LUCY BAGSHAW’S HALF SISTER, Juliet, had warned her about the weather. “When the sun is shining, it’s lovely, but otherwise it’s wet, windy, and cold,” she’d stated in her stern, matter-of-fact way. “Be warned.”
Lucy had shrugged off the warning because she’d rather live anywhere, even the Antarctic, than stay in Boston for another second. In any case she’d thought she was used to all three. She’d lived in England for the first six years of her life, and it wasn’t as if Boston were the south of France. Except in comparison with the Lake District, it seemed it was.
Rain was atmospheric, she told herself as she hunched over the steering wheel, her eyes narrowed against the driving downpour. How many people listed walks in the rain as one of the most romantic things to do?
Although perhaps not when it was as torrential as this.
Letting out a gusty sigh, Lucy rolled her shoulders in an attempt to ease the tension that had lodged there since she’d turned off the M6. Or really since three weeks ago, when her life had fallen apart in the space of a single day—give or take a few years, perhaps.
This was her new start, or, rather, her temporary reprieve. She was staying in England’s Lake District, in the county of Cumbria, for only four months, long enough to get her act together and figure what she wanted to do next. She hoped. And, of course, Nancy Crawford was going to want her job as school receptionist back in January, when her maternity leave ended.
But four months was a long time. Long enough, surely, to heal, to become strong, even to forget.
Well, maybe not long enough for that. She didn’t think she’d ever forget the blazing headline in the Boston Globe’s editorial section: Why I Will Not Give My Daughter a Free Ride.
She closed her eyes—briefly, because the road was twisty—and forced the memory away. She wasn’t going to think about the editorial piece that had gone viral, or her boss’s apologetic dismissal, or Thomas’s shrugging acceptance of the end of a nearly three-year relationship. She certainly wasn’t going to think about her mother. She was going to think about good things, about her new, if temporary, life here in the beautiful, if wet, Lake District. Four months to both hide and heal, to recover and be restored before returning to her real life—whatever was left, anyway—stronger than ever before.
Lucy drove in silence for half an hour, all her concentration taken up with navigating the A-road that led from Penrith to her destination, Hartley-by-the-Sea, population fifteen hundred. Hedgerows lined either side of the road and the dramatic fells in the distance were barely visible through the fog.
She peered through the window trying to get a better look at the supposedly spectacular scenery, only to brake hard as she came up behind a tractor trundling down the road at the breakneck speed of five miles per hour. Pulling behind her from a side lane was a truck with a trailer holding about a dozen morose and very wet-looking sheep.
She stared in the rearview mirror at the wet sheep, who gazed miserably back, and had a sudden memory of her mother’s piercing voice.
Are you a sheep, Lucinda, or a person who can think and act for herself?
Looking at those miserable creatures now, she decided she was definitely not one of them. She would not be one of them, not here, in this new place, where no one knew her, maybe not even her half sister.
It took another hour of driving through steady rain, behind the trundling tractor the entire way, before she finally arrived at Hartley-by-the-Sea. The turning off the A-road was alarmingly narrow and steep, and the ache between Lucy’s shoulders had become a pulsing pain. But at last she was here. There always was a bright side, or at least a glimmer of one. She had to believe that, had clung to it for her whole life and especially for the last few weeks, when the things she’d thought were solid had fallen away beneath like her so much sinking sand.
The narrow road twisted sharply several times, and then as she came around the final turn, the sun peeked out from behind shreds of cloud and illuminated the village in the valley below.
A huddle of quaint stone houses and terraced cottages clustered along the shore, the sea a streak of gray-blue that met up with the horizon. A stream snaked through the village before meandering into the fields on the far side; dotted with cows and looking, in the moment’s sunshine, perfectly pastoral, the landscape was like a painting by Constable come to life.
For a few seconds Lucy considered how she’d paint such a scene; she’d use diluted watercolors, so the colors blurred into one another as they seemed to do in the valley below, all washed with the golden gray light that filtered from behind the clouds.
She envisioned herself walking in those fields, with a dog, a black Lab perhaps, frisking at her heels. Never mind that she didn’t have a dog and didn’t actually like them all that much. It was all part of the picture, along with buying a newspaper at the local shop—there had to be a lovely little shop down there, with a cozy, grandmotherly type at the counter who would slip her chocolate buttons along with her paper.
A splatter of rain against her windshield startled her from the moment’s reverie. Yet another tractor was coming up behind her, at quite a clip. With a wave of apology for the stony-faced farmer who was driving the thing, she resumed the steep, sharply twisting descent into the village.
She slowed the car to a crawl as she came to the high street, houses lining the narrow road on either side, charming terraced cottages with brightly painted doors and pots of flowers, and, all right, yes, a few more weathered-looking buildings with peeling paint and the odd broken window. Lucy was determined to fall in love with it, to find everything perfect.
Juliet ran a guesthouse in one of the village’s old farmhouses: Tarn House, she’d said, no other address. Lucy hadn’t been to Juliet’s house before, hadn’t actually seen her sister in more than five years. And didn’t really know her all that well.
Juliet was thirty-seven to her twenty-six, and when Lucy was six years old, their mother, Fiona, had gotten a job as an art lecturer at a university in Boston. She’d taken Lucy with her, but Juliet had chosen to stay in England and finish her A levels while boarding with a school friend. She’d gone on to university in England. She’d visited Boston only once and over the years Lucy had always felt a little intimidated by her half sister, so cool and capable and remote.
Yet it had been Juliet she’d called when everything had exploded around her, and Juliet who had said briskly, when Lucy had burst into tears on the phone, that she should come and stay with her for a while.
“You could get a job, make yourself useful,” she’d continued in that same no-nonsense tone that made Lucy feel like a scolded six-year-old. “The local primary needs maternity cover for a receptionist position, and I know the head teacher. I’ll arrange it.”
And Lucy, overwhelmed and grateful that someone could see a way out of the mess, had let her. She’d had a telephone interview with the head teacher, who was, she realized, the principal, the next day, a man who had sounded as stern as Juliet and had finished the conversation with a sigh, saying, “It’s only four months, after all,” so Lucy felt as if he was hiring her only as a favor to her sister.
And now she couldn’t find Tarn House.
She drove the mile and a half down the main street and back again, doing what felt like a seventeen-point turn in the narrow street, sweat prickling between her shoulder blades while three cars, a truck, and two tractors, all driven by grim-faced men with their arms folded, waited for her to manage to turn the car around. She’d never actually driven in England before, and she hit the curb twice before she managed to get going the right way.
