Dustin Grubbs: Take Two!


By John J. Bonk

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ebook (Digital original)


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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 31, 2009. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

After his breakthrough performance in last year’s school play, Dustin Grubbs gets the taste of fame he dreams about. He’s even recognized in the streets. (OK, so his hometown of Buttermilk Falls is small and everybody knows everybody… even so!) Fresh into seventh grade, he is ready for his acting career to take off in his school’s upcoming musical production of Oliver! The twist is that phys-ed funds are being cut to do it, sparking grounds for an all-out war of the worlds: athletes vs. drama geeks. Even worse, Dustin discovers he’s tone deaf and has two left feet! Just when things are looking grim, Dustin gets his big break when a field trip to Chicago teams him up with his wacky show biz dad for an opportunity of a lifetime–a shot at a national TV commercial! Will Dustin jump at the chance at all costs?

Dustin Grubbs: Take Two! is full of the same hysterical one-liners and slapstick middle graders saw and loved in Dustin Grubbs: One-Man Show. Beneath the “show” is deeper story–that of a boy who longs to reunite his parents and will do anything to see them together.



Text copyright © 2006 by John J. Bonk

Little, Brown and Company

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at www.HachetteBookGroup.com


First eBook Edition: October 2009

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

ISBN: 978-0-316-08672-1

Chapter 1

Missing Pieces

"Dustin, help me find your father's head," Mom said, tossing aside a pair of barbecue tongs. "It's got to be in this box somewhere – buried under all this junk."

I stopped making figure eights on the walls with my flashlight and shone it into the giant box marked DESTROY!

"But, Mom, it's probably all corroded by now."

Our attic was hot and shadowy, and the dim bulb dangling from the ceiling wasn't lighting diddly-squat. Dust specks were floating in the air, never settling anywhere, and the grime was so thick you could taste it. I crouched down and helped my mother dig through Dad's stuff. Dumbbells; record albums – Vwadek Vushnewski's Polka-Time Favorites and an entire Jack Benny collection (who?); the coffee-stained Japanese kimono Dad used to wear on weekends; a kazoo.

"There're dust bunnies forming in my nostrils," I complained. "Are you sure it's in here? I mean, like Principal Futterman says, 'Heads will roll.'"

"I know I put it in that plastic bag – with the others. Keep looking."

Okay, before you start thinking this is going to be some gory tale of murder and suspense, let me set you straight. See, the day my parents separated, which was three years ago and counting, Mom had a fit and crammed everything Dad left behind into the box that the dishwasher came in. He had left us and Buttermilk Falls to chase his dream of becoming a stand-up comedian, which no one found very funny. Then one night after their divorce was official, right in the middle of watching Family Bliss (another sitcom with wisecracking kids, a fat husband, and a pretty wife), Mom ripped a large family photo off the wall and cut out Dad's head. Real neat and careful with an X-Acto knife.

She followed that up by going through every photo album in the house on a decapitating rampage. I called it her Lizzie Borden phase. You know, that nutball who whacked off her family's heads with an ax? I'd decided not to hold her accountable for any acts of craziness during that time (Mom – not Lizzie) because I was crazy upset myself, so I could relate. At least Mom had the decency to save all the heads in a Baggie. And she never did destroy that box marked DESTROY!

"I keep telling you, Mom, those Press'n Seal things on the plastic bags never stay closed."

We searched, quiet and sweaty, but weren't making "headway" – and I wasn't able to hold in my burning question for one more second.

"So why the sudden urge to patch things up? You know, with the photos?"

Mom lowered the flashlight and eyeballed the wooden beam next to her as if the answer she was searching for were carved into it somewhere. "Your father keeps joking around about making a surprise visit," she said in a whisper, even though no one else was around. "It's taken us so long to get to the point where we are now –"

"You mean speaking to each other without screaming?"

"Exactly. I'd hate to have him pop in one day only to discover his mug missing in every photo in the house. Especially the big one – he loved that thing."


Dad's thinking about showing his face in enemy territory again? And Mom's worried about hurting his feelings if he does? Major progress! Still, I knew not to get too worked up over stuff like that anymore – just in case it backfired.

"Will you help me paste in all the heads later?" she asked.

I nodded. Filling the holes in the photos would be the easy part – filling the hole in my heart was another story.

