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Summer Days and Summer Nights

Stephanie Perkins

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  Thank you to every single reader who picked up my first anthology. It’s challenging to find a modern audience for short stories, and I’m thrilled that so many people gave it a chance. I hope you enjoy this collection, too. I’m tremendously proud of it.

  Thank you to Kate Testerman. For everything. Thank you to Sara Goodman for being so classy and for teaching me so much about this job. Thank you to Michelle Cashman, Alicia Clancy, Angie Giammarino, Anna Gorovoy, Olga Grlic, Brant Janeway, and Jessica Katz for the additional support and hard work. Thank you to Venetia Gosling, Kat McKenna, and Rachel Petty for rocking it in the UK. Thank you to Jim Tierney for another set of gorgeous illustrations. Thank you to the authors of my first anthology for their continued encouragement. And thank you, especially, to the authors in this anthology for being brilliant, hilarious, ambitious, and kindhearted: Brandy, Cassie, Francesca, Jen, Jon, Leigh, Lev, Libba, Nina, Tim, and Veronica. I have loved working with you all.

  Thank you to my family. Always.

  And thank you to Jarrod Perkins. Always + always x always.


  There were a lot of stories about Annalee Saperstein and why she came to Little Spindle, but Gracie’s favorite was the heat wave.

  In 1986, New York endured a summer so miserable that anyone who could afford to leave the city did. The pavement went soft with the heat, a man was found dead in his bathtub with an electric fan half-submerged in the water next to his hairy knees, and the power grid flickered on and off like a bug light rattling with moths. On the Upper West Side, above the bakeries and delicatessens, the Woolworth’s and the Red Apple market, people slept on top of their sheets, sucked on handkerchiefs full of crushed ice, and opened their windows wide, praying for a breeze. That was why, when the Hudson leaped its banks and went looking for trouble on a hot July night, the river found Ruth Blonksy’s window wedged open with a dented Candie’s shoe box.

  Earlier that day, Ruth had been in Riverside Park with her friends, eating lemon pucker ices and wearing a persimmon-colored shift that was really a vintage nightgown she’d dyed with two boxes of Rit and mixed success. Rain had been promised for days, but the sky hung heavy over the city, a distended gray belly of cloud that refused to split. Sweat beading over her skin, Ruth had leaned against the park railing to look down at the swaying surface of the river, opaque and nearly black beneath the overcast sky, and had the eerie sense that the water was looking back at her.

  Then a drop of lemon ice trickled from the little pink spoon in her hand, startling as a cold tongue lapping at her pulse point, and Marva Allsburg shouted, “We’re going to Jaybee’s to look at records.”

  Ruth licked the lemon ice from her wrist and thought no more of the river.

  But later that night, when she woke—her sheets soaked through with sweat, a tangle of reeds at the foot of her bed—that sticky trail of sugar was what came first to mind. She’d fallen asleep in her clothes, and her persimmon shift clung wetly to her stomach. Beneath it, her body burned feverish with half-remembered dreams of the river god, a muscular shape that moved through the deep current of sleep, his gray skin speckled blue and green. Her lips felt just kissed, and her head was clouded as if she’d risen too fast from some great depth. It took a long moment for her ears to clear, for her to recognize the moss-and-metal smell of wet concrete, and then to make sense of the sound coming through her open window—rain falling in a steady patter onto the predawn streets below. The heat had broken at last.

  Nine months later, Ruth gave birth to a baby with kelp-green eyes and ropes of seaweed hair. When Ruth’s father kicked her out of their walk-up, calling her names in Polish and English and making angry noises about the Puerto Rican boy who had taken Ruth to her junior prom, Annalee Saperstein took her in, ignoring the neighborhood whispers and clucking. Annalee worked at the twenty-four-hour coin laundry on West Seventy-Ninth. No one was sure when she slept, because whenever you walked past, she always seemed to be sitting at the counter doing her crossword beneath the fluorescent lights, the machines humming and rattling, no matter the hour. Joey Pastan had mouthed off to her once when he ran out of quarters, and he swore the dryers had actually growled at him, so nobody was entirely surprised that Annalee believed Ruth Blonksy. And when, waiting in line at Gitlitz Delicatessen, Annalee smacked Ruth’s father in the chest with the half pound of thinly sliced corned beef she’d just purchased and snapped that river spirits were not to be trusted, no one dared to argue.

