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Authors: Robin Jones Gunn

Departures (18 page)

BOOK: Departures
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“Can we turn around now?” Gregg asked.

“Yes.” Sierra sunk into the lawn chair still shivering, holding the towel tightly around her.

Gregg chuckled cautiously. “I honestly thought that floating thing was some creature from the deep lagoon, awakened from his primeval slumber.”

“You wait, Greggory Hill,” Sierra said. “You’re going to be wakened from your primeval slumber before this weekend is over.”

“Only you, Sierra,” Mr. Hill said, awkwardly patting her wet head.

“That’s what my dad always says,” Sierra said through chattering teeth. As a matter of fact, he had said that line to her earlier when she had finally called to say they’d arrived safely. She gave him a summary of their complicated journey, and her father sounded relieved when he said, “Only you, Sierra.” Apparently her many life mishaps didn’t come as a surprise to him.

“After you get some dry clothes on, would you like to join me on a trek into town?” Mrs. Hill suggested.

Sierra slipped her shoes on her cold feet and picked her way down the dock and back to the cabin. Jana went ahead of her and hung Sierra’s skirt on the clothesline, which was strung from two trees on the left side of the yard area. Sierra appreciated Jana’s being so concerned about Sierra’s tie skirt. Jana apparently knew how much Sierra liked that skirt and how much it was a symbol of her personality.

As she changed, Sierra thanked Jana for hanging the skirt.

“I’m serious,” Jana said. “If it’s ruined, Gregg should have to pay you for it. So try to figure out what it’s worth.”

Sierra thought about that as the three women drove into town. What would that skirt be worth? What was her personality personified worth on today’s market? Was she a fun and interesting person because of how she looked and acted? Or was she just a big klutz who knocked out innocent janitors and was too naive to see a push into the lake coming?

On one hand, Sierra was glad Gregg had pushed her in. His action showed that he accepted her, that he liked her in a big-brother way. He wouldn’t have tried so hard to set up the perfect opportunity to tease Sierra if he didn’t think she could take it and if he didn’t enjoy it. Not just enjoy it for the sake of the joke, but enjoy it because it was the way one buddy treated another buddy. She was the freckle-faced tomboy and everybody’s kid sister.

On the other hand, what if she wanted more? What if she felt ready to encourage more in a relationship with a guy? Was that what Jana was doing when she put her head on Tim’s shoulder at the airport?
What if Sierra had done that to Gregg? How would he have reacted? she wondered.

And she wondered some more that afternoon after lunch. The guys had gone off fishing in the boat, which left Sierra and Jana plenty of time to lounge in the sun and catch up on their lost night of sleep.

When the guys came back with three fish, they were pretty proud of their catch. Sierra thought there wasn’t enough meat on those three little silver-scaled fellows to feed all six of them. However, Mrs. Hill prepared lots of rice and vegetables and then mixed the diced pieces of cooked fish in with the whole batch.

Sierra had plenty to eat, as did the others. The cleanup went quickly, and then everyone put on a sweatshirt and went back out to the dock to enjoy the close of the day.

“Can we make a rule that you can only throw a person into the water once? And can we recognize that I’ve already had my dunking?” Sierra asked.

“Sounds fair,” Mrs. Hill said.

Sierra noticed that Gregg didn’t voice his agreement. Of course, he and Tim were busy with some project they had started after they came back with the fish. They had six long cattails that they had cut from the bulrushes of the fishing cove they had boated to that afternoon. The cattails were the longest Sierra had ever seen, with stalks as thick as broom handles. Gregg had the bulblike end of the cattails dunked in a white bucket at the end of the dock.

Everyone chatted and watched a family of ducks come quacking up to the side of the dock. Mrs. Hill was ready for them and offered Sierra and Jana several pieces of dried bread.

Sierra broke the bread into bits and cast it on the water. The energetic baby ducks paddled quickly over to where the bread landed.

“They are so cute,” Jana said, tossing her bread to them. “I think we had three duck families last summer. Are these the only ones that have been coming?”

“Yes,” Mrs. Hill said, “these are the only ones we’ve seen. Who knows, maybe once the word gets out that we’re offering free food, we’ll be swamped like we were a few years ago. Do you remember that? We had more waterfowl than we could feed. I think the Morrisons got here before we did this year, and the ducks made it a habit to go there.”

When Jana’s mom mentioned the Morrisons, Sierra noticed that Jana’s expression changed. She looked surprised or hopeful. Or both.

“I didn’t think they were coming until August this year,” Jana said.

“No, they’re here. I saw Corinna in town the day we arrived.”

“Did their kids come this year?” Jana asked.

“Some of them,” Jana’s mom answered.

That’s when Sierra knew what was going on with Jana. Sierra had heard about Danny Morrison, who lived in Oklahoma. His parents were wealthy and owned a lakefront house—not a cabin but a house—and it was located only a few hundred yards through the woods from Jana’s family’s cabin. Danny was thirteen when Jana had seen him two summers ago, but she had returned to Pineville with a secret summer crush she had told Sierra about. Jana had lamented that Danny wouldn’t be at the lake this summer so she wouldn’t have a chance to see if he had grown into a stud like his older brother, Michael.

“Is this the family that vacationed in Australia last summer?” Sierra asked.

“Yes,” Mrs. Hill said. “That’s where Corinna is from. They didn’t come at all last summer, and we thought it was such a pity for that beautiful home to be locked up the whole season. How do you know about the Morrisons?”

Sierra shot a smile at Jana and teased her by saying, “I heard they had a good-looking son.”

