Read Butternut Summer Online

Authors: Mary McNear

Butternut Summer (5 page)

BOOK: Butternut Summer
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“Yeah, well, I don't blame you for not wanting to go back to your house,” Jason said. “I mean, not if your dad was actually
in
your house.”

Will chuckled, but he didn't say anything. This was the best part of knowing someone your whole life. You could joke about things that were hard to joke about—like Will's father.

A pickup truck pulled up outside, and Jason pushed himself lazily off the car he was leaning on and went to investigate. And Will, relieved the conversation was over, tried to focus on the alternator. Concentration wasn't generally a problem for him. He liked working on engines, and he was good at it. It was usually just varied enough, or just challenging enough, to keep him interested. But this afternoon he was off his game. And he knew why; it was seeing her again, seeing Daisy.

He hadn't exactly been honest with Jason when he'd told him he didn't remember that much about her. But he had been honest with him when he'd told him why he'd watched her volleyball games. Or why he'd watched the
first
one, anyway. Because that first game, he'd just kind of stumbled onto.

It was a gray day in early October, and Will, who had just slept through another detention, was leaving his schoolbooks in his locker. (He tried, whenever possible, not to take these books home, since studying occupied an even lower priority in his life than attending classes.) Usually, at the end of the day, he enjoyed this little ritual at his locker. Dump books in, slam door shut, spin combination lock—and get the hell out of there.

On that day, though, even the sound of metal colliding with metal as he banged the locker door shut didn't give him any real pleasure. Mainly, this was because he had nowhere to go. Jason, whose house he practically lived at, was on a father-son hunting trip, and going back to his own house this early in the day wasn't even an option. The library was out too, as he'd already read the entire supply of automotive magazines for that month and had pretty much consumed all the aviation magazines as well. Besides, the librarian, a dried-out prune of a woman, was always nagging him, saying things like, “If you're so curious about the way things work, why don't you try going to your physics class sometimes?”

But as he was hesitating at his locker that afternoon, he heard a burst of cheering from the gymnasium next door, and he decided on a whim to investigate its source. When he pushed open the gym's swinging door and saw it was a girls' varsity volleyball game, he almost went right back out again. All school sports were lame, as far as Will was concerned. But volleyball, he thought, was especially lame. Still, something made him stay. Maybe it was the thought, again, of going home. Or maybe it was just that on this gloomy October day, the gym, which was bright and warm and noisy, seemed strangely cheerful to him.

In any case, he climbed up to the top of the bleachers, sat down, slumped against the back wall, and waited for boredom to set in. It never did. For one thing, the game was much better than he'd expected it to be—fast paced and suspenseful—and not at all like the clumsy coed volleyball he and his classmates were periodically forced to play in PE. Even more important, though, it was a
girls'
volley ball game, and if there was one thing that interested Will besides cars, it was girls. And this team had some exceptional girls on it.

There was Jenny Holmes, for instance, a junior whose blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty and year-round tan made her look more like a Southern California surfer girl than a midwestern volleyball player. And there was Hazel Bell, too, a pretty, dark-haired senior who was that rarest of high school combinations: an athlete
and
a bad girl. Because while Hazel could hit a mean spike shot, she could also drink a pint of Jack Daniel's straight from the bottle. She had a very nice body, too, a body that Will was already intimately familiar with, given that drinking was only one of Hazel's two favorite activities.

As he was watching Jenny and Hazel, though, he noticed another player, number 17. He liked watching her, too, he decided. He liked the way she moved, with the easy grace of a natural athlete. He liked the way her strawberry-blond ponytail bounced up and down whenever she made a play. He liked the way her creamy white skin seemed to almost glow under the gym's fluorescent lights. And he liked the way her body seemed to be both hard and athletic, and soft and feminine, at the same time. He liked, in fact, everything about number 17, whose name, he learned, was Daisy. Soon, he stopped watching Jenny and Hazel and all the other players and watched only her, which wasn't a bad strategy. Even as a sophomore, she was already the best player on the team. Except that, after a while, he watched her even when she wasn't playing. Even on those rare occasions when she sat on the bench.

