When the Hill Came Down - Susan White - E-Book

When the Hill Came Down E-Book

Susan White

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Keefe Williams lives a childhood of neglect and disconnect, feeling completely invisible. Known only for the story of the night his parents died and the freak event that killed them, he suffers silently holding on to the one thing in his life that sets him apart. When Keefe is a teenager Summer Barkley moves to the community. She is oblivious to the entrenched story of Keefe Williams’s life, giving him an opportunity to finally be someone separate from his tragic past. As their relationship develops, Keefe can claim his true identity. Through Keefe’s art and Summer’s writing the need to truly explore and understand the past becomes something from which they cannot run. When the Hill Came Down explores greed, jealousy, love, loyalty and the very fabric of a community full of stories whose threads intertwine. The colour, texture and multi-faceted of any story in any community, bear scrutiny. Nothing is ever exactly the way it seems.

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Seitenzahl: 332


When the Hill Came Down

Susan White

Acorn Press Charlottetown 2020


Copyright © 2020

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the publisher or, in case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency.

P.O. Box 22024

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

C1A 9J2


Printed in Canada

Edited by Penelope Jackson

Designed by Matt Reid

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Title: When the hill came down / Susan White.

Names: White, Susan, 1956- author.

Identifiers: Canadiana (print) 20200203436 | Canadiana (ebook) 20200255746 | ISBN 9781773660516

(softcover) | ISBN 9781773660561 (EPUB)

Classification: LCC PS8645.H5467 W54 2020 | DDC C813/.6—dc23

The publisher acknowledges the support of the Government of Canada, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the province of Prince Edward Island.


To my dad

Part One: 1969–1975

Summer Raine Barkley, a strange girl with an even stranger name; just a summer kid seen occasionally at Redmore’s store, the wharf, or at an occasional community summer event, always feeling like she didn’t belong. Just a summer kid, until June, when her parents sold their Fredericton home, deciding to live year-round in the Long Reach summer house. Long Reach, a long stretch of rough, hilly dirt road from the St. James Anglican Church to the Westfield ferry beside the meandering Saint John River.

Summer knew she didn’t actually live in Long Reach. She understood the Barkley property was in Grey’s Mills. Grey’s Mills, The Cedars, Long Reach, Whites Bluff, Holderville, Bedford, Ghost Hollow, Carter’s and Harding’s Point; she knew the names but had only a vague idea of the boundaries. And confusion about place names and where they stopped and started was apparently proof positive that Summer Barkley was not from here.

The name “Barkley,” however, had been part of the Long Reach vernacular for generations. Summer’s father had actually been born in the very house neighbours now considered to be the Barkleys’ summer place. Donald Barkley had attended the one-room schoolhouse, which was now the Evanses’ summer place, with children who were now the parents of some of the kids his thirteen-year-old daughter, Summer, would be going to Macdonald Consolidated School with.

The original Barkleys who settled on the land and gave the stream of water at the bottom of the hill the name “Barkley’s Brook” had received a land grant, as had the descendants of most of the other families inhabiting parcels of the land stretching from Barkley’s Brook to the Westfield ferry. Hundreds arrived as United Empire Loyalists, having made the choice to remain loyal to the King and to England during the upheaval of the American Revolutionary War. The Barkley ancestors cleared and farmed the land beside the Saint John River, and the Barkley name had been on the Kingston Peninsula census for almost two hundred years.

Summer knew the Barkley family history and felt a deep connection to the place she’d been coming to every summer her entire life. But this morning as she walked alone up the driveway to wait for the school bus, knowledge that her descendants had walked this ground for generations gave her no comfort. It would be so much easier if Hudson was walking to the bus stop with her, but of course they’d still be in Fredericton if Hudson were here. He’d be walking up the hill to Montgomery Street School and she’d be walking to Albert Street Junior High with Doris and Wendy, anxious for her first day in grade seven.

