Chasing Jupiterby Rachel Coker
In Rachel Coker’s second YA novel, sixteen-year-old Scarlett Blaine discovers caring for her autistic brother amidst family tensions is far from peachy. When a tragic accident and financial difficulties place more pressures on Scarlett’s shoulders, she has to find a hope to cling to before it’s too late.See more details below
In Rachel Coker’s second YA novel, sixteen-year-old Scarlett Blaine discovers caring for her autistic brother amidst family tensions is far from peachy. When a tragic accident and financial difficulties place more pressures on Scarlett’s shoulders, she has to find a hope to cling to before it’s too late.
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)
- Age Range:
- 13 - 17 Years
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By Rachel Coker
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2012 Rachel Coker
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEvery story has to start somewhere. Mine starts with a list written on a sheet of yellow construction paper, folded neatly into fourths, and pushed under my bedroom door so that I brushed it with my foot when I got up that morning. I had buttoned my blouse and was reaching for the doorknob when I felt the edge of the paper prick my toe. I bent down and picked it up. Birthday List was written in the corner in smudged pencil.
Cliff. I slipped the paper into the front pocket of my blue jeans. Then I bounded down the steps, two at a time, my bare feet pattering against the wood. My brother was already sitting at the kitchen table eating a bowl of Cap'n Crunch. I reached over to ruffle his hair, but he ducked at my touch and scowled. Okay, so it's a nontouching day. I pulled my hand back and dropped the list on the table.
"Good morning, Scarlett." Cliff swallowed a mouthful of cereal. "It's my birthday list."
Yeah, I kind of figured out that much. I opened the refrigerator and searched for the carton of milk, but it wasn't inside. "Cliff, have you seen the ..." I looked up and saw it sitting on the counter. Oh. "Never mind." The bottle of milk was warm under my fingertips. I frowned, twisted off the cap, and took a big whiff. Sour. Fighting back my gag reflex, I set the milk back on the counter and shut the refrigerator. "Who left the milk out overnight?"
Cliff continued to chew. I wondered if he'd had the good sense to eat his cereal dry. He folded his napkin into fourths and wiped his mouth. Nah. My guess was he'd rather use the spoiled milk than disturb his routine. I, meanwhile, would definitely be finding something else to eat.
I walked over to the bottom of the staircase and shouted, "Grandpop Barley!"
No answer, which meant he was likely still asleep. I sighed and headed back into the kitchen.
Cliff was finished with his breakfast by the time I came back in. He had laid his spoon out over his bowl and was staring at the placemat in silence.
"Um, Cliff, why don't you look in the pantry for a can of tuna fish? I have to get our lunches made and put in the paper bags."
"Okay." He shrugged and opened the pantry, pulling out a stack of cans. Then he proceeded to sit on the floor Indian-style and carefully line up the cans in front of him. Within seconds, they were arranged in order of largest to smallest, with all the labels facing forward. Cliff grinned and glanced up at me, motioning to his line of cans. I noticed his sandy hair stood straight up on his head, as if he'd ran a rake through it while it was still wet.
"Just a second." I grabbed two slices of bread and the jar of crunchy peanut butter out of the cabinet, looking longingly at the creamy jar just to the right. Grandpop Barley's smoother stash was strictly off limits to the rest of us, and you did not mess with his stash. As I slathered together my peanut-butter breakfast and laid out bread for the tuna fish sandwiches, I was even gladder there were only a few more days of school. Soon it would be summertime, with more time to bake and put together proper, home-cooked food. I can get through this.
Makeshift meal in hand, I grabbed the list off the table and squatted on the floor next to Cliff. "You want to tell me about this?"
He didn't look at me. "I already told you." One of the cans apparently wasn't quite straight enough for him, so he picked it up and carefully turned it until it was aligned with the rest. "It's my birthday list."
"Cliff, your birthday is tomorrow." I took a big bite of my peanut butter sandwich and leaned against the cabinets. The linoleum floor felt solid and cool beneath my faded jeans. "Even Santa Claus doesn't work on that short of notice."
He made a face. "I'm not asking for Santa Claus, Scarlett. This is June, not December. There's less of a need for gifts. It's all about supply and demand. It shouldn't be a problem."
"We'll see about that," I said dryly, placing the paper on the table. So he was all about lists lately. Better lists than Spanish dictionaries, I guess. I unfolded the paper and smoothed out the creases. "So let's go over this."
"My Birthday List," I read out loud. "By Cliff Blaine. June 6, 1969."
1. One monkey from Japan
2. Two red bicycles
3. Three friends to play hopscotch with
4. Four licorice sticks
5. Five books on how to speak Spanish
6. Six pieces of chalk
7. Seven songs that I know all the words to
8. Eight moons in the sky instead of one
9. Nine boxes of macaroni and cheese
10. Ten green baseball hats
11. Eleven birthdays in one year
12. Twelve pancakes
13. Thirteen subjects to rule
14. Fourteen stuffed elephants
15. Fifteen Spanish battles
When I finished, Cliff was staring at me with wide, unblinking eyes. I folded the paper and handed it back to him. "It's quite the list." I pressed my lips together, holding back a smile. "There are twelve days of Christmas. I guess birthdays have fifteen days?"
He shrugged. "Well, I figured I'd change things up."
I stood and started on the dishes while Cliff continued to play with the cans. I grabbed Mama's old apron off the hook behind the cabinet and flipped it inside out, wrapping it twice around my slim waist and tying it in a double knot. The soapy dishwater stung at the little cuts on my hands. Ow. I frowned at my dirty nails. It was a little before six in the morning, and the school bus would be coming in less than an hour and a half. How do I have dirty nails already? There was a nick above my pinky from last Tuesday when I jumped off my bike too quickly and fell on the gravel. I was just glad that Mama hadn't seen the dents on my handlebars. All she needed was one more example of my being a tomboy to set her over the edge. She was forgetting that it was 1969, not the 1940s.
I glanced over my shoulder to see Cliff still sitting cross-legged on the floor, staring at his cans. "Whoa! You got those cans really straight." There were eleven cans of different sizes lined up in front of the refrigerator. The largest soup cans were on the outside, followed by the vegetable cans, and then the little round tuna cans.
Cliff cupped his chin in his palm and stared at them, oblivious to my presence. "He stacked them in rows," he muttered under his breath.
I frowned and pulled off my apron, hanging it back on the rack. "Don't talk about yourself like that. Mama doesn't like it."
Just then, Dad came whistling down the stairs and into the kitchen, tucking his shirt into his blue jeans. Even at six in the morning, he smelled like aftershave, peaches, and dirt, all at the same time. "Good morning!" He looked around the bare kitchen and his face fell a little. "Not baking anything this morning?"
I shook my head. "No milk either. But help yourself to a peanut butter sandwich."
"I think I will." He grabbed the jar of crunchy peanut butter and glanced at Cliff. "Hey, nice stack of cans there, little buddy."
Cliff nodded. "A very nice row of cans. Eleven."
"You'll be a builder, right? Build rows of skyscrapers?" Dad laughed and ruffled Cliff's hair.
Cliff ducked away, making a face. I guess Dad hadn't realized this was a nontouching day either. "No," Cliff said. "I believe I will be a matador."
Dad frowned and glanced at me, unsure how to respond. I forced a smile. "Cliff is very interested in Spanish culture these days. Cliff, show Dad how much you know about the Spanish Civil War." My legs felt fidgety. "He can remember the name and date of every battle," I added.
Cliff sighed and stood, walking out of the kitchen. "Perhaps some other time," he said over his shoulder.
