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The Fourth Wish: Chapter 20 - Discoveries

...Raven Belle’s voice rang out in Do I Love You? with its snappy beat. Melanie hesitated. Reluctantly, she started forward. Bill glided alongside her briefly, then twirled and skated away in a figure eight to come up beside her again. All he seemed to be doing was showing off. She might as well be invisible, except as an audience. Other skaters were watching—the way she had watched him previous times. But now all the moves she had admired so much were starting to embarrass her. Didn’t he ever just skate?...

Melanie finally meets up with Bill Drexel at King Skate and finds that he is...boring.

To read earlier chapter of Elizabeth Varadan's story for children of all ages please click on The Fourth Wish in the menu on this page.

The next morning Melanie washed the breakfast dishes without being asked, hoping that would show her mother how responsible she could be. As she soaped the cereal bowls, Cory got on the phone again to Arthur. Listening, Melanie couldn’t believe her good luck. They were planning to go see Jingle Bug at the Downtown Plaza Theater.

She had dreaded the possibility that they would want to go skating and that her mother might decide for them to all go together. Instead, she would be on her own for the second afternoon in a row.

The morning flew, with everyone getting ready for the party that evening. Melanie dusted. Erin put away her Barbie dolls and crayons. Cory took garbage out to the alley Dumpster. Their mother made stuffing and checked to make sure the turkey was defrosting.

Then everyone seemed to scatter at once—Cory to join Arthur, Erin and their mother to the bus stop. Melanie was alone for about five minutes when the outdoor buzzer rang. She ran outside, to greet Jenny and her family.

Mrs. Leong had a round, pleasant face. Behind the wheel of the large van she was driving, she looked small—and much younger than Melanie had expected. Her two boys sat in front with her. Behind them, Melanie climbed past Victor to sit next to Jenny. Two golf bags lay on the seat in the row behind them, she noticed.

After introducing her aunt, Jenny told Melanie, “Those are the other Two Terrors.” She jerked a thumb toward Nelson and Jonathan, who strained against their seatbelts and peered over their seats to stare at Melanie. All the way to the rink they kept up a noisy conversation with Victor in two languages.

“What did they say?” asked Melanie, when all three burst into guffaws and Mrs. Leong reprimanded them sharply in Cantonese.

Jenny rolled her eyes. “You don’t want to know. It’s pathetic what they think is funny. My grandmother says they act just like my father and uncle did at their age.” At that, Mrs. Leong laughed—a laugh so rich and full, it seemed to flow out, as if she couldn’t contain it. Melanie could see why she was Jenny’s favorite aunt.

At King Skate, after they paid for their entrance fee and skate rentals, and stuffed their jackets in a locker, Mrs. Leong headed across the confetti-patterned carpet toward the snack bar. The Three Terrors followed. Melanie and Jenny sat on a low, rug-covered bench and pulled on their roller skates, their sweaters jingling faintly. Melanie sent a quick look toward the skating area. There was no sign of Bill Drexel, but they were early. She tightened her laces, tying bowknots on each skate, then staggered alongside Jenny to join the flowing stream of skaters.

Only Someone Like You played over the speakers at top volume. The rotating skate wheels made a constant soft roar. The two friends circled the floor, staying near the safety rail and scanning the crowd for familiar faces. As they passed the snack bar, Melanie was assailed by mingling scents of buttered popcorn, hotdogs, and pizza sauce.

“This is so cool!” shouted Jenny over the noise. Melanie nodded, opening her mouth to agree, when her friend grabbed her arm. “There he is!”

Melanie nearly fell down trying to glance back. She slowed to catch her balance. And then she saw him. “Oh- my-god!” she squealed.

Bill stood near one of the openings to the skating floor his head tilted back and his arms folded. He glanced carelessly around, cool as ever, all dressed in black: black leather jacket, black jeans, black skates. His hair looked newly shaved on the sides. Melanie could see the thin braids hugging his neck when he turned his head to check out skaters coming around the curve. A light-headed, shivery feeling came over her. She turned and skated faster, trying to collect her thoughts, fearful she wouldn’t know what to say to Bill now that he had appeared.

