Jack barely heard the knock at his door over the scratching of his pencil.
“Hey,” Beth said, her backpack clutched in front of her.
“Hey,” Jack said. “So… is your dad all right? He sounded sort of…”
“It’s kind of late, isn’t it?” Jack asked. The sun hadn’t set, but the underside of the clouds were painted gold and pink.
“Your mom and I were having a talk.”
Jack didn’t like the way that sounded. ‘Having a talk’ usually meant his mom did all the talking.
“And… you’re still here?”
Beth blinked. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“I thought she was going to rip my head off,” Jack said. “I just figured she’d do the same with you.”
Beth shook her head. “Can I…?”
Jack started, and then stepped back, opening his door wider. “I thought you weren’t allowed up here after dark?” He left the door open.
Beth glanced out the window as she set her backpack down by the bookshelf that ran beneath it. “Sun’s still up. Besides,” she said, sitting on the edge of Jack’s bed, “Ellie is sick.”
“Since she couldn’t send Charlotte to her room, your mom sent me to yours.”
“I’m sorry about her,” Jack said. He sank to his chair, turning it in a circle. “She can be such a pain. Charlotte, not my mom. Well, she can be one, too, sometimes.”
Beth sighed. “She’s just worried, Jack. Scared. She’s not the only one.”
“Your dad,” Jack said, nodding.
“Him and me both!”
Jack stopped spinning. “You said you were okay.”
“I thought I was. But…” She turned, glancing over her shoulder. “This is still the winter star map.”
“It’s still winter for two more days,” Jack said.
She glanced at his clock “Thirty-two hours.”
“It’s close enough.” She leaned over and picked up the National Geographic from where it sat by the clock, working at the large foldup map glued inside.
“Give me that. Be careful, you’re going to rip it!”
“Hey!” came Charlotte’s voice from downstairs. “You tear any of his clothes, you have to replace them!”
“Slow down,” Jack said, lowering his voice. He pressed down on the page that was wrinkling as Beth tugged at the map.
She nearly fell over as the poster snapped free. “Come on, help me get this thing up.”
“Mom, should I check to see what they’re doing up there?”
“Charlotte, leave your brother in peace. You can set the table.”
The crinkling of the map as Beth foundered beneath it prevented Jack from hearing his sister’s complaints.
“Give me that,” he said, plucking two of the corners and lifting the sheet, turning and holding it against the map already tacked up on the angled wall. “Stapler. Top right drawer,” he said when Beth started looking over at his desk.
“It’s upside down.”
Beth slipped under Jack’s arms, helping him reorient the corners.
“You’re supposed to play Twister with the mat on the floor,” Charlotte said, from the small landing outside Jack’s door.