No one had an answer.

"Oh, Tallie," said Natalie suddenly, "I hate saying goodbye."

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"Don't, then," said Tallie placidly. "I never do."

(Do you see a green panther? thought Natalie. What green panther? I don't see anything at all.)

"But you can't just pretend about everything, Tallie."

"Of course you can. If you don't like things, shrug them away."

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"Oh, Tallie." Natalie sighed, smiling. "Your life has a kind of magic to it."

Dr. Armstrong came through the screen door onto the porch, making notes in the small book he always kept with him. "Who's talking about magic?" he asked. "I'll tell you what's magic: penicillin. The Ferguson boy's going to be all right, Nat. I've just talked to the hospital."

"Dad, that's terrific." Alan Ferguson had cut his hand on a barbed wire fence and treated the cut with two Band-Aids and a casual laugh. Three days before, he had been admitted to the hospital with a temperature of 105 degrees and his arm purple and swollen to the shoulder.

Dr. Armstrong closed his notebook and put it in his pocket. "If anyone should happen to call here for me, have them call the answering service. Dr. Phillips is taking any emergencies for me this weekend."

His daughters nodded.

"All set, Tallie?" He looked at the collection of overflowing bags with a grin.

"My goodness, Alden, someone with your intelligence should know better than to ask a question like that. What does it mean, after all: 'All set'? All set for life? For the unexpected? For the disastrous? For the various insanities of the world?"

Dr. Armstrong hugged her, laughing, picked up the largest two bags, and carried them to the car. From the porch, Tallie and the girls saw him lift the paisley scarf from its precisely graceful pattern and fold it tidily beneath the blue sweater.

"Well," remarked Tallie good-naturedly, "beauty is such a transient thing, always. That's one of the reasons I must get back to the island right away. Some of my favorite flowers have already gone, and next thing I know some of my favorite birds will be thinking about flying south, and heavens, what is this, the end of August? Any minute the leaves will be changing color—"

She was still talking as she got into the car.

"Where's Mom?" asked Nancy suddenly. "You can't go without telling Mom goodbye, Tallie."

"Don't be silly," hooted Tallie. "Kay's upstairs in the middle of a project that I suggested. She knows I'm leaving. I gave her a huge hug before I came down. Hugs are important. Goodbyes are not. Will you girls please promise me that you will listen to the opera every Saturday when the season starts?"

"Okay," said Natalie and Nancy, uncertainly.

"Liars, both of you." Tallie laughed. "What's the matter, Alden, won't the car start?"

Dr. Armstrong chuckled, started the car, and backed out of the driveway. Tallie's hand fluttered in a wave, the sun in bright explosions on her gold rings and bracelet, but her head was turned; she was talking to her son-in-law; she didn't see her granddaughters wave back.

Kay Armstrong appeared in an upstairs window and raised the screen. "Have they gone? Did Dad fit all of Tallie's things into the car all right?" She saw the car moving down the street and waved.

"Mom!" shrieked Natalie. "Your arm is dark blue!"

"Goodness," said her mother, examining the arm. She extended the other as well. "They both are. Well, this is going to sound a little bit crazy, but Tallie had this idea, you see—"

Nancy groaned. Natalie began to laugh.

"—that perhaps if I took those pale pink sheets—you know the ones that I bought on sale and then hated? Because they looked like birthday party tablecloths for a kindergarten?—and dyed them dark blue, they would seem more elegant. Have a little more joie de vivre."

"Did it work?" asked Natalie dubiously.

"Well, I think so. I just hung them on the clothesline, and they do seem to have a distinct flair to them. But the problem is—"

"That you've dyed your arms blue," said Nancy.

"Well, that too. I hadn't even noticed that. It's the bathtub."

"The bathtub?"

"I think I wouldn't mind, really, if I had dyed the bathtub blue. But for some reason the bathtub is purple. Do you girls think you would mind having a purple bathtub? Come and look."

"The only thing I mind," whispered Natalie as she went into the house with her sister, "is never knowing what the heck is going to happen next."

"Well," suggested Nancy, "maybe it's more fun that way. Maybe Tallie was right, about how it's impossible to be 'all set.' I mean, there are people who seem to be all set for everything, but they seem to be kind of boring, don't you think?"

Natalie thought about it briefly. "Nancy," she said, "you may be smarter than I give you credit for."

She could hear them from her room: her mother and sister, giggling together in the bathroom as they tried to deal with the purple disaster.

"You guys are on your own," Natalie had told them. "That much purple makes my stomach queasy."

Her bedroom was a temporary disaster area as well. An open trunk sat in the center, half-packed for MacKenzie College. Beside it was a large plastic trash can she had brought in from the garage; there were more things in the trash can than in the trunk. On her bed, in uneven stacks, were the things about which she still had to make decisions. Resolutely, Natalie picked up a folded pair of favorite jeans, soft from countless washings and faded to palest blue; she placed them in the trunk. Then she noticed the frayed hole in the seat of the jeans, decided it wouldn't survive another patching, and took the jeans from the trunk and tossed them into the trash can.

She picked up a pizza-stained sweatshirt, threw it into the trash, remembered with a quick surge of nostalgia the day of the great pizza-eating contest when she, Becky, and Gretchen had consumed so much that they felt too fat, finally, even to laugh. She picked up the sweatshirt again and put it into the trunk.

She held Paul's graduation picture in her hands for a long time. The photographer had caught the kind of smile he had given her so often; she smiled back at it fondly, and laid the photograph on top of the clothes in her trunk.

Then Natalie picked up the cover of the ten-year-old Vogue magazine that she had torn off as quietly as possible in a back room of the Branford Public Library. Julie's smile, too, was the same smile she had given Natalie: stunningly beautiful, artfully posed, and achingly transient. Natalie pictured her saying breezily, "Darling, I'm going to have to dash" to the photographer after he had taken the picture, the way she had said the same thing to Natalie once, and left her sitting there alone, bewildered, remembering the smile.

She sighed.

She sat, holding the magazine cover, in the wicker chair that had been part of her room all her life, and rocked. From the bathroom she could overhear Nancy and their mother in a noisy, exuberant argument.

"Try Comet," Nancy was saying. "Try Comet."

Her mother groaned. "It won't work. Do you think things with astronomical names have some kind of supernatural power? Maybe we should try Moon Drops Facial Cream. Or how about Sunkist orange juice?"

They were both laughing. "Mom," said Nancy again, "try Comet."

Natalie could hear them open the cupboard in the bathroom where the can of cleanser was kept. They were quiet for a moment. Then: "It works!" said Nancy. "Look, Mom! It's working!"

"My goodness; so it is." Her mother's voice sounded curiously disappointed. "Well, then. Au revoir, purple bathtub."

So, thought Natalie, touching her toe against the bed so that the wicker chair rocked gently, that's what it all boils down to.

You have to sort everything out.

You have to figure out what you want to hold onto.

You have to acknowledge what is and what was.

And sometimes what never was, at all.

(Goodbye, Green Panther.)

And you have to relinquish things.

Here I am, making lists again. I never wanted to be a list-maker.

She crumpled Julie's picture between her hands, tossed it into the trash can, and got up to attack the piles of clothes and high school treasures on her bed. This stays; this goes to college; this can be thrown away.

It was the throwing away that was the hardest. But she did it, until the trunk was packed, the trash can was filled, and the room was bare of everything except the memories; those would always be there, Natalie knew.

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