Authors: Heather Burch
Other books by Heather Burch
Summer by Summer
Copyright © 2015 by Heather Burch
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3900 Sparks Dr. SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49546
ePub Edition © March 2015: ISBN 978-0-310-72930-3
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Cover design: Kris Nelson/Story Look Design
Cover photography: Veer, Shutterstock
Interior design: Denise Froehlich
15 16 17 18 19 20 21 /DCI/ 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For my mom,
Mary Elisabeth McWilliams, a woman who inspires me to live life to the fullest.
I am in a hospital room.
To my right, the sun pours rays of heat through the window, but I can’t feel its warmth. I reach toward the pane, only to have my arm tingle with goose flesh from the air-conditioned chill. My long hair is matted, a tattered splash against my shoulders, ends frayed from too many hours in the unforgiving sun.
I close my eyes and imagine him. Like me, his skin is sun-darkened against the sterile bed. I see him standing at a campfire, reaching down to take my hand. He has so much more right to live than I.
Yet I’m here. My throat closes, and the smallest of sounds escapes my lips because I’ve felt this pain before.
Can a person survive losing both boys she loves? If so, I don’t see how. I squeeze my eyes tight and wish for the one thing I never believed possible.
I wish I was back on the island.
“I said I’d like to offer you the job, Summer.” Sandra Garrison blinked her long lashes, blue eyes sparkling as she leaned forward in the cushioned restaurant chair.
Stunned. My mouth opened but nothing came out. This was all wrong. I’d seen the other applicants for the position of nanny for her ten-year-old son, Joshie. The Garrison family spent summers in Belize, and their regular nanny wasn’t able to go. After my interview, I’d sat in the hotel lobby and watched a parade of blond, gorgeous young women go into the restaurant and sit on the other side of Sandra, flipping their hair and laughing at all the right times. I’d been certain I wouldn’t be considered. The Garrison’s world of expensive cars and clothes was completely at odds with my practicality and my Walmart shoes. And then there were all those other applicants. Tan and beautiful, any one of them could have easily been Sandra’s daughter. I didn’t know Sandra was more interested in principles than labels.
“Did you hear me, Summer?” But that knowing smile on her face told me the truth. She knew I’d prepared for rejection.
Her perfect brow winged up. “Please, it’s just Sandra.”
I forced out a breath. The job. I got the job. “I don’t know what to say.” It was my fresh start. The one I needed. The one I had to have or life and all its sorrow and craze was going to swallow me. I needed a change. And I needed someone to depend on me. As if reading my mind, Sandra withdrew a photograph from her purse and slid it across the table, her manicured fingertips catching the soft ambiance of the overhead light.
“This is Joshie.”
I took the picture of the smiling ten-year-old and already my heart felt a little lighter. Off to the right of my line of vision, practically hiding behind a planted palm, my dad caught my attention. He was dressed in his hotel best and had driven me down from Sarasota to Naples for the interview. I think he’d been as nervous as me sitting in the lobby waiting. He raised his hands, shoulders, and brows in question.
I nodded furiously and didn’t bother to hide my smile.
Sandra tossed a glance over her shoulder. “Your father?”
“I’m sorry. He was really excited for me. For this opportunity.”
“Don’t apologize, Summer.” The server appeared and Sandra gently thanked him and signed for the check. I realized just how accustomed she was to this whole
thing. I’d need to get accustomed too. So as not to standout like the sore thumb I was.
I started to hand the picture of Joshie back to Sandra, but she shook her head. “Keep it.” I was surprised when she motioned for my dad to join us.
“Your father seems great. In fact, I watched you two in the lobby before I started the interviews.”
“Mmm-hm. One of the reasons you shot right to the top of my list.” She didn’t elaborate on the other reasons. I couldn’t fathom what they might be. “I noticed from your résumé you are involved in a church youth group?”
“Well, I’ll see that Sunday mornings are free for you if you’d like to attend in Belize.”
My heart stuttered to a stop. “Oh, that’s not necessary.”
Her head tilted. “No?”
What could I say? That I’ve been doubting everything I’d thought I’d known since I was nine? That I wasn’t dedicated anymore? Yeah, that would be great. Lose the job before ever starting it. “What I mean is I’m excited to have a complete change in my routine. I plan on being available 24/7 for your family. It’s important to me that I do that.”
Sandra seemed satisfied with that answer. “Okay, but if you change your mind, the offer is open.”
My dad came over, inching his way closer as if his appearance at the table could cause Sandra to rescind her offer. I had the best dad in the world. Introductions were made and after discussing the plans, Sandra popped up out of the soft chair, shook both our hands, and left us standing there grinning like fools.
Dad leaned closer. “You’re going to Belize for the summer.”
My eyes widened, wind from the fans above instantly drying my eyeballs. “I know.”
He mocked a frown. “Your mom’s going to freak out.”
My frown was genuine. “I know. She doesn’t want me to go. Neither does Becky.”
“You can’t blame Becky. She doesn’t want to lose her best friend for the summer. As far as your mom goes . . . She’s worried about you. In her mind you’d be spending the summer getting ready for college, working, doing all the things young women do at this time of their lives.” He pulled me into a hug. “You leave her to me. I want this for you, hon. I know you need to take some time before you decide what you want to do with the rest of your life. I’m hoping this experience will help you work that out.”
I hugged him back and held on a little too tightly.
He tilted to look at me. “I want you to come back carrying less weight on your shoulders. Go find your happy. I want my girl back, my happy girl. It’s going to be such an adventure for you to live in the tropics. Maybe when you come home, you can write about it.”
Write about it? No, I couldn’t. I hadn’t been able to write anything for a year. Of course, I hadn’t really felt anything either. Would I be this way forever? I glanced down at the picture of the grinning ten-year-old. No. I was on my way to healing, on my way to my fresh start. No doubt about it.
Four weeks into the trip, and close to my nineteenth birthday, that fresh start came to a screaming halt. Everything had been perfect for those first couple weeks. Then Bray showed up. The quintessential party boy I needed to avoid. I concentrated my time and effort on Joshie. He was a light in the dark place of my heart. And healing, though slow, was working its way through me. It was at the four-week mark that the world came crashing down.
It was one year after losing Michael.
Summers hadn’t been my best season.
That day when Bray arrived had started like any other. I took Joshie down to the beach to collect shells. Around Belize, the water is murky — brackish, they call it, due to all the rivers that empty into the ocean. You have to get a fair distance from land to experience that gorgeous Caribbean crystal water shown on travel brochures. I was surprised when I first saw the real thing. And a little disappointed. I learned that my dream water surrounded the cays — tiny islands that dotted the coastline around Belize.