Mr. Titus opened the bus door and greeted Summer. Maybe the butterflies would settle and she wouldn’t throw up. She slid into the first empty seat without looking at the kids behind, feeling their stares as if she were an alien specimen brought back from the moon. Summer had seen Neil Armstrong walk on the moon in July on the small portable TV Dad had borrowed so they could watch the Apollo landing. Even after Dad stuck balled aluminum on the antenna, the picture remained fuzzy, making the monumental event barely visible but highlighting the moon’s strange surface and uninhabitable atmosphere. Heading to a new school seemed just as frightening and perilous.

As Mr. Titus geared up and pulled onto the road, the noise level rose. Summer stared out the bus window, trying to settle her nerves and prepare for what was to come. Once across the Barkley Brook Bridge the dirt road changed to pavement. Apparently, the dirt stretch was going to be paved in the spring as one of the promises the Robichaud government was making to rural New Brunswick. A promise called Equal Opportunity had closed the last one-room schoolhouse two years ago, and now all school-age children on the peninsula rode yellow buses to the big school Summer was heading toward.

The pavement always seemed to Summer the separation between her beloved summer retreat and the journey home. Sometimes Dad drove home by way of Westfield and they wouldn’t see pavement until they crossed the ferry and drove up the River Road toward Fredericton. But usually Dad chose the smoother trip toward Hampton and up through Cambridge Narrows, where they would hit dirt again for a short distance.

But this morning, watching the pavement unfurl, Summer knew her destination was not her familiar life in Fredericton, but the building at the top of Kingston hill she’d passed so many times, never imagining she’d be a student there someday. And what had she been thinking when choosing her outfit this morning? She’d feel quite confident about the style and acceptability of the striped Twiggy dress she’d chosen to wear if she was walking into Albert Street surrounded by her friends.

She’d be just a grade seven kid, not a new kid, at Albert Street School. Summer had lived in the Regent Street house all her life, gone to school with the same kids and had several good friends who lived in houses on nearby streets. People knew Summer Barkley, and she’d always felt like she belonged. But being Summer Barkley in Fredericton wasn’t the same as it used to be, and she hated that change and the new labels it gave her: poor Summer Barkley, Hudson Barkley’s sister, the sister of the boy who had died at the Lady Beaverbrook Rink. The Barkleys were now the family of the dead boy, and whispers of the shocking accident now followed her and her parents everywhere they went in their hometown.

Summer knew she would stick out as the new kid at this new school no matter what she was wearing, but she wouldn’t get the looks of pity. She wouldn’t hear the whispered comments when she walked into the room. If she was talked about today, the reasons would be totally different.

Summer pulled her journal out of the front pocket of her book bag. She removed the top from her fountain pen. This morning she’d attached the green ink cartridge, excited with her colour choice and the endless possibility of the words she might write with it. Trying to keep control with the swaying motion of the bus, she put pen to paper, preparing the page’s heading in her distinctive cursive:

Summer Barkley, September 4, 1969Grade seven, Macdonald Consolidated SchoolI am on my way to my new school. I will get through my first day and make the best of whatever this day brings. I am Summer Raine Barkley and I belong here.

Summer didn’t take any more notice of the bus ride until Mr. Titus pulled the bus up to the school and opened the door. She’d quickly capped her pen, closed her journal, and tucked it back into her book bag. Slinging the bag over her shoulder, she followed the others through the main door of the school, where her panic instantly returned. She had no idea which direction to go or where to find the grade seven classrooms.

Standing stupidly, looking the part of a new kid, probably was what caught the attention of a man standing at the office door, who Summer quickly concluded was the principal. Mr. McGuire introduced himself, said her name, grade, and homeroom teacher, and motioned for her to follow him down the hall, through a set of double doors, and up a steep set of stairs. Apparently not many new students were arriving today.

“Throw him out, boys. Getting thrown down a few steps isn’t going to hurt him. Dropping two storeys jumbled his brain, and you can’t fix stupid.”

Summer Barkley heard laughter coming from an opening off a landing at the top of the first section of the stairway. She kept walking until she could see that a doorway to the left of the landing had several steps leading to what she quickly deduced was a boys’ washroom. A boy tumbled down the few steps, hitting the landing floor inches from her feet.