She passed a post office shop looking almost as quaint as she’d imagined (peeling paint and lottery advertisements aside), a pub, a church, a sign for the primary school where she’d be working (but no actual school as far as she could see), and no Tarn House.
Finally she parked the car by the train station, admiring the old-fashioned sign above the Victorian station building, which was, on second look, now a restaurant. The driving rain had downgraded into one of those misting drizzles that didn’t seem all that bad when you were looking out at it from the cozy warmth of your kitchen but soaked you utterly after about five seconds.
Hunching her shoulders against the bitter wind—this was August—she searched for someone to ask directions.
The only person in sight was a farmer with a flat cap jammed down on his head, wearing extremely mud-splattered plus fours. Lucy approached him with her most engaging smile.
“Pardon me—are you from around here?”
He squinted at her suspiciously. “Eh?”
She had just asked, she realized, an absolutely idiotic question. “I only wanted to ask,” she tried again, “do you know where Tarn House is?”
“Tarn House?” he repeated, his tone implying that he’d never heard of the place.
“Yes, it’s a bed-and-breakfast here in the village—”
“Eh?” He scratched his head, his bushy eyebrows drawn together rather fiercely. Then he dropped his hand and jerked a thumb towards the road that led steeply up towards the shop and one pub. “Tarn House’s up there, isn’t it, now, across from the Hangman’s Noose.”
“The Hangman’s—” Ah. The pub. Lucy nodded. “Thank you.”
“The white house with black shutters.”
“Thanks so much, I really appreciate it.” And why, Lucy wondered as she turned up the street, had he acted so incredulous when she’d asked him where it was? Was that a Cumbrian thing, or was her American accent stronger than she’d thought?
Tarn House was a neat two-story cottage of whitewashed stone with the promised black shutters, and pots of chrysanthemums on either side of the shiny black door. A discreet hand-painted sign that Lucy hadn’t glimpsed from the road informed her that this was indeed her destination.
She hesitated on the slate step, her hand hovering above the brass knocker, as the rain continued steadily down. She felt keenly then how little she actually knew her sister. Half sister, if she wanted to be accurate; neither of them had known their different fathers. Not that Lucy could really call a sperm donor a dad. And their mother had never spoken about Juliet’s father, whoever he was, at least not to Lucy.
Her hand was still hovering over the brass knocker when the door suddenly opened and Juliet stood there, her sandy hair pulled back into a neat ponytail, her gray eyes narrowed, her hands planted on her hips, as she looked Lucy up and down, her mouth tightening the same way her mother’s did when she looked at her.
Two sleek greyhounds flanked Juliet, cowering slightly as Lucy stepped forward and ducked her head in both greeting and silent, uncertain apology. She could have used a hug, but Juliet didn’t move and Lucy was too hesitant to hug the half sister she barely knew.
“Well,” Juliet said with a brisk nod. “You made it.”
“Yes. Yes, I did.” Lucy smiled tentatively, and Juliet moved aside.
“You look like a drowned rat. You’d better come in.”
Lucy stepped into the little entryway of Juliet’s house, a surprisingly friendly jumble of umbrellas and Wellington boots cluttering the slate floor along with the dogs. She would have expected her sister to have every boot and brolly in regimental order, but maybe she didn’t know Juliet well enough to know how she kept her house. Or maybe her sister was just having an off day.
“They’re rescue dogs—they’ll jump at a mouse,” Juliet explained, for the two greyhounds were trembling. “They’ll come round eventually. They just have to get used to you.” She snapped her fingers, and the dogs obediently retreated to their baskets.
“Cup of tea,” she said, not a question, and led Lucy into the kitchen. The kitchen was even cozier than the hall, with a large dark green Aga cooking range taking up most of one wall and emitting a lovely warmth, a circular pine table in the center, and a green glass jar of wildflowers on the windowsill. It was all so homely, so comforting, and so not what Lucy had expected from someone as stern and officious as Juliet, although again she was acting on ignorance. How many conversations had she even had with Juliet, before that wretched phone call? Five? Six?
Still the sight of it all, the Aga and the flowers and even the view of muddy sheep fields outside, made her spirits lift. This was a place she could feel at home in. She hoped.
She sank into a chair at the table as Juliet plonked a brass kettle on one of the Aga’s round hot plates.
“So you start next week.”
“You ought to go up to the school tomorrow, and check in with Alex.”
Juliet turned around, her straight eyebrows drawn together, her expression not precisely a frown, but definitely not a smile. “Alex Kincaid, the head teacher. You spoke with him on the phone, remember?” There was a faint note of impatience or even irritation in Juliet’s voice, which made Lucy stammer in apology.
“Oh, yes, yes, of course. Mr. Kincaid. Yes. Sorry.” She was not actually all that keen to make Alex Kincaid’s acquaintance. Given how unimpressed by her he’d seemed for the ten excruciating minutes of their phone interview, she thought he was unlikely to revise his opinion upon meeting her.
And she was unlikely to revise hers; she already had a picture of him in her head: He would be tall and angular with short-cut steel gray hair and square spectacles. He’d have one of those mouths that looked thin and unfriendly, and he would narrow his eyes at you as you spoke, as if incredulous of every word that came out of your mouth.
Oh, wait, maybe she was picturing her last boss, Simon Hansen, when he’d told her he was canceling her art exhibition. Sorry, Lucy, but after the bad press we can hardly go ahead with the exhibit. And in any case, your mother’s not coming anyway.
As for Alex Kincaid, now that she remembered that irritated voice on the phone, she decided he’d be balding and have bushy eyebrows. He’d blink too much as he spoke and have a nasal drip.
All right, perhaps that was a little unfair. But he’d definitely sounded as if he’d had his sense of humor surgically removed.
“I’m sure you’re completely knackered now,” Juliet continued, “but tomorrow I’ll give you a proper tour of the village, introduce you.” She nodded, that clearly decided, and Lucy, not knowing what else to do, nodded back.
It was so strange being here with her sister, sitting across from her in this cozy little kitchen, knowing she was actually going to live here and maybe get to know this sibling of hers who had semi-terrified her for most of her life. Intimidated, anyway, but perhaps that was her fault and not Juliet’s.
