Authors: Kristan Higgins
“You know what, Edith?” I say. “You’re a nasty, gossiping, eavesdropping busybody, and no amount of ass-kissing of priests is going to change that. Mrs. Lennon, you have a nice weekend.”
Enjoying Mrs. P’s squawking rage, I walk away. “How was I?” I ask my niece. She doesn’t answer. Glancing back, I see that she’s fallen asleep. Her angelic face calms my seething anger, but my heart is still pounding, my face hot.
Poor Malone. He’s done nothing wrong, but the town won’t drop it. All day, I hear snatches of damning conversation—Chantal and Malone are the hot topic. During the trap-hauling race, when everyone crowds the dock to see which boat will make it in fastest, Christy and I stand with the firemen to cheer on Jonah and Dad. “Why do you think Malone’s not here?” Fred Tendrey asks as he leans against a post. “Ashamed to show his face, I’d guess.”
“Why should he be ashamed, Fred?” I ask. “He hasn’t done anything wrong. He’s not the one standing around looking down women’s blouses. Maybe he doesn’t want his daughter to hear a bunch of idiots gossiping about him, huh? Ever think of that?”
My protestations fall on deaf ears. Malone’s boat
conspicuously absent from the festivities. Or maybe he never comes to the Blessing. I can’t say I ever noticed before.
“She doesn’t want Malone involved,” I overhear Leslie MacGuire murmuring to her neighbor as they buy cups of chowder. “You know the rumors about his first wife. How she left in the middle of the night.”
“Oh, that’s right,” the neighbor murmurs. My jaw clenches, but I say nothing. There’s no point.
By four o’clock, I can’t take any more.
“Guys, I’m heading out,” I tell my sister and Will. “I’ve got a headache.”
“You okay?” Christy asks, tilting her head.
“Yup. Just tired.”
Though I have a ticket for the spaghetti supper and the rest of my family, including Mom, will be there, I walk away from town. Climbing the hill to my apartment, I glance back at the harbor. The lobster boats are done with racing for the day, bobbing on their moorings like cheerful seagulls, clean and freshly painted for the new season. The
gleams, one of the newer boats, made more noticeable because the
is out. My heart squeezes almost painfully, imagining him off with his daughter. In another few weeks, it will be illegal to pull pots after four, but for now Malone is within the rules, if he’s actually working, that is. And it doesn’t seem as if he misses a chance to work very often.
Except for that one day when he took me to Linden Harbor.
I trudge down my street, spying Mrs. Kandinsky sleeping in her chair through the window. Peeking inside, I make sure her chest is still rising and falling with breath, then, assured that she’s not dead, I go upstairs to my dark apartment.
HE NEXT MORNING
, the smell of frying bacon and coffee welcomes me to my parents’ house. Each year, we have a special breakfast before the actual Blessing of the Fleet. And we’re all going to church, since it’s Father Tim’s last Mass. Jonah is slumped in a corner, pale and shaky, timidly nursing a cup of coffee. I lean over and kiss him loudly on the cheek.
“Is my wittle brother a wittle hung over?” I ask merrily, ruffling his hair. He moans and turns to the wall. “Hi, Mom.”
“Oh, Maggie, is that what you’re wearing?” she asks.
I look down at my outfit. Tan pants, red sweater, shoes that match each other. I raise an eyebrow at my mother, who sets the spatula down on the counter. “What I meant to say, honey, is why don’t you wear a skirt once in a while? You have such gorgeous legs.”
“That was better, Mom. Better.”
“There’s nothing gorgeous about Maggie,” Jonah mumbles from the corner, apparently not in enough misery to resist bothering me. “Christy’s the pretty one.” I smack him on the head, savoring his yelp of pain, and pour myself some coffee.
“I can’t wear a skirt today, Mom,” I say, giving my mother a kiss, pleased to see her back in the family domicile. “I’m going out with Jonah for the blessing.”
“Not if you don’t stop yelling,” Jonah mutters.
It’s wicked fun to be on the water for the Blessing of the Fleet. Gideon’s Cove looks like a postcard—the rocky shore, tall pines, the houses that dot the hills, the spire of St. Mary’s, the gray wood of the dock. Last year, the whole family went on the
; this year, because of Violet, Christy and Will opted to stay ashore, and our parents will keep them company.
