I Find a Weird Guy on My Sofa
My name is Veronica Moffet. I just finished the seventh grade at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, and it turns out I am a being from another dimension.
Now don’t freak out. I don’t have two heads or tentacles for arms or anything like that. I’m just your typical, boring-looking girl who also happens to be an inter-dimensional being. I haven’t known about this other dimension thing for all that long because, up until recently, my parents were doing a great job of feeding me a continuous stream of lies. But about two months ago, I finally found out.
It was on a monumentally hot June 6th, the last day of seventh grade, the last day I was best friends with that back-stabbing Samantha Edwards, and almost the last day of my life.
The weird thing is, the day had started out great. I got straight A’s in all my classes, scored five points in volleyball, and Conner Sullivan, my major crush, actually looked at me.
So when I heard the beautiful clanging of the final school bell, I rushed out into the hall, anxious to see Samantha and start planning our summer fun. And that’s when my day totally tanked.
See, Samantha knows all about my thing for Conner Sullivan. The problem is that she is this ridiculously gorgeous blonde girl, and I am commonly described as ‘funny’, ‘smart’, and ‘a good talker’, but never any words resembling beautiful, lovely, or even pretty.
My mom is a tall, striking cover girl model type, but for reasons beyond scientific explanation, her genes have almost completely ignored me. I have her caramel skin and wavy black hair, but I’m kind of on the short side, and my arms and legs don’t always do what I want them to do, and my teeth are too big and my nose is too long, and my eyes are too small and, well you get the idea. Plus, my overall social bravery level is slightly below scared rabbit, so asking me to walk up to a guy like Connor and actually talk to him is like asking me to fly without even a running start.
Anyway, Conner barely looks at me, but he has definitely noticed Samantha. And so, on this last minute of the last day of school, I see them standing together by the doorway to the cafeteria and, here we go, holding hands! With each other! Can you believe this?
Well, I couldn’t. When I saw them, it was like someone had stuck a crank into my belly and started twisting my guts around. I stood there with my feet strapped to the ground, gaping at them the same way my dad stares at automobile accidents. I wanted to turn away from the horror, but I just couldn’t. My face felt hot and sweat poured down my forehead. Then I opened up my mouth and screamed like a freight train.
Not only was it was amazingly loud, but it also included a word directed at Samantha that strongly suggested she was a female member of the canine species.
Now, I shouldn’t have said that word. Not because it was a nasty, impulsive thing to say, but because I was standing in front of our principal, Mrs. Glandine, when I said it.
“Veronica Moffet.” She said my name slowly, as if pronouncing it for someone who didn’t speak English.
I turned around gradually, cursing myself for not taking the time to look around before I sounded off on Samantha. “Yes, Mrs. Glandine?” I said in my very sweetest voice.
“Did you just say what I thought you said?”
To me, this sounded very much like a trick question because it seemed to present the opportunity for me to say, “Why no Mrs. Glandine, I didn’t. Your ears must be playing tricks on you.” And then she would say, “Oh, okay. Well, I guess there’s nothing wrong here. Go about your business.” But I knew better. Still, I thought that outright admitting to it would be bad, so I said, “Possibly.”
“More likely, ‘yes ma’am’ would be the correct response here Veronica.”
“Yes ma’am.” At this point, I could feel that my face was beet red from embarrassment. It seemed as if the whole school was gawking at me, but especially Samantha and Conner.
Then Mrs. Glandine started in on Lecture Number Thirty-Seven about how we should respect our fellow students and how that type of language is unacceptable anyplace, but especially at school, and so on. When she finished, she said, “I suppose you believe there won’t be any consequences to your use of vulgar language as this is the last day of school.”
Actually, I hadn’t thought of that, but now that she had mentioned it, I kind of liked that fact. I was about to respond when she continued, “Well you would be wrong. First, you need to go over to Ms. Edwards and apologize.” She pointed one of her ancient fingers at Samantha, who, instead of smirking, which is what I would have done, had a pouty look on her face.
“And then,” Mrs. Glandine continued, “I will personally make sure that your homeroom teacher for next year knows that you have to turn in an extra summer book report.”
