Authors: Kate Messner
He's not coming
The thought's been buzzing around my brain all day like a mosquito that gets in the tent on a camping trip. It comes back, no matter how many times I swat it away.
I write my name on my English paper.
, and today, I add the Jr. at the end.
Kirby Senior will be here in less than twenty-four hours.
Dad's coming this weekend.
I start work on my essay and try to ignore the mosquito, still whining.
Maybe not, maybe not, maybe not
Finally, I make it to ninth period science, where I can forget about everything except electrons. Eighth-grade science is the best. Today, we're doing simple circuits, and even though I need a lesson in simple circuits the way Bill Gates needs a lesson in how to make money, I live for science class.
“A simple circuit is a beautiful thing,” Mrs. Loring says, tapping a link on her interactive whiteboard to show us a website. Some of the girls in the back snicker, but I lean forward. She's absolutely right.
The great thing about a simple electrical circuit is how everything fits. If something is wrong, you can see it right away, and you can fix it. There's only one path the electrons can take, and no matter how many little light bulbs or alarms or motors or buzzers you connect with your wires, the electrons still have to travel that one path. If
there's a problem, the whole thing shuts down. But as soon as you find it and fix it, everything works.
Everything has to fit.
All or nothing. I love that.
Electricity makes sense, like a language I learned when I was so little I don't even remember learning it.
That's why I stop to pick up the toaster at Mrs. Ward's garage sale on the walk home from school with Gianna and Ruby. There's a bunch of broken kitchen stuff in the free pile.
“Doesn't your mom already have a toaster?” Gianna pokes through the pile and pulls out a little wood frame with no glass.
“Don't you already have a broken picture frame?”
“You don't want glass in the frame for acrylics,” she says, tucking it into her backpack. She picks out a purple plastic flower, too, and tucks it into her hair. The wind blows and buries the flower in a pile of red curls. She might never find it again.
“Yeah, we have a toaster. But look at thisâit's almost new, and she probably just tossed it because of a short circuit. It'll take me ten minutes to fix.”
Ruby pulls us off the sidewalk into Rand Park where there's a little beach. She loves skipping stones. She wishes on them and says if the stone skips at least ten times the wish will come true.
“Make a wish, Zig.” Ruby hands me a stone the size of a hockey puck but thinner.
I drop it at her feet, unskipped. “Too windy. Even if you calculate the angle perfectly, there are too many variables with the waves. It won't work.”
Gianna whips her stone out over the water without even aiming. It flies over the little whitecaps and skips twelve times.
“Well done!” Our neighbor Mr. Webster smiles at Gianna under his white mustache as he walks by. I used to see him every morning on my paper route before Mom's schedule changed and I had to give it up.
“Thanks, Mr. Webster!” Gianna waves. “I
the skipping master, after all.”
“More like the lucky-throw master.” I tug her backpack so we can get going. “Come on, I'm starving. Mom said they'd have pie at the diner today.”
A great blue heron flies along the shore, like it's daring us to a race. I speed up a little but then trip over the toaster cord.
“Want to go garage saling tomorrow?” Gianna bends down and scoops up a handful of horse chestnuts. She has a big string of them draped over the window in her room for some reason. “It'll probably be one of our last chances before it gets cold and people stop having them. I need to find some ribbon and stuff for Nonna's memory book.”
“How's she doing?” Ruby asks.
Gianna picks up another leaf. “Okay. She hasn't wandered off again since we had the alarms put on the doors. And she likes the adult day care center where she's going on weekday mornings now. They have a ton of people there with memory problems. I think she has a boyfriend.”
Ruby nudges Gianna so she almost stumbles into me, and they both giggle like boyfriend is the funniest word ever.
Gianna and Ruby are my only real friends besides the science club guys, but the thing is, they're girls. When they get into girl-talk mode, it's like listening to a comedian telling jokes in a foreign language. If you want, you can laugh when everybody else does, but you'd have no clue why. “What's so funny?” I ask.
“Nothing,” Gianna says. “Want to go to garage sales tomorrow or not?”
“Can't,” I say. “Dad's coming.”
I try not to smile like a doofus when I say that, but I can't help it. I haven't seen Dad in more than a year because he's been traveling so much. He buys and sells property so he's always taking trips to wherever the market is hot. Last year, our Christmas weekend got called off because of a strip mall project in Florida, my birthday party ended up being the same day as a closing on an apartment complex in Boston, and our June camping trip got replaced by a weekend in Maine to check out property on a former air force base.
