Safe Harbor cover(18K)

Safe Harbor

Chapter 1

Holly Anderson's birthday surprise turned out to be a two-by-four over the head.

She had been expecting, oh, a cake and candles in her studio; maybe a singing telegram; possibly to be dragged out to dinner at one of the island's fancier restaurants. She had not expected to spend the last half of the first day of her thirty-first year at the bottom, emotionally speaking, of a ditch.

Her summer birthday had begun routinely enough, with Holly devoting the morning to cleaning and sanding the wide drawerfronts of a sweet old pine dresser that she'd snatched up at a Vineyard yard sale on the Vineyard just two days earlier. Then came the fun part, sketching a whimsical farmstead across the faces of the three drawers. After erasing a cow and two geese and adding more chickens, Holly was ready to mix her paints and make folk-art magic.

She loved what she was doing, loved the way she was connecting in some mystical way with the generations before her who had used and loved and worn out the workaday set of drawers. She would have loved it even without being paid; but her folk art was in wild demand, and that continued to amaze her.

Holly had filled in a few brushstrokes of sky when her mother's white Volvo pulled up in front of the red-shingled barn that was serving so well as a summer studio. Good: all signs pointed to a quiet dinner with her parents at the Black Dog this year, with maybe some cake and hopefully no telegram.

"Hi, Mom," she called over her shoulder through the clutter of broken furniture, hand-made birdhouses, and charming whirligigs that filled the ground floor of the building. She laid down another stroke of impossible blue. "Come see my latest."

The hum of her creativity was so strong that it drowned out the sound of her mother's silence. It took a moment for Holly to emerge from her trance and turn around.

"He's having an affair with Eden," said Charlotte Anderson, skipping right past any birthday greeting. Her lip began to quiver. Tears welled but did not fall.

"Who is?"

"Who do you think?"

Outrage boiled, not quite over.

"I'm sorry," said Holly, forcing herself to abandon her work. "I wasn't paying attention. Who's having an affair with Eden?" She began wiping her paint-stained fingers on a soft cloth. Her mother could have been talking about almost any male on the island. Eden was gorgeous, twenty-nine, not shy. Eden was an enchantress.

Charlotte Anderson closed her eyes and bit her lip, then gave up the struggle. Her face contorted with pain, and then she broke down. "Your father ... your father ... your father, damn him to hell," she moaned between racking sobs.

Holly simply stared. "Are you crazy? Dad? Are you crazy?"

"My God--would I make it up?" her mother cried. Suddenly she focused all of her pain and fury on Holly. "Take his side, why don't you!" she said, and she staggered, newly wounded, to a rickety Windsor chair that was awaiting glue and a folk-art treatment.

"Not that one, Mom; it won't hold you," warned Holly. She rushed to get another.

Her mother said mordantly, "Now I'm fat besides being old?" More tears, bitter streams of them, from sixty-year-old and no longer thin Charlotte Anderson.

"Mom! You know I didn't mean it that way."

Holly tried to embrace her hysterical mother, but she was shrugged off violently. "Mom, you're wrong, you're just wrong," she insisted through her mother's sobs, trying to soothe, though she was reeling herself. "This is a bizarre mistake. Someone misinterpreted. It's so easy to do that with Eden. You know how she is."

"Yes--thanks to you! You had to sublet to the woman, didn't you," Charlotte said, casting a hateful look at the ceiling above them.

"That's not fair! Eden worked at the gallery and she needed a place to stay. She was a big fan of my work; I couldn't let her sleep on the beach. Even you admitted early on that she was the perfect tenant: cheerful, conscientious, hardly ever around to disturb m--oh."

"Exactly."

"But, Mom--Eden. Think about it: she's half dad's age!"

"Which makes her half my age. Oh, God ... I can't bear this. I really can't," Charlotte moaned. She slumped into a nearby rocker instead of Holly's armchair and wrapped her arms around her stomach as she rocked disconsolately; and, yes, the years did show.

"What will our family say?" she wailed in misery. "Your brother, your sister? This will tear us apart. This will destroy us. How could he do this to me? How could he? Oh, God ... how could he?" she kept repeating, sobbing throughout the mantra of her despair.

Still shocked, Holly said, "Mom, Mom ... how can you not trust Dad? Why are you so convinced he did anything?"

