Immortal Max, page 1
Holiday House / New York
Special thanks to my editor, Julie Amper,
and the other amazingly talented, hard-working people
at Holiday House who made this book possible.
Being part of the Holiday House family is truly a privilege.
Thanks also to my friend, Barbara Flores,
who told me about a dog named Carl,
the inspiration for this book
Copyright © 2014 by Lutricia Lois Clifton
All Rights Reserved
HOLIDAY HOUSE is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
ISBN 978-0-8234-3149-6 (ebook)w
ISBN 978-0-8234-3150-2 (ebook)r
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Immortal Max / by Lutricia Clifton. — First edition.
Summary: Twelve-year-old Sammy’s summer is full of complications, but he comes to appreciate what he already has even as he is working toward his long-held dream of owning a purebred puppy.
ISBN 978-0-8234-3041-3 (hardcover)
[1. Dogs—Fiction. 2. Brother and sisters—Fiction. 3. Moneymaking projects—Fiction. 4. Single-parent families—Fiction.] I. Title.
For my sons, Christopher and Jeffrey, who daily demonstrate unshakable faith in their mother, and Cookie, Daisy, and Jake, special dogs we have known that live on in our memories. In fairness to remarkable cats that shared their lives with us as well, I also dedicate this book to Pepper, Smudge, Whoopi, and Cleocatra.
Come on, guys—Hurry up… .
The clock ticking. Time running out. I’m waiting for my turn, and the other kids are taking their sweet time. There’s just this one last thing to do before summer vacation starts, and it’s almost time for last bell.
I’m always next to last. Justin comes after me because his last name’s Wysocki. Mine’s Smith. Sammy Smith. But mostly, I’m called Spammy Smith. Why? Because that’s how my cute baby sister pronounced it when she was learning to talk. My clever older sister made it my nickname. Sam became Spam. Spam became Spammy.
Chopped ham in a can.
There’s three of us. Two sisters, no brothers. My older sister, Elizabeth—called Beth—is seventeen and leaving for college in the fall. She’s the brainiac. After she finishes college, she wants to go to vet school. Roseanne—Rosie for short—is six going on seven. She wants to be a … well, that changes week to week, sometimes day to day. But it usually involves a tutu. And then there’s me. Sandwich filling between a multigrain bagel and a French pastry.
“Well now, let’s see who’s next.” Mrs. Kellogg sifts through the class roll. She wears these lined glasses that make things different sizes. Finally, she finds the right line on her glasses and says, “Yee, it’s your turn.”
No one could believe it. Our last day in elementary school and we’re assigned a show-and-tell. Bring in your collection, Mrs. Kellogg told us. Or talk about your hobby, what you plan to do on your summer vacation. You know, something special.
Yee Haan all but disappears behind the huge map of East Asia she holds up. Almond eyes peeking over a paper fence. She’s going to see her grandparents in August.
She points out a tiny speck off the coast of China called Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China. She’s always talking about being Chinese American. Of course, she has to explain the difference between the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China, how her grandparents escaped during the revolution, and how her parents immigrated to the United States and became naturalized citizens.
“I was born in Chicago,” she says, smiling. “That means I’m a natural-born citizen.”
I was ready to escape from both Chinas long before Yee reached Chicago. The clock on the wall ticks like a time bomb. I’m never going to get my turn.
But Yee’s not done yet. Everyone oohs and ahhs when she brings out her passport because they’ve never seen one before.
“Pass it around,” Mrs. Kellogg tells her.
“Well, the picture’s not very good… .” Yee hesitates, looking reluctant, then says, “Okay, as long as you don’t laugh.”
Yee has the prettiest hair of all the girls. Long shiny black hair. She’s the most serious girl in class, too. You can tell that from her haircut. Straight-cut bangs. Straight-cut edges that brush her shoulders. And never a hair out of place. I grin when Yee’s passport reaches me. Her hair has been pushed behind her ears so her moon-round face will show better. She stares back at me with furious eyes and pinched lips. Number one on the FBI’s Most Outraged Juvie list.