The laughter continued and seemed far from friendly and playful. Summer took in the expression on the face of the tall, gangly boy sprawled out on the hardwood landing.

Mr. McGuire thundered up into the washroom, two steps at a time.

“Get out. Is this really how you boys want to start this school year? You all know better than to hang out with Winston. Winston Rideout, I’m not putting up with any of your foolishness. I don’t have to keep you after you turn eighteen, and if I remember correctly you have a birthday real soon. Do you think you could smarten up and at least get yourself out of grade seven before we kick you out? And don’t think I can’t smell the smoke in here, boys.”

Four boys sheepishly exited the washroom. Mr. McGuire held tightly to the collar of a fifth boy’s shirt as he escorted him down the four stairs. Summer assumed this was Winston Rideout, and he no longer looked like the tough guy she’d heard seconds earlier telling his friends to throw someone down the stairs in a heap.

Mr. McGuire extended his hand to the boy on the floor. “Get up, Keefe. You know better than to go in the washroom before the second bell. You’re at the mercy of those hooligans when there’s no teacher upstairs.”

Not wanting to embarrass the boy, who looked toward her as he got to his feet, Summer quickly turned and walked up the remaining stairs. The big guy Mr. McGuire had just pulled from the washroom was in grade seven. Summer hoped there was more than one class of grade sevens, because she didn’t want him in her class. How could he have called the other guy stupid when he was almost eighteen and in grade seven? Last year her grade six class at Montgomery St. had one boy who was one year older than the rest, but what kind of a school was this, with kids in a class who were five years older than they should be? Summer wondered what grade the guy being called stupid was in.

Mr. McGuire herded the group of boys into their classroom and said, “Now, perhaps you young men could show some manners and not scare the life out of this new young lady. This is your classroom, Miss Barkley. Let me assure you, not all your classmates are as badly behaved. Keefe, come with me and I’ll get you to help Mr. Wheaton get the chairs set up for the assembly.”

The tall boy turned and followed the principal just as a woman topped the stairs and gave a loud command for everyone to get in the classroom, take a seat, and settle down.

“How come the retards get to put chairs out and we have to do work?” Winston Rideout asked in a loud voice.

“Winston. Sit down and be quiet. You’ll do what you’re told or head right down to Mr. McGuire’s office. Don’t even bother unpacking your book bag if you don’t plan on doing any work. Why do you think you’re in my class? Mr. McGuire wouldn’t give you to a brand-new teacher. Poor Miss Dunphy would quit before the day was over if she had to put up with the likes of you.”

“Miss Dumb-phy. That’s a good name for a teacher for those dummies. Now I’m happy I’m in your class, Mrs. Thompson. And I’m glad Keefe Williams ain’t in our class. Stupid rubs off, you know.”

“I said sit down and be quiet,” Mrs. Thompson said sternly. “Now listen for your names as I call the roll.”

Summer looked around at the other students crowded into the classroom as Mrs. Thompson called out the names on her list. A girl named Debbie actually smiled when Summer looked over her way. And a girl named Valerie sitting in the desk beside Summer nodded and said hi.

Summer’s nervousness returned as she filed down the stairs with the crowd at recess time. She would rather have stayed in the classroom, happy to have Mrs. Thompson, who had not stopped talking since the morning started, protect her from having to mingle with these kids who were all strangers to her. Heading out to the playground, she might have to speak to someone.

“What kind of a name is Summer?” Winston Rideout called out as he came up behind her on the stairs. “Do you change it when summer’s over? Will we call you Fall and then Winter and Spring?” He let out a loud laugh and pushed into her, almost causing her to stumble on the last step.

“Don’t be a jerk, Winston. Leave her alone,” Debbie said.

Keefe Williams leaned against the tree at the far end of the empty schoolyard. Mr. Wheaton had let him leave a few minutes before the bell. He’d carried stacks of ten wooden chairs at once, and it hadn’t taken him long to set the rows up for the assembly. “All brawn, no brains,” Uncle Tom always said.

