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Authors: Elizabeth Bass

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BOOK: Wherever Grace Is Needed
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“Very nice!” Grace exclaimed sarcastically.
The two of them looked up at her in surprise.
“Grace!” Peggy said. “Truman just—”
“Your mother had Alzheimer’s, didn’t she, Peggy?” Grace demanded.
Peggy’s face screwed up in confusion. “What?”
“Or dementia. Right?” Grace remembered that now. “You probably knew what was going on back at that Mexican restaurant.”
“I’m not sure what—”
“And when I couldn’t find the dog,” Grace said, cutting her off, “you probably realized then why Dad hadn’t mentioned Iago. Am I right?”
Truman huffed at her. “Have you finally flipped your lid, Grace?”
“Were you just waiting for confirmation that Dad wasn’t ever going to get better?” she asked Peggy. “That you really needed to latch on to someone new before you got stuck?”
“What is she talking about?” Truman asked Peggy.
“And you!” Grace yelled at him. “Stealing your own brother’s girl—kicking him when he’s down. You even brought her to his favorite restaurant to do it!”
“Simmer down!” Truman said, starting to stand. “You always were the type to find something to bust your bloomers over.”
“I’m perfectly calm!” Grace said.
To prove it, she picked up a champagne glass and tossed its contents into her uncle’s face.
 
“Lovely evening,” Wyatt growled. “Thanks so much.”
They were the first words he had spoken in twenty miles. They were just pulling off Guadalupe into the Hyde Park neighborhood, so he was probably hoping to get his licks in before dumping her off.
“I told you I was sorry,” she said.
“Don’t be,” he drawled sarcastically. “It was entertaining. First time I’ve seen anyone unhinged enough to take a slug at an eighty-year-old.”
“I didn’t hit him. I just spilled a little champagne on him.”
He smirked. “You’re the only person I know who spills upward, with perfect aim.” He shook his head. “At your own uncle!”
She shuddered. Her behavior had been abominable. But she hadn’t seemed to be able to help herself—it had been as if she were another person entirely. Jerry Springer girl. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“No, I wouldn’t. Frankly, I think you must be nuts.”
“Well, you won’t have to worry about dealing with me anymore. I’m leaving tomorrow night.”
“Good,” he said. “Although if tonight was anything to go by, I don’t think we’d be having too many more nights on the town in any case.”
“Don’t go breaking my heart,” she said. “Anyway, you didn’t see me at my best.”
“What worries me is that I might not have seen you at your worst,” he replied as he turned the car onto their block.
It was dark, but the street was lit up with colored flashing lights, and the inhabitants of practically all the houses had spilled into the street to look at the fire trucks, police cruisers, and the ambulance—all parked right in front of Grace’s dad’s house.
“Stop!” she yelled, at the same time Wyatt said, “What the hell?”
“Oh God!” Grace moaned, clawing at the passenger side door to get out. Wyatt parked the car as close in as they could get and she jumped out and flew toward the house. A policeman held out his arm but she broke right past, only to be snagged by another cop.
“My dad’s in there! Professor Oliver!”
“No, he’s not,” the policeman said. “He’s with the doctor, by the ambulance. He’s okay.”
A breath of relief gushed out of her lungs. “Thank God! What happened?”
“It was a kitchen fire,” the policeman said. “Appears to have been caused by a pot of soup left on the stove.”
“And Dad called the police?” she asked.
“No, ma’am. The kid next door did.”
Dominic! “A little boy?” she asked.
“No, ma’am, it was a girl. Lily West. Said she spotted the fire as she was looking through a pair of binoculars.”
 
“But you said you were going to be coming in tonight.”
Grace gripped her phone more tightly. “That was yesterday, Ben. Today I’m telling you that it’s going to be a couple more weeks.”
“Weeks?”
he asked in that petulantly forlorn voice that was beginning to grate on her nerves.
“The house caught fire,” she said. “I can’t just walk out now.”
“But isn’t your brother there?”
“As it happens, he’s not. I called him this morning—he should be coming back around noon. But there’s nothing he can do.”
“Then how is there anything you can do?”
“Because I’m living here. I don’t have anything else to think about, while Steven’s whole life is falling apart.”
Ben sputtered.
“What?” she asked.
“You abandoned your life,” he said. “Doesn’t that count as falling apart, too?”
She mulled that over for a moment and felt anger rising in her chest. What was he trying to do to her? Couldn’t he see that she was under stress here? “Are you trying to tell me that you can’t handle the store?”
“No, I’m handling it fine. Getting the knack of it, actually.”
“Is the house a problem?”
“Not really.”
“Then is it the cats? What?”
He sighed. “It’s
you
, Grace. You’re not here, and you’re supposed to be. I miss you, and I worry that your brothers are taking advantage of you.”
