Read A Year Without Autumn Online

Authors: Liz Kessler

Tags: #Ages 9 and up

A Year Without Autumn

“Stop
the car!”

“What?” Dad swivels around in his seat. The car swerves.

“Good grief, Tom!” Mom squeals, gripping her armrest as she pulls a wad of tissues out of her purse.

“Stop the car!” I repeat. It’s going to be too late in a minute. I grab the tissues and shove them over Craig’s mouth.

Dad pulls over just in time, and Craig lurches out of his seat, runs to the side of the road, and doubles over.

The car stinks for the rest of the trip.

I sniff pointedly. “Mmm, get a load of that fresh country air.”

“I didn’t even do it in the car, Jenni,” Craig mumbles as I open my window and stick my head out.

Welcome to the Green family vacation. Green by name, green by nature, if my little brother’s face is anything to go by. Mom’s isn’t much better, either. But then she is eight months pregnant, so she’s got an excuse at least — especially when Dad’s behind the wheel.

Honestly, I could predict this journey with my eyes closed. It’s the same every year. An hour of Dad driving too fast around the bendy back roads, during which Mom will ask him to slow down at least ten times and Craig will puke at least once, followed by three hours of crawling up the highway with ten trillion other families who have suddenly realized there’s only one more week of summer vacation left.

Then we’ll arrive at our time-share, which will look exactly the same as it does every year, and exactly the same as all the other condos at Riverside Village: big open-plan living room and kitchen, both beige and cream, both spotlessly clean and tidy. No dirty stains on the brown leather sofa. No finger marks on the TV. Microwave, toaster oven, dish rack, fruit bowl. Everything labeled and sitting neatly in its place, checked off in the Guest File. In the place it’s been when we’ve come into the condo on the last Saturday of August every year, ever since I can remember.

But we like it like that. That’s the thing about my family. We like order; we like to be in the right place at the right time. We don’t like surprises or change very much. I guess that’s why we have a time-share — so we know exactly what to expect. Same thing every year. I could even tell you which leaves will have started to turn red. It’s always the same ones. Every year.

“Perfect,” Dad says with a satisfied nod as he pulls into the parking lot. “Fourteen hundred hours.” Which is two o’clock for normal people. The exact time we’re allowed into the condo.

“Right on time,” Mom says with a smile. “Well done, darling.”

That’s what they like to be, my mom and dad. Right on time.

There’s a strange comfort as we unpack the car and settle in. It’s sort of like when winter comes and you dig out those big fluffy sweaters that you haven’t thought about all year but you suddenly remember you love, and you’re glad you’ve got the chance to wear them again.

There’s a huge TV in the middle of the living room that swivels all the way around, so you can watch it from anywhere in the room. And there’s a bed that folds out from the wall, which you’d never notice unless you knew it was there; it’s like something you’d see in a James Bond movie. Not that we ever use it — but just knowing it’s there feels exotic and mysterious. And there’s always a tray of candy on the table to welcome you. I let Craig dive into the candy while I take my bags to the room we share so I can get the best bed by the window.

I hate sharing a room with Craig. For one thing, he snores and grunts all night, and I have to creep around in the dark when I come to bed so I don’t wake him up. And then he babbles about all sorts of nonsense in the morning, telling me about his dreams of monsters made from jelly. And for another —

“Watch out, sis.”

Right on cue, the little monster barges in, plonks his backpack on the other bed, and starts pulling out its contents.

Approximately thirty seconds later, his bed and half the floor space are completely buried under a pile of clothes, a small mountain of LEGOs, five packs of candy, three pairs of dirty sneakers, and about fifty model cars, buses, and tractors.

“Done!” he says, shoving his backpack under the bed and folding his arms.

“Done?” I say. “Done what?”

“Unpacked,” he says simply. He grabs a handful of LEGOs and heads for the door.

Once he’s gone, I stare at the bomb site he’s left behind and take a deep breath.

Like I said, I
hate
sharing a room with Craig.

I guess I’m quite mature for my age. Everyone says so. “Twelve going on twenty,” my dad says. I’m the oldest in my class at school and the oldest child in the family. Sometimes it gets a bit annoying always having to be the older, sensible one — but I suppose that’s just how I am.

There’s a
thump
-
thump
-
thump
along the hallway, and Craig appears in the room again.

