Cassie Was Here

Caroline Hickey

Roaring Brook Press

Cassie was Here
Chapter 1
"Alaskan husky, Beagle, Collie," I list. "Dachshund, English springer spaniel ..." I get stuck on F. I can never think of an F for dogs or cities. For colors I always say fuchsia.
I look at Joey. She's smiling triumphantly. I have five seconds to think of an F or she wins. "Fffff," I say.
"Time's up," Joey announces. "Foxhound."
We're sitting on the back steps of my new house. It's not new-new, because I've been here a few weeks. But it doesn't feel like home. It's like when you get new tennis shoes--even though they look nicer than your old ones, they don't fit your feet the same way.
A car door slams and I hear feet and a dribbling basketball coming down the driveway. Joey and I both squirm. It's my brother, returning from basketball camp.
"Hey," says Reid. He's still dribbling and he bounces the ball from front to back between his legs. "What're you doing?"
"Playing the alphabet game with Joey," I say. Reid rollshis eyes. He doesn't like her. Luckily, she doesn't like Reid either, so she ignores him.
"Guess what?" He smiles and spins the ball on one finger. "I'm going to build you that swing you want."
My jaw drops two inches. Reid doesn't normally go out of his way to do things for me. "But Dad said he'd do it."
"Have you even seen Dad since we moved in? He's been at work every day--he and Mom both. I figured you'd be happy."
"I am happy! Just ... surprised." I jump up and lean toward him to give him a hug. He steps aside and I almost fall over. I should have known better. Reid's thirteen and he hardly lets anyone give him a high five anymore.
"This backyard stinks," he says, looking around. "A swing might make this place feel more like ours. And keep you out of trouble."
I give him an innocent grin. Then Joey and I do a little happy dance while Reid goes in the house. He comes back a minute later with a long, skinny piece of wood and a bunch of rope. He walks across the yard and drops the rope and wood at the foot of a big tree. I sneak up behind him to watch, holding my breath and standing so close to him he steps right back onto my foot.
"Move it, Bree," he says.
Joey is next to me. "Let's get out of his way," she whispers. "I can smell him from here."
"Shh!" I tell her. "He's been at camp all day. Anyway, boys smell."
Reid pushes his head through the coils of rope so they hang around his neck like a collar, leaving his arms free for climbing. The first branch on the tree is more than ten feet up. Reid looks around for a boost, eyeing a jungle gym in our neighbor's yard.
"Do you see their car in the driveway, Bree?" he says. I shake my head no. "Then keep a lookout."
"You can't use it without asking. We don't know them!"
Reid gives me a look. "Do you want a swing or not?"
"I'll keep watch," I say.
He slips into their yard and drags the jungle gym over. It's an upside-down half circle of metal bars, kind of like a web. As soon as it's in our yard, I grab it and help him position it under the tree. Reid scrambles on top.
"You'd better not tell Mom I did this," he warns.
I cross my fingers over my heart. "I won't."
Using just his fingertips and some tree knots, Reid climbs up the trunk and onto the first big branch. He shimmies out to the middle and ties one end of the rope. He doesn't even look scared.
Joey nudges me. "I'm swinging first," she whispers.
"No way," I say. "It's my swing. I go first."
"I'm not sure if the rope is out far enough," Reid calls down. "I'm going to ..." His words trail off as we hear a car pull in the driveway next door.
"Quick!" he yells. "Push the jungle gym back into their yard!"
I start pushing, but it's much heavier than it looks. It's barely moving. "Reid, I can't move it!"
The car's engine turns off, and any second now our new neighbors will get out of their car and see their jungle gym in our yard. I look for Joey, panicked.
"There's not enough time for him to climb down!" Joey says. "Tell him to jump!"
"Reid, jump!" I yell.
Reid hesitates for a minute, looking from me to the car and back. Then he jumps. He lands on his feet for a second before falling onto his side. I keep pushing, waiting for Reid to join me. Finally the jungle gym is back in the neighbor's yard, although I can tell from the grass marks it's not in the same place.
I run back toward our yard, yelling, "Reid, why didn't you help? I had to push the whole thing and ..."
Reid is lying on the ground beneath the tree. He's holding his arm and I can tell he's trying not to cry.
"Reid? Are you okay?" I lean over him to look at his arm, but he curls up in a ball so I can't see it. His face is pale and, even though he's much bigger than I am, he looks small.
"My arm's broken," he says. His voice cracks and I get a sudden sick feeling in my stomach. It's my fault he was up in the tree in the first place--I wanted the swing. And I'm the one who told him to jump.
