Authors: Suzy Vitello
A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp.
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Copyright © 2013 by Suzy Vitello
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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First Diversion Books edition January 2014
For Kirk, who continues to cheer the loudest.
Sabine’s car sits in the driveway like a tombstone. Bird droppings cover half the windshield and if you were in Ms. Bowerman’s art class, she’d tell you they were beautiful as a Kandinsky. All toothpasty, thick, yellowish-white—interesting, maybe, but not beautiful. Not even pretty. Every day this month on my way to the bus stop I’ve passed those splatters on that dead Volvo and I feel it crying for Sabine. Inside, where its cold engine gets colder every day, I imagine that the car is aching for the girl who’s now ashes heaped in a piece of Asian crockery. If I were that car, I’d wonder what happened to the girl who used to blast music and rev the engine and peel out of the high school parking lot much too fast each day.
Dad almost put the car on Craigslist, but then he didn’t. “Little Bird, you’re old enough for your license,” he said. “Maybe we should save the Volvo for you.”
I don’t want my dead sister’s car, but I nodded. Best not to argue with Dad these days.
It’s the daffodils and tulips time of year. The warm of spring, more than a hint in the air. More smiles on dog-walkers’ faces. Kids out past dinner shooting their winter-flat basketballs into bent and rusty hoops up and down our street. On the way to the bus, when I pass neighbors, they do that shy smile thing. Then look away. Just seeing me, I know it makes them sad all over again. A month is beyond when “sorry for your loss” seems appropriate, but not enough time has passed for people to be all normal and happy around me. I’m supposed to be part of the Greenmeadow Art Show tonight. They’re giving me the Lilith Cupworth prize for my charcoal drawing of a homeless guy and his dog.
The Portland Journal
will do a piece for the Life & Lifestyles section. Clap, clap. Good for you. Here’s your five-hundred dollar scholarship. Sorry your sister’s dead.
My leggings and Goodwill coat, my purple Keds, the front half of my hair dyed emerald and the henna tattoo around my wrist like a bracelet—that’s the uniform they all know Brady Wilson by, the way I was different than my cheerleader sister. But it’s all just a stupid costume. A couple more months and then junior year is over. Maybe I won’t even go back in September.
I kick a crumpled PBR can someone tossed near a bush. In my head, there’s the rhythm of Sabine’s voice chanting just like she’s still here, playing our childhood game, safety, danger, safety, danger, past the various lawns on my street. I hear the bus squeaking to a stop around the corner. I should run, but don’t.
When I get to school it’s the after-the-bell silence. The retired-cop-hall-monitor guy peeks at me over his bifocals. His eyebrows say
? Sometimes I nod an acknowledgement that I’m pushing it, but today I don’t even do that. I’m numb. Empty. When will I look forward to the next thing? When will I feel like myself again?
“Take a seat, Ms. Wilson,” says the trig teacher when I creep into class.
On the board are
. The wiggly line graph. It always kills me when a teacher calls a girl
instead of Miss. As if. I forgot my calculator again, so another period wasted.
Once I’m settled in my chair, next to me Trey Markham farts. Then he offers the
I just farted
grin. A girl behind him giggles. The teacher scribbles a function on the greenish board. Then, immediately, he turns on the overhead projector and pulls the screen down over what he just scratched onto the greenboard. “Who can tell me…” he starts. He mentions something called a
. Trey squeaks out another one as if prompted by a word that sounds sort of bowelish.
“Mr. Markham,” says the teacher. “This information will be covered on the SATs this Saturday. Maybe you’d like to go entertain yourself in private while the rest of your classmates learn what they need to in order to get into college.”
There’s some laughter and throat-clearing muffled into fists.
I open my notebook and begin sketching the teacher, whose name I can never remember because he just appeared one day a few months back, after Miss Lekoski bailed for no apparent reason. He’s Mr. Nobody. Mr. Faceless Teacher. The Pale Blue Dot, like that shot of earth from space. Just another geeky math guy with visible underarm sweat stains and wrinkled Dockers. I hate trig. Except I like the wiggly graphs. Mr. Blue Dot takes shape on my college-ruled notebook paper. His comb-over, his wire-framed glasses, his growing belly, and half-untucked shirt. In his thought bubble there’s a slice of pizza and a clock featuring the minutes until he can have it.
