It's Not Summer Without You
Page 9

 Jenny Han

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“What happened with you and Conrad, Belly? Did you have a fight? Did you two break up?” It was so odd to hear the words “break up” come out of my dad’s mouth. I couldn’t discuss it with him. It was just too bizarre.
“Dad, I can’t talk about this stuff with you. Could you just go? I want to be alone.”
“All right,” he said, and I could hear the hurt in his voice. “Do you want me to get your mother?”
She was the last person I wanted to see. Right away, I said, “No, please don’t.”
The bed creaked as my father got up and closed the door.
The only person I wanted was Susannah. She was the only one. And then I had a thought, clear as day. I would never be somebody’s favorite again. I would never be a kid again, not in the same way. That was all over now. She was really gone.
I hoped Conrad listened to me. I hoped I never saw him again. If I ever had to look at him again, if he looked at me the way he did that day, it would break me.
Chapter six
july 3
When the phone rang early the next morning, my first thought was, The only kind of calls you get this early in the morning are the bad ones. I was right, sort of.
I think I was still in a dream state when I heard his voice. For one long second, I thought it was Conrad, and for that second, I could not catch my breath. Conrad calling me again—that was enough to make me forget how to breathe. But it wasn’t Conrad. It was Jeremiah.
They were brothers, after all; their voices were alike. Alike but not the same. He, Jeremiah, said, “Belly, it’s Jeremiah. Conrad’s gone.”
“What do you mean ‘gone’?” Suddenly I was wide awake and my heart was in my throat. Gone had come to mean something different, in a way that it hadn’t used to. Something permanent.
“He took off from summer school a couple of days ago and he hasn’t come back. Do you know where he is?”
“No.” Conrad and I hadn’t spoken since Susannah’s funeral.
“He missed two exams. He’d never do that.” Jeremiah sounded desperate, panicky even. I’d never heard him sound that way. He was always at ease, always laughing, never serious. And he was right, Conrad would never do that, he’d never just leave without telling anybody. Not the old Conrad, anyway. Not the Conrad I had loved since I was ten years old, not him.
I sat up, rubbed at my eyes. “Does your dad know?”
“Yeah. He’s freaking out. He can’t deal with this kind of thing.” This kind of thing would be Susannah’s domain, not Mr. Fisher’s.
“What do you want to do, Jere?” I tried to make my voice sound the way my mother’s would. Calm, reasonable. Like I wasn’t scared out of my mind, the thought of Conrad gone. It wasn’t so much that I thought he was in trouble. It was that if he left, really left, he might never come back. And that scared me more than I could say.
“I don’t know.” Jeremiah let out a big gust of air. “His phone has been off for days. Do you think you could help me find him?”
Immediately I said, “Yes. Of course. Of course I can.”
Everything made sense in that moment. This was my chance to make things right with Conrad. The way I saw it, this was what I had been waiting for and I hadn’t even known it. It was like the last two months I had been sleepwalking, and now here I was, finally awake. I had a goal, a purpose.
That last day I’d said horrible things. Unforgiveable things. Maybe, if I helped him in some small way, I’d be able to fix what was broken.
Even so, as scared as I was at the thought of Conrad being gone, as eager as I was to redeem myself, the thought of being near him again terrified me. No one on this earth affected me the way Conrad Fisher did.
As soon as Jeremiah and I got off the phone, I was everywhere at once, throwing underwear and T-shirts into my big overnight bag. How long would it take us to find him? Was he okay? I would have known if he wasn’t okay, wouldn’t I? I packed my toothbrush, a comb. Contact solution.
My mother was ironing clothes in the kitchen. She was staring off into nowhere, her forehead one big crease. “Mom?” I asked.
Startled, she looked at me. “What? What’s up?”
I’d already planned what I’d say next. “Taylor’s having some kind of breakdown because she and Davis broke up again. I’m gonna stay over at her place tonight, maybe tomorrow, too, depending on how she feels.”
I held my breath, waiting for her to speak. My mother has a bullshit detector like no one I’ve ever known. It’s more than a mother’s intuition, it’s like a homing device. But no alerts went off, no bells or whistles. Her face was perfectly blank.
“All right,” she said, going back to her ironing.
And then, “Try and be home tomorrow night,” she said. “I’ll make halibut.” She spritzed starch on khaki pants. I was home free. I should have felt relieved, but I didn’t, not really.
“I’ll try,” I said.
For a moment, I thought about telling her the truth. Of all people, she’d understand. She’d want to help. She loved them both. It was my mother who took Conrad to the emergency room the time he broke his arm skateboarding, because Susannah was shaking so hard she couldn’t drive. My mother was steady, solid. She always knew what to do.
Or at least, she used to. Now I wasn’t so sure. When Susannah got sick again, my mother went on autopilot, doing what needed doing. Barely present. The other day I’d come downstairs to find her sweeping the front hallway, and her eyes were red, and I’d been afraid. She wasn’t the crying kind. Seeing her like that, like an actual person and not just my mother, it almost made me not trust her.
My mother set down her iron. She picked up her purse from the counter and pulled out her wallet. “Buy Taylor some Ben & Jerry’s, on me,” she said, handing me a twenty.
“Thanks, Mom,” I said, taking the twenty and stuffing it into my pocket. It would come in handy for gas money later.
“Have fun,” she said, and she was gone again. Absent. Ironing the same pair of khaki pants she’d just gone over.
When I was in my car, driving away, I finally let myself feel it. Relief. No silent, sad mother, not today. I hated to leave her and I hated to be near her, because she made me remember what I wanted most to forget. Susannah was gone, and she wasn’t coming back, and none of us would be the same ever again.
Chapter seven
At Taylor’s house, the front door was almost never locked. Her staircase, with its long banister and shiny wooden steps, was as familiar to me as my own.