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Authors: Lesley Crewe

Ava comes home

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LESLEY CREWE

AVA COMES HOME

Copyright © Lesley Crewe, 2008E-book © 2010All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission from the publisher, or, in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, permission from Access Copyright, 1 Yonge Street, Suite 1900, Toronto, Ontario M5E 1E5.

Vagrant Press is an imprint ofNimbus Publishing LimitedPO Box 9166Halifax, NS B3K 5M8(902) 455-4286

Printed and bound in Canada

Design: Kate Westphal, Graphic Detail Inc., Charlottetown, PEAuthor photo: Morrison Powell

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Crewe, Lesley, 1955-Ava comes home / Lesley Crewe.ISBN 978-1-55109-676-6E-book ISBN: 978-1-55109-802-9

I. Title.PS8605.R48A93 2008 C813'.6 C2008-904053-8

We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP) and the Canada Council, and of the Province of Nova Scotia through the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage for our publishing activities.

This book was printed on Ancient-Forest Friendly paper.

For Mom.

“I've got a good mother, and her voice iswhat keeps me here…”Jann Arden

Contents

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

CHAPTER ONE

“CUT! That's a wrap, everybody. Thank you.”

Ava slumped into the chair she was standing in front of and let her arms hang down awkwardly by her sides. The skirt of her period costume created a huge bubble of material around her.

“Help! I'm being eaten alive by swathes of silk and taffeta.”

No one came to her rescue. Her co-star walked away without a backward glance and the crew was busy wrapping up on this final day of shooting—dismantling the set with unseemly haste, removing miles of cables and lights. All of them wanted to get back to the hotel and celebrate the fact that they were finally leaving the most boring small town west of the Mississippi.

The director approached, wearing a big grin. “Are you under there?”

“I think so, but I need rescuing.”

He reached for her hands and pulled her out of the chair and into his arms. “Thank you for being a real sweetheart on this shoot, Miss Harris. You certainly made up for your leading man and for that I'm forever grateful.”

Ava patted his shoulder. “Why do you insist on calling me Miss Harris? We've been together now for three months.”

He let her go but his hands stayed on her shoulders. “To give you the respect you deserve and because you're such a lady. It's been a pleasure working with you. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.”

She smiled at him. “Me too.”

“Are you coming to the wrap party at the hotel?”

“Maybe later.” She looked down at her dress. “I want to get out of this monstrosity first and put my feet up. I'm in the middle of a good book and I have to see what happens next.”

“I know you. You'll be asleep by nine.”

“No, I'll be there. I do want to say goodbye to everyone.” Ava picked up her voluminous skirt and walked towards her trailer, scooting around the cameras and empty directors' chairs. She spotted Lola, her assistant, stuffing her face at the craft service table. Lola happened to glance over at her and started to shake a pepperoni stick in her direction. “Do you need help getting outta that dress?”

“No. The buttons are in the front.”

“Okay, because I've got to go to the drugstore and pick up some Gravol.”

“Stop eating. That might help.”

“Oh, ha ha. It's for the plane tomorrow. I'll be back in fifteen minutes. Do you need anything?”

Ava shook her head. She opened the trailer door and with difficulty managed to get up the narrow stairs in the dress. A cameraman walking by saw her dilemma and closed the door behind her.

She loved coming “home” at the end of the day. All the noise and confusion outside was replaced by the classical music playing on the stereo. While it was a luxurious space, it was filled with normal things too, like books and jigsaw puzzles and balls of knitting yarn. Ava found the long hours of waiting on a movie set perfect for making sweaters, scarves, and mitts for the crew, but she usually knit when she was alone in her trailer. It was easier than enduring the inevitable comments about how boring and domestic she was.

Ava proceeded to unhook the tiny silk-covered buttons of her bodice in the living room, where there was space to move around. There have to be at least fifty of the damn things, she thought. Her fingers were sore by the time she finished. Down came the dress. She stepped out of it and tossed it on the sofa, though yards of it still puddled on the floor. She'd let Lola deal with that.

Still wearing the petticoat, Ava went down the hall, stopping to look in the bathroom mirror. She couldn't wait to wash her face, but decided to undress first. The costume designer on the film was something of a tyrant, and Ava was a little afraid of her. The last thing she needed was to get a spot of makeup on the antique linen.

She was about to leave the bathroom when she saw something move behind her in the mirror. She gasped and spun around.

“Who's there?”

Only the music played. Her heart pounded as she crept forward. “Hello?” There was no one in the hall. Lola was at the store. Telling herself not to be so silly, she walked into her bedroom and shut the door. There stood her leading man.

Ava took a step back and cried out.

He came forward and grabbed her at the waist. “Stop it. It's only me.”

She struggled against him. “Let me go, Scott. You frightened me.” “Stop with the dramatics,” Scott laughed. “The movie's over.”

“Leave me alone.”

He held her closer. “I don't want to leave you alone. You've driven me crazy for weeks and you know it. All those love scenes. You're not that good an actress. I know you want me.”

She pushed against his chest but he didn't move. Instead he reached down and put his mouth against her ear. “I've had all my leading ladies. No one's ever refused me, except you. What makes you so special?”

“Lola will be here any minute.”

Scott pushed her away and she stumbled backward. “Great. The guard dog.”

“Get out.”

He pointed at her. “All it takes is one phone call and you're back filming infomercials. I'm one of the biggest movie stars in the U.S. of A. People like to keep me happy. I'd remember that if I were you.”

“Well, I'm not one of them. Now get out of my trailer this instant or I'll call the police.”

“It's your word against mine, babe.”

“And I wonder who the police will believe after they've talked to the cast and crew?”

Scott gave her a filthy look. “You're a second-rate, stuck-up bitch. You stay out of my way on the junket, have you got that? And don't even think about showing your face at tonight's party or you'll regret it.”

Storming out of the bedroom, he nearly took the door off the hinges when he slammed it leaving the trailer. Ava put her hand on her throat to quiet her breathing. After a few minutes she went to the kitchen and took a bottle of water out of the fridge. Standing there with the door ajar, she drank half of the water. Then she carried the bottle to an armchair and dropped into it, letting her head rest against the back cushion.

Lola appeared five minutes later and emptied her shopping bag out on the kitchen counter. “They had a sale on Pringles. Do you want some?” She took the top off the long canister and shook it at Ava.

“No, thanks.”

“Good. More for me.” Lola reached in and popped a few chips in her mouth. She looked at Ava. “You okay?”

Ava nodded.

“You look tired. Why don't you skip the party tonight? We'll stay in and play Parcheesi.”

“I'd like that,” Ava whispered.

Scott and his brutish behaviour were nothing but a distant memory two months later. Ava's mind was preoccupied with something infinitely more nerve-wracking. So nerve-wracking, she peeked out from under the luxurious goose-down duvet covering her bed and tried not to scream. She'd hidden under it all night in an effort not to look at the clock every hour on the hour. They said if she got a call before 6:00 a.m., it was great news. If not, better luck next time. It was 5:50 a.m. So far, the phone was deafeningly silent.

“This is stupid.” She threw off the covers, jumped out of bed, reached for her woolly robe and slippers, and padded across the thick cream-coloured rug to the balcony doors. She opened them and stepped out into a chilly Malibu morning.

Crossing over to the far edge of the balcony, she rubbed her arms to keep warm as the sun rose. That morning the waves rolled towards the beach in uniform lines, crashing against the shoreline with a thunderous roar before disappearing back to the deep.

As she leaned over the steel railing she remembered as a little girl her father telling her that you could predict the coming weather by looking at the way a wave came to shore. But that was years ago and she couldn't remember what this particular kind of wave meant. If only she could ask one of her brothers—but she never called about something as silly as that.


Page 2

Out of the corner of her eye she saw her neighbour, a studio producer, out for an early morning walk with his dog Muffin. She waved at them.

“Any news?” he shouted at her.

“No.”

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, Muffin and I voted for you.” “You're both very sweet. And just for that I'll…”

The phone rang.

“Oh my god, the phone!” She tripped over a large planter in her haste to get back inside and nearly fell headlong over the threshold. By the time she scrambled upright, the phone had rung three times. She made a dive for it, landing on the bed.

“Yes, hello?!”

It was her agent, Trent Osgood. “You did it, babe! It's official. Ava Harris is nominated for Best Supporting Actress at this year's Academy Awards!”

Ava's mouth dropped open.

“Are you there?”

She nodded.

“Ava?”

“Sorry, yes I'm here,” she whispered.

“This is it, Ava. Your life is about to become a whirlwind of promotions, television interviews, and photo sessions, not to mention having to decide who to wear on the red carpet! I was thinking Olivier…”

Trent continued to talk a mile a minute and Ava tried to comment a couple of times, but it was no use, so after a while she tuned him out, content to stare at the ceiling and let it sink in. She eventually realized the strange noise coming from the phone was Trent whistling into it, trying to get her attention.

“Sorry, you were saying?”

“Ava, this goddamn habit of zoning out drives me up the wall. It's imperative that you cooperate with me. For the next month we are on a runaway publicity train. You have no idea what you're in for. I need you to be prepared.”

She sighed. “Can you give me five minutes to enjoy this before I hop on?”

“Fine, all right. I'll call you in a couple of hours. I have some people to track down anyway.”

“You're calling people at six in the morning?”

“Do you honestly think anyone who's anyone in Hollywood is still asleep? Which reminds me, I better put in a call to Variety. I want your photo front and centre in that magazine. I should also give the major studios a call and see if we can't book you on the talk show circuit.”

He hung up without so much as a goodbye.

She looked around her beautifully decorated bedroom, everything in shades of white, off-white, and cream. Only the month before, Fashion Out Front Magazine did a spread featuring her beach house entitled, “Fit for a Hollywood Princess.”

And her bedroom was perfect. It was just too bad there was no one in it to share her good news.

The phone rang, which made her jump. She picked it up. “Hello?” It was Lola. “Have you heard anything? I've been up all night. You'd think they'd put us out of our misery by announcing the blasted nominees at a half-decent hour, or why not in the evening? Then everyone could get drunk and go to bed. Now don't be upset if they didn't call. You have a long career ahead of you. This is only the beginning.”

“Nah, I think I'll pack it in. If they don't recognize talent when they see it, that's their tough luck. I'm bored with all this nonsense.”

There was silence for a good five seconds on the other end of the phone. “You know, the scary part is that I think you're serious. You say it often enough to really mean it.”

“No, I don't.”

“Yes, you do.”

“Well, I'm not aware of it. Now I wish you'd pipe down and help me decide something. Should I wear Olivier or Lee Kim?”

Lola screamed, nearly blowing out Ava's eardrum.

Once the morning news shows broadcast the Oscar picks, the phone never stopped ringing. Her favourite people in the world besides Lola were the next to call. Maurice, her hair and makeup man, a genius in both departments, and Harold, her stylist. They were a couple who insisted on talking over each other every time they phoned. Ava was used to the rapid repartee. It always made her smile.

“Honey child,” Maurice burbled, “With Harold at the helm, the Best Dressed list will have your name at the very top or my name isn't Morris Ginsberg.”

“Your name is Morris?” Ava laughed.

“Not anymore.”

“Harold, Lola thinks I should wear Lee Kim but Trent thinks Olivier. What do you think?”

“You're going to take fashion advice from a spiky-haired wing nut and a guy who wears blue socks with a brown suit?” Harold ended on a high note.

“Maybe.”

“Kill me now!”

“Oh, do hush, sweetheart,” Maurice soothed. “She's joking.”

“It's not funny.”

“Sorry,” Ava laughed. “Do you still love me?”

“Endlessly,” Harold declared.

“There's only one fly in the ointment,” Maurice said.

“What's that?” Ava asked.

“It's just your luck that Scott was nominated for Best Supporting Actor this year as well. Talk about ruining a great evening.”

“I'm not going to let the likes of him spoil my night.”

“That's our girl,” Harold cried.

Ava walked around the house that morning, the phone to her ear as she poured a glass of orange juice and scooped spoonfuls of plain fat-free yogurt out of a container and into a small bowl. The minute someone hung up, someone else called. At first it was exciting but after a couple of hours of it, she had a sore ear and a stiff neck.

She let the answering machine take the rest of the calls so she had some peace. She decided to shower. When she emerged from the bathroom, forty messages awaited. Did she know that many people? She played the messages back as she towel-dried her beautifully highlighted blonde hair.

She remembered as a young girl watching the Academy Awards with her sisters, but she was always sent to bed before the Best Actress or Best Actor was announced. Her mother insisted it was too late for her to stay up.

It still rankled that she was never allowed this one treat.

The phone rang yet again and she looked at the number display. It was long distance, area code 902. Her family. With her heart beating a little faster, Ava hesitated before picking up the receiver. “Hello?”

“Is it true?!” her sister Rose shouted in her ear. “Best Supporting Actress?”

“It's true,” Ava smiled. “Can you believe it?”

“Of course I can believe it! I went to see that movie seven times and cried my eyes out every time, and so did everyone else in the theatre.”

“Thanks, Rose…”

“Everyone here is so excited. The phone hasn't stopped ringing!”

“That's nice. Listen, while I have you on the phone, how's Ma? She never calls me.”

“You know she hates the phone. God knows why. Anyway, the sad truth is she's getting older, as are the rest of us. I find her slowing down lately, but I guess that's to be expected. Is there any chance you can come home soon for a visit?”

That question. Always that question.

“Rose, I can't come home right now…”

“You've been saying that for years. Ma misses you. We all do.”

“Don't. Please don't. The next four weeks will be nuts. My life is scheduled every hour on the hour. ”

“You're a big movie star. Are you telling me that you can't take one or two days off to come and visit?”

“That's what I'm telling you, so please drop it.”

“All right, all right, I'm sorry. Look, we just wanted you to know we're proud of you.”

“I know that.”

“Everyone sends their love.”

“I was going to call you.”

Rose ignored her. “So who are you going to take on the red carpet? Someone famous?”

“I'm not sure.”

“What are you going to wear?”

“I have no idea, Rose. I just found out a couple of hours ago.”

“Okay, okay, I better go. This is costing me. Love you.”

“And you. Tell everyone I love them too. And tell Ma…” Ava couldn't continue.

“I will. Take care, baby sister.”

Ava put down the receiver and sat on her bed staring at nothing. She didn't answer the phone after that and when it continued to ring, she reached over and pulled the cord right out of the wall. Then she crawled under the duvet and hid from the world for the rest of the morning.

Traffic was a nightmare.

“Why are we driving around in this tin can?” Ava's publicist Camilla Dove griped. Camilla always griped, which was a rather odd habit for a Hollywood publicist to have. But Ava liked her because she looked like the Sunday school teacher she had growing up in Cape Breton. Not that Camilla wore floral ankle-length dresses that tied at the back or hoot-owl glasses. Still, Camilla was the spitting image of Hughena MacIntyre and that always cheered Ava enormously.

“At least you're in the front seat,” Lola moaned from the back, her knees up around her chin. “What did I do to deserve this kind of treatment?”

They were stopped at a red light on San Vicente Boulevard in West Hollywood. Even with her sunglasses and ball cap on, the teenage boys in the next car recognized Ava. She ignored their increasingly ardent facial gestures by turning to her passengers. “Stop belly-aching, the both of you. I'm being environmentally friendly. Did you know that this hybrid Citroen C2 Hatchback has a 1.4 stop and start sensodrive?”

Camilla rifled through her appointment book. “Speak English.”

“I'm doing my bit to save the planet, but I still wish I could ride a bike.”

Camilla looked at her in horror. “And have the damn paparazzi sell Gossip News a picture of your butt hanging off the seat? I think not.”

“Gee, thanks. Is my bottom that large?”

“I keep telling you,” Camilla sighed. “Wizard computer geeks can make your bum look as big as a house if they want to. You can avoid all that by not giving them the opportunity to see you in a compromising position.”

Lola snorted. “I thought that was reserved for late-night trysts in a hot tub with the pool boy.” She looked out the window. “Or maybe one of those idiot guys in the car beside us.”

“These days eating an ice cream cone in public is forbidden tutti frutti,” Camilla said.

“Good one,” Lola laughed.

“Look what those miserable photo hogs did to Julia Edwards,” Camilla continued.

“She beat them at their own game, didn't she?” Lola reminded her. “She's lost weight and looks fantastic. But then I always thought she looked fantastic, weight or no weight.”

The light changed and Ava crept forward. Luckily the car full of obnoxious boys was in the turning lane. As it disappeared from sight, she leaned over the steering wheel. “Speaking of food, I'm starving. Isn't The Lounge around here somewhere?”

“You're a genius. It's on Melrose,” Lola said. “Just a few blocks away.”

Camilla threw up her hands. “How am I supposed to work under these conditions? I could be riding in a limo with a television, a laptop, and a fax machine, but instead I'm being held hostage in a bird cage with a hungry client and a no-good hungry assistant. Have you two any idea what walking the red carpet means? Today alone, I've set up appointments with two stylists, not to mention a scheduled pit stop at Giorgio Armani. Harold's meeting us there. Then we head to Harry Winston's.”

“How can I pick out jewelry if I don't know what I'm wearing?” Ava spotted a parking space and quickly pulled over, maneuvering the small lime-green car between a Hummer and a Cadillac Escalade. She jumped out of the vehicle and held the seat back for Lola, who had a difficult time unfolding her long legs. Ava grabbed her arm and helped heave her out. Camilla had no choice but to bring up the rear.

“I suppose I can schmooze while we're here,” Camilla muttered.

Ava turned around and looked at her. “Schmooze away, but don't you dare bring anyone over to the table.”

Camilla feigned horror. “Now would I do that on your personal time?”

“Yes.”

“If you happen to run into George Clooney send him our way pronto,” Lola laughed. “I don't care what Ava says.”

The Lounge was definitely the place to be for lunch, with its sleek, expensive décor and serious waiters who moved effortlessly around tables filled with Hollywood movie moguls, artistic types, and young socialites. Most were there to be seen; they spent their time looking over at other tables, gossiping about who was with whom. But it was also a perfect venue for business negotiations among studio executives and a great spot to run into the ordinarily inaccessible.

Ava soon realized coming to the restaurant was a bad idea. All she wanted was a salmon sandwich. By the looks of it, it would take her ten minutes to get to the nearest unoccupied table. Several hands went up to greet her and diners whispered to each other as she walked by. A fat guy with a goatee stood and shook her hand. “Congratulations, Miss Harris.”

“Thank you,” she murmured and kept going.

Lola whispered behind her, “Who's that?”

“Someone who didn't give me the time of day two weeks ago,” Ava said over her shoulder.

Camilla whispered too. “Oh my god, why didn't you stop? I'm pretty sure that was Gavin Peters. He's very influential…”

“He's two-faced,” Ava insisted.

Camilla rolled her eyes. “You're in Hollywood. Being two-faced is how one survives.”

With the help of the maitre d', they made it to a far table in the corner. Ava sat with her back to the crowd—a necessary tactic she used on occasion. Some days it worked, but today wasn't one of them. A man approached with two giggling teenagers on his heels.

“May I have your autograph, Miss Harris? My daughters are your biggest fans.”

“Certainly. And your names?”

“Heather,” said Heather.

“Bonnie,” said Bonnie.

She took the proffered napkin and scribbled, “To Heather and Bonnie, All the best, Ava Harris.” The girls examined the napkin closely. She thought that was the end of it, but no such luck. He wanted pictures, so she turned around and pretended to smile into his cell phone while his daughters squealed on either side of her. “We love you Miss Harris. We never miss your movies.”


Page 3

“Thank you.”

Surely that was it—but no. He passed her the phone. “If I ring my wife, will you talk to her for a minute? She'll die.”

Camilla stepped in then.

“Do excuse us, but Miss Harris has a busy schedule. We're here for a quick lunch.”

“Of course. Well, thank you. Come along, girls.”

“Bye!” said the girls several times.

“Goodbye.” Ava turned around and sighed. “I think we better go to a drive-thru.”

“Nonsense,” Camilla said. “Every fan you meet translates into mucho money.”

“I already have mucho money. I want a sandwich.”

The waiter came to their table and Ava placed her order. Camilla ordered decaf coffee, black, and Lola asked for a triple chocolate milk–shake. Thankfully, their lunch arrived quickly.

“It's ridiculous that you can drink that garbage and still look like a railway tie,” Camilla said, eyeing Lola's shake.

Lola held out her glass. “Do you want some?”

“Of course I want some. Now leave me alone!” Camilla took a sip of her coffee and made a face.

“Oh, oh,” Lola said. “Here comes trouble.”

Ava swiveled her head. Trent barreled towards them with a look of utter triumph. When he reached the table he grabbed the empty chair. “Mind if I sit down?” He sat without waiting for a reply.

“How did you know I was here?” Ava asked him.

“I have spies everywhere.” He pulled several sheets of paper out of his leather briefcase.

“You do?”

“Of course not.” He tossed his head to the right. “I was finishing up a lunch meeting with Forrest Kavanaugh when I saw you walk in. He's a World-Wide Pictures executive and you're not going to believe what he's proposing.”

Ava took a bite of her sandwich and waited.

Trent looked up at her. “Aren't you going to ask me what it is?”

She nodded and continued to chew.

“You are the most exasperating woman, did you know that?” he sighed. “Most clients can't wait to hear what I have to say.”

“We're waiting with bated breath.” Lola stirred her shake before making a big slurping noise with her straw.

Trent gave her a dirty look. “Who asked you?”

“No one.”

“There's a reason why,” Trent informed her. “No one's interested in what you have to say.”

“Be nice,” Ava warned. The animosity between agent and assistant was well known. Camilla had asked Ava several times in private why she put up with Lola's sauciness. The only reason Ava could think of was that Lola always said out loud the very things she was thinking. Trent made a point of turning his back to Lola. “Now that your name is on the lips of everyone in town, World-Wide Pictures wants to enter into negotiations that could mean a three- or four-picture deal. It's a once-in-a-lifetime offer. You'd be crazy not to do it.”

Ava's stomach did a sudden flip. She put the sandwich down and took a sip of iced tea before folding her arms on the table. She leaned towards Trent. “You promised me that once this September's shoot in New York was out of the way, I'd be able to take some time off.”

Trent looked at her with incredulity. “That was before you were nominated for an Academy Award! Now all bets are off. If we don't capitalize on your celebrity in the coming days, we'll lose out on potentially millions of dollars. You're hot, Ava, and everyone knows you have to strike while the iron's hot.”

“And it doesn't matter in the least what I think?”

“Of course it matters what you think,” Trent frowned, “but you're obviously not thinking clearly. Who would be crazy enough to turn down World-Wide Pictures?”

The question hung heavy in the air. Trent kept blinking with his mouth open, as if not quite understanding what was happening. Even Camilla had the look of a woman whose child was misbehaving.

Ava turned to Lola. “Am I crazy for wanting some time off?”

Lola reached out to touch Ava's hand. “Of course you're not crazy. What you are is exhausted. You've been going flat-out for eight years.” Lola turned to Trent. “I was there when you swore up and down that Ava would get some time off after that September shoot. If she's this hot, can't she simmer for a couple of months? Surely people won't forget her name that quickly.”

If the tips of his blood-red ears were anything to go by, Trent's blood pressure was escalating at an alarming rate. “I am a highly successful, highly sought-after film agent. You are a baggage handler. I believe I know the best course of action for my client's career.”

Lola nodded her head. “And there's the rub. You're concerned about the career. I'm concerned about the woman.”

Trent gave Ava an exasperated look. “Tell your lap dog to go bite someone else's ankles.”

“Lola is a friend of mine. Being rude to her isn't going to help your case.”

“Ava…”

“I'm sorry, Trent, but I can't discuss this now. We have a slew of appointments this afternoon and we're already late. Aren't we, Camilla?” Camilla took the hint. “Yes, we're in an awful rush.” All three women rose from their chairs.

Trent had a face on him like thunder. “You haven't finished your sandwich.”

Ava ignored him. “Would you mind picking up the tab, Trent? I'll pay you back later.” She walked away before he could answer.

When they got back in the car, Ava turned to them. “I don't want to talk about this, all right?”

The afternoon was spent looking at glorious gowns in designer showrooms. Ava could have asked for the samples to be sent to the house, but she liked to gather her own impressions of the establishments and their work ethic. How they treated their employees was something she always factored in. She had once refused a magnificent gown that she'd been planning to wear to an AIDS fundraiser. When the designer screamed at the young man in charge of bringing them coffee, Ava walked right out the door without a backward glance.

Harold, her personal stylist extraordinaire, knew all about this quirk and took pains to forewarn the designers ahead of time. They were kindness itself when Ava was in the room.

Harold took a stunning dress of aqua-blue chiffon off the rack. “This would set off your eyes beautifully.” He held it up to her. “Why don't you try it on?”

Ava wrinkled her nose. “There's no front. I'd be spilling out everywhere. I don't want a ‘wardrobe malfunction.'”

“As you well know, I'm a master with double-sided tape.”

Ava's eyes went to the rack. “For this occasion, I want classic. Simple.”

Taking another gown off the rack, Harold draped it over his forearm. “What about this? It's got a floor-sweeping train. It's in the most delicious shade of cloud, with just the tiniest hit of blue.”

“Cloud?” Lola repeated. “Is that what we're calling grey these days?”

“It's got a ridiculously huge bow in the front.” Ava touched the offending item. “I'd be fiddling with it all night.”

“Ridiculously huge bows are very hot right now,” Harold said.

“There's that word again,” Ava muttered. “Hot.” She rubbed her head and tried to ignore the fuss going on around her. The people in the room were at her disposal and so spent most of their time staring at her. This aspect of fame wore Ava down. If only they knew who she really was, they wouldn't bother to look at her.

The designer wanted to take her measurements again but Harold held up his hand. “There's no need. She's a perfect size 2. I should know. I've been dressing her for years.”

Ava reached into her cream Chloe Betty Bag and searched for some Tylenol. Lola tapped her on the shoulder and produced two pills in the palm of her hand.

“How do you always know when I have a headache?”

“You get that look,” Lola smiled. “The one that says ‘Beam me up, Scottie.'”

Ava threw back her head and swallowed the pills dry, but she knew headache tablets weren't going to help her mood. She had to let Harold down gently.

She went over to him and laid her head on his shoulder. “Would you be awfully cross if I went home? I don't feel up to this today.”

“We don't have much time. The Oscars are only a week away and you haven't decided on a thing.”

She straightened up. “All right, I'll make an exception. You gather up as many gowns as you can find around town and bring them over to the house. It will be easier there.”

“Haven't I told you that all along?” Harold sniffed. “Why on earth do you pay me if you don't listen to a thing I say?”

“I'll be good. I promise.”

Two days later, after hours of trying on gowns, she reached a decision and chose a black Anise Godfrey jacquard bustle-back gown. The exquisite dress fit her small frame perfectly before falling away from her hips in a full skirt of intricately patterned fabric. With the neckline straight across her bodice and simple straps over her milky shoulders, she and Harold agreed she'd need only a pair of diamond drop earrings set in platinum to show off her ensemble.

Ava's entourage breathed a sigh of relief that at least something was decided. It was Lola who was chosen to broach the subject of an escort, since Ava hadn't mentioned it one way or the other. She got her opportunity the next night as the two of them were being driven to the club du jour, Leo's in West Hollywood.

“Why did I say I'd meet Hayden at Leo's?” Ava sighed. “I hate these places.”

“Because Hayden practically lives there, that's why. Speaking of Hayden, have you thought of who you're taking to the Oscars? I suppose he's your logical choice, since you've been dating him off and on for a couple of months.”

Ava looked down at her hands. “I know that's why he asked me out tonight. He's dying for an invite.”

“Hayden Judd is the perfect date, if you ask me. He's the hottest star on television at the moment. You'll make a gorgeous couple.”

Looking out the car window, Ava leaned against the palm of her hand and watched the buildings go by. “I don't want people to know I'm dating him. Besides, he's a show-off.”

“Well, that's true enough,” Lola agreed. “He'd grab the first microphone he could find and interview himself on the red carpet. So if you don't want Hayden, then who?”

She turned around. “You wouldn't like to go, would you?”

Lola's mouth dropped open. “Are you joking?”

“Well, why not?”

“Can you imagine what Trent will say?” Lola laughed. “Or Camilla for that matter. I can hear her now. ‘The tabloids will say you're a lesbian!'”

“I don't give a monkey's uncle what they say. Will you come?”

“Of course I'll come! But you better break it to Hayden gently.”

“I know. I know.”

The driver let them out at the front of the club where there was a line-up of beautiful people waiting to get in. Some of them, including a few paparazzi, shouted Ava's name. She smiled and kept going as the doorman unclipped the velvet rope allowing her and Lola to slip inside.

The music was pounding and the dance floor crowded with bodies, thanks to two DJs who worked their magic by spinning records at a furious pace. The Mod-inspired interior was surprisingly bright. Cocktail waitresses decked out in mini-dresses and white patent-leather boots moved surely across the floor.

Ava looked around and spied Hayden on a low leather Barcelona chair against a retractable glass wall. He had a drink in his hand and two young blond women sitting on either side of him, trying to get as close as possible. Hayden was typically handsome, well-toned with the piercing blue eyes and square jaw demanded of most leading men. All that and dimples too.

And while he was clearly delighted with his situation, the minute he spied Ava he excused himself and hurried towards her, leaving the two disappointed Barbie dolls in his wake.

“Hey you, you look fantastic!” He grabbed her around her leaf-green silk pleated dress and pulled her in tight; trying to give her a kiss, but Ava stopped him. “Not here.”

Lola tapped him on the shoulder. “Remember the rule, Hayden. No groping in public.”

Hayden pulled his head up and turned towards Lola. “Do you go everywhere Ava goes, or is it just my recurring nightmare?”

“I go everywhere,” Lola smirked. “Don't I, Ava?”

Ava made a face. “Would you get me a champagne cocktail, Lola? We'll be over there.” She indicated an empty couch to her left. “I have to talk to Hayden.”

“Sure,” Lola said. “Would you like anything, Hayden?”

“Some privacy.” He pulled Ava over to the couch before Lola could say another word. They sat down and he reached over to trace her jawline with his finger. “How are you, Buttercup? I haven't seen you for awhile.”

“I've been busy.”

“I watched you on Celebrity Hour and The Steve Harris Show. Have you had your interview with Georgia Barker yet?”

“I did that today. It'll be broadcast the night of the Oscars.”

“Did she manage to make you cry?” Hayden laughed.

Ava didn't think it was a laughing matter. The veteran interviewer had come very close to making her weep when she asked about Ava's family. It required all her skill for Ava to stay composed. “No, she didn't make me cry.”

“Georgia is losing her touch then,” Hayden laughed again. It seemed that's all he ever did. But he wasn't laughing for long.

Ava cleared her throat. “Hayden, before you say anything, I want you to know that I've asked Lola to come with me to the Oscars. I know you're disappointed, but I've given it a lot of thought. We've managed to keep the public in the dark about the fact that we're dating and I'd like to keep it that way. If you go with me, the media would have a field day.”

Hayden gave her a shocked look. “What's wrong with people knowing we're going out together? Sure, I understood it in the beginning, but it's been a couple of months now. It's serious. As serious as I get.”


Page 4

“I know.”

“You don't want to share the limelight, is that it?” He looked and sounded pissed off, just as Ava knew he would be.

“Don't be ridiculous.”

Hayden looked away for a moment before turning back. “This would be a golden opportunity for me to be seen around the globe. I'm not as big a star as you are, and you know that. I could use the publicity.”

“Of course the Oscars are all about you.”

“I didn't say that.”

“Were you nominated for an award, or was it me? I forget.”

