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Family Circle 2010 Fiction Contest: "The Secrets of Celestial Navigation"

Porch illustration
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Illustrations by Becca Stadtlander

There is such an air of sadness about rental houses, as if they need a hug. Abandoned by loved ones, they seem a bit threadbare, colorless and overwhelmingly nondescript. I should know; I must have looked at a dozen properties before settling on this one. It is my second rental post-Julian.

After we sold the house in Evanston, I didn't want Kara disrupted so I rented a house near Lake Forest Academy. When I decided to come east or as I thought of it at the time, "home," Kara became a boarder there. She's here with me for the summer and when she returns to school, she'll spend weekends with Julian and Timberlea and holidays with me. Then she's off to college and I become an official "empty nester."

These past few years have been a hard journey for all of us. And I know that I am not without blame. Don't they say there are always two sides to a story? I had grown complacent, believing that Julian and I were a well-balanced equation with a perfect daughter bonding us. He was a successful orthodontist in a world that put a high value on a perfect smile. I had a perfect smile. We shared an interest in popular music, the theater and food, and lived together in a large, contemporary house that was painted in shades of white: Barley, Winter, Snow, Antique. When we sold the house, I refused alimony but took generous child support and shared custody of Kara.

I am back in my hometown of Shoreham. But I have lost touch with anyone I knew those decades ago and even though the town has changed little over the years, I seem to have changed too much. I am no longer a townie. And dare I say that I am about to rely on the kindness of a stranger named Lucca?

"Mommo?" Kara's voice wakes me from sleep and I surface, loving the way the louver blinds cast slivers of morning into the room—and equally loving that Kara now calls me Mommo instead of last year's disapproving "Mother."

I run my tongue across my fuzzy teeth and manage to smile, stretch and sit up all at the same time. Looking at the clock, I see that it is nearly 8 a.m. Today is my day to open up Harbor Lights, the local book store where I have been working part-time since my return to Shoreham. Sadie Philbrick, the octogenarian owner—she thinks of me as a sister and I am in no position to question family— took a leap of faith and offered me the job. She and I alternate opening up. I love to go in early and rearrange the books, giving all my favorites center stage. I also polish the brass on the third world objets d'art and light a candle, which helps with not only my state of mind, but the lingering scent of Sadie's perfume. Her sense of smell has departed along with her business sense. I make little more than minimum wage, but I enjoy the job and the paycheck.