Megan’s Island Chapter One
There was one week of school left on the day the peculiar things began to happen.
At first Megan didn’t realize there was anything wrong. She was thinking about the terrific summer that stretched ahead of her, most of it to be spent with her best friend, Annie. They’d made all kinds of plans.
“We’ll go to the pool every day, and skating at the rink,” Annie had mused.
“And sit in the backyard and talk,” Megan added. “And eat apples and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.” Annie loved peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. “And when Mom takes her vacation in July, maybe your folks will let you go with us to the lake where Grandpa Davis is staying until his foot heals so he can go back to work.”
Annie had sighed in delight. “It sounds fantastic,” she murmured.
“There’s a lovely private beach,” Karen Collier had told the girls, “and you can fish with my dad, or lie around doing nothing—whatever you like—for two whole weeks.”
Neither Megan nor her brother, Sandy, had ever been swimming anywhere outside of a pool, except for once when they’d had a picnic on the shore of Lake Michigan. The lake where Grandpa had the cottage wasn’t nearly as big as Lake Michigan, but that meant the water would be warmer. And unlike many of the lakes in northern Minnesota, this one had a sandy beach instead of a mucky bottom, so it would be almost as nice as the big lake.
The whole idea made Megan happy just to think about it. Megan and Annie had discussed it in a whisper in school that day. Both were hoping their parents would buy them new swimsuits before July. And Mr. Boldt had said, “Vacation’s not for another week, girls. Let’s keep our minds on reviewing math for another day or two, all right?”
Annie had blushed, but Megan knew Mr. Boldt wasn’t really annoyed with them. He was looking forward to vacation, too. He’d already told them he was spending his summer on Prince Edward Island, up in Canada, and he’d promised to bring back pictures of the red cliffs and beaches, and of the house where Anne in Anne of Green Gables had lived. (Well, really it was the author of the book who had lived there, but Mr. Boldt said it was almost the same thing.)
Annie had always gone to Fairview School, and she took it for granted. Megan, however, had been there just this year, in the sixth grade. Before that, her family had moved quite a bit. Her mother said it was hard for a woman alone to find a job that paid enough to let her support two kids.
Once in a while, Megan thought about how nice it would be to have two parents—maybe even a mother who could stay home instead of having to go to work every day—so that money wouldn’t be such a problem. She knew that if Grandpa Davis hadn’t sent a check every month or two, making ends meet would have been much more difficult for the Collier family. Her mother’s salary just about covered the rent and the grocery bill, with almost never anything left over.
“Megan! Come set the table, please!” her mother called that evening.
“Coming,” Megan responded, reluctantly closing her book and sliding off the bed. Her mind was still on the story, the adventures of a girl and her father in the wilderness. She wondered if she would have had adventures of that land, too, if her father hadn’t died when she was a baby. Well, when Sandy was a baby, really, she amended. Megan herself had been three when it happened, though she didn’t remember it.
Annie’s dad didn’t take her camping, but he sometimes gave her the money to treat Megan to a movie or an afternoon of skating. Megan was sure her own dad had been like Annie’s, friendly and generous. She sighed, walking into the kitchen and opening the cupboard to get out the dishes.
“Mom, did Daddy like camping and things like that?” she asked.
For a moment the knife Mrs. Collier was using to chop vegetables stopped making sounds against the wooden board. When Megan turned, the plates held in both hands, her mother’s face had taken on that stillness she usually got when the subject of her husband came up.
Because she could tell that it still hurt to talk about him, even after all these years, Megan didn’t often mention her father. She’d been thinking about the book she was reading, and this time she’d spoken without considering her mother’s feelings.
Mrs. Collier began to chop again, and her face smoothed out. “No, I’m afraid not, honey. He wasn’t an outdoorsman, not the way Grandpa Davis is. Hand me that bowl, will you?”
For some reason Megan persisted. Maybe it was because, for just this minute, she wished so hard that she had a father.
“What did he like to do?”
Again the chopping blade hesitated, though only momentarily. “Oh, dancing. He was a good dancer.”
“No. He wasn’t much of a reader, either.”
“What, then? He must have done something besides dance.”
“He liked sports,” her mother said after a moment, reaching for a tomato to slice. “He went to ball games, fights, things like that. Megan, maybe you’d better call Sandy. The casserole will be out of the oven in a few minutes.”
Tuna casserole again. She could tell by the smell. Megan sighed. Tuna casserole was becoming her least favorite food, but it was cheap. She wondered if she dared broach the subject of a new swimsuit tonight, or if she should wait until the next time they got a check from Grandpa, which usually put her mother in a good mood.
Sandy had been playing kick-the-can, and he was hot and sweaty. Sandy was ten, a year younger than Megan, and everyone always knew they were brother and sister. They were both slim and had blue eyes and reddish-gold hair that curled. Well, Megan’s only waved, though her mother said if she’d cut it short it would curl like Sandy’s. Megan didn’t want to cut it. It reached halfway down her back, and it was the prettiest thing about her. She knew her face was perfectly ordinary, but everybody said she had beautiful hair. When they noticed that, they forgave her the sprinkling of freckles across her nose.
As Sandy headed for the table, their mother made good-natured scolding noises. “Wash first, please!”
He sniffed at the dish she was removing from the oven. “Tuna casserole again? I don’t know if it’s worth washing for.”
“Then don’t eat,” Mrs. Collier said calmly. “We’re economizing tonight so that on Sunday we can have baked ham. If you want to wait until then to wash in order to eat, it’s all right with me.”
