Read The Distance to Home Online

Authors: Jenn Bishop

The Distance to Home (9 page)

I try not to get any chocolate on the phone when I take it from him. On the screen is a picture of Brandon wearing a suit with his arm around a girl. She has long curly black hair and glasses, and she's all dressed up, too. She's pretty, but not the kind of girl I pictured Brandon with. She looks nice. “Where does she live?”

“Her vet school's in Colorado. We met at Stanford. She was on the women's softball team.” He takes the phone back from me. “I should probably give her a call. She's got a big test coming up, and she's freaking out.”

“Thanks for the cookies,” I say as Brandon heads for the door.

“No prob,” he says. “You know, you're really lucky that Hector's putting aside the time to help you with pitching. My boy misses his family back in the Dominican like crazy. I think it's helping him feel more comfortable here, hanging out with you. Like you're his substitute little sister or something.”

I don't know what to say.

“Well, I gotta go call my girl. Night, Quinnen.”

“Night, Brandon.”

He closes the door a little too loudly, and when he gets back in his room, he's so loud on the phone with Amy that I can barely hear
After Midnight
.

But that's okay. Tonight, I don't mind.

D
ad insisted we drive all the way to the Adirondacks in one day, since we had to cut our vacation short by a week to be back in time for a mandatory practice and my baseball tournament. We started driving at five in the morning, and we were only outside Toledo, not even a third of the way there.

“Honey, did I close all the windows?” Mom asked Dad.

“You know, I think you might've left one open. We should probably turn around now. We're only, like, five hours away.” Haley snorted after she said it.

“Hales…,” Dad said.

“Come on, Mom. You always do this. Remember that time you thought the house was going to burn down because you left the bathroom fan on? It didn't. What's the worst that can happen from leaving a window open, anyway?” Haley stared out the car window, shaking her head. I'm not sure she could get farther away from me in the backseat if she tried.

“She has a point, dear.” Dad yawned.

“But what if it was open wide enough that a skunk crawled through and turned the house into its own stinky home?” I asked.

“I guess then the rest of the house would smell like your room,” Haley said.

“My room doesn't smell like skunk!”

“You're so used to it you can't even tell anymore.”

“Girls, that's enough,” Mom said. “Please.”

“At least it doesn't smell like nail polish,” I said. Haley had had all her friends over to paint their nails the day before, and the house still smelled like stinky nail polish when we left. I hoped Mom
had
left the window open. Maybe then it wouldn't stink when we got back.

“You're just mad because you weren't invited,” Haley said.

“Am not.” I pulled a book out of my backpack. It was called
Savvy,
and it was on my summer reading list. The real one, not Haley's. After missing out on Antonio's with my teammates, I'd thrown Haley's list in the recycling. The librarian posted the books we were actually supposed to read online, anyway.

Reading in the car always made me a little sick to my stomach, but it was a whole lot better than talking to my sister.

Haley took out her cell phone. Time to give Zack or one of her friends another update.

I didn't know why I cared what she was doing. I had a life. I had my own stuff going on.

Maybe I would find out I had a special power, like Mibs in my book. There was still another month left of summer. Plenty of time to discover that I could fly or be invisible. Or turn back time.

—

When we pulled up to Aunt Julie and Uncle Dave's house, it was almost midnight. Mom had fallen asleep, but Dad, Haley, and I were wide-awake, thanks to Mountain Dew.

I shivered when I stepped out of the car. It was a lot cooler in the mountains than it was back home, and I couldn't see much because there were all these trees trapping us in. They looked like gigantic Christmas trees, and it smelled like Christmas, too.

Dad put his hand on my shoulder. “Check under the mat for the key. You do the honors.”

I ran up the steps and felt under the woven doormat for the key. I found it and put it in the lock. It was a little sticky, but I turned it with all my strength until I heard a click.

The door opened with a creak. The trees blocked the moonlight from reaching us, making it extra-dark. I flipped on the light switch and went from room to room downstairs, turning on all the lights.

Everything was in its right place from last summer and the summer before that. We'd been coming here every summer since I was four. There was the weird monkey lamp, right where it belonged on the table next to the faded yellow sofa. And the bookcase filled with board games that we would play late into the night because nobody had to go to work or school the next day.

