Authors: Lila Castle
Copyright Â© 2010 by Lila Castle
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Cover design by Andrea Uva
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Born August 20: Leo
Rising Sign: Aquarius
You are passionate and dramatic in life and in love. Once you find that special person, you are loyal, sometimes to a fault. You are a fire sign best paired with others whose devotion burns bright: Leos, Sagittarians, and Arians.
The first time I saw Annabelle Lomax, she was holding a gun.
It was pointed straight at the enemy of every single middle-schooler who ever spent summers at Gingerbread Beach. That enemy was Laser Tag Larryâand, yeah, the gun was just a laser-tag gunâbut it's hard not to emphasize the drama of the moment. This was
Laser Tag Larry.
When I saw Annabelle gripping the plastic pistol, her wild curls flying out behind her, I knew (shut up; it's embarrassing enough to admit) my life had changed forever. Not that I'm one of those corny people who believes in love at first sight or soul mates or any of that stuff.
I'm definitely not. But three facts: 1) I was suddenly sweating even though it was cold and rainy on the boardwalk; 2) I couldn't take my eyes off her; 3) I'd forgotten about the game of laser tag my friend Scott had challenged me to. At twelve, nothing matters more than a laser-tag challenge. Nothing.
Hence the drama of pointing a gun at Laser Tag Larry. No one does drama quite like Annabelle Lomax.
The quiet thud of a raindrop hits the roof of my old silver Honda. The sun is still shining behind me, but the dark clouds directly ahead mean I'm getting close. I can't help stepping on the gas just a little harder, even though I promised my mom I'd keep to the speed limit if my parents let me drive down from Vermont on my own in our other car. My parents are ski instructors, so you'd think they'd be fiends for land speed, but actually my mom is a paranoid control freak.
I made sure to stop for gas right away so they couldn't tail me. Not that my parents are so bad, but I didn't want to spend the four hours driving to Gingerbread Beach hearing about the article my mom is writing on ski gear for
and having her gasp and reach for the door handle every time I passed another vehicle.
Instead, I wanted to spend the time listening to my iPod. I don't have anything against other music besides the triumvirate (Sex Pistols, The Clash, and the Ramones), but really, no one says it quite like old-school '70s punk. With my friends, I'll listen to rap or whatever, but when I'm alone, I like the classics.
So once I ditch my parents at the gas station, it's just me and Joey Ramone. At first, I'm mostly singing along, banging the steering wheel. But then the live version of “I Want to be Your Boyfriend” comes on, and it gets me thinking about the summer.
Before the spring, I was practically counting down the days to June 25 when we'd head back to our summer house in Gingerbread with the endless rain that's a million times better than all the snow we get at homeâsee, rain has the added perk of keeping tourists away at a beach resortâand the boardwalk where Jed makes the best coffee ever at the Opera House CafÃ©. Where you can get a bucket of clams at Kitty's Clam Shack next door, so fresh they are practically still breathing. But really it's Annabelle. At least it always was Annabelle until a few months ago.
The rain is steady now. When I turn on my wipers, I remember that I was supposed to get new ones before the trip. No big deal; I'm almost thereâand I know the route by heart since we've been coming here since I was in seventh grade. And although I'm not sure how things will go with Annabelle, if this really will be the summer we finally get together, I can't help smiling like a lunatic when I see the signâ
Gingerbread Beach Scenic Drive 1 mile
Once I exit the highway, I'm really feeling it. I roll down the window, and the rain pelts the passenger seat, mixing with the salty smell of the ocean. I pass the Everything Beach Store that has all things necessary for a Gingerbread vacation: beach chairs, oversized towels, and most of all, a wide selection of rain gear. Rain suits, rain boots, rain swimwear.
Last year Annabelle decided she needed a pair of rubber boots. She got these ones with whales printed on them and a matching umbrella, and then danced around the parking lot warbling “Singing in the Rain.” I spit up my coffee, staining my shirt, so Annabelle went back in and bought me a bright pink T-shirt that says “Catch Me if You Can, I'm the Gingerbread Man” with a big print of lips on top. Then she dared me to wear it because she knows I can never say no to a dare. Jerk.
