“So,” he said suddenly, “why’d you stop?”
“Stop what?” I said.
I stared down into my empty cup. “I don’t know,” I said, even as that winter day flashed in my mind again. “I just wasn’t into it anymore.”
Across the clearing, I could see Kristy talking to a tall blond guy who was gesturing, telling some kind of elaborate story. She kept having to lean back, dodging his flailing fingers.
“How fast were you?” Wes asked me.
I said, “Not that fast.”
“You mean you couldn’t . . . fly?” he said, smiling at me.
Stupid Rachel, I thought. “No,” I said, a flush creeping up my neck, “I couldn’t fly.”
“What was your best time for the mile?”
“Why?” I said.
“Just wondering,” he said, turning the rod in his hands. “I mean, I run. So I’m curious.”
“I don’t remember,” I said.
“Oh, come on, tell me,” he said, bumping my shoulder with his. I cannot believe this, I thought. “I can take it.”
Kristy was glancing over at us now, even as finger guy was still talking. She raised her eyebrow at me, then turned back to face him.
“Okay, fine,” I said. “My best was five minutes, five seconds.”
He just looked at me. “Oh,” he said finally.
“What? What’s yours?”
He coughed, turning his head. “Never mind.”
“Oh, see,” I said, “that’s not fair.”
“It’s more than five-five,” he told me, leaning back on his hands. “Let’s leave it at that.”
“That was years ago,” I said. “Now I probably couldn’t even do a half a mile in that time.”
“I bet you could.” He held the rod up, squinting at it. “I bet,” he said, “you’d be faster than you think. Though maybe not fast enough to fly.”
I felt myself smile, then bit it back. “You could outrun me easily, I bet.”
“Well,” he said, “maybe someday, we’ll find out.”
Oh, my God, I thought, and I knew I should say something, anything. But now Kristy, Bert, and Monica were walking toward us, and I missed my chance.
“Twenty minutes to curfew,” Bert announced as he got closer, looking at his watch. “We need to go.”
“Oh, my God,” Kristy said, “you might actually have to go over twenty-five to get us home in time.”
Bert made a face at her, then walked to the driver’s side door, opening it. Monica climbed up into the ambulance, plopping herself on the couch, and I followed her, with Kristy right behind me.
“What were you two talking about?” she whispered as Wes pulled the doors shut.
“Nothing,” I said. “Running.”
“You should have seen your face,” she said, her breath hot in my ear. “Sa-woooon.”
“Okay,” Caroline said, pushing a button on the camera and then coming over to sit next to my mother. “Here we go.”
It was Saturday morning. My sister had arrived the night before, having spent the day in Colby meeting with the carpenter about the renovations and repairs to the beach house. This was familiar ground to her, as she’d already done her own house, plus the place she and Wally had in the mountains. Decorating, she claimed, was her calling, ever since one of her college art professors told her she had a “good eye,” a compliment that she took to mean she was entitled to redo not only her own house but also anyone else’s.
So although my mother was just barely on board—which was itself miraculous, in my opinion—Caroline was moving full steam ahead, showing up with not only most of her extensive library on home decorating but also pictures she’d taken with Wally’s digital camera, so she could walk us though the suggested changes with visual aides.
“These things are a real lifesaver when you’re doing long-distance remodeling,” she explained as she hooked the camera up to the TV. “I don’t know what we ever did without them.”
She pushed a button, and the screen went black. Then, just like that, the beach house appeared. It was the front view, the way it looked if you had your back to the ocean. There was the deck, with its one rickety wooden bench. There were the stairs that led over the dunes. There was the old gas grill, beneath the kitchen window. It had been so long since I’d seen it, but still I felt a lurch in my stomach at how familiar it was. It seemed entirely possible that if you leaned in closer, peering in the back window, you’d see my dad on the couch reading the paper and turning his head to look as you called his name.
My mother was just staring at it, holding her coffee cup with both hands, and I wondered again if she was going to be able to handle this. But then I looked at my sister, and she was watching my mom too. After a second she said, very carefully, “So this is the way it looks now. You can see that the roof is sagging a bit. That’s from the last big storm.”
My mother nodded. But she didn’t say anything.
“It needs to be braced, and we have to replace some shingles as well. The carpenter was saying as long as we’re shoring it up we might want to consider adding a skylight, or something . . . since the living room gets so little light from those front windows. You know how much you always complained about that.”
I remembered. My mother was forever turning on lights in the living room, complaining it was like a dungeon. (“All the better for naps!” my father would claim, just before falling asleep on the couch with his mouth open.) She preferred to spend her time in the front bedroom, which had a big window. Plus the moose gave her the creeps. I wondered what she was thinking now. It was hard for her; it was hard for me, too. But I kept remembering everything Kristy had said two nights before, about not being afraid, and how if I’d come home when I got scared, I would have missed everything that had happened.
“But I’ve never dealt with skylights,” Caroline said. “I don’t know how much they run, or if they’re even worth the trouble.”
“It depends on the brand,” my mother said, her eyes on the screen. “And the size. It varies.”
I had to hand it to my sister. For all her pushing, she knew what she was doing. Take one small step—show the picture, which she knew would be hard for my mother—and pair it with something she’d feel entirely sure about: work.