Ten Ways to Make My Sister Disappear (5 page)

BOOK: Ten Ways to Make My Sister Disappear
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S
ATURDAY
morning, Krystee's mother comes for her right after they finish breakfast, so she can go to her flute lesson. Fifteen minutes later, Bliss's father picks her up to take her to gymnastics class. And at nine o'clock, Mom drives Miss Ruthie to the bus station, and Dakota takes Cora for a walk.

Sprig is shoveling a path to Miss Ruthie's steps. It's one of those cold, blue winter days. A squirrel tunnels through the snow, disappears, then pops up, cheeks pouched and face splatted with white. “I see you're gathering nuts,” Sprig says.

“No way,” someone says behind her. It's Thomas Buckthorn on cross-country skis, a pole in each hand, a red ski cap pushed to the back of his curly black hair.

“Where'd you come from?” she says.

Thomas points to the wooded hill behind their house. “I live over there, on the other side of Poke Hill. So, what're you doing?”

“Hello?” She holds up the shovel, then scrapes up a shovelful and tosses it to the side. “See Sprig. See Sprig shovel snow.”

Thomas is not amused. No sense of humor. Or maybe it wasn't funny? Maybe she was channeling sarcastic Krystee —
bad
thought. She rests her chin on the handle of the snow shovel and looks Thomas over. Maybe no sense of humor, but Dakota is right — definitely cute.

He slides back and forth on his skis. “You getting paid for doing that?”

“No.”

“Then why are you doing it?”

“This is part of the stuff I do for my allowance.”

“I get paid for everything I do,” he says. “My father is a businessman, and he says getting paid for what you do is the way to learn the value of money.”

“Do you get paid for breathing, and eating, and sleeping?”

“That's really funny,” Thomas says. “I guess I should laugh.”

“Oh, don't bother,” Sprig says.

“Okay, I won't.”

For a few moments, the only sounds are the scrape of the shovel and the slippery
swiiish
of Thomas's skis, as he poles back and forth. Why is he hanging around? “Do you want something?” Sprig finally says.

“Just wondering if you ski.” She nods. “Downhill or cross-country?”

“Both.”

“So … what about your sister? Does she like to ski?”

Okay, Sprig gets it now. “Yes, she does.”

“Cross-country or —”

“Both. Like me.”

Thomas shushes back and forth on his skis. “So … where is she?”

“Working.”

“Oh. She's getting paid?” Sprig guesses that this is points in Dakota's favor. “Like, what does she do?”

He keeps saying
she
. “Buckthorn,” Sprig says. “My sister has a name.”

He gives her a smile. “So,
Sprig,
where is
Dakota
?”

She points downtown, toward the park. “Walking our neighbor's dog.”

He gives her another dazzling smile and pushes off.

Sprig watches as he skis smoothly across the field, arms and legs working in a steady rhythm. He is definitely cute. He was nice enough too.
And
he knew her name. “Hey, Thomas!” she calls. “Thomas Buckthorn!”

She's not sure why she calls him. She packs a snowball and turning to the side (the way Dad taught her), she throws it as hard as she can at Thomas's retreating back. By then, though, he's so far into the field that the snowball never even gets close.

S
UNDAY
morning, Dad calls early. “Baby,” he says, when he talks to Sprig. “Mom tells me you're upset about my going to Afghanistan.”

“Oh, no,” she says, wanting to sound brave.

“This trip is a chance for me to do some real good,” he says, “something that counts.”

“You're always doing good things, Dad.”

“This is a special opportunity. Listen, once there were six thousand schools in Afghanistan and probably not enough, even so, but most of the schools have been destroyed in the last couple decades.”

“I googled Afghanistan the other night, Dad. It's not safe there. I want you to be safe.”

“Sprig. Girls couldn't go to school under the Taliban. They had to stay in the house, and their mothers couldn't work. Think about it, honey. The only things women and girls were allowed to do were cook, clean, and take care of the children.”

“That's so stupid,” Sprig says.

“Right! And that's exactly why you can be glad that I'm going to be involved in planning schools. Schools for girls. Schools that won't exclude girls.”

“But what if they do?”

“No, that's not going to happen, or I won't have anything to do with this project. That's a promise from me to you. I want you to be proud of your father.”

“I
am
,” she says. “I am proud of you.”

“Okay, then we're on the same page about this trip, aren't we? Will you give me that, honey?”

“Okay, Dad,” she says, loving the approval in his voice. “Same page.”

But later, scooping up the last soggy cornflakes from her bowl, she wonders how she came to agree that it's a good thing he's going to Afghanistan. She didn't mean to say that!

“Sprig?” Dakota comes galloping into the kitchen, her ski boots laced over her shoulder. “Sprig, you have to help me. I totally forgot that Krystee and I were going skiing this morning and —”

“Where're you going?” Sprig says. “Can I go?”

“No you can't go! Sorry,” she adds, not sounding sorry at all. “Krystee's mom is picking me up in five minutes.” Dakota's voice rises. “And I have to take Cora out for her walk and feed her.”

Sprig waits a beat, and then says, “I'll feed Cora and take her for a walk.”

“You will! Oh, good sister!” Dakota hands her the key to Miss Ruthie's apartment. “Don't forget to wash Cora's dish,” she says. “And rinse out the dog food can and put it in the recycle bin under the sink.”

“I know, I know.” Sprig tosses the key into the air and catches it, the way Mr. Julius catches the orange chalk.

