Read an Excerpt
Twenty-one years later
They were sisters and their mother and aunt were sisters. Quinn and Allie Grayson sat on the wall by the road, waiting for Aunt Dana to arrive from the airport. She lived in France. She was an artist. She was different from every single person they knew. Every time a car drove down their dead-end street, they craned their necks and Quinn felt a funny flip in her stomach. She wondered whether Allie felt it too, but she didn't want to ask.
"It's not her," Allie said when the Tilsons, the new neighbors, drove past in their green station wagon for the third time in an hour.
"Three times. Back, forth, and back again. What do you think they're doing?"
"Buying every plant the garden center has. Their yard is a showplace."
Quinn gave her a fishy look. "Showplace" was just the kind of thing Allie would say. She had picked it up from hanging around their grandmother, who was inside the house, way too much.
A different neighbor, Mrs. McCray, rolled down the window of her blue car and smiled. Mrs. McCray had owned her house forever, had known their mother and aunt since they were younger than Quinn and Allie were now. She was old with white-blue hair, and her rocks had the best tidal pools with the most crabs and starfish.
"Is Dana here yet?" she asked, smiling.
"Not yet. Any minute now," Allie said, but Quinn just stared straight ahead.
"It's marvelous, very, very exciting. To think of her coming all the way from Europe for an art opening! Some artists work all their lives without becoming known. We are all so proud of her. She and your mother got their start painting on my rocks, you know. I still have the pictures they gave me."
"Aunt Dana's the best there is," Allie said.
"Yes, she is. But she'd better not forget where she got her start. Tell her I'll see her at the Black Hall Gallery tomorrow night. We all will!"
"Lucky us," Quinn said under her breath as Mrs. McCray drove away.
Allie didn't reply. She resettled herself on the stone wall. Looking more carefully, Quinn saw that Allie was posing. She had arranged herself to best advantage, legs tucked beneath her bottom, the spring sunlight striking her bright yellow hair.
"You want her to paint you, don't you?" Quinn asked.
"I don't care," Allie said.
"No, you do. I can tell."
Allie wheeled around. "You might have changed your clothes," she said, eyeing Quinn's torn jeans and faded sweatshirt. At the sight of her sister's hair, which Quinn had twisted into sixty-three skinny braids, all looking like a bunch of boinged-out springs,she shuddered. "You want to drive her straight away."
"I couldn't care less what she does," Quinn said. "Whether she stays or goes, who cares?"
"Oh, my God," Allie said, peering down the road. Shade from the tall oaks and pines dappled the tar, making the approaching car look dark and mysterious. It was an airport sedan, dark blue with dents, the kind Aunt Dana always took when she visited. Up the hill, a door slammed shut. Without turning around, Quinn knew their grandmother had stepped outside to see. The car door opened, and a small woman got out. She was about the same size as Quinn and Allie's mother, with silvery brown hair and bright blue eyes, wearing jeans and a windbreaker, looking more as if she'd stepped off a sailboat than out of a city car.
"She looks like Mommy," Allie said breathlessly, as if she'd forgotten, as if they hadn't just seen her a year earlier.
Quinn couldn't speak. Allie was right. Aunt Dana had always looked like their mother. She was the same size, and she had the same curious, friendly, about-to-laugh expression in her eyes. In spite of that, Quinn scowled and couldn't quite imagine what made her say the words that came out of her mouth: "She does not."
"You two have grown so much in a year, I barely recognize you," Aunt Dana said.
"How long are you staying?" Allie asked, running straight into the street and their aunt's arms.
"Just about a week," Aunt Dana said, smiling across Allie's head at Quinn. "Aquinnah Jane. Is it really you?"
Quinn's feet started to move. They jumped off the wall and took three steps toward her aunt. But suddenly they turned and ran, fast, faster, down Cresthill Road, toward the rocks in front of Mrs. McCray's house, to the hidden tidal pool where no one, especially Aunt Dana, would ever find her.
Sam Trevor stood before his lecture class at Yale, loading the tape into the cassette player. All eyes were upon him. Fifty-five students, future oceanographers all of them, were about to hear the tape of whale sounds his brother and Caroline had recorded in Greece.