So there it was. My punishment for calling Samantha a name she rightly deserved. But the real punishment was that the whole school (yes, I’m quite certain the whole school was there by then) was laughing at me. They covered their little mouths in pretend shock and leaned over and whispered to their friends as I trudged over to Samantha.
By the time I got there, she still had that pout, and Conner looked like he was biting his tongue to keep from laughing at me. I wished I could lift up the linoleum floor and hide underneath it. “I’m sorry I insulted you Samantha,” I lied.
“Sorry,” she echoed back to me. Then I turned and shuffled over to my locker, trying not to think about how much of an idiot everyone thought I was. I took out my backpack and started the long march home.
Normally, the walk home isn’t too bad. It’s only a little more than a mile and I usually walk it with Samantha, so the conversation along the way helps the time pass quickly.
That day there was no Samantha, and even though it was only early June, it seemed the brutal summer heat had already kicked in. Sweat careened down my body as I trudged my way out of the school parking lot.
Walking home alone in the oppressive heat helped me to get into serious feeling-sorry-for-myself mode. See, the walk home from school takes me down tree-lined streets filled with new mini-mansions, each one more splendid than the next. I live in Dallas, in an older neighborhood that is just filled with these beautiful new mansions, piled all on top of each other. They’re new houses built on old lots once occupied by tiny little boxes. Tiny little boxes like the one that I still live in.
It seems like everyone else in our neighborhood tore down the original houses and put up buildings that look like cleaned- up versions of medieval castles. But my parents left our little carton just the way it is. Number one, because they claim they didn’t have the money to change it, and number two because they pretend to actually like it.
Now, as I stomped forward, these shiny mini-castles towered over me, making me feel even smaller and less significant. Inside each one of those houses were perfect people with perfect lives, planning perfect summers that would take them to places that I wasn’t even allowed to dream about. They were going to Hawaii, Helsinki or Hong Kong, and the best I could hope for was Houston.
I turned onto my street and with each step forward my feet got heavier and the elation I should have felt on the last day of school was crushed under the blow that my very best friend, who was one of those perfect people, had no more respect for me than any of the other little princesses who strode the halls of my school.
Two houses away from mine was Samantha Edward’s home. It looked like a scale model of Windsor Castle and the earth itself seemed to groan beneath its enormous weight. My eyes welled up as I trudged past it, but I swallowed hard and bit my lip to hold back the tears.
I wanted to get away. I had never wanted to get away so badly in my life, but now my very existence seemed to depend on it.
As I slogged up to my house, I decided this summer I definitely had to do something different. I didn’t know what it was yet, but I was going to jolt my boring old parents into going on a vacation that was imaginative and fun, even if I had to fork over every dime of my babysitting money toward the cause.
I was buried in thoughts about getting away as I unlocked my front door and stepped into my house. Halfway through the entryway, I heard a voice coming from the living room.
“Hello?” it said. It was a man’s voice, a strange man with a thick accent. I turned and looked in the living room, and there he was sitting on the sofa. He truly was a strange man. He lounged on the sofa with his long legs stretched out in front of him. He was tall and lean, with thick, black waves of hair cascading down to his shoulders. His skin, like mine, was a rich caramel color, and he was clean-shaven except for a Fu-Manchu style mustache that drooped past his chin.
Although his face seemed normal enough with its sharp, hooked nose and deep-set, black eyes, his clothes were peculiar. They were various shades of a shiny brown material, right down to his long overcoat, which seemed especially weird in Dallas in June. His head was covered in a big-brimmed, floppy hat and he wore black boots that came up almost to his knees. The boots were covered in a wrinkly animal hide I had never seen before, and next to his feet was a large backpack made of the same strange substance.
I glanced around the room, looking for my mother. “Mom?” I said. I thought I shouted, but it came out a hoarse whisper.
The man smiled at me with big white teeth. “Your mother and father are not here,” he spoke slowly, struggling to find the right words.
I noticed he was holding a framed picture in his hand. It was the one of my mom and dad and me at Galveston Beach last spring. He gazed down at it, studying it intently.
Now I know all about stranger danger, but I had expected to have this issue in a mall or parking lot, not in my own house. I attempted to look calm, even though I could feel sweat pouring down my back. I thought about running, about opening up the door and screaming my head off. But, I figured he must be okay if Mom had let him into the house. Plus, the really weird thing was, even though I had never met this guy before, he looked sort of familiar to me. I just couldn’t remember from what.
