Several years later…
"Yeah, my ride will be here any minute," I replied and slipped into my blazer.
"You're going back to Nantucket?"
"That's right. When's your flight?"
"Not until this evening. Why aren't you flying? Isn't it like a five hour drive?"
"Mrs. Lodge doesn't like to fly," I explained.
"Is she picking you up?"
"Well, no…she just likes things the way she likes them."
"Ok," Tyler rolled his eyes then crossed our small dorm room and gave me a brotherly sort of hug. "Have a good summer, Dufrain. Oh and happy birthday."
"Thanks Ty, see you in the fall," I smiled, picked up my bags and trotted out into the hall.
It was the end of another semester at Choate-Rosemary Hall and the dorms were abuzz with activity. Students came here from all over the country and the world, the last day of any term was always crazy. Tyler was a good roommate and my best friend. Later that day he'd be returning to California and I had to admit I'd miss him over the summer. I said goodbye to several other friends, dorm mates and guys I knew from the baseball team, and walked out into the early summer breeze just as James arrived.
In a school full of spoiled rich kids the Lodge Family's vintage Rolls Royce limousine always drew attention. James pulled up right in front of the dorm, cutting off Ginny Watson's mother in her Mercedes, before he hopped out to collect my bags.
"Hey Tommy, happy birthday," James smiled as he took my suitcases.
"Thanks James." He hadn't changed much in the years I'd known him. When he and Mrs. Lodge picked me up from the hospital the night my mother died he'd been 35, tall, slender and energetic. Ten years later he was just as energetic but had started to grey at the temples. When my bags were securely in the trunk, James opened the rear door for me with an exaggerated flourish.
"It's a long drive; couldn't I sit up front with you?"
"You trying to get me in trouble kiddo? You know Mrs. Lodge wouldn't like that."
"No, you're right," I sighed and climbed into the plush backseat. I took off my blazer and folded it neatly while James ran around the big car and took the driver's seat.
Mrs. Lodge treated her servants with dignity, respect and in her way, kindness. She was also very traditional and didn't like members of the family fraternizing with the help. It took me a long time to figure out my role in the Lodge home. I wasn't family, Mrs. Lodge had been friends with my maternal grandmother and when my mother died she took it on herself to raise me. I wasn't a servant either. Mrs. Lodge raised me to be a gentleman. She sent me to the same exclusive schools her sons had attended and I spent my summers taking lessons in skills she thought every young man should learn. At the same time she was never very affectionate, in fact, she rarely used my name. It was always, "Boy this or Boy that." Some days I felt like a favored grandson, other's I felt like nothing more than a stray she'd taken in. In the end I realized the only way to be comfortable in the Lodge home was to go with the flow and never try to read her moods.
My boarding school is in Western Connecticut and Mrs. Lodge lived in an expansive mansion on Nantucket Island. It was a short flight; you could even make it by helicopter, but since Mrs. Lodge didn't like flying I couldn't fly either. Everything always had to be her way. Traveling by car made the trip excruciatingly long as we had to first travel northeast towards Boston and then southeast towards Hyannis Port and the ferry that would take us out to the island. It was my 15 th birthday and I going through a growth spurt and I was glad for the space the backseat provided. I would have gone nuts if I'd been unable to stretch my legs for so long.
It was after dark when we boarded the Hyannis-Nantucket Ferry. Even with the extra leg room the Rolls provided, I was glad to get out and smell the sea air as we made our way into the Atlantic. When we arrived on the island I got back in the car and before long James drove through the massive iron gates of Summers End. The expansive colonial style mansion had been a wedding gift to Mrs. Lodge from old Mr. Lodge. When he died she left their Beacon Hill mansion and set up permanent residence here. It was intimidating the first time I saw it as a little boy and ten years later it still intimidated me as the limousine stopped out front.
I put my blazer back on and buttoned my coat when James opened the door and I stepped out of the car. I made sure I hadn't acquired any wrinkles on the trip and straightened my tie. Mrs. Lodge thought young men should be properly turned out and I learned quickly it was best not to disappoint her lest I get a lecture on how a gentleman never neglects his appearance.
"I'll take your things inside. I'm sure she's waiting for you. Good luck," James winked.
"Thanks," I gulped. I've been Mrs. Lodge's ward for 10 years but these homecomings always made me nervous.
