Authors: Mary Downing Hahn
"Dulcie didn't mean to be rude," I said. "She just doesn't like to talk about Teresa."
Erin straightened up and wiped her hands on her apron. "So she
remember. Mom thought she'd repressed the whole thing. Either that or she was lying." She handed me my cone. "It must have been awful for her and your mom."
"It was." I paid Erin for the cones and followed Emma outside. Like Dulcie, I had no desire to discuss Teresa Abbott with anyone. She was our secret, a dark little shadow at the edge of the real world.
Emma and I sat on the boardwalk and ate our ice cream, slurping it down before it melted. Some teenagers were playing volleyball on the sand. We watched them shout and laugh and jump around, cheering each other on. Their voices blended with the cries of gulls and the
of the lake's little waves.
Down by the water's edge, a man threw a Frisbee out over the lake. His dog, a big black Lab with a red kerchief tied around his neck, splashed into the water after it. He ran out of the lake with the Frisbee in his mouth and shook so much water from his coat that a woman complained to his owner.
I wished Emma and I were down by the water playing with the dog, happy, having fun, like girls on a vacation.
Suddenly, Emma turned her chocolate-smeared face to me. "Did Mommy really push Sissy in the water?"
"No. She got mad and threw the doll into the lake, and Sissy went after it. It was foggy, like yesterday, and Dulcie and Mom couldn't find her. The canoe drifted, and they washed up on the rocks. They went home and lied to everyone because they were scared it was their fault that Sissy drowned."
"Poor Sissy." Emma edged closer to me. "Mommy and Aunt Claire shouldn't have lied."
"I think they know that now."
Side by side, we gazed at the lake, blue and calm under a cloudless sky. Children Emma's age darted in and out of the water, shrieking and splashing each other. The teenagers laughed and shouted, and the volleyball flew back and forth across the net. The dog fetched the Frisbee again and again, never tiring of the game. It seemed everyone was happy but us.
"Do you want to wade in the water?" I asked Emma. "Or build castles in the sand?"
She shook her head, and we stayed where we were.
By the time Dulcie joined us, I'd braided Emma's hair into two short plaits and tied them with a piece of string. They were a little crooked, but Emma liked them. She tossed her head back and forth to show them to her mother.
"Very cute." Dulcie eyed Emma's T-shirt, face, and hands. "It looks like you really enjoyed your ice cream. Chocolate, huh?"
Emma smiled and took her mother's hand. We walked along the boardwalk to a little restaurant with a deck built out over the lake and seated ourselves at a table shaded by a green umbrella. Dulcie and I ordered lobster rolls and iced tea, but Emma asked for chocolate milk and a hamburger. Just plain, she said, no lettuce, no tomato, no pickle. But with French fries and lots of ketchup.
The waitress—a college girl, I guessed—smiled at Emma. "I love a kid who knows exactly what she wants."
While we waited for our food, Dulcie gave Emma a few slices of bread from a basket on the table. "Why don't you go feed the gulls?"
Emma ran to the railing and began tossing bits of bread into the air. In seconds, she was surrounded by dozens of hungry gulls, screaming for their share.
Dulcie turned to me. "I told Mr. Goldsmith the whole story," she began, "leaving out Sissy, of course. He said it's pointless to go to the police now. The case was closed years ago. Accidental drowning." She took a sip of water. "He told me Claire and I weren't—aren't—responsible for Teresa's death. Even if we'd told the truth the day it happened, it wouldn't have changed anything."
"What does he think you should do?"
"Forget about it." She gave me a bitter smile. "If only it were that easy."
I thought of Sissy begging me to make Dulcie tell the truth, to take some of the blame for what happened. "But you can't just forget about it, you have to tell—"
Dulcie laid her hand on mine. "I know, Ali. Believe me, I know." She turned her head to watch Emma hurl the last of the bread to the gulls. "I'm going to talk to someone at
after lunch. It's the kind of story newspapers love." Her hand tightened on mine. "Will your mother be upset?"
"I think she'll be okay with it," I said, hoping I was right.
"Here you are." The waitress set our food on the table, and Emma came running.
"Did you see me feeding the gulls?" she asked the girl.
"I sure did. You must have fed the entire population."
"They're big," Emma said, "and they have sharp beaks and mean yellow eyes, but I wasn't scared."
