Tracy Bowers wanted to scream.
to create some kind of noise. She looked at her husband, sighed, and put aside the magazine she had been looking at distractedly. “Lucas, how long does this wall of silence stay between us? It's getting ridiculous.”
He lowered his newspaper. Just as well, he thought; he had read the same paragraph four times. “Your idea,” he said.
He rose from his chair and walked across the den to the wet bar and fixed a strong drink.
“You're drinking too much,” she said.
“Get off my ass!” He poured twice the amount of whiskey he usually fixed.
She ignored the rude words. She knew they weren't coming from the mouth of the man she had married, knew it was time for both of them to try to tear down the wall between them. “Lucas, it was
my idea. I've tried to talk with you a dozen times this week alone. You just turn away from me. Iâ”
“That's right, Tracy. It's all my fault, isn't it? It's always all my fault. Oh, hell, yes,” he added bitterly.
“Have I ever said it was your fault? Have I ever said it was anybody's fault?”
“You didn't have to.” He drank half his drink and slopped more whiskey into the glass. “You've been throwing your success in my face for the past three years.”
She jumped to her feet. “Oh, Lucas . . . I have not been doing that. It's your imagination.”
The look he gave her said silently that, as far as he was concerned, she was lying. “I don't wish to discuss it any further, Tracy. Just drop it.”
She flushed a deep red, her blood pressure soaring. Not this time, buddy! she thought. “No.
!” she yelled at him, startling the man. The hand holding the whiskey-and-Perrier trembled slightly. His empty hand balled into a fist. He stared at her; her eyes caught the movement of hand into fist. “It's come to that?” she asked softly.
He looked confused for a few seconds before he realized what he had done. He shook his head, unclenched his fist. “No. No, my God, I'm sorry, Tracy. Of course it hasn't come to that. I wasn't even aware I was doing it. Please believe me.”
“I believe you, Lucas.” She came to him and took the drink out of his hand, placing it on the bar. She put a hand on his chest. “Hear me out, Lucas; and don't try to make something out of my words that isn't there, OK?”
His face softened and he smiled. “That, my dear, is a habit lawyers develop early. Especially if one starts in the Public Defender's office. Talk to me, Tracy.”
“At last,” she said.
“Etta James. Loved to hear her sing that song,” he teased.
“Get serious, Bowers. Listen, love, I have an idea.”
“I am certainly open to suggestion. And I agree: it's past time we talked.”
“It was so good for us for so longâour marriageâright?”
“I can recall one or two high points.”
“But now, it seems, when we do talk we fight. And it appears what we had is falling apart, little by littleâright?”
“As much as I hate to say it, I can't deny the obvious signs.”
“Lucas, I know you resent my success.”
“That's not entirely accurate. But, to a degree, yes. Stupid of me, I know it. And I have spent many hours wondering why I feel the way I do.”
“We've got half the battle won, Lucas. It's out in the open.”
“It's a start,” he admitted. “What idea do you have?”
“School will be out in a month. And I have the entire summer free.” She noticed the surprise on his face and smiled at him. “That's right. I have taken no new jobs. And you've got that corporate thing to work on. I heard Joe tell you at the club the other day you could take the entire summer to work on itâdon't even have to come into the office. How long's it been since you took a vacation, Lucas?”
“Several years, Tracy. What are you getting at?”
“This: We close up the house, pack up the kids, and spend the entire summerâeven longer if you want toâat the Bowers house in Georgia.”
He looked stunned for a few seconds. “Jesus, Tracy! I haven't even seen that place in thirty years. I'm not certain where it is.”
She smiled and held up one finger conspiratorially. “I checked. It's ten miles from a little town called Palma, Georgia. Lucas, you've been trying to sell that place ever since it came into your hands; that's been years. I'm . . . curious about that place. We both knowâfrom the amount of taxes paid on itâthat it's valuable property. But it won't sell. Why? There it is, a big lovely antebellum home, sitting in the middle of hundreds of acres of timber. It's one of the few houses in that area the Union Army didn't burn. So it's got to be valuable. Why won't somebody buy it? If it needs workâand I'm sure it doesâlet's fix it up and see what happens. I think it would be refreshing and fun and good for us and the kids. Jackie and Johnny have no idea about the country.”
“Do you?” Lucas asked her, knowing his wife was city born and city reared.
“Damn little,” she admitted. “How about it, Lucas?”
He looked at her through dark eyes. A very slow smile changed his face and created laugh wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. “Do we really need to take the kids?”
She laughed and kissed him. “I don't think we have to worry about that. I understand the Bowers mansion has thirty-six rooms. There'll be lots of room for us to . . . well, mess around!”
“I can't wait, Trace.” He put his arms around her. “I think it's a wonderful idea. I'll write the caretaker in the morning. Tell him to air out the house and get new mattresses. Damn! I can't even remember the man's name.”
* * *
Jacqueline Bowers said, open disgust in her voice.
That's about twelve million miles away, at least.”
“Actually, Jackie,” her brother Jonathan said, “it's eight hundred and fifty-four miles from New York City to Atlanta.”
Jackie fixed him with a look guaranteed to send her ten-year-old brother scurrying back to his own room.
Didn't work this time.
Twelve-year-old Jackie sighed and said, “And how do you know all that, short stuff?”
If one were speaking with Jackie on the phone, and had never met the girl, a person would think Jackie was an adult. Her voice was husky, with a deep resonant quality. She was trapped now between childhood and budding young womanhood, and it was sort of a confusing time.
Jackie had taken on the physical attributes of her grandmother on her mother's side. She was small, almost petite, with thick brown hair and very pale gray-blue eyes. Her face was heart-shaped and lovely. She looked more like sixteen than soon-to-be-thirteen, and it was clear she would be a very beautiful woman.
