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The Pastel Planet

The Pastel Planet

A Manitoulin Island Adventure
tagged : siblings
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Shout Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts

We had had a swim and we had eaten ginker cake and we were sitting on the rocks beside the Fitzgerald-Trout siblings’ favorite fishing stream when they began to tell me their story. Kim, the oldest, spoke first. “Kimo and I think what happened to us should be called ‘The Family Calamity,’” she said.
Family because it had happened to the five of us,” Kimo chimed in. “And calamity because that’s a word for when things go really wrong.”
“Did things really go that wrong?” I asked.
The childrens’ five sets of eyes in their five brown faces looked at me like my question was absurd.
“Um, yes,” said Kim in a voice that exposed just how hard she and her siblings found it trying to make a grown-up understand anything important. “We’re only telling you this because we want to make sure that what happened to us doesn’t happen to any other family, ever.”
“Write that part down,” said Toby, the youngest boy, pointing to my notebook. He was holding his baby sister, Penny, in his lap and she seemed to be nodding in agreement.
I was about to put pen to paper when Pippa added, “You should put the word monster in the name too, because a monster was definitely part of the problem.”
“Yeah. Plus, it sounds way cooler.” Toby grinned at his sister.
“Okay,” I said. “‘The Family Monster Calamity.’” I wrote it in big letters at the top of the first page of my notebook. “Tell me how it started.”
That’s when they all began to talk at once. Kimo said something about their boat being taken and Kim said, “It was all the secrets.” I couldn’t make out what Toby or Pippa were saying, but it didn’t matter because as soon as the baby spoke, they all stopped talking.
“What did Penny say?” I asked them.
The baby herself answered, saying, “Wimo.”
“She’s talking about the limousine,” Toby explained. He looked more than a little sheepish.
Kim stared at me gravely. “Penny’s right. The limo was the first secret between us.”
Pippa wiped her glasses on her T-shirt and said matter-of-factly, “The limo, yes, the limo. That’s where you should start our story.”

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A Beginner's Guide to Goodbye

Dear Diary Jenny,

Today was grading day. Mrs. Anderson gave me this diary. She said it might be nice to write down my thoughts over the summer. I tried to write Dear Diary, but I'd rather write to you. I miss you.

I got ribbons for doing well in math and reading the most books. I like numbers and stories. But I'm glad school's done for the summer. This year was tough.

We head to the cottage tomorrow. Dad and John loaded everything into the car. Dad isn't coming. He was going to, but now he says he has to work. He says he'll come soon and we can play on the beach.

Remember the big sandcastle we built last year? It had twelve towers surrounded by a huge wall. We took John's old toy dinosaurs and used them as monsters in the moat to protect the castle. Remember the drawbridge we made from Popsicle sticks? We ate all the Popsicles in the freezer. In one day. Remember?

Love, Laney

P.S. I'm afraid the cottage won't be the same without you. I'm sorry. It's all my fault.


Laney slid into her seat in the family minivan. She glanced at the boxes behind her and bit her lip. Dad had removed the last row of seating to allow room for the things they needed to take to the cottage. He had removed Jenny's seat.

Dad waved as Mom backed the minivan out of the driveway in Truro.

Laney and her older sister, Kate, waved back. Mom nodded slightly.

John, Laney's older brother, turned away. "How come Dad's not coming?" He banged his fist on his leg.

Mom sighed. "We've already discussed this, John." She sounded tired even though it was morning. "He has to work."

"Yeah." John shook his head. "What else is new? He's always working now." John stared out the window. "He promised to help me build a fort this year."

"He's working on an important project." Mom's shoulders sagged.

John grumbled under his breath, "The fort's important."

Laney was disappointed too, but she didn't say anything. She pushed the button to lower her window. She tipped her head upward to let the rush of cool air soothe her. Her family had been spending summers at Tidnish Beach for as long as Laney could remember. She had been getting carsick just as long.

"Put your window up," Kate barked. Kate never opened her window, because she didn't want to mess up her dark brown hair. It was long and straight and every strand was perfectly placed.

"No way." Laney shook her head.

"Put it up, Laney." Kate reached over and poked her sister's arm.

"I can put it up, but then you run the risk of me throwing up on you." Laney raised the window, gave Kate a forced smile, puffed up her freckled cheeks, and faked a gag. "You know I get carsick. So, if that's what you want..."

"Fine. Never mind then." Kate huffed and folded her arms across her chest. She glared at Laney. "I can't wait to get to the cottage and out of this car, away from you."

Laney closed her eyes and smiled as the window lowered again. Bugging Kate was a bonus of having the window down.

The trip to the cottage took a little over an hour. They travelled along cross-country roads that were full of curves and turns that usually made Laney's stomach swirl and churn. But not this time. This year Laney had made a plan with John. She kept her eyes closed and listened for her cue.

