“Jas! It’s a quarter to six.”
“Hold on, will ya? Jeez. Can’t you let me find my sneakers? It’s not like Coach is going to start without me or anything.”
I hop into the kitchen, trying to pull on a sneaker and then tie it standing up. My ten-month-old baby brother, Andrew, stands clinging to the seat of the kitchen chair. Every time I hop, he laughs.
Mom bends over and rubs her nose on his. “What’s so funny? Huh? What’s so funny?”
Andrew laughs harder. He has a great big belly laugh that my mom and I love to hear.
I collapse into a chair to put on my other size 9? sneaker. Beginning last year, in sixth grade, kids at school, egged on by Shawn Doucette, called me “Bigfoot.” At first I didn’t mind, but after a whole year of it, I’d had enough.
I tug at my white athletic socks. I’m wearing dark green shiny shorts and a baggy dull gray tank top that says “Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary” on it. The shirt belongs to my best friend, Danielle Roberge, but I borrowed it, maybe forever. I stand up and brush myself off.
“There. I’m ready. How do I look?”
“That shirt is awful,” says Mom, sighing.
I look down at it. “Yeah.” I grin. “I know.”
“Your hair’s a mess, too. Want me to braid it?”
“Nah. It’s just a tryout for Pre-season League. No big deal, Mom. Relax.”
“I am feeling nervous. Maybe there’s a thunderstorm coming.”
Thunderstorms are rare where we live, along the Maine coast. The cold Atlantic air breaks up the puffy white towers of thunderhead clouds that drift across the mountains from New Hampshire on late summer afternoons. Today, August 2, a stiff afternoon breeze has been blowing up from the cove. Mom steps out on the back deck, carrying Andrew on her hip.
“It’s gusty, Jasmyn. Make sure you shut the back door tightly,” she adds.
“I don’t want it blowing open.”
“I’m eleven, Mom. I think I can shut the door by myself.”
I live with my mother and little brother and sometimes Mom’s boyfriend, Jake, although he’s in and out, in a coastal Maine town called Stroudwater. Stroudwater may be small, but there’s nothing small about its dedication to schoolboy and schoolgirl basketball. Making the seventh-grade team is the first big step on the path to high school varsity. Everybody knows it. Half the town will probably show up at tonight’s tryouts. Every girl’s dad will be there, except mine.
We hop in the car, a slightly rusty beige 1985 Oldsmobile. Duct tape patches hold together a perfectly decent red vinyl interior that’s ripped here and there.
The engine catches. Mom tromps quickly on the gas, but the engine stalls anyway. I smell gasoline. The engine has flooded. Ho-hum. The seconds are ticking by.
We watch the Parnells, the people next door, water their garden. Now Mrs. Parnell is cleaning their above-ground pool. One day, Danielle and I found a couple of frogs floating around in there. We couldn’t figure out how they jumped thirty-six inches into the air to get over the side. The frogs were dead, because they can’t live in chlorine.
If the Parnells weren’t so grouchy, maybe Danielle and I could be floating around in the pool instead of frogs. We’ve asked them a couple of times, but they’ve never said yes. Just when you think you are their permanent enemies, however, they smile and act nice and give you zucchinis.
Now I’m nervous. It’s much too late to walk. “Want me to take my bike?”
“Not yet. Hey,” Mom says, “you think I’m a quitter? Huh? When the going gets tough—”
“No!” I yelp, and clap my hands over my ears. The saying is “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard that. It’s one of those boot camp things.
My mom went through six weeks of basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. She is not a quitter. She stays in great shape, jogging, working out, lifting weights. She can do anything her country asks of her. Right now she’s working for the army as a supply coordinator at an office in Portland.
My mom is tall. My dad, an air force pilot in Japan, is tall. I have tallness in me, waiting to come out. I am a big kid. Everyone says I will be huge because of my long legs and big feet. I can dribble between my knees. That’s how I make my move, my under-the-basket, between-the-knees-dribble, turn, fake, and layup shot.
As we wait for the gasoline to calm down inside the carburetor, Mom sighs and says something really strange. “Don’t ever think you’re more special than other people, that you don’t have to work as hard or suffer as much.”
“Huh?” I look at her. What’s that supposed to mean? Suddenly I feel desperate to get to tryouts.
Mom’s still staring at Mr. Parnell. He’s digging up potatoes. Now Mrs. Parnell is bringing over the wheel-barrow. From a distance, they look cuddly and cute, like the apple dolls at the church craft fair.
They live to our east, right at the top of the cliff above Spar Cove, in a big old farmhouse they can’t take proper care of anymore. On the other side, the house faces the channel and Moorhead Island.
“Oh, I don’t know. Don’t take being in Pre-season for granted, I guess. Remember to work at it every day.”
“Yeah. Well, yeah. I will. Besides, if I don’t, you’ll remind me, right?”
She doesn’t answer. Just looks down at her lap. Something is up. This is absolutely not normal.
“Right?” I ask again.
Mr. Parnell is standing up now, staring at his tomato plants.
“Come on, Mom. Let’s go. Please? We’ll be late. Danielle thinks Coach is going to pick me for captain. If you’re team captain, you have to help set up and put equipment away at the end.”
Mom turns the key again. The engine starts. We back slowly out of the driveway. As we start forward, the car gives two big lurches, but then, thank God, the engine catches for real. “Mom, hurry, okay?”
“Quiet!” she snaps at me. “Just be quiet!”
I shrink down in my seat. Wow. It’s not like her at all to lose her temper like that. She usually warns me first. What on earth is up?