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The Trouble with Sadie
It had to be in person, and they all had to be there.
Gwen was at a meeting over the lunch period, so I couldn't tell them then. I waited till we went to Starbucks after school before I made the announcement:
"Patrick asked me to the prom."
Two seconds of silence were followed by shrieks of disbelief and excitement:
"Five months in advance? Patrick?"
"You're kidding me!"
"Yesterday." I was grinning uncontrollably and couldn't help myself. "He called. We talked."
"He called. You talked. What is this? Shorthand?" Gwen demanded. "Girl, we want details!"
"Wait! Hold it!" said Pamela. She jumped up, went to the counter, and bought a huge cup of whipped cream, then liberally doused each of our lattes to celebrate.
"Now dish!" she said.
"Well, I was just hanging out in my room, getting my stuff ready for school, when I heard the phone ring."
"He didn't call you on your cell?"
"I'm not sure he knows the number."
"I'd think he would have had it programmed in!"
"It's been two years," I told them, working hard to defend him. Defend whatever there was between us, though I didn't know myself.
Liz rested her chin in her hands. When she looks at you through half-closed eyes, you realize just how long and thick her eyelashes are -- longer than any girl's lashes have a right to be. "Oh, Alice, you and Patrick!" She sighed. "I knew you'd get back together. It's in the stars."
Gwen, the scientist, rolled her eyes. She was looking especially attractive, her hair in a new style of cornrows that made a geometric pattern on top of her head. The gold rings on one brown finger matched the design of her earrings, and she was definitely the most sophisticated-looking of the four of us. She was also the only one who had visited three colleges so far and who had even picked up scholarship forms. "How long did you guys go together, anyway?" she asked.
"I guess it was about eighth grade that I really started liking him. The summer before eighth through the fall of ninth grade." I was embarrassed suddenly that I remembered this so precisely, as though it were always there at the front of my consciousness. "We actually met in sixth, but sixth-grade boyfriends aren't much to brag about."
"He did have his goofy side," Pamela agreed. "Remember that hot day at Mark's pool when you fell asleep on the picnic table? And Patrick placed two lemon halves on your breasts for a minute?"
"What?" Gwen shrieked.
"Yes, and when I woke up, everyone was grinning and no one would tell me what happened. And I couldn't figure out what those two little wet spots were on the front of my T-shirt. Like I was nursing or something!"
We yelped with laughter.
I continued. "And the year he gave me an heirloom bracelet for my birthday that turned out to be his mom's, because she didn't wear it anymore."
"I never heard that one," said Liz.
"And Mrs. Long had to call me and ask for it back," I said. We laughed some more. I wondered if I was being disloyal, telling all this. That was the old Patrick. The kid. That was then, and this was now.
"So what attracted you to him in the first place?" asked Gwen. "Besides the fact that he's a tall, smart, broad-shouldered redhead? I wasn't in on that early history."
"Well, he wasn't always as tall or broad-shouldered," I said. "I guess it's because he's the most motivated, focused, organized person I ever met. His dad's a diplomat, and they've lived in Japan, Germany, Spain....In some ways, he's a man of the world."
"And then he falls for Penny, the jerk," said Pamela. "I'm glad that's over."
I saw three pair of eyes dart in my direction to see how I was taking that, then look away. Wondering if I'd cry myself sick again if things didn't work out this time with Patrick. I remembered Elizabeth's organizing a suicide watch when Patrick and I broke up, so that a friend called every quarter of an hour to see if I was okay. I tried not to smile.
"Well," I said flippantly, "a lot can happen in the next five months. You know how everything else comes before fun where Patrick is concerned. And I didn't say we were back together. I just said we were going to the prom."
"But this is his prom, and then you can invite him back for yours!" said Liz excitedly, since Patrick's in an accelerated program that gets him through high school in three years.
"Yeah, and with two prom nights to make out, you know what that means," said Pamela.
"Will you stop?" I said.