"If you want, I can scan the smaller pictures into my computer," I told her, "work a little magic, and voilà! – have 'em looking like new."

"Oh, honey, you can do that?" Mom gave my arm a little squeeze. "And I thought twelve-year-olds were supposed to be difficult. I must've hit the jackpot."

"Just remember that thought when Christmastime rolls around."

Mom's flashlight was beginning to poop out so she gave it a good shake. It was one of those cool magnetic-force flash-lights that don't use batteries – but you had to rattle it whenever it ran out of juice. The light beam returned and Mom aimed it into the box, which was my cue to get back to the task at hand. I drudged through Dad's baseball cap collection, an old magic kit, hair-in-a-can….

"Hey," I said, lunging for something black and shiny, "what's that?"

"Did you find the head? The big one?"

I dove into the box up to my armpits and came out with a handful of patent leather.

"Tap shoes? Score! I didn't know Dad could dance."

"He can't. Believe me." Mom rocked back on her heels, blotting her forehead with her wrist. "He picked those up at a garage sale for a few bucks. Tried them on a few times, and that was the end of that."

"Just one more thing he didn't follow through with, I guess. So can I -?"

"No," she said before I'd even finished. "They're four sizes too big for you. You'll kill yourself."

"I'll stuff 'em. So can I have 'em? Please, please, please?"

"I don't want you ripping up my floor with those things."

"You don't understand. I ran into Darlene Deluca at the bookstore yesterday and she swore on a stack of Teen Vogues that we're definitely doing a musical at school this year. Her dance teacher might choreograph. And get this: She told me I'd better get a few tap classes under my belt if I knew what was good for me. Talk about fate, right?"

Just as I clapped the shoes onto the floor, a loud thwap! came from the other side of the attic. We both jumped.

"What was that?" Mom asked, nervously looking over her shoulder.

"Bats maybe? I remember Granny saying once that we have bats in our belfry."

"I think she said your aunt Birdie has bats in her belfry."

It must've been the attic door banging. The sound of creak-creak-sigh, creak-creak-sigh was rising up the stairwell, and Aunt Olive eventually appeared in the narrow shaft of light seeping through the window.

"Good Lord, I can't do stairs anymore," she said, all out of breath.

Aunt Olive was a tad on the heavy side. Nothing ridiculous – just a few extra layers of comfort. She was my favorite aunt, but I'd never say it out loud just in case it got back to Aunt Birdie. They both lived downstairs with Granny Grubbs. Mom and I lived in the upstairs apartment with my demon teenage brother, Gordy. Just one big happy family - well, big, anyway.

"I saw the light on from the driveway and said to myself, 'Now's your chance, Olive.'" She grabbed onto a birdcage stand to steady herself, letting out her final huffs and puffs. "I don't like coming up here alone – it gives me the heebie-jeebies."

Mom and I went back to headhunting while my aunt searched through the drawers of an antique dresser that was wedged under the slantiest section of roof. Eventually Mom asked, "Are you looking for something in particular, Olive?"


We waited for the rest of her answer, but none came. "Well, can we shed a little light on the subject for ya?" I offered, meaning the flashlight.

"Oh, that's okay. I just found what I wanted." She closed the drawer with a smack and waved something around in front of her. "It's a silly little nothing – an old lace hanky. I'll bet you don't even know what that is, do you, Dustin?"

"A snot rag. Did you run out of tissues or something?"

My aunt chuckled like that was a joke, but I was really asking.

"Well, I should get an early start on dinner," she said, trotting past us. "Chicken piccata in lemon-caper sauce! I'm learning new recipes – expanding my horizons."

Mom encouraged her with a spunky "Good for you!"

"I just hope it doesn't expand my rear end!" Aunt Olive laughed a musical laugh that could only come out of an ex-opera singer and creaked her way back down the stairs.

Back to making my case. "Speaking of expanding horizons," I said, "remember the standing ovation I got in The Castle of the Crooked Crowns at school last May? Well, my public will be expecting even more from me this year, don't ya think?"

"Your public?"

"Everybody already knows acting is my life, but if I'm going to make it in show-biz, I need to develop all my hidden talents. With the musical coming up, tap dancing could be the next step. Hey, good one. Step – get it?" She didn't seem to get it – or want it. I twisted up onto my feet and started pacing. "Seriously, Mom," I continued, running a finger through the soot on a dented air conditioner, "what if I'm, like, a natural born tap-dancing genius, only you never let me find out? Can you live with that guilt for the rest of your life?"

