Middle Grade Fiction - chapter book length - approximately 70 pages in MS Word 07 format
Chapter 1: A New Beginning Haley sat by the window of her bedroom twirling a strand of blonde hair around her fingers. The spring sun spilled through the thin lace edged curtains. Outside the window were the basketball courts in Sherlock Community Park. Her friends from the seventh grade at Sycamore Middle School were out there practicing this afternoon. She wanted to be out there practicing too, but she would never be able too again. Her eyes traveled to the basketball that lay in the corner of her bedroom floor. The same purple and green basketball her daddy had bought her, but had never been used because of the car wreck. Haley rubbed hard at her eyes, angry with herself for trying to cry. She continued to stare out the window. One of her friends took a shot. Haley held her breath as she watched. It ringed the basket, but bounced out instead of sinking through the net. Caught up in the excitement, she grasped the low windowsill trying to pull herself up. The sudden shift of weight caused her wheelchair to roll out from under her. As Haley fell, she hit the tray of her tea set causing the metal dishes to clatter to the floor. “Haley! Are you okay?” Mom exclaimed running into the room. “Yeah Mom, I’m fine.” Haley responded as she plucked the little cups and plates off her stomach. Mom made a clicking sound with her tongue and pushed the wheelchair back over to where Haley was lying on the floor. “Honey, you have to remember to lock the brakes when you are sitting still.” Mom tugged her back up in the seat of the wheelchair. “What were you doing anyway?” Haley didn’t look at her. “I dunno, I guess I pulled too hard when I was looking out of the window.” Haley concentrated on adjusting her feet on the foot pedals. Mom turned with a jerk toward the open window. “Oh Haley! I know it’s hard. I just don’t know what else to do.” Haley shrugged. “It’s okay, Mom! I really don’t mind.” It was a lie and she knew it, but she didn’t want Mom to know how much it really did bother her. A door slammed down the hall. “Hey Mom! Where are ya? Gotta question!” Haley could hear Jake slamming the cabinets shut in the kitchen. Mom bent to hug her, “Let’s go see what your brother wants.” “I’ll be there in a little bit, you go on.” Haley replied, pointing to her math book that lay on her desk. “I’m going to finish my math homework. Even now, with the home schooling, I still have too much homework.” Haley joked trying to get Mom to forget about what happened earlier. It must have worked because Mom’s laughter followed her out the door. Haley rolled over closer to her desk, and opened her math book. Bits and pieces of the conversation in the kitchen drifted to her ears. “Jake, what is it? And, stop slamming the cabinet doors. You’re going to break them off the hinges.” “Okay, Mom! Guess what?” “What?” “Today…and the whole class is going!” “Wow!…something…but…know.” “What! You...serious.” “It…isn’t… Haley.” “Mom! That is so unfair! Why do you have to punish me because she can’t walk anymore? Is it my fault that Dad got killed too?” Haley could her Jake’s last statement really well, considering that he yelled it at the top of his lungs. The rest of the argument was lost, as Jake slammed his bedroom door. Haley sighed and shut her math book again. Maybe she could try to talk Mom into letting him go, wherever it was that he wanted to go. She flipped off the brakes on her wheels and started rolling herself down the hallway. As she passed Jake’s room, she heard fast thumping music bouncing off the walls. He’s probably just sore ‘cause Mom told him ‘no’ for once, She thought as she rolled into the kitchen. Haley saw Mom at the kitchen counter dicing onions for supper. The smell of them made Haley’s eyes water, as she moved to her place at the table in the breakfast nook. “Mom, what are we having for dinner?” Haley sniffed, “Smells like spaghetti.” Mom jumped at the sound of Haley’s voice. “Oh! You scared me! I was lost in my own little world I guess.” Haley nodded, she knew exactly what that was like. “Anyway, I am making some spaghetti and meat sauce. You’ve got a good nose on you.” Mom smiled around her tearing eyes, as she ran her chopping knife under running water in the kitchen sink. Haley wasn’t sure if the onions were causing all of her tears. “Good! I’m starving! I haven’t had anything to eat since I finished off a stale bag of chips at Ms. Kirkpatrick’s.” Mom carried the onions over to the cook top and tossed them in with the sizzling ground beef. “Whew! I’m glad to be done with those! They always make me cry.” Haley knew she meant it to be funny, but she could only force a tiny smile. Mom came over and pulled out a chair next to Haley at the table. She wiped her hands with the dishrag she carried over from the sink. “What’s bothering my baby girl? This isn’t you, Haley.” Haley looked up with surprise at her words. “What do you mean?” “You aren’t acting like yourself. So, talk to me, Haley. You’ve acted strangely all afternoon.” Haley stared at her, then blurted out, “Why can’t Jake go, wherever it is that he wants to go?” There was no way she was going to tell the whole story. Mom sighed and folded her hands in front of her on the tabletop. “It’s just simply that he can’t.” “But why? Mom, I don’t mind if I’m the reason.” Mom grabbed Haley’s hands. “What gave you that idea?” She asked slowly. Haley knew that if she plunged on her mother would get upset, still she had to try. “I…well, I heard the conversation between you and Jake earlier. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop or anything, it’s just that your voices sort of came to me.” “I see,” Mom let go of her hands. Haley tried one more thing, “Mom, I’m the one that will never get better, not him.” Mom didn’t answer for a long time, but she sat there swallowing hard several times. Mom crawled to her feet and moved toward the stove. “You must have misunderstood. Please go tell your brother that dinner will be ready shortly. Then make sure that you wash your hands.” Haley looked at her hands, but didn’t say anything more. She knew when to quit pushing Mom. So she backed away from the table, tossing a glance at the dinette chair that sat in the corner of the kitchen. The one that used to be hers. Chapter 2: Differences Music could still be heard pounding off the walls near Jake’s room as Haley got nearer. She knocked lightly, but didn’t get any answer. So, she balled up her fist and beat on the door. “Yeah, come in!” Haley opened the door and looked around Jake’s room shaking her head with disgust. It was a mess! Dirty laundry spilled across the floor from the overstuffed laundry bag that sat in the corner by the door. His baseball cleats were tossed in another corner, with a circle of red clay dirt surrounding them. His bed covers were crumpled up around him, as he sat there doing his homework. His stereo sat on the edge of his desk. As Haley made her way in the room, he reached over and flipped it off. “Whatcha want, kiddo?” Haley wrinkled her nose in distaste and scowled at him. She hated being called kiddo, especially by him. “I’m not a ‘kiddo’! You’re only a year older than me!” “Make that one and a half. And, that makes me a teenager at the awesome age of thirteen. You on the other hand are only twelve, and are therefore still a kiddo.” Jake smirked at Haley, as if daring her to argue with him farther. Haley glared at him. “Whatever, pencil brain! Mom said dinner was almost ready.” Haley started to leave the room, but she said over her shoulder. “Anyway, my birthday is just a few weeks away.” Jake continued to smirk. “Sure, be in the kitchen in a jiffy, KIDDO!” He drew the last word out. Haley was furious with him, as she shut the door on his stupid looking face. Once in the bathroom, Haley reached over the edge of the vanity and washed her hands. She couldn’t believe that she had tried to help him! When she got to the table, Jake was already sitting in his spot. He was grinning from ear to ear, but the look in his eyes said he was up to something. “Hey sis! Whatcha been up to?” Haley stared at him. Luckily Mom put a plate on the table in front of each of them and she didn’t have to answer. She reached over to pick up her fork to start eating and screamed. Her fork was covered in bright green slime, and a worm lay just on top of the tines. “Good grief! What’s wrong, Haley?” Mom cried out as she ran over to the table. Jake started laughing. He laughed so hard that he had to grab his sides, and tears collected in the corners of his eyes. “Jake! What did you do?” “Oh, Mom! It’s nothing, just some slime from the arcade toy vendor and a fishing worm.” “You scared your sister half to death! And, it didn’t do me a whole lot of good either.” Mom fussed. She took Haley’s fork and threw it in the sink. Handing her a new clean one she said, “Okay, it won’t happen again, right? Jake?” “Okay Mom, but you gotta admit the look on her face was hilarious.” Jake agreed, laughing under his breath. Mom didn’t answer, she just started eating her plate of spaghetti and meat sauce. Haley eyeballed her new fork before dipping it into her plate of food. “All right, now we are going to sit down and have a nice family dinner. One with no more pranks on each other,” Mom said. After a long pause she continued, “So, what have you been up to today, Haley?” Haley looked up from her plate and swallowed a mouthful of food, before answering. “Well, I spent the morning and some of the afternoon with Ms. Kirkpatrick like always. I got some of my homework done. I actually finished my social studies book, and it’s not even time for school to let out yet.” “That’s great, honey!” “Uh-huh, I know. Then when you came to get me after work, I just spent some time in my room.” Haley finished biting into a slice of garlic bread. Jake laughed. “How exciting, spending an afternoon locked in your room!” “Jake!” Mom chided. “Okay, okay,” Jake held his hands up. “It was a bad joke.” Mom stared hard at him. “I’m sorry, Haley.” The apology came out more of a mumble than actual words, but Mom seemed happy with it. “Then, what have you been up to today?” Jake started talking with food in his mouth. “Well, it was so cool! Today we got to start decorating for the eighth grade’s spring dance. We’re going to use a 1950’s theme. We’re supposed to dress like they did then and everything.” “That’s really neat!” Haley exclaimed. “Are you going to wear your old motorcycle jacket?” “You bet, and my jeans that are too long. I’m gonna roll them up like they did back then. One guy in class, Sean, he’s going to get one of his old man’s packs of cigarettes and roll it up in his t-shirt sleeve.” “Cool!” “He isn’t, and I’m sure the school wouldn’t allow that. Not with the no tobacco tolerance rules.” Mom cut in. “And, don’t you get any flea brained ideas about doing something like that either. You’ll get yourself expelled.” “Oh, Mom! He’s not going to have any cigarettes in there. He’s going to stuff it with Kleenex or something. He got permission from the vice principal today. Mr. Roberts said it’d be okay as long as he covered the box with something and didn’t have any real tobacco in it.” Mom still didn’t look convinced, so Haley changed the subject. “Are you going to take someone with you?” Haley’s question made Jake flush a bright red. He looked down at his plate. “I dunno, maybe.” The more he talked the redder his cheeks turned. Now, it was Haley’s turn to smirk. “Mom, I think Jake’s got a crush.” Jake jerked his head up, a dangerous look in his eye. “Leave me alone, Haley. It’s none of your business either way.” He spat the words across the table before shoving his chair back from the table and stomping out of the room. “I have to get my Algebra done.” He shouted from his bedroom, right before he slammed the door shut. “Must’ve hit a nerve with him, Haley.” Mom said as she stood up and started scraping the dishes to put in the dishwasher. “Yep, and I think I know who it is.” “Really?” “Back when I was riding the bus with him to school, he always sat with some girl named Susannah. If I even sat within three seats of them, he’d get