In any case, when Lucy had needed someone to talk to, someone who understood the maelstrom that was their mother but wasn’t caught up in her currents, she’d turned to Juliet. And Juliet hadn’t let her down. She had to remember that, keep hold of it in moments like these, when Juliet seemed like another disapproving person in her life, mentally rolling her eyes at how Lucy could never seem to get it together.
And she was going to get it together. Here, in rainy, picturesque Hartley-by-the-Sea. She was going to reconnect with her sister, and make loads of friends, and go on picnics and pub crawls and find happiness.
“He’s a good sort,” Juliet said as she whisked the kettle off the Aga before it had shrilled for so much as a millisecond. It took Lucy a moment to remember whom Juliet was talking about. Alex Kincaid, her new boss. “Tough,” Juliet added, “but good.”
Lucy didn’t like the sound of tough, especially Juliet’s version of tough. She wanted her boss to be cuddly and comforting, or maybe a pull-you-up-by-your-bootstraps type, but in a jolly, let’s-get-on-with-it kind of way. She had a feeling Alex Kincaid was going to be neither.
“Here you are.” Juliet put a mug of steaming tea in front of Lucy, and pushed the sugar bowl and the milk jug towards her before taking her own mug. “So,” she said, taking a sip of tea, her face settling into neutral lines. “What did Fiona think of you coming here to stay with me?”
Lucy gave a noncommittal shrug. She supposed she’d eventually have to give Juliet the details of everything that had happened with their mother, but she’d part with them reluctantly and in any case Juliet could find them plastered all over the Internet if she did a search. Maybe she already had. “I don’t know. I just sent her an e-mail, telling her I was coming here. We haven’t actually spoken since . . .”
“That’s understandable,” Juliet answered blandly. “I haven’t spoken with her in five years.”
Lucy didn’t know the source of her sister’s estrangement with their mother, although she supposed she could guess at it. Fiona Bagshaw was, to put it mildly, a personality. A “force” would be how she described herself. She’d made a name for herself in the world of modern art before Lucy was born, creating sculptures of round-hipped and large-breasted women that reminded Lucy of something you might discover in a prehistoric cave. Fertility Goddess, circa 2000 BC. But the figures were immensely popular and now sold for thousands of dollars, along with her latest artistic undertaking, angry-looking phalluses made from handblown glass.
In the last decade Fiona Bagshaw had become as much of a social commentator as an artist. If a newspaper or a television program needed a quote about women’s rights or modern culture or just about anything, they went to Fiona. Lucy had become used to her mother’s constant theorizing, the endless commentary on what anyone wore, ate, said, did. She couldn’t so much as eat a Twinkie without her mother making some remark about it being a phallic representation and a symbol of modern patriarchy.
But Juliet had missed her mother’s fame and its effects on Fiona’s purpose-built family. She’d left before Fiona had become something of a cultural icon, at least in America. She certainly hadn’t lived with it day in and day out the way Lucy had. So why had her sister chosen to alienate herself from their mother? Lucy wasn’t about to ask. One, she didn’t know Juliet well enough to ask such a personal question. Two, she didn’t want to think about her mother for the next four months. And three, she was exhausted.
“I’ll show you your room,” Juliet said, draining her mug of tea. She rose and went to the sink, rinsing the mug out with her usual brisk movements. “You probably want a lie-down, although it’s best not to sleep for more than an hour or two. Otherwise you’ll be completely off schedule.”
And Juliet was someone who seemed to thrive on schedules. Left to her own devices, Lucy would sleep all day. But now she obediently rose from the table and followed Juliet back into the hall. “I’ll just get my bags from the car. What time is dinner?” Juliet gave her a rather narrow look. “I only meant, with your other—umm, your paying guests? Are they . . . ?”
“I haven’t any guests at the moment,” Juliet answered. “They left this morning, and the next lot arrive tomorrow at noon. They’re all walkers, and they’re usually only here for a night before they move on to the next stop on their route. I don’t do dinner for guests, though, so it’ll just be the two of us.”
“Okay.” Lucy jangled her car keys, the sound seeming too loud in the little hall. “I’m happy to pitch in, of course. With cooking and cleaning and all that.”
“I’ll make a rota,” Juliet answered.
“A rota?” Lucy said blankly, and her half sister pursed her lips.
“A schedule,” she explained, and Lucy suspected she’d already made one.
“Great.” In the short silence after this awkward exchange, she jangled her keys again, and then went for her bags, ducking her head in the persistent drizzle, giving Hartley-by-the-Sea’s high street one dubious glance. In the rain it all looked gray and bleak, without a single person to liven up the muted, monochrome landscape of terraced houses. If she were to paint it, she’d use a palette of grays and title it Loneliness. Or maybe Isolation. Not that she was planning on painting anything here, or ever again. Standing there, she couldn’t hear a single sound besides the soft pattering of rain on the hood of her car.
Ten minutes later Juliet had left her alone in a sunshine yellow room at the back of the house, the white duvet cover stitched with daisies and a single window overlooking the sheep fields.
Lucy sank onto the bed, feeling more exhausted than ever and quite suddenly homesick—although for whom or what, she didn’t know. She didn’t miss Boston, particularly, or her job as a barista at a gallery/café in Cambridge. She didn’t miss her mother or even Thomas, to whom she’d given three years of her life. She would have missed his children, if they’d shown her even a modicum of kindness or affection, but as it was, she was relieved to be free of them.
Maybe that was the trouble. She was missing the very fact that she didn’t miss anything, that no one was special to her, that she’d left nothing behind that she still wanted. And nobody would miss her.
All right, perhaps that was being a bit maudlin. Her best friend, Chloe, hadn’t wanted her to go. She had a small circle of friends and acquaintances who would at least read her Facebook updates, if she could be bothered to post them.
Arrived in Hartley-by-the-Sea! Raining steadily and had a cup of tea.
She had friends; she had a sister who she believed loved her even if she wasn’t particularly demonstrative; she had a job. She had her health. Anything else?
Sighing, Lucy kicked off her shoes and turned back the daisy cover. Sleep, she decided. She had the luxury of sleeping for at least four hours, never mind what Juliet had said about one or two. She’d wake up in time to help with dinner, or with whatever job Juliet had written her down for on her precious rota.
JULIET HAD FINISHED WASHING up the tea mugs, her gaze on the sheep fields that stretched to the horizon, blanketed in a gray drizzle. Upstairs she’d heard the creak of the floorboards as Lucy had moved around, the squeak of the bedsprings. She wondered now what Lucy thought of the room, imagined her taking in the curtains with the daisy chains Juliet had stitched herself, the Edwardian washing pitcher and basin she’d found at the antiques fair in Cockermouth. And then she wondered why she cared.
