Friday, July 31, 2009
It took me over three months.
It wasn't boring. The plot was intricate and interesting, if not a little melodramatic in places. (Why are all the female characters biting their lips until they bleed? Has anyone in the world actually been that distressed? I actually tried biting my lip and realized it would take quite a lot of force to actually puncture the skin. Maybe people back in King Louis XIII's France had much sharper teeth than we do now?)
My biggest problem was that since I do most of my reading in bed at night, I kept falling asleep with the Musketeers. I'd be reading along and not even realize I'd dozed off until I woke up and still had the book open in front of me. And when you're reading a 627-page book with teeny print, you have to read more than a few pages a night to EVER finish.
Next, I read Twilight.
It took me less than three days.
Not because it was so suspenseful and wonderful I couldn't put it down. No, not quite. More like, "I really have to finish this book because I don't want to write anything while I'm reading it."
Have you ever noticed how much your writing is effected by the books you're reading? My own writing tanks when I'm reading a poorly-written book.
And, not to be mean to Stephenie Meyer who wrote it, but Twilight is ... uh ... not a book I'll be holding up as a paradigm of good literature. I can maybe see the allure to certain readers: infatuation with a bad boy, the forbidden fruit. There was a lot of emotion packed into the book, a lot of sexual tension, but for me it was just Ew.
So, after staying up late speed-reading Twilight, I glanced at the first chapter of the sequel, New Moon, which the publishers helpfully printed at the back of the book. "Thank goodness the sequel's not on my books-to-read list," was my only thought as I slammed it shut.
Then, I opened a YA book I picked up from the library yesterday: A Curse Dark as Gold.
Reading through the first few pages gave me a rush of satisfaction.
This is great writing.
This is the kind of thing I want to emulate: rich detail, deep characters. Plus, it's based on the Fairy Tale Rumpelstiltskin; I have a soft-spot for fairy tales.
It's the difference between being satisfied with Nestle-brand ice cream or paying a little more for the Dreyers.
Elizabeth C. Bunce is at the Dreyer's level, my friends. She's a scoop each of mint chocolate chip, cookie dough, and double fudge brownie. Fabulous.
I lay in bed, pea green, grinding my teeth and muttering, "Wish I could write like this."
Thursday, July 30, 2009
How do you make a character likable, but still human? How do you include flaws without turning off the average reader?
I've been wrestling with this question because when it comes to my Up Lantau Running book, I've heard several times that people "don't like" or "can't relate to" my main character, Lila.
Here's a quote from an agent who recently read my query letter: "Lila ditching Rainbow killed my sympathy for Lila. She uses meanness to get a boy's attention?"
While I sincerely appreciate this agent's feedback (agent feedback is always golden!), the comment above did make me wonder.
Well, yeah. You're not supposed to get a big gush of love for Lila when she acts that way. But she's human. She makes mistakes, like we all do. This particular instance happens half-way through the book. Once readers get to this part, they already know Lila. They know she's making a mistake. But they also know why she's making it. (Hopefully.)
So what's the balance? Are some flaws okay, but some not? Is it all subjective or are there some big no-no's of which we should be aware?
What do you think?
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
I sat back in my seat after I typed that last word, staring at the computer screen, and let myself indulge in a moment of satisfaction at my accomplishment.
Then I shot off an email to my writing group: "I think my WIP is ready for you all to look at."
Well, that was premature.
I woke up this morning still thinking about my WIP, and I was suddenly seized with doubts. I remembered two or three threads that I hadn't wrapped up. And I also realized I still wasn't quite sure that all of my scenes were realistic. This story has a lot of medical emergency situations involved. Thankfully I have a resident doctor (my father-in-law) who doesn't mind answering my weird questions ... "So, if my anorexic main character has been running away from a crazed gunman all day, how would the paramedics treat her if she...." You get the idea.
Anyway, I realized that I might not be ready for my writing group to look at this thing yet.
That's the problem with writing: you always think you're done when you're far from being done.
I'm going to let my WIP rest for a few days. I'll verify the medical details I need to verify with my doctor-in-residence. And then sometime next week I'll read through it again, and keep hacking away.
