Roller-O


First-Place Fiction

It all started when Danny said he was going to go. We were all at the table—dad, Dan, and I—eating supper. Danny looked kind of quiet and then said, “Dad, uh, I’ve been thinking, and, uh, what would you think about me going … on a mission?” Then he looked nervous like when he doesn’t know what to say.

Well, dad didn’t say anything, not anything, and I about fell off my chair. I was glad I didn’t have any food in my mouth because it probably would have fallen on my plate, my mouth was open so wide.

All this time Dan just sat there looking at the casserole on his plate like he was seeing if it would move or something.

Finally dad talked. “Son, if that’s what you’ve decided to do, then I’m glad.”

That was just like dad. A big thing like this comes along, and he says, “Well then, I’m glad.” He has always been that way, not saying too much, but more so since mom died.

Well I couldn’t believe my ears, and finally I said so: “Dan, when … I mean, I just can’t believe it! Why did you decide to go?”

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while. You don’t have to act like it’s the end of the world, Mauri.”

I didn’t know what to think. You just have to know Danny, that’s all. My brother has always been big for his age. When he was 15, he was almost 6 feet, and he’s good-looking, too. But he’s also pretty rowdy. He wasn’t that rowdy until mom died. When she died five years ago, dad got quiet and Dan got rowdy. I wondered sometimes if I changed any. Maybe since I was only nine when she died, I didn’t have much to change.

Dan’s not all that bad, really, but he’s just not the kind you expect to go on a mission. Rowdy. I guess I always hoped he’d go because you’re supposed to go when you’re 19 if you’re a Mormon boy. Danny is 18. He’ll be 19 next October, and I never thought he’d go.

We finished our supper without saying much more. Nobody said a word about Danny going. After supper dad went outside to fix up the animals for the night. I guess you would call where we live sort of a farm. Dad works over at the dairy, but we have a little land with a few chickens, two cows, a pig, and horses. I’m glad we have horses.

Dan got up and said he was going to Luke’s. That is just like Dan: he always runs off when there is a little work to be done. I started getting mad.

“Danny, I’m sick and tired of you leaving me the dishes every night.”

He looked at me in exasperation and said, “Mauri, you don’t do ’em every night, and you know it. Once or twice a week, maybe, if you’re lucky. You get on me for Luke all the time. His sister Jeanette isn’t any better than he is, that’s for sure. You hang around with her all the time.”

“Daniel Hertz, you think you’re going on a mission. Well, I’ll believe that when I see it. You run wild with Luke practically every night; you don’t even believe the Church; you’ve only started going in the last six months; and you’re not even considerate enough to help around the house once in a while. Stop running down my friends, creep.”

As soon as I’d said it, I knew I shouldn’t have. Danny didn’t mind too much when I yelled at him for the dishes. We yell at each other sometimes. When I sandwiched in that stuff about the Church, he kind of turned pale and didn’t say anything. Dan’s got dad’s big dark eyes. They’re the softest thing about him. Hurt always comes through in his eyes.

I ran out of the kitchen to my room so Danny wouldn’t see me bawl. I hate people seeing me cry, even though I cry quite often. I flopped down on my bed, and the tears just kept coming. Boy, I wish mom were here, I thought. She’d fix everything like she usually did. Then maybe dad wouldn’t be so sad and quiet all the time, and maybe Dan would never have turned wild, and I wouldn’t have said mean things to him. Maybe I wouldn’t have been bawling. Dan loved mom a lot. Of course, in our family it’s pretty hard to tell someone stuff like that, but everyone knows it anyway.

After a while I stopped crying, but I was still breathing like I was crying. I hate it when you keep gasping for breath after you’ve dried your tears.

Mom used to arm wrestle Dan when he was in junior high. I lay there on the bed thinking about her beating him. She’d get him every time. I guess it was all that bread she mixed that made her so strong. Dan would just grin when she got his arm down and say, “Just wait till next time.” Well, he could wait all he wanted because mom could always beat him.

