- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
While Al impatiently awaits letters from her father and his new wife and from a boy named Brian, her best friendship is threatened by the arrival of a house guest.
"I'm not getting any younger," Al said.
"Who is?" I asked.
"I've got miles to go before I sleep, and I seem to be standing still." I noticed that underneath her new tweed jacket she was wearing her old brown vest, a sure sign she's in the pits.
"How come you're wearing that"—I pointed to the vest—"when today is practically boiling?"
"False summer," Al said, looking critically at the sky as if she could see a weather report there. "We always have a false summer just before school closes. Pay no attention. We'll have a relapse, I guarantee."
Suddenly she hissed through her teeth, "Listen, I'm pushing fourteen, and once you're fourteen, it seems something should've happened to you. Something memorable."
"What'd you expect?"
Al lifted her shoulders until they almost touched her ears. "I don't know. I might find out I was a missing heiress. Or maybe the illegitimate daughter of a French count. Or I might be discovered by a TV tycoon." She dropped her books to the sidewalk.
"There I am, sitting, enjoying a sausage-and-pepper pizza, minding my own business." She bent her knees to show she was sitting at a counter, enjoying her pizza. "And along comes this TV tycoon in a three-piece suit, with his hair all styled and everything, and he takes one look at me and says, 'Pardon me, miss, but if I may say so, you're precisely the type we've been combing the city for.'
"Then he decides to star me in his new sitcom, which turns out to be a romance with a lot of laughs, an unbeatable combination, and it also turns out to be the hit of the century.
"Well"—Al smiled ruefully at herself—"maybe not of the century but of the half century. But it's big, really big. I am able to buy a mansion for my mother and also a Mercedes-Benz, on account of this sitcom runs in prime time and takes the Nielsen ratings by storm. I'm on the cover of Time and even Newsweek ..."
A little old lady walking with a cane came up behind us. "You're blocking the sidewalk," she said. "Please step aside."
"I'm a TV star," Al told her, "in the process of being discovered," and she stepped aside.
The little old lady drew back as if she smelled something bad. "In this world," she said, "you meet all kinds. Life is not what it used to be." She tottered off down the street, shaking her head, muttering to herself.
"I made her day," Al said. "She thinks I'm on drugs." She bent and picked up her books and went on talking.
"And people would stop me on the street and say, 'Aren't you Laura in Squat Down in Squalor?' or whatever. I think that'd be cool. That and all the residuals."
Here we go again.
"What are the residuals?" I said. Al frequently uses words I don't understand. One nice thing about her, though. She never says, "What! You never heard of residuals!" or anything like that. She doesn't treat me as if I were a total idiot because I don't know the meaning of a word, and I know plenty of people who do that.
"Money, baby." Al did a little tap dance. "That's all. The folding green stuff. Every time they show your sitcom on reruns in the summer, especially if it's in prime time, they have to fork over big bucks. Which are otherwise known as residuals. Which will make you rich. You savvy?"
"You could always write a book that they'd turn into a major motion picture for six figures," I said. "That's a good way to get rich quick."
"I'd settle for one they'd make into a minor motion picture for five figures," she told me. "I'm up for an ice cream cone. How about you?"
"I'm broke," I said. Sometimes, when I say, "I'm broke," I feel like a record that's gotten stuck.
"Then we'll share." There was an ice cream cart at the corner. "One mocha chip cone, please," she told the man. "First this year. How's business?"
"Stinks," he said. "You want small, medium, or large?"
"I want large but this is all I have," Al said, holding out her money. "I guess I'll have to settle for small, huh?"
"You must be psychic, lady," he said.
Al looked at me. "L-A-D-Y," she mouthed.
"Have a weird day," she told him when he handed her the cone.
"I already did," he answered.
"If that guy ever broke down and smiled," she said as we walked away, "he'd probably bust a gut."
We stood waiting for the bus. The branches of the trees lining the street stretched spidery little tentacles rimmed with leaves toward the sun. They were trying hard. Maybe they'd make it.
"Did you ever think about living in the country?" I asked Al. "Instead of here, I mean?"
"I have," Al said casually. "Once, when my mother and I were trying to decide whether we should move East, we rented a little house outside of L.A. We had an orange tree in our backyard."
"An orange tree? In your own backyard?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "Why didn't you ever tell me that? That's absolutely fabulous. Did you pick oranges off it?"
Al shrugged. "Sure. They were sour, though. We also had a walnut tree."
"With real walnuts growing on it?" How did she take things like this so calmly?
"It wasn't so much," Al said. "I'd rather live here. It's much more exciting. Have a lick."
"You first. It's your cone," I said. I couldn't get over having an orange tree plus a walnut tree in your backyard. I'd never lived anyplace that was different. Up to now I'd had a fairly boring existence.
