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Mr gedrick and me, p.13
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       Mr. Gedrick and Me, p.13

           Patrick Carman
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  Mom punched furiously into her computer. Amelia was standing behind her pointing to things on the screen and offering last-second ideas.

  Mr. Jivins leaned toward Huxley and whispered again. I don’t really know why he whispered all the time. Everyone could hear him anyway. “Who’s designing this project, the kid or the adult?”

  “It is highly unusual,” Huxley said. “Maybe we should leave.”

  “No, no. I’d like to see where this is going. And I’ve always liked Elsa Darrow.”

  Mom tapped a few more keys, and then she stopped. “There. All done.”

  “Cutting it rather close, ladies,” Mr. Gedrick said, and then he swished the pointer across the top of his head and all the lights in the garage went out.

  “Oh my,” Mr. Jivins said. “This is exciting.”

  A second later a beam of light appeared from inside the Airstream, projecting like a movie onto the far wall.

  “Did anyone bring popcorn?” Huxley asked as a joke, but no one laughed. I handed both Huxley and Mr. Jivins bags of popcorn.

  “If only I had a chair to sit on, I’d be as happy as a clam,” Mr. Jivins said.

  Mr. Gedrick had already thought of this, and before Mr. Jivins could make the full request a chair was bumping the back of his knees. Two folding chairs awaited him and Huxley.

  Mr. Jivins smiled and laughed at what a great time he was having. He ate some popcorn. “On with the show!” he yelled.

  “I think we’ve already seen the best part,” Huxley mumbled.

  The design for the Chicago Community Arts Center began to unfold, and it was even better than I thought it would be. And I thought it would be super-amazing-fantastic-and-great. Mom and Amelia took turns explaining as the building appeared: a globe cut open from the top, its six wings slicing out just like Swoghollow. The six sections were connected by bridges, each of them housing a different area of exciting creative opportunity.

  “Each wing extends from the center, like slices of an apple or an orange,” Mom said. “So each wing is separate, but it’s all part of the same whole.”

  “And Mom—er, Ms. Darrow—has figured out all the engineering,” Amelia explained proudly. “The bridges that extend across the middle of each wing aren’t just exterior walking paths, they’re also structural beams that hold everything together.”

  “The six wings cover everything Chicago kids need to grow creatively,” Mom continued. “Arts and crafts, painting, sculpture, modern art, the classics, and multimedia. As you can see, each of these areas has space for hands-on learning, galleries, and classrooms.”

  Mom and Amelia explained it so well I couldn’t wait to go there myself, and I don’t even like art. They talked about the restaurants and the bathrooms, calling the whole thing a “singular experience.”

  When they were done, the lights came up and Mr. Jivins took another handful of popcorn.

  “Well, I must say this is all very exciting,” Mr. Jivins said, turning to Huxley. “I’m afraid it’s a little bit better than your plans, Huxley. You’d have to agree?”

  Huxley had no idea what to say as he tried to hide the tube of plans behind his back. But Mr. Gedrick had a different idea. He used his pointer to poke the plans out from under Huxley’s arm, and they landed in Fergus’s waiting hands.

  Mom and Amelia left the Airstream and joined everyone else as the plans were unrolled and pinned down on the workbench.

  “These are familiar,” Mom said, looking suspiciously at Huxley.

  “Am I to understand that these are your plans, Elsa?” Mr. Jivins asked.

  “I hate to take credit for them,” she said. “They’re not my best work. But yes, these are my plans.”

  “Hey, didn’t you take a picture of this stuff in our kitchen last time you were here?” I asked.

  Huxley tried his best to backpedal. “These are reproductions of work I gave Elsa to do. She might have drawn them up, I don’t recall, but they were based on my ideas.”

  “Either way, they are far inferior to what we just witnessed,” Mr. Jivins said. He ate some more popcorn and seemed to be mulling what to do next.

  “Of course this new direction is even better,” Huxley exclaimed, acting all excited. “I’m glad we went with option number two. I always liked it best.”

  “Next slide, please,” Mr. Gedrick said.

  I moved into the Airstream, where I pulled up a slide show file. The lights dimmed again.