Our mom was beautiful, and I’m not just saying that, because she really was. Her name was Norma Mary O’Brien Hertz. I always thought Norma was a crummy name for such a pretty mother. She had dark brown hair, almost black, like Dan’s and mine, and big blue eyes like mine. She had beautiful clear skin and a dimple in one of her cheeks. The only bad thing about her face, if you ask me, were the wrinkles in her forehead. But I guess they just proved she was a mother. Sometimes dad tells me I look like mom, and I wish it were true, but I only have her hair color and eyes, and worst of all, I have freckles. Not the sprinkle-on-your-nose kind that make a girl look cute, but the try-to-get-rid-of-them-and-can’t kind. I hate them. Mom said that with freckles I’d never grow old. She never had them.

After I was finished thinking, I went in the bathroom and washed my face with cold water and checked for red splotches on my cheeks. My eyes looked like golf balls struck by red lightning. When I went in the kitchen to do up the dishes, Danny had them all finished, and he’d gone—to Luke’s I guessed. After I saw that Dan had the dishes finished, I felt even worse because I knew he felt bad and was trying to make it up to me, but I was the one who had the making up to do. In a way, though, I felt relieved because that meant Dan didn’t hate me for losing my head and saying mean things, and everything was okay. When our family fights, we usually don’t apologize with words unless it’s a real big fight.

I got to wondering why dad was taking so long. If I’d been smart, I would have thought to check his room to see if he’d gone to bed. He has to get up at 4:30, so he goes to bed really early. I went outside to find him.

He wasn’t at the pigpen, so I walked over to the cow pasture. The crickets were chirping their lungs out. That sound always makes me sad because somebody once told me that when a cricket sings, it means it’s alone and looking for another cricket. I don’t know if it is true, but I don’t think even a cricket should have to be alone.

The night air was crisp. I was thinking I should have worn a jacket. I walked toward the pasture, stepping over cow pies, smelling the March smell in the air—not winter, but not spring—thinking about Danny. I couldn’t figure out why it was bugging me about his mission and all. I thought I should be glad, but I sort of wasn’t. I checked to see if dad was in the pasture. He wasn’t. I climbed on the post fence and sat for a while instead of going back into the house.

Just when I was getting all adjusted to Dan being the heathen brother, he decides to go on a mission. Why? He can’t know the Church is true. People just don’t change that quickly in six months, not Dan anyhow. He just can’t know that it’s true. There is more permanence in people than that. Once you start being something, that’s what you are.

There was just a sliver of a yellow moon. I love the sky, especially at night. I saw millions of stars. (You see more where we live than you do in the city.) Millions and zillions of stars all in a pattern, shifting slowly across the sky—not fast-moving like clouds, but lazy so you can’t even tell they’re moving until after hours of watching. Permanent—like people.

I could watch stars forever. Sometimes in the summer when I was little, I’d take a blanket out on the lawn and watch the sky till I fell asleep. Dad would come and pick me up, not waking me, and put me in bed. I liked that.

I sat there on that post for a long time, maybe hours, just watching the sky, wondering if Dan really knew. Then I saw it.

In the sky there was one little stream of light that fell and fell and fell until it faded into the dark. I watched it until I couldn’t even imagine I’d seen anything. A star falling from the sky. Then I realized that not even stars are permanent. I knew I had to find out no matter what happened or what I found. I had to know if Danny knew … if I knew.

I wondered where that star landed.

In the morning Dan woke me up just as the sky was turning pink around the gray ridges of the mountains. It was late.

“Mauri, wake up or you’ll be late for school. I’ve already got the chores done.”

“Dan, I’m not going to school this morning.”

“What’s wrong? You have a fever or something? Want me to call dad at work?”

“No, I just feel kind of sick inside. I think I’ll be okay if I rest for a day.”

“Maur, want me to stay with you?”

