At first, when Kerry heard the sound of the bone breaking, he thought it was his. He closed his eyes, gritted his teeth, and waited for the pain.
He took a deep breath and buried his face in the wet grass. Over the pounding in his ears, he could hear the singsong chant of the cheerleaders practicing at the other end of the stadium, "GIVE ME A P! GIVE ME AN A! GIVE ME ANN! . . ."
Give me a break, Kerry thought.
Then he realized the pain would not be his. Someone else was screaming in agony.
Someone underneath Kerry was screaming in agony.
Strong hands grabbed him by the shoulder pads and pulled him to his feet. Then someone gave him a hard shove from behind. "That was a cheap shot, Kerry."
He was shoved again. He spun away, confused, and stumbled to the ground beside the screaming player. The player's eyes were
shut tight and his mouth was twisted into a wide 0 of pain. He was lying on his back, one knee up, one leg jutting out at an angle that legs normally don't jut out to.
This isn't happening, Kerry told himself, slapping both hands hard against the sides of his helmet. I didn't just break Sal Murdoch's leg. I couldn't. I refuse to believe this!
Kerry climbed to his feet, and someone shoved him again. "Get back, turkey. Haven't you done enough?"
Number 88, Wilson, swung a fist at Kerry. The punch missed. But the surprise of it sent Kerry sprawling backward and he fell over someone's outstretched cleat. *'Sal was already down," Wilson screamed, standing over him. "You didn't need to jump on him."
"Break it up! Break it up!" Coach Stevens yelled, stepping between Kerry and Wilson.
"It was an accident," Kerry said. "I couldn't stop in time."
Wilson kicked the ground hard, sending the dirt flying onto Kerry's uniform.
"Wilson, I said knock it off I" Coach screamed, holding Wilson back, his small red hands pushing against the big fullback's shoulder pads.
Wilson ignored the little coach. "You were number two!" he screamed at Kerry. "This was your way to be number one!" He turned away in disgust.
**That*s not true!" Kerry called after him, his voice cracking.
There was no way it could be true. How
could Kerry compete with Sal Murdoch? Sal was All-State his sophomore year. He had been picked by Sports Illustrated as the best high school quarterback in the country. He had already led the Panthers to one undefeated season and a state championship* Everyone expected him to do it again this year.
Kerry was an okay player for a small guy. But he wasn't really into football the way his teammates were. It was just a game, after all. He probably wouldn't have even tried out if his father hadn't insisted and if Donald hadn't been one of the school's biggest stars.
Now, thanks to Kerry, Sal was lying on the ground with his leg in too many pieces, surrounded by cursing, angry teammates shaking their heads, slamming their helmets to the ground. And everyone believed that Kerry had deliberately done it to him to be the number one quarterback.
Kerry felt a hard tap on his left shoulder pad. He ducked, thinking he was about to be attacked again. But it was his good friend Josh Goodwin, the backup punter. "Looks like this may not exactly be your day," Josh said.
"It was an accident," Kerry said. "Why don't they believe me?"
"You have a dishonest face," Josh told him. Josh grinned, his little black eyes lighting up above his big, bulby nose. He looked just like the toucan on the Froot Loops box.
'Why'd you have to fall on Sal?" Josh asked. "Why couldn't you fall on someone else a cheerleader, maybe. How about Linda Miles over there? I wouldn't mind fall-ing on her!"
Kerry watched Coach Stevens running to the gym to call for an ambulance. "This is serious. Josh. What am I going to do?"
Josh shrugged. "I don't know. Take up tiddlywinks?"
"I'd probably fall on my opponent's thumb," Kerry said glumly. He shook his head and started toward the crowd of players around Sal.
But two players, O'Brien and Malick, guys he'd always been pretty friendly with, blocked his way. "Just go away. Hart," O'Brien said menacingly.
"It was an accident," Kerry insisted.
"You were your parents' accident I" Malick yelled.
"Take a walk, Hart," O'Brien said, giving him a hard shove on the chest pad. "You're not wanted here."
"You're history," Malick said. "You're dead meat I"
The next few minutes were a blur, a nightmare of angry voices, shoving, and threatening words. Why wouldn't anyone listen to him?
"What happened? What happened to Sal?" It was Sharon Spinner, Sal's girl friend, running ahead of the other cheerleaders.
"Kerry Hart broke Sal's leg," O'Brien told her.
Sharon screamed. She stopped right in front of Kerry. Her face seemed to be on fire, her normally perfect blonde hair flaring up like flames. "How could you? How coiUd you?!" she screamed into Kerry^s face.
"I didn't " Kerry started, but he could see from her wild, frantic eyes that she wouldn't listen to him.
"What about his football scholarship?" Sharon yelled. "What about his career? How's he going to go to college now? How cotdd you?"
She didn't wait for any reply from Kerry. She turned and started toward Sal. But she tripped over the edge of the tarp they had covered Sal with to keep him warm, and fell onto Sal's chest.
"Oh, my God!" she screamed. "He's deadl He's dead!"
Kerry gasped for air. Everything went white.
"No, he isn't," one of the players said. "Cool it, Sharon. He's just passed out, probably from shock."
Kerry took a deep breath. Colors began to come back.
"You've ruined his life! Ruined it!" Kerry realized that Sharon was screaming at him again. "All he ever cared about was football. Now he'll never get to play anywhere!"
"The ambulance is on its way," Coach Stevens called, running across the field from the gym, the whistle around his neck swinging from side to side, his paunch bouncing up and down beneath his gray sweat shirt as he ran. "Okay, men, go get dressed. This scrimmage is over."
"The season is over," a player muttered.
"Who said that?" Coach yelled, still trying to catch his breath from his run. A flash of anger crossed his face, but he quickly stifled it. "Never mind," he said, shaking his head. "Just go get dressed. And, Hart wait in my office, okay?" He shot Kerry a disgusted look.
"Oh boy," Kerry said to Josh. "What do you think he's going to do?"
Josh shrugged. "He's probably not going to name you team captain."
Kerry's teammates began to jog slowly toward the locker room. Some of them pointed at him menacingly as they passed. "You're dead meat. Hart," someone repeated. Most of them wouldn't look at him.
Kerry started toward Coach's office at the side of the gym. The sun was lowering behind the hills, casting a wide shadow across the football field. Kerry shivered in the cool air. He realized he was soaking wet from sweat. As he reached the door to Coach's office, he saw the white and yellow ambulance, its siren wailing, pull into the school parking lot. He shivered again and went inside.
