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Lucy's "Perfect" Summer
A Lucy Novel
By Nancy Rue
Copyright © 2009
All right reserved.
Chapter One Dear God: Why My Life Is Just about Perfect
1. School is out for the summer!!!!!!!!!!
Lucy would have made more exclamation points, but Lollipop, her pot-bellied kitty, was watching from the windowsill above the bed, her black head bobbing with each stroke and dot. She'd be pouncing in a second.
Lucy protected the Book of Lists with her other arm and wrote ...
2. Aunt Karen is taking her vacation to some island, so she won't be coming HERE for a while. YES!!
3. I can practice soccer every minute that I want to - which I HAVE to do if I'm going to be accepted to even try out for the Olympic Development Program. Hello - biggest dream on the planet!
4. We have a soccer game on our field in two weeks, thanks to Coach Auggy. A for-REAL game, with a whole other team, not just our team split up, which is always lame since we only have eight players to begin with. I cannot WAIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Lollipop twitched an ear at the pen.
"Forget about it," Lucy said to her. She'd only just learned the joy of making exclamation points from Veronica, who was a girly-girl, but who did have her good points. Lucy snickered. "Good points, Lolli. Get it?"
Lollipop apparently did not. She tucked her paws under her on the tile sill and blinked her eyes into a nap. Lucy slipped a few more exclamation marks in before she continued.
5. I get to hang out with J.J. and Dusty and Veronica and Carla Rosa and Mora any time I want, not just at lunch or soccer practice or church. Okay, so I already got to hang out with them a lot before summer, but now it's like ANY time, and that's perfect. Except we're still stuck with Januarie. If she weren't J.J.'s little sister, we could just ditch her, but she needs a good influence. We're a good influence.
Lucy glanced at her bedroom door to make sure it was all the way shut. The Book of Lists was her private way of talking to God, and everybody else in the house - Dad and Inez, the housekeeper-nanny, and her granddaughter Mora - knew to leave it alone. Still, she always had to figure out whether it was worth risking discovery to write down what she really, really thought. She decided it was and added.
Well, maybe Mora's not that good of an influence.
Besides, God already knew she was thinking it. She'd discovered that if He wanted her to think anything different, He would definitely let her know. She wrote some more:
6. We can go buy little chocolate soccer balls at Claudia's shop in the middle of the day, or have breakfast at Pasco's café or take picnics to OUR soccer field, because - guess what? - It's SUMMER !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Something black whipped across the page and Lucy's pen flew into space, landing with a smack against the blue-and-yellow toy chest and knocking down the ruler Lucy always kept there to hold it open in case Lollipop needed to jump in and hide. The lid slapped shut, and Lolli sprang into an upside down U before she leaped and skidded across the top with her claws bared. She glared indignantly at Lucy.
"You did it, Simplehead," Lucy said. "Just a minute. I'll open it for you." But before she could even scramble off the bed, Lolli dove under it. A squalling fight ensued with Artemis Hamm, their hunter kitty, who had obviously been sleeping beneath the mattress.
"Break it up, you two!" Lucy said. But she didn't dare stick her hand under the bed. One of them would eventually come out with a mouth full of the other one's fur, and it would be over.
"What's going on in there?" said a voice on the other side of the door.
Lucy stuck the Book of Lists under her pillow. It was Dad, who couldn't see, but she always felt better having her secrets well hidden when other people were in the room.
"Come on in - if you dare," Lucy said.
She heard Dad's sandpapery chuckle before he stuck his face through the crack. She cocked her head at him, ponytail sliding across her ear. "What happened to your hair?"
He ran a hand over salt-and-pepper fuzz as he edged into the room. "Gloria just gave me my summer 'do down at the Casa Bonita. Is it that bad?"
"No. It's actually kinda cool."
"What do I look like?"
"Like -" Lucy thought for a second. "Did you ever see one of those movies about the Navy SEAL team? You know ... when you could still ...?"
"You look like one of those guys."
"Is that good?"
"That's way good."
Dad smiled the smile that made a room fill up with sunlight. Lucy could have told him he looked like a rock star, and he wouldn't have known whether she was telling the truth or not. But she did think her dad was handsome, even with eyes that sometimes darted around like they didn't know where to land.
He made his way to the rocking chair and eased into it. It would be hard for anybody who didn't know to tell he was blind when he moved around in their house, as long as Lucy kept things exactly where they were supposed to be. She leaned over and picked up her soccer ball, just escaping a black-and-brown paw that shot from the hem of the bedspread.
"Keep your fight to yourselves," Lucy said.
"What's that about?"
"Exclamation points. It's a long story."
"Do I want to hear it?"
"No." Lucy could see in the sharp way Dad's chin looked that he hadn't come in just to chat about catfights. She hugged the ball. "Okay, what? Is something wrong? Something's wrong, huh?"
"Did I say that?"