What can I say? It's just a long process. *Maybe* in a few months it will be ready for my writing group. We'll see.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
But it's not as gross a habit as it may seem. Really, she just has a fascination with tags.
Those things that stick out on the inside of your clothes, telling you the brand name and sometimes giving you washing instructions.
Anna likes to hold on to tags. Thumb in her mouth, other hand holding onto whatever tag is available: the one on her shirt, the one on her pants, the one on her underpants. Heck, even the tag on my shirt or Sophie's shirt will do. She's not too picky, as long as she's got a good grip on it.
Sometimes we're in the car and Anna will throw a screaming fit, all because, "I! Can't! Reach! My! Tag!" Her words are garbled because she doesn't take her thumb out of her mouth as she's screaming.
The other day I picked out a cute shirt for her to wear that she hadn't worn in a long time. "I don't want to wear that one," she said. "It doesn't have a tag."
Sure enough. The clothing designer, assuming tags bother most children, had printed the information on the inside of the shirt.
So, I picked out a new shirt. "Look, this one has a nice tag on it."
Anna smiled and was happy. I've learned that if I want her to wear a tagless shirt, I have to pick shorts with a very big tag so that she has something to hold on to.
Now it's your turn. I'd love you to tell me about a weird habit you know about. It can be your child's, your own, your mother's aunt's grandson's friend's.... Just help me out by letting me know my little Anna isn't the only one in the world with a weird habit.
Monday, July 27, 2009
"Mom, are rainbows real?" Gabe asked.
"Yes, of course they're real," I said.
Gabe frowned. "Then why haven't I ever seen one?"
Last week, while playing in the sprinkler, Gabe saw his first rainbow. I watched his face break into a smile.
"Mom!" he yelled. "They are real!"
One day, back in China, Gabe and I were walking outside. Gabe ran to a nearby grassy enclosure and picked me a dandelion.
As he handed it to me, he said, "Mom, Carter thinks these are called dandelions."
I laughed. "They are called dandelions, Gabe."
"No, they're not," he said. "They're sunflowers."
"No, honey," I said. "Sunflowers are really huge and tall ... You'll see them this summer when we go to grandma and grandpa's in America. These little weeds are called dandelions."
Last night, sitting at the picnic table after dinner, Gabe saw his first sunflower peeking over the fence from the neighbor's yard. His eyes lit up.
So, that's a real sunflower.
When we were in China, Gabe liked to tell us one particular joke.
"What's a baby's favorite constellation?" he'd ask.
"The big diaper," he'd say. "Get it? The big diaper, instead of the big dipper, the big diaper!"
While we were camping, Gabe got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. As we were walking across the camp to get to the restrooms, I pointed up at the sky, crowded with stars.
"And that's the big dipper," I said.
Gabe tipped back his head. "That's the big dipper?"
"Yep, that's it."
"I've never seen the big dipper before. I just saw it in movies. I've never seen it in real life."
After we came back from the bathroom, I didn't feel hurried to get him back in bed. We sat in a chair with our chins tilted up, watching the sky.
And Gabe saw his first shooting star.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
That's only because of all the technical difficulties that made working on my WIP impossible. Truly impossible.
But last week my mother-in-law solved the last of the dilemmas by purchasing Windows 2007. Aaron downloaded it on this computer, and, voila, I could access my files again.
**enter mass choir singing Hallelujah chorus**
I'm about half-way through my first edit of my Valentine's Day novel. That's the novel I finished the first draft of right before we left China. I'm thinking of titling it Any Day But.
What do you think of that title? Does it make you think of butts? Do you like it? Do you hate it? Do you think it's stupid, weird, interesting? I'd love your feedback.
As much as I'm enjoying editing my WIP, I'm going to have to take a break for the rest of the week. We're going camping! Yes, the whole family, Aaron, me, the kids, grandma and grandpa, Aunt Christina, Uncle Benji, and all the cousins. We're going to head out to Clarkston in Southeastern Washington. Near Hell's Canyon. (It's hot there. That's why it's named after Hell.)
And I don't think they have Wi-Fi at the camp ground. (So, don't expect any blog posts from me.) Or electricity. But maybe I'll charge up the laptop and see how long the battery lasts.
Ah, confessions of a writing fanatic!
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Aaron was nearby in the kitchen.