Shortly after the bell rang the doors opened and the throng of kids poured out. Keefe found himself looking at the bodies streaming through the doors, trying to see the girl who’d stared down at him earlier. The look he’d seen on her face was not a familiar one. It wasn’t pity or disinterest and it wasn’t disgust. He wasn’t sure what it was, but it hadn’t left him feeling the way he usually felt. She was new. Maybe there was one person in this school, on this whole crappy peninsula, who might really see him for once. She had no idea who he was and maybe it could stay that way for at least a day or two.

Summer followed Debbie out the door and joined a group of girls standing by the fence separating the parking lot from the playground. She recognized a girl she’d met at the wharf last week. The girl was smiling and looked toward her as if she might be going to give her a friendly greeting. Maybe she could get through recess after all.

“I love your bell bottoms, Deb. Where did you get them?”

The smile and enthusiastic reception was not a “Welcome to our school” greeting after all, but a fashion assessment instead, and it had not been directed at her. Summer took her place in the circle of chatty, excited girls and looked out over Debbie’s head, wishing she were standing with the familiar group of friends she’d known since first grade, who were probably gathering outside Albert Street School in Fredericton right now. Grade seven was definitely not the best grade to start making new friends.

Summer could see the boy from the landing standing alone on the playground, and he seemed to be looking her way. She could see Winston’s crowd a few feet away from him, but Mr. McGuire was standing nearby. Winston probably wouldn’t go after the boy within arm’s reach of Mr. McGuire.

A few minutes later the bell rang, and as she and Debbie walked back into the school, Summer asked about the boy she’d watched for the entire recess.

“His name is Keefe. Keefe Williams. Isn’t that the meanest thing ever? Why didn’t his parents call him some normal name, or at least call him Keith? ‘Keefe’ just sounds like you’re not saying his name right.”

Summer didn’t say anything. She’d heard her fair share of opinions about her name for as long as she could remember. She had come home crying her first day of grade one because the teacher said “Summer” was a stupid name and she would call her by her middle name. When Summer told Mrs. Clark her middle name was Raine, she said she was going to call her Jane, which rhymed with rain but was a good, sensible, civilized name.

An immediate visit to the school by Summer’s parents resulted in a change of teachers, since apparently, nothing they or the principal said could change Mrs. Clark’s attitude, and she refused to call a little girl in her class by the name of a season. A change of teacher had been the best solution, as they felt Mrs. Clarke’s name opinions might not be her only unwavering viewpoint. Mrs. MacGregor had been the nicest teacher anyone could want and had not skipped a beat when Summer entered her classroom the next day and stated her full name. Mrs. Macgregor said the name was just as lovely as the little girl who bore the name appeared to be.

Keefe. Summer didn’t think there was a thing wrong with the name, and she also thought he was kind of cute, but she certainly wasn’t going to offer her opinion to Debbie, who was continuing to share some other details about Keefe Williams.

“He’s failed a lot. My sister was in his class in grade three and he was with my brother in grade five. He was in grade six with me last year. The teacher hollered at him all the time. He got mad one day and knocked his desk over and got kicked out. I think he stayed home most of May and June. I say ‘home,’ but he doesn’t really have a home. He lives all over the place. He goes on my bus when he stays at the Fullertons’. He’ll probably be back there pretty soon, because Raymond Fullerton has fields of turnips to harvest and potatoes to dig.”

Summer was hanging her sweater in the coatroom when she saw Keefe heading toward the grade seven classroom across the hall. He turned his head slightly and nodded at her. His smile had calmness and his eyes a certain warmth, giving him an expression very different from the troubled one she had seen on his face as he lay sprawled on the landing earlier. Summer nodded back at Keefe Williams and walked into her classroom.

Don Barkley got right to work on the woodpile after watching from the upstairs window, making sure Summer got on the bus. He’d wanted to walk up with her but knew his grade-seven daughter did not need her daddy waiting at the bus stop with her on her first day at a new school. He would put three ranks in the basement and then pile the rest of the seven cords of hardwood Bill Titus delivered yesterday into the woodshed. He had no idea how much wood they would need to get them through the winter. This was just one of his worries.

