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Secrets of a Summer Spy
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ISBN-10: 1-89484-140-9
Genre: Young Adult
eBook Length: 113 Pages
Published: April 2002

From inside the flap

Secrets of a Summer Spy (Excerpt)

Amy's Return

Old lady Peet leaned over her back porch railing, parted the branches of the shrubbery directly above my head, and stared down at me.

"Stand up now, young lady. You can't sit out here in the bushes all night."

The juniper scratched my face as I straightened up, feeling very embarrassed at having been caught in the act of spying. "I'm sorry about running over your cat with my bike the other day," I stammered. "It was an accident, honest."

"Well, come inside and tell that to Tomcat," replied Mrs. Peet.

"I'd better not," I said, untangling my legs from the shrub. "It's late and I've got to get home."

"That may be," the old woman said, her voice stern. "But it would be very impolite not to apologize to Tomcat, now wouldn't it?" She opened the screen door and motioned me inside.

My stomach did a flip-flop, and I stood rooted to the spot, unable to make up my mind. Should I go in or take off running? Then I remembered how Jimmy said I was the bravest girl he knew. And how Amy had tricked him into walking her home, leaving me standing alone on the beach. Amy would never be daring enough to go into the old catlady's house, I reasoned. Here was my chance to impress Jimmy, and I was going to take it. I stepped up on the porch and walked past Mrs. Peet into the kitchen.

Amy Parrish, Jimmy Jackman, and I had spent our summers together on Harbor Island for as long as we could remember. Jimmy and I lived on the island year-round, but Amy and her parents only came to northern Michigan when school was out. The Parrishes lived four hours away by car in Detroit, where Amy's parents taught school. Mr. Parrish loved to fish, and Amy's mom liked to sketch by the lake, so a summer cottage on Harbor Island kept everyone happy.

All I could think about the last week of eighth grade was Amy's return. Nothing had prepared me for how much she had changed.

The day she arrived, we agreed to meet Jimmy at the rock and gravel pier, just like old times. When we were younger, Amy had said that we three were "as close as clams," and we had called ourselves the Clamdiggers ever since. Each summer, we toasted the group with a special ceremony at the pier.

Standing on the tip of the old stone pier, surrounded by miles and miles of choppy water, was like standing on the end of the world. The air tasted like wet sand, and the sharp breeze stung your face as it whipped in off the lake. If you looked to the west, you could see where Sandglass ended at the town of Northwood, with the Lutheran church tower sticking up above the trees. Looking straight across the water to the opposite shoreline, you could see a few blurry white dots that close up became the elaborate, Victorian-style cottages of Mallard's Landing--a resort for rich summer people. To the east, Sandglass looked endless, just like the ocean. Actually, it ran on for ten miles or so to where it ended in the Pere Marquette State Forest.

Amy and I were already at the tip of the pier when Jimmy showed up. He took a long, sideways glance at Amy and climbed the big, flat boulder that jutted out over the water. When he turned to look down on us, the breeze blew his shaggy blond hair into his eyes, and I sensed trouble.

"Welcome back" he said, offering Amy his arm.

"Thanks," she said, taking it and winking at me.

I put my hand out, too, but Jimmy didn't notice. He was busy looking at Amy's hairstyle. She had permed her dark brown, almost black hair into wispy bangs and shoulder-length curls that framed her face and made her light violet eyes seem bigger. Jimmy also stole a fast glance at the front of her rib-knit shirt, then turned away quickly to face the lake. I could see the back of his ears turning red. Amy used to be flat like me, but she had come back from Detroit with definite boobs. Jimmy wasn't used to her new look, and neither was I.

"Hey, how about me?" I said, tugging on the canvas strap that dangled from the flap of Jimmy's backpack.

"Yeah, Ronnie, come on." He never looked at me--I guessed his face was still red.

I scrambled up the rock to stand next to them, and we watched several boats racing back and forth in the distance, in spite of the whitecaps.

"It's too bad we have to wait till Tuesday to get the Amy Mae out on the lake," Jimmy said. Amy's dad had bought a new boat and named it the Amy Mae after Amy and her mother, whose first name was Mae. We wanted to try it out right away, but it was the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, and we weren't allowed on the lake by ourselves on holidays because of all the tourists.

