EllRay Jakes and the Beanstalk (5 page)

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12

Making It Your Own

“I need different blues,” Annie Pat says, hunching over a drawing of herself starring as the Little Mermaid. I guess she doesn't mind the part about ending up as sea foam, or maybe she didn't read that far.

Our class moved the chairs so we are facing each other across long tables. That way, we can share the colored pencils, markers, and crayons better as we do our illustrations.

We can
supposedly
share.

“I need blue, too, for part of the Pied Piper's Hawaiian shirt,” Jared argues, grabbing one of the markers. “See, I thought my guy had a lot of
pie
, and that's why all the kids followed him, but it turns out that ‘pied' means ‘different colors,' so—”

“Cinderella wears a blue dress under a perfectly clean white apron,” Cynthia interrupts as she corrals a few blue-colored pencils and crayons for future use. “But you guys can use these when I'm done,” she adds, like she's being so generous.

“I need a light brown crayon,” Emma tells Annie Pat. “Because Thumbelina slept in a walnut shell when she was a baby. That's how teensy she was.” She smiles—at the thought, I guess.

“Use burnt sienna for your walnut shell, Emma,” Fiona advises, reaching for a dark blue crayon to help fill in her own scary-looking night sky. She is drawing “The Little Match Girl,” like she said she was going to do. Her Little Match Girl definitely looks like she has weak ankles. Fiona's illustration is fancier than anyone else's, of course.

Heather is having her conference with Ms. Sanchez right now, but before she left the table, she taped on an extra piece of paper to the bottom of her drawing so she could make Rapunzel's beautiful hair as long as she wants.

Stanley is drawing a grasshopper with a party hat on, for “The Grasshopper and the Ant.” I'm not sure he read to the end of that one, either. And Corey is spending most of his time working on a cool, zigzag pattern for his tortoise's shell, because he's doing “The Tortoise and the Hare.” I guess the hare has already raced past—or is busy taking the nap that makes him lose the race.

“What are you drawing, Kevin?” Corey asks, as if nothing is wrong. Like everything has been the same as usual these past couple of weeks.

We have all been
SNEAKING
peeks at Kevin's drawing. There are a lot of bloody body parts lying around, and a smiling boy is standing in the middle of them, hands on his hips.

“It's for this cool story my dad helped me find,” Kevin reports after giving me a quick look. “It's called ‘The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers.'”

“That's not even a real story,” Cynthia informs him, adding some dots to the edge of Cinderella's perfectly clean white apron. Lace, probably. Cynthia would never allow even
pretend
dirt on her drawing.

“It is, too,” Kevin says, not even looking at her.

“Well,
I've
never heard of it,” she says, like that means anything.

Heather comes back to the table. “Your turn, EllRay,” she says to me, and so I flip my illustration facedown on the table so no one can draw a mustache or something worse on Jack, get my story, and head for Ms. Sanchez's desk.

“So, EllRay,” Ms. Sanchez begins, smiling at me as I hand her my paper to look at again. “Let's talk. You wrote a lot, but I take it you were a little disappointed with ‘Jack and the Beanstalk'?”

“It wasn't the way I remembered,” I try to explain. “Only it was too late for me to change stories.”

“That's okay,” Ms. Sanchez says, pinning back some loose hair that has fallen from the shiny black bun at the back of her head. “You know, there are a couple of ways to look at this pickle you're in. First, there are a number of versions of just about every folk tale or fairy story there is, did you know that?”

“You mean people just make stuff up and change the stories?” I ask, frowning.

“Well, sure,” she says, laughing. “Writers tell the stories people want and need to hear, and those needs can change over time. And some of these stories go back hundreds—even thousands—of years, so naturally they evolve.”

“Huh,” I say, trying to figure out what she's saying.

“Also, people
remember
the stories the way they need to,” Ms. Sanchez continues. “Like you did with Jack in ‘Jack and the Beanstalk,' who you said ‘ended up being a hero,' with nobody making fun of him anymore.”

“But when I looked on the Internet, nothing I read was the way I remembered it,” I remind her. “All the versions I read said he stole stuff from the giant.”

“And stealing is wrong, as you pointed out,” Ms. Sanchez agrees, nodding. “But I think what those stories were really trying to say was that Jack was being clever, tricking the giant the way he did. He had to learn how to deal with someone who was mean and scary, like we all do. And remember, Jack was trying to help his mom.”

