fourth time since she had raced out of school.
Jazz and Joey were Grade 9 students at Stella Hudson High School. Stella Hudson had been an astronaut on one of the Soyuz flights in 2012, and now often visited the school named after her. Captain Hudson was the best person Jazz knew, and always made time for Jazz and her friends when she dropped by the school. Jazz’s friends were like sisters—but better! They knew absolutely everything about each other. They also had two unwritten rules: they kept no secrets from each other, and any secrets between them stayed between them.
Joey had been in her class for as long as Jazz could remember. He had an impish smile that never left his face, and tight curly brown hair that was unruly but suited him perfectly. When Jazz pictured Joey, she’d always seen him as smaller than her, but this year, when they’d returned from summer holidays, Jazz realized he was now taller than even her best friend, Scottie! Joey and his best friends were always building something or playing something. Each of them probably had more trophies in their rooms than everyone in the school added altogether! But Joey still couldn’t resist teasing her and her friends whenever he got close by them.
Scottie’s house was on her way home, which helped to speed up Jazz’s plan. She ran up the short front walk and pushed impatiently at the bell. The yard was neglected. The grass was too long, the bushes struggled to stay green, and the steps to the front door had been cracked by weeds pushing through the concrete. Scottie’s dad was an inventor. Totally focused on any current project he had on the go left no time for yardwork.
Jazz’s best friend—ever—was Geraldine Scott, or Scottie to everyone. Scottie was an only child, and therefore loved going to Jazz’s house with all the commotion and chaos of a big family. Mrs. Banerjee always had food out for them, and if there was one thing Scottie loved it was food—especially the exotic Indian food she had at the Banerjees. Scottie brought diversity to the Banerjee household—one freckled, curly redhead in a sea of straight, jet-black hair. And Scottie was actually taller than everyone in the Banerjee house! Jazz said they complemented each other as Jazz saw what happened close to the ground, while Scottie saw what went on above their heads.
Scottie finally opened the tired and peeling front door to a winded Jazz, huffing and puffing and growling at the same time. “What’s up?” said Scottie, concern in her voice.
“I’ll tell you at my place,” wheezed Jazz. “Call the others and meet me at my house in 20 minutes!” And then she turned on her heel, leapt down the stairs and ran back out to the sidewalk.
Oh boy, thought Scottie as she watched her friend sprint down the street, a streak of purple and orange. Jazz liked bright, bold colours—for her clothes, her binders, her phone, her bedroom. Bold colours were everywhere in Jazz’s world, matching colours not so much! “Something sure has her riled up!”
Scottie quickly called Theo and Esther. Theodora Paulozza and Esther Kowalski had been friends since kindergarten. When they’d moved to middle school after Grade 5, they met Scottie and Jazz. Since then the four girls had been inseparable. Every Friday night they held sleepovers, always rotating houses. This week, the sleepover was supposed to be at Scottie’s, but when Jazz was in a mood like this it was always best just to say “Okay!” So Scottie, Theo, and Esther headed over to Jazz’s house for the night.
Scottie smiled at her friends as they walked down the sidewalk together, kicking at the red, orange, and yellow leaves that had started falling as it got closer to Thanksgiving. Theo had the same beautiful olive skin as her mother and the same thick dark hair. She loved reading about celebrities and was their very own Internet search engine for anything Hollywood. Theo dressed bohemian, layering clothes on her solid shape as expertly as an artist layers colour. Today, she wore a short blue skirt over black leggings tucked into short black ankle boots. The small heel added some height to her short frame. The white and blue striped shirt hung loosely over the skirt, and covered all except the high turtleneck of the navy sweater underneath.
Esther was the only blonde in the group. She wore her hair in a loose ponytail that almost touched her waist. Esther was a pack rat. She never went anywhere without a fully loaded backpack, which bounced heavily up and down on her back as they rushed over to Jazz’s house. Esther usually wore loose fitting jeans, a big belt, and a denim shirt, and today was no different. The jeans, however, were new, and so the three friends talked about the big sale at Old Navy as they strode down the street. Theo’s arms were waving. Scottie’s face was flushed, and Esther’s giggle kept rising to the surface of their non-stop chatter.
Mrs. Banerjee watched them as they came down the street. Jazz, or Jasmine Banerjee, was a second generation Canadian as her parents had come from India. Mr. and Mrs. Banerjee had met in Canada, fell in love, married, and had five children. With two boys before Jazz and two girls after Jazz, Mrs. Banerjee thought she had seen it all. But she shook her head as she looked out the window at Jazz’s friends—they had enough energy for thirty girls!
Before they could walk up the front steps, Jazz had whipped open the front door and hustled them inside. After a quick hello to Mrs. Banerjee, they fled downstairs to the basement. The basement wasn’t finished, but Mr. and Mrs. Banerjee had permitted the girls to set up an area to use as their own space.
The girls had chosen the section at the bottom of the stairs, setting up an old couch against the wall of the crawl space. Esther’s dad had a cousin who delivered furniture for a large store in town, and he had brought them the old couch, which was being replaced. Theo enjoyed sewing; she’d been the best one in their Grade 8 Home Economics class. She had made a nice cover for the couch from the flowery drapes that Scottie’s mom had finally been able to replace in their living room. It was Theo’s belief that you could never have enough flowers in your world!
Esther’s next door neighbour had held a garage sale in the summer, and they’d gotten a coffee table and an end table for five dollars. Sitting on the end table was a yellow bowl that Mrs. Banerjee had given them. The pot pourri in the bowl made the basement smell less like a basement.
The floor lamp had been donated by Jazz’s older brother, who only used it when he was home from university. And they had borrowed the rocking chair from the corner of the basement, where it had rested for the last eight years since Jazz’s youngest sister was born.
There was also an oriental rug and a blue bean bag chair. The chair just seemed to arrive, and no one wanted to take credit for it. It was, however, the seat that everyone ended up fighting over!
Each of them flopped into a seat. Jazz got the bean bag chair, because no one—and I mean no one—wanted to challenge her today.
With a “Hmphhhh,” Jazz began. “I was going to Science class from English class. In the science hallway, I was blocked by Joey, as usual. That idiot always has something to say when I go by. I thought he was going to ask about my grade on the Math test. I already knew he’d gotten 100%, but I thought I’d outsmarted him this time. I’d asked Mr. Weirzba if I could earn a bonus mark on something else. And I got it! I couldn’t wait to see Joey’s face!” Jazz smiled thinking about it—but now it wasn’t going to happen! “It turns out that Joey wanted to brag about his entry into the Robot Competition sponsored by the school board. Whoop-di-do!
“But then, Joey looked me in the eye and asked, ‘What will the girls be doing while we build the winning robot?’”
There was silence in the basement. Not one of the girls dared to breathe. Joey couldn’t have poked the bear more if he’d tried. Jazz opened and closed her mouth five times—FIVE—before she finally exploded, “Can you believe that guy?!”
Everyone kept their eyes down, answering “No” in very low mumbles.
“We’ll show him! I’m going to enter us into the Robot Competition, and we’re going to win! Who’s with me?” Jazz stared at each one of them for just a little longer than was comfortable.
Finally, each one said “Me” hesitantly.
Then Theo, who was always the bravest with Jazz, said tentatively, “Do any of us know anything about building a robot?”
Jazz stood up, put her hands on her hips, and stared them down. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!” This was Jazz’s favourite quote. She loved popular quotes and really liked to discover where they came from. This one could not be traced with absolute certainty, but Jazz used it every time the girls were unsure of themselves. It was their rally cry! “We’ll just have to figure out about robots. If Joey Danfried can build one, then so can we!”