Song of Summer
To Eric: You deserve much more than a book.
And to Westfield, NY: This one’s for you.
Seven Weeks of Summer Left
“I just don’t see why you couldn’t make it work,” Violet rasps. She pours Jell-O with the precision of someone measuring liquid explosives. Her long plastic fingernails shine red, white, and blue, the commemorative paint chipping from last week’s holiday.
I smile and sigh. “It wasn’t my call, Vi,” I say. “I was all for making it work. He was not.” I spin the stool around and clunk another roll of silverware into the bucket on the counter, the hi-hat clank deadened by paper napkins. The brunch rush is over—two couples linger over coffee. Both are Violet’s tables. “‘We’re in high school,’ remember? ‘We’re not married.’” I laugh at the end of my bad Trent impression but it still smarts a little. My brain replays the rest of his breakup line. High school is about fun, Robin! I just can’t be tied down for our senior year. You’ll thank me for this later, I promise. I readjust my apron and start on the next silverware roll.
“Plus, he has a crooked smile,” pipes in Fannie’s voice from the grill. She pokes her rosy, round face into the pass-through window. “He’s a charmer for sure, but you can’t trust a boy with a crooked smile.”
“Exactly! Thank you, Fannie. See that, Vi? Crooked smile.”
The sun shines in through the huge front windows, illuminating the high-backed Amish-made wooden booths arranged around the outside and the flimsy, plastic-covered tables stranded in the middle. Classy black-and-white photographs hang on the walls in cheap plastic frames, and white Christmas lights decorate dusty plastic fake grape vines. The Byrds pipe in over the management-mandated oldies station, cutting through the greasy air better than any cleaning spray. My voice floats a descant atop their three-part harmony, and I dream of the Martin Dreadnought Junior Acoustic that awaits my tips at the end of the summer. Only eight more weeks and six hundred more dollars and the “Dread Pirate Martin” (as I like to call it) is mine.
“What was wrong with that boy from last week?” Violet asks.
I sigh. Violet is operating under the delusion that she and Fannie can help me find my one true love. After all, they found Violet’s now-husband, Rex, twentysomething years ago. They’re acting as if Trent’s absence left some gaping hole in my life. Really, I’m fine. All I need is my melody, not his harmony.
“He was…” He grunted when he ordered and spat in the flowerbed outside of the restaurant. He was covered in ATV-thrown dirt and he called me ‘Babe.’ He tipped seventy-eight cents. “He was… something else.”
The concept of fairy godmothers is pleasing in theory. In practice, it’s turned out to be kind of a bust.
“Bad tipper! Remember?” Fannie pipes in.
“Right,” Violet says. “I remember now. You’re right, Robin, you don’t want to date a bad tipper. Shows a lack of generous spirit.”
“Amen,” I say.
“Good tipper. It’s on the list.” Fannie calls from the back. She’s holding a pen and a sheet of paper and is waiting expectantly. “What else?”
Oh geez. There’ll be a written record of this? “I dunno.”
“Come on, Robin. What’s your type?” Violet demands.
“Short, stubby, and ugly?” Fannie hollers.
I laugh. “Yes. That. That’s exactly what I want. How did you know?”
“No, he’s gotta be tall, dark, and handsome!” Violet corrects, missing the joke. “And good with kids. And rugged and interesting and funny. Am I right or am I right?”
“You’re right! Keep going!” I grin and let Violet describe my dream guy. Or her dream guy. Really, it’s everyone’s dream guy.
“Smart!” she continues. “And romantic.”
“And rich!” Fannie pitches in.
“Money isn’t everything.” Violet’s taking this way too seriously. “He has to have a good heart. Anything else, Robin?”
“Music,” I say without even thinking. “He has to love good music.”
If he’s going to tour with me after I graduate next year, he’s got to be good. I could never date a nonmusician. He would never understand practice hours, rehearsals, gig setup, music equipment, recording software…, the list goes on.
“Music. Got it,” says Fannie. After a dramatic dot, she shoves the list through the pass-through window to Violet, who grabs a thumbtack and sticks it to the bulletin board, right between the daily specials and the number for the pest-control guy. “ROBIN’S PERFECT MAN” it says, and all the qualities are listed with little check boxes: “Good Tipper,” “Tall,” “Dark,” “Handsome,” “Good with kids,” “Rugged,” “Interesting,” “Funny,” “Smart,” “Romantic,” “Rich,” and, “Good Heart.” “Loves good music” is crowded in at the bottom. I laugh.
