Read an Excerpt
The knot I’ve had in my stomach since boarding the plane at JFK eases slightly. My first encounter with a Maine resident is going well, and if he suspects I’m a total sham at this whole caregiving thing, he’s hiding it well.
“How long is it to Bar Harbor?” I ask, even though I already know. I did my homework. Well, some of it. The more crucial details still elude me.
“About three hours. Longer on a summer weekend, but on a Tuesday at the tail end of the season, we shouldn’t hit any traffic.”
“Summer season,” he says, glancing up. “Maine’s known for being a summer tourist destination.”
I bite my tongue to keep from retorting that of course I know what the season is. It’s practically synonymous with the word Hamptons. What does surprise me is that Maine has one.
Ease up on the snob routine, Olivia.
“So, you make the airport trip often?” I ask, still fishing for information about the Langdons.
For a second he says nothing, and I think I’ve officially crossed the line to prying, but he finally responds. “Not so much. Mr. Langdon doesn’t come up as often as he used to, and Mr. Paul . . . he doesn’t leave the house much.”
My charge. Or patient. Or whatever he is.
I’m dying to ask more questions, but there’s something in Mick’s tone . . . Tension? Sadness? There’s something, but I don’t want to get off on the wrong foot by misidentifying it.
Instead, I sit back against the cushy leather seats and try to get acquainted with the Maine scenery. I know from my online research that Bar Harbor is on the water, but right now I can’t see anything but trees. For someone who doesn’t often see a tree outside of Central Park, there’s something oddly calming about all of the green.
Well, it’s calming until I allow myself to actually think about what awaits me. Because I have no freaking clue.
It’s weird, but I haven’t put much thought into what I’ll be doing now that I’m here. It’s not like there was a job description. Heck, I didn’t even apply. And if I had, I’m pretty sure a college coed without so much as CPR certification (although I have that now) wouldn’t have been selected as an ideal caregiver for a wounded vet.
Obviously, when Harry Langdon got my name through the friend of a friend of my parents, he wasn’t looking for any kind of trained professional.
So why me?
Of course, it’s a little late to be having these thoughts. I’ve known about this for three months, but in my mind I’ve pretty much been glossing over the reality, the same as I do whenever someone asks what it is I do as a home care specialist: an extra hand for those who need it.
So basically it’s the dictionary definition of vague. But people totally eat it up, and it’s not exactly a lie. Harry Langdon’s email said there was no nursing experience required, just companionship, basic cooking skills, and willingness to relocate to Bar Harbor.
I nailed the lack of nursing experience. I don’t think handing out ice cream bars at St. Jude’s counts. But, surprisingly, I do like to cook. I mean, I’m not destined for my own cooking show or anything, but Mom always insisted on giving our chef the weekends off if they weren’t hosting a party, which means she showed me the basics. Grilled cheese. Scrambled eggs. Chili. Spaghetti.
As for that willingness to relocate? Please. I’d pay them to take me away. My only complaint is that the job isn’t in LA or Seattle or somewhere in a different time zone from everything I’m trying to leave behind. Although, judging from the number of “watch for deer” signs I’ve seen so far, I’m definitely a long way from home.
Basically it all comes down to the fact that one rich dude told another rich dude to find some rich ditz who wouldn’t mind acting as a paid companion.
Not exactly the stuff Nobel Peace Prizes are made of, but I can’t bring myself to care. Whether I got the job because of connections or because of sheer luck (it’s certainly not because of skill), it’s still a ticket out of New York. It’s still an escape.
But all that being said, I don’t know much about my client. I mean, I know Harry Langdon is an elderly businessman with a ton of money. But as for his son? No idea.
Not because I wasn’t curious. Google would have told me what I needed to know in a heartbeat. And God knows, a little research would have been prudent. But honestly? I’ve been scared to death that all it’ll take is one gruesome picture or detailed account of his injuries to have me backing out of the whole thing.
I know it’s a terrible thing to say, but I’m not used to ugly. And from what Mr. Langdon has implied so far, whatever happened to his son was very ugly indeed.
I barely managed to get myself on the plane this morning as it was. The last thing I needed was to know what I was getting into. But now I’m here with no chance of backing out, and keeping my head in the sand is no longer an option.
