“Maia,” he says. “Please sit.”
She pulls away from Ayers and looks at him wide-eyed. “Are you mad?” she asks. “You said I could go.”
“I’m not mad,” Huck says. “But would you please sit down? Ayers and I have to tell you something.”
“What?” Maia says. She is standing, defiant now in her posture.
Ayers reaches out to take Maia’s hand.
“There was a helicopter crash north of Virgin Gorda,” Huck says. “Maia, your mother is dead.”
There is a blankness on Maia’s face and this, Huck thinks, is the soul-destroying moment: Maia taking in the words and making sense of them.
Then, Maia starts to scream. The sound is raw, primitive; it’s the sound of an animal. Ayers pulls Maia close and tears stream down Huck’s face and he thinks, Hard things are hard, and Please, God, do not give him anything harder than this.
The screaming morphs into crying, great ragged sobs, seemingly bigger than the girl herself. Huck goes for tissues, a glass of ice water, a pillow in case she wants to punch something. He and Ayers had made a pact that they would not shush Maia or tell her everything was going to be okay. They were not going to lie to the girl. They were going to let her take in what she could, and then they were going to answer her questions as honestly as possible.
The crying ends eventually. Ayers leads Maia to the sofa, and Huck plants himself in the chair, within arm’s reach. He had been over at Schneider hospital with LeeAnn when Rosie gave birth to Maia. He had been the third person to hold her, red and wriggling and utterly captivating. If Huck were very honest, he would admit to feeling a quick stab of disappointment that the baby hadn’t been a boy. Huck had imagined a grandson to take fishing. But Maia stole Huck’s heart that first moment in his arms, and he decided that she would make a better mate anyway. The men in LeeAnn’s family were either weak or absent. It was the women who were strong.
Maia blows her nose, gets a clear breath. Her face, which had been so radiant when she walked in, is now mottled, and, if Huck isn’t imagining it, her dainty features have instantly aged. She suddenly looks seventeen, or twenty-five.
“Helicopter,” Maia says. “So she was with my father. Is he dead, too?”
“Father?” Ayers says.
“Honey,” Huck says. “She was with her… her friend. The one who comes to visit.” The man’s name is Russell Steele. Rosie told Huck the guy’s name when he first came on the scene, a few months after LeeAnn died, but Rosie kept the relationship private. The fellow showed up one or two weeks a month, November through May; he had some big villa on the north shore. Huck had a pretty good idea which road it was, though he’d never been invited to the house and he’d never met the guy. Maia, he knew, went to the house sometimes when the man was on-island, though there were plenty of occasions when Rosie had asked Huck to cover so that she and her mystery lover could have some privacy.
Huck won’t lie: the arrangement had troubled him. He had expected at least an introduction. He had expected, if not a weekly barbecue, then an invitation for a beer. But Rosie had been both stubborn and contrite when it came to the Invisible Man. She was very sorry—and Huck could see on her face that the emotion was genuine—but she wanted to keep her relationship private. The island was small, she had been born and raised there, everyone had always been right up in her business, and she just wanted one thing that would not be discussed and dissected by the community at large.
Huck had suspected this was not how Rosie truly felt. He had suspected that her plea was on behalf of the Invisible Man.
Which meant, of course, only one thing: he was married. Or he was one of those bastards who had a girl like Rosie in every port. International finance was his business, Rosie said, which meant, of course, only one thing: he was also a criminal. You want an honest business? Go out on a boat, catch a fish, and eat it for dinner.
But the Invisible Man should not be confused with the Pirate, which is what Maia is now doing. The Pirate was some other white fella who came in on his buddy’s yacht, hot on Rosie—this was back when Rosie was cocktail waitressing at Caneel Bay—knocked her up and left without a trace. Rosie called him “the Pirate” because he’d stolen her heart.
And her dignity, LeeAnn had said privately to Huck.
Rosie had fallen hard for the Pirate in the four days they’d spent together. It had been over a long weekend—President’s Day in February. And then Maia had been born on November 15.
“If by ‘friend’ you mean Russ, then, yes, he’s my father. Was my father. Russell Steele. So they’re both dead?” Maia holds Huck’s gaze. “They’re both dead?”
