Read The Distance to Home Online

Authors: Jenn Bishop

The Distance to Home (13 page)

“Y
ou wanna go to the Bandits game with us?” Casey asked when I picked up the phone the morning after we got back from the Adirondacks.

“Of course.”

“How about Haley?”

“No,” I said. I didn't tell him that Haley hadn't spoken a word to me since the night she and Zack broke up. Even though it rained for two days straight and we were all stuck in the house. Not even during the thirteen-hour car ride home. Every time I tried to talk to her—to apologize—all she did was ignore me.

“More food money for us!” Casey said. “See you in half an hour.”

I was rooting around for my Bandits shirt when the doorbell rang. Nobody ever used the doorbell except people selling stuff or asking for donations. I went to the window to see who it was. Standing on the doorstep was Zack with a bouquet of sunflowers. Haley's favorite. Mom and Dad were in town picking up groceries, so it was just me and Haley at home.

“Haley!” I shouted.

No answer.

The doorbell rang again.

I ran downstairs and opened the door. “What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I miss her,” Zack said. “Is she around?”

I nodded and let him inside. Maybe I wasn't supposed to let in strangers and Zack still felt like a stranger, but I needed to make things better with Haley. Maybe this could be the start.

I ran back upstairs, knocked on Haley's door, and waited. Nothing. “Come on, Haley. It's important.”

Still nothing. I turned the doorknob; she hadn't locked it. She was lying on her bed, listening to music with her headphones on. She pulled them off the second she saw me.

“Zack's here,” I said. That got her up. “He's downstairs,” I whispered. “He brought flowers.”

She ran over to the mirror, rubbed her face a bit, and adjusted her T-shirt.

“You look fine,” I said to her.

She went downstairs. I could hear her and Zack talking in the kitchen. She sounded like nothing was the matter, like the breakup was no big deal. I grabbed my glove and ball from off my bureau and went outside. I knew what Mom would say: Haley deserved privacy.

I ran out into the backyard and threw some killer pop-ups. It was so sunny I had to squint to see the ball. There wasn't a single cloud in the sky. I'd have to make sure to bring my cap for the game. I threw the ball higher and higher, and every time, I caught it.

Maybe things would be okay now, I thought. If Haley and Zack got back together, Haley would forgive me. She'd have to, right?

It was almost time for Casey's mom to come pick me up, so I went inside to get my Bandits cap. The sunflowers were in a vase on the kitchen counter, but Haley and Zack were nowhere in sight. I ran upstairs. That's when I heard them. They were in Haley's room.

They must have heard me coming up the stairs because Haley opened the door right as I was walking down the hallway.

“Zack and I are going to drive into Chicago and go to Millennium Park,” Haley said. “They're putting on a free concert.” Her whole face looked so different than it had the past few days. It wasn't just that she was smiling. Even though she and Zack had broken up, she still smiled sometimes. It was her eyes. They sparkled.

“Cool,” I said. She was talking to me. She could have left a note for Mom and Dad, or called them. But she was talking to me instead.

“You okay hanging out here until Mom and Dad get back?”

“I'm going to the Bandits game with Casey. He and his mom will be here any second.”

“Fun,” Zack said. “I've always wanted to go to a Bandits game. We should all go sometime. Like a double date. Casey's a guy, right?”

Haley cracked up while I pretended to vomit. “Casey is
not
my boyfriend.”

“Okay,” Zack said. “Just putting it out there.”

Haley tugged on the sleeve of Zack's hoodie. “Let's go,” she said.

I grabbed my hat and followed them outside to wait for Mrs. Sanders.

I sat down on the front porch steps with my glove. Haley and Zack got into Zack's car, but they didn't leave right away. Zack was busy saying something to Haley. He rolled down the car window. “You want us to wait with you?”

I shook my head. “I'm fine. Really.” I smiled and waved.

“Okay.” He gave me the thumbs-up sign, backed the car out of the driveway, and drove away.

Haley must have called Mom and Dad to ask their permission, but just in case, I scribbled down a note about where both of us were and left it on the kitchen counter under the sunflowers. When I finished, Mrs. Sanders was pulling her van into our driveway. “Who's ready to see the Bandits kick some Flyers butt?” she asked as I got into the backseat with Casey.

“Mom,” Casey said. “It's not cool when you say it.”