“Right,” I say. “When you two find this guy, let me know. Because I’ll have to beat all the other girls off with many, many sticks.”
I go back to my silverware wrapping and smile to myself. Guys like that don’t exist. I mention Alison Krauss or Emmylou Harris to the guys around here and they space out immediately. Trent’s different, of course—looks so good behind his stand-up bass. My mind travels back to our breakup and I shake my head, mouthing his words, “It’s high school. We’re not married.” I guess it’s louder than I think.
“What was that, Robin?” Violet asks.
“No! Nothing! Sorry…” I just sometimes relive old conversations under my breath. That’s all. Can’t imagine why Trent didn’t want to make it work.
“Hey, can you take these back to the big cooler?” Violet says as she throws the empty Jell-O pitcher in a bus bin. “I need a smoke.”
I eye the big tray filled with fancy scrolling Jell-O glasses. I hate carrying ungelled Jell-Os to the big cooler. I just imagine tripping and red sugar-water going everywhere. Glass will be broken. It will be bad. But I know better than to interfere with Violet and her smoke break. “Yeah, sure,” I say. She leaves and I see her and Fannie out the plateglass window, smoking and chatting at the picnic table. She’s almost done with her cigarette when I carefully grasp both sides of the tray and ease it off the counter.
“Please, please, please, please… ,” comes unbidden from my mouth. I clamp my lips shut and hold the tray against my stomach like a seventeen-year-old female ring bearer with a very heavy, very fragile pillow. If it were food, I would swing it up to my shoulder—easier to carry and showier in general—but since it’s liquid, I want it somewhere I can keep an eye on it.
I’m inching down the hallway, almost to the big cooler, when the bell on the door rings and Violet’s voice calls out, loud and clear: “Anywhere ya want!” It’s supposed to tell customers that they can choose their table, but it mostly just confuses them. I ease the Jell-O tray onto an empty shelf do a little celebration jive down the long hallway, since I didn’t die. Violet waits at the end of the hall, a smile on her face, two menus in her hand.
“Robin? You have a table,” she purrs. Of course! They found Mr. Tall-dark-handsome-soft-heart-good-tipper-good-music already!
“No,” I mouth, afraid he’ll hear me. “You take him.”
She shakes her head and hands me the menus. Two? Great. He’s probably already on a date. This is perfect.
“You owe me,” I whisper as I snatch the menus out of her hand.
“Oh no, honey. You owe me,” she says, and I turn to look at the dining room. Sure enough, two guys are silhouetted against the huge plateglass windows. I can’t see at all what they look like. Just that they’re guys and they’re both texting on their phones. Great. Teenagers, myself excepted, never tip well.
As I get closer, I can see them a little better. The one facing me is strawberry blond. He’s wearing creased khakis and a Ralph Lauren polo, and I’ve only ever seen his phone on commercials. Rich kid. The Chautauqua pass hanging around his neck confirms it. He’s kind of average looking, with freckles scattered across his nose and gel in his hair. The guy with his back to me has his head down, texting intently. All I can see is dark hair in a neat, short haircut. The strawberry blond guy looks up when he hears me coming. I plaster on my best, “I’m-going-to-kill-you-Violet” smile and stride confidently up to the table. The strawberry blond taps the table in front of his friend and points at me as I approach.
The dark-haired guy turns to look at me and my breath catches in my throat.
He’s a model. He has to be a model.
Long black eyelashes set off dark-brown eyes. High cheekbones and a strong jawline frame his face. His lips are full, and there’s the slightest dimple in his chin. His hair is thick and wavy, like a nonmarble version of Michelangelo’s David. His skin is the color of coffee with tons of cream and just as smooth.
I, of course, trip over my own ridiculous feet and he smiles, revealing a bright white smile with one tooth just crooked enough to keep him from being a toothpaste model. It makes him more handsome, if that’s possible.
Suddenly, I realize that I’m at the table. They’re both staring at me. I still have their menus.
“Hi,” I say breathlessly, looking away from Mr. Perfect Guy in order to keep from blushing. It’s not working. “I’m Robin.” I slide their menus onto the table. “What can I—”