Authors: Pete Hautman
For Maddie Shae
Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet…it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.
—from the first paragraph of
by Herman Melville
The way this whole thing got started
was completely coincidental and not like I planned it or anything. Jen and I had been at Ridgedale a few days before and we got kicked out of Abercrombie & Fitch because Jen was carrying around this enormous drippy waffle cone, so we went outside and sat on one of the benches in front of Macy’s so she could suck down the rest of it. We were talking and watching people walk to and from their cars when I noticed this salesman-type guy younger than our parents but way older than us score a prize parking slot close to the front entrance. The guy got out looking very pleased with himself and set his car keys on the hood and started digging in his briefcase for something. His keys slid off the hood and landed by his feet. He didn’t notice.
I looked at Jen but she was having some sort of crisis with her cone.
A couple seconds later, the guy found whatever it was he was looking for. He closed his briefcase and took off toward the Macy’s entrance, passing real close to us. I opened my
mouth to tell him he’d dropped his keys, but for some reason I didn’t. After he was gone I said to Jen, “That guy dropped his keys.”
I walked over to his car and picked them up. I don’t remember what kind of car it was—something boring, a Toyota or Honda or something. When I got back to the bench, Jen was staring at the last inch of her waffle cone with this tragic expression on her face.
“I didn’t get a malted milk ball in the bottom,” she said.
“I don’t think Flavor Hut does the milk ball thing. You have to go to Cold Stone for that.”
It did suck, no malted milk ball, but what could you do? Jen walked the soggy tip of her cone over to the cans on the other side of the entrance and tossed it into the recycling.
“Wrong can,” I said.
She shrugged and wiped her fingers on her butt. “We better go find him,” she said.
“The key guy.”
“I’m sure he’s got another set,” I said, putting the keys in my purse.
Jen looked at me like I was this psycho, but she was the one who just threw her ice cream cone in the recycling can, so I ignored her.
“Let’s go back to Abercrombie,” I said. “I want to try on that top with the rhinestones.”
“You know you’ll never buy it. It actually might look good on you.” Jen had some very definite opinions on my fashion sense. She thought I dressed like a nun, which was not completely untrue.
“You never know,” I said. “Maybe today I’ll have an aneurysm and buy something pink and sparkly.”
The week before, Jen and I had been at the Minnehaha Club pool and Jen was giving me grief about my swimsuit.
“You should get a two-piece,” she told me. “You’d look hot.”
“Are you saying I don’t look hot now?” I was wearing a black one-piece, skimpier than a nun would wear—if nuns ever went swimming.
“No! I just think you’d look hotter in a bikini. You’re so conservative.”
So of course I immediately felt like the boringest person on earth—but I didn’t say anything, even though it bugged me.
A little while later we were ogling these two guys, maybe eighteen or nineteen, and Jen said, “I’ll take the blond.”
“Fine. I’ll settle for the one with the six-pack abs.”
“He looks like a Damien. And the other one looks like a Troy.”
“Not Troy. Andre.”
“Okay, Andre. Damien and Andre.”
We were laughing—okay, giggling—and sipping our iced teas and absorbing megawatts of cancer-causing UV rays. We were also bored out of our minds, so I decided I’d walk over to Damien and Andre and say something because it was the last thing Jen would ever expect Boring Conservative Me to do. I figured I’d never see them again, and they were too old for us anyway, so what did I have to lose? I stood up and walked over, imagining Jen’s eyes wide on my back.
Up close they weren’t nearly as good-looking as I’d thought. The blond one had little bumps all over his face like old acne, and the one with the six-pack abs had kind of squished-together features, like the space between his eyes could have used another half inch.
I said, mostly to the one with the squished features and the abs, “So, are you guys members here?”
They looked a little startled. Then their eyes went up and down my body the way guys’ eyes do. My suit might have been the most boring conservative bathing suit at the pool, but the way those guys looked at me, it might as well have been Saran Wrap.
I said, “Because if you’re not members, I probably shouldn’t be talking to you.” Where that came from, I had no idea. I wasn’t even a member myself—Jen’s parents were.