A mug slipped from her hand and broke in the bottom of the farmhouse sink she’d bought from a reclamation center. She swore softly under her breath and picked up the shattered pieces, swearing again when a jagged shard of pottery cut into her thumb, and a bright red drop of blood welled up. She wrapped the broken pieces in a paper towel and threw them in the bin before putting her thumb in her mouth and sucking at the cut.
Then she reached for a sponge and wiped the table, swiping at the droplets of tea and the sprinkling of sugar granules that Lucy had left. Having her sister stay was going to make a mess in all sorts of ways, and stir up unwanted feelings in herself. And that was something she hadn’t expected.
It had seemed to be both simple and generous, to invite Lucy here when her life had fallen apart in spectacular Lucy style. Lucy, Juliet had long noted from afar, never seemed to do anything by halves, or with any modicum of caution. She jumped into situations, relationships, and even college degrees with far more enthusiasm than sense. Juliet had, with a kind of smug pleasure at her own neatly ordered life, periodically checked Lucy’s enthusiastic Facebook updates: Changed my course from history to art! So excited and Moved to a converted warehouse in South Boston. Love it!!!! Never mind that she’d already done two years of her history degree, and changing to art necessitated a further two semesters of college, or that the converted warehouse hadn’t actually yet been converted into a livable dwelling. Lucy leaped. Juliet looked.
Except, in this instance, Juliet had been the one to leap, by inviting her half sister to stay. And while it had seemed so easy when she’d suggested it on the phone—here she was, the organized, older sister, swooping in to take care of poor Lucy—now it felt . . . unsettling.
She propped her elbows on the sink and gazed out again at the muddy fields. Peter Lanford was coming down the dirt road from Bega Farm in his battered old Land Rover, probably to check on the sheep he kept in the pasture in back of Juliet’s garden. She and Peter had gotten to know each other a little, both through their properties adjoining and being on the village’s parish council together. She might almost call him a friend, and she didn’t really do friendship. Or even relationships in general, outside of ones that were clearly and comfortingly defined. Employer/employee. Patient/doctor. Innkeeper/guest. What category did half sister fall into?
It had been shockingly disconcerting to open the door and see Lucy standing there in the flesh, with the same sandy hair, gray eyes, and freckles that Juliet possessed, and yet looking so different. Her ballet flats, purple tights, and miniskirt decorated with lemons of all things had been ridiculous and inappropriate for the weather; Juliet was, as ever, wearing jeans and a fleece. Lucy’s hair had frizzed about her face, while Juliet kept hers subdued in a sensible ponytail. And yet there could be no denying they were sisters. Half sisters. They even had the same slightly crooked nose. Whoever their respective fathers were, neither of them seemed to have passed on many of his genes.
And as Lucy had stepped into the foyer, seeming suddenly to fill up the space that had always been hers alone, Juliet had had a sudden and overwhelming urge to push her half sister right back out the door and then slam it in her face.
Not exactly the most sisterly of impulses, and not one she’d expected to have. She was being kind and generous to poor, hopeless Lucy. That was what was going on here. That was what she’d signed up for.
A knock sounded on the door, and blowing out a breath, Juliet turned from the sink. A few seconds later Rachel Campbell appeared in the kitchen with her arms full of freshly ironed sheets.
“I thought I’d pop by with the ironing while I had a moment,” she said, and with a murmur of thanks Juliet took them from her. Rachel cleaned the house twice a week and did all the ironing, tasks that Juliet was fully capable of doing herself, but Rachel’s housecleaning business supported a family of five—a mother, two sisters, and a nephew—and Juliet wanted to help her without seeming pitying. Besides, she hated ironing. “Has the half sister arrived?” Rachel asked, her eyebrows raised, and guilt needled Juliet uncomfortably.
When she’d told Rachel last week that Lucy would be coming, Rachel had said in a voice of such disbelief that Juliet hadn’t been able to tell if she was joking, “You have a sister?”
“Half sister,” she’d said, and Rachel had rolled her eyes.
“Oh, well, then,” she’d said, and Juliet hadn’t answered, because she couldn’t, in truth, explain her relationship, or lack of it, with Lucy. Since then she and Rachel had both, in a semijoking way—or maybe not—referred to Lucy as “the half sister.”
“Yes, she’s here,” Juliet said. “Lucy’s here,” she added, as if there were any question as to who had arrived. She didn’t want to call her the half sister anymore, even if Lucy still felt like the half sister. Or maybe even just a quarter sister. Barely related, basically.
“And is she as scatterbrained as you expected?” Rachel asked, making guilt needle Juliet once more. All right, she might have called Lucy scatterbrained. But she hadn’t meant it meanly. It had been more a statement of fact.
Juliet leaned against the Aga rail and folded her arms. “She’s just Lucy,” she said flatly. “And she’s only been here about five minutes. She’s just gone upstairs to have a nap. Jet lag.”
Rachel nodded, her clear-eyed gaze resting a little too thoughtfully on her. “You think she’ll get on at the school?” she asked. “Alex Kincaid is a bit of a slave driver, from what I’ve heard.”
Juliet shrugged. She respected Alex and she liked his toughness. She understood tough, because that’s what she’d been faced with for most of her life. Lucy, however, didn’t know the meaning of tough, their mother’s ridiculous grandstanding aside. She’d been cosseted and spoiled since the moment she’d been born and as far as Juliet could tell, she still expected other people to step in and pick up the pieces she’d carelessly dropped.
“She’ll have to manage, won’t she?” Juliet said, deciding to cut short any more speculation or gossip. “I should get on. I’ve got three walkers coming in tomorrow, Australian lads. They’ll eat me out of house and home, most likely.”
“All right.” Reluctantly Rachel rose from the table. “I suppose I should get on, as well. Lily’s gone to the cinema with a friend. She’ll need a lift home.”
Lily was Rachel’s seventeen-year-old sister, and Juliet knew Rachel had been caring for her more or less since she’d been a baby. She didn’t like to think about it too much, though, because Rachel was eleven years older than Lily, the same age difference between her and Lucy. And her relationship with Lucy was so incredibly different. So much less.