First she took a lick, then me. It was delicious. The sun really was hot. We had to work fast.
With her tongue, Al pushed the ice cream down so nothing stuck up. It was all inside.
"It lasts longer that way," she said.
"I think Vi's getting bored with Ole Henry," Al told me. Vi is her mother. Her real name's Virginia. Ole Henry has been taking Vi out for quite a while. He's in Sportswear. Al's mother is in Better Dresses.
"How come?" I said.
"Well, last night he stopped by right after we'd finished dinner. His timing was a little off, which, as you know"—she gave me her owl's eye—"doesn't happen very often. And my mother gave him a frankfurter and some sauerkraut, and I happen to know for a fact there was plenty of roast beef left over. You should've seen Ole Henry's bird-dog nose sniffing. He said, 'I thought I smelled roast beef,' and Vi looked straight at him and smiled and said, 'Must be the neighbor's.' So that ought to tell you something. I think the romance is over."
"Ole Henry is too old for your mother," I said. "She looks very young for her age."
"I'll tell her you said that. She already likes you, but that will definitely cement your friendship," Al said. She leaned past me. "Where's that dumb bus?" she said.
"She likes me?" I was pleased. "I didn't know that." Al's mother usually calls me "dear." When I first knew her, I thought it was because she didn't remember my name. But I guess she calls me "dear" because she likes me. That was nice of her.
"You're putting me on," I said. "Does she really like me?"
"She says you're a good solid kid who has her head on straight."
"That doesn't sound like your mother," I said.
"Actually"—Al looked over the top of her glasses at me—"she said she thought you were a very nice child with lovely manners. And you know my mother has a manners fetish."
"No kidding? She really said that? Remind me to tell my mother."
"She also said she liked having you drop in on her. She enjoys you, she said. But I told her she should see you when the moon is full." Al dipped her tongue down into the cone, then handed it to me for a dip.
"And when the tide is high. I mentioned the way your fangs start growing and horns sprout out of your head and you bay at the moon when you take a minute off from stirring the foul-smelling brew in your cauldron. You know what she said?"
I shook my head.
"She said she admired you very much."
I could feel myself blush. It's one thing to like someone. It's another thing entirely to admire someone.
"I don't believe you," I said. "Better polish off that cone. Don't forget what happened last time."
Al crossed her eyes. "Have I ever lied to you?" she said.
"No," I said, "but there's always a first time."
"Here comes our bus," Al said and shoved the cone into her mouth, chewing like mad.CHAPTER 2
The last time Al took an ice cream cone onto the bus, a man sitting in back of us gave her a hard time about eating on public transportation. He said it was against the law. So Al had flipped the cone back into her mouth the way a kid in our class did. Only in her case, she almost barfed all over her coat and it happened to be a brand-new coat that her mother had bought on sale. I can still remember how she looked, her eyes all bugged out and her face red.
But she made it. Good thing. I told her her mother would have killed her if she'd barfed on that coat.
"If my mother ever paid full price for anything," Al once told me, on account of her mother bought everything on sale, "I think she'd jump off the George Washington Bridge."
Sometimes Al exaggerates. Not always.
Al and I live in the same apartment building. She and her mother moved down the hall from us more than six months ago. We've been best friends ever since. I have a feeling we'll be friends all our lives, until we're old and rickety and have grandchildren. My mother has two friends she's known ever since she was younger than we are now. Al is a year older than me, but we're in the same grade, due to the fact that she moved a lot when she was little so she lost a grade somewhere along the line. I hope we stay friends forever.
The bus driver let us off and we started to walk.
We had almost reached our block when Al suddenly leaned over and spit something into her hand. It was the remains of the mocha chip cone.
"You didn't try that trick again!" I cried. "You're nuts."
Al looked at me sadly. "Someday I'll pull it off," she said. "Just for the record, that stunt isn't as easy as it looks. Life is full of things that aren't as easy as they look."
"Mr. Richards!" I shouted.
Al stumped glumly along. "That gives you another point," she said.
Every time we spot a Mr. Richards quote, we get a point. Mr. Richards was the assistant super in our building when Al moved in. When he showed us how he polished the kitchen floor, he told us it wasn't as easy as it looked. He was right. When we tried to do it, we couldn't. Al and I and Mr. Richards were friends. Then he died. Things haven't been quite the same since.
We walked slowly.
"Maybe you'll get a letter today," I said.
Al pulled both her hands out of her pockets and held them up. The thumbs were tucked under. She'd read somewhere that if you make a wish when your thumbs are tucked under, the wish will come true.
"I doubt it," she said, but she smiled. I could tell she thought maybe today really was her lucky day and she would get a letter.
A couple of dudes wearing high-heeled shoes and black leather jackets were walking toward us.