“I wish it were Sunday now,” Sandy commented as he disappeared in the direction of the bathroom.
Megan plucked a slice of cucumber out of the salad bowl. It reminded her of the green bathing suit she’d seen at K-Mart. She’d better not wait until Grandpa sent a check to lay the groundwork, not if she didn’t want the money spent before Mom set aside enough for the suit.
“Annie and I were looking at the swimsuits they have on sale at the mall,” she began.
Mrs. Collier sighed. “On sale already, and it’s only the first week in June? Too bad for anyone who needs a new suit in August. By then they’ll be selling snowsuits, I suppose. You forgot the napkins, honey.”
Megan absentmindedly reached for the plastic container holding the paper napkins. “I saw this one, it was pale green, and in my size. My old one’s getting awfully short, Mom. I’ve let the straps out as far as I can. I’ll be needing a suit all summer, for here and if we go to the lake. Annie’s getting one—red with a white stripe across here. . . .”
It wasn’t quite true. Annie’s mother hadn’t yet agreed to the new suit, but she probably would. Annie’s dad was a bank manager, and at their house it wasn’t a question of whether or not they could afford it. The Van Dows never actually had to go without anything important.
“Oh, Megan . . .” Her mother stared at her helplessly, then shrugged. “Well, maybe, when Grandpa sends another check—but I don’t know if he’ll be able to for the rest of the summer, honey. He’s up at the lake, you know, because he hurt his foot. Until he goes back to work he probably won’t have much money to spare.”
Megan hadn’t thought about that. Disappointment coursed through her, and she didn’t pursue the matter. She knew it made her mother feel bad when she couldn’t do things for them. Megan ate her tuna casserole with a lump in her throat.
After she’d cleared the table, Megan took the trash out to the can near the alley. She was on the back steps, returning to the kitchen, where Sandy was washing the dishes and her mother was putting them away, when she heard the crash.
Megan pulled open the screen door and stared at broken fragments of glass all over the floor. Her mother, who had changed into shorts when she came home from work, was looking down at her bare feet amidst the shards of what had been her favorite salad bowl.
“Hey, you cut your feet!” Sandy exclaimed. “You okay, Mom?”
Mrs. Collier reached over and turned off the little portable TV they often carried into the kitchen to entertain them while they did dull chores there. “Yes, I guess so. Megan, get the broom and sweep this up before I try to walk, will you? Sandy, would you bring the first-aid kit?”
It wasn’t until they’d cleaned out the small cuts, and put a Band-Aid over the worst one, that Megan asked, “What happened, anyway?”
“The bowl just slipped out of my hands, I guess. Clumsy me,” Mrs. Collier said.
She wasn’t usually clumsy. She never tripped over her own feet, as Megan and Sandy often did.
“I’m sorry about the bowl. Grandma gave it to you the year before she died, didn’t she?”
“Yes. Here, Sandy, you can put this back in the bathroom.” Mrs. Collier passed over the first-aid kit and stood up, putting out a hand to a chair back to steady herself.
“You look pale, Mom,” Megan said, and her mother shook her head.
“Silly. It was such a little bit of blood,” she said. “Finish putting the dishes away for me before you go to Annie’s, will you?”
She left Megan alone in the kitchen, wondering. Her mother had never gotten pale or faint at the sight of blood before. When Sandy had cut his hand so badly it required twelve stitches, their mother hadn’t turned a hair. It was puzzling.
Two hours later, when she came back from Annie’s, where they’d played tetherball in the backyard, Megan found her mother doing something even more puzzling.
She was in Megan’s room, putting clothes into a big suitcase.
“Mom? What’s going on?” Megan watched her mother hastily fold a pair of pink shorts and a green-and-white-striped shirt together, as if they matched.
“We’re leaving for the lake tonight,” Mrs. Collier said. “Finish this, will you? I’ve cleaned out the two top drawers. Do the rest of those, and then get the stuff out of the closet. Just pack what you’ll need at the lake; put everything else into those boxes. I’ve asked Jenny to see to our things, put everything in storage.”
Shock made Megan’s mouth dry. “Tonight? Mom, there’s still a week of school!”
“Missing the last few days won’t hurt either of you. You’ve already had your tests, haven’t you? It’s just parties and busywork, you said so yourself. Don’t forget to take a couple of sweaters—early mornings on the water can be chilly.”
“Mom! Why? How come we’re going? And why tonight? It’s a long way to the lake, and it’s almost nine o’clock now. . . .”
Her mother grew very still, so that apprehension crept over Megan and made her still, too.
“Honey, please do as I say and don’t ask any questions now. I don’t have time to answer them. I’ve never asked you to do anything unreasonable, have I? Well, trust me now. I’ll explain when I can. All right?”
Her mother’s attempt at a smile was pathetic. Megan’s throat closed, and she couldn’t answer.
When her mother crossed the hall and began to give Sandy the same instructions, Megan scarcely heard her younger brother’s startled protest.
It didn’t make sense. Even though they’d moved around a lot, they’d never skipped the last week of school before. And Annie was supposed to go with them to the lake, after school was out. Mrs. Van Dow would never allow Annie to skip the last week of school and go with them now.
Megan stepped to the doorway. Her voice wavered. “Mom, what about . . .”
“Not now, Megan. Please, just pack your things right away.”
Megan felt tears prickling in her eyes. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong.