Since I was happily ensconced at a cottage in loverly Muskoka last weekend and there was no sample posted on the Sunday, you lovely readers get two today. First up is one of the Loopies and a good friend, Julia London, who is about to leap out of the nest and test her wings in self publishing. The second sample comes to you from Kathleen Valentine, an author I’ve met through the Kindleboards chat rooms, a very cool place to hang out and find new indie authors.
First up, welcome Julia London….
Hey! Marsha said I could come and talk about myself, and who am I to pass up an opportunity like that? I am the bestselling author of a quite a few books, and if you know me, you probably know me for my historical romances. Seriously, does a person ever get too old to imagine herself in a beautiful gown, in a castle, with a rich, powerful man to entice her? No. Well. At least I don’t.
But in addition to the regency historical romances, I have also penned nine contemporary romances. Some are straight romance. Others are contemporary novels with strong romantic elements, meaning, a heroine or hero may have other equally important relationships he/she is dealing with in addition to a romance.
The Lear Sisters Trilogy (Material Girl, Beauty Queen, and Miss Fortune) fall into the latter category. I wrote these books several years ago, and loosely based them on King Lear. King Lear decided to see which daughter loved him the most. In my series, Aaron Lear is a rich and powerful man. He learns he has terminal cancer, and he thinks his daughters aren’t ready to live without him there to run their lives. So he sets them out on their own, like King Lear did, to see which of them will sink and which will swim. All three daughters have their issues with the old man. All three daughters meet some men who bring out the best and the worst in them.
Today’s sample is from Material Girl. Robin, the oldest fits this description. She is a pretty jet-setter who has a sense of entitlement that can make her arrogant, even when she doesn’t realize it. Robin’s father thinks she needs to be a little less arrogant and a little more level-headed. He removes her from her cushy job in the family business and puts her at ground level. Robin is appalled—she thinks she deserves better than that. She loves her father, but she thinks he is a meanie (although she uses a different word). It takes a man from another strata in the social hierarchy to teach her about herself and about the world. Oh, and he’s a hunk. I hope you enjoy this sample!
Robin scarcely noticed the coffee or anything else other than her father’s voice blaring out of the answering machine. This was the call she had dreaded, the inevitability of it haunting her exhausted sleep. She grabbed the phone before Jake Manning heard Dad go off like a madman. “Dad?”
“What in the hell is going on?” he demanded the moment he heard her voice. “I heard the goddam office burned down and that you spent a night in jail for hitting a policeman!”
“I did not hit a policeman! I was arrested for driving without a license and—”
“How in the hell does someone get arrested for driving without a license!?”
Wincing at the sheer decibel level, Robin jerked the phone away from her ear for a split second, then cautiously put it back. “It’s a long story, Dad, and just a really stupid mistake. I sort of talked back to him—”
“Goddammit, Robin, that is exactly what I am talking about. You are too arrogant for your own good. You think you know better than everyone else!”
“I do not think—”
“I’ve had enough of your bullshit—”
“You don’t even know what happened!” she cried angrily. Her blood was boiling; she could feel it inflaming her face. She glanced at Mr. Fix-it, who was staring at her like she was starring in some made‑for-TV movie. Mortified, she turned and hurried to her bedroom for a little privacy.
“I don’t need to know what happened!” Dad was yelling at her. “I already know that you got arrested and your goddam office—”
“Stop yelling, Dad,” she said, and shut her bedroom door shut behind her.
“Ah to hell with it! I didn’t do you right, Robin. I didn’t teach you the ropes; I didn’t show you how to run a business. I just let you prance around—”
“Oh God, not this again,” she moaned, sinking onto her bed.
“I know you try hard, but you just don’t know a damn thing. Now, I’ve given this a lot of thought. I gave you too much too fast. I think the best thing to do right now is send you to school.”
“School?” She snorted. “What school?”
“The school of life. The school of the business world, of working your way up the ropes. You have no business being in a vice presidency, not with your lack of experience—”
“I’ve been with the company four years, Dad.”
“And in four years you haven’t learned enough to keep one freight yard afloat. I’ve talked this over with your mother and my mind is made up.”
Panic set in; Robin gripped the phone tightly. “Talked what over with Mom?”
“I’ve decided to put you in a position where you can learn a little about the freight industry. Iverson and I’ve been thinking of acquiring a subsidiary company—packing materials. It’s something you can do from home.”
She did not like the direction this was going. “What do you mean, ‘do from home’? Do what from home?”
“Put together a proposal for acquiring one of the two companies we’ve been considering. They teach you that in business school, don’t they? Cost-benefit analysis? Acquisition strategies? I hope so, or else I paid a fortune for nothing.”
