Authors: Sydney Salter
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Boston New York 2010
For the one who always
makes me swoon—Mike
Copyright © 2010 by Sydney Salter
All rights reserved. For information about permission to
reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions,
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company,
215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
Graphia and the Graphia logo are registered trademarks of
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
Text set in Garamond
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file.
Manufactured in the United States of America
DOM 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
noticing his green eyes. Or the way the sun has already streaked his hair blond. I am
Sawyer taps his pen against the clipboard (annoying, right?) while he reads "the lowdown" of daily Wild Waves assignments. I tug the front of my swimsuit up for the millionth time, only half listening. I despise this stupid uniform: red bandana-patterned, one-piece bathing suit (cut too low!), supershort cutoffs, and a star-shaped nametag that reads D
I could have gotten a summer job at the mall like a normal person—with benefits such as air conditioning, employee discounts, and the perk of wearing, you know, clothing. Instead, I'm stuck standing in various Old West—themed pools of lukewarm pee, trying to prevent kids from drowning while their mothers lounge around in the shade reading trashy magazines
and gossiping. This job doesn't have any benefits. My pale skin doesn't tan; it freckles. My dark hair doesn't lighten in the sun; it dries out. And I'm stuck working with Sawyer Holms.
"Pollywog." Sawyer points his pen in my direction. "You and I will tackle the Lazy River."
Doesn't our breakup deny him the right to call me annoying nicknames? A couple of guys snicker, repeating "Pollywog." It's going to stick—like after the
time I drank too much at a party (post-breakup) and everyone squawked Polly-Wants-A-Beer at me for two weeks. I want to smack the guys upside the head, but I simply smile at Sawyer and say, "Sounds great."
Sonnet Silverman says, "Polly-Wants-A-Better-Nickname," referencing the whole beer incident that she reported in-depth on her gossipy blog. She grins at me like she's expecting me to provide her with an entire summer's worth of bloggable moments. Didn't I provide her with enough material last year? She gave all of my breakups a nice dramatic, fictional twist. I did
dye my hair to match Jack's favorite gaming avatar. It was a sociologic experiment to see if blondes have more fun. (I didn't.) Sonnet's attention did get me invited to better parties, though.
I roll my eyes, making Sonnet laugh, before turning around
to survey Wild Waves while it's relatively empty. The park caters to the under-twelve crowd, so craziness ensues about an hour after the little darlings digest their Cheerios. The Happy Trails tube slide and the Switchback inner tube ride snake around the edges of the park. Kitschy attractions overflow in the middle. Imagine just about any Old West cliché and Wild Waves has turned it into a feature of some sort. Apparently I'm the only one who sees the irony in kids ordering their lemonade from the Saloon. The worst is the Splash Pasture, with its rubberized farm animal statues that spout water in time to cheesy Western songs. And then there's the Lazy River: a slow-moving cesspool where kids use their inner tubes like weapons, pretend to drown, and laugh when you rush over to rescue them. It's a real joy.
Moms dragging wheeled coolers, loaded down with tote bags, and carrying foldup chairs stake out territory on the wide lawn known as the O.K. Corral. It's only the third day of summer vacation, but these women are determined to get their money's worth out of their season passes while I earn minimum wage keeping their brats alive. High-pitched shrieks already echo from the Happy Trails tube slide as I take a shortcut past the covered-wagon picnic tables in the General Store concession area.
"Wait up, pardner." Sawyer lopes up next to me like a golden retriever. I am
noticing the way his skin smells like a piña colada. I'm concentrating on the way his flip-flops smack against the pavement. Were his toes always so hairy and troll-like? We dated during winter quarter, during the Wild Waves hiring period, unfortunately, and I never saw his feet. Maybe if I had, I wouldn't have applied for this asinine job. No, back then his feet would've looked as cute as puppy paws to me. But they don't now. Not at all. I can't help it if my optic nerves transmit signals to my amygdala about the color of his eyes, the smell of his skin, and the way his hair looks just the right kind of messy. It's a simple biological response—a rush of adrenaline, a release of oxytocin—but I'm stronger than that. Plus, I remember the mean stuff he said when he broke up with me.
"I thought I'd pilot the lifeguard chair while you patrol the high seas," he says.
"Sure, I'll patrol the Yellow Sea."
Sawyer looks confused.
"Kids pee in the water, so it's like the Yellow Sea. Near China?"
"Oh yeah, sure." Sawyer brushes his hair back with one hand. "I'll take the first break." His legs are lean in that runs-a-six-minute-mile kind of way (
that I'm noticing). "That okay with you, Deputy Pollywog?"
I play with the fringe on my cutoffs, subtly tugging them down. "Sure." I fake a smile, wishing I could devise an annoying nickname for him. All I can think of is Tom Sawyer, but that's a pathetic reminder of how we hooked up after working together on our "Great Authors" project in English.
"You're a real team player, Deputy."
"Yes, sir." I salute. He mixed his metaphors in English class, too. But I still let him write most of the paper; he was so proud of his big ideas and everything. He took me out for ice cream when we got a C plus. Something about watching his full lips nibble on that chocolate cone made my hormones go wild. That and the fact that he wasn't NASCAR-obsessed like my ex-ex-ex-ex-ex, Kurt. Or played too many video games like my ex-ex-ex-ex, Jack. So, I was tricked by biology, yet again.
Sawyer climbs to the lifeguard chair, looking like a king sitting on a throne: a tan, buff, half-naked king.
that I'm noticing. I hesitate at the stairway to the Lazy River. In three hours the water will be a toasty two-thirds urine, one-third sun-warmed water solution, but at ten o'clock in the morning during the first week of June, it's pretty chilly.
