My kind of Sunday: rainy and the comics to be read. Mom’s humming, in just the right mood to make me waffles and bacon. I pull my mop of hair through a hair tie and just let the wispy ones get away.
Mom hands me the telephone as I pad into the kitchen. “Your father,” she smiles and tugs on my ponytail.
“Good morning, sleepyhead!” Dad’s cheery voice makes me warm inside. “Have you had breakfast yet?”
“No,” I know he knows that I just got up, but I like the way he teases me.
“I’m out the door, on my way to pick you up. We’ll have ‘Connor’s Delight’ this morning!”
“All right!” I snap off the hair tie and fluff my hair as I skip down the hall to my bedroom. I hurry and get dressed, evening the ends of the scarf my Mom gave me, grabbing a new Star Trek™ poster I want to put up in my bedroom at Dad’s condo.
“Hey! Nice scarf. It jazzes up the sweatshirt.” He opens the door for me as I climb into his car.
We chatted on the way, just like old times. He seemed in a really good mood. “How’s Algebra?”
My hardest subject. “Some of it’s so easy, then I get totally lost.”
He patted my shoulder. “You have to stick with it, there’s always a solution to each problem. You’re too smart to let a few numbers get the better of you.”
“I hope so.” I wish I had as much faith in my ability to understand math as he does. It was a whole lot easier when he lived at home and helped me with my homework.
“It’ll click, believe me, if you just hang in there with it.”
Maybe he’s right, after all. Could be his easy solutions really do work. “Do you think we can look for bedroom furniture after breakfast?”
He slides his BMW into his parking space, turns the ignition off and unbuckles his seat belt. “I’ve got to see a client this afternoon, but…”
“That’s okay, Dad, we can do it some other time. Anyway, I told Slinky I’d go to the mall with her.” I hug him back as we walk along the path to his front door.
His condo is big and roomy, especially the kitchen and living room. From the front bedroom I have the best view of Puget Sound, the marina and the sunset. I’ve made myself cozy in that little room, pinning posters and bumper stickers all over the walls. Dad bought me a super-single waterbed, and Mom made me a dark blue comforter silk-screened with the Milky Way galaxy on it. All the room needed was a dresser, the next project Dad and I were going to do together.
As I came into the living room, Sylvia popped off the couch like a jack-in-the box. “Elizabeth! I’m so glad to see you!”
“Hi.” I stopped short. Sometimes I think she’s going to grab me, like I’m some sort of long-lost friend or relative.
She’s tall, blonde and always wears make-up, even when she’s dressed in blue jeans. Sylvia’s trendy, smart, the NOW! woman. Why then does she act so dumb around my Dad?
“Your Dad’s so glad that you came for breakfast! My, how long your hair has grown!” She reaches out, but I step aside and head for my bedroom.
“Yeah, it’s getting there.”
“Well, girls,” Dad chirps, “let’s get this show on the road. How about eggs Benedict?”
“How about waffles, bacon and eggs?” I shout from bedroom. “I thought you said we were having ‘Connor’s Delight’?” I come out and stand beside him.
“Sylvia went to a lot of trouble to make a special Hollandaise sauce, Dusty. The least you could do is try it.”
“Oh, that’s okay, Dennis.” Sylvia waves her pearly pink lacquered fingernails in the air. “It’ll keep. Connor’s waffles sound delightful.”
Maybe she expected me to laugh at her little play on words, but I didn’t find it amusing. Just like I don’t find her amusing.
Dad’s waffles are soggy, but the bacon’s crisp. Sitting at the dining table I look at the two of them and wonder what Dad could possibly see in Sylvia. She’s not even as pretty as my Mom.
“I went to another exhibit of Mom’s watercolors. Jane Olsen said Mom’s the ‘Showcased Artist of the Year’.” I said this directly to my Dad, but he didn’t have a chance to answer before Sylvia piped up.
“You must be awfully proud of your mother, aren’t you Elizabeth?”
I am not going to answer her. I’d like to explain in a language she’d understand that my name is Dusty. Someday I’m going to ask her if her middle name is Elizabeth or if she just likes to irritate me.
“Would it be too much trouble to drop me off at Slinky’s, Dad?” I collect all the plates and take them to the sink and begin rinsing each one very carefully.
“Elizabeth, don’t bother, I’ll clean-up.” Her Majesty rises out of her chair, caressing my Dad’s shoulder as she comes to the sink.
