Icing on the lake, p.4

Icing on the Lake, page 4

 

Icing on the Lake
 


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  Oops. That must have been the other guy I sort of met yesterday, the one who brought back my hat. “Well, you just, you know, it’s hard to stay upright when you’re at the end of the line. And I haven’t gone skating very much lately. You know, you get rusty.” Or at least…your skate blades do. I smiled nervously.

  “So you should skate a lot while you’re here,” he said.

  “Yeah?” I asked, probably sounding a little too eager. “I mean…yeah. I will. Good to get Brett out of the house and all.”

  “You’re here to look after Brett?” he asked.

  I nodded. “And my sister. So, speaking of skating. This is probably an obvious question, but you play hockey, right?”

  “Yup.”

  “Cool. Well, maybe I can come to one of your games while I’m here.” Then I coughed, realizing what a blatant invitation I’d just issued for myself. “I mean, I’m looking for stuff to do with Brett. He likes sports.”

  “Right. You know, I could try to teach him a few things. Even if he is named after a Green Bay Packer.”

  “That was his dad’s idea. He’s from Hudson.”

  “Yeah, I know Luke. He’s a nice guy.”

  “He is,” I agreed. “So, would you like some more coff—”

  “Sean? What are you doing here?” Gretchen limped into the room, wearing a terrycloth robe over her sleepwear.

  “Having some coffee and talking to your sister.” He turned to me. “I didn’t get your name.”

  “Kirsten,” I said.

  “Did you just get up, Kirsten?” Gretchen stared at me as if I had colored my hair green, or gotten a strange piercing. “Why are you in your PJs?” she said in a disapproving tone.

  “Look, I didn’t plan on going outside. Then I got locked out,” I said. “It’s a long story.”

  “More like the same old story.” Gretchen laughed. “When she was little, Kirsten was always running around in her PJs.”

  Oh no you don’t, I thought. You are not about to tell an embarrassing story on me.

  But she was, of course.

  “Kirsten even went to school in her PJs once. The school called and they were like, hello? Your daughter is wearing Care Bear footies.”

  Sean laughed.

  “But that was last year,” I joked. “I got sick of Care Bears.”

  Sean just looked at me and didn’t seem to get it. Then he got to his feet. “I’d better get going. Nice to meet you, Kirsten. See you around, okay?”

  “Definitely,” I said. “Thanks for, ah, the coffee.”

  “You made the coffee.”

  “Having coffee, I meant. And the shoveling,” I said. “Good work, excellent work.”

  “Well, have a good day, okay? See you later.”

  As Sean went out, Bear came running into the house. He stopped in the front entryway and shook his fur, sending ice and snow flying everywhere.

  “Kirsten, could you grab a towel and get some of that cleaned up?” Gretchen asked.

  After I closed the door, I turned around to face her. “Sure. But did you have to tell him that bit about the PJs?”

  “That’s nothing,” she said. “Couldn’t you have warned me that we had a guest, so that I didn’t come out of my bedroom wearing a robe?”

  “He’s like…seven years younger than you are,” I said.

  “So what? That doesn’t mean I want to look horrible when I see him. I could kill you.”

  Likewise, I thought. “If you’re that concerned about a teenaged boy liking the way you look…I don’t know, Gretch.”

  “Well, obviously you’re not concerned,” she replied.

  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  Gretchen made a sweeping motion to indicate my outfit of flannel.

  “It’s not my fault,” I said. “Bear’s the one who bolted and jumped all over Sean. I wasn’t planning to run outside wearing this.”

  “You should get dressed as soon as you get up,” Gretchen said. “You should brush your hair and get your makeup on.”

  “It was seven in the morning! And I didn’t know you had hired a…a…shovel boy.”

  “Shovel boy?”

  “You know what I mean. Besides, I don’t really wear much makeup.”

  “Yeah, well, that’s because you got the good-skin gene in the family,” Gretchen complained. “You got Mom’s golden skin. You’re like the perfect Norwegian goddess.”

