Second Chance Summer

by Morgan Matson

The Lake House

Chapter one

I EASED OPEN MY BEDROOM DOOR TO CHECK THAT THE HALLWAY was empty. When I was sure that it was, I shouldered my purse and closed the door behind me quietly, then took the stairs down to the kitchen two at a time. It was nine a.m., we were leaving for the lake house in three hours, and I was running away.

The kitchen counter was covered with my mother’s plentiful to-do lists, bags packed with groceries and supplies, and a box filled with my father’s orange prescription bottles. I tried to ignore these as I headed across the kitchen, aiming for the back door. Though I hadn’t snuck out in years, I had a feeling that it would be just like riding a bicycle—which, come to think of it, I also hadn’t done in years. But I’d woken up that morning in a cold sweat, my heart hammering, and every impulse I had telling me to leave, that things would be better if I were somewhere—anywhere—else.

“Taylor?” I froze, and turned around to see Gelsey, my twelve-year-old sister, standing at the other end of the kitchen. Even though she was still wearing her pajamas, an ancient set decorated with glittery pointe shoes, her hair was up in a perfect bun.

“What?” I asked, taking a step away from the door, trying to look as nonchalant as possible.

She frowned at me, eyes resting on my purse before traveling back to my face. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing,” I said. I leaned against the wall in what I hoped was a casual manner, even though I didn’t think I’d ever leaned against a wall in my life. “What do you want?”

“I can’t find my iPod. Did you take it?”

“No,” I said shortly, resisting the urge to tell her that I wouldn’t have touched her iPod, as it was filled solely with ballet music and the terrible band she was obsessed with, The Bentley Boys, three brothers with perfectly windswept bangs and dubious musical gifts. “Go ask Mom.”

“Okay,” she said slowly, still looking at me suspiciously. Then she pivoted on her toe and stomped out of the kitchen, yelling as she went. “Mom!”

I crossed the rest of the kitchen and had just reached for the back door when it swung open, making me jump back. My older brother, Warren, was struggling through it, laden with a bakery box and a tray of to-go coffees. “Morning,” he said.

“Hi,” I muttered, looking longingly past him to the outside, wishing that I’d tried to make my escape five minutes earlier—or, even better, had just used the front door.

“Mom sent me for coffee and bagels,” he said, as he set both on the counter. “You like sesame, right?”

I hated sesame—in fact, Warren was the only one of us who liked them—but I wasn’t going to point that out now. “Sure,” I said quickly. “Great.”

Warren selected one of the coffees and took a sip. Even though at nineteen he was only two years older than me, he was dressed, as usual, in khakis and a polo shirt, as though he might at any moment be called upon to chair a board meeting or play a round of golf. “Where is everyone?” he asked after a moment.

“No idea,” I said, hoping that he’d go investigate for himself. He nodded and took another sip, as though he had all the time in the world. “I think I heard Mom upstairs,” I said after it became clear that my brother intended to while away the morning sipping coffee and staring into space.

“I’ll tell her I’m back,” he said, setting his coffee down, just as I’d hoped he would. Warren headed toward the door, then stopped and turned back to me. “Is he up yet?”

I shrugged. “Not sure,” I said, trying to keep my voice light, like this was just a routine question. But only few weeks ago, the idea of my father still being asleep at this hour—or for that matter, still home—would have been unthinkable.

Warren nodded again and headed out of the kitchen. As soon as he was gone, I bolted for the door.

I hurried down our driveway and, when I made it to the sidewalk, let out a long breath. Then I started speed-walking down Greenleaf Road as quickly as possible. I probably should have taken a car, but some things were just habit, and the last time I’d snuck out, I’d been years away from getting my license.

I could feel myself start to calm down the farther I walked. The rational part of my brain was telling me that I’d have to go back at some point, but I didn’t want to listen to the rational part of my brain right now. I just wanted to pretend that this day—this whole summer—wasn’t going to have to happen, something that got easier the more distance I put between myself and the house. I’d been walking for a while and had just started to dig in my bag for my sunglasses when I heard a metal jangling sound and looked up.

My heart sank a little as I saw Connie from the white house across the street, walking her dog and waving at me. She was around my parents’ age, and I’d known her last name at some point, but couldn’t recall it now. I dropped my sunglass case in my bag next to what I now saw was Gelsey’s iPod (whoops), which I must have grabbed thinking it was mine. There was no avoiding Connie without blatantly ignoring her or turning and running into the woods. And I had a feeling either of these options was behavior that might make it back to my mother immediately. I sighed and made myself smile at her as she got closer.

“Taylor, hi!” she called, smiling wide at me. Her dog, a big, dumb-looking golden retriever, strained against his leash toward me, panting, tail wagging. I looked at him and took a small step away. We’d never had a dog, so though I liked them in theory, I hadn’t had all that much experience with them. And even though I watched the reality show Top Dog much more than someone who didn’t actually own a dog should, this didn’t help when confronted with one in the real world.

“Hi, Connie,” I said, already starting to edge away, hoping she’d get the hint. “Nice to see you!”

“You too,” she replied automatically, but I saw her smile fade a little as her eyes traveled over my face and outfit. “You’re looking a bit different today,” she said. “Very… relaxed.”

Since Connie normally saw me in my Stanwich Academy uniform—white blouse and itchy plaid skirt—I had no doubt I looked different now, as I’d pretty much just rolled out of bed, not even bothering to brush my hair, and was wearing flip-flops, cutoffs, and a much-washed white T-shirt that read LAKE PHOENIX SWIM TEAM. The shirt technically wasn’t mine, but I’d appropriated it so many years ago that I now just thought of it as my property.