She sat on the end of the bed and looked at the mismatched dresser and chair, and the student desk shoved under the eaves. Everything was gleaned from the antique/junk shop she owned. The things were donations or items she'd picked up at auctions or even out of alleys on trash day. She wouldn't bother telling Olivia that, or Lucas. If the boy took after his mother at all, he was sure to be embarrassed by his grandmother, as Olivia had always been embarrassed by her mother.
She had no idea what the boy was like. The last time she'd seen him he was seven months old. The last time she'd seen him in person, she amended. Olivia sent photographs from time to time. The last was of an owlish-looking boy with pale blue eyes behind round, wire-rimmed glasses, his close-cropped blond hair almost invisible against his pink scalp.
Lucille had no idea what Olivia herself looked like these days. The young woman changed her appearance like a chameleon, blending in with whatever crowd she associated with at the time. She'd gone through a Goth phase, dying her hair ink black and wearing Kabuki white makeup. Another time, she'd bleached her hair platinum and donned pencil skirts and round-toed pumps and rolled curls Ã la Veronica Lake. Still later, she'd added pink streaks to the blond and taken to wearing baggy jeans and skintight baby T's and listening to loud, angry rap music.
Maybe having a child of her own had settled her down some. Lucille hoped so, though she couldn't call this latest move settled.
The call had come out of the blue, while Lucille was working at the store. “Hey,” Olivia said, an abrupt, sharp syllable that was more a command for attention than a greeting. “The kid and I are thinking about coming out to see you for a while.”
Lucille's heart pounded at the words, but she told herself not to get too excited. Olivia had promised visits before and they hadn't materialized. “You know I'd always love to see you and Lucas,” she said.
“Yeah, well, I lost my job and D. J. moved out, so I thought it was a good time to come stay with you a while.”
Lucille took it D. J. was the latest boyfriend, though she'd never heard him mentioned before. The last she'd heard, Olivia was living with someone named Allen. Lucas's father had disappeared from the picture so long ago, Lucille could scarcely remember his name. Bryan, maybe?
Then the news about the job sank in. Olivia had been working as a receptionist at an electronics manufacturing business for the last five years. “You were laid off?” Lucille asked.
“Fired, actually. I was sick of the place anyway. You've got room for us, right?”
Physically, Lucille had two empty bedrooms, if you counted the little room up under the eaves where she stored luggage and extra inventory from the store. Emotionally, she was less sure she had room for her daughter's always disruptive presence. But she had the boy to think of. Maybe this would be a chance for her to get to know her only grandchild.
“How long do you think you'll stay?” she asked.
“Don't know. 'Til you and I can't stand each other, I guess.”
Lucille winced. When Olivia had last lived in her mother's home, she'd been a strong-willed fifteen-year-old who balked at Lucille's curfew, requirements she do her homework before watching TV or visiting friends, and her refusal to buy Olivia cigarettes or a car. She'd run away on a bus to her father, and he and Lucille had decided their daughter would be better off staying with him.
Lucille had been secretly relieved Mitch was willing to take over the burden of dealing with the obstreperous teen, but that relief was coupled with guilt that she'd somehow failed her daughter. “All right,” she said. “I'll look forward to seeing you.”
They were driving in tonight, and Lucille supposed she was as ready as she'd ever be. She went to the window and stared out at the darkened street, as if that would make Olivia drive up any sooner. A single headlight appeared in the distance, approaching fast. A motorcycle with a dark figure crouched on its back. Lucille recognized Jameso Clark. Handsome, wild Jameso, the kind of man-boy she had chased after time and time again when she was a girl. Unless things had changed, Olivia would waste no time picking Jameso from the herd here in Eureka. Lucille felt no qualms about this. Jameso was a good man, if a little restless. He might be a positive influence on Olivia, and at least he would give her one more reason to stay in town.
She looked down the street again. Two houses down, every light blazed. Cassie Wynock kept her house lit up as if she were hosting a party every night, though she lived alone with two cats and enough old books and pictures to fill a museum. Lucille had been inside exactly once, when she delivered a desk Cassie had purchased from the shop. Cassie had claimed the desk had been her father's and she didn't know how it ended up in Lucille's shop, but she wanted it back in its rightful place.