I knew I wouldn’t have to work too hard to get him to do that. “No, Dan. Listen, I’ll be okay.”

Danny looked away, then said, “Mauri, about last night … I … I’m sorry.”

Why was he apologizing to me? I looked at his brown eyes. They were soft. How could I fib to a brother with those eyes? “Don’t worry, Dan. I just ache, that’s all. I said I’d be okay, didn’t I? Go on, go to school.”

I was making it all up, but I didn’t care. I just wanted him gone. I needed to be alone that day to find out.

In the Bible it tells about Jacob who wrestled all night with an angel to get a blessing. He knew. It also says in the Bible that if a person wants to know, God will tell him. That’s how the first prophet of our church found out. Well, I figured I could wrestle angels better after a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast, and I figured I needed to know just as much as Jacob did or anybody.

I got out of bed and went into the kitchen. Cereal, milk, and cold toast for breakfast—my usual. Then I pulled on a pair of old jeans and a sweater. All that only took me five minutes.

I went into my room and kneeled down by my bed. The linoleum was cold on my feet and knees. I stood up again. “This is stupid.” I said it right out loud. A little shiver ran through my arms. I closed my eyes a second and shuddered. Stupid or not, I was going through with it. I put a blanket on the floor, kneeled down, and began, slowly.

“Father in Heaven, I’m sorry I’m not stopping to thank you for everything, but something’s come up and it’s pretty important. You may know by now that Dan says he’s going on a mission—of course you do. Well, Heavenly Father, this means something. I’ve just got to find out if our church is true, if you’re really there. I’ve never asked outright before because the way I felt was always enough. Please tell me. I’ve always believed it, but I just never knew it for sure or anything. I’ve always tried to do mostly good, and I’m not too rowdy … like some people. Can you please tell me? I’ve got all day to wait for an answer.” I peeked out of one eye to see if everything was the same. It was.

“Lord, if Danny does know, please tell me. It’s important to me. Please tell me if it’s true. Okay, Heavenly Father, I’ll wait.” I waited for a long time. I could hear the clock ticking off the seconds. I thought I’d probably have to wait a century or two at the rate I was going. I’d never thought about it before, but I guess God has plenty of time.

“All right then, Lord, I didn’t especially want to, but if you’ll let me, I’ll wrestle the angel. If I have to do it to find out, then I will. It would be nice if I could get a different one than Jacob had. He had kind of a rough time. I’ll take one my size if you’ll let me. Heavenly Father, I’ve got to know. Please tell me.”

I wasn’t getting anywhere.

“Please, Lord, please, please, please, please, please, please, tell me if the Church is true. If you don’t think I can handle the angel, just try me. If I have to, I’ll even take the one Jacob had.”

I heard a creak and opened one eye to see what it was. My bedroom door opened and in walked the biggest angel the Lord could have sent. My eyes popped open, and I jumped up and started to scream. “Lord, I changed my mind! Never mind, Lord! Forget it!”

I stopped quick because it was Dan, not any angel. Boy, did I feel stupid.

“Mauri, what’s wrong, for crying out loud? I’m calling dad. I knew I should have stayed.”

I started crying and said, “Dan, I’m glad it’s you. I thought … you just scared me to death, that’s all.”

“Good thing I came home. I forgot my books.” Dan looked out the window. “I thought you were dying or something.”

“Oh, be quiet.” I was embarrassed. I grabbed a pillow and threw it at Dan; then he picked it up and whammed me with it. We both started laughing. I was so glad. It was nice, to have him there. I guess I really didn’t want to wrestle that angel after all, but there had to be some way to find out … later.

“Dan, I’m coming to school with you.”

Dan looked at me like I was a Martian or something, shook his head, and said, “Mauri, you’re the strangest person I’ve ever known.”

I slipped into my seat without my first period teacher, Mrs. Marble, even seeing me. I think she is going to be as glad as the kids will be when she finally retires. She isn’t too interesting, and English is one subject that needs an interesting teacher to make it bearable, if you ask me.

