Ask any writer. We have to cut scenes all the time. For fun, and for a taste of the wacky characters if you haven’t read The Absolute Value of Mike, here’s an outtake from the book, a scene where Mike celebrates his birthday (in the final copy, Mike has already turned 14 but, as I said, it’s an outtake). Keep in mind that it’s a draft version, too, because it was cut before I got too far into the book. (Please excuse the weird formatting when I pasted it below.) Anyway, I hope you enjoy seeing an early, pre-cut chapter!
–diagrams using overlapping circles to reveal the attributes that groups have in common
I didn’t really need a birthday party. I never had birthday parties at home. After Dad gave up on giving me math and engineering toys, he just gave me an Amazon gift certificate for a hundred dollars every year. Except this year. I guess he forgot. Not that I cared. Sasha was always super jealous of the Amazon certificate because for his birthday he got presents that were funny or clever. Homemade chocolate chip cookies for a year. A cheap watch with an electronic chess game. Slingshots along with a bag of giant marshmallows for ammunition. To be honest, I liked his better. And anyway, he always got a nice present on his adoption day.
But Moo needed a party. She was in a funk over having to go see Dr. P. She’d been spending way too much time in Tyrone’s back seat, just sitting there, “watching” movies. I tried to act all excited about the Buzz Lightyear paper cups and plates she’d gotten for a quarter at the flea market, but then she obsessed over what to put on them because she couldn’t make a regular cake if Past was coming. I tried to get her to relax so I found a tie in Doug’s closet and put it around my neck. It worked. Moo grinned when I walked into the kitchen in my LOST SOULS T-shirt and tie.
Until she jumped at the knock on the door. “They’re here! Mike, you answer it, OK?”
Gladys looked hot, as usual, and Past, well, I didn’t really notice because I was too busy looking at Gladys.
“Come in, come in!” Moo cried from the kitchen. “Poppy, say hello to everyone!”
Poppy snorted, folded his arms, and looked up at Felix on the wall.
Gladys looked at Poppy like she’d rather give him a kick in the crotch than say hello. But she said hello, anyway.
Poppy only grunted.
“Right back at ya, big guy,” Past said.
I finally smelled the casserole Past was carrying. It didn’t smell bad, but it didn’t smell wonderful, either.
“It’s eggplant and tofu with low fat cheese,” Past announced proudly. “Let’s eat!”
“Oh,” said Moo, “eggplant and . . . toe food, well—”
“TOFU,” Past repeated.
“That’s lovely, too, dear. Bring it in. We’ll all enjoy it, I’m sure.”
Enjoy was probably not the right word, but we sat down at the kitchen table and got through it, at least. Gladys even said she liked it because she was vegetarian. Maybe being vegetarian helped.
“Now,” said Moo, after she’d put the dinner dishes in the sink, “as a special treat, I got each of you your own—” she squished her shoulders up to her ears and grinned—“POPPY!”
I glanced at Past and Gladys, and figured my face looked as horrified as theirs. Our eyes all drifted toward the pass-through.
I heard Poppy grunt, then the crinkle of a paper bag behind me and I turned to see Moo pulling out some red tissue paper wrapped tubes.
“Oh!” I breathed a major sigh of relief. “Poppers!”
“What?” Gladys asked.
“You pull both ends and they pop open really loud, and inside there’s a toy and a paper crown.”
“That’s it!” said Moo.
We were all so happy we weren’t getting landed with our own personal Poppy that we didn’t even mind wearing the silly paper crowns. Moo’s kept falling down over her eyes, and Past wore his at an angle that made him look like a court jester. I probably looked ridiculous, too, but at least I didn’t have to see myself. Gladys looked gorgeous, of course.
Inside his popper, Past got a toy top with streaks that looked really cool when it was spinning fast. At least, Past thought so. He couldn’t seem to stop.
Gladys laughed. “Now we know what to get you for your birthday.”
“That,” I said, “or a porch pal. He loves those things.”
“Aw,” said Gladys. “That’s sweet.”
Past looked up from his top long enough to smirk at me.
It almost made me change my mind about porch pals.
In her popper, Gladys got one of those metal ring puzzles where there’s some trick to taking them apart that I can never figure out. She took them apart in maybe three seconds. If she hadn’t been Gladys, I would’ve hated her.
