“Who?” Ayers says. “Who said that?”
Maia doesn’t want to get anyone in trouble. It was Colton Seeley’s dad. He was talking to Bright Whittaker’s father in the parking lot of Gifft Hill and he said something about the “love child of Love City,” and Maia had felt that the words were aimed at her. “Just tell me what it means, please.”
“It means what you’d think it means,” Ayers says. “A child conceived in love.”
“But does it have a negative connotation?” Maia asks.
Ayers laughs. “You know what’s scary? How precocious you are.”
“Well,” Ayers says. “I think it’s often used to describe a child whose parents aren’t married. So, way back in the olden days, having children was seen as a biological function to propagate the species. People got married and had children so that mankind survived. Whereas a love child is special. Its only reason for being is love.”
“And so that’s what I am?” Maia asks. “A love child? Because my parents weren’t married?”
“I’ve got news for you, chica. My parents aren’t married, either.”
“They’re not?” Maia says.
“Nope. They’ve been together a long, long time, thirty-five years, but they never got officially married. And guess what? I never think about it. Nobody cares.”
Maia loves that she is still learning new things about Ayers. Ayers is interesting—and Maia’s greatest desire when she grows up is to be interesting as well. She knows that to become interesting, she must read, travel, and learn new things. Maia is pretty much stuck on St. John for the time being, but she does love to read and she watches a fair amount of YouTube, which is how she and Joanie learned to make bath bombs.
“So if you and Mick had a baby, it would be a love child?” Maia asks.
“If Mick and I had a baby, it would be a grave error in judgment,” Ayers says, and she turns into Scoops. “I’m getting the salted peanut butter. What are you getting?”
“Guava,” Maia says. Before she gets out of the truck, she notes that she must be growing up, because she feels two distinct emotions at this moment: She is happy to be getting her favorite ice cream with Ayers. She loves Ayers. And she feels empty—like if someone did surgery and cut her open, they would find nothing inside her but sad, stale air. Her mother is dead.
Maia’s mother, Rosie, is dead. Some days, Maia can’t accept this truth, and so she pretends her mother is on a trip, maybe the trip to the States that Russ was always promising but which never came to fruition. Or, she pretends that Rosie and Russ made it to Anegada, have gotten a beachfront tent at the Anegada Beach Club, and are so taken with the flat white sands, the pink flamingos, and the endless supply of fresh lobster that they have simply decided to stay another week.
Other times, reality is dark and terrifying, like the worst bad dream you can imagine, only you can’t wake yourself up. Rosie is gone forever. Never coming back.
Lots of people offered their support—Huck, obviously, and Ayers. Also Joanie’s parents, especially her mom, Julie. Julie pulled Maia aside to talk to her alone.
“I lost my mother when I was twelve,” she said. “She died of a brain hemorrhage while she was asleep. So as with Rosie, there was no warning.”
Not knowing what to say, Maia just nodded. The no-warning part was important. No-warning was the worst. LeeAnn had died, but she had been very sick, and they’d all had time to prepare. They said good-bye. LeeAnn knew they all loved her.
Maia worries: Did Rosie know how much Maia loved her? Did she know she was the start and end of everything for Maia? Did she know she was Maia’s role model?
Julie continued. “It’s going to be hard for the rest of your life, but it’ll also define who you are. You’re a survivor, Maia.”
There have been plenty of moments when Maia hasn’t felt like a survivor. There have been moments when she wished she’d gone down in the bird with her mother, because how is Maia supposed to go through the rest of her entire life without Rosie? It feels impossible.
“But it’ll get easier, right?” Maia said. Other people had reassured her that the nearly unbearable pain Maia was feeling now—worse than a side stitch, more torturous than a loose molar—would mellow with time. Maia repeated that word, mellow.
