by Blayne Cooper
High school junior Samantha Blackwell has always been haunted by unsettling dreams that leave her restless and exhausted. But one steamy summer spent mostly working at her family’s psychic reading shop, everything changes… Her dreams reveal a budding mystery, a vision that lovely and unassuming classmate Jane Hutchens, who she hardly knows, is being covertly watched at every turn. Stalked. Believing that her dreams are destined to come true, Samantha comes face-to-face with her deepest insecurities as she does her best to rise to the challenge and help Jane.
Jane has always struggled to fit in with the outgoing, uber popular Hutchens clan. And life’s newest twist isn’t making things any easier. Jane is gay, and when she comes out to her influential family, the news lands with an inglorious and heartbreaking thud. Still reeling from the fallout, she begins to receive messages from a secret admirer and is intrigued. But what starts out as harmless soon ensnares both girls in a web that spins dangerously out of control.
A small New England seaside town and a puzzle demanding to be solved is the backdrop for a newly minted friendship to ignite into romance and a summer that neither teen will ever forget. Together, are they strong enough to shine a light into a place as dark as the blind side of the moon?
GCLS Goldie Awards
Blind Side of the Moon — Finalist, Young Adult.
Samantha Blackwell had experienced the same dream since forever. It was a part of her, like the gentle curve of her face and the husky laugh that sounded as though it should come from a far bulkier body. She couldn’t recall a time when it wasn’t woven through the fabric of her being, a slender, haunting thread, persistent in its mystery.
She watched the scene play out as though it was on television. But she felt every second of it. Tasted the salty air on her lips and tongue. Saw the sky shift from deep purple to bronze with the rising of the sun.
A chubby toddler stood crying on the water’s edge, tears splashing down his wind-burned cheeks. The tide rushed in and just kissed the tips of his tiny, bare toes. “No!” His crying intensified as he jumped back from the water on unsteady feet. A flock of seagulls suddenly swooped in low to swarm and squawk around him.
Samantha felt something wild and powerful stir deep inside her.
A sudden movement at the edge of the bed next to Samantha tugged her from the dream, but she still felt a little like she was floating. The sound of the seagulls faded into the background of the peaceful night.
“Shhh. You don’t need to be afraid,” Samantha’s mother comforted her, the whisper hot and soothing against her ear. “Everything will be okay. You’re special. It’s a good thing, not a bad thing, beautiful girl. Now…” Gentle fingers drew softly through her thick hair and then tugged blankets up underneath her chin. “Go back to sleep.”
The dream, to Samantha’s dismay and relief, would disappear for long months at a time but always return. Always the same.
“Ugh. It can’t be time to get up yet.” Samantha mumbled her displeasure into her pillow. “It can’t.” She covered her eyes, trying to block out the bright sunlight, and burrowed deeper into her bed despite feeling warm, slightly bony fingers relentlessly tickling her back.
Samantha’s Grandma Leola released a tiny, evil cackle that said she loved nothing better than ensuring the sixteen-year-old never got to sleep in. “Tsk. Get up, lazybones. I made your favorite breakfast. It’s on the table waiting for you.”
Okay, maybe evil was stretching it. “Galatopita?” Samantha’s stomach growled in anticipation. She couldn’t resist the creamy custard pie with the flaky filo crust. She might be Greek only by blood, but she was convinced that her stomach had arrived in the USA directly off the boat from Athens.
“And sausages too.”
Drool pooled inside Samantha’s closed mouth and her eyes shifted sideways to spy the alarm clock before closing sleepily of their own accord. “Yum. But five more minutes, Yaya. Please. S’early.”
Leola made a clucking sound. “This is why you’re so slim. When your mother was your age she would have already been on the way to the kitchen table.”
Samantha’s next words were unintelligible even to own ears, but they sounded a lot like “first day,” “summer,” and “torture.”
“Be that as it may, your father will be here in less than an hour to pick you up.”
Samantha expelled an unhappy breath and reminded herself that cursing in front of Yaya would be a very poor choice. She could still recall the taste of the Irish Spring soap that had been jammed between her molars.
She’d forgotten this was her father’s day to visit. She rolled over and propped her head up with one hand, the movement lifting the scent of the honeysuckle detergent that clung to her sheets into the air. Samantha’s frown was met with Leola’s sympathetic grimace. A look that was far too serious to only be about her father’s trip out from Boston. Here it comes.
