“Morning, Mrs. Harvey! I’m collecting old comic books today. Do you have any?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t. I do have plenty of plastic action figures that my grandson outgrew. Would you like those instead?”
“No, I’m just looking for comic books. But thanks anyway!”
As Cassie plods up the next driveway, the wheels of her rusty wagon squeak behind her. She frowns, but she gives the wagon a kick with the toe of her very blue rainboots, and the squeaking stops long enough for her to make it to the front door of the next house.
“Hi, Mr. Eddy!” she says, a little loudly because the elderly man sitting on his porch is a little deaf. “Do you have any old comic books?”
“Old comic books?” Mr. Eddy repeats, rocking back a little on his porch swing. “And why would you be collecting comic books, Cassie?”
She blushes. “Well, Mr. Eddy, I—”
“That’s all right!” Mr. Eddy interrupts. “You don’t have to give secrets away if you don’t want to.” He rocks forward on his swing. “I’ll ask Martha if we have anything in the attic.”
While Mr. Eddy calls for Martha, Cassie glances behind her at the almost empty wagon. It’s lined with old newspapers, but no comic books. She turns a circle or two, letting the breeze catch the edge of her brightly patterned skirt. Before she has time to think about being disappointed, Martha appears in Mr. Eddy’s doorway with a box.
“I thought we would have something,” Mr. Eddy says. “Here, take the whole box!”
“There’s not much in there, Dad,” Martha cautions. “Only three or four good ones, really.”
Cassie climbs up to the porch and peers in the box. “Oh, these will do just fine!” She extracts five tattered comics from the box and grins at Mr. Eddy. “The worn-out ones are the best. You know they’re good because they’ve been read a lot!”
Mr. Eddy beams. “Glad we could help! Say hello to Mr. Alvin for me, if you go by his house.”
“I will, and thank you!” Cassie says, skipping down the steps. Carefully, she flattens the creased papers into her wagon and covers her finds with another sheet of newspaper. With a wave for Mr. Eddy and Martha, she’s off to the next house.
“Hello, Miss Bryan!” she says, pausing to give her wagon another shove. “I’m collecting old comic books today.”
Miss Bryan shakes her head. “Sorry, Cassie,” she says, only leaning a little bit out of the doorway. “I’m too young to have accumulated any of those antiques.”
Cassie gives Miss Bryan a quick look, but decides that her ruler-straight mouth and slumped shoulders mean she isn’t in a good mood.
“Do you want some flowers?” she offers. “I’m getting some later, once I’m done collecting comic books. I’ll bring you those tulips you like, if you want.”
Miss Bryan tries to smile. “That would be nice, Cassie. Good luck today.”
Cassie gestures to her wagon. “I’ve already had luck! Mr. Eddy gave me some. But I could always use some more!”
Miss Bryant almost smiles, so Cassie skips down the driveway. The wagon jerks and lurches behind her, and she arrives at Mr. Alvin’s house more than a little out of breath.
“Good morning, Mr. Alvin!” she says, her breath hitching.
“Well, if it isn’t Cassie the lassie!” Mr. Alvin chuckles. “And what are you doing today?”
She ties up the hair ribbon dangling over her shoulder. “Collecting old comic books, and bringing hellos from Mr. Eddy. He gave me five!”
Mr. Alvin is still laughing. “Well, I can’t let him beat me, can I? Of course, I’m the one with the collection.”
“You mean you’ll give me six?” she asks. “Or maybe seven?”
He nods and wipes laughter tears from his cheeks. “Seven’s a good number, I think. Wait here just a minute, and I’ll bring another surprise for you.”
Dropping her wagon handle, she perches on Mr. Alvin’s porch railing. Through the screen door, she can hear him bustling around the kitchen, singing one of his nonsense songs.
“Is the surprise lemonade, Mr. Alvin?” she calls. “That’s what I think!”
A few more minutes, and Mr. Alvin reappears in the doorway, a stack of comics in one hand and a glass of lemonade in the other. He hands her the comics first, and she adds them to her pile.
“Now, the lemonade,” he says. “We don’t want sticky fingers all over those comics, do we?”
She shakes her head and takes the lemonade. “No, we don’t! Are they very old ones?”
“Duplicates, Cassie lass, duplicates,” he assures her with a wink. “Nice and old, but nothing I don’t have already.”
She tilts the last drops of lemonade into her mouth and smiles. “Thanks for the comics, Mr. Alvin, and the lemonade too.”
“You’re very welcome,” he says, accepting the empty glass. “Nothing like lemonade on a hot day, is there?”
“Just the thing, Mr. Alvin,” she agrees, reaching for the wagon handle once more. “Do you think Aunty Alice will have some comics?”
“Oh, seven from me and five from Mr. Eddy aren’t enough?” he teases. “She’s right next door, so we could call to her right now.”
He steps out onto his porch and calls to Aunty Alice, who’s watering her flowers. “Hello, Alice! Cassie here is collecting comic books, and she wants a few more. Could you oblige?”
“Why, Alvin!” Aunty Alice calls back. “I was just thinking that I should clean out my attic, so I got Steven to move down all the boxes for me yesterday.” She gestures to her porch, strewn with boxes and boxes.
“Does one of those boxes have comics in it?” Cassie asks, skipping a little.
“Why don’t you come over and see?” Aunty Alice replies, setting her watering can on the porch.
Cassie’s wagon bumps down one driveway and up the other, stopping just short of Aunty Alice’s porch. She runs up the steps and begins to read the labels on the boxes.
“Don’t be disappointed if there aren’t any, dear,” Aunty Alice says. “Steven used to collect them, but it’s been a long time—”
“I found it!” Cassie shouts, struggling with the carboard flaps on one enormous box. “But I think there’s too many in here for my collection.”
The flaps give way, sending a dust cloud high above Cassie’s head. She swats away the dust and reads the titles of the comics packed on top.
“Oh, these ones are his favorite!” she whispers. “Can I just have these two, Aunty Alice?”
Aunty Alice smiles. “Of course, Cassie. If you want the rest of the box later, you’re welcome to it.”
Cassie steps down from the porch, comics in hand, and slips them under the newspaper. “Thank you so much, Aunty Alice—and you too, Mr. Alvin!” she adds.
Mr. Alvin and Aunty Alice wave good-bye as she bumps on to the next driveway. She tries to pull the wagon slowly, but the cracks in the sidewalk don’t make it easy. When she reaches the next house, she gathers all her comics into her arms and climbs the front steps. With one hand, she taps a pattern on the edge of the screen door.
“Who’s that knocking?” a voice calls from inside. “Sounds like a young lady I know, doesn’t it?”
She laughs. “You didn’t forget the special knock, did you? I brought those comics to read to you, Grandpa.”
Her grandfather walks to the door, swinging his white-tipped cane.
“Don’t forget to describe the pictures, Cassie,” he says. “You’re even better at that.”
She laughs again. “Grandpa, guess what? My smile right now is a nice big grin!”