Authors: Erin Downing
NONE OF THE REGULAR RULES
By Erin Downing
Also by Erin Downing
Drive Me Crazy
Text Copyright © 2012 by Erin Soderberg Downing
Cover Photo/Design Copyright © 2012 by Vania Stoyanova/VLC Productions
“How much does a keg weigh, anyway?” Ella Ambrose stared out my open bedroom window at two thick, wet strips of matted-down grass that made a zigzag pattern across my neighbor’s yard. I squeezed in beside her to peek outside. The rain had finally stopped and slivers of clear, sapphire sky ripped through the gray horizon across the lake.
The roar of a riding lawn mower cut through the silence of the early evening as my neighbor Johnny Rush drove straight through the middle of a clump of overgrown raspberry bushes. He ducked under a thick vine and laughed—a short, loud burst of a laugh—when the thorny branch snagged his stocking cap off his head, holding it hostage in midair as the lawn mower lurched on through sodden grass.
Johnny had attached an old Radio Flyer to the back of the mower with rope. A keg was nestled inside a pile of blankets in the wagon bed. Ella blurted out, “Couldn’t his friends just help him carry it? Does he really need to hitch up that busted old wagon every time he throws a kegger?”
Grace Cutler leaned over both of us for a better view. Her strawberry-scented curls tickled my bare shoulder. “Ooh, Johnny’s hair’s gotten really long this summer. I haven’t seen him without a hat since school let out last year. He’s even hotter, if that’s possible.”
“A keg must weigh at least fifty pounds, right?” I asked, trying to count in my head as I watched Johnny goof off on the lawn below. I hadn’t had a lot of opportunity to lift kegs, but they seemed awfully heavy. At my dad’s last birthday party, I’d been lucky enough to witness my uncle Mitch swaying into the keg before he pretended to mount it (super-gross, I know). It had stayed upright. That’s saying something—Mitch is not a slim dude. “But I guess the mower isn’t just for the beer. It’s also Johnny’s drunk-girl limo. Think about how long that walk from the beach must feel when you’re completely wasted. The view from the wagon is probably pretty spectacular when you’re half-passed-out and spinning.”
We continued to stare out the window, watching as Johnny drove his lawn mower in figure eights, slowly weaving his way back to his hat. A few of his friends assisted from across the lawn, cheering when Johnny made a sharp turn and accidentally tipped the wagon. The keg rolled out onto the grass and I heard someone shout, “Idiot!” But Johnny just laughed and hopped off the mower to put his makeshift beer
tractor back together again.
“Is he really an idiot?” Grace asked innocently, narrowing her eyes to try to see who else was over at Johnny’s house. “He was in AP English last year, wasn’t he?”
“Beats me,” I said, trying to pull myself away from the window. But I was fascinated, watching Johnny. The fascination waned when I realized he’d seen me snooping. It was too late to pull the curtains or flee to the floor. I’d have to pretend I’d been admiring the mosaic sky and not playing Peeping Tom with my neighbor.
Johnny waved, then yelled, “Hey, Sophie—you guys want to come by tonight?”
I shook my head no, fully aware that Johnny probably couldn’t see my head shake. The houses in our neighborhood were set far apart, minimansions on wide-spaced
sloping lawns that all led down to the lakefront. Three smaller houses could have fit in the space between Johnny’s and mine. We weren’t even neighbors, really. A few years ago, my family had moved less than two miles from our old neighborhood—where I’d lived around the corner from Grace and just three blocks from Ella—but it felt like a different universe.
Here, by the lake, neighbors didn’t share sugar. We ignored each other, preferring to hide behind the invisible fences between our yards. Or behind a thin window screen, watching from above like some sort of creep as our neighbors had parties. For example.
Ella nudged me, and I realized I still hadn’t said anything. Johnny was staring up at my bedroom window, hand in his hair, waiting for some answer. “No, it’s okay. Thanks for the invite, though.” I declined out of habit. Johnny had invited me before, but his parties were intimidating and I knew I’d feel out of place. That was enough to keep me away. No one ever got hurt being overly cautious.
Johnny pushed his overgrown hair away from his face, then tucked his hands into the pockets of his baggy carpenter pants. “You sure? You’re welcome to join.”
“It’s okay,” I said, more quietly this time. “Have fun.” Then I stepped away from the window so I wouldn’t be tempted.
“Why not go, Sophie?” Ella asked as I settled into the sofa that stretched across one wall of my room. The couch was too short for my lanky frame, so I draped one leg over the edge and wiggled my foot in midair. “You’ve got to be curious.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, a little.”
“It could be one of his last parties ever,” Ella singsonged. “A bunch of people from his class have already left for college, and the rest of last year’s seniors are going to take off soon. Once they’re all out of here, that’s the end of Johnny Rush’s famous lawn
“Finally,” I said in a fake snooty
English voice. “We’ll finally get a bit of
in this neighborhood. That Rush boy is simply out of control.”
Grace pulled her eyebrows together, concerned. She looked like that a lot. Grace was often very serious about not-such-serious stuff. Her incredible focus had earned her straight
As and the captainship of all her sports for this year, but she sort of had a hard time loosening up. “He’s not that bad, is he?” Ella and I looked at each other and laughed. Grace was great, but always a step behind on jokes. She was so literal. “At least he’s nice. Isn’t it sweet that he invited you?”
