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California Diaries #10: Ducky, Diary Two

Ann M. Martin

ISBN 0-590-02387-X

Copyright © 1998 by Ann M. Martin.

All rights reserved. Published by Scholastic Inc.

CALIFORNIA DIARIES is a trademark of Scholastic Inc.

Printed in the U.S.A.

First Scholastic printing, December 1998

The author gratefully acknowledges Peter Lerangis for his help in preparing this manuscript.

This eBook is for educational and reference purposes only. It is not intended to infringe on or circumvent copyright. No monetary gain is made from the distribution of this eBook.

Dec. 1

5:45 P.M.

Los Angeles International Airport

Ducky the Fearless strikes again!

He leaves home late. He hits rush hour freeway traffic. He detours onto back roads through treacherous Windsor Hills and Inglewood, finally reaching the airport — and yes, ladies and gentlemen, he makes it to Gate 21 TWO MINUTES early! 5:35 for a 5:37 arriving flight.

Ducky the MIRACLE WORKER. Ducky the GOOD SON. HERE for his parents when they

arrive from Ghana — on a SCHOOL NIGHT, the day before a math test.

Why? Because he WANTS TO. Because that’s the kind of guy he is.

Then he checks the arrival scene. And he sees:

FLIGHT 407

1 HOUR LATE

(Cue laugh track.)

What a fool.

Okay. Let’s analyze this, Ducky.

You might have known. This HAS Happened before. Mom and Dad’s overseas flights are

almost ALWAYS late.

You could have called in advance to check. If you knew, you wouldn’t have panicked and rushed.

Now, suddenly, you have time to kill and nothing to do. And this would be a PERFECT

opportunity for some badly needed math review. But you can’t do it because — in your hurry —

you forgot your review material.

And why are you here alone to pick up your lucky parents on the day before a math test?

Well, that breaks down into two questions:

1. Why are YOU here? Because Ted, Older and More Beloved Son, couldn’t be. You see,

Ducky, he’s a COLLEGE boy. You may have homework, but he has a COURSE LOAD.

2. Why are you here ALONE? Because none of your friends would come along to keep you

company.

 Not Jay, formerly known as Jason, once your best friend and now a member of the Vista School Cro Mags, dedicated to the grunt-and-snort school of social behavior. Jay’s

helpful comment? “Come on, Duckster, they’re old enough to get home by themselves.”

Which, you have to admit, isn’t a bad point.

 Not Alex. Too depressed, of course. (Which doesn’t surprise you. But because you’re best friends, and because you’ve been HELPING him through the gloomy state he’s in,

you still hoped he might come along. No such luck.

 Not Sunny, even though she’s ALWAYS looking for excuses to get away from her house.

She’s busy tonight — with what or whom she won’t say, but you know her slippery-cute

tone of voice translates into: NEW BOYFRIEND. Which means you may not see her for

awhile [sic] … until, of course, this guy turns out to be just like the others, and she comes back to cry on your shoulder. And that’s FINE because Sunny needs you, she’s freaking

out because of her mom’s cancer, and the boyfriends are a way of escaping reality.

You understand everyone’s excuses, because that’s what you do best, Ducky. You think of others first.

And second. And third.

Somewhere down the list of concerns — oh, maybe near the price of asparagus and the political situation in Norway — is YOU.

I.

Say I when you mean I, Ducky. Don’t hide.

When am I going to learn?

Maybe Jay is right. You COULD have let Mom and Dad take a car service.

You I should think about yourself myself for a change.

MYSELF. ME.

God, I hate the way that sounds.

THREE HOURS LATER

In Which Ducky, Still Waiting,

with Nothing Else to Do,

Sees Scenes from His Life

Reenacted All Around Him

For example, you look around the arrival gate and see:

 The toddler, strapped into her stroller and crying madly, ignoring her drippy ice-cream cone as a DC-10 rises into the smog outside the window. Boy, do you remember THAT feeling.

 The two little boys at Gate 22 running into a crowd of arriving passengers and being scooped up by a tired but happy businessman. The mom joins them, making a four-person sandwich, and you can almost hear them squeal, “We’re the ham and cheese, you’re the bread!” — but no, that’s what YOU used to say. It’s only a memory. But you can taste the hope and

excitement in then air. You know what those boys are thinking right now. Today Daddy’s home for good. Today everything will be normal again.

