Summer Island Page 37

“He told me. It really meant a lot to him."

Ruby wishboned her arms behind her head. A single, gauzy cloud drifted above the trees. “I wish I'd stayed in better touch with him.”

You?“ Dean laughed bitterly. ”I'm his brother and

I hadn't seen him in years."

That surprised Ruby. She rolled onto her side and faced Dean, but he didn't look at her. “You guys were always so close.”

“Things change, don't they?”

“What happened?”

He stared up at the sky. “I seem to have a problem with really knowing the people I love. I get blindsided.”

“You're talking about his being gay?”

Finally, he looked at her. “That's part of what I'm talking about.” She understood, and knew that it was time. For more than ten years, she'd sworn to herself that if she ever got the chance with Dean, she would say the thing that mattered. “I'm sorry, Dean,” she said. “I didn't want to hurt you.”

He rolled onto his side, facing her. “You didn't want to hurt me? Jesus, Ruby, you were my whole world.”

“I knew that. I just ... couldn't be someone's world then.”

"I tried to take care of you after your mom left, but it was hard. You were constantly picking a fight with me. But I kept telling myself it would be okay, that you'd get past it and come back to me. And I kept loving you.

Ruby didn't know how to explain it to him. How could she? She'd only barely begun to understand it herself. “You believed in something I didn't. Every time I closed my eyes at night, I dreamed about you leaving me. In my nightmares, I heard your voice, butI could never find you. I couldn't stand waiting for you to stop loving me. To leave me.”

“What made you so damned sure I would leave you?”

“Come on, Dean ... we were kids, but we weren't stupid. I knew you'd go off to some college I couldn't afford and forget about me.”

Their faces were close together, and if she'd let her self, she could have lost her way in the blue sea of his eyes. "So, you dumped me before I had a chance to dump you.

She smiled sadly. “Pretty much. Now, let's change the subject. This is old news, and we both know it doesn't matter anymore. Tell me about your life. How is it to be a jet-setting superbachelor?”

“What if I said I still love you?”

Ruby gasped. “Don't say that ... please-”

He took her face in his hands, gently forced her to look up at him. “Did you stop loving me, Ruby?”

She felt the soft exhalation of his breath against her lips. A second later, she heard his question. She wanted to say Of course; we were just kids, but when opened her mouth to answer, the only sound she made was a quiet sigh that tasted of surrender.

His lips brushed against her, and it was a sensation at once familiar and new. She melted against him, moaning his name as his hand curled around the back of her neck.

It was the kind of kiss they'd never shared before. The kind of achingly lonely kiss a pair of teenagers couldn't imagine, the kiss of two adults who'd been alone for too long and knew that God had given them this moment, and that it was a gift too precious to ignore. And for a few brief, heart-stopping seconds, their past faded like a photograph left in the hot sun.

When he drew back, she opened her eyes and saw the missing years drawn in lines on his face. Sun ... time ... heartache ... they had all left imprints on his skin.

I've waited a long time for a second chance with you, Ruby."

If he said he loved her, she would believe him, and she would love him back. She closed her eyes, battling a wave of helplessness. She wished desperately to have grown up, to have been profoundly changed by all that she'd seen and learned in the past days. But it wasn't that easy.

Her fear of abandonment was so deep it had calcifed in her bones. She couldn't get past it. She'd discovered a long timc ago why the poets called it falling in love. It was a plunging, eye-watering descent, and she'd lost her ability to believe that anyone would catch her.

She pushed him away. "I can't do this. It's too much ... too fast. You've always wanted too much from me.

“Damn it, Ruby,” he said, and she heard the disappointment in his voice. “Have you grown up at all?”

“I won't hurt you again,” she said.

He touched her face. “Ah, ... ... . just looking at you hurts me.”

She had never felt so alone. When he'd kissed her, she'd glimpsed a world she'd never imagined. A world where passion was part of love, but not the biggest part. Where a kiss from the right man, at the right time, could make a grown woman weep. “I can't give you what you want. It's not in me.”

He brushed the hair away from her eyes, let his fingertips linger at her temple. "You ran me off when I was a boy. I'm not seventeen anymore, and we both know, this thing between us isn't over. I don't think it ever was.

Chapter Twenty

Dean followed Ruby back down the trail. Though they didn't talk, the forest was alive with sounds. Birds squawked and chirped in the trees overhead, squirrels chattered, water splashed.

At the park, he tossed the picnic basket-still filled with a lunch unpacked and uneaten-in the trash can. Curling the heavy blanket around his shoulders, he climbed tiredly onto his bike.

When they reached the summer house, he pulled off to the side of the road and got off his bike.

Ruby stopped a few feet ahead, then set her kick stand and turned to him, frowning. “I guess this is where I say good-bye.”

He heard the crack in her voice and it gave him hope. Ruby could push him away from now until forever, and he would still know the truth. He could see it in her eyes, hear it in her tremulous voice. He'd felt it in her kiss. “For now.”

