TITLE: Sara's Summer of Truth - Chapter One-Second rewrite
By Celeste Ammirata
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Mrs. Characid was droning on about the History final she was giving the next day. Sara's moist skin glistened in the oppressive heat of her afternoon classroom, her arm sticking to the wooden surface of her desk. She raked her fingers through the damp hair on the back of her neck, and pulled it all up into a pony tail. The stale air permeated with the odor of overheated bodies mingled with cheap perfume. Struggling to stifle a yawn, her eyes drifted around the classroom, scanning over glassy eyes and dozing classmates before coming to rest on Mike Mulligan, the captain of the football and baseball teams.
Mmmmm, just what I needed, she thought, taking in his thick black hair and dark almond eyes. I could look at him all day. He's the most exotic boy I've ever seen. And that mouth! She indulged herself for just a moment, staring at his straight white teeth and full lips. Her gaze shifted up to his beautiful dark brown eyes; which were watching her in amusement. He smiled at her. A smile that could make a girl forget her name.
She drew in a quick breath and looked away. Feeling the heat in her cheeks, she bit lower lip and closed her eyes, silently praying that no one else noticed. She dared a quick peek over at her cousin Cindy, hoping that off all people, Cindy hadn't seen. No such luck. Cindy, staring at her with that condescending smile of hers, shook her head. For the rest of the class Sara kept her eyes on Mrs. Characid and the opened notebook in front of her.
When the bell rang, she gathered up her books, hoping to get out of the room before Cindy caught up with her. She sneaked a quick glance at Mike before joining the hordes of students in the hall.
A few steps into her escape, Cindy hurried up along side of her. "Smooth, Sara. I'm impressed."
Sara shrugged, "Well, at least he smiled at me."
"Of course he smiled at you, you were staring at him, what else was he supposed to do?" She shook her head, sighed, and said, "Oh, Sara, what am I going to do with you? There's Scott, I gotta go," she said before breezing away to catch up with her boyfriend.
“Hey kiddo, how’s it going? You’re going to enter that contest, aren’t you?” Sara turned around to see Ray, a friend who had been in her art classes since middle school. He was talking about the contest for a scholarship into the Philadelphia School of Art. He smiled, showing the small space between his two front teeth that she thought added to his irresistible charm.
Her belly did a little flip. “I don’t know if I’m good enough. But you really should.”
“Are you kidding me?” he asked as he put his hand on her upper back. “Your one of the best I’ve ever seen.”
Ray was one of the few kids in school who ever talked to her. It seemed weird that he wasn’t with Nancy, his girlfriend. Those two seemed joined at the hip. She thought of asking him about her, but he turned down a hall to the left disappeared into yet another wave of student bodies.
Sara made her way to her locker, feeling like she was in the first row of a general admission rock concert, being pushed along by kids rushing to get to their next class on time.
Someone stepped down hard on Sara’s sandaled foot. Then, to add insult to injury, he twisted his foot as if her pinky toe were a lit cigarette he was determined to put out. Then the fool yelled to a friend and hurried away, oblivious to the pain he inflicted on her. These people were idiots. No one cared about anyone but themselves. At her locker, she took a second to massage her throbbing toes, grabbed her Algebra II book and hurried as best she could to the last class of the day. She would be handing it in before the teacher passed out their final exam. Goodbye and good riddance. After her history final the next day, she would be finished with tests. If she got an A or a B on it, it would mean a B in History, her toughest class, for the semester. And she’d keep up her honor roll status.
Tuesday would be a half day and then on Thursday she and her dad were heading south to their summer home at the Buxton Point campground in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. She couldn’t wait. No one there knew that her mother killed herself when Sara was only ten years old. Or that her dad was a third grade teacher who never got over the loss of his wife. And since no one knew, she didn’t have to feel like she was walking around with the word ‘Loser’ painted in strawberry red on her forehead. She felt free to be a little friendlier and open down there. People didn’t judge her for what her parent’s mistakes.
A few hours later Sara slammed her history book shut and pushed away from her desk. She looked at Duke, her dog, and smiled, “Well Duke, if I don’t know enough by now to ace that test I never will. I need a break, what do you say we go for a walk to the park? I can study a little more when we get home.”
Duke jumped up, shook all over and started running in circles around the room. Taking that as a yes, she smiled, and together they ran down the steps into the kitchen where she grabbed his leashed from its hook. In the living room she walked passed her dad sitting in his recliner, watching a baseball game on TV. “I’m going to take Duke for a walk.”
