SUE SARAH shifted her position on the high diving board from the lovely, languid, bathing girl pose she’d seen in a magazine to her natural sixteen-year-old sprawl.
If Bill came while she was relaxing she’d simply die, but her arms and legs had cramps. She’d been lying on her side with her right hand under her cheek, her hair spread out on the board, her knees slightly flexed and her left arm along the line of her body, for eons.
She sat up and shaded her eyes. She could see that loose log, lying like a black line across the far end of the lake. If Dad had to skirt that at restricted speed, no wonder it was taking him so long to get home.
She fought down a childish impatience.
Maybe it wasn’t going to be any easier to be just one person at sixteen than it had been at fifteen, Sue Sarah thought, watching Vim and Tina and Joe and Patsy scuffling on the dock below.
Not that she minded living her secret life. It was super in dozens of ways. You could think a lot of things and do something else and people didn’t seem to figure you out.
Of course Mums had razzed her about being dreamy and using it to get by Dad pretty often this summer. The other day Mums told her she’d get a split personality if she weren’t careful. Sue Sarah had decided to be quite simple for a while; then last night Bill had come home from that Navy place to spend the week end with his parents—
"Hi, up there. Stop dreamin’ about Bill and come on down,” Joe called.
Sue Sarah tried to yawn indifferently. She’d simply die if the kids found out how she was feeling about Bill. It would be all right when Bill came, but not now. At present, life was gorgeously painful and Sue Sarah wanted to keep it that way. It was like the time she’d lain in a hammock all afternoon and let the wind rock her until she had the feeling of being suspended in another world where you almost find magic. She never could get more than half way, even if Dad and Mums didn’t call her too soon.
She’d been suspended since last night when Bill had kissed her, but there was still only half the magic.
Sue Sarah sighed. Dad had finally gone across in the speedboat, Slomoshun, to meet the ferry and bring Bill back from town where he’d had to go to be in the parade. Dad was only allowed enough gas for transportation at slow cruising speed now, so the afternoon’s wait had seemed endless.
Sue Sarah shut her eyes tightly and remembered Bill bursting into their living room last night. He’d yelled, "Sausage,” just the way he used to do. Then he’d grabbed her and kissed her—on the mouth, too.
It wasn’t exactly a movie kiss, but there was something about it. Sue Sarah hadn’t been able to say a thing. Bill had acted sort of embarrassed after a minute, then he’d let her go and said, By golly, you’ve changed. Gosh, what a chassis!”
Dad and Mums came in just then and everything was noisy and fun the way it used to be—on the outside, that is.
"Saucy,” called Joe, standing up to give the diving board a shake, "come on down. We wanta eat.”
"Yeah,” said Vim, "we’re starved.”
"Gosh, Saucy,” cried Tina, "couldn’t we have just one hot dog apiece before Bill comes? I’m absolutely gaunt with famine.”
Sue Sarah smiled. They were all such children. She ignored them and climbed back into her dream hammock. Pride, possessive and fierce, surged in her breast. Wait until the kids knew that she was the one who would mourn for Bill if he didn’t come back, that things were really serious between them.
THE FAMILY, of course, had always taken Bill for granted. He had been in all the stages of Sue Sarah’s life. First, he was the little boy next door, then he was the brat who pulled her pigtails and christened her, "Sausage,” because she was all rolls and curves. Later it was Bill who taught her to swim, Bill who was her crew on the flattie, True Luff. Bill had been her pal until last night.
"I’ll sure be glad when I’m eighteen,” Joe was saying. "Then I’ll enlist and get me an anchor.”
Sue Sarah cocked an ear earthward.
"What’s an anchor?” asked Patsy.
"Well, a guy has to have regular letters and parcels and presents from home, so he picks out a woman to keep up his morale. She’s his anchor.”
"I’ll be your anchor,” said Patsy.
"And I’ll be yours, Vim,” said Tina.
“Sure, you can be one of mine,” Vim teased, "but I’m gonna get me a whole anchor harem.”
Sue Sarah whispered to the horizon, “I’m the only one you’ll ever need, Bill.”