“You coming to the quiz night tomorrow?” Rachel asked, and Juliet shook her head. Every week Rachel asked her to the quiz night at the Hangman’s Noose, and every week Juliet refused. She wouldn’t know what to do at a thing like that. She didn’t do banter and refused to try.
“See you Friday, then,” Rachel said, and headed towards the front door. “I’ll do the bathrooms. You’ll need it, after these Australian blokes go.”
Juliet waved and then hefted the pile of ironed sheets to take upstairs. She couldn’t hear anything from Lucy’s room; she was probably asleep.
As she made the three guest bedrooms up with the freshly starched and ironed sheets, tucking in the hospital corners and snapping them tight, she told herself that maybe being with Lucy now would close a little bit of the distance they’d had in their relationship. Maybe during these four months they’d actually get to know each other.
The trouble was, Juliet acknowledged as she headed back downstairs, she wasn’t sure she wanted to.
ALEX KINCAID, LUCY THOUGHT, looked nothing like she’d expected him to. Forget balding or bushy eyebrows or a nasal drip. The man was amazingly and irritatingly sexy.
It seemed an entirely inappropriate word to attribute to a head teacher, of a primary school no less, but it popped into her head just the same. Dark brown hair cut very short. Navy eyes with thick lashes. And a body that even in a conservative suit looked toned and muscular and, well, hot.
Alex Kincaid’s good looks were an unexpected perk. She could use a little distraction, not just from everything she’d left in Boston, but from this new life in Hartley-by-the-Sea she was trying hard to like. It wasn’t easy. In the eighteen hours since she’d shown up at Tarn House, Juliet hadn’t warmed to her in the slightest.
Lucy hadn’t expected some kind of homecoming, of course, but she’d thought Juliet would be at least a little happy to see her. She’d assumed her sister’s invitation meant that Juliet actually wanted her here. And all right, yes, perhaps she’d imagined her sister running her deep bubble baths and pampering her a bit. Was that so wrong? Her life had just been destroyed. She could do with a tiny bit of coddling, the odd glass of wine pressed into her hands, assurances that she was here to relax, to be restored.
If anything, Juliet seemed to resent her presence. After sleeping for three hours yesterday afternoon, Lucy had stumbled downstairs to find her dinner of beef stew left in the warming oven of the Aga, with a note on the table asking her to put her plate in the dishwasher when she was done. Juliet had gone to walk the dogs.
Lucy had eaten alone in the kitchen, feeling once more like a scolded child, the house quiet and creaky all around her. The wind rattled the windowpanes and sent drops of water spattering on the glass, a sound that felt unfriendly. The sun was just starting to set at eight o’clock, but Lucy could barely see its weak rays from behind the heavy gray clouds. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt quite so alone.
She’d told herself to stop being so melodramatic, and turned on a lamp by the deep window seat that overlooked the gloomy pasture. She felt a little better then, and she made sure to rinse her plate and put it in the dishwasher as Juliet had instructed.
Then she’d heard Juliet come in, her quick, purposeful step, and she’d appeared in the kitchen doorway, hands on her hips.
“Did you get enough to eat?”
“Yes, thank you—”
Juliet had nodded and turned away before Lucy could stumble through any more thank-yous. She’d turned off the lamp Lucy had just switched on and then fished a tiny piece of beef from the kitchen drain and pointedly deposited it in the bin. Lucy had bitten her lip to keep from apologizing.
An hour later Juliet had knocked on Lucy’s bedroom door and handed her a sheet of paper, the rota she’d mentioned earlier. Lucy scanned it and saw she was down to make dinner on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and clean the upstairs bathroom once a week.
“I’ll take you over to the school tomorrow morning,” she said with one of those brisk nods Lucy was starting to dislike. “Introduce you to Alex Kincaid.” She’d glanced at Lucy’s purple tights, her mouth tightening. “You might want to think about what you wear. First impressions are crucial, you know.”
And she’d walked away before Lucy could say anything. “Thank you” had not come to mind.
She’d lain in bed, exhausted but unable to sleep, wondering if she’d made a huge mistake in coming here. The last thing she needed in her life was yet another sniffily disapproving person making her feel small and stupid. And yet she couldn’t just take off, either. She didn’t want to run away again. She wanted something to work.
So, yes, Alex Kincaid being good-looking was a very nice distraction. Except right now he appeared as stern and disapproving as Juliet.
“Umm . . . sorry?”
“Have you been listening to anything I’ve said?”
The answer to that would be no. She had been admiring the cleft in his chin, though. Very Cary Grant. “I . . .” She scrambled to think of something he’d said, but her mind came up empty. This was definitely not the first impression she’d wanted to make. And first impressions were so crucial, as Juliet had said. She had gone for her most sensible outfit too, a brown corduroy skirt and a fuzzy blue sweater and plain black tights because even though it was the last week of August, it was still freezing. She was wearing the clothes she’d brought for the beginning of winter.
“I see,” Alex said, the two words bitten out. Lucy supposed she should have expected this kind of attitude from Mr. Kincaid; from the moment she’d met him out in the school yard, he’d seemed hassled and impatient, one sweeping glance taking her in and seeming to dismiss her all at once. He’d turned away to unlock the front door of the school, and then ushered her into the tiny front office with its sliding glass window and enormous photocopying machine. Lucy had breathed in the scent of chalk and new paint and, underneath, the tang of old PE clothes and sweaty boy. That smell had catapulted her back to elementary school, and that had not been a happy time. Junior high had been worse.
Maybe working in a school hadn’t been such a great idea.
“I was asking, Miss Bagshaw,” Alex elaborated now in the overemphasizing way used by people who clearly thought you were stupid, “if you had any administrative experience.”
She’d already told him she hadn’t during her phone interview. “No, I’m afraid not.”
“Any experience answering telephones?”
Besides her own? “No.”
He pressed his lips together, eyes narrowing. He still looked attractive, but it had become much less of a distraction. She was now depressingly aware of how little Alex Kincaid clearly thought of her. “I can make a mean cup of coffee,” she offered, and he actually scowled.
“Let me explain your responsibilities,” Alex said, his voice turning even in the way of someone who was only just holding on to his temper. “You’ll answer any telephone calls, in addition to dealing with any visitors. Maggie Bains, who covered reception in the summer term, will guide you through it for a few days. You’ll also do some work for me, as you’ll be the closest thing I have to a personal assistant.”
“That’s no problem at all,” she told him brightly. The truth was, she had no idea what a personal assistant actually did. File? Type? She was a great barista. But Alex Kincaid hadn’t seemed too impressed by that information.
