If I have to remember a lifetime of memories, bits at a time, will it take me another whole lifetime to reclaim them all? Or one day will they all connect up and explode inside of me?
I peek out my window again. No sign of Lily. The floor creaks beneath my feet. I walk to the other upstairs rooms. They are all still empty. Will Claire ever fill them? But with what? With only me? I go downstairs. I have never really properly explored the downstairs rooms. Other than a hurried rush to Claire’s bathroom when I cut my knee, I have never spent any time in the rooms beyond the hallway. It only just now strikes me as odd that I have been like a houseguest, confining myself to my room and the shared rooms only, never feeling free to roam the rest of the house. Stay close by, Jenna. I am.
I go to the first doorway on the right in the downstairs hallway. Lily’s room, I think. I push open the door, but it’s an office. Claire’s office, by the looks of the blueprints, fabric samples, and design books. It is cluttered and disorganized. Not what I would expect of Claire.
I move to the next doorway on the right. I turn the knob. The hinges squeal, startling me. Mother has still not updated the hardware and keys of the house. Maybe she thinks it makes the Cotswold more authentic, but it makes moving about unnoticed much more of a challenge. I find a large room, simply furnished. Yes, Lily’s room. A pair of her shoes sits neatly in the corner. On the bureau is a scattering of framed pictures. Claire. My grandfather and Lily. And another one of a little girl in a pink party dress and black shiny shoes. A little girl who holds Lily’s hand. The little girl Lily loved. I walk over and lay it facedown. So what if she knows. What can she do? Hate me? I feel empowered and I kick her shoes out of alignment, and I’m amazed that such a small action could feel so good. Enough of Lily’s room for one day.
The next door on the left side of the hallway is locked. I move on to Claire’s room. The master suite is large. Adjoining the bedroom is a sitting area furnished with two overstuffed chairs and a small library. An arched doorway on the other side of the bedroom leads to a dressing area, closets, and a bathroom. The closets form the same odd tunneling arrangement as mine does. Multiple closets for different needs. Overkill. The largest closet has another door at the back of it that leads toward the center of the house, so I know it would be a windowless room. I put my ear to the door and hear something. A faint hum. I jiggle the lever, but it is firmly locked.
The mattress. Mattress. Mattress. I walk to Claire’s bed, throw back the bottom corner of the spread, and slide my hand beneath the mattress. I pull out my hand and try another corner. It is there. A key. I grab it and stand. For once I remember something about Claire that is useful.
‘What are you doing?’
I slip my hand into my pocket. ‘Nothing.’
‘Looks like something to me.’
I look at the ruffled corners. ‘I was just straightening Claire’s bed. She left it unmade. There’s nothing else to do around here.’
Lily looks into my eyes, like she’s searching for something. I finger the key in my pocket, and she watches but doesn’t say anything except, ‘There’s someone outside looking for you.’
I find Ethan on the front walkway. He shifts awkwardly and then smiles. He almost looks like he is in pain. ‘Hello,’ he says.
‘Hello.’ I look at him and wait, wondering what I am supposed to do.
‘Oh!’ He reaches into his jeans pocket and his strained smile vanishes. ‘I found these keys in my truck. I thought they might be yours?’ He holds out a ring with two card-keys dangling from it.
‘No. Not mine.’
‘Oh.’ He doesn’t move.
‘Maybe they’re Allys’s,’ I offer.
He shoves the keys back into his pocket, and the painful smile returns. ‘I’ll see you on Monday, then?’
‘Your smile is so fake,’ I say. ‘You need more practice.’
His brows come together, and he snorts like he is offended. ‘And of course you’re the expert on smiles. Anything you don’t know?’
‘Not much.’ I smile. Large and sustained.
He shakes his head and looks sideways at me. ‘You win. I can’t beat that.’
I ask him if he’d like a tour, and he says yes, he has nothing better to do. Nothing better? Yes, definitely Mr Personality. He seems interested in the new walkway the workers have laid and also in the dismantling and rebuilding of our chimney. When we walk around to the back, I see that Lily has returned to her greenhouse. I feel the key in my pocket. I could ask him to leave. This might be my only chance to be alone in the house for a long while. But I don’t want him to leave. The key or Ethan. I choose Ethan for now.
We walk to the edge of the pond and he admires it. ‘Not too many people have a pond in their backyard.’
I hadn’t thought about it. We surely didn’t have a pond in Boston. Ethan and I sit down opposite each other on a flat granite rock near the edge, and I appreciate the pond’s beauty for the first time, seeing it through Ethan’s eyes. Clusters of reeds shoot up like spiked anchors around the perimeter. On Mr Bender’s side, some coot hens swim in and out of view between the cattails. ‘I hear frogs at night,’ I tell him. ‘Even in February. Lily thinks it’s strange.’
‘Not so strange for here,’ he says.
‘Are you from here?’
He hesitates, looks at me like I have just asked him to give me a pint of blood rather than asked him a simple question. His answer is just as odd.