Authors: Jenn Bishop
It can't stay this way forever.
I turn on the light and try to see her room the way one of those interior decorators from those HGTV shows that Mom always watches would see it. “Looking for the potential.” Haley's room is almost too big for one person. It's at least twice as big as the room Brandon stayed in. You could fit twin beds in here easily and still have room for other furniture.
I turn off the light and head back into my room. Somewhere in my desk mess is a big pad of drawing paper from art class. There must be some sheets left. I toss aside old math assignments, handouts, and magazines until I find it.
There isn't enough space on my desk, so I clear a spot on the floor and lie down on my belly. I sketch ways to rearrange Haley's room using furniture from the guest room, just like an interior decorator, and then I color it in with some markers.
I draw and draw and draw, not even thinking about how late it is or that I'm supposed to be sleeping. At least it's not quiet anymore. The markers squeak on the page, but in my head there are other sounds. Guys laughing as they come in from a game in their grass-stained uniforms. ESPN on all the time. We could fit three baseball players here each summer, between Haley's old room and the guest bedroom. I'm sure of it.
When I finish, I sit up and look at my drawing. I'm not as good a student as Haley was, but I usually get an A in art.
But now all those sounds are gone and all I can hear are the crickets and the clock in the hallway, and it seems like the thing that I thought would fix everything is actually doing something else. It feels like I just took a big eraser to my sister. To everything that was left of her.
I crumple up the paper and throw it toward the trash can. It misses, and I leave it there.
I grab the ball from Brandon and go into Haley's room. The clock on her nightstand is still blinking from when we lost power in the winter. Nobody came in and reset it. I turn the clock so it faces the wall. I crawl under the covers, even though they don't smell like Haley anymore, and this time I don't tell myself that I can't do it. I tell myself,
It's okay, Quinnen. It's okay.
And out loud I tell Haley's pillow, “I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.”
h, Quin-nenâ¦” The voice came out in a singsong.
Someone flipped up the shade, and sunlight streamed into the bedroom. It was our third day in the Adirondacks.
“Dad?” I glanced at the travel alarm clock I'd put on the ledge by the top bunk. “It's seven o'clock. That's too early for summer.”
“Too early? It's never too early for an adventure.”
“What adventure?” I asked. I sat up so fast I whacked my head on the ceiling. “Ouch.”
“How does a hike up Old Black Bear sound?” Dad said as he opened the door to the room where Haley was staying.
“Like torture,” Haley groaned. “This is supposed to be a vacation.”
“Sounds fun,” I said, rubbing my head.
Dad popped his head back into my room. “There are doughnuts for breakfast, and Mom is making some lunches to take to the top. You girls just need to get dressed and brush your teeth, and we're all set to go.” He headed downstairs.
Haley stumbled out of her bedroom toward the bathroom.
“Maybe we'll see a bear,” I said, loud enough for her to hear. I'd always wanted to see one. Not at the zooâI'd seen plenty at the zooâbut up close. Well, not
up close. Close enough that I could take a picture of it with the zoom.
“Yeah,” Haley said. “Maybe it'll eat me so I won't have to go on the hike.”
“Slow down, Quinnbear,” Dad said. “We need to wait for Mom and Haley to catch up.” Dad and I were always the fastest on hikes. Mom and Haley usually dawdled.
I pulled off to the side of the trail and grabbed on to a tree while I caught my breath. Dad took a few sips from his water bottle, then handed it to me. I gulped a couple mouthfuls of water and looked down the trail. Hiking up the mountain, one step after another, I had kept my eyes on the ground so I wouldn't trip. Now I could see how high we were. And how far we still hadÂ to go.
I was getting sweaty from the climb, so I took off my long-sleeve T-shirt and tied it around my waist. I shivered for a moment in my tank top and moved over to a spot where the sun shone through the leaves.
“Are you starting to get excited for the tournament?” Dad asked.
“It's a big accomplishment, Quinnen. I hope you know how proud Mom and I are of you.”