Lucille knew exactly how that desk had ended up in her shop. A woman who had bought it from Cassie's father had sold it to her, but she didn't argue with Cassie. If the woman wanted to pay double what the thing was worth to have it back, Lucille wouldn't argue. As it was, the two of them had a hard time wedging the piece in among all the other relics stuffed into the downstairs parlor.
Lucille imagined Cassie in her crowded house, wandering through the rooms and turning on all the lights. Was the illumination so she could see all her treasures better? Or because she was afraid of the ghosts that surely lurked among all the flotsam and jetsam from the past?
Two more headlights appeared in the distance, wobbling as the driver navigated the railroad tracks at the end of the street. A dark, blocky SUV glided into view, hesitated, then slid to a stop in front of Lucille's house.
She had no recollection of flinging open the front door and running out into the darkness. Only Olivia's look of disdain told her how foolish she looked. “Couldn't you wait a second for us to get out of the car before you start hovering?” she asked.
“Obviously not,” Lucille said drily, once again biting off words of reproach about the lateness of the arrival. She turned instead to the boy who had climbed out of the backseat and come around to stand beside her. Her grandson was an unimpressive specimen, peculiarly buglike with his long, bony arms and legs and oversized eyes behind the round glasses. “Hello, Lucas,” Lucille said. “How are you?”
“Tired and I have to pee,” the boy said, his voice a clear tenor that was neither plaintive nor strident. He was merely stating facts.
“You'd better come inside, then.” Lucille led the way into the house. She pointed out the downstairs bathroom to Lucas, then turned to her daughter. In the bright glow of the foyer light, Olivia looked older than Lucille had expected. A double furrow arced across her forehead, and twin grooves etched either side of her mouth. Her blond hair had a dry, over-processed look, and the multiple piercings in each ear looked out of place, like a Halloween costume. Then again, Lucille reminded herself, no one looked their best after a cross-country drive. “You must be exhausted,” she said.
“Yes,” Olivia said. She glanced over her shoulder, toward the SUV. “Is it okay to leave the car parked there overnight? I don't feel like unpacking right now.”
“It should be fine,” Lucille said. Not that Eureka was immune to crime, but what thieves there were rarely ventured onto this quiet street. “If you lock it, it should be fine.”
“I'll move it in the morning,” Olivia said. She pressed a button on the keychain, and the car chirped and blinked its lights at her. “I really don't want it out where everyone can see it.”
Something in Olivia's voice made Lucille wary. “Why not?” she asked.
“Don't look so alarmed. It's all right, really. I'm sure D. J. won't mind that I borrowed it.”
“D. J. I thought you said D. J. was gone.”
“He is. He's in Iraq, on some big-money contractor's job. He asked me to look after the car while he's gone. So that's what I'm doing.”
“So he knows you drove it to Colorado.”
“No, but hey, when he needs it, he can come get it.” She dropped the keys back in her purse. “I'm too wiped to talk anymore. Where am I sleeping?”
Lucas emerged from the bathroom, wiping his hands on his jeans. “You want me to bring in the suitcase, Mom?” he asked.
“In the morning. Lucille is going to show us to our rooms.”
Lucille winced at the sound of her name. Whatever happened to Grandma? “Lucas, you're all the way up at the top of the house. There's another stairway at the end of the upstairs hall that leads to your room. There's no bathroom up there, so you'll have to share with your mother.” As she talked, Lucille made her way up the stairs. She showed Olivia the pink and white guest bedroom and bath, and pointed out the stairs to Lucas. “Do you want me to go up with you?” she asked.
“No, I'm okay,” he said. And without another word he climbed the narrow flight of steps and disappeared.
Lucille heard the door open, then shut with a click. “He seems to be a very independent boy,” she said.
“Does he?” Olivia scraped her too-long bangs out of her eyes. “I guess that's a good thing. I never could have stood a clingy child.” She moved into the bedroom, one hand on the doorknob. “I'll see you in the morning.”
