We rolled into town at around five yesterday afternoon. Had the car unpacked by six. At 6:01 the fifteen year old was out the door to take a walk around town.
By 6:15 he was back here at the house, heartbroken.
First place he'd gone to was his favorite bookstore. There are two. There were two.
What he found was a big empty space, bare shelves, a front desk without a cash register, its facing stripped of posters and flyers.
This is going to put a big hole in his vacation.
The past two or three years his walks around town have been pretty much the point of our coming here as far as he's concerned. A guy can spend only so much time at the beach, after all. Two and a half hours is his record, by my watch. That's two and a half hours of swimming, by the way. He doesn't do anything else when we're at the beach. He's always the first one in and the last one out, no matter the water temperature, which at his favorite beach, Nauset Beach in Orleans, is usually not above 55. He throws himself into the waves and lets them throw him back to shore where he picks himself up, empties the sand from his pockets, and then throws himself back in to the first wave that looks taller than himself. He's been doing this since he could stand on his own two feet.
But like I said, there's only so much of that a guy can do, only so long your parents will wait around before they drag you out of the water and off the beach and out to whatever boring restaurant they've decided to try to trick you into trying a lobster at this time.
His solitary walks around town have taken up most of his idle mornings and lazy afternoons and quiet evenings, and those walks usually finished off at the bookstore, where he'd spend an hour or more in one of the armchairs or sprawled out on the floor in a corner, dismantling the tower of books he'd built by his side, title by title.
Once upon a time there was more to do down here. There were playgrounds to go to, a whole strange and interesting house to fill with action figures fighting battles on brand new terrain. There were sandcastles to build. Friends to be made. There was going out for ice cream with a mother and father who used to be fun to go out for ice cream with, and what happened to them? There was a younger brother who wanted to do everything you did and with whom you wanted to do everything he did—like those fun parents, that little brother has been replaced, not with a boring version of himself, the way the fun parents were, but with an independent person who has interests of his own.
There's still the public library, but that's not open every evening or every morning. The other bookstore is nice enough, but there are no armchairs or spacious corners to sprawl out in. Heck, there's barely room to stand in there.
He's an open, gregarious, kind-hearted kid and he'd love to make some friends down here. But fifteen's a hard age to make friends at. It usually means having to make friends with a gang. He's also not a particularly typical American teenager and the usual conversational openings, music, sports, gossip, sex, aren't open to him. He would be glad to talk to you at length about the mythological basis of the religion of the dwarfs in the various fantasy realms he's made in-depth studies of, but he's learned that the kind of person who wants to talk back to him about that stuff can be kind of...well...odd.
Which reminds him that he himself can be kind of...well...odd.
No fifteen year olds want to think of themselves as odd. Unlike his brother, the fifteen year old is not proud of being a nerd. This worries me. That way self-hatred lies.
At any rate, he seems more and more at loose ends down here, and it's making me realize that the number of family vacations ahead of us are dwindling.
When I was fourteen, Mom and Pop Mannion bought a house on Lake George and that put an end to our vacations on the Cape. It put an end to our vacations as getaways too. We became weekenders. I never liked the town on the lake where the house was so I didn't even have walks around town to look forward to. The summer I was fifteen I tried an experiment.
"Mom, Pop, what would you say if I asked if I could just stay home this weekend?"
To my shock, what they said was, "If you want to."
I still don't know what possessed them.
Maybe they'd noticed that I'd spent the whole of the last summer sulking and didn't want to put up with any more of that.
I stayed home with the dog that weekend, and the weekend after that, and the weekend after that.
That was the summer I learned to cook—that is, I learned how to turn the stove on and off and learned how to time things and learned to remember I had things in the oven. I can't say I learned to cook since all I "cooked" was TV dinners. But I did learn how to shop. Mom Mannion left me some money and an empty refrigerator and empty cupboards and directions to the local market. I learned to do laundry. I already knew how to do it. I just had to learn that it didn't get done on its own or need Mom Mannion's voice-activation to get done.
I also learned which neighbors were spies, which friends I could trust to be discreet and which ones I could trust not to take advantage of the fact that "Hey, Lance's parents aren't home this weekend!". I learned which girls trusted me, and which of those didn't want me to be so trustworthy.
And I learned how much I didn't have to tell my parents about what I'd been up to while they were away and how much of my life they regarded as none of their business.
And that was it. It was all over. I never went on another family vacation again.
Every summer after that while I still lived at home there were jobs and summer theater projects and girls that kept me home while they were away. Then there came a summer when I was away. Except that I wasn't away. I was where I was supposed to be. Away had become home.
The fifteen year old came straight home from the blank space that was his favorite bookstore and is now just a blank space in his heart to tell me the sorrowful news.
He didn't think I was sympathetic enough and he stormed off to his room to mourn by himself.
But he was coaxed back downstairs for some fish and chips from the Squire and that cheered him up some. Then, just before he was ready to call it a night, he wandered up to the other bookstore where he discovered that someone had bought him a book he'd been wishing for, The Battle of the Labyrinth, the latest in Rick Riordan's Percy and the Olympians series, and left it for him to call for at the register.
I don't know who would have done that for him.
Had to be someone a whole lot more sympathetic than his old man.