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Nine family members and friends of Aurore Gerritsen gather on small Louisiana island, despite an approaching hurricane, to hear to reading of Aurore's will over the course of four days that reveal shocking, well-kept family secrets. Original.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Emilie Richards’s many novels feature complex characterizations and in-depth explorations of social issues. Both are a result of her training and experience as a family counselor, which contribute to her fascination with relationships of all kinds. Emilie and her husband enjoy dividing their time between the Florida Gulf Coast and Chautauqua County, New York. She is currently working on her next novel for MIRA Books.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The young man Dawn Gerritsen picked up just outside New Orleans looked like a bum, but so did a lot of students hitchhiking the world that summer. His hair wasn't clean; his clothes were a marriage of beat poet and circus performer. To his credit, he had neither the pasty complexion of a Beatles-mad Liverpudlian nor the California tan of a Beach Boy surfer. In the past year she had seen more than enough of both types making the grand tour of rock bands and European waves.
The hitchhiker's skin was freckled, and his eyes were pure Tupelo honey. Biloxi and Gulfport oozed from his throat, and the first time he called her ma'am, she wanted to drag him to a sun-dappled levee and make him moan it over and over until she knew, really knew, that she was back in the Deep South again.
She hadn't dragged him anywhere. She didn't even remember his name. She was too preoccupied for sex, and she wasn't looking for intimacy. After three formative years in Berkeley, she had given up on love, right along with patriotism, religion and happily-ever-afters. Her virginity had been an early casualty, a prize oddly devalued in California, like an ancient currency exchanged exclusively by collectors.
Luckily her hitchhiker didn't seem to be looking for intimacy, either. He seemed more interested in the food in her glove compartment and the needle on her speedometer. After her initial rush of sentiment, she almost forgot he was in the car until she arrived in Cut Off. Then she made the mistake of reaching past him to turn up the radio. It was twenty-five till the hour, and the news was just ending.
"And in other developments today, State Senator Ferris Lee Gerritsen, spokesman for Gulf Coast Shipping, the international corporation based in New Orleans, announced that the company will turn over a portion of its land holdings along the river to the city so that a park can be developed as a memorial to his parents, Henry and Aurore Gerritsen. Mrs. Gerritsen, granddaughter of the founder of Gulf Coast Shipping, passed away last week. Senator Gerritsen is the only living child of the couple. His brother, Father Hugh Gerritsen, was killed last summer in a civil-rights incident in Bonne Chance. It's widely predicted that the senator will run for governor in 1968."
Although the sun was sinking toward the horizon, Dawn retrieved her sunglasses from the dashboard and slipped them on, first blowing her heavy bangs out of her eyes in her own version of a sigh. As she settled back against her seat, she felt the warmth of a hand against her bare thigh. One quick glance and she saw that her hitchhiker was assessing her with the same look he had, until that moment, saved for her Moon Pies and Twinkies. Dawn knew what he saw. A long-limbed woman with artfully outlined blue eyes and an expression that refuted every refined feature that went with them. Also a possible fortune.
He smiled, and his hand inched higher. "Your name's Gerritsen, didn't you say? You related to him?" "You're wasting your time," she said. "I'm not busy doing anything else."
She pulled over to the side of the road. A light rain was falling and a harder one was forecast, but that didn't change her mind. "Time to stick out your thumb again."
"Hey, come on. I can make the rest of the trip more fun than you can imagine."
"Sorry, but my imagination's bigger than anything you've got."
Drawling curses, he reclaimed his hand and his duffel bag. She pulled back onto the road after the door slammed shut behind him.
She was no lonelier than she had been before, but after the news, and without the distraction of another person in the next seat, Dawn found herself thinking about her grandmother, exactly the thing she had tried to avoid by picking up the hitchhiker in the first place. This trip to Grand Isle had nothing to do with pleasure and everything to do with Aurore Le Danois Gerritsen. On her deathbed, Aurore had decreed that her last will and testament be read at a gathering at the family summer cottage. And the reading of the will was a command performance.
