His dinner with Irene, instead of heading in an amorous direction, as he had hoped, ended with a quandary. Irene was dead certain Maia was Russ’s blood daughter. Huck had been skeptical. Why wouldn’t Rosie have just said so? Why make up the story about the Pirate and then pretend the Invisible Man was a different guy? Rosie was prone to drama; maybe she wanted her life peopled like a Marvel comic.
To prove her point, Irene brought Huck a framed photograph: Rosie with an older gentleman, lying in a hammock. Russell Steele. But in the photo, Russ was wearing sunglasses. There was something in his face that was replicated in Maia’s face, but without seeing his eyes, Huck couldn’t be 100 percent sure. Then Irene scrolled through the pictures on her phone and found a good, clear picture of her husband’s face.
Yes, Huck thought. There was no denying it. Maia had the same half-moon eyebrows, the same slight flange to the tip of her nose, the exact same smile.
“Uncanny,” Huck said.
“She’s his,” Irene said.
“Yes, you see it?”
“Impossible not to see it.” Huck remembered back to when he and Ayers told Maia that Rosie was dead. She had said, What about my father? She knew. They’d told her, maybe. She was twelve, old enough to understand. It also explained why Russell Steele paid for Rosie’s living expenses and Maia’s tuition. Huck had checked Rosie’s bank account balances. She had seven thousand in her checking and a whopping eighty-five thousand in savings, and it looked as though she might have some kind of account in the States. Huck would need to hire a lawyer to get access to that money on Maia’s behalf, and he supposed he would need to legally take custody, although his distrust of lawyers and his distaste for paying their exorbitant fees had kept him from doing anything just yet. The custody question was a moot point—or so he had assumed. No one on this island was going to dispute his claim to the girl, not even the Smalls, Rosie’s father’s people. So there was no sense of urgency. Until now. Maybe.
“I’d like to meet her,” Irene said.
Huck could not put the inevitable off any longer: he needed a cigarette.
“I’d like to smoke,” he said.
“I’ll join you,” she said.
They stepped out onto the deck and Huck lit up. He took a much-needed drag, then handed the cigarette to Irene. “Or I could light you your own.”
“A whole cigarette would be wasted on me,” Irene said, though she inhaled off his deeply. “I know she’s not related to me.”
“Just let me think a minute,” Huck said. “I need to consider Maia. Maia’s emotional state, Maia’s best interests.”
“I don’t think there are blueprints for this,” Irene said. “The circumstances are unique. I, for one, can’t accept the information that Russ has a child, a daughter, without wanting to meet her.”
“What do you hope to get out of it?” Huck asked.
“I’m not sure,” Irene said. “I loved him. She’s his. I think my motives are pure.”
“The boys—Baker and Cash—are her brothers.”
“Fine, half brothers. But that’s still blood. That’s still family.”
Huck didn’t like where her reasoning was headed. He was Maia’s family! He had been the third person to hold her after she was born. He had taught her how to cast a line, bait a hook, handle the gaff. He drove her to school, packed her lunches, signed her permission slips. It rankled him that “the boys, Baker and Cash,” shared blood with Maia when he did not.
Irene was a perceptive woman. She put a hand on his arm. “I’m not going to take her from you, Huck. I just want to meet her. Let her know we exist. She’s twelve now. Even if we don’t tell her, she’ll find out eventually and there will be resentment. Aimed at you.”
“Let me think about it,” Huck said. “I’ll call you by Wednesday night.”
“Thank you, Huck,” Irene said. “Thank you for even considering it.” She gazed up at him, her eyes shining; she looked, in that moment, as young and hopeful as a woman in her twenties. Huck flicked the butt of the cigarette over the railing. It was time for him to leave.
Irene stood on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek. It was official. Despite the bizarre, twisted chain of events that had brought them both there, he liked her.
On Wednesday, he picks Maia up from school at noon. She has a half day and he didn’t schedule an afternoon charter because they have an important mission.
They stop by home to grab the things they need. Huck loads the buoy, rope, and anchor into the back of the truck. Maia emerges with a paper lunch bag.
