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Now or Never
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around January 15, 2019. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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My youngest sister is giggling and it makes me smile through the pain. “I wish someone had recorded it,” Dixie says. “I would’ve seriously paid money to have been able to see you knock him out.”
“Me too,” I reply and grin sheepishly. “I was blind with rage, so it’s a blur.”
I’m not a violent person. I’ve never punched anyone in my life, nor did I think that I would ever punch someone, let alone do it here. After all, this was my happy place—our family cottage in Maine. I cherish our summers here and nothing really ever stresses or angers me when we’re in this town. But tonight, Holden Hendricks’s mean-spirited teasing and aggressive behavior just made me snap.
Sadie, my other sister, comes rushing in from the kitchen carrying a tea towel filled with ice. “Can you move your fingers?”
“Sort of,” I say as I look down at my red, angry, swelling knuckles. I try to stretch my fingers and then make a fist, but I wince.
“Nothing’s broken,” she whispers as she places the ice on my knuckles. “I don’t think you would be able to move them at all if they were broken.”
“I can’t believe you punched Holden Hendricks,” Dixie says in awe and I immediately shush her. We’re only a few feet from our parents’ bedroom and I’m sure I can hear my dad snoring peacefully through the partially closed door, but that doesn’t mean Mom isn’t awake, listening with her hawk-like hearing.
Sadie plops down on the floor in front of us, her blue eyes twinkling with humor, her wide mouth parted in a smile. “You should have seen it, Dix. He was being such a dick and then boom!”
“Tell me everything!” Dixie begs.
“He found out Cat’s parents were in Boston this weekend and convinced her to have a get-together,” I tell Dixie, who hadn’t come out with us tonight. She’s only thirteen and has an earlier curfew than Sadie and me. “Cat only agreed because she thought it would just be a handful of us. But then all these people she never met started showing up saying Holden had invited them, and the place was packed, upstairs and downstairs and Cat was freaking out. Her neighbor threatened to call the cops from the noise.”
Dixie is glued to every word, like it’s the best story she’s ever heard. She tucks her wheat-blond hair behind her ears, leans forward and rubs her hands together. “Get to the punching.”
Sadie and I both laugh and Sadie picks up the story. “Winnie was helping Cat, trying to get everyone to leave, and that pissed off Hendricks so he told Winnie she was a useless, ugly loser.”
“He called me Cat’s dumb, fugly sidekick,” I correct Sadie.
Dixie’s blue eyes get fiery. “And then you punched him?”
“No, then Jude got in his face and told him he needed to chill out and fuck off,” Sadie says, and Dixie’s eyes get even wider somehow. “And then Holden asked Jude if he wanted to go.”
“Holden was going to fight our brother?” Dixie gasps and I nod.
“Yeah. Totally nuts. Jude is like the one decent person in town who doesn’t hate Holden,” I say and frown. “Anyway, Jude wasn’t gonna fight him, but that seemed to make Holden even angrier and then he grabbed Jude by the shirt and—”
“And Winnie clocked him!” Sadie says gleefully and I can’t help but smile again. “He went down like a sack of potatoes and there was blood. I think she broke his nose.”
My heart stops for a second and I feel genuine remorse. When I first met Holden last summer, I thought he was cute. He played on Jude’s summer league hockey team but unlike us, he was a local who lived here year round. He was almost a year younger than Jude but taller and broader. He was quiet, but polite when Jude invited him over for dinner one night. Then they decided to go to the movies with a bunch of other local friends, and Sadie and I tagged along. He became a different person without my parents around. He was loud and obnoxious and teased everyone in a mean, hard way, not a lighthearted one. Then the next time I ended up hanging out with him and a bunch of other people, he started a fistfight with someone. That’s when I decided to avoid him, but in a tiny town like this, it proved impossible. And for some reason, Jude actually liked hanging out with him. Even though I punched him, and he really did deserve it, I hope I didn’t break his nose.
“Don’t! Stop looking all repentant and crap,” Sadie says, and I swear sometimes she’s eighteen years older than me, not eighteen months younger. She acts the most mature out of all four of us siblings and she’s definitely the most sensible. She looks at Dixie. “Holden deserved it. He’s deserved it all summer long. Her fist was simply karma’s delivery vehicle.”
I can’t help but smile. I like the idea of being karma’s instrument. Sadie leans forward, lifts the ice and looks at my hand again. “We need to figure out what we’re going to tell Mom and Dad because it’s still going to be swollen in the morning.”
“Dad won’t buy it.” Sadie shakes her head, long sleek blond hair tumbling around her shoulders. I self-consciously lift my hand to my own hair. The humidity this summer in Maine has been off the charts and so the waves that started in my dirty blond hair when I hit puberty have turned to a frizz I’ve yet to find a way to tame.
“How about you dropped something on it?” Dixie says.
Suddenly the front door slams and we all jump like terrified mice. Jude storms into the living room. His face is flushed and his eyes electric with anger. We have a sibling pact to be as quiet as possible when coming home so we don’t wake up our parents. We also have a pact to keep each other’s secrets and screwups from our parents at all costs, but clearly our pacts don’t apply tonight—not for Jude. Sadie and Dixie scramble to their feet. I stay frozen in place. “You are a fucking jerk, you know that?” he yells at me.
“Fuck you!” I yell back.
“Shut up!” Sadie scream-whispers, which at this point is useless. There is no way our parents aren’t awake by now.
“You broke his nose! And it took like an hour to stop bleeding,” Jude says, fury making his voice vibrate.
“He insulted me, and he was trying to fight you!”
“Yeah, he tries to fight everyone at some point,” Jude says with annoyance. “I was handling it.”
“He was getting angrier and he cocked his fist and grabbed you!” I argue back.
“I get into fights all the time in hockey. I don’t need you to defend me,” Jude says and runs a hand through his hair in frustration. I notice the red streaks on it. Holden’s blood. “Plus, he’s my friend.”
“Boys are so fucking dumb,” Sadie mutters and rolls her eyes.
And then it happens.
“What the hell is going on here?” Dad’s voice fills the pine-paneled room. We all jump and turn to look at him. None of us answers his question because we know he heard everything.
He turns to Jude. “Go to bed.”
“But it’s not even past my curfew yet.”
“Tonight it is,” Dad replies sharply. “Bed.”
Jude glares at me one final time, then storms through the house and stomps up the stairs. Now Dad’s focus is on his daughters. Me, specifically. “Is Jude right? Did you punch Holden?”
He looks more baffled than angry. I don’t know if that’s a good sign. It’s not the reaction I anticipated. He turns to Dixie. “Go to bed, little D.”
She scurries off. He turns his blue eyes on Sadie. “Did you see this happen?”
“Yes,” Sadie replies. “And Holden definitely deserved it.”
Dad raises a salt-and-pepper eyebrow. He sighs and runs his hand through his hair exactly like Jude did moments ago. I’m not sure who picked up the habit from whom. “Go to bed, Sadie.”
“Dad, honestly, she wasn’t the instigator. And Holden has said really mean stuff to her all summer long.” Sadie should be a lawyer when she gets older. She loves to argue her points.
“Sadie, if I have to tell you again…”
“Night,” she grumbles and disappears around the corner.
He walks over to me and squats down in front of me like Sadie had done earlier. He lifts the ice. The tea towel is soaking now and drips onto his black-and-gray-striped pajama bottoms just above his bent knee. “Follow me. I need to get a better look.”
I listen to him and quietly go into the bathroom behind him. He flicks on the bright fluorescent light above and blinks as his eyes adjust. He gently takes my hand and examines it. I try to hold in my winces as he pokes and prods. Finally, he looks me in the eyes. “It’s not broken. You’ll have to ice it a lot for the next few days, but that’s fine because you’ll have nothing else to do since you’re grounded.”
I just nod. He leans against the sink and crosses his arms in front of his wide chest. “You and Sadie left here, laughing and smiling. You were going to Cat’s for a girls’ night. How did that end in you punching that Hendricks kid?”
“A bunch of people showed up at Cat’s, and it turned into a kind of party,” I explain. His expression says he’s not buying it. I keep talking, explaining the whole thing with a little less detail than we gave Dixie. When I’m done, Dad sighs again.
“Winona Skye, I am disappointed in you,” he says softly, and that makes my heart hurt me more than my knuckles do. “Violence is never acceptable. Unless you are in danger of being assaulted, then kick him in the nuts or whatever else you have to do.”
