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Excerpt: Life and Other Inconveniences

In which Emma finds herself with some time on her hands, still adjusting to her visit to Genevieve, the grandmother who raised her and whom she hasn’t seen in 17 years.

***

So. Still nothing to do. I could swim in the pool, except I didn’t want to. Genevieve would inevitably hear about it from Helga, and later make some snide comment about my work load, or my use of the pool, or how there were bathing suits designed for chubby women.
 
I knew what I’d do. I’d start a vegetable garden. I’d passed Gordon’s Nursery the other day when I took a drive, and I could buy some tomatoes and basil, peppers and parsley. Genevieve had more than enough room, and it would give Pop something to do here. 

I went outside into Sheerwater’s impressively landscaped back yard. The scent of wisteria and lilacs was thick in the air, and the wind was strong enough to make the flagpole rope twang against the metal pole, making me glad I wore a cotton sweater and jeans. A rabbit hopped along the base of the stone wall, where there were two Adirondack chairs, overlooking the sea.

I couldn’t make the garden too close to the house, because Genevieve would think it was very déclassé to be growing one’s own food. Roses, yes. Beans, never. Still, she had ten acres. I’d scout a location. 

I went to the gardening shed and got a shovel, then continued past the pool, which had been upgraded from the aquamarine of my childhood to some dark gray stone. I walked through the gate on the west side, into the wilder part of Genevieve’s land, where the pine trees grew and the towering rocks were covered with moss. I used to play here, making fairy houses or pretending that I was a baby wolf. Then Genevieve found me and scared the life out of me with tales of people who took children, or stupid children who got lost or fell into the sea and drowned, or careless children who had fallen and hit their heads and were now brain-damaged.

So. My love of the forested part of Sheerwater ended, until I was sixteen, and Jason and I would come out here and look at the stars and kiss, the slippery fabric of a sleeping bag underneath us, our breathing shallow, our bodies pressing against each other’s. 

Those were happy, horny times. Maybe the time when I felt most secure, in some ways. Secure that Jason loved me, which he had. Secure that even if Genevieve didn’t, she put up with me and would continue to do so. Secure in my future, which, though blurry at that time, seemed drenched in sunshine.

God laughs, as they say.

The pine needles crunched gently underfoot, and a blue jay announced my presence to the other wildlife. The sun was warm on my hair, and I was abruptly aware of how stinking’ beautiful it was here. As a state, Connecticut never got its fair share of love from outsiders, but those of us who lived here kind of preferred it that way.

There. A sunny spot on the eastern side of the point, where there was an open spot in the trees. It would get plenty of light but be safe from the harsh afternoon sun in high summer. I’d grow tomatoes that smelled earthy and warm, and even Genevieve wouldn’t be able to resist them. Peas and basil and parsley. Maybe even mint for her to put in a pitcher of ice water, the only thing she drank other than booze.

Then again, Genevieve might be dead by high summer.

I wish she’d let me talk to her doctor. I’d snoop, but I was a health care professional, too, and I’d never be able to violate HIPAA. But my grandmother wanted me here to take care of her and do my duty; if she wouldn’t tell me what that was, it was going to be harder.

I set my shovel to the ground and shoved it into the dirt, which was soft and yielding.

“What are you doing?” came a voice, and I shrieked a little. “Stop it! Jesus!”

A man stood behind me. 

“Who are you?” I asked, my hands gripping the shovel. “This is private property.” Did I have my phone? Should I call 9-1-1?

“Who are you?” he demanded. “And what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“I live here.”

“No, you don’t.”

He looked…familiar. Then again, I’d grown up here, so a lot of people looked familiar. But wait. I knew him. “Miller?”

“Yeah.”

“Emma. Emma London.”

Recognition dawned on his face. He ran a hand through his black hair. “Oh. Sorry. How are you?”

“I’m good. How are you? It’s nice to see you.” 

Miller Finlay was Jason’s cousin, older by five or six years. I’d met him a few times, since Jason and I had dated all through high school. Jason had idolized him—the cool older kid who’d take him out sailing, or to a bar in New London to hear a band. In fact, Jason was in Miller’s wedding; it was why he hadn’t been at Riley’s birth. Granted, she’d been two weeks early, and my labor lasted all of four hours, so I couldn’t blame him for that.

Miller wasn’t quite as handsome as Jason, but he was nice-looking just the same. His face was angular and somewhat plain and he looked older than…what? Forty? His hair was graying, but on closer inspection, I recognized the boy Jason had loved so much. They worked together at Finlay Construction, the business their fathers had started. 

“I guess I heard you were coming to visit for the summer. I must’ve forgotten,” he said. “How are things? How’s your daughter? Riley?”


“Yes. She’s great. She and Genevieve are in the city today, so I thought I’d make myself useful and put in a vegetable garden.”


“Not here, though,” he said.


“Why’s that?”


“My wife is buried here.”


I flinched. “Oh, God. I’m so sorry, Miller. I didn’t…I don’t think I knew that.”


Did I even know his wife died? Did Jason forget to tell me? I think I would’ve remembered something so huge.


Miller looked away. “Genevieve got permission from the town. She, uh…Ashley, that is, she didn’t like cemeteries. And she loved this place. Loved Genevieve, too.”


Ashley, yes, that was it. 


I had a flash of a memory of a Christmas party at the Finlays, Miller and Ashley sitting cuddled together on the couch. They’d just gotten engaged, and it made me so happy, the idea that high school sweethearts would end up together, as Jason and I hopefully would. Miller saw me staring at them, the perfect couple, and winked.


I definitely would have remembered if Jason told me his cousin was a widower now.


“I’m so sorry,” I said, and my voice was husky. “How long has it been?”


“A little over three years.” 


I knew better than to ask how it happened. If he wanted me to know more, he’d tell me. The blue jay called again, watching over us, and a seagull dropped into the water, emerging with a small fish in its beak. 


“Do you have any kids, Miller?” I asked, a little surprised I didn’t know the answer.


“Yeah,” he said. “Tess. She’s three.”


My heart dropped before my brain caught up with the math. 


His wife must’ve died right after the baby was born. Oh, God! How could Jason not have told me about this? The whole family must’ve been devastated. Ashley—in my limited experience with her—had been really, really great. Funny and friendly, even to someone who was not quite in the family.


“Well, Riley’s sixteen now, so if you need a babysitter, she loves kids. And, uh, so do I. You know. I mean, I’m sure you have plenty of help, but we’re here! If you need anything! But you’re probably an old pro.”


Hard to believe I was a therapist.  


“Thank you,” Miller said.


“It must be very hard,” I said, managing to remember something from all those years of training.


He didn’t answer for a second. “It is. Well, I should go. I’m sure I’ll see you again. I, uh…I come to Genevieve’s cocktail parties sometimes. On Fridays.”


“Good! Good. It’ll be good to see you.” Three goods. Jesus.


“Have a good day,” he said. Four.


“You too.” 


I watched as he walked away, hands in his pockets, head down.


Broken.


There, just at the edge of the forest, was a bench I hadn’t seen until this minute. A plaque was mounted on the back. 

In memory of Ashley James Finlay
Cherished wife, mother and daughter
Loved by all who knew her.