EllRay Jakes and the Beanstalk (2 page)

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3

Who Are You Going to Be?

“Who are you going to be?” Corey asks me as we grab our snacks—excuse me,
nutrition
—from our backpacks and hurry outside. It has stopped raining, but the playground looks black and shiny. Drops of rain are still clinging to the chain-link fence, making it sparkle.

“I don't know yet,” I say, trying to see where Kevin is. Maybe he'll hang with us like nothing ever happened.

Maybe nothing
did
happen. Maybe Kevin and Jared just came to school on their boards at the same time.

“I think I'm going to be ‘The Tortoise and the Hare,'” Corey says, peeling off a strip of string cheese and popping it into his mouth. String cheese and almonds are his favorite snack.

“Which one?” I ask. “The tortoise or the hare?”

“Both,” Corey says, smiling. “I'm the tortoise when I have to stand in front of the class and do something, and I'm the hare when I'm swimming. Because I'm really
FAST
.”

“I'm not sure that's the moral of the story,” I tell him, trying to remember.

“What's a moral? I forget.”

“It's the lesson the story is trying to teach,” I say. “At least when it's a fable. My mom reads this old book to us sometimes before we go to sleep.”

“Huh,” Corey says, peeling off some more cheese.

Annie Pat and Emma appear, dipping their hands into their snack bags like birds pecking at seeds. “I think Emma should be Thumbelina,” Annie Pat says, smiling. “Because she's such a tiny little thing.”

“I
might
be Thumbelina,” Emma says, thinking it over. “I'll have to look her up first, in case she doesn't have a happy ending.”

“Well, I'm going to be Cinderella,” Cynthia announces, smoothing her hair back with her red plastic headband. “Both our names sound like they start the exact same way. And Heather can be one of my stepsisters. And maybe Fiona can be the mouse who helps me clean up the kitchen.”

“One of the
ugly
stepsisters?” Heather asks, her mouth stopping mid-chew.

It looks like Heather might stand up to Cynthia at last!

“You don't have to be
that
ugly,” Cynthia assures her. “Just a little, maybe.”

“I'm not sure I want to be a mouse,” Fiona almost squeaks, which basically ruins her objection. All that's missing is whiskers and a tail.

“And anyway,” Kry Rodriguez points out to Cynthia in a friendly way, “I don't think the idea is for you to tell other kids what they have to be. It's not like they're all characters in a play about you.”

“It was just an idea,” Cynthia says, her nose in the air. But she doesn't ever fight with Kry, because everybody likes her. I don't know how Kry does that.

“Well,
my
idea was to be the Little Match Girl,” Fiona dares to say. “Because she was really shivery and cold, like I am now,” she explains. “And she saw a shooting star once, and I did, too. And she probably had weak ankles, just like me.”

Nobody seems to know what to do with all this information coming out of Fiona's mouth. She hardly ever says a word!

“What about you?” Kry finally asks Jared.

“Maybe the Pied Piper,” Jared says, shrugging. “And you guys can follow me wherever I go.”

Yeah, right.
That's
gonna happen.

“Stanley's not here today,” Jared continues. “But he can be the grasshopper from ‘The Grasshopper and the Ant.' I'll tell him.”

“I'm not sure the grasshopper is the hero of that story,” Kry reminds him.

“Maybe not,” Jared says. “But he has all the fun.”

“I think I'll be Snow White,” Heather says almost to herself. “I do like to sleep a lot.”

“Or you could be Rapunzel,” Cynthia says. “Because you have such long, beautiful hair.”

Heather cheers up, hearing this. A compliment from Cynthia is like an endangered species, it's so rare. And I can tell for sure that Heather likes the idea of being Rapunzel a whole lot better than being an ugly stepsister. Maybe even more than being Snow White.

“What about you?” Emma asks Kry.

“Hmm,” Kry says, tapping her chin. “I'm thinking either Little Red Riding Hood, because I love to visit my
abuela
, and we always bring her cookies. Or I'll be Tinkerbell, if that even counts as a story. I'd like to make people's wishes come true.”

“EllRay can be the Ugly Duckling if he's not gonna be an elf, right?” Jared says, poking Kevin in the ribs with his elbow. “Or Pinocchio, because he lies like a rug.”