“Well, excuse me.” Mrs. Sanders smiled at me in the rearview mirror. “Alert the media. I am not cool.”

I smiled. The whole car ride, I thought about double-dating with Haley and Zack. I didn't think Casey understood why I had to look out the window to keep from giggling.

—

The Bandits were down, 4–2, in the bottom of the eighth with two outs and a runner on second when the third baseman, Ryan Gregory, stepped up to the plate and, at that moment, Mrs. Sanders's cell phone rang.

“Come on, Bandits. You've got this!” I shouted.

“All we need is a home run to tie it up,” Casey said. “This is our guy.”

“I know. But he's in a slump. He hasn't hit a homer in two weeks.” I clasped my hands together like I was praying. “Come on, Ryan! You can do it.”

Someone closer to the field level started chanting, “Let's go, Bandits,” and then we were all saying it. Louder and louder.

Mrs. Sanders had her phone pressed hard to one ear and her finger to the other ear. She was biting her lip and looking out at the game, but not like she was watching.

Ryan swung at the first pitch, and the ball smacked into the catcher's mitt.

“Strike one!” the umpire yelled.

Mrs. Sanders put her phone down on her lap. “I'm so sorry, but we need to go now.”

“But the tying run's at the plate!” Casey was super-whiny when he said it, the kind of whiny Mom and Dad never let me and Haley get away with.

“I'm sorry,” Mrs. Sanders said again. She put her hand on my shoulder. “We need to get you home.”

The whole walk back to the car, Casey yammered on and on about how his mom had promised we could go out for ice cream after the game and how it wasn't fair that we weren't going. All I could think of was that I was in trouble. Mom and Dad must not have seen my note and didn't know where I was, and they'd had to call Haley, and Haley told them I was at the game.

I should've waited for them to get home before I left. They said I could still go to my baseball tournament, but they hadn't said anything about Bandits games. Maybe my punishment was going to be no Bandits games for a week, but then I went.

When Mrs. Sanders pulled into my driveway, Casey was still complaining about the broken ice-cream promise. I told them both good-bye, and Mrs. Sanders said something to me that didn't make any sense: “We love you, sweetie.”

I went in through the front door.

“Mom?”

The house was so quiet I could hear the sprinkler outside.
Chk-chk-chk-chk.

I walked into the kitchen. The sunflowers were still there. My note was still tucked under the vase. “Mom? Dad?”

Through the window, I saw the backs of their heads on the porch swing.
You're in for it now, QD.
I went out the back door, ready for my punishment.

Dad started talking first. “Hey, honey,” he said, and then he took a shaky breath, the kind dads don't take. I realized I didn't have my glove. I must have left it in the van. My hand felt empty and wrong. “Your…your sister and Zack were in an accident on their way into the city.”

I clenched my hand into a fist and stared back at Dad. “Are they okay?”

Dad slowly shook his head from side to side.

“Is she in the hospital? Can I go see her?”

But Dad kept shaking his head.

“Haley…died,” Mom said. There was this little warble in her voice, like she had swallowed wrong. “Another car on the highway lost control, and it hit her side of the car.” I kept looking at her. “They said it happened so fast she didn't feel anything.”

If Haley died, they would be crying. I would be crying. And I wasn't. They weren't.

I looked at Dad and then at Mom and then at Dad again. This time, I saw the tissue folded in Dad's hand. The corner of Mom's eye that kept twitching. The salt crusties on Dad's cheeks.

No.

“I think I left my glove in Mrs. Sanders's van.”

“Quinnbear,” Dad said, reaching his arms out toward me.

This time he was crying.

M
om and Dad don't say anything about what happened on the field at the Bandits game. Not one word. Dad turns on the radio to the Cubs game, and the whole drive home, over the
swish-swish-swish
of the windshield wipers, we listen to the play-by-play.

When we get home, I go right up to my room and close the door. I pull out my calendar. I count five games to figure out when Hector is pitching next. With my fattest black marker, I cross out that game. That whole day. I'm not going.

One, two, three, four, five. I scribble out that day, too, so hard it bleeds onto the next month. I flip the calendar over to August. One, two, three, four, five. And then I'm on August 8th.

I can't scribble out that day. I can't even touch it.

I'm still looking at August 8th when Dad knocks on my door.

