There was no room for conversation after that. David quietly relived the episode for everyone's benefit. Leo's drinking was not mentioned again and eventually an uncomfortable silence fell. There was nothing more to be said. The light discourse that usually linked our separate lives no longer seemed appropriate and no one was willing to touch on the personal emotions that pulsed like electricity just beneath the surface. Even Alicia was, for once, It was Grant who broke the spell. "I think we could all use some sleep." he said, placing his empty glass wearily on the bar. The others were quick to murmur assent, welcoming an excuse to escape. "Come on, Alicia," Colin said pulling her to her feet, "let's pour you into David gave me a squeeze. "I'd better be going too. Dad will need me. I'll come by to see you after you get some rest. Will you be all right?" "I think so." I said and raised my cheek automatically for his kiss. He left on the heels of Colin and Alicia and I turned to follow, looking forward to some
privacy, but Grant stopped me.
"We need to talk, Suzie."
I stiffened. I suspected this would be another one of Grant's big-brotherly lectures. I waited. He was silent for so long, I became impatient. He was standing at the window, his back to me. Beyond him, the sky was becoming a little less black as the moon slumped low over Lake Michigan.
I went to stand next to him drawn by the beauty of the star-studded sky and the moonlight rippling on the sliver of water just evident beyond the rear gardens. In a few more hours, the sun would appear to paint the horizon pink and lavender, and tinge the rolling swells with gold.
Leo had rarely missed a sunrise. He said each one was a work of art and not to be wasted. It suddenly occurred to me that he would never see another, and a choking sob caught in my throat.
Grant glanced down at me and his eyes softened. "For what it's worth, Suzie, I'm sorry."
If he hadn't said that, I probably would've been able to ward off the tears, but his sympathy amplified my own self-pity, and before I knew it, I was sobbing shamelessly, my face buried in his shirt-front.
How long I cried, I don't know. I cried until there were no tears left, too bereft to appreciate the irony of finding comfort in Grant's arms. I'd never thought him capable of tenderness. He seemed too unbending, too ruthless—a carryover, I suspected, from his childhood amid the dockside slums of Chicago.
Grant's father disappeared when he was a baby leaving him and his mother to fend for themselves. By the age of six, he'd learned a lot about surviving on the streets. Stealing came naturally and was his only means of putting food on the table.
It was probably his greatest luck that he happened to choose Leopold Dirkston as a target one day. Leo caught the skinny lad's wrist as he attempted to make off with his wallet, and dragged him kicking and screaming across the wharf to his warehouse where he paddled him soundly. Afterward, he gave Grant fifty dollars to buy himself some decent food and sent him on his way.
After that, Grant became Leo's shadow. When Leo appeared on the docks to oversee the loading or unloading of cargo, Grant trailed a few paces behind, watching and digesting everything that went on. Leo enjoyed the boy's curiosity. It must have reminded him of his own checkered youth. Eventually, he put Grant to work unpacking crates and sent money secretly to Grant's mother, stipulating some of it be used for the boy's education.
When Grant's mother died six years later, Leo brought him to live with us at Beacon. I remember him then as a scruffy urchin who had no manners and carried a huge chip on his shoulder. As time went by, though, and he threw himself into his schooling, some of the rough edges disappeared and he grew into a formidable asset to the firm.
Now, years later, having risen to the position of Senior Corporate Attorney for Dirkston Enterprises, he still found time to visit the docks once or twice a month to work alongside the crews and keep abreast of the climate within the unions and among the laborers. This periodic link to his roots was essential to him and seemed to revitalize him like a grounded sailor in need of salt air and a rolling deck.
Colin tolerated Grant, but there was no love lost between them. In one sense, he was relieved Grant took on the onus of succession. He'd never wanted to become involved in the business, much to Leo's chagrin, so Grant was a welcome replacement.
But Grant wasn't an easy man to understand. I remembered one of his court battles: a small fishing company sued Dirkston Enterprises for some real or imagined breach of navigational courtesy. Like a vulture, Grant had picked away at the meat of the testimony until everyone, including the judge, squirmed uncomfortably. The case was thrown out and the fishermen departed red-faced. I was appalled and embarrassed. I thought him cruel and unfair. It would have cost Dirkston relatively nothing to have settled out of court, but Grant wanted to make an example of it and seemed to care less that the fishermen involved might lose their reputations as well as their livelihoods.
This was the same man who now offered me compassion and understanding where no one else did, and I began to doubt my poor opinion of him. I resolved to be more open-minded.
Once my tears were under control, he dropped his arms and handed me his handkerchief.
"Feel better?" he asked.
I nodded, mopping my eyes.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I guess it's supposed to be good therapy to cry, but I should've done it in private. Now, I've saturated your shirt." I dabbed futilely at his tear-stained pocket.
He turned away abruptly and I sensed he was irritated.
"There's something we need to talk about," he said, "but it can wait until later. Go to bed now and get some sleep."
I stared at his back, my hand still poised, shocked by the terse dismissal. My jaw clenched. This was the Grant I knew—cool, remote and unfeeling. I tossed the handkerchief onto a nearby chair, and without another word, stalked off before he could see the hurt in my eyes.
