Minus One and Reality Check

How's everyone been?

With an asteroid hurtling through the atmosphere, a gargoyle turning in his cape and our government continuing to display their complete inability to govern, current events haven't been dull! But thanks to my favorite TV news sources (The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and Real Time with Bill Maher) they've been quite chuck-a-licious!

Tonight we are minus one - Isaac. He's having his first sleep-over - AT his friend's house! We're just so happy that the benefits of having at least one friend have sunk in. He's been giddy as a - well - school boy about it all week. Last week Isaac was on vacation from school and Ben took that week off from work. Last Thursday they went to the Museum of Science; then Friday Ben took Isaac and his friend to the Museum of Fine Arts. He summed up the trip most eloquently: "For the amount of boobs and butts, they did pretty good." Then on Saturday Isaac went to his friend's house for the afternoon and came home bursting with the news of the sleep-over and counted the days until today.

His attitude this morning was chock-full-of-suckiness for a while - arguing, stomping and general obnoxiousness. But after an hour in his room and a threatening of no sleep-over (ironically, more of a punishment for us...) straightened him out. Ben dropped him off around 1:00 and it's been blissfully quiter.... Shiloh has been her goofy, loud charming self.

The week of Isaac's vacation I actually worked a full-time schedule. There was a training going on all week in the main conference room and my supervisor had the week off. I offered to stay until close so my colleagues wouldn't have any extra work. Unfortunately, an e-mail from my supervisor yesterday stressing the constriction of any overtime (in my case an time past my allotted 25 hours) needs to be approved and justified. Doesn't look like a full-time bump is in my future.

I also received confirmation that the short story I submitted to the Children's Writer Newsletter YA contest went - nowhere. Alas, at lest now I can shop it around. The story that won was pretty awesome and the newsletter provided a few tips to the rest of us losers (there were 1200 submissions) that I'll take to heart. But below is my humble submission in all its glory. Hope you enjoy!