Stunned, Robin collapsed back on the bed, blinked up at her ten‑foot ceilings. This could not be happening. She was stuck smack in the middle of one horrendously long nightmare.
“One of the companies we’ve been looking at is in Minot, North Dakota,” Dad blithely continued. “They make bubble wrap, foam packing products, et cetera. The other is in Burdette, Louisiana, just this side of Baton Rouge. It’s the same sort of operation, only a little bigger. You need to get out to see them.”
Minot, North Dakota? Louisiana? Robin used to New York and Paris and Stockholm—not Burdette. “Dad!” she exclaimed in horror, “you aren’t making any sense! You don’t mean I am going to Burdette! What would I do there?”
“Well, for one, you would meet with the folks and learn about packing materials—”
“Dad! You want me to learn about the stuff that goes into boxes and crates?”
“Well . . . and boxes and crates, too. You know, how they make them, what it takes to operate an outfit like that, sales volume, revenues, the whole nine yards. And while you’re at it, you are going to try and sell yourself and LTI and convince them that letting LTI buy them out is the best thing they could do for the long-term health of their company and their employees. Then you are going to study which one you think we ought to acquire and work out a deal.”
“A deal for Styrofoam peanuts and bubble wrap?” she asked helplessly, teetering on the verge of torrential tears for the umpteenth time that day. “Are you trying to punish me? If you want to punish me, choose something a little more urbane, would you? I can’t go to Burdette!”
“Oh yes, you can,” he growled, “and if you think that is beneath you, or that, for some reason, you are entitled to your salary and perks just because of who you are instead of what you know, then I guess I have no choice.”
The meds were making him crazy. Robin suddenly rolled over, propped herself on her elbows to try a different tact. “Dad,” she said calmly, “let’s talk about what’s really bothering you. I know you are mad at me, but—”
“The good thing is that you can work from home and it won’t be as time-consuming as what you were doing, although God knows what that was. Don’t you see what I am doing here? I want you to slow down, get you to take the time to understand what’s important in life. I’m doing this because I love you and I want to do the right thing by you, Robbie. I don’t want to leave behind a spoiled kid with no idea how to succeed me, much less run my company.”
Myriad emotions—anger, hurt, sadness—filled her throat, and Robin closed her eyes. “You make it sound as if I offer no value to LTI.”
“You’ll be a whole lot more valuable when you know what you are doing.”
A tear slipped from the corner of her eye and raced down her cheek. “And if I don’t want to go to Minot or Burdette?”
Dad sighed heavily. “If you don’t want to go, then I guess you better find yourself another job, baby.”
Stabbed through the heart.
“Now listen! You’re going to learn a lot! I’m making you an acquisitions specialist, working directly for Evan. He’s going to guide you every step of the way.”
Robin caught her breath and abruptly sat up. “So basically, you are demoting me to bubble wrap.”
“Think of it as training. Evan is the best in the business and he’s been telling me for a long time you need this and he’s more than happy to do it.”
Well hell, thanks a lot, Evan. And now, of all the people in the universe, was going to be her mentor. Robin’s fragile ego was in a death spiral.
“Now. What about this arrest? What do I need to do?”
He had already humiliated her enough; she didn’t need any more of his help. “It’s taken care of.”
“What about the office? The operations manager at the freight yard says it is gone.”
“Dad, I’m really tired, okay? I don’t want to talk about it right now.”
He paused, said reluctantly, “Okay, baby. You get some rest. We’ll talk again on Monday.”
Oh boy, she could hardly wait. “Bye,” she said tightly, clicked off, and tossed the phone onto a pillow. So this was what an alternate universe looked like. Robin Through the Looking Glass, where she was not the VP of the Southwest Region any longer, but Queen of Peanuts and Bubble Wrap. With a groan, Robin pushed herself up off the bed, went to her closet and pulled, from the maybe pile, a pair of old jeans ripped at the knees and a cutoff Houston Astros T-shirt. Her mind was numb, devoid of everything but two very basic facts: She was hungry. And she needed a drink.
But when she emerged from her bedroom, Robin was startled for the thousandth time by the presence of Jacob Manning. Hadn’t he gone home yet? She frowned at his back as she padded into the dining room. Well, if she was going to have to get used to him being around, at least he wasn’t hard to look at. Now that she knew he wasn’t a total weirdo. She casually took in the breadth of his shoulders, his lean waist, and his very nice butt. He was scraping something; she walked toward him, saw the hint of a tattoo under the sleeve of his T-shirt.
She moved closer.
Handydude glanced at her from the corner of his eye.
Her face burned. He must have heard quite a lot of her exchange with Dad. “Why are you still here?” she demanded, acutely conscious of her flush.
