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Authors: Shelley Pearsall

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All of the Above (13 page)

BOOK: All of the Above
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Unless we die of heatstroke first.

“Whose idea was it to sit in a sweaty math room in June working on this project?” I ask. I go over to the windows and point at the neighborhood below us. “Look out there. Everybody else is smart. They're hanging out in the air-conditioning or going to the mall or the movies or wherever. We need some air-conditioning or something in here,” I say to Mr. Collins.

Collins is standing on a chair, working on the upper half of the pyramid. He's wearing shorts and a faded green T-shirt that says “Running Man,” but you can tell his legs have never run anywhere. They are about as pale and skinny as a chicken's. We started calling him Chicken Legs the first time he wore shorts to math club, and he just smiled and said in the summertime we could call him whatever.

Collins looks around the side of the pyramid. “Air-conditioning?” he repeats, raising his eyebrows. “Maybe you could draw us a big electric fan, James—and then point it in our direction, okay?”

So, I do. Just to make everybody laugh. I go over to the chalkboard and draw a big scary-looking fan with spinning blades. But in the middle of drawing, I notice that the blades I'm sketching are triangles, too. See what I mean? There's no escape. Everything I'm drawing these days is nothing but triangles. Triangle fans. Triangle people.

Triangle cars.

Two more weeks …

I tell the group that I, for one, don't care if I never see another triangle in my entire life once this project is over, but I am gonna miss being Prez of the math club.

“You still gonna call me Prez after this is over?” I ask the group while we're working and sweating. “Because if it wasn't for me, you all woulda quit, I bet. Or you wouldn't have even started on this project again in the first place.”

Sharice sends a yellow tetrahedron flying in my direction. “Wasn't for us making nine hundred thousand nine hundred ninety-nine tetrahedrons, you wouldn't have anything to be Prez of,” she says.

“Wasn't for me bringing barbecue to eat, you all would have starved,” Marcel adds.

Collins tells us if we don't stop wasting time talking and arguing, we're still gonna be here in August. And who wants that?

When he looks away, I whip the tetrahedron piece back at Sharice and hit Rhondell's arm instead. She just glances over her shoulder and gives me the scared-rabbit look she always does. I let out a loud sigh. That girl needs to get more guts or attitude or something.

Maybe because I was spending every day in June at school, gluing little triangles together, that's how I missed what I should have seen coming at my uncle's place. I don't know. I think I was just working so hard on the project at school, trying to be a good Prez and all—eight hours a day some days—that everything at home just went sailing right over my head. Like the tetrahedron flying past Sharice.

But I don't know how I could've missed the big pile of cardboard boxes sitting in the living room of my uncle's apartment, or the official letters stacking up on the kitchen table, or the phone and cable going out and never coming back on.

Or maybe if I noticed those things—why couldn't I have figured out sooner what they meant? Or maybe if, deep down, I knew what they meant, why couldn't it have waited a few more weeks to happen?


Me and Willy Q get a Dog-Days-of-August-and-Everybody-Wants-to-Order-Barbecue customer line in June. Goes all the way out to the parking lot and along the side of somebody's shiny BMW.

“You see that car?” Willy Q hollers from the grill. “We are hot, hot, hot tonight.”

Me, I'm wearing my special Sorry-You-Had-to-Wait-For-an-Hour-But-That's-the-Way-It-Goes smile. Taking orders as fast as my hand can write.

“What can I get for you tonight, sir?”

“How can I help you, ma'am?”

“We got Blast Off to Outer Space Hot, Melt the Roof of Your Mouth Hot, Wait in Line for Ten Years Hot.…”

One whole family of white folks wants everything mild. Why'd you come to a barbecue in the first place? I want to ask. Why not just sit at home and eat plain bread and water?

“You got fried green tomatoes?” one old hunchbacked black lady with a Southern accent asks me.


“Black-eyed peas?”


“Why'd I wait forever in this line, then, young man?”

A black man in a fine-looking suit and red tie asks me, “What's Tar in the Summertime Hot? And how's that different than Plain Ol’ Hot?”

I lean on the counter and give him one of my You-Better-Not-Ask-Me-Any-More-Questions-Because-There-Are-Fifty-People-Behind-You-In-Line-or-Haven't-You-Noticed smiles. “One's hotter than the other,” I tell him.

