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Authors: Luanne Rice

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BOOK: Home Fires
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“It's so empty,” Maggie said. “I always loved your place in New York because it was so
. Your collages, all the stuff you and Uncle Matt brought back from everywhere, all the rugs and colors. . . .”

Anne nodded, picturing the apartment. She'd covered the hardwood floors with Oriental rugs, the furniture with bright silk and cashmere throws. Red was everywhere. She had covered one entire wall with picture frames: scrolled, carved, gilded, museum-quality picture frames that she'd picked up at tag sales on the island and elsewhere. Other walls contained her own collages, Matt's collection of small French paintings, and family photos. They had a three-foot-high bronze replica of the Eiffel Tower, at once monstrous and beautiful. Just looking at it made Anne smile. They had a
Webster's Second Dictionary
on a nineteenth-century lecturn she'd found in Newport, Rhode Island. Karen's toys and books were everywhere, spilling from briar baskets. The rooms were full of life and passion: they were full of the Davises.

“This is so different,” Maggie said, frowning. “I can't picture you happy here.”

“It's been hard to be happy anywhere,” Anne said in a quiet voice.

“What's this?” Maggie asked. Leaning forward, she reached for Karen's drawing of paradise. Anne had left it on the coffee table, within easy reach; she had been holding it hours before, when Maggie's call had interrupted her.

“Karen did that,” Anne said, moving closer to Maggie.

“She loved to color,” Maggie said. She traced some of the crayon markings with one finger.

Anne could see that Maggie was engulfed with feelings and memories of Karen. Here was a girl who had known and loved Karen as well as anyone but Anne and Matt. Maggie had babysat for her many times; she had played with Karen for hours and hours. Locked within Maggie were impressions of Karen that even Anne didn't have, and for Anne it was like sitting with a treasure chest.

“Tell me one thing,” Anne said. “One thing you remember about her.”

“Okay,” Maggie said. “Remember one night last summer, when you and Uncle Matt went to Atwood's with my parents?”

“Our anniversary dinner.”

“Yeah. Well, Karen was sleeping over at our house, and she wanted to try on my clothes. She loved to dress up.”

“I know.”

“She was looking through my closet, and she saw my prom dress. It was black satin, with lace—”

“Your mother sent me pictures of your prom. You were beautiful.”

“Thank you. Well, Karen told me she would have liked the dress better if it was pink. But she couldn't resist—it's a real party dress. She wanted to put it on. So I helped her into it and gave her the gloves I wore—very Madonna things, all black net. I mean, you probably hate me, right? Letting a four-year-old get dressed up like a high-school kid. Should I be telling you this?”

“You can tell me anything about Karen,” Anne said.

“She was so cool. I could really picture her as a big girl. She wanted me to put makeup on her eyes, and polish on her nails, and she wanted me to call her ‘Julia.'”

“She loved Julia Roberts,” Anne said. It was a simple story, but for Anne it was cliff-edge suspense. She lived for every detail, every nuance. She knew she should be talking to Maggie about what was happening in her life, but Karen stories had the potency of a drug.

“She was Julia, and I was Lubie, her younger sister. Lubie! I mean, what a funny name.”

“Lubie and Shella were her favorite make-believe names.”

“I asked her why ‘Lubie,' and she said it sounded pretty, just right for a younger sister. The whole time she was this little kid in black with raccoon eyes, and she was pretending to be a glamorous movie star, and I kept thinking she had the greatest imagination in the whole world.”

“She did,” Anne said, and her mind clicked off. She felt it happen, and she even knew why: she believed that Karen's imagination had killed her.

“I miss her,” Maggie said.

Anne nodded.

They sat there in silence, both staring at Karen's drawing. After a few minutes Anne turned to face Maggie.

“Thank you for talking about her,” Anne said.

“Don't thank me—” Maggie frowned, not understanding.

“Right after it happened, no one was talking about her. Matt had moved out, and my friends, even your mother, were afraid they would upset me if they mentioned her, which they would have. I hardly ever heard her name. I couldn't take it. I'd have to go into her room just to convince myself she had really existed.”

