Tossing and turning in her bed, Paula was dreaming the same dream she had dreamed many times before. She was dreaming of an old merchant vessel with tall trimmed sails, falling and lurching, tossed like a cork on the raging sea. The boat was driven forth in darkness by gale-force winds, as huge waves crashed down on the deck and washed everything not secured into the dark, churning water. Sea and wind were merciless in the drama that unfolded before her inward vision.
Paula felt feverish. Dryness in the roof of her mouth made it difficult for her to swallow. Beads of perspiration formed on her forehead. Her body temperature rushed from hot to cold and back again. One moment she was burning up, the next chilled to the bone. She pulled up the covers to shut out the invasive cold, unaware the chill came from deep inside her. A virus had invaded her bloodstream to wage its storm in her internal sea.
In her dream, the reeling ship pitched to and fro. Paula could sense the violent movement and hear the screeching of the masts straining against the force of the gale. She could feel the penetrating dampness of the sea and blinding rain falling out of a pitch dark sky.
Then she saw himas she had so many times before.
The young sailor emerged from the belly of the ship and secured his footing on the pitching deck by clutching the handrail behind him, his hands now callused from the ropes after so many days at sea. Momentarily, he braced himself and closed his eyes against the gusts of the gale. His beard was dark and curly, his dark hair sticking out in tufts from beneath a woolen cap. His sideburns curled about his ears, now assaulted by the deafening howl of the wind. His deep set eyes were darkand so familiar. His body was strong, his muscles taut, as he braced against the unremitting fury of the storm.
Tears filled her eyes as she watched him edge along the slippery deck to make his way toward a lifeboat in the stern. An overwhelming urgency seemed to drive him toward that boat, now swaying to and fro, as though in an attempt to break free of its rigging in the violence of the storm.
Always at that exact same moment, in her dream, Paula could see an immense wave rising up over hima powerful wave that tossed him out of the ship and into the churning sea. No one had seen him washed overboard. Perhaps no one knew he was up on deck. No one but her seemed to hear his desperate cries for help. And all she could do for him was weep in soft, muffled sobs. She could no longer see him anywhere in the vast raging sea.
He was gone, lost forever in the sea that he loved. His mistress had finally claimed him. He would never again return to hold her, never again kiss her eager lips. The turbulent sea had claimed her love, again and again, in the exact same way, in the exact same dream, and she nearly always woke up crying.
This time the fever dried most of her tears before she could open her eyes. She lay in her bed in a cold sweat, her heart racing, as it often did after that dream. A dream that usually left her with an unfulfilled sense of longing and reminded her there was no one for her to love aside from her children and a few good friends. And her love for them would never resolve that kind of longing.
Wide awake in her bed in Malibu on that June morning in 1967, Paula finally opened her eyes. Only the sound of childrens laughter competed with the distant rumble of the surf breaking far out on shore. The song of the sea welcomed her back each new morning and caressed her to sleep each night.
Suddenly, Paula became aware of her aching muscles as a strong chill shot through her. Upon taking a deeper breath, her chest felt congested and her nose began to run. Then she started to cough. A nasty virus seemed to have triumphed in spite of Marias herbal remedies.
Her housekeeper, Maria, claimed healing powers from folk remedies passed down to her by a Cajun medicine man, a distant cousin of her fathers in New Orleans. The herbs had not held up to their promise this time. Nasty invaders were waging a major attack against Paulas immune system. She rolled over and pulled the covers up over her head. She decided to ignore the morning.
Then she heard the door creaking open, followed by whispers and giggles, and a small hand soon lifted the blanket as two light brown eyes peered at her from just above the top of the mattress.
Are you awake, Mommy? Christopher inquired.
We’ve brought you breakfast, madam, Michele said in her best English accent.
With considerable effort, Paula raised up.
Michele was holding a tray decorated with geraniums and seashells. Orange juice, coffee, bacon, scrambled eggs and toast for madam, she said, curtsying before she placed the tray on the table next to the bed.
I buttered the toast! five-year-old Christopher announced, covering his face with his hands and peering from between his chubby fingers.
Good morning, Paula said, How sweet of you both!
With that, both children pounced on her, kissing and hugging her until coffee and orange juice spilled on the toast.
Stay away! Youll catch whatever I have and you dont want it!
Then we couldnt go swimming, Christopher said. That would be awful.
It sure would be, nine-year-old Michele added, summers only just started. Poor you.
