How does a person reenter a life she left nine years earlier?
Knowing that there had been a relentless search for her, that her picture had been plastered on the front pages of every newspaper in Connecticut and beyond? Understanding that every local police department remained on the lookout for her? Realizing that all but one of her friends and family have given her up for dead?
The answer is, she walks right in the front door.
That's what Lily Malone did in the very-early-morning hours of August ninth. Just past one A.M., Liam Neill parked his truck in the turnaround at Hubbard's Point, lifted Rose --- sleeping, after the long drive from Nova Scotia --- and followed Lily down the stone steps.
Lily glanced at the arch over the wishing well --- there was the house name, Sea Garden, its letters just a little more rusty, a bit more filigreed from the salt air, than they had been nine years earlier. The sight gave her a pang so deep, she gasped out loud. Lily was really home. A breeze blew off Long Island Sound --- salt water, just like the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Maritime Canada, where she had lived and hidden these last nine years. But this night breeze was warm, gentle, filled with scents of marsh grass and sandy beaches --- instead of the fjord's arctic cliffs and cold, clear water flowing straight off the pack ice.
"Oh my," she said out loud, alive with the thrill of finally coming home. The roses greeted her --- their perfume filled the air, and if the ones growing up the trellis beside the front door were slightly less well tended than they'd been nine years ago, they were still profuse and extravagant. Lily reached up, through the thorns, to feel underneath the shingle just beside the dark porch light, and there it was --- the key her grandmother had always kept hidden there, guarded by the roses' foliage and thorns. "She didn't move it," she whispered.
"Of course she didn't," Liam said in her ear, standing behind her with Rose. "She never stopped hoping you'd come back."
"Maeve is coming home too," Lily said, opening the squeaky screen door, holding it open with her shoulder, fumbling with the key in the rusty old door lock. "Right? Tell me she's going to be okay --- "
"She will be, Lily," Liam said.
Lily felt the key turn. Nine years later, the door made the same bump as it opened, one of the hinges hanging just slightly. Stepping into the kitchen . . . smelling beach-house dampness encroaching from the absence of its owner. Yet someone --- Clara, obviously --- had opened a few windows. Lily walked through the first floor as if she were a ghost, haunting her most beloved, familiar place on earth.
Lily began to smile. "It's all the same," she whispered. The moon had risen out of the Sound, casting a gleaming white light on the calm water, its pale light flooding the room. Lily saw the familiar slipcovers, braided rugs, pillows she had needlepointed for her grandmother.
She ran her fingers over her old shell collection, books in the bookcase, moonstones gathered at low tide on Little Beach.
She had to see everything, yet she couldn't turn on a lamp yet. If she turned on a light, it would mean she was committed to this. "This" meaning that she was really here, that her exile was over, that she had returned to the land of the living. Neighbors would see the light and come over. People would know that she was back.
Edward would find out.
"Where does Rose sleep?" Liam asked.
"In my room," Lily whispered. She led him up the narrow stairs. The second floor had four small bedrooms --- beach-cottage in size and feel. Lily's heart was racing as she entered her old room. Under the eaves on the north side, it had funny ceiling angles, a twin bed, and her old Betsy McCall paper dolls right there on the bureau. Pulling down the covers, she choked up to see the sheets --- imprinted with tiny bouquets of blue roses --- and a pink summer-weight blanket. She bent down to smell the bedding --- it was fresh.
"My grandmother knew we were coming," she said. "Somehow, before she went to the hospital, she made up the bed for Rose."
Together they tucked Rose in. The little girl stirred, opening her eyes, glancing around the unfamiliar room in dream-state wonder. "Are we here?" she asked.
"Yes, honey. You'll see it all tomorrow morning. Good night."
"Night," Rose murmured as her eyes fluttered shut.
Lily and Liam went back downstairs. Moonlight was dazzling on the water in front of the house. Lily had watched countless moonrises from this room, through the wide, curtainless windows overlooking the rocks and sea. Everything seemed so open compared to the pineshrouded cabin she'd lived in at Cape Hawk, Nova Scotia --- she had hidden in a boreal forest, with hawks and owls as sentries.
