It's Not Summer Without You
Page 29

 Jenny Han

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It was all very exciting and terrible. None of us had ever really gotten in trouble at the summer house. Not big trouble anyway. It was pretty much a big trouble-free zone.
The mothers were relaxed at the summer house. Where at home, Steven would Get It if he talked back, here, my mother didn’t seem to mind as much. Probably because at the Cousins house, us kids weren’t the center of the world. My mother was busy doing other things, like potting plants and going to art galleries with Susannah and sketching and reading books. She was too busy to get angry or bothered. We did not have her full attention.
This was both a good and bad thing. Good, because we got away with stuff. If we played out on the beach past bedtime, if we had double dessert, no one really cared. Bad, because I had the vague sense that Steven and I weren’t as important here, that there were other things that occupied my mother’s mind—memories we had no part of, a life before we existed. And also, the secret life inside herself, where Steven and I didn’t exist. It was like when she went on her trips without us—I knew that she did not miss us or think about us very much.
I hated that thought, but it was the truth. The mothers had a whole life separate from us. I guess us kids did too.
Chapter twenty-five
When Jeremiah and Conrad walked up the beach with their boards under their arms, I had this crazy thought that I should try to warn them somehow. Whistle or something. But I didn’t know how to whistle, and it was too late anyway.
They put the boards under the house, and then they walked up the steps and saw us sitting there. Conrad’s whole body tightened up, and I saw Jeremiah mutter “shit” under his breath. Then Jeremiah said, “Hey, Dad.” Conrad brushed right past us and into the house.
Mr. Fisher followed him in, and Jeremiah and I looked at each other for a moment. He leaned close to me and said, “How about you pull the car around while I get our stuff, and then we make a run for it?”
I giggled, and then I clapped my hand over my mouth. I doubted Mr. Fisher would appreciate me giggling when all this serious stuff was going on. I stood up and pulled my towel closer around me, under my armpits. Then we went inside too.
Conrad and Mr. Fisher were in the kitchen. Conrad was opening up a beer, not even looking at his dad. “What the hell are you kids playing at here?” Mr. Fisher said. His voice sounded really loud and unnatural in the house. He was looking around the kitchen, the living room.
Jeremiah began, “Dad—”
Mr. Fisher looked right at Jeremiah and said, “Sandy Donatti called me this morning and told me what happened. You were supposed to get Conrad back to school, not stay and—and party and interfere with the sale.”
Jeremiah blinked. “Who’s Sandy Donatti?”
“She’s our real estate agent,” Conrad said.
I realized my mouth was open, and I snapped it shut. I wrapped my arms around myself tight, trying to turn invisible. Maybe it wasn’t too late for me and Jeremiah to make a run for it. Maybe that way he’d never find out that I’d known about the house too. Would it make a difference that I’d only known about it since this afternoon? I doubted it.
Jeremiah looked over at Conrad, and then back at his dad. “I didn’t know we had a real estate agent. You never told me you were selling the house.”
“I told you it was a possibility.”
“You never told me you were actually doing it.”
Conrad broke in, speaking only to Jeremiah. “It doesn’t matter. He’s not selling the house.” He drank his beer calmly, and we all waited to hear what he’d say next. “It’s not his to sell.”
“Yes, it is,” Mr. Fisher said, breathing heavily. “I’m not doing this for me. The money will be for you boys.”
“You think I care about the money?” Conrad finally looked at him, his eyes cold. His voice was toneless. “I’m not like you. I could give a shit about the money. I care about the house. Mom’s house.”
“You have no right to be here. You should leave.”
Mr. Fisher swallowed and his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down. “No, I won’t leave.”
“Tell Sandy not to bother coming back.” Conrad said the word “Sandy” like it was an insult. Which I guess it was meant to be.
“I’m your father,” Mr. Fisher said hoarsely. “And your mother left it to me to decide. This is what she would have wanted.”
Conrad’s smooth, hard shell cracked, and his voice was shaking when he said, “Don’t talk about what she would have wanted.”
“She was my wife, goddamn it. I lost her too.”
That might have been true, but it was the exact wrong thing to say to Conrad at that moment. It set him off. He punched the wall closest to him, and I flinched. I was shocked he didn’t leave a hole.
He said, “You didn’t lose her. You left her. You don’t know the first thing about what she would have wanted. You were never there. You were a shitty dad and an even shittier husband. So don’t bother trying to do the right thing now. You just f**k it all up.”
Jeremiah said, “Con, shut up. Just shut up.”
Conrad swung around and shouted, “You’re still defending him? That’s exactly why we didn’t tell you!”
“We?” Jeremiah repeated. He looked at me then, and the stricken look on his face cut right through me.
I started to speak, to try to explain, but I only got as far as saying, “I just found out today, I swear,” when Mr. Fisher interrupted me.
He said, “You are not the only one hurting, Conrad. You don’t get to talk to me that way.”
“I think I do.”
The room was deadly quiet and Mr. Fisher looked like he might hit Conrad, he was so mad. They stared at each other, and I knew Conrad wouldn’t be the one to back down.
It was Mr. Fisher who looked away. “The movers are coming back, Conrad. This is happening. You throwing a tantrum can’t stop it.”
He left soon after. He said he’d be back in the morning, and the words were ominous. He said that he was staying at the inn in town. It was clear that he couldn’t wait to get out of that house.
The three of us stood around in the kitchen after he was gone, none of us saying anything. Least of all me. I wasn’t even supposed to be there. For once, I wished I was at home with my mother and Steven and Taylor, away from all of this.
Jeremiah was the first to speak. “I can’t believe he’s really selling the house,” he said, almost to himself.