Once and Again...Once Again

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Summary of Outside Hearts

by Angela Stockton
edited by Elizabeth Angela

Lily must attend a booksellers' convention in Madison, Wisconsin, and she's staying over each night. Rather than send Grace and Zoe to Jake while she's away, she is entrusting them to the care of Judy.

Though both girls love their aunt, the decision is agonizing for Lily. Not only has Judy never had children (even though she's been known to claim thirteen dependents on her tax return), but Lily still remembers her as the baby whom she once helped to care for. Nor is she reassured when Judy, trying to be helpful, forges Lily's signature on a permission slip.

As Lily packs for Madison and Judy prepares the girls for school, Lily can't conceal her misgivings. She hints that she'd like everyone to stay indoors all weekend and watch the videos that she's rented, but Grace rolls her eyes when she notices that they include the already much-viewed Little Women. Besides, for Grace, no video is as entertaining as the Aunt she idolizes.

["Judy's been everywhere!" Grace exults in her interview. "She has this great leather jacket she got at a thrift shop in Paris. When she walked out of the store, a Doobie Brother followed her down the street....whatever that is. When I get my license, she's going to teach me how to get out of tickets by crying."]

When the girls leave for school, Zoe gives Lily a big good-bye kiss and hug. Grace high-fives Judy and has to be prompted to kiss her mother. Rick stops by to see Lily off. When she starts missing him before she's even left, he gallantly offers to meet her in Madison on Friday night. Surely, he teases her, she'll need him to come up and fix the heater in her hotel room.

Grace finds her school abuzz in anticipation of fellow student Evan Fisher's upcoming birthday party. She doesn't know Evan, and is not impressed when Eli and Jennifer urge her to come; as she informs her friend Julie, it's "a mercy invite" extended only because of her mother's relationship with Eli's father. But her interest is piqued when Eli mentions that the music will be provided by a student named Daniel, a disc jockey for the school's radio station. Though she can't bring herself to tell Julie, Grace has a crush on Daniel. But that evening, over popcorn in Lily's kitchen, she shares her secret with Judy during a conversation that turns into a lighthearted food fight.

That same evening, Eli complains to Rick that Karen doesn't want him to go to the party, and asks Rick to intercede with her. [In his interview, Rick asks in mild exasperation, "Why do I feel sometimes that I'm just pretending to be his father?" He describes his own father as a domestic tyrant who, instead of talking to his sons, would fuel himself with alcohol and then "lay down the law, totally upfront about the fact that he didn't trust us." In time the boys lived up, or down, to his expectations by no longer talking to him either.]

Rick asks Eli if the party will include drugs and alcohol. Eli scoffs at the idea that he'd succumb to temptation after having sat through so many anti-drug presentations, which Rick agrees are "vaguely insulting." Just as Rick promises to speak to Karen, Lily makes a playful call to "the Sammler Heating and Air Conditioning Company," taking him up on his offer to visit her in Madison.

On Friday night, Lily calls home while Zoe is using her mother's bed as a trampoline and playing dress-up with Judy and Grace, Judy acting as much like a kid as the kids. Judy and Grace tell Lily about Evan Fisher's party. Lily's first concern is whether it will be supervised, and she decrees that if it isn't, Grace can't go. Shrewdly, Grace coaxes, "I kinda want to go, and since I never want to go, it seems like you should let me go." Lily tells her she can go if the party is supervised by Evan's parents and if Judy talks to them.

Rick knocks on Lily's door and she quickly hangs up. She summarizes the conversation for him and asks if he knows Evan Fisher's family. With a straight face, he replies, "I'm pretty sure the charges were dropped."

Because he has driven two hours in Friday night traffic to be with her, Lily forgives him for pulling her leg. But when she asks, "You think I worry too much, don't you?", he agrees before diplomatically adding, "I think you love your children a lot."

Lying on her bed, they reminisce about their own youthful escapades, Rick joking that he'd have trouble if he ran for public office. He tries to dispel her concern about the party by telling her that Eli will be there, "and I'm pretty sure Karen has a full credit report on the Fishers." Impatiently, Lily asks if they can make a pact not to discuss their children or exes while they're in bed. They start to make love when, under those conditions, Rick can't think of anything else to say.

