<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b>I JINGLED THE CAR KEYS</b>, tossed them up and caught them, ran my finger over the bumpy silver chain. There's something about having car keys in your hand. All you have to do is slip the key into the ignition, turn it, and you're in charge. Speed, direction, final destination—you get to decide. But you have to be sixteen. Almost thirteen doesn't cut it. <p> So I couldn't start the car, but I could blow the horn. I did—loud and angry. Mom stuck her head out the front door. "Vicki back?" she asked. <p> "No, she isn't. And neither is Josh. What's with this family? We were supposed to leave an hour ago." <p> "A half hour. They'll be here. Is the car all packed?" <p> She was trying to change the subject, so I ignored the question. "Why don't we call Josh home, and as soon as he gets here, we all wait in the car? Then when Vicki gets dropped off, we can just start up and leave." <p> Okay, so that was a dumb suggestion, but she could have answered me. Instead she gave me the Look—I think the Look is the first thing teachers learn in college—and went back in. Grumbling to myself, I opened the car door and slid into the driver's seat. I sat there with my eyes closed, imagining I was in one of those new passenger vans instead of our '69 wagon. I shouldn't have had to imagine. Dad always said a car's got only five good years, and then you should trade it in. So, '69 to '74—that's five years, right? But Dad was gone. Long gone. No Dad, no new car. On Valentine's Day—how's that for timing?—he'd kissed Mom and the girls good-bye, hugged Josh and me, and said he hoped he'd be back soon. He had to "think things out." Well, he could think all he wanted. He could stay away forever, as far as I was concerned. <p> I got out of the wagon, slamming the door behind me, and headed down to the park to get Josh. If Mom wouldn't get things going, I would. <p> I could hear the voices before I got through the gates: "Here! Here! Pass it!" Josh and a bunch of other six- and seven-year-olds were kicking around soccer balls. <p> "Hey, Josh! Come on—we gotta leave," I called. <p> "Already? Can't I play a little more?" <p> "Come on!" <p> Josh mumbled something to another boy, ran over to grab his ball, and left the field. He walked past me and out the gate, his head down, his arm wrapped around the ball. He didn't look at me. <p> For a minute I felt bad for him. I knew he didn't want to go to the lake. Where he did want to go was to soccer camp with his friends. But with Dad gone, there was no money for that. So he was sulking. Josh could hold a sulk for a long time. Maybe the whole summer. <p> "Listen, Josh," I said, catching up with him. "The lake is fun, remember? We'll swim, fish ..." <p> "I don't like fishing, and I'm no good at swimming." <p> "That's only because you won't put your face in the water. Once you learn to do that, you'll be lots better. I'll work with you this summer, teach you some strokes." <p> "You will?" He looked at me sideways. "Dad was going to teach me. He's a good swimmer." <p> Another broken promise. "I'm a good swimmer, too," I said. "C'mon, let's run." <p> As we got home and started up the driveway, the front door opened and Andrea came out on the porch. "Is Vicki back?" I called. "It's time to leave." <p> "Not yet. But Mom and I are ready." <p> "About time," I grumbled. <p> Andrea just grinned. "Don't be a crosspatch, Kyle." She kind of skipped down the steps, a pencil case in her hand and a sketchbook under her arm, as usual. She kept coming until she stood nose-to-nose with me. "Crosspatch, draw the latch, sit by the fire and spin." She recited the old nursery rhyme in a singsongy voice that made me laugh. "That's better," she said. She moved an inch closer. "I'm taller than you today. Isn't that right, Josh?" <p> Josh checked us out. "Nope, Kyle's still taller," he said. <p> "It's going to stay like that, too," I told Andrea. "No way you're getting ahead of me again." Andrea and I are twins, but she'd always been a little taller than me. This past Christmas Day, though, we were even, and I passed her up in January. <p> Just then a car drew up, and Vicki hopped out. "Thanks," she called back over her shoulder. She hurried over to us. "Sorry I'm late, guys. Andrea, wait till you see my suit!" <p> "How come you waited till today to decide you needed a new one?" I asked. "At least you're here now. Finally, we can leave." <p> "I just have to go to the bathroom and get my books." <p> "More books? Why don't you bring the whole library?" I asked. But you can't argue with Vicki, not about books. Not about anything else, either, now that she's fifteen. She just raised an eyebrow and flipped back her hair. "Well, hurry up," I said. <p> Mom came out as Vicki went in. We might as well have had a revolving door there. Mom beckoned. Now what? It was time to go, darn it. Past time. <p> "Dad's on the phone," Mom called. Her face was shining the way it always does when she talks about him. "He wants to talk to everyone before we leave. First Kyle." <p> "Sure he wants to talk to us." I put all the sarcasm I could into my voice. "That's why he's not here. Tell him I'm busy." <p> "Oh, Kyle. You wouldn't talk last time. I wish you weren't so angry at him." <p> "I'm not angry. I just don't have anything to say. Are we ever going to leave?" <p> She didn't push, just turned away and hurried back in. Josh hurried after her. Why should they hurry? If Dad didn't love us enough to stay with us, why should we bother with him? Every time they talked, Mom ended up thinking about him for hours. You could tell. You'd