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Mr gedrick and me, p.5
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       Mr. Gedrick and Me, p.5

           Patrick Carman
 
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  Mr. Gedrick glanced at the bench press then turned back to me.

  “I don’t know,” I said as I stared at the bench press, too. “I think that bar might make me even more frustrated.”

  “How about we try anyway?” Mr. Gedrick asked.

  I took a big breath and let it out. Then I went to the bench press and sat down.

  “I can’t do it, Mr. Gedrick. I’m too small.”

  “Nonsense. All you have to do is believe, and it will practically lift itself.”

  “I do believe. I believe that thing is trying to kill me.”

  Mr. Gedrick didn’t say anything else. He stood quietly and waited, staring at the Airstream until I couldn’t stand the silence anymore.

  “Fine,” I said as I lay down halfheartedly on the bench. “But you gotta back me up here. If this thing gets stuck on my chest, bail me out, okay?”

  Mr. Gedrick didn’t answer, and I felt struck by the wimpiness of my own arms.

  I looked at each one. “It’s just you and me, guys, let’s do this.”

  I reached up and grabbed the bar. It slid off the cradles, descending onto my chest like an elephant.

  “Ugh,” I wheezed. “This thing is going to murder me.”

  As I stared at the ceiling, Mr. Gedrick’s face came into view. He leaned over, staring at me. Mr. Gedrick took out his pointer and extended it. Then he tapped me on the head with it three times fast.

  “Not helpful,” I said as I struggled to breathe under the weight of the bar. I was thinking about sliding out from under it and landing on the hard floor. I felt even more frustrated and angry. Did Mr. Gedrick want me to fail?

  “Close your eyes, Stanley,” Mr. Gedrick said.

  “Trouble breathing here,” I complained.

  “Close your eyes and listen to me carefully,” Mr. Gedrick ordered in a soft but firm voice.

  I didn’t want to close my eyes. I wanted to lift the bar and throw it at the mailbox. I was mad at the bar, mad that my dad was gone, mad that my brother and sister didn’t like me. Just plain mad. The bar felt like my whole life, everything weighing down on me, making me feel small and afraid. But I closed my eyes anyway. What else was I going to do?

  “I want you to imagine something for me. Imagine that there is no bar. Instead, you’re holding a broomstick. The broom part is gone, it’s just the stick in your hands. It hardly weighs anything at all. Light as a feather. Now I’m going to tap your forehead three more times, and you’re going to lift that broom handle off your chest and put it back where it belongs.”

  I thought about the broom handle and how much it weighed. It was like a giant toothpick, and I was sure I could lift a giant toothpick.

  I felt three taps on my forehead, and then I pushed as hard as I could. The bar lifted off my chest about three inches, then moved slowly back down again, like a balloon losing its air.

  “I can’t do it, Mr. Gedrick!” I yelled.

  “You can!” Mr. Gedrick yelled back. He tapped my head three more times.

  I pushed even harder this time. I pushed so hard I farted. It was a high, squeaky, waffle fart and it should have made me laugh and lose focus. But I kept at it. My noodle arms started to give out but I forced one more giant push.

  “What’s this contraption?” Mr. Gedrick asked.

  Mr. Gedrick moved away, over by the big workbench, and I could hardly believe my one and only helper had left me. When I opened my eyes, I sat up and looked at Mr. Gedrick.

  “Thanks a lot, pal,” I said. “Here I am pinned like a bug and you just leave me to get squished. Very nice.”

  But then I realized something. I wasn’t lying down anymore. And the bar wasn’t on my chest, it was sitting in its cradle, right where it belonged. I looked at the bar, blown away at what I had done.

  “You were saying?” Mr. Gedrick said, looking down his pointed nose at me.

  I started jumping up and down. “I did it! I finally lifted that stupid bar! I’m amazing!”

  Mr. Gedrick smiled, but only for the flash of a moment. “Yes, Stanley. You are amazing. Don’t forget it. Not ever.”

  I grinned from ear to ear. How had I done it? It had seemed so heavy before, an impossible thing to lift. But there it was.

  “I was asking you about this contraption,” Mr. Gedrick said, swishing his pointer to the right.

