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By Laurie Gray
Luminis BooksCopyright © 2010 Socratic Parenting, LLC
All rights reserved.
The first time I saw Dinah, I thought she was a boy. Now that the summer's almost over, it's hard to believe that guy in jean shorts, dirty-white jogging shoes, and an oversized black t-shirt was even her. I was sitting on a bench in front of the library. I saw this guy sprawled out on the grass off to the side, soaking up the warm June sun. He had a newspaper spread out around him, but I had the funny feeling he was watching me as I choked down half of the turkey and Swiss sandwich my mom made me. Turkey and Swiss is my favorite, only I like it with mayonnaise. Mom made this one with mustard. Yuck.
I washed the mustard down with water from my sports bottle. Mom always chose mustard over mayonnaise in the summertime, like the mayonnaise would spoil the second I stepped out of the house. I examined the remaining sandwich half. The mustard had soaked into both slices of bread. It was smeared all over the turkey and all over the cheese. No getting around it. I put it back in the sandwich bag and tossed it in the trash.
At that moment I was convinced the whole summer was going to suck — only I'm not allowed to say "suck." My best friend Kyle left the week before to spend two months with his grandparents on a farm a hundred miles away. Kyle's the kind of guy every kid likes. I'm the kind of guy every kid's mom likes. And speaking of moms, my mom was pregnant. AGAIN. So the chances of me getting my own room before I'm 20 were now absolutely zero. Zip.
I've wanted my own room forever. Kyle has his own room. I share my room with my next-youngest brother, Mark. I'm older, but Mark hit a growing spurt last winter. He was already as big as I was and destined to pass me this summer. Then he plastered posters of all his soccer and baseball heroes all over his side of the room this past spring. It was like a daily reminder of everything I'd never be.
I realized the guy was still watching me. His eyes followed me as I walked into the library. He was acting so creepy for a guy. It was giving me the willies. I mean, I'd never had a guy watch me like that. My heart pounded, and the mustard in my stomach churned. One time I heard my grandfather preach about guys who like guys instead of girls. He called it the "abomination of reprobates." I shuddered; Grandpa's most booming preacher voice echoed the word re-pro-bate-suh in my head. When Grandpa thunders from the pulpit, you half-expect God to throw down a bolt of lightning for good measure. Everyone in the whole congregation prays he isn't the biggest sinner there.
My dad's a preacher, too. When I asked him about the abomination of reprobates, he gave me a little book called Reprobation Asserted by John Bunyan. Now, I liked John Bunyan's book Pilgrim's Progress, which was kind of like a Christian adventure novel. His reprobation book read more like a really, really long sermon. Somewhere in Chapter Two I read that "reprobate" means "void of judgment." I gave the book back to Dad. Kyle's the one who finally told me what Grandpa was talking about.
Inside the library, I went straight to the front window and watched the reprobate through the dark glass. Why did he pick me to watch anyway? Definitely weird. Something was up. He looked all around before he carefully folded up the newspaper and very deliberately stuffed it deep inside the trash can. There was something peculiar about the way he did it, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Then he walked over to the same bench where I'd been sitting, and I saw what he had in his hand. My sandwich!
He sat down on the bench and crossed his legs like a girl. I watched him put the sandwich right up to his nose and smell it. Then he opened it up, pulling the mustard-glued turkey from one piece of bread, the mustard-glued cheese from the other. After a thorough examination, he reassembled the sandwich and took a small bite. He chewed so slowly, like he was savoring every drop of mustard. I about gagged just watching him.
But the more I watched him, the more something told me it wasn't a guy. By the time he was done with the sandwich, I was pretty sure he was a she and not some weirdo. Well, it was still weird. And I had a million questions: Who was she? How hungry would you have to be to eat trash? How could you be that hungry and eat so slowly?
She ate every crumb. She even licked the mustard and crumbs from the plastic bag. Then she stuffed the bag in the front pocket of a tattered black backpack. I couldn't take my eyes off of her. I willed her to come into the library so I could get a closer look.
When she did, I nearly tripped over myself dashing to the nearest bookshelf. I grabbed the first book I reached and stuck my nose in it. After she passed by I realized I had buried myself in a quilting book. What a loser! I groaned as I put the book back on the shelf.
She walked behind me over to the tables by the magazines. She pulled two chairs out from under a table and turned them to face each other. Then she pulled a spiral notebook and pen out of the overstuffed backpack. She sat in one chair with her backpack and feet on the other. She chewed on the pen as she flipped through the notebook.
I wanted to talk to her so badly. Just the thought made my palms sweaty. I didn't exactly have much experience talking to girls, only Kyle's sister, Amanda. And she mostly just ignored us. I guessed this girl was about the same age as Amanda — fourteen, maybe fifteen. It was hard to tell. I concentrated on breathing deeply as I meandered toward her.
