Excerpt of The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
(Page 4 of 6)
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Mike's cousin Pauline was visiting from New York, and they introduced themselves to Jocelyn because they needed a fourth for doubles. Jocelyn had been working on her serve with the club pro. She wore her hair in a high ponytail that summer, with bangs like Sandra Dee in Take Her, She's Mine. She had breasts, pointy at first, but now rounding. Her mother had bought her a two-piece bathing suit with egg-cup shaping, in which Jocelyn was exquisitely self-conscious. But her best feature, she always believed, had been her serve. Her toss that day was perfect, taking her to full stretch, and she spun the ball into the service court. It seemed she couldn't miss. Her spirits, as a consequence, were high and wild.
Neither Mike nor Steven spoiled things by being particularly competitive. They split games sometimes, and sometimes they didn't; no one really kept score but Jocelyn, and she did so only privately. They traded partners. Pauline was such a little snot, accusing people of foot faults in a friendly game, that Jocelyn looked better and better by comparison. Mike said she was a good sport, and Steven said she wasn't a bit stuck-up, not like most girls.
They continued to meet and play after Pauline went back home, even though three was such an awkward number. Sometimes when they rallied, Mike or Steven would try to run from one side of the net to the other to play on both teams at once. It never worked and they never stopped trying. Eventually some adult would accuse them of not being serious and throw them off the court.
After tennis, they'd change into their swimsuits and meet at the pool. Everything about Jocelyn changed with her clothes. When she came out of the women's locker room, her movements were cramped and tight. She'd wrap a towel around her waist and remove it only to slip into the water.
Still, she liked when they stared; she felt the pleasure of it all over her skin. They came in after her, touching her under the water, where no one could see. One or the other would swim down to put his head between her legs and surface with her knees hooked around his shoulders, the water from her ponytail streaming into the cup over her breast. One day one of them, she never knew which, pulled the knot of her top loose. She caught it just as it began to drop. She could have stopped this with a word, but she didn't. She felt dangerous, brazen. She felt all lit up.
She had no desire for anything further. She didn't actually like Mike or Steven that much, and certainly not in that way. When she lay in her bed or the bath, touching herself more intimately and successfully than they did, the boy she pictured was Mike's older brother, Bryan. Bryan went to college and worked summers as a lifeguard at the pool. He looked the way a lifeguard looks. Mike and Steven called him the boss, he called them the squirts. He had never spoken to Jocelyn, possibly didn't even know her name. He had a girlfriend who rarely got wet, but lay on a beach chair reading Russian novels and drinking Coca-Cola. You could tell how many she'd drunk from the maraschino cherries lined up along her napkin.
In late July there was a dance, and it was girl-ask-boy. Jocelyn asked Mike and Steven both. She thought they knew this, assumed they would talk about it. They were best friends. She thought it would hurt someone's feelings if she asked one and not the other, and she didn't want to hurt anyone. She had a strapless sundress to wear; she and her mother went out and bought a strapless bra.
Mike showed up at her house first, in a white shirt and a sports jacket. He was nervous; they were both nervous; they needed Steven to arrive. But when he did, Mike was shocked. Hurt. Furious. "You two have a great time," he said. "I got other things to do."
Jocelyn's mother drove Jocelyn and Steven to the club and wouldn't be picking them up again until eleven o'clock. Three whole hours had to pass somehow. Glass torches lit the pathway to the clubhouse, and the landscape flickered. There were rose wreaths and pots of ivy animals. The air cool and soft, the moon sliding down the sky. Jocelyn didn't want to be with Steven. It felt like a date now, and she didn't want to date him. She was rude and miserable, wouldn't dance, hardly talked, wouldn't take off her cardigan. She was afraid he might get the wrong idea, so she was trying to clarify things. Eventually he asked some other girl to dance.
From The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler, copyright © 2004 Karen Joy Fowler, published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.