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Aubrey McCart enjoys being with Sam; he accepts her unconditionally like her father never has. But when her father’s pride and joy — her brother — is killed in Vietnam, Aubrey is unable to cope. She chooses a path that changes her life forever, leading her away from Sam.
Years later, when Sam and Aubrey find themselves back at Piddock Beach, the two are forced to confront their abandoned friendship and make peace with their lives. But can they do so without overstepping their moral boundaries?
To the four pastors who will always be a part of our lives: Dr. John Ogden, who married us; Pastor Jim Clark, who was there when the babies were born; Pastor Paul Hayden, who is so much fun to hang out with on the sidelines; and Pastor Mike Atkins, pastor at River Crossing in Jackson Hole, who will always be a friend of the dearest kind. We treasure you and thank God for you every day.
To Terri Hayden and Micah Atkins, who were willing to tell stories.
To Alfred P. Gibbs, whose article "The Preacher's Call" proved helpful in my personal life as well as in this novel.
To the women who have stood beside me in prayer with every book and have continued in faithfulness during this one: Patty Atkins, Louise Kiessling, Pam Micca, Luann Wilkinson, Natalie Stewart, Michelle Hall, Loleen Denney, Kate Halsey, Theresa Hunger, Cindy Cruse, Sharon Putz, Pat Markell, Maria Lennon, and Jackie Lance.
To my fellow author Sherrie Lord, who generously offered her insights about military children and how it feels to parent them.
To Leslie Peterson who edited this book and Anne Horch who has been a beautiful champion of it at FaithWords. Thank you beyond measure for your loving care of this project.
To Tinsley Spessard, who rounded out this novel with her study questions; and to Louisa Myrin, who dotted every i and crossed every t.
To my children, Jeff and Avery. I love you both so much that I ache.
To Jack, my helpmate, primary chauffeur, cook, fisherman, performer at campfires, body surfer in Mexico, and feeder of the dogs while I'm writing. Here's to plenty of nights together in front of the fire this winter.
Finally, to Mother and Daddy, who are each other's first loves, who celebrated their golden wedding anniversary during the writing of Remember Me. There is no greater gift children can have than what you have given all of us. And to think! You were only seventeen.
Sam takes the steps to the house two at a time, stumbling over the soles of his size-13 tire-tread sandals. For one moment he stands there, breathing in the moldering smell of the porch, the glass door panels clouded with salt and grime, the doorknob scored with rust, the shingles paint chipped, gray or green or white. He can't remember what color they used to be.
He takes one deep, satisfied breath and knocks. He knows exactly what he is going to say. He's been driving for more than two days to see her, across the broad nothingness of Wyoming, the width of lower Idaho, the high plains plateau of eastern Oregon and finally along a snaking, fast highway—terrifying because of the semis—before plummeting toward the sea. When he bangs on the door again, the rusty doorframe rattles and the curtain wavers in cadence with his fist. "Aubrey! I'm here! Hey!"
It seems odd that the dog hasn't started yipping inside. Mox, the McCart's black-and-white mutt, is always the first to greet him, nails clicking as he charges across the slippery hardwood floor. Then, only seconds after the dog, Aubrey will come, too, shoving aside the curtain to see who is outside, yanking open the door and grinning at him. Her feet will be squeezed into pumps with pointed toes and her pale eyes, which he knows she wears heavily lined so she'll resemble Priscilla Presley, will narrow with pleasure.
Sam, she will say, did you know that a duck's quack doesn't echo and no one knows why?
He will box at her with his hands and say, "I never fall for your silly stories anymore. You know that about me. You might as well quit trying."
When he tries the doorbell, he finds it's disconnected. He jiggles the doorknob, listens for sounds inside the house. He bangs again, harder this time, so hard that it hurts his knuckles.
The sound of his banging fades away and the outdoor sounds grow loud. Breeze rattles the myrtlewood leaves. Two flies dive bomb each other beside his ear. The Douglas fir beside the curb seems to watch him, limbs skirting its trunk like a southern belle's gown.
