Shelter in place, p.15
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       Shelter in Place, p.15

           Nora Roberts

  “What the hell, Natalie?” Shifting, Simone laid a hand on CiCi’s shoulder.

  “Look at you! Always the two of you.” Face bright pink with fury, blue eyes molten with it, Natalie jabbed out with a finger from each hand. “I’m sick of that, too. It’s not right, it’s not fair that you love her more than me.”

  “First, there’s no ‘fair’ about love. And second, I love you just as much, even when you’re being a crazy person. In fact, I might love you more when you’re being a crazy person. It’s an interesting change of pace.”

  “Just stop it.” Tears spurted, hot with rage. “It’s always been her. She’s always been your favorite.”

  “If you’re going to accuse me of things, be specific, because I can’t remember ever slighting you.”

  “You didn’t convert an attic for me.”

  Close to fed up, CiCi gulped down coffee. It didn’t help. “Did you want me to?”

  “That’s not the point!”

  “It is the goddamn point. I didn’t take Simone to D.C. after her high school graduation and arrange for tours of Congress because she didn’t want me to. You did, so I did. Get over yourself.”

  “I can’t even come out here anymore because she lives here.”

  “That’s on you, and it sure looks like you’re here now. And one more thing before I trade this coffee in for the Bloody Mary I now crave, Simone can and will live here as long as she wants. It’s not up to you who lives in my fucking house. If you wanted to move in, you’d be welcome, but it’s not what you want.”

  CiCi went to the refrigerator. “Anybody else want a Bloody Mary?”

  “As a matter of fact,” Simone began.

  “There it is.” Natalie sneered. “Just like Mom says. Two peas in a snarky pod.”

  “So what?” Simone threw up her hands. “So we have things in common. You and Mom have things in common. So what?”

  “You have no respect for my mother.”

  “Our mother, Nat the Brat, and I certainly do.”

  “Bull. You barely spend any time with her. You didn’t even bother to spend any with her on Mother’s Day.”

  “I was in New Mexico, for God’s sake, Nat. I called her, I sent flowers.”

  Natalie’s eyes, the same searing blue as their mother’s, burned. “Do you think that means anything? Clicking on some flowers on the Internet?”

  Simone angled her head. “You should tell Mom and Dad that, since that’s what they’ve done for every one of my openings.”

  “That’s different, and don’t try to shift the blame. You don’t care about her, or any of us, whatever you’ve convinced Dad to think. They’ve been arguing because of you. Because of you, Harry and I had a terrible fight on the night of our engagement party.”

  “Jesus Christ. Don’t spare the vodka,” Simone told CiCi.

  “Believe me.”

  “The two of you,” Natalie spat out. “All smug out here in your alternate reality. Well, I live in the real world. A world you barged into, uninvited, looking like something that just stumbled off the trail. But you managed to play up to Harry and Dad, didn’t you, playing the victim.”

  “I didn’t play up to anyone, or play anything. Maybe if you hadn’t lied to both of them about contacting me, you wouldn’t have had a problem.”

  “I didn’t want you there!”

  It ripped, ripped a jagged hole in Simone even though she already knew. “Clearly. But you weren’t honest about it, and that’s not on me.”

  “You’re selfish, hateful, and don’t care about anyone but yourself.”

  “I might be selfish by your gauge, but I don’t have a lot of hate. And if I didn’t care about anyone, I wouldn’t have stopped off at Mom’s and Dad’s and ended up embarrassing both of us. You, on the other hand, you nasty little bitch, are a liar and a coward, and in your real world you don’t take responsibility for being either. Fuck that, Natalie, and you along with it. I’m not going to be your punching bag or Mom’s.”

  Though her heart thudded, and her hands wanted to shake, Simone picked up the drink CiCi had set on the counter, lifted it in a nasty toasting gesture. “Enjoy your version of reality, Nat. I’ll stick with mine.”

  Tears, fired by rage, fumed in Natalie’s eyes. “You disgust me. Do you know that?”

  “I’m fairly astute, so yeah, I picked up on that.”

  “Okay, girls.” CiCi stepped in. “That’s enough now.”