"Cows!" John hollered.

Laney opened her eyes to see the cows grazing in the fields as they passed. She checked to see if they were rusty brown, shiny black, or covered with white and brown spots that looked liked maps. She hoped her new interest in counting cows would be the distraction she needed to keep her breakfast down. Counting things comforted Laney; numbers made sense when nothing else did.

The crunching of gravel under the tires announced their arrival. The van came to a stop in front of their cottage. Their cottage was among fourteen along an S-shaped dirt lane that led from the main road to the shore, forming one of many summer communities along the coast of the Northumberland Strait in Nova Scotia. On the left-hand side of the highway were farms and houses of people who lived there all year long. On the right-hand side, closest to the water, were groups of homes for summer living only.

Laney loved going to the cottage. At least she used to. This year was different. It was the first time without her little sister, Jenny. All Laney wanted was to make it through the next two months without having to talk about her. So, she intended to avoid everyone.

As Laney squashed the thoughts in her mind, her motion sickness faded and was replaced with another type of stomach pain—a boulder-like heaviness Laney had been carrying for the last ten months. She opened the door of the vehicle to get out. Her sweaty legs stuck on the vinyl seat as she tried to slide and it made a funny sound.

"Gross," said Kate, squishing up her nose.

"Did you let one rip?" John laughed.

"No." Laney stuck her tongue out at John even though she knew he was teasing her. "The seats are sticky."

John walked over to Laney. Laney was the youngest now. John was three years older and a whole lot taller. His hair was curly like Laney's but lighter in colour—like chocolate-chip cookie dough. John reached his long, freckled arm out and ruffled Laney's hair. John took extra care of Laney now. He walked her over to Cindy's house if Laney wanted to play, and helped her with homework when she needed. Which she didn't. John was the one who could have used the help. Laney remembered the day John brought his report card home.

Dad had shaken his head. "What happened, son?" He studied John, searching for an answer. "You always do well in school and this year you barely passed."

John's words had rushed out in one breath. "Schoolwork doesn't make sense. When will I ever need to multiply fractions, or know the first prime minister? Some old geezer a million years ago."

"You know education's important." That was all Dad had said. He didn't even put up a fuss. He put a hand on John's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "You'll get 'em next year."

John hadn't answered. He took the report card and walked to his room.

John interrupted Laney's thoughts now. "How many cows?" he asked.

Laney glanced at her notebook and quickly tallied the numbers. "Twenty-five Herefords, forty-three Black Angus, and nineteen Holsteins. There were more, but we drove by too fast."

"Good counting." John nodded.

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The Jigsaw Puzzle King

“How’s it going, Warren?” asked Mom, that first day in our new house.

“I’m bored,” I said, picking at the scab on my knuckles. I got the scratch the day we left the old farmhouse in Smiths Falls when I was trying to make Jelly, my cat, go into her kitty kennel. Looking at the orange furball now curled comfortably on my bed, I figured I’d been forgiven, because she looked as if she didn’t have a care in the world. Life was like that for cats — simple. As long as they had their people, a bowl full of food, and a place to sleep, that was enough. “I wish I had a friend to play with.”

“Now that you’re unpacked, why don’t you go outside and play with your brother?”

“Aw, Mom. All he wants to do is play make- believe. I need a friend who likes to do the same things I like. Bennie can barely kick a soccer ball — and forget about hockey.”

Mom smiled. “Well, maybe he’ll grow into those things one day. But as for make-believe, he’s outside with a bunch of kids right now and they sound like they’re having loads of fun playing one of his games.”

“He is?”


“Mom,” I sighed, “you let him out alone? You should’ve told me.”

“Well, I’m telling you now. Besides, he’s not far.” She was almost laughing at me. “So what are you waiting for?”

Outside, I followed the sounds of laughter and screams coming from the empty lot two houses over. There was Bennie, moaning and staggering after some boys and girls who darted in and around him, laughing hysterically. They urged him to catch them, but they were much too quick. My guts twisted into a knot as I watched my plan for a carefully crafted fresh start melt away in the late August sunshine. Sometimes people who didn’t know Bennie thought he was weird. I liked to ease him into new situations slowly so we might avoid that.

Just then, Bennie saw me.

“Hey, everybody, that’s my big brother, Wart. Can he play, too?” Blood rushed to my cheeks when some kids snickered at my dreaded nickname. I wished I had arms like Plastic Man so I could reach out and whack him for that. Instead I pretended I didn’t hear him and tried to sneak away. Of course, Bennie had a different plan, and before I had time to leave he wagged his chubby arms at me and shouted, “C’mon, Wart, it’s all right. You can play, too. Don’t be afraid. These guys are nice.”

Shoot. I was stuck. “Ha. I’m not afraid,” I said as I shuffled over to the group, pretending not to notice all the stares.

