June 23, 2009

A Dour Start

I look past Sara to the front of the school, where a toothpick-thin older woman stands holding the door open with one hand; the other planted sharply on her bony hip. Despite the lingering humidity, she’s wearing a long gray pencil skirt and an orange wool cardigan that makes me hot and itchy just looking at it.

“Miss Brown, where are you girls supposed to be?” Her voice sounds like lemons taste. I can’t tell if she’s glaring at us or if her silver-streaked black hair is pulled too tightly into the severe bun at the nape of her neck.

“Ugh,” Sara grumbles, rolling her eyes. “Mrs. Dour.” Turning to the woman, she smiles sweetly. “It’s Lucy’s first day. I was giving her an introduction.”

“That’s what homeroom is for. Hurry it up.” Mrs. Dour lets the door slam shut and watches us through the glass window.

Sara nudges me. “She is the worst,” she mutters through the clenched teeth of her smile. “My mother can’t stand her. And vice versa.”

We begin walking through the grass toward the school. “Why?” I whisper back, trying to encourage Sara to move faster by walking a step ahead.

“Oh, she hates that Dede takes me out of school sometimes to travel. But Dede’s right – I learn way more about history by visiting Rome than by reading a description of the Coliseum in her stupid history book.”

“Is Mrs. Dour a history teacher? Wait, you’ve been to Rome? In Italy?”

“Twice. Yeah, she’s awful though. So boring. Once, she called Dede ‘flighty.’ So Dede called her ‘a stick in the mud.’ She’s hated me ever since.”

I look at Mrs. Dour’s hard face through the window. I can already tell she is someone whose bad side I do not want to be on. “That stinks.”

“Yeah, no kidding.” Sara pulls open the door. Mrs. Dour doesn’t move.

“Miss Brown, please get where you’re going. And you.” She turns her sharp, cat-like eyes to me. “Where is your homeroom?”

“Um… I think…” I pull my backpack off my shoulder and rifle through the front pocket to find my homeroom assignment. “It’s room 106.”

“I’ll escort you.”

Mrs. Dour spins on her heel and begins walking briskly down the hall. I shoot a glance at Sara, who opens her eyes wide. "Good luck," she mouths, then smiles.

Frantically zipping my backpack closed, I run to catch up with the history teacher, who is about to turn the corner.

“Wait! Mrs. Dour!”

Suddenly Mrs. Dour freezes. I stop in my tracks. She turns back toward me slowly, glowering.

“It’s Lauer. Mrs. Lauer.” Her hard face breaks into a grim smirk. “You can tell your friend that she’s not doing you any favors by sharing rude faculty nicknames.”

June 17, 2009


"Yeah, um, yes. I'm Lucy." I’m taken off guard. "How did you...uh...?"

The bell rings, and kids start streaming around us toward the open front doors. Sara doesn't seem to notice that we're blocking their way. "Dede's the school guidance counselor. That's my mom. She said you were starting today and that you were from Florida. And nobody here actually has natural blonde highlights. So I just assumed."

"Oh. Well, yep, that's me." I laugh nervously. Sara is still smiling, but she doesn't move. Almost everyone has disappeared inside.

"So how do you like it?” She looks at me intently.

“Um…huh?” I had been watching the last few stragglers enter the school.

“South Haven? Super boring, right?"

I shrug, shifting my backpack from one shoulder to the other. “I dunno. I haven’t seen much of it yet…” I move slightly in the direction of the door, trying to give Sara the hint that we should start walking, but she doesn’t budge.

“There’s not much to see. But it’s a good home base. That’s what Dede and I call it. We travel a lot. I’ve never been to Fort Myers though.”

“It’s nice.” Sara seems nice, too. I’m torn between asking her about where she has traveled and running toward the front door. “But, um, aren’t we gonna be…”

Girls! Final bell has rung!

June 15, 2009

Meet Sara

As soon as both of my feet hit the sidewalk, Mom pulls her car away. I’m not surprised. She’s not deserting me; she’s just making sure I can’t change my mind and fling myself back into the passenger seat, begging her to drive straight to Fort Myers. As she stops at the corner, I can see her eyes on me in the rear-view mirror, willing me forward. And then she’s gone.

You can do this. You can do this. I take a deep breath and begin walking quickly toward the front steps, praying the bell rings before I get there so that I'm not forced to stand on the edges of the crowd by myself.

The day is bright and crisp, and although it’s only the end of August, a few yellowed leaves litter the expansive front lawn. Everywhere people are talking, laughing, hugging. A boy squirts a stream of water out of a sports bottle at a girl’s bare legs as she walks by with her friends. A few slight boys dressed in black saunter passed with their iPods on loud enough for me to feel the rumbling beat. Three girls huddle around a cell phone, laughing at a text or a picture.

I absorb this all in seconds, and yet I feel like I’m walking through a fog. My eyes don’t focus on faces, just blurs of colors and noise. All I want to do is get to the front steps and blend in and –


“Oh! Jeez—“ My left shoulder suddenly slams into the side of a tall girl who has just stepped into my beeline. I take a shaky step to the side. “S-sorry…” I mumble, glancing up at her quickly.

The girl smiles eagerly and waves, bouncing slightly on her toes. I immediately assume she thinks I’m someone else and wait for her to apologize and walk away. But she continues to stand there, looking at me expectantly.

I smile meekly. “Hi.”

The girl is about five inches taller than I am, and very pretty and willowy, with wavy honey-colored hair that's almost too long and bright green eyes. Although she’s dressed casually in a gray t-shirt, dark skinny jeans and a gauzy white scarf draped around her neck, there’s something about her that makes me feel seriously unstylish in my pink tank top and faded jeans.

"I'm Sara. You're Lucy, right?"

June 4, 2009

The Beginning

Talking about starting over and actually doing it are two very different things, and I haven’t realized it until this moment. Now, as I sit in my mom’s car staring out the window at South Haven Middle School on the first day of eighth grade, the realization hits me hard. Great timing, I think, frowning.

“Don’t be nervous.”

“I’m not.” I lie. Mom raises her eyebrows and looks down at my lap, where my hands have twisted the end of my t-shirt into a wrinkled rag. I let go. “Ok, maybe a little.”

Smoothing my shirt with my sweaty palms, I look back toward the imposing three-story brick school. It sits in the center of a lush green field, with delicate white sidewalks curving through the grounds. A line of yellow buses idle in a concrete semicircle in front of the tall front steps. But all of this is simply a hazy backdrop to the hundreds of kids my age – kids who I don’t know, kids who I’ve never seen before – who are pouring out of cars of buses and crowding the doors, waiting for the bell to ring.

By my request, Mom and I have driven by South Haven Middle many times since our move to Connecticut two weeks ago. We even went in over the weekend so that I could practice making my way around the strangely unfamiliar hallways. I was secretly hoping that seeing the school would instantly make me feel like I belong here. But that empty building with its quiet classrooms and echoing corridors in no way helped prepare me for this hectic, overwhelming experience.

“Like I said, this is the worst moment, because everything is unknown.” I barely register Mom's words as she continues her pep talk.

“Uh huh.”

She smiles encouragingly. “You’ll feel so much better once you go in and meet one new person.”


“Everyone will love you. How could they not?”

“Ok, ok Mom.” Her reassuring tone is making me more nervous. “I’m going.”

I take a deep breath and step out of the car onto the sidewalk.

May 26, 2009


Brandon is silent for a moment. He nods his head, looking away. “I guess that makes sense.” His voice is soft and understanding, and for some reason it makes me more sad than if he had been angry or called my reasoning ridiculous. He locks eyes with me. “Aren’t you scared though? To start over?”

I shrug. “Yes. I am. But I’m more scared not to.” Brandon looks confused. I pause, trying to gather the thoughts I have pushed to the back of my mind until now. “I’m more scared to have things keep going the way they are now – with Mom, and Dad, and even Gretchen and Andrew. And with me.”

“With you? What do you mean?”

“I just … I guess I’m just tired of feeling like a shadow. Like, I’m a shadow of what Billy was. And Katie. I’m in her shadow--“ Brandon opens his mouth to argue but I rush on “--and I’ve actually been fine with that, you know? I’ve stepped into her shadow. But now, I’m just ready to be me.”

Brandon frowns. “But you are you. And you’re awesome. I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit.”

“Maybe not. But I’m hoping that will change.”

Brandon sits down on the bottom porch step and looks out toward the road. “I’m going to miss you.” The sun has almost completely set. A car drives by, moving slowly through the thick evening air.

I sit next to him. “I’m going to miss you, too. But we’ll always be friends.”


We sit in silence as the rose-gray dusk shifts to black.

May 21, 2009


Brandon stops short at the base of the stairs. “So?” He stares expectedly.

“Oh! Hi.” I smile at him quickly before turning back to the box I’m packing. I begin folding the top panels closed.

Hi?” Brandon’s voice is filled with hurt and anger. “That’s it? Hi?

Across the porch, Mom clears her throat. I keep my eyes on the box, bending the flaps of cardboard so that they interweave. Mom drops a final chair cushion into her cardboard box and then slips through the front door.

I glance at him. “Yes. Hi.”

Brandon’s lips are pressed together in a scowl. He pushes his wavy hair off his forehead and looks up. “Ok. Fine.” Spinning around, he begins to walk back to the front gate.

