EllRay Jakes and the Beanstalk (4 page)

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9

This Dumb New Rule

“But Henry's our neighbor,” I say to my dad for the third time, about ten minutes later. “And he's the only kid anywhere near my age on our whole street, so who else am I supposed to play with? You're always telling me I should make more friends.”

Which I had better start doing if I'm losing Kevin, I think, frowning.

That would just leave Corey, and he's usually at swimming practice.

“There's nothing wrong with Henry,” Dad tells me from across his shiny wood desk. “And the Pendletons are very good neighbors. We're lucky that house isn't empty anymore.”

“So it's okay if I hang with
him
,” I say.

“It's fine, as long as at least one parent is home and you ask Mom,” Dad says.

“But it's not fine when Fly's there?” I ask, trying to understand this dumb new rule. “Why?”

Dad looks as if he's arguing with himself about whether or not to tell me something. “Fly is three years older than you, EllRay,” he begins. “That's one big issue. But let's just say he's been in more than a few scrapes lately. He hasn't been making very good choices.”

“Huh,” I say.

“Look. The Pendletons know his mother,” Dad continues. “And they've been trying to help out by having Fly over after school every so often—to give his afternoons some structure. And that's their decision. But your mother and I don't want you going over to the Pendletons' house when Fly is there. That's
our
decision.”

“But—how do you know all that stuff about Fly's scrapes and bad choices?” I ask, trying to make it sound like a regular question, not an argument. “You never even met him! And it's not like he's going to infect me with his badness. You shouldn't punish me because Fly Reilly messed up a couple of times.”

“I did meet him once,” Dad reminds me. “In the Pendletons' driveway. He wouldn't even look me in the eye or say hello. And he has messed up more than a couple of times, son. Believe me. He's a troubled kid.”

“But lots of kids are shy around grown-ups,” I point out. “And that doesn't mean he's some gangster, Dad. Just because he didn't look you in the eye.”

The idea of a shy Fly almost makes me laugh. He's like the
OPPOSITE
of shy.

But he's also a really good skater, and he's the kid I can learn from.

I can't really explain to Dad about Kevin sort of
skating away
from being one of my two best friends at Oak Glen, and, worse, hanging out now with Jared, my sometimes enemy. Dad would probably call Kevin's father to “talk it through,” as he puts it, because they play golf together. And how embarrassing would that be?

Very.

And it would only make things worse between Kevin and me.

“I had a word with Henry's dad about Fly, son,” Dad says after a really long pause. “That's how I know these things about him. Your mother and I were getting a little concerned, and the subject just happened to come up.”

That sounds pretty lame to me. “You say we should never listen to gossip, Dad,” I remind him, thinking this is a pretty good point. “And this sounds like gossip to me. Or like Mr. Pendleton tattled about something private.”

“Things are different when it's a matter of protecting your own children, son,” Dad says. “It's our job to protect
you
.”

And it's my job to protect Alfie, I remind myself. But I can handle that.

“So what am I supposed to do?” I ask my dad. “Never go over to Henry's house again? Like you said, it's their choice who they invite over. I can't say, ‘Sorry, Pendletons, but no more Fly.' They've already decided about that, which means no more
me
.”

“You could call first, to see if Fly is there,” Dad suggests, after thinking it over for what seems like a small part of one second.

“Like I'm a
baby
?” I ask, feeling my face getting hot. “Like it's some playdate? We're just hanging, Dad! That's what guys
do
. They don't call first, or wait for some fancy invitation with glitter on it. I mean, I could see calling if Henry lived really far away, just to see if he was home, but he's our
next-door neighbor
. Isn't it bad enough that I'm only eight, and Henry's ten? I'm lucky he lets me come over there at all!”

“Take it or leave it, son,” Dad says, already thinking about something else. A rock, probably.

“But—but what if I'm over there with Henry, and Fly just kind of shows up?” I ask, picturing it. “What am I supposed to do then? Go running home like a
girl
?”

“Let's not make any sweeping statements about girls, son,” Dad says, actually laughing a little. “And you don't have to
run
home. You can stroll. Or amble. Or mosey. But yes, given that situation, you should come on home.”

“Huh,” I say, staring down at my bony knees.

At my bony
little
knees. I feel like I'm about three years old.

But—maybe Dad has accidentally given me a way to wriggle out of this terrible new rule. I could always say
Fly
just happened
to show up at the last minute, even if he was already there.

I could lie.

