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When We Believed in Mermaids / (by Barbara O'Neal, 2019) -

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When We Believed in Mermaids /      (by Barbara O'Neal, 2019) -

When We Believed in Mermaids / (by Barbara O'Neal, 2019) -

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When We Believed in Mermaids / (by Barbara O'Neal, 2019) -
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2019
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Barbara O'Neal
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Sarah Naughton, Katherine Littrell
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,
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upper-intermediate
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12:13:58
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128 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

When We Believed in Mermaids / :

.doc (Word) barbara_oneal_-_when_we_believed_in_mermaids.doc [870.5 Kb] (c: 4) .
.pdf barbara_oneal_-_when_we_believed_in_mermaids.pdf [1.55 Mb] (c: 11) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: When We Believed in Mermaids

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Chapter One Kit My sister has been dead for nearly fifteen years when I see her on the TV news. Id been working the ER for six hours straight, triaging young humans from a beach party where a fight broke out. Two gunshot wounds, one that nicked a kidney; a broken cheekbone; a broken wrist; and multiple facial wounds of various levels of severity. And that was just the girls. By the time we made it through the triage, Id stitched and soothed the lucky ones. The unlucky ones were sent to surgery or to the wards, and I dived into the break room fridge for a Mountain Dew, my favored way to mainline sugar and caffeine. A television mounted to the wall broadcasts the news of a disaster somewhere. I stare at it sightlessly as I gulp the sticky-sweet soda. Its night. Flames are erupting in the background. People are running and screaming, while a news anchor with tousled hair and a vintage leather bomber jacket offers the news in properly grave tones. And there, right over his left shoulder, is my sister. Josie. For one long second, she looks at the camera. Long enough that there is no mistaking her. That straight, straight blonde hair, cut now into a sleek bob that just grazes her shoulders, her tilted dark eyes and slashes of cheekbone, that fat Angelina Jolie mouth. Everyone always fussed over her beauty, and its that combination of dark and light, angles and softness that does it. Shes an exact mix of our parents. Josie. I feel as if shes looking through the screen, right at me. And then shes gone, and the disaster keeps going. I stare, openmouthed, at the empty spot she left, holding the Mountain Dew out in front of me like an offering or a toast. To you, Josie, my sister. Then I shake myself. This happens all the time. Anyone who has lost somebody they love has experienced itthe head in the crowd on a busy street, the person at the grocery story who moves just like her. The rush to catch up, so relieved that she is actually still alive . . . Only to be crushed when the imposter turns around and the face is wrong. The eyes. The lips. Not Josie. It must have happened to me a hundred times in the first year, especially because we never found a body. Impossible, given the circumstances. Also impossible that she survived. Not for her the ordinary demise of a fiery car accident or a leap off a bridge, though she threatened those often enough. No, Josie was vaporized on a European train blown up by terrorists. Gone, gone, gone. This is why we have funerals. We desperately need to see the truth for ourselves, see that loved ones face, even if its marred. Otherwise, its just too hard to believe. I lift the Mountain Dew all the way to my lips and take a long swallow of the thing we shared, this private reminder of all we were to each other, and tell myself its just wishful thinking. When I leave the hospital in the predawn stillness, Im wound up, both exhausted and wired. If I want to get any sleep at all before my next shift, I have to work off the grimy night. Stopping by my tiny Santa Cruz house, 1,350 square feet on the edge of an almost-not-great neighborhood, I scramble into my wet suit, feed the worst cat in the world his half can of wet food, and make sure to move my fingers around in his kibble. He purrs his thanks, and I pull his tail gently. Try not to pee on anything too important, huh? Hobo blinks. I load my board into my Jeep and drive south, not realizing that Im headed for the cove until I get there. Pulling over into a makeshift space alongside the highway, I park and look down at the water. A few bodies out, not many at dawn. The water is northern Cali cold, fifty-three degrees in early March, but the waves are lined up all the way to the horizon. Perfect. The trail starts where the sidewalk to the restaurant once was and veers down the steep slope in a zigzag carved out a few feet away from the cliff where there used to be stairs, our own private access to the isolated, hidden cove. The hillside is unstable, with a reputation for being haunted, and all the locals know it. I have the descent to myself. But then, I know the ghosts. Midway down, I stop and look back up to the spot where our house stood, and the restaurant with its celebrated patio boasting the best view in the world. Both buildings lie in rotting planks and debris scattered down the hill, most of it washed away in storms over the years, the rest blackened by seawater and time. In my imagination, the buildings stand in spectral beauty, the sprawling Eden with its magnificent patio, and above it our little house. Josie and I shared a room after Dylan came, and neither one of us ever minded. I see the ghosts of all of us when we were happymy parents madly in love, my sister bright and full of boundless energy, Dylan with his hair pulled back in a leather string, racing us down the stairs so we could build a fire on the beach and make smores and sing. He loved singing, and he had a good voice. We always thought he should be a rock star. He said he didnt want anything but Eden, and us, and the cove. I see myself too, an urchin of seven with too much hair, whirling on the beach, the sky overhead blurring blue and white. A million years ago. Our family restaurant was called Eden, both exclusive and permissive, frequented by hippie movie stars and their drug dealers. Our parents were part of that world toostars in their realm, each wielding power on their own terms, my father the jovial, welcoming chef with his hearty laugh and excessive habits, my mother on his arm, a charming coquette. Josie and I ran around like puppies, sleeping on the beach of the cove when we got tired, underfoot and ignored. My mother was a great beauty whod come for dinner with another man and fallen instantly in love with my father, or so the legend says. But if youd known him, you would know it was entirely likely. My father was a massive personality, a charming, bigger-than-life chef from Italy, though people just said cook in those days. Or restaurateur, which was what he really was. My mother loved him to excess, far more than she loved us. His passion for her was intense, and sexual, and possessive, but is that love? I dont know. I do know that its hard to be the children of parents who are obsessed with each other. Josie thrived on drama the way my parents did. She had both my fathers enormous personality and my mothers beauty, though in Josie, the combination became something extraordinary. Unique. I cant count the number of times people drew and photographed and painted her, men and women, and how often they fell in love. I always thought she would be a movie star. Instead, she made of her life a great ruinous drama, just like our parents, with a suitably catastrophic ending. The cove is still there, of course, even if the stairs are gone. I pull on my booties and weave my heavy hair into a thick braid. Light is spilling peach over the horizon as I paddle around the rocks and out to the line. Its only three others and me. A nasty shark attack a few weeks ago has thinned the ranks of the eager, no matter how badass the waves. And they are badass. Solid nine feet, with a gorgeous glassy curl thats much rarer than people think. I paddle out and wait my turn, catch the line, and leap to my feet to ride right on the edge. This is the instant I live for, that moment when nothing else is in my head. Nothing can be. Its me and the water and the sky, the sound of the rippling surf. The sound of my breath. The edge of the board slipping along the water, cold over my ankles even in booties. Ice-cold. Perfect balance, shivering, hair slapping my cheek. For an hour, maybe more, Im lost in it. Sky and sea and dawn. I dissolve. No me, no body, no time, no history. Just the deck and toes and air and water and suspension Until its not. The wave rips unexpectedly and so fast, so hard that Im slammed deep into the water, the washing machine of surging surf pounding my body, my head, the board, which tumbles too close, a dangerous power that could crack my head wide open. I go limp, holding my breath, letting the water suds me. Resistance will break you. Kill you. The only way to survive is to let go. The world swirls, up and down, around, for endless moments. Im going to drown this time. The board yanks on my ankle, surges me another direction. Seaweed winds around my arms, swirls around my neck Josies face swims up in front of me. The way it was fifteen years ago. The way it looked on television overnight. Shes alive. I dont know how. I know only that its true. The ocean spits me up to the surface, and I drag a breath into my oxygen-starved lungs. By the time I make it back to the cove, I am exhausted and fall on my belly onto the sand of the protected space, resting for a minute. All around me are the voices of my childhood. Me and Josie and Dylan. Our dog, Cinder, a black retriever mix, romps around us, wet and smelly and happy. Smoke from the restaurant fires fills the air with a sense of cozy possibility, and I hear faint music, weaving through long-ago laughter. When I sit up, it all stops, and there is only the wreck of what once was. One of my earliest memories is of my parents locked in a passionate embrace. I couldnt have been more than three or four. Its unclear where they were, exactly, but I remember my mother pressed up against a wall, her blouse shoved up and my fathers hands over her breasts. I saw her skin. They kissed so hungrily that they looked like animals, and I watched in fascination for one second, two, three, until my mother made a sharp noise, and I screamed, Stop it! The memory wafts around my mind as I sit down in my backyard an hour later, hair wet from a shower. I sip a mug of hot, sweet coffee and check the headlines on my iPad. Hobo sits on the table beside me, yellow eyes bright, black tail swishing. Hes a feral, seven years old. I found him when he was five or six months, starving, battered, practically dead on my back doorstep. Now hell go out only if Im with him, and hes never missed a meal. Absently, I stroke his back as he keeps an eye on the shrubs along the fence. His fur is long and silky, all black. Its remarkable how much company he provides. The disaster on the news was a nightclub fire in Auckland. Dozens of people were killed, some when the ceiling fell down on the revelers, some when fleeing partiers were trampled. There are no other details. With a rumbling sense of a train coming toward me, I click around the pictures, looking for the newscaster I saw last night. No luck. I fall back in my chair and sip some more coffee. Bright Santa Cruz sunlight shines through the eucalyptus tree overhead and makes patterns over my thighs, too white because Im always in the ER or a wet suit. Its not Josie, I think with my rational mind. I reach for the keyboard, about to type in another search termand stop myself. For months after she died, I combed the internet for any possible clue that she could have survived the cataclysmic train crash. The explosion had been so severe that they couldnt identify all the individual remains, and as happens more often than first responders and law enforcement will admit, a lot of it was speculation. Your loved one was there; she has not surfaced. All indications are that she died. After a year, my twitchy need to search for my sister calmed down, but I couldnt help that catch in my throat when I thought I saw her in a crowd. After two years, I finished my residency at San Francisco General and came home to Santa Cruz, where I took a spot in the ER and bought myself this house not far from the beach, where I could keep an eye on my mother and build an ordinary, quiet life for myself. The only things Id ever really wantedpeace, calm, predictability. My childhood had been drama enough for one life. My stomach growls. Cmon, kid, I say to Hobo, lets get some breakfast. The house is a small two-bedroom Spanish style in a neighborhood that crouches on the edges of places you dont want to walk at night, but its mine, and I can be at the beach in seven minutes on foot. Ive updated the old appliances and crappy cupboards and repaired the splendid tile work. Im thinking maybe pancakes for breakfast when my phone buzzes on the counter. Hi, Mom, I say, opening the fridge. Hmm. No eggs. Whats up? Kit, she says. A faint pause, enough to make me lift my head. Did you happen to see the news about that big nightclub fire in New Zealand? My stomach drops, down, down, down all the way through the earth. What about it? I know its ridiculous, but I swear I saw your sister in one of the clips. Holding the phone to my ear, I look out the kitchen window to the waving fronds of eucalyptus, the flowers I planted painstakingly along the fence. My oasis. If it were anyone but my mother, Id blow it off, run away, avoid opening this particular door, but shes done the work. Every step of AA, over and over. Shes present and real and sad. For her sake, I take a breath and say, I saw it too. Could she really be alive? Its probably not her, Mom. Lets keep our heads, not get our hopes up, okay? My stomach growls. Do you have anything to eat? I was at the ER until four, and there isnt a damn thing in this house. How strange, she says in her droll way. Ha. If youll make me some eggs, Ill come over and talk about this in person. Ive got to be to work at two, so make it quick. Its not even eleven. Mm-hmm. I am not putting on makeup, I say, which she always notices. Even now. I dont care, she says, but I know she does. Its walkable, another reason I bought in the area I did, but I drive so she wont fret. I bought her the condo a couple of years back. Its a bit dated, the rooms on the small side, but she has a wide view of the Pacific from the windows of the front room. The sound of the ocean keeps her calm. Its the thing we share, that hunger, bone-deep, for the ocean. Nothing else will do. I climb the outside stairs to her second-story condo, looking automatically over the waves to check conditions. Its calm now. No surfers, but lots of kids and families playing along the edges of the softly ruffling water. My mom comes out to her plant-filled porch when she spies my car. Shes wearing crisp cotton capris, yellow, with a white top striped the same sunny color. Her hairstill thick and healthy, blonde and gray making it look streakedis pulled into an updo like a young moms. It looks just right, even though her face shows the hard years shes lived, all the sun worshipping shes done. It doesnt matter. Shes slim and long-legged and deep-busted, and the startling eyes have lost none of their jeweled brilliance. Shes sixty-three, but in the filtered light of her simple upstairs porch, she appears to be about forty. You look tired, she says as she waves me inside. Vigorous plants of many kinds fill the rooms. Orchids are her specialty. Shes the only person I know who makes orchids bloom over and over. Give her half a second and shell enumerate the various genus typesCattleya; Phalaenopsis, her favorite; delicate and beautiful Laelia, all with their proper Latin names. Long night. I smell coffee as I come in and gravitate to the drip pot. I pour coffee into the cup thats waiting, the one she saves for me, a heavy green mug with HAWAII painted across the front. Eggs and chopped peppers await on the counter. Sit, she says briskly, and ties an apron around her. Omelet okay? Better than okay. Thank you. Open my laptop, she says, dropping a pat of butter into a heavy cast-iron skillet. I saved the clip. I follow orders, and theres the piece I saw the night before. The chaotic scene, the screams and noise. The newscaster in his bomber jacket. The face behind his shoulder, looking right into the camera, for the solid beat of three seconds. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand. I watch, then rewind and watch again, counting. Three seconds. If I stop the clip on her face, theres just no mistaking it. No one could look that much like her, my mom says, coming to peer over my shoulder. And have the exact same scar. I close my eyes, as if that will get rid of this problem. When I open them again, there she is, frozen in time, that uneven scar that runs from her hairline, straight through her eyebrow, and into her temple. It was a miracle she didnt lose her eye. No, I say. Youre right. You have to go find her, Kit. Thats ridiculous, I say, even though Ive been thinking the same thing. How would I do that? Millions and millions of people live in Auckland. You would be able to find her. You know her. You know her too. She shakes her head, straightening her back stiffly. You know I dont travel. I scowl. Youve been sober fifteen years, Mom. Youd be fine. No, I cant. You need to do this. I cant run away to New Zealand. I have a job, and I cant just leave them in the lurch. I shove my hair off my face. And what will I do with Hobo? My heart stingsthe job I can navigate, since I havent had time off in three years. But my cat will pine without me. Ill go stay at your house. I look at her. Stay there, or go in the morning and night and feed him? Ill move there. She slides the omelet, steamy and beautifully studded with peppers, onto the table. Come eat. I stand up. Hell probably hide the whole time. Thats all right. Hell know hes not alone. And maybe after a day or two, hell come sleep with me. The smell of onions and peppers snares my body, and I dig in to the eggs like a sixteen-year-old boy, my mind flashing up images. Josie bending over me to see if I was awake yet, her long hair tickling my neck when we were little; her exuberant laugh; a flash of her throwing a stick for Cinder to chase. My heart literally aches, not metaphoricallya weight of memory and longing and anger press down hard on it until I have to pause, set down my fork, take a breath. My mother sits quietly. I think of her voice when she told me Josie was dead. I see that her hand is trembling ever so slightly. As if to cover it, as if this is a normal morning with normal things in it, she lifts her cup to drink. Did you surf? I nod. We both know its how I process things. How I make peace. How I live with everything. Yes. It was gorgeous. She sits in the second chair of the two at the table. Her gaze is fixed on the ocean. Light catches on her serious mouth, and I suddenly remember her laughing with my father, her lips red and wide, as they spun around in a dance on the patio of Eden. Suzanne sober is a far better creature than Suzanne drunk, but I sometimes miss the exuberance of her in those days. Ill go, I say, maybe hoping to see a whisper of that younger woman. And for a single moment a flame leaps in her eyes. She reaches for me, and for once I let her take my hand, squeezing it in a fit of generosity. You promise youll actually live in my house? I ask. With her free hand, she draws an X across her heart and raises that same hand in a gesture of an oath. Promise. Okay. Ill get out of here as soon as I can arrange it. A wave of mingled anticipation and terror rolls through my chest, sloshes in my gut. Holy shit. What if shes really still alive? I guess Im going to have to kill her, Suzanne says. Chapter Two Mari Fingering the blindfold over my eyes, I ask, Where are you taking me? My husband, Simon, slaps my hand away. Leave it alone. Weve been driving forever. Its an adventure. Are we going to have kinky sex when we arrive? It wasnt previously on the agenda, but now that youve brought it up . . . He slides a hand up my arm, aiming to wander over my chest, but I swat at him. I quite fancy the idea of you naked and blindfolded, out in the open. Out in the open? In Auckland? Uh, no. I try to puzzle out clues about our destination. We left the highway a few minutes ago, but I still hear no auditory clues to the neighborhood. Distance traveled might be more of a help if we didnt live all the way in Devonport, a long drive to many other areas of the city. I lift my head to smell the air and catch a whiff of bread. Ooh, I smell a bakery! Simon chuckles. That should narrow it down. We ride quietly for a bit. I sip my paper cup of coffee and fret about my daughter, Sarah, who had a breakdown over breakfast, her wild dark hair falling in a cape over her arms as she protested going to school. She would not say why, only that she hated it, that it was awful, that she wanted to be homeschooled like her (strange and prissy) neighborhood friend Nadine. Quite the scene for a seven-year-old whod previously been the star of her class. What do you think is going on with Sarah? Its likely a schoolyard spat, but we should go round to the school and talk with them anyway. Yes, agreed. Even with her older brother offering to keep an eye on her, she hadnt wanted to go. At age nine, Leo is a mirror image of his father, the same thick, glossy dark hair, ocean-deep eyes, and lanky build. He shows every indication of taking after him athletically as well, swimming like a fish from the age of six months. And like his father, he suffers no dark moods or lack of confidence, unlike Sarah and me. I cant even imagine a life of such calm and sunniness, though I love it in both of them. She takes after her mother, Im sorry to say. Were you given to moody spells as a child? I laugh. The understatement of the century. I pat his hand on the seat, knowing where it will be even with the blindfold. Some would say I still am. Not I. Youre perfect. He squeezes my hand, and we turn sharply, bumping into what I presume is a drive. The car angles upward for some distance and then stops. You can take off the blindfold now, Simon says. Thank God. I rip it away, shaking my hair and smoothing a palm down over it. But the view gives very little away. Were in a tunnel of wild bush made up of tree ferns and vines. An overloaded feijoa tree has dropped hundreds of dark-green fruits to the pavement. Where the hell are we? Simon lifts one heavy, dark brow, a small grin playing over his generous mouth. Are you ready? My heart skitters. Yes. He drives forward, and upward, upward, the road rutted and neglected, for another minute or two, and then we suddenly emerge from the heavy growth to a wide circular drive fronting an elegant 1930s house, standing by itself against a backdrop of wild blue sky and sea. The air leaves my lungs, and practically before Simon halts the car, Im tumbling out of it, mouth agape. Sapphire House. Its a two-story Art Deco mansion overlooking the harbor with its line of islands in the distance. I spin around, and spread out below is the city, glimmering and glinting in the bright morning sunlight. Three of the citys seven volcanoes are visible from here. When I whirl back to look at the house again, my chest squeezes. Ive been enchanted by it since I arrived, partly for the tragic story attached to it but mostly because it sits up on this hill, so elegant and aloof. Untouchable, like Veronica Parker, the murdered film star who built the house for herself in the thirties. Are we going to see the inside? Simon holds up a key. I capture it and fling my arms around his neck. You are the most wonderful man! His palms land on my butt. I know. He takes my hand and laces his fingers through mine. Lets go look. Did she die? Last month. You should do the honors. He pauses in front of the door. Since it is, after all, yours. My blood goes ice-cold. What are you talking about? He tilts his head back to look at the roofline appraisingly. I bought it. His chin lowers. For you. His eyes are the color of the Pacific on a stormy day, gray and deep. Right this minute, they shine with delight in his surprise and the direct, open love he carries for me. A line of Shakespeare, lodged in my head from one of the only classes I ever attended regularly in high school, runs through my mind: Doubt thou the stars are fire, Doubt that the sun doth move, Doubt truth to be a liar, But never doubt I love. I fall into him, forehead against his chest, arms around his waist. God, Simon. Hey, now. His hands stroke my hair. Itll be right. He smells of laundry detergent and our bed and a faint note of autumn leaves. His body is strong and broad, a bulwark against the marauders of the world. Thank you. There is a slight catch. I lean back to look up at him. Yes? Helen, Veronicas sister, had two dogs. Her stipulation was that they came with the house, and there will be a society checking in on them. I laugh. I kind of love her for that. What kind of dogs? Not sure. One large, one small, thats what the agent said. Dogs are no problem. We both love them, and our golden will be so glad to have company. Simon nudges me. Come onlets go in. Heart pounding, I unlock and open the door. It swings into a foyer two stories tall, with an airy gallery surrounding it. A skylight pours in great bucketfuls of sunshine on such a bright day. The rooms open out in a circle, and the doors are propped open, offering glimpses of the windows and views. Against the wall of what looks to be the long living room, a row of French doors reveals a staggering view of blue-green sea, sparkling and rolling. Far in the distance, a sailboat bobs by. But inside is even more astonishing. The paintings, the furnishings, the rugs and appointments are all period, mostly Art Deco with its clean, clear lines. A few Arts and Crafts pieces are mixed in. An exquisite black-and-red lacquered cabinet holds a carved vase filled with dry stems, and next to it sits a round chair that has almost certainly never been perched upon. The rug is red and gold, with stylized vines. My voice is hushed. Is the whole house like this? So . . . untouched? I dont know. I havent been inside. You bought it sight unseen? He takes my hand. Lets go look around. Its a magical wanderpractically a museum of the world in 1932the furniture, the bedding, the walls and art. The three bathrooms are tiled, and one in particular, the master bath, is such a jewel that I have to do a little dance of delight in the middle of the room. I run my fingers over the understated green and blue tiles that cover the walls, the ceiling, an alcove for the bath. The splendor of the house would be a find even if it were classic Art Deco, but this house was built with a sense of Oceanic pride. The stairs are polished kauri wood, the banister Australian blackwood. A theme of stylized ferns and kiwis weaves through the accents and woodwork and tiles, and as we move through the hallways and rooms, I trail my fingertips over the precise inlays and carvings, wondering who the woodworker was. French doors with stylized cutouts lead from room to room and to a vast patio that looks out to sea. Only three rooms of the twenty-two have been updateda bedroom and sitting room at the back of the house, which are an ode to the charmless seventies, and portions of the kitchen, which has a stove and fridge that both look to be about a decade old. The stainless steel appliances clash with the rest of the room, which was designed for a household filled with servants and is suitably vast. The tile work is less spectacular here, but the stove sits in a tiled alcove, and I can see that there might be more buried beneath an unfortunate coat of paint. Simon and I wander back through the butlers pantry, still stocked with everything from fish knives to soup tureens and china in every possible variation. I open one of the glassed doors and take out a bread-and-butter plate with a dark-blue rim on white china, a pattern of dual lionesses and stylized flowers in gold along the edge. This is . . . incredible. Its like a museum. Carefully, I settle it back in place. Maybe thats what it should be. Maybe its selfish to want to live here. Dont be silly, darling. He tugs me through the narrow room and into the dining room and through one of the French doors in the long line. Look at that. He flings his hand toward the horizon, as if hes painted the view himself. Imagine our children growing up with this. Imagine that the house finally has life in it. The breeze ruffles his hair, and Im drawn, as always, into his vigorous, optimistic view of the world. Youre right. Right. He pats my shoulder and slides his sunglasses down to his tanned face. Im going to take a look at the boathouse and leave you to your explorations. Well have lunch at Marguerites, shall we? Yes. Id like that, I say, but Im already drawn back into the house, anxious to put my hands on everything, touch it, make sure its real. As I walk through the rooms now, touching doorjambs and walls and artwork and vases, I listen to the atmosphere for anything ghostly or sad, but the rooms are only quiet. Hushed, almost, as if waiting. Leaving the master bedroom for last, I explore it all, then move silently up the swirling staircase to the room that occupies fully a third of the second floor. French doors open to a balcony that extends the length of the room, and opposite rise ceiling-high closet doors, sleek and varnished, with discreet chevrons inlaid along the edges. Ghoulishly, I look at the floors, parquet covered with pink and gray rugs. This is where the original owner of the house was found murdered, stabbed to death at the tender age of twenty-eight. Veronica Parker, a dark-haired and voluptuous beauty, was a New Zealand lass whod risen to Hollywood stardom in the midtwenties. In 1932, the Olympics were held in Los Angeles, and Veronica was part of the welcoming committee for the athletes of her country, which was how she met Auckland native George Brown, an Olympic swimmer. A tumultuous love affair began. Veronica had already built Sapphire House, but George was married to his high school sweetheart, who refused to give him a divorce. It was, by all accounts, the undoing of Veronica. The turbulent