Dinner had been nice, after both of the twins had gotten acquainted with the whole family and Lee made an unexpected friend in Cecil. I was still irritatingly jealous that Cecil had been the one to find out that Lee was a budding pianist, but it was nothing crippling. After dinner, Mrs. Bernoulli had offered to give the twins French lessons in the afternoons, so that left me free for my date Wednesday. Today.
Which was why I was standing in front of the mirror, holding a comb and making bizarre faces at myself. Whenever I got really nervous, I couldn't feel any of my limbs, or even my torso, but I was hyper-aware of every muscle in my face. That would have been okay if they weren't also completely out of my control. Most of the time I was fine as soon as I was actually in the situation I was nervous about, but "most of the time" was not quite often enough to keep me from getting nervous in the first place.
I loosened my grip on the comb and my hand stopped hurting. Then I ran the comb through my hair for the fiftieth time, considered braiding it, then once again dismissed that as a really stupid idea. As if I didn't call enough attention to my hair just by not cutting it. I forced myself to put the comb back in its place in the medicine cabinet, then left the bathroom at a less-pronounced limp than I'd gotten by with yesterday. I probably shouldn't have abandoned the crutches as completely as I had so soon, but I was tired of having four legs to trip over.
The good thing was, because of the twins' French lessons, Dad had finally gotten an opportunity to take me to get my car. It was just as awesome as I'd anticipated, but I was shocked by how much of the importance of the event had been drained. I wasn't sure if it was because the twins had come, or just because I'd had a week to cool down about it.
Even so, it lent me a sense of freedom that was a little scary now that I actually had it. The first thing I'd done after all the papers were signed and I'd calmed all of Dad's fears was get Lucas to ditch school. We hadn't done that in at least a year, which was my fault. Lucas started acting all funny about it, so I settled for driving out just past the lot he'd covered in flowers. I had to admit, he'd really made it look nice.
I fought my pocket for the keys, then unlocked the car and sat in the driver's seat, grinning to myself. There was nothing quite like new car smell. I sneezed. Nope, nothing like it. I almost wished someone would hurry up and spill a Diet Pepsi in the backseat so it wouldn't smell so new. It bothered Lucas too, yesterday we'd just stretched out on the roof with all the car doors open in the vain attempt that it might air it out. All we'd really accomplished was getting snow on the seats.
The Gandhi book was in the glove compartment, as a sort of good luck charm, but I'd left the hoser jacket stuffed in the back of my bedroom closet. Although it was really great for most weather, today was promising to reach a record low temperature and it was snowing like crazy. I had opted for the heavy duty parka I kept for days like this.
Around lunchtime, Alice had called me and asked me to meet her at what most of my friends just called The Pond. Alice called it that too, which made me wonder how long she'd lived here in Rosemére. It probably didn't matter that much, but I still wondered.
There was always some kind of vendor hanging around The Pond, although the churro man favored Thursdays. The hot chocolate man was always there, never without at least a small entourage, even when it wasn't cold enough to skate. But holiday break still didn't start until tomorrow, so I wasn't surprised that there weren't very many people hanging out there yet.
I still didn't want to dwell on it, but money wasn't going to be fun from this point on. I couldn't work even as often as I had been before, not if I didn't want to introduce the twins to the horrors of being babysat. That was another thing that Mrs. Bernoulli had offered to help us with, but I hadn't let Dad say yes. I couldn't even explain to myself if it was because I was reluctant to share one part of my family with the other, or if I just felt like I should be the one to take care of Faron and Lee when Dad couldn't be around.
There had been a Sunrise Avenue album sliding around the dash while I drove, and I didn't want to deal with it later, so I shoved it in the glove compartment. Honestly, it gave me an extra two minutes to sit in the car and
prepare myself. It had been a long time since I'd last had a date, and I couldn't even remember if it had ended well.
I squished my face up against the window and looked at the sky. The snow wasn't letting up. I couldn't put it off anymore, even though I still couldn't see any sign of Alice in the flurry of snowflakes. I left the warmth of the car, then trudged my way through knee-deep white to reach the hot chocolate vendor.
In the midst of the blinding weather, I saw a blue-striped jacket under a very familiar tuque. I tapped her shoulder, and Alice greeted me with a kiss on the cheek. It was so cold by now that I was surprised she didn't stick to me.
