I am bouncy bouncy bouncy in the backseat of the car. My best friend Joseph is finally out of the hospital, and today he’s coming back to school!
Joseph had leukemia, which is a bad sickness and worse than a cold, but now he’s better.
I’ve been missing him forever, but now he’ll be back in Mrs. Webber’s class with me. Second grade will go back to normal. Ty and Joseph, Joseph and Ty, just like the old days. And I won’t have to play with Lexie anymore, who Mom says is a “challenge.” Or Taylor, who sometimes kicks!
Well, I might play with them sometimes, but I won’t be stuck with them. It’ll be my choice. With Joseph back at school, Lexie and Taylor and everyone else will be like the wiggly lime Jell-O at Morrison’s, which is a restaurant where you go through a food line and pick whatever you want, including your own dessert.
If I’m in the mood for lime Jell-O, then fine. But if I’m in the mood for chocolate pudding, which I pretty much always am, then too bad for the lime Jell-O and hurray for the chocolate pudding, because the chocolate pudding’s name is Joseph. Yippee!
I giggle, and my sister Winnie looks back at me. Winnie is my middle-est sister. She’s sitting next to Sandra, who is my oldest sister. Sandra’s the one driving. My youngest sister is at home trying to eat her toes; her name is Teensy Baby Maggie.
“You have such a cute giggle,” Winnie says. “Are you happy about Joseph? Is that what you’re thinking about?”
“Remember in kindergarten, when Joseph was too scared of Sandra to say her name?” I ask. “But we spied on her anyway, and Joseph screamed when she spotted us?”
“Oh yeah!” Winnie says. “Sandra was just ‘The Big One’!” Winnie widens her eyes and pretends to be Joseph. “Oh no, The Big One’s coming! Oh no, The Big One saw us!”
Sandra hmmphs. She takes a left into Trinity’s parking lot and gets in the drop-off lane.
“Joseph isn’t afraid of me, though,” Winnie goes on. She taps her chin. “He loooooves me, because I am the nicer sister. And sweeter and smarter and more fun to look at.”
“More fun to look at?” Sandra says. “Like how a severed foot is fun to look at? Is that what you mean?”
“Ew, and no,” Winnie says.
Sandra winks at me. Yesterday she showed me a picture of a severed foot on her phone. A real live severed foot. It was from a man in a motorcycle accident who’d been wearing sneakers instead of motorcycle boots. When his body skidded down the highway, sloosh, off came his foot.
The picture was interesting, but I wasn’t sure how long I should look at it, or if I should look at it at all. Sandra told me not to worry. She said the motorcycle man posted the picture himself because he wanted other people to remember to wear motorcycle boots.
“He didn’t think he’d be in an accident that day, but he was,” Sandra said. “Expect the unexpected, buddy. That’s the life lesson here.”
I like the life lessons Sandra tells me. Sandra and Winnie. I’m glad I have older sisters to tell me how the world works, because sometimes it’s confusing. I’m glad I have a baby sister, too. I’ll get to tell her how the world works, once she learns to talk.
Also, a while back I promised to get Maggie a pet, and I need to be a man of my word, even if Maggie doesn’t know words yet.
Yikes, I need to get Baby Maggie a pet!
Which makes me wonder something, which I ask Winnie and Sandra.
“Do you think Joseph still has Sneaky Bob Lizard?”
“Probably,” Winnie says.
Sandra inches the car forward. It’s pretty much impossible to have a wreck in the drop-off lane, so I unbuckle my seat belt and scoot forward. “Do you think he’s still fuzzy-headed?”
“Joseph or Sneaky Bob Lizard?” Sandra says.
“Ha-ha. Do you think he remembers all the kids in our class?”
“Unless someone clonked him on the head,” Winnie says. “He missed . . . what? Six months of school? Of course he remembers the kids in your class.”
I knew that already, actually. I just wanted to hear it. I know the answer to my next question, too, but I ask it anyway. “Do you think he remembers me?”
Winnie snorts. “No, Ty, he forgot you. He also forgot spying on Sandra, making pants out of duct tape—”
“And vests and swords,” Sandra says.
“And those horrible drinks you dared each other to drink!” Winnie exclaims. “I’m sure he forgot those.”
I smile. We used ketchup and yucky mustard and lemon curd, and milk and soy sauce and orange juice. Oh, and Cheez Whiz. I don’t think either of us will forget those drinks, ever.
Joseph and I made those drinks last fall. Now it’s spring. We can still do spying and duct tape and yucky drinks, but we can also go outside and drop Mentos into bottles of Coke, which’ll make the Coke spray up and soak everybody. We’ll just have to make sure Mom is busy with Teensy Baby Maggie.
Teensy Baby Maggie! My eyeballs nearly pop out. I know Teensy Baby Maggie—of course I do, she’s my sister—but Joseph has never met her. That is so weird!
The car in front of us drives off. Sandra pulls into the space where kids are supposed to get out, then slams on the brakes. Really slams them, because she knows I like it when she makes the car rock back and forth.
“Move your booty, mister,” she says.
I scramble out, slinging my backpack over my shoulder.
Winnie leans over Sandra’s lap. “Tell Joseph ‘hi’ for us, and that we’re so glad he’s back.”
Sandra shoves Winnie off of her. “If he remembers you. If he doesn’t, don’t bother.”
I laugh. Then I stop. I put my hand on the rubbery bit of Sandra’s open window and say, “Hold on. What do you mean, if he remembers?”
“You said it, not me,” Sandra says.
“Sandra, don’t be mean,” Winnie says.
Sandra shrugs. “Well, how do we know he didn’t get clonked on the head?”
“He didn’t,” Winnie says.
“Maybe aliens took over his body, or he randomly got a brain transfer.”
Winnie rolls her eyes. “No.”
Sandra wags her finger. “Now, now. Remember what Mom says: The only thing you can be certain of in life is change.”
My stomach clenches, because Mom does say that. Not every second, but yes. What if Joseph doesn’t remember me?
Except he will. Joseph not remembering me would be like . . . like the earth turning upside-down. We’d all fall off and go floating into space.
“Sandra’s just trying to provoke you, Ty,” Winnie says. “Don’t let her rain on your parade.”
“What parade?” I say.
Sandra laughs and slaps the steering wheel. “Exactly.”
She peels off, and I try to remember what “provoke” means. Something about a pin? About poking another person with a pin?
From the end of the drop-off lane, Sandra’s last bit of advice floats back to me. “Expect the unexpected! The Big One always knows best!”
Expect the unexpected. I push and prod that thought in my mind as I trudge up the school’s front stairs. It made sense with the motorcycle man and his decapitated foot (which might not be the right word, but I always forget the real one). I don’t like it when it has to do with Joseph, though. With Joseph, I don’t want to expect the unexpected.
Only Joseph didn’t expect to get sick, did he? Just like the motorcycle man didn’t expect to be in an accident?
But how can anyone expect the unexpected? It’s like saying, “Tie your shoe, but without tying your shoe.” Or telling a dog to turn into a cat, or marching over to the kitchen sink and ordering it to fly. Sinks can’t fly! That’s why they’re called sinks!
Oh, fudge nickels, I think, walking faster. Just go to Joseph. Duh. Once I’m with Joseph, everything will be fine. The earth won’t turn upside-down and no one will go floating into space. Duh!
“Ty!” someone calls.
“Ty, help us!” the person says, and it’s a girl, and I’m pretty sure it’s Hannah, who’s in Mrs. Webber’s class with me. “You’re our only hope!”