I expected that summer to be special, because I was fourteen—to be fifteen in December—and maybe this year I’d be considered one of the “big kids” I’d always envied. I had no idea what forces of change would reshape my life. I had no hint that by the end of summer, nothing would ever be the same again.
We had missed going to Crystal Lake the previous year, the way we’d done every summer as far back as I could remember, because Dad had a business trip to Hawaii and he wanted us to go with him. He extended the outing to include two weeks of vacation time, and we’d had a wonderful month on breathtaking beaches and going to luaus and scuba diving in perfect weather and water far clearer than Crystal Lake ever was.
I’d missed seeing everybody at the lake, though, and I couldn’t wait to make up for lost time. We left home—Briar Hills, just north of Detroit—early enough to get us there by midafternoon of a hot, sunny day.
“They’re all swimming,” my sister, Winifred, pointed out as we swung onto the gravel drive. We could see the dock through the trees, where tanned bodies in bright bikinis and trunks cavorted in the water and sat on the floating raft some distance out. It was impossible to tell from where we were who was who.
My eyes swept over them eagerly. Was one of them Jack, I wondered? He’d be seventeen now. Maybe he wouldn’t regard me as a baby any longer.
“Whew,” Mom said, turning off the ignition and the air-conditioning. “I’m ready for a tall glass of iced tea.”
We opened the doors and inhaled the scent of pines and water and wood smoke.
The cottage looked the same as ever, not a cottage at all by most people’s standards, but a huge rambling rustic building with wide porches front and back, where you could sit on cushioned rattan furniture with a book or rock in one of the white-painted swings.
“I almost forgot how peaceful it is here,” Mom said. “Cici, warn them we’re here and dying of thirst, will you? Then come back and help me carry in luggage.”
The cottage was the same inside, too: big, cool rooms with faded flowery chintz and rugs a kid could walk on with sandy feet and an acrid smell from the huge stone fireplace as if someone had recently burned papers. Nobody was around when I walked through the house, though I could hear voices in the distance. I paused at one of the windows overlooking the
lake and tried again to pick out Jack’s head among all those bobbing in the water, but there were too many.
I had an expectant and satisfied feeling, knowing that everybody out there would welcome us. Welcome me. It was like coming home. I backtracked swiftly along the wide corridor that bisected the first floor, crossed the deserted dining room where the table had been opened up so it could seat twenty people, and pushed through the swinging door into the kitchen.
“Lina,” I said, “we’re here, and Mom’s hoping you have iced tea made—”
I stopped. It wasn’t Lina Shurik who turned from the sink where she was scrubbing vegetables, but a stranger. A woman with iron gray hair and glasses, managing to look kind of dressed up even with an apron on.
“Sorry. I was expecting Lina,” I said.
Her voice was dry and calm. “You must be Cecelia. We were hoping you’d get here in time for dinner.” Not supper, I registered. Lina always cooked supper. “Mrs. Shurik doesn’t work here anymore.”
Surprise held me there on the threshold. “She didn’t get sick, or . . . die, or anything, did she?”
“She quit last summer,” the new housekeeper said, turning back to her carrots. “During the trouble then. I’m Mrs. Graden. I have a pitcher of tea in the refrigerator. Perhaps your mother would like to join her sisters on the front veranda.”
The front porch was the one that faced the lake. “Sure,” I said. “Thanks.”
Not until I’d turned to retreat did the full impact of her words register. Lina had quit, after working for Molly and the Judge for over twenty years? And during what “trouble”?
Lina was Jack’s mother. A slight chill of apprehension ran through me. I hoped there wasn’t anything seriously wrong.
There were pounding feet on the stairway that rose from the hallway, and I heard my cousin Ginny’s eager voice. “Cici! Oh, I’m glad you’re here! We’re having a wiener and marshmallow roast tonight; they’re going to burn the old Sound Wave. Remember it? The MacBeans’ boat, the one we swiped and took around into the cove the time we were skinny-dipping, and the Atterbom boys caught us?”
She swung around the newel post and slammed into me, wrapping her arms around me in a bear hug, then holding me off. “Gosh, you’ve grown up! You’re a couple of inches taller than I am, you stinker! I guess I’m going to be five foot four the rest of my life. Get your suit on and we’ll go cool off with everyone else!”
The screen door slammed and Mom shouldered her way inside, a suitcase in each hand. “What happened to helping me carry this stuff?” she asked. “Freddy’s disappeared, too. Said something about puppies.”
Ginny had let her hair grow long and it frizzed around her face, already picking up its summer sun bleaching. “Oh, yeah, old Sunny had another litter a few weeks ago, at her age! The Judge thought she was too old, but I guess not. Get your suit, Cici, and let’s go!”
“Uh . . .” I stalled, looking at Mom, but she grinned.
“It’s in this one, isn’t it? You can get the rest later. I know the water won’t wait another five minutes.”
“Thanks, Mom,” I said, and grabbed both bags. “Oh, there’s a pitcher of tea in the kitchen. You can have it out on the front porch with Aunt Mavis and Aunt Pat!”
It wasn’t the water that drew me so strongly, of course, though I always enjoyed swimming. It was the kids. Especially Jack. I couldn’t wait to see what had happened with him since summer before last. I’d sent him a Christmas card last year, but he hadn’t sent one back, which had been very disappointing. I hoped it didn’t mean that he’d found a girlfriend before I got old enough to be eligible.
I took it for granted that I was to have my old room. Ginny followed me and sprawled on the bed while I dug out my new swimsuit and put it on.
“Umm,” Ginny approved. “They’ll spot that hot pink all the way across the lake. It really sets off that black hair. I like your hair, by the way, cut short like that.”
“It didn’t make sense to try to keep it curled when I was in swimming class every day last semester. Okay, I’m ready. Let’s go!”
