By Olivia Smit
They’re all fighting different battles … and no one wants to tell Skylar the truth.
After a year of navigating her final year of high school, Skylar Brady can’t wait to go back to Golden Sound. But when she gets there, nothing is quite like she expected. Anastasia is gone, the library is in danger of closing, and there’s something Cam isn’t telling her. Skylar is sure she can rescue the library. But can she save Cam?
Mike, on the other hand, never wanted to return to Golden Sound, but after his summer internship falls through, he finds himself headed straight back to the unresolved mess he left behind. So many secrets: the summer job that went wrong. The woman who paid the price. And the fact that Eric knows the truth … and plans to hold it over his head in more ways than one.
The library might close
Can you come?
I’ve been staring at the same three texts all day, and so far, nothing’s changed. Cam’s words from this morning are no less ominous than when I first read them in the dim light of my bedroom. I thought the morning sunshine, the normalcy of a late spring day spent studying for exams, would chase away the uneasy feeling in my belly, but so far, no good.
My own line of texts trails away after his, twelve different responses (all equally inadequate, some bordering on insensitive) all trying to fill the gap where everything okay is supposed to be.
Anastasia can’t leave Golden Sound. The library can’t close. What is a small town without its treasured inhabitants? What’s summer without shelving books with my two favorite people?
“I need this,” I whisper to myself, like it will make a difference. “Don’t take this away from me.”
Someone pokes my shoulder, and I flinch before I can stop myself, glancing up from my phone to find sunshine pouring in my bedroom window. I’m still not used to the random, out-of-the-blue taps and touches that make so much more sense when you can hear the footsteps or sniffles or even the sound of someone’s clothing rubbing together. Instead, it’s like being kicked in the dark at a sleepover. No warning. Instant pain.
Janie leans off the end of my bed, poking the back of my shoulder with her pencil. She’s saying something, but I took my hearing aids out when she started playing music a half hour ago. I roll my desk chair out a little so I can reach the bottom drawer where I usually stash them, turning each one on before winding the plastic cord carefully around my earlobe.
Janie’s voice leaps into my head mid-sentence, and I have to squeeze my eyes shut for a second to let my brain adjust.
“—party, and I said—”
“Sorry—” I hold up a hand like I’m directing traffic. Cam’s texts still spin around in my head. “Can you start over?”
Janie’s smile looks like it’s stuck on at one corner, slipping half-heartedly off her face as she sucks in a deep breath. “I was just going to say,” she starts, and then waits for me to nod before continuing. “If you want to come to the grad party, you can.”
The end of her sentence, unspoken, rings loudly in my imagination. Even though you’re not graduating with the rest of us. Even though my injury from eleventh grade has confined me to yet another semester stuck within the halls of our high school in the least-victorious thirteenth year ever taken. Even though my other friends are moving on.
“Thanks.” I untie my hair and begin twisting it back into a braid. “Who’s hosting again?” I won’t remember. I won’t attend. But they don’t know that yet.
“Daria.” Janie holds her phone out to me. “Skylar, you should totally come. We’ll have fun.”
I nod, pretending to be focused on the end of my braid so I won’t have to look her in the eyes. Will we have fun? Or would we have had fun, if everything was the same as it used to be?
“Skylar…” Janie bounces to a sitting position and throws her pencil gently into my lap. “It’s no big deal. About the extra year of school. You know that, right? No one cares!”
I toss her pencil back and flip my braid over my shoulder. My smile feels like a mask. “Thanks, girl.”
“Just turn your volume up to 100 and we’ll be good to go!”
I’m saved from having to respond to the inaccuracies of that statement by Janie herself—her gaze flicks abruptly over to my desk, and before I can spin to see what she’s looking at, she’s reached over and scooped my phone into her hand.
“Someone’s boyfriend is calling,” she laughs, picking up the call and turning the phone to face herself, scooting away from me on the bed. “Hello?” She’s laughing, eyes crinkled at the corners, but my stomach drops.
Cam and I usually schedule our video-calls. He must be upset if he’s calling now, with no warning. Did he forget Janie and I were studying today? Or is he desperate enough not to care?
“She’s here.” Janie’s still laughing. “But I need to hear the password before I hand you over.”
I hold my hand out for my phone, but she pulls away, listening. After a second, she claps a hand over her mouth, eyes wide.
“Oh my gosh!”
“What?” I reach over and tug the phone out of her grasp, flipping it around so I can see Cam’s face.
“… too cute!” says Janie in the background, but I’m looking at my boyfriend, whose smile only looks slightly forced.
“Janie’s here—obviously,” I say, but when he tries to say something back, I can’t quite make it out. “Can I call you later?”