  “I have taken the liberty of speaking with some of your ex-employees, Mr. Harvold,” Mr. Gedrick said. “Exhibit A: the Johnson Hotel. Quite a nice building.”

  Huxley loosened his tie. “Yes, I designed that building. Thank you.”

  “Actually, that’s not precisely true, is it, Mr. Harvold?”

  A new slide appeared with a picture of a man holding an architectural drawing. “Phillip Benderson, who worked for you five years ago. It was his first job, so of course he worked very hard indeed. These were his plans, weren’t they, Mr. Harvold?”

  “Well, we worked on them together,” Huxley mumbled.

  “All right, I’ll let it slide,” Mr. Gedrick said. I brought up another image. “Exhibit B.”

  This went on for six more examples, all of buildings Huxley had taken credit for, all done by young, up-and-coming architects who were later fired.

  “This show gets more interesting by the minute,” Mr. Jivins said.

  Mr. Gedrick signaled for me to end the show and the lights came up again.

  “It was your right to take some of the credit,” Mr. Gedrick said. “You are, after all, the head of the department. But you can’t have all the credit. Certainly not here. Not in the Darrow home. It was your intention to take full credit for Elsa’s work and then fire her as well, was it not?”

  Huxley’s face turned red. “That’s absurd! I would never—”

  “Oh, but you would,” Mr. Gedrick said. “You’ve done it many times before.”

  All eyes were on Huxley as he staggered backward a few steps and bumped into the workbench. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” Huxley stammered. It was a strange thing to say, one of his classic zingers, but it made an odd sort of sense given the situation.

  Amelia got a puzzled look on her face. “Didn’t Eleanor Roosevelt say that?”

  “I believe you might be right,” Mr. Gedrick said.

  “Yup,” I said from the Airstream. “Says right here, I just Googled it. Also she’s got a nice hat on.”

  At this point I bet all Huxley wanted to do was get in his fancy car and drive away from our house.

  “How about you wait outside for me?” Mr. Jivins said to Huxley. “I’ll only be a minute.”

  Huxley didn’t have much choice. He tried to argue, but Mr. Jivins had seen enough.

  When Huxley was gone, Mr. Jivins walked over to the Airstream. “You got any soda in there? I’m parched.”

  “You betcha!” I said. I opened a small refrigerator next to the desk and tossed a can to Mr. Jivins.

  “Fresca, my favorite,” Mr. Jivins said. He popped the top and drank half the can in one pull. Then he burped loudly.

  “Excuse me,” he said. “But my, that is good.”

  Everyone laughed. I liked Mr. Jivins more than ever. He seemed like our kind of guy.

  Before he left, Mr. Jivins offered Mom a big fat raise and a promotion, but Mom wouldn’t take it unless she could work from home.

  “I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Mr. Jivins said. “How else are you going to mentor our future superstar?”

  He looked at Amelia and smiled broadly, and she looked behind herself.

  “Who, me?” she asked.

  “Don’t be so modest,” Fergus said, putting an arm around my sister. “You gotta own your awesomeness.”

  Amelia blushed and nodded at Mr. Jivins.

  “I accept,” Mom said.

  “We both do,” Amelia said.

  “Wonderful!” Mr. Jivins said.

  The lig
hts went down in the garage and the projector came back on, the plans for the community arts center on full display again.

  Mr. Jivins marveled at them. He drank down the rest of his Fresca and burped again. “Now, we will build it.”


  We’re right back where I first laid eyes on Mr. Gedrick. Do you remember that moment, in the cemetery with the leaf and the bench? Mr. Gedrick was there again, sitting in the same spot, looking at the headstone with my dad’s name on it.

  We looked for him all morning, but it was my idea to look here. I just knew he’d be on that same bench, waiting for us.

  “I told you we’d find him here,” I whispered. I looked up at Mom. “What should we do?”

  Fergus and Amelia had no ideas. They didn’t want to disturb him, but they were also worried about him. We all huddled together and everyone waited for Mom to decide what to do.

  “How about if I go first,” she said. “I’ll wave you over if it’s okay?”

  “Good plan,” Fergus said.

  Everyone agreed and Mom walked out from behind the tree and slowly made her way toward the bench. Mr. Gedrick had the same green felt jacket on, the same perfectly combed hair. The wind rustled through the leaves and I felt the first chill of fall returning to the world.