romance lasted six years. On April 9, 1938, she was found stabbed to death after a party on the hill. Dozens of suspects were interviewed, but everyone was sure it was George who killed her. His world in tatters, he secluded himself for the last three years of his life. Some said he died of grief. Some of guilt. I toe the floor, wondering, but I can see no signs of foul play. Of course, it was scoured some eighty years before. Still, I find it intriguing that Veronicas sister lived in the house all this time and never slept here. Or not. Who would want to sleep where a sibling had been murdered? Why did she live here, alone, for such a long time? Had she been so grief stricken that she could find peace only in this house her sister had built? Or was it simply expedient? Not expedient. She could have done a hundred other things. Sold the house, made it over into her own tastes. Instead, she lived in those three unassuming rooms, leaving the rest of the house almost exactly as it was when her sister was alive. Except here. Rounding the room, I open drawers and find them empty. The closets are bare. Only the desk, sitting in the corner, holds any artifacts. Yellowed paper and desiccated sealing wax fill one drawer. In another, I find a dried-up bottle of ink and a fountain pen. My fingers curl around the pen, and a shimmer of loss brushes the edges of my throat. The pen is substantial, smoothly inlaid with geometric patterns in green and yellow. Tugging off the lid, I find a carved silver nib. Time slides away. I am ten, practicing calligraphy with a dip pen as a storm pounds the windows of the bedroom I share with my sister. Her curly hair falls in her face as she bends over her page, meticulously drawing an L, her favorite letter. Its better than mine. Her calligraphy is always better than mine. I drop the pen back in the desk drawer and wipe my hands on my thigh. The house might not be haunted, but I surely am. Chapter Three Kit A couple of days later, Im boarding a big-bodied Air New Zealand plane, feeling oddly nervous. I havent traveled a lot, not counting spring break trips to Mexico a few times, so I booked myself a window seat in business class. Since I dont buy anything but surfboards and fountain pens for myself, I also splurged on a juicy Airbnb in a high-rise building in the city center, overlooking the water. That way if the whole trip is a bust, at least Ill have had a little vacation. Cocooned in the white noise of the engines and the murmuring voices, I find myself falling almost instantly asleep. Inevitably, the dream arrives. Its always the same. Im sitting on a rock in the cove with Cinder beside me. I have my arm around him, and he leans against my body. Were staring out to the restless ocean, watching waves that are too big race toward shore and smash against the rocks that are so dangerous. Spray splashes us all over, but we dont move. In the distance, Dylan is riding his surfboard, not even wearing a wet suit but only his yellow-and-red board shorts. I know he shouldnt be out there, but I just watch him. The wave is too big to safely ride, but he does it, skates along the center of the curl with his hands out, his fingers trailing in the water in front of him. Hes happy, really happy, and thats why I dont want to warn him that the wave is breaking up. And then it throws him, and he disappears into the sea. Cinder barks and barks and barks, but Dylan doesnt surface. The water goes still, and there is nothing to see but silvery ocean all the way to the horizon. I jerk awake, mouth dry, and open the blind to look out at the darkness of endless ocean. The moon is full and shines in a line over the water far, far below. Stars glitter above, softening the harsh darkness of black sky. A yawning hole pulses in my chest for long moments, but as always, if I am still and focus on something outside of myself, it fades. The only way I survived the losses that marked my early life was by learning to compartmentalize, despite my mothers advice to get some counseling. Im fine most of the time. But tonight, with the dream fresh in my mind, memories pour in. Me and Josie stealing into the restaurant in the very early morning to pour out the sugar and substitute salt, thinking it so hilarious until our father lost his temper and spanked us both. The two of us dancing on the Eden patio in my mothers cast-off nightgowns. Playing mermaid on the beach or fairies on the bluffs. Later, all three of us moving like a school of fish, Josie and Dylan and me, swimming in the cove or making a bonfire or practicing calligraphy with fountain pens my mother brought back from some trip she took with my father during one of their happy stints, an interest bolstered by Dylans passion for all things Chinese. Like so many boys of the era, hed fallen hard for Kwai Chang Caine in the Kung Fu television series. I adored them both, but my sister was first. Worshipped the very air she breathed. I would have done anything she told mechased down bandits, built a ladder to the moon. In turn, she brought me sand dollars to examine and Pop-Tarts she stole from the pantry in the house kitchen, and she kept her arms around me all night. It was Dylan who introduced surfing. He taught us when I was seven and Josie nine. It gave us both a sense of power and relief, a way to escape our crumbling family life and explore the seaand, of course, it was our bond with Dylan himself. Josie. Thinking of her in the times before she turned into the later version of herself, the aloof, promiscuous addict, makes me ache with longing. I miss my sister with every molecule of my being. She changed as an early teen, fighting constantly with our father and rebelling against even the tiniest rule. Not even Dylan could rein her in, though he tried. For all that he acted as an uncle or father figure, he was still only a teenager. She started hanging out with older kids on the beach just north of us. Baby Babe, they called her, Surfer Baby. By then she was even more beautiful, tiny and tanned to a deep mocha, her blonde hair sun-streaked and endless. Josie, Josie, Josie. At last I doze again, this time falling into a deep, faraway kind of sleep, and do not awaken until a shaft of light plays on my eyelids. There below me is New Zealand, blue and sinuous in the vastness of the ocean. Little islands dot it all around, and Im amazed to see both the Pacific and the Tasman Sea. The Tasman looks bluer. The plane banks and drops, and now I can see the coves and cliffs lining the coast, and my heart jolts a little. Is Josie down there somewhere, or am I on a ridiculous errand? I rest my forehead against the glass, unwilling to take my eyes off the view. Light skitters over the waves, and I remember when my sister and I thought there were jewels in the ocean, dancing on top of each swell. One morning when we were small, my mother woke us, whispering into the tent where we were sleeping, Josie and me curled together with Cinder. Girls, she called sweetly, wrapping a hand around my foot, wake up! I found something! The air was thick with fog, but the tide had gone out, leaving ironed-flat sand. My mother led us over the path and into a small cave that was approachable only at low tide. Look! she said, pointing. Inside was what looked like a box. Josie bent over, peering into the dimness. What is it? I think it might be treasure, Suzanne said. You should go see. Josie straightened up, crossing her arms. I aint going in there. I will. Although Josie was two years older than me, seven to my five, I was always the brave one. Filled with a piercing curiosity and a lack of worry over creepy-crawlies, I stomped into the cave, bending over to keep from bumping my head. Even in the darkness, I could see the glitter in the box, things spilling over the sides like cartoon booty. Treasure! I cried, and hauled it out to the beach. Suzanne knelt. I see. Do you think it was pirates? Digging through the pearls and jeweled rings and bracelets and chocolate coins, I nodded. Maybe it was mermaids. She unwound a string of sapphires and dropped them around my neck. Maybe it was, she said. Now youre wearing their jewelry. I adorned her arm with bracelets. Josie pushed rings onto Suzannes toes. We drank hot chocolate and sat on the beach in our finery, and we were mermaids with our mermaid mother. The flight attendant snaps me out of my reverie. Miss, well be landing in just a little while. Thank you. I blink, bringing myself back to now, where that very mother is waiting to hear what I find out about the daughter she lost. For the millionth time, I wonder how to fit the good and the bad of Suzanne into one package, but its impossible. She was the worst mother of all time. She was the best mother of all time. Below, the city is visible, sprawling across a vast, hilly landscape packed with roofs and streets. With a sudden sense of idiocy, I think this is the very definition of a fools errand. How in the world will I find a single person in that crowded space? If its even her. The whole thing is absurd. And yet I know it isnt, not really. That was adamantly, absolutely my sister, Josie, on that screen. If shes there, in that city below me, Im going to find her. By the time I make it to downtown Auckland, Im so hideously jet-lagged, its like some evil spell. Im aware of hauling my bag into the foyer of a high-rise residential apartment building, appointed with nods to an Art Deco past it never had. My suitcase rolls over the marble floors with a whisper, and a young Maori woman in a uniform greets me and then hands over a key and directs me to the elevators. A pair of well-dressed Asian girls passes me, impossibly perfect, and next to them, I am a giantess at five ten, my curly hair wild from travel. Whatever makeup I left California with disappeared many hours ago. I wish for the protection and credentials of my white coat reminding the world that Im a doctor. Pathetic. When the door swings open, a middle-aged couple emerges, cameras in hand, and a good-looking man holds the door open. I give him a nod. De nada, he says charmingly. I smile faintly as the doors close and rest my head against the wall until I realize I have to press a button. Eighteen. Im the only person in the elevator and emerge on my floor, find the apartment, and let myself in. For a moment, Im slightly startled. Its roomy and attractive, with a kitchen to my right, a bathroom to the left, a sitting area with a table and a sofa, and then a bedroom with a balcony looking out to high-rise buildings and a harbor. But even that doesnt really register. My phone is nearly dead, and Ill have to go find a charger, but right now I shed my clothes, draw the curtains against the sunlight, and fall into bed. When I climb out of my heavy sleep, I dont immediately know where I am. Im huddled beneath the covers, curled up against the cold air, but not in my bed. Slowly, I remember everything. New Zealand. My sister. My mom and poor Hobo. Reaching for my phone, I also remember that I dont have a charger and its dead, so I am not sure what time it is. Without getting out of bed, I reach for the drapes and yank one side open a little. And there, spread like a winking fabric made of jewels, is the harbor. What seems to be late-afternoon sunlight slants down in buttery glory, and a sailboat cuts cleanly through the water. A ferry scuds in another direction, and in the distance is a long bridge. Office buildings tower around me. I can see people through the windows, walking briskly down a hall, gathering in a conference room, standing around a table, talking. Its strangely soothing, and I lie where I am for a long while, just watching them. Its my growling hunger that insists I get up. Stretching the kinks of the flight out, I putter into the kitchen area, where there is a bowl of fruit and a French press with a sachet of coffee. Milk in the fridgea generous size for the spaceand sugar packets on the counter. A bright-red electric kettle waits. I fill it with water, set it to boil, and head into the shower, which is a luxurious thing, all glass, with fragrant bottles of shampoo and soap. The water revives me better than anything else, and when I emerge, Im ready to tackle whatever needs doing. The French press is fussier than Id like, but the coffee is fantastic, and I open the curtains fully to enjoy my view as I scarf down two bananas, two apples, and the coffee. Itll hold me over until I can get a real meal. The main thing is the charger. I attempted to buy one before I left, but there wasnt much time, and the shop had only European, British, and Japanese. At the front desk, I ask a slim young man for directions, and he points me out the back door to the main drag. Outside, the heat swallows me, a thick, humid envelope. For a moment, I stand just outside the door, suddenly and acutely aware that Im alone in a city of millions, thousands and thousands of miles from home or anyone I know. I feel a little panicked over the fact that I dont have my phone GPS to guide me around. My brain tosses out all the things that could go wronggetting killed by forgetting to look the right way when I cross the street, veering into an unfriendly neighborhood, stumbling into the middle of a fight by accident. Not everything is a disaster waiting to happen, I tell myself. Although, strictly speaking, it is. But Im not going to let that control me. I dived into a university miles from home without a moments thought, and nobody had maps on their phones in those days. Looking around, I get my bearings and find landmarksa big open square with steps is filled with well-dressed young Asians and sweaty European tourists. I hear Mandarin and Korean, a snippet of German, English in several accents. The medley settles me, reminds me of San Francisco, where I spent almost a decade between med school and post-grad work. Auckland is like it in other ways too, glittery and surrounded by water, crowded and expensive, highly prized. Looking over my shoulder as I set out, I see that my building, which seems to be at least partly residential, is quite distinctive with its Art Deco accents. It will be easy enough to pick it out. Still, I make a note of the address and the street Im walking along. The man behind the desk directed me to a mall, which leads me through a warren of tiny shops belowground, then spits me out on the busy main drag. Queen Street. Here, overhangs cover the sidewalk, allowing the crowds to bustle along in deep shade, and Im grateful. The electronics store is exactly like any other Ive ever seen. Full of gadgets and cases and cords. The counters are staffed with young men and one girl. She steps up. Hello, maam, she sayswhich makes me feel ancienthow can I help you? Her accent is not at all Australian, which Id been expecting, but something else entirely, more pinched and lilting. Yes. I pull out my phone. I need a charger. American, are you? Yes, but they said it doesnt matter, right? A New Zealand charger should still work with my American phone. No worries. She smiles. Her face is round and milky. I was just noticing. Id so love to go to America. She cocks a finger for me to follow her. Over here. Where do you want to go in America? I ask, being polite. New York City, she says. Have you ever been? Once, for a conference, I say, but its blurry in my memory. The only thing I really remember is seeing a painting Id always loved. Here we go. She pulls a package off a rack, holds out her hand for my phone, double-checks them both. Yes. This is right. Anything else? No. Eyeing the cords, I realize Ill need one for my laptop too and tell her the make and model. We head for the cash register, and I give her my credit card. What was the painting? she asks. Im sorry? She gives me back the credit card. What was the painting you wanted to see in New York? I smile, shaking my head, unwilling to admit it was a Pre-Raphaelite mermaid. Waterhousedo you know his work? No, sorry. She picks up the bag. Have a nice visit. The exchange, really the memory of the painting, makes me think of my sister, though of course she hasnt been far from my mind for even a minute since I saw her on the news. Im actually here on a sad errand. Do you happen to know where the nightclub fire was? Someone I knew was there. Oh! Her hand covers her mouth. Im so sorry. Its not far; just head down toward the wharf and to your left just before the main street. Her cheeks have gone quite red. You cant miss it, really. Theres a memorial. I nod. Its as good a place to start as any. Shes right. Its not hard to find. The building sits on a corner. Police tape ropes off access on three sides. Smoke marks climb the building to the roofline, black and grim, and I pause for a moment to steady myself. Then I walk around the corner and see the memorial, a pile of stuffed animals and candles and flowers, some fresh, some turning brown after a few days. Theres a smell in the air I associate with burn patients, scorched fabric and hair and blistered skin. Never good. Id done some reading on the fire before I arrived, but nothing particularly set it apart. It wasnt terrorismnot an issue in New Zealand, hard as that is to fathomjust a wretched accident, an overcrowded club, a blocked exit, and a malfunctioning sprinkler system. The perfect storm. It only made the news in the US for its drama. Disasters are always worse when they involve bunches of young people, and this crowd was very young indeed. I walk slowly past the photos that have been taped and tied and paper-clipped to the fence keeping everyone out. Mostly Asian, not a soul past thirty, their eyes still twinkling with everything ahead and nothing too terrible behind. Now theyll be frozen there forever. The vast losses thud in my gut. The parents who love them, the friends, the siblings, the shopkeepers who enjoyed their jokes. I think about it all the time in the ER, when its been more ghastly than usualidiotic car accidents, domestic violence, and bar fights and shootings. Lives wrecked. Stopped. Nothing to be done about it. Its been getting to me. Ive always hated losing patients, of course, but I loved the rush of saving them, being there at the moment of acute trauma and terror and helping bring them back from the brink, like the girl in the ER the night I saw Josie on the news, a bullet wound to the gut. Her boyfriend carried her in, and his hands were covered with blood from keeping the wound compressed. It saved her. But its all the lost ones who haunt me lately. The mother whod slammed her car into a tree, the boy whod been attacked by a dog, the sweet, sweet face of the little boy whod shot himself with his mothers pistol. I shove their faces away and focus on bearing witness to the collection of photos here in front of me, taking the time to look at each one. The girl with purple streaks in her hair and a crooked front tooth. The diva with red lips and a knowing expression. The boy laughing with a dog. How many of their families will have the satisfaction of actual identification? A scene like this, with so many victims and physical damage, can be challenging. The car that took the main blast on the train that supposedly killed Josie was in pieces, melted and evaporated, and so were the humans within. They found her backpack and the remains of one of her travel companions, a guy shed mentioned once or twice in emails she sent home from the odd internet caf?, and we knew shed been traveling with the group. The phone call came in on my cell when I was on my way home to get some sleep after a grueling thirty-six hours of an obstetrics rotation at SF General, walking up the hill to the apartment I shared with four other residents, none of us home enough for it to matter that it was so crowded. The place was a pit, but none of us cared about that either. Food was all takeout, the environment be damned, and a local coffee shop downstairs in the building provided the caffeine. Id been dreaming of a long, hot shower and washing my hair, then sleeping for a few hours by myself in the house, since Id left all my roommates back at the hospital. The phone rang, and it was my mother, howling. Id only ever heard that sound one other time, after the earthquake, and it is carved into my bones. Mom. What is it? She told me. Josie was dead. Killed in a terrorist bomb that demolished a train in France a few days before. The weeks after were a blur. When I wasnt on the phone with my mother or the funeral home or the authorities, I worked. Often I took calls between patient visits, ducking into a storage closet to get some privacy. I was too exhausted and overwhelmed to cry. That came later. Next to me on the street in Auckland is a young woman, weeping, and I move away to give her privacy, wishing to make her path easier, knowing there is only one way to walk that road: step by bloody step. Im suddenly so deeply, vividly angry that my hands shake. I have to stop to take a breath, looking up at the building. What the hell, Josie? I say aloud. How could you do that to us? How could you? Even from my self-centered, surfer-loser sister, its hard to fathom. Its appropriate that were in Auckland, the land of volcanoes, because my middle feels like its turned to magma, burning hot and impossible to calm. When I find her, I dont know what Ill do. Hit her? Spit on her? Hug her? I have no idea. Chapter Four Mari Simon and I arrange to meet Sarahs teacher before class. We drive separately so that we can head out on our own afterward, me to Sapphire House to start taking notes, him to his empire of gyms. Im in the best possible mood, thanks to dawn sex with my fit and vigorous husband, which made me so cheerful I whipped up blueberry muffins for breakfast, which even Sarah ate with alacrity, after picking at her food the past few days. I peer at her in the rearview, and shes gazing out the window, her dark hair swept back from her freckled face. Shes so unlike me that its a little strange. Youd think your own child would have some resemblance to you, but shes my father and my sister, all in one. Perhaps a fitting punishment for my sins, though I try not to dwell on it. Accept the things you cannot change and all that. What I do know is that Sarah will hate it when the other girls stop growing and she keeps on, just as my sister did. Already she has bigger hands and feet than the other girls and a solidness that is nothing close to fat, but shell see it that way if we dont stay at it, countering the bullshit that she hears day in, day out. Swim club today, sweetheart? Yes, she says, her accent so very New Zealand, yis. I beat Mara yesterday. Her nemesis. Thats fantastic. Youre stronger than she is, by far. She shrugs, then meets my eyes in the mirror. You dont have to go to the school, you know. I dont have to, I agree mildly. But you dont seem very happy lately, and your dad and I want to make sure everything is okay. My teachers dont know anything. Her tone is not scornful, only matter-of-fact. The traffic is thick, and I have to pay attention to the road for a few moments. At the next stoplight, I say, What dont they know? Her wide mouth flattens into an expression of resignation. She just shakes her head. Sarah, it will be a lot easier to help you if you let me in on whats going on. She doesnt reply. I pull into the school lot. Simons Infiniti is not yet here, so I turn off the car, unbuckle my belt, and turn around, sorting through the ten thousand possible responses for the one that will help unlock the secret here. Are you having trouble with a friend? No. Im not sure why you wont just tell me. You know you can trust me. I can trust you, but if I tell you, everything just gets worse, and no one will like me at all. What will get worse? She shouts, I dont want to tell you! Dont you understand? Reaching through the seats, I wrap my hand around her ankle and just sit there, willing myself to believe her secret is not as dire as mine was when I was just a little older. Shes a well-tended, well-observed child. All right. Theres your dad. Ill just pop into the school. I meet Simon at the door, and he takes my hand. Our unified front. The teacher is young and pretty, and she blushes when Simon shakes her hand. Good morning, Ms. Kanawa. Good morning, Mr. Edwards. Mrs. Edwards. Sit down, wont you? She folds her hands on the desk. How can I help? We outline the problemthat Sarah wants to be homeschooled suddenly, and it seems there might be something going on. Ms. Kanawa mulls it over. She says, You know, I wonder if there might be some bullying. One of the girls is quite the queen bee, you know, and all the other girls listen to her as if shes a royal. Is it Emma Reed? I guess. Shes a milk-and-peaches child with ribbons of spun-gold hair and enormous blue eyesall hiding the instincts of a barracuda. Ms. Kanawa nods. She and Sarah have never got on. Whys that? Simon asks. Theyre bothshe pauses, chooses her words carefullywillful girls. And there is some understanding that they are the children of popular parents. Popular? I echo. Well-known. Emmas mother is a broadcaster, of course, on TVNZ, and you, Mr. Edwards, are so visible because of the clubs. Hes the spokesman for his own gyms, the genial host inviting everyone to visit and experience the health of good exercise. He also conducts fund-raisers every year for the Auckland Safeswim Initiative, a drive to make sure every child in the city knows how to swim. I see. I glance at Simon, who is wearing his unreadable genial expression, but I see his displeasure in the hard line of his mouth. Have you observed bullying, Ms. Kanawa? he asks. Some name-calling and the like. The girls in question were reprimanded. What names? I ask. Oh, I dont think thats What names? I repeat. She sighs. They call Sarah Shrek. Because shes so tall. Simon is still dead silent beside me. Andshe slants a glance toward SimonScience Nerd. Thats an insult? She lifts a shoulder. Ill talk to Emmas mother, I say. In the meantime, will you let me know if there seems to be more trouble? Of course. Simons jaw ripples slightly. How were the girls reprimanded? Oh, I dont . . . I cant remember. I believe youre lying, Ms. Kanawa, and I do not tolerate lying. She colors and begins to protest. No, I . . . I mean Simon stands, rising to his considerable six-four height. I would suggest you make certain that any bullying, of any child, is swiftly punished. Its just not sporting, and it should not be tolerated. Yes, yes. Of course youre right. Her cheeks burn magenta. And do not lie to me again. Simon takes my hand as we walk out, and hes walking fast enough that I have trouble keeping up and skip behind him. He finally notices and halts. Sorry. I just hate bullies. I know. I never liked big sporting types before I met him, but this particular thing, his absolute adherence to fairness and honor, set him apart immediately. I love you for it. His shoulders ease, and he bends down to touch our noses together. Thats not the only thing. Not even a little bit. Oh, its not little. No, dear. It surely isnt. After the meeting, I head up to Sapphire House for a walk-through on my own. I want the chance to feel the energy, for lack of a better word, and start to figure out a plan and who Ill need to hire to do the work. As I drive up the rutted road sheltered by overgrown brush, Im already making plans for how each room will be used and how to best catalog the fantastic lot of antiques contained within. A feijoa tree scrapes the side of the car, and I wince, thinking of what its doing to the silver paint. My tires must have smashed some of the fruits on the road, because the thick, sweet scent of them wafts in through my open window. On a whim, I stop the car and get out, fetching a canvas carry bag from the back seat. Id never heard of a feijoa before I arrived in New Zealand. Theyre a small green fruit that looks like a cross between an avocado and a lime on the outside, but inside boasts a fragrant yellow flesh with a texture much like a ripe pears. The flavor is an acquired tastesweet and perfumed, a combination of a dozen other thingsbut to me, they are just simply, sublimely feijoa. With a sense of glee, I gather dozens of them into the bag, imagining the ways Ill use the pulp. Imagining Simons facehe is nowhere near as fond of them as I amI chuckle to myself and tuck the bag gently into the bay of the passenger seat, humming under my breath as I climb the rest of the way up the hill. As I break out of the cover of the bush and into the sunlight, the view again takes my breath away. The sky and sea and the house itself, perched on the top like a queen overseeing the landscape. Sapphire House is an appropriate name for itshe overlooks all the blue jewels of nature. A shiver runs up my spine, a pleasure thats so rich its nearly sexual. How is it possible that my life has led me here, to this house, which I will share with my children and their father, a man I still cant quite believe is all he appears to be? As I stand there, admiring the landscape, a cloud scuds across the sun, throwing the scene into sudden shadow. A chill walks down my spine, as if it is a portentthings have been sunny for a long time in my life. Too long, maybe? But the cloud swirls away, the sun pours back over the scene, and I shake off my sense of warning. From the bag of feijoas, I grab a handful of fruits and then pick up my canvas workbag packed with notebooks and pens, measuring tapes, and an iPad. The sun beats down on the top of my head, and I wonder if I need to grab my hat. As a surfer girl from California, I thought I knew all about sun, but it took only one serious sunburn in New Zealand to realize how much more intense it is here. No one who lives here goes out without gallons of sunscreen. But Im not going to be outside today, and I leave the white cotton hat on the front seat, then swim through the strangely high humidity toward the front door. It could be a miserable afternoon unless the wind starts blowing. At the moment, its dead still, and perspiration trickles out of my hair down the back of my neck and along my ears. Inside, the air is cooler, though I doubt theres any air-conditioning. Even in such a high-end house, it would be very rare. Dropping my bag on the buffet by the door, I head for the long doors in the lounge. They face the sea, and when I open them one by one, at least a little whisper of freshness chases away the faint, distinct scent of mildew. There are no window coverings at all, which feels a little uncomfortable to me, even if its only ocean out there, but the glasswork is so spectacular, I get it. Between each set of doors is a panel of clear leaded glass, the lead forming chevron patterns. I touch the point of one. Remarkable. Every room is like that, every detail. I do another walk-through on the main level, looking more carefully at what is actually worth saving and