The Phantomime
Chapter Four
Andy didn’t catch up to me until I reached our house. He stamped ahead, shoved his way through the front door, and slammed it so I had to use my key to get in.
It was so worth it. I’d won the dare, beaten my brother, and, for bonus points, ticked him off big-time. Not a bad day’s work, I’d say.
Andy’s foot-stomps disappeared into his bedroom, followed by a slam.
When I hung my coat on its hook in the mudroom, the tear in the sleeve was right there, glaring at me. It didn’t help that the red coat had been lined with a yellow so bright it screamed, “I am torn!”
I tucked the sleeve into the breast pocket, which hid the tear but made my coat look like it was pledging allegiance.
No way was I telling my mom about the damage. I’d ask Marissa for help next time I saw her. She learned to sew when her mom stopped driving to the city each month and Riverton Fashions didn’t carry anything bright enough for her tastes. The only time I ever tried to sew, I ended up with more puncture wounds than a porcupine wrestler. Until I could get my best friend’s help, my coat would have to stay patriotic.
Next time I did a dare, I’d wear something poorly made that my mother hated.
Since Andy had gone to sulk in his room, I had the computer in the den to myself. I logged into my IM to look for Marissa. A little pen icon showed that she was already two-finger-typing a frantic message.
“There you are,” her message said.
“How? I only saw you a couple of hours ago.” The pen icon wriggled around for a bit and she added, “Oh, the theater dare. You’re not going to be in the paper again?”
“No, I’m not. And it’s crises, plural.”
“Crisis one?”
“I tore a hole in my coat.”
“How did you find something to jump off in the theater?” There were times when Marissa’s wit was not amusing.
“Any-WAY, on to Crisis two. Turns out the theater isn’t so abandoned.” I stopped to stretch out my fingers. Typing came a close second to math as my worst skill. “There were actors there.”
“What sort of actors?”
“I don’t know. Acting ones. A boy.”
I could almost hear her ears prick up from three blocks away. “Ooh, cute?”
“A show off.”
“Cute then.”
“Focus, M.”
“Soz.” Even Marissa’s pen icon looked apologetic. “What’s the crisis?”
I banged away at the keyboard, hitting backspace over and over to fix my mistakes.
Marissa got impatient. “C’mon.”
I had to wipe out what I’d written so I could say, “Gimme a sec.” Then I typed faster and made more mistakes. “Tehy in the dark. Thetaer a mess. How cuold they put on a play in the drak?”
It must have taken a minute for Marissa to think of an answer, or maybe interpret what I’d said. The pen icon sat still for so long, I decided she’d gone to dinner when her reply arrived.
“A play about mimes? No. A shadow play? I don’t know. I didn’t even know the theater had reopened. Mom says every time they try to put on a play there, the whole place stinks of smoke so bad that everyone has to leave.”
I’d heard that story too. Lucky for me, my nose didn’t work. Mom called it “anosmia”. In this case, I called it a stroke of good luck. The theater could reek and I wouldn’t notice.
“Are you going to go back?” Marissa asked.
I typed, “No,” then, “Yes,” then, “No.” Finally, I typed “No idea,” and hit enter.
“I could come with you, for moral support.”
Will had been clear on that point. “I’m supposed to go aloooooone.”
It went quiet while Marissa sulked. I loaded up a music video and the song had just started when another quick message came through. “GTG. Mom’s calling for dinner.”
In some sort of synchronized parent hive-mind thing, Mom called out from our kitchen too. “An-dee. Pop-pee. Din-ner.” Mom always hyphenated when she yelled.
From upstairs, Andy’s sulky voice called back: “It’s Andrew, not Andy. How many times?”
I hurried out to the kitchen and almost ran into my mother’s hand. She held it out in front of her as a stop-signal. “Freeze. Wash up first.”