"Oh, I think so. We can't afford lessons if that's what you're getting at."

I autographed the air conditioner, then scooped up the tap shoes anyway. They were all cracked and scuffed. And the curly, rotted insoles smelled like – well, no garden of roses, like Granny would say. Still, I knew I had to have them. Maybe they originally belonged to a famous hoofer from the old movie musicals, like Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly. Maybe I was breathing in authentic star stench! I took another whiff and nearly horked up a lung.

"Dustin, what are you doing? Either help me or don't, but stop hovering."

"I'm not hovering, I'm –"

"Here, catch!" Mom said, tossing a deflated football over her head. "Can you use that?"

I watched as it bounced off my chest and flopped onto the grimy floor.

"A football? Mom, have we met?"

"Well, you said you wanted to expand your horizons."

"Not that wide." I picked up the pigskin with my fingertips as if it were a dead rat and dropped it back into the box.

Was that supposed to be a subtle hint? Buttermilk Falls was one big sports town, but obviously that wasn't my thing. Gordy's neither. With his numerous ex-girlfriends, I guess you could say he was into "broad-jumping," but that ended when he met his current steady, Rebecca. So Mom was probably spending sleepless nights wondering why. Why was the jock chromosome missing in her two kids?

"We've been over this already. It's not that I don't like sports," I explained, "it's that sports don't like me. That doesn't mean I'm weird or anything."

She swept the hair out of her eyes and refueled the flashlight with a double-handed shake.

"But if you think about it, tap dancing is kind of a sport," I went on, "only with musical accompaniment and top hats."

"You never let up, do you? All right already, Mr. Relentless, take the darn shoes. Just stick to the backyard when you're wearing them."

"But, Mom, get real – you can't tap-dance on grass."

Not wanting to come off like an ingrate, I thanked her with a peck on the cheek. I was tying the shoelaces together, watching the disco-ball reflections from the shiny taps dancing on the walls, when something fluttered out of one of the shoes and landed down the front of Mom's shirt.

"Eeesh!" she yipped, fumbling the flashlight. "What on Earth –?" She plunged a hand down her top, squealing like a mouse in a blender, until she flicked something away with a final scream.

I looked around the floor for a daddy longlegs or worse. Lying in a piddly puddle of light was Dad's mug grinning at me. I plucked it up and examined it more closely. His eyes were crossed. I'd never noticed that before.

"Is this what you're looking for?" I wiggled it in Mom's face.

"Oh, Dustin, you found it!" she gushed.

"Just doing my job, ma'am," I said, sounding like a crime detective who had just cracked a case. "Don't lose your head."

Chapter 2

"Singin' Down the Drain"

I knew it. Tap-dancing on grass was like applauding with mittens on – it just didn't work. And the sidewalk scratched up the taps. To top it off, Ellen Mennopi, my nosy ten-year-old neighbor, was hanging over the fence between our yards giving me the tenth degree. Everybody's called her LMNOP ever since I can remember, but to this day she still thinks we're using her first and last name.

"Are those tap shoes, Dustin Grubbs?"

She called everybody by both names in return.


"With real taps – not just cleats, right?"


"Cool. You taking lessons?"


One-syllable answers to annoying questions are extremely satisfying.

Even though it was one of those thick, sticky August nights where the breeze feels like it's coming out of a blow-dryer, I was determined to give my tap shoes a test run. I tip-tapped along the artificial flagstone that bordered the weed garden to see if I could get better sounds. Nope.

"Omigod, know what?" LMNOP said, tumbling off the fence. "There's a coupon in this week's Penny Pincher. I think it's for one free class at Miss Pritchard's Academy of Dance – you know, on Main Street? Over the VFW Hall? With all the steamy windows? Darlene Deluca takes classes there. It's supposed to be good."

My ears perked up big-time, but I played it cool. This kid was a blabbermouth, and if there was one thing I'd learned it was to mind my LMNOPs and Qs.

"I can give you the coupon if you want."

"That's okay." I hopped up onto the wooden bench where Granny always played Chinese checkers with whoever was brave enough to take her on. "I'm just goofin' around."

