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The Fourth Wish: Chapter 18 - A Phone Call

...“Hello,” said Bill in a low voice that made Melanie think of gravel in honey. Her stomach felt suddenly full of small, fluttering wings. She covered the receiver with her hand and glared at Arthur, who was pretending not to listen...

Melanie receivies a phone call, and the rest of the household are eager to hear what is being siad.

Elizabeth Varadon's wonderful novel captures the fun, and the agonies, of being a child and a teenager. Here is a story to bring delight to readers of every age. To enjoy earlier chapters please click on Consequences in the menu on this page.

Pete brought Mrs. McCormick home again. Both of them lingered at the doorway, smiling at each other.

“No bother at all,” Pete was saying, as Melanie and the others came into the living room. Melanie studied the ceiling. She guessed this was supposed to be another coincidence.

After Pete left, her mother closed the door and turned to them all, her dimples still showing. “The poor man is all alone for Christmas. I invited him to join us for dinner Thursday.” There was a deep silence while she took off her coat and hung it in the hall closet.

“Christmas Eve?” Cory said at last.

"Our party?" asked Arthur.

“Mom!” Melanie swallowed and looked away. She started twisting a strand of hair around her finger, seeing the sandy-colored ribbon it made against her skin, not knowing what to say. Looking up, she finally managed, “That’s our…family thing. We hardly even know him.”

Her mother’s dimples vanished. “He’s a very nice person. And no one should be alone on Christmas Eve. It’s a neighborly thing.” With a cross look on her face, she said, “I have to go start the spaghetti,” and she went into the kitchen.

The four children stared at each other.

Erin beamed. “He can do magic tricks at our party!”

“Only if we come up with the right wish before Thursday.” Arthur hooked his thumbs in his pockets. “Day after tomorrow. That isn’t much time.”

Cory nodded silently.

But Melanie could care less if Pete ever did magic again. What business did he have getting himself invited to their Christmas Eve party like that? What was her mother even thinking of?

From the kitchen came a loud rattling and banging of pots and pans.

“Melanie?” Her mother’s voice sounded testy. “Come and fix the salad.”

“You want me to come and open a can of tomato sauce or something, Mrs. McCormick?” called Arthur.

“Don’t strain yourself,” Melanie told him. To her mother she yelled, “Why can’t Arthur make the salad? Why does it always have to be me?”

Mrs. McCormick peered around the kitchen archway. “That’s not a bad idea. Arthur?” She jerked her head. “Salad.” For the moment, Melanie forgot to be angry with Pete.

Even so, dinner around the kitchen table was fraught with hitches and silences.

No one mentioned Pete coming to the party again, but out of the blue Erin said, “You know what? Maybe he’ll just remember how to do them, even if….”

Melanie kicked her under the table. “Can I have some more garlic bread?” Erin passed the bread, her face sulky.

“Remember how to do what?” asked their mother. “Did Cory forget something?”

“How do you like my salad, Mrs. McCormick? Look at that! Bell pepper!” Arthur held up a piece for her inspection.

“Yes, I see. Cory, are you having trouble with your homework?”

“He hasn’t even started it,” said Melanie. “Have you, Cory?”

“I have another week.” Cory stuffed salad in his mouth, chewing and swallowing carefully, as if it were the most interesting thing he had ever eaten. Erin was silent. Their mother’s glance flicked around the table. She pressed her lips in thought.

“Mr. Garcia just told our class to have a nice vacation,” Arthur remarked conversationally. “We don’t have any homework.”

“Duh, Arthur,” said Melanie. “He said that after he gave us our assignments. You must have been asleep.”

“Melanie, you know how I feel about saying duh. It’s rude,” her mother chided. She slid her fork under some spaghetti.

“Sor-ree, Arthur.”

"We have almost two days, anyway." Cory gave Melanie a casual look. "We’ll think of something."

Their mother frowned, trying to follow this. “I thought you said you have another week.”

“Did you get all your shopping done, Mrs. McCormick?”

“Oh, dear!” She put her fork down at Arthur’s question and knit her brows. “I meant to stop by the drugstore for gift wrap, and I completely forgot! Well, I’ll just have to....”

