“What?” He didn’t know what was coming, but didn’t think he’d done anything that would get him into trouble.
“Could you come out here, please?”
Whew. This was about her wanting him to do something. That was fine. He was bored sitting around anyway. He couldn’t play video games if his mother was home because she hated the sound of them. He asked her for headphones, but then she told him she didn’t want him caught up in a world she wasn’t aware of. He couldn’t win.
Jason stood up from his desk and when his little brother stood to follow, he pushed Andrew back on the bed. “She asked for me, not you, punk.”
“But I want to know.”
“Whatever.” Jason gave him another push and headed for the living room.
His mother was on the floor scrubbing baseboards behind the sofa. “Jason, is that you?”
“Yeah, Mom. What do you want?”
“Bring me my purse, would you?”
This sounded like he might get to leave the apartment. Jason opened the front closet and took out her purse. She hung it on a hook inside the door. Because the three of them were so crammed together in this small apartment, Sylvie insisted that things were always put away. Once she established a home for something, that was where it belonged.
He took the purse from its hook and walked back over to her, holding it out.
“Could you do me a favor?”
“What do you need?”
“I called in a quick order at the grocery store. Would you walk down and pick it up for me?”
“Take your brother.”
“Mooommm,” Jason whined.
“He needs to go to the library. Go to the grocery store after he’s done, then come home.”
“You aren’t in a hurry?”
“No, the two of you need to get out of the apartment for a while and I need peace and quiet while I clean. Just remember to pick up the groceries before you come home.” Sylvie opened her wallet and handed him some cash. “Do not go shopping for anything other than groceries. There won’t be enough.”
“Nothing to shop for,” Jason said. He turned and yelled, “Punk!”
Andrew came around the corner, carrying a stack of books. “I’m ready to go. Thanks, Mom.”
“Don’t make your brother crazy, okay?” Sylvie pleaded. “Don’t run away from him, don’t make him chase you, don’t beg for him to buy things.”
“I won’t.” Andrew sounded offended.
“You do it all the time,” Jason said. He put the cash his mother had given him into the wallet he carried. When he got his first wallet, he’d felt so grown up. He didn’t have much to put into it, but it felt good in his back pocket.
The two boys headed for the front door.
“Don’t forget to bring home the groceries,” Sylvie called after them.
As soon as they were on the sidewalk, Jason took Andrew’s shoulder.
“What?” Andrew snapped.
“Look. I don’t want to walk downtown with you.”
“But Mom said.”
“Mom doesn’t have to know. You go to the library by yourself. I want to walk around for a while.”
“Got a girlfriend you’re going to visit?” Andrew asked.
“No. I just want to walk around. When I’m done, I’ll come to the library and then we’ll go to the grocery store. Like an hour or something?”
“An hour?” Andrew grinned. “I never get that much time in the library. I’ll take it.” He started to walk away and said, “Are you sure? You’re not going to do something stupid, are you?”
“I don’t know. This is weird.”
“Really, punk. I just want to walk.” Jason couldn’t help himself and glanced toward the south.
Andrew turned his head that way. “What’s down there?”
That made his brother frown. “You’re up to something.”
“Not really. I just want to walk and look at stuff.”
Andrew looked to the south again. “You want to go look at the old school, to see what is going on. Are you trying to catch a glimpse of the new owner?”
Jason shrugged. “I just want to see what’s going on.”
“What if I want to see, too?”
“You’re the one who brought your books.” Jason pointed at the stack in Andrew’s arms. “Looks like you have something to do. If I see anything interesting, I’ll tell you.”
“Uh huh. With your grunts and half-sentences. The only way for me to know anything is to look for myself.”
“You are going to the library,” Jason said. He turned to walk south.
“I’ll tell Mom.”
“Tell her what? That I walked by myself? What do you think she’s going to do except think that you’re a tattle-tale.”
“Fine.” Andrew stomped down the sidewalk. “Fine. Fine. Fine. You win. You always win.”
Jason shook his head. That was the farthest thing from the truth, but he didn’t care. He was out of the apartment by himself and yes, he was going to walk by the old school building.
There had been a lot of activity with trucks going in and out while Mr. Sturtz worked in there. All the kids at school were talking about it. None of them had actually seen the inside of the school, but they thought they knew everything. Someone had heard that they bought paint from Bradford Hardware, so then they all speculated on what colors the rooms were being painted.
The old kitchen was being renovated, that was for sure. New freezers and refrigerators and even a commercial dishwasher had been installed. Then more kitchen equipment had been taken in because the lady was renovating some of the upstairs classrooms into an apartment. She was going to live in the building. Jason couldn’t imagine that. The school had been empty for as long as he could remember. The broken out windows had been repaired, but the building had looked haunted and decrepit and run-down for so long. He couldn’t remember a time when that corner was anything but ugly.