Will went to Daisy's next game. And most of her home games after that. He never told any of his friends where he was going, and, once there, he was always careful to blend in with the crowd and leave as soon as the game was over. But he was there, week after week, game after game, and, as he sat there, watching Daisy play, he became aware of a feeling that was sometimes right below the surface of his consciousness, and, at other times, right on the surface of it. The feeling, he decided, was lust, pure and simple, and it was made all the more acute by the knowledge that where Daisy Keegan was concerned, it would most likely never be satisfied.

It wasn't because Will had any trouble with girls. He didn't. Even then, they came as easily to him as the engines Jason's father was already letting him tinker with at his garage. But a girl like Daisy? She wasn't just in a different league than Will. She was in a different
world
.

It was a world at their high school that Will knew almost nothing about, the world of students who studied, played team sports, and participated in extracurricular activities. They didn't just
have
to be there, like Will; they actually seemed to
want
to be there, which for him was a complete mystery. Will hated high school. Hated the boredom, the routine, the sameness of it all. Hated being herded from one class to another, hated being constantly told what to do, hated all the stupid rules—the stupid rules he broke whenever he got the chance to break them. The only relief for him came in automotive class and on the weekends, when he and his friends would convince someone's older brother to buy them beer, and then they'd drive to the Butternut Town Beach where they'd build a bonfire and have a party.

Daisy never came to those parties. She never came to
any
parties, as far as Will could tell. He never saw her outside of school. And when he saw her inside of school, she was either playing volleyball or engaged in some similarly wholesome activity. She was studying in the library between classes, a tiny frown of concentration on her pretty forehead. Or selling tickets to a school dance. Or volunteering at a bake sale—croissants only—to raise money for the French club.

He wanted to see more of her—he really did—but since he wasn't about to join the French club, and Daisy, apparently, wasn't about to get detention, he figured their paths would never cross. And, except for those volleyball games, they never did.

Then volleyball season ended, and Will thought about Daisy less. When he graduated that spring and started working full-time at the garage, he thought about her even less. Until today. Today, when she walked into the service bay, and walked back into his life, bringing with her all the memories of those autumn afternoons five years ago.

And here was the amazing thing.
It was still there
. That irresistible pull he'd felt toward her then. Only this time it was stronger, because now she was real. He thought now about the way she'd been that morning. Flustered, impatient, funny, though the funny part, of course, was largely unintentional. Still, she'd been adorable in an innocent, tomboyish way, and as sexy as hell . . .

“Damn, Will, what do I have to do to get your attention?”

Will jumped a little. Jason was standing right next to him.

“What?” Will asked, a little embarrassed. He'd been completely lost in thought.

“I said, ‘Can you service Mrs. Elliot's Camry tomorrow?'”

“Yeah, okay,” Will said, going back to work.

But Jason didn't move. “You're thinking about that girl, aren't you? Daisy?”

“No, I'm not,” Will said, irritated that Jason, for the first time in his life, was being perceptive.

“Yes, you are,” Jason said, grinning. “Too bad you're not going to see her again anytime soon. Because if you're as good a mechanic as you say you are, that fan belt could hold out for a
long
time.”

“Oh, I'll see her again,” Will said nonchalantly. “She'll be back. If not today, then tomorrow.”

Jason raised an amused eyebrow. “You're pretty sure of yourself, aren't you?”

Will shrugged.

“What, you think she's not going to be able to resist those big brown eyes of yours?”

“No, I think she's going to want her cell phone back,” Will said, gesturing at the shiny silver rectangular object Daisy had left lying on a nearby worktable, right next to a pile of greasy rags.