"Too bad you didn't wear your pin today," she said with a smile. She took me by the arm and dragged me further under the vendor's umbrella, away from the cold. "Today makes it seem like a really good idea."
"What?" I had to admit, if only to myself, that being in close proximity to her left at least half of my available brain cells drooling and useless. It didn't help that I wasn't sure why she was bringing up the pins on my tie. I tried to think of which one she might mean.
"You're right, it's too cold to think." She hadn't let go of my arm, and I was hoping she wouldn't. Even though it was probably only to keep both of us warmer. She smelled nice.
I steered her towards the vendor, simultaneously repressing a stupid expression. Gentleman that I hoped to at least appear to be, I let her order first, than tried to get something with a little more kick than chocolate had to offer. It was too bad that we had to separate to take our drinks.
Alice wrinkled her nose at me over her paper cup of chocolate. "You really do have a thing for coffee."
"You didn't believe me before?"
"It isn't that, I just don't get it." She walked over to one of the less crowded bonfires, looking back occasionally to make sure I'd follow her. No worries there.
The fire in the barrel looked a little weak, but there wasn't really anyone seeing to it, and it was snowing. I tossed my napkin in to help it out a little. "Don't get what? That I like something you don't?"
She shrugged. "I guess."
For a while, we just stood hazardously close to the barrel and drained our cups without much small-talk. All first dates were awkward, but this one felt badly timed. Maybe badly placed too. Snow may have seemed romantic to Hollywood executives in California, but here we knew that it was just cold and wet.
That thought jogged my brain a little and I laughed. Alice gave me a dubious look and tilted her head back. I bit into the thick paper rim of my now-empty coffee cup and tried to kill a grin. Getting a joke or even a reference too late was almost always embarrassing, and this wasn't exactly an exception.
"What's worth a giggle?" Alice poked me with a gloved hand.
The word 'giggle' came very close to offending me. I scowled and lobbed the cup into the fire. "I don't giggle."
"Take it as a figure of speech. What's so funny?"
It took me a second to realize that she was fidgeting a little, tapping the toe of one of her boots in the snow, then digging the heel of the other into the ground. She must have thought that I was laughing at her. I shook my head and barely stopped myself from holding up my hands. "It's nothing, I just
I'm kind of slow sometimes."
Great. This could have definitely gone better. I coughed into my hand, mostly to cover what I really hoped was not a blush, then said, "When you were talking about my pins. I didn't know which one you meant, and
Well, just now I figured it out."
To my relief, Alice didn't make fun of me. Instead, she rolled her eyeswith a smileand shook her head. "There is a lot going on inside your head, isn't there?"
The question made me a little uncomfortable. Of course I had a lot going on in my head, everyone did. I wanted say something like "don't you?", but that seemed rude, even unspoken. So I just mumbled an incoherent but understandable version of "I don't know" and stuffed my hands in my parka pockets.
I nearly jumped out of my own skin when Alice looped one of her arms with mine. It wasn't the kind of arm-looping that came before a stirring rendition of "The Yellow Brick Road", but it wasn't romance either. "I think that's one of the reasons I like you," she said softly. "You're a dreamer, and you're really obvious about it."
For some reason, that made me think of my dad's poetry. "Oh yeah? And that's a good thing."
"To me it is."
That was good enough for me at the moment. I watched her throw her cup into the barrel where mine had disappeared, then we both just watched the flames flicker and fight against the falling snow. This was one of the quietest dates I'd ever been on, but I didn't think I minded. Every time we talked, we seemed to stumble into another misunderstanding. I wondered what would happen if I mentioned anything about Faron or Leethe way things were going, I might accidentally sound like a dad.
A blobby figure a few feet away made some gestures that looked like waving. I squinted at it, then waved back.
"I don't know, I can't see well enough to tell
I would have been less surprised if it had been my dad. Lucas was jogging over, wearing a smile reserved for strangers and politeness situations. As much as I wanted to be mad at him for showing up in the middle of my date, it wasn't going well, and I still liked him better than Alice.
It was a good thing I was only this horribly honest with myself.
As usual, Lucas was doing worse in the cold than I was, although Alice was a pretty good match for him. Both of them had blue noses. "I thought I saw you over here."
"Good eye." I looked at Alice with a slightly apologetic smile I hoped she'd interpret correctly, then said, "This is my best friend Lucas Bernoulli." Then, to Lucas, "This is Alice Morgan." I wasn't sure how she'd feel about me claiming this as a date to anyone else, so I didn't add anything.