"Ah, Master Thomas, welcome home," smiled George Carson, when I walked through the front door. He was the family butler and had been a strong male presence in my young life. He was an affable man who seemed to genuinely enjoy looking after me as a little boy. At least that's how it felt to me. He never treated me like I as an additional burden, another duty for his already busy schedule.
"Hello Carson," I smiled. "Where's…"
"In here, Boy," called Mrs. Lodge.
The voice came from the study and sure enough, Carson nodded in that direction. I found Mrs. Lodge seated in a leather wing backed chair in front of the fire. It may have been the start of summer but nights on the island were often chilly. I walked into the room and stood at attention to present myself. What makes me smile is Mrs. Lodge puts her own children through the same routine when they come home and the youngest among them is over 40. She rose from her seat and walked around me in a slow circle. Her eyes didn't miss anything and I was glad I remembered to get my hair cut the week before.
"You're taller then you were at Christmas."
"Take a seat, Boy."
I took the chair opposite hers, an identical wing back. She resumed her seat, put on her half glasses and held out her wrinkled hand.
"Report card," she ordered. I pulled the requested document from my coat pocket and handed it over.
"Tsk, tsk. A B in geometry?"
"Yes ma'am," I replied, almost apologetically.
"You mustn't neglect your mathematics, Boy," she admonished.
"Yes ma'am," I agreed. Neglect my ass! I worked hard to get that B. I kept my thoughts to myself though. It wasn't an A and Mrs. Lodge hated excuses.
"I am however pleased with the rest of your marks. Henry always did well in the humanities and struggled with his math."
Henry Lodge is Mrs. Lodge's youngest son. At 43 years old he's the junior Senator from New York and on everyone's short list for president in the next election. He's the apple of Mrs. Lodge's eye and a comparison to Henry was the highest compliment anyone at Summers End could get.
"Yes ma'am," I smiled. Henry had always been nice to me. On his visits home he treated me like a favored nephew. His brother's and their children weren't always so pleasant.
"Speaking of Henry, I'm sure you know he'll be getting married at the end of the season and we'll be hosting the wedding here at Summers End?"
"Yes ma'am. I was happy to hear about Senator Lodge's engagement," I nodded.
"Hosting the ceremony will create quite a ruckus but it's about time he settled down."
If there was one fault Henry Lodge had in his mother's eyes it was his promiscuous nature. He'd had countless girlfriends and on several occasions his mother had told him quite bluntly that "The American people don't elect horny bachelor's president." It seemed like he'd finally decided to take her words to heart.
"In addition, our summer will be further complicated by the arrival late this evening of Mrs. Jillian Carstairs and her son, Alec. She's Henry's biographer and will be staying here until the wedding in order to research and write a book on Henry for publication next fall," Mrs. Lodge explained.
"He's going to run, isn't he?" I smiled excitedly, referring to the presidency.
"It's too early to speculate," Mrs. Lodge almost smiled, "and mind your manners. It's rude to interrupt."
"As I was saying, Mrs. Carstairs will work out of this study but I am relying on you to entertain her son."
"What am I supposed to do with him?" I blurted out. I didn't know what to do with some writer's kid. I'm also shy until I get to know someone and find it hard to make friends.
"I expect you to be a genial host," Mrs. Lodge pursed her lips. "You will show him the island and the amenities it has to offer, make sure he follows the rules of this house and keep him out of trouble. Do you think that is too much for you to handle?"
"No ma'am. I'll look after him," I sighed. Great, an entire summer of babysitting.
"Very good, Boy. I expect nothing less from you."
"I'm sorry to interrupt, Mrs. Lodge," said Mr. Carson, sticking his head into the study, "but dinner is served."
I stood and offered my arm to Mrs. Lodge. A young man should always escort a lady to the table, particularly an old lady. Mrs. Lodge sat at the head of the table and I sat to her right. It seemed odd, just the two of us eating in a dining room built for 30, but it didn't faze her. Dinner was excellent. We feasted on braised lamb, roasted potatoes, asparagus and fresh baked bread. Cook had gone to a great deal of trouble to prepare my favorite meal. When we were finished, Mrs. Lodge seemed to conjure a neatly wrapped package out of thin air and placed it next to my hand.
"I'm old, Boy, not daft! Did you think I would forget your birthday?" That rare half smile crept across her face.
