“The waves battered the rocks at the bottom of the headland, tossing spray up fifteen feet or more. Buttercream, Dagny’s golden retriever, ran alongside her, her strong paws thudding on the ground. The leaves fluttered around them like forgotten thoughts.”
The lighthouse was located on the headland. Dagny trudged her way up the path, pulling her coat around her. In the fall, it was colder up here. The wind was sharper, but she didn’t care. Even though she could use a bike if she wished, the autumn foliage made the long trek worth it.
The waves battered the rocks at the bottom of the headland, tossing spray up fifteen feet or more. Buttercream, Dagny’s golden retriever, ran alongside her, her strong paws thudding on the ground. The leaves fluttered around them like forgotten thoughts.
The forest ended suddenly, revealing a clearing with the lighthouse at the end. Dagny ran the last few hundred meters and reached the top panting.
A few feet away from the lighthouse, there stood a house. Made of red bricks with white windows, it was the size of a cottage. It faced the sea.
Dagny opened the gray, wood door that was battered by years of wind and sea spray. There was a small kitchen to her left and the living room was to her right. A fire was burning in the fireplace and a pile of books laid in a corner. At the end of the entrance hallway was the door to the guest room.
She walked into the kitchen and started unloading her basket. Dagny’s sister Casey walked in, munching on an apple. She grinned when she saw her sister.
“How was town?” she asked. “How’s Mrs. Nelson? And Patty? How about Mr. Brown?”
Dagny laughed. “All fine,” she said, “there’s going to be an arts festival in a few weeks.” Casey nodded non-committally. “So…any messages?” Dagny asked.
“Not a word.” Casey threw away the apple core and wiped her hands on her jeans. “I sometimes feel like she’s never coming back.”
Dagny nodded. “I know. Believe me, I know.”
They stood in silence for a minute, then Casey sighed. “I’d better start dinner,” she said. Dagny nodded and joined Casey in the kitchen.
Rain started, pattering down on the roof, softly at first, then tumbling down. Lightning split the sky in a trident of light. Dagny could see the waves in the sea below tinged with white, churning in the storm.
Casey smiled as she passed by, walking to the sink to wash some onions for the salad. “Do you want to chop these?” she asked. Dagny nodded, grabbing the cutting board from the counter. Casey watched her, then asked, quietly, “How was Mrs. Morris?”
Dagny looked up. “She was okay. Nothing’s come for us.”
“She knows how important this is to us, right?”
Dagny nodded. “Yeah, she knows.”
“Peony will come back.” Casey’s voice was choked up, almost slurring the words. “You know that, right?”
Dagny nodded. “Yeah. I know.”
Casey shook her head, tears brimming in her eyes. “God, I miss her.”
“Me too.” Dagny put an arm around her sister’s shoulders. “Me too.”
Casey wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “Sorry, Dag, I’ll stop.”
Dagny shook her head. “It’s okay. I miss her too.” She squeezed Casey’s shoulders. “Cry as much as you like.”
Casey smiled. “Maybe later. Now I have to make the salad.” Getting up, she headed to the stove. “You coming?”
Dagny nodded. “In a bit.” She went to her room. Picking up the framed photograph on her desk of her, Casey and Peony in front of the lighthouse, she smiled thoughtfully. They had gone there with a friend, Lizabeth. Lizabeth had taken the picture.
“Oh, Peony,” she muttered. “Come back.”
Sighing, Dagny put the photograph down and went to the kitchen to join Casey.
* * *
“Dagny.” Someone was shaking her. She groaned and turned over. “Dagny!” Casey’s voice, sharper than usual.
She opened her eyes. “What?”
“Guess who I just got a call from?”
“I dunno.” Dagny sighed. “Why did you wake me up, anyway?”
“Peony called! She’s coming in three days!” Casey shouted. “She’s coming back.” She paced the perimeter of the room, then returned to the bed.
“Come on!” she said. “Get up, already! She’s coming!”
Grumbling, Dagny swung her legs over the edge of the bed. “I’m up,” she said. “Is there breakfast?”
“Yeah, in the kitchen. But Dagny! She’s coming and ohmygodohmygod what are we going to do?!?”
“Casey. Calm down,” Dagny said evenly, on her way to the kitchen. “We’ll welcome her, throw a nice dinner, and then adjust to life with her around again. I mean, her room is untouched, so it should be relatively easy for her to readjust.”
“Oh, yeah, about that! She said that she was bringing a guest with her.”
“What?” Dagny whirled around. “What guest? Did she say how long they’re staying?”
Casey shrugged. “She just said a guest.”
Dagny spread cream cheese on a bagel. “Great. Now we have one more problem to worry about.” She shook her head. “Okay, we’ll give her guest the guest room.”
Casey nodded. “Do you think that she’s changed?” she asked after a moment.
“Changed?” asked Dagny.
“Like, she’s not so selfish anymore.”
“I don’t know, Casey. Maybe.”
“I wanted to travel as well!” Casey suddenly said. “We planned that whole trip for the three of us, for when Peony was a bit older. But she couldn’t wait, could she?” She crossed her arms angrily. “She could have taken us along.”