I can’t stop thinking about how sad Mick’s voice was when he talked about Paul. No, Mr. Paul. Maybe it’s time to figure out exactly what I’m dealing with here.
I pull my cellphone out of my purse, scrolling through the barrage of texts awaiting me.
Mom: Call me as soon as you’re settled. Remember, nobody will think less of you if you decide you want to come home early.
Dad: Olive. Call if you need anything. Proud of you.
Bella: Miss you already. You’re the hottest Florence Nightingale I know.
Andrea: U there yet? my aunt and uncle have a summer home in Vermont if u get creeped out taking care of an old dude and need an escape. xoxoxoxoxo.
The rest, from my friends, are a mixture of support and skepticism that I’ll see this through. I freeze when I get to Michael’s, though: Call me when you quit running. I delete it.
But it’s the last message that really eats at me. Ethan and I haven’t had any contact since I tried—and failed—to get him back a couple of months ago, yet he cares enough to reach out with a simple Good luck, Liv.
I read those three simple words about five times, but I’m unable to find any hidden meaning. That’s the kind of guy Ethan is. He’s simply good.
I didn’t deserve him.
I respond to my parents, letting them know that I’ve arrived safely and that everything’s okay, but don’t reply to anyone else. I don’t even know what I’d say. Although the flight from New York to Maine was only a little over an hour, I already feel completely detached from my old life. The feeling is unsettling, but also freeing. As though maybe I really can start over.
I start to go about my initial task of Googling Paul Langdon, but the coverage is spotty, and before my phone can load the search results, cell service has gone from spotty to nonexistent.
I put the phone away and lean back in my seat, letting my mind wander. I alternate between worst-case-scenario visions of what lies ahead (just one more thing you can screw up) and Pollyanna pep talks (you’ve got this) for most of the drive, but I sit up a little straighter when I catch sight of water through the trees, and I strain to get a better look.
Mick sees my movement. “That’s Frenchman Bay. It’s even prettier on a sunny day.”
I nod, but I actually sort of like that it’s overcast. It seems to suit my mood. The glimpses of water become more and more frequent, and even with the gray skies, it looks like a postcard.
“How much longer?” I ask. My palms are clammy.
“Not long. The Langdon estates are right on the water outside of town.”
Langdon estates? Interesting. There’s rich, and then there’s rich. Now I’m really wishing that my online research on the Langdons had been more thorough.
And when Mick turns onto a tree-lined drive, I’m wishing I’d hired a full-on private investigator because I’m pretty sure the building to my right is an honest-to-God stable.
“How long have you worked for the Langdons?” I ask, now completely confident that Mick is a full-time employee for a wealthy family and not just an occasional luxury.
He doesn’t meet my eyes in the mirror this time. “Long time,” he says finally, his tone terser than it was before.
Got it. No chitchat about our employer.
Then I see the house. Actually, house is a stretch. It’s more like a compound.
There are at least three buildings within easy walking distance of the main house, which rivals the grandest of the Hamptons homes I’ve been to. I’m still gaping when Mick comes around and opens the door for me. The house is neither modern minimalism nor ornate ostentation. The only time I’ve seen anything like it was when my parents and I spent Christmas in the Swiss Alps at a resort chalet. It’s three stories of perfectly maintained wood, gray stone chimneys, and high-peaked roofs.
I can’t help but picture it in the snow, maybe adorned with white lights at Christmas. Not that I’m trying to romanticize the whole thing, but I have to admit . . . it’s not a bad place to banish oneself.
“Mr. Langdon would prefer you stay in the main house close to Mr. Paul,” Mick says, taking my suitcase out of the trunk. “But if that doesn’t work out, there’s plenty of room in the staff house—the ‘small house,’ as we call it.”
I frown a little at what I think must be a hidden meaning in those words. Why wouldn’t it work out for me to stay in the main house?
I follow Mick through the front door, doing my best not to gape. I’ve been in so many nice homes that I’m generally sort of immune to all the bells and whistles that money can buy, but this is gorgeous in an unfamiliar way. There’s none of the ostentatious snobbery of Park Avenue, nor the trying-too-hard casualness of Hamptons beach homes. Instead it’s sort of this rustic beauty. In place of a marble foyer with a crystal chandelier, there’s a spacious entryway opening to a wide wooden staircase. There’s almost nothing in the way of home decor save for a hunter-green area rug, but that actually kind of works. Too many frills would take away from the natural beauty of the exposed wood.