Behind Arthur the phone rang. He jumped up and grabbed the receiver off the hook. “Hello? Yeah. Nope.” He looked at Cory. “Her brother’s right here, though.”

Melanie stopped chewing. She put her bread down.

“Who am I?” asked Arthur. “A friend. Who are you?” He looked at Melanie. “Uh-huh. Well, she’s eating right now. Can you call back in thirty minutes? Okay.” He hung up and sat back down.

“It was for you,” he told Melanie.

“I figured that out.” Melanie felt her face grow hot. "Who was that? And…don’t…you…ever…do…that again, Arthur Hensley!”

“That really wasn’t right,” her mother agreed. Arthur’s face reddened.

“Who was it?” demanded Melanie.

He looked sidelong at Cory, his mouth working up and down, then speared a bite of tomato. “Bill Drexel,” he told the tomato.

Cory’s eyes lit up. "Goldilocks?"

“Bill Drexel!” wailed Melanie.

Her mother’s face took on a sudden alert look. “Who is Bill Drexel?”

“Bill Drexel called me? And you hung up on him?”

“He says he’ll call back in thirty minutes.”

‘You took my call and hung up on him?”

“You were eating,” Arthur said. “It’s no big deal. He’ll call back.”

“No big deal!” groaned Melanie. “You’ve wrecked my vacation. All the people in the room, and you had to answer! You are never sitting by that phone again. And now he knows you’re not even my brother, you told him. You just wrecked my entire school year!” She put her hands to her head. “Auugghh!”

“I probably made you sound popular,” said Arthur.

“Who is Bill Drexel?” repeated Mrs. McCormick in a reasonable voice.

“He’s this boy in Mr. Chinn’s class,” said Melanie. “I don’t even know how he got my number.”

“Travis Heartworth’s twin,” Cory said. “His look-alike, anyway.” He and Arthur both leered at each other.

“Boys…,” warned Mrs. McCormick.

Melanie stood up. “I don’t think I’m hungry anymore.” She stalked out of the kitchen, blinking back tears. In the bedroom she pulled out her diary from the closet shelf where she had hidden it the night before.

She was furiously scribbling when her mother came in and sat down on the bed beside her. Melanie put her pencil down and wiped a wet cheek with her sleeve.

Her mother gave her a little hug. “Tell me about Bill Drexel.”

Melanie gave a helpless shrug. “He’s just this boy. I mean, he’s, like, really cute? And he does look like Travis Heartworth. A little bit, anyway.” Melanie glanced over at her mother. How would she ever understand?

“Mmmm-hmmm…?” her mother prompted.

“I don’t actually know him. We just say hi in the hall.”

“He’s in Mr. Chinn’s homeroom?” her mother prodded.

“All the girls like him, he’s so cool....”

“Mmmm-hmmm. Cool….”

“He really is, Mom.” Melanie gave a little sniffle. “Like, I’ve seen him out at King Skate? He can do these incredible moves on his blades—figure eights, and jumps. And he’s lived in all these exciting places?"

“His family must move a lot.”

“Yeah, they do. He and his mom just came from Seattle. Before that they lived in San Francisco with his stepfather, and before that he was with his father in L.A. That was last spring,” explained Melanie.

“And…how do you know all that?” asked her mother, her face noncommittal.

“I heard Mr. Chinn and Mr. Garcia talking after school one day. I stayed after to finish my homework so I wouldn’t have to bring it home, and....” Melanie looked away. “They forgot I was there. I just kind of listened when I figured out they were talking about him.”

“That’s a lot of moves in one year,” murmured her mother. “It must be hard on Bill, changing schools so much.”

“Yeah. That’s what they were talking about. His grades aren’t so good. Mr. Chinn said he couldn’t figure out how to reach him. I think he’s repeating sixth grade, ‘cause he missed so much school last year.”

“I see....”

“Do you think he really will call back?” worried Melanie.

Her mother’s face softened. “I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ve had a talk with the boys,” she added. “I have to go get wrapping paper, but if he calls while I’m out and they give you a bad time, let me know when I get back.”

