Chapter 1: The Ferry to Nowhere
CHAPTER 1 The Ferry to Nowhere
We each have to do our part.
THIS WAS GOING TO BE the worst summer ever! Here I was, waiting for a ferry, forced to spend my entire summer vacation living with my grandma in the middle of nowhere.
Baaaaamp! Loud horn blasts from the ferryboat vibrated the long wooden dock. My stomach twisted at the sound.
“It’s time to board, Jake,” Mom said.
I could tell her smile was fake. I hadn’t seen a real smile on her face for weeks. But neither of us felt like smiling after the phone call about what happened to Dad.
A big sign over the dock read DEWEES ISLAND FERRY. A lot of people were waiting for the white double-decker, standing near their metal carts filled with groceries, suitcases, fishing poles, tackle boxes, even beach chairs. Two small dogs barked in excitement as they trotted past me on leash.
“Do I have to go?” I asked my mom in a last-ditch effort. “I want to stay with you. Please! I’ll be good. I promise.”
Mom’s shoulders slumped. “Jake, we’ve been over and over this. I don’t know how long I’ll be there, and I can’t leave you alone in a rental all day.”
I was trying to be strong. But her words made me explode.
“It’s not fair! You’re dumping me on that island! What kind of summer vacation is this?”
I knew I had crossed the line. Mom was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and flew those giant C-17 transport planes. She was all about duty and following orders. She stepped closer to me, lowering her voice.
“I know you don’t want to go,” she said. I saw a flash of sadness in her eyes. Then she straightened her shoulders and I heard the commander in her voice. “We have to do what’s best for your father now and put our personal wants aside. We don’t know how bad he’s been hurt or how long his recovery will be. This isn’t a vacation, Jake. We each have to do our part. For Dad.”
I lowered my head, ashamed. Still, it was hard hearing that my dad was hurt but not knowing how bad or what happened to him.
“It isn’t good for you to sit around in hospitals all summer. And,” she said, reaching out to lift my chin so I looked into her eyes, “your grandmother needs you. She’s worried about your dad too.”
“I know, but…” I paused to take a shaky breath in. “I want to see him.”
“I know you do. But remember, you’re helping your dad by helping Honey. He’ll feel better knowing you’re with her.”
I scrunched my face and nodded in understanding.
I met her eyes and she flashed a soft smile.
“You’re in charge now, Private.”
She got me there. My dad was an officer in the Army, and he always called me Private. I tugged at my Army ball cap to hide my eyes.
“Yeah,” was all I could muster through the lump in my throat.
“All aboard!” called out the ferry captain.
“Let’s go!” said Mom, trying to be cheerful. I felt her gently nudge my back.
We walked down a metal ramp to the waiting ferry. The mate greeted us and wheeled my cart of stuff on board with everyone else’s belongings.
“I’ll call you as soon as I know anything,” Mom said, and then leaned in to kiss my cheek. “You’ll love Dewees Island. There’s so much to do—the beach, the woods. You had the best time when you were there before.”
“I was six, Mom.”
“Well, you’re almost twelve now, so that means you’ll have twice as much fun.”
“Right. It’s going to be great stuck on an island with no cars allowed, or stores, or restaurants. Are there even people there, other than Honey?”
“Of course there are.”
“At least I can game online with Carlos and Nick.”
Mom’s face cringed. “Well…” She hesitated. “There isn’t any Wi-Fi.”
“What!” I couldn’t believe there was a place on earth without Wi-Fi.
“You mean I not only have to spend my summer away from my friends, I’m stuck alone on some faraway island with my grandma? And I have no internet?” My jaw hung wide open in disbelief. “Tell me you’re joking.”
Mom laughed. I hadn’t heard her laugh since the first phone call about Dad.
“Come on, Jake. You’ve endured far worse. There’s Wi-Fi on the island, just not at Honey’s house. She doesn’t think she needs the internet.” Her voice lowered. “Your grandmother can have strong opinions about things.”
“Or she’s just weird,” I muttered. I had thought things couldn’t get any worse, but they just did.
“Ready!” called out the captain, opening wide the passenger door. He was urging us to go.
“Time to move,” Mom said, trying to sound cheery.
I puffed out my breath. Being a military family, we moved around a lot. I was always the new kid and making friends. I was used to saying goodbye to my parents.
But it never got easier.
“Bye,” I said, looking down.
Mom gave me a quick final hug. I didn’t want to return it. My arms hung limp at my sides.
She stepped off the ferry back onto the deck. I looked over my shoulder to see her walking down the dock, shoulders slumped.
“Mom!” I called out.
She stopped and turned as I ran toward her. She opened her arms, and I ran into them and hugged her with all my might.
“I’ll miss you, Mom,” I said, my face muffled in her chest.
I felt her arms tighten around me. “I’ll miss you too.” She kissed my cheek and I could see the tears in her eyes, just like mine.
“I’ll call you!” she said.
“I love you, Mom,” I called out as I ran back to the boat. The captain waved me inside and shut the door behind me.
Inside, the benches were filling up. I raced up the stairs to the top deck of the ferry. The sun glared hot in the sky, making the metal railing warm to the touch as I leaned over to wave goodbye to Mom.
But she was already gone.