“You shouldn’t still look so tired after a full night’s sleep.”
“I know.” Samantha yawned big enough for her jaw to crack. “I’ll try for an early bedtime tonight. It’s all good.”
“I’m fine. Seriously.”
Occasionally, her dreams translated into sleepwalking or night terrors that were loud enough to wake her grandparents. As usual, she didn’t remember most of what caused the restless sleep and left her feeling exhausted. “I promise.” But already she could sense today would somehow be different. She felt sleepy, yes, but also…unsettled. Like something was about to happen, and she needed to be ready. But she didn’t know why or what for.
A quick change of subject was necessary to avert a discussion she wasn’t nearly up for having. “You know, Yaya, spending the morning with Pop is the least convincing argument to get me out of bed…ever.”
A silver eyebrow quirked upward, a silent acknowledgement that she would let things go—but only for now. “We aren’t arguing. We’re talking. There’s a difference. And when you’re finished with your father, come right home to change clothes, okay? The shop is open full-time hours today.”
Samantha could hear the relief in her grandmother’s voice. This year, with its unusually rainy spring and cool temperatures, had been particularly difficult on the family business. The fresh deli sausages for breakfast were definitely a splurge to be savored. But with school finally out for the summer, Ralph Lauren-wearing tourists eager to escape Boston’s cosmopolitan clutches would flood the state’s quaint, coastal towns in search of tales of witch trials, tacky yet artisanal knickknacks, and lazy afternoons on the water.
Luckily, Locklow, Massachusetts, had all those things in abundance.
After a quick scratch behind his ears, she pushed her glossy gray cat Oliver out of her bed.
He protested his eviction loudly.
Samantha sat up and stretched, causing her faded T-shirt to ride high above the waistband of her soft flannel boxer shorts. With another even louder yawn, she grabbed a ponytail holder from her nightstand and made quick work of tying back her long dark hair, her mind on how freakin’ good breakfast would taste and how quickly she could rush through her father’s visit.
“Oh,” Leola continued, smiling now that Samantha was finally moving. “Your friend Sully is waiting for you at the breakfast table.”
Samantha’s eyes popped open wide. “Why didn’t you say that in the first place?” Her feet slapped the wooden floors with a dull thud. “Sully!” She darted past the laughing woman, her voice echoing through the tiny seaside cottage. “Don’t you dare snarf all my galatopita!”
* * *
Jane Hutchens scooted deeper into the uncomfortable middle seat of her father’s Mercedes convertible, knowing she was about to enter the danger zone. With a fortifying breath, she began to struggle with her seatbelt. When her thigh inadvertently grazed her older brother Kyle’s, he gave her a stiff elbow to the right boob. The air rushed from her lungs in a great whoosh. “Kyle!”
“Stay on your side!”
When Jane shifted sharply in the opposite direction in response to Kyle’s sneak attack, Chloe, his twin, elbowed her left boob. Jane gasped. “Ouch. Chloe!” It was on the tip of her tongue to call them both something vile, but as usual, the insult died on her lips before it saw the light of day.
Jane rubbed her sore flesh with a frown, all the while trying to keep her elbows as close to her body as humanly possible. Being the youngest, if only by a year, still meant that she was perpetually relegated to the middle hump, or what Chloe tartly referred to as “the bitch seat.”
Every family member had his or her own car, and her dad had two, so she had no idea why this particular family ritual required them to all jam into a single vehicle to make the short ride in misery. But it always did. And for some reason, today her father seemed more anal-retentive about things than usual. He’d even inspected what they were wearing and sent Kyle back inside for a less wrinkled shirt.
“This is bullshit,” Kyle suddenly grumbled. He crossed his arms over his broad chest sending him bumping carelessly into Jane’s space. He gazed out the car window, a petulant expression marring his handsome face. “I’m eighteen-years-old and shouldn’t have to get up at the butt crack of dawn to visit some cemetery if I don’t want to.” Absently, he shoved a shock of thick blond hair off his forehead.
Chloe nodded vigorously, not letting the motion stop her as she applied a thick coat of pink lipstick. “Exactly.”
Jane just rolled her eyes. She was certain her siblings had been in complete and utter agreement about every topic imaginable since before they were born. It even seemed impossible that they were actually born a few minutes apart. She was sure, had Kyle been able, he’d have gone back inside their mother after Chloe himself.
