Patty holds her arms wide when she says it, empty backpack clutched by the straps in her left hand and Marcie at her fingertips on the right. It's the kind of blanket statement that should probably feel more monumental, but Patty keeps her pose up for thirty full seconds and no one else stops to acknowledge the moment. Students mill around the quad, sporting the same vacation tans they had at the beginning of last year and chatter amongst one another about the same everyday things.
"What's wrong with these people?" Patty asks aloud, flopping her arms down against her sides. "Doesn't anybody know what year it is?"
"Perhaps they're still set on summer break?" Marcie offers.
"But these are our times -- our glory days! This year, Marcie, we could bat a thousand if we wanted."
Marcie squints behind her glasses. She says, "Well, I'm excited, sir."
For what it's worth, the sun seems to shine brighter than yesterday.
The year, contrary to Patty's plans for how her months at the top of high school hierarchy should progress, tries to renege on its end of the deal. The football coach won't let her on the football team this year either, even though she kicks a field goal farther than Linus and generally still plays everything worlds better than Charlie Brown, although he has improved his skills over the years.
"An outrage!" she says to Lucy, who shrugs from the desk in front of her in Trigonometry and tells Patty she's overreacting again.
"Why don't you just try out for cheerleading? Everyone's doing it this year," she adds, but every girl does it every year, and Patty would rather watch from the bleachers than pretend she would be happy to settle for dancing around the field in skivvies.
"Well, Marcie's going to try," Lucy says and drums her nails across Patty's desk like the finality of the gesture should phase her.
Of course, Marcie doesn't deny it during lunch. She says she and Charles were having a conversation about it, about sports, and Marcie appreciates a good game as much as the next girl, but maybe that's all she's cut out for -- the appreciation aspect.
"Are you sure you don't want to try with me?" Marcie asks, and Patty shakes her head. Definitely not interested. Besides, Patty's not cut out for mimicking choreography; she doesn't have rhythm.
She sulks at home for days instead, watching World Series favorites on VHS until her father suggests something to take her mind off the world. He drapes an apron across the couch -- general company merchandise. This year his boss decided a cook-off might be nice, so Patty buys cake mix, more eggs, milk, and flour and invites Marcie over for the weekend.
She shows up in a bright red, pleated skirt and knee-highs, one sad pom-pom sagging pathetically from her fingers. She says, "I accidentally dropped the other one crossing the street and by time I realized it, the light had changed."
"I'm sure that once you're on the squad, you'll get the real pom-poms anyway," Patty reassures, stepping back to let Marcie step inside. "You do think you made the squad, don't you?"
"The list won't be posted until Thursday, but the captain said I might want to look into contacts," Marcie explains, smiling a little despite her messy hair and loose shoelaces. She relishes the moment, looking just past her had at nothing, Patty can tell, because she turns around and only sees the picture of her Grandma water-skiing two summers ago.
Patty goes to grab her apron, then comes back and waves a hand in front of her face. "Hello, Earth to Marcie--"
"Sorry, sir. Lost myself." She automatically reaches to tighten the straps around Patty's back before she realizes it, and then asks, "Um, sir? Why the apron?"
"Dad's company is holding a cook-off over the break."
"But then why wear the apron now?"
Patty rolls her eyes and grabs Marcie's hands. "Marcie, do you have kitchen experience? Me neither. We have to practice then, don't we? I was thinking your celebration cake might be nice to start."
Chuck will attend Homecoming with a redhead whose name Patty can never remember. She leans against the lockers when Linus mentions it and waits for jealousy to wash across her, and feels kind of cheated by the universe when it never comes.
The kid who scored the winning touchdown last Friday asks her after school the next afternoon. Patty likes him just fine, too, and can't think of a particularly valid reason to turn him down, but she does.
"I don't have a date," Marcie says, so Patty meets her four blocks from the school the night of the dance, and it's fine.
They drink punch and Patty fails to find the beat in a song for much longer than a few perfect seconds, but Marcie's laughter never sounds mocking, so Patty keeps doing the twist without inhibitions or much coordination. Their knees and bodies bump accidentally once or twice during the fun, and so much adrenaline courses through her by the time the gymnasium lights come up, she twirls Marcie around several times on the walk back towards their neighborhood.
For Christmas, Patty buys sunglass clip-ons that attach to Marcie's prescription pair and says, "To finally replace the ones you broke at the batting cages last year."
Marcie gives Patty a brand new baseball mitt and a handmade pass for one thousand games of catch. In the corner, the slip reads, 'expiration: never,' and they spend the afternoon using ten.
According to everyone (well, okay, maybe just Linus and Lucy, but they're reliable sources), the red-haired girl broke up with Charlie Brown on New Year's Day, because she didn't have the heart to do that to the guy twenty-four hours sooner.
"We should talk to him," Marcie says.
They bake an extra cake, one for the cook-off and a second one with white frosting instead of chocolate for Chuck. Patty squeezes blue icing across the top, spelling out, "It could be worse, Chuck Brown," and the girls still opt to walk to his house even those Sally says he isn't accepting phone calls when they try to ring his home first.
He mopes when he finally comes outside, slumping on the porch and pushing a finger through the top of the cake. "Thank you," he says, but couldn't fake happiness if his life depended on it. If this were any other year, Patty might be relieved that things hadn't worked out between Chuck and his redhead, but right now, she mostly just feels bad.