  “Excuse me?” No one had ever called me a goddess before, and I was pretty sure no one would ever do it again, either. Could she at least do it while Sean was still hanging around? And in a very loud voice, with the door wide open? Just shout it: Kirsten is a goddess!

  “It’s not fair. You get to be the cute one,” Gretchen complained.

  “Me? All I ever hear from Mom is about how beautifully you dress and how gorgeous you are and how she wishes I could be put together like you,” I said.

  “Oh. Really?” Gretchen’s mood suddenly perked up a bit.

  “Yes,” I said.

  She laughed at herself. “It’s hard to look put together when all you can wear is sweatpants,” she said. “One, because your other pants don’t fit, and two, because you can’t fit anything else over a cast.”

  “But, ah, you make it look easy,” I lied. Then I ran into the kitchen to fetch a mug of coffee for her. “So. What do you have planned for today? Anything?” I asked when I went back to the living room.

  “I was thinking maybe we could go shopping—check out the New Year’s sales.”

  Why am I not surprised? I thought. “Sounds good. Hey, Gretch. Does Sean—does he live around here?”

  “Two blocks over that way,” Gretchen said, pointing. “Isn’t he nice?”

  “Yeah,” I said, snuggling back under the fleece blanket. Nice and nice-looking, I thought.

  “He’s really sweet, not to mention easy on the eyes,” Gretchen added. She looked at me as if she were expecting something—for me to completely agree or to start telling her how attracted I was to him.

  “He’s okay, I guess,” I said with a shrug. The last thing I wanted to do was let Gretchen know I was interested in Sean. She’d turn it into a project of hers. Or turn me into one, rather. Maybe later, if things worked out…but not yet.

  Chapter 4

  Gretchen and I hit the Ridgedale Mall running—and, in her case, swinging on crutches—in search of clearance items. Well, at least I was hunting for sales. She didn’t seem to care about the sales as much as having me drive her to the mall and look after Brett while she shopped.

  I was sensing a pattern to my days here that could last for the next month in its entirety.

  Fortunately for all of us, the mall had a play area where Brett could run around and scream, and where that was expected rather than frowned upon. He had several partners in crime.

  I’ve never met anyone who likes to shop as much as Gretchen does. She even drives my mom nuts with as much time as she can spend at a mall, which is saying something. My mom and Gretchen were at the Mall of America’s grand opening and consider it a pivotal moment in their lives.

  We met up in the food court for lunch at noon. Gretchen ordered a Diet Coke while I had a burrito and Brett had a quesadilla, which he insisted on ordering himself, only he pronounced it “cheesy-dill-ah” and I had to translate for him.

  Afterward we stopped by a table advertising something called the Polar Bear Plunge when Brett grabbed a keychain off the table before we could stop him. The logo showed a polar bear wearing a scarf, in the middle of doing a dive.

  “Sorry,” I said as I got Brett to put the keychain back.

  “No problem. Have you signed up yet? It’s next week, so you still have time to get lots of pledges,” the guy manning the table said.

  “Pledges?” Gretchen asked.

  “It’s a fundraiser for the Special Olympics,” he explained. “You jump into White Bear Lake, you jump out—you’re done.”

  “And…it’s next week,” I said, the reality of
how cold the water I would be sinking in…sinking in.

  “Wow. That’s a great idea to raise money.” Gretchen smiled at him.

  I picked up a brochure and skimmed it. I’m not the kind of person who accepts dares just to make a point, but I was almost tempted to sign up. I mean, if it was time for me to start being more outgoing—after all, that was part of my New Year’s resolution—I couldn’t be more outgoing than to jump into freezing cold water with a bunch of strangers.

  “You’re considering it, aren’t you?” Gretchen said. “You should do it.”

  “No way. You do it!” I said.

  “You’re the one who’s all, ‘this year will be different,’ so prove it,” she said.

  “You’re the one who needs the fresh start,” I countered.