Jenny caught up to her. “Do you want me to skate somewhere else?” she yelled. “I can go check on the Three Terrors.” A lull in the music made the word Terrors leap out at Melanie over the jabber of other voices.

Melanie shook her head. “Not yet. Can you hang around a minute?”

“Sure,” said Jenny. “When you want me to go, just say, ‘Is that Victor over there?’ And I’ll go, ‘Oh, no! I promised my mom I’d watch him!’ And then I’ll go get something to eat with my aunt. But tell me everything later, okay?” She looked as excited as Melanie had felt earlier. They stopped at the rail, and a group of skaters whirled past them.

“Okay,” croaked Melanie. A strange dryness made her throat scratchy. Her face felt hot and tingly. She hoped she hadn’t caught Cory’s cold.

“And when my aunt says it’s time to leave? I’ll come over and go….” Jenny stopped suddenly and looked beyond Melanie’s shoulder. “Is that Arthur?”

Just then Bill Drexel rolled up to them on his blades. “Yo,” he announced.

Melanie went speechless. He looked so cool, and he said Yo, like that with such style, wearing that careless expression that meant he had seen so many exciting things in his life.

“Hi,” she managed. She felt her smile was too pasted on, her voice too breathy. “Um….” She flicked her hair over her shoulder with the back of her hand.

“It is Arthur,” said Jenny.

“It better not be.” Annoyed, Melanie turned, jingling, and followed her friend’s pointing finger, too distracted now to be nervous. Sure enough, there was Arthur several yards away. He had folded his arms, and he glanced disdainfully from side to side while he skated nearer, as if he were imitating Bill.

“You girls are holding up traffic,” said Bill in a loud, blustery voice. “See? Traffic jam.” Melanie looked around and didn’t see any traffic jam. What she did see was Arthur, who was supposed to be at the Downtown Plaza Theater. With Cory. And just where was Cory?

“What’s so interesting?” Bill’s voice cracked on the word interesting. Melanie turned to him. His mouth was pulled down and sideways in a pout. She hoped he wasn’t mad at her.

“Just… someone….” Her face grew hot. If Arthur came up and started acting like a friend, she was dead. Bill would realize Arthur was who he had talked to on the phone. An even worse thought occurred to Melanie. What if Arthur called her Scorpion Queen in front of Bill? She turned again. Arthur was gaining on them.

Suddenly the Glister Sisters blasted into the air, drowning all conversation. At the same time, Arthur crashed into a girl with a long, coppery ponytail and knocked her down. Two boys stumbled into them, and before Melanie knew it, a small group was milling around. Voices rose and fell against the beat of the music. She tried to see if Cory was somewhere inside the huddle. He wasn’t. The crowd parted. The fallen skaters were on their feet. Arthur looked like he was apologizing. The girl with the ponytail shrugged and skated away.

Arthur brushed himself off, then skated by Jenny and Melanie without so much as a look at either of them. The girls’ eyes met, and they both burst into giggles.

“You know that guy?” asked Bill in a testy voice. “He’s pretty weird, if you ask me.”

“My brother knows him,” Melanie said. And then words magically came to her. “It’s not my fault if I know him too.” She and Jenny exchanged glances again and went into a new fit of laughter.

But Bill didn’t seem to find this funny. “So, you wanna skate or not?” he snapped.

Melanie stared, shocked by his tone. For a moment she felt like saying no. But a clutch of excuses for Bill rose in her mind. Maybe with all of the attention to Arthur, she hadn’t seemed that friendly. Maybe Bill had been forced to talk loudly because of the music.

Her mind liked that last excuse. “Sure,” she said, despite the grouchy look on his face.

“Oh, no! Is that Victor falling down over there?” cried Jenny. “I promised my mom I’d watch him!” She raised an eyebrow at Melanie before pushing off in the direction of the snack bar, still giggling as she skated away.

Bill began skating, his hands in his pockets, and Melanie fell into step next to him. He skated ahead of her, twirled, and then dropped back beside her. “Your friend’s kinda weird, too,” he hollered over the music. “Does she always have laughing fits?”

