Summer Island Page 21

Yesterday, Adams talked to Katie Couric. He encouraged viewers to write to Nora, promising that “she wants to hear from her faithful readers and she will answer their questions. Even the tough ones.”

Sources close to Ms. Bridge, however seem unconvinced that she will return. As one employee, who asked to have her name withheld, put it, “I guess she was a big talker. All that advice about the sanctity of marriage ... well, it's a real disappointment to find out what a liar she is.”

There was obviously a full-scale media frenzy going on out there Today ... Larry King Live. Reporters were probably scouring the country, talking to anyone and everyone who ever knew Nora Bridge; they'd tear her apart if they could.

And Ruby's article would make it worse ...

Ruby sat on the bed in her parents" old bedroom, with her knees drawn up and her yellow pad in her lap. The USA Today lay beside her; that grainy, unflattering photograph of her mother stared up at her.

My mother is being destroyed in the press. It's only fitting, I suppose. She ruined her family in pursuit of a career, and now that career is detonating.

It's what I wanted to happen. I'm sure it's part of what made me accept the money for an article. A need for some kind of ... if not vengeance, then fairness.

And yet ... something about it doesn't sit well with me

Ruby! Come help me make dinner."

For a weird, disorienting second, Ruby was four teen again, hiding in her bedroom, reading The Lord of the Rings when she was supposed to be doing homework. Shaking her head to clear it, she rolled over on her stomach and yanked open the top drawer in her mother's nightstand. Pens and junk clattered forward. As she started to put her pad away, she saw a brown prescription bottle.

She picked it up and read the label. VALIUM. NORA BRIDGE. 1985. The doctor listed was Allbright.

Ruby frowned. Her mother was on Valium in 1985?

Chapter Ten


That discovery opened a door, hinted at a woman Ruby had never known, never even imagined.

In 1985, everything had been fine. Great.

Or so Ruby had thought.

She wished she hadn't found the bottle. It was the sort of thing she didn't want to know. Like accidentally finding your mother's vibrator. Some things were supposed to remain hidden.

Finally, Ruby couldn't stand being in the bedroom anymore. She went downstairs and found Nora already in the kitchen.

“We're going to make chicken divan. How does that sound?”

Ruby groaned. “Cooking together.”

“I want you to chop that broccoli. The cutting board is right there."

Ruby did as she was told.

Smaller, please. Each piece needs to fit in a human mouth."

Ruby took a deep breath and started over.

For the next half hour, they worked side by side. Ruby boiled and cut up the chicken-in human-size bites while Nora did everything else. Finally, the casserole was in the oven.

“I have a surprise for you,” Nora said, putting the cutting board away. “There's a big cardboard box in my closet. Will you get it?”

Ruby shook her head. “I don't think so.” A surprise from her mother just couldn't be a good thing.

Nora gave her “the look,” and Ruby caved. Some things were bigger than willpower, and a mother's raised eyebrow was one of them. She went into the bedroom, opened the closet's louvered doors, and found the box. As she hefted it into her arms, it made a rattling, clanking sound like auto parts crammed together.

She took it into the living room and set it down on the glossy wormwood coffee table. It hit with a clatter.

Nora had followed her into the living room. “Open it.”

Ruby pulled the cardboard flaps apart and peered inside the box. “Oh, shit.”

It was their sixteen-millimeter movie projector and a reel of film. She turned to her mother.

“Home movies,” Nora said with a forced smile.

“Don't tell me you want us to bond over old times?”

“I want to watch them, that's all. You can join Me ... or you can set it up and leave me ... alone.”

Ruby was trapped. Whether she watched the movies or not, she'd know that the film was here, in the house, waiting like a monster beneath a child's bed. She reached deeper into the box and found a folded white sheet and a set of thumbtacks. Their old “screen.”

She set up the projector on a table in the living room, clicked the reel into place, and plugged the cord in. Then she tacked the sheet onto the wall.

She refused to dwell upon how big a deal it used to be to watch family movies. Every Christmas Eve, they'd sat together in their pajamas, with their unopened gifts glittering seductively beneath the tree, and watched the highlights of their year. It was an essential tradition in a family that had only a few.

Ruby turned off the lights. With a dull, clacking sound, the film started as a gray and black square in the center of the sheet.

Ruby lowered herself to the sofa's arm.

The words LOPEZ ISLAND TALENT REVUE stuttered understood across the makeshift screen. There was a buzz of people talking, then her mother's voice, clear as day, There! Rand; she's coming.

Ruby couldn't have been more than five years old, a scrawny, puffy-cheeked kindergartner dressed in ragged pink tutu. She twirled and swirled drunkenly across the stage, her toothpick arms finding all kinds of awkward angles.

-Oh, Rand, she's perfect

-Hush, I'm trying to concentrate

Onstage, Ruby executed an uneven spin and sank into a curtsy. Applause thundered.

