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Authors: Jeanne Birdsall

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BOOK: The Penderwicks in Spring
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“It will be wonderful!” she said.

Ben was surprised but pleased by her enthusiasm for the Celtics teams. “Especially if they play ice hockey.”

A
LONG ROW OF HYDRANGEA BUSHES
ran along one side of the Penderwick home. Now, in the spring, they were mere clumps of sticks, drab and bare, with an occasional withered blossom from last year that had hung on through the winter storms. To Ben, the drabness made as little impression as would the delirious beauty that always arrived midsummer, when the bushes drooped with masses of multi-flowered pompoms, large as grapefruits, in shades of pinks, blues, and purples. No, what he cared about was the space between the bushes and the house, a narrow corridor of privacy he’d claimed as his own the previous summer. There, he’d stored the rocks not exciting enough to be taken inside, and he and Rafael had constructed things from them—roads, bridges, and building-like
structures that could double as military installations and alien-invasion forces.

After breakfast on Saturday morning, Ben shoved through the hydrangeas, set down a large cardboard box, then brushed away the dead leaves and sticks that had accumulated since the previous fall. The winter hadn’t done damage to his work. Good. Sometimes he thought he’d like to build real roads and bridges when he grew up. And maybe he could convince Rafael to be an architect, like after they’d made several movies and wanted to move on to new careers. Together they could build whole cities.

Ben crouched down and opened the cardboard box. First out, one of his most prized possessions, a model UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, with real doors and seats. This had been a gift from Nick, oldest son of the Geiger family across the street, handed over before he’d gone overseas to fly around in helicopters just like this one, helping to fight a war. Lieutenant Nick Geiger of the United States Army, that’s who he was now. Ben’s mom had shown him on a map where Nick was fighting: a place with mountains, desert, and lots of small villages, all very far away.

Nick—and his younger brother, Tommy—had grown up mixed together with the Penderwicks, sometimes babysitting for them, and always making good jokes, plus teaching sports to everyone from Rosalind on down, though not as far as Lydia, and also failing with Batty, hopeless as she was at sports. Nick had
taught Ben football and had promised to start on basketball the next time he came home on leave. He was due home sometime this spring. It couldn’t be soon enough for Ben, who missed him terribly.

With the Black Hawk safely out, he dumped the rest of the box onto the ground. Here was a hodgepodge of action toys, many of them inherited from Nick and Tommy, plus a battered Millennium Falcon from Ben’s mom. There were several from Ben’s father, too, his birth father, that is, not his dad. These were all
Star Trek
figures, especially from
The Next Generation,
Worf, Troi, Picard, and a few evil-looking Romulans. All that Ben knew about this father, who had died in a car crash before Ben was even born, came from stories his mom told him. Sometimes he and Batty talked about their dead parents, but not often and usually not with sadness. It’s hard to be sad about people you’ve never met, especially when the parents you ended up with are so good at being parents.

Ben’s box had also yielded up a Chinook with only one set of rotor blades, a transporter room with a big crack down the middle, and lots more figures. Other than the
Next Generation
ones, Ben could identify only about half, including Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, Spock, and Ginny Weasley, whose red hair was almost the same shade as his. The rest of the figures he used for his own purposes. An authoritative man in a blue uniform was Nick. And there was one mean-looking guy all in black that Ben called Dexter
Dupree, after a man famous among the Penderwicks for his loathsome personality. Dexter had once been married to Jeffrey’s mother, but they’d divorced several years ago, after which she’d managed to marry and divorce another man, and was rumored to be engaged yet again. Ben set Dexter on a rock and spoke to him in his deepest voice, using the military code he’d learned from Nick.

“Ready for defeat, Delta-Echo-Xray-Tango-Echo-Romeo?”

“Never, never,” squeaked Dexter, who wasn’t smart enough for code.

“Ha, ha, ha. You’re doomed.”

Ben balanced Nick on the Black Hawk—he was too big to fit inside—just out of reach of the rotor blades. “This is your leader, November-India-Charlie-Kilo. Prepare for departure. Start engines.
Schwoof, schwoof, schwoof, schwoof
—”

“There you are.”