Thirty minutes later, they are in The Mississippi, heading for the BVIs. It’s a clear day, cloudless; the sun is so hot it paints fire across the back of Huck’s neck. He pulls his bandana out and imagines it’s still damp with Irene’s tears. He hasn’t been able to think of much besides Irene—half because he’s starting to feel something for her, half because she has asked him to make an impossible decision.
“How was your night with Ayers?” Huck has been so preoccupied with Irene that he has neglected to ask until now.
Maia is facing into the wind, wearing an inexpensive pair of plastic sunglasses that she decorated with seashells she and her mother collected on Salomon Beach. “Impossible-to-reach-Salomon-Beach” had been Rosie’s favorite. Maia has a faraway expression on her face, and Huck wonders what’s going on in that mind of hers. He nearly repeats the question, but then Maia says, “It was fine. I think Ayers is having man problems.”
“Oh really?” Huck says. “Someone new, or is she still hung up on Mick?”
“Someone new,” Maia says. “A tourist, I think.”
“Bad news,” Huck says. He casts a sidelong glance at Maia. “You’re not allowed to date until you’re thirty, by the way.”
“We saw Mick at Pizzabar in Paradise,” Maia says. “He told me he still loves Ayers.”
“Oh boy,” Huck says. “Sounds like you had an educational night.”
“She likes the tourist,” Maia says. “But they had a date for tonight, and he canceled. She was upset. I told her she should go back out with Mick. I like Mick.”
“I know you do,” Huck says. Huck likes Mick, too. Mick always buys him a round at the Beach Bar, and he buys Huck’s fish for the restaurant. But Mick had gotten mixed up with one of the little girlies working for him and Ayers gave him the boot.
Now she’s interested in a tourist? No, Huck thinks. Not a good idea. Although Huck, of course, has no say.
Huck steers the boat past Jost and up along the coast of Tortola. He’s in British waters now and he expects to be stopped by Her Majesty’s coast guard; Huck isn’t allowed to be over here without going through customs. But the border control and BVI police boats must all be at lunch or at the beach, because he moves toward their destination unimpeded.
North of Virgin Gorda, southeast of Anegada. It’s a haul—which, he supposes, is why Russ and Rosie decided to take a bird. It was only an irresponsible decision because of the weather; it must have seemed like a good gamble, though, and if Huck had all the tea in China and a bird at his disposal, he might have chanced it as well.
They pass Treasure Island, which is on the way from Norman Island to Jost Van Dyke, and Maia starts waving her arms like crazy.
“Ayers is working today,” she says.
“Does she know what we’re doing today?” Huck asks.
“I didn’t tell her,” Maia says. “I didn’t tell anyone.” Treasure Island is past them now, and The Mississippi catches some of her choppy wake. The boat bounces, but Maia enjoys it the way she might a ride at the amusement park. She’s his girl.
Hard things are hard. Maia asked to see the place where the helicopter went down. At first, Huck had resisted. What good would come from seeing the place where Rosie died so violently? But then Huck reasoned that any real-life visual would likely be less horrific than the pictures Maia held in her mind.
They reach the general area of the crash, according to the coordinates Huck had gotten from Virgin Islands Search and Rescue when they had delivered Rosie’s body—a huge favor pulled by Huck’s best friend, Rupert, who grew up in Coral Bay with the governor; bodies are notoriously hard to recover from the Brits—and Huck cuts the engine. The water is brilliant turquoise; the green peaks of Virgin Gorda are behind them. Huck picks up the mooring—a white spherical buoy that Maia painted with a red rose and Rosie’s name and dates. Huck had told Maia that the mooring isn’t legal; it will likely be pulled within twenty-four hours. Maia doesn’t care. She wants to go through the ritual of marking the spot.
“We’re here,” Huck says.
Maia stands, holding the buoy, and kisses it. Huck picks up the rope and tosses the anchor overboard. Maia throws the buoy over. The rose is pretty; she did a good job.
“Should we say something?” Huck asks.
“I love you, Mama,” Maia says. “And Huck loves you, too, even if he is too manly to say it.”