Read an Excerpt
Para Francesco Sedita, editor e amigo que me inspira a explorar o mundo fora da minha zona de conforto, a nunca parar de viajar e a continuar descobrindo novos lugares.
“Alfredo Bertolizzi!” Alfie’s mom said. Uh-oh, Alfie thought. When his mom used his full name, he knew he was in trouble. “Cosa stai facendo?” she said in Italian. “What are you doing?”
“Playing Alien Slime Universe,” Alfie said.
Mom set down the basket of laundry she was holding. “Why aren’t you practicing your drums?” she asked.
“I will,” Alfie said, his eyes still glued to the TV screen. According to his friend Jackson, when you beat this level, the aliens floated out of their ships and did a hilarious song and dance. He just had to see that!
“What about your drum solo in the spring concert?” Mom asked as she folded a T-shirt. “You need to practice!”
Alfie glanced out the window at the flakes of snow falling lazily onto the white-dusted lawn. “It’s only February. I have plenty of time.”
Alfie had recently learned to play the drums and had been chosen to do a solo performance at the spring band concert next month. It was just that practicing could be so . . . boring sometimes—especially compared to Level 5 of Alien Slime Universe!
“Well, having a solo in the concert is a very big deal and should not be taken lightly. Not to mention, you probably also have homework to do,” Mom continued. “So I think it’s about time to turn off the video game.”
“Aw, Mom,” Alfie said. “Just ten more minutes, okay?”
Alfie’s big sister, Emilia, and their great-aunt Donatella appeared in the doorway of the family room. “Ten more minutes of what?” Emilia asked.
“Blasting aliens,” Alfie said.
“Aren’t you supposed to be practicing for your drum solo?” Emilia asked.
Alfie frowned. Emilia was only one year older than he was, but sometimes she acted like she was his mother.
“I don’t feel like practicing,” Alfie said. But he turned off his video game anyway. There was no way he was going to get any more game time in now.
“Everything takes practice, mio amore,” Zia Donatella said, adjusting the brightly colored stone necklace she always wore. “Even cooking!”
Alfie nodded. Zia was an amazing cook. Ever since she’d come to stay with Alfie and his family, she had made some pretty awesome food for them—and everything was always prepared from scratch. But having a fantastic cook in the house wasn’t the only perk. Sometimes Zia’s food was magic! Alfie and Emilia had been magically transported to Naples, Paris, Hong Kong, and New Orleans—all thanks to her special recipes. They were always ready for the next surprising adventure.
“Well, you should at least start practicing singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me!” Emilia said with a big smile. “Don’t forget, my party is this weekend.” Emilia was turning thirteen, and Alfie knew she could hardly wait—especially because it would mean she could say she was two years older than Alfie instead of one, even if it was only for a few months.
“How could I forget?” Alfie asked. “It’s all you’ve talked about since Christmas!”
“I can’t believe my bambina, my baby girl, is going to be a teenager!” Mom said, shaking her head.
Alfie rolled his eyes.
“How are the party plans coming, you two?” Mom asked Emilia and Zia.
“Great!” Emilia said. “It’s going to be perfect. All my friends are coming, and Zia’s helping me plan the food. We’re making homemade Napoli-style pizzas, baked pita chips and red-pepper dip, and spicy popcorn!”
“That sounds wonderful!” Mom said. Alfie had to agree.
“Oh, and we’re making Doberge cake for dessert!” Emilia added.
“Doberge cake?” Alfie asked. “Isn’t that what we had in New—” Alfie stopped himself midsentence when he saw the looks on Emilia’s and Zia’s faces. He was about to say “New Orleans,” but Mom and Dad didn’t know about any of their adventures. It was Zia, Emilia, and Alfie’s secret. Doberge cake was a special chocolate layer cake that the amazing cook Delphine had made for them on their last night in New Orleans.
“Where did you have Doberge cake?” Mom asked. “That’s so unusual.”
“It was . . . uh . . . at Becky’s birthday party,” Emilia jumped in. “Her mom is from the South.”
“I thought Becky’s mom was from Maine,” Mom said, looking confused. “We talked about going up to their cabin for a family trip some summer.”
“Oh, um, I guess it was her aunt then.” Emilia shrugged.
“Okay . . . ,” replied Mom. “Well, your party menu sounds delizioso! Just give me your grocery list and I’ll pick up everything.”
“Thanks, Mom,” Emilia said.
“Of course. After all, it’s not every day we have a teenager in the house!”
“Oh, brother,” Alfie said.
Zia laughed and ruffled Alfie’s hair. “Come on. If you’re not going to practice your drums right now, you can help me start dinner. I’m making chicken Milanese.”
Alfie hopped up from his beanbag chair and turned off the TV. “Chicken Milanese? Does that mean it’s from Milan?” he asked, exchanging a glance with Emilia. He was eager to know if tonight’s dish might take them somewhere.
“It’s from the market. Now andiamo! Let’s go!” Zia said, trying to be serious, but Alfie could detect a smile at the corner of her mouth.
“Okay, fine,” Alfie sighed. It looked like tonight would just be dinner at home as usual. And that meant he’d have to practice his drums when he was done.
“People, people!” Mr. Erikson stood in front of the band room and tapped his baton against the podium. “Drummers, your timing in the intro is throwing everyone off. You’re coming in one beat late. You have to get that opening sequence just right. Let’s start again from the top.”
Alfie slumped in his chair. How was it not the end of the period yet?
“That means you, too, Mr. Bertolizzi,” Mr. Erikson said, giving Alfie a look.
Alfie straightened his music stand and positioned his drumsticks over his snare drum. He waited for Mr. Erikson to count out the beat, and then they started the song over again for the fourth time.
Finally, after two more tries, the band made it through to the end of the song. Then they repeated it again before the bell rang. Alfie thought his solo went pretty well that last time.
“Okay, everybody. Good work today!” Mr. Erikson called over all the chatter and commotion as students packed up their instruments. “Don’t forget to practice, practice, practice. The spring concert will be here before we know it!”
Alfie slid his drumsticks into his backpack as his sheet music fluttered off the music stand and onto the floor. He knelt down to collect the loose pages into his band folder. Mr. Erikson walked over and handed Alfie one of the sheets that had sailed the farthest.
“You know, Alfie,” Mr. Erikson started, “I think your solo could use some more work. I’m happy to help you with it if you want to practice a little extra after school.”
Alfie crammed his music folder into his backpack and zipped it up. “Thanks, Mr. Erikson, but I can’t really stay after. I . . . I have to get home to help my great-aunt Donatella.” Alfie swallowed hard. He knew his family would happily let him stay after school to practice with Mr. Erikson. He just didn’t want Mr. Erikson to know that.
“Well, I can always find someone else to do the solo, Alfie, if you’re not up for it,” Mr. Erikson said. “I know it’s a lot of pressure, so that’s fine if you don’t want to do it.”
“No, I want to do the solo. And I’ll work on it more at home. I promise,” Alfie said, turning toward the door.