Nearly twenty-five years ago, Kathleen Halloran’s brother drowned during the last summer they ever spent with their grandmother on a remote island off Maine’s coast. Like a siren’s call she can’t resist, Kathleen is pulled back to Little Sister Island. She leaves her job and her girlfriend, packs up her few belongings, and moves into her grandmother’s cottage.
Molly Cooper loves life on Little Sister, where the islanders take care of their own. Kathleen Halloran doesn’t belong here, and her arrival stirs up unwelcome memories for the islanders—including Molly’s brother. Molly is certain Kathleen will pack up at the first big blow. When she doesn’t, Molly begins to see maybe there’s more to Kathleen than she thought.
Sometimes, before you can move forward, you have to look back.
|Publisher:||Caren J. Werlinger|
|File size:||527 KB|
About the Author
Bestselling author Caren Werlinger published her first award-winning novel, Looking Through Windows, in 2008. Since then, she has published seventeen more novels, winning several more awards. In 2021, she was awarded the Alice B Medal for her body of work. Influenced by a diverse array of authors, including Rumer Godden, J.R.R. Tolkein, Ursula LeGuin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Willa Cather and the Brontë sisters, Caren writes literary fiction that features the struggles and joys of characters readers can identify with. Her stories cover a wide range of genres: historical fiction, contemporary drama, and the award-winning Dragonmage Saga, a fantasy trilogy set in ancient Ireland. She has lived in Virginia for over thirty years where she practices physical therapy, teaches anatomy and lives with her wife and their canine fur-children.
Read an Excerpt
A blast of cold wind hit Kathleen, nearly knocking her over and misting her glasses with sea spray so that she could barely see. She couldn't recall ever having such a rough crossing before, but she'd never made it at this time of year. She tried to ignore the little voice telling her this was a sign — a sign that she'd made a huge, impulsive mistake.
She jumped when a door slammed behind her.
"You should come inside."
She held to the rail of the ferry and turned to the man who had shouted at her over the wind. "I'm okay. We're almost there."
She pointed to a hump of land only just visible through the gloom.
The man bent over at the waist, laughing so hard he nearly lost his balance as the deck heaved. "That's Big Sister Island. We got nother hour before we get to Little Sister. Maybe more in this chop. It's wicked cold. You'll be froze by the time we get there."
Her heart sank while her stomach rose uncomfortably. She followed him back into the little cabin. One bare bulb illuminated the interior. Two steps up, in the pilothouse, sat the ferry's captain, his hands firmly gripping the wheel and the throttle.
"Aren't there any other passengers?" she asked.
She took off her damp jacket and sat on one of the hard plastic benches that lined either side of the cabin. Using the hem of the T-shirt under her sweater, she wiped the droplets off her glasses and put them back on.
"Nope." The man who had invited her in held out a cup of coffee in a dented enameled cup. "Just you and supplies."
With a nod of thanks, she accepted, trying not to grimace at the dark stains that dyed the interior of the cup. The black coffee itself was so thick, it was in little danger of sloshing over the lip, no matter how the ferry pitched. She turned the cup so that the handle was away from her, telling herself no other lips had touched this part of its chipped rim.
"Fred," the captain called, holding out an empty mug of his own.
Fred obliged by refilling it with more thick coffee and handing it back up before taking a seat across from Kathleen.
"So you're Maisie Halloran's granddaughter."
Kathleen, who had just taken a sip of scalding coffee, could only nod through watery eyes as she tried to swallow the bitter sludge. She forced it down. "How did you know that?"
Fred shrugged. "Small island. Not much happens everyone don't know about."
Up in the pilothouse, the captain raised his own cup in a kind of toast. "We were sorry to hear about Maisie's passing," he said over his shoulder. "Not many left like her. Kind lady."
Kathleen nodded again, cradling the cup in her chilled hands. She decided it worked better as a hand warmer than a beverage. Below them, the ferry's engine vibrated as it churned them onward. "You both knew my grandmother?"
