Summer Island Page 38

“Yeah, right. Love put you in a mental institution.”

Mom laughed. “I think it makes lunatics of us all.”

It felt good to talk to her mother this way. As friends. It was something Ruby had never even imagined.

It was true; love made everybody crazy. All those years Ruby had spent angry with her mother, sending back presents unopened and refusing all contact-it wasn't because she'd felt betrayed.

Those years, those feelings and actions, had been about ... longing. Simple longing.

She'd missed her mother so much that the only way she'd been able to go on in the world was to pretend she was alone.

I'm not alone anymore.

That one sentence, once thought, formed a road that led Ruby to herself. She didn't say it aloud. Instinctively, she knew that if she, her voice would be a child's, full of awe and bewilderment. And she would cry.

I can't write the article.

“I've got to go upstairs,” she said suddenly, seeing the surprise on her mother's face. Ruby didn't care. She ran upstairs and went to the phone, dialing Val's number.

Maudeen answered on the second ring. “Lightner and Associates, may I help you?”

“Hi, Maudeen,” Ruby said, sitting on the bed, drawing her knees up. “It's Ruby Bridge. Is the Great Oz in?”

Maudeen laughed. “He and Julian went to a premiere in New York. He'll be back on Monday, and he's calling in for messages.”

“Okay. Tell him I won't be delivering my article.”

“You mean it's going to be late?”

“I'm not going to turn it in at all.”

“Oh, my. You'd better give me your address and phone number again. He'll want to talk to you.”

Ruby gave out the information, then hung up. She hadn't even realized that she was reaching for her writing pad, but there it was, sitting on her lap. It was time now to finish what she'd begun. Slowly, she began to write.

I have just called my agent. When he calls back, I will tell him that I can't turn in this article. I never thought about what it meant to write an expose' on my own mother.

Can you believe I was so blind? I took the money that was given to me-my thirty pieces of silver and I spent it like a teenager would, on a fast car and expensive clothes.

But I didn't think.

I dreamed. I imagined. I saw myself on Letterman and Leno, a witty charming guest plugging her own skyrocketing career. I never noticed that I'd be standing on my mother's broken back to reach the microphone.

My dreams, as usual, were all about me.

Now, I see the people around me, and I know what the price of my selfish actions will be.

As I write, I am reminded of that passage from the Bible-the one that is read at every wedding: When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child."

Now, I understand as an adult. Maybe for the first time in my life. This article would break my mother's heart, and perhaps even worse, her spirit. That didn't matter to me a week ago; in fact, I wanted to hurt her then.

My only excuse: then I was a child.

I can't do it anymore; not to her and not to me. For the first time, I have drawn back the dark curtain of anger and seen the bright day beyond.

I can be my mother's daughter again.

Even as I write that sentence, I feel its powerful seduction. I can't totally express you-strangers how it feels to be motherless. The ache ... the longing.

She is the keeper of my past. She knows the secret moments that have formed me, and even with all that I have done to her, I can feel that still she is able to love me.

Will anyone else ever love me so unconditionally

I doubt it.

I can't give that up. Cache' will have to find someone else to betray Nora Bridge. I am going home.

Ruby felt better now. Her decision was down in print, formed and solid in bright blue letters.

She would not turn in the article.

In Friday Harbor, the marina was a hive of activity; boats coming in and going out, kids racing along the cement docks, nets in hand, boaters bringing groceries down to their moored boats in creaky wooden carts.

This town was the center of the American section of this archipelago. For more than one hundred years, islanders had come to this port for groceries, boat repairs, and companionship. The town was an enchanting mix of old, decrepit buildings and newer ones, built with a reverence for the past in mind It was a place where pedestrians and bikers were as liable to be in the middle of Main Street as an automobile, and the honk of a car horn was almost never heard. Like all of the islands, San Juan had learned long ago to depend on the tourist trade. The downtown area was an eclectic mix of art galleries, souvenir shops, gift emporiums, and restaurants-with prices that forced the locals to drive off island for their daily needs, and encouraged the Californian tourists to buy two of everything.

Dean walked aimlessly up and down the streets. Today had depressed the hell out of him, and he knew it shouldn't have. Nothing had ever been easy with Ruby. Love would be the most difficult of all.

He came to a camera shop and went inside. On a whim, he bought a kick-ass camera and enough film to record the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Finally, he heard the ferry's horn, and knew it was time to get down to the dock. He jumped on his bike and raced downhill. He was late, so he followed the last car onto the boat.

On Lopez, he stopped by the grocery store and bought a few things, then pedaled home as fast as he could. By the time he reached the house, the sun was just beginning to set. In the kitchen, Lottie was busy chopping up vegetables for stir-fry. He gave her a quick wave hello and hurried up to Eric's room.

“Hey, bro,” Eric said, smiling tiredly, sitting up. “How was your bike ride?”