His position had been discovered by a person or persons unknown! Ben tipped Nick into the underbrush for safety, then parked the Black Hawk behind the Millennium Falcon.

“You’re entering a war zone,” he said in the deep voice. “Prepare to defend yourself.”

“Okay.” The intruder turned out to be Skye, now shoving through the bushes. “In the mood for some goalkeeping?”

Skye was always trying to put him into an old
catcher’s mask and chest protector—more hand-me-downs from the Geiger brothers—so she could shoot soccer balls at him. This was not Ben’s idea of fun.

“No,” he answered.

“What’s Captain Apollo doing?” She pointed down at the man in the blue uniform, half hidden by a dried-up hydrangea bloom.

“That’s Nick.”

“Nick as a Colonial Warrior? I guess that works.”

“He’s coming home soon, right, Skye?”

“We hope so, buddy. The Geigers will let us know as soon as they hear anything.” She kicked aside more dead leaves. “Okay if I sit down?”

He scooted over to make room, and down she came, squashing Dexter with her knee.

“Sorry, Spike,” she said.

“That’s Dexter,” said Ben.

“Actually, this is Spike from
Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
He’s a bad guy. So Dexter works, I guess.”

“Good.” Ben had gotten the bad part right.

She picked out a female Romulan. “This can be Jeffrey’s mom, Mrs. T-D-M—”

“I thought she was Mrs. Tifton now.” After Jeffrey’s mother had divorced the husband after Dexter, Mr. Menduzio, the Penderwicks had decided it was simpler to stick with calling her Mrs. Tifton, no matter how many more times she got married and divorced.

“You’re right. Horrid woman. Okay, so the Romulan is Mrs. Tifton, and you’ve got Dexter, so this
Dalek can be Menduzio.” She smashed the Dalek into the Romulan. “Exterminate! Exterminate!”

“Mercy, mercy!” shrieked Ben, tossing Dexter into the fray.

“No mercy for you, horrible parent and stepparents,” said Skye.
“Blam, blast, boom, blom!”

“I’m melting! Melting!”

Skye put down her now quite defeated figures.

“So, Ben,” she said. “You’re a boy.”

“Yes,” he answered warily. It didn’t seem like a good way for the conversation to go.

“And you have friends who are girls, right? Like Remy?”

“That was a hundred years ago.”

“Well, if she were still your friend, would you make the mistake of wanting to move past friendship and into romance?”

Ben was confused. Skye usually made more sense than this. “Are you wanting to be romantic about Nick?” he asked tentatively.

“Nick! Good grief, no!”

“Then what are you talking about?”

“Let me put it another way,” said Skye. “Jeffrey’s getting all weird and talking about wanting me to be his girlfriend.”

“Oh. That is weird.”

“So I told him not to come this weekend.”

“Not come
here
?” Ben couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Jeffrey was an honorary Penderwick,
always welcome at their house. Plus, there was that Celtics T-shirt he’d promised to bring Ben.

“Only for this weekend, so that he has time to get sensible again. I said he could visit for my birthday. That’s only two weeks from now—not too long, right?”

“I guess not.” He turned the rotors on his Black Hawk. “So you’re not going to make him disappear like Rosalind did with Tommy?”

“Rosalind didn’t—”

“Yes, she did, Skye.” Tommy Geiger had been Rosalind’s boyfriend for years and years and then suddenly wasn’t anymore when they went to college. Batty had tried to explain it to Ben—something about new beginnings and exploring options—but none of it had made sense to him. “Tommy didn’t even come over to see us when he was home at Christmas. And I wanted to show him my presents. I
always
show him my presents.”

“Okay, she sort of did, but it wasn’t all her fault. They decided together that they needed a break. Anyway, I figure they’ll get back together one of these days. And I’m not breaking up with Jeffrey—I’m wisely keeping us from getting together in the first place. It’s completely different from Rosalind and Tommy.” Skye picked up the Dalek and squeezed it mercilessly. “I just don’t want a boyfriend right now. I want to get out of high school and go to college and learn, learn, learn, and soak up the universe. I wish you understood.”

