The summer i turned pret.., p.2
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       The Summer I Turned Pretty, p.2

           Jenny Han
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  Conrad had come to the boardwalk for her. He'd brought me because he hadn't wanted to come alone and he hadn't wanted Steven and Jeremiah to give him a hard time. That was it. That was the whole reason. I could see it all in the way he looked at her, the way he almost seemed to hold his breath.

  "Do you know her?" I asked.

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  He looked startled, like he'd forgotten I was there. "Her? No, not really."

  I bit my lip. "Well, do you want to?"

  "Do I want to what?" Conrad was confused, which was annoying.

  "Do you want to know her?" I asked impatiently. 1 guess.

  I grabbed him by his shirt sleeve and walked right up to the booth. The girl smiled at us, and I smiled back, but it was just for show. I was playing a part. "How many rings?" she asked. She had braces, but on her they looked interesting, like teeth jewelry and not like orthodontics.

  "We'll take three," I told her. "I like your shorts."

  "Thanks," she said.

  Conrad cleared his throat. "They're nice."

  "I thought you said they were too short when I wore the exact same pair two days ago." I turned to the girl and said, "Conrad is so overprotective. Do you have a big brother?"

  She laughed. "No." To Conrad she said, "You think they're too short?"

  He blushed. I'd never seen him blush before, not in the whole time I'd known him. I had a feeling it might be the last time. I made a big show of looking at my watch and said, "Con, I'm gonna go ride the Ferris wheel before we leave. Win me a prize, okay?"

  Conrad nodded quickly, and I said bye to the girl and

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  left. I walked over to the Ferris wheel as fast as I could so they wouldn't see me cry.

  Later on, I found out the girl's name was Angie. Conrad ended up winning me the polar bear with the wire-frame glasses and scarf. He said Angie told him it was the best prize they had. He said he thought I'd like it too. I told him I'd rather have had the giraffe, but thanks anyway. I named him Junior Mint, and I left him where he belonged, at the summer house.

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  chapter three

  After I unpacked, I went straight down to the pool, where I knew the boys would be. They were lying around on the deck chairs, their dirty bare feet hanging off the edges.

  As soon as Jeremiah saw me, he sprang up. "Ladies and Gentlemen-men-men," he began dramatically, bowing like a circus ringmaster. "I do believe it is time ... for our first belly flop of the summer."

  I inched away from them uneasily. Too fast a movement, and it would be all over--they'd chase me then. "No way," I said.

  Then Conrad and Steven stood up, circling me. "You can't fight tradition," Steven said. Conrad just grinned evilly.

  "I'm too old for this," I said desperately. I walked

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  backward, and that's when they grabbed me. Steven and Jeremiah each took a wrist.

  "Come on, guys," I said, trying to wriggle out of their grasp. I dragged my feet, but they pulled me along. I knew it was futile to resist, but I always tried, even though the bottoms of my feet got burned along the pavement in the process.

  "Ready?" Jeremiah said, lifting me up under my armpits.

  Conrad grabbed my feet, and then Steven took my right arm while Jeremiah hung on to my left. They swung me back and forth like I was a sack of flour. "I hate you guys," I yelled over their laughter.

  "One," Jeremiah began.

  "Two," Steven said.

  "And three," Conrad finished. Then they launched me into the pool, clothes and all. I hit the water with a loud smack. Underwater, I could hear them busting up.

  The Belly Flop was something they'd started about a million summers ago. Probably it had been Steven. I hated it. Even though it was one of the only times I was included in their fun, I hated being the brunt of it. It made me feel utterly powerless, and it was a reminder that I was an outsider, too weak to fight them, all because I was a girl. Somebody's little sister.

  I used to cry about it, run to Susannah and my mother, but it didn't do any good. The boys just accused me of being a tattletale. Not this time, though. This time I was

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  going to be a good sport. If I was a good sport, maybe that would take away some of their joy.

  When I came up to the surface, I smiled and said, "You guys are ten-year-olds."

