Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Patiently Alice

ISBN 13 : 9780689870736

Patiently Alice

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9780689870736: Patiently Alice

Having left home for three weeks to be a camp counselor, Alice is shocked when she comes back to discover how much has changed, such as her mother running off with a fitness instructor, her sister getting deeply involved with a guy, and her father having issues in his new relationship with Sylvia. Reprint.

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About the Author :

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has written more than 135 books, including the Newbery Award–winning Shiloh. She lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland. To hear from Phyllis and find out more about what’s in store for Alice, visit

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :

Chapter 1: Leaving Home

The summer between ninth and tenth grades, I learned that life doesn't always follow your agenda.

I had signed up to be an assistant counselor at a camp for disadvantaged kids. Somehow I had the idea that at the end of three weeks I could get the little girls in my cabin feeling like one big happy family. First, though, I had to talk myself into going.

I was sitting at the breakfast table watching Dad pour half-and-half in his coffee, and I decided that was a metaphor for my feelings. Half of me wanted to go to camp the following morning, and half of me wanted to stay home and be in on the excitement of Dad's marriage to Sylvia two weeks after I got back.

I wanted something to happen. I wanted at least one thing to be resolved. Everything seemed up in the air these days -- Dad's engagement to Sylvia, Pamela's mother leaving the family, Elizabeth's quarrels with her parents, Lester's on-again off-again relationships with women, Patrick and I breaking up. My life in general, you might say.

"Are you eating that toast or just mauling it?" asked Lester, my twenty-something brother, who was leaving soon for his summer class at the U of Maryland. "That's the last of the bread, and if you don't want it, I do."

I slid my plate toward him. "I can't decide whether to go to camp or stay here and be helpful," I said.

"Be helpful," said Lester. "Go to camp."

I turned toward Dad, hoping he might beg me to stay.

"I can't think of a single reason why you shouldn't go, Alice," he said. "Sylvia's got everything under control."

That's what I was afraid of. Not that she shouldn't be in control. It was her wedding, not mine. But Sylvia had just got back from England, where she'd been teaching for a year, the wedding was about six weeks off, and if they had done any planning, I hadn't heard about it.

"I thought you were supposed to start planning a wedding a year in advance," I said.

"We're just having a simple ceremony for friends and family," Dad said, turning the page of his newspaper and folding it over. He looked like a cozy teddy bear in his white summer robe with floppy sleeves, and for a moment I felt like going over and sitting in his lap. He's lost a little weight, though, on purpose. I know he wants to look handsome and svelte for the wedding, but he'll always look like a teddy bear to me.

I lifted my glass of orange juice and took a sip. "You're not just driving over to the courthouse to be married by a justice of the peace, are you?" I asked suspiciously. Maybe it was going to be even simpler than simple. I felt I couldn't stand it if Sylvia didn't wear a white gown with all the trimmings. She had already told Dad she didn't want a diamond engagement ring, and that, according to Pamela Jones, was sacrilege. "How can it be forever if you don't have a diamond?" she'd said.

"Of course we're not getting married in a courthouse," said Dad, and told me they were still planning to have the wedding at the church on Cedar Lane in Bethesda. That was perfect, because it was sort of where they'd met.

Miss Summers was my seventh-grade English teacher at the time, and -- because Mom died when I was in kindergarten -- I've been looking for a new mom ever since. A role model, anyway. And Sylvia, with her blue eyes and light brown hair, her wonderful smile and wonderful scent, seemed the perfect model for me and the perfect wife for Dad. All I had to do was get them together, so I'd invited her to the Messiah Sing-Along at Cedar Lane, and the rest is history.

Well, not quite. It's taken all this time to make it stick. But she finally gave up her old boyfriend, our junior high assistant principal, Jim Sorringer, for Dad. And now the wedding is set for July 28, and I wanted details. It had seemed impolite to start asking Sylvia questions the minute she got off the plane.

"Long gown and veil?" I asked Dad.

"No, he's wearing a suit," said Lester.

"Is Sylvia wearing a long dress?" I asked.

Dad smiled. "I haven't seen it yet."


"A piano trio of a good friend of mine, Martin Small," said Dad.

"Three pianos?"

"Piano, violin, and cello," Dad said.

"You want him to fill out a questionnaire, Al?" Les asked. My full name is Alice Kathleen McKinley, but Dad and Lester call me Al.

"Something like that," I said, and grinned. Then I said it aloud: "I just want to feel needed, Dad. I want to make absolutely sure this wedding takes place. Maybe I ought to stay home and help out."

