"Here, boys. You may each have a cookie. Then go along with Caroline." Julie held out the plate of fragile cookies; each boy took one carefully, and they left the room. In the doorway, a young woman waited for them. Cameron looked back and waved.

"They're lovely children, Julie," said Natalie, when they had gone.

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"Aren't they?" said Julie proudly. "They're bright, too. Gareth's already learning French in school.

"Well," she said, pouring tea into thin white cups. "So you go back this afternoon. Has it been a good trip? Are you glad you came?"

"Yes," said Natalie thoughtfully. "It was important to me, finding you. I suppose if I hadn't, I would have wondered for the rest of my life.

"And I read the diary last night." She took the blue book from her purse and laid it on the table that was between them. "It explained a lot of things."

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"It was a terrible year in my life," Julie said. She lit a cigarette and leaned back in the pale yellow chair. "But you know, Natalie—I hope you could tell this from the diary—after the first few months, when it was so hard to believe that I was actually pregnant, well, after that, I never had any bad feelings about the baby. About you, I mean. I really, I think, grew to care very much about what happened to you. For a while there, except for Doc Therrian, you were all that I had. My parents were there, but they never really adjusted to it; they were so sad and ashamed. I was very lonely. But I had the doctor, and I had you, inside me."

"Julie, what happened to Terry? I can't quite bring myself to say 'my father.'"

Julie sighed. "No, I don't blame you. Poor Terry. You know, I really can't even remember him very well. I think he was a nice boy. Very bright; very handsome. But he was young, too, and he hated Simmons' Mills, as I did, even though he'd lived there all his life. There was that bond between us for the short time we knew each other, that we both felt outside of the town. He became absolutely panicked when I realized I was pregnant. There was so much he wanted to do with his life, and suddenly—well. I can't blame him for any of what happened. I never saw him again. He went to Colorado that summer, and than he decided to stay out there and go to college. The following year, when I was at Miss Sheridan's, my parents heard somehow, I suppose from friends in Simmons' Mills, that Terry had been killed in an accident out west. I felt sad, but not much more, when I heard it. It was as if the whole thing had ended, then. You were gone, and then Terry was gone. I thought about writing to his father, but I never did. I just concentrated on my own life after that: I think my main goal after that year was that I should never, ever again, be lonely or feel out of place."

Julie smiled suddenly. "I succeeded, too. Look—did you notice those?" She gestured with her hand to the far wall of the room.

Natalie stood up and walked across the long room to the white wall that was covered with framed photographs of Julie. Some of them were magazine covers. Others were portraits signed by famous photographers: there was Julie laughing; Julie pensive, with her head tilted down into shadows; Julie regal, with bare shoulders and a diamond necklace; Julie flirtatious, glancing with half-closed eyes over her shoulder; Julie maternal, holding an infant against her as she looked into its sleeping face.

"You're sure," asked Julie, coming to stand beside Natalie, "that you wouldn't want a career like that?"

Natalie looked at the wall for a long time. There must have been thirty separate Julies there: all of them posed, all of them paper.

"Very sure," she said finally. "But you know, Julie, I wish Dr. Therrian could see these. It's too late now, of course. He may not even be alive. But when I talked to him, I could tell how much he cared about you. He must have wondered, all those years, how you were, whether you were happy."

They sat back down. The tea remaining in Natalie's cup was cold.

Julie lit another cigarette. "He never actually told me this," she said suddenly, "but I am quite sure that he wanted very much to keep you himself. I could feel, all that summer, that it was on his mind. I hoped he would suggest it, but at the same time I knew it wouldn't have worked. He was in his sixties, then, and his wife's health was bad."

Natalie thought of the old man, dying, all alone. And if he had adopted her? At least he would have had a daughter there to tell him goodbye. She didn't wish that for herself. But she remembered him there, in the hospital bed, and how he had looked at her with fondness and false recognition, and said, "Julie?" She wished it, in a way, for him.

"It must be awful, having no family," she said. "Mrs. Talbot told me that their only child had died very young."

Julie stared at her, puzzled. "You mean he didn't tell you?"

"Tell me what? We only talked about you, and about me."

"Oh, Natalie, I didn't realize. I thought you knew. The diary didn't explain, about Doc Therrian?"

"Explain what?"

"Terry. His real name was Peter Therrian. He was Doc Therrian's son."

32

BRANFORD WAS greener, cooler than New York, and quieter; the smells of Branford were newly mown lawns, trimmed hedges, and the fresh wet-and-rubber scent of sprinklers. The city with its combined scents of exhaust fumes and leather taxi seats seemed far behind Natalie.

And Tallie was there: on the porch, in the swing. She beamed when she saw Natalie.

"Darling!" she greeted her. "Can you believe that here I am, ensconced like an old lady, like a grandmother, being waited on hand and foot? Your mother convinced me to come. Just for two weeks. Then I'm back to the island in time to see fall come; I wouldn't miss fall on the island for anything! But I'm so glad you're back; I love that red suit with your dark hair. Perhaps I'll do a sketch of you while I'm here."

