Read an Excerpt
To the Grave
By Carlene Thompson
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2012 Carlene Thompson
All rights reserved.
Catherine Gray positioned herself on the front lawn, held up her camera, and called for her sister to hurry. As soon as Marissa walked out the front door, Catherine yelled, "Smile!" and snapped her picture.
"Catherine, you are driving me nuts with that camera!" Marissa spluttered. "Besides, you took me by surprise!"
Catherine looked at the LCD display of her last shot. "Not great, Marissa — you're pop-eyed and your mouth is open. I'll take another one."
"I don't want —"
"Now this time don't look like you've just seen aliens landing. Smile and one, two, three ..." Click. Catherine checked the display and nodded. "Great!"
Marissa shook her head. "Did James know he was creating a monster when he decided to buy that expensive camera for your birthday?"
Catherine grinned sheepishly. "Probably not. And the camera wasn't his inspiration — I'd dropped hints for weeks."
Marissa joined her sister and glanced at the picture. "Wonderful. Hair in a very sloppy ponytail, no makeup, and the denim jacket I sewed butterflies all over when I was sixteen. I look pathetic."
"You look great — not a day over twenty-five."
"I'm twenty-six," Marissa said dryly.
"And you look twenty-five. You're aging gracefully."
"You are, too, for a woman who's almost thirty."
"Not for another ten months, and my thirties don't scare me at all," Catherine said lightly. "After all, Mom was as beautiful at thirty-five as she was at twenty-five. I've seen her photographs. In fact, looking through family albums is what made me want to become a good photographer. I want to leave a record of our lives, just like Mom and Dad left for us. And we'll want a whole separate album for baby pictures."
Marissa raised an eyebrow. "Is there something you'd like to tell me?"
"No, but someday I will, and someday you'll have something to tell me, and then I'll take hundreds of pictures of our children."
Marissa laughed. "Pictures that will mortify them when they're teenagers and we drag out the albums and show the photos to their dates."
"I won't. I'll make a point of never embarrassing my children."
"Catherine, all parents embarrass their teenagers sometimes."
"I'll prove you wrong." Catherine gazed up at the crystalline blue sky, smiled, and headed for her white sedan. "It's an absolutely beautiful day. Come on before we lose the whole afternoon."
"Uh, how about taking my car?" Marissa watched her sister's smile fade. "I know you aren't crazy about convertibles, but like you said, this is a beautiful day. We won't have many more until winter." Catherine's gaze grew stubborn. Marissa walked behind her and started pushing her gently and relentlessly like a tugboat nudging a steamship into port. "This is the kind of day God made for rides in candy apple red Mustang convertibles! It'll be fun."
Catherine sighed. "Okay, but don't drive like a bat out of hell like usual."
"I won't," Marissa said solemnly. "I don't want to wreck my car and destroy your wonderful camera. I'll drive just like you do."
Marissa put on her large sunglasses and started out at a snail's pace, looking vigilant as she hunched over the steering wheel she clutched with both hands, not reaching for a CD, and braking with exaggeration at every stop sign.
Catherine finally burst into laughter. "I feel like I'm with a hundred-year-old chauffeur. I don't drive like this." Marissa said nothing. "Okay, maybe I do sometimes, but I can't stand it when you do. Put on some music and pick up the pace!"
Marissa grinned, slipped in a Natasha Bedingfield CD, and pressed her foot harder on the accelerator. Catherine tipped back her head, letting the wind lift her long, honey brown hair. She closed her heather green eyes, listening to "Pocketful of Sunshine" and letting the gentle late October sun warm her face.
Catherine knew family and friends considered her the sensible, cautious sister versus free-spirited Marissa, and during her late childhood she'd started trying to live up to their image. Few people realized how often Catherine had wanted to give in to her own devil-may-care impulses, but after years of constant levelheaded behavior letting go was hard. Ever since she'd moved into the Gray family home left to the sisters after their mother's death, though, Catherine had felt her restraints loosening and a different side of her personality creeping out to greet the sun.
"I told you it would be fun!" Marissa shouted over the loud music.
Catherine merely smiled and then raised her arms, swaying them in time with the music as if she were at a rock concert. Marissa laughed.
They drove south, away from the city and the Aurora waterfall. Catherine remembered that when Marissa was eight she'd begun telling the story of Sebastian Larke, who'd discovered the falls in 1770, which she'd called ancient times. Sebastian had named the waterfall for a Greek goddess, she'd explained. Catherine had listened patiently to Marissa's remarkably accurate lectures about the wide, horseshoe-shaped falls that measured 124 feet high and cascaded into the Orenda River, the third-largest river in the "United States of America," Marissa had always announced proudly. Then, with her brilliantly blue eyes cast down, her voice beyond sad, she'd ended, "And he never, ever got married and had kids, the poor, lonely guy."
