It was late August, the end of summer, at least, the end of summer for nine-year-old Delphine Crandall and almost-nine-year-old Maggie Weldon. Both would be starting the fourth grade in about a week, Delphine at the local public grammar school five miles from her home in Ogunquit, Maine, and Maggie at Blair Academy, a private grammar school in Concord, Massachusetts, where her family lived. It was the end of the summer, but it also felt like the end of the world. It was bad enough having to go back to school, but it was far worse to be parting from each other for what would be a whole ten months. In other words, forever.
The girls were hanging out in the backyard of the Lilac House, the expensive and recently renovated home Maggie's parents had rented for the summer. There was a giant swing set, metal monkey bars, and a slide. Two banana-seated girls' bikes lay on the grass; each had a plastic basket in front and streamers from the ends of the looped handlebars. The new pink bike was Maggie's. The old red bike had once belonged to Delphine's ten-year-old sister, Jackie, but it belonged to her now.
Delphine, who was swinging ever higher, legs pumping furiously, wore a faded red T-shirt that, like her bike, had once belonged to Jackie. Across the front were the wordsâalso now fadedâ“Red Sox Rule.” Her jean shorts had been cut down from full-length jeans that had badly frayed at the knees. Her sneakers, caked in mud from a morning's romp around the edges of the pond in the woods behind her house, had once been white, back when her mother had bought them at a resale shop in Wells. Her hair, which was thick and the brown of glossy chestnuts, hung in a messy braid down her back, fastened near the end by a rubber band that had once held together a bunch of scallions. Her eyes were as dark and luminous as her hair. Her skin was deeply tanned. Since school had let out she had grown an amazing three inches and was now as tall as Jackie, which meant no more hand-me-down pants. Secretly, Delphine hoped she would grow to be really tall someday. But given the fact that both of her parents were well under six feet, she doubted that she would.
Maggie was on the swing next to Delphine. She was too hot to move and was sitting as still as possible. The neck of her pale pink T-shirt was embroidered in darker pink thread. Her white shorts, which she hated but which her mother made her wear, came almost to the knee and, worse, had a crisp pleat right down the middle of each leg. Her sneakers were white, coated only that morning with that liquid paint-like stuff that came in a bottle with a picture of a nurse on the front. The coating was her mother's idea, too. Maggie's hair, which was the color of jonquils, was neatly drawn into a ponytail and held in place by a wooly purple ribbon. Her skin, almost white during the winter, was now a pale gold. Her large, almost navy blue eyes were currently distorted by the thick lenses of a pair of tortoiseshell-framed glasses she had gotten right after school had let out for the summer. She was still embarrassed by them, though her parents and even Mr. and Mrs. Crandall had assured her that she still looked pretty.
Maggie was tall for her age, taller than Delphine, who, even though she had sprouted, was never going to be a towering Weldon. Maggie's mother bragged about being “model tall” at five feet ten inches, and Maggie's dad was six feet two inches. Peter, her thirteen-year-old brother, was already the tallest kid in his class, though he was terrible at basketball, something Maggie found very funny. She was bad at basketball, too, but it didn't matter for girls to be bad at sports. Not at Maggie's school, at least.
Around her left wrist, each girl wore a macramÃ© bracelet. Earlier in the summer, Dephine's sister had taught them how to make them, and if the bracelets weren't as perfect as the ones Jackie turned out, Maggie and Delphine thought they were beautiful. Delphine's was already dirty and a bit frayed. Maggie's looked as fresh as the day Delphine had given it to her. Still, when it got dirty, which it would, Maggie would not let her mother coat it with that white paint stuff she used on her sneakers. That would be so embarrassing.
“Are you sure these glasses don't make me look like a dork?” Maggie asked for what Delphine thought was the bazillionth time.
Delphine began to slow her swinging. “I'm sure,” she said. “Why would I want to be friends with a dork?”
“Ha, ha, very funny. I just hope the kids at school won't laugh at me.”
“If anyone laughs at youâwhich they won'tâtell them your best friend in the world will come down from Maine and beat them up.” Her feet dragged in the sand below the swing and she came to a stop.
“No!” Maggie looked genuinely shocked. “You wouldn't really beat someone up, would you?”
Delphine grinned. “Try me. I beat up Joey, once.”
“Liar. Your brother's, like, huge compared to you.”
“Well, I bet I could beat him up. He makes me mad enough.”
“Because he's a boy and boys stink,” Maggie said emphatically. “And they're stupid.”
“Mostly,” Delphine said with a shrug. “My dad's okay, though. And your dad is pretty nice.”
“Yeah, but my brother is gross.”
“Maybe boys get nicer as they get older. Like, really old, like our dads. Well, anyway,” Delphine said, “remember you're leaving in like an hour. We have to do a swear about being best friends. We have to do a pinky swear.”
“What's that?” Maggie asked.
Delphine laughed. “Come on! Everyone knows what a pinky swear is.”
“Well, I don't. We don't do pinky swears in my school.”
Delphine rolled her eyes dramatically. It made her feel slightly dizzy. Maybe it was all that swinging. And it was really hot. “Oh, all right,” she said. “Stick out your pinky. Now I link my pinky with yours and we swear whatever we're swearing and then we pull our pinkies apart.”
The girls linked pinkies and Maggie said, “Me first. I swear I will be your best friend forever and ever.”
“Me too,” Delphine said.
“No, you have to say all the words.”
“Okay. I swear I will be your best friend forever and ever.”
The girls pulled their pinkies apart, and Maggie said, “Ow.”
Delphine leapt off her swing and stood with her hands on her hips. “So, write to me the minute you get home later, okay?”
“Okay. And you write to me the minute I leave, okay?”
“Okay.” Delphine considered. “But I won't have much to say. Maybe I should wait till just before I go to bed tonight. Maybe Joey will do something stupid at dinner. The other night he laughed so hard at something Jackie said milk came out of his nose and all over the table. It was gross. Also kind of funny, though.”
“I guess it's okay if you wait.”
Delphine suddenly looked doubtful. “You're sure your parents promised you could come back to Ogunquit next year?”
“Yeah. Mom said Dad already gave the guy who owns the house some money. So it's all set.”
“Cool. I'm thirsty. Does your mom still have stuff in the 'fidgerator?”
“Refrigerator,” Maggie corrected. “I think so.”
Maggie got up from her swing, and with their arms around each other's waists the girls trooped into the Lilac House for lemonade.