Saturday, December 30
Once upon a time, there was a Greek god named Apollo. He was in love with a nymph named Daphne. She wanted nothing to do with him, but he would not stop pursuing her. Finally, she asked her river god for help. He turned her into a tree.
I never wanted to be like Daphne. I have always cared for Pat, and I think I always will. Yet somehow, I have become the tree. What just happened?
I wasn’t looking forward to breakfast Saturday morning, but I couldn’t spend the day locked in the guest room. When I went into the kitchen, it didn’t surprise me to see Walter sitting there. However, I was amazed that he only had a slice of toast in front of him.
When I raised my eyebrows, he smiled. “Oh, good. You’re up. I wanted to wait for you to eat.”
I pointed at the toast. He shrugged. “That’s not breakfast. That’s . . . whatever. We have cereal or toast or someone can make you eggs. Not me, but I’m sure someone can.”
I smiled. “I’m not hungry. Toast is fine.”
I left my crutches at the table and limped slowly towards the counter where Walter was standing. “Bread. I can get it. Where is it?”
He pointed to the large pantry, which was more like a walk-in closet. I scanned the shelves, amused to see an actual bread box on one of them. It was kind of cute. I had never met people with a bread box. My mother stored our bread in the freezer.
After I grabbing two slices of wheat bread, I returned the bag to the box and turned to leave. I walked straight into Pat, who had been standing in the doorway. He looked as miserable as I felt and, for a moment, I wondered if I had made the right decision by breaking up.
He automatically grabbed my arms to steady me. My heart stopped, and it took every ounce of strength not to throw my arms around him and kiss him.
Instead, I tried to walk around him. “Sorry.”
“My fault.” He turned sideways so I could pass.
I watched the toaster oven studiously until my bread was the exact golden brown I preferred. By the time I turned back to the table, Pat had left the room.
Walter sat across from me, a large bowl of cereal in one hand, a bowl of melon slices in the other. “So, what would you like to do today? My dad said he’ll bring us to your place whenever, but if it’s okay with you, he wanted to wait until they were ready to leave for the airport.”
“Meaning, is it okay if Pat rides with us?” I picked up a slice of toast I didn’t want.
Walter nodded. “Is it?”
I put down the uneaten toast with a sigh. “Walter? What did I do?”
“Are you saying you didn’t want to break up? Cuz, if you guys got back together, that would make my life a lot easier.”
“Says the guy who opposed it in the first place.” I could feel the edges of my mouth twitch, although I couldn’t actually manage a smile.
“It’s weird when your best friend is dating your brother. But, it got to be fun. I get to hang out with both of you.”
“Oh, good. You’re up.” Mrs. Evans rushed into the room. “Walter, Dave just called. There was an issue with one episode and they want you to redo it.”
Walter shrugged. “No biggie. I have all this week to look it over. When did they want me to go in?”
Walter choked on his cereal. After washing it down with some milk, he turned to his mother. “They want me to go in today? But they didn’t even give me the script. Can’t it wait until I do the next set?”
Mrs. Evans shook her head. “I know. I had the same argument. But Dave said it had to be done this week. They booked you for one at the New York studio.”
“What about Melinda? Can she come?” He turned to me. “Do you want to?”
“Sounds like fun.”
Mrs. Evans nodded absently. “I’ll call your mother. Work out the details.”
Staring out the window of the commuter rail, I watching Fairfield County zoom past in amusement. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve been on the train.”
“It’s boring.” Meghan didn’t even bother looking up from her phone.
Walter glared at his sister. “You know, you don’t actually have to babysit us. I think I can find my way to the studio. I’ve been there, oh, I don’t know. A couple thousand times?”
“Melinda doesn’t know her way around the city, and I don’t want anything happening to her. So what if she broke up with Pat? I’m still keeping her as my little sister.”
Walter turned to me. “Hey. I gotta know. What did you end up making for Pat?”