Melanie didn’t answer. Disappointment rippled through her. Bill wasn’t at all the way she had imagined. For one thing, he seemed so cranky. From the corner of her eye, she could see his profile, his mouth still drooping in a sulk. He tipped his head back, eyes half-closed, as if he were checking himself out instead of her.

He was. He nudged her, gesturing at his feet. “New blades.”

She forced a polite smile and nodded. They were cool, all right, the leather tops black and shiny, like his jacket.

“I’m used to bigger rinks than this one,” he called over the noise. The sweep of his arm seemed to include the concession stands, the rental desk, the video games outside the cement floor. “The one I went to in L.A. was twice this size.”

“Really?” Melanie tried to think of something else to say, but nothing came. Even his smile seemed to curl downwards, she noticed. He was glancing lazily around, hands flexing at his sides, as if this were the most boring day of his life. She felt so let down she could hardly stand to think about it. Part of her still wanted to impress him. Maybe if she glanced around in that slow lazy way, he would think she was bored. And cool.

Suddenly he poked her. “Look at that dumb little jerk,” he scoffed. He thrust his chin toward the far curve of the skating surface. Melanie followed his gaze and gasped. Cory, trying to twirl around and skate backwards, slid instead into three girls who had their arms linked at the elbows. He waved his arms wildly, trying to keep his balance.

Melanie halted, letting skaters pass her on either side. “What did you say?” she demanded, when Bill swerved around to stop in front of her.

“I said…,” he began.

She leaned to one side to watch the scene beyond him. The girls managed to keep from falling, but Cory, arms still flailing, went down on his behind. Melanie was relieved to see him get up and skate away, laughing. Arthur joined him and they started playing roller tag.

“…what a dumb little jerk,” finished Bill. “He should have done it like this.” Bill cut a smooth half-circle so that he was facing Melanie, skating away from her, backwards. He turned a complete circle then, as if it was no trouble at all, coming back to her, then stopping. “See?”

The song ended, and there was another swell of high-pitched voices. Melanie put her hands on her hips, letting out a long, slow breath, trying to contain her anger.

“What?” asked Bill. He pulled one side of his mouth down in his crooked grin.

“That boy you keep calling a dumb jerk?” Melanie’s breath was coming fast now, making her voice shake. “He happens to be my little brother. His name happens to be Cory. And he’s not...a…jerk!”

“Hey, I was kidding.”

“Well, it wasn’t very funny,” she said, hating the way her voice went scratchy. “You haven’t said one nice thing about anyone,” she added. But that didn’t even begin to explain why she felt so upset.

“Yes, I did.” Bill grinned again. “I said your hair looks nice.”

“You did?” Melanie frowned, trying to remember that. Then she realized he was making it up, trying to humor her.

“C’mon, let’s skate.” Bill pushed off on one foot, balancing like a gymnast, his other foot held out behind.

Raven Belle’s voice rang out in Do I Love You? with its snappy beat. Melanie hesitated. Reluctantly, she started forward. Bill glided alongside her briefly, then twirled and skated away in a figure eight to come up beside her again. All he seemed to be doing was showing off. She might as well be invisible, except as an audience. Other skaters were watching—the way she had watched him previous times. But now all the moves she had admired so much were starting to embarrass her. Didn’t he ever just skate?

“Your little brother should leave fancy stuff to pros who know what they’re doing.” Bill called over Raven’s voice. He gave another twirl and landed neatly right in front of Melanie, then continued backwards, glancing to either side to avoid crashing into anyone.

Ahead of him, behind his back, Arthur loomed into view. He did a wiggly twirl—a crude imitation of Bill’s—then started skating backward, head swiveling from side to side. In spite of herself, Melanie giggled. She covered her mouth with her hand.

“What’s so funny?” asked Bill.

“Never mind.”

Arthur skimmed over the center of the floor to the other side, where Cory was. They both grinned and started skating fast. Melanie could see they were planning to speed around the end curve and come up behind her and Bill.

“Never mind?” Bill’s voice jarred her thoughts. "First you get mad. Then you start laughing."