“Well, I don’t want a girlfriend, but not just now. Never.”

Which meant he did understand that part, but not about soaking up the universe.

“Thank you, that’s a help, anyway. If you won’t do soccer with me, I’m going to take a long bike ride to think. Will you tell everyone about Jeffrey not coming? I can’t tell Jane because she’s still asleep, and I can’t tell Dad or Iantha because they’ll get all concerned and make me feel awful.”

“But I’m busy!” protested Ben. It was times like this when he most wished he had brothers. Or if he couldn’t have actual brothers, that Nick, Tommy, and Jeffrey would stay where they could do the most good—on Gardam Street with Ben.

“Please.”

“Oh, all right.” It was hard for him to refuse Skye when she lowered her dignity enough to say please. “But you have to tell Batty.”

“Why can’t you tell her, too?”

“Because she’s looking forward to him coming the most.” Which meant she might cry, and Ben didn’t think he should have to deal with crying when this was clearly Skye’s problem.

But after Skye said please three more times, he gave in.

Ben found both his parents in the kitchen, drinking coffee. Lydia was there, too, sitting on the floor, making mysterious patterns with spoons. Ben and Rafael
sometimes wondered if she picked up signals from aliens trying to connect with earthlings. If so, the aliens had picked the wrong human, that’s for sure.

“Lydia loves Ben,” she said, looking up from her spoons.

“I know that.” He turned to his parents. “Skye said to tell you Jeffrey isn’t coming this weekend.”

“Why not?” his mom asked. “Is he all right?”

“He wants to be Skye’s boyfriend.” Ben wasn’t sure if that fell into the category of being all right. “And she doesn’t want a boyfriend because of soaking up the universe. But she said Jeffrey could come for her birthday.”

Ben’s parents were exchanging the kind of looks that meant they’d be discussing this after Ben left the room. That was fine with him. He was already weary of talking about it, and there was still Batty to tell.

“Is Batty upstairs?” he asked. “ ’Cause I need to see her.”

“Yes, she is, but wait a minute,” said his dad. “We’re shopping for a car today. Want to come along?”

“Is Lydia going?”

“She is, because we’re also going to look for a big-girl bed, which Lydia is very excited about, isn’t she?”

“Non.”
Lydia had no interest in a big-girl bed.

Iantha said to Ben, “Tell your sister how much fun it is to sleep in a real bed.”

Ben wasn’t sure he wanted Lydia to get a new bed. Her attempts to get out of the crib were becoming
ever more determined. What would life be when she could simply roll out of bed and go wherever she liked? “She’ll really be able to escape now.”

“Yes, but without the danger of falling on her head when she climbs out of the crib.”

“Oh, yeah, that,” he said, trying to sound enthusiastic. “Lydia, sleeping in a real bed is fun.”

Lydia gave him a suspicious look, then moved one of her spoons a quarter inch further left.

“I think I’ll stay home,” said Ben, and trudged upstairs.

Batty was in her room, listening to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, a piece of music thrilling enough to keep her from going crazy waiting for Jeffrey. It was the only Beethoven symphony she owned, and was marred by a scratch in the beginning of the fourth movement. Someday when she had lots of money, she was going to buy all of Beethoven’s symphonies, with no scratches on any of them.

The Beethoven served another purpose. It was loud enough to drown out any singing that might suddenly pop out of Batty. Her family was used to her humming—anybody can hum—but this was different, more like she’d become inhabited by a sprite fond of bursting into song at any old time. It had started the evening before, but while Batty had managed to keep it quiet when anyone else was around, she definitely needed to learn more control.

Here came the fourth-movement scratch—
iehn-iehn, iehn-iehn, iehn-iehn.
Batty rushed to turn off the record player. In the sudden silence, she heard Ben’s private signal.

“Come in,” she said.

He did, looking grumpy.

“That music was so loud you couldn’t hear me knock.”

BOOK: The Penderwicks in Spring
13.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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