Episode 115

Melinda’s Story

Melinda’s story will return in Episode 116.

Pat’s Story

A few years ago, I got into the habit of waking up at dawn to go running. Somewhere along the way, my brother had gotten into the habit of joining me. At home, we built a track around the perimeter of the house. At school, I designed a three-mile course through town.

Unfortunately, once the paths became icy, we had to move to the indoor suspended track. Although we hated running inside, it had a few perks. No one was ever around first thing in the morning. Plus, we could run beside each other and have a conversation.

As we hit our stride Sunday morning, I brought up the new girl. “So, how’re things going with Erica?”

“Well, when I walked her home last night, I kissed her.”

“Walter! Did you learn nothing from the girl with red hair?” Walter’s last relationship had ended because things were moving too fast for him.

“When I walked her home last night,” Walter repeated with emphasis, “I kissed her on the cheek and asked if I could spend some time alone today to just talk.”

“Are you going to ask her out?”

Walter shrugged. “I’m going to talk to her about what happened with Zayne. Maybe Ava and Bella, but mostly Zayne. And if she’s not scared away and if she’s willing to go slow, then yeah. I might ask her out.”

“Looks like my little brother isn’t so little anymore.” When Walter winced, I sent him a look of concern. “What?”

“It’s just . . . that’s what Chloe said yesterday. Only much more . . . lasciviously.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

“The way she was talking . . . she kind of sounded like she wanted to go make out or something. It was really . . . creepy.” Walter shuddered involuntarily.

“What’d she say?”

“Well, it wasn’t so much what she said as how she said it. Basically, it was something about how she used to see me as Meghan’s little brother, but I’m not so little anymore.”

I shook my head. “Something’s not right with her. She hasn’t been herself for a while. If it makes you feel any better, she said more or less the same thing to me when she kissed me.”

“She what? When?”

I waved a dismissive hand. “I told you about this. Back in the fall, when Meghan was in the hospital? I walked Chloe home, and she kissed me. I told her no, and she never brought it up again.”

“What’s going on with her?”

“I honestly have no idea. If you really want to help her, I suggest you tell Meghan what’s going on.”

Sunday was my third detention, and I wasn’t surprised to see some familiar faces. My two former roommates were passing notes. Melinda’s dean, Sally, was the dean on duty this weekend, and she narrowed her eyes at them more than once.

Just before detention started, Chloe dragged herself into the room. Four months ago, when she was still one of my closest friends, I described her to someone as being gorgeous enough to be a supermodel. This morning, she was the farthest thing from it. She wore baggy pajama pants and a rumpled sweatshirt. Her hair looked uncombed, and her eyes weren’t quite right.

Chloe was halfway to her boyfriend when Sally called to her. “Miss Striker. Please come sit over here. With me.” She gestured to a desk near mine.

Everyone in the room snickered. One of the reasons Chloe was even here was because she and Zach had been making out in detention a couple of weeks ago. I just shook my head and opened my math book as Sally began reciting the rules for any newcomers.

I was one of the few students using detention to complete homework. Most of my peers were just staring off into space. Since tomorrow was Service Day, there were no classes. Most likely, no one saw the point in getting any of their work done in advance. I, however, had been exposed to some bad influences.

Melinda and Walter had an annoying habit of doing their homework at least a day in advance. Thanks to all my Sunday detentions, I was doing the same thing. After I finished my math assignment for tomorrow night, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to complete Tuesday night’s as well. Then, I did two night’s worth of Latin assignments. I even finished my biology assignment before detention was over.

That put me in an excellent mood as I headed to lunch. It didn’t surprise me to see Walter’s new girlfriend at the table. I was surprised, however, that Melinda was missing.

I looked at my brother. “Where’s Melinda?”

Walter shrugged, taking a large bite of his chicken sandwich. “Shill uh thurth, I fink.”

I shook my head, although his girlfriend didn’t seem too offended by his horrible table manners. Actually, she didn’t even seem to be paying him too much attention. She was busy texting someone.

I ate my lunch quickly, then headed back to my dorm. On the way, I pulled out my phone to text Melinda. Before I could, it played Grease Monkey. I glanced at the messages, then called the number. As I entered my room, Brody’s face filled my screen.

I frowned at him. “Hey. I thought you were dancing with Melinda this afternoon.”

“That was my plan. My car had its own agenda. I was hoping you could help me.”

I narrowed my eyes. “What did you have in mind?”

“My dad and I agreed to buy a new battery. I called the store, paid for it over the phone. But my parents are working and none of my other friends can have passengers yet. There’s no one around to give me a ride to the store.”

I shook my head. “Can’t do it. No passengers til March.”

Brody swore. “I had a feeling you were going to say that.”

“However, I was about to run to the grocery store. If you leave my name, will they let me pick up the battery? I can swing by and drop it off.”

Brody put his hands together, almost as if in prayer. “If you could, you would be a lifesaver.”

“Okay. Call the store. Tell them Pat Evans is picking it up for you. Then text me the store address and your address. Got all that?”

Brody sent me a confused look. “Who’s Pat Evans?”

I covered my eyes with my hand and sighed. “Brody? Just do it. I’ll be there in an hour.”

