Authors: Lisa Graff
If you started to squeeze your brakes right in theâ¦
When I got home, I sat down on the porchâ¦
I stayed at that table the whole rest of theâ¦
I read the big green book for almost two hours,â¦
When I woke up Sunday morning, there was a wordâ¦
“Annie?” my mom called from out in the hallway.
Rebecca stayed at my house the rest of the afternoon,â¦
Monday morning after Mom left for work and Dad startedâ¦
While Mrs. Finch led me into her house, I kept myâ¦
When I got home, I started reading right away, floppedâ¦
The next day was the Fourth of July, which meantâ¦
When we were finished with the singing and the officialâ¦
As soon as I opened the front door, Mom calledâ¦
I peeled off all my Band-Aids careful slowâoff my armsâ¦
The next morning I still had that headache, and myâ¦
Lunch was SpaghettiOs from a can. I chewed extra slow,â¦
I didn't know what was going to be in thatâ¦
We put the fish photo up at one end ofâ¦
The next afternoon Mrs. Finch opened her front door with aâ¦
Dad dropped me off at the Bowling Barn Friday evening,â¦
About ten o'clock Saturday morning I strapped on all myâ¦
That night I woke up all of a sudden, andâ¦
The instant I woke up Sunday morning, my brain remindedâ¦
When we got back home, there was a leaf stuckâ¦
If you started to squeeze your brakes right in
the middle of heading down Maple Hill, just as you were passing old Mr. Normore's mailbox, you could coast into the bike rack in front of Lippy's Market without making a single tire squeak. That was the fastest way to go, and the most fun too, with the wind whistling past your ears and your stomach getting fluttery and floaty, till you thought maybe you were riding quicker than a rocket.
I didn't do that anymore, though. Now I hopped off my bike at the top of the hill and walked it. It took five
times as long but it was lots safer.
I got to the store at 7:58âthat's what it said on the clock inside. The door was still locked, and Mr. Lippowitz and his son, Tommy, were flattening cardboard boxes in the corner. Mr. L. saw me peeking through the window and held up two fingers, so I sat down on the front step and waited, trying to soak up the whole two minutes by taking off all my biking gear real slow. I slid off my elbow padsâleft one first, then the rightâand stacked them on the step next to me in a pile. Next came the kneepads, which I tugged off over my sneakers, and last of all I unsnapped my bike helmet. I thought about taking off the ace bandages around my ankles, too but then I decided it would take too long to put them back on when I was ready to bike home, and there was no way I was biking without them. They were important for protecting against sprains.
I took so long with my bike gear, I swear Mr. L. could've opened the store twice by the time I was done, but the door was still closed. I stood up and leaned back on my heels and then forward to the tippy-tips
of my toes, just for something to do while I was waiting, and I scanned the bulletin board out front to see if there was anything new.
Same as usual, there were papers pinned up all overâadvertisements and lost-and-founds, flyers about art lessons and people selling furniture and high school kids looking for babysitting jobs. In the top right corner there was a green one that said
YARD SALE SATURDAYâ106 KNICKERBOCKER LANE
, and I knew that had to be the Harpers next door, because my house was 108. Some of the flyers were brand-new, and some were so old they were brown around the edges from too much sun. My dad once said that if you ever wanted to know what people were up to in Cedar Haven, California, the easiest way was to go down to Lippy's, because then you could learn about everyone all at once.
By the time Mr. L. unlocked the door, it was 8:09, but I didn't tell him that. “Well, if it isn't my best customer!” he said with a grin. “How are you doing today, Annie?”
“Pretty good,” I told him. “I checked our house for
black widow spiders, and there aren't any.”
“Well.” His nostrils flared at that. “Good to know.”
There was a crash from the back roomânot an emergency-sounding shatter like plates breaking, but more like a good long rattle.
“Tommy!” Mr. L. hollered over his shoulder. “What was that?”
Tommy didn't answer.
“Sounded like a whole carton of Good & Plentys to me,” I said.
He laughed. “I better go check, huh?”
While Mr. L. checked on Tommy, I wandered around. I knew exactly what I was looking for, but I liked exploring. Lippy's was one of my favorite places to be. Sometimes on Sundays, after Rebecca's family got back from church, we rode our bikes down to get lunch from the warmer. Rebecca got either fried chicken or spiced potato wedges, and I always got beef taquitos. It was four for two dollars, but if Mr. L. was at the register I got a fifth one for free.
I saw right away that Mr. L. had finally stocked up
the toy aisle for summerâwater balloons and Super Soakers, snorkel masks and plastic sunglasses. He should've gotten that stuff out three weeks ago, because it was already the first day of July and I was sweating worse than a pig in a roller derby. But I guess better late than never, that's what my mom always said. There was a pair of brown-and-pink polka-dotted flip-flops that were just my size, and I wanted them real bad, but there were more important things I needed to spend my money on.
After I finished my wandering, I went to the front, where Mr. L. was reading the newspaper behind the counter.
“Was it Good & Plentys?” I asked him. “Is that what crashed?”
He shook his head. “Junior Mints. You find something worth buying today, Annie?”