  "For life," Steven said smugly. His smuggy face made me want to splash him and soak him and his precious Hugo Boss sunglasses that he worked for three weeks to pay for.

  Then I said, "I think you twisted my ankle, Conrad." I pretended to have trouble swimming over to them.

  He walked over to the edge of the pool. "I'm pretty sure you'll live," he said, smirking.

  "At least help me out," I demanded.

  He squatted and gave me his hand, which I took.

  "Thanks," I said giddily. Then I gripped tight and pulled his arm as hard as I could. He stumbled, fell forward, and landed in the pool with a splash even bigger than mine. I think I laughed harder right then than I've laughed in my whole life. So did Jeremiah and Steven. I think maybe all of Cousins Beach heard us laughing.

  Conrad's head bobbed up quickly, and he swam over to me in about two strokes. I worried he might be mad, but he wasn't, not completely. He was smiling but in a threatening kind of way. I dodged away from him. "Can't catch me," I said gleefully. "Too slow!"

  Every time he came close, I swam -away. "Marco," I called out, giggling.

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  Jeremiah and Steven, who were headed back to the house, said, "Polo!"

  Which made me laugh, which made me slow to swim away, and Conrad caught my foot. "Let go," I gasped, still laughing.

  Conrad shook his head. "I thought I was too slow," he said, treading water closer to me. We were in the diving well. His white T-shirt was soaked through, and I could see the pinky gold of his skin.

  There was this weird stillness between us all of a sudden. He still held on to my foot, and I was trying to stay afloat. For a second I wished Jeremiah and Steven were still there. I didn't know why.

  "Let go," I said again.

  He pulled on my foot, drawing me closer. Being this close to him was making me feel dizzy and nervous. I said it again, one last time, even though I didn't mean it. "Conrad, let go of me."

  He did. And then he dunked me. It didn't matter. I was already holding my breath.

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  chapter four

  Susannah came down from her nap a little while after we put on dry clothes, apologizing for missing our big homecoming. She still looked sleepy and her hair was all feathery on one side like a kid's. She and my mother hugged first, fierce and long. My mother looked so happy to see her that she was teary, and my mother was never teary.

  Then it was my turn. Susannah swept me in for a hug, the close kind that's long enough to make you wonder how long it's going to last, who'll pull away first.

  "You look thin," I told her, partly because it was true and partly because I knew she loved to hear it. She was always on a diet, always watching what she ate. To me, she was perfect.

  "Thanks, honey," Susannah said, finally letting me go,

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  looking at me from arm's length. She shook her head and said, "When did you go and grow up? When did you turn into this phenomenal woman?"

  I smiled self-consciously, glad that the boys were upstairs and not around to hear this. "I look pretty much the same."

  "You've always been lovely, but oh honey, look at you." She shook her head like she was in awe of me. "You're so pretty. So pretty. You're going to have an amazing, amazing summer. It'll be a summer you'll never forget." Susannah always spoke in absolutes like that--and when she did, it sounded like a proclamation, like it would come true because she said so.

  The thing is, Susannah was right. It was a summer I'd never, ever forget. It was the summer everything began. It was the summer I turned pretty. Because for the first time, I felt it. Pretty, I mean. Every summer up to this one, I believed it'd
be different. Life would be different. And that summer, it finally was. I was.

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  chapter five

  Dinner the first night was always the same: a big pot of spicy bouillabaisse that Susannah cooked up while she waited for us to arrive. Lots of shrimp and crab legs and squid--she knew I loved squid. Even when I was little, I would pick out the squid and save it for last. Susannah put the pot in the middle of the table, along with a few crusty loaves of French bread from the bakery nearby. Each of us would get a bowl, and we'd help ourselves to the pot all throughout dinner, dipping the ladle back into the pot. Susannah and my mother always had red wine, and us kids had grape Fanta, but on that night there were wineglasses for everyone.

  "I think we're all old enough to partake now, don't you, Laur?" Susannah said as we sat down.

