|Publisher:||Roaring Brook Press|
|File size:||212 KB|
|Age Range:||10 - 14 Years|
About the Author
Betty Hicks is the author of Basketball Bats and several sports novels for older readers, including Busted! and I Smell Like Ham. She lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.
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By Betty Hicks
Roaring Brook PressCopyright © 2006 Betty Hicks
All rights reserved.
"Come on, Dez. You have to help me. We won't get caught."
It's night. Dark, rainy, and so cold that I can't understand why it isn't sleeting. The last thing I want to do right now — or ever — is steal a street sign.
"It's not even against the law," says Jil, her eyes pleading with me.
Not that I can see her eyes. Like I said — it's dark.
"Of course it's against the law," I screech. "Are you crazy?"
"They're widening this road soon," she answers in a firm, confident voice, the exact voice I imagine Christopher Columbus using to convince Queen Isabella that the world is round.
Jil's sure-about-everything voice has sucked me into more mistakes than a shark has teeth. It always begins with her saying, Come on, Dez, and ends with, You have to help me.
"They'll put up new signs," she continues with certainty. "We'll be doing the city a favor by taking this one away — one less chunk of metal to be hauled off to the dump."
I don't say anything, so she thumps the post with her fist and adds, "Do you know they charge by the pound to dump scrap like this in the city landfill? Taxpayers' money! I bet this sign is so heavy, we'll be saving —"
"Okay, okay," I interrupt, thinking, Maybe it's not stealing. At least not in a criminal way. I dig around in my coat pocket for a Kleenex. It's so cold, my nose is beginning to run.
All this trouble. Just because Jil's boyfriend's name is Graham, and she thinks he needs this particular green sign, with Graham Road in neat white block letters, for a Christmas present.
"I mean, what do you give somebody who has everything?" she had argued earlier, throwing up her hands in frustration.
"A street sign?" I'd asked doubtfully.
"Exactly," answered Jil.
I blow my nose and wonder what he'll give her. She pretty much has everything too. But where would Graham find a sign that says Jil? I mean, give me a break — one L? That's not how you spell it.
I wipe my nose again and wonder why cold weather always makes it drip. I should ask my mom, the scientist. She'd know.
What I know is that Jil should be spelled with two Ls. As in Jack and Jill. Because she reminds me of a fairy-tale-type person. Okay, maybe that Jill is not actually in a fairy tale. She's a nursery-rhyme character, but hey, they're all related.
Anyway, the Jil who is standing here now — in the wet, freezing night — is just like the beautiful fairy-tale heroine, the one the bad guy always gives the Do not instructions to. You know. Do not set foot into that really tempting room with all the diamonds in it or a three-headed monster will eat you. Or do not take a single bite out of that juicy red apple or you'll fall asleep for a hundred years.
But Jil-with-one-L always does it anyway. And, big surprise, her three-headed monster inevitably turns into a gorgeous genie with six-pack abs, who grants her any three wishes she wants just because he thinks her energy and spunk are awesome.
That would be the same energy and spunk that, right now, is helping her jerk and shove a ten-foot-high signpost that's buried, solid, in deep dirt.
"Could you please help me here?" she begs, slightly out of breath.
I blow my nose again and scan the neighborhood for witnesses. Or police. An SUV swishes around the corner, its headlights exposing us for the criminals we're about to be. Two bright high beams pierce my eyeballs like sharp, cold knives.
"Stop pushing the sign!" I hiss.
Jil drops her hands and leans against the post, as if we're just hanging out here for the sheer joy of it. Except that it's thirty-three degrees and raining.
The big vehicle swooshes past, spraying icy water up over the curb and onto my ratty, not-even-remotely-waterproof sneakers. Jil has on new, dry Gore-Tex boots.
I want to glare at her, but my eyes aren't up to it, and besides, she can't see them.
By now, the tissue I found in my pocket has soaked up all the runny nose it can hold, but I use it again anyway. Yuck. At least it beats using my sleeve.
Come on, Dez, I say to myself. Don't blame Jil. Didn't I sneak out here on my own two stupid, wet feet?
Come to think of it, I shouldn't criticize her name, either. With a name like Destiny, who am I to talk?
"You need a screwdriver," I say.
"A screwdriver," I repeat. "You don't need the post. Just the sign."
Like I said, it's dark, so I can't see her eyes, but I know that they're blinking about a hundred miles an hour. Then they stop — I can feel it. A lightbulb moment.
"Dez!" she exclaims. Then she whacks her forehead, a dull thump that I assume is made with the palm of her hand, and says, "Duh. What would I do without you?"
Go to jail? I wonder.CHAPTER 2
Stealing a street sign is not as easy as you might think.
Correction — removing a no-longer-needed street sign is not as easy as you might think.
First, we have to slog over to my house and find a screwdriver. Which is about as easy as locating a grape seed in a Dumpster full of garbage.
While Jil warms herself in front of a toasty fire, she chatters enthusiastically to my mother about the possibility of snow and school closings. Mom answers her with precise, expert commentary on barometric pressure, global warming, and the motion of molecules. My mother's favorite TV program is the Weather Channel. To Jil, this makes her interesting. To me, it makes her strange.