Jeanette and I sat together in the back. She grinned at me when I came in. “Hi, where’ve you been?”

“We slept in,” I said.

Just then Mrs. Marble told us to act mature and be quiet. Then she whined on all about prepositions being sort of like adverbs. Boring. I started thinking about my praying that morning. Would I ever find out? I didn’t want to wrestle the angel. Was that the only way?

Two years before, when Jeanette and I were at girls’ camp, a testimony meeting was planned for the last night. When we were leaving our cabin for the bonfire, I told Jeanette, “When this night is over, I think I’ll know for sure the Church is true.” But even after testimony meeting I didn’t, not for sure. Not for sure—that was the problem.

That night after the meeting we told ghost stories. One of the older girls told about a story this German guy wrote. It was all about Christ coming back at the end of the world, but instead of saving everybody and taking them to heaven, he tells everyone the resurrection is called off—just a fake. Then everything starts falling apart and flying every which way. The whole universe comes apart at the seams. I had nightmares about that story. It still makes me shudder.

The bell finally rang. Jeanette and I hurried down the hall to our locker.

“Jeanette, are you glad you’re a member of the Church? I mean, do you know it’s right?”

“Sure. Doesn’t everybody?” She looked at me with a scowl and said, “What’s wrong, Mauri, don’t you?”

“Sure. I was just asking, that’s all.”

“Well, you just don’t go asking somebody if they happen to believe or not believe what they’ve been taught their whole life. That’s real ignorant, Mauri.”

“Jeanette, I was just asking. You don’t have to make a big deal of it.”

“Okay, but I still think it’s very ignorant.”

I walked off without saying another word. She was the ignorant one. She was probably lying, too. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know. I couldn’t be. Boy, it was terrible either way: if she was lying, then there were lots of unsure kids; if she was telling the truth, then I was the only doubter. I felt sick to my stomach.

After school Dan and I went home and cooked dinner. It was funny watching Dan crack an egg for the meatloaf. He’d had lots of practice, but he was still clumsy at it. Sometimes I still found bits of eggshell in my food.

After dad came home and we’d eaten, Dan went to Luke’s. I didn’t go with him like I usually do on Fridays because I was still mad at Jeanette.

Dad got up from the table and went over to the sink.

“C’mon, Mauri, let’s do the dishes. How about it?”

I grinned. Dad doesn’t do dishes too often. It’s kind of fun doing them with him. He squirted the soap in the running water, and suds began to fill the sink.

“Dad, why do you think Dan’s going on a mission?”

He looked at me and smiled. His big brown eyes were gentle.

“Mauri, maybe you’d better ask Dan that question.”

I picked up a plate from the rinse water and put it in the rack.

“Dan’s so rowdy. I never thought he’d go. I was always worried how he’d turn out, and now all of a sudden he’s going on a mission.”

“I don’t know, Maur. I reckon I always expected Dan would go.”

“But, why?”

“I can’t say for sure. I guess it’s something inside him, something deep. It’s more than just because he’s supposed to. It’s deeper than that.”

“Dad, do you know the Church is true?”

“Yup, Mauri. I know it’s true.”

By looking in his eyes, I knew he believed what he was saying. Dad knew. If Danny knew, then I was the only one in my family who didn’t. I felt sick. I wiped the silverware and put it away.

That night I tried again.

“Please, Heavenly Father, tell me.” I waited and waited. Nothing happened. Finally I got in bed and went to sleep.

The next morning I got out of bed, got dressed, and kneeled down by my bed.

“Please, Heavenly Father.” I waited for a long time. Nothing.

That night Danny and I went over to Luke and Jeanette’s. I didn’t much feel like going, but I thought it might get my mind off my unanswered prayers.

Luke answered the door. “Howdy. C’mon in.”

