Donny Osmond Turned From God
The road was ours; it shimmered long and straight under the cloudless sky as far as the horizon, as far as the end of summer. Freddie let me take the lead and I planned to show him his little sister had the legs to make him sweat. I pedaled my bike, gathered speed, and turned, wanting to see Freddie struggle. Instead, my front wheel met a strip of shredded truck tire. Over-correcting, I hit the curb and somersaulted over my handlebars.
“Shit, Monica!” Freddie said, swerving around me.
I picked myself up off the dirt and checked my bike. It seemed okay, at first. I wrestled the chain onto the derailleur and gave the back wheel a spin. My palms stung; red beads of blood sprouted from the dust on the heels of my hands. My right elbow and shoulder hurt. But I didn’t let on ‘cause I didn’t want Freddie to think I was a sissy.
“Shit,” Freddie repeated.
“Let’s go,” I said.
I was rewarded with a clap on my back and a slow nod. “Cool.”
But when I started riding again, the bike’s front wheel waved back and forth. I was terrified our day together would end right there. Freddie must have been shook up too, because he didn’t call me an idiot. “What a drag,” he said. “Forget the lake. Let’s grab my car and go to Dairy Queen.”
Mom wasn’t wild about Dairy Queen. We would drive past in Dad’s new Peugeot, which had a stereo radio and cassette deck. One evening Freddie and I, as always, lobbied to stop for a soft cone. Mom, as always, said absolutely not. It was fast food; she said it the way she would say fast women. She twisted over the seat back to look straight into our eyes for emphasis. Freddie and I grinned at each other as she warmed to her theme.
“Right, Alan?” she said, after a pause.
“Hmm?” Dad was half at work.
Back at home we put the bikes in the garage. Mom was slapping a packet of onion soup mix onto a brisket as if challenging it to a duel. Freddie distracted her while I snuck to my room. I pawed through a pile of clean clothes and pulled out my cutoffs, my favorite tank top—a hand-me-down from Freddie—and flappies. In the bathroom I scrubbed dirt and bits of skin from my hands. I rubbed the rocks from my knee, admiring the muscles in my legs. I rolled the hems of my shorts a little higher and went back to the kitchen.
Freddie was carrying in the empty trash can.
“It’s too bad about your bike ride,” Mom said, not turning around.
“Going to get a patch kit,” Freddie said, grinning at me.
“Be home by dinner.”
I practically dragged Freddie out the door. His car seemed to know the way to Dairy Queen as we cruised through a downtown that drooped under tired parade bunting. Three-week-old window paint bragged, “Fastest Rodeo On Earth!” Freddie’s Falcon shone metallic blue, almost silver in the glass storefronts. He always rubbed wax all over the car’s body like I imagined he rubbed cocoa butter all over girls at the reservoir. He stuck his hand out at his friend Brian, who was leaning on the open door of his Beetle in the long line at the gas station. I breathed in mingled gasoline and old tires, soupy in the close air of the car.
My ice cream soon melted over my scraped knuckles and onto the rolled hems of my cutoffs.
“If you get any of that on my seat,” Freddie said, “I’ll kill you.”
I sneered, but licked at my ice cream as fast as I could, squirming as sweat made my thighs stick then slide on the vinyl seat, and trickled between my breasts in their new bra. We passed the turnoff onto East Avenue towards home, and continued south towards Mines Road and the hills.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Del Valle.” He adjusted his mirrored aviators and turned to me, and I glimpsed the reflection of a flushed teenager, tongue darting out to catch a dollop of ice cream on her glossy lips.
Del Valle is the reservoir nestled in rolling hills that are green in winter and bone dry by mid-summer. We roared up the undulating road, past a herd of placid Herefords swatting flies in the shade. I rolled down my window and wind and the smell of freshly cut hay swirled through the car. Mick Jagger sang “Sympathy for the Devil” from one speaker; Freddie had blown the other when he was cruising with his friends downtown. He was saving for a new stereo radio with an 8 track player. Dad had said it was a waste of money and to hold out for a cassette deck. I reached for the tuning dial. Freddie smacked my hand down and wagged his finger at me. I remembered the day he and Brian had snuck to the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway.
“Did you really see that guy get stabbed?”
Freddie shouted back, “Yeah, we saw the ambulance … the guy under a sheet … bloodstains—”
“Totally bogus!” I said, only half-doubting.
Freddie slung his arm around my neck, letting it rest on the seat back, and shrugged, smiling. “Bogus? So, you’re totally cool!” He laughed at me.
I started to shove his arm off and tell him he was bogus, but as I turned, I smelled his Paco Rabanne cologne mingling with his familiar body odor. I squirmed on the seat and tugged at my shorts. A singular feeling in my crotch made me catch my breath, but it vanished just as quick as it had come. I closed my eyes and let my head fall back on Freddie’s arm. Mick Jagger continued to sing from one speaker.
We rode in the hot wind, neither of us talking, me with my eyes closed, Freddie humming along with the Stones. The car lurched as we veered onto the dirt shoulder. Freddie yanked his arm away. I sat up as bits of chaff floated through the window. Behind us dust spiraled in the car’s slipstream.
At the reservoir we pulled into a parking spot next to a Ranchero and Freddie turned off his radio. Four long-haired men passed around a doobie, and one sat on the tailgate drinking Hamm’s; a couple of Harleys stood on the other side. A boombox on the Ranchero’s hood blasted out “China Grove.”
I started to open the door, but Freddie motioned for me to stay put. He let the engine run, climbed out and picked a speck of straw out of the grill. He thrust out his chin in greeting towards the Ranchero.
A couple men raised cans and bearded chins in reply. I didn’t like them, all hair and leather vests on naked skin. I hoped Freddie wouldn’t talk to them, but he walked right over. I shrunk down, hoping they wouldn’t notice me, but they all turned my way. One of them said, “Who’s the trim?”
I pulled my hair away from my neck, let it fall and shrunk farther down. Freddie did his fake laugh and said something I couldn’t hear over the music. The others laughed at the one who’d spoken. He said, “Chill, it’s cool.” Freddie turned, shoving cash at him. The guy held out something that Freddie fisted into his pocket.
“Those dudes think you’re a fox,” said Freddie, sliding behind the wheel. He gripped it with white knuckles for a second and studied me. “But I told them you’re my dorky sister.” He slammed the car into reverse, and we drove to the other end of the lot. His jaw was working the way Dad’s did sometimes.
I could still hear the Doobies, now overlaid with “Help Me Rhonda” from the food shack radio and the screams of children playing in the swim area. The lifeguard issued an occasional bored admonition from his tower.
“Mind hanging out for a while?” Freddie killed the engine. “I gotta see a guy.” He nodded towards the other end of the beach, where the high school kids stood in waist-deep water. “Try not to get picked up.” I stuck my tongue out but liked that he’d said it.
I kicked aside some rocks and cigarette butts from a patch of hot sand between the parking lot and the kid-choked wading area. I picked up a scuffed Tiger Beat. Closer to the water, a high school girl scolded her little sister for pouring out the lemon juice she was using to highlight her long hair. I lay with my eyes closed and let the magazine slide onto the dirty sand. Nearby, briquettes flamed in a barbecue and Bain de Soleil competed with roasting wieners for the breeze that shifted to and fro. Water licked softly at the stones on the beach.
A Suzuki dirt bike pulled up with a chainsaw buzz. The rider revved the motor a couple times and let it idle, drowning out the ambient lakeside chatter. When he shut it off, the sudden quiet startled me awake. I watched the back of his straining Levi’s through half-opened eyes. He wore a brown Altamont Speedway T-shirt over his tanned torso. He swung a long leg over the bike. A hot breeze ruffled my tank top. I closed my eyes again.
Children’s cries and laughter and music from car radios and boom boxes swelled and faded. In my half-waking dream, the biker set his sunglasses on the seat and strolled over to where I lay. He swept his hair back and held out his hand. We waded slowly into the lake as he shifted from biker to beach boy, his smooth chest and arms gleaming gold. The hairs on his legs sparkled. My bikini was turquoise triangles joined by fine gold rings, my hair flowed like amber down my back. He took both my hands and leaned down until our bare skin almost touched, his Paco Rabanne steaming between us. My breath began to catch again.
My overheated dozing was suddenly cooled by a passing cloud. “What are you smiling about?” Freddie stood at my feet shading his eyes, keys and mirrored aviators dangling from one hand. He was blocking my sun.
I flung my arms across my chest as my unwary body reacted to the chill. Freddie picked up the abandoned Tiger Beat, which featured a toothy Donny Osmond on the cover and the headline, DONNY: THE NIGHT HE TURNED FROM GOD!
“Planning your wedding?” He waved the magazine over me, sprinkling me with sand.
“Don’t be stupid.” I jumped to my feet as I realized my new bra covered my embarrassment. As we walked away from the shore, I tripped in front of the food shack. A couple of kids looked our way. I patted dust from my shorts, swiping the hems down to hide the sand pocks on my legs.
Freddie watched and shook his head. “Whatever you say, Mrs. Osmond.”