“Ah. I see Godzilla is up and at ‘em again. You hired me, remember? Signed a contract?”
“Damn that contract,” she muttered.
Fix-it Guy grinned and pointed with his blade to the brick. “See this?”
Robin peered closely.
“Antique brick. People pay a fortune for it now.” He paused, stepped back to admire it. “No telling how much of it there is. We’ll know when we strip away these hard layers of paint. I’m going to test different areas so we’ll know how best to remove it. Then I’ll get my crews started.” He looked at Robin then, his gaze drifting up to her hair.
Self-conscious, Robin ran a hand over the top of her head, wincing at the wild feel of it. Embarrassed again, she glanced down and remembered she was wearing dirty, torn jeans and an ancient T-shirt cut off at the midriff. Well, looky here, she was already dressing the part of Bubble Wrap Queen. The only thing missing was the double-wide.
Not that Handy Andy seemed to notice. As he continued to brush away years of paint, Robin noticed that he had a very muscular arm. An Atlas arm, one of those you see in commercials holding up the world and babies in tires. An Atlas arm that was connected to an Atlas torso, and—
She abruptly turned away, appalled that, in spite of her total misery, she was ogling a workman in her house. Not good. Actually, pretty bad.
She stalked to the dining room, remembered the spilled coffee. A roll of paper towels later, she reminded herself she was starving, and marched to her kitchen and flung open the fridge. Like she was going to find anything there, other than a pack of AA batteries, two containers of yogurt, and a jar of crushed garlic. Ugh. She slammed that door, opened the pantry door. A box of spaghetti she figured dated to World War II, some oil, and one can of stewed tomatoes.
As the food supply wasn’t looking too good, she moved to the next cabinet with the pullout wine rack, which usually held several bottles of wine. Except there were none, and Robin vaguely remembered polishing off the last couple of bottles a couple of weeks ago when Mia was fighting with Michael. There was, however, a bottle of vodka, which of course she didn’t remember acquiring. Nonetheless, she took the bottle out of the cabinet and returned to the fridge hoping she had overlooked some cranberry juice. Naturally, she had not. “Damn,” she exclaimed with great irritation, her voice echoing off the bare walls and floor.
“What’s that?” El Contractordodo said from the dining room.
Robin took two steps back, looked at him through the arched doorway. He was wiping his hands on a dirty towel, looking pretty damn virile. “Oh, don’t mind me. I’m just expiring over here with no food, one lousy bottle of vodka, and nothing to mix it with.”
He actually laughed at that, the same warm laugh she had heard on the phone when they had discussed her renovations, which, upon sudden reflection, seemed like fifteen centuries ago. “You expire? I think you’re too ornery,” he said, still smiling.
Robin sighed. “I know you must think I am a grade-A fruitcake, but I’m not usually so . . . so . . .”
“So much trouble?” he finished for her.
Her eyes narrowed.
Hammerman brandished a charmingly lopsided, infectious smile, and Robin could feel a smile of her own spreading across her lips for the first time that day. “Aha—you do think I am a complete nutcase!”
“No, I do not think you are a complete nutcase. No more than three-quarters.”
Robin couldn’t help it—she laughed in spite of herself. “Well, I’m sure you’ve heard enough by now to know why, Mr. Manning.”
“Hey, call me Jake,” he said affably, dropped the towel, and put his hands on his hips to better consider her. “And for what it is worth, I figure there’s a good explanation for everything.”
“Really?” she asked hopefully.
Jake Manning frowned and shook his head. “No. Not really.” With a chuckle, he went down on his (very fine) haunches, opened up his backpack, and extracted a soda.
Robin realized she was checking him out yet again and quickly looked at the bottle of vodka she held. Yeah well, he really was a very handsome man in a worker-guy sort of way. She looked up as he took a big swig of his soda.
“Code Red Mountain Dew,” he said. “Good for what ails you and a perfect complement to any meal.”
“You actually drink that stuff?” she asked, coming out of the kitchen.
“Sure. It’s pretty good.” His cell phone rang; he put the plastic bottle on the table and wrestled the phone off his belt. “Try some with that and you’ll appreciate it,” he said, nodding at the bottle she held. He answered his phone with a short “Yeah,” paused for a moment, then walked out the front door.
Girlfriend, Robin mused, and strolled to the table where he had left his Code Red Mountain Dew. She picked it up, immediately flipped around to the nutrition chart and frowned. “Look at the sugar!” she muttered to herself, and carried it back into the kitchen and mixed the vodka with his drink.
By the time Jake came back in, looking a little flushed, she thought, Robin lifted the bright red drink on which she had managed to put a frothy pink head. “Salut,” she said and sipped the concoction, then flopped down on a dining room chair.
