Whole New Ball Game
“It’s soooo hot in Texas!”
“It’s soooo hot in Texas!”
Alex and Ava Sackett blurted out the same words at the same time. They did this a lot. Their mom always said it was a twin thing.
“If someone handed me a pair of scissors right now, I’d chop off my entire ponytail,” said Ava.
“Then I suppose it’s a good thing the scissors are still packed in a box somewhere,” sighed their mother.
Alex rolled her eyes. “Must you always speak in such hyperbole, Ava?” She bumped her sister over a fraction of an inch. “Don’t hog the fan. And don’t even kid about chopping
off your perfect, gorgeous curls!”
The two girls were sitting on the floor, sprawled against the wall of their new living room, sharing a single, not-very-large fan.
“Who’s kidding?” Ava replied, bumping her sister back. “You have perfect, gorgeous curls. My hair is just a giant pain.”
“What are you talking about?” Alex asked indignantly. “We have the exact same hair!”
As she spoke, Alex patted her own hair as if to make sure it was still there. It was, of course—piled into a topknot that was both stylish and practical in the scorching heat. Ava’s chocolate-brown curls, on the other hand, were gathered into a messy ponytail. Loose strands had escaped and were plastered to her neck, making her even hotter. Ava couldn’t help but notice that Alex’s hair had stayed put on top of her head and wasn’t stuck to her neck.
“Girls, it’s too hot to bicker,” said Mrs. Sackett. She’d given up trying to unpack the kitchen and was splayed in the one chair not stacked with boxes and other junk. She lifted the already-melting, ice-filled bag from the top of her head and applied it to the sides of her neck, like she was dabbing herself with perfume. “I’m sure your
father will have the AC up and running any minute now.”
From the office, Alex and Ava’s older brother, Tommy, let loose a triumphant cry. He appeared in the doorway holding a second fan above his head, like a wide receiver who’d just scored the winning touchdown. “Found it!” he said, shoving a box out of the way to plug it in. He, too, slumped to the floor to bask in the flowing air, which rippled his own brown curls.
Ava got tired of jockeying for space in front of the fan. She stood up and drifted lazily over to the window, which looked out over the backyard. Beyond the fence was the backyard of the house on the next block in their development, and beyond that, a vast, treeless landscape, flat as an ocean, all browns, grays, and gray-greens. The colors in Texas were very different from the lush darker greens of their backyard outside of Boston.
Across the room she could see through the doorway into the kitchen, where their Australian shepherd, Moxy, lay on her side, panting. The kitchen floor was probably the coolest surface in the house, but that wasn’t saying much. Moxy looked at Ava, the whites of her eyes visible as
she gazed upward, as if asking Ava to explain what on earth had happened to the Sackett family. One day they were in Massachusetts, with a backyard full of squirrels to chase and lavish garden beds to dig up, and the next they were in dry, barren Texas, where it was too hot for any self-respecting dog to even consider chasing after a squirrel.
Ava cinched the elastic tighter on her brown ponytail. Long hair was bad enough—it must be awful for poor Moxy, who was basically wearing a fur coat right now.
Suddenly there was a groan and a whir and then a whoosh, and the air conditioner started up. All four of them cheered. Almost immediately, cool air began flowing through the house.
“Thank goodness,” said their mom.
“Here comes Daddy,” said Alex, as they heard footsteps bounding through the kitchen.
Coach Mike Sackett stepped over Moxy and joined his family in the living room. The air-conditioner repairman followed behind him.
“Much appreciated, Bill,” said their father to the repairman, shaking his hand.
Bill saluted. “No problem, Coach,” he said. “I’m sure y’all will get used to the Texas heat
eventually. Must be quite a change from where you folks came from.”
Coach nodded. “We’ll get used to it, and everything else,” he said, leading the man toward the front door.
“Practice start tomorrow?” Bill asked.
“Yes sir, it sure does.”
“Team look okay?”
Coach chuckled. “We’re young. It’s going to be a rebuilding year, but I have high hopes for the boys,” he said.
Ava watched her father, who was standing with his back to her, gently urge Bill toward the front door. At over six fot two, he towered over the repairman.
Bill hovered in the doorway, not yet ready to leave. “So what’s your strategy against Culver City, Coach? I was talking to some of the guys at the shop, and they were saying Culver’s got more size this year. You’ll probably want to spread the field, right?”
Coach patted him on the back and guided him out the front door. “That makes sense. I appreciate the perspective,” he said, and waved the man out.