Sam leans toward the glass, tries to peer through it, uses his sleeve to wipe off the murk. "Aubrey?"
When he straightens, someone is standing on the porch next door. A neighbor, he thinks her name is Mrs. Branton, examines him through pinched, suspicious eyes.
"What you want over there, boy? What's all the noise about?"
He's still so surprised to find no one at home at the McCarts', he just stares dumbly.
"You're disturbing people's peace. Do you know that? I'll bet they can hear that pounding for ten miles around."
"Didn't mean to bother anybody."
"Well, you are. You young people, wrapped up in your own vim and vigor. Always thinking about yourselves."
Sam feels his face flush with embarrassment.
"I've got a cake in the oven over here. You keep knocking like that, you're going to make it fall."
"I'm sorry," he says. Then, "Do you know where they are?"
"Oh, good heavens. You're not looking for them, are you?"
"Nobody's coming to that door, young man. They aren't there anymore."
"Aubrey? Mr. McCart? Mox?"
"Oh, that Mox. Always digging in my garden. No, he's gone, too."
Sam doesn't know what to say.
"Didn't even take time to sell the house. They left too fast for that. Up and walked out, all in a day."
"Do you know where? Why?"
"Packed the car and locked the door. That's all anybody knows. Nobody's seen them since."
"But the boats—"
"Sold to another company. Some Portland people not interested in fishing. They painted the wharf, spiffed it up. Now they have box lunches, take people out looking for whales."
From where he stands, Sam sees driftwood overgrown with dunegrass and wild Oregon roses. He sees the long smudge of beach and the water shimmering at him, razors of silver almost burning his eyes. Somewhere near the rocks, farther out than he can see, he knows there are sea lions basking in the sun.
"I suppose you're like those other boys. Everybody around here was sweet on Aubrey."
Her words pelt him like stones, fall off, do not seem real. He turns from Mrs. Branton, aimlessly tries the doorknob again and thinks, I am not sweet on her, no. It's much more than that. Then he thinks, Lord, I thought you intended us to know each other a long time. How could you let it end this way?
When Sam Tibbits was young, he'd found it impossible to think about anything else as long as the sea was breaking over the shore at his toes and the tide was running swiftly upriver. The ocean had the power to drown out the news of helicopters crashing in Vietnam, or thoughts of the Ed Sullivan Show—which he would be missing because the motor court where they were staying didn't have a television set—or even thoughts of the skateboard his father had promised him if he mowed Madelyn Vance's yard all summer.
He wanted to pretend that he belonged here year-round, that he wasn't a city visitor always doomed to depart after a week's rental. He wanted to know the times of the tides and the diesel smells of boats and the sorts of bait that might coax things onto his hook and out of the water.
Something in him awakened every time he came to Piddock Beach. He wanted to be a boy of the sea.
From the moment seven years ago, when his father had first parked their new two-door Plymouth Fury at Sunset Vue Motor Court and Sam had launched himself forward, folding his mother halfway into her seat as he grappled for the door handle, he had been desperate to get to the water.
"Hold your horses, young man! The beach isn't going anywhere in the next five minutes." But his mother reached for the latch anyway to let him escape and his seven-year-old sister, Brenda, tumbled out behind him.
"Can I get the shovel out of the trunk?"
His father climbed out and headed toward the neon-lit registration office. "I'm going to check us into the room first, son."
"But it'll be dark soon. I won't be able to dig anything if I can't see."
"This isn't going to take but a minute."
"Dad, we've been in the car for three days." They had been stuffed inside the Plymouth for what seemed like forever, listening to the radio cross-country and peeling Saran Wrap off of sandwiches that smelled of ripe, warm ham.
But Edward Tibbits kept walking.
"You never know!" Sam insisted to his father's squared shoulders. "I might be able to dig up some clams before supper, if you let me go now."