He nods and flashes me a thumbs-up and a quick smile.
Okay? I mouth to him, raising my eyebrows to emphasize the question.
He nods, bringing the back of one hand to rest on the palm of the other. GOOD.
“Okay, good,” I say out loud. “Talk to you later.”
He waves, then ends the call.
“So.” Janie leans in, forcing herself into my frame of vision while I’m still staring down at the now-blank screen of my phone. “He’s so cute, Skylar! How come you never talk about him? I wasn’t even sure the two of you were still together!”
“We’re definitely together.” I think longingly of our Christmas-break visit to my aunt’s in Golden Sound, and how Cam took a few days off school to stay with us during my March break. My parents even let me miss Friday classes to visit him on the weekend last month. “I miss him a lot.” I have to find a way to make it to Golden Sound. My parents were fine with a weekend here and there, but can I convince them to let me go away for an entire summer?
I glance down at my phone, firing off a few texts to Cam while Janie prods me for more details.
Can you give me more details? Is Ana really leaving? Why is the library closing? Are you okay? What will we do?????
“Come on, Skylar.” Janie knocks the back of my phone with her knuckles. “Why do I feel like you never tell me anything anymore?”
I meet her gaze. My phone lights up with a text, but I force myself not to break eye contact with her. How do I answer that question?
“Never mind,” she says, after the pause is just a beat too long. “I guess you’re entitled to be mysterious, if you want to.”
It’s another opening. I could still tell her now—we could have a girl talk gossip session, just like we used to. But where would I even start?
Janie glances back down at her phone, flopping onto her back on my bed. “Hey, Skylar.” She holds her phone out to me. “Check this out.” It’s one of Daria’s Instagram posts of her sitting by her backyard pool. “Grad party next week…” says Janie, grinning. “Come on. Say you’ll come?”
If I’m here, it might be fun. “Okay.” I glance over at Janie, but she’s giggling at something on her phone. When I glance over her shoulder, she’s watching Instagram stories, not even on Daria’s profile anymore.
I should feel disappointed, or lonely, or even a little bit left out. But instead, my chest loosens as I open my own phone and go into my messaging app.
Cam’s reply to me is short: Relax, Sky. I’ll call you in half an hour?
Janie’s mom will have picked her up by then, but I don’t want to wait.
Is it her daughter? Eva?
Talk soon. I wish there was at least an emoji to follow his response.
“Hey.” Janie nudges my knee with her toes. “My mom’s going to be here in five.”
“I’ll help you pack up.” Together, we dump stray pencils into their cases, close loose-leaf papers back up into their binders, and toss the remainder of Janie’s never-ending stash of study candy back into her backpack. I slip my phone into my pocket and walk Janie downstairs, through the quiet house, and out onto the porch, where we sit on the steps side-by-side, just like we’ve done since we were kids.
She scrolls through Instagram; I re-read Cam’s messages from today and try to figure out what the heck is going on.
When at last her mom’s van rolls up, I have to force myself to stand and wave until they’re out of sight when all I want to do is get Cam on the video screen across from me, pronto. I punch the video call button before I’m even inside.
At last, his camera turns on, and his grin meets me on-screen. I can’t help smiling back.
“Let me get up to my room.” I put my mouth close to the speaker, even though I know he can probably hear me just fine. “One sec.”
In a quiet room with the sound on my phone turned up all the way, I can usually manage to hear about half of what Cam is saying. If the internet connection is good.
“I have questions.” I slam through the front door and lock it behind me—Dad’s rule when any of us is home alone. “About Ana. And the library. And everything. And why didn’t you respond to any of my texts?” I glance around the kitchen—still empty, Dad must be picking the kids up from school—and flop down at the island counter. “Okay. Empty house. Sound turning on … now.” I pin down the volume button and watch the bars increase.
Cam says something, garbled and faint. Tinny. Broken.
“One sec.” I train my eyes on his face, ready to watch his lips. “What?”
“I miss you,” he says, slow and clear. He’s probably yelling. I kind of love him for it.
“Me too.” I blow him a kiss. “Now, please, tell me what’s going on?”
He opens his mouth to reply.
“No, wait.” I hold up a hand. “First, how could you drop that on me over text? And what’s with the radio silence after?”
Cam’s crooked grin isn’t as wide as usual. ALL-DONE? He signs with one hand, eyebrows raised.
“… … at the library. I forgot … … my phone.” He shrugs, one shoulder hiked exaggeratedly up so I’ll be sure not to miss the gesture. “I didn’t mean … …you waiting.”
“It’s okay.” I rest my chin in my hands, propping my phone up against the flowerpot by the sink. “So tell me about Ana.”
