Read Island Girl Online

Authors: Lynda Simmons

Island Girl (8 page)

BOOK: Island Girl
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Contrary to what Mark might think, putting an end to myself is not something I take lightly. I’ve always wanted to live forever, become the wise old woman of the Island, the keeper of history, the teller of tales, respected by all for her honesty and wit. That’s why I hope for miracles daily. The sheer number of pills in my cupboard are testament to that. As well as the prescribed medications, I have ginkgo biloba, Siberian ginseng, and St. John’s wort or blister or whatever it was the poor man had, all sold to me as Guaranteed Memory Enhancers.
When I get home, I’ll swallow those pills and think positively about miracle cures. But because I’m a realist, I’ll also sit down at the computer and type “painless poisons” into the search engine. Does that make me selfish? Perhaps, but the alternative is too grim to consider. I refuse to spend the rest of my life warming the bench. If I can’t play, I’ll take my ball and go home. Wherever that may be.
Rounding the bend near the farm, I lifted my paddle out of the water and drifted for a moment, hoping I might see Grace pedaling along the paths or peering through her binoculars, watching for birds. While I am honestly pleased she’s found a distraction, something to keep her mind off other, unpleasant things, I’m more grateful she hasn’t started bringing any of her feathered friends home—Lord knows we had enough of that with Grandma Lucy. And I doubt that even I’ll manage to forget the night they found my grandmother trying to liberate the Silkie chickens at Far Enough Farm. Stupid things just flapped about refusing to move, to comprehend the gift she was giving them. She didn’t mean to kill any of them, I’m sure of it. Accidents just happen. Especially in this family.
With no sign of Grace anywhere, I put my paddle back in the water and pulled out another memory card.
What is your mother’s name? What month is it? What year were you born?
My mother’s name was Rose. It was July, no June, and I was born in 1955. I still couldn’t remember what color a five-dollar bill was, but took comfort in knowing I hadn’t forgotten the question. Another point for me.
By the time the Lipstick Queen and I made it back to the bridge, I’d completed two more cards and the score was now Ruby, 3, and Big Al, 1—a good morning indeed.
Hauling the canoe out of the water, I couldn’t wait to tell Grace about the race. Hand her the forty dollars and tell her to order something for herself on the Internet. Another bird book. A T-shirt that hadn’t been someone else’s first. Anything that would make her happy, make her start talking to me again. But there was still no sign of her when I arrived back at the house fifteen minutes later.
What was going on? Did she want to make me worry? Was she punishing me for something? I glanced over at her bedroom door. There was only one way to find out.
I opened the door, checked the kitchen window for any sign of her in the yard, then stepped into her room. Her bed was unmade, her clothes all over the dresser, but that was fine. This was her domain. The one place in the world that was hers to control. And she would never know I’d been there.
Her computer sat on the desk by the window. An old model but fast enough to get whatever she needed from the net. I eased the chair back and pressed the space bar. Sat down and watched the monitor come to life, the icons slowly lining themselves up on the screen. “Come on,” I whispered, listening for the gate to close, a bike to drop—any sign that Grace was back while the screen settled and the hourglass finally disappeared. I put my fingers on the keyboard and a box came up demanding a password. I sighed. Not this again.
I tried
1234
, then
birds
, then
Grace
, then
Wards
, then
Hanlans
. None of those worked so I tried her birthday, my birthday, the current year, still nothing. I looked around the room for clues and typed in
paperweight, mouse, Angelinajolie,
and
bikingworld
. That did it. I was in.
I checked the browser history first. Nothing interesting there. Then I punched around in her e-mail, checking the sent files, the deleted files. Again, nothing out of the ordinary: a birding website sending an update, another inviting her to join its chat group. Fortunately she had declined, making life easier for both of us. You never knew who was creeping around those sites.
A new message popped up. A note from some beauty college thanking her for her interest in their online aesthetics courses. A brochure was attached. I hit Reply and asked them to remove me from their mailing list. Then I deleted the original message as well as my response and logged out of her e-mail. I don’t know how many times I’ve told her that Chez Ruby was not now and never would be in the aesthetics business. But at least we’d avoid the discussion today.
I waited for her computer to resume hibernation, then rolled her desk chair back in and closed the door when I left. Taking my notebook out of my pocket, I wrote,
Reminder: Grace’s password bikingworld,
and jumped when I heard her coming up the stairs.
“Morning, Mary Anne,” she called as she opened the door.
I shoved the notebook back in my pocket and stepped in front of her before she could drop the binoculars and the bird book. Before she could make her way to the kettle, the fridge, the eggs over easy. “Where have you been?” I demanded.
“Birding,” she said, and gave me a kiss on the cheek. “You use the sunscreen?”
I lied and said, “Yes,” because it was easiest.
“Good.” She dumped her book and binoculars on the table, headed for the fridge. “When’s my first appointment?”
“June McKnight at nine.”
I watched her put eggs in the pan. Bread in the toaster. Click on the kettle. “You eaten?” she asked. I shook my head and she broke two more eggs into the pan, slipped two more slices of bread into the toaster. “How was your paddle?”
“I won forty dollars,” I told her, still trying to figure out the kiss. And the sunscreen. “So is it over?”
“Is what over?”
“Your snit. Is it over?”
“I wasn’t in a snit, I was just ...” She paused, obviously searching for a word. “I was preoccupied.”
I crossed my arms. “Grace, who told you to say that? What have you been up to? If you’ve been talking to the park workers again, I will be so annoyed. I’ve told you time and again what those men are like—”
