This should be the life.
I lay on a lounge floater in the middle of the pool, eyes closed, soaking in the unseasonably warm Memorial Day sunshine. My boyfriend laughed as my twin baby sisters begged him to toss them “again-again-again!” The cool, silky water slid around my calves and drifted past my fingers, while my parents bickered good-naturedly over how hot to make the grill. I mean, it was the epitome of the American Dream, right there in my backyard.
But I felt apart. Distant. An observer instead of a participant, and not just because I was floating by myself. Part of me always felt that way. Most of the time I could ignore it, immerse myself in the details of normal life. Times like these, though, times that should have been perfect moments? Were the worst.
“Roxie!” Addie squealed in my ear. I smiled but didn’t open my eyes. The float rocked as she tried to climb up the overinflated arm on my right.
“Try harder, squirt.”
“I didn’t thurprithe you?”
“Nope. Be a little quieter next time. Don’t tell Tucker what you’re going to do, because I heard you.”
“Okay.” She took my instruction seriously, and sank into the water a little. “Next time, I get you!”
“Roxie, watch her!” my mom called from the patio.
“She’s fine, Mom.” My sisters were better than fishes. At barely five, they could almost beat me swimming the length of the pool.
“Yeah, Mom, I fine!” The float shook. I opened one eye and saw her waving vigorously at our parents, one arm clinging to the float, her pudgy legs kicking like crazy. I reared up, roaring, and rolled over the side of the float into the water. Addie screamed in delighted terror and shoved me under the water before bolting. I sank to the bottom, bent my knees, and pushed off after her, managing to grab an ankle as she landed in Tucker’s arms. He pulled her out of the water and I followed, still holding on to her. She screamed and kicked at me, and Bess, her twin, flung herself off the steps and onto my back, shrieking with joy.
Yeah. One of those perfect moments. I laughed, tickled, splashed, and growled when they splashed me back. And still, nothing felt real. An aching lump crouched in my throat, and my chest was so full of love for these little girls that I knew I’d do anything to keep them as safe and unspoiled as they were right now. When Tucker’s bright blue eyes met mine over Bess’s wild mess of platinum-blonde hair, his feelings for me made my stomach roll. In the good way, of course. But over it all was some kind of patina that insisted I was…out of place, somehow.
The girls clambered out of the pool, their energy too large for its confines. Annoyed that I let this moment get tarnished, I sank down into the water and backed up to the slope into the deep end. Tucker followed, keeping his body close enough that our legs brushed, but not so close that my father would come after him.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, and as usual, I shrugged it off.
“Liar.” He leaned toward me, his eyelids lowering slightly, and made the little moue with his mouth that he always did right before he kissed me. It made me smile, so when his lips landed, mine weren’t very soft. He backed up and frowned. “Are you laughing at me?”
“Of course not. I just love…the way you do that.” I touched the pad of my forefinger to his lips. He made an exasperated face but kissed my finger.
“You’re such a girl.” He swam backwards, out of my reach.
“Hey!” I couldn’t smack him, so I sloshed a wave of water in his face.
The twins were back at the pool entry, brandishing giant super-soaker water guns.
“Have a fight with us, Tucker!” They bounced in place. Addie’s feet danced on the second step into the pool.
“You want me”—he walked toward them, pointing a finger at his chest—“to have a water gun fight”—he pointed a finger at each of them—“with you?”
“Yes!” they screeched.
“All right, if you’re sure.” He stopped a few feet from them and put his hands on his hips. “I’m the champion, you know. At water gun fights.”
“No, we are!” Bess yelled back.
“Okay, we’ll see about that. Where’s my water gun?”
“Right here!” Addie reached to pick up a tiny blue water pistol from the side of the pool. “This one’s yours!”
Tucker stared at it as she handed it to him. It was half the size of his hand. “This is mine?”
They giggled. He looked over his shoulder at me, and I grinned . “You can’t be surprised.” My sisters were devilish, Tucker their favorite target. Well, second favorite, after me.
“Game on!” Tucker bellowed, chasing them up the steps and across the back yard. They dashed away, firing at him sideways and somehow managing to hit him square in the face.
