“Sounds like a great marriage,” Henry Ellington says drily.

“The point is, what do we have here of any value?”

I got paper bags, not plastic, and am setting them down really gently, hoping they won’t rustle and alert Henry to my presence, which I’m pretty sure is not wanted. I’ve had a life-time of hearing “Other people’s stories, Gwen. All we owe them is a clean house and a closed mouth.” But it’s hard to close your brain. What’s going on?

“Henry, you know I’ll do all I can for you. Some of the furniture is of worth. The Eldred Wheeler Nantucket tea table in the foyer would amount to about eight hundred dollars.

So would the Walnut Burr table here in the dining room. The china cabinet Meissen vase on the fireplace mantel would be about three hundred. The most valuable asset I’ve seen is the Beechwood Fauteuil armchair in the sunroom. That would be just under two thousand.”

Henry says, “Gavin,” in a hoarse voice, then clears his throat.

“None of that adds up to anything of significance, not to men-tion the fact that Mother would notice if the dining room table and her favorite chair disappeared. I’m sure you understand my position.”

They’re standing just on the other side of the kitchen door.

My heart is jack-hammering in my chest. I feel like I’m about to be caught, fired in disgrace, as though I have stolen all the valuable things in the house. I bend over carefully, pick up the three grocery bags I’ve already carried in and inch back out the kitchen screen door, so grateful it doesn’t squeak like ours at home.

Then I stomp up the stairs, slam it open loudly, walk thun-derously into the kitchen and call, “I’m finally back! Sorry, Mr.

Ellington! There was—traffic on the causeway and um, Garrett’s was out of the cedar plank, so I had to look around. Mrs.

E. isn’t up yet, is she?”

Tops of his cheekbones flushed, Henry swings open the kitchen door. “No, not at all, Gwen. Haven’t heard a peep from her. She usually sleeps over two hours, doesn’t she?”

I’m sure I too am totally red in the face. As I pile up the grocery bags, I knock over the cut glass vase of hydrangeas.

It scatters across the table, nearly tumbling off, and the water drips onto the floor. I grab the roll of paper towels and clean up as Henry turns to the wet bar, asking Mr. Gage if he wants a refill. He doesn’t, but Henry sure does. While he’s rattling ice on the counter and breaking it into little pieces with this weird hammer thing, Mr. Gage says, “If I may look around a bit more? The upstairs?”

“The view is lovely from there,” Henry says in a slightly too-loud, overcompensating voice, similar to the one I probably used a second ago. “But Mother is sleeping. Perhaps you can wait until she wakes up.”

I’m stuffing the groceries into the refrigerator like the efficient, upright, honest servant I should be, rather than the shifty, eavesdropping one I’ve apparently become. My hands are shaking.

Then someone else’s hand falls on my shoulder.

“Er. Guinevere.”

I turn to meet Henry Ellington’s eyes.

“Mother’s told me what a hard worker you are. I appreciate your—” He clears his throat. “Tireless efforts on her behalf.”

He reaches into his pocket, pulls something out, then flips it open on the kitchen table, bending over it to write.

A check.

“Rose Ellington is not easy,” he says. “Used to certain stan-dards. You meet them. I think you deserve this . . . a little extra.”

He folds the check, extends it to me.

I’m frozen for a second, staring at it as if he’s handing me something far more deadly than a piece of paper.

After a moment, as though that’s what he had intended all along, Henry sets the check down on the kitchen table, on the dry, clear spot between where I spilled the water and where I put the groceries. As though it belongs there, as much as they do, as natural, as accidental, as those.

Chapter Twenty-seven

“He’s robbing her blind,” Vivie says. She hangs a hard left in the Almeida’s van, throwing both Nic and me against the passenger doors. “He’s divorced, right? He cheated with the underage babysitter and now her family’s asking for hush money, his ex took him to the cleaners even though she was having it on with the doorman, he’s broke because he’s embezzling from his boss, and he’s counting on Mommy to bail him out. With-out her knowing.”

“Wow. You got all that from what I just told you?”

“Drama Queen,” Nic says.

“I’m not.” Viv jerks the wheel, tires squealing, to turn onto Main Road. I land hard against the door.

“Why wouldn’t he just ask her for the money?” I say, right-ing myself, kicking upright the bag of quahogs at my feet— we’re doing a clam boil for St. John de Brito Church tonight.

“Those guys never talk to each other,” Nic says. “I swear, we were painting the dining room at the Beinekes’ today.

Place was draped in sheets and stuff, and Hoop and I are doing the edging, but Mr. and Mrs. Beineke and their poor granddaughter are still eating in there. It’s all ‘Sophie, can you ask your grandmother to pass the butter’ and ‘Sophie, please tell your grandmother we are running low on salt,’

even though the table’s four feet by four feet and Grandma and Gramps can hear each other perfectly. They just let every-thing important stay unsaid.”

“The question is, do I say anything?” I ask. “Or should I—”

“Left up here!” Nic interrupts, pointing right.

Viv turns left.

“No—that way!” Nic points right again.

Viv swears under her breath, making a U-turn that tosses Nic and me against the doors again.

“Do you think this is a handicap, Vee?” Nic asks. Do you think the academy won’t take me because I always have to make that little L thing with my hand?”

“Maybe you’ll get a special scholarship,” Vivien says, patting his shoulder, squinting at me in the rearview. “Gwenners, the thing is, you don’t really know anything. You’ve worked for them for a few weeks. They’ve had a lifetime to complicate and screw up their relationship. Don’t get involved.”

Don’t get involved. Don’t think about it. Nas histórias de outras pessoas.