"Let's get started with the toast," Amy said.

"Wait! We can't forget the clams," I reminded her. I sat on the boulder and dangled my legs until my feet found the tops of some half-submerged rocks at the water's edge. A wave washed over the toes of my running shoes as I bent down, twisted around, and crawled into a small opening under the base of the boulder. It had taken us an entire summer, many years ago, to dig out enough rocks and gravel to make a cave big enough for a secret meeting place. Once inside I found the three special necklaces of clam shells lying near the back wall.

"Whew! These are gross!" Amy said after I climbed back up and handed her one.

"Aw, quit complaining and put it on," I insisted.

"Don't you think we're getting a little old for this stuff?" she asked. Amy and I were both thirteen, but Jimmy was fourteen and a half--almost a sophomore.

"You're right," Jimmy agreed. He gave her that crooked smile of his that shows all his teeth down one side. "But it just wouldn't be tradition without it."

Amy made a face as she held the rotting strings in her nail tips and carefully put the necklace over her head. A wave crashed against the pier and sent up a fine spray that wet our legs.

"Hurry up," I said, wishing I had brought a jacket. "It's cold out here."

Jimmy opened the pop he'd packed in his knapsack and handed a can to Amy and one to me. We held them out to the lake and chanted together, "Oh Sandglass Lake, mother of the loons and fishes, we swear by the shells we wear that we are as close as clams, and nothing will ever come between us."

"Clamdiggers forever!" Jimmy shouted.

"Here, here," I said. We rattled our shells and took a drink from our cans.

"I feel silly." Amy pouted.

I didn't think it was silly. It was supposed to be a solemn vow--a tradition that we had kept for years.

I handed Amy my grape fizz. She passed her Diet Pepsi to Jimmy, and he gave me his root beer. We drank, switched cans, and drank again.

"Now for the best part," Jimmy said. We carefully climbed down onto the slippery, wave-washed rocks at the mouth of the cave and let some of the lake water run into our cans. We clicked them together and drank. Lake water tastes terrible, but it's not so bad mixed with pop. Jimmy swallowed his in loud gulps. I took a small sip. Amy raised her can to her mouth, but I think she faked it.

We crawled into our cave, and Jimmy built a fire in the pit near the opening. From his knapsack, he took out the marshmallows and chocolate chip cookies. We sharpened the ends of some sticks with Jimmy's pocketknife, roasted the marshmallows, and smeared them on the cookies.

"It's cold in here, too," I said, rubbing my arms.

"Here," Jimmy offered, putting his arm around me. It was hard and knotty from a winter of basketball, and it felt warm against my skin. I watched Amy eat a marshmallow, careful not to let any stick to her lips, and snuggle closer to Jimmy.

"I'm cold, too," she complained, dropping her head and rolling her eyes up at him. He took the last bite of his marsh-cookie and draped his other arm around her. Then we sat, stinking of old clam shells and gazing at the long moss strands that swayed around the rocks at the mouth of the cave.

Suddenly Jimmy's hand moved a little. It stopped under my arm, so the ends of his fingers reached the edge of my breast, or where it would have been if I weren't so flat. He coughed and squirmed, like he was settling in against the hard rock, and his fingers inched forward a bit more. What was going on here? I wondered. Jimmy and I had been friends forever, and he'd never tried anything like this before. I looked over at Amy. She was wiggling around, smiling stupidly at Jimmy.

Whoomph! Eighty pounds of wet, yellow dog landed in our laps.

"Boogie, get off," I said, pushing at his rump.

"P.U.!" Amy said, holding her nose. "That dog has the worst fish breath in the state of Michigan."

"Aw, Boogers doesn't smell any worse than your necklace," Jimmy said, taking his arms from around Amy and me. Jimmy had always called "Boogers" when he was a puppy, and the nickname still seemed to fit.

"He must have been out catching lunch," I suggested. Boogie was always too fat, and Jimmy had him on a never-ending diet. Instead of losing weight though, Boogie had learned to hunt and fish, and stayed as round as ever.

We were all trying to push Jimmy's dog out of the cave when we heard a faint sound that could have been a car horn. Harbor Island was small enough that whenever our parents wanted us, they just went out to the car and honked. We each had our own code. Jimmy hurried out of the cave to listen. "One long and two short. It's for me," he said.