He grabs another handful of LEGOs, then rifles through various jean pockets till he finds a bag of candy left behind goodness knows how many eons ago. He picks a lemon ball from the bag and hands it to me. While I’m looking at it and wondering exactly where it’s been, he unwraps a chewy lollipop for himself.

“What goes ‘Ha-ha, bonk’?” he reads from the wrapper.

“I don’t know,” I say.

“A man laughing his head off.”

There’s a pause as he lets the joke digest. A second later, he falls forward on his bed and guffaws in his inimitable half-choke/half-hyena giggle that I can’t help smiling at, despite my irritation.

That’s the thing with Craig. He’s the only person who really annoys me, the only one who can make me want to scream with frustration, but then sometimes he can make me laugh so much I cry. The only other person who can do that is Autumn. She’s the funniest person in the world and the brightest and smartest and all-around fabulousest! And she’s my best friend!

Dad pokes his head around the door. “Fancy a walk, Jenni bear?”

“Yeah, why not?” I reply, wincing slightly at the pet name he’s had for me since I was about three. I haven’t got the heart to ask him not to use it; he’d be all hurt, and that would be even worse than being called baby names.

I put the last of my clothes into a drawer and shove my backpack into the closet. On the way downstairs, I pull my hair into a ponytail with a scrunchie. It’s driving me crazy — it falls all over my face in loopy ringlets if I don’t pull it back.

“Depriving us of your lovely curly locks again?” Dad says with a wink as I join him and Mom in the living room. If they had their way, I’d let it grow down to my knees, but I’m determined to get it cut, once I can persuade them it’s not the end of the world. They’re scared it’ll be the start of a slippery slope. I’ve tried to explain that a change of hairstyle doesn’t automatically lead to two-inch-thick makeup, multiple piercings, and a tattooed neck, but they’re not convinced yet. So I just smile and discreetly pull my scrunchie a little bit tighter.

Craig is sprawled out on the living-room floor, making an incredibly complex-looking robot out of LEGOs. Mom’s propped up on the sofa with a magazine and a cup of tea.

“Take it easy,” Dad says, reaching over to kiss her forehead and pat her eight-months-pregnant tummy.

He ruffles Craig’s hair on his way across the room. “See you later, kid,” he says. Craig doesn’t look up. He’s concentrating too hard on the robot, his tongue poking tightly out the side of his mouth.

Dad takes my hand while we walk along the gravelly path. I stop myself from pulling away and reminding him that I’m not five years old. Instead, I let him hold it for a minute, and then pretend I have to scratch my neck so I can let go.

We walk past the second building of the complex. Together with ours, it’s the modern part of Riverside Village. These two buildings were added on only about ten years ago. The other two buildings have been here for nearly a hundred years. One of them, the reception building, is ahead of us, an elongated cottage with a thatched roof and bushy green ivy all over the walls. Autumn’s building is across the way from reception and the grandest of the lot. Autumn’s family has one of the fancy condos on the second floor. They were updated at the same time that our building was added, and they all have huge bedrooms, massive terraces, and Jacuzzis in all three bedrooms!

We’re just walking between the two buildings when the sound of a loud horn behind us nearly makes me jump out of my skin. I spin around to see a red Porsche roaring toward us.

“Autumn!” I run over to meet Autumn and her family as they pull up in the parking lot.

Autumn waves madly from the tiny backseat, where she and her little brother, Mikey, are both scrunched up with their knees practically behind their ears, suitcases on their laps, and most of the window space taken up with bags.

Autumn’s dad is an artist, and her mom is the manager at the gallery where he sells his work. He bought the car as a present for himself when they sold one of his paintings for a whopping amount. He wouldn’t tell us how much it went for, but Mrs. Leonard said it could have bought them a new kitchen. So that was what he bought as
her
present when they sold the next painting!

Autumn’s parents are totally fabulous. It’s always crazy at their house. Lots of people are always coming by to visit, and her parents are always throwing dinner parties and having loud conversations where everyone talks at once, and no one ever tells Autumn or Mikey it’s time for bed, and Autumn gets to do things like bake bread and paint on the walls. We even helped her dad make cocktails once for a party they were having. That was so cool. Bright red-and-green drinks, and we served them to all their artist friends in glasses that we frosted with pink sugar.

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