Read an Excerpt
The Road Home
By Susan Crandall
Copyright © 2004
All right reserved.
For the past twelve years of her marriage, Lily had fought against the cyclone
working to tear her world apart. She'd frantically snatched and grabbed the
pieces, as the winds whipped and whorled, ripping them away more quickly than
she could reassemble them.
Maybe she shouldn't have tried so hard. Maybe at sight of the first black
thunderhead on the horizon she should have simply thrown her body over her son,
covered her head and waited to see where things settled after the storm. Maybe
then her ex-husband, Peter, wouldn't be in alcohol rehab right now. Then the
divorce would have been over before Riley was old enough to react with so much
antagonistic belligerence and bad behavior. Even if he had, he would have been
young enough to control-and it would all be just a distant memory by now.
Exhausted from the past days' emotional events and the five-hour drive from
Chicago, Lily pulled up in front of the southern Indiana lake cottage and shut
off the engine, telling herself she was not running away. She was putting
necessary space between Riley and his grandparents, herself and her ex-husband.
She was taking the first step toward a new life.
After a long and bumpy struggle, she andPeter had surrendered the fight for
their marriage. And for some inexplicable reason, with the ending of her
present, Lily had a sudden, irrepressible urge to review her past. That past was
deeply rooted in Glens Crossing, the catalysts for its changing course embedded
in this cottage on Forrester Lake.
She rested her chin on the steering wheel and studied the house. It was still
the same forest green with white trim it had been since it was built by Peter's
grandparents. Two tall stories, it had deep, open eaves, multipaned windows and
a foundation made of river rock. The lower half of the front porch pillars were
river rock, too, topped with square wooden supports that were wider at the base
than at the top. A symbol of tradition, of familial stability.
She hadn't been back here since she and Peter eloped fourteen years ago. The
lake house was Peter's now, deeded to him by his grandparents on his
twenty-fifth birthday. That was one of the few things his parents couldn't
circumvent. Lily had no doubt that Peter's father would have given his right eye
to have prevented that transfer of control.
Although the ownership was Peter's, they had never returned here as a family,
she, Peter and Riley. It seemed best to let the specters that dwelt on this
quiet lake rest undisturbed. The past had caused enough unrest in their lives
from three hundred miles away.
The mere mention of Forrester Lake always brought doubt to Peter's eyes, a pain
born of wondering if Lily would have been his had things unfolded differently.
In his most unhappy moments, he always posed the same question: "If Clay walked
through the door today, would you leave with him?"
The question, no matter how often she heard it, no matter how she steeled
herself against it, made her heart trip a little faster. Clay had abandoned her,
discarded her love with no more thought than he'd give yesterday's paper. And
she hated him for it. But it was an odd sort of hatred, one that fueled angry
fires in her soul and flirted with the edges of her heart at the same time. When
she thought of him, she wanted to strangle him with her bare hands; she wanted
to throw herself into his arms for one more embrace. Both feelings brought
self-loathing. She was so weak. Weak enough to have damaged Peter's life while
trying to save her own.
She had loved Peter, she supposed for nearly as long as she'd been in love with
Clay. But it had been a different kind of love, a safer love, than what she'd
felt for Clay. Clay set off volcanic upheavals deep in her soul. Peter calmed
her spirit, warmed her with security. Clay was passion. Peter was family.
Throughout their marriage, her reassurances had done nothing to erase Peter's
doubt. It had grown and expanded, becoming the strongest link and, at the same
time, the thickest wall between Lily and her husband.
Now, as she looked at the house, a sense of deja vu settled over her, draped
itself weightlessly about her shoulders, wrapped tightly around her chest and
sent far-reaching roots directly to her soul. So easily did the years of
adulthood slip away, leaving the heart of a girl exposed and bleeding. Agirl who
had trusted completely, without reservation-and paid the price.
What would she have done, if Peter hadn't been there to pick up the pieces when
And now she was alone, really and truly, alone. There was no one to pick up the
pieces except Lily. And she would do it. She had to, for her son.
The press of tears was strong. But she would no more let them fall now than she
did fourteen years ago. Forge ahead. Take care of business. Deal. That's what
had sustained her for most of her life. No sense in ignoring the tried and true
at this point.
She glanced at Riley leaning against the passenger door, asleep. He didn't stir.
His head remained propped on his hand, his dark hair tousled over his closed
eyes. The tinny beat from his headphones was the only sound in the car.
Every time she saw him sleeping, her heart broke. He looked the same as he had
when he was three, sweet and open and loving. When he was sleeping, there was no
trace of the wary tension and defensive attitude that dominated his waking
He'd been "excused" from the last week of seventh grade for "conduct
unbecoming." That's what went in the official record. What really happened was
Riley's friend had come to Carrigan Park Prep School with some pills he bought
at a party. The exact type of drug had yet to be determined. That's what
frightened Lily the most-he took something without any idea what it was.
After swallowing the pills, Riley and two friends flushed cherry bombs down
three of the toilets in the boys' bathroom. They'd been too stoned to even have
the sense to run. They just sat there in an inch of water, watching the plumbing
Riley had insisted this was his first experience with drugs. Lily wanted to
believe him. She wanted that with all of her heart. There had certainly been no
indication of his using prior to this.
Anyone else might have been expelled from school, but Peter's parents stepped in
and softened the blow-again. Being on the board did have its perks. But this had
to stop, before Riley got into something with permanent consequences.
When she'd called Peter at the Sheldon Center to tell him about Riley's latest,
they'd agreed the boy needed to be away from his current environment, at least
for a little while. He'd urged her to use the cottage. As her options were
currently limited by expediency and a tight budget, she'd agreed. Although Peter
came from a wealthy family, their own financial situation ranged in the
comfortable middle class-and with the dissolution of the marriage, the money had
been spread thin.
Reluctantly, she shook Riley awake, got out of the car and climbed onto the
front porch. As she put the key in the front door lock, Lily thought she heard a
shout from the lake. She jerked her gaze in that direction and saw the empty
water glinting in the late afternoon sun. It had been Clay's voice, calling from
a distant memory. The four of them, Peter, Clay, Luke and Lily, had raced from
the shore to the diving island nearly every day. Clay always reached the dock
first, pulled himself out of the water and urged Lily on.
The day she actually beat the other two boys Clay had grabbed her against his
wet chest and twirled them in a circle.
The old sadness and anger mingled in her heart as she thought of it. Maybe
reviewing the past was going to be more difficult than she'd anticipated.
"Mom?" Riley's voice made her jump. He was right behind her, weighted down with
his duffel and backpack. "We going in, or what?"
She didn't look at him, afraid he'd see how shaken she was. Throwing open the
door, she tried to sound cheerful.
"Here we are." She didn't want him to view this trip as punishment, exactly, but
as an opportunity, a chance to start over. She'd lectured for the first hour of
their trip south, trying to drive home the fact that he was being given a chance
that few in his situation were allowed. He seemed to listen, nodding his head in
agreement, but Lily thought it was entirely for her benefit. Riley didn't have a
In her hastily thrown together plan, she had decided not to see anyone until
tomorrow. She needed a few hours to mentally adjust. Once word of her return was
out, she would be bombarded with a thousand questions, most from people who felt
they had a right to details of her life just because she'd been born in this
So she stuck to her plan, stowing away the feeling that she was sneaking into
town like a thief. Once the car was emptied, she went about settling into the
cottage. She turned on the water, uncovered furniture, washed linens, chased
cobwebs and nagged Riley to unpack his duffel.
The sun set and the night turned chilly. She was tempted to have Riley bring in
some firewood from the rack beside the boathouse. Even though the cottage was
seldom used, there had always been a handyman to keep the grass cut, the windows
clean and the firewood stocked-Peter wouldn't think of breaking such a
tradition. For years she'd worried over the unnecessary expense. Now she was
grateful. But who knew how long it had been since the huge rock fireplace had
been used? It wouldn't do at all to call Peter and tell him she'd burned down
the family cottage. She passed on the fire.
Before they'd left Chicago, she'd packed a cooler and enough groceries to get
them through the first night. After a makeshift meal of summer sausage, cheese,
crackers, fruit and almost a full bag of Oreos-which Riley still twisted apart
and ate the center of first-they sat on the leather club sofa in the living
room. Through his earphones, Riley immersed himself in a hard-core CD, all
driving metal and screaming voices. Lily stared into space, wondering exactly
where she was going to go from here.
