I dragged the door open. The bell jingled against the glass, and a swell of warm sporting-goods air bulged out to greet us.
Beecher pushed past me into the brightly lit store. I followed and we stood side by side, wiping our sneakers on the big mat inside the door and giving our noses a chance to thaw out.
“Oooo.” Beech squinted over the top of his fogged-up glasses. “Tool.”
My brother has a problem with c’s. They come out sounding like t’s.
I pulled off his glasses, wiped the fog on the hood of his coat, and slid the glasses back on his face.
“Ooooooo!” He blinked as the blur of shine and color suddenly sharpened into racks of jerseys and shoes. “Really tool.”
He stood there, barely breathing, taking it all in. The bats. The balls. The tables heaped with Wheaton University hoodies. The giant flat screens mounted high in the corners, all tuned to the same basketball game, the play-by-play blasting through the store.
We’d been here before, lots of times, back when dad still lived with us, before he moved to Boston. Beech had been pretty little then, so he probably didn’t remember. still, he’d never been a sporty kid, so who knows why soccer cleats were suddenly so fascinating to him.
“Superhero tore,” he said, his voice filled with wonder.
I looked at him. “What?”
“Superhero. Tore.” He threw his mittened hands wide. “see?”
“I see sports equipment,” I said.
Beech gave me a sad look and shook his head, like I was a pitiful case if I couldn’t recognize a superhero store when I was standing in one.
And really, as I unzipped my coat and peeled off my gloves, I realized he was kind of right.
I headed toward a rack of high-tech workout shirts. Here in Wheaton, kansas, I was not known as a superior athlete (or, well, any kind of athlete). still, I could totally rock a shirt like that. Comic book geniuses may not be ripped, but we get sweaty too.
I whisked through the hangers on the rack, thinking black might be my speed. Or no—red, like SpiderMan. And like the Red sox. (My dad would like the Red sox part.)
I stopped. dad was going to ask me what I bought. He was going to flat out ask. I couldn’t tell him T-shirts. I wouldn’t be able to stand the disappointment crackling through the phone line.
Beech tugged on the bottom of my coat. “Tut.” It was his way of saying my name. “Ine Man.”
“Beech. This is a sports store. There’s no Iron Man.”
“Uh-huh.” Beech whipped off his mittens, shoved them at me, and shot like a laser to the baseball aisle, the hood of his puffy winter coat flopping against his back.
I caught up with him beside a display of baseball helmets.
He stood on tiptoe, inching his stubby fingers toward a helmet at the top.
“Ine Man.” His voice was hushed with awe.
“Beech. It’s a baseball helmet.”
I pulled it down and handed it to him.
He held it like a precious jewel. “Ine Man.”
And in a weird way—again—he was kind of right.
Beech lifted the helmet and placed it reverently on his head, as if he were crowning himself king. It dropped down over his eyes. He tipped his head back so he could peer out at me.
“Tool?” he said.
“Way cool,” I said.
“Hey, guys. Can I help you find anything?” I looked up.
A girl in a Bottenfield’s T-shirt stood beside us, flashing a sporty smile. The white plastic name tag pinned to her shirt said JESSICA, and I could tell right away she was big into athletics. Her hair was pulled back in that perky sort of ponytail girls wear when they play sports, with shiny blond streaks, probably from playing outdoor sports, and her high-performance running shoes gave her a sporty bounce when she walked. You could tell she felt right at home around athletic equipment. she even had a neon pink soccer ball tucked under her arm.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “We’re not sure what we’re looking for.”
Beech nodded. The helmet slid down over his face. His voice echoed out from under it: “Tarts.”
“Tarts?” Jessica looked confused.
I deciphered for her. “Cards,” I said. “Gift cards. From our dad. For Christmas. We’re here to spend them.”
“Ah.” she nodded. Her ponytail bounced. “I get it. Just look around, and if you need help, let me know.”
She started to turn away.
“Tut superhero,” the helmet told her.
I closed my eyes.
We’d been through this with our downstairs neighbors, two different breakfast waitresses at the Atomic Flapjack, and the guy who emptied the change machine at the laundromat. And even though it was nice that my goober of a brother thought I was a superhero, I knew in my heart it would only end up one way: me looking pathetic.
Jessica smiled down at Beech, in that bright way people smile when they’re trying to figure out what he’s saying. “You?” she asked him. “You’re a superhero?”
“No.” Beech tipped the helmet back. “Tut.” He grabbed the front of my shirt and tugged.
She gave him another bright smile. “Tut?”
“He means Tuck.” I peeled his fingers from my shirt. “short for Tucker. It’s what he calls me.”
“Tut draw superhero. And win.” Beecher threw his hands wide. “Win big.”
Jessica looked at me.
I shrugged, kind of embarrassed because I didn’t want to brag. And also because it was a pretty big deal and I kind of did want to brag.
“You know H2O?” I said.
“Big superhero,” said Beech. “Really tool.”
Jessica nodded, clearly puzzled.
“They had this contest to invent a sidekick for him. I invented a sidekick named Beanboy and sort of”—another shrug—“won.”
“Oh!” Jessica’s confusion cleared up. “Just like my niece. she won first prize in the art contest at her grade school.”
“Yeah,” I said, even though it wasn’t like that at all.
Jessica flashed another smile. “You guys let me know if you need any help, okay?”
She ambled off in her bouncy white running shoes, and as she went, she gave the pink soccer ball a spin and stuck her index finger under it.
I stayed where I was, looking pathetic.
Dad had told us to spend the two gift cards on anything ...