Gramps had thankfully asked us to work only the breakfast and dinner shifts instead of all three meals today, so we parted at the dock to eat lunch at our cabins. I finished my bologna and mustard on Wonder Bread early, and wandered down to the water to sit on a boulder under the white birches to wait for them. With both feet in the warm water, I ran my hands along the rough surface of the lichen growing on the rock. A speedboat passed with a water skier in tow, causing waves to rhythmically lap my legs. I watched the water skier show off, hanging on one-handed and flipping three hundred sixty degrees in midair to land securely back on his feet in the right direction. I wondered if he were some kind of fancy instructor that The Seven Whistles had hired to teach guests to water ski. He sure didn’t seem like your average, run-of-the-mill skier from our lake.
He passed me four times, getting more and more daring, skiing backwards, on one ski, and doing loops in the air. I watched with fascination, wondering when my parents would let me water ski. Every year they’d said it was too dangerous, I was too young, and more excuses. Maybe this year they’d let me try it.
A blue canoe nosed around the bend, rocking violently in the wake of the speedboat that had just circled around and passed again. This time the speedboat was way too close to the shore.
There she was, the girl I’d been dying to meet. Her expression was tense with fear. I watched helplessly as the speedboat came closer. His huge wake rippled toward her, and before I could shout a warning, she flipped over, not twenty feet from my dock.
I jumped up, scrambled to the dock, and raced to the end, calling to her. “Are you okay?”
Her head popped up and she swam toward her flipped canoe. She just nodded, but didn’t say a word.
The paddle floated toward me, and before I could think twice I jumped into the lake to grab it for her. “Hey. I’ve got your paddle.”
I swam out toward her. “Let’s get this to shore so we can turn it right side up.”
She glanced sideways at me with a cute smile. “Thanks.”
With a start, I realized she had a soft accent that hinted of the South.
I grabbed one end of the canoe and helped her float it toward the shore. We swam in silence, and then I helped tug the craft toward the dock where there was an empty boat berth.
“Let me get out first,” I said. “I’ll climb up on the dock and tie you up.”
I secured her still upside-down canoe to a big silver ring on the dock and reached a hand toward her. “Come on up.”
She grabbed my hand and easily climbed up the ladder. “Thanks again.”
“Are you hurt?” I asked.
“I don’t think so,” she said. She flexed her hands and bounced on her toes. “I was just very surprised, I guess.”
“That jerk. He shouldn’t have been going so fast. And he shouldn’t have driven so close to shore.”
“I know. He is a real showoff. Thinks he runs The Seven Whistles. He’s the owner’s son.”
I nodded. “Sounds like he isn’t too bright.”
She laughed easily, and I noticed at that moment that her eyes weren’t brown; they were deep indigo, almost violet. Against her caramel-colored skin they glowed, full of humor and light.
“I’m Gus.” I held out my hand. “This is my grandparents’ place. We’re here, in Wee Castle.” I pointed over my shoulder to the cabin behind us.
“Very nice,” she said, shaking my hand firmly. “I’m Willy DuPont, short for Wilhelmina. My aunt and brother work for the LaFontaine family at The Seven Whistles, just over there. We’re up for the summer from Baton Rouge. Our family has worked for the LaFontaines for generations.”
“Wow. What about your folks? Are they up for the summer, too?” As soon as I asked the question, I felt bad, because her face fell.
“My mother died giving birth to me. I never knew her.” She sighed and her face fell. “And my father was killed in an accident around the same time. I never knew him, either.”
“Oh, gosh. I’m so sorry for asking.” I felt like an idiot.
“He was a war hero, a Marine.” Her eyes filled and her lower lip trembled. “I’m very proud of his service.”
“Cool. He must’ve been really smart and strong. They only take a small percent of the applicants, so my friend William says.” I talked fast, explaining about William. “He’s a camp boy here, lives near us in New York. He wants to be a Marine in the worst way.”
She pushed her wet hair back over her shoulders. “Well. I’d better get this upright again.”
“Sure. Let’s tow it up to the shore, then we can flip it easier.”
While I untied the knot, I noticed her long, slim legs and tiny waist. She was almost as tall as I was and when she smiled, it gave me a thrill deep inside. It was a beautiful smile.
“My friends are dying to meet you,” I said. “Especially Elsbeth. She wants a girl to play with this summer. She’s twelve. And her twin, Siegfried, is the same age.”
“Are they from Germany?” she asked. “Those sound like German names.”
“Yeah. Their family escaped the Iron Curtain way back when they were little. They moved into the farmhouse near us when I was five.” I straightened and dragged the boat up onto a low section of the shore. “I’m thirteen. My birthday’s in March.”
She helped me bring the canoe up on shore, and we flipped it over and wiggled it from side to side to be sure all the water drained out of it.
“I am, too. I just had my birthday last week.”
“Neat,” I said. “Happy belated birthday.” I suddenly felt tongue-tied. “Um. Can you come back sometime to meet my friends? We’re working meals in the dining room for my grandfather. But we’re free the rest of the time.”
“Sure. I help my aunt with her jobs, too. She cleans the rooms and does laundry.”
“All by herself? In that giant place?”
A laugh trilled from her curvy lips. “Oh my goodness, no. There are many more members of our staff who cook, clean, and wait tables. At least fifteen.”
“It’s a busy place.”
“I guess so.”
“How about I come back around three today? Will you be free?”
I grinned, knowing in advance how happy Elsbeth would be at the turn of events. “Sure. We could go for a ride in my grandfather’s boat, if you want.”
“Sounds nice. I’ll see you then.” She slid the canoe into the water and climbed inside.
I handed her the paddle. “See you later, Willy.”
“Okay, Gus. It was nice to meet you.”
I smiled and watched her expertly paddle away.