After three days of constant winds, battering rain, and record lightning, the old tree had finally given up.
Miranda pushed back the lace curtain and looked down at her father, patiently sawing at the far reaching branches of the fallen tree. He would spend all day down there, just to get to the dang trunk, and then he'd have to spend all of tomorrow cutting that up. Glancing mournfully down at the air conditioner chugging happily away in the bottom half of the window, she sighed. A cuddly day with a book, under a blanket, while the rest of the island baked like an apple pie, would have to wait.
Normally, if a tree fell into somebody's yard, they'd just call a service to come and remove it. Out on Mackinac Island, that was definitely not as cheap as just cutting it up by yourself. Ed Prospero was nothing if not cheap.
Miranda changed quickly out of her flannel jammies, so necessary when one was abusing the environment and the utilities bill by keeping your apartment a bracing sixty degrees, and into some cut-offs and a tank top.
Her nose was sweating by the time she got down the covered stairs from her apartment in the top of the old barn. After their last horse, Sycorax, had passed away five years ago, her father had decided that snowmobiles ate less, and bought a couple of those instead. With no horses stinking up the place, he'd seen the potential in the loft above the barn. And when Miranda had lost her job and had to come home, she'd seen the potential in not living in White Pines cottage with her father.
"The old man finally went," Ed Prospero called to his daughter as she joined him on the lawn. For a man in his late sixties, Ed was hardly elderly, but the heart attack he'd suffered two winters ago had taken a toll on him. He grimaced as he freed another branch with the handsaw, his face flushed red in the broiling heat. "Just nicked the roof. Did you hear it come down?"
"No, I slept like a rock last night." Miranda squinted up at the bright blue sky, where the tree used to stand. It had been there since who knew when. In a picture of the cottage taken in 1923, a picture that hung framed in the entryway of White Pines, the old oak had been visible. It had looked old and gnarled even back then. "I can't believe it didn't fall on the house."
"Lucky thing, that," her father agreed. "Knocked some shingles off."
"Here." Miranda took the saw from her father. "You go in and get something cold to drink. I'll take over here for a while."
"I'll take you up on that. I've been out here since eight." Her father walked, stooped in exhaustion, up the sloping yard. He stopped and pointed down the lawn "Looks like you'll have some help."
At first, the figure approaching on horseback wasn't distinguishable from any other tourist out on a horseback ride. Not even the horse was familiar. But as he got closer, Miranda groaned inwardly. Greg Ferdinand. The only other graduating senior in the 1997 class at Mackinac Island Public School, Greg had been practically in love with her since Miranda and her father had first moved to the island when she was three. For years, their families had joked that they'd probably be in-laws one day, but Greg was so not her type. When he'd gone away to college at U of M, way down state, and married a sweet, skinny blonde, Miranda had breathed an epic sigh of relief.
"Hey, Greg!" Ed called, lifting his hand. "I heard you were back."
"Came home for the Fourth. Saw your tree was down when I was headed into town this morning." Despite the fourteen years that had passed, Greg still looked pretty much like the boy who'd walked an extra half mile just to escort Miranda to school every morning. Except now, he was less gangly, and dark stubble shadowed his jaw. He still had the same boyish face and slightly-too-big nose, but when he swung down from the saddle, she noticed that he no longer slouched to hide his six-foot-two height. He nodded to Miranda as he tied the reins to the fence post on the other side of the driveway "Hey, Miranda. Mom said you moved back."
"Yeah. Um, right after--" her throat stuck a little in humiliation. Greg probably had a great job and tons of money. She lived above her dad's barn, on the island she'd wanted to get as far away from as possible when she'd been younger.
"Right after my heart attack," her dad covered for her. "She's been helping me out around here."
Miranda smiled weakly, and made a mental note to thank her dad later. Not wanting to linger on the subject, she nodded toward Greg's horse. "She's new."
"Yeah, she is." Greg patted the animal's neck proudly. "This is Prius."
"Prius?" Miranda snorted. Cars weren't allowed on the island, and as far back as Miranda could remember, the Ferdinand family had named their horses after the forbidden automobile.
"She's eco-friendly," he quipped as he walked toward Miranda. "Here. Let me."
Reluctantly, Miranda gave up the saw. She wasn't about to turn down help when it was offered, but the idea of spending the day cutting wood in the blistering heat while concurrently trapped in the most awkward situation possible just did not appeal to her.
"I think we've got another handsaw in the barn," she said, hurrying off to find it. Once inside, she slumped over the hood of a tarp-shrouded snowmobile and groaned. Of course, Greg would have to show up. For years, Miranda's father had kept her in the loop on every move the guy made, in the hopes of tempting her into returning Greg's unrequited love from childhood. "Patty Ferdinand's boy graduated with honors," and "That Ferdinand kid started his own research firm. Don't know what that is, but his dad says he's making a lot of money." Her father had finally backed off when Greg had gotten married, but now all of those well-intentioned calls seemed like missed opportunities.
No. So, she had gotten fired. Yeah, she'd made a huge, embarrassing mistake at Silver Falcon publishing. She'd worked so hard and blown it all by taking an extremely stupid chance with a dumb guy she hadn't even liked all that much. But she couldn't look back on her life with regret, especially if that regret was not hooking up with a guy she hadn't been into when he'd been available.
