The gate closed behind me, a band all by itself. It was playing a new song, a softer one than usual. Trot Short-for-Foxtrot didn’t look up.I strode across the yard, grass slipping up between my bare toes. My feet were right by his head, but still he ignored me until I spoke, “Dad finally oil the hinges?”His eyes squinted up against the sun framing my profile, “Nah, Mom did. Got tired of waiting.”I nodded. Made sense to me. He went back to his former occupation, scribbling away at some new far-fetched idea. I nudged the notebook to grab his attention once more.“What are you working on now?”“A spaceship.”“What for?”“To go to the moon of course,” he gave me that look, a look he had given to me so often I had started calling it my look.“Hasn’t that already been accomplished? Like a million times?”“Don’t use that indignant tone with me,” he spoke as if ‘indignant’ was a word nine-year-olds used all the time.I waited for him to answer my question. He turned back to his work, concentrating on each detail of his plan, drawing precise lines and squeezing notes in the margins.“Of course, it’s been done before,” his words were slow and his eyes remained focused on his paper, “but never like this.”“Oh, so people just got to the moon using a very long rope is all,” a little smirk grew across my face.“No, they used a spaceship,” he growled, angry. Then he deflated, “You just don’t understand.”I rarely did when it came to Trot Short-for-Foxtrot.Their glass sliding-door opened, “Trot, time to come inside. Say good-bye to Pen.”He jumped up as if the ground was on fire, “Mom! How many times do I have to tell you? My name is Trot Short-for-Foxtrot.”His fits were usually large and awesome to watch but this particular one I had seen a million times. I slipped out of the gate, just as he was starting to use every cross word he knew to describe his mother.
A ringing bounced through our house, from the kitchen, up the stairway, down the hall, to the bathroom I had just vacated. My head turned side to side, as if I was looking for someone else to answer it. The hallway remained empty and dark.The stairs felt hard under the worn-through carpet. My feet came down with my full weight, making some of them creak. The cold kitchen floor made my toes go numb and added a slapping sound to the telephone’s shrill shrieks.I paused, hoping whoever it was would hang up. No such luck.“Hello?” my voice was rough and sleepy.“You have to come over,” Trot Short-for-Foxtrot’s voice was breathless.A quick glance at the microwave’s glowing numbers, “It’s two in the morning.”“So?” His tone was impatient. “Science doesn’t stop so you can sleep.”“Does your mom know you’re up so late?”He was silent so long that I thought he’d hung up.“Trot Short-for-Foxtrot?”“Yeah?”“I’m on my way.” Then I hung up quickly before he started giving me a detailed explanation of what he was calling ‘science’.His house was twenty-seven steps to my right. I had walked those twenty-seven steps so many times it’s amazing there wasn’t a trail of my footprints. But I found myself glancing over my shoulder after each step because never before had I walked those twenty-seven steps at night.A branch swaying was really a hand reaching out to grab me. The rumble of a distant car’s engine signaled the kidnapper that was surely coming for me. The squeaking that followed me couldn’t be my new sneakers. It had to be someone else.A front lawn had never looked so welcoming.I went straight to the backyard out of habit. The sensory lights were already flashing bright as Trot Short-for-Foxtrot paced from fence to fence. I stepped forward from the darkness, making him jump.“What took you so long?”“You could be a little nicer seeing as I just walked over here in the dark for you.”“Don’t be a baby.”I opened my mouth wide but made myself close it. When he was in such an antsy mood, fighting didn’t help. The cool, night air rushed through my nose to my lungs before I said anything more.“So what’s so important?”In way of answer, he turned and led me to his shed.I hated going in there. The ceiling sagged, giving the impression that a single twig would cave it in. Spiders spun their webs over everything, leaving sticky traps that didn’t just catch flies. Sharp points stuck out everywhere, rusty tools, corners of furniture, broken boards.Trot Short-for-Foxtrot clicked on a flashlight, making the shadow people dance around the small structure. Of course, he had to take me all the way to the back where his small work area lay.“Are you ready?” His tone was high with excitement as his hand rested atop the sheet covering his newest ‘invention’.I rolled my eyes, “Yes.”“Close your eyes.”“Then how am I supposed to see it?” I protested but I did what he said.I heard the rustling of the sheet as he threw it to the side. When I heard his soft “Ta-da” I knew it was okay to look.My eyes popped open but it took me a second to realize what I was looking at. I glanced from him to it and back again.“Aren’t spaceships supposed to be,” I took a deep breath, “well, bigger?”“Yes.”I ran my eyes over it. It was just big enough for a certain nine-year-old to fit inside.“How are you going to get all the way to the moon with that?”“I won’t.”I let the confusion seep across my face.“I don’t really want to go to the moon.”“That’s what you said.”“No, I said I was going to the moon, not that I wanted to.”“So why did you build the spaceship?”“I’m aiming for the moon but I’m going to miss and land among the stars.”I didn’t have the heart to tell Trot Short-for-Foxtrot, my best friend, what I had learned in third-grade science, that the stars were nowhere near the moon.