The One About Us

The cutlery disappeared on Monday.  I was getting my breakfast ready the same way I always do it.  Bowl, Raisin Bran, whole milk, spoon.  But when the spoon part came, there weren’t any.  No forks or knives either.  Not in the drawers and not even in the dishwasher, and there’s always stuff in the dishwasher. 

I could hear Dad swearing at Talk Radio in his bedroom, which is what he does right before he barges into the kitchen and shouts about how he can’t find something.  He doesn’t actually expect me to help him look, but if I’ve got to ask him something, I have to pretend to help.  Otherwise he won’t listen. 

Anyway this time it was his glasses.

I figured he’d want to know about the empty drawers, so after I’d made enough noise pretending to look, all dragging the kitchen chairs and lifting up pieces of the newspaper, I said, “Dad, the cutlery’s gone.”

I didn’t think he’d heard me, but then he said, “Where’d you learn to call it that?”

“You, I think.”

He smiled.  “Really?”  But it wasn’t a question and he went back to digging around under the newspapers. 

“Dad?”

He found his glasses.  “Aha!  They were hiding.”

I said it louder.  “Dad!” 

He spun around.  “What?  Oh.”  He scratched his head.  “I don’t know, Kip, use your hands.  Like an Indian!  That’s what they do there, I think.”  He took a deep breath.  “Yes, that’s right.”  He grabbed his keys.

“But the milk, Dad.”  How was I supposed to eat milk like an Indian?

“Don’t waste the milk!”  He yelled from the door.  “And don’t miss the bus!”

That night Dad brought home pizza, so of course no one said anything about the cutlery.  And the next morning there were six boxes of the plastic stuff up on the counter by the microwave.  The next day, Dad grounded me, which sucked so bad I pretty much forgot about the cutlery for the whole afternoon.  But now I just don’t care at all, because yesterday I found out I’m not the only one in big time trouble this month.  Drew and Ellie are grounded too.  And I’ve got to find out what they did.

If we were little it’d be easy, because back then we were always together.  Sometimes I think it’s Miss Allen’s fault we got split up, but sometimes I think it’s Dad’s.  I mean, Miss Allen didn’t have to tell, but Dad didn’t have to get so scared and make it so we had to let him sign us all up for different activities.  Drew got soccer, and he still does it.  Ellie got gymnastics, but she quit last year, which is why she’s sort of fat now.  But I wasn’t good at anything because I always sat down at the ballet recitals or got too hyper at the acting camps.  When I was Catcher in summer softball I made crow noises to scare the batter, which Dad said was embarrassing for him.  Once at horseback riding lessons, I fell off and almost got run over by a cantering pony.  So, finally Dad gave up and let me stay home. 

Drew and Ellie and me had lots more dangerous games than Snowbank Ninjas, but that’s the only one we ever almost died at, I guess, which makes it worse than all the others combined.

***

The worst part was how Dad made such a thing of it, all coming to my bedroom with his arms behind his back and telling me to meet him in the kitchen in five minutes.  Usually when he grounds me, he just does it wherever he finds me.  So, of course I thought maybe he’d bought me those expensive Nikes I’d been asking for.  I even slipped off my sneakers so that when I walked in, I could put on the new ones right away.  But when I slid across the tiles in my socks and actually saw him, I knew I was in trouble.  See, he had a chair all pulled out for me and was standing there, staring at his feet, which means he’s so mad he can’t even look at you.  Not to mention that then he took a butt-load of time sitting down—all crossing his legs and taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes and sighing, before finally he went ahead and said what all grown-ups say when they’re about to bust you:  “Kippy, is there anything you want to tell me?”

I’m always getting grounded but it’s never that bad because I usually don’t have any friends.  But this time I was literally dying—dying—because Kate Petersen is having a slumber party next weekend and she invited ten girls including me.  Plus, there’s this girl Susan George from my bus route, and we’re not friends or anything, but I was sort of planning to hang out at her house this whole summer.  She’s fine, I guess, but she smells like ham.  (No one really likes her but can’t say so because she’s got LD—that’s a Learning Disability.)

Anyway, Maxwell Mann from TV said it’s going to be the hottest June in ten years, which wouldn’t be so bad except Dad never turns on the air conditioning.  (He always says there’s a “breeze.”)  But see, I wasn’t so worried about Dad’s No-Air rule because the Georges just got a pool put in and I figured I could go down there when it got too hot.  I knew, knew, Susan’d let me, because she’s got no friends.  Plus, chlorine probably kills the ham smell she’s got.

So, yeah, my one chance to be friends with Kate Petersen, and also, basically, to have a pool, and I’m grounded for a month.  This sucks balls.

At least Drew and Ellie won’t know.  Our Dad has had this thing since we were kids about tattling where he pretends to be deaf unless someone’s bleeding.  Otherwise he covers his ears and says, “Tattlers help themselves” in this sing-song voice. He only broke his own rule once.  It was a really long time ago, right after Nana died and we drove up to Atlantic City for the funeral.  We still have the van we took.  It’s got seven seats, but that time it felt tiny.  Ellie gets carsick, and so she got to sit up front with Dad, and even though Drew and I literally begged—begged—to sit in the Captain’s chairs, which are in the middle, that’s where Dad put the suitcases for some reason. 

So Drew and I were sitting in the way back because of Ellie and the stupid bags, and what happened was Drew asked if I wanted to play this game where he got to punch me if I touched him.  I told him it sounded pretty boring, but he said he’d give me 15 dollars if I won, so, like an idiot I shook on it.  Then Drew scooted closer and closer to me until I was pressed up against the window and couldn’t go any more over.  Of course he scooted a little bit more and our legs were touching, which he said counted and punched me really hard in the arm.  He did that for the whole car trip, so of course I started to cry after a while.  Just tears, though.  None of us made sob noises when we were kids because Dad’d either tell us to stop playing some fun game, or he’d say “don’t tattle”, and if any of us heard him say that, we’d beat up whoever’d tried to get his attention. 

So anyway, I waited until Drew fell asleep against his window and then I reached over and slammed him really hard in the balls.  And of course then he started crying just tears and stomping his feet and slapping the seat in front of him.  I laughed so hard even though I was technically also crying, but then Drew pulled it together and said, “That counted as touching, Anus,” and the game started all over again.

By the time we got to the hotel, I had a big time bruise, and the next morning when we were getting ready for the funeral it looked even worse.  My dress didn’t have any sleeves and of course Dad wanted to know what’d happened.  So, I told him, which is technically tattling, but instead of playing deaf, Dad made the really angry face where he puts his top and bottom teeth right on top of each other, and chased Drew all around the hotel.  I didn’t see it because I locked myself in the bathroom, but Ellie went into the hallway to watch, and she said that when Dad caught Drew, he held him down and slapped him once really hard on the forehead.  Ellie also said that Dad farted and made Drew smell it, which at first I didn’t believe because, for starters, I was pretty sure that Drew and Ellie and me were the only three people in the world to know about Fart Fights, but also Dad was a grown-up, and at the time I didn’t think that adults could fart.  I mean, I was only five or six, so I still thought that grown-ups were born big and boring.  I didn’t get that they were just us with time added on.