Just then Ava noticed Lola making her way towards them. It was clear that Hayden was hurt, and Ava hated hurting people. The trouble was she was good at it. She grabbed the drink from Lola, downed it and asked for another.

Lola gave her a funny look. “Are you sure? Isn't one your limit?”

Ava glanced at Hayden's brooding face. “Not tonight.” She reached for his hand. “Come dance with me.”

He resisted at first, but she knew the offer was too tempting. Hayden wanted every man in the room to know that he was with the famous Ava Harris. To rub their noses in it would suit Hayden just fine.

And she was right. He put his drink down on the glass table and followed her into the crowd of swaying bodies. Famous young men and women grooved to the music. Ava smiled at him and put her arms in the air as she moved her body, turning around so that her back was to him. He came up behind her and placed his hands on her hips, pulling her closer. They gyrated against each other, her arms slipping behind her head to caress the nape of his neck as his hands roamed her fabulous curves.

Hayden soon forgot all about the Oscars.

Ava slipped out of bed the morning of the big day with dark circles under her eyes. She showered and went downstairs to find that her housekeeper had arrived at the crack of dawn and had a full breakfast waiting for her in the sunroom.

Pouring a large mug of coffee, Ava smiled at Mercedes. “I don't think I'll be able to eat all this. It looks delicious, though.”

Mercedes hovered over the serving dishes filled with scrambled eggs, bacon, and ham. “You have to have something. You won't be eating again until the Governor's Ball tonight.”

They heard the side door open and close. “It's only me!”

Lola skipped into the room. “I should've stayed here last night because I didn't sleep a wink at home. Oh, Mercedes, you didn't make your famous blueberry pancakes by some miracle of miracles?”

Mercedes whipped off the cover of a chrome platter to expose a thick stack of them. “Do you think I'd forget you?”

Lola gave her a big kiss. “I love you.” She sat at the table and helped herself to three of them. “Are you having any, Ava?”

“No. Harold would kill me. I have to fit in that dress tonight.” She reached for a small helping of eggs and took a half a piece of whole wheat toast. “This is as much as I dare eat.”

“I'll put a granola bar in your purse,” Lola said with her mouth full. “You can shovel it in when you go to the loo.”

“Don't forget a pack…”

“…of Juicy Fruit gum. I know. I know.”

The rest of the day was all about pampering. A Swedish masseuse arrived after breakfast to give the two friends a relaxing massage, followed by a visit to Ava's favourite manicurist at a chic downtown spa. After their French manicure, pedicure, and facial, Harold and Maurice arrived and they got down to serious business.

“With that neckline we need to pull your hair back,” Maurice suggested. “That way we can see your pretty little neck and collarbones. Did you ever see such collarbones?” he asked Harold.

Harold nodded vigorously and put his hands on Ava's shoulders. “Why do you think I picked this dress?”

“I picked the dress,” Ava laughed.

“I seconded the motion.”

Lola sat on a divan in Ava's dressing room and watched the proceedings. “What are you going to do with my hair?” she asked Maurice.

Maurice turned to look at her. “I can't do a thing with that spiky mess except make it even spikier.”

Lola clapped her hands. “Oh, goody.”

When Ava finally got out of Maurice's chair, her makeup was perfectly applied to her alabaster complexion and her hair was divine, a smooth chignon at the nape of her neck, perfect for photographs from any angle. Even Ava couldn't stop looking at herself. “Wow. You outdid yourself, Maurice.”

Maurice collapsed dramatically into an overstuffed love seat. “My job is done!”

“Hey, you haven't done me yet!” Lola said.

“Oh, you'll only take a minute.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“You're lucky I'm doing anything at all, so zip it.”

Harold had his head cocked to the side. “I think we need one more thing. He picked up a thin velvet headband and placed it behind Ava's ears. It was the perfect finishing touch.

Once they helped Ava into the magnificent dress, the last accessories were her shoes, a pair of silk-organza platform sandals with Swarovski diamante details. Ava put them on and went to the full-length oval mirror in the corner of her dressing room. She stood there for a good minute, taking it all in.

Her three good friends were delighted for her.

“You look like a china doll,” Maurice sighed.

“You look like a princess,” Harold chimed in.

“Forget princess. She's a hot tamale!” Lola shouted.

They were laughing when Mercedes knocked softly on the door. She had a long rectangular box in her hands. “This came for you,” she said to Ava.

Ava flicked her wrist. “You can put them with the other flowers, if you don't mind, Mercedes.” She had been inundated that day with flowers from friends and admirers alike.

Mercedes hesitated. “I thought you might want to see these.”

Ava took the box from Mercedes' hands and placed it on her dressing table. She slid the small card out of its envelope and read the message. “We wish we could be with you. We'll all be together at Aunt Vi's tonight, cheering you on. Good luck. We love you. Xoxo.”

The box was filled with white daisies, her favourite flower. She could so easily picture the fields and meadows back home.

Ava immediately grabbed the back of her makeup chair and sat down heavily. Tears welled up and she couldn't stop them from rolling down her cheeks.

“My god, are you all right? Don't cry, honey. You'll ruin your makeup.” Maurice held a tissue to the corner of her eye.

“I'm sorry,” she whispered. “I'll be all right.”

“Who are the flowers from?” Harold asked.

“My family.”

They knew that talking about Ava's family was forbidden. Maurice knew more than the other two, but being the loyal friend he was, he never talked about it with anyone, including Harold.

“I'm sure they're very proud of you,” Lola ventured.

Ava nodded and continued to dab at her eyes. “They're going to be at Aunt Vi's tonight. I wish I was there too.” She got up and turned away from them. “I'm always alone.”

Her friends looked at each other and collectively felt a faint dread, knowing the excitement of this big day was overshadowed by something none of them could understand.

“Excuse me a moment.” Ava walked out of the room.

Maurice took the opportunity to give Lola a quick hairdo that was true glam rock, straight out of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. She loved it.

Once she got into her white fitted gown there was nothing else to do, so they went downstairs where they were joined by Camilla and Trent, who planned on traveling with Ava and Lola in the stretch limousine. They opened a bottle of Moet's and sipped from crystal champagne glasses while they waited.

Ava eventually came downstairs, subdued but smiling. They poured her a glass of champagne and toasted her success. She thanked them just as Mercedes poked her head in to tell them the car had arrived.

Assuring Ava they'd be fine, that they'd invited sixty of their closest friends over to their place for a fabulous Oscar night party, Maurice and Harold waved them off. Ava promised she'd call them as soon as she was able.

Traffic was awful. They waited in an endless line-up of limousines converging at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue in front of the Kodak Theatre. As the minutes passed, excitement was replaced with anxiety. Lola grabbed Ava's hand and tried to reassure her that it would be a walk in the park, but when the door was finally opened and Ava was ushered out in the limelight, it was as if everything intensified. A kaleidoscope of images swam before her eyes but she was all alone. Lola, Camilla, and Trent had to follow a few steps behind her, out of the way of the cameras. Ava looked around several times to make sure her friends were still nearby.

The screaming fans sitting in the bleachers along the red carpet started calling her name and flashbulbs popped crazily as she slowly made her way through the throng. Whenever Camilla touched her lightly on the back, she knew she had to stop for photos. Immediately, she'd turn sideways with her right foot forward slightly and give a peek-a-boo look over her shoulder.

Then it was on to the riser for the television show Movies Now! She climbed the stairs and was momentarily stunned to see Scott Fredericks standing there, with his wife on his arm. Ava and Scott hadn't laid eyes on each other since that day in her trailer. She wanted to turn around and run but the hostess Jan Munroe grabbed her arm and with her dazzling smile drew Ava close to Scott before turning to the camera. “Look who we have here tonight: Scott Fredericks and Ava Harris. Both nominated for an Academy Award for different movies, but isn't your new film together slated for release this summer?”

“That's right, Jan,” Scott said. “It's great to see you again, Ava.” He reached over and gave Ava a kiss on the cheek. She smiled at him.

“Ava, did you enjoy working with Scott?” Jan asked.

“Very much. He's a great actor.”

“Now before I let you go, Ava, who are you wearing?”

Ava rhymed off the dress designer, the shoemaker, and the jeweler, which she considered an accomplishment considering she could barely remember her own name. Jan Munroe asked the same question of Scott and then sent them on their way with a “Good luck to you both.”

As they turned to go back down the stairs, Scott paused and whispered, “Hope you lose.”

Ava ignored him.

Then on with the continuous smiling and chatting into microphones as she made her way to the grand spiral staircase that connected the four lobby levels. Trent and Camilla said goodbye there and went off to their balcony seats while Ava and Lola continued on. The theatre, which seated over three thousand, had three balcony levels and twenty-four theatre boxes set off by a highlighted “tiara,” a striking oval coated in silver leaf and intertwined with smaller ovals high above their heads within the vaulted ceiling.

It was overwhelming and Ava wanted to take it all in, but there were so many people trying to maneuver down the aisle that she didn't dare stop. Eventually they made it to their seats. She was two rows back from the stage, right on the aisle, along with most of the nominees; for those who won, the walk to the microphone would be as smooth as could be.

Lola counted down how many awards were to be presented before they got to her category. “Only seven before you.”

“Stop talking. You're making me nervous.” Ava reached into her jeweled clutch and pulled out a hankie. She dabbed at her upper lip. “It's warm in here.”

Lola leaned over and whispered, “This place is crawling with Hollywood royalty. These people are so hot it's a wonder this entire building doesn't spontaneously combust.”

Ava nudged her with her elbow. “Don't make me laugh.”

“Sorry.”

Ava smiled at some of the biggest names in Hollywood taking their seats in front of her. Most of them didn't acknowledge her, too preoccupied with their own big night, but a few gave her a brief nod or a quick smile. She refused to look at Scott, who as luck would have it was seated in the same row across the aisle. Her first award of the evening turned out to be the look on Scott Fredericks' face when he lost the Oscar to a relative newcomer.

Ava held Lola's hand and tried to look relaxed if she noticed a camera trained her way, but inside she was shaking. She honestly didn't know if she wanted to win. The thought of climbing those steps up to the stage was daunting. She'd rather stay in her seat and clap for someone else.

In the end, when it was announced that the Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role was Ava Harris, she didn't hear the words. It was Lola's reaction that clued her in. She grabbed Ava around the neck and gave her a kiss. “You did it! You did it!”

Everything was in slow motion after that. She heard a roaring in her ears. She saw that people were clapping and expecting her to do something, so she slowly rose from her chair and walked towards the actor who was waiting with an Oscar statuette in his hands. She couldn't for the life of her remember his name. But at the last minute she did recall Harold's instructions to pick up her skirt before she climbed the stairs. Luckily she made it to the top without incident and crossed the stage towards her presenter, who kissed her on both cheeks and whispered, “Congratulations” before he handed her the Oscar.

It was heavy. It was too heavy. She looked out towards the sea of people, unable to remember a thing she was supposed to say. At the Nominees Luncheon held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, the ceremony's producer told them they had an obligation to make their moment memorable. If they pulled out a list, they were done.

Ava had no list. She practiced some kind of speech in the bathroom mirror a few times, but never thought she'd have the chance to say it. All that ran through her mind was that millions of people around the world were watching her at this very moment.

Her family among them.


Page 5

She opened her mouth but no sound came. She started again. “Thank you so much. I…I'd like to thank the Academy for this wonderful award. Isabella was a dream role for me. To become an actress working in Hollywood has been a privilege I'd not thought possible growing up in a small town in Nova Scotia.”

She paused then and fought to keep her composure. “I'd like to thank my friends, who know who they are, but most of all I'd like to thank my family…the people I left behind. They mean everything to me.”

Unable to continue, she panicked a little and looked for the presenter, who quickly came towards her and ushered her off the stage with the help of the hostess as the audience clapped once more and the movie's theme music swelled from the orchestra pit.

The rest of the night was a blur. She was hustled from the back stage to the Press Gallery, through a throng of people who congratulated her as she maneuvered down the corridors. Eventually she stood like a scared rabbit in front of the world's press reporters as they bombarded her with question after question. It still hadn't sunk in that she won. It was only after the ceremony was over and she was reunited with Lola, Camilla, and Trent that she allowed herself to believe it was real.

Then it was off to the Governor's Ball held in the ballroom at the top level of the Hollywood & Highland Complex. Champagne flowed as the Hollywood A-list mingled with the Oscar winners and nominees. Ava had a quick sip of champagne, but was too busy being congratulated to enjoy even the smallest morsel of food. Then it was off to the Vanity Fair party where another round of celebrities danced and laughed the night away.

Music and conversation mingled with the clink of glasses and the sound of cameras whirring. The network reporters given clearance to attend the party all insisted Ava pose with the Oscar. It was a dizzying round of flashing lights and fixed smiles, made suddenly better when Hayden came through the crowd. He held out his arms and she ran into them.

“How's my girl? Too famous to associate with a struggling actor?” “Never,” she laughed. “How did you get in here? I thought it was invitation only.”

“I worked very hard for my invitation,” he smirked. “She's called Dagmar.”

“You're terrible, did you know that?”

He kissed her neck. “Why don't we get out of here and have our own little party? Just you and me and Oscar.”

Ava looked over Hayden's shoulder at her agent, who was walking proudly in and around the Hollywood big wigs, no doubt passing out his business card. “Trent wants me to show my face at a few more parties. How about I call you when I'm finished?”

“How about I go over to your house and let myself in? I'll be the naked man under the covers.”

She laughed and reached in her clutch for the house key. As she did, her cell phone rang. She picked it up and looked to see if she recognized the number. Area code 902. “Excuse me Hayden. I've been waiting for this. It's a call from home.”

She turned her back on him and put the phone to her ear. She covered her other ear with the palm of her hand, trying to hear over the din of revelers.

“Hello?”

It was her sister Rose.

“Did you see me?” Ava shouted with excitement.

“You were wonderful.”

“What did Ma and Aunt Vi think? Did you like my dress? I can't remember what I said. Did I make a fool of myself?”

“Stop,” Rose pleaded. “Please. I have to tell you something and I can't believe I have to do it now, but it's Ma.”

Ava's heart started to thud. “What about Ma?”

“I'm sorry honey, but she's sick. She was diagnosed with cancer three weeks ago.”

“What? What do you mean three weeks ago? Why didn't you tell me?!”

“She wouldn't let us. She didn't want to ruin anything for you, but I put my foot down tonight, because she had a bad spell today. The doctors don't think it's going to be too long.”

“Before what?”

“Before she dies. I'm very sorry love, but I think it's time you came home.”

Ava slipped to the floor in a dead faint.

CHAPTER TWO

The jet was cleared for landing. The pilot's voice came over the intercom.

“We'll be landing in Sydney in a few minutes, Miss Harris.”

Ava pressed her forehead against the cold window and tried to see something, but there was nothing but swirling grey clouds and small raindrops hitting the glass.

“I wish it had been a nice day out,” she sighed. “The scenery is beautiful on a clear day. You can see nothing but green trees and blue water. Of course in the winter only the fir trees are green.”

“That's nice.” Lola obviously wasn't paying attention. She sat in the leather seat opposite Ava with her nose in Vogue. “Look at this. Your dress is being touted as one of the best at the Oscars.”

“I don't want to talk about the Oscars.”

Lola put down the magazine. “Sorry, kiddo. You have more impor–tant things to worry about.”

Ava reached over and gave Lola's knee a pat. “I can't tell you what it means to me to have you here. I don't think I could have come alone.” “Why is that?”

Ava shrugged and looked back out the window.

The grinding sound of the wheels being released signaled that it wasn't going to be long now. Ava's stomach was in knots. She gripped the arms of her chair and closed her eyes.

The touchdown was surprisingly smooth, and as the engines roared to a crescendo, the private jet slowed considerably. They approached the airport terminal, but Ava was too nervous to look out the window. She busied herself gathering up her possessions. Lola did the same. Ava had told Rose that they had a car to take them to the hotel in Sydney, but Rose had a bad habit of not listening to a thing anyone said.

And Ava was right. When she walked down the stairs of the plane in the frigid air, there was a mob of relatives waving in the terminal window.

“Oh, God.”

Ava walked towards them, stifling the urge to turn and run. It was this sort of display that embarrassed her horribly. She knew there was no need for them all to be there. They just wanted a look at the girl who ran away from home and became a famous actress.

“Who are they?” Lola whispered in her ear, as she hurried along with the tote bags. “Rabid fans?”

“This is my family. Don't say I didn't warn you.” Ava took a deep cleansing breath, walked through the two sets of doors and suddenly there was no escape. She was swarmed from all sides. Lola was pushed back against the wall by a wave of humanity.

“Oh, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” Aunt Viola screamed. “It's herself, in the flesh.” She grabbed Ava in a death grip. “Oh girl, we can't be–lieve it. Your Ma will be so happy to see you.” Auntie Viola weighed a good two hundred pounds, with hands like hams and a helmet of stiff hair lacquered into place with Aqua Net. Her several chins quivered with excitement.

“Hello, Aunt Vi.” Ava couldn't expand her lungs, so tight was the hug she was locked in. Her arms hung limp by her sides.

“For jeezly sake, let her go,” Uncle Angus ordered, as everyone hopped up and down around them. “Come here, Libby.” Now it was his turn to grab her in a clinch. He looked exactly like Aunt Viola, except for the hair and the moustache. He didn't have either.

“I prefer Ava, Uncle Angus.”

He held her at arm's length. “You'll always be Libby to me, my darlin'. Vi, look at this girl. She's a beanpole! Don't you worry, my love. We'll fatten you up in no time.”

“I'm afraid my trainer would have your head.”

For the next ten minutes she was grabbed, kissed, hugged, pinched, and squeezed by her eight siblings and their families. Her teenaged nieces squealed like pigs at feeding time, while her nephews stared bug-eyed at her. Not that Ava saw them. She was blind from the cam–era flashes. Dots danced in front of her eyes and she couldn't find Lola in the crowd.

“Lola?”

An arm rose and waved from inside the moving mob. “I'm here. Over here.” Lola propelled herself through the crowd with a flying elbow or two. She finally reached Ava's side. “This is worse than a mosh pit!”

Ava grimaced. “It gets worse.”

“That's not possible.”

“Trust me.”

Aunt Vi grabbed Lola. “Are you Ava's best friend? Did you know you're the spitting image of Liza Minelli?”

“Really?” Lola frowned. “Oh, dear.”

“The drink'll do ya no good, my girl,” Aunt Vi tsked. “No good at all. Look what happened to Speed Bump.”

“Excuse me?”

“Speed Bump. Now there's a sad case. Got loaded one night and didn't Buddy Whatzhisname from up the road run him over with his brand new truck. Yep, a real sin.”

“He was killed?”

“No, my dear. He got up off his arse and went back to the Legion, but he's never been the same since. I feel sorry for his mother.”

Ava had enough. “Excuse me, but I haven't even had a chance to ask you about my mother.”

“Oh, she's right good today,” Uncle Angus smiled. “Ain't that so, Vi?”

Aunt Viola patted Ava's hand. “She is, my love. She's hanging on to see her baby.”

Ava felt her eyes begin to well up. She quickly turned to Lola. “You get the car sorted and I'll meet you outside.”

Uncle Angus looked shocked. “What do you mean? You're coming with us, surely?”

Ava hesitated. “Ah, no.” She waved Lola away. “Go. Go.”

Lola went.

Aunt Vi and Uncle Angus glanced at each other. Ava said hur–riedly, “Lola's my assistant.”

“Your assistant?” they said together.

Rose was close enough to overhear the conversation. “Lord flyin' dyin'. Imagine that. I need to get me one of those.”

Ava smiled at her. “I'll lend her to you.”

“Deal.”

“Look, I appreciate the fact that you came to meet me, but I'm tired and I need to get myself sorted before I go and see Ma. Can we meet at the hospital in an hour?”

Rose spoke first. “She's not there anymore. She's at home.”

“But I thought…”

“She wants to die at home, Libby. With her pain medication and the V.O.N. coming in, she's much more comfortable in her own bed.” “I see. Well, I'll meet you back at the house as soon as possible. Tell her I'm coming.” Before anyone could object, Ava pushed her way through the crowd of excited relatives. Then, to her horror, she real–ized the press was there, with another gang of on-lookers and fans. She turned back and looked to her sister. “I thought I told you not to tell anyone I was coming?”

“I only told Myrtle Beaver at Bingo.”

Ava couldn't believe it. “Megaphone Myrtle?”

“Oh, get over yourself,” Rose frowned. “You know damn well you can't keep a secret like this, so why try?”

“Fine. Never mind.” Ava pulled her cashmere shawl closer around her shoulders and made a dash for it. Lola was outside beside the limo's open door. She waved Ava on, as if she were coaching third base. Ava jumped in the car, Lola right behind her. The adoring fans mobbed the vehicle, but at least the screaming was muffled.

Ava sank back into the leather seat. “Oh my god. What am I go–ing to do? I'm trying to visit my dying mother and suddenly this has turned into a publicity tour.”

“Who let the cat out of the bag?”

“Rose, of course. She never could keep her mouth shut.”

“I hate to say it,” Lola smirked, “but it seems to run in your family.”

“Don't I know it,” Ava sighed.

Elizabeth Ruby MacKinnon, a.k.a. Ava Harris, was the baby in a family of nine, with seven years between her and her next sister, Rose. She'd known from a very early age that she was “the change” baby. She used to lie awake at night and wonder what that meant, exactly. It didn't sound very good and the fact that her mother was often im–patient and cross with her didn't help matters. Rose would tell her not to worry, that of course their mother loved her. But there was always a niggling doubt that pulled at Ava's thoughts. Try as she might to ignore it, it coloured everything.

Things became worse when her father was killed in the mine when she was eight. He was the only one in the house who never said a word to her. Everything Libby did was okay by him. Not that she saw him much. For a few minutes after he'd scrubbed the coal dust off his body and had a hefty plateful of Ma's homemade beans and corn bread. She'd sit on his lap in his rocking chair and inevitably, just as things got interesting and everyone was filling him in about their day, she'd be whisked off to bed.

Despite her protests, her father would kiss the top of her head and tell her to listen to her Ma. “Goodnight, Peanut,” he'd say. Usually it was Rose who pulled her up the stairs and tucked her in.

But Libby never stayed under the covers for long. She learned to move silently through the house, often hiding in closets if one of her siblings charged up the stairs or down the hall unexpectedly. Once she hid under the dining room table to listen in on a heated conversa–tion between her parents and one of her older brothers. She couldn't believe they didn't see her. They walked right by as if she were invis–ible. She made funny faces at her mother the next morning to see if she really was invisible. A quick cuff on the ear and a “smarten up” set her straight.

The day their father died, she curled up in her father's rocking chair and screamed blue murder when her siblings tried to take her upstairs to bed. They eventually had to leave her there. She slept in that chair for a month, until finally, at her wits' end, her mother threatened to throw her fairy doll in the wood stove if she didn't stop her nonsense.

The thing that bothered Libby the most was when her mother came to school for some reason. Most of her friends had young, pretty mothers. Libby told some girls in her class that her Ma was really her Nana. Somehow it got back to her brothers and sisters and she got in trouble. There wasn't much she didn't get in trouble for, or so it seemed. With so many siblings expressing their opinions about her misdemeanors, she always felt she was letting someone down, no matter how she handled a situation. It was exhausting.


Page 6

Ava got out of the shower and wrapped a towel around her head. She slipped on the hotel bathrobe and walked back to the king size bed. She threw herself on the mattress, face first, and groaned.

Lola shouted from the open door of the adjoining suite. “That doesn't sound too encouraging!”

“Kill me.”

“Sorry, if I do that, I'll be out of a job and you know I'm up to my eyeballs in debt.”

Ava turned over on her back and smirked. “And whose fault is that?” “Yours.”

“Oh?”

“Yippers. You look so damn good I have to spend a fortune to keep up appearances.”

Ava tugged at her hair, looking for split ends. “What a lot of horse–radish. The only reason I look good is Maurice, and he's not here at the moment, so you have no worries on that score.”

“True that.”

“Besides,” she laughed, “when I'm around, no one looks at you anyway.”

A pillow sailed through the door and landed on Ava's head. Lola followed suit. They tousled with the pillow for a moment but Ava won. She put it over her own face. “Do it. End it all.”

Lola tore the pillow away from her. “No. I'm dying to meet your family properly and see where you grew up. It can't be as awful as you say.”

“Oh, yes it can.”

“So, who cares? I'm still dying to see it. Did you live in a big house?”

“No. It's about the size of my bedroom closet.”

“Then it's gigantic.”

“Hush up, Lo. I don't want to go back there.”

Lola stopped clowning around and sat up against the head board. “Why? It's your family. You sound like you're afraid of them.”

Ava stared at the ceiling. “I guess I am.”

“Don't be silly. They love you.”

When she didn't answer, Lola shoved her with her toe. “I'm right.”

“They don't know me well enough to love me.”

“That's because you don't let people in.”

“Not this again.” Ava sat up. “I let you in, didn't I?”

“And you regret it enormously.”

“You took the words right out of my mouth,” Ava smiled. “I've got to get dressed. What should I wear?”

“Something black.”

“She's not dead yet.”

“Then something white, it might cheer her up.”

“I'll look like an angel come to take her to the other side. I don't want her to have a heart attack on top of everything else.”

“Wear what you want,” Lola shrugged.

“I can see now why I pay you the big bucks. You're indispensable.”

Lola got off the bed and sauntered into her room. “Remember that when my Christmas bonus comes around.” She shut the door behind her and left Ava to fend for herself.

Ava tried on a half a dozen outfits and got annoyed that she was dithering about it. Standing in front of the mirror didn't help. “Just put something on and get it over with.” She walked over to the win–dow and looked out on a typical Cape Breton winter day in February. Everything she had wasn't warm enough. She'd have to buy a winter coat or she'd freeze.

In the end she wore a pair of jeans and an oversized sweater, with her hair in a ponytail. She wanted to be as inconspicuous as possible. Trouble was, with her suede Steve Madden platform booties, Burberry trench coat, and Louis Vuitton handbag, she wasn't fooling anyone. Putting on oversized sunglasses didn't help matters.

Lola came out in a pinstriped pantsuit and did a double take. “You're wearing that!?”

Ava looked down at herself. “What's wrong with this?”

“It's pretty casual, don't you think?”

“So?” She grabbed her hotel key. “I don't want a big fuss.”

Lola sniffed as she grabbed her purse and coat. “No worries then, because no one will make a fuss over you in that.”

“Why do I keep you in my life?”

Lola pinched Ava's cheek. “Because you love me.”

Ava yanked the door open and walked through it. “Don't be so sure.”

Following her out and down the hall to the elevator, Lola said, “Listen kid, if it weren't for me you'd be a mess. We can't have you believing your own press, can we? Who else is gonna tell you the truth?”

Ava punched the elevator button and then put her arm through her friend's, her head resting on Lola's shoulder. “I know. Thank God you're here. Thank you for coming with me, I couldn't have done it alone.”

Lola patted her hand. “That's the second time you've said that. Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere.”

When they got off the elevator a crowd of teenaged girls accosted them.

“Oh please, can I have your autograph, Miss Harris?” they all said at once.

Ava put on her fake smile and murmured, “How sweet. So kind.” That was Lola's cue. She put her hands up. “Girls, it's lovely of you to come out tonight, but Miss Harris is here on personal family business. It's a sad occasion, so I'm sure you understand. Thank you.” Then she pulled Ava along through the protesting girls and managed to hustle her into the car.

“Sometimes I get tired of this,” Ava sighed.

“And sometimes you don't, you little diva.”

Ava watched the scenery go by on the twenty-minute car ride to Glace Bay. Most of it was familiar, but there were a lot of changes, enough to make her realize she was away a long time. Ten years, a significant portion of her life—she was only twenty-eight. (Though Trent insisted her official biography read twenty-three.)

New businesses had popped up everywhere along Welton Street, with big box stores built in and around the Mayflower Mall. There were more fast food restaurants than she remembered. She was happy to see The Tasty Treat still going strong. They always did have the best ice cream.

They passed the drive-in theatre, now closed for the winter. The huge ratty old sign board read “_lose_ for th_ sea_ _ _.”

When they drove by the cut-off for the town of New Waterford, more memories crowded in, ones she wanted for forget, so she tried to erase them from her mind by concentrating on the cemetery to her right. Forest Haven looked especially peaceful on this particular day, a vast expanse of undisturbed white snow covering the brass grave markers on the ground. Her grandparents were buried there, but she couldn't remember where exactly.

“Will you stop that?” Lola said.

Ava was aware of her heart beating too fast. “Stop what?”

“Biting your nails. You ruin every manicure you get.”

“Sorry.” Her hands were in her lap for about ten seconds before she started again.

Lola shook her head and looked out the window. “It's so funny here.”

“Funny?”

“All the houses are made of wood or vinyl siding. I don't see any brick anywhere.”

“I never really noticed.”

Lola pointed to a half a house. “And what the heck is that?”

“That's what they call a company house. For the miners. Two units were built side by side. If one side falls into disrepair, sometimes they bulldoze it and leave the other half standing.”

Lola continued to gawk. “But one side of that house has shutters and a porch and the other side doesn't have anything. And to make matters worse, they're not even painted the same colour. I love this place!”

They turned up Water Street, a winding narrow road that followed the harbour's edge. The houses were built facing in every direction because of old laneways that dissected some of the prop–erties.

Ava broke out in a cold sweat as they approached her father's house. She looked at the harbour, expecting it to be changed as well, but everything was exactly the same. Bright colours adorned the fish–ing boats tied up on shore for the winter. Seagulls looked like security guards as they stood on the wharf watching for anything that might resemble food. But it wasn't until she got out of the car and smelled the sea air that she realized she was home.

“Is this it? Why, it's a sweet little house,” Lola cried. “Just like a movie set!”

Ava tried to see it through Lola's eyes but wasn't very successful. It was an ordinary shingled house in need of a fresh coat of white paint. A small porch led to the front door that no one ever used. To make your way in, you had to go around back, by the coal shed and garage. The house had two stories and a pitched roof and it was about as nondescript as it could be except for the large iron anchor that marked the property's edge. The anchor, from her great-grandfather's Cape Islander boat, now did duty as a signpost. The block of wood hanging from it read, The MacKinnons. It had been crooked when she left and it was still crooked.

“It looks like Anne of Green Gables' house!” Lola said.

“Don't be ridiculous.”

“Well, maybe not, but is sure looks homey.”

“I can't believe eleven people lived in this house,” Ava said. “It's so small.”

The words were no sooner out of her mouth than the back door opened and out flowed the family.

“If it's big enough for this lot,” Lola laughed, “it can't be that small.”

They were swarmed and hustled inside, with Aunt Vi letting loose on some of the neighbours who gathered with their video cameras to catch a glimpse of the local girl who made good. She stormed across the yard, shooing people away as if they were chickens. “Git, the lot of ya. No use gawkin'.”

Her next-door neighbour, Thelma Steele, got a lip on. “Oh, stop being so bossy, Vi. It's only natural people want to have a peek.”

“She's come to visit her dyin' Ma, Thelma. She's not traipsing around for your gratification.”

Thelma got huffy. “No harm done if I just stand here.”

“Oh, go way with ya.” Vi turned around and practically ran back to the house. Thelma yelled to her. “Are you on sweets at Club on Wednesday?”

“Is the Pope Catholic?” Vi yelled back before she disappeared from sight.

