The Mystery of Dogwood Cross
CHAPTER
17
A Collapse
Maisie’s sandwiches were ugly.
I would wager they were gross, too, but nobody touched them, so I couldn’t verify that. Even Maisie didn’t eat her own sandwiches, but totally dug into our stuff. We had made extra, but I’d rather the leftovers go into Rhys’s fridge.
I knew I was being horrible, and if it were anyone else in the world, I don’t think I’d have even let myself THINK like that for more than a second. Maisie brought out the worst in me, and I disliked her even more for inspiring such yuckiness.
Daniel sat next to me, but by next, I mean almost behind me, at the very edge of our blanket. Maisie commandeered one of the chairs Jason had set up, and he’d insisted Mom take another one. Rhys, however, sat on the blanket next to Mom, across from Nadia, and at the farthest point possible from Maisie.
Nadia and Mom proved to be the bravest of us all by doing their very best to carry on a conversation under Maisie’s scrutiny. I kept thinking about the little Daniel had said, about his feelings about Jason. From the way Jason cast the occasional glare Daniel’s way, it was clear the feelings were mutual. Daniel ate silently, and Jason only spoke up when Nadia prompted him, like this:
“Jason’s sister’s going into occupational therapy, isn’t she?”
and
“Our moms really miss having Rhys around, don’t they?”
Every so often, Maisie would interject with some completely random thing, too, and talk far too much. First, she prattled on about her SUV’s alternator, and then she talked for a full six minutes about the “snail problem” in the marsh.
This was the one time Daniel spoke up. “The periwinkle snails are important to the ecosystem,” he said, defensive. “They keep the cord grass healthy and they’re food for the crabs you like so much.”
She shot him an annoyed look. “They’re everywhere, and disgusting.”
I reached to the center of blankets and grabbed the bag of chips, and held it out to her. “Would you like some more, Maisie?” I was hoping she’d just keep filling that mouth of hers instead of insulting nature.
“Oh, thank you, Dollbaby,” she said, and shot me one of her fake smiles.
When she took it, I moved to my feet. “You know what we need? More ice. Daniel, help me get some more ice.” I didn’t say, “Please?” because it wasn’t a suggestion.
Grateful for the excuse to leave, he hopped up. “Yeah, I’ll get the cooler from my truck.” He nodded politely to my mom. “We’ll be right back, Mrs. Himura.”
Once we put some distance between the picnic and us, I hissed at him, “Why did you tell Maisie about this? She ruins everything!”
“She was going to find out anyway,” he insisted. We stopped at the corner of the Fontaine house. “And she’d have been a hundred times madder if she’d been surprised. You don’t know how she gets.”
I snorted. “I don’t? I heard the way she exploded on you the other day when we visited Rhys without an appointment because our AC was out. And the stuff she said to Mom was unbelievable. She’s horrible, Daniel!”
He ran his hands over his face. “I know. I know. But listen,” he said, and looked at me pleadingly. “She’s the closest thing to family I have, okay? I’ve never had anything before. Now I have a home and my truck and a job I really like.”
I stared at him. “Isn’t that more because of Mr. Fontaine than because of Maisie?”
He stiffened a little at that, but then he nodded. “Well, yeah. Yeah, originally. But she’s gotten rid of everyone else working here, you know? And she kept me, as long as I keep helping her out.” His volume dropped with the last sentence.
“Okay, fine,” I said. “But do you agree with me that Rhys does a lot better when she isn’t around?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“UGH,” I exasperated, and turned an angry circle. And then I stomped a foot to show him exactly how impossible he was being. “How can you not know?! He’s relaxed and responsive and I can tell his brain isn’t as bad as everyone thinks, and then she shows up and he shuts down.”
Daniel didn’t respond except to look at me, but I knew he knew what I meant! I opened my mouth to continue, but a crash from inside the Fontaine cottage hushed me. He and I both looked at the house, and at once, we darted for the stairs to the porch.
Inside, it was stifling hot. It smelled too old and stale, so the first thing I did was turn on the air conditioning. Daniel went further in, past the living room and through the hall.
“Mr. Fontaine!” he yelled, and I ran to CTW’s bedroom. The old man was on the floor by the bed, gasping for breath. Daniel knelt over him, but looked up at me. “Go get your mom!”
I nodded, then took off.
I ran as fast as I could back to the shaded picnic spot. “Mom! Mom!”
She was already on her feet when I got there. “Honey, what’s wrong?”