“Honestly?” Maggie was staring at her, unsure of whether Anne was serious or not.


“That's so sad,” Maggie said.


“Well, anytime you want to talk about Karen, or if you need to check in with someone who knows she existed like crazy, you can call me. I mean it,” Maggie said, flinging herself at Anne with what Karen would have called a train-wreck hug.

“Thanks, Maggie,” Anne said, holding on to her niece for a long time, trying to remember how it had felt to hold her daughter. After a long while she gently pushed herself back so she could look Maggie in the eyes.

“What are we going to do about you?” Anne asked.

“I know,” Maggie said, hanging her head. “I've been really stupid.”

“Are you just saying that? So I'll think you're fine, that this was just another teenage adventure, and forget about it?”

“It was bad,” Maggie said. “It wasn't an adventure.”

“I think your mother needs to know.”

“She'll hate me,” Maggie said. “She's not like you. Mom does the right thing, all the time, and she can't handle people who don't.”

“I'll help her handle it.”

Maggie picked up Karen's picture and examined it more closely. She rested it on her knees, and Anne could see her drawing comfort from it, just as she often did herself.

“You don't understand,” Maggie said, brushing hair out of her eyes. “Mom doesn't want to know. She looks the other way all the time. I know she loves me, and she wants me to be okay. But in order for her to respect me, she has to ignore things. She's caught me drunk before. But I tell her I have a cold and I took too much NyQuil, and she lets it go.”

Anne stared at Maggie, weighing the options. She could tell Gabrielle, and Maggie would never confide in her again. Or she could keep the secret, taking Maggie's word that she wanted to change, and the next time Maggie could die in a drunken car crash. She thought of Karen, and she realized that no matter what Karen did, Anne would always want to know. On the other hand, she realized that she and Gabrielle were not the same person.

“I think you should tell the police about that guy, Fritz,” Anne said, realizing that she had made her decision.

“I know. I wish I'd gotten his license-plate number. It was scary, that book with a picture of a real dead person on it. And the gun . . .”

“If you hadn't hit him,” Anne said, hugging Maggie again, “I hate to think of what he might have done. Your friends are really lucky you thought so fast.”

“I hope they're okay,” Maggie said. “I just hope he didn't drive around looking for them.”

“They're bad news,” Anne said. “It's hard, growing up on the island. There's nothing to do, it's easy to get into trouble. Hanging around with the wrong kids. You need to stop; it's making you too unhappy.”

“I'm going to try,” Maggie said. “I want to make things better. Thanks for not telling Mom.”

“I didn't say—”

“But I know you won't. I can tell you care about me, and I know you believe me about Mom not wanting to know. If it happens again . . .”

“Deal,” Anne said, hoping she was doing the right thing. “It'll stay between us for now, if there isn't a next time.”

Smiling now, Maggie pulled away. Once again she took a close look at Karen's picture. She looked from the paper to Anne and back again.

“This is amazing,” Maggie said.

“Karen said it was of things she loved. That's you.” Anne pointed to the drawing of Maggie.

“And that's you and Uncle Matt. The beach. Gramercy Park . . . what are those?” Maggie pointed to the white cubes.

“I don't know,” Anne said.

Maggie narrowed her eyes, lost in thought.

“They look like rusty old stoves,” Maggie said.

“I don't know. Karen told me the picture was of paradise,” Anne said, gently taking the paper out of Maggie's hand.

“Paradise,” Maggie said thoughtfully. She repeated it: “Paradise.”

But when Anne turned to look at her, Maggie was frowning. It shook Anne deeply, seeing the expression on her face. As if Maggie had just thought of something terrible. Her heart in her throat, Anne was just about to ask what it was, but suddenly Maggie flashed a smile.

“Could I have a glass of water?” Maggie asked.

“Sure,” Anne said. Knowing Maggie wanted to change the subject, she went into the kitchen. She took Karen's picture with her. When she returned, Maggie was leafing through a magazine. Anne's mind blocked out the question she had been about to ask. It was gone. Her mind was blank.