"I bet nothing scares you." The waitress stood with her empty tray pressed to her chest, smiling down at Emma.
"Sometimes nothing is the scariest thing of all," Emma said in a low voice, but the waitress had already turned her attention to a family at another table. No one heard her but me.
After we'd eaten, Dulcie told us she had one more thing to do before we went home. "How about you and Ali waiting for me at the arcade?" she asked Emma. "You can ride the carousel, the Ferris wheel, the bumper cars—anything but the Tilt-A-Whirl. You'll throw up for sure on that one."
Emma clapped her hands with pleasure, too excited to notice that Dulcie had eaten less than half of her lobster roll. She'd barely touched her French fries. And she hadn't even bothered to taste the coffee she'd ordered instead of dessert. I watched her walk away, head down, shoulders slumped. If I hadn't known she was doing the right thing, I would have run after her and stopped her.
In a hurry to get to the carousel at the end of the boardwalk, Emma ran ahead, towing me along behind her. Soon she was perched on a fancy white horse wearing a garland of carved flowers, and I was beside her on a black horse. We went up and down and round and round, accompanied by old-fashioned organ music. I smelled popcorn and cotton candy and suntan oil.
Emma seemed as happy as the other children. She laughed and waved to everyone, and they waved back. It amazed me that her mood could change so quickly. Here I was, worrying about Dulcie, brooding about Sissy, wanting my mother, and there Emma was, the princess of the carousel.
By the time Dulcie came back, we'd ridden the carousel five times, the Ferris wheel once, and the bumper cars twice. We'd also eaten cotton candy and shared a box of popcorn. We were ready to go home.
At the car, Dulcie fumbled with the buckle on Emma's safety belt. "Sit still," she said, her voice sharp. "How do you expect me to do this with you wiggling like that?"
Emma frowned. "I'm not wiggling."
"There." Dulcie snapped the buckle, slammed the back door, and got into the front seat beside me.
With a jerk, she pulled away from the curb and headed into the afternoon traffic. "I hate tourists," she muttered. "Why do they have to come here and ruin everything? Crowds, trash everywhere. It's a disgrace."
Her change of mood told me things hadn't gone well at
Not long after we got home, Emma fell sound asleep on the couch, worn out from all the excitement. Afternoon sunlight washed the walls with pale yellow, and a calm stillness filled the house.
I joined Dulcie on the deck. "They're running the story next week," she said. "A photographer's coming on Sunday to shoot some pictures. They want to talk to the police as well, and some of the other people who remember Teresa and her family."
Getting to her feet, she walked to the railing and stared at the lake. "The way they acted, you'd think I just confessed to murder. I should have gone back to New York and never said a thing about this. Or never come here at all. What was I thinking anyway?"
"Are you going to call Mom?" I asked. "And tell her?"
Dulcie looked over her shoulder at me. "Do you think I should?"
"She might want to come."
"Yes, I guess she might." Dulcie went to the door.
I followed her inside. "Can I talk to her, too?"
"Of course." Dulcie picked up the receiver and dialed our number. I heard Mom answer. In a low voice, Dulcie told her what she'd done. "I thought you'd want to be here. If we get this out in the open, maybe we can put it behind us."
From where I stood, next to Dulcie, I heard Mom crying into the phone. "Yes," she sobbed. "Yes, I'll come. Pete and I can drive up Saturday."
"Thanks, Claire.... Ali wants to talk to you." Dulcie handed me the receiver.
"Are you okay?" Mom asked. The worry in her voice surged through the line.
"Yes, I'm fine."
"Dulcie shouldn't have told you."
"She had to tell the truth," I said.
In the silence before Mom spoke, I heard a familiar whisper. "Tell her about me. Let her know I'm still here. Just like she thought."
Sissy stood a few feet away where the shadows were darkest, holding the doll and frowning. "If you don't tell her, I will." With that, she vanished without a sound, unseen and unheard by anyone but me.
"Did you say something?" Mom asked.
"No," I stammered. "It's just Emma, playing with her paper dolls."
"I thought I heard..." For a moment or two, Mom breathed slowly into the phone as if she were trying to calm herself. At last she said, "Do you hate Dulcie and me for leaving Teresa to drown?"