  “Excuse me, Mr. Gedrick,” Mom said when she was only a few steps away. “Are you all right?”

  He didn’t turn around, but his head did rise a little, like Mom had woken him up from a dream.

  “Yes, Elsa,” Mr. Gedrick said. “I’m all right. And you?”

  Mom went around the bench and sat down beside him.

  “You loved him as much as we did,” Mom said. “We all see that now. It must be sad for you, losing him.”

  Mr. Gedrick stared out into the cemetery and took out the field guide to the Darrows. He rubbed the cover with his thumb and looked like he was thinking of many things. “He meant just as much to me as he did to all of you.”

  Somehow Mom held it together, but I almost lost it. “I know, Mr. Gedrick. And I’m sorry.”

  We couldn’t stay back anymore, so we crept up closer. We stood around Mr. Gedrick, all in a circle. I leaned in and hugged him. When I pulled away, Mr. Gedrick looked at all of us, one at a time, his bright eyes as lively as ever.

  “When I arrived, I wondered if the four of you could be enough for each other. The answer turns out to be yes, and that makes me very happy indeed. Each of you was taught something different by Mr. Darrow, something you needed to be reminded of. And these things have brought you together again.”

  I knew what he was talking about. Mr. Gedrick had used his special kind of magic to remind us about things that were always there. All that stuff was just hidden under a load of sadness.

  “But you had some work to do, too,” I said. “Right?”

  “Yes, Stanley. I had some work to do. Your dad was at the business of healing everyone this summer, including me. But it was the Darrow family magic that did the trick.”

  Mr. Gedrick rose from the bench and placed the field guide back in his jacket pocket.

  “Won’t you stay with us, Mr. Gedrick?” Amelia asked. “We want you to stay.”

  But I knew that he wouldn’t. Amelia knew it, too. We all knew. Mr. Gedrick’s work with us was finished. And our work on him? That work was done, too.

  “I’m afraid I can’t stay,” Mr. Gedrick said. “But I will visit soon. How about that?”

  Fergus gave Mr. Gedrick a huge hug. Everyone else joined in, surrounding Mr. Gedrick and holding him tightly.

  “Are you sure you have to go?” I asked.

  “Yes, I’m sure,” Mr. Gedrick said. “But you’ll see me again. And you’ll be benching a lot more than the bar. I’m quite sure you’ll even hit another Fergus fastball.”

  “You promise?” I asked.

  “I promise.”

  We let him go and Mr. Gedrick began to walk. He didn’t look back, not once, but he did take out his pointer and catch a falling leaf. He tossed the leaf in the air and it caught on the wind, dancing away over the graves and into the distance. I watched it fly and wondered where it would land.

  When I looked back, Mr. Gedrick was gone.


  In October, the city of Chicago celebrated the groundbreaking for the community arts center. The mayor was there with a gold shovel and so were a lot of other important people. Local news outlets buzzed around with all their fancy cameras, interviewing everyone, including Mom.

  “How did you come up with this revolutionary design?” a reporter asked her.

  I could tell she was nervous, probably because she’d never stood in front of a camera being interviewed.

  “I had a lot of help,” Mom finally said. She pulled Amelia closer on one side and Fergus on the other. I mugged for the camera in front of them. “And we all had some inspiration from a special friend.”

  “I understand you’re dedicating this project to Mr. Jonathan Darrow, who passed away unexpectedly last year. But it’s also dedicated to a Mr. G.,” the interviewer said. “Can you tell us anything about him?”

  “That’s a Darrow family secret,” I said. It’s pretty cool shutting down a TV reporter.

  Kids ran around everywhere and their parents looked at the big signs describing the project. Everyone loved how amazing it was, and Mom shook a lot of hands. Mr. Jivins was there, too, and when he found us he gave Mom the Chicago Tribune.

  “What an exciting day,” Mr. Jivins said. “If only I had more of that popcorn and a Fresca, it would be perfect.”

  “Come on over for dinner and a movie,” I said. “We got plenty of popcorn and Fresca.”

