Read Tallahassee Higgins Online

Authors: Mary Downing Hahn

Tags: #Social Issues, #Fiction, #Juvenile Fiction, #Values & Virtues, #General, #Family, #Parents, #Emotions & Feelings, #Mothers and Daughters

Tallahassee Higgins

BOOK: Tallahassee Higgins
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Tallahassee Higgins
Mary Downing Hahn

CLARION BOOKS
New York

Clarion Books
a Houghton Mifflin Company imprint
215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10003
Copyright © 1987 by Mary Downing Hahn
First Clarion paperback edition, 2006.

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.clarionbooks.com

Printed in the U.S.A.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hahn, Mary Downing.
Tallahassee Higgins.
Summary: Tallahassee Higgins enjoys the vagabond
lifestyle she lives with her free-spirited mother,
but when Mother goes to Los Angeles to try her luck in
TV and movies, Tallahassee is placed with her uncle, whose
conventional suburban lifestyle makes her question her
mother's values—and her own.
[1. Mothers and daughters—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.H1256Tal 1987 [Fic] 86-17513

CL ISBN-13: 978-0-89919-495-0 CL ISBN-10: 0-89919-495-8
PA ISBN-13: 978-0-618-75246-1 PA ISBN-10: 0-618-75246-3

HAD
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

For my daughters, Kate and Beth Hahn,
with love and affection and thanks!

Chapter 1

I
T WAS FEBRUARY NINTH,
1985, a date I knew I would remember forever as the worst day of my life. My mom and I were sitting in the snack bar at the Miami airport eating hamburgers and waiting for my plane. I was going to Maryland to stay with an uncle and aunt I'd never met, and she was going to California with her boyfriend, Bob.

Liz had several reasons for not taking me. The most obvious was that three people can't ride on a motorcycle. Not even if one of them is a very skinny twelve-year-old girl. I told Bob to get a little sidecar for me, but he said he couldn't afford to waste money on something like that.

To tell you the truth, though, the motorcycle was just part of the problem. Neither Liz nor Bob had the slightest idea what they were going to do when they got to California—they had no jobs out there, no place to live, no real plans. Liz wanted to get into the movies, and Bob claimed he had friends in L.A. who knew people in the film industry. Who they knew Bob never said, which bothered me a lot more than it bothered Liz, who is not the most realistic person you ever met.

"So you're much better off in Hyattsdale with Dan and Thelma," Liz said, reaching for the salt. "As soon as Bob and I get settled, you know, when we have jobs and a place to live and stuff, I'll send you money for a plane ticket."

"When will that be?" I was squeezing my hamburger bun so tightly that the ketchup was dripping out. "A week, two weeks, a month, a year?"

Liz tossed her long, golden hair over her shoulders and shook her head. "Oh, not a year, Tallahassee," she said. "Maybe a month or two. I just don't know, honey."

She lit a cigarette and puffed the smoke straight up so it wouldn't blow in my face. "Anyway, we need a break from each other, don't you think? After all, it's been just the two of us for twelve years."

I forced myself to swallow a mouthful of dry hamburger. "I don't need a break from you," I mumbled. "You're my mother, and I love you."

"Well, I love you too, Tinkerbell." Liz laughed and ruffled my hair. "Silly old carrottop—love's not the issue here."

Ducking away from her hand, I turned to the window and watched a jet roll down the runway. I didn't like it when Liz turned serious things into jokes. "Don't call me carrottop. Or Tinkerbell," I said.

"Oh, Talley, quit pouting." Liz tried to pat my hand, but I snatched it away. "It'll be good for you to have a little stability. You and me, we've been living like gypsies for so long, honey, but Dan and Thelma can give you a real home for a while."

"I like the way me and you live." It was true. We never had much money, but I didn't care.

"Maybe you do, but I don't." Liz sipped her diet soda. "I'm sick of going from one waitress job to another and living in crummy apartments, never knowing how I'm going to pay the rent, worrying about tips, worrying about you all alone at night."