Jake looked at her drink, then at the table. “You used all of it?”
Robin nodded. He’d offered it to her, hadn’t he?
He frowned. He picked up a putty knife and began to scrape around the window casings with a vengeance, chipping off bigger and bigger pieces of paint. Robin sipped, watching him, wondering what she could say to break the silence. “Seems like that would go a lot quicker if you used one of those chemical peels,” she observed, ignoring the fact that all she knew about chemical peels came from facials.
Jake spared her a glance. “I’ll do that with the wall. Right now I am trying to see what is underneath.”
“You should at least get a bigger knife.”
He threw down the knife and picked up the towel. “So,” he said casually, wiping his hands, “you hit a police officer, then burned down your office?”
“I didn’t hit him!” Robin instantly cried. “I just mouthed off.”
“The incident has been blown way out of proportion by my grandma.”
Jake looked up from his hands, the copper in his eyes shining with . . . something. Inappropriate glee? “So what’d you say?”
She shrugged sheepishly, examined the ice bobbing in her drink for a moment. “I called him an idiot cop. Which probably wouldn’t have been so bad if I could have found my wallet, but my wallet was being burned in the fire at my office at the time, apparently. And then . . . I refused to give him my name.”
Jake nodded thoughtfully, seemed to mull it over. “Why? Was he one of your perverts or something?”
Oh, hardy har. Squirming a bit, she thought about exactly why she had done it, and winced. “Because he was bothering me,” she finally muttered, realizing how ridiculous she sounded, especially since it was the God’s honest truth. She was such an idiot.
To confirm it, Jake shook his head in disbelief. “So what did he say?”
“He called me a smartass and read me my rights.”
Jake made a sound as if he were choking, then smiled with far too much satisfaction.
“Is that a smirk?” she asked curiously. “Are you smirking?”
“Damn straight it’s a smirk,” he cheerfully admitted. “So did you start the fire, too?”
“No! I was in jail, remember? There is no possible way I could have started it!”
“So let me see if I have this,” he said, drawing to his full height and putting his hands on his hips. “You’re just a smartass, but not an arsonist, right?” Then he laughed at his lame little joke and started to gather his things. “Probably some wiring gone bad. Happens all the time.”
“See? That’s exactly what I was thinking.” she said, nodding emphatically. “Wiring! Old building, old wires—but a big wire, right? I mean, it would be almost impossible for something like, say, an unattended coffeepot to do it . . . right?”
He paused, gave her a look. “Don’t tell me you left the coffeepot on.”
Robin was on her feet before she knew it, one hand wildly gesturing, the other gripping her glass tightly. “I don’t know!” she cried helplessly. “I think I unplugged it, but I don’t know for sure! Oh man, could one little coffeepot do that? It was an accident! I had just come back from the ranch, and my dad told me he was dying, and then told me I was pretty useless to him, and I couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t work, and I made a pot of coffee. But what if it was me? Can they arrest me for that?”
Jake shrugged. “Who knows with these idiot cops?
“Touché.” Robin groaned.
Jake smiled, nodded at the glass she was holding. “You’re sloshing it around,” he said, nodding to several large wet splotches on the tiled floor.
Robin sat down.
“That’s rough about your dad.”
“Yeah,” she said wearily. “It was just such a shock. He has always been so . . . so strong,” she said.
“What does he do?”
“What does he do? Everything . . .”
Amazing, Robin later thought, how easily she began to talk about something as complicated as Dad. Jake was a good listener, seemed interested in what she was saying, and really, the whole thing just sort of spilled out of her. For some reason, she didn’t stop with her arrest, she even gave him the humiliating news of her demotion and new status as Queen of Bubble Wrap.
By the time she had finished spilling her guts, she was feeling exhausted and a little loopy from the vodka, and was actually laughing about the absurdity of her new job. “Bubble wrap, can you imagine? Me?”
“Why not?” he asked.
Robin snorted. “In case you haven’t notice, I’m not exactly a Styrofoam products kind of person.”
“I don’t see why not,” Jake said with a shrug. “Someone’s got to make it. They could call you Bubbles?”
“Okay. How about Peanut?”
He was playing with her. “How about boss?” she said cheekily.
Jake chuckled, folded his, arms across his chest. “How about convict?”
“How about fired?”
“Maybe,” he said, nodding, his gaze drifting to her bare middle.
“You’re a nice guy, Jake,” she said with a crooked smile. “You didn’t have to listen to my wretched life.”
“Oh, I bet you do okay most of the time, boss. Doesn’t look like you’re hurting.”
She was about to answer that looks weren’t everything when Jake’s cell phone rang. He glanced at the number display. “I’d better be going,” he said and stuffed the cell down inside his backpack without bothering to answer it.