“He was trespassing,” I say. “
And
stealing. You can't do that just because you don't like someone, or because they're a giant. Can you?”

Maybe you can! That would be pretty cool if it were true, I think, imagining it. You could just make a list of everyone who deserves to be robbed, and—

“EllRay?” Ms. Sanchez is saying. “You wandered off.”

That means I stopped paying attention for a moment, which is true.

I do that. It's one of my things.

“What I'm trying to tell you is that I'm very happy with the way you carried out the assignment,” Ms. Sanchez says. “You did your research, then you explained how the story differed from the way you remembered it.”

“But my research made a lie out of everything I liked about the story,” I say.

“Not necessarily,” Ms. Sanchez tells me. “What I want you to do next is to remember why the story was important to you in the first place, For example, if you were Jack, who would be the giant in your own personal story?”

Jared
, I think, but I don't say anything.

“And what would your beanstalk look like?” she continues.

“What do you mean?” I ask. “Aren't they all the same? A thick, twisty vine with big leaves and stuff? Like a leaf-ladder?”

I mean, I've never actually
seen
one, but . . .

“Your beanstalk could be a symbol of something else,” Ms. Sanchez tells me. “For instance, if you're afraid of the dark, ‘taking a step up your beanstalk' might mean sleeping for a night without the closet light on.”

And I actually know what she means for once, even though I'm not afraid of the dark. Because that's the way I was already thinking—when I decided to learn to skate so I could be friends with Kevin again, for example, or when I had to pay Alfie a nickel so she'd let me use her rug, or when I stood up to Jared when he was trying to make me look bad. Those were like steps up the beanstalk for me. Not that I'd want to have to explain that to anyone.

And caving in to Fly and deciding I might someday ignore parts of my dad's dumb new rule about Fly made me feel like I was slipping
down
the beanstalk.

“And why would you
want
to climb that beanstalk?” Ms. Sanchez continues.

To find out if I'm a
HERO
or not
, I think, still silent.
To be friends with Kevin again.

“Also, what would ‘living happily ever after' mean to you?” she asks. “See, ‘Jack and the Beanstalk' can still be your story, EllRay. It's a matter of making it your own.”

“You want me to throw out what the Internet said?” I ask, surprised.

All that research
? After I had to battle Alfie to use the family room computer?

“No,” she says. “You should keep it in your paper, but add a little more about yourself at the end.”

Hmm
.

“But are we really gonna read them out loud on Friday?” I ask, trying not to sound too horrified.

Because—what is she trying to do, make me look weak—or even cry—in front of the class?

Jared's biggest dream would come true!

Maybe Corey has the right idea, being scared about doing stuff in front of class. It can be risky.

“You don't have to make it overly personal, sweetie,” Ms. Sanchez says—quietly, for once.

See, she has this bad habit sometimes of calling me “sweetie,” and that means at least two days of teasing each time she does it, if anyone hears.

“You don't need to name names,” she explains. Or sort of explains.

“Okay. I'll try,” I tell her, hoping this will end the conversation.

“Good,” she says, beaming as if our conference has been a huge success. “Now, please tell Kevin I'd like to speak to him next, okay?”

You and me both
, I can't help but think.

But I just grab my paper and nod
okay.

And I'm outta there.

13

Part of It

“Hi, EllWay,” Alfie says from her pink bike—with training wheels we're not supposed to mention—as I plod up the driveway after school. An empty white plastic lawn chair is on the grass, and the front door is open. “I just talked to Henry's fwend,” she informs me.

“Fwend” means “friend” in Alfie-speak.

“You should dress more like him,” Alfie tells me, tilting her head as she inspects me. “He looks really good. He's almost a teenager, he said.”

“You mean
Fly
?” I ask, scowling—because I do not want Fly Reilly talking to my little sister. He doesn't even like her! What's he up to?

Also I am frowning because I had hoped to go over to Henry's this afternoon for some serious skating practice. Maybe Henry has learned the secret to doing an ollie by now. It has to happen
some
day.

But if Fly is already over at Henry's, well, that complicates everything. I'll either have to lie to my dad and say I didn't know Fly was there, or stay home and give up my chance to learn even one small thing before the world's lamest skating contest on Friday. That's just two days away.

Alfie nods, her eyes wide. She looks like she has a secret she's dying to tell me.


Where
did you see him?” I ask. “And where's Mom?”

