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The Glory Girl
By Betsy Byars
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1983 Betsy Byars
All rights reserved.
The Blue Bus
THE GLORY FAMILY BUS rumbled along the highway. The old tires wobbled. The engine missed. The windows and doors rattled. From time to time there was a loud bang as the engine backfired.
Anna Glory was stretched out on one of the back seats of the bus, trying to sleep. She lay on her side with her coat over her like a blanket. Down the aisle the pale blue outfits of the Glory Gospel Singers waved and swayed on coat hangers, giving off the faint odor of sweat and Right Guard.
The music her family had sung that night still sounded in Anna's head. The songs had been written that way—to start hands clapping, feet tapping, to make people want to join in on the chorus.
When He calls me,
I will answer,
And I'll never,
Yes, when He calls me
Calls me ...
Anna closed her eyes. The music, the lights, the clapping, swaying crowd—it all seemed the way life was meant to be. And she at the back of the auditorium, waiting to sell Glory albums and cassette tapes at intermission—she felt left out, not just from the music and the crowd, but somehow from the rest of the world.
Anna sighed. She shifted on the hard seat. The Glory bus had once been a school bus, and the seats were worn slick from years of sliding, restless children.
Anna was the only person in the history of the Glory family who could not carry a tune. There had been a brief time, when Anna was seven, when it had been hoped that she could learn to play the drums.
Waiting for the drums to be delivered had been the happiest time of Anna's life. She had imagined how important she would look, beating time on the silver-and-blue Wilson drums, crossing her arms different ways, hitting this drum and that one.
But when the drums came and Anna held the sticks at last, she discovered that she could no more beat time than she could sing. She was clumsy. The drumsticks clattered to the floor. Again and again her father shouted, "Anna, listen to the music!"
And finally the drums had gone to the twins. They, at age five, took to it like monkeys, and before the week was out, they were playing as if they had been doing it all their lives.
"Anyway, darling," her father had said, "we need you to sit in the back and sell records."
"I don't want to sell records," she'd said, starting to cry.
He'd looked at her. None of the children ever whined or pleaded when their father got that expression on his face. "You'll get used to it," he had said, and then turned away.
It had been five years, however, and Anna had not gotten used to it yet.
She glanced up the aisle, past her mother's head, which was lolling over the edge of the seat, past the twins' legs kicking at each other, past the gold of Angel's hair, to her father. Mr. Glory was driving the bus, holding a Pall Mall cigarette between his teeth. He had to steer with his whole body.
Lately the blue bus had started to take on a will of its own. It went left when it was supposed to go right, swerved into the dirt beside the road for no reason, and Mr. Glory had to be ready for these unexpected moves. Mr. Glory sometimes seemed to be dealing with a team of willful mules instead of a bus.
He trusted the bus, though. "It gets us there," he would say when it was criticized for dying down at intersections or for stopping short and causing Mrs. Glory to slide out of her seat. Mr. Glory was proud that the bus had never had a flat, an oil change, or a breakdown in all the years he had been driving it.
Anna's eyes closed. Pall Mall smoke drifted to the back of the bus and hung in the stale, cold air. On wet days Anna felt she could smell old peanut butter sandwiches and sneakers, and if she reached down under the seats she could feel knots of bubble gum so old they were as hard as the metal.
The Glory family's songs seemed to hang in the still cold air of the bus, too.
Sing with the Glorys
Yes, come sing
With the Glorys
If you sing
With the Glorys
Then you'll never
When Anna heard that song, the Glory Gospel Singers' theme song, the last number on the program, she would get up and move to the aisle where everybody could see her. Her father would step closer to the microphone, his guitar shifted out of the way, on his hip.
"Yes, ladies and gentlemen, if you've enjoyed listening to the songs of the Glory Gospel Singers tonight—well, you can have all the songs you've heard on one long-playing album or cassette tape for the low, low price of eight dollars. That's a lot of singing for eight dollars.
