The hands on the classroom clock were crawling far too slowly toward the weekend. Eric Brewster fidgeted in his seat as Mr. Smallwood reiterated the English assignment, but Eric wasn’t paying much attention. Everybody in class—everybody in school—had spring fever, including the teacher, and Eric was certain that nobody intended to do much homework, any more than Mr. Smallwood expected it would get done. Not tonight, not this weekend, not next week, which was the last week of school before summer vacation.
When the bell rang, Eric was out of his seat, out the door, dodging fast-moving bodies as he made his way to his locker to dump his books. Long summer evenings weren’t made for studying, and he was already thinking about the possibilities when Kent Newell started working the combination to the locker next to his. Which meant that Tad Sparks, the third member of the triad that had formed in kindergarten and was still thriving in the next to last year of high school, wouldn’t be far behind. When any two of them were together, the third was sure to be close by.
Except in summer, when the Newells and the Sparkses headed for rented summer houses in Wisconsin, while the Brewsters sweated it out in Evanston, just barely north of Chicago, and, where they lived, not quite close enough to Lake Michigan to catch whatever cool breeze the water might conjure up. But maybe this summer would be different. This summer his parents were looking for a summer rental, too. Of course, so far the looking had proved futile. It seemed every house at Phantom Lake had been rented months ago, and the ugly possibility that he might be stuck without his friends for another summer was starting to seem like an even uglier reality.
As usual, Kent Newell read his mind. “Your folks find a house yet?”
Eric shook his head, and memories of the single week he and his parents had spent at the lake with Kent’s family last summer rose up to taunt him: fishing, swimming, waterskiing all day; barbecuing fresh trout or steaks outside in the evening while pretending the mosquitoes weren’t nearly as bad as they were. Walking into town after supper to get an ice cream cone or just hang out ogling the local girls. Eric had loved it all, and so had his parents, even though all they’d done was sit around in chairs on the lawn or on the dock in front of the Newells’ house, just talking.
But this year, with a lot of convincing from Kent’s mom, his parents had decided they should rent a house of their own for the summer. At least, Eric’s father was convinced.
His mother was a different story. All she kept talking about was how nervous she’d be, all alone in a house in the middle of the woods. Except that it wouldn’t be the middle of the woods. It would be on the lake. And she wouldn’t be all alone at all. He’d be there, and his sister Marci would be there, and every weekend his father would be there, too.
If his mother stopped dragging her heels, that is, and actually found them a house.
“We’re going up on the twenty-second this year,” Kent said. “Your mom’s got to find a place, and she needs to do it quick.”
Eric nodded. “Yeah.”
Tad Sparks arrived then, and was greeted with one of Kent’s arm punches, which had grown more painful over the last year, since Kent had spurted past six feet and put on twenty pounds, all of which was muscle. “This is the summer,” Kent said, grinning slyly at Tad. “I can feel it.”
“Feel what?” Tad said.
“You’re gonna get laid, man. You’re finally going to do it!”
Tad’s face reddened as he followed Eric out into the already humid midwestern afternoon.
“Those girls up at the lake are just waiting for you,” Kent went on, nudging Eric. “I mean, they are going to be hot for you this year. And Eric’s gotta be there when you finally give it up, so we’ve got to get his mom in gear. I mean, there’s got to be one house left, doesn’t there? A cancellation or something?”
“But it’s got to be in The Pines,” Tad said. “You’ve got to make sure it’s in The Pines.”
Eric sighed. “Right now I don’t care where it is, just so it’s close to you guys.”
“Which means The Pines,” Kent said, rolling his eyes.
“We’ll go fishing,” Tad said.
“You’ll dance naked with girls,” Kent added, winking at Eric. “There’s a dance every Friday night in the pavilion. If Tad can’t get laid there, there’s no help for him at all.”
Eric groaned. “So far all Mom says is she can’t find anything. Except I’ve got a feeling she’s not really trying.”
Kent Newell’s brows arched, and his voice dropped to a conspiratorial level. “Ah, but you see, I’ve got an ace in the hole.”
Eric eyed him. “Yeah? What?”
“My mom,” Kent declared. “She knows some people up there. Hell, she knows everybody up there. And believe me, if there’s a place at The Pines, she’ll find it. And she’ll talk your mom into taking it.”
They paused at the corner. “I gotta get home,” Tad said. “See you guys later.”
“I’m going to go work out,” Kent said to Eric. “Want to go to the gym?”
Eric hesitated, then shook his head, his good mood now long gone. If his mother was scared about being up in Wisconsin without his father during the week, then that would be that. And given that his mother was scared of practically everything, the possibility that she’d wind up just refusing to go even if someone did find them a house was all too real. “I think I’ll just go home, too,” he said.
Once again Kent read his mood. “Ah, who needs the gym,” he said, clapping Eric on the shoulder. “Let’s grab a Coke, then go over to my house and see if my mom’s found your folks a house yet.”
Eric shrugged. Better to hang with Kent right now than go home, where he might well be stuck with his ten-year-old sister all summer, once again spending endless days mowing and trimming the lawn while his mom went out to lunch with her friends and his father worked and Marci would stick to him like glue, constantly asking her ten-year-old’s questions while he was thinking his sixteen-year-old’s thoughts.
While his friends were at Phantom Lake, fishing and swimming and waterskiing.
And getting laid.
Falling in beside Kent, Eric felt the summer already slipping away even though it hadn’t yet actually begun.
From the Hardcover edition.