Authors: Janet Tashjian
It should be illegal to make kids do math when it's 80 degrees and sunny and the calendar reads “August.” I wait near the gate for Mom to pick me up after Prison Camp and see Carly standing a few feet away. She spends most of Learning Camp with three other girls who practice cheerleading routines between sessions. We've had a few conversations about Ginger the hedgehog but not much else.
When Mom pulls up, I'm surprised to see Carly approach our car.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
My mother answers for her. “Maria called and asked if I could pick up Carly today. By the time we get her back, Maria will be home from work.”
Thankfully, Carly doesn't try for the shotgun seat and slides into the back. We haven't even hit the 405 when my mother asks Carly about her summer reading.
“I keep telling Derek he would love one of the books on our list,” Carly says. “This boy and his dog meet this guy with aâ”
“I worked hard todayâcan we talk about something else?” I ask.
Carly changes the subject by talking about her mother's landscaping company, and when we get to her house, I see she isn't exaggerating her mother's talents. Pink hibiscus weaves its way along the fence, and huge bushes of rosemary surround two palm trees on either side of the front door (Carly has to tell me what kinds of plants they are). Even though the smells want to coax me from the car, I still ask my mother if I can wait outside. She says Carly's mom will be home in a minute and insists I come in and wait with Carly.
“This wasn't my idea,” Carly whispers as she unlocks the door. “In case you think it was.”
Soon Carly's mom pulls up in a small red pickup. She has long, dark hair like Carly's. When Mom accepts an iced green tea from her, I know we'll be here longer than a minute.
Carly asks if I want to see Ginger. I follow her to the dining room, where the hedgehog's crate takes up most of the table. She nibbles at the carrot Carly gives her, then walks to the other side of the cage.
“Can your mom look at her?” Carly asks. “I want to make sure she's okay. She didn't eat much yesterday either.”
She hands me a gloveâprobably one her mother uses to landscapeâand I take Ginger out of the crate and hold her like we're back in school.
Mom comes in and examines Ginger. “I haven't seen a hedgehog as a patient in yearsâI'm not much of an expert. But if you bring her in, I can call a colleague with more experience. It might be the change in location; they hate to be moved.”
Carly nods and I put Ginger back in her cage. My mom and Mrs. Rodriquez head back to the kitchen.
“Hey, do you want to see what I made?” Carly asks.
I tell her sure, but inside I'm thinking,
If this involves dolls, tea parties, or karaoke, I'm grabbing on to that huge spider plant in the living room, smashing through the window, rolling onto the landscaped lawn, and sprinting the whole way home without looking back.
Carly leads me down to the playroom in the basement. The entire room is laid out in grids of fishing line crisscrossed from floor to ceiling. Because the lines are clear, they almost seem invisible. There are at least fifty of them, all fastened to the wall with wide, clear tape.
“You made this?” I ask.
She points to the other side of the room, where a crystal bowl is upside down on top of a stool covered in purple velvet. “I'm pretending this is a famous museum, and that's the largest diamond in the world.” She nods toward the fishing line. “This is the alarm system, and I'm a burglar. I have to get to the diamond without triggering any of the motion detectors.”
Not that I would ever say so to Carly, but I am
impressed. She tosses me a black ski mask and tells me to give it a try. I slip on the mask and limbo under the first line with no problem but nail the second one with my shoulder. I make three more attempts before she asks for a turn.
She puts on the mask, takes a deep breath, and moves across the room like a hybrid gymnast/feline. The image makes me think of Joe Brennan and his stupid fantasy stories. But the person I really want to show this to is Matt. He and I could play this game for hours, hands down.
Carly makes her way under the intricate web of “detectors” until she reaches the stool. She bends under the last one like she's going deep underneath a limbo pole, then turnsâever so slowlyâto lift the fake diamond into her hands.
I can't help but applaud.
She puts the bowl back on the stool and removes her mask. “I've had a lot of practice,” she says. “You want to try again?”
This time, I take off my sneakers before slipping on the mask. When my mother calls down, I ask if we can stay a little longer. She seems surprised but says yes. Carly shows me a few tricks, and by the time we leave an hour later, I've stolen the diamond twice.
I scan the room one last time. “You built this yourself AND read all the summer reading books?”
She shrugs. “It wasn't that hard.”
Somehow that just doesn't seem fair. Is that what my summer has come down toâgetting my butt kicked by the school's Goody Two-shoes?
It's Thursday night, and Amy's favorite show is on, so she basically ignores me while I lie on the floor and rub Bodi's belly. He's back to his old self, but Mom still says he should rest. I wish she'd follow her own advice when it comes to taking care of me.
Amy calls her best friend, Tina, during every commercial and they ooh and ahh over the celebrity actor playing the doctor on their stupid show. I want to go onto the roof and knock the satellite dish so the picture messes up, but it's raining and Amy's reaction would hardly be worth the effort of getting soaked.
I grab the key and let myself into Mom's office. The receptionist keeps a canister of dog bones on her desk and I grab a few to give to Bodi later. I check to see if Pedro is there, but unfortunately, he's not.
Inside, there are five dogs in large metal cages. They bark when I enter through the swinging door, so I do what I always do to calm them downâgive them treats. Then I crawl into one of the empty cages, this time beside the Dalmatian.
As I lie inside the cage, I run my fingers along the metal bars. It makes me think of the grate at Jamie's store, and I wonder if he's enjoying the rest of the family being gone for a few weeks. Thinking about Jamie makes me miss Matt. It's almost as if remembering Matt makes him remember me because, the next thing I know, Amy's at the door of the office.
“Your friend's on the phone.” She tosses me the cordless. “In a cage, perfectâjust where you belong.”
I grab the phone and tell Matt I was just thinking about him. While he tells me about riding the carousel, kayaking, and eating fish and chips by the harbor at night, I stare at the ceiling of the cage and try not to get depressed at a summer spent playing “baseball math” and drawing pictures of vocabulary words.
“But here's the real news,” Matt says. “We went to South Beach, the beach where that babysitter saved you from drowning.”
I throw one of the bones to the beagle to get him to stop yapping. “What was it like?”
“Monumental waves and a riptide. Could be dangerous for a two-year-old. You were lucky.”
I press my head against the cool metal of the bars. I can't decide if Susan James was a hero or a knucklehead. Maybe a little bit of both.
“The fair is next week,” Matt says. You should talk your mom into coming out for it. It's going to be a blast.”
“I'm too busy with multiplication and essays.” The beagle wants another treat and starts barking again. I climb out of my cage and make demented faces until she stops.
“So what have you been up to?” Matt asks. “Besides hating Learning Camp.”
I tell him the camp counselor for my group isn't so bad. “Plus, she really likes my illustrations.”
When Matt asks if I know any of the other kids, I almost tell him Carly attends too but decide against it. If Matt knew I was at her house last week, he'd be on the next plane home to save me.
Matt then tells me about an expert skateboarder he met on the island who taught him several new moves. I'm happy for him but feel a pang of jealousy that he's having more fun with someone else than with me.
“Gotta go,” Matt finally says. “Fireworks on the beach tonight.”
My summer stinks! Instead of going inside, I climb up the porch to the roof of the garage. Vacation's more than half over, and I haven't done anything fun. This is criminal!
I hear the door and know what to expect.
“Derek!” Amy yells. “Come down this minute or I'll tell your mom you were going through my purse again.”
Even though it's still raining, I remove one of my sneakers and pelt it at the satellite dish. Bull's-eye!
Amy shrieks and runs inside to see if I messed up her precious show.
It's not the beach, but at least it's fireworks.