Charlotte Anderson lifted her head. Her face was puffy, her hair a mess. The light had gone out completely from her gentle and trusting gaze. In a flat, dull voice she said, "Because he told me so. Because he's gone off on the boat with her. He wants a divorce."

Holly had seen the two-by-four coming, but she was way too stupefied to duck. She gasped from the shock of the blow and fell back into the armchair she'd dragged over.

"When did he tell you this?"

"This morning."

"That's what he said? He wants a divorce?"

"Not for his sake. For mine," her mother said, trying for a trenchant smile but failing. "He says he doesn't want to put me through the prolonged agony of his affair."

"I can't believe this. We may as well be talking about two different men. Dad hasn't had an unfaithful thought in his life!"

"You're so sure of that," her mother said through her sniffles as she searched her bag for something to blow her nose on.

"Well, has he?" Holly demanded. She held out a box of Kleenex. "Before this, has he ever had an unfaithful thought that you know of?"

Her mother's grudging lift of a shoulder told Holly that as far as she knew, Eric Anderson had not.

"I mean, really. The man is sixty-two years old. He's quiet, reserved, you could say prudish. His work is his life. He doesn't get risque jokes; I've seen the blank look on his face when someone tells one. He's ... he's a real estate lawyer, for Pete's sake, not a rock star or a politician. It doesn't get any less charismatic than a sixty-two-year old Scandinavian real estate lawyer. Good grief. Who would want him?"

Charlotte's face crumpled in another wave of misery. "Me-e," she said in the forlorn wail of an abandoned child, and she began to cry again.

Holly felt more wretched than outraged; it broke her heart to see such pain. Soothing and coaxing, she managed to get her mother out of the rocker and onto her feet. "Come to the house," she whispered. "We'll have tea."

They walked in miserable silence across a path that meandered through a thicket of trees between the barn and the back door of Holly's rented Cape. Small, cozy and peeling, The Cape was the house of her dreams. She hoped to buy it by the end of her lease and lavish both love and paint on it and make it all better. It was her way.

Holly avoided glances at her mother as she filled the copper teapot from the old cast-iron sink, but her mind was racing. Probably it was foolish to bring it up, but: "Are you sure they've sailed off the island?" she asked.

Her mother was blowing her nose into a wad of fresh Kleenex. "Does it matter?"

"He could have had second thoughts."

"Second thoughts? What kind of second thoughts?" she asked, looking up from her tissues.

There was such hopefulness in her despair that Holly immediately backpedalled and changed the subject. "Nuts, I left my brand-new brush out," she said, making a dash for the kitchen door. "I'll just go dump it in some turp. Be right back."

Holly wasn't merely being cowardly; she wanted to see for herself if Eden had gone. Safely out of her mother's view, she headed for the stairs that climbed alongside the barn and led to the apartment that once had been a hayloft.

The last tenant there had been an antiques dealer who had planned to sell his treasures from the wide-planked barn beneath. But the business had folded by November, and the dealer had moved back to the mainland. His desperate landlord offered Holly both the house and the barn on a long-term lease; she snapped it up even before subletting her own condo and studio in Providence.

Holly had always wanted a place on Martha's Vineyard, close--but not too close--to her parents' summer home in Vineyard Haven. Now she had it, and she would someday marry a quiet, faithful, honest man like her father, and she would have children and run them over often to her parents to babysit, because that's what doting grandparents loved to do.

She slid her key into the door of Eden's apartment and swung it wide. Immediately her hopes, all of her hopes, were crushed. Eden had flown. The small closet that yawned at Holly held nothing but a few bare hangers. The drawers that she had lined with rose-patterned gift wrap were empty and ajar. The sink was clean, the bed was made, the newspapers were stacked neatly in a pile. Holly was impressed; Eden was quite the tidy fugitive.

The little shit.

Holly went back reluctantly to the kitchen, where her mother sat shivering in the warm July sun and warming her hands on her mug of tea as she sifted through the emotional wreckage of her life.

"It's because of the boat," Charlotte said numbly. "You know how he loves the Vixen."

"So?"

Charlotte sighed and shrugged. "I get seasick. Eden doesn't. Remember how much fun she had on that daysail we all took to Nantucket? I spent the whole time belowdecks, sick to my stomach as usual."

"And you think that's why Dad's left? For someone with a stronger stomach?"

"Essentially, yes."

