This was the first day since Gloria had come home when she hadn't awakened feeling utterly miserable. Her boyfriend -- she presumed she no longer had the right to call him her fiancé although things had been left in such an inconclusive state she wasn't sure even of that -- but at any rate, Rolland Spicer, the boy she'd been planning to marry, had, the week before, driven her home from Briarsville, Pennsylvania, to Raysburg, West Virginia, in what must have been record time. He'd said hardly a word to her and hadnt stopped once, not even for a cheeseburger. After he'd dumped Gloria and her five pieces of baby-blue luggage on her front porch, he'd muttered, "Well, Glo, see you around some time," and had driven away without so much as a goodbye kiss. "What was that all about?" her mother had asked, and Gloria had answered, "Oh, nothing, Mom. Just a little difference of opinion." Leaving her things for the brats to carry in, Gloria had walked past her mother, closed herself in her bedroom, thrown herself on the bed, and had lain there for an hour waiting for the tears to start, but she hadn't cried. She'd just been depressed out of her mind, and she'd stayed depressed out of her mind for days. Her timing, she had to admit, had been atrocious. Why had she been so stupid as to tell him after a wedding -- especially a wedding as lovely as Susie's? But she hadn't said, "I won't marry you." She'd only said, "I won't marry you yet."
That morning in church she'd felt a shift inside herself; instead of thinking, as she had been, "What on earth am I supposed to do from now until September?" she'd thought, "Wow, I've got the whole rest of the summer and I can do anything I want," and she'd finally allowed herself to feel pleased -- with her Phi Beta Kappa key, with her straight-A average and her honors BA, with having been a darn good president off her chapter of Delta Lambda, and even with having been May Queen. In the fall she would be going to Columbia to begin her graduate work, but, in the meantime, there were no more classes, no more deadlines, no more exams, no more house meetings of Panhellenic Council meetings, no more planning sessions for Susie's wedding, no more rituals or ceremonies or parades or dances or smokers or parties -- no more anything. There were some dozen books she'd planned to read, and she looked forward to reading them, but not quite yet. And if Rolland was going to go on being so mean to her, well, there would be lots of boys in New York, and so, fully conscious that she'd been killing time -- savoring every lovely, useless, wasted moment of it -- she'd just spent the afternoon painting her toenails and fingernails to match the red piping on her black maillot; the piping was, in turn, an exact match for the broad red stripe on her black bathing cap.
Ted Cotter opened his eyes behind his sunglasses and saw his daughter arrive at the wall, bob up in an incandescent spray transmuted to gold by the low sun, turn, kick off, and glide. He did not think of her as athletic, but he had to admit she made a hell of a pretty picture in the water. In the summer, Gloria's naturally dark skin deepened nearly to the color of mahogany; now, wet and gleaming in the golden light, she looked burnished, and her figure was every bit as good as her mother's had been in her twenties -- maybe even a little bit better with her long, Betty Grable legs and tiny waist. Gloria swam with a tiny, fastidious stroke he saw as typical of the way she did everything; her brothers, intent on speed, thrashed through the water like outboard motors, but she swam carefully, held each hand carefully, pointed like a dart, her gleaming red fingernails leading the hand, the angled hand slicing neatly into the water with no splash whatsoever. Laney, when she was mad at Gloria, liked to call her "Princess Priss," and it was apt, he supposed, but he rather liked his daughter's prissiness (there were a hell of a lot worse things your daughter could be). He had now worries about Gloria. She was sure to marry well . . .
>Copyright © 1999 by Keith Maillard. All rights reserved. Published by the permission of the publisher, Soho Press.
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