“MOM! BETHANY WON’T LET ME PLAY DOODLE JUMP!”
“Play your own games, Bradley. And let your sister finish her homework.”
Bradley kicked at the banister railing at the top of the stairs and stomped off to his room, flung himself onto his bed. So unfair, he fumed. Bethany gets all the cool games. Bethany gets to have an iPhone 4 and all I get is a stupid iPod touch which doesn’t even have a Retina Display or a three-axis solid-state gyroscope. Bradley had a tendency to memorize WWDC keynotes.
He kicked off his sneakers and stared at the wall, frustration turning acid in his mouth. If only his dad hadn’t used Restrictions to disable purchases on his iPod. If only he hadn’t gotten in trouble for buying that thousand-dollar “I Am Rich” app two years ago when Tony from across the street had dared him to. If only Doodle Jump were free. So many if-onlies.
Wait. Bradley sat up straight, his nine-year-old mind just clutching at the edge of an idea. A moment later he was down the hall, banging on Bethany’s door.
“I already said no, Bradley. Go away.”
There was a pause, then he heard his sister getting up and walking to the door. A moment later she was looking down at him. “What are you scared of, Bradley?”
“I’m scared that Mom and Dad are going to die someday.”
She sighed and rolled her eyes, but she opened the door all the way. “Come sit down.” He ran in and climbed onto her desk chair. His legs dangled.
“What brought this on?” she asked, sitting on the bed.
He glanced over her desk, noticing the open math book and the iPhone next to it, running what looked like PCalc. “I dunno. I was just thinking about stuff, and remember how Mr. Pauletti had that scuba diving accident last year and now Tony doesn’t have a dad? I don’t want that to happen to us.”
His sister looked at the floor. Uh oh. I went too far. “Well, Mr. Pauletti wasn’t being careful, remember? He antagonized that stingray. Everybody knows you’re not supposed to antagonize stingrays. Dad taught us that at the aquarium, remember? So you don’t have to worry about him.”
“I guess.” He looked over at Bethany’s iPhone again. On TV the good guy always waits for just the right moment to grab the bad guy’s gun and bend his arm behind his back. But how does he know when it’s the right moment?
“And Mom is never going to let him go scuba diving anyway. Not now.”
“But what if Mom dies?” He pulled the chair a little closer to the desk.
“Mom’s not going to die.”
“But she might, and then there won’t be anyone to tell Dad that he shouldn’t go scuba—”
“MOM’S NOT GOING TO DIE, OKAY?” Bethany was crying. When did she start crying? She buried her face in her sleeve.
Bradley pounced on the iPhone and fled the room, earbuds trailing behind him, barely noticing his sister’s startled yelp. He made it back to his own room and locked the door just in time.
“BRADLEY! OPEN THIS DOOR!” She was still crying as she pounded.
Quickly he turned his attention to the purloined iPhone 4, taking only a moment to marvel for the dozenth time at the precision of its construction. Steve was right: it’s just like an old Leica camera. Home key, App Store, Search. Come on… there it is. Write A Review.
“BRADLEY! I’M NOT KIDDING!”
His thumbs danced across the onscreen keyboard, paying no attention to spelling — there was AutoCorrect for that — or proper capitalization. This was his one chance. “Make it count,” he said aloud as he typed out the exclamation point, the question mark, the second exclamation point, the second question mark, the third, the fourth, the fifth. No. That’s too many. Backspace. Just right.
The hallway was quiet. Had she given up? He listened for a moment, then heard what he had feared: two pairs of footsteps coming up the stairs. Bethany’s and… Mom’s? Worse: Dad’s. Oh no.
He had just enough time to add a postscript. But there was still something missing. Of course: a cute animal emoji. But which one?
The footsteps rounded the landing. They were almost at his door. No time to choose. All of them.
He heard the doorknob rattle, followed by a muffled swear. Then a scraping sound, which must have been his father feeling for the emergency key they kept on the molding above the door.
Octopus. Fish. The key sliding into the keyhole. Another fish. Whale. A soft click. Dolphin. Send.
It was done.
The door flew open. The rage was plain in his father’s eyes. Shaking, Bradley handed over Bethany’s iPhone. The door closed again. He was alone.
Whatever punishment was coming, it could never be as awful as the silence that preceded it.
But this time, he didn’t mind. In a few days, Doodle Jump will be free.
And so will I.