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Authors: Tara McTiernan

Barefoot Girls (38 page)

BOOK: Barefoot Girls
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“Isn’t that funny?” Tatiana said in a lilting voice. “I was certain you were going to order the burger. I don’t know why. I guess you just strike me as a meat-and-potatoes kind of girl.”

Keeley sat up straighter, trying to elongate her waist and hide the roll of fat that had grown there over the last month. The pounds had packed on ever since the book review came out. She knew Tatiana was making a dig at her ballooning weight and, not knowing what else to do, she decided to ignore it.

“So! How are you both enjoying the fall? Do you go leaf-peeping anywhere?” Keeley said, trying to appear chipper and interested. Distract them for now, that was the key.  She would tell them her bad news later, right before she made her exit.

“Leaf peeping?” Brooke smiled at her. “You are really cute with these little sayings you have.”

“No really,” Keeley said, blinking. “It’s a term for-“

“Yes, yes, we know the colloquialism,” Tatiana interrupted. “What we really want to talk about is your amazing win for the event. Mario Costa! I just can’t believe it! Does your husband really know him?”

“Of course he does,” Brooke said, snapping a little at Tatiana, before turning to Keeley with a warm smile. “Really, it is amazing though. Mario is even better than Susan. I mean, nothing against Susan, but Mario Costa! I just can’t get over it.”

“Well,” Keeley said, cringing inside. “I, I think I jumped the gun-“

“I knew it!” Tatiana crowed, looking wickedly gleeful.

Brooke stared at Keeley. “What?”

Keeley, shaken by Tatiana’s full-on attack, saw their waiter about to pass by their table on his way toward the kitchen. “Waiter!”

He paused, a small polite smile playing on his thin lips. Why couldn’t they have the redhead for a waitress instead of this nimrod? No, she would never please him or these two, so she was going to stop with the act. Right now. To hell with it. “I need to change my order. I’d like the Cocotte Jolie Burger, medium rare with fried onions on it and lots of ketchup. Oh, and a nice big glass of Chardonnay. Whatever one by the glass you suggest.”

The waiter’s eyebrows flew up and he really looked at her for the first time. She could swear she saw something like admiration in that look.

He said, “Certainly. Excellent choice. I’ll bring you the Ramey Cellars chardonnay. I think you’ll love it.” He smiled at her with a little twinkle in his eye, bowed slightly, and walked away.

When she turned back, Brooke was still staring at her.  Brooke said slowly, “I’m sorry. I think I misunderstood you. What were you saying?”

“She lied!” Tatiana said in a hissing low voice.

“Tatiana, would you please be quiet,” Brooke said. She turned back to Keeley, “I want to hear what Keeley has to say.”

Keeley splayed her sweating hands on the napkin in her lap and pressed them down against her thighs. “I really thought it was a go. Ben does know Mario, they met a few years ago, and-“

“I…you said...you said we had Mario Costa. You said those words.”

“What I meant was that he
might
be able to do it. I mean, he’s perfect for it, so I just wanted to tell you. So you knew. He’s exactly right for our headliner and it would take so much pressure off if he could do it, especially with everyone trying to fill tables. But, well, Ben was able to reach him yesterday, and he can’t do it after all. But I wanted you to know I was working on it.”

“Do you realize…. it’s been two full days? Two and a half days?” Brooke’s face had gone very white. “I’ve told people. I’ve told everyone. The publicity committee was thrilled. Beyond thrilled.” She said the last faintly, wonder in her eyes.

“I should have been clearer. I’m so sorry. Oh, thank you,” Keeley said as the waiter deposited the glass of wine on the table. She grabbed the glass and took a large gulp, feeling the warm sweetness curl down her throat, loosening the choking noose of muscle that had been tightening there. It was delicious. She looked up at the waiter, who was waiting for her verdict. “Excellent. Just wonderful. Thank you.”

“I’m so glad you like it,” he said, smiling again at her more broadly than before, then bowed and turned away.

She watched him go, not wanting to turn back and face the firing squad. The table was very quiet. Too quiet. She turned back to face Brooke and saw that the woman’s face had gone from a ghostly white to a bloody red.

