Shelter in place, p.14
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       Shelter in Place, p.14
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           Nora Roberts

  “Work on that,” she murmured. “Work on how to say it. Throwing shade at her, but keeping the high road, the sympathy road.”

  She wrenched open her door, shouted: “Marlie! Where the hell is my macchiato?”

  “Luca should be back with it any minute.”

  “For Christ’s sake. Find out where Simone Knox is, and where she’s going to be next week.”

  “Oh, Ms. McMullen, the lawyer—”

  Seleena whirled around, making the mousy Marlie jump back a step. “Did I ask you what the fuck? Just find out. I want to know where she is when I interview Patricia Hobart and the cop who killed her brother. And I want then and now pictures of her. Move your ass, Marlie.”

  Seleena slapped the door closed.

  “We’ll see who wins this round,” she muttered.

  * * *

  Simone won. She spent the weeks surrounding the anniversary traveling in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada. She did sketches, took photos of the desert, the canyons, the people, imagined translating those colors, textures, shapes, those faces and forms, into art with clay.

  She basked in the solitude, reveled in exploring a land as different to her eye from the east coast of Maine as Mars was from Venus. With no one to answer to but her own whims, she stopped when and where she liked, stayed as long as it suited her.

  When she finally headed east, she detoured north through Wyoming, into Montana, where she bought more sketchbooks, and gave in to an impulse for cowboy boots.

  By the time she crossed the Maine border, the calendar had flipped to August, and despite the constant use of sunblock and a hat, she was tanned, her hair sunstreaked.

  And her mood high and happy.

  She wanted to get to work, to sort through the hundreds of sketches and photos, the ideas and visions. She wanted to feel clay under her hands.

  She considered texting CiCi, then decided to surprise her instead. After a stop for a bottle of champagne—hell, make it two—she planned to drive straight to the ferry.

  But a twinge of guilt had her changing directions. She’d just stop off at her parents’ house. A quick courtesy call.

  Maybe her relationship with her parents, and her sister, remained strained, but she couldn’t claim to be blameless. Since the day she’d walked out of her childhood home to pursue her own dreams, she mostly kept out of their way.

  It saved arguing.

  But avoidance meant traditions like Christmases, birthdays, weddings, funerals became stilted demilitarized zones—or battlefields.

  Why not make an effort? she told herself. Stop by on a pretty Saturday afternoon, touch base, maybe have a drink, admire the garden, pull out a few anecdotes from her travels.

  How sad and pitiful was it that she needed to outline an agenda to visit her own parents?

  So she wouldn’t. She would handle it just as she had her travels. She’d play it by ear.

  Somebody’s having a big summer party, she thought, noting the cars parked along the street. When she saw a line of them in her parents’ long U of a driveway, more jockeyed into the service area, she realized she’d been about to crash a party.

  Not the best time for a drop-in, she decided, but hesitated just long enough for one of the valets to block her quick exit. As she waited for the road to clear, to make her escape, Natalie and a couple of women in equally elegant garden-party dresses crossed the lush green of the front lawn.

  Appalled that her first instinct was to duck down, she forced a smile on her face when Natalie spotted her.

  Her sister didn’t smile, but tipped her glamour-girl sunglasses down to peer over them. And that, for Simone, was that.

  Deliberately, she pushed open the car door and climbed out in her traveling outfit of Army-green cargo shorts, red cowboy boots, a wide-brimmed straw hat, and a novelty tank that read: RED, WINE AND BLUE.

  “Hey, Nat.”

  Natalie said something to her companions that had one of the women patting her arm before they wandered off—not without long, backward glances that clearly transmitted disapproval.

  Natalie crossed to the sidewalk.

  She looks like Mom, Simone thought, a perfect example of the polished female.

  “Simone. We weren’t expecting you.”

  “Obviously. I just got back. I thought I’d stop in to say hi.”

  “It’s not the best time.”

  Simone didn’t miss the tone—one used for an acquaintance you had to tolerate occasionally.

  “Also obviously. You can tell them I’m back, and I’ll be at CiCi’s. I’ll give them a call.”

  “That would be novel.”

