Authors: Mary Downing Hahn
"I'll tell Mom that Dulcie's back," she said at last. "She'll be really interested."
Struck by a sudden thought, I took a deep breath. "What's your mother's name?" I was hoping she'd say Toni or Terri or some other name that started with a
but no luck.
"Jeanine," Erin said. "Jeanine Donaldson, but her maiden name was Reynolds. I know she'll want to see Dulcie. She still talks about her and Claire and what—"
Just then a man herded a couple of cross, sunburned children into the shop. "Two vanilla ice cream cones, please," he said. "Small. And one large diet Sprite."
"I want strawberry," the boy wailed.
"You said vanilla."
"No, no! Strawberry, I want strawberry!"
"Make that one vanilla and one strawberry," the man said. "And an extra-large diet Sprite for me."
"Can we go now?" Emma tugged at my T-shirt. "Maybe Sissy's waiting at home for us."
I waved goodbye to Erin, and we began the long trudge home. The further we walked, the hotter we got. The sun beat on our heads and shoulders, and our clothes stuck to us. Even wading in the lake didn't cool us off.
Before we'd gone halfway, Emma asked me to carry her.
"You promised you'd walk," I reminded her.
"I'm tired," Emma said, close to tears.
"Okay, but just a little way." I picked her up and carried her piggyback style. "Thank goodness you're a little skinny old thing," I told her.
"I'm just a bag of bones," Emma whispered into my ear. After that, she was so quiet I suspected she'd fallen asleep, worn out from the walk. I was pretty tired myself.
When we were almost home, I thought I saw Sissy watching us from a stone jetty poking out into the lake. I didn't wave. Neither did she. She just stood there as still as a heron waiting for a fish. But she was very far away, small in the distance. I could have been mistaken.
At any rate, I was glad Emma didn't see her.
In the end, I carried Emma as far as the studio. I lowered her to the ground and woke her up. "You'll have to climb the steps yourself."
The studio door opened, and Dulcie rushed out as if she'd been waiting for us. "Where have you been? You've been gone for ages!"
"We walked to Webster's Cove," I told her. "Emma wanted to find Sissy's house."
Emma threw her arms around Dulcie and burst into tears. "We didn't see Sissy anywhere, and I got so tired and hot."
"We stopped at Smoochie's," I told Dulcie. "The girl who works there, Erin, didn't know Sissy, but she said her mother knows you and Mom. She used to play with you when she was little."
"What was her name?"
"Jeanine something—I forget."
Most people would have paused to think about the name. Not Dulcie. Her answer was quick and sharp. "I don't remember her."
"But she remembers you."
Dulcie frowned and shook her head. "Next time you sashay off to Webster's Cove, please let me know."
I wanted to ask if she had a memory problem, but the grumpy look on her face silenced me.
"It's past time for lunch. Emma must be starved." Dulcie loped up the steps, and Emma and I followed, too tired to keep up with her long legs.
After we ate, Dulcie returned to the studio, and Emma settled down on the couch beside me.
"Will you read this to me?" Emma held up
"I want to know about Rufus M."
Like most of the things in the cottage, the book was old. The cover was faded, and the pages had a soft, pulpy feel. My grandmother had scrawled her name on the title page, followed by the date June 5, 1945. Under it, Dulcie had written her name and June 2, 1977. Mom added her name the next year. It looked as if another name had been scribbled there, but someone had erased it. All that remained were a few faint pencil marks, impossible to read.
By the time I finished the first chapter, Emma was fast asleep. I lay on my side next to her, tired from our long walk. A fly buzzed against the window screen. The lake lapped the shore. After resting for a while, I went to my room and put on my bathing suit. Leaving Emma to her nap, I ran down the steps to the lake.
Before I waded into the water, I stopped by the studio. Dulcie was sitting on a stool, staring at an unfinished painting, another canvas washed with blues and grays and green. "Where's Emma?" she asked.
"Asleep. Is it okay if I go for a swim?"
Dulcie hesitated. For a moment I was afraid she'd say no. Mom would have. "Promise to stay out of deep water, and be careful." She dipped her brush into blue paint. "Be back in a half-hour or so."