“Ask him. I left it on his bed before I left.” When Walter took out his phone, I sank back in my seat. “I didn’t mean right now!”
I wasn’t sure why Pat didn’t reply, but I was grateful. I didn’t want to think about Pat or his Christmas present. It hurt too much.
I stared out the window, watching the houses and trees for the rest of the journey.
Even though I hadn’t been to the city in a couple of years, it felt like nothing had changed. I loved the sights and smells of the city and didn’t mind walking through the crowded streets in the cold. Walter and Meghan led me straight to the heart of Times Square. I kept my eyes peeled for the recording studio, figuring it would be as large and flashy as the television studios we had passed. I was more than a little surprised when Walter opened a door between a restaurant and a hair salon.
The small lobby reminded me of the medical building where my pediatrician’s office was located. The room was tiny, just large enough for two elevators with a directory in between. The tile floor was clean, and the walls had some still-life paintings, but overall it wasn’t very inviting.
We exited the elevator at the tenth floor and I stopped to look out the window at the amazing view below. Miniscule people crowded on the sidewalk while tiny cars navigated the busy street.
Walter called to me as he held open a door. “You coming?”
“Sorry. It’s just—the view is amazing.”
Walter smiled. “There’s an even better one inside.”
As soon as he closed the door, the balding, middle-aged man stood up behind his curved desk. “Wally!” He came around the front to shake Walter’s hand. “Good to see you.”
“Hey, Steve. Dave filled you in?”
The man nodded. “Something about retakes?”
Walter nodded. “Revisions, actually. It turns out some facts were wrong in this episode. So, they rewrote the script and—you know how it goes.”
I had no idea what Walter was talking about, but the man must have, since he nodded knowingly.
Meghan headed back towards the door. “I’m heading home for a little while. I’ll be back at five. Text me if you’re done earlier than that, okay?”
The man led me and Walter down a hall to a room labeled Studio 3. Inside, I found two couches and a table with a lot of equipment. It was facing a darkened window.
Walter again held the door for me. “Want a quick tour?”
I nodded, and he brought me to another door beside the table. When he opened it, light flooded the darkened window. The room wasn’t much larger than the stall in a public restroom, with all the walls covered in a black foam shaped like an egg carton. A window looked back towards the lounge, where the balding man was fiddling with some equipment on the table.
A music stand stood near the window, with a microphone hovering above it, suspended from the ceiling. There was a large black circle in front of the microphone and a set of headphones sitting on the stand.
“This is the booth.” Walter placed his backpack on the stool in front of the stand. He pulled out a tablet, placing it on the stand. “My agent sent me the script. It’s what I was looking at while we were on the train. So, it goes here and I talk into this mic.”
I pointed to the microphone. “What’s that circley thing?”
“That’s the pop screen. Say the word pop.”
I did, though I had no idea why.
“You hear that popping sound you make at the end? The puh? The screen gets rid of that sound.”
Walter smiled. “Magic. I’m not really sure. I’ll look it up on the way home. Anyway, this is where I’m going to be.”
“What are the headphones for?”
“It’s how I hear. My director is going to call in and listen to the session. He’ll be able to talk to me through the headphones. The other voices have already been recorded, so I’m going to be talking back to them. I’ll be able to hear that in the headphones, too.”
“Sounds fun. Where’s the screen?” I looked around.
“The television screen. So you can see the cartoon while you’re recording it.”
Walter smiled. “We don’t do that here.”
“Victor’s on the line,” the man announced from the table.
“One sec.” Walter turned to me. “Why don’t you sit on the couches over there? I usually work about twenty minutes before taking a break. If you get bored, there’s a lounge right through those doors. Amazing view.”
I nodded and settled myself on the couch as Walter shut the door and put on the headphones.
“Can you hear me?” Walter’s voice flooded the room from some overhead speakers I couldn’t see.
Steve nodded and gave Walter a thumbs up. Walter continued talking. “Okay. Patch Victor through.”
