Summer Island Page 34

She stepped out of the shower and stood, dripping, on the fuzzy pink patch of carpet. The old pipes pinged and clanged as water gurgled down the drain.

Through the mist, she saw herself in the mirror. She swiped the moisture away and stared at a blurry reflection of her face.

She experienced one of those rare moments when, for a split second, you see yourself through a stranger's eyes. Her hair was too short, and raggedly cut, as if that stupid, gum-chewing, purple-haired girl at the beauty school had used pinking shears instead of scissors. What in God's name had made Ruby choose to dye it Elvira Mistress-of-the-Night black?

It made her skin look vampire-pale in comparison.

No wonder she'd been unable to attract a decent guy. Laura Palmer looked better in Twin Peaks-and she'd washed up dead on the shore.

Ruby realized she'd been trying to make herself unattractive. The truth of that realization was so stunning she literally watched her mouth drop open.

All that mascara, the black eyeliner, the haircut and color ... all of it was a camouflage.

She dropped her makeup bag in the metal trash can. It hit with a satisfying clang. No more heroin-chic makeup or refugee clothing. Hell, she'd even quit dying her hair and find out what color it really was. Her last memory was of a nice, ordinary chestnut brown.

The decision made her feel better. She went into her bedroom, dressed in jeans and a jade-green V-neck T-shirt, and then hurried downstairs.

Nora was standing by the counter, leaning on her crutches. The plop-drip-plop of the coffeemaker filled the kitchen with steady sound. She looked up as Ruby entered the room.

An almost comical look of surprise crossed her face. “You look ... beautiful.” Immediately, she flushed. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have sounded surprised.”

“It's okay. I guess I didn't look so great with all that makeup on.”

“I'm not touching that one with a ten-foot pole.”

Ruby laughed, and it felt good. “I need a haircut. Badly. Is there still a beauty salon in Friday Harbor?”

“I used to cut your hair.”

Ruby hadn't remembered until that moment, but suddenly it came rushing back: Sunday evenings in the kitchen, a dishrag pinned around her neck with a clothespin, the soothing clip-clip-clip of the scissors, Dad's steady turning of the newspaper pages in the living room. Ruby stood there a moment, strangely uncertain of what to do. She had a nagging sense that if she said the right thing now-in this heartbeat of time which felt steeped in sudden possibility-she could change things. She felt vulnerable suddenly, a child wearing her emotions like a kindergarten name tag. “Could you cut it again?”

“Of course. Get the towel, and a clothespin. The scissors should be here ...” Nora reached for her crutches and limped toward the utility drawer, where the scissors had always been kept.

Ruby was momentarily nonplussed, though she wasn't sure why. It seemed as if Nora were as eager as Ruby to avoid a breakfast conversation.

“Get the stool from the laundry room and take it outside. It's such a pretty morning.”

Ruby gathered up the necessary supplies and carried everything outside. She set the stool on a nice flat patch of grass overlooking the bay and sat down on it.

She heard Nora coming toward her. Thump-step, thump-step. Down the porch steps and across the grass, her mother moved awkwardly, a woman clearly afraid of stepping into a hole and twisting her good ankle.

“Are you sure about this?” Ruby asked, watching her. “I'm suddenly hearing you say oops! behind me, and I wind up with one of those horrible asymmetrical cuts from when I was in grade school.”

Nora moved around behind Ruby. “Remember your sophomore year? You didn't use hairspray-you used boat lacquer. I was scared to death I'd accidentally pat your head and shatter my wrist.” Laughing, she wrapped the towel around Ruby's neck and pinned it in place, then began running her fingers through Ruby's still-damp hair.

Ruby released her breath in a sigh. It wasn't until she heard the sound--air hissing through her teeth--that she realized what she was feeling.

Longing, again.

“I'm just going to give it some shape, okay?”

Ruby blinked, came stumbling out of the past. “Yeah,” she said. Her voice was barely audible. She cleared her throat and said again, louder, “Okay.”

“Sit up straight. Quit fidgeting.”

The steady snip-snip-snip of the scissors seemed to hypnotize Ruby, that and the comforting familiarity of her mother's touch.

Nora touched Ruby's chin, tenderly forcing her to look straight ahead. Snip-snip-snip.

“Eric called me last night. He said you'd visited him.” Ruby closed her eyes. “I'm not ready to talk about Eric,” she said quietly.

“Okay. Why don't you tell me about your life in Hollywood?”

Ruby's first thought was: the article. “There's not much to say. It's like living on the third floor of hell. I don't want to talk about that, either.”

Nora paused; the scissors stilled. “I don't mean to pry. I just wonder who you have become.”

“Oh.” It wasn't something she thought much about-who she was. She usually concerned herself with who she wanted to be. Better to look ahead than behind, and all that. “I don't know.”

“I remember when Doc Morane first put you in my arms.” Nora paused in her cutting. “From the very beginning, you were fire and ice. You'd scream for what you wanted, but a hurt animal could reduce you to tears. You were walking by eight months and talking by two. And boy, did you have a lot to say. It was like living with a Chatty Cathy doll who could pull her own string. You never shut up.”