The last time Dawn drove the route between New Orleans and Grand Isle, she'd only had her license for a year. South Louisiana was a constant negotiation between water and earth, and sometimes the final decision wasn't clear. She had flown over the land and crawled over the water. Her grandmother had sat beside her, never once pointing out that one of the myriad drawbridges might flip them into murky Bayou Lafourche or that some of the tiny towns along the way fed their coffers with speed traps. She had chatted of this and that, and only later, when Aurore limped up the walk to the cottage, had Dawn realized that her right leg was stiff from flooring nonexistent gas and brake pedals.
The memory brought an unexpected lump to her throat. The news of her grandmother's death hadn't surprised her, but neither had she truly been prepared. How could she have known that a large chunk of her own identity would disappear when Aurore died? Aurore Gerritsen had held parts of Dawn's life in her hands and sculpted them with the genius of a Donatello.
Some part of Dawn had disappeared at her uncle's death, too. The radio report had only touched on Hugh Gerritsen's death, as if it were old news now. But it wasn't just old news to her. Her uncle had been a controversial figure in Louisiana, a man who practiced all the virtues that organized religion espoused. But to her he had been Uncle Hugh, the man who had seen everything that was good inside her and taught her to see the same.
Two deaths in two years. The only Gerritsens who had ever understood her were gone now. And who was left? Who would love her simply because she was Dawn, without judgment or emotional bribery? She turned up the radio again and forced herself to sing along with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.
An hour later she crossed the final bridge. Time ticked fifty seconds to the minute on the Gulf Coast. Grand Isle looked much as it had that day years before when she had temporarily crippled her grandmother. Little changed on the island unless forced by the hand of Mother Nature. The surf devoured and regurgitated the shoreline, winds uprooted trees and sent roofs spinning, but the people and their customs stayed much the same.
The island was by no means fashionable, but every summer Dawn had joined Aurore here, where the air wasn't mountain-fresh and the sand wasn't cane-sugar perfection. And every summer Aurore had patiently patched and rewoven the intricate fabric of Gerritsen family life.
Today there was wind, and the surf was angry, although that hadn't discouraged the hard-core anglers strung along the shoreline. A hurricane with the friendly name of Betsy hovered off Florida, and although nobody really expected her to turn toward this part of Louisiana, if she did, the island residents would protect their homes, pack their cars and choose their retreats before the evacuation announcement had ended.
Halfway across the length of Grand Isle, Dawn turned away from the gulf. A new load of oyster shells had been dumped on the road to the Gerritsen cottage, but it still showed fresh tire tracks. The cottage itself was like the island. Over the years, Mother Nature had subtly altered it, but the changes had only intensified its basic nature. Built of weathered cypress in the traditional Creole style and surrounded by tangles of oleander, jasmine and myrtle, it was as much a part of the landscape as the gnarled water oaks encircling it. Even the addition, designed by her grandmother, seemed to have been there forever.
Dawn wondered if her parents had already arrived. She hadn't called them from London or the New Orleans airport, sure that if she did they would expect her to travel to Grand Isle with them. She had wanted this time to adjust slowly to returning to Louisiana. She was twenty-three now, too old to be swallowed by her family and everything they stood for, but she had needed these extra hours to fortify herself.
As she pulled up in front of the house she saw that a car was parked under one of the trees, a tan Karmann Ghia with a California license plate. She wondered who had come so far for the reading of her grandmother's will. Was there a Gerritsen, a Le Danois three times removed, who had always waited in the wings?
She parked her rented Pontiac beside the little convertible and pulled on her vinyl slicker and brimmed John Lennon cap to investigate. The top was up, but she peered through one of the rain-fogged windows. The car belonged to a man. The sunglasses on the dashboard looked like an aviator's goggles; a wide-figured tie was draped over a briefcase in the rear.
She wrapped her slicker tighter around her. Mary Quant had designed it as protection against London's soft, cool rain. Now it trapped the Louisiana summer heat and melted against Dawn's thighs, but she didn't care. Her gaze had moved beyond the car, beyond the oleander and jasmine, to the wide front gallery. A man she had never expected to see again leaned against a square pillar and watched her.
She was aware of rain splashing against the brim of her hat and running in streams across her boots, but she didn't move. She stood silently and wondered if she had ever really known her grandmother.
