There’s a gorilla named Koko with a working sign-language vocabulary of about 200 words. Curiously, recent a sociological study concluded that most scientific papers, no matter how complex, also draw on a vocabulary of around 200 words.

The implications are startling: Only a handful of words are required for communication. The other 57,800 or so words in the English language are reserved for implication, evasion, rhetoric and outright bullshit.

- Conversations with Lauren
by Dina Gallagher

v. schadenfreude

Nothing reinforces my sense of poverty like the proximity of wealth.

We were aboard Lauren’s father’s yacht, the Mammon, on Lake Walimihatchet, and I couldn’t stop sneaking belowdeck to run my hands over the solid brass fixtures and hand-carved teak woodwork. There was a hot tub, a parasailing apparatus... it was really something. I spent several minutes unsuccessfully combing my mental inventory for a word which combined "aggressive" and "opulent." At one point I dug out my notebook and made elaborate charts comparing the Mammon’s daily operating cost, our high school’s weekly budget, and my parents’ gross yearly income – three roughly identical numbers.

What really got my goat was how little I resisted. A girl from the wrong side of the tracks bought out for a few piña coladas and a day in the sun.

The entire female contingent of Buffalo Creek High School’s ruling body was in attendance, in observance of our annual Girls’ Weekend Out. I was reflecting how much superior swimsuits are to Rorschach inkblots in evaluating personality: Beth’s was pink (natch), with the "little skirt" that highly-duped fashion doo-doo heads have long espoused as figure-minimizing. Andrea wore the tall but vaguely pencil-shaped woman’s classic muted one-piece. Mary-Lou Henninger and Brooke Van Heusen had graced us with outfits that left very little to the imagination, perhaps out of respect for the admitted dearth of imagination in the local male population: Mary-Lou had a seashell-repurposed-as-breast-cup affair that drew attention to her Parton-esque upstairs with all the restraint and subtlety of a game show. And Brooke had managed to pour herself into what essentially appeared to be sheer black dental floss.

As per my habit, I was reinventing fashion by wearing a classic and tasteful set of men’s boxers and an old T-shirt. Somewhere under there was a sport bra with the sole function of avoiding the dreaded "perky nipple effect." Happily, the summer previous I had permanently deathstarred the Buffstocracy’s inclination to deluge me with uninvited how-to-be-a-clone-like-us advice; A knot of them had backed me against the ropes, asking why I wore such unvogueish brands and etc., and in an unintentional burst of candor I admitted to being among those deviants who define themselves by what we create, rather than what we purchase. This didn’t do much for my popularity, but has kept them from sharing fashion tips ever since.

But back to our seafaring adventure; Of the beautiful people in attendance, only Lauren had the advantage of a figure lent suppleness by athleticism rather than nutritional deprivation. Her two-piece was scarce and bone white, bringing her Club Med tan into high relief. She tied a little net-thing at the waist, making an ostensible bid for modesty. When I questioned her about this privately, Lauren admitted the combination of exhibitionism and a transparently false implication of the demure was a long and austere tradition among the female members of her family.

I asked why she went to all the trouble when no gentlemen where scheduled to attend our little soirée, to which Lauren expressed genuine-seeming surprise. "You think I look this way for them?"

Before I could pursue the matter further, however, Andrea materialized beside us with the novel idea that we go for a swim. I say "us," but of course I mean "us" in the "everyone but me" sense, as I had alienated most of my fellow party-goers earlier that morning. While she was propositioning Lauren, Andrea shot me an especially poisonous glare, which I pretended to ignore in the same way cats pretend to ignore Persons Not in the Possession of Fish (or Poisson non grata).

Our vacation had begun innocently enough. As per long tradition, Andrea drove, the Red Zepplin being the only vehicle between us capable of accommodating the showroom-like selection of luggage favored by the femmier members of our little group. Beth, Brooke and Lauren apparently wish to avoid the same mistake Gilligan made in only packing the one outfit.

We had climbed bleary-eyed into the Zep in the wee hours of the morning, expecting an uneventful drive up to Lake Wilimihatchet. Maybe a few rounds of "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall." Nothing exciting. Certainly nothing which threatened the fabric of our very lives.