Maybe for them it’s true. Maybe THEIR parents aren’t professors-slash-international business consultants like yours.

For YOU, Ducky, things were never normal. Because Mom and Dad always had another trip.

And when they were gone, you worried they’d forget you, or find new kids to love, or just plain never come back. You counted the days on a calendar and looked at atlases and encyclopedias, hoping to see Paris through Mom’s and Dad’s eyes, or Boston or Abu Dhabi or Toronto or Sri Lanka. And you wondered why you couldn’t have gone along too and WHAT you did wrong

and HOW you could make them want to stay home next time — IF I CLEAN MY ROOM

EVERY DAY, IF I STOP YELLING AT MY BROTHER, IF I GET STRAIGHT A’S …

The trips eventually became a part of life, expected, unavoidable, like breakfast and homework.

The fears became hidden away like a scabbed-over wound — and soon even the scab was gone, leaving only a scar.

Scars protect. Scars heal. But they’re markers too, reminders of what’s underneath.

So when you see that toddler and those boys, the scar stretches. You feel a little of the old pain.

And you ask some of the old questions: What will Mom and Dad be like when they arrive? Will they be happy to see you? How long will they stay this time? Until the spring? Until the new year, at least?

The difference between now and then is that at 16, you KNOW some of the answers.

You know to settle for reality. Which isn’t too bad, really. Soon 121 Sherwood Road will look and smell the way it used to. Like a house with a real family in it.

Still, you want something MORE.

An edge. An electricity.

Something.

And you know you won’t get it.

9:07 P.M.

The 5:37 has arrived.

Much Later

After an Evening of Song, Dance, and Laughter

Well, maybe not dance.

Definitely not song.

Laughter? Uh, well …

Let’s just say it’s been a weird night.

Starting with the arrival of the plane.

The Reunion of the McCraes

Based on a True Story

Act I, Scene I:

SETTING:

Los Angeles International Airport, 9:10 P.M., December 1. Great hubbub at Gate 21. Passengers emerge from the plane into the waiting crowd. Families hug and cry. Boyfriends and girlfriends are lost in each other’s embraces. DUCKY, a nondescript, dark-haired 16-year-old, cranes his neck. He sees:

CUT TO:

A tanned, trim, middle-aged couple walking out of the gate. They are struggling with their carry-on luggage.

DUCKY looks away.

Then he does a double take. They’re his parents. He didn’t recognize them at first. Was it their tans? Their weight loss? Or has it really been so long since he last saw them?

DUCKY’S heart is beating faster. He smiles. He waves and calls out their names.

FATHER and MOTHER turn. They spot DUCKY across the multitudes.

[Swelling music.]

DUCKY [enthusiastically, arms wide, BIG smile]: HI!

MOTHER [with a quick kiss on D’s cheek]: Thank you for coming, sweetie. Would you help with the carry-ons?

FATHER [putting garment bag over D’s outstretched arm, which is already holding M’s bag]: What a trip. Glad you’re here. Heavy enough?

D [sagging under the weight]: Uh, fine.

M: Where’s Ted?

D: Studying.

F: At least SOMEBODY’S working. Heh-heh. Let’s get our luggage.

M & F walk briskly ahead toward baggage claim. D lags behind, loaded down with luggage.

Dumbfounded. Drooping. Dodging and ducking through the crowd.

D [thinking, in a voice-cover]: They’re tired. It was a long flight. So they’re not gooey and emotional. That’s not their style anyway. Deal with it.

M: Are you still with us, Ducky?

D [voice-over]: Ducky?

He smiles. F and M sometimes still use his nickname. It’s a touching moment. It sounds so natural, so RIGHT, in a funny way. A glimmer of happiness.

Which ends as he collides with a man in a Hawaiian shirt.

CUT. CHANGE REEL

You reach the baggage claim bruised but alive. You drop the carry-ons. Mom and Dad are looking to the place where the suitcases will first appear.

“How was the trip?” you ask.

Mom begins, “Well, I made great progress on my paper. …”

You hear about the water level of the Volta River. The price fluctuations of manganese ore and bauxite. The condition of the cacao crop and its effects on the coastal Ashanti people.

Right.

“Didn’t you do anything FUN?” you ask.