As I walked into the grocery store, I realized I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to buy. Just inside the door was a display of name-brand snacks. I grabbed a cart and headed toward the snack aisle.

I was responsible for buying provisions for six people, so I figured I should make the most of my money. I grabbed a bag of nachos and a bag of potato chips for me and Melinda. I grabbed four different bottles of soda for the rest of the under-formers. Because I went generic, I had enough money left over to buy a container of dip.

Despite its small population, Oakville was actually a sizeable town. The grocery store and auto parts store were in opposite corners. When I finally got there, I had to wait a while to talk to a clerk. There weren’t even that many people in the store. The three salespeople were just engaged in endless conversations.

Finally, one of them turned to me. “Can I help you?”

“My name is Pat Evans. My friend bought a battery. I’m picking it up.”

“I just had that. Where did I put it?”

It took two guys nearly ten minutes to find the battery. I plugged Brody’s address into the map program on my phone. He didn’t live that far from my school. I recognized the silver sedan in the driveway. I pulled up next to it.

Brody answered the door and invited me in. The house was small. There was no entryway. One step inside and I was in the living room.

Brody looked around. “Where’s my battery?”

“Still in my car. The thing is heavy.”

“So, um, you probably have to get back to school, but I was wondering if you had any advice about how to change the battery?”

“I’ve never tried it. But,” I held up my phone, “how hard can it be?”

Two hours later, my fingers were frozen. I was regretting volunteering to help. Brody had opened the garage and, putting the car in neutral, the two of us pushed the thing inside. Although we were dry, it was colder in the garage than it was outside.

After we unfastened the old battery, it took us a lot longer than it should have to muscle it out. Brody wanted to use some canned air to clean out the area before putting in the new battery, but he had forgotten where his father stored it.

I waited until we were ready for the new battery before taking it out of my car. The thing weighed about as much as a toddler. As soon as we brought it to the car, I realized we had a problem.

“Hey, Brody? Are you sure this is the right battery?”

Brody sent me a confused look. “Aren’t all batteries the same?”

“They don’t look the same.”

Even though they were about the same size, the two batteries looked nothing alike. The old one curved into different compartments and may have been silver once upon a time. It had a yellow top, while the terminals had black and red covers. Conversely, the new battery was a simple black box with silver terminals.

While Brody searched his phone to make sure the batteries were compatible, I grabbed the manual from the glove compartment and took a look. It took us nearly thirty minutes, but ultimately, we determined I would not need to go back to the store.

We wrestled the new battery into the car, only to realize we put it in backwards. We had to pull it back out and try again. Finally, we were able to lube it up and fasten everything back into place.

Brody got into the car and turned on the ignition. The engine started immediately. With a whoop, he backed out of the garage. When he returned, I held out my grease-covered fingers.

Brody laughed. “Come on in, man. I owe you a soda.”

I followed him through the garage into a mudroom, where we both kicked off our boots. We passed through a kitchen smaller than my dorm room, and he pointed to the bathroom in the hallway. As I washed my hands, I realized this wasn’t a guest bathroom. Judging by the three bath towels on the hook behind the door, this was probably the only bathroom in the entire house.

Until I met Melinda, I had never really considered how big my house was. I was still getting used to the idea that not everyone had indoor pools and movie theaters. But there was something quaint and humble about this house. It felt comfortable and lived-in. I immediately felt completely at home.

When I returned to the kitchen, Brody was washing his hands in the sink. As he dried them, he pointed through a doorway to the living room. “I was going to watch the basketball game. Want to join me?”

I glanced at the clock. I had plenty of time before I had to be back on campus. I turned back to Brody. “Who’s playing?”

Brody and I jumped to our feet, shouting at the television as we watched a player on the blue team take the ball across the court and dunk it in the unmanned basket. “Gogogogo, YES!”

Brody collapsed back on the couch as the game went to commercial. “They might still have a chance.”

I pointed over my shoulder. “Hey. You mind if I get a drink?”

“Sure.” Brody waved toward the kitchen. “Help yourself.”

I peered into the fridge. There was a case of beer, two cases of diet cola, and a small container of milk. Making a face, I searched the cabinets for a glass for water.

“Game’s back.”

I returned just in time to see the other team score. I swore as I sat down.

Brody gave me a funny look. “You know, I never would have pegged you for a sports guy. I figured you were some prissy actor too good for sports.”

“Well, I’m not a super athlete or anything. But I enjoy watching them. What about you? I figured you were some prissy dancer too good for sports.”

Brody laughed as he nodded to the television. “I played for my middle school team.”

“That’s cool. My brother was always on some team or other. I couldn’t commit to something like that with my schedule.”

“Nonono!” Brody swore again as the other team stole the ball and scored another just before the final buzzer.

I checked the time. “I’d better be getting back on campus. We were going to grab dinner before the big game.”

“Hey, thanks for hanging out with me today. And thanks for helping me with my car.”

I headed toward the front door. “I had fun. It’s been a while since I’ve just watched a game. Between me and my brother, girls have been getting in the way.”

After exchanging fist bumps, I headed out into the cold.

Attention Hammerheads

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.