"At the back of the auditorium one of the Glory girls, our little Anna—she can't sing, but ain't she pretty?—she'll be waiting to help you with your purchases. Hold up your hand, darling, so they can see where you're at."
Dutifully Anna would hold up her hand, wave, and then move back out of the light.
"And in the meantime, folks, remember, all the Glory family—Maudine, the twins Joshua and Matthew, our lead singer Angel, and yours truly, John Glory—want you to—"
While Mr. Glory was introducing the family, Anna would sit at her table and unlock her cash box. She would straighten the stacks of records and cassette tapes as inside the auditorium the music swelled.
Sing with the Glorys
Yes, come sing
With the Glorys
If you sing With the Glorys
Then you'll never,
On the back seat of the bus Anna pulled her coat up around her neck. She closed her eyes. Her body slid on the worn seat as the old bus stubbornly swerved to the left for no reason, and Mr. Glory, with a puff on his Pall Mall, brought it back to the road again.CHAPTER 2
A Secret Letter
THE NEIGHBORS COMPLAINED ABOUT the Glorys' house. There was no grass in the front yard. A second school bus, also painted blue, was on concrete blocks in the side yard. Kudzu vines crept closer every summer and had already captured the pine trees in the back.
When the Glorys were away, the house looked as if it had been abandoned. When they were at home, the noise, the shouting, the singing, and the quarreling made it seem that the house had been invaded by rowdies.
Mr. Glory steered the bus into the dirt driveway, past some ragged azaleas, which were wrapped with old scraps of paper and leaves, and came to a shuddering stop by the worn chinaberry tree.
"We're home," he said tiredly. It was five o'clock in the morning.
The Glory family began to struggle up from their sleeping positions. "Boys," Mrs. Glory said. She automatically puffed her beehive hairdo as she sat up. She was only four feet eight inches tall, and she was proud of her hairdo, which made her five feet three. "Boys!"
"I'm up," Joshua lied sleepily. He thought he was in his bed and she was calling him to get ready for school.
"We're home!" She shook them with one hand—her other was still on her hair. The twins popped up like birds in a nest. Their hair, pasted down earlier with Brylcreem, stood up like wire.
"Angel," Mrs. Glory said more gently.
Angel was the beauty of the family. She was on the third seat, still sleeping like a baby. Her hand rested on her cheek, her thumb touched her lips. Her real name was Brenda, but nobody, not even her teachers, called her anything but Angel.
One by one, the Glorys staggered down the bus steps and walked to the house. The frosted weeds crunched beneath their feet. Their breath froze in the early morning air.
Mrs. Glory was carrying the costumes, holding them over her arm more carefully than she had carried any of her babies. When one of the twins bumped sleepily against her in the dark, she said sharply, "Don't touch!" and swatted at him, hitting only the cold air.
"Missed me," Matthew said, yawning, half asleep.
Anna walked beside her father. He was puffing on another Pall Mall. Mr. Glory seemed to go to seed after a performance. He would leave the stage, his handsome face shining with the joy of religion, and then three hours later his gray whiskers would have popped out and his eyes would be baggy and his curly hair as greasy and limp as it had been when he was sixteen.
Behind them, the motor of the Glory bus gave one last rattle, shaking like a sick mule. Anna glanced back. She couldn't remember that happening before.
"Just settling down," her father explained mildly. He opened the door of the house, tossed his cigarette into the weeds, and entered. "Nobody has to go to school today," he announced as he picked up the mail.
"Will you give me a note?" Joshua asked. "I got Miss McElhaney this year, and if we don't have a note we get a zero."
Mr. Glory did not glance up. In the doorway Mrs. Glory nodded that she would give him a note. Then she peered at the thermostat, turned it up, and the heat came on in the basement with a small explosion.
Anna moved to stand over the register. As the hot air bellowed her skirt, she felt comfortable for the first time that evening. "That feels good."