“Yeah?” I say.

“Can I come in?”

“Okay.” I flip the calendar back to July and turn around. It's not just Dad, though. It's Mom, too. They come in and sit down on my bed.

“Honey,” Mom says. “I think we need to have a talk.”

“There's nothing to talk about.”

Dad puts his hands on his knees and leans toward me. “Can we try?”

I nod.

He looks at Mom like they're trying to decide what to say next. The teams are all messed up now. When it was Team Mom and Dad versus Team Haley and Quinnen, at least I had a shot.

“Have you talked to Zack? Since the funeral?” I ask. Zack had come with his grandmother. There were about a million people dressed in black and navy blue telling me how sorry they were and hugging me. But real me had floated away like a little balloon. Real me was far away, watching robot me say “Thank you” over and over and over again.

Mom nods. “I've run into him around town here and there. And of course we said hi to him when we saw him at the pizza stand.”

“You knew he was working at the stadium?”

“Not before today,” Dad says. “Actually, we were pretty surprised to see him there. You must have seen him there before, huh?”

“How does he get to— Why did he get a job there?”

“I don't know, Quinnbear,” Dad says.

I rub my sneaker against the edge of my desk. “Did you know he's friends with Hector, too?”

“No, sweetie,” Mom says.

“It's like he's trying to take everything that's mine,” I say, staring at the Bandits sticker on my headboard.

“I doubt that's his goal, Quinnen,” Dad says.

“Well, it sure feels like it!” I don't intend to shout it, but that's how it comes out.

Mom looks startled. “Quinnen,” she says softly.

“First he takes Haley away from me, and then he starts working at the pizza stand so I can't even get my snacks and Casey has to do it for me, and then he's friends with Hector, my only real friend since Haley died. All I have left is Casey! And now he's on vacation, so really I have nobody. Don't you get it? I. Have. Nobody.”

“You don't have nobody,” Dad says. “You know you have us.”

“Your dad's right,” Mom says. “You always have us.”

“No, I don't. It's not the same.”

“What do you mean?” Mom asks.

“I don't want to play tennis or be in a book club or whatever thing you wished you could do with Haley. I'm not Haley. I can't be Haley.”

Mom cringes. “Nobody's expecting that, honey.”

Dad takes a deep breath. “This past year has been hard for all of us. We all miss her. We're all fumbling. And we're trying—we really are trying to help you, even if it doesn't always feel that way.” He looks up at my Bandits poster for a second. “That's why we got…Anyway, Quinnbear, what can we do? How can we help you?”

“I don't know!” I close my eyes when I say it. When I open them up again, the tears are there. It's still me and my parents. Just the three of us. It'll never be four again.

“I want to take it back. All of it. All of last summer. I want a do-over.” I think about Zack's face, when I finally saw it behind the pizza costume, and how he was crying. And the nail polish, Haley's favorite color. “It wasn't Zack's fault. It was me. My fault. I'm the one who ruined everything.”

“Quinnen,” Dad says.

“No!” I shout again. “All last summer, I never told Haley what was really bothering me. I never told her how I missed her, or that it hurt my feelings when she ditched me and how she always wanted to hang out with her friends and Zack instead of me. And then it was too late. It was too late, and I messed it all up.”

I stare down at my lap, at my stupid hands that are way too big for my glove. I don't deserve to play baseball, to be good at it again.

“I never got to tell her I was sorry.”

“Quinnen, honey,” Mom says. There are tears pooling in her eyes.

I don't think she's ever going to stop crying, and that's my fault, too. I made my mom cry. I can't do anything right.

Mom reaches out her hand and takes hold of mine. “Haley knew—she always knew that you loved her.”

“I miss her,” I say. “I miss her so much I can't even believe it.”

“I know,” Mom says. “I miss her, too. Every day.”

“Then why can't we talk about her more? I don't like pretending she was never here. I can't keep doing it.”

“You know, you're right, Quinnen,” Dad says.

The chair makes a creak when I stand up and squish myself onto the bed between the two of them.

It's three now. Just three. But three's a lot better than one.

I'm hugging them, and they're both hugging me, and then Mom is rubbing my back. She keeps saying the thing I've wanted to hear for so long, the thing nobody told me after Haley died. “It's okay, sweetie. It's okay.”

Even though it's not, I still need to hear it.

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