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"We've got to do something wild this summer."
Pamela extended her toes, checking the polish, then leaned back in the deck chair and pulled the bill of her cap down a little farther over her forehead.
"Define 'wild,'" said Gwen, eyes closed, hands resting on her stomach.
It was a Sunday afternoon. The Stedmeisters had opened their pool two weeks ago, and Mark had invited the old crew back again for a swim. Not the whole crew, because Patrick had left for summer courses at the University of Chicago and Karen was visiting her grandmother in Maine.
Everyone else had gathered at the picnic table except Liz, Gwen, Pamela, and me. The four of us seemed too lazy to move. We'd played badminton for an hour and a half, then took a swim, and now there was a wonderful breeze that played with my hair. I thought of Patrick.
"I don't mean dangerous wild," said Pamela. "I just want to do something spectacular. If not spectacular, then unusual. I want at least one good story to tell when we go back to school."
"Such as?" asked Elizabeth, reaching for her glass of iced tea.
"I don't know. That we visited a nudist colony or something?"
Liz almost dropped her glass. "You're joking."
"Why? Nudity's a natural thing. Don't you want to know what it feels like to play badminton with a breeze touching every square inch of your body?"
Gwen opened her eyes and gave Pam the once-over. "Girl, in the bathing suit you're wearing, the only parts of your body the breeze can't touch are the private parts of your privates."
"You guys want any crab dip before it's gone?" Mark called.
Even if we're not hungry, we make a point of tasting whatever Mrs. Stedmeister puts out for us. She and Mark's dad have been so great all these years about letting us hang out at their pool. They're older than most of the other parents, and I guess they figure that since Mark doesn't have any siblings, they'll do whatever they can to keep his friends around.
We'd filled up on hamburgers earlier, but Gwen padded over to the picnic table, her brown feet pointing outward like a dancer's, her short, shapely legs bringing her back again, dip in one hand, a basket of crackers in the other.
"Well," she said to Pamela, offering the crackers, "you could always get yourself arrested. That would be a first."
"For what?" Pamela asked, considering it.
"Don't encourage her," I said, but who was I kidding? I wouldn't refuse a little excitement, especially with Patrick gone and nothing more for me to do all summer except work at Dad's music store. My cousin's wedding was coming up soon, though, and that would make life more interesting.
"Here's something you all could do," Gwen suggested. "If you're going to be around the third week of July, you could volunteer from four to nine in a soup kitchen. Montgomery County's asking for high school students to take over that week and give the regular volunteers a break."
Jill and some of the others had followed the crab dip back to where the four of us were sitting.
"Whoop-de-doo. Now that's a fun idea," Jill said, rolling her eyes.
"What kind of help do they want?" I asked, ignoring Jill.
"Whatever they need: scrape veggies, set tables, serve food, clean up. We wouldn't have to plan the actual cooking. There will be one adult at each place to supervise that. I'm volunteering for the soup kitchen in Silver Spring."
Brian, all 170 pounds of him, sat perched on a deck stool, Coke in hand. "Why don't they make the homeless cook for themselves?" he asked. "I work hard at Safeway. Why should I spend my evenings waiting on people who don't even work at all?"
"Because most of them would trade places with you in a minute if they could," Gwen told him.
"I'll volunteer," I offered.
"Me too," said Liz. "Come on, Pam. It's only for a week."
"I suppose," said Pamela.
Justin said he would if he could get off work early. Penny said she'd be away. But Mark said we could count on him, and he'd call his friend Keeno to see if he wanted to come.
I think Gwen was pleased with the response. It was about what I expected from Brian. And even if Justin could get off work, it was up for grabs whether or not Jill would let him come. For the rest of us, it was altruism mixed with the fact that since we weren't going to be in London or Paris or even the beach that week in July, we might as well make ourselves useful. But it wasn't exactly what Pamela had in mind.
Later, Pamela and I walked slowly back with Liz to her house. I hadn't seen Tim around for weeks, and Pamela confirmed what I'd suspected.