As quickly as her heart melted at his telling her he missed her, she got riled up all over again. “They are not. Steven’s just going through a really rough patch—he’s not the best caretaker in the world at the best of times—and Sam has no idea what’s going on. I was going to try to e-mail him today.”
“And I’m sure he’ll catch the first plane out of wherever,” he said, his voice dripping sarcasm.
“Beirut. I don’t want him to catch a plane out. I’m here. I can handle this. I just need a little more time.”
There was a silence, and then he let out a ragged breath. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Yes—be patient. Just for a little while longer.”
“Of course,” he said. “Don’t worry about things here, Grace. I’m sorry if I upset you. Your call just took me by surprise. I was all ready to break out the champagne.”
Aw. “Everything’s okay there?”
“Boompsa-daisy.”
She smiled at the sound of him sipping his morning coffee, and she braced herself against the sudden longing to be there with him, in her own kitchen, with Heathcliff draped over her shoulder, the cool morning air lightly riffling the miniblinds. She closed her eyes.
“Grace?” Ben asked. “You there?”
No, I’m there—with you.
“You’re sure everything’s fine?” she asked, suddenly feeling as if one tiny problem would send her rushing back to Portland.
“Everything’s cool. There was a panic there when Amber left, but then Jerry said he wanted to start working more hours anyway, so that was, like, providence or something.”
“That’s right—Amber’s gone now.” Grace made a mental note to e-mail her old friend and see how she was settling into her new life in Seattle.
“She had to store a few boxes in our basement—they didn’t all fit in her Honda. Hope that’s okay. She said she’d come back sometime in the next month or so and pick them up.”
“Perfectly fine. Or maybe when I come back we can load them up and drive them up to her ourselves. Treat ourselves to a road trip.”
“That sounds awesome. I’ll hold on to that thought.”
“Me too,” Grace said.
And then, coming from the direction of the living room, she heard the sound of something glass falling. She begged off the phone and ran downstairs to clean up the teacup her father had dropped on the floor.
12
T
HE
B
OY IN
T
HE
B
INOCULARS
L
ily kneeled at the window behind her bed with a copy of
Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America
draped across the pillow, frustrated to not catch sight of the object of her search. Over the past few days, the only birds she had managed to identify were a couple of cardinals and a few greasy grackles hanging out on the telephone wires. None of the birds seemed particularly binocular-worthy. But earlier in the week she had spied something that was.
It was a boy. His brown hair was curly but cropped short, giving him a Roman god appearance, and he had light-colored—maybe green?—eyes. He seemed to be about fifteen or sixteen. She’d first spotted him coming out of Wyatt Carter’s house two days ago. She hadn’t known that Mr. Carter was married or had a kid, but she had told Dominic, and Dominic had mentioned the newcomer to Grace, and Grace said that Wyatt was divorced and had a son named Crawford.
Lily liked Grace. Grace had baked her an entire batch of oatmeal cookies after Lily had spotted the fire at the Oliver house and called 911 before anyone else. The cookies had disappeared within a day—Dominic and Jordan gobbled down most of them—but Grace had also called Lily a hero, and that was something that didn’t go away. Weeks later, that word still made her sit up a little straighter.
Dominic had said that Grace was going to leave at the beginning of August. But she never had left, and Lily was glad. Even though Lily didn’t go over to the Oliver house like Dominic did, Grace was always friendly to her when she saw her in the driveway, and would call hello to her if she happened to be sitting on the porch when Lily walked by.
School was about to start up. Lily wondered if Crawford would go to her school, and if so, if he would be in her class. Yesterday she’d heard the sound of a trumpet coming from the Carter house, so he was bound to be in the band. They’d have something in common.
Just when she was beginning to despair of ever getting a sighting of him that day, Crawford appeared around the side of his house pushing a lawn mower. Lily leapt into high gear. She changed into her jean shorts and her newest summery shirt—a halter shirt her mother had bought her last August, when things were on sale. The yellow sleeveless top tied in the back and wasn’t too tight, so it didn’t really emphasize the fact that she had nothing going on chest-wise. The halter showed more skin than she was used to, but it was nothing close to the skimpy stuff Jordan wore sometimes.
If her mother had been there, she would have counseled that the important thing was to feel good in her own skin. Lily had heard her say that sometimes to Nina. Maybe to Jordan, too. Lily could see the sense in it, but at the same time, she didn’t feel comfortable. Her body failed her daily—with hair that went nuts if she didn’t tie it back, and skin that either broke out or looked blotchy, and feet that she sometimes imagined she could actually see growing. Her bra size may have flatlined at AAA, but the way things were going she was destined to be the only sophomore girl wearing a size ten shoe.