  “You always take her side, don’t you?”

  Her own heart aching, CiCi forced herself to speak calm and clear. “I’ve been working hard over here not to take any side, but you’re pushing it, Natalie. Now, you’ve blown off considerable steam, so—”

  “I don’t mean anything to either of you. You’ve turned her against me, too,” she shouted at Simone. “I hate you. You’re welcome to each other.”

  She turned to storm out, and blind and bitter, shoved the statue of Emergence from the stand CiCi had had made for it. Even as Simone cried out in grief, it fell, smashed to the floor. The lovely, serene face, that birth of joy, the face of a lost friend, broke into four pieces.

  “Oh God, oh God.” The sound, the sight of the destruction slapped Natalie’s rage into horrified shock. “I’m sorry. Oh, Simone, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean—”

  “You get out.” Simone could barely whisper the words over the wound so deep it screamed inside her. She managed to put the drink in her hand down before she heaved it, because she knew if she struck out, she might never stop.

  “Simone, CiCi, I’m so, so sorry. I can’t—”

  As Natalie stepped forward, hand out, Simone’s head snapped up. “Don’t come near me. Don’t. Get out. Get out!” With rage and grief choking her, Simone rushed out the back doors before she used fists instead of words.

  Sobbing, Natalie covered her face with her hands. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. CiCi, I didn’t mean to.”

  “You did mean to. You meant to hurt her, and me. Sorry’s not going to be enough this time.”

  When Natalie collapsed into her arms, CiCi patted her back for a moment, but then turned and steered her toward the front door. “You need to go, and you need to figure out why you’d do what you’ve done, why you said what you said, feel what you feel. And you have to figure out how to make amends.”

  “I’m sorry. Please.”

  “I’m sure you’re sorry, but you destroyed a piece of your sister with a temper tantrum. You broke her heart, and mine.”

  “Don’t hate me.” As CiCi opened the door, Natalie clung to her. “She hates me. Don’t hate me.”

  “I don’t hate you, and neither does she. I hate the words I heard coming out of your mouth. I hate what you did because you wanted to hurt us both. And I hate having to say to my own grandchild—and I love you, Natalie—but you can’t come back here until you face what you did, until you find a way to make those amends.”

  “She does hate me. She—”

  “You stop.” Snapping it out, CiCi pushed Natalie away. “You stop and look inside yourself instead of trying to put things inside someone you refuse to even try to understand. I love you, Natalie, but at this moment, I sure as hell don’t like you. Go home.”

  It shattered another piece of her heart, but CiCi shut the door of her home in her granddaughter’s face.

  And leaning back against the door, staring at the beauty, the grace, the joy so recklessly destroyed, she let her own tears come.

  Accepting them, she went to her other grandchild.

  Simone sat on the patio stones, knees hugged tight to her chest, her face pressed against her knees as she sobbed. CiCi lowered to the patio floor, enfolded her, rocking until they’d both cried themselves out.

  “How could she do that? How could she hate me that much?”

  “She doesn’t hate you. She’s jealous and angry and, God, disdainful. She’s her mother’s daughter there. But I know, I do, Tulip would never have wanted this. You don’t fit the mold, my darling girl, so they see
that as an insult. We embarrass them, and that embarrassment makes them feel small, so they retreat into that disdain.”

  With her arm around Simone, Simone’s head on her shoulder, CiCi looked out to the water, the deep blues and hints of green, the frisk of its slap against rock.

  “I could take some of the blame, but what’s the point?” CiCi considered. “I did the best I could. Tulip was a happy kid, and then my mother … Well, she’s not to blame, either. We’re who we are, and who we choose to be.”

  Gently, CiCi stroked Simone’s hair. “She’s devastated, baby. She’s so sorry.”

  “Don’t, don’t, don’t take up for her.”

  “Oh, I’m not. She struck out at me, too, and she had no right. It’s long past time for her to deal with her inner toddler, to stop blaming you, me, or whatever the hell for her own issues. If she accepts what she did, does whatever she can to make up for it, it could be a turning point for her.”

  “I don’t care.”

