Authors: Kristan Higgins
I force myself not to look away. His face is unsmiling, not exactly scowling, but not happy, either, God knows. “I’ve been thinking about what you said, too,” I continue, my voice unsteady. “About Father Tim and me, and you and me, and me killing time with you…” I’m babbling again. “Well, whatever. I guess I also wanted to say that…” I take a deep breath. “Malone, I never meant to make you feel…inferior. I think you’re…well. Not inferior at all.” I swallow. “Pretty superior, actually.”
If he were to give me anything at that moment, I’d say more. If he smiled, if he took a step toward me, if he
something. But he doesn’t, just looks at me. Finally, he gives a slight nod. “Thanks,” he says quietly.
And that’s it. I wait another second, then nod and, painfully aware of my every move, walk back down the dock.
Malone doesn’t stop me. He doesn’t forgive me, and he lets me go.
“What was that all about?” I hear Emory ask, but though I hear the rumble of his voice, I can’t make out the words. I run up the gangplank because I don’t want them to know that I’m crying.
VER THE NEXT FEW DAYS
, I feel a bit hollow. After all, I’ve lost four people in my daily life—Father Tim, my mom, Colonel and Malone. They were a big part of things, even if only for a while. Obviously, my mother falls into a different category, as She Who Gave Me Life, and though we’re starting a better phase of our relationship, it’s strange to have her gone.
Thank you for everything, God,
I say morosely as I clean Mrs. K.’s apartment
. I’m glad I don’t have cancer, I haven’t amputated a limb, I’m not blind. I’m not an orphan, I have friends, health, home, all that crap.
Then I immediately chastise myself and apologize for calling it crap…but God knows what I mean. I’m not exactly a mystery wrapped in an enigma.
“I think I’m going to take a cooking class,” I tell Mrs. K. when I’ve turned off the Electrolux.
a magnificent cook! Pooh!” she cries staunchly, thumping her cane for emphasis.
“Yes, well, thanks, Mrs. K. But I might like to learn a bit more, you know? New sauces, new techniques, stuff like that. I’m trying to jazz up the menu at Joe’s.”
There’s a master class being offered in Machias, twice a week for twelve weeks. I’ve already signed up. French Cooking with a Twist. It sounded fun.
“Well, as long as you
cake,” Mrs. K. says. “Don’t tamper with
Maybe at the class, I’ll meet some new people. It would be nice to have someone else to pal around with. It’s starting to dawn on me that getting out of Gideon’s Cove once in a while isn’t a bad idea. Chantal and I are still a little tentative with each other, but our friendship will survive her
Jonah. After all, he may be my little brother, but he is also a grown-up. Theoretically, anyway.
Christy calls me later in the week. “Listen, I know the last time was a disaster,” she says, failing to excite me about what comes next, “but Will knows this nice guy, a drug rep who came into the office last week. Can we give him your number?”
I sigh. I’m stretched out sideways on my bed, a pillow clutched to my side. It’s no substitute for Colonel. I need to get another dog. “I don’t think so, Christy,” I say. “Not for a while. But I’ll let you know, okay?”
“Is it Malone?” she asks. I had told her about my visit to the dock.
“Oh, Christy,” I confess. “It was one of those things…I didn’t realize how much he meant to me until it was too late. Dumb, huh? Stupid Maggie.”
“You’re not dumb,” she chides. “It was a good learning experience. Think of it that way.”
“You bet,” I say with false bravado. “How are you feeling?”
Christy launches into a description of her fatigue and vomiting, then describes Violet’s newest incisor in thrilling detail. I smile. “You still going out tomorrow?” I ask. “It’s my day to babysit.”
“Only if you want to,” Christy says.
“I certainly do.”
I find myself back at St. Mary’s. Christy, Will and Violet sit in the cry room, as Violet has discovered the church’s impressive echo and enjoys piercing eardrums during Mass. Father Daniels is on the altar, his roly-poly figure barely contained in the vestments that once swirled gracefully around Father Tim. No danger in falling for Father Daniels, whose resemblance to Jabba the Hutt has been commented on many times.
My mind wanders as I sit there, a feeling of gentle peace engulfing me. The stained-glass windows, the flickering candles, the rock-hard pews and cracked kneelers seem familiar and dear to me. I’m glad I’m here.
This is my church,
I think. Father Tim was just a temp here, but the church belongs to me. Or it could, if I showed up once in a while.
I pray as Father Daniels lifts the host high,
please look after my family. And Octavio and his gang and Georgie and Judy and Chantal and all the rest. And thanks for everything.
And this time, I’m sincere.
Mrs. Plutarski gives me the evil eye during the recession, but I don’t care. I smile at my neighbors and wait for Christy and Will to fight their way out of the cry room.
“Nice Mass, wasn’t it?” I ask.