But then, we had not reckoned on Snookums.

"You don’t mind if I bring him, do ya, Andrea?" were the words that Beth’s lips seemed to form. Funny, but somehow I instead heard, "Either the cat comes, or you can forget about the legendarily fantastic picnic spread I bring every year." Andrea glanced once at the cat, once at the picnic basket, and then back at Beth, reaching the same conclusions as me and then jumping two steps ahead. "Sure," she said sweetly. "You can ride shotgun."

Obviously Andrea couldn’t hold Snookums. Nor could Beth, owing to her proximity to Andrea and the possible dangers of Snookums making the short leap to Andrea’s lap. And Lauren was... well, Lauren.

Thus was I appointed "Holder of the Beast Who Purrs," and as such got some sense of how lawns feel during visits from Mr. Lawnmower. Snookums was as cute as a button, but possessed claws of steel. I mumbled and cursed under my breath, and it may have been my imagination, but I could have sworn I noticed Beth smiling in the rearview mirror whenever I emitted a yelp of pain.

Finally we arrived at the snooty marina Lauren’s family holds membership in, and I was able to spatula bits of myself out of the Zep’s back seat and return Snookums to Beth.

It wasn’t until we unpacked the trunk that I noticed what Arthur Conan Doyle might have referred to as "a clue."

"What the Hell is this!!?" My sense of nuance, like most of the flesh on my legs, had been stripped away. "Why the Hell have I been carrying Snookums-the-living-Hellion when you had a cat caddie in the trunk?!!?"

Beth evinced her "who, me?" face, implying that she was innocent of any wrongdoing. Unfortunately for Beth, we all knew her well enough to realize that any implication of innocence on her part conclusively proved she was guilty. If she had really been innocent, she would have dispensed with implication and just said, "I’m innocent." Beth’s twisted sense of honor forbade her from lying in the technical sense, whereas she suffered no compunctions about implying untruths. But I digress.

"Beth, you are full of Grade-A horseshit."

It’s funny how we tailor-make insults for those whom we care most about. If I were lied to by some stranger, I might accuse him of being full of bullshit. But seeing as Beth was one of my best friends, and she was so enamored of horses, well... still, the extra effort on my part seemed to go largely unappreciated.

"What do you mean? I didn’t realize there was a caddie back there!!"

Right. Obviously, that was the biggest whopper since Georgia O’Keefe asked, "What labia majora? Those are flowers!!"

Still, Beth isn’t one for outright lying, and it took me a few seconds to roll with the punch. She must really be eager to revenge herself on me for something, to actually tell an outright fib, I thought. I wonder what she’s so steamed up about?

"Beth, is there something you’re mad at me about?" I asked.

"No!!" Pause. "Not... mad...."

Of course she wasn’t mad. Beth’s never mad. She’s a lot of other things that mean mad, but take longer to explain and don’t contradict her self-image as someone who doesn’t get mad.

I sighed deeply for effect. "What aren’t you mad about, Beth?"

She looked around sheepishly. Some people are only able to say what they really feel after going through an elaborate charade to convince themselves that you had to drag it out of them, which frankly I have no patience for. I could feel my blood reaching a slow boil.

"Well, seeing as you ask..." Beth was inching towards whatever made her not mad. But we don’t live forever, do we? So maybe you won’t think too badly of me for what I very politely and subtly shouted next at the top of my lungs:

"WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU MAD ABOUT?!!?!!"

Beth was too stunned to be circumspect, and for once just blurted out what she was thinking. "IT’S LAUREN’S BOAT, ANDREA DRIVES, I COOK AND YOU CAN’T EVEN OFFER TO CHIP IN FOR GAS!!"

Surprised at herself, Beth blinked. She looked around quickly, as if to make sure the world hadn’t ended. And then she looked back at me.

"It’s true," she said defiantly.

I produced the five dollars I had wrung out of Corey the night before. "Geeze Louise, Beth. Here. All you had to do was say something."

Beth gingerly took the five, handed it to Andrea. "I didn’t want to impose."

