Chapter 10 - July 4th (Monday)
We toted enough gear for a whole weekend to Fourth Fest. Sam, Annabelle, and I were early and parked at the aquarium adjacent to the park because our guest pass allowed it, and Sam backed the car into a shady corner under a tree to keep the cooler in the trunk cold.
The scoop on the street was that last year the Fourth Fest employees, in conjunction with the police department, searched backpacks and purses and confiscated any food and beverages people tried to smuggle in. No toddler cheerios allowed, and guests were encouraged through dehydration to patronize the city-sanctioned beer tents and buy water for four dollars a bottle from the food vendors.
It was a racket.
Hence… cooler in the trunk, filled with wine coolers, beer, and water. I figured this – later in the day – after the initial rush, either a) they'd stop checking, or b) we'd just reuse our red Solo cups. Or we'd keep sending Mel, and her huge purse, to the car to smoke. After the first few times, they'd surely start just waving her through.
That was all Plan B, anyway – I happened to know one of the volunteer employees, and she was meeting us as the gate with a golf cart and driving us to a prime settling spot. Hopefully Sam, Annabelle, and I would skate through without the searching of bags rigamarole. But – just in case – I was prepared with a half dozen pre-chilled wine-coolers stashed inside my chair bag. And not because I'm too cheap to pay for beer at the tent, I just don't like beer.
The volunteer, Linda, was on hand with a smile and a golf cart, and just like that we were in the clear. Annabelle sat beside the driver and waved to everyone we passed like she was a princess in a parade. A golf-cart princess.
"Your sister's already here," Linda said in her dry, droll way. "In fact, I think she's already had a few."
"Earlier than usual," I quipped, but it bothered me more than I let on. Mel drinks, okay, it's a fact. But she was sipping more than usual – seemed like every weekend now.
It scared me, and not just because it wasn't good for Caleb. Truth was, it wasn't good for Mel. All her serious breakdowns came about somewhere in the middle of binge drinking, and she only ever seemed to pick herself up again when she got back on the wagon.
So yeah, Mel drinking before noon on a Monday, even a holiday Monday, was cause for concern.
Anyway. We found Mel lounging on a beach chair, and Annabelle ran into a friend from school immediately. After a quick parental conference, we explained the boundaries of the park – gate, parking lot, water – and said we expected to see her face once an hour.
We got comfortable as the first local band of the day set up and did sound checks.
Liz and Eric found us shortly after that, and somehow Liz managed to smuggle in a whole picnic lunch.
I wondered, idly, if it was a sin to sneak food past security?
Eric and Sam wandered off together. I plopped my sunglasses on and laid back on the blanket, closing my eyes.
The sun was warm, but a wisp of a breeze was coming over the bay from the big, cold lake kept it from being too warm.
The band started their set and it felt like heaven to just laze in the sun enjoying it. I dozed in and out for a good hour, and only the text chime of my phone brought me fully awake. I looked at the screen, hoping it was someone I could ignore, but the text was from Josie. I'm sick. I can't come.
I typed back, Nothing serious, I hope?
I can't stop throwing up. Tell everyone to wish upon a firework for me.
When she was little, Josie was always looking up at the sky, desperately hoping to see a falling star so she could make a wish. She was always looking for that star.
Then right about the 4th of July time when she was, oh, somewhere between three and four years old, the neighbor set off some crazy Wisconsin-small-town-big-boom bottle rocket, and that thing went up, up, up with a white tail of smoke, and Josie saw it. "Mommy," she'd yelled, "there's a string in the sky!" And just as the rest of us looked up, it exploded like bright snow showers in July.
"Falling stars!" Josie exclaimed, clapping her hands. "Do I get to make a wish for each one? That's a billion wishes!"
Mel and I tried to explain it to her, us in our oh, so sophisticated and grown up way – being that we were oh, so sophisticated teenagers.
But it didn't compute for Jo-Jo – she'd waited a long time to see falling stars, and no way were we going to ruin it for her with our boring adult ideas.
"Falling fireworks get a million wishes," she declared, and clung fiercely to the idea for the next several years.
But back to this Fourth of July.
Silas showed up in an old worn pair of jeans, sunglasses, a plain white tee shirt, and Jeremy holding his hand.
Liz, I think, turned a shade or two paler, if possible, beneath the her wide-brimmed sun hat.
Jeremy had a grin that defined ear-to-ear. His huge blue eyes were practically glowing.
Liz clucked her tongue, then hissed, "What are you doing?" but Silas was staring at the band-shell, or off to the horizon, or into his own soul, and didn't hear her.
I thought it was wonderful, and wondered if I dared to comment.
I saw Silas's hand clench, squeezing Jeremy's fingers. Must have squeezed pretty hard, because Jeremy flinched. Silas apparently wasn't as relaxed as his clothing choice suggested.
"Are the sunglasses supposed to be a disguise?" I asked. "Because they're not a very good one."
"No, Jess," Silas said with his patient voice. "They're glasses. That keep out the sun."
"Knock it off," Melanie mumbled from her spot on the blanket. "Have beer, feel better. Truss me."
Everybody laughed, including Liz and Silas, and Jeremy went looking for food while Silas went to buy tickets for beer.
A few minutes later, Caleb came marching up to us, soaked to the knees. "Do we have a plastic cup or something?" he asked. "We're catching frogs and minnows."
"Gross," Annabelle said from behind me. Then, "Hey mom? See my face? Here it is."
"I love your beautiful face," I said to her. "Come and show it to me again later."
"It's not gross," Caleb said to Annabelle. "The first one catches ten gets to be in the club."
"What club?" Annabelle asked, her face scrunching up like she was about to get mad.
"The club you can't join. You have to catch ten minnows and a crawfish."
"I don't even know what a crawfish is," Annabelle said. "But I have a red Solo cup, and I know how to use it. Mom, can I go down by the water if Caleb goes, too?"
"Well… okay," I said, pinning my eyes on Caleb. "If she falls in, you haul her back out, you hear?"
Caleb nodded, and looked almost ill. "Do I have to?" he asked, in a last ditch effort to get out of being in charge.
"Yep," Mel said from her lounge chair. "Skedaddle, the both of you. Come back soon, but don't stay long."
They giggled and took off.
"Jo-Jo texted me that she's too sick to come," I said.
"Weird," Mel said, her voice languid like the sun. "First that headache, and – wait, is that what she's sick with?"
I shrugged. "She said puking."
"Ew, gross. I hate puking," Mel said with a shudder. "Cramps my style."
"Yeah, I suppose it does," I said, and sighed. I felt bad for Jo-Jo. She'd been so enthused about this day. And I was also a little bit worried, because she hardly ever got sick.