“Okay,” he said, not bothering to look up from his game.
It was a beautiful summer evening, with a warm breeze blowing. Sara breathed in the smell of fresh cut grass as they walked toward the park. Sprinklers watered lawns and showered sidewalks with what seemed like well choreographed tap dancing drops.
Duke’s tail wagged in constant happy motion as he pulled her along. “Guess what Duke? Mike Mulligan smiled at me today.” Duke’s response to her exciting news was to stop, and sniff a fire hydrant.
Some neighborhood kids were cooling off by running through a lawn sprinkler as they played a game of catch with an old tennis ball. They ran over to pet Duke, who placated them for a little while before giving in to the temptation of the many smells just waiting to be investigated. Sara smiled, thinking of how lucky she was that Duke came into her life when he did.
“So, what are you so happy about?”
Startled, Sara stumbled and turned around to look into the gorgeous face of Mike Mulligan.
“Um, what do you mean?” Smooth response, Sara. She kept on walking, as she had no choice with Duke pulling her along.
“You’re smiling. What are you so happy about?” he asked, matching his pace with hers. He grinned down at her, looking so sure of himself with his hands pushed into the front pockets of his jeans.
She felt the heat in her cheeks and could swear he could hear her heart pounding. “I was just thinking about Duke, my dog.”
“Oh yeah? What about him?”
“I really love him. He’s been a real blessing to me.”
“What do you mean; a blessing?”
“Well you know; a gift from God.”
“God,” he said, turning his head to follow a red firebird racing by. “I don’t believe in God.”
“Oh.” Duke stopped to sniff a large bush and leave his mark on it. She silently prayed that he wouldn’t make a mess that she would have to clean up in front of Mike. Catching the light scent of honeysuckle that floated on the breeze she closed her eyes and breathed in.
“What are you doing?”
“I love the smell of honeysuckle.”
“Boy, you love a lot of things don’t you? Your dog, honeysuckle and drawing; anything else I should know about you?”
Though uncomfortable under his scrutiny, she couldn’t help but feel excited that he knew even a little bit about her. “How do you know I love to draw?”
“I saw your work in the cafeteria, and sometimes it’s in the halls. You’re pretty good.” He smiled and leaned over to pet Duke. And she resisted the urge to pinch herself to see if she was dreaming.
“Thank you,” she said. Okay Sara, even though he likes your art, and he’s talking to you and petting Duke, it doesn’t mean that he’s interested in you. He probably has nothing else to do. Just stay calm, and don’t do or say anything stupid.
“Those pictures of the lighthouse are really good. Have you ever been there?”
“Yes, they’re from the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. I spend summers there with my dad.”
“Does it take you long to do one of those paintings. That is what you use, paint right?”
“Sometimes, and I also use pastels or colored pencils. When I see something I like, I make a quick sketch and then work on it later when I have more time.”
Duke took off, pulling her with him and Mike kept up with them. “Do you ever sketch your Duke?”
“Yes, I’ve done a lot of pictures of him.”
“How about me; did you ever sketch me?” He grinned down at her.
“No, I’ve never sketched you. Like I said, I sketch things I like.” she said, trying to sound cool; feeling anything but.
“But I’ve seen you looking at me, like today in history class.” He locked his dark eyes on hers.
“So you were looking at me today?” she asked, trying to turn the tables and embarrass him.
No such luck. “Yeah, I was.” His lips curled into a playful smirk.
Okay now I know he’s just playing games with me. He knows I like him and he’s trying to make a fool of me. What a jerk!
She looked away from him and called Duke, pulling on his leash. “Come on boy, we have to go.” She felt a little guilty because Duke loved these walks. If not for Mike, she probably would have stayed out at least another half hour.
Mike looked confused, “Hey, why are you leaving now? What’s the matter?”
“Nothing’s the matter. I just have to get home to study for our history test.” She turned to leave, but Duke had other ideas. He wouldn’t budge from Mike’s side. She tried to coax him. “Come on Duke, you want a treat?”
“I want a treat,” Mike said.
She couldn’t help but smile. “Sure here,” she said, handing him one of Duke’s favorite pleasures. “I’m sorry; I didn’t know you were a dog biscuit kind of guy.” Okay Sara, just play it cool and see what happens.
“Thank you,” he said taking the treat. “Here buddy,” he handed it over to Duke who engulfed it in less than two seconds. Looking back at Sara he said, “But I didn’t mean that kind of treat.”
Determined to hide her embarrassment, she tipped her chin up, looked him in the eye and asked, “What kind of treat did you mean?”
