Orchid House

Orchid House

by Cindy Martinusen Coloma

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781418537272
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 02/12/2008
Sold by: HarperCollins Publishing
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 719,516
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Cindy Martinusen Coloma is the best-selling author of several novels including The Salt Garden, Beautiful, and Orchid House.

Read an Excerpt

Orchid House

By Cindy Martinusen

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2007 Cindy Martinusen
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59554-151-2

Chapter One

June 1991 North Beach, San Francisco A death and a foreign land.

Between the one and the other, Julia moved through the days. Her grandfather was gone; she'd witnessed the months until his final breath. And in two days she'd hop an airplane for Manila-to a land more alien, though closer to her own heritage, than any she'd yet experienced. No wonder the disjointed feeling persisted.

And on that morning between a death and a foreign land, as an unusually cold wind howled deep and hollow beneath a clear San Francisco day, Julia saw Nathan for the first time in six months. She was hurrying down the street, arms crossed tightly at her chest, holding her thin jacket closed against the wind. As she reached for the door of the Blue Mill Bakery, he pushed it open from the inside.

"Julia," Nathan said, holding the door with his foot. The wind whipped around them.

They had loved this place once. They had loved each other once as well. Now they were nearly strangers, and yet not strangers at all.

"Hi," came from her lips, then a moment without words. Finally she said, "Still drinking cappuccino, I see." She looked at the two cups he held. She had not heard if he and his girlfriend were still together. Maybe he was married, for all she knew. Their common friends were few now, and even fewer the ones who spilled details whether she wanted to hear them or not.

"It's black coffee. I ended up lactose intolerant."

She used to find his sheepish grin so endearing. He was as handsome as ever.

"Too bad," she said, thinking about the cappuccinos they'd learned to love in the coffeehouses of Vienna. The wheels of change gave such things and took them as quickly. "Does that mean no almond fudge ice cream either?"

He grinned again. "Well, sometimes I can't resist."

He must have suddenly grown aware that she was shivering and motioned her inside. The scent of yeast, cinnamon, and baking bread surrounded her as the door closed, shutting out the wind but not the chill creeping deep into her bones.

He held the cups awkwardly. "This weather is stunning. What happened to spring?"

Julia glanced through the window to the tree-lined streets that sloped down toward the bay, where sailboats would be skimming happily through the whitecaps. Their old table by the window was empty, she realized. She hoped he hadn't noticed her glance that way.

"I wasn't here for spring," she said quickly. "Hopefully we'll get warmed up soon." Then she realized she wouldn't be here for that either.

He set the cups on a table behind them. "I heard about your grandfather. Did you get my message?"

"Yes, Lisa told me you called." She'd seen his name on a list titled "Sympathy Calls" that her roommate had compiled until Julia returned to her condo. "Thank you for that."

"Jules," he said softly in the voice that tugged at memories resting long and buried deep within her. She realized she'd been trying to look everywhere but directly at him.

"I can't imagine how hard it was. Were you with him when he died?"

A woman came toward them laden with a purse, several books, and a large cup of hot chocolate. As she opened the door, the wind sent a dollop of whipped cream right across Julia's jacket. The woman went on her way without seeing the mishap; Julia stood with her arms hovering at her sides, staring as the stain soaked into the material.

Nathan muttered apologies as if he were at fault and grabbed some napkins from the condiment counter. He came toward her, and without thinking Julia stepped backward.

"I'm sorry. Just trying to help." He handed her the napkins instead.

"It's okay, I didn't mean anything." She dabbed at the stain and watched it spread wider. "It's just ... I'm not used to you being close. I'm ... not used to you at all."

A pained expression came and went across his face in an instant. "I guess that's what I get," he said.

He handed her another napkin, and Julia wondered what he expected after all this time, after all the hurt and loss.

She sought a way to leave him now, glancing toward the display case of freshly baked goods.

He held her with more conversation. "Lisa told me you were coming home, but not for long."

"Yes, I leave for Manila on Wednesday. My grandfather will be buried there, and I'm the family representative for the land-whatever that means. I'll contact the lawyer as soon as I get there."

"The political climate isn't good in the Philippines. Assassinations, government coups, Communist rebels, Muslim and Christian conflict in the southern provinces. Though they do have the first female president in Asian history."

"You been doing research?"

He smiled, and she tried to decide if she liked his smile. Once it had been nearly everything to her.

"Actually, I have. Did you know it's the most Christian and Westernized nation in Asia? It can feel more Spanish in heritage than Oriental-the islands were occupied by Spain for three hundred years."

"You have been reading. So are you going to try to talk me out of it too?"

"Oh no. Have others?"