Somehow this chafed my ass. More yelling. "Oh, you didn’t want to impose?!? Well, I’ve got news for you, Beth!! It isn’t imposing when you make your needs known, despite your Miss Manners, feminism-is-a-dirty-word middle America bullshit upbringing!! What is imposing, what is imposing..."

I was really frothing up at this point. On some subterranean level of consciousness, I realized the judicious portions of my brain were filing a formal protest. But my adrenaline-junky reptile brain was full-on, balls to the wall.

"...What is imposing is when you pull this transparent passive-aggressive bullshit so you can manipulate people into giving you what you want without violating your self-image as someone who doesn’t want to impose on anyone!!"

That did it. Beth ran crying into the ladies room of the marina, and the rest of the group regarded me as though I was carrying the Plague.

Lauren did The Pinkie Thing, scratched at her perfect eyebrow with the smallest finger of her left hand. This is a little gestural nicety we’ve worked out to help each other through difficult situations. It means "Warning!! You’re succumbing to your Achilles Heel!!" Lauren’s trouble spot is openly showing contempt for the incompetent. Mine is explaining to people, logically and methodically, that their rationalizations are bullshit.

Duly cautious after the little debacle with Beth, I was able to make it a full five minutes before hopelessly alienating another member of the entourage. Beth had finally emerged from the toilette, her mascara smudged in a way which suggested both tears and an absence of any mirrors in the bathroom, Brooke and Mary-Lou had joined us and we’d gone into the marina for a ceremonial cup of coffee before embarking. As we departed Andrea expressed her strong feelings on the death of the work ethic, particularly among boys who worked at coffee counters who think they’re cute but weren’t that cute and in any case seem to think they’re doing you a favor by waiting on you. "People should take pride in whatever they do, even if it’s working behind a coffee counter."

"Of course," I began, still apparently riding my ill-advised adrenaline bender. "You’ll never work behind a coffee counter yourself."

I turned to Lauren for support, but she was busily digging her pinkie into her forehead, refusing to make eye contact. Brooke and Mary-Lou wisely pretended a sudden fascination with the horizon. I think I’ve mentioned that I’m the only member of our little clan who can identify a "food stamp" on sight. At any rate, I was garnering very little support from the silver spoon coalition.

Just then we reached the Bancroft yacht, which did nothing to bolster my spirits, owing to its Olympian appearance and mythic appellation. I stomped around making a surly nuisance of myself while Lauren did all the necessary things and the girls fluttered around underfoot, convincing themselves that they were being useful.

Once we were underway, Brooke made a half-hearted attempt to bring me back into the group. "Cheer up," she said. "I happened to mention to Kirk that we were going out sailing today. Something tells me we just might bump into the boys!!"

Brooke says the word boy the way very small children say the word Christmas. I’m not sure I can adequately convey the way her eyes glaze over and her knees go all butter-over-popcorn; let’s just say it doesn’t bode well for feminism. And she has this weird belief that I’ll magically acquire a sunny disposition once I get laid, as evidenced by her recurring misimpression that my spirits will improve owing to the mere proximity of persons with Y chromosomes.

I was in no mood to be cheered up.

"Brooke, listen – not all of us embrace the fantasy that the answer to our every problem is marrying Mr. Right, and the secret to doing that is sneaking off to the can after every meal and throwing up."

It was kind of hard to tell through her perfect tan, but for a second I had the distinct impression all the blood had drained from Brooke’s face. She stood up, slapped me across the kisser just this side of knocking out a tooth, and stormed off. Lauren was barely within earshot, ostensibly looking at the ocean but stubbing her pinkie into her forehead so forcibly I thought she might draw blood.

"You’re having a tough day?" Mary-Lou foreshadowed her future attraction to men who would smack her around by showing us the greatest affection when we behaved our worst. She actually threw an arm over my shoulder, drew me into her.

I made a non-committal grunting noise.

"Sometimes, it’s okay to be in a bad mood?"

I sincerely hope whoever reads this won’t think I’m a big jerk and avoid me at cocktail parties. Because I swear to god I can do nice things sometimes, too. I’m kind to animals. I let the shop kids copy off my homework. But that morning I looked deep into my heart and saw only blackness. Blackness disguised as logic.

