Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Malignant Part 13

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 11:04. 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.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Malignant Part 12

The wind whips my hair into my face as I walk up to my front door. I wish I had a hair tie. It’s going to be a pain in the butt to comb out my hair after fifteen minutes of walking in the biting autumn wind. Today was not the best day to walk home from school.
            I take my backpack off of my right shoulder and kneel down. I dig through the front pouch of my bag until I find my house key. It has bright red and white zebra stripes on it. Dad surprised me with it at the beginning of last year when he and Mom decided I was finally old enough to be left home alone. I smile. I zip the pouch shut and stand up. I place my backpack between my knees and concentrate on opening the front door. I slide the key into the lock, turn it to the right, and jiggle the lock for a few seconds until I hear the click. I grab the handle and push open the door. I step over the threshold and set my backpack on the ground. The wind blows into the house and slams the front door against the wall. I turn quickly, shut the door, and turn the lock. Wow that was loud. I hear padded footsteps coming slowly down the hall from the laundry room. There is a click with every other step.
            My mom rounds the corner. When she sees me, she stops. “Oh, hi Reeses,” she says. “I didn’t know what was going on.” She smiles at me.
            “Sorry mom. The wind caught the door before I had time to close it.” I glance over my right shoulder toward the wall. “The wall is fine.”
            I look down and see the cane in her hand. I recognize it as my grandfather’s cane. It is a knotted stick worn smooth from use. My grandfather found it in his backyard and used it for years before he died. My mother is using it now. I close my eyes. I do not want to connect Mom to the cane and my dead grandfather.
            Mom says, “I found this in the closet. It helps me get around a little faster.”
            I open my eyes and look at her.
            She tries to smile at me, but my stone face makes her stop.
            I close my eyes to clear my thoughts then open them again. “So what have you been doing today?” I ask.
            “Well,” Mom says, “I was going through my sewing boxes and found the flannel we bought last year to make pajamas.”
            “Oh yeah,” I say. “I remember buying the material for those. My fabric was mint green with ice cream cones and yours was blue and red plaid.” I smile. “It’s cold enough outside today to make me want to curl up in some warm pajamas.”
            “Great,” Mom says. “I’ve already got the pattern laid out ready to cut the material. But first, I need to measure you. Let’s go into the sewing room.”
            “Alright,” I say.
            She turns and begins to walk back the way she came to the sewing room. The dull thud, thud thudding of her cane irks me. I begin to reach my hands up to plug my ears, but Mom turns around.
            “Hey Reese, can you grab drinks for both of us? I’m a little thirsty.”
            “Yeah, sure. I’ll meet you in there,” I say. I turn into the kitchen and walk toward the cabinets. I swing open the wooden doors that my parents spent a week last summer painting white and look at the plastic cups. I see my favorite cup, a Betty Boop mug, nestled in the back of the cabinet. I reach for it but change my mind. I grab two of the red goblets that my mom begged my dad to buy her for Christmas last year. I walk toward the refrigerator and begin to open the door. As I do, I see a note on a yellow sticky stuck to the freezer door. It reads, Surgery next Wednesday, 9:00 am. I close my eyes to prevent the tears that come from spilling down onto my cheeks.
            After a moment, I have enough control to open my eyes. I pull open the refrigerator door, grab the Brita water filter and pour my mom a glass of water. I put the Brita back in the refrigerator and set my mom’s glass down on the counter. I kneel down and look at the back of the bottom shelf. I see one can of Hanson’s soda back there, so I reach in and slide it out. It is strawberry kiwi, which is my favorite flavor. My dad hides them back there so that I will forget to drink them, but it does not work today. I pop the can open and pour the clear liquid into my glass. I put the nearly empty can back into the refrigerator and shut the door. I pick up my mom’s red glass goblet and walk toward the sewing room.
            As I step into the room, my eyes well up again and I can’t control it. The tears stream down my cheeks as my mom turns toward me.
            “Oh, Reese,” she says. She stands up slowly with the help of her cane, and comes to me. She takes the goblets from me, sets them on the ironing board to my right, and wraps her arms around me in a hug. “What’s wrong?”
            I stand there with my knees locked. She really is having surgery next week to see where the cancer is in her body. What if it has spread and they can’t save her? She could die on the operating table. What will I do if this is my last week with my mommy? This isn’t fair. We’re supposed to have another 50 years together. I’m not ready for this. I open my mouth to speak, but no words come. I just let out a loud sob. Maybe if I faint I’ll wake up and this won’t be real.
            “Honey, what’s wrong?” Mom asks again, quietly.
            I can feel her hair against my neck and feel her chin moving just above my shoulder. I sniff and struggle to clear my throat. “I don’t want you to die,” I rasp.
            “What?” Mom says. “Don’t think like that. We’re going to be fine. OK?” Mom pulls away from me and looks into my face.
            I nod quickly and try to wipe the wet from my face with my fingers.
            Mom smiles at me. “Are you ready to get back to making these pajamas?”
            I clear my throat again. “Yeah,” I say.
            “OK, then,” Mom says.
            We both take the few steps across to the sewing table. Mom props her cane against the wall and picks up her fabric measuring tape.
            “First, we’ve got to measure you so we can see which size to make,” she says.
Mom and I have the material for our pajamas cut out and are reading the pattern’s instructions for sewing pajamas when we hear the front door open.
            “Honey, I’ll be in my office,” my dad shouts down the hall.
            My mom and I look at each other. Neither of us answers him.
            Dad’s footsteps move down the hall toward his office.
            “Hey, Mom, I’ll be right back. My fern has bugs on it and I need to ask Dad what I can do to help it.”
            “Go ahead, Reeses,” she said. “I’ll be here ready to sew when you get back.” She smiles and looks back down at the sewing directions in her hands.
            I push my chair back from Mom’s sewing table, stand up, and leave the sewing room. I walk down the hall, past the kitchen, past the living room, and turn toward my dad’s office. The door is open.
