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Authors: Saralee Rosenberg

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BOOK: Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead
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“That’s what you’re so worried about?” Mindy chuckled.

“No, I’m scared Jessie will never talk to me again,” she cried.

“I really thought I was helping her.”

“I know, but it was still dumb to pretend you were me. . . . Not to mention, you are so grounded for going on Facebook. That’s only for high school and college kids.”

“Mom! Everyone I know is on there and it’s all they do. . . . Do you want me to be left out?”

“I guess not.” Mindy sighed. This teen terrain was so scary, and what could be more terrifying than the thought of your child being a social outcast?

“Do you think they’ll get a divorce now?” Stacie wiped her nose.

“I have no idea, sweetie. But if they do, it won’t be because of anything you did.”

“I would die if you and Daddy got a divorce.”

“Never gonna happen. It would take us years to save up for the lawyers.”

“Stace, you ready to come down and meet Aaron?” Artie stuck his head in. “He’s very excited to meet you.”

“Really?” Mindy asked.

“No, but he’s in the den looking fairly miserable. I thought 60

Saralee Rosenberg

we could give him the old Shermaroo, let’s get ready to rumble, high-five welcome.”

“No!” Stacie snapped. “I’m not doing that. It’s stupid.”

“Oh, come on, sport. It’s such a great family tradition. I bet he’ll think it’s fun.”

“Not if he’s normal. He’ll think we’re a bunch of dorks.”

“I’ll take my chances,” he replied.

Sure enough, the Shermans, aka the starting five, lined up for their long standing tradition of welcoming guests while Artie did the play-by-play, as if they were in Madison Square Garden before a Knicks game. It was all hoops and hollers, except for the visiting rookie who barely slapped hands as he made his way down the line.

“Told you this was stupid.” Stacie checked her cell. “Can I go to do my homework now?”

“How about we all have some ice cream?” Artie shot her a look.

“Great idea!” Mindy clapped. “We’ll have a get-rid-of-it party before we leave.”

“Ice cream! Ice cream! Ice cream,” Ricky chanted.

“No thanks,” Aaron said. “How far’s New Jersey?”

“Depends on where,” Artie replied.

“Not sure . . . Been talkin’ to this kid online. . . . He said I could hang with him and his band.”

“Tonight?”

“Whatever. Yeah. I guess.”

“I don’t think so. It’s at least a good hour away. Maybe more.”

“I drive you know.” He air strummed a guitar. “Don’t need you to take me.”

“No I know. It’s just that the highways around here are pretty confusing. And Jersey drivers . . . forget about it. Plus tomorrow’s going to be all kinds of crazy. Last day before the big trip! Hey, do you need nice pants or shirts? A few of the nights you have to be dressed—”

Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead

61

“I brought stuff . . . not an idiot, Art . . .
‘I didn’t mean to
take up all your sweet time, I’ ll give it right back to you, one of these
days.
’”

Artie blinked. The kid was quoting Hendrix AND dissing him at the same time?

Mindy bit her tongue. She and Artie had wondered what Aaron would call him, but Art wasn’t on the list. No one called him that. To his parents he was Arthur, to his brother, Ira, he was still Tank, a throwback to his former fat days when he was as big as a Sherman tank, and what she called him depended on how big a favor she needed.

“I’m not saying you couldn’t handle it.” Artie looked crushed.

“It’s just that we’re all excited that you’re here. We’d like to hang with you, too.”

Stacie snickered, always amused when her dad tried to sound cool.

Little Ricky, a most intuitive child, came to the rescue. “I wished you could meet my dog, Costco.”

“Costco?” Aaron drummed on his thigh. “Ya mean like the store?”

“Yeah, but he went on vacation and didn’t come back yet.”

“Your dog went on vacation? Cool.”

“It’s a New York thing.” Artie winked while the girls rolled their eyes. Sadly, it remained a mystery how their beloved Shih Tzu had escaped the backyard.

“Mommy, what if Costco comes back when we’re on the cruise?”

“Oh.
Um.
Maybe we could leave his bowl outside by the kitchen door.”

“Yeah. He’d like that.” A satisfied Ricky turned to Aaron. “Are you really my brother?”

“That’s what they tell me.”

“’Cause my dad said you are.”

62

Saralee Rosenberg

“Do you want me to be . . . ‘
Oh, brother, brother, brother, I know
you’ve been layin’ back a long time.’”

