Eileen Cook Author, Writing Consultant, Editor

Unraveling Isobel, Chapter One

Unraveling Isobel Chapter One

When the minister asked if anyone knew any reason why these two shouldn’t be married, I should have said something. I could think of at least five reasons off the top of my head why my mom shouldn’t have married Richard Wickham.

1. His name is Richard, which is really just a fancy version of Dick. I don’t think anyone should be in a relationship with a Dick.

2. My mom met Richard (Dick) three months ago on the internet. If I wanted to go to a movie with a guy I met on the computer, I would get a lecture about creeps who lurk online. Not to mention, when you can measure your dating history in weeks (twelve!), then you have no business getting married.

3. Dick has a son my age, Nathaniel, who happens to be unbelievably good-looking and is now officially off-limits because we’re related.

4. Just because my mom wanted to be married, I have to go along for the ride. I’m being forced to move my senior year from Seattle to an island where there are more endangered birds than there are people.

5. Dick’s first wife and daughter died seven months ago, and it seems to me he could have given it at least a year before bringing us in as the replacements. I may not be the queen of etiquette, but even I know some things are in bad taste.

As the ferry chugged closer to Nairne Island, suddenly I noticed reason number six looming over me.

“Well, there she is,” Dick said in a booming voice that sounded like he was an actor on a stage waiting for those around him to burst into spontaneous applause at his mere presence. “What do you think of your new home, Isobel?” He gave my back a hearty slap that nearly knocked me to the deck.

I looked at my mom for confirmation. I hoped it was a joke, but instead of laughing, she was looking at Dick like a slice of chocolate cheesecake after an extended sugar-free diet. She’d said the house was big and that it had been in Dick’s family since the late 1800s when his family established a town on the island. However, she’d neglected to mention that it wasn’t big; it was huge. Most hotels are smaller than this house. It sat on the top of the tip of the island like a fat brick lady squatting down to get a good look at what was coming in and out of the harbor. The center of the house had a row of large arched windows with a stone terrace in front. The wings on both sides were covered in ivy. Not in a nice Big Ten-campus sort of way, but more like a wild-jungle-vine-gone-rabid kind of way.

“What’s that style called? Early Ostentatious?”

“Isobel!” my mom said, shooting me the look that meant Boy, are you in for it when we’re alone.

Dick gave one of his hearty “yo-ho-ho, I’m Lord of the Manor” laughs. “Now, don’t be mad at her. Seeing Morrigan for the first time can be a bit overwhelming.”

My eyebrows went up. “Morrigan? You gave your house a name?” I bet Richard was the kind of guy who names everything, including his car, his favorite golf club, his dick. Dick’s dick. I shuddered. That was the kind of image that could leave some serious emotional scars.

“Most estates have names,” Dick said, subtly pointing out that while normal people live in houses, this was an estate. Like I needed a reminder. Our old two-bedroom bungalow would most likely fit in the foyer of this place.

“I’m sure Morrigan will feel like home for us in no time,” my mom said.

Nathaniel snorted, and the three of us looked at him. My new stepbrother was good-looking, but his mood was a downer. The phrase “turn that frown upside down” didn’t seem to be his personal motto. It wasn’t clear to me if this was part of his personality, or if he was just unhappy with my mom and me as the recent additions to the family. He stood apart from us with his hands jammed into his pockets, and his expression looked like he smelled something nasty. It wasn’t me. I’d had a long shower that morning, and knowing this day wasn’t going to be an easy one, I’d applied enough deodorant to keep an Olympic swimmer dry. There was no reason for him to always try to stand a few steps away from me. At least no reason I could figure out.

“What did you mean by that?” his dad asked. Nathaniel shrugged. Dick opened his mouth to say something else, but Nathaniel was already turning away and heading back inside the ferry’s main cabin. My mom put a hand on Dick’s arm and they shared a look, which I could tell meant Kids . . . what are you going to do? No one will adopt them at this age. I would have snorted too and followed Nathaniel inside except for the fact that apparently he couldn’t stand me.

“I should get our things together. We’ll be docking in a few minutes,” Dick said, patting my mom’s ass. I turned around and looked back at the island so I could miss their parting kiss. I knew they would kiss as if he were heading off to war instead of leaving for ten minutes to go get the car.

My mom stood next to me after Dick left. Her hands gripped the metal railing as if she planned to vault up and over. Of course, with her wedding ring on she would sink to the bottom of the ocean in record time. The ring Dick gave her is so large it practically requires its own zip code.

“You could make this easier,” she said.

“So could you.”

“We’re not talking about this again. You can’t live with Anita.” My mom had dismissed the perfectly rational idea of me living with my best friend as if I had instead suggested that I live on the streets in an old washing-machine box.

“Why not?” I couldn’t help pleading again. “Her mom’s fine with it.” I twisted the ring on my finger and added in a softer voice, “It’s my senior year.”

“All the more reason I want you to be with me. You’ll be leaving for college after this.” She tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. “Honestly, Isobel, you don’t have to act like it’s a prison term. As you keep pointing out, it’s just one year.”

I knew it was a lost cause, but I couldn’t help expressing my misery anyway. “If it’s just one year, then maybe you could have waited to marry Sir Dick.”

“His name is Richard, and drop the ‘sir’ stuff.”

“Are you telling me you don’t notice that he does it? The whole fake British accent thing?” There was no way she could be that oblivious.

“Isobel, don’t push it. I know you’re not happy about this, but someday you’ll understand.”

“I don’t want to understand later. I want to understand now.” I knew I was pushing it, but I couldn’t stop myself. “Why couldn’t we all live in Seattle for the year?”

“Because Richard’s life is here.”

I felt my throat tighten. “What about our life?”

“In case you didn’t notice, we didn’t have much of a life.” My mom spun and stalked off.

I sighed, and it was lost in the wind. The ferry whistle blew as we pulled into the dock. The boat bounced off the giant wooden pylons as it came to rest, and I grabbed the railing to keep my balance. The tide was out in the harbor; the water had peeled back, leaving a graveyard of crushed oyster shells and slick seaweed. Two seagulls were fighting over a piece of some nasty dead bit they had pulled from an oyster shell. The sour smell of dead fish and rotting seaweed washed over me.

Home sweet home.

Unraveling Isobel will be available from Simon Pulse in January 2012.

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