“Brandon. Don’t be mad.”

Brandon turns back. “Mad? Of course I’m not mad. Why would I be mad that my best friend is moving – in six days – and didn’t even tell me about it? I’m not mad.

“I was going to tell you. It was just--"

“When? When were you going to tell me? You’re leaving in six days.

“I--I just didn’t want to bother you,” I stammer, racking my brain to remember the other reasons I had come up with for keeping it secret. I can’t.

“Bother me? Why would you think you would bother me?”

I can feel my face flush. “Because you and Katie were always together, and I knew you were really happy and everything, and I--I just didn’t want to ruin that.”

Brandon looks skeptical. “That’s stupid.”

“I know.”

“Me and Katie aren’t together anymore anyway.” He shoves his hands in his pockets.

“I know.”

“You do?” He sounds surprised. “Did she tell you?”

“Of course she did. She’s Katie.” I cringe as his face falls. “Brandon, I’m sorry…”

Brandon shakes his head slightly and then smiles. “Hey, don’t worry about it. Who cares, right? No big deal.”

“Yeah, no big deal.”

Brandon is silent for a moment. “So. You’re moving.” His tone is changed; his anger gone.

I shrug, smiling. “Yeah.”


The question takes me aback. “I dunno… Mom is unhappy here, and Gretchen could really use her help in Connecticut, and Andrew is there, and … and…” And what? I feel like I’m missing something. Why do I want to move to Connecticut? Why did I convince Mom to follow through with this crazy idea?

“…And I’m tired of people making decisions for me. I want to make my own. I want to start over.”

May 19, 2009

Loose Ends

My visit from Dad was the first time I questioned my decision to support Mom in her crazy idea to move to Connecticut. The second was when I finally told Brandon. Well, told might not be the right word …

It’s a week before the big move, and the sun is setting peach in the distance. Mom and I are on the front porch, silently boxing up the clutter. I pull out the final push-pin holding the string of white star-shaped lights to the ceiling and they fall in a twinkling cascade at my feet. The air is still and hot, and the dust clings to my arms and makes my face feel gritty. I wipe my hand across my forehead.

I hear the crunch of sand under sneakers before I see the figure jogging lightly toward us down the sidewalk. I immediately know it’s Brandon, even though his outline is made fuzzy by the dimming light. I’ve been expecting him to show up today, but my stomach still tightens as he gets closer. I grab a box filled with citronella candles and worn straw beach mats and begin twisting the star lights into a pile on top, turning my back to the road.

Last night, I called Katie to break the news of our move – which is why it was only a matter of time before Brandon found out, even though I told her not to tell anyone.

“WHAAAT?! Shut up. SHUT. UP.” Katie’s high-pitch squeal wasn’t softened at all by its travel through the phone lines.

“I know, crazy, right?” It felt kind of good to shock Katie, for some reason – to be the one to do something so totally unexpected for once.

“And you’re OKAY with this?”

“Yep. I am.”

Katie was uncharacteristically silent for a moment. “Well then. I guess that’s great.” She sounded frosty. I didn’t care. I said nothing.

“So… well, why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

I tried to ignore the slight tinge of guilt settling in my stomach. “Oh I dunno… It all happened so fast. And I know you’ve been really busy too, with Brandon and everything, and…”

“Brandon? Ha!” Katie barked a laugh. “Didn’t you see my Facebook status? That’s like, so over.”

My heart stopped. “What? Since when?” I tried to sound casual, but my voice squeaked with the strain.

Katie didn’t notice. “Oh, I changed it yesterday morning. Yeah, I told him I’d still go to the dance with him and everything, but just as friends. Maybe that will make other girls like him or something, you know? Seeing him with me?” I could hear Katie’s nails clacking against her laptop keys through the phone. “But anyway! I can’t believe you’re leaving!

Katie rambled on through the rest of the conversation, and I inserted the necessary whining “I know, I can’t believe it either!” and “I’m gonna miss you too!” But the entire time, all I could think about was Brandon. Was he all right? Was he completely crushed by Katie’s easy dismissal? And most of all, why didn’t he TELL me?

Now, as Brandon runs through our front gate to the porch where I stand, his face twisted in a mix of anger and shock, it looks like I’m about to get my answer.

May 14, 2009


Dad’s face falls slack with recognition. “Luce, I…” His eyes gloss over; he looks pained. I see his bottom lip tremble once before his jaw tightens.

I have to look away. The anger that exploded from me cools just as quickly as it boiled, leaving me exhausted. I sigh. “I know, Dad. I’m sorry.”

“No. No, I’m sorry.” Dad runs both palms down his face, wiping away his emotion. “I shouldn’t have done this.” He clears his throat and shoots nervous glances around his feet. “Where … where is my hat…?” he mumbles.


Dad’s eyes bounce quickly from my face to his hat, perched on the banister post. He grasps it with both hands to his chest, bending the rim. “I’m so sorry, Lucy. You’re right. Of course you’re right. I can’t ask you to stay.”

“Dad… That’s not it; I…”

How can I tell him what I’m really feeling when I don’t even know myself? I’m so angry with him, but so happy he’s here. I’m excited to leave with Mom, but I wish I could stay with Dad.

His eyes catch mine. “It’s OK, Luce. I know.”

And in that second, I think he does. I feel like I’m five years old again, when Dad could sense that I was scared to ride the kiddie rollercoaster at the traveling fair without even asking. “Let’s skip this one,” he said as we strode by the clanking, sparkling ride. “It looks boring.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

Dad smiles a crooked smile and opens up his arms. I step forward and allow myself to be wrapped up. And as he gives me a tight squeeze, I know I made the right decision.

May 12, 2009


My hands jerk back out of his instinctively. "Wait - what?"

Dad looks down, uncomfortable. He runs his palms back and forth against the tips of the grass. "I mean, I know the apartment would be kinda crowded, but we could make it work--"

"Wait. Dad--"

"And I'm not the best cook, but I'm learning--"

"Dad. Dad!"

He looks up. His eyes are hopeful. I break his gaze. "Dad, thanks and all, but I just don't think... I mean..." I push myself up off the step. I suddenly feel claustrophobic in our postage-stamp square of a front yard.

I cannot believe my father is here -- and not just here, but here asking me to move in with him. My father, who said he felt so contained by his life in Fort Myers that he had to break free. My father, who had seemed perfectly content to see me on a few weekends and holidays and no more. Why is he doing this now? Why is he doing this to me?

I lean against the front fence and look out down the street. I had just been so excited and anxious to leave this place, and now I suddenly have a whole new option to consider. Why can't things ever be easy?

Behind me, I can hear Dad stand. "Luce, don't leave me."

His words catch me off guard. I freeze. Don't leave me. Is he serious?

The warm anger that I have been able to keep contained until now begins to trickle through my body. Don't leave me. How could he say that to me?

"Don't leave you? Don't leave you?" I feel the tears threaten to pour over, and it makes me even more angry. "That's impossible, Dad. You already left me."

May 7, 2009

Close Range


My dad, Mark Malone, is perched on the edge of a wicker rocking chair on our front porch. He looks up at the sound of my voice and smiles, his tanned face breaking into deep grooves like dry leather. “Lulu…” Standing slowly, he takes the faded Ranger hat he has been fiddling with in his lap and drapes it over the banister post.

“Dad!” I sprint up the front steps and throw myself against his chest, wrapping my arms around his thin frame. His canvas uniform feels rough and starchy against my cheek. He smells like incense and freshly turned soil.

“Hey there kiddo.” Dad’s callused thumb scratches my forehead as he pushes my bangs out of my eyes. “What’s new?”

Behind us, the car door slams. “Hi Mark.” Mom’s tone is cut and dry, and I immediately loosen my grip on my father and turn to face her. Her forced smile is painful. She gives Dad a slight nod.

“Bonnie. Hi.” Dad’s voice is soft and calm. He runs his fingers through his sand-colored hair.

Mom adjusts her pocketbook on her shoulder and clears her throat. “Well. I’ll let you two catch up.” She sweeps past us up the porch stairs and into the house.

The uncomfortable silence only lasts a moment. “Dad! What are you doing here?”

“To see you, of course.”

I’m so happy to see him that I hold back my knee-jerk response to say that you should only use “of course” when something is obvious, since Dad coming to see me is anything but obvious. He hasn’t been to the house since the divorce. The few times I have seen him I’ve gone to stay at his small one-bedroom apartment in Homestead, right outside Everglades National Park.

I try to put all that aside and focus on the fact that Dad is actually here. “Of course. Well, I’m glad you’re here.” I pause. “So … I guess you heard about the move.”

“You guessed right.”

I bite my lip. Planning for the move has been a busy, frantic, exciting whirlwind. For the past two weeks, I’ve willingly let myself get caught in it, ignoring the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that keeps reminding me how hurt everyone will be when they find out. Because it’s not just Dad who has been kept in the dark – I haven’t built up the courage to tell Katie or Brandon either. But that’s another story.

In my mind, I can justify not telling Dad. I just tell myself that he did the same thing to me – he moved away and left Mom and me alone. But now, seeing him in person, all I remember is how hurt I was when he moved out. I don’t wish that on him. I don’t wish that on anyone.

