Authors: Lisa Lewis Tyre
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) LLC
375 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014
USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia
New Zealand | India | South Africa | China
A Penguin Random House Company
Copyright Â© 2015 by Lisa Lewis Tyre.
Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.
Jacket art Â© 2015 by Gilbert Ford
Cover design and hand-lettering by Lindsey Andrews
For my parents
From the diary of Louise Duncan Mayhew
In honor of my engagement, Father has planned
a Grand Celebration. The house has been painted a
gleaming white, and tables, replete with wild
flowers, are scattered on the lawn. The whole effect
is worthy of a Charles Heath illustration and I can barely contain my excitement at the sound of
eing the junkman's daughter isn't always as cool as it might sound. Sure, I get first dibs on all kinds of good stuffâI now have three perfectly good ten-speed bikesâbut it comes with a price. As soon as I saw Daddy's dump truck sitting in the car line, shaking and rattling like it was about to throw a rod, I knew Sally Martin would have something snide to say. Mama usually drove me home, but Daddy had mentioned at breakfast that he had to pick up an old section of bleachers from the football field and might as well save her a trip. I could see a rusty end of it sticking up behind the cab.
“Nice ride, Louise,” she said. “You headed to the dump?” A couple of kids laughed, and I calculated the chances of getting suspended for fighting on the last day of school.
Benjamin Zerto, my best friend, leaned closer and whispered, “You won't have to see her for the whole summer. Take a deep breath and count to ten.” As if.
I looked at Sally and smirked. “You better stand back. My dad's used to picking up useless crap and hauling it away. You could be next.”
I was rewarded with a gasp from Sally and a grin from Benzer, a win-win.
The car line moved, and I could hear the roar of the truck as it lumbered forward. Normally the car line would have been packed with kids and I'd have had some backup in addition to Benzer. But most kids had left early, as soon as they had report cards and attendance awards. Even Franklin, the brains of our group, and my cousin Patty were gone.
“I don't know how you stand it,” Sally sighed. “Being surrounded by junk would be bad enough, but it looks like your house is about to fall down around your ears. My father says it's a crime to have such an eyesore right smack in the middle of town.”
I rolled my eyes. My house was a common target with Sally. I'd told her before that it looked old because it wasâit had had its 175th birthday last year. I wouldn't waste my breath mentioning it again.
Sally smoothed down her skirt with one hand and smiled.
Uh-oh. When Sally smiled, bad things usually followed.
“Benzer,” she said sweetly, turning to face him, “are you coming to the pool this weekend? My dad is having a cookout for all the kids.” She looked at me. “All the kids in the neighborhood, I mean.”
Benzer and Sally lived in the only subdivision in town, or as my grandmother called it, “the Yankee enclave.” It was full of new brick homes and had a swimming pool and tennis courts with no cracks in them, unlike the ones at the city park.
“I doubt it,” Benzer answered. “I'm helping Lou's dad over the weekend.”
Sally pouted. “Oh, that's too bad. I guess you're going to have another boring summer. What did you write last year for your âMy Summer Vacation' essay?” She laughed. “Oh, yeah. âWatching Paint Peel with Lou and Other Adventures in Boredom.'”
I could feel my face turning red. Last year, the essay had seemed funny. Mine had been titled “War Between the StatesâMy Summer with a Yankee.” But after hearing everyone read about going to Disney, or renting houseboats for the summer, it had felt kind of lame.
I looked for my dad. He had moved another few feet, and if all went well, I'd be sitting in his truck and riding away from this in about ninety seconds.
“That was a joke,” Benzer said. “I like hanging out at Lou's. It's like something out of an R. L. Stine story.”
Benzer is a bookworm, but that doesn't hurt him socially. He's the most athletic boy in the entire sixth grade. He's considered a Northerner by some, since he was born in New York City, even though he's lived here in Zollicoffer since he was four and considers himself a local. We've been best friends since kindergarten, when I sat on top of David Pinto until he promised to stop making fun of Benzer's accent.
“R. L. who?” Sally asked.
“Why don't you spend the summer reading a book?” I asked.
Sally pulled a small mirror from her backpack and checked her hair. “I'll be much too busy,” she said. “We're going on a cruise in a few weeks. But I'm sure you'll have plenty of time to read while you're sitting around watching the paint peel.”
Daddy pulled to the curb, and I moved to leave, but Sally's smug smile did me in. “Benzer and I have exciting plans too, Sally. Sorry you'll miss it all on your dopey cruise.” I caught Benzer's startled look out of the corner of my eye, but I didn't stop. “I guess you'll hear all about it when you get back. If you don't read about it in the newspaper first.”
Sally laughed. “Oh, really? I can hardly wait.”
I ignored Benzer's stare and opened the dump truck's door. It gave a loud screech, and I slammed it shut. Sally murmured something to the girls around her about “Lou and her active imagination.” I could hear them all laughing as we pulled away.
My first morning of summer vacation was ruined when I woke up thinking about Sally Martin. My alarm clockâthe
sound of metal hitting metalâsignaled that the scrap mountain of junk outside was getting bigger, and I looked out the window in time to see a rusty piece of tin join the pile. Great. More mess for Sally to make fun of.
