editor’s note: chapter six in Callie Feyen’s first fiction excursion
Sasha comes over early so we can set up. I have four kinds of popcorn for a popcorn buffet: movie theatre popcorn, Old Bay-seasoned, pizza flavor, and kettle corn — all my own recipes. I also have shelled peanuts and sugar cookies that turned out quite well, if I do say so myself.
I wrapped the scrapbook in tissue paper and put it in a brown gift bag with Charlie’s name on it.
“What should I do with this?” I ask Sasha, suddenly feeling sick to my stomach.
Sasha digs a bag out of her backpack and puts it on the table. “Put it next to mine,” she says.
“What’d you get McGrath?” I ask, putting my bag down, and feeling a little less nervous.
“A Royal Bagel Bakery T-shirt,” she says, straightening the bowls of popcorn. Royal Bagel Bakery is the best NYC deli and bakery in all of D.C., Maryland, and Virginia combined. It’s in Germantown, Maryland, about a half an hour from where we live, but Sasha and I will happily make the drive. McGrath and Sasha had their first official date there.
“Nice,” I say and then hand Sasha the notebook. “Read it later,” I insist. Sasha nods, and puts it into her backpack, then gives me a quick, fierce hug. “Stole one,” she says, nudging me in the side. I roll my eyes.
The boys arrive after that, and like I said, Charlie is kind of quiet, but tonight he looks annoyed. He won’t say hello. He won’t even make eye contact with me. While McGrath and Sasha flirt, I start to fidget. I eye the scrapbook and wonder if there’s a way to get it without Charlie noticing.
“So,” McGrath begins, “a Hank Aaron party?”
I’m surprised by the way he says it, like it’s a stupid idea, especially in front of Charlie. They’re best friends. Certainly McGrath knows how much Charlie loves Hank.
“Yeah,” Charlie says. “You got a thing for him or something?”
McGrath snorts, and Charlie looks at me with no trace of friendliness. My breath catches, and I realize my mistake: Charlie never told McGrath. I think he’s only told me. I look at Sasha and can tell right away she’s realized the same thing.
This is not going well.
“Who wants a cookie?” Sasha asks, thrusting the tray of cookies at McGrath and Charlie. McGrath picks one up. Charlie pivots and sits on the couch. He pulls out his phone and starts scrolling.
“What’s 715?” McGrath asks.
I want to die.
“It’s the number of home runs Hank Aaron hit to beat Babe Ruth’s record,” I mumble.
“You really do have a thing for him!” McGrath says, shoving the cookie under his mask and taking a bite. “Wasn’t that like a really long time ago? Like 1857 or something?”
Charlie laughs. I feel tears sting my eyes, and I turn toward the popcorn and begin frantically filling up a bag.
McGrath plops himself on the couch next to Charlie. “So what are we gonna do tonight?” he asks putting his feet on the coffee table.
Sasha and I exchange looks again. We were going to play Hank Aaron trivia, show some of his baseball clips, and I think Sasha even made a Hank Aaron playlist. I shake my head as quickly as I can, letting her know I will indeed die a slow death of mortification if we don’t nix this plan ASAP.
“Batter up!” Sasha says, walking over to the treadmill.
I feel a shiver of hope at the thought of playing our fabulous and also terrifying game.
“Okay, so here’s what you do,” Sasha says, handing me the whiffle ball. She cranks the treadmill to a 6.5 incline, and a 8 mile-per-hour pace, while explaining how the game works.
McGrath takes his feet off the table and leans forward. “Um, Sasha? That doesn’t look safe.”
Already winding up the bat, Sasha looks over at him and says, “Watch the master.”
Things happen fast after this. I pitch, Sasha swings, the bat flies out of her hands and hits McGrath in the face, who in turn flinches because apparently getting hit in the head with a plastic baseball bat hurts, and he knocks into Charlie. So now both of them are hurt, and rubbing their faces, but that’s nothing compared to what happens to Sasha.
She jumps on the treadmill, and I think what went wrong is she misjudged either the speed, the incline, or her capability to handle them because instantly her foot twists, and catches her off balance.
