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Authors: Mary McNear

Butternut Summer

BOOK: Butternut Summer
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hen Daisy Keegan heard the high-pitched squealing sound coming from the engine of her mother's pickup truck that morning, she did what her mother had taught her to do in situations like this: she turned up the radio. There. Problem solved. If she couldn't hear the noise, the engine wasn't making it. It was that simple.

Except that it wasn't. Because damned if the noise didn't get louder. She turned the radio up all the way, but she could still hear it. “This is not happening,” Daisy muttered. Not today. She glanced at the dashboard clock. She had exactly thirty minutes to get home, unload the truck (it was full of the restaurant supplies she'd bought that morning at the wholesale warehouse in Ely), and change into something halfway presentable to wear to lunch with her parents.

Lunch with her parents
, she thought, working hard to ignore the engine noise that was getting harder to ignore. What a strange concept; not for everyone, of course, but for her anyway. The fact was, to the best of Daisy's knowledge, she'd never once, in her twenty-one years of life, had lunch with both her parents at the same time. And maybe, her subconscious told her now, there was a perfectly good reason for that.

But an alarming new development interrupted her thoughts. The truck was losing power. Fast. She pumped the accelerator, but nothing happened. She checked the rearview mirror. It was blessedly empty. There wasn't a lot of traffic on the county road she'd taken as a shortcut back from Ely. Still, she couldn't stay on it—not if the truck was about to stall out.

Think, Daisy. Think
. There was a service station about a mile from here, right outside the town of Winton. With a little luck—and God knows she deserved a
luck—she could coax the truck all the way there. Then, maybe, with a little
luck, she could persuade someone to repair the engine while she waited, or, if there wasn't time to repair it, rig something up that would last long enough to get her home. She probably wouldn't have enough time then to unload the truck, or change her clothes, but she might have enough time to pull into a parking space on Main Street, dash into Pearl's café, slide into a seat at the lunch table with her parents, smile sweetly, and say something like, “You know, we really should do this more often.”

No, she wouldn't say that, she decided, turning off the county road onto a local street and passing a
sign. Sarcasm wasn't her style. Instead, she'd say something like, “We should have done this sooner.” Or “I know we've never done this before, but maybe now we can do it more often. Start a new tradition . . .”

Daisy was still rehearsing possible conversational openings when she pulled into the service station. The truck was practically crawling by now, and the engine's squeal was so loud that a guy came out of the office to investigate. Daisy turned down the radio and rolled down the window, wincing at the blast of hot air that immediately overtook the truck's admittedly feeble air-conditioning system.

“That doesn't sound good,” he said with a friendly smile, coming over to the driver's-side window. He was young and blond, and he was wearing a baseball cap.

“It's not good,” Daisy agreed. “I'm losing power, too. Do you think you could take a look at it?”
Please, please say yes

“No,” he said. “I'm not a mechanic.” Then he added, “But Will is,” pointing with his chin in the direction of the service bay. “Are you in a hurry?”

Daisy nodded her head emphatically. “A

“Well, let's go then,” he said with another smile, motioning her out of the truck. “Leave it running. I'll take it from here. You can wait in the office, if you want. Out of the heat.”

“Thanks,” Daisy said gratefully, opening the door and sliding out.

“Daisy, right?” he asked, taking her place in the truck.

“Right,” Daisy said, realizing that he looked vaguely familiar, but unsure of why. “High school,” he said, answering her unasked question as he pulled the door closed behind him. “I was a couple of years ahead of you.”

“Oh, right,” Daisy said, placing him now, but still mentally searching for his name.

“Jason,” he said, “Jason Weber.” He smiled again, then drove the truck, which was still squealing, into the service bay.

, she thought, walking across a pavement so blisteringly hot she could feel it through the soles of her rubber sneakers. That's right; she did remember him. Daisy's hometown of Butternut, Minnesota, five miles from here, was too small to have a high school of its own, so instead it merged with four other towns in the area, Winton being one of them. She tried to picture what Jason had been like in high school, but she could only conjure up the faintest image of him. Their social lives hadn't overlapped. Then again, between maintaining a perfect grade point average and playing varsity volleyball, Daisy hadn't had much of a social life anyway.

She tugged now at the glass door to the office and entered its air-conditioned coolness. Then she sat down on a metal folding chair, crossed her legs, and tried to simulate calmness. She quickly gave up, though, and started pacing up and down the small room instead, stopping only when a calendar hanging on the wall caught her attention. It was a calendar for an engine parts company, but the blond, bikini-clad model on display for the month of June didn't look like someone who knew the difference between an alternator and a carburetor. Daisy leaned closer, frowning at the photograph, and wondering if the model's glistening body owed its bronze color to a spray tan or to a good, old-fashioned, carcinogenic suntan. The former, she decided, thinking of her own almost preternaturally pale skin. It wasn't humanly possible to get that tan naturally. And, judging from the photo, her tan wasn't the only thing that model hadn't come by naturally.
, Daisy thought, leaning closer,
this calendar would be more appropriate hanging in a plastic surgeon's waiting room than in a service station office
. But her disapproval was mixed with curiosity, and she was flipping the calendar to July when Jason came back into the office.