Next day, when Rick has returned to Chicago and is discussing the party with Karen, she finds his nonchalance frustrating: he is not concerned that she can't reach Evan Fisher's parents, or that Eli might be exposed to drugs and alcohol at the party. Put on the spot by his parents, Eli confidently promises Karen that he won't drink. She gives him permission to go, but only because she's outnumbered, not because she's less worried.

[Rick recalls that when Eli and Jessie were small, Karen kept a list of objects that a toddler might fit into an electrical socket -- to what purpose he never understood, unless she believed that knowing how an accident might happen would somehow keep it from happening. Karen chimes in, rattling off some of the objects, one of which is "tongue." Rick says that he tries to give the children a break from such excessive worrying while they're with him. He adds that while they never had an accident with a socket, Jessie did swallow a Barbie shoe, proving that not even Karen could completely childproof a house.]

Judy dutifully makes repeated calls to the Fisher home but never reaches Evan's parents. By evening, Grace's old anxieties have resurfaced and she's talked herself into skipping the party. She changes her mind after Judy encourages her to go and make Daniel notice her by assertively introducing herself.

Judy drives Grace to the party and, at the last minute, lends her the prized leather jacket. She allows Grace to talk her out of coming inside to meet the Fishers, instructing her instead to "check out the parental scene" and, if chaperones are present, signal to Judy at the curb.

Seeing Julie inside, Grace asks, "Are there parents here?"

"I think in the den," Julie answers. Satisfied that she's checked out the parental scene, Grace goes to the front door and waves to Judy, who drives away without ever entering the house.

While searching for Evan Fisher -- not that she would recognize him if she saw him -- Grace tells Julie that if it were her birthday party, she wouldn't invite people she didn't know. Overhearing them, another girl explains that it's not Evan's birthday; his parents are out of town, and he called it a birthday party so that his guests' parents "will think it's like pin the tail on the donkey and stuff." Feeling foolish, Grace hides the gift that she brought. Meanwhile, a boy presses a bottle of beer into Eli's hand. After a moment's hesitation, he takes a drink.

Grace roams the house alone, Diet Coke in hand, feeling more and more out of place as she observes teen-agers drinking, taking drugs, dancing and making out -- but not one adult. Spotting Daniel, she summons her courage and boldly walks up to him. However, the effort is wasted when she has to say "I'm Grace Manning" twice before Daniel hears her over the loud music. Even after a third repetition, he is so busy with his sound system that he ignores her.

Defeated, Grace walks away, past Eli and Jennifer. She bumps into Eli's friend Roger, who carelessly waves his arm and splashes his drink on her. If she was self-conscious and awkward before, she is utterly humiliated now, and runs away in tears.

Eli follows her, apologizing for Roger, the "total moron." Before she can explain that she's not upset about Roger alone, Jennifer summons him back inside: Roger has passed out. When shaking and slapping don't revive him, Eli calls 911.

As the arrival of paramedics and police abruptly breaks up the party, Jennifer begs Eli to take her home. He starts the car, but as he watches the paramedics load Roger into an ambulance, he shuts off the engine.

When Judy arrives, Grace hysterically sobs out an account of the party; Judy soothes her and assures her that she did nothing wrong. When Rick arrives just in time to see an adult led away in handcuffs, Eli's understated explanation that "Roger had a little too much to drink, that's all; everyone made a big deal out of it," raises more questions than it answers.

[Recounting a night of teen-age drunken carousing with friends and his brother Mikey, in which he caused Mikey to sustain a broken wrist, Rick asks in bewilderment, "So now I'm supposed to be the hard-ass after what I've done?"]

Eli lies that the car won't start, but after Rick starts it without difficulty, he bluntly asks Eli how much he drank. Eli's reply, "Not much," infuriates him.

After Judy has put Grace to bed, Lily calls, asking how the party went. Evasively, Judy replies that "Grace talked to the boy," whom Lily hadn't known existed. Grace and Zoe also speak to their mother, Grace reporting only that the party was OK. No one tells Lily what really happened.

