Tell me again why youre dragging us to the restaurant, Mom, Holden says, leaning as far away from Charlie as he can in case he decides to fling one of his finds in Holdens direction.
I told you its a surprise, my mom answers. Yay! Charlie reaches for my ear. He loves playing with peoples ears when hes not picking his nose or talking to Doll, the plastic baby he found in the memory trunk in my closet, where I put all my old toys and which was supposed to be private.
Stop it, I mutter, flicking his sticky hand away. Doll sits on his lap, facing forward, her naked bottom balanced on his knees.
You need to put some clothes on her, I tell him.
He giggles and makes her dance naked in the air. When my parents told us my mom was having a baby, they said we kids could pick a name together. My favorite book at the time was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We all agreed that if we had to have a new brother, one like Charlie would be OK. We thought hed be destined to be the kind of kid whod get picked to ride in the great glass elevator. The sweet kid. The smart kid. The quiet kid. So far, it seemed like our Charlie wasnt quite filling the bill.
Mom? Holden asks again. Is this a Dad surprise?
It better not be, Sara answers. She fidgets with her dreadlocks and flips down the sun visor so she can look at herself in the mirror. Saras trying to be a Dead Head, like my parents were before they had us kids. Only the Grateful Dead doesnt even exist anymore, so I dont know what thats all about.
I dont know exactly what your father has planned, my mom says. But please, kids, try to humor him, OK?
Humoring my dad means humiliation for us. The last time Dad had a surprise, it involved the most embarrassing family/business Christmas card in history. My dad and mom dressed up as Santa and Mrs. Claus, and Holden, Sara, and I were forced to be elves. Charlie was Rudolph, but he kept pulling off his red nose so he could pick at the real one underneath it. Charlie reaches for my ear again.
Stop it! I yell.
Fern, please. He only does it because he loves you, my mom says.
I love you, Ferny, Charlie says in his extra- baby voice.
Whatever, I say, looking out the window.
Whatevuh, Charlie repeats.
Please dont teach him that, Fern. Its bad enough coming from you.
I sigh and stare out the window. I can feel Charlie reaching Doll out to dance at me, but I ignore him. Whatevuh, he makes Doll whisper in my ear. Charlie has trouble pronouncing his rs except when he says my name. My mom says this is the greatest compliment Charlie could possibly give, working so hard to say my name correctly. I guess its true, but Charlie is so annoying so often, its hard to feel flattered.
I just want you to know, Holden says to my mom, if this has anything to do with the annual Christmas card, Im telling you right now, there is no way Im wearing elf ears again.
Charlie pulls Doll away from me and reaches for Holdens ear.
Listen, my mom says, all serious. Im sure whatever your dad has planned will be fine. He loves you. Hes just trying to do what he thinks is best for the business.
What about whats best for us? Sara asks.
Its all the same. If the business does well, then we do well, my mom says, quoting one of my dads familiar lines.
Excerpted from See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles. Copyright © 2012 by Jo Knowles. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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