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The little red light on our answering machine was blinking on and off when I wandered into the kitchen. I groaned. I could guess who that was.
"Hey, Sherlock!" I whistled for my dog. "Do you need to go outside?" It was eight o'clock in the morning, so of course he needed to go outside. He came running, tail wagging and nails clicking against our cracked kitchen floor.
"Here you go," I said, holding the back door open for him.
I wondered if we had anything for breakfast. I pressed PLAY on the answering machine and wandered over to the fridge to see what was inside. Not much. A little bit of milk. Bologna. Leftover pizza.
The machine beeped and I heard, "Hello? T.J.?" My fingers tightened around the fridge handle. "This is Sam. Again." I could tell she was trying to sound friendly and unconcerned, but she also sounded nervous. What did she have to be nervous about? She wasn't the one who'd had her whole life turned upside down.
"My mom and I just wanted to make sure you're still coming on Wednesday," Sam went on. "Are you? Did you get the money for the bus ticket? We need to know what bus you're coming on and what time it gets in so we can come pick you up. Could you maybe call us back and let us know?"
I grabbed the pizza box, then slammed the fridge closed.
"Oh!" I jumped when I saw Joe standing on the other side of the fridge door. He had on an old T-shirt and ratty jeans. Work clothes.
"Hey," he said as though it was just another normal day, and we were just another normal father and daughter about to sit down to a nice, delicious breakfast together. Right. I'd have gone back to my room if Sherlock hadn't still been outside. Believe it or not, Joe was the one who'd gotten me the dog. He chose a Westie because that's what he had when he was a kid. He told me Westies were smart, loyal, and independent. Which was true. Too bad everything else he'd ever told me was a lie.
"Are you planning to eat that pizza or are you just going to carry it around for a while?" Joe asked.
"Is there enough pizza left for both of us?" Joe tried again.
I shoved a bunch of dirty dishes aside so I could set the box on the counter. "Open it and see," I told Joe. It was the most I'd said to him in about three days.
He pulled up the lid and grabbed a slice from the pepperoni side of the pizza. Once he moved out of the way, I helped myself to a slice of the bacon and pineapple and stuffed the pointy end into my mouth. It was like biting into cold cardboard. Fortunately, I happened to like cold, card-boardy pizza.
"I take it you still haven't called Sam back," Joe said as he leaned against the stove.
"Obviously not," I said, wishing my dog would hurry up. I went over to the door to wait for him.
"How many times has she called in the last couple of weeks? Three? Four?"
"More like five or six."
Joe sighed. "T.J., you have to call her back."
"Why?" Even more important, why did he care whether I called her back?
"Because when someone calls and leaves a message, you call them back. That's the way it works."
Maybe in normal families.
"I don't have enough money for the bus ticket anymore, remember?" I said. I'd given him some of the money Suzanne sent me so he could pay our electric bill. Not that I minded. If I didn't have money for the bus ticket, I wouldn't be able to go to Iowa. Oh, well.
"I've got your money right here," Joe said, reaching into his front pocket. He pulled out a wad of bills and brought them over to me.
I eyed the cash, but didn't take any. "Where'd you get all that?" I asked.
"Hey, I've got a job now, remember?" Joe said, a little too cheerfully. He grabbed my free hand, the one that didn't have the half-eaten slice of pizza in it, pressed the bills against my palm, then closed my fingers around them.
I popped the last of my pizza into my mouth and counted the money while I chewed. Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, one hundred dollars. I'd actually given him a hundred and twenty dollars, but whatever. It wasn't my money. It was Suzanne's.
"What's the matter, T.J.?" Joe asked. "Don't you want to go to your mom's?"
Of course I didn't want to go. I didn't know these people. I didn't even know Sam and Suzanne existed until Sam showed up on our doorstep three weeks ago and said she was my sister. My twin sister. I might have been able to get excited about that under other circumstances. Like, if her existence didn't prove that my entire life had been a lie. Now I was supposed to forget everything I'd ever been told about who I was and be like any other divorce kid. Go to Iowa. Go to Suzanne's wedding and act like her daughter. It was too much. Too much, too soon.
"It'll be okay," Joe said as he went to the fridge and took out a can of Coke. "It's only a week. It'll go fast."
Was that supposed to make me feel better?
"Maybe I'll get there and decide I don't want to come back," I said, just to see what he'd say. "Did you ever think of that?"
Joe popped the tab on his Coke can. "I have thought of that," he said, not meeting my eyes. "And if that's what you want " His voice trailed off.
It wasn't what I wanted.
Sherlock let out a short bark, so I let him in. He went straight to his food bowl, which was still empty. Holding tight to the hundred bucks, I grabbed the bag of dog food from the shelf next to the back door. Three ants crawled out from behind the bag. Gram would have a fit if she knew there were ants in her house. I smashed them with the bag, then poured some food into Sherlock's bowl. He nosed his way in before I even finished pouring.
