As she decides no to candles and then yes to candles—why deny herself the pleasure of candlelight?—Dot, the head nurse on the medical floor, answers.
“Dot, this is Irene Steele. I know I’ve been lax about calling this week…”
“Oh, Irene,” Dot says. “Cash called and let us know that you all were taking a vacation. Are you back?”
“No,” Irene says. “Not yet.” She stands at the deck railing and looks out at the sky, striped pink as the sun sets out of sight to the left. The water has taken on a purplish hue, and pinpricks of light start to appear on the neighboring islands. This view is probably what someone like Dot thinks of when she thinks vacation. And yet.
“I haven’t called you because I don’t want to rain on your parade,” Dot says. “But Milly is failing, Irene. It’s nothing dramatic, just a steady decline I’ve noticed since the first of the year. She’s not going to die tomorrow—I don’t want you running home—but I figured you ought to know.”
Irene is silent. Milly has been failing since the first of the year. The day that Russ died. Her only child. It’s almost as if she sensed it.
“Is she awake now?” Irene asks. “Can I speak with her?”
“She’s been asleep for hours,” Dot says. “But I’ll tell her you called. Around lunchtime is best, if you want to try again tomorrow.”
Try again tomorrow, Irene thinks. So she can lie to Milly and tell her everything is fine, Cash surprised her with a vacation, the Caribbean is beautiful.
“Okay,” Irene says. “I’ll do that.”
Huck arrives a few minutes after seven. From her second-floor guest-room window, Irene watches his truck snake up the driveway. She checks her hair and hurries down the stairs to meet him at the door.
This is not a date, she tells herself, though her nerves are bright and jangly with anticipation. She will attempt to make Huck her ally. She needs one here on this island.
Irene opens the door. Huck has cleaned up a bit himself—his red-gray hair is combed, his yellow shirt pressed. He’s holding a bag of fish fillets—more than they could possibly eat—in one hand and a bottle of… he immediately hands the bottle over to Irene… Flor de Caña rum, eighteen years old.
“Thought we might need that,” he says.
Irene accepts the bottle gratefully. It solves the problem of how to greet him—air-kiss or handshake. Now neither is necessary.
“Come on in,” she says. “Did you have any problem finding it?”
“You know I’ve lived here twenty years,” Huck says. “And I never knew this road existed. Does it have a name?”
“Lovers Lane,” Irene says.
“That’s what the deed says.” This is a development, new as of this afternoon. Paulette Vickers managed to produce the deed. The house, known as Number One Lovers Lane, is owned solely by Russell Steele. This news had come as a solid punch to the gut. Irene had secretly believed that they would discover the property was owned by Todd Croft or Ascension. If that had been the case, Irene could have believed Russ was a pawn, manipulated by his powerful boss. More than once after Russ had accepted the job from Todd, Irene had realized that he’d made a deal with the devil. But had she ever encouraged him to quit? Never. The money had been too seductive.
According to Irene’s lawyer in Iowa City, Ed Sorley, Russ’s will leaves everything to her should she survive him. When had he signed the will? Irene had asked Ed. She worried that another will would materialize, leaving everything to Rosie Small. But Ed said that Russ had come in to sign a new will in September, one that included a new life insurance policy he’d taken out, to the tune of three million dollars.
“September?” Irene said. This was news to her. She remembered them both signing new wills back when they bought the Church Street property.
“Yes,” Ed says. “Why do you ask? Is everything all right?”
“Never better,” Irene said, and hung up.
“Well,” Huck says now, stepping into the foyer. “This is quite a place.”
Quite a place. Huck follows Irene through the entry hall into the kitchen. She doesn’t feel like giving him a tour—although there is something she wants to show him upstairs, after dinner.
“Let me get you something to drink,” Irene says. “I have wine chilled or…” She looks at the rum; she’s not sure what to do with it. No one has ever brought her a bottle of rum before. “Can I make you a cocktail? We have Coke, I think.”
Huck opens a cabinet and pulls out two highball glasses; he pours some rum in each. “Let’s do a shot,” Huck says. “Then we can be civilized folks and switch to wine.”