Suddenly she heard Slomoshun. Against the dying sun she could see the speedboat and some black blurs in the cockpit that must mean Bill and Dad. She turned warm, then cold. She knew she was going to run away for she simply couldn’t bear to meet Bill in front of the others.
Vim and Joe were hailing and yelling at the top of their lungs. Patsy and Tina were hugging each other and saying that now they could eat.
After eons and eons the boat was pulling slowly into the Cove. Sue Sarah flung herself down the ladder and started for the house.
Then Dad called, "Hey, Sausage, grab the line.” Sue Sarah obeyed but she didn’t look at Bill and her arms and legs had goose pimples.
She hardly noticed Babette in the boat. It was just that Babette didn’t register. There was no room in the world for Babette. Then Bill leaped ashore and turned to help a girl and said, "Gang, this is Babette.”
"Hello,” said the kids, and began slapping Bill on the back.
Bill kept pushing them off and straightening his seaman’s cap.
"Hi, yah, sailor.” "Gosh, do you look super!”
"Oh, Bill, have you got glamour!”
There was talking from everyone except Sue Sarah. She was stopped by Babette. Bill said that was her name, but who was she? Why did she have to come?
Babette’s eyes were black as sloes. Her skin was pale and her mouth was red. Her brown hair hung down her back like Dorothy Lamour’s. She had lashes—Sue Sarah knew those could never be real.
Bill was saying, "Babette was queen in the parade today. I brought her along because—”
Sue Sarah didn’t hear any more. A queen. In a parade. In the face of such competition Sue Sarah’s life was a dismal failure.
They were all moving up the dock now. Dad walked with Sue Sarah. He was reminding her that no one could take Slomoshun out tonight because there was no gas to be used for pleasure. Besides, there was a loose connecting rod. Dad seemed worried about the boat.
The vampire was saying how perfectly thrilling it was to be a queen, and how perfectly thrilling it was to go around with Navy men, and how she did so love speedboats. They scared her half to death.
Sue Sarah came out of it long enough to reflect that Babette hadn’t seen anything, yet. Slomoshun had only been poking along.
Then she remembered that the world was lost, but not well lost.
Bill called to her, “I’m sorry we’re so late, Sausage.”
“Everybody calls me ‘Saucy’ now, except Dad,” said Sue Sarah.
“Dad and me,” laughed Bill.
“Dad,” said Sue Sarah, hurrying so Bill couldn’t catch up with her.
“Don’t be that way,” said Bill, two steps behind her. “I darned near didn’t get here at all.”
“I see that,” said Sue Sarah.
“Wow,” said Bill. “You’re mad.”
SUE SARAH crossed to the barbecue side of the lawn. The tears were too, too close. She took refuge in a whirlwind of active bossing.
“Dad, will you go up and ask Mums to bring the chocolate? Joe and Vim, you start the fire if you want anything to eat. Pat, slice the buns, will you, and Tina, you put the beans on and I’ll take the Cellophane off the dogs.”
“Remember the time we ate them Cellophane and all?” laughed Bill, beside her again.
The rest of the gang hovered about Babette who seemed to have lost a heel off her shoe and had everybody looking for it.
Sue Sarah gave Bill a cold, cold look.
How could she ever forget? It was the night Dad had sailed the flattie into the Cove and told her it was hers. She and Bill had taken it out by moonlight. He had given up a picnic with some older kids just to be her crew. Mums had said she guessed it wasn’t just true love that had made Bill skip the picnic. Dad had said, no, it was true luff. That was how the flattie got named.
Sue Sarah made a gesture that knocked a bunch of wiener sticks over. She dug them from the ashes, smudged her eyes with grimy hands.
Bill laughed. “Dirty face,” he said. “Let me do it.”
“Go away,” said Sue Sarah. The words were like two knives in her own heart. “I’d rather do things by myself,” she said. “I got used to it while you were away.”
Sue Sarah wished the next minute she hadn’t pushed Bill so hard. He didn’t get mad and argue the way he used to do. He just froze and turned back to the gang who were trying to fasten Babette’s heel onto her shoe with adhesive tape.
