I knew if I called Monday evening to set up an appointment with Adeline that hell no, she wasn’t waiting until the next day, one of us needed to drive straight down the road from hell and get to where the other one was, and since she was paying the bills that someone would almost certainly be me. So I sat on it until Tuesday. But I felt a little guilty about it, so I was at Peckerwoods’ when they opened.
And yes, I could have just eaten a bowl of oatmeal and hit the road. But I hadn’t seen Sabrina since Saturday, and I discovered that a weekend of intense sex didn’t make me miss her any less. Which meant that she was the woman most likely to get me in trouble, not Chai. Well, it was what it was.
“Heard you were out boating with the competition on Saturday, and you didn’t come by for breakfast Sunday. Just goes to show: you snooze, you lose. That’s just like me, too. Perfect guy comes into my life and I’m too hung up on my own shit to do anything about it.”
Perfect guy? Wow. Never guessed she’d have thought that, or admit to it if she had. “Oh, no. I’m not letting you out of our engagement that easy. Certainly not because we’re both seeing someone else we don’t really care all that much about at the moment. That’s only until you get freed up, darlin’.”
“You’re so sweet. So what’s her name, and where did you meet her?” Not here, that’s for sure.”
I motioned for her to get closer. “There’re a lot of unusual things surrounding George’s disappearance that keep coming up. I’d love to discuss them with you, but I don’t feel comfortable doing it here, out loud and on display.”
Sabrina straightened up with a mischievous look on her face. “Well, I’ll just have to see what I can do to arrange that, mister.” The breakfast crowd applauded and hooted.
I called Adeline from the road, got her answering machine, left a message. Then I put aside my women complications so I could concentrate on the more important question: whether or not I really wanted the damned satellite dish. If in almost a month of living without TV, the only time I’d missed it was during a Sunday afternoon football game after a long, hard weekend of sex, I probably didn’t. Besides, football season was half gone. Plus I was getting more adept at negotiating the road from hell. And it’s a lot more fun to watch a game at a bar than at home alone.
Adeline called me back a half hour later, just as I decided not to call the satellite company back yet. “Sorry, I was on the treadmill, just picked up your call.” The sorry was mere Southern formula-speak. Nobody’s sorry that they weren’t sitting around waiting for your call, particularly not her. “What’s up?”
“I have big news. Sit down and take a deep breath.”
“You’ve found Daddy?”
“Not that big. He wrote you a letter, and I’m bringing it to you now.”
Long silence, then, “You have a letter? I don’t understand. Why did he mail you a letter to me?”
“Sorry, I wasn’t clear. His lawyer has been holding a letter for you.”
“That sleazy bastard. I’ve talked to him on three separate occasions, and he never mentioned anything to me about a letter.”
“It all seems pretty bizarre to me as well. Apparently the instructions from your father were only to release it if someone went there and asked him for it.”
Another long silence. “Where are you now?”
“I’ve been on the road for an hour, so I’m probably ninety minutes away. I was hoping you’d be free and we could open it.”
“Oh, you can bet I’m free. Push down hard on the gas pedal and get your butt here.”
I might have hurried a little, but I wasn’t getting a speeding ticket to expedite by ten minutes the delivery of a letter that had been sitting in a drawer for six years.
Adeline was showered and dressed and made up when I got there, but she sure as hell wasn’t composed. The hand holding the Bloody Mary trembled as she greeted me, and her face was pale beneath her perfect tan. When I handed her the letter she put her drink down, held it in both hands, and just stared at it. Sank down onto the couch, still just holding it. And holding back tears, although not totally successfully. I stood there a couple of minutes, then lightly placed my hand on her shoulder. “Ms. Foster, no matter what it says, it’ll be OK.” Non-wisdom, really, but hopefully comforting.
Adeline nodded without looking up. Then she took a deep breath and ripped open the flap.
I moved away to give her privacy. Wandered into the kitchen where Priscilla was standing at the sink, doing nothing in particular.
She turned, clutching a dish towel, concern all over her face. “She told me her daddy left her a letter and it’s been just sitting there all these years.”
“Yeah. That’s a rough thing to find out first thing in the morning.”