The blond one—Damien or Andre, I’d already forgotten which was which—said, “You’re already talking to us.”
“Then you must be members.”
“I guess so,” said Damien. Or Andre.
I wasn’t sure what to say next, so I just smiled and shrugged.
“So…what’s happening?” said the blond.
“Nothing—just another boring day at the country club.” I pointed at Jen, who was watching openmouthed from forty feet away. “My friend says you guys are named Damien and Andre. But I forget which of you is which.”
They looked at each other and laughed.
“Why don’t you invite your friend over here?” said the blond.
I waved Jen over. She looked behind her, like I was waving at someone else. I waved harder. She got up and came toward us, slowly, giving them plenty of time to check her out.
What Jen looks like: same height as me, straight hair that gets streaky blond in the summer but goes to honey brown in the winter, blue eyes, a nose and chin that are both a little
longer and pointier than she’d like, and the body of a gymnast, which makes sense, because she
a gymnast before she blew out her left knee. She doesn’t limp or anything but her doctor told her no more floor exercises or dismounts, so she kind of gave up on the whole Olympics thing. But she still has the hot body, which, as far as most guys are concerned, makes up for any excess facial pointiness. She makes the most of it by wearing the skimpiest swimsuits permitted at the Minnehaha Club. Thongs are forbidden—this is Minnesota, after all—but it would still take five or six of her suits to add up to as much fabric as mine.
By the time Jen arrived, Damien and Andre had done that wordless guy thing where they put dibs on who gets who. The blond was all over Jen, which was fine with me. It took him about ten seconds to tell her how hot she was and that he was a student at the U and that they were going to this great party later and would we like to come. My guy, whose actual name turned out to be Tyler, tried to impress me by telling me he drove a BMW. I told him my name was Cordelia—which it isn’t. From there the conversation just kept getting stupider. I mean, any college guy who wants to date a fifteen-year-old is a total loser as far as I’m concerned, but they were kind of fun to talk to, so we hung out with them for an hour or so, then told them we had to go home and get dressed for the “great party” they were taking
us to. We said we’d meet them at eight o’clock at the Starbucks on Winnetka.
“I can’t believe you did that,” Jen said after we left the pool.
“Neither can I,” I said. I loved the way she was looking at me, all amazed. So much for boring and conservative.
That night at eight, Jen and I were at the Starbucks on Winnetka. Not like we would actually go to a party with those guys. But we were curious to see if they’d show up.
They never did.
Back to the car keys thing. I figured I’d hang on to them for a souvenir. I liked the idea of having a set of car keys in my purse, and that’s probably all that would have happened except that a week later I found out where the key guy lived.
I was with my mom in her Toyota Camry, driving her to Book Club, which was an unutterably boring way to spend two hours, but it was a chance to get in some driving practice and I had homework to do. I’d gotten my permit, and I’d passed the written test, so it was legal for me to drive as long as I had an over-twenty-one adult in the passenger seat. The problem was, my parents hardly ever let me drive at all because my dad did not “passenger well” and my mom always had some excuse, like she was in a huge hurry and didn’t
want me to get a speeding ticket before I even had a license. Book Club was an opportunity because this was the sort of book club where half the women don’t even bother to read the book and they each toss back like six glasses of chardonnay apiece and spend more time dishing than book-talking. My mom would have a serious DUI-worthy buzz going by the time things broke up, and I was the designated driver because the law doesn’t say anything about the over-twenty-one person being sober. So I drove her to Betsy Charlesworth’s. Betsy has a huge house and no kids, perfect for Book Club. I grabbed a brownie and some little cookies from the sideboard and planted myself on the periphery of the group to read my summer novel, the incredibly thick
while tuning in now and then on the juicier bits of gossip. I think I ended up reading about ten pages. It was actually quite funny in places. The book, I mean.
