“You’re beginning to understand the world.” “Am I? Then I don’t like it.” “That’s precisely why your mother and I kept it from you.” A woman travels across America on a quest for life and love. Rebecca has always been looked after, cared for, shielded from the world; to avoid the realities, Mother would take her shopping, and her parents built a wing of their house just for her. But now Mother is dead and Rebecca, fifty years old, wants to take one of those trips she and Mother had often talked about. So she bargains with her father for the trust money he is withholding and buys a motor home in which she sets off to learn about life, love, and the world beyond the family peach orchard. Perhaps, too, there is a different Rebecca to be found along the way. In nine beautiful, humorous, and poignant stories, Marlene Lee traces the new life of Rebecca Quint as she takes her first steps along her own road.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Marlene Lee
Holland House BooksCopyright © 2013 Marlene Lee
All rights reserved.
"I want a motor home," Rebecca said. She looked up from the breakfast table and stared across the lawn at the peach orchard; at the cool, dusty rows between trees where she used to walk in the hot Sacramento Valley summers when she was young, before her parents installed air conditioning and built her wing of the house.
"Why?" said her father. "You have spacious rooms of your own." He glanced through the window at the white stucco and orange tile roof of her wing.
Underneath the breakfast table, Rebecca crossed and re-crossed her long legs. "I want to travel," she said, adjusting a supportive stocking at the knee. "I want to have some fun before I get old."
"You're already fifty." Her father spit a grapefruit seed into his spoon. "How much does a motor home cost?"
"Thirty-thousand dollars, second-hand."
"You can't afford it."
Rebecca rang for more toast. "Maybe you could give me some of my trust fund early."
Her father gripped the walker he'd been using in the three months since Mother's death and tried to stand. "Motor homes have license fees," he said. "Just like cars. Renewable annually."
"This is the last of Mother's marmalade," Rebecca said, playing with the jam jar lid. Her hands were beginning to look old and spotted. Fingers big-jointed. Her face was plain and weathered. She never thought about her looks nor competed for attention. Still, people noticed her because of her height and dyed red hair: Mother had been alarmed by her daughter's first graying when she was thirty-five.
"How many miles on it?"
"Twenty-thousand. It's got all the conveniences, Daddy. Holding tanks for fresh water and black water. Heating. Air-conditioning. Generator. AC/DC. Propane."
"You don't have that kind of money, Becky. And have you ever driven one of those things? Have you ever emptied a holding tank?"
Rebecca put the lid back on the marmalade and looked at a point just below her father's thin hairline. "Couldn't I have some of my trust money now instead of waiting till you're dead?"
While her father turned away and fingered the knot of the necktie he wore every day with a white shirt, Rebecca twisted the marmalade jar around and around. "Mother said you'd take care of me after she died."
"Board and room and clothes, the best, Daddy. But sometimes that's not enough."
He reached his hand toward her. "Let's not talk about money so soon after Mother ..."
"I'm not getting any younger," Rebecca said.
"Nonsense," said her father.
* * *
When Rebecca's brother, Tom, arrived home from the National Peach Growers Association, he brought a guest, a nutritionist he'd met while attending the presentation Peach Recipes for the 21st Century. The woman was given their mother's sewing room just off the garage, an enclosed, wood-paneled space with its own window. Though Mother never actually sewed, she'd wanted a sewing room with a window, the best sewing machine money could buy, as well as an ironing board and a manikin bearing her own generous, authoritative dimensions.
"Shouldn't we invite her inside," Rebecca asked, "instead of keeping her in the garage?"
"She's not in the garage. She's in the sewing room. But yes. Since you're so eager for a motor home," her father said, maneuvering the walker around the breakfast table, "we can invite her in and give her your wing of the house."
Rebecca's face turned red and blotchy. She imagined the stranger taking over her pretty living room, bedroom, and the library where she and Mother had kept their road maps for the trips they'd planned but never taken.
"Becky!" Father called from the screened-in porch. "Make me some lemonade."
She went into the kitchen, squeezed fresh lemons, and put ice in Mother's favorite pitcher.
