Frankie had held up her part of the bargain freshman year by not embarrassing Zada any more than she could help. She wore the clothes Zada told her to, did fine in her classes, and made friends with a group of mildly geeky fellow freshman who were neither ostentatiously silly nor tragically lame.
By summer's end, when she saw Zada off to Berkeley, Frankie was curvy, lithe and possessed of enough oomph to stop teenage boys in the street when they passed her. But if we are to accurately chronicle Frankie's transformation and so-called misbehavior in these pages, it is important to note that her physical maturation was not, at first, accompanied by similar mental developments. Intellectually, Frankie was not at all the near-criminal mastermind who created the Fish Liberation Society and who will, as an adult, probably go on to head the CIA, direct action movies, design rocket ships or possibly (if she goes astray) preside over a unit of organized criminals. At the start of sophomore year, Frankie Landau-Banks was none of these things. She was a girl who liked to read, had only ever had one boyfriend, enjoyed the debate team, and still kept gerbils in a Habitrail. She was highly intelligent, but there was nothing unusually ambitious or odd about her mental functioning.
Her favorite food was guacamole and her favorite color was white.
She had never been in love.
A Chance Encounter that Will Prove Seminal
The day after Zada departed for Berkley, Frankie and her mother went to the
Jersey shore for a long weekend with Frankie's two divorced uncles and three
cousins. They rented a creaky five-bedroom house on a tiny plot of cement, two
blocks from the beach and boardwalk.
Frankie's cousins were all between the ages of ten and thirteen. And they were all boys. A pack of vile creatures, in Frankie's view, given to pummeling one another, throwing food, farting, and messing with Frankie's stuff unless she locked the door of her bedroom.
Every day, the whole group lugged beach chairs, blankets, pretzels, cans of beer (for the uncles), juice boxes and sports equipment down to the shore, where they parked themselves for a solid six hours. Frankie couldn't read a novel without having a sand crab placed on her knee, a bucket of saltwater dumped on her abdomen, or a box of grape juice spilled on her towel. She couldn't swim without some cousin trying to grab her legs or splashing her. She couldn't eat without one of the boys nipping a chip off her plate or kicking sand across her food.
On the last day of the vacation, Frankie lay on a beach blanket listening to her balding, gently paunchy uncles discuss the Jackals' minor league season. Frankie's mother dozed in a beach chair. For the moment, at least, the cousins were in the water, having breath-holding contests and occasionally trying to drown one another.
"Can I go into town?" Frankie asked.
Ruth lifted her sunglasses off her face and squinted at her daughter. "How come?"
"To walk around. Get an ice cream. Maybe buy some postcards," Frankie answered. She wanted to get away from all of them. The togetherness, the sports talk, the farting and pummeling.
Ruth turned to one of her brothers. "Ben, isn't it like fifteen blocks to the center of town? How far would you say it is?"
"Yeah, fifteen blocks," said Uncle Ben. "She shouldn't go alone."
"I'm not going with her," Ruth put her glasses back on her nose. "I came here to relax on the beach, not look at postcards in tourist shops."
"I can go on my own," said Frankie. She didn't want Ruth with her anyway. "Fifteen blocks is not that far."
"There are some shady characters around here," Uncle Ben warned. "Atlantic City is only a few miles north."
Copyright E. Lockhart 2008. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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