"Here it is," I said. "Here's that rejection I've been waiting for."
I talk like this. It's ridiculous, really. Maybe it's part of that query funk I get into that has nothing to do with the rest of my personality.
My finger lingered on the mouse without clicking the email open.
"You know what would just be awesome," I said. "You know what would make me just so happy?"
"What?" Aaron asked.
"If this weren't just a form rejection. If it were a little bit personalized. That would be a step in the right direction." I laughed, and then I clicked open the email and read:
Dear Ms. Sonnichsen,
Many thanks for your email regarding your novel UP LANTAU RUNNING, which sounds intriguing. I’d be delighted to read more. Please send me the first five chapters and a complete synopsis as Word document attachments by email. I’ll do my best to respond to your partial within two months.
I look forward to receiving your material.Now, I'm not saying this is a breakthrough. But it's a first.
Partial requests from agents are like first dates when your goal is to get married. It's not reason enough to start trying on wedding dresses or buying honeymoon plane tickets. But when you've never had a date before, a first date is something special. Something to blog about.
For me, it's a step in the right direction.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
I didn't tell you the story behind the job.
Every summer we came back to Aaron's hometown, we inevitably ran into prominent people in the community, like the superintendent and the high school principal, for instance. And every time we ran into these prominent people they made comments like, "Anytime you need a job, Aaron, just let us know!"
So, Aaron believed they meant exactly that. When he needed one, he'd have a job in Prosser.
That was before the country slipped into a recession.
That was before last summer.
When Aaron went to see the superintendant last summer, knowing there was a good chance we'd be moving back after one more year in China, there was no job on a silver platter after all. The word on the street was, "We've got a math position and a fifth grade position open, and no inidication that we'll have anything else to offer next school year."
Aaron is a science teacher. Nope, no science positions available. Sorry, buddy. Try your luck elsewhere.
So, we tossed around the idea of him going back to school. We thought about getting him emergency certification in math. None of these were ideal options, but we figured we didn't have a choice. There were no science jobs in Prosser.
Meanwhile, Aaron's brother moved to town with his family. He left a football head coaching position on the west side and came to Prosser with the intention of taking over the head football position in Prosser when the current head coach stepped down.
The Prosser head coach's sons were going on to college to play football and he wanted to have his Saturdays free to watch them play. He told Aaron's brother that he wanted him to have the head coaching job when he resigned. So, Aaron's brother packed up and came. He planned to spend a year as an assistant coach and step into the head coaching position the following year (this year).
Then the unthinkable happened. The head coaching position opened. Aaron's brother had to apply for the job ... along with everyone else.
His jaw dropped, but he dealt with feelings of betrayal. He put all his effort into the interview and landed the job all on his own.
The other finalist for the head coaching job happened to be a high school science teacher. When he didn't get the head coaching job, he decided to leave. He packed up and moved to another town.
And left ... a science job open behind him. For this year. Ninth grade physical science and tenth grade biology.
We arrived back in the States just in time to complete the application and go to the interview. And now Aaron's a science teacher here in Prosser.
Friday, July 17, 2009
She was in the bathroom with me when I was about to shave my legs.
"Mom," she said. "Did you know you can get the Shaving Wonder* and you don't need to use a razor? You just put this thing on your legs and rub it and the hair comes off. And you don't need to use a razor because sometimes when you use a razor you are doing it when all of a sudden -- 'Ow!' -- you cut yourself."
"Wow, Livi," I said, "that sounds interesting. I wonder if it really works."
"Yeah, I wonder too."
"Because a lot of that stuff you get on TV, you get it and then it turns out to be garbage."
"Yeah," she said. "You could get it in the mail and then you try it and it doesn't work and you're like, 'This doesn't work. Why did I spend my money on this?'"
"You'd better not get it, Mom."
"Yeah," I said. "I've never really had a problem with just using a razor."
"Don't get it Mom. It's probably garbage."
"Okay, Livi. I won't."
I love being a mom. I just hope she keeps listening to me like this when she's a teenager. Otherwise, our house is in danger of being filled up with every $19.95 promotional product on TV.