Just as well. Right now she had to focus on Maggie, on driving her home and making sure she would be okay. That's what mattered right now.

Chapter 6

t was a whirlwind tour of libraries and hockey rinks, deans and coaches, dorm rooms and student centers, and snow-covered college greens. Thomas and Ned Devlin took turns driving, and whoever drove got to pick the radio station. Behind the wheel now, Thomas Devlin tuned in to Country 96.6 and listened to some singer's sweet, lonely lament.

“Dad,” Ned said. “You're listening to more of that tear-jerk stuff, and there's that lunatic smile back again. Are you going crazy or something? Should I be worried?”

“Far from it,” Thomas said. “I'm happy, that's all.”

“If you say so,” Ned said, sounding profoundly unconvinced.

Thomas nodded, turning the radio up a notch.

“It's just that I keep expecting you to make some kind of bizarre announcement. Like you're moving to Florida or converting to some weird religion. Or like you have a girlfriend.”

Glancing over, Thomas Devlin saw the blush spread up Ned's neck, behind his ears, and into his sideburns. Thomas felt the bad side of his face tugging upward in an even broader smile.

“Would any of those things bother you in particular?”

“Maybe the weird religion.”

“You can relax, there. When you've spent as much time in parochial school as I did, you realize you're Catholic for life.”

“You just seem different,” Ned said, even as he seemed to relax perceptibly. He slouched in the truck seat, trying to get his big frame into a comfortable position. He had never really liked long car rides. Finally he settled in, one knee resting against the dashboard.

“Different?” Thomas Devlin asked, when Ned stopped fidgeting.

“Like something's going on.”

“Hell, Ned. Plenty's going on! How often do I get to tour the best colleges in America and hear what a great kid I have?”

Ned shot him a glance full of boyish pleasure. Without leaning forward, he turned down the radio, the better to hear his father's praise.

“Yeah?” Ned said.

“All the coaches want you, the admission folks want you. Who wouldn't? You're an academic all-American,” Thomas said. Even the players, who Thomas knew could start off feeling wary and competitive toward a potential teammate, had taken to him. Ned was as trusting and friendly as a big golden-retriever puppy, and people liked him right away.

“I liked Dartmouth best,” Ned said. “I knew I would.”

“It's a great school.”

“I'm not sure I'll get in. I'd have to get a lot of scholarship help to go. And loans.”

“I have the feeling you'll get in. I was glad to see you sent your poems. The admissions guy, Mister . . . ?”

“Mr. McCabe.”

“Yes. He liked them very much. So do I, Ned. They're really something.”

“Thanks,” Ned said, embarrassed.

When Ned was fifteen, he had written four hauntingly beautiful poems about his mother. His freshman English teacher submitted them, with Ned's permission, to a colleague at the
Massachusetts Review
. They were published the following spring. The first Thomas knew of the poems was when he picked up his mail at the post office and found a package from Ned with a note to
please see pages 20–22
. It was the
. That night Thomas Devlin didn't go to bed. He stayed up all night reading the poems over and over. They shimmered with love for Sarah, and an almost unbelievable knowledge of her, and they made Thomas Devlin see her through the eyes of her son.

Now, driving along, he felt a rush of sad, sweet pride. He wished that somehow Sarah could know that they'd made a boy like Ned. The miracle of it, to Thomas, was that she had died when Ned was six, and he'd still turned out so fine: in spite of being raised, not counting the year after the fire, solely by his father.

“Do you miss Mom?” Ned asked.

“Sure I do,” Thomas replied, but the question took him by surprise. She had been gone for so long. Thinking of her as little as possible had been essential to his survival in the early days. He had trained himself to forget.

Right after the fire, when thoughts of Sarah had been most unbearable, Thomas Devlin had prayed that he would die. Nurses in the burn unit would pump him full of morphine, and it would zip through his veins straight into the air. You need skin to hold drugs inside a body, and Thomas Devlin had no skin. He had existed as pure pain. To him, his entire existence, his agony, was Sarah.

