Authors: Norma Fox Mazer
Ezra-Evans kissed Sprig, and this is too strange, almost too
to keep to herself. She doesn't know how she feels about those kisses, but she has to tell someone! As she runs, almost tumbles, down the stairs, giddy from the kisses, the thought of Bliss passes through her mind. Bliss, who won't even look at her.
She could tell Dakota, but as sure as the sun rises in the morning, Dakota would tell Krystee. In the crowded living room she checks out the kids dancing, the girls off in a corner singing, and a group on the couch doing a sudoku puzzle. No one looks reliable enough to tell.
“Isn't this party cool?” Mandy Halverson says. She's a plump blond girl who's always talking in class. She holds out a pack of gum. “Don't you hope Russell's parents do this every year?”
Sprig looks at Mandy's open blue eyes. Mandy's here, she's ready, she's listening. “Russell was showing me the house,” Sprig begins.
“It's great, isn't it? Guess who I saw dancing real tight? You'll never guess!” She squeezes Sprig's arm, names two of the kids in their class, and darts off to tell someone else.
As the music stops and the floor clears a little, Sprig sees Bliss across the room talking to a girl who towers over her â Russell's sister, Lara, the birthday girl. Is Bliss telling her how nasty, mean, and
Sprig can be? It's all true. It's also true that it hasn't been much more than forty-eight hours since they had their fight, but it's been as lonely as forty-eight
“Enough is enough,” Sprig says out loud. That fight was her own fault. She started it, and now she's going to end it. “'Scuse me, 'scuse me.” She moves through the crowd of kids milling around waiting for the next dance song. Her eyes are on Bliss. She's on a mission. First, make up with Bliss. No need for words. Just give her a hug, the way she did that afternoon when they had the almost-fight. Next, say something corny to make Bliss laugh, like
Fancy meeting you here, my dear.
Then say you're sorry. After that, tell about the kisses. And after that â well,
Just then, Lara moves off, and Bliss turns and sees Sprig. Bliss nods and raises her chin. Somehow, it doesn't feel like the right moment for a hug.
What is it the right moment for? Surely not the next thing that comes out of Sprig's mouth. “Are you hungry? I'm starved!” Maybe it's those kisses, or maybe it's all these emotions, but she's still ravenous and, although this isn't a very promising make-up line, she marches right on with food information. “The little hot dogs are really good. I ate five of them.”
“I don't like hot dogs,” Bliss says.
Sprig digs her hands into her pockets and comes out with the chocolates kisses she'd tucked away. Maybe it's a sign.
. A stand-in for the hug? She offers them on her open hand to Bliss. “Chocolate kisses?”
Bliss's face says
, but her hand doesn't agree. Her hand takes one kiss, hovers as if it's going to take another, then moves away. Delicately, Bliss picks open the silver foil. Delicately, she puts the chocolate in her mouth. “Have another one,” Sprig urges.
“Mmm, I don't think so,” Bliss says. Her voice is like a wall.
Not a very big wall, but still, one that Sprig has to climb. She takes a breath. “The other day? In the parking lot? I shouldn't have said those things.”
“No, you shouldn't,” Bliss says. “But â¦ I said things too.”
Sprig holds out the rest of the chocolate kisses. “Three for you and two for me.”
“Three for me?” Bliss says. “That's not exactly fair.”
“Yes, it is, because I started things.”
“Oh,” Bliss says, and then she says, “Oh!” again, takes the three chocolate kisses, peels them, and puts them all in her mouth.
Sprig peels the last two kisses and puts them in her mouth. They give each other chocolate-flavored smiles and, just like that, the wall is down. They're friends again. “So!” Sprig says. “I have something interesting to tell you.”
Before she can say another word, tall Lara Ezra-Evans is hurrying toward her, calling her name. “Sprig! Sprig! Your sister doesn't feel good. I think she's sick or something.”
“Dakota?” Sprig hastily wipes her mouth. “What do you mean? What's wrong with her?”
“I don't know,” Lara says. “I went in the kitchen for a glass of water, and she was in there, crying, and she wouldn't talk to me.”
“I know,” Lara says. “That's not like Dakota. You better go talk to her. You better go right away.”
the kitchen, Sprig and Bliss look around, but they don't see Dakota anywhere. It's not that the kitchen is dark â in fact, just the opposite, the light is almost too much. It bounces off two gleaming refrigerators, a huge stove covered with dials, and a long, shining stainless-steel table.
“She's not here,” Sprig says. “Didn't Lara say â” She breaks off, as she sees her sister. Dakota is huddled under the table, her arms wrapped around her legs, her face buried on her knees, and her shoulders shaking. “Dakota!” Sprig cries. “What are you doing! Are you sick? Do you want me to call Mom?”
“Don't,” Dakota says in a muffled voice.
“Don't talk to me!”
Sprig looks at Bliss, who opens her hands in a helpless, don't-ask-me-what-to-do gesture.
“Dakota,” Sprig says, bending down to her sister, “whatever it is that's making you feel bad, it'll look better in the morning, and then you'll deal with it.”
“Don't talk like Mom,” Dakota chokes out. “You're just a kid, you don't understand. You don't understand anything,” she cries. “Leave me alone, I hate you. I hate everybody.”
Sprig stands up. “Suit yourself,” she says. She tried, didn't she? It's not her fault if her sister is stubborn as a donkey. She motions to Bliss, and they go out and close the door behind them.