Ricky ignored the song. “I dunno. Do you like the Mets?”

“Baseball’s okay.”

“I have Mike Piazza’s rookie card. It’s worth a million dollars.”

“Cool.”

“Does it hurt to get a tattoo?”

“Yeah. A little.”

“Do you smoke, ’cause it’s really bad for you and my teacher said you’ll die if you do.”

“You’ll die anyway, man.” Aaron shrugged. “But no, I quit . . .

cigs were costin’ me too much.”

“Do you like to go on cruises?”

“Don’t know,” Aaron shrugged. “Never been.”

“Me either. But you like Disney, right?”

“Not sure,” he hesitated. “Never been.”

“Mom! He’s never been to Disney. . . . When we come back can we take him? Can we?”


Um,
well, not this year . . . but hey, we could definitely take him to the circus.”

“Yeah, yeah! The greatest show on earth,” he squealed. “Do you like the circus?”

“Not anymore.” Aaron looked away.

“Could you teach me how to play the guitar?” Jamie said, blushing.

“How old are you?” He strummed an invisible instrument.

“Almost eleven.”

“That’s about how old I was when I learned. Who do you like?”

Her eyes lit up. “Justin Timberlake!”

“Then no.” He stopped. “Can’t teach you. That’s not real music.”

“What Aaron means, honey,” Artie said, “is that he’s more into the classics, like Hendrix and Clapton and—”

Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead

63

“I think you look like Stacie,” Jamie blurted.

“You know,” Mindy nodded, “you do. I was thinking the same thing.”

“Okay, we do not look alike.” Stacie groaned, but studied him to see if they were right.

“No really,” Mindy said. “You both have the same big brown eyes, the same coloring, and that cute dimple on your chin.”

“Oh my God, shut up Mom.” She buried her face in a pillow.

“Duh, Mommy,” Ricky said. “Aaron’s a boy. He can’t look like Stacie. I think he looks like me. . . . Do you want to sleep in my room ’cause we all sleep with my mommy and daddy?”

“You are so freakin’ gay!” Stacie threw the pillow at him and Mindy laughed. Artie, however, reacted differently.

“Uh-oh.” Mindy saw his tears. “Here we go . . . Your dad gets a little emotional.”

“Sorry.” Artie waved an apology. “I don’t know what came over me. It’s just so great, seeing all my kids together, everyone talking and having fun. . . . I prayed for this day for so long and I was starting to think it would never happen . . . but see? You can’t ever give up.” He hugged his boy. “So good to have you here . . .

so good.”

“Whatever.” Aaron stood soldier tall, though clearly not at ease.

Ice cream night at the Shermans’ was a cardiologist’s delight.

Mindy was big into toppings, putting out a spread to rival Baskin-Robbins. But while everyone dove for their favorites, ignoring her pleas not to get the sprinkles on the f loor, Aaron begged off, mumbling something about the long day and wanting to go online.

Artie brought him down to the guest room in the basement and apologized for the hideous bathroom while Mindy tried to enjoy her sundae without letting her mind wander too far from the hot fudge. And yet she worried.

64

Saralee Rosenberg

Here was a seventeen-year-old who was never hungry and always tired. A boy who thought nothing of asking for an alco-holic beverage and whose parents had been in and out of rehab.

A boy who dressed like a rocker, quoted lyrics from before his time, and had tattoos on his neck. Did anyone say drug habit? Or was she just being negative like Artie always accused?

For the rest of the week her eyes would be wide open for signs, but not nearly as wide open as they were about to get.

“I need a place to stay tonight.” A red-eyed Beth was standing at the front door.

It took a moment for this to register. Five-star Diamond Beth wanted a room for the night? Would that be cash or credit? The same Beth who wouldn’t drink Mindy’s coffee unless she first rinsed the mug? The same Beth who had just verbally abused her entire family?

“Why?”

“What do you mean why? You saw the whole scene. . . . I just do.”

Mindy stared, wishing Artie was there to watch Beth squirm.

“Trust me, I realize you’re not happy with me at the moment, but I wouldn’t be asking unless I was totally desperate.”

“Thanks?”

“I can’t look at Richard right now I am so angry with him. . . .

He’s treating me like a criminal and I’m not going to take it. Of course, it was okay when he fooled around.”

