After all these years, Sullivan thought, it was good to sit here and share the twilight with the one other person in the world who understood why this was such a bad time of day.
“They say the memories fade as you get older,” Mitchell said after a while.
Lillian parked her car in the driveway behind Claire’s red compact, got out and walked across the graveled drive toward the porch steps. All four doors and the lid of the compact’s trunk were open wide.
Two suitcases and a file box occupied the trunk.
The front door of the house banged open just as she reached out to knock. Claire lurched forward, head down, onto the porch, struggling with an oversized suitcase. She was dressed in sweats and running shoes. Her hair was anchored in a ponytail.
The loud, strident voice of a radio talk-show host holding forth on politics poured out of the doorway behind her.
“Need a hand?” Lillian asked above the hammering of the radio pundit.
Claire jolted to a stop, breathing hard. She looked up quickly, startled.
“Lil.” She let go of the suitcase. “Sorry, didn’t hear you drive up. What are you doing here?”
“You told me you were leaving town today. I came by to see if I could help with the packing.”
“Thanks.” Claire looked at the compact’s trunk and then down at the suitcase that she had angled through the doorway. “I underestimated the job. Guess I hadn’t realized how much stuff I had accumulated here in Eclipse Bay. I’m taking the essentials with me in the car. The moving-van people will be here at two o’clock for the rest.”
“Point me in the right direction.”
“I finished my office. I was just getting started on the bedroom and bath. If you want to take the kitchen, I would be forever grateful.”
“No problem.” Lillian moved through the doorway.
Claire followed her. She went to the table where the radio blared and turned off the political hot talk.
The sudden silence left an uncomfortable vacuum.
“You’re a good friend,” Claire declared. “Unlike some others I could mention. You will notice how none of the other members of the team bothered to show. Turns out they all had something unexpected come up at the last minute. Why am I not surprised?”
“Getting fired from a political campaign staff endows you with instant invisibility. Did you know that?
Like being in the wrong crowd in high school.”
Lillian cleared her throat. “Where are the packing cartons?”
“In the laundry room off the kitchen. Help yourself.”
Lillian went toward the kitchen.
“There’s coffee on the counter,” Claire called after her. “And some croissants from Incandescent Body.
You know, that bakery is one of the few things I’m going to miss about this place.”
“Understandable. It’s very good.”
Lillian went into the kitchen and opened the cupboard doors. She did a quick survey of the contents of the cabinets, getting a feel for the size of the job, and then went into the laundry room to look for boxes.
The small space was crowded with the usual jumble of odds and ends that tend to wind up in laundry rooms. A long shelf above the aging washer and dryer held a collection of soap, bleach, and dryer-sheet packages, together with squeeze bottles of glass cleaner and stain remover. A mop and a broom were propped in a bucket in the corner. The basket on the floor next to it was filled with rags.
A selection of empty cardboard cartons was stacked on top of the washer and dryer. She chose two and went back into the kitchen. Methodically she began emptying Claire’s cupboards.
Impulse had brought her here today. She did not know what she was looking for. She only hoped that she would know it when she saw it.
Half an hour later, the two cartons filled, she went out into the living room and down the hall to the room Claire had used as a second office. The desk and file cabinet were still there but they had been cleaned out.
Claire appeared in the hall, a box filled with bathroom items in her arms.
“Finished with the kitchen already?”
“No. I need some strapping tape.”
“On the table in the living room.”
“Don’t know what I’d have done without you today.” Claire went past her toward the front door. “Next time you’re in Seattle, give me a call. I’ll take you to dinner.”
“I’ll do that.”
She waited until Claire disappeared outside and then ducked into the bedroom. The closet doors and the drawers in the chest beneath the window stood open, making a quick search easy. She examined an array of shoes first. Ignoring the high heels and pumps, she looked for a familiar pair of loafers.
They were nowhere in sight. Maybe they had already been packed. She opened one of the unsealed cartons.
Claire’s footsteps sounded on the porch. Adrenaline surged through Lillian, making her hand tremble.
This was pointless. She was wasting her time. She dropped the lid of the carton and hurried out of the bedroom. She started back along the hall.
Too late. Claire was already in the living room, looking at the strapping-tape device that rested on the coffee table. She turned and saw Lillian. A frown crossed her face.
“Didn’t you find the tape?” she asked.
“I stopped to use the bathroom.” Lillian kept moving. She went to the coffee table and picked up the tape. Her pulse was pounding. “I’m almost finished with the kitchen.”
She took a deep breath and made herself walk briskly but not too briskly back into the kitchen. She knelt beside the cartons and went to work sealing them.
Claire’s footsteps receded back down the hall toward the bedroom.
Lillian wondered if her heart would ever stop pounding. Clearly she was not cut out for this kind of thing.
But there would never be a better opportunity to satisfy her curiosity.
She finished taping the boxes, got to her feet and went back into the laundry room for more cartons. Her pulse had finally slowed. She moved two large boxes aside to get at the medium-sized one that looked right for the contents of the silverware drawer.
She noticed the crumpled piece of navy blue cloth on top of the rag basket when she put the boxes down beside it. The blue fabric was not faded or torn. It looked new.
It looked familiar. She had an artist’s eye for colors. She remembered them.
Her pulse picked up speed again. Her heart was pounding now.