            My dad comes out of the office and runs into me. He drops the book he has in his hands.
            I look down to see what book it is. Its title is California Natives: Popular Perennials.
            Dad reaches down and picks up the book.
            “Oh, sorry Reeses,” he says. He walks past me and continues down the hall.
            “Hey Dad,” I say. “I have a question for you. Can you talk for a minute?”
            My dad looks over his left shoulder at me and responds without stopping. “Sure. Walk with me out to my truck.”
            I jog to catch up with him and fall into quick steps beside him. I have to take three fast steps for each long, quick stride he takes.
            “What can I do for you?” Dad says. He smiles at me.
            “My fern is infested by some type of insect and I was wondering what you would recommend for fixing it.”
            Dad opens the front door and steps outside.
            I follow him outside and shut the door behind us.
            Dad walks to his truck, which is parked with the front right tire on the curb. He walks around to the driver’s side door and opens it. He slides into the driver’s seat and puts his keys into the ignition. Then he turns toward me.
            I stare at him for a moment.
            Dad sees the look on my face, leans over, and swings open the passenger door.
            “Don’t worry,” he says. “I’m not leaving until we’re done talking.” He smiles. “I just have to get back to the project site soon.”
            I smile back. “OK.” I slide into the passenger seat.
            “Well, what does your fern look like?” Dad asks.
            “There are brown spots on the leaves and insects stuck to the underside of the leaves.”
            “Hmm, it sounds like your fern has scale.”
            “Yeah, that’s what I thought,” I say. “How can I get rid of them?”
            “I would buy a pesticide specifically for getting rid of scale, but there are natural remedies too. I can’t remember them at the moment. I have a book on it though. If you go into my office and look on the shelf, it should be there.”
            “A book? Can you show me where it is?” I ask.
            “I would but I really have to go. I left in the middle of my meeting with the city’s Beautification Committee because they want to change a couple of the plants I included in my design. I had to run home and get this book so they can look through it and give me more ideas about what they are looking for.” He sets the book down on the dash board.
            “Oh, OK. The book is on your shelf right?” I slide out of the seat and stand next to the truck.
            “Yes, it should be there.” Dad starts the truck.
            “Thanks Dad,” I say. “Wait, what is the book called?”
            “Uh, I don’t recall. I’m sure you’ll find it.” Dad shuts his door and puts on his seatbelt.
            “OK. I’ll go look,” I say.
            “Oh and Reese, tell your mom I won’t be home for dinner. It looks like the meeting is going to go late.”
            “Got it,” I say. I shut the passenger door. As soon as it is closed, my dad drives away down the street. I watch after him for a moment, then turn and walk back into the house. I close the door behind me and walk down the hall toward Dad’s office. The door is standing open. I walk into the room and flip the light switch. The ceiling fan comes on, but the light bulbs remain unlit. I cross to the center of the room and pull the cord to turn the bulbs on. I walk past the desk to the wall that is covered with bookshelves. I begin at one end of the wall and scan all of the books. There are hundreds, and none of them stick out to me. I scan the books again, then I turn and dig through the papers on the desk.
            “Great,” I say. I leave the office and walk back down the hall to the sewing room. I can hear the whirr of the sewing machine as I turn the corner into the room.
            Mom looks up at me. “Did Dad give you some good ideas?” She smiles at me.
            “No,” I say. “He told me he had a book on natural remedies for pests, but of course he didn’t have time to help me find it. I looked through all the books in his office and didn’t find anything.” I plop down on the chair next to her and look at the pieces of fabric she is sewing together. Then I look up into Mom’s face. Her warm eyes are looking at me but she isn’t smiling.
            “Your father is busy. He’s trying to finish the project for the city and they keep changing their minds. It’s got him stressed out. Why don’t you ask him to help you look for the book when he gets home? I’m sure he’ll help you then,” Mom says.
            She has more confidence in Dad than I do. “Maybe I’ll do that,” I say. Or maybe I’ll ask Mr. Liddle or Mrs. Matthews what to do. They’ll help me.
            “Good,” Mom says. She sits back in her chair. “Are you getting hungry?”
            “Yeah,” I say.
            “Go get some money out of my red wallet and order a pizza. We can eat while we work. I don’t know about you, but I want to sleep in these warm flannel pajamas tonight.” She smiles and winks at me.
            “What kind of pizza do we want?” I ask.
            “Oh, whatever you want to eat sounds good to me,” she says.
            “OK. How about meat lovers?”
            “That sounds wonderful Reeses.”
            I smile in response to her enthusiasm. “Thanks Mom.”
            I hop up and walk down the hall toward my parents’ room. I stand in the doorway long enough to let my eyes adjust. With the curtains drawn over the sliding glass door on the West side of the room it is darker in here than in any other room in the house. I walk over to my mom’s dresser. Her brown leather purse sits on the corner of the dresser nearest the door. That is where it has sat for as long as I can remember. I undo the clasp and dig through the inside pouch until I find the red wallet. I open it and take out a $20 bill. I put the wallet back into the purse.
            I close the purse and leave the room. I walk down the hall into the kitchen. The drawer in which we keep the phone book is full of coupons. I dig through the clippings until I find the phone book, then I take it out and set it on the counter. The listing for Pizza Hut is easy to find. I reach across the counter, take the phone out of its cradle, and dial the number. It only takes about a minute to order the pizza. Then I hang up the phone and walk back into the sewing room. Mom is sitting in the chair next to the one in front of the sewing machine.
            “Reese, do you want to learn to sew?” she asks. She smiles.
            I stare at her for a moment before speaking. “Sure,” I say. “It might come in handy if¾.”
            “Yes, it might,” Mom says. “Sit here beside me.” She motions to the chair in front of the machine.
            I step forward and sit. I cannot cry again today. I clench my jaw to control my emotions. Focus.
