“I booked them,” she says. “I have to be in Chicago tomorrow by nine.”
“I’ll drive,” Cash says. “I’m going to book myself on the flight as well. Myself and Winnie. And I’ll tell Baker to meet us in Atlanta.”
“With Floyd?” Irene asks.
“No, Floyd has school. He’s staying home with Anna. It’ll be just you, me, and Baker. And Winnie.”
Irene nods. There are so many things to think about, but none come to mind. “This woman, Paulette, is supposed to pick us up. Would you call her and let her know we’re coming?”
“I will,” Cash says. “I’m going to bring you ice water and aspirin. I’m going to make coffee. Can you handle toast?”
“I cannot handle toast,” Irene says. She takes a deep breath and looks around the impeccably furnished amethyst parlor. How many hours did she slave over this room, this house? For the past six years, she has been married to this house. Russ came second; he used to joke about it. When she was in a good mood, she told him she was feathering their love nest. When she was in a bad mood, she told him he was never home anyway, so what did it matter if she was preoccupied?
Only now does she realize how little attention she actually paid him—the particulars of his work, where he was and what he did. When she talked to him on Monday afternoon, what had he said? He had a dinner meeting with clients. He wasn’t sure if he would be able to stay up until midnight. He loved her.
Had he been lying?
Russ’s villa. The Virgin Islands. A local woman.
Yes, he’d been lying.
When Cash comes back in with Irene’s coffee, she says, “I haven’t told anyone except you and Baker.”
“Good,” Cash says.
“I haven’t told my friends. I haven’t told work. I haven’t told Milly. What am I going to tell Milly?”
“Let’s do this,” Cash says. “I’ll call the magazine and tell them there’s been a family emergency and that you’ll be out the next week or so.”
Irene nods. Work is the least of her worries, because, of course, she has just been demoted. The magazine will be fine without her. She doesn’t care about the magazine. She doesn’t care about anything except… this. This. Russ, he’s gone.
“We can’t tell Milly,” Cash says.
“We can’t not tell Milly,” Irene says.
“Let’s tell her together when we get back,” Cash says. “We can’t tell her and then leave.”
“That’s right,” Irene says. “We can’t tell her and then leave.”
“Call her tonight, as usual,” Cash says. “Tell her we’re taking a surprise vacation.”
A surprise vacation, Irene thinks.
It’s a blur, all a blur, until the plane lands in St. Thomas and the other passengers erupt in applause.
Irene peers out the window. St. Thomas has verdant hills—green and lush, dotted with brightly colored buildings, yellow and pink, the color of sand, the color of shells. The water is… well, it’s the brilliant turquoise you see in advertisements. Yes, St. Thomas is supposed to be a place that makes you clap and cheer.
“It’s so… pretty,” Irene says.
“Anna and I honeymooned on Anguilla,” Baker says. “It looked like this, only flatter.”
“That’s right, you did,” Irene says. She remembers being nonplussed when Baker and Anna chose Anguilla. Irene and Russ had offered the honeymoon as a wedding present—anywhere they wanted to go, anywhere in the world—and they had chosen Anguilla. It had seemed so… unimaginative to Irene. But Baker had said that Anna wanted to stay close to home. She had wanted sunshine, massages, a constant flow of alcohol. She didn’t want to tour anything.
Irene, if she had her druthers, would vacation in Europe—France, Switzerland, England, places with history, places with culture. And so that was what she and Russ had done: a week in London, a week in the Cotswolds, a week in Provence, in Paris, in St. Moritz. Or they went to Colorado and skied. Irene harbors a natural prejudice against the Caribbean. Why is that? She thinks back on a trip to Jamaica when the boys were young, eight and ten, maybe nine and seven. This was before they had money, so they had booked a mediocre hotel near the airport. It had rained all week and they had barely left their rooms. Russ had finally given the boys money to go to the arcade in the hotel lobby. Baker and Cash were down there for a couple of hours—Irene had napped—and then she had woken up, alarmed to discover they still weren’t back. Russ had gone down to check on them and had come rushing up, frantic. The kids were gone.
