Part 25 (1/2)

aFoster, go help Dad,a Patty said.

He did as she said. Father and son returned a few moments later, though Fosteras hands were empty.

aHe said he had achieved perfect balance and would topple if I took anything,a Foster reported.

aOkay,a Patty said. aWell, it was nice of you to ask.a aWhen can we see the bears eating out of the Dumpsters?a Foster asked.

Maisy covered her eyes with her hands, as if the bears were right there on the porch. aI donat want to see them at all, please!a she said, and everyone laughed.

A few moments later, Maisy started shuffling from one foot to the other.

aYou need to hit the bathroom again, bug?a Josh asked.

Maisy shook her head no, and then nodded yes.

aDad, you gotta help me get my suit off!a she said.

aOkay, okay, let me put everything down.a Ann Marie thought of how they were just as likely to go to Josh as to Patty. She had never wanted Patrick to understand the children like she did, preferring that the mystery of child-rearing be mostly her domain. Perhaps that had been a mistake, but it still seemed strange for a father to take his daughter to the bathroom, especially when the mother was standing right there.

aLittle Daniel and Regina are coming up for dinner,a Patty said now.

aOh?a aThey just called me in the car to say so. They called you, too, but it went to voice mail.a aWell, thatas wonderful,a Ann Marie said. aWhat should we have?a A debate ensued over whether to drive up the coast toward Kennebunkport or to stay at home and cook hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill.

Ann Marieas spirits were high. Here was her family, swirling around her, just as she liked, only beginning a week away at their summer home. She knew that it would go by in a flash, but even so she said a silent prayer, asking G.o.d to help her enjoy whatever time they had left.

Kathleen.

On the fifth of July, Kathleen went to her sleeping daughter and gently shook Maggieas shoulder. Through the open bedroom window, she could hear the sound of the surf, seagulls calling to one another.

aMags, wake up, weave got to go,a she whispered.

aGo where?a Maggie asked, her eyes still closed.

aHome. Iam taking you back to New York.a Maggie opened just her left eye. aWhy are we leaving in the middle of the night?a aItas seven thirty in the morning,a Kathleen said.

Now Maggie opened the other eye, and said, aFor you, seven thirty in the morning is the middle of the night. Whatas going on?a aIall tell you in the car,a Kathleen said. aHop in the shower. I want to get out of here before Ann Marie wakes up.a aDid you do something bad to her?a Maggie asked.

aNo, as a matter of fact, I didnat. Now come on!a Kathleen had been up all night trying to decide how she should handle the situation. Should she write Ann Marie a note letting her know that her secret was safe, and then stick around for a couple more days to make things look normal to everyone else? Should she try to get that a.s.shole Steve Brewer in private, and tell him that if he didnat keep his mouth shut, head have her to answer to? Or should she simply go away, sending Ann Marie the silent message that the whole silly episode could now vanish too? Kathleen decided that if the roles were reversed, shead want Ann Marie to leave.

She had never felt protective of her sister-in-law before. It was a strange sensation. It felt nice when you saw yourself evolving a bit; it felt better than any b.i.t.c.hy comeback or snide remark ever could. She wished Arlo were there so they could discuss it.

She had called him before she went to sleep, but instead of mentioning Ann Marie she said, aI took a step back tonight and I finally realized Maggie really doesnat want to live with us.a aAnd how do you feel about that?a he asked.

She thought this over. aSad. Scared. Thankful.a aSheas going to make it,a he said.

aI know.a aRemember that thereas a gray area between having her live with us and having her all alone,a he said. aYou can go back and forth for a while. Maybe she can bring the baby out here for the summer. Weall figure it out.a aYes.a aYou raised a really smart, tough daughter,a he said. aA girl like you.a Kathleen thought to herself that Maggie was nothing like she had been at that age. It had taken Kathleen so much longer to find herself, because she had spent twenty years trying to be someone else. Maggie had gotten straight to the good stuffa”her chosen career, her city, even the men she dated were exactly what she wanted. You had to give them that, though not much else. Kathleen felt proud, even as she knew it might have less to do with her parenting skills and more to do with the time. Maggie had been born at a point when girls were told they could do anything. G.o.d knows that hadnat been the case for Kathleen, never mind Alice. She imagined the world her granddaughter might inherit, incrementally better than the one they lived in now. The thought of it excited her more than she might have expected.

The previous night, she had grudgingly gone along with Maggie to watch the Fourth of July fireworks in Portsmouth after dinner. Within minutes of their arrival, Maggie had to pee, and so they went to the Porta-Potty lines, and got into what looked like the shortest one. They stood there, barely speaking. At the restaurant, Kathleen had once again pleaded her casea”Maggie should move to California and live with her. Once again, Maggie had refused. She had been a bit mean about it, really. Kathleen worried that this was Aliceas influence. She had to remind herself about all the hormones that were coursing through her sweet daughteras body.

aYour place is a pigsty,a Maggie had said, as Kathleen paid the bill. aI canat imagine a worse house for a baby to crawl around in.a aBabies donat exactly come out of the womb crawling,a Kathleen said.

aFine. I canat imagine a worse house for a baby to live in, crawling or not. Gabe was afraid to sleep there, for G.o.das sake.a A moment later Maggie apologized, but the damage was done.

