- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
A sixth-grade boy deals with the prospect of a new baby brother and a long-distance love relationship.
BINGO BROWN HAD BEEN shopping for a Christmas present for Melissa for four hours, and nothing he had seen was worthy of her. Also, Bingo only had three dollars and thirty- nine cents.
He paused in Belk's fine jewelry department to admire the watches.
"Can I help you?" the clerk asked.
"I wish you could," he answered sadly.
He stumbled on through Scarves and Belts, Hosiery, Cosmetics, staring at the bright merchandise with unseeing eyes.
He was beginning to have a hopeless feeling, as if he were doomed to continue walking through stores for the rest of his life. It was sort of like writer's block, he decided. Writer's block was a mental thing that happened to all writers sooner or later. Writers got to the point where they could not write, not even a word. Bingo had had writer's block twice, so he knew what he was talking about.
Now it seemed to him that he had shopper's block. He could not buy anything, anything! Even if he found the perfect gift—although this did not seem likely—he would not be able to buy it.
He went out into the mall and stood watching little children have their pictures taken with Santa. He briefly considered sending Melissa a photograph of himself on Santa's knee, as a sort of comic present ...
This idea told Bingo how low he had fallen. Shaking his head, he made his way toward Sears.
Only this morning, he remembered, he had been a happy person.
A letter from Melissa had come in the mail and, as usual, he got a warm feeling just holding the envelope. If she had just sent the envelope, Bingo had thought, he would be happy.
Actually, after he opened it, he wished she had just sent the envelope. The first sentence chilled his bones.
He had been in his room. He always liked to open Melissa's letters in private, because sometimes her letters made his heart pound like a hammer.
Also his face reflected emotions the way a pond ripples at the slightest breeze.
He had closed the door, opened the letter, and read.
He felt his usual thrill when he saw "Dear Bingo." He loved letters that started that way. Dear Bingo. Whoever had thought that up deserved a medal. Dear Bingo.
Then came the worst sentence he had ever read in his entire life.
"I finished your Christmas present today, and I KNOW you're going to love it."
Bingo threw open the door and stumbled back into the living room. The letter was clutched over his heart.
"If you are coming in here to ask about the baby—"
"No, no, I'm not."
Bingo's mom was seven and three-thirtieths months pregnant, and she knew whether the baby was a boy or a girl, but she wouldn't tell Bingo or his dad. She wouldn't even give them a hint except, "It's either going to be a boy or a girl."
He and his father had a pact. "If I find out, I'll tell you, and if you find out, you tell me," his dad had said.
Then they had shaken hands like men.
"Mom, a terrible thing has happened."
His mom had her shoes off and her feet up. She was looking through a catalog of baby furniture. "What?"
"You remember Melissa? Out in Bixby, Oklahoma?"
"Yes, I remember Melissa."
"I just found out a terrible, terrible thing—she's giving me something for Christmas."
"How'd you find that out?"
"She told me. Here it is in black and white. 'I finished your Christmas present today and I KNOW—' know is in capital letters which means, unfortunately, that it's something nice—'I KNOW you're going to love it.' I'm not just going to like it, Mom, I'm going to love it. Love's not underlined but it might as well be."
"Mom, this means I have to give her something and it has to be something she will love."
"Only if you want to."
"No, Mom, I have to!"
"Send her a Christmas card."
"Mom!" Bingo said, genuinely shocked.
His mom leaned back thoughtfully. "She says she just finished it. That means it's something she made herself."
"Yes, yes. Go on."
His mom sat up. "Oh, Bingo, do you suppose it could be homemade fudge?"
"Of course not."
"Bingo, lately I have just been craving homemade fudge, the kind with real butter. Have you gotten my Christmas present yet?"
"Well, make me some fudge with real butter."
"I'll make your fudge as soon as I've figured out what to do about Melissa."
"I'm sorry, Bingo. I got diverted. Sit down and read the letter. Maybe there's another clue."
He sank down onto the sofa.
"'I bought your Christmas present today and I KNOW you're going to love it. Don't feel that you have to give me anything'—"
"See, don't feel you have to give her anything. She says that herself, so don't give her anything. Your problem is solved."
"You didn't let me finish. 'Don't feel that you have to give me anything unless you really want to.'"
"Well, you don't really want to."
"Oh, Mom!" Bingo scanned the letter, looking for clues. He muttered to himself, "Let's see.... She's joined a club—the Rangerettes.... She's got a new cat—Buffo.... She and her best friend are reading a book called Gypsy Lover, and every time they get to a good part, she thinks of—" Bingo broke off.
"Well, don't leave me in suspense. Who does she think of when she and her friend get to the good parts of Gypsy Lover?"
"No one. It's no one you know."
"Try me. I know a lot of people."
Bingo folded the letter up and put it back in the envelope in a businesslike way.
"Anyway, there are no hints about the gift, none at all. I'll go to my room now."
He walked, head held high, through the door, but as he got to the privacy of his room, he staggered slightly, as if a heavy load had fallen on him, as it had.
He took out the letter and, with a sinking heart, began to read it to himself.