what needs to go. Much of it is faded and weary looking but not as bad as I would have expected. Veronicas sister, Helen, must have had good housekeeping over the years. On a yellow legal tablet, I note that all the sofas and chairs will have to be reupholstered, if not completely let go. Some styles are uncomfortable for actual human beings, and Im not interested in living in a museum, so they can go to auction. A pair of chairs tucked into a corner are magnificent, if shabby, mirroring each other with a graduating back that looks like stair steps. Keepers, along with the dining room table, credenzas, and a stunning cabinet radio inlaid with abalone and what appears to be teak. Much of the art is unremarkable reproductions of landscapes and the usual classics, but there are also a number of pieces in a modernist style and distinctively New Zealand landscapes that might be notable. I recognize a seafront view in the style of Colin McCahon, those simplistic shapes, but its much too early for his work. I wonder if Veronica supported local artists. As I move through the rooms, scribbling notes, I notice theres actually a lot of art, both paintings and ceramics, some of it tucked into small spaces, like the seascape in shades of green and turquoise that graces the narrow wall above a telephone table. A classic black telephone with a rotary dial sits on the stand, and I pick up the handset curiously. A dial tone buzzes in my ear, and, bemused, I set it back down, resting my hand on the curved shape. Ill have to show the children. I wonder if theyll even know what it is. For a moment, Im thirteen, doing dishes in our house, the phone tucked between my ear and my shoulder, the cord swinging behind me every time I move. My mother appears, briskly clacking through the doorway. Get off the phone and get to work. Theyre swamped in the dining room. A little wave of nostalgia washes through me, a longing for that particular day, before all of it fell to pieces. Going down to Eden in my uniform to serve my fathers Sicilian dishes the customers all came to eat, swordfish rolls and stuffed artichokes and arancini. Such good food. These days, my dad would be a Top Chef contender. Back then, he was still something of a king in his world, the dashing and charismatic center of Eden, the man who knew everyones name and clapped you on the back and gave the best hugs in the world. Everyone adored him, including me, at least as a child. For a moment, Im so lost in the memories that the handset warms beneath my palm, and the predictable kaleidoscope of emotions tumbles through melonging and regret and shame and love. I miss them all, Dylan and my father, my mother and, most of all, Kit. I grab my bag from the front door and carry it into the kitchen. Its a calm, efficient place, clearly used very little. From a drawer, I take a sharp knife and a spoon and slice the feijoas in half. Within, each boasts a soft jelly center laced with seeds, a design that to me looks like a medieval cross. A couple of them are overripe, but the others are sweet and cool and delicious, and I slurp them up, getting sticky. Happy. Ive also packed myself a lunch, the same thing I packed for the children, a bento box with cherry tomatoes and green grapes, rolls of ham and cheese on skewers, a little brownie, and a clementine. They love the boxes and love to take turns coming up with new ideas to fill them. They remind me of the little snacks and skewers I helped my dad prepare for happy hour snacks at Eden, long ago. Around me, the house is very silent, and Im aware of the size of it, the vastness. Its a little spooky if I allow it to be. I can imagine Veronicas ghost trapped here, wandering the rooms, seeking her lost lover. A door slams upstairs, and I practically leap out of my skin. Get a grip. If there were ghosts on this earth, Id have met one by now. God knows Ive looked for them often enough. To explain. To put things right. With a deliberate shift, I pop a tomato in my mouth and lean on the counter, wondering what Im going to do with this space. Its easily big enough to eat in, and well have breakfast here almost certainly, but there isnt as much light as Id wish and no view at all, just the walls of the kitchen. Would it be worth adding some windows back here? Ill have to get Simons input. Opening the back door, I toss the clementine skins and overripe grapes for the birds. They land in a thicket of shrubs along a cracked path that seems to loop only around the house. I try following it, but it ends in a tangle of vines that seems to be both roses and scarlet r?t?. A tree fern rises above the mess. There might be rats, I suddenly realize, and wonder if I should have left the damn fruit out there. Whatever. Washing my hands, I head back into the main living areas on this floor, a long, wide room that can be divided by pocket doors and rather spectacular mosaic screens. Well want an entertaining room, and it will be stunning at night, with the doors open to the sea and maybe a piano in the corner. I stand in the middle of the room, hands on my hips, letting the vision come to me. Colors of clear turquoise and orange and silver. The mirrors in this room are fantastic pieces, with stair-stepped geometric flares on the sides, and Ill have them resilvered. Many of the furnishings and appointments are mediocre. There are a number of knockoffs and facsimiles, which is odd, considering how particular the detailing in the actual house is. I wonder, picking up a bowl that looks to be an authentic green Rookwood with Native American styling, if someone furnished it for Veronica. She was a busy actress, much in demand, and although she started spending more time in New Zealand once she fell in love with George, she still didnt have much time. Or, one presumes, taste? Although that makes my ears flush a little in shame. Who am I to judge? Its not like I had any trainingI taught myself to recognize fine things. Maybe she did too. Maybe she just didnt have time to approve everything. Now Im curious about her, and to understand what happened to her, and why, Im going to need to do a lot more research. All I know at the moment is the top levelthe doomed romance, the house, the murder. But what kind of woman was Veronica Parker? Where did she come from? How did she become such a big star? And what about her lover, George? It seems important to know all of it, to know Veronicas wishes and dreams. Sapphire House was her home, her vision, her dream of luxury, and now its mine. It seems a sacred undertaking to honor her. By understanding her, Ill do a better job of restoring the house to the glory it deserves. My time is running out today, but I can at least explore the study. Its a richly appointed room with a view through long windows to the curve of the harbor. In the distance are rolling blue hills rising out of the water with a scudding of long clouds over the peaks. It would be an excellent office for Simonaside from the noise. He is very relaxed about most things, but when he works on his accounts or marketing or anything to do with business, he likesneedscomplete silence. Hell want a space upstairs, away from everything. Maybe the sisters suite of rooms. This will be mine, then. I take in a breath and let it go, absorbing the atmosphere. The cherry-wood desk, the bookshelves, the glass light fixtures with their sleek geometric insets. I dont like the desk sitting in the middle of the room, but thats easily changed. Remembering my task to discover more about Veronica, I open the drawers of the desk and find them all empty. Not just cleared out but untouched, as if theyve never been used. It breaks my heart a little. That might mean the books were also stocked by a decorator. Bookshelves run the entire length of one wall, and on several theres a conspicuous elegancethe books covers are printed leather, all classics. Other shelves offer more insight. Aldous Huxley and Pearl Buck, along with the local beloved, Katherine Mansfield. Poetry and Maori culture and history, a lot of intriguing titles I want to explore. I touch them, one at a time, to settle their titles in my memory. At the end of the third shelf is a collection of books with bright, often tattered covers, and I pull one out to see what it is. A mermaid graces the cover, her hair draped demurely over her shoulder, and I hastily put it back. The next is also a book about mermaids, and I shove it back just as fast but not fast enough. I was eight and Kit six, and we wanted to be mermaids for Halloween. Nothing else would do, no matter how many times our mother said it was impossible to have a tail and also walk around the neighborhoods of Santa Cruz, where we would go trick-or-treating. She found skirts of turquoise taffeta, painted our faces, andthe crowning touchcarefully painted mermaid scales on our arms and legs. Years later, Kit and I sat side by side in a tattoo parlor, each of us offering our inner left arm to the artists, who meticulously applied mermaid scales. I hold out my arm, brush my fingers over that tattoo, still sharp and beautiful after all these years, a testament to the quality of the work. BIG SISTER, it reads over the scales. Hers is LITTLE SISTER, though we laughed about it at the time, since she towered over me by then, nearly six feet to my five three. No. The pain I keep shoved down deep in a cavern leaks out. Just no. More than a decade of practice gives me the tools to quash the memories. I have a million errands to run before the children get out of school, and unlike my own mother, I like being there for them. I wonder if Sarah has fared better today. As I turn to go, I spy a row of Agatha Christie and grin, nabbing one at random. A person can never go wrong with Christie. The timer on my phone goes off, startling me. Ive been here for three hours, lost in the past. I collect my things, making sure to double-check the locks and that Ive left no lights on. On the way out, I change my mind and turn on the light in the study, a beacon in the darkness. A sign that the house is not deserted. It makes me anxious that everyone knows Helen died and the house is empty. To both my and Simons surprise, there is no alarm system, a fact that is being rectified next week. I let myself out into the overwhelming heat of early afternoon. The full weight of sunshine slams the top of my head, and I have to consciously take a deep breath in the wet, wet air. As I lock the door behind me, a wash of dread runs the length of my neck. Mermaids and fountain pens. Across the screen of my memory, Kit and Dylan sat at the scarred, solid table that occupied one corner of the house kitchen, bent over wide-ruled paper, practicing letters with tailsg, p, q. I wrote a line of Zs, capital and small, like Zorro. A ripple of warning moves through me. I raise my head to look around, feeling my ghosts gather and whisper. My father, my mother, Dylan. My sister. I thought I could walk away. That I would get used to missing her. I never have. On the way back down the hill, I wonder what would happen if the truth of my life came out. The thought of all I could lose sucks the air out of my lungs, and I have to turn up the radio and start singing to avoid having a panic attack. Get a hold of yourself, I say aloud. Josie Bianci is dead. I intend for her to stay that way. Chapter Five Kit Leaving the site of the nightclub fire, I look around at the other businesses in the area. Its clearly a popular spotT-shirt and sandwich shops interspersed with restaurants and hotel entrances. Maybe Josie has been to one of them. Maybe somebody will remember her. I cross the street and peer into each window I pass, but nothing particularly leaps out. She could have been anywhere, doing anything. A little aimlessly, I walk up one block and down the next, looking for something, anything, that suggests my sister. But there is pretty much everythinga high-end jewelry store, a boutique selling tiny couture dresses, a two-story bookstore packed to the brim. It makes me feel slightly breathless to imagine asking about Josie in any of them, and I cant make my feet stop. Until the window of a stationery shop halts me, lures me inside with a display of ink in jeweled-looking bottles. At this point, I have more pens and ink than I could possibly use in three lifetimes, but thats not the point. The store has a display of Krishna inks, small-batch inks in swirling, shimmering colors. I have a weakness for shimmery ink, though I have stopped using it for prescriptions and stick with a Very Serious, fast-drying black for those. The rest of the time, I lean toward the flashy two-tone inks. Ive never seen this brand before, and I stand there playing with the colors for quite some time. A Goldfish Gold is amazing, but I never seem to use orange or yellow inks. One called Sea and Storm attracts me, and the nonshimmery but still gorgeous turquoise called Monsoon Sky. It reminds me of another turquoise ink I had at ten or eleven, during the first crazy wave of passion when Dylan, Josie, and I discovered the art of calligraphy. Which of us started? Its hard to remember now, where and how it began, only that we all fell in love with it, writing mannerly notes, leaving them in elegant handwriting for our parents or each other. Dylan loved Chinese calligraphy, practicing the characters for crisis and love and ocean that he found in a library book. I carry the ink to the counter, intending to then go look at pens, but my stomach growls, reminding me that all Ive had to eat are two bananas and two apples. I force myself to ask the girl behind the counter, Have you worked here long? A year or so. She smiles, wrapping my ink in tissue paper. Im about to ask if she might remember someone, my sister, that is, with her distinctive scar, but my face goes hot as I consider it. Instead, I simply pay and carry my package out with me, cursing myself as I go. How will I find her if I never look for her? My feet carry me back up the hill, and I shop in a grocery store tucked into the basement of another building, picking up a bottle of wine and fresh bread, more fruit and a half dozen eggs, and a chunk of cheese, which all fit into my pack. I dont intend to cook for myself much, since all these restaurants deserve sampling, but its good to have a few things on hand. Wandering into a little alleyway, I find a row of eateries with tables and chairs set out in the gathering twilight. An Italian spot catches my eye. One, please, I say to the host. May I sit outside? Of course, of course. Right this way. He settles me between a chubby young couple and a sharply dressed businessman who gets up the minute I sit down, chattering irritably into his phone as he hurries away. The Italian host tsks, shaking his head as he clears the table and wipes it down. Everyone is so busy, he says, and his voice reminds me, suddenly and acutely, of my father, whose deep voice was laced with his Italian accent until the day he died. You want wine? he asks. I think you like red wine. Am I right? Yes, as it happens. Bring me something you love. My pleasure. I realize I dont have my phone to keep me company. Weird. Its hard to remember the last time that even happened. Years, probably. Instead, I read every word of the small menu, even though I decided on the gnocchi almost the moment I saw it. Leaning back, I think how much my father would have loved this place, the tidy white tablecloths and flowers in tiny blue vases. I finger the carnation. Real, not fake, and I lift the bottle to inhale the bright, peppery scent. The man returns with my wine, presenting it with a flourish. He has a thick mustache and twinkling eyes. See if you like this one. Dutifully, I swirl and inhale and taste. Hes served it properly, in a glass with a wide bowl, and the notes are rich on the nose. On my tongue, its deep and fruity but without heavy tannins. Mm, I say. Yes. Thank you. He gives me a little bow. A lock of his hair tumbles free and falls in his eyes. And for dinner? Antipasti, I say, realizing now that Ive stopped moving that Im gut-empty. And the gnocchi. Good, good. The wine gives me something to occupy my hands, and I lean back, watching the parade of humanity passing before me. A lot of businesspeople who have stopped for a post-work drink, the women in heels, the men in stylish suits. An open-fronted bar is crowded with young professionals eyeing each other. No one seems to smoke. Tourists too are wandering up and down the alleyway. I can spot them by their comfortable shoes and sunburns and the exhaustion with which they peruse the menus. Again, a tumble of languages and accents and cultures. The host seats a man next to me at the vacated table. To preserve our privacy, I keep my eyes forward, but I hear him order wine in a Spanish accent. The waiter brings me my antipasti. Its a generous serving of fresh mozzarella, wet and gleaming; curls of salami and prosciutto; a tumble of olives and fresh tiny tomatoes and flatbread. Beautiful, I breathe. I tuck in and am transported to childhood, when one of my afternoon chores was to portion out mozzarella and poke toothpicks into the various charcuterie that was served for happy hour, along with Harvey Wallbangers and White Russians and the endless, endless Long Island Iced Teas, my mothers favorite. I dont mean to bother you, the man next to me says. Are you also a tourist? Engaged with a particularly stunning slice of prosciutto, I take a moment to savor it, then wash it down with a tiny sip of wine. I look at him. Hes a tall man with thick dark hair and the shadow of an unshaven beard on his jaw. A well-thumbed paperback sits on the table next to him, and I think, When did I stop carrying books around with me? Yes. You too? He gives a nod. Visiting a friend, but he had work to do tonight, so he abandoned me. He lifts his glass. Next to the book is a bottle of wine. Cheers. Cheers. I lift my glass but use my body to tell him I dont really want to engage. Not that he listens. I would have gone across the way there, to sample their tapas, but I saw you again and had to stop here instead. Again? This morning. You arrived from the airport, I think. His voice is sonorous, vibrant, a musical instrument. I let myself take another long look at his face. Strong featuresRoman nose, almost too aggressive to be attractive, large dark eyes. Yes, I admit. But I still dont remember. He touches his chest, hand over his heart. You have forgotten me already. He tsks, then tilts his head with a smile. At the elevator. The moment pops back into my head. Oh yeah. The de nada guy. He laughs. The sound is robust, full of life. I sip my wine, assessing. It wouldnt be so terrible to have a roll in the hay. Its been a while. My name is Kit, I say. Javier. I pick up the antipasti plate and offer it to him. The salami is very good. He gestures toward the seat across from him. Would you like to join me? No, thank you. If we each stay where we are, we can both watch the street. Ah. He helps himself to a mozzarella and a salami and deposits them on his bread plate. I see your point. We might as well be at the same table anyway, I say, indicating the narrow space between our chairs. Hes close enough that I can smell his cologne, something vaguely spicy. What brings you to New Zealand? he asks. A shrug. Im going to have to come up with a way to answer this question. Its a long way to fly for no reason at all. Its not like anywhere else, is it? No. He sips his wine, and in profile his face is quite powerful. Beautiful. Maybe hes ticking a few too many of my No Way rules. Well see. How about you? His shrug is somehow sad, and that ticks another box. No tortured men. They always want saving, and given my childhood filled with broken people, its an impulse I have to constantly fight. My old friend invited me. It seemed time for a change. Perhaps I will move here. Really? I eat some cheese, break some flatbread, offer the plate to him again. From where? Madrid. Thats a big change. He nods, smooths his hands together, palm to palm. Im weary of politics. I snort laugh and have to cover my mouth. Yeah. Its been a weird few years. Decades. Yeah. We watch the people walk by. Couples in love, old marrieds, the happy-hour crowd heading home. My body is soft and quiet for the first time in ages. Maybe Id needed to get away more than I knew. My hand reaches automatically for the ghost of the phone that isnt there, and I open my palm on the table instead. What are you reading? He holds it up to show me. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Its in Spanish, of course. Ive read it many times, but I love to read it again. I nod. Literary too, which isnt on my No Way list, but it speaks to a great mind, and that is. Have you read it? he asks. No. I surprise myself by adding, My sister was the literary one. You dont like to read? I do. I just dont read important books. That was her thingall the great poets and writers and playwrights. I see. A little quirk of his lips. You could not share? The wine is loosening me now. No. Im the scientific one. She was the creative one. Was? She died, I say, even if I dont know if thats true anymore. Im sorry. The waiter brings my gnocchi then, delicately arranged and tossed with parsley and Parmesan. I feel my father sit down across the table and fold his arms. His wrists are hairy beneath his shirtsleeves, the cuff links he always wore. I take a small bite. Oh, thats very good, I say, and my father nods. Good, good, the waiter says. Will you bring me another glass of wine? Oh, no, no, Javier protests, his hands illustrating his words, flying into the air. Allow me to share. I will never drink it all myself. Never? I say. Well, perhaps. Id rather share. I nod. The waiter smiles, as if its his doing. I will be right back with your dinner, sir. The fragrance of garlic rises from the plate, and I take another bite. This was one of my fathers specialties, I offer, and its out before I realize Im going to say it. Gnocchi with peas and mushrooms. I used to roll them out for him. Was he Italian, your father? He leans over to pour wine into my now empty glass. Sicilian. Your mother too? I glance at him. Youre quite forward. Not ordinarily. Why now? He leans closer, and I see by the glitter in his eye that hes going to say something bold. Because my heart stopped when I saw you sitting here. I laugh, pleased by this extravagance. You think I am joking, he says. But I swear it is true. I am not the type of woman who stops mens hearts, but thank you. You have not met the right men. I pause, fork hanging from my hand, elbow on the table. Behind him, the sky is nearly dark, and the laughter around us has grown more robust. The shape of his mouth makes my skin rustle, and he has that elusive air that makes me think he will be very good in bed. Maybe I havent. He grins at this, and an outrageous dimple breaks in his cheek. He has to lean back to allow the waiter to deliver his food. Its a steaming plate of prawns and crayfish in risotto. A good eaters choice, as my father would have said. He had no patience with picky eaters, the vegetarians who were already dotting the landscape, the ones who didnt eat fish or beef or particular vegetables. Eat it as it is, he would say with a sniff, or dont eat. Only Dylan was allowed to be choosy. He hated capers and pickles and olives, avocado with a passion, and would rather have starved than eat egg whites or clams. In some way, he filled my fathers desire for a son, and for a long time he doted on Dylan. Until he didnt. Did your father cook for you often? my companion asks. Not for me, exactly. He cooked for his restaurant. We grew up in there, eating whatever the special of the day was. That seems like an interesting childhood. Did you like it? Sometimes. Its easy to talk to this stranger, someone who will not remember a month from now what I said. I empty my glass and hold it out to him. He splashes in a heavy measure of wine. Not always. It could be a little exhausting, and my parents were always wrapped up in that rather than their children. Delicately, I balance a perfectly shaped gnocchi on my fork. How did you grow up? He touches his lips with his napkin. In the city. My mother taught school, and my father was a . . . He frowns, his fingers rubbing together as if to pull the word from the air. A clerk, you know, for the government. His face brightens. Bureaucrat. You only? No, no. Four of us. Three boys and a girl. I am second oldest. The one who needs attention, like me. Aloud, I say, The oldest always gets everything. He inclines his head slightly, disagreeing. Perhaps. My sister is the oldest, and she is not a demanding sort. Shes very quiet, afraid of the world. Its my turn to be bold; the wine has loosened my inhibitions. Were two strangers on holiday, and I dont have my phone to amuse me. Why? His face shutters, and he looks down. He shakes his head. Sorry, I say. Too far. No, no. He reaches across the small space and touches my forearm. She was kidnapped when she was small, so small that no one knows what happened to her. She was not the same after that. Poor baby. A little of the sheen of the night washes away, and I think of Josie. Pssht, he says, sweeping it away and grabbing his glass. Holidays are for forgetting, eh? Salud. I grin. Salud. Both of us fall to eating then, and the quiet is easy. The garlic of my dish and the extreme garlic of his perfume the air. A pair of boys walks by, shoulder to shoulder, one Maori, the other white, their legs moving in perfect sync, and a clutch of skinny teenage girls skitters by, hyperaware of themselves, chattering in a language I dont immediately recognize. Its still humid and hot but not as terrible. For once, Im happy in my skin, just sitting there eating. Javier says, My friend is a musician who is playing at a club not far from here. Would you like to go with me to hear him? For a moment, I wonder if it might be better to just go back to my room, get some sleep. I dont feel dressed for that, I say. And I have groceries to put away. It is only a little way to the apartment. We could go by there first, then to the club. Which is really what Id rather do. All right. Lightning gathers on the horizon as I walk back to the apartment with Javier. Hes agreeably taller than me, with a solidness to his shoulders and thighs that makes me feel small as I walk along beside him, not something thats all that common when youre five ten in stocking feet. He waits in the lobby while I run upstairs, plug my phone into the new charger with a sense of relief, and change into a sundress, with a thin sweater to go over it. The wall-to-wall mirror in the bathroom reveals a madness of curls from the humidity, not something I can do much about. To counter it, I smear on some lipstick. My mouth is my best feature, a mouth that belongs to my Italian side. The matte red lipstick makes the most of it. When I exit the elevator, Javier makes a show of admiring me and offers his elbow. I take it, and we wander back out into the thick air. Do you travel often? he asks. I dodge a trio of girls dressed in their evening best and answer on the other side. Not much at all, actually. Its hard to get away from my work. You? For me it is the opposite. Too much travel the past few years. Work? He gives a simple nod, doesnt elaborate. In companionable silence, we walk a few blocks. I take in the glitter of lights against the sky, the glimpse of water through tall buildings, the hint of music behind windows. We detour down a bricked alleyway, and he pauses, looks up. Here we are. When he opens the door, a roll of sound and scent spills into the street, alcohol and perfume, voices and laughter and the plucking notes of someone tuning a guitar. I enter and Javier follows, and a lot of people look at us, which makes me self-conscious for a moment, until I realize that they probably look at everyone. And perhaps too, we make a striking pair, me with my red mouth and wild hair, he with those shoulders. Few tables are open, and he leads us to one near the back of the room, where a girl in skinny jeans and a peasant blouse meets us to take our orders. Beer for me, I say, sliding into my seat. Whatever brown ale you have. Same for me, he says. And a tequila, the best you have, neat. The table is quite tiny, the space allotted forcing us to sit close. His thigh bumps my knee. My shoulder brushes his upper arm. He smells of something elusive and rich, and I try to place it for a moment before I turn my attention to the stage, aware of my heightened senses, his elbow, the thickness of his eyebrows. Which one is your friend? All of them, really, but Miguel is the one Im here to visit. Hes the one in the red shirt. The good-looking one. I smile, because its true. Miguel has an amiable expression and high cheekbones and very shiny, very black hair. Hes the one tuning his instrument, nodding to the accompaniment. Have you been friends a long time? We met through a mutual friend. His smile is wry. Hes my ex-wifes brother. The server brings our drinks, and the ale is a very nice shade of toffee where the light shines through. I lean in to smell it. Promising. I raise my glass. Cheers. For a single second, he holds the glass aloft, his gaze moving over my hair, my mouth. To new adventures. I drink, and its cold and refreshing and spectacular. With a sigh, I set it back down. Oh, I do love beer. He holds up his clear tequila. I prefer this myself. He smells it, sips it, as if it is wine. But only in small doses. I chuckle, as Im meant to do, but a memory flickers in my mind, a vision of a boy in my ER last year whod immolated himself in a bonfire as a gesture of love after drinking a bottle of tequila. Not exactly a story for polite company. To shift the image, I ask, Was it divorce that sent you here? No, no. He waves a hand. We have been divorced a long time, many years. His dark eyes hold my gaze. And you? Have you ever married? I shake my head, turn the glass one quarter. Its not really on my list. He inclines his head, surprised. Marriage is not? No. My parents gave me an example I never want to emulate. In fact, I cant bear to let people close enough for more than a five-minute relationship, never mind marriage. Ah. He sips his tequila, the sip so tiny I wonder that he can even taste it, and I like him for it. The music starts up with a sudden, thrilling strum of the guitar. The handsome Miguel leans into the microphone, making it difficult to talk. Javier and I settle into our seats, and it is impossible that we dont touch a little. It feels companionable and heightens my awareness as the music fills the air. Its heated, passionate, with songs in Spanish. My body sways, and I remember suddenly a guitarist who used to play on the patio at Eden when I was eight or nine, a slim-hipped man my mother flirted with shamelessly. Josie