I went to put my backpack on the table in the entryway, but I was staring so intently at the guy that I missed the table and my books scattered across the floor.
He leaped up to assist me. “Here let me help you with that,” he said, bending down to pick up some books.
“No, no, it’s – it’s okay,” I said, trying to wave him off with one hand while gathering books with the other. He knelt down next to me, and I immediately scooted further away.
After I had collected the books and crammed them back into my backpack, we both stood up and the man said, “Oh, I am sorry. I am being so rude. Here I am in your house, and you do not know my name.” He stretched out his lengthy arm and thrust it in my face. Was it my imagination or did the inside of his coat glow green? “Dolches,” he said, “Dolches Carl at your service.”
The name hit me like a kick to the head. See, my dad writes these graphic novels that hardly anyone reads. He does the words and my mom, who is an awesome artist, draws the pictures. Dolches Carl is the main character. But that guy is a teenager, not a full-grown adult.
I stared blankly at his hand, and then slowly raised my eyes. That was why he looked so familiar, because I had seen so many illustrations of him that my mom had made for my dad’s books. I swallowed hard. “Dolches Carl?” I said softly.
“Yes,” he said letting his hand flop back down to his side.
“So did my dad hire you or something?”
“Yes, my father. Did he hire you to be at a book signing?” I was guessing the guy was an actor my dad was using to add some entertainment to his book promotions.
He tilted his head. “What are you talking about?”
I looked him up and down again. “So you’re not an actor?”
“No, I am Dolches Carl, and you, you are Galvin and Claire’s daughter, yes? I can see both of them in your face.”
I backed up a little, waving my hands in front of me. “No, see you can’t be Dolches Carl, because Dolches Carl is not real.”
He smiled and grabbed his left arm. “I feel real to me.” Then he held out his arm to me. “Here, see for yourself.”
“You’re fictional! You’re a character in a book!”
“Why would you say that?”
I turned and stormed into my dad’s office on the other side of the hall. I rummaged through a few piles of books and came up with his newest one, “Dolches Carl and the Kingdom of Sand.” The front cover had a picture of a teenage boy battling a huge monster with a green, glowing sword. The boy looked exactly like a younger version of the man who stood in front of me now. I jammed the book toward him.
His eyes got big, and the white teeth smiled broadly. “Very clever,” he said tapping his finger on the book’s cover, “and an excellent likeness of a tusker.” He looked back up at me. “Who drew this?”
“Of course,” he said with a soft smile. “A woman of many talents.”
“What is going on here? Who are you?”
“I have told you that already. I am Dolches Carl and this is me when I was young. Not bad, although I believe I had more muscles. I look a little skinny here, yes?” He held the book in front of me.
I suddenly felt a bit woozy, and scanned the room for a chair. The guy noticed and he moved one of the stuffed side chairs closer to me. I flopped into it.
“So you know my name, but I do not know yours,” he said.
“Veronica Moffet,” I said, staring at the floor.
“Veronica? What an interesting choice.”
I moved forward in my seat a little. “What do you mean?”
“Nothing, it’s just that. Well, it is a pretty name.”
I moved further forward. “And it’s interesting why? Because I’m not pretty?”
His eyes got wide and he held up his hands as if surrendering. “No, no, I did not mean it like that. It is just that the name, well it’s that the name…”
“Look, you are quite pretty, and I like the name. All right? Can we just leave it at that?”
“Okay, fine.” I said flopping back into the chair. “But can you please explain how in the world you can possibly be the real Dolches Carl?”
“That is not easy to explain.”
I was about to say “Duh” when I heard the grind of the garage door opener. That meant Mom was home. I sprang out of the chair and ran for the back door.
“Where are you going?” the guy called after me. But I ignored him as I slid through the kitchen to the back door and opened it just as my mom was stepping out of her car. For some reason, my dad was there with her, although I thought he was supposed to be out of town for a book signing.
“Hi guys,” I said, taking a small grocery bag out of my mom’s hands. “Who’s the weirdo in the living room?”
My mom looked startled, “What?”