“Let Dusty finish, Syl. I’ve got to make a phone call, then we’ll go.”
He left me and Sylvia standing side by side. On the way up to Victoria next weekend, maybe Dad and I can talk things out, and I can make him understand that Sylvia gets on my nerves. “You look good in blue, especially that aquamarine sweatshirt. And that scarf! Très chic! It offsets your pretty eyes and hair.” She wants me to look over at her, but I don’t. “Pink would also be a good color for you.”
“I hate pink,” I answer and just keep on parking those plates into the dishwasher.
“Let me finish here. Your Dad’s ready to go.” She snatches the sponge out of my hand and swipes the countertop.
I dry my hands down the legs of my jeans and head for the door. Dad scowls at me, not making a move to leave.
It’s a stand-off until I give in. “See ya, Sylvia.”
“Have a good time with Susan at the mall, Elizabeth!” she calls, her voice echoing after us. It’s almost like she’s in the car with me and Dad the whole way to Slinky’s house.
There’s not much chance to talk as Dad is on his cell. I want to make it all right between us, but I don’t know how. Two blocks from Slinky’s I finally ask, “Will you pick me up Friday night or Saturday?”
He doesn’t answer right away. “I’ll call you Saturday morning.” He pulled up beside the curb, the engine idling louder than I remembered it ever doing before.
“Okay,” I nod, opening the car door. “I’ll be ready to go.”
“Princess,” Dad gestured for me to lean closer and kissed my cheek, “have a good week at school.”
“Bye, Dad, love ya.” I stand and wave until he’s out of sight, then make a beeline for the door, hoping that Slinky will answer and I can avoid any more adults.
“Dusty, it seems such a long time since I’ve seen you!” Mrs. Hillard beams, like she really is glad to see me. Sometimes I wonder if her cheeks ever hurt from smiling so much.
“Hello, Mrs. Hillard.” I look her straight in the eyes. “How are you?”
She laughs and gives me a motherly hug. “You always ask. It makes me feel appreciated, you know?”
I have no comment to that, so I smile back at her. She points upstairs and without any more talk, she goes toward the basement and I take the steps two at a time.
It’s a relief to go up to Slinky’s room and be totally away from adults.
“Hi, Dusty. Your Mom said you had breakfast with your Dad. How was it?”
“Ugh,” I grunt, sitting on the bed. “I liked it better when weekends were just the two of us. Now, it’s always with the third person, plural.”
Slinky has met Sylvia three times, and was politeness incarnate, but I assumed she felt the same as I did. I can’t like Sylvia just because it would make everyone feel better.
“I think Sylvia’s in love with your Dad. And I don’t know why you don’t like her. She’s so nice and really wants you to like her.”
I lean over into Slinky’s face. “Which I don’t.”
Slinky presses her forehead against mine. “She’s pretty, isn’t she? That long, lean body! I’d die for it! She always looks like a Vogue model, too.”
“Yeah, real plastic. You know,” I picked at my hair, and pretended to put on lipstick, “she tries too hard.”
“What do you mean? Tries too hard to do what?”
I roll my eyes and heave a sigh. “Never mind, Slinky.” “Well, did your Mom go out on a date last night?” Slinky’s into romance lately.
“Yeah. She acts like a spacey teen when she’s getting dressed to go out. ‘Is my make-up on right? Too much, too little? Does this dress make me look hippy?’ You’d think she’d lighten up at her age.”
Slinky howled at my imitations of my mother. “Oh! Stop it!” She sucked in a big breath. “Don’t be so hard on her. I heard my Mom say that living with your father couldn’t have been all that easy.”
I hate to be the object of gossip. “So what does your Mom know, anyway? How to sew and make brownies is about all. And if you ask me, my Mom gets plenty of breaks, so….”
“Dusty, Dusty! I’m sorry!” Slinky grabbed a fistful of my shirt and pulled. “Don’t let’s fight about parents. They spend enough time screwing up their lives without it getting to us, okay?”
I mean, I was mad, real mad, but what did it matter? I guess I couldn’t expect my Mom not to go out with an occasional bozo. “My Mom the party-hardy-girl,” I muttered. Slinky perks up. “Let’s go see a movie.” Her remedy to forget our troubles is to go see a movie, any movie, so long as it has a nice ending.