  “I know. I don’t blame you. Families fuck up. Hell, families are fucked-up half the time. But fucked-up or not, she’s always going to be your sister, always going to be my granddaughter. Forgiveness won’t come easy for either of us, and it shouldn’t. She’ll have to earn it.”

  “I don’t know if I can fix it. It’s Tish, and I don’t know if I can fix it. I don’t know if I have it in me to try. And if I do, if I can, it wouldn’t be the same.”

  “You’ll fix it.” CiCi turned to kiss the top of Simone’s head. “You have it in you. No, it won’t be the same. It will say something else, something more. Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go in, pick up the pieces, assess the damage. We’ll take it up to your studio, and when you’re ready, you’ll start work on repairing it. In the meantime, we’re going to white sage the house and banish all that negative energy.”

  “Okay, but can we just sit here a little longer?”

  “Let’s do that.”

  * * *

  Harry came home from a round of golf feeling pumped. He’d knocked a couple strokes off his previous personal best to start what he had decided would be an excellent day.

  He had an hour before he was due to pick up Natalie for lunch with friends, then he intended to surprise his bride-to-be with an early evening showing at a house he thought might suit them both.

  A house, their house, equaled the next stage. Something they’d find and buy and outfit and finally live in together.

  The lady wanted a fall wedding, he’d wait. She wanted a big, formal wedding, he got on board the train. But he wanted that next stage.

  He let himself into his apartment, set his golf clubs by the door. Then he spotted Natalie curled on his living room sofa. His already bright mood went brighter still.

  “Hey, sweets. I didn’t—” Then he saw the tears, the ravaged face as her arms reached for him. “What’s wrong? What happened?”

  As he gathered her up, she broke into fresh sobs.

  “Oh Jesus, is it your parents? Your grandmother?”

  She shook her head fiercely. “Oh, Harry. I did something terrible.”

  “That’s hard to believe. Shh, don’t cry.” He dug out a handkerchief—his mother had trained him to carry one at all times—dabbed at her face. “Did you rob a bank? Kick a puppy?”

  “I went to see Simone.”

  “Okay. I’m guessing that didn’t go well.”

  “She hates me, Harry. CiCi hates me, too.”

  “They don’t.”

  “You don’t know. You don’t understand. Simone’s always been CiCi’s favorite. She dotes on her—peas in a pod, just like Mom says—and I get whatever’s left.”

  “If that’s true, there must be a lot left because every time I’ve seen you with your grandmother I’ve seen how much she loves you, how proud she is of you. I don’t see any hate.”

  “They do hate me. If they didn’t before, they do now after what happened.”

  “What happened?”

  “I didn’t mean to do it.” Gripping his shirt, she burrowed against him. “I was just so mad, and Simone was saying awful, awful things to me. And CiCi’s making them goddamn Bloody Marys, and I could just feel her laughing at me. I just lost my temper.”

  “God, Natalie, you didn’t hit your sister, did you?”

  “No! I just … I just lost my temper, and I pushed it over, and it broke. I didn’t mean to do it, and I was so sorry, but they wouldn’t listen.”

  “Pushed what?”

  “The statue. The bust of the woman.” Sick all over again, Natalie pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes. “Simone’s statue from that damn show in Florence. CiCi bought it, was always showing it off. I just shoved it, and it fell, and it broke. And after, like a second after, it was like someone else had done it. I was so shocked and sorry, and I tried to tell them. They wouldn’t listen.”

  “The woman coming out of the pool?” He’d seen it, admired it. “The one in CiCi’s great room?”

  “Yes, yes, yes. I just lost my temper. They—they ganged up on me, and I lost my temper, and then they wouldn’t let me apologize.”

  He pushed off the sofa to walk to the window. He could see the piece in his head, remembered that when he’d admired it how CiCi had told him about the show, about how she’d felt when she’d seen it.

  “Natalie, you knew what that piece meant to your grandmother, and to your sister.”

  “It was just there, and I didn’t mean it.”

  He came back, sat again, took her hand. “Natalie, I know you, and I know you’re not telling me the whole story.”