He turned onto the sidewalk along the highway across from the swimming pool. That place was going to have to step up their game if the school started looking nice again. New paint on the concrete walls and maybe some new pool furniture. It was depressing looking after it closed down. During the summer it was always busy. He huffed a laugh. When he was little, it was the place to be. His friends were always playing at the pool. Now, though, no one his age wanted to go. Too many little kids. They needed to build a real swimming pool where people actually went to swim rather than play.
“Donovan! Hey, Donovan!”
He turned his head and saw a couple of kids from school in the parking lot where he was headed. All he wanted to do was walk down the highway and turn to go up to the library.
Jason didn’t really like these guys. They were a year older and always in trouble. He hesitated. He could turn around and walk through downtown to avoid them. But the reason he was here was because he wanted to investigate. Or spy on or at least try to see if anyone was outside the old school.
“Come here, Donovan,” one of the boys said.
“Nah,” Jason said. “I’ve got stuff to do.”
“You have a minute.”
“What do you want?” he asked.
“Just to talk.”
“I don’t know. What do you want to talk about?”
He stared at them with a frown. “I don’t want to talk about anything. Gotta go.” He turned around and walked away.
“What kind of sissy are you?”
Jason shook his head and muttered under his breath, “The kind who would like to beat you up, but won’t because his mother would make him cry.” Then he smiled. “See, Mom. You think I’m a hothead. I know how to walk away from stupid stuff, even when I don’t want to. I wanted to go that way, but I thought about you instead.”
He stopped at the corner of Elm and Washington, beside the pizza place. It had been forever since they’d ordered pizza. His mom always said that her pizza was just as tasty and it wouldn’t cost as much. Someday, he was going to make a ton of money so she didn’t have to worry about things like that.
She really was a good cook. And her baked stuff? Amazing. Both he and Andrew thought she should bake things and sell them, but where? Maybe at the grocery store. She always worked, though. When would she have time to bake and package her stuff. They kept telling her. He hoped someday she’d listen and believe in herself.
Crossing the street, he shook his head in disgust. Bellingwood was not the place to live if you wanted to build a business. So many storefronts were empty. There were a few holdouts, but it wasn’t like they brought in a bunch of people. No one wanted to be here.
The high school had closed because the town was too small. Classes weren’t really full in the elementary or junior high. How long was it going to take for that place to close? Then, everyone would be bussed to Boone. That would stink. He liked it here. The school was right behind their apartment building. They didn’t have far to go in the morning. That was especially good for Andrew. Jason didn’t mind getting up, but pulling that kid out of bed in the morning was impossible. Jason knew that his brother was wide awake and reading long after their mom called for lights out at night.
He waved at old Mr. Gardner in the antique store. He was a good guy, but kind of lonely or something. Jason wondered why he’d never gotten married or had kids. The hardware store was busy. That wasn’t surprising. All the old guys stopped in to talk to Mr. Bradford. Then they’d go to the diner for coffee. Like they were going to change the world with all their talk.
This walk had not turned into what he wanted it to be. He picked up the pace and then ran up the steps into the library.
“Hello, Jason,” the woman said from behind the desk. She was married to the pharmacist. Mrs. Mikkels. That’s right.
“Hello. Do you know where Andrew is?”
She pointed. “Looking for books about dragons if I know your brother. What can I help you find to read?”
“Nothing today. We have to get going. Mom has an order of groceries we have to pick up.”
“Andrew said you were looking at the school building. Did you see anything interesting?”
“No. They must be working inside today.”
“It’s going to be something when that place is all fixed up. I look forward to meeting the owner.”
Mrs. Mikkels pointed again. “That way.”
“Thank you.” He knew where the fantasy books were. That was Andrew’s favorite section. “Hey, punk,” he said.
“You’re early. I thought I had more time.”
“Nothing going on, so I thought …”
“I need three more minutes to check out.”
“That’s cool. How about I go to the grocery store and get what Mom wants. Meet you there?”
Andrew took another book off a shelf. “Okay. I won’t be late.”
“No worries.” Jason headed out, waved at Mrs. Mikkels, and went back down the steps. One of these days he had to meet the lady who bought the old school. People kept talking about her, but it was like no one knew anything. She was a mystery.
Would he like her? Would she like him? Did it really matter?
Yes, it mattered. There was something special about the changes that were happening there. He wanted to be part of them. It felt like magic. Like Andrew’s dragons. Unusual and magical. He liked that thought.