“Sorry I didn’t say anything.”

“Your mother called last night. I have to say I was taken aback. Moving in two weeks? That’s not enough warning.”

It was when you left.

Although I don’t say it, Dad can read it on my face. He squats down next to me and grabs my hands in his.

“Lucy. I’m here because, well, I don’t want you to go. I know I haven’t been here for you as much as your mother has, but I’m ready to make a change.”

Dad takes a deep breath. “I’m here to ask you to come live with me instead. Stay in Florida. Don’t go to Connecticut.”

May 5, 2009


The next few weeks go by in a blur. Turns out Mom had done a little more than some Googling on the Internet before she sprung the idea of moving to Connecticut on me. She already has a house in mind – a tiny white ranch with pretty powder-blue shutters and a big maple shading the front yard – and she has talked to a local real estate agent about listing our bungalow in Fort Myers as a rental home. She has even applied for that librarian job in South Haven, and they call her to do an over-the-phone interview two days after my midnight revelation.

Everything seems to fall into place easily – and for some reason, I’m not freaked out. Instead, I’m actually excited.

At first Mom seems skeptical about my out-of-character ease. “Now you’re sure you want to do this?” she asks repeatedly for the first few days, and every time I answer “I’m sure,” my heart flutters – but with anticipation, not nervousness. It feels, I dunno, exhilarating to be acting so unlike myself – to be taking such a risk and not worrying every step of the way. I feel grownup and mature, like my mom and I are making this decision together.

There are only a few times during the month before we move to Connecticut that I feel like the old Lucy – the old scared, nervous Lucy. The first is when Mom and I come home after a lunch out celebrating the news that she got the job to find an unexpected visitor sitting on the front porch...

April 30, 2009


Later that night, I can't sleep. I lay staring at the ceiling in the dark, tracing patterns in the prickly popcorn texture with my eyes. A lopsided heart ... A sleeping kitten .... A blossoming flower ... When I was little, this used to help put me to sleep, but tonight it just keeps my mind wheeling.

Is Mom really serious about wanting to move? Is she really that willing to leave everything behind and start over?

Well, I guess “everything” isn’t much for Mom. Just this house, the dogs and, well, me. Only the house would be staying behind. But what’s in Connecticut for her – for us?

Family, of course. It would be great to be able to see Andrew more often. And more than once during the two weeks we were visiting Gretchen I thought, “So this is what it’s like to have an older sister.” Not that having Mom isn’t enough, but it was nice to have someone else besides Mom to talk to and get straight answers from.

But other than Gretchen and Andrew, what else? I hope not John Bainbridge. That would just be too much for me to deal with.

Perhaps … hope? A chance at a new beginning? I know Mom needs that. Ever since Billy’s death and the divorce, Mom hasn’t had much to hope for. It must be really lonely for her.

But what about me? I love Fort Myers; I love Florida. I love my friends, and my school, and riding my bike to the beach. Could I really give it all up? Could I ever be that ... brave? Unselfish?

And then, as if sleepwalking, I’m getting up in the dark and feeling my way along my bedroom walls to the door. I'm stepping softly across the hall to Mom’s room. The door creaks as I slip inside.

“Mom?” My voice is swallowed by the still silence.

I hear a faint rustle as Mom moves slightly under the thin sheets. “Hmmm?”

I take a deep breath. In the darkness, something within me sparks. “Let’s do it.”

April 28, 2009

Couching the Idea

“Hel-lo honey? Are you with me?”

Mom waves her hand in front of my blank stare, snapping me out of my silent perseveration. I smile. “Sorry. I’m here.”

“It’s OK.” Mom picks up the remote and clicks off the TV. “I was just saying that I really miss Gretchen and Andrew. It was so much fun seeing them.” She curls her feet up underneath her on the couch. “We need to do that again soon.”

I snuggle down against the arm of couch, facing Mom, my arms wrapped around my knees. “I know. It’s too bad we don’t live closer to them.”

Instantly, like she was shot through with a bolt of electricity, Mom sits upright. “Really?”

I frown. “Huh?”

“You wish we lived closer to them?” Mom’s voice is rushed with excitement.

I peer at her sideways, cautiously. “Or that they lived closer to us....” The look in her eyes makes me nervous. “Moooom....” I warn. “What are you...?”

Mom readjusts herself on the couch, crossing her legs. “Well, I was just thinking,” she starts, casting her eyes to the ceiling as if this new thought is just entering her mind. “I mean, wouldn’t it be nice to make a change? To start somewhere new, with our family around us?”

My jaw drops. “Mom. You cannot be serious.”

Mom keeps up her lighthearted tone. “I mean, it is the perfect time to do it, if we ever were to do it. We still have a month before school starts, and my job – jobs – aren’t anything to stick around for, and---”

“Mom. Stop!” I grab her hand. “Are you really saying you want to move?

“Oh, I don’t know.” Mom pulls her hand from mine and waves it dismissively. “I’m just saying, wouldn’t it be nice?”

“No! No, it would not be nice!” I push myself up to sitting, slamming my hands into the couch cushions. “Move?! To Connecticut?! Have you completely lost your mind?

Mom looks at me defiantly. “Well, why not? What’s holding us back?”

“Um, everything!” I cry. “Friends, school, work. Everything.

“We could make new friends. I could get a new job. There’s actually an opening for a librarian in a town not too far from Gretchen. Some place called South Haven. It seems really cute, with little shops along the main street and a big town green with a gazebo and--”

“Stop stop stop! I don’t even want to know how you know that.” I stare at her until she meets my gaze. “Mom. For real. You’re talking crazy!

Mom looks as if she's about to say more, then lets out a giant sigh. “OK. I know. It’s crazy. I’m not really serious.” She looks down at her hands in her lap. “I just started thinking about it, and then I looked up a few things online, and it got me a little excited.” Mom smiles wistfully. “It was just a kooky idea.”

I stare at my mom’s face, where the glimmer of excitement that lingers is mixed with obvious disappointment. I feel like I should say something – give her hope by telling her the idea isn’t totally crazy – but instead, I just shrug. “Totally kooky.”

Mom presses her lips together and picks up the remote. “Yep. You’re right.” She places it in my lap. “Here you go.” I watch her walk out of the room.

April 21, 2009

Solitary Confinement

A week after the Katie/Brandon/Guitar Hero drama, Mom and I sit side-by-side in the den watching the news. Or rather, she sits watching the news while I just stare blankly at the screen.

"So corrupt. They should be sent straight to jail, no questions asked." Mom shakes her head in disgust as two men are paraded across the screen in handcuffs. I try to focus on the story but my mind keeps wandering, so I settle for mumbling an incoherent "mmm hmm" instead.

Luckily Mom doesn't notice, because she's been bugging me about my "depressing attitude" ever since we got home from Connecticut. She keeps asking why I'm spending all of my time in my room or reading alone in the backyard. "Is something wrong?" "Did you get in a fight with Katie?" "Why don't you go out with your friends?" I think she finally gave up when I said that if she really wants me to get out the house, I'm sure Dad would love for me to visit.

Mean, I know. But I couldn't help it. I just need my space.

For the past few days I haven't been able to concentrate on anything other than the fact that I've basically lost my two best friends - and to each other, on top of it. Yes, they asked me to stay and hang out that first day, but I felt nauseous every time I saw Brandon turn three shades of red just because Katie looked in his direction. And yes, Katie has called me every day, like usual, but I can't bare to hear her refer to the two of them as "the classic Hollywood It-Girl and Cute-Nerd Combination" one more time, so I've been sending her straight to voicemail.

OK, so maybe lost my two best friends is over-dramatic. Maybe it's more like "banished my two best friends for my own sanity."

April 19, 2009

Sunday Recap #2

Hi friends! New to the story, or just need a reminder? Here's the latest happenings with The SPIT Sisters:

A lot has changed in Lucy Malone's life since Sunday Recap #1. Lucy and her mother Bonnie fight about whether to go to Connecticut to visit Lucy's sister-in-law Gretchen and Gretchen's 4-year-old son Andrew. With the summer drawing to an end, Lucy doesn't want to miss a moment of time in Fort Myers, Florida with her best friends Katie and Brandon.

But Bonnie wins the argument (as mother's usually do), and they leave to spend two weeks in Connecticut - just as Katie and Brandon discover that they may have more in common than being Lucy's friends.

When Lucy and Bonnie first arrive to Connecticut, it's a little rocky. Gretchen runs a successful event-planning business and is preparing for a large fundraiser for one of her clients. She is extremely stressed - and a little self-absorbed. Bonnie also has some trouble adjusting to being back in Connecticut and seeing first hand that life has gone on after the death of her son (and Lucy's brother) Billy.

But things turn around quickly, and Lucy ends up having a lot of fun spending time with her mother and her nephew. There are only two problems...

The first is that Lucy feels completely cut off from what is happening at home. She hasn't spoken to Brandon or Katie since she's been away - neither of them return her calls - and she begins to wonder if they're mad at her or just too busy spending time with each other.

The second is John Bainbridge. He's the reporter that Bonnie became "pen pals" with after Billy's death. Bonnie ends up meeting John for coffee (and Bonnie never drinks coffee!) to thank him for his support during that hard time in her life. Bonnie swears they are just friends, but Lucy is beginning to wonder if there's something more going on.

