“Does everyone just keep secrets and lie all the time?” I ask at last, my voice loud in the quiet kitchen. “Is that just how it goes?”
She blinks, her gray eyelashes fluttering in surprise.
“Because remember how you told me there were no secrets on Seashell? There are nothing but secrets on Seashell. Everywhere. It seems like this big open place . . . I mean, no one has fences and there are hardly any trees, people leave their win-dows open, some of them don’t lock their doors. But . . . but it doesn’t matter. There are all these walls and . . . No one knows everything that anyone is doing or they know and aren’t telling or they’re telling the wrong people. I just . . . I just want to get away from this place to somewhere else. Somewhere nothing like that.”
“My dear girl, I fear you will be hard-pressed to find such a place outside of the pages of a book. Even there, what are stories made of but secrets? Look at Lady Sylvia. If she had simply told Sir Reginald that she was the mysterious chambermaid with whom he’d spent that passionate night, the book would have been twenty pages long.”
I don’t want to think about Lady Sylvia and her sensuous secrets. I want what’s true.
Mrs. E. examines my face. “I never thought I’d see you pout, Guinevere. You don’t seem the type.” She reaches for the china cup, takes a sip of uncreamy, sugarless tea, makes a face. “I expect my job at this point is to come up with some of the wisdom one supposedly gains with age.” She taps her chin with her finger again. “This is difficult, as I seem to know less, and be far less sure of anything, in my late eighties than I was in my youth. Tea is dreadful without sugar, Gwen. Just add it from the canister, will you, never mind the silver service?”
“It’s okay, Mrs. Ellington. You don’t need to advise me.”
“How about this, dear girl? It’s about the best I have to offer.
Yes, it’s incredibly difficult for two people to be straightfor-ward with each other. We get afraid, embarrassed . . . we all want others to think highly of us. I was married to the captain for five years before he confessed to me that he had never captained a boat at all. That, indeed, boats made him seasick. I’d thought he’d had a bad experience in the war and that was why he didn’t want to go out on the water. But he was never in the Navy at all . . . but I digress. Perhaps, dear Gwen, you could think, instead of what a betrayal it is to be lied to, how rare and wonderful it is when two human beings can tell each other the truth.” She pats my hand, gives me her most joyous smile and then says, “Don’t pout, though. The wind may change and your face could be stuck like that.”
“Mrs. E., your son is taking your things and selling them.
That friend of his . . . he’s looked through your silver and your paintings and your chairs and I overheard them . . .”
I trail off.
I wait for her face to darken with rage—at Henry, or more likely me, the eavesdropping bearer of bad tidings. The person who tells things no one wants to know.
But instead, she laughs, deep from the belly, patting my hand again, and leaving me completely confused. “Yes, dear,”
she says finally, practically wiping tears from her eyes.
“Yes, Henry and I had a conversation yesterday. But even before that . . . I’m not a fool, dear girl. Gavin Gage is an old friend of Henry’s, but it was hardly likely he’d be popping by for a social call. Everyone on Seashell, if not all of Connecticut, knows Gavin is the man to go to when you wish to discreetly part with a useless family heirloom for a few useful dollars.”
“But . . . But . . . he was always sneaking around and mak-ing sure you were napping and worrying about whether you’d notice something was missing.”
“I’m so grateful I’m not a man,” Mrs. Ellington says. “We women are proud, but honestly, men! Yes, Henry and I had a long discussion yesterday when I asked him to show me the balance books to see if I could give you a little something for being such a help so far this summer. I’ve never seen such hemming and hawing, and finally he had to confess that he’d made some unwise investments and that we are now, like half the families on Seashell, asset rich and cash poor. As if I’d rather he work himself into a heart attack than sell that hideous ring that belonged to my mother-in-law.”
She tosses back the last of her tea, then says cheerfully, “It’s chilly today. Too cold to go to the beach. The ladies will no doubt be wanting to hear more of Lady Sylvia’s sins. Can you make some of Ben’s sauce for them? He sent Marco to me last night with a perfectly cooked lobster.”
Nic has been gone for a whole day of work now, edging into evening. Tony and Marco haven’t even called to check on him.
Manny must have said something. Mom goes to clean that office building in town. Because it’s Thursday, and that’s what she does on Thursday. Grandpa heads out to bingo night. Viv has a wedding rehearsal to cater for Almeida’s. Emory had speech and occupational therapy and he’s tired and wants to watch Pooh’s Big Adventure. So I’m sitting here with my little brother, staring blankly at the screen, remembering Nic and me always trying to figure out why on earth Pooh had a shirt but no pants. I want Nic. I want Cass. I want the things I thought were sure things. The thing I was thinking, finally believing, would be a real thing. Rewind. Redo.
“Hideout loves you,” Emory whispers, burrowing into my side, nudging his hermit crab into my armpit.
I’m crying over a stuffed crustacean.
I think this is what they call rock bottom.
“What in God’s name is Emory doing awake at this hour?” Dad asks. I jolt awake. Myrtle groans. Dad is dragging in his laundry bag and tossing it in the usual spot.
I have no sense of time at all. It’s dark. Emory’s sitting beside me, eyes like saucers, still watching Pooh. Have I been asleep for minutes? Hours?
The digital clock reads 11:20. Nic’s been gone now for more than twenty-four hours. We can report him missing, now, right? Or does it have to be forty-eight? The fact that I am even wondering about this makes my stomach hurt.
Mom and Grandpa are at the table, flicking out cards. Gin rummy? Really? We all start talking at once, including Em, who gets up, walks over, and puts his arms around Dad’s waist, wailing, “Niiiiicky!”
Dad ruffles his hair absentmindedly, looking at Mom. “Luce, don’t get yourself into one of your swivets. Gwen, I’d think you’d be smarter. Ben, he’s fine. Calm down, all of you. I’ve got him. He’s at my house. He’ll be back tomorrow.” Tomarra.