Read Butternut Summer Online

Authors: Mary McNear

Butternut Summer (9 page)

BOOK: Butternut Summer
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“Do you want something to drink?” he asked.

“Okay,” she said, edging closer.

“What do you want?” he asked. “Water? Soda?”

“Um, do you have Diet Coke?”

“Nothing diet. But regular Coke.”

“That's fine,” she said, coming closer.

He reached into the cooler again and brought up two cans of Coke. He handed one to her, and she opened it immediately and took a sip. It was so sweet, she almost winced. But it was also cold and fizzy, and it felt good going down her suddenly dry throat.

Will opened his can and took a long drink, then asked, “How did it go yesterday?”

“With my parents?”

He nodded.

“It didn't actually go that well,” she admitted. “You were right, by the way. My mom did feel ambushed.”

“But no one needed to pull them apart, did they?” he asked, his gold-brown eyes never leaving her face.

“No,” she said, sipping the sweet drink and wondering if it was possible for her parents to be any further apart than they already were.

“They're actually going to meet again today,” she said. “Without me there. This way, I guess, my mom can say exactly what she wants to say to my dad.”

“Maybe that's good,” Will said. “You know, to clear the air.”

“Maybe.”

“Jason told me your mom owns that coffee shop in Butternut,” he said. “Pearl's, right?”

She nodded.

“I went there a few times in high school. But I don't think my friends and I were very good customers. One of them, I remember, knew how to do this thing where you left the tip—some change—under an upside-down glass of water.”

“You're not the first high school students to do that.”

“No? Well, we probably weren't very original. Do you work there?” he asked. “When you're home in the summer?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Do you like working there?”

“It's . . . it's okay,” she said. “I mean, I grew up there, so I don't really think about it. I just do it, I guess. My mom says I could waitress in my sleep, and she's probably right.”

After a pause, Daisy asked, “What about you, do you like working here?” That curiosity she'd felt about him yesterday surfaced again, only now that curiosity was mixed up with another feeling too, a feeling she didn't want to examine too closely.

“I like it,” he said, with a shrug. “I just wish it was a real business.”

“A real business?” she echoed. “You mean, it's not a real business?”

He shook his head.

“So, it's like . . . it's like
a front
?” she asked, lowering her voice and coming closer.

“A what?” he said.

“A front. You know, for money laundering?”

He looked at her quizzically, and for a moment she was afraid he was going to be angry, or offended. But then he laughed. “No, it's not a front. What I meant was, Jason's dad, who owns it, doesn't take it that seriously. He doesn't need to. He's made some money on other investments, and this place is more of a sideline for him. You know, it gives Jason something to do, something other than sitting on the couch all day playing video games.”

“Well, you seem pretty busy here,” she said, glancing around.

He shrugged. “I could be a lot busier. But without some real investment in equipment, and some more training for me, we can't compete with the dealerships in Ely, or with the big automotive chains, either.”

“So why don't you go someplace else?” Daisy asked, then regretted asking it. It was a pretty personal question to ask someone she barely knew. But again, he didn't seem offended.

“I don't know,” he said. “I guess I feel like I kind of owe it to Jason, and his family. I basically grew up over at their house. Plus, Jason's dad taught me almost everything I know about engines. And the pay here might not be great, but it has some fringe benefits. Like free rent,” he added, pointing behind them.

“You live here?” Daisy asked, surprised.

“Yeah. There's a little apartment back there. It's not much to look at. But it has the basics, a refrigerator, a microwave . . .” He shrugged again.

So it's like a dorm room
, Daisy almost said. But she didn't, because when you thought about it, it wasn't anything like a dorm room.

“There's another upside to working here, too,” Will said now, finishing his soda and tossing the can into a nearby bin. “Come here. I'll show you.” Daisy followed him over to the other side of the garage. She knew very little about cars, but she knew that the one Will stopped next to was a vintage model. It was a bright, cherry red, and its lines were sleek and graceful.

“This is a 1960 Chevy Impala,” he said, running his hand along one of its fenders. “Not bad, huh?”

