“Nothing, for the time being,” Irene says. “I have a lot of decisions in front of me, but, thankfully, they don’t have to be made today.” She reaches over to squeeze Maia’s hand. “I am so glad you came today, Maia. You are a very special person.”
“Thank you,” Maia says. “I try.”
Irene laughs then, for real, and she says to Huck, “You have your hands full with this one.”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” Huck says.
Their conversation must have been far more pleasant than the one going on outside, because Ayers, Baker, and Cash walk into the kitchen looking like three kids whose sandcastle just washed away.
Huck offers to give Ayers a ride home so that Maia can scatter the Invisible Man’s ashes with Irene and her brothers.
Irene and her brothers. Huck wonders how long it will be until he gets used to the way things are now.
When they reach the north shore road, Huck turns to Ayers. “You okay?”
“I guess,” Ayers says.
“I’m sorry if that was awkward for you,” Huck says. “Maia really wanted you there.”
“I met both the boys this past week,” Ayers says. “I went on a date or two with Baker.”
“Is he the tourist Maia was telling me about?” Huck says.
“He’s the tourist,” Ayers confirms. “I knew better, but I fell for him anyway. And he’s leaving tomorrow.”
“Irene is leaving Friday,” Huck says, and he realizes he sounds wistful.
“I guess it would be easier if we didn’t like them so much,” Ayers says.
Huck nearly clarifies that he doesn’t “like” Irene, at least not in the way Ayers is describing, but then he thinks, Why lie?
“I’ve decided to get a tattoo of the petroglyphs,” Ayers announces.
“One like Rosie had?” Huck asks. Rosie’s tattoo, which she got without permission when she was fifteen—before Huck came on the scene, he would like to point out—was just above her left ankle.
“Yes,” Ayers says. “I used to think I didn’t deserve one because I didn’t grow up here, I don’t have family here…”
“You loved someone deeply here,” Huck says. “And you lost her. I think that makes this home for you.”
“Thank you for saying that.” Ayers is openly weeping. “Would you come with me when I get it?”
“I would be honored,” Huck says.
She sits in the same spot on the plane home, next to Cash, with a scant cup of Russ’s ashes in her purse. She has been in the Virgin Islands for seven days and eight nights. She knows more now than she did when she arrived, although far from everything she needs to know. When she gets home, she has to call Ed Sorley, her attorney. She has to let everyone know that Russ is dead. She has to hire a forensic accountant and, most likely, a private investigator.
The Virgin Islands used to be rife with pirates, or at least the lore of those charming swashbucklers, with their skulls and crossbones and their hidden treasure. An aura of lawlessness still pervades the islands: that much Irene has learned. It’s as if the sun has melted away the rules, and the stunning beauty of the water and the islands has dazzled everyone into bliss. The soundtrack says it all: “The Weather Is Here,” “You and Tequila,” “One Love.”
Before she left, Huck had insisted on taking Irene out on The Mississippi again. She knew he had most likely canceled a charter in order to do so. He said he wanted to give her a proper island good-bye.
If I do a good job, you might even find you like it here, he said.
There wasn’t enough time to fish, because Huck had to pick Maia up from school at three, so instead, Huck gave Irene a round-the-island tour. They puttered out of Cruz Bay harbor and headed northeast. Huck pointed out each beach and provided a running commentary.
“First on your right are Salomon and Honeymoon. You’d think Honeymoon would be the nude beach, but you’d be wrong. Salomon is nude, and Honeymoon has water sports.”
Irene couldn’t help herself: She squinted in the direction of Salomon, but it was deserted.
“There’s Caneel Bay, the resort. If we had more time, we could dock and go in for a bottle of champagne.”
“You don’t seem like much of a champagne drinker,” Irene said.
“True,” Huck said. They rounded the point. “On the right is Hawksnest, popular with the locals, although I wouldn’t be caught dead there, and on the left is Oppenheimer, named after Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb. He used to own the land. Coming up is Denis Bay, below Peace Hill. My first mate, Adam, calls it ‘Piece of Ass’ beach.”
Irene shook her head and smiled.
