Originally, she was only going to honor Rosie, but at the last minute, she chose a bath bomb for Russ as well.

Maia’s feelings about Russ are mixed. She first remembers him as the man with the lollipops—flat, oval Charms pops, strawberry, Maia’s favorite. Then Maia remembers him teaching her to swim at their private beach. Then, when she was nine, he let her decorate her room in his house however she wanted. But there was a part of Russ that made Maia uneasy. He didn’t stay on St. John; he came and went. When he came, Maia’s mother was happy—ecstatic, even. Impossible to bring down! And when Russ left, Rosie was devastated. It broke her every time, she said, and the leaving, the worrying that he would never be back, never got any easier.

Normally when he came, Rosie and Maia went to his villa. They swam in the pool or at the beach, they ate at the house—food Mama fixed or that Miss Paulette dropped off from different restaurants. Russ liked the lobster tempura from Rhumb Lines and the key lime chiffon pie from Morgan’s Mango. They read books and watched movies and played shuffleboard. But they didn’t go anywhere, and once they returned to their own lives, to the house where they lived with Huck, Maia wasn’t allowed to talk about Russ or the villa at all. She had heard Huck and other people refer to Russ as the Invisible Man, and it did sometimes seem to Maia that Russ only existed for Rosie and Maia. It was as if they and Miss Paulette and her husband, Douglas, and the man who came to do the landscaping and service the pool, were the only people who could see him. Maia wondered how Russ got on and off the island. Did he take the ferry, like everyone else? It seemed inconceivable. Maia had asked her mother, and Rosie had said, “Sometimes he takes the ferry, yes. Sometimes he flies in a helicopter. Sometimes his business associates pick him up by boat down on the beach.” The helicopter and the private boat sounded reasonable; Maia could not imagine Russ waiting in line at the ferry dock, or sitting on the top deck, the way Maia liked to, or disembarking in Red Hook. She thought Rosie was trying to make Russ seem like a normal person, when it was quite obvious to Maia that he was not.

When Maia got older and had friends and activities and plans of her own, she started opting to stay at Huck’s when Russ came. But she still wasn’t allowed to talk about him or the villa, or the location of the villa.

I deserve privacy in one area of my life, Rosie would say. I don’t need every damn person all up in my business. And you know that is what would happen.

Maia did know. If the citizens of St. John found out about the huge villa overlooking Little Cinnamon, they would treat Rosie differently; they would ask for favors and loans—especially Rosie’s Small relatives.

Love is messy and complicated and unfair, Rosie would say—but only on the days that Russ left.

The last time Maia saw her mother was midday, New Year’s Eve. Rosie had come home from Russ’s villa, where she had been staying for the past few days, solely to give Maia “the last kiss of the year.” Rosie looked supremely gorgeous, like a goddess, in a new cream-colored sundress (Christmas present from Russ) and a new leather and black pearl choker (ditto). Seeing these gifts made Maia check out her mother’s left hand, but it was still unadorned, which Maia knew meant that, deep down inside, her mother was disappointed. What Rosie wanted from Russ, more than anything, was an engagement ring.

Maia and Joanie hunkered down in Maia’s room, making a list of tropical scents for their nascent bath bomb business. They were also talking about a boy in their class, Colton Seeley, because Joanie was obsessed with him. Joanie had been snapchatting with Colton, using Maia’s phone. Joanie’s parents were strict and protective; they treated Joanie like she was six years old instead of twelve. Joanie had a flip phone, for phone calls only. It didn’t even text.

When Rosie knocked and then entered Maia’s room without waiting for a response, Maia made a noise of protest.

“What?” Rosie said. “You hiding something?”

“No,” Maia said defensively. She had never hidden anything from her mother. There was no reason to: her mother was a very lenient and permissive parent. But Maia didn’t want to give away Joanie’s secret. Joanie only pursued her crush on Colton while she was in the free world that was Maia’s house.

But Joanie seemed eager to tell the truth. “I’m snapchatting with Colton Seeley,” she said. “He’s so hot.”

“Colton Seeley?” Rosie said. “I’ve known that child since he was in his mama’s belly. Let me see what’s so hot.”