  Ruth’s daughter refused milk. She would only drink salt water and eat pound after pound of oysters, clams, and tiny crayfish, which had to be delivered in crates to Annalee’s cramped apartment. But the diet must have agreed with her, because the green-eyed baby grew into a beautiful girl who was spotted by a talent scout while crossing Amsterdam Avenue. She became a famous model, renowned for her full lips and liquid walk, and bought her mother a penthouse on Park Avenue that they decorated with paintings of desert flowers and dry creek beds. They gave Annalee Saperstein a tidy sum that allowed her to quit her job at the coin laundry and move out of the city to Little Spindle, where she opened her Dairy Queen franchise.

  At least, that was one of the stories about how Annalee Saperstein came to Little Spindle, and Gracie liked it because she felt it made a kind of sense. Why else would Annalee get copies of French and Italian Vogue when all she ever wore were polyester housedresses and Birkenstock sandals with socks?

  People said Annalee knew things. It was why Donna Bakewell came to see her the summer her terrier got hit by a car and she couldn’t seem to stop crying—not even to sleep, or to buy a can of green beans at the Price Chopper, or to answer the phone. People would call her up and just hear her sobbing and hiccupping on the other end. But somehow a chat with Annalee managed what no doctor or pill could and dried Donna’s tears right up. It was why, when Jason Mylo couldn’t shake the idea that his ex-wife had put a curse on his new Chevy truck, he paid a late-night visit to the DQ to see Annalee. And it was also why, when Gracie Michaux saw something that looked very much like a sea monster breach the waters of Little Spindle Lake, she went looking for Annalee Saperstein.

  Gracie had been sitting on the bank of what she considered her cove, a rocky crescent on the south side of the lake that no one else seemed to know or care about. It was too shady for sunbathers and devoid of the picnic tables and rope swings that drew vacationers like beacons during the tourist season. She’d been skipping stones, telling herself not to pick the scab on her knee, because she wanted to look good in the jean shorts she’d cut even shorter on her fourteenth birthday, and then doing it anyway, when she heard a
splash. One, two, three humps breached the blue surface of the water, a glittering little mountain range, there and then gone, followed by the slap of—Gracie’s mind refused to accept it, and at the same time clamored—a tail.

  Gracie scrabbled backward up the banks to the pines and dragged herself to her feet, heart jackrabbiting in her chest, waiting for the water to part again or for something huge and scaly to haul itself onto the sand, but nothing happened. Her mouth was salty with the taste of blood. She’d bitten her tongue. She spat once, leaped onto her bicycle, and pedaled as hard as she could down the bumpy dirt path to the smooth pavement of the main road, thighs burning as she hurtled through town.

  It wasn’t much of a hurtle, because Little Spindle wasn’t much of a town. There was a mini-mart, a gas station with the town’s lone ATM, a veterinary clinic, a string of souvenir shops, and the old Rotary hall, which had become the public library after the library in Greater Spindle flooded ten years before. Little Spindle had never gotten the traffic or the clusters of condos and fancy homes that crowded around Greater Spindle, just a smattering of rental cottages and the Spindrift Inn. Despite the fact that the lake was nearly as big as Greater Spindle and surrounded by perfectly good land, there was something about Little Spindle Lake that put people off.

