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Mr gedrick and me, p.9
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       Mr. Gedrick and Me, p.9

           Patrick Carman
 
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  “You’ll see,” Mr. Gedrick said. “In due time.”

  Mr. Gedrick went back to his room to get more parts and left us in the hallway holding the piece of wood with all the cutouts.

  “Should we huddle up again?” I asked.

  “I’m kind of curious where this is going,” Fergus said. “Aren’t you?”

  “You bet I am,” I agreed.

  It took us seven trips to bring all the parts out into the front yard. We stacked them up against the big tree next to my tire swing. There were a bunch of different shapes and sizes. Lots of cutouts were in the wood.

  “Okay, Mr. Gedrick,” Fergus said as he caught his breath. “We’re not lifting another finger until you tell us what all this crazy stuff is for.”

  Mr. Gedrick walked over to his tiny red car and opened the trunk again, ignoring Fergus. He pulled out three hammers and a bag of nails. When he came back, he handed each of us a hammer and looked up at the tree. It was a tall tree with a wide base and a top full of green leaves.

  “It’s for the tree house, of course,” Mr. Gedrick said. “First we need to nail in the ladder so we can get up there.”

  “A tree house!” I yelled. “I love tree houses!”

  “That does sound pretty cool,” Fergus agreed, but I think he thought it would be great for me. My big brother, helping make a tree house for me? Had an alien jumped into his body?

  Mr. Gedrick picked up one of the ladder rungs and started nailing it to the tree.

  “Do you need me to teach you how to use a hammer?” Mr. Gedrick asked.

  “Heck no,” Fergus and I said at the same time. Then Fergus added: “I’ve been hammering for years. Stand aside, nanny.”

  Mr. Gedrick picked through the ladder rungs, rapped one with his knuckles three times, and handed it to Fergus.

  “Be my guest,” Mr. Gedrick said.

  Fergus took a nail and began pounding it into the wood, but it bent sideways about halfway through the rung.

  “Dang it,” Fergus said, and picked up another nail.

  He hammered harder this time, really whaling on it, and the same thing happened.

  “You bought crummy nails,” Fergus said. “They keep bending over.”

  “Really now?” Mr. Gedrick said, acting all concerned. He picked up two more nails, tapping them lightly into the rung several times. A second later the rung was secured to the tree.

  Fergus grabbed the rung, putting everything he had into yanking it off the tree. But it stayed there, like it had been welded in place with a blowtorch.

  “Don’t hit it quite so hard,” Mr. Gedrick said, handing Fergus another rung. “It’s not like hitting a home run. More like a single.”

  Fergus rolled his eyes, but he took it slower this time and the nails went through the wood much more easily.

  “That’s the ticket,” Mr. Gedrick said.

  I got a turn and it took me about ten minutes to nail one rung to the tree. But it was the last one, so that felt like progress.

  “Now get up in the tree, I’ll hand up the floor.”

  We got up there and went to work. I imagined how excited Mom and Amelia would be to find this perfect tree house sitting up in the tree, but then Fergus hit his thumb with the hammer and he started grumbling again.

  “This better not screw up my catching hand. No tree house is worth that much.”

  “I’ve hit my thumb many times building things,” Mr. Gedrick said, giving Fergus a thumbs-up sign. “They always bounce back.”

  Fergus grumbled some more, but he went back to hammering.

  “There’s another tree in the backyard,” Mr. Gedrick said. “But it’s not doing too well.”

  We stopped working and stared down at Mr. Gedrick.

  “My dad planted it a long time ago,” Fergus said. “But it died. Mom’s talked about cutting it down, but I think it’s got sentimental value or something.”

  “Has it been dead for many years?” Mr. Gedrick asked.

  “A couple years, at least. Dad was good at a lot of things. Trees wasn’t one of them.”

  “I see,” Mr. Gedrick said. He took out his field guide and made a note while we stared down at him.

  We kept building and after a while there were walls on two sides. By the time the third wall went up, I was hammering like a champ and so was Fergus.

  “You know who’s really going to love this thing?” Fergus asked.

  “The neighborhood cats?” Mr. Gedrick answered as he hoisted up the last wall.

  “Very funny. I would have loved one when I was Stanley’s age. You’re going to dig this, aren’t you, Stanley?”