"I've been thinking about my life, Daddy," she said, stepping onto the porch with the lemonade. She sat down in the wrought-iron chair opposite him, crossed her legs, and swung one large foot back and forth above the porch floor.
"Becky, Becky. You don't have to think about your life. Never was there such a lucky girl." He drank deeply, set his tongue in a tart vapor lock against his upper plate, and released it with a smack! "Now that Tom and the visitor are engaged, you'll have a woman in the house for company. We'll be a family again."
"Engaged?" said Rebecca.
"Engaged to be married," said her father. A breath of air reached the porch. Rebecca lifted her arms and braced them behind her head. The breeze reached the crease between her breasts and roamed gently above her palpitating heart.
"Mother and I planned to take a trip together," she said as her father drank his lemonade, "but now we never will."
"Don't be morbid, Becky."
"I could still travel, but since she died I haven't had any money."
"She spoiled you."
"Mother was generous," said Rebecca. "And she had money from her parents."
"Only after they both died," her father pointed out. "You'll have money some day, too. Thanks to your mother's fortune and my peaches, you are going to be a wealthy woman."
"The fact is," Rebecca said, swinging her foot in a larger and larger arc, "I'm fifty, Daddy. I come from a wealthy family, yet I don't have money to spend." A mourning dove cooed from deep in the orchard. "Maybe I could work in the peaches with Tom."
"A woman of your class doesn't work in the peaches."
"But that's just the point, Daddy." Rebecca's voice rose. "I can't work in the peaches, but I'm not a high-class woman, either. High-class women have money to spend."
Her father picked up his empty glass and set it down again. "I begged you to marry."
"I didn't love him."
"It's a little late for —"
"I intend to marry for love," said Rebecca.
"You've been happy, haven't you, Becky?"
"If I wasn't, I never noticed," said Rebecca. "I had Mother. I had money. I had fun with my friends until they all left home."
"Ah, Becky. You're learning life's lessons," said her father. "Parents die, money dries up, friends leave." He looked down at his knees. "Health fails."
"I'm healthy," said Rebecca, "but poor."
"Be patient. I can't live forever."
"May I work in the peaches?" she asked again. "May I help Tom?"
Her father clicked a piece of ice against his dentures. "There's more to tell you about Tom," he said. "He and his fiancée are going to manage the orchard together."
"That eliminates me," said Rebecca.
"And she wants your wing of the house for their home."
"Would you give away my wing? The home you and Mother built for me?"
Her father's eyes turned cloudy and sly. "If you have a motor home, you won't be needing the house."
Rebecca felt her face grow rashy. She picked up her cold glass of lemonade and pressed it to her cheek.
"Forget about the motor home," said her father. "Come and live with me in the main house. I need company."
"I've grown used to living in my own wing." She moved her large foot in agitated circles above the porch floor. Then, jumping up from her chair, she left abruptly for her rooms, a gangly woman with sharp elbows and a broad pelvis crossing the lawn like a barge.
* * *
Next morning she wore a beige linen suit to breakfast, and shoes her mother had bought her for two hundred dollars. She pushed back the damp hair falling in her face. "This is a business meeting, Daddy," she said, and rang for more coffee. "Strictly speaking, it's about my motor home."
"How are you going to pay for it?" he said.
"That's what this business meeting is about. I want to negotiate a deal. A motor home for my wing of the house."
Her father put his elbows on the table. "I can't let you do that, Becky."
"That's only part of it," she said.
"What's the rest?"
"Access to my inheritance."
Her father laughed.
"How badly does Tom's fiancée want that wing? I can be out at the drop of a hat."
"Becky, Becky, Becky." Her father took off his bifocals and methodically polished them on a napkin. "I paid for the wing. You can't negotiate with something that isn't yours."
"When I was thirty I wanted to move out, but you and Mother said, 'Stay. We'll build you a wing of your own.'" The rash crept up her neck. She ducked her head toward the melon on her plate. "I should have left years ago."
"But you had no skills."
"I could have learned."
"Nonsense," said her father.
* * *
That evening Rebecca found her brother in the garage, just outside the door to the sewing room, waiting for his fiancée to finish dressing. Mother's Cadillac sat where it had been parked the day after the funeral, lubricated, washed, and waxed. It hadn't been driven since.