Ava and Lola were ushered into the kitchen by way of a small back porch. Ava knew it was like no entranceway Lola had ever seen. There was an ancient washer and dryer on one side, with laundry piled up on top of it, on hangers above it and hanging off brooms and mops— something even hung on the nail holding up a calendar. The area was filled with boots and shoes of all sorts, the cat's dish with dried goop in it, the kitty litter box shoved to one side, raincoats, overalls, baseball bats, the dog's rawhide chew, a box of potatoes and a crate of apples. For some reason, there was even a lemon pie in a cardboard box.

Then it was on to the kitchen, but it was hard to see what it was like with the number of people in it. The one great thing about it was the smell. Fresh baking sat on racks everywhere. Lola was in heaven.

“Look at all these goodies. Did you do all this?” she asked Aunt Vi. “This? Holy Moses, this ain't much. Let me grab you a plate,” she said as she bustled off. Uncle Angus tried to steer Ava towards the rocking chair in the corner but she managed to slip from his grasp.

“Lord, child. You're like a slippery eel.”

“Sorry, Uncle Angus. I'd prefer to take a look around. Not much has changed, I see.” She took off her sunglasses and her eyes swept the kitchen. Her family looked at her. Rose reached up and touched her hair. “This is a fantastic colour. It's like honey. What's the name of it? I should get a box.”

“It's about fifteen different shades,” Ava grinned. “It takes Maurice three hours to work his magic. No box involved.”

Her nieces all gave a collective sigh. “Who's Maurice?” one of them asked.

“My hairdresser and makeup man.”

They sighed again. Before they asked her anything else, she cut them off. “I'm having trouble putting names to some of the younger kids. Who's who?”

Not that she could remember them all, but she did listen carefully as each of her brothers and sisters proudly pointed out their offspring and listed the ones absent. Her eldest brother Johnnie had two sons, almost her age. Lauchie had one daughter, Hugh three boys, Sandy two girls. Gerard never married, but declared he had offspring in ev–ery town on the island. Bev had a boy and a girl, Maryette two girls, and Rose two of each.

Quite a few of them looked like their parents as Ava remembered them when she was growing up, so it wasn't as difficult as she imag–ined keeping everyone straight. Vi insisted that they sit at the kitchen table for a cup of tea and a quick bite before venturing upstairs to see Ava's mother. At first Ava wanted to object, but she thought the better of it. She realized she hadn't eaten all day and maybe that was why she was feeling lightheaded.

Lola raved about the food. “Mrs.—sorry, I don't know your last name—”

“It's MacIntosh dear. But call me Aunt Vi. Everyone else does.”

“Well Aunt Vi, I say we bundle you up and take you back to California. You'd make a killing with these delicious desserts. Wolfgang Puck could use you as a pastry chef.”

One of the kids laughed. “Wolfgang Puck is a person? Who'd name their kid Wolfgang?”

“Mr. and Mrs. Puck, obviously,” Lola laughed.

“Do you have a mansion?” one of the girls asked Ava.

“No. It's nice though. It's in Malibu.”

This elicited more squeals. Then one of the boys spoke up. “How come we never go and visit you?”

The room became quiet. Ava had a hard time swallowing her blue–berry cake, so she took a gulp of strong tea. “I guess that's because I'm not home too often.”

“Why?”

“I travel a lot. Movies are made all over the world now.”

Rose's daughter Vicky spoke up. “I saw your picture in People maga–zine. You were on their 50 Most Beautiful People list. Were you excited?” Ava spoke to her plate. “More embarrassed than anything.”

Aunt Vi, who had her hands in the sink washing dishes, turned around and wiped them on her apron. “Don't be so foolish, child. Look at ya. Why, anyone can see you're a looker.”


Page 7

“She wasn't when she was a kid,” Gerard teased. “She was as homely as a hedge fence.”

Everyone booed him down. Uncle Angus held his hands up. “Hush now. Mamie's upstairs.”

Ava suddenly stood. “I better go see her now. Are you coming, Lola?”

Lola looked horrified. “Of course not. She doesn't want to see me. I'll meet her another time, you go ahead.”

Ava stayed rooted to the spot. It wasn't until Rose came over and put her arm around her shoulders that she took a step. “It'll be all right, Libby. It's only Ma. She's so anxious to see you.”

Ava had no choice but to go along with her sister. Walking up the back stairs, her feet seemed to get heavier with each step and her courage seeped away. By the time they stood in front of her mother's bedroom door, she was breathless. Rose turned to look at her. “Now it's going to be a shock, Libby. You haven't seen her in ten years and she's gone downhill pretty fast these last few weeks. But I'm right here, okay?”

Ava nodded. Rose opened the door.

CHAPTER THREE

Downstairs, the family turned their attention to Lola, who was busy chowing down on Aunt Vi's baking. Eventually she noticed there were about twenty-five pairs of eyes on her, if you counted the dog and various cats milling about. She coughed on the last bite of a pineapple square and took a sip of tea, then patted the napkin against her red lips and balled it up on a plate.

“Oh my, that was out of this world.”

“Did you like your lunch, dear?” Aunt Vi asked.

“Lunch?”

“That's what you had.”

“You call eating desserts lunch?”

Uncle Angus sat in the rocking chair. “Well then, my girl, what would you call it?”

“A diet crisis, but never mind, it was worth every mouthful.”

At that point most of the family left to go home and make their own suppers—as though with Ava out of the room there wasn't much point in sticking around. Aunt Vi and Ava's sisters Bev and Maryette, however, rushed to sit at the table with Lola. Their teenage daughters hung around the edges, hoping they wouldn't be sent home with their fathers and brothers.

Lola looked at these female relatives of Ava's and saw the family resemblance. They were all fair haired and none of them were what you would call big people, except of course for Aunt Vi. A few of them had red hair and almost all of them had a smattering of freckles—the same freckles Maurice said were the bane of his existence. Of course, they looked as if they could do with a little pampering, but on the whole, they were a pleasant-looking bunch. The one thing they did have in common was Ava's lovely smile. But there was a big difference: They smiled a lot more then Ava did.

Aunt Vi clasped her hands and put them on the table. “Right now, girlie. I'd like to ask you something.”

“Shoot.”

“Is Libby happy?”

Lola was taken aback. “Goodness. You cut right to the chase.”

“No use mincing words, as they say.”

She had to think fast. “Of course she's happy. Why? Don't you think so?” Aunt Vi looked at her nieces. “What do you think, girls?”

Bev and Maryette exchanged glances. Bev spoke first. “It's hard to tell of course, since we've only seen her for a few minutes, but I'm not sure. I hoped to see her as she was before she left us.”

“And how was that?” Lola wanted to know.

“Bubbling.”

“She was like a fairy,” Maryette grinned.

Rose's daughter Vicky spoke up. “Mom always says that too.”

Maryette continued. “Oh yes, she was a fairy, all right. Never in one spot too long, always flitting about, smiling and happy. And that laugh. She had a sparkling laugh.”

Uncle Angus rocked and sucked on his pipe. “I remember we used to tell her jokes or tickle her so we could hear that laugh. It was like music.”.

An unsettling feeling came over Lola. “I never knew that.”

“What do you mean?” Bev said. “You must know if you're her friend.”

Lola cleared her throat. “Oh, I do. I do. She does have a great laugh. I mean, she never told me about you trying to trick her, that's all.”

The others seemed satisfied with that, but Aunt Vi didn't look fooled. “She doesn't laugh much, does she?”

Lola was stuck. She floundered for something to say. Aunt Vi reached out and gave her hand a pat. “You're not betraying her, dear. We aren't her public. We're family and we're concerned about her.”

“But why? Why are you concerned? That's what I don't understand.” Aunt Vi sighed, as if impatient with such a question. “Girl, what do you call running away from home and never coming back? Does that sound like someone who's happy?”

There was nothing else she could say. “No.”

Rose's daughter Vicky spoke up again. She actually raised her hand, as if she were in class. “But I don't understand. Why wouldn't she be happy? She lives in Malibu, she's hot, she goes out with all kinds of super hot guys and she makes millions. I'd be happy, wouldn't you guys?” She looked at her cousins and they nodded furiously.

Aunt Vi dismissed her with a wave of her hand. “What's that got to do with the price of eggs?”

“Huh?”

“Child, you're too young to know what you're talking about.”

Vicky looked peeved. “Well, if she isn't happy, then she's nuts.”

Bev leaned towards Lola. “Does she have a boyfriend? Someone other than her co-stars?”

Lola shrugged. “From time to time.”

“But they don't last, do they?”

“Not really.”

“Why?”

Lola shrugged again. “It's a hard life, believe it or not. You never know whether a man wants you for you or for the actress on the screen.”

“That's a problem?” Bev's daughter Samantha snorted. “Who cares? She's dated Toby James for heaven's sake!”

“Who hasn't?” Lola muttered.

Samantha's mother got cross. “Okay Sam, will you girls go somewhere else, please? This isn't your concern. We shouldn't be discussing this in front of you anyway.”

Samantha and her cousins huffed off into the living room with complaints of always having to leave when the going got good. Once they were gone, Lola couldn't resist.

“What happened to make her run away? She's never said a thing to me about it. Not a word.”

Ava's sisters looked at their Aunt Vi, who in turn looked at Uncle Angus. He nodded ever so slightly. She leaned closer to Lola and whispered, “A romance gone sour.”

“A romance? When she was seventeen?”

The ladies nodded knowingly.

Lola didn't believe it. “Come on. No one runs away because of a high school crush.”

“This was no ordinary crush,” Maryette frowned. “We tried to tell Ma that, but she wouldn't listen.”

“Well, what happened?”

Bev shook her head. “No one knows. That's the strange part about it. One minute they were so in love it was scary. The next minute… poof! She was gone.”

“Well, not the next minute,” Maryette corrected her. “She was here that summer after Seamus went to New Brunswick. She was sad when he left. She didn't want him to go.”

“She was sad before he left,” Bev added. “She wasn't quite herself, probably because she knew he was going.”

“Who was he?”

“Only the most gorgeous boy you ever laid eyes on,” Maryette sighed. “Even we were jealous of her and half of us were married!”

“What was his name?”

“Seamus O'Reilly.”

Lola laughed out loud. “You're making that up.”

They looked at her in confusion.

So they weren't kidding. “I'm sorry,” she stammered. “It's just that he sounds like someone from a Harlequin romance…”

Uncle Angus kept rocking. “No, my girl. There's lots of O'Reillys around here. And Seamus is a good, old-fashioned name. Lots of Scots and Irish in this part of the world.”

“What happened to him?”

“There's a sad story,” Aunt Vi tsked. “I'll never forget when his mother came up to the house to speak to Mamie, saying her son's heart was broken and who did that little madam think she was? Girl, the fur was flyin' that day. Mamie had her finger in that poor woman's face telling her it was all her son's fault her daughter run off and how she'd never let another O'Reilly cross her threshold ever again. Then I think she went after her with the broom.”

“It was the coal shovel,” said Uncle Angus.

“You're right, Angus, it was the coal shovel. Chased her halfway down Water Street. Lord have mercy, what a sight.”

Lola couldn't believe her ears. “Good heavens, it's like a bad movie. But where is Seamus now?”

Maryette crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. “He's still around, but we hardly ever see him.”

“Did he marry?”

“Yes,” Bev replied. “A nice little girl, Sally Hooper. A shame about her, too.”

Lola was reeling at this point. In the back of her mind she saw a Hollywood script in the making. “What about her?”

“She died after their second child was born.”

“Are you serious?”

Aunt Vi gave her a look. “Why do you think we're lyin' to you all the time?”

Lola put her hand on Aunt Vi's arm. “I'm sorry. It's not that I doubt you; I just can't believe all this. It sounds so…”

“Dramatic?” Maryette volunteered.

“Yes, I guess that's what I mean.”

“Everything about Libby's life is dramatic,” Bev smiled. “I guess that's why she's such a great little actress.”

Lola had to know. “So Seamus is raising two children by himself?” “His sister helps out,” Aunt Vi said. “Now there's a nice girl. Kids of her own, but she's always there when he needs her.”

“Does Ava know about Seamus…about his wife, I mean?”

Aunt Vi frowned. “Well, Rose opened her big gob and told her he was married, but no, we never told her Sally died. Too afraid I guess. She's never asked about him. It's best to let it be.”

“He lives out Mira,” Bev continued. “And I think that's a shame. I've never understood why he doesn't come into town with those babies and be closer to folk. It would make his life a whole lot easier.”

“Maybe he's afraid of running into all of you,” Lola said.

Aunt Vi and her nieces looked at each other and suddenly Lola was sorry she opened her big mouth. “I didn't mean that. I'm sure that's not it.”

Aunt Vi slapped the table. “You've hit the nail on the head, girlie! Why didn't we think of that before?”

Uncle Angus chuckled. “We never were too bright.”

All of them laughed, so Lola joined in as well.

Upstairs Ava and Rose sat on either side of their mother's bed. Mamie was fast asleep, which was just as well, because the minute Ava laid eyes on her, she put her hand up to cover her mouth so she wouldn't gasp out loud.

Rose put her arm around her. “It's okay, Libby. Sit down.”

Ava did as she was told. She couldn't have stood much longer anyway. It was a shock to see her loud and bossy mother lying faded and weak on her pillow.

“She looks so old.”

Rose chuckled as she sat down herself. “She is old, honey. She'll be eighty in a week, God willing.”

Ava shook her head. “I can't believe it. I thought she'd live forever. I never thought she'd get sick.”

“Sorry to disappoint you, but we're all ten years older than the last time we laid eyes on you.”

Ava glanced at her sister before looking at her hands. “I know. I'm sorry. I always meant to come home, but there never seemed to be enough time.” Rose didn't answer, but one look at her face told Ava what she thought about that statement.

“I always missed you,” she added.

“And we missed you,” Rose replied. “It's a terrible shame that you only come home when one of us is dying.”

“Don't. Please.”

“It's the truth, isn't it?”

“I know, I know. I just can't deal with it all at once.” Ava reached over and grabbed a handful of tissue from her mother's bedside and began to shred them into little pieces. “I feel badly about it.”

“Why, Lib? Just tell me why. You don't know what it was like here, after you left. Ma was so hurt. She read that letter over and over and asked us what she did wrong. It was awful.”

Ava's heart was heavy, so heavy she had to take shallow breaths. But there was also something else below the surface. “You're telling me the only time she paid any attention to me was when I was gone?”

Rose looked shocked. “Is that what you think?”

Ava didn't trust herself to speak, so she shrugged.

Rose shook her head. “Libby…”

“Ava.”

“I can't call you Ava. Ava is the girl I saw at the movie theatre last Friday night. Libby is my baby sister and I want to tell her to grow up.” Ava clenched her teeth. Here it comes.

“You've been saying that so long, I think you actually believe that Ma was never there for you.”

“It's true, Rose, and you know it.”

Her sister pointed her finger right in her face. “Stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about what it was like for her.” Rose paused to look at her mother. “I've got four kids and I can hardly see straight. She had nine! Nine kids to bring up and suddenly her husband dies horribly and leaves her to cope with everything on her own. It wasn't easy. She'd be so tired at the end of a day, she couldn't move, let alone speak, and all you remember is that she didn't play patty-cake with you? She was in her sixties when you were a bratty teenager. Are you honestly telling me that you felt cheated somehow? You had four mothers! Maryette, Bev, and I looked after you like you were a baby doll. No, my girl, I don't know where you ever got the idea that you were neglected, but it sure wasn't in this house.”


Page 8

Ava wanted to run. Anywhere. Her head was going to explode if she sat for one more minute.

“Hush now.”

Both heads turned at the sound of their mother's voice. “Leave the girl alone, Rose.”

Ava reached for her mother's hand. “Ma? It's so good to see you again. I'm sorry…”

Her mother smiled and squeezed Ava's fingers. “You look the same. You hardly look a day older.”

“That's because your eyesight isn't that good, Ma,” Rose laughed. “That's true, but it's good enough for me to see her father in her.” At the mention of her father, Ava began to cry, startling both her sister and her mother. But there wasn't a thing she could do about it. She leaned over and laid her head on her mother's breast.

“It's okay, let it out,” her mother said. She rubbed Ava's back and made soothing noises. Then she looked at Rose. “Why don't you leave us, Rose? I think Libby needs to be with me for a while.”

“I'll be downstairs if you need anything.”

They didn't answer. She crept out of the room and closed the door quietly behind her.

“Please don't die,” Ava hiccupped into her mother's nightie. “Not now.”

“I'll try not to,” her mother smiled.

“Why didn't you call me when you found out? I would've come right away.”

“Because I wanted you to enjoy your moment in the sun. There would have been nothing for you to do but drag me to doctor's appointments, and your sisters were perfectly capable of doing that.”

Ava's back began to hurt, so she lifted herself up and took more tissue to wipe her wet face. “I've been stupid and selfish to stay away so long. I hope you can forgive me.”

“I forgave you a long time ago. I think it's time you forgave yourself.” “That may take a while.”

Her mother closed her eyes, and for a minute Ava thought she went back to sleep. It was hard to look at her face. Her cheeks were hollow and her once thick hair was now wispy and shapeless, but what was worse was looking at her hands. They were nothing but bones and sinew, with blue veins and age spots covering her thin skin. They seemed almost transparent, as if the life force that once ran through them was disappearing.

Mamie spoke but kept her eyes closed. “Are you ever going to tell me why you left?”

Ava stayed awake many nights, trying to think of an explanation that would satisfy her family's curiosity, but she'd never come up with anything believable, so there was nothing to do but lie.

“I wanted to see the world, I guess. I felt stifled here.”

“You left a lot of people behind.”

“I know.”

“Seamus, for one.”

It was the first time in years she'd heard his name spoken out loud. It made him real again and she nearly stopped breathing altogether. Now it was her turn to close her eyes, but it was no good. His face swam before her, the face that had haunted her dreams for ten long years. Would it ever be over? Could she ever be free of him?

At that moment, she'd have give anything to be the one in bed dying.

CHAPTER FOUR

When Ava walked back into the kitchen, she found Lola holding court at the kitchen table. She had the family in stitches over something. Ava envied her easy manner. She looked like she belonged and she only knew them an hour. It was a talent Ava would never possess.

As soon as Rose saw her, she came over and put her arms around her. “I'm sorry for giving you old heck five minutes after you walked in the door.”

“Doesn't matter. I deserved it.”

“Are you okay?”

She nodded. “Ma's gone back to sleep.”

“She sleeps a lot now. It's the pain medication.”

Aunt Vi hopped out of her chair. “Come sit, me darling. You look like you've seen a ghost.”

Ava was grateful for the seat. Two seconds after she sat down a cup of tea was placed in front of her along with another plateful of goodies.

“Oh, I couldn't eat another bite, Aunt Vi.”

“Go way with ya. That there cake won first prize at the fair last fall. I got the recipe from Una Murchison. That woman knows her way around a Bundt pan.”

“Well, you come a close second,” Lola said.

“Learned everything I know from my mother. Now there was a woman who knew a thing or two about baking. I was making bread by the time I was eight.”

“I'd love to make my own bread,” Lola confessed. “But I'd only eat it.”

“Well, what else would you do with it?” Uncle Angus chuckled. “You Hollywood people are mighty strange.”

“You've got that right,” Lola laughed. “Doesn't he, Ava?”

Ava nodded and took a sip of tea, pretending not to notice everyone glance at each other. Let them think what they want. She wasn't feeling up to small talk and the family must have sensed it, because the conversation resumed without her. Ava was eternally grateful that Lola was there to deflect the attention away from her. It was beyond the call of duty, but then Lola seemed to be having a good time. It almost made her envious.

Ava, on the other hand, felt as if she were underwater. Muffled voices droned on around her and everything seemed out of focus, everything but her father's rocking chair. As Uncle Angus rocked back and forth over the floor cloth worn away by the constant motion, she heard the faint squeak, and if she closed her eyes, it was as if her father had come back to her.

If only that were true.

Someone put their arm around her shoulder. She looked up. It was Aunt Vi.

“Pet, you look wore out. I'll go make up the spare room. There are twin beds in there for you and Lola. Uncle Angus and I are in your old bedroom because it's closer to your mother's room.”

For a brief moment Ava forgot that her aunt and uncle lived in the house now. They'd decided years ago that it didn't make sense for Mamie to be rattling around by herself. It was a wise move financially, to combine their households, since Vi and Angus were always over helping out Mamie anyway.

“That's sounds great, Aunt Vi…” Lola started to say, but Ava interrupted her.

“I think I'll stay at the hotel if you don't mind.”

“In heaven's name, why? You're throwing away good money. You can stay here for free.”

“Money doesn't matter,” she sighed.

“Well, excuse us, Miss Moneybags,” her sister Bev snorted. “For your information, money does matter around here. You don't need to be rubbing our noses in the fact that you can afford anything you please.”

This visit was rapidly turning into a bad idea. “I didn't mean it that way.”

“But it doesn't make much sense,” Rose said. “You're here for a visit but you're going to stay in a hotel? We can't be traipsing into Sydney every day. We have families and jobs. It would be a whole lot easier if you stayed here.”

“I know Mamie would love it, dear,” Aunt Vi nodded. “She's talked of nothing else for days.”

It was a losing battle. “All right, all right.”

“Don't do us any favours,” Bev grumped.

Maryette turned on her sister. “Leave her alone. Today couldn't have been easy, all of us swarming her the way we did.”

Ava gave her a faint smile.

Lola jumped in. “We really must go back tonight to collect our things. But we'll return tomorrow after lunch, how does that sound?”

Aunt Vi clapped her hands. “Oh, it will be so much fun having young people in the house again!”

Uncle Angus got out of the rocking chair. “What on earth are you talking about, woman? We've got youngsters crawling all over this place. They never leave us alone.”

“That's because they know a soft touch when they see one,” Rose teased him.

“Don't be so foolish.” But with the next breath, he took the change out of his pocket and hollered, “Who wants a loonie?”

The kids galloped into the kitchen.

Soon after that, the sisters and their children bid Ava and Lola goodnight. There were kisses all around. Aunt Vi invited everyone over for a roast chicken dinner the next day. They told her it was too much, that she had enough to do with Mamie. She wouldn't hear of it, so the girls each said they'd bring a dish.

Lola asked if she could bring a dish too.

“Go way with ya,” Aunt Vi laughed. “We've got plenty.”

Lola would not be dissuaded. “Let me bring something. There must be a bakery around here.”

“There's nothing a bakery has that I don't make better myself, so there's no sense wasting your brass.”

Lola held up her hands. “Okay. I've been warned. But I'm still going to bring something. A big dinner sounds like fun.”

Uncle Angus took his pipe out of his mouth. “Were you an only child, by chance?”

“Yes, how did you guess?”

“Fun isn't exactly how I'd describe a big dinner.”

“It's a lot more fun for you than it is for me,” Aunt Vi sniffed. “You sit back and eat a bellyful while I slave away over a hot stove.”

Uncle Angus put his arms around his wife's so-called waist. “I'm a lucky man, what am I?”

She slapped him away. “Get off, you old fool.”

On the way back to the hotel, Ava hardly said a word, while Lola prattled on about how wonderful her family was. She nodded at the appropriate moments and even smiled a few times. Ava knew when Lola became fed up with her, but it couldn't be helped. She looked out one window while Lola looked out the other. The rest of the ride was silent. When Ava got back to the hotel room, she told Lola she was going to take a shower and she'd see her in the morning. Lola was about to say something, but Ava gave a little wave and closed the door. Throwing her purse and trench coat across the room, she practically ripped the clothes off her body before turning on the shower faucets full blast. As soon as the water was hot, she stepped in and let the water rain down over her head.

It was too much. Her mother, her father, the ten years she'd missed with her siblings, and now Seamus.

Seamus.

It was always about him.

With her head pounding, she eventually turned off the shower and climbed back into the bathrobe hanging on the bathroom door, then towel-dried her hair before wiping the fogged-up mirror with it. Her eyes looked swollen. If only the gossip rags could see this, she thought. Wouldn't they have a field day?

She reached for the expensive moisturizer on the counter and soothed it over her hot and blotchy face. Everything ached. Grabbing a couple of painkillers, she swallowed them with a handful of water from under the tap, and then turned out the bathroom light, threw off the bathrobe and crawled into bed. She desperately wanted to sleep but couldn't. Trying not to think of Seamus kept her awake. He was in this city somewhere, married to Sally. Maybe they had children by now. She wondered if he ever thought of her. Finally, in desperation, she gave in and let him come to her, remembering the first day she laid eyes on him. Their school was hosting a skating party and a bunch from the high school in New Waterford came into the rink together. Her friends were excited at the thought of seeing a few new boys. She thought they were crazy and told them so.

“They're going to be the same as the boys in our high school. New Waterford isn't on the other side of the planet. It's fifteen minutes from here.”

“That's not what my Dad says.” Her friend Marilyn tied up her skates as she spoke. “He says they're nuts, but I think that's because my Uncle Charlie lives there, and he's crazy.”

“So everyone in New Waterford is nuts because of your crazy Uncle Charlie?”

“Apparently, but my dad is a bit queer too. You know fathers. Oh, sorry, Libby. I forgot.”

“That's okay.” But it wasn't okay. She always felt hollow when someone mentioned their dad. Fortunately, a commotion at the door saved her from brooding. A group of about ten boys walked in, laughing and talking. Her friends preened and started to whisper behind their hands.

Libby kept very still. She picked him out the second he walked through the door. Everyone else walked in real time but he was in slow motion. It registered with her that he was tall and had brown hair and eyes, but it was his smile that made her heart pound, and the way he walked and the way he filled out a pair of jeans. His hair was long, brushing the collar of his hockey jacket. He was simply the nicest-looking boy she'd ever seen. And she knew by the squeals from her friends that they thought so too.

“Who is he?” Marilyn cooed. “He's adorable. Look at his skin. He doesn't even have a pimple.”

“I bet he has a girlfriend though,” said another. “Why couldn't it be me?”

Libby didn't open her mouth. It was so dry she couldn't say anything anyway. And then it became impossible.

He looked right at her and stopped dead. The boy behind him careened right into him.

“Omigod,” Marilyn whispered. “Libby, he's looking at you. Do you see him?”

She wanted to tell her friend that she couldn't see anything but him, but her voice was still gone.

His friends followed his stare and started to tease him and shove him about. A few wolf whistles rang out. He suddenly turned around and told them to knock it off. They gave him a hard time, so he went right past her and up into the stands to put on his skates.

Marilyn told her to hurry up and get out on the ice, but Libby needed to get away from them for a minute. She had to think. The girls' bathroom seemed like a safe haven, but walking towards it, she was aware of him watching her every move out of the corner of his eye. When she looked in the bathroom mirror and saw her cheeks were blood red, she splashed cold water on her face and patted it dry with a paper towel.

Libby felt lightheaded and it threw her for a loop, but she knew exactly why that was. This was desire. She'd never felt it before, but she knew from romance books that this is what happened when you fell in love.

She couldn't stay in the bathroom all afternoon, but she was almost afraid to go back out. What if she was mistaken? What if he ignored her? How on earth would she get through life without this boy she'd never even met?


Page 9

He was skating when she reappeared. She decided the best course of action was to ignore him and pretend to have a good time. Stepping onto the ice, Marilyn skated past her and gestured for her to join her, but she couldn't keep up. She wasn't a very good skater.

A group of her girlfriends came by and one of them grabbed her hand. “Hang on!” Libby found herself at the end of a line that was going to whip around and then let go. She let out a yelp and tried to stay on her skates. She went faster and faster and knew she was going to fall. They released her and she sailed into the boards—or would have if that good-looking boy hadn't stopped her first.

He put his arms around her and lifted her off her feet, going around and around before he stopped.

“Are you okay?”

She nodded.

He grabbed her hand. “Come on.”

He took off and pulled her around the ice. He was going too fast for her to skate, so she kept a tight hold on his arm. She felt as if she were flying—through the rink and out beyond the stars. She never wanted it to end.

When he finally slowed down, he took both her hands and started to skate backwards.

“What's your name, little skater?”

“Libby,” she laughed.

“Libby.”

When he said her name she felt a tingle go through her body. She was aware of Marilyn going by with a big smile on her face, giving her a thumb's up.

He finally said, “Don't you want to know mine?”

“Yes, please.”

He laughed out loud. “It's Seamus.”

“I like it.”

“I want you to love it.”

She smiled at him. “Okay then, I love it.”

He pulled her to him and kept her hands in his. “And I love yours. So I'll make you a promise, little skater. Tonight, when I'm alone in my room, I'm going to whisper your name before I go to sleep and I'll keep doing it until the day I can whisper it in your ear.”

No one had ever talked to her like that before. She stood with her mouth open and tried to think of something wonderful to say too, but she couldn't think. She was aware only of his warm hands.

He gave her the sweetest smile. “Do you want to go round again?”

She suddenly found her voice. “No. I want to kiss you.” And she reached up and put her arms around his neck. Her mouth found his and she tasted his Juicy Fruit gum.

“Libby, I love you.”

She was suffocating. He held her by the door and over the desk and in the stairwell. She wanted to run but she couldn't and now there was rain pounding against the roof. It was dark and she was frightened, so very, very frightened. The rain got louder and louder and suddenly lightning flashed and in that split second, she saw him.

She screamed.

She screamed when Lola crashed through the door into her room, brandishing a shoe.

“I've got a gun,” she yelled. “Where is he?”

Ava sat straight up in bed and then realized she had nothing on. She gathered the sheet in front of her. “My god, who's here?”

“You tell me. The way you were yelling, I thought you were being ravished!”

She ran her fingers through her knotted hair. “You scared me half to death.”

Lola threw the shoe away and plunked herself on the bed. “You were screaming like a banshee, so what was I supposed to do? Did you have a nightmare?”

“I guess I must have. I don't remember.”

Lola yawned. “Well, you can just bet some little chamber maid will say you had an orgy in here and it will be front page news by tonight.”

“Naturally. Pass me that bathrobe, would you?”

Lola stretched over the bed and grabbed it off the floor. Ava put it on and then lay across the bed on her side, holding her head in her hand. “Sorry about last night.”

“No biggy,” Lola shrugged. “You had a pretty emotional day.”

“I never realized it would be so hard. I thought family reunions were happy occasions.”

“I'm sure they are, but they are also a cesspool of memories, good and bad.” Lola got off the bed and went to the window. “Looks like a nice day out there.”

“Are you sure you want to stay with me? Wouldn't you rather be on Rodeo Drive buying some fabulous outfit?”

Lola jumped back on the bed. “Hell no, this is fun. I love your family. What a bunch of characters.”

“But to stay there…”

“You say that like it was some flea-bitten motel. I'm dying to eat Aunt Vi's cooking. What a treat.”

“I suppose so,” Ava sighed. “I've got to stop being selfish and do my share. I'm sure Aunt Vi could use the break from running up and down stairs all day.”

Lola patted her arm. “Today will be better. I think it was nerves yesterday. Let's face it; it must have been hard to see your mom.”

“You have no idea. I felt so guilty!”

“Guilt is stupid. I hate guilt. I've decided to declare myself a guilt-free zone. Who's with me?”

Ava jumped up and hugged her friend. “That's why I love you. No one can be sad around you.”

They ordered room service and ate way too much, then showered, dressed, and made arrangements to rent a car. One could hardly sneak around town in a limo. They packed their bags and were on their way by noon.

Ava felt decidedly better after coming to the conclusion that if she had to be here, she might as well enjoy herself. She'd missed enough time with her family already.

But first things first. Lola wanted to pick up something for Aunt Vi. “I could buy dinner rolls.”

“She'll have made them already.”

“How do you know?”

“I know.”

“But she has your mom to look after too.”

“Doesn't matter.”

“Okay then,” Lola sighed. “What do you suggest?”

