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It was a perfect summer day.
That was Bay McCabe's thought as she stood in her backyard, a basket of just-washed clothes at her feet, a late-afternoon sea breeze blowing off the Sound. The garden was spectacular this year: Old roses, hollyhocks, delphinium, day lilies, and Rosa rugosa were in bloom. Birds dipped into the water pooled in a rock cleft, and thick green stonecrop softened the contours of granite ledge.
Bay felt almost shocked with the beauty of it all, and she forced herself to put down the clothespins and pay attention. Life is made up of golden moments: She had learned that at her grandmother's knee.
Annie and Billy were at the beach with friends, and Peg was at Little League practice. It was a rare thing for Bay to have the house and yard to herself during the summer, and she intended to take advantage of every minute. She had called Sean at the bank, to remind him of his promise to pick up Peg from practice. Bay had met her best friend, Tara O'Toole, at the beach for a swim, and now she was going to hang the wash on the line and wait for everyone to come home for dinner.
Sunlight streamed down on her red hair and freckled arms. She wore shorts and a sleeveless white shirt, and she worked quickly, from years of watching her grandmother. Mary O'Neill had shown her how it was done: one wooden clothespin in her mouth, the other clipping sheets to the line. Sean teased that the neighbors would judge them, think he wasn't making enough money if his wife had to hang laundry out to dry.
He even wanted to hire a gardener. Never mind that digging in the dirt was one of her favorite things, that trying to outdo Tara in the competition--the only real one between them: to grow the tallest sunflowers and hollyhocks and most beautiful roses and prettiest pots of lemon-drop marigolds--gave her reason to get up at dawn every morning.
Every morning, she went out to water the garden during the quiet hour before anyone else woke up, waving at Tara doing the same thing in her garden across the creek, then returning inside to make breakfast. All through the day, while her kids were out and about, she would return to the garden to nurture her plants--pruning, watering, feeding the roots. How could Sean not understand how important that was to her? How could he really think that Mary O'Neill's granddaughter would ever let her garden be cared for by a stranger?
Bay just laughed and kissed Sean, said he was too good to worry about what people thought about a little dirt under her fingernails or a few sheets flapping on the line. Her granny was from the old country, and Bay was a banker's wife, but she had learned the simple pleasures as a child and never forgotten them. When she had finished hanging the laundry, the bright clothes looked sharp against the blue sky: signal flags in a painting.
"Mom," Billy called, tearing around the corner of the white-shingled house. He had wet hair, sandy feet, and a wild look in his blue eyes that revealed his worry that something in life might happen without him. "What are we doing tonight? Are we going miniature golfing after dinner, like Dad said? Because if we are, can I ask Russell to come with us?"
"Sure, honey," Bay said, smiling at her eleven-year-old son. He had his father's golden coloring; even with sunblock, his skin turned honey brown and, to his sisters' chagrin, didn't freckle. "Where's Annie?"
"Right behind me," he said, glancing over his shoulder. "I think she's going to ask if she can invite someone, too. It's okay with me if she does."
"It is, is it?" Bay asked, suppressing a smile. She had noticed her son growing up this summer. He had grown two inches since last year. He would be tall, blond, and handsome, just like his dad. And his attitude toward his sister's friends had taken a radical shift from the teasing and tormenting of summers past.
Just then the phone rang inside the house, a high trill. Bay turned toward the door, but Billy was faster. "I'll get it," he called, again making her smile. Just last week Tara had said, "This is the summer your son gets socially activated. He's got an 'on' button that's going to be the bane of your existence. He's got his mother's eyes, and his father's personality . . . the girls had better watch out."
Annie must have entered the house through the front door, and answered the phone before her brother. She stood on the back steps in her blue tank suit--for once not covered by a towel or an oversized T-shirt, straight hair wet and drying reddish-gold in the sun, holding the portable phone out to her mother.