            “Ok, you remember how to use the foot pedal right?” Mom asks.
            I nod. When I was little, Mom tried to teach me to sew, but I didn’t pay much attention. All I ever did was sew straight lines on scraps of fabric. I wish now that I had paid more attention then. We could have spent hours sewing together. Instead, Mom spent hours sewing and I spent hours on the computer or reading a book.
            “Good. Then the next thing you need to do is position your fabric underneath the foot where you want the seam to be. We’ll make a quarter inch seam. There you go. Next, you lower the foot onto the fabric.” Mom pushes a small lever at the back of the machine down and the foot slowly moves down so that it is resting on top of the fabric.
            “Alright, what next?” I ask.
            “Next, you push the foot pedal slowly and move forward a few stitches.”
            I ease down on the foot pedal, but the machine doesn’t move. I push harder, and the foot of the machine flies across the fabric quickly, making an uneven seam.
            Mom laughs. “It takes some practice. Let’s rip that out and try again.” She lifts the foot, slides the fabric out from under the raised foot, and cuts the extra string on a small blade at the back of the machine. “Hand me the seam ripper please,” Mom says.
            I look over at the sewing table beside me and pick up the ripper. I hand it to Mom.
            “Actually,” she says, “this is useful to know too.” She hands me the seam ripper and the fabric. “All you do is cut each end of the thread, then you can pull the bobbin out in one piece. It’s much faster,” she says.
            “Oh OK,” I say. I cut the ends of the thread and pull on one. It doesn’t move, so I pull on the other thread. It begins to bunch up as it moves out of the fabric.
            “There you go,” Mom says.
            Once I’ve got the seam undone, Mom says, “now let’s try that seam again.”
            I position the fabric under the foot, lower the foot, and begin. This time I apply a bit less pressure to the foot and the needles moves slowly in and out of the fabric as the foot moves along its edge.
            “Now, it’s important to reinforce seams so that they don’t come undone. To do that, you want to push this button,” Mom says. She beckons to a small button on the front of the machine that has an arrow in the shape of an upside-down letter U with an arrow on one end. “This makes the foot go backwards for a few stitches. I do this at the beginning and end of most seams, and especially for clothing.”
            “OK,” I say. I push the button and ease down on the foot pedal. The needle and foot move backward over the fabric, retracing their steps.
            “That’s enough,” Mom says. “Now, go forward again and finish the seam. Just make sure you go nice and steady.”
            “And straight,” I say.
            Mom laughs. “Of course, going straight is good too.”

            Once again I ease down on the foot pedal and the needle moves in and out of the mint green, ice cream covered fabric.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Malignant: Part 11

I watch all the people moving along the sidewalk as Mrs. Matthews pulls her minivan just past the school parking lot and stops along the curb.
            “Have fun today,” she says. She turns around in her seat to look at the two of us. “And do your best.”
            “We will,” I say. I look at Brandon.
            He purses his lips together and nods in agreement. He reaches over and pulls open the sliding door. He picks up his backpack and slings it over his left shoulder as he gets out of the van. He turns around and leans into the passenger window to talk to his mom.
            “Hey, Mom, I’m going to go down to Taco Bell with my Spanish group after school. We have a presentation on Friday.”
            I unbuckle my seatbelt and scoot along the seat toward the door. I put my backpack over my right shoulder before I hop out and stand on the curb. I turn around and wave goodbye to Mrs. Matthews.
            She waves back. “Alright, Brand,” Mrs. Mathews says. “We’ll see you at dinner then.” I can see her white teeth when she smiles.
            Brandon reaches toward the van and pulls the sliding door shut.
            We turn and walk toward the school. A big banner over the entrance to the quad reads, “Sadie Hawkins Dance, November 20, 20xx.” I glance over at Brandon. He catches my eyes.
            “This school is crazy. It feels like they have a dance every two weeks,” Brandon says. He looks back at the sign, then glances around the quad. He glances at me again.
            “Who cares?” I see an open bench. “Hey Brand, let’s go over there.”
            Brandon speaks from behind me. “So you’re not going to Sadie then?”
            “No. I don’t have anyone to invite, first of all. And it’s a formal thing. How come they can’t just make it matching like every other year? That way it could at least be cute and not expensive.”
            “Hmm,” Brandon says. “Actually formal could be cool. You could buy a dress, or your mom could make you one.”
            “Nerd,” I say. I push away the thought that it would be fun to go with Brandon since we hang out so much anyway. A line from a song comes into my head. ‘Sadie Hawkins Dance/in my khaki pants…’
            The merciful bell rings through the quad and jars me out of my thoughts about the Sadie Hawkins Dance and hanging out with Brandon.
            “See you later, Brand,” I say. I turn away from him and walk toward my French class.
            “Later days,” I hear him say.
“Alright class, your reading tests are due by the end of the week. Remember you have to have at least eight reading points. I don’t want to hear any whining about it this week. You’ve had two months to read,” Mrs. Hall says.
            Technically, there are two minutes of class left, but everyone is already gathering their things. Four students are even standing up next to their desks. No one is paying attention to Mrs. Hall. I’m already done with all of my reading points for the semester, so even though I hear her, I am not listening.
            The girl who sits in the desk to my right, I think her name is Jessica, turns to face me.
            “Hey, do you know any really long books I can read by Friday? I still need three points.”
            “Well,” I say, “Do you read really fast? Because if not, it might be easier to read three really short ones.”
            “Oh, I’m a pretty slow reader,” Jessica says.
            “In that case,” I say. I unzip my backpack and pull my binder out. I open it and turn to the tab marked “English.” The list Mrs. Hall gave us of books to read and how many points they are worth is in the front. “How about Waiting For Godot? That one’s really short and really easy. And you could read Their Eyes Were Watching God. That would put you at three points.”
            “Thanks,” Jessica says.
            The bell rings.
