“Charlie! Charlie! CHARLIE!”
You close your book and hold your breath, hoping they’ll get distracted by play dough or glitter, but you already hear them pounding up the stairs.
“Charlie, come help us with our poster!”
You consider hiding in the closet with Salman Rushdie, but they’ve already barged into your room.
“Charlie! Charlie, what are you doing? You’re reading again? What are you reading? Can you help us finish the sign for our lemonade stand?”
You sigh and toss your book on the bed. They never. Stop. Talking.
“It’s called Midnight’s Children. Why can’t you guys finish it yourselves?”
Anna gets up on your bed and starts jumping.
“Mom says we can’t use the scissors by ourselves because of the incident.”
“You mean when you lost a pigtail?”
Now Adam climbs up and they start jumping in an alternate rhythm. You close your eyes and rub your temples.
“Isn’t there a camp you guys could be terrorizing?”
“No spots left for kindergartners,” Adam answers matter-of-factly.
You gaze at them thoughtfully. “If I help you with this, will you leave me alone for the rest of the day?”
They stop jumping.
“Yes!” they both hiss in creepy twin unison.
You agree and follow the bouncing crazies down the stairs to the kitchen. After carefully cutting out their decorations, checking their spelling, and supervising their glitter usage, you look at your watch.
They run out the door without an answer, carrying their supplies, so you assume you’re free to leave.
“Remember, you can’t bother me now!” you call after them as you head up the stairs.
“Oh, Charlie, I’m glad you’re still here.”
It’s your dad, just home from work. You look up at the two remaining steps between you and the top of the stairs. So close.
“Listen, can you run those boxes from the garage over to the storage unit? It’d be a big help.”
You don’t want to be a big help. You want to be that weird, reclusive kid who reads all day and ends up getting a full ride to Princeton.
“Sure,” you manage to say, turning around and trudging back down.
“Some of them are pretty heavy,” your dad continues, tossing the mail on the table, “so, you know, lift with your legs.”
You arrive at the unit and unlock it, sliding the door up. How many trips out there had you already made? It still wasn’t even half full. You wrestle the boxes out of the car and stack them against the wall. You sit down, sweating. What the hell is even in them? You cut a slit in the tape with your key and pry one open. Books? They keep a collection of porcelain cats on display for all to see but books they send to the unit? And good ones, too. Your eyes scan the spines. Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Woolf, Vonnegut, Salinger.
No. You’ll tell them these have to come back. You lean against the boxes and close your eyes for a few minutes. The twins are probably done selling lemonade for the day, all hopped up on sugar and ready to relate their experience to anyone who will listen. Even to those who will decidedly not listen.
You take your time driving home.
After dinner, your dad is getting Adam and Anna ready for bed when your mom pulls you aside.
“Hey, Charlie,” she begins pleasantly. “Can you make one more run out to the unit tonight?”
“Seriously? It’s 7:30.”
“Oh, are you going out? With friends?” She sounded hopeful.
“Well, it won’t take long. I just cleared out the rest of the furniture we don’t use and I was really hoping to start organizing the garage, but I can’t do it with all that stuff sitting there—”
“Oh, yeah,” you break in. “What’s with moving all the books out to storage?”
Your mom shrugs. “Just not enough space.”
“Can I bring them back? If I keep them in my room?”
She hands you the keys with a sly smile.
“Want to go get them now?”
The sun is still hot as it lowers in the sky. You unload the rocking chair, wicker patio set, and air mattress. You scoot them toward the middle of the unit and step back, surveying the room. You’ve never really looked closely before. There are boxes of clothes, Halloween costumes, and baby stuff you hope your parents never need again. There are a few desk fans and random office supplies. You turn away, moving to pick up a box of books, but you stop.
You run back to the car and rummage around until you find what you’re looking for. A book light: one of those cheapo ones that clips on. You must have ten of them scattered throughout the house. You jog back to the storage unit, smiling. You set to work, dragging the rocking chair away from everything else. You place a wicker end table next to it and try out a few battery-powered fans until you find one that still works. You set it on the table. You drag the first box of books over to the chair and survey the titles. You pick Crime and Punishment, one you’ve been wanting to read, and toss it on the chair.
You want to stay, but you know it’s not the time. The twins are in bed and you have a night of peace ahead of you. No, the time will be at 9:15 the next morning when Anna won’t leave you alone about her bug collection. Or at noon when you’re trying to eat and Adam calls you from the bathroom, asking you to help him wipe. You could slip away before your dad gets home and devises another woodworking project to strengthen your handiness, and before your mom sucks you into another of her cleaning and organizing missions. But you really can’t be too hard on your parents. After all, they gave you this. And it just might save your summer.
by Sue Langford