Troy Hutchens, the tall and sturdy family patriarch and the best orthodontist in Locklow, not counting his wife, glared into the rearview mirror as he tapped the steering wheel impatiently. “Don’t let your mom hear you say something like that, Kyle.”
Kyle began to wiggle in his seat and adjust his new jeans. “Like what exactly? The truth?”
“The cursing, not to mention the disrespectful words.” Troy’s tone was stern. He was clearly not amused by his son’s attitude. “Someday when it’s me you’re going to visit in the cemetery, this might not seem like such a waste of time.”
Kyle and Chloe exchanged disbelieving glances.
“And yes,” Troy continued with a bit of a smirk, “you do look incredibly stupid in girl’s jeans.”
Chloe burst out laughing. “Guys wear them too, Dad. Don’t be sad, Ky, I think you can totally pull them off.”
Kyle grinned. “You know I can.”
Chloe reached over Jane as though she wasn’t there and began to yank at the material at Kyle’s knee, testing its stretchy stretchiness. “Don’t over wash these.” She tilted her head in a manner so thoughtful that Jane actually found herself wondering what her sister was thinking. “They do look kind of gay, though.”
Ugh. Jane shook her head and prayed, not for the first time, that she’d been adopted and just didn’t know it yet. Kyle and Chloe sucked IQ points from any space just by breathing.
Kyle smiled toothily, showing off perfect teeth. “Really?”
Troy let out a long-suffering sigh and his hands tightened on the steering wheel.
Kyle’s smile suddenly fell away. “But, like, trendy gay, not homo gay, right?”
Chloe’s voice held an unmistakable air of authority. “Right. They’re on point.”
Jane felt a burning sensation in her chest. She narrowed her eyes, and this time she couldn’t stop herself. “You know that you’re both morons, right?”
Only Kyle rose to the taunt. “Don’t be so sensitive, Ellen.”
“Goddammit, Kyle!” Troy exploded, his now splotchy cheeks standing out vividly against his blond goatee. “Enough with the snark. And don’t call your sister that again. Ever.” The three Hutchens teens looked back at him with wide eyes. Troy swallowed hard, and with visible effort, lowered his voice until it was a murmur. “That’s not her name.”
Jane had only recently come out to her family, and the news was still new and salacious enough that her brother seemed intent on finding a way to bring it up whenever he could. Upon Jane’s heartfelt confession, Chloe, on the other hand, had merely given a bored shrug and said, “Whatever. Everyone knows girls are hot.”
Jane would take Chloe’s indifference tinged with acceptance over Kyle’s outright rudeness any day. Her heart sank when her father purposely trained his gaze out the front windshield instead of the rearview mirror, where he’d been looking only a moment before. While her mom had seemed worried but supportive during her announcement, her dad’s reaction to her sexuality continued to be the worst thing of all.
Jane’s mother, Anita, wedged herself into the front passenger seat, holding a bouquet of white roses so large it barely fit into the car. Once seated, she struggled to close the car door, her face practically stuffed into the fragrant petals. “Let’s go.”
The cemetery was surprisingly…alive. Bees buzzed, and birdcalls wove around each other to create a soft soundtrack to their steep, uphill trek to the family plots.
It was lovely and peaceful in the Groveland Cemetery, and Jane couldn’t understand why Kyle and Chloe hated coming here so much. Sure, it was thirty whole minutes out of their day that they wouldn’t get to spend entirely on themselves, but it was only twice a year, on the anniversary of each of her maternal grandparents deaths. Their paternal grandparents were safely tucked in a condo in Boca Raton, Florida.
Jane came more often than was strictly required by her parents, especially in the summertime, when she could sink down onto a thick bed of grass and idly watch the clouds roll by. It was an escape from a sometimes rambunctious household. To Jane it wasn’t creepy or maudlin here. It was pretty and peaceful.
As Anita said a few words about her father and the steadfast man he’d been, Chloe texted, and Kyle tried to not fall asleep while standing up. When she was finally finished, Anita dabbed the corners of her eyes with a handkerchief and bent to pick up the flowers that were waiting to be laid on the grave.
Troy put a sympathetic hand on his wife’s arm. “I’ll do it, honey.”
Jane let out a relieved breath. She felt bad for her mother’s sadness, and also thrilled that this enforced family time would soon be over. She felt a rare moment of unity with her siblings. Maybe Chloe and Kyle weren’t as stupid as they looked. And acted. And…never mind.
