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- KISSING A DEAD SQUID

- KISSING A DEAD SQUID

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“Just thinking.”

“About what?”

“About you,” I say.

“You shouldn’t think about me. I like Scout now in case you haven’t noticed.”

“I’ve noticed,” I mutter. “I just don’t understand why everyone is mad at me.”

“I’m the one who should have taken Rocky,” she says, our legs barely grazing each other.

“Piper, that was two weeks ago and it wasn’t even my fault,” I tell her.

“It’s only because I’m a girl.”

“No, it’s because the Mattamans don’t trust you.”

Piper ignores this. “You guys have it made. You get handed everything on a silver platter. It’s

disgusting.”

“You’re one to talk.”

She snorts. “I wish I was a boy,” she admits.

“I don’t wish you were a boy. And nobody fawns over me,” I tell her.

“Oh yes they do. Mrs. Bomini, Mrs. Mattaman, Theresa, Annie . . .”

“Annie certainly doesn’t.”

“Are you kidding me? You’re all she ever talks about,” Piper insists.

“Oh come on.” This makes no sense, but I’m not thinking of Annie right now. Piper is sitting so

close to me. Her face is perfectly still. I smell her warm root beer breath.

“How come you’re not jealous of Scout?” she asks.

“I am jealous of Scout.”

This perks her up. “You are?”

Our legs are stretched out in front of us. My calf and hers are barely touching each other, but it

feels like a live wire between us. Can she feel it? Or is it just me? It’s getting warmer down here. My

ears are hot. I’m breathing like I just walked up the switchback. My mind is scrambling.

She likes me. She just said she doesn’t. But Scout said she did.

I like sitting so close to her. What should I do now? What was it Scout said about going in

sideways? I can’t just up and kiss her . . . can I? You’re not allowed to just kiss a girl, are you?

Should I ask her? What if she says no? Why didn’t I ask Scout if you’re supposed to ask a girl before

you kiss her?

Her hand reaches up to my face. She gently brushes my lips, barely touching them.

My head moves toward hers. How do you avoid nose crashes again? What did Scout say? I can

hardly even see her lips it’s so dark down here.

Her hair brushes against my arm. The smell of her baby oil and warm root beer fill my nose. Are

you supposed to have your mouth open or closed? My teeth nick her lip.

“Ouch!” someone yells.

I jerk my head back.

It takes a second for me to understand that it isn’t Piper yelling. It’s Theresa looming in the sudden

flood of light from the crawlspace doorway. “Moose Flanagan!” Theresa cries. “You stop that right

now!”

“You little sneak!” Piper shouts.

Theresa pushes inside. “Am not a sneak. I am supposed to find Moose!”

“Get out!” Piper scurries toward Theresa, and Theresa jumps back out of the doorway and grabs



the door to keep from falling.

“Moose!” Theresa pleads, hopping around like her leg hurts.

“Go play with someone your own age. Janet Trixle, for goodness’ sake. Why do you snoop on

me?” Piper shouts.

“I’m not snooping. I had to get Moose.” Theresa turns back to me. “Moose, c’mon. Annie needs

you.”

Piper snorts. “What did I tell you?” she whispers.

“Annie, Moose!” Theresa tells me as if this explains everything.

“Hey, look . . .” I’m crawling as fast as I can to the entrance. “Don’t do this, okay?” I tell Theresa.

“I don’t want to be in the middle of this.”

“There’s nothing to be in the middle of,” Piper shouts. She shoves me back and hops out the door.

“Just leave me alone.”

“Moose!” Theresa peers in at me. “What’s the matter with you? You were going to kiss her! I

saw!”

“I was not going to kiss her.”

“You were! It’s sickening! Kissing Piper is like kissing a squid. A dead squid!”

“Not exactly, no.”

“No? This isn’t the first time! How many times have you kissed her, huh, Moose? How many?”

Theresa’s hands are on her hips.

“None. I mean . . .” I take a deep breath. “Nothing happened, okay, but look, this is not your

business.” I crawl out the door.

“Of course it is. I saved you. You owe me.”

“Theresa, you’re only seven. When you get older you’ll understand.”

“I already understand. My dad told me all about it. Wildness comes over teenagers like a disease

and they go around kissing all over the place. They can’t help themselves. If you find yourself about to

get smoochy, find Annie or, if you have to, me.

“Oh boy.” She sighs, shaking her head and scolding me with her finger. “Wait until I tell Annie.”

“Just keep your mouth shut about this, okay, Theresa?”

Theresa nods her head as if I’ve finally said something that makes sense to her. “I’d be ashamed of

myself too. Jeepers, Moose. Jeepers.”



19.

