from In My Life (summer before seventh grade)

 

"Never imagined I'd be a babysitter," I hear Reggie tell Gus one day, a chuckle in his voice. He has no idea I'm grooming the horse in the next stall.

 

He finds out soon enough. "You're not my babysitter," I shout, rushing around the corner and stamping my foot. "I only work when I want to. So there!"

 

Which is true. Most days, I knock off to go swimming after the second afternoon ride. And on weekends, when Dad's here, I hardly work at all. I eat with Dad and his friends, I order from the menu, I lounge around the swimming pool between rides.

 

During the week, I eat what the wranglers eat—that's what really bugs Reggie. "You know, your Daddy's paying for better food'n dis," he says to me today at lunch for, like, the millionth time.

 

The wranglers eat early, at the beat-up old table by the kitchen door. And they don't get to order from the menu, they eat what they're served. Today, it's ravioli.

 

"You like dis slop?"

 

I shrug. "It's okay." I've had better, but it's no big deal.

 

Reggie's the head wrangler. He's all right. Nice, really good-looking, but sometimes maybe not too smart. Who wants to eat all by yourself? And does he think I'm going to order a turkey club sandwich and sit here eating it in front of them? Honestly!

 

The waitress smiles super-friendly when she brings me my lemonade, and I know she'll let me have as much as I want. It's hot and dusty working at the horsebarn, but I love being around horses all day. And it's fun being pals with the wranglers.

 

For a few moments, the table's silent except for the scrape of knife and fork and the sound of chewing. Then the edge is off, and people start to lean back and relax. That's when the show begins.

 

Today's will be good.

 

"Missed ya this mornin', boss." It's always Gus who starts. He doesn't talk much otherwise, but he can never get enough of this.

 

Reggie's absence was, in fact, the main topic of conversation at breakfast, as it often is. He's a real hound dog. A job at a resort suits him perfectly, and everyone knows it.

 

"Yeah, what came down, man? Spill!" Dave's happy to pile on. He lives with Paula, but he enjoys Reggie's love life like a prime-time sitcom. We all do.

Reggie chuckles, shakes his head, looks down at his plate. Everyone laughs, even Paula. Even me.

 

"Ah, come on!" we all chorus.

 

And Reggie breaks down like, he always does. "Remember da chatty dame on da late afternoon ride?"

 

He's got this gap in his front teeth that makes him talk that way. From a fight when he was a teenager, so Paula said. On another guy, it would sound dorky; on Reggie, somehow, it only adds to his appeal.

 

"The redhead?" asks Gus, leaning forward. This is the most emotion he'll show all day.

 

"Yeah," says Reggie, smiling at the memory. "Last night I'm crossin' da patio, 'bout one, one-t'irty in da mornin'. Quiet, not a soul around. And I hear dis voice say, ‘hello, cowboy'." Reggie pauses, enjoying our breathless silence.

 

"I stop, look around. Nobody. So I start walkin' again, and da voice says, ‘up here.' So I look up, and dere she is. Out on da balcony. Just standin' dere."

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Wit' nuttin' on!"

 

Gus hoots, Dave slaps his thigh, even Paula laughs. Even me.

 

"She crooks her finger at me," he continues. "‘C'mon up,' she says." He makes her invitation sound real musical.

 

"And?" we all chorus.

 

"So, I didn't go," he ends lamely, and his smile shrinks to a smirk.

 

We all jeer, even me. We keep it up for a while, but that's all he'll say. He finishes his lunch, lights a cigarette, smokes it with a half-smile on his handsome face.

 

Reggie's married, supposedly. I've never seen Mrs. Reggie, and I don't think anyone else has, either. Whoever she is, I pity her. And I wonder: is she really stupid, like Dad's girlfriends? Or did she just have really bad luck?

 

The jukebox has a song by the aptly named Bachelors that could've been written about Reggie:

Marie, the dawn is breaking,
Marie, you'll soon be waking
To find your heart is breaking,
And tears will fall as you recall
The moon in all its splendor,
A kiss so very tender,
The words, "Will you surrender…" *

Surrendering is what you do when you lose a war, isn't it?

 

People play this song all the time; I don't get it. You'd think predators wouldn't want to remind their prey of certain things. Especially during the stalking.

 

Dad's parked me at this resort for a few weeks now; I've seen the results of some of those surrenders. Half-muffled outbursts, urgent whispers on the phone, sobbing in darkened rooms.

 

Yet everyone loves this song. It never seems to stop anyone. I don't get it.

 

 

* "Marie" © 1929 by Irving Berlin.