"We broke up," she said. "It wasn't so much a breakup as...I don't know. Just scared off, I guess."
Getting pregnant last spring, she meant. Scared all of us. Even after Pam had a miscarriage, it was too much for Tim.
"I'm really sorry," I said, and Liz slipped one arm around her.
"It was mutual," Pamela told us. "Things just weren't the same after that. The only good that came of it is that I'm closer to Mom." Pamela's mom had been surprisingly understanding when Pam had told her about the pregnancy -- something Pam couldn't ever have told her dad.
How could it be, I wondered, that Pam and her dad could live in the same house together, and Mr. Jones didn't have a clue? But then, how much do Dad and my stepmom really know about me? How much do I tell them? They know where I am most of the time, but they don't always know what I'm doing or how I feel. Certainly not what I'm thinking.
Natural? Or not?
Les, the moocher, came over for dinner that night. Now that his master's thesis has been held up, he won't graduate till December. He's a little more relaxed, though, and we see him more often, especially at mealtime. But Sylvia never cares.
"Got it all planned," he said, telling us about a mountain bike tour he and his two roommates were taking in Utah the first week of August. "A guy from school's going to stay in our apartment and look after Mr. Watts in case he needs anything."
My brother and his roomies live in the upstairs apartment of an old Victorian house in Takoma Park. They get it rent-free in exchange for odd jobs around the place and the assurance that one of them will always be there in the evenings in case old Mr. Watts has an emergency.
"How long a trip is it?" asked Dad. "Sounds spectacular."
"We fly out on a Friday, stay a week, fly back the next Sunday. Can't wait."
I took a bite of chicken diablo. "You ride around looking at monuments or something? Mount Rushmore and Custer's Last Stand?"
"We ride, Al, we ride," Les said.
"But if you don't see anything..."
"Of course we see things. The mountains! The sky! The naked babes lining the trails, waving us on!"
"Seriously, Les. Describe your day."
"Well, you wake up in a tent. You pull on your jeans, crawl out, take a leak -- "
"Depends where we're camping. A Porta-John. An outhouse. On some tours you're simply given a shovel and some toilet paper."
"Eeeuuu! Do you all sleep in one tent?"
"No, they're small. People usually bring their own."
I dangled a bit of tomato on my fork and studied my twenty-four-year-old brother. Dark hair, dark eyes, stubble on his cheeks and chin. "Any women on the trip?"
"A few, usually. If they can take the pace. Tours are rated by difficulty, and this one's pretty rugged."
"Where do you take a bath?"
"Shower. River. Creek. Whatever's handy."
I tried to imagine myself going on a mountain bike trip with a bunch of guys. I could imagine everything except using a field for a toilet. And not brushing my teeth before breakfast. And getting dusty and muddy. And pedaling up steep inclines. And...
"Well, I'm glad you're getting away for a while," Dad told Les. "You've had your nose to the grindstone lately."
"But what about you and Sylvia?" Les asked him. "When do you guys get a break?"
"We're going to New York for a weekend," Dad said. "Sylvia wants to see a new exhibit at the Met, and there's supposed to be a fabulous new Asian-fusion-something restaurant at Columbus Circle."
Life is so unfair. No one mentioned me. Nobody even looked in my direction, though Sylvia did say, "We've also got to get plane tickets to Chicago soon. Carol's wedding is July eleventh. If you're flying with us, Les, we'll pick up tickets for four."
"I'd better make my own arrangements," Lester said. "I probably won't be staying as long as you are."
"Yeah, we'll probably stick around a few days to visit with Milt and Sally," said Dad.
I took the plunge.
"Oh, by the way, Patrick's invited me to visit the university while I'm there. Get a taste of college life."
Now all heads turned in my direction.
"That's a good idea," said Sylvia. "Did he say what day?"
"Well...I thought a couple of days, actually. I mean, there's a lot to see."
I noticed a pause before Dad spoke. "Did he mention where you'd be staying?"
