Let’s take a week’s hiatus between serials to catch our collective breath after that last one! Here’s another story of Janet and Stevie, the one-time orphans we’ve met before:
From the Relief Society Magazine, September 1941 –
Pink Lemonade for the Boys
By Olive W. Burt
The ice cream in the tightly clutched cones was melting faster than small pink tongues could lap it up, and the brown hands were speckled with drops of strawberry red, but neither Janet nor Stevie noticed this, and kept on licking automatically, while their eyes watched the men.
The men were fascinating creatures, perched high against the billboard in the summer sun. But the work they were doing was even more fascinating, for they were posting bills about the circus – brilliant bills that showed prancing horses with beautiful ladies standing on their backs; swinging trapeze bars, from which hung strong-armed men tossing smiling ladies back and forth; raging lions, teeth bared and eyes gleaming; elephants and clowns; all the dazzling attractions of a three-ringed circus.
Janet read the captions to her small brother, but the boy didn’t need the words to tell him what the pictures showed so vividly.
“Do you think Dad and Mom will take us?” he asked, his eyes shining. “They will, won’t they, Janet?”
“I suppose so,” said Janet. “They’re awfully good that way.”
“It’ll be fun going with a family, won’t it?” persisted Stevie.
Janet nodded. She and Stevie had seen circuses before. Every summer that they had lived in the Home, after Father and Mother had gone, big buses had called at the Home and had taken all the children who were old enough to go out to the circus grounds. They had had reserved seats as guests of the men’s clubs of the city, and they had been given ice-cream cones. It had been lots of fun. the children had talked about it for days afterward. But this would be different – that is, if Mom and Daddy took them.
Janet didn’t doubt at all that they would. Mr. and Mrs. Allen had adopted the two children in the spring, and since then they had done everything they could do to make the youngsters forget that they were not really their own children. Stevie had almost forgotten, and at times Janet, too, found herself thinking of the two as intimately as she had used to think of her own mother and father.
But Janet was desperately afraid of losing this lovely home – afraid that the two children might prove a burden to their benefactors – and so she hesitated to ask for things, and tried to put a gentle brake on her brother’s unquestioning demands. It was quite a task, this keeping Stevie within the bounds of what Janet considered proper decorum and yet not remind him that he was merely adopted. She didn’t want to do that; she wanted Stevie to forget; wanted him to feel that he belonged, that this was his family. Yet she herself didn’t dare forget for fear that they might lose their present good fortune.
So she took the last tip of the cone into her mouth, licked off her fingers, and said quietly, “Let’s not ask them, Stevie. Let’s wait and see what they say.”
As soon as Janet saw young Mr. Allen walking up the pathway that evening, his eyes shining like Stevie’s, she knew she needn’t have worried. Daddy picked Stevie up and swung him to his shoulder, crying, “Guess what, kids! Guess what!”
Janet, wise beyond her years in the ways of encouraging masculine enthusiasm, would have pretended ignorance, but Stevie blurted out, “The circus is coming! The circus is coming!”
“Right the first time,” laughed Daddy. “And what follows?”
“Are we going?” cried the boy, assurance making the question into a command.
“‘Are we going?’ he asks!” and Daddy gave Stevie a swing to the floor to stoop and kiss Janet and then throw his arms around his smiling wife. “Do you hear that, darling? He asks us if we’re going to the circus!”
“You’re more enthusiastic about it than he is, I believe,” and Mom smiled at the two standing there so close together, so dependent on each other for happiness.
“And what shall we do at the circus?” Daddy was waltzing around the room. “We shall eat peanuts and feed the elephants; we shall see the fat woman and the snake charmer; we shall dribble ice cream over our shirt fronts …”
“And drink pink lemonade!” shouted Stevie, prancing after the cavorting man.
Daddy stopped and looked at the boy more seriously.
“Of course, pink lemonade! That’s what makes a circus, really, isn’t it? It’s my favorite drink – and yours, too, Stevie, I take it?”
Stevie sobered, too. “I think so,” he asked. “I’ve never tasted it.”