“I’m glad to hear it,” Alex answered tightly. He stared at her for a moment, and Lucy held on to the alert, friendly expression she’d been trying to maintain with effort. Then he sighed and glanced at his watch. “Look, I’ve got a million things to do before school starts, and Maggie can show you around on the first day. Would that be all right?”
“Totally fine.” She took a deep breath and stood up, unfortunately at the same time as Alex, making them nearly bump noses in the tiny office. Lucy took a step and felt the photocopier jab into her back. She suppressed a wince. So did Alex.
Resolutely she stuck her hand out. “Thank you for taking me on, Mr. Kincaid. I really appreciate the opportunity.” There. That sounded professional, didn’t it?
With seeming reluctance Alex took her hand and gave it a shake. “You’re welcome,” he said grudgingly.
Two minutes later Lucy was back outside in the little school yard, a chilly wind buffeting her. A steep lane ran down to the high street, and above the slate roofs she could see the rolling pasture and the determined twinkle of the sea. The rain had eased off this morning, although the relentless rattling of wind through the trees had kept her up half the night. Now the sky was a pale gray-blue, as if it couldn’t make up its mind whether to revert back to rain. The sun wasn’t exactly shining, but at least it wasn’t a downpour.
Digging her hands into the pockets of her coat, Lucy headed down the lane and back to Tarn House.
The house was full of noise and commotion as she let herself in, squeezing past the three enormous backpacks that crowded the little entry hall. She made her way back to the kitchen, where three young men, of a size to match their luggage, were standing around the kitchen table, chatting in loud Australian accents while Juliet poured tea from a big blue pot.
Her sister looked almost . . . animated. She was smiling, at least, which made Lucy realize Juliet had not actually smiled once since she’d arrived.
And the smile disappeared completely when she caught sight of Lucy.
“You’re back,” she said, and Lucy just kept herself from inanely agreeing. “So, how did you get on?”
“Fine, I think.” Actually, she didn’t think she’d gotten on fine at all. Alex Kincaid seemed to take her on sufferance, just as Juliet did. But she wasn’t about to say that, especially not with these three linebackers eyeing her with such blatant curiosity.
“Well, it’s not rocket science, is it?” Juliet said as she put the teapot back on the Aga. “Answering phones.”
Lucy tried to figure out if that comment had been as snippy and sarcastic as it had felt. She caught the gaze of one of the Australians, who winked at her. “No,” she agreed as she backed out of the room. “It’s not rocket science.”
She went upstairs to her bedroom, the Australians’ raucous laughter ringing in her ears. Quietly she shut the door and leaned against it, wanting to duck the tidal wave of homesickness she felt crashing over her and knowing she couldn’t.
She thought about calling Chloe, who was practical and matter-of-fact but in a kindly, cheerful way. Unfortunately it was only seven in the morning in Boston, and Lucy didn’t think her best friend would appreciate being woken up at that hour just so Lucy could moan. She couldn’t even send her an e-mail, because she hadn’t worked up the courage to ask Juliet for the Wi-Fi password.
She curled up on the bed, tucking her knees to her chest as she gazed out at the fragile blue sky, which was threatening to be overwhelmed once more by dark gray clouds.
She could explore Hartley-by-the Sea, but at the moment the dark sky and the narrow high street didn’t beckon to her with their dubious charms. She’d rather stay curled up on her bed and feel miserable. Sort of.
The Australians thundered up the stairs, and then it seemed as if the whole house rattled as they dumped their heavy backpacks in various rooms before heading downstairs again and then out the door with a loud slam.
The ensuing silence felt like the calm after a storm, interrupted by a light tapping on Lucy’s door.
Juliet poked her head around the door, her gaze taking in the pajamas Lucy had left on the floor and yesterday’s clothes kicked in the corner. The contents of her toiletry bag were strewn over the top of the dresser, and she’d dumped all her American change and a crumpled pack of gum in the antique washbasin. Predictably, Juliet’s mouth tightened at the sight of all this mess and then her gaze snapped to Lucy.
“I’m going to take the dogs for a walk to the beach. Fancy coming?”
Lucy swallowed past the lump in her throat and nodded. “Sure,” she said, and hopped off the bed.
JULIET ALWAYS FELT A bit flat without guests in the house. She liked guests like the Australian boys: boisterous, cheerful, needing her to bustle around them. The retired couples who came on walking holidays were soothing in their own way, and certainly slotted into the order of things with calm neatness, but they didn’t need her the way these lads did, frying them a half dozen eggs each for breakfast and letting them wash out their dirty kit in the kitchen sink.
Now she stood in the doorway of Lucy’s room and watched while she grabbed her sweater and reached for an elastic for her hair amidst the detritus strewn across the dresser. How had Lucy managed to make such a mess in less than twenty-four hours? And why did her sister’s mess irritate her when she knew she would put up with the Australian boys’ muddy boots and dirty socks?
Well, the Australians were leaving tomorrow. Lucy wasn’t.
“I’ll get the dogs’ leads,” Juliet said, and turned away.
Back downstairs she jammed on her hiking boots and reached for her waterproof jacket before looping the dogs’ leads around their sleek heads. They always knew when she was taking them out, from the moment she even seemed to think about it. Now they pranced around her with nervous excitement, butting her thigh with their noses.
She heard Lucy coming down the stairs; she’d changed into jeans, but she was wearing those ridiculous ballet flats and her jacket was actually velveteen.
“It’s going to rain,” Juliet told her. “Don’t you have proper gear?”
Lucy glanced at her jacket. “Umm . . . I have a winter parka, but it’s kind of heavy, considering it’s supposed to be summer.”
“You’ll need a proper waterproof here unless you want to catch pneumonia.” Juliet reached for one of the spare waterproofs she kept for guests and tossed it to Lucy. “Here. You can use that until you can get something suitable. Those flats will be soaked in seconds. The beach is tidal, you know. The sand is always wet.” Belatedly Juliet realized how stern she sounded.
“Sorry,” Lucy said. Her sister looked like a kicked puppy. She’d looked the same when she’d made that comment in the kitchen about answering phones not being rocket science. And maybe it had sounded a little mean, but honestly. How hard a job could it be?
“You can borrow a pair of boots too,” she said gruffly, leaning down to lace up her hiking boots. “There’s probably a pair your size in the hall.”