“There’s Trunk Bay, our pageant winner, followed by Peter Bay, where all those fancy homes are… and now we are approaching… Little Cinnamon.”
“Little Cinnamon?” Irene said. “Where’s the house?”
Huck had to cut the engine and pull out his binoculars. He studied the hillside for a moment. “There. The outside of the house is meant to blend in with the surrounding bush, but if you look closely and hold the glasses exactly where I have them, you’ll see it.”
Irene accepted the binoculars. She had a hard time finding anything resembling a house, but then she picked out the curve of the upper stone deck. A man and a dog were outside: Cash and Winnie.
They proceeded past Cinnamon to Maho and went around Mary’s Point to Waterlemon Cay (“great snorkeling—we’ll have to do that the next time you come”) and Francis Bay (“buggy”), and all the way around the East End (“nothing out there but a great floating bar”) to Coral Bay. They headed back along the south-facing beaches: Salt Pond (“guaranteed turtles”), Lameshur Bay, Reef Bay, Fish Bay. Irene followed their progress on the map. She was awed by the size of the island and by the homes she saw tucked into crevices and hanging from cliffs.
There were a lot of places to hide in St. John.
Huck guided the boat toward an island called Little St. James. “What do you like on your pizza?” he asked.
“My pizza?” Irene said.
He pointed a few hundred yards away to a sailboat flying a pizza flag. PIZZA PI, the sign said. As they got closer, Irene could see a menu hanging on the mast. It was a pizza boat in the middle of the Caribbean.
“Let’s have a lobster pizza,” she said. “Just because we can.”
“Woman after my own heart,” Huck said. “All the pizzas are made to order, but the lobster is my favorite.” He dropped the anchor, shucked off his shirt, and swam over to place their order.
Irene vowed that if she ever came back, she would bring a bathing suit.
She and Huck devoured the entire pizza, then she lay back in the sun. She was about to doze off when she heard Huck start the engine.
“Are we leaving?” she asked. Her heart felt heavy at the thought.
“We have one more stop,” Huck said.
He drove them due west, pointing out Water Island, “the little-known fourth Virgin,” and then he cut the engine, threw the anchor again, and fitted on a mask and snorkel.
“Back in a sec,” he said.
Irene leaned over the side of the boat to watch his watery form shimmering beneath the surface. At one point he swam under the boat, and just as Irene started to wonder if she should be worried, though she couldn’t picture Huck as the kind of man who would ever need to be rescued, he popped up.
“Got a beauty!” he said.
What kind of beauty? Irene wondered.
He climbed up the ladder on the back of the boat with a brilliant peach conch shell in his hand.
“Oh!” Irene said. The shell was perfect; it looked like something she would buy in a gift shop.
Huck brought out the cutting board that he used to fillet fish and pulled the live conch from the shell and sealed it in a clean plastic bag.
“Maia loves my conch fritters,” he said. He then dropped the shell in a bucket of water and added bleach. “That’ll be clean by the time we dock.”
“You’re giving the shell to Maia?” Irene asked. She thought how wonderful it must be to have a grandfather who produced surprise gifts from the sea.
“No,” Huck said. “It’s for you.”
It turned out Huck was giving Irene more than just a conch shell. With a few flicks of his fillet knife, he transformed the shell into a horn. He held his lips up to the hole he’d just cut, wrapped his fingers into the glossy pink interior, and blew. The sound was far from lovely. It was low, sonorous, mournful. It was the sound of Irene’s heart.
Huck handed Irene the shell. “Take this home,” he said. “And when you need a friend, blow through it.”
“You won’t hear it, though,” Irene said.
“No, but you’ll hear it, and you’ll remember that there’s a tiny island in the Caribbean, and on that island you have a friend for life. Do you understand me, Angler Cupcake?”
Irene nodded. She forced herself to look into Huck’s eyes and she thought back to her last innocent hour, ten days and another lifetime ago, when she was at the Prairie Lights bookstore and noticed Brandon the barista gazing at her dear friend Lydia. Huck was gazing at Irene now in much the same way. She wasn’t an idea or an outline or a mere distraction from a younger, prettier woman.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com