The phone rang at 6 a.m. Even though I expected it, my heart leapt at the shrill sound. I lunged for the receiver, picking it up before the ring ended, and looked over at my roommate. She'd burrowed deeper undercover. I could only see a skein of hair on the pillow. Good.
Excerpted from High Dive by Tammar SteinCopyright © 2008 by Tammar Stein. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, 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.
I glanced at the clock to begin the countdown. My mom and I had exactly fifteen minutes for the phone call.
Technically, everyone was allowed two fifteen-minute DSN, the military phone system, calls a week, but we rarely managed two. Usually it was one call, which you might think meant we could talk for thirty minutes, but the army didn't work that way.
"Hi, sweetie," my mom said. Sometimes the connection was clear; other times it crackled and buzzed, her voice fading in and out. We had a good connection this time. I closed my eyes at the sound of her voice, trying to breathe it in, trying to soak in it. "How are you?"
I spent three minutes telling her about a paper I'd turned in and an upcoming final that worried me. "How are you doing?" I asked. I couldn't skip that even though I knew she wouldn't tell me anything important.
"It's 120 degrees today," she said. "Don't believe what people say about 'dry heat.' It's like stepping into an oven. And summer's just starting. Just another beautiful day in Baghdad. Oh, and yesterday we had a sandstorm."
"Was it as bad as everyone said it would be?" A deployment to Iraq sucked on many levels. For my mom, the weather was high on the list.
"It was worse. The sky turned orange. It was like the thickest fog you've ever seen, like a fine misty rain, but it was sand." I winced. "The sand whipped so hard even the birds couldn't fly."
I glanced at the clock. Five minutes down. Ten to go. And I hadn't brought up the trip to Sardinia.
Two months ago an Italian real estate agent contacted my mom about selling our vacation house in Sardinia. It took a few weeks before my mom had told me. I think she worried about my feelings, but I didn't blame her for wanting to sell.
"When we bought the place, Dad and I joked we'd retire there," she had said. That was during a phone call five weeks ago, when she finally filled me in. "That's not going to happen now, is it?"
"Plus, the roof's going to go any day now," she'd said, going on. Her voice had dropped out, then came back. "The plumbing all needs to be replaced."
I'd grown up on the story of how my parents bought the little house on their honeymoon. They knew my mom's military career would keep them moving a lot. A permanent place, they reasoned, even a vacation home they'd visit only once a year, was like having a real home.
"It's okay, Mom. It makes sense."
"I can't believe those people are offering so much money for such a dump," she'd said, trying to laugh.
"It's not a dump." I couldn't help defending the house. But it was a lot of money, enough to give my mom a comfortable nest egg when she finally left the army.
"You've always loved it best. We can keep it if you want," she had said in a rush. Because of the delay, her reply and mine came on top of each other.
Silence again. I wasn't sure if she'd heard me. But there wasn't time to get into long discussions. There were too many other important things to worry about.
"No, it makes sense to sell it," I'd said, pragmatic and practical. I ignored the deep pang that said I was turning my back on the place of my best memories, my favorite vacations, the promise my dad made to me every year if I was good.
I managed to convince her that since I already had a ticket to visit her in Germany--I'd purchased it before we knew she'd be deployed--I'd use my ticket and make my way down to Sardinia to close up the house. She didn't interrupt me much. Partly because it was easier to let one person talk instead of having a conversation full of time delays and dead air, and partly because I was saying everything she needed to hear.
I didn't lie to my mom when I had told her I wanted to do it; it was just that I hadn't really thought it through.
Then last week, as school was winding down and my trip was coming up, it finally occurred to me it might be really awful to go to Sardinia alone.
I had less than ten minutes to try and explain.
"So about the house," I said now, keeping an eye on the roommate and on the clock.
"I worry about you going to Sardinia alone," she said, echoing my thoughts. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
With a sinking heart, I realized that I couldn't burden her with my doubts. She'd been in Iraq for five months; I couldn't tell her that I was scared to go alone. That the beach house in Sardinia was the closest thing I had to a childhood home and I didn't want to be the one to turn off the lights and lock the door.
"Really, Mom, it's no problem."
"You'll be so lonely there. And how will you manage without a car?"
Perhaps she had also agreed to my offer without fully thinking it through. But I couldn't back down now. I volunteered to close the house to take one worry off her shoulders. I wasn't about to put it back on.
"Yeah, it's such a hardship to go spend a couple of weeks at a beach house in Sardinia. Honestly, Mom, it'll be awesome to travel to Europe. Hang out at the beach, eat great food. All my friends are so jealous."
Five minutes left.
From the Hardcover edition.