Nevertheless, she summoned her mother’s voice in her head and, shoulders back, casually strolled down the sidewalk while Crawford Carter mowed his yard. She and Dominic had hardly ever gone to the pool this summer, so the skin on her shoulders looked bluey-white, like the underbelly of a fish. She should have worn a T-shirt, but it was too late now. Crawford had reached the front porch of his house and was turning the mower just as she passed directly in front of him. He glanced up but quickly looked back down at the ground directly in front of him without acknowledging her.
Lily trudged on, disappointed. She really didn’t have anywhere to go, so she walked to the convenience store a few blocks away.
When she got there she grabbed a six-pack of Cokes out of the refrigerator cabinet and took it to the cash register. The clerk, the same teenage clerk who’d been selling her soft drinks and ice cream bars all summer, rang her up without glancing at her. Not that she cared what a convenience store clerk thought, but the one time she’d come in with Jordan the slumpy bored teenager had suddenly become alert as a bird dog. As they’d paid, he was all curiosity about what “you girls” were up to that afternoon, even though he was only looking at Jordan.
Now this same clerk shoved her six-pack of Cokes into a plastic bag and handed them to her as if she were invisible.
“Thank you,” she made a point of saying, refusing to sink to his inarticulate level.
He grunted and went back to reading
Sports Illustrated.
During the walk back, Lily practiced things she would say to Crawford Carter. She considered introducing herself formally, but she decided that would be uncool. Best to make it seem spur-of-the-moment, as though she hadn’t ever noticed him before, but now that she had,
of course
she would say hello. No big deal.
She arrived at her street, turned at the student rental house on the corner, and got smacked in the chest with a Frisbee. Which actually hurt.
“Oh, hey, sorry about that!” one of the three guys standing in the yard called out.
Hopping back awkwardly, she picked up the green Frisbee and flicked it back to him, an easy distance. Unfortunately, the disc went wild and landed on the overhang of the front porch.
The guys watched their Frisbee disappear and then unleashed a series of groans and exclamations.
“Damn!”
“Nice one, kid!”
A hot flush leapt into her cheeks. “I’m so sorry . . . I didn’t mean to . . .”
The three guys ignored her now. They were casing the front porch, pacing back and forth like cats, trying to figure out the best way to get up there to retrieve the Frisbee.
She scurried away as quickly as possible. Worse luck still, at the pilot’s house Crawford was nowhere in sight. The newly trimmed grass displayed the striped pattern of the lawn mower’s tracks, but the buzz of the lawn mower had stopped.
As she stood frozen in disappointment, Crawford came around the corner with a push broom. He flicked a nervous glance at her—no doubt wondering why a girl was standing there staring at his grass—and began sweeping the clippings off the sidewalk.
Taking a deep breath, she walked up to him, stopped, and pulled a red can out of her sack. “Would you like a drink?”
Those eyes—yes, they were very green—registered confusion at first, but then his face relaxed and he reached out and took the Coke from her. “Thanks.” He snapped the can open and chugged down several swallows, his Adam’s apple bounding in his throat. He had dust clinging to the fine hair on his arms, and some of his curly hair was sweaty and sticking to his temples.
He was even cuter right up close than he was in the binoculars. The view through the spyglass had made her curious, but now it felt as though the earth had shifted beneath her feet. Was this how Marianne Dashwood felt when Mr. Willoughby scooped her up on that hillside in
Sense and Sensibility?
Not that Crawford looked like he was about to scoop her up, or even touch her. Still. It was hard to make her mouth form words.
“I live in the house two doors down,” she finally blurted out, inclining her head in that direction. “My name’s Lily.”
He shrugged to wipe his mouth with the arm of his T-shirt. “I’ve seen you over there.”
He’d noticed her?
Her?
“Really?”
He laughed. “Really. My name’s Crawford.”
It was all she could do to keep herself from saying, “I know.” Trouble was, she hadn’t planned what else she was going to say to him. Just walking up to him and introducing herself had been as far as her imagination had stretched.
“D-do you live here now?” she stammered.
“Yeah, I used to live with my mom in Dallas, but I don’t get along so well with her new husband.”
“Oh.” She wondered if she should say
that’s too bad,
or something like that, even though it wasn’t bad at all from her perspective. “So you’re going to go to school here?”
He nodded.
“Are you going to—”
“Hey, dude!” One of the college boys jogged toward them. “You wouldn’t have a ladder, would you?”
Crawford turned. “Yeah.”
“Our Frisbee’s stuck on the roof. Some idiot girl—”
Seeing Lily, his words broke off.
Lily looked away, heat creeping into her cheeks again.
“Oh, sure,” Crawford said. “Just a sec.” He started to trot off, but then he turned back to Lily. “See you around, Lily.”
Just hearing his voice say her name made her forget her embarrassment, her disappointment at their having been interrupted, and her smarting left breast.
BOOK: Wherever Grace Is Needed
6.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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