Authors: Caroline B. Cooney
HE GIRLS WERE SLICK
with sun-block lotion and the air smelled of coconut oil. The radio played softly, the wind blew gently, and the heat of August soaked into their hearts and minds. There was a party to get ready for, but since the guest of honor didn’t know about it, conversation was difficult.
For high school was over, graduation a memory, and Anne would be the first to leave Westerly the following morning. How unlike Anne to be first! It gave the girls a shiver, because already they could see that the neat little predictions written under their yearbook photographs might not turn out as planned.
They lay in the sun thinking of the surprise party on the boat: the shining river and the fireworks after dark. They thought of the dresses they would wear and the boys who would be there.
Always—whether you thought of today or tomorrow, college or commuting, you thought also of boys.
They did not know that before midnight, the plans of at least one boy would change their lives forever.
HE TIMER WENT OFF
with a gentle ding. The girls rolled over so they would tan evenly. The sun’s strength was fading now, though, and the shadows from the trees by the back steps had reached Beth’s feet. The banana and yogurt Beth Rose had had for lunch felt very long ago. She wondered what they would have to eat at the party. Steak, broiled on charcoal at the beach? Or hot dogs and hamburgers? Or was it being catered, so they risked eggplant parmesan? She was in an eating mood. There was nothing like a yogurt and banana to put a girl in an eating mood.
Beth Rose had dark red hair and transparent skin with an ever-increasing array of light freckles. She was not at her best in the sun. She lay on her stomach now, resting her face on her crossed hands, and admired the tans of the other girls. Anne, of course, was perfect, having tanned an even gold. Anne’s normally blonde hair had become nearly silver over the summer, until she was almost a walking beach scene. Golden sun and white-hot sand were the colors of Anne’s body. Even half asleep on the hot gray slates that formed a wide terrace around the swimming pool, Anne seemed warmer and more intense than the rest of them. She was not leaving till the next day, but already she had a star’s quality.
I want to be a star, too, thought Beth Rose. But I don’t know that I want to take on the whole world. One single terrific boy would do. Maybe tonight on the boat, I’ll meet a boy who is perfect for me.
Beth Rose sighed. She had often met boys who were perfect for her. They, regrettably, had not considered Beth Rose perfect for them. Besides, there would be no strangers on the boat tonight, only people she had known forever.
Beth could hardly wait for the signal from Kip to get moving on the surprise party plans. She could not imagine how the rest of them endured it—lying around getting tan when there was a party ahead. She wanted to talk of boys and dresses and dancing and life. They just snoozed away as if it were any old summer afternoon.
It was very hot.
The heat seemed to slow time down, the hours growing heavier and longer.
Beth Rose closed her eyes and dreamed of boys. She felt like a war strategist rather than a dreamer, but that was how it was with boys. You had to plan your moves. The other girls were leaving the battlefield. Anne circling the globe, Kip going to college in New York, Emily getting married.
Beth Rose did not know how all this had come about. It was as if she had gone to get an ice-cream cone or to set her hair, and in the same half hour everybody else made plans for life and bought plane tickets.
Everybody was so impressed with Anne’s job, so full of excitement about what Anne would be doing. I am a hick, thought Beth. I don’t envy Anne. I have no desire to see Paris or Rome. I want a boyfriend and some new clothes.
She toyed with the idea of Con being her boyfriend, since Anne was dumping him in preference of London and Tokyo. But why should Con forget perfect, golden Anne—like a shining dove in flight—to take out plain, old, red-haired Beth Rose? Plus, of course, being one of Anne’s confidants, Beth knew that Con might be the most handsome, suave and dashing boy in the high school, but he was not the nicest. In fact, for a guy with a ten body, it was too bad he was about a three on a nice scale.
“This,” said Molly from her side of the pool, “is the kind of afternoon when it feels as if something special is about to happen.” Molly was wearing a tiny bathing suit which she had rolled down to make even tinier, and when she propped herself up on her elbow it was to admire her own figure. Molly did a slow scissors kick and left one leg up to admire it framed against the blue sky.
going to happen, of course, but not to Molly. Nobody would invite Molly anywhere, let alone to Anne’s surprise party. Molly was petty, mean, and borderline-criminal, and why Anne even let Molly into her yard was a mystery to Beth. Probably so full of daydreams she forgot who Molly is, thought Beth. I think Anne has even forgotten who Con is. Con won’t like that at all.
“We could crash the dance they’re giving over in Raulston,” Molly suggested.
So that was why she had come. To find company for party crashing. How odd that she picked us, Beth thought. She knows we can’t stand her and I would have said it was mutual.
“Too hot to party,” Kip mumbled.
Molly snorted. She knew perfectly well it was never too hot to party.
“A hundred and eight degrees out,” Beth agreed, with mild exaggeration. “We don’t want to die of heat prostration the day before we turn into adults.” This silenced Molly. But Beth did not feel as if she were turning into an adult. The only thing Beth was turning into was a slightly more sunburned teenager than she had been yesterday. Beth was positively exhausted by the energy her friends had. Her own plans included nothing new. She would take biology and English at the junior college while she waitressed at Pizza Hut.
