Summer Island Page 24

Ruby remembered that she'd been shaking as she'd stood up. That's how deeply her mother's words had reached. Very softly, she'd said, “I love you, Mom.”

That was Ruby's last specific memory of saying those words to her mother ...

She turned her attention back to the columns. She noticed that this last set was paper-clipped together. The very first sentence pulled her in.

Dear Nora:

Do you ever feel so alone in the world that everything normal looks out of focus? It's as if you’re the only black-and-white human being in a technicolor city.

I have married the wrong woman. I knew it when the day came to walk down the aisle. I knew when I lifted the veil and looked down into her eyes. But sometimes you do the right thing for the wrong reasons, and you pray that love will grow.

When it doesn't, a piece of you dies, and day by day, it keeps dying until finally you realize there's nothing of you left.

You tell yourself that only your child matters--the reason you got married in the first place and you can almost believe it. When you hold your baby in your arms, you finally learn what true love really is.

And yet still you wonder, even as you're holding your daughter's hand or brushing her hair or reading her a bedtime story ... you wonder if it can really be enough.

I don't know what to do. My wife and I have drifted so terribly far apart ... . Please, can you help me?

Lost and Lonely.

Dear Lost and Lonely:

My heart goes out to you. I think all of us know how it feels to be lonely, especially within the supposedly warm circle of a family.

I can tell that you're an honorable man, and you obviously know that breaking up a family is the kind of act that irrevocably destroys lives. Believe me, the loneliness you feel within your family is a pale shadow of the torment you'll feel if you walk away.

I pray that if you look hard enough, you will unearth some remnant of the love you once felt for your wife, and that with care, a seed of that emotion can grow again. Seek counseling; talk to professionals and to each other. Take a vacation together. Touch, and not only sexually. Little touches along the way can mean a lot. Get involved in Activities-community events, church events, that kind of thing.

Go see a marriage counselor. You don't want to end a marriage and break your children's hearts until and unless there is no possible chance for reconciliation.

Trust me on this.


The last item was a handwritten letter; there was no column attached to it. Obviously, it had been submitted for publication and rejected. Yet Nora had saved it.

Dear Nora:

My daughter-my precious baby girl-" killed by a drunk driver this year. I understand tragedy now; its taste, its texture ... the imprint it leaves on you.

I find that I can't talk to people anymore, not even my wife, who needs me more than ever. I see her, sitting on the end of the bed, her hair unwashed, her eyes rimmed in red, and I can't reach out to her, can't offer comfort. If left alone, I'm certain I could go through the rest of my life without ever speaking again.

I want to gather my belongings, put them in a shopping cart, and disappear into the faceless crowd of vagrants in Pioneer Square. But I haven't the strength even for that. So I sit in my house, seeing the endless reminders of what I once had and I ask myself why I bother to breathe at all...

Lost and Lonely.

Across the top of that letter; someone had written: FedEx the attached letter to this man's return address immediately. Paper-clipped to the letter was a photocopy of a handwritten note.

Dear Lost and Lonely:

I will not waste time with the pretty words we wrap around grief. You are in danger; you are not so far gone that you don't know this. I am going to do what I have never done before-what I imagine I'll never do again.

You will come and talk to me. I will not take no for an answer. Your letter mentioned Pioneer Square; I see that your return address is in Laurelhurst.

My secretary at the newspaper will be expecting your call tomorrow and she will set up an appointment. Please, please, do not disappoint me. I know how life can wound even the strongest heart, and sometimes all it takes to save us is the touch of a single stranger's hand.

Reach out for me ... I'll be there.

It was signed Nora.

Ruby's hands were trembling. No wonder these readers loved her mother. She carefully put the columns and letters back in the manila folder and left the whole package on the kitchen table for her mother to find, then she went upstairs.

She hadn't even realized that she was going to call Caroline until she'd picked up the phone. But it made sense. Ruby felt unsteady ... and Caroline had always been her solid ground.

Caro answered on the third ring. “Hello?”

Ruby couldn't help noticing how tired her sister sounded. “Hey, sis. You sound like you need a nap.”

Caroline laughed. “I always need a nap. Of course, what I do that makes me so darned tired is a complete mystery.”

“What do you do all day?”

“Only a single woman would ask that question of a mother. So, what's going on up there? How are you and Mom doing?”

“She's not who I thought she was,” Ruby admitted softly.

“How could she be? You haven't spoken to her since Moonlighting was on television.”

“I know, I know ... but it's more than that. Like, did you know she was seeing a shrink when she was married to Dad ... or that she took Valium in nineteen eighty-five?”

“Wow,” Caroline said. “I wonder if her doctor told her to leave Dad?”

“Why would he do that?”

Caroline laughed softly. “That's what they do, Ruby. They tell unhappy women to find happiness. If I had a buck for every time my therapist told me to leave Jere, I'd live on Hunt's Point.”

“You see a shrink, too?”

“Come on, Ruby. It's like getting a manicure. Good grooming for the mind.”

