Carolina moon, p.17
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       Carolina Moon, p.17

           Nora Roberts

  into the fields, be picked and bagged and processed. Beaux Reves would go on, even with those who lived in it little more than ghosts.

  I was free shortly after noon. While my father expected me to work, to learn, to sweat, he also expected me to be a boy. He was a good man, a good father, and for the first twelve years of my life he was everything solid and warm and fine.

  I missed him long before he died.

  But when he cut me loose that day, I took my bike, the streamlined twelve-speed I'd been given for Christmas, and drove through the thick, hot wall of air all the way to Wade's. We had a tree house, back of

  Wade’s yard, up in an old sycamore. Dwight and Wade were already there, drinking lemonade and reading comic books. It was too damn hot to do much else, even if we were twelve. But Wade's mama never could leave us be. She was forever coming out and calling up asking didn't we want this or why didn't we come in and have a nice cold drink and a tuna fish sandwich. Miss Boots always did have a sweet heart, but she was a royal pain in our collective asses that summer. We were on the cusp of manhood, or so we considered ourselves, and it was more than mortifying to be offered tuna fish and Pepsi-Cola by a mother wearing a starched apron and an indulgent smile that turned us back into children again.

  We escaped, headed down to the river for a swim. I believe, out of duty, we made rude, and to us, brilliantly clever insults regarding Dwight's plump white ass. He, in turn, retaliated by comparing our male parts to various unattractive vegetables. Naturally, such activities kept us all in hysterics for an hour.

  It was very easy being twelve. We discussed important matters: Would the Rebel Alliance come back and defeat Darth Vader and the Evil Empire? Who was cooler—Superman or Batman? How would we con one of our parents into taking us to see the latest Friday the Thirteenth movie? We would never be able to face our schoolmates if we hadn't seen the insane Jason slaughter his annual quota of teenagers.

  Such were the vital questions of our lives at the moment

  Sometime after four, I suppose it was, after we'd made ourselves half sick on wasp-stung peaches and underripe pears, Dwight had to get home. His aunt Charlotte was coming in from Lexington for a visit, and he was expected to be clean and on time for supper.

  Dwight’s parents were strict, and it would not pay him to be late.

  We knew he would be forced to wear pressed shorts and a bow tie for the evening, and with the generosity of friends, we waited until he was out of earshot to snicker about it

  Wade and I left soon after, parting ways on the road. He for town and me for Beaux Reves.

  I passed Tory on the way. She didn't have a bike. She was walking home, toward me. I imagine she'd been up playing with Hope. Her feet were bare and dusty, and her shirt was too small. I didn't really notice any of that at the time, but I remember now just how she looked, that heavy brown hair pulled back from her face, those big gray eyes that stared right into mine as I zoomed by without a word. I could hardly have taken a moment to speak to a girl and maintain my manly dignity. But I recall glancing back, and seeing her walking away on strong legs tanned with summer.

  The next time I saw her legs, there were fresh welts scoring them.

  Hope was on the veranda when I got there, playing jacks. I wonder if young girls still play jacks. Hope was a terror at it, and could whoop at anyone she persuaded to challenge her. She tried to get me to play, even promised to give me a handicap. Which, of course, insulted me beyond bearing. I think I told her jacks were for babies and I had more important things to do. Her laugh, and the sound of the ball bouncing, followed me inside.

  I would give a year of my life to go back to that moment and sit on the veranda while she beat me at jacks.

  The evening passed as others had. Lilah shooed me upstairs to bathe, saying I smelled of river skunk.

  Mama was in the front parlor. I knew because the music she liked was playing. I didn't go in, as I knew from experience she didn't care much for smelly, sweaty boys in the front parlor.

  It's funny, looking back I see how much we were, Wade, Dwight, and I, ruled by our mothers. Wade's with her fluttery hands and warm eyes, Dwight's with her bags of cookies and candy, and mine with her unbending notions of what was tolerable, and what was not

  I never realized that before, and don't suppose it matters at this point. It might have mattered then, if we'd understood it .

