Authors: Constance C. Greene
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Just Plain Al
The Al Series, Book Five
Constance C. Greene
For Sophie and Samantha
“If I was pretty, with gorgeous long legs and big bosoms and tawny hair and all that junk,” Al said, “Al might be OK. But with my equipment, Al stinks.”
All morning we'd been trying to think of another nickname for Al. She's hitting the big one-four, fourteen, that is, next week, and she says she's too old to go on being called Al. It's a baby name, she says.
“I never knew a baby called Al,” I told her. “Did you?”
“You know what I mean. I need something with pizzazz. I'm standing where the brook and the river meet, kid, and I want to tell you”âAl shot me a piercerâ“it's a cold and lonely place.”
“Yeah, and plenty wet, too,” I said.
Oblivious to my sparkling wit, Al plunged on.
“How about Sandy? I think Sandy's kind of a cute name.”
“Nope,” I said firmly. “Sandy's out. People would only get you mixed up with Little Orphan Annie's dog.”
“You're right.” Al sighed. “Except he's much cuter'n me.”
Oh, boy. Here we go again. Al was headed straight for the pits, a place she's quite familiar with.
“Besides,” I said, “who has all that stuff, the legs, the bosoms, the hair, when they're fourteen? Nobody. Name me one person.”
“Brooke Shields!” Al shouted. “Elizabeth Taylor! Plenty of people!”
“Brooke Shields hasn't got big bosoms,” I said, remaining calm. Sometimes I act older'n Al, although she's a year older'n me. One of us has to remain calm in a crisis. Hardly a day passes without at least one.
“And furthermore,” I said, “I read that Elizabeth Taylor has short, stubby legs.”
“On her, who notices?” Al snapped, then got back to the matter at hand.
“I still think Alex has the most class.” Al let her eyelids droop, which she always does when she imitates Greta Garbo. “Alex, Alex, my darling,” she murmured in a deep voice. Then her eyes widened and she said, “Imagine anyone saying, âAl, Al, my darling?' Absurd,
“I bet right at this moment Brian is practicing saying, âAl, Al, my darling,'” I told her. Brian is a boy Al likes who lives near Al's father and stepmother in Ohio. He writes Al postcards. Well, actually, he's written her one postcard. It just seems like more.
“Don't be weird,” Al said, but she perked up considerably at the mention of Brian's name.
“Stand over there,” I directed. “And let me see if you could pass as an Alex.”
Al did as she was told. She had on the red shoes she bought to wear to her father's wedding. She loves those shoes to death, even though they give her humongous blisters.
Al posed with one hand on her hip, knees bent in that asinine way models have. She pushed out her lips and dragged a strand of hair across her face so she'd look seductive and sexy. Like an Alex.
I circled her slowly, studying her, pretending I was a world-famous photographer lining her up for a glossy magazine spread.
“Snap it up. I haven't got all day,” Al said.
“Tough. Neither do I.” I narrowed my eyes at her. “Do you realize how much time we've spent trying to figure out a new name for you? Anyway, I think you're stuck with Al. It's you in a nutshell.”
“That's what I'm afraid of.” Al oozed out of her model's pose and looked dejected.
“I've got it!” Inspiration had struck me. “How about Zandra? If that isn't classy and loaded with pizzazz, I don't know what is.”
“Zandra? What kind of a weirdo name is that?”
“I read about a dress designer called Zandra,” I told Al. “She makes outrageously expensive clothes for the very rich. That's what it said. If the dress she's wearing is pink, she dyes her hair pink. If the dress is green, the hair is also green. I call that classy. And you've got to admit that Zandra would make you stand out in any crowd,
“Zandra.” Al tried it on for size, rolling the name around on her tongue to see if it fit. “Zandra, Zandra.” Al grinned. “My mother would have a cow.”
“You might get to like it,” I said. I wasn't going to say anything, but at the moment, Al did not look like a Zandra. In addition to her red shoes, which have big clunky heels and make her walk sort of like Frankenstein, she had on a pair of ratty old jeans and her AL(exandra) the Great T-shirt. Her father and stepmother had sent it to her when Al's mother got pneumonia and had to go to the hospital. Al stuck by her mother instead of going to the barn dance in Ohio, which she so longed to do. Al wears that T-shirt almost every day. Sometimes she sleeps in it. If she was in a burning building and had to choose between it and her red shoes, Al says she'd take 'em both and Devil take the hindmost. Whatever
“On second thought,” I said, “maybe you're not a Zandra. That's a pretty fancy name.”