Later, when he could keep the drugs inside, he used them to forget. They dulled his memories and his love. They dulled Sarah.

“Do you think about your mother?” he asked.

“Yeah. A lot.”

“Sometimes I wonder what you remember. You were pretty young.”

“I have a long memory,” Ned said. He stopped, as if he'd decided to keep the recollections private. But then, perhaps fearing that his father would think him rude, he continued. “I remember how pretty she was. How she smelled like soap and powder. Violets, or something.”

“Piccadilly Violets, that's right. I'd forgotten.” Thomas smiled at the lost memory. Every Christmas Sarah wanted a bath set you could only get at Filene's. It came with bath powder, guest soaps, and cologne, and the package showed a little girl selling violets in Piccadilly Circus.

“She'd sure be proud of you,” he said.

“Thanks, Dad.”

Thomas Devlin turned the radio back up. He wasn't certain why, but he didn't think they should talk anymore just then. Ned must have agreed, because they rode along in comfortable silence for the next twenty or so miles.

“We're here,” Ned said as they passed the Deerfield Inn. The statement came out with a thud, as if he'd been reluctant to deliver it. Perhaps Ned, like his father, wasn't quite ready for the trip to end.

“This whole tour has been a thrill,” Thomas Devlin said, driving slower than necessary.

“You know that stuff I said earlier, about being afraid your smiling meant you were about to drop a bombshell?”

“The stuff about Florida, religion, and a girlfriend?”


“What about it?”

“I'd definitely mind you converting to a weird religion,” Ned said. “But I'd mind if you decided to move to Florida, too. It's too far away.”

“We'd miss the island.”

“Yeah. Summers on the island definitely beat summers in Miami,” Ned said.

“Yeah,” Thomas said. He was waiting for Ned to make mention of the third thing, the girlfriend. But it never came. Ned's silence filled the car. It had the power and weight of a blessing, and it left both men's cheeks beet red.

“Take care of yourself, Dad,” Ned said, when they pulled up in front of his dorm.

“You, too,” Thomas Devlin said, beaming as wide as his face would allow: with love for his sweet son and with the anticipated pleasure of the woman he would see when he returned to the island.


since the fire, Gabrielle had expected Anne to say that she had made a mistake by coming to the island in the middle of winter, that she was returning to New York. Instead, she'd taken an apartment in town and commenced looking for a job. It boggled Gabrielle's mind. Why would anyone with Anne's creature comforts abandon the finer things in a New York life for the hardships of an island winter?

The two sisters stood in Gabrielle's kitchen peeling root vegetables. Gabrielle had thought a chicken pot pie would be just the thing to warm everyone right down to their toes.

“Parsnips,” Anne said. “Whoever would have thought we'd be able to get parsnips out here in February?”

“Excuse me, but are you saying islanders are food rubes?” Gabrielle asked, only half-kidding. “Granted, it might not be Balducci's, but for a market its size . . . Besides, what's so sophisticated about parsnips?”

Anne chuckled. She trimmed the parsnip, threw it into the crock, and reached for a turnip.

“I didn't say sophisticated. I was thinking of variety,” Anne said. “When we were little, weren't carrots about the only fresh vegetables we could get out here? And maybe iceberg lettuce?”

“I like to think the Seduction Table has upped the culinary standards around here.”

“I'm sure that's true.”

Gabrielle dropped her peeler in the sink and fiddled with the portable-TV antenna. Oprah, her hero, was on, and a storm of static was drowning her out. At the best of times Gabrielle could get only two stations with any clarity, and high winds last week had blown the big antenna off the roof. Gabrielle turned the knobs, trying to clear the screen snow and let Oprah shine through, but it was a losing battle.

“I would trade my husband for cable,” Gabrielle said.

Anne chuckled again. Gabrielle glanced over, on her guard. She had been half-serious, but she didn't like Anne agreeing with her.

“You're in a good mood,” she said, clicking off the set.

“You make me laugh. I like it,” Anne said.