Edward turned. For five, ten seconds, Sam watched his father weighing a decision that Sam was too young to understand. Looking back, he recognized what it was—the first hint of his father relaxing in months as he breathed in sodden, salt-ridden air, his face losing its tight, hard edges. But he felt it at some deeper level, and it became another reason that the boy loved the sea.
With a slight, knowing smile, his father tossed the Fury keys toward him. "Time's a'wasting, isn't it, boy? Get your shovel."
"Yeah." Sam snagged the keys in mid-air.
A long list of commands from his mother followed: "You watch your sister, Sam. Don't get too close to the water. Remember that you have to wear those pants all week; don't mess them up now." Her voice might as well have sailed off into the wind. Sam got his shovel and sprinted toward the sand, down a row of rickety steps, glancing back with irritation at his annoying little sister who was hurrying after him. Brenda clung to the railing, climbing down the weatherworn stairs. Her sandals slapped the wood.
"You're going too fast," she complained. He could see her getting teary-eyed. "You're supposed to watch out for me. Mom said."
"You don't have to hold on, Brenda. Just run. Come on."
By the time she caught up, he was sitting in a clump of dunegrass tearing off his sneakers. He left his two socks in knots on the sand, brandished the shovel and raced toward the waves.
"I have to take my shoes off, Sam. Wait for me!"
The sun had begun to sink, silvering the water that skimmed the shore. A gathering of plovers strutted on toothpick legs, the birds' phantom strides pressing the sand dry in tiny spots. Ah! Sam grinned. Cold, wet beach beneath his bare feet! There was nothing in the world that could make him wait for this.
"There's splinters in my hand. See the splinters? Can't you get them out?" Brenda shoved her small grimy hand toward his face.
"Just deal with it, Brenda."
Another wave rushed toward them and, as it subsided, bubbles emerged from the earth around him. Once, Sam might have thought these marked the residences of clams. Now he knew better. He had made a friend at the school library, Mr. Crisp, who had shown him pictures in books and told him not to look for holes, but for churning indentations, signs of the clams burrowing in the shallow water along the seashore.
Sam set out in search of those kind of marks, completely ignoring his sister. He spied a promising place and began to dig. He speared the sand with his shovel and turned over a pile of it, sorting through it with his fingers, certain he'd found something for supper.
But, no. Nothing.
He tried another spot while Brenda traipsed behind him, her shoes squishing because she'd never had the time to take them off, her splintery hand still upraised, her fingers curling out like a starfish. "Sammy Tibbits. If you don't take care of me, Mom is going to bust your bottom."
Sam rolled his eyes and continued to explore and dig in the shallows for at least another quarter mile before he finally stuck the shovel into the ground and stared at the ruddy Oregon sunset in disappointment. He'd been so certain he would find clams.
At that moment Sam noticed the girl standing out where the waves crashed and rolled over the end of the jetty.
Her silhouette against the darkening sky made the girl's knobby-kneed legs looked as stilt-like as a sandpiper's. He couldn't help but stare. She stared back as if she were examining Sam for some purpose, as if she knew already that her presence in his life would be a certain thing.
"Sammy," Brenda whined. "I'm gonna tell!"
"Okay," Sam said, turning to his sister. "Dad has tweezers in the car box. We'll go back and have Dad take care of your hand."
The girl began bounding toward them, leaping with no effort from rock to rock, her yellow culottes flagging in the wind. As she jumped forward, he saw that she was shouting at him. Spray pounded the jetty. She approached him without hesitating, hopping down off the rocks, so confident that you'd have thought she owned the whole of Tillamook County.
"You won't get anything if you keep digging like that."
"Nope. Not at all." The gap between her front teeth made her smile interesting. Her eyes reflected the waves, a clear coke-bottle green.
"This is how everybody says I should do it."
"Everybody says." He could see where she had swiped her cheek and left sand there. Salt air matted her brown hair. Even her bangs were sticky, poking from her forehead in the same shape as a crab's claw. "But nobody must have ever shown you."
