A Mango-Shaped Space Read online

  “So my head will face north. It has something to do with the magnetic pull of the North Pole bringing you power while you sleep.” She says this as though it makes sense. “I’m sure Zack will help you move yours after.”

  “But you’ve always said Zack’s superstitions are ridiculous,” I remind her as I move away from the bed. Away from the strange objects. Away from the stranger who calls herself my sister.

  “I used to say that,” she admits, and begins placing the candles around her room. “But now I know there’s some truth in them.”

  “What truth can be found in crossing your fingers until you see a dog?” I mutter, inching toward the door.

  “Wait a second,” she says. “I’m going to dye my hair tonight, so can you stay out of the bathroom?”

  Apparently Beth hasn’t changed that much after all. “What color this time?” I ask.

  “If you must know,” she says, taking out her ponytail holder so her hair falls perfectly down her back, “it’s going to be red. I found out that redheads are closest to nature. You might want to consider —”

  “Oh no.” I cut her off. “I’m close enough to nature as it is. The bathroom’s all yours.” I consider informing her that there’s hardly any red in nature and that maybe she should try green, but I figure, why start something?

  “You’re dripping on my carpet,” she says. I quickly step out of the room, and she shuts the door behind me.

  “Hey!” Beth reappears in the hall two seconds later. This time she’s waving her diary in the air. “Did you read this while I was gone?”

  The old Beth was definitely back. I suddenly wish I had read it. I assure her I did not and run down the hall to my room before she can interrogate me further. I quickly throw off my wet clothes, put on some sweats, and creep down the stairs. The darkest clouds have passed, and only a light drizzle falls now. Just in case, I grab an umbrella and figure the back door is my best chance of escaping unseen. But as I round the corner to the kitchen, I run right into my mother. There are just too many people in this house!

  “It’s getting dark, Mia,” she says, in that special tone that only mothers can achieve. “Where are you going?”

  I hesitate. “To the cemetery?”

  “You can go tomorrow,” she says, taking a bowl of salad out of the refrigerator and handing it to me. “Grandpa isn’t going anywhere.”

  I try to argue but quickly get the mother glare that goes along with the mother tone. The glare and the tone together are unbeatable. I sigh and give up, grimly aware that the painting is probably completely ruined by now. I rest the salad bowl on the counter and turn to leave before I’m asked to set the table. The unmistakable sound of claws against a metal screen door stops me.

  I open the kitchen door and Mango strolls in. He is barely wet. Staying dry in the pouring rain is one of those cat tricks I’ll never figure out. Instead of apologizing for running off, he heads straight for his food dish and waits for me to fill it.

  “Please set the table when you’re done, Mia,” Mom says, stealing a glance my way. I know she’s watching to make sure I don’t spill any cat food. Even though I’m a pretty neat person, I’ll never be as neat as my mother. She even uses a fork and knife to eat pizza. It’s embarrassing. She and Dad are complete opposites that way. I wouldn’t exactly call him a slob, but sometimes he trails the outdoors inside with him and Mom has to follow behind him with a mop.

  “If the storm passes, I hope to get in a little telescope time,” she adds, searching in the back of the cabinet for something. “Do you want to look at Cassiopeia with me? One of the stars in the system is going supernova. When it explodes it will be twenty times brighter than usual.”

  “Maybe.” I have trouble getting excited about a star going supernova. It’s an astronomer’s way of saying dying. Talk about sad on a grand scale. But I know Mom misses being around all her science buddies, and she likes having company in the yard.

  “It looks like I have to go to the store to get some spaghetti.” Mom slams the cabinet door in exasperation, causing a large brown ring to appear, which reminds me of Beth’s old hula hoop. When she was six she won $25 in a contest by hula-hooping longer than any other kid in town. Beth likes winning things.

  “Why don’t we just have hamburgers?” I suggest as the circle fades away. “We have some in the freezer.”

  “It’s Beth’s first night home,” Mom tells me, grabbing her keys from the hook by the door. “And she won’t eat hamburgers.”

  “Huh? Since when?” I ask, following her down the hall.

  “Since now, apparently,” Mom says, her voice strained. “She says she will no longer eat anything with a face. Or anything that once had a face.”

  I’d never thought of meat that way. And I didn’t want to start now. I ask my mother to take me with her, figuring I can convince her to stop at the cemetery on the way home. As we drive to the supermarket she reminds me that I still need to get my notebooks and some new clothes for school.

  “I still have a week,” I point out. I’m not a good shopper. I’d rather be outdoors than cooped up in a mall any day.

  “Don’t wait till the last minute as usual,” she warns. “You’ve already outgrown a lot of your fall clothes from seventh grade. Once school starts you’ll be too busy to get anything.”

  I’m utterly dreading eighth grade. It means having to learn a foreign language, not to mention pre-algebra, a class I’m destined to fail. No matter how hard I try, I can never keep up in math class, and trying to learn Spanish will be even worse. The problem is clear to me. It has to do with my colors. The word friend is turquoise with a glow of glossy red, but the word amigo is yellow with spots of brown, like an old banana. I just can’t get my brain to connect the two words.

  As we stand in line to pay for the spaghetti, I finally agree to go shopping for school stuff the next day. Satisfied, my mother turns and strikes up a conversation with the woman behind us. Her son shyly peers out from behind his mother’s skirt. He reminds me of Zack at about five years old.

  “Hi,” I say softly, leaning down to him. “What’s your name?”

  “Billy Henkle,” he answers in a shy whisper. “What’s yours?”

  “Mia Winchell,” I tell him.

  He giggles and comes out from behind his mom a little more. “Mia is a pretty name.”

  “Thanks,” I say, flashing him a Winchell smile. My family may not be blessed with height, but we have good teeth and try to show them when we can.

  “It’s purple with orange stripes,” he announces, his voice more assured now. “I like it a lot.”

  Still smiling, I shake my head and say, “No, silly, it’s candy-apple red with a hint of light green.” And then what he said hits me. My smile slowly disappears, and my heart starts to pound.

  “Wait, what did you say?” I ask him.

  Before he can answer, his mother turns around and rolls her eyes. “Don’t pay any attention,” she tells me. “He has an overactive imagination.”

  Billy steps back behind her skirt and peeks his head around. “Mia is purple and orange,” he whispers. “Not red and green.”

  I am too stunned to speak. I am too stunned to move. My pulse is beating in my ears. My mother has paid for the food and is already heading toward the exit. I force myself to follow her but can’t resist turning around before the door shuts behind me. I hear Billy’s mother scolding him for making up stories. The laughter of my classmates pops into my head. Freeeek. They made me question the first eight years of my life, and now this little boy is making me question the last five. If he isn’t lying, if he really sees my name that way, then everything I thought I knew about myself is wrong.

  Chapter Three

  I can’t sleep. I toss. I turn. Mango tosses and turns with me. Had I misunderstood Billy? Was his mother right? Does he just make things up? After all, my name isn’t even remotely purple and orange. The sun streams through the blinds and brings no answers, only more questions. Why does