Melanie felt a surge of relief. “Thanks, Mom.” She wiped her eyes, then the diary page, where a tear had sprinkled.

“Meanwhile….” Her mother began, then paused. Melanie looked up.

But her mother just ruffled Melanie’s hair and got up. At the door she turned, as if to say something else. Instead she went out, closing the door softly behind her. Melanie went back to her diary.

Awhile later, Cory tapped on the door. "Melanie? Phone call.

“I think it’s Travis Heart…,” he began, when she opened the door. He looked at her face. “I think it’s Bill Drexel.”

Arthur was in the kitchen, washing dishes. “I’m on punishment,” he whispered.

Melanie gave him a sour look and picked up the dangling receiver. “Hello?”

“Hello,” said Bill in a low voice that made Melanie think of gravel in honey. Her stomach felt suddenly full of small, fluttering wings. She covered the receiver with her hand and glared at Arthur, who was pretending not to listen.

“Do you mind?” she said.

Arthur went into the living room to join Erin and Cory, but she could tell from the way the TV volume dropped that they were all trying to listen.

“I called earlier,” said Bill, and she could just see his slow, crooked smile, his lazy blue eyes. “Your friend said you were still eating.”

“He’s not my friend.” Melanie made sure that was loud enough for Arthur to hear. “He just hangs out with my brother, Cory.”

“Anyway,” said Bill. “You wanna go skating tomorrow?”

Melanie felt like she might fall through the floor. A sharp edge of dismay ran through her, then, remembering her promise to go shopping with Jenny. “I, I…can’t,” she stammered. “I already planned to go somewhere.”

“Oh.” Did Bill’s voice fall? Or was that her imagination?

“But, I’ll be at King Skate with my friend Jenny on Thursday,” she quickly said.

“Cool. So, how about I meet you out there?”

Melanie nearly dropped the phone. “That would be okay.” She was surprised at how calm her voice sounded.

“Excellent! See you Thursday. King Skate.”

“Probably around one o’clock,” she told him. She hung up in a trance and floated into the living room.

“So,” said Arthur. “Wanna to talk about a good wish for Pete? I’ve been thinking, and....”

“Tell Arthur,” she informed Cory, “I am never speaking to him again.”

“Melanie says,” began Cory.

“C’mon, Melanie, we all need to agree on a wish.”

“Tell Arthur some people’s phone calls are none of his business. Especially...,” Melanie gave Arthur a dirty look, “when they aren’t even on his own phone.”

“She says….”

“I heard what she said. Of all the soreheads! It was just a joke!”

“Tell Arthur his jokes aren’t funny.”

“But you know what? Sometimes they are,” said Erin.

“No they aren’t,” insisted Melanie. “They never are. And tell Arthur he’d better finish the dishes before Mom gets back!” She swept down the hall to the bedroom and closed the door.

She had filled another page and a half in her diary when she heard the hall door open and her mother’s voice, then Arthur’s voice, and then the door closing.

Good, she thought. It was about time Arthur went home. He could wash five ka-billion dishes, and that wouldn’t make up for his dumb idea of a joke. She began writing that, but her thoughts drifted. She tried to picture herself at King Skate, skimming around the cement skating area alongside Bill. She wondered if she should try to wear her hair pulled back, then sighed. She wasn’t good at doing French braids. Not for the first time Melanie wished she had sleek dark hair like Jenny’s instead of flyaway hair the color of sand.

The phone rang again.

Melanie?” yelled Cory. It’s for you again.”

Melanie’s stomach contracted. Her mouth went dry. Bill was calling to say he couldn’t go to King Skate after all, she just knew it. She walked slowly into the living room where her mother sat reading the paper and Erin was lying on the rug with her Barbie coloring book and her box of sixty-four Crayolas.

In the kitchen, Cory dried the last plate and put it away. Melanie wrinkled her nose. Leave it to Arthur to talk Cory into taking half of his punishment.

“Hello?” she said into the phone.

“I knew I could make you talk to me,” said Arthur at the other end.

She slammed down the receiver.

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