She’s eyeing the ad with a couple about to kiss. I scowl at her. “No romantic junk, either.”
“You know, Dusty,” she taps the paper with a fingernail, “this movie could be about how people stay together forever.”
“That, Slinky, is only in fairy tales and you know it.” I fold my arms, feeling suddenly much older than my friend. “I don’t even know why people bother getting married.”
She holds her hand up, stopping the argument. “All right, Dusty, but I still want to see this one.” She jabs the newspaper with her finger.
“Fine, Slinky,” I snip, “see it with someone else.”
“I will, Dusty, I will,” she hisses.
“I don’t want to hear the details, okay?”
“I won’t tell you anything,” she whispers, pushing her face into mine. “I won’t even tell you if I liked the movie or not, okay?”
“Okay,” I spit. “I don’t know why you want to waste your money on that kind of crap, anyway. You know the man and woman will end up getting married and instead of living happily ever after, something’ll go wrong.” Maybe she was curious what life was like for the unlucky ones, but I sure didn’t need to be reminded all the time.
But I thought I’d better patch things up with her. “Do you still want to go to the mall and look around? If your Mom takes us, I’ll call my Mom to come get us.”
She fluffed her long, honey-brown hair away from her face. I’d give up my lighted stellar globe for hair like hers. “Sure.”
We climbed into the back seat of her Mom’s SUV.
“Oh, Dusty,” sighed Slinky. “I don’t like it when we argue.”
“So who’s arguing?” I ask and she gives me back a tight little smile. We sit quietly watching the world flash by, until Mrs. Hillard lets us off in front of Nordstrom. After we browsed, we head for hamburgers at a McDonald’s restaurant, both of us back to being good friends. It was, you might say, one more phase of our friendship. We might not agree on certain things, but we still like each other. “Dusty,” Slinky punched her straw into her Coke, “it seems to me like you antagonize your Dad, you know, like the way you treat Sylvia.”
Slinky can be like a pit bull when she gets hold of an idea. I nibbled a French fry, trying to think of a way to shorten this conversation.
“We have absolutely nothing in common.”
Slinky narrows her eyes, her ‘intense look’. “Why don’t you give her a chance, Dusty? She might have a good idea or two, you know?”
That touched a hot spot in me. “Yeah, I’m sure she does. Somewhere beneath the ton of make-up and over-moussed hair.”
Slinky screwed her lips in a funny sort of sneer at me, which makes me laugh. She dabbed her lips with a napkin, careful like so as not to smudge her lipstick, reminding me of Sylvia in a way. “Look, you’re going to have to get along with her if she’s your Dad’s girlfriend, you know? So why not give her a break?”
“No, I don’t know.” It looks like I’m going to have to explain a very important point to Slinky. “Sylvia never lets me have a minute alone with my Dad, like she’s afraid I might cop a moment without a ‘Sylvia this, Sylvia that’. Like she needs all his attention, every minute of the day! She makes me sick.”
That about sums up how I feel about Sylvia, when I see Frank and Jorge coming in. “Anyway, next weekend my Dad and I are going to Victoria, solo…”
Slinky’s not paying much attention to me, I can tell by the way she keeps sneaking a peek at the guys in line ordering Big Mac, fries and milk shakes. Finally, I lean over and whisper, “Let’s just go over and say, “Hi” to them, okay?”
Slinky turned about the same color pink as her lipstick. “No, let’s just go, Dusty.”
I waved to Frank, patting the table top to let him know we were vacating the premises and they could have our prime spot. “It’s all yours’. We’re outta here.”
“Thanks, Dusty. Hey, Sludge, nice lips.”
“Oh, stuff it, Frank.” Slinky brushed imaginary crumbs from her skirt.
Jorge stood there smiling, not saying a word, looking at Slinky like a basset hound. “Hey, Jorge,” I snapped my fingers under his nose, making him wince, “are you going to sit down or stand there all day holding that tray?”
He slipped into the seat as Slinky stepped aside. I don’t know what might have happened if either one of them had accidentally touched one another, maybe both of them would have disintegrated like Styrofoam in acid.
“Hey, Dusty,” Frank always talks with a mouthful of food and I can see chunks of hamburger, “‘Gone With the Wind’ is on next week. Can I watch it at your place?”
“Sure, Franko, I’ll do the popcorn, you bring the drinks.” I tug on Slinky’s arm to get her to move as I head for the door.
