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Mr gedrick and me, p.10
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       Mr. Gedrick and Me, p.10

           Patrick Carman
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  “He’s rounding the bases, folks!” I said as I ran a baseball diamond pattern around Fergus and returned to home.

  Fergus started to walk out into the field to get the ball, but Mr. Gedrick called him back.

  “I have another one,” Mr. Gedrick said, pulling out a third ball.

  “Where do you keep those things?” I asked.

  Mr. Gedrick ignored my question. “Nice hit, Stanley. You really clobbered that thing.”

  I put on my glove and slapped my fist into it a couple of times. “Let’s see what kind of stuff you’ve got.”

  Fergus passed Mr. Gedrick on his way to home plate and wouldn’t look at him. “I hope you can really throw, ’cause I can hit a lot farther than that.”

  “Send one in here, Mr. G.,” I said. “I can handle it.”

  “I’d prefer not to warm up,” Mr. Gedrick said.

  Fergus stepped into position and waited for the first pitch. I was sure Mr. Gedrick wouldn’t have any speed so I wasn’t worried about having my hand blown off.

  Mr. Gedrick stared at my glove, then he looked up and saw a bird swooping this way and that, then he wound up and let fly his first pitch. It wasn’t exactly a flamethrower. But it did have quite a lot of English on it. The ball weaved wide to one side, then cut sharply away from Fergus. It missed my glove by a good three feet, and Fergus swung with everything he had.

  “Strike one,” Mr. Gedrick said.

  “Whoa! That thing was sliding all over the place,” I said. I ran back and got the ball.

  Fergus was seriously nervous now. He’d never seen a pitch like that—neither of us had. It had incredible movement on it, and I wondered if Mr. Gedrick was using a trick ball. But when I came back with it, Fergus held it in his own hand and threw it to Mr. Gedrick. It acted like a totally normal baseball.

  “You learn that trick in Swoghollow?” Fergus asked. “How about you just throw a normal pitch?”

  “As you wish,” Mr. Gedrick said. He looked directly at me. “Don’t move your glove, not even a hair. Do you understand?”

  “I got it, don’t move my glove,” I said.

  Mr. Gedrick wound up and threw his second pitch. It went right down the middle, no movement whatsoever, and it was going about a hundred miles per hour. Fergus swung way late. The ball went by so fast it shocked him into stillness.

  When the ball hit my glove, it knocked me onto my back, but I sat up and it was in my glove.

  “I got it!” I yelled. “Also my hand feels like it was just run over by a monster truck. Ouch.”

  “Sorry, Stanley,” Mr. Gedrick said.

  “This isn’t fair!” Fergus said. “You didn’t tell me you could pitch like that.”

  “You didn’t ask,” Mr. Gedrick said.

  Fergus was so mad he looked like he wanted to punch a tree. How was this happening? Baseball is the one thing he’s really good at, and Mr. Gedrick was making him look like a fool. He probably wanted to go back to the yard and stomp on all the stupid flowers we had just planted. I bet he wanted to take the baseball bat to those dumb yard gnomes.

  “You still have one more try,” Mr. Gedrick said. “Stay relaxed. I’ll throw the same fastball as last time.”

  Part of Fergus was definitely happy to hear this—at least he knew what was coming across the plate. But he’d never hit a ball going that fast in his life.

  “Concentrate,” Mr. Gedrick said. “You can hit this pitch.”

  “Yeah, Fergus,” I said. “You can totally hit it.”

  Fergus looked down at me. “Thanks, little bro.”

  “Here it comes,” Mr. Gedrick said. He didn’t warn me this time. He didn’t tell me to keep my glove perfectly still. It’s like he knew the ball would never make it to my glove.

  Fergus timed it perfectly, slamming the ball so hard it left the park entirely. It sailed over the park fence and into someone’s backyard, never to be seen again.

  “Wow wow wow!” I shouted. “That would have been a homer at Wrigley Field! You destroyed it!”

  “I guess I did, didn’t I?” Fergus said.

  Mr. Gedrick walked up and the three of us stood together. He looked up again at the birds flying around over the trees.