The small room had that odor unique to
coaches' offices, a combination of gym socks and rubbing alcohol. A silver football trophy that had been converted into a table lamp sat on the edge of Coach's cluttered desk, providing the only light. A football-shaped mirror, streaked with dust, hung on the wall beside the desk.
Kerry looked into the mirror and wiped some dirt off his cheek with his hand. He pushed back his wavy, brown hair and tried to flatten it into place.
Ever since a girl at the mall had stopped him to ask if he was Ralph Macchio, the guy from The Karate Kid, Kerry had taken more interest in his appearance. With his dark hair and clean, dark features, he looked a lot like Ralph Macchio, but without the openness or confidence the actor conveyed.
The back wall of the tiny office was covered with team photographs, one photo for each of the twenty years that Stevens had been Panther coach. Kerry walked up to the wall and stared at the teams at eye level, not really seeing an3i;hing, just a blur of gray faces. Suddenly one face came into focus.
"I see you. I know you're there," Kerry said aloud.
He was staring at Donald's face. Donald, arms around the players at either side of him, grinned out at Kerry. Donald the champ, Donald the star . . . wearing number 11.
Kerry looked down at his own jersey and frowned. Why had he also picked number 11?
Why did he pick his brother's old number? Because he tried to do everything that Donald did, to be everything that Donald was? Why was he wearing a football jersey at all? Just because Donald wore one?
He turned away from the photographs and took a seat in the folding chair in front of Coach's desk. He tried to force his mind to go blank. He concentrated on waiting.
About ten minutes later, the inner door opened, letting in a shaft of bright yellow light from the gym, startling Kerry awake. Coach walked in and nodded to Kerry without really looking at him. His face twitched nervously. His cheeks were bright pink. He began to pace back and forth in the tiny cubicle.
"How's Sal?" Kerry asked.
Coach stopped pacing. "Not good," he said, his forehead wrinkling. "I don't like the fact that he isn't conscious. It's probably just shock. But I don't like it at all."
"It really was an accident," Kerry began. He started to explain everything, but Coach raised his pudgy hand.
"Of course it was an accident," he said, finally looking at Kerry. "I'm not about to believe that one of my boys deliberately went out to injure another one of my boys. And I'm certainly not about to believe that about Donald's younger brother."
This time Kerry didn't mind. Let him talk
about Donald all he wants as long as he believes me, Kerry thought.
Coach began pacing again, his face twitching. This wasn't easy for him. He wasn't used to choosing his words carefully. "Kerry," he said, "I know you've had a lot of tragedy to live with in the past year or so. .. ."
Kerry was too startled to speak. No one ever talked about his tragedy. Not his dad, not his younger brother Sean, not Josh, or any of his other friends. So, hearing Coach mention it gave him a real jolt, started his heart pounding.
"That makes this even more difficult for me," Coach said, still pacing, three steps one way, three steps back. "You'll have to leave the team. You can't play for the Panthers."
"But it was an accident," Kerry protested.
"That doesn't matter. The other players think it was deliberate. They won't play with you as Quarterback. Most of them want to knock your head off."
"But if I stay on the team and "
Coach put his fists down on the edge of the desk and leaned forward, staring right into Kerry's eyes. "If you stay on the team, you'll only be a morale problem. I'm sorry, Kerry. That's it. It's over. Go clean out your locker."
Kerry sat staring at the back wall, the smiling black-and-white faces of past teams looking back at him. He tried to avoid Donald's picture, but his eyes stopped on it anyway. He jumped to his feet, nodded to
CJoach, and walked to the door. "Now I have the unhappy job of calling SaFs parents," Coach said, as Kerry closed the door behind him.
It didn't take long to clean out his locker. When he came out of the gym, he found Josh waiting for him in the parking lot. "I thought you could use a lift home," Josh said.
"Do you have a car?" Kerry asked.
"No," Josh said. "But it's the thought that counts, right?"
They walked past the high school and up the tree-lined street. A sharp wind blew down from the hills, the first touch of autumn. The sun was a narrow, orange ribbon outlining the low, sloping hills. They walked through shades of gray toward Josh's house. It was two blocks from the school, a sprawling ranch house on a rolling, hedge-lined lawn. Kerry lived up in the hills in a modest, two-family tract house, part of a development that was never finished.
"Fll walk you to your house, then take the bus," Kerry said, adjusting the backpack on his shoulders.
"So what happened?" Josh asked. "Did you get a lecture on why you shouldn't break the quarterback's leg?"
"I got bounced," Kerry said flatly.
They walked in silence for a few moments. "How do you feel about it?" Josh asked.
"Dad isn't going to like it," Kerry replied.
"I didn't ask about your dad. How's your cousin Gladys going to feel about it? What's your Uncle Max going to say?"
Kerry didn't laugh. They walked awhile in silence.
They didn't see the car, a long, four-door Oldsmobile about ten years old, until it pulled up beside them. "Hey Hart!" Kerry recognized O'Brien behind the wheel. There were a bunch of other kids in the car. "Hey watch out, Hart!"
"Listen, O'Brien," Kerry yelled, angrier than he had thought. "It was just an accident. Coach says "
"I wouldn't walk around this neighborhood after dark," a voice in the backseat called out. "There could be another accident. Know what I mean?"
Suddenly the back window was rolled down. Sharon Spinner stuck her head out. "You ruined his life! I'm going to pay you back!"
"Sharon cool it," O'Brien called back to her.
She seemed totally out of control. "I'm going to pay you back, Kerry!" A soda can came flying out of the back window. It bounced against Kerry's backpack, spilling soda down his jacket. The car sped off.
"Nice guys," Josh said.
Kerry shrugged. "Catch you tomorrow," he said wearily. "Thanks for trying to cheer me up." He hurried toward the bus stop across the street.
*Tve got one last piece of advice," Josh called after him.
"Don't say, 'Break a leg!'" Kerry said without looking back.
"Aw, we've been friends too long," Josh said. "You know all my lines." He turned and headed up the smooth, curving driveway that led to his house.
The bus came a few minutes later, and Kerry rode in silence up into the low hills. At High Bluff Road, he stepped out into thick fog, cold and damp. Kerry shivered as he crossed the street to his house. The cold followed him right inside.