Anyway, like I said, I didn’t believe Ellie.  But then she swore on Mom, which meant a lot back then, and I wasn’t so sure.  I tattled every day for, like, weeks after that to try and see if Dad’d do it again, but the minute we got home from the funeral, he went back to being deaf.

 

***

I didn’t even know that you could check where people’d gone on the internet.  Or, I guess I did know, but I didn’t know Dad knew.  Turns out he’s like, this total computer genius, which sucks balls because I was at sites like lustylibrary.com and sensualstories.net.  And not only does my own Dad know, but now I’m grounded because of it, and the parental controls for my sign-in name are insane.  I can’t go anywhere except boring news sites and nickelodeon.com. 

It’s not like I was reading the stories to learn how to do it.  Sometimes I think about what it’d be like to freeze time and take a boy’s clothes off, but I’m not a slut or something.  I just think erotic literature is way better than what they tell us at school.  Plus it’s really creative.  Way more creative than My Side of the Mountain, which we had to read this year in homeroom.

The school thinks no one finds out about it until sixth grade, so every Wednesday we have to listen to Ms. K talk about Judy—this plastic mannequin whose chest is sliced open so you can see the reproductive stuff.  Ms. K is always talking about “penises” and “vaginas.”  Everybody hates it.  Online they never call them that, even though those are the parts they’re always talking about. My favorite words for boy’s parts are Purple Python, Gusher (which is technically for a girl’s thing, but sometimes they use it for boy’s), Artistic Cauliflower (that’s from a Finnish site, and I only like it as a joke) and Dick (which is a normal word).  But my favorite is Schlong.

I don’t like most of the online words for girl’s privates, probably because I’m not a lesbian (I don’t even like sports that much, and one time, Dad made me cut my hair short, and it looked terrible).  But yeah, stuff like “Cookie” and “Cooter” and “Beaver” are gross.  The British sites call it a Cunny, which is like Cunt, which I don’t like.  Once, in this story called “Victoria Goes to Camp”, they called it a “Poozle”, which was funny but not in a good way.  Anyway, when I’ve got to call it something, like, if I knock it on the kitchen table when I’m sliding around in my socks, or a baseball hits it, and I’ve got to tell Dad or Mrs. Pelech, who’s the school nurse—or if I’ve got to answer one of Ms. K’s stupid questions—I just always call it Crotch.  But I don’t think about girl’s parts, really.  Unless it’s during scoliosis checks and Kate Petersen’s got her bathing suit on.  But that’s just because she’s got actual boobs already and I want to know if she’s also got a lot of pubic hair.

My favorite author right now is jscackman709, who’s a writer for banginbookpage.org.  That’s a non-registered site, which means you don’t have to click a button that says you’re eighteen, and so there can’t be any words like “cock”.  That’s why jscackman calls them “cacks” in his stories, which is funny at first, but you get used to it.  He mostly writes about incest, which means Dad saw I was reading stuff called “Playtime With Mother,” “I Love You in that Different Kind of Way,” and “Seductress of Hope.”  They’re not that obvious I guess, but there was also stuff like, “Cousin Catherine’s Cunny,” and “I Recently Had Intercourse With My Sister, and Liked It.”  So he definitely knows.  I’m so embarrassed I could barf.

I mean, it’s not like I don’t know incest is gross, but you can just pretend the people in the stories are boyfriend-girlfriend instead of cousins.  It’s really easy to do, but it’s the kind of thing you can’t explain that you do.  Especially not to your Dad. 

 

***

Maxwell Mann wasn’t kidding when he said the thing about June.  It’s only the first week and already I’ve got to walk around in my Speedo (with tank-tops you can see my nipples, which’re sort of pointy.  Drew once called them weasel snouts and I kicked him in the balls.  That was the last time I did that, though, because instead of hitting me back or chasing me he called me a bitch). 

That’s what the Speedo is for: to flatten out my “budding breasts”, which is what Ms. K calls them. I don’t get to wear a bra yet.  Dad says I don’t need one, and Ellie doesn’t let me into her room.  Well, technically I’ve been in there a bunch of times.  And gone through all her underwear and stuff.  Her boobs aren’t big or anything, but like I said, she’s kind of fat right now, so of course none of her bras fit. 

Anyway, today was my first day grounded, and so after Dad left for work I went into his room and looked for secret letters and drugs and stuff in his drawers.  Danny Kemp from my bus said he found pornographic pictures with his father’s socks.  But Dad only had some golf tees and sci-fi paperbacks.  There were the birthday cards from Mom, but I’d already read those a bunch of times.

I thought I was the only one home this morning (I even sang in the bathroom and stuff, which is embarrassing now to think about), but when I left Dad’s room there was Ellie in her pajamas, playing with the thermostat in the hallway. This always happens, where I think Ellie’s gone somewhere and then all of a sudden she’ll come out of her room.

“Oh, hey,” I said, “I didn’t know you were here.” 

Anyway, of course she ignored me.  Ellie’s gotten really stuck up since she turned fourteen.  She doesn’t talk to me or Dad, like, at all anymore.  She’s still nice to Drew, though.  I mean, yesterday I saw her mowing the lawn, which is technically Drew’s job.  Plus her and him walk to school together, and since high school starts earlier than middle school, I hear them talking and sometimes even laughing on their way up the driveway.

I don’t think it’s fair that they get to be closer in age.  I told Dad once that I was mad about it, but he thought I was joking and called me Cutie Pumpkin.  I don’t even know what that means.

“You’re not supposed to put the air on,” I told Ellie.  Sometimes I get so mad at her, and then I say something that makes me want to cry right after I say it.  “Dad said.”  Yeah, like that.

I tried again.  “I mean, besides, you could just change into short sleeves.” 

She punched a button and the whole house started to buzz.

“Well, I bet Dad won’t care, actually, ‘cause it’s really hot.” I smiled.  “Like, the hottest summer since forever.”

Ellie looked at me and rolled her eyes, but I couldn’t stop myself.

  “Want to put the sprinkler under the trampoline later?” 

“Nope.”

“Yeah, me neither, actually,” I said.  “Hey, I’m grounded.”

Ellie yawned.  “Yep.”

“Who told?”

“You’re always grounded, Kippy.”

“Yeah.”  I like it when she says my name.  “But this time it’s for a whole month.”

She tilted her head to the side.  “Weird.”  Something about the way she said it made it sound nice, like we were friends.  “Me too.”

“’You too’ what?” 

