Authors: Jeanne Birdsall
HE NEXT DAY
, while the rest of the family was eating lunch, Skye was alone in her room. She and Jane had a soccer game in an hour, and while Jane believed that a big meal was essential for victory, Skye believed in a glass of milk, a few bananas, and solitary contemplation.
Their team was Antonio’s Pizza, their uniforms red and yellow, with ANTONIO’S and a slice of pizza on the back. This season Skye had been elected captain, surprising her family and herself, for the year before she’d had a little trouble with her temper. Actually, a lot of trouble. There was the time she called the referee a kumquat and the time she stomped on a water bottle, which exploded, drenching several parents, and the time—well, all that was behind her now, she hoped. So far this season she hadn’t lost her temper even once. The
on her jersey stood not just for
she’d decided, and she meant to keep it that way.
Her routine before each game went like this: ten leg stretches, ten neck rolls, ten push-ups, thirty situps, reciting out loud the prime numbers up to 811—this was for concentration—then five minutes of picturing the other team bloody and repentant. After that came the most difficult part of the routine—five minutes of positive thoughts. Her father had suggested that she add this to the rest, particularly on those days when she’d done an extra-good job of picturing blood and repentance. Balance is always good, he’d said. Skye agreed with him about balance, but somehow it always seemed to take her at least fifteen minutes to get in five minutes’ worth of positivity. Maybe today would be different.
The leg stretches, neck rolls, push-ups, sit-ups, and prime numbers went well. And the five minutes with the other team zipped by, for Antonio’s Pizza was going to be playing their greatest rival, Cameron Hardware. And since the Cameron Hardware captain was the annoying Melissa Patenaude, who was in Skye’s class at school, and always giggling at their teacher, Mr. Geballe, she had all the more motivation to overwhelm them with a glorious victory.
“Annihilation and humiliation for Cameron Hardware,” she said when she was done, lingering happily on an image of Melissa vanquished.
Now it was positive-thought time. What should she think about? Before the last game, she’d been able to look forward to Aunt Claire’s visit, and if it had turned out to be a normal visit, she would right now be having positive thoughts about it. But instead, there was all this baloney about dates—and Daddy’s first one that very night!—which, while strange and confusing, shouldn’t make people go wacko, especially if they are the oldest sister and—
“Stop!” Skye told herself. Positive thoughts!
She could think about school. Other than having to sit behind Melissa, school was great. Mr. Geballe was letting her spend math class in the library teaching herself geometry, since she already knew all the sixth-grade material so well she could have taught it herself. In English, he was letting them read whatever they wanted, and she’d picked
Swallows and Amazons,
which was all about adventures with boats. Of course, there was that problem with history class, for Mr. Geballe was making them each write a play about the Aztecs. Skye would have been happy to write an essay about the Aztecs’ mathematical systems, or even their crops. But a play! With characters and drama and a plotline! She didn’t have even a glimmer of interest in any of that, and that idiot Melissa was already bragging about how she was almost finished writing her play and how great it was.
“Stop!” Frustrated, Skye checked the clock. She had to come up with four more minutes of positivity.
Then she got it. This past summer at Arundel. Now, those would be positive thoughts. She leaned back against the bed, and away she went, into the Arundel woods and gardens—two-on-one slaughter with Jeffrey and Jane, shooting arrows at pictures of Dexter, climbing out of Jeffrey’s window and into that huge tree, then getting rescued from the huge tree by Cagney, and on and on she thought, and was quite proud of herself, for the next time she looked at the clock, she’d managed to have the entire five minutes of positive thoughts, and so efficiently that there was time left before she had to suit up. She could give herself a treat, and knew exactly what treat she wanted—to try out her new binoculars by the light of day.
A moment later, with her binoculars slung around her neck, Skye climbed out through her bedroom window and onto the garage roof. This was her special place. It was also sort of a secret place, meaning that though all her sisters knew she came out here, her father didn’t. Neither did Aunt Claire or any of the babysitters who’d taken care of the Penderwicks over the years. Skye knew that adults wouldn’t approve of sitting on roofs, even roofs only one story up, so she hadn’t told any of them. And her sisters hadn’t told on her. Penderwicks didn’t do that to each other.
She settled on the shingles, raised the binoculars, and focused them. Wow. They were truly great binoculars. With them she could see details all up and down Gardam Street. There at one end of the street were the ivy leaves painted on the Corkhills’ mailbox, and there at the other end a license plate—NTRPRS—on a green car parked in the cul-de-sac.
“Double wow. Triple wow,” she said, and pointed the binoculars directly across the street at the Geigers’ house.
The Geigers—Mr. and Mrs. Geiger, Nick, and Tommy—had lived in that house for as long as the Penderwicks had lived in theirs, and Skye had looked at it a million times, but she’d never seen it through binoculars before. There, suddenly so close Skye almost reached out to touch it, was the scar on the garage door where Tommy had crashed his bike three years ago. And the soccer ball Jane had kicked onto the roof—she could read J. L. PENDERWICK THIS IS MY BALL—was still resting precariously in the gutter. And there was the rhododendron Nick had backed the car over when he was first learning to drive last year. Mrs. Geiger had been doing her best to nurse that bush back to health, but it didn’t look like it was going to make it.