When you're with Annabelle, you don't even care that you're wearing the most humiliating shirt ever to come off an assembly line; you actually think it's funny. Not that I'll wear it again anytime soonâ¦
I turn left at the gas station, and then I see it: the boardwalk. I pull into the parking lot where the road ends and the sand of Gingerbread Beach begins. Gingerbread gets so much rain that the sand always has a crispy coveringâthat's where it gets its name.
When my parents told me they had bought a house here so they could focus on their magazine writing in the summers, I thought they were insane. But as I get out of the car and get my first glimpse of the waves pounding on the shore, see the brightly lit boardwalk (it's lit almost every day because of the weather), and feel the rain on my face, I can't help thinking it was the smartest thing they ever did. That and buying our plasma TV.
I sit on the hood of my car for a few minutes to take it all in and then head over to the boardwalk. I hear the opera before I even get to the door of the Opera CafÃ©. I think it's a soprano singing, but it's hard to tell because Jed is belting out the aria along with her. Jed is tone deaf with a voice that sounds like a bullfrog being torturedâit sends the faint of heart running.
The place looks exactly the same: beat-up armchairs and sofas scattered around a dimly lit room that smells like freshly ground coffee and gooey extras like the caramel sauce Annabelle loves to have loaded into her coffee. A couple of summer regulars, Scott Wakeman and Ben Halpert, are playing checkers at a table in the back. Jed keeps a chest of puzzles and games around in case people want to get out of the rain for a while.
“Hey,” I say, walking up to the counter.
“Pete!” Jed sets down the dishrag and comes out to slap me on the back. “Did you catch the game last night?”
For fans like us, there is only one team, which means only one game that ever matters. “Yeah,” I say. “Those damn Yankees.”
Jed laughs. This is his favorite joke because apparently some movie named
was made a thousand years ago. I've never seen it, but it has a good name because if there's one thing I hate, it's the New York Yankees who last night blew out my beloved Boston Red Sox.
“We'll get 'em tonight,” Jed says, heading back around the other side of the counter. I see that he's lost even more hair over the winter, giving him kind of an owl look. But he's still super-skinny from the running he does on the beach every day before opening the cafÃ©, which means he gets up at some crazy hour like four.
I like running too, but you'd never catch me up before the sun. For me, the day should start no earlier than ten. But it works for him because Jed's in his late twenties, and he looks fairly good for an old guy. Except for the hair: if I ever start losing mine, I'll just shave it all off.
“We have Beckett pitching,” he adds.
I nod. “Just so long as our guys get some hits off Chamberlain.”
Jed puts the steaming mug in front of me, and for a moment, I forget everything else as I take a sip.
“I wouldn't mind seeing Theo make a move for somebody before the trade deadline,” he says, leaning against the espresso and cappuccino machines. Before I can answer, two dripping-wet tourists come in, and he goes to the register to help them.
“What's up, dude?” Scott asks as he and Ben come up behind me. Ben has the box of checkers; Scott has his palm out, ready for a high five.
“How's it going?” I slap Scott's palm, of course. Scott and Ben are like every other “dude, high five” guy I know. I wonder if around the world, every country has this type of guy who lives for weekend parties, making out with girls he barely knows, and having conversations that never come close to being meaningful. Not that I talk deep philosophy or anything, but after a while, it gets boring to talk about which girl is hottest and who got the drunkest at the last party. Doesn't it?
“Party at the beach tomorrow night, bro,” Ben announces with a grin. “We already have the keg lined up.”
“Sounds good,” I say. I'm not sure if I'll goâit kind of depends how things are with Annabelleâbut they're not likely to notice one way or the other. I watch them saunter out. I suddenly feel as if they're my two best friends, even though I can't stand hanging out with them for more than forty-five seconds at a time. They're utterly reliable, I realize. They never, ever change. I haven't seen them in nine months, but it might as well have been nine minutes.
Jed finishes up with the tourists and walks back over to me. “So how was your year?” he asks, giving me a refill. He knows I'll have at least three, so he doesn't bother to ask.
“Pretty good,” I say. “I made the varsity team and batted .552.” Since baseball season is the best part of school, I start there. I'll finish there, too, since who cares about classes or the endless skiing I had to endure?