Robin stood as he hoisted his backpack and pulled the do-rag from his pocket, and followed him to the back door. He paused there, smiled at her with unexpected warmth. “My advice?” he said, pushing the door open. “Don’t get out of bed.”
“Better safe than sorry, right?”
“No. I just think you should leave the unsuspecting public alone for a while.”
She laughed, decided she liked Handy Andy. “Hey . . . sorry I called you a pervert.”
Jake shrugged. “I’ve been called worse. Have a good weekend,” he said, and with a wink, walked out the door, leaving her to stand behind the screen.
Robin stood there for a moment, admiring his form as he mounted the bike. But when he disappeared from her drive, she chastised herself for getting all worked up about his good looks. Okay, so he seemed to be a nice guy (in spite of her earlier, moronic assessments), but . . . he was the contractor renovating her house. She was only thinking of him now in a warm fuzzy way due to a general state of intoxication and hunger.
Robin turned away from the door and headed for the phone book.
Visit Julia’s website at www.julialondon.com
Click on the cover to zoom straight to Amazon
Next up, welcome Kathleen Valentine………….
Well, what can I tell you about myself? I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania Duth country and started writing stories when I was old enough to write. I was always an avid reader and would read almost anything. When I was a little girl in the 1960s I spent part of every summer with my aunt and uncle who lived in Erie, Pennsylvania and I fell madly in love with both the beaches and the working waterfront. My first novel, The Old Mermaid’s Tale, grew out of that love and out of the years I spent in Erie both in college and working in a waterfront diner.
After I graduated from Penn State, I moved around the country for awhile and after time in Texas and New Orleans, I moved to Maine which is the setting of my second novel, Each Angel Burns. Finally I moved to Gloucester, Massachusetts, America’s oldest seaport where I met a fisherman who was also a writer. I am currently at work on my third novel, Depraved Heart, which is set on an island off the Gloucester coast and is a romantic thriller. I’ve also published quite a few short stories, a cookbook/memoir about growing up Pennsylvania Dutch called Fry Bacon. Add Onions, and several knitting books, including one about knitting lace shawls, The Mermaid Shawl and other beauties: Shawls, Cocoons and Wraps, which was a best-seller on Amazon. I love knitting, writing and living so close to the ocean. Thanks for inviting me to your blog!
The excerpt is from The Old Mermaid’s Tale:
(Note: It is 1963 and Clair and Rosie are college roommates in a resort town on Lake Erie. They have decided to stay in town for the summer and get jobs instead of returning to their homes in Ohio. At Christmas time they met two brothers, Pio and Dante Romeo, and both girls were quite smitten by them. Rosie and Dante have had an on-going relationship but Clair’s dreams crashed when Pio took a job working on an oil barge without telling her. School is almost over for the year and they are excited about the summer ahead.)
ROSIE AND DANTE BEGAN SEEING LESS OF EACH OTHER. Dante wasn’t too happy about that but Rosie was remarkably disciplined. They would fight and not talk for a week or two and then be all over each other but she refused to let her feelings get in the way of her studies.
“I’m not like my mother,” she said with a touch of bitterness.
At Janet Crocker’s suggestion I took a class in American Folklore and was far more interested than I had expected to be. For my term project I did a research paper on the folklore of the Iroquois and included the story Pio and Tony had told me. I got an A- and encouraging comments from the instructor.
In some ways Pio’s exotic absence was romantic. Instead of dealing with the realities of dating while trying to study I could escape into fantasy—a skill I had spent my life perfecting—but this time with a little basis in reality. Now, on those nights when I sat staring at the lights moving back and forth on the lake I could imagine that on one of them a gorgeous, black-eyed man stood on the deck thinking about the girl he had thrilled on a cold winter night in a Thunderbird. My ever-extravagant fantasy life took on a substance it had lacked before that night. Now my mysterious mariner had a face and hands and eyes—and a beard-enhanced kiss that suffused my dreams.
By April Rosie and I were making plans for summer. We located a rooming house two blocks off Lake Shore Drive where other young women who worked in the summer resort business lived. We arranged for a large sunny room with a tiny kitchenette and a bathroom shared with the girls next door. We spent Saturdays filling out applications and interviewing for waitress and chambermaid jobs at all the motels near the beaches.
My parents were surprisingly agreeable to the plans when I bubbled on enthusiastically about the many tourist attractions—miniature golf courses and drive-in theaters, open-air restaurants, and endless sandy beaches. My mother said it seemed like the sort of thing a young woman ought to have the chance to do. Rosie’s parents were not as positive. I heard her slam down the phone several times but she never faltered in her plans. She knew what she wanted and she intended to have it.
