Read Island Girl Online

Authors: Lynda Simmons

Island Girl (3 page)

BOOK: Island Girl
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“Ruby, darlin’,” he’d say. “There is nothing sexier than watching you clip those coupons. Gets me all hot and bothered just sittin’ here.” That much was true. Doubtless because I was building a healthy sum in the coffee tin we were filling for our future together.
His name was Gideon, he hailed from Oklahoma, and he was just another draft dodger who found his way to the Island during the sixties and seventies. I was no child when he arrived in 1974. No breathless virgin waiting to be wakened to the joys of sex, but the day that man stepped off the ferry, I stood perfectly still on the dock, barely breathing while I watched him come down the ramp.
Gideon may have been a hayseed back home, but to me he was a dark and exotic mystery. A man who smiled easily, knew every sensitive spot on a woman’s body, and played a mean guitar. Grandma Lucy warned me about him from the start, but I fell in love anyway. Made us a nest in my room and gave birth to his daughter a year later. I even thought about marriage every time I clipped a coupon or stashed another bill in that tin.
Liz was almost two years old when Jimmy Carter granted amnesty to all the artful dodgers in January 1977. I left Chez Ruby early that day, heading home to celebrate. Mary Anne met me at my front door, told me Gideon and my money had hopped on the ferry an hour earlier, bound for the city and a train to warmer climes. She knew because she caught him packing the coffee tin into a duffel bag when she dropped by to check on Grandma Lucy.
“I have spent long enough on this godforsaken spit of land,” he’d said. “And I am sick to death of leaving my balls at the dock.”
She tried to stop him, ending up on her backside in a snow-bank for her trouble. I haven’t heard from him since and don’t care to either. He was just another man I have loved. Another man who has a daughter who looks just like him. And Grandma Lucy was right again.
I made my way to the front of the
where old Benny Barnes had taken up his position at the railing. Benny’s family has lived on the Island as long as mine, maybe longer, but I don’t remember him aging. As far as I can tell, he has always been old, which must have been easier than coming to it the way I did—head on and without warning.
He nodded and moved his bike over so we could stand together, watching the harbor come closer and closer. The skyline has changed dramatically over the past few years. More office towers, more condos—nothing that means anything to me. I prefer the view at night when the lake reflects the lights and the city looks like a fairyland from my bedroom window.
“Gonna be a hot one,” Benny said.
I smiled and turned my back on the city, watching the Island recede while he made small talk. Special on pork chops at Sobeys. Another damn rock festival coming. And finally, “Poor Mike lost another bicycle. Kids dumped it in the Eastern Gap. Someone ought to do something.”
“Indeed,” I said, not mentioning my thoughts about my own bike and the watery graveyard at the bottom of the gap. Some things you kept to yourself on the Island.
began to slow. The deckhands readied the ropes for docking and Benny raised the kickstand on his bike. “You shopping today?”
“Not today.” I left it at that, joining the pack heading down the ramp before he got his bike rolling. No one needed to know why I was in the city. Not even me.
I stood for a moment at the traffic lights on Front Street, checking my notebook, reading again the first few lines.
Find Liz. Go to 100 King Street. Look up Mark Bernier.
King Street wasn’t far from the harbor and I found the address in under fifteen minutes. But since when were community legal clinics located in bank towers? Worried I’d taken down the address wrong, I ventured over to the directory and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the sign for Fleming, Hitchcock, Romney and Bernier, Barristers and Solicitors. Thirtieth floor.
So much for community legal work. And I couldn’t help smiling as I walked into the elevator, wondering if Mark ever missed his principles.
I met Mark in 1979 at a Save the Island Homes rally. I was with Eric then, the one with the blue eyes who would be Grace’s father in a year but never know it. Mark was big—six foot four—with a handshake that made my teeth rattle and an openness that took me off guard. Both Eric and I liked him right away, and Liz adored him, but she was only four and based her judgment solely on the fact that he always brought treats, so hers was not a fair assessment.
Even then, he spoiled that girl, but I was pleased when he kept coming to the meetings, grateful he was there the day Eric took the ferry into the city for the last time, and shocked he didn’t run for the next one after I confessed in a drunken slur that I was pregnant.
Mark stayed with me through everything. The pregnancy, the birth, those first horrible weeks, trying to keep Liz from lugging that baby around like it was her own. I was surprised to find him still with us when Grace turned one. I’m not sure when we decided we were officially living together, but if you were to ask Mark, he’d say it was the day Grace was born.
A pretty redhead looked up from the reception desk and smiled. “Can I help you?”
“I’m looking for Mark Bernier.”
“Do you have an appointment?” She frowned when I shook my head. “I’m afraid Mr. Bernier is tied up in meetings for the day—”
“Tell him his ex-wife is here. And tell him she’s pissed.”
She was on her feet at once. “I’ll be right back.”
I have never been anyone’s wife, but I knew the line would work better than, “A situation has come up and I could use his advice because I’m very confused right now, but I can’t afford a lawyer and I’m hoping he’ll be a sweetie and help me out, you know?”
Sure enough, she was back within minutes, escorting me along gleaming hardwood to an office furnished with leather chairs, a rosewood desk, and modern art, undoubtedly expensive, on the walls.
Mark looked up from that desk as I stepped past the secretary. “Ruby, good to see you.”
I paused, suddenly flustered. “It’s good to see you too.”
He rose and approached, hand outstretched, face collapsing into a minefield of wrinkles when he smiled. My God, but the man had aged. I couldn’t help wondering if he was thinking the same thing as he took my hand.
My God, Ruby’s looking old.
But he said, “You look fabulous,” and I smiled back, wanting to believe him. He may have been older, but his handshake hadn’t changed and my teeth were still rattling when he said, “Have a seat,” and led me to the desk.