Dad watched him disappear and groaned. "Why can't we fix him?" He placed the peanut butter back in the cabinet and shut the door. "I'll eat later, Scarlett. I've got to get to work. Hopefully, today I'll remember to wash up before I come home from the farms. Lord preserve us if we don't look clean for supper, whether your Mama's here or not." He shook his head. "I married white collar, and white collar it seems we will always be, no matter how many jobs we have to work." He winked, then grabbed his hat and truck keys by the side door. I caught his gaze sliding toward Cliff as he pushed open the screen door and strode out into the warm Georgia morning, whistling under his breath.
I didn't try to guess his thoughts—didn't want to. I knew what everyone thought of Cliff, my parents included. But they were wrong.
"Hey, Cliff, do you know if Juli ever came home last night?" No answer. I guess that means she didn't. Or he's in one of his stranger moods.
"You know what?" I shouted, hoping Cliff could hear me from the living room. "I'm going to make you an early birthday pie." I glanced at the clock. Ten past six. If I started now, it could be out of the oven and in our stomachs before the bus came at eight-fifteen.
He must have been able to hear me pretty well, because he was back in the kitchen faster than I could blink. "I'm going to help."
"Um, okay. But you can't help too much. It's a labor of love, so it counts as a gift. Sort of."
I found another apron for Cliff, although he seemed much more interested in the neatness of the fabric than he was in actually helping me bake the pie. But still, he helped open the jars of peaches we'd canned last year and drain them. "'It's a lot better with fresh peaches," I explained, arranging the pieces of crust in a neat lattice. "But I don't think the peaches will start ripening for another few weeks or so."
As soon as the pie was in the oven a half hour later, I whisked Cliff upstairs to get dressed for school while I tidied the kitchen and fixed our lunches, and I got ready myself while our creation was cooling on the counter. At seven forty five, we sat at the kitchen table to warm slices of pie, and I quizzed Cliff on the battles of the Spanish Civil War.
"Battle of Belchite," I said.
"Fought in 1937," Cliff fired back.
"Seige of Gandesa."
"Well, that's the last one." I laid The Condensed History of the Spanish Civil War on the table and strummed my fingers on the back cover. "Cliff, why do you need to know all these dates? What are you planning to do with all this information?"
He just shrugged and opened the book again, looking over all the photos of guerrillas, matadors, and guns.
I sighed and studied my fingernails. Now flour was mixed in with the dirt. Great. I pushed away from the table. "The bus will be here in about ten minutes, so we might as well go bring Grandpop Barley a piece of that pie."
We hiked up the back staircase to Grandpop Barley's bedroom. He slept in the what was basically the storage room upstairs, because the rest of us already had bedrooms by the time he came to live with us, and Juli refused to give up the one we both shared.
The door was shut. I nudged Cliff. "Open it," I whispered.
He shook his head slowly. "Grandpop was a great soldier in the Battle of Badajoz. He may cut off our heads with a machete."
I rolled my eyes. "What are you talking about? That was a Spanish battle, Cliff. Grandpop Barley is from North Carolina."
He shrugged and knocked on the door.
Silence. We stood fidgeting, our hearts thumping, until ...
I pushed open the door and forced a large smile. "Hello, Grandpop Barley! We brought you some peach pie!"
Grandpop Barley was sitting in his faded blue armchair. A lopsided red tie hung around his neck, knotted tightly. He frowned when we entered the room, squinting from the light in the hallway. "What?"
"Peach pie." I held up the plate.
I walked forward, holding the pie out before me like a peace offering. "Would you like some milk to go with it?"
He smacked his lips and gave us a toothless smile. "What about some peanut butter?"
My stomach lurched. "On peach pie?"
Cliff stepped forward. "That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard."
Grandpop Barley's eyes darted toward Cliff, and he stood and started toward the door. "Get that pesky child out of my room," he grumbled. His gnarly fingers reached up to loosen the red tie.
I reached out and pulled his hands back down. "Cliff's just being Cliff. I'll get you some peanut butter." I dashed downstairs and rummaged around in the pantry. Why on earth does one family need eleven cans of black beans? We only have six family members.