Jana’s glare was ice and nails. Sierra was a little surprised. She didn’t think Jana’s intrigue with Danny Morrison was a big secret.

“Oh yes, Michael, their oldest son, is very nice looking. He played football for a big school in the South. I don’t remember which one. Corinna said he may turn pro when he graduates next year.”

Sierra glanced at Jana and knew she was saved from Jana’s wrath since her mom thought Sierra meant Michael.

Jana leaned forward in her lawn chair. “You said only some of the Morrison kids came this summer.”

“Yes?” her mom replied.

“Did Danny come?”

Sierra leaned forward too, just as curious to hear the answer.

8

es,” Mrs. Hill said, “Danny is here with them.”

“And Cassie?” Jana asked.

Sierra vaguely remembered Jana mentioning Danny’s annoying little sister, Cassie, and figured Jana was asking about her to cover up for her interest in Danny.

“Yes, Cassie is here too. She was at the store with her mother. She’s really grown.”

Sierra wondered if Jana was thinking about whether Danny had grown since she had seen him. As Sierra looked over at Jana, she noticed Jana’s dark eyes practically sparkled. As a matter of fact, they were reflecting a soft light. Sierra looked out at the end of the dock and saw the reason for the glow in Jana’s eyes. Gregg had pulled one of the cattails from the bucket and lit the end of it. He now held the natural tiki torch over the water, and they all watched the flame from their lawn chairs.

“It’s burning a long time,” Sierra commented.

“They soaked them in kerosene,” Jana said.

Now Sierra understood why it had smelled like gas when they came down to the dock. She thought it had come from the boat.

The cattail torch continued a little longer before snuffing itself
out. Once the flame extinguished, Sierra noticed the sky. It was beginning to fade into a soft peach, and the first star was already visible.

Sierra wondered which star it was. She knew she could ask her brother, Wes, if he were here. He would know. Gregg, Tim, or someone else on the dock might know also, but Sierra didn’t feel like asking the name of that twinkling star because none of them had noticed it. It was her star. She could enjoy it without having to know it on a first-name basis.

Gregg and Tim lit two more cattail torches and held them high, joking about being conquering warriors.

“I want to light one,” Sierra said, getting out of her seat. “Do you want to light one too?” she asked, turning to Jana.

Jana appeared to be daydreaming and didn’t hear Sierra.
I bet I can guess what she’s thinking about. Just because I’m such a nice friend, I won’t disturb her
.

Sierra shuffled to the end of the dock and asked if she could “play” with one of the torches too.

“We’re not playing,” Gregg said. “This is … ah, necessary. Yes, necessary for ah …”

“Keeping away the mosquitoes,” Tim filled in for him.

“That’s it exactly. We’re keeping the mosquitoes from biting you guys, and our job is to hold the torches and wave them just right.” Gregg gave his lit cattail a little loop in the air.

“That’s right,” Tim said, copying Gregg’s loop.

“You guys, come on. I want to play too. I mean, I want to keep the mosquitoes away too. Besides, don’t you think it’s too cold for mosquitoes?”

“It will warm up as the summer goes on,” Gregg said, using his
most authoritative voice. “And we’re letting those early mosquito scouts know that this dock and this cabin, with all its surrounding property, are off limits.”

Sierra ignored Gregg and reached in the bucket for one of the cattails. “Got a match?”

“Not since Superman died,” Gregg joked.

Sierra gave him a puzzled look.

“Don’t you get it?” Gregg said, reverting back to his regular voice. “A ‘match,’ as in ‘an equal’? No, I don’t have a match since Superman died.”

“When did Superman die?” Sierra asked, glancing at Tim to see if this was really funny.

“Never mind,” Gregg said, shaking his head. Then looking over at Tim, he said, “Kids these days. About all they’re good for is knocking out janitors.”

Sierra had an awful feeling she wasn’t going to hear the end of the janitor episode for as long as Gregg was around to tease her. At that moment, she wanted very badly to push him into the lake. She realized she didn’t have any warm and snuggling feelings toward him.

I’m tired of Gregg’s jokes. Tim is so much nicer. And cuter too. He doesn’t act as if he’s my guardian all the time. He was really kind not to pull back from Jana after she put his arm around her at the airport. And he let her put her head on his chest. Tim is much more understanding and compassionate than Gregg. Gregg pushed me in the lake, but Tim was the one who told me where the ladder was
.

“Here you go, Sierra,” Tim said, holding his still lit cattail next to hers until the flame from his lit hers. The gesture seemed romantic. As Sierra stood there, feeling the warm glow from the fire on her fresh,
freckled face, she couldn’t help but wonder if Tim hadn’t just lit more than her cattail.

For the rest of the night, Sierra paid special attention to Tim. When they finished lighting all the cattails, and the stars had all come out, Mr. and Mrs. Hill went inside, leaving the four teens sitting in the lawn chairs arguing over the rules to a word game Gregg wanted them to play.

Sierra listened as Gregg and Jana worked out the rules. Sierra’s brothers and sister often acted the same way so the banter didn’t bother Sierra, but Tim seemed to be trying to bring resolution.

Sierra knew that Tim had only one brother, and he was deaf. She thought Tim probably had developed a deeper sense of understanding and compassion toward people because of having to learn another way to communicate with his brother. The thought made Sierra feel an equal sense of compassion toward Tim. Without realizing it, she was staring at him while a happy smile played across her lips.

“Did you get that?” Jana asked, nudging Sierra.

“I think so,” Sierra said, snapping herself back to the group. “Why don’t we try a practice run? Just start the game and explain what we do wrong as we go along.”

BOOK: Departures
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