Christy’s face appears on the back porch. “Hello,” she calls. She has also worn tan pants and a red top, but her outfit cost more, is made with better materials and generally looks better than mine. She hefts in Violet’s car seat, a diaper bag that’s bigger than my suitcase and a vibrating bouncy seat. Will follows her with a tiny bungy-jumping contraption that’s made to dangle from a doorway and another bag.
“Where’s Dad?” I ask.
“In the bomb shelter,” Jonah answers. “Could you stop yelling, please?”
“Dad!” I yell cheerfully. “We’re all here!” Jonah whimpers.
“Serves you right, Joe,” Christy says. “Jell-O shots. For God’s sake. We were at Dewey’s last night, you know. Saw everything.”
“Did I call you the pretty one?” Jonah says, rising specterlike from his chair. “I changed my mind. You’re both hags.”
Fifteen minutes later, we’re all sitting around the dining room table, passing platters of pancakes, scrambled eggs, cranberry scones (my contribution) and bacon. Jonah has swallowed some Advil and looks less green, though he shudders as the eggs pass him. I plop a spoonful on his plate and enjoy the blanching that follows.
“So, Mom, Dad,” Christy begins in what Joe and I call her social-worker voice, “how have things been since you’ve…been apart?” Her voice is carefully pleasant.
“Not bad,” Dad says. “Delicious scones, Maggie. You sure can bake, honey.”
Christy’s eyes close briefly. “Great. Any decisions about what’s next?”
“Scone, sweetie?” Will asks.
“No. Thank you. Mom? Anything to tell us?”
My mother takes a deep breath. “Well, we’ve been talking, of course.” She looks at Dad at the other end of the table. Dad is looking out the window, apparently fascinated with the flock of springtime birds enjoying his handiwork. “Mitch? Would you like to tell the children what we’re planning?”
Dad snaps to attention. “Oh. Sure. Sure. Okay. Well, we…we’re…we’re not getting divorced. For now.”
Christy’s face lights up. I take another piece of bacon and look at my mother. “But…” I prompt.
“Right, Maggie,” Mom says. “But I’m going to stay in Bar Harbor. At least for the foreseeable future.” She looks at me for assurance, and I smile. Christy’s face falls.
“I’m sorry, honey,” Mom says to her. “I know it’s not what you want, but—”
“No, no. It’s fine. It’s okay.” But Christy’s eyes are spilling tears. “I’m sorry....” She starts crying in earnest, and Will puts his arm around her, pulling her face against his shoulder. “It’s what you want that matters, Mom,” she blubbers. “And you, too, Daddy.”
Jonah shoots me a classic little brother smirk, and suddenly, we’re laughing. “Poor little Christy, coming from a broken home,” Jonah murmurs, and she starts laughing, too.
“Oh, shut up, Jonah,” she says, wadding up her napkin and throwing it at him. “I can’t help it if I care about our family. Unlike you, you freakish troglodyte.”
En masse, we head for town, Jonah and me in his truck, our parents with Will, Christy and the baby in the Volvo wagon.
The waxy smell of candles mixes with the lingering scent of spaghetti as we walk into church. Since Father Tim won’t be returning to St. Mary’s after this, the place is as packed as if it’s Christmas Eve. The full choir, all ten of them, is up in the loft, and Mr. Gordon is thumping out a tortuous, wheezing piece on the old organ. My family takes up a whole pew today. We call out quiet hellos, wave to our friends and neighbors and sit on the punishing walnut pews, prepared to offer up our suffering to the Lord.
The altar servers come somberly down the aisle, washed and brushed and looking like angels despite the hightop Keds that peek out from under their robes. Tanner Stevenson holds up the crucifix and Kendra Tan carefully swings the incense burner. Father Tim comes in last, resplendent in purple and gold, handsome as a movie star. He sings along with the entrance hymn, but his eyes meet mine, and he gives a little smile around the words to “Lift High the Cross.”