Johnny, on the other hand, took after his father's side of the family. His hair was sandy blond, his eyes dark. He had not yet begun to sprout upward, toward his father's height of six feet. He was a very intelligent boy, bookish, but still filled with adventure; not physically inclined toward sports, although he enjoyed watching sports on TV.
“I'm as tall as you,” the boy countered.
“Boys are supposed to be taller than girls,” she informed him.
Johnny picked up a bra.
“Put that down!” Jackie yelled at him.
He dropped it on the dresser. “Looks stupid.”
She agreed with him, but didn't tell him so. Her breasts were something of which she was both proud and embarrassed.
“Johnny, what are we going to do in
“I don't know. Be bored, I guess. Jackie?” he asked, looking at her through eyes more serious than usual. “I had a funny dream last night.”
“Funny like in ha-ha?”
She looked at him. She had experienced a very odd dream the night before. “Oh?”
“Promise not to laugh?”
“Jackie . . . have either of us ever had a rocking horse?”
She thought for a moment. No. I don't think so. I
you never did.”
“Why, then,” he asked slowly, “would I dream about a rocking horse?”
“I don't know. But this is weird.”
He met her eyes. “Why?”
“ 'Cause I dreamed about a rocking horse last night.”
* * *
The backyard barbeque was in full swing in modern suburbia. The martini pitcher had been refilled twice and the steaks were not even on the grill yet. The Bowers' backyard was filled with milling, talking, laughing people; a few of them grabbing a quick feel whenever possible. Everyone knew who was feeling whom. It was ignored as much as possible.
Suburbia's code of silence.
“Getting away from the city for a full three and a half months!” Tracy's best friend said. “God! How lucky can you get?”
Tracy looked at Mimi Hudson and smiled. “Oh, you and George will be down for two weeksâGeorge promised, didn't he?”
“Just like Harry promised, too,” Tracy's second-best friend said.
Tracy glanced at Jan Westerfelt. “We'll all have a great time when you come down. It'll be exciting. I promise.”
“New York City born and reared,” Jan said. “I don't even know where Georgia is.”
Mimi patted her hand. “We'll find it, dear. I'll drive.”
“I got lost for the first three years driving from the city to White Plains,” Jan said glumly.
Everybody laughed at that. It was the truth.
“My stomach is roaring,” Mimi said. “Are we going to eat?”
“Maybe you're pregnant?” Tracy teased.
Tracy laughed and looked around her. “We'd better plug up the flow of gin pretty quick. Maybe then we can get the steaks on.”
“All right.” Jan rose from the chaise lounger. “Mimi, you round up George. I'll drag Harry out of the fray. We'll leave Lucas to you, Tracy. At least we can see them. We know they're not playing grab-ass with the neighborhood wives.”
Tracy grinned mischievously. “That we know of, that is.”
Mimi looked grim for a second. “I told George some years ago that if I ever caught him fooling around, I'd wait until he was asleep some night, put his pecker in the palm of his hand, and glue it there with Super Glue.”
The women laughed and went in search of their husbands.
“Gettin' sloppy out there,” Carla Westerfelt said to Jackie.
“Yeah,” the Hudson twins, Betty and Ruth, echoed. “The juice is flowing.”
They were all in Jackie's bedroom, talking. Since Johnny and Peter Westerfelt were the same age, ten, they sat alone in Johnny's room, watching TV, ostracized by age.
The other girls were somewhat in awe of Jackie. She had
“I'm gonna miss you guys,” Jackie said. “I won't know anybody down in Georgia. There won't be anybody to talk to.”
“Maybe you'll meet some hunks down there,” Carla said.
“I doubt it,” Jackie said.
“You'll have Johnny down there with you,” Ruth reminded her.
“That's what I said,” Jackie said glumly. “Nobody.”
But as the girls laughed, Jackie felt a pang of guilt for saying it.
* * *
As their time remaining in the suburbs grew shorter, the excitement began to infect the Bowers children. Both of them, much to their surprise, began to actually look forward to the summer.
“Weird,” Jackie confided in Betty and Ruth and Carla. “I'm really looking forward to spending the summer in the wilderness.”
“I tried to find Palma on the map,” Ruth said. “It isn't there.”
“I think it's only got about four or five hundred people.”
“Jeez,” Carla said. “There's that many people within three blocks of here.”
“Four hundred and forty-seven people live in Palma,” Johnny announced dramatically from the open doorway of his sister's bedroom.
His sister looked up at the intrusion. “And how do
“I had Mom take me to the library and I asked to see a map of Georgia. It had the population on the back of the map.”
“Cute,” Betty said.
“What else can you tell us about Palma?” Jackie asked.
“It's hard to get to Palma,” the boy replied. “Just one main road. The town's located in the middle of a big forest. I forget the name. And Grandmother's house is ten miles from the townâon a gravel road. There's electricity out there, but only because there used to be a tiny community there a long time ago. But there's no phones. None at all. Dad told me all this.”
the girls cried in unison, their voices filled with horror at the thought of such injustice.
“Yeah,” Johnny said, enjoying himself. “Isn't that great?”
“Great?” Jackie said. “Great? It's positively primitive.”
Johnny grinned. “And there's all sorts and kinds of wild animals, too,” he laid it on thicker.
The girls huddled together in the center of the bed.
“What kind of animals?” Jackie asked.
“Oh, bears and wolves and panthers and dozens of kinds of snakes. We'll probably have to get a gun to protect us.”
!” they cried, appalled.
“Yes,” Johnny said, pointing his finger as though he held a pistol. “Maybe two or three.”