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Gidget, Automotive Superstar

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"Honestly, Larue," Gidget said, sitting on her beach towel next to her best friend, "you can't do anything these days without a car!"

"You can stay home," Larue said.

Gidget rolled her eyes. "That's not what I mean and you know it. I'm tired of bumming rides to the beach, aren't you?"

"Even if I were, we're not sixteen yet," Larue said. "A car wouldn't do us any good until we're old enough to drive it."

"I'm almost sixteen," Gidget said. "In a few weeks, I will be!" Technically, she was looking at the surfers out shooting the curl, but her thoughts were miles away. She sighed. "Though I guess it doesn't matter. It'll take us a hundred years to save up for a car."

Larue looked thoughtful. "Well...if you really want to buy one..."

Gidget caught her breath. Larue only hesitated like that when there were beans yet to be spilled. "You know someone who's selling?"

"Well, my cousin Sandra's getting ready to sell her old station wagon," Larue said.

Now that was interesting news. "Yeah? What's it like?"

"Oh, you know. Station wagon-y. Wood panels along the sides and in back," Larue said. "I think it's a Plymouth."

"A station wagon," Gidget said thoughtfully. There'd be plenty of room for her surfboard in the back, which was a must. Her own car--imagine! She could go to the beach or the record store or anywhere whenever she felt like it. "And it's okay to drive?"

"Mostly," Larue said.

Gidget could feel herself deflate. "Mostly? How do you mostly drive something?"

"Sandra's husband is a mechanic," Larue said. "Whenever something breaks, he knows how to fix it."

"Does it break a lot?" Gidget asked.

Larue considered the question. "I don't think so. She says he only has to work on it a few times a year."

Gidget groaned, throwing herself back on her towel. "Larue, I can't afford a car that needs to be fixed a few times a year! I probably can't afford a car at all."

"She might give you a discount," Larue said, "since you're my friend and all."

"That doesn't help me if I have to pay to get it fixed all the time," Gidget said. She sat up, struck with a sudden idea. "Unless."

"Unless?" Larue asked.

"Unless I were a mechanic," Gidget said. She could see herself now, in a pair of coveralls, getting on one of those wheeled dollies to roll under the car and take a look at it. "I could sign up for shop class."

"Shop class?" Larue said. "They only let boys take that."

"Boys and me," Gidget said, with a decisive nod. She looked at Larue. "If I show them I'm willing to work hard, why wouldn't they let me take it?"

"I don't know," Larue said, with that tone in her voice that meant she did know but didn't want to say.

Gidget knew there would be obstacles, but she knew she had what it took to prove herself to that crummy old shop teacher.

"And think of all the money I'll be able to save Dad when I can fix his car for him!" Gidget could see his proud, smiling face now. "You talk to your cousin, Larue, and I'll try to scrape together some money." After all, it would be her birthday soon.

***

"I don't know how I feel about you having your own car," her father said.

Gidget couldn't hide her dismay. "I thought you'd like not having to drive me around."

"Most of the time, I don't mind driving you around," her father said. "I'm concerned that Larue's cousin's car--did I get that right?"

Gidget nodded.

"--that if Larue's cousin's car isn't reliable, it might not be safe for you to drive," her father said.

"That's why I have to take shop class," Gidget said patiently. "I can keep a tool box in the back of the car, and if it breaks down, I can jump out and fix it."

Her father smiled. "You have your heart set on this, don't you?"

"I really do," Gidget said, hoping he could see how serious she was.

"All right," her father said with a nod. "I'm willing to try it, if you're willing to promise me that the minute it becomes dangerous to drive that car, you'll stop."

"I wouldn't do anything that was dangerous," Gidget said indignantly. "Of course I promise."

Her father shook his head. "When your sister finds out about this, I'm sure the first thing she'll ask is why she didn't get to have a car of her own."

Gidget shrugged. "She wasn't as enterprising as I am, that's all."

Her father chuckled. "That's very true." He opened his newspaper.

Now all Gidget had to do was scrape together the money to buy the car, and learn everything she could about cars in the meantime.