"There aren't any clams on this beach anyway."
"You don't think so?"
She dragged a piece of hair out of her eyes. "Look," she said, taking his shovel from him. "I'll show you clams."
He followed after the girl with Brenda in tow, as the girl sifted through the shallows with dirty, bare feet. Just when Sam least expected it, she speared the ground and began to scoop three times as fast as he could have ever done it, siphoning off shovelfuls of liquid sand with easy, economic tosses of the spade.
"No clams on this beach, huh?" she asked as she pulled one out and handed it to him. Then she found another. And another. And although Sam could have been perturbed because he hadn't been the one to actually haul these out of the ground, his enthusiasm overshadowed his pique. He had now seen seafood come out of the ground! These were the biggest, fattest, roundest clams! Sam had expected small ones, the kind he had seen in Howard's Surf and Turf Restaurant, bite-sized morsels steamed and served with melted butter.
"Do you want to take these? Hold out your shirt." The girl offered them to Brenda. "Do you want more than that? Those aren't enough to feed anybody."
Brenda gazed up at her with undisguised awe. "We need a whole bunch."
The jetty girl stayed with them until dusk, digging and pitching clams into the sling of Brenda's shirt. "You ought to take some of these, too," Sam said, trying to be polite.
"I can't," she said, brushing her windblown hair from her face. "I bring home too many. My father told me that I couldn't do it anymore." She pointed to a light that had just appeared on the western horizon, maybe still a half mile out at sea. "You see that?"
"I'd better go. That's my father's boat. He's coming home."
Sam retrieved his shovel.
"How long you going to be here?"
"Longer than some."
Only after she headed off did he realize that he had never asked her name. The girl's footprints pressed deep in the sand until they grew shallow and faint where she had started running.
When Sam and Brenda appeared on the stoop of Room 3 at the Sunset Vue Motor Court, his mother opened the door and gasped. Edward shook his head with pride. "Well, I guess we did the right thing, letting you run off the way we did, boy. Look what he's done, Terrie! He's gone out and brought back supper just the way he said he would."
"Edward, bring them a towel or something, would you? Don't you two come in here without wiping off. Oh, Brenda, just look at you! You've ruined your shirt."
"I'll go to the front office right now and borrow a pot," their father blustered. "We don't have anything big enough to cook this huge catch."
Beneath his breath, Sam whispered to his sister, "Don't tell."
"I won't," she whispered back.
Gulls hung in the air the next morning like kites moored to the wharf with string when his father took him to sign up for a deep-sea fishing trip. Occasionally a gull would land on the weathered sign that read, "McCart's Bait Shop," folding its wings against its sides, surveying the fish scales on the pier with interested, yellow eyes.
"No sense taking up room on the boat for me," Sam's mother had told them as she'd scoured the pot a second time this morning before she returned it to the office. "I'd just feel sick, and worry that Brenda might fall over the side."
"We're on vacation for family togetherness, Terrie. This is something we do once a year."
"I don't like to watch things get reeled in, gasping until they die. They're so pitiful! I'd much rather take Brenda shopping on the Strand for back-to-school clothes."
"Talk about gasping and dying," Sam's father said.
So there they were, just the two of them, making reservations for a boat.
His father pushed the bait-shop door open and Sam thought that the place smelled even fishier on the inside than it did on the outside. Chicken-wire crab pots dangled overhead. Behind the counter stood three faded, dusty framed photographs of fishing boats—the Westerly, the Stately Mary, and the No Nonsense. His father gestured toward the photos. "You got room for two more on one of those vessels tomorrow?" he asked.
The fellow who stood behind the cash register looked as distinguished as any fisherman, with a leathered face and whiskers as white as minnow bellies. He reached for a black ledger with rusty rings and curled edges. Inside, on green quadrille paper, the penciled names of what must be customers had been written in a small, square hand.
