Escaping the Giant Wave

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For my friend, Pam, who is also my daughter-in-law

A
tsunami
(pronounced sue-NAH-mee) is a series of destructive ocean waves, usually started by earthquakes. Tsunamis can also be caused by underwater landslides or underwater volcanic eruptions.

1

“If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?”

No one in my sixth-grade class answered our teacher. I could think of lots of things about my life that I'd like to change but I wasn't going to say them out loud, not even on the last day of school.

“Think about it. What do you wish was different?” Mrs. Hoke asked.

“I wish I was six feet tall,” my friend Gary said.

Everyone, including Mrs. Hoke, laughed. Then she said, “I want you each to write down four goals for your summer. They must be goals that you can work to achieve, not something over which you have no control, such as getting taller. You don't have to turn your lists in. They are to help you improve yourselves.”

I think Mrs. Hoke's goal was to keep the class out of mischief without having a bunch of papers to correct.

I wrote my name, Kyle Davidson, at the top of a sheet of notebook paper and started my list:

1. Raise my batting average over .250

2. Learn to pop a wheelie on my scooter

3. Get Mom and Dad to increase my allowance

“Think before you write,” Mrs. Hoke said. “Good goals have a long-term effect. A goal accomplished makes your life better.”

I put one elbow on my desk, rested my chin on my palm, and read my list. Yes. My life would definitely be better if my batting average went up, if I could pop a wheelie, and if I had more money.

I was confident that I could achieve numbers one and two. All I needed was practice.

Number three would be more of a challenge. I planned to mention frequently to my parents how much spending money my friends have. I would remind them that I feed Alexander the Greatest, our cat, and clean his litter box every night. I also carry out the garbage and make popcorn for the whole family when we rent a movie. I figured if I kept talking about how helpful I am, I'd wear Mom and Dad down, and they'd agree to give me more allowance.

As I stared at my list, a hand shoved my elbow off the desk. My head jerked forward. “Ooof!” I said as I dropped my pencil.

Behind me, I heard Daren Hazelton snicker. I didn't need to turn around in order to know who had yanked my elbow.

I sighed, retrieved the pencil, and finished my list.

4. Make Daren Hazelton leave me alone

As soon as I wrote it, I put my hand over that line, in case Daren peeked at my paper.

Daren is the meanest kid in Edison School. He's probably the meanest kid in the world. I bet Daren was born mean. He probably bit the other babies and kicked the nurses before his parents took him home from the hospital.

I met Daren when I was five, on my first day of kindergarten. He came up behind me and bonked me on the head with a box of crayons. I didn't want to be labeled as either a crybaby or a tattletale on my first day of school, so I walked away from Daren without saying or doing anything, and I didn't tell the teacher on him.

Big mistake.

From then on, Daren sneaked up on me once every day. He punched me, poked me with a pencil, tripped me, and shoved me. He never hurt me enough that I had to go to the school nurse—he was too devious for that. His punches stung but didn't bruise me; his pokes left an indentation but never broke the skin.

By the time I got to first grade, being bullied by Daren had become a regular part of my day. It still is.

I never punched him back because Daren always outweighed me by plenty. Now that we're both finishing sixth grade, he stands five feet seven and is built like a brick wall, while I'm barely five feet tall and as skinny as a ruler.

Size was only part of the reason I ignored Daren all those years. I dislike confrontations of any kind, and I avoid physical conflict most of all. I don't even like to watch boxing or wrestling on TV.

Fighting just isn't my way of handling a problem and for the most part that's a good thing. When I'm dealing with reasonable people I can settle any differences with discussion and compromise.

Daren Hazelton is not a reasonable person.

Daren Hazelton is a mean, big, strong troublemaker.

I'm not the only one Daren hassles. He picks on the younger kids, and I've seen him start fights with older boys in the seventh and eighth grades. Some kids fight back and others complain to their teachers. Daren probably holds the school record for getting sent to the principal's office the most times, but that hasn't slowed him down one bit.

I used to tell myself that brains are more important than brawn and that by avoiding a fight I was outsmarting Daren. Lately, though, I haven't felt smart; I've felt like a coward. It was time to stand up to Daren at last and put an end to his sneak attacks. The question was, how?

“Read your goals once a week during the summer,” Mrs. Hoke said. “Good luck in achieving your ambitions.”

It will take more than luck,
I thought as I folded my list and stuck it in my notebook.

I wouldn't see Daren during vacation, so I had three months to figure out a workable plan to keep him from punching me again next year. I decided to concentrate on my other three goals first, and worry about Daren in August.

That afternoon I took home a year's accumulation of items from my locker, including a petrified apple core, a coupon good for twenty cents off a bag of jellybeans (expiration date: two months ago), three overdue library books, and a pair of dirty socks that I didn't put on after gym class one day when I was in a hurry. My backpack bulged. I would have tossed some of it away at school, but all the wastebaskets there were already overflowing with other kids' trash.

I was eating graham crackers and sorting through all the junk, when Mom made a surprise announcement.

“Due to your maturity and responsible behavior, Dad and I have decided that it is no longer necessary to hire a sitter for you and BeeBee.”

BeeBee is my little sister and yes, that is her real name. Mom and Dad couldn't decide whether to name her Bernice, after Dad's mother, or Barbara, after Mom's mother, so they took the two initials and made up a brand-new weirdo name.