It didn't matter in the long or short run, Lucas knew me well enough to figure it out without any help. She and I had hooked arms, for crying out loud. "Hello. Sorry to interrupt, I just wanted to say hi."
"Oh, that's fine." Alice put on a sunny smile and tightened her hold on my arm, pulling us closer together. She must have started to notice the cold again. "We were just talking about California."
I stared at her. That was a weird way to sum things up. I wasn't at all sure what to say, I mean, it would be stupid to correct her, since it was technically true, but it was also the kind of subject that turned on Lucas's alarm-o-meter. Which in turn set off my own. "Just the weather, really," I tried, but he was already steely-eyed.
"California, huh? Where all the inhabitants are drunk on fake tans and fifteen minutes too many of tabloid fame?"
Alice let go of my arm. "You don't know what you're talking about. California is"
"Far enough away not matter." He was looking at her, but he was talking to me. He'd told me these things last summer. Before and after, but the after had included a yelling version.
Of course, Alice didn't know about last summer, or anything related to it. It was like watching Mars and Jupiter argue about whether or not Saturn was a certain color. Slightly less surreal, but not by much.
While I came up with clever metaphors in my head, Alice was getting madder. She poked Lucas in the chest, pretty hard judging by the look on his face, and growled, "You don't know what you're talking about, you small-minded"
"That's the pot calling the kettle black! I don't know what I'm talking about? If I hadn't come along, you could have screwed up Dschimi's life and not even realized"
If there was supposed to be more to Lucas's response, it didn't make it into the air. Alice pulled an arm back and caught him with a surprisingly powerful strike to the chin. I felt like I was watching a car accident with a high body count. I just stood there like a lump, my mouth hanging open. Alice stomped off without an additional word to anyone, and all I could think was that it was lucky I wasn't her ride home.
Lucas had stumbled, but he was still standing. Conflict of interest had more or less walked angrily away, so I didn't exactly feel heroic or loyal as I helped Lucas steady himself. He gave me a nasty look, but no one ever died from those, and he didn't try to hit me. "Your new girlfriend is a real piece of work."
"No kidding," I said, not feeling it. "Except she wasn't my girlfriend, and now she definitely won't be." That made me want to hit him, but this was my fault, so I couldn't.
He dusted himself off, which didn't make a lot of difference since new fallen snow simply replaced the flakes he'd brushed off. It was probably just a reflex action after getting punched in the face by a girl. "
Oh. I guess I should apologize."
The hairs on the back of my neck would have risen if the cold hadn't already gotten them up. I narrowed my eyes without meeting his and kicked the ground. "You guess?"
"It's hard to apologize when I don't mean it. Maybe I'll mean it later."
At least he was honest
And I knew why he was flipping out this way. "She doesn't know. About last summer."
Lucas caught me off-guard, leaping forward one step to push me back two. "Stop talking about it like it's some horrible mystery! It was awful, but it wasn't life or death, Dschimiyou ran away from home and we're all still pissed as hell at you for it."
According to my dad, it had been life or death. I didn't take back the two steps I'd lost, instead I just stayed where I'd been pushed, not quite close enough to a sleeping tree to lean on it. My ankle hurt, and the cold from being halfway up to my knees in snow was not numbing it enough anymore. "No one ever talks about it. It's just
last summer." I rubbed my shoulder and attempted to find the ground fascinating. "I'm not trying to be dramatic. I just thought everyone wanted to forget about it, so
If it comes up, I allude."
My gut told me that we needed to get out of here and go up on the roof, but the snow killed the idea before I could say anything about it. Lucas didn't look like he'd be up for it anyway. He looked like he was trying not to throw up or cry, and I definitely shared the feeling. "Nobody wants to talk about it because some of us are still freaked out." The flames in the barrel had almost died down. "My parents practically pretend that nothing happened, and it's not like I can talk to your dad. Or you. The one time I really tried to talk to you, you clammed up and shut me out for the whole weekend."
I remembered that. It had nearly been the whole weekend and half of Monday. "Nothing did happen. I just
emptied my bank account and hopped on a train." As far as running away from home stories could go, mine was really boring. I kicked Lucas's boot as an unspoken 'follow me over there' and found a picnic table to sit on.
