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Authors: Michelle Dalton

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BOOK: Swept Away
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She spoons the foam into her cup and sprinkles cinnamon over the top. Even with her back to me, I can see what Mom saw. A trim, pulled-together woman who radiates a kind of coiled energy, like she's bursting to do something and there isn't enough to do. If I were wearing her crisp, navy linen slacks and the equally crisp white top, they'd be wrinkled and stained almost as soon as I put them on.

She turns and leans against the counter. “You know, that boat parade has been around since I was a kid,” she says. “Are motors still outlawed?”

“Yup,” I say. Then I realize I should probably say more. This is Oliver's mom! I want to make a good impression.

“Too bad,” she says. “It would be a lot easier to make elaborate floats if you didn't have to worry about rowing.”

That problem occurred to me, too. I've seen enough rowboats tip over and oars tear apart decorations to know that rowing will be an issue. It's super funny when Cynthia and I watch from shore. No one ever really gets hurt. Wet and cold, yes, but the parade is too well monitored for anything bad to happen. But now I'll be someone who could wind up in that water.

“I think it's cool,” Oliver says, opening the fridge and pulling out two sodas.

“I know. You love a challenge,” his mom says, smiling at him. She reaches up and ruffles his hair as he passes her.

“Mom,” he complains. He hands me my soda and smooths his hair back down.

“Well, I won't keep you. I know you two have a lot of work to do.”

“Nice to meet you, Mrs.—” I stop, realizing that she's divorced now and I have no idea what name she uses.

“Call me Alice,” she says. Wow. A grown-up asking me to use her first name? She is
so
not from Rocky Point.

“Well, thanks, Alice.” It feels awkward but also very adult.

“There's Pop's leftover lobster mac and cheese, and salad, and cold cuts if you get hungry,” she tells us. Then comes the whammy: “Is the library open today?” she asks me.

“No,” I reply. Luckily, it's true. Mom's there taking care of historical society business, but the library itself is closed to the public.

Mrs. . . .
Alice
sighs. “I guess I'll be driving over to Franklin. Let me know if you want me to pick up anything.”

“Will do,” Oliver says.

Made it through round one: meet the mom. I think I passed. Now onto round two: meet Freaky.

Maybe we've all been wrong about him,
I muse.
The house is
so . . .
normal. Maybe Freaky is too.

We go out the kitchen door. The backyard is much bigger than the one in front, though just as unattended. There's a big shed that's practically the size of a small cottage. A picnic table with benches sits under a shady tree; grass and weeds curl around the table legs. Right in front of the shed stands a worktable with an attached vise and a saw lying on it. I can smell that sweet scent of freshly cut and sanded wood. Sure enough, there are several pristine planks stacked beside the table.

“Pops?” Oliver calls. “You back here?” Oliver starts for the shed as I take a swig of soda and settle onto the picnic table bench.

“Don't need to holler.” Freaky Framingham emerges from the shed carrying a roll of chicken wire. He squints at me.

“Pops, this is Mandy. She's going to help with the boat.”

“Hi,” I say. I have to force myself to not say “Hello, Freaky.”

Freaky just gives a sharp nod, then leans the chicken wire against the shed. “Getting you your materials,” he tells Oliver. “That's the way to start. Everything to hand.”

“Right, Pops,” Oliver says. “We got much more to haul out?” He crosses to Freaky.

“Enough.”

They head toward the shed, and I stand and put the soda can on the table. Just as I start to follow them, Freaky calls over his shoulder, “We'll handle it.”

“Uh. Oh. Okay.” I sit back down. Does he think that because I'm a girl I shouldn't be around tools? Or does Freaky not want me in his shed?

I take another sip of soda. The fog has burned off, and now the outside of the can is sweating. Soon I will be too.

Oliver and Freaky come back out, Oliver carrying a toolbox, with his sketchbook tucked under his arm. Freaky has a staple gun in one hand and coiled wire in the other. Looking at them side by side, I can see the resemblance. They're both long limbed, with narrowish shoulders. Neither would ever be mistaken for a football player. Freaky wears his standard flannel shirt and paint-spattered overalls. Today, maybe because he's been
­working, his wild gray hair is held back not only in a ponytail but a purple bandanna as well, hippie style.

