Book excerpt

The Pull of Gravity

Gae Polisner

FSG Books for Young Readers


A fever was what started everything. That, and the water tower, and the cherry cola. Well, also, Dad and his condition, and Mom being in Philadelphia and all.
I mean, the fever alone wasn’t the problem, or even the hallucination that came with it. I always got those when I was sick. “Febrile seizures” Mom calls them. But they were usually confined to my bedroom. Okay, once to the bathroom—unless there were actually giant spiders guarding the toilet—and once to the backyard. But there were definitely giant noodles dancing out there, so I had to join them. Which, according to my brother, Jeremy, was hilarious.
As far as Jeremy’s concerned, I’m just one big ball of feverish entertainment.
Even Mom says she never saw anyone who can spike a fever like I can. It’s like I can be fine one minute, then burning up an easy 104 degrees the next.
Jeremy is different. He’s Mr. Healthy so it’s an international crisis if he even sneezes or gets a headache. Really, the dude is never sick. Never misses a day of school or a game or, worse, his own birthday party. It’s like my folks had him, then spent the next three years saving up the sick genes and popped me out to deal with them.
But where was I?
Oh yeah, how everything got started.
So it’s the last Friday in August, and I’m a few days from starting high school, which isn’t a big deal here in Glenbrook since there’s only one elementary school that feeds into one middle school that feeds into Marshall J. Freeman High. So by the time we all get there, we pretty much know everyone by heart. Besides, I’m almost fifteen, so I’m ready to get the heck into high school.
Mom is at Rand Industries where she works, but not at the local factory here in Glenbrook like she normally is. She’s at corporate headquarters in Philly where she is the last Thursday through Sunday of every other month, on account of she’s their bookkeeper and that’s where the bimonthly audit review meetings are held. Well, also, on account of she has to since Dad doesn’t work much anymore. On account of him being so fat.
Rand Industries is a chemical-by-product storage and removal company, but other than that, there’s not much I can tell you about it. Mom’s explained it a thousand times, but honestly, I still don’t know what they do. Except that a few times a month, a big puff of black smoke comes wafting out of the building, and then a bunch of people run over there with picket signs saying it’s bad for the environment. It’s not that I disagree with them, but I feel bad for Mom. She doesn’t make the stuff. She just keeps the books for them.
Although it is kind of ironic, since clean air and clean living are the main reason she moved us up here to Glenbrook in the first place, right after Jeremy was born.
Anyway, Mom is at Rand headquarters, and Dad is belly-up on the couch in the living room like he always is. Sound asleep, like a beached whale.
I walk over and tap him on the stomach with my lacrosse stick, which I’m carrying around in my boxer shorts because I have this fever and I’m half in—and half out of—sleep, and clearly ramping up to hallucinate.
“Dad, I’m meeting Ryan,” I say. “Going out laxxing.”
No answer.
I prod him again with the stick. He grumbles and breathes heavy.
“Dad, I’m going out. But maybe I’m sick. Can you feel my head?”
He rolls on his side, his gigantic belly hanging over the edge, and for the millionth time in the last few years I wonder if he’s close to dead. But as I head to the front door he manages, “Other way, kid, you’d better go back to bed.”
Now if you think I’m exaggerating about the fat part, I’m not. My dad is seriously fat. At last count, 395 pounds of jiggling, miserable fat. And add to that, just plain miserable.
Of course, he didn’t start out that way. Sure, he was always big, which makes you wonder why I stay so freaking skinny. Barely 110 pounds soaking wet on a good day. Seriously, my ribs show. Not cool for a guy who’s entering high school. But Dad was always a jolly sort of big, like a solid 250 or something. Then, after his heart attack a few years ago, he had to take time off because of stress and depression and all, and he got fatter and fatter by the minute. Which was like a vicious cycle, because he lost his job as a desk editor for the Albany Times Union, then sat around home writing dinky editorial pieces for the Glenbrook Weekly Sun. Which made things worse since the Albany paper was already a huge step down from the New York Daily News where he used to work before Mom dragged him up here to “the Sticks.” Which is what my dad calls any place more than five minutes away from Manhattan. Where he used to live before Jeremy and I mucked it all up.
But anyway.
So the more I think about it, I guess it wasn’t just the fever and the cherry cola and the water tower that got everything started, but also Dad’s situation. Or maybe it was actually the Scoot’s turn for the worse that really set things in motion.
As hard as I try to pinpoint it, maybe it wasn’t one thing that led me to Jaycee Amato and the craziest weekend of my life.
All I know is once it started, it just was.
Spinning in motion, I mean.
And then nothing was the same.

copyright © Lucasfilm Ltd Gae Polisner is a wife, mother, and family law attorney/mediator by trade, but a writer by calling. The Pull of Gravity is her first novel.