I knew we were dead the moment the baseball crashed through the living room window...
I knew we were dead the moment the baseball crashed through the living room window. The floral print, canvas curtains shivered in the new breeze. I shivered in my beat-up tennis shoes. I rolled the bat under the sagging couch and scrambled upstairs behind Jeremy. There, panting on the floor of our bedroom, I decided my tombstone would read, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” For surely, Mom was going to kill us.
“Baseball in the house.” Jeremy slapped his hands to his forehead. “What a stupid idea.” He shoved me with his shoulder.
“Me? You threw the ball first.”
“You were just supposed to bunt it, dummy.” Jeremy had always acted superior, but now that he was in the 8th grade he was just plain stuck up. He was shaving now, and I was just starting to wear deodorant.
I don’t know why we were hiding out, since we were alone. Survival instincts I guess. Every day we had 3 hours between the end of school and the time Mom came home. This was the first year she decided Jeremy was old enough to watch me and we didn’t have to go to the after school daycare. And now we had ruined it. Ruined it within a month.
Once the shock wore off we crept downstairs to survey the damage. A spiderweb of cracks surrounded the jagged-edged hole in the window. The incriminating ball lay on the back lawn, broken glass forming a trail to it like stardust behind a comet.
“We’re dead. We are so dead,” I whispered. “Who’s gonna tell her?”
“No one. We’ll fix this ourselves.” He stuck a fist in my face. "You better get good at keeping secrets right now or it's back to after school daycare."
My heart was in my throat. It was no secret that I was a blabbermouth, but I didn’t want to spend one more afternoon of my life coloring with little kids after school. Jeremy ordered me to clean up the glass while he put tape over the hole in the window. “We can’t let mosquitoes in,” he explained. After he was done he closed the curtains over it.
Dinner that night was the most excruciating experience of my life. I set the table without complaint. Jeremy and I didn’t bicker once. My gaze wandered toward the window like a dog to trash. I tried to concentrate on anything else. Which meant I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. Did the curtain just flutter? Could you hear the neighbors more clearly? I jumped up mid-bite and turned on the radio.
“Louis.” Mom’s brown eyes could see through walls. “Turn it off. Dinner is our time to talk. Tell me boys, anything exciting happen today?” She was still wearing a suit from work, although she had kicked off her pumps at the front door.
Jeremy gave me a look that meant if I snitched he would strangle me before Mom could. I sat back down. Jeremy told her about a math test. Probably made up. I just smeared the mac and cheese around my plate with my fork. I didn’t feel much like eating.
The next three days Jeremy worked me like an animal. He told Ms. Jensen I would be happy to mow her lawn for her. After wrestling with the rusty lawn mower, she only paid me $3 instead of $8 because my work wasn’t up to her standards. She didn’t see it but I spit on her stupid lawn after she closed the door. Then I had to do the Sanchez’s lawn and walk Mr. Baker’s dog. Every day, Jeremy had a list of jobs for me to do. He told me if I didn’t do them, he would tell Mom the window was all my fault.
“What if I tell her the window was all your fault?” I asked. “I don’t want to do this, I just got home from school. I’m not your slave.”
“Who d’you think she’ll believe? The junior high schooler or the 4th grader that still sleeps with his bear?” I didn’t know for sure, but it seemed Jeremy was on her good side more often. It wasn’t fair, he had had longer to figure Mom out.
The hardest part was we had to be home by the time she was or she’d sniff around. After a long day of school, and then working like a mad person to get as much work in as possible among our neighbors, then we had to come home and be on our best behavior for Mom. No matter what, we couldn’t let her be alone in the living room. It was exhausting.
Not to mention, I was all wiggly inside like the secret was going to burst out of me any second. I knew that I was the weakest link in this plan. The one most likely to break.
“Where do you go all these days? You leave me here by myself,” I asked Jeremy the third day. He told me to mind my own business. That really got me worried. I was already a raised eyebrow away from spewing a confession at Mom.
The end of the fourth day, while we were in bed, Jeremy told me we almost had enough money to fix the window. He’d called the guy to come do it and he’d be there the next day. I couldn’t believe it. Soon the guilt would be gone.
One more day, that’s all I had to hold it in for. But Mom was being so nice. She let me watch TV before dinner and she made us a dessert even. And Jeremy was being so bossy. We hadn’t fought since the baseball fiasco. The great secret was just itching inside of me, scratching at my insides, begging to be let out. I kept imagining myself jumping up, pointing a finger at Jeremy and declaring he made me hit that baseball inside the house. Over and over it replayed until I guess it just happened.
I clapped a hand over my mouth and slumped back into my seat. Jeremy sat there with a wide mouth, and wide eyes. He was ready to make good on his threats. I gulped and looked at Mom, ready for the worst.
She threw back her head and laughed until she couldn’t breathe. Jeremy and I shared a look. Was this some sort of weird torture that moms learn before they become moms?
“I knew the moment I came home from work there was a window broken. It was written all over your faces.” She fell into another fit of giggles.
“Aren’t you mad at us?” Jeremy asked.
“I was. But watching you boys dance around each other...you know you haven’t fought in four days? You hung out with me in the living room. By the way, Ms. Jensen called to complain when you spit on her lawn after you mowed it. Am I right to assume you’ll pay for it?” She tilted her head. It was more of a statement than a question. We nodded solemnly. She reached across the table with both hands and tousled our hair.
And that was it. The guilt was gone, Jeremy wasn’t even mad at me for telling, and we could fight again in peace. Everything was back to normal.
Until a few weeks later we were wrestling, and Jeremy’s elbow swung a little wide. I knew we were dead the moment Mom’s special, blue vase crashed to the floor in a million pieces.