"Bye Bye Birdie"
Note from the author: I can't write a compilation like this without writing a Birdie story. The Sad Girl, whom Albert cheers up in "Put On A Happy Face," has been given many names, but I call her Blair, for my "godsister," who played her back in 1995. Her story needed to be told, so here is another special moment in the spotlight for Blair, dedicated to the real life (Jessica) Blair.
"Take off that gloomy mask of tragedy,
it's not your style.
you'll look so good that you'll be glad ya decided to smile!"
All the kids of Sweet Apple, Ohio got together at the Peabodys' for a celebration the night Conrad Birdie left. It was both a neighborhood gathering and an engagement party for the sixteen-year-old Hugo Peabody and the fifteen-year-old Kim MacAfee, whether or not their parents approved this big announcement.
The younger ones weren't a big part of the festivities, being new to the teenage way of life. Besides, who wanted a tag-along little sibling?
One of these was twelve-year-old Blair, in a cheerier mood than we're used to seeing her. She wore a purple dress with white accents, made by the Sweet Apple Sewing Club mothers, and a matching ribbon tying up her fine blonde hair.
She was sitting on a bench with Penelope Ann Henkel's kid brother, Herman, who, an hour earlier, had professed his…like for Blair. He'd had a crush on her since forever, and it was hard not to confess amid all this love.
They sat watching the older kids dance on the grass, lit by the glow from the windows of the Peabody house and the open door through which Hugo's record player was sounding.
"Would you look at the kid dancing with my sister?" Herman said, uptight.
Blair giggled. "What've you got against Harvey?"
"Nothing, I guess, but my pop always says, any boy who dares to take away his little 'Pen-Pen' has it comin'."
"From a twelve-year-old boy?" she teased, pinching his arm.
He sat up straighter, still watching his sister intently. "Yeah."
Blair grabbed his hand, and he blushed, looking uncomfortable.
"Since you said you like me, does that mean we're goin' steady, like Kim and Hugo are?" Blair asked eagerly.
Herman blinked. "Um…I guess so."
She smiled, but that quickly turned into a contemplating look and a sigh. She'd gotten the idea into her head that this shared crush meant they were going to be together forever, like how the neighborhood parents told of how they met – always very young. She'd also gotten the idea into her head that if she was going to be happy with Herman, who she'd most definitely be with for the rest of her life, if the stories were all true, she'd be sent a sign. Something that, for her, represented happiness.
She looked around the yard. Nope. No godly omens in sight.
"This'd be a good time to send it to me," she prompted the sky under her breath.
"Huh?" Herman asked.
"Nothing." Blair smiled, something she'd been doing a lot more often since a couple of days earlier. She swung her hand, at the same time pulling on Herman's so he would do the same. "It's almost summer," she said lightly. The older girls often said that small talk was the key to starting a successful conversation with a boy, because boys needed prodding in order to talk much.
"Yep," Herman said.
"It'll be a nice change, not having to go to school."
"Yep," he said again.
Blair stared at him, twisting her mouth to the side. This was tough.
"…Speaking of your sister," she began, knowing he had a soft spot for her. "Um…" She looked to Penelope Ann, still dancing and laughing with the shy Johnson boy. "…They say she's going to the school prom with Harvey."
"He's been tryin' to ask her," Herman said, casting a serious glance in the boy's direction.
Better than "yep," Blair thought. She took a breath.
"Won't be too long before we'll get to go to dances like that. Only a few years."
Herman blinked. "Yeah, but a year is…" He counted on his fingers. "Twelve months long. That's a long time."
"Still," Blair nudged, "It'll be before we know it." She batted her eyelashes persuasively. "Don't you think you'll ask me to those kinds of things when we're their age?"
"…I suppose so."
Blair smiled, satisfied. This probably counted as a successful conversation. She looked around the yard again for her sign. Still nothing. Then, she had an idea – maybe she needed to reinforce that they'd end up like Hugo and Kim before it would be revealed whether or not she'd stay happy. Of course! Why didn't she think of that before?
"You think you'd want to marry me?" she asked.
"What?!" Herman snapped to attention.
"You know, like Hugo and Kim say they're going to. When a boy and a girl put rings on each other's fingers and say 'I do.'"
Herman put up a hand. "I know what it means… But I'm twelve!"
Blair tilted her head. "So?"
"So…I don't think about stuff like that."
"Not ever?" Blair asked.
Blair huffed. "…Well, think about it now."
Herman pondered. He kept pondering for a minute or so, his soft brow furrowed, with Blair tapping her foot beside him.
"Um…" he began. "Well… We're all probably going to marry someone. Isn't that what grown-up people do? Go to work, pay bills, and marry each other?"
Blair nodded vigorously. "And don't forget take care of kids," she said, batting her eyelashes again. Herman gulped.
"Yeah, I guess."
"And," Blair pointed out, "if we decide who we're going to marry now, then we won't have to spend so much time choosing later."
With a slow nod, Herman said, "…That's true."
"So, are we engaged now, Herman dear?" Blair asked, giggling.
Blair grinned. "I'm real glad, dear!"
"…Don't call me dear."
The two engaged children returned their gazes to the others dancing around another set of engaged children.
Now all I need is my sign, Blair thought. C'mon, send it, I'm ready! …Maybe I have to ask again.
She looked back up at the sky and whispered, "Send me that happy sign now, please."
The record player stopped, and Hugo parted from Kim on the grass to run in and grab it. He came running back to the pile of record sleeves beside Blair and Herman's bench, looking through them. Kim and her nosy friend, Ursula, joined him on their knees, separating the records into Hugo's parents' old ones and things they could dance to.
Ursula curiously flipped one over to the back and read it. "There, Hugo, give this one a try."
He took it from her and went back into the house, coming back at the same time a catchy tune started flowing from the player.
"Reminds me a little of Conrad's songs," Kim said, and then caught such a look from her steady that she blushed and pecked his cheek in apology.
"That's why I handed it to Hugo," Ursula explained, "It's an old record from that same company, before Conrad was the star. I knew from the back, since I know all Birdie's record sleeves by heart – I recognized his manager's name. Albert J. Peterson."
Blair lit up, her mouth open. There it was! She'd certainly be happy with Herman Henkel if this was the sign, and it most definitely was. She winked at the sky, grinned, and grabbed Herman's face to plant a kiss on his cheek.
Herman, eyes wide, blushed furiously. He looked at his shoes with a little smile on his face. "…What'd you hafta do that for?" he asked, trying to mask his delight.
"It's a prophecy, Herman!" Blair said animatedly, proud of her phrasing. "Don't you see?! We're engaged, and that was the sign – it was a swell idea, Herman, a great idea! Because we're gonna be married people one day, um…" She struggled to remember Mr. Peterson's words. "…Grey skies are gonna clear up!" she announced.
He looked at the sky, confused. "It's nighttime."
"No, Herman, it means be happy! We're gonna be happy!"
"…Oh. That's good." Herman went back to watching his sister.
"Yep," Blair said, putting on a happy face and gently kicking her legs under the bench with glee.