Dagny shook her head. She was remembering the day before Peony had left.
Dagny and Peony were sitting at the kitchen table. Casey was leaning against the counters, head in her hands. “I’m not a child!” Peony had shouted.
“I know,” Dagny had said. “But we think that we should hold off the trip for a few years. Just until you’re 27 or so.”
“Peony, everything we’re doing is for your benefit.” Casey’s voice had been tight, as if she was about to cry. “You could try to be a little grateful.”
“I want to see the world before I’m old!” Peony had gotten up, then, and slammed the door. The next morning, she had left after breakfast.
Casey’s voice snapped her out of her reverie. “I did want to see the world, you know.”
“Why didn’t we?” Dagny asked. “I mean, we’ve had a year. We could have gone so many places in that time.”
“But it wouldn’t be the same,” Casey muttered. “Not without Peony.”
* * *
The bell rang. Dagny stopped setting the table, and hurried to answer it. When she flung open the door, Peony’s face greeted her.
“Dagny. Hi,” she said. “It’s so good to see you again.”
Dagny swooped in for a hug. “It’s great to see you, too,” she said.
“This is Annie,” said Peony after a moment. “She’s my friend.”
Dagny looked up. Annie was tall, with black shaggy hair to her shoulders. She wore a leather jacket and jeans. Her right ear had two piercings in it. She stuck out a hand to Dagny and smiled. “Hi. Peony’s told me all about you.”
“Really?” asked Dagny.
Annie nodded. “Yes. And thank you so much for letting me stay here for a bit.”
“Yeah, about that. How long were you planning to stay for?”
Annie grinned. “Three nights. Then I’ll go to Massachusetts to see my family.”
“Oh. Okay.” Dagny smiled. “Let me help with your bags.”
Casey emerged from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. Smiling at them, she hugged Peony somewhat stiffly. “It’s good to see you back!” she said.
Peony laughed and introduced Annie. Casey shook hands with her, and then turned to Dagny. “Anyway. I have to go make sure that our dinner doesn’t burn,” she said. “Are you going to take them to their rooms, Dagny?”
Nodding, Dagny picked up the duffel bag and led the way to the guest room.
“You’ll be sleeping here,” she said to Annie. “If you need anything, please ask Casey or me.”
“Or me!” said Peony.
Annie nodded. “Thank you,” she said. “I’m sure it’s very comfortable.”
Peony walked up to her room, Dagny helping her with her suitcase on the stairs. “So,” she asked, “Did you miss me?”
Dagny sighed. “Yes. We did. But we were also wondering why you couldn’t bring us along while you pranced about the globe.”
“You wanted to go later!” Peony exclaimed. “You weren’t ready at that time.”
“Ready? Peony, I was ready since we had first had the idea,” Dagny said in a measured tone. “We just thought that you would be too young for such a trip.”
“But I wasn’t!” Peony shouted. “I was the perfect age for traveling.”
“Were you really? Where did you meet Annie? And why didn’t you write after the first six months?”
“I met Annie in Paris. And besides, it’s not like you cared about my trip. That’s why I stopped writing.”
Dagny clenched her hands into fists, trying not to scream. “Peony. Casey and I cared very much. And we were always so happy whenever a postcard or email came. It made us feel like we were there, with you. When we got the postcard from Rome, we made spaghetti and meatballs for dinner and Casey bought a CD of Tosca to play in the background. After dinner, we watched Roman Holiday. I mean, just two weeks ago, I asked Casey where she thought you were, and when you were coming back. She didn’t know, but she said that she missed you very much.”
Peony was silent for a moment. Then she said, very quietly, “India.”
“What?” asked Dagny, confused.
“We were in India at that time. It was really beautiful, you would have loved it,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
Dagny opened her mouth to speak, but Peony shushed her. “I’m sorry for not taking you along. You’re right, you deserved it. And I hope that next time, we can go all together.” She rummaged around in her suitcase, then took out two packages wrapped in paper. “This is for you,” she said. “Open it.”
Dagny slowly tore the paper, then cut the tape of the bubble wrap. The present was heavy in her hand.
It was a gray stone, polished so that it had a shine to it. Carved on the surface were the words “family” and “love,” repeated over and over again.
“I got one for Casey, too,” said Peony. “I thought she might like it.”
Dagny hugged her sister tightly. “She’ll love it. Oh, Peony, how we’ve missed you.”
“I missed you too,” said Peony. “Very, very much.”
“You know,” said Dagny, after a moment. “Casey once told me that she’s always wanted to see the Hawaiian islands. Do you think a trip could be arranged?”
Peony nodded. “Oh, yes. Definitely. In fact, since her birthday’s in the fall, it will be off season, meaning that we won’t be bombarded by tourists. Oh, and there’s this great restaurant we discovered. We can take her there.”
Dagny smiled. “I think she would love that,” she said.
Casey called them to dinner. Dagny could see Peony shrink back.
“Do you think she’ll be upset when she sees me?” she asked.
Dagny smiled. “No. In fact, I think she will be very happy.”
“Casey,” she called. “Come up here. Your sister has returned.