  “It’s like a clubhouse,” I said, thinking about all the fun stuff I could do up there. “Probably no girls allowed, but us guys can sort baseball cards and spy on the neighbors. And eat candy.”

  “I was thinking the same thing,” Mr. Gedrick said. “How good it is that you’re building it together.”

  When the walls were up, Fergus looked through the open top at the leaves and the sky.

  “How are we going to get the ceiling on this masterpiece? Bet you didn’t think of that, Mr. Brilliant.”

  Mr. Gedrick smiled one of his half smiles and put his hand on one of the walls. When he pulled his hand away, we saw that the wall hinged, leaving a giant open window in its place.

  “There’s one on your side, too,” Mr. Gedrick said.

  It didn’t seem possible, but when Fergus reached over he found he could lift the top half of the wall up toward the sky.

  “You really thought of everything,” Fergus said. “Impressive, Mr. G.”

  The two sides met in the middle, and Mr. Gedrick pulled four wooden pins out of his pocket. He placed them in holes on two of the walls, and the pins held up the ceiling.

  “This way, if you want a skylight, all you have to do is fold down the walls,” Mr. Gedrick said.

  We looked out the big window on one side and listened to the birds in the tree. Then Fergus looked at me. “I’m actually happy for you, runt.”

  “It’s the best tree house ever,” I said.

  “It’s a little small for me,” Mr. Gedrick said as he sat with his knees in his chest. “But it will be just right for you two. You know, Fergus, it might be useful to try some new nicknames that are not runt or dweeb.”

  Fergus laughed and shook his head. “I’ll see what I can do, Mr. G.”

  Mr. Gedrick looked at Fergus and offered a half smile. “And now we are finished and I owe you some baseball.”

  “No way,” Fergus said. “Not until we show this to everyone else.”

  We climbed out of the tree house with big, dumb smiles on our faces. Then we raced each other across the yard and into the house, screaming for Mom and Amelia. I grabbed Mom by the hand and pulled her out of her chair, and Fergus took off down the hallway to find Amelia.

  “Come on, you’ve got to see this!” I said as I pushed Mom toward the front door onto the porch. Mom tried to ask me where we were going, but I didn’t answer. It had to be a surprise.

  When Fergus showed up with Amelia, he swept his hand across the front yard and pointed up into the tree house.

  “Check it out! I did all this!”

  Mr. Gedrick was trimming the hedge with some pruning shears. He looked up and nodded, then returned to his trimming.

  “A tree house!” I shouted. “Amazing, right?”

  I was gone in a flash, running across the yard and climbing the ladder. When I reached the top, I looked out one of the big windows and waved down at everyone.

  “Fergus,” Mom said, completely surprised by the new yard and the tree house. “You did all this?”

  “Yeah, most of it. Mr. Gedrick helped me some. And Stanley.”

  Fergus looked at Mr. Gedrick and seemed to remember the lesson about not exaggerating. “Actually, this is one nanny who’s really good with yard tools and hammers. It was a total team effort. And Stanley helped a ton. We all did it together.”

  Looking up from th
e hedge, Mr. Gedrick seemed truly pleased.

  “Are those yard gnomes?” Amelia asked. “That one looks just like Mr. Gedrick. That’s funny.”

  “Everything is wonderful,” Mom said. “Thank you, Fergus and Stanley. And thank you, Mr. Gedrick.”

  Mr. Gedrick nodded and smiled. “All in a day’s work, Ms. Darrow. The boys were a big help.”

  “Hey, Fergus, you should help us with our project in the garage,” I yelled from high up in the tree. “We could really use a speed demon like you with the power tools.”

  Fergus looked around the yard and over at Mr. Gedrick. “I’ll think about it. But first, Mr. G. promised me some baseball.”

  Mr. Gedrick stopped snipping and clipping and looked up at all of us. Nothing seemed to make him happier than when we were willing to work together and help each other out.

  “You’ve got that game tomorrow,” Mr. Gedrick said. “Let’s practice your pitching first. I’d like to see that fastball for myself.”

  “Be careful what you wish for,” Fergus said. “I’m going to bring the heat.”

  “I expect nothing less.”

  Amelia glanced up at me, looking a little hurt for some reason. “Come on, Stanley. We’ve got our own work to do.”

