Listen! This book was written by: Stephanie S. Tolan
Charley is halfway across the dam, sweat dripping down her back under her T-shirt, when her father drives past her on his way back to work. She doesn’t look at him. As slowly as he is driving, the car still kicks up gray-white dust from the gravel road. She walks through the dust, as strait and tall as she can make herself, jamming her walking stick into the stones as she goes, trying not to limp. She is walking. It is what he wants, and she is doing it. But if he is so interested in the best thing for her, why cant he let her decide what this is?
“I wont have you sitting in that chair all summer!” he yelled when she refused to come sit with him and eat the lunch Sarita had scramble to fix when he showed up suddenly, unexspectedly, in the middle in the middle of the work day.
“Summer hasn’t even started yet,” she yelled back.
“It’s the last day of school – for kids who are in school,” he said.
You’d think it was her fault that she isn’t in school, finishing the sixth grade with everybody else!
“You only have ten weeks to build up your strength and be ready when school starts again. You are to get outside today. It’s time, Charlene! Your physical therapist says you’re healing well and a little exercise is all you need to get back to normal. You will start by walking. Today. “Is that clear?” He was using his I-am-the-boss voice that keeps a factory full of workers in line.
She lowered the footrest of the recliner chair, picked up her walking stick from the floor, and got to her feet as gracefully as she could. Without a word she went down the hall to her room and put on her sneakers. Then, pounding the stick on the floor as she went, she walked strait through the living room and the dining room, out the sliding glass door, and down the ramp he had had built over the stairs her second week in the hospital.
Her father was at the breakfast table in the lake room when she left, waving his fork in the air as he talked into his cell phone. He might have taken time to come home for lunch, but he hadn’t really left his work, Charley thinks as his car moves up the hill on the other side of the dam and disappears around the curve. It’s what her father does-work. Normal for him means his eighty hour work week. By the time the dust from his car settles, Charley has reached the end of the dam, where there is a bench under a willow tree by the water.She could sit there in the shade awhile, looking at Eagle Lake, it’s ripples glittering in the sun. She could rest her leg and then go home agin. But she keeps walking, up the slope of the road.
She can walk alright. She is done with the wheelchair. Done with crutches. The “miracle” of the rod the doctors stuck into the bone in her right leg from her hip to her knee means she has never had to wear a cast. By now all there is to show for what happened to her is the scar down her leg where they put the rod in. And the walking stick she made so she wouldn’t have to use the stupid old-lady-looking cane Tony, her physical terrorist, tried to give her after the crutches.
Her father wants her back to normal. Normal. What is that? Is that what her life was the first week of March? Befor her friend Amy’s brother Travis gave them a ride home from school that rainy Monday afternoon? Befor he got showing off and playing NASCAR driver? Before what the papers called a “one-car accident” thatwas really one car and one tree? She cant remember the accident that put her in the hospital. And ended the school year for her. She cant even remember the first few days after it. The docters say, because of the concussion , she proubly never will.
If there is one thing she’s learned for sure in her twelve years of life, it is that you can’t go back to the way things used to be. No matter how much you want to. You can’t go back. Somehow or other, you have to keep going forward. It’s just that she hasn’t figured out yet how to do that.
Wheather she spends the whole summer in the recliner chair or out here walking the hot, dusty road around Eagle Lake, it can’t be like the last to summers. This summer cant me Charley and Amy at Amy’s house swimming in Amy’s poll, playing tennis, going to the movies, hanging out at the mall, spending whole days at a time at Carrowinds amusement park with Amy’s family. Because the car he wrecked. And Amy…Amy…
Charley stabes her walking stick into the gravel, and a little puff of dust rises into the air.
She has reached the split where the gravel road that is Eagle Lake Drive goes straight ahead, past the caretaker’s house and out to the paved country road, and also right, through the woods toward the south side of the lake. She turns right and keeps on walking. Where the road splits again-right to the four houses closest to the dam and left to the rest of the houses on the southside of the lake-she goes left. Trees nearly meet over her head-thick woods on one side, woods with houses on the other.
She goes on stabing her walking stick into the gravel, goes on making little puffs of dust. Amy, her best friend since second grade, is going off to spend the whole summer at lake george in upstate New York with Becky Sue Lindner. Charley still can’t quite believe it. If it was Amy who’d been smashed up in a car accident, if it was Charley whose brother caused the accident, and if Amy was supposed to be getting out and starting to do stuff to get her strength back, Charley would be right there doing stuff with her. That’s what best friends are for.
“Evelyn Lindner was a tennis champion, you know,” Amy’s mother explained when she called a couple weeks ago to break the news. As if it was her mother, instead of Amy, who had made the decision. “She coaches Becky Sue, and she’s offers to coach Amy, too. It’s a chance of a lifetime.” Amy’s mother didn’t say that Charley woulden’t be up to playing tennis with Amy this summer. She didn’t have to.
Amy called, then, to say it was all her mothers idea, and she didn’t want to go. But Charley knows better. She’s seen Amy get what she wants plenty of times befor. As soon as Amy’s mother said good-bye, Charley hung up, opened her laptop, and deleted every single photo of the two of them together. And she quit responding to Amy’s instant messages. Whenever Amy called after that Charley told Sarita she didn’t want to talk.
She wont have to think aout calls or emails orinstant messages from Amy much longer now. The Lindners don’t let their kids have computers at lake George. Today, June 10, is the last day of school, and tommoroAmy and Becky Sue’s family will leave first thing in the morning. They wont be back until the weekend before school starts again.
A hawk screams overhead. Charley stops in the middle of the road and looks up, catching sight of it for only a few secondsbefor it circles out of sight behind the trees. What does a hawk have to scream about? She thinks. It’s up there, rideing the air, high and easy, not even moveing its wings. She wipes the sweat from her eyeswith her free hand and curses. Her other hand is practically paralyzed from holding onto her walking stick so hard. She understands now why canes are made the way they are-so you can put your weight on the handle. All those hours she spent whittling the bark off her stick, and smoothing it, carveing her initials into it, and shed better off with the cane Tony wanted to give her.