“Mr. Fontaine,” I gasped. “He fell—collapsed or something. Daniel’s with him, they need your help.”
Mom excused herself from the guests and took off toward the cottage. I half-expected Maisie to stay and finish eating, but she stood and scurried back to the cottage, too. I watched them go, worrying about Rhys’s grandfather. Movement caught my eye, and I turned to see Rhys stand up. The movement wasn’t easy for him, but he managed just the same.
I turned to go back to the cottage with Rhys, but before I’d taken a step in that direction, Nadia was by his side. I stopped and watched his friend go with him, and a look back at Jason told me he felt as helpless—and awkward—as I did.
“Is he gonna be okay?” he asked, and put his plate on the ground.
“Mr. Fontaine? I—I don’t know. I haven’t seen him out of bed since we got here. I don’t know what he was doing.”
He looked up at me. “I meant Rhys.”
“Oh. I—I don’t—,” but then I stopped. And I nodded firmly. “Rhys is gonna be great. He’s improved a lot since Mom started working with him, and he’s tried to talk to me a few times.”
Jason looked at me a moment longer before accepting that. “Okay. Okay, good. Look, if there’s anything we can do, we want to. I know I won’t get the exact same Rhys back, but I’ll take anything I can get. He’s my best friend, and Nadia—she still loves him.”
Somehow, the idea that Nadia and Rhys had a romantic history didn’t shock me. I went back to the blankets, knelt down, and began covering food so the bugs wouldn’t get to it. Jason helped, and together, we silently packed up everything except the plates that had been used.
Past the trees, we heard the sound of the cottage’s screen door opening, then slamming shut. Moments later, Nadia appeared on the footpath. “He’s okay,” she said. “Mr. Fontaine is okay. It looks like he tried to stand up, but lost his balance.” She looked at me. “Your mom says it’s probably best if we leave for the day, but we’ll get together again soon.”
I could tell Nadia didn’t want to leave, but still, she seemed grateful to not be banned again. “Yeah, definitely,” I said. “I think this was really great for Rhys, too. Except, you know, the Maisie part. I won’t let that happen again,” I promised.
She laughed, “Okay, great. And next time you’re in town, let me know?”
“You got it.”
We totally hugged, y’all.
Jason spoke up. “What do we do with the food? There’s still a lot left.”
He was right. There was a bunch left. “Um, if you guys could give me a lift back to the gatehouse, I’ll store it there. We bring Rhys lunch a lot now, so we’ll make sure he gets to eat it.” As opposed to Maisie stealing any of it, I didn’t add.
Nadia helped me fold up the blankets while Jason returned the chairs to the truck. I dropped back in at the cottage to talk to Mom, who wanted to stay for a bit longer. I was totally okay with that, and let her know I’d be hitching a ride back with Nadia and Jason.
Before I left, I paused in the living room, where Daniel sat with Rhys. “You okay?” I asked him. Or them. Yeah, maybe I was asking them both, even though I was pretty sure Rhys wasn’t okay.
Daniel nodded. “Yeah, yeah, I’m okay.” He met my gaze. “I think you’re right. You know, what you said before.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Yeah? Good. Because I’m totally right about it.”
He quirked a grin. “You don’t have self-esteem issues, Miya.”
I laughed. “Whatever. I’ll see you.”
“Yeah, see ya.”
I glanced at Rhys, who stared blankly at the bookcase. “Bye,” I said anyway.
I had to rearrange everything in the freezer to make the pies fit. After I did that, I grabbed a bottle of water and Northanger Abbey and proceeded to not be able to focus on the pages until Mom got back.
“His vitals were good,” she said. She dropped into one of the big chairs and put her feet up on my unmade bedofa, since it was where any footstool should’ve been. “He had some bruises, so I’ll be keeping an eye on that, too, but nothing was broken. That poor man.”
“You didn’t call an ambulance or something?”
“It would’ve taken anyone at least half an hour to get out here. And besides, Maisie’s not the only one with medical training.” She sounded a little offended.
I apologized. My mom didn’t work out of a clinic or a hospital, but she was right: she hadn’t gotten her occupational therapy license without taking physiology courses. “So, you think he’s really okay?”
“For today. But tomorrow, I’m totally contacting the social worker again. Rhys isn’t the only one who needs to be getting OT.” She wiped sweat from her brow. “And we really, really need the AC fixed in here.”
As much as I liked being on the island populated with cafes and boutiques, I began to wonder if it was a good idea to leave the Fontaines alone. At all. Ever.
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