“I'll leave you to it,” Freaky says. “Going fishing. Tell your mother.”

“Okay,” Oliver says.

Freaky goes back into the shed. Oliver lays the sketchbook on the picnic table and opens to a diagram of the structure he wants us to make. It's a little intimidating.

“So I think I took care of all the math,” Oliver begins, but stops when Freaky comes back out with his fishing gear. Now he wears a battered canvas hat and has exchanged the flannel for a T-shirt, revealing muscular and tan arms. Skinny, but muscular. “Sinewy,” I guess is the word. The flannel is now tied by the sleeves around his hips. He nods as he passes but doesn't say another word. He goes around the house, and in a few minutes we hear the truck start up.

Oliver fiddles with the pencil he's holding. “Um, so, my grandfather doesn't really talk very much. Don't take it personally.”

“I don't.”

I wonder if Oliver has any idea of his grandpop's rep in our town. Should I tell him, or will that make him not like me?

“Pops helped me figure out what materials we'll need,” Oliver says. “He had a lot of stuff already.”

“So how is this going to work?” I ask.

He points to the sketchbook page. “We'll use the planks as the base. Pops already cut them to the right size. We'll build the lighthouse on top of that.”

“Out of chicken wire,” I surmise.

“Exactly. It's lightweight, so it should work.”

“Yeah,” I say with a laugh. “It would be pretty embarrassing if a lighthouse made a boat sink. It's supposed to prevent that!”

He grins, then returns to the page. “Once we've got the shape, we'll cover it with papier-mâché and paint it.”

“What about the hat?” I ask.

“The what?” His eyebrows knit together.

My cheeks flush. “That's what I call the spot up on top where the light used to be. That would be hard to construct out of chicken wire.”

“Oh! The lantern house,” he says. “I was thinking maybe balsa wood? It's super lightweight. I use it to make models all the time.”

So he's a model maker. It tips him a bit into the nerdy category, but somehow that just makes me like him even more.

“What kind of models?” I ask.

He flushes. “Oh, you know, the usual. Old-fashioned airplanes. Whaling ships. That kind of thing.”

“That's what had you so interested at the festival.”

“You saw that, huh.”

“Kinda sorta,” I say, and he grins again. I don't know why, but it gives me a supreme lift being able to make him smile so easily.

Oliver puts the boards on the worktable. “I figured out a scale that will work on the boat but still be big enough to sit inside.”

“How will you row?” I ask, trying to understand what he has in mind.

“Who said I'm going to be the one rowing?”

I gape at him. “You roped me into this project so that I can be the one doing the hard work?”

“Kidding!” he says. “Though . . .” He studies the boards. “You'd probably fit better than I would.”

“Let's make sure the thing is seaworthy before I even think about volunteering for that job.”

He shows me the mini keeper's house he already started making, then we spend the morning working on the lighthouse tower. We hammer the boards together to make an open square, then use staple guns to attach the chicken wire to it. Oliver is very precise about everything, so it takes forever. He had noticed that Candy Cane narrows toward the top and insisted our chicken wire version do the same. It's not easy to do, especially since it's my job to hold the ends together while he checks the measurements and his drawings. The wire digs into my hands, leaving deep, red grooves. He's rapidly going from cute to annoying.

Once we have the basic shape down, Oliver steps back and announces, “We need a break.”

“That's for sure.” I use my arm to wipe the sweat off my forehead, and open and close my hands, trying to stretch them out. I never knew you could sprain your palms.

“How about we eat down by the river?” he suggests.

“Sounds good.” Maybe my cranky will vanish once I'm sitting in the shade and don't have to worry about making sure my nails go in absolutely straight, or that the staples are evenly spaced. And I thought Mr. Forester the science teacher is exacting.

I follow Oliver back into the house. Freaky hasn't returned. The silver car is out front, so his mom is still around somewhere.

“So . . . lobster mac 'n' cheese doesn't really seem like picnic food.”

“Not so much,” I agree, relieved I don't have to confess my antiseafood stance. I also realize I'm starving. A quick glance at the clock tells me we worked way past my usual lunchtime.