            I stuff my binder back into my backpack, zip it up, and stand. In the ten seconds it takes me to do that, everyone else has left the classroom. Mrs. Hall is at the front of the class erasing the writing on the whiteboard and preparing to give the same lecture all over again to her next class.
            She turns around and smiles at me. “Hi Reese,” she says. “What are you working on reading?” Mrs. Hall sets the eraser down on the marker tray that runs along the bottom edge of the whiteboard. She brushes her hands together to rid her skin of the particles of dry erase marker dust.
            “I’m done with my reading points,” I say. “I just finished reading Dracula. I started Vanity Faire yesterday. Have you ever read it?”
            “Ah yes, the infamous Becky Sharpe. If you like that one you should try The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders.” She smiles at me, then turns toward her desk.
            “Thanks for the tip,” I say. I smile and walk out of the room.
            Brandon is slouched against a pillar playing a game on his cell phone while he waits for me.
            “Mrs. Hall recommended I read Moll Flanders after I finish Vanity Faire. I guess the main character is a lot like Becky Sharpe.”
            Brandon looks up at me.
            “Oh yeah? What’s she like?” Brandon says. He stands up straight and puts his cell phone in the cargo pocket on the right leg of his jeans.
            “Well,” I say. “She’s a social climber. Her mom was a dancer and her dad is a painter but she wants to be a member of high society, so she manipulates people to get her way.”
            “Oh. Sounds fascinating.” Brandon says. He flips his hair out of his eyes.
            “Yeah, I guess it’s a girly book,” I say.
            Brandon nods in agreement.
            We walk across the quad and out toward the back corner of campus to the greenhouse. The white paint is peeling around the edges of the windows. The horticulture classroom isn’t at the top of the school’s list of priorities.
            Brandon and I are the first students in the door. We walk to our usual seats at the table near the door. I set my backpack down in my chair then go over to where my fern is sitting on the counter at the East side of the room.
            Brandon sets down his backpack and goes over to the window where his cactus is sitting. “Cool,” he says. “My cactus is bigger. It has another stub.”
            I look over at Brandon.
            He smiles at me.
            I return the gesture. “That’s great,” I say.
            I look down at my fern. There are yellow spots on the tops of many of the leaves. I pick up the fern to examine it more closely. Little brown bugs are sitting on the bottom side of the spotted leaves.
            “Eww,” I say. I set the plant back down in its place on the counter. “Mine is infested.”
            Several more students walk into the room and move toward where Mr. Liddle has placed their plants.
            Brandon walks over to where I am standing and bends down to look at my fern.
            “You’re right. There are bugs all over it,” he says.
            “Shh,” I say. I glance around to make sure no one is looking in our direction. “I don’t want anyone to know until I figure out how to get rid of them.”
            “Fine,” Brandon says, “but it’s not a big deal. It happened over the weekend when nobody was here. It’s not like you killed it by over-watering or something.”
            I roll my eyes. Mr. Liddle spent last Friday lecturing us on the effects of over-watering plants¾spotted, brown, or dropping leaves; rot; gray, fuzzy mold; malodorous roots.
            “That’s true,” I say.
            Brandon smiles.
            “So, how do I get rid of the bugs?” I ask. I look up into Brandon’s face.
            “Don’t look at me,” he says. “Ask Mr. Liddle. It’s his job to know.”
            “I could,” I say, “but I could talk to Dad. Maybe he’ll actually talk to me instead of leaving the room.” I glance around the greenhouse again to make sure no one has heard me.
            “No one is paying attention, Reese. Don’t worry about¾
            “Good morning everyone!” Mr. Liddle bursts into the room. He is wearing a bright blue Hawaiian shirt with pink flamingoes all over it. He has a cardboard box full of small, covered canning jars in his hands.
            “What the heck is in there?” I whisper to Brandon.
            “No idea,” he whispers back.
            “Take your seats, please,” Mr. Liddle says. He stands next to his desk and holds the cardboard box against his side with his left arm. “Today we’re going to take a look at some of the insects that can damage our plants. We are going to examine snails, slugs, scales, sowbugs, pillbugs, millipedes, spider mites, earwigs, and aphids and the effects they have on plants.”
            Mr. Liddle begins to walk between the tables. He places a jar in the middle of the table after every few steps. Mr. Liddle puts a jar down right in front of me. At first, all I can see is birch tree leaves. I lean forward in my chair so that the jar is only about six inches from my face. I see tiny white bugs crawling on the leaves.
            “Eww. The jars are full of bugs,” I say to Brandon.
            “Of course they are,” Mr. Liddle says.
            I look at Mr. Liddle, who is standing at the other end of the table. I didn’t realize I said that loud enough for him to hear me.
            “I don’t expect you guys to learn to recognize types of bugs from the pathetic drawings they provide in textbooks. I find it much easier and far more fascinating to look at the bugs themselves and see how they affect plants.”
            Mr. Liddle returns to his desk and sets down the empty cardboard box. He picks up a stack of papers off his desk and hands it to the student closest to him.
            “Take one and pass these down, please” Mr. Liddle says.
            The student takes a paper and passes the stack to the girl sitting next to him.
            “What we’re going to do,” Mr. Liddle says, “is rotate around the tables and examine the plants inside each jar. I want you to write down the name of the type of insect in the jar and the effect it has had on the plant samples inside the jar. When everyone has had the chance to look at every jar, we’ll go through the list and see if everyone named the bug and its effects correctly.”
            Brandon hands me the stack of papers.
            I take the paper off the bottom of the stack and pass the rest to the student sitting next to me. I look down at the sheet of paper in my left hand. The names of the bugs are listed at the top of the paper.
            “I’ve given you the names of the types of insects to give you a head start,” Mr. Liddle says.

            This shouldn’t be hard. I’ve heard Dad talking about insects and pests enough times. I lean forward toward the jar in front of me to scrutinize the leaves inside it. Then I sit back and start writing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Malignant: Part 10

My eyes open as the door to Brandon’s room opens.
