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Authors: Michelle Dalton

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BOOK: Swept Away
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He lays his sketchbook on my desk. “Take a look,” he says.

I give him a quizzical glance and force myself not to rip it open. I've been dying with curiosity to see what he's been spending all that time doing.

I'm still not sure. The first page has xeroxed pictures of Candy Cane taped to it. Mystified, I turn the page. Here there's a sketch of Candy Cane with notations and conversions:
1/8” = 1 foot
, that kind of thing. My eyes flick to his face then back to the page. He did these? They're amazing.

Other pages have different views of the lighthouse along with close-up details: the portholelike windows in the tower; the different doorways, both inside and out. There's what looks like a floor plan, along with sketches of the Keeper's Café.

“These are so good,” I say.

I get to the last of the impressively accurate and detailed drawings and shut the pad. I'm relieved there aren't any romantic portraits of Celeste. But I don't understand why pictures of our lighthouse make him so shy.

“I figured out the scale, then drew up what I thought would be best,” Oliver says.

“Best for what?” Is he planning to build a replica of Candy Cane for his yard back home in California? That would definitely stand out in the suburbs.

“Oh, right. Like usual, I forgot the most important part. Mom says I work up to things backwards.”

I still look at him uncomprehendingly. “Are you ready to start from the front?”

“Fourth of July.” He taps the red flyer peeking out from
under the sketchbook. The pile is still nearly as thick as when Mrs. Gallagher dropped them off. Business hasn't exactly been booming.

I wait for him to continue, because even though he seems to think he's explained everything, I'm still completely clueless. Whatever's obvious to him isn't at all clear to me.

“The boat parade! We should make a replica of the lighthouse and enter it. Pops already said I could use one of his ­dinghies. Whaddya think?”

What do I think? Did I actually hear him say “we”? As in
we
should do this together. Oliver and me. Me and Oliver. Sharing a common goal. And spending loads of time together.

My fantasizing comes to an abrupt halt when I see the disappointment on Oliver's face. “Sorry,” he mumbles, reaching for the sketchbook. “You gave me the flyer. I—I thought you'd be into it. I shouldn't have assumed—”

“I am! I am!” I slap my hand on top of his to keep him from picking up his pad. “I'm completely interested.”

Was that too enthusiastic? I don't care. Our eyes meet, and I feel his hand under mine. I don't want to move it. I get the sense he doesn't want me to.

For one glorious moment we smile at each other, then the nerves kick in and we each back off.

“We'll need to get started right away,” I tell him. “We have less than three weeks.”

“I kind of already got started,” he tells me. “But yeah. The pressure's on. Do you have to work here every day?”

“No,” I say. “I'm here four days a week, and Janet Milner is
here the other two we're open. And it stays light late, so we can still work after my shift. Right?”

“Right. When's your first day off?”

“Tomorrow,” I tell him, never more happy to use that word before in my life.

I
t's really happening,” I whisper hoarsely into the phone. “Tomorrow!”

“What?” Cynthia says. “I can barely hear you. Where are you?”

I pace and glance up and down the street from the screened-in porch. I'm too antsy to sit still. I'm keeping an eye out for Mom; this is a conversation she can't overhear. Neighbors either.

I'm about to do something big—go to a boy's house, a boy I like, without telling my mom. And the reason I'm not telling my mom is the biggest part of the story: The boy's house is actually the home of Freaky Framingham.

“I'm home,” I say in a more normal voice. “But this is radioactive news.”

“My favorite kind!” Cynthia says. “What's going to explode?”

“Me! And”—I lower my voice again—“possibly my mom.”

“Oooh.” I hear rustling. I can picture Cynthia getting comfy, settling in for a long session. “Spill.”

I pause and wave back at Mr. Martin, who's walking his dog, Thunder. Or more accurately, Thunder is walking
him
. Mr. Martin smiles at me and continues trotting down the street.

“Hello?” Cynthia says. “You still there?”

“Just waiting till the coast is clear.”

