IT’S THE HOTTEST summer on record, but of course the air conditioner chose today, of all days, to go out in a raging cloud of smoke.
I shouldn't be surprised, really. The Happy Days Motel, much like it's TV namesake, is a relic. And while I give my parents credit for taking care of their second child to the best of their abilities, that A/C was quite possibly installed during the Civil War and has been in desperate need of replacement for as long as I can remember.
Rest In Peace, Arthur Charles, you will be missed.
To make up for the complete lack of cool air, I hauled out an old oscillating fan from the storage closet. You know, the kind with streamers attached to the grill to prove that it's actually blowing air? But even with the crinkling of those streamers blowing and the constant whir of the motor, I'm still not convinced. It's still sweltering in the lobby.
My friends are at the pool. I know this, because I've spent half of my afternoon scrolling through myspace on the desktop, drooling over the photos they've been posting. Of course, I was invited to come along. But my plans were crushed as soon as Mom told me I'd have to watch over the motel while she and dad ran into the city to buy replacement air conditioners for the guest rooms.
So, instead of spending my Saturday afternoon poolside in my swimsuit, I'm standing behind an old check-in counter, sweating to death in a pair of frayed cut-off shorts and a tank top.
I've resigned myself to reading one of the old paperbacks I picked up from a used book store at the end of senior year. A romance novel, of course, to make up for my lack of love life. I have a small stack of them in my room, enough to keep me entertained until it comes time to move into my dorm room at the end of summer.
Just as I start to get into the book, the telephone rings on the desk beside me and I jump a foot into the air. Settling myself, I stuff a scrap price of paper between the pages of my book and hold up the receiver to my ear.
I've been answering the phone here since I was twelve, and the words flow naturally. "Happy Days Motel, MacKayla speaking, what can I do for you?"
"Hey, Mack, it's, er, it's me," a familiar voice drawls cautiously on the other end of the line.
The individual needs no introduction. I'd know his voice anywhere. God, I've known it since we were kids. I'd grown up listening to him talk, and tell stories, and laugh. Then I'd listened to him tell me he loved me, that he couldn't imagine life without me.
Trevor McCormick has been my best friend since we were in the second grade. He shared his ham and cheese sandwich with me when I forgot to bring mine with me on a field trip. Of course, by the time we hit tenth grade we wondered if we could be more than friends. And we were; for two and a half years, we were the best of friends and absolutely in love. We were even voted most likely to become high school sweethearts in our senior yearbook. But then it came time to chose colleges and Trevor's dreams led him away from Texas... and away from me. He wanted to got out of state. And me? Well, my choices were between community college in Beaumont and staying here to work at my family's motel.
In the end, I chose the former, Trevor chose Washington State, and after a tearful argument, we both chose to part ways. Our breakup was amicable, and I know he'll always love me, but that didn't make it hurt any less.
"Oh. Trevor, hi," I reply, trying my best to keep my voice even. We've barely spoken since graduation, so having him call up the motel out of the blue like this is a surprise.
"Listen," he says almost breathlessly. He's probably just come in from kicking a ball around with his little brother. "I know it's weird, and you wanted time, but I was hoping we could get a coffee soon. You know, sit down and talk about stuff?"
My breath stops in my throat. "Trevor," I sigh, my discomfort more than evident over the phone.
"Mack, come on. You can keep telling yourself everything's okay, but you know it's not," he insists, and I can feel my heart ache with his words. "I don't like how we left things. Please, I just want to talk."
There isn't a bone in my body that doubts his intentions. Trevor doesn't lie, not to me. And he would never intentionally hurt me.
So with a heavy sigh, I hang my head in my free hand. "Can I just have a bit of time to think about it, Trev? I'm stuck at the front desk today, I'm hot as hell, and I just need to think before I agree to anything."
Trevor lets out a relieved huff. "No, no, that's cool. Think about. And call me whenever, okay? You can always call, Mack."
I'm surprised by how much relief I feel hearing him say that, like a weight off my shoulders that I didn't even know was there. It's my last summer before heading off to college. It's a lot to take in, and I need my best friend right now.
"I will, Trev. I'll call later, okay?" I say softly, leaning my cheek against my palm.
I can hear the smile in his voice as he tells me he's looking forward to it, and I resist that natural instinct inside of me to tell him I love him before I set the telephone back on the cradle.
When I turn to look back at it, I find I'm suddenly not all that interested in the romance novel in front of me. With a huff I toss it into the corner of the desk and find myself a distraction in searching through our upcoming bookings.
Currently we have four rooms occupied. If I'm being honest, the glowing "Vacancy" sign out front of the motel has never been switched off. Fifteen rooms are available, but we rarely see more than ten booked in the summer, and less than that in the off season. The woes of being a small town motel just outside of a bustling metropolitan area. But we make do.
