July 25, 2008


When Emily came downstairs after her picnic with Michael, she found her mother in the breakfast nook with a small tray of cucumber sandwiches, a deck of cards, and two small metal gadgets that looked a bit like stubby stopwatches. Belinda Bellecastle seemed to be waiting on her, and brightened up when Emily passed by.

“There you are.”

“Hey.” Why did her diction and posture always desert her the second she saw her mother?

Belinda nodded at the finger sandwiches. “I made us a snack before we go over to Grandma and Grandpa’s.”

“I just had a picnic. And we’re going to Grandma and Grandpa’s to eat dinner.” Sitting down at the small table, Emily took one of the shiny devices. She cut the deck of cards: a seven of diamonds.

“Somehow I don’t think that’s gonna stop you.”

Emily took a bite of a sandwich triangle. “You mustn’t say things like that to a 17-year-old girl. You could give me an eating disorder.”

“This is America, Emily. Everyone has an eating disorder.”

Belinda Bellecastle cut the cards as well and turned up a three of clubs. The low card meant she would be the dealer for the first round. She gave Emily and herself six cards, then turned up a starter card, which was the ten of diamonds.

“Michael brought us the new Forbes…Dad slipped to number 39.”

“I knew those dotcom people were no good.” Belinda frowned for a second, then laid two of her cards off to the side. “My god, has it really been a year already? I feel like the last list came out yesterday.”

Emily put two of her cards aside as well, then laid down a face-up four in front of her. “Four.”

Belinda put down a three. “Seven.”

“Five is…uh, twelve for three.” Emily picked up her metal counter and clicked the button on top three times, giving herself three points. She’d discovered the counters in one of the many second-floor storage rooms a few years ago, and walked around clicking them aimlessly for a week, trying to think of something fun to do with them. Finally she realized that her family could use them to keep score in Cribbage instead of the more traditional wooden pegboard.

“Clever girl,” her mother said, then put down a jack. “Twenty-two. So how was your picnic?”

“It was okay.” Emily shrugged and didn’t look up from her hand.

“Very enlightening.”

Emily groaned. “I don’t know, it was fine. What else can I say?” She placed a five down on the table. “Twenty-seven.”

“Go. It’s a shame that none of your other friends could make it.” She smiled innocently over at her daughter. “Too bad it was just you and Michael.”

Emily ignored her and played her last card, a four. “Thirty-one for two and one more for the go.” Click click click.

“Of course, we’ve seen quite a bit of Michael these last couple of weeks, haven’t we…?”

Emily rolled her eyes violently. “We’re just hanging out, geez. He and I are both in the same boat now that the twins are gone. Go.”

Belinda gave herself a point for the go, then played a nine and ten and gave herself another point. She fixed her daughter with a stern look. “Emily. I am extremely disappointed in you. No daughter of Bonnie Belle has any business being this bad at lying to her mother. We’re going to have to ask those gypsies for our money back.”

“We’re just friends, Mom, I swear. Okay? Could you get off my back about this?” This wasn’t the first time her mother had made leading comments about Michael, and it wasn’t the first time she’d overreacted and immediately regretted it.

“It’s okay, you don’t have to say anything. I’ve seen the two of you together.”

Emily looked up sharply, only to find her mother smiling slyly.

“I meant your body language, dear.” Then, nodding at Emily’s hand: “What do we have?”

With a quick sigh, Emily spread her cards out in front of her. “Three four five for three, three four five for six, fifteen for eight and fifteen for ten. Oh, and a pair for twelve.” She clicked her counter twelve times.

“And I have…let’s see, nine ten jack, another nine ten jack, and a pair…and one for his nob. What is that? Nine?”

After scoring the crib—a perfect nineteen—it was Emily’s turn to deal. They played the next hand without talking about much…Belinda Bellecastle hated to lose, and she was behind by seven points. She had a better second hand, though, and the score was tied by the time she had to deal again. But instead of handing out the cards, she set the deck down and narrowed her eyes at her daughter. Emily dreaded what was coming, and prepared herself.

“Now. Two weeks ago I told you to go have an adventure this summer, and I gave you a deadline of two…Emily, what are you doing?”

Emily exhaled slowly, relaxing all of the muscles she had been tensing as she held her breath. “Stress relief,” she mumbled.

“Well, it’s been two weeks. I don’t have to know what you’re up to…in fact, I forbid you to tell me. The best adventures are the ones that would horrify your parents. Or your children. But I have to know, because your time is up: have you started an adventure?”

Emily was trapped and she knew it. If she admitted that something was going on, her mom would never let it go. But if she denied everything she’d have to succumb to her mother’s plans for the rest of the summer.

“I…might have started…a little something. Yeah.”

Her mother raised her eyebrows. “I thought so. You wicked child.”

“It’s just a summer thing, it’s not…you know.”

“Those are the best kinds of adventures!”

Emily slumped down in her seat, surprised to find that she was smiling just a tiny little bit. “Okay, that’s all I’m going to say. Period.”

Belinda ignored her. “I have to say, whatever your adventure is, it must be a good one. Even your dad was saying that you’ve been smiling and laughing and generally acting goofy the last couple weeks.”

“Really?” Emily prayed that she wasn’t blushing.

“Oh, totally. I don’t blame you though, he’s hot. I’d have an adventure with him any day.”

Emily groaned. “Ugh, now I have to go vomit and call the cops. Deal the cards.”

Instead, her mother slowly shuffled the deck one more time. “Well, just be careful. Getting knocked up is a terrible way to end a summer adventure.”

“Mom…! We’re not sleeping together.” Yet. “I didn’t even say that’s what it was, okay? Can we just drop it already and play the game?”

“Does he love you , Miss Bellecastle?” she asked, but Emily ignored her. "Did you hear what I said, Miss Bellecastle? Does he absolutely adore you?”

Emily fought down a shy grin and pointed at the deck of cards. “Shut up and deal.”