  “Well, Stanley,” Mr. Gedrick said. “I guess you’ll be doing some extra chores for a while.”

  “It’s okay. I’d do extra chores for a year to see another hit like that. It’s blowing my mind!”

  Fergus threw his head back and laughed. “Your hit was really good, too. You timed that one perfectly.”

  “Thanks, Fergus,” I said. My big brother was paying attention to me, even complimenting me. It was the best feeling in the world.

  “I tell you what,” Fergus said. “I’ll do my own work around the house. And I’ll help you and Amelia with your project. But you gotta do something for me.”

  “Anything!” I said.

  “Keep coming out here and practicing with me. I could really use a warm-up partner.”

  I could hardly believe my ears. “You so have a deal.”

  “Stanley, would you do me a favor and go find that ball over by the swings?” Mr. Gedrick asked.

  I didn’t even answer. I just ran off smiling and laughing and jumping around like a monkey.

  When I got back, Mr. Gedrick was staring at Fergus, his head tilted slightly to one side. “That was a good thing you did there.”

  Fergus shrugged. “It’s not fair for Stanley. I’m bigger and faster and all that. I ought to be able to help my own brother out a little bit.”

  “He looks up to you, don’t you, Stanley?” Mr. Gedrick asked.

  “I sure do.”

  “And Stanley misses your dad the same as you do. I hope you’ll remember that.”

  Fergus didn’t seem to know what to say, so he nodded and offered a half smile.

  We all walked back to the house together, under the dome of leafy trees and the sun shining through.

  Mr. Gedrick didn’t talk too much, because I was talking and replaying everything over and over as we went. I played it all again like a famous sportscaster.

  Looking at Mr. Gedrick and Fergus laugh at my commentary and thinking about the new tree house, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been that happy.

  The next few weeks raced by and before I knew it, we were in mid-July. The yard looked great, we were all arguing less, and us kids were working together on the big project. Even Mom seemed to feel better about her work, although she still didn’t think she’d found her inspiration.

  The longer Mr. Gedrick stayed, the more he seemed like he was part of our family. I started to worry what it would be like if he ever left.

  How would we survive without him?


  Things were going gangbusters in the garage and we were making some serious progress on the big project. I didn’t get to use the power tools as much as I wanted to, but I got to use them some. Fergus was cool about helping me out, and he was even getting along with Amelia. They hadn’t thrown insults at each other for the whole day, a small miracle. I went out to the backyard to take a break and drink out of the hose, and when I got there, Mom was coming out of the house looking for Mr. Gedrick. He was sitting on a bench, staring at the dead tree.

  “Hey, Mr. Gedrick,” I said. “Why are you hanging around in our boring backyard?”

  “Waiting for someone to arrive.”

  This sounded mysterious and I asked him who he was waiting for, but before he could answer, Mom showed up.

  “Oh, there you are,” Mom said. “I’ve been trying to find you.”

  “My apologies,” Mr. Gedrick said. He winked at me, like the waiting part was over. “I was just looking at this tree, wondering why it’s here.”

  Mom stepped out onto the patio and folded her arms across her chest. “We probably should have cut it down years ago, but Jonathan planted it.”

  The tree only had one dried-up leaf on it, way up in the empty branches. It seemed to be holdin
g on to the dead tree for dear life.

  “It might be time to let it go,” Mr. Gedrick said.

  The tree had been this way for two years now. My dad didn’t have it removed because he always hated to let things go that might someday have a purpose or come back to life. It always bothered Mom to see the tree, like it was something Dad had left behind that he should have taken with him. Instead he’d left it there for her to deal with, like a lot of other things.

  “Maybe you’re right,” Mom said. “We should cut it down.”

  Mr. Gedrick’s left eyebrow went up a little.

  “Could you make sure the kids are occupied this morning?” Mom asked. “Huxley is coming by soon and I really need to stay focused.”

  “Consider it done,” Mr. Gedrick said.

  Mom went back to work and Mr. Gedrick stood up. He took out his pointer and extended it, staring up into the blue sky at the lone leaf hanging from the dead tree. He whipped the pointer to one side and a burst of wind flew through the empty branches.