It was a mistake, she thought. Commuting is not a threshold. Nothing changes. Nobody will give
a good-bye party. I’m not going anywhere.
What if that’s true all my life?
What if I never go anywhere?
Maybe I’m already as sophisticated and knowledgeable as I’m ever going to be.
If that’s true, Beth thought, I might as well roll over into the swimming pool and breathe chlorinated blue water.
Only two years before Beth Rose had been an ugly duckling, blossoming overnight at the Autumn Leaves Dance with Gary. Maybe I’m going back into the ugly duckling’s shell, she thought. It was magic, but the spell is broken. The old pieces of shell are still lying there, waiting to snap shut on me.
Suddenly the thought of staying in Westerly was oppressive, even frightening. Life was a dark alley.
Beth Rose sat up quickly and moved back into the sunlight.
“What’s the matter?” Molly asked, amused. “Ghost walk on your grave?”
Molly could always laugh at people in pain. Beth stared at Molly, trying to detect Molly’s plan, her reason for coming there. But the sun was in Beth’s eyes and Molly just looked like another teenager in a skimpy bikini, worrying about her tan.
Molly is jealous of us, Beth Rose thought. She’s jealous of Kip, going to a terrific school; and Emily, whose boyfriend wants them to get married; and Anne, who is going to see the world. If Molly knew about the surprise party, she’d want it to be for her. She’d
it be for her. But nobody cares enough about Molly to say good-bye. Not one of us here has even asked Molly what she’s going to do this fall.
How jealous is she? Beth Rose wondered. Jealous enough to—to do something?
NNE STEPHENS TANNED AN
even gold. The thin straps of her bikini top were tucked in so that her shoulders would get no white stripes. The pale pastel of her swimsuit looked like ice against her skin. She lay directly on the dark gray slate that made a path around the swimming pool in her backyard. She loved the deep heat of the stones, soaking into her bones and giving her strength. She was going to need a lot of that to get through the rest of the day.
There was a certain joy in being beautiful. Anne liked being admired. She liked looking in a mirror. But there was a certain agony in it, also. People did not look beyond the beauty. Anne could be upset, but people would tell her how nice her hair looked. Anne could be screaming inside, but people would say how becoming that color was on her. Anne could be sick with fear, but people would say, You know, you should be a model.
Right now Anne was filled with rage and not one of the other four girls suspected a thing. Nobody saw her moods. It was as if beauty was supposed to put you beyond bad moods. A glamorous girl had no right to feel rotten and, if she did, she should keep quiet about it.
It was her parents she was mad at.
How could they raise a daughter, teach her right and wrong, teach her to say Thank you and Please, to brush her teeth, study hard, and cross the street only at corners…and then spend her last weeks at home telling her she was no good?
Anne, dear, you were just hired because of your looks. You have no background for this. You’ve never organized anything in your life. Your friend Kip could do this job well. But you? Darling, it’s not too late to back out. Why don’t you telephone Miss Glynn right now and say you’ve decided against it?
Anne, dear, your head is going to be turned by all those glossy, glitzy people. You won’t be able to withstand the pressures.
Anne, you’ll have to manage so much money. Your judgment isn’t very good, you know. What if you find yourselves in Japan or Australia and you have no money because you’ve spent it all on silly souvenirs?
Anne, dear, a whole year? Why, you were so homesick at camp we had to go get you on the fourth night.
And when Anne, dear, did not give in to criticism, they began offering her bribes.
If you stay home, dear, Daddy will buy you your first car.
And when Anne, dear, resisted even the bribes, they began to tell her it wouldn’t be any fun, anyhow. Anne, dear, you realize you won’t actually see anything of those great romantic cities? You’ll just be in airports, hotel lobbies, and
airports and hotel lobbies.
Under the hot August sun Anne’s skin turned more golden.
But her thoughts burned and burned.
Emily struggled to keep total control. It was imperative not to break down. This was Anne’s last day and Emily must not turn the attention on herself. That would be selfish.
Emily yearned to be selfish. She wanted to leap to her feet, screaming and sobbing and gathering them round her to comfort her and agree that Matthew O’Connor should be killed in a long drawn-out painful manner.
But Anne was her best friend. Emily believed firmly she had a duty to her best friend to keep the whole night on a cheerful happy level.
She made herself think about the party. The
was a lovely tubby boat that took tourists from Westerly to Swallow Island and back. Burnished brass rails surrounded a deck large enough to dance on, and loden-green paint gleamed on a cabin large enough to lounge in. She wondered how much the party would cost Con and why his parents allowed it. Nobody else had mentioned the practicalities of such a lavish send-off. Could it really be true that Con had arranged fireworks? Why, whole towns had to struggle to raise money for fireworks!