The Thing About Leftovers (5 page)

BOOK: The Thing About Leftovers
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Chapter 8

When the—hateful—Genghis
started yelling at me on Monday morning, my room was still pitch-dark. My thoughts went something like this:
Who set that alarm? Is this some sort of joke? Because it's not funny. It's downright cruel.
Naturally I blamed Keene. Until I remembered that
was the one who'd set my alarm clock.

I found Mom downstairs leaning against the kitchen counter, drinking a cup of coffee.

Do you always do this?
I wanted to ask, because in my opinion, a person who's always “running late” doesn't have time for leaning.

But Mom beat me to the questions. “What are you doing up so early?”

I shrugged. “I thought maybe I'd walk to school today.”

Wrinkles formed on Mom's forehead. “Oh? And why is that?”

I looked down at my bare feet and mumbled, “I can't be late for school anymore.”

Mom set her coffee down. “All right. Could you please explain?”

“It's just that I don't want to go to the principal's office anymore,” I said softly.

Mom's eyes bulged. “When were you in the principal's office?”

“Friday . . . and it wasn't the first time,” I told her. “I'm late a lot, Mom.” I felt bad saying it. I really did.

Mom's face melted into a sad sort of smile. “I'm still trying to figure out how I can do it all . . . by myself . . . and I . . . I . . .” She shook her head and then showed me her palms. “All right.”

I headed for the stairs but when I glanced back, Mom looked so sad. “Enjoy your coffee,” I tried.

Another sad—guilt-loaded—smile.

I felt bad for her and didn't want to leave her like that. I took another step toward the stairs and stopped, grinning as the idea hit me. I turned to face Mom fully as I said, “You know, I'm sure you'd feel much better about all this walking if I had a cell phone.”

It worked: Immediately Mom hardened and said, “We can't always get everything we want in life, Fizzy.”

I took the stairs two at a time and was already at the top when she called after me, “The sooner you accept that, the better off you'll be!”

• • •

Mom caught me at the front door on my way out and said, “I almost forgot: I spoke to your aunt Liz and she wants you to plan on going over to her house after school every day this week to try out a bunch of recipes for the contest.”

I should've known something was up right then because Mom had talked to Aunt Liz—which she hardly ever does anymore—but I didn't. So I just said, “Okay . . . but what about Thursday?”

“What about Thursday?”

“It's Parents' Night at school,” I reminded her.

“Oh, right. Keene and I will pick you up from your aunt Liz's right after work,” Mom said.

“Why?” was the word that tumbled out of my mouth, as in,
Why would Keene come?
He wasn't my parent. He wasn't anybody's parent.

“For Parents' Night—isn't that what we're talking about?” Mom gave me a quick hug and headed for the stairs before I could think what to say.

• • •

It was a cold, gray morning. A few patches of snow remained in shady spots, with dead grass sticking up through them in an unruly way, which seemed out of place in Lush Valley, where yards aren't only strictly ruled but sculpted—some bushes are even carved into shapes, like art—even in the winter.

As I walked, I thought about how happy Coach Bryant would be to know that I get all this fresh air and exercise outside of gym class. I thought maybe I should tell him. Maybe he would say something like,
In that case, you're excused from gym class for the rest of the year. Sit and read all you want. You've earned it, Fissy.
(The way Coach Bryant says “Fizzy” sounds more like “Fissy,” which sounds a lot like “Fussy” to me. I don't like it.)

That's what I was thinking when I heard a door slam somewhere behind me. I turned to look: Zach Mabry, a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy who was in my math class came thudding down his front steps, hugging an unzipped black backpack with papers sticking out of the top, his coat half on and half off. When he saw me looking at him, he showed me his teeth.

Was that supposed to be a smile?
I wondered as I turned back around and resumed walking.

Within two minutes, I heard footsteps on the sidewalk right behind me. I glanced over my shoulder.

Zach showed me his teeth again.

I decided not to look behind me anymore and picked up my pace.

But Zach stayed right with me. Until we reached the school. Then he jogged around me, moving ahead of me as he hurried for the door. But he didn't open it. Instead he just stood beside it, staring at me.

I slowed, looking around, unsure. But then I remembered how I couldn't be late again.

As I neared the door, Zach pulled it open and held it for me.

“Th-thank you,” I stuttered as I passed.

“It's not working, is it?” Zach asked as he entered right on my heels.

I turned. “What?”

“My I'm-not-a-violent-maniac smile.”

“Oh,” I said. “Um . . . why do you need an I'm-not-a-violent-maniac smile?”
Because wouldn't only a violent maniac need one of those?