I leaned against the door for a moment and watched Dulcie go to work on the painting. She was soon absorbed in adding daubs of dark blues and blacks.
Completely forgotten, I slipped outside and walked down to the lake. The water was so clear, I could see my toes and the pebbles on the bottom as if I were looking through glass. Schools of silver minnows darted in and out of clumps of grass, turning this way and that in perfect unison, tickling my legs as they swam past.
I waded through knee-deep water, watching the minnows. Every now and then I glimpsed bigger fish—trout, maybe—but they disappeared before I got a good look at them. Seagulls dipped and circled overhead, and the pine forest behind me rang with the cries of crows. The trees made the air smell like Christmas.
I was enjoying myself until I saw Sissy at the end of our stretch of sandy beach. Unaware I was near, she bent over a pile of sand, patiently shaping it into a castle with turrets. I watched her for a few moments, glad Emma was safely at home.
When Sissy began to dig a moat, I splashed out of the water. "Well, well, where have you been?"
She looked up, startled. "What's it to you?"
"Nothing," I said. "It's not like I missed you or anything."
Sissy frowned, her eyes narrowed against the sun. "Where's Emma?"
"Taking a nap." I sat down, scooped up a handful of sand, and watched it trickle slowly through my fingers.
"It's boring to sleep." Sissy went on digging her moat as if it was a lot more interesting than I was. She was wearing the same faded bathing suit. One strap slipped off her shoulder, and she pulled it back in place.
"Emma was pretty tired." I scooped up another handful of sand. "We walked all the way to Webster's Cove and back this morning."
"Why did you go there?"
"Emma was looking for your house. She thought—"
Sissy shook her head. "I don't live in Webster's Cove."
"Where do you live, then?"
Sissy pointed in the opposite direction. "That way."
"The other day you pointed toward the Cove."
She smiled an odd little smile, more of a smirk, actually, and began to make a road to the castle with beach stones. She placed each one carefully. "Maybe I don't like unexpected company."
Maybe I don't, either,
Especially when it's you.
Out loud, I asked, "What's your last name?"
Sissy smoothed her castle's walls, stroking the sand with both hands as if it were a cat. I could see the little knobs of her spine under her skin and the sharp jut of her shoulder blades. She was definitely ignoring me—which annoyed me.
"Do you have any brothers or sisters?"
"What's your father do?"
Still no answer.
"My dad's a math professor at the university. He—"
Sissy shrugged as if she didn't care what my father did.
I made a path with bits of broken shells and pebbles. "I'm just trying to be friendly."
"No, you're not. You're being nosy." Her face hidden by her hair, Sissy decorated her castle with bits of driftwood.
What could I say? She was right. I wasn't being friendly—I wanted to know more about her.
After a while, Sissy brushed her hair to the side and looked at me. "Emma says Dulcie's an artist. Is she good?"
I nodded. "She's getting ready for a show in Washington, D.C."
"Lucky her. I've never been there. "Sissy frowned and tossed a stone at a seagull. It missed, and the bird hopped a few feet farther away. "I've never been
Just here—boring Sycamore Lake, boring Webster's Cove, boring Maine."
"But Maine's beautiful. People come from all over to see the ocean and the boats and the lighthouses—"
"They must be really stupid." Sissy threw another stone, harder this time. She missed again, but the gull squawked and flew away. "I'd give anything to leave here and travel all over the world."
"Maybe when you grow up—"
"You know what? You're stupid, too."
I stared at her, but she was too busy building a little driftwood fence around her castle to look at me. "Why are you so mad all the time?" I asked her.
"What makes you think I'm mad?" She stuck a seagull's feather into the top of her castle and sat back to study the effect. "How about your mother? Is she an artist, too?"
"Why doesn't she like the lake?"
"Like Emma said, she's scared of water." I paused. Even though I didn't trust Sissy's sly eyes and mean mouth, she'd lived around here all her life. Maybe she'd heard people talk about the cottage. Unlike Erin, she wouldn't change the subject to spare my feelings.
Sissy stared at me, waiting for me to go on. Taking a deep breath, I said, "I think something happened the last summer Mom and Dulcie came to the cottage—something they don't want to talk about. Maybe something..." I hesitated and dropped my voice to a whisper. "Maybe something bad."