  “Whoa,” I whispered.

  The dead leaf flapped and flopped in the breeze and came loose, falling toward the yard. Mr. Gedrick caught it on the end of his pointer and it stayed balanced there. Then he tossed the leaf in the air with the pointer, caught it in his free hand, and closed his fist around it. When he opened his hand, the leaf had been pulverized into a thousand dried-out pieces. Another soft breeze blew in and the pieces scattered away on the wind.

  “It’s time,” Mr. Gedrick said. He stared at the dead tree.

  “Time for what?” I asked.

  “We shall see,” Mr. Gedrick said.

  His answer made no sense to me, but that was normal, especially when something that seemed like magic was happening. He was most mysterious during times like those.

  “Important meeting in the backyard,” he said. “Do me a favor and gather the troops?”

  “Sure thing,” I said.

  I ran to Amelia’s room, where she was working on more parts of the plan. It had gotten bigger and bigger, so we needed lots of drawings.

  “Important meeting in the backyard with Mr. Gedrick, posthaste,” I said, trying to sound like Mr. Gedrick.

  I didn’t wait for an answer, heading for Fergus’s door with the same message. He was taking a break from the garage to watch baseball highlights.

  “What’s this all about?” Fergus asked Amelia when they were both in the hallway.

  “There’s no telling with Mr. Gedrick,” Amelia responded.

  “I hope it’s not more yard work,” Fergus said.

  “Maybe we get to play more baseball,” I guessed as we started through the house. “Or build a robot.”

  I rubbed my hands together excitedly. We walked through the kitchen just as the doorbell rang, and Mom hurried us into the backyard and told us to stay outside.

  “Why do I suddenly feel like we’re a pack of dogs?” Fergus asked.

  “Just go,” Mom said while she pulled her hair into a ponytail and went to the door.

  We all arrived in the backyard, but there was no Mr. Gedrick to greet us.

  “Are you sure he wanted to meet us here?” Amelia asked me. “I’m not in the mood for playing catch, plus I have a lot of work to do. We’re in the details now with the project. It takes planning.”

  “That’s weird. He told me to meet him out here just a second ago,” I said. “You guys stay here, I’ll go find him.”

  I went back into the kitchen just as Huxley and Mom were coming in the front door.

  “The property is looking very nice,” I heard him say as they walked through the living room, looking all around. “And this place—wow, Elsa. You’re really getting the hang of this domestic-duty thing. I hope your work on our little project is half as good.”

  “I’m learning to juggle,” Mom said as she guided Huxley into the kitchen. “And Mr. Gedrick is very helpful. He’s our nanny.”

  “I’d call him a miracle worker,” Huxley said as he entered the gleaming kitchen.

  “Have you guys seen Mr. Gedrick?” I asked when they came in. Mom seemed surprised to find me standing in the kitchen.

  “The last time I saw him he was outside,” Mom said. “How about you go out there and look for him?”

  “Sure thing, just as soon as I get a snack.”

  Mom didn’t seem to know what to say, but it didn’t matter. Huxley jumped right in.

  “So, what have you got to show me?” he asked as he hovered over the worktable.

  “Well, uh, let’s see,” Mom stammered. “I’ve got two exteriors and a few matching interiors I like. How about this to start.”

  This was getting interesting, so I drifted over by the table to get a look at the designs for the Chicago Community Arts Center. They were all done in colored pencils with lots of drawings and numbers. I munched on some potato chips with a loud crunching sound.

  “Hmmmmm,” Huxley said.

  Mom gulped. It didn’t sound good. Huxley looked long and hard at the plans, moving back and forth to get a good view of everything. Finally, after a long time, he smiled.

  “I love it,” Huxley said with enthusiasm. “It’s forward thinking. It’s brave. It’s exciting. And it’s nearly finished.”

  “Really? If I could just get more time, I’m sure I can do something more inspiring. I’ve seen buildings like this one all over the country. Are there some changes you’d like to discuss?”

  I could tell Mom knew she could do better work. She wasn’t very proud of what she’d done so far.

  “Could I get a glass of water maybe?” Huxley asked. “It will help me think.”