I got a small pink plastic comb so Moo insisted on giving me her toy car. I gave the comb to Gladys. She put it in her hair and into the edge of her purple paper crown. She was the only person who could look cool with paper and plastic on her head.
Moo stood up. “Now for the cake!”
“I can’t wait,” said Past nervously, stopping his spinning top.
“Oh, don’t worry, dear, I got everything you’ll love in a cake—all natural, no sugar, and high fiber. Oat cake!” Moo put a flat beige disk on each Buzz Lightyear plate.
Past looked about as excited as I felt. “How are we going to put a candle in this?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” Moo assured him. “We just melt some of the candle wax onto Mike’s and stick the candle in the wax.”
I stared at the congealed blue wax blob with the candle splattering more blue blobs on my birthday oatcake.
“Make a wish!” cried Moo.
“What are you wishing for?” Past asked, like a little kid.
“He can’t tell you,” said Gladys.
I couldn’t tell him because I didn’t know what to wish for. Every year I wished for the Frost to thaw so we could be a family. This year, I didn’t care. I’d dumped him. Outgrown him. Didn’t need him.
“There’s going to be no candle left if you take any longer,” Past prodded. “You must want something.”
What did I want? Misha, of course. I wanted him to have a family. And not just him. I looked at Gladys. I wanted her to have a family. And Past, to have a home and a family. And Moo, to get Poppy back.
Past sighed. “In this millennium, please, Mike.”
I blew out the candle, blobbing more wax on my oatcake, and they cheered.
Gladys took a bite of her oatcake and coughed. “Oh, I see.” She coughed again. “They’re like crackers . . . only—” she coughed again and her voice got tight, “ . . . dryer.”
I started picking the wax off of mine but Past, who was stuffing his in, grabbed my hand. “Hey!” He sputtered dry crumbs out of his mouth. “I’ll eat the wax.”
“I think wax kind of smoothes things out of my lower intestines for me so I can—”
“Stop!” I held my hands up. “TMI!”
Past shrugged and took the oatcake off of my plate, biting into it.
Moo looked at me. “T-M-I?”
“It stands for too much information.”
“Ohhhh.” Moo nodded knowingly. “Too much information and it can’t possibly all stick, can it? I definitely have TMI.”
Past choked on his oatcake, a dry, hacking cough, through which the word “Drink!” came out like a dry heave.
“Oh, yes, I almost forgot!” Moo popped up and took a bottle of dark juice from the counter and put it on the table. “It’s called ack—ack—” She tipped the bottle towards me.
Acai. I’d never seen the word before. “I don’t know how to say it, either.”
Past motioned desperately to his Buzz Lightyear cup and I poured him some.
“It’s very healthy,” Moo said. “I read about it on the internet. And I think Oprah recommended it.”
Past was too busy hacking to hear.
I poured some for the rest of us and we all took a sip at the same time.
The verdict was universal. “Ack!”
“Yup,” Past said, coughing, “it’s acai, but ‘ack’ is a pretty apt name for it.” He pounded his chest with his fist a few times, held out his Buzz Lightyear cup, and said in a raspy voice, “Hit me, again!”
After we’d choked our way through “cake,” Gladys went over to her huge crocheted bag and pulled out a box of Wilbur chocolates, which I’d never heard of but which were awesome. They were called Buds instead of Kisses and tasted better. Even Past enjoyed them, after he scrutinized the list of ingredients, that is. We would’ve eaten the entire box ourselves except that a duck slipper came flying through the pass-through and Moo ran some Buds out to Poppy. The rest of us just shook our heads.
Then we started games night. Outburst. Taboo. Pictionary. It felt like being at Sasha’s house on Fridays when they had family game night, only, somehow, even better. At Sasha’s I always felt like the outsider because, even as nice as they were to me, I wasn’t an actual member of their family. I looked around the table at all of us in our paper crowns with Buzz Lightyear cups and realized that, weird as it was, this was my group, my family. And it felt good.
It didn’t even matter that we played Pictionary and I can’t draw.
“Rock!” Past guessed at my blob-ish drawing.
I shook my head.
“Lake!” he tried again.
“You said that already.”
“I’m clutching at straws here, Mike.”
“No,” Moo said slowly, squinting at my blob, “it’s a trampoline.”
“Yes!” I said, shocked. “How could you tell?”
“Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?”
Past stared at her.
Gladys patted Moo on the back. “You’re really good at this.”
Moo looked so pleased with herself we had to play Pictionary for another hour.
