2. Awkward silence.
3. They don’t like me.
4. They will say unkind things about Rosie. They will call Rosie names. They will say the crash was Rosie’s fault.
Bingo: It’s the last one. Maia can’t bear to hear her mother maligned by people who didn’t even know her. And yet that’s also why Maia has to go. Someone has to defend Rosie’s honor.
Huck makes the turn—he knows where it is without Maia even telling him—and they crawl up the hill.
“Come on, chipmunks,” Huck says, but his heart isn’t in it, Maia can tell. He would probably be okay with the chipmunks quitting altogether.
Finally, they pull into the driveway. The gate has been propped open; that never happened when Russ was here. Of course, the people Russ was hiding from are now inside the house.
Maia takes a deep breath. Ayers is squeezing her hand. “You’re okay,” Ayers says. “You’ve got this.”
When Maia climbs out of the truck, the enormity of what is about to happen strikes her. She runs over to the bougainvillea bordering the driveway and throws up her lunch—fish sandwich. Huck hands her a bottle of water from the fishing trip supply he keeps in the back of the truck.
Tomorrow, she’ll tell Huck she’s becoming a vegan. She’ll accept only peanut butter and jelly for the rest of the year.
That decision made, they ascend the stone staircase.
Before they enter the house, Ayers takes in the view. “It’s so weird,” she says. “This is Little Cinnamon, or close. The house has this view and yet you can’t see it from the road.”
“Only from the water,” Huck says. “I’m sure that was by design.” He strides right up to the slider, knocks on the glass, and opens the door. “Hello!” he says. “We’re here.”
There are three people sitting at Russ’s kitchen table—a woman and two men. When Maia, Huck, and Ayers walk in, they all stand.
One of the men, the really tall, good-looking one, says, “Ayers?”
“Here we are,” Huck says. He strides over to the men and offers a hand. “Captain Huck Powers.”
“Baker Steele,” the tall one says.
Baker: Maia has heard this name before. Then it clicks. Baker is the tourist, Ayers’s tourist.
“Cash Steele,” the other man says. He’s shorter, with a head of bushy blond hair like a California surfer. His face is sunburned, which makes his eyes look fiercely blue.
“This is our friend Ayers Wilson,” Huck says. “And this is Maia.”
The woman steps forward and offers Maia her hand. “I’m Irene,” she says. “It’s nice to meet you, Maia. You’re even prettier than the pictures your grandfather showed me.”
“Oh,” Maia says. “Thanks.” She gives Irene her firmest grip and manages to look her in the eye. She’s old, Maia thinks, way older than Rosie. She’s pretty, though in a mom/grandma kind of way. Her hair is reddish-brown and styled in a braid. She’s wearing a green linen sundress, no shoes.
Baker looks at Ayers. “I didn’t realize you’d be coming.”
“Last-minute decision,” Ayers says.
Irene says, “Do you two know each other?”
The other brother speaks up. Cash. Cool name, Maia thinks. She loves last-names-as-first-names and has long wished her name, instead of Maia, was Rainseford. Or Gage. Maia is boring and soft.
“Baker and I met Ayers when we went to dinner in town,” Cash says. “She works at La Tapa.”
“Guilty as charged,” Ayers says, but her tone sounds forced.
Did Ayers know the tourist was Russ’s son? Maia wonders. Her mind goes one crazy step further: If Ayers and the tourist get married, Ayers will be Maia’s half sister-in-law!
This thought serves as a distraction from Maia’s prevailing emotion, which is one of bewilderment. This is the kitchen of the villa, in some sense Maia’s kitchen, or at least a kitchen where she has spent a lot of time—and maybe as much or more time pretending it didn’t exist. If she opens the cabinet on the far left, she knows that she will find half a dozen cans of SpaghettiOs, which Maia loves but which Huck doesn’t allow at home because he had to eat them cold out of the can in Vietnam. Now, Maia is here with Huck. And Ayers. If Rosie is watching from her beach chaise in heaven, she is very, very upset. Maia is suffused with a sense of disloyalty. She’s betraying her mother—and her father—by being here.
But maybe not. Maybe Russ, anyway, is happy his two families are finally meeting each other. Maybe this was supposed to happen.
