The Summer of Letting Go336
The Summer of Letting Go336
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|Publisher:||Workman Publishing Company|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 15 Years|
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The Summer of Letting Go
By Gae Polisner
ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILLCopyright © 2014 Gae Polisner
All rights reserved.
It's not even noon in not even July, yet already the sun bakes down hot and steady, making the air waffle like an oily mirage.
Lisette walks ahead of me, her blond ponytail bobbing happily, the stray strands lit gold by the sunshine that spills down through the fresh green canopy of leaves. Bradley holds tight to her hand, ducks to avoid the low-hanging branches. Prickles of sweat appear between his shoulder blades—dark gray spots against the pale blue cotton of his T-shirt that mesmerize me.
I shift my gaze to my spring green, no-lace Converse sneakers, wondering for the millionth time what it would feel like to have my hand in his.
As if he reads my thoughts, he turns for a second and smiles. My heart somersaults. I shouldn't feel this way about Lisette's boyfriend.
I duck my head and keep walking.
The path winds to the right. Lisette leans against Bradley into the curve, her shoulder bumping his, and he wraps his arm around her. I slow my pace and stare up through the sunny trees.
I hate summer to begin with, and it looks like I'm going to spend this one being a third wheel.
We reach the clearing that opens to Damson Ridge. Less than a minute from here to Lisette's house. Another five minutes to mine.
Lisette and I have made this trek from high school to home hundreds of times together, but today it feels different, at this hour, with Bradley Stephenson along.
We're out early for lunch in between final exams, this afternoon's test our last ever of tenth grade. Bradley's a junior, so he finished a few days ago. He's just being chivalrous walking Lisette home.
"Come on, Frankie!" She turns, still walking. "We need to hurry. We have, like, what, an hour?" But Bradley stops, sidetracked, at the edge of the path. "Are you kidding, Nature Boy?" she says. "You are so totally goofy."
I stop, too, so I don't catch up to them.
"What?" He holds out a leafy stalk he's pulled up by the roots. "It's sassafras." Lisette shakes her head and rolls her eyes, even as my heart melts. I love sassafras. My dad and I used to pick it from the fields by the elementary school, back when we did that sort of thing. "Suit yourself," he says, wiping the stem with the inside corner of his T-shirt and slipping it in his mouth. "Tastes like root beer."
"Ew, come on." Lisette pulls his arm. "I kiss those lips, you know. And, anyway, you may be done, but Frankie and I really need to eat something and get back to school. I hear Shaw's final is crazy. We need sustenance. And I don't mean root beer sticks." She veers off the path toward her street and walks backward to face me. "You coming to my house, Francesca?"
"Nah, it's hot. I think I'll go home and change."
"You sure? It's fine by me." It's Bradley who says this, not Lisette.
"Yes, but thanks." I flip a wave and keep walking.
"Okay, see you back at school," Lisette calls. "Just one more to go, Frankie, and then we're free as birds for the summer!" She blows me a kiss before skipping away with Bradley.
I watch them disappear, my heart filled with longing, my life feeling anything but free.
* * *
When I'm about to turn onto our street, I perk up. Dad's car heads toward me. His silver-gray Jeep Grand Cherokee with the sunroof and the tinted windows. He shouldn't be home. He should be at work selling houses. I guess he had no clients this afternoon.
I smile and hold up my hand to wave, but the car turns right at the prior block instead of making the left onto ours.
I figure he spaced or something, so I wait, but his car never comes back around.
* * *
When I reach home, our driveway's empty. I must have been mistaken. Dad's still at work then, and Mom's where she always is: at her desk at the Drowning Foundation.
Fine. The Simon A. Schnell Foundation for the Prevention of Blah, Blah, Blah and Whatever.
After nearly four years, I still don't get how she spends her life there. I know she thinks it somehow "gives it all purpose," but the place only makes me feel worse about things.
I stop on the stoop, kiss my fingers, and touch them to Simon's stone frog. Inside, I make a lame cheese and mayo sandwich and stand at the kitchen window, eating.
As I'm about to head upstairs to change, Mrs. Merrill appears in her window across the street through the slats of her venetian blinds. They're parted just enough to make her out, though not clearly or completely. She moves to the center of the room, seems to talk on a phone, then walks to the window, presses a few slats down, and peers out.
I duck from view. I know I'm nosy, but I'm fascinated by the little I've seen of Mrs. Merrill since she moved in the summer that Simon died.
Dad was actually the broker who sold her the house, but Mom and I were never formally introduced. It's not like we were feeling too neighborly those days, and over the years, I guess, not that much had changed. Still, I've watched her working in her garden, taken by how pretty she is, but in a sophisticated, confident way like Angelina Jolie, not a pale, fragile way, like my mother.
Mrs. Merrill lets the blinds slip back and leaves the room, so I rinse my dish and turn to go upstairs, but she reappears a second later, walking quickly past the window. This time, she's not alone, but with a man—tall, dark hair, broad shoulders—who looks awfully like my father.
My heart stops, but in fairness, it's hard to make out much through the blinds.
I tell myself to chill, but my eyes dart back to our empty driveway, and my mind to the car I saw go by a few minutes ago. Did Dad park on the next street over and sneak in through her backyard?
I look at the window again, but Mrs. Merrill and the man are gone.
* * *
As I walk back to school, I try to shrug it off. Why would it be my father? If it was my father, and he needed something from Mrs. Merrill, he would have parked in our driveway and walked across the street. Plus, he barely knows her. Why would he park somewhere else and sneak into her house in the middle of a weekday afternoon?
I know the obvious answer even if I don't want to, and all through Mrs. Shaw's English Honors final, questions circulate in my brain.
Dad has been acting funny lately, hasn't he? Too cheerful. But, of course, he's like that anyway—the only person in our family who is. But this is more than that. He seems unusually happy.
I try to keep my focus on my one remaining essay question about Homer and his poems, but it drifts to the poster on Mrs. Shaw's far wall. It's a scene from The Odyssey, which we read with The Iliad midyear.
The poster shows an old-fashioned illustration of Odysseus tied high on his ship's mast, a dark-haired siren trying to lure him with her song. In the poem, the sirens live on a magical island. Their song is enchanting but deadly, because the sailors who follow the music are led to dangerous, raging waters, where they die upon jagged rocks. Odysseus knows this, but he wants to hear them sing, so he orders his sailors to bind him there, while filling their own ears with wax.
On the poster, Odysseus strains against the ropes as the dark-haired siren reaches for him. A siren who looks uncannily like Mrs. Merrill.
What if it was my father in Mrs. Merrill's house? If it was him, don't I need to know?
If it was him, and I don't put a stop to it, there will be no hope left for my parents. I'm not naive. My parents' marriage has been teetering on the verge of destruction for years. They fight or, worse, they don't talk at all. It's not Dad's fault. Mom isn't herself anymore, and hasn't been one bit since Simon died.
Still, she's my mother, and she needs him.
She can't take more destruction.
She can't take one more person she loves being swept out to sea.
Excerpted from The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner. Copyright © 2014 Gae Polisner. Excerpted by permission of ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL.
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