Troy adjusted his crisp blue blazer with one hand before he knelt and deposited the bouquet on the soft grass in front of Grandpa Bill’s enormous black granite headstone.
Then something odd happened. Troy froze in position on his knees for so long that Chloe looked up from her phone, and Kyle actually began to focus on what was happening in front of him.
Even Anita looked puzzled. “Uh, hon?”
Chloe stepped closer to Jane and lowered her voice. “Did he have a stroke?”
Chloe actually asked that same question on a regular basis, whenever their dad did something she considered bizarre. But this time, it wasn’t totally unwarranted.
“Dad?” Jane whispered. “Are you okay?” She reached out to touch his shoulder but yanked her hand back when he suddenly let out a noisy, massive exhale.
Troy hung his head and barked, “Jesus, Ernie! Did you get the shot or not? You’re supposed to signal me.”
A sheepish, nerdy-looking young man emerged from the bushes clutching a professional-grade camera to his stomach. Ernie Tupper rocked back on his heels and blushed when his eyes met Jane’s, then Chloe’s.
Upon seeing Ernie, Chloe took a large step backward and pulled her sister right along with her. She placed herself between Ernie and Jane. Even Kyle, albeit probably unconsciously, moved a little closer to his sisters. And for once, Jane wasn’t tempted to complain.
Ernie had only graduated high school last year and was already considered a budding town creeper.
It took Kyle loudly clearing his throat for the chunky photographer to tear his gaze away from the girls and train it down at his tattered sneakers. “Sorry, Dr. Hutchens.” He shook his head to shake his longish hair from his eyes with a move so violent it looked spastic. “Yeah, I got a good shot. I, um, forgot the signal.”
“Troy?” Anita looked pissed as she rested her hands on her hips and pinned her husband with her questioning glare. “Why is Ernie, from the Locklow Gazette, taking our photographs?”
“Because I’ve finally done it. I know I’ve talked about it for years, but I’ve finally decided I’m going to run for City Council. I hired Ernie because I thought that a few candid family shots would make a nice pictorial that the paper would surely—”
Anita’s gaze caught fire. “You thought that you’d use our private visit to my father’s grave on the twentieth anniversary of his death as a photo op? And you didn’t bother to tell me about that or your decision to run for election?”
Troy squared his shoulders, stood to his full height, and spoke in a deep tone usually reserved for a parental lecture. But Jane didn’t miss the sliver of confusion making its way into his pale eyes. “I thought you’d be happy for me.”
“That would make perfect sense.” Anita nodded slowly. “After all, this visit to Groveland is all about you.”
Wisely, Troy paused a few seconds before responding.
Jane swore she could smell the burning of the filament when the light bulb popped on over her dad’s head, and he realized why his wife might be angry. When he did, he couldn’t keep from blanching. “I, um…”
Kyle and Chloe took this as their opportunity to escape and practically sprinted down the hill, yelling that they’d wait in the car.
“I’m sorry, honey.” Troy looked truly contrite and Jane felt a twinge of compassion for her dad. Her mom was usually even-keeled, patient even. But when pushed, like today, her temper was not a pretty sight. “I should have told–”
Anita raised a hand that stopped him cold. “Explain at home.” Without another word, she turned on her heel and marched downhill after Kyle and Chloe, her feet crunching especially loudly on the crushed seashell path.
Troy smiled wanly at Ernie. “My wife is a little camera shy. And, well, I’m…” He didn’t bother to finish the thought. Instead, he gestured with one hand. “After you. My checkbook is in the car.”
“Bye, J-Jane,” Ernie spat out clumsily, fiddling with his camera lens the entire time.
With one last, longing look at Jane, Ernie headed toward the car.
Oblivious to Ernie’s lovesick expression, Troy stuck his hands into his pants pockets and chewed at his mustache, obviously contemplating his fate. A few breaths more and he appeared resigned. “You ready?”
Jane shook her head. There was no way she was getting back in that car. Especially with an argument brewing. “I’m going to walk into town instead.” She lifted one shoulder. “Maybe visit the bookstore or library and find a nice place to read in the park or by the docks.” The cemetery was only a five-minute walk from her house, but the town square was a different direction. “I’ll see you later.”
“Sounds nice,” he said a little wistfully. “Just be careful.”
