“I don’t want them in the house,” I said to my step-sister. She wasn’t living with us anymore, but she spent the night as often as she could that summer we were 14. My cousin, L., was staying at my dad’s too. She was 13. The three of us were talking about boys.
We were talking about boys who were standing in the driveway, leaning against a car. The boys were 17 and 18. My dad was at work and it was getting dark. N. rolled her eyes. “Just for minute.”
I stood in front of the door, my arms crossed over my chest. “No.”
L. whined. “They’re cute.”
“I don’t care,” I said. I already knew they thought the boys were cute. Several times those boys had tapped on our window at midnight and N. and L. snuck out to meet them. They would come back about 5 in the morning. Just before my dad woke up to get ready for work.
Dad didn’t like to waste money on the air conditioning when it was just us in the house and so the windows were usually open. The boys would whisper through the screen for me to come too, but I’d roll over and pull the covers over my head.
Now, one boy threw his cigarette in the ground and I made a mental note to go back later and find it. My dad could not be allowed to find cigarettes in the driveway. The boys walked over to us. To the front door.
“We’re just coming in for a minute,” one of them said. “What’s so bad about that?”
“You can’t smoke in here,” I said.
The boy who was still smoking laughed. “Your dad’s not going to know.”
“Let’s go,” said N. to the boys. “Okay?”
L. stomped a foot. “This is stupid.” She shoved by me and walked inside. I followed her to ask her to get the boys to leave, but when I left the doorway the boys came in on their own. N. came in behind them.
“You shouldn’t be here. My dad–” I started to say.
“How come you don’t come out with us. L. and N. always have a good time,” a boy said.
“Leave her alone,” N. said. “Let’s just go.”
“Let’s watch tv,” my cousin said. “Or we could go swimming. We can stay. Her dad won’t be home for hours.”
Swimming? Smoking and swimming with older boys? My dad would freak out. My dad would say he thought I was a good girl. This would ruin everything.
I decided to lock myself in my room and hope they did whatever it is they were going to do and then got out. I hoped I could clean up this mess before my dad got home. But I got several steps down the hall when I realized one of the boys was behind me. “Your room’s down here, right?” he said.
I turned around and darted around him back to the living room on through the kitchen and into the Floridaroom. I sat behind the bar. I guess I thought I was hiding. The boy leaned over the bar and looked down at me. “Why are you hiding like that?” He laughed. “Come on out of there. I just want to talk to you.”
I heard my step-sister’s voice. “Leave her alone. She’s a kid.” I would’ve laughed if I hadn’t been frozen in place.
“I could come back there,” he said.
I kept my head down. My cousin looked over the bar, her shoulder touching his shoulder. “Stop being such a baby. What’s wrong with you?”
“I said leave her alone,” N. said in the voice that meant she was about to hit someone.
“You think about it,” he said to me. “You change your mind, you can come out with us sometime. It’s not like I’m going to hurt you.” He dropped back and I heard him jingle his car keys as he walked out of the room.
N. came around the bar and knelt down next to me. “Sorry about that,” she said. “He’s really not that bad. You shouldn’t be so shy all the time.” She sighed. “I don’t know when we’ll be back. You’ll think of something to tell your dad, won’t you?”
I nodded, and she stood back up. I didn’t come out from behind the bar until I was sure they were gone. My dad didn’t notice anything was wrong when he got home.
Characters have to have something at stake. They have to have something to lose. And the reader has to care whether or not this thing–life or freedom or reputation or love or…–is lost. When I write a story, I know I care. I worry immensely for my characters. Some scenes take forever to write because I’m too bothered taking them that close to losing…whatever it is they can’t afford to lose. But I don’t know if what that is, is clear to the reader. I don’t know how to make the reader care.
Of course, maybe making the reader care is a bit like making a boy like you. He’s got to be willing.