Authors: Jenn Bishop
“I don't think Mom's going to be happy if I read two books from your list instead of the books I'm supposed to read.”
“Really? Sometimes I don't think you know Mom all that well.”
I knew Mom just fine. Mom was a rule follower. Dad wasn't one all the time, but Mom sure was.
“Fine.” Haley shook her head. “You read the books on the librarian's list. But you know what? You're missing out, my friend.”
She stood up and picked at a splatter of blue paint on her khaki shorts.
“I didn't think you were teaching painting,” I said.
“Then how'd you get paint on your shorts?”
Haley took in a deep breath. “Good night, Quinnbear.”
“It's barely bedtime!”
“I know, but I have something I need to talk to Larissa about. And you have some decisions to make.” Her eyes shifted to my list, which had fallen to the floor again.
“Night, Hales.” She was almost out the door when I said, “Hey, Haley?”
She popped her head back in. “What?”
“See you for breakfast,” I said in a little kid voice. Mom said when I was really little, I said that every night to Haley instead of saying good night.
“You're such a dork.” Haley laughed, closing the door softly behind her.
I reached down for the summer reading sheet to look at my sister's ideas one more time.
ome on. You have to tell me. What's Brandon like?” Casey asks while his mom backs out of my driveway and starts toward Abbott Memorial Stadium. “Does he eat all the food in your house? Does he have a hot girlfriend? Does he spit sunflower seeds or chew bubble gum? If I was getting paid the big bucks to play baseball, I'd buy as much gum as I wanted. Did you hear he got a million-dollar signing bonus?”
“Casey, sweetie. Give Quinnen a chance to answer one of your questions,” his mom says, shaking her head.
“It'sâ” I start to say.
“I know, it's likeâ¦it's like living with a movie star, but before he's famous, right?”
“Casey!” I shout.
He finally shuts his mouth and looks at me, giving me a chance to speak.
“It isn't like that at all,” I say quietly. “It'sâ¦”
I think back on the past week since Brandon arrived at our house. It's like my mom turned our house into a bed-and-breakfast. Number of guests: one. But he eats like a family of four. No matter how much Mom tries to tidy up, there's always a bat or a glove or dirty cleats in the hallway. Except now they don't belong toÂ me.
“Brandon's all right. But he never puts the toilet seat down. And he keeps whining about how long it's taking his Xbox to get here. And his legs are really hairy. Like, borderline monster hairy.”
“He plays video games?” Casey's eyes widen. “Do you thinkâ Oh man, I can't even believe I'm asking this. Do you think maybe I could come over and hang out with him?”
“Casey!” Mrs. Sanders raises her voice.
“Sorry!” he says. He whispers to me, “Can I come over after the game?”
“I'll have to check with my mom, but yeah, I'm sure you can come.”
“I can bring my Xbox! Then he won't have to wait!”
“Totally.” I look out the window as we turn into the stadium parking lot. It's the first game of the season. The lot will be full by game time, but Casey wanted to be extra early on Opening Day, so we're one of the first dozen cars here. Mrs. Sanders parks the van in a shady spot and lets us out.
“I'm going to meet up with some folks from the PTA, but I have to take a conference call on my cell first.” She says this to both of us, then pulls out some money for Casey. “This is enough to buy a new cap or shirt and food, Case. Please do not spend it all on food. I hope you haven't forgotten what happened two years ago.” She gives him her “I'm serious” look.
“I remember,” he says.
“Time will tell.” Mrs. Sanders looks down at me, and her eyes soften at the corners, like she's remembering the last time the three of us were at the stadium together. “Quinnen, sweetie, here's a little something for you.” She presses a folded ten-dollar bill into my hand.
“Thanks, Mrs. Sanders.” I wave good-bye and head toward the stadium with Casey. Between the money Mom gave me back at home and the ten dollars from Mrs. Sanders, I definitely have enough for a new Bandits T-shirt now.
“What kind of games do you think Brandon likes to play? I can bring over
Or maybe that new racing game. Or maybe I should just bring over all my games and let him pick.”
“Sure.” In the back of my head, I wonder if Brandon will even want to play with Casey. But he sure does miss his Xbox.
I scuff my feet in the dry dirt and let Casey talk, talk, talk about Brandon and video games and whether or not the Bandits will win today and what he's going to get from the concession stands.
We walk up to the ticket booth. “Hey there, kiddo,” Mrs. Harrington says to Casey. I watch as her eyes shift over to me and her face falls just a bit before she sweeps it back up again into an extra-big smile. Too big. I've gotten used to that. “Hey there, Quinnen! How are you making out?”
I cut in before she says anything about Haley. “Fine. We're hosting this year. We got Brandon.”
“Oh!” She looks surprised. “Brandon. I see. How's that going so far?”
I lower my voice. “He thinks he's kind of a hotshot.”
Mrs. Harrington lowers her voice to a whisper, too, and leans in toward me. “Now, you didn't hear it from me, but Brandon apparently thought he could get endless free tickets for his buddies. Well, I put the old kibosh on that. Told him it's eight per player. Standard operating procedure.” She shakes her head from side to side. “He said he'd check with the manager.”
“Sounds like Brandon.” I sigh. “But he's okay, I guess.”
“Well, you know how it goes, sweetie. If he really
a big deal, you won't be stuck with him for too long. Hope he has a great game today!” She winks at me and hands me a ticket. I give her my money, but she pushes it back. “This one's on me.”
As we walk over to get food and new Bandits T-shirts, Casey asks, “How come you told Mrs. Harrington that you think Brandon's full of himself but not me?”
“I don't know.” But the truth is I do. Ever since Haley died, it's been easier to talk to strangers about things, and way harder to be honest with people I'm actually close to. It's like buried beneath anything I say is something about Haley. Nobody can be real with me, either.