When the two weeks are up, Lucy is happy to go home but also nervous about what she missed. As soon as she gets back to her house, she tries to call Brandon and Katie. When neither of them answer - again - she heads over to Brandon's house (right next door). And that's when her suspicions are confirmed - Brandon and Katie are "together."

Lucy knows she should be happy that her two best friends really like each other, but she can't get this nagging feeling out of her head - or her heart - that something isn't right. Does Katie really like Brandon? Or will she just break his heart? Either way, more than Brandon's heart is at stake...

Check back often to keep up with The SPIT Sisters! The drama is just beginning.

April 16, 2009


Katie tackles me in a huge hug, and the plastic Guitar Hero guitar that’s still strung across her chest digs sharply into my side.

“Er, hi,” I gasp as she gives me a tighter squeeze before letting go.

“Omigod, I missed you!” Katie’s eyes are warm and sincere, and I instantly feel horrible for almost speaking badly about her to Brandon. Katie is such a good friend – I’m the weak link in our friendship.

“I missed you too! Didn’t you get any of my messages?”

“Ugh, who knows.” Katie rolls her eyes, pulling her long wavy hair over one shoulder. “I get soooo many messages, it’s like, almost ridiculous.” Her sweet laugh stings. “I want to tell people, I’m only one girl!” Katie does this a lot – reminding people of her popularity by calling it a burden. She shoots Brandon a dazzling smile. “Right?”

Brandon instantly turns bright red and looks toward the street. I can’t help but frown. “Yeah, well, um,” he mumbles, scratching the back of his head absently while keeping his eyes off of us, “I’ll let you two talk.” He rushes inside, closing the door behind him.

Eeeeee.” Katie squeals softly the moment he’s gone, grabbing my hands and jumping up and down. “Isn’t he so cute?” She looks at the closed door and smirks, adding proudly, “He’s so embarrassed around me. He’s always blushing. It’s really cute.”

“Yeah. Cute.” If Katie notices my sarcasm, she ignores it.

“Sooooo, whaddaya think?” She looks at me with intense anticipation.

“About what?” I ask, my expression blank. I know I’m being spiteful but I don’t want to give her the satisfaction of knowing that Katie+Brandon is not just on my mind, but the only thing on my mind. I still just can’t believe–

“About me and Brandon. Duh.”

“Oh, right.” I shrug. “I think it’s great.”

Katie narrows her eyes. “You do?”

“Of course. My two best friends. It’s the best.”

I’m a horrible actress, and I’m not even trying to act enthusiastic, so I know Katie must notice my bland tone this time. But she smiles triumphantly. “Good. Because I like him.”

I stare back at her, and then smile. “Good.”

“Yep.” Katie pulls a lipgloss out of her pocket and smears it across her lips without breaking my gaze. And for a split second, I feel like we’re in some kind of showdown – me versus Katie, the underdog obvious. I wonder if she feels it too – for some reason I get the sense she can see right through me, like she can read my thoughts and knows exactly how I’m feeling.

But then Katie smiles warmly and the feeling is gone. She grabs my hand. “I’m so glad you’re back. For real.”

“Me too.” My smile is genuine this time. But I can’t say the same about my answer...

April 14, 2009


“Was that ... Katie?!” For some reason I’m whispering.

Brandon raises his eyebrows at me and smiles. “I know, right? I can’t believe it either.” He glances down the hall and then steps out onto the front stoop next to me, quietly closing the door behind him. “We’ve been hanging out like, every day. Weird, right?”

“Really weird!” I blurt out before thinking. Brandon looks at my quizzically. “But, but ... awesome!” I add quickly.

He shakes his head and his goofy smile returns. “I know. Luce, she's like, the perfect girl. She loves PlayStation and hanging out with my brothers. And she's totally into X-Men.”

“Katie?!” I squeal incredulously. I suddenly wonder if my plane landed in an alternate universe instead of Fort Myers. Katie? Playing video games? What is going on?

“Yeah. Katie.” He shoots me a look like the answer is obvious. “Luce, why didn’t you tell me she was so laid back and, I dunno, cool?”

Because laid back and cool are two words I would never, ever associate with Katie Heeley, I think, trying to keep from scowling. But instead I mumble, “I’m sure I’ve said that.”

Brandon gives me a sideways look, and I force my face into an exaggerated smile. “So,” I ask cheerfully, “are you guys, like ... together?”

Brandon shrugs. “I guess. I dunno. But I really like her, Luce. I mean, a lot.” He lowers his eyes and starts kicking loose chucks of cement off the edge of the step. “I keep thinking I must be dreaming or something, that a girl like her actually likes me. I mean, me. No one ever likes me.”

He looks up and grins. He looks so hopeful, and well, dopey. But in a cute way.

It makes me suddenly furious. I have the overwhelming urge to shake him. To yell, That’s not true, you idiot! Lots of girls like you! She should be thankful that you like her! You’re the cool one. She hates video games. I’m sure she’s annoyed by your brothers. And she probably thinks Jean Grey is a nail polish color. She is totally wrong for you!

But then his brown eyes catch mine, and my chest tightens. I know that if I’m ever going to say something, to tell him what I’m thinking, it has to be now. This moment. I take a deep breath. “Brandon, I…”

“OmiGOD! Lucy!! You’re HOME!”

My head snaps up to see Katie’s face pressed against the window screen for a split second, and then the front door swings open.

April 10, 2009

Reading Break

Thanks to Karen at FolkHeart Press for giving The SPIT Sisters a guest blog opportunity! We hope you all check it out and enjoy it:

April 9, 2009

While You Were Out...

Brandon’s face softens with surprise when he sees me. “Luce! You’re home!” He smiles widely.

An instant wave of relief washes over me when I realize that no, he's not mad at me or avoiding me, and I’m suddenly giddy. “Yeah! Hi!” I cry, and before I realize what I’m doing, I throw my arms around him in a huge, tight hug.

Brandon chuckles. “Whoa! What’s up?” He pushes back slightly, and I take an awkward step back. “Why were you knocking all frantic and everything?”

My face flushes. “Oh, you know… I dunno… I just…”

Suddenly, loud rock music starts to blast out from somewhere in Brandon’s house. “Brandon! Hurry up!” someone calls out – I can’t tell if it’s Taylor or Tommy.

“Hold on!” Brandon turns back to me and rolls his eyes. “Sorry – we’re playing Rock Band. So what’s up? Tell me.”

I sigh, giving in. “I tried to call you last week, and today, and you never picked up.”

“Oh man, yeah, sorry about that.” Brandon pulls his curly brown hair behind both ears. “Stupid Tommy ran over my cell with his bike. It’s like, totally ruined.” He gives me a lopsided grin. “Why, d'ya miss me?” he asks slyly.

My heart stops. Literally.

And then Brandon reaches forward and playfully punches me in the shoulder. “Nah I’m just kidding Luce. Seriously – were you mad?”

“Ha, ha,” I force out, swallowing hard. “Um, no I’m not mad. I mean, I wasn’t mad and I’m not mad. I was just bored. I wanted to know what was going on.”

Brandon shrugged. “Oh, well in that case, be prepared to be disappointed. It’s been super boring. Rained like five times.”

“Really? Nothing new has happened? At all?” My voice sounds a pitch too high. But I’m suddenly back to feeling giddy. Surely Brandon would be all too excited to tell me if--

“Braaandon!” a new voice calls out from inside in a sweet whine. “I can’t get this song right! Help meee!”

And then I deflate. Unfortunately, this voice I can recognize.

April 7, 2009

Who's There?

I hop swiftly up the front steps of the Bennett house and rap quickly on the front storm door, the glass rattling precariously in its flimsy steel frame. And then I wait.

Brandon’s house looks a like lot mine but a little more, well, unkempt. The gray paint on the wood siding peels and curls in places like ribbons on a birthday gift, and the window screens are marred with gashes and holes. A semi-deflated soccer ball stands sentinel next to the tarnished mailbox, which tilts slightly to the left, a large dent in its side.

I imagine it’s hard for Mr. and Mrs. Bennett to think much about how the house looks from the outside, though, when they have five boys living on the inside all under the age of 20. Brandon, his two older brothers – 18-year-old Jim and 16-year-old Jesse – and his two younger brothers – 8-year-old twins Taylor and Tommy – keep his parents pretty busy. Mom always says she doesn’t know how they do it.

I absentmindedly flick at a piece of chipping paint on the door, waiting, but there’s no response. Maybe no one’s home – although that’s pretty unlikely at the Bennett house. I knock rapidly again, and then press my ear up against the glass.

Very faintly, I think I can hear the muffled vibration of music coming from inside. Someone is home.

Frustrated, I start banging on the door continuously for about thirty seconds – until it suddenly flies open.

“Oh!” I cry, startled, my pounding fist stopping just in time to avoid accidentally punching an annoyed-looking Brandon square in the chest.

April 2, 2009

Call Waiting

The loose knot that I felt in my stomach the entire time I was in Connecticut seems to tighten with a tug as Mom pulls the car onto our street in Fort Myers. I’m anxious and tense, and I can’t wait to get into my own room and back to my normal life.