***

"This is auto shop," Mr. Walters said, with a world-weary air. "Girls don't take auto shop."

"I do," Gidget said. "Just test me, Mr. Walters. I've spent all weekend studying engine diagrams!" She'd alternated between quizzing herself and having Larue do it.

Mr. Walters gestured for her to follow him to a table, where an engine assembly was sitting. "All right. This engine is from a 1951 Chevy. What's this?" He pointed to a metallic disc.

Gidget closed her eyes so she could picture the engine diagram.

Mr. Walters sighed heavily. "Miss Lawrence, I don't have time for--"

"It's the balancer," Gidget said, opening her eyes. "The belt goes from there around the pulley over to the pump."

Mr. Walters looked surprised. "And this?" He gestured to what looked like the metal undercarriage of the engine.

"Oil pan," Gidget said promptly.

"And this?" Mr. Walters pointed to a dome atop the engine.

"Cover, element, air cleaner," Gidget said, pointing to each item in turn as she named it.

"Knowing the name of everything is a good start," Mr. Walters said, looking grudgingly impressed, "but it doesn't tell you how all the pieces fit together."

"Oh, I know!" Gidget said eagerly. "That's why I'm here."

Mr. Walters seemed to have run out of reasons why she shouldn't be here. "Get your coveralls on and find someone to work with. He'll tell you what he's doing."

After she got her coveralls on, Gidget had a good look around the room. She'd have to choose a working partner carefully. She could see Larry from her math class smirking at her, and he was just the kind of guy who'd give her all the wrong information and claim innocence when she failed the class. She couldn't have anyone like that. She'd have to pick someone who didn't care if she was here or not, someone more interested in the cars than in her.

There. Mark Johnson was working on something small and fiddly. He had a reputation for being very serious and not very social. Right now, that was exactly what Gidget needed.

"Hi, Mark," Gidget said, crossing to him. "What are you working on?"

"I'm fixing a speedometer," Mark said, glancing at her. "What are you working on?"

"Nothing yet," Gidget said. "Would it be all right if I helped you?"

Mark looked at her for a moment. "I guess so. How familiar are you with these?"

"Not very," Gidget said. "But I'd like to understand. Will you tell me what you're doing so I can follow along?"

"Of course," Mark said, looking pleased to have been asked. "But you'll need to be closer so you can see."

Gidget moved closer. "All right."

"So," Mark said, "here's the problem..."

***

"How was school today?" Gidget's father asked over dinner.

Gidget shrugged, twirling her spaghetti around her fork. "Fine. History test, math quiz, and I learned how to figure out what was wrong with a broken speedometer."

"All in one day?" her father asked. "That's pretty impressive."

"I latched onto the best explainer in class," Gidget said. "I think every girl would take shop if she found out how interesting it is!"

"Well, I'm glad you're enjoying yourself," her father said. "Oh, that reminds me." He took an envelope out of his pocket and slid it across the table to Gidget.

Gidget opened the envelope to find forty dollars. She looked at her father, surprised. "What's this?"

"My contribution to your car fund," her father said. "I know how badly you want it. Maybe this will help."

Gidget leapt up, hurrying to her father and throwing her arms around him. "Thank you!"

Her father laughed and hugged her back. "I think it's good to be working for something; it really makes you feel what that thing is worth."

"No kidding," Gidget agreed. "It's almost like surfing. You don't get it right away, but if you keep trying, you get there in the end."

Her father smiled. "I'm very proud of you, Francie."

Gidget beamed. "Thanks!" She walked back to her seat at the table. "Who knows--maybe in a couple weeks, I'll be able to change your oil for you."

"Maybe not in a couple weeks," her father said, "but once you've had more practice, I wouldn't mind you doing that."

"Great!" Gidget said, twirling another forkful of spaghetti. Dinner had never seemed so satisfying, maybe because life had never seemed so satisfying. It felt like everything she wanted was falling into place.

***

The day was finally here. Today, Gidget was going to go to Larue's cousin Sandra's house and pick up her car.

"I'm so excited," Gidget said to Larue.

"I know," Larue said.

Gidget stopped pacing. "How?"