“I know,” I said quietly, staring down at Mom and Haley, who still had a ways to go before catching up with us. I wondered what the two of them were talking about. Was Haley telling Mom all the things about Zack that she wouldn't tell me?
“How long do you think Coach Napoli's beard will be by the time we get back from vacation?” Dad asked, stroking his bare chin.
“Hopefully long enough for him to sit on it. Like wizard-long. Dumbledore-long.”
Dad smiled. “Dumbledore, huh? We'll see.”
Finally Mom and Haley caught up with us. Dad said we had to give them some time to rest, too, if we were going to be fair.
Haley pulled her cell phone out of the pocket of her shorts.
“Hales, really?” Dad said.
She shoved it back in her pocket. “It's not like we get reception up here, anyway. Onward?”
Mom went up ahead with Dad while I stayed back with Haley.
“How far do you think we'll be able to see when we get to the top?” I asked, keeping my eyes on Haley's sneakers as she took each careful step.
“To outer space.”
“I don't know, Quinnen. Can you stop asking so many annoying questions?”
It was only one question.
I stayed quiet until something rustled in the grass nearby and we stopped to see what it was. A chipmunk popped its head out, and I yelped.
“Oh, nothing,” she said. “I was just thinking about how this morning you said you wanted to see a bear and now you're freaking out over a chipmunk.”
“Am not,” I said. But I was laughing, too.
We got quieter as the trail steepened and became rockier, but it was the good kind of quiet, not the fighting kind. Dad and Mom were talking a lot, which slowed them down, so it didn't matter that Haley was poky. We were all kind of poky together there on the side of the mountain, just my family and the chipmunks and the birds.
The wind picked up as we got closer to the top, and it wasn't as warm as it had been back at the house. The top of the mountain was made up of all these huge jagged rocks. Even Mom and Dad had to climb on their hands and knees.
For once, it helped to be the shortest one. I scrambled past the others up the rocks and ran to the very top. I spun and spun and looked in every direction. Everywhere I looked was blue and green and curvy. So alive. There were tons of other mountains in the distanceâso many we'd never have time to climb them all. It was nothing like home.
“It makes you feel pretty small, being up here.” Haley came and stood next to me, breathing hard as she looked into the distance. She handed me a Twizzler. “Shh. Mom doesn't know I brought them. They're just for us.”
I gobbled mine up real fast, popped a few more in my pocket for later, and went over to where Mom and Dad were sitting. Dad was already pulling the sandwiches out of his backpack. “Don't eat without me!” I yelled.
“One peanut butter and banana sandwich,” Dad said, handing it to me. “Was that so torturous?” he asked Haley.
Haley smiled. “Not entirely. I guess you're not Stalin.”
Mom and Dad laughed.
“Who's stallin'?” I asked.
They just laughed harder.
“Look it up when we're back at the house,” Mom said.
“You guys are no fun,” I said. But I was smiling. I opened up a bag of Fritos and tossed a handful into my mouth. Haley grabbed the bag from me, and then Mom decided she didn't need to eat healthy during vacation and had some, too, and then Dad poured the rest into his mouth like he was Chip Monster.
And Haley didn't check her phone, even though we were at the top of the mountain and she probably had cell reception. Not even once.
When we got back to the house, it was almost time for supper, but Mom said she didn't feel like cooking, so she ordered a pizza. She and Dad drove into town to pick it up, leaving me and Haley at the house.
“I call first bath!” Haley said. She started filling up the tub, went into her bedroom for clean clothes, and closed the bathroom door. I was lying on the bottom bunk, reading the first chapter of this scary Stephen King paperback I had found downstairs. The creepy clown on the cover hadn't come into it yet, but I figured if I kept reading, it would get good.
I could hear Haley's cell phone buzzing on the wooden dresser in her room.
A text message.
I tried to read my book, but I must have read the same sentence ten times and I couldn't say what it was about. I closed the book, left it on my bed, and went into Haley's room. In the bathroom, she was singing this song we'd heard on the radio in the car. I picked up her phone.
One new text message.
It was from Zack:
Did you survive the hike?