The door opens and in he walks. The boy who killed my sister.
“Take a seat Mr. Christopher,” says Blue Dot. “This is the third time this week.”
Connor Christopher shuffles to the seat in back. Heads turn. Checking out the level of red in his eyes, no doubt.
I can feel him back there. Loser. I start chewing on a dark green strand of my hair, and try not to think about that day. The sound of two hundred and fifty people gasping all at once. Sabine’s neck snapping the instant her chin hit the floor.
“Sohcahtoa,” says Blue Dot wiggling his dried out dry-erase marker on the plastic sheeting under the overhead lamp. “That’s the shortcut, people. Soh. Cah. Toa.”
There is whispering and texting going on behind me. Up on the wall above the board the clock says first period is half over. Trey Markham has his forehead on his folded arms now, feigning sleep. Cathi Serge, in the second row, has raised her hand. Right outside the open window, the
of the school lunch delivery truck backing out of the bay accompanies Cathi’s, “The tangent is the side opposite divided by the adjacent side.”
Blue Dot points to the tip of his nose with the finger of one hand, and then levels the index finger of his other hand at Cathi. I can’t see Cathi’s face, but I know it’s got a smug expression on it.
I was signed up for the SATs this Saturday, and since Sabine, well, everything’s on hold.
There’s a tug at the hem of my Goodwill coat. It’s Martha Hornbuckle, on the side opposite Trey Markham. She points to her phone. Mine’s out of batteries, so whatever she’s texted me is swimming around invisibly, looking for a place to land. Like Sabine’s soul. According to my grandparents, if we didn’t attend mass and pray for her cremains, she would be forever in limbo. Data without a plan.
I gesture the
shrug, and turn my hand into an invisible writing implement. Martha scribbles something on a gas receipt and hands it to me across the skinny aisle. In Martha’s hasty penmanship, I can barely make out the words amid the $4 per gallon stamp from Chevron.
, I think it says.
under it and hand it across to her. Immediately the little slip is tucked back into the top of my Ked. I see an inky question mark.
Setting up the art show
, I write back, though it can hardly fit on the tiny slip, and before I have a chance to stretch my arm across the aisle again, Blue Dot swoops in and intercepts. Rebound for the math teacher. Everybody cheer.
“Ms. Wilson,” he blusters. “The office.”
That same finger he just used to let Cathi know she was
bingo, bingo, bingo, ding, ding, ding
, is now pointing beyond the fireproof door of math class. I’ve been dismissed. I’m in trouble. Bad, bad Brady.
I think about knocking over the desk chair as I stomp off, but, in that split second of being outside myself, watching myself behave badly, I choose the higher ground. I actually hear myself say, “Sorry,” and I push my chair in, gather my stuff, and realize that Blue Dot did indeed have a chance to witness his unflattering likeness on my paper, so I say it again. “Sorry.” With eye contact, even. That’s when I hear Sabine’s voice, clear as can be, saying
Atta girl, Midget.
The management at Greenmeadow High is as burnt out as it gets. A principal who’s a year from retirement. Then there’s the vice principal who hides in his office unless the Portland Police requires him to fill out the odd minor-in-possession form. And forget about the guidance counselors. Statewide budget cuts mean we share two part-timers with the other west side high school. Because my sister died in the gymnasium, and my parents haven’t decided whether to sue yet or not, nobody likes it when I’m sent here for insubordination. It makes the administrators squeamish. The secretary smiles, her chapped fleshy lips in need of balm. She points to the wooden bench. She’ll buzz the vice principal, and he’ll come out, his hand extended. I know the drill.
I chew a section of hair while I wait. Look at my stick-legs stretched out in front of me. The man’s trench coat I’m wearing. This coat, in its former life, it could have been one worn by a pervert. One of those guys who sneaks into darkened movie theaters, sidles up next to teenage girls, and plays with himself. Gross. Truthfully, I’m a little over the lame art-girl costume myself. Tired of looking like the rebellious little sister. I’m nobody’s little sister anymore.
