Authors: Ann Herrick
Finally, we finished supper and did the dishes. I took extra time brushing my teeth because I wanted to wait until after Karl and Mama went to the hospital before I left to meet Nolan, just to make sure our paths wouldn't cross on the way.
As soon as Mama and Karl left, I hurried to the big maple tree at the park where I was supposed to meet Nolan. He wasn't there yet. After a few minutes, I started to worry. What if he was in an accident? How would I ever know? I paced around the tree. I walked down the path a little to look down the road and see if he was coming. Still no Nolan. I didn't know whether to be angry or scared.
I leaned against the tree, closed my eyes, and started counting.
By the time I count to one hundred, Nolan will be here
. It worked! At the count of ninety-seven I heard the roar of a motorcycle and opened my eyes to see him parking his bike.
Nolan looked me over from collar to sandals. "You look great," he said as he gathered me into his arms and kissed me. I forgot all about his being late. I was still savoring the sweetness of our kiss when Nolan asked, "Where's your car?"
"My brother needed it to drive my mother to the hospital." It hadn't occurred to me that not having the car might be a problem. "The theater is only a few blocks from here."
"Let's walk. My bike wi
ll be safe here." Nolan draped his arm across my shoulders and pulled me close. I felt as happy as a bee in a flower garden.
At the beginning of the movie I was worried we would have to walk out. Nolan seemed restless, shifting in his seat, checking his watch. But when the first surfing scene came on, he whispered
, "Cool." He also thought The Kahuna was cool, the beach shack was cool, the luau was cool, and the beach house where Moondoggie and the Kahuna got into a fight about Gidget was cool. When a song or scene with Gidget's friends came on, Nolan would kiss me. I'd seen couples kissing at the movies, but I'd only dreamed about being part of such a couple. Now I was, and I liked it, even though I did miss parts of the movie.
After the movie we went to
Maple Shade and had ice cream cones (Nolan insisted I try maple-walnut), then strolled back to the park. "So," Nolan said, "what did you think about 'Gidget'?"
I wanted him to like my opinion, so I gathered my thoughts before I spoke. "I thought it was very good. Gidget not only learns about herself, she teaches The Kahuna about the importance of having goals
"I thought the surfing was cool. And living in that shack! I can see myself doing that, surfing all day, partying all night, following the waves. Not a care in the world."
"But ... but what about your singing?"
"I could sing anywhere, take my guitar anywhere." He wasn't looking at me. He was staring at something in the distance. "It'd be cool to live in
California. All that sun and sand and surf."
My stomach churned. "But
California is so far away ...."
Nolan stopped and stared at me. "You always have something to complain about."
"Oh, Nolan. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to come across like that!" Why did I always say the wrong thing? "I... I guess I took it the wrong way."
"What else can I expect from you?" Nolan laughed, then swung me into the circle of his arms and kissed me.
A rush of relief ran through me. Nolan wasn't mad at me.
"Come on," he said, "I'll race you to the park." He took off, and I lost sight of him right away.
I ran as fast as my sandals would allow. When I got to the park, I went to the maple tree where we'd met before. But there was no sign of Nolan. It was still light out, but the sky was turning pink and it was hard to see in the shade of all the trees. I didn't know whether to call his name, or look for him, or just wait. I decided to look around.
I took a few steps down the path and glanced around. Nothing. I took a few more steps, when I heard a terrible growl and. Something jumped out at me from behind a forsythia bush!
I screamed and started to run. But something grabbed my wrist. I pulled to get away. "Help!"
I heard a low, throaty laugh.
"It's me," Nolan said, and he burst out laughing again.
"Oh, Nolan." I forced a small laugh. "You scared me!"
"That was the idea!" He pulled me close to his side, and we walked together. "Come on. Let's find some place private, and I'll 'protect' you."
Nolan guided me to a
secluded picnic table. We sat and melted into an embrace. Nolan started kissing me. I could feel his uneven breathing on my face. He held me tight with one arm and ran a hand down my back, around my waist, and up over the front of my blouse. He rubbed his hand over my breast. That warm tingle flowed over and through my body. My heart beat like hummingbird wings. I was excited, scared, and so sure we were in love.
At some point I realized it was dark. I did not want to leave Nolan, but I didn't want Mama and Karl worrying about me, wondering where I was. I gently pulled back from Nolan's kiss. "I
... it's getting late. I should be—"
"Late?" I thought I heard a mocking tone in Nolan's voice, but then he looked at his watch in a stream of moonlight filtering through the
trees. "Yeah, I've got to go anyway. I'm meeting some of the guys over at Nicki's."
"Oh." I wondered if "some of the guys" included
Bethany. But I didn't say anything. I was probably just letting my imagination work overtime, as usual.
"You'll be okay walking back to your house?" Nolan phrased it as a question, but somehow it came out sounding like a statement to me.
Hand-in hand, we strolled back to Nolan's motorcycle. He gave me a goodnight kiss, then roared off. I hurried home, not sure how late it was.
Our porch light was on, and when I got to the door I could see lights on inside too. Mama was sitting in the living room, knitting. Karl wasn't there, and I figured he must be out with Caprice.
When I went in, Mama looked up from her knitting. "Hello, Vija. How was the movie?"
"Oh, it was a wonderful, Mama." I saw by the clock on the fireplace mantel that it was only a few minutes after ten. The movie had ended at nine, so I decided to cover all my bases before Mama could ask why I was getting home now. "I went to Maple Shade afterwards and had an ice cream cone. Then, I went for a walk in the moonlight."
