Read an Excerpt
The FOR SALE sign had been there, nestled in the ivy for so long, it had begun to seem part of the landscape, and then it was gone. Early June, Hubbard's Point was coming back to life, so everyone noticed. Taking their evening walks down the dead-end road to the Point, looking up at the old Mayhew place, couples would speculatein voices loud enough for Rumer Larkin to hearabout who the new owners would be.
Rumer wondered herself, but only slightly. That house, no matter how often it changed hands, had had only one owner that matteredand Zeb had sold it ten years ago, after his and Elizabeth's divorce.
Rumer knew there were two types of people who came to the Point. Those like her family, who stayed forever, and those who thought more about property values than the simple peace of the beautiful land. People like that came and went. The women of the Pointor les Dames de la Roche, as Winnie Hubbard called themjust watched without much comment.
It was dusk. The air was fragrant with honeysuckle and beach roses. Pale blue and white lace hydrangeas bloomed along the garage and stone wall. Pine and scrub oak trees, symbolic of Hubbard's Point, filled all the yards. The sound of her father sanding the bottom of his boat rasped through the air. Peering out the kitchen window, Rumer brushed wheat-colored hair from her eyes and knew this was the perfect time for the release.
She walked out to the mudroom, where the family hung their slickers and slipped off their boots. Wood for the fireplace was stacked against the wallpine wainscoting darkened with time and salt air. Kindling was saved in a copper kettle, and two animal hutches, brought home from her veterinary office, stood in the corner.
They were covered with pieces of bright fabrican old slipcover and curtainto keep the birds and animals from being frightened, and Rumer knelt down to lift the cloth on the lowest hutch. There, huddled in back, was the small brown rabbit. Liquid eyes stared, whiskers quivering.
She had found him six weeks earlier, lying stunned near the angel statue on the border of her yard and the Mayhews'. The talon marks on his back had made her think an owl had caught him, lifted him into the sky. This little guy was fighter enough to squirm hard, wriggle free, and drop to earth. It had been a long fall, but she had set his leg, stitched his cuts, and he had survived.
"Oh, Rumer," her mother had said to her once when she was eleven and had stayed up all night watching over a baby blue jay who had fallen out of its nest, "Nature can be harshsometimes baby birds are born sick, and their mothers push them out. We just don't know. . . ."
"I know," Rumer had said stubbornly. "He was just trying to fly a little too soon. He's going to be fine. I'll take care of him, and then I'll put him back."
"He won't be accepted, Rumer," said Mrs. Mayhewher mother's best friend since childhood. "Not after he's been touched by humans."
"Yes, he will," Rumer had said, undeterred, making him a nest in an old shoe box. "I'm sure of it."
"Well, just don't forget to take care of yourself as well. Okay, honey? Little girls need sleep too."
Rumer had listened, but inside she felt so thrilled and alive, as if she'd never need sleep again. But the next day, when she checked on the small jay, she found him dead in the shoe box. Her insides felt like ice, numbness spreading into her fingers as she gently touched the bird's wings, discovering the broken bones.
Zeb helped her bury him, she remembered now: by the angel statue between their yards. Kneeling there, digging the hole and smelling the fresh dirt, she knew that she wanted to learn everything there was about helping animals, and she whispered to Zeb, "I'm going to be a vet."
"No kidding, Larkin," he'd whispered back. "I've known that since you were five."
Holding the rabbitnow rehabilitated from his broken legin her hands, she walked outside. Crickets chirped in the tall grass. Across the water, seabirds cried on their way home to Gull Island. Pines whispered in the wind. The rhythm of her father's sanding continued. Down the street, Winnie sang scales. Stopping by the stone angel, Rumer set the rabbit down in a patch of glossy-green myrtle.
Pausing to sniff the air, he scampered straight into the Mayhews' yard. Rumer hid in the bushes, holding her breath, watching him go. I knew it, she thought. Although there were plenty of other rabbits around, he was part of the old family that lived under the azalea bush, in a warren deep in the rock ledge.
When she, Elizabeth, and Zeb were kids, their mothers had taught them all about the animals who lived on the Point, the trees and flowers that grew there, the fish that swam the waters, the stars that shined down on them every night. The Mayhews and Larkins had the Point's wildest, least-tamed lots, so they had the most nature to love and learn about right in their own backyardsbehind the very same houses their mothers had grown up in.