  “You’re taking her side.” She tried to pull her hand free, but he held tight.

  “I’m listening to your side, but don’t shade the truth.”

  “I didn’t come here to fight with you. I didn’t come here to fight with you over Simone. Again.”

  “We didn’t fight over Simone. We fought because you hadn’t told me the truth. You’d told me your sister couldn’t make it home for the party. That she was too busy. You let me think you’d told her and she’d said she couldn’t come.”

  “She was out west somewhere, so I assumed—”

  “We’re lawyers,” he interrupted. “We both know how to use half-truths and semantics. Don’t use them on me. What happened today?”

  Genuinely terrified, she gripped his shirt again. “Don’t turn on me, Harry. I couldn’t stand it if you turned on me.”

  Now he cupped her face with his hands. “That’s never going to happen. But we’re going to be straight with each other. Honest with each other.”

  “My parents … My mother’s upset because my father’s gone over to the island twice since the party.”

  “Your mother’s upset because your father’s spent some time with your sister?”

  “You don’t understand! You don’t understand. Simone’s just full of disdain where my mother’s concerned, and she’s ungrateful. After all they did for her, she dropped out of college, ran off to Europe.”

  He’d heard all this before, and tried to be patient. “Which sounds like it was the right decision for her. And if there’s an issue, it’s between your mother and your sister. It’s not your issue, Natalie.”

  “I love my mother.”

  “Of course you do. So do I.” He smiled, kissed her lightly. “Peas in a pod. Did you go to see her to talk or to fight?”

  “I’m a lawyer,” she tossed back. “I went to talk, and then she…”

  His gaze held hers, patiently. Love for him tangled up with guilt. “That’s not true. It was when I left home, but by the time I got to the island, to CiCi’s, I was furious. I started it. I started it. Oh God, Harry, I’m a terrible person.”

  “Don’t say that about the woman I love.” He gathered her up for a minute, loving her as much for her flaws as for her perfection. Just loving her. “Sit for a minute, sweets. I’m going to cancel our lunch plans.” And the showing, he thought.

  “I forgot. I forgot all about it.

  “We’ll reschedule. Then I’m going to pour us both some wine, and you’re going to talk this through with me. We’ll figure it out, sweets.”

  “I love you, Harry. I really love you.” She clung to him, a port in a storm. “You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”

  “Right back at you.”

  “I want it to be all her fault. I want to stay mad at her. It’s easier.”

  “I’m looking at your beautiful face, and those tears. So I don’t think it’s easier.”

  * * *

  CiCi set up her easel on the patio. Summer would fade before she knew it, so she counted every day of it as precious. She wouldn’t paint the view, but would continue to work on the study from one of Simone’s photos.

  The woman in the red hat—the wide, flat brim over a face lined with time and sun—perusing a bin of tomatoes at a street fair, with the wizened old man in the stall smiling at her.

  In her version the tomatoes became magic eggs, bold as jewels, and the bird perched on the striped awning a winged dragon.

  She’d played with the tones, the feel, the message for a week. Just as Simone had spent the week in focused, meticulous repair of the bust.

  CiCi wished them both blessings on their work, lit a candle for each of them, and began to mix paints.

  She called out a “Come in!” at the ring of her doorbell. She rarely locked the door—and this was one good reason. Whoever came calling could just come in rather than making her stop and go answer.

  “I’m out here.”


  Unsure whether to be relieved or wary at the sound of Natalie’s voice, CiCi set aside her paints, turned.

  The girl looked penitent, she decided. And full of nerves with her hand gripping the boy CiCi thought of as Handsome Harry.

  “Since you’ve always been a rule-follower, I’m going to believe you’ve decided to take responsibility, and figured out how to make amends.”

  “I’m taking responsibility. I’m going to try to make amends. I don’t know if I can, but I want to try. I’m so ashamed, CiCi, for what I said that day, for what I did. There are a lot of things I need to say to Simone, and I hope she’ll listen. But I need to tell you I knew how much that piece meant to you. I knew it represented a bond between you and Simone. I broke it because I don’t share that bond. And that’s unforgivable.”

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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
new Nora Roberts book
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