Lucky for me, I got upstairs to the bathroom before Andy. My brother didn’t believe in hand washing, so he did it like he did everything, as resentfully as possible. He splashed water over the mirror and got the soap covered with nasty flakes of black nail polish. My hands always felt dirtier when I washed up after him.
By the time I got done, Andy stood at the door with his eyes narrowed until all I could see was the eyeliner. “Why did you scream?”
“Uh—I didn’t. The voices in your head must be extra loud tonight,” I said.
“No. At the theater. Why did you scream?”
For once, I managed to stop my mouth before the truth came out. “I saw a spider.”
“You did not. You’re not scared of spiders.”
It pleased me that didn’t realize how wrong that statement was. I preferred to keep my image of fearlessness unspoiled by my grocery-list of phobias.
“My arm caught on a broken light switch. I got stuck and when I tried to get loose, I knocked the door shut and couldn’t see to get out. That’s all.”
“You sure?”
“It’s the truth. Take it or leave it.”
Andy frowned so deep his eyeliner started to melt. “You didn’t notice anything . . . freaky?”
Again, I had to put the brakes on my mouth. That question could have meant he’d gotten Will and friends to sneak into the theater to scare me. But I hoped it meant he was a big baby who couldn’t believe I’d bested him. The only way to find out for sure would be to go back, and I hadn’t made my mind up about that.
“All I saw was a beat-up old theater and a whole lot of dust.”
To my surprise, he gave a defeated shrug. “I guess you win, then.”
It ruined it when he gave up like that. He pushed off from the wall and made for the stairs, then stopped a couple of steps down and looked over his shoulder at me. “By the way, you ever whack me again, and I’ll let you choke on your gum next time.”
That was more like it. “Then I’d tell everyone you got beaten up by your little sister.”
He thumped down the stairs, and before he disappeared into the living room, shouted, “You won’t be able to. You’ll have choked to death.”
I ran down the stairs after him. “Nuh-uh. I’ll Heimlich myself.”
After that, we had to give up because our parents were waiting at the table.
During dinner, I kept my eyes on my plate so I wouldn’t have to watch my brother eat. It involved a lot of snorting, grunting, and other noises that belonged in a trough. In self-defense, I ate as fast as I could.
“Whoa, Popsicle, slow down,” Dad said.
Doing my best to ignore Andy’s disgusting food noises, I picked at the rest of my food. Mom kept up her usual stream of questions, quizzing Andy about his day.
“I learned stuff. I did stuff. Period.” Andy sat back and rolled his eyes. Jerk.
Mom turned her attention on me. “What about you, honey? How did your day go?”
I hesitated, chewing a piece of meatloaf into a pulp. Knowing my loud-mouth brother sat across the table didn’t make it easy to lie. “A standard day, all round.” Squeezing my eyes closed, I shoved a big chunk of meatloaf into my mouth. I couldn’t lie well on a dare. At least this was sort of the truth. Any standard day involving Poppy Malone included some sort of a dare.
“Why don’t I believe that?” Mom asked.
“Because your son has let you down so many times you’ve lost the ability to trust,” I said.
Andy aimed his boot for my shin, but hit the big center table leg instead.
“Poppy hit me with a lump of wood,” Andy said, in a rush. He dragged down his black t-shirt at the collar to show a pretty decent bump on his collarbone. “Look. Bruises.”
Mom muttered. “Good for her.”
Dad choked on a bit of his potato and had to cover his mouth to hide his grin.
Andy’s fork clattered onto his plate sending an avalanche of peas onto the table cloth. “Way to parent, Mom.”
When I caught Andy’s eye, I gave him a warning look that said, “Don’t even think of telling them about the dare.”
His skin crinkled beside his eyes, and I realized, I’d just given him ammunition.
Andy knew as well as I did that Dad, especially, had a thing about the Majestic. He’d watched it burn when he was a kid, along with everyone else in town. He still had nightmares, and no way would he want his daughter going in there, much less going back.
And, now, I knew I absolutely would go back.

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