"If you want to feel needed, hon, you could hardly find a better place than Camp Overlook -- all those kids needing attention like you wouldn't believe."

That was true, and I knew I couldn't back out anyway. Pamela Jones, Elizabeth Price, and Gwen Wheeler were going to be assistant counselors along with me. We'd been interviewed, received our instructions, gone through a day of orientation and training, and tomorrow we'd get on one of the buses taking the kids up into the Appalachian Mountains.

The phone rang for the fourth time that morning.

"I'm outta here," said Lester, scooting back from the table and picking up his books. "See you, Dad." Lester himself was looking pretty svelte these days. He has thick brown hair -- on the sides, anyway. It's a little thin on top. He's taller than Dad, but I'll bet he looks a lot like Dad did when he was Lester's age. Handsome as anything. All my girlfriends are nuts about him.

I went to the phone in the hallway and picked it up. "Hello?"

"Toilet paper," came Elizabeth's voice.


"We'd better bring our own. No telling what kind they have at camp," she said. "And tampons."

"I've already thought of that," I said. "But I still need to buy a sports bra."

"And I need a baseball cap to keep the sun out of my eyes," said Elizabeth. "You want to run over to the shops on Georgia Avenue?"

"I'll meet you outside," I said.

Elizabeth lives just across the street, and we were on our way in five minutes. We were trying to think of things we may have forgotten.

"Breath mints," said Liz.

"Mosquito repellent," I suggested.

"Imodium, in case we get the runs," she went on.

I glanced over at her, beautiful Elizabeth with her long dark hair and thick eyelashes, who was studying the list in her hand, covering every conceivable thing that might cause her embarrassment while off in the wilderness. She was wearing jeans and a white T-shirt, and was beginning to look more filled out again after a season of skinniness that had worried not only Pamela and me, but her folks as well.

"Watch out," I said, steering her away from a signpost. Gwen and Pamela and I joke sometimes that we never have to worry about anything, because Elizabeth will do our worrying for us. Which isn't exactly true, of course. We just worry about different things.

We got the bra and the cap and stopped at the drugstore for the rest. I was heading for the checkout counter with my mosquito repellent when Elizabeth called, "One more thing, Alice."

I went back to find her looking at men's hair tonic and shaving cream.

"Now what?" I asked.

"Just a minute," was all she said.

I leaned against the shelves behind me and noticed how hair products for men took only half the space of hair stuff for women. Maybe because women have twice as much hair, I thought, smiling to myself. I'm letting my hair grow long now. It's almost as long as Elizabeth's, but Pamela still wears hers short, and looks more sophisticated.

I was anxious to get home and finish packing, so when I saw Elizabeth moving slowly along the display a second time, I said, "What are you looking for? Let me help." Maybe she was supposed to buy something for her dad.

"Oh...something," said Elizabeth.

"What? I want to get home."

"Alice, I promised myself I wouldn't leave this store until I found them," she said. And then, looking quickly around, she whispered, "Condoms."

"Condoms?" I yelped. I couldn't help myself.

Elizabeth clapped one hand over my mouth, but there was no one in our aisle to hear. I jerked her hand away.

"Are you nuts?" I said. "Who for?"

"Anyone," Elizabeth said determinedly. And then she added, "Well, for Pamela, mostly. Just in case."


"Well, you know how moody she's been lately."

"In case of what? She's moody so she needs condoms?"

"Her mother and everything."

"Her mother needs condoms?"

"Oh, Alice, when someone's as upset as Pamela, she could do all sorts of things you wouldn't expect. We don't know who she's going to meet or what the guys are like, and she'll be away from home...."

"So will we!" I said.

"Look," she told me, "I was reading this article -- 'If He Won't, Then You Should' -- and it said that especially when a girl is away from home, she should have back-up protection in case she's in a situation she can't control."

I don't know where Elizabeth finds this stuff.

"If she can control it enough to get a guy to put on a condom, I'd think she could also get herself out of there," I said.

"Okay, but we don't know what's going to happen at camp, right?"

"Hardly that!" I said.

"But just in case, I'll have condoms for anyone who needs them," she told me.

I sighed. Elizabeth has been trying so hard to be cool lately that she's getting bizarre. But right then she looked like a little Mother Superior trying to protect us all, and it struck me as pretty funny.

"Maybe condoms are in the plumbing section," I said.

"What?" She turned and looked at me.

I tried not to laugh. "You put them on a man's...uh...faucet."

She gave me a sardonic smile. "Be serious."

