The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days (5 page)

BOOK: The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days
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Mrs. Millman is at mahjong, and no one else is in sight, so it's easy to walk across to Mr. Dembrowski's house. I stand at his front step for a second. Whoa! The rose is gone.

Every shade is pulled down. I have no evidence that he actually took the rose. It could have blown away, or been carried off by an extremely strong ant population, or even been eaten by Beanie.

I leave the plate by his door.

When I come in, Matt is leaning against the kitchen counter, wearing dark sunglasses and a cap, eating a brownie.

“Matt,” I say happily. “Welcome to the downstairs.”

“Funny,” he says, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth and taking another brownie. “Why'd you make these?”

“I just felt like it. How are they?”

He smiles at me with chocolate all over his teeth. “Good.”

“So, are you in disguise?”

He lowers the glasses and raises an eyebrow. Doesn't answer.

I put the pan in the sink and run water into it. I just
know he's going to finish the brownie and disappear again. “Hey, um, are you doing anything? Wanna hang out? Maybe … play cards?”

He shrugs.

“Remember that time we played war for hours? We said we'd play till someone won.”

Matt laughs. “No one ever wins war.”

“You won that time.”

“I did? Oh, yeah.”

I cross my arms. “I want a rematch.”

He pushes up his sunglasses. “Can't. Got some stuff to do. See ya.”

He goes out. I look at the gross brownie water.

Nice chatting with you, Matt
.

I
n the morning, the plate of brownies is still there. I can see it from my window. This makes me sad, and more worried about Mr. Dembrowski.

In our basement storage room, there's a treasure trove of stuff in boxes and bags: unopened gifts my parents received from clients, things they bought and never used, and other random items.

I have good uses for them.

11. I wrap up a package of gel foot pads, the kind for shoes, and leave them for Eli's mom, Mrs. Bennett, who is a nurse and stands for hours at a time.

12. I leave an aromatherapy candle for Jorie's dad because he needs to calm down.

13. There's a box of wrapped cigars that Dad has never even touched, and I have this feeling that Mr. Millman is the kind of man who would like to smoke a cigar once in a while. Living with Mrs. Millman can't be easy.

It's when I'm sneaking the cigars to the Millman house that I realize the plate of brownies is no longer on Mr. Dembrowski's front step.

I'm elated. I have a warm feeling inside, like a tiny flame was lit.

14. When Jorie drops her lip gloss on the bus, even though it's slightly rude that she has her back to me and is talking to the girl across the aisle, I catch it with my foot, pick it up, and slide it into her tote bag.

That night, I see a small red glow across the street and I can just make out Mr. Millman standing in his driveway, smoking a cigar. He looks content.

Then I hear voices. Jorie's. The bounce of a basketball. And … Eli's laugh.

I go downstairs and pass Mom and Dad, who are working at the kitchen table.

“Hey, hon,” Mom says, not looking up but waving in my direction. “Did you eat?”

“Yeah. I had a frozen pizza.”

“Nina,” Dad says, “could you grab that bottle of seltzer from the fridge?”

I hand it to him, then poke my head out the front door.

Jorie and Eli are in his driveway. It looks like they're playing one-on-one, and Jorie is going for a gold medal in flirting. She's wearing the shortest butt-hugging shorts I've ever seen. With a tight, low-cut tank top. Dark purple, glittery. Plus she's doing this fake, high-pitched giggling. That's not how she laughs. “Show me how to do a layup,” she says.

Eli puts his hand on top of hers and helps her dribble. Then when they get close to the basket, he picks her up so she can shoot the ball.

She sort of falls back into him as he lets her down. And fake giggles. And shakes out her long hair. The ball rolls onto the grass, and they're standing really close.

I feel sick. Like I'm watching something I shouldn't. She's serious about Eli and homecoming. Usually Jorie's ideas come and go in a flash.

Eli and Jorie don't see me, and I go back inside, a little shaky.

Mom's cleaning up their papers. She's been wearing her short hair gelled back behind her ears. Not even one strand came loose all day.

“I'm running to the grocery store,” she says. “Do you want anything special?”

I hesitate. “You know what I really want?”

She piles the papers into her briefcase. “What?”

“Grandma's carrot ring.”

She looks up, her face tight. “I can't make that. I don't even know where the recipe is.”

A long second goes by. She picks up her purse, takes out her keys.

“We're out of frozen pizza,” I say, and shrug.

“Okay. I'll get a few.”

Yeah.

Grandma used to make her carrot ring a lot when we went to her apartment for dinner. It was one of the best things I've ever tasted, and I don't even like carrots that much.

Dad's on the sofa, feet up on the table, flipping through channels. As I pass him, he says, “What's the matter?”

I keep walking. “Nothing. I'm fine.”

“Really?”

“Yes.” Which is completely untrue.

