Authors: Christopher Pike
by Christopher Pike
The road was painful. Last summer's hurricanes had dug strategically placed potholes across the narrow asphalt highway. Every time their dusty Datsun hatchback hit one — every sixty seconds — Shani Tucker's head kissed the car's ceiling. She wanted an aspirin, but they upset her stomach, and it was already worse off than her head. Long drives were not her forte. She wished that there was room in the front seat with Kerry and Angie, where at least she could have tied herself down with a seat belt. But Angie was driving, and Kerry's hand was glued to the radio, searching vainly through static bands.
Though the road was doing its best to slow them down, they were, nevertheless, too far south into Mexico to catch San Diego's stations. Glancing out of the window at the brittle tumbleweed, the baked orange hills, and dry, cracked ravines, Shani felt as if she had crossed into another world, rather than merely into another country.
"Can't get anything on this damn thing," Kerry Ladd said, fretting as usual.
"Turn it off," Shani said. "I have a headache as it is."
"I've got to have music," Kerry said, snapping in a cassette. Pat Benatar started wailing about precious time. Kerry wasn't the most considerate of friends. But Shani didn't complain. The grinding guitar was the lesser of two evils. Constant external distraction was necessary to keep strung-out Kerry from exploding.
"I've got to turn off the air conditioning, again," Angie Houston warned, wiping a long straight strand of blonde hair from her hazel eyes as she flipped a switch next to the radio. "We're beginning to overheat."
"I don't want to sweat," Kerry complained. With the cool air turned off, the rise in temperature was almost immediate.
"Do you want to walk?" Angie asked, turning down the song's volume. "Shani, how far do you think we have left to go?"
Shani studied the map her father had insisted she take. The trip from Santa Barbara to San Diego yesterday after school had been a breeze. They had checked into a Motel 6 and had got away early for what they had anticipated as a six-hour jaunt to Robin and Lena's vacation house located on the beach near Point Eugenia. Today was only Friday - unofficially, Senior Ditch Day - and they'd felt that they'd managed a good jump on the weekend's fun. But they were now over eight hours on the road, and making miserable time.
Odd, how they hadn't seen anyone else from their class on the road. Supposedly, Robin and Lena had invited the whole gang.
"Well," Shani said, "we passed Point Blanco over three hours ago, and going by map inches, that's only a hundred miles from where we're supposed to turn off, so we should be getting close."
"Could we have passed it?" Angie asked.
"I haven't seen anythingto pass," Shani said. "But no, Lena said that we'd see a Margarita Ville Canteen
- that's the name she gave me — about half an hour before the dirt road that leads to her house. She said the canteen was impossible to miss."
"What does Lena know?" Kerry grumbled. She hated Lena, and Lena hated her. If either of them died this weekend from mysterious causes, Shani would not be terribly surprised. Only the promised presence of Sol Celaya - Kerry's ex, stolen away by Lena - had given Kerry the incentive to approach her arch rival's house. At least, Sol was the reason why Shani figured Kerry had come. Despite having known her since first grade, Shani didn't altogether trust her. Kerry was too temperamental, too impulsive. But then again, she didn't trust Lena, either. God probably didn't trust Lena; she could be one shrewd terror.
"Don't start that again," Angie said.
"She had just better not hassle me," Kerry said.
"And you had just better not fight with her in front of her sister," Angie said.
"It sure was nice of Robin to organize this weekend," Shani said, wishing to change the subject.
"Yeah… it wa - was," Kerry agreed, stuttering, as she often did at odd moments. "How… how is…
They - everyone at school - always asked her this question: How is Robin? Have you seen Robin? Is Robin better? Shani did not resent the concern, nor even the painful memories the questions always brought. After all, Robin was her best friend. It was only natural others should come to her for updates.
What she did dislike was the false optimism she felt she had to project, to give them what they wanted to hear, and to salvage her own guilty conscience. But one sad day she would have to speak the truth, for then it would be too late:Robin is dead. We killed her .
"I talked to her on the phone Tuesday night," Shani said. "She sounded in good spirits, into getting everything organized. She was spending a fortune on food."