Tap,tap, tap. I spin aroundand freeze. It’s Bethany. Normally my stomach knots like a pretzel at a glimpseof her campfire-orange curls. But as her lips curl up in a bright smile,revealing straight, pearly-white teeth freshly freed from braces, I just smileback - my stomach’s like a rock.
“What’sup?” I bump my locker door shut with my elbow. The traffic in the hallway isthick and a gaggle of giggling sophomore girls bumps into Bethany as theybarrel ahead. She tumbles into me and grabs my arms for balance.
Shestraightens, tucks some loose tendrils of hair behind her ears and clears herthroat. “Shawn, I just wanted to say that I thought your model of the universe,was like, totally awesome.”
            Myheart soars. Normally I’d be stammering a response with a tongue that’s swelledthree times its size, but this time I smirk and give a casual shrug. “That’scool. Thanks.”
THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD! Bethany and the hallway vanish as myeyes pop open. The glowing red digits of my alarm clock read 11:30 p.m.
There’sa soft click and my door slowly opens. Five-year-old Jimmy, with his thumbjammed in his mouth and his blanket trailing from his other hand, shuffles in.Something must really be wrong because he hasn’t sucked his thumb in months.
Iblink a couple of times, sit up, pat my bed and say through a yawn, “Come here,bud. What’s up?”
Hepulls his thumb from his mouth, scampers over, dives into bed and scramblesunderneath the covers.
Thelast time Jimmy sucked his thumb was after we broke Mom and Dad’s fancy, newwine pitcher – no – their decanter– playing catch with the Nerf football. He was petrified and I told him not toworry; Dad’s pretty cool about accidents and would smooth things out with Mom.Instead Dad came unglued and screamed at me for like twenty minutes! Going onabout not having respect for our things and how money’s a “precious commodity”!Jeez! I still don’t get what the big deal was - they could just buy a new one.
Jimmypops up next to me and whispers, “When I went to the bathroom I heard Mommy andDaddy fighting and Mommy started crying.”
Alead ball of dread thuds in my gut and I wish I could be transported back to mydream. They hardly ever fight! Well….things have been off since Mom decided to stopworking – I was totally shocked because she always crowed about how much she loved her job.Dad’s freak out over the decanter happened right after she told us. A month agothey got rid of their cars and got an older mini-van that doesn’t even haveTVs! Now Mom drops Dad off at the train station every morning then comes hometo get us ready for school.
Wedidn’t really get a lot of new clothes and stuff for school this year, either.Jimmy got more than me! He’s only five and doesn’t have the pressure of tryingto look cool! Since Mom and Dad obviously don’t care that I’m the only one ofmy friends without a smart phone, I started saving some of the money I earnedthrough my lawn mowing and dog walking jobs over the summer. I have almost twohundred dollars.
Igive Jimmy a quick squeeze. “It’ll be okay, bud. I promise. I’ll go see what’sgoing on.”
Itoss the covers aside and gooseflesh puckers on my bare skin. I fish asweatshirt out of the pile of clothes Mom asked me to put in my hamperyesterday and throw it on. I turn back to Jimmy; his thumb plugs his mouth andhe’s rubbing the blanket against his cheek. I wink at him. He pulls his thumbout and tries to imitate me, but just blinks hard with his mouth in a wide O. Ichuckle, turn and creep toward the sliver of light slicing through the blackhallway, feeling kinda like a secret agent on a mission.
AsI inch closer to their bedroom, I hear hushed voices but can’t make out thewords. I drop to my hands and knees, crawl the last few feet and press my earto the crack.
“Yousaid you were definitely getting a bonus! What are we going to do?! I haveanother interview this week, but that’s no guarantee they’ll hire me! We can’teven afford Halloween costumes for thekids at this point – and forget about Christmas!” Mom stops and makes astuttering-sob-snarfing sound then a bleating nose-blow. 
“Whatdo you want from me? I was told at the beginning of the year to expect a bonus.Dave said today it’s not happening! I’ve been circulating my resume, but youknow the state of the economy - ” Dad’s voice starts rising then he stops.
Forwhat feels like forever there’s no sound other than Mom’s strangled, raggedbreaths and nose honks. Then Dad says, “Look, we’re doing all we can. If thekids can’t have new Halloween costumes this year - it really isn’t the end of the world. Besides wasn’t Shawnsaying just tonight that he’s too old to for trick-or-treating? And Jimmy’sonly five. We can think of something for him.”
Thisreality smack sends me skulking back to my room. Now I know why the tensionaround here has been so thick it could’ve been cut with a knife. I’m alsototally ticked off that Mom and Dad are going to shrug off getting me a costumebut I don’t know why. Back in my room, Jimmy’s still frozen in the sameposition.
“Don’tworry,” I whisper, tuck him in, lie down next to him and fall asleep.
Iawake to a bright, shiny room and an empty bed. The conversation I overheard isstill stuck in my head. I don’t know why I’m ticked that Mom and Dad want toignore me for Halloween – I really am too old for trick-or-treating.
ButJimmy’s not.
Anidea shoots through me like a bolt of lightning. I toss my covers aside, hopout of bed, scoop up the pile of dirty clothes and stuff them in my hamper.Then I get dressed and race down
the hall. Mom’scleaning up the kitchen, Jimmy’s watching Diego on TV and through the glassdeck door I see Dad marching behind the lawn mower.
“I’llbe back in a few, Mom!”
“Whereare you going?”
“Tothe store!” I bolt to the garage before she can grill me.
            SinceDad had to take the lawn mower out, the garage door is open. I pull my helmetoff its peg, strap it on, hop on my bike, zoom out of the garage and down thestreet.
            Momand Dad will be so totally happy when I get back! I peddle furiously to the firstintersection, zag right, whiz passed houses and trees, zig the third left,rocket to the end of that street and sail into the shopping plaza on the right.I park in front of the Halloween Spirit store, knock the kickstand down, hopoff my bike and barge in. I scan the room and zero in on the “Kids Costumes”. Isift through them. There are TWO skeleton costumes! I yank them from the shelf– one of them is a small! SWEET!
            Itoss the other back then weave through the displays to the register counter.The bored-looking cashier with black-streaked blonde hair scans the barcode andsays, “Twenty-eight, forty-five.”
            Itug my wallet out, slip three tens from the fold and drop them on the counter.She swipes up the bills, hands me my change, drops the costume in a plastic bagand holds it out.
            “Thanks.Have a good one.”
            Inod, snag the bag, dash for my bike and speed home. I glide into the garage,rip my helmet off, hang it back on its peg and push the door open.
           “Shawn!Where did you go?!” Mom sounds steamed.
            Istifle my flaring temper, raise the bag and say, “I got Jimmy that skeletoncostume.  I thought I could takehim trick-or-treating on Halloween.”
            Mom’sangry, furrowed brow softens. She gasps and presses a hand to her mouth andholds the other one out. I hand her the bag; instead she takes my arm and pullsme in for a tight hug. I feel like I’m suffocating but resist the urge to pushaway, and hug her back.
            Shereleases me, wipes her hand under her eyes, straightens, sniffs then beams asmile.
            “Shawn,you are a wonderful son and brother. Why don’t you go show Jimmy? He’ll be sothrilled.”
            Igrin back. “Alright. Hey, Jimmy!”
            Excitementcourses through my veins as I dash to Jimmy’s room. “I’ve got a surprise foryou!


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