Chapter One It was the last day of school and the day before my thirteenth birthday. The temperature that afternoon had hit one hundred. After dinner, in our one-room apartment, it felt like one hundred and ten. I sat perched on the side of my bed near the fire-escape window, trying to catch some air. Sweat collected along the edges of my scalp, crisscrossing my face and dripping into my eyes. My big brother, Otis, lay sprawled on the red pullout couch with his mouth hanging open. Ma, already in her pajamas, sat motionless at the table in the center of the room, staring at the bills. I could hear kids' laughter and the cracking sound of a stick whacking a ball in the street below. In the projects across the way, a boom box pumped out a bass beat with too much reverb and a barrage of words sharp as bullets. Wailing in the distance was a siren. The world was going about its business in spite of the heat. But Ma had kept us in. Ma believed that the city wasn't safe for a girl in the evening. Otis she usually let roam. But tonight Otis was cooped up inside, too, on account of his report card. I glanced at my brother's face. He glared at me. "What are you looking at?" I lowered my eyes. "Nothing." It would be just like my brother to get three D's and an F, and then try to take it out on me. "You'd better not be looking at me," he grumbled. "You scrawny little roach." "You've got the face of a roach," I said, not skipping a beat. We enjoyed insulting each other. Otis smirked and rubbed his chin. "Well, if you ask me, your growth is stunted." "So is your brain." He stretched his legs. "You've been reading too many books," he said. "You're beginning to smell like a worm." "That's ridiculous," I snorted. "Worms don't even have a smell." "Look at this six-pack," he bragged, baring his stomach. "I'm made of iron! Go ahead, hit me!" I rolled my eyes. "You're pathetic." He shot up from the couch. "Midget!" "Mental midget!" I shot up from the bed. "You think you're such a smart-ass!" "At least I don't eat my toenails!" I zinged him. The hint of a smile curled at the edges of his mouth. He towered over me. "You do pick your nose." "That's a lie!" "You're so short, I could cook potatoes and eat them off your wimpy little head!" he said, flicking me on the forehead. "Oh yeah?" I jumped back. "Well, you couldn't cook a potato if you tried. Know why? Because you couldn't read the cookbook!" I got up in his face. "Dumbbell!" Otis's brown eyes bugged out. I'd hit a nerve. He pulled a cushion off the couch and held it up threateningly. "What are you going to do?" I taunted. "Smother me?" He whacked me over the head! "He hit me!" I cried. I scrambled past the table where Ma was sitting. Otis tore after me. We zigzagged through the one-room apartment, running past the painted dresser and Ma's bed in the alcove. We circled the bathtub, which stood on four legs, and skidded by the sink filled with dishes. Then, lurching past the red couch, I lunged toward the fire escape. Otis grabbed me by the hair. We were half angry, half laughing. "Ouch!" I screamed. "Take it back!" Otis said, yanking my ponytail. "Take what back?" I said, digging my fingernails into his hands. "You called me a dummy!" he said, tightening his grip. "I called you a dumbbell!" I screeched. "Not a dummy! Anyway, it's not my fault that you got a bad report card!" He pulled my hair even harder and I let out a bloodcurdling scream. "That hurts! I'm notWyeth, Sharon Dennis is the author of 'Piece of Heaven' with ISBN 9780440418696 and ISBN 0440418690.