“Well, you can't buy baking, because as you know it will be a pale imitation of hers. You can't buy pickles or chow because she'll have tons of it in the pantry. You can't buy jams or jellies.”

“Okay then, how about wine?”

“They don't drink wine.”

“They don't drink?”

“I didn't say that. Uncle Angus likes a drink of rum and Aunt Vi loves beer.”

“All right. Let's load them up with some booze.”

“Okay.”

Off they went to the liquor store. Ava put on her sunglasses and tucked her hair up in a scarf. When they got in there, they bought enough liquor to keep the family going for months. The old fella in the line-up behind them shook his head. “How ya go about gettin' an invite to this here party?”

“I'll have my people call your people,” Lola said.

“Huh?”

Ava told her to behave. They had a young clerk help them to the car with their purchases. Ava handed him a twenty-dollar tip.

He looked at it for a moment. “You made a mistake.”

“No mistake. Thank you.”

“Thanks!” He walked away with a big smile on his face.

“No one would ever question a tip in L.A., no matter how big it was,” Lola smirked.

“People are honest here.”

“Amazing. It's like another world.”

“I know. I'd forgotten that.”

They enjoyed their ride to Aunt Vi's. Lola couldn't get over the cars stopping for pedestrians or letting other cars in ahead of them. “I'm in a time warp,” she declared.

Just then a funeral procession came towards them from down the street. Ava pulled off the road with the other cars. Two men out for a walk stopped and took off their ball caps until the hearse and the family cars went by.

Lola's mouth dropped open. She was speechless.

Ava smiled at her. “Welcome to civilization.”

Aunt Vi's roast chicken dinner was one for the books, in Lola's opinion. Once it was over Ava was sent upstairs to give her mother a cup of tea. The rest of them stayed downstairs and helped with the dishes.

Ava propped her mom up a little and put the china teacup to her lips. “It's hot, be careful.”

Mamie nodded and took a sip, then laid her head back onto the pillow. “Nothing like a cup of tea. Your father always loved a good cuppa.”

Ava smiled at the memory. “I remember he used to let me put in the sugar.”

“Did he? I'd forgotten.”

Ava sat a little further in on the bed and hugged her knees. “How did you and Daddy meet?”

“Oh goodness, it's so long ago now. He was my older brother's friend. He used to hang around our house all the time. I remember I always liked him, until the day he threw a snowball at me.”

“He must have liked you a lot,” Ava laughed.

“I was mad. I flew off home and wouldn't speak to him for days.”

“You old meanie.”

“You're darn right. Don't ever let a man think he's got ya for good. Always keep him guessing. Do you have a man?”

Ava shook her head. “No, no one special.”

“Good lord, child, you're twenty-eight. You better get moving. I had five children by the time I was your age. Don't you want babies?”

Ava shrugged. “I never really thought about it. I've been so busy.” “Well, one day you won't be and you'll look around and wonder what it was all for.”

Ava didn't answer, just picked at her thumbnail instead. She knew her mother was looking at her and it was unnerving, as if she was transparent and her mother was privy to everything under her skin. Ava turned the tables on her.

“Did you like being a mother?”

“Of course I did,” her mother frowned. “Why?”

“No reason.” Ava continued to pick at her fingers.

“Are you happy in Hollywood? Is that the lifestyle you want?”

“It's okay. I know it's artificial.”

“What happens when you get wrinkles and your bosom sags?”

“Ma!”

“Well, you have to think of these things. It seems to me they only want them young and pretty, and then it's out with the trash.”

“I have a few years left before that happens.”

“It happens in the blink of an eye, my girl.”

Ava's cell phone rang. “Oh, sorry Ma.” She got off the bed and held the small device to her ear. “Hello?”

“Who's the sexiest girl in the world, then?”

She smiled. “Hayden.”

“Is that all I get? No, ‘Gosh I miss your body Hayden' or ‘Come right now and do me, please, Hayden, please.'”

She turned away from her mother and covered her mouth with her hand. “Stop it.”

“Oh, I can't stop. I don't wanna stop. Don't stop Hayden, don't stop!”

“I'm going to kill you,” she whispered.

“Not before I take you to bed, sugar lump.”

In spite of herself, Ava wanted him to go on. It was a silly game, but it cheered her up.

“I'd like that.”

“You would? How about that? Usually I have to beg. So when are you and your delicious body coming home?”

“I'm not sure.”

“Oh come on, sexy baby, you can't leave me like this. I may have to call room service and have them send someone up.”

“Well, I'm not coming tonight, so I guess you'd better.”

“No, you're not, are you?”

Ava turned around. “Excuse me, Ma. I'll be right back.” She closed the bedroom door behind her and stood in the hallway. “You can't talk like that in front of my mother.”

“I'm not talking to your mother. I'm breathing in your ear, sexy girl. But I have a good idea. Why don't you call me when you go to bed and we can have a nice little private session?”

“I'm sleeping with Lola tonight.”

“You are? I always wondered about you two.”

“Stop it, you nut. We're sleeping in the same room because we're staying at my old house.”

“Do you have three-way calling?”

“Hayden, you are completely immoral.”

“I know. Isn't it fun? Well, if you're going to be a party pooper, maybe I can fly in, shag you, and go home. How does that sound?”

“Good, actually,” Ava sighed.

“Done.”

“Sorry, I can't. You know that.”

“I'll sneak in. No one will know.”

She laughed out loud. “No one will know? The hottest star in television? Believe it or not, babe, they do watch TV up here.”

“I'll wear a fake nose and mustache. Come on Ava, I'm dyin' here. You've been gone for two days.”

“My mother…”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Your mother's dying. Well, tell her to hurry up…I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that.”

“You stupid bastard.”

“Come on Ava, I was joking.”

“It's not funny.”

“I know.”

“Goodbye Hayden.”

“Don't hang up! I need you.”

Ava fired the phone down the stairs, marched into the bathroom and promptly threw up. Then she washed her face, brushed her teeth, and went back to her mother, who was asleep. She sat on the edge of the bed and held her hand until Rose peeked in and said they were leaving, so she got up and said goodbye to her siblings. After telling her aunt and uncle that she was really tired, she kissed them and went upstairs to bed. Lola said she'd be up in a minute.

Ava rooted through her suitcase to get her nightie. The first one she picked up was one Hayden bought for her. She went to the window and threw it out into the night. The rest of them all looked too flimsy, too see-through or too short, so out they went as well. She opened the closet and found an old, soft, worn flannelette nightgown. She threw it over her head and crawled into the creaky twin bed. Lying there, listening to Lola and her aunt and uncle downstairs, was like being a kid again. Suddenly she wasn't tired anymore.

Ava popped out of bed and snuck over to the door, tiptoeing down the hall to peer into the hall grate, where she saw Uncle Angus's bald head rocking back and forth. She wondered if she could get downstairs without making the stairs creak, like she used to. Taking her time, she gingerly stepped on various spots down the stair treads and was amused that she remembered exactly where to place her toes. She was so busy congratulating herself that she didn't hear the others say they should hit the hay. They almost caught her as they came through the kitchen.


Page 10

Lola found her with the blankets up to her nose. She tossed the cell phone on the bed. “You dropped something. From a great height, I might add.”

Ava kicked it off the bed with her foot. “I hate it.”

Lola rummaged through her suitcase. “What did that poor old phone ever do to you?”

“Hayden was on the other end of it.”

“Ah, the boy wonder. How is the spoiled brat?”

Ava turned over on her side. “He wants my mother to hurry up and die so I can go home and screw him.”

Lola stopped in mid-search and turned to face her. “Tell me you're kidding.”

Ava shook her head.

“Shall I hire a hit man?”

“Yes.”

“I'll get right on it.” She went back to her rooting. “I wish I'd brought more practical clothes. I feel like a bit of a freak.”

Ava pointed to her nightgown. “See. I found this in the closet. I love flannelette. Why did I ever stop wearing it?”

“Because your image would suffer, my dear.”

“Who cares?”

“Your accountant, your lawyer, your studio, your staff…”

“Bullocks.”

There was a knock on the door and Aunt Vi poked her head in. “You girls have everything you need?”

“You don't have another nightgown like Ava is wearing, do you?” “That old rag! My drawers are full of them. I'll go get you one.” She disappeared and in a flash was back with three suitable choices. “This here one is the smallest I've got. You'll swim in it.” She passed it to Lola.

“I love it, it's perfect.” Lola gathered her bag of toiletries, took the nightgown and headed for the bathroom. Aunt Vi sat on the end of Ava's bed.

“Are you all right, my love? You look pale. I'm afraid this is going to be too much for you. You never were a strong girl.”

Ava got up and sat cross-legged on the bed. “I'm fine. You worry too much.”

“It's a hard, hard thing, to lose your mother. A once in a lifetime event. Doesn't matter how close you are, or how much time you've spent together, it's the end of a connection that will never be replaced.”

Ava swallowed hard. “What was my grandmother like?”

Aunt Vi picked at her bathrobe sash. “She was a stern woman, a very hard worker. She had your Ma and me well trained by the time we were married.”

“Was she fun?”

“Fun? No. Mothers were teachers in my day. They weren't your best friend, like they are today.”

“Didn't you ever wish she could be your best friend?”

“No, not really. I had your Ma and she was enough.”

“You're going to miss her,” Ava whispered. “Probably more than I will.”

Aunt Vi reached for a tissue in her pocket and wiped the end of her nose. “Yes, I daresay that's true. I was always closer to her than my older brother. You know how sisters are. You're lucky to have three of them.”

“I don't know them very well.”

“That can change, honey. You don't always have to be the outsider. You can let them in anytime you choose.”

Ava nodded and looked up at Lola, who stood in the doorway. “Ta da!” Lola twirled around to show off her faded pink flowered nightgown. “This is so comfortable. I wonder if we can get Vera Wang to start selling these things. She'd make a fortune.”

“Vera who?” Aunt Vi asked.

“A designer. She's famous for her wedding gowns, but she makes everything now.”

Aunt Vi pointed to Ava. “Well, tell this one to make an appointment with this Wang woman real soon. Libby is on the verge of being an old maid.” She patted Ava's leg affectionately. “Love ya anyway.” She got up and gave Lola a quick squeeze on her way out the door. “Have a good sleep, girls.”

“Aunt Vi, if Ma wakes up, I can go to her. You should get some sleep while you can.”

“That's real nice of ya, honey. We'll take turns. Good night.”

“Good night,” Ava and Lola said together.

As it turned out, Ava was up three times that night with her mother, but it didn't matter, since she wasn't sleeping anyway. She didn't have the heart to wake up the snoring Aunt Vi. She'd probably get heck for it in the morning, but Ava knew her aunt needed the rest. Besides, her mother seemed to take comfort from her presence, and that was a good feeling.

She went back to bed for the last time just before dawn and woke around eight o'clock. Lola's bed was empty. Ava looked in on her mother and went downstairs. Aunt Vi had Lola up to her armpits in bread dough.

“Look Ava, I'm making bread!”

“Will wonders never cease? Let me get my camera.” She raced back upstairs and came down with her small digital camera. She pointed it at Lola. “Say cheese.”

Lola gave her a big grin, “Cheese and bread!”

“She's a natural, I can tell,” Aunt Vi laughed.

“How so?” Lola asked.

“You've got strong hands. I'm afraid Libby here would be useless.”

Ava looked at her hands. “Hey, according to this family, I'm useless at everything.”

Aunt Vi hugged her. “Don't mind us. Come and get a cup of tea. You've had a long night, you little scamp. I told you to wake me.”

“That's okay, it was no trouble.” Ava sat at the kitchen table and looked out the window. The woman next door was in her living room window with a pair of binoculars trained at the house. “Good grief, is that Geranium?” She waved. Geranium waved back.

Aunt Vi put a plate of hot biscuits and homemade jam in front of her. “The very same.”

“She never changes.”

“Are you talking about a plant or a person?” Lola asked as she kneaded the bread.

“A person.”

“That's her name?”

Aunt Vi laughed. “No, my darlin'. She's called Geranium because she's always in the window.”

Ava cut her biscuit in half and slathered butter on top. “Everyone has a nickname around here. Isn't that so, Aunt Vi?”

“Oh gosh yes, couldn't do without them.”

“Like what?” Lola said.

“Angus had a friend who was always scratchin' his bum. They called him Archie Itchy Arse.”

Lola gave a shout of laughter. “No way!”

Ava took a bite of her biscuit. “Oh yeah. I love the guy who was really religious. The other miners called him Pope, so his son became known as Little Pope and his grandson was Poop. It's a science. Someone who's bald is called Curly, someone who's tall is called Stump.”

Aunt Vi poured her own cup of tea. “Then there are names for the whole clan, like the Biscuit Foot MacKinnons and the Bore Hole Macdonalds.”

“Stop! I can't breathe,” Lola gasped.

They took to giggling. The back door opened and in walked Uncle Angus. “Look what I found on the lawn.” He held up Ava's nighties. “Can't for the life of me figure out what they're doin' in the rose bushes.”

“They're my nighties, Uncle Angus.”

“Nighties! They look like hankies.”

“Exactly. That's why I threw them away. Fire them in the coal stove.” Aunt Vi grabbed them. “You'll do no such thing. If you don't want them any more, give them to your sisters or your nieces. They'd love them.”

“You're right. Sorry, I should've thought of that.”

Uncle Angus went to the sink for a glass of water. “It's a fine winter day out there. No snow on the roads. I think I'll take a run up to Sobey's. Anything you need at the store, Vi?”

“Oh dear, lots of things.”

“Why don't you go with him, Aunt Vi?” Ava said with her mouth full. “You probably never get out of this house. Lola and I will hold down the fort for a few hours.”

“Oh my, I'm not sure,” Aunt Vi hesitated. “What if your mother wants something? And the nurse is coming by in an hour.”

“I'll get whatever Ma needs and I'll be here when the nurse comes. I'd like to talk to her anyway. If it makes you feel better, why don't you take my cell phone and I can call you if something comes up. That's if it's still working.”

Aunt Vi took off her apron. “Okay then, I don't see why not. I'll just be a minute, Angus.”

Ava followed her aunt upstairs and picked the cell phone up off the floor. She flipped it open, and lo and behold it was still functional. She gave it to her aunt, but not before slipping three one hundred dollar bills in her hand. “Please take this. We can't be eating you out of house and home.”

“You eat like a bird.”

“Please. Don't make a fuss, just take it.”

Her aunt took it. “Thank you, dear. I don't mind tellin' ya, it comes in handy.”

Vi and Angus left the house, feeling a bit guilty that they had some free time together but enjoying it all the same. Of course they didn't get too far up the first aisle in the grocery store before someone beetled over to talk about Ava.

“Is she as pretty in real life as she is on the screen?” Tootsie Wadden wanted to know.

“She's prettier,” Angus said loyally.

“Oh my,” Tootsie squealed. “Do you think she'd mind if I came over to say hello?”

“She might not, but I do,” Vi said. “My sister is ill and needs her rest. We don't need the likes of you showin' up.”

Tootsie stomped off.

Then there was Ethel Snow. “I'm bringing round a mess of cod tongues for your dinner. Will Ava be there?”

“You've never brought a mess of anything round to our house, Ethel. I wonder why you'd pick now, eh?”

“Bein' neighbourly.”

“Go way with ya. I don't have time for you or your tongues.” This time it was Vi who marched off. There was nothing for Angus to do but tip his ball cap. “Ethel.” He hurried after his wife.

At the check-out counter, Ava's picture was on the front of the TV Guide. Angus picked it up. “We should buy this.”

“Suit yourself.”

The cashier rang it in. “Isn't she your niece?”

Vi nodded proudly. “That she is.”

“Wow. Can you tell her I'm her biggest fan? I've seen like every movie she's ever made at least three times.”

“I will, dear. What's your name?”

“It's Debbie.”

“I'll tell her, Debbie.”

“Thank you. Oh, this is so exciting.”

“This here's her money. She gave it to me this morning.” Vi passed over the bills.

“It is? Oh my gosh.” Debbie stroked the bills. “My hand is touching where she touched. I'm so lucky!”

“Calm down, dearie. It's dirty old money.”

“No it isn't,” Debbie sighed. “It's her money.”

Vi and Angus walked out of the store and put the groceries in the back of their truck. Angus settled behind the wheel. “That young girl is a lunatic.”

“We live in a nutty world, that's for sure.”

“Let's go get a Tim's and a Boston cream doughnut before we go home. I could do with some warming up.”

“Okay,” Vi said happily.

On the way to get their coffee the cell phone rang. Vi fumbled for it in her purse. “Oh gosh, I hope nothing's wrong at home. How on earth do you open this thing?”

“I believe it unfolds, at least that's what I saw on a commercial once.” Vi opened it. “Hello?”

“Don't hang up! I love you and I miss you like crazy. You have to forgive me, okay?”

“Who is this?”

“Who's this?”

“Vi.”

“Vi who?”

“Who are you?”

“Hayden. Is Ava there?”

“No, she isn't.”

“Why do you have her phone, then? Is she okay?”

“Of course she's okay. I'm her aunt. Now tell me who you are.”

“I'm her boyfriend.”

“That so? She never mentioned a boyfriend.”

“Didn't she?”

“No.”

“Well, she has one and I'm it. I'm trying to get in touch with her. I said something really stupid last night and I want her to forgive me. Will you please tell her I called?”

“I'll tell her, but if you really want a woman to forgive you, you should send her flowers.”

“That's a great idea. Do you have an address?”

“I'll give it to you.” She told him.

“Thank you. I appreciate your help, Vi. I hope I get to meet you one day.”

“Well, you just never know, do you? Gotta go. Bye.”

She closed the phone. “That was Libby's boyfriend.”

“I didn't know she had one.”

“Can't be too serious. She never mentioned him.”

Naturally, at the coffee shop they ran into about six people they knew and had a great gab, everyone asking about Ava Harris. Aunt Vi bragged about her niece and felt very important.

And then it was time to go. They climbed back into the truck and stopped at the entrance to wait for traffic to go by. It was a busy intersection and Uncle Angus had to swivel his head back and forth to see who was coming. Aunt Vi gave him the all clear on her side and he revved the truck forward. He never saw the car speeding through the red light until it was too late.

CHAPTER FIVE

The phone rang. Ava was washing the dishes, so she grabbed a dish towel to dry her hands and walked over to the phone.

“Yes, hello?”

“Ah, yes. This is Constable Murrant with the Regional Police Department. Does an Angus or Vi MacIntosh live there?”

Ava's mouth went dry. “Yes, is something wrong?”

“I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but there's been an accident.”

“An accident?” Ava whispered. “What do you mean?”

Lola got up from the kitchen table and came over to stand beside her. “There was a car accident. Are you a relative?”

“Yes, yes, I'm their niece. Please tell me, are they all right?”

“They've been taken to the Regional Hospital.”

“Oh, my god. Are they badly hurt?”

“They do have injuries. Do you have someone who can take you to the hospital?”

“Yes, yes. I'll go right now.”


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“We'll be in touch about the accident report. Charges may be laid. A teenage boy ran a red light. It wasn't your uncle's fault.”

“Oh, no. Thank you for calling.”

“It's a tough situation. I'm sorry.”

“Yes. Goodbye.”

Ava hung up and grabbed Lola. “Oh my god, Aunt Vi and Uncle Angus are in the hospital. There's been a car accident!”

Lola hugged her tight to keep her from shaking. “I'm sure they'll be fine.”

“I have to tell Ma.”

“No, don't do that yet. Let's find out their condition first. There's no sense in upsetting her until we know all the facts.”

Ava put her hand to her forehead, trying to think clearly. “Yes, yes, you're right. What do I do?”

Lola picked up the address book that was by the phone. “Call your sister Rose and get her to take you to the hospital. I'll stay here with your mother. The nurse is upstairs now. Don't worry, we'll take good care of her.”

Ava hugged Lola again. “What on earth would I do without you?”

“Hey, that's what friends are for.”

Ava called her sister at work and Rose came as fast as she could to pick her up. Lola waved them goodbye. “Let me know as soon as you can.”

Ava called back, “We will.”

Rose zoomed out of the driveway. “What happened?”

“I don't know. The police said a kid ran a red light and crashed into them.”

“Oh my god, this is horrible. I can't believe it. It's not fair. They're the sweetest people alive. Why did this have to happen?”

Ava buried her head in her hands. “I told her to go. If only I hadn't done that.”

“It's not your fault, Libby. Don't think that.” Rose reached into her purse. “Here's my cell phone. Everyone's number is in there. Call as many as you can while I drive.”

By the time they reached the hospital, almost all the relatives had been called. Rose parked the car in a no-parking zone and the two of them flew into the lobby and raced to the front desk.

“My aunt and uncle were involved in a car accident. The police said they were sent here, Angus and Viola MacIntosh.”

“Just a moment, please.” The woman left her desk and went to talk to someone. A few minutes later she came back. “They're still in the emergency department. I'll take you there.”

“Thank you.”

Rose took Ava by the hand and the two of them walked through several doors, oblivious of the people they passed. There was a bit of a buzz when they went by and someone called out Ava's name, but they kept going. Soon they were in a crowded annex, with the nurses' station in the middle and curtained cubicles surrounding it. There were several rooms off it as well.

The woman who escorted them left them then, saying, “Someone will be with you in a moment.”

They nodded and stood there, scared to death and set adrift. They didn't know where to look for help. They watched nurses and doctors go about their business. If one approached them, they went rigid, afraid of what might be said, but they inevitably walked on by. Finally a young doctor with horn-rimmed glasses and a stethoscope around his neck approached them. “I'm Dr. Richardson. Are you the MacIntoshes' relatives?”

“Yes,” Rose said. “Please tell me they're all right.”

He looked at his chart. “According to the police, they're very lucky it wasn't worse, but it's still considerable trauma for people of their age. Mrs. MacIntosh has a broken ankle and wrist…”

“Oh no.”

He continued. “Mr. MacIntosh has a badly broken arm. He'll have to be operated on, as he needs pins to fix it. They both have considerable bruising and Mr. MacIntosh needed several stitches to sew up a nasty gash over his eye. He also has a dislocated knee. All that said, I'm sure they can make a reasonable recovery, as long as they have plenty of help for the next few months.”

“Don't you worry about that,” Rose said. “There are plenty of us to pitch in.”

Ava nodded. “I can stay for as long as necessary.”

Rose looked at her. “Are you sure?”

“I don't care. Can we see them now?”

“Only for a minute.” The doctor smiled. “They are more concerned about each other. Please assure them they are in good hands.”

“Oh, we will.”

He escorted Ava and Rose to adjoining rooms. “Remember, only a few moments. They've been through an ordeal.”

“Thank you, doctor,” Ava said.

They went through the door and pushed back the curtains. Aunt Vi lay still on the bed, her face black and blue, hooked up to an I.V. Her eyes were closed, whether by bruising or by choice, it was hard to tell. They approached quietly.

“Oh dear,” Rose moaned. “Her poor face.”

Ava took her hand gently in her own. “Aunt Vi, can you hear me?” She fluttered her eyelids. “Yes.”

“I'm sorry,” Ava choked. “I should've gone instead.”

“Nonsense. How's Angus?”

Rose stroked her hair. “How about I go see and I'll be right back.” “Okay,” Vi nodded. “Tell the old coot I love him.”

Rose and Ava looked at each other. “I think she's going to be all right,” Rose whispered before she tiptoed out of the room. Ava kept Aunt Vi's hand in her own.

“Don't worry now. Everyone will take care of you. I'm going to stay.” Vi shook her head slightly. “No dear. You be here for your Ma, but don't stay on account of me.”

“You're more important than anything.”

“Silly girl.” Vi moaned. “This is mighty sore, I can tell you. And you know the worst part?”

“What?”

“I bought you a box of Timbits, and now they're all over the road.” Ava gave her hand a squeeze. “Timbits make you fat anyway.”

“Don't tell your Ma. Not yet.”

“She'll have to know soon.”

“Well, don't make out it's so bad. Tell her I'll be home in a couple of days.”

“You might be here a little longer, but don't worry about Ma, we'll handle her.”

Just then Bev, Maryette, and Gerard showed up. They couldn't all come into the room at the same time, so Ava backed out and let them have a turn. Rose met her in the hall.

“Uncle Angus is fine, but he's pretty woozy. I think we better let him be.”

Dr. Richardson made another appearance. “I'm afraid we can't have any more visitors. We'll let you know when the surgery is going to be and you can wait in the visitors lounge. After that, they'll be assigned their rooms.”

Ava stepped forward. “May I speak to you a moment?”

He nodded and stepped away from the others, but before she could open her mouth, he said under his breath. “I'm sorry, but are you Ava Harris?”

“Yes.”

He suddenly stammered as if he were fifteen. “I've seen all your movies.”

“Thank you.”

“I couldn't get your autograph, could I?”

Ava wanted to spit. “Of course.”

He handed her a pen and his prescription pad. “My name is Brian.”

“Brian.” She took the pen and wrote, ‘To Brian, Thank you for everything. Ava Harris.'

She passed it back to him.

“Thanks a lot. My wife will be very excited.”

She gave the doctor her professional smile. “I wonder if it would be possible to have my aunt and uncle in the same room. I know it would make them feel much better. I'll pay for it, of course. I'd also like to hire private nurses, to help with their care while they're here. My brothers and sisters have to work and they have families to look after. On top of everything else, my mother is in the final stages of cancer, so everyone has a full plate at the moment.”

“I'm sure something can be arranged. I'll contact the administration office and they can help you.”

“Thank you.”

“My pleasure. If there's anything else you need, I'd be glad to help.”

She reached out and shook his hand. “You've been very kind. I appreciate it.” She flashed the famous smile again and Dr. Richardson floated away. As soon as he was gone, she frowned and went back to her family.

They spent the whole day at the hospital. When they called home Lola assured them that Mamie was fine, that she'd slept through most of the afternoon. Uncle Angus's surgery was performed and everything went well, so the clan left finally. Their uncle would spend the night in I.C.U. and Aunt Vi was resting in their private room, knocked out on pain killers. A private nurse would be there in the morning.

Rose drove Ava back to the house. They went in together and broke the news to their mother, glossing over the details. Mamie was upset, of course, but they assured her that everything went smoothly and Vi and Angus would be back before she knew it.

After giving their mother her medication and settling her for the night, they finally went downstairs and collapsed into the kitchen chairs.

“I'm pooped,” Rose said.

Ava yawned. “Me too.”

Lola came out of the pantry with a plateful of homemade bread. “Here. Have some of my specialty. White bread hard enough to break your teeth.”

“Can I have a cup of tea with it?” Ava asked. “To wash it down.”

“I've already made some.” She went to the stove and poured the tea, bringing the mugs back to the table. Rose took her first bite and chewed for a while.

Lola looked at her hopefully. “It's not too bad, is it?”

“No. I've had worse.”

“Well, its better than the first batch,” Lola sighed. “I put the loaves to rise in the warming oven and they were glorious. They puffed up like magic.”

“Can't we have some of that, then?”

Lola shook her head. “Sorry. When I cut them open, there was no bread inside.”

“What?”

“It rose really high. It must have used up all the dough.”

They started to laugh. It felt good after such a horrible day. Despite the chewy nature of the bread, Rose and Ava ate two pieces each. They hadn't eaten since breakfast, so it filled the hole in their stomachs.

Rose downed the last of her tea and looked at her sister. “Did you mean it when you said you could stay here?”

Lola gave Ava a surprised look.

Ava nodded. “Of course. I need to make a few phone calls though.” She turned to Lola. “Trent will have a fit but I don't care. I know I can't get out of the New York gig, but that doesn't start until the end of August. Do you remember when?”

“You have to be in New York on the twenty-fifth,” Lola told her. “But what about the promotional tour for your new movie? That was going to take a couple of months at least, and wasn't there a Broadway play?”

“Promotional tours and Broadway plays can get along without me. There are about five big-time actors in this new release, so for me not to show up on TV talk shows is not a great loss. And the understudy for the play will kiss my boots.”

“Trent won't be a happy camper,” Lola frowned. “And Camilla will be scrambling.”

“Fortunately I'm five thousand miles from her office, so she can scramble away.”

“If you do stay here,” Rose said, “you'll be worked off your feet.”

Ava shrugged. “It's payback time.”

“Do you want me to stay too?” Lola asked. “I don't want to be in the way but maybe you could use an extra pair of hands.”

“I couldn't let you do that,” Ava said. “You've done enough. Go back home and have a vacation. You've earned it, chasing me around 24/7.”

“That's okay…”

“No, really. I can't take you away for months. That's ridiculous.”

“Well, let me stay for a couple of weeks anyway, until you get your aunt and uncle sorted.”

“All right,” Ava conceded. “But I need you to do something first. Would you mind going back to Malibu for a few days to pack some of my clothes and sort out the house? Tell Mercedes and the gardener to take a paid holiday. And cancel that decorator, too.”

“God, you live in another world, don't you?” Rose said.

“It's not as glamorous as it sounds. People underfoot all day.”

“Oh shut up. That is so not true,” Rose laughed.

Ava laughed with her. “I know, just thought it would make you feel better.”

“Sure, I don't mind going back,” Lola said. “I better go now, while Aunt Vi and Uncle Angus are still in the hospital. You'll need more help when they come home.”

“It's settled, then.”

“Well, that's great,” Rose sighed. “Thanks a lot, you two. This will be a big help. Who knows how long Ma can hold out? It's so upsetting.”

Ava patted her hand. “Let's get through one day at a time, eh?”

“I must go. I've got to drive Vicky to school tomorrow. She's excited; they're practicing their Grand March routine.”

“Vicky is graduating from high school this year?” Ava said. “I can't believe it.”

“What's a grand march?” Lola asked.

“All the graduating students gather before the prom and parade around the school gym in formation,” Rose explained. “It's set to music, which makes it very festive. It's a chance for the parents to see the kids in their finery. In a small town, most people know all the kids, so it's a lot of fun. Samantha and Emily are graduating too.”

“Imagine,” Ava sighed. “The prom is such a magical night in a young girl's life.”

“It might have been for you,” Lola frowned. “Mine was a disaster. The stupid jerk barfed all over my dress.”

“Mine was pretty bad too,” Rose laughed. “Not yours, Libby. You looked like a princess that night.”

“I felt like a princess, too.”

“You must have gone with Seamus.” Lola quickly covered her mouth with her hand.

Ava looked at her. “How do you know about him?”

“Sorry.” Rose looked sheepish. “I told her about him the night you arrived.”

Ava stood. “That was none of your business, Rose. Why can't you ever keep your mouth shut?” Then she turned to Lola. “When were you going to ask me about him? Or were you going to pretend you didn't know a thing about it?”


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“No one meant any harm. It came up in the conversation.”

“Well, stop talking behind my back. I'm going to bed. Good night.” Ava walked out of the kitchen. Lola and Rose were left looking at each other.

“God, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get you in trouble.”

Rose waved her away. “She's right; I do have a big mouth. But you know what bothers me? She's way too touchy about Seamus, which leads me to think that she's not over him.”

“Maybe,” Lola nodded. “She never keeps a guy for long.”

“Is there anyone in her life now?”

“She's dating someone but I think she gave him the boot last night.”

“Is he famous?”

“Ah…he's a bit of jerk.”

“Handsome, I bet.”

“Yeah, but he's not that nice.”

“You must meet a lot of cool guys because of her.”

“They don't look at me when Ava's in the room.”

“Doesn't that bug you?”

“No, I'm happy being around her.”

Rose stood and grabbed her keys. “Well, enough of this, we better get some sleep.”

“You're right.” Lola put her hand on Rose's arm. “Please drive home safely.”

“Don't worry. I'll crawl home.”