  “Last I checked, phones work two ways. Anyway, you look great.”

  “Thanks. I’ll let Mom and Dad know you—”

  “Natalie!”

  The man who crossed the lawn in the palest of pale gray loafers to match his crisp linen slacks boasted the charm of dimples in a Hollywood handsome face. His elegance—the white shirt topped with a navy blazer, the sun-dashed gold of wavy hair—matched Natalie’s perfectly.

  Though she knew him a little, it took Simone a minute to come up with his name. Harry (Harrison) Brookefield, one of the young guns in her father’s law firm.

  And, according to CiCi, Natalie’s parentally approved boyfriend.

  “There you are. I was just— Simone?” Dimples flashing, he held out a hand to shake hers. “I didn’t know you were here. This is great. How long have you been back?”

  “About five minutes.”

  “Then I bet you could use a drink.” He’d slipped an arm around Natalie’s waist as he spoke—and, to Simone’s mind, hadn’t yet clued in on her stiffness. Then he reached out again for Simone’s hand.

  “Oh, thanks, but I’m not dressed for a party. I’m just going to go—”

  “Don’t be silly.” Harry took a good grip on her hand. “Keys in the car?”

  “Yes, but—”

  “Great.” He signaled to the valet. “Family vehicle.”

  “Really, Harry, Simone’s got to be tired after the drive.”

  “All the more reason she needs that drink.” Like a carpenter’s plane wrapped in velvet, he smoothed right over the rough bark. “Now you’ve got your whole family here to celebrate, sweets.”

  The man had a grip and a will like iron, Simone thought, but the main reason she allowed him to pull her along—however petty—was Natalie’s blatant discomfort.

  “What are we celebrating?”

  “You didn’t tell her? Good Lord, Natalie.” Harry looked at Simone, added a wink. “She said yes.”

  Simone felt her brain empty out for three solid seconds. “You’re engaged. To be married?”

  “Which makes me the luckiest man in the world.”

  She heard music now, and voices, as they started up the walk that would wind through the side garden to the backyard.

  “Congratulations.”

  How had it happened? she wondered. How had it happened that the sister who’d once slipped into her bed to whisper secrets hadn’t shared such vital, life-changing news? Such happy news that rated a party with elegant dresses and white tablecloths decked with white flowers, with uniformed servers carrying trays of drinks and pretty finger foods.

  “This is wonderful. Exciting.”

  You’re still so young, and so … pampered, Simone thought. Are you sure? Would you tell me?

  Harry stopped a server, took three flutes of champagne. “To the wonderful and exciting,” he said after he passed them around.

  “Absolutely. So have you set a date?”

  “October—a year from this October,” Natalie said.

  “I couldn’t talk her into the spring. I’ll wait. If you’ll excuse me a minute, I want to find my mother. She’d love to meet you, Simone. She’s especially admired the statue of Natalie, holding the scales of justice, you made her when she graduated law school. I’ll be right back.”

  “You’re engaged. God, Nat, engaged! He’s gorgeous, and he seems like a
terrific guy. I—”

  “If you’d bothered to get to know him over the last two years, you’d know he is terrific.”

  “I’m happy for you,” Simone said carefully. “He’s obviously crazy about you, and I’m happy for you. If I’d known about the party, I’d’ve come home sooner, and I’d have dressed appropriately. I’m going to leave, slip out before I embarrass you.”

  “Simone!” CiCi’s cheerful shout cut through the music and conversations.

  “Too late,” Natalie stated as their grandmother rushed across the patio, gypsy skirts flying.

  “There’s my traveling girl!” She caught Simone in a fierce hug. “Look at you, all toned and tanned. Isn’t this a kick in the ass?” She caught Natalie into the hug. “Our baby girl’s hooked herself a fiancé. And he is yum-mee.”

  She let out one of her big, beautiful laughs, squeezed them both. “Let’s drink ourselves a shit ton of champagne.”

  “Mother.”

  “Uh-oh.” Snickering, CiCi drew back. “Busted.” She shifted, hooked arms around her granddaughters’ waists, and grinned at her daughter. “Look who’s here, Tule.”