Liam had been one of the first people she'd met, arriving in the distant, unfamiliar town --- disguised by cropping her long dark hair, dying it light brown, wearing the old horn-rimmed spectacles her grandmother had given her. He had been her friend and savior, even though she had rejected him every step of the way. She had to, to protect herself and her unborn baby.
Lily's first weeks in Nova Scotia had been a dark fairy tale, complete with cabin deep in the North Woods, a bounty on her head in the form of a reward posted by Edward, and the benevolent presence of the fierce and kindly Liam --- there for Rose's birth, delivering the baby on the kitchen floor, and swearing to protect forever this mother and child.And there had been plenty of protecting for him to do: born with complex heart defects, Rose had just completed her last round of surgery earlier that summer.
Brokenhearted baby, brokenhearted mother, Lily thought, gazing out at the moon on the Sound. Her arm was around Liam, and his around her. Gulls called from across the water, from their rookery on the rock islands half a mile offshore. Lily felt the sound in her heart, and thought of the annual Ceili Festival, just about to start in Cape Hawk, the Irish music as haunting as the gulls' cries.
She looked up at Liam --- tall and lean, his blue eyes shadowed with his own private sorrows. Ravaged by the shark that killed his brother, Liam had one arm --- and the childhood nickname, "Captain Hook," that had made him both a laughingstock and a tragic figure in his small town. Liam would have none of that --- he blazed his way through university and graduate school, becoming a respected oceanographer and ichthyologist --- studying great whites, the species that had torn apart his family and his own body.
Lily wasn't exactly sure what had brought them together. And she wasn't even sure she cared. They had found each other in that far northern town. She had run so far from home, and found something like a replacement family. Anne, Marisa, Marlena . . . her friends and needlepointing club, the Nanouk Girls of the Frozen North, had been like her sisters. And Liam. He had been present at Rose's birth, and he'd never gone away. Those nine years in Cape Hawk had strengthened Lily more than anything she could have imagined.
Her grandmother's illness had called her back to Hubbard's Point. Patrick Murphy, the lead detective on the case of Lily's disappearance, had finally found her in Cape Hawk. The minute she heard of Maeve's illness, everything else fell away. Lily knew what she had to do.
She came home.
"I'm really here," she said, leaning against Liam.
"Are you ready for tomorrow?" he asked.
"I have to be," she said."My grandmother needs me."
"I know," he said. His voice was low and calm.He touched her hair, and her skin tingled. They were still very new.Was it possible that just a few weeks ago they had kissed for the first time? After a whole lifetime of loving Rose, they were really together.
"I don't want Rose to ever know him," Lily said, and she didn't even have to say his name.
"Let me take her away," Liam said. "I'll hide her. Only you'll know where we are."
Lily's heart skipped, a stone scaling over the water's surface. What if he really could? What if she could hide Rose from Edward forever?
"Living in Canada," she said, "I've felt so powerful. I had complete control over her safety. Now that we're back in the States, what if he comes after her? He'll see her as a way to get to me. And me as a way to get to her."
She leaned back against his strong chest, as his one arm came around her from behind. They rocked against each other, staring at the moon's silver path across the water.
"I think you should go see your grandmother," he said. "But you should let me take Rose somewhere safe."
"We could ask Patrick for help," Lily said.
"We could," Liam said. "But I have an old friend at the University of Rhode Island. Graduate school of oceanography. He has a place near Scarborough Beach, on Narragansett Bay. He'd let us stay with him. It's not that far away."
"Rose has never been away from me," Lily said, feeling her heart tighten. "Except for going to the hospital."
"You'd be doing it for her," Liam said. "To keep her away from Edward, until you know what to expect."
"She'd love being with you," Lily murmured. Rose loved Liam with everything she had. For her ninth birthday, barely a month ago, she had wished for two things: to see Nanny, the legendary white whale of Cape Hawk, and to have a real father like Liam."How much should I tell Rose?"
"However much you think she can handle."
How could Lily begin to know what that was? Rose had just come through open-heart surgery. She was healing from what was supposed to be the final operation necessary to correct the last of the multiple heart defects --- Tetralogy of Fallot --- she'd been born with.
"I don't know," she said. "She'll have so many questions."
"It's going to work out, Lily," Liam said.
"You've made big promises to me before," Lily said, smiling. None bigger than the fact that he would always be there, never desert Rose --- the heart-stricken baby he had brought into this world.