“I do not lie,” I say, defending myself—since it doesn't look like Kevin's going to do it for me. “Maybe I'll be Jack, from ‘Jack and the Beanstalk.' He ended up climbing the beanstalk and killing the giant, don't forget.”

“Yeah,” Cynthia says. “After he sold his mom's whole entire cow for some magic beans.”

“It ended up good, though,” I say, but I can feel my face get hot. I'd forgotten about those beans.

I still like the idea of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” though. He climbed up that beanstalk one great big leaf at a time, didn't he? Even though he didn't know what he'd find when he got to the top? Jack was
BRAVE
.

And I'm the one who gets to decide.

4

That Feeling

“Finally,” Kevin says during our last recess. He has managed to corner me near the playground drinking fountain, where the water tastes so weird that you only drink it if you're dying of thirst.

“Finally what?” I say, like I don't know what he's talking about.

As if I didn't spend lunch in the library instead of the cafeteria, where all the action is on cold, wet days.

“What's the matter?” Kevin asks. “Are you avoiding me? Do I stink or something?” he says, sniffing his parka-covered armpits in a jokey way.

“Nah. You smell okay, I guess,” I say, shoving my hands into my jacket pockets. “I've been busy today, that's all.”

I can't think of a way to joke back at him.

“Busy with what?” Kevin asks, like he's really curious. “Dude, it's Oak Glen. There's nothing to do here but hang with each other. And Corey had to leave school early for a swim meet.”

See, that's the trouble with having Corey as one of your best friends. He has an actual schedule, like a grown-up. So he's not always around.

“You've been busy with what?” Kevin asks again.

“I dunno,” I say.

I can't really tell him the truth, that I'm jealous he rode his skateboard to school with Jared this morning. That would sound so—so
girly
. Like,
“Ooh, I'm so jealous.”

And I'm not
jealous
-jealous. I mean, sure, Kevin and I have always been friends. And there's nothing wrong with him making another friend. What do I care? “The more the merrier,” like my mom sometimes says.

But why did Kevin have to choose
Jared Matthews
if he needed a new friend? Jared and his buddy Stanley are like a two-person team whose mission is to make me look bad—in front of as many people as possible.

The more the merrier.

“You should learn to skate,” Kevin tells me, and then he clears his throat, which means he's getting ready to say something important. I know him, see? “Skating is so cool,” he begins. “Even when it's raining, like today, you can just pick up your board and take it with you anywhere. Into your mom's car, or into the mall. Even into the movies, if they let you. Having a skateboard is like being a teenager and being able to
drive
, EllRay.”

Kevin exaggerates like that sometimes.

“When did you get to be such an expert?” I ask, staring hard at the pavement.

“I'm not,” he protests. “I can't even ollie yet, and I don't think Jared can, either. But my older cousin skates, and I was at his house a lot during winter break. Remember those days I couldn't come over? Anyway, he gave me one of his old boards and made me keep practicing on my own. It's hard,” he admits.

Kevin likes solving puzzles and stuff. I guess learning to skate is sort of like a puzzle for him.

“You never said,” I tell him, trying to keep the blame out of my voice.

“But it wasn't a
secret
,” Kevin says, looking confused. “There's a lot of things I don't say. Like, I brushed my teeth after breakfast,” he tells me, trying for another joke. “I never told you that, either, did I? But I will from now on, if you want me to.”

“That's okay,” I say, trying to joke back. “Maybe you did tell me, and I just wasn't listening. So, you practice all the time with Jared, now?” I slip in this question like it's nothing. No big deal, just something to say.

“Not
all
the time,” Kevin says. “Just a couple of times. Like when he wanted me to come to the park last weekend. He's not so bad when he's on his own.”

“Huh,” I say, trying to think fast how to reply, which always works the opposite for me. The faster I try to think, the
SLOWER
my brain goes.

Okay. I'm not the boss of Kevin, I remind myself. He can hang out with whoever he wants. Also, he's right—Jared's
not
so bad when he's on his own. It's Jared-and-Stanley that becomes the awful mix.

Maybe I'll just do whatever it takes to stay friends with Kevin. I can ignore Jared if I have to.

