For the next week, Mattie spent long hours at the university supervising final exams, marking them and congratulating or consoling her students. With the events of the last couple of weeks and the anticipated closing of the sanctuary, she had declined to do any field work this year but planned to take her bird watching gear; camera, lenses and Zeiss binoculars to Mexico for the days Simon was at the conference.
Simon had booked two weeks off and Mattie was counting down the days (twenty-four) until they’d be relaxing on the beach in Cancun. She’d never spent that much time exclusively with Simon or with any other person, and she was feeling twitchy about it. Alone time was important and without it she could get irritable. She wanted to return from the vacation with Simon thinking he couldn’t live without her, not how quickly could he get away from her. The three days he planned to be at the conference could be a blessing.
Mattie considered attending the Board of Directors meeting on Wednesday then decided against it. Jonathon had all the details. The decision before the members was with a diminishing bank balance and the unlikelihood of more funds coming in, did they want to be personally liable for Mattie’s honorarium, severance for employees and now a three hundred dollar fine for contravening the city’s ban on open fires?
She couldn’t imagine the vote would be anything other than unanimous in favour of shutting down Saunders Bird Rescue and Sanctuary. She’d wait for Jonathon to tell her what was decided.
Desperately busy trying to finish everything up before the holiday, Mattie had asked Anne-Louise if they could meet for lunch at a restaurant on campus. It was a warm, late spring day, and she was sitting on the patio of the Virtuous Pie, a vegan restaurant, watching the sparrows boldly navigating the legs of tables and chairs in search of discarded crumbs. A sleek, black Tesla Model 3 turned heads as it pulled up to the curb. The driver got out, walked around to the passenger side and opened the rear door. Anne emerged in an elegant black, masculine style suit, white shirt and heels. Her chestnut hair was pulled tight in a topknot. She smiled at the driver; they spoke briefly, then he returned to the vehicle and drove away.
So, this was her baby sister; proud, powerful and downright formidable. Mattie was reminded once again of how little they had in common except for twenty-five percent of their DNA.
Anne frowned and scanned the packed patio and without exception all the patrons stared back.
Mattie stood and waved. “Annie, over here.”
Anne smiled, waved back and headed for the entrance.
Now everyone was looking at Mattie and again she was reminded of how different they were, this time by their wardrobe. Compared to her half-sister’s haute couture, she was wearing faded denim jeans and jacket and a baggy white t-shirt with ‘Bird Nerd’ imprinted below a cartoon of a studious owl.
Mattie sat down, then stood again as her luncheon companion approached the table. Anne was a hugger and Mattie didn’t want her to feel rebuffed.
“It’s so good to see you, Mattie.” Anne held on tight and Mattie didn’t try to disengage. It felt good, and she didn’t care that people were watching. What was happening to her?
“How are you?” Anne said.
“Fine.” She wasn’t, but to continue to talk about the past month didn’t make it better. “You have a chauffeur?”
“You mean, Alfie?” Anne placed her small shoulder bag on the table, took out her cell phone and turned it off. “My father hired him to look out for me when I was at school in London and he’s never left.”
“I refer to him as my personal assistant, though he’s very capable in tight situations. Former SAS.”
Mattie never imagined Anne would need a bodyguard, but why not? She was extremely rich and actively involved in the operations of one of the world’s largest family trusts.
“A small kale salad,” Anne said to the server.
Mattie ordered the street corn pizza.
“Are you vegan?” Anne said.
“Today.” The restaurant featured a plant-based menu and the hand-crafted pizza was topped with garlic paprika butter, charred corn, feta, cashew mozzarella, cilantro-lime crema, and fresh cilantro. “I chose this restaurant more for convenience than ethics.”
“Good choice, regardless.”
Their food arrived and Mattie didn’t hesitate. Stress had extinguished her appetite, so much so both Simon and her mother had expressed their concern. The aroma of the exotic creation set before her had rekindled it. She must be feeling better.
Between mouthfuls, Mattie noticed Anne picking at her salad.
“What’s on your mind, Anne?”
Anne put down her fork, picked up her napkin, folded it and put it down. She took a sip of water.
“You’re making me crazy, Anne.”
“Sorry.” Anne smiled. She looked unsure, vulnerable.
The surge of affection Mattie felt for her younger sibling was not as surprising as her desire to protect her. Its ferocity was unsettling and unnecessary.
“It’s about our father,” Anne said
“Yes. He wants to meet you.”
“He didn’t say exactly, but I think he wants to tell you about the past before he forgets it.”
“Didn’t you say he was suffering from–”
“Early onset Alzheimer’s.”
“I understand this is upsetting for you, Mattie, and I–”
Anne looked down at her salad. “Maybe you could think about it?”
“Don’t you think I have? I used to lie awake in the foster homes at night when I was a kid thinking what I would say to him when he came and rescued me. When I got older and more worldly I realized he was either an anonymous john or a dead junkie and him saving me was extremely unlikely. I had reconciled myself to that and then you came along and I began to wonder how he could abandon his own daughter? My mother, relationships being what they are, I could understand, but me? Why didn’t he reach out? He certainly had the means. But he wasn’t even interested. And now he wants what, absolution? Well, fuck him.”
Anne looked pale. “I understand how you feel, Mattie–”
“No, you fucking don’t understand.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry, I don’t.” Anne took a deep breath. “But he’s been a wonderful father to me and this is important to him. He’s dying, Mattie, but first he’ll lose his mind. Do you know how horrible that is? If I can do anything to alleviate his suffering, I have to try to do it. I love him.” Her voice cracked.
Mattie pushed back her chair and stood. “He’s not the only one whose suffered,” she said. “What goes around comes around.”
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