Macey dashed out of the high school, filled with the energy of Friday afternoon. She always had to run toward the weekend. The first thing she did on Friday was put distance between herself and the school. Macey was good at school, had friends, liked her teachers--and yet the end of every school week was such a relief.
Around her, sports teams were piling into vans and buses: tennis, baseball, golf and swim teams. Kids with cars shot out of the student parking lot, windows down, so everybody could shout to everybody else.
"Hey, Mace!" came two voices. "Want a ride?" Macey's best friends, Lindsay and Grace, leaned out the window of a Volvo. Grace's mother had come to pick them up.
"I'm walking, thanks!" yelled Macey.
"Oh, right, it's Friday," said Lindsay, rolling her eyes. "She's got her shortcuts to take."
"Oh, brother," said Grace, laughing out the car window. "Being a juvenile again?"
Grace's mother blew a kiss to Macey, and they drove on. Macey waved no to the driver of her own school bus. It was a three-mile hike to her grandparents', but Macey took shortcuts. Her route was closer to a mile and a half, and if she ran, she could make it in twenty minutes. What the run really did was cut her off from school, making the weekend clean and separate and safe. Macey cut through the golf course, cut through the woods and behind the old supermarket, through backyards and finally through the swamp.
The swamp wasn't a hundred feet across, and it wasn't a block long, but it had the strength of a canyon. Nobody but Macey ever crossed it.
A few years ago, she'd dragged boards into the swamp to give herself a path over the wettest parts. She hopped on the edge of the first board to be sure it wouldn't split when she put her weight on it.
From a hundred yards away drifted the rich scent of ocean: mudflats and fish and salt water. It was a warm-weather smell. Last week had been March, when school was a thing that would last forever--but today it was the first week in April, and Macey could shade her eyes and catch a glimpse of summer.
Beyond the swamp was the old stone foundation of a barn. Come summer, wild roses and tiger lilies would make it a sunken garden. Macey was not basically a sitting-down person, but she loved to sit here. It was peaceful. Even in early April, the sun warmed the stones.
Back when there were horses, all these old shorefront houses had had stables. This one, turned into a garage and apartment, had burned when Macey's mother was a girl. Supposedly a man had been in it at the time. When Macey was very little, she'd been afraid of the foundation, because what if the body was still there, waiting for her to find the bones?
But now, at fifteen and a half, she found the idea of discovering bones appealing, like archaeology or journalism.
Ten seconds was plenty of time to sit and consider the olden days. Macey jumped up and cut across the backyards of Shell Beach to her grandparents' house.
Her parents were staying in New York City for dinner. This was good. Mom and Dad were so exhausted at the end of a week that they were useless; on Fridays they just plopped down and faded away, while the television droned and the pizza got cold.
Macey came in Nana and Papa's back door. Her grandparents' back porch was a large glassed-in room, sagging with piles of stuff. There were broken china cups filled with beach glass. There were collections of knotty driftwood and yellow seashells. There were old bathing suits, hung up to dry when Macey was six, or twelve, and never worn again, because Mom bought new ones that weekend. There were magazines that somebody meant to clip something from and lawn chairs somebody meant to repair. There were old golf clubs and new fishing rods and an outboard motor.
Hot cinnamon smells drifted out from the kitchen. Nana and Papa were baking. Food was the centerpiece of their lives. They watched all the TV cooking shows and quoted the great chefs as if they were family friends. They greeted Macey with hugs and kisses and went straight to the crucial topic: what to have for dinner.
"Three-cheese pasta?" suggested Papa. Papa had very high blood pressure and cholesterol, but he didn't care; he ate whatever he felt like. He usually felt like eating a lot.
"No, dear, I found luscious asparagus in the market this morning," said Nana. "We'll have asparagus omelets." Nana ate more than Papa, and together they made a very roly-poly couple. They were even fatter in their red-and-white-striped French chef aprons.
"Asparagus. Yuck," said Macey. "It's tall, thin slime."
Two sets of blue eyes turned on her. Two identical frowns beneath snowy white hair. "You walk the dogs," ordered Nana. "And we'll decide the menu," said Papa.
Zipper was an old collie, tired and lame, and the leash was not needed, because he would never stray from her side. Zipper liked to walk down to the sandy edge and sniff the salt water, maybe think about fish for a minute or two, and then totter home.
Moose was a chocolate Lab so large they had respelled his name from (chocolate) Mousse. Macey and Moose would fly down Shell Road, Macey more on the leash than Moose. If Macey didn't take care of Moose's exercise, nobody would, because her grandparents had pretty much surrendered on the exercise front.
Macey took each dog separately, five minutes for Zipper and half an hour for Moose. Back in the kitchen, her grandparents were between cooking shows, and so they turned to their second favorite subject: what Macey was up to.
"We have to do a local history paper," said Macey. "When Mrs. Johnson assigned it this morning, it felt like a ten-ton truck driving over my shoulders. But I ran all the way here, and now I think it might be okay."
"Tomorrow morning we'll go to the library and dig for a topic," said Papa, waving a sifter. Flour dusted his face.
"Papa, I'm not that excited about it. Anyway," she said gloomily, "tomorrow I have Saturday Group."
There was an expedition arranged, and they were to meet at 8:30 a.m. Macey did not feel like showing up. Saturday Group was hard. Volunteer work was supposed to make you feel wonderful, but Macey just came home feeling guilty. She was not in a Saturday Group mood. She was in a sleep late, watch cartoons, eat stacks of waffles and do nothing mood.
Excerpted from Burning Up by Caroline B. Cooney. Copyright © 2001 by Caroline B. Cooney. Excerpted by permission of Laurel Leaf, 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.