Maisie's best friend, Cyrus, has been hanging out a lot with Gary Hackett, whose last-name sounds to Maisie like a cat barfing up a hairball. When it seems as if Hackett might like Maisie romantically, she's none too pleased, and Cyrus is even less impressed.
Uncle Walt has a way of pointing Maisie in the right direction, and Maisie's love of movies also keeps her centered. Heading to the local independent theater on Saturdays to see old movies helps Maisie stay grounded as she struggles with growing up, family tensions, a grandma who seems to be losing her memory, and a love triangle she never expected.
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|Age Range:||10 Years|
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“Hey, you kids!” Mr. Schmitz yells up at us. “Yeah, I’m lookin’ at you. The movie’s over. Go home!”
I lean over the balcony. “We’re just talking.”
“Well, talk outside. I wanna close up.”
I shut my notebook, and Cyrus and I shuffle downstairs to the lobby. Mr. Schmitz is standing by the big double doors, a broom in his hand.
“How come you’re only open afternoons?” Cyrus asks him.
“’Cause nobody comes downtown at night anymore. At night they wanna go to the multiplex at the mall.” The way he says “multiplex” sounds like he means “hellmouth.”
Not that many people go to the Lincoln Theater in the daytime either. There’s only one screen, and Mr. Schmitz likes to show mostly old movies. Which is fine with me. Sometimes, on Saturdays, Cyrus and I are the only people in the whole place.
We do go to the mall once in a while. We saw The Martian there, and Inside Out, which we both loved, but the mall is too much about buying stuff. Cyrus and I never have money for much more than the film anyway, so we like a place where going to the movies is pretty much all you can do. Besides, we can’t even see PG-13 movies, a classification we’re about six months away from. Old movies aren’t like that—they were made for everybody.
We’re probably Mr. Schmitz’s best customers, but he’s not particularly nice to us. He always acts like he’s annoyed he has to rip our tickets in half, like why are we making him go to all that trouble? And if we want popcorn, his eyes roll back in his head before he shovels some into a box.
We don’t mind too much, though. I figure he knows more about movies than anybody else in New Aztec, Illinois, because he always shows the best ones. I’m probably second smartest about movies. Cyrus comes in third because he just doesn’t put enough time into it. Of course, my uncle Walt would beat us all if he still lived here, but he’s out in Los Angeles, because that’s where you have to live if you’re a screen actor.
We wave to Mr. Schmitz as we push through the glass doors, and he grunts at us.
“We got a good crowd today, huh, Maisie?” Cyrus says, as if the Lincoln Theater belongs to us.
“Casablanca always gets a crowd,” I say. “All the old people come.”
“Yeah, old people and us. What’s the matter with everybody else in this town?”
I shrug. “For some reason they think their actual lives are more interesting than movies. Which might be true if they lived someplace else.”
“Like Morocco,” Cyrus says. “I love that speech where Bogart says the problems of three people don’t amount to anything compared to the problems of the world.”
“Three little people,” I correct him.
“Of course the writing is good,” I say, “but what I love about Casablanca is the lighting.”
Cyrus snorts. “That’s all you ever care about. The lighting.”
“That’s not true. And anyway, lighting is one of the most important elements of film.”
Cyrus wrinkles up his nose. “I don’t want to do lighting, Maze. I want to be a director. I want to be the boss.”
“If you’re going to be a director, you have to know this stuff, Cy. Remember how the vines and plants throw deep shadows up on the walls in Casablanca?”
“That’s Rembrandt lighting. The dark, twisted shadows echo how the characters’ situations are tangled together and complicated.”
“You just read that somewhere.”
“Of course I read it somewhere! And we’ve talked about it too, how bright lights and heavy shadows are exaggerated for emotional effect.”
“Okay, okay. Just because I don’t remember every little thing about lighting . . .” He socks me lightly on the arm and I return his punch, but we’re smiling. Cyrus and I never really argue.
We unlock our bikes from the parking meter out front and start pedaling home. There’s not much traffic in downtown New Aztec on a Saturday. Everybody is either at the mall or locked in their air-conditioned houses. It’s only the middle of May, but here in the Mississippi River valley it gets hot and steamy early.
In five minutes my bangs are sticking to my sweaty forehead, but at least my hair is short, so I can feel a little breeze on my neck. I’m practically the only girl in the sixth grade who doesn’t have long hair, but those massive hair blankets are hot and heavy, and I don’t see the point. I guess boys like girls to have long locks to swing around, but I don’t care what boys think. Except for Cyrus, of course, and he doesn’t care what I look like. We’ve been friends for so long that Cy probably doesn’t even notice what I look like anymore.