To some girls, a prom means you're a serious couple. To some, it's the main event of high school. To some, it's the biggest chance in your life, next to getting married, to show off. And to some girls, it means going all the way.
"Well, I'm glad for you," said Gwen. "But I hope we don't have to talk prom for the next five months."
"Promise," I said.
"Some couples were just meant to be," Pamela said. "Jill and Justin, for example. They've been going out forever."
"What about you and Tim?" I asked. Tim had taken her to the Snow Ball last fall. A really nice guy.
"Could be!" said Pamela.
"So are you going to ask him to the Sadie Hawkins Day dance?" asked Gwen.
"I already have," Pamela told us, and grinned. Then she turned serious again. "Patrick better come through this time, Alice. He owes you big time."
If my friends didn't quite know what to make of Patrick, neither did I. I'd always thought of him as special somehow, but...My first boyfriend? More than that. Patrick was someone with a future, and I didn't know if I was part of that or not. Or wanted to be.
But you can analyze a good thing to death, so I decided to take it at face value: He really, really liked me and couldn't think of anyone he'd rather take to the prom. Now enjoy it, I told myself.
Our house was a mess. Dad and Sylvia were having the place remodeled, with a new addition on the back. Their bedroom, the kitchen, and the dining room were sealed off with heavy vinyl sheets so that dust and cold wouldn't get through. Their bed had been taken apart and stood against one wall in the upstairs hallway. The rest of their furniture was pushed into Lester's old bedroom, where they were sleeping, and their clothes were piled all over the place in my room. Downstairs, the dining-room furniture had been moved into the living room along with the refrigerator and microwave, and the construction crew had fashioned a sink with hot and cold running water next to the fridge. We ate our meals on paper plates, sitting in the only available chairs, knees touching.
"Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to stay in the house during remodeling," Dad said that weekend when we didn't think we could swallow one more bite of Healthy Choice or Lean Cuisine.
"But think of all the money we're saving by not living in a hotel!" said Sylvia. "The foreman said that if we can put up with painters and carpenters doing the finishing touches, we might be able to move into the new addition by the middle of March."
Fortunately for us, the construction company had another contract for an expensive project starting April 1, and had doubled the workforce at our place to finish by then.
Dad was at the Melody Inn seven days a week, Sylvia was teaching, and I was at school, so we didn't have to listen to all the pounding.
Lester came over one night and took us out to dinner.
"Hey," I said over my crab cake, "why don't we move in with Lester for the duration?"
He gave me a look. "Don't even think it," he said. "I'm surviving on five hours of sleep a night while I finish my thesis."
"Oh, Les!" Sylvia said sympathetically.
"You need to get some exercise," Dad told him.
"I run to Starbucks and back," Les said.
"But...you're not seeing anyone at all?" I asked.
"Not much," said Les.
It was hard to imagine, but somehow I believed him. Les had made up his mind to graduate, and he was hitting the books.
"What about that girl you were going out with at Christmas?" I asked him.
"It's over," said Les.
"Already?" exclaimed Dad.
"Too high maintenance," Les told us. "All she wanted to do was party, and I can't afford the time. So I've sworn off women till after I graduate."
That was even more difficult to imagine, but I felt real sympathy for my twenty-four-year-old brother right then. I decided that somehow, sometime around Valentine's Day, I...or Liz and I...or Liz and Pamela and I...or Liz and Pam and Gwen and I were going to plan a surprise for Lester. I just didn't know what.
Patrick has called me twice since he invited me to the prom on New Year's Day. He didn't call to chat, exactly. He either had something to tell me or a question to ask. You could say he's all business, but that wouldn't be true, because he has a good sense of humor and there's a gentleness that I like too. I just wish he were more accessible. He runs his life like a railroad -- always busy, always going somewhere, getting somewhere.
