Summer Island Page 22

Nora didn't know how to combat that.

Do you want me to be like Caroline? Ruby had asked. Pretend that everything is fine between us?

Nora leaned back in her chair; sighing tiredly. Ruby was right. Ruby, with her fire, her anger; her chipped shoulder ... at least she was honest. All or nothing. Black or white. She couldn't live in the shades of gray that comforted her sister.

“I miss you, Ruby,” she whispered, daring to say the words to this silent world; words she couldn't imagine being able to say to her younger daughter. Sadness welled up inside her. Instead of pushing it away or pretending it didn't exist, she allowed herself to wallow in it. I miss you, baby girl ...

She thought of all the years that had passed her by-Ruby leaving for college ... quitting college ... moving to Los Angeles (had she taken Rand's ratty old Volkswagen or had she found a way to buy a new car? ... renting her first apartment ...

So much time gone.

“Enough,” she said at last. Straightening her spine, she opened her eyes.

What she needed was a plan. She needed to attack the problem with Ruby aggressively-there was no other way to deal with her.

There would be no second chance; she knew that. Nora had one week-six days, now-to crack through the hard shell of the past.

But how?

“Okay,” she counseled herself. “Pretend this is a reader letter.”

Dear Nora:

Years ago, I walked out on my marriage and left my children. My younger daughter has never forgiven me. Now she tells me that she forgotten all memories of me. How do I make amends?

She took a deep breath, thinking it through. If Nora had received a letter like this, she would have taken the woman to task for her unpardonable behavior; would have told her it was no surprise that her daughter hated her.

“Hypocrite,” she hissed. No wonder she'd lost her career.

Anyway, after moralizing for a few sentences, she would have said ...

Force her to remember you.

The answer came easily when offered to a stranger.

Nora smiled. If she forced Ruby to remember the past, they could possibly find their way into the present... maybe even peek at a different future.

It wouldn't be easy, she knew. Or particularly pleasant.

Probably excruciating, in fact.

But it was the only way. Right now, it was easy for Ruby to hate Nora-she only remembered the horrible choices made that summer. Would it be so easy ifRuby remembered the good times?

Behind her; the screen door squeaked open. “Nora?”

Nora wheeled around, smiling brightly. “Hi, honey.”

Ruby frowned. “You're awfully chipper for eight in the morning. Do you want a cup of coffee?”

“No, thanks. I've got some. Why don't you get a cup and join me out here? It's beautiful.”

Ruby ran a hand through her spiky, sleep-molded hair and nodded. Wordlessly, she went back inside, then came out a few minutes later and sat down in the rocker.

Nora stared down at the beach. The silence between them was strangely companionable, not unlike a thousand other mornings, long ago, when they'd sat together out here.

She took a sip of her coffee and glanced out at the point. “Remember the Fourth of July barbecues we used to have out here? Your dad was always gone fishing and the three of us girls would load up on firecrackers.”

Ruby smiled. “Sparklers were my favorite. I couldn't wait for it to get dark.”

“We wrote things in the light, remember?” Nora said, watching Ruby. “I always wrote: I love my girls.”

Ruby curled her hands around her coffee cup, as if she needed a sudden infusion of warmth. “Caroline always scrawled the name of whatever boy she was in love with at the time. Remember when it was Alexander Jorgenson? It took two sparklers to spell his whole name-she was in a panic.”

Nora smiled. She pictured Eric and Dean, standing around the grill, laughing. They'd had impeccable timing, those boys. They never missed a meal. There was a sudden lump in her throat, and so her voice was soft when she said, “You only wrote Dean’s name. Year after year.”

Ruby sighed. ”Yeah ... He and Eric always showed up right when you put the salmon on the barbecue remember?“ She looked up. ”Caroline tells me you've stayed in touch with Eric. How is he?"

Nora had known this moment was coming; she'd thought she was prepared for it, but she wasn't. She released her breath in a slow sigh. There was no way to honor Eric's wish for privacy, not with Nora unable to drive. Sooner or later; she would have to elicit Ruby's help, and when she did, Ruby would learn about Eric. But how did you tell your daughter that one of her best childhood friends was dying?


Nora casually wiped her eyes and metRuby's expectant gaze. "Eric has cancer.

Ruby paled. “Oh, my God ... ”

Nora watched the memories move through Ruby's eyes. She knew her daughter was thinking back to lazy summer days spent down at the lake with Dean and Eric. It was a long time before Ruby found her voice. “How bad is it?”


“Is he going to die?”

t hurt to answer. “Yes, honey, he is.”

Ruby slumped forward, burying her head in her hands. “I should have stayed in contact with him. God ...” She fell silent, shaking her head, and Nora knew her daughter was crying. “It seems like yesterday we were all together. I can't imagine him ... sick.”

“I know. I keep thinking about those Fourth of July barbecues. I used to watch you and Dean on the beach. You'd hold hands and duel with your sparklers. I could hear your laughter all the way up here, and when you got older; and started whispering ... then I worried.”

