Ten Ways to Make My Sister Disappear (8 page)

BOOK: Ten Ways to Make My Sister Disappear
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“A
ND
last, on the six o'clock news report, we have a story of a young girl saving the life of one of our senior citizens with her quick thinking,” Bob Engelhard, the evening news anchor, says.

“Oh my god,” Dakota cries. “They're talking about you, Sprig. Mom! Come in here,” she calls. “Sprig is on the news.”

Mom sits down on the arm of the couch, just as Bob Engelhard turns to Mary Roman, his coanchor, and says, “Mary, fill us in.”

“It's a pleasure, Bob. We have so many downbeat stories, but not this one!” Mary looks into the Ewings' living room. “This afternoon, ten-year-old Grace Ewing had the presence of mind to call in the emergency folks, when her seventy-eight-year-old neighbor, Ruth Levin, became ill.”

“Oh, no,” Sprig says, covering her face. “This is so embarrassing.”

“You're famous,” Dakota says. “My sister's famous! Maybe they're going to show your picture.”

Sure enough, Sprig's class picture from last year —“I look so young,” she cries — flashes on the screen, followed by a picture of their house, then the garage, and Miss Ruthie's windows, and the little porch.

“Grace was alone with the elderly woman and had no idea that Ms. Levin was the victim of a stroke,” Mary is saying. Now the camera shows the exterior of Memorial Hospital and then the red
EMERGENCY ROOM
sign. “Doctor Raymond, a heart specialist, told this reporter that time is of the essence in strokes.” Mary turns to Bob, and he picks up the narrative.

“Mary, had the Ewing girl — she's only ten years old, isn't that amazing? — had she not acted so rapidly, Ms. Levin might have been seriously incapacitated for the rest of her life.”

“I know, Bob. There's got to be some grateful people out there tonight. As it is, her chances for recovery are very good. I was reading something the other day about this being the Me Generation. I don't think so!”

“I should say not,” Bob says. “And now, let's look at the weather, Mary….”

“Wow,” Dakota says. “My little sister is a hero.”

Sprig sags against the back of the couch. Everybody says they're so proud of her: Mom and the doctors at the hospital, and now the six o'clock news. But what Sprig keeps thinking is that she let too much time pass before she called 911. She waited to see if Miss Ruthie felt better, she waited for Mom to call her back, she fiddled around looking for Mr. Julius's phone number. She waited too long. The moment she saw Miss Ruthie swaying in the door, uncombed, still in her bathrobe, she should have known something was wrong.

They're all telling her she saved Miss Ruthie from having a lot more damage.
Damage
. It sounds like a caved-in car, like a house smashed by a hurricane, like Miss Ruthie covered with tubes and wires and so sick they won't let anyone in to see her for more than a minute.

Later that evening when Dad calls, Mom tells him the whole story — everything, including that Sprig was on the evening news. “Your dad wants to talk to you now, Sprig,” she says.

“Me, first?” Sprig glances at Dakota.

“Go ahead,” Dakota says. “You deserve it. This time,” she adds.

Sprig takes the phone into the other room. “Hi, Dad.”

“Sprig,” Dad says. “I'm so proud of you for your quick thinking.”

“Dads.” Sprig leans in to the phone. “I waited too long to call.”

“Sprig, you saved Miss Ruthie's life. It could have been a whole lot worse.”

“I guess so,” she says. “But what if there's
damage
and it's my fault because I —”

“Sprig.” His voice deepens. “I want you to listen carefully. I want you to hear this, all the way from Kabul, Afghanistan, to Alliance, New York. You can't second-guess yourself. Sometimes we only get one chance, and then we live with what we choose to do or not do. What you did was a good thing, and we're all lucky — Miss Ruthie is very lucky! She's lucky that you were there. Do you hear what I'm saying?”

“Yes,” Sprig says after a moment. “I hear you, Dad.” And then she asks the question she always asks. “Are you coming home soon?”

