Authors: Nikki Grimes
That was all Paris needed to hear. “Good,” she said. “I think I’ll keep it, then.”
“I don’t know about that,” said David. But Paris had already picked the small snake up, and before he knew it,
she’d run into the house to show off her new pet. David and Jordan ran in after her.
“Mom! Mom! Look what I found!” called Paris, banging into the house. “Mom, where are you?”
“In the living room.”
Paris bounded into the room, shoes muddy from the spring-wet ground.
“Mom, look!” She shoved the snake under Mrs. Lincoln’s nose. Mrs. Lincoln gasped, her eyes nearly crossing.
“Get that thing out of here,” she said in a clipped and dangerous voice.
“But, Mom,” said Paris, inching even closer, “it’s a garter snake. See?”
“Out!” ordered Mrs. Lincoln. “Now!”
Behind her, Paris could hear muffled laughter. As she retraced her muddy steps, the boys stumbled a few feet ahead of her, doubled over with laughter.
“That was funny!” David said, once they were back outside.
Paris felt her jaw tighten. Mrs. Lincoln had all but taken her head off. Paris was in no mood for laughter. Worst of all, she didn’t even know what she’d done wrong.
“Mom’s scared of snakes,” explained Jordan.
“Can’t stand ‘em,” added David.
“Well, you could’ve told me,” snapped Paris, returning the snake to the soil.
“I didn’t get a chance,” said David. He had to wipe tears from his eyes. “Besides, I’m glad I didn’t. Man, did you see the look on her face? I thought her eyes were gonna pop right out of her head!” David erupted in laughter again, and this time, Paris joined him.
, thought Paris.
Mom being afraid of something, of
least of all a little old snake.
Somehow, the thought of it made Paris love her more.
irst a snake, then a bird. God’s creatures made life interesting in the Lincoln home that spring.
One day, after endless begging from Jordan, Mr. Lincoln bought the family a parakeet. Jordan named the bird Feathers, and the first time it was Jordan’s turn to clean the cage, Feathers escaped.
Paris spotted the runaway bird when it nearly clipped her flying low through the kitchen where Paris was munching on a sandwich.
“Whoa!” said Paris. “Jordan! What’s this bird doing out of his cage?”
“Yikes!” said David, ducking down as Feathers buzzed through the living room.
“David! Jordan! Somebody get that bird back in its
cage!” orderd Mrs. Lincoln. “Lord knows, I’m too old to be chasing that bird around the house.”
Feathers flew to the second floor with David in pursuit. Jordan met him at the top of the landing, and they both chased the bird into Earletta’s room.
“I got him! I got him!” said Jordan, reaching for the bird, now perched on Earletta’s dresser. But Feathers took off again, flapping his way back into the hall.
Paris went upstairs to join the chase.
“Come here, Feathers,” she cooed. “That’s a nice bird.”
“Here, Feathers,” called Jordan. “Come on, little birdy.”
Mrs. Lincoln called upstairs, “Don’t come down here until that bird is back in its cage!”
“You making any progress?” asked Mr. Lincoln, lumbering up the stairs.
“Not yet,” said David.
Mr. Lincoln started whistling, which brought the bird flying in his direction. He reached out to capture the wily bird, but missed. Those near-misses went on for an hour.
Finally, the bird settled on the desk in Paris’ room.
“Stay back,” Paris whispered. “I’ll get him. Just be quiet.”
Very, very slowly, Paris tiptoed into her room, went
to her desk, and sat down. Keeping one eye on the parakeet, she reached down for the wicker basket next to her desk, and with one swift motion, brought the basket down over the bird. A few minutes later, Feathers was back in his cage.
Paris went downstairs to watch TV. When she entered the living room, Mr. Lincoln looked up.
“Good job,” he told Paris. “Maybe we should start calling you the Big Bad Bird-catcher of Ossining! What do you think?”
The very idea made Paris giggle.
he night before her birthday, Paris went to her room and took out the photo of Malcolm and Viola and herself that she’d received one week after calling her birth mother. She was barely two years old in that picture, so she didn’t remember it being taken.
