“Well then, I will pray that Jesus sends us a true diva to lead The KDFCs, so that they will feel confident enough to participate in your variety show,” Father Chee says, and then he suddenly stops running, so I stop pedaling.

I’m straddling Donna’s bike.


We look at each other.

“Are you okay?” FC asks me.

“Yeah,” I say.

“Are you sure?”

“No. But I’m moving forward.”

“You are out of your room. This is good.”

“Because Bobby Big Boy needs me.”

“Many people need you, Amber.”

“One thing at a time, FC.”

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“You are stronger than you think.”

“Hug?” I ask, because I can’t take too many compliments right now.

“Of course,” he says, and then hugs me all fatherly.

“Will you pray for me?” I ask.

“Every day,” FC says, smiling at me. “Almost every hour.”

And then I ride my bike back to Donna’s house and cook chicken in a pan, slice that hooey up, and make a chicken salad with honey-mustard sauce and kick-ass croutons.

When Donna gets home, we eat.

“How was your first day back?” Donna asks me.

“Ricky Roberts is going to Stump the Mathematician onstage April twenty-fourth, Friday night, in the Childress High School Auditorium so that we can raise money for Amber Appleton.”

“For Bobby Big Boy,” I say. “We’re doing a variety show to pay for BBB’s operation.”

“You are, eh? Prince Tony went for that?”

“Franks backed it big-time. Do you know any real-live divas?”


“To be The KDFCs’ front woman. They won’t perform without an English-speaking front woman because they are too embarrassed of their English, even though I taught them pretty well.”

“Why don’t you be their front woman?” Donna asks me.

“Hello? Have you ever heard me sing?”

“Something will turn up,” Donna says. “I talked to Dr. Weissmuller.”

“So did I,” I said.

“So you know that BBB is fine.”

“Yeah,” I say. “Until we get the biopsy anyway.”

“One thing at a time,” Donna says with some honey mustard sauce dribbling down her chin.

When we pick up BBB, his belly is shaved and stitched up, and he is wearing a little lamp shade on his head.

I carry BBB to Donna’s car, and we take B3 home.

Bobby Big Boy is a little sluggish at first, and doesn’t dig wearing the lampshade one bit—I know because he claws the hell out of it within the first forty-eight hours—so we eventually take it off, and BBB is eating and crapping merrily in no time at all.


A week later, I call Dr. Weissmuller after school and he tells me that my dog is cancer free.

BBB and I celebrate by taking a bike ride over to the Methodist Retirement Home.

We hit Alan’s Newsstand, and Alan says, “I’m sorry about what happened to your mother, and I bought two tickets to The Save Bobby Big Boy Variety Show.”

“From whom?” I ask.

“Kids have been asking me for a week to buy tickets. Must have been three hundred kids asked me already. Better be a good show.”

“It’s going to be the bomb,” I tell him as I pay for the Snickers and the hot chocolate with some of the lunch money Donna has been giving me.

“The what?” Alan says.

“You won’t be disappointed,” I say, even though I don’t even know what the hell The Five are cooking up.

And then BBB and I are stashing Donna’s bike behind a bush and offering Door Woman Lucy the regular bribe to get B Thrice into the building.

“You get the Snickers and hot chocolate I sent you?” DWL says to me.

“Yeah, thanks,” I say.

“Ain’t right, what’s been happening to you. Ain’t right at all.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Your little boyfriends been ’round here selling tickets to some show they say you puttin’ on.”

“Boyfriends?” I ask.

“Tiny kid in a wheelchair. Tall funky-lookin’ white kid. Cute black kid with a beard.”

“They’re not my boyfriends.”

DWL sips her hot chocolate and then smiles at me sorta weird.

“Strange times, DWL. Strange times.”

“What’s this show you putting on all about, anyway?”

“It’s a variety show.”

“To honor your mother’s passing?”

“No, it’s for Bobby Big Boy here. He just had surgery. See his scar?” I hold up BBB’s belly. “It cost me almost three grand, so I have to raise money.”

“Well, you let me know if you need any help, Sister Amber.”

I nod once, smile at DWL’s calling me Sister Amber for the first time, which makes me feel pretty cool, and then BBB and I walk into the old people’s home—through the depressing hallways with the dusty fake plants.

When we get to the common room, I can’t believe what I see.

All of the old people are seated in two long rows.

Old Man Linder is singing a song with Old Man Thompson.

Both are wearing red sports coats.

They’re singing some ancient song about makin’ whoopee, and as I listen to the lyrics, I think they are actually singing about sex!

