Friday, July 15, 2016

Transient Suburbia: Tales of a Fourth Grade Skating Party

Regular readers know that I'm working on finishing my novel. One of my beta readers (I type that like I know what I'm talking about) shared that she'd like more of Harper as a child outside of the letters so I've added three new chapters in that section. I thought I'd share one of the  new chapters from the section of the book set in the fourth grade. Harper, our heroine, has recently discovered her pen pal is a boy and that they seem to enjoy reading the same books. I added the roller-skating party, based loosely on a party I attended around the same age. Previous posts from Transient Suburbia can be found here

Chapter Five

1988-1989, Fourth Grade

    Dear Ben,                        September 30, 1988
    I got your first letter after I sent my first letter so I couldn’t answer your questions. Hopefully, you’ve gotten my letter by now. How are you? How’s school? What kinds of music do you play?
    I don’t play sports either but it’s because I don’t like them. My older brother plays baseball. I think I already told you that. I go to games and cheer for him with my parents. My sister goes with us but she always sits with her friends. I don’t play with Barbies but I do have Jem and the Holograms dolls. I mostly build stuff with Legos and read. My friends and I like to roller skate.
    Are you done with  “James and the Giant Peach”? I read the end last night. My mother never should have bought me a reading light. I always stay up past bedtime reading. Miss Spider is my favorite character. I like the part where James rescues Centipede from the ocean - it was scary but exciting. I’m starting on “The Witches” next and some Judy Blume books. What else do you like to read?
    What’s your treehouse like? Do you get to sleep in it ever? We can’t have a treehouse because we move a lot.
    Your friend,

    Dear Harper,                         October 9, 1988
    Wow we both just finished “James and the Giant Peach”! That's awesome. I like the part with the sharks and when the aunts get in trouble at the end. Grasshopper is my favorite. I haven’t read “The Witches” but maybe I will soon. I mostly read comic books and stuff my older brother shares with me. He just gave me some books based on the “Star Wars” movies; they’re pretty cool.
    My dad makes me play classical old music. It’s ok I guess. I want to learn rock songs on my guitar. I’ve been trying to listen and play along but it’s not that easy. My mom says I can take some guitar lessons for fun this year if I keep up my classical piano lessons. I told her I would but so far no guitar lessons. Maybe for my birthday in December. When is your birthday?
    You like Legos? I have a bunch of them. My brother and I like to build tanks and planes. He got a castle set for his birthday and we’ve been working on it for a few weeks now. We keep it in the treehouse. What do you build? Sorry about the Barbies; a lot of girls I know have them.
    Why do you move so much? We’ve always lived here in the same house. Maybe you could get a treehouse that could some way be moved. I don’t know how that would work but I’m sure they make them. My treehouse kinda looks like my house. My dad had one of those treehouses from the back of a magazine when he was a kid. When we moved into our house, he built us a treehouse that was bigger and better than the one he had. Or at least that’s what he always tells us. It’s pretty big. My friends and me get to sleep in it in the summer. My mom always worries that I’ll fall out of it when I’m sleeping and break my arm again.

