The Second Summer of the Sisterhood Part 41

"Hey," Tibby said.

"Hey."

"Did you eat breakfast?" she asked.

"Uh-huh. Yeah." He seemed a bit nervous for some reason, judging by the way his shoulders were rising toward his ears.

"What's up?" she asked him. She went to the refrigerator to inspect.

"Just, uh ... Can I talk to you for a second?"

She closed the refrigerator and stood up straighter. She looked at him. "Sure."

"In ... there?" He gestured toward the living room.

Tibby's eyebrows nearly joined over her nose. "In there?"

n.o.body ever did anything in the living room in her house. Loretta ventured in once a week to clear out the cobwebs. And every few months Tibby's parents had a party and acted like they relaxed on those perfect sofas all the time.

Mystified, she followed him. They posed on the sofa like c.o.c.ktail party guests.

"So ... what?" she asked him, a sprout of worry in her chest. It was slightly funny how they were sitting next to each other and both facing forward.

He rubbed both palms against the denim covering his thighs.

Tibby pulled her legs up onto the sofa so she could turn to him. "Everything okay?"

"I wanted to ask you something."

"Okay. Ask."

"You know the thing tonight?"

"Uh ... you mean the senior party?"

"Will you go with me?"

Her eyebrows compressed even further. "We're all going. Right? Lena ... Bee ..."

He waved a hand to acknowledge all that. "But will you go with me?"

She was utterly perplexed. "You mean like a date?" She blurted it out because it sounded so ridiculous.

"Kind of. Yeah."

Suddenly, it seemed mean to snort or laugh at the preposterousness of this concept. She tilted her head. He was very brave to keep looking at her eyes the way he did.

She clasped her hands together. It dawned on her that she was wearing a tank top and her pajama bottoms. Tibby spent an unusual amount of time in her pajamas, so it wasn't like Brian hadn't seen her in them hundreds of times. But here, in this stage-set living room, under the glare of this weird question, it only accentuated the weirdness.

"A kind of date?" she asked slowly.

"Kind of."

She wouldn't hurt his feelings. She just wouldn't. It didn't matter where this would lead them. She nodded. "Okay."

She felt raw sitting with him on the sofa. When he leaned toward her she had absolutely no idea what was going to happen. His body moved in slow motion, and she seemed to see herself and him from some distant spot across the room. He possessed a new kind of confidence, a deliberateness. She was both terrified and eerily calm.

So she sat still, looking into his eyes as he reached toward her face. He didn't kiss her or anything like that. But what he did felt just as shockingly intimate. The first three fingers of his right hand landed lightly on her warm face and smoothed out the rumple of consternation in the center of her forehead.

"Okay," he said.

If Lena's mother's car had not overheated it wouldn't have happened. The whole summer would have gone differently.

But Lena's mother's car did overheat, on Thursday afternoon, so Lena borrowed her father's car on Friday and dropped him at work before drawing cla.s.s. It was on the way. In fact, as she drove away from her father, who was already sweating through his white shirt, she considered absently that it was only a short walk from his office building to her cla.s.s. But at the time, it didn't signify anything.

By midmorning she was deeply immersed in her drawing. At Annik's instruction, the model, Andrew, took five-minute poses. For the first few poses Lena felt so harried she could barely get a gesture out of the tip of her charcoal. But then those five minutes began to stretch out for her. The intensity of hurrying stayed, but the consciousness of time dropped away. Just as her awareness of the model's nakedness had completely bewitched her during the first few days and then subsequently floated off. (In hindsight she felt ashamed of her juvenile, red-faced self. To the seasoned artists in the cla.s.s, Andrew's nudity was about as s.e.xually charged as Lena's coffee cup.) Lena now observed Andrew's body in extreme detail, staring without a vestige of shyness at the hollow inside his hip and the sharp ridge of his shin. When she pa.s.sed deeply into this creative state, she didn't really have thoughts anymore. The nerves that controlled her arm bypa.s.sed her thinking brain, linking directly to her autonomic system. The usual Lena was just along for the ride.

She jumped when the timer rang out for the long break. A shiver radiated from her shoulders. She hated coming up to the surface like this. She didn't want to hear Phyllis rustling her newspaper and Charlie's heels slapping around in his sandals. She didn't want to see Andrew pulling on his robe. Not for the reasons you might think. No, really. (Though the truth was, she did regain the awkward mindfulness of Andrew's bare skin in that second when he pulled on the green kimono and again in that second when he took it off.) She just wanted to draw. She just wanted to stay in that place where she understood things without even thinking about them.

As Lena stared wistfully at her empty coffee cup, she recognized-almost abstractly-her happiness. Leave it to her to detect happiness rather than actually feel it. Maybe it wasn't happiness, precisely. Maybe it was more like ... peace. At the end of last summer her peace had been sliced up like roast beef. The tumult had brought with it a certain strange exuberance, a feeling of living more extravagantly than ever before. But it had also sucked.

It wasn't until this cla.s.s, this feeling, that she had regained any kind of balance. The time she spent with her charcoal and her fingers and her broad pads of paper and Andrew and Annik and these deep, stabilizing stretches of meditation-it all felt like too big a gift to be received. She would have to work to receive it.

Her heart soared at the sound of the timer indicating that the break was over. Back to work. It was amazing how much she could hate and love the very same sound.

And so began the fateful pose.