The house was dark except for a small table lamp in the living room and the glare of the TV set. Sean was lying on the couch watching a Brady Bunch rerun.
At least I got one break, Kerry told himself. Dad isn't home yet.
He walked into the room and tossed his backpack onto an armchair. Sean didn't look up. "Dad working l^te?" Kerry asked.
"For a change," Kerry said. His dad was seldom around these days. "Criminals don't work banker's hours," he would tell them. But Kerry knew that after hours he mainly just hung around the station house shooting the bull with the other cops.
"Did you eat?" Kerry asked.
A conversation with Sean meant asking a lot of questions and hearing a lot of grunts
and hums in reply. Kerry looked at his younger brother and shook his head. Sean was as blond as Kerry was dark. With his sharp jaw and spiky haircut, he imagined that he looked just like Sting. But he was short and had a lot of pimples, which ruined the effect.
"A bowl of potato chips and a beer? Is that any kind of dinner?" Kerry asked, realizing that he was beginning to sound like a parent.
Sean seemed to spend more and more time staring at the TV. Who could blame him? Kerry thought. At least in The Brady Bunch, they keep all the lights on in the house. And the family is together. And they like each other.
Kerry tried to remember the last time he'd heard from his mom. It had been at least a month. She had moved out soon after . . . soon after Donald left. She just couldn't take it, Kerry guessed. He still couldn't believe his parents were divorced. Sometimes he thought he heard her voice in another room. Sometimes he smelled her perfume.
Her weekly phone calls had become monthly calls. He and Sean were supposed to spend a month with her during the summer. But she had just started a new job, and the visit was postponed until Christmas. "I know you understand," she had said to Kerry over the phone.
But he didn't, really.
**I'm going upstairs," Kerry said. The laugh track on The Brady Bunch went wild.
"Uh-huh," Sean replied, his mouth full of potato chips.
Kerry climbed the creaky steps quickly in the dark, walked into his small room, ducking his head automatically beneath tiie low ceiling, and flung himself onto the bed with a loud sigh. He buried his head in his arm. He planned to lie there for a long while and feel sorry for himself.
But the phone rang.
He waited for Sean to pick it up.
A second ring.
Come on, Sean. Get off the couch and pick it up.
A third ring.
Kerry groaned and pulled himself up. He walked over to the low counter that served as his desk, and fumbled around in the dark for the phone.
"Hello." It was a girl's voice, "Is this Kerry?"
He cleared his throat. "Yes, it is."
"Hi, Kerry." It was the sexiest voice he had ever heard. "I'm your blind date."
"Is this a joker
It was the only thing Kerry could think of to say.
"I don't think so."
"Uh . . . just a minute." Kerry reached for the lamp switch, couldn't find it in the dark. "I want to turn on a light. I'm in the dark here."
"Oh, don't turn on the light, Kerry. Let's talk in the dark." Her voice was kittenish, a soft purr. Every word seemed like an invitation.
Way to go, Kerry. Sparkling wit. You're really impressing her!
"I understand you live up in the hills," she said breathily.
"Yeah. How'd you know that?"
"Oh, I know a lot about you, Kerry."
Wow! This is unreal!
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Guess." She laughed, a soft teasing laugh.
"Uh . . . you sound like a . . . Nadia."
"Nadia!'' she exclaimed. "That's right"
"Fm right? I guessed it?"
"No. But I guess I do sound like a Nadia." She laughed again. Her laugh was driving him crazy. It was such a . . . dirty laugh.
"I guess you like to tease a lot," Kerry said, growing bolder.
"Well " She adopted a little girl's voice.
"I don't always tease. Maybe you'll find that out."
Kerry didn't think he could stand much more of this.
"Do you go to Eevere?" he asked.
"Not yet. My family just moved here last week. I guess I'll start next week. Will you show me around?"
"Sure. Heywho told you to call me? Who set this up?"
"You can guess that, too."
"Ha ha. No...."
"Was it Donna? Donna Mueller?"
"Hmm ... I can't think of anyone else.. It wasn't Margo, was it?"
"Score one for you."
"But I haven't seen Margo since she moved. She goes to North now."*'
"Margo insisted that I call you. She said you were a great guy."
"Well... I am/ Ha ha."
"She said you were modest, too/'
They both laughed. His laugh sounded more nervous than hers. He was thinking about Margo. They had been pretty good friends. They went out a couple of times, but nothing much happened and they realized they should just stay friends. Then Margo's family moved to the other side of town. She started going to North. He hadn't heard from her in months. It was really nice of her to fix him up with a blind date.
"WeU . . . uh . . . how about Saturday?" he asked, then immediately felt foolish. "I mean ... do you want to go out?"
"I thought you'd never ask." She laughed that sexy laugh again. But this time it was cut short. "Oh listen, someone wants to use the phone. I'll give you my name and address. You don't have to guess it after all." She quickly rattled off her name and address. He wasn't sure he heard her right. Was her name Amanda? He started to ask her to repeat it, but she hurriedly whisxmred, "Pick me up at eight. Bye." And then before he could say anything, she added, "It's been nice spending time in the dark with you," and hung up.
Kerry sat there with the receiver in his hand. I think things are beginning to look up, he told himself vdth a pleased grin. Why did it sound as if she was calling from a pay phone? That was weird. . . . But of course, the whole thing was weird! What a voice! The way she said his name . . . that amazing laugh. . . .
He leaped out of his room and bounded down the steps two at a time. He had to tell someone about this call. Even Sean would appreciate it. "Sean you won't believe this! What a fox!" He stopped at the entrance to the living room. "Oh, hi. Dad."
His father, still in uniform, nodded hello. He pushed the police cap back on his head, revealing more forehead. Before he lost most of his hair, Lt. Hart looked exactly like Sgt. Andy Renko on HUl Street Blues. At least, that's what the guys at the station house told him, and he eagerly believed it. Even though he wasn't from the South, he affected the slight Southern drawl and the, easy, open-gaited manner of the TV cop.
Then he lost his hair, and his resemblance to the TV cop along with it. The guys at the station house still called him Renko because they saw him with his cap on. At home, though, with his bald head revealed, he dropped the down-home manner and the Southern speech. He seemed to his two sons gloomy and ill at ease. It was almost as if he only came to life when he had his police cap on.
