“You think you’re hot shit, don’t you?” he snapped. “Living in that houseboat, swooping in here with your medical degree—”
“I’m here to spend time with my niece, Luke. That’s all.”
“I fucked your sister. Did you know that?”
The words hit me like a baseball bat in the chest. I didn’t say anything.
“Then again, most guys did,” he added. “She was hot. Not like you.”
I swallowed. “Are you done reliving high school? Because last I checked, we graduated seventeen years ago.” A good line, but he knew he’d hurt me.
“Some things never change,” he said.
“And some things do. Well, I have work to do. You should try it. Might be good for you.”
“See you around, neighbor,” he said.
“You probably will.” My voice was casual, almost bored.
I went around him, walking back toward my little car, wishing now I’d rented a huge Range Rover or Escalade. My legs were shaking, but hopefully he couldn’t see that.
I’d dealt with far, far worse than Luke Fletcher.
But my legs shook just the same.
* * *
When I got back to the cove, I unloaded my things, brought the plants up to the deck and told Boomer not to eat the mint.
Then I sat there for a few minutes, practicing my yoga breaths.
Luke was all talk. A classic story—the golden boy turned bitter man.
Jim the Realtor had assured me the houseboat was as secure as any regular building, but it sure didn’t feel that way now. But I had a big dog who worshipped me and a pistol.
I killed the rest of the afternoon by cleaning, which always made me feel better. After dinner and a few chapters of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I went up to the deck. The plants and flowers had been just what I needed. It was heaven up here. Also, I had a great view in case anyone approached.
Time to read my mail. I wasn’t going to let Luke Fletcher ruin my night. He’d ruined too many already.
Roseline had sent me a card of two old women obscenely eating sausages with a cute note just to say she was thinking of me and wanted to ditch her husband of four months and come live with me on the houseboat, so I should stock up on good vodka. I knew it was all for my sake—she and Amir were crazy happy—but I appreciated it.
Next envelope—Bobby’s or Lily’s?
I chose Lily’s.
Inside the thick envelope was a single piece of notepaper, the words written in pencil, the handwriting heartbreakingly familiar even after all these years.
Don’t write to me anymore.
The words razored through my heart like a knife through an overripe plum. For a second I couldn’t breathe, then I sucked in a ratcheting lungful of the piney air. My lips trembled with the effort of keeping in the...the curse words. Or the sob.
I guess she didn’t like my notes about the cormorant or the rain.
Nothing about how she was doing. Nothing about how I was doing. No questions about Poe or Mom or anything.
“Boomer!” I called, my voice cracking, and my dog came running, his ears flopping, his big goofy face smiling. He leaped the ten feet from dock to boat, then scrabbled up the narrow stairs onto the top deck, right into my arms.
I didn’t know what I’d do without my dog, and I didn’t want to know. I couldn’t handle the thought right now. I hugged his furry neck and let my tears drip into his ruff while he panted in my ear, his big tail wagging.
I wasn’t sure I could ever accept the fact that my sister didn’t love me anymore. That she hadn’t for years. Decades.
I had Roseline, who was more like a sister than Lily had been in two decades. I had other friends back home, back in Boston, that crooked, twisted little city. I had Bobby, even if we weren’t together anymore. And here on Scupper, I had...well, Gloria and Xiaowen, new but full of potential. I had my mother, sort of. I had Poe—
Best to stop while I was ahead.
I let go of my dog and opened the envelope from Bobby, not as uplifted by his attention as I’d been before. The stationery had been a gift from his mother—Crane’s, embossed with his initials, RKB. Robert Kennedy Byrne. If you were Irish and lived in Boston, at least one family member was named after the Kennedys.
Hey, Nora, the note said. Hope you’re on the mend. I wanted to let you know that Jabrielle and I aren’t together. It was stupid and impulsive and a mistake, too.
Besides, she isn’t you.
I’ll see you next week. Let me know if you need anything.
Well. That was something to mull over.
She isn’t you.
It sure was nice to hear, especially after my sister, alone in prison a continent away from her family, had no room in her cell—or her heart—for me.
Something shocking happened.
My mother came to visit me and asked for advice.
One of the nice things about the houseboat was that I could see a person approaching, since they had to walk down the dock to get to me. And sure enough, Wednesday evening, as I was slicing vegetables for a stir-fry, my mother pulled off the road and came striding briskly down the dock to my door and into my kitchen. No knock.
“I’m worried about Poe,” she announced. Boomer hauled his bulk from the rug and went over to greet her, wagging his tail and knocking a coaster off the coffee table.
“Hey, Mom,” I said. “Have a seat. Do you want some wine or a beer or anything?”
“Water,” she said. “Thanks.” She eyed my new digs. “Pretty fancy, aren’t you?” There it was, the little stab of disapproval.
“It’s a special place,” I said calmly. I got her a glass of water (God forbid she take something that was more than just life sustaining). “So what’s going on with Poe?”
My mother sat at the counter, stiffly, as if she’d never sat on a stool before. “Welp, her grades are abominable, and though she was a little more talkative before you got here—” pause so the guilt could sink in “—she’s clammed up. Gawt no friends that I can see. Sits there with that phone glued to the end of her nose and barely leaves her room.”
“Sounds like a typical teenager,” I said.
“Well, her mother’s in jail, Nora, in case you forgot. Hahdly typical.”
I hadn’t told my mother about Lily’s note. Nor would I.
“So maybe Poe can sleep over here Friday night,” I suggested.
“What good would that do?”
Talking to my mother was like being pecked to death by chickens.
“Change of scenery, maybe we could watch a movie, talk, eat something chocolate, do things that usually bond women.”
My mother frowned. “If you think that would help, go ahead and try. Though I don’t see how it would.”
“Is Lily still scheduled to get out in August?” I asked.
“Then I guess the best we can do is make Poe feel loved and safe until then. Even if she doesn’t react to it, it matters, hearing someone say they love you or they’re glad to see you or that they want to spend time with you.”
“Is that what they taught you in college?”
“Yes. And in medical school and residency. I did a psych rotation. I am a doctor, let’s not forget. So how about if we practice? I’ll say something nice to you, and you can tell me if it makes you feel better.”