  "I don't know about that," my mother began, but then

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  she stopped. "Oh, all right. Fine. I'm being provincial, isn't that right, Beck?"

  Susannah laughed and uncorked the bottle. "You? Never," she said, pouring a little wine for each of us. "It's a special night. It's the first night of summer."

  Conrad drank his wine in about two gulps. He drank it like he was used to drinking it. I guess a lot can happen over the course of a year. He said, "It's not the first night of summer, Mom."

  "Oh, yes it is. Summer doesn't start until our friends get here," Susannah said, reaching across the table and touching my hand, and Conrad's, too.

  He jerked away from her, almost by accident. Susannah didn't seem to notice, but I did. I always noticed Conrad.

  Jeremiah must have seen it too, because he changed the subject. "Belly, check out my latest scar," he said, pulling up his shirt. "I scored three field goals that night." Jeremiah played football. He was proud of all of his battle scars.

  I leaned in next to him to get a good look. It was a long scar that was just beginning to fade, right across the bottom of his stomach. Clearly, he'd been working out. His stomach was flat and hard, and it hadn't looked like that last summer even. He looked bigger than Conrad now. "Wow," I said.

  Conrad snorted. "Jere just wants to show off his two-pack," he said, breaking off a piece of bread and dipping it

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  into his bowl. "Why don't you show all of us, and not just Belly?"

  "Yeah, show us, Jere," Steven said, grinning.

  Jeremiah grinned right back. To Conrad he said, "You're just jealous because you quit." Conrad had quit football? That was news to me.

  "Conrad, you quit, man?" Steven asked. I guessed it was news to him, too. Conrad was really good; Susannah used to mail us his newspaper clippings. He and Jeremiah had been on the team together these last two years, but it was Conrad who'd been the star.

  Conrad shrugged indifferently. His hair was still wet from the pool, and so was mine. "It got boring," he said.

  "What he means is, he got boring," Jeremiah said. Then he stood up and pulled off his shirt. "Pretty nice, huh?"

  Susannah threw her head back and laughed, and my mother did too. "Sit down, Jeremiah," she said, shaking the loaf of bread at him like a sword.

  "What do you think, Belly?" he asked me. He looked like he was winking even though he wasn't.

  "Pretty nice," I agreed, trying not to smile.

  "Now it's Belly's turn to show off," Conrad said mockingly.

  "Belly doesn't need to show off. We can all see how lovely she is just looking at her," Susannah said, sipping her wine and smiling at me.

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  "Lovely? Yeah, right," said Steven. "She's a lovely pain in my ass."

  "Steven," my mother warned.

  "What? What'd I say?" he asked.

  "Steven's too much of a pig to understand the concept of lovely," I said sweetly. I pushed the bread to him. "Oink, oink, Steven. Have some more bread."

  "Don't mind if I do," he said, breaking off a crusty chunk.

  "Belly, tell us about all the hot friends you're gonna set me up with," Jeremiah said.

  "Didn't we already try that once?" I said. "Don't tell me you've forgotten about Taylor Jewel already."

  Everyone busted up laughing then, even Conrad.

  Jeremiah's cheeks turned pink, but he was laughing too, and shaking his head. "You're not a nice girl, Belly," he said. "There's plenty of cute girls at the country club, so don't worry about me. Worry about Con. He's the one missing out."

  The original plan was for both Jeremiah and Conrad to work at the country club as lifeguards. Conrad had done it the summer before. This summer Jeremiah was old enough to do it with him, but Conrad changed his mind at the last minute and decided to bus tables at the fancy seafood buffet instead.

  We used to go there all the time. Kids twelve and younger could eat there for twenty dollars. There was

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  a time when I was the only one twelve or younger. My mother always made sure to tell the waiter that I was younger than twelve. As, like, principle. Every time she did it, I felt like disappearing. I wished I was invisible. It wasn't that the boys even made a big deal out of it, which they easily could have, but it was the feeling different, like an outsider, that I hated. I hated it being pointed out. I just wanted to be like them.