Larue gestured to Gidget's hands. "You hardly have any fingernails left."

Gidget looked down at her hands. Apparently she'd been biting her nails without noticing. But it was worth it. Today was just that exciting.

Gidget's father drove her and Larue to Sandra's house. The Plymouth was out in front of the house already, and Gidget gasped at the sight of it.

"Isn't it beautiful?" she asked.

"I have to admit, that is a nice looking wagon," her father said.

"Oh, Larue," Gidget said, already imagining their first drive to the beach, "can't you just see it? Gliding along the coast with the ocean breeze in our hair?"

"Yeah," Larue said dreamily. "It'll be almost as good as riding a horse!"

Gidget knew how much Larue loved horses, so anything that Larue compared to horses had to be terrific.

Gidget's father had barely parked the car when Gidget was already out of the car and looking at her beautiful, gorgeous station wagon.

Sandra, who was tall and red-haired, was smiling as she came out the front door. "You must be Gidget."

"Does it show?" Gidget said distractedly. "I mean, yes, I am."

"I've heard a lot about you," Sandra said. "Don'll be out in a second to show you some things to be aware of."

Gidget handed Sandra an envelope with the money she'd saved to pay for the car. Then she took a little notebook out of her pocket and waggled it in the air. "I brought this in case I need to take notes."

"She's been looking forward to this ever since I told her you were selling," Larue added.

"I'm glad," Sandra said. "This has been such a good car for us. I wanted to be sure to sell it to someone who'd love it just as much."

"Oh, I do," Gidget said, touching a wooden panel reverently.

"I see you're making friends," Don said with a grin as he approached. He was a stocky man with what looked like a permanent cowlick. Gidget liked him immediately.

"Does the wood need much upkeep?" Gidget asked.

Don nodded. "Yeah, you have to keep it clean and polished. If you let it go too long, it'll rot."

"Oh, I'd never let that happen," Gidget said, shaking her head. She took out her notebook and pencil. "What polish do you use?"

On the sidelines, Larue, Gidget's father, and Sandra chatted while Don took Gidget through the ins and outs of the 1941 Plymouth Special Deluxe.

"The good thing is, they made a lot of these, so even though it's twentysome years old, it's easy to get replacement parts," Don said.

"Oh, that's good," Gidget said. "Let's see...so if this is a 1941, it's a straight-six?"

Don looked surprised. "You're right. It is."

"I've worked on a couple in auto shop," Gidget said, opening the hood to look at the engine. "None of them looked as good as this! Though I guess of course we only see things when they're broken."

"I've tried to keep it in good working order," Don said. "Sounds like you know quite a bit about cars, but if there are any repairs you want to do and you need help or a second set of eyes, you can bring it back here."

"Thanks!" Gidget said. She hoped that wouldn't be necessary, but if she had to do something complicated, it could be very helpful having a mechanic as backup.

"Oh, one more thing," Don said. "It doesn't go much above 45, so I wouldn't take it on the highway or anything."

"I don't care about it going fast," Gidget said. "I'm really only interested in taking it places."

"Well, as far as that's concerned, you should be all set," Don said, handing her the keys. "It's all yours."

"Thank you," Gidget said, looking at the keys reverently. Her very own keys, to her very own car! It was too much, in a good way. She and Don joined the others, and she jingled the keys.

"I can't believe it," Gidget's father said. "My daughter, the car owner. Did you remember your license?"

"Of course," Gidget said. How ridiculous did he think she was? She'd been planning this day for weeks. "Larue? Wanna go for a ride?"

"Boy, do I!" Larue said, excited.

Gidget's father chuckled. "You girls stopping anywhere, or coming straight home?"

"Straight home, I think," Gidget said. "There'll be lots of time to go places." She opened her door and slid in, and Larue slid in on the other side.

Gidget took a minute to just look around the interior of the car and drink it all in. This was her split front window, and her front seat, and her white steering wheel, and her speed and temperature gages.

"So we're going to your place first. But where should we go after that?" Larue asked.

Gidget couldn't help it; she laughed for sheer joy.

"Anywhere we want," she said, as she started the car.