"Of course not," I smiled. I knew what was in the package before opening it. I knew what would be in it that morning. I knew what would be in it a year ago. Every year for my birthday, going back to my first, Mrs. Lodge gave me a book with an inscription on the inside cover containing a few words of wisdom. These weren't the ordinary paperbacks you found at Barnes & Noble, these were rare first additions bound in leather and lovingly cared for. Mrs. Lodge loved books and it was a love she'd instilled in me as well.
I opened the package and found a first edition of John Knowls, A Separate Peace. It was one of my favorite books. I'd read it last year and talked about it all summer. I was pleased Mrs. Lodge remembered. I opened the cover to read the inscription inside. It started off with "Dearest Thomas," but Thomas was crossed out and she'd written in, "Boy." The inscription read, "Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment." Classic Mrs. Lodge. It was signed, "Happy 15 th Birthday, H. Lodge."
"Thank you ma'am, it's one of my favorites," I smiled.
"Very good, Boy. I'm pleased you like it," She smiled, actually smiled, and patted my hand.
After receiving my gift, we enjoyed a nice piece of German chocolate cake, the servants sang Happy Birthday and then I retired to my room. It had been a long day and an even longer trip home. I changed into my pajamas and read for a while but I could barely keep my eyes open. When I put the book on the nightstand and turned out the bedside lamp, there was a crash of thunder and a heavy summer ran began to fall. I love the rain and drifted off to sleep as it pelted my window.
Why did it have to start raining just as we were putting out to sea? I could have waited in the car with my mom but the sea was rolling too much and I started to get sick. I leaned over the side of the ferry and waited for my stomach to purge its last meal while the storm drenched me to the bone. It didn't take long for a wave to roll under the ferry's bow and set my tummy off again. As I barfed the last of my dinner into the sea, I felt a little better. I stood up straight and let the rain wash over my face. It was a warm rain. Warm but refreshing.
"Alec, honey, get back in the car," mom shouted.
I rolled my eyes at the sea, shook some of the rain off my anorak and climbed back into mom's SUV.
"Sweetie you're drenched. You're doing to get sick," mom fussed.
"That's an old wives tale. Besides, I was already sick thanks to this stupid boat trip," I complained.
"Alec, I can't control the weather. It's not my fault a storm blew in."
"I know mom, I'm just saying."
"Honey what's the matter? You're always such a happy boy. I don't like seeing you so grumpy."
"You really want to know?" I wasn't sure if I was ready to get into this but if she was going to pester me, well, she asked for it.
"I wouldn't have asked otherwise."
"Alright, I'll tell you," I took a deep breath. "First you spend my childhood dragging me all over the world then you put me in military school and now I have to spend my summer vacation at some old ladies house babysitting some weird kid. How would you like it?"
"Alec, I'm a writer. I have to go where the stories are. Would you have rather been left at home with a nanny?"
"Well no, I…"
"Secondly, you know very well why you were sent to Fork Union and lastly, the Lodge compound isn't some stuffy old ladies house! It's a luxury estate on an island so beautiful it's flooded with tourists in the summer. Most boys your age would appreciate spending their summer vacation in a place like that."
"Why can't I spend the summer with dad?"
"Alec, I'd love to send you to England for the summer but you know he's in Afghanistan."
"He didn't have to be. He chose to be there rather than spend time with me."
"That is absolutely not true."
"Sure it is. He didn't want his faggot son hanging around all summer. What would he tell his army buddies?"
"I'm not your father's biggest fan but I have not and will not doubt how much he loves you. Gay or straight it doesn't matter to him. You should know better than that."
"Yeah, sure, he just volunteered to go back to Afghanistan for the fun of it," I rolled my eyes.
"He's a patriot. He loves his country and when they asked him to go he had no choice but to say yes."
"Oh Alec," mom sighed.
We sat quietly for a couple of minutes and then something I said struck mom as funny and she had to follow up.
"Where did you get the idea you'd be babysitting all summer?"
"Oh come on mom. You said there'd be another kid for me to hang out with. I know the codes. It's probably some ten year old I'll have to keep an eye on while you work and the old lady tries not to die."
"Alec, you're so dramatic," mom laughed. "Senator Lodge told me all about Thomas and you're the same age. He'll show you around the island and I'm sure you'll be fast friends."
"If you say so," I sighed, just as the ferry approached the dock.
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