The first male died of the XY virus in Seattle, Washington on February 14. The last known man died on the island of Tristan da Cunha June 6 of the following year. Among the Wicca, that day was celebrated as Liberation Day. Les Femmes called it The Virocalypse. Most women came to know it as The Mending. By the time the pandemic ran its course, there were—give or take some tens of thousands—three billion six hundred forty thousand dead.
Chapter 1: Six months before The Mending
Vivi yearned for a bad day like bad days used to be. Only a year before, a bad day meant a premature stillborn, an undetected birth defect, or a case of eclampsia, not this travail ending in another pointless death.
She trudged down the hall toward the birthing room. She hated the sight of the white-walled isolation chamber, drafted into use for its negative air pressure that let no microorganisms escape. She longed to deliver healthy squalling neonates in her own birthing suites with their muted lighting, their homelike décor of wood and fabric. There they pampered the mothers and coaxed the infants into the world and sent them home healthy and content. Female fetuses only now.
A few yards short of the room, she paused and leaned against the wall, head bowed. It was so early, and she was oh, so tired. She reviewed her patient’s case in her head. Healthy mother, nineteen years old. Normal pregnancy, full term. Male fetus, undersized. Father died of the XY virus within a week or two post-conception. If Vivi were a gambler—which she never was when she could help it—she would give less than fifty-fifty odds the baby was not infected.
She pinched the bridge of her nose and squeezed her eyes shut. Maybe she was wrong. She hoped she was wrong.
She felt a hand on her shoulder. “Dr. Bolder, we need your help. There’s a man trying to get in.”
Vivi glanced into the smooth, round face of a young nurse whose name she should know but couldn’t bring to mind. Kendra? Karinda? “Why are you telling me? Call Security.”
“He’s asking for you. He’s pounding on the ER door and asking for you by name.”
Vivi shook her head. “Are you sure it’s me he wants? Not Natalie Bolder?” That would make sense. Natalie had been taking shifts in the ER as often as she could.
“He said Dr. Vivienne Bolder.”
With a sigh, Vivi pushed off the wall. She poked her head into the birthing room as she passed. “Maya, I’ll be a few more minutes, okay?”
“Only a few minutes,” Maya said. “We’re almost to ten centimeters.”
Vivi hurried on with the nurse. What was her name? Her ID badge was askew, and Vivi couldn’t see it. Credenza? No, that couldn’t be it.
At the locked ER door, a man peered in, his face cupped between meaty hands pressed to the window. Blond hair, uncut for months, fell in strings to his shoulders. His denim jacket strained over his biceps, as if he had spent his time in isolation body-building. When he caught sight of Vivi, he pounded a fist against the glass. “Dr. Bolder! I saw your interview.”
Vivi stopped six feet short of the door, dragging her thoughts to this new subject. She had done an interview the week before, but nothing had come of it, or so she had thought. “Sir, you should go back to your home. It’s dangerous for you to be out,” she shouted.
“But you told that reporter there should be quarantine.”
“Your home is the safest place for you, not here.”
“But I want quarantine!” Wild-eyed, he pounded on the door again.
“Sir! Stop! I was talking about baby boys, newborns. Go home. Your home is your quarantine.”
Vivi raised her voice another notch. “Go home, sir! We have nothing for you here.”
The man turned from the door, walked a few paces away, and then turned back, his hands buried in his dirty mop of hair. He bent as if in agony, eyes squeezed shut. “What about me?” he bellowed. “What about me? Don’t I matter?”
Two security officers appeared outside. They were sturdy women with guns, but Vivi was uncertain they would be a match for the enraged man. She watched for a few moments, her heart racing, until, at the urging of the guards, the man retreated from the door.
As Vivi turned away, the nurse who had fetched her was waiting. “I saw that interview. I couldn’t believe how that Teresa Chinn went after you. Out to make a name for herself. All you did was tell the truth. I know the truth is hard to accept, but still.”
At last, Vivi glimpsed the nurse’s ID. Kimbra. “I appreciate the support, Kimbra.”
