The Beating Heart

A 12-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl have a brief romantic encounter when their families are vacationing in neighboring lakeside cottages.

An excerpt:

Art got Monnie seated in the stern. As he maneuvered the rowboat into the open water beyond the dock, she said, "It's funny you have to row backwards, so you can't see where you're going."

"So that means you have to be my coxswain and tell me if I'm gonna hit something."

"Be your what?"


She giggled. "That sounds dirty."

He ignored that. "So if I'm gonna hit something, you have to give me plenty of warning and tell me which way to turn to avoid it."

"Okay, so I'm your cox-whatchamacallit, and I'm warning you you're gonna run into a dock in a minute."

"You have to tell me which way to turn."

She pointed to her left. "Well, you have to turn that way 'cause if you turn the other way, you'll run into the shore."

He raised the right oar from the water and paddled with the left oar until the boat was parallel to the dock, then he rowed well past the end of the dock before turning back onto his original course.

"Interesting," she said. "I wondered how you would turn 'cause I know about rudders but it doesn't have a rudder and even if it did, you couldn't do it 'cause both your hands are on the oars. So you just do the left oar to turn left and vice versa."

"No, the left oar turns the boat right."

"Silly, that's 'cause you're sitting backwards! It turns the front of the boat left."

"Oh yeah." To save a little face, he added, "On a boat, it's not right and left, it's starboard and port."

"Yeah, I know that, I just forgot."

"Know why it's called starboard?"

"No, why?"

"When the Vikings wanted to sail west to discover new places like Greenland and even part of North America, they kept the North Star on the right, so they called that part of the ship the starboard."

It was cute how she wrinkled her nose when thinking about something. After a few seconds, she said, "But when they were going home, they had to keep it on their left, so that could've been starboard, too."

"Yeah, but they called it port because they were heading to their home port."

"Okay. Jeez, you know a lot of stuff, huh?"

"I read a lot."

"Me too, I love to read stuff. What do you like to read about most?" she asked.

"Science. I read lots of books about science, atomic energy and rockets and stuff like that."

"But I mean for fun."

"Well, I think science is fun, but I know you mean novels and stories and stuff like that, so I like adventure stuff like The Three Musketeers and King Arthur and Robin Hood."

She giggled. "Boy stuff, I should've known. Well, I like girl stuff, and my favorite is Black Beauty 'cause I really like horses and I'm pretty good at riding. I take lessons, and I might even get a horse for Christmas or my birthday next year!"

"Your own horse?"

"Yeah, well, it wouldn't live with us 'cause we don't have that much land so it would be in a stable but I could visit it and ride it whenever I want."

"I have Black Beauty," he said. "It's in a set with King Arthur and Robin Hood and Treasure Island"-

"And Heidi and Hans Brinker and The Arabian Nights!" she added.

"Yeah, and also Robinson Crusoe and Tales from Shakespeare."

"And Dickens Stories," she finished triumphantly. "I've got the same set! All green books!"

They were going west along the north shore of the lake, which curved so gently that he could row almost straight, making occasional small adjustments. He liked that because it gave him a chance to concentrate on his technique, pulling the oars all the way back, dipping the blades all the way into the water but not too deep, then pulling them all the way forward.

"You're real strong," she said. "I can see the muscles in your arms."

"Because I row a lot every day," he told her.

There were no cottages on the west shore because there wasn't much land. It was just two narrow peninsulas separated by a passage about twelve or fifteen feet wide. When they reached it, she pointed at the passage and asked, "What's over there?"

"Another lake," he replied. "This is Long Lake, and that's Round Lake."

"Long Lake and Round Lake, huh? Boy, they sure used a lot of imagination naming stuff. I wonder if there's a Wet Lake around here somewhere?" That made him laugh, and he decided he really liked Monnie.

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