She rolled her eyes.  Whenever Ellie’s nice you know she’s going to be mean right after.  “I’m grounded, Idiot.  For a month”

“For June?”

“Um, yeah.”  She was being sarcastic.  Like I didn’t know that June counted as a month.

“No, I meant ‘are you grounded for the same month as me?’”  But of course she was already walking back into her room.   “Ellie!”  I tried to follow her a little without making her mad.  “Ellie, Dad told me to tell you that someone stole the cutlery.”  This wasn’t true, but I just wanted to keep talking for some reason.  “So, in case you were wondering, there’s plastic stuff on the counter.”

She slammed her door.  Not in the regular way, but hard, like I’d said something wrong.

 

***

Ellie didn’t used to be such a snot.  When we were little, her and Drew and me played together all the time.  We even had this game called the Butt-Butt Game where we’d get on the swings and take turns kicking Ellie in the butt.  She won’t even let me hug her now unless it’s a holiday.  But back then I could hug her and kick her as hard as I wanted.  She and I used to share a room, too, and we’d have nighttime talks about my secret crush on my third grade teacher, Mr. Lauwasser. I wanted to get stabbed on top of the hill at school so that he’d run up and rescue me.  I told Ellie about it once.

“It’s stupid if he doesn’t get you before you get stabbed,” she said. 

“No.”  I pinched my stomach hard to practice what it’d feel like.  “That part’s important.”

“How come?” 

“He’d have to carry me.”  That was my big fantasy—getting carried by a boy.

“But what if he wasn’t out at recess when it happened, and one of the other teachers carried you instead?”  It was a really good question, but I pretended that it wasn’t.

“It wouldn’t happen like that.”  I told her.

She smiled.  “You’re weird, Kippy.” 

“I know,” I said.  I’ve always loved it when she says my name.

Anyway, then Dad decided that Drew needed “boy space” and put a bathroom in the basement so Drew could live down there.  And then Ellie wanted her own room too, so, I had to move into Drew’s old room.  It was okay for a while.  Ellie and me still did bathroom stuff together, and at night she’d knock on the wall, which is something she and I used to do with Drew—that Shave and a Haircut thing—and I’d knock back the Two Bits.  I don’t know when everything started to get bad, but there was one time where Ellie came into the bathroom after I took a shower and said I was using her towel. 
“You don’t
have a towel,” I said.  The only towels in the bathroom were our beach towels.  They had stuff on them like sunsets or Mexican patterns or the dancing Raisinettes.  We’d had them since we were kids. 

“Yeah I do.”  She was really angry.  “That one’s mine and that one’s yours.”  I realized I was using a big all-white towel I’d never even seen before.

“Fine I’ll use that one, geeze.”

“Whatever.  Keep it.” She started putting all her make-up and stuff into drawers, like I might try to steal it or something.   “You’re always using my stuff.”  This wasn’t true at all.  I only use Ellie’s stuff when she’s not home. 

“Sorry.”  I tried to think of how to fix it.  “You can have the Rainbow Brite towel.”  Ellie used to love the Rainbow Brite towel.

“You’ve used that one too.”  She started plucking her eyebrows.  “It’s gross to share towels.”  You know what’s gross?  I wanted to say, That bleeding pimple on your neck.  That’s gross.  “Ew, are you gonna pee or something?”  She asked. 

“No.  I’m just”—I was actually just standing there.  But if I didn’t say something quick I was going to cry.  “I’m waiting to use the sink.” 

“Because if you need to pee, I’ll leave.”

“I don’t!” I wanted to rip off the towel and throw it at her.  But then I’d be naked.

“You’re looking at the toilet like you want to pee in it.”  This would have been funny if she hadn’t talked about the next thing:  “Remember how you used to always pee your pants?  And once Dad caught you trying to bury your overalls in the yard?” 

Yeah, I think that’s when things got bad.

 

***

After Ellie went back into her room I tried to figure out how to turn the air conditioning back off.  I couldn’t find the Off button, though, so, I just pressed the up arrow until the numbers said 88—which is what it was outside—and went to make myself some macaroni.  It was too hot upstairs to eat it, so I went down into the basement.

Drew was down there playing Mortal Kombat, which I’m no good at.  I wish he’d been playing Super Mario Brothers 3, but he never plays that anymore.  He says it’s too easy.

“Hey, why aren’t you at Mike’s?”  I was so excited to see him.

“Why would I be at Mike’s?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  I put the bowl of macaroni on the steps and went to sit next to him on the futon.  “’Cause you usually are.”

“Nope, not at Mike’s.  Want to play?” 

I did, but I suck big time unless I get to be Sub Zero, who’s actually called Noob Saibot now, and even then I still suck.  Anyway, Drew’s always Sub Zero.  “No thanks,” I said.  I went to go get my macaroni. 

Drew yawned.  “Don’t get any on the carpet,” he said.  “Dad makes me vacuum it myself.”

“Okay,” I said.  “I won’t.”  I ate a little bit.  “Oh, hey, Drew, want to hear a joke?”

“Sure.”

“So, once there was a little boy who really wanted to shower with his parents, but they wouldn’t let him.”

“You’ve told me this one.”

“Nuh-uh, I haven’t.”

“Yeah, it’s the snake-in-grass one.  It’s sick.  You’ve got a sick mind, Anus.”

“Oh.” I pushed my initials into the carpet with my toe, K.H.K.  Kippy Hamilton Kelly.  Hamilton was Dad’s dad’s name.  Of course I hate it.  “Well, did you know Ellie’s grounded?”

“Yeah.”  I was so jealous.  I bet he and Ellie talked all about it on their way to school.  “She’s being a bitch,” he said, which made me feel a little better.

“Yeah,” I said.  “She’s probably got her period or something.”

Drew raised his eyebrows.  “Jealous?”

“No!”  I didn’t tell him that I’d already had mine.

The game said, “Finish Him!”  And Drew did this really cool spin kick and killed Shang Tsung, the evil Oriental guy, which is really hard because Shang Tsung can morph and do the flaming skull eruption.

“Dad grounded me too,” Drew said.

I was so excited that I choked a little on my macaroni.  “Why?”

“Because he’s an asshole.”

“Yeah, but why?”

“None of your business.”  He was smiling.

“I’m grounded too,” I said.  “I’ll tell you if you tell me.”

“You’re always grounded.”

“Yeah, but this time it’s for a month.”  He didn’t say anything.  “Come on, Drew!  Tell me.”  I was whining.  I couldn’t help it.  

“Nope,” he said.  “But I’ll let you be Sub Zero if you play with me.”

I should have just done it and let him beat me, but instead I asked if he wanted to play Mario instead.  By the time I changed my mind back Drew didn’t want to play anymore.  I was about to say How about the trampoline?  But then Drew got up and put his hand in front of the wall.  “Hey, who turned the heat on?” 

I felt like a total idiot.  “Oh, shoot.”