"Toy counter? When you want to play?" I suggested. "Automotive needs? In case you do it in the backseat of a car?"


"How about over with the school supplies? No, I've got it! In men's wear!"

She ignored me. "I wonder if we need a prescription."

"Let's go home," I told her.


A clerk appeared at the end of our aisle with a box of deodorants and began shelving them. I pushed Elizabeth forward. "Go ask him," I said.

The man looked up. "Can I help you?" he asked. He was a plump guy of about thirty, friendly and businesslike.

"Yes," Elizabeth said, her words coming in a rush, cheeks pink, "I wonder if you could tell me where I could find men's condoms."

The clerk paused only a moment, then said, in the same businesslike manner, "Aisle eight, next to women's sanitary products."

Now Elizabeth's face turned crimson. The clerk immediately returned to his deodorants, and I pushed Elizabeth around the corner into the next aisle, where we collapsed against each other, trying not to laugh out loud.

"I was so embarrassed!" she gasped. "If anyone heard...!" And then, as though afraid she might lose her nerve, she propelled herself toward aisle eight. The next thing I knew we were standing in front of a row of little boxes, with pictures of men and women in romantic poses, walking along the beach at sunset or dancing among palm trees.

Elizabeth grabbed a box of Trojans and was off toward the cash register, her face still peppermint pink. I tagged gleefully along as she surveyed the three lines. Two of the cashiers were men in their twenties. Elizabeth took the line with a middle-aged woman at the register.

Standing behind her, I rested my chin on her shoulder. "She's probably going to ask if you have a permission slip from your mother," I whispered.

"Shut up," Elizabeth murmured.

"Maybe you have to be eighteen. Maybe she'll call the manager," I went on.


We were next in line. I plunked down my mosquito repellent, and Elizabeth put down a package of breath mints, another of Imodium, and the condoms. We put our money on the counter as the woman rang up the items, but when she picked up the box of condoms, she couldn't find a price sticker. And then, while we cringed, the grandmotherly looking lady held them up and called out in a gravel-truck voice, "Frank, do you know how much these are?"

The thin-faced man at the next register said, "What are they? Regular?"

And the woman said, "No, lubricated tip."

Now both our faces were burning.

The man gave a price, the clerk rang them up, and the minute Elizabeth had the sack in her hand, we headed for the exit.

"That's another store I can never enter for the rest of my natural life," said Elizabeth.

I'd been home only ten minutes when the phone rang.

"Alice, do you have any good mysteries? I want something to read in case I'm bored out of my skull," came Pamela's voice.

"Elizabeth doesn't think that will happen," I said. "She's bringing condoms."

"Elizabeth?" cried Pamela.

"For you," I added.

There were three seconds of silence, and then we both burst out laughing.

"She sure must think I lead an exciting life," Pamela said.

"I think she's more afraid that you will!" I told her.

"Can you see Elizabeth going into a drugstore and asking for condoms? I mean, can you even imagine that?" Pamela asked me.

"Now I can," I told her. "I was there."

Sylvia came for dinner that night. "Well, are you excited, Alice?" she asked.

"Are you excited?" I countered. "Your wedding's next month!"

"Yes, but I'm so busy, I hardly have time to think," she said.

As soon as she had walked in, she and Dad embraced, and I looked away. I mean, it's such a private moment. I guess the other reason I look away, though, is because their kisses are reminders of Patrick and me -- the way we used to kiss. And though I'm supposed to be over him now -- we broke up last fall -- I guess you never quite forget your first real boyfriend. It helps, of course, that we're still friends, but it's hard to think of someone as just another buddy when you've been as close as we were.

"I've got a list of things to do for each of the five weeks, and first on my list, while I can catch you, Alice, is to ask if you'll be my bridesmaid," Sylvia said. And before I could even squeal out my delight, she said, "My sister's coming from Albuquerque to be my maid of honor."

"Of course I'll be a bridesmaid!" I said. "How many are you going to have?"

"Just you and Nancy. I have so many friends at the school that if I picked any one of them, the others would get upset. So I'm going to choose only the two women closest to me."

Women! She had called me a woman! I could almost feel my breasts expanding inside my 32B bra.

"Oh, Sylvia!" I said.

"I've got a dressmaker who says she can whip up two dresses in time, and I got my gown off the rack, so if you'll choose the dress you like, I'll have it made while you're at camp," Sylvia said.

Dad and Lester were busy making beef Burgundy for dinner, so Sylvia and I took over the dining room table and she put three different dress patterns in front of me. Her color sche...

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