“You should learn,” Kevin is saying again, smiling at me like today has been perfectly normal. “It's really fun, EllRay. And if you learned, we could all—”

“Maybe,” I interrupt. “I
might
learn. I'll think about it.”

But it won't be with Kevin and Jared, I promise myself.

No. I'm counting on my neighbor Henry's friend Fly to teach me, even though I'm not sure Fly likes me that much.

See, my plan now is to surprise Kevin with how good a skater I am, once I learn. Then Kevin will remember that he's
glad
we're friends. Maybe then he won't need to hang around with Jared anymore.

Then things will go back to the way they used to be.

Skating does have one thing going for it, I remind myself. The kids who ride their boards to school act like they have a secret nobody else knows: that freedom is there, waiting for them in the playground pen.

It's the same way Jack must have felt, sneaking out of his hut to climb the beanstalk.
Sure
, his mom was mad at him for selling their only cow.
Sure
, Jack didn't know what he'd find at the top of the beanstalk. But he climbed it anyway. Didn't he?

So, not only do I want my old friend Kevin back,
I want that feeling.

And I'm gonna get it!

5

Henry Says

“Can I use your shaggy rug?” I ask Alfie, my four-year-old sister. She is very cute, but please don't tell her that. She's bad enough.

It is now Sunday afternoon, two days after my awkward talk with Kevin, and I am standing in the hall outside Alfie's pink and purple bedroom. My new skateboard is tucked under my arm. I am trying to pretend that carrying it around is a normal thing, like how my dad carries his briefcase. But it still feels weird. And heavy.

“What do you want my rug for?” Alfie asks. She is lying on her puffy bedspread, with a few plastic horses lined up in front of her. The horses are very un-horsey colors—orange, purple, blue. They also have long, silky manes and tails they would trip on in real life.

Alfie is not big on real life, though, so that's okay.

“Henry says that first, I'm supposed to practice just standing on my board,” I say, wishing I didn't have to explain this to Alfie. But maybe having to do stuff you don't want to is part of reaching a goal. Alfie's rug is almost like grass, it's so thick—and I'm not about to practice on the front lawn where anyone could see me.

Especially Henry and Fly, in case Fly calls me a
POSER
, which is what older guys call skaters they don't like. Ones who don't know what they're doing. Or in case I fall off.

Henry Pendleton is ten years old, and like I said, he is my very cool new neighbor. It will be hard living up to him. And Fly Reilly is Henry's eleven-year-old best friend—his best skating friend, anyway. Henry says you should hang with kids who are better than you at what you're trying to do.

That shouldn't be hard for
me
. So far, all I'm good at is holding my new board under my arm.

It isn't really new, by the way. Me and my dad found it for eight dollars at a yard sale yesterday. Yard sales are one of the things we like to do together on Saturday afternoons. Dad said buying a used board was the ecological and thrifty thing to do. He said that he and mom would get me a good one in a few months—if I learned to ride and be safe at the same time, and if I was still interested in skating then.

That's a whole lot of “ifs.”

Of course, me bringing home even a bashed-up, eight-dollar used skateboard meant that my mom started to look up special shoes, helmets, and pads on the Internet almost the second we walked through the door. After her first freak-out, I mean. Dad said he's not sure how economical this whole skating thing is turning out to be after all.

“You can't
take
my rug,” Alfie says, sitting up on her bed like she's about to defend her room against me, the alien invader.

“I want to put my board on it and just stand there,” I tell her. “I won't hurt anything. I won't even talk to you,” I add, hoping she'll take the hint and not flood me with a lot of babble about unicorns and fairies, or her friends and enemies at Kreative Learning and Playtime Daycare.

And yes, I know they spelled “creative” wrong. Dad mentions that a lot.

“Okay. You can stand on my rug for a nickel,” Alfie says, and this doesn't surprise me a bit. Alfie has just started learning about money, and she has decided she wants a lot of it, so I've come prepared. I fish a nickel out of my pocket and put it in her hot little hand.

I take my board and
PLONK
it down in the middle of her rug, then I climb on. I try to copy the way I've seen other guys stand, but it doesn't feel right.

“Which foot goes in front?” Alfie asks, tilting her head. “Can we vote?”