"Most of my family believe it's too dangerous for a single woman to visit. My stepdad did research as well. And as you may recall, anything regarding my grandfather, my mother is never overly supportive of. My uncle was supposed to come, but he's having surgery. No one else could get away, and my grandfather wanted me to do this."

Julia paused and then spoke with a confidence that surprised even herself. "And I need to do it. I'm off to go 'find myself,' as someone I know often told me to do."

Nathan nodded and rested his elbow on the railing, leaning ever so slightly toward her. "Well, I'm proud of you."

"You are? Why?"

"Well, going to find yourself is something many people run from their whole lives. This is a pretty big thing to do alone. Third-world country, burying your grandfather with people you don't know, facing who knows what kind of adventure across the sea."

She thought of casually brushing off his remarks, but then she felt the weight of all that he'd said. "Yeah, I guess it is a big deal. I've been so tired, with so many details to tend to, part of me hasn't really thought it through. Perhaps I will find some adventure."

There was a look in his eyes she knew well, and she wondered if Nathan was thinking the same thing she was-that if they'd remained together, he'd have been part of these past four months with her grandfather. He would be going to Southeast Asia with her now.

They were silent until it turned awkward.

"It was good seeing you," she said, sounding as if they were old friends, not former lovers.

He was the one who had ended what they had, though they'd both struggled for a year. Still, she wondered if he ever missed her. He'd had several girlfriends, while Julia's dating life was sporadic. Nathan said once that he'd moved on and so should she. He said she had lost herself along the way. He said that she stayed with him because their relationship was safe for her.

"Did you hear that I'm doing freelance marketing now?"

"No, I didn't hear." She felt a wave of anxiety with all these memories flooding through her. "Congratulations. Is it going well?"

"Too well. I need some employees or other freelancers to share the accounts I'm getting. You interested?"

"Uh ..." Unbidden, something her grandfather had said before his death came into Julia's mind.

During the last two weeks of his life, Julia spent Grandpa Morrison's wakeful hours at his bedside. They no longer worked on puzzles of covered bridges on the card table or watched Jeopardy! or talked about his garden or shared the latest gossip-about movie stars or their own family. Instead, for fourteen days, Julia sat with her bedridden grandfather as other family members, including her mother, came and went. Grandpa asked Julia to remain.

Sometimes he called the name of Julianna, and though Julia came and held his hand, she knew he longed for another. His heart and mind could not forget his Julianna, long dead and buried far away. He talked about sugarcane fields that needed to be burned and projected yields. He promised his Julianna they'd take the Cadillac to the bamboo grove on the next Sunday whether it rained again or not.

In his lucid moments, Grandpa Morrison was no longer the quirky, endearing man she'd always known. He asked her to bring his logbooks, and he'd scribble down instructions to be faxed to a man named Raul, the hacienda foreman, and to Markus, the hacienda lawyer. He'd said, "Markus Santos sounds like a great young man on the telephone-sharp as a whip-and he loves the hacienda as well."

The papers she faxed made little sense to her, and she didn't try deciphering them, with the worry over his sudden decline. An urgent intensity encased him.

"When in your life were you the most at peace?" he had asked one night, staring at her with probing blue eyes.

"I don't know. I guess when Nathan and I were together."

He'd shaken his head. "No, dear girl, that's not it. He was a nice young man, but you weren't yourself during that time. But perhaps you've never been truly at peace."

Julia had not responded, but asked instead, "What about you, Grandpa? When were you most at peace?"

The answer, long in coming, surprised her. "There was a night during the war."

Grandfather spoke often of the years when they feared America had forgotten its men in the Pacific theater while it chased Hitler around Europe.

"There was this night ...," he said again. "I cannot forget it. The war in the Philippines had destroyed the land. Chaos and death were everywhere. People did whatever they could to survive. My men and I had seen so much fighting, such terrible scenes of slaughter, and still we were forced to continue on. On this night, we were hungry. We'd been hungry before, but not this much-and so tired I think even the hairs on my arms ached."

He sighed as he remembered. "And then we reached Hacienda Esperanza, where your grandmother's family hid our small band of soldiers. It was then I knew a trust and faith among the men and that family so strong you could nearly touch it. I found peace in the courage of a family who'd already experienced the ravages of war but continued to do what was right. The family that would become my very own. Your family."

Julia had memorized the map of lines in her Grandfather Morrison's face; they grew deeper nearly every day from the loss of weight. She wished to kiss his forehead and bring such peace to him again. She settled in for a story that would last until he fell asleep.

"We were a mixed bunch, separated from our original units. Americans, Filipino guerrillas, an Australian soldier who was killed by a sniper days later. But that night we slept in a small shanty within the safe boundaries of the plantation with bowls of rice and bits of the lone chicken the family sacrificed for us to share. And you know, my dear, I was amazed by the peace that was felt throughout the room.

"Esperanza means hope, my dear Julia. When you have your most peaceful times, they will also bring you hope. You must remember such times-though I think they are impossible to forget."

Ironically, she knew that night how the simplicity of the past months with her dying grandfather could be numbered among her most happy times. There was peace with him.

On another day Grandpa Morrison advised, "Listen, dear girl. You must return to certain pasts. But only those you have not finished building. Some things we are made to walk away from. Others are for returning and completing."

Standing now with Nathan in the Blue Mill Bakery, where they'd sat for hours with hands entwined, talking of the future, Julia wondered if he was something unfinished in her life, something to return to and complete. Or was that relationship forever past, something meant to "walk away from"?

Nathan shuffled his feet restlessly, and Julia realized she'd been staring out the window again. "Sorry I'm so distracted," she murmured.

"It's okay. A lot has happened to you lately. Anyway, think about it-the job, I mean." He picked up his coffee cups. "I'm moving fast with all this, I know. But, confession ... I've been coming here for breakfast and lunch for the past week, ever since Lisa said you were back. It's actually out of my way."

"You could have just called."

He nodded. "When you get back, I will call. We'll have dinner. Or even before you leave?"

She glanced at the two cups in his hand. "I'm not sure that's the best idea."

He chuckled. "Oh no. I buy two so I can work at home without drinking my own terrible brew. Jules, I'm not seeing anyone. Shelly and I broke up two months ago. I haven't been seeing anyone in all that time."

She wanted to laugh. All that time. Nathan could never be alone for long.

"Well, maybe I'm seeing someone." She smiled at the way his eyes darted away and his composure failed.

"I didn't mean to presume."

She did laugh then. "It's okay. I'm not."

"Well, good then. So, dinner?"

"And we'd go as what ... old friends?"

He shrugged and smiled. "Old friends ... new friends. Two people who were once engaged to spend their lives together and then ..."

"And then didn't."

"But maybe needed some time apart to see if it was meant to be. What do you think?"

The cold crept deep, and her stomach growled. "I think for the past four months I've been living with the end of a life, and now I'm traveling far to put what remains into the ground. Other than that, I haven't thought of much. Except that I really need some coffee."

"Ah, why didn't I think of that? I shouldn't propose such things before you've had your coffee. Not wise at all. Let me buy you one."

"How about when I come back?"

He nodded with disappointment in his smile. "And dinner, remember. Just make sure you don't fall in love with a Filipino rice farmer while you're there."

They both laughed at that.

Seven years they'd been together. For two years they'd been apart. What had happened to them? And yet, to think of them together again, to look at them now ... the whole thing felt disjointed and surreal.

A death, a lost love, and a foreign land. Julia wondered what was coming next.

Jungles of northern Luzon, Philippines

It was an ethereal light that came through the trees. Originating from the sun, now unseen at this time of night, the light reflected off the moon and onward toward an archipelago of seven thousand islands called the Philippines and then to one island and one mountain where it broke into a thousand pieces through cracks of leaves and branches where one man stood in the shadows.

Manalo stared upward and enjoyed a moment alone. He could hear the voices of his men through the jungle thicket. He'd need to remind them to keep to muffled tones. They were getting soft at the edges, letting down their guard, growing restless for home. He felt it as well, perhaps more than they.

He walked farther from their camp, his footsteps silent in woods where the sounds of the night creatures surrounded him. Crickets and frogs and large lizards called toko joined in a nocturnal song.

A portion of moonlight came to him, and a portion went to her. He wondered if Malaya was even now looking upward and thinking of him. Did the moonlight caress her smooth complexion and strands of black silk hair as his hands would if he were with her now? Did she sleep at night with their son resting against her breast? Did their daughters play in open fields by day, singing and putting flowers in each other's hair? How quickly the years had passed. His older sons now walked the hills of his own youth and fished the jungle streams. Did they think of him as often as he thought of them?

He had called Malaya a month ago from a pay phone in a mountain village. It was planned that way, on a date that changed each month. He would not endanger her or the children. If someone discovered they were the wife and children of Manalo, head of the notorious Red Bolo Communist guerrillas, then they could get to him. And though his men might not believe it, and he would never let them know the truth, Manalo knew he might betray even his most trusted comrades for the lives of Malaya and their children.

The call of home grew louder by both night and day. By kilometers, it wasn't far. He could reach her in four days of walking, one day if he hitched a ride. And yet by duty and expectation, the calls were unknown months apart.

He took a breath of crisp night air. Time to return to camp. To his calling. His men needed him, depended and lived by his guidance. It was a role he had never desired, but with the death of his brother, a destiny he could not deny.


Excerpted from Orchid House by Cindy Martinusen Copyright © 2007 by Cindy Martinusen. 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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