Her house wasnat that bad. Was it?

aSo sorry to have offended that darling Gabe with my filth,a she said.

They didnat talk in the car on the way to Portsmouth. But standing there by the portable toilets, Kathleen said, aWhen my brother was at Notre Dame, he and a few other guys once got suspended for tipping one of these over while a friend of theirs was inside.a aThatas awful,a Maggie said.

aYeah. Pat was kind of a bad boy before Ann Marie came along and sucked all the fun out of him.a aI donat know if Iad call that fun,a Maggie said.

aGood point,a Kathleen said.

aI can kind of picture Chris doing that,a Maggie said.

aI know. Itas scary, but I know.a She put an arm around Maggie.

Maggie nodded. She held on until it was her turn to go in.

aDonat you dare tip me over,a she said over her shoulder as she moved toward the stinking plastic enclosure.

aWell, you shouldnat have called my house messy,a Kathleen said, and stuck out her tongue.

She stood there, watching the crowd for what seemed like ages. Teenage couples kissed, and gaggles of girls ran around giggling. Young parents chased their offspring down the path, and older parents read books on blankets in the gra.s.s, eating pizza or submarine sandwiches wrapped in tinfoil while their children texted away on cell phones. A group of high school kids competed to see who could shove the largest number of glow sticks into his or her mouth. Well, that was charming.

Kathleen glanced over at the Porta-Potty Maggie had gone into. What was taking her so long? She wondered if something was wrong. She pictured a gunman lurking behind the flimsy door, covering Maggieas mouth with a gloved hand.

She shook off the thought.

When her children were small, shead experience a miniature panic attack at least once a week, thinking one or the other of them had been s.n.a.t.c.hed. In the grocery store, she would turn her head this way and that, looking for Chris, her heart pounding, imagining the most gruesome possibilitiesa”and then, a moment later, there head be, clutching a package of Oreos, which she gladly let him have as a sort of reward for not getting kidnapped and ruining both their lives.

Kathleen looked down at her watch. When she looked up, she noticed her brotheras friend, Steve Brewer, standing two lines over. She hoped he wouldnat see her. She wasnat interested in making small talk with anyone who would consciously choose to socialize with her brother and sister-in-law.

Right on cue, she saw Ann Marie come through a wall of people. She was wobbling, and she looked plain drunk. Not tipsy, or just over the limit. Drunk. Some tiny part of Kathleen had softened to her sister-in-law this week. It had probably started with Ann Marie trampling Aliceas tomato plants, and her all-out meltdown around the priest. You couldnat exactly wish more unhappiness on somebody who was so clearly coming undone, even if she was your mortal enemy.

Ann Marie approached Steve with a smile and said something to him. She fingered his lapel. Her face was dangerously close to his, as if they were two lovers about to kiss. As the thought struck Kathleen, she saw her sister-in-law lean forward and plant her lips on his.

aOh my G.o.d,a Kathleen said out loud, putting a hand over her mouth, feeling almost giddy, as if she were watching the season finale of her favorite soap opera. Her sister-in-law was having an affair with her neighboras husband. It was almost too good. She had a momentary vision of all of them squeezed together, watching the fireworks, and hearing herself say, So, Ann Marie and Stevea”when did you two get together?

She remembered when she had found out about Paulas infidelity all those years ago, Ann Marie self-righteously saying, aI think youad better take it up with your husband.a How stupid she had felt then. How powerless. And now this. Maybe if you only waited long enough, all your lifeas wrongs would right themselves one way or another.

But then, quite suddenly, Steve pulled away. She couldnat hear what he was saying, but she understood from his expression that he had been taken by surprise, and not in a good way. The two of them exchanged words, and he stormed off, leaving Ann Marie standing in place, in tears. Some gentleman, abandoning a clearly intoxicated woman in the middle of a crowd.

Kathleen instantly felt sorry for Ann Marie. It was the excruciating expression on her face that did it, a look of embarra.s.sment, shame. Kathleen felt a sense of pride, realizing that that was all she wanted. Not to hold it over Ann Marieas head as some sort of threat, but just knowing that Ann Marie herself knew she was not perfect.

At that moment, Ann Marie saw her. s.h.i.+t. Kathleen almost hoped she would walk away, but instead Ann Marie came toward her.

aOh G.o.d, please, Kathleen, donat tell Patrick what you just saw.a Ann Marie spoke in a rush, sounding desperate.