Summer Island Page 9

Then she looked into a store window and saw a sheer, beaded, silvery blue dress with a plunging V neckline and a split in the side that came up to mid-thigh. It was the most perfect dress she'd ever seen, the kind of thing she'd never imagined she could own.

She held her handbag close and pushed through the glass doors. A bell tinkled over her head.

Over in the corner, across an ocean of white marble flooring and chrome-topped rounders of clothing, a woman looked up. “I'll be right with you, dear,” she said in one of those cultured, sorority-girl voices.

Ruby felt uncomfortable. She wished she could tape the deposit slip to her forehead.

Finally the saleswoman came over. She was tall and reed-thin, dressed in black from head to foot. Not a hair was out of place. She gave a little sniff when she saw Ruby, but her voice was kind. “May I help you?”

Ruby pointed helplessly toward the window. “I sawa blue dress in the window.”

“You have excellent taste. Would you like to try it on?”

She nodded.


The woman led Ruby to a dressing room that was bigger than the average bedroom. "Would you like a glass of champagne?

Ruby laughed. Now, this was shopping. “I'd love some.”

The saleswoman raised her hand; just that, and within a minute, a man in a black tuxedo was handing Ruby a sparkling glass of champagne.

“Thanks,” she said, collapsing onto the cushy seat in the dressing room. The champagne's bubbles seemed to float through her blood, making her instantly giddy. For the first time in years, she felt like somebody.

Someone knocked at the door.

“Come in.”

The saleslady peeked her head in. "Here you go.

I'm Demona. Just holler if you need me."

Ruby trailed her fingers down the beaded, sheer-as-tissue fabric, then quickly undressed and slipped into the dress.

It was like stepping into another personality ... a different life. Self-consciously, she peeked out of the dressing room. The coast was clear. She walked over to the wall-size mirrors in the corner.

Her breath caught. Even with her hair too short and her makeup too heavy, and her feet wedged into scuffed old Reeboks, she looked ... beautiful. The plunging neckline accentuated her small breasts; her waist appeared tiny, and the slit slimmed her fleshy thighs.

This was the woman she had hoped someday to become. How had she veered so far off the path?

“Oh, my,” Demona said wistfully, “it's perfect. And you don't need a stitch of alterations. I've never seen anything fit so well right off the rack.”

“I'll take it,” Ruby said in a thick voice.

At least she could have this moment, she thought, this memory of a perfect day. The dress would hang in her closet forever, a pristine reminder of the woman Ruby wanted to be.

She wrote a check--almost thirty-five hundred dollars, including the tax and shoes--and hung the dress carefully in the backseat of the Volkswagen.

Then, cranking the music back up-Steppenwolf this time--she sped toward the freeway. She was almost home when she passed the Porsche dealer.

Ruby laughed and slammed on the brakes.

Nora lay curled on the elegant sofa in her darkened living room. Hours ago, she'd sent Dee home and disconnected the phones.

Then she'd watched the news.

Big mistake. Huge.

Every station had the story; they played and replayed the same footage, showed the lurid blacked-out photographs again and again, usually followed with sound bites of Nora expounding on the importance of fidelity and the sanctity of the marriage vows. What hurt the most were the “man in the street” interviews. Her fans had turned on her; some women even cried at the betrayal they felt. “I trusted her” was the most common refrain.

She was finished. Never again would someone write her a letter and ask for advice; never again would people stand in line in the pouring rain outside the station for a chance to meet her in person.

She knew, too, what was happening in the lobby downstairs. She'd called her doorman several times today, and the report was always the same. The press was outside, cameras at the ready. One sighting of Nora Bridge and they would spring on her like wild dogs. Her doorman claimed that the garage was safe--they weren't allowed in there-but she was afraid to chance it.

She sat up. Huge glass windows reflected the town's bright lights, turned them into a smear of color. The Space Needle hung suspended in the misty sky, an alien ship hovering above the city.

She walked toward the window. Her reflection, caught in the glass, looked bleary and small.


That's how she felt. It was a familiar feeling, one that had defined her life long ago. It was this sense of being ... nothing ... that had set her on the path to ruin in the first place, and she didn't miss the irony that she was here again.

If her father were alive, he'd be laughing. Not so big a star now, are you, missy?

She walked into the kitchen and stood in front of the makeshift “bar” she kept for company. Nora hadn't taken a drink in more years than she could count.

But now she needed something to help her out of this hole. She felt as if she were drowning ...

She poured herself a tumbler full of gin. It tasted awful at first-like isopropyl alcohol-but after a few gulps, her tongue went dead and the booze slid down easily, pooling firelike in her cold stomach.

On her way back into the living room, she paused at the grand piano, her attention arrested by the collection of gilt-framed photographs on the gleaming ebony surface. She almost never looked at them, not closely. It was like closing her hand around a shard of broken glass.

Still, one caught her eye. It was a picture of her and her ex-husband, Rand, and their two daughters. They'd been standing in front of the family beach house, their arms entwined, their smiles honest and bright.

