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Authors: Michelle Dalton

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BOOK: Swept Away
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And now he's standing two tables over, and Surfer Boy is showing him the sailor's manual. Surfer Boy doesn't look nervous or afraid talking to our town grouch. Freaky looks almost presentable for a change. Normally he wears ratty paint-­spattered overalls with flannel shirts washed so many times it's hard to believe they're any warmer than wearing tissues. His gray hair is wild and long, and he has the weather-beaten skin of many old-time Mainers, the result of a life lived mostly out of doors, battered by high winds, powerful sun, and cold weather.

Today he's still wearing overalls, but they're cleaner than usual, and the shirt looks close to new. His hair is brushed and pulled back into a low ponytail. He looks almost . . . normal.

“That is seriously freaky,” I murmur.

“No lie,” Cynthia says, equally mystified.

We watch as if it's some kind of mystery show on TV, and we're looking for clues to explain how these two people wound up talking to each other.

“Do you think ol' Freaky has, I don't know, been to therapy or something?” Cynthia suggests.

“Hard to picture, but something has happened,” I say.

“Maybe he decided to strike up a conversation with the only person here who wouldn't know him.”

“Could be,” I say doubtfully. “But don't they seem like they know each other?”

Freaky's usual dour expression hasn't changed. He just stands there frowning, stroking his stubbly chin while Surfer Boy shows
him things in the book. Then Freaky does something totally bizarre. He pulls a wad of bills out of his back pocket and pays for the book. Mr. Cooley, the guy who sells secondhand books at Second Time Around over on Berry Street, looks as shocked as Cynthia and I feel. He takes a minute to register that this is really happening, then accepts the dollar. Freaky Framingham strides away from the table, and Surfer Boy scurries after him.

Cynthia and I turn to face each other, wearing identical “huh?” expressions.

“How could they possibly know each other?” I ask.

“Why would anyone voluntarily spend time with Freaky Framingham?” Cynthia says. “I mean, that boy, that serving of yummy cuteness, just followed him. On purpose.”

Our heads turn simultaneously to catch another glimpse of the strange sight.

I don't know if it's because he could feel us staring in complete and utter disbelief, but just at that moment Surfer Boy looks back.

And I'm mesmerized all over again.

Because this time he doesn't just stare at me. He smiles. And lifts his chin in a teeny-tiny itty-bitty greeting.

But it's big enough to make me bang into Cynthia. And that's without even moving. I guess I kind of went a little lopsided. If she hadn't been standing next to me, I might have fallen over.

Cynthia slings her arm across my shoulder and brings her face next to mine. “Seems you made an impression on him, too.”

The ginormous smile I feel on my face reminds me of how not-cool I am. There is no way I can play coy, or haughty, or any of the other ways I've seen girls act around the boys they like.
It's just right out there:
I like you,
in screaming neon on my face.

He turns and jogs to catch up with Freaky Framingham. Proof that he actually is with the old coot. If he wanted to escape, he could have, since ol' Freaky hasn't slowed down a bit and is now out of the parking lot.

“I need a bloob pocket,” I murmur. “For strength.”

“Do you really want to get back in that line?” Cynthia asks. “With all those eavesdroppers? We have some planning to do!”

Happily, the usual table piled with drinks and baked goods donated by the middle school sits again at the exit. The money from these sales goes to the school, so I feel virtuous as I buy a blueberry muffin, an oatmeal-blueberry cookie, and a tall lemonade. Once we have our purchases, we leave the tent and cross the Square. I sit cross-legged on top of a picnic table, and Cynthia lies on the bench, her floppy hat protecting her face from the sun. She says something, but it's too muffled to understand.

I reach down and flip off her hat. “What?” I ask.

She sits up and swivels around to face me. “I said, I just can't figure it out.”

“I know!” I gnaw on my lower lip.

“You know what I think?” Cynthia says impishly. “I think just like you're trapped in a candy tower to be a witch's servant, he's under a spell. A spell that can only be broken by a kiss from an innocent year-rounder.”

I duck my chin so that she can't see the flush creeping up my neck. I fiddle with my shoelaces, my mouth twisting as I try to keep the smile from spreading. A kiss. A soft, tender brush of those lips on mine.

