his wife and another man, both obviously upset, had slipped away from the crowd.
Annie looked to see if anyone else had noticed the twin disappearances. A few feet away Meredith stared at the arbor. Annie was dismayed to see such a cynical look on such a young face.
Suddenly, a girl ran up to Meredith, took her hand. The girl spoke quickly and pointed toward the lake.
Meredith’s heart-shaped face was abruptly tense and worried. She nodded, then whirled and ran to the dock and looked anxiously about. In a moment, she started forward, her hands outstretched, her expression fearful, yet beneath the uncertainty and distress, there was an aura of tenderness as she came up to a petite, dark-haired woman with a lost look. Meredith gently took the woman’s elbow.
Annie watched their erratic progress toward another stand of pines that separated the Haven from Sea Side Inn. Either the woman, who appeared to be in her forties, was ill or she had been drinking. Meredith protectively steered her charge around chattering groups. Occasionally, the woman seemed to resist. Meredith bent near and talked for a moment. Finally, they moved slowly to the path to Sea Side Inn.
Annie wondered if she would ever know the end of thatstory, for surely there was a story there to know. She hoped there would be a happy ending. She liked her young customer, who once shyly asked her for mysteries set in interesting places. Annie had judged her to be about fifteen and had led her directly to the shelf with some newly reissued novels by Mary Stewart, who wrote breathtaking suspense in exotic locales.
Annie waved at Ingrid and her husband Duane, spoke with several old friends, declined the offer of a kitten from a good customer. Agatha owned the store, and fluffy white Dorothy L. reigned supreme at home. About fifteen minutes later she saw Booth’s daughter, returning from the inn path. The girl looked around and seemed relieved that her father was occupied with a circle of friends. Annie wondered who the dark-haired woman was and whether she was staying at the inn. Meredith strolled past the stage and slipped into the shadows on the far side. The better not to be noticed by her family?
Annie found a trash basket, tossed aside her Kool-Aid cup, and looked for Max. Soon—too soon for her taste—the formal program would begin. Had Booth arranged for Jean to make her announcement first or last? First came the swift thought. Annie never doubted Booth intended to make the night as long and difficult as possible for Jean.
A high chime sounded. “Players at the ready.” Jean’s voice rose above the noise of the crowded area. She held the triangle chime and beater. The glow from the light stands threw her shadow in front of her. She lifted her arm and again struck the triangle that had summoned Click’s friends to the lake that morning. The tinkling sound rose sweetly above the crowd, which began to shift and move toward the rows of seats. The front rows were already full, no doubt taken by families of kids performing.
Max walked toward Annie. Though there was underlying gravity in his dark blue eyes, he smiled, and the smile said, “Good, I’ve found you, I love you, you’re mine, come with me.”
She took his hand, and they walked midway to the stage. The woods behind the light stands were now dark. Only the stage was brightly illuminated. The rows of seats were in darkness. Behind the audience, lights glowed from the front porch and windows of the main building. In between, the gloom of twilight obscured the surroundings, affording a dramatic venue for the performance.
“If everyone will please find a place. We’ve plenty of seats but if we need more, the older boys will get chairs…”
There was a flurry of movement and some of the bigger boys hurriedly set up several more rows.
Henny Brawley and Frank Saulter, along with Frank’s grandson, who was visiting for the summer, slid into their row.
With a rattling drum roll, a procession