After they finished their meal, Ward and Currie stayed to help with cleanup before they went their separate ways. He volunteered for Em’s job of picking and gathering, and she headed for the fish hatchery on the far side of the island with Thumper at her heels. When she was out of sight of the lodge, Fang fell into step beside her.
“You know that I don’t need protection, and you’re not supposed to be here.”
He whimpered and pushed his head under her hand. She stopped walking to pet him. “Are you the bottom wolf in the pack? That’s not an easy life, is it?” He nuzzled his head against her leg. “Well, I love your company. And if you’d rather be with a human than the pack, that’s fine with me, but Ward could use you more.”
Fang’s ears perked up, and he ran off to find him.
The terrain of the island changed, growing more hilly and wild. Blackberry bushes tangled together at the edge of the path. Underbrush hid the forest floor. Currie hadn’t visited this part of the island since the guests arrived. She scrambled up a hill and saw Saffron and Price staring down into a ravine. Price leaned heavily on his cane while Saffron stooped to get a better look at something. She went to join them.
“Help me find a heavy branch to drag over here,” Saffron said. “A fox fell in and can’t get back up. I think it hurt its leg.”
Currie tramped through the thick undergrowth to a tree that had fallen during a rare storm. Saffron came to help her, and they tugged a broken branch loose and dragged it to the ravine.
“I volunteered to help her, but she wouldn’t let me,” Price said.
“You’re healing fast enough that you should be in decent shape when you leave here,” Saffron said. “But I don’t want anything else to mess you up.”
Currie knew her sister well enough to realize there was more to it than that. Saffron was being more careful, more formal than usual.
As they wrestled the branch into the ravine, Currie asked, “What do you think happened to this guy?”
Saffron pointed to where the ground at the edge of the drop-off had crumbled and caved in. “He must have been standing there, looking down at something, and the dirt went out from under him.”
“I know that feeling,” Price said.
“Then you can sympathize.” Saffron motioned for them to move away from the ravine. “I love foxes. They fascinate me. When Currie did my caricature, I chose one as my animal body.”
“It suits you,” Price said. “The same coloring. Smart and clever. I can see that.”
“If we don’t scare him, this guy should be able to climb out of there now.” And when they peeked over the edge, the fox tried, but couldn’t. His left, front leg wouldn’t hold him. “I’m going down to get him,” Saffron said.
The fox dragged itself into some bramble bushes at Saffron’s approach, so she sat, Indian fashion, and talked to it in a soothing voice, calming it. When she finally stood and reached for it, it didn’t struggle. But when Saffron got to the branch, she couldn’t hold the fox and climb at the same time.
“I’m coming.” Currie went in after them. And the sisters took turns. First, Saffron would climb a short distance up the branch, and Currie would pass the fox to her. Then Currie would climb, and they’d pass him again. They kept trading places until they reached the top.
Price watched them and offered encouragement. When the fox was out, he said, “You girls have spent a lot of time rescuing things from holes lately, and speaking for myself and the fox, we’re grateful.” He was starting to look tired. His lips had a white tinge.
“I’d better get you back to the lodge,” Saffron said. “You’ve been on your leg too long. Currie, will you take the fox to the animal nursery?”
Saffron led Price back toward the lodge, and Currie walked with them part way. Price struggled with his cane, even though he insisted that he felt fine. Thank goodness, his wound wasn’t deep. He fell on one of the few spikes that was pounded into the ground. If he had hit any of the others, they would have toppled over.
“Is the pit still open?” Currie asked, voicing her thoughts.
“No, Price and I went back and filled it.” Saffron gave Currie a level look. “Whoever set that trap spent a lot of time on it. He whittled dozens of tree branches into spikes. If the wolf hadn’t howled, he would have pounded all of them, solid, into the ground.”
Price hunched his shoulders. “I don’t want to think about that.”
“Have you seen anything else suspicious on the island?” Currie asked.
“No, but I’m not taking any chances. Price and I are going to check things every chance we get.”
Currie thought about that when they separated. Some guest must have stayed up one night, whittling spikes in his cabin. She shivered, and the fox licked her arm. She smiled down at him. He was the most beautiful animal she’d ever seen. Then she thought of Fang and amended her opinion--ONE of the most beautiful animals she’d ever seen.
