1. Rule Number Four
Rule Number Four
TEN DAYS BEFORE SCHOOL let out, Mama announced that summer was canceled.
She didn’t say it straight out like that. But she might as well have. What she did say to Bug was: “What would you like to do this summer?”
This was a dumb question. Mama knew what Bug wanted to do this summer. The same thing she’d done for the last two summers, ever since Danny had persuaded Mama that there was no need to spend good money on the Y camp (which they both hated, Danny quietly so, and Bug noisily) now that he was old enough to watch them both all summer. For free.
“You can buy a new car instead,” Danny had said. Clever of him, Bug thought, because Mama was always complaining about the Datsun and its busted air conditioner.
So, after very elaborate negotiations with Phillip and Hedvig, their upstairs and downstairs neighbors who each sometimes watched Danny and Bug, and yet another consultation with Kip, the always-sunburned lifeguard who manned Tower 19, Mama had agreed to let them spend the summers alone. “With conditions,” she said.
Conditions, Bug had soon discovered, was another name for rules. But conditions sounded nicer.
Mama typed the “conditions” onto a piece of thick, fancy paper she used at her job at the mayor’s office. Then she made Danny and Bug both sign it. This, she explained, turned conditions into a contract.
The contract promised that Bug and Danny would:
- Always go to Tower 19 and check in with Kip.
- Always swim together if they went in past their knees.
- Never touch so much as a toe in the water if the riptide flag was up.
- Always stay together.
Rule number four was typed up in just the same way as the others, but Mama repeated its importance so often that Bug understood it was the most important one of all. Bug was not generally fond of rules, even when they were called conditions, but this one, the idea that she and Danny must always, always stay together, well, she liked that one just fine. It made her feel safe.
The list had been taped to the refrigerator that first beach summer, and all that following fall and winter. In the spring, when Mama was doing her big cleaning, she had taken it down. But Bug had retrieved the paper from the trash and hung it back up. She’d told Mama it was because she might forget the rules this coming summer, but the truth was, the list had become a promise. The promise of summer.
For almost three years, the list had stayed on the fridge, fastened into place with a ladybug magnet. So when in the waning days of fourth grade, Mama asked what Bug wanted to do for the upcoming summer, the answer was obvious: “I want to go to the beach,” Bug told Mama.
Mama got a funny look on her face, which in turn gave Bug a funny tickling in her stomach. Mama called this the Gut Voice and told Danny and Bug to listen to it. But Bug didn’t want to listen to her Gut Voice, because what it was saying—even before Mama said, “I think we might need to change it up this summer”—was that summer was about to be canceled.
“Why do we have to change it up?” Bug wasn’t entirely sure what “changing it up” meant, but she didn’t want to ask, lest she look babyish. That was Danny’s favorite insult as of late. And there was no way she would prove it true.
“It’s just that Danny…” Mama stopped herself. “Daniel.” Daniel.
That was what Danny wanted to be called now. “Needs a bit of space this summer.”
Bug had been hearing a lot about Daniel’s need for space
these past few months. First, early in the spring, Danny had told Mama that he didn’t want to go to the magnet school he and Bug had both attended since kindergarten. This coming fall, he would be attending Venice High School.
A few weeks after that, Mama had taken Bug out for ice cream on the Santa Monica Pier and told Bug she was getting her own room. For a brief second, Bug had thought they were moving to one of those big houses with wall-to-wall carpeting and grassy backyards with pools, like the one her friend Beth Ann lived in. But then why would Mama be taking her out for ice cream to deliver good news? Ice cream was for bad news.
The bad news was this: Bug was being moved out of the biggest bedroom she and Danny had always shared and into a tiny alcove next to the bathroom that Mama had sometimes used as an office. It was too small to fit a bed and a dresser and desk, so with Hedvig?’s blessing—she was their landlady as well as their downstairs neighbor—Mama and Phillip built Bug a sleeping loft. Bug did
like the loft. It had a wooden ladder and her window looked out onto a big magnolia that made it feel like she was sleeping in a tree house. But even if she liked the room okay, that didn’t mean she wanted it. No one had asked if she wanted it. And worse, Danny got to keep the biggest room, instead of switching with Mama, who had the medium-sized room. It just wasn’t fair! Bug had complained to Mama about this. Which was a big mistake. One thing about Mama was that she didn’t give two hoots about fair.
And now, Daniel’s need for space
meant that Bug?’s summer was canceled. “It’s just that Daniel,” Mama was explaining, “has babysat you for the past few summers….”
“Babysat?” Bug was offended. “Danny doesn’t babysit
me. In summer, we go to the beach. It’s what we do.”
“Well, this summer, we’re going to have to figure out something else for you to do.”
