Until that trip to the museum…
‘What?’ my mom asked. Her eyes tugged at my conscience, trying to pull out the secrets. ‘Did something scare you?’
I felt bad lying. I wanted to tell her about Mrs Dodds and the three old ladies with the yarn, but I thought it would sound stupid.
She pursed her lips. She knew I was holding back, but she didn’t push me.
‘I have a surprise for you,’ she said. ‘We’re going to the beach.’
My eyes widened. ‘Montauk?’
‘Three nights – same cabin.’
She smiled. ‘As soon as I get changed.’
I couldn’t believe it. My mom and I hadn’t been to Montauk the last two summers, because Gabe said there wasn’t enough money.
Gabe appeared in the doorway and growled, ‘Bean dip, Sally? Didn’t you hear me?’
I wanted to punch him, but I met my mom’s eyes and I understood she was offering me a deal: be nice to Gabe for a little while. Just until she was ready to leave for Montauk. Then we would get out of here.
‘I was on my way, honey,’ she told Gabe. ‘We were just talking about the trip.’
Gabe’s eyes got small. ‘The trip? You mean you were serious about that?’
‘I knew it,’ I muttered. ‘He won’t let us go.’
‘Of course he will,’ my mom said evenly. ‘Your stepfather is just worried about money. That’s all. Besides,’ she added, ‘Gabriel won’t have to settle for bean dip. I’ll make him enough seven-layer dip for the whole weekend. Guacamole. Sour cream. The works.’
Gabe softened a bit. ‘So this money for your trip… it comes out of your clothes budget, right?’
‘Yes, honey,’ my mother said.
‘And you won’t take my car anywhere but there and back.’
‘We’ll be very careful.’
Gabe scratched his double chin. ‘Maybe if you hurry with that seven-layer dip… And maybe if the kid apologizes for interrupting my poker game.’
Maybe if I kick you in your soft spot, I thought. And make you sing soprano for a week.
But my mom’s eyes warned me not to make him mad.
Why did she put up with this guy? I wanted to scream. Why did she care what he thought?
‘I’m sorry,’ I muttered. ‘I’m really sorry I interrupted your incredibly important poker game. Please go back to it right now.’
Gabe’s eyes narrowed. His tiny brain was probably trying to detect sarcasm in my statement.
‘Yeah, whatever,’ he decided.
He went back to his game.
‘Thank you, Percy,’ my mom said. ‘Once we get to Montauk, we’ll talk more about… whatever you’ve forgotten to tell me, okay?’
For a moment, I thought I saw anxiety in her eyes – the same fear I’d seen in Grover during the bus ride – as if my mom too felt an odd chill in the air.
But then her smile returned, and I figured I must have been mistaken. She ruffled my hair and went to make Gabe his seven-layer dip.
An hour later we were ready to leave.
Gabe took a break from his poker game long enough to watch me lug my mom’s bags to the car. He kept griping and groaning about losing her cooking – and more important, his ‘78 Camaro – for the whole weekend.
‘Not a scratch on this car, brain boy,’ he warned me as I loaded the last bag. ‘Not one little scratch.’
Like I’d be the one driving. I was twelve. But that didn’t matter to Gabe. If a seagull so much as pooped on his paint job, he’d find a way to blame me.
Watching him lumber back towards the apartment building, I got so mad I did something I can’t explain. As Gabe reached the doorway, I made the hand gesture I’d seen Grover make on the bus, a sort of warding-off-evil gesture, a clawed hand over my heart, then a shoving movement towards Gabe. The screen door slammed shut so hard it whacked him in the butt and sent him flying up the staircase as if he’d been shot from a cannon. Maybe it was just the wind, or some freak accident with the hinges, but I didn’t stay long enough to find out.
I got in the Camaro and told my mom to step on it.
Our rental cabin was on the south shore, way out at the tip of Long Island. It was a little pastel box with faded curtains, half sunken into the dunes. There was always sand in the sheets and spiders in the cabinets, and most of the time the sea was too cold to swim in.
I loved the place.
We’d been going there since I was a baby. My mom had been going even longer. She never exactly said, but I knew why the beach was special to her. It was the place where she’d met my dad.
As we got closer to Montauk, she seemed to grow younger, years of worry and work disappearing from her face. Her eyes turned the colour of the sea.