“Never tasted pink lemonade! Well, we’ll take care of that, all right. We’ll have a glass or two before we go in and a glass or two when we come out; and if we get thirsty, we’ll leave right spank in the middle and drink another glass or two, won’t we?”
Stevie laughed and bobbed his head up and down. “Yes, we will – a big glass or two, a great big glass or two!” he repeated. Then making the phrase into a sort of marching tune, he pranced about shouting, “Pink lemonade! Pink lemonade! A great, big glass of pink lemonade!”
Daddy joined him, and they made such a noise that Mom drove them out onto the lawn while she and Janet got the supper on the table. Janet thought she ought to explain about the lemonade. She said:
“Last summer at the circus it was awfully hot and dry, and we all got dreadfully thirsty. They gave us ice cream, and we had reserved seats, but they didn’t think about the pink lemonade. It looked good, and all the kids wanted some, but of course they couldn’t ask for any.”
Mrs. Allen worked quietly. She had learned that silence brought confidence. Janet went on,
“When we got back to the Home, we had some plain lemonade, ice cold, with gingersnaps. It was good, but we wondered about the pink lemonade. Stevie asked me if pink lemonade “tasted prettier” than plain lemonade.” She smiled at the remembrance, fondly, half apologetically, as she always smiled at her brother’s bright remarks.
Mrs. Allen said quietly, “Well, you shall both have all the pink lemonade you can drink, this time.”
“You’re not afraid it will make us sick?”
“Of course not! Whoever heard of pink lemonade making anyone sick!”
“Even if it did,” Janet offered hopefully, “it wouldn’t make any difference, would it? We’d have had a taste, anyway.”
From that afternoon on, there was nothing in the world worth talking about but the circus. Naturally, Daddy and Stevie did most of the talking. They played at elephant and rider, at bareback tricks, at clowns and at sideshow barker. Their evening romp was given over entirely to circus. And each evening just before the romp was over, Mom would come out onto the lawn carrying a tray and crying, “Lemonade! Lemonade! Who’ll have a glass of lemonade!” And Daddy, with Stevie imitating him, would take a glass of Mom’s delicious lemonade and taste it and say, “Pretty good – but it certainly isn’t pink lemonade. Try again tomorrow, will you, Mrs. Allen?” Mrs. Allen explained to Janet, “Your Daddy is really as excited as Stevie, dear. You know, he hasn’t been to a circus himself since he was a little boy. And then he didn’t have any money for pink lemonade or popcorn or sideshows. I think he carried water for the elephants to get into the big show, and that was all he saw. He remembers what fun it was, though. I’m so glad Daddy’s getting this chance.” And Janet realized vaguely that perhaps they meant as much to their new parents as the parents meant to the two lonely little orphans; and she hoped, desperately, it would always be like this.
But as time for the circus drew nearer, Janet began to worry. What if something happened so that Stevie and Daddy couldn’t go to the circus? What if Stevie had one of his sick spells? True, since they had been with the Allens, Stevie hadn’t had any upset stomach or any fits of crying. He ate everything that was placed before him, and he slept like a tired puppy. Janet sensed that it was partly due to the care with which his food was chosen and served, but more because of the feeling of safety and affection that he knew for the first time. But this extra excitement, this strain of waiting for the circus, this eternal bubbling over might be bad for him.
If he got sick – if they couldn’t go to the circus – Janet didn’t dare think what this would mean to the two “boys” as she invariably thought of Mr. Allen and Stevie together.
The circus was coming on Wednesday, and there was to be a “gigantic parade” in the morning, and both an afternoon and evening performance. Daddy was going to take the whole day off. They would all go to the parade, then have dinner in town and go to the afternoon show. Everything was planned so definitely, so confidently, that Janet didn’t see how anything could prevent their following the program. If only Stevie, wild with excitement and singing in his sleep, “Pink lemonade!” kept well.
By Tuesday, Janet’s uneasiness had grown unreasonably. She felt worried, unhappy, and began to imagine all sorts of disasters to their plans. She was grumpy about her little duties, and even became cross with Stevie, reminding him, almost brutally, that “he’d better be careful and take his nap, or he might not even be able to go to the circus!”