“How about . . .” He rummages in the fridge and pulls out a paper-wrapped packet. “Turkey?” He tosses it onto the counter. Then he reaches in and pulls out another packet. “Or ham.” He tosses that onto the counter too. “Or that old classic, PB and J. The J being Maine wild blueberry of course.” He pulls out the jars and places them on the counter, then peers into the fridge again. I have the feeling if I don't stop him, he'll empty its entire contents.

“Ham,” I declare, just as he holds up several plastic-wrapped cheeses. I cross and take what looks like Swiss from him. “And cheese.”

He grins, and in the brightness of his smile all of my annoyance vanishes. “Mustard? Mayo? Lettuce? Cornichons?”

“Cornichons?” I repeat. “Who has cornichons?”

He shrugs as he holds up a jar. “Pops is kind of into fancy food.”

“You're kidding me!”

“That's surprising to you?”

“He—he just never struck me as the gourmet type.” I frown. “Except this kitchen looks like it belongs to someone who knows food.”

“Yeah. He's definitely a better cook than my mom.”

“I heard that.” We both glance up and see his mom standing in the doorway.

“Uh . . . sorry, Mom.”

I notice she has the same twinkly blue eyes as Oliver. “Don't be. I agree with you. He likes cooking; I don't. Though I can't remember him doing any cooking when I was a kid.” Her voice changes as she adds, with less warmth, “It was a later interest.”

She eyes the counter, now piled high with all the choices Oliver pulled out. “Hungry?”

“Just being a good host,” Oliver explains. I can see that he and his mom get along and they like teasing each other.

“Planning on eating the peanut butter with a spoon?” She crosses to the sink and places her cappuccino cup into it.

Oliver and I both look at the counter. He smacks his forehead. “Bread! I knew I was forgetting something.”

“That's so something I would do,” I tell him. “Including the head smack.”

He smiles again, obviously appreciating my mini confessions. It's cool to meet someone I can tell embarrassing things to, and instead of making fun of me (yes, Justin, I mean you!), he thinks they're endearing. At least, that's how it seems.

“How's the project going?” Alice asks.

“We're going to apply the papier-mâché after lunch,” Oliver says. So that's what's on the agenda for the afternoon. Excellent! Something I know how to do. And very difficult to screw up.

“Sounds like you've got it all under control.”

“Where's the cooler?” Oliver asks. “We're going down by the river.”

“Don't track the mud in,” she warns as she steps aside and opens a very well-organized pantry behind her. She pulls a Styrofoam cooler from a shelf. “You know your grandfather.”

“Outside is outside, inside's in,” Oliver says, sounding as if he's quoting a well-worn saying. He takes the cooler from her and tosses in some cool-packs he pulls from the freezer. Only he drops them twice before they land where they're supposed to. I pretend not to notice.

“Exactly.” Alice opens a cupboard and takes out a plate, then narrows her eyes at the counter. “I'll wait till you're through in here.” She returns the plate to the shelf and once again tousles Oliver's hair as she leaves the room.

Oliver rolls his eyes and smooths his hair back down. “Moms, right?”

“Don't I know it.”

We make our sandwiches—ham and cheese for me, turkey with,
ooh la di da
,
cornichons
for him—then stash them in the cooler. Oliver adds two sodas, a pair of peaches, and some cookies. We head outside, wind around the shed, and take a downhill path Oliver tells me leads to the river.

“I found this spot the first day I was here,” Oliver says. “You'll love it.”

I glance up at him and watch the cutest blush spread across his face.
That's right, buddy,
I think with pleasure.
I didn't miss that little assumption you just made there. That I'll love it 'cause you do.

“I mean, I
think
you'll love it.” He shifts the cooler to the other hand. “That is, I hope you'll like it.”

“I'm sure I will,” I assure him, letting him off the hook. “Even if I didn't go for the cornichons, I feel I can trust your judgment.”

The woodsy part of Rocky Point has a completely different
feel from the harbor and the bay. Those are wide open places, where sound travels and light glints off the water. On sunny days, anyway. I always want to whisper in the woods; the tree canopy overhead and the dense brambles make it seem like a place for secrets. The smells are different too—not the salty tang of sea­water but a darker smell of damp earth and pine.

BOOK: Swept Away
8.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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