Several days ago, I posted on my Facebook page that I'd be releasing the first chapter of Last Summer for you guys. One month from today, Last Summer will be released to the world, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't both excited and terrified. It's my first contemporary story. But not only that--it has some heavy themes: drug abuse, sex, violence. Crazy stuff that I've never written before. This book has been a challenge mentally and emotionally, so if it doesn't go over well, I don't know what I'll do. (Fear not! I will keep writing.) lol
Anyway... I hope you guys enjoy this chapter, and thank you for all the love and support. <333 *hugs everyone*
Anyway... I hope you guys enjoy this chapter, and thank you for all the love and support. <333 *hugs everyone*
One • Chloe
I’ve acted oblivious to my parents growing further apart over the past six months. Dad works long hours on most evenings, coming home well past midnight. Mom and I eat dinner, and then she piles on the couch to watch Lifetime movies, sip her wine, and bawl her eyes out. I used to think she cried because of the sappy stories, but as time passed, I realized she cried because she’s losing Dad.
So this will be our last summer at the lake house. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. There won’t be additional memories created on the lake, riding in my parents’ boat. There won’t be late-night bonfires by the water. No more talk of planning the following year’s vacation, and how we can’t wait to come back. More than anything, though, I wish they would’ve told me about this trip prior to packing our bags and hitting the old, dusty trail because now I’m stuck with two people who can’t stand the sight of one another. I’m betting money they plan on releasing the giant elephant in the room upon our return home.
This illusion of a perfect life is all just a show, and I’m the audience.
I pull out one of my ear plugs. Listening to music for the past three hours has bored me to death. “How much farther?” I ask.
“Almost there, Chloe,” Mom replies. “We’ll make a quick stop at the Grab ’n’ Go to pick up a few items, so if you need anything while we’re there, let us know.”
They always buy groceries before heading to the lake house. Mom loads us up with plenty of snacks and sandwich food, while Dad hauls cases of soda and water to the car. Just like the old days when our family was happy.
A few miles later, Dad maneuvers the car into a parking space outside the familiar, mid-sized building. It’s lunchtime, and the place is swarming with an assortment of tourists and locals.
“You sure you don’t need anything while we’re in here?” Mom asks once more. “Last chance.”
“Nope. I’m good.”
As they exit the car, I step out, too, stretching my legs and inhaling fresh air. Being trapped with a couple of adults who haven’t said two words to each other in the last week is pretty awkward. I just wish they’d lay their problems on a table and get this divorce thing over with.
I shudder at the thought of the D word, even though it’s inevitable.
Closing my eyes, I draw in a deep breath and release. I will not let my parents’ problems come between me and an unforgettable summer. I’ll attempt to enjoy every minute I have with them because we’ll never get a do-over. I can be the daughter they want, and in the meantime, I can act as if they were still in love. After all, they’re probably here for my sake.
“Mind opening that for me?” Dad motions with his head toward the back end of the Toyota RAV4. I open the rear door.
Mom’s not far behind, lugging grocery bags tight with commodities, which look like they’ll bust at any second. I watch my parents in that short amount of time; Dad pretends like he doesn’t see Mom’s arms weighed down with supplies, and Mom pretends like she doesn’t see him notice her.
“Here, I’ll take a couple,” I say, because the white plastic digs into her skin.
The expanse of silence between these two is amazing, really. How can people loathe each other so much, yet put on a show for the benefit of their daughter? I know one thing: I can’t wait to be alone; away from my parents, away from the real world. I’ll go for a jog like I always do once I unpack. There’s just something about the openness of this place, something that drives me to spread my non-existent wings and soar through the trees with the warm sun adhering to my forehead, nose, and cheeks. Running has that effect on my soul; it’s a form of escape, lifting the stress of the world off my shoulders and placing it elsewhere for the time being. Therapy at its best.
One additional happy memory springs to mind when I reflect on my vacations here:
When I was much younger and less troubled, Mom and Dad agreed I could bring a friend to Sandy Shores. Jessica Huntington. She and I were inseparable in middle school. We did the usual girlie stuff at that age: slumber parties, wear each other’s clothes, dream we were dating celebrity crushes, dream we were dating real-life crushes. So when our parents allowed Jessica to spend the summer with us, we were both beyond ecstatic. We could only imagine the adventures that’d take place over the summer: the cute boys we could ogle and drool over, sunbathing, chugging lemonade like it was the last thing we’d ever drink.
