Read Nest Online

Authors: Esther Ehrlich

Nest

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Text copyright © 2014 by Esther Ehrlich
Jacket and interior art copyright © 2014 by Teagan White

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

Wendy Lamb Books and the colophon are trademarks of Random House LLC.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Ehrlich, Esther.
Nest/by Esther Ehrlich. —First edition.
   pages cm
ISBN 978-0-385-38607-4 (trade)—ISBN 978-0-385-38608-1 (lib. bdg.)— ISBN 978-0-385-38609-8 (ebook)—ISBN 978-0-385-38610-4 (pbk.) [1. Family life—Massachusetts—Cape Cod—Fiction. 2. Multiple sclerosis—Fiction. 3. Sick—Fiction. 4. Schools—Fiction. 5. Bird watching—Fiction. 6. Cape Cod (Mass.)— History—20th century—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.E332Nes 2014
[Fic]—dc23

2013036245

Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.

v3.1

FOR MY NEAL

Contents

I
SHOULD HAVE TAKEN THE
shortcut home from my bird-watching spot at the salt marsh, because then I wouldn’t have to walk past Joey Morell, whipping rocks against the telephone pole in front of his house as the sun goes down. I try to sneak around him, pushing so hard against the scrub oaks on our side of the road that the branches scratch my bare legs, but he sees me.

“Hey,” he says, holding a rock and taking a step toward me. He doesn’t have a shirt on; it’s been broiling all week.

“Hey,” I say, real friendly, like I’m not thinking about the fact that I’m a girl and he’s a boy who might pop me with a rock, since he comes from a family that Dad says has
significant issues
. The Morells have only lived across Salt Marsh Lane from us
since early spring, but that’s long enough to know that his two brothers are tough guys, and Joey, he goes hot and cold.

“It’s getting kind of dark for you to be wandering around all by yourself,” he says, tossing the rock up and catching it with one hand.

“I know.”

“Things can happen to girls outside in the dark on summer nights,” Joey says, smacking the rock into the palm of his other hand.

“I know.”

“So where were you?” Joey asks, like it’s his right to know.

“Nowhere.”

“How was nowhere?”

“Just like somewhere,” I say.

He looks at me, real serious, and then he smiles and drops the rock.

I don’t smile back, since he might be trying to trick me, which is what tough guys do.

“How’s your arm?” he says.

“My arm?”

“You know, do you throw like a girl?”

“I
am
a girl.”

“Here,” Joey says. He picks up some rocks and holds one out to me.

I don’t take it, but I don’t run away, either.

“Let me see you throw,” Joey says. “You don’t even have to wind up.” His voice sounds gentler now, so
I take one baby step closer to him. His blond hair is as dried out and tangly-looking as a song sparrow’s nest. I can just hear our teacher from last year, Mrs. McHenry, saying, “A comb, young man. Do you not know the
function
of a comb?” if he had ever dared to show up in class like that.

“Stupid mosquitoes!” Joey says, slapping his cheek. He’s got three bites on his forehead and too many bites on the rest of him for me to count without him asking what the heck I’m staring at, like maybe I’m interested in his skinny, suntanned chest. His bites look like hot-pink polka dots, which means he’s been scratching, scratching, scratching.

“Why don’t you go get some bug dope to keep the mosquitoes off you?” I ask.

“ ’Cuz I can’t go in.”

“Why can’t you go in?”

“ ’Cuz I’m locked out.”

“But the lights are on,” I say. “It looks like someone’s home.”

“They’re all home,” Joey says. “They’re having dessert. Chocolate pudding. But I’m locked out.” I want to ask Joey what he did wrong, but I don’t want to make him feel worse.

He throws a rock against the telephone pole.
Bam
.

“Your turn.”

I grab a rock from the ground and take a few giant steps so I’m a whole lot closer to the telephone pole than Joey. Too close to miss.

Bam
.

“Not bad,” Joey says. He comes and stands next to me. He smells like the lime Dad cuts up for his gin and tonic before dinner.

Joey’s turn.
Bam
.

My turn.
Bam
.

His turn.
Bam
.

My turn.
Bam
.

“Crap,” he says.

“Crap,” I say.

“Double crap.”

“Triple crap.” Dad says swearing is
inappropriate
and not what he expects to hear from either of his daughters. I don’t know if
crap
is officially a swear, but I do know there are lots of more polite words in the English language.

Joey picks up a whole handful of rocks. He throws them into the air, and they smash down on the road.

“Is your mom’s leg okay?” he asks.

“Not really.”

“That sucks.”

“Yeah, it sucks.” My heart is pounding.

“I
love
chocolate pudding,” Joey says.

I pick up more rocks and hand them over to Joey. He throws them up really, really high, and we run out of the way to make sure they don’t crash down on us.

“When will they let you in?” I ask.

“When they’re good and ready,” he says, flapping at the mosquitoes near his face.

“Want me to go get you some bug dope?” I ask.

“Nah.” He bends down to get more rocks. When he stands up, he looks right in my eyes. His are gray-blue, like the water in our inlet on a stormy winter day.

“You’re not gonna tell anyone that—”

“Don’t worry,” I say.

“I guess you’d better get home.”

“Yeah.”

“Catch you on the flip side,” Joey says. I feel him watching me. It’s like a light shining on my back as I walk away.

“Joey?” I stop and turn around.

“What?”

I want to ask him when he was paying so much attention that he noticed Mom’s left leg.

“Nothing.”

“Whatever you say, Milky Way.” He starts whipping rocks again.
Bam bam bam
follows me across our road, up six stairs, and home.

Rachel and I are in the middle of Salt Marsh Lane, singing louder than the rain that gushes down on us and smacks the asphalt like a zillion tiny drumbeats while we twist and shout in our matching green bikinis. Finally the sky’s opened up after way too many days of the 3
h
’s—hazy, hot, and humid.

“Well, shake it up, baby, now …”

We sing so loud that I bet Mom can hear us, even though she’s sitting on the porch in her watching chair and not dancing with us, since her left leg isn’t strong enough these days to carry her down our six stairs, let alone do the Twist. She’s not dancing with us, but her laugh is here. It makes me laugh and Rachel shimmy like she
has
something to shimmy, but she really doesn’t have much. I have even less, being two years younger.

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