DRUNK IN THE GUARD TOWER

Tuesday, September 3, 1935



Today is my first day in eighth grade. I have Piper in three of my classes but she totally ignores me in

school and on the way home too. I’m like a toad squashed flat on the street for all the attention she

pays me. She is always a little mad, but this is worse than usual.

Jimmy, Theresa, and Annie don’t start school until next week. St. Bridgette’s has less school days

than Marina, which isn’t fair. Theresa has to go early for orientation and Mrs. Mattaman asked me if I

would pick her up after school, so I walk all the way to St. Bridgette’s to get her. Theresa is so

excited to be in “real school” that she jabbers my head off the whole way home.

On the island, we head for the canteen, where we find Jimmy sitting at the counter, his head resting

in his hands like he’s concentrating on something up close. He doesn’t even flinch when the bell on

the canteen door rings.

Since what happened with the secret passageway, it has been uncomfortable between Jimmy and

me. What isn’t said sits like a piece of dog crap between us. I wish it could be the way it was before.

Every day I pretend it is and maybe eventually it will be.

“Jim-meeee,” Theresa yells, like she always does when he’s deep into his projects. “You were

wrong. I didn’t need my nickel.” She waves it in his face. “Ha, ha, I get to get a candy bar.”

Jimmy picks his head up slowly, like it’s too heavy for his neck. He has a deep crease between his

brows.

“Uh-oh,” Theresa whispers, “did all your flies die?”

Jimmy has been quite successful with his fly-breeding project. Down under the dock he has a big

barrel full to the brim with hundreds of flies—maybe more.

“Better go home, Theresa.”

Theresa’s eyes go wild. “Rocky! Is Rocky . . . ”

Jimmy puts his hands up as if to block that idea. “Rocky’s okay. It’s Dad.”

“Dad got hurt?”

“Dad’s on probation.” He looks at me. “Your dad too. They got written up for being drunk on guard

tower duty.”

“What? That’s crazy,” I say. I’m not even worried about this. That’s how nutty it is.

Theresa’s mouth drops open, but no sound comes out. Her chin juts forward with the force of this

news. “Daddy’s never been drunk in his whole life,” she declares.



Jimmy shrugs. “Somebody lied, that’s all. Somebody’s out to get them.”

“But why? Why would anyone be out to get Daddy?” Theresa asks as I head out the door and up the

stairs as fast as I can.

“Mom.” I slam into our apartment. My mom is washing the windows, wearing a pair of my dad’s

old pants that are too short for her.

She takes one look at me. “You heard.”

“Dad wouldn’t drink when he’s working.”

“Of course not.”

“Somebody just made this up to get him in trouble?”

“Looks that way. But your dad told me I should simmer down about it. He thinks it was a mistake

and it will all get straightened out in due time. I’ll tell you one thing. The warden would be a fool to

lose your daddy.”

“Was it Trixle?”

My mom shakes her head, her lips a cold line. “Darby likes to stir the pot, but I don’t think he’d out

and out lie.”

“Yeah, me either,” I agree.

“One thing’s for sure. We have to be extra careful until this whole mess works itself out. If you’re

on probation and you have any trouble, any at all . . . you’re gone. No second chances.”

“And with Natalie coming home on Friday . . .”

“That’s right, and that big shindig this weekend too.”

“I’ll be careful,” I assure her.

She takes my chin in her hand. “I know you will be. Six months we lived here with Natalie, we

never once had a problem with the warden or Darby either. I suppose I got you to thank for that,

Moose.” She smiles at me.

I twist my chin gently away from her. My mom doesn’t know everything about that time . . . she

doesn’t know about Nat’s friendship with 105, for one thing.

“You know, Moose, Mrs. Mattaman and I were talking. . . .” She pushes the scarf she wears when

she cleans away from her eyes. “How are things going with you and the warden’s daughter?”

My mom doesn’t refer to Piper by name anymore. I’m not sure why.

“You two have a little spat?” my mother asks.

“You could call it that.”

My mom folds her cleaning cloth carefully in half and in half again. “You have a little spat, then

this thing happens . . . what a coincidence.”

“Piper wouldn’t do this.”

“I hope you’re right.” My mother pronounces right with a hiccup in the middle—ri-ight—as if

she’s not convinced.

“She have any reason to be mad at Jimmy or Theresa?” she asks.

“She’s mad at Theresa. But Mom, Piper’s always mad at someone. That’s just the way she is.”

“Things are tough at her house right now with a new baby on the way and her momma feeling

poorly. You mind your p’s and q’s around that girl, you hear me? She’s pretty as they come, I’ll give

you that, but she’s more trouble than stirring up a hornet’s nest.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I say.

“Will you help me empty the pan?” She opens the icebox and takes out the pan filled with melted



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