Ellray Jakes the Dragon Slayer (8 page)

BOOK: Ellray Jakes the Dragon Slayer
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“Well, you’re not invited, and it’s happening tomorrow,” Alfie says, sniffling. “And you can’t stop it, EllWay Jakes. Because—I don’t want to be invisible no more!”


Any
more,” I correct her.

“Oh,
s-word
,” Alfie shouts at me, clear as can be.

She can go from sad to mad in one second flat. A world record, probably.


What
did you say?” I ask. I cannot believe my ears. If Mom or Dad heard her say the s-word, the world would probably explode. Our world would, anyway.

“That means
shut up
, in case you didn’t know,” Alfie informs me, grabbing her cold toast off the counter and clutching the two pieces to her chest, along with the jar of peanut butter.

This looks like “an accident about to happen,” as my dad would say.

And now, Alfie’s T-shirt with the frilly sleeves has crumbs all over it, which is not gonna fly once she sees them. Major clothes change coming up. “And I don’t even care about the honey,
EllWay
,” she tells me, still furious. “Because I like plain peanut butter, all by itself!”

Which is not true, by the way.

But we’re way past telling the truth around here.

Alfie’s pretending she’s not about to be robbed by that slimy little dragon, Suzette Monahan, and I’m pretending I don’t care.

“So, what if
I
start saying you’re invisible, Alfie?” I ask, trying one last time. “Did you ever think of that? And what’ll you give me to stop? See, it never ends!”

“It
will
end,” Alfie says, stomping her foot hard on the kitchen floor. “It will end tomorrow afternoon, when Suzette comes over to play.”

“To rob you, you mean,” I say, turning away. “I can’t
see
you!” I sing out, facing the empty corner of the room. “Who’s that talking behind me? Someone invisible? Why, it’s no one at all,” I say, turning around.

“Liar, liar, liar!” Alfie yells, tears spurting from her eyes as she flees the kitchen.

Let her cry!

To
think
I spiked that extreme dodgeball at Stanley Washington’s head because I was mad at him for calling Alfie a waffle! Well, I was mad at Stanley for a bunch of other reasons, too, but I forget what they are right now.

Us boys don’t really know or care why we get mad at each other, in my opinion. We just do, and fast. Then we either get over it or fight, and that’s that.

But girls save up every little detail when
they
get mad. Then the girls sit on their hurts like chickens guarding a bunch of golden eggs, and then they cluck about each egg for
weeks
. I’ve seen this happen in my class.

I don’t remember exactly what it was that made me blow up at Stanley. Being mad at him seemed important at the time, though.

And it’s all I had to work with back then.

11
BEING PROUD

Dad and I drive around doing chores on Saturday mornings. It’s “our chance to catch up,” he always says. But it’s more him catching up with me than me catching up with him. The thing is, his geology work is about something called “isotope ratios,” not just which rock is prettiest. So you can see why our catching up is so one-sided. Not even most grown-ups know what he’s talking about.

I want my dad to be proud of me more than anything, but it’s hard. He’s a professor, which is like an extra-fancy teacher, and I’m just a shrimpy kid who is only medium-good at everything. When I’m even paying attention, that is.

I have trouble with that, too. There’s a lot going on inside my head.

But I know this much. I do
not
want to do anything boring like a geology professor when I grow
up! If I don’t get to be a Laker, I want to be a stuntman, or else just a plain old millionaire, so nobody can tell me what to do. I think if you’re rich enough, no one cares how short you are.

I will have a giant gumball machine—and the gum will be totally free!—in my fancy front hall that will be so big, you can skateboard in it. Also, I will have every video game known to mankind in my all-glass house. And I’ll be able to eat popcorn whenever I want, even in the middle of the night. Maybe I’ll hire a TV cooking star whose only job is to make really cool snacks for me and my—

“EllRay?” my dad says, sounding like he’s just asked me something.

“Sorry,” I reply. “What were you saying?”

“That we’re almost at the nursery,” he says, sounding happy to share this news with me.

On our Saturday mornings, we are usually on our way either to the plant nursery—for rose stuff—or to the hardware store. The plant nursery is a zero, in my opinion, except for all the cool poisons in the
STINKY
aisle. But the hardware store is an excellent place to plan your next Halloween costume. They have all sizes of chains on big spools,
though I can’t figure out yet how to use them in a costume. And they also have space invader–type masks, and stretchy vent tubes you could use for robot arms, especially if you spray-painted them silver.

True, it is only April, but you cannot start planning too soon for Halloween.

At our hardware store, there is also a big gray cat with a chewed-up ear living there who likes to sleep on top of a big stack of doormats. It’s fun seeing him, because we don’t have any pets at home. Alfie’s allergic. “And then we’ll go to the hardware store?” I ask, trying not to jinx it by sounding too hopeful.

