|Publisher:||Random House Children's Books|
|Product dimensions:||4.25(w) x 1.00(h) x 6.80(d)|
|Age Range:||5 - 17 Years|
Read an Excerpt
Someone to Love
By Norma Fox Mazer
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1983 Norma Fox Mazer
All rights reserved.
The first time Nina Bloom really noticed Mitch was about the fourth day he'd been painting the house next door. All the houses on University Avenue were huge wooden things; three, four, or even five stories high, with big, rambling front porches that always looked ready to collapse. They had once been elegant one-family homes. Now they were cut up into dozens of little apartments filled with students from Rhodes University.
The house Nina lived in—next to the one being painted—had a name, The Lion's Arms; but except for the name there was nothing to distinguish it from any other house on the block. The second-floor apartment Nina shared with two other students was small and dark. Nina's room wasn't much more than a windowless closet. The dim stairs and hallway outside the apartment were filled with ancient smells of moldy wood and cooked meat. Walk into any apartment building on University Avenue and you smelled the same odors, saw the same graffiti, and heard the same music.
The building next to The Lion's Arms was being painted a lurid raspberry. That was the first thing Nina noticed that day as she headed down the street on her way back from campus. Next she focused on the painter who was standing on a scaffold, paint can by his side. And after that, how could she not help but notice the almost gleeful way he was slapping on the paint?
Up came the loaded paintbrush. Splaat! Paint hit the clapboards. Then quickly the splotch of paint was smoothed out, the painter's wrist snapping back and forth as he swooped the brush across the worn boards. Splaat! Another brushload. Nina slowed down her usually precipitous, head-thrust-forward walk to enjoy the show.
No sooner had she done so than the painter turned around and, out of all the people on the street, looked at her. A big smile spread across his face, and he lifted one hand in a jaunty salute. "Hi!" Flustered, Nina nodded jerkily and ran into her building, knapsack bouncing on her back.
Going up the stairs, she rolled her eyes at her own naiveté. Would she ever learn to be casual? Easy with herself, and men, and the world?
"Oh, hi," Sonia said as Nina came in, and she went on talking on the phone, giving out little tinkling laughs that meant a guy was on the other end of the line. Emmett rubbed against Nina's ankle. "Hi, my big cat-baby." In the kitchen she fed him, not forgetting to put his bowl in a corner where it wouldn't be under Lynell's nose.
"Was that D.G.?" she said when Sonia came into the kitchen. She took hamburger from the refrigerator and made a patty. "No," Sonia said. "It wasn't."
Sitting on the table, Sonia swung her legs and ate from a cup of yogurt. Her nails were painted green. She had a round, sensuous face, which she made up meticulously every morning. "Wait, wait," she'd call to Lynell, who, always ready first, would be standing impatiently by the door. "Wait, I'm still putting on my face."
Her first day on campus Nina had gone by mistake into the music building, and there she had seen a posted notice for a roommate. MUSTN'T MIND SMALL ROOM. NO SMOKERS!
Tall Lynell, short Sonia. Like Mutt and Jeff, they had stood in the doorway of their apartment and alternated asking Nina questions. Was she neat? She definitely didn't smoke? Did she do drugs? "Is your cat well behaved?" That from Lynell, fine-boned, stern, a bit remote.
"He's a good cat."
"Do you realize what it means to live with two music students?" Sonia was earnest, smiling directly into Nina's eyes. "I sing, and Lynell plays the flute. We do that here, in this apartment."
"I like music. I admit, I don't know much about it, but—"
"You know what you like," Lynell finished.
"Well ... yes," Nina said. Was that funny? Lynell and Sonia laughed.
"The apartment is tiny tiny."
"I don't care."
"No place to spread out."
"I've always shared a room with my sister."
"Where did you say you come from?"
"Hawley. In the Adirondacks? Real small town?" At their blank looks, she added, unnecessarily, "A creek runs through it."
