Authors: Summer Newman
Copyright © November 2013, Summer Newman
Cover art by Fiona Jayde © November 2013
Formatting by Bob Houston eBook Formatting
Charlotte, NC 28227
No part of this e-book may be reproduced or shared by any electronic or mechanical means, including but not limited to printing, file sharing, and e-mail, without prior written permission from Amira Press.
This novel is dedicated to all the colorblind people of the world.
Ethan Harrington rose at first light, gathered his things, checked out of the downtown hotel and rented a car. He drove out of the city and turned down the Prospect Road, immediately noticing how different everything looked. Where there had been unbroken wilderness five years ago, there was now a retail park, an exhibition building, and a transportation and business complex. He passed a new gas station, felt a sense of relief to see the majority of houses unchanged, then noticed his heart quickening as he approached the little village of Shad Bay. By the time he entered it, he could feel his pulse pounding in his wrists and temples. A film of perspiration formed on his forehead.
He took a deep breath and exhaled loudly as he drove down the hill. It was still only seven o’clock, and no one was out and about. There was not a breath of wind, and the bay was absolutely still, the houses on the hills surrounding it reflected with perfect clarity on its mirrorlike surface. Ethan pulled over and looked at a small yellow house on the hill behind the beach, smoke curling from the chimney. He wondered if she was there. Had she sold her house, and had someone new moved in? Had she married and begun a family? Or was she there right now? What would she say, and what would she think when she saw him after all these years?
He didn’t know, and a large part of him was afraid to find out.
Ethan pulled in front of a stately home and slid a green envelope inside the mailbox. The mailbox was illustrated with an Atlantic salmon leaping out of a dark blue river, the name “Harrington” hanging below it on a wooden panel. He continued up the road to the bridge, but even from there, a mile distant, he could still see her house. It seemed to stand out like a torch in the darkness.
A prickly heat broke out all over his skin. He turned around and slowly drove past his family estate again, then parked across from the little island, his eyes fixed on the small yellow house. After taking a deep breath, he drove to the beach. He got out of the car and climbed the hill in the morning silence. The steam from his breath rose in the damp, cold air and faded to nothing, just like promises unkept. At the top of the hill, he could see the two Cannon Rocks, the big island, the village of Bayside, even his family home. But two hundred yards away was the small yellow house that drew his attention as surely as if there was a magnet inside it.
Sitting on a granite boulder, Ethan stared at the ocean and the gulls flying past in the clear blue sky. An almost dreamlike mist rose from the water, and small clumps of ice could still be seen bobbing in the frigid Atlantic. Thin ice also covered the shoreline, gleaming and reminding everyone that this year’s hard winter had not yet decided to relinquish its grip. Ethan could feel the cold air on his skin, and he knew it would soon start raining, but no matter where his thoughts strayed, he kept looking to the small yellow house with the gray smoke curling from its chimney.
The soft morning light and cool air bathed his face. Ethan’s senses were heightened by a mixture of excitement, intensity, and dark foreboding. Though some may have thought he cut an imposing figure in his brown suede coat, he felt small, his conscience racked by a deep and unshakable shame.
Suddenly the door of the little yellow house opened, and a woman walked outside. Though only a silhouette, he knew instantly that it was Ebony. He knew it! A tremendous surge of adrenaline flooded his system, and he could barely breathe, barely think. Yes, this would be the day, the day he’d dreamed of, the day he’d dreaded. He sighed deeply at the thought of what was about to happen, gathered the collar of his coat against the damp southeasterly wind, and then looked up at the approaching ominous clouds.
Yes, this would be the day.
* * * *
Ebony Evans picked up a piece of firewood and then noticed a man rise from the big granite boulder behind the beach and start to walk down the hill. Before she could get a good look, he vanished over the crest.
“That’s odd,” she said to herself. “You don’t see people out this early very often.” She shrugged and forgot about it.
She gathered four pieces of wood, carried them inside, and stoked the fire. As the pieces ignited, she leaned against the window frame, her breath clouding the glass with a soft, fading impression. She gazed at the little fishing village below, the soulful ballad “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”by Madonna softly playing on her stereo.
Ebony looked at the present Jenny had given her. Though the movie was still partially wrapped in colorful paper, she could see the A&E logo and the pictures of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. She picked up the birthday card and read it again before standing it on her china cabinet, then unwrapped the movie and was just about to put it on her top shelf when she stared at the words
Pride and Prejudice
“Some people don’t change,” she mumbled.
The house was abnormally cool. She checked the cast iron radiators and felt that they were cold to the touch. She turned the thermometer, but the furnace did not start. She knitted her brows, added another piece of wood to the stove, then crawled back into bed. Though she had slept poorly the night before, feeling restless and irritated, she could not go back to sleep. The room seemed uncomfortably quiet, the deep, unremitting silence broken only by the crackle of burning wood. She sighed, got out of bed, added more wood to the fire, and boiled water for tea. As she waited, the yellow envelope on top of the fridge drew her eyes like a magnet. Finally, taking a deep breath, she opened it. She had already filled out all the information. The question now was whether to sign and send it. If she did, she knew her life would take a drastic turn. It would be the end, the final white flag, the surrendering of hope. But it was also a new beginning. A challenge. Something noble, wonderful, splendid.