Right now, we have an older couple in room four visiting there children and grandchildren for a week. In room six, there's a couple making an overnight pit stop while on a cross country road trip. Room seven has an out-of-town investor in town to check on a few properties. And in room nine, we have of girls a few years older than me, back in town visiting friends while on summer break.
All in all, there's not much excitement around here. If we're lucky, sometimes couples will stop in with their children for the night, and we can watch them chase the little ones around the pool for an hour or so.
Finding no amusement scrolling through the handful of upcoming bookings for the summer, I close the haphazardly organized spreadsheet and turn off the monitor. A small radio plays country music in the corner behind me, and in this close to saying the hell with it and dancing around until I pass out from heat exhaustion. But before I get that far, I hear the loud rumble of my dad's diesel truck pulling off the highway and into the parking lot out front.
The lack of cars in the parking lot is a surefire sign that I'm the only one here right now, so I feel comfortable enough putting the "back in ten minutes" sign up on the desk. Mom will huff at me about it later, but I know very well that she would also wag her finger if I don't go out and help them unload the new air conditioners.
The efficiency of the old fan is proven when I step out the screen door and spontaneous break into a heavy sweat. It's got to be at least a hundred degrees outside, with too much sun and not even a little bit of a breeze. I can practically feel my skin burning.
Dad parks the truck in front of the farthest room from the main reception, and by the time I get to them, they're already inside setting up the first air conditioner.
"How was the city?" I ask as I lean against the door frame and fan myself with one hand.
Dad only grumbles as he splits open the box in front of him with the ever-present army knife in his pocket. "Hotter than the Sahara. And the stores were packed."
I can't resist giving him a satisfied grin. "Bet you're happy I told you to call ahead, ain't you, Dad?"
Mom huffs, sliding the window open and popping out the screen. Her sun hat flops down over her eyes, but she's quick to adjust it. "Why don't you give your father a hand, darlin'? Unless you want to head on back to the front desk."
"That's why I'm here, Mama." I lean over and give her a kiss on the cheek. "I'll start unloading them into the next couple rooms for you."
"You go on ahead and do that," Dad says, but he's too busy fiddling around trying to get the appliance out of the box to pay much attention.
One room at a time, I unlock the door with my master key, open the window, take out the screen and bring the large appliance box inside. I've made it through five rooms and I'm dripping in sweat by the time Mom catches up to me.
She hands me a cold glass of water, which has seemingly appeared out of thin air, with a warm smile. I gulp it down greedily before swiping my hand across my forehead.
"Why don't you take a break, hun?" Mom coos, patting my shoulder gently. "Your friends called a little while ago. They're on their way now. Go spend a bit of time by the pool, darlin'. You've earned it."
I eye her suspiciously. My mom is an absolute sweetheart, the perfect picture of a southern belle. But if there's one thing she's a stickler for, it's rules. Never take a minute too long on your breaks, never be late for your shift. And never, ever have I gotten off early for no particular reason. Which means she has an ulterior motive.
"You want me to cook tonight, don't you?" I ask, crossing my arms over my chest. "That's why you're letting me off early, isn't it?"
Her smile is sweet, without an ounce of guilt. "Well now, there's a great idea. I'm sure the guests would just love a home cooked meal after a long hot day, don't you think? And practice makes perfect."
Ever since I can remember, I've loved to cook. So it was an easy decision to apply to culinary school after high school. Now, Mom has passed on her spatula, and finds every excuse in the book to get me to cook. It doesn't actually bother me much, being the unofficial cook at the motel, but that doesn't mean I don't give her crap for the fun of it. But before I have a chance to today, a familiar yellow bug pulls into the lot and into the spot right beside the lobby.
"Enjoy yourself, honey," Mom smiles, patting my cheek lightly and quickly heading back to help Dad.
I stuff my hands in my pockets with a huff and head over to the old beat up beetle. Two heads pop out of the vehicle, and despite the heat, I jog over to greet them excitedly. The top of the bug is down, as it usually is all summer long, seeing as the thirty year old car doesn't have a functioning air conditioner, so I can see the two occupants.
The blonde driver opens the door and slide out the or the car, while the brunette on the passenger side gracefully hops over the door like she always does.
When I think about it, Gwendolyn Paul and Christine Larson hadn't been my friends for the longest time. Sure, we'd known each other since I'd moved to town in the second grade, but we didn't get close until high school. We'd become inseparable by graduation.
Gwen was the sweetest girl I'd probably ever know. Her blonde hair is always a frizzy mess of waves no matter how much she brushes it, and she always has a smile on her face. I know her well enough to know the lollipop in her mouth is lemon yellow, just like the flower in her hair. The color suits her well.
