Authors: Amber McRee Turner
Tags: #Fiction - Young Adult
Copyright Â© 2012 by Amber McRee Turner
All rights reserved. Published by Disneyâ¢Hyperion Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,
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eing awake all night long is not such a good thing when it comes from eating spoiled mayonnaise or hearing raccoons fight over garbage outside your window. But being awake all night long is a perfectly fine thing when it comes from gladness beyond the stars that your mom is coming home for the first time in four months. Because when your mom is coming home for the first time in four months, you're not so concerned that your tired eyeballs feel like they've been rolled in corn-bread crumbs. And not so peeved when your weather alert alarm clock goes off for no reason every so often with its fake thunder sound. And not so upset when you lie in bed and, twenty-eight times in a row, fail miserably to make the Eiffel Tower out of finger string. Because your mom will soon be wiping the crust from your eyes. Your mom will soon be telling you her own stories of powerful wind and lightning. And your mom will soon be making your Awful Tower be Eiffel again.
It was the first Saturday of summer that I started my day just so, with almost no sleep, some gritty eyes, and a sparkling pile of excitement about my mom coming home that very day.
For as long as I could remember, Toodi Bleu Nordenhauer had been a Diamond Level Volunteer for the Southern Mobile Aid Response Team. If a twister struck or a hurricane swept or something the size of golf balls fell from the sky, there she went in her little white car, all loaded up with bottled water and first-aid supplies.
To me, though, her being gone was a lot like my favorite deep-dish pizza. When you take a piece away, it leaves behind a valley of no-cheeseness, but for just a moment, and then the other ooey-gooey stuff comes flowing in fast to fill up the space. The good work I knew my mom was doing always seemed to fill in the empty of her being away for so long.
That morning, with every smack of my snooze button, I'd already pictured what she might have been doing on this, her longest rescue mission ever. Mom and all her SMART associates rowing from house to house, pulling huddled families from the roofs they'd scrambled onto to escape the rising floodwaters. I'd wondered what it would be like to be right there alongside her on the next rescue, and how exactly I planned to convince her that a certain groggy, disheveled ten-and-a-half-year-old was more than ready to be her partner-in-rescuing.
As usual, despite my lack of skill, finger-stringing seemed a good way to fill up the wait, and to avoid other less productive habits. Like pulling at my eyebrows. Or clenching my teeth together to see if they still lined up. Or fiddling with my kiddy cell phone, the one with chunky MOM, DAD, and POLICE buttons that I'm only allowed to use if 1) my mom calls in from the road, or 2) my head falls clean off my shoulders. So that morning, to avoid tugging my brows mangy, gritting my teeth jagged, and rubbing that MOM button totally blank, I resorted to finger-stringing my own custom design. That is, until from outside my bedroom window came a holler so loud it sent a cold squirt of scared up my back.
“BAM!” someone yelled.
Following just a split second behind the
, the entire upper half of my cousin Syd lunged right through my open window, stretching the screen with his face and hands till it gave way right onto my bed.
“BOO!” he shouted, landing with an
on my lap, all tangled in my string like a bug in a red spiderweb. If my fingers hadn't been tied to his ear I would have thumped him hard on the forehead.
“Syd! You scared the daylights out of me! I thought you were a prowler or something.”
“What?” He smushed at my cell phone with his nose. “You mean you don't have holler ID on this thing?”
“Very funny,” I said. “Are you aware how wrong it is to crash into a delicate project like this?”
“Oh.” He wriggled free of the string. “Are you saying I had me some
“You know. Like strongness is
? And longness is
“So wouldn't wrongness be
“I guess it would be if it weren't so not,” I said, trying hard not to let Syd muddy my excitement with his wandering thoughts. My cousin was twelve, but that fall he would be repeating the sixth gradeâmostly because of these random notions of his.
“Come on, Cass. You've got to see what my dad's making for Aunt Toodi's welcome home party! It's so
.” To Syd, words like
are way more
when they're split in half.
“Tell me what it is.”
“Nope. You already got two hints.”
“Well, let's see,” I said. “You gave me a
. Could it be something to do withâ¦oh, I don't knowâ¦
“No duhyees, Einstein!” Syd slid himself back out my window hole and was gone in a dust-puff.
“I'll meet you in a sec,” I yelled after him.
Hopping into the cleanest jeans I could find on the floor, I stuffed the phone into my back pocket and made my way to the kitchen. There I found Dad, for the third morning in a row, trying to lure a family of doves out of the vent above our stove. For bait, he had shoved stale hot dog buns into a paper sack.
“Breakfast?” he said, pointing toward a Pop-Tart with the charred edges pinched off. “I whipped you something up before the dove hunt.”
The pastry looked like a big frosted postage stamp on a plate.
“No thanks, I'll just grab something at Syd's.”
The mound of anticipation in my stomach had taken the place of food anyway.
“Yeah, I can't say I blame you for refusing that gourmet meal,” Dad said with a grimace toward the table.
My dad's name is Douglas Nordenhauer, but the kids in my class usually call him “Sluglas” or “Buglas.” As Olyn Elementary School's groundskeeper, Dad is in charge of keeping creepy-crawlies off the pansies that make up the big
in front of the school, squirting bird poo off signs, and scrubbing graffiti from the bricks. In the summertime he works a second job as a door-to-door meat salesman in our neighborhood. And pretty much, that's my dad. Pansies, poo, paint, and pork chops.
“Are you coming to help decorate for Mom's party?” I asked, helping him hold the paper sack steady.
“Not this time, Casserole.”
The scrunch of Dad's forehead showed off his constellation of chicken pox scars. When he concentrated like that, he bit his mouth in a way that made both lips totally disappear under his salt-and-pepper beard.
“But Syd says Uncle Clay is making something special.” I even sang it all slow like
, but Dad was unmoved.
“No doubt about that, Cass,” he said. “But I really need to evict these little poopers before your mom gets here.”
Dad had always been nervous about Mom's homecomings, but this time he seemed extra that way. All week he'd been doing stuff like pouring salt in his coffee, putting junk mail in the fridge, or spreading butter on a sponge. This morning, his unsure smile made it hard to tell whether he was feeling the Christmas kind of nervous, or the dentist kind of nervous.
“And besides,” he said, “your Uncle Clay's not the only one who can brew up a surprise, you know.”
“What? You mean you've got a surprise for today, too?”
A bonus blub of excitement squeezed its way into my gut. “For Mom or for me?” I said.
“Maybe both. You just wait till the party,” said Dad. “Now go on out there before Syd breaks a window. We sure can't afford that.”
As I walked out the door, I felt the little cell phone squeezing its way up out of my back pocket with every step. Unlike the MOM button on my phone, the DAD button is totally unsmudged. There's never really been any reason to press it because my dad is always right there. Right there melting my shirts with the iron. Right there asking me to play Scrabble every night. Right there trying to be mom enough and cool enough to make me not care that all the real momness and coolness is hundreds of miles away from little Olyn, Alabama.
“And speaking of not affording things,” Dad added. “We may have to get rid of that phone of yours now that your mom's going to be back for a while.”
Which was more than fine with me. I couldn't tell my dad this, for fear of nerving him right over the edge and making him pour his salted coffee into a frozen junk mail envelope and then having to clean it up with a buttered sponge. But the way I saw it, that day was going to be the last time I'd welcome Mom home from a rescue trip anyway. Next time, Dad would be welcoming