"Remember when you used to make Mom, Dad, and me listen to your account of Sebastian Larke finding the falls?" Catherine asked suddenly. "You got so carried away one time, you announced that you were meant to be Sebastian's wife — God just got mixed-up and you were born too late."
Marissa laughed. "I was a weird kid."
"You were a smart, imaginative kid. I always felt like you could really see Sebastian Larke work during the day building the town, and then go back to his lonely cabin at night. You were wrong about one thing, though. God didn't mean for you to be with Sebastian. He meant for you to be with Eric Montgomery."
"Oh, really? Did God tell you that in person?"
"He told me in a dream," Catherine returned in a soft, undulating voice, her eyes closed. "He said, 'Eric will become master of Sebastian's creation, the city of Aurora Falls, and rule it with Marissa by his side. It is meant to be.'"
"Have you been calling those psychic hotlines? Or do you believe you can see the future?" Marissa returned with mock solemnity. "You'll have to tell Eric about your dream. He's afraid he'll lose the election for sheriff and then he won't become the master of Aurora Falls. Oh, you can leave out the part about me being by his side."
Catherine's eyes snapped open. "What? Are you and Eric breaking up?"
"No, but I don't want him getting too confident." Marissa grinned. "Got to keep him on his toes, make him think he must still woo me with flowers and candy and give me an impressive engagement ring for Christmas."
"I think you're awful for plotting to get a specific gift."
"I know. I feel extremely guilty about it. I guess I'm just like my sister."
"I wanted a camera, not an engagement ring."
Marissa grinned. "Sure, Catherine. I guess if James Eastman had proposed on your birthday and given you a ring instead of a camera you'd have told him to jump over the falls."
Catherine ignored her sister and closed her eyes again, thinking that just last year at this time she couldn't have imagined herself riding in Marissa's car as they went to look at land owned by the Eastmans. When she'd left Aurora Falls at seventeen to attend the University of California at Berkeley, she'd known she wanted to be a clinical psychologist, which would require a Ph.D. Somewhere in a hazy future, Catherine had thought, she'd be married to a man she had yet to meet and have a child. She'd never dreamed she'd end up right where she started and dating a guy she'd loved for years.
"You're smiling," Marissa said. "Thinking of James?"
"Why don't you watch the road instead of staring at me?"
"Oh, I can do both," Marissa returned airily. "Were you thinking of James?"
"You'll never leave me alone until I give in and tell you." Catherine opened her eyes. "Ten years ago I would never have pictured myself coming back to Aurora Falls to live with my sister."
"I know the thought of living with me would bring a smile to anyone's face," Marissa said dryly, "but I believe you were also thinking about James."
"Okay, I was thinking of him. I remember hoping he'd notice me someday."
"And he did. Therefore, the smile."
"Yeah." Catherine's thoughts spun over all the years she'd loved James Eastman; then slowly her smile faded. "Do you ever feel like things are too good to be true?"
"Do you mean like things that happen to me are too good to be true?"
"Well, maybe sometimes." After a moment she said, "When Eric and I got back together after five years I felt at first that it was too good to be true. Maybe that's why I kept pushing him away." She paused. "Are you feeling like you being with James is too good to be true?"
"Well, being with James is wonderful. I guess sometimes I feel it's too wonderful because he was married."
"Oh no." Marissa grimaced. "You've been thinking about Renée. Why?"
"Mrs. Paralon mentioned her to me the other day."
"Mrs. Paralon rehashes forty-year-old gossip as if it's hot off the press. No one pays any attention to her."
"Maybe. But it made me think of Renée, especially when Dad insisted that all of us attend James's wedding to her in New Orleans."
"Jeez, Catherine, that was years ago!"
"Yes, but I'll always remember it as one of the worst experiences of my life."
"Well, don't get mad at Dad about it now. He and James's father had been friends forever and the families were friends — we couldn't skip the wedding."
"I didn't have to go."
"I know Dad kept pestering you about it, but since you and I weren't little girls anymore he thought it would be our last trip as a family. And it was."
"I've never been mad at Dad for guilting me into going to the wedding. How could I be? He didn't know how I felt about James."
"No, I don't believe he had a clue. Only Mom and I knew."
Catherine's gaze snapped toward her sister. "You and Mom? I told her I cared about James in strictest confidence and she promised she wouldn't tell anyone else!"
"She didn't tell me, but I could tell you were crazy about James."
"Oh no," Catherine groaned. "If you could, other people probably could, too. What if guests at the wedding were laughing about the girl gazing at James with big cow eyes full of love?" Catherine could feel her face growing hot. "I shouldn't have looked at him at all!"
"Relax. You did a great job of hiding your feelings. Dad didn't notice. You were cool and composed, even when James introduced you to the bride."
"Oh God. Renée. I'll never forget all the thick, gleaming black hair cascading down her back, those huge, doe-like eyes, her porcelain skin. No wonder he married her barely three months after meeting her. She was so beautiful."