“Yes, it’ll get easier,” Julie said. “But certain days will be more difficult than others. Mother’s Day is always tough for me. And when Joanie was born”—here Julie welled up with tears, and Maia wanted to reach out and hug her—“… when I had Joanie, I wanted my mom. I wanted her to see her granddaughter. I wanted her to tell me what to do.” Julie had then taken a deep breath and recovered. “What helped me was looking outward, and thinking about the other people who missed my mom. You’re mature enough for me to suggest that you keep an eye on Huck and Ayers, because they’re hurting, too, and they’re trying to stay strong for you. But you have something they don’t. You have your mother inside of you, half her genes, and as you get older, you’ll likely become more and more like your mother, and that will bring people comfort. It’ll be like getting Rosie back, in a way.”
Maia liked that idea enormously. Her mother was alive inside of her. Maia was her own person, but she was also a continuation of Rosie.
“But don’t put pressure on yourself to be perfect in order to make your mother proud,” Julie said. She lifted Maia’s chin and gave her a very nice smile. “I assure you, Maia Small, your mother was proud of you every single second of every single day, just for being you.”
Maia has never been religious, but now it’s helpful to imagine her mother and her grandmother in the sky, in a place Maia thinks of as heaven, where they lie back on chaise longues, like the ones they used to relax in on Gibney Beach. Maia’s grandmother, LeeAnn, was friends with Mrs. Gibney, and she was allowed to sit in the shade in front of the Gibney cottages whenever she wanted.
“I hope heaven looks like this,” LeeAnn used to say. White sand, flat, clear turquoise water, the hill of Hawksnest and Carval Rock in the distance.
When Maia can keep her mother and grandmother in those chaises in the sky, watching over her, cheering her on, keeping her safe, then she can move—nearly seamlessly—through her days.
She tries to remember her mother in full, fleshy detail, because one of the things she has heard is that once people die, they fade from memory and become more of an idea than a person. Maia and her mother were so connected, so attached, that Maia can’t imagine forgetting her, but she replays certain moments and images again and again, just in case.
Her mother was beautiful—short, trim, perfectly proportioned. She had cocoa skin, darker than Maia’s, and a flash of orange in her brown eyes, which caused people to stare. Her eyes were arresting, Russ said once, meaning they made you stop. Maia didn’t inherit the orange; her eyes are regular dark brown like her grandmother’s. LeeAnn claimed the orange was a Small trait—it meant fire, and the fire meant trouble.
Rosie worked four evenings a week at La Tapa. She was a great server, the kind returning guests requested when they called to make their reservations. Having dinner at La Tapa wasn’t enough of a tradition; they had to have dinner at La Tapa with Rosie as their server—otherwise their trip wasn’t complete. Rosie knew a lot about wine and even more about food, and she liked to hang out with the kitchen crew to see how they prepared things. Rosie was a really, really good cook, and at home she made mostly Caribbean food, recipes she had learned from LeeAnn and that LeeAnn had learned from her mother—conch stew, jerk chicken, Creole shrimp over rice. She put peas in her pasta salad and raisins in her coleslaw just like everyone else in St. John, but Rosie’s versions of these dishes were better because she added a teaspoon of sugar.
Maia is old enough to wonder if her mother had aspirations. She sometimes talked about opening a food truck, but she thought it would be too much work. More than anything in the world, Maia knows, her mother had been passionate about the Virgin Islands—the USVI and the BVI—and when she was working at La Tapa, she was always giving people at her tables excellent tips, such as go to the floating bar, Angel’s Rest, in the East End; don’t miss the lobster at the Lime Inn; there’s yoga on the beach at Cinnamon and a really cool church service on the beach at Hawksnest. She could have been a tour guide, Maia thinks, or a yoga instructor, or owned a food truck, but Rosie had lacked ambition, whereas Maia has ambition to spare. She will need two or three lifetimes to reach all of her goals. Maia doesn’t like to think badly about her mother, though, so instead of believing her mother lacked something, she has decided to categorize her mother as content. She was so happy with her life—in love with Russ, absorbed with Maia, good at her job, and living in a place she adored, with friends everywhere she turned—that she had no reason to make any changes.
Maia tells Huck about her plan for a memorial ceremony out on the water, in the place the bird went down, and he agrees, as she knew he would. Huck has always been Maia’s favorite. Her mother and grandmother loved her because they had to. Huck loves her because he wants to.