So, okay, maybe three miles per hour doesn’t sound fast, but when you’re hanging off the side of a tour boat, gripping a handful of mail, trying to jump onto a three-foot-wide pier—all of a sudden, three miles per hour is, like, really fast. Then whirling around and flinging yourself at the boat again before it’s gone… I’m just saying, it takes guts.
Which is something I don’t have.
So I truly don’t know how I turned out to be so good at this whole mail jumping thing. But it totally rocks, and all the kids at school know it. They’re jealous. Of me. Bailey Johnson. This is pretty much the only lucky thing that’s ever happened in my life. I could have spent my summer flipping burgers. Or peddling souvenirs. But I’m not.
I’m a mail jumper.
Captain Thomlin—Tommy to pretty much everybody on the planet—touched the helm without taking his eyes off the lake. I had a ton of respect for a guy who could steer a two-deck tour boat within three feet of a pier.
“Watch your step out there,” he said. “This one gets slick when it’s wet, so don’t slip.”
I bit my lips together, trying really hard not to smile. It had rained last night. I could see for myself the pier was wet. The winter hadn’t been so long that I’d forgotten how embarrassing it was to land on your bum.
But that was one of the things I liked about Tommy. Always keeping an eye on the hazards for me. I have no clue how I survived nine months of torture—a.k.a., sophomore year—without him. Like the high-heels fiasco at prom, and a million other embarrassing school newspaper headlines. All those times I spent curled up in a stall in the girl’s room, crying my heart out… for some reason, my thoughts would wander to the Mailboat, and glittering summer days on the lake, and Tommy standing at the helm. I was pretty sure he was the only person in the world who gave a rip about my pathetic life.
Or so I liked to dream.
On the other hand, maybe he just didn’t want me to throw off the schedule by missing the boat. He did run a pretty tight ship.
Tommy pulled back on the two levers beside the helm and slowed the boat down. He squinted at the water.
“I don’t know how close I can get, Bailey. There’s something down there.”
I squinted at the upcoming pier. On a calm day, you could make out every frond of lake weed. But last night’s rain had stirred up whatever muck secretly hid in its depths, and with scuddy clouds drifting in front of the sun, all I could tell was that something had lost its battle with flotation at the bottom of the nearest pier post.
“In and out?” I asked. On tricky piers, Tommy sometimes nosed in and pulled the boat to a stop instead of cruising past lengthwise. In the grand scheme of things, it was actually harder that way, since stopping a great, big boatful of 150 people was like stopping a herd of charging rhinoceros.
“Nah. We’ll make it. But we’ll have to let Markham know he’s got some sort of debris at the end of his pier.”
I swung my other leg out onto the rub board. Tommy says it was custom built extra wide just for the mail jumpers. And I’m like, yeah, right. Eight inches. That’s all the space I have to work with. And there I am, hanging on to the handrail, waves rolling off the prow and churning beneath my feet, a skinny little pier coming at me, and spindly posts offering to skewer me if I don’t time my jump right.
And P.S., don’t drop the mail.
I leaned out as the target came within range. This was going to be a big jump. Tommy was giving a wide berth to that UFO. (Un-floating object.) I scrunched my legs. Tested my grip on the mail. The envelopes were rolled up inside a newspaper like a paper-and-postage-stamp burrito, secured with a rubber band for easy drive-by delivery.
The first pier post swept by. I jumped.
Bang. My landing sent a shock wave through my knees, but I hit the dock running. The tourists made little squeaks, as if vocalizing their excitement would guarantee the success of my mission. My gym shoes made their own vocalizations on the wet pier. I went in for a sliding stop to the mailbox and—whoosh.
It is so embarrassing to land on your bum in front of a boat full of people. Gee. Did Tommy say something about the pier being wet?
The passengers sucked in a collective gasp. I was fine, except for my pride. But every second I sat there, the boat was passing me by. That was the thing. It didn’t stop. Not for the mail, not for the mail girl, not for anyone. It just kept going like…
Like a herd of charging rhinoceros.
I scrambled to my feet. Ripped open the mailbox. Fumbled with incoming and outgoing mail. Hoped I got it right. Slammed the door shut, flipped the flag down, and sprinted like mad for the boat.
It only took me a split second to gauge the length of the pier against the speed of the Mailboat. I was screwed. I knew it. The passengers knew it. They groaned like a hundred and fifty voices wired to one brain. By the frown on his face as he looked back at me, Tommy knew it, too.
My gut sank. I hated messing up his schedule.
I doubled my speed. The pier vibrated beneath my feet. It crashed and splintered behind me like in the adventure movies. Or maybe I just imagined that part. The passengers cheered. Waved me on. Shouted my name.
One guy pointed down at the water. “Oh, my God. Look!”
I shoved the mail between my teeth to free my hands. On the tip of the pier, I lunged—stretched—reached—
The lake was really cold that morning.