AYERS

She wakes up the morning after the funeral hungover, no surprise there. She has to go back to work at La Tapa at four o’clock and she’s due to crew a BVI charter on Treasure Island the next day. Her best friend is dead but that doesn’t change the fact that Ayers has bills to pay.

Maia, she knows, has bravely decided to go back to school on Monday. Gifft Hill is nurturing, a nest, and all of Maia’s friends are there. Her teachers will care for her and keep her busy. If she needs to take a break, she’ll take a break. If she needs to cry, she’ll cry. There’s no point staying home to wallow, Maia said, sounding a lot older than twelve.

There’s no point staying home to wallow, Ayers thinks, and so she ties up her hiking boots and throws a couple bottles of water and a baggie of trail mix into her small pack and she climbs into her truck.

She drives down the Centerline Road past mile marker five and parks. She’s going to hike the Reef Bay Trail today, all the way down and all the way back up. It’s not her favorite hike on St. John—it’s popular and sometimes overrun with tourists—but it has the payoff of the petroglyphs carved into the rocks at the bottom of the trail, and today Ayers wants to put her eyes on something that has lasted three thousand years.

The first time she hiked this trail, nearly ten years earlier, she was with Rosie. It was their first date.

As Ayers starts down the path, she remembers Rosie asking her, So what’s your story, anyway? Where are you from and how did you end up here?

As always, Ayers had hesitated before answering. She envied people who had grown up someplace—Missoula, Montana; Cleveland, Ohio; Little Rock, Arkansas. Ayers had been homeschooled by her parents, both of whom suffered from an acute case of wanderlust. She had lived in eight countries growing up and had visited dozens of others. To most people, this sounded cool, and in some ways, Ayers knows, it was cool, or parts of it were. But since humans are inclined to want what they don’t have, she longed to live in America, preferably the solid, unchanging, undramatic Midwest, and attend a real high school, the kind shown in movies, complete with a football team, cheerleaders, pep rallies, chemistry labs, summer reading lists, hall passes, proms, detentions, assemblies, fund-raisers, lockers, Spanish clubs, marching bands, and the dismissal bell.

What had she told Rosie? She had told her the unvarnished truth.

My parents were hippies, vagabonds, travelers; we lived out of our backpacks. My father did maintenance at hostels in exchange for a free place to stay, and my mother waited tables for money. We lived in Kathmandu; in Hoi An, Vietnam; in Santiago, Chile. We spent one year traveling across Australia, and when we finally got to Perth, my parents liked it so much I thought we would stay, but then my grandmother got very sick so we went back to San Francisco, where she lived, and I thought we would live in San Francisco because my grandmother left my father money—a lot of money. But the only thing my parents ever wanted to do with money was travel, and so we moved to Europe—Paris first, then Italy, then Greece. We were living in Morocco when I turned eighteen and I had applied to college without their knowledge—Clemson University in South Carolina—and I got in and I went, but I had to pay for it all myself and I worked two jobs in addition to studying, which left me no time for fun. I hated it in the end and so I dropped out and started working the seasonal circuit. I spent my summers in New England—Cape Cod, Newport, the Vineyard—and winters in New England. I spent last winter in Aruba and a guy I met there told me about St. John. So here I am.

Holy shit, Rosie had said.

I know, Ayers said. I know.

Ayers makes it to the bottom of the hill in no time. The trail is steep and rocky but well maintained and shaded by a thick canopy of leaves all the way down, though the sun streams through here and there in a way that turns the air emerald. Ayers is so dehydrated from the night before that she sucks down her first bottle of water in one long pull. She should have brought more than two bottles. What was she thinking? She considers her trail mix. She hasn’t eaten much of anything since hearing the news; not even Chester’s barbecue appealed to her.

Rosie is dead. When Ayers gets to work at four, Rosie won’t be there. Her name will be off the schedule. There will be a new hire by Monday. At La Tapa, Rosie is replaceable. But not with Ayers.

Ayers hikes up to a small outcropping of rocks to see the petroglyphs. They’ve had rain recently—the thunderstorm that killed Rosie—so the markings in the stone are easy to see. Ayers gets up close and focuses on them. So old. So permanent. Ayers could leave St. John today and come back in fifty years and they would still be here.