“It’s good news,” says Cam, and then launches into some sort of story about Ana, her daughter Eva, and a moving truck. I lean as close to the camera as I dare, trying to read his lips and piece together all the different parts of the story. Even with half the conversation missing, I fit here. We understand each other. Five minutes with Cam relaxes me in a way a whole afternoon with my childhood best friend just can’t anymore.
“Wait.” I cut him off mid-sentence. “Ana’s really moving?”
“Because of Eva? Or something?”
“She’s moving closer to her family.” Cam leans toward the phone, and this sentence emerges in a burst of clarity. “But … … librarian to replace her.”
“Can’t you do it?” Cam and I both worked as assistant librarians last summer—he knows how to do it. Plus, he knows the people. And in a small town like Golden Sound, that counts for a lot.
He shakes his head. “They only want me there to pack books. So it’s tidy and ready to close.”
“Is that it? It’s all been decided already?”
Cam rubs his eyes with the tips of his fingers before replying. “Feels that way.”
“But it’s so well-used!”
He’s already nodding along with me. I KNOW.
“Shouldn’t the people get a say?”
He shrugs, unbuckling his watch and then fastening it again. And again. “… not.”
“Ridiculous.” I can’t believe they would do this! Not to us. Not to Golden Sound.
“Can you come?” He leans in close to the camera. “Help … figure it out?”
His face relaxes into a smile—just as wide as I remember. I grin back.
“Is that the only reason you want me to come?” If he was sitting across from me, I’d poke him. Gently. But I have to content myself with verbal jabs instead.
His eyebrows jump up. “Maybe. Maybe not. … … … show up and find out.”
“I’m teasing, Sky.”
There’s a flicker of movement by the front door, and I can’t help glancing up—away from whatever Cam is saying—to find Sara’s face plastered to the narrow window beside the door, peering in at me as Dad fiddles with the lock. By the time I glance back down at the phone, the twins have entered and the sound level in the room has crept up at least triple. I can see Cam’s lips moving, but his voice just meshes with the wall of background noise assaulting my hearing aids.
“I can’t hear you anymore.” I turn the camera to face the twins, who crowd forward. Sara’s head almost reaches my shoulder, and when she waves enthusiastically at the camera, she nearly smacks me in the face. “Okay, guys. Clear out. Leave Cam alone.”
Sara calls some sort of greeting into the phone and then crosses the kitchen to tug open the fridge. I turn my gaze back to the phone to find a more texts waiting for me.
When you come, I want to take you somewhere special. On a real date. Not just hanging out at the house together
“You know I like hanging out with you anywhere, right?” But my heart does a little double-beat inside my chest. Spending Christmas and spring break together isn’t enough. I miss him like crazy. “Let me go upstairs so we can finish talking.”
He shakes his head, points to the text box. I have to go. Let me know what your parents say?
I nod. “I’m coming. I’ll convince them.”
He grins. That’s my girl.
I’m beaming at him when he disconnects the call, and when Dad waves at me from across the kitchen, laptop balanced precariously on top of the groceries he’s supposed to be unloading, I simply re-direct the smile to him.
He spreads his hands wide, palms up.
“Cam.” I gesture at the phone, and he nods understandingly. “Hey, Dad?”
He waits, nudging his glasses up to his forehead so he can study me in greater detail.
“Can I drive up to visit Cam after exams?”
He winces. My smile freezes.
“… … ask your mom.”
When I pose the question to Mom after work, she sets down her purse, listens patiently as I outline the whole situation, and then puts a hand on my arm. “I’ll need to talk to your dad about this one.”
“He told me to talk to you!”
“I’m sorry, Skylar.” Mom rummages through her purse, passes Sara a bobby pin, licks her thumb and wipes a smear off Aiden’s cheek, and then looks back at me. “It’s a long trip, and you and Mike share a car … you’ve never driven that far alone …”
“I need to go.” I grab her arm so she has to look me in the eyes. “Mom. It’s really important.”
She meets my gaze, eyebrows pinched just slightly. “Skylar …”
Mike passes us on his way out the door, guitar case slung over his back. “What’s going on?” He leans in over my shoulder, so his words ring clearly through my hearing aids.
“I need to go to Golden Sound.” I clench my fists behind my back. “The library is closing, Cam’s stressed out—it’s really important.”
Mike glances over at Mom.
“Your dad and I will discuss it.” This is said with finality and a firm nod before she turns to tug the groceries out from under Dad’s laptop, half-melted ice cream leaving condensation puddled on the dining room table.
Mike shrugs. “Good luck, Sky.” And then he’s gone, too, the door swinging shut behind him.