Since Lola was the only one downstairs, she locked the back door and put on the outside light, then made sure the stove burners were shut off before she turned out the kitchen lights. Careful not to wake Mamie, she crept up to bed. Ava was pretending to be asleep when she entered the room.

Lola sat on the twin bed. “I'm sorry. I didn't know what to say, so I figured I wouldn't say anything.”

Ava didn't answer her.

“Okay. Good night then. If you need any help with your mother during the night, wake me up.”

Ava turned over. “I didn't mean to yell at you.”

“That's okay.”

“No, it's not. I find it hard to talk about him.”

“How come you never told me?”

Ava didn't answer at first, so Lola waited. “It was so long ago,” she said finally.

Lola took her watch off and put it on the bedside table. “Are you sure about that?”

“What do you mean?”

“It's not like you to fly off the handle about something so trivial.” “Well, it's been a long day, hasn't it? I'm tired.” She turned away from her friend. “Good night.”

CHAPTER SIX

The March wind blew off the water in a north-easterly direction, which made the air bitterly cold and damp—the kind of wind that went through you not around you, as his mother used to say.

Seamus finally brought the kids inside, because making a snowman isn't much fun when fingers and toes are chilled to the bone. He helped them take off their wet snowsuits and boots in the back porch and said it was Jack's turn to kick their gear downstairs. It was a great game, as long as Seamus remembered to pick the stuff up off the basement floor and throw it in the dryer before he went to bed.

Now he had to think about dinner. The cupboard doors were already open, and they didn't reveal anything appetizing, so he looked in the fridge. That's when Jack held his nose and pointed at his little sister.

“Poohy! Sarah stinks!”

“Yeah!” Sarah confirmed. Her father grabbed her and tucked her under his arm. Jack demanded the same treatment, so all three of them headed for Sarah's room. He dropped Jack on the bed and Sarah on the dressing table.

That's when he heard the back door open.

“It's only me,” his sister's voice rang out.

“Hi Colleen, I'm in Sarah's room.”

“I've got a pot of spaghetti sauce. I'll put it on the stove.”

Seamus smiled at his baby girl as he changed her diaper. “Aunt Colleen made you some pisgetti.”

Sarah clapped her hands. “Yum.”

Jack jumped up and down on his sister's bed. “I don't want pisgetti.”

“It's good,” his father informed him. “Better than mine.”

Jack nodded. “Yeah, yours is poohy.”

“Hey mister…”

Colleen poked her head in the door. “Hi guys. Where's my hug?” Jack bounced off the bed and straight into his aunt's arms. “Have you got a treat?”

“Don't I always?” She reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a small Caramel bar.

“Oh boy. Thank you.” Jack ran off with it.

“Wait until after supper,” his dad yelled after him, knowing it was a lost cause.

Sarah held her hands in the air. “Mine?”

Colleen poked her niece's belly button. “I've got one for you too, don't worry.”

Seamus picked Sarah up and put her on the floor. Her aunt placed the treat in her hands.

“Tanks.” She ran after her brother.

Colleen leaned in the doorway. “You look tired.”

“Sarah was up a couple of times last night. I think she's coming down with a cold.”

“Have you got stuff in? Cough syrup and the like?”

He rolled his eyes. “I'm not stupid, you know.” He picked up the dirty diaper and walked into the kitchen with it, lobbing it into the garbage can like a basketball player. “Yes! Three points.”

“You should empty that thing a little more often.”

“Nah,” he grinned at her. “The cat would starve.”

“You're hopeless.” She sat at his kitchen table, still covered with the breakfast dishes. “I have to go in a minute. Just wondering if you want me to take the kids tomorrow. Are you on night shift?”

He removed the lid from the saucepan and smelled the sauce. “No. I'm home.”

“Okay. By the way, I went to see Dad today.”

He put the lid back and went to the fridge for a Coke. “Want one?” “No. Did you hear me?”

“Yeah, I heard ya.”

“Don't you want to know how he is?”

Seamus twirled the kitchen chair around and straddled it. Then he picked the tab of the Coke can and pulled it back. “I know how he is. Drunk.”

“He wasn't, actually.”

Seamus downed a half a can before he spoke. “Well, that is news.”

Colleen rubbed her forehead. “I hate being the go-between.”

He looked at his sister. She seemed tired as well. “I'm sorry, Coll. But you can't change him and I don't know why you try.”

“Because he's the grandfather of your children, even if you don't like to admit he's your father.”

“He's been drinkin' his whole life and now that Mom's dead, he's trying to kill himself with it. If that's what he wants, you should leave him alone.”

“He's weak,” Colleen sighed. “He feels bad about it.”

“Not bad enough to quit.”

“Okay, I'll shut up.” She got out of the chair.

“Sit for a minute, don't run off.”

She sat. “What?”

“How was your day, anyway?”

Colleen brushed her hair back with her fingers. “Lousy. I had a fight with Dave before I went to work, the kids were cranky and then, to top it off, I saw a horrible accident by Tim Horton's in Reserve Mines on my lunch hour.”

“Jesus. Was everyone okay?”

“No, an elderly couple was taken away by ambulance.”

“Do you know who they were?”

She looked down and shrugged. “I'm not sure.”

It was the look on her face that alerted him that something wasn't quite right. “You know who it was.”

“It doesn't matter.”

“Why are you keeping it from me? What difference does it make?”

She crossed her arms in front of her. “It was Angus and Vi MacIntosh, if you must know.”

Her family. He downed the rest of his Coke. “I hope they're not badly hurt.”

“So do I. They have enough to contend with, what with Mamie on her deathbed.”

He got up and went to the sink, rinsed out his can and looked out the window. A full minute went by. Neither of them spoke. Eventually his sister said, “I didn't know whether to tell you or not, but you might as well know. She's in town.”

His throat seized and suddenly he had to remind himself how to breathe. He tried to keep his wits about him, because he knew Colleen was watching his reaction. A shiver crawled along his spine. He turned around. “Is that so?”

“I didn't want you to run into her on the street and be surprised.” He grunted. “Does she walk on the street like the rest of us? I assume she's chauffeured wherever she needs to go.”

“I have no idea.”

“Don't worry, I won't run into her.”

“Well, I hope I do,” Colleen frowned. “I'd love to tear a strip off her.”

“She's not worth it. Leave it alone.”

“No, Seamus. One of these days I'm going to tell her exactly what I think of her, whether you like it or not.”

He held his hands up in front of him. “Okay, okay, Sis. Down girl.”

She smiled and got up again. “I have to go. Call me if you need anything.” She walked over and gave him a quick kiss. “Go to bed early. Try and get some rest.”

He nodded. “Same goes for you.”

“Bye, kids,” she hollered.

They hollered back, “Bye!”

Seamus fed Jack and Sarah, gave them their baths, read them a story, and kissed them good night. He did the dishes and put the snow suits in the dryer before he locked up for the night. After a hot shower, he crawled into bed. Only then did he let himself think of her.

She was here. Only twenty minutes away.

He put his hands behind his head and stared out the window at the night sky before he reached over and picked up Sally's picture, kissed it and put it in the bedside table drawer.

Returning to his memories, he went to his favourite—the night of the prom. When Libby came down the stairs into the kitchen, he thought he'd burst with love for her. She was the most beautiful girl he'd ever laid eyes on. Her dress was simple and she wore her hair long, unlike most of her friends. When they got to the dance, he was aware of guys looking at her, but she only had eyes for him. He wondered what he'd ever done to deserve her.

Everyone headed for Mira to party at some of the bungalows there. They went along, but soon got bored with the drinking and carrying on. It was a beautiful moonlit night, so he took her by the hand and they walked along the beach.

She ran through the surf in her bare feet, holding up her gown. “You can't catch me.”

Of course he did, as she knew he would. He carried her up through the dunes, laid her down on the edge of the field, and got down beside her. She reached up and put her hands through his hair.

“This grass is full of wild strawberries. Can you smell them?”

He nodded.

“I love wild strawberries,” she whispered. “Almost as much as I love you.”

He kissed her then. All he could remember afterwards was how soft her skin was, how sweet her mouth was, how stars and strawberries and the saltwater breeze made him drunk with desire. His breathing became ragged and he groaned with the wanting of her, but before he could fall over into that heavenly darkness, she stopped it.

“No. Not here.”

He wanted to scream with frustration. “Why? I love you, Libby.”

She held his face in her hands. “I know that, Seamus. But not like this. This beach is probably crawling with drunken fools doing it with anybody who'll let them. We deserve better.”

And in spite of his protesting body, he knew she was right. She was better than this. And she was worth waiting for. He gave her one last kiss, then stood and pulled her up into his arms. They held each other at the edge of that beach for a long time. It was the best moment of his life.

Suddenly in need of air, Seamus got up off the bed and grabbed a sweatshirt, pulling it over his head as he walked out the front door and onto the deck. It was quiet in the frosty air, the wind finally let up. He heard the waves lap on shore. The moon shone down on the beach where she ran, her hair cascading down her back. He could actually see her. He rubbed his eyes; sure that he was going crazy. Then he heard her magical laugh as she ran through the surf.

“No. Please go. Please.”

He opened his eyes. She was gone.

He was up with Sarah twice that night before he caved in and took her to bed with him. He lay propped up with her on his chest. She snuggled in and was comforted, her stuffy nose causing her to snore against his skin. Kissing the top of her head, he eventually closed his eyes.

In the morning, he found Jack sprawled on the bed beside him. He got the two of them ready for daycare and was out the door by eight o'clock. When he dropped them off, he handed one of the caregivers a bottle of Sarah's medicine. “If she gets too stuffed up, you can give her some of that.”

“Oh, don't worry about Sarah, we'll take good care of her.” She batted her eyes at him. Some of the women dropping their kids off seemed to do that too. Apparently there was something sexy about a man bringing up two small children on his own. They'd twitter at his attempts to control Sarah's unruly hair, or tease him about Jack's mismatched socks.

His friend told him it wasn't the kids. “It's the uniform, you big goof.” Roger had a theory for everything. “Women love authority figures. The gun and the handcuffs are a big turn on too.”

“You are so full of shit.”

“Hey, I get laid quite frequently.”

“You're married, you jerk.”

“Oh yeah.”

Seamus went out on patrol and had a pretty ordinary day—a couple of speeding tickets, two fender benders, someone caught shoplifting and a ton of paperwork in between. The final call was about a drunk woman staggering up George Street. There weren't many people he didn't know, being raised in this neck of the woods, so he hoped the woman wasn't anyone he was acquainted with. It was always an uncomfortable situation when he had to deal with someone he knew.

At George Street, he stopped the patrol car and got out. He approached the intoxicated woman—sure enough, it was a girl he'd gone to school with.


Page 13

“June.”

She turned and threw her hands up in the air. “Oh boy,” she slurred, “this is my lucky day. How the hell's it goin', Seamus?”

“Pretty good. I think you better come along with me. We need to sober you up.”

She shook her head and wagged her finger in his face. “No, dearie. We don't need to. I feel just fine.” With that she turned away from him and started to weave down the sidewalk. A couple walked by, giving her a look.

“Whatcha lookin' at, ya goddamn goody two-shoes?”

They hurried away, as he walked over to her and grabbed her by the arm. “Come with me, June.”

She struggled at first, but ultimately relented. “Aw, Geez. You always were a tightass.”

Smiling, he lowered her head while settling her into the back seat of the car. He shut the door and got into the front seat. “I'm taking you to the lockup. You can sleep it off there.”

She gave him a wicked grin. “Are you sleepin' with me?”

“Not today.”

“Shit. You always were stuck up.”

“I'm a stuck-up tight ass. Anything else?”

“Yeah. You're still fuckin' gorgeous.”

He laughed out loud. “You were a babe in high school. Get off the booze and you could be again.”

She dismissed him with her hand. “Nah, you broke my heart. I got nothin' to live for.” She cracked herself up with that observation and he laughed again.

June was quiet for a moment as she looked out the window.

He thought she'd fallen asleep, but she suddenly blurted, “She's here, ya know.”

His stomach went tight because he knew what she meant. He didn't answer, and June went right on talking. “Yeah, I saw her at the airport. A couple of us went down to sneak a peek. She's still friggin' beautiful, the stupid bitch. Of course, she's stuck up too, just hurried past us without a glance, like we was dog shit. Gets in her big fancy car. You should've saw the plane she was on. Right out of the movies, it was. Stupid bitch.”

Seamus was aware that his jaw was clenched. He needed to stop reacting every time someone mentioned her.

“How come she dumped ya, anyway?”

He kept his mouth shut.

“Well, I think she used ya. She was sleeping with everyone in town, you just didn't know it. My brother had her, said she was great.”

He slammed on the brakes and turned around to face her. “Shut your mouth this instant or I swear, I'll make sure you get jail time.”

Her eyes widened. “Geez, I'm only saying what everyone else said. It was no big secret.”

He pointed his finger at her. “I'm warning you.”

She folded her arms. “Fuckin' cops.” She kept quiet though.

He took her to the station and was glad to be able to dump her there. His head was pounding so he bummed a couple of Tylenol from one of the clerks. She looked at him.

“You don't look good.”

“I'm okay. Just a headache.”

“Darn. I was going to ask you if you wanted to get something to eat later.”

“Thanks, but I've got to get home.”

She looked resigned. “I knew you'd say that. Oh, by the way, can you give this accident report to Roger. It's the one from yesterday, near Reserve Mines.”

Seamus couldn't get away from her or her family. “Sure.” He picked up the report and tossed it on Roger's desk as he passed by, then got undressed in the locker room and stashed his uniform. Out to the car, he turned the ignition and headed for the daycare centre. Pulling up to the front of the house, with its crayon shutters and its alphabet fence, Seamus noticed another dad arriving to pick up his kids. He looked familiar, but Seamus couldn't recall the man's name. He thought he might have been on one of his hockey teams at school.

“Hey man, how are ya?”

Seamus nodded his head. “Good.”

“I didn't know your kids were here.”

He shrugged. “There aren't too many daycare centres around.”

His friend chuckled. “True. So what's new?”

“Nothin' much.”

They approached the front door. The guy said, “Hey, did you hear Libby's back in town? Or Ava, I should say.”

Why did everyone keep mentioning her?

“Yeah, I heard.”

“You were lucky, man. Can't imagine having her.”

Moron, thought Seamus, as he went through the door and escaped into the confusion of the front porch, with parents and staff trying to get children into their jackets to go home.

Jack came running up to him. “Hi Daddy, I made a monster.” He held up a lump of clay.

“Scary. Where's your sister?”

He pointed. “She's in there.”

Seamus went into the main room and looked around, unable to locate Sarah at first. A small flutter of unease settled on him for a second, but suddenly the sun came out because there she was, her hair in an untidy mess of curls. She sat at a small table with a pot of paint, brushing the paper with large swipes.

“Sarah. Come on, baby.”

She turned and her face lit up. “Daddy, look.” She ran over with the soggy piece of paper and handed it to him. “See.”

He knelt down and looked at it. “It's beautiful.” He picked her up and she waved the wet picture about. “It's a doggy.”

“Good.” He went back into the porch. “Come on, Jack.”

“I'm coming.” He and the monster ran up and followed him out the door.

The moron from high school was still in the porch. “Nice seein' ya, Seamus.”

“Yeah, you too.”

Thinking the exchange was over, Seamus moved to pass, but the man opened his mouth again. Seamus stiffened, bracing himself for another comment about Libby.

“By the way, I was sorry to hear about your wife. A damn shame.” This caught him off guard. “Oh, yes. Thanks.”

“Your little girl looks like her.”

Seamus wanted to get out of there. “Yes, she does. See ya.” He practically ran down the stairs and over to the car. He put the kids in their car seats and got behind the wheel. His head was still throbbing, despite the painkillers. He rested it against the steering wheel for a moment.

“Are you okay, Daddy?” Jack asked.

He lifted his head. “Yeah, buddy. I'm okay.”

“Can we go to Burger King?”

“Sure.”

He knew Colleen thought he fed his children too much junk food, but he didn't have the energy to peel carrots and potatoes tonight, so he herded them into the restaurant, bought them their chicken nuggets and fries, and ordered a cheeseburger for himself. They sat at a table near the windows and Jack told him about his day. Sarah nodded a lot and said “Yeah” every few minutes. She spilled her milk and then her dipping sauce. Her nose was runny and her face was dirty and he got a few looks from mothers with kids in pristine condition. Seamus ignored them.

They wanted ice cream, so he bought them some and they ate it in the car. He was about to go home when he realized he needed a few groceries, especially diapers.

“We have to go to the store.”

“Do we have to?” Jack whined.

“Sorry, pal.”

“That's poohy.”

He looked at his ice creamsoaked son in the rear-view mirror. “That's your favourite word lately, isn't it?”

“Yeah!” Sarah said happily.

Once more, he hauled the kids out of their car seats. He held their sticky hands as they went in the store. Sarah wanted to get into the little seat at the front of the shopping cart and Jack wanted to get into the cart itself. He held their messiness away from him as he lifted them in. Off they went, down one aisle and up the next, while he threw things in at intervals, trying to remember what was in the fridge. His guilty conscience got the better of him, so he headed back to the fruit and vegetable aisle. Jack wasn't impressed.

“I hate onions.”

“I ate onons,” Sarah mimicked.

“I hate turnips.”

“I ate ips.”

“I hate broccoli.”

“I ate bocci...”

“It's good for you.”

“I don't care,” Jack yelled. He rubbed his eyes. “I wanna go home.”

Sarah nodded. “Home.”

“Just a sec, you two. I'm almost done.”

Jack wasn't having any of it. “This is poohy.” He picked up a stalk of celery and threw it out of the cart.

“Jack! Stop it this instant.”

Seamus picked up the celery and put it back in the cart, though he had no intention of buying it. Jack started to cry.

“Me tired,” Sarah said.

Seamus gave up. “All right. Let's go.”

He hurried around the corner and bumped smack into someone else's cart.

It was Libby.

CHAPTER SEVEN

She nearly died.

She actually took two steps backward. He looked as shocked as she felt. She took in everything in an instant. The boy she loved was now a man. He'd filled out and his hair was shorter, but he was still gorgeous. He always would be.

Then her eyes focused on his babies. They were dirty and looked tired and cranky but they were adorable—just as she always imagined their children would look someday.

“Libby,” he said.

The last time she heard him say that name was the night before he left for New Brunswick. It was like salve on a heartbreak that had lasted ten years. She couldn't find her voice for a moment, and then she whispered, “Seamus.”

Neither one of them spoke; they stared at each other. She wanted to cry and then she wanted to scream and then she wanted to reach over and take his face in her hands and kiss him for the rest of her life. But she did none of those things. She had no right.

“I was sorry to hear about Vi and Angus. Are they going to be all right?”

She cleared her throat. “Yes. It will be tough going for a while, but yes.” “And your mother?”

“She's very ill.”

“I'm sorry.”

“Thank you.”

His little boy reached over and pulled his father's shirt. “Can we go now?” But his daughter held out her fist and said, “See.”

“What honey?”

“See. See.”

“She wants to show you something,” Seamus said.

Ava stepped closer. “What is it?”

The girl opened her chubby fist to reveal a grape. “Ape.”

Ava wasn't sure what to do, but his daughter seemed intent on giving it to her, so she took it. “Thank you.”

“Sarah likes to give people things.”

“Sarah is a beautiful name. And your son?”

“This is Jack.”

“Hello, Jack.”

“Poohy.”

She smiled in spite of herself. Seamus looked horrified. “Jack, behave yourself.”

“Sorry. You're pretty.”

Ava felt her cheeks burning. “Thank you.”

Seamus looked straight at her. “Like father, like son.”

Her knees went weak, but she was ashamed of herself when she remembered his wife. Not wanting him to think the wrong thing, she said, “How's Sally?”

The look on his face was one she wasn't expecting.

“You don't know about Sally?”

“Know what?”

Seamus glanced at his kids and looked flustered. That's when Jack said, “My mommy's in heaven.”

“…eaven,” Sarah chimed in.

Ava looked open-mouthed at Seamus. She stammered, “I'm sorry, Seamus. I didn't know. No one told me.”

Just then she was surrounded by a group of giggling girls. “Excuse us. Can we have your autograph?”

Seamus looked away. “I have to get the kids home. It was nice seeing you again.”

She nodded miserably. “And you.”

Ava ignored the notebooks thrust at her so she could keep Seamus in sight. He walked to the check-out and soon disappeared behind racks of magazines and customer traffic.

“Please,” one of the girls said.

Ava shook her head to clear it. “What?”

“Sign my book.”

Automatically, she took the book and scratched something that looked like her signature. She couldn't stand it any longer. “I'm sorry, I have to go.”

“Oh, please,” the other girls whined, unable to believe they'd gotten this close to Ava Harris only to leave empty-handed.

Abandoning her cart, Ava ran out of the store. He was still in the parking lot, putting the kids in their seats. She hurried over to him. He looked up as he opened the front door.

“Seamus.”

He stood still.

She gulped the huge ball of misery in her throat. “I have no right to talk to you, I know.” She thought he would say something but he didn't, so she had no choice but to continue. “I owe you an apology, but this isn't the time or the place. I need to speak to you, because I may never get the chance again.” Here, she faltered. “I'm sorry. I don't know what I'm saying. I feel so badly about Sally.”

“We'll talk someday, Libby, when I'm not…” He struggled with his own words, and she understood.

“Yes. Someday.”

He got in his car and drove away. She stood in the parking lot, oblivious to the stares and people pointing and the friendly smiles as people recognized her. It was as if she were alone in the universe. A car beeped to move her out of the middle of the driving lane. Ava came out of her stupor and realized she'd been sent on a mission to get some supplies and she couldn't very well arrive home without them. As she hurried back into the store, she vowed she wouldn't say a word about meeting Seamus. Her sisters would breathe down her neck until they sucked every bit of information out of her, and she couldn't share him with anyone. She needed to digest the awful news that his wife was dead. Poor Seamus. Her heart broke for him, and those dear children, losing their mother. Why hadn't someone told her?

When she got back to the house, her brothers Sandy and Hugh were in the kitchen. It was Sandy's turn to look after Ma. Hugh brought mussels for dinner.

“I hope I don't have to cook them,” she said as she threw the grocery bags on the table.


Page 14

“Lord almighty,” Hugh complained. “I suppose we have to shuck them for you too.”

“Would you?”

“You always were a spoiled brat.” He took the mussels and dragged them out to the cooking pot in the garage. Sandy helped her put the groceries away. “Maryette and Rose said they'd be over after supper to help you bathe Ma. I bet you'll be glad when your friend gets back, what's her name?”

“Lola.” Ava shrugged off her coat. “I've missed her. She's flying in tomorrow, which is good timing because the hospital called this morning and said Aunt Vi and Uncle Angus can come home in a couple of days.”

“Good. I'll pick them up then.”

“It'll be easier if they come home by ambulance. I've already arranged it. Did you see the hospital beds I bought? I'm putting them in the living room, so they don't have to go upstairs for the first while.” Sandy looked around. “It looks like you've been buyin' a lot of things for the house. Are you sure Aunt Vi wants all this new-fangled stuff?”

“I'm sure she will.”

“You don't have to buy our affection.”

Ava couldn't believe her ears. “I'm not. I'm trying to help out. And by the way, any one of you could've helped me by telling me that Seamus's wife was dead.”

“Seamus? Why would we talk about Seamus? You left him ten years ago. That's all in the past, isn't it?”

Ava looked away. “Yes, of course, but it was embarrassing to run into him and ask him how his wife was.”

“I'm sure he understood.” Sandy looked uncomfortable. “I'll go see if Hugh needs a hand.” He was out the back door before she said another word.

Ava sat hard on a kitchen chair. She couldn't seem to do anything right. Not about Seamus, and apparently not about buying things for her family. She either bought too much or not enough. She didn't know how to bridge the financial gap. If she gave them her clothes, they'd think it was charity. If she didn't offer to pay for everything, she felt guilty because she knew she made more money in a day than they made combined in a year. She was fed up with trying to do the right thing.

Her cell phone rang and she looked at the number. “Oh god.” It was Trent. He'd called several times in the last few days, but she refused to answer the phone. She was trying to figure out what she'd say to him. Well, she couldn't avoid him forever. She put the phone to her ear.

“Hello?”

“Where have you been?!” Trent yelled.

“I'm with my dying mother, Trent. Or did you forget?”

There was a pause. “Oh right. How is she?”

“She's dying.”

“Give her my best.”

“Sure.”

“When are you coming home? I'm fielding fifty calls a day from movie producers and television executives all trying to sign you. We're missing valuable time. By rights you should be traipsing around the country being interviewed by news shows on how you feel about winning the Oscar. Did you know that Pearl Tanner wanted you on her after-Oscar show the next day? That's huge!”

“I don't know when I'm coming home, Trent, because my mother hasn't given me her scheduled time of death.”

“I'm sorry,” Trent sighed. “That was callous. But is there anyway you can give me an idea of when you might be back? A rough estimate?”

Ava cleared her throat. “I'm staying here with my mother until the end and as long as my aunt and uncle need me. They were in a car accident and they need help over the next few months. I want to be here for them. They've been looking after my mother and they are elderly themselves. I owe them.”

There was complete silence.

“Trent? Are you there?”

“Repeat that for me again?” His voice was low and dangerous.

“You heard me. If you can't understand why this is necessary then you're not the man I thought you were.”

There was more silence before he said, “You're very clever, Ava, to put the burden on me, to make me out to be the bad guy. You have commitments. You said you'd be available to go on a promotional tour for your new movie. You also said you'd be on Broadway for the summer, not to mention the charity work you planned to do down in New Orleans.”

“Charity begins at home,” Ava reminded him. “Trent, all you have to do is go to these people and tell them that I have a family emergency. I think they'll understand. Believe it or not, actors are people too and we can't control our lives any more than anyone else can. If your parent was dying, I wouldn't expect you to keep working. Think about it.”

Now his voice took on a whining quality. “But what about World-Wide Pictures? What am I going to say to Forrest Kavanaugh?”

“Now that I'll be taking some time off, tell him I'll consider his offer once my shoot in New York is done. Is that fair?”

“I suppose so.”

“Thank you. I know you work hard on my behalf, Trent, and I appreciate it. But these things happen.”

She heard a big sigh. “Fine. I'll deal with things here, but I think you should call Camilla and give her some kind of statement she can dole out to the press about your absence. She's been inundated with media, but she didn't want to phone you considering the circumstances.”

“All right. I'll call her now. Thanks for this. I appreciate it.”

“Yes, okay. I'll get back to you. Sorry about your mother.”

“Bye, Trent.” She closed the phone and immediately flipped it open again to call Camilla.

“Darling!” Camilla shouted. “Are you all right? I've been terrified to call.”

“I'm okay. It's hard, obviously. And to top it off my aunt and uncle were in a car accident.”

“Oh no! Are they all right?”

“They will be. But because of that I've decided to stay on here for a while, to help out my family.”

“Dare I ask if you've told Trent this news?”

“I just got off the phone with him. I'm not his favourite person at the moment but he'll live.”

“Remind me not to call him for seventy-two hours. Now what do you want me to say to the newspapers and so on? I take it you haven't been reading the rags. Otherwise you'd know the outlandish reasons they've come up with for why you've disappeared from sight.”

“I've hardly disappeared.”

“Sweetie, you're not in L.A. You're not in California. You're not in New York. You're not even in the States. So as far as everyone in the entertainment industry is concerned, you've vanished into thin air or rocketed into outer space!”

Ava laughed. “And you have no idea how good that feels.”

“Have you had Hayden Judd's baby yet? Of all the excuses they've come up with the last few days that one takes the cake, seeing as how when you received your Oscar you looked about as pregnant as a pin.”

“They found out about us?”

“You did jump into his arms at the Vanity Fair party in front of the Gossip News reporter.”

“Damn.”

“They've also had you running off to elope with Jasper Jones. But how you could do that and be lying on a beach in the Mediterranean with Prince William beats me.”

“Tell them my mother is ill and I hope they'll give me and my family some privacy at this very difficult time. You know the drill.”

“Fine. I'll do my best to get it out there, but there are a few loose ends.”

“Camilla, I've had a rough day. Can we do this another time?”

“Of course. Why don't you give me a call when you have a chance? In the meantime, wish your mother all the best. And take care of yourself, sweetie. I worry about you.”

“I'll be fine. I'm with my brothers and sisters and I can't tell you how wonderful that is. Oh, and Camilla? Could you call Maurice and Harold and tell them I love them and I'll call them soon?”

“Righto. Bye bye!”

“Bye.”

She no sooner got off the phone than someone knocked on the back door.

“Come in,” she shouted as she made her way to the door. There stood a delivery boy holding an enormous box tied with a red ribbon. “For Miss Ava Harris.”

“Oh thank you.” She reached out for the box and took it. The guy grinned like a Cheshire cat. “I love you, Miss Harris.”

This struck her as funny. “Do you?”

“Yes. My mother thinks you're the greatest thing since sliced bread. She said so just the other day.”

“Come in for a minute.” She turned away and put the box on the kitchen table, then reached into her purse and took out a twenty. She also grabbed a notepad and pen by the phone and turned to him. “What's your mother's name?”

“Florence.”

She scribbled, “To Florence, You have a very nice son. All the best, Ava Harris.” She folded it up and passed it to him along with the money. “Here. Tell your mother I said hello.”

His face lit up. “Thanks! She'll freak.”

“I hope not.”

He walked backwards out the door. Ava was afraid he was going to bow. He stumbled down the steps and hurried back to his truck. She went to the table and opened the box. A glorious arrangement of exotic flowers lay in scented tissue paper. The card read, “I'm a wicked man and a foolish one. Please, please forgive me. I love you. I love you. I love you. Hayden xoxoxo.”

She didn't want to smile, but she did. At least someone loved her— or thought he did. While her brothers were out of the house and before her sisters arrived, she quickly ran upstairs and checked on her mother, who thankfully was sleeping comfortably. She'd had a good week. Everyone said so and the family was sure it was because the baby had finally come home.

Ava crept to her room and called Hayden. He answered on the first ring.

“Do you forgive me?” he said, before she had a chance to say anything.

“I'm not sure.”

“I love you, baby.”

“So you say.”

“I really, really mean it.”

“You always mean it.”

“This time I'll prove it to you.”

She lay back on the bed. “How do you propose to do that?”

“I'm here.”

She sat back up in an instant. “What?”

“I'm here, on this glorious island in the middle of nowhere. I flew in this morning. I've been holed up in a hotel room waiting for your call. Please say you'll come to me.”

She didn't know what to think. She was a bundle of conflicting emotions.

“Please come to me,” he whispered. “I'll make you feel good. You must be lonely and upset with everything that's happening with your family. I thought you could use a big hug.”

She felt her resistance start to disappear.

“You don't have to tell anyone I'm here. I'll go away as soon as you want me to. Just let me hold you in my arms for a little while.”

“Okay,” she said quietly.

“I'm at the Delta, under Charlie Chaplin. Room 502.”

“You're a dope,” she laughed.

“I know.”

“I'll be there in a couple of hours.”

“Thank you, baby. Thank you.”

She closed the phone and fell back on the bed. Why did she say yes? She was a fool. He didn't love her any more than the delivery guy did. But he was good fun when he wanted to be—why not take what was on offer and worry about it tomorrow? Besides, how else would she get through the evening after the shock of seeing Seamus? And knowing he was now a widower didn't help the situation. Maybe Hayden could erase him from her mind for a few hours.

After a quick shower, she greeted her sisters when they arrived for the evening and even ate a few of Hugh's mussels. Then said she needed to get out of the house for a bit. Would they mind terribly?

