Summer Island Page 40

Who had acted as Caroline's mother on that day? Who had sewn the last-minute beads on Caro's dress ... or taken her shopping for ridiculously expensive lingerie that she would never wear again ... who had held her, one last time, as an unmarried young woman and whispered, I love you?

Nora drew her hand back. She heard the sound of a turning page and forced her eyes open again.

Ruby laughed, pointing to a shot of the whole wedding party. “I want you to know, I never wore that dress again.”

“Yeah, and you never came home again, either,” Caroline shot back.

Ruby's smile faded. “I meant to.”

Caroline smiled sadly. “Words that could be our family motto.” She quickly turned another page. “This is our honey moon. We went to Kauai.”

Nora noticed that Caroline's fingers were trembling again. She kept gently touching the photographs.

“You look so happy,” Nora said softly.

Caroline turned, and Nora saw the sadness stamped on her daughter's face. "We were.

And Nora knew. “Oh, Car ... .”

“Enough honeymoon shots,” Ruby said loudly.

“Where are the kids?”

Caroline turned back to the album, flipped through a few more sand-and-surf photographs, and came toa stop.

This one was in a hospital room festooned with balloons and flower bouquets. Caroline was in bed, wearing a frilly white nightgown and an exhausted smile. For once, her hair was a mess. She held a tiny baby in her arms; the red-faced infant was wrapped in a pink blanket.

Here, at last, was a genuine smile, the kind that shone like sunlight.

Nora should have seen that smile in person, but she hadn't. Oh, she'd visited Caroline in the hospital, of course. She had come, bearing an armload of expensive gifts. She'd talked to her daughter, commiserated about labor, then commented on how pretty the baby was . . . and then she'd left. Even then, with the miracle of a new generation between them, they hadn't really talked.

Nora hadn't been there when Caroline realized how terrifying motherhood was. Who had said to her, It's Okay Caro; God made you for this"

No one.

Nora clamped a hand over her mouth, but it was too late. A small, noise escaped. She felt the tears burn her eyes and streak down her cheek. She tried to hold her breath but it broke into little gasps.

Mom?" Caroline said, looking at her.

Nora couldn't meet her daughter's gaze. "I'm sorry ...” She meant to add for crying, but the apology cracked in half.

Caroline was quiet.

Nora didn't realize that her daughter was crying until a tear splashed onto the album, landed in a gray blotch beside a picture of Jenny in a bassinet.

Nora reached out, placed her hand on Caroline's cold, still fingers. “I'm so sorry,” she whispered again.

Caroline bent her head. A curtain of hair fell forward, hid her face. “That was the day I missed you most.” She laughed unevenly. “Jere's mom was a take-charge kind of gal. She whipped in and packed me up and sent me on my way with a list of instructions.” Another tear fell. “I remember the first night. Jenny was in a bed beside me. I kept reaching out for her, touching her little fingers, stroking her little cheek. I dreamed you were standing beside my bed, telling me it would be okay, not to be afraid.” She turned, looked at Nora through mascara-ruined eyes. “But I always woke up alone.”

Nora swallowed hard. “Oh, Caroline ... ”

“I tried to remember that prayer you used to say when I was scared at night. I know it was stupid, but Ijust kept thinking that everything would be fine if I could only remember those words.”

“Starlight, star bright, protect this baby girl against the night.” Nora smiled uncertainly. “Caro, there aren't enough words in this galaxy to say how sorry I am for what I did to you and Ruby.”

Caroline leaned toward her and let Nora take her in her arms.

Nora's heart cracked open like an egg. She was crying so hard she started to hiccup. When Nora drew back, she saw Ruby, sitting on Caroline's other side.

Her face was pale, her lips drawn into a thin line. Only her eyes revealed emotion; they were shimmering with unshed tears.

Ruby stood up. “We need to drink.”

Caroline wiped her eyes self-consciously and frowned. “I don't drink.”

“Since when? At the junior prom, you-”

"It's a dozen lovely memories like that one that keep me sober. In college, Jere used to call me E.d. for easy drunk. Two drinks and I start thinking strip-and go-naked is a perfect game.

“E.D? E.D.? Oh, this is too good. I'm twenty-seven years old and I haven't gotten drunk with my sister since before it was legal. Tonight we're changing all that.”

Nora laughed. “The last time I drank, I drove into a tree.”

“Don't worry-I won't let you drive,” Ruby promised.

Caroline laughed. “Okay. One drink. One.”

Ruby did a little cha-cha-cha toward the kitchen, then threw back her head and said, “Margaritas!” Before Nora had figured out how to start another conversation with Caroline, Ruby was back, dancing into the living room with glasses that could have doubled as Easter baskets.

Nora took her drink, then laughed out loud when Ruby went to the record player, picked an album, and put it on.

We will ... we will ... rock you blared through the old speakers. Ruby had the volume so high the windows rattled and knickknacks seemed to dance spasmodically across the mantel.

Ruby took a laughing gulp of her drink, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and slammed the drink down onto the coffee table. Then she snapped a hand toward Caroline. “Come on, Miss America, dance with Hollywood's worst comic.”