“Sure,” Dad says. “There’s always
something
we need there. And then….”

He draws out these last two words in a tempting way, a smiles big at me, because me and my dad share one small secret.

Our Saturday morning doughnut!

I smile back at him. “Chocolate sprinkles,” I tell him. “I have a question,” I add, surprising even myself. “It’s about being proud. You’re always saying Alfie and I should be proud of ourselves.
So that means pride’s a good thing, right?”

“It
can
be a good thing, even though pride—vanity, that is—is considered to be one of the seven big vices,” Dad says, after thinking about it for a couple of seconds. “And not a ‘vise’ like in the hardware store, son. This ‘vice’ is spelled with a C in the middle, and it’s something bad.”

My dad explains everything way too much. That can be frustrating, especially if you’re in a hurry. But it also means that you always know he has listened to your question and taken it seriously.

“Wait. What?” I ask, now totally confused in the back seat. “So is pride a good thing or a bad thing?”

“Well,” Dad says, stopping at a red light, which is always a good idea, “if you’re so proud that you think you’re a better, smarter, or nicer-looking kid than anyone else you know, that’s a bad thing. But if you’re proud enough to know you’re as
good
as everyone else, that you try to be the best you can be, that’s a good thing.”

“Corey Robinson’s a lot better swimmer than I’ll ever be,” I tell my dad.

“Do you feel proud of him?” Dad asks.

“Yeah,” I say. “I mean, I wish I was better at
swimming than I am, but I’m proud Corey’s a champion. I like to brag about him.”

“See,
that’s
a good kind of pride, too,” my dad tells me as we pull into the crowded plant nursery parking lot. “And if your swimming improved even a little bit, it would be a good thing to be proud of that. We can work on it next summer, if you want.”

“Maybe,” I say with some caution, because my dad can go overboard when he helps me work on stuff. Last year, when I said I
might
like to be a Cub Scout, mostly because Kevin was talking about joining, the next thing I knew I was wearing a uniform with too-big blue shorts sagging down below my knees, and I was reciting some pledge. When the whole thing was just an idea that had floated across my brain.

And Kevin never even joined!

Nothing against the Cub Scouts.

“But can you
teach
someone to be proud? Someone little?” I ask my dad as if it’s just an ordinary question. Like I’m not talking about Alfie.

“To have pride in himself, you mean? I hope your mother and I did that with you,” Dad says as he wrestles a giant shopping cart loose from a big
tangle of them. You should see these carts. They’re double-deckers. You could ride in the bottom of one, if your dad let you. I could, anyway.

“Or pride in
her
self,” I say, not looking at him.

“Well, sure,” Dad says, sounding a little lost in this conversation. And being lost anytime, anywhere, is unusual for him.

“But you can’t just keep telling them and telling them to ‘show a little pride,’ because that doesn’t work,” I say, just barely keeping it from coming out like a question.

“I suppose not,” Dad says, distracted now by a display of rose bushes in dark plastic pots.

Right after Christmas, these same plants were what Dad called “bare root roses,” and they looked like a bunch of thorny sticks poking out of dirt-filled burlap bags. They hadn’t started growing any leaves or flowers then. But the nursery still charged money for them.

With bare root roses, Dad told me, you just have to assume something good is gonna happen.

But he decided to wait until now before he bought any. That’s how careful he is.

Dad picks up one of the rose bushes and examines
its metal tag. “Telling someone to ‘show some pride’ would have been like commanding a bare root rose to ‘show some flowers, and make it snappy’ last Christmas, I suppose,” he adds, sliding me a look. “When it was just too soon in the year for that to happen.”

“I didn’t say I’d
command
them,” I object, looking away.

“The roses you see now existed somewhere deep inside those roots, the way pride exists somewhere in Alfie,” Dad says, placing a rose bush on our cart
with so much care that it makes me feel jealous for a second. “And if we had planted one of those bare root roses correctly last January, say, and taken good care of it, the flowers would have emerged in their own good time. We wouldn’t have had to teach that bare root rose a thing, just the way we won’t need to tell this rose bush what to do. Or tell your little sister how to be her bravest and truest self.”

“Huh,” I say, not really convinced—because he doesn’t know Alfie.

Well, he
does
know Alfie. Obviously. She’s his kid.

And maybe Alfie
is
a little like a bare root rose. And maybe the right kind of pride will burst out of her some day—probably along with a lot more thorns.

But Dad does not know that she’s about to make a fool of herself—or that now, she has no pride at all, even though he and Mom are taking very good care of her.

So I’m gonna have to step in—step up,
man up
—and defend my little sister.

Suzette Monahan, here comes
ELLRAY JAKES THE DRAGON SLAYER!

12
BOOK: Ellray Jakes the Dragon Slayer
12.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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