My Very Best FriendCathy Lamb
Books by Cathy Lamb
THE LAST TIME I WAS ME
SUCH A PRETTY FACE
THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF MY LIFE
A DIFFERENT KIND OF NORMAL
IF YOU COULD SEE WHAT I SEE
WHAT I REMEMBER MOST
MY VERY BEST FRIEND
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
my very best friend
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Table of Contents
Books by Cathy Lamb
A READING GROUP GUIDE
For Rebel Dancing Daughter,
Adventurous Singing Daughter,
and Darling Laughing Son:
We love you.
May you forever be each other’s very best friend.
A million thank-yous, as always, to John Scognamiglio, my editor, and Evan Marshall, my agent. Also thanks to Paula Reedy, endlessly patient production editor, and Vida Engstrand and Karen Auerbach, marketing geniuses.
April 12, 1990
Where are you? I haven’t heard from you in so long. I’m worried.
Is everything all right? Are you well?
I planted gladiolus bulbs today after I read an article on free electron lasers. The article was absolutely fascinating.
I also took all four cats for a walk in their pink stroller with the pillows you sent them. Dr. Jekyll and Princess Marie got into a spat and had to be separated into their zippered compartments.
Chief Constable Ben Harris
27 Wynd Way
3275 Iris Cove Road
Whale Island, WA
April 20, 1990
I regret to inform you that Mr. Alastair Greer, your tenant, has died. Unfortunately, because he rarely ventured out of the house, he was with our maker for ten days, approximately, before his neighbor, Olive Oliver, checked on him. Olive was missing several chickens. You probably know about their chicken war, with Mrs. Oliver believing that Mr. Greer caught her chickens in the wee dark hours of the night and ate them.
She assures me she entered the home only because she was looking for her chickens, some sign of feathers or feet, and then found the corpse of poor Mr. Greer. The stench was, perhaps I could use the word, pungent?
Mrs. Oliver said it gave her quite a fright. She did find chicken bones in the rubbish, and she is sure they are the bones of Patsy, her favorite black and white chicken, gone missing, but that is neither here nor there.
We had the coroner come out and there was no sign of foul play. Mr. Greer probably weighed twenty-five stones, three hundred fifty pounds in U.S. measurements, so his poor heart was squished. Anyhow, his sons have taken care of Mr. Greer’s body. I’m told that the cremation was a difficult process, but that is not something that needs to be discussed in polite company.
The sons, Duff and Donnell, have cleared out your cottage, so they tell me. As one was recently released from prison because of some business with the Irish Republican Army, and the other is a barrister in London, I cannot assure you that it was done properly.
I can assure you, however, that the purple clematis vine has bloomed early. What a joy that is to see. My own garden is only starting to bloom, but I am delighting in, as usual, the goldenrod daisies and honeysuckle vine that your parents gave us all those years ago. They continue to offer color, both growing profusely, as if your mother is taking care of them herself.
I have taken the liberty of gathering the key from Duff and Donnell. It awaits you at my home.
How is your mother? Your mother and my late wife, Lila, were the best of friends, as I was friends with your father since boyhood. I do remember with enormous fondness so many scrumptious meals with them, the Scotch and turnip broth, shepherd’s pie, braised chicken with beer and pepper . . . You and your friends scampering about the cottage. Your father was a good man, a proud Scot, and a tribute to Clan Mackintosh.
Thank you, once again, for sending me a willow tree in Lila’s memory three years ago. It is a treasure. Lila would have loved it.
Chief Constable Ben Harris
A friend of your parents, may your father’s soul rest in peace with the angels of heaven.
3275 Iris Cove Road
Whale Island, WA
Chief Constable Ben Harris
27 Wynd Way
April 30, 1990
Dear Chief Harris,
Thank you for your letter.
I, too, remember the dinners we shared with you and Lila. It was you and my father who taught me how to aim and shoot, guns and bows and arrows. Superb skills to have as a woman.
I will be leaving for St. Ambrose shortly. I need to get my cats settled before my journey. I will come by your home to pick up the key to our cottage.
I will look forward to seeing both the honeysuckle vine and the goldenrod daisies in your garden. I am glad they are still alive and offering spots of color and scent. I remember the purple clematis. My mother called it The Purple Lush.
Here on my island my wisteria covers my trellis every spring. If I left for a year, I am sure it would take over my home. My hostas have come back, poking through the soil. This year I am declaring war on the slugs that eat holes through the leaves. Do share if you have any slug suggestions.
I hope that Duff and Donnell have retrieved their belongings. If not, I will dispose of them. Please inform them that I expect a clean and emptied home when I arrive, as I shall be putting the house on the market immediately.
