Close to Famous, p.1Joan Bauer
Table of Contents
Published by Penguin Group
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First published in 2011 by Viking, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group
Copyright © Joan Bauer, 2011 All rights reserved
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In memory of Marjorie Good, my mother and best teacher.
August 28, 1925—January 2, 2010
WITH SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Sue Grisko, who walked me though the world of challenged readers and showed me the heart of a teacher who will not give up on a child.
Steve Layne, who offered wonderful, creative solutions and outlined a character that made all the difference.
Mickey Nelson, who helped me understand a singer’s mind, heart, and soul.
Catrina Ganey, who showed me an actor’s strengths and struggles, and all the power Miss Charleena had inside.
Jon Foley, who guided me across West Virginia.
Jean Bauer, my daughter, who marched into the mine and found the diamonds.
Evan Bauer, my husband, who cooked for me and read endless drafts and ate cupcake after test cupcake and never complained, even when that one batch was dry.
Regina Hayes, my editor, who made this work a joy.
George Nicholson, my agent, who keeps going the extra mile.
And the midwives, JoAnn, Rita, Laura, Karen, Chris, Kally, and Donna, who told me to push, and I did.
THE LAST PLACE I thought I’d be when this day began is where I am, which is in a car. Mama’s car to be exact, and she’s driving headstrong through downtown Memphis with an Elvis impersonator on our tail. I know the Elvis; his name is Huck. He’s spitting mad, honking that horn of his that you couldn’t soon forget. I was there when Huck wired his old yellow Cadillac to make the horn honk out Elvis’s big hit “Jailhouse Rock.” Drivers pull to the side of the road when he blasts that thing. We aren’t pulling over for anything.
It’s eleven thirty at night, not many cars around. It rained all day; the air feels thick. Mama leans over the wheel and tries to clear off the windshield.
“Can you see?” I ask.
Sort of is better than no, but not by much.
I look in the backseat at the box filled with all my cooking supplies. Big trash bags of our stuff are piled around it. We’d left fast.
“Where are we going, Mama?”
She touches her eye. It looks swollen. “We’re going somewhere.”
I’m hoping for a place you can find on a map.
“Try not to think about the last few hours until we have some time away from it, Foster.”
How am I supposed to do that?
Memories of Huck breaking our living room window fly at me like bits of glass.
I try to fix a picture of Memphis in my mind so I can say good-bye, but mostly I think about things I’d just as soon forget, like Johnny Joe Badger, who told me I was the stupidest girl in sixth grade; like Mrs. Ritter, my main teacher, who agreed with him; like Mr. Clement Purvis, our landlord, who took singing lessons from Mama and had a voice like an injured dog, but he paid on time, so you dealt with it.
But there was Graceland, too, where the real Elvis lived. It’s an actual mansion, which makes sense, because people called Elvis Presley the King of Rock and Roll. It has fountains and gardens and flowers everywhere. Huck took me there once and walked around like he owned the place. The problem with Huck is he really thinks he’s Elvis, but that’s not why he’s chasing us.
I grab a chocolate chip muffin from my Bake and Take carrier and take a bite. It’s chewy from the touch of corn flour I used. I learned to make muffins from Marietta Morningstar, the muffin queen of Memphis. Mama says you can’t just wait for things to happen, you’ve got to get out there and make your own breaks. So I showed up at Marietta’s shop.
“I’m going to have my own restaurant someday,” I told her, “and I was wondering if I could help you in your kitchen. I’ll do anything at all and you don’t have to pay me. I just want to learn.”
She looked at me kind of strange, which I was expecting. I said, “I’ll thank you in my cookbook when it comes out, and I promise I won’t steal even one of your recipes.”
“And who might you be, young lady?”
“I’m Foster McFee, ma’am. I got an Easy-Bake oven when I was four and the rest is history.” She was paying attention now. “In case you’re wondering, my mother knows I’m here. She’s pretty bad in the kitchen and the worst baker ever. I’m looking for cooking role models.”
Marietta Morningstar studied me like I was a recipe.
“You know more about muffins than any person in the world, probably, but I figure you had to start somewhere.”
She smiled. “I walked up and down the streets of Memphis passing out free samples. People wanted more.”
I reached into my bag and pulled out a pumpkin spice muffin with walnuts that was as moist as anything. “It can be plain for breakfast or I can top it with cream che
I gave it to her. She sniffed it, nodded, and held it up.
