Read Afterparty Online

Authors: Ann Redisch Stampler

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Social Themes, #Emotions & Feelings, #Adolescence, #Love & Romance, #Social Issues

Afterparty

BOOK: Afterparty
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For Rick, Laura, and Michael, as usual

It is not the ending I expected. The free fall from the roof and the torn green awnings. Her body landing in a heap at the foot of a hydrangea bush. The hedges lit with pink Malibu lights that glint off the sequined skirt, the blouse half open, and her pale hair.

The thud, the doorman running down the sidewalk, and then sirens and more rain.

Siobhan the Wild and Emma the Good.

I was the good one . . . maybe not so much.

Poor Siobhan.

She could batter mean girls with a field hockey stick and make it seem accidental. She could break your heart and make it seem accidental.

And then she couldn’t. Then she was gone.

Maybe.

Maybe she is only temporarily asleep—but more likely, she is only temporarily alive.

Hanging on by her fingernails is what they say.

The wild one is gone and the good one . . . isn’t good. Because good girls don’t usually wear long sleeves to cover where their best friend’s fingernails scored their forearms. Good girls don’t usually slip out their bedroom window in a silver dress and taxi to the Camden Hotel late at night.

Good girls don’t usually kill their best friend.

PART ONE
C
HAPTER
O
NE

THE BEACH CLUB WHERE WE
land our first day in L.A. is all white and sun-bleached, with striped awnings and a platoon of valet parking guys in shorts and starched safari shirts, like privates in the tap-dancing division of a silent movie’s tropical army. The sky is dazzling blue with a faint grayish haze, a smudge all along the horizon.

My dad thinks it’s some smog-like form of breathable dirt.

I think it’s the edge of Paradise.

On the drive from the hotel to the beach, I start counting palm trees, but there are so many, I lose track. Then I count cars so low to the ground that you could use their hoods for coffee tables, and then landmarks that I’ve seen in movies. The pink-and-green façade of the Beverly Hills Hotel. The gates of Bel Air. The Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier.

My dad says, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Although you wouldn’t know that if you looked at us.

My dad is in creased khaki pants and a blazer and a white shirt and cuff links. I had to fight with him to leave off the tie because, seriously, it’s a beach party at a beach club at the
beach
.

I am wearing a sundress that is saved from intolerable dowdiness only by the fact that it’s vintage. (Hint: If your dad insists you wear skirts that are several inches longer than any skirt worn by a girl who wasn’t Amish since the nineteenth century, go vintage.)

Cinched waist, wide belt, Audrey Hepburn flats, and big cat’s-eye sunglasses.

I say, “Best city yet. So far.”

We have spent almost my whole life wandering all around the North American landscape like a tiny band of lost nomads from the icy North, pausing at medical schools that needed a visiting professor, my dad, who could work on their research grants, and then pack up and leave. Dragging his kid behind him.

Until now.

My dad says, “Ems, are those polarized lenses? Blue eyes and sun don’t mix.”

I say, “Dad. Of course they are.”

Welcome to California.

I have been here for less than twenty-four hours. I am sitting in the backseat of a limousine behind a driver in a jet-black cap who drives too fast. I am dressed for 1958. And already I am telling lies.

We head down a sharp incline at the edge of a bluff toward the beach and up the coast. I can’t tell if we’re in Santa Monica or Malibu or some other sunbaked city that I’ve never heard of.

I start counting cars with surfboards strapped on top of them,
and cars with surfboards sticking out of hatchbacks. I start counting cars with out-of-state license plates, with drivers who look ecstatic to be here and not there when we pass them.

I am counting license plates because I don’t want to think about whether there’s some way my dad can check out if my sunglasses really are polarized.

I am trying to think about all the seagulls here and all this light instead.

How I’m wearing coconut oil instead of dermatologist-approved number 50 sunblock so I can get tan during the last remnants of afternoon sun at this beach party.

I feel very princess-y in the back of this black car. The valet and the driver and my dad all lunge to open my door.

My dad wins. There’s not a minute that he isn’t trying to take care of me. Sometimes maybe too much, but still.

We are here because the head of the Albert Whitbread Psychiatric Institute dropped dead on the last day of July, by the side of the road, on his annual bicycle trek through Provence. The Institute started trying to hire my dad to replace him when his corpse was still in a cooler in France. My dad has spent the month of August trying to decide whether to sign the contract sentencing him to five years in Sodom and Gomorrah, which, if you’re not up on your Biblical trivia, were the ancient prototypes of Sin City.

Usually I am the person protesting the move while my dad tries to explain why moving from Montreal to Toronto to St. Louis to Philadelphia to Baltimore to Washington, D.C., to Chicago in the space of ten years is a good thing.

Not this time. This time I want it.

We walk under a striped awning toward a cluster of white clapboard buildings between the parking lot and the sand.

My dad brushes sand off the cuffs of his pants and gestures toward the club, where, I can tell just by the way he’s frowning, there’s way too much perfectly tanned skin and visible fun. He rolls his eyes “Would you say this is more killer or more gnarly?”

I say, “Dad, I love you, please don’t get mad at me, but if you want these people to hire you, you can’t say those words out loud ever again.”