For starters, it was unfortunate that the door opened in the very middle of the pose, when Lena was least able to process the opening of the door. It was unfortunate that the person who walked through the door was Lena's father. It was also unfortunate that the door was located near the model stand and that Andrew was oriented in such a way that the first thing you saw, upon bursting through the door in the middle of a pose (which you really weren't supposed to do), was a very up-close look between Andrew's legs. It was particularly unfortunate that Lena didn't recognize all of these unfortunate things in time to soften her father's experience, but instead unwittingly treated her father to a long stretch of her unabashed fixation upon the glories of Andrew.

When her father started talking, overloudly, she came to. He was looming over her. It was a rude transition. It took her a moment to find any words.

"Dad, you are- "Dad, you didn't- "Dad, come on. Let me just-"

She started a lot of other sentences too. The next thing she knew, he had his arm clamped around hers and was steering her through the door, turning her forcibly away from Andrew.

Annik appeared in the hall with amazing speed. "What's going on here?" she asked calmly.

"We are leaving," Mr. Kaligaris bl.u.s.tered.

"You are?" Annik asked Lena.

"I'm not," Lena said faintly.

Mr. Kaligaris exclaimed three or four things in Greek before he turned to English. "I will not have my daughter in this ... in this cla.s.s where you have ... in this place where she is-"

Lena could tell that her father wouldn't use the necessary descriptive words in her hearing. When it came down to it, her father was a deeply conservative and old-fashioned man. He'd grown even more so since Bapi's death. But long before that, he'd been way stricter than any of her friends' fathers. He never let boys up to the second floor of their house. Not even her lobotomized cousins.

Annik stayed cool. "Mr. Kaligaris, might it help if you and Lena and I sat down for a few minutes and discussed what we are trying to do in this cla.s.s? You must know that virtually every art program offers-"

"No, it-would not," Mr. Kaligaris broke in. "My daughter is not taking this cla.s.s. She will not be coming back."

He pulled Lena through the hall and out onto the sidewalk. He was muttering something about an unexpected meeting and coming to find her to get the car back, and look what he finds!

Lena didn't manage to pull away until she was standing in the harsh sunshine, dazed and off balance once again.

The air in the dining hall of the Prynne Valley Soccer Academy was charged in a peculiar way. Bridget felt goose-b.u.mpy and alert. She had an idea, but she didn't want to have that idea-to give it words or a picture. Or maybe she did want to have that idea but didn't want to want the idea. Maybe that was it.

The room was knotty pine from floor to ceiling. Wide planks for the walls, medium for the floor, skinny for the ceiling. It was filling up slowly with coaches, trainers, administrators, and blah blah blah. The campers wouldn't arrive until tomorrow. Every stranger looked like someone she knew. Her intensity made her invisible; she was seeing so hard she forgot about being seen.

"Bee?"

Diana's voice was behind her, but she didn't turn. Diana was a real friend, but she wasn't telling Bee what she needed to know. So Bee would find it out for herself.

There was a long table to one side. On it were sodas and an industrial-sized coffeemaker and a few plates of store-bought cookies. Oatmeal with bits of raisin.

Was it dread or hope that made Bee's chest pound? Her toes clutched so hard inside her clogs they were falling asleep.

She sensed the presence of a significant body just off her left shoulder. She wasn't sure with which sense she sensed it. He was too far away to touch him or to feel his body heat. He was too far behind her for her to see him. Until she turned, that is.

Her eyes seemed to go in and out of focus. Was it him? Of course it was him! Was it him?

"Bridget?"

It was unquestionably him. His eyes were dark under dark, arching eyebrows. He was older and taller and different and also the same. Was he surprised? Was he happy? Was he sorry?

Her hand went protectively to her face.

He moved as if he meant to hug her, but he couldn't seem to bridge the strange air between them.

The time came for her to say something, and then it pa.s.sed. She stared at him in silence. Socially, she had never cared much about covering her tracks.

"How are you?" he asked her. She remembered that he was earnest. It was something she'd liked about him.

"I'm-I'm surprised," she said honestly. "I didn't realize you would be here."

"I knew you would be." He cleared his throat. "Here, I mean."

"You did?"

"They mailed out the staff list a couple of weeks ago."

"Oh." Bridget cursed herself for not reading her mail more thoroughly. She hated forms (Mother's maiden name ... Mother's profession ...), and between this camp and Brown, she'd had far too many of them.

So he'd known. She hadn't. What if she had known? Would she have willingly tossed herself into a summer full of Eric Richman, breaker of hearts and minds?

It was amazing, in a way, that he occupied s.p.a.ce like a regular human being. He was so monumental to her. For these two years he'd represented not only himself, but all the complicated things she'd felt about herself.

He was looking at her carefully. He smiled when her eyes caught his. "So, from what I hear, you haven't gotten any worse."

She looked at his mouth moving, but she had no idea what he was talking about. She did not disguise this.

"At soccer," he clarified.

She'd forgotten they were at soccer camp. She'd forgotten she played soccer.

"I'm all right," she said. She wasn't even sure what she herself was talking about. But she said it again, because she liked the ring of it. "I'm all right."

Girls in Pants.

The Third Summer of the Sisterhood Available everywhere January 2005.

Excerpt copyright 2004 by 17th Street Productions, an Alloy Online company, and Ann Brashares. Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and The Second Summer of the Sisterhood are also available unabridged on ca.s.sette from Listening Library.

Also by Ann Brashares:.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood.

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