Authors: Lise McClendon
Tags: #romance, #coming of age, #humor, #young adult, #minnesota, #jane austen, #bees, #college and love, #polka, #college age, #lise mcclendon, #rory tate, #new adult fiction, #college age romance, #anne tyler
Before Ozzie’s children
went into forced service, there had been Al and Toby and Victor.
Some lasted a year, some a month. Ozzie wasn’t the easiest man to
get along with, especially when it came to his band.
He is strict, your
He loves his band. It’s
The old man put his gnarled
fist to his chest. “Music comes from deep inside. It erupts like a
love affair. From deep in the heart.” Jonny wilted under the old
man’s gaze. “You love the music?”
Yes, I— I love
music? Could he learn to love
polka after all these years? It would make this summer so much
easier if he could. He promised himself he would try to let polka
erupt in his heart. A bruised, sad place, this heart of his. An
eruption might be the end of it.
The sun was out when he
stepped out the front door of the rest home. The humidity had
spiked. The cloak of moisture enveloped him. He was sitting behind
the wheel in his Fairlane before he remembered his
Jonny looked at the sky,
the clouds breaking to display the bluest of blues. The sun warmed
his shoulders where the straps had dug in. He couldn’t make himself
go back inside. He stretched out his fingers over the steering
If there had been a choice
she wouldn’t have called 9-1-1.
As it was she already had a
nodding acquaintance with the local cops, thanks to shenanigans by
Alison and Kim, drunk and underage and loud, all on their first
night in Red Vine. She knew the cops would take care of it, the
horrible racket that was keeping her from sleeping. She could hear
it over the rattle of the air conditioner. She would have moved to
other end of the motel but this room was hers, the only one with
working a.c. She’d smelled the other rooms. Damp was the best you
She pulled on her beanie.
Officer Lars had come alone, without Officer Ole. Before it took
both of them to drag the girls out of their squad car. Who knew
what the officers’ names really were; they just looked a Lars and
Ma’am.” He took off his
hat. His hair, short and blond, was creased but neat.
Officer.” Lars had a
moony look on his face so she got straight to business. “Can you
He turned toward the
garage. “The music?”
Is that what you call it?
Well, it’s midnight and I need some sleep.”
He scooted off toward the
screeching. She watched him skip away, so eager to help. Christ.
She might as well check to see if the brood was tucked
The moon was bright in the
east, nearly full. Good news because most of the lights over the
doors were burnt out. The two male students roomed next door.
Andrew opened the door, his glasses crooked on his nose.
You get the wireless
Not yet.” His laptop was
open on the bed. “Is Terry here?”
He went to the library,
where they have the Internet, something you may have heard of?” He
smirked meanly. Andrew needed to work on his social skills. He
cocked his head. “What the hell is that?”
They call it music around
In the next room the quiet
girls, Lydia and Kate, snuggled under the covers, reading. Isabel
told them ‘good night ladies’ and instantly felt seventy years old.
How did she get herself into this? She was a scientist— or would be
when she finished her degree—not a baby-sitter. The racket in the
garage stopped, mid-cacophony.
Thank God.” She savored
the quiet for ten seconds. Then crickets seized the
Officer Lars was talking in
his slow drawl as he appeared around the corner of the garage. He
gestured toward Isabel and spoke to the man beside him, presumably
the culprit. Shorter than Lars, wiry compared to the policeman’s
bulk, he wore dark jeans and a white t-shirt. His face looked
ghostly pale in the moonlight.
He raised a hand in a sort
of papal dispensation and called across the drive: “Sorry. I didn’t
know it was so loud.”
Right,” Isabel whispered
and waved them away. She continued on to the next room. Alison and
Kim had roomed here together at first. Now, post-hijinks, they were
split up so they could spread rebellion among the ranks. Alison
opened the door in a red bikini top and low-slung pajama bottoms,
her blonde hair piled on her head.
Checking up on me,
Izzie?” She struck a pose when she saw Lars and the other man, a
hand on her tanned hip. “Evening, guys.”
Give it a rest, Alison.
We go to the blueberry fields tomorrow. It’ll be a long
Elliot was painting her toenails. “Are you serious?”
Officer Lars drove back to
his doughnuts. Isabel continued down the row, the tyrant field
director and the wayward youths. There were ten of them, plus the
driver, and it took every ounce of patience to deal with them. She
hated the way she sounded, so authoritarian, so much the
fun-killer. So like her mother. But that was what Professor Mendel
was paying her for, and if there was one person Isabel would not
let down it was the professor.
She walked back through the
parking lot to her door. A figure jumped out of the shadows.
“Shit!” Her hand flew to her throat. “What the hell are you
Sorry. I just wanted to
apologize for the— the noise.” He stuck out his hand. “Jonathon
Knobel. I was up on the roof this morning.”
Up close she got a better
look at him. His hair, messy and hanging over his forehead, was a
dark auburn color most girls would die for. Taller than he looked
earlier, with quirky eyebrows and soulful gray eyes, he had a black
smudge across his white shirt from shoulder to shoulder. He dropped
his hand and was staring at her braids (or her tits, hard to
I just arrived. Home—
here. I’m practicing for the family band. The Notable Knobels. The
accordion, as you heard. Polka mass in three days. My dad is on my
You play so— notably. But
some of us have to sleep.” Did all Minnesotans assume you care
about their lives?
