"Turn right at the blinking yellow," he said, but her turn signal was already on. In this regard, at least, she still knew her way.
The Red Hook Grill, an arrangement of vinyl-sided boxes stacked like lobster traps alongside Caldecott Falls, was the only restaurant in town that stayed open all through the off-season. In the gathering gray twilight of a frozen afternoon it blazed like a gaudy promise of warmth and comfort, and though the bar was topped with Formica and the pie with Cool Whip, the locals depended on itJack depended on it, tooto cheer the endless dark tunnel of a Down East winter. Jack placed his usual orderfish-and-chips, with onion rings swapped for the fries though he knew he wouldn't be able to eat more than a bite or two. He hadn't been able to tolerate much of anything for a while now, despite what the doctors had promised when they'd convinced him to have the stent put in to relieve his jaundice. He was dropping weight so fast he thought he might vanish before the cancer killed him.
Natalie 's usual was a hamburger and a Diet Coke, but today she ordered a milk shake, a black and white, and, when Louise brought the food, dropped a straw into the frosty metal blender cup that the Grill always served alongside its shakes and slid it across the table toward Jack.
"It might be easier to get that down."
He patted her hand and out of gratitude and good manners took a sip, with a show of relish, of the thick and saccharine confection. He loathed milk shakes.
At the end of the meal, Louise came over with a piece of pie, on the house, baked that morning from blueberries frozen at the end of last summer.
"Tide you over till next summer," she said.
She and Natalie exchanged a look. Louise put her hand on Jack's shoulder.
"How are you, Jack?"
"Fine, Louise," he said.
And then he felt obliged to take a bite of pie. It tasted to his dysfunctional palate like vinegar and salt.
"Very tasty," he said.
"Thank you, Louise," Natalie said.
As they watched Louise make her way back to the kitchen Natalie said, "Ever since Daniel left, everyone 's always asking me, 'Natalie, how are you?' like they expect me to break down crying or tear out my hair or something. I never know what to say."
"It 's for just such moments that the word 'fine ' was invented."
"I guess. Daddy calls me every morning and says, 'How bad is it today, Sugarbear?' and I give him a number from one to ten. For the first month or two, I was pretty steadily in the ones and twos, but eventually I worked my way up to around a five."
"Your father does the same with me. Every morning." Jack was fond of Neil Stein, his son-in-law, closer to him than he 'd been to his daughter. Close enough, in fact, that this daily ritual of checking in comforted rather than annoyed him.
"What number do you give him?" Natalie asked.
"I try to stay above a six."
"Pancreatic cancer and you're a six. My dumbfuck husband cheats on me, and I'm a one. Okay, that makes me the most selfish person in the world."
That made Jack smile.
"I'm glad you're here, darling," he said. "Now come on." He pushed back in his chair. "Let 's go out and look at the falls before it 's too dark to see anything."
"It 's probably really slippery. And it 's still snowing."
Jack shrugged on his coat and pulled on his gloves. He handed her his scarf. "Put this on. I don't know what you were thinking, bringing a coat like that to Maine in January."
"I wanted to look nice for you."
"You always look nice to me."
"I wanted to look nice for me, then. It, you know, it helps." Because, she meant, she felt ugly and unwanted on the inside.
"I understand," he said. "Come on, gorgeous."
Excerpted from Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman. Copyright © 2014 by Ayelet Waldman. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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