"You've Bought a church?" Michael and I looked up from the pile of homework covering most of the kitchen table. I was in the middle of writing a poem for Mr. Pelowski's English class, and Michael was working his way happily through twenty math questions.
Mom filled a kettle with water and put it on the stove. Her checks were pink from the March wind, and so was the tip of her nose. "You and Molly will love it," she promised. "It's exactly the sort of place Dave and I have been looking for all winter. There's a carriage house for him to use as a pottery workshop and space in the choir loft for me to set up a studio. It's perfect."
"But how can we live in a church?" Michael persisted, refusing to be won over by her enthusiasm.
"Oh, it's not really a church anymore," Mom said. "Some people from Philadelphia bought it last year and built an addition on the side for living quarters. They were going to set up an antique store in the actual church, but, after doing all that work, they decided they didn't like living in the country after all."
"It's out in the country?" I frowned at the little cat I was doodling in the margin of my notebook paper.
Mom smiled and gazed past me, out our kitchen window and into Mrs. Overton's window directly across the alley. I had a feeling she, was seeing herself standing in front of an easel, working on one of her huge oil paintings, far from what she called the "soul-killing life of the city." She has a maddening habit of drifting away into her private dream world just when you need her most."Where is the church? " I asked loudly.
"Where is it?" Mom poured boiling water into her cup and added honey. "It's in Holwell, Maryland, not far from the mountains. It's beautiful. Just beautiful. The perfect place for painting and potting."
"But what about Molly and me? What are we supposed to do while you and Dave paint and make pottery?" Michael asked.
"You promised I could be in the enrichment program this summer," I said, thinking about the creative writing class I was planning to take. "Will I still be able to?"
"Yes, and what about Science Club?" Michael asked. "I'm already signed up for it. Mr. Phillips is going to take us to the Aquarium and the Science Center and even to the Smithsonian in Washington."
Mom sighed and shook her head. "I'm afraid you two will have to make other plans for summer. We'll be moving in June, and I can't possibly drive all the way back to Baltimore every day."
"But I've been looking forward to Science Club all year!" Michael's voice rose, and I could tell he was trying hard not to cry.
"You'll have plenty of woods to explore," Mom said calmly. "Just think of all the wildlife you can observe and the insects you can add to your collection. Why, the day Dave and I were there, we saw a raccoon, a possum, a woodchuck, and dozens of squirrels." Mom leaned across the table, smiling, hoping to convince Michael that he was going to love living in a church way out in the country, miles away from Mr. Phillips and Science Club.
But Michael wasn't easy to convince. Slumping down in his chair, he mumbled, "Id rather stay in Baltimore, even if I never see anything but cockroaches, pigeons, and rats."
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Michael!" Mom looked exasperated. "You're ten years old. Act like it!"
As Michael opened his mouth to defend himself, Heather appeared in the kitchen doorway, responding, no doubt, to her built-in radar for detecting trouble. Her pale gray eyes roved from Mom to Michael, then to me, and back again to Mom. From the expression on her face, I imagined she was hoping to witness bloodshed, screams, a ghastly scene of domestic violence.
"Why, Heather, I was wondering where you were!" Mom turned to her, infusing her voice with enthusiasm again. "Guess what? Your daddy and I have found a new place for us to live, way out in the country. Won't that be fun?" She gave Heather a dazzling Romper-Room smile and reached out to embrace her.
With the skill of a cat, Heather sidestepped Mom's arms and peered out the kitchen window. "Daddy's home," she announced without looking at us.
"Oh, no, I forgot to put the casserole in the oven!" Mom ran to the refrigerator and pulled out a concoction of eggplant, cheese, tomatoes, and bulgur and shoved it into the oven just as Dave opened the back door, bringing a blast of cold March air into the room with him.
After giving Mom a hug and a kiss, he swooped Heather up into his arms. "How's my girl?" he boomed.
Heather twined her arms possessively around his neck and smiled coyly. "They were fighting, " she said, darting a look at Michael and me.
Dave glanced at Mom, and she smiled and shook her head. "We were just discussing our big move to the country, that's all. Nobody was fighting, Heather." Mom turned on the cold water and began rinsing lettuce leaves for a salad.
"I don't like it when they fight." Heather tightened her grip on Dave's neck.
"Come on, Michael." I stood up and started gathering my books and papers together. "Let's finish our homework downstairs."
"Dinner will be ready in about half an hour," Mom called after us as we started down the basement steps.
As soon as we were safely out of everybody's hearing range, I turned to Michael. "What are we going to do?"