My legs were shaking. I opened the door and let Boomer go out. My dog ran after Luke, barking. Good. Let my dog maul him and eat him.

“Boomer!” I called after a minute (not really the dog-mauling type), and my good dog turned back. Besides, what if Boomer just licked Luke? Best keep up the pretense that I had a ferocious watchdog before he could prove me wrong.

As I locked up a few minutes later, I wondered if Sully had come in, after all, would Luke have stayed up on the deck.

Stayed and watched.

19

Dear Lily,

I’m staying in Oberon Cove this summer. At night, I can hear the riptide on the other side of the island. Do you remember when we came to this cove to fish, and you caught a striped bass bigger than you were? It flipped off the line, and Dad caught it like it was a pop fly.

I took Poe fishing Friday afternoon, but when she caught a whiting, we threw it back. She wants to be a vegetarian now. Sorry about that. Her hair is growing out black now, but I told her I’d help her keep it blue if she wants.

Love,

Nora

On Sunday, I stopped by my mother’s place before heading for the long trip to Boston on the ferry. It was Bobby’s turn with the dog.

She was splitting wood in the back, something she did with an axe, not a log splitter. Tweety, whose devotion to my mother kept him close to her, even outside, dived at me, making Boomer leap behind my legs. I swatted at the bird, not hitting it (alas). Mom looked up briefly, then resumed chopping.

“Maybe Poe should be doing this,” I suggested.

“She’d cut off her thumb,” Mom answered. “Also, she’s still in bed.”

“Well, wood chopping is a good life skill. Everyone should be able to use an axe.”

“It’s a maul.”

“Maul, then. Maybe there’s a kid you could hire to do this? One of the Bitterman kids? Don’t they have four boys?”

She swung the axe, and another log split neatly in two. “You got a problem with me cuttin’ wood, Nora?”

“Not really, no.” My mother was just past sixty and stronger than most NFL players.

But someday she’d be too old for this. And I’d be going back to Boston in two months. Mom was still alone, despite my feeble attempt at the dinner party. I had, however, registered her on LivelySeniors.com and was presently fielding a few offers.

She was getting older. The gray streak that had run through her thick hair as long as I could remember was white now, and wider every year.

I sat on a log and watched for a minute or two as Boomer got in his last sniffs of pine needles before we left. “Mom, I might have a problem with Luke Fletcher,” I said.

She placed another log on the chopping block and thwacked it in half, then in quarters. “Why do you say that?”

“He was on my houseboat the other night. Uninvited.”

“Tell him to leave you alone.”

“I have.”

“Want me to talk to him?”

The image of my mom cleaving Luke in half was rather beautiful. Then again, I was terribly brave and strong myself. “No, I can handle it. I just... I don’t know. Can you tell me a little more about him, what he’s been doing since I left?”

“Well, if we have to talk, stack those logs and be useful,” she said. I obeyed, not mentioning that I wasn’t really dressed for physical labor. Mom wouldn’t want me to be a pussy about clothes.

I stacked, she chopped, and after a few minutes, she said, “Welp, he flunked outta UMaine. Came back here and helped his father at the boatyard, but then Allan Fletcher died all of a sudden, so the other one, Sullivan, he took over. Did a fair job from what I heard. Luke, though, he wasn’t much for it. Always was a drinker and a druggie.”

I picked up some of the logs she’d halved. Tweety screeched at me for getting too close to his beloved. I mentally flipped off the bird. “What drugs? Do you know?”

“Nothin’ more than what I heard. Heroin, cocaine, cough syrup, you name it.”

“How did Mr. Fletcher die?” I asked, dumping my armload of logs on the woodpile. Since I hadn’t asked Mom directly about Mr. Fletcher over the years, she hadn’t told me.

“Bad heart, I think. Or a brain bleed. One of those. Sully found him dead out by his truck. Anyways, Luke... Teeny gave him some money, and he headed off to the big city or some such.”

“New York?”

“Portland.”

“When did he come back?”

Mom’s axe—maul—swung again. “Oh, he comes back every now and again, usually when he needs money. Teeny used to put him up, but Sullivan had a problem with that. I guess Luke stole her engagement ring and pawned it. So Sully has him stay at the boatyard.” She paused and wiped her brow. “That Teeny always favored the bad seed. Made me feel bad for Sullivan.”

Ah, irony. My own mother always favored her bad seed, too. “Mothers aren’t supposed to have favorites?” I couldn’t help saying. Lily, for all her drama, bitchery and crime, had been and remained Mom’s little darling. Still was.

She didn’t answer.

“Has Luke ever gotten clean and sober?” I asked, going back to the subject at hand.

“Oh, sure. Plenty a’ times. Same with your sister.” She slammed the axe into the chopping block and looked at me directly for the first time today. “Speaking of Lily, she said you’ve been writing to her.”

“Ayuh.”

“She wishes you wouldn’t.”

“Why? Too busy making license plates?”

“Don’t put your sister down, missy.”

“Why wouldn’t she want mail?”

“I don’t know, Nora.” That was Mom. Never one to take sides, at least, not overtly.

I sighed. “I have to go to Boston. I was kind of hoping Poe would come with me.”

“Ask her.”

I went inside, but Poe was back to being Queen of the Damned. “Why are you waking me up? It’s only ten-thirty! Go away!”

“Want to go to Boston?”

“Why would anyone want to go to Boston?”

“Change of scenery? Shopping? Clam chowder? Freedom Trail? Red Sox game? Jewel of New England? Nothing? No?”

“I’m tired!”

I took a breath. “Okay, sweetie. I’ll see you in a day or so.”

She pulled her pillow over her head. I sensed our conversation was over.

So it was just Boomer and me, his raccoon toy, his Nylabone and his long leash climbing onto the ferry.

I took a seat on deck, pulled my Red Sox hat down firmly to keep the wind from molesting my hair and put on my sunglasses. Boomer lay at my feet, gnawing on his bone. I hated bringing him to Boston, hated being without him. What if Luke came over now, huh? It’d just be me and my gun, and the last time I’d needed it, I’d almost shot Sullivan.

Maybe I needed hug therapy. Xiaowen was somewhere off the coast of Oregon, saving the mollusks there, and wouldn’t be back for days. Roseline couldn’t meet me this time; she had a thing with her in-laws. Gloria was visiting her family and her Slytherin beau, but we were supposed to take the last ferry back together.

I heard the sound of feet and looked up. Sullivan, Audrey and Amy were coming down the dock, a suitcase in tow.

“Hey!” I said.

“Hi!” Audrey said, jumping onto the boat and giving me a hug. “Tomorrow’s the big day, so we’re staying overnight. At a hotel!”

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