Unable to resist a display of affection, Paula kissed the side of Christophers head and he promptly pushed her away. You kissed me, you mean mother! I dont want your cold. I want to go swimming.
Im sorry. You will forgive me?
He nodded and ran from the room, calling back, Okay.
Did you scramble these eggs yourself? she asked her daughter.
Naturally, madam, Michele said in her English accent. Do you find them to your liking?
Paula took a bite. Quite, thank you. Wheres Maria?
I gave her the day off.
Paula studied her daughter a moment and said, Tell me youre not serious?
Marias aunt is sick. She was worried, so I said she could go, Micheles tone had become apologetic and her smile started to fade.
Michele, I have the flu or something worse. I hope Maria didnt believe you.
Now looking worried, Michele sat in a chair and said, I guess I lost my head.
I guess you didand so did Maria! Paula was angry. Who gave you the right to give our housekeeper the day off?
Micheles lower lip began to quiver and tears filled her eyes. Im sorry, Mother. I didnt know you were sick. Maria was going to wake you, but I said it didnt matter that she should take care of her aunt. I thought it would be all right.
In the future, you have absolutely no say in the running of this household, is that clear?
Yes. Michele reached for a tissue and blew her nose. Im sorry. Please forgive me.
I forgive you. How could you know how I feel, but never again, Michele? Never!
Her daughter stiffly nodded.
I dont see how Maria could have taken you seriously. Youre only nine.
Sometimes she forgets.
Paula sighed, forced to smile as her daughter guardedly hugged her.
I love you very much, but sometimes you exasperate me.
You always say that life can never be dull with me around.
Hardly, Paula said, noting how pretty Michele looked that day.
Eat your eggs before they get icicles. Ill be at Sallys if you need me. She promptly turned and ran from the room.
The heaviness in Paulas chest was becoming oppressive. She had contracted summer pneumonia three years earlier during her divorce from Dan. Now she feared the worst. The summer breeze coming down the hall gave her chills from head to toe.
As luck would have it, her neighbors were having a party that evening. The two screenwriters next door had interesting friends and only recently had spoken of introducing her to a man who was looking for a real relationship. Paula wasnt sure she was interested in a real relationship. For the past two years, all real relationships had ended in real pain. She was beginning to wonder if maybe it was too late for her. Perhaps true love was something that only happened in romance novels and the moviesafter all, she was thirty! Perhaps it was time for her to devote herself strictly to her painting.
Paula passed on the soggy toast and headed for the bathroom. In the mirror, she noted double dark circles under each eye. Feeling shaky, she swallowed two aspirin. The smell of oil paint was sure to turn her stomach, something that always happened whenever she was sick. No work until she was feeling better.
Her skin looked pasty, her brown eyes dull and her laugh lines deeper than on most days. Everyone said she looked young for thirty. Paula had never cared for the freckles that were everywhere. But she liked how her copper red hair fell to her shoulders. It upset her family when she was born with brown hair. She had always wanted her mothers natural red hair. For that reason, at twenty, she dyed her hair red. Her Kansas and Missouri relatives disapproved, but since shed inherited her mothers complexion, everyone else thought her hair color was natural. Michele had inherited her basic brown hair that streaked blonde in the California sun.
Standing under the hard spray of the hot shower, all soaped down, Paula heard the telephone ringing.
Annoyed, but focused on her children, she quickly rinsed off and dashed for the telephone, trying not to sound irritated as she said, Hello, standing there dripping wet and chilled to the bone.
Glaring at the telephone, she slammed down the receiver, and it started to ring again. Hello! she nearly shouted.
Whats your problem? Dan said in his usual sarcastic tone.
Im all wet.
You said it, he said, adding, Its me.
I was taking a shower.
How nice for you.
I feel lousy, Dan. What do you want?
Is Mike there?
Recently, her ex-husband had started to call Michele, Mike. Paula didnt like it. Michele didnt like it. But with Dan most arguments were futile.
Shes over at Sallys doing whatever they do.
Ive no idea. Could you please call back later?
I want to pick up the kids in a couple hours and take them up to Lake Arrowhead for the weekend. Plus, their cousin Jamie just arrived from Atlanta. Hed like to see them.
Jamie? Her voice sounded strange to her as she repeated his name.
Junes eldest boy. Do you remember him from the family reunion back in 62?
Sure. Tell him hello.
Whats the matter with you? You dont sound so good.
I’ve got the flu or something.
Michele entered the room. Are you feeling any better?
