Outstanding praise for the novels of Holly Chamberlin!
SUMMER WITH MY SISTERS
“Heartfelt and warm . . . a wonderful
âRT Book Reviews
THE BEACH QUILT
“A thoughtful novel.”
“A great summer read.”
“A novel rich in drama and insights into what factors bring
people together and, just as fatefully, tear them apart.”
âThe Portland Press Herald
THE FAMILY BEACH HOUSE
“Explores questions about the meaning of home,
family dynamics and tolerance.”
âThe Bangor Daily News
“An enjoyable summer read, but it's more. It is a novel for all
seasons that adds to the enduring excitement of Ogunquit.”
âThe Maine Sunday Telegram
“It does the trick as a beach book and provides a touristy
taste of Maine's seasonal attractions.”
Sex and the City
will enjoy the women's romantic
escapades and appreciate the roundtable discussions these
gals have about the trials and tribulations singletons face.”
Books by Holly Chamberlin
THE SUMMER OF US
BACK IN THE GAME
THE FRIENDS WE KEEP
ONE WEEK IN DECEMBER
THE FAMILY BEACH HOUSE
THE SUMMER EVERYTHING CHANGED
THE BEACH QUILT
SUMMER WITH MY SISTERS
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
As always, for Stephen
And this time also in memory of Cyrus Smith
Thanks once again to John Scognamiglio for everything. Also, my most sincere gratitude to the staff at Casco Bay Veterinary Hospitalâespecially to Dr. Marc Ouellette, Dr. Sara Leven, Heather Elliott, and Amanda Ellisâfor their excellent care of Cyrus in his final weeks and moments.
Love is like quicksilver in the hand.
Leave the fingers open and it stays.
Clutch it, and it darts away.
erity, have you finished collating that handout?”
Didn't someone build a machine for that, like, thirty years ago?
I thought. “Almost,” I told my boss. One of my bosses. When you're clerical staff, pretty much everyone else at the office is your superior, at least from nine in the morning until five in the afternoon. Below me in the hierarchy at Rowland Electronics are the cleaning staff, who come in at ten minutes after five every Wednesday, and the kid in the mail room. I say kid because he's just seventeen, a high school dropout who nevertheless is super efficient at his job, and for all of my time at the company at least he's never missed a day of work.
Amy frowned down at me where I sat at my tiny desk in a creaky, duct-taped chair that definitely predated my birth twenty-four years ago. “As soon as you can, please. My meeting starts in half an hour.” Amy Howard, the least pleasant of my bosses, stalked off in the direction of her cubicle.
For a brief moment, as I looked down at the stapler and the short stacks of Xeroxed printouts before me, I felt an intense desire to overturn the desk (it probably wouldn't have been difficult, as it, too, was old and a bit shaky) and go running out of the building. That's what boredom can do to you, make you feel and act like a crazy person.
Of course, I did no such thing, and continued to organize and to staple and to remind myself that I very much needed this job. My art had gotten me nowhere, at least in a financial sense, and with a baby to support pretty much on my own, any source of income was welcome.
The thought of Gemma, my daughter, instantly made me smile and sit up straighter and focus my attention on the task at hand, however boring. Gemma, who has the cutest little nose and the most adorable way of fluttering her little fingers while being fed, was with Barbara at the moment (it being Barbara's day off) probably sleepingâshe usually slept from about eight to ten each morning, after which she would wake with a roar and demand her bottle. Barbara, my colleague here at Rowland Electronics, has generously taken Gemma and me in until I can afford a place of my own. Alan, Gemma's father, my former fiancÃ©, is still living in the tiny apartment we shared for the past few years until I announced I was leaving him and taking Gemma with me.
The decision wasn't a snap one. No, it had been a long time coming, and I made up my mind only after I'd given Alan the benefit of the doubt time and time again, only after I'd made all sorts of excuses for his odd and controlling behavior, only after I'd finally worked up the nerve to disappoint my father and his mother by breaking things off. You see, from the outside looking in, Alan could be considered a doting and caring and utterly devoted man a woman would be crazy to reject. From the inside, well, from the inside it's different.