I picked up a National Geographic magazine off the rack and sat down at the table behind her. I studied her profile. She was kind of pretty; funny ears, though. Then again, maybe everybody's ears are funny, and I just never noticed. Her light brown hair was neatly trimmed around her ear, but all chopped up in the back. Like she'd turned her back on a mad barber, and just barely escaped with her life.
When she caught me staring at her, I hid my face behind the magazine. She tossed her notebook and pen on the table. When I looked at her again, her blue eyes burned right through me, catching my ears on fire.
"What?" She shot the word right at me, her head recoiling from the force.
I turned my head around and looked from side to side. I raised my eyebrows and gave her my most innocent and surprised look. "I'm sorry," I said. "Are you talking to me?"
She narrowed her eyes. "What are you looking at?" she demanded.
Our eyes remained locked. I held up the magazine. "National Geographic," I croaked. There was a long, awkward silence, but neither of us blinked. I cleared my throat. Then I mustered up every ounce of courage I possessed and blurted out, "What's your name?"
She squinted her eyes at me again. "Who wants to know?"
"I do," I said, doing my best impersonation of my dad's voice.
"And who are you?" She took her feet off the chair and turned slightly toward me in her chair.
"My name is Matthew." I stood up and offered her my hand like a man. "What's your name?" I asked again.
This time she ignored my question and my hand. "How old are you, Matthew?" she asked.
I felt my shoulders and back straighten as I replied, "Almost thirteen."
"So you're twelve." She waited for me to agree. I sat back down instead. "What grade are you in, Matthew?"
I hated that question. Everybody thinks that's like the easiest question in the world — only I can explain Pythagoras' theorem in less time than I can answer that question. And Pythagoras is more interesting. I wanted her to think I was cool, so I tried to be mysterious. "I'm not in a grade," I said, crossing my arms.
"Yeah, right," she replied. "It's summer vacation. Nobody's in a grade. What grade will you be in when school starts up again?"
"It depends," I said. I shrugged my shoulders for effect.
"Depends on what?" she asked, draping her arms over the chair across from me. "On whether or not you flunked?"
The word flunked was like a slap in the face. "I've never flunked," I countered, forgetting to be cool. "My family home schools. I'm at a different grade level for every subject." I waited for her to laugh or make fun of me, but she didn't.
"Really?" she said with a serious frown. "So what's your highest grade level?"
"I'm at a twelfth grade reading level," I replied evenly.
"What's your lowest grade level?"
"I don't know. I'm doing sophomore level math and science. Probably social studies is my lowest. I'm just starting high school work in that."
She seemed genuinely interested all of a sudden. "So do you get a summer vacation when you're home schooled?"
"Not really ... well, kind of, I guess. My mom only brings us to the library once a week during the school year. My deal with my parents this summer is I can study independently. I get to choose the project, and I can ride my bike to the library every day if I want. Once I get my chores and stuff done, I mean. Every day except Sunday on account of church, and the library is closed." I was talking way too much. I still didn't even know her name or anything about her, except that she wasn't anything like any of the girls from my church.
"So how many brothers and sisters do you have?" She had moved to my table now, dragging her backpack with her.
"I have three younger brothers." I paused. "And another one on the way."
"Wow!" she exclaimed, raising both her eyebrows.
I tried to change the subject from me to her. "I've never seen you here before. Are you new in town?"
"Not exactly," she said. "I just discovered this branch of the library. I think I like it. So maybe I'll see you around. I gotta go now, though."
I thought I saw her smile as she slung her backpack over her shoulder and disappeared out the door.CHAPTER 2
At dinner that night I kept thinking about her. What was her name? She didn't look like an Amber or Melissa or Mary or Elizabeth or any other name I could think of. I was so startled when I heard Dad say my name that I dropped my fork.
"So, Matthew, what have you decided to study this summer?" Dad asked. I saw him look at my mom and raise his eyebrows. Mom shook her head.
"Earth to Matthew!" Mark shouted.
"Earth to Matthew," Luke echoed.
"Mattie, Mattie," Johnny mimicked.
"Boys," Mom scolded as she cut up Johnny's spaghetti and meatballs. "Let your brother answer."
"Einstein's Theory of Relativity and the speed of light," I said. "You know. Math and science stuff."
"Sounds very interesting. How about you, Mark?" Dad asked.
Mark slurped in the two long strands of spaghetti hanging out of his mouth. "Statistics and averages," Mark said as he chewed. What Mark really meant was that he was going to play baseball all summer. He was the youngest player in the 10-12 league, but already better than most of the guys my age. Way better than me. When he moved up into my league, I decided to hang up my cleats. Well, actually, I just gave them to Mark, since his feet were as big as mine already. Anyway, I mostly played just because Kyle did.
That night after my brothers were all asleep, I heard my mom and dad talking downstairs. I sneaked down and sat in the dark on the bottom step to hear what they were talking about. I'd been doing it for years. That's how I learned that Mom was the Tooth Fairy, that Dad wanted me to be a preacher just like him, and that Mom was going to have another baby.
