A Mango-Shaped Space Read online

  After the longest fifty-two minutes I can remember, I corner Roger at his desk before he can even stand up. I’m about to pounce, when he holds up his hand to stop me.

  “Before you ask, the answer is yes. My mother set up the appointment for after school on Wednesday. She’s going to call your mother tonight.”

  “Oh, she is?” I say nonchalantly.

  “That’s okay, right?” he asks as we leave the room together. “She does know about this, doesn’t she?”

  “Of course she knows,” I reply. “Well, she kind of knows.” Then, “Okay, no, she doesn’t know.”

  “Why haven’t you told her?”

  “Um, she doesn’t believe in acupuncture?”

  Roger looks at me sideways as we walk down the hall. “Why haven’t you really told her?”

  I stop walking. “Listen, you said if it was private, I didn’t have to talk about it, remember? Can’t you just tell your mother I have permission?”

  “I guess so,” Roger says, clearly not pleased. “But how are you going to pay for it then?”

  I hadn’t thought of that. “I have some money saved,” I tell him, “from allowance and odd jobs and stuff.”

  “Okay,” he says. “If it’s that important to you.”

  “It is,” I tell him as forcefully as I can muster. I’m about to thank him, but he hobbles off before I get a chance.

  We have another test in math class today. I suppose I could try to use the methods Samantha taught me, but that seems more trouble than it’s worth. After all, I’m already prepared with the markers, and it hardly feels like cheating anymore. I use the bottom of my sneaker this time since I’m not wearing jeans today.

  When I get home Mom is setting up her telescope in the front yard. There’s some big planetary-alignment thing tonight that she’s been talking about for weeks. I intend to stay on her good side for a while. Then maybe she won’t ask me why I’m not coming home after school on Wednesday.

  “Mia, I’m hoping you’ll get dinner ready for me tonight so I can work out here. I already made the salad, you’d just have to put up the pasta.”

  “Sure, Mom,” I say. “No problem.” I step around her and head to the front door.

  “Oh, Mia,” she says, her back to me. “How was the math test today?”

  I stop with my hand on the doorknob. “It was good,” I tell her, holding my breath.

  “Great,” she says. “I’m proud of you.”

  I wait until the door is shut behind me to breathe again. My plan is to lie low for the rest of the afternoon. Since Mom is outside, she won’t need me to hand out the candy to the trick-ortreaters. I work on my Ibo report and peek out the window at all the little witches and firemen and brides and monsters. They have no idea how complicated life can be. At six o’clock I make dinner. Nobody thanks me. They all eat in a hurry and then go outside to watch Mom watch the stars. No one helps me clean up. I wring out the sponge over the sink and keep repeating one thought in my head: Wednesday cannot come fast enough.

  Roger lives right near the school, and on Tuesday the four of us walk to his house together. Roger leads us into the kitchen and tells us to set up camp at the round wooden table.

  “Oh, do you have a dog?” Laura asks, almost tripping over a big silver doggie bowl. Right next to it is a squeaky toy in the shape of a steak. “Because I’m allergic to animals with fur. I get hives all over my arms and legs.”

  Roger slowly closes the refrigerator and sets down four cans of soda. He shakes his head. “No, we don’t have a dog, so you don’t have to worry.”

  Laura glances at the bowl on the floor and then looks questioningly at me. I guess Roger’s family isn’t ready to let go yet. I can’t meet Roger’s eyes until the meeting is half over. After a while no one has anything left to say about the Ibos, so we move into the den and watch videos. Beth picks me up at five o’clock. Her friend Courtney is with her, so I have to sit in the back. The two of them ignore me and blabber on about what they’re going to wear to the junior prom, which is something like seven whole months away. I’m glad they’re not talking to me so I don’t have to pretend to care about their dresses. For dinner we have the leftovers from the meal I cooked yesterday, and again, nobody thanks me.

  I’m already out of my seat when the final school bell rings on Wednesday. Roger is waiting for me by my locker as planned, looking uncomfortable. I toss my books inside and grab my backpack. He had told me to wear comfortable clothes, so I’m wearing the loosest pants and sweater I could find. I feel like I’m in my pajamas.

  I climb into the Carsons’ minivan and notice that it still smells faintly of dog. Roger and I don’t say much on the way to the acupuncturist, which is fine because Mrs. Carson talks enough for everyone. All that’s required of me is an occasional “Oh?” and “Uhhuh.” She lets us off in front of the office and then goes to park. A little bell rings as we open the door, and the waiting room is very warm and inviting. I recognize the smell of vanilla incense because Beth’s been burning it recently. There’s a chart on the wall showing the points where the needles go in. I start to feel a little faint.

  “I’m supposed to go right in,” Roger says. “You need to sit down and fill out a form.” He points to a clipboard on the unoccupied front desk.

  “Okay,” I tell him, reaching for it. He heads into one of the open office doors, and I remain standing in the middle of the room.

  “You all right?” he asks, turning slightly.

  “Uh-huh,” I reply. “I’m fine.”

  “It doesn’t hurt,” he says. “You don’t have to worry.”

  “I’m not worried.”

  “Then why haven’t you moved from that spot?”

  “No reason.”

  Just then, the doctor comes out from the back and ushers Roger into the room. She is around sixty years old and looks a lot like my last memory of Grams. This makes me feel a little better. After all, Grams would never hurt me.

  The door closes behind them, and for a second I’m alone in the office. For that second I seriously consider leaving. Maybe this is a bad idea. Then Mrs. Carson enters from outside, complaining that there’s not enough parking in this one-horse town. The cool breeze from outside wakes me up a little. I sit down and begin filling out the form. It would take me an hour to answer all these questions. I skip down to the bottom where it asks why I’m here. “Earache. Both ears.” Mrs. Carson quietly flips through the pages of some kind of alternative-healing magazine. She can’t possibly read anything that quickly. After about fifteen minutes, Roger comes out of the office, limping slightly less than before.

  “Your turn,” Roger says.

  I smile weakly and give him my seat. I walk over to the office door and peek in. The room is very small, with a long padded table in the center and shelves along the walls.

  “Come in, come in,” the acupuncturist says with a wave. “I won’t bite.”

  I step in the room and close the door behind me. “I’m sorry. I’m not very good around doctors, I guess.”

  She pats the table next to her, and I sit on the edge of it. “My name is Faith, and if it makes you feel any better, I’m not a real doctor.”

  I look up with a start. “You’re not?”

  She shakes her head and talks to me while she looks over my chart. “I am certified in the practice of acupuncture. You know how doctors study anatomy so they know how the body works?”

  I nod.

  “It’s very similar. I know where all the energy centers of the body intersect, and I can tell when they’re not flowing properly. That’s how I know where to put the needles in and how to rotate them. Do you understand?”

  I tell her I do, even though it all sounds pretty bizarre. All the talk about energy flow reminds me of Beth’s yoga stuff. I can’t believe I’m doing something that Beth might agree with! Faith directs me to lie down and tells me that for our first session she’s only going to leave the needles in for ten minutes. I close my eyes so I can’t see what