She observes the two teenagers through the wide kitchen window as they lean towards each other, grinning. A neighbour watches with her. “Is that your daughter’s boyfriend?”
“No. A friend. She calls him a friend.”
“Looks like a boyfriend to me. What are they doing?”
“Eating the raspberries along the fence. I don’t think they’re ripe yet. I looked earlier. They’re pink, not red.”
“Well, if they’re not together,” the neighbour says, “they ought to be. Look at them flirting, look at their faces.”
The women turn away from the window and sigh audibly and then laugh at each other. They sit on two sides of the kitchen island, holding themselves around the waist, but don’t observe their similar postures. “They’re together all the time,” the mother tells her neighbour. “And when they’re not together they talk on the phone, but she insists they’re just friends. She says it like I’m just sooo old I can’t comprehend what’s going on in the year 2006.”
“She can call him whatever, but it doesn’t take much to see that there’s something happening between those two.” The neighbour lifts her lemonade glass to her lips. All that’s left in it is a melting cube of ice.
“So you see it, too. Usually I wouldn’t get involved but I’ve told her—he wants to go out with you. That she’s crazy if she can’t see it. She just laughs. He drives her everywhere she needs to go. Whenever I ask if she needs a ride she says no, he’ll drive me.”
“Oh, his is the blue Cavalier out front? So, do you like him?”
“Yeah, we all like him.”
“Is there a party going on here?” her husband asks. “What’s with the cars out there and all the noise downstairs?”
“No. She says it’s not a party. They’re just going to watch a movie. They ordered pizza. They took a collection to pay for it.”
“So it’s not a party because she says it’s not?” He sounds annoyed, but really they are both pleased that their house is the one her friends seem most comfortable hanging around.
He goes down to say hello and then comes back up quietly, motioning for his wife to step outside with him, “Is everything okay? What’s going on with the blonde curled up with our blue Cavalier boy?”
“I know, I know. The girl was hanging on him when he came in. It was weird to see. But our brazen daughter laughed at me when I asked about it. The girl down there is his girlfriend, she says. She is his friend.”
“Well, I guess this will be the end of him being around here so much, sitting on the back deck until all hours.”
But, in fact, it wasn’t.
“You’re going where with him?”
“To the lake. Maybe we’ll rent a canoe.”
“Just the two of you.”
“Yeah, Mom, everyone else is busy.”
“And he’s still going out with what’s-her-name?”
“Yeah, of course. But she has to work late. I told you—everyone else is busy.”
“And you’re telling me his girlfriend wouldn’t mind the two of you canoeing together while the sun sets?”
“Don’t make it more than it is. We need something to do. He would go with me even if she did mind, because what everyone needs to understand is that we are friends. Friends do things together.”
“You’re crazy. If you don’t know that he’s in love with you then I can’t figure you out. You can taste it in the air, it’s so obvious. I mean, however much you can be in love at seventeen.”
They both hear the blue Cavalier coming up the street.
“He needs a muffler.” She laughs. “I think it might get cold. I’m grabbing one of Dad’s jackets for him,” and she dances out the front door.
She feels her pulse beating against her watch strap. Her hands tingle and the blood drums at the end of her fingertips. She holds her breath with her heart. It’s hot. So, so hot. The raspberries are red and thick but they aren’t picking them. She’s anticipated this for so long. She’s lain in bed at night with the windows open, inviting any breeze and listening for the wind chimes, but hearing instead her daughter and the Cavalier boy’s whispers.
“Should I be nervous?” her husband asks. “You tell me if I should be nervous. She has it together, right?”
She should stand up straight and make herself known to them, or creep into the house. She lays down her pruning shears, crouches lower beneath the thick Alberta rose bush and watches them kiss, their hands traveling along each other’s bodies, smoothing, caressing. Her daughter leans against the fence. He steps away from her, wipes his lips with the back of one hand. The two of them laugh loudly and turn back toward the berry bushes.
Later when he has driven away in the still-noisy Cavalier she asks her daughter, “Have you two redefined friendship?”
“Yeah,” she says, “yeah.”
“What about his girlfriend?”
“They broke up.”
“And now you’re together.”
“Yeah, together,” she says, peeling a thin layer of frozen ice cream from the open container with the edge of her spoon.
She shifts sharply from her quiet toying with the ice cream. “Don’t say ‘I told you so,’ Mom. I never planned this. We really were friends. We really were.”
She wants to hold her daughter against her chest the way he held her earlier in the shadow of the backyard trees.
“Should I be nervous?” her husband asks. “You tell me if I should be nervous. She has it together, right?”
“She knows what she needs to know. She’ll be an adult in a year.”
“Don’t talk like that. Don’t tell me our baby will be an adult any time soon. Don’t you ever look closely at them? They’re kids. Kids with bad hair days and pimples, always wandering around barefoot.”
“She doesn’t have pimples. And it’s summertime—everyone has bare feet.”
“You want her to get all lovey-dovey with him. You’re caught up in the romantic crap.”
