When summer comes, Emily is looking forward to spending more time with Grandfather. Ever since Grandma Ellen's death, Emily has felt especially close to him. He's never too busy to listen to her, and he always understands her feelings.
But Emily's summer is unexpectedly ruined when Grandfather returns from a vacation with a new wife. Her name is Marjorie, and Emily hates her. There's no way Marjorie can replace Grandma Ellen, and she's certain to destroy Grandfather's happiness. So Emily decides to get rid of her. The jealousy and problems caused by Marjorie's arrival are refreshingly handled in the first novel by Betty Ren Wright.
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Getting Rid of Marjorie
By Betty Ren Wright
Holiday HouseCopyright © 1981 Betty Ren Wright
All rights reserved.
Emily leaped off the bus and stumbled, almost falling on her knees in her haste to put the ride behind her. Today's trip home from school, the last of the year, had been worse than usual. Jason Timmons had had his father's sterling silver flask hidden in his lunch bag. He had passed it from one person to another, holding his English book around it in an elaborate cover-up so Tog, the bus driver, wouldn't see it. Emily had refused to drink, not just because she hated the taste of whiskey and the raw burning in her throat but because she couldn't put her lips on the mouth of the flask after the other fifth-graders had had their turn. She just couldn't.
"Baby," Jason taunted, pushing the flask at her. "Mama's fat little baby is afraid."
Emily had shoved his hand away. "I'm not," she said furiously. "I'm not afraid of anything. I just —"
"She's a teetotaler," Jean Ellen Cofrin said. Her eyes gleamed crazily; she'd already had two or three sips from the flask. "Just like her dear old granddaddy. My father says her granddaddy is so pure he never drinks anything stronger than melted snow." She laughed, then screamed as Emily leaped at her. Together they rolled from the seat into the narrow, dirty aisle, with everyone shouting and cheering. The next thing Emily knew, the bus had stopped, and Tog's big hands were pulling the fighters apart. He thrust Jean Ellen back into her seat and dragged Emily up front with him.
"Now sit there," he said, dropping her, not ungently, into the empty seat behind him where no one ever sat. "Act like a lady, for pete's sake, or you can walk the rest of the way home."
Emily started to talk back but thought better of it. She was secretly glad to be away from her classmates in the back of the bus, and besides, Tog was capable of carrying out his threat and making her walk.
If only Sally had been there, she thought. If only she didn't take the late bus on Fridays. Sally would have refused to drink, too, but no one ever tried to make her do what she didn't want to do. When Sally said No, or Yes, it made all the other girls wish they had said the same thing.
"You're a mess," Tog said, as Emily stood up at her stop. "Better comb your hair before you get home, or your folks will be calling the principal's office to find out what goes on."
You're just worried about your job, Emily told him silently, but when she was free at last, and the bus was out of sight, she raked her fingers through her long dark hair and wiped her face with a crumpled Kleenex. She certainly didn't want her mother asking questions.
Chicory Road was a fragrant contrast to the hot, loud, smelly bus. The grass had turned brilliant along the shoulders, and a delicate mosaic of purple and white appeared like needlepoint stitches on the background of green. At one side of the road were lawns stretching in long, shallow slopes to the ranch houses beyond them, and on the other side was a field, newly plowed and seeded. Beyond everything — houses, lawns, field — were the woods, freshly leafed and inviting.
Emily waited for the good feelings that were part of this homecoming every afternoon. From her toes and fingers a delicious aliveness bubbled right to her brain, and she felt dizzy — no, giddy was the right word. Giddy with the pleasure of being here again, and the particular pleasure of being here at the beginning of vacation. The whole summer lay ahead of her, and tomorrow was a very special day.
First the cookies, she thought, starting to walk faster. The cookie jar had to be full of gingersnaps when her grandfather returned from his California trip tomorrow. Emily gave a little skip, thinking that soon he would be there, with nothing to do but listen. That was one of the best things about him — the way he listened. She could tell him anything — the way the other kids in her class seemed suddenly older than she was, the painful things like what had happened today on the bus. He didn't tattle and he didn't preach. He just listened, and his silence made her feel that he was sorry but not worried. Things would get better, and meanwhile there were walks in the woods and books to read and cookies to share. Good things, right now.
After I finish the cookies, I'll pick some tulips for the vase on his dining-room table, Emily thought. And I'll make sure there's some popcorn in the cupboard. Her feet began to fly. Down the road she ran, toward her house and her grandfather's beyond it, with the dust rising in little puffs behind her.
At first when Emily opened her front door she thought no one was home, but then she heard her mother's voice from the kitchen and realized she was talking on the phone. The house smelled of furniture polish and something sweet like cherries. Emily headed toward the kitchen to see what the sweetness was, then slowed as her mother spoke again.
"... doesn't know yet," her mother was saying. "I told Paul he was more than welcome to the job of telling her. You never know with Emily, but I have a feeling she isn't going to take it well. She's so —" She stopped as Emily came into the kitchen.