I went upstairs to Jeanette’s room. Luke and Dan stayed in the front room watching TV.

“Hi, Mauri.”

“Hi.”

“Know what? Luke’s grounded again. He was out until four in the morning last night. Mom and dad were so mad. He does it all the time even though he keeps getting grounded. Do you know what’s even worse than that? Mom’s afraid he drinks and steals stuff.”

I knew Luke had stolen stuff because Dan had told me he did, but I didn’t tell Jeanette that. I wondered if Dan did. He hid it pretty well if he did. He’d been in by midnight the night before, so he wasn’t out with Luke.

Jeanette and I talked and listened to records. It was lousy being a freshman sometimes. You were too old to play outside, and too young to date—in our town and our church, anyhow—so we just talked and listened to records most of the time we were together. Sometimes we went with some other girls to the movies, and sometimes we rode horses. Jeanette’s family didn’t have any, so we rode ours. Anyway, we didn’t get bored too much.

Luke popped his head in the door and said, “You guys want to come to the drive-in with me and Danny?”

Jeanette said, “Luke, you can’t go. You’re grounded.”

Luke grinned. “Not till mom and dad get home.”

“I’ll tell them. Luke, you do this all the time.”

“C’mon, Jeanette, you and Mauri come with us. We’ll even buy you popcorn. Can’t beat that offer.”

“Well, okay. What’s playing?”

Luke said some movie that I knew was rated R. Dan and I weren’t supposed to go to R-rated movies. Some example Dan was.

“Do you want to, Mauri?”

“I’ll go if Dan goes.”

“He’s going,” said Luke.

I couldn’t believe it. I ran downstairs ahead of Luke and Jeanette.

“Dan,” I whispered, “are you really going?”

Dan looked away. “Yeah.”

“So am I.”

“Wait a minute. You are not.”

“I go if you go.”

“Mauri, no way. You’re not supposed to.”

“Neither are you.”

“Yeah, but you’re only 14.”

“That makes a heck of a lot of difference.”

“You bet it does. You’re not going.”

“Dan, you’re supposed to be going on a mission. Have you changed your mind? Missionaries don’t go to R shows.”

Dan looked away.

Luke had walked in the room just as I finished. He laughed. “What’s this I hear? Dan go on a mission? You’re kidding.”

“No,” I said, “he said he was going, but I guess he’s changed his mind.”

“Sure he has,” said Luke.

Dan looked at Luke. His brown eyes were hard like I’ve never seen them before.

“I’m going.”

“C’mon, Danny. Really?”

Dan just nodded.

“Well,” Luke said, “I don’t believe it, but I guess we’ll see. You have a year to change your mind, old buddy. I have a year to try and reform you.”

“C’mon, Luke,” Jeanette said, “you guys quit arguing. If we don’t leave now, we’ll be late.”

Danny looked at me. “Let’s go.”

“Some example, Dan,” I whispered under my breath as we walked out the door.

It seems like all my life I’d been worrying about Danny, trying to keep him straight. Sometimes he just doesn’t understand things too well.

Once when we were shopping, Dan picked up a record that was left lying in the road outside the store. He started toward the car.

“Danny,” I said, “you take that record back inside the store.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s not ours.”

“So what? It’s nobody’s when it’s out in the middle of the road.”

“Dan, somebody might have dropped it. Maybe they’ll come back for it.”

“Fat chance. If somebody just bought it, it would have been in a sack. Some car has probably run over it anyway.”

“Daniel O’Brien Hertz, you either take that record into the store, or give it to me and I will. It’s not ours.”

Finally, Dan let me take the record back in the store.

When I came out, he said, “Sometimes, Mauri, you don’t have the sense of a flea.”

Well, I was finished looking out for Dan; I was finished being the example. If he could go to an R-rated show, so could I.

When we were almost there, Jeanette asked, “Will they let us in without I.D.?”

“Yeah,” said Luke, “I know the guy who works there.”