“I will.” She watched him as he walked down the path, and after a few seconds, she heard several car doors slam.
Jane stood rooted to her spot for several luxurious moments and allowed her mind to wander. What would her father running for City Council mean for the family? Would her mom stay mad for the rest of the day or would her dad coax her out of it by dinner? Would she like her new summer job at Mackelroy’s Fish Hut? Would she return the hideous sweater Kyle had given her for her 17th birthday or just donate it to the church her family attended twice per year and mostly for show?
When she finally grew bored with soaking up the sun and standing still, Jane moved back to her grandfather’s grave. She carefully gathered up about half the roses, which still amounted to a large armful, intent on sharing them by spreading them around. Their excess always made her uncomfortable, but they were undeniably beautiful. Another family would enjoy them too.
She was drawn, not for the first time, to a set of headstones under the nearest tree, a towering oak, with thick branches low enough to easily sit on and lush leaves whose pattern splintered the sunrays into a million beams of light. The encroachment of tree roots caused the headstones to sit a little unevenly. The grave sites were simple, but well maintained, and far less stately than the others nearby, making them look a little out of place in this lavish section of the cemetery.
Jane scanned the names. Most were exotic sounding and unique when compared to all the Williams, Marys, and Henrys in her clan. Unerringly, her attention landed on one she’d become particularly familiar with over the years. And as she had many times, she laid the flowers to rest at the base of the headstone and wondered about the woman who had died so young and what it must have been like for the young girl she left behind.
Celine Christos Blackwell
Forever in our Hearts
Her cell phone suddenly buzzed and she glanced down at the unexpected text. She didn’t recognize the number, but it was from the local area code.
Seeing you makes me smile
Jane spun in a circle and even peered in the nearby bushes. But she was completely alone.
While not unpopular—that would be almost impossible for a Hutchens in Locklow—she didn’t get the attention that her head cheerleader sister or her captain-of-every-sports-team brother did. And for that she was generally very grateful. But that didn’t mean she was wholly without admirers. And for a second, she wasn’t sure what to make of the text or how someone could have gotten her phone number.
It couldn’t be from Ernie. Today was the first time he’d been bold enough to actually speak to her, and even then it appeared to be physically painful for him.
She waited to see if another text would follow, but she wasn’t disappointed when it didn’t. It was probably intended for someone else anyway. Most likely Chloe. More than once she’d received an explicit photo or drunk dial from one of Chloe’s friends that was meant for her sister.
But the mystery of the sender’s identity didn’t hold the allure of the library or even the boutique next door. Jane bid Celine Blackwell a silent farewell until the next time and headed down the hill and toward the ocean.
* * *
Jeremy Blackwell leaned back against the wooden bench that had the city park to its rear and Locklow’s docks to its front. He shifted so that he faced Samantha as he complained bitterly about the asshole who had cut him off as he tried to ‘pahk’ his ‘cah.’
“I’m sure he didn’t mean it, Pop. He probably didn’t even see you. He was about a thousand years old.”
“Oh, he meant it! He’s proud of himself too. I could tell. This town needs a cab service for the old corpses who are still drivin’ when someone shoulda tossed their keys years ago.” Jeremy finally stopped his rant and took a good look at his daughter. “Hey, I meant to say it earlier…What the hell? You’re so much taller since the last time I saw ya.”
Samantha let her father’s rapid-fire Southie accent roll over her. Her own New England inflection wasn’t nearly as pronounced, but it popped out occasionally and especially when she was tired. “I guess.”
Jeremy shook his head. “I mean, I know I’ve missed a visit or two, but kids can’t grow that fast, can they?” He cracked open his third beer of the morning, and those were only the ones she knew about, and took a long draw. Looking supremely satisfied by the taste, he smacked his foamy lips together. “What are ya? Five-nine, maybe five-ten?”
“Closer to five-ten.” Samantha trained her eyes on the boat moored in the slip in front of her and tucked her long legs underneath the bench. She drew in a breath of cool air, feeling the familiar salty bite in the back of her throat. “It’s been six months since we’ve seen each other. So, yah, Pops, someone can actually grow a few inches in six months. I’m livin’ proof.”
There was no bite to her words. She was merely stating facts.
Jeremy ran a hand through his wind-tussled, slightly shaggy hair. The coastal breeze was a constant in Locklow. “Ayuh, well…I been wicked busy, ya know? And the drive’s gotten worse over the years ’cuz a traffic. Sometimes it takes three hours.”