"And you – what’s with always ending every sentence in a question mark? Why do you constantly need affirmation from everyone?!? My God, Mary-Lou, who cares what anyone else thinks!?! Be your own goddamn person for once!!"

That did it. I looked up and saw the kind of expression usually reserved for the face of the bride’s father during a shotgun wedding. Lauren was wildly waving her pinkie in the air, a bizarre semaphore arriving too late.

I could feel a dark cloud of hatred as it palpably coalesced on deck, and coincidentally decided it might be a good time to explore the cabin. As I hurried down the hand-carved teak stairs, I could hear Mary-Lou petitioning the others: "You guys: I don’t need affirmation, right? Do you guys think I need affirmation?"

Lauren demonstrated her uncanny sense of my moods by allowing me the ideal time alone: long enough to cool down, not long enough to rationalize how my problems were the fault of everyone else. After five minutes or so she appeared in the kitchen, a trick of the light making her seem faintly luminous.

"Do you want to talk?" she asked, leaving the tag "...about it" unspoken out of respect for my well-known disdain for the lexicon of pop psychology.

I scowled at my espadrilles, folded my arms over what for the sake of technical accuracy we’ll call my bust. "Why did your father move the plant to Mexico?"

Lauren put a can of my favorite soda on the table in front of me. She ran a second can across her forehead, letting the little bits of ice melt into rivulets the male sex would presumably find alluring. "So now it’s my turn, is that it?"

Never answer aggression with aggression, Lauren once told me. That will only give your opponent a clear target. Instead, put your opponent on the defensive by questioning her motivations.

"Listen, I’m sorry I’m being such a bitch today, all right? But I saw the plant last night. I met Nelson. And forgive me for needing answers on this one, but as we all know the five of you are rich and I’m not."

Lauren sighed just casually enough that it didn’t seem affected. She put her soda on the table, perhaps because she sensed the seriousness of our upcoming discussion and needed both hands free in the event that gesticulating became necessary.

"So Nelson is the working class hero with a heart of gold, and my father is the heartless industrialist. Is that it?"

I sensed a trap. "Maybe."

"Boy, it must be great having someone to blame for all your failures like that!! Poor Dad – when things don’t go well for him, he actually takes the responsibility himself!!"

Lauren let that sink in a moment before continuing. "Did Nelson mention what would have happened if Daddy hadn’t moved the plant to Mexico?"

I shook my head.

"No? Bancroft Paper was operating at a four percent margin. Our three largest competitors were all opening plants in Mexico and lowering their overhead dramatically. We had two choices: move the plant to Mexico, or declare bankruptcy. And if Bancroft Paper had declared bankruptcy, Nelson sure as Hell wouldn’t have gotten six months severance. But he still would have been out of a job."

I glared a hole into the table. "Nelson didn’t mention that part."

Lauren leaned in for the kill. "Did Gracie ever tell you how her restaurant went out of business?"

"Yeah, big business." I parroted my mother’s often-cited culprit, but with a creeping sense of unease at the inadequacy of such a facile answer.

"Ten years ago, Gracie’s Beatle Burgers was a scrappy, modestly successful diner, in an economy where failure is the norm. But then a Burger Barn was built, and overnight your mother lost 60% of her business. She was forced to close just a few months later.

"Do you know who stopped giving business to Gracie’s the day Burger Barn opened?"

"I have a sneaking suspicion you’re about to tell me."

"Nelson MacConnor and friends. The good citizens of Buffalo Creek had absolutely no qualms about putting personal interest ahead of the General Good of the Community, when it came to saving eleven cents on the dollar. Your Noble Unwashed proved themselves to be just as quick to profit at their neighbor’s expense as all the corporate scapegoats they point fingers at – they’re just not as good at it."

Lauren made sense, as always. But she had perfect teeth, because her father could afford braces for her when she was younger. She spent her vacations in Europe, because her family was rich. She was 5’10", because her parents had arranged for her to have injections of human growth hormone every day of her childhood. Because they wanted to give her every advantage.

I was this little aberration from the shallow end of the gene pool, suffered by the Buff Creek elite because of an freak mutation that made me Lauren’s intellectual equal. I somehow knew Lauren was wrong. I knew that her family was screwing the rest of us. I just couldn’t put it into words. At least, not words that Lauren couldn’t explain away.