Mr. Glory did not look up. He was sorting the mail, peering hard at each envelope. He slid the bills into a drawer, pushing the unpaid ones already there to the back to make room. The letters he put in a neat stack in front of him.
He lit a cigarette. He inhaled. He opened the first letter.
"Lions Club wants us for a benefit in Walhalla," he said as he exhaled. Anna nodded. He opened the second letter. His voice rose slightly. "PTA's asking about a possible fund raiser in Due West."
"And ..." He paused as he opened a third letter. "And we're invited to the Gospel Jubilee in Asheville in June."
He opened the last letter. He was holding his cigarette between his teeth now, allowing himself to smile. The only time Mr. Glory looked happy at home was when he read the mail and scheduled their appearances.
His eyes slid down the page of the fourth letter, checking for important information—the date, place, money. Suddenly he frowned. He began puffing on his Pall Mall so hard that for a moment his features disappeared in smoke.
"Who is that one from?" Anna asked. She knew from the intensity of his frown that it was not good news. Her father did not answer. He was staring at the letter as if it were in a foreign language.
"Dad, is something wrong?"
Mr. Glory looked up then. His eyes were chips of steel. "Why aren't you in bed?"
"I wanted to get warm first." She did not move. She felt her father owed her an answer about the letter. She had sold twenty-eight albums and thirty-four cassette tapes that night—a new record. And all he had said was, "From now on, you ought to sell that many every night."
She cleared her throat. "So who is the letter from?"
"I said go to bed, Anna."
Having an argument with Mr. Glory was like going down the basement stairs, with the air getting colder on each step. She tried one last time. "Dad—"
He looked at her, and without a word Anna turned and walked to the bedroom she shared with Angel. She sat down heavily on the bed. "He makes me so mad."
Angel turned back to her mirror. She was rolling her hair, the thick, golden, Rapunzel-like tresses, on fat plastic rollers. Carefully she pinned a roller into place. No matter what time the Glory family got home, no matter how tired she was, Angel always rolled her hair.
"I just wanted to know what one letter said, one stupid letter, and he gave me his deep-freeze look and said, 'Go to bed, Anna.'" She sighed. "And, listen, Angel, I spent the whole night freezing in the back of that auditorium. There was no heat at all, and I didn't complain once."
She looked at Angel resentfully as she kicked off her shoes. "You don't know how it feels because you're up on the stage. You've got the lights on you. You're never cold." She pulled off her sweater and slipped out of her skirt. "I'm back there in the dark, shivering, the orphan child."
"You're not an orphan."
"Well, that's what it feels like."
Angel wound a stray hair around a roller. She loved her hair. She didn't know how people who didn't have nice hair amused themselves. "Maybe ..." she said thoughtfully. Then abruptly her eyes went back to her hair. Her doll-like face smiled back at her in the mirror.
"Maybe what?" Anna asked. She pulled her nightgown over her head and got under the covers in one motion. "Brrrrr." She looked at her sister. "Maybe what?" she asked again. "Angel!" Sometimes Angel clicked off in the middle of a conversation, just sort of disappeared, leaving Anna with the feeling she was talking to a blank wall. "Maybe what, Angel?"
"Oh, nothing. Just about the letter. Maybe something's wrong. That's all."
Watching her sister, Anna felt a chill that was more than the sheets. Angel, with her dreamy eyes, could sometimes see into the future with amazing clarity.
"Like what? What could be wrong?"
"I don't know."
"Have you heard anything? Do you—"
"Oh, let me alone. You know I can't talk when I'm rolling my hair."
Anna drew the covers up around her neck. She watched as Angel, smiling slightly, selected another roller. By the time Angel was finished, Anna had fallen asleep.CHAPTER 3
MATTHEW AND JOSHUA, THE Glory twins, had as many stitches in them as rag dolls. They were proud of their stitches, too, and kept a record of them. So far, Joshua had forty- nine and Matthew forty-two. Matthew would have had eight or nine more except that Mr. Glory had refused to take him to the hospital the afternoon he skated into the parked pickup truck on Oak Street.
