Between Sisters Page 40


An hour later, they were settled in their rental car—a Mustang convertible—and driving north.

Amazingly, with every mile driven, the island grew greener, lusher. By the time they reached the famous Hanalei Bridge, where huge green patchwork taro fields lay tucked against the rising black mountains, it was another world completely. On one side of the two-lane road, the local farmers stood in water, tending their taro crops. There wasn’t a house or a road to be seen for miles. On the right side, the winding Hanalei River, hemmed on either side by thick, flowering green vegetation, calmly carried kayakers downstream. In the distance, the dark mountains stood in stark contrast to the blue sky; a few diaphanous clouds hinted at rain for tomorrow, but now, it was perfect weather.

“Here! Turn here,” she said a block after a church.

The houses along the beach road sat on huge waterfront lots. Claire had braced herself for Bel Air–type mansions. She needn’t have bothered. Most of the houses were old-fashioned, unpretentious. At the park, they turned again, and there it was: the house her dad had rented. Only a block from the beach and tucked as it was in a cul-de-sac, it ought to feel ordinary.

It was anything but. Painted a bright tropical blue with glossy white trim, the house looked like a jeweled box hidden in a tropical landscape. A thick green hedge ran down three borders of the property, effectively blocking the neighbors from view.

Inside, the house had white walls, pine plank floors, and bright Hawaiian furniture. Upstairs, the bedroom, done in more bright colors, led to a private balcony that overlooked the mountains. As she stood there, staring out at the waterfall-ribboned mountain, Claire could hear the distant surf.

Bobby came up behind her, slipped his arms around her. “Maybe someday I’ll make it big, and we’ll live here.”

She leaned back against him. It was the same dream she’d had for years, but now its hold had loosened. “I don’t care about making it big or someday, Bobby. We have this right now, and really, it’s more than I ever dreamed of.”

He turned her around so that she was facing him. There was an uncharacteristic sadness in his eyes. “I won’t leave you, Claire. How can you not know that?”

Claire wanted to smile, shake the words off. “I do know that.”

“No. You don’t yet. I love you, Claire. I guess all I can do is keep saying it. I’m not going anywhere.”

“How about to the beach?”

They walked hand in hand down the road toward the beach. At the pavilion, one of the many public access points, a large group of Hawaiians were celebrating a family reunion. Dark-haired, copper-skinned children in brightly colored swimsuits played running games on the grass while the adults set out a buffet inside. Someone somewhere was playing a ukelele.

Hanalei Bay fanned out from her on either side, a mile of white-sand beach shaped in a giant horseshoe. To the north stood the mountains, turned pink now by the sinking sun.

Small, white-tipped waves rolled forward, carrying laughing children toward the sand. Farther back, some teenage boys lay on oversize surfboards. Their instructor, a good-looking guy in a straw hat, gave them each a shove when a wave seemed promising.

They spent the rest of the day on the warm sands of Hanalei Bay and watched the sunset and talked. When the beach fell silent and lay in darkness, with stars glittering on the black water, they finally went back to their house. Together, they made dinner and ate it on a picnic table on the back lanai, with lanterns and mosquito-repellant candles lighting their way. By the time dinner was finished and the dishes were done, they couldn’t keep their hands off each other anymore.

Bobby swept Claire into his arms and carried her upstairs. She laughed and clung to him, letting go only when he dropped her onto the bed. She immediately came up to her knees and looked at him.

“You’re so beautiful,” he said, reaching out to slip a finger beneath her bathing-suit bra strap. She felt the heat of that touch against her cold, goosefleshed skin and found it hard to breathe.

He bent down and stripped out of his suit, then straightened again. The sight of his naked body, hard and ready, made her shiver and reach out.

He moved to the bed. She could feel the eager trembling in his hands as he removed her swimsuit and touched her breasts. At last he kissed her—her mouth, her eyelids, her chin, her nipples.

She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him down on top of her. She felt his hand slip between her legs, finding her wetness. With a groan, she opened herself to him. When he finally climbed on top of her, she dug her fingers into his hard backside and arched up to meet him. They came at the same time, each crying out the other’s name.

Afterward, Claire curled up against her husband’s damp, hot body and fell asleep to the quiet evenness of his breathing and the steady drone of the ceiling fan.

Meg took Alison on a whirlwind tour of downtown Seattle. They went to the aquarium and watched the feeding of the otters and seals. Meg even dared to roll up her designer sleeves and plunge her bare hands into the exploration tank, where, alongside a busload of out-of-town children, she and Alison touched sea anemones and mussels and starfish.

After that, they got hot dogs at a frankfurter stand and walked down the wharf. At Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe they saw shrunken heads and Egyptian mummies and cheap souvenirs. (Meg didn’t point out the eight-foot-long petrified whale penis that hung suspended from the ceiling; she could just imagine what Ali would tell her friends.) They had dinner at the Red Robin Hamburger Emporium and finished off the day with a Disney movie at the Pacific Place Theater.

