It’s past six o’clock when Lara rolls out of bed and plods down the hallway, running her hand along the entire length of the spindle railing which guards the half awake against falling into the huge stairway abyss. She tries to be quiet, but the house is full of early risers who will soon be up anyway. Finding the bathroom unoccupied makes her optimistically hopeful that her day will continue in this happy vein. It’s a day like any other in that summer of ’65, and yet it’s destined to become a day that Lara will never forget. When you’re an innocent and naive sixteen year old girl, a day like this has been waiting to happen for a long time.
She’s washed and dressed and brushed (there’s even time enough for a bit of mascara and some clear lip gloss) and flying out the door within the next half hour. The little yellow Valiant starts without protest and even though the day is already starting to get hot, she leaves the windows rolled up so less dust from the gravel roads will end up on her uniform and in her hair. She spins down Sherry’s driveway and turns the car around as her best friend hurries out with a piece of toast in one hand and her crazy big beach bag in the other. She pitches it into the backseat with Lara’s stuff and climbs in.
Did you eat breakfast? she wants to know. Lara tells her no. You should, she says, between bites. But Lara never feels like eating in the morning. She’ll make herself a double grilled cheese for lunch and dunk up half a bottle of ketchup with it. Toast, protein, tomatoes – that pretty much covers all the food groups, doesn’t it?
Once they get to the highway they’re able to push the speed limit and arrive at Mack’s Dairy with a few minutes to spare. Their shift starts at seven. It follows the previous day’s shift which ended at eleven last night. They work a late and an early, so even though they’re working every day, that big space between the early and the next late always seems like a huge chunk of time off. That’s just custom-made for fooling around. Lara and Sherry always try to cram in mega doses of summer fun at every opportunity. Summer won’t last forever.
There are four more girls working with them, making up a team of six, with Mrs. D. at the helm to make sure they always appear to be working and barking out orders at them if they’re not. Another team of six girls works the opposite shifts. Today Wanda is in the kitchen in charge of the dishes and the deep-frying of the donuts. When you’re at that spot in the rotation, there’s no point at all caring what you look like when you arrive. By the end of the day you’ll be a soggy greasy mess on a bit of a chocolate high from all that donut dunking, eating the broken pieces, and licking your sticky fingers.
Joanie is already frying bacon at the grill. Madeleine and Anna will be working the two U-shaped counters where tourists wander in and sit on the bar stools and give their orders for bacon and eggs and burgers and shakes. Sherry and Lara are at the ice cream counter, which includes an order window open to the street. This part of the job requires frequent visits to the walk-in freezer at the back, lugging big containers of ice cream, and scooping and scooping and scooping all day long until they think their wrists might snap. It’s day one for Sherry, so she’s all perky about it serving the inside customer counter. Lara is on scoop day two working the window, and already looking forward to rotating to the kitchen where she doesn’t have to talk to anybody or rhyme off ice cream flavours like a programmed robot.
Who knew ice cream had an odor? It’s all milky and sweet and creamy and sick. Especially when you haven’t had breakfast. Lara notices a few purple bruises on her arms, between her wrists and her elbows. Dairy battle wounds. All the girls have opted to pull their long hair back into pony tails rather than consider the intricacies of the dreaded hair net. Their white uniforms are short, and their ruffled aprons are red gingham. There are three brunettes, two blondes, and one red-head. Lara believes the old guy who hired them did this on purpose, as some kind of perverted marketing strategy. It appears to be working – the place is always busy. Tourists in general on hot days eat a lot of ice cream. And the dairy girls attract a lot of teen-aged sons who are more than willing to hang around spending money waiting for them to get off work.
Today old Mr. Mack decides to make an appearance to present the ice cream counter girls with a little white scale on which they must weigh every ice cream cone they scoop. At first they think he can’t be serious, but he is deadly so. The ice cream profits are not what they should be, because his girls are much too generous. This must stop. He has spoken. While he watches, Lara and Sherry dutifully weigh each cone, perfecting the exact chintzy amount to come up with the correct number of ounces. When he seems satisfied that they’ve got it he goes off to harass someone else, and both girls stuff as much ice cream as they can down deep into the cones and pack it hard so that they weigh almost double what they’re supposed to. This brightens up their day considerably. When the two young good-looking male customers they’ve been flirting with all week come in and sit down at their counter, they appear to believe all the smiling and laughing must be specifically for them, and they’re encouraged to smile and flirt right back.