Stevie’s blue eyes opened wide, and he gazed at his sister in surprise. She so seldom spoke harshly to him.
“Whassa matter, Janet?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” his sister answered unhappily, putting her arms about the little fellow. “I’m just cross, that’s all Stevie.”
That evening she didn’t want to join in their usual pre-bedtime play, but sat in her low rocker watching them with misgiving, and when Stevie was showered and in his pajamas ready for bed, she looked him over carefully. No, there was no fever, no soreness, no hint of trouble in the firm, brown little body. Still Janet worried.
Mrs. Allen, coming in on the inspection, laughed.
“What do you expect to find, Manet?” she teased.
“I don’t know,” Janet answered seriously. “But boys are so surprising! it would be just like Stevie to be sick tomorrow so they couldn’t go to the circus!”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” smiled the woman. “You look worse right now than Stevie does.”
Janet’s hand flew to her own cheek, which was, without doubt, rather warm.
“I guess I’ve been worrying too much!” she apologized. “I guess everything will be okay. Only I wouldn’t like Daddy and Stevie disappointed.”
“You’ve taken care of Stevie too long by yourself, so to speak,” and Mom’s arms went around the little girl, and she pressed a kiss on the top of the bright red head. “Now you get to bed or you won’t be ready yourself in the morning.”
Janet awoke while it was still dark with the definite knowledge that something was wrong. Her first thought, as always, was of her brother, and she tiptoed to the door between their rooms and looked in. He slept as little boys sleep – spread-eagled on the bed, pajamaed legs and arms flung wide. He was breathing quietly, and Janet, long-practiced in watching out for disturbances in the beloved little form, knew that he was all right.
Only then did she locate the disturbance. It was inside herself. She ached, dreadfully, all over; her eyes were watery; she felt nauseated. Her cheeks were burning.
With trembling fingers she unbuttoned her own thin pajama coat and examined her chest and stomach. As she looked, tears filled her eyes and overflowed. She had chicken pox!
Last winter, when an epidemic of the disease had struck the Home, she and Stevie had somehow, miraculously they thought at the time, escaped. Now she wondered bitterly why they could not have had the chicken pox then when it wouldn’t have mattered, instead of waiting till now – the very day of the circus.
She climbed back into bed and sat huddled against the pillow, wondering what she could do.
For years she had been accustomed to meeting the problems that were constantly confronting her and Stevie, dealing with them as best she could, with the one rule to guide her: Stevie must be kept safe and happy. It seemed to her almost traitorous that now she, who should have helped him enjoy this day so long awaited, would be the one to prevent his good time.
For beyond question, it was impossible for her to go to the circus. Not only was she too ill to enjoy it – although she was not really very sick, she reflected – but she knew she could not expose other children. Anyway, Mom and Daddy wouldn’t think of permitting it.
When they discovered that she had chicken pox, they wouldn’t even let Stevie go, though he was as well as could be. He might not even catch them, reflected Janet. He hadn’t caught them last year, though he had played with the first boy to “come down” up to the very minute of the discovery of his ailment.
It would have been better, Janet thought miserably, if it had been Stevie who had taken ill, as she had been worrying. He could have understood that better than he could comprehend his sister’s depriving him of his great day.
But the boy wasn’t sick; probably wouldn’t ever have the chicken pox. He ought to go to the circus. And Daddy, too! He had never been to a circus since he was a little boy – had never had pink lemonade to drink and pink popcorn to eat. He had counted on this so much.
Janet got up again and looked at herself in the mirror. The soft summer dawn was just creeping up across the sky, but she could see, without turning on the light, that her appearance proclaimed that something was wrong. If only she could hide away, so that Mom and Daddy wouldn’t know! She couldn’t face them and hide her trouble. If it didn’t show so plainly, she might tell them she didn’t want to go to the circus, and they’d go without her. Or would they? How could she convince them that she didn’t want to go, and yet not reveal what was wrong? They mustn’t guess this, or they wouldn’t take Stevie – and then Daddy wouldn’t get to go either.