“Another football fan!” said Mrs. Sackett with
a little laugh as Coach shut the door. “There seem to be a lot of them in Ashland!”
Coach grinned. “It’s just the culture,” he said. “Lots of die-hard football types. It was the same way when I was growing up around here. Everyone in Ashland pays attention to the Ashland Tigers. It’s a nice, close-knit community, Laur. You’ll see.”
The cooler air flow seemed to have loosened Alex’s speech.
“Okay, so, Mom,” she said, reaching for her phone and opening her digital notebook. “We were discussing my bedroom. I’ve narrowed down my options under each of the following categories: curtains, bedspread, throw pillows, accent pieces, and paint colors.”
Ava half listened as her sister chattered. Alex was thrilled about decorating her new room. Ava, in contrast, hadn’t given much thought to hers. She wasn’t sure she even liked having her own bedroom. She’d had trouble sleeping the whole four nights they’d been in Texas.
“What color do you want for your room, Ave?” asked her mother, who was peering into a box she’d just opened marked LIVING ROOM STUFF. She grimaced and closed the box again. “I still can’t
get over the color the last people chose to paint it.”
“Mustard yellow,” said Alex, wrinkling her nose.
“Yeah, we should probably paint over that,” said Ava with a laugh. “You can paint it something neutral, I guess, so it won’t clash with my sports posters. Beige is fine.”
Alex looked at her sister in mock exasperation. “Beige is most definitely not fine, Ave! Not when you have the opportunity to pick any color you want!” When her sister shrugged, Alex turned to their mom. “Mom. Are you positive one of us wasn’t switched at birth? How is it possible that Ava and I are sisters?”
“You two are so very different,” admitted their mom. “But I can’t help noticing that there is a strong sibling resemblance.”
“Well, I’m going to go reassess my color choices,” said Alex, jumping to her feet. “Even if some people couldn’t care less what color their room is. I found this cool new home decor app called ColorSchemer. It has a built-in color wheel that lets you explore different shades and hues and combinations.”
Ava felt a pang of hurt. She wished Alex
weren’t quite so enthusiastic about the fact that they had their own rooms. To be honest, Ava had missed having her sister with her during this first week in their new house. For twelve years, their entire lives, they’d shared a room. She missed their old room back in Massachusetts, where they’d moved their two beds into an L shape, the better to whisper to each other late into the night.
In their old bedroom, Alex’s side had been painted in retro colors. She had a neat bookcase, and her bed was always tidily made. On the wall above her bed, Alex had created a collage of carefully arranged pictures of movie stars, the latest fashions, and some of her favorite quotes from people like Eleanor Roosevelt and Maya Angelou.
On Ava’s side of the old room, the bed had never been neatly made—what was wrong with just flinging the coverlet up over the pillow? Clothing had a tendency to trail out of dresser drawers. Stray socks found their way under the bed. And her wall had been adorned with sports posters. Her half of the baby blanket they shared—their mom had divided it when they’d both wanted the same blanket back when they
were little—lay in a rumpled heap under the covers. Alex hid her half every morning, neatly folded in her side-table drawer, in case someone should show up in their bedroom unannounced and tease her about it.
Well, their separate rooms were just one more new thing to add to the list of stuff Ava would have to get used to, along with this new house, new school, new neighborhood, new town, new state . . . new life. There were moments when she felt as bewildered as Moxy.
“I’m going to watch some film,” announced Coach.
“Ooh! What film are you going to watch, Daddy? Can I watch with you?” asked Alex, who had paused in the doorway.
Now it was Ava’s turn to look at her sister in exasperation.
Coach grinned at Alex. “Not a film, honey. Just ‘film.’ In this case, footage of last year’s squad, so I can get a better sense of the strengths and weaknesses of our returners.”
Alex pouted. “Oh, right. Never mind.” She headed upstairs.
“Tommy, maybe you want to have another look at the playbook?” suggested their dad.
Tommy sighed and got wearily to his feet. Ava still wasn’t used to her brother’s newly acquired height, or the fact that he seemed to get wider every time she looked at him. Sixteen-year-old boys were scary creatures. Everything seemed to happen so suddenly.
Alone with her mother in the room, Ava moved over to the window again and stared moodily outside.
Mrs. Sackett softly cleared her throat. “Anything wrong, pumpkin?”
Ava shrugged. “Nah. It’s just . . . different here. I’ll get used to it. I guess I miss my old room. And—my friends and stuff.”
“Have you heard from Charlie?” asked her mother gently, not probing.
