It’s all wrong. Jeremy balls his hand into a fist but doesn’t dare raise it.
Mikey stomps away from Mom, hugging an armload of Richard Scarry’s Busytown books. “I wanna KEEP them!”
Stomps are building up in Jeremy too, but he grits his teeth instead.
Mom’s right. Mikey behaved better when Dad was around. Then Mom never looked this tired. Too tired for two boys with attitude.
She steps around Mikey and holds their canvas library bag open in front of him. “The books don’t belong to you.”
He twists his armload away from her. “The lady gave them to me!”
Jeremy squints at Mikey, pretty sure his little brother knows better.
“She lent them to you. They’re not yours to keep. We take them back so other boys can read them.” Mom gets eye level. “We’ve talked about sharing. Library books belong to everybody.”
“But—” Mikey’s lower lip quivers. Here come the waterworks. “I like them.”
“I have to take them back today. I’ll get different books.”
“Oh.” Finally, Mikey hears what Mom already said twice. “Okay.” He drops all the books into the bag at once and walks off humming “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
Mom stares at the jumble in the bag. Jeremy begins straightening it. The whole problem wouldn’t have happened if he and Mikey were going with her—if they didn’t have to spend their long weekend with Dad.
Three quick beeps come from the driveway. “Daddy!” Mikey runs to the door.
Jeremy grabs Mom’s waist. She squeezes him, then pries his hands loose. “Love you! Have fun.”
In the car, Jeremy focuses on the back of Dad’s head, trying to push one thought into it. Turn the car around. Dad’s always changing his mind anyway.
“What’s a matter, Jermy?” Mikey shifts his bottom forward in his car seat and rests one foot on Jeremy’s knee, their version of holding hands.
Jeremy pulls his knee away. “Nuttin’!” He folds his arms across his chest. If asked what’s wrong one more time, he’ll scream. It’d be quicker to list what’s right. Mom said to remember that Mikey’s too young to understand about the divorce.
How old do you have to be for it to make sense?
“Buh-bye, laundry-mat!” Mikey says out the window at the first stoplight. He waves a limp hand for blocks. “Buh-bye, Sunday School. Buh-bye, burgers.”
Dad sighs. “They have burgers where we’re going.”
Once they leave the city, the desert blurs by, and Mikey is snoring in minutes. Jeremy closes his eyes to avoid talking to Dad and wakes with a cough when Tilda drops into the seat in front of him. She smells like the flower shop Yaya likes to visit.
Cracking his window, Jeremy shuts his eyes again. The jangle of Tilda’s metal bracelets awakens him to a sunbeam and a turkey sandwich in his face. Even Dad asks who uses mayo instead of mustard. The afternoon passes in a blur of rest stops.
Before they can slide into a red booth for dinner, Mikey hunches and says “Bathroom.” Jeremy reaches for his hand, but Dad grabs it first.
“I got this, buddy. You sit down and chat with Tilda.”
Jeremy fidgets on his side of the unlevel table, looking at napkins, forks, menus, salt—everything but Dad’s girlfriend.
“I know you’re mad at me and your dad. We messed things up for you. The mess is ours to untangle, though. You don’t have to.”
Jeremy glares at her reflection in the window. He looks mostly through it until the bill comes.
Seeing their favorite beach at night is fun for a few minutes, until Dad and Tilda turn it into science class. They rattle off names of stars and constellations. Mikey is clueless and just keeps muttering “Betelgeuse.”
Even Jeremy gets frustrated that he can’t see what the adults see. Mom would explain better if she were here. She said she’d be looking at the same stars but is probably asleep on the couch with the TV turned up loud.
He scoots behind Dad and Tilda as far as allowed—a couple yardsticks—and hugs his knees with his arms. Mikey follows and stands looking down at him.
“Jermy, how do the beetles get the juice?”
“What? Oh.” It’s probably not worth trying to explain. “I don’t know.”