“Yeah, you know, the guy who claims to be Dolches Carl.”
My mom dropped the groceries on garage floor. “What did you say?”
“I said some guy who looks just like Dolches Carl is in the living room. You guys knew that, right?”
My mom’s eyes were practically bulging out of her head and my dad was stammering like a car that won’t start. “B-b-but that’s not possible!” he said.
“That’s what I said, but he insists that’s who he is.”
My dad made the high-pitched, giggly sound he always makes when he’s nervous. It’s pretty funny, not just because of the sound, but because his nose twitches when he does it. My dad’s nose got busted a long time ago, before I was born, so it’s crooked. When it twitches, it looks like it’s spinning round and round in the middle of his face.
“So what’s the deal?” I said. “Is he some sort of lame actor you hired for book signings who doesn’t want to break out of his role or something?”
At that comment, my dad stopped twitching and started breathing again. “Yes, yes that’s probably what’s going on. He’s probably just someone my publisher hired without telling me.” My mom glanced down at the sea of groceries scattered across the floor. An orange was rolling toward the open garage door, eager to make its escape. “Oh, look at this jumble. Would you be a dear and help us get it cleaned up and put the groceries away?”
I gazed down at the mess. As usual, my parents were lining me up to do the stuff they didn’t want to do. “Um, I guess so,” I said slowly.
“That’s a love,” my mom said patting me on the head like a dog. “Now, we’ll go see what’s going on with this ‘Dolches Carl’ character.” Then she and my dad strode past me toward the living room.
By the time I finished cleaning up and putting away the groceries, my mom and dad and the weird guy were sitting in the living room quietly. When I walked in, my mom immediately stood up and grinned at me.
“I’m afraid this got a bit mixed up dear,” she moved over to the guy and put her hand on his shoulder. “This is an old friend of ours. His name is Orlando Perez. Your dad and I knew him before you were born. He’s actually the model I used for my Dolches drawings.”
“Nice to meet you Veronica,” the man held out his hand to me again, only this time I shook it, “and I am sorry about the confusion. I was just trying to explain that I was the role model for the Dolches Carl character in your father’s books.”
“Oh, okay,” I said, but the facts still felt squishy. I was sure the guy had told me his name before I showed him the book. And he seemed to have no idea my dad’s books even existed.
Friend or no friend, I was anxious to get him out of our house so I could talk Mom and Dad into some big summer plans. I turned and looked toward him. “So I guess you’ll be leaving now?”
“No,” my mom said, “Orlando will be staying here tonight.”
“He will? Why?”
“Well, he lives out of town, and of course we can’t make him stay at a hotel. So he’ll be using the fold-out sofa in Dad’s office.” Then she gently put her hand on my back and shoved me toward the hallway. “Now if you’ll excuse us, Veronica, we have some catching up to do. You know, boring grown-up stuff. I’m sure you wouldn’t be interested. Why don’t you just go to your room and get started on your homework?”
“Um, because today was the last day of school and I don’t have any homework?” I tried my best to not sound snotty, I really did.
My mom raised her head. “Oh of course, what was I thinking? Well, why don’t you go to your room and read a book, or maybe you could text Samantha and see what she’s up to?”
I felt that crank in my stomach turn again. “Samantha and I are no longer friends,” I said.
“Oh well, that’s a shame,” she said, pushing me a little harder. “Now go on back to your room. I’ll call you when dinner is ready.”
My jaw hung like a noose. ‘Oh well, that’s a shame?’ Did I just hear her say that? Not ‘I’m so sorry dear, you and Samantha have been best friends since kindergarten, what could have possibly happened?’ or ‘Oh no, come sit down next to me and tell me all about it.’ It was so typical that she was all worried about finding a place for some weirdo friend to sleep, but didn’t even care about the most devastating thing to happen to me in my whole life!
Plus, what in the world was my dad doing home? The whole thing just didn’t make sense. Still, I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere with Mom, so I went back to my room and cranked up some music on my MP3 player. I was in the middle of my favorite slow soft song, the kind I always play when I’m feeling sorry for myself, when a sonic boom of thunder shook the walls. I turned off my player and pulled out my ear buds.
That’s when I first noticed that my mom was screaming.