"Almost home sweet home!" Mom sings. I roll my eyes and bounce my leg up and down nervously. It feels like Mom is driving ridiculously slow.

We finally pass Brandon's house on the way to ours. My eyes scan every inch of his peeling gray bungalow before we go by, hoping it will give me a sign of what I've missed since I've been away. But the house is as silent as Brandon has been for the past two weeks.

Finally, we pull into our driveway and I step out into the hot Florida sun. I take a deep breath of the familiar air, tilting my face toward the cloudless sky. Home. At last.

After I help Mom unload the car, I rush to my room and slam the door. Then I frantically call Katie's cell phone. It takes five rings for her voicemail to pick up.

“Hi Katie! I'm back!” I practically squeal into the phone, my voice straining with fake lightness. “Um, call me!” I hang up, cringing at how stupid I sounded. I stare at my phone in my hand, willing it to ring right back.

Two minutes pass. I lie down on my bed and stare at the ceiling. I listen to my mom opening and closing drawers in her room. And then I pick up my phone and call Brandon’s cell. Eight rings and a mechanical voice states that he is unavailable – Brandon was never one to bother setting up his voicemail.

“Hey, it's me. Just wanted to see what was up." Luckily I’m able to better control myself for this message, although now I'm feeling close to hysterical.

Another few minutes go by and still nothing. So I pick up the phone again and call Katie's house. Mrs. Heeley picks up after two rings.

“Hi Mrs. Heeley, is Katie there please?" I ask tensely.

“Oh hi sweetie. No, she's out with her friend." Mrs. Heeley says absentmindedly. "Want me to tell her you called?"

"Um, yeah, sure. Thanks!"

I throw my phone down on my bed and lie back down. Why am I stressing out? I ask myself. Nothing even happened! What am I worried about? Am I worried they're avoiding me? Because that would be ridiculous – they're my best friends. Why would they be avoiding me? I didn't do anything wrong.

I'm just not going to think about it, I tell myself resolutely and force myself to stand up. I'm just going to unpack my suitcase and then go read and not think anything of it, because it's stupid.

I unzip my suitcase and start pulling out handfuls of crumpled clothes, throwing them on my bed. It takes about thirty seconds before I start thinking again… Or maybe they're not avoiding me, but they just aren't thinking about me. Maybe they're off having fun and forgot today was the day I was coming home.

Suddenly I freeze, a pair of shorts in my hand, as a brand new thought enters my cluttered mind. Maybe they’re off somewhere together, and they don’t want me to interrupt.

A seagull screeches outside my window and snaps me back to reality. I dig through the layers of clothes on my bed to find my cell phone, just to make sure it’s not on silent mode or anything. But no, it’s on. No missed calls.

“That’s it, I can’t take this anymore,” I grumble. Slipping my phone into my pocket, I rush out of my room and out the front door, and then start running to Brandon’s house.

March 31, 2009

Something's Brewing

Mom continues to write furiously in her notebook as the flight drags on for what seems like an eternity, and I can’t help but wonder if she’s writing about John Bainbridge and what happened earlier this week. I’ve spent the past thirty minutes willing myself not to look at her page, telling myself I don’t really want to know, but the anticipation is killing me. Finally, I shift uncomfortably in the narrow airplane seat and steal a quick glance at her notebook as I try unsuccessfully to stretch out my cramped legs.

The guilt hits the instant my eyes scan the page, and I quickly turn to look out the window. I try to focus on the thick layer of uninterrupted clouds that rolls beneath us like a down blanket. I try not to think about what I just saw. But the harder I try, the bigger the words I spied in the midst of her unintelligible scribble seem to imprint themselves on the sea of white fluff: “Amazing.” “Unexpected.”

I shake my head, trying to get the words to disappear. But they keep popping up. “Amazing.” “Unexpected.”

They’re just words, I tell myself. They’re meaningless, singular words. She could be writing about anything – how Gretchen seemed to really open up to us during our stay, how much Andrew resembles my brother Billy when he was young ... She could even be jotting down ideas for a new children's book.

But something about those two words nags at the back of my mind and makes me think back to earlier this week – when Mom surprised me by suddenly announcing she was going to run out for some coffee...

“Coffee? You hate coffee!” I had called out in surprise.

I had been sitting in Gretchen’s living room playing Candy Land with Andrew when Mom whisked by, grabbing her pocketbook as she head to the front door. She stopped for a moment in the foyer, pushing a loose strand of hair behind her ear.

“What? Oh, yeah, no not coffee, sorry. One of those tea latte things at Starbucks.” She smiled quickly, opening the door.

I narrowed my eyes. “Mom, you hate Starbucks too. What is going on?”

“Oh fine!” she exclaimed, flinging the door shut. Letting out a deep breath, she rushed: “I’m meeting John at Starbucks –” She held up her hand as my eyes almost popped out of my head and added “--JUST to say thanks for all his help over the years.”

“You sneak!” I cried, pointing a finger at her. I tried to sound serious, but I couldn’t help smirking in surprise at catching her in such a horrible lie.

She winced and covered her face with her hands. “Stop looking at me like that!” she cried, laughing.

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me! Have you been planning this the whole time?”

Mom dropped her pocketbook on the floor and sat down on the arm of the sofa. “No, no, nothing like that. When we talked last Monday he mentioned it and--”

“You’ve been talking to him while we’ve been here? How often?”

“Not often. Maybe once a day or so...”

“Once a day! Mom!” I jumped up off the floor, knocking the game pieces off the board.

“Hey!” Andrew cried, scrambling to pick up the pieces. I ignored him and planted my hands on my hips, glaring at her.

“What? Can’t I have friends?” she asked defiantly.

For a second, I felt like the mother scolding her misbehaving daughter. “Of course you can have friends. But he wants to be more than your friend.” I cringed at the thought.

“You don’t know that.”

I threw her a sarcastic look. “Mom, I’m fourteen not four. I know that.”

Mom sighed dramatically. “Well, I don’t know that. So I’m going to Starbucks. With a friend. That’s all.” She stood up, brushing the wrinkles from her shirt. “So you can watch Andrew?” she asked, suddenly sweet, to change the subject.

“Ugh! Yes I can watch Andrew.” I answered glumly, plopping back down on the floor. Mom smiled and leaned forward to kiss the top of my head. Then she walked quietly out the door.

“Well, I guess it’s just you and me.” I sighed, turning back to Andrew – and I laughed. In the course of a few minutes he had fallen fast asleep on top of the Candy Land board, his thumb in his mouth.

“Or, just me.” I groaned, picking up the scattered game pieces and throwing them into the box.

Mom and I never discussed her outing when she got back home a few hours later. Now, stuck on the plane next to her as she writes – I’m sure – about her “amazing” time and her “unexpected” feelings for John Bainbridge, I feel sort of, well, left out. Like everyone I know has something interesting and new happening in their lives. Everyone but me.

March 26, 2009

Once Upon A Time

The plane finally stops it upward climb and levels out, and the seatbelt light goes off. Breathing a sigh of relief, I pull my iPod out of my bag, pop in my headphones and close my eyes. I hate to fly, but I always feel better once I can pretend the plane is driving on solid ground. The take off and landing are the worst.

Mom doesn’t seem to be bothered by flying at all. Since we got settled in our seats, she’s been writing intently in her spiral-bound notebook, the corners of her mouth turned up in the slightest smile as her pen scratches quickly across the page. She’s writing so fast and with so much concentration it’s as if she is afraid her inspiration will suddenly disappear.

I was shocked when Mom first pulled out her notebook. I haven’t seen Mom write anything since Billy died. She used to write children’s books that were published by this tiny local publisher in Florida, and they were really great. Her stories were what she called “realistic fairytales,” where princesses saved princes from making tragic mistakes, and headstrong maidens had happier endings than their prettier sisters, and – my favorite – all the heroine’s dreams came true because her fairy godmother gave her a book rather than a ball gown. I grew up thinking these were the real fairytales, and I was actually pretty disappointed when I read the “real” ones.

As I flip through my playlists, trying to find the perfect song to fit my mood, I think about how happy I am that Mom is writing again. But at the same time, I have this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. It’s the same feeling I get when I think about Brandon and Katie – this fear that somehow everything has changed but I just don’t know it yet. Although I do know something about this trip changed my mother.

I’m just hoping it wasn’t him.

being John Bainbridge, the newspaper reporter at the Hartford Courant that Mom became friends with after they corresponded about Billy’s death. Billy’s car accident was big news in Connecticut, and Mom would collect all the local papers after it happened, reading every tiny article relating to the crash. When the stories stopped, she kept in touch with John, and he still sends her newspapers every week.

I knew the notes John sent to my mother with his newspapers seemed to be getting more and more lighthearted and, well, flirty, but I thought that was it. Until earlier this week when Mom completely surprised me…

March 24, 2009

Reading Break

Another quick break from the story to bring you our very own interview with the wonderful Mrs. Magoo (aka Sophie). Sophie's blog is a great example of what dedication, creativity and passion can get you if you put your mind to it. So without further ado, here she is in her own words!

