Read The Distance to Home Online

Authors: Jenn Bishop

The Distance to Home (6 page)

“Do you want anything from the vending machine?” Casey asks. “Like some chips or cookies or some candy?”

“No, no. I'm not hungry,” Hector says.

The TV across from Hector is on ESPN, and it's showing the top baseball plays of the day. We all watch the countdown to the best play: a ridiculous somersault catch by an outfielder for the Oakland Athletics. Casey whispers something to Brandon.

“Me and Case are gonna hop down to the cafeteria for a snack. You okay hanging out with Hector for a bit?” Brandon asks me.

“Sure,” I say. Casey almost runs over Brandon getting out of the room. I guess I'd be pretty hungry, too, if I wasn't allowed to eat gluten.

I walk closer to Hector's bed, and he turns down the TV volume. “Does it hurt?” I ask, pointing at the bandage on his face. “Will it leave a scar?”

He puts his drink down on the tray and reaches up to touch the spot lightly with his right hand. “Only a small scar. I have a bigger scar, here.” He rolls up his sleeve and turns his right arm over. On the inside of the elbow there's a long scar, maybe half the length of a ruler. It's shiny and lighter than the rest of his skin.

“What happened?”


Mi madre,
she turned her back when she was cooking. I was only five, and I reached for the handle of a pan on the stove and pulled it down. The whole thing crashed against my arm and scalded me.”

“Ouch! That must've really hurt. Did you have to go to the hospital?”

He shakes his head. “No. The hospital's far away.”

When Casey was little, he burned himself on an iron his dad had left on after ironing dress shirts. It didn't even scar, but Mr. Sanders felt so bad about it that he bought Casey a Power Wheel to make up for it.

“I have one, too.” I lift up my knee to show him my little half-moon scar. “It's sort of faded now. My mom had me put this ointment on it every day for months so it wouldn't be ugly forever.”

“How'd you get it?”

“Me and my sister, Haley, we were biking a few summers ago in the Adirondacks. We go for two weeks every summer because my aunt Julie and uncle Dave have a house there and we can stay for free. Anyway, me and Haley, we were biking over a hill and we were on the right side, but this huge mountain-bike guy came up on the wrong side and crashed into me. I flew over the handlebars and landed real hard on my knee.”

“Ouch.”

“The guy was really mad at me, too. He said I ran into
him.
He was wearing sandals, so of course his toe got all cut up from the crash. It was nasty. But Haley was having none of it. She called him a big bully and told him he needed to look where he was going. She said you're always supposed to slow down at the top of a hill and didn't he know that? And what if something really bad had happened to me when she was in charge? She told him real good.”

I can still see it. Haley in her bike helmet and that shirt she wore all the time that vacation because it had the name of her new favorite band. We rode our bikes together every day. Before boys, before Haley was too cool to ride bikes with me.

“Your sister, I don't remember seeing her at your house.”

“She passed away.”

Hector's face looks blank. He doesn't understand. Those words must not mean the same thing in Spanish.

“She died,” I say. “Last summer.”

“I'm sorry. Was she sick?”

I shake my head.

“Do you have another sister or a brother?”

“No,” I say. “Only Haley. Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“I have an older brother, Victor, and a little sister, Mikerline.” He grabs his phone from the side table and shows me a picture of him with his brother and sister. His brother is tall and strong-looking—he's probably only a little bit older than Hector—but his sister looks like she's about my age. She has cool braids in her hair and a gap between her front teeth.

“Your family looks nice.” I hand the phone back to him. “A brother and a sister. I bet your house is never quiet.”

“We have chickens, too.”

“Chickens? In your house?”

Hector nods. “
Sí.
My house is very loud.”

“My sister, she wasn't quiet. Haley was always playing music or talking with her friends. Or arguing with Mom and Dad.” I miss that. Even the arguing. I stare down at the faded scar on my knee.

“But now you've got Brandon staying with you. That must help with the quiet, right?”

Hector's right. My house is less quiet with Brandon. But less quiet doesn't equal less lonely.

“Sort of,” I say.

“You have a bigger scar here,” Hector says, lightly touching his chest with his hand. He takes another sip from his white cup.