Throwing away the rule book. “Deal,” Irene says. She lifts her glass, raises it to Huck, and throws the rum back. It burns, but not as much as she’d expected; it has a certain smoothness, like fiery caramel.
“Well,” she says.
“Good stuff,” Huck pronounces. “Now, if you can find me olive oil, salt, pepper, and a lemon, I’ll marinate our catch.”
Thirty minutes later, Irene is slightly more relaxed, thanks to the rum, a glass of the Cakebread, and a man who is as confident a cook as he is a fisherman. Irene sits at the outdoor table as Huck grills, and when he brings the platter of fish to the table, she finds herself hungry for the first time since the call came.
Huck takes the seat next to Irene and then pauses a minute, looking at the food. It seems like he’s about to speak—make a toast maybe, or say grace. Do they have anything to be grateful for?
Well, they’re still here.
“To us,” she says. “The survivors.”
Huck nods. “Let’s eat.”
The restaurant clears out by quarter of ten, as usual, though there are still a couple of people at the bar, including Baker’s brother, Cash. Or maybe Ayers should be thinking of Baker as Cash’s brother. She likes them both. Baker is hotter, but Ayers feels more comfortable around Cash.
She wipes down the tables, clears all the dishes, unties her apron, and throws it in the hamper. The chef hired someone to replace Rosie, an older gentleman named Dominic, which Ayers supposes is for the best. Skip pours Ayers a glass of the Schramsberg to drink as he counts out her tips.
“Ayers!” Cash calls across the bar. “Come sit!” He raises his beer aloft and Ayers drifts over but does not commit to sitting down. Baker had said he’d be back at ten, and Ayers plans on taking him to De’ Coal Pot. She has been dreaming about the oxtail stew all night.
Rosie had loved the oxtail stew at De’ Coal Pot. And the curried goat.
“So how was your dinner?” Ayers asks Cash.
“Wuss good,” Cash says. He’s slurring his words. From the looks of things, he’s even drunker than he was on Treasure Island. Ayers notices the Jeep keys next to his place mat.
“Water here, please,” Ayers says to Skip with a look. She wonders if her date to De’ Coal Pot is in jeopardy. Baker will have to drive Cash home; he can’t drive himself.
Ayers feels a hand on her back and turns, expecting to see Baker but—whoa! surprise!—it’s Mick. He’s wearing a sky-blue Beach Bar t-shirt and his hair is damp behind the ears. He’s working, obviously, but what Ayers doesn’t understand is why, if he’s going to sneak off for a drink, doesn’t he go somewhere else? Why not Joe’s Rum Hut or the Banana Deck? Why does he have to come here?
“Hey,” he says. He waves to Skip, and a cold Island Summer Ale lands in front of him.
“What?” she says.
“I came to see how you’re holding up,” Mick says. “Want to get a drink? I just got off. And actually I’m starving. Want to grab Chinese at 420?”
Chinese at 420: Their old ritual. 420 to Center is a dive bar next to Slim’s parking lot where everyone in the service industry goes after his or her shift. It’s owned by two guys from Boston; “420 to Center” is some reference to Fenway Park. They do whip up remarkably good Chinese food late-night. Time was, not so long ago, that Mick and Ayers were the king and queen of 420 to Center. But that time has passed. Ayers hasn’t been to 420 once this season. She avoided it because she assumed Mick went there with her successor.
Speaking of which.
“Where’s Brigid?” Ayers asks.
“Trouble in paradise?” she says.
“It was never paradise.”
Ayers thinks about this for a moment. Ayers would have called what she and Mick had paradise. Yes, she would have. They were in love in St. John, they had good jobs and the same days off, and they knew everyone; when they went out, it was hard to pay for a drink. They both loved the beach, the sun, sex, hiking, drinking tequila, and Mick’s dog, Gordon. What could Ayers assume when Mick left but that Brigid—young, alluring Brigid—offered something even more sublime. To discover that this maybe wasn’t true, that life with Brigid had somehow not lived up to expectations, is, of course, enormously satisfying. But only for a fleeting moment. Mick is here, she realizes, not to see how Ayers is “holding up.” No, it’s not about Ayers’s emotional state, but rather, about Mick’s. He wants her company or he wants sex—probably the latter—but Ayers doesn’t have time for it.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com