“I assume you’re no longer in the legal aid business,” I said, taking in the floor-to-ceiling view of the city before sitting down. “What made you change your mind?”
“Debt mostly. Drink?” he asked, indicating a bar on the far side of the room.
I was still curious about his leap into the world of big law, but nothing about him indicated a willingness to chat about that chapter in his life. So I said, “Not right now,” and stashed my purse under the chair. “Thanks for seeing me.”
“I always make a point of seeing a pissed-off ex.” He sat down and folded his hands. “What can I do for you, Ruby?”
And suddenly I had no idea. Not a clue as to why I was there.
“I need to talk to you,” I said, because it made sense.
“About what?”
“It’s hard to explain,” I said, and waited, hoping it would get easier. Or at least clearer.
He tipped his head to one side. “Do you want to try?”
“I hardly know where to start.” I rose and walked around to his side of the desk because it felt like the natural thing to do. The picture in the frame by the phone made me pause. Mark and a little girl in a tree house. Same brown hair, same green eyes. His daughter? Possibly, but where was the mother? Why no shots of her?
“Ruby? Are you okay?”
“Yes, of course.” I smiled harder and did the only thing that came to mind. I moved in closer, making him roll his chair back to accommodate me. Those green eyes flicked up and down my body. He let out a long controlled breath, inched his chair back a little farther, and I could have cried. The child’s mother aside, he still found the ex tempting.
I perched myself on the corner of his desk. “I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately,” I said, which was probably true. Why else would I be there? “And I’m happy to see that life has been good to you.”
He rolled his chair back farther still. “What do you want?”
“A chance to get reacquainted? Let bygones be bygones?”
“Ruby, you can’t—”
“Can’t what?” I leaned forward slightly. “Stoke an old flame? See what flares up?”
He leapt up, knocking over his chair, and flattening himself against the wall. “For God’s sake, what are you doing?”
“Trying to stir up some memories,” I said, which was definitely true. I moved closer, pressed myself against him, ran my hands over his chest. “I see it’s working.”
“It’s not working.”
“You never could lie to me. Not about this.” Cupping his face in my hands, I brought his mouth down to mine, kissed him lightly, once, twice. Third time and he was on me, dragging my mouth closer, covering my lips with his and trying to get his tongue inside. He might have been older and out of shape, but he was hard in a hurry and he still wanted me.
“Oh, Mark,” I said, feigning breathlessness, hoping the real thing would overtake me while I tried to pull him to the floor.
Halfway there, he stopped, dragged me back to my feet, and stepped away from me. “What the hell are you doing? What is this about?”
“Reconciliation?” He looked doubtful and my shoulders slumped. “All right fine, I don’t know what it’s about right now. Let’s assume it’s about sex. Let’s just do it and I’ll leave.”
He held a hand over his belt buckle. “Ruby, stop. I’m not going to let you screw up my life again.”
“I screwed up your life?”
“For years and years to come.” He moved me around to the other side of the desk, sat me in the chair. “I need a drink. Do you want one?”
“Something red. Something I wouldn’t buy for myself.” I flopped back in the chair, told myself to concentrate. There was a reason I was there. I was sure of it. I crossed my legs and my foot nudged a purse under the chair. My purse. The one with my notebook inside.
While Mark poured us both a glass of something red, I took out the notebook, read the first line.
Find Liz.
Of course. Find Liz. I gave myself a mental slap.
Stay on track, Ruby.
He set a glass on the desk in front of me. I raised it and sniffed. Pomegranate juice. Definitely red. Definitely something I wouldn’t buy for myself. I should have known.
He carried his own glass around to his side of the desk. “Okay, be honest. What has gotten into you today?”
“Today, nothing. But last week ...” I closed the notebook and set it on my lap. “Last week was another story completely.”
“Go on,” he said more gently than I’d expected. But then he had always been gentle, hadn’t he? Even on the day I threw him out. If only I could remember why I’d done that.
“Ruby,” he said. “Tell me what happened last week.”
“Last week. Yes. That’s why I’m here.” I drew in a quick breath and said the words out loud for the first time since the diagnosis. “I have early onset Alzheimer’s.”
If I’d hoped for a feeling of relief, a lightening of the load perhaps, I was sorely disappointed. The telling had only made it more real, more frightening, more final. It didn’t help that Mark’s face drained of color. Or that he shook his head and moistened his lips. I watched the horror leave his eyes, saw comprehension take its place, and in a flash, I became something new in those eyes, something dreadful. An object of pity.
He tried to say something, but his first attempt failed. He couldn’t find the words, sounding much like I imagine I’ll sound in a year or two. “Are you sure?” he managed at last. “Have you been tested?”
“Extensively. The actual diagnosis was a year ago. I’ve been on medication since and it seemed to be working fine until a few weeks ago. So I went back for a checkup, thinking all I needed was an adjustment on the meds. It hadn’t been that long, after all. But apparently I have the form that progresses rapidly. This time next year, I probably won’t know you.”
“This makes no sense. You’re too young.”
“Like I said, it’s early onset.”
“But no one in your family had it.”
“My mother died young. Who knows what might have happened later? And I’m sure now that Grandma Lucy had it, but no one knew. We just thought she was old and doddery.”
He reached across the desk to take my hand. “Ruby, I’m sorry.”
“Me too.” I looked down at our hands. His were huge, paws really, made for working outside, for cutting wood and tilling soil, not for pushing papers around on a desk. He’d always dreamed of going north, as far as Alaska, to work on the land and see justice done. But he’d been tied to the city in his youth. Tied by an unaccountable love for me and my daughters, and I couldn’t bring myself to pull away just yet. “As much as I appreciate your sympathy, you don’t have to worry about me, because I don’t plan to stick it out.”
BOOK: Island Girl
13.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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