The noise of the bedroom door creaking open wakes me up. I can see my dad’s silhouette outlined in the doorway.
“Reese, are you awake?” he whispers.
“Yeah,” I whisper. I sit up.
“I just got home from the meeting. I’m sorry to wake you, but I wanted to know if you found the book you asked for.”
“No, I didn’t find it,” I say. “Can you find it for me tomorrow?”
“Oh, sure,” Dad says. “I’ll remember to do that.”
“Thanks Dad,” I say. I lay back against my pillow and close my eyes.
“Night Reese,” Dad whispers.
“Mmhm,” I say.
The door creaks closed. I open my eyes and look at the digital clock that sits on my nightstand. It is . I roll over and try to fall back asleep.
The low beep of the alarm clock wakes me up. I roll out of bed and walk to the door of my room. My mind isn’t functioning properly as I open the door and step into the hallway. My foot touches something slippery and slides out from under me. I yell as I hit the floor with a thud and lay there to catch my breath. I sit up and look at the offending article. A book is laying on the ground halfway down the hall. A sticky note is laying crumbled up beside it. I stand up and walk toward it. Stooping down, I pick up the book and the note. The note says, I found this for you this morning. Hope it helps, Dad.
Mom comes around the corner with grandpa’s cane in hand.
“What happened?” she says. “I heard a yell and a thud.”
“Well,” I say, “Dad left this book on the floor in front of my door. I slipped on it and fell.”
“Oh,” Mom says. “I told him to leave it next to your book bag in the living room, but oh well. At least he found it for you.” She smiles at me.
“Yeah,” I smile back. “I hope it helps. My fern looks disgusting.”
“I’m sure it will tell you just what you need,” Mom says. “Come eat some breakfast. I made you chocolate chip pancakes.”
“Awesome. Thanks Mom,” I say.
Mom turns and walks back toward the kitchen. She uses the cane to balance as she walks.
I walk after her. I am relieved that she cannot see the tears in my eyes.
I rush into our horticulture class about ten minutes after the tardy bell has rung. Mr. Liddle looks at me from the front of the classroom, where he is examining a student’s plant. Brandon looks up from the table where he is sitting, holding his cactus in both hands.
“You’re late,” Mr. Liddle says.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “My locker wouldn’t open so I had to wait for a hall monitor to come help me open it.” I walk to the front of the classroom and hand Mr. Liddle the orange square of paper in my hand.
“Alright,” he says with a smile. “No worries. Grab your fern, have a seat, and take some notes on its condition.”
I nod. I walk across the room to where my fern sits isolated due to its scale infestation. I pick it up and take the empty stool next to Brandon. My fern looks worse than it did yesterday. More of the leaves have scales on the undersides, and the infected leaves are beginning to turn brown.
“How is it looking?” Mr. Liddle says from right behind me.
I jump. “Geez, you scared me,” I say.
“Sorry,” he says. He turns to my plant. “It looks like your fern has scales. Have you found a remedy for it yet?” He looks at me and waits for an answer.
“I, well, no. I’ve got this book about common plant sicknesses and remedies, but I haven’t found anything helpful about scales in it yet.”
“Well, Mr. Liddle says, “you could always try pesticides but I prefer more natural remedies myself.” He smiles.
“Natural sounds good,” I say.
“Alright, what you can do is take your fern outside and pick off all the scales and any leaves that are mostly brown. That should take you the rest of class time. Tomorrow you can use cotton balls and rubbing alcohol to wipe all of the leaves. Don’t worry about bringing those. I have a supply of them here somewhere. After that, make sure you put your fern in the sink and rinse it really well once a week. That should kill most of the scales. It’s almost impossible to get rid of every single one, but that will keep them at a level that is not harmful to your fern. Got it?”
“Yeah, I’ve got it,” I say.
“Hop to it then,” Mr. Liddle says.
“Thanks,” I say. I smile as I stand up. I pick up my tiny fern in one hand, my stool in the other, and head out of the classroom.
As I walk up the front walk to my house, I realize that my neck is sore from looking down at a book during the entire walk home from school. I can feel the stretch in the muscles at the back of my neck as I look up into the sky, then roll my head all the way back. Then I look back down at the book in my hands. Cures for Insistent Pests has not been much help so far. I am halfway through the book and the only mention of scales I have found is a brief description of their eating habits, with which I am already familiar. I scan a few more pages for mentions of scales, but there are none. I close the book and set it on the ground. I swing my backpack off my shoulder and around to my front, then I dig my keys out of the front pouch and unlock the door. When I step inside, all is quiet. I set my backpack, and the unhelpful book, on the ground and walk down the hallway to my parents’ room. I peek into the room from behind the doorframe. All the lights are turned off and Mom is asleep on her bed.
