Authors: Mary Downing Hahn
"She is not!" Emma scowled at me.
"Then why was she so nasty to you?" I asked, trying to stay calm.
"She wasn't," Emma said. "
I stared at my cousin, truly shocked. "What did
Emma turned to her mother tearfully. "Ali called me stupid and said I was a baby."
"I did not!" I told Dulcie. "I'd never say anything like that. Sissy called her names, not me."
Emma climbed into her mother's lap and began to cry. "Ali's not nice to me and Sissy," she insisted. "Just 'cause she's bigger, she thinks she's the boss."
Dulcie rocked Emma, but her eyes were on me. I had a sick feeling that my aunt wasn't sure which one of us to believe. From her mother's lap, Emma watched me closely, her face almost as mean as Sissy's.
"It's not true," I said weakly. "Sissy—"
"Ali pushed me off the dock, too," Emma interrupted. "If Sissy hadn't been there, I would have drowned—"
"That's a lie and you know it, Emma!" Close to tears I turned to Dulcie. "Sissy dared Emma to jump. I tried to stop her, but she got away from me. She wants to do everything Sissy does."
Dulcie looked from Emma to me and back to Emma, her eyes worried. "I can't believe Ali would push you off the dock, Emma."
"Yes, she would," Emma insisted. "Ali's so bad, even Hell doesn't want her."
"Emma!" Dulcie stared at her daughter. "Where did you pick up that kind of talk?"
I spoke before Emma had a chance to answer. "Sissy told her cussing was fine. She could say whatever she wanted."
Dulcie stood Emma on the floor and got to her feet. "I've heard enough. Sit down and eat your sandwich."
"I don't want any stinky lunch!" Emma started to run out of the kitchen, but Dulcie grabbed her arm and stopped her. "What's gotten into you?" she asked. "You've never acted like this before. Never."
"I told you," I said. "It's Sissy's fault."
Dulcie ignored me. This was between her and Emma. "Sit down," she said. "And eat your lunch."
Emma took her place between Dulcie and me. She didn't look at either of us but ate quietly, her head down, her jaws working as she chewed. She left half the sandwich on her plate, despite Dulcie's pleas to eat it all.
"Do you want me to read a Moffat story?" I asked, hoping to resume our normal relationship.
Emma scowled. "I hate the Moffats. They're dumb. Just like you!"
"Don't talk to Ali like that," Dulcie said. "We never call anyone dumb."
"Leave me alone," Emma said. "You're dumb, too."
Dulcie frowned. "If this is how you act when Sissy comes here, I don't want you to play with her anymore."
Emma responded with a major temper tantrum. She screamed and cried. She told Dulcie she hated her. She threw herself on the floor and kicked.
Finally, Dulcie hauled Emma to her room and put her to bed. Closing the door firmly, she left her to cry herself to sleep.
She dropped back into her chair, her face puzzled. "How can this child have so much influence on Emma so quickly?"
I'd been wondering about this myself. "Maybe it's because Emma's never had a friend before. She wants Sissy to like her, so she does everything Sissy tells her to do."
Dulcie went to the stove and poured herself another cup of coffee. With her back to me, she said, "I guess I really don't know much about kids. Sometimes I wonder if I was ever actually one myself."
She laughed, not as if it was funny, more as if it was sad or odd. "I have friends who remember every detail of their childhoods, their teachers' names, what they wore to someone's birthday party when they were eight years old, what they got for Christmas when they were ten. Me—I can't remember a thing before my teen years."
Dulcie carried her coffee outside. The way she let the screen door slam shut behind her hinted she wasn't expecting me to follow. She sat at the picnic table, her back to the window, her shoulders hunched. Even without seeing her face, I knew she was unhappy. Maybe her summer wasn't going any better than mine. Who could have imagined a kid like Sissy would turn up and spoil everything?
I stretched out on the sofa with
To Kill a Mockingbird.
I was on the seventh chapter with many more to go.
While I read, I heard a car approaching the cottage. I sat up and looked out the window. For some reason I expected to see Mom and Dad, but a big red Jeep emerged from the woods. Dulcie walked toward it hesitantly, apparently unsure who it was.
you!" A plump woman with short silvery blond hair jumped out of the Jeep and stood there grinning as Dulcie approached. Her tailored shorts and pink polo shirt contrasted sharply with my aunt's black T-shirt and paint-spattered jeans.