  “You go ahead,” I said. “I want to see Fergus throw some heat.”

  Amelia shoved her hands in her pockets. “Fine, do whatever you want.”

  “I can’t believe I have a tree house!” I said.

  Mom threw an arm around Amelia and pulled her in close. I could hear them from my spot up above and I thought again about what a great spy shack the tree house was going to be.

  “How about you and me grab a snack and take a break?” Mom asked.

  “Really?” Amelia said. “Are you sure you can spare the time?”

  “I’m totally lost in the weeds, just like I was in our old yard,” Mom joked. “I could use a break.”

  “Hang on, guys,” I said as I climbed down the ladder. “I’ll get my glove!”

  I ran off to get my glove, Mom and Amelia left for the kitchen, and Mr. Gedrick went back to his clipping and snipping at the hedge.

  MR. BASEBALL

  Mr. Gedrick stepped over to Fred and opened the trunk again. He took out several things as Fergus and I watched: an old baseball glove, a baseball bat, and a baseball cap.

  “How does he fit so much stuff in there?” I asked.

  “It’s a mystery, like Bigfoot,” Fergus said. “Completely nuts.”

  Mr. Gedrick put his baseball cap on and took off his green felt jacket. “The yard is in such good shape. Shall we walk to the park? I’d hate to trample the flowers.”

  The neighborhood park was just around the block, so Fergus and I agreed. While we walked, Mr. Gedrick rolled up the sleeves on his white shirt. Fergus had never seen him do this before, and it seemed to get him even more excited. Mr. Gedrick might be good at digging holes, but he had no idea what he was in for. Fergus had a fastball that made his catchers shake their hands from the sting.

  We arrived at the park and Mr. Gedrick suggested we play a game. We would take turns pitching and hitting and catching.

  “I might kill Stanley with my fastball,” Fergus said. “But I’ve got to throw my heat if you’re batting. Otherwise it won’t be fair.”

  “Oh, I won’t be batting,” Mr. Gedrick said. “It will be just you and Stanley.”

  “Don’t worry about me,” I said. “I’ve been lifting weights. Check this out.”

  I flexed my muscles and nothing happened.

  “Your funeral,” Fergus said with a shrug.

  The game was set up and Fergus pitched first. Mr. Gedrick played catcher, but he didn’t let me into the batter’s box at first. I think he wanted to see what kind of pitcher Fergus was.

  “You sure you’re ready for this, old man?” Fergus asked.

  “Fire away,” Mr. Gedrick said. He got down in the catcher’s position and held his glove out.

  Fergus sniffed the air and straightened his cap. He lifted his left leg and turned his body right, coiling up all his power, and shifted forward. The ball left his hand with a snap of his wrist.

  It popped like the sound of a gunshot in Mr. Gedrick’s glove.

  “Let’s see if you can put a little more mustard on it,” Mr. Gedrick said as he tossed the ball back to Fergus, but I could tell he felt the sting in his palm.

  “Come on, Fergus, hit him with the real stuff!” I shouted. I swung the bat as hard as I could through the air and it nearly knocked me off my feet.

  Fergus fired again, even faster, and this time it sounded like a firecracker hitting Mr. Gedrick’s glove.

  “I really thought you’d have more zip,” Mr. Gedrick said. “But you’re just getting warmed up. Give it a few more tries.”

  Mr. Gedrick’s hand had to be killing him, but he wasn’t going to let Fergus know that.

  “I’m warmed up,” Fergus said. Fergus was throwing fire and he knew it. He understood the game Mr. Gedrick was playing. “Get in there, Stanley. Time to meet your maker.”

  I wasn’t nervous about getting hit. If there’s one thing I know about my big brother, it’s that he has uncanny accuracy. I was 100 percent sure I was going to strike out in three, but at least I would live to tell about it.

  “Ready, grandpa?” Fergus taunted Mr. Gedrick.

  Mr. Gedrick nodded. “I wonder, should we place a wager?”

  “You mean like a bet?” I asked as I turned to Mr. Gedrick.

  “I do,” Mr. Gedrick replied. “How about three pitches for each of you. If Stanley hits one the farthest, he wins. And if Fergus hits the farthest, he wins. I’ll abstain.”

  Fergus laughed and nodded—he’s all for a bet he knows he can’t lose.