“Anyway, everyone around here is on your side.”
Kimbra rushed off, her nurse’s sneakers squeaking on the polished floor.
Vivi hurried back toward the birthing room, trying to remember what she’d said in the interview, wondering how it had been edited. If she had come across as adversarial, Natalie would not be pleased.
Vivi pushed through the double doors into the next corridor, her thoughts returning to the enraged and frightened man. If only more—or all—of the rooms were isolation rooms, they wouldn’t have to bar the doors to men. The hospital had added a few, but hampered by the lack of qualified tradespeople, the conversion couldn’t keep up with the pandemic. And now it was clear that all the hospital rooms in the world wouldn’t be enough.
The only males allowed in the hospital now were neonates, and the next was striving to be born. Vivi took a deep breath and entered the birthing room. “How are you doing, Amber?”
Amber’s terrified eyes swam with tears. “Dr. Bolder, it’s too soon. Make it stop. I’m not ready.”
Vivi pulled the wheeled stool next to the gurney and took Amber’s hand. “You are ready, Amber, but ready or not, this baby’s coming. You can do this. Your baby needs you to be brave.”
“Then tell me if it’s a boy or a girl. I have to know!”
At every prenatal appointment, Amber had insisted she didn’t want to know, that she couldn’t survive having a boy and watching him die. Vivi pulled her hand away and stood. “It’s too late to worry about it now, Amber. Let’s just get you through this.”
A contraction racked the young woman. After it passed, Amber threw herself back onto the pillow, panting. “It’s a boy, isn’t it? You would just tell me if it was a girl.”
“Yes, your baby is a boy.”
“No, no, no, no, no,” Amber sobbed.
“You have to hope that he will be born healthy. You’re in isolation already. If he’s born free of the virus, we’ll do everything we can to help your baby live.”
Amber’s face contorted with rage and pain. “Why couldn’t it have been a girl?”
“I know it’s hard, Amber. There’s nothing harder.”
Amber turned away, weeping. Vivi gave her arm a sympathetic squeeze and moved to the sink.
As she washed, she glanced at Maya waiting at the end of the bed. Her face was like stone. Maya was one of the best OB nurses Vivi had ever known, a monolith of calm, but even she was showing signs of cracking.
Vivi pulled on gloves and kicked the stool to the end of the bed. “Where are we, Maya?”
“She’s at ten centimeters, fully effaced.”
Vivi checked for herself and then patted her patient’s leg. “You’re doing great, Amber. It won’t be long now.”
But Amber seemed determined to keep her baby safe within her body. Vivi would have preferred her to squat on the birthing stool or even on the floor, but she refused to move. She cried and moaned and wouldn’t push.
It took another half hour, but biology took over, and Amber bore down in spite of herself, contraction after contraction. The tiny new human separated from his mother and took his first breaths. Vivi clamped and cut the cord.
Maya suctioned the infant and tried to hand him to Amber. “He’s perfectly formed,” Maya said. She used to say, He’s perfect.
Amber covered her face with her hands. “I can’t look at him. Take him away.”
“I know it hurts, dear,” Maya said, “but he needs his mother, even if your time together is short.”
“I don’t want him,” she screamed, shaking her head so that her damp hair flew about her face.
With her free hand, Maya gripped Amber’s shoulder. “Stop that right now. If you don’t love him, no one else will. Now take him.” She thrust the baby into Amber’s arms.
Amber either had to take him or let him fall to the floor. Her arms folded around him, and after a moment of hard breathing, she peered at his tiny blue-tinged face. “He’s so beautiful,” she sobbed. She brushed her palm across his head and touched her forefinger to the tip of his nose, her expression softening, infusing with the mother love Vivi had witnessed uncountable times. “Your father would’ve been so proud of you.”
Maya gave a satisfied nod and returned to Vivi’s side. “Natalie was here looking for you earlier,” she murmured.
Vivi sighed. “I didn’t want to do that interview to begin with. She’s the one who insisted.” Women are frightened, Vivi, Nat had said. We need to try to allay their fears. As far as Vivi was concerned, women weren’t frightened enough.
