“The edges?” I whispered.
“Edges of the ocean. The water is what ties us together, yes? You at one edge, me at the other, but the same ocean, the same water. He was on a different edge and I couldn’t get to him. . . .”
I squinted. “And?” I wanted to get lost in the story, in the unhinged feeling of floating into another life.
Then she continued. “But at that moment he stands against the wall. His brothers slouch in chairs around the room. Their expressions are blank, their eyes are dead as the ashes in the fireplace, but not Richard’s. He looks at me and I see laughter he will not allow escape—laughter at the way I’d burst into the room wearing my nightclothes, my hair wild from the cold and wind.
“I run over to him and throw my arms around him—this boy whom I have known since birth and loved almost as long, but have never touched except in games of tag, or diving for the coppers or to pass the communion cup. I hold to him as if I am drowning, but I know, as only children can, that he is gone. I fall against his shoulder. ‘No,’ I cry into him. Then he holds me as if there is nothing else to hold on to in that world. And for us, there isn’t.”
Maeve sighed, then closed her eyes. A smile as faded and wrinkled as the linen gown she wore crossed her mouth.
“Then?” I asked. “Then what? Did they take him? Where did he go? What happened?” I grasped her hand. My heart beat faster than when I had run the three miles that very morning; my limbs were alive. I wanted to sprint from here and find this boy for her.
Beneath Maeve’s eyelids, the rapid eye movement of the dreamer flickered. Then a tear, one small, oblong tear, leaked out beneath her left eyelashes, ran below the wrinkles of her eye and settled in the nest of her facial creases.
I reached for a Kleenex to wipe the tear away, and then thought better of it. For some reason it seemed appropriate to leave it alone, leave it for what it stood for: lost love. I sat quietly, anxious for more. After a moment, I squeezed her hand. “Then what?”
Maeve opened her eyes and stared at me. “You know, the oatmeal was cold again this morning and the—” She glanced at me. “Are you going to fix this or not?”
“Fix what?” I asked, my heart heavy.
“The incompetence. Bloody incompetence.” She rolled onto her right side, and the soft sound of sleep came through her lips.
I stood and rubbed my forehead, my eyes, then glanced up at the round, black-numbered clock across the room. Our time wasn’t up, but Maeve was gone into sleep. I sighed, wanting more of her story.
I started the car and leaned back on the seat, glancing at the clock: 8:45. No time for food—the tour meeting was in fifteen minutes. I turned the car out of the driveway and onto Main Street.
The light turned red as I pulled into the intersection; I reached for my BlackBerry, chewed on the side of my nail, then typed “Jack Sullivan” into the Internet search engine.
Neuroscientist and school principal were the first two results. I laughed; this was ridiculous. One does not punch in a name and find an address for a lost neighbor.
My fingers flew over the miniature keys as I scrolled farther down to the third listing and read: “The Unknown Souls Band with songwriter Jack Sullivan will be the opening act on March 4th at Chastain Amphitheater in Atlanta, Georgia—”
On the four-inch screen I stared at Jack and Jimmy Sullivan. Time slipped away like a river running backward, years reversed, and I was fourteen, desperate for the lost love from Mama, then Jack. I was waiting with an everlasting ache in the middle of my body.
I stared down at the picture of the Unknown Souls. A band stood with Jack and Jimmy, grinning in a grainy black-and-white photograph. Instruments and microphones were scattered across a bridge over a train track.
My breath caught deep in my lungs and stayed there—refusing to release in an exhale. My chest was gripped by the memory of his face, his hands, the way they splayed across the top of the bridge.
Suddenly a long, obnoxious horn blared behind me. I jumped in my seat, looked up to a green light.
My cell phone rang, and I grabbed it as I gunned the car through the light. “I’m going, I’m going,” I hollered to the truck behind me, whose occupant couldn’t hear me, but surely saw my waving hands.
“Pardon?” the voice on the other end of the phone said.
“Yep, who are you yelling at?”
“Some impatient truck driver didn’t like how I hesitated for half a second when the light turned green.”
The truck came up next to me; the dark-haired woman in the driver’s seat flicked an obscene gesture with her middle finger and gunned the truck in front of my car. I slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting her. The leftover morning Starbucks, my purse and a pile of folders in the passenger’s seat flew toward the front of the car in a scattered array. I reached over in a futile attempt to grab at the flying objects and skidded to the right until my tires ran against the curb.
I jerked the steering wheel to the left, moving the car into the next lane. The gut-gripping sound of metal on metal filled my ears. I veered back toward the right and slammed on the brakes, stopping the car on the shoulder of the two-lane road and dropping my head onto the steering wheel.
A moment later, I looked up at a man who stood at my passenger-side window, his hand over his eyebrow below a scratch. He knocked on the window; without thinking, I shoved the door open, hitting him in the groin. He bent down as I stepped from the car.
“Oh, oh . . . are you okay? Oh . . .” Fatigue and frustration swamped me.
He laughed. “I’m fine.” He stood up; he was at least two feet taller than me. “I was checking on you. I thought you’d passed out on the steering wheel.”
I reached up as if to touch his face, the scratch above his eye. “You’re the one who’s hurt.”
“Shit, my fault. I wasn’t wearing a seat belt.” He glanced inside my car. “Looks like you got yourself quite a mess there, little lady.” He then ran his hand over my front left bumper; it was crushed and distorted, digging into the front tire.
I groaned. “Not now.”
“No convenient time for a fender bender, huh?” he asked.
His eyes were so brown they combined with his pupils, and his curls were the same color as his eyes, as if they’d been blended together in the same dye lot. “I’m so sorry I swerved into your lane.” I glanced over at his truck. “How bad is it?”