We watch the TV as they show a home run sailing just past the reach of an outfielder's glove.

T
he whole ride back from my game, Haley talked, talked, talked with Zack. About music. About books. About the kids from their camp. And all these inside jokes, too. It was like I wasn't even in the car. And worse, it felt like she was doing it on purpose.

When we were still in Zack's driveway after dropping him off, Haley turned to me. “Do you want to move up to the front seat?”

I wasn't going to sit next to someone who had missed my big hit and then pretended it was no big deal.

“No.” I didn't think such a small word could sound so mean, but coming out of my mouth right then, it did.

“Fine,” Haley said, backing out of Zack's driveway. “Suit yourself.” She turned up the music—some dumb playlist that Zack had made for her—and for the rest of the ride home, she didn't say anything else to me. I picked at my glove and stared out the window.

When we got home, Haley went out to the back porch and I went straight up to my room. Through the open window, I could hear her downstairs, talking on the phone to one of her friends. Ever since Mom upgraded her cell phone plan at the beginning of the summer, it seemed like all she did was talk to her friends. I had friends, too, but I didn't need to talk to them all day long on the phone.
I
had time for my family, too.

I changed out of my Panthers uniform and into shorts and my favorite Bandits T-shirt and went downstairs to the kitchen to get a Popsicle. Haley was still outside yammering on the phone.
Does her new phone have some kind of super battery that lasts forever?
I wondered.

I took the Popsicle upstairs and slurped it, sitting on my bed. I'd never gotten around to making my bed, and the sheets were all rumpled, sort of like a nest. My nest. As I sucked on the Popsicle, I started thinking about this thing Dad always said when he was talking about a client who was hard to please. “If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.” At least, I think that's what he said.

Brain freeze took over, and I gnawed on the Popsicle stick. I guessed I could've eaten it a little slower.

Maybe being anti-Zack wasn't really helping things at all. I knew that when Haley and Mom were fighting, it never helped when Mom tried to tell Haley what not to do. It just made Haley want to do it more.

It was like they were two different teams. Team Mom versus Team Haley. And, as everyone knows, only one team can ever win in a two-team battle.

What if I try to join Haley's team?
I wondered.
What's the worst thing that could happen?

I took the Popsicle stick downstairs and threw it in the kitchen trash.

Haley was finally off the phone and sitting on the living room couch with the TV on.

I sat down on the leather chair next to the couch. “What are you watching?”

“So
now
you're going to talk to me?” Haley didn't even sound like herself anymore. She sounded like one of the mean girls on an MTV show.

I took in a deep breath.
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
“Yup.”

The commercial ended, and the reality show Haley had been watching came back on. The contestants were supposed to make a dress out of stuff you find in a hardware store. I wouldn't know where to start, and that was before the host of the show said they weren't supposed to use things like tablecloths. It looked impossible.

Haley's phone buzzed. She pulled it out of her pocket and laughed as she read a text message.

“Who is it?” I asked.

“None of your business.” Her fingers flew across the little keyboard on her phone. If there was a class in texting, Haley would get an A++.

It was as if I wasn't in the room with her—not really—even though I was only five feet away. I wasn't in the backseat anymore, but still I was invisible.

Used to be that Haley and I would hang out in the living room with the TV on. We'd totally plan on watching something, but then Haley would start telling me about some crazy thing that had happened in her math class or how she'd accidentally hit the gym teacher during volleyball, and then I'd tell her about our basketball game at recess or how Mrs. McCurdy'd had a piece of toilet paper stuck to her shoe for all of social studies, and then, before we knew it, the TV show was over and we'd missed the whole thing.

The TV show was just the background for us, the real deal, the Haley and Quinnen show.

But now it wasn't only the TV that had faded into the background. It was me, too.

By the time they got to the runway part at the end of the episode, I wasn't sure if Haley even cared who was going to win or if she'd bothered to look up from her phone enough to know any of the contestants' names.

The people who made this show sure knew how to ramp up suspense. Right after the runway, they cut to commercial before showing who was going to win the challenge.

