Summer Island Page 11

It had been years since he'd comforted another human being; he didn't remember how.

“It matters,” he said, hearing the thickness in his voice. He would give anything right now to erase the past, to be able to go back to that Sunday afternoon, listen to that same confession of love from his brother; and simply be happy.

But how did you do that? How did two people move backward through time and untie a knot that had tangled through every moment of their lives?

“Just talk to me,” Eric said sleepily, smiling again. “Just talk, little brother. Like we used to.”

Chapter Five

The phone rang in the middle of the night. Ruby groaned and glanced bleary-eyed at the bedside clock. One-fifteen.

“Shit,” she mumbled. It had to be one of those idiot reporters.

She reached across Max's empty half of the bed and yanked the phone off the hook. Rolling onto her back, she brought it to her ear. “Bite me.”

“I gave that up in kindergarten.”

Ruby laughed sleepily. “Caro? Oh, sorry. I thought you were one of those bottom feeders from the Tattler.”

“They aren't calling me. Of course, I haven't made a career out of dissing Mom.”

“It isn't much of a career.” Ruby scooted backward and leaned against the rough stucco wall. Through the phone lines, she could hear a baby crying. It was a high-pitched wailing sound, one only dogs should be able to hear. “Jesus, Caro, you must be chewing Excedrin. Does the baby Jesus always wail like that?”

“Mom's been in a car accident.”

Ruby gasped. “What happened?”

“I don't know. All I know is that she's at Bayview. Apparently she'd been drinking.”

“She never drinks. I mean, she never used to.” Ruby threw back the covers and stood up. She wasn't sure why she did it, except that she had a sudden need to be moving. She held the cordless phone to her ear, walking toward the darkened kitchen. There, she stared out the slit in the tattered curtains at the black street below. The pink neon vacancy sign flickered and buzzed. She ran a hand through her sweaty hair. “How bad is it?”

“I don't know. I'm going to drop the kids off with Jere's mom first thing in the morning and go to the hospital. But I don't want to do this alone. Will you come?”

“I don't know, Car-”

“She could be dying. Think of someone besides yourself for a change,” Caroline said sharply.

Ruby sighed heavily. “Okay, I'll come.”

“I'll call Alaska Airlines and put a ticket on my card. There's a flight at five forty-five. You can pick it up at the counter.”

“Uh ... you don't have to do that. I have money now.”

“You? Oh ... well, that's great.”

“I'll be there by noon.” Ruby hung up the phone. Crossing her arms tightly, she paced her apartment, back and forth, back and forth, unable to stop.

She had been angry at her so-called mother forever. She couldn't really remember not hating her ... and the past few days had only added fuel to the fire.

But now ... an accident. Horrible images slammed through her mind. Paralysis ... brain ... death.

She closed her eyes. (it took her a moment to realize that she was praying.) “Take care of her,” she whispered, then added a single, unfamiliar word, “Please?”

When Nora woke up the next morning, she had a moment of pure, heart-pumping fear. She was in a strange bed, in an austere room she didn't recognize.

Then she remembered.

She'd been in a car accident. She recalled the ambulance ride ... the flashing red lights ... the metallic taste of her own blood ... the surprise on the young paramedic's face when he'd realized who he was treating.

And the doctors. The orthopedist who'd spoken to her just before and after the X rays. A severe break above the ankle; another, small fracture below the knee ... a sprained wrist. He'd said she was lucky.

When he'd said that, she'd cried.

Now, her leg was in a cast. She couldn't see it beneath the blankets, but she could feel it. The flesh tingled and itched and her bone ached.

She sighed, feeling sorry for herself and deeply ashamed. Drinking and driving.

As if the Tattler's photographs weren't enough to ruin her career; she'd added a crime to the list.

It wouldn't be long before the media picked up her scent. Someone would figure out that there was a buck to be made in telling the world that Nora Bridge was in Bayview. The accident report was probably worth thousands.

There was a knock at the door; short and sharp, and then Caroline swept into the room. Her back was ramrod straight, her pale hands clasped at her waist. She wore a pair of camel-colored cashmere pants and a matching sweater set. Her silvery blond hair was cut in a perfect bob, one side tucked discreetly behind her ear. Huge diamond studs glittered in her earlobes. “Hello, Mother.”

“Hi, honey. It's nice of you to come.” Nora recognized instantly how distant she sounded, and it shamed her. She and Caroline had worked hard in the past few years, trying to come back together in an honest way. Nora had treated her elder daughter with infinite care, always letting Caro make the first move. Now, all that progress had been blown to hell; she could see how far apart they'd fallen again. There was a coldness in Caroline's eyes that Nora hadn't seen in years.

Caroline glanced at her quickly, smiled-or winced. She looked vulnerable suddenly.

Nora couldn't stand the awkward silence that fell between them. She said the first thing that popped into her mind. “The doctors say I'll need to be in a wheelchair for a few days-just until my wrist gets strong enough to make crutches possible.”