Samantha thought she detected a tiny flash of regret in his voice, but it passed so quickly she wasn’t sure it had been there at all. She watched as a deckhand uncoiled a long length of hose and began spraying down the deck of a gleaming sailboat that would carry passengers out for a harbor cruise later that morning.
Since her dad had brought up her growth spurt, she decided this was as good a time as any to bite the bullet. “Speaking of growing, I’ve outgrown most of my clothes and my shoes.”
Jeremy glanced down at her feet. It wasn’t quite warm enough for the flip-flops she had on and her toes hung just over the edge of the shoes. Still, he said nothing.
Damn him. “Hint, hint, Pops!”
His expression hardened. “Aren’t ya gettin’ paid for your hours at the shop? You’re not slave labor for the Christos.”
Samantha gritted her teeth. If it only impacted her, she’d go barefoot before she’d ask. But this affected her grandparents, and they were getting too old to work so many hours. “You know I don’t work at the shop during the school year. I did work at Harbor Cantina all school year though, even before I was old enough to do it legally. But I had to quit last week ’cause of the summer shop hours.” She let out a shuddering breath, trying not to taste the bitterness that made her want to gag. “It’s been months since you—”
“Yah, yah, okay.” He waved a hand between them as though he wished he could erase the entire discussion. “I get it.” He withdrew an old, creased wallet from his back pocket and nosed around in it as he spoke. “Ya weren’t serving drinks in that place, were ya? You’re far too young for that. No daughter of mine—”
Samantha rolled her eyes. She was his daughter right up until she needed anything from him. Time. Parenting. Support. “I washed dishes. That’s all.”
He grunted his acceptance, if not approval, then stopped what he was doing to finish his beer in several large swallows. “Nothin’ wrong with a little off-the-books work.” He made a production out of crushing the can and tossed it in her lap. Then with his chin, he gestured toward a garbage bin near the wooden dock railing. “Dump this in the barrel for your old man, wouldja?”
Samantha stood, can in hand, and hoped she didn’t look as repulsed as she felt. She hadn’t gotten any money yet. She didn’t even want to think about how much he spent on packie runs every week. Beer wasn’t cheap.
“How’s school? By the way, Leola grilled me about getting you back to her early today, so I take it summer break has already started. I can never keep the exact dates straight.” When she rejoined him on the bench, he handed over three twenty-dollar bills and snapped his wallet shut, clearly irritated at having to fork over the money.
Samantha stuffed the cash deep into the pocket of her cutoffs. God, how she wished she could wad up the money and throw it back in his miserable face. Sixty measly bucks. That would be all he contributed toward her living expenses until she saw him again. That wouldn’t even cover groceries for more than a week.
She opened her mouth to answer his question about school, when her attention was drawn to a redheaded girl wearing a fitted light blue pencil skirt, ballet flats, and a floral cap-sleeved top. The teenager clutched a thick novel to her chest as she moved closer, her thick hair braid swaying as she moved. She recognized the girl from school, although they didn’t really know each other. Jane Hutchens.
Samantha suddenly felt self-conscious and underdressed. Then again, why should she be dressed up on Saturday just to sit on a bench talking her a-hole dad?
Jane and Samantha’s eyes met and Jane smiled timidly in response.
Samantha felt the sudden urge to throw up. Ugh. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Yaya’s galatopita tasted far better going down than it did coming up. Her face twisted in to a sour grimace as she swallowed hard.
Jane took in Samantha’s revolted expression and, with a confused frown and red tinged cheeks, focused her eyes forward. She sped up her pace, not stopping until she was well past Jeremy and Samantha and had found a vacant bench to claim as her own.
Samantha blinked a few times as the weird, unpleasant sensation receded along with her breakfast.
“Samantha?” Jeremy prompted, looking concerned that she’d just totally zoned out. “School?”
The wind ruffled her ponytail and she used straightening it as an excuse to turn and avoid looking her dad in the eye as she spoke. Her wits were scattered around her like jacks on the playground and she did her best to gather them. “School is school. Umm, same as always.”
“Tenth grade next year?”
“That’s my girl.” He gave her a pleased nod. “I always said you got your eyes and your smarts from me.”
I got nothin’ from you.
“So…” he hedged, trying for nonchalance. “Heard from Joe-Joe lately?”