"Now, why don’t you tell me what’s really bothering you." Lauren underhandedly escalated the conflict by introducing her secret weapon, which was her genuine interest in and compassion for me. It’s difficult for me to withhold anything from Lauren when she pulls out the big guns like that.

"I got a rejection letter for a book I’m working on." I could feel my eyes watering up, but resolved not to wipe them. "Actually now you come to ask, it wasn’t even really a rejection letter. It was more of a ‘thanks, but we didn’t even bother to read it because you’re not well-connected enough to merit our attention, so here’s an anonymous photocopy’ letter. I get them rather a lot, actually."

Lauren gave me a hug. Am I jaded because I think nothing of Mary-Lou’s frequent hugs, since she loves everyone, but when Lauren the unabashed bitch hugs me I’m truly touched? Anyway I hugged her back. It’s always a novelty touching her skin – I’m reminded that she uses special rich-girl skin products and so her skin isn’t quite human, but a too-perfect simulation.

"I tell you what," she said, wiping a stray hair out of my face. "I’ll help you out a little, tell you a little secret."

Lauren had an entire arsenal designed to make you hang on her every word, but her "little secret" tactic was especially devastating. I almost held my breath.

"Tell."

She took the muted Earth-tone baseball cap off my head, started working the brim into a subtle curve. "The most formidable advantage of wealth isn’t money or connections. It’s a sense of entitlement. You think you’re as good as I am, right?"

Verbal response being unnecessary, I made a squidgy face.

"And you know I’m going to run the world when I’m older, I presume?"

I muttered agreement.

Lauren pointed at the ceiling. "You’ve got a whole boat full of connections up there, if you stop pissing them all off. Welcome to the secret inner club of wealthy people."

She pulled the cap back over my head with practiced élan. "Also, try dressing with a little flair. Promotions go to the person with the most expensive outfit."

With timing worthy of a ‘50s sitcom, a second yacht pulled beside us at that precise moment and some asshole actually yelled, "Ahoy!!"

The Bird of Prey was just coming alongside as Lauren and I resurfaced. For those of you who don’t watch the financial reports on CNN, the Bird of Prey is the private yacht of Richard Donnevan. It’s widely thought to house the office where he strikes deals. Although in reality Mr. Donnevan is usually back in his unromantic office, and the boat is used mainly by his son as a place to bag chicks.

As the owner’s son, Kirk is obviously afforded the title of "captain" during weekend trawls for babes. He’s Brooke’s male equivalent in every way, precariously maintaining that delicate inverse relationship between intelligence and cash. He’s also extremely nice to look at. I’m sure he and Brooke will be incredibly happy together, until she turns 25 and he dumps her for his personal trainer or nutritionist. Then she’ll become one of those women who haunt Rodeo Drive for the rest of their miserable lives, lunching with other bitter, alimonied first wives and commiserating over their fading youth.

Kirk was already periodically boinking Brooke’s best friend Mary-Lou, a well-known secret apparently shared by everyone but Brooke herself. Kirk never seemed all that interested in ML, really, despite her "hooterific" measurements; His infidelity seemed mostly about his wish to appear to have power over women in the eyes of his peers. But enough about the glories of young love.

Whereas Kirk is a moron in the privacy of his own empty head, Bobby Drescher treats idiocy with much more gregariousness: he benevolently shares it with others. Drescher once made the political blunder of asking me if my other senses became sharper to compensate for my lack of vision. For some reason this myth has always pressed buttons for me, and I countered by wondering aloud if his athletic prowess made up for his lack of mental acuity.

Fortunately, Drescher chose to laugh knowingly and walk away rather than admit that the term "mental acuity" was beyond his mental acuity. The room was filled with his friends, sexual partners and blood relations, who to a one pretended to not have heard what had happened.

Oh, but their eyes said otherwise.

This may have been the most glorious moment of my young life, and I’ll always have a warm feeling for Drescher on some level for helping me realize such grandeur.

Drescher also had a long-standing, unreciprocated crush on Lauren, and tended to follow her like a puppy with especially prolific drool glands.