Richard fooled around? Hello, Nadine?
“Okay but see the thing is, Aaron is staying in the guest room, so I don’t really have any place to put you. Could you maybe stay at Jill’s?”
Or with one of
your other snotty friends who look down on me because I don’t wear my
daughter’s UGGs or drive a cute little convertible to Waldbaum’s?

“Mindy, c’mon. You know the whole goddamn story. . . . I can’t go anywhere else. It’ll just add fuel to the fire. Do you not get what I’m saying?”

Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead

65

“I do, but—”

“And look, I know your kids sleep in your room, so I’ll just take one of theirs.”

I’m sorry. Did someone report a missing Webcam?
“How do you know that?”

“Oh, please. Everyone knows everyone’s business around here.

That’s half the problem. So what’s the deal? Can I stay?”

Mindy was confused. How could she be feeling sorry for the original “Mean Girl” of Merrick? A neighbor who made her so miserable, she’d started a file with a list of movers. Plus, it would totally stress her out if Beth went upstairs and saw all the suitcases and laundry piled on the f loor. And with the cleaning lady gone due to fiscal restraints, the kids’ rooms were such pigpens, she wouldn’t be surprised if they one day unearthed Carmen Sandiego. But that wasn’t the worst of it. No matter how much she yelled, their bathroom was so gross even she hated going in there. The wet towels were multiplying, the toiletries were in-breeding, and there were no less than six brands of hair gel left on the vanity every morning.


Um,
things are kind of a mess up there right now with everybody packing and—”

“Fine. I’ll sleep on your couch. I’ll be up and out at the crack of dawn anyway.”

“My couch?”
The one with the missing springs or the one with the
rip in the arm?

“Just give me a pillow and a blanket and I’m good to go.” Beth walked through the center hall into the den. “Do you have down, because I prefer that?”

Okay this is my house
,
not a Ritz-Carlton
,
bitch
. “Sorry. No, we’re all allergic.

“Fine . . . Just give me whatever’s clean. . . . And don’t forget.

Tomorrow is your day to drive.”

Six

For most families, the day before a vacation feels like a pinball game. Once the ball is released from the shooter, the flippers move nonstop. There is so much to do (charge iPod, confirm limo), find (where are my green shorts?), pack (camera? check!

phone charger? check! passports . . . shit), and worry about (what if the burglar alarm goes off and the police don’t come?). It’s a wonder anyone bothers to go away at all.

But for Mindy, the day began on full tilt. Not because she’d been woken at 6:00 a.m. to the sounds of Richard and Beth arguing about which of them would be taking the girls to Aruba.

Not because Stacie had a temper tantrum about going to school (“Mom! All we do is watch stupid movies ’cause everybody’s gone!”). Not because Oregon Boy was complaining that he couldn’t find his favorite cartoons on any of the channels. Not even because her first call of the day was from Rhoda, who didn’t bother asking if her grandson’s visit was going well, she Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead

67

just wanted to know why Mindy hadn’t thanked her for sending that e-mail providing important, last-minute packing tips.

No, the reason the day already blew was because Mindy couldn’t find the five hundred dollars she’d put away for the trip, and retracing her steps had yet to help.

“You never used to be this bad.” Artie paced in the kitchen.

“Lately it seems like all you do is lose stuff.”

“Me? What about you? When was the last time you left the house without having to run around looking for your cell and your keys. In fact, your definition of “I looked everywhere”

means if it doesn’t fall from the sky, you have no idea!”

“Whatever . . . Can you at least remember when you made the withdrawal?”

“Of course. It was the day we met with Waspy at the bank.

You went into the conference room and Ricky and I went to the ATM.”

“Good. That’s a good start. Then what?”

“Then . . . I don’t know. I put the money in an envelope and stuck it in my bag.”

“Could you have dropped it?”

“No, because I remember seeing it when I had my color appointment. And after that we went to Burger King.”

“Awesome. If you dropped it there, we can get it back with a Whopper and fries.”

“I didn’t drop it there! I never even opened my bag because I had a twenty in my pocket.”

“Thank God. Okay, what else do you remember?”

“This is hard. It’s been so crazy around here. . . . Let me think

. . . Wasn’t that the day that Beth had her car accident and left me all those nasty phone messages and e-mails. Oh my God!

BOOK: Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead
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