Dear Diary, I must have read and reread Theo’s letter one hundred times before finally folding it up and carefully putting it back into its envelope, then into the desk drawer. The more I gazed at Theo’s neat handwriting, the worse I felt.
He was excited for me and wanted to hear all about school. What could I possibly say to him? I definitely didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t even get into university. What would he think of me then? I’d been so full of talk about starting fresh and getting an education. I just didn’t think I could take the humiliation.
As for the rest of the letter, I was really happy that my Uncle Leo and Aunt Wilda were helping more children. It didn’t seem that long ago that my aunt found out she couldn’t have children of her own. Later, they adopted Theo whose parents had died. He was kind of staying at our house before they took him in but there were so many children Momma didn’t even notice at first.
My hand hesitated above the desk drawer handle and I fought the urge to pull the letter out yet again and hold it to my heart. Since leaving Winchester, I was beginning to realize Theo meant more to me than I’d ever admitted. I was always attracted to him, however, since he kind of jilted me that time on my birthday, I’d tried to only think of him as a friend. Fighting back tears of homesickness, I turned away from the desk at last and reminded myself that Theo liked girly-girls, not athletic tomboys. To him, I was just his buddy, his pal.
The problem was the last line of his letter. Why had he left off like that, saying there was something he wanted to tell me but couldn’t? Did I dare hope he missed me, too? Could he possibly be having feelings for me? I was already so disappointed with failing my school entrance exam, I didn’t want to get disappointed over this as well.
I was just drowning my sorrows in my second bowl of a cereal called Fudgo Wheats when Aunt Ruby came in and sat near me with a look on her face I couldn’t quite discern.
“This has gone on long enough,” she said. Couldn’t she even beat around the bush a little?
“You just don’t understand.”
“Well, put your spoon down and talk to me.”
“I feel heartbroken, Aunt Ruby.”
She seemed to take that simple statement in before saying, “It’s understandable that you’d be upset about not getting into school on your first try. Anyone would feel the same way.”
“I was so full of hope and excitement.”
“I know you were and that was wonderful. So, is this what you do then? I thought you were different.”
Raising an eyebrow, I said, “What do you mean?”
“I mean that an obstacle, granted a big one, has blocked your path and you’ve given up so easily, moping around this house in your pajamas for days on end and not even brushing your hair. I never thought in a million years you would be the Larochette that threw up their hands and quit. I’ll admit, I’m surprised and disappointed.”
She was disappointed? In me? I swallowed hard, trying to ignore the growing lump in my throat. These were difficult words to hear, especially from someone I loved and thought so highly of. Yet, she wasn’t lying. Why had I accepted defeat just like that?
“What should I do? I think I just don’t know what to do. I didn’t have another plan.”
Aunt Ruby smiled and I saw relief in her dark eyes. “I’m glad you asked!”
That made me smile, too. “Obviously, you have a plan.”
“Of course, and over time, when things don’t go your way, you’ll learn how to have backup plans, too.”
And what was Aunt Ruby’s backup plan for me? I was to get a job and work during the day and in the evenings, she would tutor me until I was ready to take the test again. Once again, I felt the beginning of excitement grabbing at my heart as I realized this wasn’t the end of the world. I would work hard and make sure Aunt Ruby was never disappointed in me again.
We both left the dining room smiling that morning.
“Hey, Marty!” Gloria shouted as she caught me at the top of the stairs. “Are you still sad?”
“I am feeling much happier today,” I assured her. “Your mom is going to tutor me to help me get ready to take my test again.”
“That’s terrific! Could we do something fun today? Like the beach? Or the park? We could play catch!”
“I’m sorry, Chipmunk, today I have to find a job.”
Crinkling up her nose, she said, “A job? What do you want one of those for when you could spend all your time with me?”
“You’re so right about that, but it’s about time I earned some money. Maybe we can do something later today or tomorrow.”
“Okay,” she sighed as she hopped down the stairs to get her breakfast.
All I needed was a job. A piece of cake, right? Not exactly. As soon as I was cleaned up and dressed, I began pounding the pavement. It seemed that restaurants didn’t want to hire an inexperienced waitress or hostess which had me wondering how a waitress or hostess gained experience in the first place.
Still, all the restaurants and diners in Longview couldn’t bum me out. Not today!
I tried the theater but they had all the help they needed since the high school kids were out of class for the summer.
I think I must have walked a hundred miles with no luck. Yet, as I turned a corner, there was one shop I hadn’t tried. It didn’t really appeal to me and I thought the uniforms were really awful and humiliating, but beggars couldn’t be choosers, right?
With sore feet, I strolled past the park where I usually took Gloria. No one was there and the swing was a place to sit, so I took immediate advantage of that. If a kid came by, I could look pretty mean to keep my seat, too, but I probably wouldn’t do that. This was a new me.
Contemplating my new place of employment, I wondered if it was a blessing or a curse that I’d been hired? That whole ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ thing went through my head again and then I wondered whoever came up with such a stupid saying?
But no! This was not going to get me down or defeat me! I would wear that ridiculous uniform, work hard and I’d have a flipping smile on my face the entire time, too! Even if it killed me.
Because the weekend was coming up, I didn’t have to start my job yet as they didn’t want to have to train someone new on a busy day. That meant that I could spend time with Gloria and also work on my newest favorite activity! My martial arts lessons!
I could kick the crap out of this guy here and take out any frustration I had! It was awesome!
Sensei worked long hours with me and taught me how to break boards, too. They aren’t very strong boards yet, but I’m learning.
Before I punch through it, I think of something in my life I need to break through and it makes me feel so much better about things. As my body grew stronger, I think my mind did, too.
Finally, my first day of work was here. I was really hoping the house would be empty when I had to leave, but apparently, Aunt Ruby wanted to wish me good luck.
“Aren’t you going to be late? That’s not the way to begin your first day!” she shouted up the stairs.
When I realized she wasn’t going to leave before me, I slowly came down, wishing I could sink right into the floorboards and disappear. As soon as she spotted me, her eyes great huge like saucers, then she squinted and put a hand to her mouth.
“Oh my,” she gasped.
Oh, my was right! Yes, you are looking at Candy Stripies newest employee.
I managed a disgraced smile as she said, “What have you done to your hair?”
As if that was my biggest problem. “It’s a wig.”
“Thank heavens,” she said, barely stifling a laugh. “Sorry. Um, have a great day.”
Actually, let’s not talk about how today was. Instead, here is the letter I wrote back to Theo: