Watch for me by moonligh.., p.10
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       Watch for Me by Moonlight, p.10
 

           Jacquelyn Mitchard
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  “Who cleaned out the fridge?” Adam, who had been eavesdropping, asked.

  “I did,” Merry said.

  “Did you scrape that apple gunk out of the pan? Not Grandma’s applesauce, that reeky stuff?” he asked. Merry only dimly remembered, but the small saucepan she’d scrubbed was still in the dish drainer. “Did you make it at school or something?” Adam went on. “I looked at it before you got home because I was starving—which I also am right now by the way—and I wanted to barf. Who put it in there?”

  “I thought you did,” Merry said to Mallory. “You know I can’t cook a hard-boiled egg. Maybe Grandma or Dad made something this morning. But no one was home except Adam and you.”

  “That’s true,” Mallory said softly. “But what’s really strange is that’s not our pan. I’ve never seen it before.”

  CLOSING IN

  The pizzas had not improved with time spent searching the house.

  Hunger won out.

  It was well past the ordinary time for dinner when the four of them sat down around the table. Before they could open the boxes, Campbell called to ask if they would be okay without Grandma. Mallory said, “Of course we will. We love you, too. Kiss the baby for us. Yes, Drew will be leaving shortly. Yes, I am aware that it is Sunday night. Yes, I know Merry has practice for the conference tournament. Neely’s picking her up early.” Mallory paused, rolling her eyes, and then said, “Um, Mom? Did you lock the door to the house? Okay. Well, no. No biggie. I don’t know an Ellie.” Mallory directed a shrug at her twin. “I’ll ask Merry.”

  “You know, Big Carla brought that name up when Owen first got sick? And then she brought it up again at the hospital,” Merry said. “Mom didn’t know what she meant but Grandma does. I have to make a note to ask Grandma.”

  “Whatever,” Mallory said. “I have to eat or die.”

  The pizzas were unfortunate.

  Drew explained.

  Last night had been the night of a dance to which not everyone was invited.

  So Pizza Papa received about double the usual number of orders for prank pizzas. Ernie had given Drew the inevitable pies with yucky toppings that were returned by the recipients. Prank pizzas, along with pit bulls that their owners treated like bunny rabbits—yelling at the delivery driver rather than the dog with the slobbering fangs—were the bane of the pizza business. Ernie lost money on the batches of super-large pies sent from untraceable phones to boys by girls who were crushing, or who’d been dumped, or who were alone watching reruns of Friends while everyone else was at the formal.

  Of those, the largest was the worst—triple cheese, peppers and anchovies. The anchovies, Mallory said, were gone but not forgotten even after they all diligently picked them off.

  “What’s this?” Merry asked, lifting a thumb-shaped orange disc from an otherwise normal mushroom-and-cheese pie.

  “Apricot,” Drew said. “Usually served with shrimp and avocado but sometimes combined with mushrooms on a revenge pizza. I tell Ernie not to even make them. I know some of the people’s voices. They’re repeat offenders. But he says it’s bad business.”

  “It’s bad all right. Ugh,” Merry said, tossing the fruit onto the slush pile of anchovies, green olives, bacon slices, and Chinese chestnuts.

  “Not as ghastly as the meatball and salami stuffed with gorgonzola you brought that one time,” Mallory said. “I like meat, but cats were following me for weeks.”

  “I provide sustenance at a price all can afford,” Drew said. “At considerable cost to my dignity. I drive halfway to Deptford to save you from the worry of cooking.”

  “Well, we do have other worries,” Meredith told him. “They’re going to test Owen for being ... well, sort of like a bubble boy. One of those kids who has to be in a wheat-free, peanut-free, whatever-free classroom. Which would be horrible.”

  “You’re exaggerating, Meredith. It’s not at that point yet. But it’s scary. It wasn’t like this when Mom was nursing him,” said Mallory. “Before she went full-time to school and work. Babies aren’t supposed to have formula so their moms can study to become doctors who tell mothers not to give their babies formula.”

  “I’m sorry,” Drew said. “I always think a little levity will be welcome but the timing is always bad.”

  “Do we have anything else?” Adam asked plaintively. “Like more toast?”

  “Adam,” Merry said. “Eat. Just scrape everything off the pizza and eat it. Don’t whine about it.”

  “I’ll puke,” Adam said.

  “That’s it,” Mallory said. “I’m taking money from the swearing jar to get eggs and bread and junk. Drew, will you drive me? What homework do you have, Ant? Get it done now, and you have the rest of the night off. It’s liberating.”

  “I did it all,” Adam said. “I feel liberated already.”

  “You’re lying.”

  “History,” Adam admitted miserably. “The Civil War.”

  “Sixth and seventh grade,” Drew mused. “You never get past Reconstruction. I had no idea there was a twentieth century until last year.” Mallory punched him and grabbed twenty dollars out of the jar into which Campbell and Tim put a dollar every time they swore.

  “I’ll help you with homework,” Meredith told Adam. “You help me clear up here.”

  They decorated one big leftover pizza with half of all the despised toppings, leaving it for their father, who would eat anything. Then they spent an hour at the kitchen table discussing the day that Abraham Lincoln was shot.

  “He actually lived all night,” Merry told Adam. “He was so tall no beds were built to fit him. So, in the bed at the house across from the theater, where they took him, his feet hung over the end. People watched him all night, but he was so badly wounded that there was no chance he would live. He just had a very strong body. He wasn’t that old. He was only fifty-six. A lot younger than Grandpa Brynn. Not even ten years older than Dad.”

  “What date was it?” Adam asked. “When he died?”

  “Why do they torture you with that?” Merry asked. “It was just after the war ended, so I think it was April 13 or 14. But the interesting part was that a guy with him used modern paramedic type things to resuscitate him. And Lincoln’s wife? She was a husband-beater. She pulled out his hair and hit him with a broom and scratched his face.”

  “Get out,” Adam said, interested despite himself.

  “She had depression,” Merry said. “Or worse.”

  “Like the old lady who lives down the road from Alex,” Adam said, referring to his cousin, Uncle Kevin and Aunt Kate’s son, who was exactly the same age.

  “I guess. I think she did more than yell at kids who ran on her lawn. That was a long time ago. You’re talking about Mrs. Highland.” The thought of Ben’s face, smiling and yet somehow crossed with the greatest sadness, flickered across Merry’s mind. Tears nearly burst into her eyes.

  “She yells even when nobody’s there. Alex and me watch her. She just stands out there and yells at her apple trees.” Merry put her head down on the table.

  She saw a young woman—not young, really, but younger than Merry’s own mother—wandering in an orchard, stopping to hug every tree and sobbing as she stared up into the branches. Her beautiful long blond hair swung loose about her shoulders, and she wore an old oversized white man’s dress shirt with the shoulders rolled up and the front knotted, over ancient ripped jeans. In her arms, she held a jacket like Ben’s. As she sank to the ground, sobbing like a child, so hard she was shaking, she held the jacket to her. She was forming a name with her lips, but Merry couldn’t hear it....

  “Mer?” Adam said. “What’s up? Did you fall asleep?”

  “I ... I’m tired. You think you’ll do okay?”

  “I’m going to go lay on Mom and Dad’s bed. I feel like I did when I was little,” Adam said. “I have the jits.” His cinnamon freckles stood out against his nearly translucent skin ... so like Owen’s.

  Merry messed up his hair. “’Kay,” she said. She pu
t her head back down on the table. She slept but no dreams came.

  VISIONS AND BAD PIZZA

  Across town at the Quick Save, it was Mallory who had her head propped on the dashboard of Drew’s truck, Mallory the one whose mind was drifting. Gallantly, Drew had offered to run in for a few groceries. Mallory listened to four or five Annie Lennox songs, irritated by Drew’s obsession with hundred-year-old music. During the song “Sweet Dreams,” her mind began the inevitable twirl that she could never resist....

  There was a park. Flat, level and beautiful, more beautiful than a golf course lawn, with stone benches and shade trees just beginning to bloom. She could see only one person. But she knew that another one was there, approaching. She could feel the person. She knew it was a girl.

  The place was not a farm, not a ball field, not a golf course, but its carefully tended center reminded Mallory of all those things.

  In the center stood a single tall spire. She had seen it before. Where? Where?

  In the dream Mallory moved closer to the person on the ground, whose back was turned. A light rain was falling. New grass had sprung up.

  It was Ben. Mallory had never seen Ben, but she knew beyond a doubt that it was he.

  Ben was there, sitting down on his heels near the spire, wearing plain green cloth pants and ... Mallory felt, rather than saw, the steady approach of someone else, the girl.

  Ben smiled, and his smile made the cloudy day glorious. As Merry said, he was beautiful. Ben’s was a wide white grin that transformed his sad, sweet, solemn face, and when he stood up, his blond hair fell forward, curly and unruly as a little child’s. Still, something was off. He was like a radio signal on a mountain road—one second clear, the next wavering.

  “Hi,” he said to the person whose shadow lay across the snow. “I missed you so much. Come with me, Merry. Please. It won’t hurt. You won’t be hurt. I love you.”

  Mallory tried to shout, but her lips would not move. She made a sound, a tiny cat’s cry. She saw her sister step forward into the sunlight, near the mound where new grass had grown.

  “Wake up Brynn,” Drew said, placing three gallons of milk on the roof of the Green Beast. “I’d ask you why you’re drooling on my dashboard, but if you were dreaming and not really asleep, please don’t tell me because I don’t want to know.”

  “Don’t worry. I’m not feeling very talkative.”

  “What’s up?”

  “I saw that boy, that boy Merry has a crush on.”

  “You saw him at the Quick Save? Or you saw him in the woo-woo way? Okay, I can see by your face that he wasn’t in there buying peanut butter,” Drew said. “And so, yeah, let’s change the subject.”

  “There’s something funny about him. I don’t mean funny bad; I mean funny weird,” Mallory said.

  “What did you fail to understand about the words don’t tell me?” Drew asked.

  They drove back to the house in silence. When she spotted them, Merry turned and fled up the stairs.

  “She’s been like this all day,” Mallory said, struggling in with two paper bags of groceries. “When I tried to talk to her, she started cleaning the kitchen. It’s either love or a virus. Meredith hasn’t been on the phone with one of her friends in more than eight hours. We’re talking serious illness.”

  While Merry finished helping Adam in the living room, Drew and Mallory put the groceries away. It felt strange. It felt like what they would do if they were ten years older and together. Mally and Merry’s parents were spending the night at the hospital. It was an odd feeling. For the first time, Mallory and Merry were on their own overnight without a grandparent or some other relative “looking in.”

  Before Drew stepped across the yard to go home, he told Mallory, “You know, I don’t have to leave, Brynn. I could stay here and guard you from door-lockers.” He held her against him, adjusting the clefts and curves of her small body to his own. “I’d sleep on the couch.”

  “But would I?” Mallory asked. “This is the part where you being three years older gets in the way. The next step is ... too serious. You can’t go back.”

  Drew’s chin jutted forward as he glared at Mallory. “Do you even think I’d try to get you to do something that you didn’t want to do? Or that I’d even want you to do more than make out with me at your age?”

  “What if it wasn’t you who wanted to? We’re so comfortable together it would be easy to slip past the blinking yellow light,” Mally said. “I don’t have my learner’s permit yet, and I’m not talking about driving.”

  Drew kissed the top of Mallory’s head, wondering whom she’d be with when she did see the blinking yellow light turn green. He wondered if he would be the one or if he would be happy for her if he wasn’t or if his heart would fall out of his chest. He took a long breath.

  “Do you really have to stick around all night? Couldn’t just disappear for forty minutes or so?” Mallory knew where he intended to go. They’d steam up the windows down on the dark road broken by bulldozers. But as nice as that prospect seemed, somehow Mally didn’t want to leave her house.

  “Don’t hate me,” she told Drew. “I know my parents aren’t here, and I’m going against everything a person my age is supposed to do. But Meredith is obviously not paying any attention to Adam. We’re all on edge, and she is the big hero in her own drama, too. Now Adam’s probably watching Slasher Beach or something right now.”

  “Is this all about Merry and the invisible hitchhiker?” Drew asked.

  “He got visible this morning, and now Meredith thinks she’s the Juliet of the twenty-first century. Plus, I want to be home if my parents call. You can come in and hang out for a while, if you want.”

  “You’re paying as much attention to me as Merry is to Adam. And your brain is at the hospital with Owen. I know when I’m being dumped.” Drew pretended to pout.

  “You’re not being dumped. I just have this feeling. I don’t know what I’d do if I weren’t here and anything happened to Owen. It’s not like they went out of town to stay overnight in New York or something. They’re with my baby brother.”

  “Hey, I get it honey,” Drew said. “I wouldn’t like you so much if you didn’t love the little kids the way you do. I’m going bowling. I have a rare Sunday night off. Bowling is very underrated. And since I started hanging around with you, my bachelor friends are getting disgusted.”

  “Can’t have that,” Mallory told him. She hugged him around the middle. “Drewsky, you’re so sweet. But you’re still also my best friend.”

  “Not an easy job,” Drew remarked,

  A few hours later, Mallory lay down to try to sleep.

  It was a lost cause.

  She tossed side to side until she finally gave up and got out of bed. Sitting on the window seat, she looked out their little round attic window at the road, where a few porch lights cast a bell of yellow glow on the snow. It still looked like Christmas. Mallory felt herself slipping. No, not twice in one night....

  An older woman, weeping, leaned on the arm of a younger woman near the mound of what was clearly a new grave, surrounded by a dusting of snow. But, there were other people there, at least a couple of dozen, and when one of the women turned to speak to another ... it was Mallory’s mother! Her dad and Aunt Karin. Her uncle Kevin. What? The old lady stepped forward unsteadily and leaned down to place a small tree, sweetly decorated with hearts and bells, beside the grave. Her solemn face was beautiful in grief. She wasn’t that old, but terribly weak. Mallory knew her. She almost knew her. Her blond hair was streaked through with gray, but still long.

  She woke to the chimes that told her that she had a text message on her phone, which lay on her night table in its charger. The clock face read one a.m. Great. Drew would be a whiz in CP Physics tomorrow.

  The text from Drew read, “U wouldn’t go so I went to the grove w/o U. Ha ha. Went with the guys.”

  Beer, Mallory thought. Great again.

  A second text arrived a minute later. “Kito drove. D/N
Worry. Saw Sasha walk out of the house DTRd fr yr aunt. In a uniform? Y?”

  Y indeed? Mallory thought. What house?

  More importantly, why were her family gathered at Mountain Rest Cemetery? Why were they going to be there ... well, soon, judging from that little funeral Valentine tree? Mally shook her head to clear her thoughts.

  No!

  Why would the Brynns, not just her parents but an aunt and uncle too, those at least, be going to Mountain Rest Cemetery? What other reason could there be other than a death in the family?

  Oh, God, Mallory prayed. Help Owen. If you help Owen, I’ll serve You wherever this gift takes me, I promise. I’ll never even hate it again, no matter how scared I am or how sick it makes me. I’m going to say this on Meredith’s behalf too. I know she won’t mind.

  REAL OR FATE?

  Grandma Gwenny was in the kitchen, quietly scrambling eggs, when Mallory and Meredith hit the bottom step, dressed for school.

  “Sheesh!” Meredith gasped. “You nearly gave me a heart attack, Grandma. I never expected you to be here. When did you come in?”

  Just a half second behind her twin, Mallory wanted to fall on her knees in gratitude that she hadn’t given in and let Drew sleep over—even on the couch—after all.

  “The shower was on, so I guess about a half hour ago,” she said. “Eat something, now that you’re up. I was going to put these in a warmer. Is Adam awake? I’ll drive him in. They won’t be home with Owen until late this afternoon at the earliest.” Her grandmother heaped Meredith’s plate with cheesy eggs and toast made from her homemade bread. Breakfast was difficult for Merry at the best of times, unless it was Sunday and she could curl up like a python and digest it. Now, she proceeded to push the eggs around on the plate and break the toast up into small bits.

 
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