and I wore our dance gowns, two of my mothers silkier nightgowns, old and worn, that shed sheared off on the bottoms so we wouldnt trip. We swayed and twirled under the wide, dark sky, our hearts bursting with love and wonder and things we barely knew existed. Now that Ive grown into my hungers, I look at Javier. When he feels my gaze and looks back, I see it in his eyes too, and his hand slides along my thigh, just above my knee. I hold his gaze and let the pleasure of anticipation rise. Were adults. We know the dance. I let my guard down slightly, allowing myself to anticipate kissing that mouth, touching those shoulders without the impediment of fabric, the promise of him And now, we would like to invite my good friend Javier Velez up to the stage to play. The crowd rustles and starts to clap. Javier squeezes my knee. I will be back soon. Order another beer if you like. I nod and watch him weave through the tables. He moves as if hes made of water, easily, smoothly, as if there is only one way to go, through this opening, then that, never pausing. Onstage, he man-hugs Miguel, then picks up a guitar. It leans against him like a child. His posture relaxes, hands settling against the strings. A sharp cascade of warning rushes through my overheated system. A swath of blue light cascades over his hair as he bends his head, moves the microphone close, and waits for some internal signal, eyes closed. The room hushes, breath sucked in, waiting. I wait along with them. Javier looks out over the crowd, then bends his head suddenly and strums a melancholic chord and, right after, quickly coaxes out a complex waterfall of notes. My arms prickle. He leans close to the mic and begins to sing in a rich, low voice. Its a ballad, a love song, which is evident even if I dont know the words. His voice caresses each syllable, rumbles and whispers, his fingers on the strings keeping time. A musician. And not a hobbyist. He has captured the room, captured me. Sexy. Tall. Intelligent. Wry. And now a musician. Javier Velez has made my very, very short No Way in Hell list. Never. Nope. Nada. While hes still singing, I gather my purse and my sweater and slip out of the club into the night, walking fast to burn off the spell hes cast, the spell Ive allowed to snare me. Out in the night, striding up the hill toward my room, Im aware of the prickling down my spine, along my palms. Im disappointed. Its been a while since my last short-term, completely inappropriate partner, a surfer a decade younger than me, wandered off to better waves. Sex is a biological imperative, and all sorts of systems are improved with regular intercourse. Sex for one is fine, and it can burn off a lot of bad energy, but sex for two is way more fun. Skin-to-skin eases the human animal. Id been looking forward to that. People have stopped asking me if Im going to settle down, find a husband. Im not interested, though I was, once upon a time. It pains me slightly that I wont have children unless I figure out what Im going to do fairly quicklyI froze some eggs just after I turned thirty, so theres that backupbut Im feeling so restless in my life that I need to figure out my plan before I add a baby into the mix. I dont regret not having a long-term relationship in my life. Its surprisingly easy to find men to be a partner for a while, like Tom, the buff surfer whod kept me company over most of last summer and into the fall. At some point, as I age and become less sexually appealing, it might be more difficult. Ill cross that bridge when I come to it. What I wont do is allow myself to have sex with a man who has the potential to genuinely stir my passions. Living through the war that was my parents marriage, then everything my sister ever did, including getting herself killed, taught me to steer clear of intense liaisons. Thus my rules, the rules that have kept me safe for my entire adult life, and Im not going to start breaking them now. Inside the building, I stab the elevator button irritably and wait, staring up at the numbers. Damn. He had such promise. Chapter Six Mari After dinner, Sarah helps me with the dishes. Our house is a villa that sits on a rise catty-corner to the harbor, and as I wash glasses and hand them to Sarah, I admire the opalescent pools of light playing over the waves. Across the water is a long bluff, just now starting to twinkle with lights coming on for the evening. Sarahs hair is pulled back in a braid in an attempt to tame it, but wild curls spring out around her face and stand up along her forehead. A grass stain mars her T-shirt, and even over the sweetness of dish soap, I smell kid sweat and dirt. She has a thousand little experiments going on outsidetrying to grow shoots from celery stubs and an avocado seed and onion scraps; bird feeders in three styles; a fancy barometer her grandfather gave her to go with the little weather station he helped her set up. My father-in-law, Richard, a longtime widow, has a passion for sailing, and he loves the natural world as much as Sarah does. Every afternoon, shes out there, tinkering and humming to herself and examining everything from feathers to rocks. A total geek, just like my sister. In every gesture, all her serious attention to science and detail, her sober measuring of the world. Tonight, shes been quiet, but Im forcing myself not to ask about school again. Itll just put her on edge. Maybe tomorrow. For today, Ill just love her up at home, and maybe that will fill some of the empty spots mean girls at school are leaving. After this, you should take a shower, let me do your hair. She only nods, her fat lower lip sticking out as she dries a plate. Whatcha thinking about? She raises her head, blinks. I want to read a story tonight. Like an actual story? Maybe Harry Potter? No. She scowls slightly. You know I dont like made-up stories. I do know. And it was the weirdest thing in the world to me, a lifelong, die-hard reader, but as soon as she was old enough to think for herself, she questioned things. If there were fairies in books, why couldnt she see them in real life? When she was barely two, she started picking up bugs to examine them. She trailed after her grandfather as he went on his nature rounds, pointing out various flora and fauna to her. They hiked all the main trails around the city, then went farther afield. Hes teaching her to watch the sky, to read the wind and the waves. They are very close. Something she will never, ever have with my own family, which is all the more painful because she and Kit would be so enchanted with each other. Okay, so what book? A book I got at the library on botany. I will myself not to smile. Id be happy to. I hand her the last saucer to dry. Maybe The Little Mermaid after that? Its the one story she likes. Not the Disney classic but the older, darker Hans Christian Andersen version. I read her the latter when she was five, and she went crazy for Ariel. The Disney version is fine, but fairy tales are dark for a reason. Kids know that life isnt all sweetness and light. They know. In the new house I bought, theres a whole shelf of mermaid stories. Maybe we can explore them together. Okay. Even though mermaids arent real. You dont believe in them, but I do. I think of Kit and my mother, of a pirate chest full of booty. I think of Dylan, who seemed to come to us out of the sea and took himself back into it. Why am I thinking of all these things all of a sudden? Mum, thats just silly. I point to my forearm, where mermaid scales shimmer against my skin. Ive always been part mermaid. She shakes her head. Tattoos dont make things real. I dont know about that. I do. She plucks a pair of forks from the drainer. Dad said were going to live in that house. Yeah. Itll take a while to get it ready, but that is the plan. You can have your own laboratory. I give the word the New Zealand pronunciation, with the emphasis on bor. And theres a greenhouse. Really? Her eyes light up, the way another girls might over new shoes. When can we see it? Soon. I pluck the dish towel from her hands. Go shower. Will you wash my hair? Yes. Shes only been doing it herself for a couple of months, and the results are uneven. Yell when youre ready. As Im stacking plates back into the cupboard, my phone rings in my back pocket. The screen shows that its my friend Gweneth. Hey, whats up? Not canceling on me, are you? We walk every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday right after the kids go to school. Shes a stay-at-home mother with a vibrant mummy blog, so her hours are her own the same way mine are. No, but JoAnn cant make it. Do you want to hike Takarunga? JoAnn doesnt have as much time as the two of us, so we save more vigorous hikes for when she has to get to work early. We have to coordinate ahead of time because I like having a CamelBak for it, which I otherwise leave at home. Love it. In the background, a dog barks furiously, and she says, See you at seven thirty, then! Cheers. Cheers. As I finish up the kitchen, the dogs come tip-tapping in, the two who were orphaned when Helen died and my rescue, Ty, short for Tyrannosaurus Rex. He was named when Leo was in his dinosaur phase. Hes a golden retriever mutt, overjoyed to have friends to play with. Outside, kids? I ask, and they sweep their tails. Paris and Toby are a little lost. Paris is a black German shepherd, too thin, with the saddest eyes Ive ever seen. Shes a big dog with long, beautiful fur, and I bend down to stroke her as she walks by. She allows it, but I think her heart is heavy. I make a mental note to look up ways to help heal a grieving dog. The other, Toby, is much smaller, maybe a Shih Tzu or Lhasa mix, in need of grooming but otherwise pretty stable. Hes white and brown with cheery black eyes, and to my surprise, Simon has gone gaga over him. Already Toby knows he can jump up into his lap when hes sitting in his big chair. A ripple of lightning edges along the horizon as I open the door, and I smell rain walking toward us over the water, carrying the scent of ocean and sky. Better hurry, guys. I stand in the doorway, breathing it in, the soft gathering twilight and the two-note song of a pair of tuis. A seagull sails on currents overhead. The water undulates in green and opal, with slight edges of purple. A storm is unmistakably moving in, and I look at the barometer in Sarahs little shed, but I dont know how to read the bubbles and weights. Paris does her business, then comes back over to me, sitting on alert next to my leg. Youre a sweetheart, arent you? I rub her long ears, and she allows it, but shes scanning the perimeter in case of invaders. I might really fall for this dog. She reminds me of Cinder, the retriever mix we had when I was a child. It was Cinder who alerted us to the stranger at the door the night Dylan washed up at Eden. A storm had lashed the windows that night too, and it whipped the ocean into a wild monster that Kit and I watched from our living room window in the little house that perched so precariously on the cliff. On clear days, you could see a hundred miles, at least according to my dad, and all of it was ocean. Ocean that changed minute by minute, ocean that changed color and texture, sound and mood. You could look at the ocean a thousand times a day in exactly the same spot, and it would never appear the same. But that night, it was wild. Kit and I told stories to each other about shipwrecks. In the morning, we should go down and see if anything washes up from the ships, I said. Booty! Kit cried, her five-year-old fist punching the air. Behind us, Cinder jumped up and barked his deep warning bark. My mom came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands. It was a slow night at Eden because of the weather, so we were home for once, although she wasnt cookingwhy would she, with my fathers stuffed squid to devour? One of the kitchen staff, a girl named Marie, had brought up a bowl of pasta with bread and herby olive oil, and we sat together eating it. When my mother answered the door, a boy was there, soaked and shivering, his long hair stuck to his neck and forehead. His chambray shirt and jeans clung to him, and his face was bruised and bleeding, as if hed washed overboard from a wrecked ship, or he was the ghost of a seaman who had drowned and didnt know it. We read lots of stories like that, Kit and me. I read far above my age and loved reading to her from a battered copy of The Big Book of Pirates, filled with tales of shipwrecks and ghosts and mermaids seducing sailors to their deaths. Much of it was over our heads, but it fueled our imaginations for years. My mother brought him inside and fetched towels and a mug of tea. Kit and I stared, captured by his beauty. He was barely a teenager, though at the time, he lied and said he was fifteen, so his skin still had the dewy sheen of boyhood, stretched over elegantly assembled cheekbones and jaw. His eyes were the color of abalone shell, silver and blue and hints of violet, as if hed been born in the sea. I whispered to Kit, Maybe hes a merman. My mother was not known for taking in strays, not cats or dogs or people, but she took to Dylan as if he were her own child. She shifted Kit to my bedroom so there was a place for him to sleep and gave him a job in the restaurant washing dishes. You girls need to be nice to him, she said, tucking us in that night. Hes been through a lot. Is he a merman? Kit asked. My mother smoothed her brow. No, sweetheart. Hes just a boy. A boy she took in and nurtured from that moment forward, as if he were a lost cat, with no explanation whatsoever. Just a boy. For a long moment, standing beneath the lightning-lashed sky over Auckland, I think how small that phrase is. How true and untrue, all at once. A thudding ache pulses in the center of my chest. What if my mother had called the police to report a runaway? What if hed been sent to a foster home instead of taking root in our family the way he did? Instead my mother simply lied to everyone and said he was her nephew from Los Angeles. No one ever questioned her, and in those days, my father let her have her way over almost anything. The dogs, impatient with my woolgathering, swarm my legs and lick my fingers. I bring them in, then go wash my daughters hair. Later, Simon is watching a movie, some kind of adventure through a jungle with lots of mud and things that bite and cut and a sturdy man leading the way. His favorite thing. He doesnt love to read, but he watches all the sci-fi and adventure movies that exist, and when he runs out, he calls up YouTube videos in the same realm. Im sitting next to him with my laptop, a blanket over my legs because its gone quite cold. Hes drinking a ginger beer and popping peanuts into his mouth every so often, while I have a cup of green tea thats probably cold. I only have it as company, really. Id been pinning ideas for Sapphire House to Pinterest, and then I found a bunch of recipes for feijoas, and now Im knuckling down to look up more of Veronicas backstory. My friend Gwen is enchanted with Veronica and has often regaled me and our friend Nan with stories about the Auckland legend. Ive long been intrigued by her rise and tragic end. I feel a tangled connection to her attempt to make herself over, become someone newand she was successful at doing so. But like a female Icarus, she was punished for her moxie and died young. On YouTube, I download the movie that launched Veronicas career. Shed been in Hollywood for several years and played many parts, mostly in the jungle-girl realm. But when sound arrived on the scene, Veronica was cast in the role of a vixen, unapologetically ambitious and beautiful, and the sparks flew between her and her costar. Theres a famous kiss and a dress so sheer and clinging that she might as well have been naked. Watching, Im shocked at the liberal tone of the script and the saucy, tongue-in-cheek way Veronica played the part. Her body in the famous dress is incendiarya slipping lacy bodice that gives the illusion of nipples, or is it that its nipples giving the illusion of lace?curvy hips, slim arms and waist. The big surprise is the intelligence of both script and actress, plus the fact that this cheeky vixen actually wins at the end. Its as if someone turned the rule book on its head. Clicking around, I find more info on the eravery short-lived, called Pre-Code. For a brief five years, between the establishment of the sound movie industry and the 1934 enforcement of the Hays Code, there were no morality guidelines, and moviemakers took full advantage. Dozens of movies were made, often with overtly sexual themes and often with women in roles that acknowledged their sexuality and their ambition. It startles me that there was so much freedom of story, of power in womens hands, such a long time ago. For the space of a few breaths, I wonder how life would be different for women if those stories had been allowed, embraced. Even celebrated. Veronica Parker, with her elegant long limbs and sexy voice, had made her name there. In five years, shed made thirteen movies, nearly three a year, and shed been paid handsomely for it, $110,000 a year. It sounds like a lot of money for the early thirties, Depression years, and I look up the equivalent to now, roughly $1.5 million a year. Clearly enough to build a beautiful house that she barely had a chance to live in. Post Code, Veronica was not able to land parts in Hollywood as freely, and a director in New Zealand lured her home with promises of starring in a tragic romance, but the movie was never made. According to Wikipedia, the director, Peter Voos, was involved in dozens of scandals around women. His photo shows a handsome blond man with an arrogant brow. I cant find the reason the movie wasnt made, aside from creative differences. Veronica found work in smaller parts, always as the vamp or dangerous Other Woman. Curled in my blanket, I wonder how that felt for her, to rise to such heights and then fall out of favor when she was still so young and had so much to give. Melancholy creeps under my skin, and I close the laptop. Im off to bed, I say to Simon, and kiss his head. Dont stay up too late. No, no. Ill be up soon. I make a mental note to find some more of her movies and watch them. Maybe Gweneth will want to join me. Shes going to flat-out faint when she finds out we bought Sapphire House. Chapter Seven Kit Jet lag wakes me at four a.m., and I try for a time to go back to sleep, but its no use. The curtains are open. Office buildings stand between my balcony and the harbor, but the water lies in inky blackness between the edge of the downtown area and what seems to be an island on the other side. Little lights sparkle there, quiet middle-of-the-night kind of lights. I lie on my side and imagine my sister in a house out there, fast asleep, the same moon shining on her that is shining on me. I imagine that she gets up to go to the bathroom and stops at the window, drawn by my intense gaze, and looks out toward the central business district and my window, invisible amid all the others. She feels me. She knows Im here. When we were quite small, before Dylan arrived, we had our own rooms, but I was five when that ended, and up until I left for college, we shared. First the room that looked out over the ocean, when an open window meant the sound of the waves rocked us to sleep, then in the master bedroom of the apartment in Salinas. It took me a long time to get used to the emptiness of a room that contained only my breathing. One of the things I love about Hobo is that he is company at night, curling up against the crook of my knees or creeping onto my pillow to rest his face against my head, as if we are two cats. I ache for him at those moments, and I wonder where his mother went, what terrible things he endured before I brought him into my house and let him stay. The thought of my cat makes me check the time. Its nearly eight a.m. in Santa Cruz. My mom will be awake by now. I punch her number as I pad toward the little strip of kitchen by the door and fill the kettle. On the other end, the phone rings so long I think shes not going to pick up. A familiar sense of disappointment and worry fills me; she has let me down and hasnt gone to stay with Hobo after all. I think of my poor cat, who trusts only me and was so battered by the world before I took him in, alone in my house At the very last minute, she answers, breathless. Kit! Im here! Youre there? At my house? A slight beat of quiet. She knows I dont trust her. Im here, Kit. I was just out in the backyard watering your plants and forgot I left my phone inside. Did Hobo come outside with you? Oh, no. He hasnt even come out from under the bed. My stomach squeezes. I can see his black face so clearly, his tufted toes. You slept there? Yes. I swear. He is eating and using the litter box when I leave. I think he peed on your tennis shoes, though. You left them by the door. Hes probably claiming me. Keep your stuff in the closet. I am. Were fine, Kitten. The nickname is rare, and sweet enough. Promise. Ive had a cat or two in my life. Okay. Its only been a couple of days. Hell be fine. Just make absolutely sure he doesnt get out. I dont want him to come looking for me. I promise, she says in a very reasonable voice, and I realize Im freaking out a little over a situation I cant control. Shocking. I take a breath and let it go. Okay. I believe you. Thanks. Now tell me about everything. Whats it like? Is it beautiful? I walk back to the sliding door and pull it open, letting in a waft of muggy air, and step out to the concrete balcony eighteen stories above the street. Its amazing. The water and the hills and these strange treesits gorgeous. Ill send you some pictures later today. Id love that. Instead of rushing in with questions or comments, she waits for me to keep talking, a listening trick she learned at AA that would have made my childhood ten thousand times better. I visited the nightclub site, I say. Its hard to imagine what she would have been doing there, honestly. It seems like a club that was frequented by very young Asians, not middle-aged white ladies. Oh, shed hardly be considered middle-aged. I raise my eyebrows. If shes really still alive, shes almost forty-three. Once you cross the line of forty, I think you have to admit to middle-aged. She makes a dismissive noise, and I hear her light a cigarette. The cigarettes she thinks I dont know she smokes. Well, whats the next step? I honestly have no idea. Maybe you could take a picture around to the businesses in the area. Ask if anybody knows her. Thats not a bad idea. Crime TV has its uses. I laugh. Well, if you come up with more tips, feel free to text. This is not exactly my forte. If anyone can find her, you can, she says. What if I dont? Then you dont, she says firmly. All you can do is try. Across the immense miles, I hear a blue jay cawing in my backyard in California. It reminds me acutely that I am a very, very long way from home with no one but myself to keep me company. The loneliness of being unmoored from my little patch of geography, without the cat andokay, I admit itthe mother I am used to seeing every day is stinging. I will do my best, I say. Please keep trying with Hobo. He needs love. I will. I bought him some tuna last night, and he did stick his nose out to get some. I laugh. Good idea. Thanks, Mom. Ill call you soon. I settle cross-legged on the bed with a cup of tea on a tray. The cups in the apartment are tiny, and I will need to buy a mug somewhere today. I saw a Starbucks on my travels, but it seems kind of pathetic to visit a brand I know perfectly well when Im seven thousand miles from home. Opening my laptop, I bring up a map of the area around the nightclub and scan the names of the shops in the buildings nearby. Id already seen that it was an area of high tourist volume, with caf?s and restaurants of all kinds and shops full of postcards and T-shirts. But off to one side is a shopping area that looks more upscale, the Britomart, and it seems to have a higher grade of restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques, and such things. Would that be Josies kind of place? Its hard to even imagine who shed be now. As emotionanger and fear and a weird sense of hopestarts to gurgle low in my gut, I don my scientific hat. How do you age a person who actually faked her own death and started fresh in a faraway land? Why did she do it? What has she done with the new life? How might she have spent the past decade and a half? Sipping my tea, I watch a cleaning crew vacuum a floor full of offices in a building across the way. Ponder the possibilities. One of the last times I saw Josie, shed come to visit me in San Francisco. I was in med school, studying day and night, and she blew into town the way she always did, calling me on a pay phone from somewhere near the beach. Can we get together? I close my eyes. It had been at least six or eight months since shed been in town, but I didnt have time. She would want to party all night and eat everything in my meager kitchen and then go out to get more takeout and shed expect me to pay, even though I had zero money and mostly ate baked potatoes with whatever crappy leftover veggies I could find on special at the supermarket, or else ramen noodles by the truckload. Im on rotations, Josie. Just a cup of coffee or something? Its been a while, Kit. I miss you. Yeah, me too, I said by rote, but I didnt. Id missed her fiercely a hundred times in my life, but on those long, lonely days in Salinas after the earthquake, when she dived entirely into her dual addictions of surfing and getting high, Id finally realized she was never really coming back to me. I just have a lot of studying to do. Thats cool. I get it. Med school, dude. Im so proud of you. The words plucked a string somewhere deep in my gut, and the reverberation released a thousand memories, all reminding me of the ways I loved her. I took a breath. Ill meet you somewhere. Where are you? Thats okay, sis. Seriously. I get it. If you dont have time, you dont have time. I just wanted to say hi. Where are you going after this? Um. Not sure. The waves are great in Baja, but Im kind of over Mexico. Maybe Oz. A bunch of us have been talking about finding space on a freighter or something. The more she talked in her raspy, beautiful voice, the more I wanted to hug her. Look, you know what? I can spare a couple of hours. Really? I dont want to interfere with anything. You wont. It might be ages before youre back in San Francisco. Ill come to you. Where are you? We met at a burger joint not far from Ocean Beach. Some guy with a tangle of blond hair and at least three leather bracelets on his arm dropped her off. Josie tumbled out of the truck looking like a creature from a Charles de Lint novel, an urban sprite or fairy walking amid the mortals. She was deeply, deeply tan from her year-round surfing, her hair impossibly long, cascading over her lean arms and past her waist. She wore an India cotton peasant blouse over jean shorts and sandals, and every male from the age of six to ninety-six stopped to admire her. A backpack, battered but strong, hung from her left shoulder. When she saw me, she broke into a run, stretching out her arms, and I found myself moving toward her, allowing her to fling her slim, taut body into my arms. We hugged hard. Her hair let loose the scent of a fresh breeze, a scent that made me ache to go surfing, to leave this grind Id put myself in and run away to the beach with her. Oh my God, she breathed in my ear, her arms fierce around my neck. I miss you so damn much. Tears stung my eyes. By then I had my guard up with her, but within twenty seconds, she swept me into her realm. Me too, I admitted, and this time it was true. For one minute, two, I held on to her, dizzy with love and no thought, only her lean body against mine, her hair in my face. I stepped back. You look really good. Fresh air, she quipped, then touched my face. You look tired. Med school. Inside the diner, still in touch with the seventies with its red Naugahyde booths and chrome appointments, we sat by the window and ordered cheeseburgers. Tell me everything, she said, sipping Cherry Coke through a straw. Umm . . . I floundered, trying to think of something that wasnt a grind of books, rotations, notes. I was third year, on the floor for the first time, and it was both exhilarating and devastatingly exhausting. I dont know what to say. Im working hard. She nodded eagerly, and I noticed how red her eyes were. High, as ever. Well, what did you do yesterday? Yesterday. I took a breath, trying to remember. I got up at four so I could get to the hospital in time to do early rounds; then we had rounds with our team, which is surgical, so Im working with surgeons and residents. I scrubbed in for a gall bladder removal and an emergency appendectomy. I paused, feeling sleep, like a hook on a slow-moving train, start to reel me under. I blinked hard. Shook my head. What else? I met a study group before dinner, then ate, then went home to read for rounds this morning. Her eyebrows rose. Dude. Do you ever get to sleep? I nodded. Sometimes? I cant believe youre going to be a doctor. I always brag about you. Thanks. They drop off the burgers, and all the salt and fat smells so good, I bend in and breathe it deep. Im freaking starving. Not much time to eat there either. Do you get to surf? Sometimes. Not a lot, but its okay. Eventually, this part will be done, and Ill be like everybody else. She pointed a fry at me. Except you will be Dr. Bianci. I grinned. I do love the sound of that. I arranged the pickles and tomatoes on top of the cheese, then added swirls of mustard. What about you? Tell me about last week. She laughed, that low, raspy laugh that made everyone lean in close. Good one. She took a bite of her burger and nodded as she chewed, as if she were thinking about all the things she could tell me. She held her napkin in her lap primly, and in the action I saw my mother. I bet you do more in a day than I do in a month. She dabbed her lips politely, making sure they were ketchup- and grease-free. But actually, last week was bitchin because we were chasing a hurricane up the coast, from Florida all the way to Long Island. Wow. I felt a ripple of envy. Biggest waves? Montauk. Youd love it there. Okay, you got me. Im jealous. Yeah. She grinned that impish, charming, encompassing smile. White teeth but not perfectly straight because she should have had braces and my parents never got around to it. Neither of us saw a dentist until we were in middle school, and only then because Josie had a very bad molar, and Dylan had insisted they get her in to see someone. Have you ever considered surfing professionally? I asked. She stirred her straw around in her ice, gave me a half-tilted smile. Nah. Im