“Wait.” Lucille hated for the evening to end on such an abrupt note. “Do you want something to eat? Or I could make tea.”
“I'm dead. I just want to go to bed.”
She did look exhausted. Lucille wanted to fold her in her arms, to comfort Olivia as she had when she was a very little girl. But Olivia hadn't allowed that kind of closeness in many years.
“I'm glad you're here,” Lucille said, the verbal equivalent of the hug she wanted to give.
Olivia's eyes met hers for the briefest instant, before flickering away again. In that moment, Lucille saw another emotion between the weariness, something almost like . . . gratitude. “I'm glad, too,” she said. “It'll be good to stop for a while. To think.”
Then she shut the door, leaving Lucille to stand in the hall and wonder. Olivia hadn't said she was glad to see her mother, or glad to have another chance for the two of them to bond. But she was glad to be here, in this house, whatever her motives. It was a start.
aggie had Lorna Doones and coffee for breakfast, and found a pad of paper and made a list. She needed food besides ham and cookies. Cash, if she could get it. Did Eureka even have a bank? She should get a map of the area. Maybe Reggie could tell her where to pick one up. She'd have to ask him where the mine was. Even if it was empty, she wanted to see it.
As the list grew, she began to feel a little more confident. Making a listâhaving a planâgave her the illusion of control. In the days following Carter's announcement that he was leaving her, she'd filled notebooks with lists: things she needed to do at work, items she needed to pack, questions to ask her lawyerâand one very long list of every bad name she could think of to call Carter. She'd started with A, “addlepated asshole,” and worked her way all the way to P, “pinheaded prick,” before she'd abandoned the task.
Her new list tucked into her purse, she stepped onto the front porch. Now that the sun was up, the chill wasn't so pronounced, though the air still held a freshness unlike anything offered by the humidity of Houston. Reggie had said the cabin was at 10,000 feet. She supposed that far above sea level it never really got warm.
She dug out the key ring Reggie had given her and locked the cabin behind her, then walked around the side of the house to the Jeep. It was an older model, with fading red paint and worn leather upholstery. The dash was littered with old gas receipts, a half pack of spearmint gum, and what might have been a speeding ticket, but the ink was so faded Maggie couldn't read it. She shoved everything into a plastic bag she found on the floorboard and stuffed it behind the seat. She also found an oversized bath towel, a pair of rubber bootsâsize 11âand three yellowish rocks. Curious, she tucked one of these into her purse and left the other two on the floorboard.
The Jeep organized, she turned the key. To her relief, the engine started right up, purring smoothly. She fastened her seat belt, adjusted her mirrors, then realized she was going to have to back the unfamiliar vehicle down a considerable slope before she had room to turn around.
Heart in her throat, she inched the Jeep back, one foot on the gas, the other on the brake, fighting images of hurtling backward down the mountain into space.
Going forward wasn't much better once the Jeep was turned around. On the way up here with Reggie, she'd been too focused on the scenery and the mystery of her inheritance to notice the lack of guardrails on the winding two-lane roadâno guardrails and a heart-stopping drop-off a scant two feet from the driver's side tires.
She thought of Jameso traveling this road on a motorcycle at night. Was that as reckless as it seemed to herâor did people here measure danger on a different scale than someone who'd spent her whole life in a place as flat as a flip-flop?
Maggie felt a long way from the humid, level world where she'd spent so much of her life; more than the ground beneath her feet was tilted here. She'd hoped coming to Eureka and seeing her father's house would answer some of the questions she had about the man, but so far he was more mysterious than ever.
With a shaky sigh of relief, she reached the main highway, with its broad lanes and sturdy guardrails, and was able to relax a little. She passed the Living Waters compound, a fog of steam floating above the fences like low-lying clouds.
It was just after seven when she cruised down Eureka's main streetâtoo early to visit Reggie at his office or to attempt to find a map. The Lorna Doones already seemed a distant memory to her stomach, so she found a parking space near the Last Dollar Cafe and went inside.