"I believe you will hear irrefutable proof that cetaceans talk to one another in a language just waiting to be translated," he said. "The work of Malachy Condon makes a fine beginning, but we shall go further. If I can just get this in . . ."
A girl in the back of the room giggled. Sam's glasses slipped, but he caught them with one hand and slid the tape in with the other. Pushing the play button, he gazed across the sea of faces.
"We only have two more classes before finals. I thought you were lecturing today," a dark-haired girl said.
"I was," Sam said. "But I decided to let the whales speak for themselves. My exam will cover what you hear today and, more important, how you interpret it." Then, leaving the tape playing and students groaning, he walked out the classroom door and down the hallway of Crawford Hall toward the faculty parking lot.
Sam was a responsible guy. He never shirked his teaching duties, and he hoped he wasn't doing that now. But he had a feeling in his chest, pressing harder by the minute, impelling him out to his van.
Scanning the shoreline arts page in search of a movie last weekend, he had seen her name: Dana Underhill.
"An opening reception of this artist's work will be held on Thursday, June 17, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Black Hall Gallery. Ms. Underhill, who resides in Honfleur, France, will attend."
Sam had never planned to see her again. He had gone to college, then graduate school, and there had been girlfriends along the way. Then he took the Yale job and started to think of her again. It was subtle, nothing much more than a map reference that he had always associated with her. She and her sister, Lily, came from Hubbard's Point in Black Hall, just thirty miles east of New Haven.
She had taught him to sail. He could head up the Sound, come around the Point, show her that he remembered everything she had taught him.
But she no longer lived in Connecticut. Her career had taken her away. He knew, because a year and a half ago, right after starting at Yale, he had run into Lily at the Long Wharf Theater. She was there with her husband, and Sam was there with his date, Claudia Barton. The memory came hard and fast, hitting Sam like a hurricane: Dana's sister, Lily. His other lifesaver.
"And Dana?" Sam had asked after Lily had filled him in on her own life.
"She's so far away, Sam," Lily had said. "I wouldn't be able to stand it if I didn't know she's following her dream."
"Her dream?" Sam had asked. His hands shaking, he had jammed them into the pockets of his jacket so his date wouldn't see.
"To paint every sea there is," Lily had said. "She's lived on so many coastlines, always finding little cottages with a view of the water. Remember the last time I saw you, what was it, eight, nine years ago?"
"Ten," Sam had said quietly.
"That's right, the year we had Quinn. Anyway, remember I told you Dana was renting that house on Martha's Vineyard?"
Sam had nodded, not quite able to reply, afraid Lily could read his mind.
"Gay Head," Lily's husband said to her as if Sam weren't even there.
Lily had squeezed her husband, but she had smiled at Sam. "That was the beginning, Dana's search for the perfect seascape. Someday I know she'll have enough, she'll get famous, and she'll come back home."
Sam recognized the sadness in Lily's eyes. He knew how she felt; he had a brother like Dana, Joe was a treasure-hunting oceanographer, and he constantly traveled the world. Sam missed him like crazy, and he could see Lily felt the same way about Dana.
"She will," Sam had said to make Lily feel better. "Of course she'll come home. I might have been young, but I remember how close you were. She wouldn't want to leave you for too long."
"I hope you're right," Lily had laughed. "She has two nieces who miss her almost as much as I do. We visit every summer, but mainly they know her through her postcards."
"I know that story," Sam had said. He had one in his back pocket, a postcard sent by Joe and his wife, Caroline, from Greece.
"Are you an old friend of Lily and Dana's?" her husband had asked.
"Oh, Mark," Lily had said, taking his hand. "I'm so sorry. It's just, seeing Sam really brought me back. If there's one person I know would commiserate with me about missing Dana, it's Sam. They meant a lot to each other that summer, sailing lessons in Newport, right, Sam?"
Aware of Claudia's growing interest, Sam nodded. Now Lily was going through her handbag, pulling out an envelope, handing Sam a picture.
It was of Dana. Claudia leaned over to see, and Sam reached past her for the photo.