"Do people really still say crick?" Sonia asked. She looked at Lynell. Lynell shrugged, smiled. Then, "Let's have a glass of wine. Do you like wine?"
"Yes," Nina said.
"Good," Lynell said, and Nina knew she had passed whatever the test was.
To a certain extent Nina believed in fate—the same way, really, that she believed in God: she didn't dare not believe. Wasn't it fate that Sonia had posted that roommate-wanted notice only hours before Nina wandered into the music building? Wasn't it fate that Nina had been the first person to show up at their door? And wasn't it fate that, although Lynell was unenthusiastic about Emmett, Sonia was an animal lover and considered Emmett a plus? And finally, wasn't it fate that the university was so overcrowded that the Director of Housing quickly agreed to refund Nina's deposit so someone else could have her assigned dormitory room?
Those first days Nina was enamored of her new roommates. Beautiful, fabulous creatures! Sonia, dimpled and bosomy; Lynell, slender, standing often on one foot, a waterfall of golden brown hair down her back. How perfectly suited Lynell seemed to the slender silver flute. And when Sonia, hands pressed to her chest, opened her mouth, a honey sound poured out, stunning Nina. She longed for them all to become best friends.
It hadn't worked out that way. Six weeks had passed, and Nina was lonely. She reproached herself. Why wasn't she more forthcoming?
Just the other night, for instance, the other two girls had decided at the last moment to try for tickets to a chamber music concert. As they bustled around getting ready, Nina sat at the window with Emmett in her lap. Because they didn't specifically say, "Nina, you'll come, won't you?" did it mean they didn't want her?
Emmett touched her face with his paw. He sensed her feelings and often comforted her.
"I'm ready," Lynell said, coming out of the bedroom. She was wearing an embroidered shawl and a long skirt.
Sonia looked at her. "I feel drab."
"Poor little drab bird," Lynell mocked, linking her arm with Sonia's. "See you later, Nina." They went out.
Nina wondered if, when the two of them had met at age twelve in a summer music camp, they had even then presented such a striking physical contrast. And if, right away, they had struck up their friendship and evolved their own special kind of communication. Lynell only had to say "Sonia, did you—?" for Sonia to answer "I told you I would."
Of course, Nina told herself, she couldn't expect not to be a bit of an outsider. But in truth, it wasn't only with her roommates that she felt this way. She had become acutely aware of how little she knew about a whole range of subjects—and how restricted her life had been. She stayed up late studying and woke up early worrying about marks and papers and all the books on her reading lists. She was keeping up, but was never at ease, terrified all the time of failing. To fail would be worse than the failure itself: it would mean going back home with her head hanging, back to Community College of the Mountains, where she'd spent her first year, back to her parents' house, where her father still wore his invalid's slippers and her mother, bitter and proud, kept what remained of their family together.
Lynell was a Californian: she looked it, looked like the lean, smooth girls Nina had seen in magazines and on TV. Lynell had lived with her family all over the United States, and Sonia, too, had traveled, had visited Mexico, England, and France. Do people really still say 'crick'? Yes, they did. But not Nina, not anymore. Not unless she forgot, anyway. And she was working, too, on her country-mouse accent. She noticed that Lynell said toe-mah-toe and awnt. She, born and bred in the same small town in Upstate New York, said toe-maay-toe and aaahnt.
She got along well enough with Lynell and Sonia, but she still felt alone. They had each other, and boyfriends as well. Sonia's husky D.G. and Lynell's aristocratic Adam. Nina? She was nineteen and had no one. Had never had someone special and close. There was a hunger in her, a hunger for a friend and a lover. For a loving friend.
In the hall now the door slammed. "Emmett." It was Lynell. "Nina," she called from the hall, "get this cat."
