Savannah found her daughter lying across one of the thick branches directly over the decrepit greenhouse and back stone wall of the property. The girl had only been up two hours and the new red silk pajamas Margot had brought back from her cruise in the Far East were covered in dirt and leaves.
“Found you!” Savannah cried. “You’re doing dishes.”
“Shh!” Katie hissed, not turning away from whatever scene she was spying on.
“What’s up?” Savannah whispered, climbing a parallel branch, shimmying out over the courtyard on her belly.
“Margot,” Katie whispered. Savannah watched her daughter push the red tangle of curls behind her ear, revealing her freckled face, her wide lips and long nose. Not pretty, her little girl—even through her mother’s eyes, Savannah could see that. But Katie was so much more than pretty. She was tough. Independent. Beautiful in her own wild way. Pure at heart.
Everything, Savannah thought, I am not.
“I think she’s crying,” Katie said.
Savannah tore her eyes from her daughter and sought out Margot’s thin and elegant form amongst the weeds and broken buildings beneath them.
“Back wall,” Katie said. “Someone wrote something on the stones.”
Not again, Savannah thought. She saw Margot, wearing her white linen, pumps and no doubt “the” diamonds scrubbing at the back wall. The letters—O’NEILL SLU—
“I can hear you girls up there!” Margot yelled without turning around.
“What are you doing, Margot?” Savannah called.
“Contemplating bear traps,” she said and threw the thick yellow sponge into the bucket of water at her feet. Margot turned and faced Savannah in the heat of the morning. Her long white hair was perfect, her face as stunning as the diamonds at her wrists and ears. You would never guess she was pushing eighty.
But right now Margot was one pissed-off matriarch. And when Margot got mad, things got organized. And cleaned. And worst of all, changed.
Savannah’s heart leaped into her throat.
Change was the devil. Change had to be avoided at all costs.
Savannah went into instant damage-control mode.
“Every year,” Savannah yelled, shimmying back down the tree, shamed by her grandmother’s elegance into at least acting like an adult. “You know this happens every year. As soon as school gets out for summer, we get every teenager trying to prove to their friends how cool they are.”
Why vandalizing their home was considered cool was one of the great mysteries of local teenage life.
She swung down from the lowest branch and landed on the broken cobblestone. Looking up she found Katie carefully scrambling down after her.
“Careful,” Savannah said. When Katie got within reach Savannah lifted her daughter down, holding her close for just a second, smelling the sunshine and rose smell of her skin.
The pajamas were toast.
“What does that mean?” Katie asked, pointing to the letters on the stone walls. Savannah shot Margot an arch look—slut was a stretch, but Margot was the closest thing they had.
“Like you have no secrets?” Margot asked, defensive.
“Officially, I’m not an O’Neill.”
“Honey, an O’Neill by any other name is still an O’Neill.”
The truth was, every O’Neill female was born with secrets, and through their own legendarily bad decision-making, each of them had her own sins. Not that the men had it any better—her brothers had their own crimes and mysteries.
Secrets upon secrets, that was the O’Neill legacy.
And, she had to believe, even if her mother had taken Richard Bonavie’s name, the curse would have lingered.
“What does it mean?” Katie asked again.
“It’s just a bad word,” Savannah said. “Kids think it’s funny to write bad words on our back wall.” O’Neill Sluts.
“Was this here while I was gone?” Margot asked, having gotten back a week and half ago from her cruise.
“No!” Savannah denied, though she wasn’t totally sure. She loved her jungle, wild and unmaintained, but it obstructed her view of much of the yard. “It’s new.”