CATCHY SNIPPET: What if you could change the flow of time? Mila Adams can do just that. An exhilarating adventure ensues when she meets a man with a very similar talent. Will they discover the source of...
Jessica gives an overview of the book:
Even all alone at the new apartment, Carly knew what to do. She'd found the box labeled "Brooke's Room" and unpacked it, setting up all the supplies she would need instead of pulling things out and throwing them back in as her mother had been doing since they moved. Carly arranged the Johnson's Baby Lotion, hydrogen peroxide, Vaseline, toddler-sized diapers, steel wash bowl, baby wipes, Desitin, thermometer, towels, and Q-Tips on the table beside Brooke's bed, as they had been at home--their real home. Yesterday, she'd found the formula and syringe because she'd had to feed her five-year-old sister, on schedule despite everything. It wasn't the first time she'd fed her, but it had been the first time she'd done it all by herself, her mother usually hovering over her saying, "Yes, now put the syringe in the peg and depress it. Right. That's very good, Honey." Brooke would try to smile, her face sometimes so still it was hard to know what she was feeling even though she was should be talking in complete, full sentences and running around like the wild kids Carly used to babysit when they lived at home. Their brother Ryan never tried to feed her or even watch. He was scared to. He doesn't know how to do any of this, Carly thought, scared of feeding tubes and syringes, and she was glad he'd gotten a ride to high school with his new friend Quinn. She was going to stay home today, again.
She pushed Brooke's red hair back from her eyes. "Okay. Let's go," she whispered. Carly pulled down the blanket and then stopped, letting her hands fall to her lap. Back when they lived in their house, their mother arranged everything just so each morning, making sure there were enough supplies for the day, sitting gently on Brooke's bed to wake her up, singing the song, "Good morning, Sunshine." Brooke would twist awake, her eyes open already because she couldn't close them no matter what, a tiny crooked smile on her lips, and her mother would begin. Carly closed her eyes and brought forth her mother as she had been a year ago and tried to move just as she had, even though she was unable to fill the warm space her mother usually took. She wasn't big enough, even if she knew what to do.
But Carly had to do this for Brooke and for her mother. If her mother was feeling normal, the way she had for most of Carly's childhood, she'd want Brooke cleaned and fed and happy, so she started first with Brooke's diaper, gently pulling the tape tabs, peeling away the sodden wet thing that really didn't smell because all Brooke ate was the special formula. Holding onto Brooke's arm, she leaned forward and dropped the diaper onto the overflowing trash can, pressing the soft plastic mound down with her foot. She'd have to dump the trash soon, but she couldn't until Brooke took her afternoon nap.
She put her hand in the bowl, testing the water to make sure it had cooled down. For a moment, she pushed waves against the steel shore and listened to the slight splashing sound, and then she squeezed the wash cloth until it didn't drip and brought it to her sister's body, sliding it across her skin, up and down, and then she repeated the motion with a baby wipe, lotion, and then Desitin where Brooke had a rash. It definitely looked worse today than yesterday, but she smeared on a big glob of Desitin, hiding it, hoping it would go away. That was the easy part. Then there was the feeding tube, the peg, to check and clean.
When Carly first saw the small valve on Brooke's stomach after the operation, she thought of the blow-up pool toys she used to have, the valve sticking into her skin as she clamped onto the slippery plastic with her thighs. She almost laughed and then swallowed down her stupid thought of opening the valve and watching Brooke whisk through the bedroom as she deflated.
But it wasn't funny. It was a real hole into her insides. Carly's mom had even changed the tube that came out of it a couple of times, Carly holding her breath, imagining that the tube was a live part of Brooke like a vein or something. But her mother laughed, told her to stop being silly, tickling Brooke after it was over. Carly had to be careful, though, and knew it was important to clean around the peg and rub some lotion on the skin next to it. Red was bad. Red and hard was worse. Red with streaks was the worst of all, but today, Carly noticed, looking at her sleeping sister, everything seemed fine.