  The lake looked pleasant enough from a distance, glimpsed through the pines in vibrant blue flashes, sunlight spiking off its surface in jewel-bright shards. But as you got closer you started to feel your spirits sink, and by the time you were at its shore, you felt positively mournful. You’d convince yourself to walk down to the beach anyway, maybe swing out on the old tire, but as you let go of the rope, you’d hang for the briefest second above the water and you’d know with absolute certainty that you’d made a horrible mistake, that once you vanished beneath the surface, you would never be seen again, that the lake was not a lake but a mouth—hungry, blue, and sullen. Some people seemed impervious to the effects of Little Spindle, but others refused to even put a toe in the water.

  The only place that did real business year round was the Dairy Queen, despite the Stewart’s only a few miles away. But why Annalee had chosen to set up shop in Little Spindle instead of Greater Spindle was a mystery to everyone but her.

  Gracie didn’t head straight for the DQ that day—not at first. In fact, she got all the way home, tossed her bike down in the yard, and had her hand on the screen door before she caught herself. Eric and her mom liked to spend Saturdays in the backyard, just lying next to each other on plastic lounge chairs, snoozing, hands clasped like a couple of otters. They both worked long hours at the hospital in Greater Spindle and hoarded sleep like it was a hobby.

  Gracie hovered there at the door, hand outstretched. What could she really say to her mother? Her weary mother who never stopped looking worried, even in sleep? For a moment, at the edge of the lake, Gracie had been a kid again, but she was fourteen. She should know better.

  She got back on her bike and pedaled slowly, meditatively, in no direction at all, belief seeping away as if the sun was sweating it out of her. What had she actually seen? A fish maybe? A few fish? But some deeper sense must have been guiding her, because when she got to the Dairy Queen she turned into the half-full parking lot.

  Annalee Saperstein was at a table by the window, as she always was, doing her crossword, a Peanut Buster Parfait melting in front of her. Gracie mostly knew Annalee because she liked listening to the stories about her, and because her mom was always sending Gracie to ask Annalee over for dinner.

  “She’s old and alone,” Gracie’s mother would say.

  “She seems to like it.”

  Her mom would wave her finger in the air like she was conducting an invisible orchestra. “No one likes being alone.”

  Gracie tried not to roll her eyes. She tried.

  Now she slid into the hard red seat across from Annalee and said, “Do you know anything about Idgy Pidgy?”

  “Good afternoon to you, too,” Annalee grumped, without looking up from her crossword.

  “Sorry,” Gracie said. She thought of explaining that she’d had a strange start to her day, but instead opted for “How are you?”

  “Not dead yet. It would kill you to use a comb?”

  “No point.” Gracie tried to rope her slick black hair back into its ponytail. “My hair doesn’t take well to instruction.” She waited then said, “So … the monster in the lake?”

  She knew she wasn’t the first person to claim she’d seen something in the waters of Little Spindle. There had been a bunch of sightings in the sixties and seventies, though Gracie’s mom claimed that was because everyone was on drugs. The town council had even tried to turn it into a tourist draw by dubbing it the Idgy Pidgy—“Little Spindle’s Little Monster”—and painting the image of a friendly-looking sea serpent with googly eyes on the WELCOME TO LITTLE SPINDLE sign. It hadn’t caught on, but you could still see its outline on the sign, and a few winters back someone had spray painted a huge phallus onto it. For the three days it took the town council to notice and get someone to paint over it, the sign looked like the Idgy Pidgy was trying to have sex with the E at the end of LITTLE SPINDLE.

  “You mean like Loch Ness?” Annalee asked, glancing up through her thick glasses. “You got a sunburn.”

  Gracie shrugged. She was always getting a sunburn, getting over a sunburn, or about to get a sunburn. “I mean like our lake monster.” It hadn’t been like Loch Ness. The shape had been completely different. Kind of like the goofy serpent on the town sign, actually.

  “Ask that kid.”

  “Which kid?”

  “I don’t know his name. Summer kid. Comes in here every day at four for a cherry dip.”