  On this evening, what mattered was avoiding my mother's disapproval, so I headed straight up the stairs. Faith was in her room, putting some fancy dress on one of her pack of Barbie dolls. I know because I took the time and trouble to stop at her door and sneer.

  I had a shower, as I had, shortly before, decided baths were for girls and old wrinkled men. I'm sure I put my dirty clothes in the hamper, as Lilah would have twisted the lobe of my ear if I'd done otherwise. I put on clean clothes, combed my hair, likely took a few moments to flex my biceps and study the results in the mirror. Then I went downstairs. We had chicken for supper. Roast chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, and the peas that were fresh from the garden. Faith didn't care for peas and refused to eat hers, which might have been tolerated, but she made an issue of it, as Faith often did, and ended up sassing Mama and being sent from the table in disgrace. I believe Chauncy, Papa's faithful old hound who died the next winter, got what was left on her plate.

  After supper, I poked around outside, devising a way I would talk Papa into letting me build a fort. Thus far my efforts in this area had been a dismal failure, but I thought if I could locate the right spot, one that would conceal the proposed structure so that it wouldn't be the eyesore Papa imagined, I would succeed.

  It was during this reconnoiter that I found Hope's bike where she'd hidden it behind the camellias.

  I never thought of tattling. It just wasn't the way we worked as siblings, unless temper or self-interest outweighed loyalty. It didn't even concern me, though I imagined she planned to sneak out and meet Tory somewhere that night as they were thick as thieves all that summer. I knew she'd done so before, and didn't blame her. Mama was much more strict on her daughters than she was on her son. So I said nothing about the bike and set my mind on the fort.

  One word from me, and her plans would have been shattered. She'd have shot me one of her hot, angry looks under her lashes, and likely have refused to speak to me for a day, two if she could hold out And she'd have been alive.

  Instead, I went back into the house around dusk and planted myself in front of the TV as was my right on a long summer night Being twelve, I had a powerful appetite and eventually wandered out to hunt up some appropriate snack. I ate potato chips and watched Hill Street Blues and wondered what it was like to be a policeman.

  By the time I went to bed, with a full stomach and tired eyes, my sister was already dead.

  He'd thought he could write more, but he couldn't manage it. He'd intended to write down what he knew about his sister's murder, and the murder of a young girl named Alice, but his thoughts had veered away from the facts and the logic and had left him steeped in memories and grief.

  He hadn't realized how completely she would come alive for him if he wrote of her. How the pictures of that night, and the horrible images of the next morning, would run through his mind like a film.

  Was that, he wondered, how it was for Tory? Like a movie playing in the mind that would not be stopped?

  No, it was more. Did she know that when she'd been caught in that vision the night before she'd spoken to the girl rather than about her? Perhaps the girl Alice had spoken through her.

  What kind of strength did it take to face that, to survive it and build a life?

  He picked up what he'd written, started to lock it in a drawer of the old desk. Instead he folded the pages, sealed them in an envelope.

  He would need to see Tory again. Need to speak with her again. He'd been right on that first day when he'd told her the ghost of his sister stood right there between them.

  There would be no going forward or
back until they'd each come to terms with what they'd lost.

  He heard the old grandfather clock call the hour with its hollow, echoing bongs. Two lonely beats. He would be up again in four hours, dressing in the pale light, eating the breakfast Lilah would insist on fixing, then driving from field to field, eyeing the crops with all the faith and fatalism every farmer was born with, checking for pests, studying the sky.

  Despite, or perhaps because of, all the science he studied and implemented, Cade's Beaux Reves was more plantation than the farm of his father. He hired more laborers, stuck with more handwork than the generation before him. He put more effort, and more of the profits, into the ginning and the compression and storage and processing than his father, and his grandfather, had been willing to do. It made Beaux Reves a self-contained antebellum plantation, and at the same time, a kind of busy, diversified factory.