I tell her every single word Oliver and I exchanged, because of course I have them memorized. For once, Cynthia doesn't interrupt me. “You wouldn't believe how adorably awkward and shy he was leading up to his Fourth of July proposal. I mean, proposition,” I correct myself hastily. Wait, that sounds even worse. “I mean,
request
to work together,” I finish lamely.

There's a brief silence, then Cynthia says, “Whoa.”

“Yeah,” I agree. “‘Whoa' barely covers it.”

“But I don't get the mom part,” Cynthia says. “Why can't you tell her? I mean, just because you haven't really dated before doesn't mean—”

“You forgot the critical fact!” I squeak. My eyes dart back and forth, ensuring my solitude. I lower my voice again. “Remember who we're talking about. Who he's
related
to . . .”

I hear a sharp intake of breath. “You're right. That's practically nuclear.”

“So you see why I can't tell Mom. She might not let me go. Since we have to build the boat at his house. Since that's where the boat is,” I add, though I know I'm stating the super obvious. But since Cynthia forgot the Freaky part of the equation, I figure I'd better spell things out.

More silence.

“Hello?” I check the phone. Not a lot of bars, but that's standard. Certainly enough to still have a connection.

“Just thinking.”

Good! I'm counting on her to come up with one of her winner schemes to keep Mom from freaking out and forbidding me from going up there.

“Maybe . . . ,” she begins, and then stops.

“Yes . . . ,” I prompt.

“Maybe this one time your mom's right.”

I blink. Twice. That is so not what I thought she was going to say.

“I mean, who knows what kind of crazy you'll find.”

“Oliver isn't crazy,” I say hotly.

“That's not what I'm saying,” Cynthia says. “But do you really want to be up at Freaky's Haunted House of Horrors with a boy you barely know, where there's, like, no road and no cell reception?”

“You make it sound like an episode of
Supernatural
.”

“I'm just saying . . .”

“Freaky may be weird, but he's lived here all of our lives, and there's never been anything really strange happening up there—”

“That you know of . . .”

“Are you kidding me? If they found even a dead mouse on his property, the whole town would know about it.”

“There's always a first—”

I cut her off. “It's really mean to call it Freaky's Haunted House of Horrors. He's a person. He has a right to live how he wants without everyone going all judgey.”

Now this is weird. I'm standing up for Freaky Framingham.

“Mandy, I'm trying to look out for you. You're so nuts about this Oliver that you—”

“You know, I thought you'd be excited for me. I finally have a boy who likes me. Who I like back.”

“Look, I saw him. He's supercute. But—”

I don't want her to finish that sentence. “Mom's coming up the street. Gotta go.”

For the first time ever I hang up on my best friend.

A
s I bike up Evergreen Road toward Freaky ­Framingham's house, Cynthia's voice yells at me in my head. Is she right? No one knows where I'm spending the day. If I disappear, will anyone know where to look?

A twig snaps in the woods off to my right, and I nearly swerve my bike into the bushes.
Get a grip!
I order myself.

How could Cynthia do this to me?
I fume. Until that awful phone call last night I was utterly delirious about today. Now I'm completely on edge: nervous about what will happen if Mom finds out; worried that Cynthia's right and that I'm making a terrible, terrible mistake; and actually scared of woods that I've known my whole life.

I had a text from Cynthia this morning—an order to text or call the minute I get home.
If I don't hear from you by 7pm I'm telling your mom.

Unbelievable.

Though as the woods grow deeper around me, it begins to seem like a pretty good idea.

Freaky's house is on the same side of the peninsula as the harbor, but farther inland, where the woods start. There are winding roads here, so you can't see very far ahead, and it's kind of hilly. Big houses peek through breaks in the pines. Mailboxes line the road to mark where the turnoffs begin. Some mailboxes are super
plain—others are pretty hokey. One has a lighthouse perched on top; another is shaped like a big clam.

As I bike up yet another hill, the trees grow more and more dense. The sun's rays hit my face through the small patches between countless trees. The summer warm-up has begun, and I know to be grateful for the shade, but it feels overly symbolic. “If this were a movie,” I murmur, then force myself to shut off my overly active imagination.

