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Playing for Keeps
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Playing for Keeps

Written by Joan Lowery NixonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Joan Lowery Nixon

· Delacorte Books for Young Readers
· eBook · December 18, 2007 · $4.99 · 978-0-307-43363-3 (0-307-43363-3)

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I didn't have time to think about my argument with Mom until Glory and I were in the air on the way to Miami. Then I had too much time.

Glory--Gloria Marstead--was my grandmother on my father's side. Mom sometimes complained that Glory had a salt-and-pepper attitude to go with her salt-and-pepper hair and liked getting her own way.

I have to agree. In spite of the fact that Grandpa made a great deal of money way back during the oil boom and invested it wisely before he died, Glory had continued to work as a successful attorney until she retired a year earlier.

"Defending people gives her an excuse to argue," I once heard Mom telling Dad. He thought what Mom said was funny. So did I. But Mom wasn't trying to be funny.

In the seat beside me Glory gave a light snore. I glanced at her, expecting her to wake up, but she continued to sleep peacefully. We'd had to catch a very early plane at the Midland-Odessa airport to connect with our flight out of Houston. I was tired, too, but there was no way I could sleep--not after the argument, which had never been resolved.

I couldn't help being excited about going with Glory on a week's cruise in the Caribbean, but deep down inside I had a sick feeling. I should have made peace with Mom before I left. I had wanted to, but I didn't know what to say or do, and Mom was so frozen in her own unhappiness I couldn't begin to reach her, even if I'd known how. I wasn't the only one at fault, I told myself. She had let me go without trying to break through that layer of ice.

The argument had started over a party I should never have gone to with a guy I hoped to totally forget.

"When you first saw what the party was like, Rose Ann, why didn't you ask your date to take you home?" Mom had asked.

I'd blushed and stared down at the scuffed toes of my sneakers. "Cam Daly wasn't . . . well, I found out that he only asked me to the party because a girl he likes was going to be there. Mom, he dumped me. I felt so stupid. I thought everybody was staring at me and thinking I was a real loser, so I tried to act like I was having a good time celebrating spring break and didn't care."

Mom had just sighed and asked, "Rose Ann, you need to act with maturity. Aren't you ever going to stand up for what you believe in? Where is your courage?"

I'd groaned, knowing what was coming. "Are you going to bring up that time ages ago when Bobby Mac cheated from my test?"

"It wasn't ages ago. It was last September. You allowed him to see your paper and got caught doing it. And what about when Lou drove all of you in her family's car and you knew very well she didn't have her license yet. Why didn't you object?"

I'd slid another notch down on the sofa. "Do we have to go into all that again?"

"I'm trying to show you that it was the same situation with the party last night," Mom had said. "Be independent. Don't just go along with the crowd because of what somebody might think of you. Last night you abused my trust in you and the freedom I've given you."

"Trust? Mom, I made one little mistake. Can't you believe it was just a mistake? As for freedom--"

That was when Glory had arrived, making herself at home on the sofa. She'd heard all about the wild party. "There isn't anyone in west Texas who doesn't know every detail," Glory said. "Especially since someone had to call the police."

She shrugged as she added, "That boy you went to the party with is not the kind you want to date. You want the right kind."

Mom broke in. Her voice was tight as she said, "It doesn't matter who was Rose Ann's date at the party. It only matters that she used very poor judgment."

Glory gave a more elaborate shrug. "Well, there you have it," she said. "Poor judgment. Certainly not a punishable offense. Rosie's suffered enough already. Why don't we talk about something I have in mind?"

Mom had been trying hard to hide her impatience. "Later, Glory," she'd said. "If you'll please excuse us, Rose Ann and I are not through with our family discussion. If you understood--"

"I understand one thing, Linda, which is while we're sitting here beating a dead horse, we're running out of time, and that's what we don't have much of. Let me borrow Rosie for a week."

Startled, Mom said, "But you won't be here. You're going on that Caribbean cruise with your bridge club."

That was when Glory told us she wanted to substitute me for her bridge club roommate, who was going to have foot surgery and couldn't make the cruise. "I'll take care of expenses. Rosie will be my guest."

"But you're leaving tomorrow morning."

Glory grinned. "Have you ever known me to be unable to do something I wanted to do? Don't worry. My travel agent's working on it already. All Rosie will need are her driver's license and birth certificate, T-shirts and shorts, and a couple of dresses she can wear to dinner. Toss in that cream-colored satin formal she wore to the winter prom. One dinner is formal dress."

I gasped, trying to take in what Glory was saying as she began giving Mom all the reasons why I should go with her, and explaining that I'd be perfectly safe on the ship while she was playing in the bridge tournament. My heart began to pound. A Caribbean cruise? Tomorrow?

I knew I shouldn't beg as I turned to Mom, but I couldn't help it. "I've never seen the ocean. I've never been out of Texas. I know you're angry with me, Mom, but please may I go?"

Mom had thought a moment, her face pale and tight. "I can't let you do this, Glory," she'd said.

"Who are you punishing, Linda?" Glory had bluntly asked. "Rosie or me?"

I could hear Mom's sharp intake of breath. Even though I really wanted to go on this cruise, I had to admit that Glory didn't always play fair.

It had been like this ever since Dad had died when I was fourteen, leaving a stack of medical bills. Glory had paid them and had even paid off the mortgage for the house we lived in. When Mom said my ballet lessons didn't fit the budget, they were paid for. There was our membership in a swim club Mom couldn't afford, new dresses for me from Glory's favorite shops . . . the list was a long one. Mom protested, but Glory always won.

This time was no different. Mom looked at me with her eyes burning, then quickly turned her head and said to Glory, "I'll have her ready."

After Glory had left, Mom walked to the end of the room, staring out the windows overlooking the backyard. Her voice dropped, as if she were speaking to herself. "Glory's once again the fairy godmother, and I'm the Wicked Witch of the West. She's won, as usual."

I backed a step away. "You're wrong," I said. "You act like you and Glory are in some kind of contest over me, and you're not."

I should have stopped there, but I blurted out, "You blamed me for not being independent and not standing up for what I believe in, but you don't either. You do what Glory wants you to do. You care what Glory thinks."

Now I've done it, I thought. I've ruined everything. I took a deep breath and said to Mom, "I'm sorry about the party, Mom. You're right. I should have telephoned to ask you to take me home. If I'd known that one of their neighbors would call the police--"

"That's your only reason?"

"No--no," I stammered in surprise. "That's not what I meant."

"That's what you said."

From the Paperback edition.

Excerpted from Playing for Keeps by Joan Lowery Nixon Copyright © 2003 by Joan Lowery Nixon. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte 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.