And I wouldn't have to “mosey home” right away, would I?

Maybe when you make a dumb new rule like this one, you deserve what you get,
Dad
. But if that's the case, why do I feel like I'm slipping even further from my goal?

At this rate, I'll
never
get my friend Kevin back!

10

The real story

“Jack and the Beanstalk” and Me

by

EllRay Jakes

 

I thought this famous story was about a boy named Jack who started out doing something dumb but ended up being a hero. I thought his mom lost her job, and they ran out of food. Then Jack sold their only cow to this shady guy for some magic beans, but you can't eat magic beans. His mom got mad at him and threw the beans out the window. A huge beanstalk grew during the night, and Jack climbed to the top, probably to hide from his mom. Then Jack fought the giant who lived at the top of the beanstalk and carried home a chicken, and his mom was happy again. In fact, they ate the chicken and then lived happily ever after, and nobody made fun of Jack anymore.

That's what I thought the story was about. But I was wrong!

Here is the real story. Jack and his mom were poor, that part was true. Also, he sold the cow to the shady guy and came home with the magic beans. And his mom threw them out, and the beanstalk grew and grew.

But Jack climbed the beanstalk three times. Each time, he stole something from the giant! The first time, the giant shouted “Fee, fi, foe, fum,” and Jack stole two bags of gold coins and got away. He and his mom could buy whatever they wanted, and they did.

The second time Jack climbed the beanstalk, he was just being greedy, in my opinion. He stole the giant's chicken. It turned out she could lay solid gold eggs. Score!

But even that wasn't enough for Jack, who by then was loving those magic beans. So Jack climbed the beanstalk a third time to steal the giant's gold harp that played the best music in the world. When the giant chased after him, which, P.S., who wouldn't, Jack raced back home, chopped the beanstalk down, and the giant smashed to the ground, dead. “Fee, fi, foe, FUMBLE.”

Jack never got in trouble for any of this, by the way, and he and his mom lived happily ever after. Or at least until their gold ran out.

Why is this story special to me? I thought it was because Jack was a guy who messed up but turned out to be a hero. But now, all I can say is that it is special to me because it proves how you should not admire a story just because it's famous.

Also, be careful who you want to be like.

Even if I never see an actual beanstalk my whole life long, I hope I can be a hero someday. But not like Jack.

The End.

11

A Challenge

WOO-HOO!
So, obviously, the folk tale assignment is going just great.

Opposite
.

On Monday, we worked some more on adding our personal stories to the folk tales we'd chosen. Then we turned them in to Ms. Sanchez.

That's the story you just read. I wrote it on our family room computer, so it came out pretty good. I write a lot better—and
longer
—on the computer than when I write by hand. For me, writing by hand is almost like having to carve the words on a rock.

On Tuesday, Ms. Sanchez read the stories.

First thing today, Wednesday, Ms. Sanchez gave our stories back to us with her corrections and suggestions. She told us to write them out again for homework tonight, only perfect this time.

She wrote a
lot
of stuff on my paper, by the way. I haven't read it all yet, but she said at the end of her comments that she liked it.

Oh, really, Ms. Sanchez? Even though I basically chose the wrong story?

After lunch, she is going to talk to each of us in private about our story while the other kids start making their drawings—“illustrations”—to go with their stories. I think my drawing should show Jack in jail, behind bars, for stealing the giant's gold, his special chicken, and probably some other stuff, too, but that's not how his story ended.

That tells you something about the world right there, doesn't it?

I also think the boy conferences will be short, and the girl conferences will be long. Girls seem to have a lot more to say about stuff, to make another “sweeping generalization about girls,” as my dad would say.

But I'm right.

On Friday, we will read our stories aloud to the whole class. Corey will probably faint, he'll be so nervous. He's already worried about it.

Then our stories and drawings will go up on the wall, Kry predicts, because it's going to be Parents Day at Oak Glen next Tuesday. She says that's what was behind this assignment the whole time: Ms. Sanchez needed something cute to put up for Parents Day.

Right now, though, it is Wednesday nutrition break, and we are outside eating and playing at the same time, trying not to choke on our nutrition. It is one of those cool-warm mornings when the sun is shining but the wind is blowing, and everything is great.

They should make more days like this, in my opinion!

For us boys, this kind of weather is perfect for lots of things.