Summer had tried so hard to mask her nervousness this morning. It was a hard age to arrive at a new school in a community she’d only known in the summer. Was he being selfish bringing her here? And how thrilled was Marilyn to be here year-round? Was he just escaping things by moving his family to the peninsula?

Don threw the stick of hardwood into the wheelbarrow, trying to keep his emotions at bay. His family. Being asked how many children he had was one of the hardest questions to face. His family now only included his daughter and his wife, but he could not leave his son out when he answered that casual question. There was nothing casual about it for him. Telling perfect strangers about Hudson was one of the main reasons for the move. In Fredericton, his answer was always met with the look and the same response: “Oh, that was your boy.”

But moving had not made answering the question any easier. Now it was friends from childhood and summer acquaintances he had to tell of his son’s death. The telling varied from the quick statement, “We lost our son eight months ago,” to a more detailed explanation. It never got easier, even though he sometimes heard himself reciting the details as if it were someone else’s story. As if the horror of that moment had somehow evaporated. It sounded farfetched to him even as he repeated it. Ten-year-old boys do not die simply by falling on the ice.

Don wheeled the wheelbarrow to the cellar opening. He could still see it in his mind, replayed in slow motion just as it had that night. Hudson had been standing with a group of friends near the penalty box. The Fredericton High School games always caused excitement among the younger crowd, but the provincial championship had been intense. In the final seconds, Fredericton had tied the game and the game had gone to sudden death.

Sudden death. Those words reverberated in the very core of his being. From six rows back he’d watched his son along with the boys beside him tumble over the boards to join the celebration on the ice. Tumbling over in a mass of young bodies. He had stood with the crowd, cheering, and hadn’t seen the commotion at first as the coach, several parents, and Dr. Taylor, who always stood by ready to check out injured players, had rushed on to the ice.

He heard the buzz through the stands. A boy was not getting up. Somebody was hurt on the ice. He heard a woman say, “Toronto Maple Leaf jersey.” He got to Hudson at the same time the ambulance attendants did. He looked asleep. Sudden death.

My son died from a fall on the ice. It never seemed believable when he said it. It had never seemed believable. As he watched them put Hudson on the stretcher and carry him from the rink he cried out that this could not be true. His son had just moments earlier been alive, healthy, just a regular boy caught up in the excitement of his beloved sport. He had proudly worn his jersey with Sawchuk’s number emblazoned on the back to the game, as a good-luck charm for the home team.

When Marilyn met him at the Victoria General emergency room, he had to tell her that their son was dead. Now, months later, the reality of that freak accident was no easier to talk about and certainly no easier to live with.

It was the third week of school before Summer was told the fact most commonly referred to whenever anyone talked about Keefe Williams. In those weeks, the first nods she and Keefe had given each other had been followed by many more, and it seemed several times a day Summer would spot the boy who had caught her interest on her first morning at MCS.

Summer didn’t have the same lost, frightened feeling she’d had the first morning. She had made several friends, including a girl named Nancy. She’d met most kids in both grade-seven classes, but despite the nods she and Keefe exchanged, they had not said one word to each other. Her new friends said similar things to what Debbie had told her about Keefe Williams, referring to his poor grades, his trouble at school, and his lack of a home. But on the third week when Keefe boarded Summer’s bus after school, Nancy whispered another fact as he walked by.

“His parents died. He got thrown out the window when—”

Billy Shamper pulled Nancy’s ponytail, leaving the rest of her whispered revelation untold. Summer turned slightly, not wanting to be too obvious, and watched Keefe take his seat across the aisle, two rows back. He hoisted his duffle bag onto the seat beside him.

“Where you going now, Freddy Freeloader?” a kid at the back hollered out.

Keefe didn’t respond but stared out the bus window.

“He lives with his uncle and doesn’t usually take our bus, but he’s going to Smith’s,” Nancy said, apparently forgetting she had left out the details of why Keefe Williams had been thrown out a window. “Mr. Smith always has hardwood to split and deliver this time of year. Teddy says Keefe is going there for a couple of weeks. They’ll keep him out of school until the wood gets done.”

