“Oh, honey. Relax.” Her mom foisted a cup of tea on her. “Drink this.”
“Dad’s gonna flip out.” As she took the mug, Sorrow cast another look out the window. “That couple couldn’t get out of here fast enough. We could’ve used that money. And that mess…”
Her mom pointed to the table. “Sit yourself down for a second. The trash will wait. And your father will survive.”
She thought about what Billy had said about Dad. Her father was from a very different generation, one that didn’t have therapy or talk through their problems. No Chicken Soup for the Soul for men like Bear Bailey. There were a bunch of ways he could be more vital around the lodge—he just wasn’t seeing them.
“You know,” she said, sitting with her mom at the table, “Dad can’t stand up for very long, but I bet if I dug out his old fishing stool and set him up with his tools, he could fix the bear box.”
Her mom beamed. “That’s a lovely idea. What a wonderful thing for you to think of.”
Wow. Gauging from her mother’s immediate and grateful reaction, Billy really had been on to something. “Yeah, no problem. I can think of other things, too.” Her mind was already spinning with possibilities. “For sure.”
“Sometimes,” Mom began slowly, “I think your father has given up a little. Be patient with him. His bark is worse than his bite.”
“I’ll set him up just as soon as I clean up that mess. Ugh.” She shuddered, just thinking about it. There were chicken carcasses, assorted bones, half-eaten bags of chips—it was a disaster. “Did you see it out there? Do we really have that many leftovers at the tavern? What a waste. I need to talk to Sully about that.”
Mom stirred honey into her tea. “Where’s your sister? Maybe she can help clean up.”
“Laura? It’s an emergency, Mom. Duh. For emergencies, Laura is nowhere in sight.”
Mom reached across and put a gentle hand on hers. “Breathe, Sorrow. We’re all in this together.”
She blew on her tea, thinking how Billy had said some variation of the same thing. Maybe it was time for her to unclench, ask for help. “Okay, Mom. You’re right again. I’ll wait till Laura gets back to start the cleanup.”
But a couple of hours passed, and when Sorrow felt like she could no longer wait, she called her sister’s cell. “Where are you?”
“Running errands,” Laura said, and then Sorrow heard her whisper “Thank you” to somebody.
“Where are you? I just needed you to pick up milk and some toilet paper. How long does that take?”
Sorrow froze in place. “For groceries? That’s my car you took. If I’d known you were going to empty the tank I wouldn’t have let you borrow it.”
“My trunk’s not big enough. I needed some other stuff, too.”
“Looks like I’m going to be staying in Sierra Falls for a while,” Laura said, “but I totally don’t have the clothes for it.”
Sorrow thought her head might explode. “You went clothes shopping?”
“Yeah. Jeez, Sorrow. Chill out. You have things like hiking boots, why can’t I?”
“Let me guess. You’ve decided to stay…because you saw an opportunity to accessorize?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Laura’s tone frosted over.
“It means you talk big about wanting to help around here, but I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“That is so unfair,” Laura snapped. “I’ve come up with a million ideas, and you’ve shot down each one without even listening.”
Sorrow didn’t give her time to elaborate. She’d been harboring these feelings for years, and they burst to the surface, her voice coming louder, faster. “You took off for the city the moment you graduated, but it looks like you failed there, or at least I’m guessing you did because you’re sure not talking, and by the way, saying you’re taking a sabbatical, whatever the heck that is, tells me nothing, though apparently it involves you meandering home for a while where you can buy a new pair of hiking boots. You came home so that, what? So we can take care of you? You can’t just drop in like nothing’s happened, like it was no big deal that you disappeared for years. Like you’re still the big sister in charge. It takes more than dressing like you live here to make you an active, contributing member of this household.”
“I am totally an active member,” Laura shouted, finally managing to cut in. “I’m practically pulling this festival together solo. But do I ever bug you about it? No. Did I have you help me do online publicity, or ask for money for the ads I placed in Bay Area newspapers? No. Did I—?”