Rumer glanced up at the house next door. No matter how many times it had changed hands, everyone still called it "the Mayhew place." Built on granite ledge, its shingles were still stained dark green, with cutout pine trees in the white shutters, the way it had been when Zeb had lived there. Funny how none of the three subsequent owners had bothered to change much.
Tall pine trees shaded the rocky land. Mrs. Mayhew's gardens were still the same: rich tangles of ivy and woodbine, rare wildflowers such as bloodroot and ladyslippers, hybrid lilies of gold and rust-red growingwith such heart-piercing tenacityfrom out of the gray, glacial ledge where the rabbits made their home.
Now, gazing west at the beach and marsh, Rumer saw the crescent moon hanging low in the sky. Just below, to the right, was a planet. Mercury? Venus? She wasn't sure, but seeing it stirred something old and nearly forgotten deep in her soul, so bittersweet, she picked a honeysuckle blossom and licked the nectar to chase the other taste away even as she realized Winnie's singing had stopped.
Watching her charge, she saw two new rabbits venture out of their hiding place among the low azaleas. They sniffed the air, hopped through the yard. Rumer watched the tall grass move, and they encircled their friend, welcoming him back.
Just then the animals froze. They turned to statues, like the stone angel, and Rumer glanced over her shoulder to see someone tall coming up her hill, through the shadows. It was Winnie; Rumer could tell by her stooped grace, by the shush, shush of her long caftan against the grass and stones. Behind her, with hair as tangled as the ivy, was Rumer's neighbor and a student in the veterinary science course she taught at the high school, Quinn Grayson.
"Are we too late?" Winnie asked as the two joined Rumer. Although she didn't lower her voice, the rabbits weren't scared away. The creatures on the Point, humans and animals, knew each other so well, and at eighty-two, Winnie was the oldest of all. Quinn, crouching down, didn't say a word.
"Almost," Rumer said. "I let him go a few minutes agothere he is, by the azalea. See him?"
"Being welcomed back by his family."
"I'm sorry I was late. I was rehearsing, and I lost track of the time."
Quinn looked up. "And I was making a tea ceremony for Aunt Dana and helping with the wedding . . . instead of green tea, I made rose-hip tea from Point roses! She loved it, and it was so"
"Test on pet first aid tomorrow, Quinn," Rumer said.
"I know, but I wanted to see you release the rabbit . . ." Quinn said. Although she was as wild and native as most of the animals on the Point, she was trying hard to have a normal junior year. At school to teach just one elective class a semester, Rumer looked after her the best she could, but what could she really say to a girl who had missed more school days than she had attended since last September?
"Well, mission accomplished," Winnie said in her straightforward and sensible way. "You've seen the rabbit safely home, and now you must return to your studies. Excellence, Quinn, is what we expect from you: The world has far too much mediocrity already. Go to your books and make us all proud."
"Dr. Larkin," Quinn said, smiling. "It always feels so weird, calling you that at school. You've always been just Rumer to me and Allie."
"You can call me whatever you want," Rumer said. "Now go on home. Forget about the wedding for one night, and study hard. . . ."
"I'd rather be lobstering," Quinn said. "I want to live life, not study it."
Rumer hid a smile. She remembered feeling that way at Quinn's age; she still did. "Well, for now you have to do both."
"Yes, darling," Winnie agreed.
Reluctantly, Quinn shook her head as if both Winnie and Rumer were too old to ever understand, and ran through the yards.
"Not the first complicated girl the Point has seen . . ." Winnie murmured.
Fireflies flickered in the bushes, and ghostly shapes shimmered in the twilight haze. Standing there, Rumer felt the old woman's hand on her shoulder. Winnie's white hair piled on top of her head made her look even taller than her six feet, and Rumer felt flooded with love for her neighbor and friend.
"Who do you think has bought the place?" Rumer asked, gesturing at the green house.
"Someone fascinating, I hope."
"With children," Rumer said. "Who'll climb the trees and love the birds and rabbits that live here."
"And stars and sky overhead," Winnie said, her trained voice rich and melodic.
Why had Winnie said that in that way? Rumer looked over, a question in her eyes.
