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Authors: Luanne Rice

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BOOK: Home Fires
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“She's married?”

“Separated. Divorced, something like that. He walked out.”

Thomas didn't want to hear any more. The wind stung his ears, and he could practically see the waves, mountains of green water trailing foamy crests behind. He would park by the clay cliffs and walk to the lighthouse. Clear his head. Tonight he'd eat leftover beef stew and write a letter to his son, Ned, away at boarding school. Have a quiet night and try to shake this case of nerves.

“I'll see what I can do about Mac's watch,” Thomas said. “Thanks for bringing it by.”

“Well, who else would I take it to? And I did want to tell you we think you're quite a hero. Anne Davis is lucky to be alive. She has you to thank. She might have gone the way of her child.”

The hair on the back of Thomas Devlin's neck stood on end, and it wasn't the wind.

“Her child?”

“Oh, you haven't heard? It happened last summer. A darling little girl. She used to play with Hugh's daughter, Sadie.”

Thomas Devlin had the impulse to walk away, to deprive Peggy of the satisfaction she was getting from this. But he had to know.

“What happened?” he asked, his pulse drowning out the sound of the wind.

“The little girl died. Fell four stories. Anne was right there, poor thing. Although the police were very suspicious. For a while we thought there'd be charges.”

Somehow he had known. She had said there was no child, but he hadn't believed her. He thought back to the fire, to the way she had run back to the burning house. Everyone at the scene had been disgusted, that the woman would risk her own life and everyone else's for what had appeared to be a diaper bag.

Everyone but Thomas Devlin. He had seen the clothes and toys of a little girl, had recognized the look of loss in the woman's eyes. He had recognized himself. Anne Davis had witnessed the death of someone she loved.

His scars were throbbing, as they often did when the weather changed. Snow was coming. He could feel it in the air. He made a little more small talk with Peggy, gave her some excuse about having to be somewhere. By the time he got into his truck, the pain was shooting up and down the left side of his face. He scowled, knowing his only salvation was to empty his mind. Images of fire were flashing behind his eyes, and he fought to put them down. Passing a girl who might have been Maggie Vincent, Anne's niece, he was blind to the landscape. He thought only of driving toward the east wind.


Vincent had dropped off her schoolbooks, changed into tighter jeans, and headed out to meet Kurt, Eugene, and Vanessa, all without running into her evil mother. Or Anne. She knew Anne was in the kitchen with her mother.

Maggie wore a white angora sweater she'd liberated from the Living Doll Shop, Kurt's leather jacket, six gold hoop earrings (not counting the one she'd recently inserted into her nipple), zero makeup (eat your heart out, Vanessa), and motorcycle boots she'd found at the South End Sally Ann last time she and Vanessa had hitched to Boston. So they were a little too big—like three sizes—but she'd stuffed the toes with Kleenex and everything was cool.

She was walking down Teatime Lane. God, she couldn't wait to move someplace where every road didn't have some cutey-pie historical, tourist-pleasing name. Like New York City: Fifth Avenue. Forty-second Street. No bullshit there. Out of nowhere, a kick-ass Chevy Blazer came screaming along, and everyone was in it, Kurt at the wheel.

“Tell me I'm not seeing this!” Maggie said, tonguing his ear as she climbed onto his lap.

Even with his mouth on Maggie's, Kurt managed to execute an Indy-worthy burnout, his eyes never leaving the road.

“Do I want to know where you got this?” she asked when Kurt stopped kissing her.

“Marcy whatever-her-name-is, the bank chick,” Vanessa said, handing Maggie the pint of Southern Comfort, “left it at the ferry, and we found the spare key in her little magnetic key box.”

“How'd you know there was one?” Maggie asked.

“'Cause with a chick like that, there's always a spare key in a little magnetic key box,” Kurt said.

“Little Miss Perfect type,” Vanessa said, squealing at whatever Eugene was doing to her.

“So, where are we going?” Maggie asked. “I guess we can't use the old house.”

“Yeah, real sweet,” Kurt said. “Your dipshit aunt's there less than a day, and she burns the place down.”

“Sorry to inconvenience you,” Maggie said, stung. She climbed off his lap and sat as far as possible away from him in the passenger seat.

“She the one who killed her kid?” Eugene asked.

Maggie shrugged. Kurt didn't realize how badly he could hurt her with his words, the tone of his voice, the way he'd act all displeased and angry with her.