"Why don't you wait for your fiancée in the house?" she asked.
Tom, who had been leaning on the car, stood up straight. He was even taller than Rebecca. "It's quiet out here." He stuttered and wore thick glasses.
"Daddy says she wants to move into my wing of the house," Rebecca said, squinting. She could barely see Tom in the dimness. He reached up and pulled the string to the overhead bulb. In the weak yellow light their mother's black car looked green.
"Father suggested it," Tom said.
"Then your fiancée doesn't want my wing of the house?" said Rebecca.
"No, she doesn't. She wants her own home."
Rebecca folded her arms across her floral jumpsuit. "Then Daddy's right. I can't bargain. I don't own it, and no one wants it, anyway."
"What bargain are you talking about?"
"My wing of the house for ..." She gestured vaguely toward the world outside the garage.
"Where were you planning to live?"
"In a motor home." Rebecca's eyes glittered under the low-watt bulb. She put her foot on the bumper of their mother's car and began rocking the front end up and down, up and down.
Her brother touched her knee to quiet her. "Why a motor home?"
"To get away from here."
"You can get an apartment. You don't have to be mobile."
"I want to travel. Mother and I planned trips. I want to find — something."
"What do you want to find?" Tom asked gently.
"Love," she whispered.
Rebecca turned away from the light. "I know I'm taken care of. But as for love ..." A wasp, possibly shut up in the garage since Mother had died, buzzed and popped against the hot bulb. Rebecca moved closer to Tom and pushed back her hair. The yellow light was making her perspire. "I don't know anything about love," she said. "I loved Mother. That's all I know."
"I thought about leaving once," admitted Tom.
In the silence they heard their father's voice from inside the house: "Becky? Tom?"
"Don't answer," Tom said.
"What if he falls?" whispered Rebecca.
"He won't. He doesn't really need the walker." Rebecca looked doubtful, but Tom continued. "Do you want to travel in a motor home, specifically, or do you just want to get out of the house?"
"I want to travel, specifically, and I want out of the house, specifically," said Rebecca. "Whether your fiancée wants my wing or not, she can have it. It's going to be empty." She lifted her chin and smiled with bravado. Under the yellow light her wrinkles disappeared, her dyed hair looked natural, and her eyes were keen and intelligent.
"How will you pay for this motor home?" Tom asked. "Without Father, where's your money?"
"I've asked him to turn loose of my trust fund."
"What if he doesn't?"
"I'll leave anyway."
"Where will you go?"
"I don't know. Do what other people do, whatever that is."
Tom leaned back against their mother's car again. "I'm saving my fund for my old age," he said primly.
"Becky? Tom?" their father called from the kitchen. His walker hit the floor at regular intervals.
Rebecca stroked the Cadillac, then stretched across the hood of the car. "Mother kept us here, you know," she sobbed, as if she were crying against Mother's breast. Her tears landed in beads on the black paint. "We were prisoners."
Their father fumbled for the knob on the other side of the door.
"No!" Tom whispered savagely. "No! She was the best ..."
"Mother bribed us!" Straightening and leaning against her brother, she snorted once with the effort to control herself.
"Goddammit," said their father on the other side of the door. Tom reached up and pulled the string. The light went out. Their father opened the door. In the light from the hallway they watched him maneuver backwards into the garage. Throwing down his walker in a series of pivot points, he slowly turned and made his way across the cement floor. When he reached the sewing room he lifted the walker and struck the door.
"Cool it!" cried Tom's fiancée from inside her room.
"Tom?" yelled the old man.
"Tom's not here!" She flung open the door and stood off-balance, one shoe on, the other in her hand. "No one's here! I'm dressing!" The old man looked over her shoulder into the sewing room. "Why should he come out here?" the woman continued in a shrill voice. "Why would anyone want to come out here except maybe to sew or get in the car?"
The old man threw back his head. "Our house isn't good enough for you?"
"Your garage isn't good enough for me!"
"I see you have spirit," he said, steadying himself.
"I'd like to have a chat with you one of these days."
The fiancée glared. "What about?"