ask her a question, and she'd just say "Hmm?" and not listen. It made me sick. It was a good thing we were going to the lake. Maybe up there she could get him out of her mind. <p> Andrea told me, "If I wanted to draw a scowl, I'd draw your face right now." <p> "Is this better?" I pulled down the corners of my mouth and stuck out my tongue. She laughed and made a face back. I gave her a little shove. "Go hurry up Josh. He'll talk to Dad for hours if you let him." <p> I leaned against the wagon, tossing the keys up and down, up and down. <p> <p> <h3> Chapter Two </h3> <b>FOUR HOURS LATER I HAD</b> counted twenty-eight bug cars and Josh had forty-five. I was still trying to get used to seeing Andrea up in the front seat. I'd planned to sit there, of course, but Vicki said she should because she was the oldest, and Josh said he should because he was the youngest. (I don't know how he thought that made sense.) Then Mom said, "I've already decided. I want Andrea up here with me—she's the one who likes to read maps." <p> "You don't need a map to get to the same place you've been going every summer for years and years," I pointed out, but Mom said there might be a detour or something, and she'd feel better if Andrea was beside her with the map. I was going to argue, but Mom's voice got a little shaky on the word "detour." I took a quick look at her and saw her left eyelid begin to flutter. It only does that when she's nervous. The way she hates to drive, I figured we'd better get going before she chickened out. "C'mon, Josh, we'll get in the back with Vicki," I said. "We can count bug cars on the way." <p> "Okay!" His voice was cheerful. He'd known he didn't really have a chance at the front seat. He just likes to argue. <p> Vicki had climbed in on the driver's side, so I took the middle, letting Josh sit by the window, which was very mature of me. Other years Andrea and I would have had the whole "way back" to sit or lie down in, because our suitcases would be up in the luggage rack. Dad always stowed them up there, along with extra boxes and stuff. He made lifting even Vicki's suitcase full of books look easy. Mom would worry that things would fall off, and then Dad would say, "Are you doubting my prowess, Woman?" That would make her laugh, and start the trip off happy. But this year when we'd gotten all the bags lined up on the curb, she opened the back and said, "In here," like it was no different than usual. But it was. <p> Mom started the car. Andrea unfolded the map, and Vicki picked up her book. I figured we wouldn't hear anything from her for the rest of the ride, but to my surprise she didn't begin to read right away. "Jen and Tracey are seeing <i>American Graffiti</i> at the drive-in tonight," she said. "I'm going to miss so much this summer." <p> "Yeah—Cincinnati heat and humidity. You'll really miss those. Are you crazy, Vick? Think of Michigan nights, think of diving off Marshalls' float." <p> "I suppose so...." She'd opened her book. I looked over at her—what was with her this year? Her long hair hid her face as she bent her head over her reading. Whatever was bugging her, she'd get over it when we got to the cottage. <p> "Fifty-one!" <p> "I give." <p> "Okay. Want to play alphabet?" <p> "Sure," I said, although I didn't. <p> Mom actually turned her head away from the road long enough to flash me a smile. "Thank you," she mouthed. <p> So I played two games of alphabet with Josh, then he talked me into playing tic-tac-toe. Do you know how many tic-tac-toe games you can play driving through Indiana? I lost count around three hundred. (And if you think that's an exaggeration, let me just say that even Josh wasn't heartbroken when the pencil broke and we couldn't find another.) <p> The ride seemed longer than usual, and no one was in a very good mood, not even me. Other years Dad had kept us all laughing and joking. He's a really good storyteller, even if he is a jerk, and he used to tell these long, involved stories about Isabel and Ike—twins (of course) who lived on a lake and kept getting into trouble in weird and funny ways. The stories made you forget all about being cooped up in a car. When he wasn't telling a story, he was acting the part of tour bus driver, calling out the names of all the little towns we were going through—Churubusco, Ligonier, Dunlap—and making up crazy "points of interest" like "the oldest two-story building in Elkhart County." Andrea did her best, but she doesn't really have a tour-director voice. And when Mom drives, that's all she does, drive—her hands so tight on the steering wheel I'm surprised she doesn't have to be pried loose when the car stops. <p> In Elkhart we stopped for sandwiches and groceries, and now we had brown paper sacks on our laps and plastic bags at our feet, and the car smelled of apples and cheese. As soon as we crossed the border into Michigan and Cassopolis County, even Josh knew we were close. He started to put away the Matchbox cars he had scattered all over the seat and floor. (I had threatened to throw them out the window if I sat or stepped on another one.) <p> The narrow road went straight and level like an arrow pointed at the lake. Trees crowded in on either side till it felt like we were driving through a long green tunnel. We rolled down the windows and let the summer air take the place of the air-conditioning. Much better. I forgot about the way Josh was hogging most of the seat and leaned forward to look through the windshield. Pretty soon we would take a curve to the right, and I'd get this summer's first glimpse of the lake. <p> Suddenly, there it was. It was greenish-gray