Hanging in the Stars

Hanging in the Stars

by Pat Gallagher Sassone


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781467857284
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 01/27/2012
Pages: 124
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.26(d)

Read an Excerpt

Hanging in the Stars

By Pat Gallagher Sassone


Copyright © 2012 Pat Gallagher Sassone
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4678-5728-4

Chapter One

Andrew punched the chrome handle to open the glass double doors of the weightroom in the gym. Today, he thought, I'm going to change my skinny little ass. He cautiously eyed the silver machines with the black grips and strange pulleys. Mirrors lined the walls, but Andrew already knew what he'd see there. Sandy hair framing a long, thin face with pale skin that flushed even before his workout had begun. Shoulders up around his ears, knobby elbows bent below the gray T-shirt, bony knees that protruded under baggy red basketball shorts. He jiggled his right foot as he prepared to start his workout.

Quickly he lay down on the mat to begin stretching. As fast as possible he rotated each arm 12 times. Then he alternately raised each knee to his chin. Finally, sitting up, he stretched his arms toward his feet, grabbing at his toes. The backs of his legs were taut.

A big guy with tattooed arms and a wrapped right knee was watching him. Andrew tried to ignore the guy. He eyed the machines and started on the chest press, fumbling to select the right setting for the seat. Somehow he caught his thumb in the spring. He squinted to read the directions on the side of the machine. First he placed his hands inside the grip, and then he tried the palms outside. He moved the pin several times in an effort to find the correct weight. Slowly he pushed the weights forward.

After three sets of eight repetitions he moved to the next station. Free weights using dumbbells for overhead presses. He sat there with his legs bent for support and a dumbbell in each hand. He lifted his right arm straight up and down. The left was almost all the way up when he dropped the dumbbell.

"Oh shit," he called.

"Shit, that's for sure," replied the big guy.

Andrew knew his name, Cruz. He was a biker who had wrecked his knee, but not his Harley, in a recent accident. All the kids in the neighborhood knew that.

"Listen kid, I saw you pretending to work out."

Andrew sat speechless while the red climbed up his neck. He didn't want to stare at Cruz's enormous biceps, or his snake tattoo. It looked like a cobra.

"Want some help, Blushing Beauty?"

"Yeah," Andrew blurted. "I'd really like that." Andrew wondered what was coming next.

"Okay, I'll help you get in shape, but everything has its price. You know my sister, Maya? She's in school with you. She's got the killer shot on the handball court at the park."

"Yeah," Andrew replied, wondering what was coming next.

"According to her, you are some kind of brainiac. I want you to help my sister learn to read better. Read and nothing else. You understand?"

"Me? You're going to help me work out, and I'm supposed to help your sister read?"

"She's having trouble in English class with that Shakespeare shit."

"Yeah, okay. I just got to make sure I can. I'll get back to you."

Andrew was so unnerved by Cruz talking to him that he just wanted to run as far away as he could. He leapt off the bench, ran out of the gym, and hopped on his bike.

Riding home, he tried to figure out what just happened. He thought, Weird, really weird, that motorcycle guy, Cruz, coming up to me like that. Cruz is definitely scary, but his Harley is mad cool. What I wouldn't do to ride that. Yeah, fat chance that's going to happen. I'm not even sure if I can build biceps in my arms, no less help Maya read.

Bursting to tell someone about his encounter with Cruz, Andrew rode to Max Donner's house. He went an extra block to avoid the Mustang cruising the avenue-Cruz's boys looking for trouble. Whenever the car passed him, Andrew could feel those guys laughing at him pedaling his dumb bike.

The avenue was a street filled with storefronts: the pizzeria, OTB, bars, a laundromat, a bowling ally, a bank, and a drugstore. The Ave. served as a dividing line between modest middle-class ranch and split-level family homes like Andrew's on the north side, and the attached houses and old, decrepit apartment buildings on the south side.

Andrew relaxed as he turned off the avenue and headed north toward home. Since Labor Day the sound of kids playing on the streets and the smell of barbeque cooking had diminished. Though it was still pretty warm outside, a back-to-school feel was in the air. This week Andrew was happy to have started high school. Pretty soon the cold weather would drive everyone except the dog walkers indoors.

Andrew had lived in this neighborhood all his life. As a little kid, he liked growing up here in Queens. The neighborhood had a city feel, with stores, lights, and an energetic vibe, yet the blocks were tree-lined and families had backyards and space enough so that kids could play sports or hang out. But lately he was thinking what it would be like to live somewhere completely different, like New Zealand. Of course, if he moved to New Zealand, he couldn't crash in Max's basement whenever he needed an escape from his mom.

He always felt happy turning into Max's driveway. For as long as Andrew could remember, Max had been his best friend. Living around the corner from each other, all they had to do was hop their back fence to hang out together. "Anybody home?" Andrew called, opening the Donners' side door.

"Andrew! So how is high school treating my other son?" asked Max's mother. "I hear you two aren't in any classes together this year. What happened?"

