Summer Island Page 30

Now she felt as if he were seeing too much of her. Beyond the skin and the hair to the very bones. Maybe even deeper. “Are you in for the long haul this time, Ruby?”

“What do you mean?”

“Ah, Rube ... .” He sighed. "You have a way of moving on. I've never seen anyone who could shut herself off so easily from the people around her.

“It isn't easy.”

He smiled grimly. “You made it look easy. You went off to California and started a new life without any of us ... but after a while, it was our fault, Caroline's and mine. We didn't call enough ... or not on the right days ... or we didn't say the right things when we did call. And you moved farther and farther away. You didn't come to my wedding or even call when your brother was born or come to see Caroline when she suffered through that terrible labor. But somehow that was our fault, too. We abandoned you. Now, you want to stir up an old pot. Will you be here tomorrow or next month or next Christmas to see what comes of it?”

Ruby wanted to say he was wrong. But she couldn't. “I don't know, Dad.” It was all she could manage now; a quiet, simple honesty.

He stared down at her for a long minute, then dropped the rope. “Follow me,” he said at the same time he jumped off the boat and headed up the rickety dock. He was walking so fast that Ruby had to run to catch up. They hurried down the docks and up the hill. He pushed through the screen door so fast it almost banged Ruby in the face. He didn't seem to notice.

Ruby stumbled over the threshold. “Jesus, Dad-”

When she looked up, she lost the sentence.

Her father was standing at the kitchen table with a bottle of tequila. He thumped it down hard, then yanked out a chair and sat down.

It was a move that brought back way too many memories. She was surprised by the depth of her reaction. The sight of him holding a bottle of booze shook her to the core. She grabbed the ladderback of the chair. “I thought you'd quit drinking.”

“I did.”

“You're scaring me.”

“Honey, I haven't begun to scare you. Sit down, snap on your seat belt, and lock your seat in the upright position.”

Ruby pulled the chair out and perched nervously on its edge. Her foot started tapping so hard it sounded like gunfire.

Her dad looked ... different. She couldn't have put her finger on exactly how, but the man sitting across from her, with the graying hair and well-worn sweater with its threadbare elbows, wasn't the man she'd expected.

This man, hunched over; staring at a full bottle of Cuervo Gold, looked as if he hadn't smiled in years. He looked up suddenly. “I love you. I want you to remember that.”

She heard the tender underbelly of his voice, saw the emotion in his eyes, and it reminded her of exactly how far apart they'd drifted. “I could never forget that.”

"I don't know. You're good at forgetting the people who love you. The story starts in nineteen sixty-seven, just a few years before the whole damn world exploded. I was at the University of Washington; I'd just finished my senior year; and I was certain I'd get drafted into the NFL. So certain I never bothered to get a degree. I barely studied. Hell, they paid someone to take tests for me. Things were crazy back then. The world was off its axis. Everyone I knew had been be of or mangled by it.

“And then I met Nora. She was scrawny and scared and looked like she hadn't slept in a week. Still, she was the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen. She believed absolutely that I'd play pro football...” Dad slumped a little, thumped his elbows on the table.

“But it didn't happen. No one called. I walked around a daze; I couldn't believe it. I had no backup plan, no second choice. Then my draft number came up. I probably could have gotten out of it--said they needed me to run the farm-but I hated this island and I couldn't imagine how I'd survive here.” He and leaned back. “But I wanted someone to wait for me, to write me letters. So I went back toNora, my pretty little waitress at Beth's Diner in Greenlake, and I asked her to marry me.”

Ruby frowned. She'd heard this story a thousand times in her childhood and this was definitely not the way it went. “You didn't love her?”

"Not when I married her. No, that's not true. I'd loved other women more. Anyway, we got married, spent a wonderful honeymoon at Lake Quinalt Lodge, and I shipped out. Your mom moved into this house with my folks. By the end of the first week, they were both in love with her. She was the daughter my parents never had, and she loved this land in a way I never could.

“Her letters kept me alive over there. It's funny. I fell in love with your mother when she wasn't even on the same continent. I meant to stay in love with her; but I didn't come home the same cocky, confident kid who'd left. Vietnam ... war ... it did something to us.” He smiled sadly. "Or maybe not. Maybe the bad seeds were always in me, and war gave them a dark place in which to grow. Anyway, I turned ... cynical and hard. Your mom tried so hard to put me back ; and for a few years, we were happy. Caroline was born, then you ...

Ruby had this bizarre sensation that her whole existence had turned into sand and was streaming through her fingers.

"When I came home, your mom and I moved into the house on Summer. I went to work at the feed store on Orcas. Everyone thought I was a failure.

“So much promise wasted,” they whispered to my dad over drinks at Herb's Tavern. God, I hated my life.“ He looked up suddenly. ”I didn't mean for it to happen."

Ruby swallowed convulsively, as if something bitter was backing up in her throat. “Don't say-”

"I slept with other women.


“Your mom didn't know at first. I was careful-at least as careful as a drowning man can be. I was drinking a lot by then-God knows that didn't help--and I knew when she started to suspect. But she always gave me the benefit of the doubt.”

