The Year of Billy Miller

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes Read Free Book Online

Book: The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes Read Free Book Online
Authors: Kevin Henkes
he’d stepped out of the house, it was as if a curtain of peacefulness had fallen over the neighborhood. It was quiet. The air smelled wet and white.
    “Will Ruby’s still be open?” asked Billy.
    “Definitely,” said Gabby. “It’s not that late.”
    To Billy, it seemed that Sal had cried for hours. He was starving. “Are you going to get a hot dog?” he asked Sal.
    Instead of saying yes or no, Sal responded with a sad whimper.
    “Is everything okay, Salamander?” asked Gabby.
    Sal sniffled. “I’m okay. It was just a leftover cry.” She sniffled again. “But the Drop Sisters might cry. I just told them that Mama and Papa are gone.”
    Billy pinched his eyes closed with his thumb and index finger. Oh no, he thought. Here we go again.
    But right after that, they pulled into the parking lot. Gabby said, “We’re here!” And to Billy’s great relief, Sal let out a little squeak of joy.

    Once inside the restaurant, Sal was a different person. She became chatty and playful, almost giddy. “I love it here,” she said. “I really, really love it here. So do the girls.” She kissed the Drop Sisters one by one, then plunked each down on the seat beside her. Gabby had requested a booth to accommodate the Drop Sisters, which also made enough space for everyone’s mittens, hats, scarves, and puffy winter jackets.
    “There sure is a lot to look at,” said Gabby. “It’s like being inside a pinball machine.”
    Billy was mesmerized. They were surrounded by blinking lights, paper lanterns, and flickering traffic signs. A train ran continuously on a track around the room. The track was attached to a ledge that was mounted to the wall. Brightly colored, miniature hot air balloons inched back and forth on wires overhead, crisscrossing the ceiling. And large papier-mâché animals were stationed between the tables. Billy’s favorite was a lion whose mouth was open wide, showing a mountain range of jagged teeth.

    But the best thing about Ruby’s Cupboard was the food, especially the onion rings, which were as big as donuts. It was the kind of food Mama and Papa didn’t approve of, except on special occasions. So, Billy tried to enjoy every single second of every single mouthful.
    While they were eating their hot fudge sundaes, the family at the table next to theirs broke into a lively rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
    “ We should celebrate something,” said Sal.
    “No singing,” said Billy. He did not want to be embarrassed.
    “We could celebrate your dad’s show or the beautiful snowfall,” Gabby suggested.
    “We could celebrate me ,” said Sal.
    “I know!” said Billy. “We can celebrate the Year of the Dragon. I’ll show you.” He searched for his jacket and dug into one of the pockets. He pulled out two things: an envelope and a pearl. “I almost forgot about these.”
    “What is it?” asked Sal. Her eyes had zeroed in on the pearl.
    “Ms. Silver told us about the Year of the Dragon today. The Chinese New Year started on Monday. It’s different than our New Year because theirs is lunar, which means the moon,” Billy explained. “We didn’t do anything special at school for the Year of the Rabbit, so Ms. Silver had a dragon party today. We ate tangerines because they’re a symbol of good luck. And we watched Chinese dancers on the computer.”
    Billy paused, trying to remember everything Ms. Silver had taught them. “The dragon can have the head of a donkey and the body of a snake. Or it can just be a dragon.”
    “But what’s that ?” Sal asked, still focused on the pearl.
    “Oh,” said Billy. “The dragon carries a pearl in its claws. The pearl means it has supernatural powers. So, Ms. Silver gave one to everybody.” He held up the pearl and rolled it between his fingers. “It’s magic.” He acted as if the pearl were coming to life in his hand.

    “What’s the envelope?” asked Gabby.
    “It’s an empty envelope, but it has a dragon stamp on it. It’s

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