Trisha wasn’t at the nursery when she got there, so Currie stayed a while to let the fox feel settled and safe. When she put him in his cage, Fang ran toward them and pressed his nose against the metal, and the two animals sniffed each other. They liked each other, Currie could tell. Poor Fang. The wolf had lost all of his natural instincts. He even liked Thumper, who should be his morning snack. Fang was a young wolf. He hadn’t mated yet. Maybe he was a teenager who didn’t want to hang out with his parents and relatives. Did wolves do that? She tossed Fang some of the raw meat that Saffron kept for animals in the pens. Then she fed and watered the fox. Satisfied, she hurried down the path to the fish hatchery, but Fang didn’t join her. He curled beside the fox’s pen to keep him company.
“Mom’s going to have a heart attack when she comes for her next visit.” But Currie didn’t have time to worry about it. She had lost more time than she wanted to. Her mind raced as she hurried across the meadow. She refused to believe that since Emeralda was gone, everyone on the island was safe. A nymph or sprite wouldn’t hurt anything in nature, but she doubted she’d be able to prove it. Between the wolves and the blue jays, the guests realized that the island was fully guarded. More so now, since the jays would cry if anyone even wandered off by himself. Whoever the slasher was, she doubted if he’d strike again. Why should he? This way, he could blame everything on Emeralda. And what would happen when he left the island? Would the pressures of his everyday life make him more explosive? Or would he be able to bury his problems under the heavy load of keeping busy, living his everyday life?
The more she thought about it, the more she felt that she and her sisters should keep track of their guests somehow. If a headline hit the papers about someone who was slashed to death, it would be their fault. They should warn someone, but how? They’d never done this before, and she wasn’t sure how to go about it. She decided to talk to Ward about it. His dad was a cop. He’d have ideas on what to do.
Currie found Frank and his wife sitting side by side on a fallen tree that stretched over the water. Sara’s hand rested near Frank’s knee, a casual gesture of endearment. Currie called to them and scooted out on the limb to join them. “I realized this morning that I haven’t spent much time with either of you.”
Sara smiled. “But you brought me here because you knew the island would work wonders for us both.”
Sara looked around her at the lush beauty. “How could it NOT work?”
“It’s usually enough,” Currie admitted, “but it hasn’t done much for Price.”
Sara considered that. “Price strikes me as one of those people who isn’t happy unless he has something to complain about. If he can’t find drama, he probably creates it.”
“We’ve had our share of those types,” Currie said, “but even they eventually find the island’s flow and heal.”
“Price doesn’t want to,” Frank said. “Neither does our son.”
Sara patted Frank’s leg. “Since we’re finally in a safe haven, out of the storm, we’ve gained some perspective. Until now, we’ve felt buried under guilt.”
Sara shook her head. “You don’t have children. You can’t realize how many times you question yourself about whether you should have done something else--if we’d given Mickey more chores, forced him to be more responsible--or maybe we pushed him too hard and he couldn’t live up to our expectations--or maybe we should have taken away his keys when we found beer bottles in the back seat of his car--the list goes on and on.”
“But since we’ve been here,” Frank said, “we’ve decided that our boy had two loving parents who did their absolute best to raise him right. That’s all anyone can do. He had it better than most.”
“We’ve realized that we can love our son without being responsible for him,” Sara said.
“And we’ve admitted that we did all we could, but he never made it easy.” Frank looked at his wife. “No matter what we did, he fought us on it.”
“Us and everyone else,” Sara said. “Mickey never liked any kind of authority.”
“But he wasn’t a bad boy,” Frank hurried to explain. “He always seemed sort of lost, like he had to stick up for himself, or he wouldn’t know who he was.”
“So we’d let things slide,” Sara said. “And then we wondered if maybe we shouldn’t have.”
“But no more,” Frank said. “We’re done with the blame game.”
“What will you do now?” Currie asked.
“When we go home, we’ll enjoy our lives and we’ll be happy for our son and our daughter who’ve supported us through all this. We’ll visit Mickey once a week and offer him our love, but no more excuses. He can lead a happier life if he wants to, but it’s his choice, not ours. We can’t MAKE him happy. We can’t make him anything. We’ll love him, but that’s where we draw the line. The rest is up to him.”
Currie hugged Sara. “I’m so happy to hear you say that.”
Sara smiled. “So am I.”
“And do you think you’ll be able to really do it?” Currie asked. “Will it stick?”
“It’s our new motto for life,” Frank said. “And we’re going to start going on more small trips.”