They don’t answer. They’re distracted by the carousel, which is now going around without their luggage. So Dad begins to worry aloud that his stuff has been stolen or switched onto a flight to Katmandu, where some lucky Sherpa will soon be leading mountain treks dressed in his Brooks Brothers seersucker shirt. And you don’t want him to make a scene, but there’s no way to stop him — he’s off yelling at some skycap, threatening to sue the airline, when

HALLELUJAH!

The suitcases arrive. But now Dad’s caught in one of his funks, so you try to be lighthearted and cheerful as you drag the luggage to the airport doors. You run to the lot, fetch the car, and load everything into the trunk. You hand Dad the keys, but he shakes his head. “No, you go head.”

You turn toward Mom. She’s already sliding into the backseat.

YOU’RE driving, Ducky. No way out.

The Torture Begins.

As you pull away from the curb, Dad STOMPS on an imaginary brake. As you approach the

crosswalk, he YELLS at you to watch out for the pedestrians. He GASPS at near-accidents that are (let’s face it) all in his mind.

Soon you’re crawling along then freeway at five miles UNDER the speed limit, eyes ahead, teeth clenched, knuckles gripping the steering wheel. Mom exclaims how nice it is to be back home, but all you can see out the window is smoggy, gray Culver City, and you think either she’s lying or Ghana must be pretty dismal, when suddenly she asks, “So … how are YOU, sweetie?”

YOU.

What a shock.

There’s so much you want to say — your schoolwork, your new friendships, your job at Winslow Books — and everything rushes out at once, but nothing makes much sense.

Dad interrupts you. “What about Mrs. Winslow?” he mumbles. “Is she …?”

“Still alive, yup,” you reply, and you HATE the way the words sound — a quick update, just the headlines — implying all is well, when in reality it’s NOT — Sunny’s mom is DYING and

Sunny’s going through her own private hell. But you CAN’T go into that or into anything IMPORTANT, because Dad is telling you to bear left, slow down, use your signals — and when your exit FINALLY appears, you want to veer onto a side street, park the car, and walk home.

But instead you obediently drive to your house, then tote the baggage inside while Mom and Dad give Ted a BIG, EMOTIONAL greeting, and Ted seems actually INTERESTED in the news

about bauxite (the faker), which is why they adore him so much more than you (Ducky, you DIDN’T write that).

Soon Dad’s complaining. The TV’s been moved to the wrong side of the living room. There’s no real food in the fridge. A slice of pizza has slipped between the fridge and counter, somehow unseen by you and Ted.

Mom’s wandering around the house, running her fingers along the counters, gazing through the windows, as if visiting the place in a dream. You try not to look at her face as she discovers a sock behind the sofa … and the smudge marks on the ceiling that Ted’s friends made, passing around the basketball inside the house.

This is NOT what you expected. You’ve done five loads of laundry. Washed all the dishes.

Swept the kitchen floor. Scrubbed the bathtub. Taken out the garbage.

You’re proud of yourself. Proud of Ted too (even though he did one-tenth the work you did, but hey, anything’s an improvement). You thought Mom and Dad would be happy. You thought

they’d appreciate the effort.

Oh, well.

You’re in your room now, after a very late dinner, door closed. Ducky’s Cave.

You can hear Mom and Dad in their room, unpacking, grumbling. The 24-hour news radio

station is droning in the background. (That is such a DAD thing.)

You feel cooped up.

A day ago, you felt as if the WHOLE HOUSE was your room. Now you’re back to these four walls again.

It’s THEIR house now. No more dropping your clothes on the floor and picking them up

whenever. No more leaving dishes in the sink overnight. No more loud music — YOUR music, YOUR radio stations — whenever you want.

You may have gained a family, Ducky boy.

But you’ve lost your freedom.

Wednesday, 12/2

Bleary-eyed in Homeroom

You wake up to the smell of grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches. Mom and Dad are in the

kitchen, eating lunch. At 7:00 A.M.

They’re still on Ghana time.

They stayed up all night, noticing things wrong with the house. Things Ted and you “neglected.”

Now — while you’re still half asleep — they present you with a handy list of questions: Did we renew their magazine subscriptions? Did we tip the gardener? Did we pick up the dry cleaning? Did we turn over their car’s engine regularly?

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