“What a stinker,” Bliss says. She squeezes Sprig's arm. “Am I ever glad she's not my sister.”
It's weird what happens next. Sprig practically yanks her arm free of Bliss's hand. Bliss's
hand is what she thinks, although, even as she thinks it, she knows it's totally unfair. Still, what gives Bliss the right to say those things about Dakota? Not that Sprig doesn't say the same things and lots worse, but that's different. Dakota is
sister, she can say whatever she wants about her. She can imagine baking Dakota into a cookie or sending her off on an ice floe forever, but that doesn't mean Bliss should do it. At least, not without Sprig's permission.
“You okay?” Bliss says, peering into Sprig's face.
“I guess so. You know what I was just thinking, Bliss? That ten ways thing I did, the list?”
Bliss smiles. “That was so fun.”
“Actually â¦ it was kind of juvenile,” Sprig says. “Don't you think it was kind of juvenile?”
“Maybe,” Bliss says, “but I liked it. I thought it was funny and cute. It was really cute. You thought so too,” she adds.
Sprig turns and looks back at the closed kitchen door, and for a moment she thinks she can hear Dakota crying. That's when it hits her. Dakota's in the kitchen under the table. Something is definitely wrong, and what did Sprig do? She walked out on her sister, just left her there?
kneels down to talk to Dakota, who's still under the table. “Dakota, can you tell me why you're crying?”
Dakota lifts a blotchy face. “You can't help me,” she chokes. “Nobody can help me.”
“Did you hurt yourself?”
“Did someone say something mean to you?”
“Can you tell me what happened?”
“Are you sure you can't tell me? I know I'm being a pest, but â”
“Yes I'm being a pest, or yes you can tell me?”
“Stop, stop talking, stop talking so much! I'll tell you. I'll tell you what happened! I saw Thomas Buckthorn and Krystee kissing.”
“Oh. Is that all?”
“Is that all! She's my best friend, he's supposed to be my boyfriend, and Dad is in Afghanistan, and that's so far away, and he hardly talked to me last night because it was all about you, and I miss him, and I'm just
.” The last word comes out on a sob, and Dakota buries her face against her knees again.
Sprig is speechless. She has never heard such an outburst from Dakota, but what really hits her is that Dakota misses Dad too. “You miss Dad,” Sprig blurts. “You really do miss him.”
“Duuh,” Dakota cries, lifting her head. “What do you think! I miss him something awful.”
“But I thought â I mean, you never say anything about Dad being away, and you never cry.”
“Of course I don't,” Dakota says fiercely. “I'm the older sister, I can't do that! Mom depends on me. I have to set an example.”
“But â” Sprig starts, then closes her mouth. She doesn't know what to say. So many things are happening in ways she doesn't expect â like the kisses, and how different Russell acted, and the way she made up with Bliss, and now her sister. It's almost as if Sprig didn't even know Dakota, didn't know anything about her. Dakota isn't a hard-hearted stinker. Not. At. All. She cares. She really cares.
Sprig scooches under the table and puts her arms around her sister, and Dakota lets her. She leans against Sprig and sighs. After a moment, she says, “How long has Dad been away now?”
“Three weeks and two days,” Sprig says. “And five hours,” she adds.
“I knew you'd know.” Dakota sniffles up a few tears and swipes the back of her hand under her nose. “Do you have a tissue? I'm a mess.” She is too, tears and snot are all over her face.
Sprig checks her pockets. Empty, not even a single chocolate kiss left. She could get up and find a napkin, but she just doesn't feel like leaving Dakota. She pulls off her socks and hands them to her sister. “Just use the top part,” she advises. “One for the eyes and one for the nose.”
“I can't blow my nose on your cute socks,” Dakota says.
“Yes, you can,” Sprig says. “It's either that, or your new glitter shirt.”
Sprig and Dakota decide to leave the party early, Dakota calls Mom on her cell, and they go outside to wait for her. “Are your feet cold without your socks?” Dakota asks.
“Not much,” Sprig says. The socks are balled up in her jacket pocket. She looks up at the sky. Clouds are passing over the moon. “Do you think Dad is seeing the same sky we are?”
“I hope so,” Dakota says.
They're silent for a few minutes, then Sprig says, “You know what, Dakota. I forgot to tell you something. I don't think it was Krystee's fault about kissing Buckthorn.”
“No, listen, Dakota. He was kissing everyone, any girl he could get. Krystee was just one of many.” Wow, she's defending the Bad Influence! It's the right thing to do, though. She's sure Dad would approve. “Buckthorn was trying to set a record, Dakota, like it was for the Olympics.”
“He probably just grabbed Krystee before she even knew what was happening. He wanted to kiss me too.”
“You? I don't believe it. You just made that up to make me feel better about Krystee.”
“Dakota, I didn't. On my honor. I was going to be number seven.”
“Euuuw, I hate him! But he's so cute,” she sighs.
“Lots of boys are cute,” Sprig says. “Buckthorn is a kissing machine.”
Her sister takes her arm. “So are you saying I ought to forgive Krystee?”
“Yes, if she's your true, best friend, then you should make up with her. But, first, you should talk to her. Don't just keep your feelings to yourself. Other people can't always tell what you're feeling, especially if you don't talk to them. Oh, and it helps if you have something to share, like chocolate kisses.”
“Wow, you really are smart.” Dakota squeezes Sprig's hand. “In case I forgot to tell you, you're really a great sister.”