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Authors: Lise Saffran

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BOOK: Juno's Daughters
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Frankie waited for Jenny to start on the next verse before she joined in, her voice tentative and yet truer than Jenny's would ever be.
Wishing I was at my sweet baby's house
Sittin' in that old arm chair
With one arm around this big guitar
And the other one around my dear
During the course of the song, headlights shone briefly on the circle of people, and in the pasture, car doors slammed. The people in the house came out with overflowing paper plates as the people outside went in. Hellos were shouted and chairs pulled away from the fire for private conversations. The sky grew dark and cigarettes, only some of which smelled like tobacco, gave the illusion of alien spacecraft hovering in the distance. Miranda stood with Jenny and Frankie and flipped through the songbook looking for something they all knew. They finally settled on “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Dale strummed the first few chords. Jenny put her arm around Frankie, knowing that this song about a dying mother always made her tear up.
The bartender from Herb's held the last note a moment longer than everyone else, letting his voice warble on past Dale's last chord. Phinneas cracked a joke, and the guy sheepishly adjusted his knit cap on his head, mussing his shaggy hair in the process. Dale handed him a beer and, with Mary Ann looking over his shoulder, flipped through the pages of a book for another song. Jenny smiled. The island wasn't perfect, but she could not deny that it was the best place she'd found.
Suddenly, Frankie pulled away and ran into the field after a glow-in-the-dark Frisbee. Jenny turned back to the fire just in time to see Lilly lean in to whisper something to an uncommonly handsome man in a turtleneck and Nikes. The man from the store. Trinculo. Of course.
Jenny flushed, both delighted to see him and horrified that he should be arriving at the party with Lilly, of all people. She stole another glance at him. He was laughing in the fire-light, turning to first one and then another person as he was introduced. He had not, she was sure, noticed her yet. Perhaps his arriving with Lilly was just a coincidence? He was at least twenty years older than she was, after all. She turned her eyes back to her daughter and her heart sank. Lilly stood draped in an unfamiliar leather jacket, the light of conquest already shining bright in her eyes.
Mary Ann came up behind Jenny. A chill was spreading with every star that popped into the sky and she edged in to warm herself in the glow of the fire. A shout of triumph traveled from the field, where Frankie must have caught the Frisbee, followed by another teenager's whoop of congratulation.
Jenny hoped Frankie wouldn't step into a crevice and break her ankle. Half expecting to have to run to her in the dark, she whispered in Mary Ann's ear, “What do you think of that one?”
Mary Ann glanced at Trinculo. “Very cute.”
“Is he forty, do you think? Thirty-five?”
Mary Ann cocked her head. “Hard to say. He's way too old for Lil, in any case.”
“Well, sure. Of course.”
Mary Ann lifted Jenny's mug out of her hand and took a pull from it. Her graying hair was pushed back from her face with a headband and the wrinkles on her forehead were deep. “You're not thinking of getting involved in all that summer nonsense, are you? The intrigue? The late-night sex on the beach?”
Chad looked up sharply from the log on which he was sitting, warming his feet at the fire, and Mary Ann and Jenny both giggled. Mary Ann leaned in to Jenny and whispered, “And here he thought we didn't know about that night on Shaw last summer. Poor Chad.” The song ended and she glanced at Jenny with a touch of concern. “They always leave, you know. After the play is over. Always.”
Jenny raised her eyebrows. “And the bad news is?”
Mary Ann shrugged. “Don't say I didn't warn you.”
They both watched as Lilly drank something mysterious from a cup and then held it up to the strange man's mouth. Lilly, who after escaping to a nightclub in Seattle at sixteen, returned home and regaled her sister with a story of how a man in his forties came up out of nowhere, wrapped his arms around her, and licked her face.
Jenny watched Lilly, and Mary Ann watched Jenny. This is so wrong, thought Jenny, in so many ways. She took a drink from her cup and the wine was unpleasantly tepid.
Jenny caught Lilly's eye and gestured to her to come over. Lilly stared defiantly back and then, glancing at Trinculo, must have decided that failing to obey might result in a more embarrassing scene than coming when her mother beckoned. She obliged, but in her most nonchalant way, shoulders rocking, arms swinging, as if every move she made was all her own idea.