mad.” Haley giggled. “Thing is, I don’t think she is even that pretty.” Mom smiled at her and said, “Well, he may not think your Matthew is that cute, either.” “He’s not my boyfriend, Mom! We’re just friends!” “Maybe that’s all Susannah and Jake are.” Mom said, shutting the door of the dishwasher. Haley shifted in her seat. She’d never admit it, but she did think Matthew was cute. Haley watched her mother put fresh coffee grounds in the coffeepot. “Why do you do that?” “Do what?” “That,” Haley pointed to the coffee pot. “Put the coffee in the night before.” Mom laughed. “Your Daddy’s idea. He said that the coffee would taste better if it were fixed when I was awake, instead of when I’m half asleep like I am in the morning.” Haley smiled at the memory of him. “I miss him.” “So do I, but remember he keeps an eye on us.” Mom soothed dabbing at Haley’s teary eyes with the edge of the dishtowel in her hand. “I know. The one thing I remember most about him is the way we would all play cards at night, instead of watching T.V. That was so much fun.” Mom agreed, and went quiet for a minute. “Haley, would you like to play tonight? I can go to the basement and get the old card table. We could all sit around it.” Hope shimmered in Haley’s eyes. “I’d love to, and maybe if Jake’s over his mad spell, he’ll play too.” “It’s a deal then, but first go and get into your pajamas and ask Jake if he’d like to play with us.” Haley nodded and was already on her way out of the kitchen. She had to pass Jake’s room before she got to hers, so she decided to stop and ask him if he’d like to play. Haley paused with her fist positioned to knock, when she heard him talking. “I know Susannah! You’re going to look great in a pink poodle skirt.” he paused to listen to her for a minute. “You know I can’t go. Mom didn’t buy the excuse I gave her. She said I couldn’t go.” Another pause, and then, “No! She wasn’t even thinking anywhere near that. She said it was because of my sister, Haley.” Jake’s voice went silent again. “Susannah, she’s a cripple!” Haley didn’t wait to hear the rest of his conversation. She felt hot tears piercing her eyes. She pushed herself as fast as she could to her bedroom, shutting the door behind her. The tears didn’t come until she was sitting at her window again. Jake’s hurtful words bounced around in her head. ‘Cripple! She’s a cripple!’ Haley could hear footsteps coming down the hall. Swiping at her eyes with the hem of her t-shirt, she rolled over to sit parallel to her bed. Remembering to lock her brakes this time, she lifted herself onto her bed. Her pajamas were lying under her pillow, while she changed she tried to get herself under control. She couldn’t go out there to play cards looking sad, Mom would pick up on it in a heartbeat. A knock sounded on the door. “Ready?” “Yeah, Mom. Be out in a second.” “Are you okay? You sound a little stuffy.” “I just got done sneezing. I’ll be there in a minute.” Haley was ashamed of how easily the lie had fallen from her lips, but the sound of her mother’s retreating footsteps was a relief. When she got back in her wheelchair, she went to the bathroom to splash water on her face. Jake is just stupid! She thought as she dried her face on the edge of her bath towel. Satisfied that all the traces of tears were gone from her face, she took off down the hall back toward the den. Mom had the card table up and a big bowl of buttered popcorn sitting in the middle. There was even a can of soda sitting in her spot at the table. “Where’s Jake? Didn’t he want to play?” Haley just shrugged and helped herself to a handful of popcorn. “What are we going to play? Blackjack?” “What else,” Mom laughed. “Jake can join us or he can stay shelled up in his room. We can still have a great time.” Mom dealt the cards, one face down and another face up to both of them. “Hit me!” Haley called after studying her cards. Mom slid another card face up toward her. “I’ll stay.” She said. “And, I’ll bet you five pieces of popcorn.” Haley looked at her cards again. “I see your five pieces and raise you five more.” Haley called, dropping ten pieces of popcorn in the center of the table. Mom dropped five more pieces in the pile. “I’ll call. Show your cards!” “I got nineteen,” Haley cried. “I only got seventeen,” Mom said. “So, you win this round.” The two played until the grandfather clock struck nine. Haley helped pick up the cards and loose pieces of popcorn, and then went to bed. Chapter 3: Changes Haley woke to the sound of dishes clattering in the morning. The sharp sound of the oven buzzing deafened the other noises, and reminded Haley that it was Saturday. She stretched and sat up swinging her legs over the edge of the bed with her hands. Concentrating hard on her image in the mirror, she ran her fingers through her hair and smiled at herself. She looked like she always did. There was no way that Jake had known what he had been talking about yesterday. Maybe he said it to impress Susannah, Haley thought as she moved herself to her wheelchair to head for the breakfast table . She refused to let Jake ruin the day with his stupidity. Once at the table in the breakfast nook, Mom placed a plate of crisp bacon in the center of the table and beside that a plate with scrambled eggs and fresh biscuits. “Good morning, Haley! Eat up, we’re going shopping a little later.” Haley’s heart leapt, maybe they’d go to the new mall that had opened downtown. There was a new sports store there, one with actual practice courts. Haley’s thoughts turned darker, not that she would be able to play anymore. Her mother started talking again, as Jake came into the room. “We’ve ran out of milk and few other odds and ends. We’ll need to remember to pick up some more cereal too.” Haley’s heart crashed, “So, we’re just going to the grocery store then?” Mom looked at her with a weird expression. “Of course, where else did you think we’d go?” “I don’t know. I guess, I wasn’t thinking.” Haley mumbled and took a big bite of eggs to hide the disappointment that colored her voice. Jake looked at Haley over his plate for a long time, before breaking contact to look at Mom when she started to talk to him. “Oh, Jake you’ll need to go with us.” “Why?” “Because it will be easier on everyone if you go along to help me.” “But, I was planning on going over to Kenny’s house to practice throwing before our game tonight against W.M. Fox Middle School. They are our biggest rivals, we can’t lose this game. I have to practice!” “I’m sorry, Jake. Practice will just have to wait until we get back.” Mom said with an exasperated sigh. “That is so unfair, Mom!” Jake cried out as he shoved his chair back from the table. “It’s all…” “Stop right there young man. You may be thirteen years old, but I’m still in charge here.” Mom was going to say more, but Haley interrupted. “You’re right Jake. It is all my fault. I’m sorry that I’m ruining your life, because some idiot ran into Dad’s car.” Haley was crying now, but she couldn’t stop. “It’s my fault that Daddy died, and it’s my fault that Mom feels like she does about it all!” Haley didn’t wait for any replies as she pushed away from the table and headed for her bedroom. Once alone in her room, she let the tears flow. She had wanted to cry, really cry, for a long time now and hadn’t been able to. Maybe Jake had been right all along, maybe she was the one that was stupid. Haley went numb with the thought. She moved almost robotically as she changed her clothes. She watched her reflection in the mirror as she ran her brush through her hair, and tied it back with a fuzzy ponytail holder. As she lay her brush back down on the dresser’s top she saw a birthday card from Granpa and Gran Lentz that was taped to the corner of her mirror. Her thirteenth birthday was coming up on May second to be exact. That thought cheered her as she made her way to the den to wait on the others to leave. No one else was in the room when she got there so Haley grabbed the remote from the table by the couch and flipped on the television. As she turned to toss it on the table, she noticed a paper wad lying on the couch’s cushion. “Jake’s no doubt. He never picks up after himself.” Haley mumbled out loud to the empty room, as she squeezed it tight in her hand. The sound of a buzzer on the television caused Haley to jump, and she turned to watch a sports clip of last night’s professional basketball game. The players were running the ball down the court, one of the guys stepped back to the three point line and took a shot as the period buzzer sounded. Haley could feel the familiar pounding in her heart as she stared at the ball as it circled the rim. She held her breath as the ball sank through the net. When it did, Haley cheered along with the television crowd. A thought struck her as she remembered the paper wad in her hand. Eyeing the wastepaper basket by the computer desk, she looked down the hall to see if anyone was coming. Seeing no one, she grinned and shot the paper ball with as perfect of a form as she could toward the trashcan. With a tiny rustle of the plastic garbage bag, it went in. A feeling of enormous satisfaction jolted through Haley. She had an idea. Haley could hear Mom coming down the hall, and judging by the shuffling sound trailing her, so was Jake. So, she would have to wait until they got back from the store. Her idea was going to work, and no one could stop her. Especially since no one would know anything about it. When they came into the den Haley looked up at the at the two of them. Mom ushered them out the door, while locking it behind them. Though Jake kept throwing odd looks in Haley’s direction. Haley rolled herself over to the wheelchair lift that had been fitted on Mom’s van and waited patiently for her to lower it so Haley could get in the van. Haley wiggled in her seat all the way to the grocery store, she hadn’t felt this excited in a long time. Chapter 4: A New Hobby The trip back from the grocery store was uneventful, except for a tiny argument. Haley was getting so used to them that she had learned to tune them out. Nothing else had been said about her little outburst at the breakfast table, and she was glad. She had even been able to convince Mom to buy some cookies at the store. Now it seemed the drive from Main Street Market was taking forever, Haley wanted to be at home. Finally Mom turned in the driveway, she leaned over and looked to the back where Haley and Jake were sitting. “Alright, we are all going to help carry in groceries and put them away, right?” “Right,” Haley and Jake mumbled at the same time. Haley groaned inwardly that meant it was going to take her all the longer to get to the safety of her bedroom. Jake sighed and reached over to unclick his seatbelt. Haley rode down the lift to the sidewalk in front of the house. “Hey, Jake! Load me up.” Jake looked at her for a second and then a small smile tugged at his tight lips. He sat a bag of stuff in her lap. “How’s that?” “Oh come on, you can put heavier stuff there.” “I don’t want to hurt you.” “Hurt me!” Haley laughed. “Jake, I can’t feel anything below my waist. I have to look down ever so often just to make sure it’s all still there. So, don’t worry about hurting me. Lay that pack of sodas here.” Jake laughed along with Haley. “Sure I won’t hurt you?” “Try me!” Haley said with her best impression of a television gangster. Jake laughed. “Okay, Okay! You win!” He said and patted the air with his palms like he was a crook giving up to the police. Jake still laughing put several bags in Haley’s lap along with the pack of sodas, then he loaded up his arms and the two of them headed into the house. Haley led the way. In the kitchen she started unloading her lap onto the table top, when Mom turned around from the cabinets where she was putting things away. “Good heavens, Haley! You’ll hurt yourself! Jake, you should know better than to make her carry so much.” Jake started to argue, but Haley interrupted, in a dull tone. “No, Mom. It was my idea to carry so much. And, it didn’t hurt me at all. After all, I can’t feel it.” Mom stared at Haley. “Your idea? But Haley, you know that you should take it easy.” “She’s fine,” Jake cut in. His own