She tipped the glass back and finished the drink, then went back for another. By the time she finished that one, she could barely walk straight; there seemed to be a sheet of wax paper between her and the world.

That was fine. She didn't want to think too clearly right now. When her mind was clear, she knew that she'd been on the run for all of her life, and--at last--she'd hit a brick wall. The world knew the truth about her now, and so did her children.

She swayed drunkenly, staring at the photographs. On one side of the piano were family pictures--Christmas mornings, little girls in pink tutus at dance, family vacations taken in that old tent trailer they'd hauled around behind the station wagon.

On the other side were photographs of a woman who was always alone, even in the biggest of crowds. She looked beautiful--makeup artists and hairdressers and personal trainers saw to that. She was flawlessly dressed in expensive clothes, often surrounded by fans and employees.

Adored by strangers.

She stumbled away from the piano and plugged the phone into the wall. Bleary-eyed, she dialed her psychiatrist.

A moment later, a woman answered. “Dr. Allbright's office.”

“Hi, Midge. It's Nora Bridge.” She hoped she wasn't slurring her words. “Is the doctor in?”

A sniff. That was the only sound, but Nora knew. “He's not in, Ms. Bridge. Shall I take a message?”

Ms. Bridge. Only days ago it had been Nora.

“Is he at home?”

"No, he's unreachable, but I can put you through to his service. Or he left Dr. Homby's number for emergency referrals

Nora struggled to remain steady. Call waiting beeped. “Thanks, Midge. There's no need for that.” She waited an endless second for Midge to respond, and when the silence began to ache, Nora hung up. Then she ripped the cord out of the wall again.

In some distant part of her mind, she knew that she was sinking into a pool of self-pity, and that she could drown in it, but she didn't know how to crawl out.


He would be on the island by now. If she hurried, maybe she could still make the last ferry ...

She grabbed her car keys off the kitchen counter and staggered into her bedroom. After cramming a blond wig over her cropped auburn hair, she put on a pair of Jackie O sunglasses. On the bedside table, she found her sleeping pills. Of course it would be bad--wrong--to take one now; even in her drunken state, she knew she couldn't mix booze and pills. But she wanted to.

God, she wanted to ...

She tossed the brown plastic bottle in her purse.

The only thing she took from her condominium was an old photograph of their family, one taken at Disneyland when the girls were small. She shoved it in her handbag and left without bothering to check the lock.

She banged along the wall, using it as a guardrail as she tottered toward the elevator. Once inside, she clung to the slick wooden handrail, praying there wouldn't be a stop in the lobby. She got lucky; the mirrored elevator went all the way down to the parking garage, where it stopped with a clang.

The doors opened.

She peered out; the garage was empty. She careened unsteadily toward her car, collapsing against the jet-black side of her Mercedes. It took her several tries to get the key in the lock, but she finally managed.

She slid awkwardly into the soft leather seat. The engine started easily, a roar of sound in the darkness. The radio came on instantly. Bette Midler singing about the wind beneath her wings.

Nora caught sight of herself in the rearview mirror. Her face was pale, her cheeks tear-streaked. She'd chewed at her lower lip until it was misshapen.

“What are you doing?” she asked the woman in the sunglasses. She heard the slurring, drunken sound of her voice, and it made her cry. Hot tears blurred her vision.

“Please, God,” she whispered, “let Eric still be there.”

She slammed the car into reverse and backed out of the spot. Then she headed forward and hit the gas. Tires squealed as she rounded the corner and hurtled up the ramp. She didn't even glance left for traffic as she sped out onto Second Avenue.

Dean stood on the slatted wooden dock. The seaplane taxied across the choppy blue waves and lifted skyward, its engine chattering as it banked left and headed back to Seattle.

He'd forgotten how beautiful this place was, how peaceful.

The tide was out now, and this stretch of beach, as familiar to him once as his own hand, smelled of sand that had baked in the hot sun, of kelp that was slowly curling into leathery strips. He knew that if he jumped down onto that sand, it would swallow his expensive loafers and reclaim him, turn him into a child again.

It was the smell that pulled him back in time, that and the slapping sound of the waves against barnacled pilings. A dozen memories came at him, gift-wrapped in the scent of his parents' beach at low tide.

Here, he and Eric had built their forts and buried treasures made of foil-wrapped poker chips; they'd gone from rock to rock, squatting down, scraping their knees on driftwood in search of the tiny black crabs that lived beneath the slick gray stones.

They had been the best of friends in those days, inseparable brothers who seemed so often to think with a single mind.

Of the two of them, Eric had been the strong one, the golden boy who did everything well and fought for his heart's desires. At seven, Eric had demanded to be taken to Granddad's island house on Lopez, the one they'd seen pictures of. And it was Eric who'd first convinced Mother to let them stay.

Dean could still remember the arguments. They were hushed, of course, as all Sloan disagreements were required to be, full of sibilant sounds and pregnant pauses. He remembered sitting at the top of the stairs, his scrawny body pressed so tightly against the railing that he'd worn the marks later on his flesh, listening to his older brother plead for the chance to go to the island school.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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