"Beer and potato chips for dinner? Can't you look after your brother better than that?" That was his greeting to Kerry.
"I Just got home," Kerry said, feeling his face redden. Why couldn't he ever talk to his dad without feeling embarrassed?
"You were upstairs talking on the phone, weren't you?"
"Yes. How come you're still in uniform?"
"I'm going back out. I just wanted to check in on you boys. Everything okay, Sean?"
"Uh-huh." Sean was watching an old Gilligan's Island.
"Dad, I have to talk to you " Kerry began.
"There's some McDonalds hamburgers in the freezer," Lt. Hart said, his eyes on the TV screen. "Remember, I bought extra so you guys would have them. Just put 'em in the microwave. Fourteen years old and he's drinking beer for dinner. What next?"
"I got some bad news today," Kerry went on. He was determined to tell his dad about the fiasco on the football field. He wanted to get it over with. Maybe with his father in such a hurry to get out, there wouldn't be the usual scene.
"I could use a little bad news," Lt. Hart said bitterly. "Maybe I better sit down for this one."
"Yeah," Kerry said.
"Bring me a beer if there's any left." Lt. Hart sat down on the folding chair by the front door. He groaned. His back was acting up again. Driving a patrol car eight hours a day wasn't exactly helping it.
Kerry brought him a can of beer from the refrigerator. He stood a few feet in front of his father and watched him pop the top off the can. He was trying to decide how to start his story. Was there a way to tell it so that his father wouldn't explode?
No. He decided there wasn't.
"I'm off the Panthers." That was a good way to start.
Lt. Hart finished a long sip of beer. Then he put the can on his lap and slowly looked into Kerry's troubled face. "Tell me that one again." He suddenly looked very old and very tired to Kerry. He wished he had some good news some wonderful newsto tell him instead, news that would erase the wrinkles that ran down his cheeks and bring back that Renko smile.
"Coach Stevens asked me to leave the team. There was an accident."
"What kind of an accident?" He took another long sip of beer.
"I fell on Sal Murdoch. It really was an accident. I broke his leg. Some people thought I did it on purpose. You know, to get his position."
"I told you. Dad. It was an accident." Why was he starting to whine?
"It was an accident and Stevens kicked you oflf the team?" His father glared at him with the same suspicious eye he'd give a mugger or a grocery store thief.
"He said I'd be a morale problem. Too many guys think I did it on purpose."
"A morale problem? Does that idiot forget the contributions this family has made to his team? Why, Donald was the greatest player the Panthers ever produced. Donald put the school on the map with his running,
and he saved Stevens's job for him by getting that championship! Donald "
"Dad we're not talking about Donald!"
Kerry was the one to scream first. His
father seemed surprised by his anger. He
took another long drink from the beer can
to hide it.
"Donald's younger brother belongs on the Panthers," he said finally. His expression was more bitter than angry. He actually looked hurt.
"Donald is gone, Dad. Coach Stevens
doesn't care about Donald. All he cares about
is that I broke his quarterback's leg and "
"Could you two keep it down? I'm trying
to watch TVr
"Shut up, Sean!" Kerry screamed, feeling himself lose control.
"Don't talk to your brother like that. Donald never talked to you like that." Lt. Hart crushed the can in his hand and dropped it to the floor.
"Stop talking about Donald!" "Stop yelling at me, Kerry. What am I supposed to say? You tell me you got kicked off the football team because of an accident, and I'm supposed to say don't worry about it?" He stood up and pulled down his cap
"You're supposed to talk to ME. You're supposed to react to ME! You're not supposed to talk about Donald!" Kerry screamed. "I've gotta go," Lt. Hart said, sneering. "Okay, okay you wanna talk about Donald?" Kerry's voice was filled with design
peration. He knew he should stop right there, not say another word but he couldn't. "Okay, fine. Tell me about Donald. Tell me what happened last year. Tell me why Donald is gone. Fill in the missing piece, Dad. Fill in the piece that dropped out of my memory, those days, those weeks. I've got a hole in my brain. Dad. A big hole. You want to talk about Donald? Come on. Talk. Tell me what I can't remember." He grabbed his father by the shoulders. "Tell me what my brain refuses to remember! Come on!"
Lt. Hart pulled out of Kerry's grasp. He made no attempt to comfort Kerry. Instead, he turned away. Facing the front door, he said quietly, "Stop it, Kerry. Stop it now, fella."
Kerry's hands coiled into fists. He felt ready to explode. "Turn around. Dad. Turn around. Look at me!"
His father shrugged his shoulders, the blue uniform wrinkling at the collar, and turned around slowly. "Stop torturing yourself about last year," he said without emotion. "Sometimes our brains know best. Sometimes our brains want to protect us. Don't try to remember what happened, Kerry. Just accept it."
Kerry fought to keep the tears from covering his eyes, but he couldn't keep them back. "I miss him," he blurted out. "I miss Donald so much."
Lt. Hart turned around quickly. "I'll be back late," he said, his voice shaky. He
opened the front door. "Sorry," he said. "I'm real sorry." And he stepped out into the night.
"Why do you always want to upset Dad like that?" Sean asked from the couch.
Kerry stood at the door, watching as the headlights to the patrol car came on, cutting through the thick wisps of fog. Headlights. Kerry closed his eyes and still saw headlights. The image was jarring his memory. Headlights. Something stirred in his brain. Most of the last year was missing from his memory, wiped out by some sort of tragedy. Headlights were a piece of the puzzle. He felt that. He knew it. But he couldn't go any further.
The patrol car turned around. The headlights pointed down the hill. The two red taillights grew smaller as his father headed down to town.
Kerry stared into the dark for a long time. Then he walked slowly back into the living room. Sean hadn't moved on the couch. Gdlligan's Island had gone off, and now he was watching an old Leave It to Beaver.
"Gee, Dad, you're so smart," the Beaver was saying to his well-dressed, smiling father. "Tell Wally and me how we can be smart like you."
"Do you want a hamburger?" Kerry asked.
"Huh-huh," from Sean on the couch.
"Is that yes or no?"
At one-thirty in the morning, Kerry was seated at his desk, the goose-necked desk lamp throwing an arc of dim, orange light onto his essay as he struggled to focus his eyes to finish it. "What I Didn't Do on My Summer Vacation." Mr. Shannon, Kerry's English teacher, thought of himself as a real ace. He thought this assignment was the cleverest thing that had ever been foisted on a class of high school juniors.