After the diaper and the Desitin, it was time to wash Brooke's face and hands and feet and back, dipping the washcloth into the warm water in the wash bowl, wringing it out carefully, and stroking her curved back, her tense feet, her legs and arms that whipped out periodically. Carly didn't really like looking at Brooke, and today, her skin the color of plain white bread, all her bones just underneath like a terrible, awful sandwich, there were strange red spots on her hips and thighs. Carly ran her fingers on the red circles, the skin rough but not broken. It wasn't infection. It didn't look like infection.
Carly wiped up and down, mumbling the soothing sounds her mother always did, sort of a "Yes, yes, yes. It's all right, That's good," in a quiet rhythm. She had to move so slowly because Brooke was awake now, and she hated too much pressure on her skin, crying sometimes about a blanket Carly thought would feel good or their dog Maxie licking her face, or a dress that poked under her arms. At least she didn't have to worry about Maxie, who now lived with Carly's friend Sam back by the old house. She imagined Maxie running up and down Sam's huge yard, barking, wagging her tail. And she knew Sam didn't even have her new number. "We'll call you when we get the phone hooked up," her mother had said, waving to Sam and his mom as they drove off, Sam's mom saying, "Don't worry, Carly. It's just till you're settled in a real house. We'll take care of her as long as you need us to." That had been two months ago, the phone wasn't connected yet, and her mother hadn't even begun to look for a real house. It's too late to call Sam now, Carly thought. Maxie probably doesn't even miss us anymore.
Carly moved the steel bowl to the floor and scooted up towards Brooke's head because now it was time to take her temperature. This was very important to do every single day because a fever would mean infection, either because of the peg or because of pneumonia. Brooke was sick with it twice last year--her fever going up so high her mother had rushed her into a bathtub full of ice. Later, after Brooke came back from the hospital, Carly remembered her mother putting the antibiotics in through the peg along with the formula. There was some still left in the refrigerator, the bottle quarter-full of pink fluid moved to the new apartment along with the ketchup and mustard and salad dressing. What Carly worried about since yesterday was the ventilator her mother had been talking about a couple of days ago. From her bed, her mother had mentioned that weeks ago, the doctor said it would be good to start using it again, Brooke fitted with a tracheotomy plug and a collar during her last stay in the hospital. Carly had searched all the boxes in the living room, and she couldn't find anything that resembled the ventilator that had come home the last time. She was sure if she did finally find it, she couldn't just attach it and turn the switch. There had to be some doctor's visit or at least a therapist to come over and show Carly how to adjust it.
At night, Brooke breathed so quietly at times, Carly was sure she'd died. Now that she was sleeping in her mother's bed, she'd creep out and stand over Brooke, listening, finally poking her gently on the arm, grateful for a snort and a fling of arm. She'd pull her sister up on the hospital bed, using the switch to adjust the head, thinking that if Brooke were sitting up straight, she'd breathe more easily. Only then, could Carly go back to sleep.
Carly picked up the thermometer, the easiest part of all of this. This was a great thermometer, the important part as smooth as the inside of an eggshell. Carly remembered when she had to hold a pointy stick under her tongue for what had seemed like forever, and her Ryan told stories about it in his butt. Carly didn't believe him because he'd always been like that, kind of gross, talking about boogers and saying "Shit" and "Fuck" even when there were adults around, like an idiot. Now, actually, he didn't even talk at all, leaving the house early to catch his ride and coming home long after Carly had fed Brooke, asking her only, "Did you talk to Mom?" But she didn't want to think about Ryan now. He hadn't even asked her about school, just eating three pieces of toast and slamming out the door.
After holding the thermometer on her own skin to warm it up, Carly pressed the thermometer against Brooke's ear, causing Brooke to say, "Ma!" But before her sister could fling a tiny arm at her, she had the reading. 99.0. That was a fever. She tried it again in the other ear. 98.9. Carly bit her lip. Not normal, but not an official fever. Only four tenths. Or three tenths, depending on which side was real. She put the thermometer down, deciding she would take it again later. Just to be sure.
"Ma!" Brooke said. "Dare i Ma?"
Carly closed her eyes, wondering how to answer that question, how to tell Brooke she had no idea at all where their mother was. "Should I sing?" she said finally.
