The Mystery of Dogwood Cross
Rhys is such a guy. Like. SUCH a guy.
He could seriously put away food, even though it took him a little longer than the rest of us to get it down. Mom fed him, and then asked if he wanted seconds. When he said, “Yes,” we hopped up and made sure he had the remainder of the eggs and turkey ham. And then Mom asked him if he was still hungry after that, and he said, “Yes,” again, and so we made the oatmeal-and-yogurt parfait that we’d seen on Pinterest a year ago and totally started making on a regular basis.
I was thrilled that he had a healthy appetite, but even better was the fact that he’d said FOUR WORDS over the course of the morning.
Okay, fine. One word, four times, but still. He was speaking to us!
After the parfait, Mom asked him if he wanted anything else. He shook his head, and they headed upstairs to Mom’s open office for his OT session. I had just started washing the dishes when Daniel’s truck rolled up outside the kitchen window.
I wiped my hands dry on a towel and tried to not beam too much as I crossed to the door. I told myself that I was excited about Rhys’s improvement, and that I wasn’t allowed to get silly about a boy. Even if the boy was nice and worked hard and had a great smile and totally held my hand that one time.
“Hey,” he said when I opened the door.
“Hey,” I said back at him, and proceeded to smile way too much.
But my goofy smile made him smile, too. “Having a good day?”
I nodded a lot. “Yep. Come in.” And then I stepped back to let him inside. “Rhys is here. The weirdest thing happened, Daniel.” I gestured for him to follow me to the kitchen, and I proceeded to pour him some coffee, even though I couldn’t remember if he drank coffee or not, and I told him about last night and the basics about this morning.
“So he talked?” Daniel asked quietly. He’d taken one sip but no more.
“Just one word, but yeah, he totally said it. It was clear and everything.”
“Yeah, I know, right? Nadia’s gonna be so happy to hear about it.”
“I bet she is. It’s huge. Maisie said he’d probably never talk again.”
“Maisie just doesn’t know how awesome my mom is,” I said proudly.
He laughed. “I guess she’s learning. Speaking of Maisie, she gave me the day off. I was hoping we could hang out today. I could show you some of the other barrier islands, stuff like that.”
Oh, wow.
“That sounds amazing,” I said. “I would so love to but—,” I glanced up to where Mom and Rhys were working above me, “I should probably stick around while Rhys is here.”
I didn’t realize how hopeful he looked until disappointment replaced the expression.
“Oh, okay, yeah. Right,” he said, and fiddled with his mug.
“You could hang out here, with us,” I offered. “I have to finish the dishes, but then we could hang out. We could bake cookies and I’ll let you read aloud to me.”
I was only half-joking about the last part of that. I love it when people read to me.
He laughed, though. “Yeah, yeah, okay. Sounds good. Will you feed me lunch? Y’all make good lunch.”
“We’ll feed you lunch if you help me with the dishes.”
He grinned fully and stood up. “Put me to work.”
Daniel had never-ever-ever made cookies before.
After the way I bossed him around in the kitchen, I wouldn’t be surprised if he never-ever-ever made them again.
“No, dude, seriously,” I said. “You can’t put your finger in the batter and then—what are you doing? I said a half cup! That was one and a half cups!”
“I like chocolate chips!” he proclaimed.
“Yes, but they’ll taste like burned and not chocolate, chips, or cookies if you—oh fine, we’ll just triple the recipe.”
It was only after I’d poured the final bit of flour into the mixing bowl that I realized maybe he wasn’t a cookie-making ignoramus, but perhaps a cookie-eating evil genius. Tripling the recipe meant tripling the yield. Which meant tripling the number of cookies he would take home at the end of the day.
To make up for the extra work, I made him help me wash dishes again, but he didn’t seem put out by that at all. We exchanged random life stories in the way new friends do, with one story triggering a memory for the other person, which launches them into the next story. We left the kitchen gleaming and went to the unusually neat living room. Before breakfast, I’d taken the time to toss the bedofa sheets into the wash and put everything in order, since we had a guest around.