  “That’s a cage me and my dad built,” I said. “Bob lives in there.”

  “Bob?”

  “Yeah, he’s a lizard. He was my dad’s pet, but now we all take turns feeding him. Actually, I feed him mostly. Amelia and Fergus are too busy.”

  The cage was small but there were different places to hide, so Bob wasn’t noticeable right away. There were four levels to the cage, and it was built of wood and wire with a small metal door. It looked like a scale model for a little house.

  “You’re good at building things,” Mr. Gedrick said as he peered inside and got a look at Bob. They stared at each other, the guy and the lizard, for a long time.

  “My dad did most of the work,” I said, just to break the silence. “I helped a little.”

  The truth was, I’d always felt like the underachiever in the family. Maybe it was because I was small or because I was the youngest. I couldn’t draw or design stuff like my sister or Mom, and I wasn’t great at sports like Fergus.

  I walked over with a slouch in my step and unlatched the gate, then I took Bob out and showed him to Mr. Gedrick.

  “He’s a very thoughtful lizard,” Mr. Gedrick said.

  I had to agree. “You might be right. Bob’s not much of a talker, that’s for sure.”

  Mr. Gedrick eyeballed Bob. “How are the accommodations, do they suit you? And the food, how’s that? And are you being visited enough? Have you had any adventures lately?”

  I watched as Bob’s head turned to the left and he blinked twice. Then his tongue shot out and back in again.

  “Very interesting,” Mr. Gedrick said.

  I looked up at Mr. Gedrick. “What did he say?”

  “I think Bob is itching for a good adventure. But I’ve been wrong before.”

  I carefully put Bob back in the cage and latched the door shut.

  “This might be the perfect place for a project of our own,” Mr. Gedrick said, looking around the garage. He had a gleam in his green eyes. “A really big project.”

  Mr. Gedrick turned and stood in front of the wall of power tools.

  “We need some plans,” he said. “And for that, we’re going to need your sister.”

  I wasn’t too happy about getting Amelia involved. But I had to admit, plans are important on a big project. And Amelia was very good at drawing up plans.

  “You’re probably right,” I said. “Should we go ask her?”

  We agreed it was the right thing to do, and I started to leave. When I turned back, Mr. Gedrick was standing by Bob’s cage leaning down like he was talking.

  “Come on, Mr. Gedrick. We need plans if we’re going to build something big.”

  Mr. Gedrick turned around and faced me. “How right you are. Lead the way.”

  A DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE

  Our meeting with Amelia started out with a truckload of ridiculous excuses about why she couldn’t help us. There was absolutely positively no way she had time to make a plan for us.

  Some of the excuses included:

  “I am observing ‘International Don’t Leave Your Room Day,’ and I take these things very seriously.”

  “I’m working on my bucket list. Your plan isn’t on it.”

  “My palm reader advised against making any plans today.”

  And this zinger:

  “There’s a disturbance in the Force. And I never make plans when that happens.”

  I thought that last one was reasonable. I’d second-guess a big project if there was something sketchy with the Force, too.

  But then Mr. Gedrick told Amelia what the plans were for, and the tide turned for us.

  “That’s actually a r
eally nice idea,” she said. She put the end of her pencil in her mouth and thought more about it.

  “I’m going to need measurements, and right after that, complete alone time. Total silence. None of this racket in the middle of the night.”

  “Consider it done,” Mr. Gedrick said.

  Amelia thought a little more, and then pointed to the door like it was time for us to leave. “And I’ll need some big sheets of paper. Also someone to bring me lunch. Knock on the door and leave it outside. Thanks.”

  I looked at Mr. Gedrick and we basically read each other’s minds: Mom has plenty of those big pieces of paper. We can distract her and pinch a couple of sheets. We winked at each other.

  “We have a deal,” Mr. Gedrick said. “When can you deliver the goods?”

  Amelia hesitated. She tapped the end of her pencil on her forehead several times. “Give me until tonight and I should have a beginning you can review.”

  “Hey, that’s great!” I said. I was itching to get my hands on those power tools. “Did I mention that I lifted the whole bar all by myself? That thing weighs like a thousand pounds.”