Even if he had turned out pretty cute.
Grabbing the extra saw, she went back out. She'd had to admit, Greg must still be a pretty good guy if he was willing to help out a neighbor during his vacation. He cut branch after branch from the tree and easily tossed them into a growing pile, clearing a path down one side of the tree as though it was the easiest work in the world, while Miranda puffed and sweated like she was battling her way up to the West Bluff on her bike. She couldn't believe this was the same Greg who couldn't run wind sprints in gym class without collapsing on the floor with his inhaler sticking out of his mouth like a particularly sad periscope.
Getting the branches cleared was only half the battle, but by the time they'd cut their way to the trunk of the tree, the wind had picked up again, stealing the breath from their lungs and sweeping stinging flecks of leaf into their faces.
"Why don't you two call it a day?" Miranda's father called from the porch. "I've got lemonade made up fresh. Come on in and get cooled down."
I see through you, old man, Miranda thought, clenching her teeth as she climbed the hill. They would be having words later. No matter how desperate her father might be to hook her up with a respectable, rich guy and get her off this godforsaken island--and out of his perfectly rentable apartment before he missed out on the next tourist season--she wasn't going to chase a married man.
They bypassed the grand, screened-in porch and went up the steps to the kitchen door, kicking off their shoes as they stepped inside.
"Wow," Greg said with a laugh. "This place looks exactly how I remember it."
Miranda hadn't thought about it before, but as she looked around the room, everything really did look as it had when they'd been in school, doing science projects around the kitchen table. Only the cabinets had been redone, and the cracked linoleum had been replaced.
"When something works, no reason to change it," her dad said, sliding a perspiring glass of lemonade across the scarred wooden table. The ice cubes inside clinked off each other, and Miranda's mouth watered.
As Greg folded his tall frame into one of the kitchen chairs, Miranda couldn't help but notice that he'd bulked up since high school. His shoulders were broad, his upper arms packing the definition of a pro athlete. He definitely wasn't a hundred and forty pounds, like he'd been at graduation. In fact, her dad hadn't used any of his old nicknames for Greg yet. Not Beanpole, not Slim, he hadn't even asked how the weather was up there or joked that he couldn't see Greg when he turned sideways.
She smoothed her hair back, knowing that a thousand wispy split ends probably stood out in a halo around her head. Not that she needed to impress anyone. She picked up a glass from the counter. "So, you came back for the Fourth?"
Why did I say that? I already know that. He knows that I already know that.
Greg nodded, lips poised above the rim of the glass. "Well, for the Fourth and to just get away. I haven't taken a vacation since Burning Man after senior year."
Miranda almost snorted lemonade up her nose laughing. "You went to Burning Man?"
"No, believe me; I knew I was wildly out of place. Michiganders are not meant for harsh desert conditions," he laughed with her.
Then, like a gunshot going off, her father interjected, "So, Greg, how's the wife?"
If awkwardness could be sold by the pound, Miranda would have been sitting on a goldmine. She cleared her throat and wished she could crawl into her glass and drown herself.
If Greg had noted her physical tension, he didn't let on. With a genuinely bittersweet smile, he lifted his ringless left hand and splayed his fingers for the full effect.
Ed tutted softly. "I'm sorry to hear that, son."
Son? The sheer force of will it took not to roll her eyes was absolutely exhausting. She shrugged and gave him an embarrassed smile. "I...don't know what to say to that. Except, I'm sorry."
"It's okay," Greg said, in a tone that suggested it wasn't entirely okay, after all. "Different priorities."
A gust of wind sent the hundred and fifty year old house creaking, and outside, Prius whinnied in mild horse panic. Greg shot to his feet. "Oh man, sounds like another storm is coming in. I'd better get Prius back to a nice, dry barn."
"It was good to see you, Greg," Miranda said, and meant it. As obnoxious as her father could be about him, Greg had always been a nice guy. Just not a nice guy she'd wanted to date back then.
He stopped at the door, then, with a brief, nervous glance at her father first, he asked, "Look...if you wouldn't mind catching up...we could go to dinner. My treat. I'm going to be in town for a while, and I'm already getting tired of playing Sequence every night with my dad."
Okay, so what are we going to do here? On the one hand, you would be going on a date with Greg. On the other hand, he's not as much like Greg as he used to be. And it would be nice to get out. But is that wrong? It's definitely wrong.
"Sure." The word caught her by surprise, so much so that for a second she wondered if it had really been her answering. But then she followed it up with, "I'd love to."
"Great. We don't even have to stay on the island. I have a plane. We'd have to be back before dark, of course, if we took the plane. Otherwise we'd be trapped in St. Ignace."
"Okay, yeah, sounds fun. The afternoon, catching up part. Not the trapped in St. Ignace part." Miranda gave up trying to make her own, independent answers, when it was clear her mouth was just not going to listen to her brain. "Barring any further tree tragedies."
He laughed at that and stepped out the door. Miranda dropped her head to the tabletop. "Dad..."
"I know, I know, I'm terrible. I'm awful." Her father didn't sound the least bit sorry. "Heaven forbid a man want to see his only daughter settled and happy."
"If I was going to be happily settled, I would have settled by now." She drove her fingers into her hair to hold her head. She'd had this argument with her father too many times already.
Besides, she had other things to worry about.
She was going out on a date.