Bay gazed at her twelve-year-old daughter, knowing she felt awkward and stocky, feeling a flood of love in the same instant her attention was captured by the gutter overhead: just over the back porch, dangling by one bracket, damaged in an early spring nor'easter. Tonight, again, Bay would remind Sean to fix it or--of course--hire someone to do it. The thoughts passed in an instant. Bay blinked, and Annie was still there, holding the phone.
"Who's calling?" Bay asked.
"It's Peg," Annie said, frowning. "She's still at the field. Daddy didn't pick her up."
Bay took the phone. "Peg?" she said.
"Mommy, I thought you said Daddy was coming. I waited and waited, but he's not here. Did I do the wrong thing? Was I supposed to get a ride from Mrs. Jensen?"
"No, Peggy," Bay said, feeling a wave of frustration at Sean--how could he have forgotten their nine-year-old? "You didn't do anything wrong. Is someone with you? You're not alone at the park, are you?"
"Mr. Brown is here. He let me use his phone," Peg said, her voice starting to quiver. "He said he'd give me a ride, but I didn't want to leave in case Daddy came."
"Stay there, honey," Bay said, already reaching for her bag. "I'll come get you right now."
The drive to the little league field, along shore Road and past the golf course, took nearly fifteen minutes. With late June came summer people, vacationing from all over, and the beach traffic was heavy. Bay looked at her watch and tried not to worry--although she didn't know Peg's coach very well, Sean seemed to like him. Wylie Brown owned a bait-and-tackle shop on the inlet, and Sean often stopped in to provision his boat for the fishing trips he took to Block Island and the canyon.
But where was Sean? How could he have forgotten? Bay had spoken with him herself; she had called the bank just three hours ago to remind him. He had had a loan committee meeting that afternoon, and he'd told her he would be finished in time to head down to the ball field to pick up their youngest. Bay had asked him to try to make time to pitch to her . . . Sean had sounded busy, distracted, but Bay knew how happy Peg would be, just as Bay used to be thrilled to play ball with her father.
Pulling into the dirt parking lot, Bay saw Peg and a sandy-haired man playing catch under a maple tree. At the sight of her mother's Volvo, Peg threw the ball to him and ran to the parking lot. She was small for her age, and streaked with dirt as if she'd slid into the plate.
"He's still not here," Peg said, green eyes glittering with disappointment. "He said he would be."
"Something must have come up at work," Bay said, feeling a pinch in her heart, the first in a long time. Was it starting again? Back during the troubles last winter, Tara had told her to quit making excuses for him. Bay hadn't taken the advice; she didn't want her kids to see their dad in a bad light.
"He said he'd pitch to me," Peg said, worry lines between her eyebrows as Bay motioned for her to climb into the back seat.
"I know, Peggy," Bay said, glancing back. "He was looking forward to it. Maybe you two can hit a few before dinner, when he gets home." Peg's coach started toward the car, but Bay felt too off balance to talk. So she just waved, calling "Thank you!" Then, quickly, she drove out of the lot, away from the shady field.
Sean didn't come home for dinner, and he didn't call. They lived in an old farmhouse just off Shore Road, down a long driveway that took them through the marsh that marked the eastern edge of Hubbard's Point. Just across Eight Mile River--more of a tidal creek, really, a tributary of the Gill River--the Point was one of Black Hall's beach areas. Sean and Bay and Tara had been childhood friends there, and Tara had inherited her grandmother's small cottage. Bay could see it now, gleaming white across the golden marsh, the garden an impressionistic blur, spilling over with flowers of pink, peach, rose, violet, yellow, and bright blue.
Bay stood outside, cooking burgers on the grill. Billy had stepped in to pitch to Peg, and all three kids seemed happily oblivious. Their main concern was that Sean come home in time to take them to Pirate's Cove. Across the river, on a hillside that until last year had been covered with tall grass and meadow flowers, a new complex had been built: ice-cream stand, driving range, go-cart track, and an extravagant miniature golf course. Pirate flags, treasure chests, shark jaws, and wrecked galleons adorned the holes. Bay preferred the unspoiled landscape, but her kids loved the development.