"She was striking in a flashy, sexy way. You are beautiful," Marissa said firmly.
Catherine went on as if Marissa hadn't spoken. "You say no one knew how I felt about James, but she did. I could tell when she looked at me. She was amused by my love and my misery and I hated her, Marissa. I don't think I've ever hated anyone, but I hated her."
"So did everyone who knew her in Aurora Falls by the time she vanished."
Catherine glared at her sister. "Why did you say 'vanished'?"
"I don't know. I guess because that's what so many people say."
"People who think James killed her say 'she vanished' because it sounds creepy."
"Yeah, well a lot of people love drama and Renée gave it to them. For years, she stirred up trouble in Aurora Falls, broke up at least two marriages, pushed James to what everyone thought was the breaking point; then suddenly she was gone. No one saw her leave and no one has heard from her again." Catherine sighed. "James could have saved himself a lot of grief if he'd divorced her a few months after marrying her, before she had so much time to become a ... a legend."
"A legend! Oh, that's just great."
"You're certainly creative today, but your memory is terrible, Marissa. I've told you at least twenty times that in this state James couldn't divorce her on the grounds of irreconcilable differences unless she agreed and they lived apart for a year. Fat chance of her going along with that plan."
"Then he should have charged her with adultery. She didn't make a secret of her affairs."
"James is too much of a gentleman to do that!" Catherine snapped.
"There are times for being a gentleman and times to act like a man."
Catherine looked at Marissa furiously. "How dare you imply James is a ... a ..."
"Wimp?" Catherine's glare didn't stop Marissa. "Don't tell me you haven't thought it, too."
Catherine went silent for a moment, clenching her jaw. Then she said slowly and distinctly, "He is not a wimp, a coward, or a weakling, Marissa. He just should have taken action sooner to end the marriage."
"He never took any action to end the marriage until she ... left."
Catherine felt her breath come faster in anger. "What are you saying?"
"That I've just never understood why he held on to Renée for so long."
After a pause, Catherine said, "I never told you this, but after James married her, he found out she was a really troubled woman. He's never gone into details, but her past wasn't what you would expect after briefly seeing her life in New Orleans. Anyway, he thought with enough time and understanding and love she'd change. When he saw that she either couldn't or didn't want to change, he still hesitated because divorcing her for adultery would humiliate his parents."
"He didn't think she humiliated them, too?" Marissa asked incredulously.
"I don't know exactly what he thought at the time. He just says for some reason he can't understand, she loved tormenting him and his family. He thinks that's why she left the way she did — to create suspicion about him by making it look like he'd killed her." Catherine's voice rose. "Even if I'm a psychologist, I don't give a damn if she was troubled! She was a bitch!"
"Finally we agree on something," Marissa said evenly, "but the best way she could have hurt him would have been to stay. She's been gone for ages, though, James got his divorce on the grounds of desertion, and people have moved on to new topics of gossip." After a moment of silence, Marissa said softly, "If all of the past gossip — if James's marriage to Renée — upsets you so much, Catherine, you should stop seeing him."
Catherine looked sharply at her sister. "Stop seeing James? Marissa, I love him!"
"Does he love you?"
"What? Of course. He tells me so all the time."
"Then concentrate on the present and stop being so touchy about the past. Stop even thinking about it."
Catherine's anger drained, leaving her feeling foolish and mean. "You're right. I should think about now and quit being so overly sensitive about James and Renée. They're history." She paused. "Sorry I lashed out at you. But if you ever call James a wimp again —"
"I didn't say 'wimp.' You did."
Oh hell, I did, Catherine thought, her mind scrambling for a quick save. "I just said what you were implying."
The sisters rode in silence for a couple of minutes. Then Marissa asked as if there hadn't been a harsh word between them, "And now for the age-old child's question: 'How much farther is it?'"
"About five or six miles. Why do you care? I thought you love to drive."
"I do, but not for the whole afternoon. It's Saturday and we both have dates tonight. Last weekend you missed your dinner out with James because he went alone to that conference in Pittsburgh, so I'm sure he'll take you somewhere special tonight as compensation. Anyway, we have hair to be curled, nails to be painted, eye shadow to choose, and a dozen lipsticks and glosses to be tried before we reach perfection."
"Like females with the romantic spirit of teenagers and the wisdom of women."
"Yeah, sure." They'd left the city and Catherine turned her gaze to the countryside, wondering if, even at twenty-nine, she was still more romantic than wise. She was in love with a man she'd known most of her life and loved nearly half of her life. At least, she thought she'd loved him that long. She was a clinical psychologist, though, and she knew how easy it was for an adolescent to mistake attraction for love.
Excerpted from To the Grave by Carlene Thompson. Copyright © 2012 Carlene Thompson. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.