The Wrong Side of the River
There’s no trust, no faith, no honesty in men
Things were pretty grim in the car on our next weekend with Dad. Aside from going out to work, Dad had become a bit of a hermit. I guessed it was easier than going out anywhere in public. Northsiders all hated him because he worked for the Mayor, and Southsiders all hated him because he lived Northside and was Mary-Rose Madison’s husband.
I guess things like duct tape lines all over our carpet and his room above the garage didn’t matter to anyone else.
“Let’s go to the Verona Cafe!” Sage said. “I love their blueberry pie.”
Dad frowned and gripped the steering wheel a bit tighter. “No, no. Elvira Hartley’s daughter Emerald works there. Elvira is baking cookies for your Mom’s next Northside meeting.”
Sage groaned. “Who cares when there’s blueberry pie, Daddy?”
“We do,” I said. “Besides it’s bad for you.”
“Nuh-uh,” Sage squealed. “Blueberries are brain food!” She tugged on the back of my shirt
I twisted round from the front seat and glared at her. “Stop being a little brat! And they aren’t brainfood once they’ve been boiled in a whole bag of sugar.”
“Sugar doesn’t kill vitamins. It makes them happier!”
“Don’t be so stupid!”
“Girls!” Dad slapped his hand so hard on the steering wheel we both jumped and clamped our mouths closed. “Enough. I deal with bickering all day every day in this town, I have no intention of listening to it all weekend from my daughters too.”
“Sorry, Dad,” I said, hanging my head.
“Sorry, Daddy.”
He sighed. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t snap at you. It’s not your fault.”
Except, I kind of thought he should snap. Maybe not at us, but definitely at the Mayor, and at Mom, too.
“Have you thought about what you’d like to do today? Something a bit further from town, perhaps? You’ve got time to decide. We need to make a quick stop on the way.”
The quick stop ended up being Mayor Griffins’ house. It was the tallest in the block, and the fanciest looking, but it still looked just like all the others.
“If you girls can’t be polite and civil, please just wait in the car,” Dad said.
“I can be civil.” I climbed out, but Sage stuck her nose in the air and crossed her arms. “I can not,” she said.
Dad rolled down the windows for her like she was a puppy, picked up a folder filled with papers, and headed up the path with me beside him. Would Julian be home?
“Madison, good man!” Mayor Griffin shouted as he opened the door. His face was redder than usual, especially his nose, and his belly stuck out further. “Inside, inside. Hurry up, that’s the way.” He bustled us in, not even stopping to notice me or say hello. He wore his heavy gold Mayor necklace-thing, even though it was the weekend and he was at home. I grinned to myself as I imagined him putting it on every time there was a knock at the door. Or maybe he slept in it.
The mayor ushered us into his big office. Like the rest of the house, it was filled with things that gleamed and shone and looked as new as the rest of the neighborhood. Mom would call it, “Gaudy”.
Dad plopped a black leather folder on the Mayor’s desk, and I stared at it. Black leather, with the monogram MM embossed on the front. Not Mary-Rose Madison. Michael Madison. I felt all the blood in my body fall to my feet and I swayed a little. What had I done?
“I take it there’s nothing you can do to stop that wife of yours?” the Mayor asked.
My ears pricked up and panic stopped my heart in my throat. “Mom? What did Mom do?” Then the Mayor noticed me. “How about you wait outside.” He took my arm and directed me back toward the door and pushed me through it. “Julian!” he bellowed. “Come and keep Miss Madison here occupied, will you?
Julian appeared in the upstairs hall with a small, brown and white dog beside him. He leaned out over the banister and squinted downstairs. “Romy? Is that you, or your sister?”
I stepped out from behind the shiny metal hatstand and waved. “It’s me.”
He flew down the stairs with his feet barely even touching the boards, and the dog whizzed ahead, stopping right in front of me. It had the brightest little eyes, and sat up on its backside to wave its front paws at me. It wasn’t a cat, but it was still pretty cute. I waved back at him.
“Hi, Romy!” Julian panted a little for air, his face turning pink. “This is my dog, Solo.” At the mention of his name, Solo danced in a little circle and sat down again, staring up at Julian. “Say hello, Solo.”
Solo lifted up one paw and held it out for me to shake. I laughed and reached down to shake it properly.