"Hi! Don't you dare touch that pie, dear heart," her mother said with forced gaiety, obviously for the benefit of the person on the line, since the pie was on the windowsill, well out of reach. Emily glared at her and sat down at the table, waiting with exaggerated patience for the call to end.
"Tell me what?" she demanded the second her mother hung up. "Take what well?"
Her mother stood up and moved the pie to the counter. "For heaven's sake, why don't you say hello like other people?" she said nervously. "There's no need to snap and snarl at your poor old mother."
"Tell me what?" Emily repeated. It could be something small but unpleasant, like a dentist's appointment, or it could be something simply awful that would destroy the whole beautiful summer. She had to know at once.
"We'll talk about it when your father gets home," her mother said.
Emily felt desperate. Often her mother didn't even recognize the difference between big catastrophes and small ones.
"Now," she pleaded. "Tell me right now."
"Don't whine, Emily. Whining is for babies, and you're a big girl now."
Her mother's tone made arguing hopeless. Emily jumped to her feet and thumped her school books on the table.
"I'm going over to Grandpa's house," she said. "There're some things I want to do before he gets home."
"Wait!" The response was so sharp that Emily stopped short.
"It's something about Grandpa," she said. "He's not sick, is he? He's not —" Emily couldn't say the word. It was a word that had nothing to do with her grandfather and never would.
"No, he's fine." Her mother looked at her worriedly. "It's just a decision he's made — I really want this to wait till your father gets home, Emily."
"A decision? He isn't moving away? He isn't!" She managed to say the words, though the thought of his moving out of the big house down the road was almost as painful as the thought of his dying. Emily had heard her parents discuss the possibility more than once in the two years since her grandmother's death. The house was too large for one person, they said, and too full of memories. As if memories could hurt you. When Emily had asked her grandfather if he wanted to move, he had always laughed and told her to stop worrying. "This is home," he said. He wouldn't have lied to her about something so important, and she couldn't believe he would change his mind without talking to her first.
"No," her mother said. "He isn't moving away."
Her mother turned and began taking plates and glasses out of the cupboard. "He's married," she said. "Your grandfather was married last week in California."
Emily sat down again. "I don't believe you," she said rudely.
"It's true, dear. He called the night before last to tell us. His new wife is someone he worked with for many years in Milwaukee. She was transferred to Los Angeles about ten years ago, and when Grandpa went out there, he looked her up right away. It turned into a — a little romance, and they decided to get married."
"A little romance!" Emily bellowed. She wanted to throw up. "You make it sound like some stupid play on television! Grandpa doesn't need a wife — he had one! He had Grandma Ellen." She felt tears on her cheeks, and her voice shook. "Why would he marry somebody else?"
Her mother turned around and faced her. "I suppose he was lonely," she said. "He may seem like an old man to you, but he really isn't. He wants to get out and do things, and he wants someone with him. He needs companionship."
Emily glared. "He has companionship!" she roared. "He has a nice dog and a cat. He has me! And I never thought he was old. Never! You don't know how I feel about anything!"
Emily pushed back her chair and ran out of the kitchen, ignoring her mother's loud sigh. "I'll never speak to him again," she shouted from the foot of the stairs, then ran upstairs to her bedroom.
An hour later her mother knocked on the door and opened it.
"I'd like you to go over to Christophers' and get Tony," she said, her voice carefully neutral. "It's getting late, and I don't like him to come home through the woods alone."
"Okay." Emily kept her face turned to the wall until the door closed again. Actually, she was glad to go to Christophers'. She had cried herself out and was ready to tell Sally what had happened. Sally would understand how she felt; she always did.
Slowly Emily got up from the rumpled bed and went to the mirror over her bureau. Her round face was flushed and terrible looking — even more terrible than usual. She scowled and watched the heavy black brows almost meet above her nose. Like a witch, she thought. If I was really a witch, I'd put a spell on you-know-who the minute she gets here.
In the hour since she'd heard the news, Emily had come to some decisions. First, it would be impossible not to talk to her grandfather in the future. They wouldn't be special friends any more, but she couldn't bear not to talk to him at all. You-know-who was another matter entirely. Emily would not speak to the new wife or even look at her. She would pretend she was invisible. And if her grandfather bothered to ask why, she would say there was nothing wrong at all. Let him wonder. Let him worry. She brushed her hair furiously.
Let him enjoy his stupid old companionship!CHAPTER 2
"I bet she married your grandfather for his money," Sally said. They had separated their five-year-old brothers with some difficulty, and now they were walking back toward Emily's house with Tony scuffing along behind them. "He's pretty rich, isn't he?"
Emily was surprised. "I don't think so," she said. "He's just average." She wished Sally hadn't suggested such a thing. As much as she resented the woman who had married her grandfather, she couldn't imagine her marrying him for a reason like that.
"Well, he certainly has the nicest house around here," Sally said. "And the biggest lawn. Maybe he showed her a picture of his house and she thought, 'That's just where I'd like to live.' And so she married him. Why else would old people get married?"