Ruby realized suddenly that she missed herself, missed who she used to be. In forgetting her mother, she'd misplaced herself. “What was I like?”

“You wanted a tattoo at twelve-the infinity symbol, I believe. You never pierced your ears, because everyone else did. You wanted to go to an ashram the summer you turned thirteen. You were afraid of the dark for a long, long time, and whenever there was a windstorm, I rolled closer to your dad in bed, because I knew you'd come bolting into our room and crawl into bed with us.” Nora turned to her, gently pushing the wet hair out of Ruby's eyes. “Is every part of that girl gone?”

Ruby felt shaky suddenly, uncertain. “I never got my ears pierced.”

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“It would break my heart to think that you had changed so much.” She reached out, touched Ruby's cheek in a fleeting, tender caress. “You could always light up a room like no one I've ever known. Remember that day we went to the island newspaper to get them to cover the eighth-grade dance?” She smiled. “I sat there, watching you make your argument, and thought, She could run the country, this girl of mine. I was so damned proud of you.”

Ruby swallowed hard.

Nora went back to cutting Ruby's hair. A few minutes later; she said, “Ah, there we are. All done.” She stepped aside and handed Ruby a mirror.

Ruby looked at her reflection, captured as it was in the silvered oval. She looked young again. A woman with most of her life ahead of her; instead of a bitter, struggling comic who'd left her youth sitting on barstools. “It looks great,” she said, turning to her mother.

Their eyes met, locked. Understanding passed between them, quick as an electric shock.

“I went to see Dad yesterday.”

“I know. He came to see me.”

Ruby should have guessed. “We have to talk about it.”

Nora sighed. It was a sound like the slow leaking of air from a punctured tire. “Yes.” She bent down and retrieved her crutches. “I don't know about you, butI'll need a cup of coffee for this ... and a chair. I'll definitely need to sit down.” Without waiting, she hobbled toward the porch.

Ruby put the stool away, then grabbed two cups of coffee and went out onto the porch. Nora was seated on the love seat; Ruby chose the rocker.

Nora took a cup of coffee from her. “Thanks.”

“Dad told me he'd been unfaithful to you,” Ruby said it in a rush.

“What else?”

“Does anything else matter?”

Nora frowned. “Of course other things matter.” Ruby didn't know what to say to that. “He sort of blamed it on Vietnam ... well ... maybe not. I wasn't sure what he blamed it on. He said the war changed him, but I got the feeling he thought he would have fooled around anyway.”

Nora leaned back in her chair. “I loved your dad from the moment I first saw him, but we were young, and we got married for childish reasons. I wanted a family and a place where I could feel safe. He wanted...” She smiled. “I'm still not sure what he wanted. A woman to come home to, maybe. A woman who thought he was perfect. For a while we were an ideal couple. We both thought he was God.”

“It was easy to see him that way. He acted so... loving and nice.”

“Don't judge him too harshly, Ruby. His infidelity was only part of what broke us up. It was just as much my fault.”

“Did you screw other men, too?”

“No, but I loved him too much, and that can be as bad as not loving someone enough. I needed so much reassurance and love, I sucked him dry. No man can fill up all the dark places in a woman's soul. I knew he'd be unfaithful sooner or later. I think I made him crazy with my questions and my suspicions.”

Ruby didn't understand. “You knew he'd be unfaithful? How?”

“You said you lived with a man. Max was his name, right?”

Ruby nodded. “Yeah. But what-”

“Was he faithful?”

“No. Well ... for a while, maybe.”

“Did you expect him to be?”

“Of course.” Ruby said it quickly. Too quickly. Then she sighed and sat back. “No. I didn't expect him to want only me.”

“Of course not. If a girl's mother doesn't love her enough to stick around, why should a man?” Nora gazed at her; the smile she gave Ruby was sad. "That's the gift my father gave me, the one I passed on to you.

“Jesus,” Ruby said softly. Her mother was right. Ruby had spent a lifetime being so afraid of heart break that she hadn't let herself be loved. That's why she'd stayed with Max all those years. She knew she'd never fall in love with him, and her heart would be safe. All that loneliness ... because she couldn't believe in being loved.

Ruby walked toward the railing and stared out at the Sound. She couldn't figure out what she was feeling ... or what she should be feeling. “I remembered the day you came back.” She heard her mother's sharp intake of breath and waited for an answer. When none came, she turned around.

Nora was sitting there, hunched over, as if waiting for a blow. “I don't like thinking about that day.”

“I'm sorry ... Mom,” Ruby said quietly. "I said some horrible things to you.

Her mother looked up sharply. Tears filled her eyes.

“You called me Mom.” She stood up, hobbled towardRuby. “Don't you dare feel guilty over what you said to me. You were a child, and I'd broken your heart.”

“Why did you come home that day?”

"I missed you girls so much. But when I saw what

I'd done to you, I was ashamed. You looked at me the way I'd once looked at my father. it ... broke me."

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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