            Mrs. Lane pops her head in. “Reese, Jason and the boys are eating breakfast before they go to the beach. Do you still want to go?” She steps into the room and opens the blinds.
            “Yeah, sure.” I sit up in bed, but before I climb out, I remember that I’m not wearing pajama bottoms. I tuck the comforter around my waist so Mrs. Lane can’t see my underwear. “I just have to go home and get my swimsuit really quick.”
            “That’s fine, dear. You go ahead and do that, and when you get back I’ll have some pancakes ready for you.” She smiles at me and leaves the room, shutting the door behind her.
            I throw the covers off and grab my jeans off the floor. I put them on, run my comb through my hair, and walk down the hall to the bathroom. I have mascara smeared on my skin below my puffy eyes. That’s what I get for not washing my face before bed. I walk quickly down the hall and bolt out the door before anyone can see me.
            I can tell by the color of the light outside that it’s early. No one is out yet this morning. My house is just as still as the others. I walk up to the front door and grab the knob. It’s locked. I reach for my key but it isn’t in my pocket.
            I whisper a curse word under my breath. The key must have fallen out when I took my jeans off last night.
            I take a deep breath and knock on the door.
            After a few seconds, the door opens. My dad is standing there, looking down at me. The lines in his forehead seem to have gotten deeper over night.
            “Reese, I’m… I’m glad you’re home.” He tries to smile, but something is weighing down the corners of his mouth.
            “Yeah,” I say. I can’t hold eye contact with him, so I drop my eyes and stare at my bare feet.
            He steps aside, and I walk into the house and head toward the hall.
            “How was your time at Brandon’s?” I hear him ask behind me as he shuts the front door.
            I turn around to face him. He is standing just inside the closed door.
            “Good. I’m just here to get my suit. We’re going to the beach.” I put my hands in my pockets. I glance through the kitchen to the family room. There is a pillow and a blanket on the couch. “Where’s Mom?” I look back at my dad.
            He nods his head toward their room. “She’s still asleep.”
            “OK,” I say. “I should go.”
            “All right,” Dad says. He opens his mouth again, but no sound comes out.
            I look at him, waiting.
            He shrugs his shoulders, then walks past me and into the kitchen.
            I turn and walk down the hall to my room.
            After I put on my bathing suit under a fresh set of clothes, I go into the bathroom and wash my face. The cool water calms the puffiness under my eyes and wakes me up.
            I grab my overnight case from under the sink and put my face wash, toner, and make-up in it.
            I walk past the door to my parents’ room as I go up the hall. I turn into the kitchen. My dad is at the counter pouring himself a cup of coffee out of his french press. He looks up at me.
            “I’m going now,” I say. I glance into the family room. The pillow and blanket have been folded and tucked behind the couch against the wall. “I’ll be back tomorrow sometime.”
            “OK. Have fun.” He smiles at me.
            I give a small smile back, then I walk to the front door and leave the house.
The clouds gather as Mr. Lane’s minivan nears the Pacific Coast Highway. Actually it’s Mrs. Lane’s minivan, but since Luke and Devon still sit in car seats, Mr. Lane opted to drive the minivan instead of trying to cram three people and two car seats into an extended cab truck. He pauses at the red light, looks to the left, then makes a right turn onto the highway. I look past Mr. Lane and out the window on the left side of the minivan, where the beach parking meters are strung out along the sidewalk. There are open parking spaces after every two or three cars.
            I roll down my window to feel the temperature outside, but the chill from the air makes me shiver. The wisps of hair around my face blow into my eyes. I’m glad Mrs. Matthews braided my hair before we left this morning. I put the window right back up.
            Brandon speaks from the third row bench seat in the back of the minivan. “I felt that. Chilly.”
            “Yeah,” I say. “It doesn’t look like a great beach day.”
            Brandon chuckles. “Maybe not, but I happen to know you’re dying to go body surfing.”
            “Reese,” Luke says.
            I don’t answer the little boy. “No thanks,” I say. “I’ll wait until next summer, when it’s actually warm.” I roll my eyes even though Brandon can’t see me.
            “Reese,” Luke says again, a little louder this time.
            I twist in my seat and look behind me at Luke, who is sitting in his blue and gray car seat. He beams at me.
            “I’m going swimming.” He looks forward toward Mr. Lane. “Right Dad?”
            I look at Mr. Lane too. The corner of Mr. Lane’s mouth curves up.
            “Did you bring your floaties, Lukey?”
            “Yes,” Luke states. He reaches down between his car seat and Devon’s car seat. He pulls up two flat, bright orange plastic squares and waves them in the air.
            “Great, Son,” Mr. Lane says as he glances in the rear view mirror. “It looks like those need to be blown up though. Maybe if you ask really nicely, Reese or Brandon will help you with those.” Mr. Lane glances at me and smiles. He eases the minivan into the left hand lane.
            “Yeah, sure.” I smile back. “Give them to me, Luke.”
            I reach back and take the orange plastic floaties from Luke’s waving hand.
            “I have mine too,” Devon says. I look at the little boy sitting beside me in his own green and black car seat. He points to the floor where his two, fully inflated floaties are laying.
            I smile at him. “Did your mom blow those up for you, Devon?”
            “Yeah,” he says. “She offered to do Luke’s but he said he could do it.”
            I laugh and glance down at the orange plastic objects in my lap. “I see.”
            Brandon laughs from the back seat.
            Mr. Lane pulls into the left turn lane. We are finally at the beach.
            I pick up one of the orange floaties, find the clear plastic stopper, and pull it open. I take a deep breath and blow. The floatie is unyielding. I blow again, and again see no results.
            “What’s the trick to blowing these things up?” I turn to Mr. Lane.
            He laughs. “It helps if you get them wet first. I don’t know why.”