"I don't know, Mrs. Donner. Blame the computer gods."

"I'm down here," Max yelled from his basement.

"Who is serving you now, Master Max? X-Box, Nintendo, Wii?" Andrew called as he went down the basement stairs.

"He's going to marry an avatar someday," shouted Max's mother. "You will be the best man."

"Ma give us some space. So what's up, Andrew? Let me see your program card." Andrew handed it over. Max looked disgusted at the names of Andrew's ninth grade teachers.

"Yeah, we have a lot of the same teachers, a mix of bores and workaholics, right?" Andrew said. "Except for Sikorski, I have him for English class ninth period. He seems cool."

"I have him first period," said Max.

"Did he tell your class about that club he runs called Notes? Something to do with writing music and lyrics using computers. It meets on Wednesday afternoons. Sounds kind of fun."

He was sure Max would agree. Max lived for computers and always talked about writing for a band. But he just said, "We'll see."

"Okay," Andrew agreed. "Hey, you'll never guess who started talking to me at the gym?"

"My mom."

"Very funny. You know that guy Cruz with a bull's body? He rides a Harley."

"Yeah, what did he want you to be leader of the pack? All 100 pounds of you."

"No, we talked about working out. His sister plays handball in the park. You want to take a ride over there? I could get into handball."

"What's the chance those kids carrying box cutters will play with us?" Max asked, looking down at the phone screen on his lap.

Andrew realized he couldn't tell Max about Cruz, not today or ever. He and Max had a long history of fun together. Last year in music class, Max's arm farts synchronized with John Philip Sousa's marches made Andrew laugh long into the summer. But Max didn't like shaking things up. He never wanted to leave the block.

"Are you staying for dinner, Andrew?" Mrs. Donner called. He could hear the clang of silverware and smell the tempting aroma of garlic and peppers and onions.

"No, my mom gets all bent out of shape if I don't tell her changes of schedule in advance. Thanks anyway."

From the corner of Max's block Andrew could see his mother getting out of her black Honda, carrying groceries and dry cleaning while checking her Blackberry.

"Hey, Mom," he called.

"Andrew, I 'm so glad you're here to help. I'm running late. Get a gallon of water from the garage. Ally has to be at practice by 6:30."

When he opened the garage door, Ally elbowed him out of the way. "I got it. Move out of the way, bro," his sister Ally said as she stretched her long legs over him to grab the container.

"That's some black and blue you got on your shin," he said to his sister. "Ever heard of shin guards?"

"You should see the other team's fullback," Ally said. She raised both hands up in a victory sign while gently shaking her head to move her long, dark red hair out of her eyes.

"I bet," Andrew answered. He put his bike away and locked it.

That bruise was a sure sign of a hustler for the college coaches who would be evaluating Allyson's ability on the soccer field at a showcase game. Maybe black and blue with rainbow background would qualify her for a full college scholarship.

In the dining room he could hear his mother's deep, clear voice talking about some employee in her office.

"I told him in no uncertain terms I wasn't about to put up with those kind of comments. You know how men are," his mom said to Ally.

His mother often made negative comments about men. Andrew wanted to ask her, Well, just how are men? How would you know, since Dad ran out on you ten years ago?

Andrew didn't really remember the divorce that well. At first, his dad did try to stay involved in Ally's and his life. He rented an apartment nearby so he could visit on Sundays. He would take them to the movies or a ballgame or bowling. It was fun. During winter break the three of them went to a ski resort and to the beach in the summer. One vacation their Dad took Ally and him to Disney World.

But his mom always found faults with the visits. His dad was giving them too much sugar to eat, or he let them watch too much violence on TV, or got them home way past their bedtime. Then, two years ago, his dad remarried and moved out of the city, about an hour's drive from Andrew's house. His new wife was nice, but this year they had a baby boy and much less time to visit. This year his dad only saw Ally and him on holidays.

His mother was relieved that she didn't have to deal with their dad on a regular basis. She was a no-nonsense bank manager who ran her home in pretty much the same way she ran the bank. Her direct toughness was hard enough. But she annoyed Andrew even more when she tried to be diplomatic.

Tonight at dinner she again casually suggested, "Andrew have you thought about trying out for track? You look like a runner."

Why not blurt it right out? thought Andrew. With your skinny little ass you might as well be the water boy. A couple of nights before, she'd suggested he might try out for drama club.

"All my girlfriends thought you were so cute in the school play last year," Ally added.

Cute? 5 feet 4, 120 pound guy? Cute? How pathetic, thought Andrew. His sister's friends were boring too. Allyson's friends texted each other 100 times a day about boys and clothes. They spent every day worrying about getting in some college. They joined as many activities as possible to enhance their college applications. Like Ally thinking soccer was her ticket to some hot-shot school. Ally and her friends were so predictable.

Maya, Cruz's sister, wouldn't be caught dead staying after school in some club. Andrew knew that Maya cut classes to hang out with the guys on the handball court. He had seen her playing handball. Her tight body sliding sideways. She was probably stronger than him. But she sure was pretty with that long black hair that kind of swayed as she moved.

Last year, when he was in eighth grade, everything was different. Now the last thing he wanted to do was be on a dumb school team like Allyson's or act with those weirdoes in drama. Sometimes he felt like screaming at his mother: I might want to be a graffiti artist and paint curse words all over every school in the city. Maybe I'll become a street performer, a juggler in the park. No overhead, no college degree, no business suit. That sounds like a plan I can follow.

"Remember, Andrew, today is the fifteenth of the month. It's your turn to clear the table. Don't forget to sweep the floor and wipe the counters. One thing I can't stand is a sticky counter."

He dreaded the schedule his mother would come up with next year when Ally started college. How would his mother cope when Ally finally went away to college? So much of her time and energy went into making Allyson the star student athlete on her way to conquering the male-dominated world.

Andrew wanted to fight back. Yeah, I'll do it, he thought. I'll work out with Cruz and help Maya in English. But how would he and Cruz set up a plan for the workouts and tutoring sessions? He'd have to make the arrangements quickly, before Cruz got someone else to help Maya. In the evenings, he'd seen Cruz on the Ave. bowling or playing pool in the local bar, The Pit. If he went over there, he'd have a good chance of finding Cruz.

How to get out from under his mother's watchful eye? Gradually he introduced school into the dinner conversation, saying he was reading Romeo and Juliet in English class. His mother was immediately enthusiastic.

"Oh, Romeo and Juliet, I read that in high school. Ally, did you have the same English teacher as Andrew in ninth grade? I remember you doing some creative assignments in that class."

"I had Sikorski too. I loved Romeo and Juliet."

Andrew just rolled his eyes as his mother and Ally got sappy over this play. But now he could invent a reason for leaving the house.

"Well, I have to make a sword for the fight in the opening scene. We're acting it out. I have to get some poster board and glue."

"Oh, we did that too," Ally said.

Andrew nodded. He didn't mention that the sword was optional.

"When is this due? Wait, let me guess. Tomorrow," his mother said.

"You guessed it, Mom. I'll be right back. I'll just ride over to Kim's Stationery. They'll have what I need."

"Maybe you can get a planner while you're there. So we don't have to go through this last- minute nonsense."

"I have a planner, Mom. Remember, you gave it to me in July?" Andrew said, slipping out the front door. He could feel his mother's frustration in her silence.

The avenue was crowded with commuters coming home from work in the city. As Andrew had expected, the red Mustang was parked directly behind the back door of The Pit. He walked over and peeked in through the rear window. He could hear the crack of the wooden pool sticks and the clang of glass beer bottles. Cruz's posse was in the middle of a game.

Suddenly the back door opened. Ray, one of Cruz's guys, yelled, "Do you see any bike racks here?" He grabbed Andrew by the front of his sweatshirt. "What do you want, hairball?"

Before Andrew could answer, out stepped Cruz. "Easy does it with Blushing Beauty. How about calling you BB for short? We don't want nothing to happen to BB's brain until he teaches Maya to speak Shakespeare. So what do you say, BB, we got a deal?"

Andrew nodded, afraid to speak. Behind Cruz, Ray seethed, smoking nonstop.

"A man of few words is a smart man indeed," said Cruz. "Meet me tomorrow morning at 7 AM sharp at the gym. I'll show you the workout-Cruz's insider tips. Those muscles are gonna rip that shirt in two." Then he laughed, a loud, crazy laugh.

"After school you'll meet Maya at the swings near the handball court for her first lesson. If she's not there tomorrow, I want to know right away. Comprendo?"

"Si, yes, okay," Andrew said, getting on his bike with Cruz still laughing at him. Andrew wasn't sure if that was good or bad. He was so excited from his meeting with Cruz that he rode halfway home before he realized he forgot the materials he needed to make the sword. Riding back past The Pit, he could hear Cruz yelling inside the bar.

The next morning Andrew got up before six. Cruz had said, "7 AM sharp."

His mother definitely would not want him to associate with people like Cruz and Maya. He waited until his mom was in her office mode, leaving for work. Then he said, "Mom, I've been thinking about how you said I should consider running track. So I plan on hitting the gym a few mornings before school and running in the park after school. I need to get in shape for the team."

"Well, Andrew, that sounds great as long as it doesn't interfere with schoolwork.

Make sure that you're out of the gym, showered, and on time to your first period."

"Mom, remember this year I'm on late session. My first period doesn't start until 9:05."

"Okay, then. How did that sword turn out?"

"Unbelievable. All the Montagues and Capulets will cower when I draw my cardboard dagger."

"Don't be sarcastic, Andrew. It doesn't suit you. Have a good day. Make sure to check the fridge for your list of chores. We want to get into the school schedule as quickly as possible. Remind Ally to check the list too if you see her before you leave for the gym."


Excerpted from Hanging in the Stars by Pat Gallagher Sassone Copyright © 2012 by Pat Gallagher Sassone. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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