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Authors: Melody Carlson

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Anything but Normal (3 page)

BOOK: Anything but Normal
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She imagined Dylan’s long-limbed gait as he galloped up the hill toward her, his shaggy brown hair ruffled in the wind, his bright smile framed in his handsome, tanned face. He would lean down and swoop her into his arms. He would look directly into her eyes and tell her how much he had missed her. And then they would kiss— “Earth to Sophie!”

“Huh?”

“I was just saying that looks like the Morris boat over there.” Carrie Anne was pointing to a canary yellow ski boat pulling what looked like a wakeboard rider. “And I’ll bet that’s Dylan in back.”

Sophie squinted behind her sunglasses, peering out over the shiny blue lake to where a lanky guy was doing a jump over the wave being made by the boat’s wake. She nodded. “I think you’re right.”

“And there’s Dad at the dock,” Carrie Anne said. She grabbed Sophie’s hand and began to run. “Let’s hurry before he takes off again.”

Sophie did a pretty decent job of keeping up with Carrie Anne’s longer legs, and the truth was that she was anxious to get down to the water too. They had just reached the boat ramp area when one of her flip-flops decided to flop instead of flip, and the next thing she knew, she was facedown in the gravel.

“Oh, Sophie!” Carrie Anne cried. “Are you okay?”

Sophie reached up for Carrie Anne’s extended hand, letting her friend help pull her back to her feet. “I, uh, I think so.”

“Oh no!” Carrie Anne looked worried. “Your chin is bleeding.”

Sophie reached for her chin, which was throbbing like someone had just smacked it with a sledgehammer.

“And your arms—and your legs!” Carrie Anne’s eyes were huge. “You look like hamburger—raw hamburger.”

“Thanks a lot.”

“Sorry.” Carrie Anne gently led Sophie toward the day camp area.

“Oh, Sophie,” Mrs. Vincent called as she hurried over to meet them. “What happened?”

“She fell down in the gravel,” Carrie Anne said.

“Oh dear.” Mrs. Vincent frowned. “There’s a first-aid kit in the boat. Run and get it, Carrie Anne.”

The next thing Sophie knew, she was sitting on a wooden bench, feeling like she was about six years old, and Mrs. Vincent was carefully extracting pieces of gravel from her knees and elbows and chin. Soon she was cleaning the wounds and then applying some kind of greasy ointment. To make matters worse, several friends of the Vincents were now gathered about to watch the spectacle.

“Wow, that looks like it hurts,” Mrs. Stewart said. Sophie forced a smile for her as she picked a piece of gravel from her elbow. She didn’t know the Stewarts too well, except that Mr. Stewart had attended seminary with Carrie Anne’s dad and maybe Dylan’s as well.

“Your chin is starting to look like Jay Leno’s.” This from a blonde girl in a turquoise bikini. Sophie suspected she might be the Stewarts’ youngest daughter, but the girl had sure grown up since the last time Sophie had seen her.

“April Lynnette!” Mrs. Stewart scolded.

April just laughed. “Sorry, Mom, but it’s the truth.”

Sophie’s hand was on her chin, partly to hide it and partly to determine whether or not it was fractured. Was it possible to break your chinbone?

Finally, like putting the cherry on top, Mrs. Vincent plastered Sophie’s wounds with brightly colored bandages. “Sorry about the Disney theme,” she told Sophie. “But it’s the only way I can get the boys to allow me to put a bandage on them these days.”

“What’s up?” a familiar male voice asked from behind the small crowd of onlookers.

“Hey, Dylan,” April said. “Nice ride out there.”

“Thanks. But what’s going—” He stopped suddenly, looking straight into Sophie’s face and then quickly away.

“Sophie had a little accident,” Carrie Anne explained. She smiled shyly, almost hopefully, at Dylan.

Sophie wanted to die. Instead she looked down at her thighs, which suddenly seemed larger than life, splayed out like filets on the hard wooden bench. If only she could just vanish—
poof
.
Beam me up, Scotty.

“You should’ve seen her,” April said with macabre enthusiasm. “Running down the boat ramp, and then
splat
—she fell smack on her face. Don’t you think her chin looks kinda like Jay Leno’s?”

“April!”

“Sorry.” April giggled.

Sophie looked up to see that April had her arm linked with Dylan’s. She was smiling up at him like they had just said their vows and were ready to head out for their honeymoon. “I want to go out in your boat now, Dylan. Will you teach me to do that jump like you said you would?”

Dylan looked at Sophie again. His eyes looked sad . . . and something else too. Maybe just worried, like he was afraid she was going to say something—something that might blow his cover.

