It's Not Summer Without You
Page 7

 Jenny Han

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I bit my bottom lip to keep from saying something I knew I would regret. “There wasn’t any time,” I said, even though there had been. There had been plenty of time. I tugged down the skirt so it didn’t look so short.
She nodded tersely. “Go find the boys, will you? Belly, talk to Conrad.”
Steven and I exchanged a look. What would I say? It had been a month since prom, since we’d last spoken.
We found them in a side room, it had pews and tissue boxes under lacquer covers. Jeremiah’s head was bent, like he was praying, something I’d never known him to do. Conrad sat straight, his shoulders squared, staring into nowhere. “Hey,” Steven said, clearing his throat. He moved toward them, hugging them roughly.
It occurred to me that I’d never seen Jeremiah in a suit before. It looked a little too tight; he was uncomfortable, he kept tugging at his neck. But his shoes looked new. I wondered if my mother had helped pick them out.
When it was my turn I hurried over to Jeremiah and hugged him as hard as I could. He felt stiff in my arms. “Thanks for coming,” he said, his voice oddly formal.
I had this fleeting thought that maybe he was mad at me, but I pushed it away as quickly as it had come. I felt guilty for even thinking it. This was Susannah’s funeral, why would he be thinking about me?
I patted his back awkwardly, my hand moving in small circles. His eyes were impossibly blue, which was what happened when he cried.
“I’m really sorry,” I said and immediately regretted saying it, because the words were so ineffectual. They didn’t convey what I really meant, how I really felt. “I’m sorry” was just as pointless as rayon.
Then I looked at Conrad. He was sitting back down again, his back stiff, his white shirt one big wrinkle. “Hey,” I said, sitting down next to him.
“Hey,” he said. I wasn’t sure if I should hug him or leave him be. So I squeezed his shoulder, and he didn’t say anything. He was made of stone. I made a promise to myself: I would not leave his side all day. I would be right there, I would be a tower of strength, just like my mother.
My mother and Steven and I sat in the fourth pew, behind Conrad and Jeremiah’s cousins and Mr. Fisher’s brother and his wife, who was wearing too much perfume. I thought my mother should be in the first row, and I told her so, in a whisper. She sneezed and told me it didn’t matter. I guessed she was right. Then she took off her suit jacket and draped it over my bare thighs.
I turned around once and saw my father in the back. For some reason, I hadn’t expected to see him there. Which was weird, because he’d known Susannah too, so it only made sense that he’d be at her funeral. I gave him a little wave, and he waved back.
“Dad’s here,” I whispered to my mother.
“Of course he is,” she said. She didn’t look back.
Jeremiah and Conrad’s school friends sat in a bunch together, toward the back. They looked awkward and out of place. The guys kept their heads down and the girls whispered to one another nervously.
The service was long. A preacher I’d never met delivered the eulogy. He said nice things about Susannah. He called her kind, compassionate, graceful, and she was all of those things, but it sounded a lot like he’d never met her. I leaned in close to my mother to tell her so, but she was nodding along with him.
I thought I wouldn’t cry again, but I did, a lot. Mr. Fisher got up and thanked everyone for coming, told us we were welcome to come by the house afterward for a reception. His voice broke a few times, but he managed to keep it together. When I last saw him, he was tan and confident and tall. Seeing him that day, he looked like a man who was lost in a snowstorm. Shoulders hunched, face pale. I thought about how hard it must be for him to stand up there, in front of everybody who loved her. He had cheated on her, left her when she needed him most, but in the end, he had shown up. He’d held her hand those last few weeks. Maybe he’d thought there’d be more time too.
It was a closed casket. Susannah told my mother she didn’t want everybody gawking at her when she didn’t look her best. Dead people looked fake, she explained. Like they were made of wax. I reminded myself that the person inside the coffin wasn’t Susannah, that it didn’t matter what she looked like because she was already gone.
When it was over, after we’d said the Lord’s Prayer, we formed our processional, everybody taking their turn to offer condolences. I felt strangely adult there, standing with my mother and my brother. Mr. Fisher leaned down and gave me a stiff hug, his eyes wet. He shook Steven’s hand and when he hugged my mother, she whispered something in his ear and he nodded.
When I hugged Jeremiah, we were both crying so hard, we were holding each other up. His shoulders kept shaking.
When I hugged Conrad, I wanted to say something, to comfort him. Something better than “I’m sorry.” But it was over so quick, there wasn’t any time to say more than that. I had a whole line of people behind me, all waiting to pay their condolences too.
The cemetery wasn’t very far. My heels kept sticking in the ground. It must have rained the day before. Before they lowered Susannah into the wet ground, Conrad and Jeremiah both put a white rose on top of the coffin, and then the rest of us added more flowers. I picked a pink peony. Someone sang a hymn. When it was over, Jeremiah didn’t move. He stood right where her grave was going to be, and he cried. It was my mother who went to him. She took him by the hand, and she spoke to him softly.
Back at Susannah’s house, Jeremiah and Steven and I slipped away to Jeremiah’s bedroom. We sat on his bed in our fancy clothes. “Where’s Conrad?” I said. I hadn’t forgotten my vow to stay by his side, but he was making it hard, the way he kept disappearing.
“Let’s leave him alone for a while,” Jeremiah said. “Are you guys hungry?”
I was, but I didn’t want to say so. “Are you?”
“Yeah, sort of. There’s food downstairs.” His voice lingered on the word “downstairs.” I knew he didn’t want to go down there and face all those people, have to see the pity in their eyes. How sad , they’d say, look at those two young boys she left behind . His friends hadn’t come to the house; they’d left right after the burial. It was all adults down there.
“I’ll go,” I offered.
“Thanks,” he said gratefully.
I got up and shut the door behind me. In the hallway I stopped to look at their family portraits. They were matted and framed in black, all the same kind of frame. In one picture, Conrad was wearing a bow tie and he was missing his front teeth. In another, Jeremiah was eight or nine and he had on the Red Sox cap he refused to take off for, like, a whole summer. He said it was a lucky hat; he wore it every day for three months. Every couple of weeks, Susannah would wash it and then put it back in his room while he slept.