Meanwhile, I fumble my throbbing-and-thawing fingers through our rusty toolbox. My parents keep it in the hall closet, which is half filled with piles of my father's antique book collection of insanely old poetry. The toolbox has been shoved in the other half, under a stack of rectangular air filters that fit our old furnace — the one that died two years ago.
None of these disposable filters fit our new furnace, but my parents never throw anything away. Maybe they plan to use them as place mats.
The jumbled-up box is full of everything but tools: a wad of muddy string, a broken chain, one torn paperback book on how to identify trees in the winter — when the leaves are gone — a twisted tube of dried-up Super Glue, a toothbrush with no bristles, one faded red refrigerator magnet that used to say Pizza Palace, and a cockroach hotel with last century's expiration date on it.
And, ick! The smell! Musty books. Dead mice.
Mentally, I place the toolbox, and the closet, on my list of things to clean out. Also, to air out. Soon.
"Mom!" I shout. "Where's the screwdriver?"
"Hold your horses. I'm thinking."
Mom is a scientific genius, but — this is so weird — she says old-fashioned things all the time, like hold your horses. Sometimes I think she belongs back in the time of George Washington. Or Moses.
Maybe it's because she was raised by her grandmother. A perfectly normal sentence for Gram was "I'm tickled pink that you're as sharp as a tack, but don't bite the hand that feeds you, 'cause there's no such thing as a free lunch."
Clichés at my house are almost an art form.
"Why's Dez looking for a screwdriver?" I hear Mom ask.
Jil's Christopher Columbus voice answers. I can't make out exactly what she says, but the tone gets an A-plus in Convincing.
"Did you look in the bottom drawer in the kitchen?" Mom shouts back. "The one with the napkins?"
Why would I do that? I wonder. Then again, my house is the disorganized clutter capital of the universe, so why not look in the wrong place? Why not search the medicine cabinet or the sugar canister? Why not look up the chimney?
Jil and I trudge back out into the wet, icy night. Me carrying a screwdriver with a sticky, lint-covered handle that really was hidden in the napkin drawer — under a ceramic chicken and a six-year-old picture postcard from my great aunt in Salt Lake City.
Jil is tugging her left earlobe because that's what she does when she's nervous. Which makes me want to ask, if what we're about to do isn't stealing, then why are you acting twitchy? But I don't.
"Your mother said this will turn into snow," says Jil.
"Enough to close school?" I ask, hopeful.
"According to the weekend weatherman, one or two inches. According to your mom, at least four."
"Wahoo!" I cheer. In Durham, North Carolina, even a half inch is enough to call off school. I would love to have no class tomorrow. It's only December, but eighth grade is already old.
"What'd you tell Mom?"
"About why we need a screwdriver on a yucky Sunday night."
"Oh, I just said we were taking it to my house, so my mom could borrow it — that she couldn't find hers."
Jil and I both snort at the same time. What a joke!
Her mom's house would make the Library of Congress look disorganized. Everything in it is so neat, it wouldn't surprise me if she had ten screwdrivers, each lined up according to size, shape, and color, all in their very own drawer. Yellow plastic handles on the right, gray rubber handles on the left.
None of them sticky.
Jil is so lucky.
I look up at the street sign. Way up. That's when I realize there's no chance that either of us can reach it.
"We need a ladder," says Jil, reading my mind.
"Right," I answer, "and a big megaphone to announce to every passing car that we're swiping a street sign."
"What we're doing is not the same as stealing!" Jil hisses at me. "Didn't I already explain?"
"Yeah, I know. We're doing the city a favor. But we're still going to look like crooks if we haul a ladder out here."
Jil and I both stare up at the tall sign. Tiny pellets of ice sting my face. The rain has changed to sleet.
"If I bend over, you can stand on my back," says Jil.
I think about that solution for all of two seconds. I'm bigger than Jil. Not fat, but solid. Five feet, eight inches. Jil is barely five feet, and thin, like the post we're gaping up at, only with curves. My mom thinks she's as cute as a button. Boys think so, too.
What boys think about me — if they think about me — is that I'm taller than they are.
If anybody stands on anybody, I'm going to be the one stuck on the bottom. Me — Dez. The pillar. Sturdy. And sometimes stupid.
I bend over. "Climb on up."
"Are you sure?" asks Jil.
"Just do it," I groan, even though I'm pretty positive that I don't want her Gore-Tex boots grinding into my back. My quilted nylon jacket is water resistant, not waterproof, and I'm already half soaked.
Jil's coat is made of warm down, 100 percent waterproof, Patagonia's finest Arctic-expedition weight. She could camp out here until spring and never feel a chill.
"Thanks, Dez," she says, scrambling up onto my hunched-over back, then pulling herself up straight with the signpost. "You're the best."
"No kidding," I mutter back.
We both giggle.
Even when we're both stupid and miserable, Jil is my best friend, and I am hers.