Trinculo's eyes followed Lilly around the fire, and then suddenly, with a start, he saw Jenny, too. Jenny watched recognition cross his face, and when it did, warmth traveled up her spine. She had not imagined his interest at the grocery, after all. Perhaps he, too, had been scanning the crowd for her face. She reached for Lilly's arm and drew her close, noting that Trinculo was still watching.
Mary Ann said under her breath, “Probably the only man on this island who doesn't know the child is yours.”
“What do you think you're doing?” whispered Jenny into Lilly's ear.
Lilly smirked. “Making friends.”
“Well, stop it right now.”
Lilly waved to Trinculo, who appeared not to see. “He's adorable, isn't he? I always like guys whose hair looks like they just crawled out of bed.”
“Lilly!”
Jenny's eyes followed her daughter's. Trinculo was pretending not to notice either one of them now. He was nodding at something that Dale was saying and reaching for a cup handed to him by Sally, who couldn't stop being a waitress even when she was not working at the Backdoor Kitchen. Someone said something to make him laugh, and he threw his head back and flashed a row of teeth so white you could see the flames dancing in them. He ducked his head fetchingly and let a lock of sandy hair fall into his eyes. He glanced up briefly, fixing Jenny in his gaze, and then looked away.
Jenny smiled and then turned her head. Damn it, he was beautiful.
“Don't
do
that, Mom,” hissed Lilly.
“Do what?”
“Make him like
you
.”
“For heaven's sake, Lilly. The man is old enough to be your father.”
Lilly narrowed her eyes. “You aren't even going to deny it then? That you just smiled at him?”
Jenny wiped a smudge of ash from her daughter's chin with the pad of her thumb. “Why don't you go inside and ask Peg if she needs any help.”
Lilly brushed off her mother's touch. “God, I can't s
tand
this anymore. I can't stand it.” She stomped her foot then, which conveyed her anger well enough but did not exactly strengthen her case as far as being treated like an adult.
Jenny sighed. “So get a ride home.”
“I'm not talking about Dale and Peg's,” she tossed over her shoulder.
“What, then?” said Jenny, under her breath. “This planet?”
“This island! Where else in the entire world would you go to the most happening party in town and have to hang out with your
mother
? Living on San Juan is like growing up in an
elevator
. It's a prison!”
Jenny shook her head. “Poor Lil.”
Frankie trotted by the fire carrying the Frisbee in her teeth like a dog. When she saw her sister she let it drop and ran over. “I was wondering when you would get here.” She grabbed Lilly's arm and pulled. “Come meet Miranda. She is
so
cool. You're going to love her.”
Lilly looked tempted but glanced again at Trinculo, clearly torn. “My bag is over there,” she said, inclining her head in his direction.
Jenny said, “Go with your sister. I'll keep an eye on your bag.” And on
you
, she wanted to add, but she let her go without another word.
Miranda sat on the stump of a tree that Dale had felled the year before after a big storm. Her hair and pale wrists shone like moth wings in the remaining light. A small clump of young island men stood around her talking, Jenny guessed, about fish they had caught, sheds they had built by hand, and cars they had repaired with nothing more than a pocket knife and gasket paper. The boys parted like the Red Sea to let the two girls through. They were used to doing that when Lilly arrived.
“Here's my sister who I was telling you about,” said Frankie, pushing Lilly forward. “She just graduated.”
“Hello.” The one word was all the poor girl could manage, though her smile was very convincing. She was an actress, after all.
Jenny felt sorry for her. She could imagine being a beautiful young woman headed to an outpost to star in a summer play and arriving to find someone like Lilly there, already reigning supreme. It would be quite a shock.
“Do you smoke?” asked Lilly. She reached into the pocket of her commandeered coat to pull out a pack of clove cigarettes.
Jenny found herself wondering if Trinculo, upon finding them in his pocket the next morning, might be brought to his senses. Surely the scent of cloves would be sobering enough to an adult man to clear any love-in-idleness elixir from his eyes.
“Sometimes.” Miranda was clearly softening. She accepted a clove from Lilly's outstretched hand.