Really, if I’m honest, who I want to be is Martha. Everyone likes Martha. She’s a shoe-in for this year’s Greenmeadow Rose Festival Princess. She organizes coat drives, blood drives, do-not-drives. Last spring she brought a shovel to school, and before classes, out there in the rain, she tilled the community garden bed, making it ready for the seniors to plant their peas. Swear. Once, she gave a pity hand job to Walter Pine, the Lego Robotics wiz, and when he spread it around she told everyone that he had a really big dick. That’s how kind she is. Straight A’s. Athletic enough for Varsity basketball. Smart enough for the debate team. Cool enough to be my friend. At least that’s what she tells me. And when Sabine died? She did everything right. She came by and cleaned her room, found the best photo for the obit. Organized casseroles. We still have six pans of lasagna in the freezer. Thanks to Martha.
Martha, Sabine and I go way back. In grade school, before she became super-perfect, Martha and I hung out all the time. In middle school though, things changed. Martha hungered for all that stuff that goes along with being chosen. She wanted the starring role in every play. Solo performances in choir. Fastest mile in gym class. There was only one girl who beat her out of things, and that was my sister. Martha studied Sabine. Copied her. Cozied up to her. While I drifted off into my own world. Sketching, painting, daydreaming with brush and pencil. Once we got to Greenmeadow, Martha changed again. Became the Queen of Community Service. Maybe that’s why she started hanging out with me. Some sort of charity work.
“You’re lucky,” Martha told me once. “You don’t care what other people think. You’re so good at being you.”
I’m not feeling so lucky today, is what I’m thinking when the vice principal, Mr. Call-me-Leonard Field, smiles and thrusts his hand out to me. “How are you, Brady?”
“Here, so, probably not great?”
“You’re in the running for the Cupworth tonight, right?” I shrug, but conjure my Inner Martha just in time to offer a polite, humble head cock, to which Field invites a fist bump.
My knuckles meet his knuckles.
He makes the come-to-my-office gesture then leads the way, directing me to a comfy, Naugahyde bad student chair to slump down in.
The office door clicks shut behind me and “Leonard” winds around to behind his desk, sits, and then starts right in. “Having some trouble in math, eh?”
Leonard Field’s much-younger wife and their two toddler boys glare at me from his messy desk. Odd that his family wouldn’t be facing him.
“Not my favorite subject I guess.”
“You know, I had a hard time with trig.” Leonard tick-tocks his head as though conjuring up his long-ago days. “Nearly flunked it.”
Martha, what she would do now is she’d nod, lock eyes with the vice principal. She might offer,
I really have to put in more time. Maybe a tutor?
She might ask,
So, how did you end up succeeding?
If she were really on her game, she might compliment the holiday sweaters on Leonard’s kids—or remark on his wife’s stunning good looks. Martha will either be the next Mother Teresa or the head of PR for Viagra. I say, “Is it too late to drop it?”
Leonard Field takes a sip from a stained mug, and sets it on a stack of papers. He leans back in his old-fashioned wooden office chair and the springs squeak. His hands clasp behind his head. “Brady. How are you? I mean, really, how
For a second I contemplate that he’s sincere. Maybe he
care about this grieving-squarepeg-girl. How would I respond in a matchingly sincere way? And then I think what if I had died and Sabine was sitting here in my place? Her mascara trails would be black bars on her face. Her UPC code cheeks, her red eyes. Girl tears. The sort of wailing grief that comforts a man like Leonard Field. “I guess I’m looking forward to tonight. The art show and the prize,” I lie, and then force the ends of my lips up into my cheeks.
“That’s my girl,” says the vice principal of the highest test-scoring high school in Oregon.
I meant it half as a joke, but it’s stunning how a little white lie has that sort of power. I can almost see him crossing off
from his to-do list. The conversation with Trophy Wife, later, over dinner, while the hellions throw SpaghettiOs at each other:
The Wilson girl, she had a breakthrough in my office today. All it takes, sometimes, is someone to listen.
He leans forward, piercing eye contact. “Is it hard, Brady, to have Connor in your classes?”
He’s in two of them. “No. Well, yes. Sometimes.”
“I’ve been wondering if we should intervene,” he says. “You know?”
Not even Martha will give Connor the time of day. “Whatever,” I say, and then, because I know that that word will undo the whole breakthrough hope, I quickly add, “you think is best.”