  1. You can swing from the monkey bars, or just hang there and pretend you are an underwater deep-sea diver about to go eye-to-eye with a giant squid.
  2. You can run around the playground until your legs get numb, and you have to stop and grab your side to catch your breath. But in a good way.
  3. You can play kickball, or, if the good balls are all taken, you can pretend your foot has superpowers as you kick a caved-in ball against the fence and imagine the cheering crowd.

That's what Corey and I are doing right now.
“BLAM-O!”
Corey shouts, sinking his sneaker into a crumpled, faded red kickball.

“Take
that
,” I say, blasting another one with the side of my foot.

Our kickballs hit the fence with splats and drop to the pavement, and we scoop them up so we can do it again. It's not as much fun with two people as it would be if there were three, but is Kevin playing with us?
Oh, no.
He is over by the picnic tables with Jared and Stanley.

Kevin, Jared, and Stanley are crouching, almost squatting, on the concrete slab. It looks like they are either pretending to skate or pretending to be airplanes, like Alfie said to me that time.

They look kinda dumb, in my opinion—not that kicking squashy balls against a fence takes a whole lot of brains. I'm not gonna lie.

“Hey,” Jared yells, catching me watching them. “Come here! I wanna tell you guys something.”

“How much he hates us, probably,” Corey mutters, turning his back on Jared, Stanley, and Kevin, and giving his floppy kickball another slam against the clattering chain-link fence.

“Yeah,” I agree, but I take another peek at the picnic table area. Now Kevin is waving us over there, too. “Maybe we should go,” I say to Corey, who is now walking around with the kickball draped over his head, arms out in front of him like he's Frankenstein. “Kevin wants us, too.”

“Okay, but just wait,” Corey warns, tossing off his kickball hat and catching it with one hand. “Kevin will say something mean, just so Jared will think he's so tough and everything.”

“He won't,” I say, picking up my kickball as we get ready for the long walk to the picnic tables. “He might just stand there and say nothing
after
Jared says something mean to us. Or Stanley does. But I don't think Kevin has completely turned on us yet.”

“Hey,” Jared says when we get there.

He leaves out the “loser” this time, but I can still hear it.

“Hi, guys,” Kevin says, smiling like nothing is wrong. As if he just happened to be hanging out with Jared and Stanley, not with us. He bends his knees, then jumps three inches off the concrete slab onto the grass like he's performing a skate trick on an invisible board.

“You think that's good? Watch
this
,” Stanley says to Kevin, glaring at him through smudged glasses. I can tell he's mad because he's not Jared's only friend anymore. Stanley climbs up onto the picnic table bench, crouches, then springs onto the slab, arms out and legs bent, like he just landed a perfect 360-flip or something.

Virtual skating!

“Awesome,” Corey says, but I can tell he's trying not to laugh—and so can Kevin, probably. Kevin shrugs and turns away.

Jared sees all this, and he scowls. He grabs my sleeve and hauls me in close to him. “I barely even
know
Kevin and he's hanging out with me and not you,” he whispers. “Loser,” he finishes, pushing me away. I can smell peanut butter on his breath.

And just as the buzzer sounds, the idea comes to me.
Jared
should have chosen “Jack and the Beanstalk” for his story! It would be perfect for him, right? Jared does everything mean, just like Jack, and he never gets punished for it.

He will just go on and on until “The End.”

“Friday,” Jared shouts across the wind as we head for class. “After school. At the park. Skating contest. It's a challenge.”

“Why don't we have a helicopter flying contest, while we're at it?” I yell back. “None of us can fly a helicopter, either!”

“Chicken,” Stanley jeers, although I already showed Jared and him a long time ago that I'm
not
a chicken. And that's a story nobody can change. “Be there,” Stanley shouts.

“Okay,” I say, trying to picture it: Jared, Kevin, Stanley, and me, because Corey will be at swim practice, naturally. So I'll be on my own. One against three.

But—four guys at the park, pretending they can skate? Scooting down the park's bumpy paths like a bunch of babies?

What if some real skaters see us?

“Posers!”
I can hear it now.

Okay. I have two days to learn at least
ONE TRICK
from Fly Reilly, the bad choice kid, I tell myself, shrugging out of my jacket when we get inside Ms. Sanchez's class. And I'm going to try, even if going over to Henry's house when Fly's there means lying to my dad.

But I'll be at that park whether I learn anything or not.

I can be at least a little gutsy, can't I? Even though I'm just EllRay Jakes, and not Jack, the gangster star of “Jack and the Beanstalk”?

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