I haven't had much experience in the kissing department. Last New Year's Eve, Kenny Martin suddenly laid one on me in the middle of a party. I yelped—not exactly the reaction he'd been hoping for—and banged into Cara Michaels and Evan Lawrence when I stumbled backward in surprise. They weren't exactly pleased when I interrupted their dance-floor lip-lock. And there were a couple of awkward good-night kisses when Johnny ­Carmichael walked me home after a group of us went to the movies. Awkward enough that he stopped trying, much to my relief.

But now . . . I tip my head back and watch the clouds drift. Their soft edges make me remember how soft his lips looked. I'm pretty certain kissing Surfer Boy wouldn't be anything like my previous experiences.

Of course, kissing him would require seeing him again. And talking to him. How am I going to do any of that with Cynthia gone? I'll never have the nerve. If our paths ever even cross again.

“Maybe he'll be at the Lupine Dance,” Cynthia suggests.

I brighten at the idea. Day-trippers often stay for the dance. Best of all, Cynthia will still be here to help me get ready, coach me, and provide moral support. A kiss from a day-tripper sounds incredibly romantic. One beautiful night and then just a lovely memory.

Assuming he doesn't bring Freaky Framingham with him.

I
sit glumly at the edge of the pier, my legs dangling over the gently lapping water. The moon's reflection quivers with each rise and fall of the peaceful wavelets, and the little white twinkle
lights strung on every pillar and post sparkle in the sea's mirror. It looks like fireflies learning to swim. The DJ's music thrums from the loudspeakers, and even though my back is to them, I can picture my neighbors, my friends, and random ­visitors dancing their butts off.

Over on the other pier, the food booths are now lit with clip-ons so bright that it looks like a movie set. Beside me two tween girls compare notes on a shared enemy, some boy who spent most of the school year embarrassing them. I want to interrupt and explain that it means he likes them, but then I tell myself to shut up. What do I know about boys?

I hear a rustle behind me and glance up at Cynthia. She has put her Lupine Queen dress back on as required for the Sunset Ceremonies, and now her tiara is askew and her sash is crooked. “Scoot over,” she orders the tweens. They oblige without protest. After all, she's the queen.

“Your dress . . . ?” I say as she plops down beside me. The skirt puffs up around her, making her look as if she's rising from a lavender-gray-blue cloud.

“They make a new one every year,” she reminds me. “One of the perks of being queen.” She lifts, then drops, a fistful of chiffon. “I get to keep this monstrosity.”

“Everyone get their blue ribbons?” I ask. One of the duties of the Lupine Queen is to dole out prizes for the various competitions just before the dance.

Cynthia nods. “Lorraine Bartley won for her painting of lobster traps.”

I gasp in mock horror. “You mean Candy Cane wasn't a prizewinner?” The lighthouse is always a favorite subject.

“I know. Shocking.”

I wiggle my toes, trying to ease the ache in my feet—and warm them up. It's still pretty early to be walking around at night in sandals, and I don't usually wear such high heels.

Our preparations were in vain. The high heels and my favorite red sundress with the scalloped hem and seams that give my somewhat boyish figure a bit more curve. Cynthia loaned me her short fake-leather jacket that hits my waist at just the right spot. She helped me with my makeup, and we even practiced possible opening lines. You know, to break the ice and start a conversation. All for nothing, because the mysterious stranger remains a mystery. He never showed up.

“I just don't get it,” I say. “Why didn't he come?”

Cynthia tosses a pebble into the water.
Plink
. “I guess he was a day-tripper after all.”

“Then why would he be with Freaky Framingham?”

“Good point.”

I turn to face her. “He wanted to avoid me.”

Cynthia twists her face into her “you're being ridiculous” expression. I know it well. “Why would he want to avoid you? He doesn't even know you. And that smile definitely implied he'd actually
want
to get to know you.”

I kick my feet together lightly, still trying to warm them. “Maybe he really
is
an alien,” I muse. “And aliens have been experimenting on Freaky all these years.”

“That could explain why Freaky is so freaky,” Cynthia says.

“Now the alien sent here disguised as a surfer has beamed them both up to the mother ship. Only an alien would dress like that in June in Maine.”

Cynthia nods. “Someone got their intel on infiltrating humans wrong.”