“Hey, Wally,” an unfamiliar voice greeted.
“Sorry about the short notice.”
“Not a problem. Just settling in here.” I saw Walter adjusting his seat, the microphone, and stand. “Okay. I think I’m all set on my end.”
I heard Victor give instructions to Steve and a moment later, I heard the voice of C.I.Amy coming through the ceiling.
“Okay, Sammy. What’ve you got?”
“My server’s down,” Walter replied in a frantic voice. “We’re gonna have a do it—We’re gonna have this—My server’s down. We’re gonna have to do this the old-fashioned way.”
Victor’s voice interrupted. “Wally? Try sounding less panicked, more excited. Sammy gets to look through books for research.”
Walter nodded, sipping from a water bottle he had pulled from his backpack. After placing it on the floor, he pointed at Steve. I again heard Amy’s line, then Walter’s voice.
“My server’s down,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone. I watched through the window as Walter started bouncing in his seat. “We’re gonna have to do this the old-fashioned way!”
I giggled at Walter’s silly tone, but the director seemed to like it, since he moved on.
After about twenty minutes, Walter called for a break. The director promised he would review the episode to this point, which was only about ten minutes, including the parts that did not involve Walter. Walter placed his headphones on the stand and came out of the room, sitting beside me.
“I thought you just came in and talked. I didn’t realize you had to do so many takes.”
“This isn’t too bad, because I’ve done some of this episode already. We’re just fixing some lines. A lot of the time is going to be the director reviewing, like he is now. Hey, do you want a snack or anything?”
I shook my head. “Nah, I’m good for now. Um, do you mind if I go into that other room you said? I wanna call Sarah.”
I nodded. “I haven’t told her about me and Pat. I didn’t think it was something I should text.”
Walter gave me a hug. “I’ll come check on you during my next break, okay?”
Even though I was awake, I didn’t want to go running on Saturday morning. I didn’t really want to do much of anything. But Walter wouldn’t take no for an answer. He sat on my bed.
“Come on, buddy. Time to get up.”
“Go away.” I pulled the covers over my head.
“You know I won’t. Come on. A run will make you feel better.”
I peeked my head back out. “Yeah, cuz you’re the expert.”
“If you don’t run, Dad’s gonna think you’re sick.”
“Good. Then I won’t have to go to stupid LA.”
Walter smirked. “Oh, you’ll still have to go. But he won’t let you fly.”
I swore. Walter was right. I got dressed and followed my brother outside. I wasn’t sure if he was running extra hard on purpose, or if I was just having trouble in my sneakers since he was wearing his cleats. Whatever the case, I had a difficult time keeping up with him. By the time we finished, I was angry and didn’t want to lift weights. I stomped off to my room.
Between skipping supper and a punishing run, I eventually grew hungry. I went downstairs to scrounge around for breakfast and found Walter making something on the counter. I didn’t think much of it. He was always eating.
I went to the pantry to find the cereal and froze in the doorway. Melinda was standing by the bread box without her crutches. She turned around and bumped right into me. Instinctively, I reached out to steady her.
Breaking up had meant nothing. I still felt an electric charge surge through my body and my heart started racing.
“Sorry.” She looked at the ground as she tried to get around me.
I turned sideways to let her pass. “My fault.”
I had lost my appetite again. I grabbed a banana and glanced at Melinda. She was studying the toaster as if it were the most fascinating thing in the world. I went to brood in my room.
Dad popped his head into my room a little while later. “Are you packed for Chicago?”
I was lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, and didn’t really process what he had said. “Huh?”
“I said, are you packed for Chicago?”
There was a spot on my ceiling I had never noticed before. How long had that been there? “Not yet.”
“Wanna talk about it?”
Apparently, I don’t want to talk about it was an invitation for Dad to sit at the foot of my bed.
“Did you and your brother have a fight?”
I had no choice. I had to look at him. “No. What makes you think that?”