"Poor Shannon," Kerry said aloud, his voice hoarse from weariness. "He'll have to read twenty-six of these. I only have to read this one."
English was Kerry's best subject. He liked reading. He could lose himself in any kind of book. He liked science fiction best, though. Somehow he felt more at home in other worlds. Kerry liked to write, too. Sometimes in past years he would write long, long stories and send them to Donald when Donald was away at camp. Donald thought Kerry had real talent as a writer. The memory made Kerry smile. One more paragraph to write.
He looked at the clock. One-thirty-five. His father still wasn't home. He could hear Sean tossing about on his bed on the other side of the bedroom wall. Poor Sean. It was tough getting to sleep after lying on the couch for eight straight hours!
The phone rang, and he jumped.
Who would call at this hour?
Probably Josh, calling to see how he was doing. Josh was one of those people who
never slept. He needed only two or three hours a night, that's all. Drove his parents nuts!
Kerry picked up the phone after the first ring. "Hello?" His voice had cobwebs in it.
"Sticks and stones can break your bones." It was a strange female voice, a phony voice. It sounded as if she was pinching her nose and talking.
"What? Who is this?" Kerry asked, his eyes blurring from tiredness and the dim desklight.
"Sticks and stones and broken bones," the voice said.
"Who is this?" The voice was raspy and distorted. He struggled to figure out who it was. "Sharon? Is that you?"
He remembered how Sharon looked in the car on the way to the hospital to see Sal. She looked wild, wild with anger, out of control. Was she calling him now to annoy him, to frighten him?
"Sharon, if that's you, this isn't funny."
The female voice at the other end laughed, a high-pitched, exaggerated laugh like a witch in a kids' TV show.
"Sharon, if we could just talk "
"The toe bone's connected to the foot bone . . . the foot bone's connected to the ankle bone . . . the ankle bone's connected to the leg bone. . . ."
She hung up.
A chill went down Kerry's back. He
dropped the receiver. It clunked and bounced on the counter top. He grabbed at it, missed, then grabbed it tightly. His heart was pounding.
Just a stupid practical joke, he told himself.
But it was scary, just the same.
It was scary to be disliked.
Kerry had never exactly been popular not popular the way Donald was popular with friends and girl friends always surrounding him, following him wherever he went, filling the house with laughter and warmth. But he had never been disliked, either.
And the fact that Sharon, who had always been kind of friendly to him, now hated him enough to
He decided to call her right back and put an end to this.
He searched through his drawer for the school phone directory, pulling papers out, tossing them on the floor. He found it on the very bottom. He was surprised to see that his fingers were trembling as he riffled through the pages, looking for Sharon's phone number.
He found the number, blinked a few times to clear his eyes, and dialed. It rang once. Twice. Three times.
"Come on, Sharon. You know it's me calling you back. Pick it up. Come on."
A man's voice. Her father.
"I was calling Sharon because "
"Who is this?" he asked angrily. "Never mind! I don't care who this is! I don't want to know which idiot friend of my daughter's would call at this hour! Just don't ever do it again!"
He slammed the receiver down, producing a loud explosion in Kerry's right ear. Kerry nearly dropped the phone again, but replaced it with a trembling hand.
One paragraph to go. He had to get this stupid essay finished. He couldn't let them get to him. He wouldn't. . . .
shirt itched. His stomach felt a little feathery.
"She*d have to be blind to go out with your Sean broke in, and then he threw himself down on the couch, laughing like a lunatic. He thought it was the funniest thing anyone had ever said.
"Is that the kinda jokes fourteen-year-olds make these days?" Lt. Hart asked, removing his cap to scratch the top of his head, unable to contain the smile that spread across his face.
"Shut up, Sean," Kerry called to his brother, who was still laughing like a hyena, slapping his knees and rolling around on the carpet. "G'night, Dad."
He walked out to the car, an '82 blue Mustang, and lowered himself behind the wheel. He pulled the keys out of his shirt pocket and stuck the right one into the ignition. Then he took a deep breath. He knew his dad would be listening. If the car didn't start right away, he'd come tearing out of the house, and Kerry would have to sit through another lecture on how to start the car without flooding it.
He pressed down on the gas pedal, once, twice. He turned the key. "Come on, car. Come on. Start up. Let me get away from here."
The car started right up. He could see his father standing in the doorway, a disappointed look on his face. Carefully, Kerry backed down the short drive, turned into Hillside Drive, and headed toward town.
It was a clear, crisp autumn night. The air was cold and clean. There'd probably be a frost later on. A good night for snuggling up with someone, he thought. Then he said her name aloud: "Amanda."
It was all wrong. It was too straight-laced, too old-fashioned, too pioneer-days-on-the-old-f rontier. Amanda. He had only talked to her once, but he knew she wasn't an Amanda. She was a Nadia. Maybe he would call her that. She'd probably think it was funny.
At the bottom of the hill. Hillside Drive divided into two roads, one leading toward New Town where Paul Revere High was located, the other leading to the old section of the city, the original village. Amanda lived on Sycamore Street in the old village. Kerry remembered it as being one of the nicest streets in town, a broad street lined with stately old sycamore trees and even statelier old mansions.
Maybe she's rich as well as sexy, he told himself. He tried to picture for the ten thousandth time what she looked like. He had already decided on straight black hair flowing down below her waist, sort of a Crystal Gayle effect but sexier. And he had decided on deep, green eyes and a small heart-shaped mouth with dark, dark lipstick. And of course she was built like crazy. But would she be wearing a sweater to emphasize her fabulous body? Or would she come on more casual and demure in a blouse buttoned
up to her chin and some sort of preppy long skirt? He couldn't decide.
And of course, she probably wouldn't want to "go all the way" with him until after the movie. But he could understand that. He liked a girl with some of the old-fashioned values.
He and Josh had spent several hours discussing this blind date, the phone call, and every word she had said. They were in Josh's den, lying on the soft leather couches, gazing up at the ceiling. A Springsteen album was booming from the speakers recessed on either side of the bar. Josh made him repeat every part of the phone conversation at least six times. Then he would say, "Man, she's hot! She is hotr
Then he'd ask him to repeat a different part of the conversation.