Rosie had a tattoo of the petroglyph above her ankle that Ayers had always admired. Get one, Rosie had said. We can match. But Ayers had felt funny about appropriating the symbol as her own. She hadn’t grown up here; she had merely shown up here. She somehow didn’t think she had earned it.

Maybe now, though.

One of the rogue thoughts Ayers has entertained in the past few days is that of leaving. Without Mick and without Rosie, she wondered, what’s the point?

The point, she supposes, is that St. John is as much of a home as she has ever had.

Besides, there’s Maia to consider now. Ayers can’t leave Maia. If Ayers is going to make a change, it should be the opposite of leaving. She needs to stay here through the year—endure the hot summer, pray through hurricane season.

There’s only one other person at the petroglyphs, a guy with bushy blond hair and a gorgeous golden retriever. He looks like a hard-core hiker: he’s wearing cargo shorts and a pair of Salomon boots. He’s studying the petroglyphs with an intensity that discourages conversation, but the dog runs right over to Ayers and buries her nose in Ayers’s crotch.

“Aw, sweetheart,” Ayers says. She pries the dog’s snout from between her legs.

“Winnie!” the hiker calls out. Ayers looks up and he smiles. “I’m sorry. I sent her to finishing school but still she has no manners.”

“Not a problem,” Ayers says. “That’s the most action I’ve gotten in weeks.”

The hiker blushes and Ayers congratulates herself on being truly inappropriate. Then she takes a closer look at him. She has seen this guy before, but where?

“Do I know you?” she asks.

“No, I don’t think so,” the hiker says. “I just got here a couple days…” His voice trails off. “Oh, wait.”

Wait, Ayers thinks. She assumed he’d come into the restaurant or maybe even been a guest on Treasure Island, but no, she met him yesterday, at the reception. “Yeah,” Ayers says. “I… you… were at Chester’s, right? With…?”

“My brother,” the hiker says. “Baker.”

“Right,” Ayers says. “Baker.” She had liked Baker. He was super-handsome, tall, charming. She had thought maybe she had actually met a man at Rosie’s funeral reception. She had thought maybe he’d been a gift from Rosie.

But Baker was a tourist and Ayers tried to stay away from tourists. This was advice she had received from Rosie. Thirteen years earlier, Rosie had hooked up with a guy who sailed in on a yacht, stayed for four days, and then left. The Pirate, she called him. She had never seen him again. He was Maia’s father.

“Anyway, I’m Cash,” the hiker says, offering his hand. “As in Johnny.”

“Ayers,” she says. “As in Rock.”

“And this is Winnie,” Cash says. “As in the Pooh.”

“So you found the petroglyphs,” Ayers says. “What about Baker? He didn’t make it?”

“He’s not much of a hiker,” Cash says. “He was by the pool when I left.”

“Pool?” Ayers says. “Where are you guys staying? The Westin? Caneel?”

“Villa,” Cash says.

“Nice,” Ayers says. “North shore?”

“I’m really not sure,” Cash says. He whistles to Winnie. “We should get back, though.”

“Are you catching the boat?” Ayers asks. “Or hiking back up?”

“Hiking back up,” Cash says. “I didn’t realize there was a boat.”

“You have to set it up with the park service,” Ayers says. “Or maybe it picks up at certain times. I used to know, but I’ve forgotten.” She shakes her head and, much to her chagrin, she starts to cry. “My best friend died a few days ago in a helicopter crash. That party you and Baker stumbled upon was her funeral reception…”

“I know,” Cash says. He’s carrying a small pack and he pulls out a navy bandana and an ice-cold bottle of water. He offers both to Ayers.

She accepts them gratefully. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I heard it would be like this. You’re fine one minute and not fine the next. It’s just… I came down here to see the petroglyphs because Rosie loved them. She had this tattoo…” Ayers struggles for a breath. “She was just so pretty and so cool, such a good friend, my only friend, really, the best friend I’ve ever had. My parents… we never stayed anywhere. I would make a friend in Chiang Mai or Isla Holbox and then we’d leave…” She wipes her eyes with the bandana and takes a much-needed swig of water. “I’m babbling. This awful, horrible thing happened and now I’m bemoaning my entire existence.” She tries to smile. “And you’re a complete stranger.”

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