A genius shoots at something no
one else can see, and hits it.
We sit together outside the Fosters Freeze at a sea-green, metal picnic table.
All four of us.
We eat soft ice cream, which has been plunged into a vat of liquid chocolate (that then hardens into a crispy shell).
I don’t tell anyone that what makes this work is wax. Or to be more accurate: edible, food-grade paraffin wax.
As the chocolate cools, it holds the vanilla goodness prisoner.
Our job is to set it free.
Ordinarily, I don’t even eat ice-cream cones. And if I do, I obsess in such a precise way as to prevent even a drop of disorder.
But not today.
I’m in a public place.
I’m not even spying.
And my ice-cream cone is a big, drippy mess.
I’m right now someone that other people might find interesting to observe.
Well first of all, I’m speaking Vietnamese, which is not my native tongue.”
I really like that expression because in general, I think people don’t give this contracting muscle credit for how much work it does.
So thank you, tongue.
Sitting here, shaded by the afternoon sun, I’m using my Vietnamese whenever I can, which turns out to be often. I’m talking to my new friend Mai, but even her always-surly and scary-because-he’s-older big brother, Quang-ha, says a few words to me in their now only semi-
Dell Duke, who brought us here in his car, is quiet.
He does not speak Vietnamese.
I do not like to exclude people (I’m the one who is always excluded, so I know how that feels), but I’m okay with Mr. Duke being an observer. He is a school counselor and listening is a big part of counseling.
Or at least it should be.
Mai does the lion’s share of the speaking and eating (I give her my cone once I’ve had enough), and all I know for certain, with the sun on our faces and the sweet ice cream holding our attention, is that this is a day that I will never forget.
Seventeen minutes after our arrival, we are back in Dell Duke’s car.
Mai wants to drive by Hagen Oaks, which is a park. Big geese live there year-round. She thinks I should see them.
Because she’s two years older than me, she falls into that trap of thinking all little kids want to stare at something like fat ducks.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate waterfowl.
But in the case of Hagen Oaks Park, I’m more interested in the city’s decision to plant native plants than I am in the birds.
I think by the look on Dell’s face (I can see his eyes in the rearview mirror) that he’s not very excited about either thing, but he drives by the park anyway.
Quang-ha is slumped in the seat and I’m guessing is just happy that he didn’t have to take a bus anywhere.
At Hagen Oaks, no one gets out of the car, because Dell says we need to go home.
When we first got to the Fosters Freeze, I called my mom to explain that I’d be late getting back from school. When she didn’t answer, I left a message.
I did the same thing on my dad’s cell phone.
It’s strange that I haven’t heard from either of them.
If they can’t answer the phone, they always quickly return my call.
There is a police car parked in the driveway of my house whe
Praise for Counting By 7s:
“A graceful, meaningful tale featuring a cast of charming, well-rounded characters who learn sweet—but never cloying—lessons about resourcefulness, community, and true resilience in the face of loss.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Bright and heartfelt […] an uplifting story.”—Kirkus
“What sets this novel apart from the average orphan-finds-a-home book is its lack of sentimentality, its truly multicultural cast (Willow describes herself as a “person of color”; Mai and Quang-ha are of mixed Vietnamese, African American, and Mexican ancestry), and its tone. . . . Poignant.”—The Horn Book (starred review)
"A deeply original tale . . . Readers will rejoice." —BCCB (starred review)
“Willow’s story is one of renewal, and her journey of rebuilding the ties that unite people as a family will stay in readers’ hearts long after the last page.”—School Library Journal (starred review)