Nina scooped up Emmett. Old and half blind, the dear fellow was always trying to get out of the apartment and down to the street. Whenever he heard someone at the door, he was there, waiting, hoping to escape. He weighed twenty-five pounds, had a tail striped like a raccoon's, and had been Nina's for more than ten years. Maybe she shouldn't have brought him to college, but at home her sister, Nancy, didn't care about him, and her mother had no time.
Lynell set down her flute case. "The catbox is starting to smell," she remarked.
"I'm changing the litter today."
"Guess who called me," Sonia said. Lynell took off her beret, and she and Sonia went into the room they shared.
Nina wandered into the living room, eating her hamburger rolled up in a piece of soft white bread. Music came up from the record store across the way. Horns blared; cyclists and joggers wove in and out of the crowds. Three boys in jeans and gum boots almost danced down the street. A girl balanced her books on her head. Nina leaned out the window, watching. In the air was the smell of hot dogs and exhaust fumes. Her first days on campus she had wandered in a daze through the mobs of students, thinking, Where do I belong? What am I doing here? Am I going to make it? Yet by now it was as if she'd always been here, living in this apartment on this street and moving from class to class in the huge, limestone, Gothic buildings.
Emmett stood up on his back legs and put his paws on her lap. She fed him a piece of hamburger. He liked ketchup, too. She picked him up and kissed him, but after a moment he squirmed to be free.
In the bedroom she heard Sonia and Lynell laughing together and thought of going in and saying, "Guess what happened to me today? The painter talked to me." But remembering her awkwardness, she thought that even if she tried to make a funny story of it to amuse them, it wouldn't come out right.
Every day that week Nina saw the painter up on the scaffolding, slapping paint on the old boards. And every day that week he saw her. He was watching her. She hurried past him in the morning and again in the evening, her head ducked, blushing and blowing hair out of her eyes. Sometimes, though, she sneaked a glance at him. Couldn't tell much with him covered in white overalls and that cap pulled down over his head, except that he was tall and young.
On Friday he spoke to her. "Your coat's on inside out," he said. She didn't realize he was speaking to her. "Up here," he called. "Look up here." Then he came down the ladder. "Hi. Did you hear me? Your name's on inside out."
"What?" She blew hair out of her eyes, laughed. "My name?"
He put down his can of paint. "I mean your raincoat—you're wearing it inside out."
She looked down at the yellow slicker with Richie's name stenciled across the front and saw that he was right. "Well," she said, embarrassed, and glanced furtively at her sneakers, hoping her laces weren't untied.
"Hi," he said. "I'm Mitch." There was a big splash of raspberry paint down the front of his overalls. Above the bill of his white cap RUSTOLA CLEANS RUST was printed in red letters. "You could use a haircut, too," he said.
Although he was smiling, this bothered her, and she walked quickly by and up the stairs of her building. "Wait, you didn't tell me your name," he called after her.
Later that evening she found a pair of scissors and recklessly chopped at her bangs, which, it was true, were always falling into her eyes. When she put down the scissors, she saw, with a creaking heart, that she looked as ragged and frayed as an old blanket.CHAPTER 2
"I almost didn't go to classes today," Nina said. She and Kim Ogun, who was in her lit class, were sitting on the grass near the granite goddess with her arms out-flung. It was hot for October; above them the sky was a pure, hard blue.
"I know what you mean. I couldn't face the library today." Kim was freckled and round-faced.
Nina lay back in the grass, hands behind her head. "Do you dream a lot, Kim?"
"I don't think I ever dream."
"You don't! I'm always dreaming!" Last night she had dreamed she was home, in the backyard. There was the sandbox from her childhood; she knelt down and ran sand through her fingers. Then she noticed she had no clothes on and became worried that her mother would scold her. At that moment the painter appeared, but the odd thing was that his cheeks were rough from acne. And this made Nina feel sorry for him and at the same time really tender. She stroked his arm and said, "There, now, it'll be okay."
"It is inhuman to study today," Kim said. "I refuse. I go on strike. I will not study."
