When Mark and Jack finally finish their game, they clamor for cake, and the atmosphere changes all over again. It’s so much easier when it’s just you and the one boy. It’s easier to be you without a big audience.
The boys discuss the upcoming basketball season, and although I know as much about basketball as anyone else, certainly Mark, I stay silent. At moments like these, saying the wrong thing would be disaster. And anyway, it’s hard to find a moment to break in with one of my snazzy witticisms. It’s darn near impossible to get a word in when there are boys around. They take over everything and breathe up all the air in the room.
Mercifully, the afternoon passes by without major incident. Jack comments on my eating three pieces of cake, but Jack is a dunce, so who cares? I can’t be bothered with worrying about people like Jack Connelly. When it’s time to go, I am left feeling empty. I don’t know what I was expecting to happen, but it sure wasn’t this.
The whole time we were sitting there, my eyes kept sliding back to Mark. How is it possible to have known a boy for eight years and never have seen how special he was, how terribly, secretly wonderful? Everything about him seems special now. I can’t stop looking at him, and I keep wanting to touch his hair or squeeze his hand. It’s so distracting. If anyone else noticed, I’d die.
Mark didn’t look at me once. I mean, he looked at me, but not once did he see me.
I live in the kind of town where people are always saying things like, “I can’t wait to get out of here” and “When I get out of this town …” They usually want to move to New York, and they say those two words with real reverence: New York. It even sounds capitalized. Everybody dreams big where I am from, but nobody’s dreams ever come true. New York City might as well be Never-Never Land for all the good it will do anybody from Clementon.
The thing is, you can’t ever really leave Clementon. The sweet South lures you back home, just like those Sirens in Greek mythology. You might go to college somewhere else, you might even move away, but you always end up coming back. That’s what happened to my mama.
She and my daddy were both born and raised in Clementon. They both went to Clementon High, they dated, and then they went their separate ways to college—Mama to a women’s college up North, and Daddy to the state school. When Grandpa Cavane got sick her junior year, Mama had to come home and go to the state school too. I guess she and Daddy met up at college and it was all fireworks. They fell right back in love and got married after graduation.
It’s so strange to think about what could have happened if Mama had never come back home, had never met up with Daddy again, had never gotten married. I would have a different daddy and all different genes. Maybe I’d be bite-size, with strawberry blond curls and a tiny nose. Maybe I’d have cocoa skin and mocha latte eyes with long, long lashes. And br**sts. Maybe I’d be a good dancer or a gymnast or a figure skater. My potential might have known no bounds; I might have been great.
It’s funny, because in all my fantasies of What if Mama and Daddy had never, Mama is always my mother. It’s only my father that changes. I reckon it’s his fault I’m ten feet tall with a bird chest and big feet. If I looked like my mama, things might be different for me.
Clementon is a small town. Everybody knows everybody, and everybody knows everybody else’s business, too. It’s that kind of place. Mama thinks it’s suffocating, but I like knowing that Bernard Watts’s dog was just neutered, or that Emmy Jo Delessi’s wedding cost her parents over twenty-five thousand dollars. (I had no idea that one day could cost so much money, but apparently her tiara was made out of real seed pearls, and they also served jumbo shrimp cocktail at the reception.) I like knowing that every fall we have our Clementon County Fair, and every Christmas we have our Clementon County Christmas Pageant. I like walking into Mr. Boneci’s family diner and hearing him say, “Hey there, Miss Annemarie. Long time no see.”
I’m not trying to say that there aren’t plenty of negative aspects of small-town life too, because there are. There’s a lot of “small town small mindedness,” as Mama puts it. When Olivia Peterson got pregnant last year, she wasn’t allowed to go to school anymore. I don’t know if that is illegal or what, but nobody put up a fuss. Not even Olivia.
Clementon has its bad points, but I wouldn’t mind living here for the rest of my life. I really wouldn’t. It’s home. I was born here; it’s what I’m used to.
Last night I discovered my bathing suit had a hole in it. This may sound petty, but for a girl who has to go to a boy-girl pool party in a matter of hours, it is no small thing. It is quite a big thing, possibly the biggest. I wore that bathing suit all summer, and just when I needed it most, it fell apart on me. When I tried it on, I didn’t notice at first, and then I felt the light breeze on my butt.
Mama sewed the hole up straight away. I didn’t even know she could sew. I almost didn’t trust her with it because she’d had half a bottle of wine with supper, but she did a good job. I was really impressed. She had the right color string and everything. You can’t even tell there was a hole. It looks as good as new, or as good as a two-year-old stretched-out bathing suit can look, anyway. It’s faded green, and although it’s not a two-piece, it does have pretty little straps.
Midmorning Elaine comes over so we can all walk to Sherilyn’s together. She is wearing her new two-piece under denim overalls. I beg her to show me the two-piece, and she finally gives in. It’s black, and it fits her just right. Elaine has a bit more (not a lot) than me in the chest department. But even a little makes a big difference. When you’re twelve, every bit you’ve got counts.
Celia braided my hair before she left for Margaret’s house, and she even let me borrow her raspberry lip gloss. With Celia helping me, I felt like Cinderella getting ready for her big night on the town. I think I look pretty good.
Elaine and I sit on the porch and wait for Mark to come over. She tells me my hair looks pretty, and I compliment her on her new suit again. I wish I had a two-piece.
We see Mark coming up the walk with a blue towel slung around his neck, and Elaine whispers, “Here comes your one true love.”
I kick her and we giggle until Mark makes his way up the driveway. He says, “Hey, Annemarie, hey, Elaine. What are you guys laughing about?”
I tell him none of his business, and the three of us head over to Sherilyn’s. The walk over is mostly silent.