Authors: Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
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With special thanks to Corie Hinton, a Peace Corps volunteer (2008–2010)
* * *
To all the Alices, whatever their names, who helped me write these books
The day I left for college, Lester borrowed a pickup for all my stuff.
“Anything that can’t fit in the back can’t go, Al,” he said.
“I’ve got to take my beanbag chair. That’s a
” I declared, jumping down off the back end and wiping my hands on my cutoffs.
it!” Dad said. “Just promise you’ll leave it there.”
We joke that while some kids suck their thumbs all through childhood and others hang on to a blanket, I’ve kept my old beanbag chair as a sort of mother substitute, a lap to cuddle in when things get tough. Mom died when I was in kindergarten, and I’ve had that beanbag chair almost as long. I’m even too big for it now, but I could always use it as a hassock, I figured.
All morning Elizabeth, Pamela, and I had been carrying things out to the truck. Gwen’s brothers had helped her move the day before, and Liz would leave for Bennington the next day. I was taking some stuff to my dorm at the U of Maryland and was lucky Liz and Pam were still around to see me off. We were standing out on the driveway in our shorts and T-shirts, studying the mountain of junk in the pickup, trying to think of anything I might have forgotten.
“Ironing board?” said Elizabeth. She’s the gorgeous one, with creamy skin, thick dark eyelashes, and long, almost black hair.
uses an ironing board at college, Liz!” said Pamela. “You just fold up a towel on the floor and iron on that, if you iron at all.”
A gnat blew directly in front of Pam’s eyes, and she tried to smash it between her hands. Sweat dripped off her face and onto the front of her purple tee. We were all perspiring like crazy.
“Toaster?” said Elizabeth. “What will you do if you crave a grilled cheese sandwich at midnight and everything’s closed?”
“Are you kidding?” Pamela exclaimed. “All you need is your iron. You put cheese between two slices of bread, wrap it in foil, and press down on it with a hot iron.” She lifted her blond hair off the nape of her neck, as though even talking about ironing made her miserable.
“Your ingenuity is amazing,” I said. “Next you’ll tell us an iron can broil a steak and bake a potato. Can it help me with my homework? Hand me that box, Liz, and let’s see if we can’t squeeze it in beside my suitcase.”
I’ve known Elizabeth Price and Pamela Jones forever, it seems. Well, since sixth grade, anyway. Pamela, a natural blonde, slim and talented, is going to a theater arts school in New York and is letting her short hair grow out so she can play more parts. Elizabeth’s been admitted to Bennington in Vermont, and I’m going to Lester’s alma mater, which is only about a half hour from our house. Like, I’m the adventurous one. Gwen’s going there too—premed.
I think Dad believes I’ve grown up so close to him and Lester that I’m afraid to get too far away. So he insisted I live on campus, which is fine with me. It’s about time he and Sylvia had the house to themselves. They’ve only been married three years.
“Oh, God!” I said. “Sheets and towels! I didn’t pack any at all!”
Pamela looked at the stuff we still had to squeeze in. “We made a mistake. We should have stuffed clothes in your mini-fridge and wastebasket before we put them on the truck. There’s all that empty space inside.” We collapsed on the front steps and took a break.
“I can’t believe I have to go through this all by myself tomorrow,” Elizabeth said.
? My dorm room’s half the size of yours, and I’ll have to keep most of my stuff under my bed. I’m still not through sorting.” Pamela groaned. She was already looking like an actress. She had plucked her eyebrows into thin crescents over her eyes and wore black mascara and eyeliner.
We gazed wearily out over the yard and across the street,
where Elizabeth’s big white house sat handsomely on its manicured lot.
“I remember when you first moved here from Takoma Park,” Elizabeth said. “Mom and I were sitting out on the porch watching you guys carry things in.”
“And you were wearing matching skirts,” I told her.
She turned and looked at me. “We
“You looked so perfect to me, and I was so envious. The perfect mother and daughter, sitting there reading a magazine together. . . .”
“Don’t remind me,” Elizabeth said quickly.
is like poison in her vocabulary now, she’s trying so hard not to be.
“We’ve been through a lot together,” said Pamela, and sighed. Then she asked, “If you could look into the future and see what was happening at some particular age, which age would you pick?”