They exchange plans for the afternoon, and promise to see each other later. The girls will put on their bathing suits, they’ll spend a few hours on the beach, and later they’ll make another change to mini skirts and tank tops and take in the live-band dance at the casino after the sun goes down. There’s the reason for those gigantic beach bags full of towels and clothes. At three o’clock today, three o’clock tomorrow will feel like it’s still worlds away and they’re packed and ready for whatever happens.
All the summer guys they’ve met are strangely interchangeable at this point in their teenage lives. They’re at their summer rentals for a week or two and then they’re headed back to Hamilton, or London, or Toronto. City boys are so easy. They’re attracted to small town cottage country girls (who will sometimes even admit to growing up on a farm and even that seems to make a positive impression.) Opposites attract Lara supposes. They’ll be replaced by someone else before anything gets too serious - summers here produce an endless stream of possibilities.
Joanie won’t let Lara make her own grilled cheese for lunch, and instead turns out the perfect one for her herself. Pam offers her a ‘mistake’ milk shake that’s only been sitting around for about ten minutes. Wanda has some sugar donut pieces on a plate to share. My goodness, the luck continues. When Mr. Mack comes huffing and puffing from the back freezer to check out one of the coolers, he is wearing his big green parka and mumbling away to himself. A customer gawks at him wide-eyed and asks Lara and Joanie if that man is all right? They laugh so hard Mrs. D. has to give them serious stink eye to make them stop.
When a teary Anna has a customer leave without paying, everybody chips in their tips to make it up for her. There goes Lara’s french fries on the beach money, but she knows Anna wouldn’t hesitate to do the same thing for her. After that Madeleine makes a banana split “mistake”, and insists that Anna take it. Eating a banana split is a tried and true method of making everything once again right with the world.
Lara thinks her right arm is about to seize up and to fall off when Sherry finally announces that it’s time to go. The ice cream scoops are passed like batons to the next shift and they’re out the door and into the car and off to the lake with more energy and speed than they thought they had left in them. It’s hot and it’s crowded, but the water feels like heaven.
It’s kind of amazing in such a horde of beach goers how easy it is to bump into their friends, and they’re happy to find out they haven’t started playing beach football yet with anyone else. It’s a game with no rules, except for the girls to look good in their bikinis, running in the sand, while the guys toss the ball back and forth with various amounts of skill, all the while devising ever new and more strange rules as to why the girls must be tackled. It’s too crowded and too hot to play for long, so Sherry goes off with Danny for a walk along the water where they’ll find some space to toss a frisbee, and Lara is content to sit in the sun with Jay. They talk about school and siblings and parents and cars. What they want to do with their lives, things they’re interested in and good at. Lara has learned she doesn’t have to give away too much information at all and that boys like to do most of the talking. She’s a good listener. Every boy she’s ever met admires that quality in a girl.
When the sun goes down, they go to the dance. Jay disappears sporadically to consume the beer he’s got stashed somewhere. He does offer to share, even prods and cajoles, but Lara still has a healthy fear of alcohol and rarely even takes a sip. Besides, she thinks beer is disgusting. The music is loud, the dance hall is crowded, it’s hot and muggy and smells like Coppertone, and after a while, Jay is starting to slur and to weave. It’s time for a sobering up walk on the beach. She tells Sherry where she’s going and when she’ll be back and they agree on what time they’ll take off for home.
This end to an otherwise ordinary day is the part that is deeply etched in Lara’s memory forever. Not so much for what happens, but for how she reacts to it. As if she’s watching all of it happen to someone else.
They walk arm in arm away from the water and close to the pine trees that border some of the summer cottages. There are no street lights here and the only sounds they hear are the swish of the waves washing up on the shore and the distant boom of the music. Jay is stumbling and wants to sit down. There is a big driftwood log in amongst some scrubby bushes, and they plop themselves down on the sand and lean against it.
Lara is prepared to do some more listening to whatever Jay wants to talk about now, but he’s not saying much. He is kissing her neck and her ear, her face, her mouth. He tastes like stale beer. Then he is telling her he thinks she’s gorgeous. She’s so beautiful. He loves her hair and her eyes and many things to the south of them that she’s embarrassed to hear him mention out loud. He’s kind of gorgeous himself, all muscled and tanned and blonde but it would be awkward for her to say these things so she keeps them to herself. She’s pretty sure he knows all that already anyway.
And besides, it’s getting a little hard to breathe without gasping, never mind attempting to put a coherent sentence together. Because his hands are everywhere. One moves up her leg and under her skirt and pulls down on the elastic band of her panties. Has she ever done this before? he wants to know. Does she want to? Will she do this? Her brain is screaming What? Do WHAT? What are we DOING? But her lips keep kissing him and she can’t make herself say no. She is so incredibly unbelievably curious to find out what happens next. To finally know what this is like, how it feels. If the world will stop turning or if she’ll be struck dead by lightning or the wrath of God. Anything seems possible. He’s touching her in places that make her burn. This is what it feels like to be on fire. She is a beautiful girl being ravished on the beach.
They are reaching the point of no return. She’s heard about this and now she believes she knows how it feels to get there. Like her head and her body and everything else is about to spiral completely out of control. And still she does nothing to stop it. There is this, and this, and oh my God THIS and sand in places it’s never been before.
And then Jay suddenly makes a pained and strangled sort of noise deep in his throat, rolls away, gets to his feet, puts himself back together and staggers off towards the water. She sits up and watches him. It’s a rather unexpected turn of events under these circumstances, but then what does she really know about these kinds of circumstances, after all. She sees him fall across an over turned canoe and then he is puking his guts out, making enough racket to wake the dead. Jesus.
The almost ravished girl on the beach sighs in a deeply theatrical way. She shudders to think that this could be the effect she has on future men in her life. Huh. Her virginity is still very much intact. What a disappointment. Beer breath is bad enough, there is no way puke breath is getting anywhere near her face. She straightens herself and her clothes up and waits for what seems like fifteen minutes for Jay to stop belly aching about all the things in his life that suck and to extricate himself from the clutches of the ill-placed canoe. She tells him that’s going to be an interesting surprise in the morning for its owners. She doesn’t really know what else to say.
All the way back to her car he is telling her how sorry he is and how he doesn’t know why he drank so much and that she has to know he would never do anything she didn’t want to do and that he’s really sorry and he’s a total idiot. For once Lara isn’t really listening, she’s thinking she’s been a rather colossal idiot herself. She has been on the beach at night making out with a drunken stranger, willingly doing things she can’t explain, for reasons she can’t fathom, and she will never be able to talk about this. With anyone. Ever.
She should be mortified but she’s not. Deep down she’s thinking it’s probably one of the funniest things that has ever happened to her but she can’t laugh about it yet. She knows she’s made an escape of sorts, she’s been let off easy this time. A brain that shuts down and lets her body do whatever it wants needs a rather serious talking to. But not tonight. Tonight she just wants to delight in the wild and out of control madness of the whole experience, and pretend the unlovely barfing part at the end of it never happened at all.
The little yellow Valiant is headed for home. Sherry is telling Lara in a dreamy voice how romantic Danny is, and about the nice things he says, and how his kisses are to die for and he is SO cute. There is sand in the crack of Lara’s ass, for the love of God. How romantic is that? But she decides not to mention it.
The next afternoon at the dairy Lara can’t help feeling she’s somehow a very different person from the one she started off being just yesterday. But she’s acting pretty much exactly the same so no one knows the difference. Last night is a secret she’s not finished pondering over in her head, and not yet ready to share. Jay left for the city with his family this morning and it’s quite likely that she’ll never see him again. She’ll never know if they could have looked each other in the eye today without blushing or laughing or pretending nothing weird happened between them. She’s thankful for that. And a few other things.
The summer is long from over. There will be somebody new before this day ends, Lara can feel it in her bones. The anticipation of ‘what happens next’ makes her giddy with excitement just thinking about it. There’s so much more she needs to learn, and she wants to get started now. Summer won’t last forever, and she’s very sure of at least one thing -there are better memories to be made.