The heart has a home when it has an ally.
If Millie Crossan doesn't know anything else, she knows this one truth simply because her brother Finley grew up beside her. Charismatic Finley, eighteen months her senior, becomes Millie's guide when their mother Posey leaves their father and moves her children from Minnesota to Memphis shortly after Millie's tenth birthday.
Memphis is a world foreign to Millie and Finley. This is the 1970s Memphis, the genteel world of their mother's upbringing and vastly different from anything they've ever known. Here they are the outsiders. Here, they only have each other. And here, as the years fold over themselves, they mature in a manicured Southern culture where they learn firsthand that much of what glitters isn't gold. Nuance, tradition, and Southern eccentrics flavor Millie and Finley's world as they find their way to belonging.
But what hidden variables take their shared history to leave both brother and sister at such disparate ends?
Clay Cliff sat grandly at the end of a mile-long, oak-lined driveway, on a precipice above Lake Minnetonka, in an area named Navarre, twenty-five miles from Wayzata.
The first time I saw the seven-bedroom estate sprawled upon its springy lawn with its red-painted front door centered and balanced in the saltbox design, my imagination took flight from the backseat of Mom’s car.
As we inched up the gravel driveway, the dock over the little lake to the right shimmered in the June afternoon sunlight, eliciting visions of Finley and me standing at the water’s edge, holding slender fishing rods in the promise of a new life. I was sure we’d come to know the house and grounds in a proprietorial manner.
We’d evolve into people of purpose and belonging, and stake our claim and make forts in the woods behind our new home, overlooking the north shore of Lake Minnetonka. There’d be worlds to create and secrets to discover. We’d compose our own language to delineate this indescribable, enchanted place from the harshness of the outside world. I was sure of it.
The back of Mom’s neck stiffened as she gripped the steering wheel to guide the station wagon in an arc to the back of the house, where a caretaker’s cottage stood plainly at the driveway’s end. Stopping the car, she turned to Finley in the passenger seat and sighed with such resignation, I thought her whole body would deflate.
“Well, here we are,” she said, her hands releasing the wheel and falling heavily to her lap. Her blue eyes caught mine in the rearview mirror, then I looked at Finley’s profile and waited for him to speak. “Should we get out of the car?” Finley asked, and simultaneously, he and Mom opened their doors. I sat stunned and immobile until Finley rapped on my window.
His lips moved as if in warning, so I picked up my crestfallen heart and got out of the car. The summer we put our worldly belongings in storage and moved into the caretaker’s cottage of the vacation home of a wealthy family from Birmingham, Alabama, James Taylor dominated the airwaves with “Sweet Baby James,” and Dad went on another extended business trip.
To hear Mom sell the move as she directed Finley and me in packing our rooms, you would have thought we were upwardly mobile. She made no mention of our family losing everything, she never mentioned the words bankruptcy, foreclosure, or indicated that anything was amiss.
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