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The summer before boys, p.1
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       The Summer Before Boys, p.1

           Nora Raleigh Baskin
 
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The Summer Before Boys


  The Summer Before Boys

  ALSO BY NORA RALEIGH BASKIN

  Anything But Typical

  The Truth About My Bat Mitzvah

  SIMON & SCHUSTER BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS

  An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division

  1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10020

  www.SimonandSchuster.com

  This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used

  fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination,

  and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2011 by Nora Raleigh Baskin

  All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

  SIMON & SCHUSTER BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS is a trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau can bring authors to your live event.

  For more information or to book an event, contact the Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau at

  1-866-248-3049 or visit our website at www.simonspeakers.com.

  Book design by Chloë Foglia

  The text for this book is set in Horley.

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  0411 FFG

  2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Baskin, Nora Raleigh.

  The summer before boys / Nora Raleigh Baskin.

  p. cm.

  Audience: Ages 9–12.

  Summary: Twelve-year-old best friends and relatives, Julia and Eliza

  are happy to spend the summer together while Julia’s mother is serving in

  the National Guard in Iraq but when they meet a neighborhood boy,

  their close relationship begins to change.

  ISBN 978-1-4169-8673-7 (hardcover)

  ISBN 978-1-4424-2383-1 (eBook)

  1. Preteens—Juvenile fiction. 2. Girls—Juvenile fiction.

  3. Families of military personnel—Juvenile fiction.

  4. Friendship—Juvenile fiction. 5. Dating (Social customs)—Juvenile

  fiction. [1. Best friends—Fiction. 2. Friendship—Fiction. 3. Families

  of military personnel—Fiction. 4. Interpersonal relations—Fiction.

  5. Conduct of life—Fiction.] I. Title.

  PZ7.B29233Su 2011

  813.6—dc22

  [[Fic]]

  2010045688

  To the women

  of the United States Armed Forces,

  and to their children

  Contents

  Acknowledgments

  summer 2004

  one

  two

  three

  four

  five

  six

  seven

  eight

  nine

  ten

  eleven

  twelve

  thirteen

  fourteen

  fifteen

  sixteen

  seventeen

  eighteen

  nineteen

  twenty

  twenty-one

  twenty-two

  twenty-three

  twenty-four

  twenty-five

  twenty-six

  twenty-seven

  twenty-eight

  twenty-nine

  thirty

  thirty-one

  thirty-two

  thirty-three

  thirty-four

  thirty-five

  fall 2004

  thirty-six

  thirty-seven

  thirty-eight

  thirty-nine

  forty

  forty-one

  forty-two

  winter 2005

  forty-three

  Acknowledgments

  There are many people I would like to thank deeply:

  Alexandra Cooper, my editor extraordinaire.

  Nancy Gallt, my wonderful agent.

  And, of course: Will the real Julia (Sandler) and Eliza (Sandler) please stand up? I not only stole their names but some of their childhood imagination, and it belongs to them.

  Lee Blake, for giving me free access to the hotel for a day, a wonderful lunch, and all that time on the phone discussing the details.

  Janet Yusko, for reminding me about our very own make-believe world of Lester and Lynette (where did we ever get those names?)

  Cindy Rider, who allowed me the most magical summer at Mohonk Mountain House before boys and a friendship I will never forget.

  Charity Tahmaseb, fellow author and friend, for answering my nonstop questions about the military and about women serving in particular.

  Fran Arrowsmith, nurse practitioner, civilian and military, and long-time friend.

  Once again, to Tony Abbott and Elise Broach, who listen so patiently (while we eat long breakfasts at the Bluebird) and offer the best writing (and life) advice a friend could ever ask for.

  And for anyone wishing more information or to help women veterans please contact:

  http://www.homesforthebrave.org.

  The Summer Before Boys

  “War is not healthy for children and other living things.”

  —Lorraine Schneider, 1966

  summer 2004

  one

  My Aunt Louisa, who is really my sister, snored like a machine with a broken part, a broken part that kept cycling around in a shuddering, sputtering rhythm.

  “Whistle with me,” Eliza said into the dark.

  “What?”

  We lay together in bed, in Eliza’s room that was really not a room, but a part of the den that had been sectioned off with a thin portable wall. Each night either Aunt Louisa, or Uncle Bruce, who is really my brother-in-law, pulled out “the wall,” like stretching an accordion as far as it would go. Then Eliza would yank her bed right out of the couch and we would both slip under the cool sheets and the thin cotton blanket.

  It was summer.

  The summer I spent living with Eliza, who is really my niece, but since we are both twelve years old that feels kind of stupid. So we just tell everyone we are cousins.

  And it was the summer before boys.

  “If you whistle, she stops snoring,” Eliza told me.

  “Really?”

  “Really. Watch.”

  Mostly Eliza was my best friend. We both went to New Hope Middle School, but I lived in town, on Main Street. And Eliza lived way up here, right at the base of the Cayuga Mountain, right at the gatehouse entrance to the Mohawk Mountain Lodge. She lived at the foot of a magical place and now I got to live there too. For the whole summer.