“Maybe she burned the place down on purpose,” Vanessa said, giggling. “Maybe she's a pyromaniac
a killer.”

“You gotta admit, she's got one hell of a touch,” Kurt said. Although Maggie was staring out the window, she caught a glimpse of him reflected in the glass. He'd glanced her way. That made her feel a little better. She turned her head toward him slightly. The bottle came around again, and Maggie took a swallow.

“My dad said she acted real strange at the fire,” Eugene said. “She ran back inside, and everyone thought she was going after a kid or a dog or something, but they carry her out and she's holding a paper bag or something. Guys could have gotten killed, and for what? A paper bag? Probably had her jewelry in it or something.”

“Rich bitch,” Vanessa said.

“The freaky giant, Mr. What's-his-face Devlin, ended up going in after her,” Kurt said.

“The jolly green scarface,” Vanessa said.

“I mean, who gives a flying fuck if she wants to kill herself?” Eugene asked. He took a long slug, then burped. “Serves her right, after what she did. But those guys are out there risking their lives for a kid killer and her jewelry?”

“Can we please talk about something else?” Maggie asked quietly.

“Hey, your aunt ruined our party spot,” Vanessa said, jabbing the back of Maggie's shoulder. “The least you can do is give us the gory details. Tell us what she did to her kid.”

“It was an accident,” Maggie said.

“That's not what the papers said,” Vanessa said. “Or the TV news.”

Sometimes Maggie hated Vanessa so much she couldn't stand it. Didn't the idiot ever listen to herself? Like anyone would consider the TV news an authority on anything.

“I distinctly remember hearing that it was way more than an accident,” Vanessa said. “Like murder. What are you defending her for? I thought you hated your family. Just admit she killed your cousin, and get over it.”

Karen. Maggie thought back to last August, when Anne, Matt, and Karen had come out to the island for their usual summer vacation. Everyone knew you couldn't drag Maggie to a family thing, but it was different when the Davises were around.

Especially Karen. Maggie hadn't known a little kid could be so smart and funny. Better company than anyone she knew. She had found herself hanging out with them all the time, babysitting for Karen at night when their parents would head into town. Maggie and Karen were like sisters, really. At least, that's how Maggie felt and it's what Karen had said.

Just thinking about it, Maggie used the knuckle of her right index finger to wipe away tears.

“All choked up?”

“Shut up, Vanessa,” Maggie said.

“Just tell us. Where does the news get off calling your aunt a murderer if she's not one?”

“There was an investigation. That's all. There's always an investigation when someone dies.”

“Your aunt was the only one there, though. And everyone saw her looking out, even before the kid hit the ground. That's sick. She must have seen the whole thing.”

“I didn't know about that part,” Kurt said, looking over at Maggie. “Gross.”

Maggie couldn't stand thinking of Anne seeing Karen die. She closed her eyes, as if she could block the image from her mind. But that only made it more vivid. Her eyelids flew open, and she looked wildly around at the landscape flying by. Red barn, snowfield, power lines, lighthouse way off in the distance. She watched the light flash red, white, red, white, red, white for a few seconds, until she felt calm again. She reached back for the bottle.

“Not till you tell,” Vanessa said, hugging the nearly empty bottle to her chest.

“She fell out the window,” Maggie said. “That's all, she just fell. She hit the sidewalk and died. Now give me the bottle.”


Davis lay under a blanket on the sofa, pretending to sleep. They had given her a sedative at the hospital, but she had fought it, as she had learned to fight sedatives last August, and she felt tired but wired. Gabrielle was putting the finishing touches on a dinner she had made for two people celebrating a fifteenth wedding anniversary. Between canapés and sauce moutarde she kept slipping in from the kitchen, to make sure Anne hadn't moved. Anne couldn't wait to be alone in the house. Faking sleep, she thought of her daughter.

Even at four, Karen had liked to read after bedtime. Anne had totally approved. As if they were unaware, Anne and Matt would kiss Karen good night and turn out the light. They would put a CD on the stereo and try to forget that Karen was waiting for the coast to be clear.

How could they forget that their four-year-old, who had nursery school at eight-thirty the next morning, would read until midnight if they let her? Karen would wait until they left her room, then turn on her flashlight. She would open a book—
Desmo the Incredible Kitten
The Little Mermaid
(she especially liked stories with lots of animals in them)—and read until someone stopped her.

