Read an Excerpt
By M. E. Kerr
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1978 M. E. Kerr
All rights reserved.
I WONDER WHAT THAT summer would have been like if I'd never met Skye Pennington. They always seem to have names like that, don't they? Rich, beautiful girls are never named Elsie Pip or Mary Smith. They have these special names and they say them in their particular tones and accents, and my mother was right, I was in over my head or out of my depth, or however she put it. My father said, "She's not our class, Buddy." This conversation the first night I took her out.
I was in the bathroom, pretending to shave. I'm a towhead, like all male Boyles, and at sixteen my beard is not a burden; it's not even a fact.
My mother was just outside, in the hall, pretending to straighten out the linen closet.
Streaker, my five-year-old brother, was around the corner in our bedroom, pretending he could play Yahtzee alone.
My father was using the top of the toilet seat like a chair, while he discussed the matter with me.
"She's not in our class?" I said. "What does that even mean?"
I knew what it meant. It meant we lived year round in Seaville, New York, on a seedy halfacre lot up near the bay, and Skye summered on five ocean-view acres at the other end of town.
Another thing it meant was that my dad was a sergeant in the Seaville police force, and Skye's dad was head of Penn Industries.
"Do you actually pay attention to that stuff?" I said, as if I never did.
"Buddy, that stuff is a fact of life." My mother's voice from the hall. "Sad but true."
"Inge, am I handling this, or are you?" said my father.
"Oh excuse me for living," my mother said.
"I thought you asked me to handle it."
"I asked you to talk to him."
"What is there to talk about?" I said.
"What there is to talk about is where the hell you're spending all your money!"
"Don't get mad at him, Billy," said my mother. "I said to talk to him, not to shout at him."
"It's my money, isn't it? I earned it," I said.
"Since when do you spend your money on clothes?" my father said.
"If you know where I'm spending my money, why do you want to talk about where I'm spending it?" I said.
"You're spending it on clothes like some girl!" my father shouted.
"He's spending it on clothes because of some girl!" my mother shouted.
"I don't spend one hundred and fifty dollars on clothes in six months' time," said my father. "You've spent that much in one month!"
"You wear a uniform half the time," I said.
"Buddy, I don't even spend that much on clothes in six months," said my mother.
I wiped my face with a towel and said between my teeth, slowly, "I do not plan to spend one hundred and fifty dollars every month on clothes. I just needed new things, that's all. I can't go everywhere in dumb, stupid jeans, old shirts, patched pants, and dumb, stupid worn-out shoes!"
"It's summer, for God's sake!" said my father. "Who are you expecting to meet?"
"He's already met her," said my mother.
"She must be some hotsy-totsy phony!" said my father.
"Well it's been nice talking to you, Dad," I said.
"I can't talk to you," he said.
"You've just proven that," I said.
He got up and sighed and stood for a minute with his hands on his hips. He looked miserable, but I didn't help him out any. He'd just had a haircut and he has these big ears, and he had that raw kid's look that was in all the old photographs of the days when he and my mother were first married. Whenever I looked at the family album I felt sorry for my father. He'd be standing in our yard, which didn't have any trees in those days or any grass; he'd be holding this little bundle in his arms with a little head sticking out of it (that was me) and he'd look like he'd sure bitten off more than he could chew. My mother was quite a beauty in those days and she looked sure of herself and up to settling down and being a wife and mother, but there was something about my poor dad that said he should have still been riding bicycles with the boys, or hanging around the pizza parlor making cracks at the girls who went by. He didn't look ready for the Mr. and Mrs. towels my grandmother Boyle had given them for a wedding present.
"I don't know, Buddy," my father said. He ran his palm through his short-cropped hair and shook his head. He never could talk very well about things and he hated it that he sometimes got mad when he was trying to.
"Don't worry," I said. "I'm watching it."
"Yeah," he said, as though he had his doubts.
"I didn't buy me a tuxedo yet," I said. I smiled at him.
He gave me back one of his red-faced, lopsided smiles and said, "That'll be next, a monkey suit. Huh?" He gave me a punch in my gut.
I feinted one near his jaw. "Don't worry," I said. "I won't make your mistake."
"What's my mistake?"
"Getting married before you were dry behind your ears."
"Oh I like that," said my mother. "Thanks a lot for that."
My dad laughed and sniffed and tried to land another one on me. I ducked and said, "Get outta here."
He threw his hands up in the air and muttered something like "oh what the heck," then walked out. So much for our talk.
When he went into the kitchen to get a bottle of beer, my mother followed him. I could hear them talking in low voices. I suppose she was giving it to him, but not really bad because she was always the first to say Dad had trouble expressing himself.