If the two Bs stood for Brainy and Bizarre, the name would fit her perfectly. BeeBee is not your ordinary eight-year-old. Not by a long shot.

When Mom gave me the no-more-baby-sitter news, she smiled expectantly, and I could tell she thought I would be glad.

“How much?” I asked.

Mom seemed baffled. “How much what?”

“How much do I get paid for watching BeeBee?”

“Paid!” Mom looked as if I had demanded a fee for making my bed or brushing my teeth.

“You always paid Shelly five dollars an hour,” I said.

“That was different. Shelly was a hired sitter. You are . . .”

“A slave.”

“Kyle, don't be ridiculous. You are a member of this family. We each contribute what we can, and you can help by taking care of BeeBee tomorrow night while your dad and I attend the monthly sales dinner.”

My parents both work for a large real estate firm. Dad sells commercial office space; Mom sells houses and condominiums.

“How long will you be gone?” I asked.

“We need to leave at six,” Mom said, “and we should be home by ten. Ten-thirty at the latest.”

“From six until ten-thirty,” I said. “That's four-and-a-half hours. Shelly would get paid twenty-two dollars and fifty cents.”

“All you have to do is heat up dinner, wash the dishes, and see that BeeBee goes to bed at eight-thirty. It will be a snap.”

“Shelly gets a tip for doing the dishes,” I said.

“Shelly doesn't live here.” Mom raised one eyebrow and gave me a look that suggested I wouldn't live here much longer either if I said another word about Shelly.

“What if BeeBee won't?” I asked.

“Won't what?”

“Won't eat her dinner. Won't go to bed. Won't do anything I say.”

“I'll talk to her before we leave,” Mom said. “I'll tell her that when she's all tucked in bed, you'll read to her for awhile.”

My sister knows how to read but she still loves to have someone read aloud to her, especially if she gets to choose the reading material.

“I won't read one of her financial reports,” I said. “I'll read part of a Harry Potter book or something else that normal kids like, but I am not reading about a mutual fund or the quarterly report from General Electric or any of BeeBee's other favorites.”

My sister is a financial whiz. When she was two, she refused to play with blocks or dolls; all she wanted was a calculator.

Last Christmas when she went to get her picture taken with Santa, she asked him to bring her shares of stock in a toy company. “Toys break,” BeeBee explained. “Stock appreciates.”

“I'll try,” the startled Santa said, “but I can't promise.”

“You can choose what you read to her,” Mom said. Then she added, “I'll make homemade pizza.”

I knew the pizza was a thank you for me. Pizza is my all-time favorite food, especially Mom's homemade pizza, which she usually makes only for birthdays. Even so, I couldn't resist saying, “Let's see. Four-and-a-half hours times zero cents an hour equals . . .” I paused for dramatic effect. “Unfair.”

BeeBee came in from the backyard, carrying her radio and her stuffed bear, Bill. The bear was named for Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and BeeBee's hero because he's one of the richest people in the world. “The DOW is up thirty points,” she said, smiling broadly, “and the NASDAQ is up ten. Bill and I are happy.”

Nobody knows why BeeBee is interested in the stock market. It certainly isn't because our family is wealthy. We don't own any stocks, but BeeBee follows the daily stock market reports the way other kids read the cartoons. She is fascinated by the idea of many people owning a small share of a big company.

BeeBee put her radio and Bill on my bed, then helped herself to some graham crackers.

“Dad and I are going to a sales dinner tomorrow night,” Mom said.

“Who's baby-sitting?” BeeBee asked.

“Kyle.”

BeeBee choked and made a face as if the crackers were moldy. “No way,” she sputtered. “Kyle isn't old enough.”

“Kyle is thirteen,” Mom said. “That's how old Shelly was when she began baby-sitting.”

“How much?” BeeBee asked.

Mom gave her a suspicious look. “How much what?”

“How much do I get paid for letting Kyle be my sitter?”

“The sitter gets paid,” I said, “not the sittee.”

“Nobody is being paid,” Mom said.

“Unfair,” said BeeBee.

“That's what I told her,” I said. “There ought to be special child labor laws for family members.” Then I added, “Of course, if I were to get a bigger allowance, I might feel differently.”

“I'll think about it,” Mom said.

That wasn't
yes
but it wasn't
no
, either. Maybe I really would accomplish my summer goals.

As soon as Mom and Dad left the next evening, I told BeeBee, “I'm in charge now, and these are the rules.”

She glared at me.

“Rule number one: We can eat dessert first.”

BeeBee quit scowling.

“Rule number two: When we have pizza, we can eat it with our fingers instead of using a fork.”

BeeBee smiled.

“Rule number three: The only required vegetables are baby carrots dipped in ranch dressing.”

“This is going to be fun,” BeeBee said.

It
was
fun, although I didn't tell Mom and Dad that. I wanted them to think they were taking advantage of me. I thought if they felt guilty, they would raise my allowance. Dream on.

I had been contributing my mature baby-sitting skills to the good of the family for about a month (with still no raise in my allowance) when Dad brought home a handful of travel brochures.

“We're going on a vacation,” he said, “to the Oregon coast!”

“Did you win the lottery?” I asked.

“Lottery tickets are a waste of money,” BeeBee said. “The odds of winning are terrible.”

“I'm the Salesman of the Year,” Dad said. “Mom and I get our expenses paid to a national sales conference in Fisher Beach, Oregon, and we're taking you along.”

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