“Anus!”  He reached over and pushed me really soft. 

“I’m sorry!”  I said, but I was smiling.  He was being so nice.

“Well, go turn it off.” 

I froze.  I wish so hard I’d paid attention when Dad showed us how to use the thermostat.  Then Drew wouldn’t have had to go upstairs, and maybe then he’d have gone outside with me, or at least let me sit downstairs and watch him play some more.  But I had to tell the truth, because otherwise Dad would get angry and then everything’d be worse.  So, I ruined it and said, “I don’t know how.”

It sucks how sometimes you know exactly what you said to ruin something, but there’s still no way to fix it and just be okay.  So you have to wait for things to be fun again, which is always up to the other person and sometimes it takes a really long time.  Sometimes it takes a whole day. 

***

Dad left for a business trip this morning.  So Mrs. Galanis is coming over at noon and six every night this week to make us lunch and dinner.  Dad pays her to do that whenever he goes away.

“She might come at other times too,” Dad said.  “But I’m not going to divulge those hours to you.”  He kissed us all on the face—even Ellie, who pulls away every time and hurts his feelings.  “Just remember that you’re all grounded.  And don’t do anything stupid.”

Dad went into Ellie’s room last night after he tucked me in.  I listened through the wall and so I heard him tell her to go with him this weekend to Atlanta.  At first he was all serious and angry about it.  He told Ellie she had to come.  But then Ellie said, “No!” a bunch of times and Dad quieted down a little.  Serves him right for being nicer to her even though I’m the one who helps him find his stuff every morning. 

“Dad!”  Ellie yelled.  “I’m not coming.  You can’t make me come.”   

“But El, it’ll be so fun,” Dad said.  He was trying to make it like it was her decision.  He does this all the time.  Usually that’s when I cave because I start to feel bad for him.  “The two of us hanging out in Atlanta.  That’s a big city, baby!”

“Yeah right.”  Ellie did her mean laugh.  “You’ll be gone all day.  At least at home I won’t be by myself.  God!  You’re such a hypocrite!”

“But there will be a pool,” Dad said quietly.  I wanted to kill Ellie.  She gets all the good stuff and she’s still a snot.  

“I don’t care!”  Ellie said, and then she did this thing where she talks all slow and loud.  “I’m.  Not.  Going!”  Yeah, like that.  It was quiet for a while, which mean they were staring at each other.  That’s when they do when they fight.  Dad holds his mouth tight and Ellie puts her hands on her hips and raises her eyebrows.  Then all of a sudden Dad said something so soft I could barely hear it, and it was quiet again.

“Dad, I won’t,” Ellie said.  “I promise.”  She sounded completely different.  Like maybe she was holding his shoulder or petting his hair.  “I promise.” 

 

When we were little, Dad used to pay Mrs. Galanis to spend the night with us, too.  Back then I had really bad nightmares, which meant when Mrs. Galanis was around, I couldn’t go sleep in Dad’s room if I got scared.  Ellie and I still shared a room back then and everything, but she doesn’t make any noise when she sleeps, which was sometimes scary to wake up to, like she was dead or something.  So, whenever Dad went away and I had a nightmare, I’d go to Drew’s room and he’d get his sleeping bag off the top shelf of his closet and roll it out for me. 

I actually liked sleeping in Drew’s room way better than sleeping in Dad’s.  But it was one of those things I could only do if Dad was on a business trip, because otherwise Drew’d say, “Isn’t Dad home?”  Well, he never actually said that, I was just afraid he would.  What Drew would really say was: “What was it about?”  And after I told him he’d go, “That’s way less scary than the one about Mom,” which always made me feel better.  

The one about Mom was Drew’s favorite.  “The Nightmare of All Nightmares,” he said.  It was this dream where I found Mom’s dead body in the yard and I kissed her on the face a bunch of times to try and wake her up.  I always had dreams about Mom and she was always a zombie or a ghost or a vampire or something.  But in The Nightmare of All Nightmares, she was frozen.  So, my lips stuck to her like when that kid licks the pole in “A Christmas Story”, except when I finally got the guts up to pull my own lips off, I couldn’t.  That’s when I realized I’d have to be there, kissing her forever.

I remember I heard that if you think about something right before you go to sleep, that’s what you’re going to dream about.  And so I always thought about Drew and Ellie as hard as I could. I figured if I could dream about them, then at least I wouldn’t be by myself when things got scary.  It didn’t work really.  I mean, sometimes Drew and Ellie’d be in the dream part, but when the actual nightmare happened, it was just me and all the different monster versions of Mom.  But see, I wanted them there so bad that I thought maybe if I pretended they’d been there, then it’d be real or something.  So I made up a nightmare where Drew, Ellie and me were running away from a murderer and told it to Drew one night when I went in to sleep on his floor.  He didn’t really say anything about it, so I tried it the next night, and then a few more times.  “It was that one about us again,” I’d whisper seriously, acting all scared.  Drew’d just nod, though, and go back to sleep like it wasn’t a big deal.  Then one time, after I’d told it, like, four times, Drew got kind of angry and said, “That’s not even a nightmare, Kip,” and after that, I went back to telling him the real ones.

 

***

Mrs. Galanis made tacos tonight and told us to eat “quick quick!” because she had to get to her cousin’s house before seven.  So, Drew, Ellie and I got to eat standing up by the counter while she did dishes. Ellie’s a vegetarian now, so she was eating a cheese tortilla from the microwave.  

Somebody got dressed up,” Drew said.  He was talking about Ellie because she had a lot of makeup on.  I giggled because I thought Ellie might be embarrassed.  She doesn’t know my nervous laugh, though, so of course she got snotty. 

You’re the one wearing a Speedo,” she told me.

“So?”  I tried to pull it down a little so it covered my butt more.  Ellie’s really good at saying stuff that makes you feel naked.

“You’ve got shit on your face,” Ellie whispered and looked away.  It was true, but she could’ve just called it salsa.  She didn’t have to be so mean. 

Drew bit into his taco and some beef fell out the other end.  “Shit.”

Mrs. Galanis turned around and started going crazy, all grabbing stuff to mop up the little bit of beef Drew spilled.  She’s nervous all the time and shakes.  Plus she always wears silk shirts, which doesn’t make any sense since they show every shake she does. 

“No, no, it’s fine, Mrs. G,” Drew said.  “I got it.”  He mopped up the beef with his sock, which just made Mrs. Galanis crazier.  She got down on her knees and started pulling Drew’s sock off so he had to hop around and still try to balance the paper plate in the other hand. 

“Hey,” I said. “Do you guys know what happened to all the cutlery?” 

“Who calls it cutlery?”  Drew asked.  He was still jumping.

“I don’t know.”  I really didn’t remember.  Just like I don’t know who told me to call it an Indelible Marker instead of a Sharpie.  “Dad?”

“I’m pretty sure Dad calls it silverware, Anus, like everyone else.”