Summer remembered Winston Rideout saying something about a two-storey fall before he threw Keefe from the boys’ washroom on the first day of school. Summer wondered what had happened to his parents. A fire, maybe. Maybe his parents had died in a fire but had thrown him out an upstairs window to save his life. How mean of everyone to talk about it like it was Keefe’s fault something so terrible had happened to him when he was just a baby. Why was everyone so mean to him, and if he lived with his uncle, why did he get passed around from place to place, working like an adult?

Summer took a book from her bag. She opened the hardcover volume of Anne of Avonlea, hoping it might give Nancy the message she didn’t want to talk. If Keefe was out of school for a while, she wouldn’t get to see him. As Summer stared at the page, pretending to read, she realized how much she had looked forward to catching a glimpse of Keefe Williams every day since starting at her new school three weeks ago.

Every night after supper Summer rode her bike to the bridge. Climbing down the bank and sitting beside the wide brook, writing her thoughts into her leather bound journal, made evenings more bearable. It was so hard watching her parents. Despite them trying to put on a good front, she knew Hudson’s upcoming birthday was heavy on their minds.

It was beginning to get dark, but Summer was reluctant to get up and head back home. She turned the next page. Her bike had a reflector on the front and back and the ride home was a short one. She was intently writing the words to best describe the sun dipping below the hill when a noise from behind startled her and she jumped to her feet.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Keefe Williams was standing just a few feet away from her.

“I didn’t hear you walk down the bank.”

“I can see why. You were busy.”

“My name is Summer, Summer Barkley. I come here every night. My driveway is just up the hill.”

“I know your name and I know where you live.”

“You do?”

“I saw you get off the bus yesterday. And of course I know your name. We don’t get many new kids. And all the boys get real excited when the new kid is a girl, so it doesn’t take long for her name to get told around. I knew your name the first morning. It always helps to know the name of the girl who just saw you get made a fool of.”

“I didn’t think you were a fool. It wasn’t your fault. It wouldn’t take even a new girl long to figure out Winston Rideout’s the fool, not you. I’m sorry I stared at you, though.”

“I’m used to it. It’s getting dark. You better be getting home. I don’t usually get to stop work until after dark but there was prayer meeting tonight and Mr. Smith knocked off early. Prayer meeting. You’d be surprised what I know about those good men who go off to prayer meeting every Wednesday night.”

“They say you won’t be at school for a couple of weeks.”

“I can only imagine what else they say. No, I’ll be at the Smiths’ for a couple of weeks and then I expect old man Fullerton will be ready for me. Then it will be my Uncle Tom’s turn. I’ll be lucky if I get back to school before March.”

“What do you mean? It’s the law. You’ve got to stay in school till you’re at least sixteen, don’t you? You’re not older than sixteen, are you?”

“No, despite how stupid I’m sure they’ve told you I am, I’m only fifteen. Just turned fifteen in April. But the way things work around here is, the truant officer overlooks my lack of attendance, trusting my guardianship to my uncle, probably so the province doesn’t have to pay for my room and board. It’s a long story, but you better hop on your bike and get on home. I’m sure your parents wouldn’t want you hanging out here with the likes of me after dark.”

“What do mean, ‘the likes of you?’ Besides, my parents don’t judge people. They make up their minds about folks by what they see, same as I do, and not by what other people tell them. Nothing I’ve seen yet makes me think I’m in any danger being here with you, dark or daylight.”

“Well thanks, I guess. Maybe I’ll run into you again.”

“I come here every night. I like it here. The brook helps me think. It’s the running water, I guess.”

“Well, if you like running water, maybe you would like to go for a walk in the wood road across the way sometime. There’s a nice waterfall back there. Real peaceful place, I think.”

“Does Mr. Smith give you any time off during the daylight?”

“He doesn’t make me work at the wood on Sunday, being a good Christian and all. Mind you, he makes sure I do the milking for him and any other chores that need doing. But last year he gave me Sunday afternoons off. I made sure I hightailed it off his place on Sunday afternoons so he wouldn’t change his mind and find work for me to do. I was wandering around on the Henderson place when I found the waterfall.”

