Page 40 of For Lila, Forever

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.

“All right. I’ll have Bernice get you the key to Ainsworth,” he says. “We weren’t expecting you home this early, but everything should be in order. If it isn’t, let me know. This is her first time opening the island for the summer.”

Opening the island …

He opened the island the way other people open their pools for the summer: with checklists and procedures and quiet fanfare. “Opening the island” was always his expression for this time of year, when our entire extended family would abandon their modern lives, their work and school in favor of sun, sand, and sailing off the coast of a New England island hideaway. It was always Ed and Junie who would prepare for our arrivals. All the linens would be freshly washed, beds made. Junie used to fold our towels into little animal shapes, like we were at some resort, and Ed would shine up the boats and hose off the dock. Junie would place freshly picked and trimmed flowers in vases in every living room, kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom—that alone must have taken her hours if not days considering each home had at least five bedrooms and six baths. But she always loved to go the extra mile to make our annual homecoming a splendid affair.

My grandfather disappears into the kitchen, returning with a set of keys to my family’s designated house just a few hundred yards down the drive.

“Dinner will be at six,” he says, dropping the key ring in my hand. “Get some rest, but don’t be late. We have much catching up to do.”

As soon as he’s gone, I realize I’m squeezing the set so hard, the metal teeth are leaving indentations in my palm. Relaxing, I show myself out and head down the path to Ainsworth, gaze locked on the cedar shake siding that covers the backside. Last summer, I stole a kiss from Lila next to the white peony bushes on the north side of the house.

The bushes are lackluster now, appearing as if they hardly intend to bloom this year.

Once I get to the house, I unlock a side door and head in. My lungs fill with stuffy, slightly damp air. Apparently Bernice didn’t air out the house the way Junie always did in anticipation of our arrival, but I know she’s new so I won’t fault her for it.

Passing down the hall, I make my way to the living room before cutting through the foyer to get to the kitchen. There’s no bowl of fresh fruit waiting on the counter. Not a single vase filled with picked hydrangeas or lilacs as per tradition.

A moment later, I climb the stairs to the second floor and find my room at the end of the hall.

No folded swan towels.

No welcome note in Junie’s whimsical handwriting.

No secret welcome note from Lila tucked into my pillowcase.

I head to the windows first, sliding up the sashes and letting some much needed fresh air fill the space.

Collapsing on the bed next, I slide my hands under my neck and stare at the lifeless ceiling fan above. Everything … and I mean everything … has taken on an empty quality.

The island.

The house.

Me.

It’s like a substantial part of me is missing—and that part of me is her.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I try to rest despite knowing damn well my head isn’t going to stop spinning long enough to make that possible. But I need to calm down so I can come up with a game plan.

There’s no internet access on the island—my grandfather contacted the local phone company once, and they were told there was not enough infrastructure to support running cable or DSL lines to Rose Crossing at the time, and then they said that running those lines to the island would’ve been humanly impossible. The only options he was given were satellite or dial up. My grandfather made the executive decision to forgo both—deciding that the island was better off with as minimal technology as possible because family time was too priceless to sacrifice for “computers and video games and the like.”

I grab my cell from my pocket and check the service. It’s always been spotty out here, even at the highest point, which happens to be the attic of my grandparents’ house, so I don’t hold my breath.

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