For the first time in a very long time, I understand why people come to church. Not because they’re forced to be here by their parents, not because the priest is so cute. I listen to the words and don’t notice the brogue that pronounces them. For the first time in my adult life, I imagine that there might be something here for me.
Sorry I haven’t been around. And sorry about lusting after one of Your guys,
I say silently to God.
No harm, no foul,
I imagine Him saying. It’s much more comforting than
That will be a year in hell, young lady.
At the sign of peace, Father Tim comes off the altar, moving slowly, a kind word for everyone, a blessing for the children. When he gets to the Beaumont clan, he leans in for a chaste hug. “I finally got you in church, Maggie,” he says, and I’m touched to see tears in his eyes. “Right when I’m leaving, but here you are.”
“We’ll miss you, Father Tim,” I whisper.
An hour later, Jonah and I are on the
the brisk breeze ruffling our hair. In honor of my presence, Jonah has placed a plastic chair on deck, where I now sit, sipping a cup of coffee.
“How’s Dad working out?” I ask my brother as he stands at the wheel.
“Not bad,” Joe answers. “He likes it. Loves hanging out with the guys. Better than building birdhouses, I guess.”
“I think it’s nice that you took him on,” I say. Jonah looks older at the wheel. This is a side of him that I don’t usually get to see. He looks manly, in control. Handsome, too.
“What are you smirking about?” he asks, raising his voice to be heard over the diesel engine.
“Oh, nothing. Just thinking how cute you are, Bunny-boy,” I answer, using the nickname Christy and I unfortunately bestowed on him at his birth.
“Right,” he says. He waves to Sam O’Neil, who is in front of the
in the parade of boats.
“Best date you could get was your sistah?” Sam yells.
“At least my sister’s pretty!” Jonah calls back. His smile is forced and drops off the minute Sam turns away.
The boats space out a bit more as we head for Douglas Point. The memorial is visible even from a distance, starkly beautiful against the backdrop of pines and stone. The mood becomes somber throughout our flotilla; no one cracks any jokes now. Jonah bows his head as we motor past. His eyes are wet when he looks up.
“Jonah?” I ask. “Is everything okay, buddy?”
“Oh, sure,” he says, wiping his eyes on his sleeve. He adjusts course a bit, then shoots me a glance. “Not really,” he admits.
“What is it, hon?” I ask. “You’ve been sort of glum lately.”
His face crumples. “Oh, fuck it, Mags. I’m in love with Chantal and she won’t give me the time of day.”
My eyes pop. “You’re what?”
“I know, I know. She’s pregnant with some guy’s kid and…and…” It takes him a minute to get the words out. “It’s just that I thought… I’ve always had a thing for her, Maggie. And now I think I’m in love with her.”
Uh-oh. Oh, boy. Oh, shit on a shingle.
“Jonah,” I say carefully, “you didn’t sleep with Chantal, did you?”
He swallows, looks at the deck of the boat, then nods. “I know you told her not to hook up with me, Mags. It was just one time. And afterward, she wouldn’t return my calls or anything. I wanted to start seeing her, make it more than a one-nighter, you know? But she wasn’t interested.”
“You gotta be kidding me,” I mutter, looking skyward.
It has to be. No wonder she wouldn’t tell me. After all those threats, she actually went ahead and did it. With my brother. My
brother. Whose diapers I changed.
The wind blows my hair across my face and makes whitecaps on the water. We’re close enough to the town dock that I can see the crowds, catch slips of sound. There’s the podium. There’s our bear-shaped dad. Father Tim, still in his vestments, flicks holy water and makes the sign of the cross. Reverend Hollis from the Congregational church stands next to him, doing whatever Protestants do at these things.
I heave a sigh, then get up and go to stand next to my brother and rub his back. He chokes out a small sob. “Listen, sweetie,” I say. “Did you ever ask Chantal if you were the father of her baby?”
“Yeah, of course I did,” he says, wiping his eyes on his sleeve. “She said I wasn’t. Said she was sure about it.”
“I think she’s lying.”
Jonah’s head snaps back. “What? Why? Do you know something?”
I sigh. “No. She said it was an out-of-towner, but…well, she just might be trying to protect you.”