“Or,” I continue, the tale spinning taking my mind off my cold, aching feet and my disappointment, “maybe Freaky Framingham used his terrible powers to turn Surfer Boy into a lobster.” Ol' Freaky being an evil sorcerer is a pretty common Halloween story. “Then he chopped him up and served him in one of the lobster rolls.”

Cynthia smacks my arm. “That's just gross.”

I giggle. “But you have to admit, it's kind of so bad it's good.”

“I like the alien theory better,” Cynthia says. “Add it to the archive.”

The “archive” isn't really an archive, or any actual place. It's just what Cynthia says after I spin a particularly good story.

Cynthia yawns. “I am so beat. Being a queen really takes it out of you. How do the royals do it?”

“They have things like household staffs,” I say.

“Oh yeah. Forgot.”

“And,” I add, stretching, standing, and then holding my hand out to help Cynthia up, “they don't have to worry about getting in the middle of a knock-down-drag-out over at the pie contest.”

Cynthia stands clumsily, nearly tipping over into the water when her foot catches on her hem. I right her, and we step carefully away from the edge. “No lie. Mr. Carruthers and Ms. Lynch
glared so hard at each other I thought their eyes would fall out of their heads.”

The rivalry between Mr. Carruthers and Ms. Lynch over their blueberry baked goods is legendary.

“That's a definite plus to queendom,” Cynthia says as we make our way along the periphery of the dwindling dancers. “I get to sample the contenders.”

In spite of myself, my eyes still scan for the mysterious stranger. By the time we reach the end of the pier, I have resigned myself to having tortured my toes for no good reason. A wave of sadness washes over me.

Snap out of it,
I order myself. This is ridiculous. I'm feeling all this disappointment over a boy I had never seen before and will probably never see again.

P
ostcard rack? Filled. Brochures about joining the historical society? Neatly displayed beside the cashbox. Xeroxed copies of
The Lighthouses of Maine
map stacked on the table by the front entrance? Done! The oversize lighthouse bank with the neatly lettered sign
DONATIONS WELCOME!
not very subtly placed? Yep. I've been at my post at the lighthouse for a whole ten minutes, and I'm already bored. How am I going to get through the next six hours? How am I going to get through the next two and a half months?

Cynthia headed off to camp yesterday morning full of antici­pation, and all I have to look forward to is imprisonment in Candy Cane.
She'll be back in August,
I reminded myself when I
arrived and yanked open the heavy wooden door, years of humidity making it stick.

I survey my domain. In the dark entryway there's a wooden bench, an umbrella stand, and some pegs on the wall. Visitors rarely hang up their coats, but the pegs are used to hang stray scarves, hats, and gloves they sometimes leave behind.

The reception lobby is in the attachment that connects the keeper's house to the lighthouse. Originally the keeper had to leave the house in freezing rains and gale-force winds to tend to the lighthouse, sounding the foghorn, keeping the lanterns lit. So sometime in the 1870s, after enough complaining, the attachment was built so that he could be protected from the weather and still get the job done. Thanks to the distance to the tower from the house, the room is pretty big. There's even a second floor that once housed sailors who'd been rescued, reached by a rickety, narrow staircase in the alcove behind my desk. Now it houses exhibits.

The lobby holds long glass display cases, the reception desk (really just an old table), and the souvenirs I'm supposed to sell. On one side is a door to the original keeper's house, where the café and the gift shop are, and another upstairs exhibition room, though that's closed this summer. On the other side is the entrance to the lighthouse tower. People can climb the three-story circular stone stairs to the top. The actual light was removed when Candy Cane was decommissioned, so there's room up there for three people. It's the spot where people love to take photos. It has an amazing view of the harbor, the bay, and on clear days, the ocean.

I amuse myself briefly by skimming the totally lame jokes in
the very slim paperback
Wit and Wisdom from Down East
, then rearrange the souvenir T-shirts. That doesn't take up more than a minute, since we only sell three styles: one with a lobster on it, one with a lighthouse (not Candy Cane), and one with the word “Maine” on the front. On the back it says “Vacationland,” something that can be found on a lot of Maine license plates. The
real
gift shop is in the café. Mom had the idea to sell a few things here just in case a visitor doesn't bother going into the café. Since it only takes me one minute to switch the T-shirt order, I switch them back again.

BOOK: Swept Away
6.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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