Since the entire talk had lasted about three minutes, there wasn't a whole lot to repeat, and Kerry found the conversation getting a little boring after about the eighth go-round. If only Josh could think of something else to say besides, "Man, she is hot I"
The fact that she was so hot was beginning to make Kerry a bit nervous. He had to admit he wasn't exactly Burt Reynolds. Suave and sophisticated weren't exactly the words that came to mind when people described him, even if he did look exactly like Ralph Mac-chio. True, he wasn't a complete nerd, either. Like everything in his life like everything about him Kerry was sort of in-between, not really one thing or the other.
"I got another call last night, too," Kerry said. He decided to tell Josh about the threatening, frightening call mainly to change the subject. He described the voice, the singsong way of talking that held such menace, and the repeated rhymes about bones.
"Oh, right," Josh said casually, getting up from the couch to change the compact disc on the stereo. "That was me."
"Sure it was," Kerry said sarcastically.
"No, really," Josh insisted. "Did I scare you? I did, didn't I!"
"Come off it. Josh."
"I'm going to audition for a part in one of those slasher movies. I figure if I can scare you, I'm ready to try out. I really want that part. You get to slash twenty coeds to pieces. It's cool."
Kerry found himself getting really annoyed. "Josh, someone is trying to frighten me, and all you can do is make jokes "
"So I did scare you!" Josh said, bulging his eyes and twisting his face to look like a mad fiend. "All right! You wanna come with me to help me buy a big butcher knife?"
"Forget it," Kerry said disgustedly. "Hey, how is Sal doing? Have you heard?"
"You don't want to know," Josh said, turning serious at last. "I heard he was still unconscious. The leg is a simple fracture. But the doctors are worried that he still isn't
"I feel terrible," Kerry said. And he really did.
Now it was Saturday night, nearly eight o'clock, and he was feeling nervous nervous and itchy. Turning onto Sycamore Street, perhaps the fanciest street in town, the old Mustang seemed nervous, too. It choked and backfired and nearly stalled out. Cursing, he pressed the gas pedal down, and the engine smoothed out. He slowed the car down to read the house numbers. Street lights on tall poles cast wide beams of white light through the trees onto the wide lawns, but it was still hard to find the address signs among the tall hedges and manicured shrubs.
This neighborhood should look familiar, he thought. He had school friends who lived on Sycamore. He had visited in some of the immense, old houses with their tennis courts, their pools, their room after room of antique furniture you weren't allowed to sit on or play near. But in the dark silence of a cool autumn night, it all looked different. The old houses, carefully shrouded behind tall evergreens and walls of hedges, took on an aura of mystery. Leaves fluttered in the pale light of the street lamps, casting moving shadows that made the smooth lawns seem to chum and bubble as if alive.
It's definitely spooky, Kerry told himself. At least up in the hills, the houses are close together so you can always see some
signs of life, people in their living rooms watching TV, lights. Here, only the shadows moved.
But why was he thinking such weird thoughts?
There was the house on the next comer. He was about to pick up Amanda. It's funny, the things you think about when you're nervous, he told himself. His throat felt suddenly dry. His new shirt still itched all down his back and around his neck.
He checked the number on the small wooden address sign again. His foot hit the brake harder than he had intended when he saw the house.
It was a mess!
Even in the light from the street lamps, Kerry could see that the hedges were wild and poked out in all directions. The grass hadn't been mowed in months. Tall weeds stretched up ever3rwhere, and tree limbs cluttered the ground. A rotting wheelbarrow lay on its side near the driveway, which was cracked and rutted with patches of weeds growing up through the ruts.
I guess the previous owners didn't leave it in very good condition for Amanda and her family, Kerry told himself. He looked up to the house, which was in no better shape than the grounds. Two white columns stood on either side of the front doorway. But even from the street, Kerry could see that the columns were chipped and cracking, with the paint peeling off. To the left of the
columns, a screened-in porch had already been boarded up even though the weather was still mild. Two of the windows on the ground floor appeared to be broken. Large strips of paper or tape had been used to cover the holes.
Kerry parked on the street. As he turned the key and pulled it from the ignition, he realized that his hands were cold and wet. He looked back up to the house. It was completely dark!
They must be in back, he told himself.
But wouldn't they leave a light on at the front entrance if they knew he was coming?
Maybe they were having trouble with the electricity.
Leaves crackled under his shoes as he walked up the driveway. A weed wrapped itself around his left leg, and he had to stop to disentangle himself. There was no car in the driveway. The wide garage door to the right of the house was half open. It was too dark to see inside the garage.
He walked quickly up the driveway and onto the stone path that led to the front entrance. Like everything else he saw, the path was cracked and crumbling. Vinelike weeds flourished in the cracks. He was out of breath when he reached the front stoop. He stood there for a moment, remembering Amanda's voice on the phone, catching his breath, looking back to the street at his car waiting beyond the overgrown, junk-strewn lawn.
What does she look like?
If she only looks half as good as her voice . . . wow!
A dog barked across the street. Kerry jumped. He had become accustomed to the silence, to the sound of the rustling wind and the dry, scrabbling dance of leaves and their shadows.
He pressed the doorbell.
He couldn't hear it ring inside the house.
The dog barked again.
"Mind your own business!" he called to it.
He pressed the bell again.
There were no sounds from inside the house. No sounds, no lights.
He was standing in front of a large, empty wreck. Had someone played a joke on him?
He walked to the edge of the front stoop and leaned forward as far as he could, trying to see in the window. Drapes were drawn. He caught himself, regaining his balance just before toppling over the side of the stoop.
Maybe he should go around the back.
He pressed the doorbell again and kept his finger on it for at least half a minute.
This was silly, a waste of time.
There was no one in this house. No one lived here. From the looks of things, no one had lived here for more than a year.
Kerry kicked the door in disgust "The best phone call of my life," he said angrily, "and it's all a joke."
Kerry turned and began to walk down the steps. And the front door slowly began to open.
Two faces peered out at him. Kerry hurried back up onto the stoop, tripping over a step. One dim bulb in the hallway behind the couple at the door provided the only light. It was a man and a woman. They weren't old, but they held themselves like old people. The woman had solid gray hair tied back severely from her forehead into a small, tight bun. She wore a knitted shawl around her shoulders. She was carrying a teacup and saucer in one hand. The man had a bald, speckled head. He was stooped over so that his head appeared to emerge from his chest. He wore square, f rameless glasses. He was dressed in a blue bathrobe, which covered striped pajamas.