On the second night of our stay, Jessica and I slipped out for a walk. Winding through the scraggly brush and wild grass around the lake, we stumbled upon an aged, forsaken cottage. Perfect hideout material. What we were hiding from, exactly, I still don’t know. The world, maybe? Because when it was just the two of us, alone, in a frightening house, the world outside didn’t exist. We told ghost stories and were terrified every time a breeze rustled branches or leaves, certain it was the Boogeyman. Each night thereafter we waited until lights out before we exited my parents’ lake house. Each night the stories grew scarier, the house older, and the wind more blatant in its attempts to alarm us.
It was the best and worst summer of my life.
Toward the end of our vacation, Jessica’s mom drove to Sandy Shores to pick her up. No phone call. No warning. I remember my parents having a brief discussion with Jessica’s mom in the driveway, their faces swallowed in grief, as I stood at the front door. I was too young at the time to understand why Jessica had to leave. What did we do wrong? Did my parents know about our late-night outings? Had I offended them somehow?
It wasn’t until we returned home that my parents explained the totality of the situation: Jessica’s dad was in a car accident, and he didn’t survive. I was heartbroken for her. She missed school for two weeks, and when she returned, things changed. She changed. It was almost as if she was embarrassed that I was around to witness her dad’s passing. Or maybe every time she saw me, I was the poster child for the horrible incident.
We never spoke of what happened that night. Actually, we never really spoke again. Jessica moved on to a more popular crowd, became a cheerleader freshman year, and began dating a football player—typical high school clichés. As for me, I stuck with track, buried my nose in books, and kept to myself. But every now and again, I caught Jessica glancing my way. Nothing that garnered attention from her new clique, but it was enough to chip off a piece of my heart.
So now, when I look at my dad, at how he’s abandoning Mom and me for a younger, livelier girl who we’ve never met, I think about Jessica’s dad, about how he never had a choice when parting from his family. My dad has willingly made that decision, and part of me hates him for it.
I refocus as we reach our driveway. Small pebbles crunch under the tires like a long procession of bubble wrap, and the scent of freshly-mowed grass invades the vents. Not the most glamorous smell in the world, but it definitely reminds me of summertime.
Our lake house hasn’t changed once in the years I’ve visited. The paint job impersonates a pale sun, and the white shutters remind me of clean linen. Inside, seashells and starfish adorn the walls, which are painted the same pastel yellow as the outside. Trust me, if I’ve told my mom once, I’ve told her a hundred times: we don’t live on the beach, so the decorations need to go. A lakeside beach, maybe. But a real beach? Nada. And every single time she replies, “Seashells and starfish remind people of beaches, and beaches remind people of vacation, which is what we’re on, is it not?”
“Help me get these drinks in the fridge, will ya, pumpkin?” Dad says as we lug groceries in. Setting the drinks on the kitchen counter, he separates plastic rings from the sodas, and I grab the newly-freed cans to place in the refrigerator.
Mom carries the last of the grocery bags and begins emptying their contents. “Looks like we have plenty of food for the next two weeks,” she says. “I’ll have to make another trip after that.”
Dad smiles weakly; it would’ve been imperceptible if I hadn’t been paying attention. He and I finish stockpiling the drinks, and he disappears from the kitchen. My guess is he’s searching for a reason to hide from Mom.
She notices his absence, too.
“Well,” she blurts, but it comes out as more of a huff than a word.
“I’m sure he’s just ready to unpack like the rest of us,” I lie. “It’s been a long day.”
Pausing midway to the cabinets, she says, “It’s been a long year,” so quietly that I want to tap my eardrums to ensure they’re still receptive. But the moment passes, and she finishes storing the goodies. “Listen, honey, why don’t you follow your father’s lead and unpack your things? You’ll feel better once you get situated.”
Don’t push me away, Mom. I’m all you’ve got.
“Sure,” I say with a smile, abstaining from my subconscious words.
Upstairs, I bypass my parents’ room. The door is closed, except for a two-inch gap, and Dad speaks so quietly his voice is ghostlike. I back up, peeking through the crack. He paces back and forth across a four-foot space at the end of the bed, combing his fingers through his hair a bit too gruffly. He seems bewildered.
“Can’t this wait?” he hisses into his cell phone. “Jesus Christ, Oksana, I’m on vacation with my family . . . No, of course not . . . You know I want to; I just can’t escape right now.”