Daddy inherited the house and the junk from his daddy, but he's the one who made it into a business. He said that until he got it, it was just a dump. The good thingsâpush mowers, freezers, stoves, and so onâwere in the same pile with broken toilets and rusty tin. Now we don't just pick up stuffâwe resell it, too. Everything's separated into four piles: the salable, the fixable, the recyclable, and Mama's things. She's an enviro artist, which means she welds the junk together and makes a bigger pile called “art.”
I was in my bedroom lying on one of the fixables, a cast-iron bed Daddy had welded back together, when Mama called me down to breakfast. I lay there listening to the sounds from below. I pictured my pregnant Mama standing at the stove cooking grits, her tummy so big she had to stretch her arm almost straight to stir. Bertie, my grandmother, would be sitting at the table drinking coffee, gossiping, and complaining how “Yankees are just everywhere I turn nowadays.” She's always saying that even though Yankees like to move to Tennessee, they don't tend to stay long. They think things will be simpler, but when they find out the truth, they race out of town as fast as their SUVs will take them.
Bertie claimed she moved in to help Mama with the baby preparations, and everyone went along with that. It wasn't true, but I've learned that a lot of what we pretend about people usually isn't.
I changed quickly, picking up an old pair of gym shorts off the floor, and a University of Tennessee T-shirt that read
1998 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
from under the bed. Barefoot, I headed down the stairs.
“Morning, sugar,” Mama said. She turned to hug me as I entered the kitchen. With her belly in the way, I ended up more or less under her armpit.
“Morning,” I said, and hurriedly sat at the table. I'd learned she was pregnant months ago, but it still gave me the heebie-jeebies. Mama was in this weird stage where she constantly put my hand on her belly and made me feel the baby kick. She swore it could hear my voice. It wasn't even born yet, and already it was listening in on my conversations.
“How's it going, kid?” Bertie asked from her seat at the scarred oak table. Even though it was barely eight o'clock, she was dressed in white pants, a red blouse tied at the waist, and full makeup.
I combed my fingers through my hair, wincing as they caught in the tangles.
Bertie gestured to the empty seat beside her. She sipped from her
BORN TO PARTYâFOR
CED TO WORK
mug. “Fine? Girl, what I'd give to be twelve again. I'd hallelujah the county!”
Mama put a plate of biscuits on the table. “The world could not take you going through puberty again, Mother. Besides, it's probably not as good as you remember it. I read on the Internet that thirty-nine percent of teenagers suffer from stress.”
“Oh, Lord, not this Internet thing again,” Bertie said.
I stuffed a biscuit into my mouth to keep from laughing. At least once a month, we have a “family meeting” over some issue Mama read about on the computer. Last month was about how inhaling household cleaners could kill. Before that it was teenage runaways. Just hearing the words
made my heart beat faster. They also used them to tell me about things like the pregnancy, Bertie moving in to help with the baby, and Aunt Sophie's divorce. But they never told me the important stuffâlike why.
Thankfully, my house had all kinds of places to hide; otherwise, I'd never have known anything. I was reading in the broom closet under the stairs when I found out that Bertie was really living with us because her third husband, the dentist, had maxed out all of her credit cards, leaving her with nothing but a pile of debt and a brand-new set of veneers. And I'd been in the secret closet across from my parents' bedroom when I heard that the dentist, now Bertie's ex-husband, had gone and married their next-door neighbor, Thelma Johnson, and was “living it up right across town.”
“Lou, I swear people must think that University of Tennessee shirt is the only thing you own,” Mama said. “You're going to have to take it off and let me wash it before it walks in here by itself.”
I leaned my head down and gave it a sniff. “Still smells good to me. But, hey, speaking of UT, have you given any more thought to the baby's name?”
Mama put both hands on her hips. “I am
naming this child Peyton!”
“But, Mama, it works forâ”
“Both a boy and a girl,” Mama and Bertie finished together.
“I don't care,” Mama said. “I'm not naming this child after a football player no one will remember in five years.”
I swooned dramatically in my chair. “Are you kidding me? Peyton Manning's going to make history! I can't believe you would even say that!”
The back door opened, and Isaac Coleman stuck his head in. “They giving you a hard time already, Lou?”
Mama waved him into the kitchen. “Giving
a hard time? I'm the one getting another pitch for naming the baby Peyton. If you have a minute, I'll fix you some sausage biscuits.”
“Thank you.” He winked at me. “For the record, I like Peyton as a name. Of course, I also like John, Terrell, and Rod.”
“Are those family names?” Mama asked.
I laughed. “Isaac's going to name his kids after the Broncos lineup. That's John as in Elway, Terrell Davis, and Rod Smith.”
“Oh, you two with your football references,” Mama said. She pointed a spoon at Isaac. “Now, you're not planning on getting married anytime soon, are you?”
That wiped the grin off Isaac's face. “No way. I'm not even thinking about that until after college. Way after college.”
Mama put the platter on the table, and Bertie pulled out a chair. “Have a seat and eat. Nothing I like better than breakfast with a handsome young man.”
I rolled my eyes. Bertie was a flirt and a half, but I couldn't really blame her. Isaac
handsome. He had dark eyes and skin the color of Mama's coffee after she added a tiny bit of cream. Plus he was super smart and the best defensive end this town had ever seen.
He'd been helping Daddy in the junkyard since he was a freshman, so he was practically family. He had just graduated a couple of days before, and I was going to miss him like crazy when he left for college.
“What's wrong, Lou?” Bertie asked. “You look like someone just snapped your garter.”