Ever since they’ve been on their own, life has been tough for Ben and his mother. Though they love each other, their life together has been a series of bitter fights and standoffs. But when his mother marries Lyle, at last Ben finds a missing puzzle piece. Ben’s new stepfather is an easygoing charmer, and he and Ben grow close. Things aren’t as smooth with Ben’s new stepbrother, Dustin. Surly, distant, self-destructive, and forever grieving for his lost mother, Dustin holds everyone at arm’s length. As their newly formed family struggles to fit together, Dustin suffers a serious diving accident. From tragedy emerges the chance for Ben to finally confront his distant mother, and maybe even make peace with his elusive stepbrother. This ebook features a personal history by Adele Griffin including rare images and never-before-seen documents from the author’s own collection.
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By Adele Griffin
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1999 Adele Griffin
All rights reserved.
YOU WOULD HAVE CALLED her a fruitcake.
Why do you want to get into it with that fruitcake? Your laugh sticking to the words.
The alarm clock winks 12:00, but my watch reads ten to six. Downstairs, Lyle is unloading the dishwasher and humming and clearing his throat. My fingers rub the dots of the phone mouthpiece; from inside I hear the tin lady's voice.
If you'd like to make a call ...
Mallory isn't in the phone book, which is why I got her number memorized.
She's unlisted, Lyle had told me after her first session, pie-eyed because Lyle himself would never keep hid from people. Next thing he said was about her being famous.
Famous? How, famous?
On TV famous, he answered, and he rolled up onto his toes, a hand knobbed in each pants pocket, he lifted up and then he pitched back on his heels. Channel Five on the weekend news. We'll watch her sometime.
So I looked at him funny, because you know Lyle, he won't let words tip out of his mouth for the sake of hearing them drop. Sure, I said, and when Lyle went upstairs I opened the folder he'd left on the kitchen desk and read her index card.
She lived in the city, so even her area code was different. I memorized it straight off. I like secrets, especially ones that don't belong to me.
If you need help, hang up and then dial your operator.
I blow out my breath and I punch in her numbers.
"Hello?" Her voice is scared since it's too early for calls.
"Bennett? Is that you?"
"Yeah, Ben." Even after six months, she forgets about how I'm not a Bennett.
"It's Dustin. He got hurt."
"What happened?" Next thing I hear is the flap of covers as she squirms herself up.
"We don't know exactly. He was out on the beach, he'd been climbing some rocks and he fell. He broke his arm or his shoulder, messed himself up pretty bad. My mom called around midnight. He's in the hospital. Our plane's at seven-ten."
"How bad is pretty bad?"
For the third time I tell her we don't know. Then it sounds like a dog got hold of the phone from the way Mallory's snuffle-breathing. I know she's trying to think if I should put Lyle on.
"Where's Lyle? Would he want me to go, too?"
My turn to sniff and huff. "He's downstairs."
I tell her, and on the other end I hear the knock-around movements of Mallory out of bed, gangling through her room. I picture it like in a hotel. Slippery pillows and long curtains and no mess.
"Ben, buddy?" Lyle calls from the kitchen. "Let's get moving, guy."
"See you," I whisper, and then the phone's back together in one piece like it never happened.
Why you want to get into it with that fruitcake? you ask inside my head. Her and her glimmery eyelids, her clicky shoes. What do you get out of it?
Because you'd never put a person to use unless you had to. You'd call Mallory an extra, somebody who might lean back if she got leaned on.
I can handle it myself, is what you'd say. I got it, thanks anyhow.
No matter how much use another person might be.
Although there's times I try seeing through your crooked view on the world, unlike you, I don't mind a little leaning. I don't mind Mallory's concern.
When I go downstairs, I see Lyle's got my cereal ready, with a folded napkin and the milk in a jug.
"Juice first. Long day ahead of us." I think maybe I should say something about phoning Mallory. Then I figure if she shows up at all, she'll be able to explain her reasons for coming with us better than I ever could.