The decision to leave Chicago had been easy. Riley couldn't go on thinking his
grandparents could undo his missteps. Talking to Peter's parents rarely availed
anything beyond empty promises to be less meddling. Something had to be done
before Riley took a step that couldn't be undone. She hoped a full summer with
the stability of her own father's loving discipline would set a good paternal
example. But after that? Her future was a blank slate. The only thing she knew
for certain was that she had no intention of settling here permanently-not in a
town that knew each and every bone of the skeleton in a person's closet.
She sighed and told herself to take one day at a time, she had three whole
months to figure out what was to come next. If she was careful, she had enough
money to make it through until fall. Then she would have to land somewhere
permanently and find a job. She had no idea what job that would be. She had no
marketable skills. During her marriage to Peter, she'd spent her spare hours on
her hobby, pottery.
She'd taught several ceramics classes at the community center in the inner city,
but that hardly counted as work experience.
She glanced at Riley. Where they ended up depended a great deal upon how he
managed himself over the summer.
She didn't really think that returning to the same private school in Chicago
would be the answer. He needed to live in a world where everyone was accountable
for their actions. A lesson that had taken Peter thirty-four years to begin to
learn. Not that Peter was a bad person. He just couldn't face the things he
perceived as failures. And those failures had piled up until they tumbled him
like an avalanche. The final snowflake that set his most recent decline into
motion came from errors in judgment that cost his company-his father's company-a
fortune. Of course, his father's reaction hadn't been much help. Publicly he'd
defended Peter and the company position. Privately he'd made sure his son knew
exactly where the finger of blame was pointing.
Lily finally lifted Riley's earphones and slid them off his head. The angry,
powerful beat of the music became louder in the silent room. "Why don't you go
upstairs and pick out a bedroom?" She raised her voice over the music.
His hazel eyes narrowed and he gave her a sidelong look. "Doesn't matter." He
started to put the headphones back on.
She interrupted the action by putting her hand on his head and brushing back his
hair. He pulled away, as she knew he would. Sometimes it was hard for her to
realize the distance that had grown between them over the past year. "You might
want your dad's old room." She waited for some reaction.
She didn't get one. "Or the guest room-it gets lots of morning sun."
"I don't care," he said through tight lips, nipping the words into a staccato
beat. Then he seemed to back off just a bit and said more softly, "You pick."
It was moments like this, when he showed her that he knew he was being a prick
and actually tried to make amends for it, that let her know he wasn't yet lost.
"Okay," she said, "I'll put the sheets on in Dad's old room. It's the one to the
left at the top of the stairs." It seemed odd that a place that had been so
familiar to both her and Peter was totally alien to their son.
Riley actually managed a half-smile. "All right." Lily picked up the sheets from
the dining room table and started for the stairs, uneasy with the knowledge that
she was sharing the house with a child who was quickly becoming a stranger.
Where had her happy little boy gone? The one who picked wild violets and
dandelions and delivered them with the eagerness and pride befitting two dozen
white roses. The apple-cheeked child who'd broken her heart when he made her
cinnamon toast and brought it to her in bed when she had the flu.
His voice stopped her halfway up the stairs. "Mom?" She stopped, her heart
jumping to conclusions. "Yes."
"When's the cable coming?" Her shoulders sagged. "Tomorrow morning." "Good."
Lily heard the music as he turned it back on. She was about to go back and do
what she knew she should-tell him the cable, and all other privileges, would
come when he earned them. But tonight she was just too tired for the argument.
She climbed the rest of the stairs, bone-weary and sick at heart. God, give me
the strength to pull him back and the wisdom to know how to start.
The next afternoon, after the cable guy left, Lily forced herself to get on with
it. She stood just outside the screen door that opened into the kitchen of the
Crossing House Tavern. It was nearly four o'clock and preparations for the
evening trade were getting under way. She heard the sounds of pots clanking and
dishes rattling as someone pulled them from the dishwasher and stacked them on
the shelf over the stainless steel worktable.
Excerpted from The Road Home
by Susan Crandall
Copyright © 2004 by Susan Crandall.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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