But there was a lot more to think about during the second semester of my junior year. The SATs, for one. I decided that January would probably be my least hectic month, so I'd take the test on January 26, then take it again later if I bombed the first time. Getting my braces off was item number two. I also wanted to spend more time with our friend Molly Brennan, who's getting treated for leukemia, and to persuade Pamela, if possible, to audition for the spring musical, Guys and Dolls. I'd signed up for stage crew once again.
Tim Moss was doing a lot for Pamela's self-confidence. Pamela's pretty, she's got a good voice, and has a great body. But ever since her mom deserted the family a few years ago and ran off with a boyfriend, Pamela's self-esteem has been down in her socks. Lately, though, now that her mom's back and living in an apartment alone, Pamela's seemed a little more like her old self, and once she started going out with Tim, she really perked up.
Sylvia, my stepmom, said that one way to tell if a guy is right for you is if he wants what's best for you, encourages your talents, and -- at the same time -- has a good sense of self and where his life is going. She was speaking about my dad and her decision to marry him when she said that, but I think Tim Moss would just about get an A on all three.
"Go for it," Tim told Pamela when we were talking about the musical the other night.
"I'll think about it" was all she said, which is one step up from "No, I'd never make it," which is where she was last week.
And speaking of Sylvia, I'm getting along better with her. Even Annabelle, her cat. Our cat. The cat I'd said such awful things about last year. Sylvia and I are both trying to communicate more. If she wants my help with some big household project, for example, she doesn't descend on me some weekend when I have a ton of homework or something else planned. And if I want to use her or Dad's car, I try to remember to tell them in advance, not just spring it on them.
I guess you could say that for me and my friends, cars and driving are a big part of our lives. They were sure a big part of Brian Brewster's, whose license was just suspended last week in court because he hit another car in December and badly injured a seven-year-old girl. She was in the hospital for three weeks with a broken pelvis and other injuries, but I think Brian would have to break his own pelvis before he'd worry more about her than about the fact that he can't drive for a year.
I don't hang around much anymore with Brian and his crowd. Patrick seems able to move in and out of a crowd whenever the spirit moves him; if there's one thing Patrick Long is not, it's a label. But mostly I go places with Pamela, Liz, and Gwen.
The four of us have different interests much of the time, but we still tell each other a lot of personal stuff. Liz and I used to go running together on summer mornings and sometimes after school. But I wasn't fast enough for her, so she joined the girls' track team this semester. Pamela was taking voice lessons; Gwen got a job as a receptionist in a clinic twice a week after school; and I promised my friend Lori that I'd join the Gay/Straight Alliance at school to show my solidarity with her and her girlfriend, Leslie.
But there was one secret I hadn't told anyone: I had a crush on Scott Lynch, a senior, the editor in chief of The Edge. Last fall I'd done everything but beg him to take me to the Snow Ball, but he'd asked a girl from Holton-Arms. So when another senior, Tony Osler, asked me, I'd gone with him. And because Tony seemed more interested in getting into my pants than anything else, that didn't last very long. Now I was going to the prom in May with Patrick and was wildly excited about it, but Scott was still on my mind. Is life ever simple?
I have to say that Jacki Severn, features editor for The Edge, is not my favorite person. She's got an eye for copy layout and she's a good writer, but she isn't easy to work with. When I got to the staff meeting on Wednesday, she was on one of her rants.
"I think we ought to change the name!" she was saying. "It's historically inaccurate."
Now what? I wondered, exchanging glances with Don Spiro, one of our photographers. Hissy fit, he scribbled on a piece of paper and shoved it across the table.
"What's up?" I asked the others.
Scott was balancing a pencil between two fingers and offered an explanation: "Remember that last year the school decided to replace the Jack of Hearts dance in February with something more casual?"
I nodded. "Something fun and silly and utterly retro, like a Sadie Hawkins Day dance."
"Right. Well, the dance committee has scheduled it for February twenty-ninth, because the twenty-ninth happens only once every four years, sort of a nice kickoff for the first Sadie Hawkins Day dance. But Jacki wants to call it the 'Turnaround Dance.'"