  “Okay, then.” Gretchen smiled and turned to the man behind the table. “I have a question. Would you be there to warm us up when we get out of the lake?” she asked him.

  I was about to kick her, but then I remembered she already had one broken leg.

  “Well, I don’t know.” He smiled at her. “I could be, I guess. Then again, I might need you to warm me up.”

  “I’ll be standing on the shore. So I’ll definitely be warm,” Gretchen said. “Should I bring you a robe?”

  “Gretchen,” I said, gently pulling her back from the table before she threw herself onto it. “Where’s Brett?”

  “He’s right here,” she said. “Clinging to my good leg.”

  “Oh. Sorry, but I just think…you know. Tone it down a little.” Maybe I sounded like our mom now, but I didn’t care. She was totally embarrassing me!

  “What are you talking about?” she replied.

  “Should you really flirt with him that much?” I asked.

  “Why not?”

  “Because. He might…”

  “Think I like him? What would be the problem there? Honestly, it’s like we’re from a different gene pool.”

  But see, that was the point. I’d seen the way she did things and decided I was going to be different. Extremely different.

  She knew all about the so-called inner flirt. She had no problem being that way. I, however, felt like a phony whenever I tried it.

  I felt badly for pulling her away so abruptly, so I stepped back up to the table.

  “Can I make a contribution?” I asked. That wasn’t phony, at least. I did want to support Special Olympics, even if I didn’t want to do it by jumping into White Bear Lake myself.

  “Sure, that would be great.” He smiled so nicely at me, I kind of wished he were my age instead of Gretchen’s.

  Wow, I thought. I’ve only been here a few nights and already I’m turning into my sister.

  “Don’t forget to check your rearview mirror,” Gretchen said, peering over her shoulder as I backed out of the parking spot at the mall.

  “Gretchen,” I said, trying to keep my composure, “I’ve been driving for a couple of years. You know that, right?”

  “I know, but this is city driving. It’s different.”

  “Yes. Very different. At home, we just back up without looking,” I said. “We smash into other people’s cars and that’s how we figure out when to stop. Every parking lot is a demolition derby, basically.”

  “Look, Kirsten. It’s not funny. It’s a well-known fact that teenage drivers are most likely to get into an accident. And if you drive up my insurance rates—”

  “I’m still on Mom and Dad’s family insurance policy. Don’t worry about it,” I said.

  “Oh. You are?” She sounded a little happier.

  “And, I’ve never had an accident, and I’ve never even gotten a parking ticket, or speeding ticket, or any kind of ticket. Someone shoved a flyer for a tanning salon under the windshield wiper once, and that’s about it.”

  “Ooh…tanning. What a great idea!” Gretchen said, easing back in her seat with a sigh. “You want to go?”

  “Not really,” I said.

  “Of course not. You have, like, the year-round bronze look,” Gretchen complained.

  “I do not,” I said.

  “Do too.”

  I decided not to prolong the argument. I just don’t believe in getting the fake bake, myself. End of story. And it’s not because I have anything naturally “golden” about me, except maybe my hair, in the sunlight, in the middle of the summer.

  We rode in silence for a few minutes. Then Gretchen said, “Well, do you mind watching Brett while I go?”

  “I wanna go tanning!” Brett cried from his seat.

  “Little boys don’t need tans,” Gretchen said to him. “Only mommies need tans. Especially single mommies.”

  “Aw, come on,” Brett complained.

  “If you’re going to get a tan, Gretchen, you could be ready for the Polar Bear Plunge after all,” I said.

  “Emphasis on the being a polar bear,” she muttered. She frowned at her thighs, but I didn’t see what the problem was. I was starting to think she was just obsessing for no reason, because she had nothing else to concentrate on.

  “Come on, it’s my treat,” she urged as we pulled up and parked at the day salon.

  “Thanks for the offer, but Brett and I will go to the park so he can play,” I said. “I think he’ll have more fun there.”

  “You’re such a good mother,” she teased.

  “Don’t even think it. Call my cell when you’re done.”