“Well, if I don’t see you before then, let’s meet here on Sunday afternoon and we can walk in to see the waterfall. Maybe I could get my mom to make us up a picnic or something.”

“I certainly wouldn’t say no to a picnic. I do get enough to eat at the Smiths’ though. Mrs. Smith isn’t a bad cook, and the Smiths sure aren’t the stingiest place around when it comes to feeding me.

Summer and Keefe climbed the bank and stepped over the guardrail to where Summer’s bike was propped up against the bridge.

“How about two o’clock on Sunday, then?” Summer asked.

“Sure thing,” Keefe replied. “Two o’clock Sunday afternoon it is. See you then, Summer Barkley.”

“See you then, Keefe Williams,” Summer said as she hopped on her bike and rode off up the hill.

Summer resisted the temptation to mention her plans for Sunday to anyone. She was pretty sure Debbie would not understand why she would want to spend any time with Keefe Williams. Debbie was boy crazy. Every day at school Debbie seemed to be bonkers over a different boy. Her latest heartthrob was Winston Rideout. Summer hadn’t said one word about her choice but was quite sure Debbie wouldn’t offer her the same courtesy if she told Debbie she liked Keefe Williams and had plans to meet him at the brook on Sunday afternoon.

Friday after school she and Nancy biked by the Smiths’ house and she saw Keefe in the yard, piling hardwood. Summer pretended to have a rock in her shoe and got off her bike at the Smiths’ mailbox to remove the imaginary pebble. Keefe looked up but didn’t acknowledge her at all. Maybe he wouldn’t even show up, but either way she wasn’t telling Debbie or Nancy how much she was looking forward to seeing him again.

On Sunday Summer told her mother where she was going just a few minutes before asking her to pack a picnic lunch for her and the friend she was meeting at the bridge.

“What’s your friend’s name?” Marilyn Barkley asked, with a tone indicating she suspected this new friend might be a boy.

“Keefe Williams,” Summer answered.

“Williams?” Don Barkley asked. “When I was a kid I used to pick raspberries for a Joe Cronk, and his daughter was married to a Williams. Is this boy his grandson, do you know?”

“I don’t know,” Summer answered. “His parents are dead.”

“Really? The poor kid,” Marilyn Barkley said. “Is he a nice boy? Should your father or I go on this picnic with you?”

“Oh, Mom,” Summer said. “We’re just going for a walk. He says there’s a waterfall up Sanford Henderson’s wood road. He’s very nice.”

“Very nice? Marilyn, our girl thinks this boy is very nice.”

“Well, maybe you should bring him down to meet us after this walk of yours.”

“Mom, I don’t want to scare him off. I’m just getting to know him. I’ll let you know after our afternoon together if I want to invite him to our house. He doesn’t have a lot of free time, though.”

“Why?” Don Barkley asked. “Does he have a job or something? How old is this boy?”

“He’s only fifteen. He doesn’t have a job really, but he does have to work. He goes to people’s houses and works for them. I don’t think they pay him. I think they just feed him and give him a place to stay.”

“That’s terrible. Seems like something you’d hear happening years ago, not this day and age. Why hasn’t he been adopted or put into foster care or an orphanage?”

“He lives with his uncle, and that’s who sends him to work for people, I think. I don’t know, Mom. I’ve only talked to him once. I don’t know his whole life history.”

“Here. Let me put a few more cookies in the basket. Poor kid might not be getting enough to eat.”

“He said the Smiths feed him good. He said some places don’t, though. I can’t imagine going from place to place and not having a real home and your own family. I feel sorry for him. The other kids don’t treat him very nice.”

“Leave it to our daughter to take in the underdog, Marilyn. She always did bring home the wounded birds and lost puppies.”

“Oh, Dad. Keefe is not a puppy and he’s not wounded. I’m not seeing him because I feel sorry for him. He’s nice. Now I’ve got to get going. I don’t want him to get to the bridge and think I’m not coming.”

“Invite him for supper sometime. See when he can get away. Surely the Smiths aren’t slave drivers and would let him visit the neighbours now and again.”