She pushed aside these thoughts and turned her attention back to the young mother. Expulsion of the placenta was still to come. Maya took the infant to clean him, administer the Apgar, weigh and measure him, and test him for the virus. On his appearance alone—slow to pink up and lethargic—Vivi was ninety percent certain he had it. If so, she hoped Amber would stay in isolation with her son for the three days he would live.
One more contraction, and the placenta slithered out. As Vivi examined it to make sure it was whole, the door to the room opened, and the man from outside the ER pushed in. His bulk seemed to fill the room. “Is this a quarantine room?”
Vivi jerked a sheet between Amber’s spread legs. “Sir, you can’t be in here.”
“Is this a quarantine room?” the man shouted. The newborn began to squall.
“No, it isn’t.” It was, but not in the way he meant. This room’s pressure prevented microorganisms from escaping to infect others, and the man had just broken that seal.
Maya was already calling Security. Vivi wondered what the man would do if he realized he had just exposed himself to the XY virus. She stood and stripped off her bloody gloves. “This woman has just given birth. Please, sir. Step outside. You have no right to be here. Let’s talk in the hall.”
Vivi managed to back him out of the room. A cadre of staff had gathered, but they didn’t know what to do any more than Vivi. “Sir, your home is the safest place for you.”
His bloodshot eyes met Vivi’s. She saw he had been weeping. “Why does that baby deserve quarantine, and I don’t?”
Vivi tried to picture where the baby had been when the man entered. Swaddled in the bassinet, she thought, and hoped she was right. “That baby doesn’t need quarantine. That baby is a girl.” This white lie seemed kinder than the cold truth. “Please, sir. We’re doing the best we can. Please go home, and leave us to our work.”
Four armed guards arrived. The man went with them, head bowed, docile, resigned. Vivi watched him go. Within a week or three, Vivi knew, he would be dead.
Saddened, outraged, and somehow feeling guilty even though none of it was her fault, she returned to the birthing room. Maya was showing Amber how to nurse her son. Vivi washed, gave Amber a final exam, washed again. She couldn’t get the man out of her mind, his terror and despair. He was right about one thing—he deserved quarantine as much as a baby boy. But they didn’t know how to save the men. They didn’t know enough about the disease, all its modes of transmission, all its vectors. It had struck so fast, with such devastation, they couldn’t catch up. The babies, they could save.
Vivi felt a hand on her shoulder. “You’re not responsible for that man,” Maya said.
No, the men were not in her purview. She said goodbye to Amber and stepped into the hall, blinking away the sight of the young mother crooning to the baby in her arms, pushing aside thoughts of the man who had hastened his own death. If she were to get through this day, she had to concentrate on one task at a time. Right now, she needed coffee.
Vivi made her way toward the doctors’ lounge. As she rounded the corner, she almost collided with Natalie. As soon as Natalie saw Vivi, she began to sign, her hands moving emphatically. “You’ve been avoiding me. You think you can treat me this way because I’m your sister.”
“Of course not, Nat. I would treat anybody this way. Do you think I control when a baby decides to appear?”
Natalie made a guttural noise and beckoned for Vivi to accompany her. In heels, Nat tip-tapped down the hall, and Vivi followed, feeling like a schoolgirl on her way to the principal’s office.
Natalie pushed open the doors into the administrative wing and then into the hospital boardroom, which in Vivi’s opinion should be spelled b-o-r-e-d, because that’s how she’d felt every time she’d been forced to sit at the expansive table. Portraits of former hospital presidents, all men, spanned one wall, an unintentional history of changing hairstyles. The last had died three or four weeks before.
Nat drew Vivi’s attention with a touch on her arm and began to sign. “Your interview has gone viral. Headline. Human Survival Dependent on Mandatory Infant Quarantine.”
Out of patience, never her strong suit anyway, Vivi set her hands on her hips. “You know as well as I do that if we wait to see whether that is an indisputable fact, it will be too late. Somebody has to tell the painful truth.”