  “So I see. Simone.” Lovely in silk shantung the color of crushed rose petals, Tulip leaned in to kiss Simone’s cheek. “We didn’t know you were back.”

  “I just got back.”

  “That explains it.” With her company smile seamless, her eyes sparking annoyance, Tulip turned to Natalie. “Sweetheart, why don’t you take your sister upstairs so she can freshen up? I’m sure you have something you can lend her to wear.”

  “Don’t be such a buzzkill, Tulip.”

  Tulip simply turned those sparking eyes on her mother. “This is Natalie’s day. I won’t have it spoiled.”

  “I won’t spoil it. I won’t stay.” Simone handed her flute to Natalie. “Tell Harry I wasn’t feeling well.”

  “I’ll come with you,” CiCi began.

  “No. It’s Natalie’s day, and you should be here. I’ll see you later.”

  “That was a dick move, Tulip,” CiCi said when Simone walked away. “And from the look on your face, Nat? Apple, tree. I’m ashamed of both of you.”

  Simone had to hunt down the valet who’d parked her car, then wait while he retrieved her keys.

  While she waited, her father strode briskly down the walkway.

  Oh well, she thought, what was one more elbow in the gut?

  Instead, he put his arms around her, drew her close. “Welcome home.”

  The snipes and jabs hadn’t filled her throat with tears, but his gesture did.

  “Thanks.”

  “I only just heard you’d gotten back, then that you’d left. You need to come back out, honey. It’s a big day for Natalie.”

  “That’s why I’m leaving. She doesn’t want me here.”

  “That’s nonsense.”

  “She made it clear. My unexpected arrival, in attire inappropriate for the occasion, embarrassed your wife and daughter.”

  “You could have come home a bit earlier, worn the appropriate.”

  “I would have if I’d known.”

  “Natalie contacted you two weeks ago,” he began, then saw her face. Sighed. “I see. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, she indicated she had, otherwise, I’d have contacted you myself. Come back with me. I’ll have a word with her.”

  “No, don’t, please. She doesn’t want me here, and I don’t want to be here.”

  Sorrow clouded Ward’s eyes. “It hurts me to hear you say that.”

  “I’m sorry. I wanted to come by, see you and Mom, to try to … turn some of it around. Some of it. I had a good summer. Productive, satisfying, illuminating. I wanted to tell you about it. And maybe you’d see I did the right thing, for me. Maybe you’d see that.”

  “I have seen it,” he said quietly. “I’ve seen I was wrong. I clung to wanting to be right, and lost you. And losing you, it was easier to blame you than myself. Now my younger daughter’s going to be married. She’ll be a wife, and not just my little girl. It struck me that, with you, I wanted to be right more than I wanted you to be happy. It shames me to look that square in the face, but I have. I hope you’ll forgive me.”

  “Daddy.” She went into his arms, wept a little. “It’s my fault, too. It was easier to pull back, to stay away.”

  “Let’s agree. I accept I’m not always right, and you don’t pull away from me.”

  She nodded, rested her cheek on his chest. “It’s a good homecoming after all.”

  “Come on back to the party. Be my date.”

  “I can’t. Honestly, Nat bugs the crap out of me, but I don’t want to spoil her party. Maybe you could come out to the island sometime, and I’ll tell you about the trip, and show you some things I’m working on.”

  “All right.” He kissed her forehead. “I’m glad you’re back.”

  “So am I.”

  Glad to be back, she thought, especially when she stood at the rail of the ferry and watched the island come closer.

  CHAPTER TEN

  CiCi’s house offered views of the bay, the ocean beyond, and the tumbled coastline of Tranquility Island, including the jut of rocky land on the far eastern point where the lighthouse perched.

  When CiCi first settled on the island, the lighthouse had been a stark, uninspired white.

  She’d fixed that.

  Lobbying with the artists community, she’d convinced the island council, as well as the business and property owners, to kick things up. There had been doubters, of course, at the idea of a group of artists on ladders and scaffolds painting the slender lighthouse with sea flowers, shells, mermaids, sea fans, and coral.

  But she’d been right.