That was all old news, except the preacher part. It seems like preachers have to take everything on faith. My dad has mountains of faith. So does my grandpa. Not me. I'm still working my way up to the mustard seed level. I like science with all its experiments and math with all its proofs. I just don't get how people can be so sure about things they can't prove. But I haven't told Dad that. Yet.
"Just how much money did she offer to donate?" I heard my mother asking.
"She offered as much as we need to complete the new youth center, even if we exceed the projected budget," my dad replied. "Up to a million dollars."
Mom whistled softly. "Well, that's certainly a generous offer — especially coming from a woman who never had any children of her own."
Who has lots of money and no children? My mind was racing through our congregation.
"It would be generous if there were no strings attached," Dad said.
"So what does she want?"
"You're not going to believe it." I peeked around the corner and saw my dad shaking his head as he sat by my mom on the couch. "She wants to be able to bring her dogs to church."
My mom laughed so loud, I nearly jumped out of my jammies. "All of them?" she howled. I retreated back a few steps, safely out of view.
"Really, Theresa, it's not funny." When Mom tried to stop laughing, she started hooting like an owl. "And, no, she doesn't want to bring all of them." Dad took a deep breath. "She'd like to bring two dogs to each service. She said that if she were blind I'd have to let her bring a seeing-eye dog, and that if she could have one of her dogs on each side of her as she listened to my sermons, she'd be much more capable of seeing and hearing the truth."
It must be old Mrs. Miller. Kyle and I once overheard his dad saying that she had more money than God and not a blessed idea what to do with any of it. She's got half a dozen fancy dogs that she paid tons of money for plus more strays than anyone's been able to count.
"So, you get your Promised Land, only it's already going to the dogs!" Mom was still laughing.
Dad sighed. "Right. The Israelites got the Land of Canaan, and I get the Land of Canine."
They stopped talking. I guessed they were kissing. Time for me to go back to bed.CHAPTER 3
The next day, I couldn't get to the library soon enough. It opened at 10:00, and I watched Mrs. Cleary unlock the front doors. Mrs. Cleary had worked at the library since before I was born. She still wore her hair in one of those bouffant hairdos. The week before she ordered a bunch of books on relativity for me through interlibrary loan. She stood a little too close beside me and leaned over my shoulder to see my list. She smelled a little too much like the cafeteria at the Senior Center where we went Christmas caroling every year.
I planted myself on the bench outside the library and thought about the girl. I decided that her parents must be dead. Whoever she lived with must be so terrible that she had to run away. As I sat in front of the library that morning, though, our library didn't seem like a place for runaways. So I started thinking maybe she was mental. I read something once about people who are so crazy they eat dirt. They can't help it. They see dirt in a flowerbed or garden, and they just have to pick up a handful and shove it in their mouths. Maybe there's something like that with garbage. I'd have to research that if she didn't show up.
I almost forgot — it was Saturday. What if she couldn't come back until Monday? What if she didn't come back at all? Was she sneaking food out of other trash cans? Did she think I was a total loser — a short, skinny, freckle-faced nobody who liked to quilt? She left awful suddenly. Still — she did smile before she left. Not just a polite smile to dismiss me. It was a real smile that covered her whole face and included her eyes. She'll be here. I just have to wait.
I reached in my backpack and pulled out The Last Battle. Even though The Chronicles of Narnia series was my favorite, I couldn't concentrate. I never even turned a page. It was nearly 11:00 when I finally caught a glimpse of her approaching from the side. I didn't look up from the book until she was standing almost directly in front of me. She was wearing the same clothes as yesterday — same black t-shirt, same jean shorts, same scuffed-up white jogging shoes. When our eyes met, I said, "Oh, hi." I hoped she couldn't hear my heart pounding.
"Hi, Matthew," she replied. She sat down on the bench beside me, but not too close. I waited. Today she was going to have to do more of the talking.
"So," she said, looking me up and down, "you must have gotten all of your chores done early."
"Yeah. You were sure in a hurry yesterday. Everything okay?" I asked.
"Sure." She slipped her backpack off her shoulder and let it drop to the bench. It was every bit as full as it was yesterday, maybe even packed fuller. "I just had someplace else I had to be." Then she turned toward me, kind of hiding the backpack behind her.
"What about today? Is there someplace else you have to go?"
"Maybe," she replied. "What about you?"
"I don't have to be home until 3:00." There was an awkward pause. "Do you want to share my lunch with me?"
"Maybe. What's for lunch?" she asked.
"Let's see what my mom packed today," I said, rummaging through my backpack and pulling out a brown bag. I peered inside. "How do you feel about half a peanut butter sandwich, half a banana, and some pretzels?"
Excerpted from Summer Sanctuary by Laurie Gray. Copyright © 2010 Socratic Parenting, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Luminis Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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