I try not to smile at that, but he’s been telling us girls that advice for a few years now and it’s so awkward it makes me want to laugh. He clearly isn’t in the mood for giggles. “But you never need to get violent to defend your brother. He’s perfectly capable of defending himself. I know you know that.”
“Dad, Holden Hendricks has been bullying me all summer long,” I say. “He says the worst things to me. He picks on the way I look. He’s just a completely horrible person and I guess I just finally snapped.”
He seems to think that over for a minute. He frowns and then the gleam in his eye turns sympathetic. “Winnie, your own insecurities are why you let him get to you,” he says and gives me a smile, but I’m instantly upset by his words. The fact that I’m not as confident as my siblings already feels like a fault and when he mentions it, I feel worse about it than normal. “You’re a beautiful, bright, good kid. You don’t give yourself enough credit. You let his words mean something. And you’re also empathetic and kind, and you let him take that from you tonight.”
“I’m sorry,” I say and I’m suddenly on the verge of tears. I hate letting him down. He pulls me into a hug.
“To be honest, I might have done the same thing when I was your age if someone was picking on me that much,” he says softly and he squeezes me. “But the thing is, which I only know now because I’m older, kids your age are usually mean or aggressive for a reason. It’s rarely because they want to be that way. It’s usually a reaction, a defense mechanism or coping skill, for something they can’t handle themselves.”
He lets me go. “Head to bed. I’m going to refill the ice tray so you’ll have some in the morning. You’ll need it.”
“Thanks, Dad. Love you.”
As I start up the stairs I hear him chuckle. “Love you too, slugger.”
Someone is awake and walking around the cottage, but I don’t bother to find out who. I just stay in my dad’s rocking chair, holding my now cold cup of coffee, staring out at nothing. There’s nothing about the screened-in porch that protects me from the chilly predawn Maine air but despite that I’m in only a T-shirt and thin pajama pants. The numbness the cold is creating in my limbs matches the numbness I’ve been feeling inside for the last five days. Since my father died.
“You can’t sleep either, huh?” Sadie says as she steps into the doorway from the living room and immediately wraps her arms around herself. “Holy crap, it’s freezing. You must be a Popsicle.”
She disappears momentarily and comes back with two hand-knitted throw blankets from the living room. She hands one to me, but I don’t move to take it so she kind of tosses it in the air and it lands across my lap. She sits down in the rocking chair next to mine and wraps herself in the other blanket. We don’t speak for a few moments. We both just rock. I stare out through the screen at the empty street in front of the house and she stares at me.
“You can talk to me, you know?” Sadie finally says, her voice low but a little shaky. Sadie has been the strongest of all of us since our dad was diagnosed with ALS a little over four years ago. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that she’s a nurse. She deals with illness and death just about every day so she is able to compartmentalize her emotions. I’m twenty-nine, a year and a half older than her, and I’ve never learned to do that.
“Talking isn’t going to help,” I say in a scarily steady voice. “Nothing will help. It’s over. He’s gone.”
She doesn’t respond right away. Her features are ravaged with pain, but she swallows it down and pulls her left hand out of her blanket cocoon just long enough to wipe a tear as it starts to fall. Sadie sniffs and takes a deep, slow breath. Then she nods. “This is why we should talk about it. Remember all the wonderful times we had with him.”
“I remember them,” I assure her and take a sip of my cold coffee. The funeral yesterday was filled with good times. Fourteen people spoke, sharing funny and poignant memories of my dad. There were photos of all the great times—from his wedding to Mom to each of our births to his grandchild’s birth to our final Christmas together—on display around the urn. I have no trouble remembering all the wonderful moments with my father, but they aren’t bringing me the peace everyone seems to think they should.
“I still feel empty. Alone. Broken,” I confess to my sister and lift a hand, showing her my palm, before she can say anything. “And please don’t tell me that I’m not alone. I know that I’m not, technically, but that doesn’t change how I feel.”
She sighs softly and nods. Now it’s her turn to stare out into nothing, but she doesn’t do it as long as I do. I would do it forever if I could. Sadie stands, pulling the blanket tighter around her. “I’m going to watch the sunrise on the beach. You should come.”