My best friend and I are reading a book called Gypsy Lover. It's a wonderful book. She reads part, then I read part, and when I'm reading and I get to a really good part, instead of going, 'Oh, Romondo,'—that's the gypsy lover's name, I go, 'Oh, Bingo,' and my best friend goes, 'I knew you were going to do that. I knew it! Now read it right or hand me the book.'
Bingo's eyes rolled up into the top of his head.
Not only did he have to come up with a gift! Not only did the gift have to be something nice! This gift had to be worthy of a gypsy lover!
"Excuse me," Bingo said as he turned from the toy store and bumped into a woman. It would be unthinkable to get Melissa a toy—although he had noticed that yo-yos and Slinkies were on sale.
He ricocheted from the woman directly into a girl. "Excuse me," he said again.
The girl said, "That's okay." Then in a friendlier voice, "Oh, hi."
Bingo stumbled on through the mall. He paused to glance in Hallmark, he walked through a store where everything cost exactly one dollar. He could have gotten Melissa three things in there, but, still in the grip of shopper's block, he made no purchase.
He came to the bookstore. He was now in a daze. He stopped, then surprised himself by turning into the bookstore. His spirits lifted a little.
Did his feet know something his brain did not? Was he going to buy Melissa a book? Was his shopper's block ended? Were there books that only cost three dollars and thirty-nine cents?
"Is there anything I can help you with?" the clerk asked.
Bingo expected to hear himself say something like, "Where are your bargain books?" Instead he heard these words: "Do you happen to have a book called Gypsy Lover?"CHAPTER 2
Wild Reckless Growth
"THE ROMANCE SECTION IS right over there. Do you know the author?"
Bingo shook his head. "No, I just know a girl who's reading it."
"They're arranged alphabetically, by author, so if you knew—"
Bingo walked to the romance section and stood with his hands behind his back. He scanned titles heavy with passion and lust. He saw a lot of pirates, more than he had expected—he didn't know women went for pirates. He saw enough sea captains to command a fleet. He saw English lords and Arab chieftains. He saw no gypsies.
There had to be gypsies. No romance section should be without gypsies.
Bingo reached out to see if there were any gypsies lurking behind the pirates and sea captains, but his hands never reached the shelf. For at that moment Bingo noticed something that put gypsies and pirates out of his mind.
His arms were growing! They had grown about four inches since this morning! They were sticking out of his jacket sleeves!
He stepped back in alarm. He glanced down at himself. Nothing else about him was growing—just his arms. He looked like a scarecrow!
He bent to examine his legs to see if by some miracle they had grown too. But his pants weren't too short, just his jacket sleeves.
He looked from one arm to the other. How had he not noticed that this terrible thing was happening?
He glanced around quickly to see if any shoppers were aware of his distress. They weren't, and Bingo drew his arms back into his sleeves to make them less noticeable. He pulled the cuffs over his wrists.
They still stuck out!
When had this happened? Were his arms continuing to grow even as he stood here? By the time he got home would his knuckles be dragging on the ground like an ape?
A voice behind him said shyly, "Hi, Bingo." He spun around, and immediately realized he could never spin around again. His arms were like weapons. The girl was lucky she hadn't been whirled into the bookshelves.
She said again, "Hi."
It was a girl from school—a new girl, but even if she had been his oldest and dearest friend Bingo would not have been able to remember her name at this crucial moment.
"You just bumped into me—didn't you notice—back at the toy store?"
"No, no, but I'm sorry."
"Oh, you already said that," she smiled, "—back at the toy store."
"You looking for a book?" she asked.
"I was ... I don't know .... You'll have to excuse me—I just had a terrible shock."
"What kind of shock?"
"Personal," Bingo said. "It was a personal shock."
"Most of them are."
Bingo clutched the cuffs of his jacket with his fingers and stretched them down. The bones of his wrists were still—as he knew they would be—exposed.
"I thought when I saw you standing over here in romances, that maybe you were buying your mom's Christmas present because, I don't know, you don't seem the type to be reading this kind of book. I would have expected to find you back in something like—" A pause for emphasis. "—science fiction."
He was unable to speak.
"If that's what you were doing," she went on helpfully, apparently unaware of the growth that was occurring inside his sleeves.
And his arms were growing. He could feel it happening at this very moment! The bones were elongating and the flesh and muscles were going right along, stretching like rubber bands—
"If that's what you were doing—shopping for your mom, I could recommend Wild Reckless Summer—this one." She touched the picture of a woman with a lot of hair on her head being embraced by a pirate with a lot of hair on his chest. "There's Wild Reckless Autumn and Wild Reckless Winter and Wild Reckless Spring, but my sister says Wild Reckless Summer is the best."
At the moment, Bingo was so worried about wild reckless growth that he had no idea what she was babbling about. She might as well have been speaking in Hindu.
"I prefer science fiction myself," she said pointedly, but Bingo didn't get the point. "Somebody told me you write science fiction."
"Excuse me," he said.
"You're not going to buy a book?"
"Oh, well, I came in to look for a book called Gypsy Lover, but it doesn't seem to be here."
"I'll help you look."
"No, I don't want it anymore."