  “Mr. Gedrick,” I said. “Could I talk to you for a second? Privately?”

  I leaned down and whispered, close to Mr. Gedrick’s ear. “That’s a terrible bet. I can’t hit Fergus, it’s impossible. I can barely hit it off a tee.”

  “Nothing is impossible, Stanley. Remember what we agreed on? Just because you’re small doesn’t mean you can’t do big things.”

  “Yeah, but it’s Fergus. I’ve never hit one of his fastballs.”

  “Never say never,” Mr. Gedrick said. “And listen, take your time. Wait for your pitch. Don’t rush. Can you remember those things?”

  I nodded, but I was sure it would never work. “You got it, Mr. Gedrick. Just don’t get mad when I strike out.”

  “I won’t. Because you’re not going to strike out.”

  I felt a surge of confidence. I had lifted the bar off my chest. I had crawled under the house all by myself. Maybe I really could hit a Fergus fastball.

  “If I win, you help me and Amelia with the project in the garage,” I yelled at Fergus.

  “And when I win, you do all my chores for a month,” Fergus yelled back.

  I put my hand on my heart like I’d been struck by a Fergus fastball. “Ouch. That one hurt.”

  I took one more look at Mr. Gedrick, who nodded at me, and then I moved tentatively into the batter’s box. “You got a deal.”

  Fergus laughed again. “Oh man, this is going to be the easiest win ever. Sorry, little bro, but you asked for it.”

  Fergus took a long look at the plate and started his windup. I looked down and saw Mr. Gedrick flick his glove up toward the sky, then back into position. Fergus let the ball fly. It sailed up over Mr. Gedrick’s head, hit the side of a tree, ricocheted sideways, and landed next to a swing set on the playground.

  I swung anyway.

  “Ah man, I had that one,” I said.

  Fergus was rattled. He never threw wild pitches, and that one had been completely crazy.

  “Wait for your pitch,” Mr. Gedrick told me again, and then he pulled another baseball out of somewhere—his pocket?—it’s hard to say. But he had another one and threw it to Fergus.

  Fergus took a deep breath. “One strike. Two more and it’s chore city, kiddo.”
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  Fergus skipped his usual start-up routine—sniffing the air and straightening his cap. He went straight into his windup, and this time Mr. Gedrick flicked his glove toward the ground, then back up again. The pitch hit the grass about two feet in front of Fergus, bounced several times, and stopped about halfway to the plate.

  I swung so hard I spun around in a circle and fell on my butt. “Did I hit it?”

  “What the . . .” Fergus shouted. “No way!”

  “Time-out,” Mr. Gedrick said.

  He pulled me aside and got down on one knee while Fergus picked up the ball and grumbled to himself.

  “Okay, you’re in his head now,” Mr. Gedrick said.

  “I am?” I asked.

  “Well, sure you are. He’s afraid you’re going to crank one over the left field fence. Just look at the way he’s pitching. Now listen to me carefully, Stanley. He’s nervous. This next one is going to come in real slow. He just wants to get one over the plate. It’s going to be a fat pitch. You just have to wait for it. Can you do that?”

  “You got it, Mr. Gedrick. Wait for the pitch to come to me. No problem.”

  Mr. Gedrick returned to his position. “Time-in.”

  Fergus concentrated harder than usual. Maybe I was in his head and he’d throw a little less heat, just to make sure it went over the plate. As Fergus wound up, Mr. Gedrick pushed his glove slowly toward Fergus, then back again. This time, the pitch seemed to start out at normal speed, but then, as it came closer to the plate, it slowed way down.

  “Wait for it,” Mr. Gedrick said as he watched me start to swing too early. “Let it come to you.”

  Every ounce of my body said swing, but I waited and waited as the ball went slower and slower. By the time it finally reached the plate, it was like the ball wasn’t even moving. I saw it hovering in front of the plate, dying to be plastered into the outfield. I finally swung. All my energy went through the bat and connected square on the seam of the baseball with a loud crack that echoed through the park. The ball sailed over Fergus’s head and landed somewhere out in the grass.

  “I hit it! I hit it!” I shouted. “I hit a Fergus fastball!”

  “This is insane,” Fergus said, kicking the grass. He threw his glove on the ground.

 
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