“Yeah, Grace, it’s really sweet. But it’s not like I’d ever actually go. He’s just trying to make nice so I’ll keep my parents from calling the cops.” I wasn’t sure if this was actually true, but I couldn’t figure out why else someone like Johnny would invite someone like me to his parties. It’s not like we had any mutual friends or hung around in the same circles or had anything in common. Johnny and I had exchanged nothing more than generic nods in the hallways at school since I’d moved to this house. I’d been silently crushing on him from afar for the last few years, but I’d never even really spoken to him. He was the most lusted
after guy at our school, and always had some beautiful girlfriend. Totally out of my league. Besides, there were things you did in life, and things you didn’t do that you maybe wanted to do, and Johnny’s parties were the latter. It was just too scary.
Ella swung her legs up onto the window seat and settled in to watch Johnny and his friends again. I watched her, watching him. “Might I remind you that he
us?” Ella said, in the special tone of voice she usually reserved for Grace in her especially naive moments. “Should I ask him to mail you an invitation next time, or perhaps he could leave a little note with the butler? Is a shouted invite through an open window not welcoming enough for Miss Sophie?”
“Yes, actually,” I said, grinning. “If he could leave a little note with the butler, it would be divine.”
Grace looked from me to Ella, then shook her head. “Wait…you have a butler? When did you get a butler?” Ella and I both cracked up. “What did I miss?” Grace whined.
“Oh, Gracie,” I said, pulling her onto the couch with me. I squeezed her into a hug, but she pushed away and swatted at me. “You’re so cute.”
“Don’t Gracie me,” she muttered. “Even though I
“It is a miracle you’ve survived as long as you have in high school,” Ella said, rolling her eyes. “How are you so smart, yet so dumb?”
“That’s completely offensive,” Grace said harshly. She was the one person I knew who could speak to Ella with the tone of voice she’d just used and not get frozen out. Ella was tough, but Grace—deep down, and only around us—was a lot tougher. Thankfully, the three of us had also known each other long enough that a little teasing didn’t actually hurt anyone else’s feelings. We’d never even really fought, since someone always started laughing before it got too serious.
My best friends and I had gone down totally different tracks when high school started—Ella had found her home in the artsy
yearbook crowd, Grace was the popular joiner, and I drifted and kept to myself more than I maybe should. But somehow, our friendship had survived. I think we still clicked in part
we were all so different. When the three of us were together, Ella could take off her rebel hat, Grace didn’t have to live up to her student
poster promises, and I…well, I guess I could just be me without anyone judging. I’d be lost without these girls.
Grace glared at Ella. “I am, most assuredly, not dumb and you know that perfectly well, Ella.” She stood up and brushed at her chinos, pulling her spiraled hair back into a loose ponytail. “Neither one of you is allowed to make fun of me for being
. I may be gullible and sometimes—
—a little ditzy, but at least I know what I want out of life, and I’m going for it. Every. Single. Day.”
“We’re not a scholarship committee,” I muttered. “Geez. Lay off on the empowerment speeches, will you?”
“Yeah, I like being a directionless moron,” Ella chirped. “It suits me.” It sounded like she was joking when she said stuff like that, but it actually was the truth. I wished I had the same
joie de vivre
je ne sais quoi
or whatever French term would best describe Ella’s attitude about life after senior year, but I was significantly more freaked out about my future. And the present.
I could hear the sounds of more people arriving next door. Hopefully no one would puke in our driveway this time. That had been known to happen before, but my dim and clueless parents blamed an animal. They thought some sort of wild animal had barfed up corn and strawberry wine coolers.
“Well, we’ve got to do something,” Grace said finally. “I’m going to go crazy if we just sit in your room all night, doing nothing.” Grace was beyond ready for senior year to start. She began to get seriously antsy in August every year, and didn’t really unwind again until mid-June.
“I’m happy here,” I said with a weak smile. “Inertia, you know? A body at rest likes to stay at rest.” Even as I said it, I realized how lame that sounded. But guilt wasn’t going to get me off the couch.
“I think I just saw someone throw up behind Johnny’s garage,” Ella said, stirring. “And it’s only six o’clock. If we’re not
to Johnny’s party, I don’t want to
his party. It’s seriously pitiful. Want to do a little joyriding in your new wheels, Soph?”
“Okay,” I agreed. I’d just inherited my aunt Suzy’s car, which had been stuck in my grandparents’ old barn for the last ten years. The car was heinous and made funny noises when I turned right, but it was all mine—and, more importantly, it had been Suzy’s until she died. As the baby of my mom’s family, Suzy had been more like an older sister to me. Driving around in her car made me feel connected to her in a way I hadn’t in a long time.
“It’s a real looker,” I reminded them. “A luscious tan Toyota, circa 1995—my aunt had impeccable taste.” I joked about it, but my aunt truly had loved her car. She’d saved for several years and had bought it only a few months before the accident that killed her. The car was brutally ugly, but she’d adored it and everything it stood for. Suzy had always told me that her car represented freedom. She had bragged about how it was going to take her places, how it would set her free. My carefree aunt had often talked about things like that, things I hadn’t understood when I was eight. Things I was beginning to understand now.
“It’s a car,” Ella said, shrugging. “You have a car. I don’t care what color it is, or even if it farts when you start it. It gets us from
oint A to
oint B being anywhere other than here.” She peered out the window as someone screamed down below. “Okay, now someone is peeing on the raspberries. Let’s go.”