Holly Janquell is one of my best friends, and she happens to live right across Broadway from the Senior Highrise in an apartment above the Pup Parlor. I love going over to the Pup Parlor. You never know what crazy canine creation you'll find getting groomed there.
As far as the Pup Parlor humans go, you can expect to find either Meg or Vera, or both. Meg is Vera's daughter, and they were both friends of mine way before they adopted Holly. Grams describes them as "salt of the earth," but I don't really get that expression. I just know that they're hardworking and kind and trustworthy. They put it together about me living with Grams back when the only other person who knew was my friend Marissa. They never made a peep about it, either. They just minded their own business.
When I first met her, I thought Vera was, like, ninety. She's got wrinkles galore, she's missing teeth, and she's wiry. Her forearms look like stretched-out, over roasted chicken legs. You know, where all the fat's been burned away and what's left are tendons, shrively muscles, wrinkly skin, and bones.
But I don't think anyone who's ninety could wrestle a bulldog into a bathing tank the way Vera does. It's like seeing an Italian greyhound take down a mastiff. Those wiry arms go into action, and watch out! She'll have a dog tubbed and sudsed before you can get across the shop to offer help.
Meg's taller and stockier than her mom, but they let the world know they're related by the way they do their hair. They both have pouffy poodle dos decorated with little clip-on bows: red, pink, purple, polka-dotted. . . . They seem to have a different pair of bows for every day of the month.
I used to go hang out at the Pup Parlor just to kill time before going home, but now I go there because Holly lives there and it's fun to do homework together or help around the shop.
This time, though, I hadn't just dropped by. And, it being summer and all, I sure wasn't there to do homework.
This time I was there by official invitation.
Holly had called me at home Tuesday morning and said, "Hey! I'm inviting everyone over tonight to see pictures of our trip. Seven-thirty to nine-thirty. Can you come?"
I squinted at the phone. "You've got two hours of pictures?"
"No! It's a party. We're having pizza and salad, and dessert, too." Then she laughed. "But Vera did get a new digital camera before the trip, so expect to be bombarded."
I laughed, and after I cleared it with Grams, I said, "I'll be there!"
Holly also invited Marissa and Dot, so it was a real best friends reunion. "Sammy!" they cried when I entered the apartment. I hadn't seen Dot all summer because she and her family had been in Holland visiting relatives. She sorta blinked at me and said,"You're so tan!"
"Just my arms and face. It's a total backpacker tan."
She bounced up and down a little. "Did you bring pictures of your camping trip? I heard you saw condors!"
I snorted. "And snakes and scorpions and ticks and a dead boar and--"
Her face pinched up. "Eew."
I grinned. "So be glad--no pictures."
Dot shrugged, then looked kinda embarrassed as she said, "I brought some pictures of our trip to Holland." Then real fast, she added, "Meg and Vera said it was fine."
I eyed Marissa and asked, "Did you bring pictures of Las Vegas?" because her family had already taken three trips there this summer. Marissa scowled. "You can't take pictures in Las Vegas. Everything's too . . . big."
The doorbell rang. "Pizza's here!" Meg called from the kitchen. So we all swarmed downstairs, got the pizzas, and pounded back up to the family room, where Vera was setting up a slide show on a laptop computer.
Meg brought in a salad, more drinks, and plates, and we all got comfy on the floor around their oversized coffee table and dug in. Meg usually gives off a pretty serious vibe, but having an apartment full of teenagers seemed to agree with her. She sat back in a recliner with a piece of pepperoni pizza, reclipped one of her royal blue bows, and let out a happy sigh. "Ready, Mother?"
"I believe so," Vera said, then started the slide show.
"Bombarded" doesn't even begin to describe it. We saw pictures of Holly in the motor home, Holly at a meteor crater, Holly in the Painted Desert, Holly at the Grand Canyon, Holly cooking dinner, Holly next to a buffalo, Holly nose to nose with a chipmunk, Holly asleep, Holly waking up, Holly watching a Wild West show, Holly shopping for arrowheads, Holly standing by a pack of Harley-Davidsons, and Holly at Mount Rushmore. Fifty gazillion pictures of Holly at Mount Rushmore.
It might have been a real snooze, only luckily, Vera clicked through the shots fast and Holly had enough funny stories to go with the pictures to keep us entertained.
Plus, it was really good pizza.
Copyright © 2010 by Wendelin Van Draanen. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.