It was on our way home, with my mom chatting boozily about Ginny Ahlstrand’s sudden suspicious weight loss and the declining quality of Betsy Charlesworth’s deviled eggs, that I saw the key guy. I probably wouldn’t have recognized him except that he happened to be getting out of his familiar-looking car with the same familiar-looking briefcase and he had the same hurried look I remembered from before. He was only like five blocks away from our house, which I guess makes him a neighbor.
You see what I mean about coincidental.
“Turn here,” my mom said.
“I’ve only lived in this neighborhood my whole entire life,” I said.
“You’re fifteen years old.”
I gave her a look. “I can count.”
“Are you going to tell me how many glasses of wine I had?”
“Good. Don’t mention it to your father, either.”
That night—I don’t know why, but I remember it was a Thursday—I called Jen and made her promise to meet me at Burger King at midnight. It took some convincing, because the BK was almost a mile from her house, but I told her I had this secret and if she ever wanted to know what it was she had to show up. In the end she said okay, and after we hung up I started working on homework, never mind that tenth grade didn’t even start until September. The American educational system gone berserk. Not only did I have to read a “classic novel” from a list they gave us and report on it (I’d never have picked
if I’d known how long it was), I also had to write a five-hundred-word essay of “acceptable quality” on how to do something. How to Tie a Shoe. How to Apply Lip Gloss. How to Become a Vampire. How to Build a Spaceship. How to Write a Five-Hundred-Word Essay. All for an extra half point added to my language arts grade. Woo-hoo.
I worked for like half an hour and only got thirty-five words written. Four hundred sixty-five to go. Good thing I still had a couple months to work on it.
I got to the BK first and bought some fries. Jen took forever to get there. I was sitting at one of the outside tables, fishing little crumbles of french fry from the bottom of the bag and thinking about all the times Jen had disappointed me, like the time we were supposed to go to camp together and she backed out at the last second, leaving me friendless and bored for two weeks at Camp Wannamakemepuke or whatever.
Finally she showed up.
“You’re late,” I said.
“Look at you,” she said, looking at me.
She sat down. “All ninja.”
I was wearing my black Pilates tights and a black cotton hoodie.
“Not too ‘conservative’ for you?” I stood up and pulled the hood over my head.
“So what’s the big secret?”
“C’mon.” I grabbed her hand and pulled her up.
“I don’t get to eat?”
She complained practically the whole way, all whiny because I wouldn’t tell her what we were doing. I
her as we approached the house, staying close to a row of lilac bushes. We were in luck. I’d been afraid the guy would put his car in the garage, but there it was, parked in his driveway.
“Wait here,” I said.
How I usually dress: like an off-duty nun, just like Jen says. No one on earth owns more black and gray. If you saw me on TV you might think I was out of some old black-and-white movie. My idea of festive is black pants with a gray blouse. Even my mother thinks I lack fashion sense. “You should wear something fun,” she has said on many occasions, often upon presenting me with something “fun,” like a multicolored polka-dot shirt, or a pair of “designer” jeans with carefully applied rips, or striped socks, or red shoes. Yes, she actually bought me a pair of red shoes.
I do not wear red shoes or striped socks. I do not wear blue jeans or any other color of denim. I don’t want to look like every other girl. I don’t want people to judge me by my clothes. I have other reasons too. My dad actually gets me on this. He dresses kind of the same way, only he wears white shirts, which I never do. I like to shop, though, and when Jen and I get into it at the mall, I’ll try on
colorful and bizarre the better. But not in the real world. It drives Jen crazy. And my mom.
How to Steal a Car
When nobody is looking you sneak up to the car and get in and start it. Then drive away. That’s pretty much all there is to it.
I unlocked the driver’s door, slipped behind the wheel, put the key in the ignition, and turned it. The car started right away. I waved at Jen to get in. She shook her head and pressed her body back into the lilac bushes. I put the car in gear and backed out of the driveway. I drove around the block. When I got back to the driveway, Jen had left the shelter of the bushes and was walking quickly down the sidewalk toward home. I pulled up alongside her and rolled down the passenger window.
“Need a lift?” My voice sounded weird and my heart was banging around like a munchkin in a mosh pit.
Jen stuck her head in the window and said in a loud whisper, “What are you