The thing about Dad is that it's hard to be mad because it's so awesome when he finally shows up. When I turned eleven, he came in a limo with pizza and a cooler of sodas in back and took all the guys at my birthday party for a behind the scenes tour of the IBM factory. Granted, “all the guys at my birthday party” included me, plus Hassan and Evan from science club, but I was a rock star to those guys for a while. When Dad shows up, the circuit is complete. Everything lights up.
“You're not camping this time, are you?” Ruby zips up her jacket as we turn the corner and the wind picks up. It's still September, but when school starts in Vermont, snowflakes are never far behind.
“Nope. We planned this weekend at the beginning of the summer when his last visit got canceled. Dad's flying into town tonight, and I'm spending the weekend with him at his hotel. He's gonna have a huge suite, and we're building a computer from scratch.”
“One you can actually use?” Gianna raises her eyebrows.
“Yeah, a really good one. But don't say anything to Mom.” I hold open the diner's glass door. “She gets uptight when Dad buys expensive stuff.”
A warm cloud of sweetness swallows us up. No matter what time of day it is, Alan's Diner always smells like pancakes and maple syrup. Ruby, Gianna, and I have been coming here to do homework after school every day since Mom took a part time job as a waitress to help pay her nursing school bills.
We take our usual booth in the corner. Ruby plops down on one of the red vinyl benches. I slide onto the other one and set the toaster next to me.
Gianna glares at the toaster like it's in her spot. She's been sitting next to me lately instead of with Ruby. She came over to get help with math one day, and now it's sort of permanent. Which isn't bad, I guess. Just different. I lift the toaster up onto the table next to the saltshaker and ketchup so Gee can slide into the booth.
Mom's busy waiting on a big table. She looks up and gives a little wave, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. She looks tired, like she was up late studying again.
Mabel brings our hot chocolate. “There ya' go, kiddos.” She squirts the whipped cream on top of each mug, turns to make sure Alan's busy at the grill, and then squirts some right into Gianna's mouth.
“That is so unsanitary,” I say. Gianna's laugh sends bits of whipped cream spraying across the table. We reach for napkins at the same time, and our hands bump, so I pull mine away.
Mabel grins. “Easy there, Zig. She won't bite you. You kids have any big plans for the weekend?”
“My dad's coming up. We planned everything over the summer. We're going to buildâ” I catch myself. She'd tell Mom about the computer for sure. “âa model airplane, I think.”
Mabel's smile wilts. She looks quick over her shoulder to where Mom's grabbing our pie off the counter. “Well you have a good one.” She hustles away to clear table five.
“How was school?” Mom comes over and sets down three plates of pie with chunky apples. Usually, she scoots in and sits with us a while if it's not too busy, but today she only hovers. She keeps wiping her hands on her apron even though they don't look dirty.
“Good,” I say, like always.
“We got our science tests back,” Gianna says. “Zig got an A plus.”
“That's nice,” Mom says. She doesn't sound like she cares.
“Hey, Mom, what time is Dad picking me up tomorrow morning?”
She takes a deep breath and wipes more invisible food off her hands onto her apron.
“We need to talk about that.”
The mosquito in my brain is back, buzzing like crazy, but I keep talking anyway.
“Is he in town now? Maybe he can pick me up tonight instead.”
“So what time is heâ”
“Zig, he's had â¦ kind of a crazy week.”
My eyes drop to my plate. I've heard it so many times she doesn't have to say it. But she does.
“He's not coming.”
Friday night, I try calling Dad's cell phone and get a message that it's no longer in service. My email to him bounces back, too.
“What's going on with Dad?” I ask Mom when she finally gets up Saturday morning. I've been at the table trying to fix this stupid toaster since I woke up at seven, but I can't figure it out. It shouldn't be this hard.
Mom walks past me to the kitchen counter. I know I should give her time to make a cup of coffee since she worked at the diner all day and then had class until ten last night. But I have to know.
“Why isn't he coming? And how come his phone's not working? Does he have a new number or something?”
She pours hazelnut creamer into her coffee, sips it, and pours in more coffee. She grabs my hot chocolate spoon and starts stirring.
“I don't know. Last time I spoke with him, he called me from a different phone because he's â¦ traveling. And there's aâhe had a land deal that'sâone of his projects created a bit of a problem.”
“A new one. You haven't heard of it.” The screen door opens and closes, and Mom sets her coffee down to grab the newspaper. She doesn't read itâjust tucks it under her arm.
“Can he come next weekend then?”