Authors: Shelley Tougas
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For Michael, giver of laptops and love
I glared at Olivia Stanger's picture on the for-sale sign. Her silver hair sparkled, and her big smile showed teeth as white as wedding cake frosting. Icky-sticky sweet.
So I karate kicked that sign, the sign that announced she was
selling my cabin
The sign swung away, but my foot kept going. I landed in the splits, then pressed my whole body against the grass. The sign swung back but missed my head. I was fast. Cougar fast.
Olivia Stanger had forced a stake into the ground for her sign. A thin pole stuck out near the top of the stake, forming a backward number seven. The sign with her picture hung from the top of the seven. The icky-sticky-sweet smile was as wide as my head.
Next to me was a big stick, so I held it against the ground and pulled myself out of the splits. We were face-to-face again, me and Olivia Stanger's sign.
So I whacked her face with the stick.
Then I spit on the sign, right by the words that said, “Olivia Stanger, Your Wisconsin Lakeshore Realtor.”
“What'd that sign ever do to you?”
The voice was a boy covered in mud. Mud on his hands, on his knees, on his green t-shirt. He stood in the grass a few feet from the gravel driveway.
I looked at the muddy boy, then the sign.
I wished Olivia herself would answer. Because if the for-sale sign were an evil talking sign, she'd say, “Miss Christa Boyd-Adams. I will make sure you'll be home every summer, stuck in arts-and-crafts camps. You'll make paper-bag dresses and sock puppets. WAH HA HA HA!”
From under the mud came the boy's voice again. “You got a problem with that sign?”
“Yeah, I got a problem with this sign. A big problem.”
“That lady's face is on signs everywhere around here. I guess some people must like her.”
“I guess they do. They must like a thief in a business suit selling their best stuff. The stuff they've had since they were born.”
He eyed the cabin up and down. “It's not as nice as the places for sale in Arizona. That's where I'm from. But it's a decent cabin. Does it have an actual bathroom? With a toilet that actually flushes?”
“Of course it has a flushing toilet! It's not a hunting shack. It has electricity and a fireplace and two bedrooms. It even has closets.”
He nodded. “Then you'll sell it for a wad of money.”
Money. That's what my parents wanted. Money from the sale to pay bills. I'd rather sell our house, which was ten hours from the cabin, in a boring neighborhood with hardly any trees.
“Nobody should buy this place,” I said. “If you're honest, you'll tell lookers the truth. Are you honest?”
My brain had to work fast. Race-car fast. I said, “Bats sneak in the cracks at night and swirl around your head, and if they bite you, you need shots or you die. I've already had six shots and I'm only ten years old!”
“I'm eleven.” He offered this fact as if it mattered.
I continued, “We hired thirty-two different bug spray guys, and they all left screaming. We've got
. Bats, squirrels, ants, flies, moles. Centipedes and spiders, too. Sometimes snakes come right up the toilet! We save the spiders because they eat the other bugs.”
He shrugged. “I ain't afraid of spiders or snakes.”
My dad would split his pants over the word “ain't.” He was a history teacher, but you'd think he taught English because of his obsession with words. But the school budget cut my dad, and words don't worry him anymore. Just money. Right before we packed our summer stuff, my parents told us we had to sell the cabin. They couldn't afford a house, two cars, our cabin, and to still save college money for my sister, Amelia, and me.
I told the boy, “I'm not afraid of spiders, either. Even poisonous spiders. And I'm not afraid of snakes. I just don't like them.”
The boy said, “I really don't have fears. Just born without them, I guess.”
“You afraid of that house?” I pointed to the white two-story house where Mr. Edmund Clark lived, only a few hundred feet from our driveway. My parents made me say “mister” or “missus” when talking to old people, and Mr. Edmund Clark was old. He had a stiff leg and flabby face and silver hair like Olivia Stanger. He should probably have married Olivia Stanger since they were both mean and Mrs. Edmund Clark was dead.
Mud boy said, “Why would I be afraid of that house?”
“The guy there is mean and older than fossils.”
His hands sprang to his hips. “That old guy is my grandpa.”
“You mean your
a?” I laughed, but he didn't.
Mud boy marched toward me with fists ready to spring. I karate kicked the air to show him I meant business. Then he laughed. “Do you know how stupid you look when you do that?”
I held my arms ready to karate chop. He laughed even harder. He did this crazy spin-around karate kick with his arms waving. Then he stopped and held
arms ready to karate chop. We circled each other.
