Summer Island Page 39

“Dream,” Dean said softly, placing his brother's limp hand on top of the blanket, then stroking his warm forehead. “Dream of who you would have been, and who you were. The bravest, smartest, best brother a kid ever had.”

After dinner, Nora went out to the porch and sat in her favorite rocking chair. In this magical hour, poised between day and night, the sky was the soft hue of a girl's ballet slipper.

The screen door squeaked open and banged shut. “I brought you some tea,” Ruby said, stepping into the porchlight's glow. “Constant Comment with cream and sugar, right?”

“Thanks,” Nora said. “Join me.” Ruby sat down in the rocker. Leaning back, she crossed her legs at the ankle and rested her feet on the small, frosted glass table beside the love seat. “I've been thinking.”

“There's aspirin in the bathroom cabinet.”

“Very funny. It didn't give me a headache. It gave me ... a heartache.”

Nora turned to her.

“I think I was easy to leave.”

“Don't say that. You were an innocent victim.”

“I'm tired of that answer.” Ruby smiled, but it was a sad, curving of the lips that lasted no time at all. “I was a bitch to Dean after you left.”

“That's understandable.”

"I know. I had every right to be a bitch. I was lost and in pain. But was he supposed to love me when I wasn't lovable, when I wouldn't let him get close?

I expected love from him when I gave none, and then I fucked another guy just to see if Dean would love me no matter what. Big surprise: He didn't.“ She leaned forward again, rested her forearms on her thighs, and studied Nora. ”And I was worse to you. All those years, you sent letters and gifts and left phone messages. I knew you cared about me. I knew you were sorry, and I was proud of hurting you. I thought it was the least you deserved. So, don't disagree with me when I say that I have been the architect of some of my own pain."

Nora smiled. “We all are. Growing up is when we finally understand that. Remember those strawberry hard candies that used to show up in your Easter basket every year?”


“That's you, Ruby. You've built a hard shell to protect your soft heart. Only it doesn't work. I know you don't have faith in love, and I know I made you that way, but it's a half life, kiddo. Maybe you see that now. Without love, the loneliness just goes on and on.”

Ruby looked down at her clasped hands. “I was lonely when I lived with Max.”

Of course you were. You didn't love him."

“I wanted to. Maybe I could have if I'd let myself.”

"I don't think love is like that. It just ... strikes.

Like lightning."

“And fries you to a crisp.”

And turns your hair white."

“And stops your heart.”

Nora's smile faded. "You should give Dean a chance. Stick around a while longer, see what happens. Unless you need to get back to your career ...

“What career?” The moment she said it, Ruby looked up sharply, as if she hadn't meant to say that.

“What do you mean?”

I'm not funny."

The words seemed to take something away from Ruby; she looked young and vulnerable.

Nora didn't know how to respond. Did her daughter want honesty, empathy, or contradiction?

There was no way to know. All Nora could do was speak to the girl she'd once known. That girl, the young Ruby, had been honest to a fault and able to look life square in the eye.

“We both know you are funny. You've always had a great sense of humor. But are you funny enough, and often enough, to make a living at it? Have you taken classes, analyzed people like Robin Williams and Richard Pryor and Jerry Seinfeld? Do you know how they make their material sound funny?”

Ruby looked stunned. "You sound like my agent. He's always trying to get me to take classes. At least, he used to. He's kind of given up on me now.

“Why didn't you take his advice?”

“I thought it was about talent.” The word seemed to make her uncomfortable. She gave Nora a little half smile as if to acknowledge it.

“Most things take more discipline than talent.” Nora studied her daughter. “Is your material funny?”

“Most of the time. It's my delivery that sucks. And I'm not comfortable onstage.”

Nora smiled. She couldn't help remembering "Mom? You're spacing out on me.

“I'm sorry. I heard your act once. One of my readers sent me a tape of it.”

Ruby turned pale. “Really?”

“I have to admit it hurt like hell. You compared me to a rabbit-soft and pretty on the outside, and capable of eating her young.” She laughed. “Anyway, I thought your stuff was funny, and I wasn't surprised by that. I always thought you'd be a writer.”


Your stories were wonderful. You had a way of looking at the world that amazed me."

Ruby swallowed hard. “I like writing. I ... thinkI'm good at it. Lately, I've been thinking about writing a book.”

“You should give it a try.”

Ruby bit her lower lip, worrying it, and Nora knew she'd overstepped. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to suggest-”

“It's okay, Mom. It's just that I almost did write something, but it was too personal. About us, our family. I didn't want to hurt ... anyone.”

Ruby looked heartbreakingly young and earnest right then. “Sometimes people get hurt, Ruby. It's never something you should seek out, or do on purpose, but you can't live a life that hurts no one. If you try, you'll end up touching no one.”

“I wouldn't want to hurt you,” Ruby said quietly.

Before Nora could respond, she heard the sound of a car driving up. It parked, and the engine fell silent. A door slammed shut.

Ruby glanced toward the garden. “Are we expecting someone?”