“No one,
no one
makes a fool of me. How dare you lie to me like that? You’re a liar. And now you’ve made
me
a liar. I really, I really can’t believe this!” Brooke said, in a low controlled growl which rose quickly and dramatically to a hysterical shriek.

“I wasn’t-“

“Shut up,” Brooke said, her eyes bulging and looking like they were about to burst out of their sockets, her voice low again, gravelly and full of edges.  “You are just like my sister. She always got everything she wanted. She’d just reach for it and it was hers. But that wasn’t enough. She had to take what was mine, too. She always did. And that’s why I had to-“

“Brooke!” Tatiana shouted, and then lowered her voice. “I don’t think we need to talk about that. Do you? What Keeley’s done here is just plain idiocy. You’re giving her far more credit than she deserves. She’s obviously a bit of a drinker and that can lead to enormous errors in judgment,” she said, gesturing at Keeley’s glass of wine.  “But, remember, we already knew about her drinking problem. News travels fast.
Fairfield
Tribune
news travels very fast.” Tatiana fixed her hard dark eyes on Keeley and they felt like pins piercing her, pinning her back against her seat. “Don’t give her too much credit. Well, except for the kind of credit that picks up this luncheon tab. I certainly couldn’t eat right now. I’ve got an awful taste in my mouth from this whole thing.”

Brooke’s face was regaining a more normal coloring, the blood having drained away. She looked over at Tatiana with a dazed and unusually docile expression and nodded slightly.

Tatiana continued speaking, her waxy hyper-pulled face both haughty and contented, like cat.  “I think you understand this already, Keeley, but to be clear, your services aren’t needed anymore on this committee. Well, on any of them. Though we do appreciate your time and effort. Please feel free to have your husband send us a check if you’d like to contribute. In fact, I recommend it. Ten, twenty k, maybe? Oh, and you don’t mind picking up the check, do you? We really have to run and, in light of everything, it would be a nice gesture.”

Tatiana didn’t wait for Keeley’s reply. She stood up, pushed back her chair and then put her hand out to Brooke who still sat, looking stunned. “Come on, let’s take a walk in the park and get some air.”

Brooke took Tatiana’s hand and rose slowly, nodding slightly as she pushed in her chair. As she reached back down for her handbag, which she’d placed on the floor, she looked up at Keeley as if remembering something. She paused, placed her purse in the chair, and picked up her full water glass. She walked over to Keeley and delicately poured it over Keeley’s head. “I only wish I could do more,” she said in a wistful soft voice. Then she turned, picked up her purse, and the two women walked out of the restaurant together.

Keeley sat very still, still pinned where she was by the memory of Tatiana’s accusing eyes, droplets of water dripping off of her forehead and onto her chest and stomach, creating dark spreading spots on the fabric of her dress. Other droplets traveled in icy paths through her hair and onto her neck.

She didn’t need to look around to know that the whole scene had been witnessed. All she had to do was listen to hear the soft gasps of surprise from the other diners followed by the murmuring and rising river of whispers filling the air around her.

 

 

 

Chapter 33

 

The waves rose and fell, rocking the boat gently. It was so peaceful now, the shadows of the day stretching long across the boardwalk, the water splashing and sucking at the dock rhythmically, the wind making a hushing sound as it ran through the tall grasses nearby. Rose had remained in the boat and watched her husband go inside their house. No, she corrected, her house. Her parent’s beautiful house, her family’s home, and he acted like it was his. It was funny, really.

“Ha!” she laughed out loud, a hard sound. She rubbed her thighs, absently pushing up her khaki cotton skirt as she did so that it was bunched up around her waist, and turned to stare out at the water again. So soothing here. Beauty inside, beauty outside. In a minute, she’d go in and talk to Dr. Omin. It was important to speak to him. There was something important to tell him. What was it again? Something about a girl.

Oh, it was Keeley, that’s who it was. Keeley, who had stolen away her Michael. But Michael really loved her, not Keeley. He was just being nice to the girl. No, Michael and Rose were meant to be, that was clear. He was so sweet to her, sweeter than any boy had ever been. When she talked, he really listened to her, looked right into her eyes. He may have glanced away that first night for a second, because Keeley was such a showoff. He couldn’t help it. It was Keeley’s fault.