W
hen Jack drove out to the lake that afternoon, he missed the turnoff to Wayland's cabin. But about fifty yards down the road from it, he was struck by a sudden sense of familiarity, and he braked, threw the truck in reverse, and backed up to an overgrown dirt track that looked as if nature was trying, hard, to reclaim it. It was Wayland's driveway, though, he decided, squinting down it. He'd driven down it a hundred times before. He turned into it and started to drive down it again now, but he stopped when he saw a mailbox, smashed in on one side and lying on the ground. Were kids still doing that? he wondered, getting out of the truck. Still leaning out of the windows of speeding cars and knocking over mailboxes with baseball bats? He'd done this himself before, during a rural adolescence spent on the edge of juvenile delinquency.

Still, he thought, grabbing the mailbox, it seemed wrong to have done it to Wayland, especially when you considered all the bad luck he'd run into at the end of his life. Jack stood the mailbox up and tried to plant the post back into the ground. But when he let go of it, it tipped right over. The whole thing was rotted right through. He picked it up and tossed it into the woods. He wasn't expecting a lot of mail here this summer, anyway.

He got back in his truck then and kept driving, but he had to stop again almost immediately to clear a fallen tree branch blocking his way. The driveway, it turned out, was littered with branches that needed to be moved, and by the time Jack had reached the final bend in it, his T-shirt was yoked with sweat, and his arms were covered with scratches. Still, he didn't mind. He wasn't afraid of physical work; there was something familiar about it, reassuring even. What wasn't reassuring was his first sight of the cabin.

“Oh hell,” he muttered, as it came into view. He braked and slid out of his truck without bothering to turn off the engine or close the driver's-side door. He started to walk up to the cabin, then stopped, not wanting to go any closer. He rubbed the sweat out of his eyes, hoping it would improve the view. It didn't. The cabin looked . . . the cabin looked like a teardown. He blew out a long breath. He was good with his hands; he knew how to fix things and build things. There were a lot of things, in fact, he knew how to do. But he wasn't sure if salvaging this cabin was one of them.

He squared his shoulders, though, and walked up to the cabin's front porch, or what was left of its front porch, which, admittedly, wasn't much. Most of it had simply fallen away. But someone had built a set of makeshift cinder-block steps that led up to the front door, and Jack climbed them now, craning his neck to look into one of the windows that flanked the door. But he couldn't see anything through it. It was cracked and streaked with dirt. He tried the front door; it was locked. He frowned. There'd never been any mention of a key. Then again, details had never been Wayland's strong suit.

As it turned out, though, Jack didn't need a key. One good shove with his shoulder and the door gave way. He started to go inside, then stopped. The airless cabin felt like a blast furnace in this heat. He opened the front door wider and forced himself to go inside, opening windows as he went. Several of them were stuck, but a couple of them opened, and so did the back door, which faced out onto the remains of a small deck.
There
, he thought,
maybe that'll get a cross breeze going
.

He stood then, for a moment, in the open back door, looking down toward the lake, which was only partially obscured by tall grasses and overgrown weeds. Here, at least, was one view that couldn't be spoiled: Butternut Lake, the crown jewel of Butternut, Minnesota, twelve miles long and, in some places, one hundred and twenty feet deep. It was one of the clearest, cleanest lakes in Minnesota, and it was ringed with tall pines, magnificent maples, and oaks and birches. Today, Jack thought, it was at its best, smooth and sparkling in the afternoon sunlight, and so blue it almost hurt his eyes to look at it.

It was still early in the season, and only one motorboat puttered lazily over the water on the far side of the bay. As Jack watched it, the heaviness and the stillness of the day weighing down on him, he got that feeling he sometimes got in the summer—that time itself was slowing down and that it might, eventually, stop altogether.

It reminded him of an afternoon, more than twenty years ago, when he'd gotten that same feeling. Wayland, who'd worked with him at the mill in town, had invited him to come out here. It had been a day like today, though not so hot, maybe, but still, drowsy and heavy and slow. And he and Wayland had sat out on this deck, which was new then and still smelled like freshly cut pine, and they'd talked and talked, and drank and drank, though maybe, in retrospect, there'd been a little less talking, and a little more drinking.

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