I round the curve where we gather on Halloween to dare one another to knock on Freaky's door. This is my last chance to back out.

I see movement through the bushes, and I'm so startled I nearly topple off my bike. I right myself, my heart pounding. Then it pounds harder when I recognize the figure loping around the bend.

Oliver.

Over the last week I've gotten to know that loose-limbed gait, the toss of the head to get the bangs out of the way. He smiles and waves, and I pedal toward him, thankful for the dark of the woods that just one minute ago spooked me.

“I thought I'd meet you so you wouldn't get lost,” he says as I dismount. “Finding the right road can be tricky. Mom missed it three times when we arrived.”

“Thanks.” I don't confess that I know the spot well. That pretty much every kid in Rocky Point does.

“Come on,” Oliver says. “We have a lot of work to do!”

I push the bike along the rutted path, Oliver strolling on the other side of it. “Is your . . . mom around?” I had been about to
ask about his grandfather but switched at the last minute.

“At the house. And Pops is in the shed. He said he'd help.”

Help? I'm not sure which is more shocking, that I'm actually going to have a face-to-face encounter with Freaky—a bit like having a conversation with a yeti—or that he's actually on board to help us.

The path isn't nearly as long as it seems on Halloween. Very soon a two-story house with an attic appears through the bushes, Freaky's familiar blue pickup truck parked off to the side of the patchy lawn, a shiny silver car beside it. In daylight it's easier to see how ramshackle the house is—missing shingles on the roof, peeling paint, a sagging porch. It has the look of a place no one really cares much about. I wonder what it's like to be staying here.

“We're set up out back,” Oliver says. “Let's grab some sodas first.”

I nod, too nervous to speak. I brace myself for whatever I might find: shrunken heads, voodoo candles, stacks of newspapers towering to the ceiling, dust bunnies as big as a T. rex. Heck, maybe even an actual T. rex.

Oliver opens the screen door and I follow him inside, carefully arranging a smile on my face, determined to play it cool no matter what I encounter. I stop after just a few steps. It's nothing like I expected.

The spotless room is large, with just a few pieces of well-worn furniture. A sofa. A big easy chair by the front windows. I realize that this is the first time I've seen the curtains open. There's a low coffee table in front of the sofa with a coffee mug and a newspaper on it. Behind the sofa are a table holding two
lamps and some books. There's a fireplace with a large stack of wood piled beside it, obviously well used, judging from how blackened the bricks in it are. Between the front windows is a large oil painting, a gorgeous rendering of what looks like a foggy Rocky Point Harbor. Maybe that's the view Freaky looks at when he keeps the curtains drawn.

Narrow stairs near the front door lead upstairs, presumably to the bedrooms. A doorway minus a door on the other side of the room reveals a sunny yellow kitchen. Not a color I would have expected from Freaky. There's a door in what looks like a newer wall, some kind of addition, that isn't visible from the front. The original house is so big I wonder why he'd need more space. Maybe that's where he keeps the bodies. . . .

Stop it!
I order myself, following Oliver across the room. Still, I can't keep from peeking through the door's window into the addition. All I can glimpse are rolls of what look like canvas.

“Hey, Mom,” Oliver says as we enter the kitchen. “This is Mandy.”

If the front room surprises me, the kitchen shocks me. The giant old stove taking up a whole lot of space makes sense; it looks like it's been in the house since dinosaurs roamed the earth. But the super-expensive fancy-pants pots and pans do not compute. The cappuccino maker Oliver's mom is using matches
her
, but not Freaky. Does she crave her version of caffeine so badly that she brought it along?

She glances up from foaming and smiles. “Hello, Mandy. Your mom's the librarian, right?”

“That's right.” I grin. Oliver must have told her that. Which means he talked about me.

Then it hits me. There are no secrets in Rocky Point. Oliver's mom will mention my being here to my mom the next time she needs an Internet connection.

BOOK: Swept Away
8.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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