Ava nodded and swallowed. “Yeah. I think we’re good. I guess he’s really excited about football this year—he’s been practicing a lot.”
Charlie was her best friend back in Massachusetts. Alex was better friends with Charlie’s twin, Isabel. Ava and Charlie had been inseparable since T-ball days. Their moms had met at a group for mothers of twins when all the kids were babies, and they had remained good friends. But in the past year, things had
been . . . different between her and Charlie. He’d suddenly blushed practically every time she said anything to him. Pass the ketchup, please. Blush. Want to have a catch? Blush. That kind of thing. Well, maybe it was his red hair. Redheaded people blushed easily.
With a heavy sigh, her mom picked up a box marked KITCHEN STUFF. “It’s hard for all of us, Ave,” she said.
Ava looked at her in surprise. She’d been so busy wallowing in her own self-pity, she hadn’t thought about this being hard on her mom. But, Ava reflected, it must be. Her mom had been really happy back where they used to live. She’d taught art at the local elementary school. She’d had her own friends. A garden.
“Dad is under a lot of pressure as the new coach, and Tommy as a player, too.” Ava’s mom broke into her thoughts. “At least you and your sister have each other. That’s a really special thing.”
Ava grimaced. She missed her sister, too. She missed the way they used to hang out together, to take Moxy for walks together, to wash up at the side-by-side sinks in their old bathroom every night. Now they tended to go to bed at
different times, and the new bathroom only had one sink. Alex was monopolizing it; she spent what seemed like hours in there with the door closed, experimenting with different hairstyles. Just this morning she’d informed Ava that topknots were the Next Big Thing in hair trends.
“It seems like we’re more different than ever. She’s so ‘go, go, go!’ right now.”
“Honey, that’s just your sister’s way of dealing with all these changes,” Mrs. Sackett said. “I know she’s been a little . . . intense lately, but she’ll be calmer once we’ve all settled in. You know she feels better when she’s working on some sort of project—picking up in Texas where she left off in Boston is her new project.”
Ava thought about this. Her mom was right—Alex didn’t like change. When she was five, she had thrown a fit when their mom started buying a different brand of peanut butter.
“But you know she needs you to pull her nose out of her planner once in a while,” Mrs. Sackett joked.
Later that evening, after another takeout dinner sitting on top of still-packed boxes, Ava stood at her windowsill, listening to the night outside. In spite of the newly functioning air
conditioner, she’d opened her window a little so she could hear the sounds of her new backyard. Back in Massachusetts, she’d loved to listen to the crickets and tree frogs. Here, everything sounded strange. She heard the steady, high-pitched drone of insects. A bird was calling wooo! whuh-whuh-woooo! over and over, and something large bumped against her window. Was it a huge moth? A bat?
“What are you doing, Ave?”
Ava jumped and turned to see her sister in the doorway, in her pajamas with a toothbrush hanging out of her mouth.
“Are there bats in Texas?” Ava asked.
“Yup, lots,” said Alex. “Why?”
“Just wondering,” said Ava. “You going to bed, Al?”
“Yeah,” said Alex. “I just came to say good night. Wow, it feels weird to have to come say good night to you.” She hesitated for a moment, bouncing back and forth on the balls of her feet.
“It is weird,” said Ava.
Ava thought about telling Alex she missed sharing a room with her, but before she could put the right words together, Alex turned and
went to spit out her toothpaste in the bathroom.
“Well, see you tomorrow!” she called as she went into her room, stepping over Moxy in the hallway.
Poor Moxy was so confused. She’d always slept in the girls’ room, in the area between their beds. Now she didn’t know what to do. The night after they moved in, their mom had found Moxy lying in the hallway between Alex’s and Ava’s rooms. Mrs. Sackett had dragged the doggie bed out there for her.
Ava climbed into her own bed. She was just drifting off to sleep when her phone vibrated.
It was Charlie.
Hey, what up? All good in Texas?
You wearing cowboy boots and
a ten-gallon hat yet?
Ha. As if. I’m just trying
not to roast to death.
It was over 100 degrees
Whoa. You need to find a pool.
Yeah, I think there’s one
pretty close to here. We haven’t
had time to look for it, though.
How’s practice going?
Doesn’t start for three weeks.
We’re not on the crazy
Texan schedule, remember?
Oh right. Ha ha.
Ha ha. Well, CU L8ter.
Ava read and reread Charlie’s texts. Her first-ever potential crush now lived 1,983 miles away.
And her twin sister was sleeping a whole room away. Sigh. Both felt worlds apart.