Authors: Susan McBride
Go with the flow, live and let live
, Mac told herself, and tugged the towel off her head. Draping it over her shoulders, she ran her fingers through the damp curls, working out the tangles. She thought of a recent kung fu movie that she and Alex had watched on one of their weekend movie marathons. The underlying message—besides “Kick the bad guy’s ass”—went something along the lines of “Don’t be like a rock slamming into other rocks. Be like the water slowly wearing down the rocks.”
Not a bad idea. Though it led her to wondering if Alex still had the T-shirt he’d worn weekly in tenth grade that said
BRUCE LEE IS GOD
Alex, Alex, Alex
Mac grinned, brightening at the thought of him and their plans to spend Labor Day afternoon together. Her best guy-friend and the resident Geek-Next-Door (as Laura called him) had laid out their schedule in an earlier e-mail:
Alex and Mac’s Excellent Labor Day Adventure:
Ride bikes to Sandalwood, packing picnic lunch (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—yeah!)
Water Uncle Ed’s plants so they don’t croak before he gets back (always work before play—ha-ha!)
Goof off like a couple of idiots for the rest of the day!
Mac couldn’t wait.
Sandalwood was one of their favorite close-by destinations, just a hop, skip, and a jump down Knipp and across Memorial Drive. Alex’s uncle Ed owned a house on Longleaf, on one of the three small lakes in the private subdivision, and he was away for a while, doing some kind of statistical analysis for a corporation in India. Alex figured Uncle Ed wouldn’t care if they rode over and sat on his deck, dangling their legs in the water while they ate their PB&Js. So there would be no one around to bother them: no parents, no relatives, and no BFF plotting revenge.
Goofing off is just the ticket
, Mac decided as she put away her mom’s letter and stowed the precious shoe box under her bed. Feeling in the right frame of mind again, she padded into her bathroom to dry her hair until her mudbrown
curls were only slightly damp. Then she wandered through her walk-in closet, tapping her lip with her finger as she figured out what to wear. She ended up pulling on her best pair of Gap cargo shorts and her favorite lavender T-shirt with velvet piping on the collar.
Mac paused and gritted her teeth as her stepmother’s annoying drawl traveled up the stairs.
“Coming!” She shuffled out into the hallway and leaned over the railing, spotting the way-too-blond top of Honey’s head and her dad’s salt-and-pepper crown. “What’s up?” she called down, causing both faces to tilt in her direction.
Mac still wasn’t used to seeing Honey standing arm in arm with her father. What an odd couple they made: tiny Honey with her flipped-out hair and her big boobs squeezed into a too-bright outfit, and tall Dan Mackenzie with his conservative haircut and golfer’s uniform of pastel Polo shirt and tan slacks. Jeanie and Daniel had looked like they’d belonged together, and they had. That Mac’s dad had picked Honey of all people to be with after her mom had died didn’t make sense. Maybe it never would.
“Do you want some lunch?” her stepmom offered, smiling her toothy Miss Houston Runner-Up smile. “I could make you a grilled cheese before your daddy and I head out for our golf date with the Harrisons.”
Like Honey played golf? Or made grilled cheese sandwiches for that matter.
“No, thanks,” Mac declined as politely as possible since her dad was staring hard at her. He had a slightly pained look on his face that tied a knot in Mac’s belly.
Was he seeing Jeanie in her face? Was he thinking, too,
how the holidays used to be when her mom was alive? How they used to spend time together, doing whatever fun things Jeanie Mackenzie dreamed up: going to the zoo, hitting the art museum for an exhibit, visiting NASA for the hundredth time, or buying ice cream at Marble Slab?
“We could bring you back something from the club,” her dad said dutifully, out of pity, Mac was sure. “You used to love their Monte Cristos, didn’t you?”
“Daddy, I haven’t eaten those in ages,” Mac told him, figuring he would’ve known that by now if he’d spent half as much time with her in the past two years as he did with Honey. “Besides, I’m having lunch with Alex, so you don’t have to feel sorry for me.”
“I wasn’t feeling—” He cut himself off, shaking his head. “Hey, have a great time, kiddo.” He gave her a mock salute, like he’d done when she was a kid.