“Thirty. I’d pick thirty,” said Elizabeth. “I figure that whatever I’m doing then will more or less dictate how the rest of my life is going to turn out.”
“I’d choose a year from now, to see if I was going back to New York,” said Pamela. “If you don’t have talent, they don’t encourage you to return.” Both Pamela and Elizabeth looked at me.
“I’m not sure I’d want to know,” I told them.
“Because I’d probably pick age sixty or something, to see if I’d still be alive. And what if I wasn’t?”
“Don’t be morbid,” said Pamela, and then, looking for a brighter note, “What’s the latest from Patrick?”
“He’s finished work on that book for his professor and is starting his year of study abroad. Loves Barcelona. Says he’d love to live there someday,” I told them. The way I said it made it sound as though Patrick was just any guy, not the boyfriend I’d had almost continuously since sixth grade.
“I don’t know how you stand it, Alice,” Liz said, putting into words what, I’ll admit, I’d wondered about myself.
“I don’t know either, but—as Patrick says—the sooner it’s over, the sooner he’ll be back in the States.” It was oppressively humid, and I thrust my lower lip out and blew, trying to fan my face. But it didn’t help.
The front door opened behind us, and my brother came back out. Les got his MA from Maryland last December and just found out he’d been hired as the assistant director of a conference center in the mountains of West Virginia, where corporations hold retreats and sales conferences and couples come to get in touch with their inner selves. He starts September first. Dad always wondered what Les would do with a philosophy degree.
you I was going to sit on a mountaintop so people could come to me and ask the meaning of life,” he joked.
Now he was standing beside us in shorts and sandals, staring at the pickup truck, which seemed to list to one side.
“Say, Al, you really travel light!” he said. “Sure you don’t want to take the piano, too?” His dark brown hair matched his eyes, which always,
seemed to be hiding a smile.
Elizabeth and Pamela gave him their immediate attention. Lester’s single at the moment, and they’ve had crushes on him since they were eleven.
of my friends love Lester.
“Aren’t you just the teeniest bit sad to see your sister off?” Elizabeth asked, in a voice she reserves only for Les.
“Been wanting to boot her out since the day she was born,” Lester said. “Hey, I’m getting rid of all three of you, come to think of it. At last!”
“When are you going to get married, Les?” Pamela asked. “Or are you going to stay a bachelor all your life?”
“Oh . . . maybe twenty, thirty years from now I’ll think about it,” he said. And then, “Sylvia’s got lunch ready, Al. And then we’d better get going.”
I sniffed under one arm. “Oh, gross. I’ve got to have a shower first.”
“How about you, Liz? Pamela? Want some lunch?” Lester said.
“Can’t. I’m getting a manicure in twenty minutes,” said Pamela. “Liz is coming with me, and we need to clean up.”
“Well, let’s get a move on,” Lester said, and went back inside.
Elizabeth, who was sitting between Pamela and me, put one arm around each of us. “Do you remember what we promised once? That we’d always get together like this, no matter how old we got, and share our secrets?”
Pamela was grinning. “You mean, tell each other when we lost our virginity.” One of the hundred silly things we’d said. Pamela had already lost hers, so the rest was up to Liz and me.
Elizabeth gave our shoulders an exasperated shake. “You know what I mean. I just hope we’re always like this. They say you make your closest friends in college, but I don’t see how anyone could be closer than we are.”
“There’s always texting,” Pamela said.
“It’s not the same,” said Elizabeth.
“So if we can’t actually get together, we’ll make it a conference call,” I suggested, knowing I’d better get inside.
We jokingly sealed it by placing our hands on top of each other’s, the way kids do in grade school.
“Till Thanksgiving, then,” I said.
“Or Christmas,” said Pamela.
“Or even spring break,” I added.
“Sisters forever,” said Elizabeth. And because she was so serious and solemn about it, we laughed.
* * *
Sylvia had lunch ready when I went inside—chicken salad with pineapple and almonds, my favorite. Dad gave me a bear hug before we even sat down. He had the look of a bear too, sort of pudgy and cuddly, his head slightly balding on top.
“Well, honey, it may be a while before you’re here at the table again,” he said.