Ben Townsend stepped off the porch. He had no protection, Carnaby-mod or otherwise. The rain dampened his oxford-cloth shirt and dark slacks and turned his sun-streaked hair the color of antique brass. His clothes clung to a body that hadn't changed in the past year. Her eyes measured the span of his shoulders, the width of his waist and hips, the long stretch of his legs. Her expression didn't change as he approached. Repressing emotion was a skill she had cultivated since she saw him last.
"I guess you didn't expect me." He stopped a short distance from her, as if he had calculated to the inch exactly how close she would allow him to come.
"A masterpiece of understatement."
"I got a letter asking me to come for the reading of your grandmother's will." He shoved his hands in his pockets. Dawn had seen him stand that way so many times, shoulders hunched, palms turned out, heels set firmly in the ground. The stance made him real, not a shadow from her memories.
"I'm surprised you bothered." She rocked back on her heels, too, as if she were comfortable enough to stand under the dripping oak forever. "Expecting to find a story here?"
"Nope. I'm an editor now. I buy what other people write."
For the past year, Ben had worked for Mother Lode, a celebrated new magazine carving out its niche among California's liberal elite. Dawn had read just one issue. Mother Lode obviously prized creativity, intellect and West Coast self-righteousness. She wasn't surprised Ben had moved quickly up its career ladder.
"You always were good at pronouncing judgment," she said.
He hunched his shoulders another inch. "And you seem to have gotten better at it."
"I've gotten better at lots of things, but apparently not at understanding Grandmere. I can't figure if inviting you was an attempt to force a lovers' reunion, or if she just had a twisted sense of humor."
"Do you really think your grandmother asked me here to hurt you?"
"You have another explanation?"
"Maybe it has something to do with Father Hugh."
She tossed back her hair. "I don't know why it should. Uncle Hugh's been dead a year."
"I know when he died, Dawn. I was there."
"That's right. And I wasn't. I think that was the subject of our last conversation."
That conversation had taken place a year before, but now Dawn remembered it as if Ben's words were still carving catacombs under her feet. She had been standing beside Ben's hospital bed on the afternoon after her uncle's death. A nurse had come at the sound of raised voices, then scurried away without saying a word. Dawn could still remember the smell of lilies from an arrangement on another patient's bedside table and the tasteless Martian green of gladiola sprays. Ben had shouted questions and waited for answers that never came.
"Did you know, Dawn? Did you know that your uncle was going to be gunned down like a common criminal? Did you know that a mob was on its way to that church to turn a good man into a saint and a martyr?"
"Look, I'm staying," Ben said. "I don't know why I was invited here, but I'm going to stay long enough to get some answers. Can we be civil to each other?"
"You're a Louisiana boy. You know hospitality's a tradition in this part of the world. I'll do my part to live up to it."
Dawn studied him for another moment. His hair was longer than it had been a year ago, as if he had made the psychological transition from Boston, where he had worked on the Globe, to San Francisco. He wore glasses now, wire-framed and self-important. He no longer looked too young to have answers to all the world's problems. He looked his full twenty-seven years, like a man who had found his place in the world and never intended to relinquish it.
Her father was a man who also radiated confidence and purpose. Dawn wondered what would happen when Ferris Lee Gerritsen discovered that Ben Townsend had received an invitation to Grand Isle.
Ben waited until her gaze drifted back to his. "I'm not going to push myself on you."
"Oh, don't worry about me. Nobody pushes anything on me these days. And nobody puts anything over on me, either. Stay if you want. But don't stay because you want to finish old conversations."
"Maybe there'll be some new conversations worth finishing."
She shrugged, then turned back to her car for her luggage, making a point of dismissing him. She had left almost everything she owned in Europe. She reached for her camera case and her overnight bag, but left her suitcase inside.
In the distance, thunder exploded with renewed vigor, and the ground at Dawn's feet seemed to ripple in response. The sultry island air was charged with the familiar smells of ozone and decay. By the time she straightened, Ben was no longer beside her. She watched as he walked down the oyster-shell drive, glad she didn't have to pretend to be casual even a moment longer.
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Mira, 1997. Paperback. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX1551662736
Book Description Mira, 1997. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M1551662736