"Oh, we know most all the islanders. Not too many folks live there. Bobby here," Fred pointed to the captain at the wheel, "he was born and raised on Little Sister. Still got family there."
He nodded toward the rear of the ferry where Kathleen's car was now thoroughly drenched in seawater. "Good thing you got to the landin' when you did. We was late pushin' off or we'd've already been underway."
"I could have caught the next ferry," Kathleen said.
Fred bent double and guffawed again. She wasn't sure what she'd said that was so funny. He gestured with his cup, proving her wrong by slopping some coffee onto the stained linoleum tiles of the cabin.
"You'd've had a long wait. Ferry don't run again for a week. We'll probably have to put in overnight 'fore we go back."
She frowned. "But the ferry schedule had lots of ferries listed."
"Yup." Fred nodded again, rubbing the backs of his fingers over the gray stubble bristling along his jaw. "For Big Sister. Only boat goin' to Little Sister is this one. State ferry runs once't a week once the season is over. Once't a month come winter, and that's weather permittin'." He turned to look out the droplet-covered windows, but Kathleen couldn't see anything through them. "Tons o' folks go to Big Sister. Not many wants to go the extra to get out to Little Sister. Get some tourists in high season, but usually the only passengers we carry this time o'year is just the islanders goin' to the mainland for a few days and back home."
Kathleen watched a rivulet of spilled coffee run toward her feet as the ferry rolled with the waves. She clutched her coffee cup, trying to keep the semi-liquid inside from splashing onto her jeans.
Fred tilted his head as he regarded her. "Weather's gonna be turnin' soon. When you plannin' on goin' back?"
"I'm not planning on going back." She pretended to take a drink from her coffee cup. "I'm moving to Little Sister to stay."
Fred's bushy gray eyebrows rose as he lifted his cup to his lips. His silence clearly communicated his surprise. And his doubt, she realized when he scrutinized her over the rim of his mug.
Just as quickly, his eyebrows scrunched together in a puzzled frown. "If Maisie was your grandma, how come you didn't recognize Big Sister?"
She turned to gaze out the window behind her, though the only thing she could see in the harsh glare from the naked bulb was her own pale reflection staring back. "It's been a long time. Almost twenty-five years."
If he was waiting for further explanation, he was going to be disappointed. A moment later, she heard his heavy boots clomping and then the cabin door opening and closing with a gust of wind.
She took advantage of his absence to quickly dump her coffee in the little sink near the coffee pot, grab her jacket, and slip out the rear door of the cabin. Grasping railings and crates to keep her balance, she made her way to her car. She got in and closed the door just as another heavy gust of spray washed over the windows. The cabin's yellow glow floated in and out of focus through the wet windshield.
She pulled her phone out of her jacket pocket and opened the last text she'd received as she'd sat on the ferry dock.
"Don't do this to us. I know we can work things out. I didn't mean what I said. Please call me. Please come back. I love you, Suze"
She powered the phone off and put it back in her pocket. She closed her eyes and drifted into a restless sleep.
It was dark when a rap on the window scared the life out of her.
"We're here," Fred called through the glass.
She knuckled the sleep from her eyes and turned the ignition. Following his hand signals, she drove off the ferry and onto the island.
The sweep of her headlights sliced through a heavy fog, and she realized she hadn't the first clue where she was.
"It's a small island," she muttered to herself. "It can't be hard to find one little cottage."
But she hadn't been here since she was ten, and it all looked turned around in the dark and the fog. She crept down what she remembered was the main street of the island's only town. She supposed things could have changed in twenty-four years. A trash can appeared out of nowhere, and she jerked the wheel away from the curb.
Cursing under her breath, she put the car in park and got out. Most of the shops along this stretch of the street were dark, but there, like a beacon from a lighthouse, was a larger building with lights glowing a welcome. She got out, locked the car, and made her way toward the lights.
She peered through the glass door into a cozy dining room. About a dozen people were seated at tables and along the counter. Every single one of them turned at the tinkling of the bell on the door as she entered.
