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By Rachele Alpine
Medallion Press, Inc. Copyright © 2013 Rachele Alpine
All rights reserved.
Today's Truth: You can't count on anyone but yourself.
Your dad will leave you when you are twelve.
He won't empty his closet or pack up his car like you see dads do in old after-school specials.
He won't move in with a lover closer to your age than his, an exercise buff who wakes him at the crack of dawn for morning runs and wears short skirts and drinks martinis in bars while texting her girlfriends on her cell phone.
He won't spend his life alone and rent a room in a seedy motel.
He won't invite you and your brother to spend Christmas with him in the tiny, dingy space with a sad-looking, tinsel-covered tree in the corner on a rickety table over a stained carpet.
In fact, he won't leave the house.
He will stay right inside with you and your brother. You will eat dinners together, sit in the same room watching TV, have conversations about everyday matters like the weather and the dwindling supply of food in the fridge. You will do mundane things, such as passing each other in the hall as you head to and from the bathroom and riding in the car together when he takes you to school. Each day will blend into the next.
But from your life, he will be gone.
Posted By: Your Present Self [Sunday, August 11, 12:36 PM]
* * *
My brother, Dad, and I do the majority of our communicating using Post-its. Whoever invented them must make a fortune from the three of us alone.
I'll find them stuck to the bathroom mirror reminding me that Dad "Won't be home until late" or on the kitchen counter with "Money for groceries."
If Brett and I need something signed or want permission to go somewhere, we'll leave notes in places we know our dad will see: the door to the garage, his coffee pot, the bathroom mirror, or his computer screen.
It's worked for us since Mom died. There have been only a few mix-ups when Post-its have fallen off and blown under tables or when one of us broke the regular routine and didn't walk past the spot where the note waited to be read.
But for the most part, we're able to communicate without really communicating. And in my household, nothing says family love more than a day without having to talk to each other. Dad thinks it's brilliant. I think it sucks.
The last Monday of the summer, I woke surprised to find a note stuck to my bathing suit asking, "Meet for dinner at 6 at Garland's Pizza?" When Brett finally dragged himself out of bed two hours later, he confirmed that he'd received the same message stuck to the bathroom mirror.
Garland's Pizza was a little ten-table place the three of us loved. It was only two blocks from our house, a quick solution when there wasn't anything else to eat. These days we ordered from there a lot, but it was always takeout. I couldn't remember the last time we ate in the restaurant together. Dinner at home didn't usually involve conversation. Dad would read the paper while my brother and I fought over the television remote.
I was surprised Dad wanted to meet us there, but I wasn't going to question it. Dad hardly ever spent time with Brett and me anymore. I practically had to tackle him to stay in a room with me for more than five minutes. He always claimed to have important things to do for work—stuff that involved hiding in his office all night, every night.
I spotted Dad as soon as I walked into the place. Even though I'd sat around and done nothing the whole day, I was the last to arrive. He was in the crowded restaurant at a small table. My brother slouched next to him, no doubt angry at having one of the last days of vacation interrupted. He wore his fatigue pants even though it was boiling outside. Brett practically lived in those lame pants.
People were everywhere. Families eating at tables covered in cheesy pizzas. Kids running around with their greasy fingers. Older siblings playing video games against the back wall. Babies wailing along with the music blasting from a jukebox that seemed to play only old Billy Joel songs. The place was such a dive, but that's why people loved it.
I pushed through the crowd and bumped into chairs shoved around tables. It was a major fire hazard, but everyone seemed willing to take the risk for the pizza here. Nabbing a place to sit at Garland's Pizza was a talent, and I was impressed Dad was able to do it.
I slid into an empty seat. "Hey." I picked up a menu and fanned myself. "I'm not late, am I?"
"You're fine. We haven't been here long. Brett already ordered a few pizzas: a cheese, a veggie, and a pepperoni. I figured you'd find something you like between the three of them."
I shrugged. "Sounds good." I pulled my brown hair into a ponytail. It was hot in the restaurant, and my hair was heavy on my neck.
The air conditioner chugged along, apparently wiped out from a full summer of work. Drops of sweat gathered in my bra, and I prayed I wouldn't sweat through my shirt and get nasty pit stains.
"How was your day?" Dad asked.
"Boring." I kept it short; he'd space out if I said much more. "What about yours?"
"Not bad. A lot of the team came to the gym today for a pickup game, and I got to see them shoot around a bit."
"Did any of them seem good? Or more importantly"—I leaned in—"were any of them hot?"
Before Dad could answer, Brett snorted. "I'm sure they loved having you there. Gives them a chance to kiss the new coach's ass."
Dad set down his drink and faced Brett, taking on that lecture look.
A waitress interrupted by setting down a pitcher of Coke and piling napkins and silverware on the table.
I filled my glass and watched the sides sweat. I put my wrists against the moisture, trying to cool down.
"Listen," Dad said, "I've got some important news for both of you."
Brett crossed his arms and focused on the ceiling.