She sounded hurt, so he turned back to where she stood, framed in the purples and reds and shocking pinks of the romance section—the colors of passion, Bingo thought, though a person with arms like his would probably never have the opportunity to enjoy such colors.
"Thanks anyway, Boots." The name came to him without the help of his brain, and Boots gave him a grateful smile.
"I appreciate your trying to help."
"Oh, you're welcome."
"And I'm sorry I bumped into you."
"I'm glad you did."
He would have waved good-bye if, of course, he had had shorter arms. If he waved with these arms, he'd create a tornado-like wind that would blow all the books from the shelves.
With his arms folded over his chest, his hands tucked into his armpits, Bingo started for the exit.CHAPTER 3
The Gypsy-Lover Letter
"Look at my arms."
"What's wrong with them?"
"I am looking. I don't see anything wrong."
"Mom, they've grown! Look how long they are. Wait—let me put my jacket back on. There!"
He let his arms stick rigidly out of his jacket sleeves. The cuffs barely covered his elbows.
"So you're growing—you're supposed to grow."
"I'm supposed to grow, but all together! Not in parts! A person's not supposed to grow two long arms and then two adult ears and then size-twelve feet!"
"Growing's supposed to be a natural thing that you don't even notice. And what if it keeps on—did you ever stop to think of that? What if my arms keep getting longer and longer, because that's exactly what they feel like they're doing! Then what?"
"Bingo, your arms are fine. I washed the jacket and it probably shrank a little. Now calm down and show me what you bought Melissa."
"I forgot all about Melissa—I couldn't find anything to buy and I kept looking and I still couldn't find anything to buy and I went in the bookstore to—to browse and I noticed how long my arms had gotten and I came home. That was my entire day."
"Sit down, Bingo, relax. Your dad'll be home in a minute and—"
"I wonder if Dad's arms did this?"
"Probably. Oh, listen, we're going out to eat tonight," his mother continued, as if to divert him with a new topic. "You can pick the place, Bingo. Where would you like to go? Only please don't pick Chinese—"
"I'm afraid to eat. The nourishment will go to my arms. I know it will."
"Bingo." She smiled. "Sit down. I have a confession to make."
"What is the confession?"
"Sit down first."
He sat, his long arms slung awkwardly over his knees. He didn't think she really had a confession, she just wanted to try another diversion—as if anything could divert a person whose arms were growing! And just since he got home, they had gotten even—
"I read your letter."
"I read your letter."
He was on his feet, diverted.
"I read Melissa's letter."
"I couldn't help myself. I went in your room to put some clean socks in your drawer and the letter was right there on top of the chest of drawers, open."
"Actually," she went on, "I only read the part about the gypsy lover. I skipped the part about Buffo and the Rangerettes."
"Mom!" He could only repeat her name, as the shock rolled over him again and again like waves.
She shrugged. "I'm sorry."
"Mom, just because you're pregnant doesn't give you the right to do anything you want."
"I know that."
"No, you don't. Ever since you got pregnant, you've been acting like you are the only person in the family who needs kindness and consideration. You do terrible things and then no one is allowed to do anything terrible back."
"I said I was sorry."
"Yes, but you don't act like it. If you were sorry, you wouldn't be smiling to yourself. What if I went in your room and read your letters?"
"You do that all the time. You read my letters, you read your father's novel ..."
"I have to read his novel in case he needs help!"
Bingo and his mom were good arguers and Bingo felt they could keep this one going for days, weeks even. Even a year from now, if she criticized him for something, he would answer, "Well, at least I don't go around reading people's private letters!"
"Like the gypsy-lover letter?" she would answer, and they would be off.
Now she rested one hand on her stomach and smiled. "The baby's moving."
"You claim the baby's moving every time you want to get out of something."
"The baby is moving."
She reached out, took Bingo's hand, and laid it on her stomach. Something small and round pushed against his hand. A fist? A foot? He drew in his breath.
"Did you feel it?"
He withdrew his hand and put it in his pocket as if he were depositing something he wanted to save. His mother's smile softened.
"When the baby moves like that—a strong move—it makes me happy. I relax. Sometimes a whole day goes by and the baby doesn't move and I worry."
"Why? Is that something to worry about?"
"Not really, but—Oh, maybe it's because I wasn't happy about the baby at first. Now I want it too much."
"I want it now too."
She said, "Will you forgive me about the letter if I tell you what the baby's going to be?"
"What letter?" he said. It was surprising how the small touch of a baby's hand could push away something like his mother snooping in his mail.
"Oh, I forgive you, I guess," he went on with unusual grace. "I have to admit that I do occasionally read secret things myself. Perhaps it's an inherited quality."
"So, do you want to know about the baby?"
"Yes, but you don't have to tell me if you don't want to. I mean, if you want the baby to be a surprise, I'll understand."
"I want to tell you."
"And there's one other thing. Dad and I have a pact—we shook hands on it—that if he found out he would tell me, and if I found out I would tell him."
"It's a little boy, Bingo. His name's going to be Jamie."
Bingo's heart closed on the word like a fist.
Excerpted from Bingo Brown, Gypsy Lover by Betsy Byars, Cathy Bobak. Copyright © 1990 Betsy Byars. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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