A sign just inside the door instructed her to seat herself, so Maggie slipped into an empty booth against the far wall. The interior of the Last Dollar felt so familiar: red linoleum floor and gold leatherette booths mixed with oak ladder-back chairs. The tabletops were white Formica sprinkled with gold stars. Framed black-and-white photographs lined the walls: miners in hard hats with picks, solemn-faced families arrayed outside hand-built cabins, and a group of women in long dresses on impossibly long wooden skis. A pair of those skis was mounted beside the photograph. Elsewhere, on the walls and ceiling and on the pillars between the booths, hung pickaxes and miners' lanterns and hard hats and tin lunch pails. On the wall behind the cash register were six of those singing fish that had been popular gag gifts a decade before.
Maggie took this all in and realized why the place felt so familiar: this was the kind of decor that theme restaurants in Houston were always striving to emulate. But this was no work of a Hollywood prop shop. The Last Dollar was the real deal. She could imagine customers cleaning out the basement and finding Grandpa's old hard hatâor a singing fish someone had given them for Christmasâand donating it to the walls of the cafÃ©.
“Good morning, hon. What can I get you?”
The woman spoke with the easy warmth of the older women of Maggie's youth, who addressed everyone as “hon” and “dear.” But this woman was youngânot yet thirtyâwith a thick fall of dark brown hair to the middle of her back. She wore low-slung jeans and a black T-shirt that said, W
. The shirt stretched over her not inconsiderable breasts, and she wore multiple rings in each ear and another in her nose.
“I don't have a menu.” Maggie looked around the table, wondering if she'd missed seeing one amidst the clutter of condiment jars against the wall.
“Oh, we don't have menus.” The waitress pointed to a chalkboard near the pass-through to the kitchen.
Maggie read through the list of omelets and pancakes and muffins, her stomach growling. “What do you recommend?” she asked.
The waitress studied her, her look far more intense than Maggie had expected for such a simple question. “How about two eggs, over easy, with wheat toast, some of our homemade elk sausage, and grits. Unless you prefer hash browns.”
“No, grits are fine.” Her mouth was already watering at the prospect.
The waitress smiled. “I'm Danielle, by the way,” she said.
“Maggie.” She'd never felt compelled to introduce herself to a waitress before, but this didn't feel like an impersonal encounter.
“Welcome to Eureka, Maggie. I'll bring you some coffee right away.”
Thirty seconds later, Maggie sipped coffee from a squat blue mug that looked handmade, and watched Danielle circulate among the other patrons. She seemed to know at least half by name, and treated everyone to warm smiles and a motherly concern.
After a few minutes, she was joined by a second waitress, a slender blonde with rosy cheeks and ice blue eyes. She wore a pink paisley bandana over her short hair, and a red apron over jeans and a T-shirt. She was even younger than Danielle, maybe early twenties, and when she refilled Maggie's coffee she spoke with a slight accent that hinted at Germany or maybe a Scandinavian country. “I am Janelle,” she said. “You're Murphy's daughter, right?”
“Right.” Maggie didn't even bother asking how she knew. Apparently she resembled her sire, Reggie liked to talk, and if that wasn't enough, she was driving her father's Jeep.
“Dani and I were hoping you'd stop by,” Janelle said. “If there's anything at all you need, you let us know.”
Danielle arrived with Maggie's breakfast: two picture-perfect eggs arranged beside a neat stack of toast points, two fat sausage patties, and a pool of creamy grits dressed with butter and flecked with black pepper. She set the plate in front of Maggie and beamed. “One of our chickens, Arabella, laid those eggs,” she said. “I've been saving them for someone special.”
“You know which chicken laid which eggs?” Maggie tried to determine if they were putting her on.
“Arabella is an Araucana chicken,” Janelle said. “She lays blue eggs, so we always know hers. Usually we keep them for ourselves, but sometimes we share them with special people.”
“Oh. Well, thank you.”
“Murphy built our chicken house,” Danielle said. “We always gave him Arabella's eggs. He said they were the best.”
