It's Not Summer Without You
Page 22

 Jenny Han

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When I saw his car in the driveway, I could feel my heart constrict. He was in there. Like a shot, Jeremiah was out of the car and bounding toward the house. He took the stairs two at a time, and I trailed after him.
It was strange; the house still smelled the same. For some reason, I hadn’t been expecting that. Maybe with Susannah gone, I’d thought it would all feel different. But it didn’t. I almost expected to see her floating around in one of her housedresses, waiting for us in the kitchen.
Conrad actually had the nerve to look annoyed when he saw us. He’d just come in from surfing; his hair was wet and he still had his suit on. I felt dazed—even though it had only been two months, it was like seeing a ghost. The ghost of first love past. His eyes flickered on me for about one second before rounding on Jeremiah. “What the hell are you doing here?” he asked him.
“I’m here to pick you up and take you back to school,” Jeremiah said, and I could tell he was working hard to sound relaxed, laid-back. “You really messed up, man. Dad’s going out of his mind.”
Conrad waved him off. “Tell him to go screw himself. I’m staying.”
“Con, you missed two classes and you’ve got midterms on Monday. You can’t just bail. They’ll kick you out of summer school.”
“That’s my problem. And what’s she doing here?” He didn’t look at me when he said it, and it was like he’d stabbed me in the chest.
I started to back away from them, toward the glass sliding doors. It was hard to breathe.
“I brought her with me to help,” Jeremiah said. He looked over at me and then took a breath. “Look, we’ve got all your books and everything. You can study tonight and tomorrow and then we can head back to school.”
“Screw it. I don’t care,” Conrad said, walking over to the sofa. He peeled off the top of his wetsuit. His shoulders were already getting tan. He sat down on the sofa, even though he was still wet.
“What’s your problem?” Jeremiah asked him, his voice just barely even.
“Right now, this is my problem. You and her. Here.” For the first time since we’d arrived, Conrad looked me in the eyes. “Why do you want to help me? Why are you even here?”
I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Just like always, he could devastate me with a look, a word.
Patiently, he waited for me to say something, and when I didn’t, he did.
“I thought you never wanted to see me again. You hate me, remember?” His tone was sarcastic, belittling.
“I don’t hate you,” I said, and then I ran away. I pushed the sliding door open and stepped outside to the porch. I closed the door behind me and ran down the stairs, down to the beach.
I just needed to be on the beach. The beach would make me feel better. Nothing, nothing felt better than the way sand felt beneath my feet. It was both solid and shifting, constant and ever-changing. It was summer.
I sat in the sand and I watched the waves run to shore and then spread out thin like white icing on a cookie. It had been a mistake to come here. Nothing I could say or do would erase the past. The way he’d said “her,” with such disdain. He didn’t even call me by my name.
After a while, I headed back to the house. Jeremiah was in the kitchen by himself. Conrad was nowhere in sight.
“Well, that went well,” he said.
“I never should have come.”
Jeremiah ignored me. “Ten to one the only thing he has in the fridge is beer,” he said. “Any takers?”
He was trying to make me laugh, but I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. “Only an idiot would take that bet.” I bit my lip. I really, really didn’t want to cry.
“Don’t let him get to you,” Jeremiah said. He pulled on my ponytail and wound it around his wrist like a snake.
“I can’t help it.” The way he’d looked at me—like I meant nothing to him, less than nothing.
“He’s an idiot; he doesn’t mean anything he says,” Jeremiah said. He nudged me. “Are you sorry you came?”
Jeremiah smiled at me crookedly. “Well, I’m not. I’m glad you came. I’m glad I’m not dealing with his BS on my own.”
Because he was trying, I tried too. I opened up the fridge like I was one of those women from The Price Is Right , the women who wore evening gowns and jeweled heels.
“Ta-da,” I said. He was right, the only thing inside were two cases of Icehouse. Susannah would’ve flipped if she could have seen what had become of her Sub-Zero fridge. “What are we going to do?” I asked him.
He looked out the window, to the beach. “We’re probably going to have to stay here tonight. I’ll work on him; he’ll come. I just need some time.” He paused. “So how about this. Why don’t you go grab some food for dinner, and I’ll stay here and talk to Con.”
I knew Jeremiah was trying to get rid of me, and I was glad. I needed to get out of that house, away from Conrad. “Clam rolls for dinner?” I asked him.
Jeremiah nodded and I could tell he was relieved. “Sounds good. Whatever you want.” He started to pull out his wallet, but I stopped him.
“It’s okay.”
He shook his head. “I don’t want you to use your money,” he said, handing me two creased twenties and his keys. “You already came all this way to help.”
“I wanted to.”
“Because you’re a good person and you wanted to help Con,” he said.
“I wanted to help you, too,” I told him. “I meant, I still do. You shouldn’t have to deal with this on your own.”
For one brief moment, he didn’t look like himself. He looked like his father. “Who else will?” And then he smiled at me, and he was Jeremiah again. Susannah’s boy, sunshine and smiles. Her little angel.
I learned to drive stick on Jeremiah’s car. It felt good to be in the driver’s seat again. Instead of turning on the AC, I rolled down the windows and let the salty air in. I drove into town slowly, and I parked the car by the old Baptist church.
There were kids running around in bathing suits and shorts, and also parents in khaki, and golden retrievers without leashes. It was probably the first weekend since school let out, for most of them. There was just that feeling in the air. I smiled when I saw a boy trailing after two older girls, probably his sisters. “Wait up,” he yelled, his flip flops slapping along the pavement. They just walked faster, not looking back.