“Who gives a shit where it is?”  Ellie said all of a sudden.  “It’s not like we need it right this second.  We’re eating tacos, for God’s sake.”

“Geeze, I was only asking.  I just thought you’d like to know that someone stole all of it.  Right out of our own house.”  I licked some beef juice off my taco.  “And anyway, cutlery’s just what it’s called, okay?  And for your information, Elenor, that’s called a quesadilla.” I always think of stuff like that too late.

“You think you’re so fucking smart,” Ellie said.  “Talking like that.  Cutlery.  Like a fucking 90 year old woman.”

“Mouth!”  Mrs. Galanis yelled up from the floor.  We all looked down at her.  It took us a few minutes to figure out she was talking about Ellie saying a swear word.

Ellie rolled her eyes.  “You don’t need a fork for this,” she said.  She was staring at her plate and her cheeks were red like she was embarrassed about something.  “That’s all I’m saying.”

Mrs. Galanis jumped up and started waving Drew’s sock around.  “What!”  She yelled.  “You need a fork?”  She shook one of the boxes on the counter.  “There.  Lots of forks.” She said and stomped off into the laundry room.

I looked at Ellie who was smiling at her quesadilla. 

“I have fifteen minutes!  Fifteen minutes until I leave for my cousin’s!”  Mrs. Galanis screamed.  That’s then we all burst out laughing, the quiet kind that hurts because you’re holding back the noise.

***

Like I said, Snowbank Ninjas wasn’t bad at all if you think about the other kinds of games we played.  For a while there was this one called Car Chase where Drew and Ellie’d hide behind the bushes at the end of the yard, and I’d have to run across the street whenever they said GO. The trick was to time it so that it was just when the car was about to whiz past, but not too late, so that I didn’t die.  I usually closed my eyes.  Anyway, we had to stop that one when they sent me out running in front of a police car.

Snowbank Ninjas was our winter game.  See, our driveway goes downhill but the yard stays flat so that when you walk down the driveway, the yard part gets more and more above your head.  When you walk to the very edge of the front yard it becomes the top of a stonewall that is above the street.  We weren’t supposed to go that far when we were little because Dad said we’d fall into traffic (maybe like, two cars went by our house an hour).  So we always did Snowbank Ninjas at the part of the yard by the Weeping Willow so Dad couldn’t see. 

Anyway, we’d take the kid shovels (those are the plastic ones.  Dad never let us use his because he said we’d kill ourselves), and we’d take all the snow around the tree and build a snow wall on top of the actual one.  Once it was tall enough to climb and slanty enough so we could slide on it, we’d get the spoons from the kitchen and start the game, which was to lie on our bellies and race up the snow wall without using our legs.  The loser got held over the edge of the wall by their feet.  The road’s curvy and icy, and we’re in the country so no one comes here unless they live here—which is only us, really, and some old people. So we never got caught until Miss Allen, who was going, like, a hundred miles an hour down our street.  She said she was on her way to teach piano, which is a lie.  I mean, yeah, Miss Allen’s a piano teacher, but like I said, only old people live by us, and old people don’t take piano lessons, kids do.  Also, Drew, Ellie and me thought she was intoxicated because her face was so red (but that could have just been from the screaming).

Anyway, the trick was to use the spoon part of the spoon, but that part was always harder to stick into the snow, so like an idiot I usually gave up and tried to pull myself with the handle, which makes you slide back.  So, Drew got up the snow bank first, and won, and then Ellie won second, and then they got to hold me down the snow wall.  I wasn’t like, actually hanging because, like I said, the snow bank is slanted, so I was on my stomach against the snow the whole time.  But the snow wall was as high as our house, which is one and a half stories, and like always, Drew and Ellie screamed and pretended a car was coming, which made it pretty scary.  

Then it happened: Ellie, who’d just gotten new gloves without the grip fingers, accidentally let go of me; Drew was still holding my foot, so he almost fell down too, because, even though I was the youngest, I was wearing a snowsuit, which made me pretty heavy.  Ellie couldn’t reach my foot, and Drew couldn’t get it because he was still trying to hold onto the other one, so Drew had to try and hang on while Ellie got on her stomach to pass me spoons.

“Stick the spoon part in, Kip!”  Ellie yelled.  Not the handle!”

But then one of the spoons broke in half and the other one fell on the street and I started all crying with my face against the snow and my foot in Drew’s hand.  Ellie, who was brave back then from getting kicked so much, took off her gloves and climbed down next to me.  My head was down by her ankles, but I could see that she’d dug her fingers into the snow and they’d turned bright red.

Drew, help!”  Ellie screamed. I tried to hold my body stiff and still even though my face was freezing off, but I got so dizzy looking down at the pavement like that, that I started shrieking, which made them stop fighting and try to make me quit so Dad wouldn’t hear. 

“Okay, okay, shut up, Kip.”  Drew said.  “El, give Kip a foot to hold onto.  Kip, I’m gonna climb down to you and then me and Ellie’re gonna throw you over.”

“Don’t throw me!”  I sobbed, but I reached up to hold onto Ellie.  Drew climbed down, still holding my foot, and I actually swung around just fine, and for a few seconds, Ellie was holding on okay at the top.  Drew’d even gotten a foot grip on the snow bank and was just about to push me up by my butt.  But then he started slipping because he didn’t have his boots on.  He tried to grab onto me to save himself, and I grabbed onto Ellie, and all of us went crashing into the street. 

That part wasn’t so bad.  I scraped my face a lot on the ice at the bottom, but I didn’t die like I thought I would.  When we stood up and looked at each other we started cracking up, and then Drew and Ellie hugged me really hard between them, which would have been great if they hadn’t smushed my chapped face against their buttons.

Anyway, that’s when Miss Allen came speeding around the corner. 

The thing about the way they plow the streets here is that the snow doesn’t go off the road, it just makes walls on both sides of the street that make it so there’s only room for one car.  So, see, there was no where to go when we saw her, and no way to make her stop, and if Drew hadn’t been so smart that day, we definitely would’ve all died.

“Flat against the snow, Idiots!”  Drew yelled, and we jumped against it like cicadas on a wall—our arms all stretched out above us, and our hands dug in, trying to hold ourselves skinny against the snow.  I sucked in my stomach when I heard Miss Allen’s horn, and felt this big wind go up our coats when she whizzed past.  She ran over the spoon I dropped, which was Mom’s, but Ellie and me got lucky—not like Drew, who had bruises for months from Miss Allen’s door handle slid across his butt.

You’d think she would’ve been glad she didn’t crush us, but she was totally upset, all red and screaming, “Where are your parents?”—like we would ever even tell her that after she practically tried to kill us.  But then Dad ran out into the yard and was calling for us, and it wasn’t like we could hide him from her.