            “Right,” I say. “It makes perfect sense to get a floatie wet before you blow it up.”
            Brandon bursts out laughing. “Yeah, you drown the kid then you blow up the floaties. Genius.”
            Mr. Lane pulls into a parking space and turns off the minivan.
            I unbuckle and swing my door open. The cold air rushes into the minivan.
            I shiver and zip up the hoodie I’m wearing. I look over at Mr. Lane to see if he reacts to the temperature.
            He sees me looking at him. “It’s not really warm, is it? We’ll see how it goes in the next half hour or so.”
            I step out into the cold air and turn to watch Luke unbuckle himself from his car seat. He kicks his feet and throws the harness up over the back of the seat. He jumps out of the car seat and onto the cement. Mr. Lane opens the door on the other side of the minivan and lets Devon out of his car seat.
            Brandon picks up his backpack, in which we stowed my copy of Dracula, some sunscreen (at Mrs. Lane’s behest), Brandon’s iPod, and some Pringles, and slides the minivan door shut.
            We walk to the back of the van where Mr. Lane is handing Luke and Devon each a bright colored towel. Luke’s towel is covered in SpongeBob and Devon’s is Barney. I smirk at memories of the big, purple, singing dinosaur.
            We walk out toward the sand. As soon as I reach the place where the concrete ends and the sand begins, I take off my flip flops and dig my toes into the sand. It’s smooth and cool under my feet. I won’t have to exfoliate my feet tonight.
            Luke and Devon are running ahead. Their heads are pushed forward slightly and their calf muscles are flexing at the extra work they have to do to run across shifting sand.
            I can just hear them arguing about who will catch the most sand crabs.
            Brandon is walking beside me. He has his iPod in the front pocket of his sweatershirt and the earphones already plugged into his ears.
            I hear Wilco’s “Outtasite (Outta Mind)”. I glance at him and he smiles.
I open the door to my house slowly and peak my head inside. Usually Dad takes a nap on Sunday afternoons after lunch and my mom works in her sewing room or reads in the living room. Today, the living room is empty. I step inside and close the door behind me as if I am entering a room in which a child is finally sleeping after being woken by a nightmare. I set my bag down on the floor and walk toward the hallway. The door to my parents’ room is closed, but I can hear faint snores coming from inside.
            I turn and walk past the front door to the kitchen. The blinds are open and sunlight is streaming in onto the wood floor. I walk into the family room. Sun from the skylight is creating a square patch on the rug. I can hear the whir of Mom’s sewing machine, so I walk to the laundry room and stand in the doorway. My mom is leaning over her sewing machine, working on the hem of what looks like a pillow sham. It’s made of white and black toile.
            “Hi Mom,” I say.
            “Hey Reeses.” She stops sewing and turns her rolling chair to face me. “I’ve missed you this weekend. How was your time at Brandon’s?”
            “It was good.”
            “Come give me a hug,” Mom says.
            I take a step toward her and begin to smile, but I stop when Mom doesn’t stand. I pause a moment before I wrap my arms around her neck and rest my head on hers.
            She wraps her arms around my waist and holds me for a few seconds. When she begins to pull back I let my hands drop to my sides and stick my thumbs in the front pockets of my jeans.
            “So what’re you making?” I ask.
            “Oh you know those pillow shams for the couch in the family room I’ve been talking about making for months? I decided it was time, so I went to Joanne’s yesterday and bought this fabric. I finished the first one this morning. See?” She points to the low cabinet in the corner she uses to store all of her thread. A black and white bolster is perched on top of it.
            “Cool. I like it Mom.” I step over a pile of dirty white socks and undershirts and pick up the finished pillow. I run my fingers through the black fringe around the edges. “It looks good.”
            I turn back around to face her. “Are you almost done with that one?”
            “Yes. All I have left to do is finish this side, turn it right-side out, and put the pillow form in it. I’m excited to see what they look like when I’m done.” She smiles up at me and I nod in return.
            “Hey Reeses, when I’m done, do you want to learn how to make ravioli? I’ve been craving it, and I think it would be good if you learned how to make some different things. That way¾.”
            “Sure Mom,” I say. I look out the window. Our next door neighbors have a lemon tree, and some of its branches grow over onto our side. Its branches are dry and bare.
            “OK, just let me finish this really quick. Then I’ll be right there. If you get the recipe out of the green cook book that would be great.” She smiles at me again and turns back to her sewing machine.
            I hear the machine whir more loudly as I walk toward the kitchen. Mom is hurrying to finish the pillow sham. I walk into the kitchen and grab the green cook book out from the arsenal of cook books standing on the counter. Several smaller cook books fall over, sending the bookend sliding across the tile countertop and onto the floor with a clang.
            “Dangit,” I say. I lay the green cook book down on the counter. I bend down to pick up the black metal book end. I prop the books back up and jam the bookend against them so they can’t fall over again. I’ll have to move them to put the green cook book back later. I flip open the green cook book and turn to the pasta section. I find three recipes for ravioli: veggie, cheese, and meat.
            “Mom,” I yell. “What kind of ravioli are we making?”
            She doesn’t respond. She can’t hear me over her sewing machine.
            I walk back toward the laundry room and peak my head into the doorway.
            “Mom,” I say again.
            She sews for a few seconds until she reaches the corner and stops. She cuts the bobbin thread and turns around.
            “Let’s see what it looks like,” she says. She turns it right side out and picks up a pillow form from on top of the pile of dirty whites on the floor. She stuffs the form into the sham and puts her hand down into the sham to pull the corners of the form perfectly into the corners of the sham. I know before she is finished that the sham fits perfectly.
            “Oh rats,” Mom says. “There’s a thread coming out at this corner.” She turns away from me and picks up the cloth scissors from her work table. She cuts the offending thread off the sham in one slow snip and rolls her chair two feet to her left toward the garbage can. She begins to lean over to throw the thread away, then pulls back a little. She glances in my direction to see if I have seen, but she does not meet my eyes. She rolls the chair one more foot and drops the thread into the garbage can.