Picking up the syringe, Carly began to sing "Good Morning Sunshine," knowing that their mother was Brooke's only sunshine. Brooke never made the sounds and words for Carly that she did for her mother. How long, Carly wondered as she sang, could this go on?
Before she'd come into the bedroom, she'd mixed up the formula in the kitchen in a Pyrex measuring cup, the one her mother always used, and she carefully dropped the medicine in. She didn't know what it was for, but her mother had always squeezed two drops from the brown bottle and two drops from the plastic bottle. As she put the can of formula away, she noticed that there wasn't much left, maybe two days worth, three. But by then. . . . well, things would be better.
Carly sucked formula into the syringe and attached it to the tube connected to the peg for feeding. The tube looked dirty, and she wondered if she had to clean it. Her mother sometimes talked about "flushing" the tube, so Carly decided she'd try later. "Okay. Time for breakfast."
"No!" Brooke began to squirm.
"Does it hurt?" Brooke moved side to side. "Stop it Brookey. Let me sing. I'll sing again."
Carly began to sing the song, and Brooke stopped moving, turning her head to look at Carly as she put the syringe into the tube. It seemed to take forever for the food to go in, and Carly knew from what her mother had told her, it should never go in too fast. "Keep a steady strain," her mother had said, leaning over Carly's shoulder as she fed Brooke. "That's the way. That's a girl."
Carly stopped singing the words, humming instead, and Brooke turned her face to the wall, reaching out a tiny arm to touch it. She was so small, Carly thought, pressing and pressing on the syringe with her thumb. Brooke had always been small. Back when she had been a tiny baby, before her body had curled and they knew all the ways her body would go wrong, Carly would bring her friends into the nursery to show off her new sister. Carly had been seven, almost old enough to babysit she thought, and Brooke was like her living doll. "She's sooo cute," her friends would say, Brooke's eyes wide and blue, her hair like a fire next to the cotton sheets. Her mother would let them take turns holding her in the oak rocker Grandma Mackenzie--their dad's mom--had given her mother when Ryan was born. But after a few months, Brooke wasn't so cute any more. She never really learned to crawl or walk, sort of pulling and pushing herself on the floor, never rolling over or sitting up for more than a second or two at a time. Her mom and dad went to the doctors all the time and then they came home with two awful names: Cerebral Palsy and Muscular Dystrophy. From then on, there were always nurses at the house teaching her mother how to care for Brooke, and the room was full of medicines and supplies, her mother taking down the crib mobile that had been Carly's and pulling out the crib toys because they needed to have room for the monitors. Carly didn't lead tours into the nursery after that.
She refilled the syringe and slid it slowly into the peg, knowing that it was almost over for now, until later this afternoon. Her mother used to feed Brooke three times a day, but after they moved, the doctors told her to feed her only twice because she was getting sick from her feedings. "Like diarrhea?" Carly had asked, thinking that what came out of Brooke couldn't be any thinner.
Her mother had nodded absently, and the routine shifted and became the way it was, as every new procedure and change had all of Brooke's life.
Carly pulled the syringe out and put it in the empty measuring cup. She lifted Brooke to her and slipped a clean T-shirt over her head, drawing her thin arms through the holes. For some reason, she'd always thought her sister smelled like Christmas, something sweet and sugary and soft, but lately the smell had changed, grown stale and older, like her, she guessed. Like how she smelled after playing volleyball during PE. Brooke wasn't a baby anymore, but a person who might want more than lying on the bed and watching TV.
Tugging at the shirt and smoothing it over Brooke's flat belly, Carly realized it was the last clean shirt. She knew she'd have to go down to the laundry room today and do a wash, and she hoped there were still quarters in the jar by the front door.
"Want to watch cartoons?"
"Tay! Na! Na!"
"Have some patience. Keep a steady strain," Carly said, repeating the phrase her mother said, looking for the remote on the bedside table. Brooke loved to watch Rugrats and Hey Arnold! on Nickelodeon. Carly flipped through the channels, finally knowing which station was which now that they'd moved and the cable company was different.
