Paivi was able to relax at Lolly’s Ice Cream Shoppe. It all just felt so comfortable. Jason and Mr. Anderson were discussing baseball over their hot fudge sundaes. Paivi and Michaela were reminiscing about things that Torsten had done when he was younger. Mrs. Anderson and Aimee were laughing along with the girls. Torsten could only shake his head in embarrassment, and sink lower into his seat.
“And remember,” howled Michaela, “when we were at Taco Caliente that one time? We were waiting for our food and Torsten was gone. All of a sudden we heard this mooing sound. We turned around and there was Torsten, hiding in the plants next to the counter, mooing like a cow!”
She pretended like she was separating some invisible plants and stuck her head through.
Paivi was laughing so hard she started choking on her hot fudge brownie sundae. After she was able to swallow again, the girls collapsed into laughter. They were laughing so hard that they were crying, tears streaming down their faces.
“Dude, I was like nine years old,” protested Torsten meekly.
They returned home around eleven, after dropping everyone off at their homes. Paivi said goodnight to her parents and Torsten and headed up to her room. She had to pretend she was going to bed, but she felt it would be a long time before she got any sleep.
She shut her door and lit a candle, placing it on her desk. She turned out the light and could hear everyone else in settling into their rooms for the night. She sat on her bed, folded her long legs Indian-style and rested her hands on her knees. She remembered seeing people meditate this way in a movie.
She took a few deep breaths, focusing her gaze on the candle.
Score of the Chicago-Green Bay game, she chanted over and over in her mind. She tried to picture people playing football, and even Soldier Field itself, which she’d only ever seen on television. After about twenty minutes of watching the candlelight dance on the wall and peeking at the glowing numbers on her alarm clock, she gave up. Paivi blew out the candle in a huff and angrily got into bed, stuffed animals flying right and left.
What was she going to do? Maybe she’d have to break down and talk to her parents. Maybe they knew how to control this and just kept it from her, or maybe they could get the score for her.
What was she thinking, though? If she told her parents, they would know Christian was blackmailing her. What would they do? March into school and talk to the principal? Worse yet, what would Christian do?
It was all too much. She grabbed Mr. Teddy Bear off the floor where she had thrown him, squeezing him tight. A few hot, angry tears rolled down her cheek, wetting her pillow.
When she opened her eyes, she was sitting in her family room. The television was on, showing the last play of a football game between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers. Mr. Anderson was sitting on the edge of the couch and Torsten was on his knees in front of the screen. Both teams were at the line of scrimmage with two minutes left on the clock. Green Bay had the ball and the score was tied.
“How are they going to win this game?” shouted Paivi. “Tor, move your big fat head. I can’t see.”
She threw a pillow at him.
“They HAVE to win!” screamed Torsten. “We can’t lose to those idiots!”
“Shhhhhh!” Mr. Anderson’s gaze was glued to the screen as he hushed them.
Green Bay ran the ball down the field, picking up a few yards. On the next play, the Green Bay quarterback threw the ball and it sailed through the air towards a player in green and white. Out of nowhere a member of the Bears jumped into the picture. He snatched the ball out of the air, right in front of the ball’s intended target and sprinted down to the opposite end of the field.
“Go, go, go!” they all screamed.
Mr. Anderson jumped off the couch, knocking a bowl off the table, sending popcorn cascading across the floor.
Chicago’s number 23 wove in and out of the players on the field, zigging and zagging. He ran into the end zone and the referees signaled a touchdown.
“Yeah!” they all screamed, Paivi and Torsten jumped up and down, exchanging high-fives.
“Yahoo!” shouted Mr. Anderson, throwing his blue and orange Bears cap in the air.
An extra point was kicked, leading to more cheering as the clock ran out. Paivi looked at the screen, noticing the score of 21-14.
Paivi sat back down on the couch and closed her eyes.
When she opened them again, her family room was gone. She could feel the ground below her feet. She looked around, completely unfamiliar with her surroundings. The ground was hard and dusty; there was no grass to be seen. In the distance, she could see high, rocky peaks. In front of her was row after row of large, metal buildings, the same dusty brown color as the ground.
The sun was high in the sky, the air hot. There was not a soul to be seen. Paivi heard the sound of an engine in the distance. Someone was coming. She didn’t think she should be there. Everything felt wrong. She panicked and tried to move from where she was, looking for a place to hide. Her feet wouldn’t budge—they were glued to the spot.
Oh god, please don’t let them see me, she thought, her heart beginning to race.
To the right was a large metal fence, topped with razor wire that glinted like diamonds in the hot sun. Paivi could see four trucks in the distance. Two trucks led what appeared to be a large group people, and two followed behind. As they got closer, Paivi could see that there were men in the back of each truck, wearing some kind of uniform. They pointed large guns at the group.