“How do I know you’re not trying to poison me?”
I wasn’t expecting that question. “Ms. Morningstar, I swear, if I was going to poison you, I wouldn’t ruin a perfectly fine muffin to do it.”
She laughed, took a bite, and closed her eyes. “Mmmmmmmmm.” That’s the sound a baker wants to hear. “Let’s see. You’ve got canned pumpkin in here, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, butter, golden raisins. What else?”
How did she know the pumpkin was canned? “Vanilla,” I told her. “I’ve been adding a touch more vanilla lately.”
She stood there thinking. “I suppose we could give this a try.”
I put on the apron I’d brought along. Mama made it for me. It’s green with a shooting star on it. “I’m going to be the best helper you ever dreamed of!”
I helped her Tuesdays and Saturdays for almost a year before she retired and closed up shop. I measured flour, lugged around huge cartons of eggs and only dropped a few. I learned not to overmix the batter. I learned that when you run out of buttermilk, you can use milk and vinegar. I learned to make maple butter, which all by itself can make the world a better place. But mostly I learned Marietta Morningstar’s main muffin truth: “Never take a fine muffin for granted,” she told me. “It can open doors to the deepest recesses of the human heart.”
The only recess I knew about was the kind that took place on the playground, but I sure wanted to touch hearts.
Mama turns onto the freeway. I think she could drive us to the ends of the earth without a bathroom stop. It has been a while since I heard Huck’s horn.
“You think he turned back?” I ask.
She looks like she could use a hug, but it’s a bad idea to hug someone who’s driving. I hand her a muffin instead.
“How’s your eye, Mama?” It sure looks swollen.
“A muffin will help.” She takes a big bite. “Mmmmmmmm! I needed this.”
COOK’S TIP: Bake every day. If you have to leave town fast, you’ll always have something good to eat in the car.
IT’S A LONG trip to somewhere. I went to the bathroom in Nashville and Lexington. Mama isn’t talking much, and there doesn’t seem to be anything left for me to think about except what happened back in Memphis.
I was in my room when I heard the noise. I thought it might be Mr. Purvis coming in the back door of our apartment building, but it wasn’t him. It was Huck, who had recently become Mama’s ex-boyfriend. Huck wasn’t happy about that, so he broke our window.
I jumped out of bed at the sound of breaking glass and heard Mama shouting. I ran into the living room, where she slept on the couch. Huck was shaking her by the shoulders.
“Nobody leaves the King—you understand that?”
“Stop it!” I screamed. “Stop it!”
“Who’s gonna sing backup for me now? Huh? ” he was shouting. “You think you can just walk away?”
That’s when he hauled off and punched her in the eye. I did a flying leap toward him; he pushed me away.
“You keep quiet,” Huck warned. But Mama always told me if anyone’s trying to hurt you and they tell you to keep quiet, scream with everything you’ve got. I let loose the biggest scream my skinny body had. It was loud enough to wake the neighbors, who turned on their lights and started shouting.
“We’re not done yet,” Huck snarled. “We’re never gonna be done! ” He jumped out the window, ran to his yellow Cadillac, and sped off.
“We’re out of here,” Mama said, and right then that was fine by me. We packed up fast—threw toothbrushes, wet towels, clothes, food, everything we could grab into plastic bags, and loaded up our Chevy. It was like being on a reality show. How much can you pack before the bad Elvis comes back to get you?
Mama drove us away from Memphis.
I’ve been in this car ever since. I feel a tightness on my chest. I feel sweaty. When Huck was onstage sweating like Elvis, Mama would hand him scarves to put around his neck. He’d throw them out to the audience. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would be interested in Huck’s neck sweat, but he got his share of screaming women reaching for those things.
I roll down the car window.
“You okay, Foster?”
I’m not sure how to answer that. I just want to go someplace where there aren’t any Elvises.
Mama pulls into another gas station. “You need to go?”
I head inside the snack shop. Nobody is paying attention to me, a skinny girl with long, crazy hair pulled back in a ponytail. A man is getting a slushie, a woman is buying Tootsie Rolls, a guy behind the counter shakes a key at me. “Need this?”
I head over and get the bathroom key.
“How’s the weather?” he asks.
Mister, I feel like I’ve been hit by a tornado. “Weather’s fine,” I tell him.