tonight, with whitecaps as far as you could see. There was just that one glimpse, and then the car was climbing the hill, and a line of cottages blocked the view. The road ran along the backs of the cottages, and in front of them the land sloped steeply down. I saw that the Dieners were here. And the Wilks. Most people I didn't know by name, only by sight from years back. But anyone who was out waved as we went by, and it felt like a homecoming. <p> We turned the last curve, and there was our cottage, small and gray with red trim around the windows and along the edge of the roof. Over the back door was a wooden sign. "Gladimere," it said. That's what Gram had named it: "Glad I'm here." Lame, I know, but it was like Gram, and it always made me smile when I thought of it. Even though Gram hadn't stayed at the cottage while we were there, we always knew she was just back in Cassopolis. We'd take a couple of days to visit her there, and often she'd drive over to see us. But she'd died in December. For some reason, that made the cottage look lonely. I guess because it was still boarded up from the winter. Other summers, she'd have been out here before us, raising the shutters that were hinged at the top and acted as awnings once they were propped open, and airing out the cottage. Funny, I hadn't thought much about missing her, but suddenly I realized I did. <p> I climbed over Josh so I'd be the first one out of the car. It felt so good to straighten my legs. I opened the front door and smiled at Andrea, wondering why she hadn't moved. "Hey!" I said. "We're here!" <p> She kind of wrinkled her eyebrows and gave her head a little jerk toward Mom, who was just sitting there, not moving. "Mom?" I asked. "Mom, you all right?" She turned her head toward me, but she didn't seem to focus exactly. "You made it," I told her. "Another fine job of driving." <p> That kind of woke her up—it was what she always said to Dad at the end of a trip—and she smiled, but it was a tired smile. Maybe she was thinking of everything we still had to do before we were really settled in. "Well, might as well get started," she said. <p> We never unloaded right away. First we'd file around the cottage on the pump side and go straight to the flight of steps leading down the hill. From the top you could see the lake stretched out in front of you, with the opposite shore only a blurry line. Nothing but the pier and the water and the island about halfway across. We stood there and looked our fill, then Mom unlocked the padlock on the door of the screened-in porch. <p> "I get to sleep out here!" Josh called, pushing ahead. <p> "Mom?" Vicki appealed. <p> But this time things went my way. "Kyle will sleep on the porch," Mom said as we went on into the main room. "Vicki and Andrea will sleep in the big bed, and Josh can have the roll-away or the upper bunk. I'll take the lower." <p> "The bunk! I want the bunk!" Josh almost mowed Vicki down on his way to the bunk. He started up the ladder. <p> "First, we unload," Mom said firmly. <p> "I'll prime the pump," Vicki offered. I should have been quicker. I like to be the one who primes the pump. The cottage had no indoor plumbing, just the outhouse down the hill—and the less said about that, the better—but the water from the pump is the best-tasting water there is. <p> "Guess we'd better get busy," Andrea said, smiling at me. She grabbed Josh by the waistband of his jeans and pulled him off the ladder. Then the three of us went out to the car while Mom started setting things up in the kitchen. It wasn't long till I smelled coffee. For some reason, smelling the coffee made me feel almost like crying. Dumb. But in my memory the blue pot on the stove at the lake is always perking, and the cottage is always filled with the smell of coffee. I don't know how something that tastes so bad can smell so good. <p> It took us a couple of hours to get the car unloaded, the beds made up, and the suitcases stowed away under the beds. By then it was way dark, and Josh was so tired he climbed straight up the ladder to his bunk, with his copy of <i>Billy and Blaze</i> under his arm. I'll bet he didn't read two pages before he went to sleep. Andrea and Mom were sitting at the kitchen table talking, and Vicki was lying across her bed reading (what else?), so I let myself quietly out the front door and went down to the lake. As I walked along the pier, I smiled at the hollow, drumlike sound of my footsteps on the slats. By the benches at the end, I stopped and looked up at the night sky. <p> There are a million stars in the sky above the lake that you never see in Cincinnati. The moon was out, and its light lay on the water like a stream of spilled milk. Crickets chirped. An owl hooted. A damp breeze lifted the hair hanging down to my collar, and I was glad I was letting it grow. I pulled my jacket close. I stood looking out at the water, at the shadowy mound of the island, at the lights on the opposite shore. It was so beautiful. A tight knot in my chest that I didn't know I'd had just sort of melted away. "We're back," I whispered to the lake. Then I sat down on one of the benches and stretched my legs out and tilted my head back to look up at the sky. I was as happy at that minute as I had been for months. At least this part of my world, the lake, the cottage, hadn't changed, wouldn't change, I thought. Life up here would go on the same as always. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>KYLE'S ISLAND</b> by <b>SALLY DERBY</b> Copyright © 2010 by Sally Derby. Excerpted by permission of Charlesbridge. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.