Summer Island Page 19

“So, I should forgive you now, while I still have the time. Is that your none-too-subtle message?”

Nora looked up sharply. “Not everything is about you, Ruby. I told you something painful about me tonight, painful and private. I expect you to handle my life with respect, if you can't manage care.”

Ruby looked abashed. “I'm sorry.”

"Apology accepted. Now, tell me something about you.

Ruby stared at Nora through unreadable eyes.

Nora steeled herself. This was going to be bad ...

“That summer-you remember it, that time you left--I thought you'd come back.”

“That's no secret.”

“I waited and waited. By the next June, Caroline had left, and it was just Dad and me at home. One night I just ... snapped.” She swallowed hard and looked away for a moment, then collected herself and began again. “I drove down to Seattle and went to that dance club, the Monastery, all by myself. I picked up some kid-I can't even remember his name. He had blue hair and pierced ears and dead eyes. I went back to his apartment and let him fuck me.” She paused for effect. “It was my first time.”

It hurt as much as Ruby had intended. Nora thought: There it is. My legacy. She didn't dare to say she was sorry. Ruby would only toss those ridiculously inadequate words right back at her.

“I did it to hurt you. I thought you'd come home eventually and then I'd tell you. I used to imagine the look on your face when I described it."

“You wanted to see me cry.”

“At the very least.”

Nora sighed. “I would have, if that makes you feel better.”

“It's too late for any of us to be feeling better.” She sighed. “Dean didn't take it very well, either.”

Dean. For a moment Nora hurt so much she couldn't breathe evenly.

That's how the grief hit her lately. Like a rogue wave rising from a flat sea, it came out of nowhere and hit with hurricane force. Sometimes she went whole hours without thinking about Eric, and then she would suddenly remember.

Now, it had been Dean's name that reminded her, but it could have been anything--the sound of a school bell ringing, a man's laughter coming from another room. Anything.

She knew she should say something--the pain in Ruby's eyes when she said Dean's name was unmistakable-but Nora's throat was blocked too tightly to speak.

“That's enough quid pro quo for one night,” Ruby said sharply. “I'm going to go upstairs and take a bath.”

Nora watched her daughter leave. Then, quietly, she said, “Good night, Ruby.”

Wheeling back into her bedroom, Nora elbowed the door shut behind her and crawled up onto the bed. Then she reached for the phone and dialed Eric's number.

He answered on the third ring, and she could tell that he was heavily medicated. “Hullo?”

“Hey, Eric,” she said, leaning back against the headboard. “You sound like you've been shooting heroin.”

“Thass how I feel.” It seemed to take a long time for him to speak, and the words came out mangled and elongated.

“Are you okay?” she asked softly.

“Ssshure. Jesst a little doped up. New meds... ”

Nora had seen him go through this before. It was always hell to get the pain prescription just right. She knew it wasn't a good time for them to speak. “I'll let you sleep now, okay? I'll call back tomorrow.”

“Ssleep,” he murmured. “Yeah. Morrow.” “Good night, Eric.”

“Goo” night."

Nora listened to the dial tone so long the recording came on, then, finally, she hung up.

Ruby went upstairs, where she grabbed her yellow legal pad and crawled up onto the bed.

This place, Summer Island, is killing me. When I left Los Angeles, I was strong and funny--not successful, perhaps, but at least I was me. Here, things are different. I smell the roses my grandmother planted and dry my hands on towels she embroidered ... I sit at the table where I grew up, remembering when I couldn't reach the floor with my feet. I stare at the beach, and in the movement of the waves, I hear my sister's laughter.

And then there is my mother.

We have battles to fight; there is no doubt about it, but I'm afraid to ask the questions, and she, I can tell, is afraid to answer them. So we dance out of time to different pieces of music.

Quid pro quo. My secret for one of yours; this is the game we have begun to play. With it, I know I won't be able to stand on the edge of intimacy. Sooner or later I will have to dive into those cold, deep waters, and there is no end to the ripples my entrance will make.

I will learn things about my mother that I don't want to know. Hell, I already have. I know, for instance, that she ran away from home right after high school and never spoke to her father again.

Even yesterday, I wouldn't have been surprised by that. I would have said, “Of course. Running away is what Nora Bridge does best.”

But I watched her eyes as she spoke of her father. I saw the pain ...

It hurt her to run away. Part of me wishesI hadn't seen that because, as I stood there, listening to my mother's heartache, I wondered for the first time if it hurt her to leave her children.

Chapter Nine

Dean sat cross-legged on the end of the dock, watching the sunrise.

The Sound was rough now at the changing of the tides. Waves slapped against the old sailboat that bobbed alongside the dock. The lines creaked and moaned.

He heard the sound of motors in the distance, and he smiled.

