Read The Distance to Home Online

Authors: Jenn Bishop

The Distance to Home (4 page)

When I get to our seats, Casey is waiting with two hot dogs. Actually, what used to be two hot dogs. Two hot dog holders and some dirty napkins rest in my seat.

“Sorry.” Casey moves them out of the way. “They were getting cold, and I didn't know what to do.”

I take off my Bandits cap and turn toward the field for the national anthem.

“Are you okay? With Zack and everything? Do you want me to go get you another hot dog? Or a lemon ice?”

I know Casey's trying, but he doesn't get it. A new hot dog won't fix anything. “Don't worry about the hot dogs. I'm not that hungry.”

I
was helping Mom set the kitchen table for dinner. Dad was picking Haley up from the camp and they'd be home any minute. I had just put down all the silverware when the door connecting the kitchen to the garage opened.

“Hey, Mom? Is it all right if we have one more for dinner?” Haley asked, popping her head in.

Mom was too busy stirring spaghetti sauce on the stove to turn around. “Is Larissa coming over?” During the school year, Haley's friend Larissa joined us for dinner when she and Haley worked on homework together. I think she liked my mom's cooking more than she liked her own mom's.

But that night it wasn't Larissa. Haley stepped into the kitchen with a boy. No, not a boy. A…guy? He was tall—taller than my sister but not baseball-pitcher tall. His dark brown hair was spiky, and he had an eyebrow ring. And was there something sticking out of his mouth—a lip ring? Were they having a sale when he went to get his eyebrow pierced?

“Zack's grandma is out of town, so Dad and I invited him over for dinner. Is that okay?”

It looked like Zack hadn't even washed his hands after camp, unless he'd painted his pinky nail on purpose.

“Sure,” Mom said. “There's plenty of food to go around. Quinnen, can you set a place for Zack, please?”

At least Mom remembered about me. Haley didn't introduce me to Zack. I'd never even heard of him before, and I knew all of Haley's friends.

Our kitchen table wasn't very big. If I'd known we were going to have five people, not the usual four, I would have set the dining room table. That's what we always did when Larissa stayed for dinner. I grabbed a fifth plate and silverware and squeezed in a spot at the kitchen table for Zack.

“I'm going to change real quick before dinner,” Haley said. “Quinnen, you can keep Zack entertained, right?” She scooted out of the kitchen before I had a chance to reply.

Zack gave me a little wave. The nail paint had to be on purpose because it was on both of his pinkies. “Hey,” he said. “I don't think we've officially met yet.”

“Hi.” I couldn't stop myself from staring at his lip ring and wondering how it felt. Did it get in the way when he was eating? Or brushing his teeth? Did it ever get stuck on his clothes when he was getting dressed in the morning?

“So you're Haley's little sister.”

“I'm Haley's
only
sister.”

“Right.” He caught my mom's eye. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“We're just about ready to eat, so grab a spot at the table. Make yourself at home. Can I get you something to drink?”

Zack sat down in the seat that Haley usually sat in. Haley came back into the kitchen. She'd changed into one of her polo dresses and smelled like citrus perfume. She'd put on earrings, too. They were so big and dangly I wasn't sure if they were earrings or Christmas tree ornaments. You couldn't pay me to let someone poke a hole through my ears. No thanks.

Haley sat right down in the chair next to Zack and tucked her hair behind her ear, like she was hoping he'd notice her earrings, too.

“Hey, that's my seat,” I said. I always sat there. It was the closest to the fridge, in case I needed seconds on milk.

“I'm sorry. Did you want to sit next to Zack?” Haley raised her eyebrows at me. She shot me a look that said, What is up with you?

I shook my head and slid into the seat next to Mom. It felt like we were playing musical chairs. When Mom served the spaghetti, I didn't get as much as I wanted since we had to make one more serving for Zack. And was I the only one who noticed there were just four rolls? Mom cut them in half so it wasn't as obvious. But I could still tell. It's more than a little rude not to give advance warning when you're bringing someone over.