She stopped just short of giving Dulcie a hug. "Look at you," she exclaimed, "you're just as skinny as ever!"
"I'm sorry," Dulcie said, smoothing her mop of uncombed curls back from her face, "but I don't remember—"
"Well, no wonder. I wasn't this fat when we were kids!" She laughed. "I'm Jeanine Reynolds—Donaldson now. We used to play together when you and Claire came to the lake."
"Jeanine," Dulcie repeated. "Jeanine.... I'm afraid I—"
"Oh, don't worry about it. Good grief, it's been what? Thirty years, I guess."
"My sister would probably remember you."
"Is Claire here, too?"
"No, but her daughter, Ali, is staying with us this summer."
Jeanine nodded and looked at the cottage. "It's just the same as I remember. I hear you had Joe Russell working on it. He's good. Not cheap, though."
"Compared to New York, he's a bargain," Dulcie said.
Jeanine sat down at the picnic table. "Is that where you live?"
Dulcie nodded. "Would you like something to drink? I've got mint tea in the fridge, if you'd like that."
"Anything, as long as it's cold," Jeanine said. "Today's a real scorcher."
Leaving the woman on the deck, Dulcie came inside. By then I was in the kitchen, ready to help with cheese and crackers if she wanted them.
Dulcie rolled her eyes. "There goes the afternoon," she whispered.
A few minutes later, I was setting down a tray with an assortment of crackers, cheese, and sliced fruit. Dulcie poured glasses of iced tea for herself and Jeanine and offered me a can of soda. The three of us settled ourselves comfortably under the patio umbrella.
"My daughter, Erin, tells me you're an artist," Jeanine said. "I'm not surprised. When we were kids, you were always drawing. You carried a sketchbook and pencils everywhere we went."
Dulcie smiled as if she were beginning to warm up to Jeanine. "Yes, I guess I did."
"You were so talented. We were always asking you to draw pictures for us. Teresa, especially. She was crazy about your mermaids—remember?"
All traces of friendliness suddenly disappeared from my aunt's face. She gripped her glass of iced tea and shook her head. "No, I don't remember Teresa. Or any mermaids I might have drawn."
I held my breath and waited to hear what Jeanine would say next.
Staring at Dulcie in disbelief, she said, "You
have forgotten Teresa. What happened to her has haunted me all my life—"
"I don't know what you're talking about." Dulcie stood up so fast her chair fell over with a bang that made both Jeanine and me jump. Her hair seemed wilder than before, and her body was so tense, you could have snapped her in two.
She stood there a moment, glass in hand, avoiding our eyes. "Excuse me," she said in a lower voice. "I have work to do, paintings to finish for a show this fall."
Without looking at us, Dulcie left Jeanine and me sitting at the picnic table and ran down to her studio, her sandals flapping on the steps. The door slammed. For a few seconds after that, the only sound was the lake quietly rippling against the shore.
"Oh, dear." Jeanine's face flushed. "I guess I shouldn't have come, but I—well, I've always wondered what became of Claire and Dulcie. I thought—"
She broke off and reached for her car keys. "I'm so sorry, Ali. I never meant to upset your aunt. I hope she, you—Oh, I just don't know why I'm so thoughtless, coming here, bringing up the past." She started to rise from her chair.
I touched her hand to keep her from leaving. "Please tell me what you're talking about. Who was Teresa? What happened to her?"
Jeanine sipped her iced tea silently, her eyes on the horizon and the blue sky beyond. She wanted to finish what she'd started, I could tell.
Sure enough, the next thing she said was, "I don't see how Dulcie could have forgotten that child—or even me, for that matter. The two of us spent a lot of time at this cottage, especially Teresa. Why, your grandmother used to call us her borrowed daughters."
She paused to watch a squirrel dart across the deck and leap onto a pine tree. A branch swayed, and he was gone. Her eyes turned back to me. "Your mother didn't tell you about Teresa?"
I toyed with my empty soda can, turning it this way and that. "Mom never talks about the lake. She hates it so much, she almost didn't let me come with Dulcie." I hesitated and rubbed the wet ring my soda can had made on the table. "You saw how Dulcie is—she claims she doesn't remember anything. But—" I stopped, not sure what to tell Jeanine. Her face was kind, her eyes understanding, and I desperately wanted to talk to someone about Teresa.