Name: Sophie Epstein
Alias: Mrs. Magoo
Blog Name: Mrs. Magoo Reads
Blog URL: www.mrsmagooreads.com
Tell us a little about yourself: I am a thirteen year old girl in the eighth grade who loves to read and blog!
Describe your blog: Like most blogs, I review YA books (although I have features that review children and adult books) and interview authors. Every Monday, I make a video out of one of my reviews and also give away a copy of the book reviewed.
How long have you been blogging, and why did you start? I've been blogging since August 2007, so more than a year and a half. I started because I thought it would be fun to simply have a blog, and then decided to make it about books.
How often do you update your blog? I attempt to update it every day, and I think I stick pretty close by it!
How do you find time to balance your blog with your normal life? This is a good question. Sometimes I get a little stressed, but 99% of the time it's no big deal. When I do feel pressure, I just remind myself that nobody's going to kill me if I don't post for a few days. Basically, I just do everything for my blog when I'm done with my homework, and I also do a lot on weekend mornings.
What advice would you give to a novice book critic? Make your blog unique!! Emily's blog is a great example of that. =D People want a reason to read your blog rather than the next one over.
Who are your favorite authors? Books? My favorite books are the Harry Potter series, the Twilight series, and the Uglies series. Other than the authors of those novels, I also love Laurie Halse Anderson.
If you could be one fictional character for a day, who would it be? Well, I suppose I'm not being very original, but I'd of course have to choose Bella from Twilight.

Thanks so much Sophie! And just a reminder, Sophie and I are giving away a copy of Scott Westerfeld's "Uglies," so click here for your chance to win!

Check back soon - The SPIT Sisters drama is just beginning!

March 21, 2009

Turbulance Ahead

As our plane lifts off two weeks after we arrive in Connecticut, I wonder if my stomach is doing flip-flops because of the change in altitude or the anxiety of what's to come. Whenever I go on vacation (if this trip can even count as a vacation), I'm always afraid to go home. I worry that everything will have changed while I was gone, or that everyone will have forgotten about me. Silly, I know, but it always happens.

It doesn't help that I didn’t talk to Katie or Brandon the entire two weeks I was at Gretchen’s. I called Katie twice, and one time she sent me a short text back that just said “OMG hi! so sorry going out I'll call you later." But she never did. Not that that’s unusual – Katie can be a scatterbrain. She probably just didn’t think about it. I just hope she’s not mad at me or something…

And then there’s Brandon. I mean, I never really talk to him on the phone anyway – we just run over to each other's house if we want to talk – so I wasn't really expecting him to call me. But I thought maybe he'd send me an email or a text or something. I mean, two weeks is a long time. But nothing.

Not that it’s a big deal. I mean, why would he feel like he needed to talk? I’m sure nothing monumental has happened since I’ve been gone…

Plus, I remind myself as I adjust my position in the tiny airplane seat, it's not like I was sitting around waiting for them to call or anything.

My week was actually really busy. While Gretchen was putting the finishing touches on the fundraiser event she was planning for a big hospital client, Mom and I spent time watching Andrew and exploring Connecticut. We went to the aquarium, the beach, and we even took the train to nearby New York City for a day. It actually ended up being really fun – and it was good to spend time with Mom again. It was almost like the old times when we would laugh and be silly and just talk.

There was only one afternoon Mom and I didn't spend together, and it might be another reason why my stomach is in knots…


I jump as a cheery stewardess snaps me out of my daydream, pointing at my unbuckled waist.

Commenters: How do you feel when returning home from a vacation? Can you relate to Lucy?

March 19, 2009

Reading Break

Hi everyone! I'm happy to take a short break from the story to announce that the fabulous Mrs. Magoo Reads has profiled The SPIT Sisters on her blog! If you're not familiar with her, she is an avid and creative young reader who not only reviews YA books, but also holds contests, reviews movies and even has an online store.

That's not all. We're also holding a contest! To win a copy of Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, visit the Mrs. Magoo Reads blog, and then leave a comment on this post with your email address. For an extra entry, follow my blog AND Mrs. Magoo's blog. We will announce the winner on April 5th.

March 17, 2009

Art Therapy

Mom and I rush into the kitchen, with Andrew on our heels.

When we reach the doorway, however, we stop short. There's Gretchen, sitting in the middle of a huge, colorful puddle of paint on the white tile floor. Her legs are sprawled out like a rag doll, and her clothes are dripping with red and purple goop. Spatters of paint decorate her perfect blonde hair like confetti. A bunch of plastic paint jars lay around her on their sides, still spilling their contents onto the floor in multicolor streams.

Gretchen looks up at us with a look a sheer exasperation as she drops the paintbrush she has clutched in her fist. "I was carrying the paint and there was some on the floor and I ... I ..." Gretchen shakes her head, casting her eyes to the ceiling. I can't tell if she's about to cry or scream. "I can't DO this!"

She slaps both hands down at her sides, sending splats of paint shooting up into the air, and attempts to push herself up. Her bare feet – now rainbow smeared – slip and slide in the muddled colors as she tries to stand.

Mom suddenly seems to recover from her shock. "Here, let me help," she says, reaching down and grabbing Gretchen's elbow to hoist her up.

Gretchen finally plants her heels on the ground and looks at my mom. She sighs loudly, blowing her speckled hair out of her face. "Than--"

What happens next seems to occur in slow motion. As Gretchen goes to take a step, her left foot wobbles and then slips. Her leg shoots out from under her and she almost does a split as she tumbles back to the floor, pulling my mother on top of her.

“Watch out!” I cry as they hit the ground with a splat.

I feel myself holding my breath for a second as Mom and Gretchen lay there in silence for a moment – until Mom bursts out laughing.

At first Gretchen looks shocked, and I'm afraid she's going to be mad as my mom rolls onto her side in near hysterical laughter. But then Gretchen lays her head back in a puddle of paint and starts to laugh so hard that tears squeeze from the corner of her clenched eyes. “Oh…my…goodness!” she pants.

"You guys are nuts," I say, trying to fight the smile that's turning up the corners of my mouth.

"Oh yeah?" Mom asks slyly, and before I can move she's lurching forward and grabbing me by the waist, pulling me on top of the Mom-Gretchen paint pile.

"Ak! My shirt!" I screech. My sneakers skid and slosh against the paint-covered floor as I try to scurry to my feet.

“Oh poor baby!” Gretchen whines in a mock pity tone, still laughing. She reaches up and pulls my wrists so that I fall back on top of them both.

“Fine!” I yell, giving in. “This means war!” I scoop a blob of paint off the floor and wipe it across Gretchen’s forehead, and the three of us continue to fake wrestle, laughing like crazy – until we notice Andrew looking on with a shocked expression on his face, his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open.

"Come over here, silly!" Gretchen calls, holding her hands out in his direction. Andrew laughs and shuffles his feet across the paint toward us. “Whoooaaa!” he calls out dramatically as he slowly makes himself fall onto his butt. “I fell in the paint!”

Gretchen scoops Andrew up in her arms and he squirms under her ticking fingers. I giggle, leaning my head back on my mom's laughing belly. And that’s when I realize that this is the first time I've heard her laugh like this in a long, long time.

Maybe, I think to myself, just maybe this trip to Connecticut will be worth something after all.

March 12, 2009

Here Comes Trouble


We barely put our toes across the open doorway of Gretchen’s house when four-year-old Andrew comes flying at us in a whirlwind of dirt and fingerpaint, waving a paintbrush like it’s a magic wand. His shiny brown hair, cut in a bowl shape, is highlighted with gobs of yellow and red, and his face and arms are smeared the colors of the rainbow. His red t-shirt fittingly reads “Here Comes Trouble!”

I feel myself instantly shrink back, clutching my pocketbook to my chest. Trouble is right. I’m not too good around kids.

Andrew smashes against Mom’s knees and flings his arms around her, leaving purple and red hand smudges up and down her jeans.

“Wow, my big boy!” Mom cries, bending over and kissing the top of his head. “I’m so happy to see you!” She doesn’t even seem to notice the cloud of chaos that surrounds him as she drops her bags and squats down to Andrew’s height.

“Grandma, today me and Magda played chase, and I won. And then she got mad, so I painted her a picture. It’s a car. Magda likes to drive crazy. She always says so. ‘Drive crazy!’ she says. So I made a real big car…” Andrew rushes on without taking a breath while Mom smiles and nods her head.

I carefully step around Mom and Andrew, bending slightly to avoid his flailing, paint-caked hands, and look around.

I don’t really remember the inside of the house from the last time I was here for Billy’s funeral. It’s all a blur of black high heels and suit pants and wilting flowers and fluttering tissues.

Now, I soak it all in. The front door faces a large staircase that sweeps up to the right, and there’s a railing at the top where you could look down to the floor below. The foyer, where we stand, is small but elegant, and it connects a formal dining room to the right and a formal living room left. But that’s where the formality ends.

Right away I notice the house is filled with contradictions: china vases overflowing with Tonka trunks, ornately framed mirrors smudged with fingerprints, stuffy leather couches covered with Spongebob stickers. The floor is littered with building blocks and puzzle pieces; the furniture draped with super hero costumes.

Mom was right; Gretchen does have her hands full with Little Mr. Trouble.

Suddenly, we hear a loud crash from the back of the house, and Gretchen yells.