Kathleen stood there a moment until a rosy-cheeked woman bustled from behind the counter, the lights glinting off the streaks of silver running through her dark hair.
"Land sakes! What a cold night!" she said, taking Kathleen by the arm. "Table, dear?"
Kathleen nodded even as she was being propelled to an empty table.
"You'll want something hot," said the woman, her fists propped on her wide hips. "Coffee or tea? Or hot chocolate maybe?"
The others all watched her with open curiosity as the woman hurried back behind the counter and returned a minute later with a white mug filled with coffee.
"Thank you," Kathleen said.
The woman slid a menu in front of her, pulling a pencil out of the bun at the nape of her neck. "You look that over and let me know what you want. We still have a little of the chicken and dumplings left."
"That sounds wonderful," Kathleen said, not even bothering to look at the menu.
"My name is Wilma. You just holler if you need anything." Wilma stuck her pencil back in her hair and hurried off.
The bell on the door tinkled again, and Fred and Bobby came in.
"Hey, Wilma," said Fred loudly. The locals all nodded in their direction. "See you already met ..."
He looked in Kathleen's direction. "She's Maisie's granddaughter we heard, but never got her name."
Kathleen felt like a zoo specimen as the curious glances intensified. The heat rose in her cold cheeks. "I'm Kathleen Halloran," she said, apparently to the entire diner. "And you never really said. How did you know I'm Maisie's granddaughter?"
Fred chuckled as he and Bobby took stools at the counter. "Sadie, at the ticket window, told us."
Kathleen remembered now, the nosy young woman wondering why anyone would go to Little Sister Island this time of year.
Her eyes widened in alarm as chairs scraped and stools swiveled. Every person in the dining room got up to come to her table and shake her hand, some with murmurs of condolence and others of welcome. A few people mentioned remembering her from when she was a girl.
Wilma shooed them away as she bustled back over with a steaming bowl. "Let the poor thing eat. She looks half-froze."
"Thank you," Kathleen said.
The coffee — she wondered if Fred noticed the difference as he gulped his down — and the chicken and dumplings were all delicious. With hot food and drink and the cozy warmth of the diner, she began to feel drowsy.
"Can you tell me how to get to my grandmother's house?" she asked when Wilma brought the check.
"Land sakes," Wilma clucked. "You can't go out there tonight. We didn't know you were coming. No one's been out to start up the furnace."
Kathleen hadn't even considered that there might be things that would need to be tended at the house after sitting empty in the months since Nanna's death.
"How about a room here tonight," Wilma suggested. "And we'll call Mo Cooper to meet you out at the cottage tomorrow and set things right."
Kathleen hadn't planned on spending money on a hotel, but she supposed it was the smart thing to do. She went out into the cold night and tugged one bag loose from the crammed back seat of her car, trying not to cause an avalanche of boxes and suitcases.
Wilma led the way through a door at one end of the dining room, up a wide staircase padded with a faded Persian runner with old-fashioned brass rails holding the runner in place. Upstairs, the long hall had crisp white woodwork and a series of rooms with open doors.
"You're our only guest at the moment," Wilma said. "Do you like morning light?"
"Sure," said Kathleen, following Wilma into one of the rooms.
"We keep the doors open to air them out this time o'year." Wilma switched on a bedside lamp. "You can flip the bolt to lock up. Breakfast starts at six. Welcome home."
She pulled the door shut behind her, leaving Kathleen alone in the clean, simple furnishings. She stepped into the bathroom and groaned when she saw her reflection in the mirror.
"I look like a drowned cat," she muttered, staring at her lank auburn hair, courtesy of the dried sea spray from the ferry. "Nice first impression."
She rinsed her glasses under the tap to wash away the salty film coating the lenses and dried them before stripping to take a quick shower.
A short while later, she lay under clean sheets, covered with a heavy quilt worked in nautical patches of cloth. She stayed stiffly on the left edge of the mattress, listening to the continued howl of the wind outside. She swept her arm out over the empty mattress beside her and shifted to lie sprawled across the middle.
"Welcome home," she whispered to the dark room. "If only."