“Oh, God,” Ruby whispered.

“Finally, that summer; someone told her the truth. She confronted me. Unfortunately, I was drunk at the time. I said ... things ... it was ugly. The next day, she left.”

Ruby felt as if she were drowning, or falling, and she was desperate for something to cling to. “Oh, my God,” she said again. It was too much; she felt as if she might explode from trying to hold it all inside her.

He leaned toward her; reached for her across the table.

She got up so fast her chair skidded out from underneath her.

He pulled back and slowly got to his feet. “We've all been carrying this baggage for too long. Some of us have tried to go on.” He looked at her. “And some of us have refused to. But all of us are hurting. I'm your father; she's your mother-whatever she's done or hasn't done, or said or hasn't said-she's a part of you and you're a part of her. Don't you see that you can't be whole without her?”

Ruby's past seemed to be crumbling around her. There was nothing solid to hold on to, no single thing to point to and say There, that's my truth. “I'm leaving.”

He smiled sadly. “Of course you are.”

“Call Nora. Tell her I'm going to Caroline's. I'll be home ... whenever.”

“I love you, Ruby,” he said. “Please don't forget that.”

She knew he was waiting for her to say the words back to him, but she couldn't do it.

Chapter Sixteen

Ruby had never been to her sister's house, but the address was imprinted on her brain. Caroline was the only person on earth who regularly received a Christmas card from Ruby. It was simply required. Ruby had long ago discovered that it wasn't worth the eleven months of sarcastic jabs. Better to mail off a damn card.

The traffic was stop-and-go as she exited Interstate 5 and crept toward the sprawling suburb of Redmond.

Not so many years earlier, this had been the sticks; hundreds of acres of unspoiled farmland nestled between two rivers. Now it was MicrosoftLand, the über suburbia of the geek set. The developments had tried to keep the rural flavor-lots were big; subdivisions had names like Evergreen Valley and Rainshadow

Vista, and trees were preserved at all cost. Unfortunately, the houses all looked disturbingly similar. Step ford in a coat of Ralph Lauren paint. Ruby checked the handy rental car map and turned down Emerald Lane. One big, brick-faced house followed another; each built to the edge of its lot. New landscaping gave the neighborhood an unsettled look.

At last she found it: 12712 Emerald Lane.

She drove up the stamped blue concrete driveway and parked next to a silver Mercedes station wagon, then grabbed her purse from the passenger seat and headed up the path to a pair of oak doors trimmed in headed brass.

She knocked. From inside came a rustle of movement, then a muffled “Just a minute.”

Suddenly the door sprang open and Caroline stood there, looking flawless at one o'clock in the afternoon in a pair of ice-blue linen pants and a matching boat-neck cashmere sweater.

“Ruby!” Caroline pulled Ruby into her arms, holding her tightly. Ruby closed her eyes; for the first time in hours, she was able to draw a decent breath.

Finally, Caro drew back. “I'm so glad you came.”

“I didn't have a chance to go shopping. I meant to get the kids something-”

“Forget about that.” Caroline yanked Ruby into the house.

Of course, it was perfect. Uncluttered and flawlessly decorated. Not a thing was out of place.

It didn't look as if a child had ever been in here let alone lived here.

They passed through a pristine kitchen, all gleaming metallic surfaces and black granite countertops.

Here was the first hint of the family. Pictures covered the Sub-Zero refrigerator. Above the double sinks, a bay window held on to a view of rolling, green lawn. A golf course.

Caro led her through the formal dining room, where Grandma's silver tea service glittered on a massive oak sideboard, and into the living room. Walls painted in a lovely faux marble finish dropped down to a wide-planked oak floor. Two wing chairs, upholstered in an elegant brandy-colored silk weave, flanked a gold-and-bronze tapestried sofa. A pair of crystal lamps sat on gilded rosewood end tables, pouring golden light onto the plush antique Chinese rug.

“Where are the kids?”

Caroline brought a finger to her lips and said harshly, “Sshh. We don't want to wake them up.”

“Could I tiptoe upstairs and just-”

“Trust me on this. You can see them when they wake up.”

Ruby got a glimpse of something-someone behind Caro's perfect, smiling face, but it was there and gone so fast, it left no imprint behind.

She felt a little prickle of unease. Nothing was ever wrong with Caroline. She was the most balanced, well-adjusted person Ruby had ever known. Even during that horrible summer; Caro had moved along on an even keel, accepting what Ruby never would, smiling, forgetting, going on ...

And yet now, impossibly, Caroline looked unhappy. “Something's going on with you,” Ruby said, “what is it?”

Caro sat like a parakeet on the edge of the chair. Her perfectly manicured hands were clasped so tightly together the skin had gone pale. A Julia Roberts smile across her serene face. “It's nothing, really. Just a bad week. The kids have been acting up. It's nothing.”

Ruby couldn't put her finger on it, exactly, but something was wrong here. Suddenly she knew. “You're having an affair!”

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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