And he gives the answer he always gives. “Soon as I can. Soon as my work is done.”

L
IGHTS
sparkle in every window of the sprawling Ezra-Evans house. Dakota is out of the car almost before Mom stops, but Sprig lingers. “Mom,” she says, “you know what I wish? I wish I'd stayed home. Bliss is going to be here at the party,” she explains.

“Well, honey, there's only one thing to do. Make up with her,” Mom says, as if there's nothing to it. “It's never as hard as you think. The longer you wait, the harder it'll be. I'll be here at ten to pick you both up,” she adds, as Sprig finally gets out of the car.

Russell's parents, two tall, smiling people, greet her at the door. Inside, Dakota has already taken off her boots and is putting on her black ballet slippers. She's wearing black tights and a new glitter tee shirt, and her hair is piled on top of her head. Spurts of music, talk, and laughter pour out of the living room.

Sprig hangs up her jacket in the jammed closet and kicks off her boots, then realizes she forgot to bring her sneakers. “Oh, no! Dakota, what should I do?”

Her sister looks at Sprig's dog-patterned socks and shrugs. “Doesn't matter. Your socks are cute.”

“Are you sure it's okay? It doesn't look too weird?”

“It's fine!” She gives Sprig a push toward the living room. “Lighten up, this is going to be fun. Do I look okay?” She fingers the tiny silver hoops in her ears.

Sprig nods. “You look —” She's about to say “beautiful,” but Dakota has spotted Krystee and run off.

The living room is huge, crowded, and hot. A pool table is set up in front of the two long windows, and in the group around it, Sprig sees Bliss and Russell, side-by-side. Big Russell in a white shirt and a red tie, and tiny Bliss in a red blouse and white skirt. What did they do, color-coordinate their clothes? A funny thought, only Sprig isn't laughing. It's Russell and Bliss who are laughing, who are having fun together. Who
are
together. Sprig's legs quiver, as if she's outside in the cold, cold air. She
is
outside. Out in the cold.

Dimly, she remembers the stupid quarrel with Bliss, and then she remembers that other moment when their friendship almost foundered. She'd saved the day that time, and it hadn't been hard. She'd thrown her arms around Bliss and hugged her. Was that all it would take now to bring her in from the cold?

“'Scuse me.” Sprig pushes through the crowd toward Bliss. She has gone only a few steps, when Bliss turns around, looks across the room, and — what is it they say in the stories Sprig reads? —
their eyes lock.
Yes, that's it. Sprig's eyes and Bliss's lock. Then Bliss unlocks them. She spins around and says something to Russell that makes him laugh out loud. That big barking-seal laugh of Russell's — at her? — is like a wind blowing Sprig out of the living room, across the hall, and into another room.

“Close the door,” someone calls to her. A group of kids are clustered near the fireplace. They're chanting and counting. “Go, go, go … thirty-three … thirty-four … go, go, go … thirty-five … thirty-six …” Sprig moves closer and sees Thomas Buckthorn in the center of the group, kissing a girl Sprig recognizes as Amanda Griggs. Amanda is one of Dakota's classmates, and she's kissing Thomas back with unmistakable enthusiasm. If only Sprig had the nerve to say what she's thinking!
Stop that, Thomas Buckthorn. Stop that right now. You kissed my sister. You're supposed to be her boyfriend.

“… forty-six … forty-seven …”

“Go for a minute,” somebody urges. “Break the record.” But a moment later, Amanda pulls away from Thomas, fanning her face. Thomas grins and pretends to stagger.

“Girl number six for fifty-one seconds,” a boy cries out like a sports announcer. “Who's going to be the lucky number seven? Who's going to go for the minute record?” His eyes land on Sprig. “Hey, cute little socks girl, come on over here and try your luck.”

“No, thanks,” Sprig says, backing away. “Seven isn't my lucky number.”