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  chapter six

  AGE 10

  Right off the bat, the boys were a unit. Conrad was the leader. His word was pretty much law. Steven was his second in command, and Jeremiah was the jester. That first night, Conrad decided that the boys were going to sleep on the beach in sleeping bags and make a fire. He was a Boy Scout; he knew all about that kind of stuff.

  Jealously, I watched them plan. Especially when they packed the graham crackers and marshmallows. Don't take the whole box, I wanted to tell them. I didn't, though--it wasn't my place. It wasn't even my house.

  "Steven, make sure you bring the flashlight," Conrad directed. Steven nodded quickly. I had never seen him follow orders before. He looked up to Conrad, who was eight months older; it had always been that way.

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  Everybody had somebody but me. I wished I was at home, making butterscotch sundaes with my dad and eating them on our living room floor.

  "Jeremiah, don't forget the cards," Conrad added, rolling up a sleeping bag.

  Jeremiah saluted him and danced a little jig, which made me giggle. "Sir, yes, sir." He turned to me on the couch and said, "Conrad is bossy like our dad. Don't feel like you have to listen to him or anything."

  Jeremiah talking to me made me feel brave enough to say, "Can I come too?"

  Right away Steven said, "No. Guys only. Right, Con?"

  Conrad hesitated. "Sorry, Belly," he said, and he really did look sorry for a second. Two seconds, even. Then he went back to rolling his sleeping bag.

  I turned away from them and faced the TV. "That's okay. I don't really care anyway."

  "Ooh, watch out, Belly's gonna cry," Steven said joyously. To Jeremiah and Conrad he said, "When she doesn't get her way, she cries. Our dad always falls for it."

  "Shut up, Steven!" I yelled. I was worried I really might cry. The last thing I needed was to be a crybaby our first night. Then they'd never take me along for real.

  "Belly's gonna cry," Steven said in a singsong voice. Then he and Jeremiah started to dance a jig together.

  "Leave her alone," Conrad said.

  Steven stopped dancing. "What?" he said, confused.

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  "You guys are so immature," Conrad said, shaking his head.

  I watched them pick up their gear and get ready to leave. I was about to lose my chance to camp, to be a part of the gang. Quickly I said, "Steven, if you don't let me go, I'll tell Mom."

  Steven's face twisted. "No, you won't. Mom hates it when you tattletale."

  It was true, my mother hated it when I told on Steven for things like this. She'd say he needed his own time, that I could go the next time around, that it would be more fun at the house with her and Beck anyway. I sank into the couch, arms crossed. I'd lost my ch
ance. Now I just looked like a tattletale, a baby.

  On the way out Jeremiah turned around and danced a quick jig for me, and I couldn't help it, I laughed. Over his shoulder Conrad said, "Good night, Belly."

  And that was it. I was in love.

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  chapter seven

  I didn't notice right away that their family had more money than ours. The beach house wasn't some fancy kind of place. It was a real honest-to-God beach house, the kind that's lived in and comfortable. It had faded old seersucker couches and a creaking La-Z-Boy us kids always fought over, and peeling white paint and hardwood floors that had been bleached by the sun.

  But it was a big house, room enough for all of us and more. They'd built an addition years ago. On one end there was my mother's room, Susannah and Mr. Fisher's room, and an empty guest room. On the other end was my room, another guest room, and the room the boys shared, which I was jealous of. There used to be bunk beds and a twin in that room, and I hated that I had to sleep all alone in mine when I could hear them giggling

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  and whispering all night through the wall. A couple of times the boys let me sleep in there too, but only when they had some especially gruesome story they wanted to tell. I was a good audience. I always screamed at all the right places.

  Since we've gotten older, the boys have stopped sharing a room. Steven started staying over on the parents' end, and Jeremiah and Conrad both had their rooms on my end. The boys and I have shared a bathroom since the beginning. Ours is on our end of the house, and then my mother has her own, and Susannah's is connected to the master bedroom. There are two sinks-- Jeremiah and Conrad shared one, and Steven and I shared the other.

 
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