Paula extended the phone to her daughter and said, Its your father.
Her face lit up and she grabbed the phone. Hello, Daddy. How are you?
Misery was starting to set in, although Paula decided it was too late to return to the warm shower. Whatever was decided between Dan and the children would be fine with her. Dan could be irrational whenever he decided to be fatherly.
Were going to the mountains with Daddy for the weekend, Michele sang. Were going to stay in the cabin we stayed in last summer. And we may go more than once. Isnt that neat? Yes, very neat. When do you leave?
Three-thirty. I get to sleep in the top bunk, and guess what? Gerrys coming.
Gerry was Dans latest girlfriend. Eight years Paulas senior, the woman was good to the children. At nearly forty-five, Dan was entitled to older girlfriends. Besides, he tended to be conventional. Paula doubted he would conduct himself in an inappropriate manner with the children around.
Christopher ran in. Hi, Mom. Are you feeling better?
Daddys picking us to take us to Lake Arrowhead for the weekend. Gerrys going. Were taking the station wagon because our cousin Jamie is here and he wants to drive Daddys Porsche. We couldnt all fit in the Porsche, anyway, Michele said. Isnt that neat?
Christopher frowned. Then I cant ride in the submarine.
What submarine? Paula and Michele said in unison.
Andys submarine. Its big and green with yellow stripes. Hes going to take it down in the ocean to look at the fish.
Youre crazy, Michele said. Andy doesnt have a submarine.
He does too! I saw it and everything!
Dont call people names. It isnt nice, Paula said.
It has windows and everything! Christopher shouted in his sisters face.
Michele defiantly crossed her arms. Christopher, you neednt get carried away.
Maybe Andy does have a submarine, Paula said.
Dont you think Id know if he did? Michele hissed.
You dont know everything! Christopher shouted in her face.
No you dont, fatso! he shrieked. Fatso was Christophers latest dirty word. Anyone who ticked him off was fatso, regardless of size.
Nice boys dont call names, Paula said.
Hes not a nice boy, Michele said.
With that, Christopher whacked her and Michele hit him back.
Stop it! Youre going to Lake Arrowhead and you need to pack. I dont feel well, so please stop! Paula shouted, surprised by her sudden strength.
Both children looked guilty. But Christopher hit his sister one more time.
Paula grabbed him. Wait until I feel better to fight, okay? Dont hit Michele. Its unacceptable behavior for a boy to hit a girl, for anyone to hit anyone, for that matter. Then in gentler tones she said, I believe you, Christopher. Youll just have to ride in the submarine another time. Maybe theyll have a submarine at Lake Arrowhead you can a ride in that one. She knew she was stretching it, but more than anything else she wanted peace.
Christopher ran out of the room. Michele had a martyrs look on her face as she picked up the tray and left. She always hated to lose an argument with her brother.
Finally, in her warm pajamas and back in bed, Paula lit a cigarette which was extinguished after one puff. Then she tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable. She was about to doze off when Michele walked up with a glass of orange juice.
Sallys mother says you need to drink lots of juice.
Paula obediently drank, feeling worse by the minute.
We can stay at Sallys until Daddy gets here.
Paula weakly nodded.
I can stay home and take care of you, if you like. You really do look sick.
Go have fun with your father. Ill be all right.
I guess Id only be in the way, Michele said, quickly kissing her cheek. Well be at Sallys if you need us. You know the number.
Soon she heard the front door close. Finally, Paula was alone with only the rumbling of the surf and the tinkling of wind chimes as a youthful image of Jamie filled her mind. It had been five years since the reunion. Christopher was still in diapers. Michele was three. The family reunion was one of those interesting times in her life. Mostly, she found the Thurmans to be cool and formal. From the call Dan placed from Las Vegas right after their wedding, Paula could sense their disapproval in terms of the marriage. After meeting them, it seemed to her that his familys displays of affection were dutiful, something imposed by blood. She decided her blood was differentred as opposed to blue.
Paulas family showed affection because of genuine love. And yet, her family was comprised of simple folk, Missouri and Kansas farmers who had to work hard for a living. The Thurmans may have worked hard at some point in time, but the younger generation lived off what Dan called old money. They lived off the interest without touching the principal. That was something new for Paula Marlow. Dan considered his family modestly wealthy, but twenty million had never seemed very modest to her. They lived modestly enough, which was difficult for her to grasp.