The hour before dinner crawls by. With no homework to do, I trail after Aiden and Sara, allowing them to rope me into playing a round of UNO until Dad comes in with their backpacks and reminds them that even though I’m done with my classes, they still have homework. Then he fixes me with the same look and asks about exams.
I beeline for my room.
When Mom texts an hour later, calling me down for dinner, everyone is already around the table. Except my older brother.
“Where’s Mike?” I accept the tray of taco shells half-flung across the table by Sara and slide two onto my plate before handing them off to Dad.
Mom reaches for the salsa, turning her face toward me even though she’s looking in the other direction. “Teaching guitar lessons again tonight. He’s trying to get as many hours in as possible before that internship starts.”
Dad scoops sour cream onto his taco. “I’m really proud of him.”
Mom nods. “He’s really got himself back on track.”
She doesn’t say the words after last summer, but I know we’re all thinking it.
I take a bite of my taco and instantly regret it. Mouth full, I force out the words. “What’s his internship, again?” For all intents and purposes, I’m ignored, although it’s difficult to say if that’s because no one hears me or they’re just more focused on Sara and the entire glass of milk she tips into her lap while reaching for the chicken. I wait for a good moment to ask them about my own traveling plans this summer, but a good moment never presents itself.
After dinner, I can’t catch either one of them before they vanish into Dad’s office, which is mostly just used as storage. I stand outside the door, forehead pressed to the frame, and when Aiden walks by, I grab his arm.
“What are they saying?”
He leans in, presses his ear to the door. His forehead wrinkles. “They’re talking about you.”
“But what are they saying?”
He shrugs. “Can I go now?”
I let go of his wrist and press my forehead against the door, wishing I could hear anything beyond the faint roaring of air in my hearing aids.
When someone puts a hand on my arm, I shrug them off, assuming it’s Aiden or Sara. “Not now. I’m waiting for Mom and Dad to finish talking about me and come up with some answers.”
The pressure increases, and when I turn to scold whichever twin is cutting off my circulation, I find Mike looking back at me instead. He places a finger to his lips, leans his ear against the door, and closes his eyes.
Then, without warning, he scrambles back, motioning for me to do the same. I have barely enough time to step back from the doorway when it opens, and my parents step into the hallway.
Mom flicks a suspicious glance between us.
“How was the meeting?” I hold my hands behind my back.
Dad sighs, adjusting his glasses. “Skylar, your mom and I have had a chance to talk, and we’ve decided that you can spend a weekend or two in Golden Sound this summer, but it’s not really reasonable for you to go away for the whole summer.”
Mom chimes in, ending my protest before it can really begin. “It’s a long time to be away, Skylar. You and Mike share a car, and he’s going to need it, too, to drive to his internship.”
“Sorry, Sky,” mutters Mike into my left ear, exiting the hallway in a hurry. I’m on my own.
“Is that it? Just the car?”
My parents glance at each other. “It’s a long time to be away from your family,” adds Mom. “And with your aunt traveling so…spontaneously…”
That’s one word for it.
“We couldn’t count on having her there to keep an eye on you.”
“I’m not twelve years old. I’ll be with Cam! It’ll be fine!”
“Why doesn’t Cam come here for a little bit?” Dad suggests, cleaning his eyeglasses on his shirt.
How have they missed the entire point? “But the library is closing! He can’t leave Golden Sound now!”
Mom pulls me in for a hug. “Sometimes this happens with small towns, sweetie. Things just close.”
“I need to go there so I can help him fix this.” I know before the words have left my mouth that it’s not going to work. I might as well be speaking to a wall.
“We can talk about it again tomorrow,” says Mom, but I know I’m not going to change her mind.
How in the world am I going to get to Golden Sound?
Hearing Lies$4.99 – $22.99
First and second term combined average: 61.4%
I scan the words at the bottom of my transcript over and over again, hoping I’ve just read the numbers wrong. Is there a chance it says sixty-nine instead of sixty-one? Could I email the academic counsellor and ask them to round up?
I swipe at the screen with my finger, cleaning off specks of invisible dirt. Nothing. Sixty-one it is. I don’t need to look at the course breakdown to know where my failures are. For a wanna-be business major, seeing a 49 next to my Intro to Business course and a 52 next to Marketing Basics doesn’t feel good. I could email my guidance counsellor, but I already know what she’d say.
Unfortunately, you’ll need to retake both of those courses before applying to the program of your choice in second year. And unfortunately, summer internships are only offered to students with a first-year average above 70%. Would you like to explore some options for retaking those two courses this summer?
Unfortunately, I want to write back, I really hated first year. And I have no idea what to do next.