“I have a karate belt,” he said.
“Me, too,” I said.
“I also have a Judo belt,” he said, circling some more.
I'd never heard of a Judo belt, but it sounded way better than a karate belt.
“Me, too,” I said, circling some more.
“I punched gangster Al Capone in the stomach,” he said.
“Me, too,” I said. “Punched Al and his entire gang. Punched 'em all.”
He stopped circling and stomped his foot. “Liar! Al Capone has been dead for like a hundred years! I know because he had a house down the road, and my grandpa's been there.”
My lips sealed tight because I didn't know who Al Capone was or that he was dead or that Mr. Edmund Clark had been to his house.
Mud boy said, “I lied and said I punched him to prove
were lying.” He sure looked proud of himself.
I'd been tricked. Now it was liar against liar. Because if the grump was his gramps, why hadn't I seen this kid before?
We stared at each other, karate-style. Judo-style.
Finally he said, “Your hair's really short for a girl.”
That's what girls at school saidâmy hair's too short and my clothes don't match. My cabin was supposed to be a fashion-free zone. “I don't have time for braids and ponytails. You got a problem with that?”
He thought about it. Then he dropped his karate arms. “I got a bucket of mud. I'm mixing up some mud pies.”
“Mud pies. Ten points for hitting that sign from here. Twenty bonus points for hitting her nose.”
I was leading 80â40 when Dad shut down the contest. He looked at Olivia Stanger's face on that sign. Bits of grass clung to her silver waves, and her pretty violet-blue eyes were covered with mud. He shook his head and sighed.
Dad went into the cabin and came back with sponges and a bucket of soapy water. He set the bucket by our feet. “Looks like you and your friend have some work to do.”
“If I ain't her friend, do I still have to clean this up?”
Dad did not split his pants. He said, “Good question. Who are you?”
“And Neil and Sally Clark's son. We're buying the house and Grandpa's pizza restaurant so Grandpa can retire.” Alex looked at me. “I can eat pizza anytime I want.”
“Me, too,” I said. “And brownies. Whenever I want.”
Dad said, “No you can't, Christa. Now get busy.”
We got busy, but I couldn't stop thinking about the stuff Dad and Mom were probably saying inside the cabin. I didn't even need to eavesdrop because I'd heard it all before.
Christa, why can't you think before you act?
Christa, that's immature behavior.
Christa, you need to make better choices.
Christa, why can't you act your age?
Someday I'll be sixteen like Amelia, and maybe then my parents will say things like,
I can't believe you're driving
our baby's growing up
you'll be graduating before we know it
. That's what they said to her. Seems like Amelia was always growing up too fast, and I was always growing up too slow. Too bad there wasn't a middle child who could've been just right.
When the sign was clean, Alex and I stood back and looked at our work.
“I liked it better before,” he said.
Me, too. I scooped a glob of mud on my finger. Nobody was looking, far as I could tell. I rushed to the sign and did the job quick.
And there she was: cabin-thief Olivia Stanger. Big smile, front teeth blacked out.
Alex turned out to be the new version of the old Amelia, who used to play with me. It was his idea to meet the next day, but it was
idea to climb Mount Everest.
We met on the side of the hill by Mr. Edmund Clark's house. Alex sat in the grass and stuck out his foot.
“Do mine first,” he said.
I took a fork and duct tape from my bag. I pressed the fork handle flat against the bottom of his shoe, leaving the tines sticking out past his toes. “Hold it,” I said. While he held the fork in place, I tore off a long piece of duct tape and wrapped the fork tightly to his shoe.
“Presto!” I said. “Ice-climbing boots with spikes!”
I made his other shoe into spiked boots, and then he did mine.
A few years ago, Amelia and I had play-climbed Everest in a park near our house. That was when Amelia played with me. When Amelia was Pocahontas helping Lewis and Clark; I was Pocahontas's little sister. I was also the little sister of Sally Ride and Marie Curie and the people we invented, like adventurer Jade Truegood and her sister Chase.
But Amelia became a princess when she turned fourteen. One day, Amelia My Sister was plucking the legs off a daddy longlegs spider to see if it'd roll around with just a body. (Yes, it does.) Then practically overnight, Amelia My Sister vanished, and Amelia The Princess was in her place. Amelia The Princess screamed at bugs and begged for manicures and pierced ears.