“Oh… .” Yee pauses, looking as excited as a serious person can look. “And I’m going to cheer camp so I can become a cheerleader. Because I’m a little person, I just know I’ll be the top of the pyramid.”
Top of the pyramid? Then I get it. It’s that thing cheerleaders do to make a human triangle with their bodies.
Glancing around sneaky-like, Yee whispers, “But my grandparents can’t know because they don’t approve of such things. So don’t say anything to them. Okay?”
What? We’re going to call them in Taiwan?
“Sidharth,” Mrs. Kellogg says when Yee sits down. “You’re next.”
Sidharth Patel—Sid for short—brought his pet gerbil. “We are going nowhere this summer,” he says, “so I will have plenty of time to play with George. That’s his name, George the Gerbil.”
Yee jumps to her feet, waving a finger at Sid. “It’s disrespectful to give an animal a person’s name.”
Mrs. Kellogg decides that Yee should explain her culture’s belief. Mrs. Kellogg lucked out and got three kids in her class with different cultural backgrounds this year, not white bread like the rest of us, so we’re always learning how they look at things.
Yee tells us how the Chinese name pets for their personalities. How the Chinese zodiac features twelve animals. How years are named for a zodiac animal, and how people born in an animal’s year will be bestowed with its characteristics. Five minutes later, she sits down. Again.
“All right… .” Mrs. Kellogg pauses, looking at Sid. “Now explain the beliefs in your country about naming animals, Sidharth.”
This is Sid’s first year in the United States. He was born in India and speaks English like a news commentator on the BBC. I figure Mrs. Kellogg is thinking about sacred cows, which Sid has told us are allowed to walk around wherever they want.
“I don’t know much about naming cows… .” He’s figured out she’s thinking about sacred cows, too. “But my father told me that once, there were cows in every household. It was because cows are the givers of milk and important for survival.” He glances at Yee. “I believe they were considered part of the family and given regular names.”
Yee closes up like a clam. Scowling.
“That’s all I know.” Sid looks at Mrs. Kellogg. “I didn’t have a cow when we lived in India. And here I can only have a small pet, which I can never let out of its cage. If George escapes, our guests will think we have rats and won’t stay with us.”
“Oh, that’s right. You live at the hotel on the highway.”
Our school’s on the edge of town. It’s the kind of town that’s not too big and not too small. A movie theater on the square. A McDonald’s and a DQ. A Walmart and Farm & Fleet, where mostly country people shop. And the Midwest Jewel Inn.
“Yes, my family is in the hotel business. It’s our bread and butter. We live in rooms behind the checkin desk. George live
Yee’s hand pops into the air again, but Mrs. Kellogg ignores it. Her way of calling a cease-fire in the cultural war between China and India.
“George is cool,” I whisper as Sid returns to his desk.
Sid is a mealy kid, pale and weak looking, like oatmeal, but he’s Kid Genius in the classroom and kicks butt on the soccer field. He’s not a show-off, though. He’s the kind of guy my grandpa would’ve said had “substance.”
“Anise, I believe you’re next.”
Anise Pierce shows us a brochure of Disney World, where her family is vacationing this summer. Last year, they went to Disneyland. The year before, Six Flags over Texas. I don’t know where they went before that because she didn’t live here then. But I’m sure it had a humongous water slide, a humongous roller coaster, or a humongous something else. Humongous is Anise’s favorite word. She uses it to describe something that’s over the top. She finally finishes comparing Space Mountain with Splash Mountain and walks toward her desk.
“Oh… .” She pushes coffee-brown hair out of her eyes. “And my mom named us after spices that match the color of our skin. The dried seeds, not the plants, which are always green. That’s how I got to be named Anise and my sister Saffron. She’s yellower than I am. My brother’s name is Mace. Mama didn’t know what color that was, but it sounded like a good spice name for a boy.”
I don’t know what color mace is, either. Or saffron, for that matter. But I know what color anise is now. Creamy brown, like peanut butter.
