“So it’s like Penthouse, then?” Huck says.
This gets a laugh out of her, which must come as a surprise, because she claps a hand over her mouth.
“It’s okay,” Huck says. “You’re allowed.”
This is the exact wrong response, because Irene’s eyes fill with tears, but she takes a breath, recovers, and says, “I’m sorry. It’s kindness that undoes me.”
“Understood,” Huck says. “From here on out, I’ll try to be more of a bastard.”
Irene smiles. “Thank you. Anyway, a day or two before all this… I had something happen at work. They named me ‘executive editor,’ which is technically a rung up the masthead, but for all intents and purposes I was fired. They relieved me of all my important duties, my decision making…”
“Turned you into an editor emeritus,” Huck says.
Irene’s eyes grow wide. “Exactly.”
“They’re giving you an honorary title, hoping you’ll retire,” Huck says.
“They couldn’t fire me because then advertisers would have made noise, so they got sneaky instead.”
“You should quit,” Huck says. “Move down here. I’ll hire you as my first mate. You’re one hell of a good fisherperson.”
Irene laughs again, not happily. “Not a chance,” she says.
He gets back in her good graces once he sets down the grilled mahi. He waits until Irene takes a bite.
“Wow,” she says.
“Really?” he says. “Good?”
She takes another bite and he takes the hint: she’s not there to plump his ego. He tastes the fish: yes, perfect. Huck is something of a fanatic about grilling fish. In his opinion, you have a sixty-second window with fish. You take it off a minute too early, it’s translucent and not quite there. But this is preferable, in his mind, to a minute too late. A minute too late and the fish is dry, overcooked, ruined. Three generations of Small women—LeeAnn, Rosie, and Maia—have been schooled in Huck’s feelings about grilled fish, and they all reached a point where they were as discriminating as he was. Huck’s fish is always on point, because he stands at the grill like the Swiss Guard and doesn’t let anything distract him. He’d worried that tonight would be an exception, because there are a host of distractions here, but, praise be, the fish is correct.
Irene eats only the fish—the pasta salad and greens remain on her plate—then she helps herself to seconds. “I have no appetite,” she says. “Except for this fish.”
“Because you caught it yourself,” Huck says. “Because you pulled it out of blue water.” He catches her eye. “Angler Cupcake.”
She pours more wine. They’re at the end of the first bottle and without hesitating, Irene opens a second. Okay, then, it’s going to be that kind of night. Huck has questions, but he won’t ask them yet.
“Powder room?” he asks, standing up.
Irene says, “Through the living room to the back corner down a short hall.”
Huck takes his time wandering. The house is grand but the furnishings are impersonal. He had hoped to see something of Rosie, some indication that she spent time here. There are no photographs; there’s no art at all, really. It looks like any one of a thousand rentals. On the other hand, Huck is glad about this for Irene’s sake. How unpleasant it would be for her to have to live, even briefly, in the love nest Russell Steele once feathered with his mistress.
Huck isn’t sure when he started taking Irene’s feelings into account. Probably when she took the second helping of fish.
As Huck washes his hands, he stares at himself in the mirror and asks himself the hardest question.
Did Rosie know the Invisible Man was married? Huck desperately wants to believe the answer is no, but… come on! Russell Steele shows up here a week or two per month; the rest of the time he’s ostensibly “working,” but he’s never here at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Is he “working” on Thanksgiving or Christmas? No! He’s with his family, his other family, his real family.
Rosie was sweet, but she wasn’t naive.
When Huck gets back to the deck, Irene is standing at the railing with her wine, staring at the water.
It’s time now, he supposes. He joins her.
“Tell me about your children,” he says.
She shakes her head. No, she doesn’t want to tell him, or she doesn’t believe he deserves to hear. But then she says, “Baker is thirty. He lives in Houston. He’s married to a heart surgeon and has a four-year-old son named Floyd. He’s a stay-at-home dad, runs the household, does all the things I used to do when the boys were small. He day-trades in tech stocks, too, on the side, but Anna makes most of the money.”
“Do we like Anna?” Huck asks. Something about the way she said the woman’s name makes him curious.
“Oh,” Irene says. “She’s fine.”
