From Chapter Two
After spending a frantic night packing what little was left of her possessions and the following day loading them into her Uncle Damon’s hired van to be taken to the storage locker, Lily Smith had told herself she really could leave the country for weeks and weeks and not have to worry about anything. She had nothing left to worry about.
She glanced in the rearview mirror of her rental car and realized she could no longer see the skyline of New York City. Just like that, it was gone. She was on her own. Only the future ahead, she told herself. As the miles clicked off the built-in navigation system, she tried to focus on the next few days, but she kept checking the rearview mirror as if New York would suddenly reappear—or a pack of paparazzi would zoom into view in pursuit of Lillian Linden-Smith, celebrity miscreant. It was a bitter mix, feeling glad to have escaped from the only place she’d ever called home.
Look on the bright side, Lily. You could take advantage of Uncle Damon’s spur-of-the-moment offer of a job because everything else you owned of value was sold in the auction. Visiting the storage locker gave you the chance to get your travel gear. Voltage adapters are expensive and now you don’t have to buy a new one. You kept the Givenchy travel collection. Wasn’t it great that you refused to sell the Kors little black dress, the Manolo’s, and the two pairs of Bruno Magli’s? No matter what being an “author assistant” means, you won’t be an embarrassment. It all worked out for the best.
Her inner cheerleader finally got tired and she was no less anxious. After crossing into Connecticut she considered the best place to take a break. It was much later in the day than she’d planned. Last night, with no place else to go after the dealer took the last of her furniture, she’d collapsed in Uncle Damon’s guest room and slept hard for the first time in what seemed like years. She’d woken up this morning with the vague feeling of having been crying, but after a brisk shower and the pleasure of making eggs for herself and Uncle Damon that he’d praised for being “as good as David’s,” she’d been in a more positive frame of mind. Even though David had passed away more than five years ago, the house still had his laughter and serenity, and she had soaked it up.
But the escrow officer who was supposed to take her keys from her had been delayed, making her start from Manhattan later than she had planned, especially after the time it took to secure the rental car. On the plus side, Uncle Damon had insisted on giving her an advance against her first couple of paychecks, and a small personal loan to pay down her credit card so she had some emergency funding should she need it. He’d been a little miffed that she hadn’t told him just how desperate her financial straits were. One minute he’d been treating her to dinner and the next offering her a job. It was a relief to have those financial cushions. Her bank had been the last stop on her way out of New York.
She willed herself not to look in the rearview mirror. There’s nothing back there for you.
The humidity dropped as she drove north and east through small town after small town. The cooler air was fragrant with the aroma of fresh sod and moss as she passed rolling pastures. The leaves were nowhere near turning but she could imagine how beautiful the landscape would be when reds, golds and coppers massed on the hillsides. Someday she might come back this way, maybe with someone special to share the sights.
It occurred to her that she could actually think about having a “someone special.” That would mean, potentially, telling someone about her parents, and about hiding in her condo for a year and a half in fear of being recognized. Or about being judged, by the media at least, a financial swindler and criminal. How did one bring up, in a casual conversation, that one had an arrest record, or that perfect strangers felt justified when they swore or spat at you?
A cool, quiet roadside park beckoned. Alone in the parking lot she left the car radio playing a public radio broadcast of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and enjoyed the lunch Uncle Damon had made for her. His “little of this, little of that” turned out to be sliced pear, a lovely wedge of brie, a tart kosher pickle and cream crackers. For at least those few minutes she felt calm. Finally, she could focus on exactly what she’d undertaken. Uncle Damon had said the author was unpleasant. He’d only given Lily one stricture: she couldn’t quit. Since the job was a godsend, she had no intention of failing.
So she didn’t have to worry about money for a few months—what a relief. In addition to now having some resources on her credit card, another credit card from Uncle Damon’s little publishing house would be waiting for her in Edinburgh on Monday. Her priority, after she reclaimed the packet of tickets and itineraries from the difficult Dr. Hathaway, was updating the air tickets to her own name. If she had a smarter phone she could probably take care of that right now.
Duh, she thought. Glad to find her mind could focus more clearly, she clicked open her cell phone and called Uncle Damon. After assuring him she was safely on her way and more than halfway to Meredith, New Hampshire, she made the case for needing better technology at her disposal.
“A laptop? Of course you need a laptop. I should have thought of it.” She heard him call out to someone, then he came back on the line. “Lupe—my assistant—will see about ordering one from a store where you’re headed.”
He went away again, then returned after a muffled conversation. “She says there’s an electronics store in Meredith. I’ll give her your number and she’ll keep you posted.”
She thanked him and hung up with a deep breath. There, she told herself. Your brain isn’t fried, just rusty. There was nothing inherently difficult about this job. It needed attention and forethought. After living day to day for the many months since the scandal had broken, thinking about next week and next month was finally a possibility.
Her final hurdle, however, was developing a working relationship with the famously boorish Dr. Hathaway. She’d had professors like that at Wellesley—brilliant and utterly without social graces. Some of them hadn’t had social graces to begin with. Their neurons fired a little bit differently than most people’s and their empathy was sometimes on a time delay. There, but slow to surface.