Edward propped his elbow on the counter. "We'd like a salmon trip, if we could."
The man was dressed in a red-plaid shirt with a green Scottish sweater. st read A REEL EXPERT CAN TACKLE ANYTHING. "You're talking salmon, you ought to have real good luck this year. Been a good season all the way around."
Outside, from down the pier, came a scraping sound and the slapping of ropes. "Arlie," someone shouted. "Get on out here and tie us up."
"That's them coming in now." The man named Arlie slammed the ledger shut and hurried outside, leaving them at the counter.
Sam shrugged. His father gripped his hand. "What do you say? Why don't we see what they've brought in?" They hurried outside and walked the length of the wharf, then found themselves pulling ropes, too, heaving the boat hard against tire bumpers, tying knots around rusty iron moorings. The captain climbed out of the Westerly, lifted his hand to assist the ladies in sun hats to disembark, as the men in Ber muda shorts, toting Brownie Starmite cameras, helped them selves. A teenage boy, tan and wiry, opened a metal cooler on board and began pitching the day's catch out onto the dock. This must not have been a salmon trip, Sam surmised, but rather a bottom-fishing trip close to shore. The speckled rust body of a lingcod, the silver ribbon of an eel, and a great assortment of spiny sea bass hit the dock.
"Got two more who want to go out with you tomorrow, McCart. You willing to take a group out to deep water?"
"Don't know as I have enough crew—"
"I can do that trip if you want me to." The girl stepped forward on deck, the poles and fishing lures in her hand jangling like wind chimes. "I'd like to do it." And when Sam recognized her, he knew that this day, which he had already suspected would be nice, had just become even more interesting.
He waited to see if she would say something about them meeting last night. He was afraid she might say, "Oh, you're the one I had to dig all those clams for." She didn't. She only smiled at Sam and he felt instant gratitude.
The girl with the bottle-green eyes propped two poles inside their metal holders on the railing and leapt ashore. "It doesn't always have to be Kenneth who goes out on the deep-water trips."
"Walt McCart." The captain of the Westerly, a man with a rectangular, lined face and sun-faded blue eyes, offered his hand. Stiff points of blanched brown hair poked from beneath his billed cap. He looked just as weathered as the man who had taken their reservation inside the bait shop. The captain gestured to the teen beside him who had been dumping fish, ignoring his daughter. "This is my son, Kenneth. He's going to be running these boats someday."
Although his features seemed somewhat plain, Kenneth stood as straight and tall as a sailboat's mast, his brown hair tousled, his eyes darker than his father's, his teeth as white as the gleaming hull of the boat beside him. "Nice to meet you, sir. Hello, Sam."
"Nice to meet you, Kenneth." Edward extended a hand, too, and they shook.
"Just earned his Eagle, isn't that an honor for a Scout? Just got moved to clean-up hitter in his baseball line-up, too."
McCart announced all those accomplishments before he seemed to notice Sam eyeing the one person who hadn't been introduced, the girl standing at her father's side.
"Oh. And this here's my daughter. Aubrey."
"Aubrey," Sam repeated. "Hello, Aubrey."
"Do you want me to show you how many places there are to hide on a boat?" she asked.
He nodded. "Yeah."
While the two fathers made fishing arrangements in the office and Kenneth hauled off a load of fish to be filleted at the Cannery, the two kids clambered onto the boat. Aubrey showed Sam how the long white plank seats on the ship folded open. Beneath the seats were chambers that held the lifejackets, still damp from passengers this morning.
"Climb in," she said.
"If you lie down in here and I cover you up with lifejackets and close the lid, nobody will know you're here."
"You'll sit on the seat," Sam said. "You'll sit there and you'll sit on top of me and you won't let me out."
But she climbed in first. "Cover me up."
"You mean we're both hiding in here?"
"Hurry up. Kenneth will be back soon. He washes off the deck and he makes me leave and go home."
"I don't know."
