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an excerpt from Remember Dippy
an excerpt from <i>Remember Dippy</i> August 16, 2012

This is an unedited draft. For more on Remember Dippy click here.

Chapter 1

         Hull, Vermont, should be named Dull, Vermont. More cows than houses. No mall, no roller rink, not even a mini-putt. So I knew my last summer before high school was going to be a boring one like all the others. What I didn’t know was that it was going to be a rotten summer. My mother didn’t drop the bomb until I got home after the last day of school.
Mom was making her famous black-cherry iced tea when I strolled into the kitchen at quarter past three. “Hi,” I said with my nose already in the ’fridge. I grabbed a pint of fudge ripple, snatched a spoon off the drying rack, and dove in.
         “Hey Johnny, happy summer vacation,” she said. “When you come up for air, I’ve got some good news.”
         “What’s up?” I asked, hopping up on the counter.
         “I got a new client this week. A big one.”
         “Sweet,” I said. Mom is an interior decorator, and since she and Dad split two years ago, she’s really been trying to amp up her business. “Whose house?”
         “Not a house.” She stirred the iced tea hard, like she was nervous or something. “It’s not a house and, well, it’s not around here. It’s a museum, an entire museum, in Upstate New York. I’ll need to go there. Be there. Most of the summer probably.”
         “New York? We’re going to New York—as in, a real city with real things to do?”
         “Not us, Johnny. Me. It wouldn’t work for you to— ”
My chest clamped. “So you’re shipping me off to Dad’s.” My father lives in Northern Maine now, a nothing place like Hull except that I don’t have any friends there. And ever since my father met his girlfriend Kim, it’s not much fun when I visit—which isn’t very often.
“No, don’t worry,” Mom said. “Your dad isn’t even available. He’s going on a cruise next month, remember? You’ll stay with my sister.”
         I felt myself start to relax. Aunt Collette is awesome, plus she’s local, not to mention that she manages the 7-11, where slushies are on the house for family. Mom could do her thing all summer, and I could do mine. A perfect plan.
         Or so I thought.
         “There’s more good news, Johnny.” She tried to smile, but she didn’t really mean it, so it came out as a grimace. “I found you a job.”
         I plunged the spoon into the ice cream and raised an eyebrow. “What kind of job?”
         “Helping out with your cousin.”
         “What?” I jumped off the counter.
         “Just while Collette’s at work, that’s all. Then you’re free.”
         “But Mom—”
         “No buts. If you don’t watch him, Collette will have to take in a college student from Burlington to do it, and then she won’t have room for you, and then I won’t be able to go to New York. It’s the only way, Johnny. Now go pack. I’m dropping you off at five.”
         That is how the perfect plan turned into the perfect disaster.