“Oh, hi,” she said, dropping the page on the calendar and taking a little jump back. Jason, though, didn't seem to notice what she'd been doing.

“Jeez, do you think it could get any hotter?” he asked, yanking the door closed behind him. “And it's only the beginning of June.”

“It's hot all right,” Daisy agreed.

“So Will's looking at your engine,” Jason said, crossing the room and sitting on the edge of a gunmetal gray desk piled high with papers.

“Did he say how long it would take to fix it?”

He shook his head. “No. But he'll know as soon as he figures out what's wrong with it.”

“But it could be really quick, right?” she asked, glancing at her watch and fighting down a new wave of panic. She had fifteen minutes to get to her lunch.

“Could be quick,” Jason said. “It depends on what the problem is. And whether it needs a new part, and whether or not we have the part in stock.”

“Could I . . . could I go see for myself?”

“Sure,” he said, shrugging. “Will won't mind. Do you remember Will Hughes? He went to high school with us.”

She thought for a moment. “Not really,” she said. “But his name sounds familiar.” She was leaving the office when Jason asked, “Hey, your mom owns that coffee shop in Butternut, doesn't she? Pearl's?”

Daisy turned back and nodded, her politeness overriding her impatience. “That's right.”

“Best blueberry pancakes I've ever had,” Jason said, a little wistfully.

“I know. It's famous for them,” Daisy said.
And it's where I should be right now, staking out a table in the middle of the lunch rush

She gave Jason a quick smile and walked out of the office and into the blinding sunlight. Then she skirted around the station to the service bay and ducked inside, blinking as her eyes adjusted to its relative dimness. It was surprisingly cool in there, and it smelled pleasantly of motor oil and rubber and damp concrete.

When her eyes had had a moment to adjust, she saw a young man—Will, presumably—standing in front of her truck. He had the hood up and was poking around in the engine with some kind of wrench.

“Will?” she said, coming closer.

He glanced up and nodded, and Daisy felt a little jolt of recognition. As it turned out, she
remember Will. Almost better than she liked to admit. In high school, he'd been what Daisy and her friends had thought of as a bad boy. (Not that a boy had had to be very bad to get that designation from them. From their perspective on the student council, anyone who cut the occasional class or got the occasional detention qualified as bad.) Still, in her innocence, Daisy had found Will just different enough, just
enough, to be appealing—from a safe distance, anyway. And, looking at him now, she saw an image of him as he'd been then, sitting in the bleachers at the athletic field with his friends, smoking cigarettes.

“Hey,” she said, feeling suddenly shy. “Jason told me it'd be okay if I came back here.”

Will looked over at her again. If he recognized her, it didn't register in his expression. Daisy came a little closer. He looked different, she thought. His dark hair had been on the longer side in high school, long enough to brush against his neck, but now it was cut short, very short, and its shortness called attention to his wide, gold-brown eyes. She watched while he wiped his suntanned forehead with the back of his suntanned wrist.

“Do you know what's wrong with the engine yet?” she asked, coming to a stop. She was careful to leave a few feet of space between them.

“As a matter of fact, I do,” he said, reaching for a greasy rag to wipe his hands on. He wasn't wearing one of those coveralls that mechanics usually wore. Instead, he had on a T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans, and as he reached to put the rag down, the movement stretched the fabric of his T-shirt against the outline of his shoulders. They were nice shoulders, Daisy thought. She shook her head, trying to dislodge the thought; she needed to stay focused.

“Your fan belt's broken,” Will said. “It needs to be replaced.”

“Can you do it now?”


“How long will it take?”

“Five or ten minutes.”

“That long?” Daisy asked, panic-stricken.

“That's pretty fast,” he said, pulling on a pair of gloves. “In my world, anyway.”

Daisy looked at her watch. There was no way she was going to get there on time now, which left her with only one option: cancel the lunch. She walked a short distance away from Will and the truck, slid her cell phone out of her pocket, and turned it on. Nothing happened. She tried again. Still nothing. She stared at it in disbelief. Was it possible she'd forgotten to charge the battery? Yes, it was entirely possible, especially given the way this day was already going. In a wave of uncharacteristic fury, she slammed the phone down, loudly, on a nearby worktable. Will stopped what he was doing to her engine and looked over at her.

BOOK: Butternut Summer
9.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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