  “That’s great, Stanley,” she said after a pause. I think she felt a little jealous of Mr. Gedrick helping me out. “And I’m sorry I didn’t help you when you asked me to all those times. I’m sure Mr. Gedrick was there when you needed him.”

  “Not really,” I said. “He sort of left me hanging. But I did it anyway!”

  She looked up at Mr. Gedrick in his red tie and his green jacket and smiled a tiny bit.

  This seemed to make Mr. Gedrick happy, and he hustled me down the hallway. He turned back to Amelia as her door was about to shut. “We’ll leave you to your work and get that paper you need.”

  The door closed and Mr. Gedrick knelt down and put his face kind of close to mine. He had spearmint breath.

  “You know, she doesn’t really like being alone all the time. It’s just become a habit she’s fallen into since your dad hasn’t been here.”

  “I miss her sometimes,” I said. “It would be super nice to have her back.”

  In the living room, we came up with a plan to get several large pieces of paper from Mom’s stash. I took off in one direction, and Mr. Gedrick in another. About a minute later the doorbell rang.

  I was hiding around the side of the kitchen door and watched Mom. She didn’t look up from her work. She stood there with a pencil in her mouth and another one in her hand, drawing out something on one of those big, fancy pieces of paper. The sheets were gigantic, about three feet by three feet, and I had to get at least two of them.

  The doorbell rang again and Mom took the pencil out of her mouth. “Is someone going to get that? Anyone? Hello?”

  The doorbell rang a third time and Mom finally went to see who it was. She walked past me as I lay flat against the wall. I tiptoed into the kitchen as Mom answered the door—it was Mr. Gedrick.

  “Well, hello, Elsa,” Mr. Gedrick said. “How’s the work coming along? Splendidly, I hope.”

  “It’s good,” I heard Mom say as I approached her worktable. “I mean, actually, it’s slow. Why are you ringing the doorbell?”

  “Ah yes, the doorbell,” Mr. Gedrick said. “I had a question about the lawn, and the lawn is out here. So naturally I rang.”

  “Of course you did. I’m right in the middle of this work, so can it wait until after dinner?”

  I pulled up three sheets off the stack. Boy, they were really big. I had to hold my arms up to keep them from dragging on the kitchen floor.

  “This won’t take but a moment, a blip,” Mr. Gedrick said. He put an arm toward Mom and I watched him guide her out onto the front porch. I quietly moved closer and hid behind the kitchen island as they talked.

  “You see, I’d like to plant some flowers there, there, and there. And do some trimming on the lawn there, there, and there. And possibly work on those hedges there, there, and there. And I have some ideas about this big tree. Would that be all right with you?”

  Mom didn’t hesitate. The yard was a mess. Why not let him go to work on it? “Yes, yes, and yes. And also thank you. I didn’t know you were also a gardener.”

  “I’ll get Fergus to help me,” Mr. Gedrick said. “We’ll snip snap and chip chop and this will all look marvelous.”

  “Okay then,” Mom said impatiently. “Is there anything else I can do for you, Mr. Gedrick?”

  “No, no, that was all,” he said. “I’ll be in to make lunch shortly. Grilled cheese and tomato soup.”

  “Oh, that does sound good. Thank you, Mr. Gedrick. Thank you for everything.”

  “My pleasure. Oh, and did you hear Stanley lifted the bar off his chest? All by himself.”

  I felt a swell of pride and wished I could see Mom’s face. That was when I dropped all three sheets and they fanned out on the kitchen floor like carpet squares.

  “That’s very good, Mr. Gedrick,” Mom said from the porch. “He’s a determined little boy.”

  “That he is.”

  I picked up the first two sheets, one in each hand, but I was having a hard time getting my fingers on to the last sheet since both hands were full. This was going to be tight.

  “I’m going to go back to my work now,” Mom said. She was heading for the door! “I’ll look forward to seeing what becomes of the front yard.”

  I looked up and Mr. Gedrick was staring at me through the kitchen door. He could see the plan to get the paper was in big trouble. I was still standing in the kitchen and Mom was heading back!

  “If I may, Ms. Darrow,” he said. “Just one more thing. What’s your opinion of yard gnomes?”

  “Yard gnomes?”

  “Yes, yard gnomes.”