"You're right," she said. "Something bad happened, and lots of people know just what it was."
I drew in my breath and let it out slowly. "Do
Sissy tugged her bathing suit strap into place again and got to her feet. "That's for me to know and you to find out," she said with a smirk.
I jumped up and faced her. "You don't know anything, and neither does anyone else. You're making up stories, that's all."
"Think what you want. See if I care." Sissy turned her back on me and ran down the beach toward the Cove.
I watched her until I couldn't see her anymore. Brat. Did she really know something? Or was she lying? With one kick I demolished her castle and then splashed home through the water, sending the minnows racing for cover. The next time I saw her, I'd tell her to stay away from Emma and me.
Emma was perched on the boathouse steps, waiting for me. In the studio, Dulcie had Wagner turned up loud. I could see her through the door, painting another canvas with dark shades of purple and gray. A stormy day at the lake, I guessed.
"Where have you been?" Emma asked.
"For a walk."
"Did you see Sissy?"
I watched a gull land on one of the dock's pilings. "No," I lied.
"I wonder where she is." Emma gazed up and down the shore, as if hoping to spot Sissy.
"Oh, she'll turn up one of these days," I said, sure it was true. No matter how much I wished she'd go away, Sissy would keep coming back. She probably didn't have any other friends. Who'd want to play with someone like her?
"She'd better. Next to you, she's my best friend." Emma followed me up to the cottage, looking back every now and then, still hoping.
"Let's play a game," I said, thinking I might get her mind off Sissy. "How about Candy Land?"
"Okay." Although she didn't sound very enthusiastic, Emma watched me pull the box down from a shelf stacked with checkers, dominoes, Chinese checkers, Clue, Parcheesi, Chutes and Ladders—everything you could possibly want to play.
I laid the board on the floor between us. While Emma picked out four green playing pieces, I noticed that Mom and Dulcie had written their names in two corners of the board. The handwriting was loopy and childish, and I imagined my mom with a crayon in her hand, laboriously printing "Claire."
"What's that say?" Emma pointed to the names.
"Dulcie and Claire. I guess this was their game."
"How about this?" Emma pointed at a scribbled-over place on the third corner. "What's it say?"
Under a dark smear of black crayon, I made out the letters
"Teresa," I whispered. "It says Teresa."
I stared at the board. A little prickle as sharp as a razor raced up my spine and tickled my scalp.
Teresa. T for Teresa.
The girl torn from the photograph, the girl I dreamed about—was her name Teresa?
"Why did somebody scribble on her name?" Emma asked.
"I don't know," I said. But I'd find out.
"Maybe Mommy didn't like her," Emma said.
"Maybe not." Suddenly uneasy, I picked up the dice. It was weird how the cottage changed when evening shadows gathered in its corners. "Do you want to go first?"
We played three rounds, but it was hard for me to keep my mind on the silly game. My eyes returned again and again to Teresa's name. Who was she? Why was her name almost hidden by layers of black crayon? Why had she been ripped out of that photograph? I had to find out.
At the dinner table, Dulcie asked us what we'd done all afternoon. "We played Candy Land," Emma said. "I won two games, and Ali won one. She says I'm a champ." She held up her arms and flexed her muscles.
Dulcie laughed. "You've always been a champ."
Emma paused, her fork halfway to her mouth. "Who was Teresa, Mommy?"
"Teresa?" Dulcie stared at Emma, her body tense. "I don't know anyone named Teresa. Why?" She quickly got to her feet and began to gather the plates. The knives and forks rattled, the glasses clinked.
"She wrote her name on your Candy Land game." Emma followed Dulcie to the kitchen. "But somebody scribbled all over it with black crayon."
"I don't know what you're talking about." Dulcie scraped leftovers into the trash, her face hidden.
"I'll show you." Emma ran to the living room and came back with the Candy Land board. "See? Here's your name and Aunt Claire's name, and right there is Teresa's name."
Dulcie glanced at the board and shrugged. "Our mom used to buy stuff at church rummage sales. Some girl named Teresa probably owned the game before us, so we wrote our names and scribbled hers out."
It was a good explanation, but I didn't quite believe it. Something about that name upset Dulcie. She was tense, anxious.