“Don’t worry.” Mac forced a smile, assuring him, “I will.”
“All rightee, then.” Honey tapped her glittery diamond watch. “We’d better skedaddle or we’ll be late, and you know how snotty Zani Harrison can be.”
“You’re right, of course, sweetheart.”
“Aren’t I always, baby doll?”
Mac winced as Honey slipped into PDA mode, slapping a wet one on Daniel Mackenzie and then slipping her arm through his, hanging on possessively.
“We’re off then, sweet pea!” Honey trilled. “You be good while we’re gone, ya hear?” she added as she dragged Mac’s dad out the door.
Like Mac was ever anything
She held her breath until the click of her father’s shoes
and Honey’s high heels on the foyer tiles had evaporated and the front door had closed with a bang. As the silence washed over her, she retreated to her bedroom, her heart twisting in a most uncomfortable way.
Saying hi and bye was about as much communication as she had with her dad these days. Since her mom died, instead of embracing her, he’d done his best to hold her at arm’s length, not that tricky to do once Honey had entered the picture. As dead set as Mac had been against the relationship, her mother’s own words had advised against it. In fact, one of Jeanie’s letters explicitly instructed:
Your dad will get lonely when I’m gone. He’ll need to find someone else. When he does, don’t hold it against him. Promise me you’ll let him move on
And maybe someday Mac would figure out how to do that, just as soon as her father had figured out how to relate to her again without Honey standing between them.
Argh! What am I doing?
Wasn’t today supposed to be all about goofing off?
She didn’t have time to be morose anyway. Not if she wanted to be ready for Alex when he knocked on the door.
Mac had barely pulled on her sneakers when the front bell rang. She rushed out of her room and down the carpeted stairwell, flinging herself at the door and pulling it open, an expectant grin on her face.
Something in her chest fluttered oddly when she saw Alex standing on the welcome mat, his brown hair curling at his collar and blue eyes bright behind the small wire-rimmed glasses. His cheeks were clean-shaven, which made the dimple in his chin especially noticeable.
“You ready?” Alex asked.
“Me? I was born ready,” she said, sounding like an idiot.
He grinned a lopsided grin and patted the nylon straps of his knapsack, telling her, “I’ve got the grub, so grab your bike and let’s roll.”
“I’ll meet you around by the garage, okay?” she said, and abruptly shut the door in his face.
She raced from the foyer through the breakfast room, kitchen, and utility room until she’d reached the door into the three-car garage and let herself out. She hit the garage opener after she’d locked the door behind her. Alex was waiting for her on the driveway as she untangled her bike from her dad’s yard equipment.
“Ah, the ancient Schwinn,” Alex said, nodding at the restored red bicycle with foot brakes that used to belong to Mac’s mom, Jeanie. “Wasn’t that appraised on
for something like five bucks?”
“Bite me, Bishop.”
“Someday, you’re gonna have to upgrade to keep pace with me.”
“Newer isn’t always better,” Mac retorted, putting the kickstand down before she went back inside the garage to hit the down button.
Then she dashed out beneath the closing door, the sun beaming down on her, a trickle of sweat rolling down her back. She toed back the kickstand, grabbed the handles of the Schwinn, and hopped on.
“C’mon, slowpoke!” she called over her shoulder as Alex scrambled onto his mountain bike. “I’ll race you there!”
Mac peddled away from her house and to the end of her street, checking briefly before steering her bike onto Knipp. She heard the crunch of tires on asphalt before she glanced to her left and saw Alex pulling up beside her.
“Eat my dust, woman!” he called out, laughing, before racing in front of her.
Mac shouted back, “No fair, your legs are longer!”
But she was laughing, too.
Man, it feels good to be with him
. She could be herself with no worries, no pressure. It was exactly what she needed.
Alex slowed down as they approached Memorial Drive, and she caught up to him as they waited for cars to pass so they could cross the busy street. Then they were cruising again, and she pulled up alongside him as they peddled toward Longleaf Mac kept up with him until he decided to sprint toward his uncle’s house, and he raised one arm victoriously as he braked in the driveway just yards ahead of her.
“Call me Lance Armstrong,” Alex said as Mac rolled in behind him and stopped, straddling the bike and breathing hard.