She leaned across the table, forcing me to look at her. "Don't you see, honey? This is my chance to get out of this rut while I'm still young, before I lose my looks. Bob's sure his friends can get me into the movies. Don't make it so hard for me, Tallahassee!"

"If I could just go with you, Liz." Even though I was trying hard not to whine, I could hear my voice rising.

"You'll like Hyattsdale, honest you will." Liz smiled at me. "Just think, honey," she went on, "you'll sleep in my old room and go to my old school, and you'll love Dan. He's the best big brother in the world."

I chewed a mouthful of ice from my soda to keep myself from saying what I was thinking—if Uncle Dan was so wonderful, why had Liz run away when she was only seventeen years old? And why hadn't she ever gone back to see him?

"He was like a father to me after our parents died," Liz said softly. "I wasn't much older than you, Tallahassee, and Dan was twenty-four or twenty-five. He was still living at home and working at the phone company, saving his money to marry Thelma." She sipped her diet soda. "Good old Dan, solid as a rock."

I'd heard all this a million times before, of course, but it still made me sad that my grandparents had been killed in a plane crash before I was even born. I would have liked to have known them. As far as I knew, I didn't have any other grandparents. Or a father, for that matter, since Liz had never told me anything about him. Not even his name.

"Dan just can't wait to meet you, Tallahassee." Liz patted my hand and smiled at me, bringing me back to the snack bar.

"How about Aunt Thelma?" I crushed my empty soda cup while I waited for Liz to answer. I knew perfectly well how she felt about Aunt Thelma. "I'll bet she can't wait either," I added, trying to sound as sarcastic as possible.

"I'm sure Thelma will be very nice to you," Liz said stiffly.

"But she won't like me."

Liz sighed and ground out her cigarette. "Thelma and I didn't get along, you know that, but she hasn't seen me for over twelve years. And you're just a kid. She won't hold a grudge against you, honey."

Silently, I watched Liz light another cigarette. As she exhaled, I leaned toward her. "I thought you were going to cut down on cigarettes," I said.

"Don't nag me, Tallahassee." Liz frowned at me through a cloud of smoke. "I'm a little tense right now, but as soon as I get out to California, I'm going to quit. I promise."

"You'll get wrinkles if you keep on smoking like that," I told her. "Not to mention lung cancer and emphysema. The way you cough in the morning, I bet your lungs are all black." I stared at her. "And you're already getting little teeny lines on your upper lip."

"Will you quit telling me things like that?" Liz glared at me. "It's not true, anyway. About the wrinkles." She touched her mouth nervously.

I slid lower in my seat and poked at the remains of my hamburger. Without me to take care of her, I really didn't know how Liz was going to survive. That might sound weird, considering that she's the adult and I'm the kid, but she just doesn't have any sense. I'd been helping her manage money and fix meals for years, and I wasn't sure that Bob was going to do nearly as good a job. Most of the time he looked like he was walking in his sleep.

"Are you sure you're going to have enough money for food and gas?" I asked Liz. "It's a long way to California, and you have to go through a desert to get there."

"Tallahassee, will you stop nagging me?" Liz stubbed out her cigarette. "I'm an adult. I know how to take care of myself."

"But what if you get depressed? Who'll cheer you up?" I asked. "I bet Bob can't walk on his hands like me or tell knock-knock jokes."

Liz looked at her watch. "We'd better go, Talley," she said. "Your plane leaves in about twenty minutes."

"Can Bob do Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dances like you and me? Does he have a Glinda the Good Witch Magic Wand to wave over your head?" I was close to tears as I followed Liz through the maze of little tables crowded with travelers.

"Will you shut up?" Liz frowned at me. "You're embarrassing me, Tallahassee Higgins."

"But I'm so worried about you!" When I tried to take her hand, she yanked it away, her face red.

"Here comes Bob to see you off," Liz said. "Don't let him see you acting like a baby."

Wiping my eyes with the back of my hand, I shifted my backpack to my shoulders and watched Bob ambling down the corridor toward us, carrying a big plastic bag. He was wearing his usual faded jeans and a new T-shirt that said, California, Here I Come.