I refresh the page and squint at the screen one more time, nose practically pressed to the laptop. I can see every pixel of every number, and there’s no doubt about it: all my plans for the summer—and maybe the fall, too—are over.
So, what now?
Mom’s voice floats up the hall. She’s talking on the phone, maybe to Dad. “I’ll have to get him to do some shopping,” she says, laughing. “He’ll need dress pants and more than one button-down, that’s for sure.”
I prop my forehead in my hands and listen to her conversation as she pads by my door.
“I’ll talk to him about it tonight. Yes, I know. It’s all happening so fast … I think he’s really excited …” she trails off, listening, and by the time she speaks again, she’s too far away to hear clearly.
I have to tell her. I imagine the look on her face when she sees my grade. The concern. The fear that I’ll spiral again. The instant problem-solving, the phone calls to the school (no, thank you VERY much). Mom going full bear-mode.
I wish I could just hop in the car and drive until my failure felt like a small thing and even my parents’ concern couldn’t reach me.
Pounding feet run up the stairs and down the hall, and approximately four seconds later, Skylar explodes into my room. “Have you seen my charger?”
I spin around slowly in my desk chair. “Hi, Skylar. Sure, you can come into my room. What do you want?”
She ignores me. “My charger, Mike!” She waves her phone in my face like that’s supposed to tell me something. “My phone died halfway through a conversation with Cam.”
I shake my head. “Try—”
But she’s already gone, slamming the door shut behind her.
“You’re welcome,” I say to the back of my closed door. I’ll have to tell Skylar, too, and then she’ll feel like she has to worry about me, as well as Cam and their precious library.
I turn back to my computer, pulling up my university’s web page and scrolling aimlessly through the program options. Nothing looks interesting. All I can see is that dang 61% floating in front of my eyes.
Next, I pull up an online job site. Maybe I could take a year off, make some money to go towards my student debt, and take some time to figure out what degree I actually want to take. I search aimlessly for jobs in all of Ontario, narrowing the location to the Greater Toronto Area, then Ottawa, and then, on a whim, Golden Sound.
The job prospects shrink with the size of the population, but there are still a reasonable number of postings for such a small town. I guess people always need cashiers, dishwashers, and camp counsellors, no matter where you live.
It would be nice to get away from the GTA. And my parents’ disappointment. The idea picks up steam in my head. Why couldn’t I do it? Just take off across the province, making Skylar’s summer in the process. Text my parents the news about school after I figure out a solution. By the time they even realize there was a problem, it will be solved.
The town itself is the only thing that stops me from calling Skylar straight back into my room. After all, can I really find a fresh start in a town where so much went wrong last summer? Even though Eric feels like a distant memory, what about the rest of it? The drinking, the accident…Alex. What if people remember? What if she remembers?
But maybe she won’t. It’s kid stuff, right? A little smoking. A little stealing. It’s not like I fired her myself. I was just there when it happened. But no one would think I had anything to do with it. Not now.
It might not be that simple. But I’ll deal with that possibility later.
“Skylar!” I open my door and call for her before realizing she can’t hear me.
“She’s downstairs,” yells Sara from her bedroom across the hall.
I jog down the stairs and find Skylar in the kitchen with Mom, the two of them eating milk chocolate chips straight out of the bag.
“Mike,” says Mom, setting down the chocolate, “I wanted to talk to you about—”
“Bad news,” I interrupt, tapping a drumbeat out on the counter in front of them. “My internship has been cancelled.”
Her face slackens in surprise. It’s a white lie, maybe, but it will buy me time to figure out how to tell them really, it’s my own fault I didn’t get it. “Oh, hon—”
“It’s okay though.”
Skylar knocks back another handful of chocolate chips and squints at me, furrowing her eyebrows like she’s trying to figure out if I’m okay.
“I was thinking, now that I’m free for the summer, I could go with Skylar to Golden Sound.”
Her mouth drops open, both hands flying to cover her face.
Mom steps back, like she needs to get some distance between herself and this conversation. “Mike, that’s very—”
“Do you mean it?” Skylar shrieks, leaping across the counter to tackle me. I barely manage to stay upright, thumping her on the back until she releases me, coughing. “Mike, really?”
I jam my hands in my pockets and shrug. “It would give me something to do. I can look for a job in town.”
Mom tilts her head to one side. “You’d stay with Skylar?”
She stares past me, out the window. “You could visit Aunt Kay, too. After she was sick on that trip to Mexico, I know she’s been paying someone to do her lawn, but if you’re going to be around…”
I nod. It’s a small price to pay.
“Your dad’s worried about her,” Mom offers, finally making eye contact with me again. “It would mean a lot to him if you could check up on her.”