“Okay, Lance, so which celebutard is on your wish list this week? Kate Hudson? Or some other bobble-headed actress?” she joked, getting off the Schwinn and walking beside him as they rolled their bikes around to the rear of Edward Bishop’s house.
“Bobble-heads are for dashboards,” he shot back. “I’m not into girls who look like lollipops. I actually like brains.” He glanced over his shoulder, directly at her, as he added, “Oh, yeah, and a sense of humor. That’s vital too.”
“Good answer,” Mac said, and her heart thumped hard against her chest, no doubt from all the furious pedaling. She turned away from him, glimpsing the lake beneath the canopy of leafy green. It seemed the most beautiful place on earth at the moment, even if it was so sticky that her shirt felt glued to her back and mosquitoes buzzed around her ears.
How many times, she wondered, had they come here since they were kids, leaving their bikes at his uncle Ed’s, then exploring the neighborhood? They’d play hide-and-seek, or pirates seeking treasure, or they’d pretend to be lost on an island, like the Swiss Family Robinson, traipsing through brush and foliage around the trio of tiny lakes.
“Remember when your uncle rigged up a tree swing, and you did your best Tarzan, running with the rope and flinging yourself into the lake”—Mac started to giggle before she’d even finished—“and then you hit the water with the loudest smack. I swear, I thought you were dead.”
“Ah, yes,” Alex said, nodding, “the belly flop heard round the world.” He set a hand on his stomach and winced. “It still hurts on humid days.”
Mac swatted at him. “You’re such a dweeb.”
“You’re such a dweeb,”
Alex parroted in his best Texas teen-girl-speak and did an exaggerated eye roll. “Like, that’s
twentieth century. Hello,” he went on, putting his hand to his head, pinkie and pointer fingers extended, pretending he was on the phone. “Oh, hey, Mac, it’s for you. It’s 1992 calling, and it wants its cliché back.”
“Shut up,” she groaned, rolling her eyes for real and muttering,
“Love you, too.” Alex leaned over his bike and stretched an arm out to muss her already wind-tangled hair.
Mac swatted him away.
“Let’s go inside so I can do my thing and then we can eat,” he suggested, and Mac didn’t argue.
They left their bikes at the bottom of the rear deck and climbed the stairs so Alex could unlock the back door to let them in. He dropped his knapsack on the sandstone counter
in the kitchen. Light filled the large room around them, spilling through the two-story windows and bouncing off the stainless steel appliances.
“You can get the food out if you want,” Alex suggested. “I’ll water the plants and then we can eat.”
“Cool,” she said, and took charge of his backpack while he filled a pitcher with water at the double sink.
As he wandered over to the sunny living area to douse the plants, Mac heard his cell phone ring—it still played the theme from
she caught a bit of one side of the conversation from the kitchen.
“Yeah, we’re here,” he was saying. “Uh-huh, yes, I’m sure it’s okay with her. Hey, that’s great.”
Who’s he talking to?
she wondered. His mom, maybe, or his uncle?
Alex’s voice became muffled and then inaudible, and Mac glanced up to see he’d drifted out of range. She busied herself, rummaging in the cabinets for plates and then pulling a large bag of SunChips, two apples, and a banana from his knapsack. She removed three Ziploc baggies stuffed with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—crunchy PB, her fave, as Alex well knew—wondering who the third sandwich was for, not to mention the extra piece of fruit, when Alex sauntered back into the kitchen, swinging the empty pitcher and grinning.
“Your eyes must be bigger than your stomach,” she said before he had a chance to speak. “Three pieces of fruit, a huge bag of chips, and three sandwiches, all for the two of us?”
His smile faltered. “Oh, yeah, well, I figured I should come prepared just in case.”
“Just in case what?” Mac’s antennae went up. What the heck was going on? “Are you a squirrel or something? Getting ready to hibernate?”
Alex shifted on his feet, and Mac caught a flash of the silver swoosh on the side of his black leather Nikes (his “pimp shoes,” he called them).
She stopped putting food on the plates and stared across the countertop.
“For God’s sake, spit it out, Alex!”
“Don’t get mad, okay?” His pale eyes blinked behind the round specs. “But I didn’t think you’d mind.”