not that good. Bullshit. You just have to focus, make that the center of everything. She gave me a slow one-shoulder shrug, her mouth twisting into a wry dismissal. No fun. I dont have your drive. I ate my burger for a time, focusing there, on the food that wasnt from a box or bag. Im so proud of you, Kit, Josie said again. Thanks. Hows Mom? Fine. You should go see her. Maybe. Another dismissive lift of one shoulder. Im not here for long. Maybe I was jealous; maybe I missed her. Maybe it was a combination of both, but I said, Are you just going to wander around your whole life? She met my gaze. What would be wrong with that? You need a job, a profession, something you can do to support yourself when When Im old and ugly? No. I scowled. I dont have your brains, Kit. I was a bad student, and no college is going to let me in, so basically I can suffer along at some pissant community college, or I can do odd jobs and surf and love my life. Do you love it? A flicker over her eyes before she lowered them. Of course. I didnt want to fight. Good. Im proud of you too. Dont say things you dont mean. I ducked my head, and it was all nothing but polite until the end. She ate every bite on the plate, right down to the lettuce leaf, then blotted her mouth. Cloudy light fell through the window to her bright hair, the tips of her eyelashes. A part of me was suddenly three, leaning on her as she read aloud to me, and five, tucked into a sleeping bag next to hers under the shelter of a tent. The images made me ache. How much I missed her when she deserted me! How much I still did. I looked away, thought of my immunology test. Facts and figures, facts and figures. Do you ever think of what might have happened if Dylan never came? she asked suddenly. Or if the earthquake hadnt wrecked the restaurant? Her words slammed into a heavily fortified box in my heart. I try to look forward. What if, though? What if Dad was still up there at Eden, cooking, and maybe Mom got her act together and we went home for weekends or holidays and Dad told jokes and Stop. I closed my eyes, an ache along the bottom of my lungs. Please. I just cant. Her face was haunted, adding luminosity to her cheekbones, depth to her dark eyes. What would have happened to us without him? She shook her head, turned those tortured eyes on me. Our parents were horrible, Kit. Why did they neglect us like that? I dont know. My words were hard, erecting a wall against the past. I have to focus on the present. Again, she ignored me. Why couldnt we save Dylan? When she turned that gaze on me, tears edged her lower lids, never quite spilling. Dont you miss him? I clenched my jaw. Swallowed away my own grief. Of course I do. All the time. I had to pause, bow my head. But he wasnt savable. He was already too broken when he showed up. Maybe. Her voice broke slightly, going husky. But what if things happened to make him take that last step? I mean . . . What things, Josie? I was both impatient and weary. She had gone over this subject a million times when we were teenagers. He was always going to die young. Nothing pushed him over the edge except his own demons. She nodded, dashed away a tear that dared fall, and stared out the window. He was happy for a long time, wasnt he? I reach out and take her hand. Yes. I think he was. She clutched my hand tight, her head bowed, her hair falling in a curtain around her face. The obscuring mists of my emotion cleared, and I could see her objectively, as if she were a stranger whod wandered into the ER, a too-thin young woman with dry skin and chapped lips. Dehydrated, Id note, probably an addict. I wanted, suddenly, to take care of her. I miss all of it, I volunteered. Dad and Dylan and Cinder. My voice grew croaky. I swear to God, I miss that dog like a limb. Best dog ever. I nodded. He was. I shook my hair out of my face. I miss the restaurant. The patio, the cover. Our bedroom. I take a breath. Sleeping on the beach in our tent. That was the best. It was. She ran a fingertip over the scar on her forehead. The earthquake wrecked everything. I guess. A little burn of impatience edged my spine. Dylan and Cinder were already gone. I know that. Why do you have to be so mean in the middle of something like this? Its not mean. Its just reality. Facts and figures. Yeah, well, reality isnt always what you think it is. Sometimes things are more complicated than simple facts. Like our parents. Like our childhood. Like the earthquake. You werent even there that day, I said, a rare moment of furious honesty. I had to sit there on the edge of the cliff by myself for hours, while I knew Dad was probably dead down there. And all you ever seem to remember is that you got a cut head. Oh, Kit! She grabbed both my hands. Oh my God, Im sorry. Youre right. That must have been terrible. I didnt take my hands away, but I closed my eyes so that I didnt have to look at her. I know it was bad in Santa Cruz too, but She slid out of her side of the booth and into mine, flinging her body around me. Im sorry. Im so selfish sometimes. The smell of her, the essence of Josie, unlike any other scent in the world, enveloped me, and I was lost in my love for her, my adoration, my fury. The hungry, lonely cells of my body drank it in for long minutes. Then I extracted myself. Life is always a mixed bag. I guess so. But I cant imagine who wed be without Dylan. Can you? I didnt even want to. It doesnt matter. It is what it is. It was my turn to look away, out the window, to the promise of the ocean on the blank blue horizon. I could really use a walk on the beach after this, I offered. Maybe find some mermaid coins. That would be really lucky, she said. That was the day we impulsively got our tattoos, sitting side by side at a tattoo parlor near Ocean Beach as twilight moved in. I run my fingers over the tattoo. Its elegantly, delicately drawn, and Ive never regretted it, though Ive never done anything that impulsive before or since. Maybe I just wanted to be close to her again. Lucky, I think now, sitting on my bed in Auckland, watching a band of light leak into the horizon. It wasnt like shed had much, something Id always been too self-righteous to see. Josie. So beautiful. So lost. So smart. So doomed. Who would the woman I saw that day in San Francisco have become? Will I find a party girl, somebody still surfing the world? Shes pretty long in the tooth for that now, but I wouldnt put it past her. Or maybe shes found a way to be connected to her passion and work with it, like the women who opened a woman-centered surf shop in Santa Cruz. Or maybe shes just a pothead, smoking her life away. I sip my tea, which is going cold. Its probably not the latter. At some point, she must have turned herself around or she wouldnt have survived. Her addiction had become so extreme by the last time I saw her that nothing short of a miracle would have saved her. On the laptop, I bring up the image of her from the news. Its a surprisingly clear shot, and theres nothing dissipated or weary about that face at all. The haircut is expensive, sharp, or maybe just recent. Her face is not bloated, which tends to show up on long-term drinkers, and in fact, she doesnt look a lot older than she did fifteen years ago, which is classic Josie. Shes still beautiful. Still lean. Still herself. Where am I going to find her? I walk to the sink, dump the cold tea, fill the kettle again, and lean on the counter while it boils, my arms crossed. In solving medical puzzles, Ive learned to always, always go back to the actual known facts. A patient presents with something mysteriousstart there. Stomach pain and rash. What did she eat? What has she been doing the past twenty-four hours? How old is she? Live alone? Eat with friends or family? Take a shower? So I start where I am with Josie. No. Scratch that. Start with a fact: a blonde woman with a scar exactly like my sisters was filmed at the site of a nightclub fire five nights ago. The kettle clicks off, and I pour boiling water over my tea bag in the tiny cup and wish for a mug that would last a little while before I putter back to the computer on the bed. What time was the blonde woman filmed? I have to look that up and find the time stamp: ten p.m. New Zealand time, which would have been two a.m. my time. Just about right. I must have caught the news as the first reports were coming in. Okay, what would have been open on a Friday night at ten p.m. in that area? Pretty much everything, I discover. All the restaurants, all the clubs and bars. But again, facts. She is a woman of means, judging by the haircut and the expensive sweater. Maybe she had met friends . . . I scroll around the map, looking at possibilities to add to my list. One establishment leaps out at me, an Italian restaurant in Britomart, the upscale shopping area next to the harbor. I send the directions to my phone. Ill go down there and show the photo around. Maybe somebody will have seen her. Even better, maybe they know her. Maybe shes a regular. But nothing is open until much later. Its just now gone seven, and Im restless. The building has a pool. Ill head down there, do some laps, and then come back and get ready to go out. Chapter Eight Mari Im frying eggs from Sarahs hens when the earthquake hits. It starts low, that slight disorientation you get that feels like maybe you turned too fast or lost your footing, and then the sound, the tinkle of glasses in the cupboard. Urgently, I turn off the gas and shout for my family, running for the door to open it and let the dogs out. The birds are hushed as I dash outside. For a little while, I think Im going to be okay this time. Its not violent, just a slow, easy tumbler, more of an aftershock than quake. The kids are still inside. I hear something rattling and the thud of something falling over in the shed, and I think I should go check it out, but Im plastered to the trunk of the palm tree, my cheek pressed hard into the bark, my arms straining. I gauge the intensity of it from long experience, not a six but maybe in the high-four, low-five range. Enough to knock things from grocery shelves, tools from the shelves in the shed. I wonder where the epicenter is, who is getting it now. Maybe its offshore, and the damage will be minimal. There have been some substantial earthquakes in the country since I arrived, the worst being the two back-to-back that nearly destroyed Christchurch, and another just a couple of years ago on the South Island near a little tourist town. Simon mourned Kaikoura, a place hed visited a lot as a child. Id never been there, but Simon said the destruction had been very bad indeed. The city is recovering, finally, but it has taken a long time. Auckland feels the quakes, but theyre not centered hereits always somewhere else. Instead, they cheerfully predict a volcano will someday incinerate the city, but its the kind of thing you cant believe will ever happen. Unlike the earthquakes that remind us, over and over, that they can do whatever they want. The earth finally stills, but Im still clinging to the trunk like a five-year-old. Mari! Simon yells, and I hear him running. His hand, that big solid hand, covers my upper back, but I still dont let go, not until he peels one arm, then the other, off the tree and settles them around his waist. Youll be right, he says, a peculiarly New Zealand phrase. No worries. I smell the sharpness of clean cotton and his skin below. His chest is as solid as a wall, his body the thing that will save me, always. Sarah and Leo are suddenly beside me too, their hands on my arms, my hair. Its okay, Mummy. Youll be right. Enfolded in their love, I can take a breath, but they dont rush me. Im sorry, you guys. I wish I could get over this. Its so silly. No worries, Mum, Leo says. Were all afraid of things, Sarah adds. I snort and look at her over my arm. Not you. Well, not me, but most everybody. My chuckle eases the rigidness of my body, and I force myself to straighten, to let go of my husband, to kiss my childrens heads, one, two. Thank you. Im good. Simons hand lingers on my upper back. Get yourself a cup of tea. Ill finish breakfast. I used to protest, but a counselor finally told me that the more I resisted the emotions of my PTSD, the worse it would get. To overcome it, I have to be present with it. So I head inside and pour a fresh cup of tea. The screen of my memory flashes with images from the earthquake that gave me the scar on my facethe noise, the screams, the blood everywhere from the wound on my head and the wound in my belly. All of it. I stare into my cup of milky tea. On the surface, my kitchen window is reflected in a white rectangle interrupted by the line of pots along the bottom. I force myself to take slow, even breaths. Same in as out, one-two-three in, one-two-three out, and slowly my trembling eases. The voices of the children, lilting up and down, smooth the gooseflesh on my arms. I sigh, letting go. Simon, frying bacon, a bibbed apron around his body, gives me a smile. Better? Yep. Thanks. We eat normally, and Simon loads the children in the car and turns to me. His gray eyes are filled with concern as he brushes hair away from my face. He knows I suffered through a massive earthquake, though I lied about which one it was. Take the day off. Im hiking with Gweneth and then meeting Rose at Sapphire House to make some more notes. The walk will be good. His palm cups my cheek. Go to the CBD and visit the cat caf? or something. I give him a grin. Maybe. I really think Im all right. He presses a kiss to my forehead, lingering a second longer than usual, then squeezes my shoulder. Ive got the swim fund-raiser tonight, dont forget. The kids and I will be late. Our division of labor means I dont have to participate in the swim stuff, which I find stultifyingthe long, long hours; the drives to various places; the chitchat with all the other parents. I know women knit and read and whatever, and I do show up for the big meets, but Simon loves it madly, and I dont. In return, I do a much larger share of housework and laundry and shopping, which he loathes. But I had forgotten about the meet tonight, and a little knot sticks in my throat as I lift my hand and wave them off, the three of them in a single car, the only things in the world that really matter to me. Maybe Ill call my friend Nan, see if she wants to meet for dinner in the CBD. A good plan. I met Gweneth on the ferry. I was pregnant with Leo, irritable in the summer heat, tired of Christmas in the summer, suddenly longing for family now that Id be adding to it. I missed my father, weirdly, after so long. Id found myself imagining how my mothers eyes or sisters mouth might look on a baby, if I would see my family in the hands or laughter of a child. I even grieved the fact that my mother would not be there when the baby was born, but perhaps all woman feel that way. Pregnancy made me so emotional, in fact, that it frightened me. I constantly worried about the dire things in the world, what might befall a child I loved so intensely even before it was born. Simon had gently pointed me toward the city and an exhibit on the Bloomsbury Group, which both eased and stimulated me, just as hed known it would. Gweneth sat down next to me on the ferry, a tall, slim woman with a stylish air, and offered me an ice cream. Hokeypokey, she said. Cant go wrong. As far as Im concerned, no ice cream goes wrong. I paused. Except coffee. Youre American! Canadian, actually. She narrowed her eyes. Thats what you all say, though, isnt it? I laughed and stuck to my made-up story. I grew up on the west coast of British Columbia. Vancouver Island. Hard to take the island out of the women, she said, nodding. I saw you at the exhibit. Which one is your favorite? Vanessa, completely. That earth mother vibe. I want to go live in her farmhouse. You? Duncan. Im madly in love with him, of course. I know exactly why Vanessa loved him. She licked her ice cream. Ive been to that farmhouse. You can feel her in every room. I wrote a dissertation on the farmhouse itself, as a design idea. I fell right under her spell. We talked art and artists, then books and writers, all the way back to our respective homes, hers only four blocks away from mine, and weve been fast friends ever since. This morning, shes waiting for me in our usual spot, near the water. Her long blonde hair is pulled back in a high ponytail, and shes wearing a tank and NorShore leggings that show off her long, lean figure. Earthquake this morningdid you feel it? she asks. I give a curt nod. No one outside my family knows how badly I react to tremors. Did you hear where it was centered? Offshore. She gestures at the water sudsing restlessly, splashing hard against the land. Good. Mm. We set off at a brisk pace, hands swinging. Sometimes we can walk a long way without talking, but today my news is so momentous, I cant wait. So we bought a new house. Already! The last project was only finished last week. Right. But Simon heard through the grapevine that Veronica Parkers sister died. She stops dead, her mouth open. No. I raise my eyebrows. Yes. You are looking at the new owner of Sapphire House. Youre joking. Her face is both blank and blazing. No. Its done. He bought it outright. Good God. Hes even wealthier than I thought. I take her upper arm and move her body toward the trail that circles up a mountain on the north head of this finger of land. His father still owns great gobs of land. Oh my God! she cries. You know I love her so much. You have to take me inside! Of course. I want your help. When can we go? Not today. I have tons of work to do. But this weekend? Yes. Absolutely. I told the kids we could go over there too. You can come with us. Are you flipping it? No. I pause as we start walking up the hill. The sun is bright and hot on my shoulders. Were going to live there. No, you cant! Gweneth flings her arms up. I need you here. Itll take a while. Oh, but then youll be way over in Mount Eden, and Ill never see you anymore. No. Well make a date and meet in some fab coffee shop in every neighborhood in Auckland once a month. She takes a sip of water from her bottle. All right. And youll have to have grand parties in that house. I will. I promise. We start to climb seriously and focus on our breath while we acclimate. Hey, hey, can we bring it down a notch? I gasp. Sorry. She slows. We should have a welcome party or something. I take a long gulp from my CamelBak. That sounds like fun. Im not sure when well fit it in, but we can try. I know! She gives me a wide-eyed glance. When did everything get so busy? I was never so busy when I worked. You didnt have children. Each child takes approximately forty-eight hours per day. Ah. Thats what it is. No one told me that. We hike in silence for a while. To our right stretch the harbor and the irregular coastline of the city. To the north is Rangitoto, an uninhabited volcanic island popular with tourists. In the far distance stretches a line of mountains meeting the sea, the whole scene painted in bluesblue water, blue mountains, blue skies. I never thought I would find a place more beautiful than the northern California coast, but this is outrageous. Amazing. I never get tired of that view. Thats why I never leave. I wanted to as a girl. Go to Paris and New York and all those places. But I visited, and none of them matched this. I was luckier than I could have expressed to have washed up here. It was all blind luck, ridiculous timing, a good decision made at a moment of crisis. My throat tightens at all that I would never have known. And right behind it, a subtle worry crawls down my neck againthat television camera, right on my face the night of the club fire. I had been in the CBD with Nan and was headed back to the ferry when I saw the news crews. Before I registered what was going on, I stared right into it for the space of three heartbeats. Careless, but honestlyhow many news events happen on an average day? Not even a cataclysmic nightclub fire would spend much time in the spotlight. At the top of the headland, we pause briefly, leaning on a bunker built in WWII, and catch our breath. Its one of the best views I know of anywherethe islands and Rangitoto, the skyscrapers of the CBD, the quaint tumble of villas along the Devonport seafront. We are so lucky, Gweneth said. Yes. I bump her shoulder. We have each other. Sisters, she says, flinging an arm around me. Forever. No one will ever be my sister except Kit, but I cant bear a life without close female friendships. Sisters, I agree, and lean my head on her shoulder, looking east across the water to where my sister lives. For a faint, foolish moment, I wonder if she is looking toward me too, across time, across the miles, somehow sensing that I am still alive. Chapter Nine Kit I ride the elevator down to the eighth floor. Its still very early on a Friday morning, so there arent many people aboutits between the crack-of-dawn, before-work crowd and the post-school-run moms. The area is nearly empty, only one person swimming laps. The pool is wildly inviting, full Olympic length, the water a rich turquoise, maybe three lanes wide. Windows look out to the high-rise-building forest, and Im cheerfully anticipating a good swim as I kick off my flip-flops. The man in the pool is swimming vigorously, powerfully, and comes up for air at the far end where Im standing. Damn. Of course its Javier. Of all the gin joints in all the world, I say. Pardon? He gives the word its Spanish intonation as he wipes water from his face. A face, I note with some despair, that is just as fabulous as it was yesterday. Maybe even better. Never mind, I say, and pick up my towel. I wont bother you. He easily hauls himself out of the water and stands there with wet skin and powerful shoulders and modest swim shorts still showing a lot. No, no, please. Im nearly finished. You can have the pool. Stay. Its plenty big enough for both of us. Sure? I feel like an idiot. Im sorry about last night. A twitch of his shoulders. He gestures to the water. A race? Thats not fair. Youve warmed up. Warm up, then. He sits on the side of the pool, folds his hands. Light trickles over his skin, and I look away, cast off my wrap, and braid my hair, knowing that hes looking at all my parts. The suit is a one-piece designed to contain my chest and modestly cover my butt, but its not exactly a garment that leaves much to the imagination. Securing my braid, I slide into the water. Oooh, I sigh. Ozone. I dive under the surface of the silky pool and kick my way half the length before I come up for air, swim hard to the end, and turn back to the start. Hes still sitting on the side. His legs are covered with black hair. Impressive. You cant just sit there and watch, I protest. You have to swim. Lets swim, then, he agrees, and slides back into the water himself, taking off without warning. So we swim. Laps, mostly. Im conscious of his skin, only an arms length away. Im conscious of my own skin, swept by the water. And then, as always, I forget anyone else and the problems of the day and meld with the water, moving easily, rhythmically, the world forgotten. I dont even remember learning to swim, any more than I remember learning to walk. He stops before I do, hooking his elbows backward over the wall, his hair slicked back. I keep swimming, but then Im worried hell leave before we have a chance to talk, which is backward from what I wanted last night. But maybe for once Im going to go with what I actually feel instead of what I think I should. When I lap back, I come up and pause. Are you leaving? Do you want me to? I shake my head. There is a spa pool over there, he says, and points to a door going outside. I will wait there if you like. Yes, please. He doesnt smile, and neither do I. I lean back into my stroke and do a few more laps before I give in to the lure of him and climb out, wrapping a big towel around my waist, which is ridiculous, because then I just take it off. The spa pool is protected, but it is outside, with views of the office buildings around us. I drop my towel on the chair. How is it? I ask. Quite good. I step into the hot, swirling water and sink down, letting it cover me to my neck. He sits on a higher ledge, and I cant help admiring his well-shaped arms, the black hair on his chest. Hes ever so slightly overweight, carrying the extra right over his belt line, which makes me like him morethe sign of a man who relishes life. Or travels a lot, I think, remembering that he said hed been on the road too much. He doesnt speak, only dabbles his hands over the water. Fair enough. Sorry I bolted last night, I say. His dark eyes rest on my face, and he lifts an eyebrow in question. I cant hold the eye contact and look down at my hands, floating in the blue water. I shake my head. I dont know. Mm. Look, it was stupid, and Im sorry. Can we start fresh? He turns his lips down in consideration. Okay. Offers a hand. My name is Javier. I laugh. Not all the way at the beginning. Did you like my song? You have a beautiful voice. Thank you. He slides deeper into the water and lets his feet rise, the toes poking up into the air. It seems strangely revealing. Perhaps one day you can hear more than one song. I give him a wry smile. Maybe so. How long will you be here in Auckland? Im not sure, really. I take a breath and find myself telling the truth. Im sort of on a missionto find someone. Not a lover, I dont think. His toes disappear beneath the surface. No. Not at all. My sister. Did she run away? I sigh. Its a very long story. This is your sister who died? I forgot I told him that. Yes. I give the answer a shortness that conveys my unwillingness to add more. He nods, his eyes fixed on my face as his hands swirl over the water, graceful, strong. Beautiful hands graced with square nails. Will you look for her today? A trickle of water makes its way down his cheekbone, slides along his mouth. I want to put my open palms on his bare shoulders. Yes. I found some leads. But I probably wont be busy with it all day. He smiles at last, and beneath the water, his foot brushes mine. What if I help you look, and then you come with me on a sightseeing tour? I think of not having to spend the day entirely by myself. All right. Id like that. Do you want to know what we will see? With a smile, I shrug. Whatever it is, Ive never seen it before. His smile is generous, considering. Nor I. Suddenly there is a sway, a splash, and I feel off-kilter. Its not my imaginationJavier tilts toward me, a hand reaching behind me for the lip of the pool. I lift my head, looking for things that could fall on us; then Im clambering out of the spa and heading for open space. Come on. What? The sway, not terrible but unmistakable, comes again. Earthquake, I say, and hold out my hand. He wastes no time, and we hurry out to the open passageway that leads back to the pool. Is it dangerous? No. I rest my hands on the wide stone ledge. Sunlight floods the area. Very minor, but you dont want to be under anything that could be shaken loose. He looks up, but theres nothing above us, only sky. The sway is less remarkable here, out of the water, and soon its gone. Thats that, I say. How did you know it was an earthquake? I live in northern California. Theyre part of the landscape. Have you ever experienced a big one? I think of the cove, scattered with the decayed ruins of what had once been Eden and our home. Yes, unfortunately. The Loma Prieta in 89. Then add the way everyone remembers it, San Francisco. How old were you? Thats an odd question. Hes leaning one hip on the ledge, and his hair has begun to dry in swooping waves. Twelve. Why? Such a thing will leave a mark, no? More or less, depending on your age. It was, almost certainly, the worst day of my life, but being twelve had nothing to do with it. Really. And what does my being twelve say? That it was terrible. But your face says that. I touch my jaw, my mouth. Does it? Finally he touches me, just his fingertips against my cheek, then away. Yes. Things I dont think about tumble out of their boxesthe rumbling, the sound of breaking glass, my urgent dive for the door. Lying flat on the ground in the open, counting seconds. I swallow, then take one step closer and rest my palm on his chest. He doesnt bend down to kiss me, as I had expected, but only presses his hand over mine, holds it there. Life is capricious, no? I think of getting to my feet when the shaking stopped to find nothing left, the house in ruins. The absolute silence told me what I knew instantly. Still, I cried out my fathers name. Called until I had no voice left. Called until darkness fell. I nod. He is the first to step away. Shall we go? I shower the pool from my skin and tame my hair with product, drawing it away from my face in the vain hope that it will behave for a few hours. To protect my skin from the harsh sunNew Zealand has some of the highest melanoma rates in the worldI bring a broad-brimmed hat. Its too hot for long sleeves, so Im wearing the sundress again, and I slather on heavy-duty sunscreen. Carrying a rattan bag, I head down to meet Javier in the lobby. This time Im the first to arrive, and I wait by a bank of windows overlooking the square. Young people, mostly students by the look of them, sit in the sunshine, reading or talking in clumps of two or three. The girls have a wide array of color in their hairsometimes silvery with purple ends or ombre shades of watermelon or leaves. One girl has streaks in a rainbow array, and she wears oversize sunglasses and bright-red lipstick. It seems like a long time ago that I felt that young, so dewy. If I ever did. At twenty, I was buried in textbooks, working two jobs to stay afloat. It didnt leave a lot of time for lazing around in the sun. Im piercingly envious for a moment. You look lovely, Javier says nearby. I swing the red skirt. I only have the one. He touches his chest. This is one of two. Its a soft gray button-up with very thin blue stripes. Expensive. I cannot bear to bring more than a carry-on. Im not that efficient, I admit as we head toward the elevators to go down to street level. Inside, I smell his cologne, a continental touch Im unused to. I have become so over the years. Two good shirts, jeans, slacks, one pair of shoes, maybe a pair of sandals. The door slides open, and we head outdoors to the heavy day. I slide my sunglasses down my nose. Whew. Im not used to heat, I say. Its not this hot in California, at least not by the ocean. I like California, he says. The people are friendly. Youve been there? Many times. Hes dropped his own sunglasses over his eyes, very black aviators that give him a glamorous air. Its beautiful. Where do you live? Santa Cruz. He frowns slightly. Just south of San Francisco? Ah. So you stayed there, even after the earthquake. Ive never lived farther than sixty