“No problem.” This is a lot easier than I expected.
“When can we go?” Skylar bounces on the very tips of her toes. “My last exam is tomorrow morning! Can we leave tomorrow?”
Mom and I say “no” at the same time.
“Just a minute.” Mom turns to me. “Mike, are you sure there’s no way around this? Have you talked to your guidance counsellor? Can I see the emails?”
She and Skylar both stare at me.
“It’s okay.” Dial it back, Mike. “I’m sure, Mom. I’ve read them. It’s for sure cancelled.”
“I’m sorry, Mike.” She half looks like she wants to hug me, so I step back like I’m going to walk out of the kitchen.
“So we can go tomorrow, then?” Skylar slides the question into the conversation, hoping for an easy yes. I shake my head at her. With Mom, there’s no way.
“You need to pack,” says Mom, ticking items off her fingers. “And Mike needs to call Aunt Kay, you need to make sure it’s okay with Cam’s parents for the two of you to stay for longer than a weekend—they have to be really okay with it, Skylar, otherwise you can stay with your aunt.”
“She lives on the opposite side of town from Cam!” Skylar looks horrified. “I’d only see him, like, twice a week!”
“Well, these are the details you need to figure out before you can leave.” Mom reaches for the chocolate again. I back slowly away and jog up the stairs, content to let them figure out the details.
For now, my secret is safe.
Mom and Skylar end up compromising on a departure date a week after Skylar’s final exam. On the night before we leave, the twins thump down the hall, bickering through my half-open door.
When I turn, Aiden’s hanging on the door frame, leaning into the room.
“What’s up?” I hang the headphones around my neck, spinning in my desk chair to look at him.
“Dad says to change the oil in the car before you go.” Downstairs, Sara screams his name.
“Okay, I’ll do it in the morning.” He’s grown, like, six inches this year. How much will he grow while we’re gone?
“Is there something else?”
“You guys are coming back, right?” He can’t look at me when he says it, like we both know he’s really saying I’m going to miss you without using those exact words.
“Definitely.” I cross the room and mess with his hair, fisting my hands so I can mock-punch him in the upper arm. “Why? Wanna come?”
He leaps back into the hallway, holding his scrawny arms up in the defensive position I taught him.
“AIIIDEN!” Sara shrieks his name from the bottom of the stairs.
“Later, man.” I catch one flailing fist and fend off another wild punch. He’s stronger than he looks. He flashes me a gap-toothed grin and pounds down the stairs. Guess I solved that problem.
If only I could solve my school issues so easily. I’m going to tell Skylar the truth about the internship—and my failed first year—in the car on the way to Golden Sound. Maybe she can help me figure out a way to tell our parents.
Or, I realize after I’ve flicked the lights off and crawled into bed hours later, when the twins are asleep and silence reigns, maybe she’ll be even more worried than they are. Maybe she’ll text Mom and then I’ll have everyone on my case, my entire family in Fix-It-For-Mike mode. The thought keeps me awake for hours.
By the time we’re finally on the road the next day, telling Skylar doesn’t feel like such a good idea anymore. I don’t notice I’ve got a death-grip on the steering wheel until she asks who I’m trying to choke. She says it with a laugh, turning to look out the window, but I’m glad for the moment of privacy so I can smooth the reaction out of my features. I thought telling her the truth would be easier than this, but…nope. I failed her in so many ways last summer. I don’t know how to admit that I’ve done it again. I don’t want to be that guy anymore.
“I can’t believe Mom and Dad let us do this.” She’s still staring out the window, chin in hand. “I mean, I’m glad they did. You would not believe the crap Cam is putting up with in Golden Sound.” She turns to look at me, face red. “I mean, he was telling me about this board that they apparently have, like you know, with board members and stuff?”
“Anyway, the board makes decisions about publicly-funded programs, but get this: they’re not made up of town members, they’re mostly bigshots from the overall municipality.”
When she says municipality, she makes a sweeping motion so large she almost smacks me in the head.
“Anyway, they’ve just arbitrarily decided”—insert dramatic air quotes—“to put in a YMCA, which is actually kind of a good idea, but they want to tear down the old library and put a bigger building in when there’s a perfectly good empty site just one street over.”
At this point, she has to pause for a breath. I’m thinking of jumping in and just dropping my news on her, but before I can say anything, she keeps right on going.
“They want to distribute all the books to the larger, city libraries, and move to an online library service only. So people can order books in and pick them up, but there won’t actually be a physical library to browse. No staff. No programs. Just some guy in a truck doing book drop-offs in a small town every Monday.” She sounds like she’s picking up steam again. “What if you need a book on Wednesday? You just have to wait!”