“This is Zack's first summer working at the camp, too,” Haley said.

“How do you like it so far?” Dad asked as he buttered his roll.

Zack finished chewing a mouthful of spaghetti before answering. “I love it. The kids are great. They have so much energy, and they love all the different art projects we've been doing. We're working on a mural this week.”

“I always wished Quinnen would give that camp a try,” Mom said. “It's nice having a camp with an arts focus so close by. They're hard to find these days.”

“We still have some spots for sessions later this summer.” Zack smiled at me, and I wondered what would happen if he got a string of spaghetti stuck in his lip ring. Casey would totally do that if he had a lip ring.

“What do you think, Quinnen?” Mom asked.

Did I really have to remind her
again
? “Mom, I have baseball. Practice and games and, if we keep winning, the tournament—remember? In Indiana? I don't have time for art camp.”

“I wasn't suggesting it instead of baseball but in addition to, honey. It doesn't hurt to be well rounded.” She turned to Zack. “Maybe next summer,” she said.

I'll have baseball next summer, too.
Mom didn't catch me shaking my head. Sometimes I wasn't sure she really got it: how important it was to focus on the one thing you really wanted. That's what all the big leaguers did. They lived and breathed baseball from before they were my age.

Haley twirled some spaghetti on her fork. “You know how I was telling you about that amazing book by Junot Díaz that I was reading last week?”

Mom nodded.

“Zack lent me the book. He's super into Junot Díaz. Díaz is, like, one of your favorite authors, right?” Haley looked at Zack as she said that last bit, and popped a bite of spaghetti in her mouth.

“That's fantastic,” Mom said, leaning the tiniest bit toward Zack. “It's always been so important to me as an English instructor to expose my girls to all kinds of literature. Now, tell me, Zack, what other authors have you been enjoying lately?”

Zack was chewing his roll then, so he couldn't answer right away.

I didn't know how he could do it. Just jump right in, squeeze his way into this table, and fit in like he'd been here forever. He even had Mom swooning over him. And that's not easy. Trust me, I'd tried.

“I read a book by her, too. By that Juno lady,” I piped up.

Haley stifled a laugh and looked at me funny. “Really?”

It felt like everyone was staring at me. Mom and Dad and Haley and Zack and his dumb lip ring. Somehow he was still chewing on that bite of roll. I didn't think it was humanly possible to chew a roll for that long. “I read it at the school library one day.”

Mom stood up to clear the plates, and Zack got up to help her.

“It's okay if you don't know what we're talking about,” Haley said to me quietly.

“But I do know,” I said. “You and Mom aren't the only ones who read!” I pushed my chair—no, not even
my
chair, because Haley was in
my
chair—back hard. It squeaked on the floor.

“Quinnen!” Mom sounded annoyed.

“Sorry.”

Haley whispered. “If you had actually read it, you'd know that Junot Díaz is a guy.”

I saw Zack turn his head when she said it.

I could feel my cheeks growing redder and redder as I put my plate in the dishwasher. It scraped against the little poky things that held in the dishes.
Just because I don't get an A+ in ELA doesn't mean I'm not a reader,
I thought.
How can they know everything I've read? They can't prove it.

Even though Mom and Zack had the dishes under control, Haley and Dad stayed to hang out in the kitchen. It seemed like Mom and Dad were playing Twenty Questions with Zack—only Zack didn't seem to mind. Nobody asked: Hey, Quinnen, do you have any questions for Zack? Nobody asked: Hey, Quinnen, how was baseball practice this afternoon?

So I shouldn't have been surprised that none of them noticed when I grabbed my glove and ball and went out through the garage into the backyard.

It was that point in the summer when the days were still super-long. Even after dinnertime, the sun wasn't close to setting. I tossed some balls high into the sky to warm up my arm. I loved the
thwump
the ball made when it hit my glove. Steady and predictable. No matter what, baseball was always there. Okay, sure, it disappeared in the winter, but it came back every spring. Like clockwork, Dad said.