Kerry was so startled to see someone appear at the doorway that he just stared at them for several seconds. They didn't speak, either. They stared back at him. Their expressions revealed fear and surprise.
Finally, Kerry regained his senses. "Hi, is Amanda home?" he asked.
The man's eyes bulged behind the square eyeglasses. "What?"
"Is Amanda home? I'm her date."
The woman acreamed and dropped her teacup. It shattered on the floor just inside the door. "No! No! No!" she screamed, her eyes rolling up to the ceiling.
The man didn't scream, but he seemed about to faint. He closed his eyes. His voice came out as a hoarse whisper. "Amanda is dead," he told Kerry.
Kerry wasn't sure he had heard right. "Please?" he said.
"Amanda is dead!" The man was turning angry. "What do you want with us? What sort of prank is this?"
Kerry couldn't speak.
What sort of prank was it?
Suddenly, the woman stopped screaming. She stared at Kerry and grabbed her husband with both hands. "It's him!" she cried. "Look it's himr
They both seemed to recognize Kerry.
**What are you doing hack here?" the man bellowed, struggling to free himself from his wife's grip. **Why do you come to torture us ?"
"No! No! No!" the woman began screaming again.
Kerry turned and leaped off the stoop. He ran across the front lawn, stumbling over tree limbs, pulling himself through thick clumps of overgrown weeds.
He looked back over his shoulder. The man
had come out onto the stoop. Was he coming after Kerry?
Kerry reached into his trouser pocket as he ran and pulled out the car key. He had to get to the car. He had to get away from there. Gasping for breath, he reached the car and pulled open the door. He looked up to the house. The man had disappeared back inside. Was he calling the police? Had he gone to get a gun or something?
Kerry jammed the key into the ignition. It wouldn't fit.
He dropped the kej^ on the floor of the car, fumbled around for them, and retrieved them. This time he carefully found the correct key before pushing it into the ignition.
He pumped the gas pedal once, twice. He turned the key. "Let's go. Let's go!" he said aloud, looking up to the house. There was no one on the stoop or in the doorway.
The car sputtered and stalled.
"Come on. Come on I" He turned the key again.
Again the engine tried but failed.
He pushed the gas pedal, then remembered he wasn't supposed to. He turned the key. Nothing.
He had flooded it.
Nothing to do but wait a few moments.
But did he have a few moments? He listened for a police siren. He looked back up to the house. Nothing happening.
The house . . . the house. . . .
There was a huge rec room in the basement. It had a Ping-Pong table, a billiards table and a jukebox. Knotty pine paneling on one wall. Wallpaper with red and yellow balloons on another wall. . . .
How did he know that?
Had he really been here before? Did these horrified, sick-looking people really know him?
Who used to play in that rec room? Why could he remember the wallpaper but not any faces, any people?
Kerry felt a sudden surge of dizziness. It lasted only a second, just long enough to make him feel even worse, even more frightened.
That hole in his memory it was so wide. Was this house one of the missing pieces? Who was Amanda? Why was she dead? Why didn't he remember her? Did he ever know her?
And the girl on the phone two nights before had she sent him here as part of a cruel joke? Was she Amanda, too? Or had his leaky memory played a horrible trick on him ?
He turned the key in the ignition and prayed. The car started right up. He put it into drive and floored the gas pedal. The tires squealed in protest as the car carried him away from the old house, past the silent sycamores bordering the street, past the hedges and the secrets that hid behind them.
He drove aimlessly around town, then up into the hills, past his house, up to Johnson's Point, which overlooked the entire valley and
all the towns beyond it. He stopped the car about a foot from the cliff edge and turned off the ignition. There was no one around.
It started to rain, a few taps on the windshield at first, and then a steady shower. He turned off the headlights, scooted down in the seat, and stared at the water washing down the glass.
A few minutes later, the rain stopped. He stared at the tiny droplets of water, thousands of them that covered the windshield. Inside each droplet was a little reflection of moonlight. A thousand little moons.
It was a beautiful illusion.
Was this blind date an illusion, too? Had that girl with the sexy voice sent him back to an unwelcome place in his forgotten past? Another thought entered his mind, chilling him with its cruelty. Could the girl on the phone have been a friend of Sharon's? Was she helping Sharon to get back at him for breaking Sal's leg?
No, he decided.
No, he told himself. And repeated it. No.
No, no, no.
He stared through the thousand tiny drops of light, and it all came very clear to him. He had played the trick on himself.
He had guided himself to that old house, a house that played some kind of role in his misplaced past. He had taken himself up that familiar path to that familiar front door.
The girl on the phone must have given
him a different address. It may not have even been on Sycamore Street. He realized suddenly that he hadn't written down the address she had given him so hurriedly over the phone. Why hadn't he written it down?
Well . . . for one thing, he was sitting in a dark room. But he had felt no need to write down the address. His mind was determined to take him to the house where Amanda had lived.
Was that the name of the girl who called him? He was no longer sure. Perhaps it was a name his memory had wanted him to hear.
Kerry stared at the tiny water droplets. Suddenly they looked like car headlights to him, a thousand car headlights all coming toward him. He felt a stab of fear, a tug of memory. Then the lights all blurred together.
Kerry closed his eyes. He tried to hear her voice on the phone again, tried to recreate what she had said. Amanda. Amanda. Maybe she said another name, and he heard Amanda. Maybe she said another address, and he heard the address on Sycamore.
Those pale, sick people who opened the door of that dark house they knew him. And they were terrified to see him again.
He pulled himself up in the seat.
Enough. This is too heavy, man.
And, wait a minute. . . .
What about the blind date? What about Amanda, or whatever her real name was?
She had to be home, wondering where the hell he was!
He had stood her up.
"It's been nice spending time in the dark with you," she had said in that sexy, teasing voice.
And he had stood her up! What a dork!
He started up the car and threw it into reverse. The tires slid in the mud from the rain, but he got it in control and got back onto the narrow road that wound down the hill.
Maybe she had called, wondering where he was.
If not how would he find her? He didn't have her number. He didn't have her address. He wasn't even sure he had her right name. It wasn't going to be easy.
Oh wait a minute. Of course, it would be easy.
He'd call Margo. Margo set up the blind date. He'd get all the info from Margo. Of course. Then all he'd have to do is call and explain why he had stood her up. And that wouldn't be so easy.
