Authors: Shari Goldhagen
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For my family
Cherry Berry Bundt Cake
t's been summer break for four hours, and Alex McDermott and I are already on our third
rerun and our second container of house special lo mein.
Sitting cross-legged on the counter at FishTopia Saltwater Fish & Supplies, we're staring at the ancient TV above the register, passing the carton of noodles between us, and basking in the thin wave of air from the oscillating fan that blows our direction every few seconds.
“Molly, you're hogging all the good air.” Alex scoots closer to me, near enough that our shorts and thighs are practically touching, and I'm thankful I was motivated enough to shave my legs this morning; some days it's a stretch.
“Shouldn't you be sweeping or something?” I nudge his shoulder with mine, and he rolls his eyes. Since the place opened two years ago, I don't think anyone has ever taken
the broom out of the supply closet in the back, much less attempted to use it. The handful of customers who come in never complain, and the owner, Charlie, pops in only once a week to do inventory and drop off our checks.
“If Chuck graces us with his presence, I'll point out that he's violating just about a thousand labor laws for not having AC in this place.” Alex gives this cute crooked smile, and a dimple pops into his cheek. “Seriously, this
be good for the fish.”
Like me, Alex is a junior (technically we're seniors now, I guess), but he goes to MaxwellâCoral Cove's other high school, across town. When we started working here after school and on weekends, I wasn't sure we'd have much in common. He's in a band, and there was this steady stream of girls with inky dyed hair and Hot Topic graphic T-shirts who used to come in here and flirt with him. But it turns out
and take-out noodles are some kind of universal language; Alex and I were fast friends from the first time we stumbled upon an episode and he said Betty White was the bomb.
We've seen this episode at least four times in the past six months alone. It's the one where Blanche, Rose, Sophia, and Dorothy put on a production of
at an elementary school, and they're all wearing these ridiculous leotards and feather headpieces. Knowing when the jokes are coming only makes it funnier; sometimes I crack up just seeing Rose on screen.
In my perfect world I'd spend the rest of the day (maybe the rest of the summer; maybe the rest of my life) right here at FishTopia just like thisÂ .Â .Â . but in the pocket of my cutoffs, my cell phone rings.
“Your wife again?” Alex asks, and I scrunch up my face in mock annoyance, but it
the third time Elle has called in the past ninety minutes, and Elle and I
been best friends since kindergarten, which is a lot longer than either of our parents were married, if you think about it that way.
I wander into an aisle of clown fish and guppies for moderate privacy.
“Mrs. Kamp next door can watch Jimmy, so that's taken care of.” Elle picks up the conversation in pretty much the exact spot where we left off half an hour ago, when she was trying to find a babysitter for her little brother. She's still trying to convince me to be her wing woman at Chris Partridge's end-of-the-year party tonight. I don't want to go any more than I did the last time she called.
“Come on, Mol. How often do we even get invited to stuff like this?”
Ah, never. It's not like Coral Cove High is a John Hughes film, where you never talk to people outside your clique, but Elle and I have always spent most of our time with the other dorks in advanced classes and on the swim team (before I quit), while Chris plays baseball and is the president of our
class; there's just not a lot of overlap. So it was doubly weird this afternoon when Elle and I were emptying out all the crumpled notebook paper and stray pen caps from our locker, and Chris sauntered over and specifically invited us. “Bring whoever you want,” he said, “friends, family.” I thought that Elle's head might explode. She's had a crush on Chris since he offered her a Life Saver one time in study hall freshman year.
“Chris probably just invited the entire class or something,” I say.
, everyone will be there; we have to go.”
That makes the prospect even less appealing. I haven't been to a single
party since my massive freak-out at the divisionals meet a year ago. A ginormous party with everyone talking about senior year and college and who's getting engaged and all that other BS seems a horrible place to dive back into the CCH social scene. ButÂ .Â .Â .
Even though I'm reasonably sure Chris and Elle never spoke again after the Life Saver incident (technically I don't think he actually spoke to her then, just kind of held out the pack and grunted), it would still be pretty crappy if I didn't go with her.
“I promise I won't say anything if people aren't recycling,” Elle says, which is a big deal for her. Then she threatens to invoke BFF lawâthis modified version of the Girl Scout Law we came up with way back when we were in Brownies. “Pleeeeeeease.”
“Will you drive?” I ask, and I can almost see her weighing the environmental damage of using the old gas-guzzling Jeep Cherokee her dad gave her, against the off chance that Chris might go all
High School Musical
and fall in love with her.
“Can we do windows instead of AC?” she asks.
“Elle, it's one hundred thousand degrees out!” Technically 103, but it has been that way for three days, which is ridiculous even for central Florida.
“Fine, we'll turn it on low. I'll pick you up at the store in an hour.”
When I hang up and turn around, Alex is standing at the opening of the aisle, staring at me like I've grown additional heads. Automatically my hand goes to the mouse-poop-colored frizz on my head; with this humidity it's more of a lost cause than usual. My momâwho wouldn't hesitate to tell you she owns the most successful hair salon in Coral Cove
the surrounding areasâwould be horrified.
“What?” I ask defensively.
“Sorry, I was totally eavesdropping, but were you guys talking about Chris Partridge's thing tonight?”
Hesitantly, I nod.
“Dude, Chris and I have been buddies since Little League.” Alex is nodding excitedly. “How did I not know you guys were friends?”
“More like acquaintances.” I shrug. More like nothing.
“But you're going?”
“For a little.Â .Â .Â . You?”
I probably see Alex more than any human being on the planet who doesn't physically live in my house (and honestly, more than I've seen my sister lately), but we only ever hang out at FishTopia. Sometimes he suggests we go grab dinner or coffee or he'll ask if I want to see some show, but I can never tell if he's serious or not or if it would be a date-date or not, and then I start thinking about those Hot Topic girls and all the weird stuff that's been going on with me this past year, and it gets hard to breathe. So I always kind of brush him off. It's safe to be with him
âlike our own little aquarium.
But maybe it
be okay if we saw each other at this party? Then there'd be at least one person other than Elle who I know I like. Although, it's already a little screwed up, since Alex thinks I'm all buddy-buddy with Chris.
“I've got band practice after we close up here.” Alex is still talking. “But I'll come after that.” He takes his phone from his pocket and unlocks the screen. “Gimme your digits, and I'll let you know when I'm on my way.”
Reciting my phone number, I have this flash to winter sophomore year when T. J. Cranston asked for my number after swim practice; suddenly my stomach feels all oily.
“Cool,” I say. I have no idea if this is actually cool. All
I know is, I'm nervous enough that it's hard to follow the rest of the
In her ancient Jeep Cherokee, Elle pulls up in front of the store and honks. She refuses to enter FishTopia, because she thinks it's a prison for marine life or something. I push off the counter, gather my backpack, and throw my container of lo mein into the garbage. Alex waves to Elle through the store window. They've never actually met, but Alex has heard me tell enough stories that he could probably write a dissertation on Elle Lovell.
“So I guess maybe I'll see you tonight?” I say.
“Definitely.” Alex holds the door open for me, and the little bell that alerts us to new customers dings. “Let me help you with your bike.”