Read All Your Pretty Dreams Online

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

All Your Pretty Dreams (6 page)

BOOK: All Your Pretty Dreams
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Outside at last a thin rain
misted her face. Low clouds hung over the lake, and a chill seemed
to seep up the hill through their summer clothes. The congregation
mingled around three tables filled with coffee urns, pastries, and
juice. The girls took off like a shot for the food. Most of the
crowd was elderly like the couple dancing in the aisle. There they
were, huddled near the Spoon River Retirement Home van. The old
woman clutched onto the codger to foil another escape. Ozzie and
Wendy were giving them hugs. Margaret too.

Isabel looked around for
the accordion player. The old man, who Jon introduced as a Knobel,
must be his grandfather. He wasn’t too bad on the instrument. She’d
give him that. He had a nice voice, and she liked watching him
sing. But that band. The father flailing away on the drums like he
was in a heavy metal group and the girl on the trumpet screeching
like a banshee.

Isabel found a tree to lean
against. The thought of family obligations like Jon’s made her
wince. Her parents wouldn’t understand this field study, or living
in a wreck of a motel in the sort of town that celebrated— in every
sense— a polka mass. The one thing they understood was
money.

Money made you soft, and
stupid. It sapped the will to make something out of yourself. And
it made you mean and hard. She couldn’t believe it when Edie and
Max showed up at Urbana for Family Weekend, unannounced, her junior
year. They’d never taken the slightest interest in her college
experience. They met Alec that weekend and everything
changed.

Until then she would have
called Alec a common man, immune to the lure of shiny objects.
After the visit he cut out newspaper pictures of Edie and Max at
charity functions, and Daria with her latest handbag creation. Poor
Daria, prancing around in stilettos like a trained
monkey.

They graduated, stayed for
grad school. She studied pollinating insects, he studied wolf
biology. In January he left for three months to go to the upper
peninsula of Michigan and track wolves. They spent a night at her
parents’ over spring break. Was it the creamy alfredo at dinner?
Whatever the cause, the dream that night woke her, sweating, heart
pounding. Alec rifling through her purse, pulling out money and
credit cards and pearls (as if!) licking his lips. Beside her he
slept, a thin smile on his face. Four days of beard gave him a
brushy look.
Wolf.

Back at school, she kicked
him out. He stomped around the apartment in new Italian loafers,
then threw a box of clothes into his Jeep. He hooked up with one of
Daria’s friends, several years older and a universe away in society
and wealth.

Then, the final chapter:
Vegas.

A roll of drumbeats made
Isabel twitch.
Back in Minnesota,
girl
. A deep voice announced the polka
band’s intent to commit music in a tent on the lawn. The Knobels
had moved onto a stage. They cranked up a polka and several old
couples swung around a wooden dance floor. So the polka went on…
and on. Oh, Lord.

Terry appeared at her
elbow. He smoothed down a tie he must have found at Kresge’s
bargain bin. “Hey, do you know the difference between an Uzi and an
accordion?” He grinned, his appalling haircut setting off his
chubby face. Several people turned to listen. “The Uzi stops after
twenty rounds!”

Isabel winced. She had to
make it through this month. Terry’s stupid jokes weren’t going to
help. There was the accordionist, in tight black pants, blue shirt
rolled at the cuffs, and a string tie, up on the stage. This was
the first time she’d seen him in daylight. She watched him push in
and out on the bulky instrument. Terry came up behind her and said
he was headed to the beer tent.

Well, why not? It was ten
already. The morning clouds were burning off, promising a day of
stultifying humidity. Isabel stood in line behind a couple farmers
and bought a cup of lukewarm ale. For a good cause, she thought,
dropping her change in the bowl on the table. Dana and Kate were
across the lawn at the coffee table, eating pastries. She joined
them, watching the old people do the polka. They looked like they’d
been dancing together their entire lives. The band played what
sounded like the same song over and over. When they took a break,
Jon unstrapped his accordion and made his way to the beer tent. His
sister put down her trumpet and jumped into the muscular arms of a
high school boy.


All the men are going to
check out the tractors,” Terry said. “Fancy a gander?”


Give me a
report.”

Terry stalked away with a
look of evil delight on his face. Isabel hoped he didn’t vandalize
any prize tractors. She concentrated on her breakfast of champions.
Already she felt a little light-headed. When she looked up from the
dregs of her beer, feeling the sun break through low clouds, Jon
stood near her. She blinked, trying to smile.


So, suddenly a polka
fan,” he said, staring again at her hair.

What had she said? “Well.
Nice work.”

He walked away. Why had she
said that? She didn’t like accordion music, and certainly was no
fan of polka. Still, she had to counter the Terry
Factor.

Jon headed toward the group
of people near the bus. She watched as he kissed the old couple who
danced in the church. How suffocating, all this family so close
together. He couldn’t be proud of that sister with her slutty
clothes. Or Ozzie, such a stingy bastard, always complaining about
their toilet paper use, telling them to turn off their lights,
making them wash their own sheets and towels. Look at him now,
chest puffed out, taking all the praise for the band. And Margaret,
in that sack of a dress. Isabel’s mother was obsessed with the
latest in everything but that dress hadn’t been in style twenty
years ago.

A woman stepped up behind
Jon. He whirled around with a strange look on his face. She threw
her arms around him, burying her face in his neck. Margaret beamed
a toothy smile. He reddened, awkwardly patting the woman’s back.
Short with a cap of mousy brown hair, she wore a long grey skirt
with a sleeveless white blouse, so plain she could be the wife of a
conservative politician or a snake-handling preacher.

