All I Ever Wanted

Page 24


“Gee. Thanks,” she replied, acid practically dripping from her mouth.
“If you ever want to bounce some ideas off me, my door’s always open,” I said.
She narrowed her eyes to glittering slits. “Thank you.”
I took a deep breath. You’re behaving very well, Michelle affirmed. “Well, I’ll leave you two alone. Have a great night.”
“Thanks, Callie,” Mark said, his eyes warm. “See?” I heard him say as I walked away. “She’s not out to get you, sweetpea.”
The last word hit me like a poison dart, and I had to force myself to keep going. Sweetpea. Mark had called me that once. In Santa Fe, in front of an antique jewelry store, when I’d paused to admire a charm bracelet. Come on, sweetpea. We have better things to do than shop. A hundred points for guessing what those better things were, but here’s a hint. Hotel. Bed. Two consenting adults.
So. Muriel was sweetpea now.
Freddie and I hung out for another couple hours, as neither of us had other plans. We ordered burgers, I switched to water, Freddie guzzled beer and we watched the Red Sox lose to the Angels in the tenth. M&M left in the sixth, I noted. They were crap fans. Didn’t even care about the Sox. Not that I really did, either, but still.
“I’ll drive you home, pal,” I said, as my newly legal brother was tipsy.
“I’ll walk,” he slurred.
“Nah. I’ll drive you. But I won’t tuck you in. You’re on your own from the driveway on.”
“’Kay. Thanks, sissy.”
Five minutes later, my brother had made it through the front door of the funeral home, and my forced good cheer dropped with a thud. The street was quiet; it was nearly midnight, and Georgebury wasn’t exactly known for its nightlife. For a few minutes, I just sat in my silent Prius and breathed.
Then, my heart both stony and sore, I put Lancelot into reverse and headed out again. But not toward home. Silencing my inner First Lady, I headed down Main Street, past Georgebury Academy. Took a left onto Camden Street and just before the hill veered steeply downward, came to a stop. Turned off my headlights and sat there.
Lights were on downstairs, warm and mellow. I rolled down my window. There was a chill in the air…autumn came fast to Vermont. Despite what the calendar said, summer had already left us. The slight breeze carried a snatch of music toward me… I couldn’t quite make it out, but it sounded…sophisticated. Jazz, maybe.
Then someone turned off a light in the kitchen, where, one time, I’d cooked dinner for Mark. A person passed by the living room window. Mark. He stopped, turned and looked back. Then Muriel’s wraith-like figure passed by the window. She pushed back some hair, then leaned over and clicked off a light, enshrouding the downstairs in darkness. A few seconds later, an upstairs light went on. Mark’s bedroom.
Their bedroom.
My throat was thick with tears, and self-disgust churned in my stomach. Why did I still love him? After the hell he’d put me through this week, I just shouldn’t. Why couldn’t I get over him? What had been lacking between us? Santa Fe had been the happiest time of my life. Why wasn’t it enough for Mark? What did he see in Muriel deVeers, who had all the warmth of one of the bodies in my mother’s basement, that he hadn’t seen in me? If I was so irreplaceable, if he was still using that velvet voice on me, why wasn’t I the one in that house right now?
Callie, get a grip. You are parked on his street, alone, while he’s upstairs with another woman. Is this who you want to be? a voice asked. And this time, she didn’t even sound like Michelle Obama.
She sounded a lot like me.
“EASY THERE, GIRL, we’re not in this for exercise,” I warned Annie as she paddled vigorously.
“We’re not?” Annie asked.
“Nope. This is scenery appreciation only. Oh, look! A loon! Hi, loon!”
It was Saturday morning, a week after my little spying gig, which had left a bad taste in my mouth for quite a few days. A paddle on a lake was just the sort of soul cleansing I needed, so when Annie called this morning, begging me to get her out of the house before she (in her words) “slaughtered every living thing,” I suggested kayaking. Then, of course, when I zipped over there, I had to pry her off her child as she covered Seamus’s ridiculously cute face with kisses, then made out with her husband in the front hall. “You people disgust me,” I said, finally dragging her off.
“Bye, Callie,” Jack called.
“Don’t you have a twin?” I’d asked. “No? Then save it, bub.”
Alas, Annie was a jock…as opposed to my lackadaisical paddle, she was quite the little engine that could, propelling us along at a good clip and expecting me to keep up.
“It’s nice to have human company,” I said, turning my head a bit so Annie, who was in the back, could hear me.
“Bowie’s not jealous?” she asked.
“Of course he is. I had to give him three chew sticks and a pancake.”
Kayaking…at least, this type of kayaking, was just breathtaking. The let’s-see-if-these-rapids-will-kill-me type…not for me. But Annie and I were just circling Granite Lake, following the shore, where small waves slapped at the rocks in a rhythmic, soothing beat. A snapping turtle broke the surface a few feet away, then ducked back under the water with barely a ripple.
Today, the air was soft, the sky gray and gentle. It had been chilly at first, but now that we’d been at it a while, we were warmer. The lake was spring-fed and so clear I could see to the bottom, which was lined with the rocks that gave the lake its name. Surrounding us was a nearly unbroken wall of green—pines and hemlocks, maples and oaks. Overnight, the leaves would start to turn…the few tinges of yellow and red that had been flirting with us since August would suddenly engulf the foliage in fiery, heart-stopping color that would light up our countryside, a shock of beauty so intense it dazzled the eyes and made you wonder how you’d last another year without it.
“So how are your parents?” Annie asked.
“Um…hmm,” I said, taking yet another opportunity to stop paddling and turn to talk to my friend. “How to answer that. Let’s see. The Tour of Whores made its second stop, apparently. I wasn’t there this time—thank you, Jesus—but according to Hester, this particular home wrecker was blind, and when Mom saw the white cane and guide dog, she just lost heart. Left the table and had Dad buy the woman a drink.”
“Figured she’d been punished enough? God struck her blind, that sort of thing?” Annie asked.
“Well, apparently she’s always been blind,” I said. “Which makes me wonder a little.”
“About what?”
“Well, the first woman was a widow. This one was blind. What’s the next one gonna be? A refugee from a war-torn country? Maybe my dad was—”
“Don’t say it,” Annie warned.
“Say what? How do you know what I’m thinking?”
“Because we’ve been friends for a thousand years, and you’re always Polly Sunshine when it comes to people—”
“A positive quality, some would say,” I interrupted.
“—especially when it comes to men, and especially, especially when it comes to your father, and you were about to say something along the lines of ‘My dad was performing a public service,’ am I right?”
“No! I’m well aware that he broke my mother’s heart. But, Annie, you have to admit…”
“I should slap you.”
“You and Michelle Obama,” I muttered, then, in a normal voice, said, “The thing is, Mom’s just torturing him. She’s like a shark who just…I don’t know…just ate a walrus, sees a baby seal and eats that, too. Not because she’s hungry…just because she can.”
“She has a right to be mad, Callie.”
“Twenty-two years of being mad?”
“I don’t know,” Annie said, huffing away behind me. “If Jack even thought of cheating on me, I’d slice him up good.”
I grinned. “I love when you talk all tough like that, you gangsta, you.”
“Get paddling,” she retorted. “Or I’ll slice you up, too.”
I turned back around and obeyed. A thumb-size mosquito whined near my face, taunting me before coming in for the pint or so of blood it would take. The water sluiced gently against the bow of my kayak. Our speed was pretty good…certainly much better than when Bowie and I went out, since the stubborn beast refused to help.
“Oh, look!” Annie said, nudging me with her paddle. “A man!” She pointed into the distance. Sure enough, a human figure was visible on a dock about a hundred yards away.
“Let’s kidnap him and force him to marry me,” I suggested.
“Okay!” Annie laughed. “Ooh. I think he’s drawing! That’s so hot, don’t you think?”
“Only if I’m na**d and wearing the Heart of the Ocean and Jack Dawson is intently sketching me mere hours before his hypothermic death in the North Atlantic,” I said with a happy sigh.
“You’ve got to stop watching those sappy movies.”
“I will not! And don’t get sanctimonious on me, young lady! Didn’t your own husband use the phrase You complete me during his marriage proposal? Hmm?”