The crisis point came when one evening, Alan, under one of his weird delusions that I wasn't taking proper care of our infant daughter, attempted to snatch her from my arms, in the process of which, if I hadn't been agile and quick, she would have fallen to the floor.
Since then, since Gemma and I moved in with Barbara a few weeks ago, I've been seeing Alan on a somewhat regular basis. To talk, nothing more, and always in a public place, which was my mandate. And surprisingly, he's been acting, well, normally. Calmly. Rationally. He's apologized for various failings. He's brought me flowers. His mother's told me he's vowed to make some big changes and work on his temper, his possessiveness about me that can lead to jealous rages, and get past the suspension he's currently under here at Rowland and never get suspended again. And last week Alan asked to see Gemma, and after some hesitation I agreed. “Always with you,” he said, “always in a public place.”
Things are going well. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I'll go back to Alan someday, put back on the engagement ring he insisted I keep, and start planning our wedding. No, I don't really see that happening, but what I do hope happens is that we threeâour familyâGemma, Alan, and I, can really
a family, not estranged from one another, not just a family on paper.
Finished. I gathered up the stack of collated handouts and brought them to Amy's cubicle.
“All done,” I said.
With a muttered word of thanksâI thinkâAmy took the stack and waved me off.
When I was a few feet from my desk, my phone rang. It was an outside line, not a call from one of my many superiors, who in fact usually prefer to give me orders in person.
It must be Barbara
, I thought.
Maybe Gemma's being fussy
“Hello?” I said into the receiver.
“Verity.” It was Barbara, and she sounded odd. Stricken or something. My heart leaped nearly into my mouth.
“Is Gemma sick?” I asked quickly. “Should I come home?”
“No, it's not that.” And then she sobbed. “She's gone! Oh, Verity, Gemma is gone!”
uesday the twentieth of May started out as a day much like any other. I woke at around six thirty and spent a few minutes stretching under the sheets, a usual preliminary to putting my feet on the floor. And then, sitting up and swinging my legs over the side of the bed, I sent a message to my daughter, wherever she was, telling her I loved her and always would. Wishing her a happy day. Wishing her a good life.
I would send these messages to my daughter throughout the day. My daughter is never far from my mind. She lives with me, inside me, around me, always.
Then it was down to the kitchen to make coffee and eat breakfast. After breakfast, a shower and a mental note to add hair conditioner to the shopping list. Not coconut scented. David hates to smell like a coconut, and since he was nice enough to change the brand of hand soap he used for me, the least I could do was buy strawberry-scented conditioner. David doesn't mind smelling like artificial strawberries.
The day ahead included a quick stop at the good old-fashioned family-run pharmacy downtown here in Yorktide; another stop at the library to pick up a book they're holding for me, a study of the life of Joan of Arc I've been dying to read; and then on to my studio at the college, where I'd put the final touches on the syllabus for an art class I'm scheduled to teach this summer. Now that the spring semester is officially over there's no excuse not to be ready for the next round of students.
I was almost to the front door when the landline rang. I hesitated. Not many people call on that number, and most often it's someone with something to sell. But then I thought,
Marionâit might be my once-almost-mother-in-law,
and I hurried back into the kitchen, where there's an extension next to the microwave.
“Hello?” I said. Only then did I notice that the caller's number was not Marion's.
“Is this Verity Peterson?” It was a woman's voice, melodic, with a noticeable Spanish accent.
“Yes,” I said. “Who is this?”
“My name is Soledad Valdes. I'm with the Protection of Minors Agency here in Arizona.”
I thought, government agenciesâif she was calling from a government agencyâdon't raise money through cold-calling. And then . . .
“You found her?” I demanded. My skin suddenly felt all prickly, and for half a second I thought I was passing out. “Is this what this call is about?”
“I had hoped to break the good news to you gently,” the woman said, a bit of a smile in her voice. “I know it must be a great shock.”