March 10, 2009

More Than Fine

Mom and I stand in silence for a moment in Gretchen’s driveway. The suddenly still front yard reverberates with the buzzing of unseen insects hiding in the pristine flowerbeds. In the distance, a seagull screeches, and I can hear the mumbled roll of the waves as if my ear is pressed to a conch shell.

“I guess we better go inside,” I say finally. And then I turn to Mom.

She’s staring, unblinking, at the plaque at the base of the front steps. Welcome to the Malone’s. My heart sinks as I instantly feel her pain – the pain of losing Billy; the pain that has lessened for me over time but has never let up its hold on her. Her eyes glimmer with unspilled tears; her lips press tightly together as if she’s trying to seal off the sadness.

“Mom?” I ask softly, but she doesn’t move. How could I be so selfish?, I think as a heavy wave of guilt rushes over me. I have been so focused on myself that I forgot how hard this trip would be for my mom. While I was sitting on the plane worrying about my summer vacation and missing out on time with my friends, Mom was probably thinking about the last time we were in this house – Billy’s funeral.

I reach out and touch Mom’s arm. She jumps slightly, and a tear escapes from the corner of her eye. “I’m fine, I’m fine,” she sniffs, wiping her face quickly. Sighing, she turns to me and smiles a little too brightly, as if trying to prove it.

“It’s OK, Mom. You don’t have to be fine for me,” I smile back, feeling my own eyes begin to fill.

Mom stares into my face and grasps my hands in hers. She lets out a teary laugh. “All right, then. We’ll be fine for each other.”

“We always are.”

She wraps me up in a tight hug, and we begin to walk toward the front steps. Together.

March 8, 2009

Sunday Recap #1

Hi friends! New to the story, or just need a reminder? Here's the latest happenings with The SPIT Sisters:

Fourteen-year-old Lucy Malone lives with her mother Bonnie in Fort Myers, Florida. Her parents recently got divorced after more than a year of separation. Their problems began when Lucy's brother Billy died in a car accident in Connecticut. Billy was 15 years older than Lucy, so to her he always felt more like a distant uncle than a brother.

Bonnie Malone still struggles with her son's death, and is often sad and distant. Lucy sometimes feels like she is the mother, caring for a fragile child. Lucy doesn't really like talking about her father Mark, who is now a park ranger at Everglades National Park.

Despite the tension at home, Lucy is having a great summer with her best friends Katie and Brandon - until everything changes.

Billy left behind a wife - Gretchen - and a 4-year-old son, Andrew. Gretchen comes from a very
privileged background and is struggling to learn how to support herself and her son. Feeling overwhelmed, Gretchen asks Bonnie and Lucy to come to Connecticut to help out. Bonnie agrees, leaving Lucy no choice but to spend the rest of her summer away from Katie and Brandon - who also happen to be semi-dating, or something, by the time Lucy leaves...

Now, Lucy and Bonnie have just arrived at Gretchen's home in Connecticut, which is of course picture-perfect ... or is it?

Check back often to keep up with The SPIT Sisters! The drama is just beginning.

March 6, 2009

Welcoming Committee

Gretchen’s house is exactly how I remember it – picture perfect. The white colonial stands proudly on top of a small hill, framed with lilac bushes and colorful sprays of wildflowers. Its crisp black shutters make me think of batting eyelashes, its barn-red front door of puckering lips. It’s almost like this house, like all of Connecticut, is trying to woo me.

Mom stops the car in the driveway, next to the winding walkway that leads to the front steps. At the base of the steps, a small metal plaque sticking out of the ground catches my eye. Welcome to the Malone’s, it reads.

It takes me a moment before I realize that the plaque is referring to Gretchen and Andrew, and not to Mom and me. I always forget that when Gretchen married Billy, she did indeed become a Malone.

“We’re here!” Gretchen sings out, unlatching her seatbelt.

Just then, the front door of the house swings open and a large, pale woman in a billowing powder-blue sundress and heavy white Reeboks steps outside. Her white-blond hair is pulled back tightly in a bun, and her creased face looks weathered and tired. When she sees us in the driveway, she sighs loudly and throws both of her thick arms in the air.

“Miss Malone, I not a babysitter!” the woman calls out in a heavy Polish accent. She grabs one handrail and heavily lowers herself down the front steps. “I supposed to clean up the mess, not watch him make it.”

Gretchen scurries to the front door, her heels scraping harshly against the cement. “I know, I know Magda, I am so so so sorry. It will never, ever happen again. I promise.”

Magda raises an eyebrow and hoists her canvas pocketbook onto her shoulder. “Mmm hmm,” she replies through pursed lips. From the way she looks at Gretchen, with a mix of exasperation and motherly care, I know she’s heard this before. “Well, I go now. The little one, he is a mess. Found paint or something, I don’t know. I can’t catch him. My knees, you know.”

Gretchen nods her head sympathetically the entire time Magda is speaking, but for some reason I’m not convinced she’s listening to a word the woman says. “Of course, go home. It’s fine, I’ll get it all under control.” Gretchen gives Magda a quick hug. Then she bends down, pulls off her heels and runs into the house barefoot, calling out for Andrew.

Magda turns and looks at Mom and me where we stand motionless in the driveway. She seems like she’s about to say something, but she stops herself. Then she sighs deeply again and begins hobbling toward her car parked on the street.

“Good luck,” she calls out behind her.

March 3, 2009

The Sights & Sound

After an hour and a half drive, Mom pulls Gretchen’s SUV off the highway. “Welcome to Milford!” Gretchen exclaims as she hangs up her phone for the first time this trip, slipping it into her oversized pocketbook.

I peer out the window as we begin driving through a neighborhood I can only describe as “quaint.” Big colonial homes mix with little cottage-style houses along roads framed with lush green lawns and perfectly manicured flowerbeds. Skyscraping oak trees filter down the honey sunlight so that it blinks and sparkles against the white fences and shiny new cars.

I hate to admit it, but so far Connecticut seems, well, pretty. The entire ride from the airport, I had gazed out the window at the thick curtain of pine and dogwood trees that lined the highway, lost in my thoughts, while Gretchen chattered nonstop on her phone and Mom tried to grab my attention by pointing out random landmarks and facts. “Look at that beautiful building! I think it’s from colonial times.” “Honey it’s 80 degrees out! Perfect weather!” Finally, I had put on my iPod and closed my eyes, trying to sort out the last few days in my head. Things were happening so quickly, and up here in Connecticut, I already felt detached from everything I knew and understood. But surprisingly, I felt OK about that. Relieved, even.

Yet as we make our way past one storybook house after another, I feel myself giving in to the nagging feelings that have been pushing on my chest since I left Fort Myers. I begin wondering what Brandon is doing at this exact moment, and what drama Katie has gotten herself into since I last talked to her. And then, with a sinking feeling I’ve been able to ignore until now, I wonder if whatever they’re both doing, they’re doing together...

Just then our car rounds a bend in the road, and I’m quickly pulled up from these sinking thoughts. Right in front of me, as if from a dream, the neighborhood disappears and is replaced by a small, shimmering stretch of sandy beach.

“The ocean...” I breathe, pressing my face against the tinted glass.

There it is, gray and thick and foamy – exactly like it looks in Fort Myers on my favorite overcast days. The coarse brown and gold sand is nothing like the white powder of home, but it creates a beautiful, shimmery ribbon of beach along the road, disappearing around a rocky outshoot in the distance. Tall dry grass shoots haphazardly out of shallow sand dunes, and families with little children spread out on checkered blankets and order ice cream from a tiny whitewashed pavilion. In the distance, sailboats bob and sway on the choppy water.

“Not exactly the ocean. Long Island Sound. But close enough.”

Gretchen’s voice pulls me from the beach back into the car. She turns to my mom. “Take the next left. We’re right up on the top of the hill.”

February 26, 2009

High-Heel Hurricane

Gretchen’s Lexus SUV comes lurching forward, swerving around a row of cars in park, and shudders to a halt as it hits the curb two feet from where I sit. Oh god, I think, taking a deep breath, here we go.

I can hear Gretchen before I can see her, her usually pretty-as-bells voice ringing out like a siren from the driver’s side as soon as the door opens. “No, I said petunias, not begonias! Begonias?! Are you a freaking moron?”

Gretchen steps around the front of the car, her iPhone pressed against her ear through her thick, lacquered blonde mane. She’s wearing huge black sunglasses and a black button-down shirt tucked into the tightest skinny jeans I’ve ever seen. And her heels – her heels are ridiculous yet impressive at the same time. I can’t ever imagine wearing shoes so tall and so pointy.

“Gretchen!” Mom sings out, opening her arms.

Gretchen smiles tightly and allows herself to be engulfed by my mom’s hug, her phone still pressed to her ear. Then she pulls away and turns back to the car. “Twenty tables of eight, not 10. Ten would be a disaster. A disaster. Write that down. Ugh.” Finally, she spins around and presses the phone up against her chest. “Sorry,” she mouths, giving me a silent wave. I awkwardly wave back. Then, like a boomerang, it’s right back up against her ear.

Mom and I look at each other, and Mom shrugs and begins picking up her bags. But I can’t move. I don’t know whether to be mad or embarrassed. Random people are now shooting evil looks in Gretchen’s direction as she begins to loudly rattle off a list of guest names. I can feel my face go red. She is ridiculous. After we just came so far to see her – to help her – she can’t even hang up her phone for two seconds. This is going to be worse than I ever even imagined.

