His final words sound offhanded, but they seem to clear most of the fear from Kitty’s face, telling me he’d said them for a reason. Her body deflates a little. “Poor old Martin. A lovely man, he was. He even tried to kiss me once.”
Faith nose wrinkles. “What?”
“It’s not what you think. He didn’t have his glasses on.” She stares off into the distance, looking very dramatic. “He thought I was his wife, Lorraine, come to collect him. Still and all, it was quite a nice kiss.” Her hands begin to rummage in her pockets. “Has someone called over to tell Lorraine her Martin is dead?”
“I suspect she has an inkling, since she woke up next to him,” Shane deadpans.
Kitty pulls a piece of toast from her apron and offers it to me. When I shake my head, she starts to nibble on it. “Who’s going to make the cod and chips, then? Martin always brought it in fresh from Beshoffs in Howth. Beautiful, it was.”
“Not to worry,” Faith assures her with a brisk nod. “I’ll figure it out, Ma. There’s a fish market not far from here—”
“No.” Kitty shakes her head. “It has to be Beshoffs. Our customers expect a certain quality. We can’t just change the fish. What will people say?”
“Beshoffs is twice the distance.” Shane stands. “Neither one of us has time to take you. I have to set up the pub. It’s still a wreck from last night.”
“And if I’m going to run the kitchen today, I need to start prepping.”
“I don’t need to be taken anywhere,” Kitty scoffs, but I notice her hand is shaking. When she begins to untie her apron, Shane and Faith exchange an uneasy glance. Something is happening under the surface here. More than the obvious. I can’t put a finger on what it might be, but two things are certain. One, Kitty can’t go out into the city by herself, using public transportation no less. Two, she’s determined as hell to go.
I look around at the pub, noting Shane is right. Bottle caps, dirty napkins, and—is that a blond hair extension?—litter the barroom floor. Empty glasses and bottles are stacked in bus trays on the bar. All the liquor bottles behind the bar are practically empty. They’ll have their work cut out for them to get the bar ready by eleven when the doors open.
This is when I should say, “sorry for your loss,” and beat feet to the Laundromat. By befriending Faith and helping out behind the bar last night, I’ve already become too much of a fixture with this family. Every time I glimpse a little more of their behind-the-scenes issues, my resolve to stay away slips a little more. My family issues might have been vastly different, but I still get them. Truth is, I like Kitty and I don’t want her to do something reckless. The stress on Faith’s face—and okay, Shane’s—makes my decision for me. I eye my bag of laundry wistfully. Apparently basic hygiene is taking a backseat to my conscience.
“I’ll take her,” I say. Shane’s eyebrows shoot up and I shrug. “I’ve been meaning to check out Howth anyway. I hear it’s a good picture spot.”
Kitty claps her hands together. “Grand.” Again, I get the feeling she’s putting on a brave face. It seems like the trip to Beshoffs has completely removed Martin’s death from her mind, given her something new to focus on.
“Are you sure?” Faith appears to be trying to communicate something to me with her eyes, but I’m not computing. What do these people want from me? It’s eight in the morning, and this heap of bricks doesn’t even have a coffeemaker. “You don’t have to do this, Willa.”
“I’m sure,” I say slowly, trying my best to make light of the situation. Honestly, you’d think somebody had died. “It’ll be my little apology to Martin for never trying his cod and chips.” Wanting to escape Shane and Faith’s scrutiny, I hook my arm through Kitty’s. “Let’s pilgrimage in Martin’s memory, shall we?”
Her face falls. “Martin is dead?”
Kitty reaches over and clutches my hand as the bus begins to move. My first reaction is to yank it away, because it feels so unnatural. But damn if she’s not squeezing my fingers so tight, I couldn’t extricate my hand if I tried. Her eyes are wide as silver dollars, staring straight out the front windshield of the double-decker bus. With her other hand, she worries rosary beads in her lap, lips moving in her second Hail Mary.
I’m not alarmed yet, but now that I’ve woken up a little, I’m starting to realize Faith had a good reason for giving me an out back at the pub. Kitty travels about as well as potato salad. She looks terrified. Saying a quick prayer she doesn’t forget who I am or why we’re on a bus, I rack my brain for something to distract her, but small talk isn’t exactly my strong suit.
“My sister just had a baby.”
Kitty looks at me blankly. “What?”
“As of a Monday morning, I’m an aunt.” Trying to hold a casual conversation while holding a near stranger’s hand is harder than it sounds. “Her name is Dolly.”
“After Dolly Parton?”
I laugh in surprise, appreciating how she phrased the question. As if it were a reasonable assumption. “Yes. I need to buy a gift for her while I’m here. Any ideas?”
“Everyone needs a tea service.”
“She might be a little young for tea.”
“You’re never too young for tea.” I notice her fingers have slowed their furious rubbing of the rosary beads. “Shane and Faith both drank it straight from their bottles, they did. Of course, I had to let it cool first.”
“Sure.” Fleetingly, I wonder if it’s the reason Kitty continues to serve cold tea. The bus takes a bumpy turn and she gasps, grasping my hand so hard, I bite my bottom lip. “Maybe I’ll try that—”
“Now my husband liked his tea scalding hot, with only a single drop of milk and no sugar. Piping hot.” Her words are very precise. “I could never figure out how he didn’t burn his tongue. He didn’t even blow on it. Sometimes I would just sit and watch him read the paper, sipping his tea. Made of ice. Just made of ice.”
She seems to have gone off to a faraway place, her eyes slightly glazed. Since her grip on my hand has loosened, I don’t say anything. I should change the subject, too, but I don’t do that either. As much as I try not to be, I’m interested in finding out more about Mr. Claymore. This man Faith accused Shane of becoming.
“He didn’t mean it,” she murmurs. “He never meant it.”
She jolts a little in her seat. “When he said he didn’t like my tea, he didn’t mean it.”
“Or when he made my son leave.” Her fingers begin to work the rosary beads again. “He didn’t mean it. Deep down, he wanted him to stay. I truly believe that.”
I swallow hard, thinking of Shane’s face the night he argued with Faith. “I’m sure he did, too, Kitty.”
“No, he didn’t.”
“Okay.” I squeeze her hand, fighting the sudden urge to cry. “Okay.”
We don’t talk the rest of the way to Howth, but Kitty is noticeably less stressed. She’s actually kind of subdued, but after what she revealed about Shane and his father, I am, too. When we arrive in Howth and walk the short distance to Beshoffs, I’m surprised to find a small indoor market, selling not only food, but serving coffee. The smell makes me think I’ve died and gone to Chicago. Keeping a close eye on Kitty as she reads her handwritten list to the fishmonger, I order a large cup and doctor it with cream and sugar.