While Dad and Haley started bringing in our suitcases and the bags of food Mom had packed, I raced upstairs to turn on more lights. The upstairs was a little creepy, so I always turned the lights on at night, even if we were all downstairs.

I turned on the upstairs hall light, then the light in the master bedroom. I still didn't know why they called it that; Dad and Mom weren't the masters of anything. The next room was the bathroom, with a tub that sat right in the middle of the floor and had weird brass clawed feet on it. Then my and Haley's room, with the old leather chair that was perfect for reading on a rainy day, and the bunk beds, and all the weird old dolls from when Aunt Julie and my mom were little kids. I always turned them around so they wouldn't watch me while I slept.

“I call top bunk!” I yelled downstairs so Haley could hear. We always did dibs for top bunk.

I ran back downstairs to grab my bag, took it upstairs, and started unpacking. I put the clothes Mom had folded into the bureau drawers and waited for Haley to come up. Finally I heard her footsteps on the stairs.

“Haley! Did you hear me? I called top bunk.”

She popped her head in the room. “Yeah? Cool. This time, you can have top bunk
and
bottom bunk. You can switch each night.”

“Wait, what?”

“I'm going to stay in the nursery.”

Last year, Aunt Julie and Uncle Dave turned the tiny office at the end of the hall into a nursery for my little cousin, Chloe. “You're staying in the baby's room?”

“Yeah,” Haley said. “They've got the daybed in there. That way I won't keep you up when I'm talking to Zack or my friends.” She sounded so cheery, like this was such a great idea.

“But you always stay in this room,” I said. “With me.”

“Quinnen, I'm sixteen. I need my own space.”

I can give you space,
I thought.

Haley turned and went into her room—her new room—and I threw the rest of my clothes in the bureau. I didn't care if they were neat and folded anymore. Who was going to see them, except for me? I had the room to myself.

I turned on the little night-light, climbed up to the top bunk, and crawled under the covers. There was a little ledge up here, where I used to put a cool rock or an action figure whenever I had beaten Haley to calling top bunk. Haley always put a book on it when she stayed up here. The springs creaked as I turned over onto my side.

Haley was already on the phone in her room. The walls were so thin I could hear everything she said. “It's okay that you say it. Really, I…” She laughed. It was a new laugh. Her Zack laugh. “Okay. It's late. I…I love you, too.”

I rubbed the sheet in between my fingers and closed my eyes.

I didn't know who my sister was anymore.

I
look down at my watch. Hector's taken at least two seconds longer between the last couple pitches. He's slowing down. He's thinking too hard.

“Come on! Strike 'em out,” the man in front of me yells.

“You got him, Hector!” Casey screams.

“Mofongo!”

“Ma-what?” Casey looks at me like I have ten heads and none of them is wearing a Bandits cap.

“It's Spanish,” I say. “It's like a good-luck thing, for Hector.”

“Can I say it, too?”

I think about our pact. Hector didn't make me pinky-swear I wouldn't tell Casey. But still. It's our thing. I shake my head. “No. He just wanted me to say it. It's hard to explain.”

“Just you, huh?” Casey says. He turns back to face the game.

The batter swings and misses. Hector's struck him out. His second strikeout this inning. It's working! Dad would say I nipped it in the bud. Well, if I told him. He and Mom think I've been tagging along with Brandon when he goes to the park. “Yeah, Hector!”

Everyone is clapping and cheering, except for Casey, who's looking at his phone. He never takes his phone out during the game. He knows it drives me crazy.

“Aren't you going to cheer for Hector?” I ask him.

“Yeah,” he says. “In a minute.”

Whatever, Case.
I catch Hector's eye as he heads back into the dugout, and he waves at me.

“He waved at me. Casey, you missed it. He waved!”

Casey groans.

—

After the game, Mrs. Sanders takes me and Casey to the new Mexican restaurant in town. She's all jazzed about their special gluten-free menu. She drops me off at my house afterward. “Thanks for the ride and the burrito!” I tell her as I hop out of the van. I still can't believe that Hector won tonight. He pitched like a pro. Maybe even better than Brandon.

When I walk inside the house, Mom, Dad, and Brandon are all in the living room.

So are Brandon's bags. All four of them.

“Isn't the road trip
next
week?” I ask. But I already know it is. I wrote it on my calendar.