“I’ll ask him, Mom, if he even shows up. Maybe it’s me in danger of getting stood up. He might have just been teasing the new girl.”

As she topped the hill, Summer could see Keefe, his back toward her, leaning against the bridge. She’d walked instead of bringing her bike, worried the full basket would spill if she hung it from her handlebars or tried to balance it on her lap. Mom had stuffed enough food into the rectangular basket to feed ten people and folded up a grocery bag and stuck it in so Keefe could take the leftovers back with him.

As she started down the hill, Summer realized she looked like Little Red Riding Hood on her way to Grandmother’s house. She should have brought the food in her backpack and not looked like such a dork.

Keefe turned toward her and ran up the hill to meet her. “Let me take the basket.”

“It’s heavy. My mother loves to feed people and took the packing of our picnic very seriously.”

“Nice. The walk to the waterfall is quite long. We’ll be ready for a snack by the time we get there.”

“Oh, this is more than a snack.”

The walk across the field was silent, but when they stepped on to the wood road trail Keefe started talking as if he had been rehearsing exactly what he was going to say. The words came out matter-of-factly and in a long, uninterrupted dialogue.

“My parents died when I was three weeks old. I have never even seen a picture of them. The house was destroyed and they were killed. Suffocated, they say, when the house collapsed and the mud came in. It sounds crazy, and I don’t talk about it, but I want you to know what happened. People talk about it as if it was a horror movie. People tell the story like I was an extra or a prop. Just an afterthought in the good story it makes when a whole house fills with the rushing flood of an avalanche of mud, rocks, and debris, knocking out windows and collapsing walls. She threw me out. They don’t know for sure it was her, but I like to think it was. I landed on the roof of the veranda and somehow I was still there when they found it on the ground hours later. ‘Wrapped up in a blanket and not even crying,’ my aunt Helen always said. That’s what they base their theory of me being simple on. A baby wide-eyed and not even crying after dropping two storeys must have some damage to his brain. Plus, the fact I didn’t talk until I was four years old.

“I wanted to tell you the story myself. The damn story seems to be all anyone cares to know about me. You would think after fifteen years it might fade, but instead it just gets better, more farfetched, and more entertaining, apparently, to everyone but me. I would be happy if I never heard the story again. I thought about not telling you and just enjoying knowing one person who doesn’t know the story. But I figured you probably knew it by now anyway and wouldn’t even show up.”

“Why did you think I wouldn’t show up if I knew it? I didn’t hear it, by the way. The only thing I heard was your parents were dead and you had been thrown out the window.”

“Oh yeah, that’s their favourite part. I only get teased about it a few times a day at school. It doesn’t come up much when I’m somewhere working, although I have heard whispered references to it. And it’s not only the kids; the teachers I’ve had like to bring it up one way or another to explain any trouble I have, whether doing long division or failing a test on the British monarchy. It’s either in a nice, sappy, pitiful way, like ‘The poor little boy took an awful blow to head,’ or the not-so-nice ones. ‘He’s dumb as dirt’ was a favourite of my grade six teachers.

“That’s awful, Keefe.”

“Oh, you get used to it. I’m not dumb, just so you know. There are lots of things I can do, just so happens reading and spelling aren’t two of them. I can do math, though, despite getting a little fetched up on long division in grade four. It could have been the fact that Miss Harvey didn’t know how to teach it. I’m not sure she even knew how to do it.”

“I know what it’s like to be known by a story. My brother died from an accident almost a year ago.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Thanks. My brother was ten. His name was Hudson. After he died people in Fredericton always called him ‘the boy who fell on the ice and died.’ It made me mad when they wouldn’t even use his name. You don’t need to mention your story to me ever again if you don’t want to. I don’t care what other people say about you. I want to get to know you, or I wouldn’t have come. I was worried you would back out, you know.”

“Why would I back out? The new girl asked me to have a picnic with her.”

“Let’s both talk about other things. For starters, tell me one of those things you do really well.”

“I wasn’t going to show you until we got to the falls, but since you asked.” Keefe pulled a folded piece of paper out of his back pocket and passed it to Summer.