How is it possible to feel more at home with your friends than with your own family?
Sometimes Calvin Miller really hates that he and his mother, Nina, don't have a home of their own. Instead, they live in Garo's house—well, more precisely, Alan's house. A pilot who is always away, Alan is also Nina's boss. As his live-in housekeeper, Nina raises Alan's son, Garo, right alongside Cal.
Luckily, the boys are good friends despite their differences. Though Cal is better at school, Garo is better with people—his outgoing personality makes everyone like him. But sometimes Cal thinks even his mother is closer to Garo than she is to her own son. Cal figures he must take after his dad, but how can he be sure when the only contact he's had with his father is in the form of three postcards over a course of nine years? As Cal navigates his teenage years, he may be in store for more changes than he realizes.
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C, My Name Is Cal
By Norma Fox Mazer
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1990 Norma Fox Mazer
All rights reserved.
Garo and I live together. Or maybe I should say I and my mother live in Garo's house—or to be even more exact, in Garo's and his father's house. Garo's father is a pilot. He'll come home for a day, two days, three days at most, then get a call and off he goes. He's always on standby.
Alan must have gotten his call for work in the middle of the night, because when Garo woke up this morning, he found three twenty-dollar bills under his pillow. "Look at this, Cal," he said. "Look what Dad left me." He yawned. "We're rich."
"Uh-uh," I said. "You're rich."
When Mom and I first moved into Garo's house, I started making up this story in my head that my father was on standby, too. That while Mom and I had been moving from cheap place to cheaper place, my father had been busy, also. That he wasn't just gone. No. He'd been going to pilot school, putting in those flying hours, and one of these days he'd show up again.
Or maybe he'd call first. "Cal? Coming to see you any moment now. I'm on standby, son; it keeps me busy." Back then I could still "hear" my father's voice in my head. But now it's nearly nine years that I haven't heard his voice, and I can't remember it at all.
I don't know what he looks like, either. I mean, I have a photo of him, and that's what I "remember." A tall, skinny man wearing a blue sport jacket.
"The money's for both of us," Garo said. "What'll we do with it?" Money bores him. He's careless with it. He never knows how much he has. Not me. I always know what I have, and it's never enough.
Mom gives me money sometimes, but mostly when she has anything extra, she puts it in my college savings account. One of the reasons she took this job was that we got room and board, which meant she could save money.
Once, before we got to be friends, Garo said to me, "Cal, I just got it. I just got that you and Nina don't have money. You don't even have your own home."
"So what, stupid?" I said. "What's the big revelation?"
He gave me an uncomfortable smile. "I just meant—"
"I know what you just meant. Shut up." As I said it, I thought that I could never be someone who had to deal with people or the public. I didn't know how to be tactful. I didn't know how to say things nicely. I could never be a salesman, which is what my father is. Or was, nine years ago. And still is, for all I know. Not that I care. It doesn't matter to me what he does. In all this time, he's never come to see me, he's never called. All he's ever done is send me three picture postcards, each one from a different place.
When the first card came from Arkansas, about two months after we moved in with Garo and his father, Mom said, "Now how in the world did Cameron Miller know where we are?" I had to remind her that even though my father had been roaming, we two still lived in the same town and the same state. And even though we lived in the Vitullis' house, we had our own phone and a separate listing in the phone book, under Mom's name.
The second postcard was mailed from Florida. It had a picture of flamingos on it. I got it four years ago, after my ninth birthday. I think it was supposed to be a birthday card. It said, Good Luck, Son! Love, Dad. Then it had a P.S. Maybe see you one of these days. When my mother read it, she said, "Well, don't hold your breath."
The last postcard came two Christmases ago, from a town called Newbridge, in Maine. It said, Dear Calvin, Pretty country out here. Very quiet and cold. I hope life is going okay for you. Love, Dad.
Garo rolled up one of the twenties and flipped it across to me. "I owe you ten more." He was still in his striped pajamas.
"You don't owe me anything." I tossed it back. "Your money," I said. "Not mine." I pulled on my jeans and thought how sometimes I hated everything in this house—the chairs, the curtains, the rugs, even the toilets. None of it was Mom's and mine.
"What's your problem, boy?" Garo threw the money at me again. When he gets excited, his freckles blaze up. His entire face is covered with freckles. So are his arms and legs. "Take it, Cal. Take it!"
"Forget it, boy. I don't want your damn money." I wadded the bill and threw it in the wastebasket.
"You're so bleeping stubborn, Cal." Garo's always polite, even when he's mad.
"And you don't understand anything." I went down the stairs. Garo ran after me. Mom was in the kitchen, cooking breakfast. "Mom," I said, "tell Garo I don't want his bleeping money."
"His bleeping money?" Mom said. She pinched my cheek. "What kind of funny talk is that?"
Then to Garo, she said, "We've been through this before, hon. But I'll remind you again that I am an employee in this house, and Calvin is the son of the employee. And your money is your money."
"Nina—" Garo sat down at the table and put his head in his hands.
