To my left, damp sheets are being hung from the clotheslines and the faint scent of clean cotton fills the air as they flap in the wind.
For whatever reason, I stop to watch.
A wet sheet.
A moment later, Lila steps out from behind it, bending low to grab another sheet from the wicker basket on the ground.
“Want some help?” I ask.
Her eyes flick to mine. If she’s surprised to see me, she doesn’t show it.
I don’t wait for her to answer, I simply grab a sheet from the basket and a couple of clothespins and get to work.
“I don’t know why you’re doing this,” she says, though she won’t look at me.
“I do my own laundry at school,” I say. “And believe it or not, I do a lot of laundry at home. We don’t have … help … or anything. I mean, we have a cleaning lady that comes once a week, but other than that it’s just the three of us.”
I feel her gaze for a second, as if she’s taking it all in or trying to decide if she believes me or not.
My grandfather is the one with all the money. He’s the one with a private island and full-time employees. He bought my parents a comfortable house in Bridgeport, Connecticut as a wedding gift but as far as anything else goes, my father has always been the breadwinner, supporting us on his IT Security Consultant salary. He does well for himself, but we’re certainly not rolling in the dough. I don’t drive a BMW, and the only reason I go to Yale is because it’s my grandfather’s alma mater and he promised to pay if I went.
There’s one sheet left in the basket and we both reach for it at the same time, our hands brushing. She lets me have it.
“Thank you,” she says.
“Sorry if I made you uncomfortable earlier,” I say when I’m finished. “And sorry if I’m coming on too strong.”
“If?” she laughs.
“Okay, sorry that I’m coming on too strong,” I say. “I just … when I get excited about something, sometimes I get too excited, you know? It consumes me. And I can be a little intense for some people. I’ve been like that my whole life, and I realize now that you barely know me and maybe it freaks you out.” I pause, studying her for a reaction that never comes. She wears her poker face and she wears it well. “If you want me to back off, I will. I just wanted you to know how I felt earlier, that’s all. Because on the off chance you feel the same way but you’re afraid to say it … I—”
“Thayer! There you are.” Ashlan appears out of nowhere, brushing one of the sheets aside. Half of it falls off the clothespin and she doesn’t bother fixing it. “We’ve been looking for you. Westley has the bait ready and Whitley’s got the golf cart so we can just ride to the cove.”
Lila reaches to fix the fallen sheet, sighing as she bends.
I grab my pole from the ground and look at Lila one more time before we go.
“See you around,” I say. Ashlan glances between the two of us. “Why don’t you run ahead. I’ll catch up.”
“I can wait,” Ashlan says, shrugging and grinning like she’s oblivious to what’s going on when I know damn well she isn’t.
“No, seriously. Go on. I’m good. I’ll take one of the four-wheelers and meet you guys.”
Ashlan’s dark brows meet in the middle and she does a slight pout, which makes me cringe because there’s nothing adorable about a grown adult woman pouting like a spoiled child.
“Fine. Whatever.” Ashlan leaves in a huff and I watch as Lila stacks and gathers the laundry baskets and hauls them under her arm back toward the house.
“Lila,” I say. “Wait.”
She stops. “You shouldn’t keep her waiting.”
Is that what this is about? Does she think I have a thing for Ashlan?
I almost think about inviting her along (even though I know she’ll say no) and then I remember the promise I made a few moments ago about not coming on too strong.
“Can we finish this conversation another time?” she asks.
My chest inflates, warm and hopeful. This is a good sign. Unexpected too, which is ironically not surprising.
“I’ll be in the abandoned cottage later,” she says. “After dinner. We can talk there.”
“The Lila Cottage,” I say with a half-smile that she doesn’t return.
She continues on her way back to the main house, and I head to the machine shed to grab one of the four-wheelers, counting down the hours until I see her again, until I can finally figure out what the hell is going through that pretty little mystifying head of hers.
I pace the living room of the abandoned cottage shortly after supper clean-up. Grandma fried up the haddock that the cousins caught earlier today so my hair smells like grease and fried fish, but there’s nothing I can do about that until I wash it out tonight.