Lily arrives home as Zoe is reading from a horoscope, "Today is a good day to smell your butt." Before she can unpack, Rick calls and unwittingly alarms her by using the words "Grace" and "hospital" in consecutive sentences. From him, Lily quickly learns the whole story: alcohol, drugs, no parental supervision, and Roger.

Furious, Lily turns on Judy, who concedes, "I screwed up, OK?" This is too little too late for Lily, who loses her temper when Grace defends Judy and equates their lack of candor with Lily's failure to mention Rick's visit to Madison. Ordered by Lily to leave the room, Grace screams, "I hate you!"

To Judy, Lily says hotly that she has to protect her children from the world, but "I didn't realize I had to protect them from you!"

"You can't protect them. Stuff happens," Judy hisses.

"Not in my house!" Lily shouts.

The party is also a flashpoint at Karen's house, where she is at her wits' end because Rick is still not taking the whole incident seriously. [Rick admits that men don't worry as women do because men don't know what it's like to carry a child.] He reminds her that he grounded Eli and flippantly asks, "What do you want me to do, give him twenty lashes?" When she demands that he acknowledge "what's at stake here," he snaps, "What's at stake here is teaching Eli to make his own choices even if he falls down or gets his heart broken."

"Gets his heart broken," Karen repeats in disbelief, appalled that Rick would equate use of alcohol and drugs with a case of puppy love. They argue, with him accusing her of "turn(ing) every conversation into 'Dateline'" and "corner(ing) the market on worry," and her retorting that she worries because he doesn't. She points out that alcoholism runs in his family.

"Damn it, he is not an alcoholic because he drinks beers at a party!" Rick explodes.

At the Manning house, Grace has been grounded also. She sulks when Lily tries to explain why she's feuding with Judy, and accuses her mother of being jealous of Judy. Caught in the crossfire, Zoe sighs, "I don't think I can take another divorce."

At school, Eli tells Grace that Daniel asked about her, and the elusive Evan Fisher suddenly appears and thanks her for her gift. Being noticed by both Daniel and Evan takes some of the sting out of being grounded.

Lily visits the bookstore to return Judy's jacket, and finds Judy at the coffee bar, glumly nursing a cup of ramen noodles. As they resume their argument over Grace, Lily complains that she feels shut out of Grace's life: her daughter won't confide in her, won't ask to borrow her leather jacket, won't even stand closer than ten paces to her in public.

Judy explains to Lily that, as much as she enjoys being idolized by Grace, "this isn't about my fabulousness" but rather, about a mother-daughter bond so strong that Grace attaches herself to Judy to assert her independence from Lily. Judy admits that she feels like "a pretty crappy role model." With more kindness than she has shown Judy since returning from Madison, Lily insists that Judy would make a wonderful mother. Unconvinced, Judy wonders if she has avoided having children because she doesn't think she deserves them. "None of us do," Lily tells her gently.

Judy, the self-described "lonely ramen-eating Aunt," predicts that Grace will come back to Lily in time; Lily asks Judy to look after her until then. Judy hands the jacket back to Lily and asks her to give it to Grace.

[Rick recalls that he and Mikey were 13 and 12, respectively, when they started drinking. In time he was able to stop, but Mikey never has and never will. Rick admits that Karen is correct--alcoholism is in the Sammler genes--and worries that he's already irreparably harmed Eli simply by being his father.]

When Rick arrives home, he asks Eli why he drank when he promised not to. Eli counters that Rick abruptly switches back and forth between being a pal and being a dad, and when he does, he makes Eli feel as if he's not trusted. Eli points out that while he drank at the party, he didn't drive but called for a ride instead, and tells Rick what he didn't know: that it was Eli who called 911. "I'm a good kid, Dad," he insists. "Yes, you are," Rick admits.

Lily returns home to find Rick waiting for her. He displays a change of heart, agreeing that she doesn't, after all, worry too much. She's relieved that he understands her. "Kiss your boyfriend," he invites her; she obliges him.

That night, Rick and Lily make the rounds of their bedrooms, looking in on their sleeping children. In Grace's room, Lily drapes the leather jacket over her. [Lily quotes her favorite definition of parenthood: "Deciding to have kids means forever letting your heart walk around outside your body." Rick continues reciting Karen's list of electrical-socket hazards.]

The end

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