The Voyager spacecraft sailed on, into the Heliopause, where no ship of humanity had gone before. By the fall of 2012 the twin probes were more than 100 astronomical units from the sun, more than three times the distance to Neptune, the outermost known planet. Still, they kept in tenuous touch with the beings that had sent them out into the cosmos.
Jeremy Sprauling, who worked with the Voyagers for an eyeblink of time in their open-ended journey, returned to California to teach his fall classes at San Diego State University. He thanked his friend Carl for taking care of his car, then parked it in his driveway and began riding the trolley to work. In late September, he put a For Sale sign in the Audi’s back window and bought a bicycle.
Some of his colleagues threw him a small birthday party on Sputnik Day, where he was introduced to a tall, dark-haired woman a few years younger than himself, a new hire in the English department whose specialty was science fiction. They began dating, and Jeremy’s thoughts of Maine and his family and the summer he had spent with them began to fade into the background of his suddenly happier life.
Madison filed for divorce, and began the long process of negotiating who would keep what. She moved some of her stuff down to the point, and spent most weekends there helping Paul and Annabelle prepare for the winter. Her son Graham did well with his hockey team. His father managed to get to some of his games, and Madison was planning a holiday trip to Manitoba to visit them both. She hadn’t laid eyes on Wayne Waggaman in more than two decades, but by September they had embarked on a robust e-mail correspondence. She kept track of Graham’s hockey career electronically. On days after he scored a goal or tallied a couple of assists she took to Facebook to boast of his on-ice exploits.
Joanie and Carol continued their contented lives on Mount Desert Island, where Gretchen was a frequent visitor. On Labor Day weekend, they helped Gretchen throw a huge yard sale at her house. Trey and Lily came up to claim many of their childhood belongings. The stuff that didn’t sell Gretchen donated to the group home where Calvin lived; the stuff the group home didn’t want she took to the dump. Gretchen began applying for jobs in Massachusetts and Texas and getting her house ready to rent should she land one of them.
Pilar turned down the job at Goddard, and bought the Andromeda from Paul for four hundred dollars, with Jeremy’s blessing. The sale of the boat helped smooth the roiled waters of her relationship with her stepfather, and Annabelle was happy to have it gone. Pilar stored the sailboat for the winter on Solomon Island, in the Greenoughs’ boathouse, with their permission. In October she departed with Cyrus Nash on an oceangoing catamaran he bought from a retired merchant marine captain in Stonington, bound for the Bahamas via Bermuda.
Everett continued to play music in Bangor, and to cross paths on occasion with Stella Weaver. By the end of September his on-again off-again relationship with Corinne was on again. He still stubbornly refused to move in with her, though he was not above borrowing her car to go see Billy or to pick up the boy for a weekend. His job at the University of Maine resumed in the fall; to celebrate, he bought a new guitar and took Corinne out to dinner. She drove.
Bernadette Steele accepted the hospital’s offer of early retirement, coupled with a buyout package that would enable her to live comfortably for years to come in the house she had shared with her late husband. She also planned to travel. She had worked hard all her life, and accumulated some money. She wanted to visit Athens, and London, and maybe Rio de Janeiro, and what better time for a girl from humble beginnings to see the world? She had earned it. She still had her health and most of her looks, and the farther she got from Ellsworth, Maine, the farther she could put the Sprauling family behind her.
The new management of the hospital did not replace the damaged elevator, opting instead to begin construction on an addition that would serve the 35-year old wing, including a new elevator shaft on the other side of the building. In the interim, one of the service elevators would have to carry visitors to the second and third floors. The hospital planned to install a new boiler in the basement, which would vent through the space where the old elevator shaft had been. Though the expense seemed out of character for the frugal new administration, some of the older nurses welcomed it, because the upper floors around the elevator had a tendency to get cold during the winter.
Paul and Annabelle Bremerton remained on the point, postponing any plans for the property at least until the following spring. They saw Gretchen and Joanie on occasion, but Madison and Serena and her children were their only Thanksgiving guests. Joanie and Carol were planning a summer wedding in the wake of the vote legalizing same-sex marriage, and Paul agreed to host it at the point. They received a postcard from Pilar from the Bahamas and a phone call from Jeremy. Everett and Corinne spent the weekend in Saint John, New Brunswick, where neither of them had ever been, even though it was closer than Portland.
Everyone seemed to have plans for Christmas. Annabelle felt a pang of disappointment that it would be just the two of them. She would make Paul cut a tree anyway, and she would decorate it and remember Christmases of old, in the big house in Blue Hill, with all of the kids (except Everett) and their father. No one talked about Elliott Sprauling any more, now that they knew the truth about his death. The doctor was dead, and there was nothing any of them could do about it. Her children would either forgive her or not.
But as the daylight dwindled, she frequently found herself looking out the upstairs window in the late afternoon, at the sweep of ocean beyond the islands, as the sun set on the separate lives of her scattered family. And she wondered when they would all be together again.