Instinct would point to putting your hands out and grabbing the sides of the treadmill for balance, and Sasha does the first part, but instead of the treadmill, she grabs her drumsticks from her back jeans pocket, and in a move mixed with perfect grace and strength, flings them from herself while screaming, “NOT MY DRUMSTICKS! SAVE THE DRUMSTICKS!” just before falling.
The drumsticks also hit McGrath, who swears. Sasha bangs her chin on the front of the treadmill, and then seems to bounce twice on the belt, almost like she did it on purpose, and rolls off in a backwards somersault.
I am holding the whiffle ball I caught. I want to say, “You’re out,” but I think it’s too soon for jokes.
“What just happened?” Charlie says, still rubbing his temple from where McGrath knocked into him.
“I’m not doing that,” McGrath says.
No duh, I think.
“Uhhh,” Sasha moans, rolling on the floor, holding her chin. “I hurt internally and externally.”
I drop the whiffle ball and run upstairs to get some ice for Sasha’s chin. When I return, McGrath is sitting on the floor next to Sasha, and Charlie is still on the couch, typing on his phone. I can only imagine what he’s saying on Snapchat right now.
I hand Sasha a bag of ice and her drumsticks. “Looks like you saved them,” I said. Sasha grips the sticks but covers her hand over mine and gives it a squeeze.
In a split second we look at each other, and it is the look of unsaid things, of understanding what the other is going through. A promise that no matter what the other person is attempting or leaning toward or finding joy in, afraid of, we want in on it too.
I might not have won Charlie’s heart, but I have Sasha’s. She is my person, and I am hers.
Something about this moment gives me strength to stand, walk over to the table and pick up the bag for Charlie. I don’t expect he will show any appreciation, but there is nothing in the world better than knowing you matter to someone, and so whatever he does, whatever he says, I made this scrapbook for him to tell him he matters to me. I’m doing what my dad told me to do. I’m telling a story that’s true.
“This is for you,” I tell him, handing him the bag.
He doesn’t look up from his phone, so I put it next to him, then walk upstairs because I can’t stand there one moment more.
I walk into the bathroom and shut the door, rip off my mask, and put both hands over my face, to muffle the sobs.
I hear footsteps, then the front door opens and shuts. Seconds later, there is a knock on the bathroom door.
“It’s me,” Sasha says.
I quick put my mask on, grab tissue to wipe my eyes, and open the door.
Sasha puts a hand on my shoulder and tilts her head. “Carter,” she says sweetly. “That could not have gone worse.”
The truth sends both of us into hysterics. I am laughing and crying, which strange enough, is a relief to be able to feel both at the same time.
We fill up bowls of popcorn and top them with cookies and head upstairs. My mom is in her bedroom, reading. She has on her pajama pants and a sweatshirt, and her hair is in a top knot. For a second she looks like someone I’d be friends with. I step into her room and realize Sasha is standing outside.
“What?” I whisper. “C’mon. Let’s go talk.”
“You sure?” Sasha whispers back. “I don’t want to intrude.”
I rest the bowl on my hip and drag Sasha in with me.
“Hi, girls,” my mom says, sitting up and crossing her legs. “How’d the night go?”
Sasha and I sit on the bed with her and put the bowls of popcorn in the middle of us.
“Didn’t go great,” Sasha says.
I rest my head on my mom’s shoulder, and she puts a hand on my knee. Sasha shifts and looks at her hands. My mom reaches for Sasha. “You two,” she says giving us a squeeze, and we all stay there for a minute.
“Mama,” I say, closing my eyes. “Can you tell us a story of heartache?”
My mom kisses the top of my head, then takes a deep breath.
“I can,” she says.
And so she begins.
Can you write a story of heartache? Fiction or nonfiction, but tell it true.
I have been a fan of Callie Feyen’s writing for quite some time but I finished this book in almost one sitting. If you have ever been in 8th grade, fallen in love, had a best friend, or loved reading, you will love this book. As the mother of an 8th grader, my other genuine hope is that my son will one day have a teacher as gifted as Callie.