“Driver’s-side door dented. Not bad.”
“Can we avoid the whole police thing here?” I attempted to smile.
He grinned; one side of his mouth turned up more than the other side. “Who will pay for my fancy truck?”
I noted his sarcasm as he glanced at my Mercedes, then back at his faded blue pickup truck.
“I will,” I said. “I promise.” I glanced at my watch: 8:58.
“You running late somewhere?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re okay and . . . oh, let me just call and tell them I can’t be there.” I released a shaky breath, leaned into the car and yanked the cell phone from the floor. Warped sounds of a voice came through the speaker.
Charlotte . . . she was still on my cell. I lifted the phone to my ear. “Charlotte?”
“Are you okay? You okay?” Her voice came fast.
“Yes . . . I sideswiped this nice man. I’m going to miss my meeting. I haven’t even found a band and . . . oh, forget it. I’ll call you back.” I said good-bye and pushed END, then punched in Frieda’s number.
The man reached over, placed his hand on my arm. “Stop.”
“What? I just need to tell my boss I’m late.” I choked on the last word.
“Damn, I could never resist a damsel in distress. Come on . . . I’ll take you to your meeting, get your information, call a tow truck.”
“No, really. I know how to take care of myself.” I stood taller, wiped madly at an escaped tear.
“I can tell.” He smiled, and there was no malice in his words.
“Okay, I know it doesn’t look like it right now . . . but I can and I do. Just having a very, very bad day.”
“There’s worse to be had, trust me on that.”
I looked up at this man, his face older than my father’s, but younger in the eyes and mouth, as if they’d always carried a smile and wouldn’t age with the rest of his face. I held out my hand. “I’m Kara Larson.”
“I’d be Luke Mulligan.”
“So sorry about this, Mr. Mulligan.”
“Come on. I don’t need to be in Beaufort until five. I’ll take you to your meetin’. Get in the truck.”
I hesitated, glanced back at my car. Getting in a truck with a stranger was probably not the best way to top off this hellacious morning. “If we pull the metal back, I bet I can drive my car,” I said.
“You might be right.” He walked over, pulled at the fender, and yanked his hand away as blood leaked from his palm.
“Oh, oh . . . you’re bleeding again because of me.”
“No big deal. But I’ll be followin’ you to make sure you get there.”
I reached into my car and gathered the contents of my wallet, which were scattered on the floorboards. “Here, let me give you all my information so you can send me your bill, and I promise I’ll pay it . . . anything you need to do to get it fixed.”
Luke waved his hand in the air. “I don’t need you being fired from your job and not able to pay my bill.” He smiled. “So, get on the road and I’ll take down your information when we get there.”
I nodded, exhaustion threatening the backs of my eyelids. I swallowed; a burning pain shot through my throat. No, I couldn’t be getting sick, not now. I touched my palm to my neck: hot. My skin prickled like tiny jellyfish stings across my body.
I climbed behind the wheel and glanced back toward Mr. Mulligan, who jumped into his front seat and turned his truck around to drive behind me. I waved out the window and indicated that I’d turn left at the stoplight.
Mr. Mulligan followed me in my dented car until I pulled up in front of our small brick offices at 9:10 a.m. I parked, jumped out of the car, and held out a business card with my name, address, and phone number as I moved toward Mr. Mulligan.
He honked and drove off.
“Wait . . . ,” I hollered after the truck, waving my card like a flag of defeat.
A hand came out the driver’s-side window and waved. My hand dropped to my side.
I whipped around. Frieda stood on the front steps. “You coming or trying to pick up cowboys in the parking lot?”
“I’m coming.” I stiffened my shoulders, gathered a pile of folders and attempted to ignore my desire to climb back in my car and drive in the opposite direction from Frieda, my job, this meeting.
I followed my boss, mentally flipped through the agenda for the meeting, and attempted to ignore my curiosity about lost love that tapped its persistent finger on my mind.
pushed open the door to the Flower Emporium on Second Street and the scent of fragrant flowers washed over me, loosening the knotted muscles in my neck. I could only identify the gardenia, but there were others in the mix, heavy in the air. Charlotte and the store owner, her mother, Mrs. Carrington, glanced up from the counter, where they sat on bright pink bar stools. Flowers and plants surrounded them in baskets and vases, as though they sat in the middle of a jungle of potted wildlife.
“Well, thanks for joining us.” Charlotte stood and touched her watch, but a smile covered her face, as it always did.
“Don’t start with me,” I said. “What a day. Do you have any food?”
Mrs. Carrington squinted at me. “When
the last time you ate? You look like a waif.”
“Oh, it’s this black outfit. . . .” I ran a hand across my abdomen and black cotton shirt.
Mrs. Carrington, who’d known me since birth, rolled her eyes. “Yeah, and it’s this white sweater that makes me look chubby.” She reached under the counter and pulled out a Zone bar, then threw it to me. “Eat, child. We have decisions to make.”
I nodded and sat on the stool next to Charlotte. “Have you been waiting long?”
“About a half hour. But we made all the decisions for you.” She winked.
“I am so sorry. I’ve been looking forward to this all day—seeing you two.”
“Bad day?” Charlotte asked.
“I have an idea.” I sat up. “Let’s run down to Bay Street, grab a couple oyster sandwiches and do the flowers another time.”
Charlotte balanced her elbow on the countertop, leaned into her palm. “Let’s get this over with.” She looked at her mom. “She had a little fender bender today.”
“The weirdest thing happened afterward, though,” I said. “He followed me to work to make sure I got there okay, then he took off without my name or number, so I can’t pay to have his car fixed.”
“I bet he got your license plate or something.”
“I don’t know. It was very strange.”