"And they've come true, right?"
"So far," she said, turning to tilt her head back, kissing him long and hard, feeling her blood tingle as it moved through her body. Every touch of Liam's was a promise, with the energy of magic. Outside, the waves hit the rocks, and leaves rustled in the breeze. Lily shivered, wanting more of everything.
"So the answer is yes?" Liam asked.
Lily closed her eyes, unable to speak. Everything had been happening so fast --- from hearing about Maeve, to deciding to come out of hiding, to driving down from Nova Scotia.
"You don't have to decide right now," he said. "You need some sleep, Lily. You'll know what to do in the morning."
"Once the sun comes up," Lily said, "Clara will see your truck. She'll come over to investigate. If she sees you and Rose, there'll be no keeping it secret. Not that she means any harm --- in fact, I can't wait to see her."
"I know," Liam said. "You're thinking it would be unfair to ask her to go along with something she might not understand. Let's go to bed --- we have until dawn to decide."
"In just a few hours," Lily said.
Holding hands, they went upstairs again. Lily still hadn't turned on a light. She still hadn't let herself take that extra step. It didn't matter --- she knew every inch of this house in the dark. Every draft, every creaky board, every piece of furniture.Her grandmother hadn't changed anything since Lily had left.
Yet here in this cottage she knew better than any place on earth, Lily waited for the answers. She couldn't help the joy she felt --- she loved the warm breeze, the smell of her grandmother's roses. She led Liam into the largest bedroom --- the one her grandmother had always saved for guests --- in the front of the house, where dormer windows jutted out over the sloping roof, facing the moonlit bay. Lily cranked open the casement windows as wide as they could go.
A gust of air fluttered the sheer white curtains and cooled Lily's hot skin. The sound of waves, rhythmically splashing the rocks down below, came through the windows. Lily went to check on Rose. She bent down, watched her daughter's chest rise and fall. Rose's breath was like the waves --- steady, sure, one after the other. Lily knew that
Rose would be in good hands with Liam, but the idea of letting her beautiful girl out of her sight was almost impossible to bear.
"Lily," Liam whispered, in the doorway behind her, his hand on her shoulder. "Come to bed."
Lily shook her head. She couldn't move. How could something so peaceful fill her with such fear? Rose was sleeping in Lily's own childhood bed; the summer breeze carried scents of honeysuckle and hundreds of red, pink, and white roses. The old words came back to her: white roses bruise so easily. Staring down at her daughter, she calmed herself with the hard-won certainty that Edward wasn't even aware that Rose existed.
As far as Edward knew, Lily was dead. She had died --- everyone believed --- nine years ago, when she was eight and a half months pregnant. Lily felt a rush, and she shuddered. It was as if she had just been granted a free pass by the gods. Edward didn't know about Rose. . . .
"I want you to do it," she said without turning around, not taking her eyes off her daughter's face, long brown lashes resting on delicate cheekbones, mouth ever-so-slightly open. Her left arm was bent at the elbow, fingertips on her neck, protecting the scar where she'd had open-heart surgery. "I want you to take her."
"I'll take care of her," Liam whispered.
Lily nodded. "I know you will. You always have."
She knelt by Rose's bed, staring at her for a long minute --- until Rose sighed and turned. Not wanting to wake her up, Lily kissed her sleeping daughter's head, and followed Liam into the bedroom. She knew that nothing in the world could make her send Rose away, force her to take this action, except for one thing: a need to see her grandmother, the woman who had raised her, and make sure she got well.
Nothing else could do it.
Pulling down the white chenille bedspread, curling up beside Liam, she closed her eyes. The sound of the waves merged with the rise and fall of Liam's chest. She counted the waves, felt his heartbeats. Outside the open window, the gulls on their island rookeries cried and cried.
Lily just stared at the moon, hanging outside the window, as she listened to the cries of the gulls, Liam's breath on her neck. She pulled his arm even tighter around her, and she prayed that she was doing the right thing.
Dawn came up like thunder, and Liam Neill knew there wasn't much time. He knew he had to get Rose away, and yet he didn't know how to leave. He wanted to stay with Lily.
