Read an Excerpt
By Peter Lerangis
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1999 Peter Lerangis
All rights reserved.
He was staring at me.
Well, not all the time.
But whenever I would look at him, our eyes would meet.
It wasn't like in that old movie Doctor Zhivago. You know, when the girl and guy spot each other on a crowded trolley and — dzzzzt — cut to the sparks on the overhead electric wire. That's a cool scene.
This was creepy.
He was creepy.
I wasn't sure why.
He didn't skulk around or drool. He didn't have hollow eyes, sunken cheeks, or pale gray skin.
He was tanned and healthy looking. He had a jet-black ponytail, frizzed from the humidity and salt water. He wore navy pants and a white shirt. Just like all the other bus-people at the Nesconset Yacht Club.
But something was off.
First of all, his shoes were battered and way too big, as if they'd been picked out of the trash. But that wasn't it, either.
It was the body language.
Awkward. Nervous. Eyes darting around the room. As if he'd forgotten something. Or was afraid he'd be caught.
Rachel, you're taking this way too seriously, I told myself.
I do that sometimes. Ask my little brother, Seth. He says that I think I'm in a movie all day long, turning everyone else into characters. According to my dad, I need to grow up and act my age.
Seth is right. Dad is wrong. But those are whole other stories.
All I knew was that this busboy sucked the air out of the room.
And I was the only one who noticed.
Everyone else was listening to my boring Uncle Harry, who was giving (as usual) a speech:
"... And so, in this picturesque village, Nesconset, so near and dear to us all, we celebrate the birthday of a pioneer. A great man. My father, Clem Childers the Third ..."
Clemson, not CLEM. Grandpa Childers hates CLEM. It sounds like Clam. You should know that, Uncle Harry.
The busboy was staggering across the room now, loaded down by a trayful of dirty plates. You could tell he hadn't been a busboy very long.
"... whose life was marked by heroism and loss," Uncle Harry droned on, "on that tragic day, sixty years ago, when he swam to safety, the only survivor of the tragic boating accident ..."
I nearly threw a jumbo shrimp at him.
Not in front of all these people, Uncle Harry!
I couldn't believe it. Grandpa Childers never talked about that incident. It was a birthday cruise like the one we would soon be boarding. He lost his best friends. He lost his own grandfather.
I looked around for Grandpa Childers. I spotted him in the doorway that led to the dock. He was ignoring Uncle Harry, doing some magic trick, pulling a kumquat from behind the ear of one of the party guests.
(That's Grandpa Childers. Seventy-five going on fifteen.)
When I looked back, the busboy was out of sight.
"... and subsequently he dedicated his life to the dreams and aspirations of the children who had lost their lives — and we here are living proof that he succeeded!"
No. There he is. Heading toward the kitchen. Still struggling with that tray. Heading for ... Mr. Havershaw.
This was amusing.
But Mr. H was quick. At the last moment he jumped out of the way, and the busboy disappeared through the swinging kitchen door.
Too bad. A collision would have been just fine.
Mr. H was at the party to see me. He's the director of this boarding school called Phelps. My mom and dad want me to go there the year after next, so they invited him.
My mom and dad are impossible. I'm not even in eighth grade yet, and they already have my whole life planned out — prep school, Yale, then some career where you shout into a phone, networking all day. That's what they do best. They network at the beach. They network over breakfast. (And they tell me I spend too much time on the phone. Ha!) I once told Dad he should have his cell phone grafted to his ear, but he didn't find it amusing.
I mean, I should have been having fun. School was out. It was a gorgeous July day. But I was dressed in heavy, stiff clothes, sweating like a pig and worrying about my future.
No wonder I'm so paranoid about busboys. It's stress.
Next thing I knew, Mr. Havershaw was looming over me, firing off dumb questions and bad breath. And I was giving my good-girl answers: "Thirteen years old ... straight A's, except for math ... what I really want to do with my life is be a doctor or a lawyer ... yes, foliage season would be a great time to visit Phelps ..."
I would rather die than go to your school, was what I really wanted to say. And while I'm at it, I'll TELL you what I want to do with my life — dive into the bay and swim. Away from this party, away from you, until I disappear into those clouds on the horizon, and I'll soar upward on the mist and build a castle, no adults allowed, and I'll only invite people like me who want to enjoy life, enjoy BEING A KID, like Grandpa Childers says, so why don't you just get out of here, go and interview the psycho busboy.
Who, at that moment, was coming out of the kitchen. Trayless, dodging and weaving among the guests.
"Rachel?" Mr. Havershaw was saying.
"Uh ... what?"
I spotted Grandpa Childers. He was alone at the buffet table. In a corner.
The busboy was heading toward him.
He was pulling something out of his pocket.
Wooden handle. Folded-up blade.
"Excuse me," I said.
I didn't even wait for Mr. Havershaw's response. I was running across the room. Knocking hors d'oeuvres from people's hands.
Get there. Get there now.
Grandpa Childers turned. Faced the boy.