So instead I lift my glass and drink, one long slow sip to the bottom.CHAPTER 2
IT WAS LYLE WHO FIGURED out about me and juice, back when I was seven and Mom and me had just moved in with him.
Ben's an honest-to-God pain-in-the-you-know-where when he wakes up, she told Lyle, after I'd got in a tussle with her about combing my hair or washing up or whatever show-off thing she'd been gunning me to do before breakfast, just to prove to Lyle how good she raised me. Then she called me Son of Frankenstein, making her monster face of a tooth-grille smile and popped-up eyebrows. Her acting foolish was another show-off thing for Lyle, but it didn't strike me funny since the joke was on my real dad's name—Frank—and missing him still felt like mud on my heart.
Maybe it's low blood sugar, Lyle answered. He reached over and poured me a long glass of orange juice to the brim.
Drink it all down at once, Lyle said. Some people need a hit of juice to get started.
And some people just need to get hit, you said. You were thirteen, six and one quarter years older than me, but even then I knew you shouldn't have been so smart-mouth, and I was surprised that nobody talked you back.
Instead, your insult spun out like a lasso over all us three, since you were equal mad at everybody—at Mom, for moving in with Lyle; at Lyle, for letting her; and at me, since I came attached to Mom. It was the fact of me more than the who of me that irked you, I figured. I hoped.
Then Mom laughed and blew a circle of smoke from her breakfast cigarette. We watched it halo the table, and your own mouth O'ed in copy pretending like the smoke had come from you. Then Mom reached across and flicked your ear, which caught you by surprise.
Wise apple, she said. Kiss your girlfriend with that mouth?
You slid your eyes to the corners and pulled a kind of smile to one side of your mouth.
If I did, I wouldn't say, you answered. How do you do those?
So Mom passed you the rest of her cigarette in spite of Lyle's dark look, his mumbling, Well, now, Gina, I don't think.... And she gave you some pointers, letting you hack and spit while you tried to make rings. Meantime, I lifted my glass of orange juice and glubbed it all the way down to the end without stopping.
And Lyle was right, it perked me up not bad.CHAPTER 3
SUN IS BEGINNING TO sift through the moth colors of morning once we hit the road. We listen to all-news radio and the Zoo before switching to country. I wait for the music to ease Lyle's mood before asking him.
"What else did Mom tell you?"
"Not so much. She's upset."
"Will he recognize us? Be awake and all?"
"I couldn't tell you. It was hard to get a straight answer out of your mother."
The side of Lyle's face is fiercer than the front, where he looks like those olden-days paintings of Jesus, if Jesus had worn tortoiseshell glasses and flannel shirts. From the side, though, Lyle's face is carved and fixed as furniture. From the side, the words your mother sound bad, like she's my fault.
"She ask about me?" I'm careful to talk low in my stomach, to make the question sound less jiggly than how it feels coming out.
Lyle's mouth seals, from the side it is straight as a shelf, and he shakes his head no because he can't lie, but he doesn't want to say the truth. His hands prove the scatter of his thoughts; one big fist clumped on twelve instead of spaced to three and nine on the steering wheel, and he forgot to wear the Weatherman gloves I gave him for Father's Day.
"Did you pack light clothes? It's in the seventies out there."
"Yeah." I nod, though I can't recall this minute what's in my cargo overnight.
"And a toothbrush?"
"Uh-huh." Except I know definitely I forgot that, toothbrushes are hard to remember even on a planned-out trip, being as how they're in a whole different room from where you're packing. My answers seem to make Lyle more restful, though. He slides his hands to eleven and one.
"Twenty-three minutes," he says, and we both eye the dashboard clock, because once Lyle sets a time, it's a contest to see if he can get us there on his prediction. Lyle says the only rule is not to speed, that the challenge is in making it legal.CHAPTER 4
CLOSE INSIDE THAT SAME time you said some people should just get hit was when you showed me your knife. You called me into your room specially. I was pretty happy because I'd never got used to your silent treatment, and I took whatever bone you threw to be friends.