“Was it?” Christy returns. “I couldn’t hear a word. The Robinson twins were screaming the whole time.”
We go outside and I stop dead in my tracks, causing Ruth Donahue to crash into me. “Sorry,” I mutter.
Malone is leaning against the back of a bench, watching the door. Waiting, it seems, for me.
“Ooh, it’s Malone,” Christy murmurs. “What’s he doing here? Hi, Malone!”
“Hi, Christy,” he says. Then his eyes shift to me. “Maggie.”
Adrenaline pricks at my joints, making my hands tingle almost painfully. “Hi, Malone,” I say, and my voice squeaks. I clear my throat. “Hello.”
His hands are cupped over his coat in a rather strange way, I notice, and the lines around his eyes crinkle as I come closer. Hope aches suddenly and sharply in my heart, and I swallow. He looks happy—for Malone, that is. Happy to see me.
Just then, Emory pops over to his side. “I’m starving,” she announces in that perfectly confident way beautiful girls have. “Malone, can we get some breakfast? There’s a cute little diner down the block.” Her eyes light upon me. “Oh, hi. Maggie, right?” She tucks her arm through Malone’s.
“Right. Hello,” I say. I feel the blush creep up my neck, feeling very much like an outsider.
“Dad? What do you say? Breakfast?”
“Sure, Emory. Give me a second, okay?” Malone says.
An awkward silence falls over our little group. My heart is thudding. A crow calls in a nearby tree. Will clears his throat. “Hey, Maggie, we’ll see you later,” he says, towing my sister away.
“Right!” Christy says joyfully. “See you later.” Her eyes are dancing.
Malone gives his daughter a pointed look. “Em, go find something to do for five minutes,” he says.
“Sure, Malone,” she says, trotting up the stairs of St. Mary’s. We both watch her go, then, because there’s no one left to look at, turn to face each other. My face prickles with heat. Malone swallows. It seems neither of us knows what to say.
Then, with one hand still cupping his stomach, Malone reaches into his coat and pulls out a very small puppy.
“For you,” he says, handing the warm little bundle of fur to me. “It’s a girl.”
She’s sound asleep, cuddled against my chest before I’m fully aware that I have her. Pale blond fur, silky ears, black nose. I can feel her little spine through her fur…clearly she needs a good meal. “Oh, Malone,” I whisper, my eyes filling.
“Ten weeks old. Half yellow Lab. She’s had her first shots.”
“She’s so beautiful. Aren’t you, honey? Malone, thank you.” I stroke her tiny little head and give Malone a watery smile.
He’s not smiling back. He’s practically glaring. My smile falters.
“It’s Matthew,” he growls.
I blink. “I thought you said she was a girl.” He doesn’t answer. “You want me to name the dog Matthew?”
“No, Maggie,” he says, looking away. “That’s
The dog shifts in my hands and groans, a tiny, funny sound. She wakes enough to chew on my thumb with her needle-sharp teeth, but I barely notice.
“It was my father’s name, too,” Malone says, still looking down the block. “My mom called me Little Malone when I was a kid, and then eventually she dropped the ‘little.’ Since my father knocked us around, I didn’t really feel like using his first name anyway, so I just go by Malone.”
His longest speech to me by far. Ever, maybe. “Oh,” I manage.
His eyes snap back to me. “Maggie,” he says, stepping closer. He takes a deep breath. “I’ve been thinking about what you said, too, about me and how I don’t let people in. Talk. Whatever.” He rolls his eyes, then swallows. “I’m not really the type, Maggie.”
My shoulders drop a little. “Well, I guess not every—”
“But I’m willing to try.”
My mouth pops open.
“Seems like I have a thing for you, Maggie,” he says quietly, meeting my eyes with some difficulty.
My eyes are suddenly full of tears. “Well, that’s great, Malone,” I whisper, “because I know I have a thing for you.”
Those slashing lines soften as he smiles. “Then why are you crying?” he asks.
“Oh, these are the good tears. Happy, lovey-dovey tears. You know. The kind when things go great and you didn’t expect—”
Mercifully, Malone cuts off my words as he kisses me, right there in front of the church, on Main Street, clear as day for anyone to see, an intent, hard kiss that nearly makes me drop the puppy.
“Does this mean you guys are ready? I’m gonna faint soon.” Emory is smiling at us from the door of St. Mary’s.
“Sure,” Malone calls. He puts his arm around my shoulders. “I hear Joe’s has the best breakfast in Washington County,” he says to me.
“You’re right,” I answer. My words are so ordinary, but happiness is rolling through me in big, warm waves. “The desserts are excellent, too.”
“Good, because I think you still owe me a piece of pie.”
He smiles and my heart swells. We walk down the street, the three of us—four, if you count my new puppy—and open the door to Joe’s Diner.
* * * * *
Copyright © 2007 by Kristan Higgins
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