Sue Sarah saw Babette reach a graceful hand to Bill. He put his arm around her waist and steadied her while Vim fitted her shoe to her small foot. It was disgusting. Then he helped her to the best rock seat by the barbecue table.
How could he be such a brute when she’d been ready to wait for him for the rest of her life, to knit socks from thick wool that made your fingers rough, to stand over a hot stove and cook her sugar ration into fudge, to write endless cheerful letters when her heart would be breaking?
Tina came up with a pan of dogs. “Well,” she said, “I guess you have to learn to share sailors.”
Sue Sarah’s heart cracked plumb in two. She did a lot of busy work. “I’m not interested,” she snapped. She glanced at Babette, trying to be casual about her. Then she exploded. “Look at her eyelashes. I know they come off in water.”
Tina’s eyes flashed. Vim had seated himself, Indian fashion, at Babette’s feet. “Oh, oh, Vim’s beginning to drool. Here goes little Tina to save him from himself.”
“He’s not worth it,” said Sue Sarah.
“Oh, yes he is,” and Tina squeezed between Vim and Babette.
Vim said, “You see, fat chance I have. If I can ever lose Tina I’ll let you be my anchor, Babette, when I join the Navy.”
“You’ll never lose me,” said Tina and she gave Vim a decidedly swell look. “You go help Saucy, Patsy.”
“I’m gonna be busy, too,” said Patsy, snuggling up to Joe.
Sue Sarah was suffering with all her might. Why did living a secret life make it impossible for you to be simple like that? Of course Babette hadn’t arrived on the scene with their men.
Mums came down the lawn. Dad was with her, carrying the pots of chocolate. They stopped halfway to the barbecue and talked a little and looked from Sue Sarah to the group around Babette.
Sue Sarah tried to get her face out of the glow when Mums came close, but Mums was pretty smart.
“Honey, she’s your guest.”
“Nobody invited her.”
“Bill did, and for a perfectly good reason, I’m sure.”
Sue Sarah flared again. “I’ll bet she’d be a washout if she ever had to do anything except roll her eyes. I’d like to see her manage the flattie in a squall—”
Mums put her arm around Sue Sarah. “It’s always smarter to be nice. You look like a ninny with your face all tight. Bill won’t like you any better if you behave like a dizzard. Remember how he brought you up? Bill likes girls who can take it. Why don’t you show him what a good sport you can be? Dad said you were acting awfully peculiar. I think you’ve hurt Bill’s feelings. I’d do some work on it if I were you.”
“I would if I were interested. But I’m not.”
“Why, Sausage, you liked him last night—” Dad began.
Mums took Dad firmly by the arm and steered him toward the house.
Sue Sarah swallowed a yen to cry and called, “Come and get it, kids.” She didn’t see how anybody could possibly eat.
THE GANG plunged toward the food like wild animals. Everyone got his own, of course, except Babette. Bill fixed a plate for her. In fact he fixed two plates before he was through.
“Oh, positively no onion,” she purred at the first plate. “You aren’t going to have onion either, are you, Billy?”
Bill stiffened. Then he caught Sue Sarah’s eye. He took the onion off his own plate.
That finished Sue Sarah. She had been hoping she could drag Bill into a tragic scene all by themselves. It would be so wonderful to find each other that way, if they were to find each other at all; but Babette’s icky veneer was something to reckon with. Maybe Mums had the right idea after all.
Tina came over to Sue Sarah and said, “I’ll help you drown her.”
Sue Sarah merely tucked her feet under her and pretended not to care. She ate a little, but people in such situations couldn’t be expected to go for food. She fought off the tantalizing odors of crisping wieners and toasting buns.
Patsy came up and whispered, “You’d better think of something, Saucy. He wasn’t going for her at first, but you’re poking her right down his throat. Come on, snap out of it. This is no way to win a war.”
Just then Babette said, “Will one of you take me out in that precious little sailboat when the moon comes up? That is if it isn’t rough. I’d be panicky if it got rough.” She looked helplessly about her.
Bill and Joe and Vim said, “You bet your life.”