  And still, with his charts and his science and his careful business plans, he would stand and study the sky and hope nature cooperated.

  In the end, he thought, as he picked up the envelope, it all came down to fate.

  He switched off the desk lamp and used the moonlight spilling through the windows to guide him down the curving stairs and out of the tower office. He'd need those four hours' sleep, he told himself, as after the morning work he had afternoons at the plant. He reminded himself to pick up some samples for Tory, and work up a proposal.

  If he could pull all that together, he could go see her the next night. As he stepped into his room, he weighed the envelope in his hand, then switched on the light and tucked the envelope into the briefcase that sat beside his field boots.

  He was unbuttoning his shirt when the faint breeze and the drift of smoke it carried had him glancing toward his terrace doors. He stepped over, noted they were open a chink, and through the glass saw the red glow of a burning cigarette.

  "I wondered if you'd ever come down." Faith turned. She was wearing the robe she favored these days, and spreading her arms on the stone, struck a kind of pose.

  “Why don't you smoke out your own window?" "I don't have this fine terrace, like the master of the house." That had been another bone of contention. And though he agreed that she'd have made more of the master suite than he, it hadn't been worth fighting their mother over her insistence he take it after his father's death.

  She lifted the cigarette, drew slowly.

  "You're still mad at me. I don't blame you. That was a lousy thing to do. I just don't think when my temper's up."

  "If that's an apology, fine. Now, go on and let me go to bed."

  "I'm sleeping with Wade."

  "Jesus." Cade pressed his fingers to his eyes and wondered why they didn't just bore through his brain. "You figure that's something I need to know?"

  "I found out one of your secrets, so I'm telling you one of mine. We'll be even."

  "I'll make a note to take an ad on it out in the paper. Wade." He dropped down into the iron chair on the terrace, slumped. "Goddamn it."

  "Oh, don't be that way. We're getting along just fine. "Until you chew him up and spit him out.”

  "I don't plan to." Then she gave a short, humorless laugh. "I never plan to, it just happens." She sent the butt of the cigarette sailing over the rail, never thinking that her mother would find it and be annoyed. "He makes me feel good. Why does something have to be wrong with that?"

  "It doesn't. It's your business."

  "The way you and Tory is yours." She stepped over, crouched down so their eyes were level. "I am sorry, Cade. It was mean and spiteful of me to say what I did, and I wish I could take it back."

  "You always do."

  "No, I might say I do, but half the time I don't mean it. This time I do." Since there was more fatigue than anger in his eyes, she reached up to dance her fingers in his hair. She'd always envied the weight and the curl of his hair.

  "But you don't pay any attention to Mama. She's got no business telling you what to do. Even if she's probably right."

  He caught a drift of his mother's jasmine, the night bloomer. "She's not right." "Well, I'm the last one to give advice on romantic entanglements—" "Exactly."

  She arched a brow. "Ouch. That was a quick little stab. But, as I was going to say before I started bleeding, this family is screwed up enough on its own without adding a strange element like Tory Bodeen to the mix."

  "She's a part of what happened that night." "Oh Lord, Cade, we were screwed up long before Hope died."

  He looked so frustrated at that statement, and so tired, she nearly backed off, made some joke out of the whole thing. But she'd been doing a lot of thinking since Tory had come back to town. It was time to say it.

  "You think about it." Anger with him, and more than a little self-loathing, made her voice sharp as honed tacks. "We were made the minute we were born, all three of us. And Mama and Papa before us. You think their marriage was some sort of love match? You might like to look at the pretty side of things, but you know better than that."

  "They had a good marriage, Faith, until—"

  "A good marriage?" With a sound of disgust, she pushed to her feet, dragged her cigarettes from her robe pocket. "What the hell does that mean? A good marriage? That they were suited for each other, that it was smart and convenient for the heir of the county's biggest and richest plantation to marry the well-to-do debutante? Fine, it was a good marriage. Maybe they even had feelings for each other, for a while anyway. They did their duty," she said bitterly, and snapped on her lighter. "They made us."

