RANDI'S STEPS 1st & 2nd chapters preview

Chapter 1
I waste ten minutes of my life and ruin my plans today just by being me.
If my bathing suit had been easy to find, neatly folded in my drawer, Randi and I would have been running and jumping through the sprinklers by now. Instead, I have to empty my dresser, tossing butterfly underwear and mismatched socks across my rug for these crucial minutes. I find my bikini under the bed, the neon green straps wrapped around a naked doll and a lonely boot.
            While I scramble into my suit and struggle with the knot, I hear Dad ask Randi the worst question ever. “How would you like to pose for a portrait?”
Poor Randi is trapped. I know she won’t say no. So I hurry to warn her, “Dad makes it sound simple, but sitting still for fifteen minutes in that stuffy attic studio is worse than eating fried eel.”
Randi smiles. “When did you eat fried eel? Maybe it’s good.”
“You’re weird. But I’ve been posing since I learned to say Da-da. Just wait till a fly lands on your head, and he won’t let you move to swat it.”
As Dad sketches my best friend, she turns twitchy. Randi’s eyes beg for help. She needs my expert advice so we can get out of there. I want to race through the sprinklers before the heat melts my flip-flops.
Dad groans. “Try not to move. I’m working on your nose.”
“You can try, but your nose is going to itch like the chicken pox. Don’t scratch it!”
“Look straight ahead, eyes still,” Dad instructs.
“Now you’ll want to blink. But don’t. Just be happy he lets you breathe.”
Randi shakes with bottled up laughter. “Hww mooch loongrrr?” she mutters through stiff lips.
“Not too much longer. I’m sketching your Mona Lisa smile.”
“Dad, that’s not a compliment. Who wants to look like a plain old woman from the 1500s?” His eyes squint with concentration, like he doesn’t hear me.
Dad’s drawing comes to life as his quick strokes form Randi’s heart-shaped mouth on the cream-colored paper. Lighter, feathery scratches become the curly wisps that frame her forehead. His charcoal drags along the edge of the paper, creating her long, wavy brown hair, the tones of the paper transforming into golden highlights.
He leaves one part out—the sweat dripping down Randi’s cheeks.
“Okay … I’m just … about … done. There. Come take a look.” Dad takes a few steps back and tilts his head. He squiggles his name and the date on the bottom right-hand corner. Terry McLean, 1978.
Randi wipes her face with her t-shirt, slides off the stool, and steps over to where I stand next to the easel. “Wow! It looks exactly like me.”
“Yep, it does. Now can we go?” I glance back at the drawing again and think, Yeah, spooky real.
 “Yeah, let’s go. I’m hot.” Randi wipes her face again. “Being a statue’s no fun.”
“Told you.”
We race to the sprinkler raining a slippery path across Randi’s lawn and leap through the rainbow droplets like ballet dancers landing on a slab of butter. We jump again and again until we are drenched.
Suddenly Randi stops and lies down in the damp grass. “I have to rest for a minute.
“Okay.” I plop down next to her and stare at the sky upside down. “Do you see the unicorn?”
She scans the clouds with her eyes, squinting in the sunlight. “Where? Oh, I see. Looks like it’s about to head-butt a turtle with its horn.” Randi yanks off her hair ribbon.
I point to another cumulus cloud rolling across the sunny sky. “There’s a girl holding a flower.”
Randi says nothing. Her eyes are closed. Is she sleeping?
Then she sits up and massages the sides of her forehead. “I gotta go. My head hurts again. But I’ll come over later.”
“Well, make it quick, okay?” Summer’s almost over. How many times can she use the same excuse?
Chapter 2
The silence in Randi’s house is loud. On a normal day, the stereo blasts her dad’s favorites Billy Joel songs; everyone sings as Randi’s younger brother, Michael, hums car noises and screeches his Hot Wheels race car around my feet.
Today, I step into the den across an exclamation point of light shining through the closed curtains. I try to be quiet, but I have to sneeze.  An uncontrollable, whistling sneeze. Mr. and Mrs. Picconi look at me. Michael looks at me with his mouth open wide. This must be a stranger’s house, not my best friend’s.
Did I do something wrong? What happened to “Oh hi, Francie, come on in. You’re the next contestant on the Price is Right.” Or, “Do you want to get an ice cream cone at Rocket Ship Park?” or “Let’s ride in Dad’s Corvette and pretend we’re movie stars.” Why are the Picconis acting stranger than usual, not funny strange—that would be normal—but creepy strange? Did all the towns on Long Island turn weird, or just ours?
Randi appears at the top of the stairs, holding an ice-pack on her head. “I can’t play today. My head’s about to explode.”
“Oh. That stinks.” I wait a minute, hoping she’s joking. “Well...guess I’ll see you at the bus stop tomorrow.” I re-zip my coat for the short trek from her front door on Hartwell Drive to mine.
“No, remember? I have to go to the doctor for some tests,” Randi reminds me. “Sorry.” She turns around, shuffles back into her bedroom, and closes the door. She doesn’t say good-bye.
The bright sun is a big fat liar today because the winter air numbs my toes.
This must be her hundredth headache, I’ve lost count. Shivering from the cold, I step inside.
“You’re back already?” Mom says as she takes my coat.
“She can’t play because of her stupid headache. Why does she have to go to the doctor for that? She always says she has a headache. Can’t she just take some aspirin?”
Dad looks up from his newspaper. “I’m sure it’s nothing, but nine-year-olds shouldn’t have recurring headaches. She might need glasses. Poor eyesight sometimes causes headaches.” He goes back to reading Newsday. A photo of President Carter’s serious face replaces Dad’s. I peek over the newspaper to see what his eyebrows tell me. He doesn’t look concerned, so I’m not concerned.
But mom’s green eyes are wide and glossy. “Don’t worry about Randi. God is watching over her.” She puts down her Good Housekeeping magazine and wraps her arms around me, squeezing so hard it hurts. “It’s better to see a doctor and find out what is wrong.” Mom’s voice quivers. And I wonder, “Why?”
Randi was supposed to be back by now. I hate riding the bus without her. She’s been gone over a week for those stupid tests. I miss her Tinker Bell laugh with the occasional snort. The rows behind me bounce with laughter. Spit wads and paper balls land next to me. Missed shots? Should I pretend to read the writing on the seatback in front of me or watch trees go by? I’d love to jump out the window and disappear in the snow.
As soon as the bus rolls down the first hill past the school, bullies and their followers rise like vampires at midnight. A quiet girl like me is high on their list of possible targets, along with the boy wearing coke-bottle glasses, and the chubby Mickey Mouse Fan Club member who carries a metal Mickey lunch box.
Twenty minutes later, the bus inches toward my corner. Way too long.
Mrs. Picconi’s station wagon is in their driveway. Yes!  They’re back from the doctor. I leap out of my seat, trip on Joey Torelli’s football helmet, and grab my sister who is at the front of the bus laughing with a group of her second-grade friends.
“Come on, Laurie.”
“I’m coming,” she groans. I run home as fast as I can run through snow and slush with a pile of schoolbooks weighing me down and Laurie screaming, “Wait up!”
“Hi, Mom. Can I go to Randi’s? She’s back. I saw her car in—”
“Francie, first come here and sit down for a minute. I have to tell you something.”             Mom reaches for my hand as a tear rolls down her cheek.


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Anonymous said…
very moving. will you be posting more

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