The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days (6 page)

BOOK: The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days
8.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

I start walking slowly, parting the weeds, looking for the baseball and keeping my eye on the spot where the rustling occurred.

I'm in front of a regular house, in a quiet, boring suburb, the same as thousands of suburbs everywhere, but with the overgrown weeds, it doesn't seem like the Fertile Crescent but like the Florida Everglades. What if the rustling is from a snake, or an alligator, or a panther? Impossible, since our most terrifying wildlife around here is a coyote. Still, I get a little shaky.

Just when I spot the baseball, a flash of coppery red fur swishes through the weeds and runs into the middle of the street. I catch my breath, crouch, and freeze. Will it see me? Attack? Where is Beanie, the great watchdog?

The red fox turns and looks me straight in the eye as
I peek out from among the tips of the weeds. The fox is beautiful, wild, and captivating. Its ears are pointed up, and its tail is long and thick, lighter than the rest of its coat.

It takes off, running between Jorie's and Mrs. Chung's houses. Then it's gone.

As I slowly stand, my legs shaking, I see Mrs. Chung, leaning on her crutches. She hobbles to the end of her driveway.

I pick up the baseball and toss it onto the Cantalonis' lawn (eighteen) and head toward Mrs. Chung, who is wearing a sock and a sandal on the normal foot.

She picks up a crutch and points in the direction the fox ran. “
,” she whispers.

That doesn't sound good. “What?”

“Nine-tailed fox. Korean legend. Evil.”

I stop. “Evil?”

She nods and looks at the sky. “Fox is often a bad sign.”

I follow her gaze. The sky is clear and blue, not one cloud. Evil?
, I want to say.
Good. Good things

“Mrs. Chung—” I try to think of one of Grandma's STs, something reassuring, but Mrs. Chung hurries back inside as quickly as she can on crutches.

I glance around. Still. Silent. The lone baseball on the Cantalonis' lawn.

There's movement in Mrs. Chung's window. I see
her parting the drapes with her hand. Now I think of what to say:
The fox is gone. And it had only one tail. So it couldn't have been the
Really, no

I pick up my sketchbook. It's eighty-five degrees out, but I get goose bumps on my arms as Mrs. Chung lets the drapes fall back.

Thank God the Cantaloni boys choose this moment to tumble out their front door and seize the baseball like a miracle has happened.

They don't even question it, just start their game.

“Catch it next time, you moron!” the older one yells.

“Shut up, Jack!”

I sink to the grass. Jack. The oldest boy's name is Jack.

've never been terrific at finishing projects. This past year, I started a scrapbook, a journal, three books, daily yoga stretches, and a beauty routine involving a weekly mask and blackhead strips. I didn't continue any of them. I got bored, distracted. But the sixty-five things are something I
to finish. I
to. They're sneaky and fun and exciting—thinking of them, figuring out how to keep them secret. Every time, I get this filled-up, kind of powerful feeling. Strong. Hopeful. I wish I could tell Grandma. And my teacher, Mr. Pontello. They'd know what I mean.

19. Matt's been working a lot at his cashier job at the pool. His car's a mess, and I don't want Mom and Dad to get mad, so I clean it out while he's in the shower. What I find: fifteen Subway napkins; one black, stretchy headband; a white sock; seven pens; two pencils; gum wrappers; a torn ace of diamonds card; crumpled notebook paper; and an almost-empty soda bottle that really smells.

Later, Matt doesn't notice. He just jumps in and drives away, his hair still damp.

20. I find a bunch of Matt's old baseballs in our garage and put them on the Cantalonis' lawn. They'll have lots of spares now in case they hit one into the weeds.

Mrs. Millman has kept up her daily stakeouts. I find a little silver balloon in our basement, attached to a plastic stick. It has a yellow smiley face with the words

When Mrs. M. leaves for mahjong, I stick the balloon into one of her outside flowerpots (twenty-one). Maybe it will make her smile for once. But later, the balloon is gone, and notes are taped on everyone's front doors:
Important neighborhood meeting. Tonight, seven p.m. We must get to the bottom of these pranks. Yours in safety, Mrs. Myrna Millman

But no one can come. Conflicts, too busy.

“Probably just some kids fooling around,” Dad says,
crumpling the note and tossing it into the garbage can. He shakes his head. “We had a Mrs. Millman type where I grew up. Mrs. Betty Lunetti.”

“You're kidding.” I laugh, sitting next to him at the kitchen counter. “You never told me that. Betty Lunetti? What a name.”

“Yep. We were terrified of her. She always had these electric blue curlers in her hair, and come to think of it, she had a poodle too, this mean, yippy little dog—”

“Steven, c'mon,” Mom says, opening her laptop. “Everyone knows Myrna Millman has nothing else to do except dream up this nonsense. Focus. We have to be in court first thing tomorrow.”