Karen had an amazing imagination. You could hear her talking out loud, conjuring up characters. While she was reading
101 Dalmations
she would pretend to be Lucky, the littlest puppy who hadn't yet gotten her spots, and she would hide under the covers with her imaginary parents, Pongo and Perdita, from Cruella DeVille. Anne would stand in the hall, listening to her incredible child.

She would always make noise before going in to check on her, to give Karen enough time to fake sleeping. She would shuffle her feet, or clear her throat before opening the door. Then she would tiptoe over to the maple bed. There Karen would be, her lashes resting angelically on her pink cheek, the covers drawn to her chin, her arm convincingly tucked, pillowlike, under her head.

Perhaps unwittingly, Anne imitated her now. She lay on the sofa, her arm crooked under her head, the sound of her wristwatch ticking in her ears as she tried to fool Gabrielle into thinking that she was fine, resting comfortably. She was Lucky playing dead, to escape detection by Cruella. The effort made Anne feel easy, closer to her daughter.

Lying there, Anne's mind darted to Maggie, then away again. Maggie hadn't once spoken to her since she had come to the island. Since Karen had died, for that matter. Anne vaguely remembered seeing Maggie at the funeral. Anne had lunged, to kiss her, and suddenly Maggie wasn't there. Deep down, Anne wondered whether Maggie believed the rumors, but she didn't wonder too hard. If Maggie did believe them, Anne didn't really want to know.

The kitchen door opened, closed, then opened and closed again. Anne heard Gabrielle approach, sigh audibly, and shuffle her feet. Anne breathed steadily through her mouth, her elbow tucked under her head. Gabrielle stood still, watching. With her eyes closed, Anne could feel Gabrielle's gaze; just as surely, she knew that Gabrielle realized that Anne was faking sleep.

The sisters let it be; Gabrielle packed up her van, and she left.

This was the first time Anne had been alone in the house since she'd been released from the hospital. She rose from the sofa and went into the family room. A gallery of family photos covered one wall. Stuffy portraits of grandparents, wedding photos, Maggie's school pictures, shots of the Vincents and Davises on holidays and summer vacations.

Anne stood before the wall, as if challenging it. Her eyes went directly to a picture taken on the beach last summer. It showed Anne, Matt, and Karen building a sandcastle by the water's edge. Maggie stood in the background. She had been helping with the castle, Anne remembered, but had stepped away when Gabrielle said she wanted to take a shot of the Davises alone.

There was Karen, placing a piece of pale green sea glass over the princess's window. She was smiling for the camera, but her eyes had a sidelong glance, as if she didn't want to be torn away from working on the castle. She had already adorned it with garlands of periwinkle and mussel shells. Using her little hand, she had scooped out and molded balconies of sand for the princess, king, and queen.

Her brown hair curled damply; the day had been scorching hot, and Karen and Anne had just taken their third swim of the morning. Her skin was brown, and she wore the pink bikini Maggie had given her the first day of vacation.

Anne stared at the photo for a long time with no change in expression. It was a happy moment frozen forever on film. That was how she viewed it. It didn't particularly move her one way or another.

The photograph didn't show that Anne and Matt had had a bitter fight before breakfast that morning, or that before sunset he would be on a plane to La Guardia. It didn't show that ten minutes after Gabrielle snapped the shot, she served a picnic lunch, and Karen and Anne had shared a tunafish sandwich and a glass of lemonade. It didn't show Karen and Anne waiting for low tide, to go crabbing in the tidal pools. It didn't show Karen falling out the window eight days later.

The photograph didn't make Karen seem real or present or faraway to Anne.

For those sensations, Anne dug into the canvas bag she'd rescued from the fire.

Karen's drawing. Sitting on the floor, Anne spread it across her knees. She loved to touch it. The paper was yellow manila, coarse-grained, the variety favored by kindergartners everywhere. Karen had used fourteen different crayons to color the picture for Anne.

Anne brought the paper to her face. It smelled like smoke now, but if she concentrated she could bring back the scent of crayon wax. Touching the surface, she could trace the smooth, slick tracks of Karen's crayons. It was so real, something she could hold in her hands, a drawing Karen might have finished just five minutes ago. It felt the same, smelled almost the same, looked exactly the same, as it had the moment Karen had presented it to her.

BOOK: Home Fires
6.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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