“Brandon's got some exciting news.” Dad is smiling, but it's so wide and toothy it looks like he's pretending. “Tell her!”

“The manager called me into his office after the game,” Brandon says. “They need me up at Double-A. We're about to head over to O'Hare to see if I can catch the last flight of the day.” He keeps nodding as he says each word, like he can't believe it's real.

“But…” I finish the rest in my head:
I was finally starting to like you.
“That's…” The right word doesn't come immediately. “…awesome.” I look at Brandon, then at Mom and Dad.

“It's all happening kind of fast, isn't it?” Mom says. “We were just getting used to having you around. We're sure going to miss you.” Her eyes are tearing up, even though she never seemed super-attached to Brandon.

“Can I come with you to the airport?” I ask.

“Sure,” Dad says. “Come on, let's load 'em up!”

Brandon grabs two of his bags, Dad takes another, and I take the last one out to the truck. Brandon doesn't say a word this time about me not being strong enough. He knows I am. Dad pulls the cover over them once they're all in there, and we get in the cab.

“When are you going to pitch?” I ask Brandon as Dad backs the truck out of the driveway.

“Tomorrow. Can you believe it? I'm so stoked. Some of the guys I'll be pitching to have played in the majors. Did you know that? All that stands between me and the majors now is Triple-A.”

“Why did they pick you?”

“Well, I've got the goods, for one. But really, they know I can handle it at this level. I've made five starts and shut 'em down every time. They said they want to see what I can do at Double-A.”

I nod.

“Oh, and the guy who was supposed to pitch tomorrow tore something in his shoulder, and they needed someone who had had enough rest.”

“So it's you.”

“It's me!” Brandon takes his buzzing cell phone out of his pocket. I can only imagine how many texts he's going to get over the next couple hours. “Oh, shoot! I still need to call Amy. And try my parents again.”

“Don't worry about us,” Dad says. “You make all the calls you need. We won't be at O'Hare for at least an hour.”

While Brandon's on the phone, Dad and I don't talk. We don't need to. Brandon is doing enough talking for all three of us. Maybe more. I know I'm not supposed to listen to other people's phone calls—that it's rude—but what else am I supposed to do? Look out the window? Play the license-plate game? It's late at night, and the roads really aren't that busy.

When Brandon calls Amy, he sounds excited about being just a state away from her. And when he calls his mom, she's flipping out so much I can hear almost every word she's saying. A whole lot of “Oh my goodnesses.” I hope she can handle herself when Brandon makes the big leagues. Otherwise, she's going to be one of those parents who can't even sit in the stadium, the kind who have to be outside, pacing back and forth. Brandon's dad comes onto the phone, and now Brandon sounds like he's got something caught in his throat. If I didn't know him better, I'd think he was going to cry.

“Arizona,” he says. “Yeah, Pop. Just like in spring training.”

I glance at Brandon. He's not crying, but he might have something in his eye.

“Can't wait to see you, too. Love you. Bye.” He puts his phone down on his lap. “My parents are booking flights right now. They're gonna be at my game tomorrow.”

“I bet they're so proud of you,” Dad says.

“They're excited,” Brandon says. He can't stop drumming his hands on the door. It would have driven me crazy earlier this summer, but now I don't mind it so much.

For the rest of the ride, the three of us talk about how we think the Bandits are going to do against their next opponent and which Bandit will end up with the highest batting average and the most home runs.

As Dad takes the exit for the airport, I have this weird feeling in my stomach. It's not butterflies and it's not a stomachache from the burrito. I think people call it déjà vu, except I don't totally know what that means. Still, I'm almost sure that's what it is.

Dad pulls up by the sign for United and puts the truck into park. Brandon hops out. Even though I'm in the middle seat and I'm not leaving, I hop out, too. Dad gets Brandon's bags out of the back for him.

“Hey, Mr. D?”

“Yeah,” Dad says, putting the last duffel bag down.

“Thanks for letting me stay with you guys. It was nice having a place to come home to every night that felt like home.”

“Anytime,” Dad says. “I'm glad we could help.”

Brandon crouches down so he's at my level. I brush a piece of hair out of my face so I can look him in the eye.

“I'm gonna miss you, squirt,” he says.

“Me too.” I swallow hard. “I don't know what the Bandits are gonna do without you.”