I can still hear Jorie's and Eli's voices outside. Why am I upset? I mean, if they like each other … I just didn't think Eli was like that. Going for the butt-hugging shorts and obvious flirting.

But I'm thinking about the Eli from when we were
little. The quiet, protective boy who wouldn't let go of my hand that summer night we hid from Jorie. The funny, sweet, awkward Eli who gave me a crumpled Valentine with a picture of a cartoon truck with goofy-looking eyes that said
Sending you truckloads of
[scratched-out word]
on Valentine's Day. Your friend, Eli Bennett
. When I held it up to my lamp, I could tell the scratched-out word was “love.”

Do I even know the Eli from now?

And then this hits me: Do I know Jorie anymore?

O
n the way to summer school, Jorie doesn't say anything about Eli, and I don't ask. I show her my chair drawing. “What do you think this is?”

She tilts her head. “I don't know … one of those old-fashioned tables where you do your hair and makeup?”

“You mean a vanity?”

“Yeah.”

I sigh. “No. It's a chair.”

She squints. “Oh, okay. I see it.” Then she laughs. “I told you that you should've done the computer class
with me. It's easy. And I'm meeting so many new people.
Lots
of cute guys.”

Great.

In art, when I hold up my drawing, people guess a table, a bed, and a spaceship. But then the quiet girl, Sariah, says softly, “Is it a chair?” I almost want to hug her.

Ms. Quinlan gives me some tips about shading and dimension, and while I'm reworking the drawing, I glance at Sariah. She's tall and skinny, with smooth brown skin and braces. Long, straight dark hair. Her drawing is a bowl of fruit, and it's really good. When it's time for the break, I try to catch her eye, but she walks out ahead of me and sits near a group in the commons. I hang at the edge of Jorie's group.

By the end of class, my chair is starting to look more like a chair. Ms. Quinlan says, “Better. Keep going.”

And I do.

I bring Mrs. Chung's mail to her door every day, but I'm not counting that anymore. It's just my routine; I'm pretty sure she thinks it's the mailman. I drop off two more plates of something sweet at Mr. Dembrowski's door (fifteen, sixteen). Either the squirrels or Mr. Dembrowski take them, because they're both gone the next day. I make chocolate chip cookies—just the
break-and-bake kind—and leave some on Matt's desk (seventeen). The empty dish is in the sink the next morning.

When she's not at mahjong, Mrs. Millman has been stalking the cul-de-sac with Beanie. She told Mrs. Cantaloni that she's training Beanie as a watchdog. She said Beanie's grandfather was a killer. Excuse me for saying, but that scrappy little poodle does not look very much like a watchdog. Real intruders won't be scared off by Beanie Millman.

Funny, but the more upset Mrs. Millman becomes, the more it makes me want to keep doing the good things.

I thought it would be hard to think of them. But it's easy. I see something that needs my attention, and I do it. Random things present themselves every day. I keep counting, and Mrs. Millman keeps patrolling, like we're in a silent race, Nina Ross versus Myrna Millman. Anonymous good versus suspicion. Who will win? I don't know, but I really hope she doesn't freak out and call the police again.

I'm outside on Friday afternoon,
still
working on the chair drawing. It's due on Monday. I never want to draw another chair. The three Cantaloni boys are pitching and catching on their front lawn. I always mix up their names; they all start with
J
.

They're copies of each other—dark hair, stocky, in
the same blue striped T-shirt: one small, one medium, one large. The youngest kid looks close to Thomas's age, and I wonder why they don't play together.

The tallest one pitches the ball to the middle kid. He hits a pop fly, and the younger kid does his best to get under it, but as he's stepping back, he's getting closer and closer to the weeds that used to be the front lawn of the Dixon house. He stops as the ball lands in the field of weeds, and they all just stare. I suppose that house is to them what Mr. Dembrowski's was to me, Jorie, and Eli. The stuff of ghost stories and nightmares.

“You suck!” the older Cantaloni boy yells to the younger brother, who runs inside their house, crying.

“You get it!” the older one says to the middle guy.

“No, you!”

“I'll give you my best baseball card.”

“Forget it. I'm not going in there.”

“I'll let you use my mitt for the rest of the day.”

“Uh-uh.”

They look at the weeds, where something makes a rustling sound. The boys glance at each other, then tear into their house.

I put my sketchbook on the ground and go to the edge of the Dixons', trying to see the ball and what was making the sound.

I take two mini steps into the weeds; they're as high
as my knees in some spots, and scratchy against my bare legs. I hear the rustle again and see the weeds by the front window move. Must be a squirrel or a rabbit.

I haven't ever been this close to the Dixon house. The family was here for just three years. In that whole time, I found out only that there was a husband, wife, and a kid in college. They kept their shades down, never planted flowers, and closed their garage as soon as they pulled their cars in. Dad joked that they were in the Mafia. Mom thought they just kept to themselves.

BOOK: The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days
11.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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