  “I’d enjoy that very much,” Mr. Jivins said as he looked at Mom. I think there was some kind of spark between them, and it didn’t even bother me.

  “I have a ton of action figures,” I said. “We could have some fun with those. Amelia calls them butt zappers, I’ll explain all about that later. And I have this cool globe where we can find hidden kingdoms and stuff.”

  “That sounds marvelous,” Mr. Jivins said.

  Fergus took the paper from Mom and read the headline. “‘Community Arts Center Breaks Ground, Elsa Darrow Praised for Genius Design.’”

  “That sounds pretty good,” Amelia said with a smile.

  “It mentions you in here, too,” Fergus said.

  “What? No way!” Amelia said. She took the paper and scanned the story. “‘A rising architectural apprentice in the city, Amelia Darrow is poised to take the Chicago skyline by storm.’”

  “High praise indeed,” Mr. Jivins said. “I’m glad I found you before anyone else did.”

  “Hey, look at this,” Amelia said.

  There was another story, a much smaller sidebar. Amelia read the headline: “‘Huxley Harvold Fired from Senior Post at House that Elsa Built.’”

  “Oh, that’s just too much,” Mom said.

  “Not at all,” Mr. Jivins said. “I insisted on that headline myself.”

  I looked at all the kids excited about the project. The place was buzzing with activity. I scanned the crowd because I hoped to see Mr. Gedrick. When my eyes reached the street in front of the building plot, I saw Fred pull up.

  “Mr. Gedrick!” I yelled as I started running. “It’s him!”

  My whole family chased after me, leaving Mr. Jivins behind. We were all laughing at seeing our old friend, piling in close next to the car door.

  “Let me have a look at you all,” Mr. Gedrick said.

  His eyes narrowed and he glanced between each of us. He seemed to be taking note of any changes in our appearance. Was he searching for any signs of slipping back into old habits? I didn’t know, but if he was he’d come up empty.

  “So we pass inspection?” Amelia asked.

  “That you do,” Mr. Gedrick answered, nodding once.

  We asked him all sorts of questions about where he’d been and what he’d been doing.

Darrow wasn’t the only child I raised. There were many, many more. So I have much work to do.”

  Was he running an orphanage, or was he a foster parent, or was he talking about something else? He wouldn’t say and I wondered if I’d ever find out.

  “Next stop, Swoghollow,” Mr. Gedrick said. He waved his hand in front of him and the wind picked up, blowing through the tall trees all around us. He sped away through a flurry of leaves, waving over his head.

  “He sure is an interesting guy,” Fergus said. “I’ll never forget him.”

  Mom pulled all of us close as the leaves danced around us.

  “He won’t forget us either,” she said.

  We started down the wide sidewalk with the fall leaves swirling around and watched Mr. Gedrick’s car disappear around a corner.

  “Let’s get some ice cream,” I said.

  “Good call, little bro,” Fergus agreed.

  It felt like an important summer was behind me, and a lot more were ahead of me, waiting to be found somewhere in the distance.


  With special thanks to the talented team of designers, editors, and marketing experts at HarperCollins. Stanley and Mr. Gedrick will never forget spending time with such a thoughtful team (and neither will I).

  Ben Rosenthal, my amazing editor, offered a perfect balance of encouragement and suggestions in the search for Stanley’s voice. Through five or six major edits (it felt like twenty!) Ben helped me find my way and bring this once-in-a-lifetime character to life. Bravo, Ben!

  Stanley would also like to add: Hey, Veronica Ambrose, your line edit made my day!

  And thank you, Katherine Tegen. You always believe in me, even when I’m a knucklehead, which is most of the time. Hug hug hug.



  Photo credit

  PATRICK CARMAN is the New York Times bestselling author of over thirty books, including the acclaimed series the Land of Elyon and Floors and the teen superhero novel Thirteen Days to Midnight. A multimedia pioneer, Patrick authored The Black Circle, the fifth title in the 39 Clues series, and the Dark Eden, Skeleton Creek, Trackers, Fizzopolis, and Voyagers series. An enthusiastic reading advocate, Patrick has visited more than a thousand schools, developed village library projects in Central America, and created author outreach programs for communities. He lives in Walla Walla, Washington, with his family. You can visit him online at

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