Great, I thought. I was going to an R-rated show with my heathen brother, my loud-mouthed best girl friend, and her brother who had probably been grounded for most of his life and could get away with anything. I shuddered.

After Luke dropped off Danny and me that night, we went inside and sat down at the kitchen table. Dad had probably been asleep for hours.

“Do you think Luke will get in trouble?” I asked.

“Maybe, I don’t know. He’s pretty used to it by now.” Danny had gotten a pitcher of milk from the fridge. He was drinking right out of the pitcher, but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t care.

“I’m going to bed. G’night.” I started walking out the door into the hall and turned around. I said, “I wish I hadn’t gone.” Dan looked out the window into the night. “I wish you hadn’t gone either, Dan.”

I felt so guilty that night about going to that show that I didn’t even try to pray. Why would God answer me, now that I was a heathen? That night I dreamed about that stupid German story.

At church the next day, I couldn’t sit still. I kept watching dad and Dan sitting there on the bench. Dad knew. I didn’t know about Danny, but I didn’t know.

Every morning and night for the next week and a half, I knelt by my bed and asked God if the Church is true. Each time I waited and waited. Each time nothing happened, except maybe the linoleum got colder every time. I even offered again to wrestle the angel. I was quite desperate, but God just wasn’t listening. I began to think he might not even be there.

It was almost supper time. I thought I’d try once more. If nothing happened tonight, I thought it was never going to happen.

“Heavenly Father, I’ve been asking you the same question for over a week now, and you haven’t answered. What’s wrong? Is it me? Am I bad or something? Really, Lord, I am trying. I really am.”

I waited for a few moments, swallowed, squeezed my closed eyes tighter and said, “Lord, tell me if the Church is true. Please tell me. Please … God … please.” I waited and waited. Finally I got up and walked out of my room. I wasn’t going to pray ever again. I wasn’t about to pray to a God who wasn’t even considerate enough to answer at least once in a while.

I walked down the hall to Danny’s room and knocked on the door.

“Come in.”

I walked in. Dan was sitting on his bed, playing with a basketball.

“Dan, did you wrestle the angel?”

“What?”

“Did God tell you, Danny?”

“Mauri, what—”

“Because he’s sure not telling me anything.”

“Mauri, what’s wrong? Settle down.”

“I won’t, Dan. Where does God get off telling you and not me? You’re the rowdy one; you’re the dishonest one; you’re the heathen.” By now I was yelling. “Daniel Hertz is going on a mission. What a joke! Why, Dan, why? I want to know. Why do you think you’re going on a mission? Is it because you’re afraid of what everybody would say in this little town? Are you afraid, Danny boy?” I started shaking and yelled, “Why are you going on a mission?”

No way was I leaving until he answered me. “Why are you going, Dan?”

He sat on the bed with the basketball in his hands. He looked at the floor for what seemed like forever. Then he did something I’ve hardly ever seen him do, and it scared me. He cried. He couldn’t talk, he just sat there on the bed as the tears rolled down his cheeks and spilled onto the basketball. Tears have a funny way of going the wrong places.

I was still shaking, and I began crying, too.

“You … you … oh! I hate you, Danny. I hate you for knowing. I hate you, and most of all, I hate God. I hate him the very most.”

I ran out of Dan’s room and out of the house. God hated me, too. He didn’t care at all. The whole universe was falling apart, and I couldn’t do anything about it. Not anything. I was just there watching it burst at the seams, seeing the pieces fly around. I ran and ran, trying to get away from it. I ran up the hill by our house and sat down at the base of a giant tree.

The mountains were sucking down the purple and pink clouds and orange sun like pancake batter sucks down an egg. I stopped crying, finally. What was I going to do? Maybe I’d never see my mother again. For the first time I felt alone in the universe—like in the movies when they try to add something in the picture that doesn’t really belong. You can tell it’s fake because its edges are too black. I had black edges; I could feel them.