But there had been a few profs who simply dispensed with the niceties because it was easier for them that way. One professor in particular had it all worked out through a social exchange diagnosis that he could be an insensitive asshat and if you minded, it was your fault. When a student had told him she had breast cancer, his response had been, “Why should that matter to me?”
Lily’s jaw still dropped every time she recalled it, not to mention his subsequent diatribe about the inherent manipulative nature of compulsory compassion. She didn’t relish the idea of working with anyone who approached that level of asshattery.
Back on the road, and finally able to tune in several choices in music, she flipped channels between Gotye, Christina Aguilera and Florence and the Machine. The upbeat music and peaceful highway continued to improve her mood throughout the afternoon.
Though New Hampshire’s sapphire lakes and emerald mountains should have already prepared her, she gasped when she caught first sight of the large, richly blue Lake Winnipesaukee. Green-crusted islands, some with large homes just visible between the trees, were dotted across the surface. Deep fingers formed large bays and there were almost as many small craft on its surface as moored at the numerous docks.
Daniel Webster Highway skirted Meredith Bay and would lead her into the heart of Meredith. She rounded the first corner into the town to find the roadside filled with food stands promising apples and peaches, shaved ices and fresh lemonade. In the lazy summer afternoon light, the water looked inviting. She envied the people out on their water skis, but noted they were all wearing body suits. The snow-fed lake was probably a few degrees above freezing. Given the crowds sunning on the lakeside beach and playing in the water, that was how New Englanders liked it. Not that New Yorkers weren’t a tough lot. They just tended to think New Englanders took things to unnecessary extremes.
The rental car GPS warned her she was approaching Dr. Hathaway’s home. Nearly five o’clock was much later than she had planned.. At first she thought she was being directed into a bed-and-breakfast called The Lakeside House by mistake, but the building turned out to be a large private residence. The classic salt box two-story main building had two one-story wings. The driveway was lined with blooming rhododendrons of lavender and scarlet. Somebody kept a beautiful garden.
Her tires crunched on the gravel as she slowed to a stop. It was a large house for the single loner that Uncle Damon had described. She’d had no time to even buy a copy of the professor’s book and wasn’t sure what she looked like. She realized that a young woman was sitting on the porch so she got out of the car with a brisk air, gathered her handbag and hoped her businesslike shirtdress that had served as her standard courtroom attire wasn’t overly crumpled from the long drive. She’d chosen her Magli stilettos to add several inches to her petite height and because they boosted her confidence.
“Dr. Hathaway?” she asked as she mounted the three shallow steps to the cobblestone porch, even though she was guessing the woman was too young and fair-skinned to be the Indian-heritage professor.
The pretty blonde shook her head. “Not by a long shot.”
Lily realized then the woman was very pregnant and roughly her own age. “Am I in the right place to find her?”
“Yes, but she won’t be home for another half hour or so. You could set your watch if you like.” She changed to a nasal, mechanical tone. “When you hear the bicycle bell the time will be five-a-thirty, exac-ta-lee.”
“I see.” She held out her hand such that the woman didn’t have to rise to shake it. “I’m Lily Smith from Insignis Publishing.”
“Kate Hathaway, Nicky’s sister.” Her hand was swollen and dry. “Are you a new assistant? I didn’t know Nicky was getting another one. Does Nicky know she has a new victim?”
“A pleasure to meet you.” Diplomacy 101 suggested that Lily would not need to understand Kate’s reasons for being snide about her sister to a stranger, so it was best to appear as if she was unaware of any undertone. She was spared from further pleasantries by the opening of the front door.
A much older woman in a beautiful purple sari over soft green petticoats looked at her curiously. Kate and the woman shared the same nose, mouth and chin, though Kate’s skin was several shades lighter.
“I apologize for arriving unannounced,” Lily said. Uncle Damon had given her a sketchy version of Nicole Hathaway’s bio and knew she was Indian by lineage and American by birth. This must be her mother, she thought, taking note of the simple gold cross at the woman’s throat. “I’m Lily Smith from Insignis Publishing. I’ll be accompanying Professor Hathaway on her tour. I understand she isn’t available yet.”
“I am Indira Hathaway.” She offered her hand and Lily met her gaze. After a quick handshake, Mrs. Hathaway stepped back, holding the door open for Lily. “Welcome to our home. Please come in. My other daughter will be home very soon. May I offer you tea?”
She smelled what had to be dinner. Her timing was awkward. “I really must check into my lodging for the night. I could return later this evening. Around seven or seven-thirty?”
“Please come in,” Mrs. Hathaway repeated. “Join me for a cup of tea and please stay for dinner.”
“It’s not vindaloo,” Kate said from behind them.
Lily froze for just a second before she realized that Mrs. Hathaway’s glacial stare wasn’t aimed at her. “I couldn’t impose.”
“It is no imposition at all. Please, be our guest for our evening meal.”
She hadn’t been to India since her exchange program stay of two months when she was a high school junior. From what she remembered, though, the repetition of the offer meant it was genuine. It would be rude not to accept and she had no reason to alienate Dr. Hathaway’s family.
She nodded. “In that case, I’d be honored.” It was the truth when she added, “It smells delicious.”
“We’re having spiced chicken. Are you a vegetarian?”
“No, though I really should be.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You’re already too skinny.”
“Welcome to the house of joy,” Kate muttered.