By 1967, Paula still couldnt agree entirely with the Thurman philosophybut she understood it better. They thought of themselves as frugal, not her choice of words. To her they were aloof, indifferent, even boring, except for Jamie with his soft southern accent and mischievous grin.
Paula would never forget the day they met. She was across the street from the old Victorian house on Lake Michigan keeping any eye on the children playing in the park. Michele had fallen and skinned her knee, with Paula trying to kiss away her tears.
You must be Paula.
At the sound of his voice, she looked up.
Looking down into her eyes, with a startled expression on his handsome young face, the adolescent male said, Im Jamie Remington. You must be Paula, my Uncle Dans new wife from California. Ive heard all about you. His tone was warm and friendly and his smile dazzling. Im Junes oldest boy. We just got here from Atlanta.
With his penetrating, dark brown eyes, deep dimples, and curly dark hairhe was a beautiful boy of fourteen. From the first moment she looked into his eyes, an unmistakable bolt of pure electricity shot straight through her. The feeling quite unnerved her at the time.
From the look in his eyes and expression on his beautiful face, Paula knew Jamie had experienced the same bolt of lightning. There was something familiar about him, not the way he looked exactly, more of a feeling, an indescribable energy.
Paula immediately placed herself in check and pulled in the reins, questioning her basic moral fiber. After all, Jamie was more than ten years her junior. Never before had she been attracted to boys. She preferred older men like Dan. Young, adorable Jamie was her new nephew, the son of her husbands eldest sister. Paula made every effort to shut down her feelings, but most of the time that long ago summer she found that impossible. She could not stop thinking about Jamieespecially in the cabin at night next to her husband in bed. It was a challenge Paula had never expected to encounter at the Thurman Family Reunion.
Jamie was the one who made her trip pleasant by treating her with warmth and sincere affection. During that first week she became aware of his keen curiosity, intelligence and remarkable candor. She was enchanted by his southern charms and mild mannerisms, although his younger brother, Bobby, had no such effect. Jamie was not like the others. Paula thought he might be the one to break the Thurman mold.
Flattered and amused by his constant attention, Paula often caught him watching her, even openly staring. Jamie seemed smitten, which flattered and embarrassed her at the same time.
You seem to have acquired a not-so-secret admirer, Dan remarked one evening at dinner, nodding toward his young nephew at the other end of the long table.
Paula could feel herself blushing, and feeling no older than fourteen, as she glanced at young Jamie. He seemed to sense something had been said about him. All eyes were suddenly on Jamie. He grinned, turned beet red, and stared at his plate. He was trying not to look at her, but it seemed impossible for Jamie not to look at Paula during the entire family reunion.
It was fun to flirt with him. She had tried to resist, but that only made Jamie that much more persistent. That summer, the young man had awakened to something deep inside that would soon place his childhood behind him. He had a serious crush on an older woman he appeared to find beautiful and desirable. It seemed harmless enough that summer, except, more than once, Paula had wished she were as young and as innocent as he.
One day at the cabin, with Christopher napping and all the cousins there, Paula was the only adult in the room when Jamie turned to her and asked, Why did you marry my Uncle Dan? Hes so much older than you are. Im closer to your age than he is, his eyes were steadily on her as he waited for a reply.
Her mind went blank. The powerful magnetism between them had her flustered. If anyone else had asked, she thought perhaps she would have had an answer. But at that moment, Paula could think of absolutely nothing to say.
All the cousins also seemed to be waiting, with Jamies eyes still locked on her, as Dan walked into the silent room and inquired, Does anyone want to go sailing?
Uncle Dan had saved the day.
Everyone but Paula left the cabin, including a somewhat reluctant Jamie. She never did answer his question.
It was then she reminded herself that she was over twenty-five, twice married, once divorced, and the mother of two. She was Jamies new Aunt Paula, Uncle Dans new wife from California who wore eye shadow, hip-huggers, and a bikini. No wonder he stared. Her hair was shorter, but the same copper red out of a bottle. She had always looked young for her age. In a restaurant that week a waiter had asked for her ID, which went over big with Dans sisters, both of them over forty.
With Dans hair prematurely white, at forty he looked much older. He had been mistaken for her father more than once, which amused Paula, but never Dan. Deep down, Paula knew the entire family suspected her of marrying him for his money.
One day at the cabin Jamies mother June said, How lucky you are to find a man of my brothers caliber and intelligence for a husband. Not to mention the security this family represents. Dan will take good care of you and your daughter. You are truly lucky, Paula, considering your history.
Before that moment June had never expressed her hostility.