  I finally got that third piece of paper by leaning down and grabbing it with my teeth. When I stood back up I nodded at Mr. Gedrick and ran down the hallway. The last thing I heard was Mom saying she thought yard gnomes were kind of silly, but if that’s what Mr. Gedrick wanted, go for it.

  We delivered the paper to Amelia’s room, Mr. Gedrick made lunch, and the day crawled by with books and games and puzzles as we waited for the plans. We played one of my favorite games called Snorta! It’s a game where you have to make a lot of animal sounds, which is something I’m really good at. Mr. Gedrick turned out to be a real master of the snort, the moo, and the bark, but the real kicker was his goose sound. The guy could honk like nobody’s business.

  “Is there a water fowl in the house?” Mom yelled from the kitchen.

  “Nope, just us pigs and cows and dogs,” I yelled back.

  Mr. Gedrick made the honking sound again and I thought it was so hilarious I rolled around on the floor and knocked a lamp off the table. Good thing Mr. Gedrick was fast at catching falling lamps or Mom would have had a fit.

  We waited and waited and waited. Unfortunately for us, it was going to take a lot more than a few rounds of Snorta! to get our plans from Amelia.

  SOMEPLACE NEW

  Amelia stalled over and over and eventually stopped answering our knocks at her door. I even tried bribing her with candy and quarters, but she wouldn’t take the bait. It became clear that the plans wouldn’t be ready for at least a couple of days. Fergus and Mom were nodding off by nine thirty p.m., but I was full of energy. I couldn’t sleep as my mind raced about using power tools and building something cool. Mr. Gedrick and I were in the kitchen, where I was eating a bowl of cereal and he was making notes in his field guide. It looked like he was making plans of his own, but he wouldn’t tell me what they were no matter how many times I asked him.

  “When she gets here, I’d like you to turn in for the night,” Mr. Gedrick said. “Can you do that for me?”

  “When who gets here?” I asked through the crunching of my cereal.

  Mr. Gedrick’s eyebrow went up and he seemed to be listening for something quiet and faraway.

  “She’s on her way,” he said. “Time for you to get going. Chop-chop.”

  A few seconds later, Amelia arrived in t
he kitchen. She was startled to find me and Mr. Gedrick sitting at the table.

  “Whoa, neat trick, Mr. G.,” I said.

  “You scared me,” Amelia said as she sat down next to us.

  Mr. Gedrick closed his field guide and put it back in his jacket pocket. He raised an eyebrow at me.

  “Oh right,” I said, then I fake yawned. “Boy, I’m pooped. I guess I’ll go to bed now.”

  I set my bowl in the sink and fake yawned again, even louder this time. But when I got into the living room, I stopped. No way was I going to miss an important update about the plans. I crept closer and stayed quiet as a mouse.

  “Don’t you ever sleep?” Amelia asked.

  “I sleep when the work is finished, and I had a feeling it wasn’t quite done yet.”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  Mr. Gedrick paused, then he asked the question I was most curious about. “How’s the plan coming along?”

  Another pause, and then Amelia said, “I don’t work well under pressure.”

  “I understand.”

  There was another space of silence. Then Amelia said, “All this blank paper, and all those wadded-up pieces in the garbage can. I don’t know what’s wrong with her.”

  “It appears you’re not the only one who doesn’t work well under pressure.”

  “What about you?” Amelia asked. I peeked around the corner and saw her staring up at the strange man with the green jacket and the red tie. “Why do you care about our family? What’s in it for you?”

  Mr. Gedrick looked at Amelia for a long moment and then shook his head. He wasn’t going to talk about that, not now anyway.

  “She’s not going to be disappointed in you,” Mr. Gedrick said. “She’s too busy being disappointed in herself.”

  Amelia touched the paper. She let her fingers slide along the slick surface. “She’s really good at this stuff. I don’t know why she’s struggling so much.”

  “Sometimes inspiration comes on its own schedule,” Mr. Gedrick said. “And sometimes it wants to come in, but it can’t find the doorway.”

  “What do you mean?” Amelia asked, eyes glued to Mr. Gedrick. It was like she hoped he had answers she couldn’t find on her own.

 
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