But it was okay, Michael was going to break it off with Keeley soon, so he could be with Rose. Whenever Keeley wasn’t with Michael, which was often now that she was spending a lot more time with her loser friends, Rose would visit Michael at his house. She’d walk by a couple times first, to be sure he was alone. Then she’d walk right up to his front door. He was always glad to see her; offered her lemonade and Chips Ahoy cookies every time and they’d sit out on the back deck together. His parents were so friendly and welcoming, too. They must be thrilled to have a decent well-raised girl in their house, rather than that low-class whore.

Rose loved sitting out on the deck with him, just sitting and talking about sailing, which he loved almost as much as she did. She could sit with him all day. She hated to leave, hated that Keeley might stop by and ruin everything. The only thing that made leaving tolerable was what he’d always say as he waved goodbye: “Come back whenever. Mi casa su casa.” Of course he was in love with her; it was obvious.

“Rose? Are you coming in?”

Her head snapped up and she blinked. She looked over at her darkening house and saw the silhouette of her husband standing in the doorway. Oh, Phil. Right, it was getting late. Why did he have to bother her? She was just relaxing. What had she been thinking about? Her memory was dodgy lately, her thoughts like half-remembered dreams that only floated farther away when she tried to recall them. Oh, right, call Dr. Omin.

“Oh, fine! I’m coming in,” she called back, not bothering to disguise her irritation. She stood up in the boat, and was surprised by how stiff her legs were. How long had she been sitting out here? What time was it? Was it too late to call Dr. Omin? Maybe she’d call Jackie instead. What was that, that strange unfinished feeling? There was something she needed to remember. It was just-

As she stepped onto the dock, it bloomed wide open in her mind. Hannah O’Brien was on the island. Keeley’s daughter, as beautiful and as dangerous as her mother, was here right now. Spawn of the woman who had taken away every man Rose had ever loved. Keeley, who was still so beautiful, barely touched by age’s clawing hand, and who was still loved in spite of her wild and destructive ways. Rose couldn’t understand it, never had.  It sickened her, how wrong it was, how deeply unfair and cosmically wrong.

And now, during Rose’s only peaceful time all year, when she shored up her defenses against the hard world, when she found hope again in the last defiant wildflowers in the fields, the dancing glittering light playing on cobalt and gunmetal waves, in the rich mellow colors that draped the island’s landscape in autumn, that woman’s daughter was here. She would ruin everything.

Rose turned where she’d stopped on the dock and looked down-island.

“Are you coming in? I thought I’d make us spaghetti. Fat free, I promise!” Phil shouted from where he still stood at the door to the house. Rose looked back at him. He still had good posture; she had to give him that. But everything else was gone, if not in him, in her. She hadn’t noticed it while it was happening, this loss of love. Had it happened over time, or did it disappear the day she noticed it was gone?

She shook her head. Realizing he probably couldn’t see her that well in the fading light, she shouted back. “No, thanks. I’m not hungry. I think I’ll take a walk.”

He moved forward, stepping away from the door and across the porch to the steps leading down to the boardwalk. “Are you sure? You haven’t eaten very much today. But…if you really want to take a walk, hold on. I’ll go get a jacket.”

She waved her hand swiftly and shook her head more violently, but he started to turn away. “No! Phil! Phil!”

He paused and turned. “Yeah?”

“I need some time alone. Just a little. I think I’ll just take a walk on my own, if that’s okay.”

“Oh, okay. Are you sure? Okay….hey, maybe I’ll make the spaghetti anyway. You might be hungry by the time you get back.”

“Great, good idea!” She shouted the last with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. Anything to have him too busy to wonder where she was and what she was doing.

“Okay, I will then!” He gave a little wave. “Have a nice walk and don’t stay out too late. It gets dark quick now.”

To avoid any further questions, she forced herself into motion, walking swiftly up the dock to the boardwalk and then turning down-island, giving him a brief smile and a half wave. She kept walking all the way to where the boardwalk turned right and the island itself curved, feeling his eyes on her the whole way. Once she was certain she was out of sight, she slowed to a stop.

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