It definitely feels like a man’s home, and I find myself wishing I’d bothered to look up what happened to Mrs. Langdon. Because while it’s gorgeous in an imposing sort of way, it’s clear that no woman has called this home in a long time. Maybe ever.
I follow Mick into the biggest kitchen I’ve ever seen. The stove in the middle of the room has like eight burners, and the fridge is at least twice the size of ours at home.
Mick is murmuring something to a middle-aged woman whose apron over her jeans and button-down blue shirt identify her as the one responsible for whatever smells so delicious on the stove.
“Ms. Middleton, this is Linda Manning.”
“Olivia, please,” I say with a smile.
“Call me Lindy,” the gray-haired woman says, shaking my hand in a friendly enough manner, although it’s clear that I’m being assessed. “You’re a good deal younger than the rest of them.”
“The rest of . . . the staff?” I ask, not following.
Mick and Lindy exchange a glance. I’m obviously missing something.
“There’s really not much in the way of staff,” Mick says with a forced smile. “I take care of the driving and estate management. Lindy doubles as cook and housekeeper, although a couple of girls from town come over every week to help with the more extensive cleaning. Scott takes care of the land and the stable.”
“Oh,” I murmur, still confused about what they’re not saying. And stable? Really?
Luckily, Lindy doesn’t seem like the type to be needlessly mysterious. “When I said you were the youngest, I meant you were younger than the other home care aides. I’m used to seeing fuddy-duddy old women or thirtysomething charity workers.” She pauses. “Have you and Mr. Langdon met in person?”
“Not yet,” I say. “But I’m eager to meet him. Is he around?”
Mick and Lindy exchange yet another of those glances, and I narrow my eyes just slightly at the familiarity in the look. Something tells me Mick and Lindy are more than colleagues. I guess that’s a good thing, considering they’re out here in the middle of nowhere all by themselves.
“Mr. Langdon only comes up to Bar Harbor every few months or so,” Lindy replies cautiously. “Did he tell you he’d be here?”
I feel a little stupefied. Every few months? I mean, I knew that he didn’t live here, but I thought he’d at least be here when I arrived to provide specific direction on what’s expected of me.
“I guess he didn’t say so specifically,” I say, trying not to totally freak out on them. “I just assumed . . .”
“Well, no matter,” Lindy says, giving me a confident smile. “We’ll give you the lay of the land and introduce you to Mr. Paul, and you’ll feel right at home.”
I’m pretty sure Mick mutters something under his breath, but then he’s wheeling my suitcase out of the kitchen, nodding in acknowledgment at Lindy’s instruction that I’m to be put in the Green Room.
“It’s got a fantastic view of the water,” she says, tugging off her apron. “And it’s close to Mr. Paul’s room should he need anything.”
“Where is, um, Mr. Paul?” I ask, following their naming convention even though it feels like something out of another century.
Lindy’s confident expression slips slightly, and for a second I think she wants to warn me about something, but her smile returns. “He spends most mornings in the library reading,” she says, indicating with a nod that I should follow her. “He’s probably there.”
“Isn’t it afternoon?” I ask.
Lindy doesn’t turn around. “He spends the afternoons in there too. And the evenings.”
“Hey, Lindy,” I ask, moving between her and the door of what I assume is the library before she can knock. “What, um . . . what is it that I’m expected to do? Nobody’s really told me any specifics.”
She purses her lips. “Mr. Langdon didn’t outline any expectations?”
“Oh, sure. He said I’m to encourage his son to get to physical therapy—”
“—and that I’m to ensure he eats regularly.”
“But mostly just that I should be a companion. Keep the man company.”
Lindy doesn’t respond to this last bit, and too late I realize she isn’t looking at me. She’s looking behind me.
I spin around and barely stifle a shriek when I see the silhouette of a man standing in the darkened doorway.
I can’t see his face, but his voice is ice cold. “Sounds like my father forgot to mention the most important part of your job. But then, he never tells my babysitters what they’re really doing here.”
I take a small step forward, wanting to get a look at the man I’m talking to, but he takes a step back, hiding himself in the darkness.
“And what’s that?” I ask, narrowing my eyes.
The door slams in my face.