I have never heard Skylar talk this much about books, ever. “I mean, sure, it sounds sucky, but are you sure you and Cam will be able to change anything? If a board has already made all these decisions?”
“If we can get enough people involved, yes.” She’s so determined. “We have to try.”
I nod along. What else is there to say? Skylar is in full fix-it mode. I’m just glad she’s not trying to fix me.
“Anyway.” She huffs out a huge sigh. “I’m glad they’re letting us do this.” She’s looking out the passenger window, so I don’t have to reply right away. “The way Dad looked last week, I thought for sure it was over.” She turns her head to look at me.
“You’re lucky I didn’t get that internship.” The joke hurts.
“I’m lucky to have you.” She glances out the window again, so I know she’s not looking for compliments. I flick my eyes over at her and all I can see is the thin band of plastic behind her ear. Is she lucky to have me? I don’t know how true that is.
Skylar’s phone buzzes in the cupholder between us.
“Sky.” I flip the phone into her lap, and she accepts the call, putting the phone on speaker.
His voice echoes through the speaker, crackly and faint. There’s no way she’ll be able to hear a word.
She presses the phone, still on speaker, to the hearing aid behind her ear. “Mike’s here, too.”
“Hey, man.” Cam clears his throat.
“Hey.” I flip the fans off altogether. It doesn’t really help. “What’s up?”
“I’ve got some bad news.”
Skylar’s squinting across the dashboard like bringing the horizon into focus will make Cam’s words clearer.
“He said there’s bad news.” I raise my voice, signal, and pull over onto the gravel shoulder. When I flip the key in the ignition, the engine noise dies, but the crease between Skylar’s eyebrows remains when Cam speaks again. She still can’t hear him.
“What is it, Cam? Can you speak up?” Her knuckles are white on the phone.
Her expression doesn’t change.
“They’ve made a final decision. They’re closing the library, effective immediately. Demolition will begin in September so they can build the new building in the new year.”
I repeat this, staring past her shoulder so I don’t have to see her face drop at the news.
“No!” She pulls the phone away from her ear, shakes it slightly, and replaces it. “They can’t! Tell them they can’t do it! There’s enough interest—people love the library! It’s a community hub! They have to keep it open for tourist season, then they’ll see! The town needs this.”
Cam’s voice cuts through the chatter, but Skylar’s talking over him. The two of them talking at full volume in the passenger seat rings in my ears.
I grab Skylar’s arm. “One sec. He’s talking.”
She yanks away from me, but snaps her mouth shut. “Cam?”
His voice sounds strained. “I tried.”
I repeat this to Skylar.
“There has to be something we can do.” She fiddles with the seat belt buckle, eyebrows furrowed deeply.
Cam is silent on the other end of the line, so I nod at her to keep going.
“What does Ana think?”
“She’s already gone.”
I repeat this, too.
“Mike and I will be there soon.” She sits up a little straighter, mouth firming at the corners. This is Skylar ready for action. Whoever’s in charge of the library doesn’t stand a chance. “Cam, we can get the community involved in this. We can put up posters. We can make enough noise that they have to listen to us.”
“I don’t know, Sky.” He sounds tired.
When I repeat his words, she bites the corner of her lip. “Can we talk about it when I get there? Mike will help, too!” She mouths the word please at me. I flash her a thumbs-up. “He can run the social media platforms for us. He’s working on a business degree, and now that his internship is cancelled, he has more free time.” She raises her eyebrows at me, waiting.
There’s no way. I flinch, but she takes it for a nod.
“He said yes! He’ll do it!”
No. No way. Speak up, Mike. Fix it now. I open my mouth to say something, but then Cam clears his throat. “Okay.”
I clear my own throat. Skylar’s beaming. Maybe I can do this for them. Maybe if I can succeed at this, it will soften the blow about school. Make it seem like it was the right thing, to end on a high note and just move on. “He said yes.”
“Yes!” She pumps a fist in the passenger side. “Awesome! Don’t worry, Cam.” She’s grinning, flipping her hair over her shoulder with one hand. “We’re going to do this. We can save the library.”
It’s so simple to her, so easy for her to believe that things will work out the way they’re supposed to. But she didn’t hear the pause. The sigh. The exhaustion in Cam’s voice. I wonder what else is going on. What parts of the story he hasn’t told her yet. How she’ll react if it all doesn’t go according to plan.
“Okay,” she says, her lips next to the speaker. “I’ll text you when we’re getting close. Bye.” After a long pause, she ends the call, slipping the phone back into the console between us. “We’re going to do this.”
I can’t tell if she’s trying to convince me or herself.