I feel no particular need to specify the rest of the Bird of Prey’s crew individually, seeing as they were virtually identical in most major respects: muscular, rich, fanatical about sports, and dumber than algae. For the sake of expediency, let’s borrow from the conventions of film and refer to them as Lunkheads 1 through 3.

Drescher tied our boats together as Kirk and Brooke kissed and Lunkheads 1 through 3 positioned themselves with premeditated spontaneity within studding distance of the contents of the bathing suits mentioned above. Happily, the visiting team was one lunkhead short. I was thus left free to make extensive personal observations about them in my journal, of which you’re reading the juiciest bits.

"Hi." Drescher sidled up to Lauren and flashed his bicuspids. For you good-looking but dim would-be studs out there, make a little note that this is your finest possible opening line: it means absolutely nothing. It is to Drescher’s infinite credit that he long ago realized that a tanned bicep rates quite a bit higher on the attractive meter than whatever he can manage to coax out of his brain.

Lauren was just gathering speed with her "to me you barely exist" face when suddenly one eyebrow went up and she actually turned her head to look right at Drescher.

Drescher momentarily accredited the attention to his banana-hammock (Speedo) and became smug.

As for me, I clutched my notebook to my chest and gasped. If Lauren failed to spurn Mr. Drescher, I was in serious danger of losing my faith in the constancy of the universe.

Happily, Lauren wasn’t interested in the contents of Drescher’s Speedo so much as what was attached to their outside.

"What...is...that...?" Lauren extended one perfectly manicured nail in the general area of Drescher’s family jewels and hissed.

Drescher turned a wonderful tumescent color and threw one hand over a railing for support. He started to make a sort of unintelligible "...uh...?" noise which we were able to interpret as the beginnings of a question solely because it rose in pitch towards the end.

"The pin." Lauren’s voice dripped venom. "What’s with the pin?"

Drescher glanced down, relieved. "Oh, the... you were talking about the pin!!"

Lunkheads 1 through 3 made some nervous chuckling noises. I stopped holding my breath.

Lauren’s perfect nail slid under Bobby’s accoutrement dangerously, as attested by the fabulous expression on his face. She studied it for a moment before looking up to notice that Lunkheads 1 through 3 (4, counting Kirk) were similarly adorned.

The pin was uncoincidentally the same size and color scheme as Lauren’s notorious "konnichi wa" pin, but bore an entirely different glyph.

Kirk disengaged his hands from the parts of Brooke’s body normally associated with sitting in time to amble over and steal the reigns of conversation from his slightly less gifted associate.

"It says ‘Strength’," He crowed proudly.

"Kanji?"

Drescher had recovered from his momentary disorientation and was back up to his usual blistering level of intelligence. "No," he answered smugly. "Japanese."

Kirk explained that the squad-o-lunkheads (I’m paraphrasing, here, obviously) thought the Japanese pin idea was a good one, but wanted something more macho than just "Good morning." They had sent away for their supply in "Lunkhead of Fortune" magazine, or whatever.

"That’s a great idea." Lauren was wearing her best news-anchor smile, indicating a raging tempest of fury just below the surface. "Maybe we should all wear the strength pin, during week two. That should really confuse the administration: changing our message before they even figure out what the first message means!!"

Drescher tilted his head slightly to one side, like a puppy trying to wrestle with heady concepts like Not Using the Sofa as a Toilet. "Oh, this is... oh..."

Translation from the Lunkhead: "Oh, the pin is a badge of mystery and rebellion on the part of the student body, intended to make the administration feel baffled and impotent. I hadn’t realized."

"Oh, I get it," he said at last, and smirked. This meant, "I will happily jump on the latest bandwagon, if it will demonstrate what a rebellious nonconformist I am."

"So you’ll wear the konnichi wa pin on the first day of school?" Lauren smiled winningly and placed her hand on Bobby’s chest.

At the eleventh hour, I came in swinging. "I’m impressed, Drescher. A lot of guys would be reluctant to take orders from a girl." Bobby glanced up at the guys, who unfortunately still needed a little push to decide just how unmanly Bobby was being. "Especially with all his buddies watching."