She hears the laughter as she ducks into yet another room, where food is featured, two long tables full of food. She quickly eats five tiny hot dogs, each one impaled with a colored toothpick, and drinks two glasses of punch. Now she's calmer. Food is always calming.

“Whew,” she says softly, and puts a handful of chocolate kisses in her pocket for later.

Someone hip-bumps her. It's Russell. “You like chocolate kisses?” he asks.

“I'm not stealing them,” she says.

“I like chocolate …
kisses
too.” He smirks.

Oh, what is it with boys tonight? “I like anything chocolate,” Sprig says, pretending she doesn't notice the smirk. “I never saw you wearing a tie before.”

“Do you like it?”

She surveys him. “It looks good. And you got your hair cut too.”

Russell puts his hand on his head. “My dad took the clippers to me. He says he always wanted to be a barber, not a lawyer. Maybe I'll wear the tie to school,” he adds.

“I didn't say it looked
that
good,” Sprig says. “So, how many rooms are there in this house, anyway?”

“Counting bathrooms … lemme see … fourteen.”

“That's a lot,” she says.

“Uh-huh. You want to see the upstairs?”

She shrugs. “Sure.”

“Are you having a good time?” he asks, leading the way up the wide winding staircase.

“Uh, sure,” she says. “I guess so.”

He stops on the landing halfway up, and Sprig sits down on the window seat below the triangular stained-glass window. If she lived in this house, this would be where she'd come to read and daydream. “I like your house. This window is cool.”

“My dad calls this house The Barn.”

“That's funny, it's nothing like a barn.”

“Except it's big.”

“But so are you all,” she says.

“Yeah, supersize.” He sits down next to her. “That's what you call me, isn't it?”

Sprig's face heats up. “Maybe. Sometimes.”

“I don't care. Like my dad says, people are going to say things, and if you care or don't care, it doesn't mean anything to them, so you might as well not care.”

“That makes sense,” Sprig says.

“My dad's got a really responsible job. I mean, not to boast or anything, but he's sort of important and, still, people he doesn't even know will come right up to him and ask, ‘How's the air up there?' and stupid things like that.”

Sprig looks down at her feet. Was calling Russell ‘supersize' one of those stupid things? Probably. “I don't call you that anymore,” she says.

“How come you're just wearing socks?” He swings his booted foot into her foot.

“Hey, that hurts! You always do things like that, and you know what,” she says, surprising herself — she hadn't planned to say this — “I'm really sick of it.”

“I always do things like what?” Russell says.

“Like hitting me and pinching me. And shoving. You just don't leave me alone. You've been doing that stuff since forever.”

“What? I don't hit you!” Russell looks at her, his eyes bulging. “I hit you?” he says, as if the idea is brand-new and astonishing, and he gives a kind of sickly laugh, a laugh so un-Russell-like, so, well,
pathetic,
that Sprig takes pity on him.

“The good thing is, you haven't done it in a while,” she says. “Maybe you're reforming, but you just had a slip. You forgot, right?”

“Forgot what?” he says.

“Not to hit me, bozo!” She claps him on the side of the head.

“Wait a second. You just hit me.”

“Well, I didn't mean to,” Sprig says. “But, anyway, that's a reminder never to hit me again. Got it? And here's another reminder,” she says, and with both hands she shoves him off the window seat.

Russell looks up at her from the floor. “You know what?” He grins. “I like you.”

Wooof. Wooof
…. The little dog barks softly in her ear,
More than Bliss?
Sprig holds out her hand to Russell. “Help?”

“Nope.” He jumps up. And then he kisses her, first on her left cheek, then on her right cheek. He smells like chewing gum.

“Whoa,” Sprig says. “What's that?”

“Don't you know? That's the way the French and Italians say hello and good-bye.”

“Hello and good-bye,” Sprig repeats, trying to decide if she hated those kisses — or liked them. “Well, which is it? Hello or good-bye?”

“Guess,” Russell says.

BOOK: Ten Ways to Make My Sister Disappear
9.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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