Now here came someone rounding the corner of the house at top speed—Tommy, wearing shoulder pads and his football helmet. Skye tried to focus the binoculars on him, but he was gone around the house again before she could, his long legs and arms flailing at top speed. Training. He was always in training. Running. Lifting weights. Doing drills. Rosalind said that if he had as much discipline with his schoolwork as he did with football, he’d be at the top of the seventh grade. Here he came again.
“Skye, five minutes until we have to suit up for the game.” It was Jane, leaning out the window. “Annihilation and humiliation for Cameron Hardware. How did your positive thoughts go?”
“Good. Now go away, I’m still being alone.”
Skye looked across the street again. Tommy was nowhere in sight, and though she waited for a few minutes, he didn’t reappear. He was probably doing squat thrusts somewhere. Tommy loved squat thrusts.
She pointed her binoculars up into the sky, for she’d heard a flock of Canada geese honking their way across Cameron. There they were—she focused—
What was the good of a special secret place if everyone kept visiting her there? This time it was Tommy, not doing squat thrusts after all, but instead perched in the tree that grew behind the garage. He was still wearing his helmet. It looked pretty goofy in a tree.
“Go away,” she said.
“Do you want to do some football drills?”
“No, I’ve got a soccer game.”
“What about Rosalind?”
“She’ll be watching the game. The whole family’s going, because Aunt Claire’s here.”
“Do you think she’ll want to later? Rosalind, I mean, not Aunt Claire. I mean, I’m sure Aunt Claire could do football drills if she wanted to, but I’d rather have Ros—I mean…”
Tommy had trailed off into an embarrassed silence. Skye aimed the binoculars at him. All she got was a gigantic blurry nose inside a football helmet. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing.” But the blurry nose was turning red.
“Hail ye, god of the goalposts.” It was Jane again. “How’s the Russian going?”
Tommy was studying Russian in school. It was the first of many languages he planned to learn, for he was going to be a pilot when he grew up, and thought he should be able to speak properly with people everywhere he flew.
” said Tommy.
“Oh, that’s lovely,” said Jane. “Skye, it’s time.”
“Right.” Skye slithered along the roof and dropped back into the bedroom.
“What was Tommy doing in the tree?”
“Being peculiar,” said Skye. “Let’s suit up.”
For the first half of the game nothing could bother Skye, not even Melissa’s phoney “Good luck” during the captains’ handshake. It was a warm, bright September afternoon, gorgeous with color—green grass, blue sky, and red-and-yellow uniforms (and purple-and-white, for anyone who cared about Cameron Hardware)—like a crayon box come to life. The teams were evenly matched enough to make it interesting, but not so much that Antonio’s Pizza couldn’t pull ahead, and did, mostly because of Jane. Always a quick and wily striker, today she was on fire. By halftime, she’d scored two of their team’s three goals. Cameron Hardware had scored none. Antonio’s Pizza spent the whole halftime doing a wild war dance of joy, sort of a hip-hop version of the hula, with a touch of the cancan thrown in. Skye was delighted with herself, her sister, her team, and life. They were winning, and she hadn’t felt even the least little bit of temper.
Unfortunately, Melissa and her team spent a more productive break, for they started off the second half playing like champs. And maybe Melissa even knew about Skye’s weakness, because as soon as Jane got control of the ball, she was roughly knocked over by Cameron Hardware’s hulking midfielder.
“Whoops!” Melissa chortled, almost in Skye’s face.
In times past, that would have driven Skye into an insane rage. This was the new Skye, though, and if she had to pinch her own arm—hard—to keep herself from lunging at Melissa, no one knew that but her. Besides, now she had bigger worries than Melissa, since when Jane got hit too hard, bad things happened. Sometimes she started to cry, and sometimes she forgot how to play. And sometimes—and this was Skye’s least favorite possibility—she became Mick Hart and shouted odd things in an English accent.
Jane was given a penalty kick for being fouled. She scored calmly and easily, and Skye relaxed. Maybe the midfielder wasn’t as hulking as she looked and the hit hadn’t been that bad, and Jane was fine. The ball was passed to Skye and she made a run upfield, stumbling only a little when a shout rang out behind her.
“CAMERON’S HARDWARE ARE GORMLESS DUFFS!”
Rats, thought Skye, she isn’t fine and now she’s Mick, and who knows what “gormless duffs” means, but it sounds terrible. She passed the ball up to Jane, hoping that actual play would straighten her out. That was all Skye could do—she certainly couldn’t stop playing to scold. Just keep going, she told herself, maybe Jane will run it out of her system. She always did, eventually, if no one bothered her too much.
Jane was running all right, charging toward the goal with the ball. But long before she’d run far enough to get anything out of her system, there went Melissa after her, and by the look on her face, she also thought that being a gormless duff sounded terrible. She dove at Jane, trying to steal the ball.
Jane easily dribbled around her. “HA! MAD COW! YOU’RE ALL MAD COWS!”
“AND YOU’RE A”—shouted Melissa furiously—“YOU’RE A MADDER COW!”
This was so pathetic an insult that even Melissa’s own teammates laughed at her. If being called a gormless duff and a mad cow was unpleasant, being laughed at was horrible, and it wasn’t long before Melissa took revenge by tripping Jane just as she was about to score another goal. Skye, still proudly holding on to her composure, waited for the referee to give Jane another penalty kick, but somehow the referee had missed the trip, and worse, as soon as Jane got to her feet and took another few steps, Melissa tripped her again, and this time—she later
it was an accident—kneed Jane in the ribs as she fell.