He pried her arms off his
neck. The short woman threw herself against him again, pressing her
cheek against his chest.

Dana and Kate were also
watching. Isabel inched toward them, picking a bite of something
buttery off Kate’s plate. Dana was talking, in her gossipy,
bullet-fast way. “My sister knows her, takes her Kevin there. She’s
into
clogging
.”


Jogging?” Kate
asked.


Clogging, you know, like
tap dancing. Riverdance, only not that cool. Ruffles and bows. My
grandma learned how to do it sitting in her chair at the senior
center. For the exercise, they told her. Ha.”


I like tap dancing,” Kate
said. “Is that what you mean?”


God, no. Folksy, big
skirts. If she looked like the Lord of the Dance I might give it a
try.”

They all turned to look at
the clogger. Jon bent down to listen to her. Her mouth moved
nonstop, her hand on his arm. His mouth was screwed to one side.
Isabel asked, “Are you talking about her? With the accordion
guy?”

The only Minnesotan in the
field crew, Dana had grown up forty miles away. She told them she’d
met this woman while visiting her sister in Minneapolis. Dana
picked up her nephew at preschool one day and laughed to her sister
about the Shirley Temple sendoff one of the teachers had given the
kids, complete with cockeyed sailor cap. She does it every single
day, her sister exclaimed, then told Dana to be on the lookout for
Cuppie Knobel in Red Vine this summer.


Even her haircut looks
like a cupcake,” Dana said.


So she’s related?” Isabel
asked. She looked away, embarrassed at her interest.


His wife.”


I talked to him in the
parking lot yesterday. He’s
so
nice.” Kate sighed. “Too bad he’s
married.”


And that you go to school
in Utah.”


This summer is not going
as I planned.”


There’s always Terry,”
Isabel said.

Dana was looking over
Isabel’s shoulder. “Speaking of lover man,” she
whispered.

Isabel took off for the
coffee. She dumped out the last of her beer, poured coffee, and
kept her head down. So she wasn’t wrong about Terry. She kept
moving. At the edge of the grass she looked up. Terry was talking
to an old man by the beer table. Jon stood by the bus with that
short woman hanging on him. Isabel had a view of their backs, his
strong, with broad shoulders and narrow hips. Beside him the wife
looked like a child. Being named Cuppie had stunted her for
life.

Jon glanced over his
shoulder and caught Isabel’s eye. She put her cup to her mouth and
scalded her tongue. Over a loudspeaker a woman’s voice announced
that bingo was starting in the parish hall. An exodus of women
began. Dana and Kate fell into line.

So he was married. Good.
She had quite enough on her plate, with these hormone-fueled
students, field data to collate, and a leaky motel to navigate. Not
to mention planning next year’s seminars and her thesis. If he
hadn’t been married, well, it would have been the same. She was too
busy for relationships with anybody.

Not to mention a disaster
in that department.

 

Chapter 5

 

 

 

The small parlor of the
house on Birch Street— Margaret preferred ‘parlor’ to ‘living
room’— entertained only the occasional rose group meeting or
Jehovah’s Witness. It was a stuffy, old-fashioned room with
flowered wallpaper and hand-me-downs. The sofa and chairs belonged
to Nora and Reinholt before they upgraded to crushed velvet. They
were as hard and unforgiving as a Minnesota winter. The boxy arms
were good for sitting on though when you had an overflow crowd like
today.

Everyone from the polka
mass had wanted to come back to the house after the band quit
playing, like the old days. Nora and Reinholt went back to the
home. But Stumpy and Louise took up lots of room and Irene fidgeted
with a fake smile on her face. Irene who didn’t really like big
groups, not to mention “the in-laws,” Cuppie’s parents, who had
jumped on a weak invitation. And their daughter of
course.

Margaret went back to the
kitchen to make coffee. Jonny followed her.


Put some crackers on a
plate,” she told him over her shoulder, fiddling with the
coffeemaker. “And see if there’s cream cheese.”


Mom. What did I tell you
about me and Cuppie? Remember? It’s over.”

She laid her hands on the
coffeemaker, as if willing it to reveal its secrets. “I’m just as
surprised as you are. I never told her to come.”


But you told her about
the polka mass.”


Don’t be silly. I don’t
interfere with my children’s love lives.


Then how did she
know?”


Well, I might have said
something to Flora at Wal-Mart last week. It’s not like polka mass
was a secret.”


What did you say to her?”
His voice was low, and angry.


Nothing much. That you
would be back.”


And—?”

Margaret poured water into
the maker and turned it on. Then turned it off again and got the
big red Folger’s can out of the fridge.


Mom.”


What? Oh. Flora asked how
you were doing. I just said, fine, he’s fine. Living with Artie and
Sonya for now. That’s all. She said Cuppie was very upset, and
terribly lonely. I—“


You what?”


I might have said that
you were too.”

Jonny sat down hard in a
wood chair, his hand on his forehead.


I’ll just take some
munchies out.” She whispered as she backed through the door, “She
just wants to talk.”

But he didn’t. Cuppie had
years to talk to him and she had declined to do so. Jonny couldn’t
think of one thing to say to her.

She’d surprised him on the
sidewalk, tapping his shoulder, calling his name in her baby-doll
voice. Sabotaged him in front of his parents, his grandparents, his
sister— the whole frigging town. What could he do? It was a strike
force. She was a pint-sized nuclear device. He had to let her hug
him with that lily of the valley perfume that made him
nauseous.

BOOK: All Your Pretty Dreams
10.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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