“What are you doing here?” Julian asked. A blush spread out from his nose. “I didn’t think you even knew where I lived.”
“I’m waiting for Dad.” I stared at the door, wishing my hardest that I knew what Mom had done and what had been in that folder. What if I had given Mom all the information she needed to stop the park? What if the injunction happened because of me?
Julian tapped my shoulder and snapped me back to reality. Then, he grabbed his hand back like touching me burned him and snatched it to his chest. “Let’s go out to the porch,” he said.
I wanted to ask for a glass so I could listen in at the door, but I’d caused enough trouble. So, I followed Julian out onto the porch and sat on the opposite end of the swing from him. Solo snuffled around the porch until he found a tennis ball and dropped it hopefully at Julian’s feet.
“Your Dad said my mom did something? Do you know? What did she do?” I asked.
Julian bit his lip hard enough for the hardware to make marks on his lips. He glanced over at the door, and at the windows, obviously judging to see if his father could see or hear us. He shuffled a bit closer to me on the swing and leaned forward to whisper. Solo nudged the ball closer to Julian, and looked up at him with his smiley doggy face.
“The injunction had a bunch of names on it, but Dad says your mom was the ring leader. Now all the diggers are sitting at the park costing the council money for doing nothing until it gets sorted out.” He leaned a bit further forward and whispered. “Dad is mega-ticked off. He says there was a leak of confidential information somewhere, and when he finds out where, heads will roll.”
My eyes grew so wide they hurt. If Mayor Griffin found out it was because Dad left his folder lying around, he’d lose his job. It wouldn’t matter if it was me who gave the folder to Mom, the Mayor would blame Dad. Then he would not be able to afford his half of the mortgage, Mom would kick him right out, and I would never see him again. “No! Oh, no.”
“Yeah. If it goes on too long it will eat up all the money meant for the park and everyone will miss out. No park at all.”
I thought Mom would be happier if that happened than if Southside got the park. In fact, I bet most of Northside felt the same way. She would be happier still if it ruined Dad.
Giving up on Julian, Solo picked up the slobbery ball and dropped it right on top of my feet. Drool seeped in around the straps of my sandals. “Ugh! Oh gross.” I kicked the ball away and Solo ran off after it, toenails scrabbling on the wooden boards.
Julian’s eyes went wide in horror. “Solo! No dropping balls on people’s feet! That is bad manners.” He gave me a shaky smile. “I’m really sorry, Romy. He’s crazy about balls. Any ball. In fact, anything that’s round and even a bit ball shaped.”
“It’s okay,” I said, trying really hard not to think about the drool going cold on the tops of my feet. The little dog did look a little bit sorry, but only a very little bit.
This was exactly why cats made nicer pets.
I had more important things to worry about than dog slobber, though. “There has to be something we can do about the injunk...thingy,” I said.
Now it was Julian’s turn to look surprised. “Us? What can we do?”
“I don’t know. Yet. But something has to happen or the town will head straight for civil war.” The other consequences worried me more, though. My family could be ruined, all because of one stupid park.
Julian nodded. “I guess so. I’ll help, but I don’t have any good ideas.”
“W—what if someone confessed that they leaked the information? Do you think your Dad would calm down?” It came out a lot shakier, and a whole lot guiltier than I wanted it to.
“Oh sure, right after he had them, their family and closest friends all run out of town.” Julian shrugged, and my body went cold as ice. “Want to see what Solo can do? I trained him to do tons of tricks. It’s so mega.”
I looked down at the little dog. He did look quite smart, if you didn’t count the bits of slobber hanging off the whiskery bits around his face. But my mind was filled up with other things. Like how my own mother let me be her accidental spy and ruin everything. I would never forgive her if Dad was fired or had to move away. I’d never forgive me, either.
Julian looked so excited to show me Solo’s tricks, so I said yes before I thought about it. “We have to go up to my room. He’s not allowed to do tricks in the house or out front where people might see.”
Julian’s room was chaos, not all tidy like I thought it would be. He had a giant bookcase on one wall stacked up with books, graphic novels, comics and action figures. A full set of dumbells sat up against one wall with an elliptical covered in t-shirts and boxer shorts right beside it. His comforter was tied in a knot in the middle of the bed, and I had to step over piles of shoes and legos to get to the chair by his desk.