* * *
KATHLEEN SQUINTED AT THE beam of sunlight insistently piercing through the opening in the curtains. She yanked the covers over her head, wondering why in the world she'd said she liked morning light.
It was no use.
With a heavy sigh, she flung the covers off and sat up, rubbing her eyes. She climbed out of bed and padded across the room to squint again at the sun hovering just above the treeline. The storm had passed, leaving the skies calm, the sunlight shining directly into her face. Everything sparkled. She turned back to the room, temporarily blinded.
A hot shower rinsed away what remained of her drowsiness. She took some time with the blow dryer, hoping to present a bit better appearance than she had the previous evening.
"Only a bit," she said to her reflection.
She dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt with a fleece vest, then repacked her bag. She found her phone and powered it on, but was surprised to see no bars. She held it up and walked to the window. Nothing. She tucked it into her pocket and went down to the dining room where Wilma was apparently waiting for her. A mug of fresh coffee was pressed into her hand while Wilma ushered her to the same table.
"Land sakes, you needed a good night's sleep, Katie."
But Wilma wasn't listening as she set a menu down on the table and bustled off to fill other coffee mugs.
Kathleen got a couple of nods from the men seated at the counter — mostly faces she recognized from the evening before.
She gave Wilma her order and closed her eyes as she inhaled the coffee. Fred really needed to take a lesson from Wilma. She was startled by a jostling of the table as Wilma sat with a cup of coffee for herself.
"Nels will have your breakfast cooked up in a jiffy," she said, laying a motherly hand on Kathleen's arm. "Bobby and Fred told me you're planning on moving here. Living here."
"Then you'll want to be seeing Rebecca."
Wilma nodded. "Rebecca Ahearn. Bobby's sister. She's the island Keeper and historian now. She'll do your Passing."
Kathleen frowned. "My passing."
Wilma nodded and patted her arm as a bell dinged from the kitchen. "That'll be your breakfast."
A moment later, she slapped a plate of corned beef hash and fried eggs down on the table as she expertly sloshed more coffee into the half-empty mug. Kathleen had her mouth open to ask more questions, but Wilma dashed off to fill more coffee cups and clear empty dishes.
Kathleen shook her head and dug into her breakfast. This was a taste she remembered from her summers here on the island with Nanna. She hadn't had corned beef hash in years, not since —
Kathleen jumped at the unexpected appearance of a woman at her table. "Good morning," she said uncertainly.
"I'm Rebecca," said the woman, holding out a hand.
Kathleen shook it, surprised by the firmness of the grip as Rebecca studied her with eyes that were a surprising light blue-green against her black hair and bronze complexion.
"I'll let you finish your breakfast." Rebecca nodded toward the counter. "When you're done, I'll be waiting."
She moved away to where Wilma had a cup of coffee waiting for her. They put their heads together, whispering as Wilma glanced over Rebecca's shoulder in Kathleen's direction.
Kathleen's enjoyment of her breakfast was pretty much gone as she ate the last few bites and gulped what remained of her coffee.
No sooner had she stood than Rebecca slid off her stool.
Kathleen motioned toward Wilma. "I just need to settle ..."
"Of course." Rebecca zipped her jacket. "I'll be out front."
Wilma led the way back out to the lobby of the hotel, which Kathleen hadn't paid much attention to the evening before. Furnished with comfy-looking sofas and chairs scattered about, with bookshelves lining the walls, it had the feel of a family room. The check-in desk actually had an old-fashioned guest ledger.
"Would you mind signing?" Wilma said, holding out a pen. "We've kept track of the hotel guests going all the way back to the 1880s."
Kathleen signed and paid for her room and meals.
"Thank you so much," she said. "I was more tired than I realized last night."
Wilma came around from behind the desk and surprised Kathleen with a hug. "It's good to have you back."
Startled by the unexpected gesture, Kathleen simply nodded and turned for the door.
Excerpted from "When the Stars Sang"
Copyright © 2018 Caren J. Werlinger.
Excerpted by permission of Corgyn Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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