“How about charades?” Past finally said.
“Oh, I love charades!” said Moo. “Let’s move into the living room.”
“I’ll get paper and pencils for writing down the clues,” I said.
“I’ve never played charades,” Gladys said.
We all stopped.
Moo put her arm around Gladys. “Oh, my dear, I’ll explain it to you.”
Past cut Moo’s explanation short when Gladys looked thoroughly confused.
“We’ll do a practice round,” he said, and the game took off.
Moo kept asking Poppy if he’d like to play but he didn’t respond. Big surprise.
When it was my turn, I pulled a slip of paper out of Past’s cupped hands and recognized Moo’s shaky cursive. Cauliflower.
“Moo. It’s supposed to be like a book or a movie. How can I act this out?”
Moo’s face fell and she chewed her cheek. “Oh. I’m sorry.”
Gladys’s eyes flitted from me to Moo and back to me again. “It’s fine, isn’t it Mike?” She gave me the say yes stare.
“Uh, I don’t know how—”
“Aw, come on,” said Past. “Give it a try!”
“Okaaaay.” I stood for a moment, thinking, then puffed out my cheeks and exhaled, as I flopped onto the sofa.
“Fat!” shouted Past. “Couch potato!”
This time Gladys’s eyes flitted from me to Poppy, just one seat away from me, and back to me again. “Poppy?” she asked.
Well, cauliflower. That was a vegetable. She was close. “Sort of.”
“You can’t talk, Mike!” said Past.
“I know!” Moo shouted. “Truck driver!”
We all stared at her. Even Poppy.
Moo’s owl glasses stared right back at us. “Well . . . Gladys said Poppy, and Poppy was a truck driver.”
Past cleared his throat. “OK, but . . . Mike is acting out your clue. You can’t guess if it’s your own clue.”
“Why not?” Moo asked.
He stared at her. “Because you already know the answer.”
“Not necessarily,” said Moo. “I’ve already forgotten my clue. TMI, remember?”
“She’s right,” I said. “It’s not truck driver.”
Moo smiled sweetly. “See?”
Past shook his head. “OK. Go ahead, then, Mike.”
I puffed my cheeks out again and curved my arms around me like I was big and round.
“Large!” said Past. “Big—fat—round!”
I nodded, and scrunched my nose and forehead into wrinkles.
“Creased—lined—wrinkled!” Past cried.
I nodded again and pointed to the white pillow on the couch.
“You can’t use props,” said Past.
“Well, how am I supposed to act out a color?”
“White!” shouted Gladys.
“Right!” I said.
Past rolled his eyes. “OK, we’ve got big, white, round, wrinkled . . . something . . . and it’s sort of like Poppy.”
Gladys looked over at Poppy again. She leaned towards me and whispered. “Is it a . . . vegetable?”
“What did you say, dear?” Moo asked.
I nodded, grinning.
“Cauliflower!” Past yelled triumphantly.
“Yes!” I cried, and high-fived both Past and Gladys.
“Oh, my!” said Moo, “That was very good! How did you guess?”
Past winked. “It was obvious, wasn’t it?”
Finally, when Moo started yawning, Gladys pulled another package out of her bag. “It’s getting late, so let me give you your present, Mike.”
I hadn’t expected any presents. I pulled off the black tissue paper to find a CD of a guy named Gerry Rafferty.
“I hope you don’t mind,” she said. “I got it at the flea market. He’s a vintage Scottish singer. Since you like the Proclaimers and they’re Scottish, too, I thought of you.”
She thought of me. “That’s so cool. Thanks.” I held the CD, practically caressing it.
Moo pulled a pink flowered gift bag from behind the couch. “These I did not get at the flea market,” she said.
The bag contained a variety of boxer shorts. I held them up one by one.
Daffy Duck. “Whoa.”
Tweety Bird. “Wow.”
And, of course, Buzz Lightyear. “Thanks, Moo.”
Past cleared his throat and pulled a brown bottle out of his jacket pocket. “I thought you might want to use these.”
I read the label. “Blue-green algae?”
“Helps you grow. Not that you’re small but, you know, just in case you’re not getting all the best vitamins, it wouldn’t hurt.”
If anyone had told me I’d get a used CD of some artist I’d never heard of, boxer shorts, and blue-green algae for my fourteenth birthday, I would’ve thought it’d be the lamest, most depressing birthday ever. Instead, I have to say it was the absolute best.