My body abruptly jerks back as if an unseen force pushes me. Escape? Nobody’s holding you prisoner, Dad. Last I checked, Mom and I weren’t guards, and our home wasn’t Alcatraz. I lean closer to the door when his voice becomes more restrained.
“Fine. You know what? I’ll see what I can do . . . Yeah, give me a couple of days to figure something out . . . I’ll call you, all right? . . . I miss you, too. Bye.”
Crap! I pad lightly down the hall to my bedroom. His door swings open just as mine closes. Releasing a long, dejected sigh, I will my legs to move toward the bed, where I collapse, burying my face in my pillow.
Several minutes tick by before I pull myself together. After all, I kind of saw this coming, didn’t I? I mean, it’s obvious he’s had someone else. So, why is it tough to hear him actually speaking to her? Maybe it’s the fact that he’s abandoning our family vacation for some cheap skank he probably met at an office party. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s leading us on, not just Mom, but me. Or maybe it’s the fact that our summer house evokes loud memories of a time not so long ago, when a father was in love with his family, and a daughter was in love with her life.
Why can’t he just file the divorce papers and liberate himself?
Ugh. Screw this. I unzip my luggage case, finding exactly what I need—gym clothes. Settling on a pair of yoga pants and a tank top, I snatch my iPod and sneakers, and head downstairs. Dad’s nowhere to be found, and Mom’s staring out at the tranquil abyss of the lake water.
“I’m going for a run. Be back later,” I tell her as I slide open the glass doors leading to the rear deck.
“Okay, honey,” she murmurs, too absorbed in whatever weighs on her mind to notice I’m leaving, to even look at me.
I shake my head. This summer is going to be dandy.
Cranking up the volume on my iPod, I scroll through the list of albums, settling on 30 Seconds to Mars. Rock has the perfect effect on me when running. All my anger, all my aggression just . . . vanishes. I can free my mind in the warm, humid air with the help of music.
On this occasion, I take an alternative route. Sometimes change is good; it challenges the spirit. Dodging overgrowth and sticks, I sample my surroundings. All is quiet on the lake so far. By this time next week, everyone will be on the water. I wish we’d take the boat out one last time, but clearly my dad will bail on us at the first opportune moment for his sleaze of the week.
I shake my head to dispel the idea of him being so hurtful. How can he treat us like this and get away with it?
My feet stop before my brain fully registers why. Looming in front of me is the abandoned cottage Jessica and I frequented as kids. I can’t believe someone hasn’t bulldozed the place after all these years. Tentatively, I take careful steps forward. It’s not like the place will collapse due to your arrival, Chloe. The house is exactly how I remember it: chipped paint, missing shingles, shattered windows. It’s as if I’m stuck in a time warp. Like, I’ll turn around and Jessica won’t be far behind.
My hand pushes the front door open, and the hinges groan under exertion. I wipe my fingers, now coated in a thick layer of dirt, on my pants. Surveying the property, the first thing I notice are the missing floorboards. I make a mental note to watch where I step. The furniture from a different era sits sheathed under once-white sheets, which have now darkened to a rich russet. In the corner is a skinny, three-legged, round-top table, most likely used at one point to hold a vase filled with brightly-colored flowers. But that might be my imagination talking.
Finding an area in the middle of the living room floor, I tap my foot on the wooden beams to test my weight. They don’t budge. Good. Sitting down, I close my eyes, imagining Jessica and I are back in our perfect little world, in our perfect little cottage. Moonlight was the only form of brightness so we could see. Her lips would curve into a wicked grin, one that meant she was ready for another fearsome night. She’d begin dishing out her imaginative tale about a man who obsessed over dead children, about killing them and eating them for breakfast—way too morbid for our age, which made the account that much scarier. And when she’d land on a terrifying element of her story, she’d flick on the flashlight, illuminating her face in a bright but creepy beam. I’d squeal, even though I knew it was coming, eventually; I just didn’t know when.
“And they never knew what became of him,” she’d always say at the end of her stories.
I smile to myself. “What did become of him, Jessica?” I ask in the here and now. Opening my eyes, I shriek. A boy, not much older than me, stands a few feet away. His short brown hair is disheveled, and his jade eyes cut into mine.
The corner of his mouth twitches. “Who’s Jessica?”