Authors: Tiffany Baker
He sat up in the narrow bed he still slept in—the same one Claire had slumbered in as a girl—and took the packet out of her hands. Jordy was accustomed to old things—everything in his life from his furniture to his shoes was used, faded, and comfortably worn—but this was an odd gift, even from the likes of Jo and Claire. “What is it?” he asked, untying the ribbons that held everything together.
Claire paused. “It’s your inheritance.”
Jordy rubbed his eyes, and Claire could guess what he was thinking. Jo gleaned salt for a living, and Claire blended and baked it. As far as Jordy knew, the only things she and Jo had to hand down were old bread rolls and a working knowledge of how to scrape mud.
Claire took the bundle out of his hands and gently pulled the first document from it. “Start with this,” she said. It was a legal paper, a deed to Turner House, which had sat empty on Plover Hill since Whit’s death, looming over the town like a depressed gargoyle.
Jordy scanned the jargon and handed the page back to Claire. “I don’t understand.”
Claire looked over at Jo and took a deep breath. “It’s your house now, Jordy. Whit Turner was your father.” Jordy looked around the room in confusion. An open trunk lay in the corner, half packed, and a suitcase was propped by the door. In a few weeks, he would be going off for his freshman year at Boston College and starting a new existence. Claire bet he wasn’t expecting to begin it now. For Jordy’s whole life, she and Jo had always told
him they didn’t know who his father was—the better to protect him—and he had always believed them. Now he was finding out he was the son of an old and prominent family, once the richest in town.
“What am I supposed to do with a house?” he finally asked. “Especially one like that?”
“Oh, it’s not for now.” Claire folded up the deed and slipped it back in with the other papers. “It’s for someday. You’ll know when.”
“So why give it to me right before I leave?” he said. “Who’s been taking care of it all this time?” From the tone of his voice, it was clear he’d been looking forward to tailgating parties and college dances, not roof repairs and domestic chores.
Jo leaned over and patted one of his legs with her scarred hand. “Just read the papers, Jordy, and you’ll understand everything. There’s a letter in there from Claire, an apology for what happened the night your real mother died.” She looked over to the suitcase by the door. “Claire loves you, Jordy. Try not to judge her too hard. She never wanted to tell you any of this. I know it’s breaking her heart to do it, but it’s the right thing. She loves you enough to risk losing you. Remember that.” And with a quiet click of the door, she left Claire and Jordy alone to come to their own conclusions.
laire often wondered how it must have felt for Jordy to go from being a boy with two parents to an orphan, from poor to a homeowner, fatherless to an heir, all in the reading of a pack of old letters. She wondered, too, what he thought of the story she’d written of his mother’s death by fire in the barn, but he never shared that, and Claire never had the courage to ask him about it. Ethan was right, she decided. Sometimes things were better left untouched.
The only way to lay history to rest, Claire had learned, was to keep it alive, and in transforming Turner House into the
Historical Landmark Association, Jordy had swept away some of the cobwebs of the place. The house still hulked on Plover Hill, eyeing the village with its menacing rows of windows, but now anyone could walk inside. Anyone could poke through its dusty corners and shout up its tall chimneys, making the walls echo. The Turner insignia was still engraved on every available surface, spiky as ever, but it had been tempered and mixed with the names of Gillys, and in that way maybe softened.
Like the house, Jordy’s life was neatly divided, even as it was also a hodgepodge of conflicting elements. He’d departed for college as planned, but Claire knew he’d gone with an altered soul. It was as if he’d gained weight, as she supposed he had. He took up history instead of economics as a planned course of study, then married young, had a daughter, and tragically lost his wife to cancer, leaving Jordy thirty and alone, grieving, and raising a daughter he had no idea what to do with. “Come home,” Claire had pleaded with him over the phone, the line crackling like a fire between them.
There was a long silence, and then Jordy had asked, “For how long?”
For once Claire had said exactly the right thing. “Let’s let the salt decide.”
Starting with the packet of letters and clippings, Jordy had been able to build a collection of memorabilia and artifacts stretching from Prospect’s start as a whaling outpost to its current incarnation as a summer haven for the wealthy. St. Agnes was the same as ever, along with Salt Creek Farm, but in the end Claire found it ironic that Whit had gotten his wish in a manner of sorts. Prospect had become a Destination.
Now the bottom floor of Turner House was public, open weekends and every day except Monday. Jordy and his daughter, Rose, inhabited the second floor. They didn’t need much—barely a suite of rooms between them—and of course they spent most of their time at Salt Creek Farm. In the summer Jordy gave lectures and tours, and in the winter he was simply Rose’s father. One
day, he claimed, he might even start a book, and Claire wondered what would happen if their story was ever written down, fixed in black and white.
“Just wait,” she always told Jordy when he brought the subject up, for as the salt was something she regularly consumed but didn’t truly own, the history of the Gillys and Turners wasn’t really hers to give away either. There would come a time when the marsh would pass to Rose, and then, at long last, the strands of the past—Turner and Gilly alike—would be woven into a single neat braid like the one that hung down Rose’s back.
But all that was in the future. For now Claire was content to watch Rose through the blurry prism of Salt Creek Farm’s windows, her arms moving in sync with Jordy’s and Jo’s as she learned to rake, while the wonderful smell of fresh bread was rising from the kitchen. If she knew anything, Claire thought, it was simply that though our time on earth was short, our lives were long. They seeped and spread, watery and wide, moving in unexpected directions.
Claire reached up and touched the locket at her throat, her thumb fixed on the pearl. If she had to atone for her sins, she figured, so be it, she was ready, ice pitted in her bowels, frost gathered in her hair, and salt scattered painful beneath the papery skin of her feet—for as it was in the beginning, she suspected, so would it be forever in the end.
First thanks go to my agent, Dan Lazar at Writers House, for being an advocate, a friend, and for bringing out the best in me and my work time and time again.
Thanks to Caryn Karmatz Rudy for walking me down the first part of the editorial path and for her continuing friendship. And a spectacular thanks to my editor, Helen Atsma, the fairy godmother of editors, for getting me across the finish line.
It takes a village to put out a book, so thank you to everyone at Grand Central Publishing: Jamie Raab for running the whole show; Deb Futter for support; Carolyn Kurek, Maureen Sugden, and Celia Johnson for their sharp eyes. And thanks to Catherine Casalino for the beautiful cover.
I think I owe some drinks to the Council of Mental Health and Domestic Crises, otherwise known as Pam, Andrea, Laura, and Lynn. Thank you for always being at the other end of the phone line with open ears and open hearts. And thanks to my dining committee, Jack and Nancy, for testing recipes.
Thanks to the Debs—Kris, Meredith, Eve, and Katie—for keeping up my spirits and always responding so nicely to any e-mail tagged FDEO. Thanks to Joshilyn Jackson for giving public speaking advice and for showing me the authorial ropes.
I have immense gratitude for all the independent booksellers in the San Francisco Bay Area, especially Elaine Petrocelli at Book
Passage and Calvin Crosby at Books Inc., for their love of good stories and their care and respect for local writers and readers.
Finally, my family needs the biggest thanks of all. Without my own sisters, Lala and Bella, I wouldn’t have inspiration for the relationships in this book, and without the Drever tribe I wouldn’t have a cheering section. And without Ned, Willow, Raine, and Auden, my own clan, I wouldn’t have anything at all.
is the author of the
New York Times
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County
. She lives in Marin County, California, with her husband and three young children.
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 by Tiffany Baker
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