“It’s just that….” Melanie started to say, “I saw someone really being dumb,” but she couldn’t help thinking Arthur and Cory were having more fun than she was. And somehow she had let Bill gloss over calling Cory a dumb jerk too easily. “That was pretty mean what you said about my brother,” she said instead.

“Hey. I said I was kidding, okay? What’s the big deal?”

“How would you like it if I made fun of your little brother?” she asked, panting slightly from the effort of skating while arguing.

“I don’t have a little brother, so it wouldn’t bother me, ha-ha.” Bill jumped and twirled again. Melanie glumly watched. He seemed to have an answer for everything. It was starting to feel like hard work to get along with a cool person.

Boring, too. The thought took her by surprise. She glanced at the snack bar as she skated by. Jenny and her aunt and the Three Terrors sat at one of the tables, eating and laughing. Even they were having more fun than she was.

“Are you going to stay this close to the rail?” scoffed Bill. “Where did you learn to skate? In a garage?”

A memory popped into Melanie’s mind. Once she had tried to surprise her mother by boiling spaghetti for dinner ahead of time, before she got home. The water had simmered and started rising before Melanie had even noticed it. Something like that spaghetti water was simmering deep inside her right now. And rising.

“Ha-ha, just kidding….” Bill eyed her warily.

Melanie could remember how excited she had been ahead of time, and then how that spaghetti water had just boiled right over.

“Listen here, Bill Drexel….” She leaned toward him, giving the floor a push with one skate, her bells jingling, to get close enough for him to hear every word. “I don’t know what makes you think you’re so great!”

How could she have ever thought he was cool? The idea made Melanie want to fall through the cement floor from embarrassment. She was about to tell him that he was the biggest jerk in all of Sacramento. That he was worst show-off. That he was pathetic!

Before she say any of that, though, Bill’s eyes widened in shock from something he saw over her shoulder. “What’s wrong with him?” He leaned forward a little to peer closer.

Arthur whizzed by, leering horribly at them both, his eyelids turned inside out.

“Oh,” said Bill, folding his arms. But that closer look had cost him. He forgot to glance around. As Arthur zoomed off, Bill crashed into a tall boy wearing a sweatshirt and jeans and they both went down together.

Scrambling to their feet, they started yelling at each other. A floor supervisor in a black-and-white-striped shirt and black pants approached, and they both turned and began arguing with him.

“Tell him to watch where he’s going!” The other boy glared.

The supervisor began writing on his notepad.

Bill’s face wore an ugly sneer. “Man, this place stinks!” The supervisor lifted his brows and wrote some more. It was clear that he was getting ready to throw them out.

Melanie didn’t even bother to ask Bill if he was okay. When Arthur circled back—his eyelids normal again—she forgot she wasn’t talking to him. “Where’s Cory?” she demanded. He waved a hand at the snack bar. They started skating over to the rug area.

“How did you guys get out here, anyway?” Melanie asked, torn between the urge to bawl him out and the desire to giggle.

“My dad dropped us off.” Arthur gave her a wide, ear-to-ear smile. “We told him we’d get a ride back with you.”

“No way!” she protested. “You guys aren’t even supposed to be here. Find your own ride. Or walk.”

“Walk!” Arthur sputtered. “Are you crazy? That would take hours!”

“You should think about that the next time you lie to my mom,” said Melanie. “She thinks you’re at Downtown Plaza watching Jingle Bug, remember?”

“Yes, I remember. Santa’s little helper…,” he muttered.

When they got to the snack bar area, Cory was talking to Jenny. Mrs. Leong and the Three Terrors were eating pizza. Jenny stopped nibbling her corn dog long enough to introduce Arthur to her aunt.

“He’s their neighbor,” she explained.

Mrs. Leong gave a polite nod.

“And friend,” added Cory.

Melanie regarded Arthur’s overly innocent face. She folded her arms, looked up at the ceiling, and then sighed. “He’s...kind of family,” she told Jenny’s aunt.

“Ah, family!” said Mrs. Leong. She included him with Cory in the bright sweep of her smile. “You boys need a ride home?”

© Elizabeth Varadan 2006


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