"I have to write a paper for Professor Lehman," Nina said languidly. She had found it nearly impossible to concentrate today. The dream lingered, and the sky, so blue and big, filled her with longing.
"El Professoro Lehman iss a darling," Kim said. "Nina! Don't you think he's darling? Love his class. I hope I get an A on my paper. I'd like to impress the hell out of him."
They turned to watch two boys jogging past in brief running shorts. "Darling," Kim said.
Staring up at the sky, Nina thought that Professor Lehman's eyes were that same blue. He was her favorite teacher. Her first day in his class she'd thought he looked exactly the way a professor should look—worn tweed jacket, salt and pepper beard, and he even had a pipe. His manner, too, was satisfying. As he lectured he roamed the room, streaking his hands through his hair, pulling at his tie, and pounding desks to make his point.
Sometimes when his eyes roamed restlessly toward the back of the room where she sat Nina imagined that he was speaking to her. Then she sat up straight to give him her most devoted attention. But it was precisely at those moments that she heard and remembered the least.
After she and Kim parted, Nina walked home more slowly than usual, reluctant to leave the sky behind and go into the dim apartment. Passing the sandwich shop on the corner, she looked in and saw the painter standing at the counter. At once her dream returned to her. Her neck became warm, and almost without thinking, she walked in, walked toward him. I'm sleepwalking, she thought, trying to understand what she was doing. The moment the bell on the door chimed, she wanted to run out. But the painter had seen her.
"Yes?" the woman at the counter said.
"Dr Pepper, please," Nina said.
"Hi," the painter said. "Remember me?"
Nina turned as if seeing him for the first time. "Oh!" she said brightly. "Hello."
"I'm painting the house on your block," he said.
"I know." He didn't have acne at all. He was taller than she remembered and had a good smile, showing very white teeth.
"I'm Mitch," he said.
Nina nodded, smiling down into her Dr Pepper, hit by a sudden wave of shyness.
"I don't know your name, though," he said.
"Nina," she said.
"Bloom? Nina Bloom?"
"Yes, Bloom," she said, and for some reason she repeated it, this time in a loud, confident voice. "Bloom."
"Nina Bloom Bloom, can I buy you another Dr Pepper?"
"I still haven't finished this one."
"Well, another for when you do finish?" And he ordered a Dr Pepper for her and an orange soda for himself. They took the drinks to a little table by the window and sat down. "What luck that you came in," he said.
"Not exactly luck," she blurted. "I saw you in here."
"You followed me in?" He smiled delightedly.
"I don't usually follow guys around," she said in that same confident voice that was hers, yet took her by surprise.
"Even better," he said. "Nina Bloom Bloom, what are you toting in that huge knapsack?"
"Books, mostly. Junk for classes ..."
"I thought so. You're a student, right? You go to Rhodes. I did, too, last year."
"What was your major?" She assumed he'd graduated, and was not surprised that the only job he could find was house painting. Jobs were scarce.
"Pre-law. I dropped out in my junior year."
"Complicated. Has to do with a lot of things—me, my family. I'll tell you the whole story sometime. I'd rather hear about you right now, Nina." He pronounced it, Neenah. Soft. At home they said Nee-nuh.
"I cut my hair," Nina said, again blurting things in a way that made her blush. But she couldn't stop.
"Your hair? You cut your hair?"
"After you said—Well, it seemed so shaggy. Always in my eyes." She brushed at her bangs.
"No, you shouldn't have," he said. "On my say-so? No, you shouldn't have," he repeated.
"Well ... it needed it anyway."
He took off his white cap, put it on the table. He had masses of curly hair, gleaming, brown, healthy-looking curls. "Neenah," he said. "What year are you in, Nina?"
"I'm a sophomore."
"Do you like it?" He sat back, hands clasped behind his neck. He was a bit thin, even stringy, and she wondered if he ate enough.
Excerpted from Someone to Love by Norma Fox Mazer. Copyright © 1983 Norma Fox Mazer. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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