“When you come up behind kids who've lived on the street, especially girls . . . ,” Zach started, but then he shook his head and said, “never mind.” He smiled a real smile, winked, and added, “Have a nice day.” I was a little unnerved. Until I reminded myself how cool I must look as a walker,
showing up for school and all.

• • •

Mr. Moss began science class by announcing that he was going to give each of us a marble for our experiment in force of motion, and then spent the next twenty minutes detailing all the terrible things that would happen if we lost our marble. For starters, we wouldn't get another one and we wouldn't be allowed to share with a friend.
Cut to catastrophe: “Accidentally drop your marble down the sink? Too bad. No marble means no experiment, no data, and no points—you'll get a zero if you lose your marble. Everybody understand?” We all nodded, ready to get going.

But Mr. Moss spent another ten minutes telling us about all the different kinds of marbles he'd collected over the years: cat's eyes, devil's eyes, rubies, butterflies, bumblebees, and so on.

When we—finally!—got our marbles, I saw the one belonging to the girl in front of me, Miyoko Hoshi, roll off her table and onto the floor. The girl at the table beside Miyoko's, Ada Montgomery-Asher—one of Buffy's friends—saw it, too, because Ada reached out with her foot, rolled Miyoko's marble under her table, and kept it there, under her shoe. Miyoko must not have noticed, though, because she didn't move.

I knew that losing her marble would upset Miyoko even though I didn't really know her, because it's obvious to everyone that she's a very serious student. In addition to science, we also have math and gym/health class together. Miyoko's not much better than I am at gym, but she tries a lot harder—and never forgets her gym shoes. Also she sometimes asks health questions that stump Coach Bryant—he always says, “Uh . . . I'll have to get back to you on that.”

When Mr. Moss stopped talking, the room suddenly fell silent and everyone looked up at him. “Well?” he said. “What are you waiting for? We only have ten more minutes! Get to work!” As if
been waiting for
to stop talking this whole time. Right.

Miyoko moved things around on her table and bent to look underneath it, while Ada worked on her experiment and paid no attention to Miyoko.

I tapped Miyoko on the shoulder to get her attention and then crawled under Ada's table and retrieved the marble from under her bedazzled shoe.

Ada gave me a surprised look, as if to say,
Oh, I had no idea that was there!

I gave her a squinty look back to let her know that I knew better.

I placed the marble on the table in front of Miyoko, who looked at me like I'd just placed Julia Child's famous beef bourguignon in front of her when she was starving to death—I thought she might cry. Since I'm against tears at school, I immediately dropped Miyoko's gaze and hurried back to my table.

• • •

Miyoko sat beside me that afternoon during our health lesson, which was only fifteen minutes long, because Coach Bryant thought fresh air and exercise were way better for us than sitting around in the dank locker room where he had to teach health. We spent the remainder of our class time outside, but at least we were free to do what we wanted. I'd brought my cookbook—and my coat—just in case.

It wasn't as cold as it had been this morning, but the sky was still the color of oysters, which made me hope for more snow. I sat down with my book beneath the big sugar maple that had turned bright candy-apple red back in October. I love candy apples.
Hey, maybe Aunt Liz and I can make some this afternoon, just for fun,
I thought.

Miyoko wandered over then and squatted beside me on the grass—she'd brought her coat to health class, too, I noticed. Miyoko had the same kind of dark, shiny hair as Aunt Liz— except that it was stick straight—with almond eyes and a perfectly straight nose. She was pretty, maybe the prettiest girl in the whole sixth grade. I smiled at her.

Miyoko smiled back.

“I'm Fizzy,” I said.

Miyoko nodded. “Thanks for this morning, Fizzy—with the marble.”

“Sure. Hey, can I ask you something?”

Miyoko nodded again.

“Does Coach Bryant ever get back to you on your health questions?”


“That's what I thought.”

“But he always gives me an A in health,” Miyoko offered.

“Well, he kind of
to, doesn't he?” I said. “I mean, you know more than he does.”

“I think most people do, don't you?” Miyoko said.

We both laughed.

After that, despite the fact that my behind was going numb from sitting on the cold ground, I felt something digging into it. I thought it was probably a rock and stood up to look. But there wasn't any rock. I felt my back pockets. There was something in one of them. I reached into it and pulled out a gigantic black spider.

Now, even though I should've known the spider wasn't real—and I sort of did—I threw it down like it was the deadliest spider known to man.

Miyoko gasped and sprung up to a standing position.

I laughed a nervous little laugh and picked up the spider, to show her that it was fake.