A few minutes later they were heading down the high street, bundled up in coats and boots, their heads lowered against the chill wind.
“I can’t believe it’s August,” Lucy said as she dug her hands into the pockets of her coat. “August. It’s ninety degrees Fahrenheit in Boston.”
“Sounds awful,” Juliet answered shortly, and patted her thigh. “Milly. Molly. Heel.”
“I suppose it was pretty muggy,” Lucy allowed. “But it’s bloody freezing here. It can’t be above fifty degrees.”
“I don’t know Fahrenheit,” Juliet answered, “but it’s not that cold. You just have to dress appropriately.”
She sneaked a glance at Lucy and saw she was doing the kicked-puppy thing again. Her shoulders were hunched against the wind, her head lowered, her eyes streaming. But then Juliet’s eyes were also streaming; they were walking straight into the wind.
“So how long have you been living here?” Lucy asked.
Juliet narrowed her eyes against the onslaught of the wind. No matter what she’d said to Lucy, it really was freezing out, even for Cumbria. “Ten years.”
“What made you choose this place? I would have expected you to live in London or something, doing something important. Stockbroker or solicitor or something.”
Juliet let out a bark of a laugh at that. “Solicitor? I didn’t even finish university.”
“Didn’t you?” Lucy’s gaze widened and Juliet gritted her teeth. She didn’t know what annoyed her more: that she’d told Lucy or that Lucy hadn’t known. “Why not?”
“I dropped out. Wasn’t for me.” Juliet dug her hands into her pockets and started to walk faster. “I did a catering course instead.”
“I never knew that,” Lucy said, and Juliet shrugged.
“Why would you? We haven’t exactly kept in touch.”
“I know, but . . .” Lucy trailed off and Juliet didn’t fill the silence. What was there, really, to say? Their mother and Lucy had chosen to make their lives in Boston, separate from Juliet. They’d been perfectly happy in their little bubble of fame and fortune, a far cry from the council flat Juliet had grown up in, when Fiona had been struggling through night classes and jobs working in pubs. Lucy had no idea of what life had been like before Fiona Bagshaw had become the Fiona Bagshaw.
“So a catering course,” Lucy said after a moment. “Have you always worked in the hospitality industry?”
“I got a job at a big hotel in Manchester right after graduation. I worked there for a few years.” Until her life had fallen apart, though not in the spectacular way Lucy’s had; more of a desperate, quiet crumbling.
“So how did you end up in Hartley-by-the-Sea?”
Juliet dug her hands deeper into the pockets of her waterproof. “I was on a walking holiday up here and I stopped and decided to stay for good.”
“Really? You just . . . stayed?”
Juliet shot her a narrow look. “Why all the questions now, Lucy?”
“Because I’m living with you, and I realize I don’t even know you, not really. We’re sisters—”
“Half sisters.” It popped out before Juliet could keep herself from it, and Lucy blinked, clearly stung.
“Half sisters,” she agreed, “but we’re the only siblings we’ve got—”
“True enough, I suppose.”
Lucy continued stiltedly. “I don’t think I’ve thanked you properly for putting me up. Inviting me here, I mean. I really do appreciate it. I had nowhere to go—”
“You could have stayed in Boston.”
Lucy shook her head. “No. I’d rather have gone anywhere than stay there.”
Juliet raised her eyebrows. “Even a poky village with the worst weather in all of England? Although to be fair, it has been a miserable August. It’s not normally quite this cold.”
Lucy raised her eyebrows right back at her. “And you told me it wasn’t that bad.”
“Well.” Juliet could feel a sudden smile tugging at her mouth, surprising her. Were they actually joking with each other?
“It’s beautiful here,” Lucy said, and fluttered her fingers. It took Juliet a second to realize she was trying to touch her hand. “Look at that,” she exclaimed, and flung the other hand out to encompass the view.
They’d turned off the high street at the train station, and had been walking along a lane aptly named Beach Road, with sheep pastures on either side, the steep, gray-green fells cutting a jagged line out of the horizon. As they rounded a gentle hill, they could see the sea in the distance, glittering under a sun that had emerged from dark storm clouds, offering that syrupy golden light particular to England, even though most of the sky was still a deep, dank gray.
The wind blew their hair into tangles around their faces and tears still streamed from their eyes, but in that moment, facing the stark beauty of sea and sky, Juliet felt her spirits lift.
Lucy must have felt it too, for she grabbed Juliet’s hand and squeezed. Juliet went rigid in shock, but Lucy was clearly oblivious. “It really is beautiful,” she exclaimed. She turned to Juliet, her smile ridiculously radiant. “I can see why you stayed.”
Juliet pulled her hand away from Lucy’s and called the dogs forward. “Let’s go. Milly looks like she needs a poo.”
They let the dogs run about on the beach for a good half hour, racing along the water’s edge, wet sand spraying up behind their long, elegant legs.
“So where did the Australians go off to?” Lucy asked as they stood huddled by the concrete promenade that ran along the beach, all the way to the flimsy-looking bungalow with a sign in peeling black paint that was Hartley-by-the-Sea’s beach café.
“The pub,” Juliet answered. “They’ll stagger back when Rob throws them out tonight and then conquer Scafell Pike tomorrow.”
“Rob Telford. He’s the landlord of the Hangman’s Noose.”
“It adds character.”
Lucy gave a small smile, and Juliet gave one back. So apparently she and her sister could chat like normal people, for a few minutes at least.
“So, are all your guests like these Australians?”
“They’re almost all walkers or hikers. I get the odd guest who’s here for something else, visiting relatives or doing research for a dissertation on Wordsworth or Beatrix Potter. But we’re a bit far off the beaten track for that sort of thing, so walking it is.”
“I saw a sign for Wordsworth’s house, I think, on the road here.”
Juliet nodded. “Up in Cockermouth. And Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s house, is in Ambleside. There’s not much going out this way, though, besides walking.”
“But that’s enough to keep you in business, I suppose.”
“I manage.” Juliet nodded towards the café. “It’s not much, but they serve coffee and tea and some toasted sandwiches. You fancy it?”
Lucy beamed at her, making Juliet feel guilty again. She should be kinder to Lucy; it was just that she wasn’t always sure how. Or if she really wanted to. “Sounds great,” Lucy said, and Juliet called for the dogs, who came loping to her, butting their narrow heads against her leg.
“Get off, you’re soaking,” she exclaimed, but she stroked them all the same before looping their leads around their necks and heading for the promenade that led to the café.
