Publication date: May 16th 2021
Genres: Coming of Age
It’s that summer between the end of high school and the start of something else. Dean Stockton and Curt Hutton are best friends, and more often than not you can find them rowing on the Rogue River at dawn.
Together they experience something they will never be able to describe adequately. But then they won’t really need to. Not to each other. It’s that moment of swing when rowers find the rhythm and everything falls into place. The shell seems to lift right out of the water.
Enter Isabelle Smiley. She’s beautiful yet insecure, knowing yet innocent, and crazy about Curt in a way that no girl has ever been crazy about Dean. She wants Curt to choose a college closer to home than the one he and Dean have selected—and she can be persuasive.
“I’d never be able to hold out against a girl like Smiley,” Dean admits.
“Don’t say that,” Curt replies. “I told her she’d have to convince you, too.”
Everyone is conflicted in this story of friendship, lust, and life-changing choices. Only one thing seems certain to all of them: If Smiley strikes a match, Dean will catch fire.
All the Way to France
The Sandpiper Bar & Grill overlooks the mouth of the Rogue River, and right now the parking lot is jammed with cars. A red Mustang convertible—the top down, for this is a starlit night in June—circles slowly to the back door.
In the kitchen, the scene is a whirl of cooks, busers, and dish washers.
Wearing an apron and a floppy chef’s hat, Dean cuts into a fresh cheesecake and passes a slice to the server waiting in the pantry window.
Above the din, a line cook hollers—
“Stockton, you’ve got visitors out back.”
Fellow pantry cook Victor Lee is shucking littleneck clams next to Dean, who says—
“Cover for me, will you?”
Backed into a loading zone behind the restaurant, Curt’s freshly waxed convertible couldn’t be shinier. The girl from Brookings is still seated on the passenger side; Curt opens the door for her.
Dean takes off his hat as he pushes through the screen door. He runs one hand through his hair, sweaty from the heat of the kitchen, while his eyes stay glued to the girl’s legs as she climbs out of the low-slung car. Her dress—white with tiny black polka dots—rides up and he can see all the way to France. She blushes but there’s reason to believe she is more pleased than embarrassed.
“Dean, I’d like you to meet Isabelle—oof!”
Curt’s date removes her elbow from his rib cage.
“You know I don’t like that name,” she says.
“Well, how am I supposed to introduce you?”
She turns to Dean—
“Just call me Smiley,” she says. “That’s my last name but it’s what everybody uses.”
They shake hands. Hers are soft and smooth—so much so that it’s unsettling.
“What’s wrong with…?”
Smiley cringes, so he doesn’t say her first name.
“It reminds me of my grandmother,” she says. “I was named after her, actually, but I can’t stand her. The feeling’s mutual, I’m sure.”
“You don’t look like an Isabelle anyway.”
Only two words, but they say Dean is exactly right—and Curt is just … mean.
“Busy tonight?” Curt asks.
“A madhouse. But I think we’ve got it under control now. How was the show?”
Curt holds his hand out flat, palm down, and tips it from side to side. Smiley looks appalled at his lack of enthusiasm.
“She cried the whole time,” Curt says.
“Well, it was sad … but I liked it,” Smiley replies. “You should see it, Dean.”
Since Dean doesn’t have a girlfriend and has never been to a movie alone, he’s not sure what to say.
AL RISKE is the author of Precarious, Sabrina’s Window, The Possibility of Snow, Then We’d Be Happy, and Combustible. He has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, and ghostwriter. Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, he now lives in California with his wife, Joanne, and their dog, Bodie.