His smile vanished. His face went pale.
And I screamed.CHAPTER 2
"Stop him! He has a knife!"
I barreled through the crowd. A waiter crossed into my path, then jumped out of my way with a cry of surprise.
The busboy's back was toward me. I grabbed his shoulder and he spun around.
I could see the knife up close now. Still sheathed in his palm.
Both he and Grandpa Childers were staring at me, startled.
So was everyone else in the room.
"It's all right, Rachel," Grandpa Childers said gently. "It's mine. This young man found it on the beach. He's returning it to me."
Grandpa Childers took the knife from the busboy's hand and held it toward me. The initials CC were carved on the handle.
"Oh," I squeaked. "Sorry."
Rachel, you dork.
I couldn't look him in the eye.
I couldn't look anyone in the eye.
Unfortunately, they were all looking at me.
The whole party.
Including Dad and Mom and Mr. Havershaw.
That's it, Rachel. Kiss the Phelps School good-bye.
Maybe a reform school for you instead.
I slunk away.
Mr. Havershaw's relaxed smile had gone tight. "Everything okay?" he asked.
I nodded. "It was his. Grandpa Childers's. The knife. I thought — you know ..."
"Yes," said Mr. Havershaw. "Well, um, it was good to meet you, Rachel. You have a wonderful family."
"I can't figure out how YOU fit in, though." Come on, say it!
"Thanks," I replied.
As he left, I felt two pairs of eyes impaling me from either side.
The Wrath of Mom and Dad.
They didn't have to say anything. I heard the message loud and clear. I'd heard it a million times before.
Lazy. Good-for-nothing. Immature.
So much potential. So little ambition.
Stand up straight.
Don't shoot yourself in the foot.
Try. Because there are a thousand others who are trying, just waiting to step ahead of you.
I turned the other way, hoping to find a friendlier face. Grandpa Childers's.
But he was still talking to the busboy. So I headed out to the dock.
I took a deep breath and tried to exhale the humiliation. The air was cool for a mid-July day
The cruise skipper, Captain Neil, was heading up the gangplank. "Fifteen minutes until we sail!"
I walked along the wooden dock, away from the crowd. My stiff shoes clonked loudly. I wanted to take them off. Maybe throw them at someone.
The yacht blocked my view of the bay. If you ask me, it looks more like a battleship. It has two levels and two engines and two foghorns. When I passed the bulkhead, Nesconset Bay stretched out before me, vast and deeply blue against the clear sky.
On the horizon, the cloud patch had swelled. It looked like a big head of whipped cream. A few sailboats dotted the bay, lazily tacking against the wind.
My mind sailed out there, too. Away from Mom and Dad and Mr. Havershaw. I felt free.
That was when I saw Grandpa Childers.
He was walking out onto the deck, slowly. Silently.
He's mad at me, too.
"I — I'm sorry, Grandpa," I said softly.
He looked at me, but his eyes were a thousand miles away. "Sorry about what?"
"Screaming. About your knife."
"Yes." He nodded.
"I didn't know it was yours. I never saw it before. I just thought you were in trouble —"
"No trouble. I straightened it all out."
He was squinting now, out to the horizon.
I gazed in the same direction.
And suddenly I knew.
His strange behavior made perfect sense.
It wasn't me at all.
They worried him.
They reminded him.
Sixty years ago.
The weather must have seemed okay, too, like today — otherwise his granddad wouldn't have taken the kids on that cruise.
I leaned over the railing next to him. "You don't want to go, do you?"
"The thing is, I did," Grandpa Childers replied. "I really did. But I told him no."
"Told who no? Captain Neil?"
Grandpa Childers suddenly turned to face me. It was as if he'd just noticed me for the first time. "What?" he asked.
"You told Captain Neil you didn't want to go?"
"I didn't speak to Captain Neil."
I clammed up. I'd never seen Grandpa Childers so rattled.
Of course he's rattled. Mom and Dad are pushing him, too. Forcing him to take this cruise. Not bothering to find out what he wants. And why? So they can impress all their clients. So they can show me off to Mr. Havershaw.
This wasn't about Grandpa Childers at all. This was about them.
It was always about them.
Well, not this time.
Not if I can help it.
"Don't worry, Grandpa," I said.
I headed back into the room.
Dad was standing by the buffet table, plate in hand, talking with some bald, flabby guy.
"We have to cancel," I announced.
"Uh, Rachel —" Dad began. "I'm in the middle of —"
"Captain Neil says we're supposed to leave in fifteen minutes, and Grandpa doesn't want to go, and it's his party."
"Excuse me," Dad said to his friend. He took my arm and walked me to a secluded corner of the room. "Don't ever do that to me again."
"To you —?"
"Mr. Havershaw's not in the business of recruiting troublemakers."
"You saw what happened."