Crossing my arms across my chest, I step into the water,
shivering in a way that makes Sawyer laugh. "You'll be loving the coolness when it gets warm, pardner."
Does he not see the irony in calling me pardner when we're not exactly
but we used to be? Apparently not. Irony is not exactly his strongest subject, either, even though Sawyer likes to think of himself as a thinking guy. That's why we broke up. He said I wasn't deep enough for him.
"Now, that's ironic," I mutter, wading into the chest-deep water.
Sawyer loves philosophicalizing—that's what he calls it. It's not exactly a real word. The real word is philosophizing. While we dated, his green eyes compensated for his language deficit.
At first I liked the way he talked about everything in grand sweeping terms, always full of advice and opinions; he'd reminded me of my grandma who writes the syndicated Miss Swoon advice column. But then Sawyer wanted to talk about
I tried to get away with funny one-liners and stuff, but he kept pressuring me to "really talk." I don't even know what that means—if the mouth is moving and sound is coming out, that's called talking. He'd gaze into my eyes, looking all sincere and needy like a puppy, and it would just freak me out. I'm sure there's a simple biological explanation. Well, maybe it's more psychological, but whatever.
And then we had to read
A River Runs Through It
for English. I couldn't concentrate on the whole fly-fishing metaphor as we snuggled on the giant beanbag in Sawyer's room. "Hey, we should just watch the movie version." I kissed Sawyer's neck. "You know, in the dark."
"But isn't this book like blowing your mind with profound-liness?"
That's not a real word.
"Enough said," I'd joked.
Sawyer had ruffled his hand through my short curly hair. "You're going to totally get into thinking all the thoughts and stuff. I promise it gets intriguing."
I truly doubted that. How could I get into fishing with our legs hooked together, ticklish feelings rippling through me? I tossed his book on the floor and sat across his lap, kissing him.
"Hey, come on." Sawyer broke away. "We've got to read this by tomorrow."
"M-O-V-I-E." I nibbled his earlobe. "I hear it totally follows the novella."
He reached for his book, tipping me off his lap. "I've got to keep my grades up—for swim team. Plus, this nature stuff inspires me."
"I'll inspire you." I tugged his arm. "You play what's-his-name and I'll be his sexy Native American girlfriend."
"Not now, Pollyanna." He pulled away from me. "What page are you on?"
"I don't know—some sappy part about the dad."
"Isn't that so relationable?" Sawyer asked, reading over my shoulder. "I'm like mind-filled with the way the dad's like—"
"Like totally boring? Fishing. Fishing. Rivers. Ponderous pondering. Fishing. This book needs more sex scenes."
Sawyer stared at me blankly.
My face flushed. "What?"
"You know what I think? I think all that thinking stuff scares you."
"Um, no. Biohazards, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and deadly viruses scare me. Not salmon."
"This story doesn't make you think just one little bit about how families..." He clenched his fists as if squeezing the words out of his brain. "Suffer with suffering?"
"Oh, it makes me think of suffering." I put my hands around my throat, mock choking myself. Did he honestly think I was going to launch into an AP English class—worthy exposition comparing and contrasting (that's redundant by
the way) my dad with Mr.
River Runs Through It?
I barely like
about my dad. I'm definitely not going to talk about him.
Sawyer pushed himself out of the beanbag. "Why won't you open up with me? You're hard like a golf ball." He made a ball shape with his hand, again squeezing his fist tight. "But I know you've got, like, layers."
"Maybe I'm like a tennis ball." I jumped up, faking a grin. "No layers but I bounce real good." I flung my arms around his neck.
Sawyer shook me off. "I don't know, Polly. You seem like a smart enough girl, but I don't think you're deep enough for me." He grabbed his car keys off his dresser. "Maybe I better take you home."
I laughed. "Just watch me go deep when we work at Wild Waves this summer. I'm all over that deep end." I made a swimming motion with my arms. "Fun in the sun, right?"
But Sawyer hadn't laughed. He drove me home, walked me to the door, and said that maybe we'd be better off as friends. He needed someone who valued intellectualing and found inspiration in the wilderness, et cetera, et cetera. So I joined the Nature Club, ended up hiking during spring break, and had a fling of sorts with Gareth Miller. But I don't want to think about that now.
Not while I'm pardnering up with my good old buddy Sawyer in the Lazy River. I squint into the sunshine, shouting at kids to stay on their inner tubes. None of them listen to me. I'm not good at sounding mean. I shuffle my feet against the rough concrete bottom. My water-logged toes look as wrinkled as that thousands-of-years-old ice man they found in the Alps, making my pink nail polish look so wrong.
A group of girls from my mom's just-graduated fifth-grade class float past me. "Hey, Mrs. Martin's daughter!"
I wave. "Hi, guys!"
I feel good for a minute, but then the little divas start a water fight with a group of boys. I scream and blow my whistle, but they listen to me about as well as they listened to my mom in the classroom. A hugely pregnant woman holding a toddler on her lap floats into the fray. The little hellions don't notice her. Water swishes back and forth, sloshing up the sides like a physics lab experiment. The pregnant woman is stuck in her tube. A wave of water smacks the toddler in the face and he starts crying. Then the mom's tube tips to the side like a boat listing in a storm of bratty fifth-graders. The kids laugh, oblivious. Sawyer blows his whistle. But they don't care. Little monsters! Kids spill out of their tubes, crashing into the water, squealing. I run toward the fray, but it's like one of those
slow-motion dreams. This is why I should be standing
"Stop it!" My voice grows hoarse.
Boys dunk girls. Girls dunk boys. Water rolls back and forth. And the toddler goes overboard.