Sue Sarah got so mad she was afraid she would burst. Then she was cold, stony cold with anger that was half pain. It was a shame for a girl like that to be pulling the wool over decent boys’ eyes. Why, she bet she’d yell like an Indian if somebody tipped her out of a boat unexpectedly.
This soft helpless stuff was just a big front. Sue Sarah knew that somehow Bill had to see it. It would be awful to have Bill depending on a girl like that to keep up his morale.
Sue Sarah couldn’t bear it. That mustn’t be for Bill. She pushed herself into the circle.
“Oh, you must have a sail on True Luff,” she said, in a surprisingly friendly voice. “But first I’d just love to take you out in Slomoshun, so you can get some contrast.”
Bill looked surprised. He started to say something.
"We’d better go right away before dark,” said Sue Sarah quickly. She knew the other kids hadn’t heard what Dad had said about not using the boat for pleasure any more. If Bill had heard—well, it was Sue Sarah’s Dad’s boat. It wasn’t Bill’s business.
Babette hesitated and looked toward Bill.
Bill said, "But your Dad—”
Sue Sarah cut in, "Dad won’t mind our doing a circle or two,” and grabbed Babette by the hand and began to run toward the boat.
She climbed into Slomoshun and pulled Babette after her. She started the motor and Slomoshun put-putted into open water to the accompaniment of the gang’s yells to Babette to hang on tight and take the bumps with her knees, and Bill’s obvious silence.
Sue Sarah heard the screen door bang and she suspected Dad and Mums were running toward the dock. It was too bad she had to defy the family, even the Government ration board, but everything had to come second when the future of the Navy was at stake.
"You forgot your life-preservers,” yelled Bill. "Hey, come back. You can’t—” His voice was lost in the noise of the motor.
Sue Sarah raced the engine. The boat took heavily to the swells, then gained momentum and came up on the step to plunge bumpily toward deep water and the length of the lake.
In a few moments the speedometer showed more knots. The wind blew in Sue Sarah’s face and she felt very primitive. The swells were long and deep and breath-taking. Sue Sarah was glad.
She heard Babette scream something. She supposed she was asking how fast they were going. "Sixty-five miles,” she shouted, translating knots for Babette. "It goes ninety when the water is good,” she added, exaggerating further.
Sue Sarah headed the boat toward the half-submerged log a quarter of a mile up the lake. The evening light made the water silvery and the log a black line.
BABETTE was hanging on with both hands now, for the boat was crossing the waves and there was a terrible jarring. Even Sue Sarah’s grip on the wheel didn’t keep her from bouncing like a ball on the hard seat.
They neared the dark line of the log. Sue Sarah looked quickly at Babette.
Her disappointment was awful. Babette looked as if she were thoroughly enjoying the ride.
Sue Sarah had expected her to quail with fear as they approached the log. Well, maybe the girl didn’t know anything about speedboats. But she had to show her up. She simply had to.
Suddenly she knew what she had to do. It didn’t matter what happened to the boat if Bill could be saved. She was going to knock holes in Babette’s charm if she had to wreck Dad’s boat. Wait until Babette found herself flying through the air like a monkey. Wait until she had to be dragged back to the dock with her eyelashes off and her hair all gooey. She’d whimper, too. Sue Sarah knew she would. Bill wouldn’t go for that.
Sue Sarah nudged the throttle. They plunged crazily toward the log.
Then Sue Sarah felt Babette’s lips close to her ear.
"I—I’m so glad we didn’t go to —the ball,” she shouted. "This is— positively—thrilling.”
Sue Sarah nudged the throttle some more. "What ball?” she shouted back.
"The grand ball—for the sailors —and the queen—and the princesses. Bill wanted to—come out here.”
Sue Sarah turned. The boat lurched dangerously. "Why?” she screamed.
Babette yelled, "The queen is allowed—to choose—her escort. I chose—Bill. He got me—to duck out. Isn’t he—cute?”
Sue Sarah nearly lost her grip on the twisting wheel. The whole setup flashed before her. Of course Bill had reasons. It was all perfectly clear. How could she have been so silly?
Then they were right on the log and something had to be done.