Setting the picnic table, Bay called the kids to dinner. While they scrambled to fix their own burgers with pickles and ketchup, she went inside to use the phone. Sean's office answering machine picked up, and she decided against leaving another message. She dialed his cell phone, hearing his recorded voice for the fourth time in an hour: "Hi, this is Sean McCabe. I'm either at the bank or on the boat. Either way, I'll call you back as soon as I can."
"Sean, it's me," Bay said. "Don't you have your phone turned on?" She took a deep breath and held back what she really wanted to say: Hey, buddy--what's the point of having a cell phone if you're not going to answer it? One of the kids could have an emergency. . . .
Sean was a vice president at Shoreline Bank and Trust and had a huge clientele. Bay knew how busy he was. A small-town banker, he handled everything: commercial transactions, home equity loans, mortgages. Five years ago, during the stock market boom, he had pioneered a private banking division, catering specifically to the wealthiest residents of the area. The result had been a gold mine for Shoreline, and Sean had received huge bonuses based on the assets under his management.
He lived life with passion--a quality Bay had loved about him. She used to say there weren't enough hours in the day for Sean to do all the things he enjoyed. As much as Bay adored gardening, Sean loved fishing, the Red Sox, going to the Eagle Feather casino with his friends.
In recent years that passion had extended to other women. Even now, it shocked her--that she could know it and still stay with him. As a young woman, judging other marriages, she would have considered infidelity completely unforgivable: One strike and you're out. But marriage had turned out to be more complicated than that.
Some people belong to a landscape as much as the rocks and trees; Bay felt that way about Hubbard's Point. The salt water was in her blood; the beach roses and day lilies were in her heart. She felt as if she had sprung from the rocky soil, and that she had to be here, in order to exist. She had always known that she would marry a boy from the beach.
She and Sean had grown up at the beach together; they had the same memories and histories. While they hadn't been each other's first loves, they had turned out to be each other's true loves--hadn't they? They were so different--but they'd seemed to complement each other perfectly. Their love had seemed so right.
But Bay had learned that marriage wasn't easy questions about background and history. It was Sean needing more independence than she could understand, working later with every promotion, traveling more on business; it was Bay wondering why he was so late every night, calling his office and getting his voice mail, hearing his excuses and trying to believe them.
Bay had discovered in herself a huge capacity for compromise--and, to her growing distress, a realization that she had lied to herself for a long time. Sean's lies hurt--but the lies she had told herself had hurt much, much more. If staying together was good for the kids, she'd forgive him and stay together. But she had started admitting to herself that she had stopped loving him the way she once had.
Bay's own denial had ended the day her daughter began asking questions.
Last fall Annie had overheard a phone call her father made--picked up the receiver and heard him whispering to Lindsey Beale about a trip they had taken to Chicago. Lindsey was a young loan officer at the bank--very beautiful and glamorous, from a wealthy New England family, with an impressive education; Bay and the kids had met her at company picnics. They had had her for dinner to the house. Annie had thought they should fix her up with her math teacher.
The phone call had devastated Bay's daughter.
"It was a business trip, honey," Bay had said, holding her, trying to keep it together for Annie's sake. "You know Daddy has to travel for the bank, and sometimes Lindsey goes with him. They work together."
"This was different," Annie had wept. "They were whispering."
Bay had felt the adrenaline, the fear, a funny feeling in her stomach. But she couldn't let Annie know, so she had just hugged her tighter. "Don't worry, Annie. I'm sure there's some explanation."
"Mommy, I don't want to tell you. Because you'll be mad at him . . . but I have to tell you. They were saying romantic things . . . Daddy wanted to kiss her again and again . . ."
"Oh, Annie," Bay had said, holding back her own anguish and rage at Sean--for betraying her, for leaving her no way to defend him to their daughter.
Annie had been heartbroken by what she'd overheard, but the other kids--younger, but with thicker skin--had been outraged when their sister told them. "Daddy, why do you talk to another woman in the night?" Pegeen had asked with steely eyes and an angry voice. "If you can't sleep, why don't you drink milk? Or read a book?"