  "They did their best," Cade said wearily. "You never wanted to see that."

  "Maybe their best was never good enough, not for me. And I don't see why it was for you. What choice did they ever give you, Cade? All your life you were expected and groomed to be the master of Beaux Reves. What if you'd wanted to be a plumber, for God's sake."

  "That always was my secret life's ambition. I often fix a leaky faucet just to give myself a thrill."

  She laughed, and the roughest edge of her anger smoothed. "You know very well what I mean. You might have wanted to be an engineer or a writer or a doctor, or something, but you weren't given the chance to choose. You were the oldest son, the only son, and your path was set."

  "You're right. And I don't know what might have happened if I'd wanted to be any of those things. But the point is, Faith, I didn't."

  "Well, how could you, growing up and hearing 'When Cade runs Beaux Reves,' and 'When Cade's in charge'? You never got to be anything else, never got to say 'I'm going to play guitar in a rock-and-roll band.' "

  This time he laughed and she sighed and leaned back against the rail. It reminded her why she so often came to his room, so often sought out his company. With Cade she could say what she needed to. He'd let her. He'd listen.

  "Don't you see, Cade, they made us what we are, and maybe you got what you wanted in the end. I'm glad you did, and I mean that."

  "I know you do."

  "That still doesn't make it right. You were expected to be smart, to know things, to figure things. And while you were off learning your life's work, I was here being told to behave, to speak softly, not to run in the house."

  "You can take comfort that you rarely listened."

  "I might've," she murmured. "I might've if I hadn't already figured out that this house was a training ground for a good wife, a good marriage, just like Mama’d made before me. No one ever asked me if I wanted something more, something else, and when I questioned I was shushed. 'Let your father worry about that, or your brother. Practice your piano, Faith. Read a good book so that you can discuss it intelligently. But not too intelligently. Wouldn't want some man to think you might be smarter than he is. When you marry, it'll be your job to make a pleasant home.' "

  She stared at the tip of her cigarette. "A pleasant home. That was to be the sum total of my ambitions, according to the rules of Lavelles. So, of course, being me, I was bound and determined to do just the opposite. I wasn't going to discover myself some dried-up
repressed woman at thirty, no indeed. I made sure that wouldn't happen to me. Ran off with the first slick-talking, wild-eyed boy who asked me, one who was everything I wasn't supposed to want. Married and divorced before I was twenty."

  "That showed them, didn't it?" Cade murmured.

  "Yes, it did. As did my next foray into marriage and divorce. Marriage was all I'd been trained for, after all. Not Mama's kind of marriage. I twisted that around and strangled myself doing it. Now here I am, twenty-six years old and two strikes against me. And no place to go but here."

  "Here you are," Cade commented. "Twenty-six years old, beautiful, smart, and experienced enough to know better than to repeat your mistakes. You never asked for any part in the farm, or the plant. If you want to learn, if you want work—"

  The look she sent him stopped the words.

  It was so quietly indulgent. "You really are too good for the rest of us. Christ knows how you manage it. It's too late for that, Cade. I'm a product of my upbringing and my own rebellion against it. I'm lazy and I like it. One of these days I'll find me a rich and doddering old man and charm him into marrying me. I'll take good care of him, of course, and spend his money like water. I might even be faithful, too. I was with the others, for all the good it did me. Then, with luck and time, I'll be a rich widow, and that, I think, will suit me best."

  The way it suits Mama, she thought bitterly. Bitterly. "You're more than you think you are, Faith. A hell of a lot more."

  "No, honey, it's likely I'm a great deal less. Maybe it would've all turned out different, just a few shades different, anyway, if Hope had lived. You see, she never even had the chance to live."

  "That's no one's fault but the bastard who killed her."

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