"Nothing, dear," Winnie said, catching her glance. "Don't read so much into an old woman's musings. Now, are you ready for the wedding?"
Rumer nodded, brushing the hair from her eyes. Dana Underhill, one of the women of the Point, was getting married that Saturday to Sam Trevorfinally, after four years together. A tent had been erected in their yard, and Quinn's sister, Allie, had stopped by earlier to ask if they could pick some roses and lilies on the wedding morning, to decorate the tables.
"I am," Rumer said, although the last thing she felt like doing was go to a wedding. "Are you singing?"
"Of course! It wouldn't be a Hubbard's Point wedding if I didn't sing!" Winnie said imperiously, and Rumer smiled at her unabashed pride. Winnie Hubbard has a very good opinion of herself, Rumer's grandmother, Letitia Shaw, had once observed, making it clear she thought the quality perhaps too much of a good thing.
"We haven't had a Point wedding in a long time," Rumer said, still watching the rabbits, their small movements making the grass twitch.
"I'm not sure this counts as a full-fledged Point wedding," Winnie said. "Sam's from away. But I can understand how he fell in love with Dana, of course. . . ." Her voice grew softer and her gaze fixed on the green house as the scent of roses and honeysuckle embraced them. "The air here is an aphrodisiac. But you know the tradition: The boys of Hubbard's Point marry the girls of Hubbard's Point."
"Some do. . . ."
"Your ancestor blew it, of course. Running off with that ship's captain and dying together on the Wickland Shoal. So romantic, but missing the point. Everything she needed was right here!"
Rumer nodded, thinking of the old story. The legend of Elisabeth Randall and Nathaniel Thorn was famousmore so since Sam's brother, Joe Connor, had raised the treasure of the Cambria, the ship that had carried them to their deaths.
"But true Hubbard's Point marriages . . ." Winnie continued. "Beginning with my great-grandfather and great-grandmother, right down to your sister and Zeb."
"That one didn't last," Rumer said sharply, watching the rabbits.
"It was never the real thing . . ." Winnie began, and then seemed to change her mind. "He's coming, you know."
"He's what?" The pit of Rumer's stomach turned to ice.
"Coming. For Dana's wedding. He and Michael are renting my guest house. Zeb sent his check, and I cashed it, so I know it's true, they're really coming." She gestured at the green house, almost invisible in the darkness. "I think he would have liked to rent his old place, but the sale had already gone through. The timing is diceymy spring tenants weren't out soon enough to suit him, but"
"Why's he putting himself through it, coming back to Hubbard's Point after everything? And dragging Michael along with him?" Rumer asked, the words tearing out. The ice had melted and she was now boiling mad. She didn't want to lay eyes on Zeb ever again.
"Who knows?" Winnie said, holding her arms up to the sky. "Perhaps he finally heard his son calling all the way from the moon, or wherever it is he goes up there. Dana's wedding is only the excuseI think it's a chance for him and Michael to spend some time together."
"Why don't they do it somewhere else?" Rumer asked. "Zeb's a fool if he tries to come back here."
"What about Michael?" Winnie asked dryly. "Don't you want to see your nephew?"
"I doubt he even remembers me."
"There's plenty of time for you to refresh his memory. You'll have the summer."
"That's how long they're staying."
"You're kidding!" The shock struck Rumer like a lightning bolt, entering through the crown of her head, singeing the nerves along her spine. Her heart had been broken, her family nearly destroyed by what Zeb had done. Marrying Elizabeth: Rumer would never forgive either of them for it.
Elizabeth, Zeb, and Michael. They had been the star family, no question about it: a Broadway actress lured by Hollywood, an astronomer and mission expert, and their beautiful miracle child whom Rumer barely knew. The situation filled Rumer with emotions she hadn't felt in several yearsthe feelings had been unpleasant then, and they were no more welcome now.
"When do they arrive?"
"Before Saturdayin time for the wedding." Stretching her arms toward the sky again, Winnie turned to go. "It promises to be an interesting summer."
"Winnie, the eternal optimist," Rumer murmured.
"Precisely," Winnie replied, dead serious. "Is there any other way to be?" Turning, she swept majestically down the hill, leaving Rumer alone with the rabbits.