Sue Sarah heard Babette say, "You’re going to jump the—log, aren’t you? Oh, Sue—Sarah. I think—you are—wonderful. Bill's lucky—that—you’re—his girl!”
The log loomed. And suddenly Babette’s reactions didn’t matter a hoot to Sue Sarah. Bill said she, Sue Sarah, was his girl. Nothing mattered except getting enough speed to clear that black line. They were far too close to turn.
Sue Sarah shut her eyes and prayed. The boat was like an airplane just before it leaves the land.
There was an awful quiver, a horrible jarring and bumping, then the boat went scooting ahead. They were over the log, still going like mad, but they weren’t wrecked.
Sue Sarah let the boat slow down. She was weak all over. She looked back at the path they had made in the water, half expecting to see herself and Babette floating in a sea of debris.
A swell had carried them completely over the log.
She pinched her arms to see if she were dreaming it.
Babette breathed, "Oh, Sue Sarah, let’s do it again.”
Sue Sarah opened her mouth and shut it. Didn’t Babette know what nearly happened? Didn’t she know what a hydroplane could and couldn’t do?
She shook her head. Babette might be a dope, but the others weren’t. She tried to shut out Dad’s face, then Mums’.
"Come on, Sue Sarah, please do it again.”
Sue Sarah shuddered and turned the boat toward the shore so that they could go around the log. Their safety was the sheerest luck. If it hadn’t been for that big swell—She suddenly wished she hadn’t started all this. She was so scared she could hardly steer the boat.
"I hope you’ll let me come to see you, sometimes,” Babette chattered in a normal voice. The pose was gone. “It’s rather awful, being evacuated from Singapore without your folks.”
Sue Sarah turned quickly and saw Babette’s face. She saw some other things, too, with a brand-new point of view.
Then Babette was sorry she’d let her hair down. “Oh, there’s always lots going on. I can always get dates.”
They were twenty yards from the dock. Sue Sarah could hear Dad cussing. Mums was waving a life jacket angrily.
Sue Sarah started to cut the motor. Before she could do it there was a terrible, clanking sound like something cutting through something else. The next minute the boat stopped and there were swirls of smoke, then fingers of flame.
BABETTE screamed. Sue Sarah said, “What the—?” Then she knew. That connecting rod. It must have gone through a gas line.
She yelled, “Get the fire extinguisher. It’s on your side.”
Babette bent obediently.
By that time flames were everywhere. Sue Sarah couldn’t see, and her throat hurt. “Jump out,” she screamed.
“I—ooh—” Babette was suddenly silent.
Sue Sarah forced herself to open her eyes. The flames were licking at the stockings on Babette’s legs and starting on her dress.
She pulled and tugged at Babette’s limp body. For once she was glad she was strong and tough. She threw Babette clear of the boat and jumped after her.
Babette sank. Sue Sarah dived twice before she found her. Then she swam like a maniac and pulled Babette by the hair.
Bill was in the dinghy now, coming after them. His face was as white as dogwood blossoms in moonlight.
“Take her,” gasped Sue Sarah. “I can make it.”
Mums and Dad pulled her out when she reached the dock.
Dad put his arms around her and said, “Thank heaven it didn’t explode.” His voice was very sad. Sue Sarah knew he loved that boat.
Mums took one look at her to see if she was all right, then she didn’t pay any more attention to her. She went to the end of the dock and began yelling for Bill to hurry. Once, just once, she turned around and looked straight at Sue Sarah and said, “Dad should have got rid of that boat before somebody got scared into an insane asylum riding in it.”
Sue Sarah shook helplessly. So Mums knew. If she ever got out of this she’d never again lead a secret life. She was going to be an open book.
Bill came in with Babette. Everybody helped hoist her onto the dock, where she lay still, even though her eyes were open.
Then the gang and Sue Sarah and Mums and Dad just waited while Slomoshun burned to the water in orange flame and black smoke. It was a total loss.
Sue Sarah finally burst into wild sobs.
Dad looked sadly from the boat to her. “I wish you’d heard what I said about not taking Slomoshun out,” he said.