load now sat in the floor by the refrigerator. “She did really well.” He continued coming over to stand behind Haley’s wheelchair. Mom didn’t say a word as she looked at them. “You ready to go and get the rest of the stuff, Jake?” Jake grabbed the handles of her wheelchair and started backing her out of the kitchen. Away from their mother’s eyes, Haley turned to smile at Jake. “Thank you.” “For what? I didn’t do anything.” “You stood up for me. You’ve never done that before.” “Oh that, really Haley. I should thank you, Mom was ready to blame it all on me again. At least until you told her it was your idea.” “Did you see the look on her face?” Haley tried to stifle a giggle behind her hands. “Yeah, she looked like you just told her you were a ghost or something.” Their conversation had taken them back out to the van, and Jake didn’t hesitate to load Haley’s lap with various bags. Mom’s back was turned when Haley returned to the kitchen with her second load of groceries, so Haley just unloaded and left for her room. Passing Jake in the hallway, he winked at her as he yanked his baseball bag up higher on his shoulder. “See ya later, kiddo!” “Bye,” Haley said, then over her shoulder. “Bring me some popcorn from the game tonight. And Jake, I’ll be rooting for the Sycamore team.” Jake didn’t answer, but Haley knew he had heard her. She went on to her room to figure out how she was going to accomplish the task she had set out for herself. Chapter 5: Driven by Ideas Alone in her room, Haley spent several minutes considering how she was going to make her idea work. She went over to her closet and tugged an old sweater off its hanger. She never wore the ugly thing anyway. Then she dropped it in the bottom of the trashcan in her room. Carefully she bent over and pressed it into the paper balls that were already in there. Indecision made her pull an old bed sheet out of the bottom of her closet. This she put in the wastebasket on top of the sweater, but she draped it out over the metal edges of the can. Moving back she studied her creation. It looked perfect. The trick will be making sure that she doesn’t forget and leave the sheet and sweater in the trashcan. Satisfied, Haley bent over to pick up her basketball from its place in the corner. For a couple of minutes, she just ran her hands over it soaking up the feel of the leather in her hands. It had been so long, but now she was going to do something about it. Sitting straight up in her seat, Haley put her hands in position to shoot the ball. “One hand on the bottom for support, and the other on the side to guide,” she chanted to herself remembering the coach’s words during all the practices from earlier in the school year. Without realizing she was doing it, she sucked in her breath before she allowed the ball to leave her fingertips. Haley watched the ball arch perfectly in the air before falling just short of the trashcan goal. The carpet on the floor stopped the ball from bouncing. Haley let out her breath slowly. It had not quiet reached the goal, but it was a good first try. She wasn’t disappointed in herself at all. Haley tilted over in her seat and grabbed the ball. Positioning herself once again, she shot the ball. This time it hit the edge of the basket, but didn’t go in. A dull, metallic thud echoed through the room as the ball rolled across the floor before hitting the closet door. Haley jumped at the racket it caused bouncing off the door, she craned her head around to see if anyone was coming down the hall. Seeing no one Haley picked up the ball for another try. She tried several times always falling short, or overshooting the goal. Haley started to feel discouraged with herself. She just couldn’t sink the ball like she did the paper wad earlier. “Haley, dinner time.” “Okay, I’m coming,” She yelled down the hall surprised to hear Ms. Kirkpatrick’s voice. She hadn’t heard Mom leave for Jake’s game. Shrugging she looked at the trashcan before she picked it up and stuffed it in the floor of her closet. “I guess you’ll just have to wait until after dinner.” Haley said to it as she slid the closet door shut. Haley rolled into place at the dinner table and looked at the hotdogs Ms. Kirkpatrick had fixed. Her stomach protested with hunger as she dressed her hotdog. Just mustard and shredded cheese, that’s all she ever ate on them. “What have you been doing all afternoon, Haley?” Ms. Kirkpatrick asked with faked interest. “Not much,” Haley saw the newspaper poking out from Ms. Kirkpatrick’s lap. “What’s happening in the paper?” Ms. Kirkpatrick’s eyes lit up. “Oh, the usual. So and so robbed an elderly man. Whoever had a car wreck with someone else. Mr. Stone, he’s the one that owns the corner grocery store, died. They said he might’ve died from a heart attack.” Ms. Kirkpatrick droned on, but Haley tuned her out. Not thinking she interrupted, “Ms. Kirkpatrick, when did Mom say her and Jake would get back? What time was his game?” Ms. Kirkpatrick looked a little miffed at being interrupted, but nonetheless she answered. “A little after seven, I suppose. His game was to start at five thirty. How long do they usually last, dear? I can’t remember.” Haley looked at the clock that hung on the wall above the toaster oven. She had around an hour before they would be home. Ms. Kirkpatrick started on the news in today’s newspaper, but Haley had no idea what she was talking about. She only answered with an occasional nod or a mumbled word or two. She was busy shoving food in her mouth. She wanted to make at least one basket tonight before Mom and Jake got home. Swallowing the last couple of bites of hotdog almost whole, Haley excused herself to her room. The older lady only nodded with a tiny jerk of her silvered hair. She was engrossed in the newspaper once more. Haley alone in her room dug the goal from the depths of her closet and sat it in the corner of the room. She passed the hour trying to hit the basket. Haley pulled up for one last attempt, when she heard the door open. Ms. Kirkpatrick’s voice could be heard. “How was the game, dear?” “Fine,” Jake answered. “Where’s Haley?” “Oh, she’s been in her room most of the night. We had dinner and she left again. Never a problem from her.” “That’s good to hear,” Mom answered. “Yeah, well, I’m gonna go find her,” Jake announced. Haley heard his footsteps coming, so she tossed her goal into the closet again. Shutting the door and grabbing up a book off of her bookshelf above her desk. She settled back just as Jake rapped on her door. Haley picked a spot and opened her book, before calling, “Come in.” “Hey, kiddo!” Jake called as he came in. Haley rolled her eyes at the ceiling. Jake flashed his one-sided cocky grin. Then he pulled out a bag of popcorn from behind his back. “Here ya are! I remembered and if you were wondering we kicked some serious butt tonight!” “You won! You beat W.M. Fox!” Haley cried, happy for Jake and for Sycamore’s team. Jake grinned from ear to ear. “Yeah by four runs, and I scored a homerun tonight!” “You didn’t!” Haley smiled, sincerely happy for him. Her mind darted back to the trashcan goal in her closet. Jake sat down on the edge of her bed, holding the popcorn out in front of him. Haley took a handful. She did ask him to bring her some. Their conversation turned to other things, as they emptied the bag of popcorn. Jake stood up and crumpled it in his hands. His eyes scanned the room. Haley knew what he was looking for. “Hey, Where’d your trashcan go?” Haley turned her head away pretending to look around for it. “Don’t know, I guess you’ll have to take it to the kitchen.” Haley could feel his eyes burning into her back, but she didn’t look at him. “Yeah right!” Jake said. On his was out the door, he tossed the popcorn bag on Haley’s pillow. “It looks like you’ll be the one going to the kitchen, kiddo!” Jake’s laughter could be heard from the other side of the door. Haley heard his door shut. Moved over toward the closet and slid the door back. Her goal was right where she had thrown it earlier. She knew that when Ms. Kirkpatrick left Mom would come to see her, so any more practice tonight would be dangerous. She might get caught! Tomorrow was Sunday, so she could have the whole afternoon to herself. She could practice more then. With that thought in mind, Haley pulled the sheet and sweater out of the trashcan and put them away in a drawer of her dresser. Then, she got ready for bed. After brushing her teeth, she remembered the popcorn bag. Mumbling under her breath, Haley took the bag and tossed it in her trashcan. She would take it to the kitchen trash in the morning. Her walls still thumped with the beat of Jake’s CD player. Haley was surprised that her mom didn’t come in to see her. Surely, Ms. Kirkpatrick was gone by now. Haley looked at her clock on the wall above her desk, “Nine o’clock, time for me to sleep.” Haley said to herself, as she snuggled down in her bed. Chapter 6: Days Well Spent For the next several days, Haley practiced basketball. It was on Wednesday that she saw her friends out at the park again. This time it didn’t bother her so much to watch them playing. She sighed, “I must be getting used to being this way.” The empty room didn’t answer as she pulled her sweater out of it’s hiding place and stuffed it in the trashcan. Haley picked up her ball and started practicing again. She knew she wouldn’t be interrupted today, because Mom was working on a project for the drafting committee at her office in the dining room and Jake was over at Kenny’s house again. He was spending a lot of time over there. He had told Mom that they were working on stuff for the ninth grade dance that was coming up next weekend. Haley started thinking about Jake and a tiny frown creased her forehead. He still wasn’t being very nice to her. He hadn’t called her any other disgusting names since the night he had been talking with Susannah. Still, he was up to something. The phone rang breaking Haley’s concentration on the ball, and caused her to overshoot the ball so far that it bounced off the computer on her desk. Haley’s thoughts were ripped back to the present when the ball rolled against her radio and music started blasting. In a hurry, Haley flipped it off. She shook her head and left everything else like it was, as she started looking out of the window again. Her mind back on Jake. “What could he be doing?” “Haley?” Haley jumped at the voice. “Yeah, Mom.” She asked, her eyes darting to her mess in the floor. Her mother didn’t seem to notice though, “Do you know who I was talking with on the phone?” Haley shook her head, willing her not to look at the pile of stuff in the floor. “Who?” Mom sat down on the edge of the bed, her back toward the mess in the floor. Haley started to relax a little. “It was Gran and Granpa,” Mom answered as she smoothed out the wrinkles in Haley’s bedspread. “Haley, they had a very interesting idea.” “What?” Haley said, her interest peaked. “What did they say?” Mom looked up from the bedspread. “Well, honey.” Mom paused, as if she were uncertain about something. “Well, they want you to come stay with them this summer.” Haley’s heart jumped. “Oh Mom! Really? I love going to their farm.” Mom watched Haley bouncing in her seat. “I can go, can’t I?” Mom was getting the look in her eye that usually meant no. This time though, she was silent for a long while. “They said that they had an elevator put in the farmhouse for your wheelchair, so you could get upstairs to your usual room. They also had ramps put up, so you can get from one place to another without their constant help. My question is, do you really want to go? You’ll be staying for a month.” “Yes!” Haley didn’t need a second to think it through. She was ready to go! Mom sucked in her breath through pursed lips. “Alright Haley, you can go, but…” Haley didn’t give her a chance to finish what she was going to say. “Thank you, Mom! Thanks so much! I can’t wait until summer! Am I going to be going in June? I love June on the farm! So much stuff goes on all the time. It’s so much fun.” “Haley,” Mom interrupted. “I wasn’t finished with what I was going to say.” “Sorry, Mom! I’m just so excited.” “Yes, I know, but you