Cody hunched over himself in his bus seat, face buried in Second Foundation. He wasn’t really reading, but the book hid his wet eyes. A baseball cap covered his neat haircut. I did everything for her, he thought. Why did she do that to me? God, he hated these clothes. Designer stuff made him feel like a nerd, but she had gotten him to wear them. No more.
The sixth-grader sharing his battered bench seat was preoccupied, talking to the kid across the aisle, and Cody felt it safe to wipe his eyes. “Never again,” he whispered to the book. “I’ll die before I let anyone make me be someone else.” His parents approved of his new look, especially his mom, and that was gonna be a hassle. He pulled the ball cap down tighter. That haircut crap was something both parents were happy about, and going back to looking like Cody was going to be tricky. Even going back to wearing his real clothes might be a problem, but maybe he could do that a little at a time.
He closed the book and watched out the bus window for a while, letting the landscape go by in a blur. He cracked the window open, letting in a little fresh air. The bus reeked of teen hormones and sweat, a smell so familiar that hardly anyone noticed, but the April air felt good (even if her name was April).
After countless stops, starts, and turns, the bus stopped in front of the Laurel Hills subdivision; Cody and a couple other kids he didn’t know well got off and hiked to the clubhouse. One of the kids stopped to check the mail. The other was an eighth-grade girl, a cheerleader, and Cody had nothing to say to her. She had no intention of talking to a seventh-grader, but was offended that he didn’t try. I’m supposed to ignore you. You’re not even looking at me. She trailed behind his quick stride, glaring at his back. Too bad he’s not in high school, I’d talk to him. He’s kind of cute.
The clubhouse was a short walk from the entrance. Cody would wait here for the elementary school bus to bring Teri; the cheerleader’s ride wasn’t here yet and she stood fuming and fidgeting at the curb nearby. Dad bought the house in here a year ago, and it was an okay place. He had his own room, and it was cool to have a pool, even if it was here at the clubhouse — it was covered up right now, but it would be open next month. Cody peered over the privacy fence, thinking how cool it would be to ride his skateboard in there. He would love to ollie up onto the diving board and roll right into the pool if he could do it without getting caught.
“Not like I’ll ever get a chance to do that,” he mumbled, oblivious to the puzzled look the cheerleader gave him. He sat and opened Second Foundation, and soon lost himself along the edge of the galaxy, leaving girls and other problems light-years behind.
“Hey dork,” said Teri, blocking his sun. His sister was a pain in the butt, but he still kind of liked her. Usually. At least the cheerleader was long gone.
“Kaaaaaa-terrrrrrrr-aaaaaaa,” he said, rasping the name and dragging it out.
“Don’t call me that, dork!” She gave him the scowl that only an eight year old girl can give.
“Why not, Katera? It’s your name.” He grinned.
“I don’t care. It sounds stupid. I go by Teri, and you know it. Let’s go, you can read that stupid book at home.”
“It’s not a stupid book, Teri-ble,” said Cody, tucking it in his backpack. “You’re just too stupid to read it.”
“I’m tellin’ Mom you called me stupid!”
Home after school was always quiet. After putting his nerd clothes away (forever), Cody did his homework while Teri watched Cartoon Network and Nick Jr. The parents would be home in a couple hours, then — then Dad was grilling burgers for supper. Cody thought a moment.
“Hey Dad. Need some help?” Cody stuck his head through the sliding glass door to talk to his dad, who stood at the grill on the patio out back. Dad had a beer close at hand, like he always did when he was outside.
His dad gave him a puzzled look. Cody was wearing what his mom called “play clothes” until last year: plain blue jeans and a t-shirt with the school mascot. He still had the hat jammed tight over the parent-approved haircut. “Did your mom send you out here?”
“No. I figured I should learn how to grill burgers and hot dogs, if you wanna show me how. If you guys get sick or something, I could fix supper.”
“Well, sure. It’s never too early to start learning how to be self-sufficient.”
“Um... does that mean not depending on someone else?”
“You got it, son!” Cody’s dad grinned and beckoned him closer to the grill. “Okay, this is how you start. Stack the charcoal like this....”