Lauren shot me a look which melted all the ice in my drink.

"Lauren, we’d love to help you girls out with this whole school spirit thing." Kirk threw an arm over Brooke’s shoulders and graced us with his condescending male smile. God, I hate leveraging people’s worst qualities to get what I want. Almost enough to stop doing it regularly.

"But we’ve gotta go our own way on this thing, no matter how unfashionable it is...." I regret that I was unable to transcribe the rest of Kirk’s rousing little speech word-for-word, but maybe you’ll be able to make something of what few notes I was able to get down: "Weird boy logic: ‘I will impress everyone by pretending to be indifferent as to whether I impress everyone.’ Also, Bobby has hair on his back. How far down does it extend? A topic best left unexplored."

Kirk was still soliloquizing as my attention wandered. Are Mary-Lou’s breasts actually heaving? How does she do that? Also, how is it that her breasts are moist with perspiration, but her makeup isn’t running? Is that what she’s doing during all those bathroom visits? Spraying herself down?

Lauren waited until Kirk worked his way around to the inevitable topic of his own sexual potency (cleverly disguised as a funny story about how big, viscous, and uncontrollable his Doberman was) before complimenting his boat.

"It’s just so big," she said with transparent awe. "How did you even get it in the lake?"

"Oh – my Dad has connections." Kirk flushed with pride, rearranging the way he was sitting.

"I bet it’s fast, too," Lauren purred as she ran one perfectly-manicured nail over the Bird of Prey’s railing.

"Fastest boat in the lake."

"I have a fun idea!!" Lauren perked up believably, as if she were really visited by a sudden stroke of inspiration, and not following a carefully premeditated scheme (her left pinkie was slightly bent). "Why don’t we have a race!!"

Kirk laughed nervously. "Ah, I wouldn’t want to show you girls up..." he began. Translation from the Boy: "If I beat girls, I win nothing. But if I lose to girls, I’ll be a laughing stock."

Brooke also piped in to add that there wasn’t enough wind to reach any kind of speed. I remember her telling Lauren how unlibidinous and cruel Kirk could be for days after losing a football game.

"Well, maybe we could sweeten the pot," Lauren said with calculated spontaneity. "I tell you what – you win the race, and I’ll go out with Bobby on Saturday."

"Done!!" Drescher exclaimed instantly. His brain clogged up with euphoria for a few seconds before he narrowed his eyes and added, "What if you win?"

"Oh, I don’t know... it’s all just for fun." Lauren said absently, glancing around as if looking for some meaningless trophy. "I tell you what, if I win, you guys all wear konnichi wa pins on the first day of school."

Despite protests from Brooke, there was instant assent from Team Lunkhead. They were eager to bask in the reflected glory of their leader once he finally "bagged" the untouchable Lauren.

"You and I will race from here," Lauren said, pointing at our position on a map Brooke had produced from belowdeck, "to here." She indicated the inside of Stone Harbor. "The first one of us to get there wins."

"Fine by me." Bobby was already untying his boat. "And I tell you what – after we win, we’ll buy you ladies lunch."

This put me in an unenviable position. On the one hand, if Lauren lost, my chances of winning the konnichi wa gambit would improve dramatically. On the other hand, I was slightly miffed about Drescher’s male superiority complex.

Happily, Drescher made my decision easier by gesturing offhandedly in my direction and adding, "Even four-eyes."

"Hey, Lauren," Mary-Lou shouted from the prow, "I think they’re using the engine."

"Cheaters," Andrea said, peering out through the binoculars.

Lauren was steering using one of those baroque wooden oxcart wheels they still have on the yachts of the pretentious. "Start the engine," she said, narrowing her eyes.

Never complain about cheating, was another of her maxims. The proper response to cheating is to cheat better.

Somehow Lauren had managed to inflate Drescher’s "four-eyes" remark into a general insult to women everywhere, so we were enjoying an unusual amount of support from the crew. They were inept, obviously, but enthusiastically inept.

Everyone was helpful in her own unique way. "The gas gauge is almost empty?" Mary-Lou said/asked. "Should I put in the spare tank?"