“That bad?” he says.
“She’s an excellent surgeon. She makes all the Houston Best-of lists, and her patients love her. But you don’t have that kind of demanding career without some personal sacrifice.”
“The sacrifice in her case…?”
“She’s never home. She isn’t much of a mother to Floyd. She’s a bit dispassionate. It’s hard to pierce her armor, to get any kind of human response out of her at all. Now, in her defense, she deals with life and death all day, every day, so telling her about finger-painting projects or playground squabbles falls on deaf ears.”
“That’s too bad,” Huck says. “I love hearing the day-to-day details about my granddaughter Maia’s life. She and her friend Joanie are starting a bath bomb business. They’re making them in tropical scents to sell to tourists. I had to order citric acid crystals from Amazon—the package will probably take several months to get here. But I treasure all the little stuff. Because then they get older and they stop telling you things.”
“Amen,” Irene says.
“I didn’t mean to hijack the conversation,” Huck says. “Tell me about your other son.”
“Cash,” she says. “Short for Cashman. The boys were given the maiden names of my two grandmothers. Cash owns and operates a couple of outdoor supply stores in Denver. Savage Season Outdoor Supply, they’re called. Russ gave him the seed money. Russ wanted to see Cash do something with his life other than be a ski instructor.”
“Nothing wrong with teaching people to ski,” Huck says. “Honest living.”
If Irene notices the archness in his voice, she doesn’t let on. “So those are the boys. They’re good kids. They don’t know what to make of all this. They know about Rosie, although we haven’t discussed it. I should tell them I know—it would probably be a weight off their minds. They want to protect me from it, I’m sure. I suppose I’ll tell them in the morning.”
“Always best to be open,” Huck says.
“Is it?” Irene asks. “I made them leave the house tonight because you were coming. They don’t know I’ve made contact with you. They don’t know about the fishing.” Irene throws back what’s left of her wine. “It’s like Russ had this giant secret, which, in turn, is causing the three of us to keep our own smaller secrets.” She looks Huck in the eye for the first time, or the first time without her guard way up. Her eyes are steel-blue, the color of a stormy sea. “I can’t believe this happened to me. And I can’t believe I tracked you down, forced you to take me fishing, and then invited you to dinner.”
“If it makes any difference,” Huck says, “I’m glad you did.”
“Are you?” she says.
He wants to kiss her. But he is too old and out of practice to know if she would welcome this or slap him.
Slap him, he thinks. She’s been a widow for less than a week.
“Yes,” he says. “I am.” He rips his eyes away from her and focuses on Jost Van Dyke, twinkling in the distance. The view is quite something from up here.
“Tell me what you know,” Irene says. “Tell me about Rosie.”
“All right,” Huck says.
Should he go all the way back to the beginning?
Huck is new to the island, but not brand-new. He has his boat and he has his best friend, Rupert, out in Coral Bay. Coral Bay is different from town: folks out there keep to themselves, West Indians and whites alike. Honestly, as soon as you came down the other side of Bordeaux Mountain, it was as though you were on a different island. When Huck wanted to see Rupert, he had to drive to Coral Bay; Rupert simply refused to come west. They would drink at Skinny Legs or Shipwreck Landing and then, half in the bag, Huck would drive home.
Stay left, Rupert used to say. And look out for the donkeys.
It was at a full-moon BBQ at a place called Miss Lucy’s that Rupert introduced Huck to LeeAnn. There was a three-piece steel band and she was right in front, dancing in the grass. Love at first sight? Sure, why not.
LeeAnn had a daughter, fifteen years old and beautiful, which meant trouble. Rosie’s father was long gone, but his people were still around, and while LeeAnn was working her long hours as a nurse practitioner, Rosie sometimes visited her Small aunties and cousins out in Coral Bay—or at least that’s what she said she was doing. Part or most of that time, she was, instead, falling in love with a fella named Oscar from St. Thomas who was twenty-four years old and bad news. Oscar worked “security” for Princess cruises—Huck suspected he also supplied the staff and passengers with drugs—and as such, he was flush with cash that he liked to show off. He drove a Ducati motorcycle and came over to St. John every chance he got to take Rosie for a ride.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com