“And—” Anise looks at Yee, clapping her hands. Something she does when she’s about to make an exciting announcement. “I’m going to cheerleading camp, too, so we can practice together! I took modern dance when we lived in the burbs and am really good at whirls and spins.”
A lot of the kids in my class moved from the suburbs—what they call the burbs—to CountryWood Estates, the new gated community outside town. Their parents work from home on computers or do videoconferencing. Anise’s dad even teaches school on the computer. My grandpa laughed when the houses started going up. He said people used to move to the city to find work, but now things were ass backward. He was right. These days, BMWs and minivans play bumper cars with John Deere tractors and International Harvesters.
Bailey Powell is up next. She lives across the road from me. She’s wearing her favorite shoes, Dr. Seuss Converse high-tops with the Cat in the Hat on the toes. She makes most of her clothes because she wants to be a clothes designer. Today she’s wearing grape-colored crop pants that bunch up between her thighs and a pink tee with green sequins on the front that spell HUG ME. I asked her once why she dressed so weird, and she said she didn’t want to be a Cliché. That’s what she calls the CountryWood kids, who mostly wear skinny jeans and T-shirts with words like AEROPOSTALE and WET SEAL on the front. But I know she was lying. She melts like an ice cube when a Burbie speaks to her.
Aww, man. I can’t believe it when Bailey carries two boxes to the front. I’m betting she brought her whole Barbie doll collection—and the outfits she designed herself.
“Snickerdoodles.” Bailey opens the first box. “I made cookies for everyone!”
“Wait.” Mrs. Kellogg holds up her hand like a crossing guard. “You’re not supposed to have fattening treats.”
“No, it’s okay. Mama helped me bake them last night. It’s my last big splurge ’cause I’m gonna lose a ton of weight this summer.”
Bailey’s been trying to lose weight since I’ve known her, which is forever. She’s one of the kids who was actually born here, like me. Her mother’s been on a rip since the talk about obesity in kids has been in the news. But I think Bailey has a different reason for losing weight.
“Your mother usually sends me a note… .” Mrs. Kellogg hesitates, her neck sagging. She has this flap of skin under her chin like a chicken’s wattle that jiggles when her head moves. “Oh, what the heck,” she mumbles, neck waggling. “It’s the last day of school. Pass them around and take your seat.”
“But I’m not done yet.” Bailey opens the second box and takes out two pom-poms. Purple and orange, the colors of the middle school athletic teams. “I’m going to cheerleading camp, too, so we can all practice together!” She flashes Yee and Anise her smiley-face grin. “I’ve already learned one cheer.”
Before Mrs. Kellogg can stop her, Bailey starts shaking the pom-poms over her head and down at the floor, yelling:
“We’re number one,
Can’t be number two,
And we’re going to beat
The whoops out of you!”
Bailey jumps up and down when she’s done, making her stomach shake like blubber.
“Cheerleading camp?” Justin makes snorting sounds like a pig. “You need to go to a fat farm!”
Bailey’s skin is snow white and covered in big brown freckles, and when she blushes, she turns bright red. Right now, she’s a strawberry sundae sprinkled with chocolate chips. She keeps on smiling her smiley face, though. Like always.
“That’s enough!” Mrs. Kellogg rubs her face hard, like she’s erasing the whiteboard. “Pass out the cookies, Bailey.”
I watch Bailey carry the box of cookies up and down rows, laying two on her own desk, and shake my head.
We work through the rest of the P and R names, then it’s my turn. There aren’t any kids whose names begin with Q.
“Please hurry, Samuel. We’re almost out of time.”
She’s telling me to hurry?
Rushing up front, I hold up a three-ring binder. “This is a scrapbook I’ve been working on since I was seven. My older sister got me started on it.” I point out SAM’S DOG BOOK printed on the front with a felt-tip marker and pictures of dogs under the plastic cover. “I’ve been learning about dogs for years—purebred dogs—and saving so I can buy a puppy.” I flip open the cover and turn pages so the class can see the pictures and descriptions of dogs. “And I’m going to train it, too. I already know how ’cause I practiced on Max. That’s why he minds me better than anyone else. And …”
I look around the class, about to explode.