“But I thought you and Mr. Quarterback had a perfect life.”

"We have our problems, just like anyone else, but I'd rather talk about-aah! Darn it, Jenny!

That's not okay. I gotta run, Ruby. Your niece just poured a cup of grape juice on her brother's head." Before Ruby could answer, Caroline hung up.

Everything was ready.

Dean knocked on Eric's door; heard the muffled“Come in,” and went inside.

Eric was sitting up in bed, reading a dog-eared paperback copy of Richard Bach's book Illusions. When he saw Dean, he smiled. “Hey, bro. It's almost dinnertime. Where have you been?” He reached for the cup on his bedside tray. His thin fingers trembled; he groaned tiredly and gave up.

Dean hurried to the bed and grabbed the cup, carefully placing it in Eric's quavering hand. He guided the straw to his brother's mouth.

Eric sipped slowly, swallowed. Dean helped him replace the cup on the tray, then Eric turned his head, let it settle into the pile of pillows. “Thanks, I was dying of thirst.” He grinned. “No mention of death was intentional.”

Dean wanted to smile; honestly, he did. But all he could think about was his big brother; up here all alone, thirsty and too weak to reach for his glass of water. He crossed his arms and stared out the window. He didn't dare make eye contact with Eric. He needed just a minute to collect himself. “I've been working on something,” he said.

“A surprise?”

Dean looked down at his brother then and saw a glimpse of the old Eric-the young Eric-and his throat tightened even more. It was all he could do to nod. Slowly, he lowered the metal bed rail. When it clanged into place, he said, “Are you up for a little trip?”

“Are you kidding? I'm so sick of this bed I could cry. Hell, I do cry . . . all the time.” Dean leaned forward, scooped his brother into his arms and lifted him up from the bed.

God, he weighed nothing at all.

It was like holding a fragile child; only it was his brother. His strong, outspoken big brother; who'd once led the island football team in touchdown passes...

Dean shut the memories off. If he remembered who Eric used to be-now, while this frail, hollowed man was in his arms-he would stumble and fall.

He carried his brother downstairs and through the house, past Lottie in the kitchen, who waved, her eyes overbright ... across the manicured green lawn and down the bank to the beach. On the slanted, wooden dock, he'd already set up an oversize Adirondack chair and piled pillows onto it.

“The Wind Lass,” Eric said softly.

Dean carefully placed his brother into the chair; then tucked the cashmere blanket tightly around his thin body.

It was nearing sunset. The sky was low enough to touch. The last rays of the setting sun turned everything pink--the waves, the clouds, the pebbled beach that curled protectively along the fish-hook shape of the shoreline. The sailboat was still in bad shape, but at least she was clean.

Dean sat down beside Eric. Stretching out his legs, he leaned back against one of the wooden pilings. “I still have some more work to do on her. Jeff Brein, down at the Crow's Nest, is repairing the sail, and it should be done tomorrow. Wendy Johnson is cleaning the cushions. I thought ... maybe if we could take her out ...” Dean let the sentence trail off. He didn't know quite how to sculpt his amorphous hope into something as ordinary as words.

“We could remember how it used to be,” Eric said.

“How we used to be.”

Of course Eric had understood. “Yeah.” Eric drew the blanket tighter against his chin.

“So, what's it like, being the favored son?”


Eric sighed and leaned back into the pillows. “Remember when she loved me? When I was a star athlete with awesome grades and a promising future. I was her trophy boy.”

Dean remembered. Their mother had adored Eric, her dark-haired angel, she called him. The only time Mom and Dad came to the island was football season. Every homecoming game, Mom had dressed in her best “casual” clothes and gone to the game, where she cheered on her quarterback son. When the season ended, they were gone again.

Eric had lived in the warm glow of his parents' affection for so long, he'd mistaken pride for love, but when he'd told them about Charles, he'd learned the depth of his naivete'. Mother hadn't spoken to him since.

So it had been Dean, the younger; less perfect son, who'd taken over the family business. It had never been something he wanted to do, but family expectations especially in a wealthy family-were a sticky web. “I remember,” he said quietly.

“I heard the phone ring last night about eleven o'clock,” Eric said.

Dean looked away; eye contact was impossible. “Yeah. Some phone company rep who-”

“Don't bother; bro. It was her; wasn't it?”


“Still in Athens?”

“Florence. Mother had the nerve to tell me that the shopping was great.” She'd also said, Come on over Dean-we've got plenty of room at the villa. As if it didn't matter at all that her elder son lay dying.

Eric's gaze was pathetically hopeful as he turned to Dean. “Are they coming to see me?”

There was no point in lying. “No.”

“Did you tell them this is it? I'm not going to be around much longer?”

Dean reached out, touched his brother's hand. It surprised both of them, that sudden bit of intimacy. “I'm sorry.”

Eric released a thready sigh. “What good is an agonizing death by cancer if your own family won't weep by your bedside?”

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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