“Lupe!” Nube shrieks gleefully when I walk through the door of our apartment, like he hasn’t seen me for weeks even though I walked him to the bus stop this morning. He’s the best part of coming home.
“Guess what?” His eyes sparkle when he gets excited.
“What?” His enthusiasm is so contagious I can’t help feeling just a little excited too.
“Starting Monday I get homework every day, well, not on the weekend, but Monday through Thursday. And Ms. Jackson says we’ll also have big projects to do this year, and not just collecting things to show like in second grade, but real research and stuff like that!”
Rico emerges from the big, comfy chair in the living room to express his opinion: “You dork, why are you so happy to get homework, and why would anyone ever want to do research?”
Nube ponders the question as if it were asked with genuine interest on Rico’s part.
“Leave him alone, Rico, just because you don’t like school doesn’t mean that nobody else can like it,” I defend Nube, which is the pattern with the three of us: Nube says or does something that Rico puts down or makes fun of, and then I tell Rico to put a lid on it and mind his own business.
“’Cause I want to learn a lot and be real smart like Lupe,” Nube says.
Rico makes his voice sound high and mocking, “’Cause I want to be real smart like Lupe!”
“Really smart,” I correct him.
“Okay, we know, we know—you’re really, really smart!”
“No, I mean it’s not ‘real smart’—it’s ‘really smart’ because ‘really’ is an adverb and…”
“Like I care about adverbs! How are adverbs going to help me? Can I make money with adverbs? Can I eat them? Will they make me stronger or make me happy?” Rico grabs his backpack off the floor and heads toward the door.
“Are you going to be home for dinner?” I ask before he can leave, knowing I won’t have to make as much if Rico isn’t eating.
“What are you—my mother?” Rico snaps.
We’re all quiet. Then Rico’s shoulders droop and he looks at his feet.
“I’ll be back in a couple of hours. If you all get hungry, go ahead and eat,” he says sheepishly, but then adds hopefully, “But could you save me something?”
“Sure,” I answer, knowing he was never really angry—that’s just how he is.
He closes the door and Nube looks at me with his big, round eyes. I smile and ask him what he thinks we should have for dinner.
He grins and says, “How about…adverbs?”