Chapter 3

“Stop, stop! You must stop this drumming!”

Like every other morning, her disobedience again discovered, Christy shrieked to see her grandmother so gray in the doorway. Since their life together last summer, at some terrible point over the winter, the gentle colors of her body’s weather had retreated before an endless cloudy day. No bursts or glints or sweeps of friendly sunshine escaped the pall, and, except when she talked, a bleak imposter was wearing the familiar silk dresses and nimble shoes.

“Why do you look so frightened? Have you committed a crime?” Her ironic eyes briefly acknowledged Christy’s panic at her ugly deterioration, then rescued them with fiction. It was only the damn drums that kept drawing Christy from their tried and true routine.

“You’ve only made the old lady toil up three flights of stairs on a hot June morning. What’s that to look so glum about?”

Taking guilty advantage of the noble diplomacy, Christy whispered that she couldn’t resist them.

“Much too pretty to resist.” The red metal sparkling in the sun hurt the widow’s eyes.

“Come now! David’s cleared all the leaves from the pool. Yellow leaves, Christy. Only the beginning of June and the grass is dying in this drought. We’d fry in the car if we had to drive to the club,” she tugged Christy’s sleeve. “But we’ve got a beautiful swimming pool right in our own back yard. You don’t want to be drumming in this inferno. Down these dark stairs we go.”

Christy bounded to her grandmother, but when she felt the distant touch of her fingers she stole her arm away and, lagging behind, ignored her heart breaking uncertainty on the stairs.

“My perfect pool!” cried the widow, trotting out into the yard. “A perfect shape! Honestly, Christy, I don’t like all this drumming. It’s unhealthy in this ghastly heat. Why do you do it?”

“I’m practicing, grandma.”

“Practicing?” Helen Reed fondly teased. “Whatever for?”

“I’m going to be a drummer.”

“You’re not, my darling.”

“I’m not?” Her grandmother was a good news prophet with her admiring eyes and serene assurance.

“It’s my summer challenge to shake your mother’s ideas out of your head. This year I thought I’d be too weak – but who should appear but wonderful David Sweeney. No, my dear child, you are not going to be a drummer. Now, jump into your suit and have a good swim before lunch.”

Joyful as her grandmother watched her, Christy performed her swimming strokes with style. When she saw her grandmother sleeping under the yellow umbrella she practiced her “forbidden tricks” – the acrobatics she’d learned over the winter. The stiff board sprang her high enough for summersaults but not for a double front flip, which she strained to execute while David Sweeney, unnoticed behind the yellow umbrella, stood watching.

Where was the girl coming from? Often he’d seen and admired her brave grace, but where did she get such drive? It was very likely impossible to work two summersaults into a dive off such a low board, but evidently, the girl would die trying. Whenever he showed her a drill on the drums she wouldn’t quit until she got it down. Her excitement over his drumming was a real turn-on, but his advice and demonstrations could enrage her. “Fuck off,” she’d shout, scaring him silly.

When Christy first asked him if he wanted to have an affair, nervousness enfeebled the thrill. Her will and stamina would have intimidated him at sixteen and now, a decade later, he’d jokingly refused to disappoint her. One night Christy woke him up.

“You’ll hate me,” he moaned as she climbed into his bed. But she was only stoical and sweetly sad. She covered the drops of blood on the sheet with his tee shirt and answered his concern with a headstand, her balance perilous while she laughed. Her sensuality was frank and joyful until it died during sex.

David ducked under the umbrella and sat down beside Helen Reed. The girl who played dead to his passion and this athlete of awesome force and will – what was the connection, he wondered. Feeling fear and tenderness in rapid succession, David watched the old woman wake in panic when Christy walloped into the water on her back. She became frantic as the girl darted out of the pool and stepped onto the diving board.

“Stop her, David. She’ll kill herself.”

Christy shook off his hand then groaned at her forgetfulness. Her ardent apology to her grandmother was undoubtedly sincere, although David knew the girl would be diving again when Helen Reed took her nap. For the past three weeks practicing on his drums, the continual apology after her disobedience never came stale from the girl. Always sorry, always drumming, Christy’s behavior inclined David Sweeney to his employer’s assertion that her teen-aged granddaughter still had the soul of a child.

“Swim gently, darling, while David brings out lunch.”

In the water again, Christy grinned at Helen Reed as though moderation was her heart’s delight.

“You look so pretty, darling! I love to watch you.”

“I love this summer, grandma! It’s the best!”

The girl’s radiant smile as she performed a gentle breaststroke included David Sweeney. The widow turned her head and looked sharply into his eyes.

“You don’t mind this little crush of hers?”

“I like her very much.”

“If you want to keep her away from your drums, you must lock your door. They’re an attractive nuisance, you know.”

“Christy’s learning a lot, Helen.”

“Don’t all children yearn to be rock stars?”

Her intelligent eyes looking steadily at his, David felt a danger in too readily agreeing that Christy was emotionally much younger than the adolescent she appeared to be. In her sudden suspicious mood, Helen Reed could think he was reaching for an alibi.

“The kid’s turning fifteen in a couple of days.”

“What? You call my elegant granddaughter ‘the kid?’”

“You call her elegant?” David mimicked her pique. “She hasn’t combed her hair since she’s been in your house and the way she eats! I can hear her chewing out in the kitchen. Elegant? Not yet, Helen!”

“Oh, her manners! That’s the crime of her mother and her artistic pretensions. You’ll see the child corrected as the summer goes along – but even if I were talking about her body, it’s a little angel that you see stepping out of the pool.”