And then there's Christine, an absolute diva to anyone who doesn't know her. But if you do, you know you're lucky, because there isn't another girl who would stand up for you as fiercely when you need it most. Her lips are always covered in enough cherry-flavored lip gloss to skate on, and she wears enough pink to be an honorary member of Regina George's cult.
I'm the tomboy of the group, to some extent. We're all a little strange, outsiders in a tiny town where everybody knows everybody. But together, we make the most of one another. I'm honestly not sure what I would do without them.
"Girl, you look like you just took a three-day stroll through the Sahara," Christine states, pushing her rose colored, heart shape sunglasses onto her head. "You need a shower ASAP."
I roll my eyes. "Thanks, Chrissy, I'll get right on that." Turning to Gwen, I smile. "How was the pool?"
Aside from the in-ground pool out behind the motel, there's one other outdoor pool at the rec-centre downtown. While a refreshing break from the heat, it's usually overpopulated by snotty children during the summer break, and nobody enjoys the sound of screaming children and exhausted, over-heated parents.
She beams. "It was pretty busy, and mostly a bust. But Chrissy spent most of the afternoon hitting on Parker Cole, so at least she was in a good mood."
"Just you two wait," Christine chastises, wagging a hot pink tipped finger at us, "We're going to show up at the ten year anniversary together with photos of our adorable children and y'all will be eating your words."
"Whatever you say, Chris," I laugh, shaking my head at her determination. "I'm going to go change, me y'all out back?"
The two girls nod, grabbing their beach bags out of the backseat of Gwen's bug. I head around to the side of the main building, climbing the fire-escape looking metal stairs that lead up to the apartment my family has lived in since we bought the motel.
It's small— two bedrooms, a shared bathroom, and a combined living room and kitchen— but we make it work. We spend most of our time downstairs, running the front desk or cleaning rooms anyways. And when it's my responsibility to cook, I prefer to use the industrial kitchen off the back of the lobby, where we prepare meals for guests.
I'm quick to change, stripping out of my sweat-soaked tank top and replacing it with one of two bikini tops I own— a powder blue one that could pass for a sports bra. I throw on the matching bottoms, grab my shorts and a towel, and jog back down and around to the back of the building.
My friends are already lounging poolside, Gwen sitting cross legged in her yellow one piece on a matching yellow towel, while Christine is sprawled our on a lounger in her hot pink bikini, feigning tanning.
I don't even stop to say hi, I just drop my things on a lounger and proceed to dive into the water. The coolness envelops me as soon as my fingers part the surface, and I forget all about the sweltering heat I've been suffering through. There's nothing more refreshing than the chlorinated water on days like these.
When I'm forced to come up for air, I unravel the elastic in my hair and proceed to dunk my head back underwater and slick my hair back until it clings to my scalp.
I don't get out immediately, instead I swim back over to the side and thread water. I'm going to enjoy the coolness while it lasts.
"So guess what," I announce, drawing Chrissy's attention away from the magazine in her hands, and Gwen's away from braiding her long hair. "Tyler called earlier this aft."
Chrissy immediately drops her magazine into her lap, whatever personality quiz she was reading now irrelevant. "Excuse me?"
"Yup," I say, popping my lips together.
"What'd he say?" Gwen asks curiously.
"He wants us to get coffee, talk about the breakup. I told him I'd think about it."
Chrissy scowls. Like a child during a divorce, she'd picked a side when Trevor and I split, and that side had been mine. I hadn't told her to, or even suggested that she had to; we were all friends after all. But she'd been steadfast in her loyalty, even offering to ask Big John down at the trailer park to ruff him up a bit. I'd respectfully declined.
"Why would you do that?" she exclaims. "He wants you to uproot your life and throw away your plans to move across the country with him. But he's not willing to do the same for you? That's not fair to you, Mack. You deserve better."
I float over to the edge of the pool, crossing my arms on the tile and resting my chin on them. "I should at least hear him out."
An uncharacteristic frown creases Gwen's face. She's got it rough. Being born two weeks apart and growing up next door to Trevor, the two of them have literally been friends since they were babies. He's the closest thing she has to a brother.
But her heart is big enough to love the both of us, and for that, I'm thankful.
"Do whatever you feel is right, Mack," she tells me. "But remember it's your life, and only you can choose how to live it."
Sometimes I swear Gwen is an eighty year old soul trapped inside an eighteen year old flower child's body.
"Thanks, Gwen," I smile thoughtfully.
Chrissy, who always has to have the last word, injects. "And don't you dare forget he broke it off the day before prom. That's something that can't just be forgiven."
Instead of commenting on the fact prom wouldn't have been my scene even if I had gone, I splash water in her direction. The small droplets hit her face and hair, and some even get on her magazine. She shrieks, kicking her legs as if they can fend off the retched water.
Gwen and I laugh at her expense, and she glares when she recovers.
The topic of Trevor is quickly forgotten.
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