Even though it's eight p.m., Mom looks crisp in her black trousers and sleeveless white sweater. Black-and-white-checked jacket over the back of her chair. Black heels kicked off onto the floor. You know that store that has only black-and-white clothes? Mom keeps them in business.

She's one inch shorter than me. When Matt and I were younger and she would get mad about something, we used to joke that she's four feet eleven of tough and one inch of mom.

Dad grabs his seltzer, sits down, and then flips a page on a legal pad. “Where were we?”

I want to tell them:
I like the neighborhood nonsense. It's way more fun than your nonsense

Mom glances at me as her phone rings. “Nina, honey. I know we haven't connected in the last few days. It's been crazy. I'll come up later. I want to hear all about the art class, okay?”


I fall asleep before she comes. If she even does.

The next day after summer school, when I'm getting the mail, something lightly pings the back of my head. A tiny crab apple hits the ground. I turn around. No one. I sit on the grass and flip through the envelopes; then another apple bounces off my arm.

Eli used to pull crab apples from his tree and toss them at me through the bushes that separate our side yards like a row of soldiers.

Back then it was funny. He's fourteen now, almost taller than the bushes.

“I see you,” I say calmly.

He cuts through and sits next to me. “What are you doing?”

“Not much.”

“I know it's you.”

“What's me?”

“All this stuff that's been going on around here.”

“I don't know what you're talking about.”

Eli lies back, clasping his hands on his stomach. He
closes his eyes to the sun. “I've thought about it. There's no one else who would do these kinds of things. It has to be you.”

I plunk the mail down. “You don't even know me anymore.”

He smiles, eyes still closed. “Yes, I do.”

He's teasing. He's changed. What's with him and Jorie, and the other night? I'm so mad at both of them. I mean, all this time, it was always the three of us.

I peek at Eli: the hair on his legs, his T-shirt loose around his shoulders. Faded, wrinkled cargo shorts. His fingernails: clean and short. And then, a rush of the memory of us hiding from Jorie, his brown eyes shining in the dark. My heart beating, loud and fast.

“It's okay,” he says. “I won't tell anyone.”

Good. Thank you

Eli stands and walks toward his house. “My mom uses those foot things every day.”

I pick up a crab apple and toss it in his direction. I've always been a good shot. The tiny apple plunks his arm.

I count this as twenty-two because he laughs.

Something that's the same: his laugh.

Eli picks up the crab apple, throws it sky-high, and then catches it. “See you later. Mystery Girl.”

orie's mom drives us to summer school every morning. She wears cute, trendy outfits—flowy chiffon tops, skinny jeans, wedges. Each day, she sends Jorie off with some sort of caution.

“If anyone offers you drugs, just walk away.”

“Don't go into the bathroom alone.”

“Be sure to choose a fruit or vegetable during your snack break.”

I know Jorie is aching to do the opposite. (Except for the drugs.) Every morning, though, she says sweetly, “Okay, Mom. Bye. Love you.” Then she pulls
my arm toward the door. Her mom watches us in the rearview mirror as she drives away.

We're early today, and Jorie sits with me on a bench by the gym. Probably because she doesn't see Savannah/​Dakota/​Antarctica.

The heavy girl from art, Amber, and Chase, the spike-haired guy, are sitting on a bench across from us, comparing their color wheels. They're both wearing black, head to toe. A group of jock boys walks by. One laughs and mutters, “Freaks.” Amber stands, sneers, and raises a fist, but Chase pulls her arm, and they gather their stuff and leave. Jorie's oblivious, looking at her phone. Amber and Chase are halfway down the hall when I see a color wheel on the ground. Someone steps on it.

I hesitate.
Should I?
Chase picks up an empty chip bag and throws it into a can.
Yes, do it
. I bolt from the bench, grab the color wheel, and run after them. “Hey, you dropped this.”

They just look at me, so I hand it to Amber. My hand is shaking a little and my heart is going a hundred miles an hour.

“Thanks,” she says warily.

I nod and start walking back toward Jorie. I feel like they're watching me, but I don't look back. I say softly to myself, “Number twenty-three.” This one was a little like jumping over a fence to an unfamiliar neighborhood.

Jorie's head is tipped to one side. “Why'd you do that?”

I sit. “Those color wheels, they're a big part of our grade.”

“That was … really nice.”

“It wasn't anything.”

She's staring at me. “It kind of was. I wouldn't have done that. They're so weird.”

“I know.”

Jorie laughs. “Anyway, I was going to show you my dress.” She taps her phone screen, and a strapless, shimmery, really short red dress appears.

“Your dress for what?”

. Duh.”

“Wait. Did someone ask you?” Please don't say Eli. Please say someone else.

She shakes her head. “Not yet. But it's just a matter of time. A lot of girls have been asked already. The dance is so early. The middle of September.”

“Oh.” Not much homecoming discussion going on in art. A lot of talk about piercings, though. Where to get them, how many can go on an ear, an eyebrow, elsewhere.

BOOK: The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days
8.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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