Joyce had made my favorite dinner, roast chicken with potatoes and carrots. She’d set the table in a special way, too, with candles and one of her flowering plants as a centerpiece. I thought she was trying to make me feel better because of the basketball team, but it turns out she had something else in mind, something really awful.
Looking back, I feel like I should have seen it coming. Our lives did have a pattern and it wasn’t the first time. But all I could think about was Sam Gordon. He filled my mind entirely.
Most nights at dinner Joyce and I would tell each other all the things that had gone on that day. I loved to hear Joyce talk about her customers in the restaurant; some of the stories about their characteristics were truly amazing. But that night she seemed nervous and kept jumping up from the table to get things–salt and hot sauce and butter–without saying a word. And since I couldn’t exactly tell her about Sam Gordon or cutting school at lunchtime, we ended up eating in silence.
For dessert there was apple crisp with whipped cream that Joyce made at the kitchen counter, standing with her back toward me. Then the second we were through eating, she turned on the overhead light and began clearing the table. "I got a call from Fred Jenks last night. You were sleeping." She’d never even told me about Sam’s call, I suddenly realized."Mr. Jenks wanted me to let you play basketball with your team. He said you were the best player."
I sat there waiting, suddenly, stupidly, hopeful again. Maybe Mr. Jenks had persuaded her to change her mind.
"Why did you blame it on me?" said Joyce. "Did you tell everyone at school that I was a bad mother?" She faced me with her hands full of place mats and dirty napkins. Under the white fluorescent light, she looked more tired than anything else.
"Of course not."
"You know I can’t have you going off every night. I don’t do that to you, do I?"
I thought about the Tuesdays and Fridays she was supposed to be working late, but she seemed so upset that I didn’t dare say anything."I don’t like your teachers calling us at home or interfering in our lives. Do you understand? The trouble with this place is that there’s nothing else to do but play basketball. It’s absurd. We need to live somewhere with more going on. A university town maybe like Ann Arbor, Michigan, or Madison, Wisconsin, with concerts and art shows and different events every night. What have we done here? Gone to the movies once or twice and that’s it. I don’t know why we even got off the highway. We should have kept on going to Boston."
The more Joyce talked, the more animated she became, pacing around the kitchen and glancing at herself in the little mirror she always hung behind the door. "We’d better hurry if we’re going to get you enrolled in another school by second semester. When did you say grades close here?""I don’t know."
"Well, find out tomorrow. We’ll leave as soon as the marking period is over."
She was ignoring me completely. She wasn’t asking my opinion or permission or taking me into account at all. Usually when we moved, it was something we decided together. We’d talk it over and work out when we were leaving and where we wanted to go next. Moving was like a game. Each night we’d put on loud rock and roll and pack until all our boxes were full. Joyce would take care of having the van fixed and I’d make lists of things we should buy for the trip. Finally we’d be sitting in an empty apartment eating pizza or takeout Chinese food on the floor. By the time we left, I’d be glad.
But not now. Even if I couldn’t play basketball or have Casey Allen and the other girls like me, I wanted to stay in Montpelier. Of course it had to do with Sam Gordon; I’m not denying it.
It’s funny. I’d always thought a girl would be my best friend, and in each place I’d found girls to talk to and do things with. But really I’d see them at school and that was it. When we had to leave, I’d say goodbye and nobody seemed to mind too much. But Sam was different. Aside from the fact that he was a boy, he seemed to want–to really want–to be my friend. That was the part I couldn’t get over.
Joyce had put on a Police tape. I usually liked their music, but it was the wrong choice now. "Can you help me with the bills, Nina? We’ll have to close our accounts with the telephone company and the gas and electric, but I’d better pay last month’s bills first. Just make a list of how much I owe for each and I’ll get the money orders at the bank tomorrow. I’ve already told Mrs. Brause we’re moving."
Mrs. Brause was our landlord. I couldn’t believe Joyce had told Mrs. Brause before she’d told me! I followed her into the living room. She was crouched on the floor, going through a cardboard accordion file where she kept our papers.
"You never even asked how I feel about this. What if I don’t want to move? What then?" Next to me, Silky pricked up her ears. I was almost yelling but I didn’t care.
"We’ll move anyway. I shouldn’t have to spell it out for you."
"But why? Why do we have to move? I really like it here. Another place won’t be any better and I’m really doing well in school here. I think I’m going to make the honor roll."
"Please, Nina, don’t make this hard on me," said Joyce.
She put the accordion file aside and turned off the tape. In the sudden silence we looked at each other angrily. Joyce’s arms were clutched in front of her, and her face was pale and smudged with dust. She seemed unhappy, and probably I should have felt sorry for her.
. Copyright © 1988 Amy Ehrlich. Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.
Excerpted from Joyride by Amy Ehrlich. . Excerpted by permission of Candlewick, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.