"Oh, he'll work something out," I said, my heart beating wildly.
"When did you decide all this?" asked Dad.
I looked around incredulously at the three of them. "Whoa? Les is going on a mountain bike trip, you and Sylvia are going to New York, and...oh, yeah, I'm working at the Melody Inn this summer, as usual. I thought maybe I was entitled to a couple days of vacation."
"Of course you are," said Sylvia.
"We just want to know the details," said Dad.
That was a yes if I ever heard one. Now all I had to do was tell Patrick.
I called Elizabeth.
"You did what?" she said. "Without checking with Patrick?"
"Yep. It was then or never."
"Alice, what if he has other plans for that weekend? What if he's not even there?"
"Then I'll have his roommate all to myself," I joked, feeling sort of sweaty.
When I told Pamela, she said, "Maybe we should all go with you. We're looking for something wild, remember."
Actually, my even visiting the University of Chicago was wild, because it's so far out of my league, I'd never get admitted. My IQ would probably go up two points just breathing that rarefied air, I told Gwen when I called her next, but she doesn't like me to talk like that.
"You're always putting yourself down when it comes to Patrick," she said. "It's always, 'He's brilliant. He's motivated. He's persistent. He's original,' and what are you? A doorknob? There are all kinds of smarts, you know. Why do you suppose he likes you?"
"He likes you because you're real. Maybe you help keep him grounded. Ever think of that?"
"No, because we're never around each other long enough for me to have that effect," I said. "But I am excited about seeing him. I can't believe Dad's letting me go. I can't believe I pulled this off."
"You haven't yet. You still have to talk to Patrick," she said.
It's exciting thinking about visiting your boyfriend at college. Well, kind of my boyfriend. I'm more serious about Patrick than I've ever been about anyone else, but I'm here, he's there, and most long-distance things don't work out. Still...
A lot of things raced through my mind, the first being privacy. A dorm. A room. A night. Two nights? I mean, I was inviting myself. It's not as though he had asked me to come and said he had the whole weekend planned.
Carol was getting married on a Saturday, and Dad said we could stay over till Monday. We couldn't stay longer than that.
I began to feel as nervous as I'd been last spring when I'd called Scott Lynch to invite him to the Sadie Hawkins Day dance. What if Patrick said, Hey, great, Al! Where're you staying? And then I'd have to rent a hotel room or go back and forth from one side of Chicago to the other.
Maybe I shouldn't even tell him I was coming, I thought, so as not to make a big deal out of it. Maybe I should just stuff some things in a tote bag, take a bus or the El to the South Side, look up his address, and walk in.
I liked imagining that. Liked thinking about the look on his face. His smile. Patrick jumping up and hugging me in front of his roomie. I also imagined his not being there and my carrying the tote bag all the way back to Aunt Sally's.
I drank a glass of water and went back in my room, closed the door, and called Patrick's cell phone number.
It rang six times, and I expected to get a message that he was out, but then I heard his voice, faint-sounding, with lots of background noise.
"Hey!" he said. "Alice?"
"Hi, Patrick. Is this a bad time?"
"I can barely hear you," he said. "I'm at a White Sox game."
"Oh, wow! Listen, I'll call tomorrow," I said.
"No, it's okay. What's up?"
I raised my voice. "I just wanted to tell you that Dad says I can visit you...for a couple days, maybe...after Carol's wedding on July eleventh."
"When? Sorry, the crowd's noisy. Bases are loaded."
"July eleventh?" I said loudly.
"No. The eleventh!" I was practically shouting. "I could come see you on the twelfth."
"Sounds good! I'll have to check!" he shouted back. "I'll figure out something. Call you later this week, okay?"
"All right," I said. "Later, then."
I ended the call and sat on the edge of my bed, clutching my cell phone. My heart was pounding. What exactly had I agreed to? Only visit him, right? And Patrick had said, "I'll figure out something," so the next step was up to him.
But I had to be honest. I wanted to stay with him. All night.
Copyright © 2009 by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor