by Susan Schadler
ìI like vanilla best.î
ìFudge ripple is better,î Audrey responded while attempting to stop her leaking cone with her tongue.
Audrey and Sally Ann sat on a rock wall outside Kincaide Movie Theatre contemplating important fifteen year old girl matters when the qualities of ice cream flavors crept into the conversation.
ìLook! Thereís Tony Dane. Heís such a dream boat!î Sally Ann pushed her glasses back up her nose and giggled. ìYour sister sure is lucky to have him for a boyfriend.î
ìI have to go,î Audrey jumped down suddenly from the wall and threw away the rest of her cone.
ìWhere are you going? Audrey!î
Audrey ran down Main Street to Miss Lilianís Dress Shop. She knew her sister Claire would be there.
Audrey had thought about Anthony Dane since the first time her older sister brought him home to meet their parents. She had decided that Tony Dane possessed everything lovely: the smile that made a person, even a skinny, freckled teenager with scars on her knees, feel important; the eyes that leapt alive while he talked his deep, Southern, charming words; the appearance that blended to near perfection a hero in a novel and a movie star; and a spirit that was completely unaware he was anything special.
ìDid you really like this dress or did you just want to leave?î Claire teased her sister and hugged her. ìI wish you wouldíve let me buy that cardigan for you. The color was just right to bring out the pretty flecks in your eyes.î
Audrey appreciated Claire as the best sister anyone could have. She had such a generous spirit, and she never made fun of Audrey or her friends like other older sisters did. Audrey was proud of her.
Claire grabbed Audreyís arm, ìWait. Thereís Tony. Letís see if he wants to join us.î
Audrey wished she had not braided her hair this morning. They made her look younger.
ìIím surprised your father would let his two beautiful daughters out together. He could very easily lose both of them to the young Kincaide fellows walking about on this spring day. You have heard what a young manís fancy turns to in spring?î
ìTony! Not in front of Audrey!î Claire laughed.
ìAudrey knows what Iím talking about. She isnít so young and naive as you seem to think. î He pulled one of her braids. ìCute braids. Maybe Iím dating the wrong Coby sister!î
ìOh, really?î Claire laughed and pretended to walk away before Tony pulled her back. ìNow, Claire. How about a chocolate soda ñ both of you?î He grinned, and they walked into The CafÈ. Everything was forgiven. Audrey knew Claire hadnít meant to hurt her feelings.
Audrey left the couple sitting at the counter after an enjoyable yet confusing afternoon of laughing and talking and drinking large chocolate sodas together. She needed to be alone and think about Tony and Claire. These were new feelings she was experiencing. Claire ñ her best friend and mentor- loved Tony.
ìThe problem with Claire and Tony is that I think I love him, too!î Audrey stopped on her walk home. Did I really just say that out loud? She looked around. No one had heard. ìThe best place to finish this conversation with myself is alone at Nolan Meadow.î This time she made sure there wasnít anyone else walking on the sidewalk of Parson Branch Road ñ the street where she was born and raised.
Audrey opened the front door of her home wanting to go upstairs to her room without her motherís knowledge, but a squeaking screen door brought Clarice Coby into the front room drying her hands on a dish towel.
ìMomma, do you need some help?î
ìA spring Saturday and you want to stay inside the house?î her mother kidded her. ìI can manage. Go enjoy yourself. Be back by 4:00 to help me peel potatoes.î
Audrey hurried up the stairs to gather her diary and a blanket. Nolan Meadow was always a good spot to read, to think, and maybe to dream a bit?
She stretched out on her blanket under a tree and looked up to the top of Black Mountain. Claire usually came with her out to the Meadow. They had some of their best talks out here. She wished she could ask her big sister about this mess she was in. Part of her was so happy for Claire. Part of her was so sad for herself. Tony had everything. She knew he couldnít possibly be interested in a fifteen year old girl, especially with someone beautiful and sweet and intelligent like Claire available to be part of his life. Audrey could still love him. She could love him like a brother and a friend and a person who made her sister so happy. She could be proud of him, too. Maybe Tony is right. Iím not so naÔve; Iím growing up. Audrey closed her eyes and smiled. ìStill, everything would be easier if it wasnít my Claire.î
ìSorry, Iím late, Momma.î Audrey rushed into the kitchen to help her mother.
ìClaire came home early and helped me. She has a date with Tony to ride in his new car. A Cadillac convertible from his father! Go tell her supper is ready.î
Audrey entered their shared room upstairs. ìAudrey, do you think this scarf matches? I donít want my hair flying everywhere.î Claire was tying a cobalt blue headscarf around her perfectly curled blonde ponytail.
ìYou look beautiful. And you are beautiful.î
Claire kissed Audrey on the forehead. ìYou smell like wildflowers. Did you go to the meadow without me?î
ìJust a little while. Momma says to hurry. The cornbread will get cold.î
Audrey dried the last supper dish and left the kitchen without the knowledge of her father or mother who were talking about the day they had spent apart.
She climbed the front yard chestnut tree. She knew Tony would soon be in their driveway. He shifted the 53 El Dorado to a stop only a few feet away from Audreyís vantage point.
Tony smoothed down his dark hair, then checked the rear view mirror. ìYou know, if you want to spy on someone, you might want to pick a tree that has its leaves.î
ìIím just enjoying the night air. Besides, all I would have to do is read Claireís diary, if I wanted to know anything about you.î
ìReally?î Tony stepped easily over the door of his car and walked to the base of the tree. ìWhat exactly does she say about me?î That darn smile!
ìI said, if, If, IF I wanted to know. Maybe she doesnít even have a diary?î
ìNot bad. Clever and cute. Smart and beautiful females must run in the Coby family. Why donít you come down from there before you fall and scrape your knees again?î
Audrey worked her way down the tree to sink into his extended arms. ìYou think Iím pretty?î
ìAnd clever, too, remember. Amazing gifts from the Creator. Youíre a blessed young lady!î
ìIím ready, Tony.î Claire joined them.
Tony sat Audrey down and gave her a kiss on her cheek. ìDonít forget what I said. And if you do run across a diaryÖ.î He winked.
Audrey stood listening to the night sounds and watching the car disappear. ìClaire is lucky to have Tony. He said Iím pretty and smart, so maybe there will be another Tony who has everything – for me?î
A suspense mystery playing on the radio filled the front room. Clarice Coby mended her husbandís work shirt, and Tom Coby read the newspaper.
Clarice looked up as Audrey walked through the door. ìYou didnít eat much supper. There is part of an apple pie on the kitchen counter ñ extra cinnamon.î
ìI think Iíll just go to bed.î
ìSleep well, Aud,î added her dad.
Audrey examined her scarred knees as she changed into her nightgown. Her dad had called them ìwounds of childhoodî and promised they would go away. She thought about this first wound to her heart. It hurt, but it would go away, too. Right?
Audrey woke to flashing lights in the driveway outside her window. She sat on the top step listening to Sheriff Thomas speaking quietly to her parents.
ìTony lost control of the car. Whether he was dodging a deer maybe, or took the curve too fast, we donít know. There are skid marks.î The broken couple stood motionless and didnít respond. The sheriff knew none of the details mattered right now. He had said their daughter wasnít coming back home. Silent tears. The worst ones to witness. ìIím sorry.î He closed the front door on his way out. ìI hate this job.î
Audrey rested her head against the wall unable to go downstairs to her parents or back to her bedroom ñ their room. ìMy Claire. Your Tony did have everything; he even had your last minutes. I miss you, already.î