I'm terrified. "Joey, what do we do?"
"Don't ask her," Reid growls. "Just go get Mom!"
I take off toward the house, hollering for our mother. I expect Joey to follow me, but when I look over my shoulder, she's running in the opposite direction. I know she's leaving because she's worried Reid will blame everything on her. That's how much he dislikes her.
My mom comes outside with the portable phone stuck to her ear and a bunch of papers in her hand. She's talking to a client.
"Hurry!" I yell. "Reid broke his arm!"
"He what?" Her face turns white and she drops the phone and papers and runs over to Reid. "Reid, honey, are you all right?" she asks anxiously. "Get me the phone, Bree."
Reid mumbles something I can't hear. Mom rolls him carefully onto his back so she can see his left arm. It's not bloody or gross or black and blue. But it's crooked. Halfway between his wrist and his elbow, you can see an angle where the bone isn't straight anymore. I feel dizzy and I can't breathe right. I run for the phone and give it to my mom.
She strokes Reid's hair. "Nice and slow, Reid. Tell me what happened."
"I was making a swing for Bree," he says. His voice is thick like when he talks in his sleep. "She was playing with Joey."
"Joey!" My mom glares at me, then punches 9-1-1 into the phone and hurriedly asks for an ambulance. She gives our new address, which I haven't bothered to memorizeyet, and hangs up. "They'll be here in a few minutes, Reid, just lie still."
"Do you think he'll get a cast?" I say. Neither of us has ever broken anything before, and I've always wondered what a cast would be like.
"Yes," Mom says distractedly. She's checking Reid out from head to toe, gently squeezing the bones in his other arm and legs. "Bree, tell me the whole story."
"Well, Reid said he'd build me a swing, and we had to use the neighbor's jungle gym as a boost, but they came home, and when I tried to push it back I wasn't strong enough, so Joey and I thought Reid should jump ..."
My mom props Reid's head up on her lap and looks at me. "I've had enough of you and Joey, Bree. Ever since we moved here, it's been Joey this, and Joey that. I've been lenient until now because I know this move has been hard on you. But I don't want you to talk to her anymore. Do you understand?"
Joey's my only friend here. I don't know anyone else. "It was Reid's idea to make the swing!"
My mom stares me down. "No more Joey. Do you understand?" I nod. I understand all right. "I'm calling your father," she says. "Talk to Reid and keep him calm and still."
I sit down next to him. His eyes are wet but he's not crying. "Does it hurt bad?" I ask him.
"Yeah."
"You're going to get a cast, though. A cast is cool." He doesn't answer me. "A boy in my class broke his arm a fewmonths ago. He didn't have to make up any homework while he was out or anything."
"It's summer. We don't have any homework."
He won't look at me, and I'm running out of things to say. "I'm sorry, Reid. Really. About Joey, and everything."
"Just shut up," he mutters. "Shut up about you and Joey."
 
The ambulance arrives a few minutes later to take Mom and Reid to the hospital. I want to ride in the ambulance with them, but Mom tells me to stay home and call her parents and her sister to let everyone know what happened. Dad is going to meet Mom and Reid at the hospital.
I call everybody and tell them not to worry. My grandmother promises to mail him a batch of her oatmeal raisin cookies. My cousins, Kirsten and Keith, offer to send Reid their comic books. I can already see how much attention Reid's going to get for this.
I watch TV for a while but it's boring, so I invite Joey over instead. As long as I can sneak her out before everyone gets home it should be fine. What my parents don't know won't hurt them.
Joey suggests we play Safari in the basement and search for new animal species. Our basement is full of unpacked boxes from our move, so we open a few of them and investigate. Joey doesn't ask me if I'm worried about Reid, or if I feel bad about him falling. That's one of the things I like about her. She talks to me and plays with me and doesn't worry about anybody else.
Five long hours later, I hear a car in the driveway. I help Joey slip out the basement door, then go upstairs to the den and turn on the TV. I put on a bored face and try to make it look like I've been sitting there the whole time.
Reid comes into the house scowling, wearing a thick white cast. It looks like he shoved his arm into a giant tube of toothpaste.
"Sit on the couch, Reid, and I'll make some spaghetti," my mom says. "I'm sure you're both starving."
I move over and Reid sits. He doesn't look at me. I stare at his cast, fascinated.
"Did it hurt getting the cast on?" I ask him. He shakes his head. "Does it hurt now?" He shrugs. I guess I'm getting the silent treatment.