“Who is going to take care of you?” “Oh ... I hadn't thought about that. I guess I'll hire someone. Shouldn't be difficult.” She kept talking--anything was better than that silence. “The big question is, where will I go? I can't go back to my condo. press has the place staked out. But I need to stay close to my doctors.”

Caroline took a step toward the bed. “You could use the summer house. Jere and I never find time to make it up there, and Ruby won't set foot on the island. The old house is just sitting there ...”

The house on Summer Island. A stone's throw from Eric. It would be perfect. Nora looked up at her daughter. “You'd do that for me?”

Caroline gave her a look of infinite sadness. “I wish you knew me.”

Nora sagged back into the pillows. She'd said the wrong thing again. “I'm sorry.”

“God, I've heard that from you so often, I feel like it's tattooed on my forehead. Quit saying you're sorry and start acting like it. Start acting like my mother.” She reached into her purse and fished out a set of keys. Pulling a single key from the ring, she set it down on the bedside table.

Nora could see that her daughter was close to breaking. "Caro –“

Call me when you've settled in." Caroline stepped back, putting distance between them.

Nora didn't know what to say. Caroline was right; Nora hadn't had the courage to act like a mother in years.

“I have to go now.”

Nora nodded stiffly, trying to smile. “Of course. Thanks for coming.” She wanted to reach Out for Caroline, hold her daughter's hand, and never let go.

“Good-bye, Mom.”

And she was gone.

Ruby stepped out of the main terminal at Seattle International Airport. Rain thumped on the sky bridge and studded the street, creating a pewter curtain between the terminal and the multilayered parking garage across the street.

The early morning air smelled of evergreen trees and fertile black earth. Like a dash of spice in a complex recipe, there was the barest tang of the sea; a scent only a local would recognize.

As she stood beneath this bloated gray sky, smelling the moist, pine-scented air; she realized that memories were more than misty recollections. They stayed rooted in the soil in which they'd grown. There were places up north, in the San Juan Island archipelago, where bits and pieces of Ruby's life had been left scattered about like seashells on the shore. Somewhere up there sat the shadow of a thin, bold-eyed girl on a pebbly beach, tearing the petals off a daisy, chanting He loves me; he loves me not. She knew that if she looked hard enough, she would be able to find the invisible trail she'd left behind, the pieces of her that led from the present back to the past.

She wasn't surprised at how fresh the memories were. Nothing could ever dry up and turn to dust in the moist Seattle air. Everything thrived.

Ruby hailed a cab and climbed into the backseat, tossing her carry-on bag in beside her. She glanced at the cabbie's registration (a habit she'd formed during visits to New York) and saw that his name was AviAvivivi.

There was a joke in that, but she was too tired to go digging around for it. “Bayview,” she said, thumping back into the smelly brown velour seat.

Avi hit the gas and rocketed into the next lane.

Ruby closed her eyes, trying not to think of anything at all. It seemed like only a few minutes later; Avi was tapping her on the shoulder.

“Mrs.? Ma'am? You are well, yes?”

Ruby jerked awake, rubbing her eyes. “I'm fine, thanks.” Fishing thirty rumpled dollars out of her pocket, she handed Avi the fare and tip. Then she grabbed her purse and bag, slung both straps over her shoulder; and headed toward the hospital's double glass doors, where a few people were milling about.

Ruby was almost in their midst when she realized they were reporters.

“It's her daughter!”

The reporters turned to her all at once, yelling above one another; elbowing for position.

“Ruby, look here!”

“Was your mother drunk at the time of-”

“What did you think of the photographs-”

Ruby heard every shutter click, every picture frame advance. She noticed the strand of hair that was stuck to her lower lip, the tiny paper cut on her index finger.

It was as if she were standing miles apart from the crowd, even though she could have reached out and touched the woman from CNN.

“Ruby! Ruby! Ruby!”

For a dizzying moment, she let herself pretend that this was for her; that she had earned this attention.

“Did you know about your mother's affair?”

At that, Ruby turned. She locked eyes with a small, beak-nosed man wearing a KOMO 4 hat. “No.” She flashed a bright, fake smile. “I'd make a joke about it, but it's not very funny.”

She pushed through the crowd, holding her head up, looking straight ahead. Their questions followed her; rocks thrown at her back, some hitting hard.

She strode through the pneumatic doors. They whooshed shut behind her.

Inside, it was quiet. The air smelled of disinfectant. Boldly patterned chairs dotted the vast white lobby. There were cheery, generic paintings on the walls, placed awkwardly between gilt-framed portraits of sour-looking men and women who'd obviously donated millions to the hospital.


Caroline rushed forward. Her hug almost knocked Ruby off her feet. As she held her sister; Ruby could feel how thin Caro had become, could feel the tremble in her sister's body.

At last, Caro drew back. Her mascara had run, ruining the impossible perfection of her face. “I'm sorry,” she said, snapping her purse open, fishing for a lace handkerchief, which she found and dabbed at her eyes. Ruby could sense that Caroline was embarrassed by her uncharacteristic display of emotion. If old patterns ran true, Caro would pull back now, distance herself while she whittled her feelings down to an acceptable size.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

Prev Next