They told her to go ahead. Before she lost her nerve, she grabbed the keys for the rental and drove out of town, taking the long way in, through Mira. She told herself it was to sight-see a little, to take in the miles of fir trees and the little clapboard cottages nestled along the shoreline, but she soon found herself parked by the side of the road, walking across the highway to look down onto one of the beaches that circled Mira Bay. She stared out to sea for several minutes, remembering a night a long time ago.

Why did she tell Seamus to stop? She had regretted it ever since and now she'd never have that moment back again.

This way of thinking was doing her no good. She turned around and got back into the car, churning up gravel as she put her foot to the floor and sped towards Sydney. Or was it rushing away from that beach?

On went the sunglasses before she got to the lobby of the hotel. She looked down at the floor and rushed passed the reservations desk. Thankfully, the elevator was empty. She was in front of his door in no time. She knocked softly.

Hayden, the ridiculous man, answered the door in a tuxedo. The lights were dimmed, music played, and a bottle of champagne chilled in an ice bucket. The room was full of roses. He never said a word, just took by her hand and locked the door behind her. He took off her sunglasses, then reached behind and released her hair from its clip.

She was content to do and say nothing.

He led her into the middle of the room and put his arm about her waist. He started to dance slowly and she let him lead. Keeping his eyes on her, he reached over to hand her a glass of champagne. She took a sip while he grabbed another glass. He emptied his, and so did she.

Hayden danced her over to the bed and then took his hands away and started to undo her satin buttons. She didn't move until he drew the sleeves of her blouse down her arms. That's when she put her head back. He reached behind and undid her bra. That too slipped down her arms like silk.

He helped her take off the rest of her clothes before she lay back on the bed. He never took his eyes off her.

And that's when she knew she was in trouble. She only saw one face looking back: Seamus.

He made love to her and she let him. He never even noticed that she was silent for most of it, and that she had tears in her eyes from a sorrow that threatened to overwhelm her. The only way she felt him was to pretend that it was Seamus kissing her body and Seamus moving on top of her. Oh God, if only.


Page 15

Her body responded as it should, but it was an automatic reaction brought on by someone who was undeniably an expert on how to pleasure a woman. He plied all his tricks, and just when she thought it was over, he'd take her in his arms again and make her moan in spite of herself.

Only much later did Hayden speak. He pulled her up over him and did what he always did, traced her jaw line with the back of his finger. “So, little one. Do you believe me now when I say I love you?”

She nodded.

“Good. When you need reminding, I'll come back and we can do it all over again.”

She closed her eyes. He took her face in his hands and kissed her eyelids. “Say it.”

She stayed quiet.

“Say it.” He crushed his mouth against hers. When he finally let her go, she whispered, “I love you.”

“Oh, baby, that's better.”

He rolled her onto her back and took her again.

Ava left the room at two o'clock in the morning, barely remembering the drive home. She snuck in the house after finding the door open. A note on the table instructed her to “Lock up, please.” She did, and then climbed the stairs as quietly as she could. Rose was in Lola's bed. Off went Ava's clothes, on went her nightie, and under the covers she slipped, to fall into a dead sleep.

In the morning, she could hardly lift her head from the pillow. She ached, almost as if she had a hangover. On top of that, it looked about noon, judging from the splash of sunlight that fell across the bed.

“Oh God. I'm an idiot.” Ava slipped into the bathroom and took a long, hot shower. Now she was a sore prune. She put on a bathrobe and went downstairs in search of strong coffee. Two of her sisters were in the kitchen. One was making a casserole of some kind and the other was ironing.

Ava shuffled into the pantry in search of a mug. “Morning. Sorry I slept in. Shouldn't you guys be at work?”

“Lucky for you, I'm back shift,” Rose said.

“I called in sick,” Maryette said unashamedly. “They can do without me for a day. There's a fresh pot of tea on the stove.”

“I need coffee this morning,” she croaked. She poured water into the coffee maker and added about ten scoops of ground java. Then she came back and sat on one of the kitchen chairs. “How's Ma this morning?”

“She's okay,” Rose said. “Had a bit of a rough night. I'm surprised we didn't wake you.”

“I didn't hear a thing.”

“What the hell time did you get home?” Maryette asked before she threw another shirt on the ironing board. “I called Rose at midnight and you still weren't in.”

“Sorry,” Ava sighed. “I lost track of time.”

“I can just bet,” Maryette smirked.

Ava looked at her. “What do you mean?”

Rose threw a can of tomatoes into her concoction. “What she means is it's all over town that you bumped into Seamus yesterday.”

Ava blinked a couple of times, trying to get her head around this information.

“You've been away too long, girl,” Maryette laughed. “Everyone knows your business in this town. Did you think you could keep it a secret?”

“It wasn't a secret. I bumped into him at Sobey's, which is about as romantic as cutting your toenails, so I don't understand why all you busybodies around here get off on it. And speaking of that, thanks a lot for not telling me his wife was dead. I felt like an idiot when I asked him how Sally was.” She jumped out of her chair and went into the pantry to wait for the coffee to drip through.

She was livid. Typical bloody small-town crap. She'd suffocate in a place like this. Gossip and untruths thrived like mosquitoes in this environment. For a few minutes she considered taking the car to the airport and jumping on the first available plane. But when she poured the coffee, her shoulders slumped. She couldn't run again. They'd never forgive her.

There was nothing for it. She emerged, coffee in hand, and sat back at the table. The other two didn't say a word. They looked sheepish and that was fine with Ava.

It was Rose who spoke first. “If you remember, when I told you Seamus was married you said in no uncertain terms that you didn't need a blow by blow of his life and then you hung up on me. So I never said another thing.”

“Surprisingly,” Ava muttered. She realized they were waiting for her to say something. “I wasn't with him last night, if that's what you think.”

Rose came and sat down at the table. “You weren't? What did he say to you, anyway?”

“Nothing. We said hi and he introduced me to his kids. That was all.”

Maryette turned off the iron and sat too. “That's it? I don't know why I thought there'd be more…”

“Fireworks?” Rose volunteered.

“Yeah, fireworks.”

Ava took a sip of her coffee so she wouldn't tear the face off her sister. She counted to ten in her head before she opened her mouth. “How do you think I felt, Maryette? I was in hell if you must know, and he was too. Then a bunch of kids came up clamoring for my autograph and they chased him away. It was horrible.”

Maryette looked away. “I'm sorry; I shouldn't have asked you that.” Ava put down her mug because it was suddenly too heavy to hold. “Don't be. Of course you'd want to know.” She sighed. “It was awful. He looked so good and he wanted to talk to me, I could tell, but his kids started to whine and then these stupid girls showed up. I wanted the earth to swallow me up.” She put her face in her hands.

Rose reached over and patted her arm. “We're sorry, pet. We had no idea.”

“God. This is terrible,” Maryette said. “We'll keep our mouths shut from now on.”

Ava looked up and shook her head. “It's okay. It actually helps to talk about him. I always feel as if I'm carrying him on my shoulders and everyone knows he's there and I can never put him down. I need to put him down.”

They nodded sympathetically. She regained her composure and took a big gulp of coffee before letting out another big sigh.

“So where were you last night?” Rose ventured, but quickly added, “If you don't want to say, that's okay.”

“It doesn't matter anymore. I went to bed with someone.”

Their mouths hung open. She went in for the kill. “Hayden Judd.” Rose and Maryette jumped up from their chairs and bounced around the kitchen, screaming. Ava started to laugh and couldn't stop. She laughed and laughed at her sisters in their near-hysteria.

This was the scene that greeted Lola as she walked through the door.

Ava was happy to have Lola back. She had missed her cheery sidekick, with her down-to-earth manner and comforting presence. The unhappiness that threatened to overwhelm her eased when Lola was around.

Lola assured her that things were fine at home, and for a moment Ava was confused—she never thought of the Malibu beach house as home. She lay awake that night thinking about it. What an eye-opener: living somewhere for eight years and never becoming attached to it. It was sad.

Happily, two days later Aunt Vi and Uncle Angus were brought home. Ava and Lola ran out to greet them, carrying blankets to make sure they didn't get cold on their way into the house.

Aunt Vi was unloaded first. “Lordy, lordy. How in the heck are you going to get me up those stairs? You'll need a forklift.”

“Don't worry, Mrs. MacIntosh,” one of the medics smiled. “We've never needed one yet.”

As they wheeled her towards the back door, Ava covered her aunt with the blanket. “We're so happy to have you back!” She kissed her even as they were moving.

“I'm happy to be back,” Aunt Vi confided. “If I had to endure one more day of that hospital food, I'd have gone crazy. Good thing my stomach is made of cast iron.”

There was no room for all of them on the back stairs, so Ava got out of the way, just in time to hear Uncle Angus moan about people driving over his tulip beds. Lola reassured him that the bulbs were perfectly safe underneath the frozen ground. Then Uncle Angus spied Ava. “I keep telling these people I'm perfectly capable of walking myself.”

Ava had to smile. The cast on her uncle's arm was at a ninety degree angle, jutting out and in the way of everyone and everything.

“This is for your own protection, Uncle Angus. We can't have you slipping on the ice.”

“I don't like being hauled around like an old bag of turnips,” he grumbled.

Ava and Lola grinned.

After much maneuvering and grunting, the gurneys were brought into the kitchen. Ava pointed towards the living room. “Aunt Vi, I've got two hospital beds set up in the living room, to save you and Uncle Angus from having to climb the stairs with casts and crutches and canes. It's only for a little while.”

“Goodness gracious! I'm going to be in my nightie in the parlor? My mother would roll over in her grave.”

“I'm sure she'd understand.” Ava nodded at the paramedics. “If you could you help her in, please, that would be great.”

They reached down to help Aunt Vi off the gurney and held on to her as she hobbled into the living room. All the furniture was pushed back to the walls except for a large end table, which was positioned between the beds.

“Oh my,” Aunt Vi said. “You didn't have to go to all this trouble.” They helped her into bed. “It was no trouble,” Ava said. Then it was Uncle Angus who was escorted in. Lola pointed. “Uncle Angus, this is your bed.”

He sat on the end of it and looked around before picking up the television remote with his good hand and turning on the TV. “Now ain't this something. We can watch our shows and lie in bed, Vi!”

“Looks like that's all we can do, seeing as how we can't make whoopee. Geranium will be spying on us through the curtains.”

The others tried to keep straight faces. The idea of the two of them in a clinch with their heavy, awkward casts was too funny.

Once the gurneys were taken away, the downstairs didn't look quite so claustrophobic. Luckily Uncle Angus converted an old closet off the main hall into a powder room a couple of years before. They'd have to endure a few weeks of sponge baths, but they'd manage the inconvenience.

It turned out to be a lot of work having three patients in the house. Ava and Lola ran up and down stairs all day. If Ava thought she'd neglected her family all these years, she certainly made up for it in the weeks that followed. It was a wonderful opportunity to help these much-loved elders of the clan. But if she were honest, it wasn't the only reason why she kept moving. Ava needed to stop thinking about Seamus, a man who with one look could blot out everything and everyone else in her world.

CHAPTER EIGHT

For the next two weeks, Seamus did his best to put Libby right out of his mind. He had no intention of upsetting his kids, which is exactly what he did the day he bumped into her at the grocery store and the morning after. Both of them cried that night when he told them he wasn't reading two more books. “Knock it off and go to bed!” he said in a tone angrier than usual. They cried when he left them at daycare the next day because he forgot to kiss them goodbye.

When he picked them up that evening, they didn't run out to meet him and that's when he knew he had to get his act together and forget all about her. It wasn't fair to them. They were innocent victims and their welfare came first, he reminded himself.

He filled his days with all the fun things he could think of. He took them to the park after work. They went to the movies, even though Sarah was a little young to be in the theatre. But it turned out she really liked it. She sat quite content with a big bag of popcorn and yelled, “Yeah,” every time Shrek came on the screen.

The trips to the movies stopped the day Libby suddenly filled the screen one afternoon during the previews. Jack grabbed his sleeve. “Daddy, isn't that the lady from the store?”

Seamus was hardly aware that Jack spoke, because his entire body was rigid with longing. The trailer showed her in period costume, a long dress with a bonnet tied under the chin. Flashes of her walking down a cobbled street being kissed by some Hollywood star was bad enough but worse was a shot of her running along a shoreline, laughing, her hair cascading down her back as a man galloped towards her with a horse. He scooped her up and they rode off together towards the horizon. The last shot was of her in a wedding dress, running down the steps of a church.

Seamus continued to struggle with remaining focused on his kids when all he thought of was her. He needed to cut loose, so one Friday night when Roger suggested they go to the Steel City Tavern and have a few brews, he accepted. His sister offered to pick up the kids at daycare and have them spend the night with her. He knew the kids would welcome the chance to spend some time with their older cousins.

Seamus, Roger, and a couple of other cops gathered after work and had a steak along with their beer. They laughed and joked around, and before he knew it, Seamus was drunk. He didn't care.

Some women came into the bar and more drinks were ordered. One of the women took a liking to Seamus, practically throwing herself in his lap. He didn't care about that either. After a while she asked him if he wanted to go home with her. He said he didn't care.

She pulled him outside, though Roger came after him and said he'd drive him home. Seamus smirked and told him to go babysit someone else and stop worrying. The woman told Roger to bugger off. In the end, he had no choice but to leave them alone.

She drove him back to her place, a rundown apartment in Whitney Pier. “My roommate's gone for the night. We have the place to ourselves.”

“Ya gotta drink?” he slurred.

“Sure baby. I've got just the thing.” She took out a bottle of rum and mixed it with diet Coke. It was flat and warm. Seamus took a gulp, spilling most of it on the floor.

“Hey, sorry.”

She pushed him onto the living room couch. “Never mind. I know how you can make it up to me.” She straddled him and started to unbutton his shirt. “I need some lovin'.”


Page 16

“Don't we all,” he grinned.

“I bet you're great in the sack, aren't you?” She kissed him before he could answer. Her breath smelled like garlic. He turned his head. She kissed his ear instead. “Come on, baby. Let's play.” She reached down and grabbed his crotch.

He pushed her hand away. “Hey, take it easy.”

“I don't wanna take it easy. I like it rough.” She pulled off her sweater. “Take off my bra with your teeth.”

At this, he burst out laughing. He suddenly sobered up a bit.

She looked put out. “What's the matter? Don't you like to talk dirty?”

“I don't know what I like lady, but I have a sneaking suspicion it's not you. Where's your phone?”

She jumped off his lap and held her sweater in front of her. “You're an asshole, did you know that?”

“Yep. Where's your phone?”

“It's in the kitchen, you jerk. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.” She stormed off to the bathroom. He stumbled out to the kitchen and sat on a chair, trying to stop his dizzy head. What the hell was he doing here? He must be losing his mind. All he thought of was Libby. All he wanted was Libby. Why wasn't she here? He pressed his fingers against his temple trying to get the pounding to stop.

“I know. I'll ask her,” he said to no one. “No harm in asking.” He got up, went over to the phone and dialed the number he knew by heart. It began to ring once, twice… “Hello?”

“Libby? Is that you? Please say that's you.”

“Seamus?”

“Yep.”

“What are you doing? Where are you? Are you all right?”

“No, I'm not all right. I haven't been all right in a long, long time.” “Oh god, Seamus. Stop.”

“Stop what?”

“You sound drunk.”

“I am drunk. Care to join me?” She didn't respond. He thought maybe she hung up. He whispered, “Libby, are you there?”

“I'm here.”

“Don't cry.”

“I can't help it.”

“Ah shit. I'm always fucking up.”

“No, no. It's not your fault. Don't ever think that.”

“I don't know what to do. I saw you the other day.”

“Yes, in the store.”

“No, not in the store. You were on the screen and someone was kissing you.”

“It's only make-believe.”

“It wasn't me kissing you. How come I can't kiss you anymore? I'm sorry for whatever I did to make you go away.”

“I have to hang up, Seamus. Go to sleep and I'll talk to you again, okay?”

“Promise?”

“I promise.”

“Can I kiss you?”

There was a long pause. “Good night, Seamus.”

Seamus heard her hang up the phone. He replaced the receiver as his mind reeled. Needing desperately to escape the dingy apartment, he reached for the phone again and called Roger, telling him only that he was “somewhere in the Pier.” Then he let the phone drop and fumbled around until he found the apartment door. Staggering down a narrow flight of stairs, he tripped over the threshold and out into the street.

He walked, and kept walking until Roger drove up beside him, reaching over to open the side door and let Seamus in.

The next morning found him on the living room couch at home with a colossal headache. Panic set in because he couldn't remember how he got back. He prayed to God he didn't drive himself, but the memory of rolling out the passenger side door of Roger's car came back to him. Good old Roger picked him up off the ground and dragged him into the house.

Seamus managed to get up and make his way to the bathroom, where he stood under a cold shower for quite a while, to punish himself for being so stupid. While he shaved he found it difficult to look at himself in the mirror. In this state, he looked like his father and that made him sick. Seamus hated drunks.

He took a couple of Tylenol and opened the fridge in search of a Coke. He reached for the phone and suddenly stopped. Did he talk to Libby last night? Oh shit.

He looked at the cat, who sat by the garbage can. “Dexter, please tell me I didn't.” Dexter was no help. He looked up accusingly, not because of anything Seamus did but because it was past breakfast and nearly lunch. Seamus got up in search of a can of cat food. When he couldn't find any, he opened a can of tuna and placed it on the floor.

He called Roger.

“Ah, he's in the land of the living,” Roger laughed when he picked up the phone.

“I'm in rough shape. What the hell happened?”

“You had a lucky escape, my friend.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, you were dragged off by the bride of Frankenstein. I hope all your parts are in good working order.”

“Oh Christ, why didn't you stop me?”

“I tried, but she almost broke a beer bottle and went at me. I like ya and everything, but not that much.”

“How did you find me, then?”

“You eventually called me and I drove around until I spied you wandering up Victoria Road.”

“Can I ask you something?”

“What?”

“Did I mention talking to Libby last night?”

There was a long pause on the other end of the phone. His heart sank.

“Look man, I feel badly for you, but yeah, you called her.”

Seamus rubbed his eyes to lessen the pain of this throbbing head. “I'm such a loser.”

“You were drunk. We all do stupid things when we drink.”

“Have you ever called up a famous actress and begged her to come back to you, because I have a feeling that's what I did.”

“Maybe she will.”

“Yeah, I'm sure she'd swap her digs in Hollywood and come live in Catalone with me. I mean, wouldn't you?”

“Don't know what to tell ya, buddy.”

“Well, thanks for last night. I owe ya one.”

“No prob. See ya Monday.”

“Yeah. See ya.”

Next, he phoned Colleen and told her he'd be over in a couple of hours to pick up the kids. She invited him for supper. Hoping he'd be able to stomach food by suppertime, he accepted. The rest of the morning was occupied with cleaning up, which was a lot easier to do when Jack wasn't riding the vacuum cleaner and Sarah wasn't on a chair in front of the sink helping him do the dishes. When he was finished, the place wasn't Martha Stewart clean, but the crushed potato chips were sucked up and even the bag in the garbage can was changed.

Stepping outside, the sunshine made him wince, so he went back in the house for his sunglasses and more Tylenol. “This is stupid. I'm never drinking again.” Blasé, Dexter blinked at him and looked out the window.

Colleen lived in Louisbourg, a ten-minute drive away. Naturally, the temperature when he got there was a lot cooler than at his house, because the fog lay heavy on the coast. The foghorn worked overtime.

“Ah, shit.” His father's car was in Colleen's driveway. He wished she'd knock off the Florence Nightingale routine. Some people couldn't be saved.

He got out of the car and walked into the house. Colleen was on her way downstairs with a load of laundry. “Hi.”

“Why didn't you tell me he'd be here?”

“Because you wouldn't have come and that's ridiculous. Act your age.” She continued down the stairs.

He took off his sunglasses and put them on the kitchen counter. “Hi, kids.”

Jack and Sarah shrieked from somewhere and then ran into the kitchen and hopped into his arms.

“Guess what?” Jack said.

“What?”

“I didn't go to bed until eleven.”

“You're kidding!”

He nodded proudly. “We watched Finding Nemo. It was good.”

Sarah grinned. “Yeah.”

He kissed them both and put them down. Their cousins Liam and Courtney came into the kitchen. “Hi, Uncle Seamus.”

He reached out and ruffled Liam's hair. “Hey, squirt.”

Liam reached up and pushed his hand away. “Stop it.”

Courtney hugged him. He cupped her face in his big hand. “Hiya, sweetheart. Thanks for looking after the kids for me.”

“That's okay.”

Jack was offended. “She didn't look after me. I'm big.”

Sarah nodded. “Yeah. Big.”

“You're right. Sorry.”

Jack ran out of the kitchen. “Come on, Liam. Let's play pirates.”

The four cousins zoomed out together. Seamus sat at the kitchen table and waited for Colleen to come upstairs. No truck in the driveway meant Dave wasn't home. His father cleared his throat in the living room. Damn Colleen. She was staying downstairs on purpose.

Seamus reluctantly walked into the living room. “Hi Dad.” He took in his father's ruddy cheeks and puffy face. He'd put on weight and it didn't suit him. In fact, it made him look about fifteen years older than he was.

His father got up from the couch and held out his hand. “Son.”

They shook hands, and then Kenny sat back on the couch. He had a glass of something on the end table. Seamus pointed to it.

“A little early in the day, isn't it?”

Kenny took a drink. “It's Pepsi.”

Seamus rubbed his hands down the front of his pants and looked out the window. He finally had no choice but to sit. His father looked about as comfortable as he felt. “So what's new?”

Kenny shook his head. “Not much. I've been fixin' up the shed. The roof just about tore off during the last blow we had.”

“Yeah, it was a bad one.” Seamus leaned forward in his chair and rubbed his hands together, itching to get up and walk out. “You're feeling well?”

“Aye. My hip gives out now and again, but ain't nothing worth worryin' about.”

“Good.”

He took another drink. “The kids are growin' I see. Jack's goin' to be a big fella someday. Bigger than you.”

Seamus knew he'd say that. “Yep. He'll be bigger then me. Smarter too, probably.”

“Aye. Sarah's got the look of her mother. Do you ever bring them over to Sally's people?”

“Of course, I do. They love to go.”

“Her folks see the kids more than I do then, I guess.”

“Yeah, Dad. No doubt.”

“Shame.”

Finally Seamus heard Colleen on the stairs. She entered the living room. “Well, this is nice. All of us together.” Neither her father nor her brother said anything. She kept smiling, walked over to the armchair and sat down. “Did you know, Seamus, that Dad's going to AA? Isn't that right, Dad?”

“Aye.”

“What's it been, now? Six weeks?”

Kenny took another drink. “About that.”

Colleen looked at him. “Isn't that great, Seamus?”

He nodded. “Hope it works.”

His father grunted and downed his drink. Shaking the ice cubes in his glass, he got up. “Think I'll have another.” He walked out and into the kitchen.

“You could give him a little encouragement, you know,” Colleen frowned. “It wouldn't kill you.”

“He's not going to do it; you know that, don't you?”

“You can't give up on people, Seamus.”

“No?”

“Oh, all right. Be as stubborn as he is.” She got up and started to leave. Seamus stood too and grabbed her arm. “I'm sorry, Colleen. I know how much you want this to happen. I hope for your sake it does.”

She had tears in her eyes. “I miss Mom and we have such a little family, Seamus. I want us to get along. Is that too much to ask?”

He gathered his big sister in his arms. “You're right. You've been wonderful to me and I don't make it easy. I promise I'll try to do better.”

“Thanks,” she sniffed.

He patted her back and then let her go. She started for the kitchen. “I have to stuff the salmon.”

“Can I help?”

“You can peel some potatoes.”

Dave finally came home from a trip to Central Supplies. Seamus helped him bring in four sheets of plywood. The visit got easier after that. Dave, who had an easy way about him, was quite the talker and he had everyone laughing before supper, teasing his father-in-law and giving Colleen's rear end a pinch every time she went by. She finally had to threaten him with a potato masher to get him to stop. Once the kids joined in the festivities at the table, Seamus began to enjoy himself. He and his father exchanged a few jokes. It was worth it for the big smile on Colleen's face.

Finally the kids drifted away to go back to the pirate cave of blankets and towels. The four adults sat at the table, drinking their tea and enjoying second helpings of Colleen's famous strawberry and rhubarb pie.

“God, this is good,” Seamus said with his mouth full.

“I'll give you the recipe,” she teased.

“You do that,” he smiled.

“Didn't know you could get strawberries in March,” her dad said. “I think they're from California. I got them at Sobey's.”

Dave obviously wasn't thinking when he blurted out, “Hey, a guy in the shop said he saw Ava Harris in Sobey's a couple of weeks ago.”

The silence was deafening. He backtracked. “Oh, shit. Sorry.”

Seamus pretended it didn't matter. “Don't be sorry on my account. I couldn't care less.” Colleen looked at him and bit her lip. He shook his fork at her. “Really, it's okay.”

His father growled at the other end of the table. “That bitch better not come near me.”

The hairs on the back of Seamus's neck stood at attention. He swallowed hard. “No need for name-calling.”

“She's a bitch and she always was.”

Seamus dropped his fork to his plate. He saw Colleen and Dave give him worried looks but he didn't care. “Don't call her that.”

“I can call her whatever I want,” his father scowled.

“It's none of your business.”

“Isn't it? She made your mother's life miserable for a long time, so I guess it is my business.”

“Leave her alone.”

His father threw his napkin on the table and pointed at him. “No. You leave her alone. If I hear of you going anywhere near her, I'll have your hide.”


Page 17

“Dad, please…” Colleen interjected.

Seamus got up from the table. “If I want to go over there tonight, I will. And not you or anyone else can tell me otherwise.”

“Then you're a damn fool.”

“Maybe I am.” He turned to Colleen. “Sorry, I better get the kids home. Thanks for the great meal.”

Seamus walked out of the dining room, called his two protesting children and bundled them into the car. They whined all the way home, so he made it up to them by popping popcorn and letting them watch Shrek for the seventh time. Soon after that they were snuggled into bed.

When all was quiet, he went out onto the deck and watched the beach for the longest time, gathering his courage. He looked up into the night sky. “I'm sorry, Sally. Please forgive me. But I've always loved her.”

He went to the phone and called Libby.

The phone rang and rang. He was about to chicken out and hang up when a breathless voice answered. “Sorry, hello?”

“Ah, yes. Is Li…Ava there?”

“Who's calling please?”

“A friend.”

The voice became business like. “I'm sorry, but unless you identify yourself I can't summon Miss Harris to the phone.”

He looked at the receiver. Who on earth was speaking?

“Tell her it's Seamus.”

“Ohhh. Oh my. Sorry. I'll go get her.”

It seemed like ages before she came to the phone. She spoke his name softly. “Seamus.”

“Libby. Someone told me I called you last night.”

“Yes.”

“I'm sorry. I was drunk and I apologize for anything I might have said that was inappropriate.”

“Nothing you said was inappropriate.”

He wiped the sweat off his brow. “I can't really remember.”

“That's okay.”

“I'm a jerk.”

“No. Never.”

“Sorry.”

“Don't ever be sorry, Seamus.”

“I don't know what to do.”

“Maybe we should talk.”

“Yes, but where?”

“You could meet me for coffee, maybe.”

“And have everyone in town see us together?”

Ava sighed. “You're right. I could meet you some afternoon at Wentworth Park. By the fountain?”

“All right. How about this Monday? I can take an hour off work.” “Fine. I'll be there at two. That is of course unless something comes up with my mother. I can't stay long because I'm here to help Aunt Vi.” “Of course, of course.”

“I'll see you then, Seamus.”

“Yes. See you then.”

Ava hung up the phone and went up to her room. Lola was on the bed and this time she was the one biting her fingernails. “Oh god. It was him, wasn't it?”

Ava nodded. She flopped down on the bed and pulled the hair off her face. She stared at nothing.

“Are you sure you know what you're doing, Ava?”

“I have no clue.”

“Do you want to see him?”

“Yes. No. Yes.”

“Maybe you shouldn't.”

Ava made a face. “Why would you say something like that?”

“I don't know,” Lola shrugged. “I have a bad feeling about this.”

“Wonderful. That makes me feel better.” She bounced off the bed and said over her shoulder, “I'm going to see Ma.”

Lola continued to gnaw at her nails and tried hard to make the bad feeling go away, but it wouldn't budge.

Ava sat with her mom for a while. They talked a little, but mostly Mamie lay quietly with her eyes closed. The doctor said she was in a bit of a remission, seeing as her health stayed the same for the last couple of weeks. Of course, none of them got their hopes up, but it was a relief that she seemed stable and they were able to control her pain.

Ava did notice that her mother watched her when she didn't think Ava was looking. She wondered why. If she turned her head suddenly, she'd catch Mamie closing her eyes. It was a strange little game and Ava wasn't sure what it meant. She mentioned it to Rose, but of course her sister said she was foolish and blamed it on an over-active imagination.

Ava decided to test her theory by emptying the wastepaper basket. Ma definitely opened her eyes and followed her about the room, but when she turned to go sit in the chair by the bed, her mother's eyes were closed.

She sat down. “Ma?”

“Yes?”

“Why are you looking at me?”

She opened her eyes. “I wasn't.”

“Yes, Ma. You were.”

Her mother gave her a bit of a grin. “You caught me. You always were a smart little thing.”

“Was I?”

“Yes. You were the smartest of the bunch.”

“You never told me that before.”

“I'm telling you now.” Her mother started to cough and Ava grabbed the glass of water on the bedside table and put the bent straw to her lips.

“Thank you,” Mamie whispered when she'd taken a small sip.

Ava decided not to bother her with silly questions. She didn't want her to use up too much of her energy, but it was her mother who spoke first.

“I look at you, because I can't for the life of me figure out where you came from.”

Ava tilted her head. “What do you mean?”

“Can you keep a secret?”

“Yes.”

“I was always a bit afraid of you.”

Ava didn't know what to say. “Oh?”

“Mmm. Strange when you think of it, a grown woman being afraid of a small child.”

“Why?”

“You were bright. You saw things. You'd look at people as if you could see right through them, and it was…uncomfortable, for want of a better word.”

“I didn't know that.”

“And you were talented. Everyone said so. You'd play make-believe and grownups had tears in their eyes watching you, because you really believed that you were a fairy or a star or the donkey in the Nativity play. It was almost frightening.”

Ava's mouth went dry. She'd never heard her mother talk about her. Ever. And now this outpouring. She wasn't sure what to make of it.

“I was afraid something would happen to you. You felt too much. You felt much too much.”

Ava didn't want her to keep talking, so she rose out of the chair, but her mother turned her face towards her. “Sit.”

Ava slowly lowered herself back in the chair.

“Why did you leave?”

She shook her head.

“You're never going to tell me, are you?”

She looked at the floor.

“All right. I'll leave it be.” Her mother closed her eyes. Ava got up quickly and went to the door, but before she went through it her mother said, “I know you still love him.”

She stood very still.

Her mother opened her eyes again and looked right at her. “Don't hurt him again.”

Ava fled.

But she got only as far as downstairs before duty called. Aunt Vi hollered from the living room. “Libby, darlin'. Bring me the hot water bottle, there's a good girl.”

She wiped her eyes on the arm of her sweater. “Sure. I'll be right there.”

“And get me the Post,” Uncle Angus chimed in. “It should be here by now.”

Ava ran to fill the hot water bottle and bumped into Lola going down the stairs. “I'll get the paper for you,” Lola said “Thanks.” Ava went to the bathroom sink and turned on the hot water tap. While she waited for the water to heat up, she looked at herself in the mirror. A very frightened face looked back at her. She mouthed her mother's words. Don't hurt him again.