still need to hear me out.” Mom paused. “There is one small catch.” Haley’s eyes widened. “What?” She asked with her heart sinking just a little bit. She didn’t like catches. “Well honey, I don’t want you to go alone. And, I can’t possibly get an entire month off work.” “Oh,” Haley said with her head hanging down. “I see. It’s alright. I can stay here.” Mom leaned over and wrapped her arm around Haley’s shoulders. “You don’t have to stay here, Haley. I already said that you could go, you just have to convince your brother to go with you. I’m scared that if something happened to you, like if you were to fall or something, that they wouldn’t be able to get you back up in your seat. That’s why I’d like for Jake to go. He’s stronger and more used to helping with you.” Haley pulled back and stared at her. “You aren’t serious. Jake won’t go. He’ll have his baseball friends to play with and Susannah. He won’t want to leave them.” Mom squeezed Haley’s hand. “I’m sure that if you talk with him, he’ll agree.” With that Mom stood up to leave. At the door she turned around and waved at the air. “I’ll go and call and let them know what we decided.” “What she decided,” Haley mumbled at Mom’s departing back. “No way will Jake ever go there. He says that Granpa treats him like a servant or worse.” Haley didn’t have much time figure out what she was going to do, or how to ask him to go. She saw him coming up the driveway with his baseball glove hanging from the handlebar of his bike and his bat sticking out the top of his backpack from her bedroom window. Maybe she could just come right out and ask him. She started backing up from the window, when she noticed someone else coming up the driveway. Haley narrowed her eyes. It looked a lot like someone she knew. Chapter7: A Visitor “Haley?” Mom called. Excitement ran up her spine. She rolled out into the hallway. “Yeah, Mom.” Mom’s head appeared around the hall corner. “You’ve got a visitor, honey. Come on in here.” Haley rolled into the den. She gasp when she saw Matthew sitting on the edge of the couch. “Hey, Haley! How have things been for you?” Matthew asked. Haley took in his Sycamore practice jersey. “Great, I guess. How’s practice been?” Matthew looked uncomfortable for a minute, but he answered, “Hard.” He paused to see if she wanted him to continue. Haley looked at him with eagerness. So he continued, “Coach is killing us! He had us running suicides for twenty minutes straight yesterday. And today, we had to play HORSE for the whole time. If you messed up though you had to run laps.” “How’d you do?” Haley asked taking a can of soda from Mom when she brought them in. Matthew popped the top of his and took a long swig, before speaking. “AH! Thanks Ms. Lentz! That’s what I’m talking about.” Mom laughed, “You’re welcome!” Haley grinned as Matthew started talking again. “I’m alright I guess, but there’s a new kid at school. His name is Carl Schweinger. He’s from Germany, but his family moved here, because of his dad’s job. Anyway Haley, he kicks some serious butt on the court. He’s about a foot taller than the rest of us. Coach’s pretty much told him he’ll play center on the varsity team. Carl said he wanted to earn his way on the team like his teammates. But man, is he awesome on the court!” Matthew took another swallow of his Pepsi. Then he shot a sideways glance at Haley, “You know, everyone asks about you all the time. Are you going to come back to school with the rest of us next year?” Haley hated that question. She shrugged, “I don’t know.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “Mom’s really scared to let me do much of anything. Tell me more about this Carl character.” Haley was quick to change the subject. Matthew seemed to sense her unwillingness to talk about her condition, so he went on to tell her more about the new kid in school. “What’s his accent sound like? Is he easy to understand?” Haley’s questions rushed at Matthew, causing him to laugh. “Hey! Not so fast you.” Matthew’s laugh was contagious. “Okay now, one question at a time. Carl’s accent is sort of rough and growly. It’s like he pronounces all of his w’s like v’s, or something.” Haley giggled behind her hand. “Like what? I don’t understand. Sort of like Dracula or something?” “No, Haley!” Matthew screeched, laughing so hard he doubled over. “It’s more like,” Matthew paused trying to gather himself. Then he continued with his best impression of a deep voice, “Vhat I mean is, he sounds very pronounced.” He smiled and continued on in his normal voice. “He also says, ‘sehr gut’ a lot. He said it meant ‘very good’ in German. And to answer your other question, yes, he is easy to understand, once you get used to his accent. He said that he had started studying English when he was like four years old or something.” Matthew stopped talking and took a long drink of his soda, and then sat the empty can down on the coffee table in front of the couch. Haley drained the last of her’s and sat it beside his on the table. “Hate to say it, but I gotta go. My mom’s going to go nuts if I’m late for dinner again. Coach’s been keeping us late, and I’ve been late for dinner everyday for the last two weeks.” Matthew got up to leave, and headed toward the front door. Haley rolled after him, and as he headed down the sidewalk, she called after him. “Hey, don’t make yourself a stranger.” Matthew turned back toward her and lifted a hand in a sort of salute. “Promise ya, Haley! I’ll be back.” Haley waved back at him and shut the door, even though she saw Jake coming around the side of the house from Dad‘s old workshop. Chapter 8: The Big Question The door opened with a wham against the doorjamb on the wall. Haley was sitting in the den with her back to where he would come through on his way to the kitchen. She could hear him tossing his backpack in the entry hall’s floor. “It’s now or never,” Haley mumbled out loud to herself. “I just hope he’s in a good mood.” “Who’s in a good mood, kiddo?” Jake asked as he darted by her and tossed his sweaty baseball shirt on the top of her head. He laughed good-naturedly, but he spun around to face her. “Well, are ya gonna talk to me?” Haley looked at him through lowered lids, and calmly plucked his shirt off of her head with two fingers. Mustering up all the strength she could, she flung it at his head. “No one. I was talking to myself.” “Okay, sis! But if you do that too often they’ll commit you to the funny farm.” Haley rolled her eyes at him but before she could argue, Jake held up a finger in her face. “Did you have a visitor today? I thought I saw someone leaving when I left Dad‘s workshop. He had wild looking red hair and a face to match.” Haley watched Jake stretch out on the sofa beside her before she answered. “Yes, I did. Matthew from school came by, and his hair isn’t wild looking.” “Ah Hah! You have a crush!” Jake teased, lounging out along the couch cushions. His dusty shoes hung off the side of it. He had a cockeyed grin directed right at Haley. Haley weighed her options. She could argue with him about Matthew some more, or since he seemed to be in a good mood, she could simply ask him the question that had been nagging her since Mom’s announcement. Deciding to go with the latter, she took a deep breath. “Yeah, whatever Jake. Could I ask you something?” Haley dropped her eyes to her lap and folded her fingers nervously into fists. “Sure, kiddo! What’s on your mind? It must be serious. That’s a deep look.” “Have you thought about this summer any? I mean, what you’re going to do.” Jake sat up straighter. “I dunno really. I’ll probably hang out over at Kenny’s some. Maybe I’ll hit the pool or the lake some with Susannah. Why?” Haley felt her stomach start to tie up in a knot. She tried to swallow, but it felt like it got stuck in her throat. For the briefest second she allowed her eyes to meet Jake’s, before lowering them to the carpet under her feet. “Well, it’s just that,” Haley paused again sucking in her breath. Her eyes closed, but when she opened them she said in a rush. “Well, Gran and Granpa called today about a trip to the farm this summer, but Mom won’t let me go unless you go with me. She said you had to go in case something happened to me and they couldn’t deal with it.” There it was said, and Haley turned hopeful eyes on Jake. Jake stared at her. “Mom said what?” Anger bubbled through his words like venom through snake fangs. “When is she going to realize that you are a human being! Not to mention that I may have something to do. She always does this! She always volunteers me for stuff that I don’t want to do!” Haley jumped at his sudden outburst, but she tried to calm him down. “It’s okay! We can stay here. I don’t have to go to the farm, that way you can do things with your friends. It’s okay, really.” Haley could tell her words didn’t help any, as he stood and marched out the back door to where he knew Mom would be in her garden. Haley recoiled again as she heard the French doors slam, as he made his way toward her small vegetable garden. Haley watched him stand at the edge of the porch steps and look around for Mom. Then he descended down the wooden steps in the direction of Mom’s floppy straw hat. Haley watched until Jake’s head disappeared below the edge of the porch. Haley unlocked her brakes and started rolling for the front porch. It was the only one with a ramp, and she wasn’t going to be in the house when Mom and Jake brought their argument inside. She reached for the door knob and turned it. She closed the door just as she heard heated voices coming in through the French doors at the back of the house. Once out on the porch, Haley heard the birds singing over the argument in the den. She started rolling for the ramp to go out in the yard. Without another thought, Haley started rolling down. She pushed back on her wheels just a little like her therapist had shown her to slow down her descent but when she reached the halfway mark, she felt something slip and pop under her hands. Haley yelped in surprise as she started rolling uncontrollably down the length of the ramp. She gasped, but couldn’t cry out. Panicked she tried everything she could to stop the wheelchair’s wild decent. Haley’s heart thumped wildly in her chest, as fear ripped through her. Then she felt the front wheels bump hard against the sidewalk, but her ride wasn’t over. Chapter 9: Rollercoaster Ride Haley felt her wheelchair flip over to the right as her back wheels left the ramp for the sidewalk. She cried out as she felt her shoulder and her cheek scratch against the concrete of the sidewalk. Haley lay there stunned for a minute, before pushing herself up with her hands to survey the crash site. Her legs were pinned under her overturned wheelchair, but from the waist up she was free. Haley felt her shoulder and her cheek stinging, so she lifted a hand tentatively to her cheek. Carefully she touched her cheek with the very tips of her fingers. An immediate searing sting resulted and she yanked them away. She studied her fingertips and noticed there were small dots of blood on them. She grimaced and gingerly slid the sleeve of her t-shirt up and over her shoulder. A good sized scrape covered most of it, so Haley tilted her head and blew on it just a little to curb some of the stinging. Pushing herself all the way up to a sitting position she looked at her legs again. They were both trapped under the wheelchair but her left one was caught a bit more than the other. She reached down and grabbed the right leg of her shorts and yanked. Her tennis shoe caught on the edge but with another yank, she had her right leg freed. Not bothering to look at it and see if there were any scrapes, she went to work on the left leg. Soon both legs were free, and Haley used her hands to turn her right leg over a little farther to see it better. A long scratch ran most of the way down her leg and several other small scrapes could be seen. The scratch and two of the scrapes were bleeding freely around the tiny pieces of concrete that dotted her skin. Haley whimpered slightly at the burning in her shoulder as she turned herself around until she was sitting next to the overturned wheelchair. She sat