“And we’re having our kids over for meals more often, and no one’s allowed to talk about Mickey. Not when it’s family time. We want to hear about them and their lives. We can talk about Mickey later if we need to, but he’s not going to be the focus of everything we do anymore.”
“Good for you.” When Currie left them to hurry back to the lodge to teach her art lesson, she felt confident that they were going to be okay. The island, if not she and her sisters, had worked its magic on them.
Trisha and Mandy waited with Brent at the worktable when Currie hurried into the room. “We think we’re ready to try lithographs,” Trisha said, “since we’re down to our last days here. If they’re too hard, we’ll go back to oils.”
“And you?” Currie asked Brent.
“The nursery’s done, and Thora looked tired, so I took off so she could take a nap. That left me free to come here and pester you guys. That’s as far as I got.”
Mandy grimaced. “You’ll probably do better than I do. Art doesn’t seem to be my thing.”
“Who cares?” Brent asked. “It’s all about having fun. Do you like it?”
“Then that’s all that matters.” He frowned. “What the hell is a lithograph anyway? I’ve never heard of it.”
Currie pushed a flat, rectangular, lithograph stone in front of each of them and handed them each a greasy crayon. “First you draw your picture.”
“Wait a minute!” Brent said. “Is this sort of like when our art teacher made us draw a picture with crayons and then paint over it with watercolors?”
“Same principle, but you have to do a plate for each color you want to use.”
“I remember doing something with rubber cement on glossy paper,” Mandy said. “A different layer of rubber cement to protect each color of paint.”
Currie nodded. “For this, the ink sticks to the greasy drawing, but not to the rest of the plate when you wet it down.”
“This is going to be fun.” Trisha started drawing a bird house on a long pole.
“You can make enough prints to give to all of your friends,” Currie told them.
“Let’s start!” Brent said.
It was a time-consuming process, and they had plenty of opportunities to chat while they worked. It became obvious to Currie, though, that something was bothering Mandy.
“Is everything okay?” she asked when Mandy accidentally smudged her design and almost cried.
“She’s let Price, the prick, get to her,” Brent said. “She should know better. That guy sure has a mouth on him.”
“It’s too bad that Emeralda left and he hurt his leg. Before that, we didn’t have to deal with him,” Trisha said.
“What happened?” Currie asked.
“He’s like my high school kids,” Mandy said. “When he gets hurt, he lashes out at whoever’s handy.”
“Lashes out? How? He spent most of the morning with Saffron, didn’t he?”
Mandy looked away. She didn’t want to talk about it.
Brent said, “There’s no reason for you to be embarrassed. He’s the one who’s the idiot.”
“What happened?” Currie didn’t mean to sound so sharp, but she was losing patience.
Mandy took a deep breath and the words tumbled out. “It was last night. Price looked lonely on the patio, so I stayed up and played cards with him. When I got tired and told him I needed to call it quits, he got grumpy and said that he wasn’t surprised that I didn’t want his company, that I looked like a lesbian with my spiky black hair, and he probably didn’t have anything to offer me.”
“Then he asked if the parents felt safe with their daughters in Mandy’s gym classes,” Brent said.
Currie was shocked. “Was that why you gave him a hard time this morning?”
“I’m tired of how he feels sorry for himself all the time. I’m tired of him, period.”
“He deserved it,” Brent said.
“I’m NOT a lesbian,” Mandy snapped, more to herself than the others.
“What difference does it make? It’s nobody’s business. Besides, I like your spiky hair. It suits you,” Brent told her.
True, Currie thought. Mandy had an exotic quality--striking coloring and features.
“Just because I don’t have any luck with men doesn’t mean that I’d do better with women. I’m pretty convinced I’d annoy whoever I’m with. I like doing my own thing, my own way.”
“You don’t have to defend yourself,” Trisha said. “We like you just the way you are. Not everyone’s meant to be married or to raise kids. We all have to do what’s right for us.”
“I wear my hair like this because it’s easy to take care of,” Mandy said.
“It looks good on you,” Brent repeated.
Mandy laid her paper on her lithograph and rolled the press over it. She looked at the finished result and scrunched the paper into a ball and tossed it to the floor. “It stinks!” She pushed herself out of her chair and slammed out of the room.
“Guess Price really hit home,” Brent said.
“I’ll talk to her after she calms down,” Trisha said.
But Currie was troubled by Mandy’s outburst. Her temper must be bubbling just under the surface. Had they helped her as much as they thought they had?