Summer Island Page 29

She didn't know how long she stood there, perfectly still, her hands balled into cold fists, but after a while, she heard footsteps crossing the kitchen, then the quiet opening and closing of the front door. Outside, a car engine started; tires crunched through gravel. And quiet fell once again, broken only by the sound of a grown man crying ...

Ruby lurched to her feet, and found herself unsteady. She couldn't have forgotten that day... she must have blocked it out, buried it beneath the cold, hard stones of denial.

The world, once so firm, felt as if it had given way beneath her.

Things you don't understand.

Even then, her mother had had a story to tell ... but no one had wanted to hear it.

Now Ruby was ready. She wanted to learn what had happened more than a decade earlier; under her own roof, within her own family.

And if her mother wouldn't answer those questions, there was always an alternative.

She would ask her father.

Part Two

"We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will he to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time."


Chapter Fifteen

It had been easy to get out of the house. Ruby had simply left a note-Gone to Dad's-on the kitchen table.

Now she was in the minivan, driving up the tree-lined road that led away from the Lopez Island ferry dock.

She was a fourth-generation islander; and at this moment, seeing all the new houses and bed-and-breakfasts that had sprouted on Lopez, the full impact of that heritage hit her. She had roots here, a past that grew deep into the rich black island soil. Lopez had grown up, and she didn't like the changes. She couldn't help wondering if there were still places where grass grew up to a young girl's knees and apple trees blossomed by the side of the road, where wild brown rabbits came out beneath a full moon and munched their way through summer gardens.

Her great-great-grandfather had come to this remote part of the world from a dreary, industrialized section of England. He'd brought his beautiful, black eyed Irish wife and seventeen dollars, and together they'd homesteaded two hundred acres on Lopez. His brother had come along a few years later and staked his own claim on Summer Island. Both had become successful apple and sheep farmers.

Now, more than one hundred years later; there were only ten acres on Lopez that belonged to her father. The house on Summer Island had been willed to Ruby and Caroline; their grandparents had feared that their son would lose this land, one acre at a time. And they'd been right.

Randall Bridge now lived on what had once been the farm's highest point, a rounded thumbprint of land that stuck out high above the bay.

He was an island man, through and through. He'd grown up on this tiny, floating world and he'd raised his children here. He had a closet full of plaid flannel shirts for winter and locally made tourist T-shirts for summer.

He lived on a financial shoestring, from one fishing season to the next. Money had always been tight and “next summer” was always going to change things. He made it through the lean months doing local boat repairs. Most years, it was the repairs-not the fishing that kept food on the table and paid the steadily rising property taxes.

Ruby came to the crest of the hill and had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting a trio of deer. A doe and her two spotted fawns stood in the middle of the road, their ears pricked forward. Suddenly they leapt over the ditch and disappeared into the tall, golden grass.

She eased forward again, going more slowly now. She'd forgotten how it was to share the road with animals. In Los Angeles, there had been a different kind of wildlife on the freeways.

She turned off the main road. A gravel road wound through acres of apple trees, their limbs propped up by slanted, graying stats of wood.

At last, she was home. The yellow clapboard house, built in the late twenties, sat wedged between two huge willow trees. The original house-a squat, broken down log cabin with a moss-furred roof could still be seen amid the tumbling blackberry brambles at the edge of the property.

She parked alongside her dad's battered Ford truck, got out of the car; and stood there, looking around. It was exactly as she remembered. She walked down the gravel path, past the now empty rabbit hutches she'd built with her dad, toward the back porch. The yard was still a riot of runaway weeds and untended flowers. Shasta daisies grew in huge, hip-high mounds, drawing every bee on the place. A tattered screen door hung slanted, a set of screws missing.

She paused on the porch, steeling herself for the sight of her dad's new family, walking as they did across the floorboards of his old one.

She knew she'd be entering another woman's house ... a woman she barely knew, who was less than ten years older than Ruby herself ... seeing a baby brother for the first time. A baby who had no idea that his father had started over in his life, had left his other children stranded in the gray hinterlands of a broken family.

Taking a deep breath, she knocked on the door and waited. When there was no answer; she eased the screen door open and stepped into the kitchen.

The changes were everywhere.

Frilly pink gingham curtains. Lacy white cloths. Walls papered in a creamy white pattern with cabbage roses twining on prickly vines.

If she'd needed evidence that Dad had gone on with his life (and she hadn't), it was right here. Their old life had been painted over.

“Dad?” she said, not surprised to find that her voice was weak. She stepped past the table-the chairs had been painted a vibrant green-and poked her head into the living room.

He was there, kneeling in front of the small black woodstove, loading logs into the fire. When he looked up and saw her; his eyes widened in surprise, then a great smile swept across his lined face. “I don't believe it. . . . You're here.” He clanged the stove's door shut and got to his feet.