"Hey hey, looka that!" they said. They didn't act as if they were really enthusiastic. They just said the words as if they'd rehearsed a lot. We looked behind us and across the street. A thin lady was walking her dog, and a big fat mother was pushing her baby. They must mean the hey hey for us. Pathetic.
Al flashed her bilious eye, but I guess it'd lost some of its power due to overuse because these dudes went on saying hey hey until we turned into our building.CHAPTER 3
It seems that ever since I've known Al, she's been waiting for a letter. First, it was her father she wanted so badly to hear from. Her mother and father are divorced. He was always on a trip somewhere and sent Al things: postcards and Mexican jumping beans and candy she wasn't supposed to eat. On account of she was a little on the plump side.
Then last month her father got married again, and he asked Al to the wedding. At first she said she might not go because her father had walked out on her and her mother when Al was little. Then she changed her mind and went. It was a good thing too. She made friends with Louise, the woman her father married, and also with Louise's three little boys, Nick, Chris, and Sam. Sam was Al's favorite. He was seven. When they took her to the airport to say goodbye, they all kissed her. Even Chris, and he's ten, and everybody knows ten-year-old boys don't go around kissing people indiscriminately. Look at my brother Teddy. He's almost ten. He practically only kisses my mother on Christmas and birthdays.
Then Louise and the boys had asked Al to come back in the summer for a visit. That was the second letter that didn't arrive. Louise said she'd put the invitation in writing. I've been telling Al that with all the work Louise has to do on the farm, with the cows and a pig and a barn and everything, she just hasn't gotten around to writing.
"She will," I told her about ten times. "You wait. One of these days you'll get a letter saying you're supposed to come and stay for a month or something."
Al also met a boy at the wedding. His name was Brian. He was fifteen. He mowed Louise's lawn. He had asked Al for her address so he could write to her. She said the reason he'd done that was that he'd had a glass of champagne. So had Al. It made her very talkative. She called me up from the wedding to give me the details, and I thought she'd never shut up.
Anyway, Al gave Brian her address written on a tiny piece of paper. So far, he hasn't written either. Every day she goes home from school and checks the mail. The way she used to do when I first met her.
Al had showed me a bunch of pictures she'd taken of Louise and her father and the boys.
"They're a little out of focus," she said.
That, as my father would say, was a masterpiece of understatement. They looked as if they were swimming underwater.
"If you sort of close your eyes and hold this one sideways," Al said, handing me a picture, "you can make out my father. He has his arm around Louise."
I followed orders. Al's father and Louise looked like ghosts.
"This one," Al had said, her voice different, "is Brian."
I squinted and put the picture of Brian up to my face. Then I held it at arm's length. Brian looked like an astronaut about to put his big toe on the moon.
"He's much better looking than that," Al said.
"That's good," I said.
I wished Brian would write to Al. It would make my life easier. Every day no letter arrived. And every day I told her he probably had lost that tiny piece of paper with her address on it. So how could he write?
"He could get my address from my father," Al would say.
"He might not want to ask."
"If I wanted an easy out," Al would tell me, "I'd believe you. I want to but I don't. I guess I was just a one-night stand. Another pretty face." She'd scowl at me. I couldn't help laughing.
If people make promises to write, they should follow through. It's mean to do what they're doing to Al. She's counting on hearing from Louise and her father and Brian. Maybe Brian got cold feet. But that's no excuse for the others.
"Listen," I said to Al as we rode up in the elevator, "let me know if you get a letter, OK?"
As if she could keep it to herself for a second.
"You'll be able to hear me screaming," she said. "Everybody in the apartment will hear me. They'll probably send the super up to see what's wrong." She gave me the peace sign, and I went into my apartment.
"Better call Polly before she explodes," my mother said. "She's called twice. She sounds as if she's going to have a nervous breakdown if she doesn't speak to you. I asked if she wanted to leave a message, but she said no, she had to talk directly to you."
"Polly always sounds like that," I said. Polly Peterson is my second best friend next to Al. She lives on the West Side and is going to be a chef.
"You'll never guess!" Polly said, answering on the first ring. "My mother and father are going to Africa for six weeks." Polly's father is in the diplomatic service and whips around the world the way most people go to the supermarket.
"Do you get to go?" I asked. I'd be afraid to go to Africa. I'm scared of lots of things. Airplanes and people I don't know and some big dogs. Not all. Just some. I'm trying to overcome my fears and not doing too well. Polly isn't scared of anything. That's one of the reasons I like her.
Polly sighed and the telephone vibrated.
"They say no. It's too expensive, for one thing. For another, they're going into some areas that might be dangerous. They're going on safari too. That's what I'd like. To see the lions and tigers up close."
Excerpted from Your Old Pal, Al by Constance C. Greene. Copyright © 1979 Constance C. Greene. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.