They left together, and Maggie stared at the unlikely connection to her father on her plate. But hunger won out over the bizarre nature of the honor of being presented with prized blue eggs by strangers, and she picked up her fork and dug in.
Arabella definitely laid wonderful eggsâor maybe it was only that Maggie had never had eggs so fresh before. The toast was made from homemade bread, the sausage better than any she'd ever had, and the grits smooth and buttery. She wiped up the last of the egg with the last of the toast and decided if she had no other reason to stay in Eureka, she would linger to enjoy more breakfasts like this.
She looked around to tell Danielle or Janelle so and spotted them by the register, their arms around each other as they chatted with a patron.
Maggie thought of a fairy tale she'd loved as a child, about Snow White and Rose Redâin this story of a Snow White without dwarves, she'd been blond and ethereal, counterpart to the dark-haired Earth Mother Rose. Janelle looked down at her companion, such obvious affection in her eyes that Maggie felt a sharp stab of envy. Would a woman know how to love her better than the man she'd mistakenly given her heart to? Too bad her inclinations didn't run in that direction.
She was about to signal for her check when a bent, grizzled man slid into the booth opposite her. He wore a green plaid flannel shirt and bright red suspenders, with wisps of white hair combed across a perfectly round head. “Bob Prescott,” he said, offering a knotted hand. “Your old man came close to killing me one day, then two weeks later he saved my life.”
Maggie sagged back in the booth. “He did what?”
Bob grinned, revealing teeth too white and perfect to be real. “Thought that might get your attention.”
Danielle arrived to take away Maggie's plate and refill their cups. “I'll tell Arabella you liked the eggs,” she said, eyeing the polished plate.
“Them girls believe in talking to animals and all that nonsense,” Bob said. “But they're the best cooks in three counties, so I don't care if they ride broomsticks in their spare time or sit around chanting mantras or whatever it's called.” He sipped his coffee, eyeing Maggie over the rim of the cup. She waited for the inevitable comparison to her father.
“You don't look much like him, and you can be thankful for that,” Bob said. “He was an ugly son of a bitch, with a temper to match.”
“Yet he saved your life?”
“After trying to kill me first.”
Was the old guy legit? Or some local crazy who got a kick out of making accusations to strangers? His somewhat beady eyes were fixed on her, the washed-out blue of age, though the light behind them wasn't the least bit dim. He was clearly waiting for her response. “Why did my father try to kill you?” she asked.
“I told him to his face I thought he was a lying son of a bitch.” Bob grinned. “He didn't like that much.”
“I don't think anyone would like that much. What was he lying about?”
“I'm not sure he told the truth any day since he got here,” Bob said. “He was a man with a lot of secrets. You're proof of that.”
“There's a difference between secrets and lies.” Didn't they all have things in their lives they'd prefer to keep to themselves? Maybe her father hadn't told people about her because he was ashamed of the way he'd abandoned her and her mother.
“Murph said there was no gold in the French Mistress,” Bob said. “I say he was lying.”
Maggie hated the wild flutter in her chest that proved how shallow and materialistic she was. Yes, she'd come to Eureka wanting to know about her father, but a big lure had been the promise of wealthâgold. She was still trying to process that disappointment, and here was this old man teasing her with hope. “What makes you think he was lying?” she asked, trying to brace herself for the answer.
“Murph always had plenty of cash, and he never did a lick of useful work that I could see. He spent weeks holed up there alone on that mountain, then he'd disappear altogether for a while, and when he showed up again, he'd have plenty to spend.” Bob leaned toward her, his expression feverish. “I say he was taking gold out of the mine, hauling it to Denver or Salt Lake or some other big city to sell, and putting the proceeds in the bank.” He sat back. “You do some checking and see if I ain't right.”
“I certainly will check on that,” she said, disappointed in spite of her determination not to be. If her father had a fortune sequestered away somewhere, Reggie would have told her. After all, the lawyer was apparently the only one who'd known about her.
“The fact that he got so upset when I called him a liar proves I was on to something, too,” Bob continued.
“Maybe he just didn't like being accused that way,” she said. “You said he had a hot temper.”