I could see into the kitchen through the window over the sink. It looked like they had mostly finished cleaning up. Now it was just Mom in the window. She gave me a little wave. I nodded to let her know I could see her, but I didn't take my hand out of my glove. When I got bored with tossing pop-ups, I dragged out the backstop to practice pitching at a target.
Blam. Blam. Blam.
Three strikes. You're out.

My arm felt a little stiff, so I sat down on the grass to try some of the new stretches Coach had taught us. Upstairs, the light in Haley's bedroom turned on. I guessed someone had already come by to get Zack. I reached my right arm over my back and tucked the other arm under and around, locking my hands together. I could do this stretch easy at practice, but some of the other kids on my team needed a strap.

My hands were still all locked together like that when I looked up at Haley's window again.

I was wrong. Nobody had come by to get him. Zack was in Haley's room. Zack was alone with Haley in her room.

And they were kissing.

Right in the window, where anybody—okay, I—could see.

He was kissing my sister. Zack with his dumb lip ring was kissing my sister.

And until today, I didn't even know about him.

I thought Haley told me everything. I knew about every quiz she took in school and how she did on it, every time Larissa said something that hurt Haley's feelings, every time Haley was upset or worried or sad or happy or mad. I thought I knew my sister, inside and out.

But I didn't know about Zack.

Haley hadn't told me.

I
reach into the cupboard for my favorite granola. The box feels suspiciously light. Too light.

“Brandon,” I mutter.

I glance over at the world's biggest eater, sitting at the kitchen table with Mom. Dad is standing at the counter with his laptop, answering emails and scarfing down a bagel before heading off to work. Mom is quietly reading the paper while Brandon's playing some game on his phone, with the sound all bleeping and blooping, and drinking coffee. He's sitting in Dad's chair. Haley's chair is empty.

In front of Brandon is an empty cereal bowl. How many bowls did he manage to scarf down before I woke up this morning? Three? Five?
Thirty?

I pull the box down to confirm what I'm pretty sure I already know. I reach inside and pull out a plastic bag with only crumbs in it.

Sighing loudly, I crumple up the bag and toss it in the trash can. Nobody looks up. Not Mom, not Dad, not Brandon, either. They're all lost in their own worlds, their own little bubbles.

I peek inside the cabinet to see what cereals Brandon hasn't finished off yet. The only thing left is an old box of Cheerios. After pouring myself a bowl, and adding what's left of the milk in the fridge—barely a few spoonfuls—I sit down in my seat. At least he left me that.

“Hey, Quinnen?”

I look up when Brandon speaks, my mouth full of stale Cheerios. “Yeah?”

“Some of the guys are coming over pretty soon. It's kind of a team thing, you know? You think you can give us some space?”

I'm still hanging on the first part—some of the Bandits coming over to our house, maybe even Hector—when the last part hits me. I'm not allowed. Not invited.
At my own house.

I look for Mom to raise her eyes up over the paper. To step in and say that this is my house, too. That it was my house first. But she just flips the page. Worse: Dad keeps typing away like Brandon didn't say anything to me.

“Dad?”

He stops typing and glances at the clock. “Shoot. I'm going to be late.” He wraps the last bit of his bagel in a paper towel. “Have fun today, kiddo.” He ruffles my hair and gives Mom a little kiss on the top of her head, and then he's gone.

It's just me and Mom and Brandon. Dad always used to stick up for me. Always. We used to be a team.

“Quinnen? You understand what I'm saying?” Brandon looks up from his cell phone.

“I understand,” I say, and pop another spoonful of stale Cheerios in my mouth.

—

I'm putting my cereal bowl into the dishwasher, peeking out the window at Brandon, Hector, and the other starting pitchers hanging around the picnic table in the backyard, when Mom gets up from the table. “Hey, Quinnen?”