“Ack! Glah! Urgh! That’s it! No more mister nice guy!” He stopped, braced, squirted, and hit them both. They squealed and attacked his legs with hugs.
Okay, maybe not second favorite.
Grinning, I climbed out of the pool and crossed to grab a towel off the pile on the patio table. “Need any help?” I called to my parents.
“Love some!” My mother beamed at Tucker and the girls. “Dry off, you can help me carry stuff out. We’re almost ready.”
I quickly rubbed off the water and pulled my white tank-style cover-up over my multi-colored bikini, then followed her into the house. She started moving stuff around on the kitchen island, her eyes darting everywhere but at me. “So,” she started. The word was laden with “serious talk” signals.
Here we go. I knew exactly what came next. She just wouldn’t believe me when I told her Tucker and I weren’t having sex. I guess she was justified. I’d probably say the same thing even if we were. But the topic was getting old.
“What do you want me to do here?” I waved my hand over the chaos on the counter. I might as well be doing something while she pried into my personal life.
“The stuff for the burgers first, please. Tear the lettuce, slice the tomatoes.” She set each thing in front of me as she said it. “Then chop the onions for the hot dogs.”
I started with the lettuce, fanning it on a platter as I separated leaves and tore them into burger-sized pieces.
“So,” she said again, mixing up the parts of a macaroni salad. We’re nothing if not traditional cook-outers, we Sebastians.
“Yeah, you said that,” I muttered. She ignored me.
Hm. Maybe it wouldn’t be the sex talk. “Yeah, we leave Friday.” Three days at a Vermont resort. Horseback riding, archery, hiking, bonfires, dances at night. We’d have the whole place just for us, and it was going to be a blast. I couldn’t wait. None of us could.
“Right. Now that it’s coming so close, I’m getting nervous.” She braced her hands on the counter. Her freckled forehead puckered under the mass of curly, reddish-brown hair piled on top of her head. “I mean, the level of supervision—”
“We’ve talked about this, Mom.” I tried to keep my tone even, but come on! Did she really think the administration of Appleton High was going to be lax about this? “It’s a ten-to-one ratio of students to adults. Lots of parents will be going, plus some teachers and the principal.”
She pursed her lips and shook her head, digging the spoon deep under the salad to mix it. “Still, they can’t watch everyone at every moment. A group could sneak off—”
I huffed and rolled my eyes as I started slicing tomatoes. Fast. The sooner I got this tray done, the sooner I could get the conversation done.
“I don’t care if you and your friends aren’t the type to do that!” she interpreted my huff. “Some kids are, and when they do, they can bring back all sorts of things, and get you in trouble just by being near them, or use you to hide their drugs and stuff. And—”
“Mom!” I smacked the knife onto the cutting board. “It’s not going to be that way!” I wasn’t going to try to claim there weren’t any kids in my small graduating class who would do such things. Even a hundred and seventy-three kids had a handful of losers and morons. “First of all, anyone with demerits or whatever can’t go. So that leaves out most of the dopeheads and alcoholics.” She opened her mouth. I held up my hand. “And, Mother, the resort is twenty miles from the nearest town. We’re going by bus. No one is allowed to have their own car. So no one will be leaving to go to whatever little burg is closest, which I doubt would be big enough to have a club or anything cool to lure them anyway!” I waved my hands and widened my eyes in a parody of parental fears. “I don’t know why you have to be so neurotic.”
That would have been a good moment to storm out with my completed platter of veggies, but I’d only gotten one tomato sliced. I cut into a second one, fuming.
“Geez, Rox, chill.”
I tried. I tried very hard to hang on to my annoyance. But the laughter bubbled up from somewhere under it, dissipating it upward so it forced my lips to curve. A chuckle pffed out, and I gave in. She sounded too funny when she did that—mimicked me and my friends without an ounce of dorkiness.
“I’m sorry, Mom, but you worry too much.”
“I do.” She collected her mac salad and a plate of pickles and stuff and headed toward the sliding door, pausing to kiss me on the forehead. “You know why that is. Get the door for me.”
I heaved a huge sigh, but yeah, I knew. I got it. But I still thought, after this many years, she should be over it.