“She likes to act like she’s hard, but she isn’t. Her marriage tried to make her hard, but it didn’t succeed, really. But it did make her tough. Hope that’s enough.”
“Guess it all depends on what he wrote.”
About that time, Adeline called me from the other room. She wasn’t crying, just looked puzzled. She handed me the letter without speaking. It was hand written in black ink on plain bond paper in a George’s tight, neat hand.
My Dear Daughter Adeline,
If you’re reading this letter, that means I’ve disappeared and you’ve come looking for me. And if you’re looking for me, that means you’ve somehow freed yourself up from that bastard you are/were married to and are making your own decisions. Congratulations. My single biggest regret in life is that I couldn’t find the right words to keep you from making that mistake. Well, I guess when you’re a Foster, you have to make your own mistakes. Particularly when it comes to relationships. I’ve certainly made my share, sins of both commission and omission.
But amidst all of the opportunities for mistakes, know that there is true love out there. I know because I’ve found it. At 60, if you can believe it. Long after I’d given up, even quit believing in love. That’s a mistake you shouldn’t insist on making on your own, Addy. Love is very, very real.
So I am going to her. That is a very dangerous choice on my part. There’s a good chance I’ll die in the attempt, and an even better chance I’ll never see you again. That hurts, believe me. But I would be a fool indeed, given a last chance, not to make that choice.
Sorry to be so cryptic, but I can’t, or at least won’t, tell you more than that. Headstrong as you are, you’d come blundering after me, damn the consequences. Then we might both end up in hell, waist-deep in the same brimstone pool, yelling at each other for being stupid.
Don’t want that to happen. I want you to find love. Don’t give up and quit looking. And don’t wait until you’re 60 to find it.
All my love, Daddy
“It’s got something to do with that island, doesn’t it?” Adeline asked when I’d read the letter twice and looked up. “He wouldn’t use the words ‘dangerous’ and ‘die’ if he was just going to the next town over to live with Lacey, unless her husband was some sort of psycho.”
“No, I think you’re right. It has something to do with the island.”
So I spent the better part of an hour telling Adeline about my experiences visiting the island, leaving out only those parts that common decency demanded. I tried to give her an understanding of the power of the place, although I’m not sure my words were really adequate. It probably would have made more sense if I hadn’t left out the sexual escapades with Chai Fox.
“But when all’s said and done, we still don’t really know anything. Despite everything, all we have is a slightly more educated conjecture than we had before.”
“So how do we find out more?”
“I haven’t actually visited the island at night, and I still intend to do that. Maybe even spend the night. And go through your father’s computer. Those are the two tasks still left on my list. Oh, and I still hope to get a response to the letter I wrote to Lacey. But to be perfectly honest, I don’t expect any of those to really yield any more answers.”
“Well, we can’t just leave it here.”
“No. I’m with you on that.”
“You have an idea.” Adeline picked up her glass and drained the last of her Bloody Mary. “And your expression says I’m going to be dubious. Well, in that case, no reason to hear it totally sober. Let’s get you one and me another of these.”
So we did, taking them out to the porch where we’d had lunch that first day.
“You remember how last time I was here, I told you about what Chai Fox the witch speculated about how the boundaries between worlds were weaker on Samhain? You asked me if I believed that, and I said no.” I took a healthy slug of my drink, although I’ve never been a real fan of tomato juice.
“But here’s the thing: what if it’s true? We don’t have a better rational explanation. So suppose we work on the assumption that the explanation isn’t rational?”
“If that’s the case, what do you propose?”
So we drank–modestly in my case, since I had to drive–and plotted a strategy. In the end she extended my contract until May 15th, since if any of this wild speculation turned out to be true, Beltane was the most likely day to find out for sure. Recognizing that except for the high feast day of Imbolc and a couple of sun days–a solstice and an equinox–there would be a lot of me doing nothing to earn my pay. But I couldn’t afford not to make a living between now and then, and she didn’t really care about the money. So it was an easy negotiation.
I didn’t offer to cut my rate; I certainly didn’t tell her that I wasn’t leaving no matter what. And I wasn’t sure how I was going to pass the days productively in the meantime. But the truth was, unless she tossed me out of the cottage, I wasn’t going anywhere.