"But what?" Jeanine helped herself to another slice of cheese.
I watched her sandwich the cheese between two crackers. "Well, before Dulcie invited me here, I found an old photo of her and Mom when they were kids. Another girl had been sitting beside Dulcie, but someone had torn her out of the picture. On the back, all that was left of her name was a
Mom got really upset and swore she didn't know anyone whose name started with
"And you think it was Teresa," Jeanine said.
"The lake was in the background, so it
have been her."
Jeanine nodded and helped herself to another piece of cheese. She seemed to be waiting for me to tell her more.
"Last night, I got out an old Candy Land game," I went on. "Mom and Dulcie had written their names on the board. Teresa's name was there, too. But someone had scribbled over it with a black crayon. Dulcie said she didn't know why 'Teresa' was written on the board. She got mad and shouted at me."
I lowered my head, almost ashamed to finish. "Dulcie remembers Teresa—I'm sure she does. Why would she lie about it?"
"Maybe it has something to do with Teresa's death." As she spoke, Jeanine looked at the lake, her face expressionless.
" Shocked, I gripped the soda can and stared at Jeanine. I'd never imagined Teresa dead. All this time, I'd pictured her living around here somewhere, stopping by for a visit, forcing Dulcie to remember her. "How did she die?"
"It was the last summer your mother and aunt came to the lake." Jeanine sipped her tea. "For some reason, no one knows why, Teresa went out in your grandfather's canoe all by herself. It was rainy, foggy. The canoe washed up nearby, but..."
Shivers raced up and down my bare arms.
Jeanine looked at me, and a shadow crossed her face—worry, maybe. "I hope I haven't upset you." She patted my hand, white knuckled from its grip on the soda can. "Teresa's been gone a long time now."
She broke a cracker into pieces and tossed the crumbs to a pair of sparrows hopping around our feet. For a moment, she sat silently, watching the birds fight over the crumbs. Without looking at me, she said, "It must have been very painful for Claire and Dulcie. It certainly was for me."
She threw more crumbs to the sparrows. Several others arrived, as if word had gotten out that food was available.
"What was Teresa like?" I asked at last.
"Just an ordinary kid, I guess. Smart, kind of cute, but..." While Jeanine talked, her eyes drifted from the sparrows to the bumblebees droning in the hollyhocks.
"Oh, nothing. I'm just running my mouth, as usual." She looked at her watch. "My goodness, it's almost time for supper, and I haven't got a thing in the house. I'd better go."
Jumping to her feet, Jeanine gave me a quick hug. "Please don't worry about what I told you. It happened so long ago. Maybe your aunt and your mother really have forgotten. After all, they didn't spend the rest of their lives here, listening to people talk about poor Teresa."
After landing a kiss on my cheek, Jeanine hurried to the Jeep. "Tell Dulcie I'd love to see her again," she called, "...if she wants to see me."
With a smile and a wave, she put the Jeep in reverse and backed down the drive.
Long after Jeanine left, I sat on the deck, gazing out at the lake's calm water. No wonder Mom hadn't wanted me, her one and only child, to spend the summer here. No wonder she was scared of water and boats. No wonder she feared for my safety. If Teresa could drown, so could I.
But I had a feeling there was more to Teresa's death—much more. Jeanine hadn't told me all she knew. She'd been edgy, nervous, uneasy. While she'd talked, she'd looked at everything but me: the lake, the sparrows, the bumblebees in the hollyhocks. And she'd left in a hurry, before I'd had a chance to ask her any more questions.
It seemed the answer to one question always led to another question. And that answer to another question, and so on and so on. Was anything ever settled and done with?
I was still sitting on the deck, half asleep in the afternoon sun, when I heard Emma's bare feet patter into the kitchen. The refrigerator door opened and shut. Soon she was staring at me from the doorway. A purple Popsicle dripped down her arm and stained her mouth.
"You can't make Sissy go away," Emma said. "She'll be my friend forever, no matter what." Her face was closed off and hostile.
Grumpy and out of sorts from the heat, I frowned at Emma. "Your mother doesn't want you to play with Sissy anymore."
Emma sucked her Popsicle, leaching the purple out, something I'd enjoyed doing when I was her age. "Mommy can't make Sissy go away. No one can."
I picked up a
magazine and fanned myself. I was tired of the conversation, if you could call it that. "Do you want to go swimming?"