On the back of the photo, Viola had written “Three peas.” Paris smiled. Her mother always used to say the three of them looked so similar, they were like three peas in a pod.
Paris stared at the picture for a long time. Those faces told Paris there would always be someone in this world she belonged to, even if it wasn’t the Lincolns. Trouble was, part of her wanted to belong to them as well. Was that wrong?
“Don’t get too comfortable,” Earletta had warned Paris when she first arrived. “You probably won’t be here that long.”
But Paris had been with the Lincolns for nearly one whole school year. They’d nestled into a corner of her heart, and she’d learned that she could trust them. So maybe it was okay to start thinking of their family as her own.
Still, Paris ached for Malcolm. There were even times when she missed Viola.
I wish there were two of me
, thought Paris.
That way, both of us could have the family we want.
Thanks for my birthday card. I was afraid nobody would remember, like last year when we were at the Boone’s. This year was better.
Today, I got off from doing chores. I didn’t even have to make my bed! But I made it anyway. (You know me.) I got a card from David and Jordan, and Earletta took me shopping at the 99-cent store and told me to buy whatever I wanted. I picked out a puzzle cause it made me think of you.
You got any puzzles, there?
After dinner, Mom Lincoln set a big ole ice cream cake right in front of me, and everybody sang Happy Birthday. Earletta said Mom Lincoln always finds out the birthday of every foster kid
when they get here, then writes it in a book so she won’t forget.
Do they have birthday parties for the kids where you are?
I hope so.
I gotta go.
he first hot breath of late spring blew the chill from Riverview Road. No one who was home bothered closing their front door. So when Paris stepped onto Ashley’s porch one afternoon, all that separated her from whoever sat in the living room was a thin sheet of screen. Paris rang the doorbell.
“Charlotte,” came a man’s voice, “get the door.”
It must be. Now I’m finally going to meet him.
“What the hell is a little blonde-headed nigger girl doing darkening the door of my house?”
The slap of words knocked Paris back two feet. Before she could catch her breath, Ashley’s mother was at the door.
Speaking in a voice loud enough to carry through the house, Mrs. Corbett said, “I told you yesterday, we don’t buy cookies at this house. We make our own.” Then, in a voice close to a whisper, she said, “This is not a good time, Paris. Go home.”
What is she talking about?
“But, Mrs. Corbett,” Paris began. “I don’t—”
“Go home, Paris!” Mrs. Corbett whispered. “Ashley Marie can’t play with you. I’m sorry. Now go on home.”
In a louder voice, she said, “And don’t come back!” With that, Mrs. Corbett slammed the door, and as she did, Paris caught a glimpse of Ashley hanging back in her mother’s shadow.
Paris retraced the steps to her house on wooden legs. She sat on the porch swing for a long time, trying to take in what had just happened. But like a stone skipped on water, the pain of it sent ripples of hurt throughout her mind and body, and Paris found it impossible to think. Instead, she stuck her right hand inside her pocket, and without knowing that she did so, she opened her mouth and began to sing.
Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so…
As Paris sang, tears rolled down her cheeks.
That was the last day Paris ever asked Ashley to come out and play, and the last time Ashley would dare to call Paris her friend.
• • •
Later that afternoon, Paris told Mrs. Lincoln what had happened, and once again, her eyes brimmed with tears. Mrs. Lincoln, who rarely gave hugs, pulled Paris into her arms.
“I’m sorry you had to hear such words,” she said. “But that’s the way of the world, I’m afraid. There are hateful people in it, Paris, and some of them are white.”
“I’ll never have another white friend,” Paris vowed.
“Don’t say that,” said Mrs. Lincoln. “You can’t go through life judging people by the color of their skin.”
“But that’s what Ashley’s father did!”
“Yes, honey. And he was wrong.”
Paris couldn’t argue with that. “Then what am I supposed to do?”
“Take each person as they come,” said Mrs. Lincoln. “Judge them by their actions. Then decide whether to hold them close or push them away. That’s what you do.”
Paris listened carefully to Mrs. Lincoln’s words. She tucked them away for further consideration, and rested her head on the woman’s chest.