“I thought maybe a kiss.”
Flabbergasted, it took a second for her to respond. She rolled her eyes before narrowing them at him. “Oh please, a kiss? Where did that come from? All year long you were in my history class and never said a word to me. Now after gracing me with your presence for ten minutes, you want a kiss? You think I’m just another one of your Steinbeck groupies, don’t you? Well guess what……I’m not!” She grabbed Duke’s leash and yanked hard. “Let’s go Duke.”
“Steinebeck groupie?” he said as he pulled a leaf from a branch above his head. “I never heard that term before.” He came up next to her, the leaf in his hand. He cleared his throat. Sara saw a little apprehension in his eyes. “Well I guess I was a bit forward. Actually I have noticed you. But you’re so quiet, none of the guys had the guts to go up and talk to you. You seem different outside of school though. Not as shy. I really didn’t mean it about the kiss. I just wanted to see what your reaction would be.” He reached out and moved hair away from her eyes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“Friends?” he said, handing her the leaf.
She took the leaf and prayed he couldn’t hear her heart pounding. She wished he would leave. But she didn’t want him to leave. She caught herself chewing her lip and stopped. Not knowing what to do or say, she allowed Duke to pull her along. When they got to the trail that cut through the woods, she wasn’t sure of what to do. She said a quick prayer, and got no bad feelings, so she followed Duke onto the trail.
She loved everything about the woods; the animals, trees, bushes, and the wildflowers and their sweet aromas. These walks with Duke were her favorite time of day. She always felt a bit closer to God on these trails of vibrant colors.
“Do you always walk through these trails alone?” Mike asked.
“I’m not alone. Duke is with me. I love it here. ” She caught a sweet scent as it wafted on the warm breeze and breathed deep. “Can you smell the hydrangea?”
Mike inhaled, “Yeah, I guess it’s pretty nice.” He looked around, and said, “I don’t think it’s safe, even with Duke. You can’t see what’s around the next curve with all the bushes and trees.”
She raised her eyebrows, “Now don’t tell me that a big strong guy like you is afraid of the woods.”
Now it was his turn to blush. “No, I’m not afraid. I just don’t think it’s safe for a girl all alone, that’s all.” His eyes darkened, “Bad things do happen sometimes, you know.”
“I know they do. But I love it here too much to stay away just because something bad can possibly happen. I say a quick prayer for protection before I turn onto the trail. If I’m to die on a certain day, staying off the trail won’t change that.”
Mike shook his head. “That’s just stupid. Being killed isn’t the only bad thing that can happen to a girl, you know.”
Though uncomfortable talking about such things with someone who just confessed that he didn’t believe in God, she decided to stick with the truth. “I know that, and when I say the prayer, if I get a bad feeling, which I have at times; then I know my guardian angel is warning me to stay away. I always listen to my gut feelings.” Biting her lip, she studied his face.
“Did you pray just now?”
Why won’t he just let it go? “Yes, and I got no bad feelings, so I knew I could trust you.”
“You can,” He nodded solemnly. He turned and took in his surroundings. “Do you think everyone gets those gut feelings?”
“Yes I do.”
“Then why do good people sometimes get hurt?” His jaw clenched and a raw pain flickered in his eyes for just a second before disappearing.
She didn’t want to sound preachy, but he did ask, so she answered truthfully. “Well, I think that sometimes people ignore it when they get a bad feeling. They try to rationalize or ignore their fears. They just don’t understand where the feelings come from.”
“You mean from angels?” Mike asked, without sarcasm.
“Yes.” She nodded.
“So you think that nothing bad will happen to you if you listen to guardian angels? If that were true, then nothing bad should ever happen to good, God fearing people, right?”
“No, that’s not true. Bad things happen to everybody. Even to people in tune with their angels. Sometimes bad things just have to happen. I don’t know why, Mike. I’m not an expert, but I know that God exists, and that he uses his angels to help us here.” She paused. “Does that make any sense?”
He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I guess, but I don’t know. I just know that if God does exist, he doesn’t care about us.” He paused, “At least not about me.”
They came to the end of the trail, and when Mike walked over to a picnic table, Sara followed. Even though she didn’t want to push him away, she couldn’t let it go. The guy had some serious painful issues going on and she knew that God was the only one who could help him.
“He does care about you Mike. Have you ever seriously thought about all you have been blessed with?”
He shook his head and let out a bitter laugh. “I haven’t been blessed with anything.”
“No? What about your athletic talent? You were offered a scholarship in both baseball and football. Michael, do you know how many kids in school would do anything to be you, with your looks and abilities?”