She and Lola got supper ready for their three patients. Both Aunt Vi and Uncle Angus got along fairly well, considering all they'd been through, but they never would've managed on their own. They both had one arm and one leg out of commission, so moving about was awkward, and their unwieldy casts were uncomfortable. Their bruises had faded to that sickly colour both yellow and ghastly. Deciding Aunt Vi needed makeup to cover the worst of it, Lola gave her the full treatment. When she was done, Uncle Angus gave his wife a quick glance.

“You don't need all that muck on your face. You look better without it.”

“You heard the man,” Aunt Vi said. “Take it off.”

Lola's eyes widened. “Do you always do what he tells you?”

“Girl, ya gotta keep your man happy,” Aunt Vi said.

Lola passed her some tissue and a jar of Nivea cream. “I could learn a thing or two from you.”

Of course Lola should have gone home days before, but she kept making excuses not to leave, so Ava dropped the subject. She felt safe with Lola around, and her Aunt Vi loved having such an avid student. Her friend sat on the end of Aunt Vi's bed every morning and wrote down everything she had to say about cooking and household hints and how to hang out clothes properly. She'd “ohh” and “ahh” for hours, and Aunt Vi's chest swelled more and more each day.

Ava's brothers Johnnie and Lauchie arrived after supper for a visit. Johnnie moved the hospital beds closer together in the living room so they could have a game of Tarbish.

Ava begged off from playing cards with the rest of them. Her excuse was she had to do the dishes. She was drying her last plate when Rose came through the door with her daughter Vicky and nieces Samantha and Emily. Rose went upstairs to sit with their mother for the evening. Ava was relieved to have three young girls to talk to. It kept her from thinking too hard.

They put their elbows on the table in unison and began peppering her with questions.

“What's it like kissing all those gorgeous actors?” Vicky asked.

“It's a lot of work.”

“No way,” Vicky laughed. “I don't believe you.”

Ava folded her arms. “Okay, answer me this. What if you had to walk into your class, with everyone watching, and kiss someone you've never met before? And not just kiss him once, but over and over, while some of the other students fussed around you, telling you to tilt your head a little more, or drop your chin. And this person you don't know has bad breath, but you have to kiss him as if you love him and make everyone believe it. And then after three hours in the same spot, someone says cut and the guy you were kissing pushes you away and complains long and loud about having to kiss someone with small tits, when there are plenty of other students around with bigger boobs.”

The girls looked at each other. “Gross!” was the general consensus. “So you see, girls, everything is not what it seems up on the big screen.”

“Still,” Sam sighed. “You get to have someone do your makeup and hair. That must be fun.”

“It is fun when you're going to parties or premieres, but when you have to sit in a makeup chair for a couple of hours before one scene, it gets a little dreary.”

“But all your clothes,” Emily said. “Do you get to keep them?”

“Yes. It's in my contract.”

The girls got excited again, making Ava laugh.

“Your mother tells me the three of you are graduating this year. I can't believe it. You were little girls when…” She looked away.

“Yes, it's going to be great,” Vicky said. “Joey asked me to go with him.”

Ava looked at Vicky's cousins. “Do you two have a date?”

They nodded. Sam said, “Like, you have to hook up by at least the end of March. Otherwise you're dead. No one will take you.”

“Oh dear. That sounds dreadful.”

“Mom says I have to have my dress made, so it won't cost too much,” Emily sighed. “I'll look like a freak.”

Ava stood straight up. “Girls. I know what I can give you as a graduation present.”

“What?” they said excitedly.

“I'll buy you each a prom dress. The most beautiful prom dresses anyone has ever seen!”

They started to jump up and down and scream their heads off.

“And wait!”

They held each other and didn't move.

Ava clasped her hands together. “I'll fly Maurice in from Hollywood to do your hair and makeup!”

The shrieks of delight were deafening. Everyone in the house yelled, “What's the matter?” Rose ran down the stairs. Lauchie and Johnnie burst in from the living room with Lola on their heels, while Uncle Angus and Aunt Vi had to yell from their beds, “What's going on?!”

The girls ran over to Rose but they were talking at the same time so she still didn't know what had transpired. Finally, Lauchie gave a loud whistle. “What in the name of jumpin' jahosiphats is goin' on in here? You sound like a bunch of cacklin' hens.”

Eventually the story was relayed, and then relayed again to Aunt Vi and Mamie. The girls ran upstairs to call every girl in town and tell them about their wonderful fairy godmother.

Ava took Rose aside. “I'm sorry, I should've asked you first. It just popped in my head. I hope Maryette and Bev don't mind. I want you to come with me when we pick out the dresses. It can be a mother-daughter outing.”

Rose gave her a hug. “It's wonderful. You've given them something they'll never forget.” She pushed Ava away but kept her hands clasped on her shoulders. “But you know what the best thing is?”

“What?”

“For a second there, you looked like you did when you were a little girl.”

Ava hid her face in her sister's neck and stayed there for a long time.

Her nieces' delight over her brilliant idea gave Ava great satisfaction. These were the moments she missed out on over the years. She wanted to make it up to her family, because their happiness had a direct bearing on her own. The trouble was the warm, fuzzy feeling didn't last for long. She was meeting Seamus in two days and her mother's warning of not hurting him again kept playing over and over in her head.

Ava didn't sleep most of Sunday night. Instead, she stared at the ceiling and went over what she would say to Seamus. She even spent a few hours thinking she should call him back and cancel the whole thing. Perhaps her mother was right. It might be best to slip out of his life before she had a chance to slip back in.


Page 18

In the morning, as they made their beds, Ava told Lola she had to go out in the early afternoon and asked her to keep an eye on things. “You're meeting him, aren't you?”

“Yes. We have to talk.”

“Are you sure?”

“Lola, I can't leave it like this. I owe him something. I'm not sure what, but I do.”

“Are you telling your sisters?”

“No. Please don't say anything.”

“I won't, but I'm worried about you.”

Ava smiled at her. “If everything's a disaster, I'll come crying home to you, how's that?”

“I can't wait.”

The morning hours seemed to crawl by. She looked at the clock at least a hundred times an hour. She washed the floor, did the dusting, and even made a meat pie for supper, and it was still only noon. She finally went upstairs to get ready.

How do you dress to see someone you love but really don't know anymore? Maybe she was kidding herself. It might be like an awkward blind date. She didn't know to expect.

Unable to sit still, she left the house a half an hour early. She drove along the SydneyGlace Bay highway and then on to the Sydney bypass. Wentworth Park was at the bottom of Hardwood Hill. In the summer it was a leafy green oasis with a duck pond, the huge trees creating a canopy of leaves. In late March, however, the leaves were still nowhere to be seen, so the overall impression of the park was rather drab, and the large gnarled branches looked like witch's fingers scrapping against the grey sky.

Ava parked the car along one of the side streets and walked towards the fountain. Her heart turned over when she saw him sitting on the cement fence, gazing in the other direction. He looked lonely. How she longed to walk up to him, put her arms around his waist, and feel him hug her close. To press her cheek against his coat and be tucked under his chin.

Seamus turned and saw her. He stood then and waited for her to come to him. At the last minute he walked towards her. “Hi.”

“Hi,” she said.

They stood awkwardly for a few seconds. She put out her hand and shook his, using it to pull him toward her so she could reach up and kiss his cheek quickly before letting him go.

She looked around. “Where shall we sit?”

He gestured behind her. “I think the park bench is a little warmer than this fence.”

“I imagine it would be.” Ava smiled.

They sat together on the bench, not too close to each other. They both looked at their feet, neither one of them saying anything, until at the exact same moment they turned to each other and said, “So.”

“This is ridiculous,” Ava laughed. “You'd think we were thirteen years old.”

“I feel about thirteen.”

She smiled at him. “Let's start over. How are you, Seamus?”

“I'm fine. And you? Oh god, that was a stupid thing to say. Of course you're not fine.”

“I'm okay.”

“How is your mother?”

Ava clasped her gloves together and sighed. “It's hard. It's been so long since I've seen her.”

“Yes.”

“Of course you know that. It was a shock to see her at first. I wasn't prepared. But we've had some wonderful moments together this last while and that's as much as I ever hoped for. Maybe she can fight this thing a little longer. We're keeping our fingers crossed.”

“Perhaps you wouldn't mind telling her I'm thinking of her.”

“I'm sure she'd be happy to know that, Seamus. And how's your mother?”

Seamus glanced away for a moment. “She died five years ago. A sudden heart attack.”

“That's awful,” Ava frowned. “I'm sorry, I didn't know. She was a lovely woman.”

“It was terrible. Colleen in particular had a hard time. You know how close she was to Mom.”

“Yes, I remember.”

They looked at each other then. Ava finally said, “I have to tell you again how sorry I am about Sally. What a dreadful shock for you.”

“It was a nightmare. She developed an infection shortly after Sarah was born. Everyone thought she had the flu. By the time the doctors figured it out, she was dead. The only thing that kept me sane was my kids.”

“You're lucky to have them. They're beautiful children. Of course, their mother was striking. I remember her. She was a grade behind us, wasn't she?”

Seamus nodded. “Yes. Yes, she was beautiful.”

Neither one of them said anything for a few moments. Ava broke the silence. “I came here today to ask you to forgive me. I hurt you and you didn't deserve it. I apologize from the bottom of my heart.”

He looked at his gloves. “Okay. Are you ever going to tell me why?”

Ava quickly stood. “I'm sorry. I think this was a bad idea.”

Seamus stood too. “You said you wanted to talk.”

“I know.” Ava looked at the ground. “But we're sitting here pretending we know each other and we don't. We're trying to bridge a gap of ten years in ten minutes and it's too much. I'm confused, what with Ma and everything. I wanted to say I'm sorry and now that I've said it, I better go.”

She started to walk away. He ran after her. “Wait a minute. Wait.”

Ava turned to him. He put his hand on her arm. “You don't have to be afraid me. You don't have to tell me anything. You don't owe me anything. It was just a question, but it doesn't need to be answered right this minute.”

Ava didn't want to cry in front of him. She nodded. “Okay.”

“I won't lie to you, Libby. I still have feelings for you, but I know this is a totally inappropriate time to talk about it. Please, don't run away from me. I'll leave you alone, just don't go.”

“I won't. I can't. My family needs me.”

“Okay. Maybe down the road we can meet again and it won't be so hard. You wanted to apologize and I've accepted your apology and now it's over. We can start fresh. Maybe you can tell me what you've been doing all these years.”

They both laughed then.

“You know what I've been doing, you silly man,” she smiled.

“Well, you can tell me what it's like to win an Academy Award. That's not something I get to ask too many people.”

She wiped her bangs away from her eyes with the back of her gloves. “Okay. You've got a deal.”

“All right. I'll talk to you again.”

“Yes. We'll talk again.”

Ava turned to go but before she'd gone even two feet he said, “Libby?”

She slowly turned around.

“You never married, did you?”

She looked at him sadly. “No. I never did.” And then she walked away.

CHAPTER NINE

Now that spring was in the air, it felt to Ava as if she'd never left home. The slower rhythm and pace of life started to seep into her bones again. Gradually, even with the emotional upheaval, she found herself loosening up, not hopping around from room to room anymore. She even noticed that her bad habit of clenching her teeth was disappearing.

“I know my mother is practically on her deathbed,” she said to Lola as they folded laundry in the kitchen, “but I feel at peace somehow. Does that make sense? I feel better here than I have in years, even with all the upset.”

Lola nodded. “Well, no wonder. Look at the life you lead. You barely have five minutes to yourself. I have to tell you, I could get used to this.”

They walked towards each other, holding out either end of a flat sheet. When they met in the middle Lola took it from her and continued to fold. Ava started on a pillow case.

“I feel guilty about keeping you here, you know,” Ava said. “You should've gone home two months ago.”

“And done what? Twiddled my thumbs in my dinky apartment while inhaling L.A. smog?”

“You do have some people who must miss you.”

Lola shook her head. “Surprisingly few, as it happens. You've chased them all away.”

Ava threw a facecloth at her. “I have not!”

“All right,” Lola laughed. “I concede a few people still come around, but I think they get tired of tracking me down. We aren't in L.A. all that often anymore. We're too busy flying around.”

“I still think you should go home. Or go visit your parents.”

“I'm happy right here.”

Ava threw her hands up in defeat. “Fine. Stay as long as you want.”

“I don't need your permission,” Lola smirked. “Aunt Vi and Uncle Angus said they're adopting me.”

“Then we'll be cousins!”

At that moment Aunt Vi hobbled into the kitchen on her cane. She and Uncle Angus had graduated to the second floor now that the cast on Vi's ankle was off. Uncle Angus had a new cast on his arm, one that was easier to manage. “Who wants raisins?”

“I said, ‘cousins.'”

“Dear lord, I'm going deaf on top of everything else. Why don't you two do me a favour and take me out to the coal shed and shoot me? It would save a lot of bother.”

“I'd be lynched by the family if I did that, Aunt Vi.”

Aunt Vi sat at the kitchen table with a sigh. “This bandage is too tight.”

“Let me re-do it.” Ava unwrapped several feet of beige bandage and rolled it back around her aunt's swollen ankle. “How's that?”

“Better dear, thank you. Libby, one of your brothers asked me to talk to you about something.”

Ava and Lola looked at each other. Ava sat in the chair next to Aunt Vi. “Have I done something wrong?”

“Of course not, child. It's your brother Hugh. Apparently one of his boys is doing a school project on making movies. You know Hugh. He doesn't like to put people on the spot. Doesn't seem to mind if I do, though.” Aunt Vi grinned. “Anyway, he wondered if there was any way his young fella could take your Academy Award to school during his presentation.”

“Is that all? God. I thought it was something serious!”

“Well, isn't it?” Aunt Vi asked. “I thought you might have it locked up in Fort Knox or something.”

“It's on my bedroom dresser, as it happens. I'll get Mercedes to go to the house and wrap it up. She can send it UPS.”

“Well, that's mighty kind of ya, darlin'.”

Ava cupped her chin in her hand. “You know, I haven't even thought of it, to tell you the truth. I like the idea of having it here in Cape Breton. Then everyone can see it, not just me and the housekeeper.”

Ava called Hugh that night and he put his son on the phone. The poor kid was beside himself with excitement. He ran off to tell his buddies on MSN. Hugh got back on the phone, thanking her profusely. If only he knew how happy it made her to be able to do something for one of her brothers.

The statue arrived three days later. A small crowd of Ava's nearest and dearest came over for the unveiling. Her brother Hugh opened the box with a box cutter, but it was Ava who unveiled it for all to see.

Even standing on Aunt Vi's plastic kitchen tablecloth, Oscar looked impressive. Everyone took turns picking it up and had exactly the same thing to say. “It's heavy!”

Hugh and his son swore upside down that they'd take good care of it. Hugh planned to drive his son to school and pick him up afterwards, just to make sure. They would return it immediately. Ava laughed and told them to take as long as they needed.

Before they left for the night, Ava took the award upstairs to show her mother. Mamie didn't know it was coming. Ava thought she'd surprise her.

She knocked lightly on the door and entered her mother's bedroom. As always, the slight smell of sick, stale air hit her in the face. Nothing they did seemed to get rid of it. How Ava wished she could throw open the window and sit her mother right in front of it, but she was so often cold now. Ava tried not to see her mother going downhill, but there were small signs every week. She pushed the inevitability from her mind.

“Mom, are you asleep?” she whispered.

Her mother stirred. “No, just resting my eyes.”

Ava approached the bed with the statue behind her back. “I brought someone to meet you.”

Mamie's eyes popped open. “Oh heavens, child, I thought you had someone in the room. You could've given me a little warning.”

“I do have someone with me.” She reached behind and brought out her prize. “This is Oscar.”

Her mother smiled and reached out to touch the golden figure. “Oh my. Isn't that something.” She touched it all over while Ava held it. It was too much for her mother to hold by herself.

“Well child, you should be well pleased with yourself. That's quite an honour and very well deserved. Your father would be mighty proud of you. Mighty proud indeed. As am I.”

Ava reached for her mother's hand. “Thanks, Ma. That means a lot.”

Now that Ava was getting into the groove of a more relaxed atmosphere, she decided she needed to buy some normal clothes—jeans and tops she could buy at the Mayflower Mall. The outfits she brought with her were completely inappropriate for life in Glace Bay, and she didn't want people thinking she was showing off by wearing designer clothes. And besides, she'd come in the winter and now spring was in the air. The fact that their mother was still with them was a wonderful bonus she'd not thought possible when she arrived home that cold day in February.

Good old Lola stayed home with the three invalids, which seemed to be where she wanted to be anyway. Ava said she'd only be a couple of hours and they waved vaguely in her direction, so she gathered she wouldn't be missed.

She found a parking space close to the main entrance of the mall and hurried through the crosswalk to let the cars go by. A man opened the door for her and she smiled. “Thank you.” He tipped his hat and kept going. She took off her sunglasses as she entered the mall and rooted through her bag to find the case. As she did, she noticed a tall man standing in front of the cash machine. She looked again and her heart beat a little faster.

“Seamus?”

He turned around. When he saw her, he gave her a big smile. “Oh, hi, Libby.”


Page 19

She resorted to a stupid question. “What are you doing here?”

He looked down to put his cash in his wallet. “Colleen sent me on a mission.”

“Sounds exciting.”

He pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket. “She told me in no uncertain terms my kids needed new pajamas as well as new underwear and socks. I've got their sizes here. I'm to look for size 6X for Jack and 3 for Sarah.”

“The kids aren't with you?”

Seamus laughed. “If you ever saw the way I shop, you'd understand why Colleen keeps the kids with her. She thinks I'm going to lose them one day. It's safer for me to go with a list.” He paused. “What about you?”

Ava looked down at herself. “I'm off to buy normal clothes. Stuff I can wash the kitchen floor in.”

“I see.”

They looked at each other and smiled. Neither one of them made a move to go anywhere but it was obvious one of them had to do something.

Finally Ava said, “Well, I better let you get to it. It was nice to see you again.”

Seamus cleared his throat. “You wouldn't want to get a cup of coffee before we start?” He pointed to the other side of the door, where the food court was.

She pulled her purse back up to her shoulder and smiled. “Okay. That sounds great.”

They stood in line at the counter. Seamus asked her if she wanted anything to eat.

“No, thank you. I'm putting on weight as it is, thanks to Aunt Vi's recipes.”

Seamus looked her up and down. “If you are, then you needed it, because you look awfully tiny to me.”

“Didn't you know that actresses ideally should be a size two these days, if not a zero?”

“Zero? What a lot of hogwash.”

She laughed at him. He paid the girl and took both cups. They walked as if by some silent agreement to a table near the back of the food court. Once again, out of habit, she chose the seat that faced the wall. The first minute was taken up with getting their coffee lids opened and taking that first sip. Then there was nothing to do but look at each other.

“So what do we talk about now?” Ava said.

He shrugged and smiled. “You were going to tell me what it was like to win an Oscar.”

“Ah, yes. Well, it's scary. People walk on your gown. You don't remember your name being called. You don't remember a thing you said or a thing you did and then a whole lot of people ask you a whole lot of questions and you're dragged from party to party with no time to eat or drink so you end up with a huge headache. And if you're like me, you faint dead away in the middle of a dance floor and wake up to find six TV cameras trained on you. Yeah, it's a blast.”

“Wow. Remind me not to get nominated.”

Ava took another sip of coffee. “I'm sure it's wonderful if your family is with you and you don't find out your mother has cancer on the same night. I have a pretty skewered take on it.”

“You found out that night?”

“Rose had to call me. They kept it a secret from me for three weeks because my mother didn't want to ‘ruin' it for me. Can you imagine? I was so upset when I found that out.”

Seamus shook his head. “You know mothers. They protect their kids at all costs.”

“But I hadn't seen my mother in ten years. Three weeks is a long time to lose when you don't have much time left.”

“Ten years is a long time.”

“So what do you do now, Seamus?”

He blinked at the rapid change of subject but followed her cue. “I'm a police officer.”

“Wow. I never would have guessed that.”

“Why?”

“I don't know. You planned on going to university.”

“My plans changed that summer.”

A dreadfully awkward silence ensued.

“This isn't going to work,” Ava sighed. “Our conversations are filled with landmines at every turn. Maybe we should quit trying.”

“No. Please. That was stupid of me. I should've said that I liked the idea of helping the community and it was a great excuse to go live in P.E.I. for a while and get away from my dad.”

Ava took another sip of her coffee. “Tell me about your children.”

It got easier after that. Ava found out that Jack loved dinosaurs and hated vegetables and his favourite thing was to go fishing with his dad. Sarah loved everything except going to bed and her vocabulary was limited yet to only a few words. Seamus told her about his niece and nephew and about his cat, Dexter. Dexter thought he was a dog and liked to go for walks with Seamus along the beach.

Then, their coffee was finished.

“I guess I shouldn't keep you any longer,” Seamus said.

“That's okay. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes to do what I have to do.”

Looking at his list, Seamus grinned. “I may be here till this place closes. I'm hopeless at this sort of thing. I get confused at the sizes. But Colleen believes in tough love. She says they're my kids and my responsibility. It would take her ten minutes to do this, but she won't.”

“She's right. She's trying to make you self-sufficient. What if she ever moved away?”

“My kids would be naked.”

Ava laughed. “I know! Why don't I help you? I don't have kids, but I do have a lot of nieces and nephews and I've shopped for their gifts every birthday and Christmas. We won't tell Colleen and she'll think you're a genius.”

“Okay. Why not? Lead on.”

They spent a good hour rooting through the children's sections at various stores. She explained the sizes to him and any time he picked up anything just because it was the right size, she tried to steer him to more suitable choices. She said she doubted Sarah would want to wear robot pajamas and maybe she'd like Dora the Explorer instead. When Ava spotted new bathing suits for both of the kids, Seamus turned to the pile in his cart. “I think I'm at my limit. Summer's not here for a couple of months.”

She put her hand on her hip. “Spoken like a typical man. By the time you come back here in two months everything will be picked over.”

“Well…”

“Oh Seamus, let me buy them. Please? It would give me such pleasure.”

“You don't—”

“I know I don't have to, but I'd love to.”

He smiled at her. “All right then. Have it your way.”

Ava was positively giddy taking the bathing suits to the check-out. When the girl ran them through, she tucked them into Seamus's shopping cart. “There. Colleen will thank you.”

“I thank you. It's been a wonderful afternoon.”

They stood by the door to the parking lot, out of the way of the shoppers coming in and going out.

“It has been wonderful. I'll never forget it.”

Seamus looked around and then leaned in closer. “Look, Libby, is there any way we can get together and be alone?”

She bit her bottom lip before saying, “Do you think that's wise?”

“What's to stop us? Our past? The past is over. We should be able to be friends and enjoy each other's company. I miss talking to a woman.”

“I'd like that. But where?”

“Why don't we meet at Gooseberry Cove? Just name the day.”

“Friday. I'll meet you Friday at six.”

“Six it is.”

“Goodbye, Seamus.”

“Bye, Libby.” He leaned down and kissed her cheek. And then he was gone.

It was only when she got home that she realized she forgot to buy anything for herself.

It was a long week waiting for Friday to come. Ava tried to keep busy. The house was spotless and she spent a great deal of time with her mother, telling her stories about her travels all over the world or reading to her for hours at a time. Often her mother slept while she read, but Ava hoped that the sound of her voice would bring her mother comfort.

One day her mother grabbed her hand and kissed it. “Thank you, Libby. Thank you for being so kind to me.”

Ava closed her eyes and tried not to let guilt overwhelm her. She knew she'd stayed away too long and she'd give anything to get that time back again. At least it did her heart good to know that Aunt Vi and Uncle Angus were feeling better. She took them to the doctor, who was pleased with their progress. They were still sore, of course, and moved slowly, but their good spirits had returned. Aunt Vi even insisted on making bread pudding one day, saying if she didn't bake something soon, she'd forget how.

Finally Friday came and Ava spent the day puttering and humming to herself. That is until her agent Trent called with some bogus excuse to reel off more projects that might be coming her way—if only she'd come home sooner rather than later. She was polite but firm, and Trent was thwarted yet again. She had to give him points for trying, though. And then something happened that she never saw coming.

There was a knock at the back door.

“Someone get that!” Uncle Angus hollered. “And if it's Boots Boutlier, tell him to get the jesus in here. I'm bored outta me gourd.”

“Okay!” Ava shouted back. She was in the pantry rolling out cookie dough. She wiped her floury hands on her apron and walked to the back porch. Who was standing on the outside steps but Hayden. Ava was dumbfounded. She could have kicked him.

He waved at her. “Darling, aren't you going to let me in?”

She stormed over and opened door. “What on earth are you doing here?”

“Enlarging my fan base.” He waved to Thelma Steele and Geranium and the half-dozen other women running toward the house. “I best scoot in now, before I'm mauled.” He pushed past her and straight into the kitchen. He looked around. “My, how…country.”

Aunt Vi yelled from the living room. “Who's at the door?”

“No one!” To Hayden, she whispered, “You have to get out of here.”

“But why? I've come to take you and your family out to dinner. I'm sure your sisters will be thrilled.” He shouted out, “Where is this wonderful Aunt Vi I keep hearing about?” He made for the living room before Ava could stop him. Ava heard Aunt Vi shriek, “Mother Mary and all that's Holy! Are you who I think you are?”

“The very same.”

Ava ran up the stairs and grabbed Lola, who was on her knees scrubbing the bathtub. “You'll never believe who just showed up.”

“Who?”

“Hayden.”

“Good God. I didn't think he knew where Canada was.”

“He's been here before, remember?”

“Oh yeah! Well, that's typical behaviour. Give him an inch and he takes a mile.”

“He wants to take us out to dinner. What am I going to do? Oh damn. Today of all days.”

Lola got up and looked out the bathroom window. “His arrival has been noted, I'm afraid. There are two ladies, and I use the term loosely, outside fighting over who gets the milk crate so they can stand on it and peek in the window.”

Ava hopped up and down in frustration. “My sisters will hear about this and dash over here after work, but I can't go to dinner, I have to meet Seamus.”

“Your very famous boyfriend arrives in town and wants to take the whole clan out for a bang-up meal and you're not going to be with them? How in God's name are you going to explain that?”

“I hate him!”

“Who? God?”

“Shut up, Lola.”

Ava ran to the hall table and rooted around in the pile of magazines and found a phone book. She took it to her room and looked up Catalone, but it didn't seem to be in the phone book—then she remembered to look under Port Morien. She searched through the O's, and since there weren't that many, it took only a second to realize his number was unlisted. She had no way of getting in touch with him. She didn't dare call his family. Why hadn't she asked him for a phone number? She threw the phone book across the room.

There was nothing she could do but go downstairs. Hayden had Aunt Vi and Uncle Angus enthralled with his tales of Hollywood nightlife. (There was nothing Hayden liked better than a captive audience.)

The phone rang and Ava hoped against hope it was Seamus, but it turned out to be a CBC reporter who wanted to confirm that Hayden Judd was visiting the area and whether it was possible to get an interview. Ava slammed the phone in his ear.

As predicted, the whole clan started arriving one by one, after fighting off the mob outside. Ava had to introduce them one at a time. Hayden was charm personified and everyone thought he was fabulous. Her sisters spent most of their time giggling at him. For her part, Ava wanted to gag.

Hayden told everyone that he'd booked an entire restaurant for them and everyone was invited, children as well. He looked at his watch. “How about we meet in front of Governor's in an hour. Ava will need at least that long to put on her face. And it's such a beautiful face.” He pulled her to him and kissed her in front of everyone. The family tittered. It took all her willpower not to kick him in the shin.

Everyone took off in twenty different directions and Hayden dragged her into the seldom-used front hall. He put his arms around her.

“You don't seem very happy to see me.”

“It's not that. I don't like surprises.”

“I'm trying to help; to give your family something to smile about. If it makes them happy just to turn up and take them to dinner, then it's worth the five-hour flight to get here.”

“You're right. I'm sorry,” she sighed.

“Of course I'm right. Now kiss me.”

She gave him a peck.

“Not like that.”

“Hayden, I have to get ready.”

“Kiss me.”

She kissed him and he pulled her in tight. He wouldn't let her go. He pressed his mouth against hers until it hurt. She struggled against him but he was too strong. Panic welled up inside. That's when she realized there were people looking in the windows at them. And he knew it. The stupid jerk knew all along.

Since she couldn't fight him, she went limp instead. He groaned, as if relishing his victory. He took his lips away. “See, baby? You love me.”


Page 20

She caught him by surprise when she pushed him away. “You can stop acting for your audience now.”

Pretending he didn't know what she was talking about, he turned to look out the window. “Goodness. All these people.”

“You're sick.”

He rolled his eyes. “Ava, stop being so touchy. It's a bit of fun. What better way to brighten up dreary lives than to put on a free show starring two of Hollywood's finest?”

“You are so full of yourself.”

“Calm down, I'm joking. Ava, please don't make a big deal out of it. I apologize.”

He looked contrite, but then again, he was a good actor.

“May I go upstairs and get dressed now?”

“Of course.”

She ran up the stairs wanting nothing more than to wash her face, but there was a lineup for the bathroom, what with everyone getting ready for their night out. Lola told them she'd stay with the elders, so they could enjoy themselves. Auntie Vi called her “a little darlin'.” As much as she would've liked to have gone, Aunt Vi was content with her private audience earlier. No one wanted her to fall and break her other ankle.

As she waited, Ava saw how much this night out with Hayden meant to them. It made her feel small and foolish. He flew all this way to make her family happy and they were. She had to make this sacrifice. She'd explain it to Seamus. Hopefully he'd understand.

When six o'clock arrived, Ava was in a limo. They went out on the town and everyone had a wonderful time. Hayden was the life of the party and her family was in love with him. They couldn't believe how thoughtful he was. He'd hired a trio of musicians and he danced with all the ladies and the young girls. The looks on their faces told Ava it was worth it. She was one and they were many. How often did something like this happen to them? When she danced with Hayden herself, everyone clapped.

That night, as they drove home, she genuinely meant it when she thanked him. This time he was sweet, kissing her cheek chastely. “The gig in New York this September will be wonderful. You and I playing lovers. Great typecasting, don't you think?”

She nodded.

“Take care of yourself. And if you need me for anything, I'll be back on the next plane. I'm going to miss you, beautiful.”

He held her close and she let him, then he kissed her hand and said goodbye. She got out of the limo and walked into the house. It was midnight.

CHAPTER TEN

He waited until ten.

The day before Seamus had imposed on Colleen yet again, asking her to take the kids for the night. She gave him a bit of a look, but knew better than to ask what he had planned. It was the usual sort of day at work, nothing too exciting happened; near the end of his shift, he caught a drunk driver. Nothing gave him more pleasure than pulling the bastard off the road.

The day done, he hurried home to give the place a quick tidy-up, telling himself she wasn't going to come back to the house with him, but if she did, he didn't want to embarrass himself.

After a long hot shower and time spent trying to figure out what to wear, he finally chose a white denim button-down shirt and a pair of jeans. He threw on a brown leather jacket at the last minute and slapped on some of the cologne Colleen gave him for Christmas. Looking at himself in the mirror, he was satisfied. He wanted Libby to know that he'd made an effort.

For the last half hour, Seamus sat in a kitchen chair shaking his leg nervously. When he couldn't stand it any longer, he hopped in the car. Gooseberry Cove wasn't far away. He pulled down the narrow rutted road and parked to one side. He got out, locked the doors and walked along the grassy cliffs, looking out over the huge black rocks where waves broke in spectacular fashion, white foam flying into the air.