I gave Jacki a puzzled look. "And if we call it 'Sadie Hawkins,' the world will end?" I asked, making Scott smile.
But Jacki sure didn't. "I've researched it, and Sadie Hawkins Day first appeared in a Li'l Abner comic strip in November 1937. If the whole rest of the country celebrates Sadie Hawkins Day in November, it's ludicrous to hold our dance in February unless we change the name."
"I doubt that the whole rest of the country even knows who Sadie Hawkins is," said Don.
"It doesn't matter!" said Jacki. "Besides, there's another SAT scheduled for March first, the day after."
"But not at our school," said Miss Ames, our sponsor. "And the newspaper has no authority to change the name of the dance. 'Sadie Hawkins' still lets people know that it's girls' choice."
"But -- ," Jacki began.
I was sitting at one of the computers and had Googled the term Sadie Hawkins Day. "Hey!" I interrupted. "Here's a West Virginia school that holds a Sadie Hawkins Day dance every February twenty-ninth."
Scott jokingly banged his notebook down on the tabletop. "Sold!" he said. "Next topic..."
Jacki gave me a long, hard look and angrily picked up her pen.
The topic may have been closed, but it sort of sealed the antagonism between Jacki and me. I guess I never quite forgave her for trying to do a story on Molly and her leukemia without any thought as to how Molly might feel about it. And Jacki probably never forgave me for being there with some of my friends, sitting on Molly's bed and eating a pizza with her -- Molly in makeup, to be exact -- when the photographer arrived to take a picture of a pale, limp girl in a lonely bed. Not exactly the story Jacki had in mind.
When I got home that night, I waited until I'd finished my homework before calling Patrick. I've always had the feeling he's out most evenings, because -- in addition to his accelerated curriculum with all the extra homework -- he's got band and track and probably other activities I don't even know about.
The phone rang three times before he answered.
"Hey!" he said.
"Hey, it's me. You busy?"
"Always, but I need a break. What's happening?" His voice was welcoming. Encouraging.
"We had a staff meeting after school -- the newspaper," I explained, "and the big discussion was what to call the dance that's replacing the Jack of Hearts on February twenty-ninth."
"Pretty momentous. Right up there with the Mideast," said Patrick. Patrick always thinks global.
"Yeah. Jacki Severn's bummed because she says that most places celebrate Sadie Hawkins Day in November, so she wants to change the name of the dance."
Patrick laughed. "A slugfest between the Sadies and the non-Sadies? Glad I won't be there."
I was quiet for a moment. "Where will you be?"
"The band's quintet is playing for a big Kiwanis Club charity dance. They hold it every leap year on February twenty-ninth, and Mr. Levinson asked us two months ago to play."
"So...you won't be able to go?" I said, sounding stupid.
"Unless I've got a clone," said Patrick. And then he must have sensed what I was thinking, because he said, "You don't have to sit at home, Alice. You could invite someone else."
I guess I didn't want to hear that, either. I wanted him to sound disappointed. Jealous, even, at the thought of me in someone else's arms.
But Patrick went on. "I don't want you to feel that because we're going to the prom, I've got a clamp on your social life." Now he sounded like a sociology professor. "I mean, I'm going to be away next year."
"I know," I said, feeling a heaviness in my chest.
"So I don't want you sitting around waiting for me."
When somebody tells you he doesn't want you sitting around waiting for him, it means he won't be sitting around in Chicago waiting for you. And maybe I wanted to hear that, maybe I didn't.
"Well," I said. "I just...wanted to make sure. You were my first choice."
"That's good to know," said Patrick, a chuckle in his voice, and I could just imagine his eyes laughing then. "I'll think of you at the Kiwanis Club that night."
I asked him what instruments made up the quintet, and he said a clarinet, a bass, a trumpet, a sax, and drums -- the drummer, of course, being Patrick. But I didn't really care. I was thinking, Sadie Hawkins; I was thinking, Girls' Choice; I was thinking, Scott Lynch.Copyright © 2008 by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor