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"I have the funniest feeling," remarked Jean Jarrett, who was drying the supper dishes while her older sister Sue washed them. "I keep feeling as if something nice is going to happen."
"That's because this is the first night of Christmas vacation," answered Sue, rinsing a plate under the hotwater faucet and setting it in the dish drainer.
"I suppose so," agreed Jean dreamily, wishing that something nice really would happen. Lately life had lacked interesting ups and downs. Oh, there were little ups like watching Kip Laddish on television, just as there were little downs, too, like the plaid skirt she was wearing. Because she had forgotten to allow extra material for matching the plaid, she discovered, when the pieces of the skirt were sewed together, that the stripes were uneven at every seam. Little ups, little downs-how she wished she could replace them with big ups and downs that would make life exciting.
"What would you like to happen?" asked Sue.
"Oh, I don't know exactly," answered Jean. There was a speck of food on the plate she was wiping. She considered returning the plate to the dishwater for Sue to rewash, thought better of it, and polished off the speck with the dish towel. When it was her turn to wash dishes, she did not like to have dishes returned to her dishwater. "It would be nice to grow a couple more inches, and not have to wear glasses; but at fifteen I don't suppose that will happen. Maybe something like a cable arriving saying that a long-lost uncle has died and left us a fortune. "
"That would be nice," agreed Sue. "He could be a terribly romantic figure, a family black sheep we had never even heard of, who had run away at the age of fourteen to Kenya or Bangkok and made his fortune in diamonds or teak or something."
"Or maybe it would be better if he had run away to the South Seas," elaborated Jean. "He could be a pearl king with crews of natives with knives in their teeth diving for oysters."
"Oh, well," said Sue. "How he got the fortune isn't important. What is important is that he died and left it to the Jarretts."
"It wouldn't even have to be a fortune," said Jean. "Just enough so we could have avocado in the salad every single day. And so I could walk into Northgate Apparel Shop just once and buy a plaid skirt with the stripes matched by somebody else."
Sue laughed. "I know what you mean. Money for little extra things. Oh, well," she said, with an airy wave of the dishcloth, "what are the material things in life? We have ingenuity."
Jean giggled. "Especially me. It takes real ingenuity to make such a terrible-looking skirt."
It was Sue who had the ingenuity. Right now she was wearing a skirt she had devised out of twelve red bandana handkerchiefs that she had bought at the dime store. With it she was wearing a white blouse she had made out of a remnant and trimmed with a yard of leftover rickrack. Jean remembered how Sue had schemed, rearranging her pattern several times, to get the blouse out of the short length of material. Even two years ago, when Sue was fifteen, she would have remembered to allow extra material for matching plaid. Sue was that kind of girl: she always knew what she wanted to do and then went about it in the right way.
Both girls were silent, each thinking of nice things they would like to have happen. Sue was right, Jean thought. Money for little extra things was a problem. House payments, life insurance, hospital insurance, money put aside for Sue's freshman year at the University next fall (their father said his girls were going to have a better start in life than he had had), a small check to help their grandmother in the East -- all these seemed to consume Mr. Jarrett's pay check almost as soon as he received it. It would help if their father would allow them to earn money baby-sitting someplace besides the two houses next door, but he would notnot since the Friday night some strangers down the street had engaged Sue to stay with their children and had not come home until two-thirty in the morning. Mr. Jarrett, who was a mailman and had to report to the post office at six o'clock in the morning, said he lost too much sleep worrying about Sue in a strange house being responsible for strange children. Kids could get into the darnedest trouble, Mr. Jarrett said. He ought to know. He had seen enough of it in his nineteen years of delivering mail. If his girls were going to baby-sit, they had to do it close to home, where he knew what was going on. Unfortunately for Jean and Sue, their next-door neighbors did not often go out.
Or it would be nice, Jean reflected, if her mother won a really big prize in one of the contests she was always entering -- a prize so big she could give up her Saturday job as a salesclerk in a shop called Fabrics, Etc., which, sold remnants and mill ends of dress, drapery, and upholstery material.
"I know what would be nice," said Sue suddenly.
"What?" asked Jean, glancing at the clock. She must not get so carried away in daydreams that she missed Kip Laddish.
"To meet a boy." Sue's voice was wistful. "Not just any boy, but a really nice boy who liked me."
"Yes, that would be nice," agreed Jean seriously, because she understood that this time Sue was not joking. She was a little surprised at her sister's wish, because Sue had never been interested in the boys who seemed to like her. "But what about Cliff?" Jean asked. "He phoned you a couple of times, but you wouldn't go out with him."Jean and Johnny. Copyright © by Beverly Cleary. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Jean and Johnny by Beverly Cleary
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