It wasn't much of a knife, its plastic handle roughed up from too many spins in the dishwasher and a blade that couldn't cut free a slice of salami. How I remember it at all is because you kept it hid under your mattress like a criminal.
Who you gonna hurt with that? I asked, thinking maybe you were warning me, giving me an hour to collect my stuff and make my getaway.
Your face was dark from lifting up the mattress. You let it drop and slid yourself slow to the floor to lie flat on your back with your eyes on the ceiling and thumbs drumming your chest. I don't have plans for hurtin' no one, you said, dropping off the g like in the movies or the South. Not this week, anyhow.
Who you goin' to rob then? I asked.
Nothin' to rob in this neighborhood, everyone here's got the same of everything.
Hey, I know what.... And here I'd crouched low, shuffling my feet closer to you, my hands rubbing together so you'd know I was your ally. Hey, I know what you can do. You can take that knife and chop off someone's legs, like a frog's legs, maybe.
It was probably one of the worst things I ever said out loud. I got sweaty in my armpits just developing the picture of a legless frog, and I didn't believe you would do it, but I was using bribe words. I was telling you I was tougher than you might have judged. That I wasn't planning to rat on your mattress knife.
There was a time I'd have said anything, done anything to impress you.
That's obscene, you answered. You have major problems, runt. Sick in the head.
You watched the ceiling while you talked, and you kept staring at it after the words were through. Even when I said I was just kidding and sorry, and what did obscene mean, anyway?—still you didn't look at me. And I knew you'd forgot about me, even as I stood right there in front of you, wishing I'd have said something different, something better, that would have caught your attention or made you bust up laughing.
But I never had those kinds of good words on me, and you always turned away from me, sooner or later, to go back inside your private thoughts.
So I retreated down to the kitchen to find my own knife, or something else important that I could hide in my room and maybe show you. The only thing I felt okay filching was a cheese slicer, which I kept under my mattress but then finally had to chuck in the school Dumpster when I couldn't stand to hear Lyle ask one more time where it had got to.CHAPTER 5
IT TAKES US TWENTY-SEVEN minutes, four minutes overtime, which I mind as a first hint of things falling apart. Lyle acts like he doesn't care, but there's extra juice in how he slams the trunk after pulling out our bags. In movies it's clear when something's about to go bad, either by the music or the camera zooming in on some unlucky thing, like a missing-eye doll or a broken window or lightning. In real life you've got to be on lookout.
Mallory's car is red, with a top that hums down when you press a button, but I don't know what exact type it is since cars aren't my thing. We steer up the parking ramps and I keep guessing every red one is hers, but when we get inside the airport and check-in and find our gate and Mallory still hasn't shown up, I start to think that she might have reconsidered us.
Lyle buys a newspaper and coffee and a glass bottle of apple juice for me, which I don't want, so instead I peel off the juice wrapper and fold it into a Slice. As I'm making it, I talk under my voice, pretending I'm an air-force aerodynamics model instructor giving orders.
"Good morning, men. As you know, the Slice is a classic dart model. It is excellent for distance and preciseness. Please pay attention and I will now inform you of my secret method of construction. First. Smooth your paper so it does not include any creases, this is for navigational reasons. Then. Fold in half. Then. Go like this, making into two triangles on each side, like a mirror. Flip over and fold up the opposite way for your rudder. Open in half and crease the wingtips. Recrease the rudder. Make sure wings join nose in as sharp a Y shape as you can get. Done. Perfect. Class dismissed."
My Slice comes out not bad. It's slick-shiny gold-and-red combat colors, but it feels too light and I wish I had a paper clip to weight the nose. I want to send it on a test flight across the lounge, and I check on Lyle to see if he's watching me. He's not. He is looking bull's-eye at the space ahead, and I know before I turn in her direction that it's Mallory.
"Bennett called," she says in an apologyish voice once she gets into talking distance. Lyle already has hopped to his feet. They curl their arms tight around each other. "I'm on standby, but they said it shouldn't be a problem."
