The doorbell rang, followed by knocking, followed by another ring. Claire Plummer’s voice called from my front porch. “Katie! Let us in!”
Usually, Claire comes by herself. She lives across the street from me, so we see a lot of each other. Sometimes, Claire and I are friends; sometimes we are not.
I clattered my drawing pencils down on the dining room table and held up my latest drawing of Lucy, our yellow lab. Her ears perked up to listen. A bit of yellow made her eyes shine. Her mouth held her green tennis ball. Her yellow tail almost wagged off the picture.
Lucy was my most loved thing in the world. Well, except for Dad. Mom. My little brother Tyler. And my best friend, Sierra. Lucy was my most loved pet!
This picture would go to Mom in Branson, Missouri. She lives in Branson because she’s a famous country-and-western singer. She and Dad are divorced. She has never seen Lucy.
“Katie?” Claire’s voice sounded frantic. “KATIE!” She rattled the screen door.
When I got to the door, there she was on my front porch, dressed all in blue. Her blue tennis shoes matched her blue headband and blue sunglasses.
When she saw me, she turned and yelled at some kid on the sidewalk. “Come on!”
I looked out at the boy on the sidewalk. “Alex Ramirez?”
“Don’t ask,” she said and squinched up her face.
“Hi, Alex,” I called. What on earth was he doing here with Claire? She had spent all of fourth grade making sure she never had to sit beside him.
Alex shoved his hands into his pockets and kicked at something on the sidewalk.
Claire pushed into the hallway and whispered to me. “They left him at my house.” Her lips quivered with outrage.
“Who left him?” I whispered.
On the sidewalk, Alex came closer. He sat down on the bottom step of my porch, holding his head as if he had a headache. He probably knew how much Claire hated him.
“His mother. MY FATHER! They’re moving a big display into her store, and they said there wasn’t room for us in the car. They said they’d be gone an hour.” Her lips quivered with frustration. “I love it that Mrs. Ramirez and my father are friends. But why did she ever have a kid like Alex?”
“He’s not so bad.”
She tossed her blond curls. “Look at him. Wearing that worn-out shirt.”
“You can come in,” I called to him.
He turned, and a little bit of hope showed on his face. “Hi, Katie,” he said.
“It’s too bad he didn’t dress up for your house,” Claire said loudly.
He pulled up the sleeves that were too long and hunched his shoulders under the plaid flannel.
Claire thought it was strange that he had worn that flannel shirt every single day in fourth grade. I thought it was strange, too. But I didn’t think it mattered.
“Are your shoes clean enough?” Claire asked him. “We take dirty shoes off at my house.”
“Sorry.” He bent to untie his shoes.
“We don’t do that here,” I told him. “Leave your shoes on.”
Behind me, we heard the thumps and bangs of my little brother Tyler and the scrabble of Lucy’s feet.
“Oh, no!” Claire said, stepping back toward the door. “I forgot about your brother. AND your vicious dog!”
Tyler ran toward the kitchen, probably getting a drink of water, but Lucy rushed into the front hall, her yellow tail waving at us.
“EEK!” Claire yelled, and ran down the hall to my room. She slammed the door. A second later, she opened the door and hollered. “This room is full of trash, Katie!” She ran across the hall to my dad’s room and slammed that door instead.
Dad’s office door opened and he peeked out. “I’m trying to work in here,” he said. “Please keep the noise down.” He waved at Alex and me and went back into his office.
“I didn’t know you had this great dog,” Alex said. He squatted down and hugged Lucy, his curly hair looking almost black next to her yellow.
“We got her at the beginning of summer,” I told him. “She’s the best dog in the world. She does tricks and everything.”
Lucy leaned against him as he scratched around her ears. She groaned with happiness and tipped her head back and forth under Alex’s hands.
“Do you have a dog?” I asked him.
“Used to,” he said pushing his face into Lucy’s fur. “We had to give him away when my dad left.”
“How come your dad didn’t take him?”
Alex’s hands stopped rubbing Lucy’s head. He looked at me and away again. “He couldn’t,” he said.
His parents must be divorced, too, I thought.
Tyler ran into the hall, his arms and legs covered with dirt. “My friend, Alex,” he yelled. “Did you come to play with me?”
“I dunno,” Alex said.
“I got holes out there! We need bridges!” Tyler grabbed Alex’s sleeve with one grimy hand. “Careful,” I said. “That shirt is...” I started to say “special,” but then I wondered if Alex wanted me to say anything.
“That’s right. I’m the bridge man.” Alex grinned at Tyler, not even looking at how dirty he was. The two of them had ended up one day, together by accident, reading books about bridges at the library. Alex didn’t seem to mind spending time with a five-year-old.
“Come see my great holes,” Tyler said. Alex and Lucy and I followed him out the back door. As soon as I got to the porch, I remembered Claire.
“You can come out now,” I called.
“I’m not going out with those boys,” she called back. She came into the family room, looking around for enemies. She noticed my pencils and paper on the table. “Let’s stay inside. We can draw.”
“Come out, Claire. It’s more fun out here.”
She picked up my picture of Lucy. “I see you’re trying to draw her.”
“Be careful of that,” I said. “It’s for my mom.”
“I don’t know why you didn’t get a cat. They’re easier to draw.”
“She’s the best dog in the world.” I picked up the black pencil and outlined Lucy’s tail.
Claire snorted. “My father is not happy about your dog,” she said. “He is very afraid Lucy is going to poop in our nice yard.”
“We take her out with a leash,” I said. “She won’t do that.” In purple, I wrote LUCY at the top of the picture. I sighed with satisfaction. “My mom will really like this.”
“Do you think she cares about a dog,” Claire asked, “now that she’s a famous singer?”
“She wants to keep knowing us,” I said.
Claire looked down. “You’re so lucky, Katie.” Her blond curls covered part of her face. Her hands were very still.
Claire’s mother had died in an accident when we were in second grade. We both didn’t have mothers at home, but at least, my mother was alive.
Claire shook her hair back and picked up a blue pencil. “She would probably like a picture of me.”
“She remembers you already,” I told Claire. “When we saw her after her concert in Portland, we showed her some photos. She said, ‘Is that little Claire Plummer?’”
“What do you and your mom talk about when she calls?” she asked as she began to draw.
“She tells me about her concerts.”
“What do you tell HER?”
I pressed my lips together. “Things.”
“She and I would have so much to talk about,” Claire said.
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“We both love to get dressed up and be on a stage,” she said. “We love having people clap for us.”
I frowned at her. “She’s a professional, Claire. You’re not.”
“I am, too. My father just signed me up for modern dance.” She jumped up from the table and fluttered her hands out like little birds. “My first class is tomorrow.”
She floated around the family room, bowing to imaginary watchers as she went. Claire was right; she and Mom WERE alike. Most of the time, they both acted like they were on a stage.
I looked again at my Lucy drawing. Suddenly, I could see how awful it was. Her legs looked like four yellow sticks. And her head! Way too big!
Mom would shake her head before tossing that picture into the wastebasket. Well, I would beat her to it.
I picked up my picture, wadded it, and tossed it into the trash.
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Copyright © Anne Smith