  I thought this was a weird thing to say, but Mom went to the cupboard anyway. While her back was turned, Huxley took out his phone and snapped a picture of the plans. Then he flipped to the interiors and snapped those, too. I took this as a good sign—he must have really liked those plans. Good for you, Mom! By the time Mom got back with the water, Huxley had picked up the plans and carried them over to the island in the middle of the kitchen.

  “The light is better here, and I can lay them all out,” Huxley said.

  Mom handed him the water.

  “Oh no, thank you,” Huxley said. “I’m fine.”

  This was doubly strange, I thought, but Mom didn’t say anything as she put the glass down on the counter.

  “I’m heading out to the backyard,” I said. “Looks like you two have this covered.”

  Mom smiled nervously and Huxley ignored me. They started reviewing the plans more carefully, and I went back out in the yard and closed the kitchen door behind me.

  “There you are,” I said as Mr. Gedrick was coming around the side of the house. “I was searching for you in the kitchen. And I got a snack.”

  Mr. Gedrick was carrying a big box. He set it down in the yard and pulled something out that made my eyes go wide.

  “Whoa! What are you going to do with that thing?” I asked.

  Mr. Gedrick had a shiny new chain saw in his hands.

  “I’m not going to do anything with it,” Mr. Gedrick said. “Amelia is.”

  Fergus started laughing. “She can barely handle a hair dryer. I’ll cut down whatever you want. Point the way.”

  Amelia couldn’t stand it when Fergus belittled her, but at the same time, I could tell she definitely didn’t want to work the chain saw. “Let Fergus do it. I don’t want to.”

  “What are we cutting down?” I asked. I was more concerned than my brother or sister, because there was really only one thing that needed cutting down in the backyard.

  “This tree has been dead a long time,” Mr. Gedrick said. “It’s time for it to go.”

  “But my dad planted that tree,” I said.

  “Your dad created a lot of great things around here, including you,” Mr. Gedrick said. “But this tree, it’s not something he would have wanted to keep. He would have wanted you to remove it and plant a new one.”

  “How do you know?” I asked.

r. Gedrick took a long, hard look at the tree. “This tree needs to be cut down so we can plant a new life here.”

  I stared at the tree along with everyone else. “I guess it would be kind of cool to see it fall over.”

  “Wait until I get my hands on that saw,” Fergus said. “This is going to be awesome.”

  “But Dad planted it,” Amelia said as she looked up into the leafless limbs. It was a big tree, at least twenty feet tall. “Shouldn’t we keep it?”

  “I think Dad would be happy we finally chopped it down,” Fergus protested. He was itching to get that chain saw in his hands. “We can plant a new one in the same spot, and dedicate it to Dad.”

  Amelia nodded timidly. “I guess that could be cool.”

  Mr. Gedrick knelt down next to Amelia and held out the chain saw. “Being a family is more than making plans. We need you to go on the journey with us.”

  Amelia stepped back and looked at Mr. Gedrick with her mouth half-open. If there was one thing I knew about my sister, I knew she liked to go it alone. She’d never been much for doing things together, and Dad had always said the same kind of thing: we need you to come along with us. Good old Mr. Gedrick, whipping out the magic words right when we needed them.

  “I don’t want to do it,” Amelia said.

  “How about if we do it together?” Mr. Gedrick said. “I’ll help you.”

  “Did I mention she can barely handle a hair dryer?” Fergus repeated.

  That sealed the deal for Amelia. She looked just mad enough to cut down a tree with a chain saw.

  “Fine,” she said to Mr. Gedrick. “I’ll do it.”

  Fergus shook his head and grumbled. “This ought to be real interesting.”

  Mr. Gedrick took Amelia to the base of the tree and explained how the chain saw worked. He gave her a pair of clear glasses to wear, so none of the wood chips would land in her eyes. And then he pointed out exactly where to put the blade and told her it had to be right there or the tree might fall in the wrong direction.

  Amelia fired up the chain saw.

  “What in the world is that?” Mom shouted from the kitchen window.

  Huxley was a curious person, and he ran to the window to see what was going on.

  “Hey, Mom!” I shouted as she pulled the window all the way up.

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