She gave him a last look—
he was wearing cool shoes, high-top leather sneakers— then let
herself into her room, chilly from running the air conditioner full
blast. She flipped the dial and it ticked slowly into
She’d heard enough out of
the accordion in Europe to last a lifetime. The post-football-match
all-night annoyance of choice. Through the thin walls his footsteps
faded away, back toward the garage then a few minutes later toward
Ozzie’s son. Poor him. How
old was he, she wondered, then stopped herself. He was just a guy
who lived somewhere slightly more hip than Red Vine, Minnesota.
Isabel threw her hat on the
bed. At least she didn’t have to room with one of the students.
They seemed so vacant, so unfocussed. For biology majors
especially, although she had doubts about that. Alison for one
could no more be a biology major than, say, Wendy Knobel, last seen
tearing around town in a blue convertible, wearing a halter top and
short-shorts, clinging to the neck of some yokel.
Wendy made Isabel think of
her own sister. She hadn’t heard from Daria, who was four years
older and lived in Chicago, or their parents in Winnetka, since
she’d returned from Spain. Nor had she called them. She loved her
sister but her parents were rich and bossy as only rich people who
think they know better than anybody else can be. Yet she did love
them too. The fact that they had forgiven her for the legal
emancipation was to their credit. They would be mad at her for not
keeping in touch this year. She’d hardly written a postcard in
Stalking to the bathroom,
she stared at her hair in the etched mirror over the sink. Ugly
business. Why didn’t hair grow faster? Four months had passed since
decision to dye it black. Two inches of blonde roots made her
look like a skunk. Another week of hats and she was going to take
the plunge and cut off all the black. She pulled the elastics out
of her braids and rubbed her scalp. What had she been thinking,
pretending to be a Spaniard?
Things are at a pretty poor
impasse when you dye your hair to keep your boyfriend. For weeks in
Barcelona she had watched the Catalan girls with their flouncy
skirts throw themselves at Luis. How could she compete with their
casual seductiveness, tanned legs, and flashing dark eyes? Beside
them she looked like a seashell left in the sun too long. She
wasn’t going to buy some silly ruffled skirt. She had an allergy to
ruffles, and wore skirts only when it was so hot wearing slacks was
She could still feel Luis,
his warm skin, the taste of his mouth. His brooding eyes and full
lips. From the first moment she saw him, singing in that bar in
Montpellier, she had wanted him. She loved musicians, their
sensitive spirit, their dedication, their passion.
How desperate she’d
She climbed into bed and
tried not to think about Luis or Winnetka. Thinking of calling her
parents made her shudder. She knew what would happen, how she would
lose control of her life. It was better this way, for all of them,
she told herself, sighing into the pillow.
Thoughts of Luis led as
always to Alec. Her first boyfriend. The reason she ran away to
Spain. How could she have been so wrong about him? His parents were
plain, hardworking people, salt of the earth. Alec was the bright
spot in their lives, and Isabel’s too. Her college career could be
summed up as stubborn ambition, numbing all-nighters, and grinding
low-wage jobs. It was the way she wanted it. Nobody would get
credit for her success but herself. She thought Alec was the same.
They were united in their passion for the independent spirit, pure
science, the lush bounty of the earth’s creatures, advancing
knowledge to save the world from the ravages of
She who thought of herself
as tough and independent. Alec had made her feel less of a person
and she could never forgive him for that. How could she face him
after the betrayal? Isabel finally looked at the trust account her
parents had set up without her permission years before. She took
out enough for a plane ticket to Paris and a Eurail Pass, filled
her backpack, and was gone.
She pulled the limp sheet
up to her chin. As if Alec’s presence or lack thereof made one bit
of difference in her life.
thoughts. Away, bad Alec.
She was home,
thanks to Professor Mendel. Lillian Mendel was the best: smart,
savvy, organized, caring, witty. She had reached out to Isabel,
arranged this field gig. It wasn’t going to rock the world,
counting wild bees in the field. But it got her home, gave her a
reason to get back to her love of science, and bees. She would be
back in school in September under the protective eye of her mentor.
With notes for her dissertation and with any luck less than a
hundred bee stings.
At six-fifteen she stood
with damp hair next to the Econoline van. It was dirty with mud
spatters, and locked. Curtis hadn’t rolled out yet. He didn’t like
to sit around and wait for the prima donnas any more than she did.
The sun slanted through the high branches. Birds chattered in the
maples. The quiet was soothing. The morning was already warm,
moisture oozing from the earth around Margaret’s rose
And Margaret herself,
noodling around in her gloves and hat, clipping this, spraying
that. These gardeners and their chemicals were killing bees. We had
to stop spraying our way into sterility and starvation. People just
didn’t understand about bees, how they helped everything, including
rose pollination. A talk with Margaret was in order.
Good morning, Mrs.
Knobel,” she called.
Margaret stuck her head up,
eyes wide. She wore a blue print wrap-around housedress and a
My name is Isabel Yancey.
Nice to meet you.” Nothing like manners to set things right with
the older set. Margaret pulled off one glove, shaking hands. “I was
admiring your roses.”