*product name has been changed to protect the innocent
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Aaron took his grandma to her hair appointment today in downtown Prosser. I decided to drive the kids down there while she was getting her hair cut because I thought Grandma Helen might want to show off her great grandkids to her stylist. (Small town. You know.)
I parked our mini-van in front of the hair salon.
We spent some time "showing off." Everyone commented on Sophie's curls and the size of her thighs. The bigger kids took turns sitting under the old fashioned hair dryers.
When they got a little too rambunctious, I decided, hey, the grocery store is just a block away. Let's walk over there and get something to drink. A bottle of cold cherry Dr. Pepper sounded just about right.
So, the four kids and I walked to the supermarket, went inside, and headed for the refrigerated drink section.
The first thing I saw was the sale on the 24-pack of Dr. Pepper.
Wow, what a deal.
Problem is, I didn't even have a cart.
So, I hauled the kids back to the front of the store, cleaned off a cart with a disinfectant wipe (love that about American grocery stores!) and went back for that precious 24 pack. That's almost a month's worth of Dr. Pepper, people!
We wandered through the rest of the store and picked up on-sale deli meat, Mother's frosted animal cookies, sugar cookies with raspberry icing, and bread. Oh, and a can of chicken soup the kids wanted for lunch with Dora the Explorer-shaped pasta in it.
Paid for our purchases and headed for the entrance.
I walked over here, I reminded myself, as I stood at the sliding door.
My car is back at the hair salon. And I don't have a bike either.
I considered taking the cart with me all the way to the hair salon, but then decided against it. Way too dorky.
I'm tough, I thought. And yes, my eyes are bigger than my muscles, but I can carry a baby and a 24-pack of Dr. Pepper back to the hair salon. Right? As long as the bigger kids help me carry the other groceries.
I'm sure we looked like poorest-of-the-poor. Me, cutting through the parking lot of the do-it-yourself car wash, with a baby on one hip and a whole lot of cheap Dr. Pepper on the other. And my three other children straggling along behind me, lugging plastic shopping bags over their shoulders, and crying out, "It's too heavy! I can't take another step!"
We made it. We're no worse off for the experience. I didn't drop Sophie or anything.
But it's making me rethink my tendency to want to walk places. I can feel myself becoming more American. I've gone one baby step closer to becoming one of those people who drives his or her car out to the mailbox to get the mail.
We've only been back for four weeks. I'm getting lazy much too quickly.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Not because LIFE is bad. Life is great! Aaron has a job, we're house hunting, it's raspberry and cherry season, the pool water is warm.
It's just my writing life that's not so great. It's just not moving anywhere. And I can feel discouragement creeping in.
An honest post by Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary didn't help. She wrote about how she has queries pouring into her inbox 24-hours a day. Thousands upon thousands of queries. And I wonder, how can I compete with all that? Why is everybody and their mother suddenly deciding to become a writer?
But this morning in my Google reader I happened upon a post by Rachelle Gardner, another literary agent. Her post reminded me that I have a lot of books in me, and that if I persevere there's hope.
Anyone can sit down and write one novel. It's the people that sit down and churn out a dozen, two dozen novels, who work on honing their craft and getting better and better that will be the authors of tomorrow.
I don't want to be a one-hit wonder, do I? I don't want to be Mr. Big.
I want to be Elvis (without the hip gyrations).
If my goal is just to get one novel published, yeah, I might as well give up. But I have years and years of writing left (Lord willing) and hundreds of books to write. And who knows which of those books will finally resonate with an agent and a publishing company ... not to mention readers?
If I give up, none of them will. There will only be a silent void. And words dancing forever in my head.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
But I'm still culture-shocking over the fact that here in America brown is beautiful.
In China, all the beauty commercials advertise how white their products will make your skin. I remember seeing one commercial where the model was so sickly pale she looked dead. Absolutely colorless. White as a bleached sheet.
There, whale-belly white is beautiful.
Here, on the other hand, they're advertising spray-on tans. Just call the 800 number on your TV screen and you too can have this gorgeous dark tan, the equivalent of forty hours in the sun ... and everybody knows how a nice tan makes you look slimmer too.
Excuse me while I choke on my bean burrito.
The mechanism used to apply this tan looks akin to those used for spraying fertilizer on plants. The Caucasian models look so happy standing around in bikinis, spraying themselves and their partners with fake tan.