"Stitches cost money," Mr. Glory had said, inspecting the wound coldly. "You boys have to learn that."
"He went into the truck on purpose," Joshua said, looking with envy at Matthew's leg.
"I had to," Matthew whined. "It was the only way I could keep from going onto the highway. What'd you want me to do—get myself killed?"
"I'll close this myself," Mr. Glory said. "Get me the adhesive tape, Joshua."
"I want stitches."
"Do you have any idea how many albums we would have to sell to pay for sewing up that leg? And when I get through, if you bend that knee and open it up ..."
"What'll you do to him?" Joshua asked.
Mr. Glory did not answer. He always left his threats hanging. But he applied the tape with such firmness that Matthew had to walk stiff-legged for a week.
This morning, since Matthew didn't have to go to school, he decided to play with a bicycle he had found in the junkyard. The bicycle was old and rusty and had no chain, but Matthew was not discouraged. "Anybody who wants to see me ride better come outside!" he called to the quiet house.
"I'll watch out the window," Anna called from the kitchen. Anna had stayed home today too. Usually she went to school whether she had to or not. School was better in a lot of ways than home. At school she even sang in the chorus, and no one noticed she couldn't carry a tune.
But today Anna wanted to find the letter that had upset her father last night. She was determined to read it.
"Be careful, boys," Mrs. Glory called from the bedroom.
Joshua followed his brother slowly into the yard. He did not want to watch, because he was jealous of the bike. Both twins had wanted wheels from the day they were born.
"It won't go," Joshua said. "It hasn't got a chain. That's what makes a bike go, like a motor makes a car go."
Joshua hoped with all his heart this was true. The only reason he was following Matthew was so that, when the bicycle didn't work, he could yell, "I told you so! I knew it wouldn't work!"
Ahead of him, Matthew was pushing the bicycle up the hill. Joshua paused to throw a weed into the air and hit it with an imaginary bat.
"It'll go." Matthew was unconcerned. "The tires are good."
"Tires don't make it go. Chains do. I saw that on TV."
"Liar!" Mr. Glory had removed the channel control on the TV, and the TV was permanently tuned to the religious network. "Anyway, you just wait and see."
"That's what I'm going to do—wait and see you fall on your face."
"And I'm not letting you have a turn."
"I wouldn't ride that heap of junk if you paid me."
They were halfway up the hill now, and Joshua stopped.
He watched Matthew and his bicycle for a moment. The bicycle was going sideways. It was like those old grocery carts that keep turning into the stacks of canned goods. It wouldn't go. It couldn't. But just in case ...
Joshua smiled. He waited until Matthew was intent on his bicycle, and then he slipped behind some bushes. He crouched. He leaned up to peer through the leaves. He had not been seen. He got set to pounce.
At the top of the hill Matthew was turning his bicycle around. He eased one leg over the seat as carefully as if he were getting on a strange horse. "I'm ready," he called down the now empty hill.
"Where are you, Josh? Don't you want to see me ride my bicycle?"
"All right, then, you're going to miss it. Anna, watch! I'm starting. Joshua, you better look if you want to see me."
He pushed off. His start was ragged. His front tire dug into the earth like a plow. He was glad Joshua hadn't seen that. He lifted the bike out of its rut and pushed. The front tire began to roll. "Here I come!"
His voice rose as the bicycle picked up speed. "I'm really coming! Look, Josh, look!"
The front wheel struck a rock and wobbled, causing the bike to weave from side to side. "Whoa!" Matthew cried. His feet found the pedals and, forgetting there was no chain, he began to pedal. "Yikes!" He held his legs out at the sides. He pushed first with one foot and then the other. The bicycle picked up more speed.
Excerpted from The Glory Girl by Betsy Byars. Copyright © 1983 Betsy Byars. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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