“Yeah.” I close the dishwasher.

“I'm sorry to spring this on you at the last minute, but you know how I've been reading a lot this summer?”

I nod.
This summer?
Ever since Mom decided not to go back to work last September, all she's done is read. Sometimes I wonder if she's actually reading those books, or if she's just flipping the pages, thinking about Haley and all the books she wanted to read that she'll never get to.

She picks up something from the top of the microwave. “I signed us up for a mother-daughter book club that Mrs. Hennigan from down the street is hosting. The first meeting is next Wednesday.”

She hands me a book:
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.
The cover has some girl's feet with all the toenails perfectly painted.
So, it's about God and feet?

“No way. I'd have to read the whole thing in a week?”

“It's okay if you can't read it all in time for the meeting. It was a bit of a last-minute decision.”

Why didn't Mom even ask me if I wanted to do the book club in the first place? Mrs. Sanders would have asked. She wouldn't just make Casey do something like this.

I turn the book over to read the back cover, and flip through some of the pages. Periods? Training bras? “This book is gross! You want me to read it and then talk about it with a bunch of strangers?” I push it back into her hands.

“Not strangers. Friends. And me.” Mom takes the book from me. “Calm down, Quinnen.”

“You don't get it. I don't want to talk about books with you or your friends or their daughters. I'm
not
Haley.”

Mom cringes. She hardly ever says her name anymore. Nobody does. It's like they want to pretend she never existed.

“Quinnen,” Mom says. But then she just stands there.

She could never talk to me about books. Or training bras and periods. Girl talk was what she did with Haley. They would sit around and paint each other's toenails and fingernails. Like the girly girl on the book's cover.

“I'm not doing it.”

I hustle out of the kitchen and stomp up the stairs and into my room. I close the door tight. I figure Mom'll come up after me. She always does. She never leaves me alone.

But I wait and I wait. This time she doesn't come.

—

Brandon, Hector, and the three other starting pitchers are still out in the backyard an hour later when Mom knocks on my door. I've got my bedroom window open so I can listen in. “I'm going to run some errands. Do you want to come along for the ride?”

If I didn't think I'd get in trouble, I'd shush Mom so I could hear them better. These guys know even more about baseball than Coach Napoli. There's so much I could learn from them.

“No thanks,” I say. “I was hoping the other guys would leave and then I could hang out with Brandon and Hector.”

Mom opens the door. “Didn't Brandon ask you to give him some space when he's with his friends? You need to respect his wishes.”

“Yeah, but…” I don't think Brandon would mind if it was just him and Hector.

“I know Brandon's staying with us, but your whole summer shouldn't revolve around the Bandits.” Mom taps her fingers on the door. “You need to find something else to keep yourself busy.”

Something else to replace baseball.
I wish she would just come out and say it. But nobody says what they really think anymore. If we did, we'd talk about Haley all the time. At least, I would.

“I'll see if Casey wants to come over.” Casey can keep anyone busy.

“All right.” Mom closes my bedroom door softly behind her.

I watch through the front window as Mom's car pulls out of the driveway and heads down the road, and then I go downstairs. In the living room, there's this whole wall of bookshelves. Most of the books are Mom's and Dad's, but a few years ago Haley started putting her old books down here to make room for her newer ones upstairs.

When I was little, Haley used to read to me. Not just the books that were for kids my age but also the parts she liked from her books. She wanted to be a writer and work for a big magazine in New York City. People thought she wanted to be a writer so she could be famous, but I know that wasn't it. Haley wanted to see the world. She wanted to get out of here.

Haley's books are organized by author. Such a Mom thing, but it was a Haley thing, too. I run my finger along the spines. Alcott. Avi. Babbitt. Balliett. Bauer. Birdsall.

Blume.