I'm kind of worried about Mom, because no way would she leave Alfie alone outside—for more than a minute or two, anyway. Maybe not even that long.

I'll bet she didn't know Bad Choices Fly was going to come
BUZZING
by, wanting to talk to her baby girl for some mysterious reason.


Fly
was walking on the sidewalk,” Alfie says, counting on her fingers as she explains. “
I
was riding my bike on the driveway, like now. And
Mrs.- Sandler-across-the-street
was watering her flowers and saying what a good bike rider I was. Then Mom had to go inside and put something in the oven. She said she guessed I was big enough to ride my bike alone for a couple of minutes, and I should just keep talking to Mrs. Sandler and wait for you. Only Mrs. Sandler's phone rang.”

“And—I'm back. Hi, EllRay,” my mom calls out, wiping her hands on a kitchen towel as she comes back outside. She tosses the striped towel onto her shoulder and sits down in the lawn chair like nothing bad just happened.

Like Fly didn't talk to Alfie.

But maybe there's still a way to rescue my afternoon—
and
warn Fly away from Alfie. Or at least try.

“Don't tell Mom about talking to Fly,” I warn Alfie under my breath, and she looks at me, lips squinched shut like there's a lock on them. It's this thing we do when we're promising each other to keep quiet about something.

“Okay. Tell me what he said, Alfie,” I say to my sister in a low voice half an hour later. We just finished the bean and cheese burritos our mom was keeping warm for us, and Mom has gone back to her fantasy writing.

Alfie squinches her mouth shut again and shakes her head
no
.

“That's our thing for not telling
Mom and Dad
,” I remind her, but Alfie still has a sneaky look on her face.

“I can tell you part of it,” she finally says. “But not the best part. That's secret.”

“Okay. Tell me part of it,” I say, figuring Fly couldn't have talked too long. Not if Mom was only gone a minute or two.

“Fly said he could teach me to skateboard better than you,” Alfie tells me, smiling big.

“But I'm not even
trying
to teach you to skate,” I say, confused.

“I know, even though I wanted you to,” Alfie says, clouding up for a second. “I
mean
, he said he'd teach me to
skateboard
better than you,” she tells me, drawing out the words. “Fly said he'd show me how to do this really hard trick for free, and Henry would love it, and everyone would say, ‘Wow, look at that kid!' And then I'd be famous, he said. Minnie Mouse is famous,” she reminds me, her voice suddenly hushed and her brown eyes wide with admiration.

Minnie is one of Alfie's old-school heroes. Alfie likes her clothes. She also likes Daisy Duck, mostly because of her long, flappy eyelashes.

“And that's not even the best part of what he said?” I ask, narrowing my eyes at Alfie the way Dad does when he's questioning me.

“Nope,” she says, and she locks shut her lips again and shakes her head so hard that the tiny barrettes at the end of her puffy little braids look like they're dancing. “But I have to come with you over to Henry's.”


No
,” I say, as if that's the dumbest idea I've ever heard—which it kind of is. I'm eight, and like I said before, they can barely stand
me
going over there. Fly, anyway. Why would they want a four-year-old hanging around?

“Then you have to stay home and play horsie with me, because Mom's busy,” Alfie says, a stubborn look spreading across her small, round face like it's going to stay there for a while. “Which horsie do you wanna be? Purple or two-koys?”

I guess that's supposed to be Alfie-speak for “turquoise.”

“Neither one,” I say. “I have homework to do.”

I can
pretend
to be doing it, and then sneak out of the house, I tell myself. How hard could it be to fool a four-year-old who is chattering to a bunch of plastic horses?

Alfie eyes me as if she is reading my mind. “Let's go ask Mom,” she finally says.

“But we're not supposed to bother her, remember?” I say. “Unless someone is bleeding?”

“Then we'll leave her a note about going over to Henry's house,” she says, as if this is her last and best offer. “And you'll take me with you.”

I stare hard at her for a second. My dad would freak if he knew I was even considering this—even if Fly wasn't there. We take extra-good care of Alfie.

“I won't bother anyone,” she vows, her hand on her heart.

“Well, okay,” I say, not liking it one little bit. On top of everything else, Alfie is totally getting her way—as usual. “But you have to promise not to embarrass me,” I add.

“Don't embarrass
me
,” Alfie says, lifting her chin.

We could keep going back and forth forever like this, so I don't say another word.

Instead, I start gathering some truly great snacks for Fly.

And then I write our note.

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