Maia studies the three strangers, and she can tell they are studying her.
What do they think? she wonders.
The girl is beautiful and she has a grace you can’t discern from a picture. She is light-skinned, her hair gathered in a frizzy ponytail. She has brown eyes, but her nose and smile are all Russ, and more than Russ, they’re Milly. Looking at Maia is like looking at Milly at age twelve, if Milly were half West Indian.
Irene needs to get a grip, offer everyone a drink and put out some snacks, but she is hobbled by thoughts of Milly. When she goes home—which will be very soon, maybe as soon as the weekend—she will go to see Milly. That morning, she decided that she needs to tell Milly the truth: Russ is dead, Russ had a home and a second family down in the Caribbean. Irene lectured the boys about not keeping secrets, and she can’t be hypocritical. Milly needs to know. Milly needs to know, too, that she has a granddaughter who so strongly resembles her.
“What would you like to drink?” Irene asks Maia.
“Ginger ale, please, if you have one,” Maia says, and she places a hand on her stomach. “I’m feeling a little green.”
Poor thing, Irene thinks as she pulls a ginger ale out of the fridge. This defines what it feels like to be thrown for a loop.
Winnie saunters into the kitchen, wagging her tail. She heads straight for Ayers, who bends down to rub Winnie under the chin. Irene isn’t quite sure who Ayers is or why she’s here. She’s a friend of Rosie’s, maybe? If so, she may have some of the answers Irene is looking for.
Cash says to Ayers, “You’ve never been to this house before?”
“Never,” Ayers says. “I didn’t even know where it was.”
“I’d never been here before, either,” Huck says. “Until the other night, when Irene invited me for dinner.”
“Really?” Baker says. “Didn’t either of you wonder…?”
“You’ve been here before, right, Maia?” Irene asks. She catches a warning look from Huck. He told her that under no circumstances was she to grill the child.
“Yep,” Maia says. “I have my own bedroom here, upstairs at the end of the hall.”
Irene knows she’s pushing her luck but she has to ask. “Do you have any idea what Russ did for a living? Who he worked for or what kind of business he was in?”
“Not really,” Maia says. “Money or something. All I know is he was away a lot.”
This last statement makes Irene laugh, but not in a funny ha-ha way. “You mean he was home a lot.”
Maia blinks, uncomprehending.
“At home in Iowa City,” Irene says. “With me. His wife. Us, his family…” She nearly says his real family, but she stops herself. She will not vent her anger at the girl. The girl is innocent.
She wants to ask, Did your mother know about me? Did she know about the woman she was betraying? Did she know about Baker and Cash, Anna and Floyd? Did. She. Know. Irene realizes she can’t ask; Huck will whisk Maia out of here faster than you can say Jiminy Cricket.
However, Maia is intuitive.
“My mother used to tell me that love was messy, complicated, and unfair.”
“Well,” Irene says. “She was right about that.”
“Amen,” Baker says.
“Amen,” Ayers says.
“Amen,” Cash says.
Winnie stands at the sliding door and barks.
Thank God for dogs, she thinks. No matter how tense a situation humans find themselves in—and the situation in the kitchen of the Invisible Man’s villa, with his decidedly visible wife and his sons, Baker and Cash, is an eleven out of ten on the stress scale—a dog lightens the mood.
When Winnie enters the kitchen, she comes right over and buries her nose in Ayers’s crotch, her tail going haywire.
Everyone is trying to act normal, to pretend this visit isn’t completely messed up. Irene says she’d like to talk to Huck and Maia alone, and Baker takes the opportunity to invite Ayers outside. Cash follows with Winnie.
“Go away,” Baker says to him. “Please.”
“Cash can stay,” Ayers says. “I’d actually like to talk to you both.”
They wander over to the pool. There’s a shallow entry where they can all sit with their feet in the water. Winnie lies down between Ayers and Cash, and Ayers strokes her head.
“Let me start,” Baker says. “I owe you an apology.”
“Stop,” Ayers says. She marvels that her parents took her to the rice paddies of Vietnam, the red desert of the Australian outback, and the snow-capped peaks of the Swiss Alps, all with the aim of making her “worldly,” and still she has no idea how to negotiate this emotional landscape.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com