We ducked down behind the Weeping Willow to watch them.  I couldn’t hear any of the actual words, only how Miss Allen was talking really quickly and angrily, with Dad all interrupting her to say short and serious things.    Then all of a sudden we could hear exactly what he was saying, which is never a good thing.

“Where are my children!”  Dad screamed.

Of course we thought we were in trouble, and so we ran to Dad to tell our side.  When I saw him, I kind of wished I’d gotten a little hurt or something, so that he couldn’t be mad at us.  He pushed Miss Allen out of the way and ran at us fast.  He looked crazy, but instead of hitting us or yelling he just grabbed each of our shoulders, like he was counting us, and whispered, “inside, my darlings.  Inside.”

Miss Allen kept talking, but was a little quieter about wanting Dad’s attention. She kept reaching out to touch him and then putting a piece of hair behind her ear instead.  “All I’m saying,” she said, all chasing after us, whining like a little kid.  “All I’m saying is they’re your kids, and”—she stopped talking when she saw that Dad was about to slam the door.

We followed him into the TV room, still thinking, I guess, that he might be angry.  He sat down on the couch in the TV room and rubbed his eyes underneath his glasses—these could be angry things or tired things, we didn’t know.  So we just sort of stood in front of him, all dripping on the carpet.

“Sorry Dad,” Ellie whispered.  She was always the first to apologize for anything.  Dad cracked his knuckles and started tapping his foot, which made the change in his pockets jingle.  “Are you really mad?”  She asked, but Dad still didn’t say anything. 

I started sobbing.  “Please don’t be mad at us!”  I went and climbed on Dad’s lap and even though I was making his work clothes wet he didn’t say anything.  He pulled the sleeve of his sweater over his hand and wiped snot off my face.  His mouth was really tight when he reached out for Ellie.  He looked scary, then, but she sat down and her and me let him hug us tight on his lap.

“Should we take our boots off?”  Drew asked, even though he wasn’t wearing any.  Dad just stuck his face into my hair and breathed.

Dad has this joke he does where he hobbles and says: ‘I’m an old man, kids, an old man without the mental strength to deal with your antics’, like a grandpa.  It isn’t very funny—it never was—but I wanted so bad for him to say it right then. 

“Dad,” Drew said, “I know you’re always saying that ‘next time’ you’re gonna call the PTA and get us into ‘age appropriate activities’, but I really don’t think this should count, because, see,” Drew put his hands in his pockets, “See, I think it was Miss Allen’s fault, Dad.”

“Yeah, Daddy,” I said.  I pulled on his ear to get his attention.  He wouldn’t look at any of us.  “Miss Allen had intoxication.”

“Intoxicat-ed,” Ellie whispered. 

Dad squeezed us tight.

“She had intoxicated,” I said impatientely and tried to push him out of my hair.  His breath on my ear was making me feel funny.

He pulled all the way away from both me and Ellie, which made me feel guilty, and put his hands in his lap.  “I couldn’t have done anything to stop it,” he whispered, and his face got wrinkly—not like an old man, but like one of those fancy dogs whose face is folded like a stack of bath towels.

“Dad,” Ellie said.  “Dad, don’t be sad, please.”

Dad put his face in his hands again and started shaking.

“Dad?” 

I tried to pull his hands away but he just dug his face harder into his palms.

“Daddy?”

That’s when the noises started.  Sob noises.  Big wet, sob noises coming out of our own Dad. 

“He’s crying,” Ellie whispered. 

Drew took a step back and kicked his shoes off.  “Hey Dad it’s okay, I’ll clean up, you don’t have to do anything.”  He got down on his knees and started pulling on Ellie’s boots. 

“We won’t play there anymore,” Ellie said.  “We promise.”

“Yeah Dad, we promise,” I said. 

Drew’d lined up all the boots by the fireplace.  Mine were on the end, and one was propped funny by some matches and as soon as Drew stood it up, it would fall and knock over Ellie’s.  Drew just kept lining them up again, which made me want to cry for some reason. 

“You could even call the PTA if you want,” Ellie said.  “There’s a whole list of school activities in my Thursday Folder.”

I thought about going up to my room and grabbing my Trapper Keeper, because I had my Thursday Folder too, but just then Dad took his hands off his face. His glasses were fogged but there were tears coming down behind them, and his face was all wet and streaky and stained red.  He looked ugly, like a baby that’s about to scream. 

“Clean his glasses,” Drew whispered.  I didn’t want to, but I reached up for them anyway.  Dad pushed my hand away really slow.  His mouth was a line again, but it was shaking.  He motioned at Drew to stop it with the boots.  “It’s fine,” he said.  His voice was low and wet.

“Dad, really, I’ll do soccer, I will.”

“Gymnastics,” Ellie blurted out.  Her and Drew looked at me.  I sat down on my hands.  I didn’t want to promise those things.  But I was scared Dad might stick his face into my hair again.  “Susan George’s brother goes to space camp,” I said.

“That’s only two weeks out of the year, Anus,” Drew said.

“Well, Ellie’s doing gymnastics even though she has Motion Sickness.”

“At least I can do a real cartwheel,” Ellie said.

“Probably not without barfing on yourself!”

Then Dad stood up and smoothed out his tie.  His pants were wet on the front from my snowsuit.  It looked like he’d had an accident.  “I’m going to my room,” he said, and left us.

It was quiet after he left.  Bad quiet.  I tried to make it better by sticking my tongue out at Ellie, but she just ignored me and started getting off her snow stuff, which Drew put on the bricks next to her boots, which’d fallen for the last time a few minutes before that.  My fingers were too small to do zippers, so after he’d undressed, Drew came over and zipped me out.   “Try not to get the carpet wet,” he said, even though it was already totally soaked.  We stood there in our underwear staring at each other a few minutes and then decided to wait in our rooms.  We decided Dad’d forgotten to send us there.

It took almost 30 minutes for anything to happen.  But then Dad got on the phone, first with the builders, talking about putting a shower and toilet in our basement, and then with some moms from the school directory, asking about “appropriate activities for eight, eleven and twelve year-olds.” Moms from school were always telling Dad what to do with us, but he never asked them for help until right then.

“It’s my fault.”  I whispered.  Ellie shook her all-wet face and said, “I should have worn the good gloves.”  We didn’t say anything about Dad crying in the TV room.

After a while, Dad started making Fish Stix in the kitchen, but he didn’t call out “Dinner” and so Ellie and me just sat on her bed for a while, not talking or anything.  It wasn’t like we were saying goodbye right then, even though that’s what it seems like now.  I just don’t think we were ready to leave yet. 

“We’ll leave when the clock says six,” Ellie said, and I nodded.  After a while, we knocked on the wall to see what Drew was doing.  

Shave, and, a, hair, cut?  We asked.

Two. Bits.