“He asked me to spot him this morning. Since when has he been able to bench his weight?”
When I didn’t respond, Dad tried a different tactic. “Is this about LA?”
I shook my head. “I just don’t want to talk about it.”
Dad clapped my leg a few times as he stood. “Fine. But you better pack before your mother catches you moping.”
It didn’t take me long to pack. My duffel was in my closet, exactly where I had thrown it yesterday. I threw the dirty clothes into the hamper and picked out some clean ones. I made sure to pack an outfit I could wear to church tomorrow, figuring I could keep it on for the interview. It would probably be fine for the ball drop, too. No. I would be outside. I wanted jeans and a sweater for that.
When I was done, I dropped the bag near my bedroom door, right where my parents could trip over it if they wanted to know if I had packed. Halfway back to my bed, I saw my Christmas present. I knew it was from Melinda. Who else would leave it there?
I approached it slowly, as I might a wild animal. Or a bomb. Giving it a wide berth, I sat with my back against the headboard, staring at the package by my feet. The wrapping paper had cartoon reindeer tangled in Christmas lights. It was a square shape, but with rounded edges. What could she have made me? I was dying to know, but I was scared to open it.
I lost track of time, but an hour or so later, my phone signaled a text from Walter asking about the present. Apparently, she wouldn’t tell him what she had made and said he should ask me. I didn’t respond, but I took it as a sign that I should open the gift.
Despite the bulky size, it wasn’t very heavy. I opened it slowly, curious what she could have been spending so much time working on. It was one of those blankets tied in knots at the end. One side was black, one of my favorite colors. Flipping it over, I saw alternating squares in two different shades of gray. It matched my room so well, I couldn’t help wondering if she had somehow seen it before yesterday.
There was a pocket knotted into one corner of the black side. At first, I thought the blanket would fold into it. But, when I peered in, I found a dark gray bag containing small squares. I wasn’t sure what she had used to make them, but it was a type of fabric that they didn’t stick together. Each black square was about two inches tall with a single letter hand-written in a silver marker. I didn’t have to count them. I knew there were one hundred and fifty-six letters. Melinda had made me a Weddas game blanket.
I snapped a picture and sent it to Walter. I had just folded it and placed it at the end of my bed when there was a knock on my door.
“Are you—” Dad swore as he tripped over my bag. “I guess you’re packed. Mom wants to leave soon.”
“Why? The interview’s not even until tomorrow.”
“Your mother has an audition scheduled this afternoon. She told you that.”
“No, she didn’t.”
“She told you days ago. I was there. Now, stop brooding and let’s go.”
“I’m not—” I didn’t bother arguing. I grabbed my bag and followed my father to the car.
Walter was in New York for the day. Somehow, I had missed that important piece of news. It was just me and my parents. Mom was still angry about yesterday and nervous about her audition. I sat in the backseat with headphones and ignored them all the way to the airport.
When we got to the hangar, Dad opened the plane while I carried our luggage aboard. It was just the three of us with small bags, so there was no need to open the cargo hatch. I threw them into the hold through the access door in the bathroom. When I entered the cockpit, Dad was sitting in my seat. He usually let me fly and he would assist. Apparently, that would not be the case today.
I tried to put humor in my voice as I sat in the right-hand chair. “I didn’t think the landing was that bad yesterday.”
Dad didn’t get angry as easily as Mom, but I could tell he was upset with me when he responded. “You’re not flying today. Not with whatever it is going on with you. I want you monitoring, but if you can’t do that, let me know before we take off.”
The words stung more than the tone. I avoided his eye, and I was sure my tone was less than polite as I took my seat.
“I’ll be fine.” Flying was more exhilarating than driving, and I knew this was some kind of punishment. First my girlfriend breaks up with me, now my father wouldn’t let me fly. What else could go wrong?
Melinda is always trying to build her vocabulary. What were some words in this episode that were new to you? She will add them to her vocabulary journal.