“It was just a kiss,” she said. “Don't turn it into Gone with the Wind.”

He took a step toward her. “You must have confused me with one of your Hollywood idiot-boys.” She wanted to move backward; he could tell.

“Wh-what do you mean?”

Now he was close enough to touch her, to kiss her; but he stood perfectly still. “I know you, Ruby. You can pretend all you want, but that kiss meant something. Tonight we'll both lie in bed and think about it.”

Ruby flushed. "You knew a teenager a decade ago. That doesn't mean you know me.

He smiled. It was so precisely the sort of thing she would have said at sixteen. "You might have built a wall around your heart, but you haven't exchanged it.

Somewhere, deep inside, you're still the girl I fell in love with." At last he touched her cheek, a fleeting caress.

He wanted to do more, to pull her into his arms, hold her close and whisper; I love you, but he knew he couldn't push her that far. Not yet.

“For years after you were gone, I thought I saw you,” he said quietly. “Every time I rounded a corner or came up to a stoplight or got off an airplane, I'd think for a split second, There she is. I'd run up to the person, tap her shoulder, and find myself smiling awkwardly at a stranger. I still walk on the right side of the sidewalk, because you like the left.”

Her mouth trembled. “I'm afraid.”

“The girl I knew wasn't afraid of anything-”

“That girl's been gone for years.”

“Isn't there some part of her left?”

She stood there a long time, staring up at him, then finally she turned away.

He knew she wasn't going to answer. “Okay,” he said with a sigh. “I'll concede this round.” He climbed onto his bike and started to go.


He stumbled off his bike so fast he almost fell. It clattered to the ground as he spun back to face her.

The way she was looking at him reminded him of when she was nine years old and she fell out of the oak tree on Finnegans' farm ... or when she was twelve and broke her arm skateboarding down Front Street.

She took a step closer and looked up at him. He couldn't be certain, but she looked ready to cry. “You sound so sure.”

He smiled. “You taught me love, Ruby. Every time you held my hand when I was scared, or came to one of my ball games or left a note in my locker, I learned a little more about it. Maybe when we were kids, I took that for granted, but I'm not a kid anymore. I've spent a lot of years alone and every date I went on only proved again how special we were.”

“My parents were special,” she said slowly. “You and Eric were special.”

“So, your point is, love dies.”

“An ugly, painful death.”

It saddened him, knowing how her heart, once so open and pure, had been trampled by the very people who should have protected it. “Okay. Love hurts. I can't deny that. But what about loneliness?”

“I'm not lonely.”


She stepped away from him. Without a backward look or a wave or anything, she jumped on her bike and rode away.

“Go ahead,” he called after her. “Run away. You can only go so far.”

Ruby knew her mother would be waiting for her. She'd probably be sitting at the kitchen table, or in the rocker on the porch, pretending to be occupied by some small task. Maybe knitting; she'd always loved to knit.

Ruby stopped pedaling. The bike slowed down, rattling and bumping over the uneven road. When she reached the minivan, she dumped the bike at the side of the gardening shed and headed down to the house. The gate creaked loudly at her touch.

She stepped into the kitchen and found her mother at the stove, stirring something in an old iron pot. She was wearing her old apron-the one that said A WOMAN'S PLACE IS IN THE VERY HOUSE ... AND THE SENATE.

“Ruby,” she said, looking up in surprise. “I didn't expect you back so soon.” She glanced at the door, now closed behind Ruby. “Where's Dino?”

Ruby stood there. God help her, she couldn't talk. The kitchen smelled of pot roast, slow-cooking all day with baby carrots and oven-browned potatoes. A cookie sheet sat on the counter. On it, homemade his cults were rising. And unless Ruby missed her guess, that was vanilla custard Mom was stirring.

She'd made Ruby's all-time favorite dinner.

Just then, Ruby didn't know which hurt more-the effort her mother had made to please her, or the fact that Dean wasn't here to share it. All she knew was that if she didn't get out of this room soon, she was going to burst into tears.

“Dean went home,” she said.

A frown darted across her mother's face. She turned off the burner, carefully placed the wooden spoon across the top of the pot, and grabbed her crutches, then limped toward Ruby. Step-thump-step-thump. The uneven footsteps matched the beat of Ruby's heart. “What happened?”

“I don't know. I guess we started something we couldn't finish. Or maybe we finished something we'd started a longtime ago.” She shrugged and looked away.

“This won't be like Max,” her mother said.

“I love Dean,” Ruby admitted. “But that's not enough. It wouldn't last, anyway.”

“Love is nothing without faith.”

“I lost that faith a long time ago.”

“Of course you did. And you're right to blame your dad and me for it, but that doesn't matter anymore whose fault it is. What matters is you. Can you let yourself jump without a net? Because that's what love is, what faith is. You're looking for a guarantee, and those come with auto parts. Not love.”

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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