Read One True Friend Online

Authors: James Cross Giblin

One True Friend

One True Friend
Joyce Hansen

New York

To Dr. Henrietta M. Smith, for her friendship and
encouragement, and for her unwavering commitment
to the field of children's literature.

And to children everywhere who are searching for a
real childhood. May God bless you.

Clarion Books
a Houghton Mifflin Company imprint
215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10003
Copyright © 2001 by Joyce Hansen
First Clarion paperback edition, 2005

The text was set in 13-point Bembo

All rights reserved

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions,
Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10003

www houghtonmifflinbooks com

Printed in the U'S A

The Library of Congress has catalogued the hardcover edition as follows

Hansen, Joyce
One true friend / by Joyce Hansen
p cm
Summary Fourteen-year-old orphan Amir, living in Syracuse, exchanges letters with his friend
Doris, still living in their old Bronx neighborhood, in which they share their lives and give each
other advice on friendship, family, foster care, and making decisions
ISBN 0-395-84983-7
[1 Friendship—Fiction 2 Choice—Fiction 3 Letters—Fiction 4 Orphans—Fiction 5 Foster
home care—Fiction 6 African Americans—Fiction 7 Bronx (New York, NY)—Fiction ] I Title
PZ7 H19825 On 2001 [Fic]—dc21 2001028483

CL ISBN-13 978-0-395-84983-5 CL ISBN-10 0-395-84983-7
PA ISBN-13 978-0-618-60991-8 PA ISBN-10 0-618-60991-1

VB 10 9 8 7 6


part one Amir's Story

part two Brothers 

part three Memories 

part four Friends and Family

part five Lost and Found

part one
Amir's Story

To Whom It May Concern:

I am looking for my aunt, Gloria Jones. I am also looking for my brothers and sisters. Their names are Olivia, Shawn, David, and Sharon. I think they all live in Manhattan, in New York City. We were separated about 2 ½ years ago when my parents died.

If you are Gloria Jones, or know where she is, please write to me at 324 Sylvan Lane, Syracuse, New York 13299. I have another brother, Ronald Daniels, who is seven years old, and we live together in Syracuse with Grace and Alvin Smith, our foster parents. My brother Ronald has been living with the Smiths since he was two years old. I've been here for the past three months. Before moving to Syracuse I lived in the Bronx, and before that I lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Thank you very much for any help you can give me.

Sincerely yours,

Amir Daniels

Amir reread the letter very carefully. He wanted to add,
If you are Aunt Gloria, I'm sorry for what I did.
But he didn't. He'd apologize to her face if he ever saw here again in life. He read the letter once more and recalled one of his father's favorite sayings:
You got to make a good first impression if you want folks to pay attention.

Amir made sure that every word was spelled correctly. He had another thought. In detective stories the cops always wanted to know the missing person's age. In his small, neat script that looked almost like printing, he included the ages that the children would be now:
Olivia, 12. Sharon and Shawn (twins), 11. David, 9. I am 14 years old,
he added.

Amir rewrote the letter and wondered whether he should add the Smiths' telephone number. No, better not—there'd be too many telephone calls, and some of them might be crank calls. The Smiths would be upset.
You gotta make things happen—can't just sit and wait for something to happen.
This time his father's deep voice ringing in his ears strengthened him, making him confident that his letter would end his long search. It would make something happen.

Amir planned to send the letter to the fifteen
G. Joneses
and two
Gloria Joneses
that he had found on the page torn from a Manhattan telephone book. He decided to draw pictures of himself and the children on another sheet of paper and include it with the letter. They would look a little different after all this time—but not that much. If his aunt saw his sketches, she'd know that his letter wasn't a fake.

Amir took his sketchpad and pencil case out of his backpack. He opened the drawer of the end table by the side of his twin bed and took out his pencil sharpener. While he sharpened his pencils to a fine
point, he saw in his mind's eye the faces of his brothers and sisters as clearly as if they were standing before him; however, he decided to draw himself first, since he was the oldest.

