Bob Read online

  He keeps petting my head.

  I can’t talk to tell him that things will be okay (and how do I know they will?), so I just give him a gentle nudge on the chin and hope he understands.

  A shadow falls over us, and I look up. Dark clouds have rolled in, hiding the sun. Danny lets his hand fall from my head and stops crying. “Clouds,” he says, his voice full of wonder. Then he stands up and shouts. “Rain clouds!”

  “Shhh!” I know chickens don’t shush people, but I can’t help it.

  But it’s too late—Livy and the whole family are staring right at us.

  Livy’s eyes dart wildly between me and Danny.

  “Look at the clouds!” she shouts, stabbing her finger upward a bit too frantically. But it works. Everyone looks up, even the baby, which gives me a chance to escape. But I don’t. Something holds me there.

  We hear thunder, and everyone cheers. Gran lifts the baby up to the sky and hops around and woo-hoos! She’s stronger than she looks! Livy’s mom throws her arms around Livy and squeezes. At this moment, I could take off the chicken suit and do a naked somersault, and not one of them would notice.

  From behind her mom’s back, Livy waves for me to go to the house. Danny has run over to join the whooping and dancing, and I want more than anything to join in, too. But I do my best chicken walk toward the back door.

  Giant blobs of water plonk onto my head, splash on my face, and roll down toward my mouth. Rain! It’s a little weird. Not bad necessarily, just different. Not sure what all the fuss is about, frankly. By the time I’ve made it to the door, the rain has stopped and the clouds are rolling away.

  That was fast.

  The cheering stops as if someone has thrown a switch. Everyone is quiet. Livy is frowning and that makes me sad. I hear her mom say that the baby needs to get into some dry clothes. I’d better get upstairs before they come in.

  Also, I’m pretty sure there are some potato chips left in the bottom of the bag.



  “Open the door already! You’ve been in there for fifteen minutes.” It’s taken me ten minutes of talking through the closet door to convince Bob to take off his soaking-wet chicken suit and change into something dry, and now he won’t come out.


  “Come on.” I try to turn the knob, but he must be holding it on the other side.


  “Come on!”

  Bob doesn’t answer at first. Then he says, “You do not say please very often, do you?” He sniffs. “Old Livy did not like to say please, either.”

  He’s right. I don’t like to say please. I don’t mind the polite please, like when you want someone to pass you the mashed potatoes, but I don’t like the begging kind of please.

  “Please?” I say.

  “I am considering it.”

  “Pretty please? How bad can it be?”

  The door swings open, and there is Bob, arms crossed tightly over his narrow chest. He is wearing my old tutu. He looks smaller in the tutu than he did in the chicken suit.

  “It’s not so bad. At least both your feet are still attached,” I say.

  “It was this or a bathing suit,” he says.

  I probably would have gone with the bathing suit. That tutu looks itchy.

  “Maybe you could get me something else to wear? When you are in town tonight?” Bob’s eyes shine. “In Gran’s soap operas, someone is always going into town to shop.”

  “I’ll try. But it might be hard to get my mom to buy me something in your size.”

  He looks at me. One side of the tutu sticks up in a funny way, like it’s been pressed up against the closet wall for the last five years. That plus Bob’s dead-serious look makes me want to hug him. But I don’t.

  Suddenly Bob smiles. “Do you have time for chess?”

  “You play chess?”

  He nods. “Your dad taught you, and you taught me.”

  A little wiggle at the back of my head tells me he’s right.

  “I’ll set up the board!” Bob says, running to his closet. “I’ve been practicing by myself. I mean, technically, it has always been me against Mr. Monkey, but I make all his moves for him.”

  “Who usually wins?”

  He scratches his head. “That’s the other thing. We only have the white chess pieces, so we share them. And I always forget whose pieces are whose. I wish I could find the black ones.”

  “Black chess pieces?” I say. “I know where they are!”

  “You do?” Bob does a little jump, which is really cute, because of the tutu. “Don’t just stand there. Get them!”

  * * *

  When I get to the kitchen, Gran is standing by the window, reading a letter and frowning. “You’ve been up in your room a lot,” she says, switching to a smile. “Everything all right? We’re still making that cake tomorrow, right?”

  “Yes! Everything is great. But do you know where those chess pieces are? The black ones you showed me yesterday?”

  “Of course.” She drops the letter on the kitchen table, next to a ripped-open white envelope, and I realize Gran is reading the letter that the neighbor was twisting in his hands this morning. He looked miserable when he was holding it, and now that Gran has it, she looks kind of miserable. Even though she’s still smiling at me.

  When Gran turns away, I tilt my head and read the words at the top of the page: BANK OF AUSTRALIA.

  Gran holds the net bag of chess pieces out to me. “Do you remember trying to take these home last time you came? You had them all packed away in your backpack! Cutest thing.”

  “I did?”

  She nods. “Your mom found them at the last minute, and they’ve been sitting in my kitchen drawer ever since. I’d challenge you to a game, but I can’t find the white ones.”

  * * *

  Upstairs, Bob is sitting cross-legged on the floor of my room, with the chessboard in front of him. All the white pieces are resting on their squares, the important pieces in the back row and the pawns lined up in front of them.

  I start setting up my side of the board. Bob smiles at me and says, “Just like old times. You always have to be black.”

  “It’s lucky,” I tell him.

  “But chess is not about luck,” Bob says. “It’s about recognizing the strength of the little guy.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  He picks up a pawn and waves it at me. “Everyone underestimates the little guy. But the pawn is the key to the game.”

  I laugh. “Where are you getting this stuff?”

  His face grows serious. “The pawn protects every other piece on the board,” Bob says, “even though it can’t make as many different moves. And if you can get it to the other side of the board safely, it becomes a much more powerful piece, like a knight or a queen.” Then he smiles, slides his first pawn down the center of the board from e2 to e4, and says, “Let’s see what you’ve learned in five years.”

  I move my own pawn out to c5 and watch his eyes get big when he realizes I’m doing the Sicilian Defense. I grin. “Game on, my not-zombie friend.”

  He beams. “You are a much better opponent than Mr. Monkey.”

  We’ve barely gotten started when I hear Mom calling up the stairs that it’s time to go into town.

  Bob looks up. “Don’t forget I need something to wear.”

  “I’ll try,” I say.

  “Don’t forget about me,” he says.

  “I won’t,” I tell him.



  He picks up a black pawn from the board and hands it to me. “Put this in your pocket,” he says.


  “I don’t know why. But it’s important. It is what you always did before.”

  “Bob, I was five before. I probably did things for no reason at all.”

  “Please,” Bob says, “just do it.”

  “Fine.” I lean over and swipe a different black pawn from the bo