"Hope she isn't buying local," Angie chuckled. "But that's great she's feeling better."
"Yeah," Shani muttered. Didn't they understand that when your kidneys were gone, you didn'tget better?
"Has she been singing much?" Kerry asked.
"I don't know. Probably," Shani lied. Lena had said Robin's voice was all but gone. Prior to the accident, Robin would have rivaled Linda Ronstadt.
"I wonder what her nurse is going to think of having all us wired teenagers sleeping on the beach outside their house," Angie said.
"The nurse won't be there," Shani said. "Lena can do the dialysis." Lena was Robin's sister. They were the same age, both of them having been adopted at infancy by Carlton Records emperor Charles Carlton. Mr. and Mrs. Carlton had no other children. They were getting to the stage in life where one had to shout at them to be heard. However, despite his wrinkles, Mr. Carlton, like so many other self-made millionaires, was intimidating. Whenever Shani talked to him, she always felt like a fool if she didn't agree with all his opinions — he had that kind of influence over people. Neither he nor his wife would be there this weekend. With their unlimited capital, they had bought Robin two dialysis machines, one for their mansion in Santa Barbara, the other for the beach house that was taking forever to get to.
When Mr. and Mrs. Carlton died, Lena and Robin would inherit a mint. At least Lena would.
"I wouldn't trust Lena to cut my nails," Kerry said.
"Ouch!" Shani said. They had hit another hole and her head had received another slap. "I understand that she's quite competent, has been trained by the doctors and all. The procedure is supposed to be simple."
"Hey!" Angie burst out suddenly. "Shani, I forgot to tell you! I called Park from the motel last night and guess who's riding down with him and Sol and Bert?"
"David Bowie. I guessed, now tell me!"
"Flynn!" Flynn Powers was the new boy in town, from England. He'd only arrived in February, at the semester break. He was a dream: curly brown hair, dark green eyes, a walk as smooth as liquified charisma; and a hypnotic, accented voice that could literally put her in a trance. He had the largest hands, beautifully formed and eloquent; they could have been stolen from a Michelangelo. Everyone said it —
even the guys. Flynn had something about him, an indefinable aura of depth that spontaneously commanded respect. He was neither tall nor well-built, but he was a babe. All the girls wanted him, and Shani was trying to get in front of the pack. Trouble was, he probably didn't even know she walked the earth. He didn't seem much interested in the girls at their school. Lena - she was an exception to everything — thought he was gay.
"Do you have a plan of approach?" Kerry asked. She was neutral as far as Flynn was concerned, as she was still trying to get Sol back. ,
"Jump on him, I don't know," Shani said, the concentration of acid in her stomach abruptly doubling.
Thinking about doing anything made her nervous. Sometimes she swore she was getting an ulcer. She chewed Rolaids instead of gum. "What can I do?"
"What you suggested might work," Angie said.
"If I thought there was a chance, I would do it," Shani said, not taking herself seriously. She had to be the most sexually inexperienced girl in her senior class. She hadn't even "gone all the way" through a Playgirl magazine. Getting dates had been no problem, but the guys would only kiss her cheek at the end of the night, or else shake her hand; she had that kind of reputation. Perhaps she should talk to Lena, have a filthy rumour started in connection with her name. Not that she was obsessed - she was merely very, very interested in sex. What she really wanted was what all of them wanted: a relationship.
Unfortunately, she had taken physics, and had received a good grade, and had won a scholarship to the University of California at Santa Barbara, and had listed "psychiatrist" as her ambition in the yearbook and had read too many of the classics, and had the repulsive habit of sounding intelligent, all of which was enough to make any adolescent male ego insecure. But in reality she had hated physics, and had got an
"A" only because she had studied hard. She was not that smart, not that secure. Often, she felt lonely.
Often, she watched Flynn from the other side of the campus, and wondered if he couldn't change all this.
"Accidentally lose your bikini top while swimming beside him in the waves," Angie said. "Better yet, lose your bottoms. It'll take a lot to catch that guy's cool eye."