I will settle with Olive Oliver and her chicken loss directly.
PS My mother is well but will not be accompanying me. I’m afraid she’s busy with standing up for all women, and women’s rights, in South Africa at the moment.
My name is Charlotte Mackintosh. I am thirty-five. I love science. I have degrees in physics and biology. One would think I would work in a lab or teach at a university. I don’t. I write time travel romance novels. My ninth book was released four months ago.
My pen name is Georgia Chandler. My mother was from Georgia, a southern belle, and Chandler was her maiden name.
For me to be a romance writer is a perplexing joke. What romance? I don’t have any in my life, haven’t for years, since The Unfortunate Marriage. I have named my vibrator Dan The Vibrator. That should tell you about the sexual action I get. Which is, so we’re all clear, none.
My late father, Quinn, was Scottish, hence my last name, and his mother had the Scottish Second Sight. She saw the future, all mottled up, but she saw it.
Sometimes she didn’t understand it herself. I remember her predictions, one in particular when I was seven and we were making an apple butterscotch pie with a dash of cinnamon.
“You will travel through many time periods, Charlotte,” my grandma said, rolling out the pie dough with a heavy rolling pin, her gray curls escaping her bun like springs. “All over the world.”
“What do you mean?” I rolled out my dough, too. We were bringing the pies to the Scottish games up in the highlands the next day, where my father was competing in the athletic contests and playing his bagpipes.
“I don’t know, luv. Damn this seeing into the future business. Cockamamie drivel. It will drive me to an early grave.”
“I want to travel to other planets and inspect them for aliens.”
She placed her pie crust into the buttered glass baking dish. “You will live different lives, child. You will love deeply. And yet . . .” She paused, her brow furrowed. “It’s not you.”
“I don’t think so, Grandma. I love science. Specifically our cells. Mutations. Sick cells, healthy cells. Toran and I pricked our fingers yesterday so we could study our blood under my microscope.”
She eyed me through her glasses. “You are an odd child.”
“Yes,” I told her, gravely, “I am.”
My grandma was right about time travel. She simply dove into the fictional realm of my life without realizing it. McKenzie Rae Dean, my heroine, travels through time, lives different lives, and loves deeply. But McKenzie Rae is not me. See how my grandma got things jumbled up and yet dead right, too?
Many of her other second sight predictions have come true, too. A few haven’t yet. I’m a little worried about the few that haven’t. Several in particular, as they’re decidedly alarming.
I live on a quiet island, called Whale Island, off the coast of Washington. I have a long white house on five acres. I rarely ever have to leave my view of the ocean and various whales, my books, garden, and cats. I have had enough of the world and of people. Some people call me a recluse. I call them annoying.
My publisher wants me to travel to promote my books. I went on book tours with the first book, hated it, and have refused to go again. They whine. I ignore them. What do they know? I stay home.
I walk my four cats in a specially designed pink cat stroller twice every day. They each have their own compartment with their name on a label in front.
I read gardening books for entertainment, but they are only second to my love of all things physics and biology. I have a pile of exciting books and articles in my house on both subjects, including astrophysics, string theory, the human genome project, and cellular and molecular biology. Seeing them waiting for me, like friends filled with enthralling knowledge, flutters my heart.
I might drink a tad too much alcohol. Wine is my vice. I drink only the finest wine, but that is a poor excuse for the nights the wine makes me skinny-dip in a calm bay by my house and belt out the Scottish drinking songs my father taught me while cartwheeling.
I am going to Scotland because I must. My mother asked me to go and check on our cottage, fix it up, and sell it. “I can finally close the door to the past,” she told me. “Without cracking down the middle, but I need you to go and do this, because if I go, I’ll crack.”
I told her, “That doesn’t make sense, Ms. Feminist.”
She waved a hand, “I know. Go anyhow. My burning bra and I can’t do it.”
I have not been back to Scotland in twenty years, partly because I am petrified of flying and partly because it’s too painful, which is why my mother, usually a ball breaker, refuses to go.
I’m nervous to leave my cats, Teddy J, Daffodil, Dr. Jekyll, and Princess Marie. Teddy J, in particular, suffers from anxiety, and Dr. Jekyll has a mood disorder, I’m sure of it. Princess Marie is snippy.
But it must be done.
My best friend, Bridget Ramsay, is still living there. Or, she was living there. We write letters all the time to each other; we have for twenty years.
Until last year, that is. I haven’t heard from her in months.
I don’t know what’s going on.
I have an idea, but I don’t like the idea.
It scares me to death.
Truth often does that to us.