I shake my head, no. I think she’s going to argue with me, but then the floorboards in the living room creak loudly and I see her boyfriend, Griffin, appear in the doorway. He’s bleary-eyed, dressed in only sweats and a T-shirt. Griffin is a coach for the San Francisco Thunder, the professional hockey team my brother plays for. He and Sadie have been dating only a year, but their bond is strong and she has never been happier.
“Hey,” he says to both of us and then steps onto the porch. He reaches out to tenderly run a hand over the back of Sadie’s head. “Couldn’t sleep?”
“I’m going to the beach to watch the sunrise.”
“I’ll come too,” Griffin replies simply. “Let me grab a jacket or something.”
I hold out the blanket Sadie gave me for him to take. He hesitates, but accepts it. Sadie unlocks the porch door and starts down the stairs. Griffin hesitates again, his dark brown eyes on me. I give him a weak smile, which I can tell by the expression on his face he isn’t buying it as a reassurance that I’m fine, but Griffin is a smart guy and he knows there’s no way I can be okay right now, so he doesn’t push me. He returns my smile and follows Sadie out the door.
The cottage is filled to the brim with family. On top of Sadie and Griffin we have my youngest sister, Dixie, and her fiancé, Eli; my brother, Jude, and his wife, Zoey, and their son, Declan; and my mom stuffed into this five-bedroom cottage. Oh and my boyfriend, Ty. So I know it won’t be long before someone else is up and in my face. I love my family more than anything. I’ve willingly sacrificed a lot to be with them during the hard times, and I regret none of it. But…right now, for some reason I can’t understand, I don’t want to be anywhere near them. Or anyone. I feel a flicker of guilt at that thought, but I also know I can’t control my feelings.
I stand up and put my coffee mug on the side table before heading inside. I can hear my mother in her room, which is the only bedroom on the main floor. She’ll be out soon. I grab my purse off the kitchen table where I left it yesterday afternoon and walk back to the porch where I slip into some flip-flops that might be Dixie’s and head out the door.
I wander around the small town, still quiet because basically no one else is awake, for over an hour, avoiding the beach and sticking to the streets so I don’t run into Sadie and Griffin. My dad loved the beach, but he also loved other parts of Ocean Pines. The shuffleboard court where we used to have annual family tournaments. The ice cream parlor where we’d often get dessert. He’d always order mint chocolate chip on a sugar cone with rainbow sprinkles, or jimmies as they call them in New England. He used to play hide-and-seek in the small but thick pine forest at the edge of town when he was a kid. This whole town—every inch of it—makes me feel close to him, like he’s still here. That makes me feel better and worse because he’s not. He’s gone forever.
When I walk by the tiny grocery store, Cat Cannon, the owner and a childhood friend is flipping the sign from closed to open. She gives me a small wave, opening the door. “First batch of cinnamon buns are just being pulled from the oven.”
“I’m not hungry, but thanks anyway, Cat.”
She gives me a sympathetic, knowing smile and smooths her hands on her apron. “I know you’re not. But fact is you have to eat something. Might as well be these works of art.”
She opens the door wider and the sugary scent of the cinnamon buns her family is renowned for wafts out toward me. My brain may not want to eat, but my neglected stomach is controlling my feet. I start to walk toward her. Cat smiles as I walk into the store, which is about the size of a double-car garage. There are three rows of canned and boxed goods, a commercial refrigerator with cold essentials, and a deli and baked-goods counter where the best cinnamon buns in the state can be found, usually only briefly as they sell out as quick as they can be baked every morning.
Cat passes me and makes her way behind the counter. I’ve known her since I was six. We spent every summer hanging out at the beach or running around town. I even worked at this store with her, making subs and lobster rolls and ringing in orders for a few years. We both went off to college, but Cat gladly took over the store for her parents after she graduated. I swear she only did it so her mother would finally give her the coveted cinnamon bun recipe.
She pulls one warm bun from the tray as I step up to the counter. “Do you want one for Ty too?”
I shake my head before she’s finished the sentence, which makes her expression dim. “Actually, give me six. If I bring one for Ty but not Jude or Dixie or everyone else, they’ll disown me.”
Cat smiles and reaches for a box under the counter. She opens it and starts placing the buns inside. “Are you heading back to San Francisco soon? The whole town is basically packing up right now, as usual, so I thought you would be too.”
