48th Anniversary Easy Reader Story Contest – honorable mention, The Newcomer
by Christina Parisi
This was the worst summer of Lizzy’s life, all 10 years of it. After her parents exclaimed they’d be moving away from her beloved hometown in upstate New York to some stupid home in Redondo Beach, California, Lizzy’s entire world came crashing down.
Over a month in the new city and the dark haired 10-year‐old hadn’t made any friends. All her neighbors knew one another already and the day camp she was forced to attend by her mother bored her. Lizzy snuck out as soon as the counselor, Shyla, took out her phone. Bombs could go off and Shyla wouldn’t know it when she was on that thing. Lizzy learned if she kept her adventures short, she could make it back before Shyla would notice.
One of Lizzy’s favorite things to do was to walk real fast on the street concrete, jumping over the cracks. She could be rather superstitious for a girl her age. In fact, she had to look up what superstitious meant after so many people called her that. But when she read the definition, Lizzy realized it was more about the comfort of the ritual rather than any belief in magic. Adults had no clue, she thought. And anyway, Lizzy no longer believed in magic. Not after having to leave all her friends and come to this stupid city.
Today her mother dropped her off at camp late because Lizzy had a dentist appointment. As if her parents hadn’t done enough to her. The auditions for the camp’s production of “Grease” were that morning and she had to miss them. Life was so unfair, thought Lizzy. Acting in plays was the one thing she loved and now even that got messed up. The only thing Lizzy could find happiness in was the bit of news that she didn’t have any cavities. But that joy was short lived.
Entering the camp late, Lizzy found the auditions not only over but the director – an enthusiastic parent -‐ had already left. Lizzy waited for Shyla to begin her texting frenzy before she went to the bathroom, without anyone noticing, to slip out the window.
Her feet landed on the parking lot and in seconds Lizzy’s shoes were clip clopping along the concrete in freedom.
She looked to see Kenny in the distance. Lizzy wasn’t sure how old he was but she knew he was way older than her parents. His skin was black, unlike Lizzy’s own white skin, and he stood hunched over. She wondered if it was from all his years of bending over to get hot dogs for people.
When she first started sneaking out, Kenny had noticed. He worked the snack cart on the corner by her camp and Lizzy soon came to learn Kenny noticed everything. One day, as she jumped by him, he proclaimed loud enough to make sure she heard whether she wanted to or not:
“I’d say the sky is green today. What do you think young girl?”
The odd question made Lizzy stop mid-jump, but she still managed to not land on a crack.
“What did you say? she replied with a smirk.
“I said, the sky is green today, don’t you think?”
Lizzy looked up. Then she looked straight at the old vendor.
“Mister, that sky is blue. With clouds. Which are white”
The gray haired street vendor began to prepare a hotdog. “Hmmm… blue you say. Well, suppose my green meant your blue?”
Lizzy thought for a moment but she couldn’t make any sense of it.
Kenny saw the wheels moving in the little girl’s head as he handed her a hot dog, on the house. At first, Lizzy was hesitant but it sure looked good. Loaded with globs of yellow mustard, just how she liked it. Only thing missing were the pickles but she felt it would be rude to ask so she grabbed the hot dog as it was and stuffed a big bite in her mouth.
Lizzy asked if she could see how the hot dog cart worked. Kenny showed it off with pride. As he did, he casually inquired about why she snuck out a window every day. She told him all about being new and having no friends and not being interested in the lame camp activities. He nodded in understanding when she explained she had more fun running off alone.
When it was time for Lizzy to head back in, she said goodbye and thanked Kenny for the hot dog.
He replied, “I love Christmas trees even though cleaning up pine needles is the worst.”
He made Lizzy stop in her tracks once again. “Huh?” she asked, puzzled.
Kenny responded, “And my purebred Schnauzer only has three legs but he’s as happy as a clam.”
He handed Lizzy a sweating bottle of water.
She accepted the drink, wiping a bead of sweat from her forehead. She wasn’t sure what to make of the stranger but something inside her erupted and suddenly, Lizzy found herself blurting out:
“You’re not making any sense! Stop it! I’m new here and I’m really sad and I miss my friends. I don’t know anybody and I just want to go home. My New York home.”
Kenny replied, “Roses have thorns, dear.”
Tears gathered in the corners of Lizzy’s eyes as she cried out, “What the heck are you talking about?!”
Kenny replied calmly, “Look beyond the bad to see the good. It’s there. In everything.”
Though Lizzy wasn’t sure if she agreed or not, it made her calmer to think about it. As she turned toward summer camp, Kenny called out:
“And Lizzy. You have one friend now.”
The old hot dog vendor smiled at the young girl before returning to his work of cleaning out ketchup containers.
Lizzy watched Kenny empty the remains of one container into another half-filled one before something caught her attention.
A few feet away from the cart, a metal Easy Reader dispenser reflected the late morning sunlight. Lizzy stepped closer, staring at one of the headlines on the local paper:
“CASTING FOR A THEATER PRODUCTION OF ANNIE! More information on page 4.”
The soon to be fifth grader excitedly grabbed the free paper and continued on.
Before climbing through the open bathroom window, a smile spread across her face.
Maybe this won’t be the worst summer after all.