It's almost dark when James comes up to the window. Turn back to the counter to take another order and see him standing there. Moths and bugs flitting around his head like halos. “Hey,” I say, forgetting all my customer speeches. “How's it going, Prez?” Reach my hand through the order window so he can smack it.

Willy Q looks over from the grill. “We got lots of people still waiting,” he says. “Ain't time for socializing with your friends, Marcel. Ask him to come back later.”

“He's ordering,” I call out to Willy Q. Then I tell the Prez that I'll give him Marcel's special No-Charge Discount. Ask Willy Q to fix up two Singing the Blues, a side of cornbread, and one homemade lemonade for him.

James slips an envelope through the window. “Give this to Collins tomorrow,” he says. “It's a note for him.”

“Why can't you?” I ask.

“Things to do,” he answers.

I slip the Prez's food out through the window. Two boxes of wings, one bag of cornbread, and a cup of cold lemonade with lotsa ice rattling in the cup. “That'll be twelve fifty-seven, thank you very much,” I say loudly, opening and closing the window like he's just paid me for the food.

“You crazy, Marcel,” the Prez says, grinning.

Willy Q shouts behind me, “Get busy, Marcel.”

“Don't forget to give Collins that letter,” the Prez finishes, talking fast. “And make sure he does what it says.” He points at me. “I'm counting on you, Marcel.” And then he slips away into the darkness.

I only remember that last part later. Me and Willy Q are cleaning up the place, and suddenly Marcel the Magnificent's mind stops and thinks—what's he counting on me for?


Dear Mr. Collins,

It's Friday night and I'm writing you this letter to tell you and everybody that I won't be back at math club. My uncle is moving tonight and he doesn't know where but I won't be there when the tetrahedron is finished and I did a lot of work on it, but everything isn't easy is it? I wrote out some things for everybody to do and they better do them right.

Here they are:

1. Don't forget the top part should be almost all red with a few orange. Don't make any more blue, green, or purple ones-there's enough already!

2. Make sure that everything is glued right, especially at the top.

3. Don't forget my name when you're talking to the Guinness World Records people. I want it spelled James Harris III ok? (Don't forget the III.)

4. Mr. Collins-remember to call the newspapers and TVs and maybe the National Enquirer, too.

5. DON'T GIVE UP!!!!!

6. Marcel-you can be the Prez now instead of me as long as you don't mess up.

I would work on the tetrahedron some more if I could but I'm proud of it anyway. Remember everyone. DON'T GIVE UP (or I'll kick your butt)!!!!!

Bye for now,

P.S. It was fun while it lasted


Nobody says a word after Mr. Collins finishes reading the letter to us. I can hear the smack of a basketball on the street outside and the sound of locusts whirring in the trees and a car alarm going off somewhere, but inside the math room, the four of us are silent.

“Are you sure this letter came from him?” Mr. Collins asks Marcel.

Marcel nods.

Sharice leans forward. “Did he look sad or upset or anything?”

Marcel shrugs his shoulders and keeps his eyes on the floor. “Not that I saw.”

I can hear Mr. Collins sigh as he's folding up the letter. He leaves it sitting on his chair as he stands up and walks over to the open windows that face the streets. His hands are in his pockets, and his head shakes back and forth. I know he's seeing a whole neighborhood of run-down, poor houses with people like James’ family, who never stick around, but I want to tell him that's not true of everybody. My mother's family has always lived in the neighborhood, and Marcel's father has, too. My grandma sang in the Sanctuary Baptist Church Choir when she was a girl, and one of my uncles helped to build the gymnasium of Washington Middle School years ago.
is the college word for us.

Sharice reaches for the letter on Mr. Collins’ chair. “Didn't he leave an address or phone number or anything?” she says, unfolding the letter to read it again. But I guess there isn't anything else written there because Sharice quietly puts the letter back where it was.

I don't know how I feel about James leaving. How should I feel? I wonder.

I look over at the big tetrahedron and see all the colors he made us assemble by following the exact order of a rainbow. It looks beautiful, that's a fact. Next to the tetrahedron is a big poster he was starting to color with Magic Marker. It says “THE RAINBOW TETRAHEDRON PROJECT.”

BOOK: All of the Above
13.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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