He studied a recent snapshot of Ronald and him at the lake. He always thought it was kind of weird to draw yourself. Do people really know how they look? He quickly sketched his long, narrow face, high cheekbones, thin lips, and eyes so large and luminous that his friends in the Bronx used to call him Mr. Lightbulbs. He shaded in his face to suggest his rich brown complexion. Amir frowned at his self-portrait. One day he'd draw how he felt on the inside, if that was possible. He began to draw his sister Olivia next. His father used to say that Olivia had a "Grand Canyon smile, just like her mama's." He wondered whether Olivia still laughed a lot.

Amir didn't know how much time had passed and was beginning to draw the twins when the screen door slammed downstairs, startling him. "Hey, everybody, Big Papa's in the house," Alvin Smith boomed from the kitchen, as he always did when he came home from work.

Grace, Alvin's wife, giggled like a young girl and murmured a few words, but Amir couldn't hear what she said because her voice was so light and soft.

"I saw Ronald outside. Where's my other boy?" Alvin boomed loudly again.

Amir flinched as though he'd been pricked with a needle.

"Come on down here, Amir. I have something to tell you."

Amir put the letter and the sketches into his backpack and ran downstairs.

Alvin Smith's bulky six-foot frame seemed to take up all the space in the small kitchen. "I have some news," he said as he washed traces of dirt and cement off his hands.

Grace Smith sighed as she dried a mixing bowl. "Alvin, can't you wait for our family devotions?"

Alvin Smith wiped his hands and sat down heavily, motioning for Amir to sit opposite him at the kitchen table. The aroma of a freshly baked pound cake made Amir's mouth water as he forced himself not to get excited. Mr. Smith came home with good news every other day, but somehow it always turned out to be disappointing.

"I called my cousin Max, the social worker, today at lunchtime."

Amir nodded, his heart beginning to race despite his struggle to keep it still.

"Well, he told me your sisters and brothers had been living in separate foster homes at one time, but now they might be with your mother's sister in Queens. Seems like your aunt moved around a lot. He's checking that out for us. As far as he can tell,
your brothers and sisters are with your aunt or other relatives in Queens. He's almost sure of it." Alvin Smith paused, taking out his handkerchief and wiping his wide dark brown face.

Amir tried not to feel anything. "But I don't have relatives in Queens. My aunt always lived in Manhattan." He thought of the fifteen names he'd found in the Manhattan telephone book and wondered whether he should tell Alvin Smith about the letter he'd just written.

The lines around Mr. Smith's mouth deepened. "Maybe they moved to Queens." He reached across the table and put his large hand on Amir's narrow shoulder. "Hey, don't look so sad, son. We've just about found them. It's only been three months that we been doing this serious search."

Amir's shoulders sagged slightly, but he quickly straightened them.
Buck up, you guys. Can't win the fight of life with your heads bowed. Won't see what's coming at you. Be determined.
His father's words again. Amir fastened his large eyes squarely on Mr. Smith. "But it's been over two years since I last seen them. That's a long time."

Grace Smith wiped her hands on her apron. "He's got a point, Alvin."

"But no one was seriously looking for them. Right, Amir?" Mr. Smith said.

"I was. I always asked everyone about them. The
counselors and caseworkers ..." His voice drifted off as he wondered again whether he should tell Mr. Smith about the letter he'd written.

"What could you do, son? You're just a kid. Max is a social worker and knows how to search the records. You'd be surprised how papers—records and all—get mixed up."

"What about, uh, what about sending a letter to every Jones in Queens, then, or in Manhattan and the other boroughs?"

"You asked me about that once before, and I told you that I didn't think it was such a good idea." Mr. Smith fingered his mustache, which was sprinkled with gray. "I mean, that be like looking for a tiny splinter in a pig's butt." He reared back in his chair and laughed loudly at his own joke.

Mrs. Smith shook her head, but a slight smile appeared and vanished. "Alvin, please. Why can't you just say a needle in a haystack?"

"That's corny and ordinary."

"So is your joke," she said, as she carefully opened the oven door to check on the cake.

Amir didn't like the joke either, and for a moment he wondered whether Mr. Smith was making fun of him.

Be determined.
"But Mr. Smith, I wrote a letter to send out."