Miyoko laughed, too. “What? . . . Why? . . .”

I shook my head. “I have no idea.”

• • •

At the end of the day, I found Miyoko waiting near my locker. “Do you like spiders?” she asked seriously, like this was the most important question in life.

“No way,” I said.

Miyoko appeared relieved. “Me neither.”


“Why don't I like them?” Miyoko asked, as if this was pure crazy talk.

“No, why do you care whether or not
like them?” I clarified.

Miyoko shrugged. “Oh, I don't . . . I just . . . well . . . I'm not sure I could be friends with a person who likes spiders.”

I smiled then. Because we were friends.

• • •

As I walked to Aunt Liz's house, I tried to figure out how that spider might have gotten into my jeans. But I couldn't. So I tried to remember the last time I'd worn them. It had been Saturday. It was only then that I remembered the snake I'd left in Suzanne's bathtub. So not only did Suzanne know how to take a joke, she knew how to play one! She
have a sense of humor! I laughed out loud. At that moment, I fully committed myself to maybe, just possibly, perhaps, liking Suzanne, instead of working so hard to stay mad at her all the time.

Chapter 9

Aunt Liz already
had her apron on and was ready to get cooking as soon as I arrived that afternoon—well, almost. I followed her into the kitchen, where she plucked a garbage-bag tie out of a drawer and used it to pull up her hair in about three seconds flat, after which Aunt Liz looked like she'd just come from the salon, where the chicest updo ever had been created on her head. What can I tell you? Aunt Liz is the only person I know who can make something so elegant using a lowly garbage-bag tie—I wished I had some garbage-bag ties at home but we buy drawstring bags—and somehow I knew I'd never master this technique, not with all the garbage-bag ties in the world.

Anyway, after Aunt Liz performed her hair magic, we turned on the radio and sang and danced, cooked and tasted, and laughed and laughed. I was as happy as a birthday cake, right up until Aunt Liz said, “Listen, Fizzy, when I called your house to make plans to cook with you this week, your mom asked me to talk to you about Keene.”

I froze right where I stood.

Aunt Liz put an arm around my shoulders and gently guided me to the kitchen table.

When were both seated, she said, “What is it, Fizzy? Why don't you like Keene?”

I still didn't want to tell Aunt Liz, but I knew I had to now. Because Mom was so determined for Keene and me to like each other, she had broken one of the A.D. Rules. As far as I can tell, the A.D. Rules are these:

1) Mom and Dad don't speak to each other. If they absolutely have to communicate—about me or my schedule—they do it by email or text. If they end up on the phone with each other—while trying to reach me—they say “one moment, please” and give me the phone, or they take messages in a polite way, like they're speaking to someone they've never met. (Occasionally, they speak of each other to me, but they never say the other's name and they always put a “your” in front of it, like “
mom wants you home at two o'clock,” or “
dad wants you to call him,” as if to say,
Don't forget: These are your people. Not mine. Yours. All yours.

2) Mom and Dad don't see each other. Whenever they're in the same place at the same time, like at a school play, or even in front of their own houses when I am being dropped off or picked up, they each pretend not to see the other. There is no waving, no smiling, no nodding, no nothing. (I've decided they think waving, smiling, and nodding are
too friendly—or maybe too forgiving. They do not feel friendly or forgiving toward each other. At all.)

3) All of these same rules apply to most of the extended family, which is to say that Dad's side of the family no longer exists as far as Mom's side of the family is concerned, and vice versa. Except for Aunt Liz, who doesn't seem to know any of the new A.D. Rules. Also, sometimes Mom waves at Aunt Liz—but only sometimes—when she's in a good mood. (Mom and Aunt Liz used to be close.)

4) While I am allowed to speak to or see any family member almost anytime, it's best if I play along according to the above rules. In other words, it's best if I don't say too much about the side of the family that no longer exists to whomever I'm with. So, usually, it's easiest if I don't say too much of anything at all. Otherwise, I have to think—and carefully sift my thoughts—before I speak. For example, I can say to Mom matter-of-factly, “We went to the zoo this weekend.” But it'd be a mistake for me to gush, “Dad took Suzanne and me to the zoo and he bought me a stuffed leopard!” There is a world of difference between those two sentences. One is acceptable; the other will ruin the rest of the day.

Of course, nobody's ever actually explained these A.D. Rules to me, but they exist as surely as both sides of my family, believe me. So Mom actually speaking to Aunt Liz about
personal stuff meant that Mom was desperate. Desperate to marry Keene, desperate for everyone to be okay with it, just desperate. I knew then that Mom was probably going to marry Keene Adams. And it made me . . .