Kay Armstrong came to the porch and hugged Natalie. "I just couldn't bear staying away any longer, so I persuaded Tallie to come back with me for a little while, at least. Welcome home, Natalie. You girls did a terrific job while I was gone. I can't find a thing in the kitchen, but everything is so tidy and clean."

Nancy appeared at the door, with a tray. "Iced tea, everybody! Hey, Natalie's back! Take my glass, Nat, and I'll get one more."

They sat, sipping from the tall glasses that clinked with the brittle splinters of ice: three generations of women, on the Armstrongs' porch. Tallie was poised and graceful on the swing, her face as strong as sculpture; beside her, Kay sat, relaxed, tanned, and happy, and held her mother's hand un-self-consciously. Natalie and Nancy sprawled on the steps; Natalie kicked off her city shoes and stretched her bare feet beside her sister's.

In the dim woodsy place at the end of the lawn, tree frogs and doves made the settling sounds that came always at twilight in summer.

"I think," said Nancy, "that if I could choose anyplace to be at all, I would choose here. Right now, anyway."

"Me too," said Natalie.

"Me too," agreed their mother.

Tallie was silent. Finally she said, "I don't know. I think I'd choose a place from the past. I'm delighted to be here, of course, but there are all these memories that I yearn sometimes to go back to."

"Memories are always better, though, than the actual time was," said Nancy. "Don't you think so?"

"I think you're right, Nancy," said Kay Armstrong. "Because you can filter out the bad parts. Like if I were to remember this moment, ten years from now, I'd censor the mosquito that's biting my ankle at this very moment. Damn!" She reached down and slapped her foot.

"And I'm censoring, right at this instant, the fact that I have to go to the bathroom." Natalie laughed.

"Where's your sense of romance, you people?" hooted Tallie from the swing. "You should learn to practice mind over matter. That wasn't an insect, Katherine. It was simply an affectionate nibble at your ankle. And Natalie, you simply are filled with a wonderful sense of warmth and fullness. That's how I operate my memory. I simply remember everything, and translate it as I wish. You should all learn that process of selectivity."

"I'll be back in a minute," said Natalie. "I'm going to think about that in the bathroom. I have this marvelous sense of warmth and fullness."

From the hallway inside the front door, she could hear Nancy say, "Isn't it good, having Natalie back?"

One more trip, she thought. I have to make only one final trip.

33

NATALIE LEFT her father's office for a moment on Tuesday morning to help an elderly woman patient into her taxi. Mrs. Pittman had been coming to Dr. Armstrong for years; now she was increasingly frail, a combination of age and illness, and her mind had begun to wander more often into the past than it stayed in the present, as if the memories were a more comfortable place to live.

"Do you have someone to help you into the house when you get home, Mrs. Pittman?" Natalie asked, feeling the woman's hand trembling and fragile in hers.

"Frederick helps me," Mrs. Pittman whispered, as if it were a secret. She clutched at the black coat she wore, despite the August heat.

Natalie knew that Frederick, her husband, had been dead for years. He had run the little drugstore where she had bought ice cream and comics as a child; she remembered when he had been hit and killed by a bus in front of the drugstore on an icy evening. She had cried at the news, remembering the kindly man who always confided in her that Casper the Friendly Ghost was his favorite, too. She had been ten at the time.

"Frederick's not there now, Mrs. Pittman," Natalie said gently. "Isn't it your landlady who helps you?"

The old woman looked puzzled, and plucked imaginary dust from her coat sleeve. "Oh," she said. "Yes. Yes, of course."

She brightened suddenly, and said, "Wouldn't you come to have dinner with me some night, dear? I make such a nice pot roast."

Natalie helped her into the back seat of the taxi, and handed her the big shopping bag filled with sweaters, apples, and newspapers that she always carried. "Maybe sometime." Natalie smiled. "You take care of yourself, now."

Mrs. Pittman had forgotten her. "I could make you an apple pie," she was saying, but she was saying it to the taxi driver.

They drove away.

Natalie found her father in the small lab, drinking a quick cup of coffee between patients.

"Dad, what's going to happen to Mrs. Pittman? She's all alone. I hate putting her in that taxi and knowing she's going back to an empty apartment."

Dr. Armstrong sighed. "I've just been talking to her niece on the phone," he said. "I guess they're going to put her in a nursing home. It's not the ideal thing, but what else is there? She has no children. The other relatives don't want to have her live with them. I feel fairly certain she's due to have a massive stroke soon. If she were younger, or if her health were better, there would be the possibility of surgery, but—oh, I don't know. It's frustrating, sometimes. They are so many old people like that, with no one. The interesting thing is that they don't fear death as much as they fear being alone. Florence Pitt-man, for example, fends off the loneliness by pretending her husband is still alive."

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