The picture went dark, then stuttered back to life. This time they were down at the beach. Caroline, in a skirted one-piece bathing suit, was splashing in the ankle-deep water, laughing. Ruby was wearing a bikini; her belly poked out above banged-up stick legs. Her mother was sitting in the sand, looking through a plastic bucket full of shells and rocks. Ruby ran over to her and stamped a foot down beside the bucket. Mom leaned over and fixed a strap on her saltwater sandals, then pulled a wiggly, laughing Ruby into her arms for a kiss.

Mom ...

There she was.

Ruby slid off the arm of the sofa and landed on the soft, threadbare cushion. Her whole childhood played out in front of her in staccato, black-and-white images accompanied by the sounds of children laughing.

How was it she'd forgotten how much they'd laughed ... or how regularly her mother had hugged and kissed her? She'd remembered the feel of riding on her dad's strong shoulders, of seeing the world from way up high, but not the gentle pressure of her mother's kiss.

But she remembered it now. She was seeing it.

There was no way to keep her distance from this. There was Dad, twirling Ruby around and around in a circle ... and Mom, teaching Ruby how to tie her shoe ... a rainy Halloween with two princesses skipping hand in hand up to the Smithsons" front door; carrying pumpkin-headed flashlights ... the snowy Christmas morning when Ruby had gotten a guinea pig from Santa ... Mom and Dad, dancing in the living room of this very house, the picture blurry and bouncing from a camera held in a child's hands ...

By the time the final bit of film flapped out of the reel and the screen went blank, Ruby felt as if she'd run a ten-mile race. She was unsteady as she turned off the camera and hit the lights.

Her mother (Nora, she reminded herself) sat hunched in her wheelchair; hands drawn into a tight-fisted ball in her lap. Tears glistened on her cheeks and lashes. She caught Ruby's gaze and tried to smile.

At the sight of her mother's tears, Ruby felt something inside of her break away. “You and Dad looked so happy together.”

Nora smiled unevenly. “We were happy for a lot of years. And then ... we weren't.”

“You mean you weren't. I saw what it did to him when you walked out. Believe me, he loved you.”

“Rand would have stayed with me forever; you’re right about that. Just as he'd vowed to do.”

Ruby frowned. “He would have stayed because he loved you, not just because he'd promised to.”

“Ah, Ruby ... there's so much you don't know. Your dad and I have a ... history that's ours alone. No child can judge her parents' marriage.”

“You mean you won't tell me why you left him.”

“Beyond saying that we were unhappy? No, I won't.”

Ruby wanted to be angry, but in truth, she was too battered. The movies had hurt so much she couldn't think straight. For the first time in years, she'd seen Mom.

“I had forgotten you,” Ruby said softly, closing her eyes. “I've never dreamt of you or had a single childhood memory with you in it.” When Ruby opened her eyes, she saw that her mother was crying, and it made Ruby uncomfortable, as if she'd done something wrong. It was crazy to feel that way, but there it was. Strangely, she didn't want to make her mother cry. “But tonight I remembered the locket you gave me on my eleventh birthday. The silver oval that opened up. I kept a picture of you on one side and Dad and Caro on the other side.”

Nora wiped her eyes and nodded. “Do you still Have it?”

Ruby got up, went to the fireplace. Shestared at the pictures of Caroline's family. When she reached up and touched her own bare throat, she felt the phantom locket. She'd been sixteen the last day she'd worn it.

It had been a hot, humid day in the second week of August. Ruby and Caroline had refused to go school shopping. It had been the rock-bottom basement of their faith, the thing they'd said to each other for weeks: Mom would be home in time for school ...

But she wasn't, and August had bled into September and their lives couldn't be kept on hold anymore.

In that season, when all their friends and neighbors had been gathered together for picnics and barbecues and parties at Trout Lake, the Bridge family had stayed huddled in their too-quiet house. Ruby andCaro had learned to move soundlessly that summer. They did their best to disappear. Girls who were invisible didn't have to answer people's questions or make painful explanations.

It had been easy to do. Dad had seen to that. He'd started drinking and smoking when Nora left in June. By August, he never came out of his room. The Captain Hook sat idle all summer; and by the fall, Dad had had to sell off another chunk of land to pay their bills.

Finally, on the first day of school, Ruby had taken the locket off and thrown it to the ground ...

“Ruby? I asked about the locket.” She turned and looked at her mother. “I threw it away.”

“I see.”

“No, you don't. I didn't throw it away because I hated you.” She drew in a deep breath. For a split second, she almost lost her nerve; she had to force confession out. “I threw it because it hurt too much to remember you.”

“Oh, Ruby ... ”

In the kitchen, the oven's timer went off.

Ruby lurched to her feet. “Thank God. Let's eat.”

Nora wrestled through a long and sleepless night. Finally, around dawn, she gave up and went out onto the porch to watch the sunrise. As soon as the sun was up, she called Eric, but there was no answer; and somehow, that made her feel even lonelier. She wheeled herself back out to the porch.

It was low tide now. The shy water had drawn back, revealing a wide swatch of glistening, pebbled shoreline.

She remembered so many times on that beach, gathering oysters, clams, and geoducks with Rand's father for a Sunday barbecue.

I had forgotten you.

Nora had known that Ruby blamed her; hated her. But to have forgotten her?

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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