Dean went to him. “Guess what I bought?” He opened the small blue insulated bag and withdrew a melting Popsicle.

Eric's eyes widened. “A Rainbow Rocket. I didn't think they still made them.”

Dean unwrapped the soggy white wrapper and handed his brother the dripping, multicolored Popsicle. He had to help Eric hold it-his hands were weak and unresponsive-but the smile on Eric's face was straight from the old days.

Eric closed his eyes and made groaning sounds of pleasure as he licked the Popsicle. When he finished, he set the gooey stick on the bedside tray and sighed. The bed whirred to a more upright position. “That was great,” he said, leaning deeper into the pillows. He slowly turned his head. “I'd forgotten how much I loved those things.”

“I remembered,” Dean said. “I've been remembering a lot of things lately.”


“Remember the fort we made inside that dead log on Mrs. Nutter's land? When she discovered us, she chased us all the way down her driveway with a broom-”

“Screaming that we were rich-kid hooligans.”

“She threatened to call our parents-”

“And we told her Mom was in Barbados and the call would cost her a fortune.” Eric's laughter faded into a hacking cough, then disappeared altogether.

“There's something else, too,” Dean said. He went to his own bedroom, then returned with a comic book.

Eric blinked up at him. “My missing Batman. The only issue I ever lost.”

Dean smiled. “You didn't lose it. Your little brother was mad at you one day for not sharing your Wacky Wallwalker, and he took your Batman. He could never figure out how to give it back.”

Smiling, Eric took the comic, thumbed through it. “I always knew you took it. Shithead.”

“Do you want me to read it to you?” Eric set it on his lap. “Ah ... I guess not. I'm too tired. Just talk to me.”

Dean leaned over the bed rail and gazed down at his . “I went to see Ruby today.”


Let's just say the door hit me in the ass on the way out."

Eric laughed. That's our Ruby. Never gives an inch. Did you tell her you loved her?"

I asked her what she would say if I did."

Eric rolled his eyes. “How Cary Grant of you. It's hard to sweep a girl off her feet with a line like that.”

“How would you know?”

Girl. Boy. It's all the same, kiddo. Romance. And frankly, you'd better get a move on. I want to be around for your happily-ever-after."

“I know, I know. You're dying.”

Damn right, I am. So, when is round two?"

Dean sighed. “I don't know. I'll need to stock up on defensive weapons. Maybe something will happen tomorrow, when we all go sailing.”

“You do love her, though?”

I don't think I ever stopped loving her. I wanted to,

I tried to, but she was always in my dreams, the girl I measured every other woman against. But that doesn't mean she still loves me. Or that, if she did love me, she'd believe in it."

Don't let her push you away again."

It's not that easy. I can't do all the work. I won't do all the work. If she wants a future, she's gonna have to put out a little effort."

“Well, I hope it works out fast. I wanted to be the best man at your wedding.”

“You will be.” Dean struggled to keep his voice even. Their eyes met, and in his brother's gaze, he saw the sad truth. They both knew it was dream-spinning, this conversation of theirs. Eric would not be putting on a tuxedo and standing in shiny shoes beside Dean at the altar.

"I'm glad you came home, Dino. I couldn't have done this without you.

Home. The simple, complex word found purchase in his heart. He'd known it would be hard to stand by and watch his brother die, but until this moment, he hadn't realized that it would end. This good-bye, strung out as it was over the briefest of time spans, was all that was left to them, and Dean would have to cling to these memories in the dark days that were sure to follow.

If Ruby did miraculously admit to lovingDean, who would he tell? Who would laugh at him and say, You must have done something to piss God off if He chose Ruby as your one true love.

There were so many things left to say between him and Eric, but how--where--did you begin? How could you experience a lifetime in a few short days? And what about the things that floated past them, accidentally unsaid? What if Dean ended up moving through a colorless, Eric-less world in which he couldn't think of anything except what should have been said?

“Don't,” Eric said.

Dean blinked, realizing he'd been silent too long. Tears stung his eyes. He tried to casually wipe them away. “Don't what?”

“You're imagining the world without me.”

“I don't know how to get through this.”

Eric reached out. His pale, blue-veined hand covered Dean's and pressed firmly. “When I start feeling overwhelmed, I go back in time instead of ahead. I remember how we used to play red rover at Camp Orkila. Or how you used to sit cross-legged in your room, with your eyes closed, trying to levitate your toys when Lottie made you clean your room.” He smiled tiredly and closed his eyes, and Dean could see that he was losing his brother to sleep once again. “I remember the first time I saw Charlie. He was making a sandwich at the college lunch hangout. Mostly, I just remember what I've had and not what I'm leaving behind.”

Dean's throat was so tight he couldn't answer.

“The best part is you.” Eric's voice was barely above a whisper now. His words were starting to sound garbled, as if he were more than half asleep. "Since you're back, I dream again. It's nice ...

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