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The Last Best Days of Summer
By Valerie Hobbs
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2010 Valerie Hobbs
All rights reserved.
Lucy sat on the porch steps with her arms hugging her legs and a big black bag over her head.
It wasn't a bag anybody could see. It was the kind you feel when you're in a very deep funk, which is exactly where Lucy was.
She wanted this afternoon, this blazing hot August afternoon, for herself. She wanted to swim. She needed to swim.
She needed to spend the day at the pool with Megan, her very-best-in-the-world friend.
She needed not to spend the afternoon making model airplanes with Eddie.
She lifted the edge of the bag and peeked out at the lawn that wasn't. Two weeks ago her father had announced his retirement from lawn care and turned the whole front yard to rocks. Glittery white rocks with dusty green cacti sticking up all over the place like warts on the back of a toad.
"Dogs won't come near this stuff!" he had said, planting the last of the thorny cacti. "Great, huh?"
Lucy had rolled her eyes at her mother, who covered her mouth to keep from cracking up. "Yeah, Dad. Great!" A laugh exploded out of her and then her mother was laughing, too, both of them holding their sides and gasping for breath.
"What?" said her father, lifting his hands. "What?"
He really didn't get it.
Now Lucy sat staring at the rocks, which glittered back with evil intent.
Her grandmother would not like the new "lawn." She would call it artificial, which is what it was. But Lucy wouldn't have to tell her about it. At Grams's, surrounded by pine trees and cool, clean air, she'd probably forget all about the ugly yard. She couldn't wait to be there.
Meanwhile, there was Eddie.
Lucy twisted her friendship bracelet around and around on her wrist. Megan wouldn't have any trouble making this decision. She would get right up and go into her house and announce what she was going to do.
Megan was brave, Lucy was a wimp. That's the way it had always been and that's the way it always would be.
Like this stupid lawn. Permanent.
Wiping sweat from her forehead, Lucy got up. Sweat beneath her nose and behind her knees, sweat rolling down her back. It was just too darned hot.
"Okay," she said aloud. "Okay. That's it then. Wimp no more!"
She clenched her teeth for courage and stomped into the house.
"Don't yell. I'm right here."
Lucy went into the kitchen, where her mother was sitting at the table paying bills. She looked at Lucy over the top of her red-rimmed reading glasses. "I thought you were gone," she said.
"Well, I'm not. I'm not going." Heart clicking like a cricket in her throat.
"To Eddie's? You're not?" Her mother put her pen down. She took off her glasses and laid them on the table.
Lucy went to the sink and filled a glass with water. "It's too hot!"
"And I'm going to the pool. With Megan." The water in the glass jiggled in her hand.
Lucy's mother blinked. She blinked three more times before she said, "Does Eddie's mother know this?"
Lucy shrugged. "No."
The kitchen got quiet, as if it were listening for what would happen next. Only the refrigerator droned its usual bored hum.
Lucy's mother sighed, a sigh that came up from a place deep within her and tunneled down her nose. "Lucy —"
"I know. I know. I'll tell Mrs. Munch."
Waldo got up from his spot beneath the table. Thwacking the table leg with his tail, he begged Lucy for a pat.
"What about Eddie?" said her mother.
"What about him?" Waldo needed a bath. Badly.
"He has special needs. You know that. That's why Mrs. Munch hired you this summer."
Waldo let out a long, contented fart.
"Waldo!" they both said. Waldo cocked his head. What was wrong? Turning three times, he settled himself under the table and closed his eyes.
"Are you going to tell Eddie you're not coming over?" her mother said.
Eddie was thirteen. Until this summer he had been in a special school and Lucy had seen him only twice in her life.
But all that had changed.
Lucy's heart thunked. "His mother can tell him."
Her mother sighed again. "I'm sure she can. But Eddie's the one who —"
Lucy looked up at the ceiling, where a spider had built a wispy bridge to the light fixture. She sighed dramatically. "Okay! So I'll tell Eddie."
"It's the least you can —"
"Okay, I said." Lucy stomped out the kitchen door and into the carport. What good was being twelve if your mother still ran your life?
She grabbed her bike and pushed it out to the driveway. Pulling her phone out of her pocket, she shot a message to Megan: C U AT POOL.
Swimsuit, towel, sunscreen, water.
She went back inside. Zipping quickly through the kitchen and up the stairs, she grabbed what she needed and left.
* * *
Eddie's house was four blocks from Lucy's, a similar two-story structure with drab gray siding. The one big difference, bigger since her father had redone the front yard, was that the Munches had a green lawn full of wooden toys. There were always at least ten of Mrs. Munch's handmade whirligigs sprouting out of the grass like cartoon flowers.
