“Sold!” The auctioneer smacked the gavel on the sound block. “Dream Thirty-eight: A week for two in actor Ryan Crandall’s Squibnocket beach house—sold to the lady waving the yellow hat.”
“No,” Laurel Simmons whispered, unable to scream the word.
“Yes!” Tammy Gifford shouted, grinning so wide it must have hurt her cheek muscles. “You and Gracie are going to have the best time.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“I am. Be happy, lil’ sis. Relax and have some fun.”
“I doubt we’ll be having too much fun after Chris kills you and I’m in mourning for the rest of my life.”
Tammy shrugged, shoved her straw hat into the canvas bag, and stood. “My husband knows. We talked it over before I left.” Her sister was grinning. Again. “Happy early birthday!”
“What?” Laurel grumbled more than asked. “My birthday’s in November, months away, and Gracie turned four two months ago.”
“Hence the ‘early’ present. Now stop sitting there like Debbie Downer and get up and help me fold the blanket. I want to go claim my—ah, your prize.”
Laurel stood in a daze. What had her sister done? They were not the kind of people who strolled through the gate of the Harborside Inn, found a seat on the expansive green lawn, and then bought items at the Martha’s Vineyard Community Services Possible Dreams Auction. Wealthy people bought the Dreams. When Carly Simon donated a private two-song concert at her home, two rich guys created a bidding war until they each agreed to pay $81,000 to hear the Vineyard’s most famous songstress sing two of their favorite songs. Laurel and Tammy watched those magical moments; they didn’t create them.
Shaking slightly, tabulating how many weeks she’d have to work overtime to contribute toward the cost, Laurel rose and dragged the chairs off the blanket. Tammy moved her beach bag and the cooler to the grass, humming a snappy tune.
Laurel wanted to be happy. She liked to whistle while she worked. She often did. But she never whistled, sang, or hummed about money. She’d spent the last four years praying for enough to get by. She didn’t doubt her prayers had been heard. Wherever they’d lived, she and Gracie always had food to eat and a roof over their heads. They didn’t need fancy clothes or luxury vacations, which is why she had to stop her sister before she paid. “Tam?”
Their eyes met. Tammy shook her head. “I know what you’re thinking. So stop. When I read the partial list of Dreams online last week, I asked Chris if we could try to buy the vacation on Squibby for your birthday. I know it’s your favorite place on Island, probably in the world, and I thought you’d love to have a week there while the weather is still nice and the ocean is still warm. I figured it wouldn’t go for a lot, since the stay was in the middle of September and off-season.”
Tammy picked up the corner of the blanket. “Plus, I counted on the bidding being low, since the dream came at the end of the night and folks would have already spent themselves silly. And I was right. Fifteen hundred is a steal.”
Laurel processed Tammy’s last words while they folded the blanket. “But that’s too much, Tam. You don’t go buying someone a vacation house.”
Tammy chuckled. “We didn’t buy you a vacation house. We’re giving you a dream vacation. Big difference. We planned out our highest bid, and I’m going home with money to spare. So don’t worry. Please.”
A swirl of emotions raced through Laurel’s heart. Her sister was one of the kindest people she knew. Her brother-in-law ran a close second. Last month, when the landscape company went belly-up and Laurel lost her job, Tammy had asked around and heard that an Island nursery needed a new manager. Laurel got the job. As if inviting her and Gracie to live with them for a month or two wasn’t enough, now they’d bought her a birthday present her guilt-ridden conscience told her she didn’t deserve, couldn’t afford, and could never reciprocate, not that one should reciprocate presents.
If her brain could wrap around all that, which it hadn’t yet, she was going to spend a week on Squibnocket. A week! With her precious Gracie. In a house she imagined would be amazing, with a water view of her favorite stretch of beach.
She needed to sit back down. “I can’t believe you did this.”
Tammy stepped over to Laurel and hugged her tight. “I love you, and you deserve a nice vacation, one where you’re not sharing a room with your daughter at your sister’s house.”