"What about the station? It's a bad idea for you to miss work." Lyle takes a step back from Mallory. He usually goes a little screwy when people want to help him, but it comes off rude. Lyle has more practice with being the helper and the other way around is not true to his nature.
"Work can wait," Mallory says, flicking her hands. Her nail polish is a between color you'd get if you melted up tinsel with raspberry jam, and her mouth's a perfect sparkle-berry matchup. She wears her famous-lady sunglasses so I can't see if she's got glimmery eyes, but I bet yes because everything else on her—dark pants, skinny sweater, gold necklace, gold earrings, clicky shoes—has been perfectly put together. If Mallory was an airplane model, she'd be tough to assemble, like an Ages 12 & Up.
"I had a fairly uninformative conversation with Gina," says Lyle, and I think he does an eye crossover to me, meaning more about that in private, because all Mallory says is "Ahhh," and then she asks Lyle if he'll come to check-in with her and see about other ways to get her on the plane. Lyle tells me to stay put and guard the carry-ons.
From the back, you'd say they look weird together. Lyle's clothes make a map of wrinkles and Mallory is head-to-toe perfect. Lyle's straight brown hair needs cutting, it bends inside his jacket collar, but Mallory's fuzzy brown hair is short enough that you can see exactly how her skull is shaped. She is like our across-the-street neighbor Mr. Englander's garden, so spruced that you feel like a stray dog cringing for the kick if you get too near. Me personally, I wouldn't want to spend the time on myself, but then I'm not on TV.
I watch them all the way up to the counter, and I see how when Lyle talks, Mallory keeps her chin moving up and down to show she's listening, and when Mallory talks, Lyle cups his outside ear to block off the airport noises.
Fruitcake or not, I bet you would have admitted she was the perfect one to call, if you'd spared it the thought.CHAPTER 6
YOU CONSIDERED ALL OF Lyle's clients fruitcakes anyway, but the way I saw it some were more fruity than others. There are the people who go to Lyle because they're nervous to talk in public and they need some pointers. To them, Lyle's a kind of coach who stands on the sidelines and calls out stuff about projection and pitch. Then there are people who go to Lyle because they're scared of everything, and talking in public is just one more item to check off a long list of fears. To them, Lyle's like one of those playground dads, following behind his kid with one hand fanned close not quite touching the back of a neck or belt loop, braced to catch their fall.
Aquaman probably stood somewhere between those two categories, but for a long time he was your favorite fruitcake. You showed me how, wedged inside the second-floor- bathroom sheets-and-towels cupboard, you could hear right through the wall into Lyle's office. We sat with our knees buckled against the closed door and sucked quiet fingerfuls of peanut butter from a jar that we passed back and forth as we listened.
Lyle started all his clients on relaxation breathing, which was too hard to hear, followed by consonant and vowel warm-ups. Aquaman's were the best. We liked to listen to him go, Charge, cheetah, charge! or Pi-pi-pi-pi-pickle! Ki-ki-ki-ki-kitty! Maybe since he looked too solid for the robin chirp of his voice. Maybe since we'd sneaked a look at his index-card fear (he'd got voted head of the PTA, and now every couple of weeks he had to make speeches to a bunch of parents and teachers). All I know for certain was that Aquaman got you loopy. I'd have to put my head between my knees so as not to catch your wild, glow-in-the-dark smile. One look and I knew I'd upchuck every laugh and mouthful of peanut butter trapped inside me.
Excerpted from Dive by Adele Griffin. Copyright © 1999 Adele Griffin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
At the end I was confused. I wasn't sure about what really happened to Dustin. I love the way it was written. Like when Ben was talking about past conversations the author didn't use any quotation marks when people were speaking. Yet she did when the conversation was present. I also like the way my questions were answered throughout the book. The ending was confusing but overall I liked the book. My friend read this also and liked it all except the ending. She thought it was annoying though when Mallory and Ben talked about Lyle's book.