Juliet could tell Lucy was a bit nonplussed by the shabby, muggy warmth of the café, the windows that overlooked the frothing sea fogged up. The small room was scattered with tables with peeling tops and rickety chairs, and only a handful of patrons. It wasn’t some upscale Boston bistro, that was for certain.
Mary, the café’s owner and a buxom woman with flyaway white hair and a booming laugh, handed them a grease-splattered laminated menu upon their arrival; Juliet had tied the dogs up outside.
“What can I do you, Juliet?”
“A cup of coffee and a toasted ham and cheese, please, Mary.” She glanced at Lucy. “What would you like?”
“I’ll have the same.”
Mary rang up their orders on a till and Juliet took out a ten-pound note while Lucy fumbled with her pockets. “My treat,” she said shortly, and Lucy stammered her thanks, which Juliet ignored. “How’s the heart, Mary?” she asked, and the older woman made a wry face.
“Still ticking, more or less.”
“Hopefully more.” Mary gave her the change, which she tipped into the plastic box for the Royal National Lifeboat Institute. “Mary had a heart attack last winter,” she told Lucy as they walked to a table by the window. The sun had retreated again and rain spattered the glass.
“Is she okay?” Lucy asked, turning around to gaze at Mary before Juliet tapped her on the shoulder.
“She’s not going to fall down dead, so you can stop rubbernecking,” she said, meaning it as a joke, but it didn’t come out like one. She clearly had trouble with delivery.
“Do you know everyone in the village?”
“No.” She didn’t actually know that many people, considering she’d been here ten years. She certainly didn’t know many people well.
“So, how unusual is this for August, really?” Lucy asked. Juliet had seen that the thermometer outside the café had registered eleven degrees Celsius. “Tell me the truth.”
Juliet shrugged. “Not that unusual, I suppose, but we keep hoping for better.” Mary came over with the coffees and after thanking her, Juliet stirred hers slowly, her gaze on the gray clouds, a wisp of blue just barely visible underneath. The definition of hope. “When the weather’s good here, it’s really, really good.”
“And when it’s bad, it’s horrid?” Lucy finished with a smile, and Juliet let out a sudden, rusty laugh that seemed to take them both by surprise.
“‘There was a little girl, who had a little curl,’” she quoted. “Yes, like that.” Then, impulsively, she added, “The day I arrived here, I came from Whitehaven on the Coast-to-Coast walk and the sun was just setting over the sea. It was amazing, really. It had been the most wonderful day, pure blue skies and bright sunshine the whole time. And warm, even though it was September. I stood on the top of the head by the beach right there”—she nodded towards the window—“and watched the sun turn the water to gold and I felt as if—well, as if I didn’t need to go anywhere else. Finally.”
Lucy was looking almost weepy, and Juliet felt a flush rise on her face. She didn’t normally sound so bloody sentimental. She didn’t think she’d told anyone that story before, or even articulated it to herself. And yet somehow the words had spilled out to Lucy of all people.
“Why—why did you . . . ,” Lucy began, stammering a bit, and Juliet braced herself for whatever prying question her sister was going to ask. Then Mary plonked their plates on the table and the moment broke, much to Juliet’s relief, although she couldn’t quite suppress a flicker of disappointment that Lucy hadn’t finished asking her question—not that she’d intended to answer it.
ON THE FIRST DAY of school Lucy woke up with a stomachache. She used to get them quite a lot when she was younger; seventh grade in particular had been the Year of Stomachaches. Her mother had been commissioned to do a sculpture in Boston Common, and the day before school had started, it had been installed: a huge, lumpy breast with a grotesque nipple pointing heavenwards. Just remembering that awful thing still made Lucy cringe fifteen years later.
It had been controversial, of course, and her mother had always thrived on controversy. She’d been in all the papers, on all the news networks, defending her creation against the “uninformed bigots” who protested against shepherding their children past a huge, ugly boob. Lucy had sympathized with those so-called bigots, although she’d never told her mother so.
And then that first day of school . . . walking into a strange new middle school with everyone knowing who her mother was and the sculpture she’d made. Lucy’s stomach clenched at the memory. There had been an outline of a breast, complete with pointy nipple, scrawled on her locker in permanent pen before first period.
In second period a popular boy in eighth grade called her Boob Girl; by lunchtime everyone in the school was calling her that.
By November she was throwing up every morning from stress, and begging her mother to let her switch schools. Her mother had sighed, looking sympathetic for about a millisecond, and then refused.
“If you can’t stand up to petty bigots now, Lucy, you never will. Trust me, I’m doing you a favor.”
Her mother had done her a lot of favors over the years. She’d endured three more months of teasing, sitting alone at lunch and walking through corridors with a determined smile on her face, as if she could appreciate the joke they were all making endlessly at her expense, until people had finally, thankfully, grown tired of it, and even better, the sculpture had been taken down.
Eighth grade had been better. Her mother had had no major commissions.
But things were different now. She was starting school, yes, but she was twenty-six, not twelve, and her mother was on a different continent. Her boss might have his doubts about her, but she could prove him wrong. Prove herself capable. And best of all, no one in Hartley-by-the-Sea, except Juliet, knew about what had happened in Boston. None of them would have read Boston’s newspapers; they probably hadn’t seen the blogs and editorials online. They might not have even heard of Fiona Bagshaw.
Smiling a little at the thought, Lucy rose from bed to get ready for the day.
Washed and dressed, she entered the kitchen to find Juliet busy making fry-ups for another group of walkers who had come in last night, two high-flying couples in their thirties with expensive equipment and a van service that would ferry it for them so they could walk with just their day rucksacks.
“Luxury walking,” Juliet had told her last night with a wry twist of her lips, almost a smile, and when Lucy had smiled back, she’d almost felt as if they were complicit in something.
She wanted to get along with Juliet so badly, but it wasn’t coming easily. She’d been here for four days and besides that surprising admission at the beach café, they’d barely had a conversation. Lucy had tidied her room, worked up the courage to ask for the Wi-Fi password, and spent several gluttonous hours on Facebook, gorging on the details of everyone else’s far more interesting lives. She’d returned her car to Workington, a dismal-named town if she’d ever heard of one, and taken the train back that ran along the coast, gazing out at the endless, choppy gray sea and feeling as if she were teetering on the very edge of the world. It wouldn’t take much to fall right off, she’d thought, just one good push.