The remaining hours of the weekend limped along, dragging Paris with them. She tried to stay out back during the day to avoid running into Ashley. But on Monday morning, they all but collided in the doorway of their classroom.
Paris half expected Ashley to drop her eyes and back away, too embarrassed to make eye contact. Instead, she looked longingly at Paris with eyes that said, “I’m sorry.” But Ashley seemed to have lost her voice.
“I was your friend,” said Paris, meeting Ashley’s gaze. “You should have told your father that.” Paris had nothing more to say, but as Ashley squeezed past her, Paris did notice that Ashley didn’t stand as straight and proud as she used to. Shame had shriveled her, somehow.
, thought Paris.
She should be ashamed.
That was the last thought she spent on Ashley for a long time.
• • •
All that truly lifted Paris’ spirits after that horrible breakup was getting ready for her choir’s next concert. The director had picked Paris for another solo, and she went around the house singing all day, determined to master each note.
Singing was better than thinking, so Paris sang.
he worst thing about little brothers—well, not the worst thing, but one of them—was that they sometimes needed looking after, and Paris was not always in the mood. Her teacher had saddled her with homework and Paris was anxious to get it done so she could enjoy the rest of the afternoon.
“Paris,” Mrs. Lincoln called up to her. “Go with Jordan to the park for a little while. He wants to catch a tadpole for show-and-tell, and I don’t want him falling in the water.”
“Why can’t David take him?” Paris asked.
“David’s got baseball practice. Besides, I asked
Paris groaned. “But what about my homework?”
“Finish it later. There’s plenty of time before dinner.”
, thought Paris.
It was worth a try.
Out of excuses, she set her spelling list aside and stomped downstairs.
“Come on, Jordan,” she called.
Jordan came running, happy to get his wish. Outside, he tried to run ahead of Paris, but she had a death grip on his hand. She wasn’t about to get into trouble for letting him run out into the street. Once they reached the park at the foot of the hill, she dropped his hand.
“Be careful with that jar, Jordan,” said Paris. “If you break it, you won’t have a home for your tadpole.”
“Okay,” said Jordan. He kneeled by the brook, and began searching the water. A couple of times he thought he had something, but it turned out to be a rock, glistening in the sunlight. This was going to take a while.
There was a park bench nearby, but a pale, freckle-faced girl with a shock of red hair sat on one end of it. Paris sat at the other end, planning to ignore the girl.
Another white girl
, thought Paris. No surprise. Except for the Lincolns and two other families, everyone in the neighborhood was white. It was the same at school. Paris was the only black kid in her grade.
In Ossining, if Paris saw more than two or three black faces at one time, it was at church, and few of the kids at Star of Bethlehem went to Claremont. She was friendly
with a couple of the kids in the choir, but she only saw them once a week. So, Paris realized, if she was ever going to have any friends on her block, or in her school, likely as not they’d be white. But she sure wasn’t shopping around for one. Not after Ashley.
Paris swung her legs over the side of the bench, wondering how long it was going to take for Jordan to find his stupid tadpole.
“Find one yet?” she called to him. Jordan shook his head from side to side.
“What’s he looking for?” asked the freckled girl.
“Tadpoles,” said Paris. “For school, you know. Show-and-tell.”
The girl nodded. With her chin, she pointed to a little boy a few feet away. “Stick insects. Same thing. Show-and-tell. I’ll be glad when he’s big enough to come to the park on his own.”
Paris looked at Jordan and thought,
, but she didn’t say it.
“I’m Sienna. Sienna Warren. And that’s P. J. We just moved here.”
Who asked you?
thought Paris. Still, she didn’t want to be rude.
“I’m Paris, and that’s Jordan,” she said, hoping that would be the end of it.
But Sienna launched into a series of questions: Where do you live? How old are you? What school do you go to? Paris answered each question, thinking it would be the last. When she could see it wasn’t, Paris stood up, called for Jordan, and told him it was time to go. Luckily for Paris, he’d finally caught his tadpole and was ready to leave.
Their exit was anything but speedy, though. Jordan held his tadpole jar with both hands, careful not to drop it, as he inched toward Paris.