|Publisher:||Random House Childrens Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.19(w) x 7.61(h) x 0.55(d)|
|Age Range:||8 - 12 Years|
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Cotton Patch, Arkansas, 1958
PRESTON DAVIS had never seen a colored girl up close. Then one autumn morning Ivy Johnson showed up at his great-aunt's front door. Lately, the way his life had been going, hardly anything would have surprised him.
Tap, tap, tap. The rapping sounded impatient.
Thinking the caller was Jimmy, his new best friend, Preston scrambled down the carpeted stairs two at a time. He yelled, "I'll get it!"
He didn't bother to glance in the hall mirror. He knew his hair stood up in corn-colored clumps, and that in his patched dungarees and bedraggled sneakers, he looked like a motherless boy nobody wanted--nobody but his old aunt, that is.
But Aunt Eugenia didn't count. Besides, she was weird. And the silly clothes she garbed herself in were even weirder.
Eugenia Goodwin's plain way of speaking, her eagle eyes, which seemed to see right inside his soul, and her unexpected fondness were all getting on his nerves. He wished he could run the 158 miles back to Bellville. Had it been only three weeks and not a lifetime ago that he'd lived there with his daddy and new stepmother? Never mind those two bossy, bratty stepsisters. . . .
Preston paused at the bottom of the stairs. He sucked in his breath and squared his shoulders. He wasn't going to stay any longer than he had to in this house that reeked of lilacs and lemon oil. No sirree. In fact, if things went as planned, he'd be out of here by Christmas.
Tap, tap, tap. "Okay, okay," he muttered. "Hold your horses, why don't you?" He could see a silhouette outlined through the mesh of the screen.
Yanking open the door, Preston did a double take. A girl stoodthere on his aunt's porch. A colored girl.
His jaw dropped. So did hers.
She looked about ten, perhaps his own age, eleven, but she was shorter and smaller. Her nose tilted upward a fraction when she saw him frown.
Back in Bellville, a tiny farming community deep in the Ozark hills, the townsfolk didn't have much to do with Negroes. "Ain't a darky face in all of this here county," some of the old-timers were fond of bragging. But his daddy had explained that colored people down in Cotton Patch would be thicker than flies at a July Fourth picnic.
Carefully Preston glanced around. Where was Jimmy Flowers, anyway? The two of them had planned on searching for fossils in Jimmy's driveway across the street.
The girl cleared her throat. "I know who you are," she said. Her tone accused, as if there were some mistake, as if he shouldn't be standing right here by the geraniums on Eugenia Goodwin's porch.
Preston edged backward a bit. "Oh, yeah?" was all he managed in reply.
The shade of her skin was different from his own buttermilk pallor. Hers was a soft dusky brown, the color of a worn football.
She twisted slightly, casually smoothing her dress, which looked as if it had been scrubbed one too many times, the material hanging limp. Twiggy braids tied with ribbons sprouted from her head. When she eased up on her bare tiptoes, then down again, the ribbons, he saw, jounced like Jell-O.
"You're the one whose mama died, right?" she said.
A knot of pain did a leapfrog in Preston's throat. He couldn't have answered if he'd wanted to. And before he could ask who the heck she was, he heard Aunt Eugenia holler out, "Was that the door, son?"
He flinched. His aunt had called him that word again. He glanced at the girl, then quickly looked away. Something fleeting and knowing had appeared in her eyes before ducking out of sight.
Aunt Eugenia came bustling out from the kitchen. "Why, goodness' sakes," she exclaimed, "it's Ivy Johnson!"
"Hi," the girl said with a big smile.
Aunt Eugenia wiped her hands on the pink organza apron that was the very same hue as her pink lipstick and her pink pedal pushers. Preston never ceased to be amazed by his aunt's appearance. His mother had told him once that Aunt Eugenia wasn't your typical little old lady, that she was somewhat eccentric. "What does that mean?" Preston had asked. And his mother had smiled, and replied, "Different."
Aunt Eugenia held open the screen door now, clucking like a rattled hen. Flour powdered her skinny arms and left a smudge on one rouged cheek. "Ivy, you caught me in the middle of baking a cake. The new Family Circle magazine I bought at the grocery touts that it's one of Doris Day's favorites."
Ugh! Preston thought. Another of Aunt Eugenia's goofy recipes.
She shot a wry look at Preston. "It's supposed to be foolproof, I might add."
Conjuring up his most innocent, most angelic look, Preston imagined a halo high above his head. All the while he wondered when he could sneak back into the kitchen and add extra salt to his aunt's recipe. He'd already sabotaged the biscuits that morning. To his delight they'd turned out like rocks.
Then his aunt did an astonishing thing. Eugenia Goodwin patted the girl's shoulders. "Come in, come in," she beckoned. "I just love company."
Ivy Johnson scooted past with a spun-sugary air of la-di-da sweetness. "I told you so" was scribbled plainly on her face. Behind her, the screen door closed with an important-sounding click.
Preston narrowed his eyes. He had no choice but to follow.