When I scrolled up, I could see all the messages between Zack and Haley. So many messages. Some were in Spanish, so I couldn't understand them. But there were more. So many more in English, and I read them. All of them. It was like watching Haley and Zack talk, except I wasn't invited. I wasn't supposed to see any of it, but I couldn't stop.
I couldn't stop reading them.
And then I saw it.
Nothing says “family vacation” like a forced march with your annoying sister. At least I have a room to myself this time. There's no way I could've handled a whole week stuck in the same room as her. She's so immature and clingy. Only four days till I get back. Can't come soon enough.
My heart was beating hard, like when I'm up at bat and there are two outs and a 3-2 count and everything comes down to me and my one chance and I can't blow it.
And then I started typing.
I think we should brake up.
And then I hit “Send.”
uinnen! Time to go!” Dad yells up the stairs.
I'm searching under my bed for my Bandits T-shirt. I know it's under there somewhere.
“Coming!” I yell back.
It passes the sniff test, so I put it on and run down the stairs. Dad is waiting outside by the truck, but Mom is already sitting inside it, tapping her fingers on the dash.
I climb in through Dad's side and sit in the middle.
“I started reading the new book-club book last night,” Mom says. She waits for me to say something back. She hasn't bugged me about tennis lessons since that day a few weeks ago, but she won't let go about the stupid mother-daughter book club. Even though we missed the first meeting, where they talked about the Judy Blume book, she still insists we can join in for the second book,
When You Reach Me.
I stare out the window as we pass by Casey's empty house.
“I'm talking to you.”
“I know. You started reading the book. That's not exactly big news. It's not like you didn't already know how to read.”
“Quinnen!” Dad raises his voice and glances over my head at Mom. “I don't like your tone.”
“What do you want me to say?” I ask him.
“Did you read the book yet?” he asks.
I don't tell them that I read the whole thing. Or that I checked the bookshelf downstairs to see if Haley had any more books by Rebecca Stead. She didn't. Mom always said she and Haley were the bookworms. Never her and me. I know she wouldn't have chosen me for the book club if Haley was still here.
“I read a few pages,” I say. “But it's not really my kind of book, you know?”
Mom clasps her hands together on her lap and sighs. “I thought you might like this one. I love the mystery of it.”
After a few minutes, I reach over and turn the radio up so we don't have to talk for the rest of the ride to the ballpark.
Mom and Dad couldn't be slower when it comes to walking to the ticket booth. I have to keep reminding myself to walk extra-slow to stay with them, since they have the money for the tickets and food. And because we're doing this “as a family.”
At the ticket booth, Mrs. Harrington nearly squeals when she sees my mom. “Laurie! So good to see you here with your family.”
“It's nice to be back.” Mom hands her the money for our tickets.
“I've been thinking about you folks this summer. So happy to hear you're hosting. Is Brandon's replacement staying with you, too?”
“I'm not sure if we're going to take another one in just yet,” Mom says. “It's a lot to get used to someone and then have him leave.”
She talks like I'm not standing right here next to her, like I don't have opinions, like I'm not a voting member of the Donnelly family.
“I think we should,” I say quietly.
“What's that, dear?” Mrs. Harrington asks.
“I said, I think we should get another one.”
Mom shakes her head. “She doesn'tâ¦”
I don't what?
“There's always next summer,” Mrs. HarringtonÂ says.
Mom breaks off a ticket, hands it to me, and says something to Dad that I can't hear as we walk into the stadium.
I head straight for our seats right behind home plate. Hector's pitching this afternoon and I want to make sure nobody sneaks into my special spot. Plus I don't want to run into Zack. “Can you bring me back a hot dog?” I ask Dad.
“You want mustard?” he asks.
“How about fries?”
I see Hector warming up his pitching arm with some stretches over by the dugout.
“Hey, Hector!” I shout. He looks over and waves. I wave back.
The visiting team, the Coal Miners, must be eating all the food that Casey isn't allowed to have, because their players are ginormous. And they're smacking every other pitch deep into the outfield.
I hope Hector isn't watching.