Moving toward her, he started to hold his arms out, then he paused, uncertain. At the last minute, he pulled her into an awkward hug. "Caroline told me you were home. I wondered if you'd come to see me.

She clung to him, fighting a sudden urge to cry. He smelled of wood smoke and varnish and salt air.

“Of course I'd come,” she said shakily, drawing back. Although both of them knew it was a half-truth, a wished-for belief. She hadn't even called him, and the realization of her own selfishness tasted black and bitter.

He touched her cheek. His rough, callused skin reminded her of hours spent sanding boat decks at the marina, a girl and her dad, huddled together in the dying red sunlight, saying nothing that mattered. “I missed you,” he said.

“I missed you, too.” It was true. She had missed him, every day and all the time. Now, standing here, seeing in his eyes how much he loved her, she wished she'd been more forgiving when he remarried, more accepting of his new life.

It was the sort of thought that winged through Ruby's mind all the time, regrets, hoped-for improvements; in the end, she never changed. She said what ever popped into her head and hurt whoever hurt her first. She couldn't seem to help it.

She collected grudges and heartaches the way she'd once collected Barbies, never sharing, never abandoning. Her dad, in the end, had hurt Ruby deeply; it was the sort of thing she had no idea how to over come. It was always between them, a sliver embedded just below the skin.

She glanced uneasily up the stairs, wondering whereMarilyn was. “I don't want to intrude-”

“Marilyn took Ethan off island for a doctor's appointment. He grinned. ”And don't even pretend you aren't happy about that."

She smiled sheepishly. “Well . . .I wanted to see the kid. My brother,” she added, when she saw the way he was looking at her. She winced, wishing she'd said it right the first time.

“Don't worry about it.” But he turned away quickly and headed back into the living room. She knew she'd hurt his feelings. He sat down on the threadbare floral sofa, cocked one leg over his knee. “How's it going between you and your mom?”

She flopped down onto the big overstuffed chair near the fire. “Picture Laverne and Shirley on crack.”

“I don't see any visible bruising. I have to admit, I was shocked when Caro told me you'd volunteered to take care of Nora. Shocked and proud.”

Ruby ached suddenly for what had been lost between them, and the hell of it was, they hadn't fought or argued. When he'd found Marilyn, he'd simply drifted away from his daughters. He'd stopped calling as much.

“I meant to come visit you this week,” he said, giving her that you-know-how-it-is smile of his. The one that always reminded you that he had other things-other people-on his mind.

She refused to be stung by his laid-back attitude. “So, how is the fishing this season?”

Something passed through his eyes, so quickly it would have been easy to overlook. But Ruby saw it. “Dad? What is it? What's wrong?”

“Last summer was terrible. I might . . . have to sell off another chunk of land.”

“Oh, Dad ...” Ruby remembered the last time they'd had this talk. It had been the year after her mother left, when her father hadn't fished all season.

Then there had been forty acres left. They'd sold the last waterfront piece. She'd wanted desperately to help, but all she'd had was her berry-picking money. “How much do you need?”

“Three thousand. Don't worry about it. Let's talk about-”

“I could lend you the money.”


She reached for her purse and pulled out her check book. Over her father's protests, she wrote out a check and set it on the table. “There,” she said, grinning. “It's done.”

“I can't take that, Ruby.”

But they both knew he would take it. “It means a lot to me to be able to help you.”

Slowly, he said, “Okay.” Then softly,

“Thank you.”

An unfamiliar silence settled between them, broken only by the popping of the fire. She wondered if he was thinking about his father; Grandpa Bridge had been deeply disappointed in his only son's lack of ambition. He wouldn't have been proud of Rand at a moment like this.

Suddenly Dad stood up. “Come on, let's take a walk.”

She followed him into the bright sunshine. As they'd done a thousand times, they strolled down the gravel path to the marina, where a few fishing boats bobbed along the docks, their green nets wound on huge drums.

Dad headed to his slip-8A-where the Captain Hook bobbed lazily against the dock. He climbed aboard, then turned around and helped Ruby on.

He tossed her a tangle of new white line. “Splice that, would you? Ned and I are heading out tomorrow. I told him I'd have everything ready.”

Ruby sat cross-legged on the boat's aft deck and brought the slithering heap of rope onto her lap. She had a moment's hesitation, when her mind couldn't access the memory, but then her fingers started moving.

She worked the rope, twined the triple strands into a new, stronger whole and began building the eye. “Nora isn't quite what I expected,” she said, trying to sound casual.

“That's hardly surprising.”

Ruby experienced a momentary lapse in courage. Shut up, she thought, don't ask. She drew in a deep breath and looked at her father. “What happened between you two?”

He looked up sharply, eyeing her, then he got to his and walked past her to the stern. Every footfall upset the balance and made a soft, creaking sound. All at once, he turned back to face her; but she had the weird sensation that he wasn't really seeing her. He seemed ... frozen, or trapped maybe, and she wondered what images were running through his mind. “Dad?”

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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