  Because my dad, who is technically Eliza’s grandfather, had to work.

  And so there was no one home to watch me.

  And because my mom got deployed to Iraq nine and a half months ago.

  Eliza whistled one long, clear, unwavering note. It floated out of the perfect circle she made with her lips and into the air. Her whistle slipped right under “the wall” that didn’t quite touch the floor, or the ceiling, so that Eliza’s room was lit with flickering gray light from the television set left on all night. Her whistle carried through the den and into Aunt Louisa and Uncle Bruce’s bedroom.

  And the snoring stopped, just like that.

  “It worked!” I said.

  “Every time.”

  “Does it last?”

  “For a little while.”

  I poked my feet out of the bottom of our sheet and thin white cotton blanket, careful not to pull the covers from Eliza.

  “I’m hot,” I said.

  E
liza was already standing beside the bed, her bare feet on the wood floor. “Then let’s go outside,” she whispered to me.

  Her white nightgown wrinkled and clung to her thighs—it was so sticky out—her scabby summer knees were showing. Her hair was sleepy, pulled from its ponytail so it poufed up around the back of her head and glowed like a halo in the unnatural light from the TV.

  “What time is it?”

  “Don’t you know? It’s time to go outside,” Eliza said. “Run!”

  And we ran. I ran. Past the TV, past the bedroom door, into the kitchen and right onto the big crack in linoleum that pinched my big toe.

  “Ouch,” I said.

  “You’ve got to jump over that,” Eliza reminded me. “C’mon—”

  We ran until we were flying.

  Light elves, higher with each leap—onto the wet grass, into the hot summer night. We were the fairies that lived in the woods beyond the yard, hidden under the fallen trees, making homes of the leaves and twigs. Growing wings of glistening, glowing gossamer, as we felt ourselves lifted from the ground.

  “Look at me,” Eliza said. She lifted her arms and twirled around. She threw back her head. The bottom of her nightgown unstuck from her legs and spun out around her.

  “Look at me,” I said. And when I looked up I saw the sky, dotted with sparkling stars and a sliver of the moon that looked like someone had tried to erase it but couldn’t quite get it all. I arched my neck and turned around and around in place.

  We spun until we couldn’t stand up and we both fell together, down the hill where Uncle Bruce parked his truck, and we lay there at the edge of the lawn to catch our breath. I was wearing a white nightgown identical to Eliza’s—worn and pilled. I picked off pieces of grass, one by one—looking so closely—and I could barely make out the faded kittens and puppies in the fabric. Little pink kittens and little blue puppies, when this nightgown must have been brand-new.

  I wondered if Aunt Louisa had bought it, if she had bought two, thinking of me, one day, spending nights at her house. Had she ever thought her father would have another little girl, twenty-two years after she was born, with another wife who became another mother? Or maybe it was just another hand-me-down from a whole other mother to another little girl altogether that Aunt Louisa picked up from Goodwill when she found out I would be staying here for the summer.

  “Tomorrow we can go up to the hotel,” Eliza said. “It’s check-in day. There’ll be a lot of people driving up. But Roger will pick us up for sure, if he sees us walking.”

  “Who?”

  “The van driver.”

  “Oh, right.” I liked to pretend I belonged there too.

  The mosquitoes began to smell our sweat, found our skin, and feasted. I scratched at my ankles and my left elbow and my forehead, but I didn’t want to go in. I wanted to keep looking at the moon, to memorize it and fill in the empty space.

  What time is it?

  Of course, I knew what time it was.

  I always knew what time it was.

  In Baghdad.

  Or Ramadi. Or Tikrit. Or Fallujah. But my mother can’t tell me where she is. She calls and sends me e-mails, but she isn’t allowed to tell me where she is.

  It’s morning time in Iraq right now.

  I know what time it is.

  My mother was probably getting up and making her bunk. And maybe eating breakfast already. She tells me she hates the powdered eggs, but they are okay with lots of ketchup.

  She can’t see the moon at all anymore. The sun is shining now where she is and I think that right at this very second she might be thinking of me. And I wonder if she is as worried about her forgetting my face as I am about forgetting hers.

  two

  The walk to the Mountain Lodge was just over a mile from Eliza’s house, and if we had been ready to go at five thirty in the morning we could always get a ride with Uncle Bruce. But we never got up that early. Summer is for sleeping late and not having to get up, and not having anywhere you have to be.

  And now it was already hot like yesterday, and the day before that.

  Three cars had already passed us by—not one was the hotel van—but we didn’t mind.

  “Imagine in the old days,” Eliza began, “when ladies and men rode up this road in buggies. Horse and carriages.”