Gabrielle wondered what Anne would say if she knew that Matt had called that afternoon, as he had called two other afternoons since Anne had come to the island. “Just checking in,” he said, wanting to know how Anne was doing. Gabrielle had sensed something hangdog in his manner, a whipped-guy attitude that didn't suit him one bit.

He said he missed the family. Anne and Karen especially, but the Vincents also. Gabrielle acted stern and disappointed with him, but the truth was, she enjoyed his calls. They broke up the day. She harbored a dream that Anne and Matt would get back together, take whatever steps possible to patch up their marriage.

“Do you ever think about going home?” Gabrielle asked.

“To New York?”


Well, that wiped the smile off Anne's face. Gabrielle fought the impulse to give her a hug, get her feeling comfortable again. But this was a case of tough love: she wanted Anne to face some painful truths that might eventually make her life better.

“No, I don't,” Anne said. “Not right now, anyway.”

“It's just that . . . oh, I might as well spit it out. You shouldn't be out here, hon. You're past struggling.”

Anne put down her peeler and faced Gabrielle head-on. Gabrielle had to admit, Anne had some color back in her cheeks. Something about island life was agreeing with her.

“What do you mean, ‘past struggling'?”

Gabrielle realized she'd put her foot in it.

“I mean, don't go taking it wrong, now. Everyone knows you've experienced the worst thing that can happen to a mother. I know, Anne.”

Anne nodded.

Gabrielle waited for Anne to say something, to express some of the terrible loss she must be feeling for Karen. But this wasn't the time. Anne said nothing, so Gabrielle continued.

“It's miserable out here. I go crazy in winter. The antenna blows away, you need four-wheel drive just to get your mail. You were smart enough to get yourself off the island, and it doesn't make sense to me, you coming back.”

“I don't see it that way. I love it here.”

That's because you have a choice, Gabrielle thought. In a minute she might boil over, say something she would regret. She stirred the cream sauce, tasted it, added a dash of pepper. Gabrielle had cushioned Anne's progress through life, and then Matt had taken over. Say what you want: Anne understood heartache, not struggle.

“I do,” Anne persisted. “I love it here.”

“Taste this,” Gabrielle said. She coated a red plastic spoon with the silkily thickened sauce and held it to Anne's lips.

Instead of tasting, however, Anne lowered her head to Gabrielle's shoulder. She left it there for a long moment.

“Anne,” Gabrielle said, overcome by a surge of love. Just because Anne didn't discuss her sadness didn't mean it wasn't there.

Sometimes Gabrielle wished she had a specific nickname for Anne, something dear for her alone instead of the generic “honey” or “sweetheart.” The name “Anne” was so elegant, so refined and austere; in many ways the name was so like Anne herself. Still, Gabrielle did sometimes wish for a sweeter, cozier name that would fit Anne's soft side. “Annie” simply wouldn't cut it. It was too homespun, too quaint. Too Little Orphan Annie.

“Why did Mother and Daddy give you such a Queen of England name?” Gabrielle asked, stroking Anne's silky black hair.

“'Cause I'm a royal pain?”

Gabrielle smiled. “No. It's just such a formal name. Have I ever told you that? That I wish I had something little-sisterish to call you?”

“Well, I've made it to my thirties without it,” Anne said. A pause. “Gaby.”

“Oh, I hate that,” Gabrielle said, giving Anne another squeeze. “Makes me sound like a parakeet.”

Anne eased herself out of Gabrielle's embrace and chose a potato to peel. Gabrielle wondered whether she had noticed that it was an Aroostock golden potato, one that had a buttery color without the addition of any butter whatsoever, instead of the usual pasty-white Maine variety. Until Gabrielle had started her business, the market hadn't known the difference.

The telephone rang. Gabrielle jumped for it. Steve was working on the big house, and many nights lately he had worked late. But it was Kurt.

“I'm sorry, Maggie is doing her homework,” Gabrielle said icily.

“Tell her I called,” Kurt said, and hung up, the mannerless loser that he was.

BOOK: Home Fires
5.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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