I could hear Cliff shouting upstairs. Oh, great. I grabbed the peanut butter and made a beeline for the back staircase. "Cliff!"
My brother came bolting down the steps. "I cannot tolerate him!" He looked over his shoulder and glared at the open door. "That pesky Grandpop Barley!"
I rolled my eyes. "Just stay downstairs for now, okay?" I glanced at the clock above the front door. Almost eight ten. Agh! "Um, actually, go back upstairs and brush your hair, then go wait by the front door, okay? Don't let the bus leave without me." I shooed him down the stairs and ran back up to the attic, taking two steps at a time. I paused in the doorway, hesitant to enter. "Grandpop Barley?"
"Well? Did you bring the peanut butter?"
I stepped in the room. Grandpop Barley was sitting in his blue armchair again, his red tie slung over his shoulder. He was licking some peachy glaze off his finger and humming to himself. His eyes lit up when he saw the jar of peanut butter. I pulled out a spoonful and handed it to him. I could hear the bus honking outside. Please don't leave without me, Cliff. "Um, I really have to go. You're good, right? You don't need anything else?"
"No, no, this is just spiffy." His long pink tongue stretched out and licked the peanut butter off the spoon. He smiled. "Oh, I do love peanuts." He used his finger to shove the rest of the peanut butter onto the pie. "Yum."
Gross. I wrinkled my nose and left, shutting the door behind me. I could still hear him chuckling through the crack. Cliff was still standing at the front door, his arms folded across his chest and his brow lowered. Another loud honk, this one long and hard. I grimaced. Well, at least the school bus hadn't left yet.
Chapter TwoI have no idea how birthday dinners actually go in normal families, but I can guess. A fine home-cooked meal, presents, and a cake with candles and icing. But I couldn't remember the last time Mama cooked anything. Normally, I just fixed something for me and Cliff. And sometimes Grandpop Barley. And it wasn't that I was a bad cook or anything. I was actually really good. But really good doesn't exactly compare to Mom's home-fried chicken and rolls.
Needless to say, we didn't have anything close to a homemade meal for Cliff's tenth birthday. Mama worked late at the local plantation-turned-bed-and-breakfast and asked Dad if he could just take us all out in his truck, Old Clunker. So we drove twenty minutes to the nearest diner for burgers and fries. Everyone except for Grandpop Barley, who had insisted on staying home to eat some disgusting peanut-butter creation, and Juli, whom no one had seen since she came home from school that afternoon. But at least she had gone to school. With only three days until she graduated from high school, it didn't seem like classes were her focus at the moment.
Old-fashioned music drifted from the old jukebox in the restaurant corner from singers like Nat King Cole and Perry Como.
"I love this song." Mama took another bite of her cheeseburger then delicately brushed the crumbs off her face. "We bought this album when you were a baby, Scarlett. Juli used to like it. But I guess she doesn't listen to this kind of music anymore."
I shrugged. "Ziggy told her it was better not to 'feed at the trough of entertainment prepackaged for the masses.'" The waitress had given me a wiggly green straw for my soda. I took big slurps as the icy sweetness trickled down my throat. Yum.
Mama wrinkled her little white nose and shot a glance at Dad. "What kind of name is 'Ziggy'?"
"Um, I think it used to be 'Luke', but then he changed it." I licked the salt off my french fries and glanced around the restaurant. I couldn't remember Juli ever dating a guy with a normal name. Jimmy Twinkie might have been the worst. Plus Jimmy Twinkie had a beard, which was far from normal.
"Well, of all the ..."
Dad shook his head slowly, lifting a fry to his mouth. Mama looked ruffled, but she quieted down and stared at her fork.
Cliff arranged the french fries on his plate in a long line. "Hey, look, they resemble spears. Uno, dos, tres ..."
"How did you learn Spanish?" Dad's eyes focused on Cliff's bent head.
Excerpted from Chasing Jupiter by Rachel Coker Copyright © 2012 by Rachel Coker. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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