gathering her breath before trying to push the chair to where it was sitting upright. After several tries and rests, Haley succeeded in getting it up. Now, she just had to figure out a way to get herself back up in it. Haley tried to get a grip on the seat of the wheelchair and tugged, but it just rolled away from her grasp. Haley used her hands and scooted over closer to it again. She was still contemplating how to get herself up in the seat. “Hey, do you need some help?” Haley jumped at the strange voice. Her eyes raked the edge of the yard, and she could just make out a man dressed in a jogging suit at the bottom of the driveway. As Haley watched him, he made his way up the driveway. “My name is Levi. I live down a couple of streets. I saw you fall down the ramp.” He paused, but stayed back a little. “I was just out for my afternoon jog. Can I help you at all?” Haley thought about it for a minute. If she got him to help her back in her wheelchair, then maybe Mom wouldn’t find out about it. On the other hand, she didn’t know this man. He looked safe enough though. Haley nodded her head slightly as she made up her mind. “Could you help get me back up in the seat? I tried but I just can’t reach it right.” “Of course,” the man named Levi answered. “How are we going to do it?” Haley smiled, he seemed nice enough. “Well that switch right there.” Haley pointed to the brakes on the wheel closest to her. “It’s the brakes. There is one on both sides and they need to be locked before we try anything.” “Right-o,” sang Levi as he reached around to flip the brake opposite from Haley’s. “Now what?” Haley hung her head and felt her cheeks start to color a bright shade of scarlet. “I guess, you need to put your hands under my arms and help me up. I’m sorry for troubling you.” “Hey, don’t sweat it! It’s all good, and I don’t mind helping out a neighbor in need.” Levi replied as he stepped around behind her and lifted under her armpits. Within a minute or so Haley found herself sitting in her chair. “I guess, I need to remember to lock my seatbelt the next time I try to go for a rollercoaster ride.” Levi laughed. “Are you going to be okay now, or do you want me to push you up to the porch? I don’t mind to do it.” “No thanks! I’ll be fine. Going up is a whole lot easier than going down.” Haley said as she snapped her seatbelt. Levi smiled, “Well, if you’re sure! It was nice to meet you, and try not to get too wild in that thing.” Levi called as he turned to jog back down the driveway. At the end, he turned around and waved, but at the last second he wagged his finger at her. Haley laughed and waved. He was alright after all. She watched as he jogged to the corner of the street and turned left out of sight. Haley unlocked her brakes and started to roll backward toward the ramp. She was still smiling at Levi’s antics, but her joy was short lived. As she turned she saw Mom poke her head out of the front door. “Haley! Who was that man? And, why are you outside by yourself? You know better than that. Not to mention talking with complete strangers!” “Mom!” Haley exclaimed. “Wait a minute and I’ll explain.” “Yes! You will! I wouldn’t have ever thought you would do something so dangerous!” Jake poked his head out of the dining room window. “Hey, Mom!” “Not now Jake! I’m having a discussion with Haley now.” “Yeah, I know. And so does everyone else in the neighborhood.” Jake said flatly, dropping the window back down. Mom dropped her voice to a rough whisper, “We are going in right now, and you have some explaining to do! Young lady, do you realize how much trouble you could’ve gotten into?” Chapter 10: Punishment Mom kept fussing at Haley the whole time she was pushing her up the ramp and through the front door. Haley knew better than to argue until she was given her chance. So, instead she concentrated on what she would say. One thing was for certain, there was absolutely no way she was going to mention toppling over. If she wanted to go to Gran’s house this summer, she would have to get Mom to think that she could take care of herself, and if she ever wanted to do anything with all the practicing that she had put in, Mom couldn‘t know about the wreck. Remembering her scrapes and scratches, Haley wondered how she would get out of this one. At any rate, Mom shouldn’t find out why Levi had stopped in the first place. For another second, Haley thought about her trashcan goal and basketball in her room. She couldn’t give up, she couldn’t let Mom find out what she was hiding. Haley’s trip stopped at the dinette table in the breakfast room. Mom fell silent as she went to the coffeepot and poured herself a cup of black coffee. “Well Haley, I’m waiting,” Mom said as she pulled out the chair across the table from Haley. Haley took a deep breath. “I well, I just thought I’d go out on the porch for a few minutes. That way you and Jake could have your,” Haley trailed off, she didn’t know what to call their fight. She self-consciously reached up and pulled her ponytail holder out of her hair. Her hair fell over her cheeks, hiding the scrapes there. “Our fight,” Mom supplied the word that Haley had been afraid to say. “And?” She asked as she twirled her finger on the tabletop in front of her. Haley looked down at her legs under the table. The bleeding had stopped but the cuts and scrapes had started scabbing over leaving an ugly brown speckled look to them. Mom would notice for sure. “Could I have a throw? My legs…” Haley froze, she had just screwed up. Mom raised her eyes to her. Haley didn’t like the look she saw there. “Your legs what. Haley?” “Well they,” Haley’s mind raced. She had just about said they were cold. Which was impossible, since she couldn’t feel anything. Mom’s eyes narrowed. “Were you about to lie to me, Haley?” Her question was flat, but Haley knew it was a dangerous one. Tears welled up in her eyes, “Mom no! I wasn’t planning on lying to you!” Haley cried, but she knew she had been caught. Mom took a deep breath, and then said, “What are you trying to hide from me?” “Hiding? I’m not hiding anything from you.” Mom shook her head. “Then, if there is nothing to hide, why lie?” Haley was crying freely now, but she didn’t answer. She knew that she had been caught at least on one front. She was going to have to tell her about the fall. Her mind raced, but she answered slowly. “This is what I’m hiding.” Haley pushed back from her place at the table to show her the cuts and scrapes on her legs. Then she pulled up the sleeve of her t-shirt to show her the scrape on her shoulder. “Haley!” Mom cried out as she got up and came over to examine the mess on Haley’s legs. “These look terrible! How did you get them?” Haley knew she should just tell the truth, but something nagged her at the back of her mind. “I went out on the porch to sit, but when I got close to the ramp.” She paused as a thought struck her. “Well, when I got close to the ramp something on my wheelchair popped, and I started rolling down the ramp and couldn’t stop. At the bottom, I had a wreck. That guy saw the whole thing and he came to help me get back up.” Haley felt a tiny bit of victory as she watched Mom digest what she had said. She had placed the blame on her wheelchair instead of taking it herself. She might get out of this yet. Mom got up and walked around to get some paper towels from the counter, and then she dampened them in the sink. She knelt by Haley again and dabbed at the injuries on her leg. She handed Haley a couple of wet towels to put on her shoulder. As Mom dotted her leg she was quite, but as she finished she looked at Haley. “And that man just happened to be going by?” Haley nodded. “He said he lived a couple of streets down and was out for his afternoon jog.” “So, you just took him at his word and let him help you.” It wasn’t a question, so Haley didn’t answer. “Do you realize that he could have just as well hurt you, as help you? Haley, that was extremely irresponsible, and I just can’t let it go. I’m sorry that you got hurt, but I just can’t ignore your total lack of responsibility.” Haley’s heart sank. “Mom? I’m sorry.” Mom held up her hand. “Stop. I’m not finished.” Mom paused to make her point clear. “I know that I have been overly protective of you since the car accident. I know that you don’t understand why I have done the things that I’ve done, but in reality, you don’t have to understand why. I am the parent here. No matter what you and Jake think, I am still the parent.” Mom got up and tossed the used towels in the trashcan. “I’ve told Jake this before, and I’m telling you this now. It is my house now, and my rules. Your daddy wouldn’t have approved of the way the two of you disobey me.” Haley’s eyes started to burn and she felt tears building up behind her eyelids. “Mom, I’m sorry. I’ll do better.” “Yes, you will and so will your brother. However, you will be punished.” Haley nodded. “There will be no television time for you for one week, except when you are at Ms. Kirkpatrick’s. Am I understood?” “Yes, Mom. I understand.” Haley pushed back her wheelchair and started rolling down the hallway for her room. Chapter 11: Secrets In the safety of her room, Haley stopped crying. There wasn’t really any use in it, but she did feel terrible for the way she had hurt Mom. Still there was a tiny streak of anger boiling up in her. Mom was just too overprotective! Since the accident, she hadn’t been allowed out of her room much to start with, so what did it matter if she was grounded? Haley could feel her depression ebbing away into full blown anger. All the recent events concerning her started filtering through her mind. The groceries, the fights between Mom and Jake, even having to stay at Ms. Kirkpatrick’s, Haley stared at her reflection in the mirror. All that wasn’t even the worst. Not being able to play basketball anymore burned into her mind, that was the worst. The reflection in the mirror went dark as Haley blinked but when she focused again, her eyes caught the edge of her old sweater poking out of her drawer. An eyebrow raised as Haley turned away from her dresser mirror and moved toward her chest of drawers. She stopped by her desk and picked up her trashcan, before she pulled her sweater and the old bed sheet out of the drawer. She stuffed them into the trashcan, and picked up her purple and green basketball. Time went quickly as Haley shot her basketball at her makeshift goal. When she heard the grandfather clock in the living room chime six o’clock, she realized she was late for supper. “Why hasn’t anyone come to tell me dinner was ready?” Haley said out loud to the empty room as she tossed her stuff in her closet. She didn’t even bother to stop and wash her hands, before going for the kitchen. The door to Jake’s room was closed, but Haley didn’t stop. When she got to the kitchen, her mouth dropped open. On the kitchen table Mom had laid out two place settings. On the cook top was a plate of hotdogs in their buns, and beside the cook top was a layout of condiments. Haley gaped with her mouth hanging open, but before she could worry, Jake came in behind her. “Hey! What’s all this?” Jake’s question echoed Haley’s thoughts as well. Haley shrugged. “I don’t know. Where’d Mom go?” Jake didn’t answer he just pointed to the cabinets that were over the counter. A tiny slip of paper was sticking out of one of them. He stepped around Haley and pulled it free. “Here’s your supper, kids. I’m not gone. Just in my room, but please don’t disturb me. If something bad happens, that’s another story. I just need to get some things together in my mind. I’ll see you all in the morning, and Haley, don’t stay up too much later than your bedtime. Jake, you have school in the morning, so please make sure that you get all your homework done. Love, Mom!” Jake read aloud. Jake turned to stare at Haley. “Well, we really did a number on her, didn’t we?” Haley felt a lump in her throat, but tried to speak around it. “Yeah, she was really mad at me earlier.” “I heard most of the conversation. I’m telling ya, kiddo. You got off easy. Mom was so mad at me, I would’ve sworn I saw her eyes turn red.” “Well, I still got banned to my room for a week.” “That all? I