“But it didn’t have to be you!” Nat said aloud. “This interview was supposed to help raise money for the next Sanctuary House.”
“Not if they believe you’re an alarmist quack!”
“Why didn’t you do the interview? You’re the one with patience and diplomacy, not me. You know as much as I do about Sanctuary House, more even.”
“You know why.”
Because she still sounded like a deaf person, more so when put on the spot. Although cochlear implants had restored Natalie’s hearing, she believed she would be discounted because of her speech. “Nat, we’ve made a courageous beginning with Sanctuary House. We’ve made hard choices, but they’re the right choices. We have to forge ahead. You keep taking care of the babies, I’ll keep taking care of the moms.”
“What if we’re wrong? What if we fail?”
Vivi’s irritation fled. Nat’s eyes were red-rimmed and the skin beneath them looked thin and bruised. Like herself, Natalie was getting just a few hours of sleep each night. Vivi put an arm around her sister. “Don’t lose heart now.”
Vivi glanced at the wall clock. “Gotta go. Clinic hours.”
She hurried on, but her thoughts remained with Natalie who looked beaten, almost ill, and that worried Vivi. She needed Natalie to stay strong.
The suicide rate among teenage girls in Seattle has spiked to eleven percent. An anonymous source at the Washington Department of Public Health, when asked about the high rate, responded, “Life as we know it has changed irreversibly. Who do you think that would impact the most? A 70-year-old woman whose life is mostly past or a teenage girl whose life has hardly begun?” Education authorities speculate that the high suicide rate is partly due to group hysteria.
Sara squatted and snipped at the lettuce patch. With each snip, she laid a handful of leaves in the gathering basket, her jaw clenched against her resentment. She may have agreed to this job of harvesting whatever they needed for dinner or whatever Nana said to harvest, but that didn’t mean she liked it. What was the alternative, though? Leave it to her arthritic grandmother? She sighed and tossed another handful of lettuce into the basket.
A few cold raindrops spattered her head, and she glanced up at a slate sky. She laid down her scissors to flip her hood up and made sure her mobie was tucked safe in her coat pocket. She moved to another row, singing along with the Desolation tune playing on her music app.
He’ll be born into grief
Into arms of despair
His life will be short
His father not there.
The wind picked up, driving steady rain. She missed the towering firs that had once sheltered the yard. She missed the thrill of their dangerous sway in wind like this, the privacy from their neighbors, their breathtaking beauty against a clear sky. “You can’t grow vegetables without sunlight,” Nana had said as they watched each tree fall, segment by segment, plunging from the heights to land with ground-shaking thunks.
They had been lucky to find someone—a man—who could scramble up the trunk like a monkey, wield a chainsaw one-handed and drop pieces of Douglas fir into the yard without a single piece hitting the roof. They had been lucky, too, to find a gas-powered wood splitter, or she might’ve been chopping wood by hand like some pioneer girl in a Willa Cather novel. As it was, lifting the rounds of wood onto the splitter required superhuman strength. Maybe she should go out for the wrestling team. Not that there still was a wrestling team.
Don’t go there, she told herself, and focused on the lettuce patch. A red leaf, a green leaf, snip, snip.
They were lucky Nana was a farm girl from Iowa. She had been right, wise even, to fell the trees and plant a garden. The wood had kept them warm through the rolling power outages, and the vegetables had fed them when produce rotted in the farm fields for lack of pickers. They were lucky living where they lived—even in the feeble winter light, they were still harvesting lettuce, spinach, carrots, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.
They were lucky. She should feel grateful.
His mother will mourn him
His sister will cry
They will lay him to rest
With a sobbed lullaby.
Nana leaned out the back door and popped open an umbrella over her sleek white hair, her lips moving. Sara tugged an earbud from one ear. “What?”
“What’s taking so long? You’ll catch your death.”
Sara turned her face to the sky, relishing the spray of rain on her skin. Unlike her grandmother, she loved being outdoors even in a downpour. She loved the smell of green—that was the only way to describe the odor of so much vegetation—and wet earth. Carrying on in the rain with whatever she was doing was as natural to her as swimming was to a duck. “I’m just counting my blessings. Aren’t you always telling me to do that?”