Seamus loved it here. It was quiet and away from everyday life. The blue sky was full of enormous white clouds and as he sat on one of the grassy knolls, he watched the gulls swirl about in the air. He was lucky enough to spy not one but two eagles, so high up he could hardly make out their white caps. It was a blustery day, but as the minutes passed, the wind died down a little and he didn't have to squint against the on-shore breeze.

The first hour he waited, he laughed to himself, because the Libby he knew was always late. It was comforting to know she hadn't changed. They would agree to meet and inevitably he was left to cool his heels. When he first went out with her, he'd panic and think she wasn't coming, but after a while, he came to know all her excuses. There was a chickadee that followed her and she didn't want to leave it. A spider was building a web. There was a rainbow shining in the sky and if she were a rainbow she'd want someone to stop and look at her. The best one was the day she told him she'd found a snake run over by a car and all its babies were drying out in the sun on the hot pavement, so she had to take them to a shady spot, hoping they'd live. She was close to tears when she told him.

The second hour, he was concerned about her. What if someone gave her a hard time about meeting him? He didn't think she'd tell anyone, but maybe someone found out. Then he wondered if she had an accident. She wasn't used to these narrow back roads anymore.

The third hour, he worried that he'd pushed her into something she wasn't ready for. He was an idiot for calling her up while he was drunk. What kind of impression did that make? She was being polite, that was all; didn't know how to tell him to leave her alone. She always was a big softie.

The fourth hour, when the sun had long since disappeared behind the horizon and the stars came out; he concluded that she didn't want him. She left him again. How many times did he have to be told? If she wanted him, she'd be here. He looked around the isolated landscape. He was alone. Wasn't that proof enough?

Seamus was angry by the time he reached home, more at himself than at her. What a complete fool he felt. She was famous. Libby was someone else now. He was her high school boyfriend, a first love hankering after something that wasn't real. He was in love with a memory—the memory of a girl laughing in the surf on a moonlit night, her hair dancing around her face as a gown of shimmering white flew around her.

Seamus got out of the car and went in the house, throwing his keys on the table. Off came his jacket, tossed over a chair. He went to get a Coke, but grabbed a beer instead, downing it as he stood in the light of the fridge. He tossed the can in the sink and grabbed the rest of the six-pack and took it into the living room with him. He switched on the TV and drank steadily as he flipped through the channels.

The local evening news came on. At the end of it there was a fun story about how famous actor Hayden Judd shocked the residents of Glace Bay by showing up unannounced, to escort his girlfriend, local sweetheart Ava Harris and her family to dinner. A reporter asked a few of the excited citizens on the street if they had a chance to have a quick glance at the handsome leading man.

Two women, one with a hair full of curlers, nodded enthusiastically. “He was bee-uu-tiful,” one of them said. “Ain't that right, Theresa?”

“My gawd, he looked right good. Good enough to eat.” Theresa grabbed the mike. “He almost ate the face off her, so he did.”

The reporter asked, “Off who?”

“That there Ava Harris, eh. They was smoochin' up a storm. I never saw the like of it. It was somethin' awful.”

“There you have it,” the reporter said. “A live witness account of…” Seamus clicked off the TV angrily and stared at the black screen.

Eventually, he got up and took his last two beers out on the deck. He finished them in about three swallows before he took the cans and hurled them as far as he could into the night, grunting with the effort of it.

Then he fell back into a deck chair and stayed there until the sun came up.

Ava got up at the crack of dawn. She put on a pair of old jeans and a hoodie belonging to her niece Vicky, piling her hair up loosely with a clip and pulling the hood over it. She grabbed the car keys and tiptoed out of the bedroom after leaving a note for Lola saying she'd be back in a couple of hours.

Careful to close the door quietly behind her, she hopped in the car and drove out to Catalone. She had a general idea of where he lived and knew that one of the locals would be able to point her to the exact house. But she was nervous to approach anyone in case they recognized her. She had to risk it.

In the end, she went to the Albert Bridge gas station and asked the young fellow who worked there if he knew where Seamus O'Reilly lived. He wasn't sure, so he went into the store and asked someone, coming back to tell her it was a house on the edge of the beach and that she couldn't miss it. It had a big deck in front and it was grey with blue shutters.

Ava thanked him and went on her way. She found it quickly and it was just as they said. It brought a smile to her face because Seamus always told her that if he ever shingled a house, he'd never stain it because he liked a weather-beaten look. The house looked like a large fisherman's shack. She liked it very much.

It was difficult to be there, because it was above the beach. Their beach. But she had to see him and explain. She couldn't leave it one more second.

Pulling up behind the car already in the driveway, she got out of the rental and walked towards the house. Her sandals crunched on the gravel beneath her feet. She wasn't sure which door to go in, finally choosing to walk up on the deck. There, Seamus was sound asleep in a deck chair, curled up, with his hands tucked under his arms. He looked frozen. Ava didn't know what to do at first. She didn't want to scare him, but his lips looked blue. The morning was cold.

She approached him, taking a moment to gaze at his sweet face. How she loved that face. He looked like a little kid. She touched his arm gently and whispered, “Seamus.”

He never moved. She shook his sleeve a little. “Seamus, wake up.”

God. Maybe he'd frozen to death in the night, she thought. She started to panic and raised her voice. “Seamus, please. Wake up.”

He bolted out of the chair, seemingly unaware of his surroundings. “Wha? What is it?”

“It's me.”

He looked at her with his eyes half closed. “Who?”

“Libby.” She pulled the hood off her head.

His face registered shock and then he started to shiver uncontrollably.

“Please, Seamus. We have to get you in the house. You're freezing.” She took his arm and steered him towards the door. He looked at her as if he still didn't understand exactly who she was or why she was there. “Is this a dream?”

“No. I'm quite real. Let's get a blanket around you.” She pulled him through the door and made him sit in an armchair. She grabbed an afghan off the couch and put it around him. “I'm going to get you something hot to drink.”

He stared at her.

She soon had a kettle boiling and after a search through the cupboards, found some tea. Then she went into his bathroom and looked under the sink for a hot water bottle. She found one and filled it with hot water from the tub. Next, it was on to his bedroom where she opened bureau drawers looking for socks. She grabbed a pair and finally pulled the comforter off the bed and dragged it into the living room behind her.

Back in the kitchen, she filled a mug with the hot tea and added a little milk. She took everything back into the living room. Without saying a word, she handed him the hot water bottle and then tucked the comforter around him. Off went his shoes and on went another pair of thick socks. Then she passed him the tea.

“Put your hands around it and you'll get warm. Be careful, it's hot.”

He took a drink and then two. After a few minutes, his lips lost their blue tint and his cheeks turned from white to red. She sat on the ottoman in front of him.

“Seamus, I couldn't come to you yesterday. I'm sorry. I wanted to. I wanted to very much.”

He looked at her and took another drink.

“Why were you out on the deck? Please tell me that wasn't because of me.”

He cleared his throat. “No, of course not. You're not that important.” She winced.

“I had too much to drink and fell asleep that's all.”

“Oh.”

“You didn't have to come here.”

She looked away. “No, I guess I didn't.” She took a deep breath and stood up. “Anyway, I'm glad I did, because maybe I saved you from pneumonia, if nothing else.”

“Yeah, thanks.”

“Sure. I should get back home. Can't leave Lola alone with three patients for too long. She'll have my hide.”

Ava walked to the door. “Take care of yourself, Seamus.”

She had her hand on the knob when he said, “Heard about your boyfriend on TV last night.”

She didn't turn around but she heard him get out of the chair. “Yeah, it was all over the news, how Hayden Judd came into town to neck up a storm with his girlfriend, a certain famous actress. Imagine kissing in front of a whole crowd of people like that. Did you get off on it?”

She turned to face him. “It wasn't like that.”

“Wasn't it?”

“No. If you'd let me explain…”

“There's nothing to explain. You said you'd meet me and you didn't. Instead you made out with your boyfriend in front of the whole town. A real public way of saying, get lost Seamus. I just wish you'd had the decency to say it to my face.”

Her breathing became shallow. “I wanted to get to you. You have to believe me.”

“I don't believe you, Libby, because actions speak louder than words.”

“Think what you want, then.” She turned to go and tried to open the door but struggled with the lock. In those few moments, he came up behind her, grabbed her shoulders and turned her around.

“You were supposed to be kissing me last night.”

“Leave me alone.”

“Just tell me why. Why do you leave me?”

“I don't want to leave you. I've never wanted to leave you.”


Page 21

“But you do. You do, Libby, and I don't know how much more I can take.”

She couldn't stand it anymore. She reached up and put her hands on his face, looked at his mouth and brought her lips to meet his. It wasn't soft and slow. It was angry, hard and searching. She bit his tongue and licked the small drop of blood that formed. He sucked her top lip, then her bottom. He lifted his head and with his hands moved her face first one way and then another, giving her kisses that were fast and deep and intense. They both moaned, aching for each other. Just a moment more…

The phone rang.

They parted, both of them panting. Neither of them spoke. The phone rang again.

“Wait,” he said.

“I have to go.”

Another ring. “Please, two seconds.”

He raced to the phone, “Yes?” He listened but never took his eyes off her. She rubbed her bruised lips against the soft fleece of her cuff. Her heart rate slowed and the pulse in her ears quieted.

“An ear infection? Are you sure she's all right? Okay, I'll phone the doctor. Thanks. See you in ten.”

He hung up the phone.

“Sarah?”

“Yes. Colleen was up with her all night. I'm taking her in.”

“Can I do anything to help?”

He shook his head.

She backed up to the door. “I'm sorry.”

“Me too. We'll talk.”

“Okay.”

With the door finally open, she ran to the car, started it up and roared out of the driveway. She sped away from the house as fast as she could, but stopped at the look-off in Port Morien to sit for a minute and try to understand what had happened back there. She was ashamed and excited all at the same time. It was almost as if they were dueling, trying to hurt each other with their bodies, expressing their anger the only way they could. But she was exhausted. She knew she'd reached the end of her emotional rope. Life was slower here but so far the trip had been a roller coaster and she wasn't sure how much more she could take. And that was frightening because she knew it meant hurting him again.

When she got back to the house, everyone except Lola was still asleep. She was on the bed reading a magazine.

“Bloody hell. Were you in a fight?”

“Sort of.”

Lola put the magazine down. “You are driving me around the bend. What is going on?”

Ava plunked down on the bed and covered her face in her hands. “I think I need to get out of here. I'm ruining everyone's life.”

“Rubbish. Everyone's glad you're here. You're a regular Suzy Homemaker, and you've made life a whole lot easier for everyone since you've arrived.”

She looked up and smiled. “I don't think I'd have stayed if you weren't here. I have no right to ask you to stay on.”

“I told you before, I love it here.”

Ava took off her sandals and sat back against the headboard. “Why? Why do you love it here?”

Lola's face lit up. “Because the people are real. When they say something they mean it. You don't have to wonder if someone's telling you the truth. They take pleasure in their friends and they can party like no one else. Hey, they can make music with two spoons. How great is that?”

Ava smiled, though it hurt her swollen lips.

“And I've never laughed so much in all my life. You have a wonderful family, Ava. You don't need to run away from them.”

“I didn't run away from them.”

“What happened to you?”

“Seamus and I kind of beat each other up.”

“I don't mean today, I mean when you left the first time.”

When she didn't say anything, Lola sighed. “Okay, what happened to you today? He didn't hit you, I hope.”

“He kissed me.”

“Wow. He should patent those kisses. Women everywhere pay good money to get bee-stung lips. He'd make a fortune.”

“Don't make me laugh. It hurts.”

“Stop bragging. I better go get the porridge on. Uncle Angus will be banging his bowl before too long.” She got up and left the room.

Ava sat for a long time, absentmindedly tracing her lips with her forefinger. She could still feel him pressing against them. He left a permanent mark. She'd always have it and was grateful for it. Did he feel the same way?

What would've happened if the phone hadn't rung? She almost blushed thinking about it. So she thought about it some more. She snuggled into the blankets and made love to him in her mind. It was something she was good at—she'd been doing it for years.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

As if by some secret pact, they stayed away from each other after that. Ava was grateful for the chance to get back a sense of normalcy. And besides, the end of June was rapidly approaching and she had a date with her nieces. The day after she mentioned her idea, she placed a call to Maurice and asked him if he'd help her out.

“Anything for you, dumpling. What is it? Oh, just a minute.” She heard him shout at Harold. “Tell that walking-stick of a client that I can't poof her hair up. She'll look like a Q-tip.” He came back on the line. “You were saying, darling?”

“You wouldn't like to take a little side trip, would you?”

“You sweet thing. Where are we going now? Morocco? Paris, please God.”

“Cape Breton, Nova Scotia?”

“Cape where?”

“You know. Where I live.”

“You live in Malibu.”

“Maurice…”

“Oh. You mean Canada, where the Inuit and the Mounties do play?” “That's right.”

“Pardon my French, darling, but isn't it fucking freezing there?”

“Of course not, it's June. Granted, it's not California hot.”

“I'll wear my pink long johns. So what am I doing for you? What fabulous event is so important that I have to fly to the other side of the earth?”

“Um, I'd like you to do my nieces' hair and makeup for the prom.” “Say what?”

“You know, the prom. A magic night in any young girl's life. It's important and they were so excited when I mentioned it.”

“They?”

“There are three of them.”

Maurice hollered, “Harold! Get my smelling salts.”

“Please? Please? With sugar on top?”

“Replace the sugar with Hugh Jackman and you've got a deal.”

“Thank you so much. I love you!”

“That's what they all say.” He hung up on her and she kissed the phone.

The day arrived when Ava, her sisters and nieces traipsed into Sydney to look for prom dresses. Lola tagged along as well, after Sandy's wife told them she'd be glad to babysit the old folk for the afternoon. At first Ava offered to fly them to Halifax for the day, to look at some of the formal-wear shops there, but everyone seemed happier with the thought of staying close to home, mostly in case Mamie took a turn for the worst.

When their entourage arrived at Jacobson's, they trooped up the stairs to the bridal salon. The sales ladies did a double take when they realized Ava Harris was in their shop.

The girls went wild and so did their mothers. Ava and Lola fairly hopped with glee. Sam, Vicky and Emily each headed for a different dressing room and came out again and again to model their choices and get feedback. Ava beamed watching them. Their fresh faces instantly transformed into young beauties as they twirled around in a sea of sparkling silk, taffeta and organza. But what was even more wonderful for Ava was the joy in her sisters' faces as they gazed upon their baby girls.

The girls were delighted with their choices and each of them ran to their Aunt Libby to give her big hugs.

Ava summoned one of the salesladies, who looked overwhelmed herself with all the excitement. “Get the girls to pick out the most expensive shoes and whatever else they need.”

“Can I have a tiara?” Vicky whispered.

“Of course you can. And gloves and wraps and little satin bags… whatever your heart desires.”

“Even jewelry?” Emily squeaked.

Her mother said, “That's enough, honey. She's spending way too much as it is.”

“Nonsense. Choose whatever you like and we'll have them wrap it up.”

The girls flitted off to try on satin and rhinestone high heels, and then hurried to the jewelry counter to ohh and ahh over necklaces and earrings.

“Oh god,” Bev tsked, “this is way too much Libby. You've already spent eight hundred dollars each for their dresses.”

Ava grabbed her hands. “Please let me. I don't have children of my own. Who else do I have to spend my money on?”

Lola raised her hand. “I'm at your service.”

They wrapped up their incredible afternoon with a lovely lunch at Goodies and then scooted home to show everyone their purchases. But as incredible as that day was, it was nothing compared to the excitement generated by the arrival of Maurice and his entourage.

Aunt Vi could hardly contain her excitement. “I'm real glad this is hair central. Wait till them fellas get here. Geranium will have a stroke.”

Uncle Angus rocked in the rocking chair. “I'll leave once them fairy fellas show up. But I have to see one up close.”

Ava put her hands on her hips. “How do you know they're fairy fellas?”

He snorted. “What sort of man plays with makeup? I'm not stupid, ya know.”

Aunt Vi concurred. “Everyone knows them Hollywood hairdressers sit to pee.”

Lola laughed out loud. “Oh Aunt Vi. I love you.”

Ava knew the jet was landing at eleven o'clock. She arranged for a car to pick them up, so estimated they'd arrive around eleven thirty, which would give them a chance to catch their breath and also have a bite before the girls showed up. Under Aunt Vi's tutelage, she and Lola prepared a nice lunch of lobster rolls, tea biscuits, potato salad, and pasta salad. There was fresh strawberry shortcake with whipped cream for dessert.

The car pulled up bang on time. Maurice, Harold, and their assistants, Lars and Philippe, disembarked with the dazed look of people who'd been dropped on another planet. Maurice wore a multi-coloured scarf around his neck with what looked like a purple Stetson on his head. His suit was impeccable.

Harold, in his oversized mirrored sunglasses, clapped his hands at the driver in an obvious attempt to get the man moving with the bags. Ava and Lola rushed out to meet them.

Ava ran into Maurice's arms. “Oh, I've missed you! Thank you for this.”

He hugged her and lifted her off her feet. “Good God, you're enormous. You fat pig.”

“I know,” she smiled. “It's my Aunt Vi's cooking.”

“Where is the beastly woman? She mustn't go unpunished.”

He delivered a quick peck to Lola. “You're looking as vile as ever.” “Ditto,” she retorted.

Maurice looked around and sniffed the air. “What is that foul odor?”

“The fish plant over there.”

“Ah. Tell them to move it.” He looked around and then peered from under his glasses. “There's a woman with a telescope leering at us.”

“Wave. That's Geranium.”

He waved and Geranium disappeared. She no doubt fell to the floor in a dead faint.

Harold rushed up, Lars and Philippe on his heels carrying the bags. “Ava, it's so good to see you!” He grabbed her and gave her a big kiss before turning around and ordering the other two about. “We're on an impossible schedule, darlings, so chop chop. We have to be in the air by seven.”

Maurice held up his hands. “Harold, calm down. Genius takes time. We don't want to rush the little creatures. Apparently, it's a big night in their lives, so Ava informs me. And speaking of Ava, sweetie, you need drastic emergency work on your roots. I'm surprised people don't flee in disgust when they see you.”

“Never mind me. Come meet my family.”

They headed for the house. Inside, they took off their sunglasses simultaneously.

“Oh my,” Maurice sniffed. “How adorable.”

“Quaint,” Harold agreed. Lars and Philippe were too stunned to speak.

Ava pulled Maurice along. “Maurice, this is my Uncle Angus and my Aunt Vi.”

Maurice held out his hand, as if waiting for someone to kiss it. “Charmed.”

Uncle Angus reached out and waggled his index finger. “Nice to meet you.”

“Thank you, kind sir. And this is your lovely wife. Enchanté, madam.”

Aunt Vi dismissed him with her hand and giggled. “Lordy, ain't you a sight for sore eyes.”

“That's what people tell me.”

Ava ushered them into the dining room where their lunch was laid out. “I thought you could do with a bite before the girls get here.”

“Oh darling, you know I never eat.”

“Is that so?” Uncle Angus said. “Is that some kinda rule?”

“Excuse me?”

Lola jumped in. “No one eats in Hollywood, Uncle Angus.”

“Remind me not to go there.”

Maurice took a second look at the scrumptious feast. “Well, one has to be polite. I'll make an exception.”

Not a crumb was left by the time they served the tea.

The girls and their mothers arrived, excited and nervous. The minute they saw Maurice and his entourage, they became unnaturally quiet. They looked completely overwhelmed, like lambs to the slaughter.

But Maurice wasn't famous for nothing. He instantly engaged his famous charm and made the girls feel at ease. Ava was grateful that he took the engagement seriously. He pondered and discussed the merits of one hairstyle over another, then consulted with the girls about what kind of colour they might like and even took a folded piece of paper that Samantha gave him with a picture of Britney Spears on it, pretending to examine it closely.

Harold, with Maurice's guidance, supervised the mixing of colours for the streaks. All the women watched the process with fascination. Uncle Angus excused himself and went to watchThe Price is Right. Soon their tools—hair dryers, huge rollers, and flat irons—were spread over the kitchen table. At one point the girls looked like TV dinners, they had so much foil on their heads.


Page 22

The facilities weren't ideal, but everyone kept their sense of humour. Once the colour was done, Maurice rolled up his sleeves and gave every one of them a five-hundred-dollar haircut. The girls couldn't take their eyes off one another.

Vicky clapped her hands. “Joey is gonna die when he sees me.”

Maurice gave them beautiful up-do's, placed their tiaras in their hair and shook glitter over them. All that was left was the makeup, and Maurice took his time with each of them. When they were done, the girls were speechless. They took turns hugging Maurice and thanked him from the bottom of their hearts.

Maurice dabbed his eyes with his scarf as they left. “Those darling children. They were so grateful! I've been jaded by dreary socialites. I really must get out more.”

Ava and Lola put on fresh tea and brought out the tray of squares always on hand in Aunt Vi's kitchen. As Lars and Philippe did the dirty job of tidying up, Maurice and Harold sat at the kitchen table and delivered the scandalous news from tinsel town. Ava was brought up to date on who was having sex with whom, who had a court order against the paparazzi, who'd gone into detox and who'd had breast augmentation. Aunt Vi's eyes grew bigger by the minute. She said, “Go way with ya,” every two minutes until Maurice asked her if she really wanted him to leave. She thought that was great.

The instruments of beauty were eventually packed away and a tired-looking Maurice said it was time to go. He kissed everyone goodbye, even a shocked Uncle Angus.

Ava walked out to the car with him, arm in arm. She said goodbye to Harold and the others while Maurice lingered behind.

“So, my love. Are you all right? You look a little peaked.”

Maurice had been her soft shoulder for eight long years. She hugged him again and sighed into his label. “I'm so confused.”

“About the boy?”

“Yes.”

“You know what I say, little one. It all comes out in the rinse water. What is meant to happen will happen, so take your time.”

“I love you.”

“Of course you do. Who wouldn't?”

She gave him a squeeze. “Thank you for today.”

“For you, anything.” He kissed her and started for the limo but before he disappeared, he blew a giant kiss to Geranium. Down she went again.

Ava waved them off. She was lonely when they were gone.

But she didn't have time to linger. There was the Grand March to get to. She and Lola decided to go when Thelma Steele next door said she'd pass the evening with Vi and Angus and Mamie. As much as Ava wanted to go, she didn't want to upstage the girls. She told her sisters that if there was a scene caused by autograph hounds, she'd leave. It was their night with their daughters and as much as she wanted to be there, they came first.

Thankfully, no one made a fuss. They were too interested in their own flesh and blood, so she and Lola sat like all the others, soaking up the sight of young people in their finery. As Vicky, Emily, and Samantha went by at regular intervals with their dates, they threw her big smiles and she gave them a little wave. Like every year, when it was time for daughters to dance with their fathers, and boys with their mothers, there wasn't a dry eye in the joint.

A million pictures were taken and then the adults were ushered out and the kids were let loose to make their own fun at the dance. Parents lingered in the parking lot, remarking on how fabulous everyone looked. A great many of her sisters' friends came up and remarked how pretty the girls were, but Ava thought, in the end, they really looked like all the others. Maurice hadn't gone overboard and Ava was grateful for that. They were young girls, not actresses.

And then it was over. All that excitement, all the waiting and planning and shopping. It was a bit of a let-down.

When Ava and Lola returned home, they entertained Aunt Vi and Uncle Angus with some of the shots from Ava's digital camera.

“Why don't you go upstairs and show your Ma? She'd love to see it.” Ava went up to relieve Thelma. As Thelma left, she whispered, “I'm not sure she's so good tonight. She seemed a little short of breath, but then I haven't seen her that much.”

Ava thanked her and told her not to worry; they'd take care of it, even if it meant calling the doctor. She sat by her mother and held her hand. Mamie fluttered her eyelashes but her eyes remained closed. She spoke so softly, Ava could hardly hear her.

“How did it go?”

“It was beautiful.” She felt her mother's forehead. “Ma, I think I better call the doctor. You're a little pale and Thelma said you seemed to have trouble breathing.”

She squeezed her hand slightly. “Please don't.”

Ava wasn't sure what to do.

“Don't leave me.”

She remained where she was, holding her mother's hand. Mamie smiled a little and whispered, “You were born during a snow storm, did you know that?”

“No.”

“It was an awful night, and we couldn't get to the hospital. I had you right here on this bed.”

“You did?”

“All the kids were down in the kitchen and when the midwife handed you to your father, he took you downstairs and sat in the rocking chair so everyone could see you.”

Ava bit her lip.

“They all suggested names. Gerard wanted to call you Old Yeller, because you cried a lot.”

“Typical.”

“We were very happy you came into the world.”

Ava lowered her cheek on the back of her mother's hand. Mamie reached out with her other hand and placed it on her daughter's head.

“Life and death in this old bed. And all that's in between is the love.”

Ava's tears fell.

“Be happy, child. Find peace.”

“I will Ma. I'll try.” She lifted her head and looked at her mother's face. It seemed different. Her heart raced a little. “I think I should call someone.”

“Don't. Please. Just sit with me.”

She sat for an hour. Her mother stopped talking, breathing in and out with shallow intakes of air. And then suddenly she gave a little gasp.

“What is it, Ma? Please let me get you some help.”

She was barely audible. “Your father's here.”

Ava didn't move. No. This couldn't be happening. Not with just her in the room. What about the others? They'd want to be here. But before she could get out of the chair, her mother's face turned to the wall and she stopped breathing.

Ava stared in disbelief. In the end, her mother wanted only her in the room. A very old dam burst then and there and she howled with the pain of it. Great sobs racked her body.

She didn't have to summon anyone. They came running to her.

CHAPTER TWELVE

Seamus didn't want to admit it to himself, but he was badly shaken by what had transpired between the two of them. Trouble was, he didn't have a chance to examine his own heart closely because real life kept interfering.

There was the rush to get Sarah to the doctor. She was miserable and feverish when he picked her up and he felt terrible that she cried in her car seat all the way in. She wanted a hug but he had to drive. Colleen offered to come too, but it was more helpful for her to watch Jack. A dose of antibiotics did the trick eventually, and she was right as rain, but Seamus felt guilty dropping Sarah off at daycare. When the kids were sick, he always worried that he didn't know enough and that he'd let Sally down. These were the days when he missed his wife the most.

Seamus found himself at the cemetery one day after work. He often went, always with a few flowers. He wished there was a bench to sit on so he didn't have to kneel awkwardly in front of her or stand feeling useless above her.

“I'm sorry, Sally. I love you. I'm so confused. She means nothing and she means everything. It's complicated. But it doesn't take away from you. I'm forever grateful that we found each other, because what would I do without Jack and Sarah? They were meant to be. I know that.”

He kissed his fingers and touched the grass in front of the headstone. He was about to leave when he saw Sally's mother, Lynn, coming between the rows. She was a nice looking woman, sort of round, with flyaway graying hair she tried to keep in a bun. She had daisies and buttercups in a little container.

“Hi, Seamus.”

“Hi, Lynn. How are you?”

“Never good when I come here.”

“No.”

She placed the flowers on the ground and patted it, as if to say, I'll be with you in a minute. Lynn straightened up and smiled. “How are my beautiful grandchildren?”

“Sarah had an ear infection earlier in the week. It's better now.”

“Thank goodness. Sally used to get ear infections, I remember. Must run in the family.”

Seamus nodded.

Lynn looked at him. “Are you all right, dear?”

“I'm okay.”

“You know, Sally's father and I will take the children any time you need us. As a matter of fact, I wanted to ask if I could have them for the weekend. Our dog had puppies and now that they're a few weeks old, I thought the kids would like to see them.”

He cleared his throat but his voice was husky. “That would be great.”

“Honey—”

He held his thumb and forefinger over his eyes to try and get himself under control.

Lynn put her hand on his arm. “There, there, pet. I know. I know all about it.”

He stepped backwards and held his cuff to his nose.

Lynn reached in her pocket. “I always have tissue. I can't come here otherwise.” She passed it to him.

“Thanks.”

“I know it doesn't feel like it, but it's better to let your emotions out.”

“I guess so.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

He shook his head.

“You must miss your mother.”

Seamus looked over the field of headstones. “I miss her a lot. Seems like all the women in my life leave me.”

Lynn looked concerned. “I'm sure that's how it must feel.” She looked out over the horizon too and didn't say anything for a few moments. “You know, Seamus, I've been meaning to have a word with you. I have a feeling I know what you're upset about.”

He felt a chill. “Oh?”

“I hear Libby MacKinnon is back in town, or Ava Harris, or whatever she's called now.”

He nodded but stayed quiet, unsure where she was going with this.

She gave a big sigh and clasped her hands in front of her. “I feel I can say this, because I have a vested interest in it. Not because I'm Sally's mother, but because you're the father of my grandchildren.”

“Go on.”

“Everyone in this town knows about you and Libby. Certainly Sally was more than aware of it and was quite insecure about it, if the truth be told.”

“I loved Sally.”

She held her hands up. “Oh, I know, dear. I'm not saying you didn't. I just know that Sally felt very lucky to have you because she knew how much you loved Libby. So what I'm saying is, you're not betraying her memory if you talk to Libby again or associate with her.”

Seamus looked at his feet. He felt a rush of relief and his shoulders sagged. He was unaware that he had been as stiff as a board.

“Life is for the living, dear. You're a handsome young man, only twenty-eight. Do you honestly think I'd expect you to never marry again, or have other children? I'm not crazy. And I'm not worried that Jack and Sarah will never know us. You've proved that from day one. They will always be a part of our lives and it gives us great pleasure to see Sally alive in them.”

He looked at her. “Thank you. It means a lot.”

Lynn looked down at her daughter's grave. “I think she meant for us to meet today. What do you think?”

“I think that Sally's mother is as wonderful as Sally was.” He reached over and kissed Lynn's cheek. She patted his back. “Good. So bring those kiddies by after work on Friday. I'll make a batch of Rice Krispie squares. Off you go now. Sally and I are going to have a natter.”

He smiled and walked back to the patrol car. He was an incredibly lucky man and sometimes he forgot that in the day-to-day events that threatened to drown him at times. Lynn would never know how much that meant to him.

But of course, as is the way of life, two steps forward, one step back. When he went to work the next day, one of his colleagues, Reg, had the early morning Post. He was reading the obituaries. “See here, Seamus. Libby's mother died.”

He jerked his head up. “Did she? Let me see that.” He took the offered paper and read it through. The wake was at Patten's the next night and the following day. The funeral would be at Knox United Church, with burial in Black Brook Cemetery. There was a picture of Mamie as she looked about ten years earlier. She always was a handsome woman.

“That's going be some turnout,” Reg said.

“What do you mean?”

“What do you think I mean? It's goin' be around the block so people can have a boo at Ava Harris.”

“You don't honestly think people will go to a wake just to see her?” Seamus frowned.

“Are you crazy? I'd go.”

“You think someone grieving for their mother is a spectator sport?” He threw the paper back at him. “You disgust me.”

Reg got out of his chair. “Take it easy. No offense, man.”

“Then don't treat it like a joke. Have some decency, for Christ's sake.” Afraid he would punch the man, Seamus decided the best thing to do was to leave. Of course, she was on his mind all day. And everywhere he turned, he heard people talking about it. The more he heard them talk, the more he wanted to protect her. But he didn't want to call the house. Not now. He had no other way to get a hold of her.

Seamus knew her family might not appreciate it, but he had to go to the wake. Just so she could see he wasn't indifferent. That he cared about her.

He went to Colleen's for supper that night, and naturally, almost the first thing out of her mouth was about Mamie MacKinnon.

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