  Since its completion—and even during the work—tourists came to snap pictures, and other artists featured the now unique lighthouse in their seascapes. It was a rare visitor who left the island without one or more of the Light of Tranquility souvenirs sold in any number of village and beachside shops.

  Every few years, the community refreshed the paint—and often added another flourish or two.

  CiCi enjoyed looking down the coast, admiring that spear of color and creativity.

  Her home stood west of the light, on a rise above another jut of the uneven coast. Big windows, stone terraces, graced its two stories—plus the converted attic with its little balcony, which made three. A generous patio skirted the water side, her favorite side, where in season she had dramatic pots of flowers and herbs soaking in the sun along with oversize chairs with brightly colored cushions and some painted tables.

  More flowers and comfortable seating ranged along the wide terrace on the second floor. It also held a hot tub, which she used year-round, under a pergola where she often lounged—happily naked—with a glass of wine while watching the water and the boats that plied it.

  She could enter her studio with its bay-facing wall of glass—designed and added after she’d bought the house—from the great room or the patio. She loved painting there when the water gleamed blue as a jewel, or when it went icy gray and thrashing in the grip of a winter storm.

  She’d converted the attic—or Jasper Mink (who’d warmed her bed a time or two between his marriages) and his crew had converted it when Simone had gone to Italy.

  It offered lovely light, plenty of space, and now had a charming little powder room.

  As she liked to say, CiCi was a little bit psychic. She’d imagined Simone working in that space, staying in the rambling house until she found her place.

  CiCi, a little bit psychic, had no doubt where that place was, but the girl had to find it for herself.

  Meanwhile, whenever Simone came back to Maine, she always came back to CiCi.

  Despite two artistic temperaments, they lived together easily. Each had their own work and their own habits, and they might go for days barely seeing each other. Or they might spend hours sitting together on the patio, biking into the village, walking the narrow strip of sand by the water, or just sitting on the coastline r
ocks in comfortable silence.

  After Simone returned from the west, they spent hours with CiCi looking through Simone’s photos and sketches. CiCi borrowed a couple of the photos—a street fair in Santa Fe, a stark shot of buttes in Canyon de Chelly—to use in her own work.

  When Ward came to visit, CiCi slipped away to light candles and incense and meditate, pleased father and daughter were making an effort to reconcile.

  For ten days, while the summer people thronged the island, they lived happily enough in their own world, with their art, the water, and cocktails at sunset.

  Then the storm came.

  Natalie whirled into the house like a force of nature. CiCi, still on her first cup of coffee (she still preferred seeing a sunrise as the last thing before bed instead of the first out of it), blinked owlishly.

  “Hi, honey. What flew up your ass?”

  “Where is she?”

  “I’d offer you coffee, but you seem pretty hyped already. Why don’t you sit down, catch your breath, my cutie?”

  “I don’t want to sit down. Simone! Goddamn it!” She shouted, raging as she stormed through the house, swirling negative energy CiCi already accepted she’d have to white sage away. “Is she upstairs?”

  “I wouldn’t know,” CiCi said coolly. “I just got up. And while I’m all for self-expression, you’re going to want to watch your tone with me.”

  “I’m sick of it, sick of all of it. She can do whatever she wants, whenever she wants, and you’re just fine with it. I work my butt off, I graduate in the top five percent of my class—top five—and the two of you can hardly be bothered to show up.”

  Sincerely stunned, CiCi lowered her coffee mug. “Have you lost your mind? We were both there, with fucking bells on, young lady. And I can’t believe you just pissed me into saying ‘young lady.’ I sounded like my mother! Simone worked weeks on your gift, and—”

  “Simone, Simone, Si-fucking-mone.”

  “Now you’re the X-rated Jan Brady. Get a grip, Natalie.”

  “What’s going on?” Simone came in, in a fast trot. “I could hear you yelling all the way up in my studio.”

  “Your studio. Yours, your, you!” Natalie whirled, shoved Simone three steps back.

  “Hold it!” Stepping forward, CiCi snapped out the order. “There will be no physical violence in my house. Shouting, foul language, fine, but no physical violence. Don’t cross my lines.”

 
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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
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