"I've been talking with the principal, Mr. Drew, for a few days now. About not only basketball stuff but other things too. He and the rest of the administration think it would be a good idea for the two of you to become Beacon students."
"You want us to go to Beacon?" I asked. I didn't think enrolling was a possibility. The school was superexpensive. Tuition was probably more than Dad's salary. But maybe I was wrong, and after everything that happened the past year, I liked the idea of leaving behind the memories lingering at my high school.
Brett opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Dad started again.
"You'll be able to start the new school year there. It should be an easy transition."
I nodded, willing him to go on, but he paused.
Brett seized the opportunity. "You promised we didn't have to leave Olmstead High."
Dad sighed. "Brett, wouldn't you rather go to Beacon?"
"No, I wouldn't," he spat back.
A group at a nearby table turned to stare.
I focused on my menu and wished that for once in our lives we could have more than two minutes of peace before Brett and Dad were at each other's throats.
"Calm down," Dad said. "Think about what I'm saying."
"There's nothing to think about. You said I didn't have to go there."
I kicked Brett under the table, but he kicked me right back. I knew he wasn't about to give up. Brett had been picking fights with Dad since Mom died, and it seemed as if they all revolved around basketball. Or, more specifically, the time Dad spent with basketball instead of with us. Brett would never admit it, but I knew he felt as hurt as I did when Dad grabbed a late dinner with some of the coaches or spent the weekend taking one of his star players to a college offering an athletic scholarship. Now that he'd landed his new position, it was even worse. We hardly saw him all summer.
"You promised," Brett hissed.
More and more people turned to look at my family's show.
I slumped in my seat.
Dad probably figured dropping the news in a public place would lessen the chance of a full-blown confrontation. Buzz, wrong answer.
Brett pushed back his chair and nearly knocked down the waitress passing behind him while balancing a pizza.
"Brett, sit down. I need you to listen to me," Dad whispered.
Despite the scene, my stomach fluttered with nervous excitement. Beacon was amazing. I couldn't even begin to imagine what it would be like to go there.
"How can I calm down when you tell me a week before school starts that I won't be starting my senior year at Olmstead High? Instead, I have to go to school with a bunch of rich kids who look down on people like us because we don't go sailing on our daddies' boats or attend parties at country clubs guarded by iron gates. That's not who I am, so why the hell are you doing this?"
"Why? I'll tell you why," Dad shot back. "Because people are talking. They're wondering what the new coach finds so wrong with the school that he can't send his own kids to it."
I tried to catch Brett's eye and said, "Why do you have to be difficult? If you gave Beacon half a chance, you might find out it's not so bad."
Dad looked relieved.
Brett gave me a dirty look.
"Kate's right. I'm sure you'll like it there if you give it a shot."
I felt good, as if I'd done something right and Dad was proud of me.
"How about I tell them exactly what's wrong with the school and why your kids don't want to go there?" Brett said.
Dad wiped his forehead, shiny now with sweat, and tried to discreetly glance around the restaurant.
"Don't worry." Brett threw the sharp-edged words at him. "I don't think your face has been in enough papers yet for everyone here to recognize the new Beacon coach."
He spoke loud enough that anyone who didn't know probably knew now.
"Enough." Dad slammed a fist on the table.
I grabbed my glass as some pop splashed out.
"I get it," Brett continued. "This is about you. You and your position at your great big important private school. I may not be smart enough to score as high as the other kids on those fancy exams you have to take to get into Beacon, but I get it. I get it completely."
"Brett," Dad said, demanding a respect he had lost from Brett a long time before.
"You know," Brett said, "if Mom were still alive, she'd never expect me to do something like this." Brett marched away, winding through the obstacle course of happy families, and shoved open the door so hard it banged against the side of the building.
I turned to Dad to tell him how I felt about leaving Olmstead High to go to Beacon. "I know Brett's being his usual pain in the ass, but I really—"
"Not right now. The two of you really need to stop for a minute and think about what a great opportunity this is for you." Dad dug into a pocket, then pulled money out of his wallet and threw it on the table. "Can you take care of the bill? We'll talk about this later."
"Sure, whatever." I watched him leave through the same door Brett had stormed out of seconds before. This was so typical of Dad. He really hadn't listened to me, and I felt stupid for thinking maybe he would.
Transferring schools made sense, though. My old school was where Mom got sick and I sat worrying about her tests results instead of my own tests and homework. The halls of Olmstead High held friends who stopped acting normal around me, as if I were the sick one; classmates who stared at me, as if I were a freak for losing my mom; and teachers who would put a hand on my shoulder and tell me I could talk to them anytime about anything.
Brett might have been fighting to stay at Olmstead High, but I was ready to run from it. Dad didn't need to convince me. Starting my sophomore year at Beacon was one of the first things in a long time that actually felt right.
Excerpted from Canary by Rachele Alpine. Copyright © 2013 Rachele Alpine. Excerpted by permission of Medallion Press, Inc..
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