got grounded from baseball for awhile, and it really sucks too. We’ve got finals coming up, so I’ll miss a big part of the practices and games before them. I’ll be lucky if I even get to play in the final game.” Jake replied, grabbing himself a hotdog and slathering it in ketchup and mustard. Haley stared at him. “I guess you do have it worse. I mean to miss the finals.” Jake handed her a hotdog, then bit into his before answering with his mouth still full. “Yeah, but I might still be able to play in the finals, I’ll just miss everything up until then.” He paused to swallow his mouthful of hotdog before finishing up. “What do you do in your room all of the time anyway? I hear a lot of bumping around in there sometimes.” Haley nearly choked as she swallowed. Thinking quickly she grabbed her can of soda and took a long drink before answering. “What do you mean? I bump into things in there sometimes when I’m moving around, I mean my room isn’t all that big.” Jake shrugged this time. “It sounds different. I don’t know really, but you didn’t answer my question. What do you do in there? I mean it would drive me nuts to be stuck in this house all the time.” Haley exhaled, this would be easy to talk about. She picked up another hotdog and smeared it with mustard before adding some shredded cheese. Jake pulled out his chair at the table next to Haley, and they started talking. Chapter 12: Birthday Girl Jake stuck the last of the dishes in the dishwasher, just as Haley put the last item in the refrigerator. “I don’t know how you handle it still, sis. But, I’m glad that you are the one that is stuck in here all the time, and not me.” Haley laughed at Jake’s expression of serious concern, before replying. “Hmm, me too. Otherwise, Mom would never be able to deal with all the arguing.” “Agreed,” Jake said, then he dropped his eyes. “Haley, you really want to go to Gran’s and Granpa’s house this summer don’t you?” “I’d love to, but don’t worry about it Jake. I’ll find someway to get Mom to let me go alone, so you don’t have to miss all that time with your friends. I mean, hey, I don’t have any friends anymore anyway. And the few that do hang around…” “Matthew,” cut in Jake. “Yeah, they’ll have so much to do this summer themselves that they couldn’t afford to be tied down to a girl with wheels instead of legs.” Haley forced a laugh, but her expression stayed bitter. Haley could feel Jake staring at her. She knew he didn’t believe her story at all. “So, that’s why you went out today, isn’t it? To prove to Mom that you can do things by yourself. Then maybe she would let you go alone.” Haley shuddered, she couldn’t believe Jake picked up on that so easily. She barely bobbed her head in answer. “I know, it’s probably a stupid idea but I gotta try something.” Jake didn’t reply as he watched Haley get ready to leave the room, but as she was backing out through the doorway, he called after her. “You know something, you’re wrong. Matthew still likes you, legs or wheels. If he didn’t, he would have never came here the other day.” Haley flashed him a smile before she turned her back to him and left the room. When she was alone in her room again, Haley pulled her goal out of the closet. She thought about Jake’s questions, so instead of using her basketball, she wadded up several used sheets of paper from her spare notebook. Her mind churned around with what Jake had said, as she tossed paper wad after paper wad into her goal. One thing she couldn’t figure out, was why he was suddenly being nice to her. She hadn’t forgotten what he had said to Susannah, but something was strange with him. Haley’s mind rolled as she pulled herself into bed. However, something was going to change for the better, “After all, my birthday is just next week,” Haley thought out loud. The next few days went by quickly for Haley even though she wasn’t allowed to watch her favorite television shows. Haley sat up in bed on the morning of her birthday, a huge grin on her face. Finally she was ten years old! She could hardly wait to get into the kitchen. Lifting herself out of bed and into her wheelchair, Haley quickly situated her legs on the foot pedals and snapped her seatbelt. Pulling her long hair out over the top of her seat, she flew into the kitchen. “Well, good morning there,” Mom greeted, as she sat a plate of bacon on the table in front of her. “Morning, Mom!” Haley exclaimed fidgeting in her seat. “What’s wrong with you? I’ve not seen you this excited in a long time.” Mom laughed. “Today is my birthday you know! And, I am thirteen years old!” Mom raised a hand to her mouth. “Oh dear! It is your birthday, isn’t it?” “‘Oh dear’, what’s that supposed to mean?” “Well honey, I,” Mom stuttered. “I, well, I forgot.” Haley sat shocked, “You forgot.” She swallowed hard, unable to say more. Haley looked up and caught Mom and Jake exchanging a look, and then they both reached under the table and pulled up gifts. Haley stared at them for a full minute before bursting into laughter. Mom and Jake joined in. When the laughter died down Jake handed her a package wrapped with bright blue paper. “Open this one, kiddo! It’s from Granny and Pa Threet.” Haley grinned taking the package from him, hurriedly yanking the paper off of the small box. The paper fell away to reveal a small jewelry box made of red cedar. Haley carefully lifted the lid to see a gold necklace with a small pedant that read, ‘Someone Special.’ “It’s beautiful,” Mom said as she fastened it around Haley’s neck. Haley nodded and she ripped open the other three presents on the table. Mom had gotten her the computer game she had been asking for since Christmas, Gran and Granpa Lentz had gotten her a new journal and colored pens, and Jake had gotten her a t-shirt of her favorite basketball team. Haley thanked Mom and Jake, as they finished their breakfast. Chapter 13: More Changes Haley was in her room changing after breakfast, when she heard Jake leave for school out the front door. Mom poked her head into the room a few minutes after that, as Haley was brushing her hair up into a ponytail. “Haley, may I come in?” “Sure Mom, I’m all ready.” Mom came in and sat down on the edge of the bed. “I want to tell you something.” “Okay, shoot!” “Honey, you’re ten years old now, and I was thinking. I need to run to the neighbor’s house for an hour. Mr. Greene has a doctor’s appointment, and he doesn’t like leaving his wife home alone. He asked me to go over and help her get the house cleaned up a little for their dinner party tonight. I’ll just be next door, so I thought you could try staying home by yourself.” Haley gasped. “Really, I’ll be fine here.” Mom patted her on the knee. “I know you will, and I’m going to put their phone number on the fridge.” Mom paused for a minute before continuing. “I realize that I’ve been a little crazy with the way I’ve treated you, so I want to turn over a new leaf. Can you work with me on that?” Haley nodded. “Sure, but Mom, I think you should let Jake go on his class trip. He does have a date.” “Oh really, who is it?” “Susannah! Who else? He told me that night you were in your room. Actually, we talked about a lot of things that night.” Mom smiled. “I’m glad that the two of you could talk like that. That would explain the difference in both your attitudes toward each other.” Haley nodded. Mom stood up to leave. “I think I’m going to go ahead and go.” Mom walked out of the door, but once on the other side she turned back around. “Haley? I think you’re right. I will let Jake go on his trip after all, even though it is an overnight stay.” Haley grinned. “Good! It’ll give him something else to talk about besides his baseball finals.” “Oh, those things are coming up soon enough. I’m sure he told you about them too, so I’ll just tell you that he is going to get to play center field for the game.” Haley was happy for Jake, but even happier that she was going to get to spend an entire hour alone in the house. She heard Mom leave out of the front door, and from her bedroom window she could see her crossing the yard to the Greene’s house. Haley couldn’t contain the squeal that erupted from her as she swung her head side to side and pumped her fists in the air. She sucked in her breath and exhaled slowly. “I have to get a hold of myself,” Haley said to herself, but she could feel a bubble of excitement surfacing again. She couldn’t stop it. “I AM HOME ALONE!” She screamed to the empty house, and then doubled over in laughter. As some sense came back to her, Haley left her room for the rest of the house. When she went by the front door, she paused to lock it. Then she grabbed the cordless phone off its stand in the den. She went back to her bedroom and pulled her goal out of its official hiding place in her closet. She could get in nearly a whole hour of carefree practice without worrying about getting caught. The hour passed too quickly for Haley, but she put her goal away when she saw Mom coming across the front lawn. Haley grabbed the computer game she had gotten for her birthday and turned on her laptop. By the time Mom made it down the hall to check on her, she was in the middle of downloading the game. “Well, it looks like you made it through without me.” Mom teased as she opened the door. “Of course, what else did you expect?” Haley teased back with a sideways grin. Mom said, “I’m going to go in there and start cleaning our own pigpen. So, if you need me yell.” “Okay!” Haley sang as she turned back to her computer. The indicator line on her screen told her that the game was eighty-five percent done with the download. She heard Mom start moving around in the den picking up the odds and ends that had been left behind. When the game finished its download, Haley got engrossed in playing the word games and mazes. Before she knew it, it was lunchtime. They ate sandwiches and potato chips in the kitchen, while they discussed this and that. Haley was happy to see Mom almost back to her normal self, like she was before the car wreck. The afternoon passed easily, and Haley found herself back in her room practicing with her basketball and goal. The sun was shining through her bedroom window, when she heard the clock strike three o’clock. Jake would be home anytime, and Haley couldn’t wait for Mom to tell him he could go on his overnight trip with his class. It must be so much fun being in eighth grade, and Haley couldn’t wait until her turn. She turned her eyes from the window and started tossing her ball into the trashcan again. She was so lost in her own little world that she didn’t hear the door to her room open. “Haley?” The voice startled her. She turned fearful eyes toward the door, but didn’t put down her ball. “Matthew! Hi!” Haley was happy to see her friend. “Hey! What are you doing?” Matthew asked easily, as he dropped his lanky frame in her desk chair. Haley knew he had noticed her basketball, so instead of answering him she tossed the ball at him. Matthew caught it easily. He turned the ball over in his hands. “Hey, is this a new ball? I’ve not seen it before.” “Yeah, I got it…” “Got it for your birthday?” “No, it was the reason Daddy and I were in the car that day.” Haley said the words and was surprised that the usual feeling of sadness didn’t come. Matthew dropped the ball on the floor. He was visibly uncomfortable, but he tried to gather his thoughts. “Oh, um, well, that’s why I came.” “The wreck?” “NO,” gasped Matthew. “Your birthday!” He tossed her a small square box at her from behind his back. Haley smiled as she caught it. “You didn’t have to get me anything.” Still she ripped open the package. Matthew’s cheeks turned pink, but there was the smallest hint of pride there. As the paper fell away Haley laughed, a basketball game with a board and some little silver balls lay in her lap. “I love it! I can still play with this.” “I, well, I thought that since the team was announced yesterday, maybe you would like to be a part of it.” Matthew explained. “The team was announced? Well, who made it?” Haley looked expectantly at Matthew. Matthew smiled, “I knew you would still want to know.” He paused and leaned forward in his chair just a little bit. He began excitedly, “Carl