Sue Sarah sobbed harder. Life was a mess. Then it struck her that Dad didn’t know she’d deliberately disobeyed. It was incredible. She stared up at him.
“I sure wish you’d get your ears opened up some of these days, honey,” he said wistfully.
Sue Sarah swayed slightly. Dad put his arm around her, then. “Never mind. That connecting rod could have gone out any time,” he said. “And we couldn’t use the boat for sport anymore.” His voice was shaky.
Then Bill came up and put his arm around Sue Sarah from the other side. “You were swell, Sausage,” he said.
Sue Sarah’s knees wobbled. Didn’t Bill know either? But he’d been trying to say something—
“I tried to tell you what your Dad told me about the connecting rod,” Bill said, “but I decided there wasn’t much danger if you were just going for a little ride. I’m sorry, Sausage. I should have warned you.” His face glowed. “Gosh, I never saw anyone think as fast as you did when it cut that gas line,” he said.
Sue Sarah’s senses were reeling. Didn’t it matter what secret thoughts you had if people believed you were thinking something else?
“You were wonderful,” said Bill.
“No,” cried Sue Sarah suddenly. Then a part of her she didn’t know existed was taking charge. She began to walk backward up the dock, shaking her head. “I’m not,” she said. “I’m not one bit wonderful.”
Bill stood looking at her.
“I’m wild and reckless — and mean,” cried Sue Sarah.
Bill’s eyes were questioning.
“I fool people all the time,” said Sue Sarah. “I knew I shouldn’t take the boat. I heard Dad tell me. I did it to show her up—because she wouldn’t have been good for you. Oh, Bill—”
BILL WAS absolutely silent. Sue Sarah turned toward the gang. They were all staring at her. Dad looked puzzled. Mums had a half-sad smile on her face.
Why didn’t somebody do something? Why didn’t they start throwing rocks at her?
She turned back to Bill. He was as quiet as a glass of milk.
Then Vim said, “Well, of all the dirty, low-down tricks of a spoiled brat!”
Bill’s face turned white. He started toward Vim. Mums coughed peculiarly. Bill hesitated, shrugged, changed his mind and walked toward Sue Sarah.
Sue Sarah’s sobs shifted gears and began to sound like giggles. Bill seized her and shook her, hard.
“I tell you I’m not honest,” Sue Sarah screamed. “I lead a double life.”
“Shut up,” said Bill in her ear, and went on shaking her until she couldn’t talk. Then he began pulling her toward the house.
“Darned near had hysterics,” he said over his shoulder. “Quite a strain, having a boat burn under you. Guess I’ll walk her around for a while.”
Tina ran after them. “Saucy,” she cried, “her eyelashes did come off. Don’t you wanta see?”
“Keep out of this,” Bill snapped.
Sue Sarah didn’t care anything about anybody’s eyelashes. She was sorry for Babette in a way she’d never felt sorry for anyone in her life. It was too bad Babette had to put on a show all the time.
She looked back. Oh, she was glad Mums had her arms around Babette. She was really glad.
Sue Sarah said, “You can go back now. I’m all right.” She lifted her chin.
Bill unexpectedly kissed it. For a moment Sue Sarah felt a faint hope, then she knew it was just a brotherly gesture.
“Let’s go out on True Luff,” said Bill.
Sue Sarah looked at him thoughtfully. Was he just trying to ease her down gently?
“You’re going to be my anchor, you know,” said Bill. “I like Babette enough to help her out of a tight spot now and then, but you’re my girl.”
Sue Sarah’s insides began doing Friml and Strauss waltzes. “I’ll get into slacks and a sweater,” she said, shakily. “But Dad. I want to talk to him—”
Bill pulled her to him. “Not now,” he said. “Later tonight, maybe.”
Sue Sarah sighed.
“It won’t be too hard,” he said. “Anyhow, I think he’ll be proud to know you’ve—grown up. Why, Sausage, now that I know what you’re going to be like—I’m crazy about you.”
Sue Sarah couldn’t speak, for a sailor has a right to kiss his anchor in more than a brotherly way. Besides, she was finding magic, all the magic this time, for all of her was in it.