THE DOWNTOWN PARK DIVIDED THE MARITIME Industries from the more conventional business section of Port Presque Isle. Canal Street ran parallel to Main and ended at the park. A few blocks west of Main Street, the oldest residential part of the city flourished during the prosperity brought by the shipping and commercial fishing industries. In the nineteenth century wealthy tradesmen, shipping magnates, boat owners, and other captains of industry built mansions to flaunt their wealth and status. But since the Depression that area gradually declined. Some mansions were converted to apartments or businesses, one had found new life as a planetarium.
Those still privately owned were costly to maintain and year by year they grew a little more shabby, a little more crumbled. The romantic “follies”, once the pride of Victorian matrons, collapsed under the weight of climbing roses and grape vines. Fanciful old carriage houses tucked back along the alleys that ran between the blocks had broken windows and caved in roofs. Still there was that romantic echo of the balls, the teas, and the lawn parties of eras gone by.
From the faded gentility of those old neighborhoods, Sixth Street curved through a wooded park, past a large harbor-front golf course and then turned, as though by magic, into an area as festive and colorful as Canal Street was disreputable and dark, Lake Shore Drive.
The outer shore of the peninsula, that curved like a protective arm around the harbor, faced the rolling fresh water waves of Lake Erie. Thousands of tourists spent summer vacations on the sandy beaches protected by low dunes and sheltered by wind-whipped scrub pine. Long, delicious summer days were spent here lying in the sun and playing in the waves or enjoying the adjacent vacation playland with a carnival atmosphere. Rosie and I intended to work—and play—there for the summer. Our goal was simple: get jobs, get great tans, meet boys, and have as much fun as we could cram into three months.
Since most of the businesses along Lake Shore Drive were seasonal, they relied on college students to work during summer vacation. For hundreds of college kids who arrived each summer it was an embarrassment of riches.
Shopping centers sold sporting equipment, beach wear, toys, souvenirs, records and books, camping and boating equipment. Neon marquees pulsating red, purple, lime and gold marked the cinemas. Restaurants ranged from open-air fish and hamburger shacks to upscale steak houses. Motels competed for tourist dollars with elaborate decor—towering waterfalls, bucking broncos or bungalows with thatched roofs. Tucked among them were fudge shops, trampoline parks, playgrounds, and stands sending clouds of delicious fragrances into the air as they sold fried dough in thirty-two flavors, cotton candy in forty-five flavors, and hot dogs in fifty.
Students could find work at miniature golf courses, the roller skating rink, aboard the Pirate Ship or in Dino-Land where gigantic fiberglass dinosaurs and sea monsters terrified excited children and their parents. Among towering oak trees at the lake’s edge was an amusement park surrounded by a massive wooden roller coaster. The clatter and creak of its speeding cars and the shrieks and screams of its riders joined the calliope music of the carousel and the sound of laughter to fill the summer nights.
All along Lake Shore Drive the air smelled like popcorn, barbecue, the burnt powder smell from exploding fireworks, and an under-note of the rich, cool scent of the Great Lake which surrounded it. To Rosie and me the choices were dazzling. We wanted to find jobs that would be fun but which would also afford us the maximum amount of opportunity for baking in the sun and taking advantage of the night life. After exhaustive research up and down the Drive and much discussion we devised a dual plan. In the morning we would work the breakfast shift at the elegant Victorian Manor, then catch a trolley to the beach for an afternoon of sun-bathing and still be back in time to shower, change, and work the evening shift at the Roller-Rama Drive-In Restaurant.
The Victorian Manor was a fanciful concoction of white gingerbread trim and wide porches with wicker rockers and hammocks. Guests played croquet on the lawn of the formal gardens and were served tea with scones and preserves by girls in long blue and white striped dresses and lacy white pinafores.
The Roller-Rama Drive-In was the opposite—a drive-in restaurant surrounded by a parking area where girls in white shorts, red bandanna-print halter tops, baseball caps, and roller skates served people in cars. I loved the idea of wearing roller skates to work but Rosie was not as thrilled.
“What if I fall?” she said looking at herself in the mirror on the back of the door in our new room as we tried on our uniforms.
“Don’t worry. We’ll practice.”
I had a different problem. I liked the uniform for the Manor Inn. The long dresses and snowy pinafore looked demure and charming. The Roller-Rama shorts and halter-top were another matter.
“I don’t know, Rosie.” I stared in dismay at my reflection next to her entirely perfect one. “I’m not used to seeing this much of myself.”
“Stop it, Clair!” She put her hands on her hips in perfectly fitted white shorts. “You look great.”
