“It’s fine. I’m not hungry,” I say.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” He puffs his chest and follows with a pompous chuff. “You just drove several hours and then you ferried in.”
I drove four straight hours from New Haven, not stopping once, because all I could think about was getting here—to Lila, Ed and Junie’s granddaughter. And then I waited two hours for a ferry that took three hours to get me here because of all the other island stops we made.
Mile after mile, the thought of seeing Lila kept me going. The sheer excitement and anticipation of being together again was all the distraction I needed.
I daydreamed about sneaking up behind her and wrapping my arms around her waist.
I pictured her sweet smile and her sparkling amber-green eyes.
I felt her hands on my face and her hair between my fingers as I stole her away and claimed her pink lips with a kiss behind the boathouse.
“How can I find them?” I ask my grandfather.
His thick brows knit. “Who, Thayer? I’m afraid you’re going to have to be a bit more specific.”
He’s playing dumb. I know better than to buy into his act.
“The Hilliards,” I say, without naming Lila specifically.
“And what reason on God’s green earth would you have to contact them?” my grandfather asks. “They’re retired. I’m sure we’re the last people they want to hear from.”
“They were a big part of my childhood. I considered them family,” I say. “It’d just be nice to be able to keep in touch is all. Would’ve been nice to know the last time I saw them was going to be … the last time.”
Granddad hooks a hand on my shoulder and gives it a squeeze.
“You’re too sentimental, boy. Just like your mother. Speaking of which, she’ll be here in two days. The rest of the crew should be here by the weekend. Say, I was going to get the ol’ ketch out and go for a sail this afternoon. You’ll join me.” In true Howard Bertram fashion, he isn’t asking.
“If you don’t mind, I think I’m going to pass. Not in a sailing mood today.”
His cheery disposition fades and he studies me for a moment. “This isn’t about the Hilliards, is it? If you’d like to write them a letter, I’d be happy to have my attorney work on locating them and sending it on.”
I consider his offer. “And how long do you think that would take?”
He squints. “Is this an urgent matter? I was under the assumption you were simply wanting to keep in touch.”
Yes, it’s urgent.
The woman I love—the only woman I’ve ever loved and will ever love—is out there somewhere and I haven’t the slightest idea as to where she is, how to contact her …
… or why she would’ve left without saying goodbye.
Lila had my address at school—before I left, I gave it to her for emergency purposes as well as my number and email address. She could’ve written me a letter. The Hilliards didn’t own a personal computer of any kind, but there was a lab at the public library in Rose Crossing—she could’ve easily looked me up and emailed me.
The last thing I told Lila when I left here last August was that I loved her more than anything in the world. She kissed me hard as the ocean breeze played with her sun-bleached waves, and then she whispered, “Two hundred and sixty-three days…”
We didn’t do the long-distance relationship thing. Not in the traditional sense. During the school year I focused on studies and extra-curriculars, and she planned to stick around Rose Crossing Island and help her grandparents whittle away at their never-ending To-Do List. When I left, we agreed that we didn’t have to spend hours on the phone talking about nothing to keep that flame flickering. We agreed we didn’t have to wait by mailboxes for handwritten letters every week as proof that our unwavering devotion was still received and reciprocated. Not that either of those things were options, but we both just knew. We knew that the other was always going to be there no matter what.
I believe that the Hilliards retired, but I don’t believe that Lila would have left here without so much as leaving a letter in the cottage.
Something isn’t adding up here.
“Thayer.” My grandfather clears his throat. “I’m speaking to you. Are you all right?”
I realize now that I’m sitting at the base of the grand staircase in my grandfather’s foyer. I don’t remember walking here. I don’t remember sitting down and placing my hands in my hair, tugging until my scalp throbs.
Coming to, I pull in a deep breath and force myself to stand. “I’m fine. Think I just need to lie down for a bit.”
His mouth flattens. He’s disappointed I won’t be sailing with him this afternoon, but he’s not going to push it. The summer is young, I’m sure he’s thinking.