  “Okay, but don’t go too far. I don’t want to be sitting here waiting for you forever,” she said as I helped her out of the minivan.

  So much for gratitude. “Yes, ma’am,” I said.

  On the way home, we stopped by the local neighborhood grocery store, Zublansky’s, for milk, eggs and ice cream for Brett.

  I normally don’t like grocery stores, but Zublansky’s is my definition of heaven. They have everything you could ever think of, and it’s all so attractively displayed that it’s like going to the Tiffany’s of grocery stores. The lighting is even nice.

  Gretchen and Brett waited in the car while I ran into the store. I was relieved because things would be so much easier that way. I’d be able to move at a pace faster than a crawl.

  I quickly hit the dairy section, and I had to lean halfway into the freezer to pull out a pint of strawberry ice cream from the back of the shelf.

  When I emerged, there was a boy standing right behind me, staring at me.

  Not just any boy, either. The one who’d returned my lost hat at the lake the other day. The cute one with short auburn hair and green eyes. The one I’d fallen on top of.

  They were coming out of the woodwork. Or the ice. Or somewhere.

  He was wearing an apron with the store’s name stitched over the pocket. Unless his name was Zublansky’s, Your One-Stop Shop.

  “Uh, hi,” I said, feeling stupid.

  He just looked at me. “Hello.”

  And then I let the freezer door slam shut on my foot.

  Ouch. Don’t cry don’t cry it doesn’t hurt that much, you’ll probably only lose two or three toes at most.

  “Can I help you find something?” he asked.

  “No, no, just fine, just getting some ice cream,” I said. I held up the pint and then dropped it into my basket. “Pretty much…have it covered,” I gasped, with a tiny whimper.

  He didn’t say anything else. He just walked away and I stood there, grimacing. Once he was down the aisle, I considered sticking my foot back into the freezer to ice down the swelling. Great, first Gretchen had lost a leg, and now me.

  Eventually I limped up to the checkout, where the guy was bagging groceries. I decided to skip his aisle and take the next one over. I had paid and was picking up my bag when he asked, “Need any help out to the car?”

  “No thanks. I should be good,” I said. “The pain’s going away and I just have the one bag, so…”

  He stared at me. “I wasn’t asking you.”

  I turned to see an elderly woman behind me. “Oh. Right! Well, I can help her,” I
offered, because there was a long line forming behind me.

  “I prefer Conor,” she said to me in a snooty voice.

  “How are you doing, Mrs. Whitman?” he asked as he went over to pick up her shopping bags.

  I couldn’t get out to the car fast enough.

  Some people you were glad to bump into again. Other people? Not so much.

  As soon as we got home, I turned on my computer and checked my email. The first thing I saw made my heart sink.

  FWD: RESERVATION/DEPOSIT

  REQUIRED

  Hey—it’s time to send in your reservation for Groundhog Getaway! We need final totals this week so we get a big enough cabin. Fill out and print attached form; mail by Friday with check or credit card # for deposit. Or call the rental agency; info attached below.

  Thx—Emma

  Okay, so it was the day of reckoning—on a small scale, anyway.

  Should I go by myself? Should I bluff and sign up for two spaces? Or should I throw in the towel altogether? That would be a lot cheaper. I could tell everyone that Gretchen still needed me, that I couldn’t possibly come.

  Of course we were getting a pretty good deal, seeing as how not everyone considered Groundhog Day the perfect weekend for a vacation up North.

  I decided to see if Jones was online. She was, so I messaged her right away.

  Hey Jones. Kirst here. Feeling especially Cursed.

  I went into the grocery store and who do I see but that guy from the skating rink, the one who returned my hat, and I make a complete idiot out of myself, AGAIN.

  My sister just insisted that I clean the living room of all my “junk” before I even thought about watching a movie.

  Why am I here? Again?

  Please remind me because if you don’t I’m going to run straight home.

  Cursed, there is a reason you are there. You are being the good sister. You are doing the world a service. There is another more important reason you are there.

 
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