“Come on,” April said. “Are you going to teach me or what?” “Uh, yeah, I guess so,” he said to her. He turned back to Sophie. “I hope you’re going to be okay.”

She forced a smile and held up a brightly bandaged arm. “Yeah, and when Mrs. Vincent is done, I think I’ll join the circus.”

They all laughed. Dylan, seemingly satisfied that Sophie wasn’t going to do or say anything embarrassing, turned and walked back toward the dock. April was still clinging to him, and Sophie thought she could see the bounce return to his steps as he got farther away from her. Soon the others dispersed too, going their separate ways. Dads and kids down to the boats, the other moms back to the picnic site. Sophie encouraged Carrie Anne to go out in the boat with her dad and her little brothers.

“But what about you? Aren’t you coming?”

Sophie shook her head, smiling as big as she could manage and hoping to fend off tears. “No, I think I better stay out of the water today.”

“I think that’s wise, Sophie,” Mrs. Vincent said. “You don’t want to risk getting an infection.”

Soon the boats were loaded up and roaring away from the dock. Mrs. Vincent led Sophie over to join the middle-aged moms. To make matters worse, Sophie suddenly found herself alone with Dylan’s mom. Mrs. Vincent had just introduced them before she and Mrs. Stewart headed over to the pump for a bucket of dishwashing water.

“That was quite a fall,” Mrs. Morris said.

Sophie smoothed down the edge of a pink Minnie Mouse bandage on her right forearm and nodded. “I know. It’s like one minute you’re having a good time, and the next thing you know, you’re a limping, walking billboard for the Disney channel.”

Mrs. Morris chuckled. “At least you’ve got a sense of humor about it.”

“Yeah . . . sometimes that’s all a girl’s got.”

3

Sophie swatted a mosquito on her neck and imagined herself not only bruised and scabby for the first day back at school, but swollen with insect bites as well. Lovely.

Still longing to disappear, she quietly moved her chair a few feet away from the middle-aged mom club and settled into the tree shadows, where she proceeded to sip a Diet Coke and daydream about what it would be like to attend her own funeral. Hopefully Dylan would come . . . and feel guilty.

Soon the moms, not even noticing her, were chatting candidly among themselves. They seemed perfectly oblivious to the fact that Sophie was still sitting nearby and listening. She considered warning them that a spy was in their midst, and then decided,
Why bother?

“So how are you feeling about Dylan leaving home for college?” Mrs. Vincent asked. “Empty-nest syndrome hitting you yet?”

“Not quite. But I’ll admit it’s not easy to see your only child leave home.” Mrs. Morris frowned. “And I know you’ve heard some of the PK horror stories.”

“PK horror stories?” Mrs. Stewart looked confused.

Mrs. Vincent sighed. “Surely you’ve heard tales about how pastors’ kids go bonkers in college. How they rebel and party and drink and all that sort of nonsense. But I think it’s highly exaggerated.”

“Maybe so, but I can’t deny that it worries me sometimes.” “Oh, kids will be kids,” Mrs. Stewart said. “They all need to rebel a little bit. That’s how they grow up.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” Mrs. Morris said. “You’re not a pastor’s wife anymore.”

“Well, I still remember what it’s like,” Mrs. Stewart said. “The only difference between pastoring and lawyering is you get to bill your clients.” She chuckled.

“Even so,” Mrs. Vincent continued, “there’s a lot of pressure on families in the ministry. We need to be perfect . . . Our kids need to be perfect.”

Mrs. Stewart nodded. “I suppose that’s true. Maybe being married to a workaholic attorney has its upside after all.”

They continued to chat among themselves, and for the most part Sophie managed to tune them out. But she couldn’t help but wonder about what Dylan’s mom had just insinuated. She seemed genuinely worried about her son, about the fact that he might make some wrong choices. Well, maybe she should be worried. Dylan might claim to be a strong Christian, but he certainly wasn’t an angel. The way he had treated Sophie wasn’t anything to be proud of. Not that Sophie wanted to think about that now.

Suddenly her ears perked up again.

“That Dylan’s
always
been the lady killer,” Mrs. Vincent was saying. “Even when he was a toddler, he had those thick, long lashes and that million-dollar smile. I can still remember how he could coax me into an extra cookie after you’d told him he’d had enough already.”

Mrs. Morris laughed. “That’s our Dylan. Always the charmer.”

“And always a string of girls trailing after him.”