"Not his money. Yours. Is that clear? Should I say it again? Calvin is the employee's son, not the son of the employer. Do you read my meaning? Money given you by your father is yours. Not Calvin's."
"I hate to hear this, Nina," Garo said.
I started to feel sorry for Garo. When Mom gets going, it's like she grabs you by the ear with her voice. "Is that clear?" I said in my mother's top sergeant voice. I pounded him on the back in a friendly manner.
Garo swiveled around and butted me in the stomach. I grabbed him by the hair, and he locked his arms around my waist. It was an impasse. Garo is almost half a year older than me, but smaller and less developed. He's inches shorter and built like a football. I'm built more like a stick, but I've got body hair, and my voice has changed. Another thing about us is that Garo doesn't just look younger than me, he acts younger. This is just the truth; I'm not boasting or anything.
"Breakfast is ready, you two," Mom said. We broke apart. Mom's in charge here. She's the housekeeper or house mother or house administrator or Major General Discipliner. Whatever you want to call her. Garo's father has tried on all those titles for Mom at one time or another. Mom says, "I don't care what Alan calls me, as long as he pays the bills and my salary."
That's Mom being witty. In fact, she does care what she's called. For instance, Garo can't call her Mom. He went through a stage where he wanted to, but she wouldn't allow it. She was firm. "I like everything clear," she said. "And it's clear, Garo, that I'm not your mom. You can call me Nina."
So with whatever else Garo has, house and father and money, at least I have that. Mom is my mom.
We sat down to eat breakfast. The stuff on the stove that my mother was stirring turned out to be something called Bircher Muesli. It looked just about as bad as it sounded. "What is this stuff?" I said. I'm finicky about food.
"Cereal," my mother said. "Put some milk on it, brown sugar; it'll warm your gut for the cold walk to school."
I read the box. FLAX, WHOLE WHEAT, RICE BRAN, WALNUTS, ALMONDS, RAISINS, PINEAPPLE, AND OTHER WHOLE GRAINS AND FRUIT. "Where's the fruit?" I said, poking around with my spoon.
"It looks like snot to me," Garo said. But he was already shoveling the snively stuff in. Nothing bothers his appetite.
"You say that word about good food?" Mom said.
Garo and I both looked at her in surprise. A word like snot ordinarily doesn't bother Mom. She's not the type to mind a few rough words. She once ate fish eyes to find out what they tasted like. Another time, on a dare, she ate a live ant. "Damn thing was crunchy, and wooo!, was it sour," she said.
"Who dared you to do it?" I asked her.
"Oh, someone. No one you ever knew." She laughed, and I got the idea, which I'd never had before, that she'd had a whole life before me, a life I didn't know about. That was strange.
"I hate this bircher stuff," I said.
"Cal, you like it," Mom informed me. "I got a special on it. Don't start my day off wrong by telling me I wasted money."
"Are you tired, Nina?" Garo asked kind of sweetly.
"Got something on your mind?"
"My mind is a total blank, hon. Shut up and eat." Suddenly she started laughing and laughed so hard she had to sit down. Garo started laughing, too. I looked from him to her. Sometimes it seems like he's more on Mom's wavelength, more like her than I am. Maybe they were mother and son in another life. They both think the world is fairly amusing. They're kind of jolly. They get mad fast and get right over it and laugh. They even look a little alike, both short and overweight.
I suppose I'm like my father, Cameron Miller. My mother says he is—or was, when he was around us—a tall, glum, broody man. I know I'm tall. I think I'm sort of broody. I hope I'm not too glum.CHAPTER 2
When Mom and I first moved in with Garo and Alan, I was seven and not happy about the move. I didn't like living in someone else's house. I didn't like Alan. When I saw him in his blue pilot's uniform, he looked like a policeman to me. I thought that somehow he knew all the wrong things I'd done. I figured there were a lot of them. I lied sometimes. I didn't do what my mom wanted. I hated my father, and I was still babyish, secretly sleeping with Opha Kangaroo every night. And the worst of it was that I shunned his son, Garo. I hated Garo, too. I didn't like that my mother was nice to him.
I suppose I was scared, even panicked, afraid of what was going to happen next. So many things had already happened to me. Mom and my father were divorced when I was five. My father took off. My mother wouldn't talk about him. She didn't even like to hear his name, Miller, which was also her name and my name. She kept trying to find the right job, so I wouldn't have to have baby-sitters. And we moved from apartment to apartment. Until we landed ourselves with Garo and Alan.
In the beginning, Garo wasn't that friendly himself. His mother had died the year before, and various people had been taking care of him, and he was sick of it. And he didn't know what to make of gloomy, skinny me. He was shorter, rounder, softer. We were just different.
We lived in the same house and we weren't friends. We didn't fight particularly, we just avoided each other. I was a loner; at least I thought I was. I didn't think I needed friends. Or maybe I didn't want them, didn't want anyone to know I didn't have a father or a home of my own.
But the year Garo was kept back in fourth grade, things changed. He was five months older than me, and he had been a grade ahead of me. But then he wasn't passed, because he wasn't reading well enough.