In the same outfit Rosie managed to look pert and cute. I just looked bare. I studied the firm, curved slope of her midriff and then pinched my own.
“Who wants to look at this,” I groaned. “I’m too … puffy.”
She stared at me. “Trust me, Clair, no one is going to be looking at your tummy. You have gorgeous legs and those big bazooms. Nobody is going to see past that. And besides, you’re not fat—you’re just … voluptuous. Guys like that.”
“Not lately,” I muttered.
The girl in the mirror seemed so different from the farm girl I’d been all my life. In two years I hadn’t cut my hair and it was now past the middle of my back. I studied my face but gave up after a minute. Rosie had given up on me, too, and gone off to show her new uniform to the other girls on our floor. Her ponytail bounced and bobbed with a sway that I couldn’t begin to imitate. Every time I tried I looked ridiculous and wound up with a headache and a mouthful of hair.
Oh well, I thought. At least I was a good roller skater.
Roller-Rama had classes for new carhops in which we were taught how to weave in and out of parked automobiles while carrying trays loaded with hamburgers, french fries and giant-sized mugs of root beer. We practiced skating in the driveway of the rooming house using garbage can lids as trays and were soon swooping down the street with ease to the tune of Palisades Park on the radio. I taught Rosie how to spin and twirl and by the time we started our jobs she looked like a drive-in ballerina.
I tried not to think about how I looked.
BY THE FIRST OF AUGUST I WAS CONSIDERING a career as a professional carhop. I needed a place where summer lasted forever. My job at the Victorian Manor was going well. Rosie had given up her pinafore and hairnet in favor of shorts and a large plastic whistle. She took a job working mornings at the playground watching the children of shopping mothers. She said she got along better with little kids than with little old ladies. Every noon we caught the trolley to the beach and both of us had the great tans we had planned on and were meeting boys by the dozen.
For me the attentions of boys on vacation and boys working along Lake Shore Drive was intoxicating. For Rosie it was more problematic. She had no shortage of admirers but there was also Dante Romeo. Afternoons, while Dante painted houses with Costas, she flirted on the beach, played volleyball in the dunes, and learned to water ski with a procession of admirers. But every evening, as the parking lot of Roller-Rama filled, Dante, in his red Thunderbird, pulled into her section.
“I’m so confused,” she groaned, flopping back on the beach blanket after coating herself with a slick layer of coconut oil. It was another perfect day of baking sunshine and cooling sea breezes and I was lying on my stomach listening to the sweep of the waves across the sand.
“Rosie.” We’d had this conversation before. “You wanted to be here this summer so you could have a good time. I know you’re crazy about Dante but he needs to understand you’re not ready to go quite so steady.” My current heart throb was a basketball star from Notre Dame who pumped gas beneath a rotating, red neon winged-horse during the day and kissed me breathless in the swan boats as we floated through the amusement park at night.
She dug a hole in the sand with her toes and sulked. “I really do love Dante. I just wish he’d gone somewhere else to work for the summer.” She gave me a quick glance and repented. “I’m sorry, Clair, I didn’t mean…”
“Don’t. It’s okay. I’m over him.”
That was a lie. I longed for another evening with Pio and was glad for the parade of boyfriends that had filled the summer. So far none of them had come close to replacing him in my fantasies, but I wasn’t pining away either.
Two weeks later my basketball player decided to go back to Chicago early and I was, once again, plagued by the mixture of disappointment and relief that had marked the end of all my summer flings. The morning after we kissed goodbye that first hint of the coolness of coming autumn tinged the air. I lifted the skirts of my blue and white striped gown as I carried a breakfast tray down the steps of the Victorian Manor and thought that going back to school wouldn’t be so bad after all.
“Good thing you don’t have to wear roller skates with that dress,” a pleasant male voice said. “You’re great on skates but I don’t think even you could manage steps in a dress like that.”
He was standing with his back to the morning sun so I couldn’t get a good look at his face as he walked toward me. He wore a light tan suit and the sun behind him glowed through straw-colored hair.
“We met at Christmas,” he said coming closer. “At Tony Romeo’s house. Clair, right?” He held out his hand. “Gary Peacock.”
I took his hand. “Yes. I remember you.”
“Go ahead and deliver your tray. I don’t want to bother you while you’re working.” I could see his face clearly now. He still had that great grin. “I’m having breakfast with my grandparents.” He nodded toward the veranda.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that we’re so busy now.”
“Don’t worry.” He flashed that grin. “I’ll catch up with you before I leave. Maybe you’ll give me your phone number?”
“Yes,” I said, pleased and startled.
“Great.” He sure knew how to use that grin.
When I got back to our room at noon, eager to tell Rosie about my surprise encounter, she was lying on her bed holding a letter, her right arm flung across her face. A thousand horrible thoughts raced through my imagination.
