“Luck never gives: it only lends.”—Ancient Chinese Proverb
The girls hang out in Carmen’s bedroom, discussing their imminent departures. None of them has finished packing. Tibby yells at everyone for talking about packing and trying to make her feel better. She spots the Pants on Carmen’s dresser and asks if she can have them. Tibby tries them on, and they fit perfectly. The Pants also fit Lena, who is stunningly beautiful; Bridget, who is athletic and tall; and Carmen, who has fuller thighs and a rounder butt than her friends. The girls decide the Pants are magic.
In honor of the Pants and their upcoming separation, they go to Gilda’s, the gymnasium where their mothers met years ago. Once they get in, they light candles and sit in a circle with the Pants in the middle. Carmen gives a speech, claiming that they all own the Pants and that they will send them to one another during the summer. They take a “vow of the Traveling Pants” and call themselves “Sisters of the Pants.” They write down rules for the Pants and decide each person should keep the Pants for two weeks. They all feel giddy.
“Today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday.”—Anonymous
When Tibby was twelve, she felt sorry for her guinea pig, Mimi, for having to stay in her cage all day. Other times, she envied Mimi, who didn’t have to face the world. Heading to her summer job at Wallman’s, a superstore, Tibby envies Mimi. As she rides her bike to work, her crush, Tucker Rowe, sees her in her hideous Wallman’s smock. She sends a letter to Bridget in which she includes a small piece cut from the smock.
At soccer camp, Bridget finds her cabin and asks her new cabin mates if they want to swim. When they decline, she goes alone, feeling happy. At dinner, she meets a few other girls. Later, she sleeps on the beach with two girls named Diana and Jo.
On the plane to South Carolina, Carmen admires the orderliness of the plane snacks and puts an apple in her bag. She imagines her father’s apartment, which she’s never seen, and decides that it’ll be messy and undecorated. She fantasizes about him asking her to move to South Carolina permanently. Her parents divorced when she was seven, and Carmen sees her dad only at Christmastime and a few other times during the year. Carmen writes a letter to Tibby, telling her she misses her.
Before the girls separate for the summer, they stage an elaborate ritual with the Pants, which also serves as a kind of formal goodbye ceremony. The girls have never been apart for the summer, and the prospect of so much time on their own makes them uneasy. By gathering at Gilda’s, they are acknowledging the strength of their friendship, which has a lot of history behind it. Their ceremony reaffirms their friendship, and they vow to keep in touch regularly throughout the summer, despite the large distances between them. By agreeing to send the Pants to one another, they guarantee that the bonds between them will not be broken. The Pants ceremony also gives them a secret to take with them to their far-flung destinations. They will be surrounded by new people in new places this summer, but the fact that they share the secret of the Pants strengthens their friendship. No one else will know about the Pants. It is a funny, magical thing that only the four of them will understand.
As the girls enter their new lives, we begin to learn more about what makes them unique and what they like most about one another. Tibby’s artistic spirit shines through when she brings her video camera to the Pants ceremony, and we see her self-consciousness when she refuses to wear her work smock while she rides her bike to work. Lena is self-conscious as well, aware of how her beauty sets her apart from her friends. She is reluctant to draw attention to it. Bridget is fearless and outgoing, making overtures of friendship immediately to the girls at camp—and not minding when she has to do something alone. She enjoys being in the moment and doesn’t spend too much time analyzing her feelings. When her new friend Diana tries to figure out how looking at the stars makes her feel, Bridget is reminded of Carmen, the more introspective of the group. For her part, Carmen enjoys the unknown, and she happily imagines what her father’s home will be like. However, at the core of Carmen is a desire for order and clarity. She imagines her father’s home, but she immediately lists the things she’ll do to make it fit her image of “home,” which includes curtains and a tea kettle. She likes the organized tray of plane snacks and takes part of it with her as a kind of protection against the unknown she is about to face.