Brooke did her part by climbing up onto the prow and vogueing, causing our opponents to fight over the binoculars rather than engage in whatever presumably useful tasks one performs on a boat.

Beth stood on one side of the boat or the other and leaned at all the appropriate times. Andrea did some little ritual to the Wind Goddess, which I admit improved our chances as it kept her out from underfoot.

And me? I was using the citizen’s band radio to taunt our opponents.

"The only reason you don’t have hairy knuckles," I spat into the little hand-held microphone, "Is from dragging them on the ground. Rumor has it you’re the first member of your phylum to walk upright!!"

"Oh yeah!?!" Kirk barked in response. "What does phylum mean?" Bobby’s insults tended to start badly, but tapered off sharply before sputting into absolute impotence. (Or do I merely admire the poetic symmetry of "impotence" beside "Bobby" on the page? A question best left to my inevitable biographers.) The Mammon was trailing by almost a length and the finish line was within sight, so I figured honor was best preserved by going down in a blaze of sarcasm.

"Well... uh... maybe if you weren’t such a braniac, maybe you’d find a boyfriend!!" Bobby improvised without notes or anything. He’d be a wonder on the debate team.

"Guys don’t hit on girls who wear glasses!!" he added triumphantly.

"The expression is ‘Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses,’ Lunkhead," I said evenly.

"Well you oughta know!!"

Unhappily for Drescher, he had insulted my myopia one time too many, crossing the line into the Place From Which None Return. Without deigning to respond, I handed the microphone to Beth and went belowdeck.

A moment later, I returned with the parasailing gear. "I presume you know how to use this contraption?" I asked, handing it to Lauren. She nodded, letting me take the wheel.

"Suit up."

Lauren was deep into Shadowbet, instantly obeying without asking questions. I extended one hand, indicating that Beth should hand me the CB radio mic.

"Andrea, what’s that boat in the center of the harbor?" I asked, gesturing to a tiny white speck positioned roughly where we had agreed to end the race.

Andrea started climbing the little ladder up to the Crow’s Nest. "The One Love," she shouted, from halfway up.

"S.O.S." I said into the little microphone. "I repeat, S.O.S. This is the One Love – we are in Stone Harbor, and desperately request help. There is a great white shark in the harbor, which has mauled two members of our crew. Any boat within range of this signal, please come to our assistance. I repeat, any boat within range, please offer immediate assistance."

"The boats in Stone Harbor are starting their engines," Andrea reported from the catwalk. "We’re going to be in deep horse-puckey when they come to our rescue and realize this is all a joke!!"

I made a face intended to convey the suggestion that Andrea talk less and pay more attention, which held her questions at bay for a few moments.

"They’re racing out of the harbor!!" Andrea finally noticed, surprised. "They’re all racing away from the One Love!! They’re bottlenecking at the harbor entrance!!"

"We’ll never get through that!!" Beth materialized at my side, my transgressions forgiven.

"Neither will the Bird of Prey," I barked. "Lauren, you ready?"

"Ready," Lauren said, meeting my eyes with a cool smile. She looked like Aphrodite, but with less clothing and more parasailing equipment. Also, much more likely to hold a doctorate. This metaphor obviously isn’t going anywhere, so let’s move on.

"You know, Dina," she said, moving into position behind me, "you really are something else. It just won’t be fair if you lose our little bet. But that’s the thing about the world, you know?" Lauren pierced me with her eyes. "It isn’t fair."

I did a little Jean-Luc Picard "make it so" gesture, and the girls threw open Lauren’s parachute, which instantly yanked her off the deck and into the air.

Even the boys stopped scrambling around like fireants for a minute to watch Lauren, sailing above us all like something divine. Her little net wrap thing worked itself undone (she claims) and fluttered down to Earth, magically riding the wind just perfectly to arrive in Drescher’s outstretched hand.

The Bird of Prey and Mammon both had to veer away once we reached Stone Harbor. There was no way to get in through the bottleneck of rich people, racing away as fast as they could possibly move from the Misfortune of Others.

But Lauren released her tether and sailed like an angel, over the heads of the concentrated opulence of Buffalo Creek’s Yacht club and into victory.



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After Kelly ©1995 by Kristen Brennan