It was peaceful on High Dune. I named it when I was very young when I came here with Mother—before her accident.
She would sit and write in her journal while I clambered up and down the shifting mountain pretending to be a general in the French Foreign Legion, or one of the Arabian Knights conquering an enemy stronghold. Sometimes I would lie at the top and see how far down I could roll, careless of the warm sand sifting through my hair and clothes. They were golden days.
After her accident, I avoided the place for many years until the pain abated and I was able to put things into perspective. Now it seemed to bring me closer to the past, as though a part of Anna still smiled from her shaded spot beneath the birch, her pen poised, her eyes proud and possessive as she watched me play.
I inhaled the fresh breeze whirling in off the lake. The air tingled with clarity and the waters seemed to stretch forever. The waves drifted onto the shore far below leaving huge dark arcs along a hard-packed, opaline beach.
I could see the house far to my left, a fat toad squatting atop a weathered bluff. It was truly an abomination of architecture jumbled together in a chaos of arches, gables, columns and balustrades, with chimneys sprouting everywhere, capped by a glassed octagonal belvedere, its foul-weather shutters turned back.
Leo's dreams were far from modest and Beacon was a testament to that fact. It was obvious there was no real aesthetic theme to the design, so, while the house was indisputably breathtaking, it was also decidedly vulgar—an aberration in an otherwise harmonious landscape. But I respected Leo for the audacity and courage it must have taken to wave the red flag of nonconformity in the face of rigid midwest conservatism.
He'd worked hard to attain his position in the world, and he had every right to do as he pleased with his money and his house. But my father's tastes were very different from my own, and I couldn't help feeling he went overboard when constructing a home for a family of four.
Below and to my right stood the ancient lighthouse. Perched on a stony outcrop, its blind eye stared dully over the waves as it had for nearly a hundred years. It would have been nice to refit the lamp and bring the ponderous bulk to life, but it was much too late for that. Its bleached stone skirt was beginning to crumble, and there were fissures in one side where mortar had fallen from between the blocks. The continuous buffeting of wind and wave had eroded the rocky shelf on which it stood, making the whole structure tip to one side.
"I thought I might find you up here."
David sat down, conspicuous in crisp white trousers and turquoise shirt. I'd watched him approach from the direction of the house, not really welcoming the company, but too apathetic to avoid it. There was no point in trying to evade him. He was as much a part of Dirkston as anyone, now that he and Colin shared the partnership.
"How did you know I'd be here?" I asked.
"We all used to call this 'Suzanna's Spot' not so long ago. I figured you'd want to come here first. I hope you don't mind me butting in?"
I sifted sand idly through my fingers. "No, I don't mind. I was just thinking about going back. It must be getting close to dinner time."
He leaned back on one elbow and squinted at the glittering lake. The sun was a huge yellow balloon tethered to the horizon. "It's beautiful, isn't it?"
I nodded, watching a white gull soar above the spume. It dipped abruptly for some real or imagined tidbit, caught the edge of the lapping waves with experienced precision, then resumed a lazy patrol.
"I suppose you'll be going away again when this is all over," he commented.
I sighed. "No. I've decided to stay for a while. It wouldn't be fair to leave a lot of loose ends for Colin and Grant to tie up."
"It's mostly business. I'm sure they'll have things well in hand. After all, Grant is an attorney. He's used to handling these things."
I glanced at him, puzzled. He was treating my departure much too casually. I thought he'd be pleased about my decision to stay. Now, I wondered if he was the least bit affected by our breakup. Logically, I should have been relieved he was taking it all so well, but some primitive instinct in me longed for him to collapse in desperation at my feet amid anguished pleas for reconciliation. Or, at the very least, give some indication he wanted me near.
I turned my gaze back to the house, trying to think of words to explain my decision. I sighed. "I need to get rid of the ghosts," I said.
He regarded me for a moment. "Yes. I think I understand."
I doubted it.
We fell silent, and when he spoke again, the gravity was gone from his face. "Well, I can't say I'm disappointed to have you back. I've missed you."
I smiled sourly. Well, here it was—no begging, no groveling, merely a toe in the water to test the temperature. It was this very practicality, this irksome, unemotional, unbending and never spontaneous nature of his that always brought out my most obstinate and irrational qualities.
"No." He touched my hand. "I'm not trying to change your mind about us. I love you, Suzanna, you know that. But I also think I understand what you want, and until you find your own niche in the world, I'd only be a weight around your neck. I do want you to know, though, that when the time comes, I'll be here for you. Until then, I hope we can still be friends. We've shared too much to pretend it never existed."
It was a sad attempt on his part. I knew he was only saying what he thought I wanted to hear, but I couldn't help responding to the tug of old-fashioned romance. My own novel would have used his words as a cue for a tearful reunion and a passionate and-everyone-lived-happily-ever-after finale. But this wasn't a novel, and the complexities of our past problems couldn't be overlooked.
"Of course, we'll always be friends," I said. "How could we not? If I refused, you'd probably put another dead fish in my bed!"
He laughed, remembering the incident, and his mood lightened.
"Come on, let's go back," he said. He stood up, brushed the sand from his trousers and offered me a hand. Together, we made our way down the steep dune to the beach.