Jed raises his eyebrows. “You're full of it,” he says.
I can't help grinning a little. “It's not the majors. It's high school.”
“Still, five-five-two?” he says, wiping the counter. “I bet I'll be seeing you up at the plate at Fenway one of these days.”
Only one person knows what my biggest dream is, and I don't really feel like talking about it now, so I shrug again. “How was the off-season here?”
“Slow,” he says. “But hopefully things will pick up now.”
Jed pours his whole life into the cafÃ©. I don't think he ever hangs out with friends or even dates. Annabelle theorizes that he had his heart broken and never got over it, which is why it's just work and baseball.
“So what else do you have for me?” he asks.
I know what he means, but I play dumb. “Not much,” I say, trying to think of another topic before he can get started.
“Come on, I want to hear about Gingerbread's greatest romance. How's Annabelle? How's our girl?”
“Well, she's still a Yankees fan,” I say, and Jed rolls his eyes. If we can leave it here, it'll be okay.
“It's a curse to be born in New York,” he says. “You think
is a baseball team when really you're rooting for the Evil Empire.”
“Tell me about it.”
“You'd think knowing us, she'd see the light,” he continued.
“I keep trying.” A gust of wind sweeps into the cafÃ©, bringing with it the briny smell of the sea.
“Did she help you get your fantasy team together this year?” he asks.
“No,” I say shortly. This is where I don't want to go.
But Jed is oblivious; why wouldn't he be? “I don't know how she does it. I've never seen anyone who has a sense of baseball like she does.”
I take a long swallow of coffee, hoping he'll change the subject.
But he keeps going. “It's like she has this uncanny ability to see how the team will doâ¦she's like some kind of psychic manager.” Now Jed is shaking his head in awe of Annabelle's skills.
I used to feel that way too, and beg her for tips. I wonder what Jed would say if he knew the truth about how Annabelle gets her inside scoop.
He looks at me with a lopsided smile. “Maybe she
I stand up. “I should get going. My folks are going to think I plowed into a truck on I-95 if I don't get over to the house soon.”
Just then my cell phone beeps.
“That's probably them now,” Jed says.
I nod, even though I know it's not. I have my phone set differently for Annabelle, and this is a text from her. But I'm not telling Jed because who knows what weird stuff she'll have to say.
Jed and I bump fists across the counter while I stare at my phone, and then I head out into the rain. I walk down a few stores and then duck under the awning of Freddy's Fabulous Funnel Cakes and flip open the receiver.
Back home in Gingerbreadâhooray! Checked the stars last nite and they are aligned for a great summer. See U soonâA.
I close my phone so hard that it makes a loud snapping sound. The rain drips through my hair and down the back of my neck into my T-shirt. My sneakers get soaked as I walk. I'm not looking where I'm going and stepping in puddles where the planks of the boardwalk gap, but I could care less.
When I get into the car, I turn the key and punch at the radio, then my iPod.
Now I'm surrounded by the pulsing beat of Iggy Pop. Now I can breathe.
She “checked the stars.” This is what I don't get. The Annabelle I've known all these years is practical, smart, down to earth. Yes, she can get carried awayâ¦but with stuff that's rational, like baseball. Stuff that's in the real world. Not wacky out-there stuff.
Sure, some people are into this sort of thing. There's a group of girls at my school who call themselves a witches' coven and say they practice magic. And Mount Snow has more than one storefront with a psychic. (Four, actually: more psychics than hardware stores in a 100-square-mile area.)
I guess everyone has a pet peeve in life, the one thing that just drives you crazy. For my dad, it's people who don't wax their skis. For my mom, it's anyone who drives over 65 miles per hour. For most Red Sox fans, it's Yankees fans. But freaky New Age typesâ¦That's what I don't get. I thought Annabelle didn't get them either.
If the rest of us have to deal with the laws of the universe, the things that suck in the world, and the limits of actual science, well, then why can't they? I mean, these “Wiccan” girls at my school act like they can achieve world peace by boiling eggplant and sage. Come on. If you see a problem, deal with it. Don't act like some stew you call a spell is going to fix anything.