eyond the double hairpin in the road, past the leaping deer sign, right near where her mother used to come to fill plastic jugs with water that bubbled up from the roadside spring: That’s where Jimmie Sue said Cora might find Jamie.
It was a sorry-looking place, with rough-cut siding and a cement block for a front step, set back from the road in a thicket of birches. There were no cars in the gravel lot, but Cora’s skin pricked up, on edge. A faint puff of smoke wafted up from the metal chimney stack.
She never thought she’d say this, but thank God for Jimmie Sue. She’d somehow motivated Juliette to help clean up the whole apartment, and had also gotten Senior out of bed, gotten him shaved and dressed and slicked back his hair.
And it was Jimmie Sue who told her what was going on with Jamie, who told her to look for him at the Go Go and who drew the map to this place and also said there was another cabin where he might be, out beyond where George Forrest lived on his houseboat. Jimmie Sue drew a map to that place too, said Cora should stop at George’s for directions if she got lost.
Now Cora mounted the cement block and peered in the tiny window in the door, covered with a black metal grill. It was a disaster inside, even worse than the apartment had been, plastic bottles and what looked like coffee filters everywhere. She knocked but it was clear no one was there. The door was secured from the outside with an enormous padlock.
Jesus. Could it really have gotten this bad? Jamie might be guilty of leaving his dirty underwear on the floor, of eating soup cold from the can, but a hardcore drug addict? A dealer, a criminal?
Cora, chilled, frightened as she stood outside the house, didn’t want to believe it.
But what if Jamie was in some kind of trouble now? As a kid, she’d been the one to rescue him when he climbed to the top of the monkey bars and then couldn’t get down, who scared off the fat kid who was bullying him, who even told Lanelle Hinkins, who had a huge crush on him in high school, that Jamie didn’t really want to be her boyfriend. Whatever mess he was in, Cora could get him out of it.
She got back in the car and wound her way down from the mountain toward the big lake. So that’s where George lived. She knew exactly where the cabin was that jimmie Sue had marked on the map, but she’d stop and ask George anyway, Cora decided. She wanted to thank him for last night. Tell him everything was all right. See him again.
Why hadn’t she paid more attention to George Forrest in high school? Gone out with him, when he so obviously had a huge crush on her? Why hadn’t she married a nice guy like that, so familiar, someone who was at his core so much like her, instead of running halfway around the world and throwing in her lot with someone she would never begin to understand?
She’d been stupid, that was why, and immature. She’d been hell-bent on getting as far as she could from her family and the MAL and Hot Springs, from Arkansas and from the whole United States, when everything she really cared about was right here.
That had to be George’s houseboat: Jimmie Sue had drawn it to look like the Three Bears’ cottage, and has said it stood alone in this cove. A car was parked near the dock, and Cora felt her heart quicken at the idea of seeing George again. She smoothed her hair, glad she’d taken the time to blow-dry it, and sucked in her stomach.
George opened the door, looking rested and even more handsome than he had last night.
“I wanted to say thanks,” she said, butterflies in her stomach, “and just to, well, talk a little more, with things a bit calmer.”
He hesitated only a moment. “Sure,” he said, throwing open the blue door. “Come on in.”
The place was small and snug, with furniture built right into the walls. Little Beth hummed to herself and played on the floor. It wasn’t until her second sweep of the room that Cora noticed the young woman, looking almost like another child, curled up on one of the built-in red-cushioned benches, wearing a white towel with a white towel turbanned on her head.
“Cora,” said George. “Meet Taryn. My wife.”