made it of course at center, and the rest of the team is made up of, Gary, Tom, Colin, Will, Stevie, Robert, Gary and Me. The girls’ team is Samantha, Leslie, Andrea, Kristy, Cherie, Rachel, Holly, Leigh and Autumn.” Haley clapped. She was truly happy for her friends. “What position did you get?” “Point guard and I’m a starter.” Matthew was proud of himself. “That’s great! I’m so happy for all of you. We practiced a lot together, and all of you are terrific. When’s the first team practice?” “Officially or unofficially?” Before Haley could answer Matthew’s question he answered himself. “The first practice at school with the coach is Monday, but we thought we’d all get together this afternoon to practice at the park.” Haley continued to smile but she turned to look at the clock. “Well, it’s already nearly four. When were you going to start?” “Now!” Matthew laughed, but as he stood up to leave he turned to Haley and bent over to kiss her on the cheek. When he stood back up, his face was as red as a strawberry. “Happy Birthday, Haley!” Haley couldn’t reply as she reached up and placed her fingers on her cheek where Matthew had kissed her. She heard him leaving the house and rolled over to her window to watch him cross the street for the park. She could see the other newest members of the varsity teams waiting for him on the blacktop court. Chapter 14: They Have A Habit of Working Out For The Best As Matthew ran out on the court, all of them started running around dividing themselves into two groups. Haley was so absorbed in watching her friends play, that she didn’t hear her door creak open. She jumped a foot in the air when she felt a hand rest on her shoulder. Haley looked up and saw Mom watching them out of the window with her, then a second person hovered around her opposite elbow. Haley turned to see Jake standing there with his dumb cock-eyed grin on his face. “Hey, isn’t that your friends out there?” “Yeah, Matthew came by. They all made the varsity team s. They wanted to get in some extra practice before their first real team practice on Monday.” Haley answered Jake without looking at him, but it was Mom that spoke up next. “You know, Haley. I think there’s someone missing out there.” “Really who, I can’t see anyone.” Jake reached down to unlock her brakes. “You, kiddo. You’re the one missing.” “But I can’t…” Mom waved her hand. “It’s time for me to realize a few things too, Haley.” She turned to Jake. “Be careful when you take her over the curbs.” “Sure thing Mom, but we gotta go or she’s going to miss everything.” Haley felt tears building up in her eyes, as she leaned back and let Jake take her out of her bedroom. Jake hurried her across the street, but slowed at the curb on the opposite side. He left her sitting there, and opened the gate to the park. Haley held her head up as high as possible. When, they neared the courts, she could hear very familiar voices. Haley sat there content to just watch her friends this close to the courts, but Jake wouldn’t let her sit unnoticed. “Hey, ya’ll got room for one more in this game?” At the sound of Jake’s voice they stopped playing and started gaping in wonder. “Haley?” The whisper resounded across the court, but Matthew pushed his way through the gaggle of onlookers. “Well, it’s about time you got here, Haley. I was starting to think you’d never show.” Matthew laughed. “What?” Haley started to ask, but then realized that this had been planned by Jake and Matthew. “Haley,” screamed Leslie. “Happy Birthday!” “Yeah, happy birthday, Haley!” Cried the others on the court. Haley got choked up again, but she forced a smile. “Thanks! This is the best birthday ever!” “Not yet, it isn’t.” Admonished Matthew as he tossed the ball he was holding to Samantha. He came around and grabbed the handles of her wheelchair from Jake, and pushed her onto the court. Haley gasped. Samantha stepped up and handed her the ball. “It won’t be the best ever until you play with us again.” “I can’t play.” Haley started to argue. “No, really.” Jake interrupted. “Then what have you been practicing for in your room all this time?” Haley spun around in her seat. “You knew?” “Yep, and even Mom knows. So now is your chance to show us how good you’ve gotten.” With that Jake left the court and went to sit on a park bench behind the goal. “Come on, Haley!” “Play with us!” “Like you used to. We’ve missed you!” Haley looked around at her friends as they all called to her, and before she knew what she was doing she picked up the ball and flung it at the goal. It missed by a long way, but Matthew retrieved it for her. He handed it back and Haley tried again. She kept missing, but a tall boy she didn’t know stepped out of the crowd. “I am Carl. Try holding the ball this vay, and vhen you get a good grip, shoot.” Haley positioned her hands like Carl showed her, but before she shot she said. “I’m Haley, Carl. Welcome to the team!” The others cheered and Carl laughed, that gave Haley a chance to throw the ball as hard as she could toward the goal. This time it sank through the net. “I DID IT!” Haley screamed and pumped her fists. Her friends started cheering for her, and Haley noticed Mom standing next to Jake. The two of them walked over and Mom bent low to Haley’s ear. “I’m so proud of you, Haley!” “Thank you, Mom!” Haley hugged her. Jake stepped up and hugged her. “But don’t get used to it, these hugs I mean.” Haley laughed at him and hugged Matthew and the rest of her friends. Carl stepped up. “I do not know about this country, but vhere I came from ve had managers for our teams. Maybe ve could talk to Coach Haney and see if you could be manager for us.” “Who?” Haley asked with a curious look at Matthew. “The new coach, Levi Haney,” Leslie answered for Matthew. A man walked toward the courts. “This is my cue, right?” Haley stared. As Matthew answered him, “Yeah, Coach Haney.” When Coach Haney reached Haley he extended a hand, “Hello again, Haley. I hope you haven’t been going on any rollercoaster rides lately.” Haley shook her head, “No, I haven’t.” She paused and narrowed her eyes just a little. “I thought you looked awfully familiar.” Coach Haney smiled. “Well, Haley. I was hoping that maybe you could consider being a varsity team manager for Sycamore. I’m gonna need some help with this crew.” Haley couldn‘t contain her smile as she agreed, “I’d love to try!” The others cheered, but again Jake cut in. “That’s all well and good but Haley can’t practice in the month of June.” “Why, can’t I? Jake smiled at her. “Because I thought we were going to Gran’s and Granpa’s for a while.” Haley turned hopeful eyes on Jake. “But, all your plans with Kenny and the others.” “Hey, they’ll still be here in July, won’t they?” Mom smiled and hugged both of them. “I think it is time we went back for supper kids, and the rest of you probably have parents waiting on you at home. Coach Haney would you like to join us? I‘m sure you‘ll have some things to discuss with Haley about her new duties with the team.” Coach Haney bobbed his head, “I’d be delighted.” Slowly, the basketball group broke up. As they were leaving the courts behind, Matthew yelled at Haley. “We’re going to practice every day at four, except Sunday.” Haley turned around and waved to him. “I’ll be there!” As Mom pushed her across the street, Haley had never felt so happy. She led Haley in the front door, while Coach Haney and Jake brought up the rear of the procession. Once in the house, Mom excused herself from the conversation Jake and Coach Haney were engrossed in, to head for the kitchen. Haley rolled herself over next to the couch, but didn’t say anything as she listened. “I’m telling’ ya, Coach!” “I don’t know if Detroit can pull out after their losses.” “Oh! Absolutely! I mean all they’d have to do is pick better in the draft.” Jake supplied as he flopped over on the couch. Coach Haney shook his head. “Their draft pick is too late. By the time they pick the best will be gone.” “Alright! No more sports for a while, it’s time to eat!” Mom called her voice breaking through the kitchen door. “Coming!” Jake called as he pulled himself up from his sprawled position on the couch. Coach Haney stood to follow, “You need any help there, Haley?” “Nope! I can manage. You know something else?” Inquisitive looks meet her. “All Detroit would have to do is pull Number 14 off the bench and give him some play time, then it would give their point guard a few minutes rest per game. The last couple of games I’ve watched the Detroit guard never gets off the bench, while the starter never gets to rest.” Jake’s mouth fell open in disbelief, while Coach Haney laughed. “You may be right, Haley! I think I’ve made a great decision on a team manager.” “You’ve made a terrific one! But, the casserole is getting cold, and there’s still no one at my table to eat.” Mom interrupted from the doorway. The four of them moved toward the table in the nook, and as they sat down Haley started smirking to herself. Jake was eyeing her funny as he stared at her from across the table. While Jake and Coach Haney had been so engrossed in their conversation Haley had sneaked into the kitchen with one more trick up her sleeve. Mom started passing around the dishes and as everyone filled their plate up, Jake reached for his fork. As his fingers touched the handle a weird sort of shriek erupted from him, and he dropped it in the floor. Haley doubled over with laughter, while everyone else ducked under the table to see what the problem was. Jake straightened up, holding his fork by the tines in two fingers. Dangling from the handle was what looked like cobwebs and a hairy spider. “Really, Haley! You should grow up some! That is so childish.” Jake said in what he was trying to make a reprimanding voice. Haley’s laughter died on her lips, as she cocked an eyebrow at him. “Oh really! I suppose that slime is more of an oldre prank than Halloween cobwebs. And, didn’t you try to pull that one on me a week or so ago?” She knew he was trying to act more grown up since Coach Haney was there. Jake’s cheeks flushed a bright scarlet, but he tried to roll his eyes. “Whatever,” he mumbled, as he plucked off the webbing and spider with two fingers. “Okay, that’s enough!” Mom intervened, but she exchanged glances with Coach Haney over the top of her glasses. Haley slid a sideways glance toward him too, and saw that he was having a difficult time biting back laughter. Haley smiled broadly at him, and he smiled back. “Shall we?” Mom dipped her fork into her portion of casserole. Everyone nodded agreement, and as they ate, the conversation eventually returned to Haley’s job as manager for the varsity team. “Every after school practice. I’ll need you to see that the towels get in the dirty laundry hamper, and balls back into the right racks. During the games, both home and away, I’ll need you to sit by the scoreboard. There may be some games were I need you by the team bench to pass out towels and drinks. Do you think you can handle that?” Haley bobbed her head. “I’m sure of it! I’ll do the best job I can!” “I know you will.” Coach Haney started to say more but, Mom spoke up. “Away games? How is she going to go to away games? She can’t get on the bus. When I agreed to this I thought it would just be the home games.” Haley’s heart crashed into the pit of her stomach, but looked up carefully when Coach Haney answered. “The team bus has a wheelchair lift. We don’t have a big enough team for one of the big buses, so they let us use one of the special education buses. I assure you, Ms. Lentz, that Haley will be well monitored while she is helping the team out.” Mom still looked doubtful, so he continued. “Besides, I have several team members that would be happy to assist her in anyway. We’ll all take good care of her” Haley spoke up for her on defense. “Really, Mom, I’m doing so much better! I know I can do this, and I will be very careful. Please!” “I don’t know, Haley. Sycamore plays teams all the way up to the state line. That’s nearly a three hour drive, and if something happened to you…” Jake, who had been silent for most of the conversation after the fork incident, spoke up. “Mom, you agreed to this already! And, Haley’s right, Mom really! She can do it!” Haley felt tears start to gather in the corners of her eyes. “Please, Mom! Please!” Mom sighed, as she stared into one expectant face after the other. “I suppose, well, I suppose I did agree to this.” Cheers erupted from Haley and Jake. Mom held up her finger, “Wait a minute! I have one small condition.” Haley’s happiness pitted into her stomach once more. She hated Mom’s ‘conditions.’ “That is?” Coach Haney prompted, his eyes never leaving Mom’s. “That Haley be allowed to call me immediately if something happens. Not in a few minutes, not even in a minute of two, immediately.” Coach nodded. “That is a guarantee, Ma’am.” Mom blushed a little. “Oh, just call me, Rebecca.” Coach smiled and winked. “If you call me Levi.” Haley felt like she had started floating up from her wheelchair, she was so happy and excited. She was really going to be allowed to be the real manager of the Sycamore Junior High’s team! Her! And, that meant that she would get to be around her old friends again! Even share in the same joy as they used too, Basketball! She truly didn’t know if she could be any happier! Chapter 15: Basketball Changes Things The next few days seemed to fly by, but as May turned to June there were still more changes to come. Haley zipped up her duffel bag that lay sprawled across her bed, unzipped it and threw in one last t-shirt. There was no way she was going to her Grandparents house without her new Sycamore Basketball Manager shirt. The blue and gold shirt had the Sycamore’s mascot, the roaring lion on the front, and scrawled across the back of her shoulders, in big gold block letters, it read MANAGER. Smiling she looked down at the old practice jersey that Leslie had given her. It had been the one she wore for tryouts the last several weeks. Hearing feet come thumping down the hall, Haley turned her head toward the bedroom door. “Hey, sis! You gotta go!” Jake cried as he wretched the door from its hinges as he threw it back against the wall. “Where?” Haley asked, turning her attention back to her packing. Jake started laughing. “Boy, for the team manager, you sure don’t keep up with the team gossip much.” “What are you talking about? I’m trying to finish packing for Grandma’s. We leave in the morning.” “Yeah, I know, but.” Jake trailed off looking around her floor. Seeing her basketball in the corner he scooped it up. Straightening himself he tried to toss it in her trashcan, but missed by a long shot. “You’d better stick with baseball in high school.” Haley laughed. Jake gave her a droll stare, but continued. “Well, I wasn’t trying to really hit it to start with.” Haley raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. “Anyway, the point behind coming in here in this pink prison of yours is, because I ran into Matthew at the park. He said that Coach Haney had managed to set up an early scrimmage between Sycamore Junior and W.M. Fox Junior. The bus is leaving from your school in an hour for W.M. Fox! So, you’d better get ready. This may be the best opportunity to show Mom that you can travel with the team and do the job Coach Haney wants you to.” “Is she planning on coming?” Haley asked, her excitement building. “Yep, but your absolutely marvelous big brother convinced her to let you take the team bus from Sycamore.” Haley suppressed the urge to roll her eyes, but before she could say anything they heard Mom in the hallway. “Are you ready, Haley? I told Levi, that I’d have you at the school a little early, so I could have time to make the drive to W.M. Fox. Jake and I may need a few minutes to find good seats.” Mom’s curly brown head poked around the doorjamb of her room. Haley smiled, yanked the zipper up on her duffle, grabbed her purse from her bedside table, and rolled herself backward. “I stay ready!” Mom and Jake both laughed. “Alright, give me a moment to run a brush through my hair, and Jake go change into a shirt that doesn’t have a stain on it somewhere.” Mom said, as she ducked back into her room. A grumbling Jake followed her out of the room to change his shirt, but Haley rolled herself after him to wait in the living room. After a second thought she rolled herself out the front door and onto the porch. Her last attempt at this forsaken ramp had been a disaster. Still she looked to the end of it, a black S-10 caught her eye going passed her house, and as she looked up, it honked its horn and the man driving waved enthusiastically. It was Coach Haney! Haley waved back, as she started her slow descent down the front ramp. Carefully she rolled, until she felt her front wheels bump against the level ground on the sidewalk. Smiling now, she released her grip on the brakes a little and bumped on down to the sidewalk. She had made it without flipping over! “Haley?” Haley closed her eyes for a moment before turning almost fearful ones on her mother. “Mom?” Mom smiled at her, “You did that wonderfully, dear! I am so proud of you! One thing though, next time tell someone that you’re going outside. ‘Kay?” Haley smiled back. “’Kay Mom, but can we go now?” Mom walked down the ramp, but Jake behind her swung his legs up and over the porch rail and jumped to the ground beneath. “I really wish you wouldn’t do that, Jake! Someday your going to fall and it won’t feel very good.” Mom fussed as they made their way to the van. Jake leaned over and whispered in Haley’s direction as Mom started driving toward the school. “At least, you just have to listen to it until you get on the team bus. I’m stuck with it for an hour!” Haley giggled behind her hand, and whispered back. “You could renege on your ninth grade graduation and stay at the junior high for another year and join the team.” “Or not!” Jake whispered loudly. “I’m going to totally rock the high school next year!” Haley laughed. “Then you’re stuck with her until we get to W.M., I can’t help you!” Haley’s whisper was a little louder than she intended but Mom didn’t seem to notice. Haley turned to look out the window and saw Sycamore’s familiar shape. They turned in the drive, and Haley could make out the bright yellow bus sitting in front of the gym. As they got closer she noticed the wheelchair ramp was down on the sidewalk and several blue and gold clad people were dashing around. Mom pulled up next to the sidewalk, and Haley could see faces of the people. Carl was there tossing equipment into the back of the bus. Matthew was there stretching with Leslie and a few who had their backs to her. However, when Mom stopped at the edge of the sidewalk and lowered the ramp, all activity stopped. Coach Haney pushed through the crowd followed closely by Coach Reinherdt, the girl’s team coach. “Alright! You ready there, Haley?” “Ready for what?” Haley asked wiggling in her seat. “This,” Coach Reinherdt spoke up, as she carried a clipboard over to Haley and handed it to her. “This is the checklist for both teams.” She flipped the top paper over to show the one underneath. “It’s the manager job to make sure that we have everything we need for the game.” Haley nodded and she flipped through the pages. “Right, who do I ask, or do I look myself?” “Just yell that you’re ready to call, and someone will volunteer to help you.” Coach Haney replied. Haley smiled. “I’m ready to call!” Carl stuck his head out from behind the bus. “I vill help. I am still here anyvay!” “Balls times ten!” “Ja!” “Hamper!” “Ja!” The list went on and Haley wasn’t even aware that Mom and Jake had left until Coach Reinherdt announced it was time to load. Matthew walked over to her. “Well, this is it! Our first game as the new Varsity teams!” “Yeah, I’m a little nervous.” Haley admitted as she rolled up on the wheelchair ramp. “Ja, but ve can do it!” Carl yelled. “Go LIONS!” The rest of the team started yelling and chanting… “Yes, we’re the best! We are the L-I-O-N-S!” Even the coaches joined in. When they started making the letter shapes with their arms, Haley joined in. It was going to be one terrific start to their basketball season. The gym at W.M. Fox was stuffed with people! Even Coach Reinherdt was surprised. “They do realize this is only a scrimmage right?” She asked in low tones. A man Haley didn’t recognize walked up. “Hi Sycamore! I’m Mr. Wilson! I’m the principal here at Fox Junior High. I’m sorry to intrude but I think everyone here is here to support your new manager.” Haley’s eyes got huge, as she listened to him. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Mom and Jake sitting right behind the team bench listening too. Mr. Wilson squatted in the floor next to Haley’s wheelchair. “It seems to me, that you are one amazing young lady. And even though, Fox and Sycamore are enemies on the courts, the fields, in sports in general, you are a true hero for so many other young people. Thank you for sharing that with all of us!” Haley was speechless, but until everyone in the gym started clapping and cheering, she didn’t realize that everyone had been listening to him. The members of W.M. Fox’s team ran up behind their principal with their coach. Their red and white uniforms contrasted sharply with Sycamore’s, but each took a turn in shaking Haley’s hand. When Fox’s coach came up, his words nearly took her breath away. “We’d be delighted if you could be our scorekeeper tonight! Usually, the scorekeeper is from the school they are playing at, but I think we can make an exception tonight!” Haley beamed. “I’d love too!” She threw a glance toward her mother, who was wiping tears from her face. Jake was standing and cheering with the rest of the crowd, but paused to throw her a huge grin. Smiling back at him, she rolled herself over to the table with the scoreboard’s controls. After studying them for a minute, she took a deep breath and flipped on the power switch, illuminating the scoreboards at both ends of the court. That seemed to cue the referees out on the court, soon followed by the announcements of the starting lineups for both girl teams. Haley paid rapt attention to the game, making sure she flipped the right switches at the right times. Before she knew it, the girl’s game was over with a Sycamore win! During the break between the girl’s game and the boy’s, Jake came over to the table where Haley sat. Both hands were behind his back, as he turned away just enough to where Haley couldn’t see anything that he may have had behind there. “Ya know, I think you’re gonna get to be pretty good at this.” Haley leaned back trying to see what he was hiding, but he turned just a slight bit more to where all she could see was his the side of his butt. “Thanks! So, what are you hiding back there?” “Ah! See I knew you would ask that!” “Great! Now, what is it?” Jake laughed. Then, he held out his hands. Clasped in them was a big bag of popcorn. Haley narrowed her eyes. “What this about?” Her suspicion getting the best of her, she accepted it gingerly. Jake folded his arms across his chest, and played at tapping one of his toes. “For the last year and a half, I’ve had to cater to you. Delivering popcorn from my games to your bedside table, practically, and how do you repay me?” Haley sputtered, trying to make an excuse. “I…But…I” Jake shook a finger at her. “Now, here it is YOUR game, and I have to fetch my OWN popcorn! Something about that just doesn’t seem fair to me.” Haley couldn’t help it she burst out laughing! “Jake! Jake you are a MESS!” She gasped, trying to speak around peals of laughter. Jake tilted his head at her, trying his best not to laugh. “Well? How are you going to make this up to me?” Haley squealed with more laughter. “Next game! I promise, next game! I’ll buy you all the popcorn you could ever want.” “Next game? Next game, but that won’t be until this fall!” Jake laughed now. “Oh well, I guess I can wait!” “Haley?” Haley turned around at the sound of Coach Haney’s voice. “Yes?” “It’s time for the boy’s game to start, care to do the honors?” “Nope!” Haley agreed. Then she turned back toward the board, and in a minute, a resounding buzz echoed around the gym. People hurried to their seats in the bleachers, as the referees ran back out on the floor to start the boy’s game. Haley smiled contentedly at the scoreboard in front of her.