Caroline frowned. "That's not true.

"Dance with me.

Shaking her head, Caroline grabbed Ruby's hand and let herself be pulled into a twirl.

Nora cautiously sipped her cocktail and leaned forward, mesmerized by the interplay between her daughters. They were standing side by side, both sweaty from dancing, and they looked so happy and carefree it actually hurt Nora's heart. These were the adult versions of the girls Nora had borne, the women she'd imagined her daughters would have become if their mother had never left.

The girls danced and drank and laughed together; bumping hips and holding hands, until Caroline held up her hands and said breathlessly, "No more, Ruby.

I'm getting dizzy."

“Ha! You're not dizzy enough, that's your problem,” and with that proclamation, she handed her sister her margarita “Bottoms up.”

Caroline wiped the damp hair off her face. It looked for a moment as if she were going to decline.

“Oh, what the hell.” Caroline drank the rest of her margarita without stopping, then held out the empty glass. “Another one, please.”

“Yee ha!” Ruby danced into the kitchen and started up the blender.

On the stereo, the next album dropped down, clicked on top of the first one. With a whining screech, the arm moved to the beginning and lowered.

It was an old album by the Eurythmics. Sweet dreams are made of these pulsed through the speakers.

Caroline stumbled unsteadily to one side and held her hand out. “Dance with me, Mom.”

Mom. It was the first time Caroline had called her that in years.

“If I step on your foot, I'll break every bone.”

Caroline laughed. “Don't worry, I'm anesthetized.” The last word came out hopelessly mangled, and Caroline laughed again. “Drunk,” she said sternly, drunk."

Nora grabbed her fallen crutch and limped over toCaroline. She slipped one arm around her daughter's tiny (too tiny; frighteningly tiny) waist and used the crutch for support.

Caroline pressed her hands against Nora's shoulders. Slowly, they began to sway from side to side.

“This is the last song they played at the senior prom. I had them play it at my wedding, remember?”

Nora nodded. She was going to say something impersonal, but then she noticed the way Caroline was looking at her. “Do you want to talk about it?” she asked gently, tightening her hold on Caro's fragile waist.

“Talk about what?”

Nora couldn't help herself. She stopped dancing and released Caroline's hand, then touched her daughter's cheek. “Your marriage.”

Caroline's beautiful face crumpled. Her mouth quavered as she released a heavy sigh. “Oh, Mom... I wouldn't know where to start.”

“There's no-”

Ruby spun into the room, singing, “Margaritas for the senoras.” She saw Nora and Caro standing there, and she stopped in her tracks. “Jesus, I leave you two for five minutes and the waterworks start again.”

Nora shot her a pleading look. “Ruby, please.”

Ruby frowned. “Caro? What is it?”

Caroline took an unsteady step backward. She looked from Nora to Ruby and back to Nora. She was weeping silently, and it was a heart-wrenching sight. It was the way a woman wept in the middle of a dark night with her husband beside her in bed and her children sleeping down the hall.

“I wasn't going to tell you,” Caro said to both them in a breathy, broken voice.

Ruby stepped toward her, hand outstretched.

“Don't touch me!” Caro said. At the shrill desperation in her voice, she laughed. “I'll fall apart if you touch me, and I'm so goddamn sick of falling apart I could scream.”

Caroline sank slowly to her knees on the floor. Ruby sat down beside her, and Nora followed awkwardly, landing on her fallen crutch.

Caroline took a big gulp of her margarita, then looked up. Her eyes were dry now, but somehow that only made her look more wounded. A little girl looking out through a woman's disillusioned eyes, wondering how she'd stumbled into such heartache.

“Are you sleeping?” Nora asked.

Caroline looked shocked. “No.”




Nora nodded. “Well, that's a good thing.” She heldCaroline's hand. “Have you and Jere talked about this?”

Caroline shook her head. “I can't tell him. We're always going in different directions. I feel like a single parent most of the time. And I'm lonely. God, I'm so damned lonely sometimes I can't stand it.”

“You haven't even talked to him about it?” Ruby said, leaning toward her sister.

Caroline turned to her. “You don't know what it's like, Ruby. You can say anything to anyone. It's harder for me.”

“Yeah, but-”

Nora touched Ruby's thigh. “She doesn't need that now, Ruby. There's a time for the real world and consequences, Caroline knows that. This is a time for letting her know that whatever happens, we'll always be there for her.” Nora gazed lovingly at Caroline. “I know what you're going through, believe me. You're at that place where your own life overwhelms you and you can't see a way to break free. And you're suffocating.”

Caroline drew in a gulping, hiccuping breath. Her eyes rounded. “How did you know that?”

Nora touched her cheek. “I know” was all she said for now. There would be more to come, she knew, but now they had to lay all the cards on the table.

“Is Jere seeing another woman?”

Caroline made a desperate, moaning sound. Tears rolled down her cheeks. “Everyone always said Jere was just like Daddy. I guess I should have been afraid.” She sniffled and wiped her eyes. “I'm going to leave him, though.”

Source: www_Novel22_Net

Prev Next