“Hangin’ Tough” blared from the speakers at Roller Skating Paradise. The album was released right after school started. Sophie, Harper’s best friend, had been listening to it on repeat ever since, much to Harper's dismay. Even her birthday party was New Kids On The Block themed, right down to the pictures of Jordan, Joey, Jonathan, Danny, and Donnie on the cake. Harper didn’t particularly like the New Kids but it wasn’t her birthday party and she didn’t want to be a bad friend.
Sophie’s party was the first birthday party of the school year and it was the first girl/boy party anyone in their class had ever thrown. All of their class was invited and just about everyone came. Harper skated around the rink expertly, spying her mom and Sophie’s mom manning the snack table. A group of boys were clustered around the table, throwing popcorn at one another. Mrs. Monroe shooed them back out to the skating rink. Harper caught up with Sophie, Claire, and Tiffany, her closest friends. They were dressed in various shades of purple, pink, and teal. Harper thought they looked like a Lisa Frank folder come to life. The girls were whispering and giggling about something.
“Why are we whispering?” Harper asked as she joined the group.
“We’re deciding who’s going to couple skate with who,” Sophie replied. “It’s coming up in two songs.”
“How do you know when it’s going to be?” Harper hated couple skates. Her friends had only recently expressed interest in couple skating.
“Sophie asked the DJ.” Claire said matter of factly.
“Aren’t they guys supposed to ask? Or are you in charge of it somehow?” Harper hoped her friends left her out of it.
“Well since it’s my birthday, I should get to skate with who I want to. I pick Jay.” Sophie had had a huge crush on Jay ever since they were assigned as science partners at the beginning of the school year.
“Claire’s going to skate with Mark and Tiffany with Tommy.” Sophie turned to skate backward to face her friends. She was the best backward skater of the group.
“That just leaves you, Harper,” Claire laughed a little as she said this. She knew Harper hated the idea of a couple skates.
“I think I’ll help our moms get the cake ready. It’s almost time for us to have cake and to open presents.” Harper tried to deflect the conversation away from her participation.
“No you aren’t. All of us have to couple skate. That’s the rule.” Sophie was in bossy birthday girl mode. Harper knew she would lose this argument so she opted to play along and beg for a good partner.
“Fine. Just pick someone who’s not a dork for me.” Harper sighed.
“Peter!” The three girls said at the same time.
Harper blushed; it was dark in the rink so she didn’t think anyone noticed. Her friends knew she liked Peter so of course they would arrange it so that she would skate with him. He was the smartest boy in class, although Harper had the highest GPA. and was cute in a preppy sort of way. He was wearing a pink Polo shirt and Bugle Boy jeans, the uniform of boys in her class. His brown hair was brushed to the side so he looked kind of like DJ’s boyfriend on Full House. He sat next to Harper in class and always borrowed pencils from her. Mrs. Henderson never paired them up, much to Harper’s disappointment.
“Great,” she replied. The group skated through the next song, ending over by where the boys were skating. The DJ changed records from another New Kids song to a song Harper had never heard before. She knew it was an old song but couldn’t place it.
“Alright all you lovebirds out there, it’s time for a couple skate. If you’re not a couple, please move out of the rink until the end of the song,” the DJ's voice boomed over the opening chords of the song.
Harper’s friends started to pair off as Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” started to play. Even though Harper didn’t know the song she immediately loved it. She was trying to figure out some of the lyrics so she could ask her dad about it later; he was good at helping her figure out songs from just the lyrics. She barely noticed when Peter skated up to her.
“Do you want to skate with me?” he asked.
“Sure.” Harper took his hand and they skated into the rink together.
It was hard skating with someone else. Harper had to concentrate on keeping her speed consistent with Peter’s and holding his hand. Peter was taller than Harper by a few inches so his stride was a little longer than hers. He was constantly slowing down and speeding so they could get in sync. He smiled at her a few times but didn’t say much. That was okay with with Harper; it allowed her to listen to the song more closely and skate in time with it. Peter’s hand was a little sweaty; Harper wondered if he was nervous too. Maybe that was why he didn’t say anything. Harper saw her mom as they passed by where she was standing. Mrs. Monroe was taking pictures of her and Peter. Awesome, Harper thought. Her mom would tell her siblings and Harper would never hear the end of it especially from her sister.
As the song came to an end, Harper and Peter skated back to where they started. “Thanks for skating with me,” Peter said shyly.
“It was fun.” Harper smiled at him.
She turned to exit the rink. At the same time, Peter skated closer to her and quickly kissed her on the cheek. He sped off before she could say anything as a Huey Lewis & the News song began to play. Harper stood there for a minute, a little shocked by what had just happened.
Her first kiss. It probably didn’t count since it was only on the cheek but still it had happened. Had her friends seen it happen? Had her mom? What did she do next? Before she could do anything, Sophie skated up to her.
“And you didn’t want to couple skate!” Sophie had definitely seen the kiss. She grabbed Harper’s hand and skated them over to the cake. “Peter likes you,” she whispered.
“That’s cool.” Harper wanted to appear cool with this despite the fact that she was freaking out on the inside.
Before the conversation could continue, Sophie’s mom called everyone over for cake. Harper stood next to her best friend as the group sang "Happy Birthday." In the seconds before Sophie blew out her candles, Harper looked up over the glow of the candles and snuck a look at Peter. He smiled at her. She smiled back and quickly looked away. Skating parties were pretty fun after all.

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