“God, you have such beautiful hair,” said Lilly, lifting a plait of the other girl's pale tresses into her hand.
Lilly's hair had been just as pretty, Jenny recalled, before she had matted it and rolled it into a pile of snakes.
Frankie stood between them with the smug expression of a matchmaker at a wedding.
Miranda smiled, and this time the smile extended all the way to her eyes. It was done. They were friends. Jenny turned her attention back to the fire and to Trinculo, who was shaking hands with the boys' high school basketball coach.
Joined by several new masculine voices, the group around the fire broke into a chorus of “Rollin' in My Sweet Baby's Arms.”
Gonna lay around the shack until the mail train comes back, rollin' in my sweet baby's arms, arms, arms, rollin' in my sweet baby's arms
.
Whenever a song ended or Dale paused to figure out the key and adjust his cap, Jenny could hear the girls' voices murmuring in the background. At least she could hear Lilly's and Miranda's voices. Frankie would be sitting there listening with rapt attention. Without Phoenix, Frankie was even more attached to Lilly, it seemed. Jenny turned, and in the fading light could still make out on Frankie's face the same starstruck smile she wore at three when she used to follow her seven-and-a-half-year-old sister around the garden in a nightgown and rain boots. Jenny wondered if having Frankie shadow her around the party all night would cramp Lilly's style. She hoped it would.
Jenny was both annoyed that Lilly couldn't seem to get through a single day without a hit of pot and grateful that she took care to smoke it outside her sister's presence. She knew it was wrong, but she couldn't help but take some comfort in the fact that while Lilly smoked a lot of dope, her sister's children (one a freshman at Stanford, the other liberal arts college bound) indulged, by all reports, in drugs both more addictive and harder on the pocketbook. Sue would never say, but according to her husband, who was quite fond of Jenny and would refill her glass of Chardonnay without being asked, the kids in Marin tossed random pills at each other at school all day long. Jenny's brother-in-law had expressed relief that at least his children had the sense to identify the pills on WebMD as Adderall or Concerta before washing them down with a Caramel Frappuccino.
Jenny was weighing the relative advantages of interrupting Lilly's new clique with an admonition to behave when Trinculo suddenly appeared next to her at the fire. She shifted her feet and, catching her sandal on an uneven patch of dirt, nearly tumbled into Mary Ann's lap. Mary Ann reached out a hand to steady her and, seeing Trinculo, took on a look that was both amused and cautionary. Jenny ignored both and, crossing her arms over her chest, hoped the color in her cheeks would be easily missed in the low light.
Trinculo smiled. “You've got a nice voice,” he said. Up close she could see lines in his face that had not been visible at a distance. Definitely over forty, she thought.
“I sang in church,” she said. She was conscious of several interested glances from people around the fire. Dale was watching her, though pretending not to. Mary Ann, who had no use for pretending, was clearly keeping an eye on them.
Trinculo rocked on his heels and his shoulder knocked against Jenny's.
“Me, too. Every Sunday. Baptist?”
“Methodist.”
“Lightweight.”
She laughed. Surely she was not mistaking the undercurrent in his voice and in his eyes? Trinculo shifted, and the sense of solid warmth that radiated from him nearly made her swoon. One step closer and they would be hip to hip. A thin dusting of sandy whiskers glittered like powdered sugar on his neck. She imagined slipping her hand under the T-shirt that hung loosely to his belt. She swallowed. The pounding of his heart under her palm. Dale fished in his bag for his head lamp and fit it over his head before stepping away from the fire. She watched him go. Perhaps that was the difference this year, she thought. Perhaps this year she was merely unencumbered enough to wonder.
Trinculo stuck his hands farther down in his pockets and twisted his face into an expression of exaggerated dismay. Jenny could picture him in the jester's role all of a sudden. He would do well.
He said, “You're looking at one sanctified, certified, and now citified Holy Roller. Speaking in tongues. The whole bit. That's why I know what's in store for our poor young Ferdinand. My bet is that before the summer's end, he will either be giving up on prayer altogether, or praying for forgiveness.”
BOOK: Juno's Daughters
13.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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