Suddenly Gretchen stops talking, and I think for a second that she finally hung up the phone. “Bonnie! Oh, Bonnie – can you do me the biggest favor ever?”

Mom hoists her last bag onto her shoulder and looks up. “Of course dear. What do you need?”

“Can you drive? I have a conference call I’m already late for. Thanks so so so much!” And before the keys that Gretchen tosses in the air even reach my mother’s hands, she slides into the passenger seat and continues her conversation.

February 23, 2009

Baggage? Check!

“See. Not too bad, right?”

Mom and I step out of the huge revolving doors of Bradley International Airport and into the hazy Connecticut sunlight. I shrug in response to her question, giving my suitcase a violent pull as it gets stuck in a sidewalk crack.

Mom smiles brightly, ignoring my glum expression. Shielding her eyes with her hand, she looks up and down the airport service road, hoping to spot Gretchen’s huge Lexus SUV. “Gor-geous weather,” she sighs. “Isn’t it?”

“It’s ok.” I plop down on top of my suitcase and pull my iPod out of my backpack. It is actually a beautiful day, with a warm breeze keeping the July heat from settling on my shoulders. However, I refuse to give Mom the satisfaction of admitting that any part of this trip is pleasurable.

We had spent the past week tiptoeing around each other, and I had been secretly hoping that she would change her mind about this unnecessary interruption to my summer vacation. But Saturday came quickly, and before I knew it we were locking up our bungalow and headed to the dreary North. Although it didn't look too dreary so far ... But still.

To show her that I was still not happy with her this morning, I had planned on giving her the silent treatment for the entire trip. Maybe even longer. But in the end, I could only keep quiet for about 10 minutes of the car ride to the airport. I broke when Mom asked me a question about “some actor Jack Efron.” I just HAD to correct her.

Now that I think about, she probably did it on purpose.

“There she is!” Mom cries suddenly, dropping her bag and waving her arms wildly. “Gretchen! Over here!”

February 17, 2009

The Latest Gossip

Connecticut? I didn’t even think you could go to Connecticut in the summer. I thought it was like closed or something.”

Katie and I are sitting on Katie’s king-sized bed in her spacious lavender bedroom, flipping through the latest issues of UsWeekly and CosmoGirl magazines. It has been two days since my blowout with Mom and we’ve barely spoken to each other since, except when Mom told me that we’d be leaving on the first plane out early Saturday morning.

“Yeah,” I say softly, turning the pages of my magazine slowly, without reading a word.

“Well that really does reek for you. It’s like, prime surfing time. Plus, you’re going to completely lose your tan. I heard somewhere that the sun is like 40 times weaker in the Northeast.” Katie tosses her magazine on the floor and rolls over onto her back, looking up at the frilly white canopy draped across her bedposts. “Your mom is lame.”

“She’s not lame, she’s just…” Lost, I’m about to say, but instead: “So anyway, what do you think about Brandon?”

“Brandon who?” Katie asks as she holds her hands palms up in the air and examines her deep purple manicure.

“Brandon Bennett.”

“Your neighbor? What do you mean, what do I think about him?” Katie flips over onto her stomach and props her chin in her hands.

“I dunno,” I shrug, looking down quickly as I begin to flip faster through the magazine’s pages.

“Ha!” Katie cries suddenly, jumping up onto her knees. “You like him!” She giggles and shoves my shoulder.

“What? No! No I don’t, don’t be stupid!” I cry, rolling my eyes dramatically, as I feel the beginnings of a flush start to creep up my neck and hit my ears. “Ew, that’s gross – he’s like my brother!”

“So, what then?”

“What do you think about him? Like, do you think he’s cute?”

Katie shrugged, her long curls falling off her shoulders. “I guess. I never thought about it. He’s not ugly. Jeez Lucy, why?”

“Well I think he kinda likes you. I think he might ask you to the School Daze.”

I wait for Katie to burst out laughing, to throw her hair over her shoulder and squeal in amusement. When she doesn’t, I look up from my magazine.

“Huh.” Katie says, her face turned toward the window. “Well,” she shrugs. “Why not? You think he’s a nice kid, and you’re my best friend. There must be something special about him.”

“Y-yeah,” I stammer. “Yeah, Brandon’s a great guy. You’ll have fun.”

“Yeah. As long as…” Katie turns to me and narrows her eyes, her gaze questioning. “Are you sure you don’t like him as, like, more than a friend?”

“I’m sure.” I say soundly. Because I am. Sure. I'm sure.

February 16, 2009

A FRESH Perspective

Lucy: For the second time today, my heart sinks into my stomach.

“What?! Why?” The only times I had been to Connecticut were for my brother’s wedding and his funeral – both memories I wish I could forget. Connecticut is a cold, snowy place with too many cows and too few beaches. It’s like going to a foreign country.

“It’s Gretchen … She’s having a really rough time with things. Andrew is a handful, and she’s still trying to keep her event planning business afloat. I think she just needs some support – just for a week or two.” Mom looks at me hopefully and grabs my hand.

“But it’s the middle of summer vacation! Who wants to be in Connecticut in the summer?” I cry, pulling my hand away from her and standing up. “Why can’t her own mother take care of her? She certainly has enough money!”

“Her parents are vacationing in Belize until September,” Mom says softly. “And besides, Gretchen is still family. You don’t quit being family when someone passes away.”

“No, you just quit being family when one person decides to up and leave to become someone else,” I mumble under my breath, my eyes cast down on the floor.

Silence. And then, “We are going to Connecticut. And that’s that.”

Mom waits until I raise my eyes to meet her own. Then she stands up and walks out of the room, closing the door behind her.

February 12, 2009


I give Mom a small smile back and nod, and she moves swiftly down the hall. I hear her answer the phone and then sing out, “Oh, Gretchen! Oh, so nice to hear from – wait, wait. Start over. What happened?”

I crane my neck around the bathroom wall and look down the hallway to where Mom stands grasping the phone to her ear in the kitchen. She hunches her body over slightly, her back to me, and is listening intently.

Inside, I cringe. Gretchen is Billy’s wife, and whenever she calls, drama ensues.

“Gretchen, please calm down. You can do this. No… yes, I know it’s difficult… no, I don’t know how… yes, I do know what it’s like….” Mom interjects occasionally in hushed tones.

Although I’m curious about what Gretchen’s dramatic story is about this time, I quickly sneak across the hall to my bedroom and quietly shut the door behind me. I do not want any part in my sister-in-law’s latest antics – especially not today.

Alone in my room, I attach my iPod to its speakers and flop back onto my bed, staring at the ceiling. Kelly Clarkson begins to sing, and I try to focus on the lyrics and not my mother’s muffled voice in the hallway.

Sighing, I roll onto my side and stare at the photos that line my nightstand – me as a 5-year-old at Disney Land perched on my father’s shoulders, a mouse-ears popsicle in my hand and my then white-blonde hair matted to the ice cream smeared across my face; a recent photo of me and Katie at the beach, our arms entwined; a family portrait snapped at Billy’s winter wedding in Connecticut, a little more than a year before he died.

I pick up the last photo and hold it inches from my face, my breath making steamy half-dollars on its glass surface. In it, my brother stands proudly in the center, a perfect white-toothed smile on his tanned face. His black hair is slicked back and gleaming, his chiseled jaw clean-shaven. Standing there in his designer tuxedo, he looks like he could be an actor arriving at the Oscar’s red carpet.

Next to him, Gretchen stands clinging to his arm, staring up at him in pure adoration. She has definitely dressed the part of the princess for her special day – a huge, billowing ball gown engulfs her tiny frame, and her beaded corset shines like a sequined beacon. Her long blonde hair is pulled into a classic bun on top of her head, surrounded by a diamond princess crown and delicate veil that trails the floor behind her.

To Billy’s left, Mom stands proudly in a flowing printed skirt and long-sleeved black top woven with strands of shimmering thread. Her right arm crosses in front of her body and her hand holds tightly to her son’s elbow. The smile on her face is enigmatic. On Gretchen’s right, my father, in the tux he wore to his own wedding 25 years before. It hangs loosely on his tall, thin frame, but his carefree stance gives him a casual elegance that somehow makes him look like a rugged James-Bond type. His strawberry blond hair has a tousled, bed-head look, and his lean, weather-beaten face wears a lopsided, yet sincere, smile.

And finally, standing almost an entire foot to my father’s right, is 9-year-old me in an oversized black velvet jumper and pink turtleneck. With my long, unruly hair pushed back off my face under a shiny pink headband, and visible runs in my white stockings betraying the rowdy game of tag I had just played with my cousins in the church basement, I look like the ugly stepsister to Gretchen’s Cinderella. Or maybe one of the little mice who runs around the castle and stirs up trouble.

Even at 9, I think, I didn’t fit in to this family.

Just then Mom raps hard on the door three times and opens it before getting a response. I quickly shove the photo underneath my pillow and sit up to face Mom, whose worried face makes me instantly anxious.

“What is it?”

Mom reaches over and turns off my iPod. She sits down on the edge of the bed. After taking a deep breath, she says, “We have to go to Connecticut.”