She heard the murmur of voices as she approached the river. There was Tessa sitting on her beach towel, laughing in the dappled sunlight, wearing her white slip with the red blouse thrown over it like a jacket. Next to her in the grass were Frank and Jesse Mott, both sixteen. They’d seen Tessa and Carla walking through the woods day after day, arms thrown around each other, beach towels over their shoulders. It was Tessa they were interested in. Once she was alone, without the pesky Kelly girl hovering, they’d been bold enough to introduce themselves. As Carla drew near, the Mott brothers stopped talking.
“Hey!” Tessa signaled her over. “Where’ve you been? Come on,” she called to Carla. She patted the picnic basket beside her. “My mother sent a treat.” Tessa turned to the boys. “We’ll share if you’re good.”
“I will be,” Frank offered. The boys were twins, but Frank was the tenderhearted one who played by the rules. “I can’t speak for my brother.”
Jesse was already opening the basket. He had his eyes on Tessa’s tanned legs.
“Quit it,” she said, pushing him aside. They looked at each other after they’d touched. Then, as quickly, they looked away. Carla had a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach. Jesse was the boy everyone in town was in love with. “Oh,” Tessa said, bringing forth a half of a cake. “It’s Gluttony Cake! Devil’s food with chocolate pudding and chocolate chips inside.”
They cut the cake into pieces and wolfed it down—at least the Mott brothers and Tessa did. Carla took a neat bite, then tossed her portion into the woods when no one was looking. She felt sick. She was quiet that afternoon, more audience than participant, and she was glad when the day was over. When the girls left, the boys followed until they had to split up at the road and go their separate ways.
“See you tomorrow,” the Mott brothers called.
“Maybe,” Tessa called back. “Maybe not.”
For a shy girl she seemed entirely comfortable with the boys’ attentions.
“Are you madly in love with Jesse?” Carla asked once they were alone. “Be honest.”
“Of course not!” Tessa laughed.
“That’s good,” Carla lowered her voice. “He’s ruined a lot of girls’ reputations.”
Tessa glanced over at her friend. “Reputations don’t mean a thing,” she said. “Jack Kerouac couldn’t care less about a person’s reputation.”
“Well, he didn’t live in Blackwell,” Carla said emphatically. “That Jesse is bad news.” It wasn’t completely true, but it was true enough, and Carla felt satisfied that she’d warned her best friend against him.
THE NEXT DAY was Sunday and Carla had to go visit her grandparents for lunch. On the way home, she was in the car with her parents and Johnny when they saw a station wagon pulled up at the gas pumps.
“Someone broke down,” Carla’s dad, Bill, said.
They were closed on Sundays, but steam was rising from beneath the station wagon’s hood. All at once Carla realized it was the Coopers’ car. Ava was standing there smoking a cigarette, a worried expression on her face. Carla slunk down in the backseat. Her face flushed, and she could feel her heart hitting against her chest.
“I’ll take care of it,” Johnny said. He got out and went over to Ava. She laughed and curtsied as though he was a knight who had come to her rescue. Carla looked through the rear window of the car as her father drove away. She watched until they turned the corner and couldn’t see anymore.
The next day when Carla went to the cottage, the Coopers’ car wasn’t in the driveway.
“My mother broke down. She got a ride back here on the back of a motorcycle. The guy driving it looked so much like Jack Kerouac I couldn’t believe it.”
Carla worried all that week that she would be found out. She was nothing in this town, just a gas station girl. As soon as Tessa knew who she was, she wouldn’t want her as a best friend anymore. Carla carried her dread around with her, knowing her happiness at being someone brand-new would soon be over. Sure enough, on Saturday Ava Cooper showed up to collect her car. “Carla,” she said, delighted when she came upon her daughter’s friend in the office. “I didn’t know you had a job!” Ava had a cake tin with her. “The gentleman who worked here was so helpful I brought a Gratitude Cake.” It was angel food with vanilla icing. “It’s even better than Gluttony Cake, although nothing is as good as an Apology Cake. That is by far my best recipe.”