"Not so many questions right now, Bree," my dad says. He rubs his chin. He does that a lot when he's worried about something. Usually he's worried about work, but now he's rubbing it and looking at me. "Reid's had a hard day," he continues, "and he's very disappointed about basketball camp."
I forgot about that. "Are you sure he can't go?" I ask, even though I know the answer. "I mean, he's right-handed and he broke his left arm."
Dad looks at me oddly. "They can't let anyone play with an injury, honey. Especially a broken arm."
"Besides," Reid adds, "you dribble and shoot with both hands, dummy." He glares at me, then looks away.
Now I really feel bad. Reid loves basketball camp. He's gone every year since he was eight.
We eat spaghetti, and Mom and Dad talk about the hospital and insurance and other stuff. Reid and I don't talk, and no one says anything about Joey. I'm relieved, thinking maybe Mom forgot she said I wasn't allowed to talk to Joey anymore. After dinner, Reid goes up to his room and I go up to mine. It's past nine o'clock, and I'm so tired my eyes are dry.
I put on my old blue pajamas and grab an orange marker. Orange is my favorite color right now. It used to be pink, but Reid said that was too girly.
I knock on Reid's door. "Go away," he says. I open it anyway. Neither of us has a lock on our door like we did at our old house.
"What do you want?" Reid says. He's lying on his bed and staring up at the ceiling. His room isn't messy but it smells like dirty clothes. He hasn't hung up his posters yet and his books are still in boxes.
"I want to sign your cast," I say nervously.
"No--get out."
"C'mon, Reid. I said I'm sorry. Please let me sign it!" I hold up my orange marker so he can see it.
"I mean it, Bree," he says. He voice is low and angry this time. "Get out and stay out."
"But it was an accident! I didn't make you fall. You can't be mad at me forever."
Reid is silent for a minute. Then he stands up and walks toward me. I think he's going to give me his arm to sign, but instead he puts his right palm on my forehead and pushes me out of the room. He closes the door. I hear somethingscrape the floor and then shove up against the doorknob. I guess he wants to be alone.
I'm getting ready to turn out my light when I hear a knock on my door. Thinking it's Reid coming to let me sign his cast, I say, "Come in, meanie. I'm glad you changed your mind."
My parents walk in, looking startled. "Bree, who're you talking to?" Mom asks.
I scrunch down against my pillow and sigh. It's going to be one of those conversations. "I thought you were Reid."
Dad sits on my desk chair and Mom perches on the corner of my bed. I'm surrounded. "Bree," Dad says, "we need to talk about Joey."
I nod and try to look serious even though I don't plan to listen to them.
"When you were little and you played with Joey, it was okay. Lots of younger children have playmates like her. But you're eleven years old now, and it's not ..." Dad's voice trails off. He seems to be searching for the right word.
"Normal," Mom finishes. "It's not normal, honey." Dad gives Mom a look. She's much meaner about Joey than he is. That's why he's been my favorite lately. "We know you didn't want to move," Mom continues, "and you had to leave your friend Marybeth behind, and you have to start a new school in the fall. And we're not saying that's fair. But playing with Joey every day isn't going to make things easier. In fact, it'll probably make them harder."
I nod again. If I nod a bunch and look like I'm listening, they might leave me alone. It's not like it was my choice for Joey to come back. I didn't go looking for her. But the first day we arrived in the neighborhood, when I was sad and lonely and scared, she appeared on our porch and told me not to worry, we'd have plenty of fun together. And she was right.
"We know what happened today with Reid wasn't your fault," Dad says. "And if Reid tells you it was, ignore him. He's just mad about his arm."
I know it's more than that though. Reid doesn't like Joey, either. That's why he wanted to build me the swing--so I'd be too busy to play with her. I take a deep breath and try to keep my voice steady. "I know you don't understand," I say. "But Joey keeps me company. I don't have anyone else to play with here."
Mom pats the covers where my feet are. She grabs my big toe and squeezes it. "The first few weeks of summer are always slow, honey. But we've found a tennis camp for you near here, and you're going to make lots of new friends there."
I've told Mom about fifty times that I don't want to go to tennis camp this year. Each time, she tells me I'll change my mind.
"And I want you to promise me you won't talk to Joey anymore," Mom says. I don't answer. She squeezes my toe again. "Joey is imaginary, Bree. You know that." Her voice is soft and has lost its meanness.
I scrunch down farther into my bed and sigh. "I'm really tired, Mom. I'm going to sleep."
Dad stands and pulls Mom up by her elbow. "We'll let you sleep, honey. Sweet dreams." They both kiss my forehead and leave, pulling my door closed behind them.
Copyright © 2007 by Caroline Hickey