I turn and walk back up the hall to the kitchen. I walk to the counter and pick up a pen and the sticky note pad that Mom and Dad use to document their never-ending grocery list. The top sheet of paper already has a list of fifteen or so items we need from the store. I tear off the top two sheets. I set the second sheet down on the counter then stick the top sheet back onto the pad so that the corners line up. Then I set the note pad back down on the counter. I write a note for Mom on the other sheet, then set the pen down next to it. I walk into the living room and pick up my backpack off the floor. I zip it up and put it on over my right shoulder. I pause to listen. The silence assures me that my mom is still asleep. I walk to the front door and leave the house.
The four houses between my house and Brandon’s all have shutters in the front windows, and all of these shutters are closed, like different colored eyelids that refuse to let me see into the lives of my neighbors. I pause on the sidewalk in front of Brandon’s home. The front windows have gauzy, open curtains.
I walk up the stone steps to their front door. I knock twice.
A voice from within says, “Come on in.”
I recognize it as Mrs. Matthews. I turn the door knob, push open the door, and step into the house. I shut the door behind me. Mrs. Matthews is sitting in the floor of the living room working on a Lego project with Luke and
Devon. Mr. Matthews is sitting on the couch reading the OC Register. Mrs. Matthews smiles up at
me as I walk toward them.
“Hi Reese. I was hoping it was you. We’re having chicken and dumplings tonight and I know it’s your favorite.”
“That sounds amazing,” I say. “I’ll have to ask my mom what she’s planning on doing for dinner, but if it’s OK with her I’d love to join you guys.” I glance down the hall, then bring my focus back to Mrs. Matthews. “Is Brandon here?” I ask.
“I think so. He said he had an errand to run after school today but he should be home by now. Go on back and see if he’s here.”
“Thanks,” I say. I smile at them, then turn and walk down the hall toward Brandon’s room.
I walk through the door and see Brandon hunched forward on his desk chair in the dark with a video game controller in his hand. I look at the screen. The colors are dull and it looks like the setting is a post apocalyptic city. I look back at Brandon.
“Hey Reese,” he says. “I’m almost done with this mission, then I’ll stop.”
“What game is this?” I ask. I walk behind the desk chair Brandon is sitting in and sink onto the Papasan chair in the corner of the room.
“World War 3.0. If the movie is anything like this it’s going to be awesome.”
“Oh good,” I say. I roll my eyes. Brandon and his war movies. “Well, while you go see that I’ll go see The Wedding Caterer.”
“The Wedding Caterer? What the heck is that?” Brandon asks without moving his eyes from the television screen.
“You know, Reese Witherspoon and Michael Vartan’s new movie.”
“Oh right,” Brandon says. “That one.”
“Yes,” I say. “That one.” I look at the television screen. Brandon’s character is firing at a creature that looks like a cross between Godzilla and a barn owl.
“So World War 3.0 is about aliens?” I ask.
“No,” Brandon says. “That would be dumb. It’s about a scientist who crossbreeds an owl with a kimono dragon, then accidentally gives it too many growth hormones.”
I nod a few times.
“Can I turn on the light and do some homework while you finish up?” I ask.
“Sure. I’m almost done,” Brandon says.
I flip on the light switch with my left hand, then walk across the room to Brandon’s bed. I set my backpack down against the wall at the head of the bed, then I plop down on the bed and scoot back so that my back is up against the wall. The chair rail begins to dig into my back so I grab Brandon’s pillow and stuff it behind me. I unzip my backpack. I pull out my French textbook and workbook and open to the correct page. My pencil is still in the workbook from when I left it there during class. I begin working on exercises related to Le Futur Proche and Le Futur Simple.
“Je mangerai, tu mangeras…”
“What?” Brandon asks. He looks over his shoulder at me. “Oh, French homework.”
I hear an explosion come from the television set so I look up. The dragon/owl creature is exploding in purple flames. Brandon’s character is jumping up and down celebrating his victory. I roll my eyes and go back to my workbook.
“Alright, I’m done,” Brandon says.
I look up from my workbook.
Brandon turns off the television and the game console and swivels around in his chair. “What do you want to do?”
“Homework I guess,” I say. “I’ve got a lot today.”
“OK. I guess I’ll work on some too,” Brandon says.
He scoots his desk chair across the carpet to where it belongs in front of his desk. Brandon picks up his backpack off the floor and sets it down on the desktop next to his computer. He sits in his chair, turns the computer on, and rummages through his backpack. Brandon pulls a notepad and another sheet of paper out of the large pouch of the backpack, leans back in his chair, and begins to read.