“Rosie.” I sat down on the bed beside her. “What is it?”
She looked up at me with a blur of tears and frustration in her eyes. “You are not going to believe this. I can’t believe this is happening!”
“What?” My stomach fluttered with panic.
She groaned and waved the letter. “My mother is coming to visit.”
“But I thought you invited her.”
She rolled onto her stomach and hugged her pillow looking away from me. “I do. I did. But I wanted her to visit while we were in school. This is just such bad timing.”
We were due to return to campus the Wednesday after Labor Day, less than three weeks away. As juniors with honor roll status Rosie and I were able to move out of the lower class dorms and into upper class housing which meant private rooms in one of the old mansions. Much as I loved having Rosie as a roommate I was looking forward to having a room of my own.
“Well,” I was struggling to understand the problem, “you can’t blame her for wanting to come during the summer… Does she like the beach?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know if she has ever even been to the beach.” Rosie lay quiet for a long time.
“I’ve decided that I want to have sex with Dante.”
That left me speechless. Over the summer we had talked a lot about sex, debating when would be the right time to do it and with whom. With Rosie, I figured, it was going to happen soon. I was pretty sure that I wanted to do it, too. I even knew who I wanted to do it with. It was just that he was far away and so I’d have to settle for someone else if it was to happen any time soon. But Rosie’s constant fretting over her relationship with Dante exhausted me and this decision was not unexpected.
“Okay,” I said feeling stupid.
She rolled over and looked at me, her eyes darting back and forth across my face. “I do love him. These other boys are fun and nice but… I decided that maybe if Dante and I make love I won’t want to flirt with other boys.”
“I don’t know…” I stood up and began changing from my Victorian uniform to a swimsuit. “That seems like a sort of backwards way to look at it.”
Rosie heaved a huge sigh. “I was going to wait until Labor Day weekend—sort of an end of summer finale but…” She wadded up the letter and heaved it toward the wastebasket. “Guess we’ll have to do it before she gets here now.”
Friday night the Roller-Rama was jammed. All the carhops were so busy skating between cars blaring rock and roll music that I didn’t have time to talk to Rosie. Half an hour before our nine o’clock shift ended I saw Dante’s Thunderbird turn off Lake Shore Drive. He cruised up and down the rows of cars in Rosie’s section where there were no empty spaces, then pulled into a spot in mine. He looked happy. Neil Sedaka was singing about breaking up being hard to do and Dante was singing along. I skated over executing a double twirl as I approached his window.
“Hey,” he yelled as I rolled up. “Pretty fancy.”
I leaned down and looked past Dante into Gary Peacock’s laughing eyes.
“Wow, double trouble.”
“You bet,” Dante said. “How about two extra large root beers and an extra large order of fries with gravy?”
“Sure.” I scribbled on my check pad. “And what do you want, Gary?”
He laughed. “Want me to tell you the truth?”
“All right.” The days were already starting to get shorter and I couldn’t see his expression in the twilight.
“I want you to come with Dante and Rosie and me to a beach party out at Ferncliff.”
Ferncliff was a private beach in the old manor section of the city owned by the yacht club. I’d never been there but had heard stories about bonfire parties on the beach that were rumored to be wilder than anything that took place on the well-patrolled peninsula.
“When?” This was my first Friday night all summer without plans and I was a little blue about it.
“Now, well, tonight. I thought Dante and I could pick you girls up over at your place around ten. If that’s okay with you.”
Gary was as fair and handsome as Dante was dark and exotic. It was an irresistible offer.
“Does Rosie know?”
“Yeah,” Dante said. “She was going to ask you but I guess it’s been busy here.”
“All right. Sounds great,” I said and skated off to get their order. A beach party at the yacht club! Not an unappealing thought.
By ten Rosie and I had showered and changed into shorts and sweaters over our swimsuits and were waiting on the rooming house porch when a little white Corvette convertible pulled into the driveway and Gary Peacock hopped out.
“Hi.” He came up on to the porch and perched on the railing. “Dante wanted us to take separate cars. He should be here in a few minutes. He stopped to get some beer.”
“Is that yours?” I stared at the car. It was as cute as Dante’s car was flashy.
Gary grinned. “Yup. Come take a look.”
It had a black leather interior and black top folded back behind the two seats and was about as darling as anything I had ever seen. Gary Peacock had style, I had to give him that. We were standing in the driveway admiring it when Dante pulled up.
“We’re wasting party time,” he yelled. Rosie gave me a quick hug, which surprised me, and dashed off to jump in beside him.
Gary held the door on the passenger side open. “M’lady’s chariot awaits.”
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