miles from the hospital where I was born. Native Californian. Is your family there? My mother. Shes staying with my cat. Not the cat with her? I laugh softly. Hes afraid to leave my house, so she came to him. Thats very kind of her. I look up at him, recognizing the truth. It is. A sign alerts me to the shopping area Id been hoping to find. I think this is it. How much time do we have? As long as you need. There is no hurry. I just want to duck inside here and ask around. Of course. In a bar of shade, I pause to pull out my phone and then find a still I lifted from the video of the nightclub fire. I show it to Javier. This is your sister? Yep. I look down at it, feeling butterflies flutter around in my gut. Youre very different. I snort slightly, a very unladylike sound I wish I could take back. Understatement of the year. He cocks his head, and a swath of light undulates over the waves in his hair. How so? She was tiny. Im tall. She lovedlovesmetaphor, and I love facts. I look up at the various shops. Boutiques with seven dresses hanging in rows. Its hard to imagine Josie ever shopping for clothing like that. She was a complete hippie. Im a doctor. An upscale florist. Several restaurants. She was outgoing, and I was introverted. I dont say, She was beautiful. I am not, but that might have been one of the more obvious things. Josie and Dylan and my mother were beautiful. I was the sturdy, sensible one. Not that I minded, honestly, except for that small, heady stretch of time when I fell in love with James in high school. Otherwise I was relieved to be free of the demands of beauty. It didnt seem to serve any of them particularly well, after all. A cluster of professional women passes, wearing stockings and pencil skirts. The stockings surprise me, especially on such a warm day, and I stare after them, trying to remember the last time I wore a pair of stockings for any reason. Do people even do that anymore in the US? Again I scan the storefronts. Javier waits. For a second, I feel anxious and resistant and overwhelmed. Why am I on this ridiculous errand? And what am I going to do if I find her? The thought makes me feel queasy. Do you wish to show her photo around? I take a breath. I guess I do. He takes out his phone and shoots a photo of my screen. I will try the shops across the way, yes? Sure. He heads across the way, and I weave in and out of the boutiques and shops on my side. At the end of the row, he joins me, and together we approach the Italian restaurant I spied earlier on Google Maps. I pause, faintly nervous, to glance at the menu attached to an elegant stand, and my mouth waters a little. Ooh, they have Sicilian-style cannoli. What makes them Sicilian? Ricotta instead of cream inside. So good. A tall, tidy woman with a shiny fall of copper hair stands at the open-air hostess stand, getting things ready for the day. As I approach, she gives me a bright smile. Were not quite ready to serve, but Id be happy to take your name. No, thank you. Im looking for someone. Oh? Her hands still on the napkins shes folding. I hold up the phone with my sisters face. Have you seen this woman? Her face smooths. Yes. Shes a regular, but I dont think Ive seen her for a while. A bolt of shock runs through my body, like lightning. Shes alive. Do you happen to know her name? She cocks her head, and I realize too late that its odd that I have her picture but dont know her name. I know her as Josie, but I think her real name is something else. Hmm. Her face shutters slightly, and if she does know the name, shes not saying it. Im afraid I dont know. Okay. I tuck the phone in my pocket, pushing down both disappointment and relief. Can you tell me if there was anything happening around here the night of the nightclub fire? Like an event or a concert or something? Her lips go pale. Was she in the fire? No, no. Sorry. I just wondered what else might have been going on. She glances at Javier, and something I cant quite read crosses her faceadmiration, recognition, startlement. Her spine straightens even more. I cant think of anything. Thank you. I glance up at Javier and nod once. Lets go sightseeing. Sure? He touches the small of my back as we depart, and I see him nod at the woman. We head for the wharf. Was that like your fathers restaurant? he asks. It has some things in common. The cannoli dessert, the fresh mozzarella, pasta with squid ink, and theres somethingI look over my shoulderabout the way it looks. I think if my sister knew about it, she would probably like it. He nods and doesnt press me for more information. Its only a couple of blocks to the wharf, and we duck into the comparative coolness of the building. What would you like to do? Javier asks as we stand, side by side, looking up at the offerings. Im deeply relieved to have something besides my sister to focus on. None of the names has any meaning to me, and I half shrug. I have no idea. Shall we do everything? Recklessly, I say, Why not? He pays for the tickets, so I buy us some coffees in paper cups and a couple of pastries from a vendor. Settling on a white bench in the ferry building, I sip a flat white and nibble an apple Danish, watching Javier make a tidy diorama with a napkin spread wide on the bench, his coffee at one side, his pastry in the middle. After the morning swim and walk, Im starving, and I watch people milling around talking to each other, the irritated kids hauled by their parents, tourists from everywhere. A line of people dressed in good hiking gear are lining up to board for an island volcano. The boat bobs gently. I love ferries, I say. Why? Hes hung his sunglasses from the placket of his shirt and admires the flaky edges of his pastry. A finger of sunlight makes a shadow fan of his eyelashes across his cheekbone, exaggerating their length. He takes a lusty bite. I dont know, I admit, and think about it, naming the images as they pop up in my mind. The stairs. Those tidy rows of chairs. The open air on sunny days. I sip my coffee. Its just being on the water, really. I always like that. In my family, we always say we cant sleep if we cant hear the ocean. It is a soothing sound, he agrees. I like ferries because you climb in, and the boat takes you where youre going. No bothering with maps and cars. You can read. I thought all men liked driving. An expressive shrug. Not so much, it says, but what can you do? Its a modern necessity, but it brings no pleasure most of the time. I incline my head, trying to guess what he drives. Huh. I would have imagined you flying down some twisty road in a convertible. A very small grin lifts one side of his mouth. Romantic. Sexy. I hold his gaze. Like one of those sixties movies of the guy navigating the coast of Monaco. He laughs. Im afraid I would disappoint you. I lean back. So what do you drive? Volvo. A small translucent square of sugar falls on his thumb. How about you? Or shall I guess? You wont get it. Mm. He plucks the sugar from his hand and tucks it in his mouth, narrowing his eyes. I dont know American cars so well. A Mini? I laugh. No, but they are cute. I drive a Jeep. A Jeep? Like an SUV? Not exactly. I need room to take my surfboard to the beach, so I scan the horizon. Its practical. Ah. Surfing. He looks a bit perplexed. What? I have to think how to say it. I smile, knowing what the struggle is. Take your time. I thought only teenagers surfed? he says, instead of saying, Arent you too old for that? Well done. I crumple my napkin and drop it in the paper bag they gave us, offer it to Javier. I started surfing when I was seven years old. I think of Dylan standing behind me on a longboard, his hands in the air beside me in case he needed to catch me. He never did. Its in my blood. Is it dangerous? Not really. I mean, I guess it is a little, especially if you dont know what youre doing, but I do. Have you ever tried? I have never had the opportunity. He leans backward against the bench, one arm along the top, the fingers of his right hand warm behind my shoulder blade. What do you like about it? I cross my legs, lace my hands around my knee, and look toward the water. I think of my palms skimming the water, the taste of salt on my lips, the board shivering under my feet, Dylan offering encouragementthere you go, thats right, you can do it. Its exhilarating to get a wave just right, ride it a long way. You dont think about anything. Just that. For a moment, hes silent, his eyes resting on my face. His fingers touch my back, edge along the bone, and it sends an alert through my body, 100 percent chemistry, which flickers and brightens the longer he simply looks at me. What? I say at last. Nothing. He smiles. I like to look at you. I smooth a hand over my hair, liking his regard but also slightly tongue-tied, which is unlike me. Im often the pursuer in these things, since men can be intimidated by my profession, my height. I drop my hand to my lap and look back at him. At his brow and his powerful nose and the opening of his shirt, where I can see his throat. In the sunlight, I reassess his age upward. At first, I thought he was early forties, but now I think its more. Midforties. Maybe even slightly older. It doesnt matter. As I look, the light touch on my back combines with the steady, clear regard to give me a sense of expansion, as if the field of my energy is stretching out, trying to find the edge of his. It warms me, and I think of that study that says you can fall in love with someone by looking into their eyes for thirty seconds. I dont fall in love, but I think Ill remember this moment long years from now. His hand moves, open palm against my neck, thumb light against my earlobe. Who knows how long we stay like that, both of us captured? A voice announcing our ferry brushes against it but doesnt kill it, like a spiderweb still clinging to fingers. He takes my hand as we board, and Im glad of the touch, grounding me, connecting me to him, him to me. Upstairs? he asks. For one moment, I think of how bad my hair will be when the wind and humidity have their way, but I nod, and we take our seats in the open air, in the bright sunshine of New Zealand. As naturally as if weve been together a hundred years, Javier picks up my hand and laces his fingers through mine. And even though its a little sweaty and Im not really the hand-holding type, I let him. Chapter Ten Mari Rose and I have flipped six houses together. Shes a sturdy, busty black-haired millennial who wears her hair very short. Her uniform is T-shirts with ironic sayings, jeans, and vintage Doc Martens. Her boyfriend wears a man bun in his curly hair and a thick beard that obscures what I am not sure is a particularly interesting face, but hes good to her, and thats really the only thing that matters. We meet at Sapphire House midmorning, and shes squealing and oohing all the way through, much the way I did, but shes even more knocked out over the wood than I am. Her father runs a lumberyard, and she knows every variation of wood available in New Zealand and then some. With awe, she traces the inlays along the walls of the foyer and names the varieties of wood in the stairs, the banister, the framing, the doors. My dadll go blimmin mad for this. Her accent is as thick as they come, peppered with Maori slang, and when she talks quickly, I have a hard time deciphering her words. I thought of him, I say. I wonder if he knows anyone who does tile work. I reckon he does. Our process is smooth after so many jobs. She starts work in the first room to the left of the front door and heads clockwise around the main floor with a stack of Post-its and duct tape in three colors, moving with surety through the rooms, tagging everything in a pattern weve developed over the years. She has a masters degree in furniture design, and I can trust her to know the difference between junk and antiques worth exploring; this particular era is her favorite. She makes furniture herself in a shared studio space with a handful of other artists, and they sell a lot of it in Napier, where an earthquake nearly leveled the city in 1931. When it was rebuilt, it was all done in the Art Deco style, which was very up-to-the-minute, thus the inhabitants of the town wanting furniture. Eventually Im going to lose her to the furniture, but for now shes invaluable. While she works on the main floor, I head upstairs with a kit of the same materials and start in the bedroom. Settling my box of tape and Post-its on the bed, I open the French doors along the balcony and then step out to admire the viewmy view. The sea is dark and unfriendly this morning, waves slapping the shore almost petulantly, and I smell a storm. I am as close to the sea here as I was in our house by the cove, where the window of the bedroom I shared with Kit hung practically over the cliff. If you stuck your head out, you could see straight down the rocks below, the little cove with its stairs off to the right, the harsh rocky shore curving into infinity to the left, all the way to Big Sur and, farther still, Santa Barbara and then LA. I used to miss that coast, my coast, but New Zealand has cured me. It wasnt part of the planthere wasnt really much of a planbut it sometimes feels like a hand of fate brought me here, to the green mountains and the endless coastline of an island, where I would meet a man who was unlike any other Id ever known, and fall in love with him, and marry him, and have his children. With that man, my Simon, who bought this house because I love it, I will sleep in this room with the French doors flung open, listening to the sea. A slight, faint aftershock rumbles through the earth, moving my body in an almost infinitesimal sway. My hands grip the railing, hard, and I wonder if the house has any protection from earthquakes. A flashback overtakes me, a sound memorythe beeping of alarms and water rushing where it shouldnt and people making a song, soprano screaming and tenor moans of fear and deep, bass cries of pain. I smell smoke and leaking gas. It fades relatively quickly, just a flash and gone. All these years, youd think Id finally get over the PTSD. But it doesnt seem to work like that. My therapist says I spent so much time drinking and drugging away my trauma that its just going to take a long time to work through it all. And even she knows only the tip of the iceberg. I was on a sad and terrible errand that day, awash in scalding shame mixed with grief, emotions too large for the child I was, though I thought myself so adult. A lot had already been lost by the day of the earthquake, but the way it completed the wreckage of our livesKits, my mothers, and minemarked us all irretrievably. Sometimes I miss them most when I want to touch that reality, that day standing on the bluff, looking down at the collapsed heap of timber and concrete on the beach, all of us clustered together, howling. Enough. In the bedroom, I get to work. The bed is covered with a silk spread that is too fine to be original. I take a photo of it and then the bed, pulling back the spread to look at the mattress, ancient and unimaginably dusty. From my kit, I take a notebook and scribble information as I shoot photos. The closets are a dream, enormous, as would be needed by a movie star and all her dresses. Where have they gone? I make a note on another page to look up the history of Veronicas death and the disposal of her things. Maybe the sister donated all of them or something. In the bathroom, I make note of the light fixtures, light bulbs, colors of tile work, but theres not much that will need doing here. Its untouched, practically brand-new. Someone has cleaned it regularly, so theres no dust built up anywhere. A pair of long, multipaned windows opens toward the sea, and I crank them open, letting in the breeze. A sharp scent of seaweed and salt triggers a visceral memorysitting on a blanket with Kit, eating tuna sandwiches and Little Debbies our mother had packed into a basket for us the night before. We carried it down to the beach after a breakfast of cereal and milk at home, as we often did. She didnt like mornings, our mom. The morning was cloudy, smelling of sea and rain, and chilly enough we wore hoodies and jeans. Cinder sat with us, chewing on a piece of driftwood between his paws. Kit said, Is this Monday? I plucked a leaf from my sandwich. You know it is. The restaurant was closed on Mondays. Our parents were sleeping late, and wed learned well enough not to disturb them. Arent we supposed to go to school on Mondays? You dont have to go every day. Especially not in kindergarten. I was in second grade and, aside from lunch and the rows of books we were allowed to check out, didnt care a lot about it. I had taught myself to read before I even started school, and who needed all the rest of it? The other girls were snotty, and they liked dolls and dresses and all kinds of dumb stuff. I liked only books, Cinder, Kit, and the ocean. Kits hair was braided into one long plait, but then shed slept on it for a couple of days, and now curls sprang up all around her face and the top of her head like shed stuck her finger in a light socket. Freckles covered her nose and cheeks, darker with the sun all summer, and her skin was almost as dark as the wooden walls of the restaurant, deep reddish brown that made people say we couldnt even be sisters. But she just took after my dad. His pale olive skin, his dark hair, his big, wide mouth. She was tall like him too, as tall as me, even though I was older. Now she said, But I like to go to school. We learn good stuff there. Ew. Like what? We have a plant experiment in the window. Doing what? She took a bite of her sandwich and chewed it thoughtfully. We planted five different seeds to see which ones grow faster. Thats dumb. I like it. They have different baby leaves. Some are round, and some are pointed. Its interesting. Huh. I didnt want to say BOR-ing, but I thought it. School is something to do. We have plenty to do! She shrugged. You could tell Mom you want to be there every day. Her lids dropped. Shell yell at me. I poked her foot. Ill tell her, then. I dont care if she yells at me. You would? I guess. I flung hair out of my face. If you want. She nodded, her big green-gold eyes shining like coins. I really, really want to go to school. In Auckland, decades later, I run a finger along the tiled sill of the window. It wasnt until Dylan came, another whole year, that she got to school every day. He made sure of it. After making notes in the bedroom, I begin the second part of my dayscouring the house for papers, letters, diaries, anything that might help me put things together about Veronicas past. As Id already discovered, the bedroom had been cleared out and never used again, and the study had proven to be no help at all. In Helens suite of rooms, I find stacks of magazines, some dating back to 1960, carefully stored in plastic bins stacked to the ceiling. I mark them TRASH with a Sharpie. In a closet, I discover heaps and heaps of yarn, every color and variety and weight, which I note on my clipboard will go to the charity shops, along with most of the paperback books, mostly a very old-fashioned form of romance, and the kind of thick novels about the upper classes in England that seems to go over well with a certain set here. Id never seen them in America, though glitz novels probably fill the same need. I scan the books carefully, one title at a time, but after several tall stacks realize there isnt going to be anything I need to save. Its hard to turn my back on such a wealth of reading material, but I learned early in the flipping game that Id rue carting home a lot of books. My own reading threatens to bury us, so I dont need to bring any in from somewhere else. On my clipboard, I note used bookseller, who often pays me a sum by the yard just for the chance to find anything important. The rest of the rooms have even less to offer. They contain the last modest possessions of a reclusive old woman. Her television is from the 90s, and the desktop computer that sits in one corner is a behemoth of yellowed plastic. I turn it on just out of curiosity, and it takes a while, but the screen finally comes up. It doesnt appear to have an internet connection and boasts very few programsa word processor I havent seen in use for quite some time and a few old-school games. I smile, thinking of Helen in her flowered dresses, playing FreeCell. I click on the word processor, and while it readies itself for the enormous job of opening, I check a text that has come in on my phone from Nan. Got your message. Meet for early dinner? I leap at the distraction from my empty house. Yes! The usual? 5:30? Yes. Ill make a reservation. Pleased at the social prospect, I tuck my phone into the back pocket of my jeans and scan the list of files on Helens computer. Its tidily arranged, with a file for letters, one for daily tasks that I quickly discover is a list that can be printed, and one for Other. I click on that. Journal entries. I open a handful of them, just to see if there are instructions or anything in there. It makes me feel guiltyjournals are very, very private things, and you never know, going in cold like this, what youll find. In this case, however, its a simple accounting of her day. She knitted a pair of socks for a neighbors child. Ate toast and jam for breakfast. Needed to leave an envelope for the cleaners. I close it up again, but Im not letting the computer go. I feel protective now of Helens privacy. The rooms are sunny, with good light and views toward the sea. Simon will be very comfortable having his study here. Maybe we can turn one room into a little kitchen. As is my habit, I stand quietly in the center of the big room and let it speak to me in color and style. Here, as everywhere in the house, the bones are excellent. The windows are the starrows of squares, each framing the view in a new way. Ill leave them uncovered but maybe on each end hang some heavy drapes to pull across on rings. No. Bare, clean. Thats what Simon will like. A masculine shade of green and the carpet taken up. Bookshelves that Rose will want to decide upon. The good wood detailing stripped and restored. As Im heading downstairs with my notes, it occurs to me that Helen must have kept journals all along. What did she do before computers? And where did she stash them? There must be an attic or other storage. I walk along the open upper gallery, peering at the ceiling, and at the end, theres the loop. Glancing at my watch, I realize Ive been at it for hours, and if Im going to make my dinner with Nan, Ive got to get down to the CBD. If I time it right, I can capture a parking spot from a departing office drone. Rose is cataloging the items in the pantry. Find anything interesting? I ask. She nods, gesturing with her pen toward the glass-front shelves. Somebody collected Coalport cups and saucers. Theyre amazing. She takes a cup out, dark blue with gold interior and a pattern of stars or dots on the outside. Breathtaking. Are they worth anything? Some, definitely. Some maybe not. Beautiful, though. She shakes her head as she returns the cup, picks up another with a wide background and elaborate, colorful enamel work in red and pink and yellow. She loves vintage everything, and I dont always see the appeal, but these cups are amazing. Theyll inspire you. Yes. Are you leaving? Im going to meet Nan in the CBD. Do you want to stay? No. She makes a face, looking upward. This one feels a little more alive than I like. I nod. I get it. Nearly scared myself to death the other day. She settles the cup in its place and closes the pantry door. Ive got heaps of notes Ill type up later and send over to you, but I got a pretty good start. Tomorrow or the next day, I want to get into the attic. Im looking for things like papers and anything that might have belonged to Veronica. Clothing, jewelry, notes, scripts. Any of it. Might be a museum thatll want them. No doubt. Want some feijoas? I ask, smelling them on the breeze as we walk out. Theres a ton of them around. Uh, no. My mum has two trees, and Im already ducking her. I laugh. See you tomorrow. Chapter Eleven Kit The harbor tour allows us to disembark at any number of stops. Javier and I wander into a little village with thick shade beneath the trees and rows of Victorian-like houses. The air is hot and still, the mood very quiet along the streets. Peaceful. He points at things now and again but seems content to simply take it in. I like that he doesnt feel the need to fill every silence with words. A bookstore draws us both in, and I lose him within two minutes when he dips down an aisle of moldering history books. I wander on by myself, looking for light reading to bring back with me, but there isnt much in that category. I content myself with leafing through a book of botanical drawings, then a history of flowers. I wind down a few more aisles, turning this way and that, until Im somewhere in the deepest heart of the place, surrounded by the hushed whisper of the books and the faint dusty smell of them, in front of a deliciously huge collection of childrens books. I pick up a couple, open them at random to read a page. Nancy Drew and the Boxcar Children, Harry Potter in many different formats, some regional work I dont recognize and that intrigues me. I shoot a photo of their spines to look for them later. And there, in the middle of it all, is a battered copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I gasp a little under my breath, as if someone dead has come back to life, and pull it out, holding the weight gingerly in my hands for a moment. Its the same edition we owned, a book Dylan brought home from a trip to San Francisco. I open the cover, flip to the first page, and fall back in time. To a cold afternoon long ago, me and Josie with Dylan between us. I leaned into his hard ribs, smelling the soap he used to scrub his hands of garlic and onion. I cant wait to read this to you, he said. Its such a good story. I can read it myself, Josie said, and it was true that at eight, she could read anything she wanted. But if you read it, Dylan said, then we dont get to sit here like this, together. He dropped a kiss to each of our heads. Doesnt that sound better? We can read a chapter a day before you take showers. Why do we have to take showers every day? I asked, falling across his lap. Mommy doesnt make us. He pinched my side, tickling me a little, and I giggled, shoving his hands away happily. Because you smell like little goats after youve been out there playing in the sand all day. We take showers in the ocean, I yelled, and he laughed, putting a finger to his lips. A boy in my class told me I had disgusting ankles, Josie said, holding one skinny leg up for inspection. Its kind of disgusting, Dylan said, grabbing her leg. Scrub it tonight. Scrub it how? Josie asked. She licked her thumb and rubbed at the grime, and it started to give way. Quit it, Dylan said, slapping her hand. Itll wait until your shower. You can use soap and a washcloth. I liked lying across his legs, looking up at him. I could see under his chin where little shimmers of blond whiskers caught the light and his ponytail hung over his shoulder, bright and messy. It was safe with Dylan, warm. Although I complained about the shower, I liked having someone who knew when our clothes needed to be washed and who made us follow a systemshower, brush and braid hair, brush teeth, lay out clothes for the next day. My sense of worry had calmed a lot since hed arrived. I can see up your nose, I said, giggling. Dylan laughed. Get up, you monkey. Lets read. I scrambled upright. Josie crossed her legs and leaned in, her long, long hair falling like straw over her skinny limbs. Dylan took a breath and turned to the first page. These two very old people . . . Twenty-five years later, in the dusty bookstore with a copy of the same book in my hands, I hold very still to let the cactus spines in my lungs settle. From experience, I know it will get worse before it gets better, that I cant move, only breathe with the shallowest breaths possible, and it will still be like a hand brushing back and forth against the spines, creating waves of deep pain. Each spine is a memoryDad, Dylan, Josie, Mom, me, them, surfing, smoresand all of them ache at once. As I stand there, breathing shallowly, I can sense a person coming down the aisle, but if I move, it will take longer for the ache to disappear, so I stand there, head down, as if I dont know the person is there. Maybe theyll turn around and go back. But they dont. He doesnt. Javier touches my upper arm lightly. Are you all right? I nod tightly. Lift the book to show him Ive been looking at it. With a sensitivity thats rare, he settles one warm palm against the very center of my back and holds out the other for the book. I let go of it. When I can speak, I say, Did you find anything interesting? He gives me a wry grin, one that lights a dimple in his cheek. Many things, but I have learned to just carry one book, or my bag starts to weigh too much for me to lift! He shows me a book of Pablo Neruda poetry. This one for now. But you already have a book. No, I have finished that one. I can leave it behind for someone else. The ache has eased enough that I can laugh a little. Im taking that one, but I do know what you mean. He hands the book back to me. Youll have to tell me about it. Shall we find lunch? Absolutely. At the counter, he sets his book down and holds his hand out for mine. I think about arguing that I have the money, but its a small kindness, and I dont have to push it away. Thank you. The village is geared toward touristsat least it is by the waterfront. I know from experience that the town itself will have normal homes and people and schools and supermarkets. It bemuses me that this tourist town is much like my own, that everywhere the land meets the ocean there is probably some variation on this idea. We have a wealth of options, but I love the look of a sandwich-and-tea shop situated in an old building, and were shown to a table by the window overlooking the harbor and islands and bluffs. Somewhere out there is my sister. Now that I know it for sure, I feel a renewed sense of urgency. How will I find her? You are troubled? I half nod, half shrug, trying to dislodge the emotions the book raised. A little. I dont know how I will find her. I mean, how do you do that in such a large city? You could hire a detective. He gives the word a Spanish inflection. Ive thought of this. Maybe I will if I dont find her another way. Then I straighten. Ive agreed to this day trip with Javier because I didnt want to be lonely, and I owe him my attention for the afternoon. This is an insanely beautiful place, I say. Javier, holding the menu lightly, admires the view along with me. Its restful to look at it. A note in his voice pricks my