“Is it working?”
Sara snorted, recognized it as a sound her mother often made, and tried to turn it to a laugh. “Go back inside.”
“Pull half a dozen carrots, please.” Nana shut the door.
Sara saluted. “Yes, ma’am,” she said under her breath as she tucked the loose earbud back into position.
Her mobie chimed a text message, but it would have to wait until she washed up. She had spent too long saving up for the mobie to touch it with muddy hands. Her dear darling mother believed in earning what you had.
She moved faster now, though, cutting and piling lettuce in the basket. Maybe it was Junie calling her to do something, or maybe it was Colin. She pulled the carrots and rinsed them at the spigot before carrying everything inside. In the mudroom, she threw her coat on a hook and scrubbed her hands. She pulled out the mobie.
Colin: Let’s sneak out tonight.
Sara hesitated. It was a risk, not to her, but to him. It was easy enough for her to sneak out. Nana went to bed early, and these days, Mom was seldom home before midnight and wouldn’t notice anyway if Sara weren’t in her bed. Colin, though, wasn’t supposed to leave the house. Did his parents really hope to keep him on total lockdown? Someone like Colin who’d far rather hike up Mt. Rainier or kayak the San Juan islands than play a stupid video game? Plus, not counting v-chat, she hadn’t seen him for a month.
Sara turned the mobie sideways to text with her thumbs. The usual place? 10:00?
Great! Love you.
Love you too.
“Sara!” Nana called. “Come look, your mother’s on TV.”
Nana still called it “TV.” So turn-of-the-century. She still called her mobie a “phone,” too.
Sara left the basket of lettuce and carrots in the kitchen on her way to the family room. She flopped down on the sofa in front of the streamer. “Ready.”
A local news reporter—Teresa Chinn, the caption said—appeared on the screen. “Today we have with us Dr. Vivienne Bolder, OB-GYN and fertility specialist, to answer our questions about the fight against the XY virus, particularly the fight to save babies.”
The first few questions were just background—how many babies had Dr. Bolder delivered, say, in the last month (thirty-one), how many were boys (fifteen), was this more or less than usual (about thirty percent more births than usual).
“Your mother looks tired,” Nana said.
Haggard even, Sara thought, especially next to the young, eager reporter. She worked too much, sixty, seventy hours a week. Her mother’s angular face was a little too long to be model pretty, but she was still what people called attractive or maybe striking—although it was hard for Sara to think of her as anything but Mom. It was the alert intelligence that showed in her eyes and the energy of her expressions. Her short dark hair was threaded with more gray than Sara remembered when she thought of her mother.
Teresa Chinn leaned forward, her gaze more intent. “How many of those baby boys are still alive?”
“So about 60%. Isn’t that unusually high?”
“I don’t know the statistics on other obstetricians.”
“Would it surprise you to know that other obstetricians’ mortality rate a month after birth is closer to ninety percent? How do you account for that?”
“Most male neonates die these days, as I’m sure you know, either because their fathers contracted the XY virus before the babies were conceived or because the babies themselves are exposed to the XY virus after they leave quarantine. In either of those circumstances, as far as I know, not a single male infant has survived longer than three days.” Vivi began to list other factors—poverty, the education level of an individual doctor’s patients—that would contribute to mortality rate, but Teresa Chinn interrupted.
“What about the surviving infants you delivered? Were those babies conceived before their fathers were infected?”
“Seattle is Ground Zero. So with this virus so rampant here, why have such a high percentage of your infants remained healthy?”
“It’s not magic, Ms. Chinn. It’s simple. Their mothers have—voluntarily—accepted long-term quarantine.”
“You mean they’ve been shut away.”
“They have made the brave choice to accept isolation in order to protect their newborns. And by the way, it’s not just the babies I’ve delivered. Every healthy male baby born in this hospital is offered this option.”
“And where do you lock them up?”
