Authors: Janet Tashjian
The next morning Ms. Williams picks up where my mother left off. She passes out the summer reading list, wearing a demented smile and acting as if she's tossing out free candy. I pretend to smash my head on my desk.
Ms. Williams ignores me. “You'll read three books from this list and write a report on one of them. The way our principal shifted assignments next year, I'm happy to say, I'll be your teacher again in September.”
I swear I'm not a troublemaker, but it's like an alien life-form has landed in the classroom wielding assault weapons in each hand. SOMEBODY HAS TO STOP THE MADNESS!
“Are you saying we have you again next year and we have a report due on the first day of school?” I ask. “That's reading
writing homework! For the summer! It's just not doable on my schedule.”
My friend Matt thinks this is funny, but I know he'll enjoy the show from the sidelines without backing me up.
The teacher's voice has that same weary tone as my mother's. “Please tell us about all these summer activitiesâI can't wait to hear.”
“That's the whole thing,” I say. “You can't plan when you're going to pelt the UPS truck with water balloons or when you'll dig up worms and put them in Mr. Parker's mail slot or when you'll dip your action figures in paint and flick them at your friend with a lacrosse stick until you're both covered in painty stripes. Summer's like a pajama-and-cereal dayâif you try to plan it out ahead of time, you wreck it.”
Matt waves his fist in the air as if he's the one giving Ms. Williams a hard time. The teacher places the reading list squarely in front of me. “I'm afraid you'll have to try and fit in three of these books during all that fun.”
I like Ms. Williams, but I wouldn't complain if she was kidnapped by crazed bank robbers in need of a getaway car.
The reading listâunfortunatelyâisn't going anywhere either. I stare at it and wonder what I've gotten myself into. One of the books is about a kid and his dog over summer vacation and all the exciting things they do together and the lessons the boy learns.
I have a dog andâtrust meâthat stuff only happens in books.
Matt and I are at the mall looking at DVDs and comic books. His mother is trying on shoes a few stores down, but we imagine she isn't with us and that we came here on our own.
My favorite clerk, Jamie, wraps DVDs in plastic then seals them with a blow-dryer. When his boss isn't looking, Jamie pretends to stick his finger in the electrical outlet while he aims the blow-dryer at his head so his hair flies around like he's been shocked. I laugh more than Matt does, but that's because Jamie is Matt's older brother and he never thinks anything Jamie does is funny.
As we scan the new action comedies, I tell Matt about the newspaper article I found in the attic. “I want to find out more about the girl who drowned,” I say. “Do you think Jamie can help?”
“He's more interested in girls that are alive.” Matt points to Jamie blowing the hair of two high school girls giggling by the cash register. Jamie's boss coughs with disapproval and says he's going down the hall for a coffee. That's all Matt and I need to hear.
“Come on, Jamie. Your boss won't be back for at least ten minutes,” I say.
Matt starts to hum the James Bond theme song. Jamie tries to impress the girls by being a good brother, so he presses the button that lowers the store's gate. The metal bars come down slowly from the ceiling while Matt and I run through the store as if we're spies being chased by bad guys. Then, when the gate's just a few feet from the ground, we roll under it and escape at the last second.
Jamie waves to us from the other side of the bars and tells us we look like monkeys at the zoo.
“Very funny,” Matt says. “Raise the gate so we can do it again.”
Instead, Jamie takes packing peanuts from the box of DVDs and starts throwing them as if we're monkeys and it's feeding time.
“Don't be a knucklehead,” I say. “Let's do it again before your boss comes back.”
But Jamie is focused on the girls and has blocked us out completely.
“Just where you two belongâbehind bars.”
I turn around and see Carly Rodriquez, the smartest girl in our class. I tell her we're in the middle of re-enacting a James Bond movie, and if she doesn't get out of the way, we can't be responsible for her safety.
She waves a green plastic bag in our faces like she's got the secret code we spies are searching for. “I just picked out my summer reading books. I got two extra ones in case I finish the others early.”
Teacher's pet, as usual
. I tell Jamie his boss is coming back with the coffee, and he immediately hits the button to raise the gate. When it's a foot off the floor, Matt and I roll back into the store. Carly almost looks a little envious of our game.
Jamie peeks down the hall. “You liar, he's not coming.”
“I know.” I take a handful of change from the
HAVE A PENNY, LEAVE A PENNY
tray on the counter, then run down to meet Matt in the poster section. I see Carly at the other end of the store, smiling as she pages through one of her new books. This time I'm the one who's envious.