A whiff of seaweed blows in the window from across the bay, and the bed fills with sunlight. I reach for my sunglasses and have myself a long stretch. Maybe tonight will be a good time to see Joey, patch things up, and put a sweet ending on the day.
The screen door squeaks, feet dash up the stairs, and the kids charge into my room—Mossy with a meatball on a fork and Mimi sloshing Coke from a glass loaded with cubes, just the way I like it.
“Happy birthday!” Mimi shouts, plunking the wet glass on the dresser and jumping into bed with me.
Mossy hands me the fork. “I couldn’t decide. Heated up or not.”
“Cold is de-lish,” I say, sitting up and taking a nibble. What service.
“Gimme.” Mimi reaches for my sunglasses. She slips them on, curls on my pillow, and stares up at me. “Oh, I wish I was seventeen.”
“You’ll get there,” I tell her. Mimi’s short for Mimosa. She’s ten. Mossy’s eight. Mom was married to Tofu Bart when she had them, which should explain the names, and by the way, that’s Mimosa as in the flowering tree, not the champagne cocktail.
Mossy hands me a leftover valentine with hearts and Be Mine in big loopy letters. On the back he’s written Angel, treat yourself to something special and taped three dollar bills.
“Oh, my little man,” I say, throwing an arm around him. He smiles shyly, dropping his eyes.
“I didn’t make a card,” Mimi says. “And I’m broke, but I have a cheer.” She gets my shakers from the closet and stands at the foot of the bed in a purple bikini with a dirty white boa looped around her neck. She stamps her foot and waves the shakers.
“Angel is pretty!
Angel is great!
Angel is my sister
And she goes on dates!
Angel has a birthday
And we’ll have a cake—chocolate!
Angel has boobs
And they’re not fake.”
She crashes to the floor in a split.
“Oh brother,” Mossy says.
“Who has fake ones?” I say, chewing.
“Nefertiti’s mom. She just got them. They’re bazoombas.” Mimi crawls back in bed. “So, you like it? On a scale from one to ten?”
“Loved it. Nine.”
She stretches out on the bed and sighs. “If I was seventeen then I could do anything I want. Date boys and be mean to them when I feel like it and nice to them when I feel like it . . .”
“Why do you want to be mean to them?” I say.
She tilts her head. “Because!”
“I’m not mean to guys,” I tell her. I take a sip of cold, fizzy Coke. Bliss.
“But you break up with Joey Sardone.”
Mossy leans over and takes a bite of my meatball.
“Not because I’m mean. Because we need a little break now and then to spice things up.”
She closes her eyes dramatically, and her cheeks grow rosy. “Oh, I want to spice things up!”
“Angel,” Mom yells.
I lift the screen and hang out the window. She’s standing in front of the house in a lime bikini top and jean shorts, holding a bucket and mop. She has a bandana tied around her hair.
“Happy birthday, kiddo.” She shades her eyes. “How is it you’re seventeen? That practically makes me an old goat.”
“Hardly, Ma,” I say.
She shrugs. “Gravity’s getting the best of me.” Here we go. The truth is, with her long, dark hair, dark eyes, and upturned mouth, she looks kind of like a forty-year-old Kim Kardashian. We all look like Mom, especially Mimi. “Okay, cake later. Now we work.”
“I hate to clean!” Mimi yells, squeezing in next to me at the window.
“Me too!” Mossy whines.
“You think I like it?” Mom says. “We’ll do it fast. Let’s go. Mossy, where are my rubber gloves? Were you using them again for one of your experiments? Go find them.”
He rolls off the bed and trudges downstairs.
We own three houses on the Jersey shore. Every summer we rent out two to some of the tourists who descend on our little barrier island like a stampede, which means we pile together under one roof. During the off-seasons, at least, we get to spread out and breathe. Mossy and Mimi live with Mom in the House, and I get my own place.
But now it’s time to clear out. I grab a Walgreens bag and start unloading my drawers—bikinis, panties, bras, tanks, shorts, jeans. I throw it all in. I wad up my sheets and blanket and shove them in too.
Yup, we have three houses. My grandfather, Pop, bought the House years ago; then he won the Next-Door House in a poker game, or so the story goes, and old Mr. Zimmerman, who was a little in love with Mom, or a lot, apparently, left her the Corner House—my house. So three in a row, overlooking the bay. The moolah we make by renting has to last the rest of the year because Mom isn’t cut out for nine-to-five, or so she says.
“Here. Help.” I throw Mimi my duffel bag. “Take the closet.”
She steps into my spiky sandals and admires herself. “Fierce.”
I empty the medicine cabinet into a shopping bag—undereye concealer, eight tubes of lip gloss, hair gel, Tylenol, a couple of condom packets, and my birth control pills. In the bag it goes. I squeeze out toothpaste and brush my teeth as I chuck in shampoo, soap, three kinds of conditioner, a loofah, and a razor.
Mimi puts a sundress on over her bikini and swirls in front of the mirror. “Oh, I wish I was you . . . but still me.”
“So basically you?” I spit in the sink and toss the toothbrush and paste into the bag.
“Basically.” She teeters over in the sandals and looks up at me, her eyes all dark pupils. “Is it exciting to be you?”
I swish out my mouth with a handful of water. “What a question, Meems. Is it exciting to be you?”
“No,” she whines. “I don’t wear mascara. Or have a best friend like Inggy Olofsson. I basically hang out with Nefertiti. We just eat Popsicles and watch TV. I’m too pretty to be so boring.” She lets out a tiny sigh and collapses to the closet floor.
“You’re such a snot-nose,” I tell her.
She tips her face up to me. “I can’t help it.”
“Sure you can. Hang in there.” I lean over her and start dropping clothes off the hangers, some of them raining down on her head. “One day boys will come a-knocking and everything else too. And then there’ll be no look- ing back.”
“How exciting,” she whispers.
Have I been excited in a while? Maybe not. Maybe I’m due.
Excerpted from Jersey Angel by Beth Ann Bauman. Copyright © 2012 by Beth Ann Bauman. Excerpted by permission of Ember, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.