"You overreacted —"
"Okay, sorry. But did you hear what I said, Dad? The clouds — they bring back memories for Grandpa. Of his accident. And he's not telling you how he feels because he's too polite —"
"Rachel, he is my father! Don't you think he'd tell me if something were wrong? Besides, I'm not going to forfeit my deposit and disappoint all my guests, all my business clients who came clear from Boston, to —"
"Oh. So it's about money."
"RACHEL, HAVE YOU BEEN LISTENING TO ME? Your grandfather has been looking forward to this for ages. He deserves this trip. He doesn't have much longer to go, you know."
"I know that —"
"NO YOU DON'T! YOU haven't been talking to his doctor!"
"What? What are you talking about?"
Dad looked away suddenly. "Nothing, Rachel. You get me so flustered —"
Oh my god.
"Is something wrong, Dad? Is Grandpa dying?"
"No! I mean, not right now! — I mean ..." Dad exhaled. "Rachel, your grandfather has a weak heart. It's congenital. The doctors say he's lucky to have lived this long, and his signs aren't good. Okay?"
"He's going to die?"
"No! I mean, yes, eventually, but not right now!"
I'm not hearing this.
"So ... you're ignoring a ... a dying man's wish."
"Rachel, you're being dramatic!"
The word. Dramatic.
The one word they trot out every time I have a feeling. The word that says, You're a kid. You don't know what you're talking about.
"At least I'm not selfish," I blurted out.
Rachel, no, calm down, you've done enough damage —
"SELFISH," I yelled. "And cold. And unfeeling—AND I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU'RE MY FATHER!"
I turned and ran. People were staring at me. Again. Wondering where this disgusting, ungrateful child came from, but I didn't care, not a bit, I was running and I didn't want to stop, I wanted to run right through the wall and keep going for a month, a year, a lifetime, until I ran a hole into the earth and disappeared inside.
I spotted the side door, which led to an alley where the yacht club dumped its trash.
That was where I belonged.
I bolted through the door and burst into tears.
And my heart stopped.
The busboy was there, too.CHAPTER 3
The gate. Go for the gate.
It was behind him. In a high, wooden-stake fence.
I tried to run around him, but he blocked my path.
"Are you all right?" he said.
"Fine. Now, can you get out of my way, please?"
"Yes — I mean, no, I mean — can I apologize?"
"For what happened in there. With your grandfather. With the knife?"
"Apology accepted. See you later."
I moved for the gate again. This time he backed away. "He says you're exactly like him."
I stopped. "Who?"
"Your grandfather. He says you're soul mates. You can read each other's minds, practically."
"He told all that to you?"
"Is it true?"
"Is it your business?"
I'd never really thought of Grandpa Childers that way.
But it was true.
I was closer to him than to a lot of my friends.
What was I going to do when he ...
Don't. Cry. My eyes were welling up again.
"The boss wanted to fire me," the busboy went on. "Your gramps told him not to."
"He's a nice guy," I grumbled. "Sometimes too nice."
"How do you know?"
"I met him. When I was younger."
"How come I don't remember you?"
"Maybe I'm not that memorable."
"You live around here?"
"I did, a long time ago. I'm moving back now."
Ease up, Rachel.
I was being harsh.
So he made a dumb mistake.
Grandpa Childers seemed to like him. How bad could he be?
"I'm Rachel. I didn't mean to snap at you."
"Colin." He shrugged; "It's okay. I can take it. You're upset."
"Not about you, though."
"That's a relief."
"I can't go back in there."
"So stay here. Relax. You don't have to say a word. I won't tell anyone you're here."
"Okay" I sat on a wooden barrel, far from the smell of the trash.
He went about his job, dragging out plastic bags from the kitchen.
He seemed so calm. Patient. He wasn't nosy.
Actually, if you got beyond the slightly greasy hair and sharp features, he wasn't so bad-looking, either. His eyes were a luminous green, his brows dark and thick, his skin olive-gold.
What's more, he seemed to care.
Which was more than I could say about most of the other people in my life.
"Well," Colin finally said, "I have to go back on the floor. Feeling better?"
I shook my head and fought back tears. "I — I don't think Grandpa Childers has too long to live."
Colin's eyes deepened with concern. "He's old, Rachel. He's lived a good, long life."
"He has a heart condition. And my parents don't treat him right. They never think about what he wants."
"I'd be pretty happy if they gave me a cruise for my birthday."
"He doesn't want this. He's petrified about going on the water."
Colin laughed. "That man? He's petrified of nothing!"
"Not true. He was once in a boating accident in the bay. He lost everyone he loved."
"He was the only one who tried to save all those kids. He wasn't afraid. He was a hero."
"Oh? You were there?" I said sarcastically.
"Everyone knows about it. Besides, it was sixty years ago, Rachel. He's totally over it by now."
"Now you sound like them. Hey, a few deaths, a bad day, just grow up and forget it, right? Well, you never forget things like that! Even heroes have fears and nightmares. You think they stop when you become a grownup?"
"I didn't say that —"
Excerpted from Watchers Island by Peter Lerangis. Copyright © 1999 Peter Lerangis. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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