“They'll be fine,” he says. “You keep an eye on Hector for me. I think it helped him out a lot—you being there for him at the game today. He's an ace. You know that, right?”

I nod. And then I don't know what I'm doing because my arms are wrapped around Brandon and he's hugging me back, tight, and lifting me off the ground.

“Well, I'd better get going. If there's one flight I can't miss,” Brandon says, “this is it.”

“Have a safe trip,” Dad says. “Text me to let us know you got in all right.”

We both get back in the truck before the airport policewoman gets mad at us for double-parking. Even after I watch Brandon walk through the sliding glass doors and I can't see him anymore, I keep glancing back at the airport. I stare at the terminal in the side mirror until we're too far away and it hurts my neck to do it, and then I close my eyes.

When I open them, we're on the highway. I look up at the sky. We're too close to the city to see the stars. The sky's all orange and yellow and brown. Those aren't sky colors. But as we get closer to home, the sky turns back into that deep shade of blue, and the stars come into view.

“Is someone else going to stay with us, now that Brandon's gone?” I ask Dad.

“I haven't thought that far ahead.” He clears his throat. “We'll see.”

I hate that answer. It's just a grown-up way of saying no.

—

It's after midnight by the time we get home, and all I can hear are the crickets and the sound of a train whistle in the distance.

“Hey, kiddo?” Dad finally speaking startles me as we make our way to the front door, the moon lighting the way. “Your mom and I would really like to come to a Bandits game with you. For all of us to go together as a family. How about next week, when Casey's on vacation?”

“The Bandits are on the road. But they'll be back for the weekend.”

“How about Saturday, then?”

“I guess.” I wish I could tell him that it's not the same. We can't do anything “as a family” anymore. It's not possible. One of us is missing.

I head upstairs while Dad goes into the kitchen.

The door to the room Brandon was staying in is open. I peek inside. Mom has already changed the sheets and made up the bed for guests. There are vacuum marks on the carpet.

It's like he was never here.

I go into my room. At least it always looks like someone lives here. I'm glad Mom hasn't brought her cleaning operation into my bedroom. I change into my pajamas and toss my clothes into the right piles on the floor, but then I notice something out of the corner of my eye.

Two brand-new baseballs on my bookshelf. And a note underneath.

I hop over the piles to get to them.

Something is scribbled on each ball, exactly the same. I think I can make out a B.

I open the note, written on the back of the scratch paper we keep by the computer.

Quinnen,

You didn't think I would forget, did you? I know you need a memento of the time you lived with a baseball player before he was crazy famous and his signature went for thousands on eBay. One's for you, the other for Casey.

Casey told me you used to be a really good pitcher. You know, there's this Japanese knuckleball pitcher who plays pro ball—a girl. I saw her pitch once when she was playing for a team in California. She's tiny—I bet you'll end up taller—but, man, can she throw.

Don't give up too early.

Just saying.

Anyway, you better come watch me when I make it to the majors. I'll leave tickets for you and your parents. Maybe even Casey, if he's lucky.

Bandits forever!

Love,

Brandon #34

I hold one of the balls in my hand and look closely at the signature.
Brandon Williams.
I have an official baseball signed by Brandon Williams. I take it into bed with me, placing it on my left side as I lie down and flip through the new
Sports Illustrated for Kids
that came in the mail. I hear Dad come up the stairs, brush his teeth, and head down the hall to his and Mom's bedroom.

And then all I hear is silence. I don't hear Brandon putting down the toilet seat. He was the loudest of anyone ever, I swear. I don't hear him trying to talk quietly on the phone to Amy or typing on his laptop. And I don't hear him playing Xbox with the volume down real low.

I didn't think I could ever miss someone who wasn't Haley. Didn't think I needed someone in my house who wasn't my sister.

But I do.

I drop my magazine to the floor and walk over to Haley's room. I close the door gently behind me. Nobody comes in here anymore. Or if they do, they don't touch anything. Everything is still the way it used to be. The laundry piled on the edge of her unmade bed. All of her books on the bookshelves. The moon casts a glow over her computer; the screen is coated in dust.

Other books

Don't You Cry by Mary Kubica
Just Can't Let Go by Mary B. Morrison
Statesman by Anthony, Piers
Miles Errant by Lois McMaster Bujold.
The Lonely Lady by Harold Robbins