School had yet to let out, but Bug could feel the summer slipping through her fingers like sand at the beach, which she would not be going to.
She wanted to cry. Bug loved the beach. And the three months she got to spend there made all the bad parts of living in Venice—like her pretend bedroom and hearing gunshots at night and having to sit on a bus two hours a day to go to a good school and never having friends sleep over because nobody’s parents wanted them to sleep in a place where gunshots went off at night—worth it. Bug loved everything about the beach: the way the brisk water made her toes go numb, the way the drying salt made her skin feel tight, the way tropical tanning oil smelled, and the way the sand sounded when you laid your head against it. She even loved things about the beach other people hated, like how saltwater stung her scratched mosquito bites, or how the sand got everywhere—and she meant everywhere, in her sheets, her shoes, in the crack of her butt.
Mama couldn’t take that away from her. She just couldn’t!
“I don’t want to figure something else out!” Bug cried. “I want it to be like the other summers.”
Mama shook her head. “Daniel is fourteen. He wants to hang out with friends his own age. I think that’s fair.”
“Fair?” Bug scoffed, feeling the heat in her earlobes, which was how she knew she was about to lose her temper. “What do you care about fair?” Because wasn’t Mama the one who always told Bug, “Life isn’t fair—the most you can hope for is that it’s just”?
Mama put a hand on Bug?’s shoulder. “I understand you’re disappointed.”
But Bug was more than disappointed. Because in that moment, she suddenly understood what Daniel’s need for space
really meant. It meant space away from Bug.
The realization made tears spring to her eyes. She blinked them back. She wasn’t a baby. She was ten! But Mama saw. She stroked Bug?’s cheek, a gesture that made her feel even sadder, which in turn made her madder. She stomped her feet, and balled her fists, not even caring how immature this made her look.
“I know you’re upset. I promise you’ll have a fun summer.” Mama took a breath. “At camp.”
“No way. Nohow. I’m not going back to the Y camp.” Y camp was the worst! You spent days inside in a moldy-smelling gymnasium, making lanyards or shaping clay into pots that never kept their shape. When you did go swimming, which was only twice a week, it was at an indoor pool. The ocean was just blocks away, but you had to swim in an indoor pool
. It was the kind of thing Phillip would call a travesty
“I’d rather stay with Hedvig!” Bug said, not because she wanted to spend the summer in their landlady’s apartment, but just to show just how little she wanted to attend the Y camp.
Mama put on her thinking face. “If that’s what you want, I’ll ask.” She paused. “Maybe you can stay some afternoons with her and others with Phillip when he’s not working.”
what Bug wanted. Hedvig was okay, but her apartment, which took up the ground floor of their building, was full of junk, and all Hedvig did all day was watch soap operas. Phillip’s apartment, which took up the top floor of their triplex, was much neater, and Phillip, when he was home, did much more interesting things, like make collages out of old Time
magazines with Bug, or play songs on his baby grand piano. But neither Phillip nor Hedvig would take Bug to the beach. And the beach was the only place she wanted to spend her summer.
“Can’t I go to the beach by myself??” Bug asked. “I’d check in with Kip. And only go up to my knees.” The thought of not being able to dive headfirst into the waves made Bug sad, but not as sad as sitting home all summer. She would show Mama she could compromise.
“I’m afraid not.”
“But you let Danny go alone with me.”
“Daniel’s a boy,” Mama said.
“What’s that got to do with it?” Bug could swim just as strong as Danny. She could stand the cold water just as long as Danny. She wasn’t one of those girls who was scared of sand crabs or attacking seagulls.
“A lot,” Mama said. “And you’re only ten.”
“I’ll be eleven soon. And Danny was only twelve when we started going to the beach ourselves.”
“You’ll be eleven in February
,” Mama reminded her. “And I know two years doesn’t seem like much, but there’s a world of difference between ten and twelve.” Mama shook her head. “I’m sorry, Bug. You can’t go alone.”
“I won’t be alone. I’ll have Bian and Duane and Randy and Zeus.” These were Bug?’s summer friends, people she didn’t see too much during the regular year when school kept her too busy to spend much time on the boardwalk but whom she saw every day as part of her and Danny’s beach routine.
“I’m sorry,” Mama repeated.
“No, you’re not,” Bug shot back. “Because if you were, you wouldn’t be ruining my summer!” And then she could hold it in no longer. She burst into blubbering, babyish tears.
“I’m sorry, sweetie,” Mama repeated. “I’ll try to redeem your summer.”
Bug thought these were just empty words, but a week later, when Mama told her that some nephew of Phillip’s was coming to spend the entire summer in Venice, Bug understood, for better or for worse, whether she liked it or not, that this
was her summer’s redemption.