I try to keep myself level by placing my hands on my legs, elbows slightly bent, and pushing hard against my thighs.
Jil's a lot heavier than she looks.
"Stand still!" I hiss.
Now she's pinching the skin around my shoulder blades with her complicated boot treads. Sleet is pelting against the back of my neck, slipping down, and melting under my sweater.
"What're you doing?" I scream.
"I can't reach it," she whimpers.
"Stretch!" I yell. I feel her boots pinch the skin around the top of my spine, and wonder if she will sever all my nerve endings and paralyze me for life.
An icy gust of wind whips through every layer of clothing I'm wearing. I might as well be naked.
"The screwdriver!" she shouts. "It won't work. There's no slot —"
"Car!" I yell, standing up straight.
Jil crashes to the ground beside me. I lose my footing and fall on top of her. Something rips. A low, dark sports car streaks by — a piercing missile of light that vanishes into the darkness.
Jil doesn't move.
"Are you all right?" I ask, rolling off her, panicked.
No answer. Then I hear her groan and slowly push herself into a sitting position. She's rubbing her head.
"Fool!" She spits the word into the night.
"I'm so sorry," I apologize.
"Not you," she moans. "That moron going sixty on an icy road. I hope he gets a ticket." I laugh, relieved.
"A wallet," she says, out of nowhere.
"Yeah," she says. "Graham is getting a wallet for Christmas."
We sit under the street sign and laugh hysterically as the stinging sleet turns into tiny flecks of soft snow. I pat my hands over my jeans, searching for what tore, but everything seems to be in one piece.
I'm so cold, though, that I'm numb all over, except for my back. It still hurts where Jil clogged across it. But weirdly, I'm happy to be sitting here in a freezing, wet heap with her, watching the snow fall.
Somehow, even though snow is just as cold as sleet — and colder than freezing rain — it feels better. Cozier.
"It's beautiful," says Jil.
I purr a little umm of agreement, and open my mouth to catch the quiet flakes on my tongue.
We're both silent for a long time. I'm thinking how amazing snow is. Wishing Durham got more than two or three decent accumulations every year. Listening for the occasional ticks of sleet mixed in. Hoping for no school tomorrow.
I wonder what Jil is thinking.
"Dez," she says, so softly I have to lean closer to hear, "there's something really important I have to do."
Uh-oh. It's her so-solemn-that-it's-scary voice. I bet she's pulling on her earlobe. Any second now she'll say, Dez. You have to help me.
This calls for an instant subject change. "So," I blurt, "what time is it?"
Jil pushes the button that lights her watch and squeals, "Oh my God! I'm late!" She hops up, brushes snow off her pants, and says, "Gotta go. I'll call you tomorrow!"
I watch her sprint for home, her surprised shriek still echoing in my ears. But deeper inside my head, I hear the other voice, the one that was as serious as a cemetery. The one that said, Dez. There's something really important I have to do.CHAPTER 3
Before I went to sleep, I set my alarm clock for six A.M., in case of snow.
Dad'll wake up early too. Without turning on a single light in his bedroom, he'll click on the TV. Ping! Even from my room across the hall, I'll hear it pop on with that little electronic twang. He'll lie there half-asleep, scratching his bristly red beard and watching to see if Carrington Middle School scrolls across the bottom of a screen that's glowing spooky blue in the early-morning dark.
If he sees my school, he'll nudge Mom; then they'll both sit up and watch the day-care closings. If La Petite Academy shows up, I'll hear their low planning voices, deciding whose schedule can best be rearranged to stay home with Denver, my little brother.
But I'm awake this early for a different reason. A reason so secret that I would never even tell Jil, because best friend or not, she would think it is way too weird.
I am awake to see the snow.
Not to see if it snowed. And not to let out a tiny whoop, yawn, and crash back into bed to sleep late — like normal thirteen-year-old girls do.
No. I set my alarm clock so I can see the snow before anyone else does. To see the downy cover that drifts over my front yard and actually lights up the darkness with its smooth white shine. I want to see it before Denver plows into it and fills it full of footprints and snow angels. And ruins it.
I want to see it neat.
The way I keep my room.
Sometimes I wonder how I can even be related to Mom, Dad, and Denver. The three most un-neat people in the history of the world.
Don't get me wrong. I love my brother.
And for parents, mine are okay.
But ... sooo embarrassing.
I pull the cord slowly to open my curtains. My room has a picture window that takes up most of one wall and looks out onto our front yard. To me, it's a real drum-roll moment, like when the curtains part at the beginning of a play and there's a whole new world hidden behind them. A room filled with soft, rich, velvet furniture, smelling of pipe tobacco. Or a big city square crowded with old-timey streetlights and boys in knickers waving newspapers and shouting, "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!"
I smile at the scene opening outside my window.
Clean. White. The ground completely covered. At least four inches worth. The bushes have huge cotton-ball clumps on top. And best of all, there's a flat river of ice-milk where the street should be.
No school. For sure.
Excerpted from Get Real by Betty Hicks. Copyright © 2006 Betty Hicks. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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