During a toothpaste commercial, I decided to try again. “Hey, Haley?”

“Yeah?” She slid her phone back into her pocket.
Finally.

When she turned her head toward me, I remembered that spot on her neck and how she couldn't answer me on the way to the game about if Zack was her boyfriend or not. “Is Zack…is he your boyfriend now?”

“You sound like Mom,” Haley said with a little snort.

Ouch.

I was still waiting for an answer.

She reached up to scratch the spot on her neck. “I don't know, Quinnen. You'd think that's an easy question to answer, but it's not. I like Zack and he likes me, but…”

“But what?” I didn't understand how it could be so complicated.

“It's not easy to talk about these things.”

“With Zack? But you talk to Zack all the time! Like every day. And you text him all the time, too.” Why couldn't she just ask him if he was her boyfriend or not? It was a simple yes-or-no question, right?

“Quinnen, you just don't get it.”

“Don't get
what
?” I said. The commercials had ended. The show was back on. But I didn't care who won the challenge anymore. All I wanted was an answer from Haley, a real answer from my sister. The kind I always used to get.

“He's from another town. There are other people he knows who…who I don't even know about. His world is totally new to me. It's complicated.” Her voice was getting high and she looked a little—almost like she was going to cry.

Other people,
I thought. “Other girls?”

“Forget it.” Haley bit her lower lip and turned up the TV volume. “You'll never understand.”

But I did. At least, I thought I understood. Zack made her sad and angry, but sometimes happy, too. Maybe it was Haley who didn't understand.

Haley had guy friends, and she'd had sort of a boyfriend at school last year, Jacob, but it was different. Jacob had never come over for dinner at our house. And he didn't call Haley all of the time, either. Only some of the time. Plus I knew Jacob. He was on the math team, and his younger brother Ben was in my grade.

But I didn't know Zack. And right then it felt like Haley didn't, either.

I knew that when the show ended she wasn't going to answer my question.

We weren't going to be on the same team. There was no way I could be on Team Haley and Zack. No way.

I could tell that already.

Not this summer.

—

“Baaaatter up!” Dad shouted from behind me.

I stepped up to the plate and tried to focus on the pitching machine in front of me, the one that'd be shooting out balls any second. After dinner, Dad had offered to take me to the batting cages. Mom and Haley stayed behind at the house, which was fine. The last thing I wanted was Haley tagging along.

Shwoop.
The ball came shooting out. I swung hard, the bat ringing in my hands as the ball shot back. A single, at least. Maybe a double?

“Nice one,” Dad said.

“Thanks.” I choked up on the bat, gearing up for the next pitch.

Ping!

“It's out of the park! There's some serious lift on that thing! It's
still
going! Oh man, it just blew through a cloud. And did it…? Oh man, it did! Yiiikes. Well, what's one less seagull, anyway? This is one for the record books, folks!”

“Dad!” I was laughing so hard I missed the next two pitches completely.

“Sorry, Quinnbear. I couldn't resist.”

Dad managed to keep his fake announcing under control for the next fifteen minutes so I could get in some real hitting practice. I let him hop into the batting cage for the last few minutes so he could hit, too.

It wasn't until we were in the truck headed home that the sinking feeling came back. I wished we could've stayed in the batting cages all night. Just me and my dad.

“Haley said you had a pretty key hit in the game today,” Dad said. “I wish Mom and I could've been there for it. Next summer, I swear, kiddo. Next summer, this client will be history, and I'll have more time to spend with you and your sister.”

I stared out the window at the sun, which was finally setting.

“Quinnen?”

“She wasn't even there for it.”

“What do you mean?”

Tears crept into my eyes. I blinked hard and fast. Focused on picking at some falling-off foam inside my batting helmet. “She wasn't watching when it happened. She and Zack…” I didn't know what I was supposed to tell Dad and not supposed to tell him.

“She was in the bathroom,” I finally said. Even though I knew it was a lie. “She missed my hit.” My
game-winning
hit.

“I'm sure she felt really bad about missing it, kiddo.”

He reached over to pat my shoulder.

“Yeah.” I stared at the little pile of gray foam in my batting helmet. “Right.”

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