“I’m looking to rent a place for a couple of months,” I said. Until Lily comes back. Until I make things right again.

“Come on in!” he said with such good cheer that I knew he was an island transplant. “I’m Jim Ivansky. We handle lots of rentals here. What brings you to Scupper?”

I filled him in, mentioned Boomer, and he smiled and smiled as Realtors do. “We have some great places. You’ll be renting during the summer, so the price will go up after Memorial Day, but I’m sure we can find you something.”

The first few houses he showed me were the summer people’s McMansions—five-bedroom, six-bath places on the water, complete with boathouses.

“It’s just me and my dog,” I said. I paused. “Maybe something with two bedrooms, in case my niece wants to stay with me once in a while.”

He scanned his listings. “How about this?” he asked, swinging the computer screen around to show me. It was the Krazinskis’ place, an unremarkable ranch on Route 12, the closest house to Mom’s. I wondered why their house was vacant. The interior pictures showed a pretty bland, somewhat-careworn place and a kitchen last updated in the 1970s, based on the Harvest Gold appliances.

“Got something with a little more...character?” I asked, feeling guilty. Lizzy Krazinski—or Lizzy Krizzy, as she’d been known—had been a year behind me in school. We’d ridden the school bus together. She’d been okay, Lizzy.

“I know what you mean,” Jim said. He scrolled down. It seemed that it was McMansion or meh.

“Oh, hold on, what was that one?” I asked.

“This? It’s a houseboat.”

“In Maine? Isn’t the water a little rough for that?”

“It is, but it’s moored in Oberon Cove,” Jim said. “Some rich tech goober had it built over at WoodenBoat and then bought most of the Cove. Built a nice dock to moor it. To the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t even lived here yet. One of those guys who has houses all over the world.”

“Think he’d rent it?” I asked.

“It’s not for sale; I just have the listing for tax reasons. I’m on the assessment board here in town. But let me give him a call. I think he’s in New Zealand on a spirit quest.”

“Of course.” I smiled. Rich tech goobers did things like that.

Jim punched in a string of numbers, and miraculously, the guy picked up. “Collier, Jim Ivansky from Island Real Estate here. I’ve got a beautiful young lady here who’s absolutely in love with your houseboat.” He put his phone on speaker. “You’re on with Nora Stuart. Nora, meet Collier Rhodes.”

“Hi there!” I said in my Cute Nora voice. “It’s such a pleasure to talk to you! Jim’s right, I’m madly in love. What an amazing place you’ve built!”

“Thank you so much!” he said. “So you’re looking for shelter and inspiration, is that it?”

Not really, but... “You got it.” I told him my story of returning home after an accident, the siren call of the sea, the rugged beauty of Maine. “I wonder if you’d consider renting it to me. It’s so lovely, and I’d take excellent care of it. Something about it just spoke to me.”

“I hear you. Returning to your roots, taking time to breathe in the cosmic power that saved your life. Absolutely get it. I’d be honored to rent it to you. You know what? You don’t even have to pay me.”

Jim winced. There went his commission.

“No, no,” I said. “I’m more than happy to pay.”

“All right. I totally respect that. Okay, then. I’ll let Jim work out the details. Namaste, Nora Stuart.” He hung up.

“Ah, tech geniuses,” I said, and Jim laughed.

Ten minutes later, the houseboat was mine until mid-September, though I planned to go back to Boston in August. But maybe Poe and Lily would like to stay there when Lily got out of jail. In the meantime, it was all mine. It was even furnished. I couldn’t wait to see it. Maybe my mom and Poe would like to come with me. Or not.

Boomer, I was sure, would love it.

I went out of the office, keys in hand, and started down the street, feeling rather pleased with myself. No more Tweety giving me the evil eye.

I’d be living alone again. First time since the Big Bad Event.

My heart suddenly went into A-fib, a hummingbird trapped in my chest, buzzing frantically, trying to get out. My mouth was sand, palms sweaty.

I’d be okay. It was fine. I had Boomer now. And it was Scupper Island. A very safe place.

Shit. I couldn’t do it. I’d have to stay with my mom. She wouldn’t kick me out. I turned to go back in the real estate office, then turned around again.

No. Now or never. No more gray, no more fears. Plus, when Lily came back, she could stay with me.

“Time for a donut,” I muttered. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Lala’s was four shops (or shoppes) down the street. I could use a sugar boost, since my mother didn’t believe in dessert, viewing it a moral weakness like her Calvinist ancestors before her. Poor thing. I mean, sure, I was a GI doc and believed in good nutrition, but I also had a beating heart.

There. The thoughts of donuts had helped. I was calmer.

“Let me get the door for you,” said an older gentleman, approaching with a newspaper under his arm. Mr. Carver, who did handyman work for the summer people—opening their houses, clearing their lawns, letting them know if a tree fell during the winter.

My dad used to help him out once in a while.

“Hi, Mr. Carver,” I said.

“Ah...hello there, young lady.”

“Nora Stuart. Bill and Sharon’s daughter.” I glanced at his left hand. Married, and therefore not a contender for Mom.

“Is that right? Jeezum crow, you got big. Have a good day, now.” He smiled and headed off.

Not everyone hated me. That was nice to know. “Hey, Mr. Carver,” I said, gimping out after him. “Do you have a minute?”

“Sure thing.” Steam rose from his coffee.

“Um...” It was embarrassing that I had to ask someone I hadn’t seen in almost two decades a deeply personal question. “Do you remember my dad, Mr. Carver?”

“Of course. He was a nice fella.”

“Did you ever hear from him? After he left the island?” Because he never bothered getting in touch with me. My face felt hot.

“Cahn’t say that I did, sweethaht.” He thought another second or two. “No. I don’t think so.” His weathered blue eyes were so kind that I had to look away.

“No, I figured it was a long shot. But thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Nice to see you.”

So. The first stone had been overturned and revealed nothing. It wasn’t exactly a surprise, but...well.

The humid, sweet air of Lala’s was like a much-needed hug.

Standing in line was a mother with three little kids. The older two stood silently, staring down at their phones, their necks curved in that unmistakable posture that said, Don’t bother me, I’m emotionally dead inside. The littlest kid, about six, blond with a puffy winter coat on, pulled on his mother’s hand. “I want a cookie,” he said.

“You’re not getting one. I already told you that.” She adjusted her purse strap and sighed.

The little boy pushed out his lip, then saw me looking. “What happened to you?” he asked, eyeing my sling.

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