A Mango-Shaped Space Read online

  “Who’s this?” she asks suspiciously.

  “It’s Mia,” I tell her. “I go to school with Roger.”

  “Roger!” She yells so loud that I jump. “It’s your girlfriend, Mia!”

  “She’s not my girlfriend,” Roger hisses in the background. I hear him grab the phone from his sister.

  “Sorry about that,” he mumbles. I can picture his face turning red. “She lives to drive me crazy.”

  “It’s okay,” I say. “She should meet my brother. They have a lot in common.”

  “So you’re calling about the project, right?”

  “Uh, r-right,” I stammer. “The project.”

  “Are you having a problem with your part of the research?”

  I’m supposed to be researching the religious beliefs of the Ibo people. I haven’t even begun, but I can’t tell him that.

  “I’ll have it all done before we meet on Tuesday,” I tell him confidently. I shift my internal calendar to Monday night and make a mental note to finish the assignment by then.

  Silence on the other end. “So what are you calling about then?”

  “We-ell,” I say slowly, drawing out the word. “You get your acupuncture on Wednesday afternoons, right?”

  “Usually. Why?”

  I take a deep breath. “I was wondering if you would let me come with you. I could get the appointment right after yours and then maybe your mom could take me home?” I hold my breath for his response.

  After a painfully long pause, he says, “I guess that could work. But why do you need to go?”

  Now it’s my turn to pause. Before I can respond, he says, “It’s okay, you don’t have to tell me if it’s private or something.”

  “No, it’s okay,” I say quickly. “I have an earache that just won’t go away.” Even to me it sounds like I’m lying.

  “Oh,” he says. “Well, I’ll bring in the phone number tomorrow.”

  “Can’t you call for me?”

  “Uh, I guess so.”

  Relief floods through me. “And your mother? Do you think she can take me home?”

  “I don’t see why not,” he says. “I’ll let you know about the appointment as soon as I hear.”

  I thank him and quickly hang up. I suspect Roger knows I’m lying, and I wonder what he thinks I’m doing it for. He’s practically the only person in my grade who hasn’t asked me what color his name is. It’s actually a deep dark purple, like the skin of an eggplant. We’ve never spoken about that day at the vet’s office either. It’s like an unspoken agreement.

  Jenna has been asking me to come over for weeks now, so I put on warm clothes and scribble a Post-it note for my parents. I’m just about to stick it on the refrigerator door when voices float in from down the hall.

  “I don’t care what this Jerry thinks,” Dad says, slamming his tool chest closed. “I don’t like what’s going on.”

  I stand perfectly still, the paper poised in my hand.

  “She’s in a phase,” my mother answers calmly. “She’s just trying to figure out who she is.”

  “But her grades aren’t improving,” he points out. “And her report card comes out in a little over a month.”

  “She recently got an A on a math test,” my mother says.

  “She did? I didn’t know that.”

  Did I forget to show him the test? I must have.

  “It’s a little strange though,” my mother muses. “That test was before she started working with Samantha.”

  I don’t move a muscle, and I hear them move toward the front door. My father says something in response, but the furnace kicks in and I can’t hear it clearly over the noise. The front door closes and they’re gone. My hand shakes as I stick the note on the fridge. I’m half tempted to go back upstairs and lose myself in the bathtub, but I can’t risk letting down Jenna again. A phase! Ha! As I open the back door, my friendship bracelet gets caught on the latch and a thread rips. Sucking in my breath, I tuck the broken ends back in place so Jenna won’t notice. Maybe we’re getting too old to wear them after all.

  Chapter Ten

  “I thought for sure you’d blow me off,” Jenna says as she opens her front door.

  “I’ve never blown you off on purpose,” I say, shrugging off my jacket and handing it to her. It’s a good thing the pull of the bath wasn’t strong enough to keep me away. The awkwardness hangs heavily in the air between us.

  “You’ve been ignoring me,” she claims as she tosses my coat into the closet, not bothering to put it on a hanger.

  “I’m here now, aren’t I?”

  “I don’t know,” she says. “Maybe you’re an illusion. Let me see.” She reaches out and pinches my arm. Hard.

  “Ouch!” I yelp, pulling away.

  “Okay, you’re real. Dad’s making pancakes. Are you hungry?”

  “Starved,” I say, rubbing my arm. “Then I need to do some research on your computer, okay?”

  She stops outside the kitchen. “It’s not about the whole colors thing, right?”

  “No, it’s not,” I answer defensively. “It’s for my history project. I just don’t want to fight with Zack over the computer.”

  “Okay then,” she says. In the kitchen Mr. Davis is flipping his special blueberry pancakes. I stop short when I see an unfamiliar woman sitting at the table. I know it can’t be a relative because I’ve met them all.

  “Mia,” Jenna says in a formal voice, “this is Rebecca. A friend of my father’s.”

  I try not to show my surprise.

  “Nice to meet you,” I say stiffly.

  “Same here,” Rebecca replies in a throaty voice. I think it’s supposed to sound sexy, but it just sounds like she’s all stuffed up. And who wears a full face of makeup on a Sunday morning? She must be the giver of the purple minibackpack.

  No one says anything after that. Jenna’s dad breaks the silence with, “So, Mia, ready for my world-famous flapjacks?”

  “Uh, sure,” I answer, choosing a seat across from Rebecca. I keep glancing at Jenna, but she’s shoveling forkfuls of pancake into her mouth as if she hasn’t eaten in a week.

  “We haven’t seen you around here in a while, Mia,” he says, neatly sliding a pancake from the frying pan onto my plate. “Got a new boyfriend?”

  “Dad!” Jenna moans.

  “No!” I vehemently deny. Rebecca smiles a little half smile that suggests she thinks I’m lying, and I decide I definitely don’t like her.

  “I know,” he says, joining us at the table. “You were recruited by the CIA and have been out of the country on a secret mission.”

  I shake my head again and dig into my breakfast, matching Jenna bite for bite.

  “Abducted by aliens?”

  “Nope,” I answer with my mouth full and my eyes focused on my plate.

  “I’m just teasing you,” he says finally. “I know what you’ve been doing; Jenna told me a few weeks ago.”

  “Oh,” I say, looking at Jenna. She keeps eating. She’s going to choke if she doesn’t slow down.

  We continue eating in silence for a minute, until Rebecca asks us what we’re planning on doing today. I’m about to answer her when Jenna hops up from the table and says, “Nothing special. C’mon, Mia, let’s go.”

  Mr. Davis and Rebecca share a look. Jenna’s halfway out of the kitchen before I catch up with her.

  “That was rude,” I whisper as we climb the stairs to her room.

  “So what?” she says. “Sundays are supposed to be family time, you being considered family of course. She shouldn’t come over on a Sunday morning. She’s the rude one if you ask me.”

  We lie down on Jenna’s bed, and she changes the subject. “So what’s been going on with you lately? You’re in your own world most of the time.”

  I’m about to point out that all she seems to care about lately is her party. But I don’t want to fight again. If she really wants to know what’s going on with me, then I’m going to tell her. The floodgates open. I tell h