“It's beautiful,” she said honestly.

“It is, isn't it?” he said. “It's Mr. Phipps's. You probably know him. He owns the lumber mill in Butternut.”

“Two eggs, over easy, sausage, sour dough toast,” she murmured, without thinking.

“What?”

She blushed. “That's Mr. Phipps's breakfast order.”

“Oh, right,” Will said, chuckling. “Is that how you see the world, Daisy? In breakfast orders?”

“Sometimes,” she admitted. “In the summertime, anyway. When I go back to college, in September, I try to forget how people like their eggs.”

Then she added, “But it turns out I don't know everything about Mr. Phipps. I didn't know he drove this car.”

“Oh, he doesn't drive it. Not that often, anyway. He collects cars like this—classic cars. He has something like twelve of them now, twelve and counting.”

“And you work on them for him?”

He nodded. “After he buys them, I help him restore them. I mean, it pays. But mostly, it's just fun. You know, scrounging around for parts; it's kind of like a scavenger hunt. And then, when I get the parts, working on the engine is totally different from working on a new car engine. Here, I'll show you,” he said, going around to the hood of the Chevy, lifting it up and propping it open. Daisy came over and stood beside him. “I mean, look at this,” he said. Daisy looked at it politely. It looked like an engine.

But Will was captivated by it. “In cars today,” he said, turning to Daisy, “a lot of engine diagnostics are done by computer. But with a car like this, built fifty years ago, it's just you and the car. And you really have to listen to its engine. You know, pay attention to it. Because if you do, it'll talk to you.” As soon as he said that, though, he averted his eyes back to the car's engine and started tinkering with it, as if he were embarrassed, as if he thought he'd said too much.

Daisy didn't say anything. Instead, she looked at the place on his neck where she'd seen the smudge of grease yesterday. It was gone now, washed away. But she still longed to touch the skin there, to run a finger over its smooth, suntanned warmth. That urge—the strength of that urge, really—surprised her, and she looked away from that place on Will's neck and back at the Chevy Impala.

“So engines talk to you?” she asked.

He shrugged and fiddled with something in it.

“Because I'm pretty sure an engine has never talked to me before. Not even to say hello.”

He glanced back at her and smiled an almost smile. “You don't know anything about cars?”

“Wasn't that obvious yesterday?”

He shrugged. “Well, you don't need to know what I know. But you'd be surprised how easy it is to learn some basic automotive maintenance.”

“I would be surprised,” she said.

The corner of his mouth quirked up in another almost smile. “Do you know how to change your oil?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“Do you know how to
check
your oil?”

Again, she shook her head. “No. Joey Riggs does that for us at the gas station in Butternut.”

“Okay. But what if Joey Riggs can't do it for you one day?”

“Then . . . then we'll get someone else to do it?” she offered.

He raised his eyebrows, more amused than exasperated. “Look, let me at least show you how to check your oil,” he said. “That way, even if you can't change it yourself, you'll still know when someone else needs to change it. The oil tank in your truck is in a slightly different location than it is here”—he gestured at the Chevy's engine—“but if you can find it here, you'll be able to find it there, too.” He took a pair of gloves off a nearby worktable, saying as he handed them to her, “Why don't you put these on.”

She put her can of Coke and her cell phone down on the same worktable and slid on the gloves. They were too big on her, but the leather felt cool against her skin. As Will showed her where the dipstick was, she thought about the fact that he'd worn these gloves, perhaps recently, and that their soft leather had touched his skin, too, and she felt what she knew was an adolescent thrill.

He talked her through checking the oil and watched while she pulled the dipstick out, wiped it clean, stuck it back in the oil tank, and read the meter on the end of it. He explained then how much oil to add, and how to tell when the oil needed to be changed. It seemed silly to her that she hadn't already known how to do something so simple, but when Will was done, he seemed satisfied.

“See,” he said, pulling the gloves off her hands in a strangely intimate gesture. “You already know more about engines than you did five minutes ago.”