“Don’t I know it.” Mrs. Morris shook her head. “His dad and I have warned him over and over, the boy needs to keep his guard up when it comes to the girls. Good grief, some of them just throw themselves at him. We keep telling him to stay strong in his convictions and to honor his commitments. But it’s not easy for a young man.”

“And there’s my April, doing just what you said—she’s practically throwing herself at the poor boy.” Mrs. Stewart chuckled. “I swear, she just got that swimsuit and suddenly she thinks she’s all that and a bag of chips.”

Mrs. Morris just smiled. “Oh, April doesn’t worry me so much. I think Dylan respects that she’s only fifteen. And he’s always treated her like a little sister. I doubt that’s going to change now.”

“That’s what Carrie Anne says about Dylan too.” Mrs. Vincent laughed. “Not that she appreciates being treated like a little sister that much.”

Sophie cleared her throat and slowly stood up.

“Oh, I’m sorry, dear,” Mrs. Vincent said. “I almost forgot you were still here. I’ll bet our conversation is making you uncomfortable.”

“Or putting you to sleep,” Mrs. Morris added.

“Are you feeling okay, Sophie?” Mrs. Vincent peered up at her. “You look a little pale.”

“I’m just kind of stiff and sore. I wish I’d driven out here myself, then I could go home and—”

“I know—why don’t you just take the Jeep and drive yourself home?” Mrs. Vincent suggested.

“But wouldn’t Pastor Vincent be—”

“Nonsense.” Mrs. Vincent was already reaching for her purse. “I have my own set of keys.” She handled them like a prize. “And you’re a better driver than Carrie Anne is anyway.”

Mrs. Morris chuckled. “That’s not saying a lot. Hasn’t Carrie Anne been in several wrecks since she got her license?”

“They weren’t all her fault,” Sophie said.

“Anyway, Sophie has a much safer driving record.” Mrs. Vincent handed Sophie the keys and patted her hand. “She’s also got a much better
academic
record.” She smiled sadly. “I just wish you could rub off onto my daughter a bit more, Sophie.”

“You’re sure it’s okay to take the Jeep?” Sophie clutched the keys. She so wanted out of here.

“Of course. Just drive carefully. I’ll drop Carrie Anne off at your house later to pick up the Jeep. Now you just go home, take some Advil, and get some rest.”

“And put some ice on that chin,” Mrs. Morris called out.

Sophie thanked them and moved as quickly as she could toward the parking lot. All she wanted was to escape from those mothers and their aggravating conversation. And away from the others before the boats came back and they returned to camp for lunch and to gape at Sophie like she was a sideshow freak.

But mostly she just wanted to escape from Dylan. She could tell—by the way he had looked at her (or rather, the way he hadn’t looked at her), by the way he had spoken to her (or avoided speaking), and by the way he couldn’t wait to get away from her—that it really was over. Almost as if it had never been. What they’d had was finished, and it was meant to be buried and forgotten. Sophie was no fool. She should’ve known that this was how it would end.

She cautiously backed up the Jeep, thankful that her brother had taught her how to drive a clutch when she was only fifteen. She took care not to scrape against the tree trunk or the bulky SUV. How had Carrie Anne managed to wedge the Jeep there so tightly?

Finally out of harm’s way and exiting the parking lot, Sophie took in a long, deep breath. She asked herself how an intelligent girl like her had ever fallen for someone like Dylan in the first place. Why hadn’t she known better? How could someone so smart do something so freaking stupid?

“It’s easy,” he had told her on that first day they’d spent time together at camp. It was matinee Wednesday, and while the prepubescent campers were parked in front of a full-length film with unlimited junk food, the camp counselors got to enjoy a little break—two blessed hours free from all responsibilities.

“I’m really, really scared.” Sophie stood there, frozen with fear, staring at the big log that stretched like a bridge over a fast-moving creek about twenty feet below.

“Come on,” Dylan urged her. “You can do it.”

“No, I can’t,” she said. “I have absolutely no sense of balance.”

“Just hold my hand.” He calmly extended his hand to her, smiling that gorgeous smile. Without even thinking, she took it. And perhaps for the first time ever—or at least for as long as her seventeen-year-old memory served—Sophie’s body slipped into motion, moving effortlessly and almost unconsciously, following his lead. It was almost as if they were dancing. Her steps matched his, and like a dream, she gracefully made her way across the log. It was truly magical.

Of course, she had to go and lose it on the other side. She shrieked as her foot slipped on a piece of damp moss, and she knew she was history. She envisioned herself splattered down below—rescuers struggling to pluck her lifeless body from the creek, the camp director calling her parents and informing them of the sad news.

BOOK: Anything but Normal
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