'Don't Need Friends'

January 12, 2000|By Carolyn Crimi

Editor's note: After his best friend moves away, Rat snubs the efforts of other junkyard residents to be friendly. Finally, he and a grouchy old dog decide they need each other.

Rat had a best friend named Possum. Rat and Possum did everything together ... until Possum had to move to another junkyard, leaving Rat behind.

So one fall day Rat made a decision. "Don't need friends, don't need 'em at all," he grumbled.

Day after day, Rat kept to himself, mumbling and grumbling to no one in particular. If anyone spoke to him, he just sneered.

Pretty soon the animals stopped asking him to share their meals. They even stopped saying hello. "Fine with me!" thought Rat. "Don't need friends, don't need 'em at all."

Then one day a dog moved in.

He was big.

He was dirty.

And he was a real grouch. "Don't you come near me," snarled Dog as Rat made his morning rounds for scraps. "Fine with me!" said Rat.

So Rat and Dog stayed on opposite sides of the junkyard. Rat in his crate. And Dog in his barrel. Sometimes they watched each other from across the way.

One winter morning, the temperature dropped to an all-time low. Snow covered the junk piles. Ice glistened off old hubcaps. The animals stayed huddled together all day, eating scraps they had saved for such weather.

But Rat didn't mind the cold. He scampered out of his crate and called to Dog with his usual greeting. "Stay on your side, Dog!" said Rat.

Dog growled at Rat, but that was all. Rat noticed that Dog was moving much more slowly than usual as he marched up and down his side of the junkyard. "Humph!" said Rat. "Lazy old mutt!"

When the moon rose that night, Rat waited for Dog's howling. But Dog was quiet.

Rat couldn't sleep. He tossed and turned. The quiet was too much for him. "Don't start that howling again, Dog!" cried Rat.

Dog only coughed.

The next day, Dog stayed in his barrel. "Hey Dog! Don't you move from there!" called Rat as he gathered his breakfast.

Dog only sniffled. "Hey Dog! Don't try and take this pizza from me!" said Rat as he munched on his lunch.

Dog only sneezed.

The sun set behind a mountain of junk, and still Dog didn't move from his barrel. "Fine!" shouted Rat. "Stay in there! See if I care!"

As Rat stomped off to his crate, he stumbled upon the greatest treasure he could ever have imagined. It was a foot-long salami sandwich. "Better grab this before someone else sees it," Rat thought. He started to drag it home and then stopped. It was an awfully big sandwich. Big enough for two. "Don't need friends, don't need 'em at all," grumbled Rat as he rolled the sandwich toward Dog's barrel. "Hey Dog! Don't move! Stay right where you are!" Dog lifted his head and sniffed the air. "Don't you dare bring that sandwich this way!" he said, thumping his tail on the side of the barrel.

Rat pushed and pulled and dragged and rolled that foot-long salami sandwich right to the front of Dog's barrel. "Don't eat it all," snarled Rat. "Save some for me."

Rat ate from one side of the sandwich while Dog ate from the other. When they were finished Dog licked his lips and sighed. His eyes looked brighter. His ears perked up. His tail wagged wildly. "Don't suppose you want me to thank you," said Dog. "Nope," said Rat. "I don't."

A fierce wind whipped through the junkyard making Rat's fur stand on end. Without a word, Rat crept inside Dog's barrel and curled up next to Dog. "Don't expect me to let you do this again," said Dog.

But the next night, when Rat came back, Dog didn't complain. And the night after that, and the night after that. Soon Dog and Rat were making their morning rounds together, searching for scraps.

And, when the moon was especially full and bright, Rat and Dog howled together in harmony.

"Don't need many friends," thought Rat each night as he lay next to Dog. "Just need one."

Excerpted from DON'T NEED FRIENDS. Text copyright c 1999 by Carolyn Crimi. Illustrations copyright c 1999 by Lynn Munsinger. Published by arrangement with Doubleday Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc.

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