"Aunt Karen's coming, isn't she? Man! I thought she was going out in the ocean someplace and we were going to have a peaceful summer." She dumped the ball on the floor on the other side of the bed.
Dad's smile flickered back on. "What makes you think I was going to talk about Aunt Karen?"
"Because she's, like, almost always the reason you look all serious and heavy."
"You get to be more like your mother every day, champ. You read me like a book."
"Then I'm right." There went her perfect summer. She was going to have to redo that list.
"But you're in the wrong chapter this time," Dad said. "Aunt Karen's going to St. Thomas."
"He's going to need to be a saint to put up with her."
Dad chuckled. "St. Thomas is an island, Luce."
"Oh." She was doing better in school now that Coach Auggy was her teacher, but they hadn't done that much geography this year.
"I just want to put this out there before Inez gets here."
His voice was somber again, but Lucy relaxed against her pillows. If this wasn't about Aunt Karen wanting to take Lucy home with her to El Paso for the summer, how bad could it be?
"So, you know Inez will be here all day, five days a week."
"Right, and that's cool. We get along okay now." Lucy felt generous. "I don't even mind Mora that much anymore."
"I've asked Inez if she'd be okay with Mr. Auggy also coming in to do a little homeschooling with you."
Lucy shot up like one of her kitties when they were freaked out.
"School?" she said. "In the summer?"
"Just for a few hours a week."
"Dad, hello! This is summertime. I have a ton of work to do to get ready for the soccer game if I want anybody from the Olympic Development Program to even look at me. That's way more important to me than school!"
"You've improved a hundred percent since Mr. Auggy started teaching your class -"
"Yeah, so why are you punishing me by making me do more work? I don't get it."
She wished she could make exclamation points with her voice.
"You'll get it if you let me finish."
Dad's voice had no punctuation marks at all, except a period, which meant "Hush up before you get yourself in trouble." Lucy gnawed at her lower lip. She was glad for once that he couldn't see the look on her face.
"You ended the school year in good shape, but, champ, you were behind before that. That means you're still going to start middle school a few steps back."
"I'll catch up, Dad, I promise." She could hear her own voice tightening like a spring. "I'll study, like, ten hours a day when school starts again."
Dad closed his eyes and got still. She was in pointless-to-argue territory, and it made her want to crawl under the bed and start up the catfight again. It seemed to work for Lolli and Artemis when they were frustrated.
"Your middle school teachers are going to expect your skills to be seventh-grade level," Dad said. "Right now, Mr. Auggy says they're about mid-sixth, which is great considering what they were in January. So here's the deal."
Lucy held back a grunt. It was only a deal if both people agreed to it.
"You'll work with Mr. Auggy until you get your reading up to seventh-grade level. That could take all summer, or it could take a couple of weeks. That's up to you."
Lucy looked at him sharply. "What if I get it there in three days?"
"Then you're done. We'll check it periodically, of course, to make sure it stays there."
"It will," Lucy said. But she hoped her outside voice sounded more sure than the one screaming inside her brain: What are you thinking, Lucy? You can't do this!
The world didn't have enough exclamation points to end that sentence.
"Okay," Dad said as he stood up and got his shifting gaze pretty close to her eyes. "That's taken care of, then."
It was his way of saying they wouldn't be discussing this any more. Which left only one thing to do. As soon as Lucy heard Dad outside saying, "Morning, Luke," she looked through the window to watch as he climbed into the passenger's seat of his assistant's car and took off for the radio station. Then she pushed open the screen and whistled - loud - between her teeth into the New Mexican morning. J.J. wouldn't think that was a very cool signal, but it was the best she could do in an emergency - especially since he was probably still asleep. Without waiting for an answer from J.J.'s falling-down house across the street, she scribbled on a piece of paper:
I went to the soccer field with J.J. I'll be back by lunch. Can we have your tamales? They're my favorite.
Lucy propped the note on the kitchen table between the sombrero-shaped salt and pepper shakers. Inez might be a little peeved that Lucy left before she came, but the part about loving her tamales would soften her up.
She slung her soccer ball bag over her shoulder, and by the time she got to her bike, which was leaning against the Mexican elder tree in the backyard, Mudge was already growling outside the gate. That meant J.J. was there waiting. He never dared try to get past their curmudgeon he-cat. He wasn't crazy about any cats, but especially not Mudge.
Lucy rubbed the top of Mudge's tabby head with her foot as she rolled her bike out. J.J. was already straddling his bike, his Apache-black hair smashed under his backward ball cap and into its usual ponytail at the base of his neck. The wrinkles of his pillowcase were still carved into the side of his face.
"What's up?" he said.
"Evil," Lucy said.
"Unh-uh. My dad."
He gave her a long look as he pedaled to keep up with her.
"Yeah, go figure," Lucy said.
"Your dad's cool."