“I couldn't find you for a second,” Dad says. He's carrying a cardboard box full of hot dogs and fries. He glances at the empty seat on either side of me. “There aren'tâ¦”
But then he stops himself. I know what he was going to say because I still do it, too, sometimes. Look for four in a rowâwhen all we need now is three.
He sits down next to me. “Think they're going to win today?”
I nod. “They're the Bandits, Dad.” With Hector on the mound and me here to help, there's no way the Coal Miners are going to win this one.
Mom's so busy chatting with some old co-workers from the community college that she doesn't join us until right before the first pitch. She sits on the other side of me.
“So, do you know much about the pitcher?” Mom asks as Hector takes the mound for the Bandits.
I finish chewing my mouthful of hot dog and fill her in on Hector's strengths: great slider, 95-mile-per-hour fastball, and a nasty curveball. I leave out the part about our secret deal. We only met up two times before Brandon left, and then the Bandits went on the road, so we haven't had a chance to meet up again to work on pitching.
“Hector, is it?” Mom says. “He's the one whoâ¦” She glances over at Dad for a second. “Never mind.” She shakes her head. “You really study up on this stuff, huh?”
“Yup.” I keep my eyes glued to the ball as it leaves Hector's hand. The batter makes good contact, and the ball shoots right up the middle, between the second baseman and the shortstop.
“Come on, Bandits! You've got this, Hec. Shake it off!” I stand up so he can really hear me.
The next batter steps into the box. He holds his bat above his head, and he looks ridiculous. Casey would get a kick out of him.
“You've got 'em, Hector!” Mom yells, leaning forward. I almost spit out my root beer. “Am I doing it right?” she asks quietly.
“Cheering? I don't think there's a wrong way.”
She settles back into her seat for the rest of the inning, but when the Bandits shortstop hits a home run, she stands up and cheers with me and Dad and every other Bandits fan.
When we sit back down, she turns to me. “You know, this is pretty fun.”
I think. But I don't say that. “Yeah, it is.”
“I didn't realize how much I was missing out on every summer by teaching at the community college,” Mom says. “It's nice having the extra time with you this summer.”
I don't know what to say back to her. The only reason she stopped teaching was because of Haley. It doesn't seem possible, or fair, that anything nice or good should happen because Haley's gone.
“Come on, Hec!” I shout, cupping my hands around my mouth.
He's pitching so well I haven't had to say
today. Which is probably a good thing because then I'd have to explain it to Mom and Dad. I'm not ready to tell them that I want to be a Panther again.
In the middle of the fifth inning, Banjo runs out onto the field with a microphone. “I need three volunteers. Who wants to help ol' Banjo out?”
Mom looks at me. “You should do it.”
I shake my head. “These things are silly.”
“But they're fun. And soon you'll be too old for them. Plus I bet you'll get a prize. Maybe one of those new Bandits sweatshirts they were selling at the store.”
Mom's rightâyou usually don't even have to win the game to get a prize. And a new Bandits sweatshirt would be the perfect thing to wear on the first day of school.
“Okay.” I stand up, waving my hand. Banjo raises his hand up over his eyes, like he's searching the high seas, not just looking for contestants for the latest mid-inning game. He doesn't go for the kids at first. He chooses an older man wearing Bandits gear from head to toe and then a teenage girl.
Pick me! Pick me!
There's no way he can't see me. I'm waving both hands and jumping. He scans the entire crowd one more time and then points directly atÂ me.
I run down to the gate where they let us onto the field.
Banjo has each of us tell the crowd our name into the microphone.
“Quinnen!” he says, repeating what I said. “What an unuuuusual name!”
I smile back at him like he's the first person to ever tell me my name is unique.
“We're debuting a brand-new game today here at Abbott Memorial Stadium. Pizza Knockout!”
I swallow hard.
Running out from the on-field entrance are three people dressed up as slices of pizza. Pepperoni. Sausage. Cheese.
The person dressed as a slice of cheese pizza is wearing beat-up black Converse sneakers.
Cheese Pizza is Zack.