To her own amazement, Shani realised she was actually considering the idea. She was afraid to say hello, but accidentally stripping seemed within her reach. "Is that how you got Park?" she asked. She had known Park Jacomini since they'd been two. He pretended to be intellectual — and hewassmart, their class valedictorian - but there had never been born a more natural peeping tom. He was one of the closest people to her in the world.
Angie laughed. "That's personal. But I will tell you, to keep them, you've got to come up with pretty exotic—"
"Could we please change the subject?" Kerry interrupted, extremely agitated. Angie was quick to apologize.
"I'm sorry, Kerry. I'd forgotten. That was thoughtless of me."
"You said it to… upset me… on purpose."
"I'm the one who brought it up," Shani said. "Sorry."
Kerry turned off the cassette player, leaned her head back, and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. "I don't know what's wrong with me, I'm so jittery. I'm the one who should be apologizing. I guess it still bothers me."
"That's okay. We understand," Shani said. From that point on, the conversation sort of died. The potholes thickened. Sentinel cacti and sleeping lizards bumped by while the Datsun interior warmed and they sweated. To pass the time, Shani reached for her yearbook, browsing through the pages, reading notes from her friends and from those she had not spoken to during her entire four years at Hoover High.
They had only received the book on Tuesday, and there were still many she wanted to have sign it. This weekend would fill it up. She chuckled when she came to the place where Park had placed his note, across a full-page colour picture of the varsity football team.
Of all the girls I've known these four blissful years, you have been — with only a handful of exceptions
—the closest one to my soul and body. If not for you, and two or three others, I would not be where I am, king of the class, the one voted least likely to end up on welfare. I owe all my magnificent accomplishments to you, and another girl or two .
I hope that when you become a psychiatrist that you don't discover that you're nuts. You see, I understand you — your dark lusty longings—and that would mean that I'm nuts, too, along with perhaps my close female friends. However, if in the middle of analysis you uncover deep Freudian inhibitions, feel free to come to me for relief, for the sexual freedom I have given to other girls of your like predicament, a few here and there .
All my love, all that Suzy and Bunny and Clairice have not drained, I give to you. And once again, if in the lonely years to come you should ever need - or simply desire — an intimate pal, be sure to think of Pretty Park (and friends) and make an appointment to visit us.
Love you (amongst others), Park
Park had quite a wit, but, in his own way, street-tough Sol outdid him. Shani flipped to the picture of their pudgy, smiling school principal, whom Sol had practically obliterated with a thick, black cato pen.
I hardly know you and I don't think you're that interesting a chick, but you've got something I want and you know I've got something you need. If I let you see me, we don't go nowhere fancy and I expect my money's worth right from the start. I don't want to hear about your feelings and your goals cause I have no feelings and I can tell already you ain't going nowhere. If we get together, it will be for one thing only.
My number's in the book. Look it up.
Wait a sec, this isn't Debbie's book? Hell! Pay no attention to what you just read, Shani dear. It sure has been grand knowing you and I just know deep in my heart that you will go far and better the world for all of mankind. I really feel that you are an 'extra special person.' I have found our friendship profoundly satisfying, and I will treasure your memory in the many days to come. God bless you!
Hey, by the way, Shani, how's about you calling me this summer and us getting together and going to a drive-in. I'll buy you popcorn, with butter. We can rock my van's shocks.
Love your legs, Sol
She had better be careful not to let Kerry see his note. Thankfully, he hadn't written it onthat page. Sol could be crude, but - once again in his own way - he was also sensitive. Though he was now seeing Lena, he was extra careful to treat Kerry kindly. However, his politeness was a mixed blessing. Kerry took it as a sign that he was still interested in her. Neither Angie nor she wanted to drive home the harsh truth, that Kerry didn't stand an outside chance, hadn't from the moment Lena had curled her little finger and let Sol know she was available, hadn't from the day of that disastrous pep rally.
It wasn't that Kerry was ugly. Though on the short side and a few pounds overweight, she had a pleasant face and a fine figure, plus a genuinely striking smile, which she - sadly - flashed all too seldom.