“I still regret telling you that,” she murmured. “Let’s go check him out.”
As we drew near, we could see the figure more clearly. It was indeed a man. And not just any man. It was Ian, sitting cross-legged on an old wooden dock, Angie at his side. And yes, he was drawing, a sketchpad on his lap. He looked up as we approached.
“Hi!” Annie chirped.
“Hi, Ian,” I seconded.
“Hello.” He watched as we pulled up to the dock, our intentions clear—to interrupt his lovely morning.
“Ian, this is my friend, Annie Doyle. Annie, the new vet, Ian McFarland.”
“Hi there,” she said, making me blush furiously, because Annie had this voice, you know? The voice she used when a particularly good meal was served…that oh, God, yes, yes, come to me, fettuccine Alfredo type of voice. “It’s…really nice to meet you.” I considered smacking her with my paddle.
“Are you drawing, Ian?” I asked.
Ian glanced down at his pad, the pencil that he held in his hand, then back at me. Wow. Those are some powers of deduction. “Yes.” Angie’s tail wagged.
“Can we dock here for a sec? I could really use a good stretch,” Annie said, subtle as a charging wildebeest.
Ian hesitated a second. “Sure.”
We paddled up to the dock. Ian came down to steady the kayak as we twisted and lunged our way out.
“So!” Annie said, pushing her glasses up her nose. “Do you live around here, Ian?”
“Yes. Over there.”
He pointed to the woods. A little path twisted through the pines and over the granite rocks. I could make out a clearing, but not a house. “Is this your dock?” Annie asked. It would probably be easier if she just asked for a financial statement. Knowing her, that would be next.
“Yes. It’s mine.” Ian’s eyes flicked over to me.
“So Callie tells me she’s doing a little work for you, Ian,” Annie said, nodding approvingly. “She’s the best. So talented. You’re very lucky to have her. She’s great.”
“That’s enough, Annie,” I said. “I didn’t know you drew, Ian.” I could’ve put that on the Web site. Hobbies include painting, drawing and being too polite to get rid of intrusive visitors. “That painting in your office…your work?”
He looked at me, mildly surprised that I guessed. “Yes, as a matter of fact.”
“I love that picture,” I said. “Nice and juicy with all that squishy paint.”
“She doubles as an art critic,” Annie said with mock seriousness. Ian smiled. My uterus twitched in response. Dang. To cover my blush, I knelt down to pet Angie, who wagged politely.
“You know what?” Annie said abruptly. “I have a soccer game! Actually, Seamus—my son, Ian—he has a soccer game. But I have to go to it! I forgot! So I’m just gonna call Jack and he can come and get me! Okay?”
“I thought Seamus and Jack were going to the movies,” I said.
“No, he has a soccer game,” Annie ground out, widening her eyes at me as she pulled her phone out of her pocket. “Hi, Jack, sweetie, can you pick me up? No, I’m fine. I just remembered the game. The game. Never mind. I’m at…what’s your address, Ian?”
“75 Bitter Creek Road,” he answered, glancing at me. “Will you be able to get back alone?” he asked, looking down at the kayak.
“Sure,” I said, resigned. Annie was matchmaking, a disastrous hobby of hers that had resulted thus far in zero happy couples and two estranged cousins.
“Shall I just scamper down this path and wait for my husband at your house, Ian?” Annie asked, snapping her phone shut.
“Please. No scampering,” I said.
Ian didn’t seem to know what to say. “Uh… Sure. I’ll show you the way.”
Annie beamed and started off. “So, Ian, tell me about yourself,” she said merrily, then proceeded to fill him in on the wonder that was me. “Callie and I have been friends since we moved here when I was in fourth grade. She came right up and said hi, and the rest is history!”
The path from the lake was lovely, just wide enough for two people. The clouds had blown off, but the pines were so thick here the sunlight only broke through in patches, spilling gold on the forest floor. Ian’s dog padded silently beside me. “How are you, Angie?” I asked, petting the dog’s silky head. “Are you a beautiful girl?” She wagged her tail in confirmation that yes, indeed she was. “‘Angie… Aaaangie. Ain’t it good to be ali-i-i-ive?’” I sang in a whisper. It was, after all, our tradition.