Laurel squeezed her hard. “We love staying with you guys. I don’t need this. You and Chris could have—”
“Stop, Laur. Chris and I and the boys have everything we need and then some. There is no sin in being pampered every now and then. You’ve braved more than your share of difficulties since, well, you know. We wanted to give this to you. Please accept it and relish the time in your favorite place.” Tammy’s eyes seem to plead with her, and then her lips parted into a smile. “You can invite us over for dinner cooked by that private chef and served by the ‘staff,’ and maybe you could send the maid to my house one day. If I’m slightly envious, it’s for a maid.”
The sweetness in Tammy’s voice was too much. Her words felt as warm as spring sunshine after a long, cold winter. Laurel felt the tears pooling in her eyes. She blinked and blinked again, trying to fight them off. People were moving around them. She didn’t want to make a spectacle of herself while the auction finished and everyone packed up and mingled. She inched her hand up to wipe both eyes, then gave Tammy another squeeze before stepping back. “I couldn’t have asked for a better sister, even if I’d been able to handpick you myself.”
“I feel the same way, Baby La La.”
They both chuckled at Tammy’s use of the name she’d called Laurel when she first came home from the hospital. Tammy had been four and thrilled to have a little sister. Laurel knew she was the lucky one.
“Do you need to pay or something?” Laurel asked. Emotion was overwhelming her and she needed to move. What she wouldn’t give for a crate of plants, a shovel, and carte blanche to dig in the soil around the inn. Sinking her hands in the dirt would be relaxing, centering.
They walked toward the tables by the entrance. The programs were cleared off and five women sat on the opposite side, their calculators and credit card machines poised for checkout. Tammy paid while Laurel stared at the harbor in the distance.
“Hey, let’s walk down to the dock,” Laurel said.
They left their bags and gear on the lawn and sauntered out to the end of the private wooden dock. Though the lights of the Harborside Inn and downtown Edgartown faded out the ultimate brightness of the stars, Laurel loved the ocean at night. And Edgartown Harbor was one of the loveliest places to be. Yachts, fishing boats, and vessels of all sizes were anchored in the harbor. Their lights twinkled and reflected off the blackness of the smooth sea.
The scene before them seemed to whisper “serenity” as calm ocean waters lapped the sides of boats in a gentle, lulling rhythm. Off to their right, the On Time III glided across the 527 feet of channel between Edgartown and Chappaquiddick for its two-minute journey.
Laurel wrapped an arm around Tammy and nodded toward the Chappy ferry. “I wouldn’t mind having his job. Pilot the little ferry for eight hours, take in this fabulous view every day, count the sea gulls, chat with residents and tourists. I wonder how much it pays?”
Tammy leaned into Laurel and gave her a soft bump with her elbow. “I’d love the chance to meet the movie stars who live over there. Maybe get my DVD copy of Sleepless in Seattle autographed.”
“You would think of it that way, Tam. Me, I’d enjoy the view. I never get tired of looking at the sea, or the boats, or the lighthouses.”
As she spoke, Edgartown Light flashed red. “One, one thousand, two, one thousand.” When Laurel reached six, one thousand, the solar-powered light blinked red again. “Yup, six seconds. I wonder if anyone has ever stood here for twenty-four hours and counted the exact number of times the light signaled red.”
“Laur, why does your brain think of stuff like that?”
The sisters laughed together, the sound of their voices mixing with the music and festivities on some of the nearby boats. Laurel felt happy, an emotion she hadn’t experienced much lately. She turned to face Tammy. “I wouldn’t have survived these last five years without you.”
Tammy clasped Laurel’s right hand. “God is faithful, Laur. He’ll make beauty from ashes. Just you wait and see. This is your time for a fresh start.”
Holding her sister’s hand, Laurel faced the harbor and took in a deep breath of peace. She exhaled slowly, allowing the moment to linger. “Standing here with you, smelling the salt water, gazing at the stars, and listening to the summer sounds, I’m beginning to feel hopeful for the first time in months.”
Everything before her and around her was beautiful. Her daughter was back at Tammy’s, most likely giggling and playing with her cousins. Maybe life was turning around. Maybe a new location and a fresh start were possible. Maybe the pain of the last five years could be erased from her memory. Heck, she didn’t even know where Alex was, which meant he didn’t know where they were either.
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