Funny, those Chinese models looked just as happy lubricating themselves with whitening lotion.
Aren't we people a funny, discontented bunch?
But historically, we waiguorens (foreigners) have liked pale skin too. Isn't that where the term "blue blood" came from: having skin so transparent and white that you could see the blue veins through it? A sign of royalty!
Brown only became beautiful in the west when going on vacation to or even living in tropical locations became something only the rich could afford to do. The poor had moved mostly out of the fields and into office buildings. In office buildings and factories you grow sickly pale. If you're rich, you're on a Caribbean beach somewhere, soaking in sun.
In China, the poor are still out in the fields. Being brown still means menial outdoor labor more than sunny beach living. There are more offices now, more factories, but brown still is definitely not beautiful. If you're brown you're a country bumpkin.
So, here we are in our one-hundred degree weather, blue sky and burning sun, finding relief in the backyard pool. And becoming more small-town bumpkin every day, apparently.
Friday, July 10, 2009
I know now why it's called Dog Mountain: after we climbed it we were dog tired.
I wasn't as tired as Aaron, but that's only because I didn't carry our 25-pound baby on my back all the way up, or our lunch for that matter. The seven and a half miles took us six hours, which shows how slowly we were going. Especially up.
It was steep, it was strenuous, but the view from the top was worth it. The river cut its way through the valley, between the mountains, carpeted in fir and pine. To the west the forest only grew more dense. To the east, the mountains began to look like mangy dogs, changing to blond mounds in the distance. Mt. Hood's tip peeked at us from the south; Mt St. Helens, snow covered, crouched to the north.
And we stood at the summit of Dog Mountain, the wind slapping our exposed faces and whipping the wild flowers. It felt like the peak of the world.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
I've been kidnapped and am being held hostage at the unbelievably gorgeous Skamania Lodge in southern Washington State. My room looks out over the Columbia River Gorge.
My abductor says the reason he took me away is because our anniversary is on Friday. He says I've been married to him for ten years. Ten years! Can you believe the nerve of this guy?
When we arrived this afternoon, he took me on a two-mile hike on the trails around the lodge. We saw a woodpecker, for goodness sake. The meadows were covered in fern and wildflower. I actually cried on the trail, it was so beautiful.
But that was not all. No, that was not all.
Tonight he forced me to eat the most succulent steak I've ever tasted. It practically melted in my mouth. For appetizers he made me eat crab cakes and spinach salad. For dessert, brownies with ice cream and strawberries. Terrible man!
Then we sat in front of the lodge in lawn chairs and, while drinking hot cider, watched the clouds turn pink.
Tomorrow he says we have to do more hiking and have a picnic lunch.
And this place he brought me to has an outdoor hot tub and an indoor heated pool and a work out room with elliptical trainers. Worst of all, he says he's going to pay for me to have a massage tomorrow evening. A massage!
I keep asking him, what's the ransom? When do I get to go home? I've gotta get back to cooking and dishes and small people who hit each other and yell, "Why aren't you getting me my breakfast?" But for some reason, he doesn't seem to be taking me seriously.
Maybe it's because I can't stop smiling.
Monday, July 6, 2009
For those of you who already know him, you will not be surprised to hear that I think he's amazing. And you will also not be surprised to hear that he's no longer unemployed. He is now officially a science teacher at Prosser High School, which means he's a Mustang again.
Those were the Prosser principal's exact words when he called Aaron on the phone this morning to tell him he'd been hired: "Would you like to be a Mustang?"
Yes, the Golden Boy has returned.
It's weird being married to a Golden Boy and living with that Golden Boy in the hometown where he achieved his Golden Boy acclaim. The other day I took the kids to gymnastics. There was an elderly lady there who had brought her grandson in to take the class too. Afterwards she asked me if I was Aaron Sonnichsen's wife.
She introduced herself. "I was Aaron's second grade teacher ... I always thought of him as the Golden Boy. So athletic, so handsome, so smart...."
Yes, it's true. I'm just using this blog to show off how wonderful my husband is.
