Authors: Erica S. Perl
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2011 by Erica S. Perl
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of
Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Perl, Erica S.
When life gives you O.J. / by Erica S. Perl. — 1st ed.
Summary: Zelly Fried wants a dog more than anything, so at the urging of her grandfather, during the summer before sixth grade she takes care of a “practice dog” made out of an orange juice jug to show her parents that she is ready for the responsibility, even though she is sometimes not entirely sure about the idea.
[1. Grandfathers—Fiction. 2. Dogs—Fiction. 3. Family life—Vermont—Fiction. 4. Jews—United States—Fiction. 5. Self-confidence—Fiction. 6. Vermont—Fiction.] I. Title.
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This book is dedicated to Sasha
The whole mess started with a note:
SEE ME IMMEDIATELY WHEN YOU GET
THIS. DO NOT SPEAK OF THIS TO ANYONE
NOT EVEN YOUR PARENTS OR YOUR
P.S. I HOPE YOU ARE READY FOR THIS
I found the note on my nightstand, attached to a jug that definitely hadn’t been there the night before. I had to put on my glasses to read it. On closer inspection, I could see that the jug was a plastic one, like the kind that milk comes in.
The note was attached to the neck of the jug with a green rubber band.
Even without his name on it, I would’ve known this was Ace’s work. The rubber band was a dead giveaway. Ace is the proud owner of the world’s largest rubber band collection. He doesn’t trust Scotch tape.
Ready for what?
I thought. I sat up in bed, staring at the jug. If Ace was behind this, I was definitely
ready for it.
Ace is my grandpa. His real name is Abraham Diamond, but he likes everyone to call him Ace. My name is Zelda Fried, but I like everyone to call me Zelly. Ace doesn’t call me Zelly, or even Zelda. He calls me “kid,” so I call him Grandpa to get him back.
I studied the note, then turned my attention to the jug. It was a big white plastic orange juice jug. Before Ace moved in with us, my mom always made pitchers of orange juice from small cans of frozen concentrate. Now she buys it premade in plastic jugs like this one because Ace drinks a lot of orange juice. He mixes scoops of powder into it, which he says keeps him “regular,” whatever that means. Ace is about as far from a regular person as anyone could possibly be, and I can’t imagine how any powder is going to change that.
I read the note again.
I HOPE YOU ARE READY FOR THIS
. I picked up the jug, which turned out to be empty, and unscrewed the bright orange cap. The faint scent of oranges wafted out.
, I thought, getting out of bed.
Let’s go find out what this is all about
I left the jug where it was and went to the bathroom. The same owl eyes and freckle-strewn nose, framed by an especially frizzy halo of morning hair, stared back at me. I showed my teeth to make sure they were still, thankfully, pretty straight. When you already have crazy hair and glasses, the last thing you need is braces.
It seemed like everyone in the house was still asleep. Except maybe my little brother, Sam, who sometimes gets up super-early to build things in his room with his LEGOs or his blocks. He always forgets that when you wake up, you need to go pee, so after he’s been building for about thirty minutes, he’ll shoot down the hall to the bathroom.
I went back to my room and got the jug and the note. I carried them downstairs to Ace’s room, which is also our TV room. Having the TV there makes my mom super-happy because Sam and I watch a lot less TV than we did a few months ago, when we lived in Brooklyn and the TV was in our living room. We practically never want to watch TV bad enough to hang out in Ace’s room. True, Ace likes some of the same shows we do. For example, old
reruns. But he always ends up yelling at the TV so much that it isn’t worth it.
I knocked quietly on Ace’s door. No reply. The sign hanging on his door says
, but it’s just for decoration. I don’t think Ace has gone fishing once since we moved to Vermont and Ace moved in with us.
GONE TO HENRY’S DINER
GONE TO BEN & JERRY’S
GONE TO BATTERY PARK TO A BAND-SHELL CONCERT WEARING MY LUCKY FISHING HAT
? Yes, yes, and yes. But
, not so much.
I looked at the jug. It didn’t make any sense. Maybe Ace had finally completely flipped out. It seemed pretty likely. It occurred to me that maybe I should go upstairs and tell my parents. That thought made me feel all worried and nervous, though. What if Ace had gone crazy, and he got really mad at me for getting him in trouble? What if they dragged him off to the loony bin and he started yelling,
THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT, KID!
Which it kind of would be.
I took a deep breath and knocked again, harder this time. “Grandpa?” I called in a loudish whisper.
“WHA?” boomed Ace through the door.
“Grandpa,” I whispered again. “It’s me, Zelly.”
“STOP WHISPERING ALREADY. I’M AWAKE. COME IN.”
I entered the room and immediately tripped on something and fell flat on my face. I had a feeling it had been one of Ace’s many pairs of golf shoes. That’s another thing about Ace. He stopped playing golf years ago, but he loved the shoes so much that he started wearing them all the time. He probably has about twenty pairs. If anyone asks about his shoes, he launches into this lecture about how they “give excellent arch support.”
“WHO’S THERE?” yelled Ace. I was on all fours, feeling my way over to the wall, where I knew there was a light
switch. I had dropped the jug when I fell. Before I could make it very far, Ace switched his bedside lamp on.
“WHAT IN THE NAME OF—?” said Ace.
“Sorry,” I said. “I just tripped, and, I mean, I got your note.”
“NOTE? WHAT NOTE?”
Okay, he’s definitely gone crazy
, I thought to myself.
Just back up and out and go see Mom and Dad
. But there’s something about the way Ace talks. His voice practically requires an answer.
“The note you, uh, put on the orange juice jug?” I spotted the jug lying on its side on the floor, but I left it where it was. Instead, I walked over to Ace and handed him the note.
“OH,” said Ace, putting on his glasses and swinging his legs out of bed. He looked it over carefully, as if seeing it for the first time. “THAT NOTE.”
“Uh-huh,” I said, getting ready to make my exit.
“SO, ARE YOU?”
“Am I what?”
“ARE YOU READY?”
“Ready for what?”
Ace looked exasperated with me. “DO YOU WASH YOUR EARS WITH CHOPPED LIVER? READY TO GET A DOG, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!”
“Oh! I mean, of course,” I said.
was what I thought. I had been begging my
parents to let me get a dog for years, and especially since April, when we moved to Vermont and Ace moved in with us. I am, to put it mildly, a dog lover. Okay, I’ll admit it: I am obsessed with dogs. All of my notebooks have dogs on the cover and are filled with dog doodles. I cut the
Dogs, Cats, Pets
column out of the newspaper almost every day, and I’ve read every dog book ever written (
is my favorite). In three months, Ace had probably heard me ask about getting a dog at least three zillion times.
But what did that have to do with the jug? Or Ace’s mysterious note?
Ace smiled. He put one hand on his bedside table and lifted himself out of bed. He took the cane that he was supposed to use but never did and turned it around so the hook side was pointed at the ground. Then, using the cane, he hooked the handle of the orange juice jug, picked it up, and carried it over to me. I unhooked it from the end of the cane.
“KID,” said Ace, “MEET YOUR NEW DOG.”
I stood there, holding the jug and staring at him. I knew crazy people sometimes heard voices in their heads or saw things that other people couldn’t see. Did Ace think there was a dog there in the room with us?
“Um, where?” I asked.