Footsteps rattled on gravel. A rusty gate creaked open and clattered shut.

Someone thumped up the sagging porch steps and walked into the light.

Chapter Twenty-one


Nora stared up at her elder daughter in shock.

“Caroline?” she whispered, setting her tea down on the table beside her.

“I don't believe it!” Ruby ran across the porch and pulled her sister into a fierce hug.

Nora drank in the sight of it, her girls, back together on Summer Island. In the old days, she would have joined them, thrown her arms around both girls for a “family hug.” But now a lifetime's worth of poor choices left her on the outside, looking at her own daughters through a pane of glass as thick as a child's broken heart.

Nora got awkwardly to her feet and limped forward. "Hey, Caro. It's good to see you. Caroline drew back from Ruby's embrace.

“Hello, Mother.” Her smile seemed forced; it wasn't surprising. Even as a child, she'd been able to smile when her heart was breaking.

“This is great,” Ruby said. “My big sis is home for a slumber party. We haven't done that since Miranda Moore's birthday party.”

In the soft, orange light, Nora studied her elder daughter. Caroline was flawlessly dressed in a pair of creased white linen pants and a rose-colored silk blouse with ruffles that fell around her thin wrists. Not a strand of silvery-blond hair was out of place, not a fleck of mascara marred the pale flesh beneath her eyes. Nora had the feeling it wouldn't dare.

And yet, in all that perfection, there was a strange undercurrent of fragility. As if she were hiding some tiny, hairline crack. Her gray eyes seemed suffused with a silent sadness.

Nora wondered suddenly what had brought Caroline here. It was unlike her daughter to do anything spontaneously-she planned her grocery-shopping days and marked them down on a planner. An unannounced trip to the island was startlingly out of character. Ruby peered past her sister's shoulder. “Where are kids?”

“I left them with Jere's mom for the night.” She glanced nervously at Nora. “It's just me. I hope that's okay. I know I should have called.”

“Are you kidding? I begged you to come,” Ruby said, laughing.

Ruby looped an arm around her sister's narrow shoulders. The two women moved into the house, their heads tilted together.

As she limped along behind them, Nora heard Ruby say softly, “Is everything okay at home?” but Caroline's answer was too hushed to be overheard.

Nora felt like a third wheel. She stopped at the kitchen table and cleared her throat. “Maybe I should leave you two alone for a while. You know, for a sisterly chat.”

Caro and Ruby were almost to the living room. Together they turned around.

It was Ruby who spoke. “That's what got us into this pathetic mess, don't you think?”

“I just thought-”

“I know what you thought,” Ruby said with a tenderness that squeezed Nora's heart.

Caroline moved forward, her left arm clamped tightly down on her designer overnight bag, her heels clacking on the hardwood floor. Nora could see her daughter's fear; it was close to the surface now.

Poor Caro. She actually thought it was possible-it you were careful-to skate on ice too thin to hold your weight.

“So,” Caro said, offering a quick smile that didn“ reach her eyes, ”would you like to see the newe photos of your grandchildren?"

“We could start there,” Nora said, knowing it wasn't her line. She was supposed to be desperately thankful for even the pretense of normalcy. “But if we really want to get to know each other, it will take more pictures.”

Caroline paled-if that were possible-then went on seamlessly. “Good.” She unzipped her bag and took out two flat photo albums. “Let's go sit in the living room,” she said, already moving. She went to the sofa and sat down, her knees pressed demurely together, her fingers splayed on top of the albums on her lap.

Ruby rushed over and sat beside her.

Nora ignored her crutches and hopped on one foot after her daughters. She sat down beside Caroline.

Caroline glanced down at the album. Her long, manicured fingers stroked the tooled leather.

Nora noticed that those hands, so perfectly cared for and heavy with gold and diamond jewelry, were trembling.

Slowly, Caroline opened the book. The first photograph was an eight-by-ten color shot of her wedding. In it, Caroline stood tall and stiffly erect (not nearly as thin as she was now), sheathed in an elegant, beaded si1k off-the-shoulder gown. Jere was beside her, breath tikingly handsome in a black Prada tuxedo.

'Sorry,“ Caro said quickly, ”the new photos are in back." She started to turn the page.

Nora boldly laid her hand on top of Caroline's. “Wait.”

Who gives this woman to be married to this man.

When the priest had asked that special question, it had been Rand alone who'd answered. I do. Nora had been in the back of the church, doing her best not toweep. It should habe been: We do, her mother and I.

But Nora had given up that precious moment.

“She had been there for Caroline's wedding, but she hadn't been there. Caroline had invited her, placed her a close-yet-distant table, one reserved for special guests, but not family. Nora had known that she was a detail to her daughter on that day, no more or less important than the floral arrangements. And Nora, lost in the desert of her own guilt, had thanked God for then that. She'd gone through the receiving line and kissed her elder daughter's cheek, whispered ”Best wishes," and moved on. There were endless questions she hadn't allowed herself to even ask then, but now, as she stared at the beautiful photograph of her daughter, Nora couldn't remain detached.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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