The fishing boats were going out. They were too far away to see clearly-they were, as always, hugging the coast of Shaw Island on their way to Haro Strait—but Dean had seen it all a thousand times, the battered, rattrap boats, made of painted wood or aluminum, setting out for the day. How many times had he and Ruby stood on a dock somewhere, watching Rand's boat chug out to sea? She'd always squeezed Dean's hand at the last moment, when the Captain Hook rounded the point and disappeared. He had known, without her ever having to tell him, that she lived with a tiny bit of that one day her father wouldn't return.

Dean had taken his watch off when he arrived on Lopez Island, so he wasn't sure how long he sat there. All he knew was that by the time the sun gained strength and heated his cheeks, he'd been there long enough.

Tiredly, he got to his feet and turned around. To his right, the old family sailboat bobbed wearily in the tide.

The mast-once a bright white-had been discolored by the endless rain and pitted by the wind. Red sides had been scraped down to bare wood in a dozen places, and the deck around the big metal steering wheel was hidden beneath a layer of blackened, slimy leaves and green-gray mold.

Of course, that was when he heard her voice: Let's take out the Wind Lass, Dino, come on!

He closed his eyes, remembering Ruby. In the beginning, he'd flinched at every memory, held his breath, and waited for the images to pass, but then the memories had started to fade, and he'd gone in search of them, reaching out like a blind man.

Now he understood how precious were his memories of first love, and he treasured both their pleasure and their pain.

He grabbed the line and pulled the boat closer to the dock, then stepped aboard. The boat undulated unsteadily, as if surprised to be boarded after so many lonely years.

He had always felt free on this boat. The flapping sound of sails catching wind had buoyed his spirits like nothing else. He and Eric had spent so much of their youth on the Wind Lass. On these teak decks, they'd spun dreams for a future that stretched Out years and years. Though neither of them had ever said it aloud, they'd both imagined growing old on this boat, bringing wives and children and grandchildren aboard.

Dean loved to sail, and yet he'd walked away from it, let sailing be part of the life he'd left behind. . .

Obviously Eric had done the same. The Wind Lass could have been docked in Seattle, a stone's throw from Eric's house, and yet here she sat, untended and untouched.

And suddenly Dean knew what he needed to do.

He would restore the Wind Lass. Scrape the old paint away, strip the wood and re-oil it, scrub its every inch. He'd take this forgotten, once-loved boat and return it to its past glory.

If he could get Eric out here for an afternoon--just that, a single afternoon--maybe the wind and the sea could take them back in time ...

Ruby woke to the smell of frying bacon and brewing coffee. Snagging yesterday's leggings off the floor; she pulled them on underneath her long nightshirt and hurried through her morning bathroom routine, then padded downstairs.

Nora was in the kitchen, maneuvering the wheelchair like General Patton along the front. There were two cast-iron skillets on the stove, one with steam climbing out. A yellow crockery mixing bowl sat by the empty skillet; a metal-handled spoon rested against its side. She smiled up at Ruby. “Good morning. Did you sleep well?”

“Fine.” She stumbled past the wheelchair and poured herself a cup of coffee, adding sugar and cream.

After a sip, she felt more human. Leaning back against the cupboards, she saw that her mother had made bacon and pancakes. “I haven't eaten a breakfast like this since you left us.”

It was obviously an effort for her mother to keep smiling. “Do you want me to put an M-and-M face on your pancakes like I used to?”

“No, thanks. I try to avoid carbohydrates layered with chocolate.”

Ruby set the table, then dished up two plates and sat down.

Nora sat down across from her. “Did you sleep well last night?” she asked, pouring syrup in a tiny puddle by her pancakes.

Ruby had forgotten that her mother dipped each bite of pancake into syrup. The quirk reminded her of all the bits and pieces of their common life; the things that inextricably bound a mother and daughter, whether Ruby wanted those ties or not. “You already asked me that.”

Nora's fork clanged on the plate edge. “Tomorrow I'll remember to wear a Kevlar vest under my nightgown.”

“What am I supposed to do? Be like Caroline-pretend everything is fine between us?”

“My relationship with Caroline is not for you to judge,” Nora said sharply, looking up at her. “You've always thought you knew everything. I used to think it was a good trait for a girl to have, but there's a dark side to all that certainty, Ruby. You ... hurt people.” Ruby saw her mother swell up with anger; and then as quickly fade into a tired thinness. “But I suppose it's not entirely your fault.”

“Not entirely? How about not at all my fault?”

“I left Caroline, too. It didn't make her cold and hard and unable to love people.”

Now that pissed Ruby off. “Who said I couldn't love people? I lived with Max for five years.”

“And where is he now?”

Ruby pushed back from the table and stood up. Suddenly she wanted distance between them.

Nora looked up. There was a gentle understanding in her gaze that didn't sit well with Ruby. “Sit down. We won't talk about anything that matters. I'll comment on the weather; if you like.”

Ruby felt like a fool standing there, breathing too hard, showing exactly how deeply she'd been wounded by her mother's remark.

“Ruby Elizabeth, sit down and eat your breakfast.” Her mother spoke in one of those voices that immediately turned a grown woman into a child. Ruby did as she was told.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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