 

***

After Mrs. Galanis threw away all the taco mix and mopped the beef and washed Drew’s sock, I changed into sweatpants and Dad’s sloppy-joe-eating-contest t-shirt (which I’m not technically supposed to wear because it’s his favorite one from college) and went to watch TV.  There was supposed to be a Fresh Prince marathon, but I must have read it wrong, because there was just baseball.  So I decided to drink some milk on the roof and then maybe see if Drew wanted to play Mortal Kombat.

You can get on the roof if you go through Ellie’s window, which used to be both of our window.  Dad and us used to go out there with a blanket to watch fireworks every fourth of July.  It’s not scary because pretty much the whole house is ranch-style, which means the roof is flat.  But of course Ellie’s in her room all the time, so if I want to go on the roof I have to climb the tree outside the TV room, which is hard to do if you’ve got a glass in your hand.  After a while you get used to it, though.  The trick is to have long toes and go barefoot so that you can hold on with your feet.

Anyway, it took like, two seconds to get up there.  That’s when I heard someone coughing. 

“Drew?”  I whispered.  I heard him say some swear words.

“Go away!”  He yelled.  I couldn’t see him, but he was totally sitting on the slanted part of the roof by Dad’s room, I could tell.  So, I started walking there.  I took a sip of my milk so it’d be harder to spill. “It’s my house too,” I yelled.

Drew was wearing his soccer sweatshirt, sitting all hunched over right where I guessed he’d be.

“You smell like butt-crack,” I said, even though it was more like a skunk.  He had a lighter in his hand.  “Are you smoking?”

He sighed like he was fed up.  “Yes, Kippy.  I was smoking.”

“Sor-ry if I care about you or something,” I said.  “Cigarettes give you cancer.  Like.  Like—”

“Like Mom.”

Actually I was going to say, Like Smokey The Bear, but then I realized that was wrong.  “Yeah.”

“It’s not that kind of smoking.”  He pulled his hood up over his head.

“Oh.”  I thought of the D.A.R.E guy Ms. K brought in.  “You mean, like, Drugs?”

“Yes, like drugs.”

“Ew.”  I picked some tar off the roof.  “Can I try it?”

He looked at me like he was really grossed out.  “No!”

“Well, what is it, like, Crack or something?  Are you smoking Crack?”

Drew giggled.  “No, Anus.”

“Yeah right.”  I said it like I’d been joking and went to sit next to him.  “So, is that what you’re grounded for?”

“Can I have some of your milk?”  He poked the side of my glass with his lighter. 

“If I can play with your lighter,” I said.  We passed them to each other. 

Drew took a sip so big I would have yelled if he hadn’t been about to tell me something cool. 

“Okay so yeah.”  He put the glass between his feet and pulled his sweatshirt off.  “Dad found my weed and grounded me.”  He looked at me.  “Weed is marijuana.”

“I know!” I couldn’t light the lighter and thought maybe it was broken.

“You better not say anything, Kippy,” Drew said.  He took my thumb rolled it down the wheel thing so hard I thought my skin would come off.  It lit.  “I’d get in major trouble.  Dad said he’d send me to boarding school if I did it again.”

If Drew left I’d literally die—just die.  I tried to sound casual.  “I’m not an idiot,” I said.    I ran my fingers through the flame like Drew does with the dining room candles.  “What did Dad do when he found it?”  I was trying not to sound like I hadn’t burned myself, which I had.

“The bastard made me flush it down the toilet.”  Drew took another sip and just about finished my milk. 

“How’d you get more, then?” I lit my lighter some more, trying to make him jealous.

“He didn’t find it all.”  Drew had a milk mustache.  He pulled a plastic baggie out of his pocket. It smelled really bad.  “Don’t worry, Anus.  You’re not allowed to have any.” 

“Why?”  I was pretending to be upset.

“Because I said so.”  Drew stuck his nose into the bag.  “Go crack Ellie’s window a little,” he said.  “We’ll lure her out.”

I shuffled over down the roof to Ellie’s room and waved at her through the window.  She rolled her eyes and went back to painting her nails.  I pushed the window up and waved at her again through the screen.

“Shut the fucking window!”  She said.  But I just giggled and sat down around the corner where she couldn’t see me.  I knew she wouldn’t get up and shut it herself.  When I came back Drew had a cigarette in his mouth.

“Hey—”

“It’s a joint,” Drew said. 

“Yeah I know,” I lied.  “I was just saying ‘hey’.”

“Oh, well, hey, then.”  He sat down. The joint went up and down when he talked. “Want to light it for me?” 

I tried to be cool about it but it still took a few tries.

“Thanks,” Drew handed me back my milk.  I finished it and put the glass on the chimney with all the other ones.  “So, what’re you grounded for, Kippy?”

I ignored him.  “Hey, how’s Ellie going to know to come out?”

“Ellie is familiar with the smell,” he said.  “Come on, Kip, fess up.  I told you.”

It made me mad thinking of the two of them smoking marijuana together.  I tried to smile and think of a joke to make, but it felt like holding my breath so I said what I wanted to say instead: “Why don’t you guys like me?” 

“Are you crying?”  Drew bent over and tried to look at my face.

“No!”  The worst kinds of sob noises are the ones that come out when you’re trying to keep them in.  Anyway, that’s what started happening. I smacked Drew’s hand away from my arm and felt bad about it after, like, a millisecond.  “It’s just that you and Ellie and me used to be such good friends and now just you and her are friends.”

He rolled his eyes.

“No!  You’re wrong.  We were friends, and now we’re not because Miss Allen almost ran us over and then everything got bad.  It’s true!”  I was really crying now.  I pounded on the side of the dormer window, which Ellie probably couldn’t even hear because she had the music so loud.  “And she hates me and I hate it!”

“Ellie’s just gonna shut her window and not come out if you don’t stop it.”

I choked on my own spit and coughed a little.

“She doesn’t hate you, Anus.”  Drew banged me on the back.  “She’s just mad.”

“See!” I screamed.  “She talks to you and not me.”

“No, Kippy,” Drew was getting sort of mad.  “She doesn’t talk to me.  I just go to school with her.”  He took his arm away.  “And I’m not gonna tell you about it because she’d be pissed if she knew that I know, but it’s really bad, okay?  Really fucking bad.  And I’m pretty sure Dad found out about it and that’s why she’s grounded.”

I wiped my face off with Drew’s sweatshirt and tried to get it together.  “Is she a slut or something?”

Drew yanked his sweatshirt back.  “No!  Sick.”  He made a face.  “Hell no.”

“If I tell you what I’m grounded for, will you tell me about Ellie?”

He shrugged.

“Will you?”

He shrugged, but he didn’t look angry anymore.

“Say it!”

“Fine,” Drew said.  “I’ll tell you.  But you can’t ever tell her you know.  Ever.  Promise?”  I nodded.  “Swear to God?”

“I bet you don’t make Ellie swear on anything,” I said.  “I bet she just says she won’t tell and you tell her.”