The bright colored kids flashed on the screen. "There you go, Brookey." Carly yanked up the rail on the hospital bed, making sure it was truly closed. Once last week before her mom left, Carly hadn't checked, and she'd come back to find Brooke on the floor, writhing in an effort to pull herself back up, her mother dead to the world in the bed just five feet away. So now she checked once, twice, sometimes three times, not wanting to ever see her sister's tiny legs and curled feet pushing on the hard floor like that again.
Carly sighed, picked up the measuring cup, the wash bowl, and the wash cloth, and walked out of the room, the sounds of the cartoons behind her.
Back when they were still at their house, Brooke would have had visits every day. Some days, it was the physical therapist Leon who put her on the floor, rolled her around on these big rubber balls he brought, Brooke on top squealing. He would rub her feet, stretch her legs and arms, spin her on the mat. He called her "My little Kumquat." Carly's mother gave him a check when he left and he always said, "I should pay you." Carly noticed that he took it anyway, but she was glad. He always made Brooke laugh.
Then there was Mrs. Morgan who came to teach Brooke to talk, Brooke sounding out vowels, "AAAA.EEEEEEE. IIIIIII. OOOOO. UUUUU," even though it sounded more like one long strange sound, "AHHHEIOU." Later, the teacher Susie Glickman came to the house because Brooke was too sick to go to kindergarten even for three hours a day. There were also the nurses her mother hired to baby-sit, so she could walk for an hour on the treadmill at Oakmont Athletic club or go shopping at Nordstrom with her friends or get a haircut at Anthony's. Now and then, some lady with a clipboard and glasses came, talking mostly to Carly's mom in the living room. Carly didn't know her name and only had to talk with her once. She was glad because the lady had terrible breath. Ryan never had to talk any one because he was so busy. Once Leon asked her mother, "Are you sure you have a son? He looks more like a shadow to me." But Ryan was gone for normal reasons then like baseball or soccer, not like now when he was just gone.
It wasn't until fifth and sixth grade, when her parents were fighting every night and then her dad left that things changed. Carly had known there were things that happened behind her parents' door--screaming and slicing whispers and sometimes things falling heavy to the ground--that would make one of them want to leave. Sometimes, she'd wanted to leave herself, walking down the street with her backpack and her friend's phone numbers. She knew that the divorce had made her mother so sad she'd stopped getting up in the morning unless it was to feed Brooke, and now since the move to the apartment, Carly could feel her own anger at her father flutter like one of those fake fires that worked with air and paper, constant, ever burning, able to rage at a moment's notice. But what Carly didn't understand was why the money disappeared. Why did everything else have to change just because her parents weren't married anymore? He still loved them, didn't he? Or maybe he didn't because he didn't call that often, and then even less, not once asking her or Ryan to visit him. Sometimes, she wanted to ask her mother these questions, but that wasn't easy. Her mom cried all the time and yelled as she talked to people on the phone. It must have been about the money because her mom wasn't writing checks any more, going to teachers hired by the county, carrying Brooke out to the car because they didn't have a wheelchair yet. Her mom said, "We'll get a chair and a van one day soon. But I can still carry her because she's as light as a feather." And Leon didn't come by with his exercise mats and jokes because Brooke had to go to a hospital all the way out in Martinez for physical therapy, where she never laughed.
But by the end of seventh grade, somebody else--probably her father's lawyer--told her mother that they had to sell the house and move and then everything seemed to stop, her mother only packing and crying and yelling on the phone, Brooke in her room almost all day long, even the lady with the horrible breath not coming over. A sign went up, the real estate agents walked through the house even during dinner, and her mother ran around with Windex to clean the front door windows every time someone called. "Curb appeal, " the agent had said, her mother nodding and biting her lips.
Carly thought if she could just tell her dad what was going on with Brooke, he'd let them stay in the house. But when she asked her mom if she could call him, her mother leaned her head on her arms and cried for an hour. And then once when she found his number and wrote it on a gum wrapper, she looked up to see her mother weeping on the couch, the place she'd been sitting the entire day. If she called her father, Carly knew something bad would happen to her mom, something worse than what had already happened, so she folded up the wrapper carefully and put it in her jeans pocket. But she forgot about it, and later, she found it twisted and ripped from the washer, her father's number only thin pencil scratchings.
