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Shelter Me

Chapter One

Tuesday, April 24

Today wasn't so bad. Carly seems to have made friends with the bottle finally. When my milk stopped she went on a hunger strike, pushed formula away like it was vinegar. Then she'd only take it from Aunt Jude, of all people. Never thought I'd be so happy to see her on a daily basis. But now even I'm allowed to feed her. Time marches on, I guess.

This isn't working.

Father Jake is now officially in the deep end without a lifeguard.

Thursday, April 26

Dylan's pretending to play Monopoly. He just likes rolling the dice. I'm not allowed to play because I ruin it; he says he can't think what rules he wants to have when I'm watching. I know how he feels. I can't think what rules I want to have when I'm around, either.

Not sure why I'm trying this again. (See, Aunt Jude? Occasionally I do try.) Options seem to be dwindling since I jumped ship on the grief group she found on the Internet, Googling her way to my happiness. But, please, it was worse than bad. That facilitator was so annoying. Her lipstick was orange, her shoes were pointy, and she looked like an upscale elf. That constant sympathetic nod she did made me want to throw my drippy tissue wads at her. Add six or eight people wailing in self-pity, and you might as well crack open the Chex Mix, because hey --- it's a party!

I might tell Father Jake not to come anymore. Pretty much a waste of time, though I suppose it's good cover. After the grief group didn't work out, I figured Aunt Jude was planning an intervention. But all I got were visits from the boy priest, Father Listener.

He's the one who came up with this journaling idea, which is gimmicky and hideously '70s. (What's his next idea --- a mood ring and a shag haircut?) If he had handed me one of those cheesy blank books with teacups or inspirational sayings on it, I would have dug out Robby's blowtorch and lit it up on the hood of that boring gray sedan Father drives.

Actually I would have just given it to Dylan with a box of Magic Markers. "Grief" makes you sound so melodramatic.

Janie closed the 89-cent black-and-white-speckled composition notebook. It reminded her of one she'd had in third grade for the purpose of practicing her cursive writing. She would sit at Aunt Jude's kitchen table after school, gripping the pen as if it might get away from her and do some certain but unspecified damage. All those loops and slanty lines. So messy and complicated compared to the clear clean strokes of the printing she had been used to.

The doorbell rang, jolting Janie from her memory. She tucked the notebook in the cabinet above the refrigerator and forced herself to face the intrusion, hoping it wasn't another pity offering of quiche or lasagna or baked fucking ham. Friends and neighbors had stopped coming by, sensing, she knew, that their company was all but unbearable to her. It was just too hard to answer that stupid question over and over. "How are you?" She could barely keep herself from saying, Still shitty, thanks for asking. Care for some ham? God knows I can't eat it.

The man who now stood at the door carried nothing but a smudged manila folder. He scratched his fingers through the caramel-colored hair over a recently healed scar on his forearm. "Hi," he said, squinting into the room's relative dimness, the faint lines around his eyes clustering against each other. "Rob around?"

"No," said Janie.

"Uh, well, can you give him this?" He held out the folder. "I told him I couldn't start 'til summer, but then another job got postponed, so I'll start here next week. Permit's already pulled." He checked his watch, the crystal so scratched it must have been hard for him to see the face. "I'll pick those up tomorrow. If he wants to call me, the number's there."

The man waited for a response, which was not forthcoming. Janie stared back at him for a second, then glanced away. "Okay," he said, his lips flattening into a confused smile. He walked quickly to his truck. When he opened the driver's side door, Jane saw "Malinowski Custom Design, Inc." written in curling maroon script on the door panel. "Pelham, Mass." was in smaller type below it.

He's from here, she thought. Not that it mattered.

"Who was that?" Dylan asked, the little metal Monopoly dog bounding around the board.

"Some guy," said Janie, and tossed the manila folder on the stairs.

Thursday Night

It's my screened porch. Maybe a birthday present? Where on earth did he get the money --- already paid for half of it. Already signed a contract with that Malinucci guy. He said he didn't need a new car, even though the Subaru was twelve years old. Said he'd ask for a raise at the bank if I wanted to hold off going back to work at the hospital. Robby, goddammit. I don't want the stupid porch now.

Shelly Michelman banged on the front door, opened it a face-width, and yelled "Hey!"

"It's open," Janie called from the back of the house. This was not very far. It was a small house, a Cape, the modern version of a Colonial style that had been built with zeal throughout the Boston suburbs in the 1930s and '40s. The front door opened directly into the living room. To the right was the kitchen, just big enough to hold a round butcher-block table and four chairs. The painted white cabinets, and counters devoid of all but the most necessary small appliances, kept it from feeling claustrophobic. A staircase divided the living room from the kitchen and led up to two bedrooms on the second floor, their ceilings slanting down toward eaves on the front and back of the house. Janie was in the tiny office behind the living room rummaging through bank statements.

Excerpted from SHELTER ME © Copyright 2011 by Juliette Fay. Reprinted with permission by Avon A. All rights reserved.

Shelter Me
by by Juliette Fay

  • Genres: Fiction
  • paperback: 415 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0061673390
  • ISBN-13: 9780061673399