“I’ve finally saved enough money! I had a hard time deciding what kind to get, but I narrowed it down to a German shepherd. I can’t get the puppy just yet, but soon as I can, I’m going to buy one—”
“Wait, Samuel.” Mrs. Kellogg does the crossing guard thing with her hand again. “If you’ve saved enough money, why can’t you buy a puppy now?”
“What? Oh, because of Max.”
“The old dog that lives with us.”
“That big shaggy dog that walks you to the bus stop?” Anise blinks slow, like she’s looking at a picture in her head. “The one that waits for you when school is over?”
“Shouldn’t name a dog after a person,” Yee mumbles. “It’s disrespectful.”
“We know, we know.” Mrs. Kellogg’s eyes are glazing over.
“Is Max sick?” Bailey looks worried. “He’s not about to die, is he?”
“Yes—No—what I mean is, not exactly. He was sick when Beth brought him home. Real sick. Everyone at the shelter figured his days were numbered. He’d stopped eating, was skinny as a beanpole.”
“Why did Beth bring him home?” Mrs. Kellogg knows who Beth is because she taught her years ago.
“ ’Cause that’s the kind of dumb thing she does. Which is why we have six cats—no, seven. She brought another one home last night.”
Mrs. Kellogg raises an eyebrow, a signal I need to explain.
“See, Beth works part-time at a vet hospital and volunteers at an animal shelter, and when animals don’t get adopted, they get euthanized. So Beth brings them home. The cats, anyway. They mostly live in the shed where Mom stores flower seed and straw for mulching. They eat the mice, which keeps the place clean and saves on cat food.”
“Eeeww.” Anise’s face screws up like she just ta
“What’s euthanized mean?” Bailey’s eyebrows pinch together.
“Killed, stupid! Iced. Terminated.” Pretending he’s slicing his throat, Justin chokes out “Kaput.” For some reason, he finds that funny.
Justin is a soft kid with a round face and hair gelled up like a push broom. Even though he’s shorter than me, he makes me feel small. Hobbit small. And he laughs like a hyena, a cackling howl.
“Well, yes,” Mrs. Kellogg tells Bailey. “It means the animal is put to sleep.” She looks at me. “Are you saying that Max was scheduled to be euthanized, Samuel?”
“Yeah. So Beth brought him home to spend his final days with us. He was supposed to be on his last legs.”
“How long has he been on his last legs?” Yee asks. She’s wearing her summer uniform. Polo shirt and roll-top Bermudas. Crew socks and white Adidas, polished. Miss Neatnik.
“Well, uh, four years. He got better.”
“Four years?” Sid’s eyes open wide “A miracle dog.”
“Immortal Max,” Justin howls. “The dog that refused to die.”
Mrs. Kellogg fires Justin a look, then turns to me. “That doesn’t explain why you can’t buy your puppy now, Samuel.”
“Yeah,” Yee says. “I have two Pekingese. My vet says pets do better in pairs.”
“ ’Cause Mom says so. Max is old, and she’s afraid a puppy would be too hard on him.”
“Poor Max.” Anise’s eyes melt like warm chocolate. “No one wanted him.”
Everyone looks sad. Instead of being excited for me, they’re feeling sorry for Max.
“Thank you, Samuel. I believe we have just enough time to see what Justin has brought.”
“But I didn’t get to tell you how much money I’ve saved.”
“All right then, but be quick.”
“One … hundred … dollars—”
“A hundred dollars!” A hyena laugh echoes from the back of the classroom. “My dog cost four hundred dollars.”
“Four hundred dollars!” I feel like someone just punched me in the gut. “You’re lying, Justin. Puppies don’t cost that much—”
“Check the want ads, Spammy. You won’t find a dog—a purebred dog—for a hundred bucks.”