Marcie says, "We thought you could use it," warm near Patty's right side, and suddenly Patty's intensely thankful for Marcie in a way she doesn't know how to explain but has a sneaking suspicion it has to do with support. If this were Patty here -- if someone had stomped all over Patty's heart and then disappeared back to their side of town like none of it mattered, Marcie would be there with a cake and few flowery words, but a solid reassurance in her presence.
"My Dad says when you fall off the horse, Chuck, you just have to get up and get back on," Patty explains, because she wants Charlie Brown to feel that, too. She may not be in love with him the way she used to think she could stay forever, but he's still one of the greatest guys Patty's ever met, and he's gotten so good at depression over the years, it's about time he tried his hand at a smile.
At this rate, the second half of the year may prove the legendary adventure she's wanted all along. The baseball coach pretty much guarantees Patty will fill a spot once the season begins in earnest, and she's so happy, she takes Marcy out to eat after school at the best burger joint her money can buy. Well, she can't afford too much in reality, but she does splurge on the large fries and drink.
"And you'll cheer me on from the sidelines," Patty exclaims with a mouthful of potatoes. "My own personal cheerleader!"
"Sir, I don't think we cheer for the baseball team," Marcie says, sipping at her soda. She slurps loudly before giving up on the empty cup and slides Patty's soda closer to her own side of the table.
Patty says, "That's not the point! Are you going to cheer for me or not?"
"Of course," Marcie says, and takes the straw from the empty cup to put in Patty's soda. Patty lets her.
The history teacher -- the new guy from Minnesota who has replaced Mr. Sutton mid-semester -- gives her a C-minus on the exam for chapter twenty-eight with the words "see me" scrawled sloppily in bright red ink next to her name, because he doesn't know any better.
"Can you explain this?" he asks as soon as she sits down in front of him.
Patty says, "I think, Mister, I did so well this time because I'm stressed about college and prom, so I didn't have time to get bent out of shape about this test, you know?"
The theory makes perfect sense to Patty, but Mr. Sutton's frown suggests he doesn't agree.
She and Marcie don't get accepted to the same school, but out of all their acceptance letters, they pick a college and a university no more than two hours away from one another.
"The trips will burn a lot of gas," Marcie points out.
Patty waves a hand around, dismissing it. "Don't you dare try to back out on me. I'm more than worth the effort."
"I'd never dream of backing out, sir." Marcie licks the envelope and seals her formal acceptance of the offer. She separates a stamp from the book and sticks it on the front. "I was just saying."
Patty says, "Good. Besides, who else would help me write all those term papers?"
"The proof is in the stockings," Patty declares, bending at the knees to indicate the dirt along her legs. Brown and tan smudges stand out against black satin. The run up the side of her left leg outlines a nasty gash, but she won't stop smiling.
"I think we've failed, sir," Marcie says. Her curls fall around her face, limp and useless after two hours twirling center dancefloor and two more weathering drizzle center field. Chuck held a hand at her waist for four songs earlier. She pulls her glasses from her purse and fits them snugly across her nose.
Patty could care less about what Marcie thinks right now, since, for the first time in too many years, Patty knows she's one hundred percent right. "Nonsense. You dance, I danced --"
"You ditched prom to hit a few balls along in the park alone." Marcie still has this tendency to rely on logic. Patty never liked it, and tonight feels like the night for drastic change.
She says, "Wrong, again."
"What do you mean, sir?"
Patty twists her hair around her fingers, twirls it around and up, tugging a hair-tie around a ponytail. "We, Marcie. You're here, too."
She could care less what anyone else thinks anymore, pantyhose are an asinine, torturous female custom, and Patty refuses to take part in perpetuating the trend as of this minute.
"I used that right, didn't I, Marcie? 'Perpetuating?'" she asks, squinting into the sun.
Marcie nods next to her and has the decency not to stare down at Patty's lap when the nylon becomes unbearable halfway through the salutatorian's speech. Not that Patty cares, because her gown hides enough that no one can actually see her inching hosiery down her thighs, but the squirming might be conspicuous. Anyway, the mousy girl from third period Physics gapes at her the whole time, like Patty just grew four new heads in as many seconds.
The class president starts calling names before she toes off her second shoe, and Patty almost misses the cue for her row to stand, stumbling forward in her heels. It doesn't surprise her. This is exactly why she tried to convince her dad to buy some platform sandals or some neat flats, but then the navy blue heels had been on clearance and her dad pointed out Patty did rave about that color these days. He had also said, "Don't worry. Marcie can make sure you don't eat dirt," and kissed the top of her head through hair, so it doesn't surprise her that Marcie's hand finds her arm before Patty panics long enough to see her life flash behind her eyelids either.
It doesn't hit Patty that she clearly must have passed all her classes to have earned graduation until afterward. Excitement surges through her so suddenly then, she angles her head and catches Marcie's mouth mid-sentence, cutting off chatter about what may just be their last summer at camp, pushing a kiss, hard and fast against her mouth.
"Wow," Patty says, dazed in the aftershocks. "This is really it, Marcie. This is what the top feels like."
Marcie's wide-eyed stare melts sideways into a sloppy grin as she eventually says, "Well, I'm proud of you, too, sir," and shifts closer under Patty's grip.