Sorrow interrupted, her tone icy and measured, “I didn’t ask you to do any of that stuff. All kinds of weird stuff is happening, the lodge is falling apart around us, and frankly, it shocks me that you haven’t even noticed. So yeah, stupid Buck Larsen is the last thing on my mind at the moment.”
“Ha!” Laura barked a sarcastic laugh. “Don’t get all holier than thou on me. Our lodge is also the last thing on your mind.”
“Meaning?” Sorrow grit her teeth, bracing for it.
“Meaning, you spend more time with that sheriff than you do in your own house.”
Sorrow wanted to scream. “Are you so bored with your own life you came home to meddle in mine? Why are you even here?”
“Oh, yeah, right.” Sorrow rolled her eyes. “Because you’re sooo committed to Mom and Dad. How do you expect me to believe you’re here to stay when, way back, you fled town as fast as you could?”
“You want to be honest?” Laura asked in a flat voice.
“I lost my job, Sorrow. My boyfriend broke up with me. And I feel like a failure. I wake up every morning, and my life is empty. I’ve dated all the wrong guys, chased all the wrong things. I’ve got my stupid condo, and my stupid car, but there’s nobody around who cares about me.”
She had a moment of feeling stunned. But then she chalked it up to Laura just being dramatic. Again. Things were never that bad with her. Boyfriend—she’d probably only gone on two dates with the guy. Her sister was an expert with men, just like she was an expert with everything.
“Cry me a river, Laura. I am so sorry that driving your Beemer around San Francisco is giving you a crisis of the soul.”
“I came home to get back to my roots, if you want to know. I need to figure my life out, and I need to be home to do it.”
“I’ve heard your dramas before, Laura. But I’ve got my own dramas to worry about.” She looked out the window and felt a pang of guilt. Had she been spending too much time with Billy? Was it so obvious she’d been paying less attention to business since he’d come into her life? “Look. I’ve got to go. Don’t bring my car back with an empty tank.” She hung up.
The new leaf Sorrow had meant to turn was turned back again. She angrily snapped on a pair of rubber gloves, grabbed a box of heavy-duty trash bags, and got to work.
Some time later, the door slammed, and Mom came out. “I thought you were waiting for Laura.”
“Nope, dealing with it myself.” Under her breath, she added, “Again.”
Her mother wrapped her cardigan tight around her chest to ward off the cold. “Where is she?”
“I let her take my car to run a couple of errands.” Sorrow used her forearm to wipe the hair from her brow. “But apparently she decided to disappear instead.”
Would that she could disappear for a while. Would that she could go shopping—she’d get herself some sexy new lingerie. She’d shower off the stink of tavern scraps, put on bits of lacy silk under her jeans and sweater, and go to Billy’s.
It had become her haven. He had become her haven.
She’d been going to his place a lot. She’d worried it was too much too soon, but he insisted he wanted her there as much as she wanted to be there. She worried they might get sick of each other, but instead of the magic wearing off, it intensified every time they were together. He came to the tavern almost every day for lunch, and every time she saw him, her heart skipped a beat. She was a goner…head over heels for the guy. And better yet, she had the impression he felt the same.
“Can Billy help?” her mom asked hopefully. Sorrow had been gazing into the distance, and the woman had clearly guessed what her daughter was thinking about.
“Nah,” she said, even though she knew she could. Billy would make time for her. But as much as she wanted to hear his voice, she made a point of not bugging him during his working hours.
They heard the phone ring, and her mom ran inside. A minute later, she was peeking out the door, her hand on the receiver. “It’s Eddie Jessup,” she said, sounding perplexed. “He says it’s urgent.”
“That’s weird. Urgent?” Cold panic prickled up her arms—Eddie never called the house phone. Whenever she had construction issues, she contacted him or his brother Jack on her cell. She jogged inside, pulling off her gloves.
Her mother barely waited for her to hang up before she asked, “What is it?”
She met Mom’s eyes. “There’s been an accident.”
Billy held Sorrow in the antiseptic waiting room. She leaned against his chest, and he willed strength into her. She’d need it.
“Thanks for coming to get me,” she said.
He’d come over right away, speeding Sorrow to Silver City Memorial Hospital, with her parents following in Bear’s truck.