“Good for you.” I turn the car back on and pull out onto the road. I won’t tell her about the way Cam sounded on the phone. She can figure that out for herself.
“Thanks for helping.”
Should I tell her the truth about the internship now?
“It won’t take long—”
I tune her out as she starts to talk about plans, schedules, what I can do on the days when I’m not working.
“Why did you agree to come?”
Here it is. Time to tell her. But I just can’t find the words.
“I wanted to get out of the house for a bit.” I clench the steering wheel. I can’t do it. Can’t burst her bubble like this. Shoot. How did I end up here? “I don’t know, Skylar. Don’t you get tired of being home all the time?”
She nods, pulling her hair back over her shoulder and twisting it together into some kind of braid. “I get that.” We drive in silence for a minute or two. “I’m glad.”
I don’t ask what she’s so happy about, but I can feel her looking at me and I’m pretty sure she’s going to tell me anyway.
“I missed you this year.” She flicks my shoulder with the tip of her finger. “Hello? Are you listening?”
“Trying to drive.” I almost wince as I say it, hoping she won’t pick up on my short tone. Maybe this is all I’m destined to be. The screw-up older brother. I keep finding myself here. Over and over again.
“I was worried about you. After last year. And then when you moved away for school.”
“Well, you don’t need to worry anymore.” I force a smile, make a turn onto a gravel road. The sun is in my eyes.
“I’m glad you’re back.” She grins. “Mostly because it means the summer of car-sharing has begun, but—”
“Whatever.” I reach to pinch her shoulder, but she ducks out of reach.
Skylar falls asleep in the passenger seat a few minutes later, and I’m left alone with the radio and the long, empty roads, lulled into a strange feeling of nonexistence—we’re neither here nor there, neither departing nor arriving. In transit. In uncharted, unfamiliar territory where nobody knows who we are. Or what we’ve done.
The first landmark that slides by is the place where I crashed the car. It looks so exactly like every other country road, every other ditch, that I almost don’t notice. It’s the bend in the road that snags my memory, the feeling of my hands on the wheel and the steady, urgent pressure of the brake pedal underneath my feet. The yellow arrows and the sign marked Corner 60kph.
Now, like then, I take the turn too fast. But this time, I’m not drunk. And Eric isn’t beside me, hauling on my arm. Skylar doesn’t even wake up, just turns her head to the side as I slow the car down and finish the turn, eyes off the ditch where I rolled the car the last time I was here.
I drive a little slower on the other roads into town, ignoring the GPS. I used to drive this route a lot—past the McDonald’s on the outskirts of town and straight into the heart of Golden Sound. We’d take this way home from work, often running the broken red light at the center of town.
Before I’ve realized what I’m doing, I’ve missed the turn to Aunt Kay’s. I’m cruising straight down Main Street, headed for Eric’s house on the other side of town.
Skylar wakes up halfway through my three-point turn. “What’s going on?”
“Missed my turn.” I almost yell the words, so she’ll hear me without me having to look right at her.
“Cam’s is that way,” she says, pointing toward Eric’s house. “He lives way out in the country, remember?”
I forgot we were staying with him instead of in Aunt Kay’s house. I’ll check on her tomorrow instead.
I reverse my way out of my turn and continue down Main Street, reminding myself to loosen my hands on the wheel. How am I going to tell my sister the truth? Maybe I can text her tomorrow. Maybe it doesn’t have to be face-to-face.
“Eric lives around here, doesn’t he?” Skylar cranes her neck, peering out the window as we pass his street.
“Yeah.” I’m surprised she remembers. She’s only been there once. I swear I smell beer when I drive by his street.
She didn’t hear me. “Yes, he does.” I say the words again, louder.
She nods. “I wonder what he’s up to this summer.”
I don’t know why she’s talking about this—if she’s testing me to see how I’ll react, or if she’s bored and trying to make conversation. I shrug one shoulder. “Who knows? I don’t care.”
Beside me, I see her satisfied nod, shoulders relaxing as she rests her feet on the glove compartment. She’s still worried about me. Again. I wish I could remember a time when I wasn’t the concern of the family—the one everyone watched and whispered about.
“Look!” She leans forward, unbuckling her seat belt. “There’s the house number! This is it!”
I grab her arm before she can fling the door open and leap out, the car still rocketing forward at full speed. “I see it. Chill out.” The little green sign at the end of the country driveway reads 4420. Someone is standing on the porch.
“Cam!” shrieks my sister, and I slam the brakes so she can open the car door and sprint the last hundred meters toward him.
I ease the car up the driveway and put it in park as she flings herself into his arms. I’m a coward. And I’ve just made it even harder for myself to tell her the truth.
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