Daisy smiled at him, and he smiled back at her, a real smile this time, before he turned serious. And for a split second, Daisy had a crazy feeling that he was going to lean down and kiss her. But instead, he asked her, “Would you like to go out with me sometime, Daisy?”

“Yes,” she breathed, and then she blushed furiously, wishing she'd taken a moment to at least pretend to consider the offer.

But Will only smiled again. “Good,” he said. “When are you free?”

Tonight
, she wanted to say. But she caught herself. “How about Saturday?” she said.

“Saturday's good. Where should I pick you up?”

“Around the corner from Pearl's. On Glover Street. There's a separate entrance for our apartment. Just ring the buzzer,” she said, her face warm under his steady gaze.

“Okay,” he said. “How's seven o'clock?”

“Seven's fine,” she said, realizing that her voice had sunk almost to a whisper. She got that feeling again that she'd gotten yesterday, that the two of them were alone in their own private world.

“Well, I better be getting back,” she said, after a long moment. She tried to speak louder this time, and her voice sounded almost normal.

“I'll see you Saturday,” he said.

She started to go, but she hadn't gotten very far when Will called out to her. “Daisy?”

“Yes?” she said, turning around.

“You forgot your phone.”

D
riving back to Butternut in her mom's pickup, Daisy replayed their conversation in her mind.
Funny
, she thought, directing the air-conditioning vent to blow on her still warm face, summer, to her, had always felt as predictable as Mr. Phipps's breakfast order. But she was getting the feeling that this summer was going to be more interesting—
a lot
more interesting.

C
aroline, are you sure you don't want me to stay for this?” Buster asked, leaning on the counter at Pearl's.

“Yes, Buster, I'm sure.” She was unscrewing the lids on all the salt and pepper shakers and lining them up on the countertop to refill. Whenever Caroline was nervous—and she was very nervous right now—she liked to keep her hands busy with some task or other.

“Well, I don't like it,” Buster said, shaking his head.

“I know you don't like it,” Caroline said, pausing in her work and studying him. He was fifty-eight now, his thick salt-and-pepper hair cut in a longer version of a crew cut, his blue eyes crinkling appealingly in his pleasantly weather-beaten face. He'd retired from being an army transport pilot three years ago, but Buster still projected an air of calm, unflappable confidence, that sense that no matter what happened, he'd be prepared for it. He'd know exactly what to do.

Except, possibly, today; today he looked a little bit at a loss, as if he was waiting for orders that hadn't come yet. He'd been that way, she imagined, since she'd called him and told him that her ex-husband was back in town. Caroline paused now, and, putting down the carton of salt she was holding, she put her hand on his arm, which was resting on the counter. It was a nice arm, she thought, patting it. An arm that, like everything else about Buster, was reassuringly solid.

But as much as she appreciated Buster being here now, in all his solidity, she hadn't counted on him staying so long. She glanced at the clock on the wall behind the counter and saw it was 3:25. Jack would arrive in five minutes. She'd already flipped the Open sign on the door to Closed, already banished Daisy, just back from picking up her cell phone, to the apartment upstairs, and already begged Frankie to leave work a half hour early, something he rarely, if ever, did. But she hadn't counted on Buster still being here.

“Sweetheart,” she said, gently, “look, I can't just pretend Jack isn't here now. I mean, I can, but it'd be awkward, sharing this town with him, without actually acknowledging his presence in it. And another thing, I don't think this situation is good for Daisy.”

“What's wrong with Daisy?” Buster frowned. He was very fond of Daisy, even though he hadn't spent a lot of time with her. By the time he'd met Caroline, Daisy had already left for college.

“Nothing's
wrong
with Daisy,” Caroline said, carefully, though she was remembering Daisy's stubborn defense of Jack last night, and her hopefulness, however naive, that Caroline would see how much he'd changed for herself. “Daisy's fine,” she said. “I just think if Jack and I can reach some kind of understanding, it would be better for her.” Squeezing his arm., she added, “And better for us, too, Buster. Because if Jack's going to stay here, even for a little while, we all have to find a way to peacefully coexist together.”

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