“Hey, you said you liked him. You helped him fix his muffler.”
“He was waking up the neighbours. Still I told her he’s no different from any of them. They’re all hopeless teenage boff- monkeys with one thing on their minds.”
“That won’t change her mind about him.”
“I know. So where are they now?”
“At the Stampede. They’re probably on top of the giant roller coaster right now, or maybe they’re watching the fireworks.”
“Oh God. Well, she’s still coming on holidays with us, isn’t she?”
“Of course. She got the time off work and she can certainly live without him for two weeks.” She imagines their reunion after the two-week holiday at the beach. Her daughter must have thought of it too, how they’ll ache to be together again.
They are nearing home, driving down the highway listening to a Beatles CD, all of them tanned, even their eyebrows bleached from the sun. She wonders about her garden, and whether it has rained or hailed, but she is distracted by her daughter’s energy—the energy of anticipation. She’s called him from her cellphone and asked him to meet them when they arrive.
He’s there leaning against his mountain bike. The Cavalier’s brakes are being repaired. He shakes their hands, kisses their daughter’s forehead. They can feel her need to escape, to get away from them after these two weeks, but Cavalier boy, the boyfriend now, helps them unload the van, carrying coolers to the kitchen, air mattresses to the garage, not stopping until the job is done.
She watches as they reach awkwardly through the branches for the berries. She wants to tell them to stop, forget it.
He doesn’t come by the next day. Or the next. On the third day after their return she sees his bike leaning against the garage. She hears them arguing in her daughter’s bedroom, the door open wide, complying with the house rules. “Nothing’s the same,” he says. “I knew going out would wreck things.”
“What did it wreck?” her daughter asks angrily. “Tell me. What did it wreck?”
She’s giving her daughter a ride home from a friend’s house when she starts to talk. She winds the car through a city park and lets it idle near the lakeshore to allow her to keep talking.
“The problem,” she tells her mother, “isn’t just that he’s hurting me so much with this. The problem is—I still need him as my friend.”
It’s rare for her to see tears running down her girl’s thin cheeks. She reaches out to wipe them away for her. She brings her hand to her mouth and secretly tastes her child’s tears with the tip of her tongue.
“That is a problem,” she says, feeling how slight her daughter’s body is when she wraps her arms around her.
Two large rabbits appear in the beam of the car’s headlights. One of them jumps away into the bushes but the other stops still and watches them.
“What do you think this means, seeing these rabbits?” her daughter asks. “It must mean something.”
“I think,” she answers carefully, looking at the single rabbit, “I think it means it’s not your time yet.”
The second rabbit hops away. A week later she tells her mother the boy is coming over. “We’re just going to hang out,” she says.
Define hang out, she thinks, observing the sassy summer dress, the plum eye shadow, the sparkly lotion rubbed over her neck.
“I just want to get back on track. I don’t want to let go of what we had. And I miss him,” she says sadly, but then perks up. “He’ll be here soon. The Cavalier is fixed.”
What’s with that boy? Was it not a slow dance of anticipation? Of teenage love? Can you put brakes on that?
He glides silently up to the house, having chosen to take the bike because of the heat of the night. She invites him into the kitchen where she is peeling peaches for jam and calls her daughter up. The tension is so thick she wants to slice through it with her slippery paring knife.
“Hey, do you two want to pick the rest of the raspberries for me? They’re falling off the canes.”
She watches them through the kitchen window as they reach awkwardly through the branches for the finished berries, facing each other through the leaves. They appear hot and impatient. She wants to tell them to stop, forget it. She could suggest they go for a walk, feel the rarity of the warm evening air while stepping barefoot over the pavement, or gingerly across the edge of the neighbours’ lawns. They might wander without direction until they find themselves in the play park. Her daughter could climb to the top of the slide, calling down to him. He might ignore her, stepping up instead to the merry- go-round, their feelings for each other rolling across the red bumpy shale.
She longs to play them like puppets, wants them to bounce their lines off each other—following her direction.
They come back into the kitchen, a dozen spent berries in the bottom of the tin bowl. “It’s too dark, Mom. I’ll do it in the morning.”
They shuffle off into the small hot room that holds the computer. Downloading from another world. Hard songs, with impatient lyrics.
It’s cold in the morning again. Her neighbour comes over for tea. “Don’t you love September? I think the New Year should start September first. Hey, what happened with that guy? I don’t see the blue Cavalier anymore?”
“Oh, it was a hard summer in the end. You know, they had a thing. They went out.”
“Anyone could see that coming. A summer romance, hey? When did it end?”
“Oh, I don’t think it’s over. I think it’s going to go on and on, the way some do.”
“You mean, you think they’ll get back together?”
“No. No, I don’t think that.”
Her friend wasn’t listening. She was getting up, pointing out the window. “Hey look, there’s a rabbit out there. By your back gate.” She sat down again. “Oh, you missed him. He’s gone.”
Cavalier Boy won the 2006 Alberta Views short fiction contest.