Authors: Janet Tashjian
Matt and I get my markers and draw grids on the avocados piled on the kitchen counter. When we finish, we take them outside and stack them like cannonballs. Then we “borrow” three bags of potting soil from the garage, empty them into the middle of the driveway, and build two large mounds. We take our places behind the opposite hills.
“If we were still in school, we'd be in Social Studies right now.” He pelts me with one of the avocados, which lands in green chunks on my sneaker.
I hurl an avocado back but miss. “Even worse than Social Studies, we'd be in assembly watching Mr. Demetri sing stupid folk songs and play his guitar.”
I'm not sure if it's our explosion noises that bring my mother out of the house, but when I look up she's standing on the porch watching us bomb each other.
“They are hand grenades,” I inform her.
“I got it.” She looks at me with that face that tells me I've messed up once again. “I was going to use those avocados for dinner.”
I point to the green mush all over the driveway and our clothes. “They're still edible. Why don't you bring out a bag of chips?”
She closes the door without answering and I know we won't be seeing chips anytime soon. Besides, Bodi has already eaten the biggest chunks of avocado off the driveway.
The next person to appear on the porch is my father. One of the good things about having a father who works from home is that he's always around. Unfortunately, that's one of the bad things too.
He places a box of large garbage bags on the stairs. “I assume you two are planning on putting all that potting soil back, right?”
“Right,” Matt and I both pretend to agree.
Dad takes a ten-dollar bill out of his wallet and places it under the box. “Then you can walk to the store and replace those avocados.”
My father keeps talking, but Matt and I are only focused on the crisp ten-dollar bill calling our names. I'm thinking seven, maybe eight, king-sized candy bars; I bet Matt is thinking the same thing. When my father finally goes inside, Matt and I dive for the money. He gets to it before I do.
“Giant bag of popcorn, a tub of ice cream, or a box of cupcakes with sprinkles?” He snaps the bill at me like it's a towel in gym class.
Matt and I skateboard to the grocery store, and I ask the man in the produce department if there are any avocados on sale. He brings out several from the back room that are much cheaper than the ones in the bins. Matt and I have enough money left over to get a quart of chocolate fudge ice cream. We take utensils and napkins from the salad bar, then sit on our skateboards out back to eat.
“Guess where my mom decided we're going on vacation this summer?” Matt asks.
I shrug and dig at the vein of fudge buried along the side of the carton.
“Martha's Vineyard. Isn't that where the girl in that newspaper article drowned?”
I suddenly feel envious of Matt's vacation plans. Not because his family is going away and we're not, but because he is one step closer to having a real adventure than I am.
“Why don't you ask your mom if you can take me? I took you to San Francisco last year, remember?” Since I'm an only child, my parents often let me take friends on vacation. Sometimes I take Matt, and sometimes I just take Bodi.
Matt tries to get at the fudge by fencing his spoon with mine. I finally move my spoon out of the way to make room for his.
“I'll ask my mom if you can come. But it's three thousand miles to the Vineyard. I'm not sure what she's going to say.”
I whisper a prayer from inside my head straight to Matt's mom.
Say yes; I'll be good. Say yes; I'll be good.
When we finally get home, my mother tests the avocados in her hand and tells me they're overripe and will be brown inside. She sweeps them off the counter into the trash, then wipes off my chocolate mustache with the dish towel. She uses a little too much force, but I don't complain. We have takeout Chinese food for dinner and I don't complain about that either. I take a thumbtack and fasten the slip from my fortune cookie onto the bulletin board in my room:
A STORY WILL UNFOLD BEFORE YOU
. I bury myself underneath the covers and hope it will be true. If only I could get the guys at the fortune cookie factory to do my summer book report too.
I focus on my new planâto talk Matt's mom into letting me accompany them on vacation.
Even though it's summer vacation, I don't mind going to work with my dad. He's an artist who draws storyboards for films, and today he's working with a director shooting a horror movie. It's great to spend the day on a movie set scattered with fake body parts and chainsaws. While my father meets with the director about how he wants the storyboard to look, I bug the prop man to give me his recipe for fake blood. The guy laughs but won't let me in on his secret.
When Dad and I eat lunch in the studio cafeteria, I check out his sketches. They're the kind of basic drawings I make for my vocabulary words but with better backgrounds and from different angles.
I laugh when I see an actress with pretend blood on her arms, eating a salad at the next table. But Dad doesn't pay attention to her; he's looking at the man she's with, a young guy with cool glasses and a goatee. Dad looks down at his drawings and suddenly seems sad. I ask him what's the matter.
“They get younger and younger all the time,” he says.
He shakes his head. “The artists. They come out of school now with all this animation experience. It's tough to compete.” He tucks his sketches under his jacket on the chair beside him.
I know the conversation is going to come back around to me. When you're an only child, it always does.
“That's why it's important for you to keep up with your schoolwork. It's a tough job market out there.”
I want to remind him that I'm only twelve, but he seems depressed, so I don't bother. When we head back home, I don't ask him to stop at the comic book store in case that will make him feel even worse.
Later, when Dad falls asleep on the couch watching the news, I get an idea. I take one of the markers from his worktable and start to make him a little younger looking. My father sleeps as heavily as a giant woolly mammoth and doesn't wake up until my mother walks into the room and screams.
“Derek! What are you doing?”
“Just practicing my artistic skills.”
She starts to laugh when she sees my father's face, but then her eyes widen. I follow her gaze to my hand and realize I am holding a permanent marker. My father rises and catches his reflection in the living room mirror.
“Derek Martin Jeremy Fallon, you have gone too far!” Mom says.
“I thought I'd help Dad keep up with the young guys, that's all.”
My father looks at the long, wide sideburns and half a mustache. “It's actually not that bad.”
“Jeremy!” my mother yells. “Don't encourage him!” She runs into the kitchen and comes back with a dish towel, but my father's new facial hair isn't going anywhere soon.
She rubs his mouth with so much force, I wonder if he's going to need dentures when she's through with him. As I march up to my room, I make a mental list of all the cool stuff I could do with a set of fake teeth.
The next morning when my father comes downstairs, I try to hide my laughter. He's still got some of the sideburns I drew on him and he's wearing a black T-shirt that's too small. He combed his hair with my mother's gel, so it's sticking up in a million directions. As funny as my dad looks, his attempt at being cool makes me sad. Now it's my turn to give advice.
“You shouldn't worry about all those young guys getting all the jobs,” I say. “You're a good illustrator. You just have to do what you told meâkeep at it.”
He looks at me like I'm actually saying something that makes sense instead of just regurgitating the same old stuff he always tells me. “You're exactly right. We'll both dedicate ourselves to our studies this summer.”
And just like that, I realize that by trying to help my dad I've committed myself to even more work. You know that saying, “Nice guys finish last”? It's 100 percent true.