The question took me by surprise. "Of course not, Mom. You tried to find her, you—"
She broke in. "Maybe if we'd tried harder, we could have saved her. If we'd told someone right away. If we'd—" She started crying. "I go over it again and again. I can't stop thinking about Teresa, about leaving her there—it's haunted me my whole life."
"It wasn't your fault. You were just a little kid, you didn't throw the doll, you—"
Dulcie had crossed the room and now snatched the phone from my hand. "Stop it, Claire," she said to my mother. "What happened, happened. Nothing can change that. You'll just have to deal with it."
I reached for the phone, but Dulcie shook her head. "Go see what Emma's doing. I'll say goodbye to your mother for you."
I retreated to the living room and tried to listen to Dulcie's end of the conversation. It sounded as if she was bullying Mom, talking tough, acting the part of big sister. Silently, I egged Mom on.
Stand up for yourself, stop crying, tell her you're an adult, too.
By the time Dulcie hung up, I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever look up to my aunt the way I used to.
Fearing she'd know I'd been eavesdropping, I sat down quickly on the sofa next to Emma. She woke up just as Dulcie entered the room, clutching a cup of coffee—her fifth, sixth? It was hard to keep count. Her blood must've been pure caffeine.
She stood by the window, looking out at the lake, ignoring both of us. Her back was tense, rigid almost. "Is your mother still seeing a shrink?" she asked.
"She's depressed," I said. "She tries not to be, but—"
Dulcie spun around and faced me. "Don't tell me about depression. She needs something to do besides moon over her flowers. She used to write poetry, she used to draw. Now she just sits around feeling sorry for herself."
"It wouldn't kill you to be nicer to her." Fed up with Dulcie, I left the house. Ignoring Emma's call to wait for her, I ran down the steps to the lake. I needed some time alone. No Emma, no Dulcie, no Sissy—
no Sissy. If I saw her, I'd run.
I walked all the way back to Webster's Cove and treated myself to ice cream. But I was still in a bad mood when I returned. Worse in a way, because I was now tired and hot.
Somehow I got through dinner without making a scene and managed to read to Emma before bedtime. Dulcie had nothing much to say—which was fine with me. An apology was all I wanted to hear from her, but I had a feeling that was not going to happen. While I read to Emma, my aunt sat in one of the old armchairs, drinking yet another cup of coffee. She'd pulled her hair up into an untidy topknot, and her hands and arms were streaked with the same black paint that spattered her jeans and T-shirt.
Sitting around feeling sorry for yourself. Isn't that what you accused Mom of doing?
"Bedtime." Dulcie roused herself to pick up Emma.
"I want to hear another chapter!"
"I'm tired, and so are you, and so is Ali. It's time we all went to bed."
Without another word, not even "Good night," Dulcie carried Emma off to bed. I guessed that meant she was just as mad with me as I was with her.
When I went up to my room, I found Sissy perched on my bed, holding Edith on her lap. I wasn't surprised to see her. It was obvious she wasn't done with us.
"Did Dulcie tell the truth at last?" she asked.
"She talked to her lawyer. He said she hadn't committed a crime. And then he told her she should forget the whole thing."
Sissy sneered. "She's been doing a pretty good job of that all along."
I bristled. "Dulcie's never forgotten a single detail of that day. Neither has Mom. In fact, Mom feels worse than Dulcie. In a way, it's ruined her whole life."
"How about me? Don't you think they ruined
life?" Sissy asked plaintively. "Believe me, I feel a whole lot worse than either of them!"
"I'm sorry," I said. "It was stupid of me to say that."
"Yes, it was," Sissy agreed, clearly pleased I'd apologized.
"After she saw her lawyer," I went on, "Dulcie talked to a reporter at
A photographer's coming here to take pictures, and they're going to interview lots of people, including Dulcie and my mother."
Sissy smiled a real smile for once. "That's just exactly what I wanted. Everybody in Webster's Cove will know the truth at last."
She watched me get ready for bed, and then crawled in beside me. Shivering, I moved toward the wall, giving her as much room as I could.
"Just a few more nights," she whispered, "and then you'll never see me again."
Once I would've been happy to hear that, but tonight I felt an unexpected twinge of sadness. Odd as it sounds, I was getting used to having Sissy around. Now that I knew so much more about her, it was easier to put up with her sadness and anger.