  Gracie gagged. “Cherry dip is vile.”

  Annalee jabbed her pen at Gracie. “Cherry dip sells cones.”

  “What does he look like?”

  “Skinny. Big purple backpack. White hair.”

  Gracie slid down in the booth, body going limp with disappointment. “Eli?”

  Gracie knew most of the summer kids who had been coming to Little Spindle for a while. They pretty much kept to themselves. Their parents invited each other to barbecues, and they moved in rowdy cliques on their dirt bikes, taking over the lakes, making lines at Rottie’s Red Hot and the DQ, coming into Youvenirs right before Labor Day to buy a hat or a key chain. But Eli was always on his own. His family’s rental had to be somewhere near the north side of the lake, because every May he’d show up walking south on the main road, wearing too-big madras shorts and lugging a purple backpack. He’d slap his way to the library in a pair of faded Vans and spend the entire afternoon there by himself, then pick up his big backpack and trundle back home like some kind of weird blond pill bug, but not before he stopped at the DQ—apparently to order a cherry dip.

  “What’s wrong with him?” asked Annalee.

  It was too hard to explain. Gracie shrugged. “He’s a little bit the worst.”

  “The cherry dip of humans?”

  Gracie laughed, then felt bad for laughing when Annalee peered at her over those thick plastic frames and said, “Because you’re the town sweetheart? You could use some more friends.”

  Gracie tugged at the frayed end of her newly cut shorts. She had friends. Mosey Allen was all right. And Lila Brightman. She had people to eat lunch with, people who waited for her before first bell. But they lived in Greater Spindle, with most of the kids from her school.

  “What would Eli Cuddy know about Idgy Pidgy, anyway?” Gracie asked.

  “Spends all his time in the library, doesn’t he?”

  Annalee had a point. Gracie tapped her fingers on the table, scraped more of the chipped lilac polish from her thumbnail. She thought of the story of the green-eyed baby and the river god. “So you’ve never seen anything like Idgy Pidgy?”

  “I can barely see the pen in my hand,” Annalee said sourly.

  “But if a person saw a monster, a real one, not like … not a metaphor, that person�
�s probably crazy, right?”

  Annalee pushed her glasses up her nose with one gnarled finger. Behind them, her brown eyes had a soft, rheumy sheen. “There are monsters everywhere, tsigele,” she said. “It’s always good to know their names.” She took a bite of the puddle that was left of her sundae and smacked her lips. “Your friend is here.”

  Eli Cuddy was standing at the counter, backpack weighting his shoulders, placing his order. The problem with Eli wasn’t just that he liked to be indoors more than outdoors. Gracie was okay with that. It was that he never talked to anyone. And he always looked a little—damp. Like his clothes were clinging to his skinny chest. Like if you touched his skin, he might be moist.

  Eli planted himself in a two-seater booth and propped a book open on the slope of his backpack so he could read while he ate.

  Who eats an ice cream cone like that? Gracie wondered as she watched him take weird, tidy little bites. Then she remembered those shapes moving in the lake. Sunlight on the water, her mind protested. Scales, her heart insisted.

  “What’s tsigele mean?” she asked Annalee.

  “‘Little goat,’” said Annalee. “Bleat bleat, little goat. Go on with you.”

  Why not? Gracie wiped her palms on her shorts and ambled up to the booth. She felt bolder than usual. Maybe because nothing she said to Eli Cuddy mattered. It wasn’t like, if she made a fool of herself, he’d have anyone to tell.

  “Hey,” she said. He blinked up at her. She had no idea what to do with her hands, so she planted them on her hips, then worried she looked like she was about to start a pep routine and dropped them. “You’re Eli, right?”


  “I’m Gracie.”

  “I know. You work at Youvenirs.”

  “Oh,” she said. “Right.” Gracie worked summer mornings there, mostly because Henny had taken pity on her and let her show up to dust things for a few dollars an hour. Had Eli come in before?