Lily made coffee and oatmeal, and then she got Rose washed and dressed. The sky went from deep purple to cerulean blue as the sun crowned the eastern horizon. Liam had heard so much about Hubbard's Point --- it was almost mythical to him, the place where Lily had grown up, where her beloved Maeve had raised prizewinning roses and nurtured a strong, beautiful granddaughter. Liam stepped out on the side porch, drinking coffee and staring at the granite ledges sloping down to Long Island Sound. The cottage sat almost at the tip of a promontory --- the Point of Hubbard's Point, as Lily had told him and Rose on the drive down from Cape Hawk.
Liam looked across the side yard toward a similar cottage --- built of weather-silvered shingles, with turquoise shutters and door, white window boxes filled with red geraniums --- and saw someone peering out a window.
He faded back, close to the house, then disappeared inside. Finding Lily and Rose in the kitchen, talking at the table, he tapped Lily's shoulder.
"Someone just saw me," he said. "Looking over from next door."
"That's Clara," Lily said. "She always gets up with the sun, in time for the Hartford Courant."
"We'd better go," Liam said.
"But I don't get it," Rose said, her brow wrinkled. "I thought we just got here."
Lily took a deep breath. Liam knew what this was doing to her --- he touched her glossy dark hair, stroking it for support. She looked Rose in the eyes.
"Honey," she said. "You and Liam are going to stay somewhere else for a few days. It won't be far away from here --- not too far, anyway --- and I'll know where you are every minute."
"Why aren't you coming?" Rose asked.
"I have to see about my grandmother."
Lily nodded. "Yes. You know she's sick --- "
"That's why we came here, from Cape Hawk."
Lily stared at Rose, as if trying to decide how much to say. Liam kept watch out the side window, knowing that they didn't have much time.
"It is why we came," Lily said. "But long ago, there was a reason why I left here. I have to . . . take care of all that, before you come back to stay."
"Mommy," Rose said her voice breaking with panic.
"Rose, it won't take very long."
"I want you to come with us."
"I will come find you," Lily said. "Very soon, Rose --- as soon as I straighten everything out. It won't be long --- I promise you. And in the meantime, you'll be with Liam."
Rose hesitated. She still looked worried, but she glanced up at Liam for reassurance. He smiled down at her and squeezed her hand. She raised her arms, and he lifted her up. He leaned close to Lily --- their eyes met and locked.
"Take good care of her," Lily said.
"I will. As if she were my own," Liam said, leaning forward, so Lily could embrace Rose and Liam could hold them both at the same time. Their bags were in the truck. Lily had his cell phone number and he had left her all the additional information he could --- addresses and telephone numbers for John Stanley's home and lab, a hand-drawn map of how to find his house in Narragansett.
"Bye, sweetheart," Lily said, her voice thin and her eyes moist.
"I'll call you," Liam promised.
Lily waved him away. He glanced across the yard --- the grass deep green, wet with dew --- and saw the curtains fall again. Holding Rose, he walked up the sidewalk and stone steps, past the rose-covered well.
"What's that?" Rose asked.
"A wishing well," Liam said as he opened the truck door, buckled Rose into her seat. He strode around to the driver's side and started the engine.
"In my great-grandmother's yard?" Rose asked, sounding surprised.
"Yes," Liam said, putting the truck in reverse just as he saw the door to the house next door open and a gray-haired woman start hurrying down her sidewalk.
"I wish," Rose whispered. "I wish . . ."
Liam's pulse was racing as he backed into the cul-de-sac. The Sound spread out on both sides of the Point, blue water surrounding the land. Graceful cottages perched on rock ledges, gardens spilling over with beach roses and wildflowers. He couldn't take his eyes off Lily. She stood in the front yard, arms crossed tightly across her chest, hardly able to move.
"Who's that lady?" Rose asked, watching the white-haired woman stop in her tracks. Then the woman shrieked, and started running toward Lily.
"It's Clara," Liam said, although he had never met her himself. "You'll meet her someday."
"I hope so," Rose said, her voice thick. "She looks so happy to see Mommy."
"She sure does," Liam said. And then, with Lily holding out her arms to embrace her grandmother's oldest friend, he shifted into gear and headed for Rhode Island.
Excerpted from SUMMER OF ROSES © Copyright 2005 by Luanne Rice. Reprinted with permission by Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.
Summer of Roses