I went to the bookcase and tossed the driest-looking book I could find, A History of Herbs, over to him. He caught it easily and leafed through the pages as he settled into one side of the bedofa. I was halfway through my story about the time I got poison ivy and gave it to my mom, my dad, and my grandma all in like, three hours, when I realized he wasn’t paying a smidgeon of attention to me.
So I tossed a decorative pillow at him.
It smacked him in the head and he whimpered.
“I was telling you about the time I was poisonous.”
“Yeah, but this was way more interesting,” he said, and quirked a mischievous grin.
“You are so jaded, living on this island with poisonous snakes and poisonous bugs and poisonous canaries.”
“Yeah, a cute poisonous girl doesn’t freak me out at all,” he said, and we totally, totally had a moment. The kind of moment where your gazes meet and your mouth grins a tiny bit and, well, I don’t know if it happened for him, but my heart started beating differently.
“Not even if she’s weird and throws stuff at you?”
“Not even.”
“That’s good. She really likes throwing stuff at you.”
He laughed then, but held up the book. “But seriously, Miya, this book is cool. Can I borrow it?”
He was serious about the old book. I shrugged. “I guess you can.” I said, even though it wasn’t mine to lend. “If you read me the first chapter.”
He flipped the book open to the beginning. “‘An Introduction,’” he read, and continued with the worst possible British accent imaginable. Over the next half hour, he only paused to take drinks of sweet tea…and when I corrected his accent.
“You don’t know British!” he finally said, exasperated.
“My DAD is London right now.”
“That doesn’t mean you know British!”
“Sure it does! Now say it right: ‘shed-yule.’”
He sighed hugely. “Shed-yule.”
“There’s a good lad. Continue, Old Bloke.”
Mom and Rhys came down for lunch, and Mom was totally cool with Daniel hanging out. Rhys was subdued and moving a bit more slowly than he had earlier—maybe he was tired. The eye contact he’d been giving us at breakfast had reverted into staring either at inanimate objects or into space. I worried for him, but figured trying to keep life as normal as possible would be the best thing.
But normal was kind of impossible with Daniel around. I continued to boss him, but she was totally generous with compliments, thus negating every false criticism I came up with.
“I have never seen the crust cut so neatly off, Daniel!”
“You are a champ when it comes to spreading the chicken salad!”
“I have never in my life seen someone handle an ice cream scoop so well!”
With each accolade, I fulfilled my daughterly duty by staring at them incredulously. Finally, I looked at Rhys, who sat at the table. “Can you believe her? It’s as if I throw food around like the Swedish Chef when I’m in the kitchen.”
“There was the one time with the lasagna and the ceiling fan,” Mom reminded me.
“It was ONE TIME!” I whined.
The jab didn’t bother me, really, and it served a good purpose. Not only did Daniel laugh at my expense, but Rhys did, too.
Rhys laughed.
Whatever Maisie did from now on, I didn’t care. Rhys was getting better, and I’d made two cool guy friends on this trip.
We ate out on the patio, and Daniel and Mom talked about all the damage on the island from last night’s storm. I told him about the downed tree, and after we were done eating, he asked to go see it. I pulled on my hiking boots, and together we crossed the wet yard and picked our way through the wetland forest.
“It was back here somewhere,” I said, and pointed toward a space that seemed to be missing in the tree line. “It’s weird how things look totally different at night than in the day.”
“Yeah,” he said quietly. “Wait, is this—?” He took off toward the left, and I followed him. We found the downed tree. “A cypress,” he said, and sounded extra sad, like he lost a friend. He climbed over the trunk and traveled its length.
“It didn’t fall on a water source. That’s good. We don’t want anything damming up the fresh water. There’s no natural freshwater source on the island. No ponds or creeks. Everything we have—the canals, the lagoons, all of it—was either man-made or is a collection of rainwater. So when we do have fresh water, we want to make sure it can keep on moving. Everything affects everything else on this island.” He held his hand out for me, over the trunk of the tree, and I joined him on the other side. He didn’t let go of my hand. “Everything affects everything. Especially the people.”
I was about to ask him what he meant, but he stepped close and kissed me.

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