         Now, before you go thinking I’m a selfish brat, you’ve got to understand about my cousin Remember. Yes, that’s right, his name is Remember—straight out of some New Age baby-naming book. He’s two years older than me, and he’s what polite people call different. I call him weird. He doesn’t have friends. He looks the wrong way when you speak to him. He either talks a mile a minute or not at all. He’s stubborn and high-strung. I could go on and on. Not that it’s his fault. Mom says he’s wired differently. Aunt Collette says he’s just who he is. But fault or no fault, he’s hard even to be around, much less look after. This was definitely going to be a disaster.
         I trudged to my room and stuffed my clothes, GameCube, iPod, toothbrush, and the remains of a sack of Hershey’s Kisses into my duffel bag. Then I wedged the bag and my bike into the car and waited for Mom, who was standing in the driveway talking with Mr. Boots, the cranky old man who lives in the other half of our duplex. At least I wouldn’t have him nagging me to pipe down my music these next couple of months.
         We drove in silence to my aunt’s house at the bottom of a little dead end road, and Mom parked on the street in front of the mailbox, which used to say THE DIPPY’S in those hardware store adhesive letters. But after last month’s big rainstorm, it said T E DIPP, which inspired some kids to start calling my cousin The Dipp. I’m pretty sure he didn’t notice, though. He doesn’t really have anything to do with the other kids in town. He takes an extra early bus to a special school in Peak Landing, gets back late, and then he’s mostly at home, except when he’s hanging out at our house.
         “All right,” said Mom, turning off the engine. I hopped out and started unloading my stuff. When I finished, she was still sitting there, gripping the steering wheel.
         “You coming in?” I asked through the open door.
         “Look, Johnny, you are okay with this, right? I know this is sudden, and a whole summer is a long time…”
         Sudden is right. Sudden and, if you ask me, unfair. But Mom needed—needed and wanted—this project bad, so I didn’t really have a choice, did I, not unless I wanted to ruin her chance for the big time.
         “I’ll cope,” I said, although I wasn’t sure I meant it.
Her face softened, and she finally let go of the wheel.
         After I stashed my bike in the garage, we walked into the house without knocking. No one was in sight, but we could hear water running, and in a minute Aunt Collette bounced down the stairs, yanking her 7-11 shirt on over her tie-dye tank top and shaking her long dark hair into place. She’s only a few years younger than Mom, but she looks a generation younger.
         “Hello, sweetness!” Aunt Collette gripped my arms and kissed the top of my head. “That new punk I hired called in sick, so I’ve gotta cover for a while till Pete can get there. Dang, I hate the night shift.” She pulled a tube of cherry-Popsicle colored lipstick out of her jeans and started applying a coat.
         “Maybe you could hire me,” I brightened. “Then you can be at home more.” Working the 7-11 counter sounded a lot more fun, and way easier, than dealing with my cousin.
         “Sorry, hon,” she ruffled my hair. “We don’t hire anyone under eighteen. But don’t worry—I’ll be back in time for Reality Island, and I’ll bring a pizza home with me. How’s that sound?”
         Mom didn’t look thrilled, but instead of protesting, she hugged me good-bye and reminded me to floss. “You still need to cut our grass every week,” she added. “The mower’s in the garage. Just ask Mr. Boots to let you in.”
         “I’ll remind him,” Aunt Collette said, walking Mom to the front door. “Johnny, make yourself at home while I walk your mother out. You’ve got the amethyst room.”
         All the rooms in my aunt’s house are actually blue—except for the doorframes, which are painted different colors, and she calls the rooms by that color, so you feel like you’re living in the White House. Aunt Collette is quirky that way, but if it helps her deal with being a single parent to a weird son, I say go for it.
         I carried my bag upstairs, plopped it next to the guest room bed, and considered myself officially settled in. The only thing left to do was say hi to the ferrets, who live on top of the spare dresser. Linguini and Jambalaya clucked at me and stuck their twitching noses through the cage slots. I gave them each a sliver of a Hershey’s Kiss—chocolate is their favorite—and headed back downstairs.
         “Now,” said Aunt Collette when she came back inside, “all we need is Remember. Dang, where is that boy—Remember?”
         Suddenly, the door to the entertainment center opened, and my cousin climbed out. “I’m here, Ma,” he grinned. He’s small for 16, but that cupboard must have been a tight squeeze even for him. He was crumpled from the top of his wavy brown hair to the bottom of his plaid shorts, and his skinny knees were pinched pink. “I was in my special place,” he said, pushing his hair off his forehead and pinning his owlish gray eyes on me. Something about him—the way he held himself, the big round eyes, the lack of cool—made him look younger than he was, as if he’d only borrowed his clothes from a real 16-year-old. “That’s my special place.”
         “Well, your cousin doesn’t know about special places, so please, try to stay in view while I’m gone, okay?”
         “Yup,” he nodded.
         “All right,” she said slowly, like she wasn’t convinced. “Johnny, you’re in charge now. The store number’s on the ’fridge. Help yourself to anything.”
         “We’ll be fine,” I told her, and I forced myself to smile. But what I was really thinking was that maybe Mom was right: a whole summer is a really long time.


Remember Dippy
by Shirley Reva Vernick
available in paperback Spring 2013

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