Her older brother hated his nickname, almost as much as he hated their father.
Samantha had been the lucky one. She was only six when their mom had died and had been allowed to stay in Locklow with their grandparents ever since. Jeremy had decided to leave town and insisted that a 13-year-old boy needed his father. And so Joe had been dragged to South Boston, Jeremy’s old stomping ground, and into a life she’d only narrowly escaped.
“I got a postcard from Joe a couple of weeks ago and a really pretty music box too.” Samantha glanced back at Jeremy, guilty, horrified, and grateful to have been the one who was left behind. “He emails every month or so.” That was an exaggeration. But she didn’t care.
The tightening of the skin around her dad’s mouth confirmed what she suspected—he hadn’t heard from Joe at all.
“He Skypes on holidays and birthdays too.” Now she was just rubbing it in. But she couldn’t seem to help herself.
“All the way from Okinawa?” Her dad’s tone was disbelieving.
She hesitated to share more but wanted this visit to run its course as quickly as possible. “He’s in Gaeta, Italy, now. He reenlisted a couple of months ago and got new orders.”
Jeremy let out a stream of curses so loud he scared the nearby seagulls into flight.
It took everything in Samantha not to flinch.
“He’s already been in the damned Navy for six years! Isn’t that enough? I thought he was gonna come back to Boston and drive cab. Ya know, to set up a real business with his military money.”
She almost burst out laughing. Joe would rather die. “Guess not.”
“The chucklehead,” Jeremy grumbled. His gaze drifted to a dingy fishing trawler that was pulling into the dock after its early morning run. “Guess he always did wanna be on the ocean, though.”
Samantha nodded. She couldn’t imagine not being able to gaze out her bedroom window at the sea everyday. Or drop a line in its foamy depths when the mood struck her. Its reliable rhythm, even on stormy days, soothed her, and she found comfort in its consistency.
In a sad way, a very large puddle of water achieved a parenting feat she knew her father never would.
“Got a boyfriend to go to bonfire rippers on the beach with? Kids still do that, right?”
Hazel eyes that were a kaleidoscope of swirling browns, greens and ambers took on an irritated glint. For a second, she wondered if he was serious. But then he lifted his chin, just a little, and she saw the devil in the crinkle of his eyes. He was messing with her just because he could. “You know I like girls, Pops. I told you the last time you visited and the time before that. Or did your love affair with Sam Adams erase it from your memory?” She braced herself for the explosion.
But it never came.
Instead of being insulted, Jeremy laughed lightly. “Don’t get all salty now. I was just checkin’. Men are filthy pigs. Remember that. At least now I know ya won’t get knocked up by some bum.”
“There goes number one on my bucket list.”
“Ya get your sarcasm from me too.” But he didn’t sound disappointed.
“Who knows, kid? Someday you might end up with your very own BMW to keep you warm at night.”
She didn’t want to laugh, but it bubbled up so quickly she couldn’t help herself. “I don’t need a big Maine woman, Pop. I’d be good with a thick blanket and a local girl.”
“Local girl, huh? Anyone particular in mind?”
“If there was, I’d never tell you.”
Jeremy grinned, and there in the midst of his rarely seen smile, Samantha grudgingly saw a little of herself in his face. It was at once familiar and unnerving.
“You’re really gorgeous, Samantha. Even more when ya actually loosen up and stop lookin’ at me like ya want to rip out my throat. You remind me more and more of your mother every day.”
Samantha was so astonished, she couldn’t think of a single thing to say to that.
Jeremy didn’t seem to expect a response as he stood and briskly patted her knee. “Get some fuckin’ sleep, will ya? Or you’re gonna start looking less like Celine and more like Leola.” He made it only a few feet before he stopped to glance over his shoulder. “See you in a month, yah? Or sooner. I’ll have more time this summer and I’ll come up to Locklow a lot more often. I promise.”
For a split second, whatever still remained of her little girl’s heart leapt with joy. His visits had always come in spurts and stops. Maybe…but then reality and experience filtered in as surely as the sunlight through the trees and brought her back to earth with a painful thud. “Sure, Pop. See ya around.”
And then he was gone.
Her attention shifted to the girl who’d made her stomach flop in the most horrible way earlier. She was still sitting alone on a bench reading, looking lovely and completely harmless. Curious, Samantha decided that she owed her an apology.