Dakota pours a glass of milk and gulps it down. “There! Tell Mom I had breakfast. Oh, and would you sort of clean up Miss Ruthie's kitchen, like sweep the floor and wipe the counters? We don't want her to come back to a mess.”

“Dakota, you're supposed to do all that. It's part of your job.”

“I was going to do it, but now I might not be back until too late. Please, Sprig.” A horn honks outside. “There they are!” She kisses Sprig on the head the way Mom does, and says, “
Please,
honey.”

“Okay,” Sprig says.

“Great!” Dakota zips up her jacket and pulls on her ski cap. “I have my cell, Sprig.” She pats her jacket pocket. “You can always call me if you have any problems. You won't forget anything, will you? You won't forget to fill Cora's bowl with fresh water and take her out, and —”

“Dakota, if you say one more thing, I'm not going to do it.” Sprig pushes her sister through the kitchen, into the glass-enclosed porch, and out the door. It's a perfect day for skiing, cold and clear. At the foot of the driveway, Krystee is leaning out the window of her mother's car. Dakota waves. “Here I come,” she calls out and springs down the steps.

“Dakota,” Sprig yells. “
Wait.
You forgot something.” She can't help smirking as she hands over Dakota's skis.

 

A little after four that afternoon, Sprig is in Miss Ruthie's apartment, sweeping the kitchen floor, when Dakota walks in, her face shining. “Hi! I'm here,” she says. “Where's Cora?” At the sound of her name, Cora, who's been lying on her rug near the heater, thumps her tail. “There you are!” Dakota cries. “Did Sprig take good care of you?”

“Yes, Sprig took good care of her,” Sprig says. “Sprig walked Cora two times, once this morning and once this afternoon.”

“Great!” Dakota beams as she peels off her jacket. “She did her business?”

“Yes, but she had a hard time pooping. And then she did it on someone's property, and it was kind of yucky.”

Dakota sprawls into a chair. “Do I have to know all the details? That's so gross.”

“It's not gross, Dakota, it's natural. I couldn't just leave it there. I wanted to just throw snow over it, but I thought that was cheating, so I cleaned it up with a plastic bag.”

“Whatever,” Dakota says, looking up at the ceiling and smiling.

Sprig's eyes follow Dakota's. What she sees is what she expects — the ceiling. “What is that weird look on your face?”

“Cora! Do I have a weird look on my face? Come on, tell me the truth.” Cora lumbers to her feet and lies down near Dakota.

“Cora's worried about you,” Sprig says. “She thinks you're weird.”

“Is that what you think, doggy dog?” Dakota slings her feet onto Cora's back.

“Hey! Take your feet off Cora,” Sprig says. “You're being disrespectful. Cora's old. Like Miss Ruthie. How do you think Miss Ruthie would feel if you put your feet on her and called her doggy dog?”

“Are you nuts? I would never do that. Anyway, Cora likes having my feet on her.”

Sprig takes Cora's head in her hands. “Is that true, Cora?” She kisses the dog's nose.

“You like kissing her, don't you?” Dakota says, and that same peculiar smile crosses her face. She leans forward. “Want me to tell you a secret?”

“Take your feet off Cora, and you can tell me.”

“But can I trust you?” She grabs Sprig's chin. “If I tell you, you have to promise not to tell anyone.”

“Okay, I promise. What's the big secret?”

Dakota puckers up her lips and air-kisses Sprig. “I'll give you a hint. Thomas Buckthorn was at the ski lodge too.”

“Okay, I get it! He followed you.”

“Why would you think that?”

“Because he came here yesterday to find you.”


What?
He didn't!”

“Yes, he did.”

“Shut
up
! Thomas Buckthorn was here, right here?”

Sprig nods. “It was when I was shoveling the walk. He was on his cross-country skis. And he knew my name,” she adds.

“Why didn't you call me?” Dakota pulls at the little silver rings in her earlobes. “I can't believe this! Wait until I tell Krystee. You should have called me.”

“Dakota. You were out walking Cora.”

“Why didn't you tell me when I came home?”

“I don't know. I guess I forgot.”

“Swear you're not making it up. This is really true, Sprig? On your honor?”

Sprig nods. “He skied over from his house, and then he asked me all these questions, like, did I like downhill or cross-country better.”

“He asked
you
that? Why?”

Sprig shrugs. “Maybe he wanted me to go skiing with him.”

“In your dreams, honey. What did he say about me?”

“He wanted to know if you like cross-country or downhill better.”

“I hope you didn't say anything stupid.”

“I told him I thought you liked both.”

“Okay. That's okay.” Dakota fiddles with her hair, piling it on top of her head, then letting it drop. “Which way do you like best?” she asks.

Sprig crosses her arms and considers. “You look pretty both ways, but you look older when it's up.”

“I do?” Holding her hair up, Dakota checks her reflection in the slightly spotted mirror on the wall. “Did Thomas say anything else about me?”

“Not really. I told him that you were working. I think he liked that.”

“He's so cute,” Dakota says. “I can't believe I was gone when he was here.”

“But you saw him today,” Sprig says. “So that makes it even.”

“True, true.” Dakota pushes aside Sprig's hair and speaks into her ear in a half whisper. “This is the secret. Thomas and I skied ahead of Krystee, and when we got over on the other side of the hill?
He kissed me.
” Dakota sits down and tilts back in the chair. “What do you think of
that
!”

BOOK: Ten Ways to Make My Sister Disappear
6.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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