I don’t know when people actually said “killer” and “gnarly,” but I’m pretty sure my dad was in Quebec, speaking French, back when they did.

My dad says, “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I have to decide if I want them to hire me.”

This would be the whole rest of high school in one place, and the place would be
here
. I have already decided.

Beyond the giant wooden deck of the main building, there are pools and shuffleboard and rows and rows of beach chairs, studded with giant striped umbrellas that skirt a lagoon on one side and go straight down to the surf on the other.

Kids my age seem to own the chairs and the fire pit and the snack shack by the lagoon. My father makes me promise that I will not, under any circumstances, even so much as dip my baby toe in that lagoon, which he is pretty sure is formed from toxic runoff from a storm drain.

“What if my hair catches fire from a rogue tiki torch?” I say.

“Ems, I’m sure there’s a highly trained staff of lifeguards with fire extinguishers if that happens.”

“Just so long as I can swim in the ocean when we move here.”


If
we move here.”

A hostess in white linen leads us to wicker club chairs on the deck next to Dr. Karp, the head of the Albert Whitbread Institute board of directors, and his wife, who are mounting a campaign to convince my dad that Los Angeles, far from being Sin City, is actually a lot like Heaven. Only with a beach.

It is hard to tell from here if all those kids are hanging on the outskirts of the beach club willingly and are having a wonderful time (in which case we should move here and join up immediately, despite the toxicity) or if they’ve been dragged here under protest to keep them penned up and away from the un-rich.

The piped-in music plays “I Wish They All Could Be California Girls,” followed by “California Dreaming,” a version of “Hotel California” with marimbas, and “I Love L.A.”

All I want at that moment is to be a California girl leading a normal California life, sitting by the lagoon, drinking, all right, a bottle of root beer, with my magically transformed California dad, who has become completely okay with me engaging in normal California teen activities.

For my whole life, I was
that
girl. The girl who wasn’t allowed to watch PG-13 movies until I turned thirteen—which made sleepovers tricky, since if I couldn’t, nobody else could. The one time I broke down and watched the forbidden movie, and my dad found out, I basically spent the next two weeks in my room,
nodding my head during long, heartfelt talks about how disappointed he was, and didn’t I have a moral compass?

It wasn’t a ploy or a trick or a parental manipulation, either. The thought that I might not be Emma the Good filled him with woe. I cried so much that he made me crème brûlée with a burnt sugar crust, and I sobbed the whole time I was eating it.

By the time we hit Chicago, the only kind of coeducational activities that didn’t leave him in a state of overwrought parental panic were rehearsals of the Chicagoland Youth Orchestra.

Yet here we are.

Here I am, the girl who has been craving sugar all her life, in Candy Land. Here I am, standing on the exact sandy spot where I want my life as the girl previously known as Emma the Good Girl to begin. Here I am, sliding the sunglasses into my bag after I look at all the other beach club kids and see that cat’s-eyes aren’t an Audrey Hepburn kind of fashion statement at all; they’re just weird.

Mrs. Karp, who keeps putting her hand on my arm when she talks, says, “Your daughter is so lovely. I’ll bet you have to beat the boys off with a stick.”

Not that he wouldn’t, given a boy and a stick, but this is the completely wrong direction for the conversation to be going. In fact, two boys standing in line for the bar at the edge of the deck are at that moment checking me out. At least they are until my dad gives them a look suggesting that unless they avert their gaze, they won’t live long enough to put their shirts back on.

Mrs. Karp tells me how much I’ll like California, oblivious to my dad miserably trying to get the sand out of his shoes.

“But really, a new school that’s already started?” my dad says. “During junior year.”

“But school doesn’t start for days, and I’m a really fast packer!” (Also a highly experienced packer. I could be out of Illinois in forty-eight hours.)

Mrs. Karp pats my hand and says, “Isn’t she precious,” as if I weren’t actually there.

Then Dr. Karp tells my dad how he’s also on the board of Latimer Country Day, where half the kids at this very club (kids who appear to be drinking beer and hooking up in broad daylight halfway across this crowded strip of ritzy beach) go to school, and moments from now, I, too, could be attending.

I am quite certain my dad is appalled at the thought of me having anything to do with these kids. Every time Mrs. Karp offers to take me down to the lagoon to introduce me to some kids my age, he shoots me a don’t-you-dare look and I end up ordering more lemonade.

My dad sighs, “You’d probably have to drive a car.”

The prospect of spinning out down the beachfront highway, behind the wheel, windows down, completely free, makes me almost die of longing. I start wondering if there are GPS bracelets you can clamp on your kid’s ankle, but I’m pretty sure that if you could buy them, I’d have one already.

I say, “I wouldn’t mind driving.”

My dad, who generally manages to walk the fine line between oppressive dictator and overprotective good guy, smiles. He says, “I thought you might have that reaction.”

It’s getting dark, and after hours of observation, I want to go sit with the kids. A lot. Even though I am wearing a polka-dotted dress with a circular skirt that falls three inches below my knees and they’re wearing almost nothing. Even if I end up next to the girls who came up onto the deck to moan about something to their mothers and gave me a who-are-you-and-what-are-you-doing-here once-over on their way back to the sand.

BOOK: Afterparty
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