curiosity. Do you need rest? I ask lightly. I needed time tohe gestures to include the room, the table, the view, meenjoy the world. A youth with a tumble of black curls asks us for a drink order. Im not sure yet what the local standard drinks arewhats an L and P?so I order sparkling water. Charmingly, Javier orders lemonade. We study the menus. I keep seeing kumara on menus. Is it a squash or something? Sweet potato, he says. Miguel explained to me. Eyeing the kumara soup and a whitebait fritter, as well as classic fish and chips, I decide to go for the adventurethe fritter and soup. Javier orders oysters. As he hands the waiter his menu, hes framed against the light from a window behind him. It haloes his hair and the square solidness of his shoulders, casts his profile into reliefhigh brow, powerful nose, full lips. I like the elegance of his shirt. His ease in the world. He taps the book, cradled in a paper bag. Tell me about this. Oh, that. The ache of memory comes flooding back. Did you ever see Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? I know of it. This is the novel it was made from. He nods, his hands loosely clasped in front of him. And? I sip water. My parents sort of adopted a runaway who worked in the restaurant. Dylan. How long has it been since Ive spoken his name? A faint ache runs along my ribs. He lived with us for years and years. And thisI smooth a palm over the coverwas his favorite book. He used to read it to my sister and me. What is the story? A poor boy in the slums of London finds a golden ticket in a chocolate bar and is given a tour of a chocolate factory run by an eccentric man. Why did your friend love it? I consider the question. There is so much I dont know. What his history was, though hed clearly been beaten within an inch of his life, who his family was. All he ever said about his mother was that they used to go to Chinatown sometimes. Aloud, I say, Charlie is a poor boy who finds the winning ticket. Theres magic in a candy factory, right? You miss him. Not just him. How to explain such a tangle of loves? My mother smoking in the kitchen as Dylan read aloud, the smell of coffee thick in the air, my sister chewing on the end of her hair, my dad singing somewhere as he engaged in some physical task. All of them, really. Maybe even my little-girl self. His big hands reach over the table to take one of mine, engulfing it completely. Tell me about them. Oh, I do not want to like him so much. Lust, yes. Not like. I dont know him at all, but in this gesture I feel the heart of a lion, big and inclusive and wise. It tips open the closed doors of my life. I take a breath, think of those days, and again find myself telling him the truth. Maybe its him, or maybe its just time to tell someone. We were wild children, all of us, even Dylan. He must have run away, because he showed up like a ghost one night when he was thirteen or so and just stayed. My mother took him under her wing. I shake my head. Its still a mystery that she did that, but she loved him as much as we did, right from the start. My sister and I adored him. I look out at the water. Even my dad, who was kind of a hard man in some ways, loved him. It was probably the best thing that ever happened to Dylan. Why? I remember his scars, some small and pale; others long, thin lines; others fat and red. I didnt realize it then, you know, but knowing what I know now, he must have been abused physically. It makes my skin hurt to think of it, of his small gentle self, so heartbreakingly beautiful, being punched or cut or burned. His body bore the evidence of all those and more. For a moment, a wave of loss and longing threatens to swamp me, a longing for that time, for Dylan himself, for the terrible things he suffered. He took care of us, Josie and me. Why didnt your parents care for you? The answer is so complicated and so intimate after everything else that Im relieved when the waiter brings a basket of bread and Javier releases my hand. Offering me the basket first, holding it with courtly manners while I select a round brown roll, he selects a seeded one and lifts it to his nose. Mm. Alcaravea, he says. I gesture for it, and he offers the roll so I can look at it. Caraway. Delicious. Every gesture he makes, every expression, is as smooth and graceful as every other. Nothing is hurried or overly considered. He flows moment to moment in a way I dont remember ever noticing in a human before. I smile and butter my bread. And as if he senses Ive reached a wall, he turns the conversation. Tell me, Kitis it Katherine or something else? Were you like a fox kit, and your father gave you the nickname? As he speaks, his gaze is focused intently on my face, as if whatever words drop from my mouth will be endlessly fascinating. I had a professor once who looked at me this way. She was a nun, and I knew her in my third year of undergrad. I bloomed in her presence. Im blooming now. It was my fathers doing, I admit. He thought I looked like a kitten when I was born, and he nicknamed me. My mother still calls me Kitten sometimes, and Dylan used to as well. But everyone else calls me Kit. I was quite a tomboy. Tomboy? I do not think I know this word. Not very girlie. I didnt like dolls or dresses. His hands are stacked, just the fingers, quiet. What did you like? Surfing. Swimming. Something in my spine loosens, and I lean forward, smiling as I remember. Searching for pirate treasure and mermaids. Did you find them? His voice is lower, his dark eyes very direct. I look at his generous mouth, then back up. Sometimes. Not very often. He nods very faintly. Its his turn to look at my mouth. My shoulders, the square of skin showing in my dress. So was it Katherine to start or Kitten? Katherine. It was my fathers mother. And I, sadly, look just like her. Sadly? Why do you say such a thing? I shrug, easing backward, away from that swirling thing growing in the air between us. I dont mind. But I was not my sister or my mother. He tsks. I saw that photo of your sister. She looks small. Wispy. Yes. Never mind this conversation. I didnt mean I know. He grins almost mischievously. I laugh lightly. Youre teasing me. Perhaps just a little. Now you. Tell me something. Why do you have your name? The whole name is Javier Matias Gutierrez Velez de Santos. Impressive. I know. He inclines his head, easing the arrogance. My father is Matias, and my mothers brother was Javier. He was killed by a jealous husband before I was born. I narrow my eyes. Is that true? He raises his hands, palm out. Swear. But I was never the boy who would be killed that way. I had big glasses, you know, thick. His hands went to his eyes to illustrate the shape. And I was a bit fat, and they called me cerdito ciego, little blind pig. Before he even finishes the sentence, Im laughing, the pleasure coming from somewhere in my body that Id forgotten. I dont know that I believe you. I swear, its true. Every word. He glances over his shoulder, leans closer. Do you want to know the secret of my transformation? Yes, please, I whisper. I learned to play guitar. And sing. He nods. And sing. And then, it was like a magic spell. I could sing and play, and nobody called me the little blind pig anymore. I believe that story. Your voice is beautiful. Thank you. His eyes glitter. Usually it doesnt send women running away. No. Im sure. He touches my arm. Will you listen again sometime? That swirling thing expands, engulfs us, and were enclosed in a world of our own. His thumb rests on my inner arm, and I see that his irises are not as dark as they first seemed but lit with amber. Yes, I say quietly, sure I dont mean it. Good. We make one last departure when the ferry stops at Rangitoto. Ordinarily it would just be a pickup, but another ferry has been waylaid, and this one is going to do double duty. We have to wait for an hour for everyone to come off the mountain. Youre welcome to disembark and explore a bit, if ylike, the steward says over the loudspeaker. Be warned well be leaving at sixteen hundred hours. Rather than sit in the hot sun, we opt to explore. Im wearing walking sandals, and Javier is in jeans and good shoes, so we dont go far, just up to the visitors center and a small lagoon where birds hop and twitter and gather. I hear long, fluid whistles and a squished little squawk, and around us are plants Ive never seen. My mother would love it, and shed probably be able to identify many of them. Im drawn down a path shaded by tree ferns and land ferns and a pretty flowering tree. A bird overhead seems to be engaged in a long whistling conversation, and I grin, looking up to see if I can find him, but there are only more ferns and leaves and tropical-looking things. My heart suddenly turns over. How remarkable that Im standing here in this place. Its amazing! The rustle of wings alerts us, and Javier touches my arm, pointing to the bird whos been making so much noise, black with a thick brown saddle over its shoulder. I admire it in wonder, mouthing Wow to Javier, who nods. We wander back to the main dock area, where people, dusty and sunburned as they come down from hiking, are gathering for the trip back to the city. Do you like to hike? I ask Javier. His lips turn down. I dont know. I do like walking. Do you hike? I love it. Being outside like that, all day, just the trail and the birds and the trees. I live by the redwoods. Theyre incredible trees. Mm. Would you want to hike to that peak? He points to the top of the volcano. Its not an actual invitation but a query on preference. I look to the top, shrug. It would be fantastic. He nods, measures the height. I might not care for that. And for the first time, there is something Im not sure I like about him. No surfing, no hiking. Im used to more vigorous men. Then I remember the way he swam, with sure, strong strokes, and realize hes fit enough. Perhaps people in Madrid are not as interested in climbing mountains and challenging waves as those in California. We walk toward the pier and lean on the railing there. A gaggle of teenage boys, all part of some tour group, are jumping off tall concrete pilings to the water below, egging on the others. Did you see the trees across the street from the high-rise? he asks. No. Its hard to look away from the boys and their dangerous game. I wonder whos in charge, but it doesnt really seem as if anyone is. Chill, I tell my inner ER doc. Not everything is a disaster. Javier, following me as I edge farther up the pier, says, I walked there yesterday. Its a little park or something, and the trees are old and full of character. As if they might walk around when no one is watching. I look over at him, snared by the fairy-tale image. Really? Two boys are shouting, drawing our attention, and we watch as they scramble to a higher piling and leap off, yelling. Im tapping my index finger on the railing that separates us from the water. Below us, the boys surface and laugh, and others are scrambling to the higher piling. Tourists and hikers laze against the railing, taking sips of water from bottles, smearing on sunscreen, eating. A very tall boy with messy black hair dripping on his back gets to the top of the piling, joking and laughing with some of the others. I see it before I see ithis foot sliding out from under him on the wet concrete, his body tilting, shifting, arms flying out And his head hits the edge of the concrete, visibly splitting right in front of me. Get out of the way! I yell, and Im kicking off my shoes and shedding my dress practically before the boy hits the water with an excruciating splat. I run to the end of the dock and dive toward the place he went in. The water is cold and murky, but late-afternoon sun illuminates the shape of his body. Another body is in the water with me, and we meet and yank, both of us swimming toward the surface. Blood from his head pours out in a dark cloud. We break the surface. The other rescuer is another boy from the group, a strong swimmer. Head for shore! I yell, and we swim together, dragging the deadweight of the body between us toward the seawall, where others meet us and haul the injured boy upward. Help me up! I cry. Im a doctor. And there are hands hauling me too, and Im beside the boy, giving him mouth-to-mouth until he chokes and expels a gutful of water, but that doesnt raise him to consciousness. His head is bleeding heavily. Give me your shirt, I order the other boy, and he tugs it off and hands it to me. Squeezing out the excess water, I press it to the cut, holding it there as I check his vitals and his pupils, but his eyes are so black its hard to tell. He needs a hospital, fast. A man from the ferry appears with another guy in a uniform, maybe coast guard. Thank you, miss, he says. That was amazing. Weve got it. Two forest-ranger types are running down the beach with a stretcher, and I see a boat with a cross on it. The crowd parts for the paramedics, because that must be what they are. I keep my hands on the cut, and one of them nods. Youre a lifeguard? Once. Now Im an ER doctor, back in the States. Good work. You probably saved his life. He takes over holding pressure, and they load him onto a stretcher. I stand up and knock the sand off my knees, and a group of people starts clapping. I shake my head, wave a hand dismissively, and look for Javier, who is standing to one side with my dress and shoes in his hand. I take in a breath and blow it out, hands on my waist. Its a classic calming pose. As he reaches me, I glance down at my ordinary bra and panties. Glad I wore the good underwear. He smiles, offering me my dress. Are you all right? Fine. I tug the fabric over my head, my heavy wet braid knocking to one side. You disappeared before I Instinct. I was a lifeguard for a decade. I smooth the dress down. The panties will dry soon enough, but the underwire on the bra is going to be a misery. For a moment, I wonder if I should walk up to the ladies room and delicately remove it, but the entire beach has seen me half-naked already. Give me some cover, will you? He glances over his shoulder, still holding my sandals, and moves his body to block me from view. The seawall is behind me. I reach beneath the dress, unhook the bra, and tug it off my arms and wad it up. Is my bag anywhere? Here. Hes looped it over his shoulder so its hanging down his back, and now he slides it down to give to me. I toss the bra inside, take one shoe and brush it off, slide a foot in, do the same on the other side, then pull out a bottle of water and take a long, lukewarm swallow. Only then do I inhale deeply and let it out in a slow breath, looking up at Javier. Im used to emergencies, but this came out of nowhere, and Im a little giddy. Are you impressed? He lifts his aviator glasses and licks his lower lip, reaching out to brush my cheek. Yes. Good. He takes a breath now and lets it out, throwing an arm around me. You frightened me. Lets find a drink, hmm? Great idea. We settle on the top of the ferry again, toward the back against the rails, and Javier leaves me to go down to the snack bar. In his absence, I watch the vast sky. Clouds are gathering on the horizon, moving like theyre on fast-forward, and before he returns, theyve rushed over the sun, bringing a pearly gray light to the scene. Hes carrying two beers when he returns, and we clink bottles. Im unsettled and restless and conscious of his body alongside mine. The beer is cold and delicious. Refreshing. Thank you. Youre a doctor. Yes. ER in Santa Cruz. ER? Emergency room. Ah. He sips his beer and watches a family of tourists settling on a row of seats, and I watch too. The mom is hassled, directing her three kids to put their hats back on, to stop tossing a ball among them, to sit down and stop leaning over the rail. The dad is bent over his phone. That would account for your speed. He makes a soft sound, looks at me. One moment you were standing beside me, and the next you were in the water. Heres the thingit wasnt really that sudden. I was worried about those boys, and youll notice I was in place when one fell. I smooth a hand over my thigh, which feels restless. Im a surfer, and I was a lifeguard, and you see the injuries in the ER all the time . . . so while all of you were enjoying the spectacle of youth and energy, I was imagining all the things that could go wrong. For a moment, he looks at me, his sunglasses hiding his eyes. Will he be all right, that boy? I dont know. He hit his head pretty damn hard. Does it make you afraid, knowing what you know? Stop you from doing things? I settle sideways so I can look at him more easily, leaning my back against the railing. Not physical things. His eyes glitter. What things, then, hmm? I look away, over his shoulder, thinking of my rules about men, my lack of travel, the empty spaces in my life, and suddenly feel a welter of tears at the back of my throat, which is not me at all. I feign nonchalance with a one-shoulder shrug. I already knew bad things could happen. Ah, the earthquake, yes? Among other things. Is that what led you to the emergency room? Maybe? Probably. I pick at the label of my beer. I always wanted to study science in some way, but that was a big event. He touches my forearm with one finger. Were you injured? Scratches and bruises. Nothing much. I feel suddenly breathless at the pressure of so many memories rising up after so long. My sister, Dylan, the earthquake. I lift a hand. Enough. Your turn, Se?or Velez. Ive been talking about myself all day. He smiles. The wind blows his hair over his forehead. Hes such a masculine man. European, so polished, but so very male. His big hands. His broad shoulders. His strong nose and intelligent brow. I am not as interesting as you are. That is not true. My body is starting to relax a little after the adrenaline rush. Tell me why you really came to New Zealand. Not just to visit? I shake my head, go with a gut feeling. I dont think so. Youre right. He looks out toward the horizon, back to me. A very good friend of mine, one of my oldest friends, killed himself. Damn. The lake of my memories ripples, threatens to spill. A flash of Dylans dead, still self washes out of the lake, but Im a master at ridding myself of those images. I sit up straight, taking refuge in my professional training. Javier, Im so sorry. In compassion, I wrap my hand around his. I shouldnt have pushed. He turns his palm upward, captures my hand close. We had been friends since we were small. Very small. I felt I should have seen. Done . . . something. His face darkens as he focuses on the horizon. I just . . . He sighs. After, I found it difficult to take up my work, and Miguel invited me to come here for a time. He brushes his thumb over my fingernail. Suicide is especially difficult for survivors, I say, and its too much my ER voice. I force myself to be more human. Personal. You must miss him terribly. I keep wishing for it to make sense. It doesnt, always. I suppose you see it often, in your work. He gives me a sideways look, still holding my hand. I swallow back another confession. Yes. Is it difficult? Hes raw and seeking a comfort that doesnt exist, at least not a comfort I can offer. Its unsettling when a person dies violently in any form. He waits quietly, and I have opened the box, this heavy box Ive been dragging around with me. Drugs and alcohol. The stupid, stupid things people do. I shake my head. So many kids. And gangs. Good God, sometimes theyre so young they dont know how to kiss, and theyre carrying guns. Mm. His thumb edges over the top of mine. Into the quiet, I say something I have only thought, never spoken aloud. Ive been thinking about leaving the ER. Its wearing me down. What would you do instead? I focus on the shape of his fingers, the tidiness of his nails. Well-tended hands. I have no idea. Something else is calling you. Maybe. My interest as a teen was in marine animals, but it might be too late to return to that. I dont know. Maybe it isnt even the job as much as the place. Maybe its time to escape Santa Cruz. I feel disheartened, as if Ive wasted a lot of time. Tell me about your friend. If you want to. He takes a breath, lets it go. Its all a tangle still. It hasnt been very long, only a month. He had a bad time. His wife left him, and he was drinking too much, and He shrugs. There are seasons of darkness, yes? Loss and sadness all around. He tightens his grip. But if you are patient, the circle turns, and then there is happiness all around, everything good, everyone happy. He flings a hand out, palm up, as if scattering glitter. My friend, he just forgot that happiness is part of living too. Thats a lovely thought. I smile sadly. But Im going to admit something terribleand I know I am doing this to skirt around the other things I could be spillingbut aside from when I was a child, I dont know that Ive had those happy times. Never? I run through the years of my life mentally, trying to find a cycle that was particularly outstanding. Not really. I mean, I was glad to get my degree and get out of school and go to work, but . . . A small frown wrinkles his brow. Perhaps we are not talking about the same thing. I mean those times when your family is well and you have work you love and maybe you fall in love and feel good. Those times. Im happy right now. I sip my beer, look at the water. Im in this beautiful place and enjoying the company of an interesting andI raise one browquite good-looking man. Im not dealing with work or my mother or any of my daily things. Thats happiness, right? The ferry is beginning to move, and a gust of wind makes me close my eyes and put my hand in my hair. When I open them again, Javier has raised his glasses to look at me. That is a little happy. Not big, not the kind that fills you up and makes you want to laugh. Yeah, I dont know that Ive had that. Its unnerving to realize it, unnerving how much Ive revealed to this man. And yet I cant stop. Something about himhis kindness or his warm voice or something I cant even namesoftens the carapace Ive carried around for so long. He asks, When you fall in love? I shrug. I dont want to say aloud that I dont do that, because then he might think its a challenge, and it isnt. I just dont want all the drama. He inclines his head, puzzling over me, then captures a lock of my hair and tucks it behind my ear. His mouth turns up on one side, activating that ridiculously charming dimple. Now I am convinced that you have not known the right men. He settles his beer on the ground, then takes mine. I have been thinking today about kissing you. Ive thought of that too. One hand runs up my arm, and he follows the motion with his gaze. I thought of it in the bookstore, when you looked so sad, but it was not quite right. His hand moves over my shoulder, up to my neck. And as we came out of the caf?, you smiled up at me, and your throat looked long and golden. His fingers alight against my throat, slide to my clavicle. All the nerves in my body rustle to life, and yet Im enjoying the slow caress. When you leaped over the railing, my heart squeezed so hard I could not breathe, because what ifnow he touches my ear, my temple, my wet hair, and pulls me closerwhat if I had lost the chance? I lift my face, and he cradles my head as our lips join. And then I forget to keep my guard up or shield myself with cynicism, because his mouth is as lush as plums, and he shifts slightly to fit us together more perfectly. My head is in his palm and the front of my knee against his thigh, and its like a fragrant smoke surrounds us, makes me dizzy. Behind my eyes, the world is faintly rose. I reach out a hand to brace myself, holding on to his upper arm, and as if Ive asked permission, he opens his lips slightly and invites me in, and I go, I go, reach for his tongue and it reaches mine, and then Im lost in it, a kiss so perfect it might be a poem, or a dance, or something Ive dreamed. With a little gasp I pull back, covering my mouth with my hand as I look up to his dark eyes, eyes that crinkle a little at the corners. He smooths back my hair from my forehead. Is that happiness too? I let go of a soft laugh. I dont know. Let me try again. And I pull him closer, lean back, and invite him to press into me as the ferry chugs across the water and the family nearby shrieks over raindrops that start to fall. Im aware of a big drop that splashes on my forehead and a pair that plop on my hand, but mostly what Im feeling is Javiers mouth kissing me; and Javiers body close to mine; and Javiers graceful tongue, which I want on me everywhere; and Javiers back, which I want naked. And it doesnt matter when there is more rain, a slow, soft patter that falls on us all the way to the CBD. We only press closer and kiss more. I taste the salt on his lips from the sea and the rain, and were soaked and kissing and lost. And I dont even think for a moment to consider this might be dangerous. That I mightthat I have let down all my guards. I just kiss him. In the rain. On a ferry halfway around the world. Kiss him, and kiss him, and kiss him. Chapter Twelve Mari I met Nan years ago in Raglan, a town on the central coast of the North Island known for great surfing. I was waiting tables in Hamilton and had only just begun to allow myself to surf again, fearful of running into someone I might know. Raglan was only a few miles away, and I drove out there on the weekdays, when the crowds were small and passionate, to ride the left-breaking waves. By then it had been nearly two and a half years since Id fled France on the passport of a dead girl, and I had since discarded that identity too, to become Mari Sanders from Tofino, British Columbia. I found a guy to make me the papers I needed and trashed the original passport, scattering it from Queensland, where I first arrived, all the way north. I had not had a single mind-altering substance, not so much as a mouthful of beer, in 812 days. It was the thing that made the rest worth it and the only thing I believed would save me: to be sober, I had to leave the wreck of my old life and make a new one. Never look back. On the beach the first day, I met Nan. Tall, skinny, black-haired, she was a law student at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, and had grown up, as I had, surfing. We clicked, respectful of each others chops. Within months, we lived together in Hamilton and surfed every time we could manage. I worked in a caf? and enrolled at Wintec, the equivalent of community college. I started in cookery and hospitality, thinking of my familys restaurant, but it was a hard-partying group, and I found myself struggling against the wave of their happy drunkenness. I made friends with a woman in landscape design and construction and made the switch. Much to my surprise, it was a perfect fit. I liked working outside, loved working with my body, and once I started to understand the basics of horticulture with a range of plants Id never seen, I fell in love. Nan finished her law degree a year later and moved to Auckland, but I stayed in Hamilton, surfing Raglan on the weekends, making a life for myself. We kept in touch, and when Simon, an Auckland native, wooed me north, our friendship took up where it had left off. Once or twice a month now, we meet for dinner near her law offices in the CBD and catch up. Tonight I find parking almost immediately and walk down to the Britomart and our special restaurant, an Italian one that reminds us both of childhood. Nan stands in front, sleek and skinny, her hair swept up in a French knot that suits her cheekbones. Theyre having a special event, she says. Well have to go elsewhere. No worries. Any preference? Mind walking a few blocks? Theres a Spanish guitarist at the tapas place. Everyone is talking about him. Sounds great. Lets go. She takes a few steps, then halts. Oh, wait. The girl wanted to talk to you. The girl? Yes. The pretty one with all the hair? She said she wanted to see you when you arrived. About? I dont know. We both half-heartedly peer into the busy restaurant. Im sure it will wait, I say. Im starving. Me too. She links arms with me energetically, and we stride up the hill, exchanging small bits of news. A case shes been working on has come to fruition at last. She knows about the house, and I tell her about the day with Rose, checking things out. At the tapas bar, we settle outside on the bricked alleyway, away from the crowds standing three deep at the bar, mostly made up of well-dressed millennials from the local offices. Popular, I comment. Its Friday night. She orders a martini for herself and sparkling water with lime for me, and we start with roasted Padr?n peppers and stuffed olives with bread. Overhead, the sky among buildings is a golden spill of light, bright with distant rain. I feel myself relax. Tell me, I say. Do you have a theory about who killed Veronica Parker? The Maori actress? The one who built Sapphire House. Right. She was also Maori. Its one of the things that set her apart. I remember. Shes a fascinating figure. Nan pops an olive in her mouth, eyeing a man in a very formal suit. In general, people dress well for work here, unlike the more casual United States. I dont know why someone hasnt done a big book on her by now. New Zealand girl makes good in Hollywood, falls in love with another native New Zealander at the Olympic games. They have a mad love affair for years, and shes murdered. Dont forget he died too. Right. It was only another year or two, right? Yeah. The peppers are small and mild, my favorites in all the world, and theyre perfectly roasted and salted here. I nestle one into an envelope of soft bread and take a bite. Maybe it was his wife? They cleared her almost immediately. She was with her family or something. I dont remember exactly. Gweneth is a fanatic for the history of Auckland, and the three of us have speculated before, over book club snacks and various meals. I was grateful that the two of them liked each other. My two best friends, and as close as I could get to replicating the experience of being a sister. Not the wife. Not Veronicas sister, I said, ticking them off. Not George. Then who? Nan lifted a shoulder, skeptical. My money is still on George. They never found any evidence, but he was notoriously jealous. In the case of a violent death at home, its nearly always a loved one who did it. But he adored her. Yes, but he was under a lot of pressure to No. I just dont see it. There were never reports of domestic violence, no violence at all. Enjoying the discussion, I lean my elbows on the table. My father was a jealous man, but he would never have killed my mother. She inclines her head. I dont know that I remember you mentioning this before. I realize that I was speaking of my actual father, not the father I made up. For a moment, a chill halts me. Ive never been so careless! But Nan is looking at me expectantly. Maybe