 “It’s the only way I know you’ll keep your mouth shut!” 

Drew!”  I whined.  “I’m not a baby!”

Drew started picking tar off the roof.  I was ruining something.

“I’m grounded because Dad checked where I was going online.”  I blurted it out before I could stop myself.

“What?”  He didn’t get it.  “Sick.  Were you looking at porn or something?”  I made a face like he was the sick one.  “What, then?”

“I was reading.”  I couldn’t stop or Drew’d never trust me again.   “I was reading erotic literature.”  He just stared.  “Not porn.  Erotic literature.  It’s different.”

“Sex stories?” 

I nodded, totally embarrassed.  But Drew started cracking up.  “Oh my God.”  He choked he was laughing so hard.  “You were reading, like a total dork, and Dad grounded you.”  I nodded.  “Kippy, that is the best fucking thing I have ever heard.”

I smiled.  I wanted to hug him for being so nice.  “Now you tell me,” I said.  Drew stopped laughing and looked over at Ellie’s window.  “Drew!  You said. 

“Fine.”  He put the marijuana joint between his fingers.  “Quiet, though.  And no laughing, ‘cause it’s not funny.”  He reached his arm around me.  “Remember Melissa?”  His breath was hot and smelly.  I nodded.  Melissa was Ellie’s best friend since, like, 7th grade.  They did gymnastics together.  “Well,” he said.  “Melissa told everyone Ellie’s a lesbian.”  I pulled back and made a face like No!  “Yeah, I know, right?”  Drew pulled me back against his face.  “She—”

“So, you told everyone it wasn’t true, right?”

“It was only the girls talking about it, and Ellie would’ve gone nuts if I knew.”  (If people were calling me a lesbian, I’d want Drew to beat them up, but I didn’t say anything because I don’t get how high school works.)  “Melissa said that Ellie tried to kiss her.”

Did she?” 

“I don’t know, who cares?”

“Right.” 

“After that the gymnastics girls wouldn’t change in the locker room with Ellie, and Melissa told the coach it was because Ellie stared at them.  So then the coach said Ellie had to change somewhere else.”

“And that’s why Dad grounded her?”  This seemed really bad, even for Dad.

“No!  I’m getting there, okay?  Dad doesn’t even know any of that stuff.”

I thought somebody should tell him, but I didn’t say so.  “So that’s why Ellie quit?’

“Exactly.  And then people stopped talking to her at school.  They wouldn’t even sit at her table during lunch, so all the other tables were packed and Ellie sat all alone at her own big table.”

“But why was Melissa so mean all of a sudden?”

“She’s a total twat, that’s why.”

“But why didn’t you sit with Ellie at lunch?”

“We have different lunch periods.”

“But why didn’t you switch?”

He shook me.  “I’m only one man, okay?  And you know Ellie, she’s impossible.”  It was true and I nodded.  Drew sighed.  “So, Ellie started skipping.”

“She skipped?” 

“Yeah, everything.  Study hall, lunch, even class sometimes.  Everything.”

“Like, a lot?”

“Yeah, ‘like, a lot.’”

I really wished I hadn’t promised not to tell, because this sort of stuff would make me really cool on the bus.  “So, that’s why she’s grounded,” I said.

“No, Anus!”  Drew let go to smack me on the back of the head.  “Shut up, okay?”  He pulled me back against him and said in this voice that was out of breath because it shook: “She was in the basement.  Someone found her down there.  Cutting herself with razor blades.  And they told.” 

I almost screamed.  Almost.  “How do you know?” 

“Because the guidance counselor called me in to ask about it.  ‘Is there anything going on at home that’d make your sister want to carve curses into her forearms.’”  He shook his head and took his arm back to put the drugs back in his mouth. 

“Here I’ll do it.”  I reached over and set the end of the joint on fire.  “And that’s why she’s grounded?”

“Yes, Anus.  That is why Ellie’s grounded.”

I couldn’t believe it.  I thought my sister was the coolest girl in school.  She was mean and wore underwire bras and had a best friend—she was never even embarrassed when she had makeup on or when we caught her looking at herself in the mirror.  It scared me, because I’d always thought that having a dead Mom meant kids aren’t ever technically allowed to hate you, and now all of a sudden I wasn’t so sure.

“But Drew?”  I wrote my initials in the tar with the bottom of the lighter.  “You think she’s still doing it?”  I wrote Drew’s down too.  And then Ellie’s.  “What she’s grounded for?”  I wrapped all three together with a big circle.

Drew threw a rock at the driveway.  “No,” he said.

“But how do you know?”  

“Hey don’t worry okay?”  He looked so cool.  “I made a deal with her that if she mows the lawn this summer, I’ll do her laundry for life.”

I didn’t get it.  “So?”

So, there’s no blood, Dipshit.”

“Oh.”

Drew shrugged like he was admitting something.  “Plus, Dad threw out all the sharp stuff in the house.”  He threw another rock at the driveway.  “So, it’s not like she’d really have anything to do it with anyway.”

Dad threw out the cutlery?” 

Drew nudged me in a nice way.  “Stop it, no one calls it that,” he said. 

I thought about the Raisin Bran on Monday.  “Why the spoons, though?”

“God damnit, Kippy, I don’t know!”  Drew sighed.  “Maybe he thought it’d be weird if he got rid of everything but the spoons.”  He picked a mosquito bite off his foot.  “And I can’t believe that’s the only thing you noticed.  He was at it all night finding stuff.  He threw away your entire fucking key collection.” 

For some reason I didn’t care.  “Yeah,” I said.  “I didn’t notice.”  All I could think was how everyone else’d done stuff to help—all of a sudden I thought maybe I’d go to Melissa’s gymnastic things and put butter in the chalk bucket so she’d slip and die on the uneven bars.  But then I wondered if wanting to kill the people who’d hurt Ellie was the wrong way to make things better. It’s what I’d want if I were her, but maybe Dad and Drew were right.  Maybe trying to love somebody just meant wanting them not to die.  Anyway, it was too much to figure out right then.  There was really only one thing to say:

“What a big fat stupid bit—“

Drew knocked me in the chest with his elbow.  “I think I hear something.”  Ellie’s radio went off.  “We got her,” Drew giggled, and shook me like I’d helped him win something. 

I heard Ellie stomp around a little inside her room—just heavy, though, not pissed or anything—and then her screen went up, like, bam.  She stuck the top part of herself out and twisted to look at us. 

“Oh.  My.  God.”  She said.  Just like that, all slow.

“Hi Ellie,” Drew said.

“Hi Ellie,” I said.  Drew and me started cracking up.

“Hi weirdos.” Ellie put a hand on the roof pull herself out.  She wasn’t smiling, but she looked like she was about to.  I started shaking like Mrs. Galanis—like I’d had two Pepsis instead of just milk.  That’s how excited I was.