And then they moved, a family from Toronto buying their house, telling her mother they were going to "Completely renovate." That meant that Carly's room was probably gone, nothing the same at all. After they'd been in the Walnut Creek apartment for two months, she asked her mom if they could drive by the house and go and visit Maxie. Her mother had shook her head.
"What's the point? It's all gone now."
Carly had called her friends Kiana and Ashley a few times from a pay phone, but after a while, she realized they just wanted to talk about the boys at school and what everyone was wearing and the dance on Friday, not caring about Carly and her new school where she knew no one. She couldn't believe that next year, she'd have to enroll at a high school where she didn't have one single friend. It had taken her from kindergarten to eighth grade to make friends in Monte Veda, and she bet she'd never have friends like Kiana or Ashley for the rest of her life.
After the call to her friends, Carly again wished she could phone her dad in Phoenix. She was pretty sure he didn't have their new address, and that meant he couldn't send the checks that bought the formula that Brooke had to have. Even if he did leave them and forgot to send the money like her mom said he did, she knew he'd want Brooke to eat. To live. But since the wrapper incident, Carly hadn't had the chance to get the number again, and she knew if her mother found out she'd called, she would cry even more and not get out of bed, where she stayed most of the time now, not bothering to do much more since the move than enroll her and Ryan in school. Carly wondered if her Grandmother Mackenzie was worried about them, and if she was, why hadn't she searched them out? There had to be ways to find people who disappeared, and if it weren't for the fact that she imagined her mother would fall asleep and forget about Brooke, Carly would have taken BART to Oakland to find her grandmother, transferring onto a bus at the Rockridge station and staying on until something looked familiar. Or what about her Grandpa Carl? Even if her mother was angry with him, so angry she wouldn't even talk to him at holidays, she knew he cared about them. When Carly asked her why she'd suddenly decided to never have him step foot in her house again, her mother replied, "He's like all of them. They just leaves."
If he was so awful, Carly didn't understand why her mom would name her after him. Anyway, if she wanted their numbers or her Uncle Noel's, she'd have to get them the same sneaky way she'd gotten her father's that one time. Then she'd have to call on her way home from school at a pay phone because it wasn't like she could borrow Kiana's or Ashley's cell phone any more. The whole thing was so much trouble, and she couldn't help but wonder why no one had come looking for them. Maybe the lawyers had told everyone to leave them be, had said the Mackenzies were supposed to be alone. That she was supposed to be alone with Brooke, no Dad, no Maxie, no Mom, barely any Ryan. That's why her mother had just disappeared two days ago after she and Ryan went to school, not leaving a note, not feeding Brooke before she left.
Before she went to the laundry room, Carly sorted the dirty clothes. She'd watched her mother do it enough and certainly the laundry soap commercials on TV had taught her about separating colors: white and darks. Most of Brooke's clothes were white, so Carly decided to do a white load, digging around for her underwear and t-shirts, and then finding a huge tangled white pile in Ryan's room. She didn't want to look at his underwear, something disgusting and knotted about it, so she closed her eyes, and threw them in the basket. He owed her for this. He'd never do her laundry, not brave enough to touch her underwear and bras. He probably only wanted to touch other girls' underwear or at least bras now that he was fifteen. That's what, she imagined, he and Quinn talked about on the way to school, Quinn a sophomore with his license. Carly was sure Ryan did drugs or at least smoked cigarettes, and she wondered if she should look through Ryan's room. But who would she tell if she found anything? Who was the person to call about this? What person could make it all better? But she knew if she called someone, her mother would be in trouble. She just had to hold on until her mother came back and fixed everything.