But really, my husband is pretty wonderful. And he was wonderful growing up in Prosser too, which is why I'm always introduced as Aaron's wife, and people are genuinely excited to meet me simply because I'm connected to this amazing person. Yes, my husband the Golden Boy, who led the Prosser Mustangs to the 1993 football state championship. And even scored a touchdown in that game as a quarterback. I watched it the other night on VHS tape. Incredible stuff. No wonder he's a legend. I don't even blame him for licking the trophy!
And I get to ride on the coattails of the legend. Which is why all of this moving-back-to-Prosser has it's own style of crazy ... and a huge dose of how-am-I-going-to-fit-in-as-Golden-Boy's-wife.
I guess we didn't give up celebrity status when we left China after all. The Golden Boy has come home.
Because you can't see how much I'm giggling as I write this, just know that my husband is a very humble person. He's going to absolutely die when he reads this.
I was entering the farmer's market with my double stroller, passing the barriers that closed the street to cars, when I noticed him.
A small Asian man, probably in his fifties, with a comb over. Thin, upright, wearing the black dress shoes that every middle class Chinese man in China wears.
But it was the expression on his face that froze me. He looked around, without looking at anyone. The tents, the carrots and green beans overflowing from bins, the hot dog stand, the quilt you could win if you entered the $1 raffle. All the colors, so vibrant in the summer sun. And the sound of down-home violin and banjo music floating from the direction of the pancake kiosk. The red, white, and blue of the flag, dipping and flapping in a light breeze.
He looked around with eyes wide and half a smile.
And I thought: "Dude, I know exactly how you feel."
But he'd never know it, because I'm just another white face pushing a stroller.
I passed him again later. Still, he had that wide-eyed wonderment. I stared and stared, hoping he'd return eye contact.
He didn't. He passed on into the crowd, and I had to blink twenty times to stop tears from running down my face. Why did I feel like crying?
And then I knew. For maybe the millionth time, I wished I had an Asian face, so that maybe he would give me a second glance. Maybe he'd see, just by one look at my outward appearance, a few of the things that make up the inside of me.
Maybe he'd guess little details too: that dim sum is my favorite meal; that I know there's no such thing in China as a fortune cookie and General Tso's chicken; that I probably speak his language; that I know all this is completely overwhelming. Just this, being here, in this country on the fourth of July, with all these white and brown non-Chinese faces, and all this grass and blue sky overhead.
I've been there. I am there. "Sir, whoever you are. I can relate to you."
But he passed by into the crowd. And left me gaping.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Friday, July 3, 2009
I'm excited to use this method for my WIP; it sounds like such a great idea. A lot of work. But, oh yeah, this writing stuff is supposed to be work, right?
I hope all you Americans out there have a fabulous Fourth of July weekend! Don't get sunburned. It's a hundred degrees here in Washington wine country. Beautiful, dry, scorch-your-skin heat. Phew!
Thursday, July 2, 2009
My entry is posted below.
Be prepared: the story I wrote is different. If you don't like it, I'll blame the fact that I was up late last night writing it, and in the interest of sanity I probably should have gone to bed. But hopefully you'll like it -- or at least find it interesting. Let me know either way. I love feedback!
My mouth went dry. "Speedos?"
"I called you as soon as I saw," she said.
"I'm on my way," I said, and hung up. Then I sat for a moment staring at the wall, trying to decide which swimsuit to wear.
No American man should ever be allowed to wear a Speedo. But when it came to the Boosalis' Italian visitors, let's just say I didn't mind so much.
I wavered as I packed my swim bag. I mean, wouldn't this just be slightly obvious, showing up at the Boosalis' house on a Friday afternoon in my swimsuit? But I pattered down the stairs in my pink bikini with the brown terrycloth cover up none-the-less, dipping my head slightly when I saw Mom on the living room floor attempting sit ups.
"Taylor ... where are ... you going?" she grunted between crunches.
"Boosalises," I said.
Mom sat up and flipped a tendril of hair out of her face. "You and Chara made up, huh?"
Chara was Mrs. Boosalis' fifteen-year-old daughter. My best friend since kindergarten. But more recently, ex-friend.
"Yeah," I lied. "She invited me swimming."
"Are their exchange students still with them for the summer? Those two brothers?"
I tossed my head, avoiding eye contact. "How should I know?" I gripped the door handle.
"What d'you mean 'how should you know'?" Mom said. "I think you'd know if they went back to Italy. You've seemed interested enough in them this whole time."
"Mom! I meant," I said, opening the door, "that I don't know if they'll be there or not. Maybe it'll just be the Boosalises. Maybe they had something else to do." I hated lying to my mom. But ultimately, I just felt stupid. Who'd want to admit to heading out to ogle well-built Italian boys in Speedos? And that Mrs. Boosalis, of all people, was my informant. "I'm going to be late," I added, and went out.
"Sweetie," Mom's voice followed me before I could shut the door.
"Yeah?" I looked back at her.
"Just be careful," she said. "You know how I feel about ... Mrs. Boosalis."
"Mom," I said as I tossed my hair over my shoulder. "I've been going to the Boosalis' house, like, all my life."
"Yeah, but since Chara's dad left ... things just haven't felt ... you know what I mean."
"I'll be fine," I said, and shut the door.
I crossed the street to their house, pausing as I stood out front. I hadn't been inside for two weeks. Not since Chara and I got into that fight. We hadn't spoken to each other since. I took a deep breath and started down the brick walk, lined with white, red, and blue flowers. Just for the fourth of July, of course. That was like Mrs. Boosalis. Chara would flip if she found out her mother had invited me over. I had to think of some other excuse for coming by, but as I approached their door, all I could think about were Italian boys in Speedos.
My hand lingered over the doorbell button for a moment before I pressed it. After the chimes subsided I heard Mrs. Boosalis' accented voice on the other side of the door, her sweeping figure floating past the glassy tiles that framed the doorway. "I'll get it! No, Chara! Stay where you are!"
The door swung back and she stood there, like an elegant swan, long neck extended, white, gauzy wings raised, her small dark eyes glinting at me over the threshold. "You are here!" she cried, feigning surprise. "Chara, my Chara. It is your best friend in all the world, Taylor. Come in, my darling. This is a pleasant surprise." Then, she winked, squeezing her smudgy black eyelids together.
I walked in, obediently, and glanced into the front room, where Chara was sitting with one leg up on the arm of the cream-colored sofa. The rest of her body was hunched over a Nintendo DS. She didn't look up at me. "Go away," she said, her voice muffled by the shaggy hair that hung in her face.
"But," Mrs. Boosalis said quickly, "what a shame! She's just arrived. And maybe she has something to say to you, Chara, my Chara. Oh, but look, you must have come from the pool or somewhere, Taylor dear, for I see your swimming costume underneath your clothes. And perhaps you would like to continue your swim in our pool?"
Now Chara did look up, the fire dancing in her eyes. "Go. Away."
I swallowed, trying to think up something to say. Probably the right thing would be to say sorry. Sorry I had a stupid fight with you over boys. But as I thought about apologizing, I realized I still wasn't sorry. And saying sorry when I was not sorry, even if it was the only way to see Liberterio and Antonio Maroni in the pool, seemed too hypocritical.
"I've always come over before without being invited," I said. "Just because you're mad at me doesn't mean I have to stay away. I can still have relationships with other people in this house."
I looked back at Mrs. Boosalis. She was watching me with that direct, unnerving gaze of hers. Abruptly, I felt uncomfortable. Why had she called me, exactly?
Don't get me wrong. I knew. We'd talked about how hot her two exchange students were. We'd even emailed about this fight between her daughter and me and I knew she thought Chara was being ridiculous. She sided with me. She said all young girls had crushes on older boys. Especially on older boys from countries like Italy, because they have wonderful accents, and just have a different look about them, different than your run-of-the-mill American. If only they were Greek, she'd said. But oh well! Mediterranean men were Mediterranean men. She added that there was nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing at all. And if Chara couldn't accept that, then Chara was crazy.
Mrs. Boosalis was ashamed of Chara. I knew that too. I'd known for a long time that if she could have chosen a daughter, she would've chosen me instead.
I straightened my back as I dropped my swim bag on a nearby chair and turned my back on Chara. I forced myself to smile at Mrs. Boosalis. "A dip in your pool sounds amazing, Mrs. Boosalis. Thanks."
