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Authors: Sarah Sullivan

All That's Missing

BOOK: All That's Missing
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Arlo was sitting in math class, thinking about the note Mrs. Gretzky had pressed into his hand five days ago, the one Arlo had opened at home and read through three times just to make sure it was as bad as he thought, the one he was going to have to forge his grandfather's signature on before he could return it to school. Arlo was thinking so hard that he failed to notice Darcy Meadows poking him in the back with a tightly folded piece of notebook paper.

“Here, dummy,” she whispered.

“Thanks,” Arlo whispered back.

He recognized Sam's handwriting right away. Sam was Arlo's best friend. Some might say his
only
friend. That was because of all the important things they shared in common.

1. They both loved anchovy pizza.

2. They both preferred running to soccer.

3. They both hated fractions.

4. They were both afraid of Nick Halvorson, though neither one of them liked to admit that.

Sam lived with his great-aunt Betty in a frame house in the old section of Marshboro, while Arlo lived with his grandfather a few blocks away.

When Mrs. Gretzky turned to write on the board, Arlo opened up the note and started reading.

Want to go for a run?

Arlo looked over and mouthed,
Yes.

Sam gave him a nod. “Usual place?” he asked.

Arlo nodded.

At least once a week he and Sam met on the Boulevard near the College to run the two-mile path along the river. So far, it had rained every day this week. Until this afternoon.

“Don't let me interrupt your conversation, Arlo,” Mrs. Gretzky said.

Arlo whipped around to face the front of the classroom.

Mrs. Gretzky was staring at him. “Since you don't feel the need to pay attention,” she said, “perhaps you'd like an extra challenge.”

Lucy Ashcroft giggled from the front row.

“Well?” Mrs. Gretzky tapped her foot.

“Sorry,” Arlo said.

“I'm glad to hear that,” Mrs. Gretzky said. “Why don't you stop by my desk on your way out? I'll have something extra for you.”

“Yes, ma'am.” Arlo's shoulders sagged at the thought of what was in store for him.
More homework.
Just what he didn't need.

Sixth grade was different from Arlo's other years at school. It was all because of Poppo — and the weird stuff that was happening in Poppo's brain. Time traveling, Arlo called it, because it was as if Poppo were swept into a time machine and transported to the past. He'd become confused about things and forget how to find his way home. Poppo's memory spells never lasted longer than a few minutes. But while they were going on, they were scary.

This past July, they'd been on their way home from the grocery store when Poppo came to a halt in the middle of an intersection.

“It's this way, isn't it?” he asked.

“No, Poppo, left, toward school,” Arlo said. “Then right at the post office.”

“Sure,” Poppo said. “What was I thinking?”

Arlo hadn't liked the look on his grandfather's face, as if he were lost or, worse yet, frightened.

In the old days,
before this past summer,
Poppo and Arlo used to spend weekends at the fishing camp in Greenbrier County. On Saturday mornings, they would take the canoe out and dangle fishing lines in deep pools where brown trout darted around sandstone boulders. They hiked up Spice Mountain and listened to owls calling in the night.

But this past summer, Poppo never opened the camp at all. First, it rained every weekend from Memorial Day until the end of June. And when the sun finally came out, Poppo kept putting off the trip.

“Maybe next week,” he said.

But next week came and went and the week after that, and still Poppo said the same thing.

“Maybe next week, Arlo. I don't feel up to it yet.”

In the evenings, Poppo's mind wandered. And Poppo wandered, too. Sometimes. Not often. Not yet, anyway.

“Will I be seeing your grandfather tomorrow afternoon?” Mrs. Gretzky asked when Arlo stopped at her desk.

Arlo's heart skipped as he struggled to keep the panic from showing on his face. “Poppo can't make it,” he said.

Mrs. Gretzky frowned. “I thought he understood we needed to meet,” she said.

The lie formed in Arlo's head before he knew what he was saying. “The doctor says Poppo isn't supposed to go out of the house till he finishes his medicine.” Arlo marveled at how quickly the phony excuse slid out of his mouth. “The doctor says that what Poppo has could be contagious.”

Mrs. Gretzky's eyebrows arched to an impossible height, which seemed to Arlo to match how far he had stretched the truth.

“Nothing serious, I hope,” she said, putting down her pencil to offer a concerned look.

“Just the flu or something,” Arlo said. “He should be OK in a day or two.”

For a moment, they stared at each other. Arlo's heart hammered as he wondered if she could possibly believe him. Arlo counted the seconds ticking past.
One thousand one, two thousand two.

Finally, Mrs. Gretzky raised her hand and drew a line through one of the notes on her calendar, the one that said,
Meeting with Mr. Sabatini — 4 p.m.

“All right, then, Arlo,” she said. “I guess we'll have to make the best of the situation, won't we?”

Arlo forced a tentative smile while his brain beamed the word
VICTORY
in capital letters. His secret was safe.

At least for the moment.

“Tell your grandfather we need to discuss your math grades as soon as possible.” Mrs. Gretzky raised her head until they were gazing eye to eye. “You'll do that, won't you?”

“Sure,” Arlo said, struggling to control the twitch in his shoulder that came when he told a bald-faced lie.

Mrs. Gretzky kept talking. “Tell him it's important we figure out a way to help you improve your skills.” She reached into her desk drawer and pulled out a piece of paper with a list of names, phone numbers, and addresses printed on it. “I was going to give him this list of tutors,” she said. “Why don't you go ahead and do that for me? Tell him to call anyone on the list. They're all good. And tell him he'd better do it soon. Their schedules fill up quickly.”

Hire a private tutor? Was she kidding? Poppo couldn't afford swim lessons, let alone private math tutors.

“I'm studying a lot harder now,” Arlo said, reluctant to accept the list, since there was no way he was going to deliver it.

Mrs. Gretzky gave him a patient smile. “I'm sure you are.” She stretched her arm out stiffly until Arlo had no choice but to accept the list. “Everyone needs help from time to time,” she said. “It's nothing to be ashamed of. Just give your grandfather this list and tell him what I said. All right?”

Never in a million years,
Arlo said silently to himself, but to Mrs. Gretzky he said, “Yes, I will.” Then he stuffed the list in the pocket of his backpack.

“Good. I'm glad we had this talk.” Mrs. Gretzky closed her eyes and nodded. “Remind your grandfather to call me,” she added. “All right?”

“Sure.” Arlo nodded his agreement. He hoped his face wasn't as red as it felt. He was a terrible liar. But one conversation with Poppo, and Mrs. Gretzky was bound to know that something was wrong. That is, unless she happened to catch Poppo on a good day. And the good days didn't happen very often anymore. Mrs. Gretzky could ask Poppo a perfectly reasonable question, and Poppo was likely to respond with some crazy comment about watching Walter Cronkite on the news last night. Shoot. Walter Cronkite had been dead for years. Eons, almost.

Or worse yet, Poppo might ask Mrs. Gretzky why she was calling him.
I don't know any boy named Arlo,
Poppo might say.
Do I?

“Aren't you giving me extra homework?” Arlo asked.

Mrs. Gretzky shook her head. “I'd rather you spend more time on the homework you already have,” she said. “And pay attention in class.”

Arlo had to hand it to her. She had a way of hitting you right where it hurt.
Bam.
Knocking the breath right out of him.

“Sorry,” Arlo said, for what felt like the twentieth time.

“It's all right,” Mrs. Gretzky said. “Just do better next time.”

BOOK: All That's Missing
11.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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