  I loved to imagine that. If I were one of those ladies, or a daughter of one of those ladies, I’d be wearing a long dress, and high button boots. I’d have a hat for sure. And a parasol. There were old photographs all over the hotel, of the hotel and of the Smith family who had built and owned the hotel—and still did—and of people, women and children and men, swimming or riding horses, or just standing very, very still while somebody with a big huge camera hid under a black piece of fabric and said, “Now don’t move.”

  And I’d still be twelve years old but in those days I’d already be a young woman. I’d have put away my paper dolls and jacks. I’d already be learning to sew and serve tea and do only ladylike things.

  “Can we sneak into tea today?” I asked Eliza.

  “Definitely.”

  Eliza’s dad, Uncle Bruce, worked at Mohawk. He was the man who made sure the three hundred and thirteen wooden gazebos (they called them summer houses) that appeared all over the grounds, all along the trail up to the tower, all around the gardens, and even here and there along this road, were maintained. Every intricate lattice of gnarled wood had to be perfect. Every floorboard safe, every shingle of every thatched roof nailed into place. And Eliza’s dad did that, five days a week. It took him the whole week to get to all of them. The following week he did the same thing all over again. And there is always something to repair, he said. Most everything at Mohawk was old. The Mountain Lodge was built in 1862 and it pretty much looked exactly as it had then. There were no candy machines, no big screen TVs, no chrome, no plastic. If Louisa May Alcott or Laura Ingalls Wilder stepped into this hotel there would be nothing to surprise them. They would feel right at home. They wouldn’t even know any time had gone by at all.

  Eliza had grown up at Mohawk Mountain Lodge, so she knew everyone who worked there and nobody stopped her from going anywhere. Walking up the road to the hotel I thought, This is going to be a safe day.

  A good day.

  Sweat dripped down the back of my shirt but it didn’t bother me that much. I wore the same cut-off jean shorts that had been too big on me last year and new but already dirty sneakers. I couldn’t even remember what T-shirt I had thrown on this morning. What I really looked like didn’t matter, because walking on that road it could be any year, any century we wanted to imagine.

  Eliza and I.

  And we had the whole summer ahead of us.

  The dirt road was dusty and the heat seemed to shimmy from the rocks and distort the air. The lazy overhanging bushes and tree branches didn’t bother to shade us. They looked too hot, too tired to even try.

  This part of the road was for two-way traffic, but when we got to the bend, where the abandoned cement quarry was still visible, the road would split. It would be one-way the rest of the way up and by then we would know we were almost there, quarter mile to go.

  “Almost there,” Eliza announced.

  But the sky was getting very dark.

  “It’s gonna rain.” And just as I said that a huge, single drop of water thumped onto the dry dirt road. Another right on my nose, and almost immediately a loud clap of thunder sounded from above.

  By the time we reached the hairpin turn we were both soaked, my T-shirt like another layer of skin. Even my socks squished inside my sneakers. Without a word to each other we broke into a gallop.

  “My underwear is wet now!” Eliza shouted. She was ahead of me.

  “Mine too.” I laughed.

  “Eliza, does your mother know you’re out here in this?” I heard the voice first. A forest green van had pulled up beside us and the driver was leaning out the window.

  We were still running, the van moving slowly along beside
us. It was filled with guests on their way to the Mountain Lodge for the week. With the sound of the rain, I hadn’t heard the engine coming up from behind, but now the windshield wipers swept back and forth, squeaking rubber. I saw the faces peering out the window at us, an old couple, a young mother with her little boy on her lap. Two boys, close to my age, maybe a little older, looking as bored as they could manage. I quickly looked away.

  “Yeah,” Eliza shouted back. “But it wasn’t raining when we left.”

  I guessed this was Roger, the driver.

  “Well, you two get in.” He pulled the van ahead of us and over to the side of the road. He let us squat down by the van door since we were too wet to take a real seat. Besides, they were all taken by guests.

  Roger said, “Stay still, you two. Stay sitting.”

  The van was air-conditioned and the goose bumps rose on my legs and arms so fast I could feel them pinch my skin. The two boys were looking at us. One had blond hair and the other was dark-haired. I shifted and tried to face the door. I suddenly remembered what T-shirt I had put on this morning and I regretted it. It had a picture of the Little Mermaid on the front and it felt suddenly too small. It was wet against my chest. I was glad I was wearing an undershirt underneath, the one I had slept in.

  Where were the ladies in horse-drawn carriages and their men holding the parasols above their heads? My skin suddenly stuck out all over my body, my legs, my arms, my back, my neck. I pressed my legs closer together and hugged my arms around them. Where are my white petticoats, my ivory-colored dress, and lace shawl that would have covered my whole body? Only my ankles might have shown, and my ankles looked okay, didn’t they?

  Don’t all ankles look the same? Wasn’t there a time when just an exposed ankle would have been scandalous?

  Where was my broad-rimmed hat with the wide blue ribbon that would have hidden my face when I tipped my chin down?

  “Hey, Roger, can you go a little faster?” Eliza said. “I’m getting pins and needles in my feet and my bottom is killing me.”

  “Sit tight there, girl. We’re here.”

 
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