At the bottom of the hill was a little girl. I was close enough to see the dirt streaked on her face. Even the dirt couldn’t hide her big grin. She had an old car tire and was pushing it up the hill. It broke loose from her and rolled away, then fell over. She went back and picked it up, then started rolling it up the hill again. She couldn’t have been more than four or five. It made me sad to see her tire keep getting away. I was even sadder that she kept patiently picking it up again and rolling it up the hill. I wanted to shout to her: “Little girl, don’t do it, don’t try. It will just keep rolling down the hill. No matter how hard you try, that tire will roll and roll until you’re finally too tired to pick it up again. That’s the way life is.” I was so sad I almost bawled again. I buried my head in my arms. I couldn’t watch anymore.

When I finally looked up, there was a little boy, older than the girl, running down the hill. He reached her and picked up the tire. Both of them began to push. Maybe, I thought … maybe. Both kids just kept pushing that old tire up the hill. If it got away from one of them, the other would catch it before it rolled down the hill. Boy, I wanted those kids to get that tire up the hill! It was such a dumb thing, but right then it was the most important thing in the world. C’mon, kids, roll that tire! C’mon! They kept getting farther and farther up the hill. By the time they reached the top, I was crying again. It was stupid, but I was so glad.

I hadn’t seen the rest of them, but there were nine kids at the top of that hill, including the girl and boy. They all began running down the hill, rolling the tires with them.

“Roller-O! Roller-O! Roller-O!” They shouted again and again as they raced the tires down the hill. “Roller-OOOOOO!”

I closed my eyes and laughed. Maybe there was someone there to help when you needed it after all. I watched those kids for a long time as the gold streaked across the sky to meet the sun. I watched while the purple clouds turned blacker and blacker until it was dark.

“Roller-O!”

When it got dark, the kids’ mom called them in for the night. I got up and walked down the hill. There was a sliver of a yellow moon just rising in the sky. Millions of stars were beginning to shine. I walked into our garden and right there decided to kneel down. The ground was damp. I thought about those kids for a while, then about dad, then about Dan. I started bawling again. Boy, I was sorry I’d yelled at him.

“Dear Father, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I went to the show. I’m sorry I yelled at Dan and called him names. I’m sorry I do bad stuff. I wish I didn’t. Father, I’m sorry I said all that stuff. I don’t really hate you the most. I love you—the very most! I really do, and even if you don’t answer my prayer, I’ll wait, forever if I have to.” I started sobbing.

“Heavenly Father, I’m so, so sorry, but it’s hard. Please, God, it’s hard, so hard.” I cried, and the stars came out one by one to watch me.

Something changed. It was like a light that’s slant is bent, just a little different. It was like rays going through a prism: when they hit the right angle, they split into every color making a rainbow. Somehow, I couldn’t explain it. He knew it was hard, and he loved me. I breathed deep and sighed. The stars twinkled in the sky.

After a while I got up, brushed the dirt off my pants, and ran into the house, right past dad and into Dan’s room.

Dan was still sitting on the bed holding that basketball. I didn’t even know if he’d had supper.

I stood there in the doorway until he looked up. I probably looked awful to him, all swollen around the eyes and dirty besides.

Danny jumped up and ran toward me. Before I knew what was happening, we were hugging the breath out of each other. My lungs were bursting, and I was afraid I was cracking his ribs. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t have any tears left. I guess they were just all gone.

Dan sat me down on the bed. He really was good-looking. I loved his big brown eyes.

“Danny, are you glad, now, that we took that record back that one time?”

I knew it was dumb to ask him, but it was important to me.

He shook his head. “Am I glad? Yeah … I don’t know … I guess we’ll see.” He grinned. “Mauri, you know what? You are so weird sometimes.”

I was so glad, just so happy. I picked up Dan’s pillow off the bed and clobbered him; then I ran out the door with Dan right behind me. Boy, oh boy, was I in for trouble.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Richard Hull