I crossed my arms over my chest. “Do you think I'm smart?”

“Of course,” Aunt Liz said.

I lifted my chin. “Keene doesn't think so.”

“How do you know?”

I hesitated. Then I lowered my head and confessed, “I can hear everything that goes on in the living room through the vent in my bedroom.”

“I see,” Aunt Liz said evenly, and somehow I knew she was trying not to react. When I looked up, Aunt Liz's lips were all puckery but her eyes were laughing.

I felt a little encouraged, so I explained, “After Mom introduced Keene and me for the first time, I went upstairs to my room.”


“I could hear Mom through the vent, trying to convince Keene what a great kid I am—like I heard her say, ‘She's really smart,' and stuff like that.”

“What did Keene say?” Aunt Liz asked.

“He said that
parents think their kids are smart, but if they really were, we'd have a world full of geniuses.”

“I see,” Aunt Liz said. “Well, there's some truth in that, Fizzy, but it doesn't mean you aren't smart. It just means that Keene will have to decide that for himself. And I'm sure he will.”

I bit my lip.

“Anything else?”

“He doesn't believe I can win the
Southern Living
Cook-Off,” I said.

“That's not going to be a problem, since you
going to win,” Aunt Liz said, smiling.

I shook my head. “Also, Keene doesn't want my mom to love me anymore . . . so she's probably going to stop soon.”

That's when I think Aunt Liz started to get it because she frowned and said, “I need you to explain that to me, Fizzy.”

I uncrossed my arms, leaned across the table, and whispered, “I once heard Keene ask Mom if she loves me more than she loves him.”

“What did your mom say?”

I sat back and shrugged. “She just said that I'm her daughter and he'd understand when he had a child.”

“That's true,” Aunt Liz said. “Did Keene say anything else?”

“He lowered his voice so I couldn't make out the words. But I could tell from his tone that he was sort of . . . I don't know . . .
maybe—he wasn't happy, that's for sure.”

Aunt Liz scowled for a split second, but I saw it. Then sleet began pinging the windows and she twisted around to look. By the time Aunt Liz returned her attention to me, she was wearing her pleasant little smile again.

I tried to give her a pleasant smile back but, honestly, I wasn't feeling all that pleasant anymore.

• • •

Because of the sleet, and because Mom was running late, I stayed and ate dinner with Aunt Liz and Uncle Preston. “Dinner” was a variety of completely unrelated foods that Aunt Liz and I had cooked that afternoon. But leave it to Aunt Liz to pull any meal together with the perfect theme—or a garbage-bag tie.

As soon as Uncle Preston arrived home from work, Aunt Liz announced, “We're having an Around-the-World tasting menu tonight, courtesy of the
Southern Living
Cook-Off!” Uncle Preston looked very impressed, and he's not an easy guy to impress—he's
been around the world many times on his business trips.

We'd just started in on the desserts—a French apple tart and a German combination of ice cream and hot fruit sauce called
Eis und Heiss
, which means “ice and hot”—when the doorbell rang.

Aunt Liz went to answer it while I put on my coat and grabbed my backpack. Uncle Preston stayed with the desserts.

When I stepped out onto the front porch, Mom said, “Hi, sweet pea. Go on out to the car. I'll be right there.”

I did as I was told, while Mom and Aunt Liz stood talking under the cover of the front porch, hugging themselves and rubbing their arms against the cold.

When Mom finally came rushing out and got into the car, she didn't look at me, and I could tell she was sort of upset. She slammed the door shut, shook the icy rain off her coat in an agitated way, and put on her seat belt. Then she backed out of the driveway and started home, all without looking at me—
That's when I thought maybe Aunt Liz really had understood. Maybe Mom understood now, too. Maybe she wouldn't marry Keene after all.

I watched the windshield wipers scrape back and forth in rhythm.

When we were almost home, I said in a voice barely loud enough to be heard, “Mom, I don't want Keene to come to Parents' Night.”

“All right, all right,” Mom said, as if I'd told her this forty-three times already, when I hadn't even said it once.

Mom parked, pulled the keys from the ignition, and turned to me. “Fizzy, you are my daughter. That means I'm always going to love you. Always. No matter what. Do you understand?”

I shrugged.

Mom continued, “There's nothing you or anyone else could ever do that would make me love you any less.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Okay?” Mom said.

I nodded. “Okay.”

I did feel a little better. I felt like I'd been heard. And maybe even understood.


BOOK: The Thing About Leftovers
2.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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