“I haven’t been talking to anyone. I’ve been thinking, that’s all.” She smiled and flipped the eggs. “How did you win forty dollars?”
While I told her about the race, she took mugs from the cupboard, silver from the drawer, and the morning chugged on as usual. Except she was still in no hurry to tell me where she’d been or what she’d found. Kiss and sunscreen aside, something was definitely wrong.
When her back was to me, I took out my notebook, scribbled
Follow Grace
under her password, and jumped again at the sound of footsteps and voices bickering outside.
Grace was already smiling by the time someone knocked on the door. I glanced at the clock, then over at the appointment book. Whoever was out there was early. But whoever it was didn’t wait for me to answer the knock. Simply turned the handle and walked into my life.
“Hey,” he said, and grinned at Grace. “You making coffee this morning?”
“You’re here!” She raced over and hugged him hard while I slipped the notebook back into my pocket. That’s when I noticed the girl slouching against the doorframe behind him.
I’d seen her before. In the picture on his desk. She was a little older now. Maybe twelve but definitely the type that stood out in a crowd. Tall and thin with bloodred hair, a stark white face, and black eyeliner that not only circled her eyes but also dotted her cheeks with tear drops. She wore a black T-shirt, black boots, and a short black skirt with Hated printed across the hem.
A baby Goth. How precious. But underneath it all she was a pretty girl. Prettier than she’d been in the picture at least, which was a blessing. No girl should look like Mark.
He drew her forward. “Ruby, Grace. This is my daughter, Jocelyn.”
“This is gay,” she said in that bored tone that only adolescents do well. “Can we go?”
“Anytime you like,” I told her, and turned to Mark. “What are you doing here?”
“Paying a call on our new neighbors.” He produced a cup from behind his back. “Can we borrow some sugar?”
Grace was already on her way to the pantry, but I stopped her midstride. “No, you cannot borrow sugar and what are you talking about? Whose neighbors?”
“Yours.” He carried the empty cup over to Grace. “Fill it with coffee instead.”
She smiled and returned to the stove, flipping our eggs onto a plate before taking the coffee from the cupboard and the French press from the shelf, acting as if nothing was wrong. As though having him here was a dandy thing.
For her, it probably was. They’d been close when she was little. But she hadn’t seen him in years. Not since she moved back to the Island at least.
“What’s going on here?” I demanded.
“I’m moving back,” he said.
I stared at him. “Moving back where?”
“I can’t stand this,” Jocelyn said. “I’m going outside.”
“Young lady, you sit down and be polite.” He pointed to my barber’s chair. She rolled her eyes and dragged her heels on her way to the chair, but she sat. Of course if looks could kill and all of that, but I was still impressed. I could never get Liz to do anything at that age.
“Hi,” Grace said, and grinned at her. “I’m Grace. Would you like tea?”
Jocelyn turned to her dad. “Who
is
this person?”
“Your new nanny.” He smiled at Grace. “If you’re up for the job.”
Jocelyn was out of the chair and in his face so fast I swear those boots didn’t touch the floor along the way. “I don’t need a nanny.”
“She’s right,” Grace said. “But maybe she could use a friend.”
Jocelyn laughed. “What is this? An after-school special? Or maybe one of those gotcha shows with hidden cameras and geeks like her trying to make a fool of you.”
“I’m not making a fool of anyone,” Grace said. “I’m making breakfast. Want some?”
Jocelyn turned to her father. “You can’t make me stay here.”
He sighed. “Jocelyn, you’re twelve and I’m your father, which means I can indeed make you stay here. Why not give it a chance? You might like it.”
“I hate it already, and I hate you too. I do
not
want to live here.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that if I were you,” I said. “You can’t just live on the Island because you feel like it. You have to be on the list. Takes years to get a house.”
“Only if you’re buying, which I’m not,” Mark said. “I’m renting. Actually, I’m house-sitting for a buddy.”
“What buddy?”
Grace handed him a cup of coffee with cream in it. I couldn’t believe she remembered after all this time. “You want toast with that?” she asked.
“If you’re having some.”
“We just frigging ate,” Jocelyn said.
“I had a bagel.” He turned back to Grace. “If you’re having toast, I’ll join you.”
I held up my hands. “Can we focus for a moment? What buddy are you talking about?”
“Seth Harrison. You know Seth. Tall, dark, used to be handsome.”
“Of course I know Seth. I see him all the time. And he’s still handsome. Are you telling me the two of you are friends?”
“Beer and wings every Friday night. Our twentieth anniversary is coming up soon. I should get him something nice.”
I was completely confused and it had nothing to do with Big Al. “I need a straight answer. What are you doing on the Island?”
“He paid some guy to let us live in his house for the summer,” Jocelyn said. “He thinks it will be good for me. And for some reason he brought you a gift. It’s outside on the step.”
“Oooooh, what is it?” Grace asked, already opening the door and bringing in a box wrapped in red paper. “It’s heavy.” She held the box out to me. “Heavy is good.”
I shook my head. “I can’t accept it whatever it is.”
“Of course you can,” Mark said. “Grace, open it for her.”
She was on the floor, ripping off paper before I could say “Don’t you dare.”
“It’s a bottle of pomegranate juice and a box of magazines.” She glanced up at Mark. “What are they?”
“What do you mean what are they? Can’t you read?” Jocelyn snatched a handful of magazines out of the box. “We’ve got crossword puzzles, brainteasers, connect-the-frigging dots.” She handed them all back to Grace. “Nothing but boring crap.”
“They’re not boring,” Mark said. “And they’re not for you anyway.”
“Thank God.” She slumped against the door and gave me a once over. “Who are you anyway?”
“An old friend,” Mark and I said together.
“They used to be lovers,” Grace whispered.
Jocelyn winced. “That is so gross. Can I leave now?”
“Absolutely,” I told her. “Mark, will you join me outside a moment?”
BOOK: Island Girl
7.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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