"Are you worried? Look, there's no way you'll get stuck. No way to latch it."
If Sam didn't do it, this would make the second time he was shown up by this girl. He clambered over the side and into the lifejackets, began piling them on top of himself. As Aubrey lay down, she brought the lid over on top of them.
"Watch your hands," she whispered.
"I can't . . . see . . ."
"You don't have to see anything. You have to listen."
"Aubrey? Are you there?"
"Careful not to breathe too hard. If you do, you might run out of air."
That statement made Sam hold his breath in terror. And sure enough, just as Aubrey had said, the sounds around him seemed to magnify, the slap slap slap of the waves against the dock, the melancholy bells from the buoys out in the bay, the jukebox playing "Tom Dooley" by the Kingston Trio in a café on the shore.
"He'll come soon," she whispered.
"Why won't Kenneth let you stay on the boat? When it belongs to your father?"
"Kenneth thinks he's in charge of everything." He felt her hand touch his arm. "Just be still."
At that moment, they heard footsteps on the planking, someone whistling a tune. A water hose slapped the pavement. The faucet squeaked. Then a spray pelted the side of the boat in short, broken sweeps.
They had no way of knowing how much time passed. The water washed over the side of the deck, splattered off the railing, trickled into the bay below them. That, too, seemed to make music. A long, unending song.
At last, when the hose smacked the ground again and the water changed pitch and the faucet squeaked off, Sam waited for the footsteps to move away. "I haven't run out of air yet, Aubrey."
"You said I would."
"I was just teasing."
He began to push his way up out of the lifejackets.
"No, wait. Stay still. Just a minute longer."
"Don't you feel safe, being here?"
He didn't answer right away. "I hadn't thought about it."
"I always feel safe when they don't know where I am."
"That's crazy, Aubrey."
"You have a bike? If you do, I can teach you to ride on the curb without falling off."
"At first, it can be scary."
"Did you see the Masterson-Linn Mortuary down the street? You want to know the scariest thing I ever did?"
"My friends and I snuck in there once and tried out the caskets."
Sam didn't quite know what to say. That topped curb-riding, for sure.
"It was kind of like this."
"I want to get out of here now."
"We wanted to try them out. To see if the expensive ones were more comfortable than the cheap ones."
Another boat must have passed because he heard an engine pulsing and the Westerly began swaying with the swells. Diesel exhaust stung Sam's nostrils. The boat began to rock as the biggest waves moved on by.
"Well?" he asked.
"Were they what?"
"They were all the same." She was quiet for a moment and then whispered, "He's gone." As she struggled to sit up, she jostled the lifejackets and he felt her movement all around him. Sam shoved open the wooden seat cover and sunlight blinded them both.
It was the way he would feel every summer during the years he spent with Aubrey, visiting Piddock Beach, as if she poured light into his life and it blinded them both.
Below the wharf, at the base of a rickety ladder that led down to the waterline, a platform floated. Three sea lions slept on it, their hides dry from the sun. Aubrey took a handful of bait fish from her father's cooler and pitched them over the side.
One sea lion awakened and rolled backward into the sea. Another, which had surfaced ten yards beyond, jumped for a fish and upset the platform. They all fell in, barked their complaints while a pelican lifted its bill and waggled its pouch at them, sidestepping the noise.
"Did you know that a rhinoceros horn is made of compacted hair?" he asked.
"Did you know that a puffer fish can hold its breath for two days?"
"You think you know everything."
"Maybe I do."
They stared each other down in unspoken challenge. Later, when they thought of it, neither could decide who had started the race. They dashed up the pier toward land, laughing, weaving among people, their Keds slapping the wooden planks, leaping over fishing poles and water hoses and ropes in the way. They landed in the sea grass at the end of the dock at the exact same time, in a dead tie, and lifted their faces toward clouds rolling in from the Pacific.
- On Sale
- Jun 12, 2008
- Page Count
- 304 pages