After giving Liz a big hug, Bob smiled at me. "Hi, kid," he said. "This is for you."

To my surprise, he pulled a box out of the bag and handed it to me. It was wrapped in pretty paper and tied with a big, pink bow. "Don't open it now," he said. "Save it for after you get on the plane."

"What is it?"

"A surprise." He grinned so widely I thought his face might split. "Your mom helped me pick it out."

As he and Liz started kissing again, I shook the box. Something slid softly back and forth inside. It sounded like a stuffed animal, I thought, and I remembered the beautiful white bear Liz and I had seen at the Seaway Mall. Liz had said that nobody in his right mind would pay eighty dollars for a teddy bear, but here it was, I was sure of it, a special going-away present from her and Bob.

I turned to Liz to thank her, but she was laughing at something Bob had said. For all the attention I was getting, I might as well have been in Maryland. Grabbing Liz's hand, I squeezed it as hard as I could.

"Don't you even care that you're not going to see me for a long time?" I yelled. "You'll be alone with him all the way to California. Can't you at least
look
at me?" Tears smarted in my eyes, but I didn't care if every nosy person in the whole world saw me crying.

"Oh, Talley, for goodness' sake, honey!" Liz pulled her hand free and hugged me. "Don't be such a silly baby!"

"You will miss me, won't you?"

"I'll send you a postcard every day, I promise, sweetie." Her perfume enclosed me in a fragrant cloud and her hair tumbled down around me, curtaining me from the people rushing past. "It's just for a little while, honey, that's all." Liz was crying now, too, but she straightened up when she heard the loudspeaker announcing my flight.

"Come on, you two," Bob said. "We don't want to miss the plane."

Although I tried to delay things by dropping first my backpack and then my present, Liz and Bob hustled me toward the line of people waiting to board the flight to Washington.

"Be good, honey," Liz whispered in my ear, "and give Dan my love. I'll see you soon. I promise, Talley, I promise."

Then she stepped back, and I followed a fat man into the plane. Although I had a seat by the window, I was on the side facing the runway instead of the airport, so I couldn't wave at Liz. Closing my eyes, I gripped the package Bob had given me and tried not to cry as the plane rolled down the runway, picked up speed, and roared up into the sky.

Chapter 2

T
HE NEXT TIME
I looked out the window, the houses and roads were like a model railroad village far below me. I had never been on an airplane, and I felt very grown-up when the flight attendant stopped her little cart by my seat and asked me what I wanted to drink. I chose a root beer and sipped it slowly as the clouds floated past below me. Was Liz down there somewhere watching the plane vanish? Or was she already heading out to California on the mother stealer's motorcycle, glad to be rid of me?

Just as I was about to cry, I remembered the present Bob had given me. Reaching into my backpack, I pulled out the box and yanked off the ribbon and paper. Inside, instead of a beautiful white bear, I saw an ugly doll smiling up at me. She had a round face and orange hair, sort of like mine, and her two fat arms were reaching up for me.

"Oh, isn't she adorable!" One of the flight attendants leaned over the man next to me to get a better look at the hideous creature. "She even has her own birth certificate, doesn't she?"

I looked at the slip of paper in the box. It said the doll's name was Melanie. Melon Head was more like it.

"My little niece is just dying to have one of those. Aren't you lucky?" the flight attendant gushed.

I frowned at Melon Head. "I'm twelve years old," I said. "I haven't played with dolls for years."

The man beside me glanced at the open box. "My wife has a whole collection of those little monsters. Ugly as sin, aren't they?" He winked at me and poked his nose back into
The Wall Street Journal.

"Oh, how can you say such a thing!" The flight attendant giggled in a flirty way that reminded me of Liz, but when the man just shrugged and kept on reading, she walked off down the aisle, looking for people who were more fun.

I frowned at Melon Head. Her face was all scrunched up from her dopey smile, and she looked like an idiot. Why couldn't she have been that beautiful white bear? Closing the lid so I wouldn't have to see her, I shut my eyes and pretended to be asleep all the way to Washington.

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