“Yeah.” Al flicked her eyelashes at me. “And I'm pretty plain. Just plain Al, they call me.”
“I didn't mean that,” I said.
“Listen,” she told me.
“I read a book about shoes. It says that red shoes are a weapon. That red shoes make men perspire and stammer and pull at their neckties. Did you ever hear that?”
I shook my head.
“Well, if I ever get to the farm, I'll wear these beauties.” Al stuck out a foot and we both stared at it. “And Brian will stammer and perspire and tug at his necktie, he'll be so crazy about me.”
Al stopped talking. I knew she expected me to say something significant.
I thought a minute.
“You think Brian owns a necktie?” I said at last.
When I first knew Al, she had pigtails. She was the only girl in the whole entire school who had them. Al is a nonconformist and proud of it. She went to have her hair styled and came out with her pigtails intact. And it was her mother's hair stylist, working under orders from her mother.
Al's a year older than I am, due to the fact that she traveled around a lot when she was little and got left back somewhere along the line.
Al broods a lot. She spends too much time contemplating her own navel. Sometimes it gets me down. I love her. She's my best friend. I only wish she had a lighter heart. Last week she said to me, “Someday before I'm through with life, I would like to be three things. I would like to be thin, and delicate and radiant. That's not asking too much, do you think?”
I told her no, I didn't think it was asking too much. If I could be three things, I would like to be voluptuous and blithe and droll.
That night while I was washing the lettuce and Teddy was hurling knives and forks around in his version of setting the table, the doorbell rang.
“I'll get it!” Teddy hollered. I put out my foot and tripped him. He went sprawling. I let Al in. We stepped over Teddy, who was lying on the rug, sniveling. Al bent down to pat him on the head and he licked her hand, like a dog. She said, “Down, Fido,” and Teddy doubled up, giggling.
“Hello, Al,” my mother said. “How's your mother doing?”
“Fine, thanks. The doctor says she's almost good as new.” Behind my mother's back Al waggled her fingers at me. She had something important to tell.
We zapped into my room and closed the door. I leaned against it, listening. Then I yanked it open, expecting Teddy to fall in. For once, he wasn't there. Teddy suffers from an advanced case of eavesdropitis.
Al's mouth curved upward. “Are you busy Saturday night?” she asked me in a happy voice.
“Sure. The opera, the Russian Tea Room, then on to Elaine's or perhaps Mortimer's.” These are very “in” places in New York, where if you don't get a good table, you go home and shoot yourself. These are places were luminaries congregate. I've never been to a luminary place. Neither has Al. She goes to restaurants for dinner lots more than I do, though. Her mother's various beaux take her, in an attempt to buy her affections, she says. My mother doesn't have any beaux. She has only my father.
“How about going to the Rainbow Room for dinner?” Al said casually. The Rainbow Room is a fancy dancy place atop the RCA building in Rockefeller Center. The view is fantastic, I've heard. Needless to say, the Rainbow Room is very expensive.
“So long as it's your treat,” I told her.
“Well, it just so happens my mother's new beau, Stan, is treating.” Al smiled at me. Her teeth are very nice and she doesn't wear braces. I tell her to smile more often, but she says life is a serious business.
“I thought you were joking,” I said. “Stan must have megabucks. How come he asked me? He doesn't even know me.”
“If he did he might not've asked you,” Al said, poking me to show she was only fooling. “He asked my mother to dine. She said she'd promised to take her daughter out to celebrate her birthday. And her daughter's little friend was coming, too.”
“Is that me?”
“He said, âBring the little friend along, too. We'll make it a real party.' So how about it? Want to come?” Her eyes were very bright.
“I'll have to ask my mother. What happened to Mr. Wright?” Mr. Wright was Al's mother's beau before Stan showed up.
“Oh, he was so cheerful all the time she was in the hospital, she said he depressed her, so she told him to take a walk,” Al said.
“I don't have anything to wear to the Rainbow Room,” I said. “What are you wearing?”
“Lord knows.” Al's eyebrows disappeared underneath her bangs. “My mother might buy me a black satin strapless number if she can find one on sale. I plan to wear my red shoes with it and maybe get some red lace stockings to add the final touch. Really make those bozos at the Rainbow Room sit up and take notice, huh?” Al did a little belly dance and a few bumps and grinds to show me she was still in shape.