She took out the card with her personal information, and suddenly it occurred to her that the age was wrong. She had written “twenty-seven” in the box, but as of today, that was no longer true. With her pen she turned the seven into an eight. Twenty-eight years old. Soon she would be thirty, forty, fifty.
She gazed at herself in the mirror and wondered what she had truly accomplished in her life. What would be her legacy if she died tomorrow? For a long time, she stared at the woman looking back at her. She did not see beauty. She saw only the lines in her face, the weary expression, the flickering of inner light. And though she couldn’t understand it, she saw something else. She saw hatred, and she saw a conscience racked by a deep and unshakable shame.
Ebony signed the card, sealed it in the envelope, and applied the proper postage. It was such a simple act, yet it would change everything, absolutely everything. People come to crossroads in their lives, and this was hers. She knew it. Her world was about to change forever. And how her heart ached as she stepped outside in the cool morning air and picked wood from her dwindling pile. After collecting two loads, she took the opportunity to catch up on some neglected housework and got so busy that she forgot about the furnace and went from one thing to another. At ten thirty, she put on her raincoat and grabbed the umbrella and her envelope. She strolled to the community mailboxes, where she hesitated for several minutes before finally dropping in the envelope. It started to rain. Ebony opened her umbrella and walked up the hill. The poor night’s sleep, the fateful decision, her birthday, the anniversary—everything combined to make her feel on edge. It seemed her mind might literally overload and explode.
She walked down the Shad Bay hill totally distracted, hardly noticing passing cars, houses, or the rain. Without even thinking about it, she stared at the big island and the partially visible cottage nestled among its trees. Memories, one after another, played in her mind, then faded, leaving her weary and uninspired.
The house was still warm, but the fire had dwindled to hot coals. She put on more wood and brought her scrapbook to the table. She had started the scrapbook when she was ten, and it chronicled much of her life, from her awards in school for excellence in reading and writing, the science project she won in high school, and a large amount of newspaper clippings about her sports past. Flipping the pages unthinkingly, each bringing with it new reflections, Ebony turned the last page and saw the photograph of a handsome young white man dressed in white slacks and a white shirt. He was wearing sunglasses and sandals, smiling like a movie star, and standing on the big island.
“I hate you, Ethan Harrington!” she said in a vicious tone as the clock struck noon. “I hate your guts!”
* * * *
Ethan looked up at the old town clock on Citadel Hill as it struck noon, then walked through the downtown, pausing in front of a favorite old tavern, the smell of steak and chips tempting him, but he feared he might be recognized, so he kept walking, head down. As he strode toward the theater, Ethan remembered the autumn night he and Ebony attended
Romeo and Juliet
, and he recalled, as if it were yesterday, how hard she cried at the end. He had never seen her more beautiful than that night, her eyes gleaming like frosted glass, tears dripping onto her scarlet collar. Every man and woman in the lobby looked at her, but she was not conscious of their admiring eyes or stolen glances. She was just beautiful.
“The time approaches, Ebony,” Ethan mumbled to himself. “How will you react? What will you look like?”
Ethan walked to the library, but again his thoughts turned to Ebony. Years ago, they sat at this very spot, ate chips from a mobile food truck specializing in fries, then walked arm in arm through the city gardens, thousands of flowers filling the summer night with their intoxicating aromas. They had watched a wedding, the bride splendid in her white gown, the little girls all attired in white and flushed with a timid rapture, silver pins in their hair and colorful bouquets held to their frail chests. After the couple was married and the train moved off across a small arched bridge, Ebony had held Ethan’s hand and led him along, as if they were among the invited guests. It was obvious they were not, but Ebony was so stunningly beautiful, so exuberant with life and joy, that everyone hoped she and Ethan would continue in the procession.
Ethan smiled at the memories, then turned down another street, where he tossed twenty dollars into the fiddle case of a young musician. After lunch, he sat at the waterfront, watching ships come and go. The smell of salt water exhilarated him. He had forgotten how pleasant that pungent aroma was, how it surged into the senses, making a man understand the passing of time and the value of life. The ocean always looked the same. When he was a boy, his parents had brought him to this very spot, but now, years later, the water still looked the same, and probably would for untold millennia. But how time had changed him. How different a man he was now. Yet how would she see him? Oh, it would never be the same. He could not expect that. But there was hope. At least a hint of hope.
Ethan shrugged and remembered the old Russian saying “Hope dies last.”
He closed his eyes and lowered his head. Soon, very soon, he would find out where his history had taken him and how it would affect his future.
At five he began walking back to the car and preparing his mind for that fateful drive to Shad Bay. It was time to confront what he had done, and it was time to face the consequences. It was time to look Ebony Evans right in the eyes.