it will ease my sense of loneliness to tell the parts of my story that I can. I dont think about it very muchwhich is a lie; I compartmentalize, but they all haunt me anywaybut he was. Traditional Italian man, of course, and my mom was not at all traditional. They had a volatile relationship. She was quite a bit younger than he was and very beautiful. Very, very, very, very beautiful. Had this voluptuous figure that my dad liked to see in expensive, fitted dresses. Go on. I think she liked him to be jealous. I take a sip of lime-flavored water, opening the door to that world ever so slightly. Im cautious, afraid of the flood of things lurking, but a minuscule bit of tension I havent been aware of holding gives way. It was how she controlled him. Men were always flirting with her, coming on to her, and she encouraged it. I see her in my minds eye in a slim red dress with a low, square neckline that showed off a lot of cleavage, laughing on the patio overlooking the ocean. My father fetched her, grabbing her by the wrist and tugging her behind him to a dark alcove beneath the wisteria that grew in thick ropes over the pergola. He pushed her against the post, into the leaves and flowers, and kissed her. I saw their tongues and the way they pressed their bodies together. My mother laughed, and my father let her go, swatting her behind as she sashayed back out to the patio and all their guests. Enchanted by her power, I sashayed right behind her, imitating the swing of her hips and the way she tossed her hair. I wore a chiffon negligee shed cut down for me, and the sheer black fabric flowed around my nine-year-old body in a way that was exhilarating. To feel it all the more, I spun around in a circle, sending it spinning outward, knowing my shorts and bikini top were mostly hidden. Air touched my belly, my thighs. Nearby, a woman laughed, and a man clapped lightly. Suzanne, your daughter is a natural. Delighted by their attention, I played it up, twirling for their pleasure, dancing the way my mother danced, swinging my hips, shimmying my shoulders, and I knew when I captured them, my audience. A circle of faces, all turned to me as if I were the sun, as if I were a queen. A body swooped in and picked me up. Dylan, who tossed me over his shoulder. School night, kiddo, he said. Wave good night. I arched my back like an ice dancer, pointing my toes and lifting my shoulders high, flinging kisses with both hands. The patrons loved me and clapped and whistled as Dylan carted me away. Hel-lo? Nan says. Sorry. I just thought of something I hadnt remembered in a long time. I grin. I wonder if Veronica tried to make George jealous. Maybe it didnt work, but the other person got possessive. It must have been a bit more than possessive. She was stabbed a dozen times or more, wasnt she? Mm. Thats passion. Again, I see my parents in my imagination, but this time much later, my mother throwing somethingan ashtray? A highball glass?at him. Nan adds, Im sure you can find society news about them. They were a very big deal in this town at the time. Glamorous, exotic, passionate. Did George live with her outright? Youd have to ask Gweneth, but Im pretty sure he did. His wife made their lives a misery, but they lived at Sapphire House. I nod, narrowing my eyes to think a bit more. And there, walking past the end of the street, is a woman wearing a wrinkled red sundress with a thick braid falling down her back. A man walks with his arm over her shoulder and dips to kiss her, as if he cant resist, and theres something in the tilt of her head that electrifies me. Im on my feet, ready to run after her, my sister. Kit. She disappears around the corner, and I realize Im being ridiculous. All the thoughts of home, the longing to understand this house and its owner, have made me a little homesick, thats all. But I wish fiercely for one long moment that it really had been her. As I drive over the bridge, the memory of that night on the patio wafts around, still in the days before my parents started fighting so bitterly. Where was Kit that night? I search the memory and cant see her anywhere. Maybe she was reading in our room. No. Dylan set me on my feet by a banquette away from the action, so often empty. Cinder was asleep on the floor beneath the table, and tucked into one corner was my sister, her hair wild from dancing with me earlier. Shed shucked off the blue negligee my mother gave her and slept in a pair of shorts and a dirty T-shirt. Dylan reached down and picked her up, and she fell on his shoulder, nestling in close. He loved her more than he loved me, just like my dad did, and it made me mad. I danced away in my bare feet, wading onto the dance floor. I heard him call me. Josie, come on! Its time for bed. My mother, in her silly voice, enfolded my hand in hers. Never mind, Dylan. Shes with me. I stuck my tongue out at Dylan, sure that would make him come after me, but he gave me an irritated glance and shook his head, carrying Kit around the back of the restaurant. I knew the drill. Hed make sure she brushed her teeth, then tuck her in, and if she woke up, hed tell her a story. I almost ran after them, but my mother said, Dance with Mama, sweetie, and twirled me around. Billy was there that night. Id seen my mother flirting with him, even though he was super young, just a teenager or something, a young TV star whod originally started coming with his agent; my parents loved when he showed up, bringing the promise of cachet. He had black hair and blue eyes, and everyone said he was going to be a very big star. He came over to dance with my mom and offered a hand to me, and I forgot about my baby sister getting all the attention. The door to the past slams shut. A lifetime of secrets and lies later, I drive through the dark back to my neighborhood. Tears run down my cheeks, and I wonder who theyre for. My sister, Dylan? Or maybe that little girl dancing wildly for the entertainment of drunken adults? I dont remember if Dylan came back and made me go to bed, but I do remember drinking sips of Billys beer and the way I giggled over him pouring it into a coffee cup so no one would know I was drinking. It bubbled up my nose and took away my sadness and made me dance all the more, looking up at the stars, dancing with the ocean, with the night sky, with Billy, and with a lady who came over later to twirl me around. I remember tiptoeing around to the empty tables and sneaking sips of cocktails left in the dregs of glasses. I remember thinking I could do anything, be anything. Anything. Chapter Thirteen Kit We walk up the hill together quietly. Javier throws his arm around my shoulders, which has never been comfortable before, but our heights and gaits make it seem very relaxed, so I dont shimmy away as I ordinarily would. In truth, Im crashing after the long, eventful day. Hes quiet too, humming under his breath sometimes, mostly just walking with me. I wonder if hes thinking of his friend back in Madrid. He hasnt said much about his life there, but maybe hes just glad to be away. As I am. I try to think about my sister, how to find her, but I cant summon any urgency. Ill get back to the search tomorrow. After all, shes been missing for more than fourteen years. Shes probably not going anywhere. For once, my overactive brain is quiet. Its cooler tonight after the rain, and its easy to see that its Friday night. The streets are packed with students and young professionals. Music spills out of the establishments we pass. Its getting dark. I dont have much to eat in my apartment, and my dress is a mess. Im getting very hungry. Should we drag a pizza back? I dont have anything but coffee and eggs in my room. Are you inviting me over? I might have run away before but not tonight. I nod. I have food, he says. Would you like to come to my flat? You cook? I am a good cook. Are you? My father would have expected nothing less. I smile up at him, and that too is a luxury. So rare that someone is taller than me. Im an especially good baker. Whats your specialty? Cake. We dont make such sweet cakes in Spain as some places. Do you know Tarta de Santiago? Yes. Almond, so delicious. Do you know how to cook that cake? I have never done it before, but I would imagine I could. Maybe you will one day. He winks. For me. Maybe so. As if there are more than a scattering of days ahead of us. At the hotel, we ride the elevator up, and he leans in to kiss me. Will you let me cook for you? Yes. I get off on my floor to shower and change, and he continues on. In the hallway leading to my door, Im alone for the first time all day, and suddenly everything feels like a dream. I slam back into my body all at once, and it feels sad and exhausting, and all my problems are piled up, waiting for me. The question of why my sister faked her own death, where she is, the strangely clear recognition now that Im at a distance that Im no longer happy in the ER. I wonder how Hobo is doing without me. I wonder if I should call my mom again, but it was only this morning that we talked. It feels like so much longer. I climb in the luxurious shower, washing away seawater and blood and rain from my body and my hair. The shampoo smells of tangerines. I close my eyes and work up the suds, enjoying the fragrance Im back on the ferry, pressed against the railing as Javier kisses me, and Im transported, his lush mouth, his exquisite skill, his way of holding my head so gently I snap my eyes open. Is this a good idea? Really? Through the glass of the shower, I see my blurry reflection in the steamy mirror. I think of my admission that I havent had much happiness, and it suddenly seems ridiculous. What am I waiting for? Maybe for once in my life I might like to get a glimmering of what that feels like. It seems that he might know how to access it, where to find it. If I can grasp a day or two of happiness, why not? A soft voice of warning tries to tell me hes dangerous to my equilibrium. I shush it, eager for once to enjoy something a little reckless. Its only for a few days. Nothing too deep can take root in such a short time, surely. So I dry my hair and leave it in loose curls and wear simple clothes that he can take off when its time, and I go upstairs. Hes several floors above me, on a floor with fewer apartments. I stand before his door and pause for a moment, touching my stomach. Music plays quietly, and I hear the clank of a pan or dish. A scent of browning onions fills the air. What am I doing? He is a lot more . . . everything . . . than I ordinarily let myself get mixed up in. I dont date suitable men. Not the surgeon who pursued me for more than six months before he finally realized I really meant it. Not the fit colonel who came in with a snapped wrist and charmed me with his chocolaty eyes. The men I sleep withand lets be clear that I am standing in this hallway with sex on my mindare like the surfer from last summer, or the bartender at the restaurant I like to have dinner in a few times a month, or even the robust coworker of my mothers, dark-skinned and charming and getting a bit long in the tooth for his dream of breaking into the music business. If I compare Javier to Chris, the surfer, theyre not even the same species. Javier is a grown-up, a man so comfortable with himself that he makes moving in the world look easy. Every inch of my skin wants his hands. My ears want that sonorous voice. My mouth wants his lips. And my belly, it reminds me, wants food. I raise my hand and knock. He opens the door and, with a flourish of a tea towel, invites me in. I was afraid you might change your mind, he says. I think of how long I stood in front of the door. You promised me food. I very rarely turn that down. He brushes my hair over my shoulder, touches the side of my neck. Is it the food you came for? I look up at him. Shake my head. A smile edges his mouth, and with one hand, he brushes my cheek. Good. Please sit down. Let me pour you a glass of wine. I wander more deeply into the apartment. This one is at least double the size of mine, with a separate bedroom and a proper, glitzy kitchen made all of aqua glass and stainless steel. The styles are different from what Im used to. The taste of Aucklanders. His unit sits on the corner, and a balcony stretches from one set of glass doors in the living room around the corner to the bedroom, all overlooking the city center and the harbor beyond. I love this building. Its so . . . extravagant, isnt it? I feel pampered. You can see the building on postcards and coffee cups. Really? Yes. He brings me a generous glass of white wine. A local vintage. See if you like it. Thanks. I sip gingerly, aware that Im teetering on the shores of a lake made of exhaustion and sexual tension and jet lag, but the wine is like a breeze, sharp and clean, not too sweet. Fantastic. Good. He heads back to the kitchen. Hes changed clothes from earlier, and his hair is damp at the ends. He wears a pair of jeans with a Henley in heathered blue. The fabric lies easily over his skin, tastefully clinging to his torso. What are you cooking? So simple, tortilla espa?ola. Do you know it? I shake my head. His sleeves are tugged up on his forearms, and the cup towel is over his shoulder as he tilts a wide skillet and shakes the potatoes and onions within. The potatoes are slightly crisped on the outside, the onions translucent, and my stomach growls as he salts the mix, then scoops it into a bowl with raw whipped eggs. This is everywhere in Madrid, like sandwiches in the States. Are there a lot of sandwiches? I dont know that I ever noticed. He makes a noise. So many sandwiches! Every place has sandwiches! Turkey sandwiches, hamburgers, grilled cheese, and submarines. I laugh. Just subs. The submarine would be the boat that goes underwater. Yes. His grin is quick, crinkles the sun lines on his face. Subs. I like them. With ham and salami and all those vegetables. Me too. I like hamburgers too. Cheeseburgers, especially, the sloppier the better. Cheeseburgers are excellent. He scrapes the pan and adds a fresh layer of oil, adroitly turning the pan side to side to spread it evenly. He holds his hand a few inches above the burner to test the heat and then settles the pan back down, pours in the egg and potato mix. This is where the danger is, he says with some seriousness. We must be very patient, let the eggs cook slowly. We both watch the eggs, watch the edges and then the middle dry slightly, and when the texture arrives at some particular level, he picks up the pan and, with a deft gesture, flips the flat omelet into the air and catches it to brown on the other side. Leaning on the counter, he gives me one raised brow and a sideways smile. Are you impressed? I laugh at my words coming back to me. Yes. I am very impressed. When the eggs finish, we sit side by side on the couchThere is a table, but look where it is, against the wall, so crampedlooking out to the view of the harbor. The eggs are perfect, the potatoes and the onions and all of it blending into a homey, satisfying meal. We both fall to eating like hungry puppies. So good, I manage. I need to add this to my short list of things to cook after work. I take a sip of wine. Except that I never seem to remember to buy eggs. His plate is empty. Do you want some more? Yes. If it isnt too piggy. He laughs and fills my plate again, sitting with me. We watch the lights across the harbor. The music has shifted to soft Spanish guitar, a sound that almost has a color, a pale, early green that winds around the room, sprouting flowers. I think of him on the stage, bending in to sing a love song. Surely, he says after a moment, there are market deliveries for a busy woman such as yourself. I myself would starve without them. I shrug. I just always tell myself Im going to shop, and then I pop in and buy cat food and milk and forget everything else. Ive made short work even of the second plate, and I dont know if its just anticipation or genuine hunger, but I dab my lips carefully. He takes my plate and sets it atop his on the coffee table and now moves closer, brushing my hair away from my neck. Tell me about your cat. His name is Hobo, I say, closing my eyes as his mouth falls on the bend between neck and shoulder. I like cats, he says quietly. Hes black. A feral I rescued. I turn toward him, settling my hands on his face so that I can kiss him properly. His jaw is exquisitely smooth, much smoother than it was on the ferry. I stroke the clean skin. You shaved. Yes, he murmurs, and kisses me back. As it was on the ferry, we kiss for a long time, and I marvel that only kissing can fill so much need. Then he stands and offers his hand, and I follow him to the bedroom. I take off my shirt and help him with his, and then my bra is gone, and our skin slides together as we kiss again and again, with increasing heat, my breath hurried and ragged as he slides his hands beneath the soft waist of my pants and helps me get out of them. I reach for his jeans, but he says, Allow me. And then were on the bed, naked, and Im so hungry I almost want to bite him. So I do bite him, his shoulder. The size of his body excites me. His tongue excites me. His mouth, his teeth nipping me, his hands gripping me so hard. Its a very physical, almost rough joining, and Im glad of it, glad of the slamming energy, glad of the feeling of him in me, his urgency, and my own powerful grip. I wrap my legs hard around him, and we move, and move, and move. My voice is guttural, our skin slick, and we tumble over and lie there together in the dark, panting. Oh my God, I whisper against his ear, sucking the lobe into my mouth. Mm, he agrees, and raises his head. For a long moment, he looks at me; then very gently he kisses me. So lovely. And then were side by side, my body tucked up against his, which I ordinarily dont like but feels good when I am so far from home, so far out of my depth. His body is bigger than mine at every point, and it makes me feel safe and sheltered, and because Im so tired, I fall into a deep and dreamless sleep, far, far, far away. Again the dream arrives. Im sitting on a rock in the cove, with Cinder beside me. Were staring out to the restless ocean, and in the distance, Dylan is riding his surfboard, not even wearing a wet suit, only his yellow-and-red board shorts. Hes happy, really happy, and thats why I dont want to warn him that the wave is breaking up. And then it throws him, and he disappears into the sea. Cinder barks and barks and barks, but Dylan doesnt surface. The water goes still, and there is nothing to see but silvery water all the way to the horizon. I jerk awake, glad of the weight of Javier anchoring me. My heart is racing, and I have to take a deep breath. Calm down. Calm down. Just a dream. Are you all right? Javier asks. Yes. Just a weird dream. My bladder insists on attention, so I toss back the covers and pad naked into the bathroom. My teeth are disgusting from the wine, so I squeeze a little of his toothpaste onto a finger and rub my teeth; then I swish it around in my mouth and pad back to the bedroom. Now that Im up, I probably should really return to my apartment, but Javier tosses back the covers, and I slide in, happy for a glimpse of his bare hip, his navel. His hair is tousled and wild, and it makes me smile as I settle in next to him. One arm falls around me. I fall too into the quiet comfort of him next to me. Its dawn when I awaken again. Buttery light spreads across the water beyond the windows, splashes into the high-rises around us. Within, Javier is sleeping next to me, his arms flung out in front of him, his face in repose. Beneath the sheet, he is naked, and I lift it up to look. Its a gorgeous body. Do you like it? he says in a soft voice. Quite a bit, I say. I glance at him but dont lower the sheet, instead making a show of staring. It stirs me, and I can tell its stirring him too. I smile and drop the sheet. Good morning. He narrows his eyes. Are you cheerful in the mornings? Not usually. I can be downright surly. How about you? I have been working nights a very long time, and in Madrid that can be very late indeed. You havent told me what you do, I say. He lifts up the sheet, looks at my body, and makes a soft ooof before he moves closer. He tosses the sheet away from us with irritation and goes back to his task. I let him, enjoying the tilt of his back, long and muscular as he examines me. Your body is a wilderness, he says softly, and brushes his fingers over my ribs, my belly, slides between my thighs, kisses my belly button, continues down my leg. His buttocks, strong and high, are in my reach, and as he explores my curves, I shape my palm around his and slide down the back of his thighs, dipping between his legs to hear his rumbling. I laugh softly, and he rises up on his knees, offering himself. I reach for him. Full-frontal nudity. I like it. And now, we make love more playfully, taking time to stop and admire and ask with a glance or a sound if this or that, that or that, is the best thing. He lingers over my body, stroking and kissing, and as I imagined, his mouth is everywhere, all over me, and I return the exploration, and then were falling into each other as the sun slides into the room through glass doors. Lying against him in the puddles of sunshine, thoroughly and deeply sated, I realize what I never understood about grown-up men is how much more they would have learned about womens bodies on their journey. Or perhaps its only Javier himself, who raises his head and leans on his elbow, brushing my hair out of my face with one hand, carefully tucking it behind my ears. An ache hits my chest at that, but I dont move. Light cascades over his powerful nose and backlights his hair, and there are marks on his shoulder from my biting him. I touch one spot. Sorry about that. I got carried away. He blinks slowly, moves his thigh against mine. I dont mind. It will warn the women away. Do they come at you in droves? I ask with some amusement. Not so much as when I was a little younger, but yes, still a lot. I give him a frown. Are you being serious right now? He lifts one index finger and rolls sideways to pick up his phone, opens an app, and then shows me the screen. On it is an album cover and a photo of a man bending over his guitar. A woman in the shadows stares at him. The title of the album is in Spanish, but I can read the name, Javier Velez, and I recognize those hands. This is the work that keeps you up late? He nods almost sadly. I look around the enormous suite of rooms, recognition dawning. This is a very expensive suite. Are you famous? Not here. He leans on his hand, splendidly naked, and I wonder if anyone from the office buildings is looking in, seeing his well-shaped behind. I grin. Are you famous somewhere? Perhaps a little. In the Latin world, they know my songs. The idea sinks in slowly, and rather than making me nervous, it eases my worry. If hes some big star, then Im a distraction for him just as he is a distraction for me. I suppose I will have to listen to more than one song next time. He dips a finger over my navel, draws a circle around it. Will you come tonight? I rise up, pushing him backward and spreading my body over the top of his like icing on a cake, my hands on his arms. I might have to shop for something nicer to wear. He lets himself be frosted with me, his eyes shining, his lips ever so faintly tilted into a smile. I like the red dress. I kiss his neck. Ill find another red dress. I crawl up to kiss him, long and slow, enjoying the plumpness of his lips, the scent of his skin. You smell better than any man Ive ever met. Do I? Burying my face into his neck, I inhale deeply. Like the ocean and dew and . . . something. I try to figure it out, something spicy, but I cant pull it in, and then we are switched, he icing the cake of my body, his hands in my hair. That is very sexy, he whispers, and bends into my neck, inhales, and sucks my skin there, once, then again, and again, and again. And somehow we are making love again, slowly, tumbling one more time into each other, into pleasure. A little later, Im wrapped in a sheet, and hes wearing a pair of boxer briefs. Were drinking coffee he made in a French press and eating flaky pastries he produced from somewhere, along with little green fruits I thought were limes at first. Feijoa, he said, and sliced one open to reveal a medieval cross of seeds within a soft fruit like a kiwi. It tastes powdery and sweet, a little like a pear. Delicious. He scoops the fruit out of the skin with a small spoon, nodding. With a finger, he strokes the discreet tattoo on my inner arm, mermaid scales with little sister written along the outside edge. Josie has a matching one. Will you tell me about your sister? I look out toward the harbor, where a sailboat is a crisp white triangle gliding toward the sea. Its hard to talk about her. Hes silent, giving me space to move forward or not. But I am soft and wide open from making love, my carapace dissolved for the moment in a tsunami of touch. I take a breath. She wasistwo years older than me. I adored her when we were kids. My parents were notI sighall that great at parenthood, so until Dylan arrived, Josie took care of me. He gives me a nod. I sip my coffee, holding the cup between my hands. She was a happy kid, honestly. Mischievous but never bad. She didnt like school, but she didnt get in trouble that I remember. And then . . . I shrug. Then? She changed. Its hard to remember, exactly, but she started getting in trouble, stealing sips of drinks from customers, particularly the men, and then as we got a little older, she stole beers out of the bar and things like that. His fingers move on my ankle. Your parents did nothing? I dont know if they even noticed. My stomach burns a little, and I rub it, straightening my back. Amazing how much it still stresses me out. They were fighting, very passionate fights, yelling, throwing things, all that, and they just didnt pay any attention to what was going on with Josie. And what about you? Who took care of you? Dylan, I say simply. The runaway. Like your brother? Yes. And he read to you. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I smile. Yes. And many others. He took care of you and your sister? Yes. He worked as a sous chef in the restaurant, but he lived with us. I suck my lip into my mouth, thinking about how to explain Dylan. He had some problems, but honestly I dont know how we would have gotten along without him. He was the one who got us up for school, the one who made sure we had shoes when others got too tight. He always looked at my homework right when I got home from school, even if he had a girlfriend there, which was pretty much all the time. I am filled with the ghost of the feeling Id had on those afternoons, sitting with Dylan and Josie, who did homework only because she was forced, and whatever girl was hanging around at the time. I grin. He was very handsome. The most handsome boy in the whole entire world. Javier smiles. Were you jealous? Of course! He belonged to us! How much older was he? Six years older than Josie, eight older than me. I incline my head, aware that hes done it againeased me into telling my storyand I give him a perplexed frown. What is it? You seduce me into talking about myself. Because I want to know everything, he says, running a hand along my shin. And if you tell me about your sister, perhaps I can help you find her. For a moment, I wonder if he could be too much. Too emotional, too intense. But I do feel a bit adrift in trying to solve this problem. Another mind on it might help. Maybe you can. I straighten. Okay, let me get it all out. He props his head on his hand. Please. So, she was troubled, my sister. She refused to go to college and spent all her time partying and surfing. The last time I saw her, she stole pretty much everything I had, including my computer and all my clothes, and sold them. Oof. A terrible betrayal. Yes. Id just finished my first residency, so I was strapped and exhausted, and I just could not believe shed do something like that. I rub my belly again, feeling the edges of my hurt and anger when I returned to the apartment and discovered what shed done. I cut her off. Understandable. Yeah. I sigh. Except that she supposedly died about six months later in a big explosion on a train in France. I never spoke to her again. I look backward in time, to that moment when I was walking back to my apartment and my mother called. A ghost of the pain from that day runs below my skin. In those howling minutes, I would have done anything to get her back. His eyes are kind, but he doesnt speak. All this time I thought she was dead. I spread my hands, looking at my palms as if the story is written there. And then I saw her on the news from the nightclub fire. She was here in the CBD when it happened. You believed her to be dead until you saw her on the television? All this time? Yes. He measures me for a long moment. You must be so angry. Thats an understatement. The slow boil of lava in my gut gurgles. My mother urgently wanted me to come, or I might not have. The large dark eyes hold steady on my face. For my sake, Im glad that you did. I give him a half smile. Oh, you would have found someone to warm your bed, Im sure. She would not have been you. You dont have to charm me, Javier. To stave off any protestation he might bring, I shake my head. Anyway, I guess I should get back to trying to find my sister. My mother will want a report. What have you done so far? Not much. Ive tried to find her by name, but thats a dead end. I do think that woman at the restaurant knew something, so I might go back there. But also I lift one eyebrow. Im looking out there at that ocean, and what I want to do is go surfing. He inclines his head. Not look for your sister? Surfing is how I think, and maybe Ill get some ideas. A thick discomfort rolls through my lungs, making it momentarily hard to breathe, and I straighten my shoulders to create more room. Do you want to learn to surf? He raises his hands. No, no. Im going to see Miguel today. All right, then. I eat the last bite of my pastry and brush my fingers off. Im going to get out of here and leave you to it. He captures my hand. Youll come to our show tonight? I nod, touch his head, his thick, wavy hair. Who else will protect you from all the women? Its true. I will need it. He captures my hand, kisses my palm. See you later.

  • Pollyanna /  (Porter, 2014)    Pollyanna /
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs /     (Disney, 2012)    Snow White and the Seven
  • The Summer Children /   (by Dot Hutchison, 2018) -   The Summer Children /
  • The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts /   :    (by Gary Chapman, 2010) -   The Five Love Languages: The

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