Sara grinned to see her mother’s cold stare. Sara had been on the receiving end of such a look and could imagine the reporter’s discomfort. “Lock them up? It’s not a jail.”
“Confine them, then.”
“We have leased one of the empty dorms at the University of Washington and retrofitted it with everything medically necessary to ensure the survival of these baby boys. It’s called Sanctuary House, it’s a farsighted effort supported by the medical community, and so far, has been successful.”
Teresa Chinn tapped her pen on the table. “So these mothers are shut away from the world, from their families, from their husbands, and their other children.”
“Most of them no longer have husbands, but yes. Although we think the XY virus can only be transmitted male to male, until we are certain, no one is allowed into Sanctuary House except these mothers and babies and a handful of women cleared to assist and care for them.”
“Isn’t it true that no one is allowed out either?”
“No, that isn’t true. The residents are free to leave at any time. But if a mother chooses to leave, she can’t return. The risk of exposing the other infants to the XY virus is too great.”
“But I’ve been told there are armed guards at all the exits.”
Vivi snorted. “Come on, Ms. Chinn. Every exit is also an entrance. The authorities think the XY virus may have been released intentionally—as you no doubt know. The guards are there to protect these baby boys, to keep unauthorized people out, not to keep the residents from leaving if they want to.”
“Isn’t it true that in at least one instance, you refused to hand over the baby of a mother who left the building?”
“The rules of medical confidentiality prevent me from discussing that case. Suffice it to say, there were extenuating circumstances. The decision was made in consultation with social workers and Child Protective Services.”
The reporter scowled at Vivi. “How long will these mothers and babies have to stay at Sanctuary House?”
“That’s a question for the CDC. Until the virus is eradicated or runs its course or we find a cure—”
“But that could be their whole lives.”
“It could be.”
“What kind of life is that?”
“A life without the threat of the XY virus,” Vivi snapped, and Sara laughed.
“So you’re guaranteeing these babies will live if their mothers stay at Sanctuary House.”
“There are no guarantees in life, Ms. Chinn. Our worst fear at Sanctuary House is that, despite all our safeguards, somehow the XY virus will find a foothold.”
Sara had heard her mother and Aunt Natalie discussing the logistical nightmare that was Sanctuary House.
“Just finding workers, necessarily women, with the expertise to install negative airflow in the quarantine rooms for each baby’s first three days—” Vivi began.
“It sounds as if you think every male infant should be isolated in this way.”
Sara leaned forward. Her mother nodded, the camera focused tight on her face. “I do. I believe it should be a national mandate.”
“Eek,” Sara said and glanced at Nana, who covered her mouth with one hand.
“So you think the CDC won’t be successful in containing the XY virus,” the reporter said.
“Isn’t it better to be safe than sorry? Shouldn’t we act as if the CDC won’t be successful instead of gamble that they will? We can roll back these protections, but we can’t put them in place once it’s too late. We gambled with climate change, and now thousands of homes are underwater. Wouldn’t it have been better to assume the worst?”
“What about personal freedom?”
Vivi’s tone was scornful. “Personal freedom? What is personal freedom compared to the survival of the human race? I’m sorry, Ms. Chinn. That’s all the time I can spare.” She rose and left the room, leaving the reporter spluttering to conclude.
Sara laughed. “Go Mom,” she said.
“I wonder if your brother has seen this.”
“I’ll make sure.” Sara snagged the link from the streamer and texted it to Ian. Typical Mom. And just one more reason she’s never home.
More than thirty million jobs across the nation remain unfilled for lack of qualified applicants, and according to the US Commerce Department, the number is expected to grow. “We need women who aren’t already working to step up,” said Secretary of Commerce, Lajita Patel. “It’s similar to the need the country had during World War II when women entered the work force in record numbers. For the sake of our country, every able-bodied woman needs to work.”
To assist in this effort, Patel said, a bill is before Congress to fund high-quality daycare centers and after-school programs nationwide. These would be staffed by laid-off teachers and would put to use empty classrooms in existing school buildings. In addition, the bill would provide financial assistance to help evening and night shift workers with home-based childcare. The measure is expected to pass without debate.