I walk to the bathroom, hearing the slap slap of my flowered flip-flops on the floor. Sonny Kroll, my favorite Food Network cook, who can make a meal out of anything that’s lying around, always says, “Go with what you’ve got.” Well, I have Mama and she has me. I hope Huck has four flat tires and is left in a ditch.
I unlock the door. I wish my daddy was here. I wish that every day of my life. He was in the army. He told me soldiers were always focusing on two big moves—fighting, or leaving a place without too many casualties. I’m glad to be leaving my school in Memphis, because I felt like I was in a war in that place.
If Daddy hadn’t died in the army, there would have been no Huck, Mama would probably be a big singer by now, and I’d be on my way to being the first kid cook on the Food Network, touching hearts one baked good at a time.
I look at myself in the smudged, scratched mirror. Mama says I’m distinctive looking. I’ve got long, thick, curly, crazy hair and a hugely wide smile. My green eyes sparkle when I cook, and I’m told I’ve got a memorable personality, which is what they want on TV.
I’ve got a dream as big as they come.
But it’s hard to dream big in a dirty bathroom.
Mama is humming a song she wrote, “Go to Sleep, Little Girl.” She’d sing that to me when I was little. Sometimes a song can get into your heart like nothing else. Mama’s been stuck as a backup singer most of her life, but with all her talent she’s really a headliner. She learned how to sing quieter than was her nature, learned how to go “Shoo wop, shoo wop” behind the headline singer. Mama knows all the moves.
Mr. Mackey, my fifth-grade teacher, had Mama come in and teach my class how to sing backup. I was so proud. Even Johnny Joe Badger got out of my face when Mama showed up. It was my second-best moment in education. The best was when Mr. Mackey asked each of us kids if we knew if any of our family had ever lived in other countries or had unusual lives. I raised my hand and said that my grandpa McFee came from Ireland, and Mama’s family had roots in Africa, Russia, Sweden, Germany, and the Dominican Republic. Mr. Mackey put pushpins in a big world map for all my countries and said, “No wonder you get along with so many kinds of people, Foster. Look at all this heritage that’s part of you. That’s something to be proud of.”
Mama drove and I fell asleep. I woke up when morning broke out around us. Now we are on a road heading toward green hills. Thick fog hangs down.
Mama peers through the window. “What’s that sign say, Foster?” Then she shakes her head. “I’m sorry, Baby. I didn’t mean . . .”
I bite my lip as we get closer to the sign.
Mama smiles. “I can see it now. Welcome to West Virginia.”
I look out the window at the green hills. The road climbs higher. Mama takes some turns and drives higher still, round and round. Then the fog rolls in and covers the car like marshmallow cream.
“Dear God,” Mama says. “Help me see.”
Dear God, I pray. Help her.
“I’ve got to pull over.”
I try to wipe the windshield, but that doesn’t help. The fog is too thick to see through. I can see Mama’s sweet face and her eyes closing.
“I’m fine.” Her eyes shut again.
I don’t know where we are. I don’t know where we’re going. I don’t know if we could be hit by another car that can’t see us.
I feel the tightness come on my chest again, but I sit up straight and say out loud, “We’re right where we’re supposed to be.”
Mama taught me to say that when I get scared. Sometimes it helps. It would be better if I could see out the window.
“We’re right where we’re supposed to be,” I say again.
I hope that God can see us through the fog. Because if he can’t, we’re in big trouble.
I HEARD A rumble and a roar and sat up fast. Had I been sleeping?
“What in the world . . .” Mama said.
The sun beamed through the windows of the Chevy. A wide-faced woman smiled and waved at us.
“You are two lucky ladies. Another inch and you’da been, well . . .” She shook her head and pointed down.
I looked out my side of the car. The Chevy had stopped as close to the side of a cliff as a car could without tumbling off.
Mama grabbed my hand. “We’re not going to panic!”
The wide-faced woman said, “Don’t worry. You’re in the hands of Gotcha Towing.” She was standing by a tow truck, wearing a red shirt with white lettering that I couldn’t make out. “We’re going to nudge up to your car a little bit and yank you out of there. Put her in neutral nice and easy.” She slapped the side of the tow truck. “All right, Lester, do your magic.”
I held my breath.
The tow truck backed up slowly. The woman attached a big chain to the front of the Chevy.
Close to Famous by Joan Bauer / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes