Chapter 12: Why Do Fools Fall in Love?

“Hi there.” Donna’s smile is really pretty. “Come on in.”

I feel like Tony is beating on his drums inside my chest. I’m in Donna Wagner’s house! I’m going to tutor Donna Wagner in math!

Her big brother, Dean, smirks as I sit down at their kitchen table and pull out my book. “I didn’t know greasers did algebra,” he says.

I give him a hard stare. “I figure we greasers can do whatever we want. Same as you.” I hope he’ll go away and let Donna and me be alone, but he lingers in the kitchen, eating while we work. Once in a while, he interrupts to ask a question.


“Hey, you’re pretty good at this stuff,” he says when at last we close our math books. I raise an eyebrow, trying to catch the sarcasm, but he actually sounds sincere.

I should be pretty good at it, says that weird, nagging voice at the back of my mind. I aced three semesters of calculus courses back in college.

Calcu-what? I shake my head, trying to clear my mind of crazy talk.

I’m about to head home, but Dean invites me to stay and watch TV, which I do, because it means more time to be near Donna. And besides, Dragnet is on, and that’s a swell show.

Would be even better on a color screen, and with surround sound, says the crazy voice. I keep swatting at it, like it’s a fly, but it keeps coming back again and again. My name is Al Becerra, not Raymond Garrett!


I’m so distracted by Donna’s presence and the crazy voice, that I forget to invite Donna and Dean to Roxanne’s the next night, to hear my band play. It turns out to be a great show, too. Lots of people stop by to listen and dance along. Some people even drop coins in my guitar case. I keep hoping that the door will swing open, and Donna will appear, but she doesn’t. Which is maybe a good thing, because I forgot all about Helen.


Now first off, Helen is not my girlfriend, no matter what she says. Yeah, she’s always hanging around me and the guys. Yeah, she sends me flower-scented love notes at school, which I do not answer back. And yeah, sometimes we go to the movies and hold hands, and even neck a little. But never once did I ask her to be my girl. Never once did I ask her to wear my jacket.


But still, better not to make her jealous. The girl’s a wildcat. There’s no telling what she might do.

All the disappointment I feel for Donna missing the show fades away the next night. I waltz into Roxanne’s, and there she is, blowing flavored bubbles at the bubble counter. Her face lights up when she sees me. “Want to join me?” she asks.

I perch on the stool beside her, feeling kinda stupid as I blow giant orange and cherry-flavored bubbles into the air. But Donna seems to be enjoying herself.


When she grows tired, of bubble-blowing, I treat her to a Coke, then put my last nickel in the jukebox.

“Oh, I love this song!” Donna claps her hands together as Why Do Fools Fall in Love begins to play.

I swallow. “So uh…do you want to dance?”

“Okay, sure,” she says. Then before I know it, we’re dancing. Not very well, but Donna doesn’t seem to care. We just shimmy and sway and hop, singing along with the jukebox, having a grand ol’ time.


Too soon, the music fades away. “Sorry,” I say. “I’m out of money.”

“That’s okay.” We just stand there for a moment, staring at each other. Her eyes are a warm golden brown, like maple syrup. Kiss her, dummy! The crazy voice nags.


I almost do, too. But then, a different, shriller voice cuts into my thoughts. “What is she doing with you?”


Oh no. Helen is here. She glowers at Donna, her hands balled into tight fists. “Get away from my boyfriend!” she shrieks.

“I’m not—” I start to say. But Helen draws back her hand and strikes Donna across the face. Donna gasps and clutches her cheek, which turns bright red.


“Helen, no!” I cry, but Helen ignores me. She attacks Donna, who fights back. Other kids come running to watch the whirlwind of nails, hair, and pummeling fists, until at last, a man pries the two girls apart.


“You young ladies should be ashamed of yourselves,” he scolds. “I have a good mind to call both of your mothers. And you.” He whirls around to frown at me. “You’d best beat it, kid.”

It wasn’t my fault, I want to say, but the guy is pointing toward the door, and I can tell he means business. I shove out into the cold, not daring to look back at Donna. She must hate me right now. I make it about a block away from Roxanne’s when I hear her voice calling out behind me. Only, she’s not calling my name.

“Al!” she says. “Al, wait!”


Al? I turn around, curious to see who this Al kid is. Then I stop. I can’t believe my eyes.



11: The Principal’s Office

It can’t be true, I tell myself as I rush to the bathroom. But one glance in the mirror confirms that it is true. I, Al Becerra, am now trapped inside the body of a sixteen-year-old kid. A guitar-playing, leather-wearing, greasy-haired punk of a teenage kid, named Raymond.


How long have I been here? My head is spinning as I wander into the living room, where Ma – I mean, Mrs. Garrett, is seated on the sofa. Raymond’s life and memories are a vivid swirl of color and sound in my mind, while memories of my own life are as faded as the ancient, black-and-white television Mrs. Garrett is watching. I was old once. An elderly man, playing chess in a retirement home. I was married before that, and had kids of my own, who were all grown up. But that all feels like it had happened centuries ago. Was it even real?


“Aren’t you up rather late, darling?” Raymond’s mother twists around to look at me.

“I-I was just practicing,” I hold up my guitar, which I’m still clutching. “For the big show this Friday night.”

“Okay, well, I hope you got your homework done.” Ma – Raymond’s Ma, I correct myself – gives me a little smile, then turns back to the TV. It occurs to me how tired I am. I can’t shake the feeling that I’m forgetting something. Something important. But for now, I head to my room – Raymond’s room, crawl into the messy bed, and go to sleep.

When I wake the next morning, my little wind-up alarm clock shows that it’s already eight o’clock. “Shoot!” I leap out of bed and pull on the same rumpled clothes I’d left in a heap the night before. Ma has already left for work, and I hadn’t set my alarm clock. Maybe that’s the important thing I’d been forgetting.


The school bus is long gone, so I half-walk, half-run to school, arriving just as the last bell is ringing. My sneakers squeak against the polished floors as I race through the hallway, then slip into my first-period math class. Mr. Hanks is writing a math problem on the blackboard and doesn’t even turn around as I sink into one of the back seats.

“You’re late,” Eddie Yarrow is smirking next to me.

“Aw, shut yer yap,” I whisper back, then pull out a pencil and paper.

Just as I’m beginning to relax, a nasally, female voice comes through the crackly loudspeaker. “Raymond Garrett, please report to the principal’s office.” Raymond Garrett – that’s me! My face burns as everyone, including Mr. Hanks, turns around to look at me, mouths forming surprised Os. The principal’s office?

I rack my brain as I walk toward the office, trying to think of something awful I’d done, but the only thing I could think of was being late for school today. Mostly, I’m a keep-your-nose-clean kind of guy, you see? People only think I’m a troublemaker on account of my clothes and hair. Which is kind of dumb, when you think about it.

The secretary waves me into Principal O’Reilly’s office, which is full of uncomfortable furniture and about a million books. As I take a seat on a hard wooden chair, I let out a sneeze. Probably on account of the dust on all those books.

The first thing Principal O’Reilly says is, “No need to worry, young man. You’re not in trouble.” I don’t even notice I’m holding my breath until he says that, then I let it out in a rush. It turns out that the principal heard of my outstanding scores in math.


“Of course I have outstanding scores,” I blurt out. “I used to be a video game developer.”

I wince the moment I say it. Why did I say that? And what the blazes was a video game developer? Principal O’Reilly leans forward, squinting at me, maybe trying to figure out if I should be locked up the loony bin. And maybe I should be locked up, because all of a sudden, my minds starts flashing with images of colorful, cartoon-like creatures on a screen like a TV. Exploding spaceships. Scaly monsters. Hulking soldiers shooting at each other with enormous guns. Video games, says an impatient voice in my mind.

I’m only half aware that Principal O’Reilly has started talking again. I blink away the crazy thoughts that don’t make any sense, and try to focus on what he’s telling me.

“Sir…are you saying that you want me to tutor this other student? In math?” I ask.

“Yes. Here is the address. She will be expecting you starting today after school.”

I want to say, “Are you sure about this? You know, most kids don’t think too fondly of us greasers.” But instead, I just take the slip of paper and shove it into my jeans pocket.

After school, I hang out with the gang at Roxanne’s for a little while, goofing around and planning our upcoming gig. Then I remember the tutoring job and hightail it outta there. As I follow the address on the slip of paper, I realize that I didn’t hear Principal O’Reilly say the name of the student I’d be helping with math. Only that it was a she.


I ring the doorbell at the girl’s house, then yank my comb from my back pocket and smooth it through my hair. Maybe whoever it was would look down her nose at me, anyway, but at least I could look presentable. Then the door swings open, and there she is. The girl I’ve been assigned to tutor. The prettiest girl in town. Donna Wagner.



Chapter 10: Greasers, A Gig, and a Girl

Today, I’m over the moon.


Go ahead, ask me why. Because me and the gang get to play our very first gig, that’s why! Ain’t that a kick?

Yesterday after school, the boys and me met up at Roxanne’s. That’s the usual hangout, on account of their Cokes are never flat, and their jukebox has a bunch of the good songs, like stuff by The Platters and Frankie Lymon. None of that boring junk my mother and her friends play at their Tupperware parties.


“You’ll never guess what!” said my friend, Spots. (His name is really Mitchell, but we all call him Spots on account of his face looks like somebody spilled a bowl of freckles on it).


“Your brother Hector let you drive his car,” said Tony.

Spots guffawed. “No, dummy. Even better. I got us a gig! Right here at Roxanne’s, next Tuesday.”

I gaped at him. “No joking?”

He held up two fingers. “Scout’s honor.”

Hector snorted. “Get a load of Boy Scout Spots.”

I grinned. At last! Our band, The Goobers, had been practicing in my garage for nearly two years. And now, we were getting a chance to play for our first live audience.


That wasn’t the only good thing that happened. As I swaggered over to the counter to order me a Coke, she was standing there. Donna Wagner. The prettiest girl in school. No, the prettiest girl in town. I thought about saying Hi, I’m Raymond Garrett. I sit behind you in Mrs. Hicks’ English class. But just thinking about it made my hands start shaking so bad, I almost dropped my Coke, and gee, wouldn’t that have been embarrassing?


So that’s why I’m over the moon. A real, live gig, and a Donna Wagner spotting. Our band is pretty good, you know. Especially me on my guitar. I mean, I ain’t no Elvis or nothin’ – I don’t have any illusions like that. But I’m not half bad. And now everybody else in Hillview will get a chance to hear us play. Who knows? Maybe a talent scout will be hiding in the audience, just waiting to hand us a record deal. Boy oh boy!

While I’m still thinking about all of this and smiling like an idiot, I head into the garage where our band equipment is still set up.

Then I freeze.


It’s like a big whiff of wind comes along and blows the clouds away from the sun. I am not Raymond Garrett.

This is not my life.