"I called the bus station last night," Joe said suddenly.
I lifted an eyebrow. "You called the bus station?"
"Don't give me your lip. Of course I called the bus station. I knew you hadn't done it. And I thought it was about time we made a plan for Wednesday. There's a bus that leaves here at 7:20 a.m. and gets in to Cedar Rapids around 6:30 p.m. Cedar Rapids is the closest town to Clearwater that has a bus station." He looked pretty proud of himself for finding out all that information. "Why don't you call Sam back and tell her you'll be on that bus?"
"You're the one who called the bus station," I said. "Why don't you call her?"
Joe scratched his ear. "I don't think that would be a good idea. Do you?"
No, probably not. After everything that had happened, Joe and Suzanne had been communicating through Mrs. Morris, my social worker. It was better that way. Safer. Personally, I thought it was safer for me to communicate with Suzanne and Sam through Mrs. Morris, too, but Mrs. Morris wanted me to talk to them directly.
And now even Joe wanted me to talk to them directly. He grabbed the phone and held it out to me. "Call and tell them you're coming, Teej," he said. "Please."
I stared at the phone for a couple of seconds, then went to put the bag of dog food back on the shelf. "I think we should call and tell them I'll come in a few weeks," I said. "After the wedding."
I'd never actually been to a wedding before, but I'd seen enough of them on TV to know that this was a really stupid time for my first visit. It's not like Suzanne and I would have any time to "get to know each other." Not with some big wedding going on. And then the day after the wedding they're going to be busy moving into their new house. Who invites a total stranger to their wedding and then asks the person to help them move?
"Suzanne told Mrs. Morris that she wanted both her daughters there for her wedding," Joe said. "I'm not really in a position to tell her no, am I?"
Probably not. Because if he gets on Suzanne's bad side, he could end up in jail.
Joe held the phone out to me again. "Would you please just tell them you're coming? You don't want that social worker to come over here and start nosing around again, do you?"
Of course I didn't, so I took the phone. I knew Joe would stand there until I made the call, so I went over to the answering machine, rewound the tape, and got Suzanne and Sam's phone number. My finger shook as I punched in the numbers. If I was lucky, no one would answer.
Two rings three rings four rings click. "You have reached the Wright residence." Yes! An answering machine. "We can't come to the phone right now, but if you'll leave your name and number, we'll get back to you as soon as possible."
"Hi. This is—" I had to stop and think. I was T.J. As far as I was concerned, that was my name.
But they—Suzanne and Sam—knew me as Sarah.
Well, tough. "This is T.J.," I said. "My bus gets in to Cedar Rapids at 6:30 on Wednesday night. See you then." I hung up and handed the phone back to Joe.
"What?" I asked.
"You could've been a little friendlier."
Considering none of this was my idea, or my fault, I could've been a lot unfriendlier.CHAPTER 2
I'll pick you up after softball today," Joe said as he packed two peanut butter sandwiches, a bag of chips, and a Coke into his lunch box.
I unwrapped a square of grape bubble gum and popped it into my mouth. "I'll take the bus," I said between chews.
"Don't be difficult. You know your coach doesn't like it when you take the bus."
"My coach needs to get a life," I said. What did he think was going to happen to me on the 4:44 bus anyway?
Joe grunted. "I agree. But what if that social worker has been talking to him? Do you really want your mom to find out I let you take the bus by yourself?"
I shrugged. There were worse things she could find out.
"If I pick you up, we can go visit Gram afterwards," Joe said. "You do want to see Gram before you leave on Wednesday, don't you?"
I'd been planning to go see her anyway. On the bus. Just like I did every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday since she went into the nursing home.
Joe made me promise I wouldn't tell Gram about Sam showing up three weeks ago. He didn't even want me to tell Gram that I was going to visit Sam and Suzanne. He said it would confuse and upset her. I didn't want to confuse or upset her, so I kept my mouth shut. It was hard, though. My whole life, no matter where Joe and I were living, no matter what was going on, Gram was the one I called when we were in trouble or if I needed something. She told me what to do when I got my period for the first time; she told me what to do when Joe got sick and when he got arrested; she even took us in two years ago when things got really bad. She made Joe go to rehab and she took care of me, even though she was already starting to get a little forgetful. Gram had always been my safety net, but now I had to go it alone.
"We can pick up Chinese on the way home and watch the Twins game while we eat," Joe went on. "What do you say?"
"I say, what's the occasion?" Chinese food was expensive. We normally only got it for special occasions.
Joe walked over to me. "The occasion is you're leaving in two days, and I'm going to miss you," he said, cupping my chin in his hand. "I want us to do something special before you go."
Why? In case I didn't come back? I was coming back!
Whatever. If it was that big of a deal to him "Practice is over at 4:30," I said. "Don't be late."
"I won't," Joe said.
Right. Joe was always late. That's why I started riding the bus.
Big surprise. It was 4:45 and no Joe. Thunder rumbled in the distance, and I gazed up at the greenish purple clouds that drifted slowly across the sky. It was growing darker by the minute.