I went into the bedroom and started looking through all the new stuff I'd bought, while Streaker curled up in the top bunk and pretended to be asleep.
"I know you're awake," I said.
He didn't answer me.
"Maybe Mom should put you to bed every night around seven o'clock," I said. "You obviously get all worn out by this time."
He didn't rise to the bait.
I guess I bought so many clothes because I didn't know very much about clothes. Not clothes. I knew about putting on what everybody else puts on to go to school or hang around, but I didn't know what to show up in for my first date with Skye Pennington. I chose a pair of white slacks and a white shirt with this red belt. I had a white cotton jacket to go with it, so I decided to do a white number. My tan was started. I liked white with a tan.
Streaker was pretending to snore.
"Well, little bitsy teeny-tiny kids are always put to sleep by big people's talk," I said. Streaker still didn't bite. He stuck with his act. Once, while I was buttoning my shirt, I whirled around and caught him looking at me through his baby fingers, which he had over his face.
"Caught you!" I laughed, but he wanted more of a game. I wasn't up to it. I was too nervous about my date.
I was always giving myself lectures about being more of a big brother to Streaker. He was too little to tag along with me most places I went. Where we lived there weren't any other kids his age nearby. He spent a lot of his time wandering around to neighbors' houses, like old Mrs. Schneider's up on Underwood Drive, where he always got fed fudge brownies. I'd vow to spend more time with him when I was home, but something always came up. After school was out, I got a job at The Sweet Mouth Soda Shoppe, and shortly after that Skye Pennington came waltzing in with her gang. From that day on my life seemed to have one focus, and I'd go over and over our conversations, sifting through them for meanings that probably weren't there, looks that probably didn't mean anything, whatever I could use to spin a fantasy with.
Then I just came out with it one afternoon. "I'd like to take you out Friday night."
"I'd like to have you take me out Friday night."
That was it.
My mother appeared in the doorway of the bedroom and said, "What are you smiling at?"
"I was remembering something."
"He's in a coma up there," I said. "He did a swan dive off the bed and hit his head on the Yahtzee dice. I can't wake him up."
Streaker's little body was choking on suppressed laughter.
"Buddy," my mother said, "it isn't that you're not supposed to date girls who aren't in our class. It's just that if you need to go out and spend a whole year's savings on clothes to date one, she's not worth it."
"I won't know that until the night's over," I said.
"Oh yeah, what could make it worth it, huh? One hundred and fifty dollars. What could make it worth it?"
"Don't ask," I said.
"Buddy, don't get fresh with me." She put on one of her stern looks and folded her arms and stared at me. She always looked older than my dad, but when she put on weight the way she was doing at the beginning of that summer, she really added years to her age. She was forty, but she looked five or six years older.
"I'm not getting fresh," I said.
"It sounded fresh." She has long blond hair which goes all the way to her waist, when it isn't done up on top of her head the way it was that night. She has the bluest eyes of any of us Boyles; we all have blue eyes, and she has the greatest smile. She and Streaker are the smilers in the family.
"I'm sorry if it sounded fresh. I wish everybody wouldn't worry so. I can take care of myself, Mom."
"I know that. Just don't turn into a snob like your grandfather."
I have only one living grandfather and it's her father, but she never calls him her anything; she doesn't even call him Dad or Papa. He lives in Montauk now, which is a twenty-minute drive from Seaville, but she never goes there to see him.
"Jawohl!" I said. "Wie geht's?" spitting out what little German I knew. My mother was actually born in Germany, but she left before she could walk or talk, and never knew her father. He didn't even look her up until she was a grown woman, never even tried to write her or write to anyone to find out if she and her mother were all right.
By the time he got around to caring about his daughter, it was too late. I think my mother hates him.
"One thing I can't stand is a snob!" my mother said.
"Grandpa Trenker doesn't seem like such a snob." I'd met him only twice, once when I was little, and don't remember; once when my mother took me to see him in Montauk. He lives in this huge house by the ocean. He seemed all right to me, one of these foreign types with the classical music going and a lot of talk about his gardens. I couldn't wait to leave, though, because my mother was so uncomfortable around him. She just thought I ought to meet him, she said; he is your grandfather, she said, and he doesn't have two heads or anything, so you'll see for yourself.
"Grandpa Trenker doesn't think his you-know-what smells," my mother said. She couldn't bring herself to say the word "pee," so she made the expression sound worse than it was.
"Well I'm not going to turn into Grandpa Trenker, so don't worry," I said.
"Streaker," my mother said, "I know you're awake. Get down from there and put on your pajamas."
Streaker didn't move.
"All in white," my mother said, looking me over, smiling. "Streaker! Get down from there this minute and put on your pajamas!"
Streaker sat up and glared down at us. "I'm not going to sleep in those dumb, stupid old pajamas!" he blurted out.
"Little pitchers have big ears," my mother said.
"I'm not!" Streaker said. "I'm not going to wear those dumb, stupid pajamas."
"Good-bye, big shot," I said to him. "Good-bye, Mom. I have to rush."
"All in white," my mom said. "You look like Prince Charming."CHAPTER 2
"ALL IN WHITE!" SKYE Pennington exclaimed when she greeted me. "You look like a waiter."
"The specialty tonight is rack of lamb," I said, swallowing my chagrin and borrowing some lines from my busboy days at Gurney's Inn. "The fish is fluke."
"You're the fluke," she laughed, touching my jacket sleeve with her long fingers, the nails pointed, and painted pink like the soft cardigan she wore over her shoulder. "Don't go away. I want Mom and Daddy to meet you."
She ran off with her long black hair bouncing down her back, and left me standing by the pool. In front of the pool house a trio was playing a squeaky rendition of the old Beatle song "Yesterday." It had never sounded worse. The other guests were milling around in little cliques holding drinks. I turned my back on them and pretended to be absorbed by the fantastic view of the dunes and the ocean, which were about four hundred feet away. I was sure I didn't know anyone there, anyway; most of them were older.
The name of the Pennington estate was Beauregard. We've got some summer neighbors on our street who call their place "God's Little Half Acre." They rent shares in it, and in June, July and August there are always a half dozen beat-up cars crowding the driveway. There were cars crowding the driveway at Beauregard, too. I'd never seen so many Mercedes in one place in my entire life.
To get to Beauregard, I'd had to thumb three rides, which took me only to the entranceway. Then I'd had to walk about a mile up to the house, if you can call a mansion a house. It came complete with an English butler named Peacock. He didn't come right out and say I looked like a waiter, but before I had a chance to say anything, he asked me if I was from Country Cook, which is a catering service. Then he started to direct me to another entrance.
I remember a story Oliver Kidd told me once about going to dinner in New York City with his uncle. They went to the Plaza Hotel, and Ollie was trying to pretend he always ate in places where there were maître d's hovering around and filet mignon for fifteen dollars on the menu. When the waiter asked them what they wanted for dessert, Ollie looked at the list and ordered Assorted Pies.
I had the idea I was probably going to do something like that before the night was over.
Skye seemed to be gone for a long, long time, and I was just beginning to think I couldn't maintain my pose of being this cool character enjoying the ocean view. I was shifting my weight from one foot to the other, shoving my hands in my pocket, taking them out again, licking my lips and combing my hair with my fingers when someone came up to me.
"One fish out of water meets another," he said.
I turned around and looked at him. He had on bright red pants, a red-green-and-white plaid jacket, and a bright green shirt. I'm six foot one and he came up to my shoulder. He was bald, and he wore these yellow-tinted glasses with a hearing aid attached. He was puffing on a fake cigarette, the kind smokers use when they first give up the habit. The cigarette glowed red when he breathed in on it. I figured he was about fifty, and I could smell a sickly sweet cologne or after-shave he had on.
"Oh yeah?" I said, because I couldn't come up with anything to say to the idea he saw himself somehow linked up with me.
"My name's Nick," he said.
I said, "I'm Buddy."
"You don't know anybody here, either, do you, Buddy?"
"I've got a date with Skye Pennington."
He made the cigarette glow. "A blind date?"
"No, not a blind date, either."
"You been dating her long?"
"Not that long." I was beginning to get a little steamed.
"I didn't think so."
"Why didn't you think so?"
"Well why?" I persisted.
"Do you live out here?"
"I thought so," he said.
"Why did you think so?"
"You're a townie," he said. "You live in town. That's what we used to call them when I went to college. We called girls we dated who weren't in sororities and lived in town, townies. You're a male townie."
"What's wrong with that?" I asked him.
"I'm not looking for anything wrong," he said. "I'm looking for explanations, that's all."
"I'm looking for you," a voice behind me said, and then Skye grabbed my hand. "Daddy," she said, "this is Buddy."
Yellow glasses moved away and I stared up at this gargantuan man with thick white hair, sea green eyes like Skye's, and a tan that made me look anemic. He got my hand in the vise of his fingers and pumped it hard twice, then dropped it. "I'm glad to know you, Buddy. Mrs. Pennington has an appointment and can't meet you. She sends her apologies."
"Pleased to meet you, sir," I said. I was wondering what kind of an appointment someone could have in the middle of a party, and glad that I remembered the sir. Ollie Kidd always said if you sir'd the girl's father, you were already ahead of the game.
Excerpted from Gentlehands by M. E. Kerr. Copyright © 1978 M. E. Kerr. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.