Besides, we had a copy of the Penny Pincher sitting on the radiator in the kitchen and I didn't want to owe LMNOP any favors. That newspaper rules! They did a full-page article about me "saving the show" last year. Instant celebrity! I still get recognized on the streets. Well, okay – only in Buttermilk Falls, which is a very small town – where everybody knows everybody. Even so…

"You should check it out," LMNOP said over my clattering feet. "You might turn into a triple threat."

"A what?"

"A singing-dancing-acting actor." She popped up a finger for each. "Then you'd have three times the odds of making it in show-biz. But even for an actor-actor, a dance class couldn't hurt."

Triple threat. I liked the sound of that. LMNOP sure knew a lot about a lot – she was very well-rounded for such a bony girl.

"Did you know that NFL football players take ballet classes?"

Then again, she did come out with some pretty off-the-wall stuff. I didn't bother answering, but let my feet do all the talking.

"To improve their coordination and flexibility," Little Miss Know-It-All added.

"Yeah, right." Somehow I couldn't picture those hulking guys in pink shoulder pads with matching tutus.

"No, it's a fact!"

"Well, maybe private lessons… in the middle of the night… with armed guards at the door," I said. "And definitely not at Miss Pritchard's Academy of Dance!"

Having the final word on a subject was even more satisfying than those one-syllable answers. I flew off the bench attempting to do a fancy turn in the air and wound up lying in a heap under the rose trellis on a patch of dead ivy. I think I'd stubbed my entire body.

"You all right, twinkle toes?"

"Don't call me that." I sat rubbing the dirt off my shoes with my thumbs. Part of me wanted to get up and keep tapping, but most of me decided it was time for a breather.

"Sooo," LMNOP lisped over a chorus of crickets, "are you stoked about starting school tomorrow with your new teacher, Mr. Lynch? Do you think he's as strict as they say? Did you know he only wears bow ties?"

"I'm sorry, but this concludes the question-and-answer portion of the evening."

She was rapidly getting on my nerves, so I pulled myself up to my feet and limped toward the house. In the darkness LMNOP looked no wider than a picket.

"Well, I guess I should get my kitty-care-kit ready for your aunt. I'm really gonna miss Cinnamon; she's such a sweetie. Still, I'm super excited about my trip tomorrow." I swear, fireflies were zigzagging to dodge the lisp spittle shooting out of her mouth. "So's my dad. He's so psyched, he hasn't slept since Saturday. Seriously."

LMNOP gets to miss the first six weeks of school because she's going with her parents to New England to study endangered whales. Lucky dog! Anyway, my aunt Birdie volunteered to pet-sit her cat while they're away, without clearing it with me first – even though she knows I'm not a big fan of cats. (Notice how you never hear anyone say "lucky cat"?)

"Yep, my dad's finally gonna be living out his fantasy, even if it's just for a little while," LMNOP went on. I was bouncing the screen door open with my rear end, waiting for her to stop yammering. "The only body of water we've got within a fifty-mile radius is Buttermilk Creek, and it's half dried up. That can't be easy for a marine biology professor."

"Talk about a fish out of water! That's as bad as trying to be a stand-up comedian in this town."

"I know, right? Hey, I could send you postcards if you want. Or even e-mail you, like, digital photos of humpbacks – if you're interested."

I didn't answer because that wasn't really a question, even though it sounded like it. To be honest, a complete break from her would be better. Without any pictures of lumpy fish as reminders.

"I'll send postcards. It's not a problem, really."

"Whatever. Okay, I have to take a shower now," I lied, "to beat the morning rush. Have a nice trip."

"G'night, Dustin Grubbs. Don't let the bedbugs bite."

As soon as the screen door slammed behind me, that shower seemed like a good idea for real. After the attic and the yard, I was living up to my name – dusty and grubby.

I stepped into our shower upstairs wearing my swim trunks with the palm trees and coconut design. This was my usual drill ever since Mom accidentally painted over the lock on the bathroom door. See, I was strongly against public displays of nudity (especially my own) and with a bum lock and a crazy family, I wasn't taking any chances. I had lathered, rinsed, and was about to repeat when I got to thinking about fate. First the tap shoes appear; then abracadabra, the coupon! First Dad disappears; then, bibitty-bobitty-boo, he's back in the picture again. Literally.