Great. I'd just missed the 4:44 bus and there wouldn't be another bus until 5:10. I sure hoped Joe was really coming.
I leaned against the chain-link fence and lazily swung my gym bag back and forth in front of me while Monica and Megan Hayes ran around picking up all the bases, stray balls, and other equipment. Their dad, who was our coach, was jotting last-minute notes on his clipboard. Everyone else had already left.
Monica and Megan were identical twins. Like me and Sam. Funny, I'd never noticed how many twins were out there until I met Sam. The only twins I'd ever paid attention to were the Minnesota Twins, as in the baseball team. Now I saw them all over the place. Monica and Megan were an especially annoying set. Everything about them was, well identical. Not just their looks, but the stuff they did for fun, their friends, everything. Was that what most twins were like?
Would Sam and I be like that if we had grown up together?
I doubted it. The only thing we had in common was our parents.
Coach Hayes shoved his clipboard in one of the duffel bags and zipped it up while his clone daughters zipped the other. "Is your dad on his way, T.J.?" he asked as the three of them strode toward me. They were such a perfect family. Perfect dad and perfect kids. I'll bet when Coach Hayes says he's going to pick Monica and Megan up from the mall at a certain time, he does it.
"Probably," I said. But who knew?
Thunder rumbled again. Louder this time. Streetlights up and down Washburn Avenue clicked on.
"Have you called him?"
"Uh, I don't have a cell phone," I said.
The clones looked at me like, how could you not have a cell phone? But hey, cell phones cost money. And unlike the rest of the world, we didn't have a money tree growing outside our house.
Coach unclipped his phone from his belt and held it out to me. "Use mine," he said. "If your dad can't get here in the next couple of minutes, I'll just take you home."
Monica and Megan glanced at each other out of the corners of their eyes. I could tell they didn't want to give me a ride. Let's just say the three of us didn't hang out with the same people.
"That's okay," I said. I didn't need a ride from them or anyone else. "I'm sure my dad will be here any minute." And if he's not, I'll run down and catch the 5:10 bus.
"Well, I can't leave you here by yourself," Coach said. "And I can't wait around much longer. So why don't you call and see what's going on?" He handed me the phone.
I had to stop and think what Joe's phone number was. He only got a phone a couple of months ago when he started working for Floyd Construction. I punched in a number I thought was Joe's and put the phone to my ear.
A loud clap of thunder sounded right above us. Large drops of rain plunked against my arms and dotted the sidewalk.
Monica and Megan shrieked in unison, then took off toward a black Toyota that was parked across the street. Coach touched my elbow. "Come on, T.J. Let's go." Rain poured down all around us.
Still holding the coach's cell phone to my ear, I hoisted my gym bag up onto my other shoulder and hurried after him. My feet slapped against the wet pavement and my toes squished inside my sopping wet socks.
"Hello? Joe?" I said once the voice mail kicked in. "Softball got out like twenty minutes ago. Where are you? Coach Hayes won't let me wait by myself, so he's going to bring me home. I'll see you there."
The clones had left the back door of the Toyota open for me, so I crawled in and the coach slammed the door closed behind me as the rain poured down even harder. It sounded like marbles rolling across the roof of the car.
"Did you get ahold of your dad?" Coach Hayes asked once he was settled in the front seat.
"Yeah," I lied. "He's stuck in traffic. The rain, you know." I handed him his phone. "He said to tell you thanks for bringing me home."
I shook the water out of my hair. The clone who was maybe Megan leaned way away from me like I was spraying germs all over her.
"So, where do you live, T.J.?" Coach asked as he stuck his key in the ignition. The air conditioning came on full blast.
Goose bumps popped out on my arms and I shivered. "Over on Sheridan," I said, rubbing my arms. "Sheridan and 74th."
"That's not too far," Coach said.
Hugging my gym bag to my chest, I leaned back against my seat and watched the little rivers of rain run along my window. The clones carried on some dumb conversation about who'd said what to whom the whole way to my house. Fine with me. That way I didn't have to talk to them. Gram was always trying to get me to make friends with the girls at school. That's why she made me join band and softball and anything else I could stand to be in for ten seconds. She didn't get that I just didn't fit in. But so what? I had Joe and Gram, and Nick and Dave next door, and my dog. That was enough.
"Which house is it?" Coach asked as he turned onto my street.
"That brown one on the left up there," I said. "The one with the broken garage window." Joe had promised Gram he'd fix that when he got out of rehab and he still hasn't done it. But then again, Gram's not here to know that he hasn't done it.
By the time we pulled into the driveway, the worst of the storm had passed. Just a light rain was falling now. "Thanks for the ride," I said, reaching for the door handle.
Excerpted from Yes, I Know the Monkey Man by Dori Hillestad Butler. Copyright © 2009 Dori Hillestad Butler. Excerpted by permission of Peachtree.
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