            “Finished. Let’s make that ravioli.” She smiles up at me.
            I step forward and offer her my hands.

            Slowly she takes hold of them and stands up.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Malignant: Part 9

Echoes from The Incredibles filter down the hall, but they do not peak my interest. I am sprawled out across Brandon’s queen-sized bed. My fists are squeezed between my chin and the comforter, supporting my head. My eyes scratch against the inside of my eyelids, so I open them. The pale light from the floor lamp in the corner provides the only illumination in the room. The blinds have not yet been drawn, but the window is only a vast black rectangle.
            Brandon is sunk into his oversized, chocolate brown bean bag on the ground, with his legs spread across the floor. He has his arms folded behind his head, with his hands resting on his neck. His eyes are level with mine.
            “So, after you wrote the note, you just walked out?”
            “Yeah. I couldn’t… I needed air.”
            I roll over onto my left side and prop my head up by pressing my left palm to the side of my head just behind my ear. With my fingers on my right hand I trace the tan and brown stripes on the comforter. The ticking of the clock on the wall gets louder, so I let my gaze leave the lines and move up to the clock’s face. Brandon insists on using not only an analogue clock, but one with only four small squares where the twelve, three, six, and nine should be.
            I sigh. “What time is it?” My eyes rest on Brandon’s face.
            Brandon lifts the corners of his mouth slightly before answering.
            “Just after ten. You tired?”
            “No.” I don’t tell Brandon that every time I close my eyes all I see is words¾stage III, treatment, immediately¾ swirling menacingly across my brain and drowning all other thoughts.
            I sit up quickly and toss my feet off the edge of the bed. “Let’s watch a movie.” I glance toward the door. It sounds like Syndrome is monologuing. I turn back to Brandon. “In here.”
            “OK.” Brandon rolls sideways in order to dislodge himself from the bean bag and stands. He takes several steps over to his DVD tower. “What do you have in mind?”
            I stand, but I don’t move from the bedside. “I think I need a dose of Josh Lucas. Mind if I run home and get Sweet Home?”
            Brandon turns toward me and rolls his eyes.
            “You’re going to make me watch that junk?”
            I smile. “Yep,” I say. “I’ll be right back.” I lean down and fish my house key out of a small pouch inside my duffle bag. I stuff the key into my pocket.
            Brandon tosses his hair. “Alright.”
            I leave the room and walk down the hall. I turn into the living room. Mrs. Lane is sitting in the leather chair in the corner under a light, working on her latest crochet project. She glances up and smiles at me when I stop in the doorway. Mr. Lane looks up from where he is sandwiched between Devon and Luke on the couch.
            “What do you need, Reese?” he says, and begins to slide out from between his sons.
            “Oh nothing. I’m going to run home really quick. I’ll be back.”
            “All right. We’ll see you in a minute then.” He sits back and Devon and Luke snuggle up to him once more.
            I can feel my face turning green at the sight of Mr. Lane and the boys. I wait until my back is turned to scrunch my eyebrows and purse my lips.
            There is a slight breeze that plays with the wisps of hair around my face as I walk past the four houses between Brandon’s house and my own. The house is completely dark and the trees in the front yard cast shadows over the house. My parents are probably asleep. I walk up the steps to the front door and pull the key out of my pocket. I turn the lock as quietly as I can and slide the door open just enough to admit myself.
            I leave the door open and stand in the foyer until my eyes adjust to the darkness. I walk down the hall toward my bedroom, trying to avoid the creaky parts in the wooden floor, but my efforts are in vain. The squeaking sounds are like thunder to me, but I do not hear anyone stir.
I walk into my room and straight to my closet. I squat in front of the low shelf that holds all of my movies. It takes me a moment before I find the one I’m looking for. I pluck Sweet Home Alabama from among the twenty-or-so other DVDs. I really ought to organize them sometime.
            I stand and start back down the hall. I stop in the bathroom and grab a plastic bag of hair ties out of the top drawer. I stand outside of my parents’ door for a moment, staring at the doorknob. It’s an antique purple glass knob that my mom found at a thrift store once a few years ago. Dad hates it but he lets her keep it because she loves it so much. I reach out and grasp it, but the coolness of the glass against my fingertips makes me recoil quickly. I tip toe out of the house, lock the door, and walk down the steps to the sidewalk. I begin to run because I feel the weight tugging at my ankles.
            I run up the steps to Brandon’s front door and fling it wide. It hits the wall before swinging back toward me. Mrs. Lane, Mr. Lane, and the boys look up from their various occupations. Brandon sits up from his place in the middle of the floor.
            “Sorry,” I say.
            “It’s all right, Reese,” Mrs. Lane answers. Her eyes are wide. “I just didn’t expect that.” Her eyes shrink back to their normal size. I notice that she glances toward the wall, probably to make sure that I didn’t dent it.
            I nod before turning to Brandon. “Ready?”
            “As ready as I’ll ever be.” He smiles and stands up.
            I walk down the hall and hop onto his bed.
            Brandon follows me into the room. He swings the door mostly closed behind him but leaves it open just a crack.
            The television is on, and the Samsung DVD logo is bouncing around the screen.
            “Give it here and I’ll put it in.” Brandon extends his hand toward me, and I give him the DVD case. He glances at it before opening it.
            “I kind of liked this one didn’t I?” He turns his back toward me as he fiddles with the machine.
            “Yeah you liked this one.” I smile. I reach down and grab a plastic bag full of hair ties out of my duffel bag.
            The movie menu comes up on the screen as Brandon comes and crawls across the bed to sit beside me. He reaches across me and picks the remotes up from the side table. He selects “play movie” from the DVD menu and the theme music begins.