See, they voted on what to name the hamster at Kreative Learning, so that's another big thing for Alfie now. I think “Hammy” won, by the way.

“No voting,” I inform her. “You can do it ‘regular foot' or ‘
GOOFY FOOT
,' Henry says. There's no right or wrong. It's whichever seems more natural,” I add, even though nothing is seeming very natural to me right now.

After all, I am standing on a skateboard on the shaggy pink rug in my little sister's room. What's so natural about that?

“‘
Henry says
,'” Alfie repeats, quoting me. “I thought that was his name when he first moved in, you said it so much.”

“Did not,” I argue, even though she's probably right.

“So, just put one foot in front, and push with the other one,” Alfie says. She can be kind of bossy sometimes.

“Wait,” I tell her. “Henry says there's a way to find out which foot pushes.”

“What's the way?”

“I just stand here with my feet on the rug, see,” I say, getting off the board, “and you sneak up behind me and try to knock me over.”

“It's not sneaking if you already know I'm coming,” Alfie points out, but she's off the bed and ready to tackle me before I can even count to one.

“Wait,” I say again, holding up my hand like it's a stop sign. “Go behind me and
then
push.”

“With no warning?”

“With no warning,” I say.

And so Alfie strolls around behind me like she just happens to be going for a walk around her room. “La-di-da-di-dah,” she sings, and then
WHAM
, I'm staggering forward—
right foot first.

“Good job, Alfie,” I say, before she can shove me again. “So that's my rear kicking foot, and my left foot will be up front, for balancing. I'm regular foot.”

“Too bad,” Alfie says, like I just lost a prize. “But so far, all you're doing is talking. I'll bet I could stand on your board without anyone even pushing me first. Give me a turn, EllWay. Please?”

“EllWay” is Alfie-speak for EllRay. That's just the way she says my name.

“You can have a turn after me, maybe,” I say, getting on the board and taking my stance: left foot forward, over the front wheels, and right foot back, as if it's ready to push. I bend my knees like I'm zooming along, arms out.

“Are you pretending you're an
airplane
?” Alfie asks, her brown eyes wide.

“Nuh-uh,” I say, still racing down the street—in my head, anyway—as I try to remember everything Henry said about this first lesson. I shift my weight toward the front wheels, then back toward the rear wheels. And then I try to jump a little.

“You're wrecking my rug,” Alfie objects, watching me. “That's gonna cost you more. I'm saving up for a Golden Sparkle Corral for my horsies,” she tells me, as if I didn't already know. Everyone knows.

“I can't go downstairs and do this,” I say. “Mom would probably make me wear a helmet—
indoors
. And that would ruin the whole effect.”

“Yeah,” loyal Alfie agrees. “It would wreck everything.
Mom
,” she adds, sounding scornful and guilty at the same time, because usually, she's a big fan of our mom. “You must be the best skater in your whole class, EllWay,” she adds as I sway from side to side.

“Not even close,” I admit. “But maybe someday. So far, Kevin McKinley is best, if you can believe it. And after him comes Jared Matthews. And then Kry Rodriguez, if you count the girls. But Henry Pendleton is going to be my secret weapon, because he knows Fly.”

“I could skate as good as Kry if I wanted to,” Alfie brags, basing this statement on absolutely nothing. “You
said
I could have a turn, EllWay. Let me try! But push me over first, okay? So I can see what foot I am? I hope I'm goofy foot.”

“I'm sure you are,” I say, getting off my board. “But I'm
not
going to push you. That would be the exact minute Dad walks into the room, and you know it. Go ahead and try, though.”

Alfie grabs my hand and climbs onto the board, which probably can't tell anything is on it at all. Even though I am small, Alfie is tinier. Her real name is “Alfleta,” and that means “beautiful elf” in this ancient language only our mom knows about. And Alfie
is
like a golden-brown elf, now that I think about it.

“How's this?” Alfie says, still gripping my hand.

“Good,” I tell her. “But please don't fall off, or I'll never hear the end of it.”

“When do we get to start
moving
?” Alfie asks, scowling.

“We have to learn this first,” I say. “At least that's what—”


Henry says
,” Alfie finishes, crouching over my new-old skateboard like she really knows what she's doing.

Which she absolutely does
not
.

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