She has three books by Judy Blume.
Forever…
and
Deenie
and—there it is—
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.
I pull it out. It's smaller than the copy Mom tried to give me, and it looks different. This one is purple, and it has a bra on the cover.

Haley read this book. Did she read it when she was my age? I try to think of all the books I ever saw her read, but there were too many of them.

If Haley read this when she was my age, then how old was I when she read it? Haley was six years older than me, so five. I was five when Haley read it.

That was a really long time ago.

There's a knock at the front door. I don't want to put the book back yet, so I shove it under my T-shirt and go to see who's there. I open it and find Casey, the mind reader.

“I got a new Xbox game and I wondered if Brandon wanted to play now that his Xbox is here.”


Hi,
Casey,” I say. “I was about to call you.”

“Oh, right. Hi. Anyway, is Brandon around?” He peeks around the room like I've stashed Brandon somewhere and his feet might be sticking out from under the curtains.

Sometimes it feels like ever since Brandon came here, I've been invisible. Even to Casey.

“He's out back with some of the Bandits. You didn't hear them when you walked over?”

“Nope.”

We head out back through the sliding glass door in the living room. It's probably okay if Casey does the bothering.

“Why are you holding your stomach like that?” Casey asks.

It turns out most of the guys have left anyway; it's just Brandon and Hector sitting at the picnic table now.

“I pulled a muscle.”

“A stomach muscle? How did you do that? You don't even play— I mean…”

“Forget about it.”

Casey forgets about it, all right. He runs right over to Brandon to show him the game. I don't think he'd notice if I disappeared into the cornfields behind my house.

I walk over to Hector. He's staring at this white sheet of paper covered in numbers. Stats for the batters he's going to face tomorrow? I wonder. “Hey, Hector.”

He looks up at me. “Hey, Quinnen. Are you coming to my game tomorrow?”

“Of course,” I say. “Are you nervous?”

Hector nods. “Always a little nervous before the first game in a new place.” He points at my stomach. “What's that under your shirt?”

I check to see if Brandon or Casey is looking. They're still busy, so I slide the book out and hand it to Hector. “It was my sister's.”

He looks at the front and back covers, flips through some of the pages. “You like to read?” He hands the book back to me.

“Not really. My mom wants me to join this book club. A
mother-daughter
book club. I'd rather eat a turd.” I can't help sticking my tongue out of the corner of my mouth after I say it.

“What is a
turd
?” he asks.

I laugh. “Um…like, in the toilet,” I say. “Poop.”

“Caca?”

“Yeah,” I say. Some Spanish, it turns out, is very easy to understand.

Casey grabs the book out of my hand.

“Jeez, Case!” I try to snatch it back, but he's too quick.

“Whoa! Sexy mama!”

“Gross. Come on. Give it back!” I say, blushing.

“Whatcha got there?” Brandon asks. Casey holds up the book to show him. I want to crawl under the picnic table and never come out. “Nice. I remember when my sister read it. ‘Dear God. It's me, Margaret. Can you help me buy a bra?' ” He says it in this stupid falsetto.

Where is my feisty sister when I need her? Haley would swoop in here and dazzle Brandon by saying something clever. Or at least grab the book out of his hands and smack him with it. Okay, maybe she wouldn't have done either of those things. But she wouldn't have stood there laughing at me, either.

Now I don't have anyone to stand up for me.

Even Casey isn't on my side anymore. He's on Team Brandon.

My eyes are starting to tear up when Hector stands up fast.

Casey looks on like maybe there's going to be a fight, but Hector doesn't touch Brandon at all. He snaps the book right out of Brandon's hands before he even knows what's going on.

“Stop it,” Hector says.

He's usually so calm. The surprise of it makes the rest of us get real quiet.

“Stop being a turd,” he says.

Casey falls over laughing. Big belly laughs. He can't even stop himself, he's laughing so hard. He's going to get grass stains all over his white shirt. “He called…” He can only get that much out before cracking up again. He looks up at Brandon. “He called you a 
turd.

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