Madeline let her tablet drop to her lap, thinking that throwing money at the problem of empty jobs wouldn’t be enough. Every woman babysitting was one more woman not working in an office, factory, or field. What they needed was neighborhood sleep centers, at least for the younger kids. The older ones, like Sara, could take care of themselves.
Madeline contemplated the problem for a few moments and then sighed. The reality was, she should be one of those women stepping up. She had practically raised Sara and Ian, but now they were grown. (Practically? Why did she always feel she had to qualify things? She had raised them, Ian from age eight and Sara from birth. Vivi had never had a moment’s worry about their care.)
Now Sara would be off to college in the fall (if there still was college). Ironic. Here Madeline was in what, traditionally, would be retirement years, and she was contemplating going into the work force for the first time in her life. Scary. Not as scary as what was happening in the world as a whole, but still.
This shifted her train of thought to her grandson. Please let Ian escape the virus. Cradle him in safety. She whispered her prayer to the universe, imagined it floating off to vibrate through the vast web of Being and influence Ian’s fate.
She picked up her tablet to check the time. Not too late to call and see how Ian was doing, but she hesitated to interrupt his time with Joss at the end of a work day. Instead, she scrolled through the article again. What kind of work could she do, with no experience outside running a home and raising children? She should’ve gone to work when Jim died, but she hadn’t. She supposed it was because, between the sale of his company, their investments, and his life insurance, Jim had left her so well off she didn’t have to.
No, that was only part of it. She relived for a moment the shameful feeling of being freed, unburdened, when a week or so after the funeral, she took Jim’s boat (it had always been his boat, never theirs) out onto Lake Washington and poured his ashes into the waves. Then, for four years after his death, she had filled her life with fun—bridge club, book club, travel, and charity work—until those began to pall, and she realized she was just using them to get her out of the house she had once loved, a house that had become far too large for her and made her feel as abandoned as the children’s old toys.
Vivi’s plea for help at the time of her divorce had rescued Madeline, that was the truth of it. Raising her grandchildren had given her a new purpose. And, of course, she loved them.
A squeak in the ceiling above interrupted her meditations. Footsteps upstairs, cautious and slow. Sara getting a snack and afraid to wake her Nana? Madeline listened hard. No, the steps were moving away from the kitchen at the back of the house and through the living room over her head. Madeline heard the distinct click of the front door deadbolt.
She rose, wincing from the arthritis in her hip, and hurried to the window that looked out over the front lawn. She drew the curtain back just in time to see Sara lope down the driveway, her long hair wafting behind, catching a glint of moonlight. Madeline’s hand went to the window latch to open it and call Sara back, but after a moment’s hesitation, she let her hand drop. Sara didn’t need policing. After all, she was eighteen. In fact, Sara didn’t spend enough time making mischief. She was far too responsible, almost too sensible. Madeline closed the curtain.
Besides, at her age, Sara needed her friends more than her Nana. And that’s no doubt where she was going, to meet a friend. Juniper Delgado or Colin McKenzie. Or both. Madeline rather hoped it was Colin. She loved the way Colin had, from the first, made himself at home in their home, helping himself to snacks and drinks, leaping up to carry in groceries for her, letting himself in the front door shouting, It’s just me. When he stayed to dinner, he never offered to do the dishes, he just got up and did them. He was sweet and polite, full of energy, and so funny, he could make Sara laugh until she cried. Madeline missed him, and if she did, how much more Sara must.
Madeline sank back onto the sofa and put her feet up, prepared to stay awake until Sara returned in two or three hours. Had Sara really thought she could sneak out unheard at ten o’clock? If so, she knew nothing about the sleep patterns of older women. Typical self-centered teenager, thinking her Nana went to bed the minute she retired to her basement apartment. Ha. Madeline counted herself lucky if she could sleep six hours at a stretch. She’d always been a bit of a night owl, a habit established when Vivi and Natalie were small and the wee hours were when she had a moment to herself.