“Yes,” Huck says. He wonders if there’s something he doesn’t know. He wonders if Rosie let the Invisible Man adopt Maia at some point over the years without telling anyone. Without telling him. He knows the Invisible Man pays for Maia’s expenses, including her tuition at Gifft Hill, but Huck had thought that was a gesture, possibly even a payment in exchange for Rosie’s discretion. Rosie still had a job, paid her own bills, lived under Huck’s roof whenever the Invisible Man was away, which was a lot. Had Rosie been hiding something that big? How had she pulled it off, legally, without someone in the courthouse in Charlotte Amalie blabbing? It eventually would have gotten back to Huck.
Impossible, Huck thinks. They must have just started calling this Steele fellow Maia’s “father.”
“So I’m an orphan,” Maia says. “I have no one.”
“You have me,” Ayers says. “You’re always going to have me.”
“And you have me,” Huck says. He gets down on his knees before Maia, which seems fitting because he has done nothing for the past twelve years so much as worship this child. He knows she’s too young to understand the quality of his devotion—and this is probably for the best. She doesn’t need someone to worship her. She needs someone to love her, clothe her, feed her, teach her right from wrong, someone to set limits and provide opportunities, someone to believe in her and be her champion.
And that person will be Huck. He will be her Unconditional. He will be her No Matter What.
Anna did Baker a favor before he left. She filled a prescription of Ativan for his mother.
“I bet you she won’t take them,” Anna said. “But it’ll be good to have them just in case.”
It turned out Anna knew Irene better than Baker imagined. She did refuse the pills at first.
But Thursday night, when the sun is dropping like a hot coal into the Caribbean and Irene has refused Baker’s offer of dinner three times, she says, “I think I’d like to try sleeping. Can I see those pills?”
“Do you want the master bedroom, Mom?” Cash asked.
“Heavens, no,” Irene said. “I’ll take one of the guest rooms upstairs.” She offered them both a weak smile. “That’s what I am, a guest. A guest in your father’s house.”
Cash helped Irene get situated upstairs while Baker checked the contents of the kitchen. Paulette had said it was “well-stocked,” and she also said that she could arrange for a private chef if they so desired.
“No private chef,” Baker said. “I don’t think my mother wants any strangers in the house.”
“The landscapers are scheduled every Friday…,” Paulette said.
“Please,” Baker said. “If you would just tell everyone to give us our privacy for a week…”
“Of course,” Paulette said. “Call if you need anything.”
Now, Baker inspects the fridge and cabinets. “Well-stocked” is an understatement. The fridge is filled with steaks, hamburgers, pasta salad, deli meats, fresh vegetables, milk, eggs, and a giant bowl of tropical fruit salad. The bottom shelf holds four flavors of local beer. The cabinets contain enough pasta, cereal, and canned goods—including, curiously, six cans of SpaghettiOs—for a small family to survive a nuclear fallout. The SpaghettiOs remind Baker of Floyd, and he thinks to go out on the deck and call home, but honestly, the only positive thing about this whole surreal trip is that he’s able to leave his own problems behind. Or, rather, his “own problems” become what is happening here. His father is dead. Right? Baker hasn’t been able to feel the reality of Russ’s death, however, because nothing about this makes any sense.
Take, for example, the wine cellar. Russell Steele was a man who liked his Leinenkugel’s, his Bud Light, and his scotch. Baker has no memory of Russ ever drinking wine. Champagne, maybe, at Baker and Anna’s wedding. One sip. The person who liked wine in their family was Irene. She drank chardonnay from California. Her everyday wine was Kendall-Jackson, her favorite splurges Simi and Cakebread. Curiously—or not?—Baker had found one case of both Simi and Cakebread in his father’s wine cellar, almost as if he were expecting Irene to visit.
Cash comes down the stairs just as Baker is cracking open what he believes to be a well-deserved beer, and he reaches into the fridge to grab one for Cash. Cash takes it from him and nods toward the pool.
“She’s asleep,” Cash says. “The pill knocked her right out. Which is a good thing, because I need to talk to you.”
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com