It had a dopey-looking umbrella over it, but at least it wasn't covered in snow. I sat on the table and Lucas sat on the bench. He was a better listener than I was at any given time, which meant I probably couldn't count on any interruptions to make this easier or more interesting. It really was a boring story.
One deep breath and I went back to it. "I wanted to get one of those cross-country rail tours, but they wouldn't let me buy a ticket because I wasn't old enough to go alone. They weren't going to the right places anyway, so I just got a ride to the end of the line." It wasn't a long story either, but I'd forgotten something important. "What I told you about before... that I just wanted to go and do something I'd never done beforethat's about the most promising the whole mess ever got." Pathetic, I knew, but the expression on Lucas's face was blank and open. I went on. "I started thinking that I could get over the border and hitchhike around for a while, but then I fell asleep and a clerk or someone called me in as a runaway minor."
The blankness was very quickly erased by righteous fury. Lucas usually waited a second or two to make sure I was done talking, but this time he stepped right in. "You never said anything about hitchhiking!"
"I didn't actually do it!" That was no defense, I should have known. Dad hadn't cared that I hadn't even reached the border, he'd still howled at me about how dangerous hitchhiking was anywhere, especially America. "Not even to get to the train station. I took a taxi."
Lucas didn't seem to have heard me very well. He was still glaring hard at me, and I actually felt a little shorter than he was, even though I had the higher ground, physically. "Why did you even go at all? You never said anything about that either. Not really."
Ouch. He'd just hit upon the most boring part of my boring story. Obviously he hadn't bought the bit about me wanting to do something different. That part was true, but it wasn't the whole reason. It just made the whole reason sound less stupid. I didn't waste my breath repeating that piece of it. "I wasn't angry at the world or my dad, I didn't feel imprisoned, and I did not want to run off to Hollywood or the circus."
I wanted to be one of those things." It sounded worse out loud than when I had last admitted it to myself in secret. I cringed and waited for Lucas to laugh at me.
He didn't laugh. He punched me in the head and knocked me off the picnic table. I landed in a snow drift, head reeling, vision askew, and stared up to see him standing over me, shaking a fist. "Next time you need a motivation in life, take up a sport or read a smegging book."
I just laid there, watching my best friend's retreating back and doing my absolute best not to burst out laughing. We should have done this months ago. Good thing I hadn't brought up the roof, he might have let me up there just to push me off.
When Lucas was lost in the snowfall, I let out the half-hysterical laughter I'd been holding back. "Which sport have I not taken up?!" He was probably long gone, but I had to say it.
"Try curling, you big jerk!"
I did a double-take, which was hard to do when I couldn't even see him. "But curling is barely a sport"
Lucas threw a snowball at me. "I could say the same for skateboarding."
Oh, that was gonna cost him. I scooped up a handful of snow and flung it in at him as soon as I could see him well enough. It caught him in the ribs, but he just laughed at me. "Baseball is always good."
"I was just going to say 'lacrosse', actually."
I pitched another snowball at him, aiming higher. "When did I become an old rich guy?"
A larger lopsided snowball whizzed over my head. "Apparently since you started wanting to go on rail tours."
Too much snow had gotten into my parka and down my shirt, my teeth were chattering, and I was laughing too hard to talk anyway. A rail vacation was kind of an old man thing to do, I hadn't ever realized. I dodged a few more snowballs to tackle Lucas and make him cut it out.
It almost didn't work, but I knocked him on his back. Then I rolled over onto mine and spat my hair out of my mouth. "Come on, it's too cold," I continued picking wet hair off my face, "I'll drive you home and you can make me lunch." I had no idea what time it was, but it was probably about time I went to pick up the twins. I'd stayed at the Pond longer than I'd thought I would.
Lucas kicked me for the millionth time that day, then he echoed my thoughts. "The twins are still at my house, I think."
"Yeah. You can make all three of us lunch."
He chuckled and patted my shoulder with a thickly gloved hand. "Fine, I'll make you lunch. But you'll have to change before someone kills you for dripping all over the kitchen." We were both soaked by now; I didn't plan on protesting that point.
"It's a deal. Let's go." I squished a lot as I walked back to the car, but it wasn't too bad. Not at all how I wanted my date to go, but this felt important. More of that growing up stuff that had been going on so much lately. At this rate, I would be the one confusing myself for someone's dad by the end of the week.