Mikey stares open-mouthed at people sitting on the beach around them. His head bobs as he counts. “One, two, free, turdy-two, gazinty! Jermy, why are all these people here? After bedtime!”
“Guess they came to see the stars too.”
“Not again!” Mikey thrusts out his lower lip and huffs through his nose. “Stars are like liberry books. What else belongs to everbody?”
Jeremy covers his eyes. Some of Mikey’s questions are harder than homework. He opens his hands to find Mikey’s face close to his.
“Lots of things, I guess. I don’t know everything.”
Mikey cocks his head at Jeremy and frowns. Dad laughs loudly, and both boys watch Tilda put her cheek to his and outline a hunter in the stars. She starts telling a story about it. Mikey runs in circles. Jeremy yawns.
“I know!” Mikey says, stopping short in front of Jeremy. “Let’s ask the stars what belongs to everbody.”
Jeremy smirks. “Sure, okay.”
Sitting down, Mikey is careful to cross his legs like Jeremy’s, then cups his hands behind his ears. After a few seconds, he smiles at the stars and nods.
Jeremy follows Mikey’s gaze and sees the hunter’s belt. Since Tilda pointed it out, it’s all he can see. He looks back at Mikey, whose smile widens as he shifts just his eyeballs back and forth between Jeremy and the stars.
“What do the stars say, Mikey?”
Mikey whispers. “The sky belongs to everbody.”
Jeremy smiles and lays back in the sand, arms pillowing his head. A light breeze pushes the leaves of a nearby palm into sight. “Trees belong to everybody,” he says.
Mikey rolls onto his knees. Grimacing, he raises his hands in the air and looks at Jeremy with wide eyes. “Not Yaya’s lemon tree! Better keep hands off!”
Jeremy laughs. Stretching his arms overhead feels good to his shoulders.
“Laughs,” he says. “They belong to everybody.”
Mikey nods. “Mommy says laughing is ’tagious, ’specially in church.”
Dad says something loud and swings his arm up and around Tilda. She giggles. Jeremy’s shoulders tighten again.
Mikey lays his head on Jeremy’s stomach and makes binoculars with his fingers. He aims them at the stars. “Mad.”
“Mommy and Daddy get mad. You get mad. Guess mad belongs to everbody.”
Mikey adjusts his head and binoculars as Jeremy rolls onto his side and pokes an index finger deep into the sand. Satisfied with the hole created, he begins drilling more. “Everybody gets mad sometimes. You do too.”
“So mad belongs to everbody then.”
“I dunno.” Jeremy counts his holes. Two, four, six, eight. “Mad’s different, I think.” He shrugs. “Prob’ly, Mom would say we shouldn’t share it.”
Mikey points at the sky, now peering through a hand telescope. “That’s a big ’un!” He sits up, studies Jeremy’s progress, and starts drilling smaller holes with his finger. “Diff’rent sizes. Like the stars.”
Standing, he lifts his arms to the sky with a whoop. “The stars talk!” he yells. A few people nearby laugh. Some man says, “Agreed.”
“Gets that from his mom,” Dad tells Tilda.
Mikey puts his hands on his hips and rocks side to side, tossing his grinning face up toward the sky. Jeremy agrees. Mikey acts and looks most like Mom when he’s happy.
“Know what, Jermy? The stars say everbody gets to keep their own mad if they wanna.”
Jeremy stops drilling holes at twenty. Salt spray spits in his face, causing a whole-body shiver. Has the ocean been roaring like that the whole time? He watches the waves roll in and out, like Mikey’s mad.
Who wants to keep mad? Jeremy stands and walks a few yardsticks closer to the water, grabs a fistful of wet sand, and throws a ball of it where the waves can reach. The foamy water gushes up, busts the ball apart, and sucks the loose sand into the ocean. “Not my mess,” he whispers.
Mikey grabs one of Jeremy’s legs with both arms from behind. “What’s a matter, Jermy?”
Jeremy reaches back and pats his brother’s shoulder. “Nuttin’, Mikey.”