“Sorry about the mess,” he said, “the housekeeper only comes once a week.”
He made all that mess in less than a week? I was not sure whether to be impressed or grossed out.
Julian opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a red rubber ball, all dented with tiny teeth marks. “This,” he said, “Is the uber ball. It’s Solo’s most favorite ball in the whole world. So we save it just for training.”
Solo dropped the other ball and whizzed over to Julian’s feet, sitting at attention like a little doggy soldier.
Julian strapped a belt around his waist that had a little pouch hanging from it. Once he had the belt on, he became this whole other person—a boy a lot more like the one who broke up the fight during the first day of Drama. He stood up straight, slipping the ball into his pocket and holding a little plastic clicker thing in his hand. He gave Solo some orders with a big, confident voice.
“Solo, take a bow,” Julian said. The little dog bent forward, backside in the air, until his chin touched the ground.
I laughed and applauded. “That is so clever!”
Julian pressed the clicker so it made a click sound, and took a little doggie treat out of his pouch and gave it to Solo. Then he beamed at me. “That’s an easy one. Watch these!”
Every time Julian gave Solo an order, which sometimes meant nothing more than a little hand movement, the dog did a trick. I watched, and clapped, and gasped as Solo spun in tight circles, weaved through Julian’s legs as he walked, stood on his hind legs, ran in backward circles, and rolled over and over from one side of the room to the other. I clapped so hard my hands hurt.
Julian reached for the ball in his pocket. “This is his newest trick. We’re still trying to learn it, it’s pretty tough. But he’ll get it soon, I know he will.”
Solo stared at the ball in Julian’s hand, shivering and shaking and making little whimpering noises. “Solo, flip it, flip it!”
Then, like some sort of doggy magic, Solo did a backward somersault. Then, he wound himself up for another, except this time it didn’t work. He landed awkwardly on one hip, and hopped back to his feet.
“Good try, buddy,” Julian said, and slipped him a treat. He tucked the ball back in his pocket and Solo whined.
“Can’t he have his ball for trying hard?” I asked. It didn’t seem fair that Solo could never have the thing he loved best.
“It wouldn’t work as well if he could have it all the time. It’s just because he gets it a little bit that he wants it so much. One day, when he’s done the most amazing trick ever, I’ll let him have this ball forever and find something new to train him with.”
As if he knew what Julian had said, Solo started to bounce around Julian and lick at his fingers, and push his face into Julian’s hand.
“Aww,” I said. “That’s kind of sweet.”
Julian blushed. “I love hanging out with him, thinking up new tricks and planning a way to teach it to him. It’s kind of my thing.”
“I can tell.” I didn’t even mean it sarcastically. Watching him deal with Solo felt a lot like watching a celebrity designer plan out a piece on TV. He was confident and in control. I liked this Julian.
“It’s all the strategy and planning you have to do. If you can think ahead and figure out what will motivate him into performing a certain behavior, then the rest is easy.” He hugged Solo, not even minding the little droplets of drool all over his muzzle. “Want to pet him?”
“Not even the tiniest bit,” I said, shuddering.
Julian laughed and moved a step closer. “What? Don’t you think he’s cute?”
I stepped back, hands out. “He’s all...drooly! I am definitely a cat person.”
Solo made a small bark. I stepped backward, stood on a lego that poked into my foot hard. Trying to catch my balance, I grabbed at the back of the chair, but it was a swivelly one that twisted under me until I slipped and landed, hard, on my butt.
Apologizing profusely, Julian sent Solo to go to his basket, before holding out his hand to help me up. Even though I knew he probably had dog drool on it, I took it. I could feel his whole arm shake just from my hand in his, but he jerked me to my feet with a quick yank.
“Are you okay? I’m sorry you fell. I’m an idiot.”
I nodded, brushing down my pants. “I’m fine. But you are an idiot.” I smiled at him, so he would know I was kidding.
“C’mon then. I’ll get you a soda.”
I followed him down the stairs, grinning to myself as I thought about how he trained his dog and worked out plans and strategies to make Solo do what he wanted him to do.
Someone who could lead like that would come in very handy if the town ended up at war.

Keep Reading

Chapter 13

Thou canst not speak of that thou dost not feel Julian

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