Sue Ellen Bridgers


OUT WITH THE BOYS
(a work in progress)

"Amanda! A--manda!" Softer then. "A-man-da." And the sharp click of pebbles on glass.

She breathed into the pillow, face hidden in pale hair, listening.

"Manda!" Another spray of pebbles settling on the window sill.

She pulled up in bed and leaned toward the window. The boys were on the edge of the woods, at least Jeremy was. She couldn't see Dusty although she knew he was there. He'd be staying over at Jeremy's because he never wanted to go home on a Saturday night when his daddy was most likely raging, not yet sufficiently drunk to pass out but mindless enough to wield an iron skillet at whatever moved into his blurred vision. All week he breathed the stain and varnish fumes at the furniture plant so he was half crazy by Friday anyway, already on his way to a lost weekend the rest of his family couldn't avoid.

On her knees at the sill, Amanda eased up the window and put her hand out, fingers spread wide. Five minutes. She knew they could see because the garage light glowed toward her side of the house, piercing the dark yard with a wrinkle of blue light.

She slipped into jeans and a sweatshirt and, carrying her boots, crept down the stairs, past her parents' closed door and through the kitchen to the coat rack by the back door. In the dark, she felt into her pants pockets - gloves and hat still where she'd left them. She'd expected the boys although nothing had been said at last night's basketball game. Still, a day rarely went by that they didn't see each other.

"Hey." Jeremy stepped out of the woods. Dusty was behind him but it was Jeremy who took her hand, pulling her toward him into the trees. "Hey, hey, little girl." He kissed her lightly, lips to cheek. He could smell sleep on her and the warm bed she'd slipped out of.

"She's getting cold," Dusty said behind them. "At least, let her put her coat on." His voice was sharp with frost. They were all breathing streams of smoky air.

Jeremy helped her bundle into her parka, pulled her hat down over her ears, watched as her fingers shaped her floppy gloves.

"Okay, where to?" Amanda said.

"The lake," Dusty said.

"I'm not going out in a boat." Jeremy pulled his own knit cap deeper onto his forehead. "It's too cold."

"The beach then," Dusty said. "In the cove where there's no wind. We'll build a fire."

They walked down the dirt lane, the wheels of the boys' bikes crunching in the frozen ruts. The sky was clear after two days of drizzling sleet and when they reached the pavement, they could see the slick surface of the asphalt glistening in the moonlight.

"Black ice," Jeremy said, "but I've got all-weather treads."

The boys chuckled because Jeremy's tires were practically bald. He could make skid marks halfway across the planet if he didn't have a blow-out first.

"You better ride with me," Dusty said, straddling his bike and waiting for Amanda to slip on the bar in front of him. She sat side-saddle, her feet lifted. She could already feel the metal through her jeans - a ridge of ice - and her gloved fingers pinched the cold handlebars as lightly as she could.

They rode silently, Jeremy in front. He peddled hard, his lean body lifting as he pumped. The grade was long and slow but soon they would be sailing down the mountain, hardly able to stop when they reached the turn-in for the little cove with its public boat landing and picnic tables. The park service had made a little beach there inside two outcroppings of rock where silt had collected to make a gentle slope into the water. Now the lake was low, spilling through the dam to make power for towns to the west, places her daddy had seen from the cab of his semi but that Amanda could only imagine.

They leaned their bikes against a picnic table and walked down toward the water. The sand was saturated and they made deep treads where they walked.

"This is stupid," Jeremy said, taking Amanda's hand as they trudged through the sand. "It's too cold to be out here."

"Where else can we go?" Dusty stopped to pick up broken limbs off the beach. They were damp and crusted with sand. "I said I'd build a fire."

"Not with those, you won't," Jeremy said.

"Then I'll find dry." Dusty turned back into the trees.

"All you have to say to him is 'can't'," Amanda said, huddling closer to Jeremy. The wind caught them full-face and they ducked deeper into their parkas.

"I guess that's all he's ever heard," Jeremy said.

Dusty was back with a meager bundle of sticks. He kicked out a crevice in the sand, lay the tinder in it and pulled some crumpled notebook paper out of his pocket. "History test," he said, twisting the paper. "I'm torching a sixty-four." He shielded the paper from the wind with his body and lit it, then held it to the wood. It caught just as the fire reached his fingers. The wood sizzled and sputtered, then flamed up in a golden curl.

"You could do a lot better if you tried," Amanda said. "You just think every grade above seventy is wasted."

"Well, it is." Dusty laughed, glad to have her attention even if he had to fail a test to get it.




BOOKS

HOME BEFORE DARK
New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year, ALA Best Books for Young Adults, ALA Notable Book.
ALL TOGETHER NOW
The Christopher Award, Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book, National Book Award Finalist, ALA Best Books for Young Adults, ALA Notable Book.
NOTES FOR ANOTHER LIFE
ALA Best Books for Young Adults, National Book Award Finalist
SARA WILL
ALA Best Books for Young Adults
PERMANENT CONNECTIONS
Gold Award by Parents' Choice, NC AAUW Literature Award, ALA Best Books for Young Adults
ALL WE KNOW OF HEAVEN
Paterson Prize finalist.



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