"If I weren't so depressed I'd laugh out loud," Holly said, managing a smile. "I'm amazed at how your mind works."

Her mother's look was almost pitying. "You truly don't get it, do you? But then, you're young; you take youth for granted. How can I explain this in terms you can understand?"

Her gaze became unfocussed, and Holly knew that she was replaying something awful in the videoscreen of her mind, trying to come to terms with it. Groping for words, her mother finally said, "The day that Eden first stepped aboard the Vixen: it was as if your father had been sunning on a rock like some sleepy toad, and a beautiful fairy princess had come up to him, and, completely unexpectedly, leaned down and kissed him on the cheek."

"Oh, Mom, don't," Holly begged. "Don't do this to yourself."

"Your father was a frog, and now he's not," her mother said in a quavering voice. She bowed her head and broke down again in soft, pitiable sobs. "And there's nothing ... absolutely nothing ... anyone can do about it."

*****

The hell there isn't, thought Holly, and she dialed her sister's number.

She had given her mother plenty of time to call Ivy with the devastating news, and she was surprised that Ivy hadn't called the instant she'd got off the phone. Since Ivy was having work done on the house, it was possible that she had been off with the kids for the day.

So, fine. I'll be the one to tell.

Because time was of the essence. If their mother was right and their father was under a spell, then it was up to his family to knock some sense into him before it was too late.

"And how, precisely, do you suggest we do that?" Ivy wanted to know after having been brought up to date on the mind-boggling event. "Brass knuckles? Baseball bat?"

"Why are you sounding so resigned to this?" asked Holly, dismayed by her older sister's cynicism. "What's the matter with you? I was counting on you to lead the charge."

Her sister's voice was calm to the point of sounding grim. "Holly, you are so clueless. How could you not see this coming? Dad's done raising his kids. His career has peaked. He's tired. He's bored. He obviously feels taken for granted--"

"I don't take him for granted."

"Oh? When's the last time you paid him a compliment?"

"The last time I saw him. I said I liked his tie."

"Whereas Eden probably looked into his blue eyes later that night and murmured something about still waters running deep. Men love to think they're deep."

"That's ridiculous! Dad's not deep. He's just ... Dad."

"Cloooo-lesss."

Annoyed, Holly said, "Just because I'm not married doesn't mean I don't understand men. I know when a man is being dishonest, and Dad is too honest to be dishonest. I'm telling you: he's under a spell."

"Maybe we should have him exorcised," Ivy said dryly.

"No, but I was thinking, an intervention. We all confront him when you come out to the Vineyard next week. We tell him--"

"I'm not coming out next week."

"What? Since when? You're bringing the girls to spend August here, just the way you do every year."

"Except this one. I won't be out until the last part of the month, if at all."

"Is something wrong?"

"No."

"Ivy--is something wrong?"

"I'm just very busy," she said, sounding vague.

"Busy doing what? You're a stay-at-home mom," Holly blurted.

It was a running stream that divided them, that issue of mom versus career. Most of the time the stream was a dried-up trickle, easily crossed, but sometimes it ran over its banks. This was one of those times.

"The kitchen makeover is behind schedule, as you know," Ivy said in her supercilious older-sister's voice. "I can't be everywhere at once."

"Well, this stinks. The family is in crisis, and you're worried about paint chips and cabinet knobs? Why can't Jack oversee the work? He only comes out here for a few days at the end, anyway."

"Jack? Please. Holly, honestly, I can't do it now," Ivy insisted, sounding harried.

"All right, fine. Then I'll just confront Dad on my own."

"And say what? That he's killing Mom? Do you suppose he doesn't know that?"

"I'll tell him that he's infatuated; that it will pass."

"Based on what? Your own experience?"

"I'll tell him what you just said: that he's bored; that he feels taken for granted."

"And he'll agree. Then what?"

"I'll tell him what a conniving, lying bitch Eden is!"

"Again, based on what?"

"Based on ... based on ...." Deflated, Holly said, "She vacated the apartment without giving notice."

Her sister didn't bother to respond to that. "The most obvious thing you could say is what we all think: that Eden is using her body to go after his money. But so what? A lot of Dad's friends have made the exact same deal, and it seems to suit them just fine."

"But Dad's not like that!"

"Holly," her sister said softly, "we don't know what Dad is like, deep down. No one does. Except Dad."

Distressed, Holly answered, "You're right. I guess. But I still have to try."

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