“Yup.” I slapped my purchase on the counter.
Mr. L. looked at the box and then looked back at me. His face was squinty. “Didn't you just buy a box of Band-Aids yesterday?” he asked.
“It was Thursday,” I told him, “and I'm out already.”
I saw him looking at my arms. I had two Band-Aids on the right one, where Rebecca's hamster had scratched me with its nails, and five on the left one, covering up spots that were either mosquito bites or poison oak, I wasn't sure yet.
He sighed deep. He was looking at me with his eyes big and sad, and a crease between the eyebrows. It was the same look almost everyone had for me now, Miss Kimball at school, my parents' friends, even Rebecca sometimes when she thought I couldn't see her. Everybody on the planet practically had been looking at me the same way since Februaryâsad and worrying, with a bit of pity mixed in at the edges. I guess that was the way people looked at you after your brother died.
I slipped three dollars across the counter toward him. “I get seventeen cents change,” I said.
Mr. L. just nodded and rang me up.
When I was outside trying to yank my kneepads back up around my knees, I noticed Tommy by the Dumpster. He was gnawing on a handful of Junior Mints.
Tommy had never really talked much, but it seemed to me he talked less than normal lately. I liked hanging out with him though, even if he was two years older, because he was the one person who never gave me that dead-brother look. I guess that's because he'd been Jared's best friend, so he probably had people giving him enough dead-best-friend looks to know better.
He must've seen me staring, because he held up the box of candy. It had a rip in the corner. “They got damaged,” he said.
I shrugged. “Can I have some?”
He shrugged back. “Guess so.”
I yanked my right kneepad up one more inch and went over to the Dumpster. Tommy shook some Junior Mints into my hand. He was eating his quick back-to-back, but I sucked on mine slow, until the chocolate melted away and all that was left was peppermint. We stood in the parking lot and chewed and sucked for a long time, just quiet. I tried to look at Tommy sideways without him noticing while I rolled a new piece of candy around on my tongue. He had blond hair that
was the length my mom called “shaggy,” and it covered up his whole eyebrows. That would've driven me nuts, but Tommy didn't seem to mind.
I was thinking about that when Tommy popped another Junior Mint into his mouth and said, “We were gonna go bowling this year.”
I nodded. Jared and Tommy had their birthday party together every year, since they were born only two days apart, July seventh for Tommy and the ninth for Jared. They either went to Castle Park, where they had miniature golf and video games, or else they went bowling. I liked bowling better because I always had to come, and when it came to video games I stunk worse than old asparagus.
“You still gonna go?” I asked him. I plucked another Junior Mint from my hand and let the chocolate settle onto the top of my tongue.
He shook out the last of the candy into his mouth. “Maybe. I guess.” He tossed the empty box into the Dumpster. “I don't know.”
He was about to go back inside the store, I could tell,
but for some reason I didn't want him to leave just yet.
“Tommy?” I said.
He turned around. “Yeah?”
Then I realized I shouldn't have said “Tommy?” with the question-mark sound in my voice, because that made it sound like I had a question to ask him, which I didn't. So then I had to think of one. “Um, if you were writing a will, what do you think you'd put in there?”
Tommy raised an eyebrow. “A will?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Like, when someone dies and they leave you stuff.” I hadn't been planning to talk to Tommy about wills. But I'd been thinking about them for a while, how they were good to have around for just-in-case times. If Jared had made one, I was pretty sure he would've given his robot collection to me, so it wouldn't just sit shut up inside his bedroom where Mom said it should be. “What would you write?”
Tommy still had his eyebrow up. It was a look Jared sometimes used to have when he talked to me, that look that meant he couldn't believe he was related to
someone so stupid. Usually after a look like that, Jared gave me a wet willy and told me to stop being a moron, but Tommy just said, “What do you mean, what would I write?”
“Like, what sort of stuff would you give away, and to who?”
He was quiet for a while, thinking I guess, and I sucked on my last Junior Mint until it was just peppermint air.
“I don't know,” he said at last. He shrugged when he said it. “Probably no one wants any of my stuff anyway.” He squinted at me from under his shaggy hair. “Why do you want to know?”
I tapped the Band-Aid box bulge in my front pocket. “I've been thinking about writing one,” I said. “But I can't figure out who should get which things.” Like my stuffed turtle Chirpy, the one Jared gave me for my birthday three years ago, and my snow globe from Death Valley. Should I leave that stuff to my parents? Rebecca? The Goodwill box at school? It was hard to figure out.
“Okay, well”âTommy did head for the door thenâ“good luck.” And I knew that meant we were done talking. I finished putting on the rest of my bike gear, checked three times to make sure my shoelaces were double-knotted, and then whacked up my kickstand.
The whole way home, with the corner of the Band-Aid box poking into my hip as I walked my bike slowly up Maple Hill, I thought about it. My will. The best thing to do would be to make one as soon as possible, because you never knew when you were going to need it, and it was best to be prepared. But the reason I was having problems was because most of the stuff I had, if I could give it to anyone, I'd want to give it to Jared.
And Jared was gone.