"It sounds like a nice evening," Mama said.
"It was, Mama." I kissed her cheek before heading upstairs, glad she could not read my mind. "It really was."
It didn't take long for me to fall asleep, and when I did I dreamed golden sunny dreams of
Nolan and me surfing together in the sky-blue waves along a beach in California.
For two weeks I felt very noble. Papa came home from the hospital, Karl left for the waters off Vietnam, and I slaved away in the hot sun. Papa helped me clean the mowers. He gave me reminders: this customer likes his grass cut very short, that one wants the mower set at three inches. Every day, he praised my efforts, and thanked me for them. But after a while I had trouble keeping up. I had to start work earlier and stop later.
I longed for lazy days at the beach with Nolan. I tried not to resent the fact that he could spend seven days a week cooling off in the waters of
Long Island. After all, I reminded myself, it wasn't his fault I couldn't be there with him. Maybe what I really resented was that he seemed so content to go to the beach without me.
At least we had Sunday afternoons together. We lay side by side on the beach. We swam. We walked to the jetty and sat in the shadows, where we didn't need to talk. Nolan's kisses, his touches, made me feel as if I were part of him.
If he stared at other girls, I told myself—or he reminded me—that it didn't matter. He chose to be with
. Sometimes he talked about going to California and becoming a beach bum. At first, it sounded so beautiful the way he described it. I pictured us together, following the waves. But when I really thought about it, I wasn't sure how I fit into those plans. I couldn't just quit school, leave home, and follow him. But maybe he thought I would.
Other times Nolan talked about the possibility of getting work in coffeehouses in
New York. He was singing again almost every night. Nicki's had set up a little stage and he played there two or three nights a week. I hinted at just "dropping by" to hear him, but he said seeing me would take his mind off his singing. Besides, he didn't even go on until ten o'clock. Most nights I was so exhausted that I fell asleep by nine.
One night when Nolan was free and we went to the movies again, I found myself yawning and fighting to stay awake, even though "
Rio Bravo" was a John Wayne movie with lots of noise and action. Nolan said it was only because it was a movie that he chose. When I protested that I was tired, he said that I was too sensitive, that he was only joking, that I had to remember not to look for trouble where there wasn't any.
Nolan also was getting gigs in
New London, Hartford, and New Haven. He even performed once in Boston, though just a couple of songs as an opening act for someone who was building a following there. Nolan could really go somewhere as a folksinger, he said.
This was what I wanted to hear. I fell in love with a folksinger. When I first heard Nolan sing and play the guitar, I felt that he knew me inside and out. I felt that destiny brought us together. Singing, not surfing, was the path Nolan would choose.
One morning wispy gray clouds filled the sky. The air felt heavy against my skin. It did not look as though there would be any rain, just oppressive humidity. "It won't be long before I can work again," Papa said, as he wiped grass off the blades of a mower. "Then you won't have to work so hard."
Though Papa was taking care of the mowers, and puttering around the house and yard as much as he could before Mama would scold him about taking it easy, I knew it would still be several weeks before he could return to work. So I just smiled, and nodded.
Mama called Papa into the house to help her with something, which was her way of checking on him and making sure he wasn't "overdoing."
Just as I finished loading the truck, a car pulled up to the curb. Joel, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and rubber-soled shoes and carrying a big black lunchbox, trotted over. "Joel Gerber, reporting for duty."
"How quickly they forget." Joel cocked his head to one side and grinned. "I said I'd help you with your work. Remember?"
"Ah, yes. And I said I'd let you know if I needed help."
"When I was eating my Rice Krispies this morning, I heard a voice telling me that you needed me today."
"Hmm. Must've been the voice of Snap, Crackle, or Pop."
"You'd be doing me a favor. I'm really a lousy caddy. Oh, I can lug the golf bag around, but I don't know what club to use for a long putt or to get out of a sand trap. My tips were pitiful, and deservedly so."
"Really?" I raised my left eyebrow a fraction.
"Would I kid you?"
"Please. You'll be doing me a favor. Instead of making a fool of myself on the golf course, I can reveal my ignorance about yard work
"When you p
ut it that way, how can I say no?"
Joel grinned. "You can't."
"In that case, let's go." We hopped in the truck and I had Joel stow his lunch box with my thermos and sack lunch. "We're going over to Westfield, Mr. Redfern's estate. He's very particular," I explained.
It was a long ride, so I headed for the turnpike to save time. "Since I thought I'd be working alone, I planned on spending the whole day there. So, don't worry, you can go slow and take it easy.
"That's me, slow and easy," Joel said with a laugh.
After a few minutes, I exited the turnpike and turned left.
Eyeing the forest-lined road, Joel said, "Are you sure anyone lives way out here?"
"Watch the side of the road," I said. "Every now and then you'll see a mailbox and driveway."
After a few minutes, Joel said, "Those driveways are spaced pretty far apart. There must be some nice homes hidden in back of all those trees. How much farther to Redfern's?"
"About another mile." Soon I spotted the plain white mailbox with the simple lettering, and turned right.
"Man," said Joel, as we bumped along the shaded dirt driveway, "this is one long entrance."
"People out here like to be 'set back from the road a bit,' as Mr. Redfern would say."
"Yeah, well, any farther back and they'd be in
A couple of twists and turns later the driveway opened up to Mr. Redfern's house nestled into a hillside. An iron statue of a deer stood halfway up the hill.
Joel let out a soft whistle. "Wow. That's some place."