"Not today." Lucy made a sharp turn onto Granada Street, away from the Sacramento Mountains that loomed behind them like protective uncles. "I have to do school this summer," she barked over her shoulder.
J.J. pulled up beside her, his blue eyes narrowed like a hawk's. "I'd run away."
That was J.J.'s automatic answer to every parent problem, and he had plenty of them. Lucy shook her head.
"What are you gonna do?" he said.
"Oh, I'm gonna do it. I have to. But I don't have to like it."
"Wanna play soccer?"
"Have we met? Yes, I wanna play soccer."
They pulled up to the edge of Highway 54, and Lucy squinted a grin into the sun. She and J.J. and their soccer field. With that combination, maybe this day could be fixed. .
The air was still crisp and woven with sunlight as J.J. led the way across the highway and then the bridge over the trickle-like irrigation ditch. Lucy heard a distant rumble of thunder, but she ignored it. The sky was so big in southern New Mexico, you could hear thunder and see lightning from what seemed like a bajillion miles away, even over the tops of the bare-faced mountains that surrounded them on all sides. Rain was a different story. She and Dad didn't even own an umbrella.
Besides, if a few drops fell, that wouldn't stop her and J.J. and their soccer game. Lucy's grin widened as they rounded the bend in the dirt road and zipped under the red-white-and-blue sign Veronica and Dusty's moms had painted: "Los Suenos Soccer Field, Home of the Los Suenos Dreams." Lucy had her bike behind the bleachers and the ball out of the bag almost before J.J. was off his seat.
"One-on-One!" she called out. "Bet you can't score on me, J.J.!"
"Bet you can't stop me!"
They used the penalty mark as one goal and the real goal area as the other and turned and faked themselves dizzy. Neither of them scored - until Lucy did a perfect shimmy to one side and kicked the ball in the other direction, right past J.J. and over the line.
She threw her head back to cheer into the sky and froze with her mouth open. Somewhere between the turning and the faking, clouds blacker than Lollipop the kitty had formed, and even as Lucy stared, one of them spit out a mouthful of lightning that crackled through the power line above the refreshment building. The thunder smacked into Lucy's ears and rooted her to the ground.
"Come on!" J.J. yelled, and he grabbed her sleeve and hauled her out of the goal area. Before they could get to their bikes, the sky flashed again and then again, and the thunder was so loud Lucy couldn't hear what else J.J. was yelling. She dove for her handlebars, but he pushed her under the bleachers, just as a torrent of rain beat down on them with drops sharp as needles.
"Holy frijoles!" Lucy said.
J.J. turned his backward cap around, but even under the bleacher seats, water slid down the bill and plastered his shorts to his legs. Lucy shook her head to get the rain out of her eyes and smacked J.J. in the cheek with her ponytail. He didn't even flinch.
"I didn't see that coming!" Lucy said. "Guess we oughta just wait it out, huh?"
J.J. hunched his shoulders and peered out at the rain that now came down in sheets. "Guess so," he said.
But ten minutes later, as a lake formed between them and the fence and the storm battered on, J.J. shook his head. "Better make a run for it," he said.
Lucy tried, but the wind and the slapping rain pushed her back a step for every two she took forward.
"Leave the bikes - we'll get 'em later!" J.J. shouted.
He hooked his arm through Lucy's and pulled her around the giant puddle that was by now taking up most of the area behind the bleachers. They sloshed through another one that had formed outside the fence, and Lucy had to tuck her chin to keep the rain from shooting its bullets into her eyes. When J.J. stopped, she peeked over his shoulder and nearly bit into it.
The dirt road was a river, charging past them as if it had someplace important to go. Even as they stood there, the water raced over Lucy's toes and pulled at her feet.
"Hold on!" J.J. yelled.
Lucy wrapped her arms around J.J.'s, one hand clinging like a monkey to his T-shirt, as he picked his way along the mini-river that widened by the minute. Plastic bottles and crushed-up cans tumbled past, and Lucy tried not to imagine herself and J.J. falling in and hurtling with them to who-knew-where. She placed her feet exactly where J.J. had put his, but even at that, she slid in the mud and went down on her knees. The water tried to drag her with it.
J.J. stopped and stooped over. "Get on my back!"
"You can't carry me!" Lucy shouted - though she was sure the next crash of thunder stole her words.
"Get on!" J.J. said.
Lucy did and braced her arms around his neck as he half-ran, half-slid to the bridge. The trickle of water from the irrigation ditch had now swollen over the banks and ripped at the underside of the bridge as J.J. careened across with Lucy hanging on. The ground was higher on that side, and the water only covered their ankles. Lucy slid off of J.J.'s back just as the air cracked again. Only this time, it wasn't thunder.
She gazed in horror as the bridge collapsed behind them.
Excerpted from Lucy's "Perfect" Summer by Nancy Rue Copyright © 2009 by Nancy Rue. Excerpted by permission.
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