At last she set her lips in a determined line and went to work. She dressed very quietly. Then she sat down by the window, where it was light enough now to see, and wrote. It took her quite while to compose her note so that it suited her, but at last she got up, pinned the note to her pillow, and slipped out of the door, down the basement stairs, and across the big room to a cot that had been placed in a shadowed corner for the children to nap on during hot afternoons. She crawled under the thin coverlet, pulled it up over her head, and hoped that in the excitement of finding the note, in the hustle and bustle of getting away to the circus, no one would even glance toward the cot. Probably no one would even come down into the basement this morning. Anyway, she reflected as she dozed off wearily, it was the only place she could go, looking the way she did.
Janet’s sleep that morning was fitful. She heard the family awaken; heard the exclamations and talk going on above her when her note was discovered; heard Stevie’s whimpering, and Daddy’s voice asking what could have possessed her, and Mom’s quiet talk … Janet almost smiled. Mom would know that Janet had a good reason. Mom would cooperate all right.
There was breakfast, and the two “boys” helped with the dishes. Then, almost before Janet was aware of it, probably because long periods were lost in troubled sleep, Daddy had the car at the back door, and the trio were off to the parade. They wouldn’t be back until late in the afternoon, after the circus. Janet smiled happily, and relaxed into real slumber.
She awoke once or twice during the day, burning with thirst, and stumbled across to the tap to draw herself a drink. She wasn’t hungry at all; she just wanted to sleep. So there, in the cool, shadowy basement, she stayed quietly. When she was asleep she dreamed of the circus, and when she was awake she thought about it and about what the “boys” would be doing. She remembered her note with a little surge of pride. It must have sounded all right, she reflected, or they wouldn’t have gone as they had. She must have made them believe that she was really afraid of lions and elephants and would rather spend the day “with some of the kids” than to watch the antics of clowns and trapeze performers. “Don’t bother to call up everyone and try to find me,” she had written. “I will be all right, and will be home here when you come. I wouldn’t do it this way, but you know Stevie. He would beg me to go, and I would have to go, and then I might get sick in the heat and spoil all the fun. Please do as I say. Please!”
Once she said to herself, when the water didn’t seem to quench her thirst at all, “I don’t really mind missing the circus, but I would sure like a drink of cold lemonade.”
It was nearly dark in the basement when the excited voices of the returning family awakened Janet. She sat up. The day had gone very well for her. She was hungry now, and felt much better than she had that morning, though she was a little wobbly as she tried to stand up.
The three came into the house, Stevie rushing before his parents, crying, “Janet! Janet! Janet!” as he ran from room to room.
Janet stumbled up the stairs and stood blinking in the kitchen doorway.
Her mother gave one startled glance at the blotched face, the watery eyes, and then her arms were around the little girl.
“Janet, honey, what is it?” she asked tenderly.
“Chicken pox,” answered Janet in a matter-of-fact tone.
Her mother held her close, and tears and laughter seemed to choke her.
“You knew it this morning!” she accused gently. “You knew …” then she stopped and kissed the top of the bright head. “Where did you stay all day, darling?”
“In the basement. I slept most of the time. Was the circus good? Did you get some pink lemonade?”
A swift look passed between the two adults. After the little girl’s sacrifice for them they’d have liked to spare her this, but Stevie, the literal, said, “There wasn’t any at this circus. We had orange drink in a bottle.”
For one brief moment there was silence, as the little girl took in the news. Then the blue eyes lighted, and a twinkle came into them; before anyone knew what had happened, all four were laughing merrily.
Daddy picked Janet up. “To bed with you, sweetheart!” he cried, “I’ll bring you some supper in a minute. And, Stevie boy, you’d better keep away from Sister. Maybe you won’t have them … I hope you won’t for my own peace of mind!” he added, ruefully.
So Daddy undressed Janet and put her to bed, while Mom prepared a tray, and Stevie stood outside her door and told her about the circus. When Mom brought the tray in, Janet laughed again, and Stevie clapped his hands. For there on the tray, produced magically by Mom, were four tall glasses of pink lemonade.