Rosie sat on the bed between them and inspected picture after picture of Colton while both Maia and Joanie snuggled up against her. Maia was happy that Joanie felt comfortable admitting her crush to Rosie and proud of Rosie for being the kind of cool mom that her friends could confide in. For those few moments on the bed, Maia’s world was golden.

Then Rosie stood up. She told the girls she was going to “the villa,” shorthand for Russ’s house, and that she was headed to Anegada the next day. So she was there to give Maia the last kiss of the year.

“What if we want to come to Anegada?” Maia asked. She knew she was pressing at a boundary by asking, because Russ didn’t socialize with anyone, not even Joanie. But Maia thought maybe this year would be different.

“Sorry, Nut,” Rosie said. “We’re taking a helicopter.” Rosie had caressed Maia’s cheeks and kissed her flush on the lips. “I love you and I’ll be back late tomorrow night. Happy New Year.” Then she turned to Joanie. “You’re right, Joan, Colton Seeley is a hottie in the making. Bye, girls. Be good.”

Joanie had fallen back on the bed, returning to her rapture over Colton. She didn’t see Rosie peek her head back in the room to mouth to Maia, I love you, Nut.

Love you, mama, Maia mouthed back.

Rosie blew a kiss and was gone.

When Huck tells Maia, as they’re bobbing out on the water that claimed Rosie, that Russ had another wife and other children, sons, Maia is stunned breathless, but on the other hand it feels like Huck is telling Maia something she had already guessed. All Rosie had wanted was an engagement ring. But Russ was already married.

“They want to meet you,” Huck says.

Maia has an adult moment: she wants to meet them because she’s curious. At the same time, she doesn’t want to meet them because she’s scared.

In the end, she decides to meet them. Otherwise, she’ll always wonder. But she has a couple of conditions. She wants Huck there, obviously, but she also wants Ayers there.

“This may be putting Ayers out of her depths,” Huck says.

“I need her,” Maia says. “The two of you are my squad.”

“Joanie is your squad,” Huck says. “But you would never invite Joanie, because she’s not family.”

Maia considers this for a moment. When she tells Joanie that this is happening—she’s meeting her father’s wife and his sons, who are, in fact, Maia’s half brothers—Joanie will be fiendishly jealous. A secret in Joanie’s family is that her father, Jeff, occasionally goes to Greengo’s in Mongoose Junction for carnitas tacos. Joanie has to whisper carnitas tacos so Julie doesn’t overhear.

My father is only pretending to be vegan, Joanie said.

“Ayers is family,” Maia declares. “I need her there.”

“I’ll ask her,” Huck says, but he still seems uneasy.

“I’ll ask her,” Maia says with a martyr’s air. She sends Ayers a long text, the gist of which is that it has been revealed that Russ (the Invisible Man) has a wife and two sons and they just found out about Maia and want to meet her, and Maia would like Huck and Ayers to go with her tomorrow after school.

Kind of like a king needs tasters, Maia says. She’s proud of herself because she just learned about this courtly detail that very morning—the tasters sampled the king’s food to make sure it wasn’t poisoned—and now she is applying it to her own life. Only you won’t die.

I have work at four, Ayers texts back initially. But then, a few seconds later, she says: I switched nights with Tilda. Ask Huck to pick me up at home.

Yay! Maia responds. TYVM! She’s relieved Ayers is going, but she also feels guilty that she has to miss work. Having adult feelings is exhausting, she realizes.

Driving to the villa the next day, Maia is petrified. She’s shaking, a phenomenon she has never experienced before but that is beyond her control. She holds her hand out, palm facing down, and tries to steady it—but to no avail.

“Do you want me to turn around?” Huck asks.

“No,” Maia says with more certainty than she feels. She won’t back away from something because she’s afraid of it.

“If it makes you feel any better, I’m nervous, too,” Ayers says.

“And me,” Huck says.

What is Maia afraid of, exactly? Last night, on the phone, Joanie helped Maia break it down. They were taught in school that fear often derives from ignorance. Once you understand a situation, it becomes far less intimidating.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” Joanie asks. “They aren’t going to hurt you.”

Maia had written a list:

1. They’re mean.


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