Emily was silent. She didn't like to contradict her friend, who was almost always right, but there was something insulting about Sally's analysis, as there had been in her mother's comments earlier. "A little romance." A husband who was desirable only because he was rich. The words didn't fit her grandfather. Everything about him was vigorous, warm, straightforward. When he was happy, his eyes shone, and even though he said little, his pleasure was obvious. When he was hurt or disappointed in you, his silence became painful, and he seemed to retreat without moving an inch. You knew where you stood with him — it was one of the best things about him — and he always understood your feelings. If anyone had thought, "I like this man because he's rich," he'd have known it and walked away. Emily was sure of it.
"Anyway," Sally went on briskly, "you don't have to be nice to her. She has no right to take your grandmother's place and move into her house when she's dead and can't defend herself."
"Right." Emily was relieved that the conversation had shifted into an area of complete agreement. "I hate her already. I'm never going to speak to her, but if I did I'd tell her I had a perfectly fine grandmother who died and nobody could ever take her place."
"Where are your other grandparents?" Sally asked. "Your Mom's mother and dad?"
"They live in Hawaii," Emily said. "I might as well not have them at all. Except for Christmas and birthdays."
Sally glanced over her shoulder. "I bet Tony hardly remembers your real grandmother," she said. "How old was he when she died?"
Emily figured. "Three. And the babies weren't even born. They never knew Grandma Ellen."
"Then it'll be up to you to tell them about her when they get older," Sally said. "Otherwise they'll think this new person is just great. Especially if she's pretty and makes a fuss over them."
Tony pushed between them. "What new person?" he demanded. "What are you talking about?"
The girls looked at each other. "Ask Daddy tonight," Emily said after a moment. "He'll tell you."
"You said 'hate,'" Tony went on, pleased to find himself part of the conversation. "The Bible says you shouldn't hate anyone. I'm going to tell Daddy."
"The Bible also says thou shalt not be a fink," Emily retorted. "So just forget this whole conversation — or else!"
Luckily they had reached their backyard, and Tony was distracted by the sight of his tricycle.
Emily's mother appeared at the kitchen window carrying the twins.
"Please go over to your grandfather's and feed Barney and Pumpkin," she called. "Your father will be home soon, and we'll eat in about forty-five minutes. I'm going to feed the babies now."
Emily wanted to protest, but if she argued it would mean that her grandfather's pets would have to wait for their dinner.
"Go with me," she begged Sally. "I don't want to go there alone."
The feeling of not belonging grew as Emily walked down the gravel road with Sally. In the space of a couple of hours this end of the road, where the woods crowded in on either side, had become alien territory, the province of strangers. It was the time of day Emily usually enjoyed most, when the shadows deepened and the birds sounded muted and sleepy. She had never been afraid of the darkened woods because, as long as she could remember, the lights in her grandparents' house had glowed beyond the trees, like a warm invitation. But tonight, of course, there were no lights, and, Emily reflected bleakly, they would not shine again for her.
"I want to tell you something," Sally said. "I know you're upset, but I have to tell you. I'm going to do something really special this summer."
"You're going away?" The words were out, a wail of anguish, before Emily could stop them. "I won't have anybody —"
Sally squeezed her arm. "I'm not going away," she said. "I'm going to write a book!"
"And draw the pictures for it, too. I made up this story for Jimmy last winter, and my uncle says it's really good. He ought to know because he works in a bookstore and he knows some editors. I'm going to write the story, and then I'm going to draw pictures to go with it, and I'm going to ask my uncle to show it to his editor friends. Maybe they'll print it!"
Stunned, Emily forgot for a moment her own unhappiness. "Oh, Sal, that's terrific! A real book! You'll be famous."
Sally tried to look doubtful without succeeding. "Maybe I will be. I haven't told my uncle what I'm going to do because I want to surprise him. But I wanted you to know since it'll take a lot of my time this summer."
"He'll love it," Emily said. "And his editor friends will love it, too. You're the best artist in our class. And the best writer. You'll probably go to New York and have autograph parties and be on talk shows and everything." She babbled on, trying hard to quell the sputtering envy inside her. She's my best friend, and I'm really glad she's going to be famous. "I'm really glad for you, Sal."
In spite of herself, the words had a hollow ring. Sally looked at her curiously. "What are you going to do this summer?"
Excerpted from Getting Rid of Marjorie by Betty Ren Wright. Copyright © 1981 Betty Ren Wright. Excerpted by permission of Holiday House.
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.
Table of Contents
Contents1 Terrible News,
2 Nobody Cares,
3 The Homecoming,
4 The World's Falling Apart,
5 Emily's Project,
6 The First Step,
7 Grandpa's Big Announcement,
8 A Case of Nosy-itis,
9 A Chance to Talk,
10 The "Burglar" Strikes,
11 The Missing Sneaker,
12 Emily Attacks,
13 The End of the Project,