A shock? Oh yes, it was a shock. It still is a shock.
“How?” I asked, leaning back against the counter for support. “How did you find her? Her father, is he with her?”
Clearly and succinctly, Soledad Valdes told me the circumstances of Alan and Gemma's discovery. A man named Jim Armstrong had been caught stealing a car and was arrested. When his fingerprints were run through the national database, they were found to match those of one Alan Burns, long suspected in connection with the abduction of his infant daughter. Criminal record of assault. History of restraining orders.
“It wasn't difficult after that,” Soledad explained, “to put the pieces together.”
“How is she?” I asked, both eager and afraid to hear the answer to my question. “Is she all right? Is she hurt?”
“She's not hurt. But she is confused and more than a little angry. She was told you were dead, for one, so learning that you're alive and well has been quite a shock.”
“So, Alan, her fatherâ”
“He's admitted he took her, yes. He's not denying anything. And it seems he told Marniâthat's the name he gave herâit seems he told her from the start that he'd, well, that he'd rescued her from an abusive home.”
I don't know why the words hurt so badlyâI'd suspected as much from Alanâbut they did. To have some of my worst suspicions confirmed.
“But physically?” I asked again, dreading the answer, feeling my hand tighten on the receiver. “Is she healthy?”
“She seems to be fine,” Soledad said. “Even though she's furious with her father, she swears he treated her well. I've been in this business a long time, and I've learned to recognize a lie when I hear it. And kids lie for some very good reasons. But I'd say she's telling the truth. She's not an abused child.”
Well, that was something for which to be grateful. Except that she'd been lied to from almost the first day of her life. Wasn't that abuse?
“Where is she?” I asked. “Where is my daughter?”
“She's under our care. She's with a very solid foster family until we can arrange for you to be reunited.”
“I want my daughter,” I said. “As soon as possible I want her here with me.”
Soledad attempted to soothe my growing agitation with the promise that the bureaucratic wheels were in motion, but I wasn't satisfied. I'd waited for seventeen years, sometimes patiently, sometimes not so patiently. Now I felt that if I didn't have Gemma back home with me immediately, I would burst. I said as much.
“I assure you, Ms. Peterson,” she went on, with a truly admirable degree of patience, “that we're working to get your daughter back home as soon as possible.”
She promised to get in touch with me again when there was more to say, and ended the call with these words: “I'm so very happy for you, Ms. Peterson. So very happy.”
So very happy.
Not long after Alan and Gemma went missing, I allowed myself to be coaxed into joining a support group for parents of missing or dead children. I was the only parent whose child had been kidnapped, and by her own father at that. The seventeen-year-old son of one man had run away, leaving a scathing note of blame for his unhappiness. This father swore endlessly that he had been guilty of nothing more heinous than mild punishments when his son had disobeyed a direct order. The twelve-year-old daughter of another man had died of brain cancer. Two sets of parents had lost children to car accidents; the daughter of one of the families had been driving illegally. The fifteen-year-old daughter of one woman had gone off with her twenty-year-old boyfriend. One young couple, about my age, in fact, was mourning their stillborn baby. We were a motley crew, united only in tears, anger, guilt, and bewilderment.
But it wasn't long before I realized I couldn't tolerate witnessing the pain of others. All it did was to reinforce my own pain. And that's what it felt like, a layering on of sorrow, a fastening on of grief, an exclusive club of misery, rather than a real way forward. I'm sure support groups help a lot of people. They wouldn't be in existence if they didn't. But it didn't work for me.
No one in the group encouraged me to stay. I believe no one there really cared about anyone else's pain but his or hers. Can you blame them?
What would anyone in that group say if they knew that after all these years I've been given back my lost child? Would anyone be happy for me, really, truly happy, as I believed Soledad Valdes was happy?
I abandoned my plans for the day, though I realized I had no idea what I was supposed to
while I waited for Soledad's next call.
Except to cry. The tears simply leaked from my eyes, and I let them come in a flood of great, great relief.