Even though I was in my favorite looking at the world spot – the window seat under the giant picture window in our living room where I could see from one end of the block to the other – and I was in my favorite watching-the-world position – standing on my head with my feet against the wall for balance – I still felt absolutely, positively rotten.
When my lips started tingling, I lowered myself down and settled back in with my knees tucked up under my chin. I turned my head all the way to the left and then all the way to the right. Upside down or right side up, it didn’t matter. Nothing at all was happening on Succotash Lane. And now that Caroline was really and truly gone, a feeling in my stomach told me that nothing was going to happen ever again.
I cranked the window open and let the breeze come inside. It rained last night, so the outside smelled clean and wet. I stuck my nose up against the screen and breathed in as far as I could, trying to fill myself up with that clean air.
Then I heard it. The rattling, banging sound that meant one thing.
I craned my head to the left. Across the street and down two houses, I could see the tip top of a pile of black hair. It was Wheeze. His name was Weatherby St. James, but everyone called him Wheeze. He was sitting on his porch playing Boggle. By himself. Like he did every single day.
In the middle of me feeling the teeniest bit sorry for Wheeze for always having to stay on his porch on account of his bad asthma and always playing by himself because no other nine-year-old kid – including me – wants to play Boggle all the hours of the day, a thought jumped right into my head.
It’s not like I hadn’t seen Wheeze playing Boggle by himself every single day that summer. But that was when he was Wheeze and I was one half of ‘Amelia and Caroline.’ But I wasn’t half of ‘Amelia and Caroline’ anymore. I was sitting here, by myself, with nothing to do and no one to do it with.
Just like Wheeze.
Right in the middle of thinking that thought, I made a gasp so big that it turned into a cough and then a choking fit.
The curtains pulled back and I felt a hand clomping me on the back. I peeked over my shoulder and saw it was my dad.
“Are you okay?”
I nodded and tried to say, “uh huh,” only nothing but another choking sound came out. The choking stopped and turned into a clump of horribleness that was stuck in the middle of my throat. So I just looked down at my feet and shook my head back and forth. No.
My dad nudged me over and sat on the window seat next to me. He didn’t say anything; he just sat there with me and hummed a hum really soft.
One of the very best things about my dad – and there were lots of best things – was that he was restful. He wasn’t going to pepper you with questions when something was bugging you. He’d wait until you were ready to talk about it. The exact opposite of my mom.
After a couple minutes, I took some extra deep breaths until I got one to go all the way down and back up without making a hiccupy noise.
I peered out the window again. I could still see the tip top of Wheeze’s sticking up hair. And I could hear the rattle clomp of him starting a new game of Boggle.
“I have a problem.”
“Okay. Is it a problem or a problem-o?” my dad asked.
“Problem-o. Definitely. Grade A, super-duper, extra bad problem-o.”
A long time ago, my dad and I came up with a system for deciding how big a problem was. Some, like forgetting to do the back side of my math worksheet, were regular problems. But the big ones, the worst ones, my dad called problem-o’s.
My dad stood up. “Marshmallows?”
And because he was right and marshmallows were exactly what I needed, I shuffled along behind him into the kitchen and slumped into my chair.
My dad rummaged around in the cupboard and pulled out a mostly full bag of jumbo marshmallows. He tossed it to me and then grabbed two bottles of apple-grape juice out of the fridge. After he twisted the caps of both bottles, he sat down across from me. Then he looked at me with his whole self and made his eyebrows go up so high they disappeared under the floppy front part of his hair.
“I don’t have a friend.” After I said it, I stuffed two marshmallows in my mouth to take away the taste of saying something so awful.
Now my dad’s eyebrows came back down, all the way down, until they were resting in a squiggly line just above his eyes, almost touching each other.
“Because of Caroline?”
My dad’s mouth was full of marshmallows and apple-grape juice, so he did that sideways wave thing with his hand that meant for me to keep talking.
“I mean, yes it’s because of Caroline moving away, but it’s not just that.” I crammed two more marshmallows in and tucked my chin down so far it touched the top of my favorite lime green and white striped t-shirt. “There’s no one else.”
“Amelia?” My dad reached across the table and captured my hand, the one that was sitting on the table like a dead fish.
“She was my only friend.”
“That’s not true. I know she was your best friend, but you have other friends.” My dad’s voice sort of went up the tiniest bit at the end. I don’t think he meant it to sound like a question, but it did.
I shook my head and drew figure eights on the table with the water from the outside of my juice bottle. “School starts in 13 days.” Starting fourth grade with no best friend was even worse than a problem-o.
“I know it’s hard when a friend moves away, but I know when you think about it – really think about it – you’ll see that you have lots of other friends.”
When I peeked up at my dad through my too long bangs that were the exact same dark brown and the exact same floppy as his hair, he was smiling a smile that looked like it hurt. It was the smile I remembered from when he was teaching me how to ride my bike without training wheels and I’d fallen down at least 753 times.
Instead of trying to smile back, I took four more marshmallows out of the bag, stuffed them down into my side pants pocket, and shoved my chair back from the table.
“I’m going for a skate.” My brain did its best thinking when I was skating.
“Good idea.” My dad started cleaning up our mess. I was almost to the back door when he said, “Do me a favor?”
“Don’t forget about the marshmallows in your pocket. It’s my week to do the laundry.”
I turned and grinned my dad a real grin. “Promise.
Unlucky Number Thirteen
When I stepped into the garage, what I saw made me slam my eyes closed really tight and take a breath all the way in and let it all the way out twice before I felt calm enough to re-open my eyes. And when I did, I was still mad.
My lamebrain brother Teddy, who I wasn’t supposed to call a lamebrain but sometimes I couldn’t help it because he really and truly was, had dumped his soccer cleats on top of my skates. Again. My skates were flopped over onto their sides and there were clumps of dirt and grass stuck to them, especially to the pom-poms.
I dug my special pom-pom fluffing comb out of the side pocket of my pants that wasn’t full of marshmallows and got to work. The grass and dirt came off the skates with some swiping and a little spit and, after a thorough combing, the pom-poms looked as good as new.
Still, I stuck my tongue out at my brother’s cleats and then knotted the laces together so it would take him forever to get them undone the next time he wanted to play.
Once my skates were on, I shimmied between my mom’s minivan and my dad’s truck and swooped down the driveway. I swerved right without slowing down, my roller skates carrying me faster and faster down the street.
My favorite feeling was my eight wheels on the sidewalk, that great ba-bump, ba-bump noise that they made going over every crack in the sidewalk. And the way roller skating felt was the best. It made the bottoms of my feet tickle and, when I kept my teeth sandwiched together, it made a zinging, singing noise in my head, like music. It was my favorite song.