“See ya.” Frank crams another fry into his overloaded mouth.
“Bye, Slinky. Dusty,” Jorge adds hastily, so I’m not to think he had meant anything special for Slinky.
We’re out the door when I look at Slinky, still pinkish in the face. “Do you like him or something?”
“Who?” she effects a confused expression, which cracks me up. “The Man from Mars, dodo. Not that anyone could guess it the way you’re blushing and all big-eyed when Jorge smiles at you.”
She sneers at me, which makes me laugh even harder, cause I know she likes him, more than she can admit, even to me. She stammers, “He’s kinda cute.”
“Yeah, the strong, silent type. Your kinda guy, right?” I see some of our classmates down at the other end of the mall. “Hey, is that Marcy in a mini-skirt? How’d she get out of the house in anything so short!”
Slinky grabs my arm, hurting me enough to make me stop dead in my tracks. “Listen, Dusty, don’t make any wisecracks about Jorge in front of them, okay? I mean, I don’t like being embarrassed like that.”
I take a full minute to stare at her, this chameleon friend of mine. “I won’t say anything, Slinky. Really, I wouldn’t hurt your feelings or embarrass you, not on purpose. Honest.”
We didn’t have much of chance to speak with them, anyway, as they headed in the opposite direction, probably hot on the trail of some seniors. “Dusty,” Slinky slides onto a bench with a questioning frown, “do you like Frank?”
I picture Frank: tall, clumsy, his sandy blond hair cut in a modified crew-cut, making his blue eyes the first thing you notice about him. “Like Frank? Like like or like?” She’s squinting at me, obviously annoyed. “You mean, friend or boyfriend?”
“You know what I mean.” She examines her newly grown-out nails, polished to a perfect shine, and I wonder if she fights the urge to chew on them like she used to.
“Frank’s just a buddy. We watch TV and talk about how it is to be kids bounced between divorced parents. He’s been at this game longer than I have and outlines how to take full advantage of the situation, if you know what I mean.”
She looks me straight in the eyes. “Has he ever kissed you?”
“No!” I yelp, causing the lady at the other end of the bench to glare at us.
I lower my voice so as not to broadcast my disgust. “Get real, Slinky.” Slinky puffs out her upper lip when her feelings are hurt, so I try to explain how I feel. “I don’t want Frank to kiss me, okay? It would ruin everything. I mean, then I wouldn’t feel it was right for him to be there alone with me, so he better not ever even think about trying it.” I focus on her face, looking for a telltale sign. “Have you ever been kissed?”
She turned scarlet, like she’d swallowed a gallon of red dye. Stun me with a laser gun! “Who?” I demanded.
“Nobody you know.” She picked at the little fuzz balls on her sweater.
I have to scoot close to whisper. “Are you going to tell me or not?”
“You know that hayride I went on? Well, there’s a guy I like and he likes me, and we were the first ones back to the truck and he threw some hay on me, then I threw it back on him, and then he just sort of kissed me on the lips.” She shrugged, like it was no big deal, but I could tell it was.
“So, did you like it? Being kissed on the lips?” This was the most interesting thing that she had ever told me except for the time she snooped through her mother’s dresser.
She waved her hands around, like shooing away gnats at a picnic. “I guess, I don’t know.” She turned and looked at me, as flustered as I’ve ever seen her. “I don’t think I like him that much.”
“Well, then don’t kiss him again.” I didn’t see the problem anymore. “Let’s go to the bookstore.” I want to get going, change this subject. “I want to see if the new Star Trek novel’s out yet.”
“Dusty,” she bit her lip and I felt sort of sorry for her, looking totally rattled. “He asked me to the movies. I don’t know if I should go with him or not.”
“Well, if you go,” I stood up, “don’t see anything romantic. He’ll think you liked him kissing you. Go see a Disney movie. That’ll turn him off for good.”
“Oh, Dusty, can’t you be serious?”
I placed my hand over my heart and intoned dramatically, “I am, I am! What better advice can I give you?”
She closed her eyes and sighed before she got up and walked with me toward the bookstore. We’ve been friends for a long time, yet there are these moments, like now, when it seems we exist in two different universes. I peeked at her long face, wishing I’d said something that made her feel better. How ironic, I thought: I wasn’t going to take her advice about Sylvia and she wasn’t going to take my advice about the Mystery Man.