He sighed and let out a long breath. Hopping up, he sat on the table with his feet resting on the bench. Sara sat next to him. There was no one around so she let Duke walk freely.
“I know that I have more going for me than the average kid, you know, and that’s cool,” Mike said as he raked his hands through his hair.
“But….” Sara said for him.
“But, I don’t think it’s from God. I mean, I believe that he is the creator of the universe. But, I can’t believe that he cares about us. We are insignificant in his eyes,” Mike said, looking at her as if willing her to understand.
Knowing he wasn’t saying everything on his mind, she wondered about the pain she had glimpsed earlier; when someone called his name. Sara turned and looked behind her to see Sammy, a friend of Mikes, walking toward them.
“Mike, there you are, I tried calling you but you weren’t home.” He stopped short. “Hey, who’s this?” He asked, looking at Sara. “Aren’t you Sara, the artist, from school?” He sat down next to her and extended his hand. “Hi, I’m Sammy. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
She took his hand and shook it. “Hi, Sammy, it’s nice to meet you too.” She said, and absentmindedly started chewing her bottom lip.
“What did you want?” Mike asked.
“What?” Sammy asked; his attention on Sara.
“You said you called my house. What did you want?” Mike leaned forward, with his hands resting on his knees.
Sammy pulled his eyes away from Sara and glared at Mike. “I wanted to know if you wanted to go to the field for some BP.”
“What’s BP?” Sara asked.
“Batting practice.” They answered in unison.
The night was just getting too weird. “Well, guys, I have to go. It was nice meeting you both.” She stepped down off of the picnic bench and called Duke. Mike and Sammy jumped down too.
“You don’t have to go. It’s too dark now for BP anyway.” Mike stood next to her, petting Duke, who rested his head Mike’s thigh. Lucky Dog!
“I have to finish studying for the test tomorrow.” God, please let me get out of here before I do something stupid to ruin this night.
“I have to take that test too, want to study together?” He put his hand on her arm. Sara drew in her breath at the heat of his touch. Little warm sparks of energy shot up her arm and made their way to her belly.
“Mike, you’re acing that course, why do you need to study for the test? Come on. I’m starving; let’s go get something to eat.” Sammy said, standing next to them. Mike’s dark eyes shot daggers at Sammy, who held up his hands up in defense, “What?”
With his hand still on her arm, he locked his eyes on hers. “I can help you study, Sara.” Unnerved by her reaction to him, she pulled her arm away and took a step back.
Sammy said, “Yeah, Mike, like studying is what you want to help her with.” He held up his hand in resignation. “We’ll all be at the quarry when you’re finished.” He looked at Sara, “See you Sara, take it easy.”
“Bye, Sammy.” She smiled at him, though very aware of Mike’s nearness. She said, “Mike, I appreciate your offer to help me. But I study best when I’m alone. I have a little system worked out. Thanks anyway.” She looked over to the parking lot, where Sammy sat in his car, revving his engine up. “If you hurry, you could still catch up with him. I have to get going anyway.” She reached down to pick up Duke’s leash.
“I can walk you home.”
Sammy’s words were coming back to her. “Like studying is what you want to help her with.”
What is up with him?
“No thank you. I know the way.” She didn’t try to keep the sarcasm from her voice.
“You’re mad. Why? Sara, I only offered to walk you home.”
“What did Sammy mean?” She turned to face him. “What exactly do you want to help me with?” Not used to confrontations, she couldn’t calm her wildly galloping heart or cool the heat in her cheeks. “Mike, I know you think I’m some stupid girl, but I’m not. I can’t help but wonder why, after three years at the same school, with not so much as a hello, you are now so interested in getting to know me.” She reached down to pet Duke, trying to get control of her emotions. “You think I’m just going to fall all over you, like all the other idiot girls at school, don’t you? You really thought I would kiss you, didn’t you?”
His eyes darkened with anger. “First of all, Sammy is a jerk. He’s jealous because I got to talk to you first. Secondly, like I told you before, I’ve noticed you in school. I just never had the chance to meet up with you. Thirdly, I wanted to help you study, because, yes, I do want to get to know you better.” He reached out, put his hand on her arm, and pulled it away. Shoving his hands into his pockets he went on, “What’s so wrong with that? You seemed nice, like someone who is easy to talk to.” His eyes softened, “And I wanted to walk you home because I wanted to make sure you were safe.”