By the time they made it back to the condo, Meg was exhausted.

Unfortunately, Alison had energy to spare. She ran from room to room, picking up stuff, looking at it, yelling Wow! over things like a Sonicare toothbrush.

Meg was on the couch, sprawled out with her feet on the coffee table, when Alison skidded into the room, carrying the Lalique bowl from the front entry.

“Did you see this, Aunt Meg? These girls have no clothes on.” She giggled.

“They’re angels.”

“They’re naked. Billy says his dad has magazines with naked girls in ’em. Gross.”

Meg got up and very gently took the bowl from Alison. “Gross is in the eye of the beholder.” She returned it to its spot on the entry table. When she walked back into the living room, Alison was frowning.

“What’s a bee holder? Is that like a hive?”

Meg was too tired to come up with a smart answer. “Kind of.” She collapsed onto the couch again. How had she done this when she was a teenager?

“Didja know that baby eagles eat their daddy’s barf?”

“No kidding. Even my cooking is better than that.”

Alison giggled. “My mommy’s a good cook.” The minute she said it, her lower lip wobbled. Tears glistened in her green eyes, and just then, standing there on the verge of crying, Alison looked so much like Claire that Meghann couldn’t breathe. She was thrown back in time to all the nights she’d comforted her little sister, held her tightly, and promised that Soon, soon things will get better . . . and Mama will come home.

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“Come here, Ali,” she said, her throat tight.

Alison hesitated for a moment, just that, but the pause reminded Meghann of how little she and her niece knew each other.

Alison sat down on the sofa, about a foot away.

“Do you want to call your mommy? She’s going to call at six o’clock, but—”

“Yeah!” Alison yelled, bouncing up and down on the cushion.

Meghann went in search of the phone. She found it on the nightstand by her bed. After a quick consultation in her day planner, she dialed the Kauai house’s direct number, then handed the phone to her niece.

“Mommy?” Alison said after a few seconds. Then, “Hi, Mommy. It’s me, Ali Kat.”

Smiling, Meg walked into the kitchen and began unpacking the bags of groceries and goodies she’d picked up today. Stuff she hadn’t bought in years—Frosted Flakes, Pop-Tarts, Oreo cookies—and stuff she’d never seen before, like juice that came in silver bags and mix-your-own yogurt. The most important purchase was an activity book for children. She intended to make this a week Alison wouldn’t forget.

“She wants to talk to you, Aunt Meg,” Alison said, bouncing into the kitchen.

“Thanks.” Meg took the phone, said, “Hello?”

“Hey, big sis, how’s it going? Has she stopped talking yet?”

Meg laughed. “Not even when she’s eating.”

“That’s my Ali.”

Alison tugged on Meg’s pant leg. “Mommy said the sand is like sugar. Sugar. Can I have some cookies?”

Meg handed her an Oreo. “Only one before bed,” she said to her niece. To Claire, she said, “I need a margarita.”

“You’ll be fine.”

“I know. It makes me think. . . .”

“What?” Claire asked softly.

“About us. You. Sometimes I look at Ali and all I can see is us.”

“Then, she’ll love you, Meg.”

Meg closed her eyes. It felt so good to talk to Claire this way, as true sisters who had something more than a sordid childhood in common. “She misses you.”

“Bedtime might be hard. You’ll need to read her a story.” Claire laughed. “I warn you, she has quite an attention span.”

“I’ll try Moby-Dick. You’d have to be on speed to stay awake for that.”

Alison grabbed her pant leg again. “I think I’m gonna be—” And she puked all over Meg’s shoes.

“I need to go, Claire. Have a great trip. We’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

She hung up the phone and set it on the counter.

Alison looked up at her, giggling. “Oops.”

“Maybe the double banana split was a bad idea.” She eased out of her shoes and scooped Alison into her arms and carried her to the bathroom.

Alison looked so tiny in the big marble tub.

“This is like a swimming pool,” she said, sucking up a mouthful of water and spitting it on the tile wall.

“Let’s not drink our own bathwater, shall we? It’s one of the things that separates us from the lesser primates. Like men.”

“Grandpa lets me.”

“My point exactly. Now come here, let me wash your hair.” She reached for the brand-new baby shampoo. The scent made her smile. “I used to wash your mom’s hair with this shampoo.”

“You’re getting it in my eyes.”

“That’s what she used to say.” Meghann was still smiling when she rinsed Alison’s hair and helped her out of the tub. She dried off the little girl, dressed her in pink flannel pajamas, and carried her into the guest room.

“It’s a big bed,” Alison said, frowning.

“That’s because it’s for princesses only.”

“Am I a princess?”

“You are.” Meghann curtsied. “Milady,” she said in a solemn voice. “What command have you for me?”

Alison giggled and climbed under the covers. “Read me a story. I want . . . Professor Wormbog in Search of the Zipperump-a-Zoo.”

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