"I'd better get home, too," Amy sighed. "I have all my unpacking to do." Amy and I took off our necklaces and handed them down to Jimmy, who had returned to the cave to put out the fire. Then we all ran along the pier, kicking loose gravel into the lake, until we were back to the shore. We'd left our bikes there, at the turnaround loop where Beach Road dead-ended.

"Good to have you back, Amy." Jimmy waved. "See ya." He hopped on his bike and pedaled off toward his house, with Boogie trotting behind him. Jimmy lived a short distance from the pier, in the last cottage on Beach Road--Harbor Island's only road. But Amy and I lived near the bridge to the mainland, at the other end of Beach Road, so we took the shortcut through the woods.

I rode behind Amy on the narrow path, and our bike tires made ruts in the soft dirt. The greenish white flowers of the Solomon's seal arched over the edges of the trail.

Harbor Island is really a peninsula about a mile and a half long that is separated from the mainland by a man-made channel. A short, wooden plank bridge is the only way in or out. We all knew the story about how, after the first twenty-some cottages had been built along the eastern shore, some rich man had bought up the rest of the island. For the last twenty years the land had sat undeveloped, mostly woods and wetland. My dad said that someday the woods would probably be chopped up into tiny lots and the bog would be drained for a golf course, just like across the lake at Mallard's Landing. I hoped that would never happen.

"You know," Amy said over her shoulder. "I think Jim likes me."

"Of course he likes you," I agreed. "Why are you calling him 'Jim' all of a sudden?"

"Why not? 'Jimmy' sounds so childish, don't you think?"

"I never thought about it," I said.

"He's changed. He's taller, his hair's grown out wavy, and his eyes--they're sooo bluuue. He looks at least fifteen, maybe even sixteen--and he likes me."

I thought Jimmy's eyes weren't any bluer than before, and his hair needed cutting. "What do you mean, he likes you?"

She rode slower and lowered her voice. "Back there, in the cave, when Jim had his arm around me, he... well, he... tried to feel around," she confided.

So I was right, I thought. But that didn't seem like Jimmy. During the school year we rode the bus into Northwood together every day (along with the second-grade Kowalski twins and Jimmy's older sister, Margo). He was just like a big brother to me. Still, the girls at school were always whispering in the bathroom about older boys trying stuff like that. And I hadn't seen as much of Jimmy over the winter, with him being in high school and on the basketball team. I was about to tell Amy that he had been feeling around with me, too, when she stopped so fast I ran my bike into her rear tire. She held her hand up.

"What are you--"

"Shhh," she whispered. I squeezed my bike up next to hers. "There's someone walking on the trail, up ahead."

"So what? Let's go," I said.

"I think it's the old catlady. I just caught a glimpse of her though the trees. She's going the same way we are. Maybe we should hang back awhile."

Old lady Peet lived two houses down the road from me, but she kept to herself so we hardly ever saw her. We knew little about her except that she kept a band of half-wild cats, who roamed the island making nuisances of themselves. And sometimes she played scales on a piano. Once in a while, when we passed her house, we heard a series of slow, deliberate notes. My mom called old lady Peet eccentric. Mr. Jackman, Jimmy's dad, once said, "Mrs. Peet is not playing with a full deck."

Another series of car horn blasts echoed through the trees. Three short, pause, three short.

"I can't just sit here," I said. "Mom's honking me in for dinner. I'll bet we can ride right up behind Mrs. Peet and whiz past her before she sees us coming."

"Well... maybe," Amy said.

"Get moving," I ordered.

We rode around the bend and saw no one. Pedaling faster, we rounded the next bend, and there she was, a small woman in a print dress walking slowly away from us, a shiny pail in her hand. Amy and I were really sailing along now, and with the trail so narrow, I didn't see how we could get around Mrs. Peet without running her down. Amy saw the problem, too.

"Excuse us," she called out when she was almost on top of the woman, but Mrs. Peet was already stepping aside as though she heard us coming all along. Amy shot past her, but as I went by I looked down into her pail. It was half-full of tiny strawberries, the kind that grew wild near the cove. If I hadn't been so curious, I might have seen the cat that was next to the old woman's feet. I hardly felt the bump in my tire when I ran over its tail.