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There were days when Pix Miller was forced to agree with her husband, Sam's, observation that "Don't worry, Pix Will do it " would be the epitaph carved on her headstone in the family plot in Maine.
She was at the plot on Sanpere Island now, thinning the potentilla that grew on her father's grave. The sky was slightly overcast and the woods that surrounded the cemetery were dark and dense. She preferred to be there on sunny days, when the white birch trunks shimmered and the stately emerald evergreens looked as if they had been and would be there forever. The dead were not dead on those days, but came alive in memory as she walked past stones with familiar names to their own bit of earth, the ground covered with wildflowers until Freeman Hamilton came with his scythe.
Today as Pix looked down at her father's grave, she had no trouble remembering that first shock, the first grief, although he had been gone for a dozen years. She put down her clippers and stretched out on the green, very green, grass. "Pix will do it." Apt, extremely apt.
She sat up, feeling a bit foolish at the picture she presented spread-eagled on her forebears. If there was anything Pix Miller was not, it was foolish, however much she tried. She plucked a piece of grass from the ground, slit it with her thumbnail, and put it to her lips. The ensuing high-pitched whistle was gratifying. She still knew how. She'd taught her children the trick, just as she'd taught them all the other things she'd learned on the island when she was young: how to sail, canoe, and swim; where to find the best clams, bestblueberries, best shells; to leave nests undisturbed and to walk silently through the forest; to get every last morsel from a boiled lobster and to wake up in anticipation each morning.
That was how she had awakened this morning. It had taken about thirty seconds for her to realize she was not in her bed in Aleford, Massachusetts, but tucked under the eaves in her bed in Maine. Pix didn't waste any time getting to Sanpere for the summer, and this year was no exception. Yesterday at exactly twelve noon, she'd picked up seventeen-year-old Samantha at the high school,then swung by the middle school for twelve-year-old Danny and turned the Land Rover, packed to the gunnels, due north. She had already driven her oldest, nineteen-year-old Mark, to Logan Airport in time for the early shuttle to Washington, D.C., where he was spending the summer as an intern in their local congressman's office. Mark had protested the ungodliness of the hour all the way to Boston, but Pix was too busy running through her mental lists, making sure she hadn't forgotten anything, to pay him much mind.
At the airport, he had given her an affectionate bear hug and said, "It's okay, Mom. I know you can't help yourself. The old Siren call of Sanpere, and probably there'll be a few moments this summer when I'll wish I was there, too. When it's a hundred degrees in the shade in D.C."
Pix had had a sudden hope. This was the first summer the whole family wouldn't all be together for at least part of the time. "It's not too late to change your mind, sweetie. We could swing by the house and get some of your more rugged clothes." Mark was dressing for success these days.
"Mom, I said, moments, 'a few moments.' Sure, life on Sanpere is gripping: 'Mrs. Walton will be entertaining her daughter and family from Bangor for the weekend' and 'Sonny Prescott has a new lobster boat, which he has named the Miss Steak.' Health-care reform and balancing the budget are going to seem pretty tame." Mark had rolled his eyes. "Time to let one of us fly."
"But you'll come up Labor Day weekend?" Pix was trying to hold on to the end of the string.
Mark said something that could have been a yes or a no, the string snapped, and he was gobbled up by the crowd of morning travelers just beyond the terminal's automatic doors.
Still absentmindedly picking at the grass, Pix realized this was going to be a summer of women, not an altogether-bad thing, of course, but different. On the way up last night, she'd dropped Danny off at his beloved Camp Chewonki near Brunswick for a virtually whole-summer stay, and Sam probably wouldn't be able to get away until the Fourth of July, and then only for a few days until his August vacation.
Samantha had picked up on her mother's mood the night before as they drove through the darkness, bent on getting to their cottage no matter what the hour. "We'll have fun and think how easy the housework is going to be, and the cooking." Pix had brightened considerably at this prospect. She didn't mind the housework, but unlike her friend, next-door neighbor, and now employer, Faith Fairchild, food preparation as a pleasant activity was up there with lighted matches under the fingernails. If Pix had not been endowed with a superabundance of Puritan guilt, it would have been Hamburger Helper every night instead of merely some nights.
Faith was the Faith of Have Faith, an extremely successful Manhattan catering company that Faith had recently reopened in Aleford. She'd moved to the village following her marriage to the Reverend Thomas Fairchild. Pix's responsibilities at the catering company didn't involve cooking. Keeping the books, counting forks, and other organizational feats were the areas where Pix excelled.