If that had been me, Mom would have gone up in steam and smoke. She would have torn me apart and told me I was letting my brains turn to mush. She couldn't do that to Garo, naturally, but she tried to get Alan to whip him into shape. I don't mean actually whip, of course. Mom's idea of whipping is to pep talk you to death.
Alan tried. He talked seriously to Garo, his voice coming from deep in his throat. Rumble rumble rumble. But then he was gone, and when he came back it was rumble rumble again. Wherever you were in the house, you could hear that rumble rumble rumble. Garo listened politely. He listened politely when Mom talked to him, too. But nothing anyone said made an impression on him, and for one reason. He didn't think he needed to be a good reader.
"I know what I want to be when I grow up," he said. "I'm going to be a talk show host. I won't be one of those sarcastic guys who yell at everyone who calls in. I'm going to be one of those guys who are wise and smart and help other people solve their problems."
"Where are you getting all this wisdom?" I said. "I don't see any signs of it yet." I thought he was a real dope not to know it was important to know how to read.
"I'll learn from experience."
"What if people write you letters when you're a talk show host? They're going to do that. They're not just going to call in. How are you going to read their letters?" Garo's mouth fell open. Then he said quickly, "I'll get someone to read them for me."
"What if you have to make a contract?" I got that idea from Mom's contract with Alan. When she took the job, she said even though she knew it had to be a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job because of Garo, she still had some rights, and she wanted them in writing. That's why the attic is ours and off limits to Garo and Alan. And that's why we have our own phone and our own listing in the phone book.
"I'll hire people. A lawyer," Garo said.
"What if they cheat you? What if they don't read you the contract right?" I stumped him again.
"You won't even know what's in it for yourself."
"I'll hire honest people."
He had an answer for everything. "Oh, I give up," I said. What did I care anyway?
It was Mom's idea to have Garo and me read together at night. "Why me?" I said. I didn't want to spend all that time with him.
"If you don't do it, Cal, I'll have to," Mom said. She gave me a little light slap on the face. "You might as well pull your weight here, hon."
So every night after supper, Garo and I sat down at the dining room table and took turns reading out loud to each other. Remember, this was before I liked him. So it wasn't something I looked forward to.
Actually, it wasn't that bad, because I like reading. I might even love it. When it was my turn to read, I didn't mind at all. I could just forget Garo was there. But when it was his turn, it was torture listening to him stumble through a page.
"Relax!" I said. I punched him.
"That's to help you relax." I punched him again. He punched me back. "That's the idea," I said.
"Don't you feel better now?"
"Well, maybe this will do it." I gave him another knock, and he hit me over the head with the book.
Mom came in. "Settle down and read, you two."
"Yes, ma'am," Garo said, and kicked me under the table.
It was somewhere in there that we got to like each other. And Garo even learned to read better.
In the morning, Garo couldn't find his red socks, so he wore mine to school. He's particular about the things he wears. Today he wanted red socks and nothing else would do.
"Why red?" I said, when we went out. I looked down at my feet and saw that somehow I'd put on two different colored socks. My left foot was green, my right foot was blue.
"It's Valentine's Day," Garo said. He bounds when he walks, he bounces. His personality is cheerful, and even the way he walks is cheerful. "I need good luck. Red luck. Red for hearts, red for love."
"Red for blood and gore," I said. It had snowed overnight, and I pulled my scarf around my neck.
"I want valentines, Cal," he said. "Lots of valentines. Do you think I'll get them?"
"Who cares, Garo! We're too old for that stuff."
I was never crazy and wild about girls the way Garo has always been. I used to think something was wrong with me, because he liked girls so much more than I did. Right from second grade on, he's been romantic and in love with someone or other.
I can't remember feelings like that from so young. Except for one teacher, Mrs. Eisenor. I used to sit and stare at her arms. She always wore sleeveless blouses, and her arms were big and fresh-looking.
Around fourth grade, I really started liking the girls in my class, but I didn't talk about it—or show it, either, I guess. I had my feelings, but I kept them all inside.
Garo shoved against me. "You'll get valentines. You get them every year; the girls all give you valentines. Smoochy, smoochy!"
I packed a snowball, took aim. "Garo, my boy—" The snowball smacked into a tree. "I don't care, one way or the other. That stuff is for elementary school."
"No, the girls are still doing valentines." He put his puppy dog face in mine. "This is the day you find out if girls like you. I know what you'll find out, but I'm afraid what I'll find out. I'm telling you, Cal, today might be very detrimental to my mental health."
"Who is it that you want to get a valentine from, anyway? You have some particular girl in mind?"
He changed the subject. "Remember Valentine's Day in grade school? Remember third grade? Remember Jeanne Foster? The worst day of my life!"
"She was the one with buck teeth, wasn't she?"
"She did not have buck teeth."
"Sure, she did. Did she send you a valentine?"
Excerpted from C, My Name Is Cal by Norma Fox Mazer. Copyright © 1990 Norma Fox Mazer. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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