But he could do it. He had to. For one thing, Josh would never let him live it down if he didn't!
He pulled the ear into the drive and ran into the house. All of the lights were on, but no one seemed to be around. "Sean! Hey Sean!" The TV wasn't on. That meant Sean wasn't home. There were no phone messages for him on the pad by the phone.
So. Maybe she called and maybe she didn't.
He'd have to call Margo. Did he have her new number? No. He'd have to call Information.
"The Fremont family. Somewhere on the northside. No. I don't know the address. No. Yes that's it!"
He started to push Margo's number, but then hesitated. It wasn't going to be so easy explaining to Margo what had happened. "Uh, Margo, thanks for fixing me up with a blind date. Could you tell me her address and her phone number? And what's her name? I didn't catch it the first time I spoke to her. You see, I was supposed to pick her up at eight tonight, but I went somewhere else instead."
Well, if he was ever really going to spend time in the dark with this girl, he'd just have to let Margo know what a jerk he was. He finished pushing her number.
It rang once. Twice. Three times.
He hung up after the eighth ring. There was no one home.
As soon as he put down the receiver, the phone rang.
He cleared his throat, then lifted the receiver to his ear. "Hello?"
"The ankle bone's coimected to the foot bone . .. the foot bone's connected to the leg bone ... the leg bone ... the leg bone . . . the leg hone, . . ."
The shrill, nasal voice kept repeating the phrase over and over, growing louder each time, louder and angrier, until Kerry hung up.
He was startled awake by the ringing phone. He shook his head, tried to focus his eyes in the bright morning light that invaded his room through the dust-coated window. Despite the cheeriness of the sunlight, his first feeling of the day was dread. The phone had become his enemy, and now it was summoning him before he was even awake.
"Sean get the phone!" he yelled, his voice still hoarse from sleep.
But it rang and rang again.
He forced himself up from the tangled bed-sheets, stubbed his toe against the leg of his counter, and grabbed the receiver.
"Hello, is this Kerry?"
It was the blind date!
"Yes. Hi." He tried to shake the pain from his stubbed toe, but it continued to throb.
"This is Mandy. Where were you last night?"
Mandy. Her name is Mandy. Why had he changed it to Amanda?
"I got the wrong address or something," he said, fumbling for an answer, knowing that he sounded like an idiot. "It's ... uh ... it's a long story, I'm really sorry. I felt terrible."
"I hope so," she said. Then she laughed. "I waited for you till about ten."
How could anyone sound so sexy so early in the morning?
"I tried to call you," he said, starting to wake up. "I've never done that before. Really. I mean, it's never happened to me before. I just "
"I thought maybe you had car trouble or something," she said.
"I'm real glad you called," he told her. "I hope you're not angry. I "
"Of course 1 am," she said. "I was looking forward to our date. After the big buildup Margo gave you. . . ."
He could feel his face turning red. He was glad she couldn't see him. Ck)mpliments of any kind embarrassed him. He knew he wasn't anything special. With that purring voice, a compliment was almost more than he could bear.
"I'd like to make it up to you," he said, forcing himself to be bold.
"I'd like you to," she whispered.
"What's your address anyway? Now that I'm not talking to you in the dark, maybe I'll get it straight."
She giggled. "It's 42 Sizemore, near the old depot."
Sizemore! So close to Sycamore. But she must have said Sizemore over the phone that night.
"I'm sorry, Mandy. I just blew it. That's all," he said, still thinking about how he mixed up her name and her street. He shook his head as if trying to scatter the clouds that had fogged his memory. "Let's start all over again. I mean "
"I'd like that," she said softly. "I have an idea. I'm starting at Revere tomorrow morning. Maybe you could meet me before school and show me around."
"Sure," he said, a bit more enthusiastically than he intended. "That's a great idea!"
"I hope you don't think I'm being too aggressive," she said, suddenly changing her tone.
"No, no. I like it," he blurted out. He felt his face turning hot and red again. Why did he feel so stupid talking to her? No one had ever made him feel this uncomfortable.
"Just because I'm coming on to you doesn't mean I'm an aggressive female," she said. She laughed, so he laughed, too. "Some boys get turned off by that," she added.
"Uh . . . you don't turn me off," he said.
What a master of understatement!
"That's the sweetest thing you ever said to me," she said. They laughed again. "I don't think of myself as aggressive," she
went on, "but I don't always play by the rules, either."
What a fox!
There was silence for a few seconds. He simply couldn't think of anything to say. He was completely awake now. That's for sure. And he wasn't even noticing that his stubbed toe was still scarlet and throbbing. He was only aware of her voice, her whisper, her laugh, and how uncomfortable she was making him feel, and how he didn't mind feeling so uncomfortable.
"I have to get off," she said, breaking the silence. "But before I go, tell me one thing about yourself."
One thing. Think fast, Kerry. Man, he hated being put on the spot like this. One thing. . ..
"Well. . . ." He cleared his throat. "Some people tell me I look a lot like Ralph Macchio you know, the guy in the movies."
He could hear her steady breathing, but she didn't say anything.
"Uh .. . tell me one thing about yourself," he said, pleased with himself for thinking of it.
It was her turn to think fast.
**Well... I'm really turned on by guys who look like Ralph Macchio," she whispered. "Bye."
"No wait I" he practically screamed into
the phone. "Mandy tomorrow morning before class how will I know you?"
"Don't worry," she said. "I know you."
She hung up.
He realized he was soaking wet from perspiration. He pulled off his jmjama shirt and flung it onto the bed. He started to pull open the window to allow some cool air in and the phone rang again.
He smiled, "She just can't leave me alone," he said aloud.
He grabbed the phone. "Hi again."
"Sticks and stones will break your bones. Are you ready to die? Are you ready?" The nasal, rasping voice screamed into his ear, then hung up before he could reply.
Was it Sharon Spinner? The voice was too disguised, too distorted to tell. He put the receiver back on the phone, his hand shaking. Got to think about this calmly, he told himself.
He thought about Sharon. She was always such a Miss Perfect, leader of the cheerlead-ing squad, homecoming queen, treasurer of the student council. She was always dressed in style, not too showy but just right, preppy and neat. She didn't seem to have the personality of someone who could make such threatening calls. She didn't really have much of a personality at all, Kerry decided. She was just a nice girl, pretty in a tsrpical sort of way, friendly, but no