Mrs. Boosalis returned my smile, showing all her white teeth. "Yes, you're always welcome, Taylor dear. We love to see old friends." She shut the door, her long tunic top fluttering. "Ah, but one thing. The Italian boys. They happen to be swimming now. This will not bother you, will it?"
Chara snorted. "Bother her. She probably came over just to see the show."
"No, no. Of course not Chara!" Mrs. Boosalis said. "How would she know? She cannot see our swimming pool from her window. How else would she have known?"
"She probably has radar for that sort of thing, Mom," Chara said. "Boy-crazy girls usually do."
I glared at Chara, but she had gone back to her game, attacking the buttons with vicious thumbs.
"I'd actually like to see Liberterio and Antonio," I said. "After all, we are friends."
"Friends," Chara said without looking up. "After all I've told you about them. You still say they're friends?"
"Tut, tut!" Mrs. Boosalis cried. "Chara, you should be ashamed."
Chara flicked her head. "Ashamed of what? Telling the truth?"
"They're nice guys," I said.
"Yeah," Chara said. "Real nice guys. Whatever. That's why I have to barricade the door to my room every night. Nice guys."
Mrs. Boosalis' mouth was set in a hard line. "That's enough now, Chara. I didn't know I'd raised you to be so -- so disrespectful to our guests."
"I didn't know I had such a flaky best friend before either. I guess we just get to know each other better and better all the time." She was looking at me now, through the curtains of her tangled hair. "Just get out of here, Taylor. I know my mother called you. She's just using you, like she uses everybody. For her own sick enjoyment."
Mrs. Boosalis' laugh was high and nervous."Me, call her! Don't be ridiculous."
"Whatever, Mom," Chara said, slapping the DS closed and struggling to her feet. "You're pathetic. Don't you know I can see right through you?"
I cleared my throat, not daring to look at Mrs. Boosalis. "I'm going swimming."
"Go ahead. Swim with them. Show off your little bikini. Fine." Chara stalked to the staircase. "Just don't come crying to me when they play around with you and dump you. Let yourself believe they're really interested. Go ahead."
"Well, perhaps they are interested in Taylor," Mrs. Boosalis said. Glancing at her face, I saw it was pale with rage. "Why would that be so surprising? She is a beautiful girl. Keeps herself impeccably ... unlike others I know."
"Knock it off, Mom." Chara's voice trembled.
Mrs. Boosalis went on. "And you - you won't even try to attract them!"
"I didn't need to try," Chara's voice was hollow. "But if nobody will believe me, well--"
"You are full of lies!" Mrs. Boosalis hissed. 'You could have boyfriends, but I think sometimes you don't even like boys! Most girls would be happy to have attention from boys like that."
Chara climbed a few steps, and stopped to shove a clump of hair behind her ear. "Yeah, Taylor, you can see. She's been a whole lot of help. You -- you've let me down. If anyone was going to believe me, I thought it would be you."
I saw the tears standing in her eyes, and doubt seized me. I glanced at Mrs. Boosalis. Her steel gray, spiky hair set off the firmness of her jaw. It hit me. What if Chara had been telling the truth all along? What if she wasn't just making stuff up because she was jealous?
I caved. "Maybe I should go."
"No! No!" Mrs. Boosalis cried, rushing at me with a force that nearly threw me off balance. "You go swim for awhile. Entertain the boys. Nothing will happen. I will be there. Don't let my dear Chara dissuade you with her lies."
"Go, Taylor," Chara said, her voice steady. "Run. Get out of this mad house."
I looked up at her, standing there, shoulders pushed back. With her hair out of her face now I could see she had her mother's jaw. Defiant.
"I'm going," I said, stumbling over to the chair and grabbing the straps of my bag.
"You go now," Mrs. Boosalis' voice was hard and cold, "and you will never enter this house again. Never!"
I ran to the door, and with my hand on the silver knob I looked back at Mrs. Boosalis.
"Is this some kind of game to you?" The words came out of my mouth before I realized I'd spoken out loud.
"A game?" Mrs. Boosalis said in little more than a whisper. Then, she swooped at me, her tunic flying out behind her. "You dare to speak to me like this in my own house?" she shrieked. "Out! Out!"
As I ran, with that bird of prey snatching at my heels, I realized how narrow had been my escape, how faithful had been my friend.