Her anger melted away. “Oh. Thank you.” Boy, this guy is good. Sara, you have to be very careful with him. She gave him a lopsided grin. “I’m sorry if I insulted you. I just don’t understand your interest.” She started walking toward the parking lot.
“It’s okay. No hard feelings.” He hesitated. “I still want to walk you home, though, if that’s okay.”
“Sure, thank you.”
“Are you always so polite?”
“Usually, does it bother you?”
He grinned at her. “No, I think it’s nice.”
“Thank you” She smiled back at him.
They walked for a while in a comfortable silence, and were at her house much too soon. “Well, this is my house. Thanks again for walking me home.”
Once again, she felt the heat of his touch on her arm. “Sara, can I have your phone number? So I can call you some time.”
She thought about it. If she gave it to him, and he didn’t call, she’d be mortified to see him in school. “I’ll tell you what, you ask me for my phone number tomorrow, and I’ll give it to you.” She tipped her head up to him and smiled sweetly.
Mike stood close and rubbed her forearm with the side of his thumb. “Wow, your tough!” He tilted his head slightly to the side and smiled at her. A very sexy, definitely practiced, oh so nice smile.
Butterflies invaded her stomach and she went weak in the knees. Alarm filled her at the thought that he might try to kiss her. She never kissed a boy from around here before. What if she was terrible? She had kissed a boy once while down at Hatteras, but she had known him for a while. She hardly knew Mike and definitely was not going to kiss him. Suddenly desperate to get away, she turned away from him and opened the front door.
“Well, Mike, goodnight. Thanks for walking me home. I have to get Duke some water. It was really nice talking with you. See you tomorrow.” She hated rambling, but couldn’t help it. She only dared looking at him after she had closed the screen door between them.
“Okay, well, good night, Sara. See you tomorrow.” He smiled, shoved his hand back in his pockets, turned and walked down the steps. He even looked great from the back. She watched until he was out of sight.
Well, that was fun. She walked past her dad, still in the recliner; fast asleep. Lord, help him. He needs to let go of the past and start living again.
Going into the kitchen, she filled Dukes dish with fresh water. The phone rang and Sara picked it up. “Hey Sara, I was just wondering if you got through the rest of the day without further humiliation.”
Even Cindy’s high pitched arrogant tone couldn’t burst Sara’s bubble. She laughed softly. “No, I got through the rest of the day just fine, thank you. Oh, you’ll never guess who I was just talking to.”
“Mike Mulligan. I met up with him when walking Duke. He came to the park with us and then he walked me home. He’s really nice. I met Sammy, too.”
“Oh. Well, he will be nice to you until he’s made you his latest conquest. Sara, surely you know that he’s only interested in one thing from a girl. Though why he’d be interested in getting it from you is beyond me. He usually goes for pretty, popular girls.”
Sara shook her head; couldn’t Cindy just be happy for her? Deflated, she sat down at the kitchen table.
“He didn’t seem like that. He seemed nice. He said he liked talking to me.”
“Like I said, he is nice. Until he gets what he wants.”
“Is he nice to you?”
Indignant, she answered, “Of course he’s nice to me, even flirts a little sometimes. But he wouldn’t make a move on me. He knows I’m Scott’s girlfriend. Which reminds me; I have to hang up in case Scott’s trying to call. See ya.” With that, the line went dead.
Sara hung up the phone and called Duke over. He rested his head on her thigh. “So Duke, what did you think of Mike? I thought he was nice.” She kissed the top of his black head and rubbed behind his velvety ears. “Of course Cindy had to be her usual supportive self. Can’t she be happy for me? I just want a normal life, like she has. You know with a real family, some girlfriends, and maybe even a boyfriend. Is that too much to ask for?” She looked up, “Is it God? Is a normal life to much for me to hope for?” Duke jumped up and rested his paws on her thighs and ran his wet spongy tongue over her cheek. She laughed, “I know you love me Duke. I love you too.” She turned her eyes upward, “Thank you God, for sending me Duke. I don’t know how I would have survived the last seven years without him.”
She got out a pot and some milk. She knew she would have a hard time falling asleep and warm milk usually did the trick.
“So Duke, do you think Mike will ask me for my phone number tomorrow?” Duke stopped slopping from his water bowl, glanced at her with water dripping from the fur around his mouth, then went back to drinking.
“Nah, I don’t think so either. I’m not his type. But, even though he makes me nervous, it would be kind of nice, you know? And maybe God wants me to help him. You know be someone he could talk to about whatever it is that’s hurting him.” Duke ambled over and wet her thigh with a sloppy kiss.
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