The old people are smiling and laughing and singing along so happily as Old Man Thompson sings his heart out and Old Man Linder echoes the verses in spoken word—and suddenly I realize that Old Man Linder has taken me up on my challenge.

He’s gotten up in front of his peers.

He’s entertaining the people.

He’s giving them something to look forward to—something to break up the boring days and weeks.

He’s keeping hope alive!

BBB and I watch the performance from the back of the room and laugh every time one of the old men punch the air in front of them, or try to move their ancient hips to the beat.

The performance is not all that lively.

My boys don’t sing that well.

But as I look at how much fun the old people are having—many of them singing along with the two old men in front of them—I realize that this is enough, that these old people are getting a little fuel from my manager, and I feel something warm heat up my chest.

When they finish the old-time sex song about makin’ whoopee, Old Man Linder sees me standing at the back of the common room. “Amber?” he says.

Fifty blue-haired heads turn around slowly, and then everyone is staring at me and BBB.

I walk toward my elders and say, “Hey.”

When no one says anything, I give Old Man Linder a hug, whisper, “I’m sorry,” into his big hairy ear, and then—to the crowd—I say, “Who knew these old guys could sing so well?”

No one says anything, and Old Man Linder looks a little nervous.

“Listen,” I say. “I’m okay.”

“We were really worried about you,” Old Man Thompson says.

“We didn’t think you’d ever visit us again,” Big Booty Bernice says.

“I hope they fry that horrible man who killed your poor mother,” Agnes the Plant Talker says.

“Are you really okay?” Old Man Linder says.

“Where’s Joan of Old?” I ask.

“She had a heart attack,” Old Man Thompson says.

“What?” I say.

“It wasn’t fatal,” Old Man Linder says. “She’s in the hospital wing. I hear she goes in and out of consciousness—but when she’s awake, they say she’s still with it.”

“Well, I’ll have to visit her after the show,” I say, and then sit down, allowing B Thrice to curl up on my lap. “I want to see what else you two got up there.”

Old Man Linder smiles proudly, snaps back into character, and—in an old-time radio voice—says, “How many of you remember this gem from 1927?”

Old Man Thompson and Old Man Linder start snapping their fingers and tapping their toes, and when they sing the next song all of the old people get really excited and start to sing along in rousing unison—everyone is waving index fingers in the air, nodding out the beat, and singing their dusty old lungs out.

Because they repeat the chorus so many times I sorta figure out the song’s called “Side By Side,” and it’s about two people with no money who don’t know what’s going to happen, but at least they have each other to travel through life together. The old people love this corny old song, and I have to say—seeing them sing it so passionately makes me feel something good. True.

My old men are moving people this afternoon.

When the song is finished, Old Man Linder says, “Thanks for coming to the Wednesday Afternoon Old-Time Sing-Along with The Red Coats—Albert Linder and Eddie Thompson. Until next week, when we will be singing more of the songs you remember and love—make sure you stay alive at least seven more days! Because you won’t want to miss what we have in store for you! Reminisce, people. Reminisce!”

All of the old people clap for a few minutes while The Red Coats bow, and then resuming once again is the endless talk of grandchildren, jigsaw puzzles, who died last week, the weather over the past eight decades, and—of course—the many family members who never visit.

I leave BBB curled up in a pile of Knitting Carol’s yarn and step out into the hallway with Old Man Linder.

“You were really good up there,” I tell him. “You had everyone into it. True.”

“Listen, I was mad at you for a week or so, kid. I could have died climbing those damn steps, and then the way you treated me,” Old Man Linder says—oxygen tubes running out of his nostrils. “But then, I thought, you know what—the girl’s got a point. I’m not dead yet, and I have to do something to keep myself alive. I can’t always depend on others. So I thought up the sing-along with Eddie, who carries me up there with his golden voice—if you didn’t notice. I’m the ham. He’s the voice. But I always loved to sing. And the old chippies favor men who sing in public. Can’t keep them off me lately.”

The old man winks at me.

I smile at Old Man Linder.

“Are you okay, Amber?”

“Truthfully, no. But I enjoyed your singing very much—and I’m out of my room, at least.”

“That’s a start.”

“It’s something.”


“I would like to visit Joan of Old,” I say.

“You sure? I haven’t been to see her yet, but I hear she’s in bad shape.”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” I say.

I follow Old Man Linder through a bunch of depressing hallways full of mauve wallpaper and mauve carpets—finally, we arrive at the hospital wing, which is just another mauve hallway with special hospital-looking rooms.

When a nurse pops out of one of the rooms, Old Man Linder says, “Excuse me, but do you know which room is Joan Osmond’s?”

The nurse doesn’t answer, but points to a door down the hall, so we walk toward it.

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