The trucks entered through a gate, which moved aside as the truck approached. They drove right past Paivi, taking no notice of her. The men wore sand colored clothing and floppy hats, which shielded their heads and faces from the blistering sun. Behind the two trucks came the column of people. Paivi had to look closely to see that they were all women. It was hard to tell at first. She couldn’t decide if their clothes were meant to be brown or were so on account of all the dust.
The women were very thin and most were either browned or reddened from the harsh sun. They looked like so many bundles of rags held up by sticks. None of the women turned to look at Paivi, but she could see that while all of their faces were different, they were all frighteningly the same. The eyes were dull and sunken—their lips were dried and shriveled, like plants that hadn’t been watered in ages. These women had given up hope long ago.
As they passed by Paivi, moving mechanically like so many zombies, a woman turned, staring directly at her. Her empty eyes burned into Paivi, and she could feel a scream stuck in her throat. She knew this sunken miserable shell of a person.
It was her mother.
Paivi woke in a tangle of blankets, soaked in sweat and gasping for air. She jumped out of bed and lunged for the light switch. The room was instantly bathed in light. Paivi looked around wildly, not knowing what to do. She sat down on the bed, shaking her head. What did this mean? Clearly, something horrible was going to happen. But when? And why? She rubbed her face with her hands. She wanted to run in and wake her parents up. She wanted to tell them everything she had seen. But what good would that do? She had no answers.
Hey, Mom and Dad, I saw Mom in my dream and she was in some camp near some mountains. She looked half dead.
She pictured the conversation and it just seemed ridiculous.
Remembering the score of the football game that she would need to give Christian in the morning, she grabbed a pen and jotted down 21-14 Chicago on a notepad.
She turned off the light and returned to bed. The alarm clock numbers glowed in the darkness. She lay there, watching them slowly change until she fell into a restless sleep.
The next morning, she opened her eyes slowly, feeling like she hadn’t slept at all. She saw herself in the bathroom mirror and made a face. She touched the huge dark circles under her eyes. Thankfully, Coach Espinosa had given them the day off after their big win the night before. She didn’t feel up to practice today.
Last night seemed like years away now. She went down to breakfast. It was late, past ten, and Mr. and Mrs. Anderson had already left to do some shopping.
‘Good Morning Sunshine!’ read a sticky note attached to a pile of newspapers. ‘Hope you got some rest! Enjoy the papers! Love, Mom and Dad.
Torsten came stumbling down the stairs, rubbing his eyes as Paivi looked through the stack of papers. The St. Andrew Herald, the Tartan Times, and the Tribune all had her picture on the front page, stealing the ball from number 15. The headline above read ‘Tartans Take Tournament.’ The caption under her picture read ‘St. Andrew High School’s center, Paivi Anderson, saves the day. See Sports for the full report.’
“Mom and Dad gone already?” mumbled Torsten through a yawn.
“Yeah,” she answered, shuffling through the papers, looking for the Sports sections. The back page had the headline ‘Anderson stops West: Leads SAHS to Victory’ above a picture of her guarding Brooke West.
She couldn’t even muster enough energy to get excited about seeing her name in the paper. She had cheated. And after her dream, she didn’t really care much about any of it any more. What did it matter if she did well in a basketball game when she had seen her mother in some horrible camp, looking half dead? She pushed the papers aside and headed to the pantry. She grabbed her favorite cereal, Fruity Puffs, along with a bowl and a spoon, setting it all on the table. She dumped out a heap of cereal and grabbed some milk from the fridge to add to it. She pulled the comics page out from the pile of papers and began to read them as she ate her breakfast.
“What, don’t you want to read all the glorious articles about the wonder and magnificent Paivi Anderson?”
“No,” she answered curtly, hoping he would take a hint.
“Well, I don’t know about you,” Torsten pulled out a chair across from Paivi, sitting down with a giant stack of microwave pancakes and two jars, one of peanut butter and one of jelly, “but I would love to have someone put my picture all over the papers.”
Paivi said nothing and shoveled another spoonful of Fruity Puffs into her mouth. How could he even begin to understand this?
“What, now you’re too good to talk to me?” Torsten struggled to get the words around a mouthful of peanut butter and jelly pancakes.
“Look, just leave me alone.” She glared at him across the table. He shrank at the sharpness of her voice. He snatched the sports section from the pile and put it up so Paivi couldn’t see his face.
They spent the rest of breakfast in silence. After she finished eating, she called Christian’s house. The answering machine picked up, so she left a message. She called Jason and told him she was sick and couldn’t make it to a movie. He did sound extremely disappointed and promised to take her another time when she was feeling better. Not feeling like doing much else, she went back up to her room. She wanted to be alone. Her bed looked so warm and inviting. She was so tired and wanted to try to make herself see more of the images of her mother at the camp to try and figure out how she got there, but she just couldn’t muster the energy.
Paivi crawled back under her covers and closed her eyes.
No more dreams, she told herself, as she drifted off into a deep sleep.