“Let’s go to my house,” I say. “Mom has Dr Pepper.”
Cyrus doesn’t argue. His mother has banned all sugary beverages from the premises at their place, diet or otherwise, so he has to get his fix at my house. Which is easy enough, since I’ve lived across the street from him my whole life.
We let our bikes fall on the backyard lawn, which I’ll get yelled at for later, but it’s so hot and we’re thirsty. The minute I open the kitchen door, though, I can hear my parents arguing in the living room, and I shush Cyrus. The only way a person gets any information about what’s going on around here is by eavesdropping.
Dad sounds aggravated. “I thought he had a girlfriend out there in Hollyweird. Can’t she take care of him?”
“They broke up months ago,” Mom says.
“Can’t he stay with your mother?”
“On that old foldout couch in her back room? That would be torture,” Mom says. I’m daring to hope I know who they’re talking about.
“Well, he can’t expect you to be his nursemaid! You’ve got a job!”
“I know that, Dennis. Don’t get mad at me. I didn’t invite him!”
I hear the springs squeak as Mom flops into a chair. “Don’t you have somewhere to be? Isn’t your bowling team practicing today?”
“We’ve got a game tonight,” Dad says. I can hear him pacing. “Look, it’s not that I don’t like the guy,” Dad says. “It’s just that every time he comes back here, you get all upset, and you end up taking it out on the rest of us.”
“I do not. I get upset with my mother, is all. The way she flutters around him like he’s the famous movie star he thinks he is—‘Wade Wolf’—and not just her useless son, Walter Hoffmeister.”
I turn to Cyrus and clap my hands silently. “My uncle Walt’s coming!” I whisper.
He gives me a thumbs-up. I’m excited about Uncle Walt visiting, of course, but not so thrilled about my parents arguing over it. Mom has been known to snarl when she’s angry, and while Dad usually stays calm and talks her down, that’s not happening today.
“How on earth did he manage to break his collarbone, anyway?” Dad asks Mom. What?
“Doing a stunt in some movie. Collarbone and two ribs.”
I pop around the corner in spite of myself. “Uncle Walt’s hurt? What happened?”
Behind me Cyrus salutes my parents. He always does that, for a joke, when they’re in their uniforms. My dad’s a mail carrier, and my mom is a parking enforcement officer. They don’t have any badges or medals or guns or anything.
“Oh, Maisie, I didn’t hear you come in,” Mom says. “He’ll be okay. He just needs someplace to rest up while he heals.”
“And somebody to wait on him hand and foot,” Dad mutters to his shirt sleeve.
“How’d he get hurt?” I ask.
Mom sighs. “He jumped off a high diving board in some silly movie—”
“Probably Girls Gone Haywire or some great work of art like that,” Dad grumbles.
“—and apparently he hit the low board beneath him. I don’t even see how that’s possible, but—”
“Does that mean he can’t finish the rest of the movie?” I ask.
“I’m sure it does,” Dad says. “They’re not going to hold up filming for six weeks just because some second-string actor got banged up.”
“He’s not a second-string actor,” I say. “He was Eddie in Sometime Tomorrow.”
“One decent role in ten years doesn’t make him a movie star. Besides, eleven people saw that movie.” Dad heads for the kitchen to get himself his work-is-over beer.
Cyrus laughs, and I elbow him in the side. He thinks my dad’s funny because his own father is so boring, but nobody laughs at my uncle Walt.
“Sometime Tomorrow got a rave review in the Hollywood Reporter,” I call after Dad, “and Entertainment Weekly said Uncle Walt was an exciting new talent.”
Dad calls back. “That was five years ago. He’s older now and a lot less exciting.”
“He actually had a pretty good part in this movie,” Mom says. “He was a swimming instructor who falls in love with Kristen Bell.”
Wow. “Kristen Bell from Veronica Mars? That’s huge!”
Cyrus has been eating peanuts from the can Dad left open on the coffee table, but this gets his attention. “Cool! I love Kristen Bell. She was the voice of Anna in Frozen too.”
“Never heard of her,” Dad says as he walks back in. Which doesn’t surprise me. Dad’s not a movie person, and most of the TV he watches involves men trying to keep some kind of a ball away from each other.
“Anyway,” Mom says, “I’m picking him up at the airport tomorrow at noon. And I don’t think we can make him sleep on that awful couch in the den with all his broken bones.”
“He can have my room!” I yell. “I’ll sleep in the den!”
Dad laughs. “You’ve got the only air-conditioned room in the house, and you’re giving it up? You’d do just about anything for that guy, wouldn’t you?”
“Of course I would!”
Mom shakes her head. “Just like your grandmother.”