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The Clouded Sky

The Clouded Sky

Earth And Sky Trilogy Book 2
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
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Broken Strings
Excerpt

The bell sounded. People jumped to their feet and gathered their things.
“And don’t forget there’s a unit test on Friday!” Mr. Herman, our math teacher, called out over the noise.
A collective groan rose up from the class. Some people started to argue for a postponement till Monday to give them more time to study. On any other day I would have stuck around and joined in the argument. But not today. Today I needed to get out of the classroom as fast as I could. I had something more important to think about than a math test. I threw my books into my bag and joined the crowd funneling out of the room. I’d gone only a few steps when I almost bumped into Natasha, my best friend. She flashed me a big smile. Smiling was the last thing on my mind.
“Are you ready, Shirli?” Natasha asked.
“No!”
“We don’t have to go,” she said. “We could go to the mall, get a soda instead, maybe buy something.”
“And just not look at the cast list?” I asked.
“It’ll still be there tomorrow.”
“Tash, I’ve waited all week. Do you really think I can wait another day?”
She flashed that smile again. “Patience is a virtue.”
“This coming from you, the least patient person I know?” I asked.
“Okay, you’re right, and I was just joking. Let’s go and look.”
The hallway was packed, and it felt as if we were salmon fighting our way upstream. We were the largest junior high in New Jersey, but the building didn’t seem big enough to hold all 1,600 of us who called this place our home away from home. We squirmed and shuffled our way forward.
“You know you have nothing to worry about,” Natasha said.
“Thanks. Neither do you.”
“Oh, I’m not worried, Shirli. You know that.”
Natasha and I had been friends, and pretty much inseparable, since third grade—like two peas in a pod, or peanut butter and jam. But there was a big difference between us. Natasha had never been in a school show before. In fact, she had only tried out this time because I’d practically dragged her to the auditions. It really didn’t matter to her whether she got a part or not. The problem was that for me it mattered way too much.
“Ms. Ramsey really likes you,” she pointed out. I knew she was trying to reassure me.
“She likes everybody,” I said.
“It’s more than that. I think she sees herself when she looks at you.”
I laughed. “Like she’s looking in some sort of fun-house mirror?”
Ms. Ramsey was our drama teacher. She was in her early thirties but looked a lot younger. She was blond and slim and moved in this slinky, smooth way like someone who’d had years of dance training. We couldn’t have been more different in appearance, but I guess I had the same way of moving, thanks to my own dance classes.
“I didn’t mean the way you two look,” Natasha continued. “Ms. Ramsey is so beautiful.”
“Gee, thanks.”
“Come on, you know what I mean. You’re really pretty, but not like her. You look more like me!”
Well, true, we did look a lot alike, even though my family was eastern European and Jewish, and Natasha’s was Portuguese and Catholic. But where the heck was this going?
“I mean she sees you as being talented like her.”
“Thanks, Tash.” Now that was a compliment.

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Very Rich
Excerpt

Rupert Brown came from a large family. They lived in a very plain small house on the edge of Steelville, Ohio. Rupert had so many brothers and sisters that it was like living in a small city-state. They crawled over the furniture. They ran in and out of doors. They were big and small and male and female. They all had sandy-brown hair, pinched noses, high cheekbones and narrow lips. They were all thin.
There were so many children in the Brown family that Mrs. Brown claimed not to be able to remember all their names. She often addressed them by “Hey you.” Rupert had siblings he rarely talked to and hardly knew at all. There were many different alliances within the family, many secrets, many separate lives. Close proximity does not always make for coziness. Sometimes it is just crowded.
Rupert was ten, and he moved among his family largely unnoticed except by his favorite sister,
six-year-old Elise. She, like Rupert, was quiet and shy and spent a lot of time trying to keep out of everyone’s way.
One day before Christmas, Rupert’s teenage brothers John and Dirk came home with a cat. Because they were often bringing home stolen cats, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind about the origin of this cat. It was not a stray. Perhaps they secretly longed for a pet and this is why they did it, although what they told the family was that it was sport.
“Catch and release. Like fly-fishing. Only with cats,” explained John as he held the new one up for his mother to see. There was a wistful look in his eyes. Rupert wondered if he was hoping that his mother would fall in love with it and let them keep it.
“Did I not tell you to stop doing that!” shrieked Mrs. Brown, just home from her job cleaning the offices in the steelworks.
She tore across the room, grabbed the cat, and threw it into the backyard. Then she slammed the door.
Elise looked out the window in concern. “The cat isn’t moving,” she whispered as Rupert joined her.
“I’ll check,” Rupert whispered back. Their mother had gone to the kitchen to make the thin gruel of oatmeal that, along with other people’s kitchen scraps that their father collected every day, passed for dinner nightly.
All the Brown children tiptoed around their mother. Sometimes she lashed out. Sometimes she hoisted one of the younger Browns onto her lap to watch television and cuddled them as if this, this soft and comforting jolly person, was who she really was. Because you never knew which mother would emerge, it was better to err on the side of caution.

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