“I’m heading back to Toronto actually.”
“Why?” she asks with a curious expression across her freckled face.
“Because I live there,” I reply, confused by her confusion. “I was only in San Fran to be with my dad. Now…I’m going back to my life.”
It doesn’t feel right when I say that and Cat must agree with me since she just looks more confused. She places the last bun in the box. “Oh. Is Sadie heading back to Canada too?”
I shake my head and watch as she closes the box and begins to tie it closed with string. “No. She’s staying in San Francisco. She’s going to live with my mom for a little while longer while Mom adjusts to…the change. And then I’m betting she’ll move in with her boyfriend. I’ll be flying solo in Canada.”
Cat hands me the box and I take it with one hand and start digging cash out of my purse with the other. She moves over to the register and freezes for a second. “Wait. What about your boyfriend? He still lives there, right?”
“Yeah. Right,” I reply and nod, letting out a weird sort of laugh, like even I think I’m silly for forgetting my longtime boyfriend. “I meant solo as in no family.”
“You guys have been together for what? Like seven or eight years, haven’t you?”
“Ten going on eleven,” I reply.
“He’s basically family then,” Cat surmises and I nod in agreement because that’s how it should feel.
I place the box on the counter and head over to the coffee stand and pour myself a large cup using an ample amount of their complimentary hazelnut-flavored creamer. When I get back to the register, the amount she’s rung up is far less than it should be.
“Locals’ discount,” Cat tells me with a smile. She’s wearing her trademark red lipstick, which looks stunning against her pale skin and nearly white-blond hair.
“I’m not a local,” I remind her. “I’m one of the dreaded summer people.”
Cat laughs. “You feel like a local to me. Your whole family does. You guys love this place as much as we do. I always thought that your mom and dad would retire here one day…I mean before.”
She looks awkward suddenly, like she thinks she said something wrong, but she didn’t. I reach across the counter and give her hand a squeeze. “I’m glad that his love of this town was so evident. Dad did want to retire here. I want to too one day.”
She smiles. “You should just move here now. Don’t wait for retirement. It’s quiet in the winter. Actually, it’s kind of a ghost town, but I’m here and we could get into all kinds of fun. Like when we were kids.”
“Oh, if only I could,” I say softly, handing her the paltry four dollars she will allow me to pay for the buns and coffee. I really am not looking forward to going back to Toronto. But the idea of going back to San Francisco is even less appealing. Dad got sick in Toronto and he died in San Francisco. Staying here…that actually sounds like something I would enjoy as much as I can enjoy anything, which is barely at all.
“You leave today?” Cat asks, and I nod so she walks around the counter and gives me a hug. “Safe travels.”
“Thanks.” I hug her back before picking up my coffee and buns and leaving. The sun is up and there’s a soft, salty ocean breeze. I inhale deeply. It’s the only thing left that still gives me the slightest sense of peace.
I get back to the house in less than two minutes and can tell, as I climb the stairs, everyone is awake now. I can hear them all talking and walking around. I step onto the porch and see Ty first.
“Hey, babe. Where did you go?” he asks.
“Buns.” He smiles, and I hand him the box, which he carries through the house to the dining room in the back.
I follow. Dixie and Eli are drinking coffee at the dining room table. My mom is in the kitchen in her bathrobe, but comes wandering in as Ty puts the buns down on the table. She smiles at me. It’s tired. “Oh Winnie, how sweet of you. Let me get the plates.”
“It’s okay, Enid,” Zoey says from her position on the floor in the sunroom playing with Declan. “I’ll get them. You just sit.”
“Who needs plates anyway?” Jude asks and gets up from the couch in the sunroom, walks to the table and immediately confiscates a bun.
Moments later we’re all gathered around the table, eating buns and talking. So much talking. The problem is that they’re talking to try and feel normal again. To force everyone forward. Past this. Past him.
“So have you set a date yet?” my mom asks Dixie and Eli.
Dixie nods. “We decided a few weeks ago that we’d get married next year. July first.”
“Canada Day?” Sadie says with a smile. “Good choice. And it gives you almost a year to plan.”
- On Sale
- Jan 15, 2019
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Forever Yours