Alvin Smith continued talking as though he
hadn't heard Amir. "My cousin is searching all kinds of records and addresses through his computer. That's the way you get information nowadays." He fingered his mustache again. "Anyway, we've already checked out every Jones we could find in the Bronx and Manhattan. Didn't miss a one—Ruth Jones, George Jones, Gregory Jones, June Jones, Mother Jones, and every other Jones in the book."

Amir lowered his eyes. He felt so stupid. His aunt was married, and perhaps her phone number and address were under her husband's name, Zachary. He'd have to look up Zachary Jones, too.

Mrs. Smith wiped her hands on her apron. "What did you say in this letter, Amir?"

His eyes brightened as he ran upstairs and quickly returned with the letter. He studied Grace and Alvin Smith as they read it together. Grace pursed her lips, and Alvin shook his head. "No, son. No. You'll have all kinds of nuts calling up here."

"But I didn't put in a telephone number."

"It doesn't matter, and like I told you before, this ain't gonna work."

Grace touched Amir's arm. Her glasses cast a silvery glow on her rounded cheekbones, and her voice was as smooth as her caramel-colored skin. "Amir, this is well written."

Mr. Smith handed the letter back to him. "My father would've torn this up in tiny pieces right in my
face. I don't want to do you like that, 'cause I know this letter is about your life, and you put your heart into it, but I'm trusting
to tear it up."

Amir waited for Mrs. Smith to contradict her husband and tell him to save the letter and maybe send it out later. Instead she said, "My husband is right, Amir. This letter won't help, and it might attract some unwanted people."

She wiped her hands on her apron again. Amir knew that meant she was agitated or upset; her voice, though, always remained steady and soft, forcing you to listen in order to hear her. Amir liked her calm manner, but he couldn't understand why the letter worried her, too.

Mr. Smith put his arm around his wife. "Mama, you always have such a sweet way of expressing yourself. Amir, you'll attract some kind of psycho nut is what she doesn't want to say. Just have a little more patience. We'll find your aunt. You mentioned another aunt and uncle—the ones you ran away from that time. They live in Queens?"

"They weren't really my aunt and uncle, and they lived in Brooklyn. They took me in when we kids was separated."

"You sure, Amir?"

"I'm sure. They were some people my mother and father knew."

Mr. Smith removed the small notepad that he
always carried in his breast pocket. Sometimes he Amir of a news reporter or a detective instead of a bricklayer.

"Yes, that's right. I have their names here," Mr. Smith said. He smiled encouragingly at Amir. "We'll get through this red tape and bureaucracy mess, son. We're just one step behind them. I want you to relax and stay hopeful."

Mrs. Smith opened the oven again and removed the cake. But Amir knew that she was listening, even though her back was turned to them.

Mr. Smith stood up and walked over to the door. "We'll find out where they are. You're sure there're no other relatives—real or make-believe?"

"No, sir. Like I said, only my aunt, my mother's sister. She used to visit us sometimes...." His voice trailed off, then he blurted out quickly, "I don't think the letter will do any harm. It might help."

"Trust me on this one, son," Mr. Smith said."I know the devious things people do—especially to a kid. Between me and Max, we'll find them. I'm sure of that."

Mrs. Smith turned away from the oven. "Don't say sure, Alvin. The only thing we can be sure of is death and taxes."

"But I can feel it, baby, deep, deep down in my bones."

"That's your arthritis you feeling."

They both laughed, and even Amir smiled slightly.

Hesitating before he opened the door, Mr. Smith said, "You know what will help us solve this mystery of where your aunt is—if you can remember the last place you lived in when you and your whole family was together. I still don't understand why you can't remember that."

"Sometimes there are things people don't want to remember," Mrs. Smith said before Amir could answer. She walked over to her husband. "That's enough discussion for today." She turned to Amir. "We won't speak to you about this again until we have something definite to tell you. Isn't that right, Alvin?"

"Yeah, yeah, but I don't want him to lose hope." Mr. Smith opened the door. "Let me remind Ronald that we're having family devotions after I take my shower." He stopped and turned around again, as though he'd forgotten something. "Why don't you come on out here with your brother, son? School's over. Relax your mind for a while."

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