“You really think he's mean?”
“No. I barely know him. He just isn'tâ¦”
Not that I even know Hector that well. But still. He was nice to me. And he didn't treat me like I was some little kid.
“He isn't Haley,” Casey says.
I don't say anything back. Casey would never understand. He isn't close to his brother. Scotty treats him like a fly that won't go away. Haley wasn't just my sister. She was my best friend.
I scan the row of food vendors and try to listen to my stomach. The popcorn smells so buttery, but then the pizza with the thick cheese and the spicy sauce sounds so good right now. “Case, what should we get?”
“Pizza.” We both say it at the same time.
“Then pizza it is!” I say. That's what Dad always says. Pizza is his favorite.
A whole busload of people must've got in right after us because the stadium's starting to fill up. The pizza line is the longest one but we still have lots of time before the game starts. I hold our place so Casey can run to get a program and I keep an eye on the players warming up. Most of them are sitting in a circle, stretching. I look for all the guys I saw at the Millers' house, trying to figure out who goes where. In my head, I imagine the batting order. I'm still wondering who will bat leadoff this year when Casey returns with the program.
“I don't think we should get pizza,” he says suddenly. “How about hot dogs? It's the first game of the season, and hot dogs are the classic ballpark snack. Pizza would just be wrong.”
What's wrong is Casey and his face and the words that are coming out of his mouth. They don't make any sense. When Casey decides what he wants to eat, it's a done deal. He doesn't change his mind. If the restaurant is out of what he wants, he'll whine to his mom and dad until they go somewhere else for it.
“You're nuts. We're getting pizza. Pepperoni pizza. Two slices for five dollars. It's a deal.”
He tugs at my arm. “No, seriously. I don't want pizza anymore. I swear. The hot dogs look so goodâlike the best hot dogs ever.”
“It's almost our turn. I'm not going to wait in another line for food. We want to watch batting practice, remember?”
Casey looks like maybe he's having a flashback to the barf catastrophe and remembering that pizza was the trigger.
“Fine,” I say. “You go get hot dogs. I'll get my pizza. We can meet over by the picnic tables behind the outfield.”
“Quinnenâ¦,” he starts to say, but he can't get it out.
The tall couple in front of us grab their food and move aside. I look up to place my order and open my mouth to talk to the person working the booth.
My eyes meet Zack's.
Now I understand why Casey wanted us to buy hot dogs.
Zack's hair isn't spiky anymore. It's cut short. But he still has the lip ring. And he still paints his pinky nails. They're jade. Haley's favorite color.
I can't do it. I can't say anything to him.
I turn and run, leaving behind Casey, leaving behind the line, leaving behind Zack with his mouth open. I bet he doesn't know what to say to me, either.
I don't want pizza. I don't want to eat anything. I run along the chain-link fence that separates the stands from the field, following the first-base line. I don't know if I can ever stop.
What is Zack doing here? How could he get a job at my favorite place on earth? He doesn't even live in town! Didn't he ruin my life enough already?
I don't want to ever see him again. And from the funeral till now, I haven't had to. He lives in the next town over, Hindley. Easy. Don't go to Hindley. Check. Done.
I sit down against the wooden wall behind center field. It's as far away as I can get from Zack, from everyone, from everything, without leaving the ballpark. I pull out fistfuls of grass until underneath my nails is tinged green and full of dirt.
This is mine. My place. The only place that's not ruined. Nothing bad is supposed to happen here. Doesn't he know that?
Hot tears spill down my cheeks.
I consider calling
tonight with a request for a song telling Zack to get lost. But I can't think of any mean songs, and they probably wouldn't play the request. But maybe the guy who hosts the show would just listen to me.
I pull out a few more chunks of grass.
That's a stupid idea.
Whoever is calling my name doesn't sound like Casey. The voice is too deep, and it has an accent.
I stand on my tiptoes to look into center field. It's someone in a baseball uniform, running toward me.
I wipe the tears off my face. I'm probably all dirty and grass-stained by now. I rub under my eyes with my T-shirt. A tiny door in the middle of the center- field wall opens up, and Hector comes through.
“I didn't know they had a door there.”
He closes it softly behind him. “Why were you running?”
“I saw someone. Someone I wasn't expecting to see. This guy who ruined my life.”
“Oh,” Hector says. “Your life, it's ruined? Already? Who is this person; what'd he do?”
“It's a long story. You probably don't have time forÂ it.”
They're testing the microphone for the national anthem. Hector opens the door for a peek and sits down on the grass next to me. “I have one minute. Maybe two. Brandon's pretty nervous about his first game, you know?”
I look up at Hector. “Brandon? Nervous?”
Hector holds his thumb and index finger an inch apart.
“I didn't think anything could make Brandon nervous.” I stop playing with the grass in front of me and look through the open door at the field.
“Maybe he'll surprise you. Everyone is nervous or scared sometimes. Even Brandon.”
“It's probably been a minute. I don't want to get you in trouble before you even get to play.”
Hector nods. “Will you come back to the game now? For Brandon?” He waits. “For me?”
“Okay,” I say, standing up. My legs get a little shaky when I think about seeing Zack. What if he's one of the people who walk and up down the aisles during the game, selling stuff? “Good luck.”
“I'll need luck later this week. Today is easy. No pitching for me today.” Hector has to duck to get through the door. Before closing it, he sticks his head back through again. “Good luck to you.”
As I start walking back to the bleachers along the first-base line, I begin formulating my plan. If Zack thinks he can come here and sell pizza, so what? I don't need to visit the concession stands. I can bring my own snacks or ask Casey to get my food for me.