I didn't know what the heck was going on, but there was one thing I was suddenly dead sure of: You get great tap sounds in the shower! Just bare feet on wet tub. Discovering it was a complete accident, but I couldn't resist belting out "Singin' in the Rain" at the top of my lungs and doing a splashy pretend tap routine. Stand back, world, I'm a triple threat! After my showstopping finish, I whipped open the shower curtain to take my bow and –


My mutant teenage brother, Gordy, was standing there with a camcorder aimed right at me! I went for the curtain again quick, but my feet slipped. Flailing arms… fistfuls of slick plastic… curtain rings shooting…


Next thing I know I'm lining the tub, wound in yards of bright yellow vinyl. My horoscope was right: It was proving to be an accident-prone day.

"Are you all right, dweeb?" Gordy reached out to help me with one hand, but kept the camera steady with the other. Oh, yeah – he was busting a gut the whole time.

"No! Yes. I'll live." The jerk jerked me to my feet. "It's not funny, freakazoid! I could've cracked my skull and it would've been all your fault."

"You look like a wet banana."

"Turn that thing off," I yelled. "Cut! Cut!" (Don't get me wrong. I'm usually a big ham when it comes to being in front of a camera, but I definitely wasn't ready for my close-up.) "Come on, beat it, loser! I can't stand here forever wrapped in plastic like a salami. I'll get all pruney."

But Gordy, being Gordy, ignored me and sat on the toilet seat, cracking up at the playback on the camcorder. "Dad sent us this thing so we could tape junk like this and send it to him," he said. "I'm just following orders."

"He wants us to capture special family moments – not ugly accidents."

"You are an ugly accident."

I hurled the loofah sponge at him, but it veered to the right and skimmed Aunt Birdie's headful of curlers poking through the open door.

"Knock-knock. Are you decent?" she asked breathlessly with her eyes closed tight. "I ran up as fast as I could. Is everybody all right?"

"Yeah, c'mon in," Gordy said, without looking up. "The more the merrier."

"Are you sure?" Aunt Birdie was peeking through one eye and pumping the top of her polka-dotted housedress for the breeze. "What was that big commotion? I could've sworn I heard Dustin singing and then –"

"You call this singing?" Gordy turned up the volume on the camcorder. "Dustin couldn't carry a tune if it came with handles and a shoulder strap."

Even though I was laminated, I managed to grab the soap-on-a-rope and fling it at Gordy. He flung it right back. Followed by the toilet plunger.

"I told you kids not to play so rough!" Granny growled, shuffling into the bathroom. "And turn down that radio – you'll wake the dead." She was in her flannel nightgown, holding a glass filled with fizzy water and false teeth. "Is Dustin putting on another one of his little skits?"

"No," I muttered, unclogging a waterlogged ear. "And last time I checked you had your own bathroom downstairs. Jeez, can't a guy get a little privacy around here?"

"Man, too bad my thumb got in the way, 'cause this is some killer footage," Gordy said. He turned down the volume on the camcorder, but was still studying the playback on the LCD screen. "Funnier than that stuff they have on that TV show – you know, the one where they dish out big money to losers who send in videotapes of themselves crashing headfirst into wedding cakes."

"America's Goofiest Slips and Trips," I offered.


Aunt Birdie, who'd taken to doing a complete inventory of our medicine cabinet, mumbled something about loving that show. "It's the only TV program that makes me laugh out loud."

"Okay, everybody, party's over," I announced. "Thanks for coming, but mildew is starting to grow under this shower curtain and I really should –"

"Here you all are," a voice said from the hallway.

I could not believe it. LMNOP and her big, orange blob of a cat were joining the crowd. Some nerve!

"Oh, I don't think so!" I warned, but she barged in anyway.

"Cinnamon just wants to say "Thank you very much for cat-sitting me, Miss Grubbs,'" LMNOP cooed in a sickening baby voice, bouncing her cat in front of her face like an overstuffed puppet. "'And I promise to be on my most purrrfect behavior.'"

Gag me!


On Sale
Oct 31, 2009
Page Count
256 pages

John J. Bonk

About the Author

John Bonk‘s former life was devoted to musical comedy, working in New York and in Summerstock programs around the country. Dustin Grubbs is his first novel.

Learn more about this author