"Living arrangements." He let go of the walker. "You're a woman of the world. We understand each other."
She dropped the shoe and slipped her foot into it. "What's on your mind?"
"I'm going to need care one of these days." Stepping forward, he studied her face, bright with makeup. "It would be nice to have Tom and you in the house. I can give you the back wing."
"Isn't that where your daughter lives?"
"Oh, she wants out," he said. "Without her mother here, I think she's going to fly the coop. She won't be here when I need her."
"I'm not a nurse," said the fiancée, curling her hand around the doorknob, "if that's what you mean."
"I can hire a nurse but I can't hire a family. Since my wife died, the household needs managing. And with Becky gone, we need to be held together, don't you see?"
"I can't hold a family together," said the fiancée. "I don't have the skills."
"If you marry us, you'll learn."
There was a silence. "People do say I'm efficient and well-organized."
"There you go," he responded. "That's just what we need."
"Still, Tom and I want a home of our own."
"You can renovate the back wing and whip us into shape at the same time. You'll have your home and I'll have my family."
"Your daughter doesn't like me," she said.
"She won't be here."
"Does she have her own money?"
"I'll turn some funds loose," said Rebecca's father.
The fiancée looked deeply into his eyes. "A woman needs money to stay as well as to leave."
The old man smiled, turned, and began thumping his way back along the floor of the garage.
Rebecca and Tom left quietly by the door to the circular drive.
"The bastard," said Tom, quivering with rage. "Scheming and talking to my fiancée behind my back."
* * *
"I've been thinking, Becky," her father said a few weeks later. His color was good; he took fewer pills. "A motor home sounds like a good idea."
"Wonderful, Daddy," said Rebecca. "Does this mean I can have some of my trust fund early?"
"We'll see," said her father. "In the meantime, I'll buy it for you, with the proviso that I can use it if I ever need to."
"Then it will be yours, not mine."
"You're beginning to understand the world."
"Am I? Then I don't like it."
"That's precisely why your mother and I kept it from you." He left the room, flinging the walker about with abandon.
* * *
Tom found Rebecca in the kitchen where she was making tea.
"I'm getting the feeling she doesn't want to marry me," he stammered. He put both hands in his hair and pulled. He was pale and haggard. "I get the feeling she thinks I'm immature."
Rebecca dunked the tea bag up and down, faster and faster. "Prove to her you're mature," she said in a low, intense voice.
Tom hung his head. "How?"
Rebecca glanced rapidly around the room. "Take her away. Make arrangements for a home of your own."
"You mean leave?"
"I think she likes to make her own arrangements."
"Fine. The point is to show her you can make arrangements, too."
"Some place in town."
"It wouldn't be as comfortable as home."
"Nowhere is as comfortable as home, Tom. We've wasted our lives being comfortable."
"I like being comfortable," Tom said into his hands. Rebecca pulled his arms down to his sides and smoothed his hair as he talked. "I loved it when Mother made hot chocolate in the evening, and we all watched television together. On Sunday night she would ask how much money we needed for the week. Our clothes were always dried on the right cycle and folded ..."
Rebecca felt the familiar rash climb from her throat up into her neck and face. "It would be easy to stay," she said. "I admit it's more comfortable here than anywhere else. But it's a trap."
Their father entered the kitchen at a fast clip. "It's hard to believe Mother left us" — he looked at his watch — "just four months ago today."
"You're looking well, Daddy," said Rebecca.
"Your mother wanted me to lose weight," he said, jogging slowly in place. The walker had been stored in a corner of the garage. "She wanted me to regain my health and vigor."
"And what would she have wanted for us?" asked Rebecca. "For Tom and me?"
"Tom's place is with the peaches. He knows every aspect of the business."
"Our little girl," said her father.
"You can't be a little girl when you're fifty," Rebecca snapped. "It doesn't work."
Excerpted from Rebecca's Road by Marlene Lee. Copyright © 2013 Marlene Lee. Excerpted by permission of Holland House Books.
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.
Table of Contents
2 The Long Black Cadillac,
4 File Boxes,
5 Most Strange,
6 If You Love a Thing,
7 The Dome,
9 August Singularity,