Bridget’s older brother is Toran Ramsay. I often send my letters to Bridget to his home.
I would see him again. Soon.
I shivered. It was a delectable sort of shiver, not at all based in science.
That evening I called my agent, Maybelle Courten, from my white deck. A whale blew water into the air through its blowhole as a hummingbird zoomed past my tulips and daffodils.
“You’re going where, Charlotte?”
“Scotland.” I adjusted Dr. Jekyll on my lap and he glared and tried to scratch me.
“For damn and hell’s sakes, are you kidding me?” Maybelle almost jumped through the phone to strangle me.
“This is not a joke.” Maybelle’s house is always noisy. She is a single mother with five kids. They are twelve, fourteen, fifteen, seventeen, and eighteen. Her husband died of a heart attack five years ago. They dated from the time they were sixteen. He was a reporter. When he died she found out he’d left a life insurance policy worth a half a million and a love note in the safe deposit box saying the best thing in his life was her.
She’s temperamental, loves whiskey, and calls her kids “My hellions” or “My white hair instigators.” They adore her.
“You don’t travel, Charlotte. You hardly leave your island. You rarely speak to people. You don’t like people. You told me that flying on an airplane gives you panic attacks.”
“I have panic attacks unless I’m slightly drunk. I don’t like heights.”
“You’re going to get drunk on the plane to Scotland?”
“That is correct.”
“Hang on a second.” Maybelle covered the phone with her hand, but I could hear her yelling, “Jamie, you take your sister’s underwear off your head right now. Sheryl, that is not a skirt. That is a scarf. You may not leave the house wearing that scarf around your hips, and put your boobs inside your shirt or I will send you to a Catholic school for girls and let the nuns straighten you out. That’s right, smart one. A Catholic school for girls means no boys. You’d better believe I’d do it. Charlotte. Sorry. What in the blasted world are you going to do in Scotland?”
“I’m going to sell our cottage and find my friend.”
“Where is your friend?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I need to find her.”
“When will you find her?”
“When she’s not lost anymore.” I heard glass clink against glass, and I knew she was pouring herself a whiskey.
“I didn’t know you had friends,” Maybelle said.
“I have this one friend. And my mother.”
“Ah. Right. The Scottish pen pal. And I’m your friend.”
“Now I have three friends,” I drawled. “Bridget’s more than a pen pal.”
“Uh huh. Sure. Hang on . . . Eric! Put your sister down. I said put Sandy down right now. No, she is not your hat. You got a D on your last science test, now study. You don’t have a pencil? You have a balloon for a brain if you can’t find a pencil.” I heard more yelling, then back to me. “You know that you have only two months to get a novel to me? You are aware of your deadline?”
“Yes, I’m aware of that. It’s going to be late. Have another whiskey.”
“How do you know I’m drinking whiskey? Never mind. I am. How far along are you?”
“Did you hear me when I told you to have another whiskey?” I pulled my dark brown sweater around me. It was almost the same color as my hair. I noticed my beige blouse had stains along the hem. Blueberries? Ketchup?
“Yes. How far along?”
“I wrote a sentence.” I heard a brief intake of breath, then she swore. She is so inventive.
“That’s it? Still? One sentence.”
“Yes.” Dr. Jekyll
hissed at me, tried to scratch. I caught his paw.
“What was it about?”
“Peanut butter and how it makes me feel like I’m choking and how McKenzie Rae Dean does not eat sausages because they’re too phallic. Makes her feel nauseated. Two sentences.”
She swore again. So creative! “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, Charlotte, but you’re giving me heartburn. Bad. Bad heartburn.”
“I’ll get it done.” I caught Dr. Jekyll’s scratching paw again. “Probably.”
“Damn. I’m going to lie down.”
“No,” she snapped. “You don’t lie down. You go work. Now.”
“I don’t have anything to say. I have writer’s block. I told you. Everything I write is stupid.”
“Stupid . . . tear my hair out and eat it . . . knock my knuckles together and split them open . . . bang me with nunchucks . . . handcuff me to Antarctica . . .”
“Bye, Maybelle.” She makes up silly stuff when she’s stressed.
“You’re killin’ me. Write that book. Hang on. Can you help Eric with his science homework? I don’t understand it.”
I could. Eric and I talked for over an hour, and we got two weeks’ worth of work done. I was pleased with his enthusiasm. “Randy wants to sing you his latest song. Hang on, Ms. Mackintosh.”
I listened to Randy sing and play four songs on his guitar. We worked on the lyrics together. “Thanks, Ms. Mackintosh. You’re groovin’.”
“I endeavor to always groove.”