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:
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.”