“We’re playin’ The Walking Dead, and I’m the zombie,” Bennie said. That explained all the moaning and staggering. “If I tag you, you’ll be a zombie like me.” He started up his act again, and the kids scattered in different directions, screaming. When he staggered toward me, I darted past him and joined the others running and hiding behind shrubs.

Bennie chased us as quickly as his flat feet could carry him. I knew he would be a lonely zombie if I didn’t help him. It had always been like that, ever since I could remember: me helping him and keeping him from getting hurt. I was just about to step out and let him tag me when someone tapped my shoulder.

“Quick, hide behind here,” said a girl, who ran behind some trees. I followed her and found some other kids were hiding there, too.

“Hi, Wart. I’m Maya. This is my brother, Taylor, and that’s Luke,” the girl whispered.

I picked at the bark on the tree and tried to act casual. “Actually, my name’s Warren. Only Bennie calls me that.”

“Well, that’s a relief. It’d be seriously unfortunate if that was your real name,” said Maya, giggling. The two boys sniggered.

“Bennie’s funny. Does he always call you that?” asked Taylor. My stomach muscles tightened and my mouth suddenly felt parched.

“He’s not supposed to call me that in public, but he forgets. It started when we were little.” Just then Bennie stomped past our hiding place and moaned some more. Again Taylor and Luke laughed like it was the funniest thing on earth, and again it felt like someone was squeezing my gut.

“What grade are you in?” Maya asked, taking no notice of them.


“Oh yeah? Me, too. Going to Rosemary Brown Elementary?”

I nodded just as the zombie tripped and fell. I heard him whimper in pain. I would have gone to help him, but Maya grabbed my arm. “Wait for a second,” she whispered. “There, you see, he’s all right. He’s getting up now. Sometimes little brothers just have to learn to manage on their own.” Maya laughed lightly as Bennie got up and stumbled after some kids, who darted around him like sparrows. “How old is Bennie?”

“Eleven,” I said, peeking through the branches. I hoped he’d catch at least one kid and turn him into a zombie.

“Eleven?” Maya looked confused. “Well, then, how old are you?”

“Eleven.” I glanced over at Taylor and Luke. They looked baffled, too. “But he said you were his big brother,” said Maya, now looking suspicious.

“Technically, I am his big brother … by four minutes.”

“No way!” declared Taylor. “Twins? That can’t be true. He’s so small and so weird —”

“No, no, no. You mean different,” Maya corrected. I shrugged, hoping they would let it drop. And they did, but it was an awkward silence. Finally, Maya said, “Well, he’s a neat kid, and look, he’s doing great.”

“Right. He hasn’t even tagged anyone,” I said. “I should go and help him.”

“Aww, he’s doing fine. And he sure looks like he’s having fun. So is everyone else.” She was right. Bennie did look happy.

“He sure has that creepy zombie act down pat,” said Taylor. “Hey, he should be a zombie for Halloween!” Ouch. And then it came, the question someone always asked. “So anyway, what’s your brother got?” Instantly my upper lip felt prickly from beads of sweat.

Maya swatted her brother on the arm. “Shut up, Taylor,” she said. “Sorry, Warren.”

Taylor sneered at her. “What? I’m just asking —”

“Never mind.” Maya cut him off.

“You’re not my mother, Maya. I just want to know what’s wrong with the kid.”

I tried to laugh it off and change the subject. “Wrong with Bennie? Well, for starters, he takes my stuff without asking. And calls me Wart in public, which is pretty embarrassing. And —”

“No, not like that,” Taylor blurted. “His face is weird and he acts different. Is he a retardo or something?”

Maya gasped and her cheeks turned beet red. “Just ignore him, Warren. That’s what I do.” She glared at him. “Sometimes I even pretend I don’t have a brother.”

It was too late, though. The question hung in the muggy summer air like the smell of dog poop stuck to someone’s shoe. Before I could say anything, Bennie staggered across the field trying to tag some kid who was running circles around him and laughing.

“Bennie, you run like a duck,” the boy teased. “Quack, quack, quack!”

That’s when I snapped. “It’s called Down syndrome, and yeah, maybe he’s slow, but he isn’t stupid! Not like some people, Taylor.” I stepped out from the trees and shouted, “Bennie, come on. It’s time to go. Mom needs our help with the unpacking.”

Bennie stopped running and let out a sigh of relief. “Good, ’cause I’m pooped.”

As we walked back to the house, I heard whispers and giggles. My fists clenched. Then someone yelled out, “See ya, Bennie. Bye, Wart.”

When we got to the end of our driveway, Bennie turned back and shouted, “See you guys later! And you better watch out, ’cause next time I’m gonna catch ya and eat your brains. You’ll see.” Then he chuckled and waved goodbye.

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