The favorite swimming place on the lake had always been the main dock in front of the Judge’s cottage, mostly because it was the longest dock, and he also maintained a raft on floating oil drums for us to use. We sprinted down the stairs, then had to pause long enough to greet my mom’s sisters and Grandma
Molly. Molly was looking sort of frail, but she smiled and offered her cheek for a kiss. “Can’t wait to get out there and see everybody again, I guess,” she said.
Nobody mentioned Jack, for which I was grateful. We crossed the narrow strip of beach and I scanned heads again, from closer view. There was Tora Powell, a year older than I was, stunning in an electric blue bikini, and one of the Atterbom boys—they all looked alike, so I couldn’t tell which one it was—and Tora’s brother Hal who looked a lot more grown up, too. A bunch of little kids were playing along the shore, laughing and splashing. I still didn’t see Jack.
The boards of the dock were warm under my feet as we walked out toward the end. Chet Cyrek (or was it Nathan?) shoved a pretty girl I didn’t recognize, and after she resurfaced she jerked his foot and pulled him off into the deep water, laughing.
I felt kind of self-conscious in the new swimsuit. Mom had never let me get a bikini before, and though this one covered more than some, this bunch had never seen me in anything so skimpy.
“Well, look at Cici! All grown up,” a male voice said behind me, and I turned expectantly. It was only Len Fisher, my age but well over six feet tall. He was grinning, then took a run off the end of the dock in a pretty good dive.
“Want to race? Out around the buoy and back?” Ginny challenged.
“Sure,” I agreed, and then quickly before she could dive, “Isn’t Jack here?”
“He doesn’t swim here anymore,” Ginny said, and plunged in before I could reply.
I followed her, getting a late start because her answer had taken me off guard. Didn’t swim here anymore? Why not? I wanted to ask, but Ginny was already ahead of me.
I didn’t get a chance to ask her privately until we responded to the dinner bell two hours later. As we walked up to the cottage, dripping, we were finally alone as the other kids headed for home, too.
“What’s this about Jack not swimming here? Why not?” I demanded.
She shot me an oblique glance, wringing water out of her long hair. “Well, you know. It was awkward, after everything that happened. I guess he didn’t feel comfortable with the rest of us, especially when Chet and Nathan started coming back.”
I came to a stop on the edge of the grass. “What are you talking about? Why was it awkward? We always ran around together, everybody at the lake. It didn’t matter that Jack’s mother was a servant in our house. We didn’t treat him any different from anybody else. Come to think of it, that woman in the kitchen said Lina quit and mentioned trouble. What did you guys not bother to write and tell me?”
Ginger forgot her hair. She looked at me in what appeared to be consternation. She swallowed, and I prodded her with a swipe of my towel across her legs.
She didn’t see any joke, though. In fact, I could have sworn she’d gone pale.
“You’re not kidding, are you?”
“What?” I practically snarled. “Did something happen since I was here that I need to know about?”
Aunt Pat called from the porch. “Hurry up, girls, and get changed! Dinner’s ready!”
“Ginny, stop trying to be funny,” I said, though I already knew from her stricken expression that her display of shock wasn’t acting.
“Geeze, it never occurred to me you hadn’t heard. I know this family isn’t much for letter writing, but I thought for sure Molly or somebody would have told you—told your mom, anyway.”
I wanted to shake her, and by now I was getting scared. “Tell me,” I said, as calmly as I could.
She had to moisten her lips, even though she’d come out of the lake only moments ago. “Lina quit, and Jack stopped joining the rest of us, after his brother Brody went to prison for murdering Zoe Cyrek.”
For a moment the day turned dark, as if the spots before my eyes blotted out part of the sun.
Zoe was Nathan and Chet’s younger sister, the same age as Jack. And Brody Shurik was one of the “big kids,” a leader in the group I’d always longed to join. Brody and my cousin Ilona, Aunt Pat’s daughter, had been closer than two halves of a walnut shell ever since they were younger than I was now.
My knees were suddenly unsteady, and my stomach felt as if it were going to turn inside out.
“I don’t believe it,” I said when I could speak.
“Cici and Ginny, hurry up!” Mom called, and I tried to make my paralyzed lungs take in another breath before I died. Dazed, appalled, I let Ginny take hold of my arm and steer me toward the house. I sent her a beseeching look as we climbed the steps.
“How? How did it happen?” I murmured.
My sister, Freddy, pushed past us through the doorway and nearly knocked me down. The grown people in the family were already assembling in the dining room; the swimmers were racing for the stairs. Indulgent as he was in many ways, the Judge never allowed us to come to meals in wet swimsuits.
“I can’t eat,” I said under my breath. “Ginny, I think maybe I’m going to be sick. Tell me.”
“Later,” Ginny said, steering me toward the stairway. “We’ll have to go to the table or everybody will be asking questions. I don’t want to get them all going again, not when everything finally seems to have settled down. I’ll meet you as soon as you get dressed, and after sup—dinner, I’ll tell you everything I know.”
She left me at the door of my room, which I opened without seeing it or feeling it.
It couldn’t be true, I thought wildly. There couldn’t have been a murder at Crystal Lake. Especially not to a girl I knew, or involving the brother of the boy I’d had a crush on since I was about eight years old.
I’d never be able to eat with this hanging over me. Yet I
knew they were all downstairs, waiting for us.
I gulped, swallowed, and took a few deep breaths. My fingers trembled as I peeled off the wet suit and left it lying in a heap on the floor.
I wanted to flop backward on the bed and lie there, staring at the ceiling, until Ginny came back to explain to me what had happened. Instead, I found a pair of shorts and a T-shirt and began to put them on.
I felt as if my heart had been crushed by a gigantic hand, hurting me worse than I could ever have imagined.