            I scoot back against the wall before pulling a hair tie out of the plastic bag. I set the bag down on the side table and pull some hair from the top of my head. My fingers separate the hair into three chunks, and I begin to braid. After only a moment, my fingers are tangled in my hair. I drop the strands. I can hear what my mom always says when she braids my hair. ‘Reeses, this is something you need to learn to do yourself.’ Especially now. I take some hair again, but I am no more successful this time. I drop my hair and slap my hands down on my lap. I only sit for a moment before raising my arms and trying again.
            After several more attempts, my arms are burning from being raised behind my head. I lower my arms and tap my fingers on the comforter. I turn and watch Brandon’s face. He turns his head and looks at me.
            I glance up at the mop of brown on his head.
            “Can I braid your hair?” As soon as the words come I love the idea. I grab the bag of hair ties from the table. Then I lean over the side of the bed and dig my comb out from my duffle bag.
            “See? I’ve got hair ties and everything.” I hold them up for him to see.
            “Uh, OK.” Brandon sits forward. I scoot behind him. I look up and can’t see Josh Lucas.
            “You’ll have to sit on the floor by the bed so I can reach your head and still be able to see the TV.”
            “Alright.” Brandon scoots across the bed and lowers himself to the floor so that his back is against the bed. Thankfully he is tall enough that he is about the right height for my project.
            I giggle and begin to comb out his hair. I pick out some hair ties and set them beside me. I take a tuft of hair from the crown of Brandon’s head and make the skinniest braid I can.
            “I’m going to make braids until I run out of hair or hair ties.”
            “Good,” Brandon says. He tilts his head back to look up at me. “I’m going to have a fro when you’re done aren’t I?” He smirks at me.
            “Oh yes you are.” I grin.
            By the time I am finished, the braids on Brandon’s head are sticking out in all directions.
            “Let’s go show your mom,” I say and jump to my feet on the bed.
            “OK,” Brandon says as he stands. He turns and smiles at me. “How do I look?” He puts on a cheesy grin and lifts one eyebrow.
            I burst into laughter. “Wonderful, Weird Al!” It’s fun to feel taller than him for once.
            I jump down to the floor and we walk down the hall toward the living room. Before we reach it, Brandon stops.
            “Do I have to show them?” he asks.
            “Yep,” I respond, and continue into the living room. I sit down on the ottoman and turn my attention toward the television screen. Elastigirl is pressing buttons on the remote that controls the robot and trying to figure out which one Mr. Incredible wants her to push.
            Brandon walks into the room and calmly sits down in the floor near my feet.
            Mrs. Lane bursts out laughing. “Brand, your hair. Wow.”
            Mr. Lane lets out a guffaw. The boys giggle on both sides of their father.
            I turn to look at Mrs. Lane. She grins at me. “Nice work Reese. Very nice.”
            “Well thanks. I couldn’t braid my own hair, so I decided to braid his. My mom always does my hair.” I look down at the floor and bite my lip before looking back up at her.
            Mrs. Lane makes eye contact with me. She smiles. “I’m sure you’ll get the hang of braiding your own hair soon.”
            “Hey, Reese,” Mr. Lane says.
            I turn to look at him. He has an arm around each of his two younger sons.
            “The boys and I are thinking about going to the beach tomorrow to do some sand crab catching. Do you want to come with us?”
            “Sure,” I say. “I’ll have to run home and get my suit in the morning.” That means I’ll have to see and talk to them. I guess I need to anyway. I glance at the television. The credits are rolling up the screen.
            “Tubular,” Mr. Lane says.
            I turn back toward Mr. Lane, and I giggle.
            I see Devon rubbing his eyes. Luke yawns.
            Mrs. Lane seems to have noticed as well, because she puts down her crochet and stands up. “It’s getting late, boys.” Mrs. Lane says. “Let’s get you two in bed so you aren’t grumpy tomorrow.”
            She takes each of them by the hand and walks them down the hall toward their room.
            “Hey I’m coming tomorrow too. I haven’t caught any sand crabs in a long time.” Brandon says, and he grins at me. Then he turns to his dad. He points toward me with his thumb. “I have to show this one how it’s done.”
            I laugh. “Oh I know how it’s done.”
            “You’re on,” Brandon says. “The person who loses buys the other one a fried twinkie.”
            I smile. “It’s about time I had another fried twinkie.”
            Brandon chuckles and shakes his head at me. The braids twist together on the top of his head.
            Mr. Lane picks up the remote and clicks off the DVD player. The sound of the television makes me jump.
            “I think I’m ready to go to sleep too,” I say. I stand up and stretch my arms behind my back. My left shoulder pops.
            Brandon stands up. “Let’s go see where my mom wants you.” He puts his hands on my shoulders and pushes me down the hall in front of him. Luke and Devon are in the bathroom brushing their teeth.
            We reach Brandon’s room. Mrs. Lane has just begun putting a new set of sheets on Brandon’s bed.
            “You can sleep in here, Reese. It’ll give you more privacy. We’ll put Brandon on the pull-out bed in the living room.”
            “No that’s OK,” I say. I look from Mrs. Lane to Brandon. “I can sleep on the couch.”
            “No it’s cool. You sleep in here,” Brandon says. He grabs his pillow off the bean bag in the floor. “Sleep well, Kid,” he says and leaves the room.
            I watch him go. “Night,” I say after him. I turn back toward Mrs. Lane. “Thanks for everything, Mrs. Lane.”
            “It’s no problem, Sweetie. We enjoy having you here any time.” She smiles at me. She pulls the comforter straight. “There you go. Sleep well, Reese.”
            “You too,” I say. I plop down on the bed as Mrs. Lane leaves the room.
            “Would you like the door shut?” she asks.
            “Yeah, thanks,” I say.
            Mrs. Lane closes the door behind her.

            I think about going to brush my teeth and wash my face, but I don’t really care. I pull off my jeans and crawl under the covers.