Ruby looked up. Tears spiked her eyelashes, made her look about ten years old. “I never knew that.”

“Motherhood is full of secret worries.” Nora realized a second too late that she'd made herself vulnerable. She should never have used the word secret. But, thankfully, Ruby had bigger things on her mind.

“Can we visit Eric?”

“Of course. He's staying at the old house on Lopez. I know he'd love to see you.” Nora leaned back in her chair and stared out at the Sound. “Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can picture all of us. You, me, Caroline ... Eric and Dean. What I remember most are days out on the Wind Lass. Dino and Eric loved that boat ... ”

“I know what you're doing,” Ruby said after a long pause; her voice was thick and low. “You want me to remember.”


“Remembering stuff like that hurts.”

“I know, honey. But-”

Inside the house, the phone rang. Ruby got slowly to her feet and went inside. The screen door banged shut behind her. “Hello?”

Nora could hear Ruby's half of the conversation.

“Who is this? Oh, I'm her daughter; Ruby... Yes, she is. . . just a minute, I'll get her. Nora?” Ruby yelled. “It's your personal assistant, Dee.”

“Tell her I'm not here.”

Ruby opened the screen door and poked her head out. “I already told her you were here. Come on. She's waiting.”

Nora wheeled into the kitchen and took the phone. “Hello, Dee.”

“Oh, Nora, thank God. A box of letters just landed on your desk. There was nothing I could do about it. Tom Adams called-he threatened to get me fired if I didn't forward them to you. Today.” Dee made a sniffling sound. “I need this job, Nora. I know you'd never fire me, but what if ... you know ... ”

“I lose my job.” Nora sighed. “I understand completely. Go ahead and mail the stuff to me at the address I gave you.”

“Tom wants me to send Lake Union Air up for today's delivery.”

Of course. With Tom, everything had to happen instantly. “Did you read the letters, Dee?”

“Uh ... a few.”

Nora's stomach turned sour. “How bad is it?”

“It's ugly, Nora. People around here are starting to talk to the tabloids ... they're not saying nice things ... and some lady in Iowa went on television last night and said she was going to file a lawsuit against you. Fraudulent advice or some stupid thing.”

Nora glanced over at Ruby, who was shamelessly eavesdropping. “Okay, Dee. Send me the letters.”

“I thought I'd send your ”best of“ file, too. In case you wanted to sneak some old letters in. Tom wouldn't know.”

“Good thinking.”

Dee sighed heavily. “I knew you were going to do the column. People are saying-”

“I'll make sure that you're taken care of. Don't you worry about that. Thanks for everything, Dee. Really. Good-bye.” She leaned forward and hung up the phone. She wanted to make a joke for Ruby's benefit, but she hadn't the strength.


Slowly, she lifted her head.

Ruby stood by the refrigerator; her arms crossed.

Her cup of coffee sat on the counter; forgotten.

“What was that all about?”

“My boss at the newspaper expects me to answer some . . . rather unflattering letters from my readers.”

“Well, it is your job.”

Nora didn't bother answering. Ruby couldn't possibly understand. She didn't know how it felt to need acceptance; and how, without it, you could feel invisible. Worse than invisible.

Some lady in Iowa ... a lawsuit ... fraudulent advice ...

She closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "David Letterman is probably having a field day with this . .

For two days, she'd been able to forget that her life was unraveling, that she was a national scandal. No more.

She heard Ruby run upstairs.

Thank God.

But in a minute, Ruby was back, tapping her on the shoulder. “Nora?”

Nora opened her eyes.

Ruby was standing beside her, holding a section of newspaper. “I bought this yesterday at the store. Maybe you should ... read what they're writing about you.”

Nora stared at the newspaper. She could see a big, grainy picture of herself.

It had been taken at the Emmys last year-God, she hated that shot. It made her look all puffy-cheeked and squinty-eyed.

She took the paper from Ruby and glanced through the article. “It's over,” she said dully, letting the news paper fall to the floor.

Ruby frowned. “Don't be stupid. You'll get through this. Look at Monica Lewinsky-she's selling expensive handbags now. She went to the Oscars last year. And that idiot who married the millionaire got a fortune from Playboy.”

“Thank you for those comforting comparisons.”

“I just meant-”

"You're too young to understand, Ruby. My career is over. I have no intention of answering a single letter.

I'm going to hide out until this ... is over. Another story will come along and they'll forget about me. Then I'll just fade away."

“You're kidding me, right?”


“But you're famous.”

“I'm infamous. Believe me, there's a difference.”

“With the right spin, you can-”

“You don't understand my career, Ruby. I've never put a wall between me and my readers. Everything I think and feel and believe is found in my words to strangers. That's why they believed in me, they sensed my honesty.”

Ruby's eyebrow arched upward. “According to the press, your columns said you believed in marriage. Is that the kind of honesty they got from you?”

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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