Lucy leaned her bike against Mrs. Munch's battered blue Volvo and went up onto the porch. She knocked on the screen door, which always rattled no matter how lightly you knocked.
The inner door opened and Mrs. Munch, almost as wide as she was tall, appeared behind the screen.
"Hi, Lucy," she said, smiling. "Eddie's been waiting for you."
She pushed open the screen door but Lucy didn't move.
"I, uh, I can't hang out with Eddie today," Lucy said, her heart hammering. "I have to go somewhere. With my, with my mom."
The lie went immediately to the top of her head and sat there, knitting a headache.
"Oh!" said Mrs. Munch. Her dark eyebrows lifted like wings. "Eddie will be so disappointed. But of course if you have another appointment ..." Her voice trailed off.
"Yeah, teeth!" Lucy tapped her front teeth, as if Mrs. Munch didn't know she had them.
The sun, laughing maniacally, bore down upon her already-pounding head.
Mrs. Munch's eyebrows landed and she smiled her sad smile. "Don't worry, dear. I'll tell him. Shall we expect you Saturday, then?"
"Oh! No! I mean, I can't. That's the day I leave for my grams's house."
"Oh. Oh, dear."
The waiting sat between them like an itch, until Lucy couldn't stand it anymore. "Well, maybe I can come for a little while. You know, to say goodbye and all."
"Yes," said Mrs. Munch, clasping her hands together. "That would be lovely. I'll tell Eddie."
She reached out and pushed the screen wider. "Would you like to come in for a minute? I've got some cold lemonade."
"No, thank you. I've gotta go." Stepping back, Lucy wiped the sweat from beneath her nose with the back of her wrist. Sweat trickled down her spine, seeped out from under her arms. "Well, goodbye, then. My mom's waiting!" Her voice had climbed like a frantic monkey. Anybody but Mrs. Munch, a sweet lady who was sort of out of it, would hear the lie. "See you Saturday!"
She hopped on her bike and fled.CHAPTER 2
The community pool overflowed with screaming children, splashing water, shouts of "Marco!" "Polo!"
A girl in a bright red Speedo dropped in a perfect one-and-a-half off the high dive.
Lucy scanned the crowd for Megan, finding her right where she expected: beneath the lifeguard chair. Wearing her purple two-piece and round white Marilyn Monroe sunglasses, Megan, shining with sunscreen, was stretched out on her Waikiki beach towel.
Lucy locked her bike to the fence and headed for the changing room. Dodging babies and balls, beach towels and lounge chairs, Lucy didn't hear Megan sneaking up behind her.
Greasy fingers covered her eyes. "Guess who!"
Megan dropped her hands and struck a pose, one skinny hip cocked and a bent arm behind her head. Her hair was the color of plastic lawn flamingos. "All I need are the boobs," she said.
"And that cool dress Marilyn wore," said Lucy. "The floaty white one."
They walked together toward the changing room, Lucy wishing she'd let Megan's mother cut her long, thick brown hair. In this weather all she could do was pull it into a ponytail, which Seventeen said was out.
"I thought you couldn't come today," said Megan. "I was SO missing you!"
"You didn't look so sad, gazing up at Hottie Scotty!"
"Scotty the god!" Megan clutched her chest. "Just look at him. He makes me crazy!"
They stood staring at Scotty Bucko, the lifeguard. Scanning the crowd, he swiveled his head toward them.
Megan whirled around. "Ohmygod! Ohmygod! He saw us, like, drooling!"
Lucy laughed. "No, he didn't. He's just doing his job. He has to look everywhere." But her own ears and neck felt strangely hot and prickly.
The changing room was cool and smelled of towels left too long in doorless lockers.
"Hurry! Get into your suit," said Megan. "He's on duty for another ten minutes. Then it's that mean girl."
Lucy changed into her despicable navy blue one-piece. No bikinis for her, not until she was thirteen. Her mother made these dumb rules based on nothing. Lucy was boobless. What difference did it make what she wore?
She greased herself up and followed Megan's skinny rear end out to the pool.
They settled themselves beneath the lifeguard chair, Megan stretched out, Lucy sitting beside her.
"So what are you wearing?"
At first Lucy thought Megan meant her swimsuit, which she could see perfectly well. Then she got it. "To the pool party? I don't know yet. What are you wearing?"
"Wouldn't it be cool if I could find a dress like you said?"
"Marilyn Monroe's?" Lucy didn't dare reveal her thoughts. Megan as Marilyn? Was she serious?
"Yeah. I could, like, pad the top or something."
Lucy chewed the inside of her cheek. Could she say what she really thought? She couldn't. "I guess," she said.
The Brennan brats ran up, screeched to a stop, and like a couple of wet dogs shook their hair all over Lucy and Megan.
Megan yelped and jumped up. "Evil! You are so evil!"
The twins took off running.
"No running!" proclaimed Scotty from his throne. Sunlight dazzled off the silver whistle dangling down his tanned chest. Even with zinc on his nose, Scotty Bucko was as handsome as a movie star.
Megan's mouth dropped open. She was outright staring.
Lucy nudged her ankle and Megan came out of her trance. Then she laid herself back down.
Lucy closed her eyes. She tried to shut out the shrieks and laughter and let her whole body relax. She would not have been anywhere else for the world.
Except, of course, at Grams's.
"So how did you get out of your job?"
Lucy's eyes snapped open. Her headache came flying back. "I didn't exactly lie, Megan."
"I didn't say you did! Don't get your panties in a twist."
"They're not! I just said that I wasn't coming today, that's all."
But Megan wouldn't let it go. "What did he say?"
"Eddie? He, um, he didn't care."
Now she was lying again and lying made her blush. She hoped Megan's eyes were closed behind the dark lenses of her huge round sunglasses.
Megan yawned. "Yeah, well. It's not like he's, you know, normal."
Lucy stared at the glasses, which reflected her own troubled face. Then she looked away, toward the neighborhood and the Munches'. For a moment, a warrior inside her had stood up, ready to defend Eddie. What Megan said wasn't true. Eddie was normal.
Well, sort of normal.
And he was sweet. He really couldn't help that he looked and sounded weird.
But the wimp inside her had let the moment go.
Smoothing out her towel, Lucy lay down beside Megan and closed her eyes.CHAPTER 3
That Friday, the Clarence Peabody Recreation Center had been transformed. Cleaned up, washed down, straightened out, the dry grass trimmed within an inch of its life. Not a gum wrapper or soda can anywhere, and the pool looked clean enough to drink from. Japanese lanterns strung end-to-end cast reflections upon the still surface of the water as if they were floating in two places at once.
Against the night sky, the lifeguard's chair gleamed white and majestic, waiting, it seemed, for the true prince. And everybody knew who that was.
Lucy and Megan stood outside the chain-link fence, gazing in. They were early. The party would not officially begin for another twenty minutes.
To Lucy's relief, Megan's new white sundress was way more Megan than Marilyn. Lucy, who hated dresses, wore a skirt of Megan's that had a stretchy waist. It was the color of a ripe avocado. Or a muddy alligator. Over it she wore a white tank top. Both girls had sugar-scrubbed their skin until it was scratched pink and ready for perfect fake tans.
They were as beautiful as they could get. Not exactly beautiful, but not exactly not either. A thrill of expectation sprinkled goose bumps down Lucy's arms.
From inside the lighted rec center came the sound of busy grownups. They passed in silhouette across the sliding screen doors, laughing, carrying food and soft drinks from the kitchen, stopping to chat along the way.
From the creek behind the old green building came the sound of equally busy frogs.
Lucy didn't see her father. She guessed he was in the kitchen overcooking the mystery-meat hot dogs and rubbery hamburger patties. Her mother would come later, bringing her famous mushy potato salad. Just last year elderly Mrs. Finch had complained of food poisoning and Lucy's mother had blamed the mayonnaise, and of course herself. She hadn't slept for a week, worrying. This year the mayo would not be added until the very last second.
Megan slapped at a mosquito that was feasting on her arm. "What if he doesn't come?"
Megan's slap startled Lucy, who had been thinking about potatoes and mayonnaise. "Who?"
A tiny alarm went off inside Lucy. "He has to come, doesn't he? He's the lifeguard."
Megan poufed up her hair. Her lip gloss was as pink and thick as strawberry Jell-O. "He doesn't have to. He's his own man, you know."
"Boy," said Lucy.
"He's not a man, Megs. He's a boy. He's sixteen."
Megan flipped her hand dismissively. "Man, boy, whatever."
"Anyway, he's too old for us."
Lucy wanted Megan to talk her out of that, but Megan only gave her standard answer: "Whatever."
"Hey! There's the band!" Lucy pointed to a white van that had just pulled into the parking lot and parked. THREE FOR ONE, said the dancing musical letters on the side. Doors opened and out came a trio of shaggy-haired men in black slacks and shiny red vests. They unloaded their instruments and carried them toward the rec center.
"Ugh," said Megan. "They're old."
"Really old," said Lucy. "But at least it's a real band and not my dad's all-time greatest hits CD."
Megan grabbed Lucy's wrist. "Come on, let's sneak in."
The gate was locked. Megan rattled it back and forth. Then she gave it a kick. "Ow!" she said, grabbing her foot. "They didn't have to lock it! Nobody was going to sneak in."
Lucy laughed. "You're kidding!"
"No, I'm not."
"You just said, 'Let's sneak in.' You are so funny!"
"Oh," said Megan, uncertainly. "Well, that's good, I guess. Funny's better than not funny. Funny people can be popular, you know. Let's add funny to our list."
"Ten Top Tips for How to Be Popular" had been one of their summer research projects. With seventh grade and the prospect of an unfamiliar, larger school looming, they intended to be ready.
Not only ready, but ready to be popular.
"Funny would be number eleven," said Megan. "I think we should have twelve."
"Why?" The list had been Megan's idea and most of the rules were hers.
"I dunno. 'Cause it's an even number. Because we're twelve."
A short square figure walked toward them across the dry lawn. "Here comes Mrs. Castro," said Lucy. "Maybe she'll let us in."
"You girls are early," said Lucy's next-door neighbor, unlocking the gate. "And my, don't you look pretty!" she said, frowning at Megan's poufy pink hair.CHAPTER 4
Lucy and Megan sat side by side on folding chairs. Three for One was taking their first break and the grownups, flushed from gyrating to "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," one of Lucy's father's favorites, were leaving the floor.
"He's not coming," said Megan dismally, her eyes trained on the door.
"Nobody's coming." Lucy chewed the last of the Pinking of You polish off her thumbnail. "We're the only kids here."
Megan stood and smoothed out her dress. "Let's check the parking lot."
"What do you think? He could be out there!"
Lucy smirked. "And what if he is? What are you going to do? Jump into his arms?"
"I dunno. Dumb idea," said Megan, sitting down. "He could be, like, with somebody."
Lucy took a sip of her flat Dr Pepper. "You were in such a hurry to get here! Nobody comes early."
Megan dropped her head. "Boy, are we uncool."
Lucy happened to glance toward the door at just that second. "Don't look," she hissed. "It's him."
With a big proprietary smile and his hands on his hips, Scotty Bucko surveyed the room. Everything appeared to be to his satisfaction and he stepped in.
"Sir," he said, striding up and shaking Lucy's father's hand. "Ma'am." He tipped his head toward Lucy's mother, who frowned. Ma'am, her mother always said, was meant for old ladies.
Scotty went on to shake a dozen more hands, flashing his super-white smile.
Megan nudged Lucy. "Who's the guy he's with?"
"His brother, Justin," said Lucy.
"How do you know it's his brother?"
"He was in my class."
"Oh," said Megan. "He's cute, sort of. Definitely not Scotty quality, though."
Excerpted from The Last Best Days of Summer by Valerie Hobbs. Copyright © 2010 Valerie Hobbs. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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.
Reading Group Guide
1. Look at the description in the first paragraph: "Lucy sat on the porch steps with her arms hugging her legs and a big black bag over her head." The author goes on to explain that Lucy is in a funk. Discuss the description – did it make you feel
Lucy's funk? Try your hand at descriptive writing: What are some emotions you've felt and how would you describe them?
2. Discuss Lucy's obligation to Eddie and Mrs. Munch. Was it okay for Lucy to lie to them about an appointment so she could go to the pool instead of staying with
3. Megan says that Eddie is not normal. Lucy wants to defend him but doesn't. Why does Lucy have conflicted feelings about Eddie?
4. What does Lucy like about Eddie?
5. Define "popular." What does it mean to be popular at school? What do you think about Megan's "Twelve Top Tips for How to be Popular"?
6. Why does Lucy admire her Grams?
7. Grams says, "It's something to think about, isnt' it? Who we are and what we choose to call ourselves." What does she mean? How does Grams help Lucy consider who she wants to be?
8. What does it mean to be an artist? Grams is an artist and, it turns out, Eddie is too.
Why does Lucy want to be one?
9. Are there any other ways that Grams and Eddie are alike? Why does Gram's condition frighten Lucy and make her sad? Yet Lucy is not frightened by Eddie's condition. Why?
10. How does Lucy's relationship with Eddie change by the end of the book?
11. Discuss how Lucy changes by the end of the book. Read again and compare the
opening scene to the closing scene. Which Lucy do you like better?