Irene can still recall the sheer panic she felt then. It had been like falling into a hole with no bottom. They had alerted hotel security, who had directed them to a shantytown right across the street from the hotel; sometimes women infiltrated the lobby and convinced hotel guests to shop for souvenirs. They found a mishmash of shacks with corrugated tin roofs; it was noisy in the rain. There were women cooking and men playing cards and children and chickens running around, plenty of children, so it wasn’t sinister, by any means, but it had seemed so to Irene—a rabbit warren of foreignness that had swallowed her sons. She lashed out at the men, screaming, Where are my children? My sons? Her voice was accusatory, when really the only person Irene could blame was herself. She had been napping—and now her boys were gone.
They had turned up, of course, almost immediately. They were listening to a gentleman with long, graying dreadlocks play the guitar in one of the shacks. Irene had grabbed Baker so fiercely she’d nearly wrenched his arm out of its socket.
That had been it for Irene and the Caribbean. She had smiled politely whenever anyone said they were headed to Barbados or Aruba or the Dominican Republic, and she had probably said, “I’m sure it will be wonderful!” But in her head, she had been thinking, Better you than me.
And now here she is. They have to descend a set of stairs onto the tarmac and then walk into the terminal. The air is warm, humid, sweet-smelling. Irene is wearing a white short-sleeved blouse and a pair of khaki capri pants, sandals, sunglasses. She knows what she looks like to everyone else.
She looks like a woman taking a vacation.
Helicopter crash off Virgin Gorda, three dead: Rosie, the Invisible Man, the pilot, whose name was Stephen Thompson. Ayers doesn’t know if he was white or West Indian.
“They think the helicopter got hit by lightning,” Mick says. “Did you hear the storm this morning?”
Ayers had been woken up by the thunder, but then she’d fallen right back to sleep.
“What do I do?” she asks Mick. “Where do I go?”
He holds his arms out to offer her a hug and she accepts. Out the front door she sees Gordon sitting patiently in the passenger seat of Mick’s blue Jeep. No Brigid, thank God. Although what does Brigid matter anymore? Ayers thought Mick dumping her for Brigid equaled heartbreak, but now Ayers understands a new definition of heartbreak.
Rosie is dead.
“I have to go to Huck’s,” Ayers says.
“I’ll drive you,” Mick says. “Let’s go.”
Huck lives up Jacob’s Ladder, a series of switchbacks so steep that Ayers’s head lolls back and she feels like she might swallow her tongue. At the last turn before Huck’s duplex, the cars are lined up: two local police cars, pickup trucks, a Jeep that belongs to Huck’s first mate, Adam, a car from U.S. Customs and Border Control.
Walking down the street are the West Indian women—many of them friends of LeeAnn’s, Ayers knows—some of them carrying covered dishes, some carrying flowers, one holding a Bible aloft. It’s as busy as downtown during Carnival. One thing about a close-knit community like St. John: no one endures a tragedy alone. Ayers had experienced the celebration of LeeAnn Powers’s life five years earlier; she hadn’t realized until then that dying could be beautiful and filled with love.
LeeAnn had been sixty years old when she died, a newly retired nurse practitioner and a grandmother. She’d had congestive heart failure, so her death hadn’t been a great surprise. Rosie, Maia, and Huck all had time to say good-bye.
Rosie’s death is something else entirely, but the support and prayers will be great, maybe greater. Many, if not all, of these women watched Rosie grow up; a handful probably cared for her while LeeAnn worked nights and weekends up at Myrah Keating and over at Schneider Regional Medical Center on St. Thomas—until Captain Huck swept LeeAnn off her feet and married her.
Mick hits the brakes before ascending the final hill, and Ayers sees the uncertainty on his face. Do they belong here? They’re locals, but they aren’t native islanders; neither of them has family here, or roots. They merely have jobs. Mick has managed the Beach Bar for eleven years; Ayers has waited tables at La Tapa for nine years and been a crew member on Treasure Island for seven. She has never had anyone close to her die. What’s the protocol?
If Ayers were to list anyone as a family member on this island, it would be Rosie. Would have been Rosie. And Maia and Huck. So, yes, Ayers is going up to the house. If she doesn’t go, what would Huck think?
“Park up there,” Ayers says, indicating a spot mid-hill. “We can walk the rest of the way.”
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com