All the machines were full and churning when Carly got into the laundry room. She knew the minute she gave up, leaving with her basket, someone would empty a washer, and then someone else would fill it up, so she waited, leaning against the cold metal folding counter. She had the baby monitor in her pocket, and every now and then, she heard Brooke turn, an arm banging against the metal guardrail. Once, Brooke said, "Ma!" and Carly swallowed down hard, feeling sick as she breathed in the soapy air.
Finally, Mrs. Candelero from downstairs came in, leaning against the counter with her, both of them listening to the spinning machines.
"So you home today or what?"
"Like duh!" she wanted to say, but she wanted the machine more, so she smiled and nodded.
"Your mother sick I hear. Got that flu that's going around?"
Carly looked over at her, trying to control her forehead, feeling it pull into the fear that framed her face. "Um."
"I saw your brother this morning getting into that car with that kid. You know, the one down the hall from me? I asked after your baby sister and mother, and he said she was fine but your mother was sick. 'I haven't seen her at all," I tell him, and he all but ignores me and gets in the car."
One machine stopped, and Mrs. Candelero opened it, pulling out her son's work coveralls and her nurse uniforms and shoving them in a dryer. Carly stared at the white dress, thinking she could ask Mrs. Candelero about Brooke's 99.1 fever and the red patches on her hips and the new one she found on her thigh. Mrs. Candelero was a real pain, but her hands looked like they could hold a syringe, figure out things that grew on the body, find the reason for a fever in seconds.
"Here it is. Grab it before it's gone."
"It's not going to get any emptier, sweetie." Mrs. Candelero smiled, and Carly put her soap in and then the clothes.
"You need some bleach? You definitely need some bleach for those baby things."
"Oh. Yeah. Thanks." Carly stepped back as Mrs. Candelero poured a half a cup into the special container on the side of the rim. When she breathed in, Carly thought of how her house used to smell after the cleaning service had come, the bathroom so clean her mother swore "We'll eat in there tonight," threatening to set the silverware on the toilet.
"That should do it."
"Thanks, Mrs. Candelero."
"Call me Rosie. Everyone calls me Rosie. I don't know where you got this Mrs. Candelero thingy."
"Okay. That's what our mom tells us--" she stopped, hoping Mrs. Candelero, Rosie, wouldn't pick up the mom conversation again. "Rosie's a nice name."
"It always worked for me. Well, I'll be back. Got to go pay that old fart Ted the rent. Worst day of the month, if you ask me."
Carly nodded and then stopped breathing. Rent. Would her mother have paid it before she left? What about the other bills? The P.G. and E? The water? The first few hours after Carly came home from school to find her mother gone and Brooke wet and crying in her room, she'd torn through the house for clues, a note, her purse with a phone number. But everything was gone--her address book, her wallet, her palm pilot that she didn't use any more. She couldn't even find the bills, so she hoped her mother had paid them or at least taken them with her. That was it, Carly thought, breathing in sharply. She'd pay them from wherever she'd gone. Or she'd be home soon. Very soon. Soon enough to pay rent and find out why Brooke had a fever. Soon enough to buy more formula.
Another one of Rosie's machines stopped, the room banging silent, and Carly carefully pulled out the wet clothes, bras, underwear, shirts, Rosie's son's socks and boxers and put them in a dryer. Before she closed the round glass door, she stared at the pile, seeing a life in the clothes she'd never thought about, the personal, private things all glopped together, showing they were a family. Her loads might be mixed, but they weren't together, Brooke never a part of anything because she was sick, Ryan trying to forget them every single day, and she? She was alone now that her mom and dad were gone. It didn't matter whose underwear was next to hers.
Carly closed the dryer door and loaded the washer with her darks, Ryan's shirts and jeans, her pants and tops. Carly slipped the quarters in their slots, one, two, three, four, listening to them clack in place, ignoring the sounds from the monitor in her basket, her sister's cries, her whine for "Ma, Ma, Ma."
Carly pressed the quarters in with the heel of her hand, liking the hard feel on her skin, the definite, cold sound of the coins sliding into the machine. Putting her arms on either side of the washer lid, she bent down and pressed her cheek on the top and closed her eyes, wishing the whir could scramble her thoughts so that she would forget about rent and bills and Brooke. Especially Brooke.