I wonder if you really appreciate Dan, if you know how lucky you are that he married you, her tone was fully confrontational.
Of course, I appreciate him. Dan married me because he loves me, June, and because he loves Michele as much as he does Christopher. Dont you think love is a good reason to marry?
My brother married you because you were clever enough to get pregnant, she said, with her cold blue eyes fixed on Paula, before June self-consciously glanced away.
At that moment, Dan and Junes husband, Allen, entered the highly charged room, both men unaware of what had taken place. Since eight-pound Christopher arrived seven months after the wedding, the baby was hardly premature. Still, it seemed to Paula that most families would be glad to see a forty-year-old bachelor marryeven with the bride in a family way. But the Thurmans werent poor Missouri hog farmers. They only had to bring home the bacon.
That was the day Paula realized she would never like June Remington. The fact that Dan adored his sister was unimportant. Paula avoided June from then on, with no doubt that she was next in line to ascend the Thurman family throne.
The present Queen Bee, Dans mother Margaret, was a petite woman in her early seventies, nervous and frail in appearance, but strong as steel. She smoked one cigarette after another with one always burning in a small ashtray she carried. Margaret Thurman moved constantly and her movements were quick, which Paula found remarkable. She enjoyed her alcohol, out-distancing her husband, Dans father, and keeping pace with Dan, her youngest child, with a scotch and water always close at hand. Before dinner, it was gin martinis on the rocks with a twist, wine with dinner, and cognac late into the night. Margaret Thurman ruled her family with an unyielding will, with no one brave or foolish enough to go against her implied wishes.
Willard Thurman had married well when he married Margaret Jonesone of the Michigan Joneses. Her ancestors had founded the small town on Lake Michigan, a booming metropolis of 5,000 souls. Her family held the primary interests in the local businesses: lumber and banking. They had invested well in the crippled Depression stock market, having lost nearly everything along with everyone else in the Crash of 1929. However, they did remarkably well in recovering their losses, emerging rich in the 1940s. The Thurmans found it extremely distasteful to discuss assets or to flaunt wealth.
Paula had never met the late Rachel Jones, Dans grandmother. Rumor had it she resided in the same house, teeming with servants in the grand style to which she was born. Her only child, Margaret, the towns little rich girl, was apparently embarrassed by her mothers display of high social standing. Therefore, Margaret had married a hard-working man of middle-class means and practiced frugality and thrift. Her mothers generous financial gifts had been wisely invested in blue chip stocks and vast tracts of land. The grand Victorian house on Lake Michigan was only part of Margarets legacy from Rachel Jones. There were also many finely crafted European antiques, most stored in the huge attic. Margaret drove the same car for ten years, did her own cooking, cleaned her own house, and raised her own children. Furthermore, she was usually the last one in town to purchase a new modern appliance. Without question, Margaret Jones Thurman was an amazing woman.
At seventy, she finally indulged in a few luxuries that included a cleaning woman and laundress twice a week. Most of her life had been spent in that three-story Victorian house with its great wraparound porch that commanded a wide view of the lake. The rooms were large, the bathrooms still had the old-fashioned fixtures, but the plumbing worked. The furniture was modest, except for the European antiques, and only reupholstered or replaced when worn beyond decency. Modesty and frugality were appropriate words for Margaret Thurman, a true twentieth-century matriarch.
Willard Thurman had done well enough himself. Besides a furniture factory, he owned several stores. He was a tall, slender man, quiet and conventional, sometimes gruff. If he had emotions, Paula thought he kept them hidden. His wife treated him with quiet tolerance and respect. They had been married for nearly fifty years and had maintained separate bedrooms for an indefinite period of time. There were no discernible signs of affection between them, even when they spoke, which was seldom. It was as though each of them lived alone in that huge house fully unaware of the other persons presence. Paula found the situation unnerving.
Margaret Thurman was a special brand of Queen Beecold, demanding, keeper of the family fortune, doling out money to her children and grandchildren as she thought best. In her words, she was teaching them frugality and thrift. The only problem: she was also frugal in expressing her love. Were her emotions stored away in some bank vault collecting interest, so that when the time came for her will to be read, each heir would receive so many shares of her love, with no one around to pay up?
June resembled her mother but was larger in stature like her father. On the other hand, in attitude and bearing, she was exactly like her mother. June lived in a large colonial house in Atlanta, the wife of Allen Remington, a man of middle-class means. That summer at the reunion, Paula was not altogether sure that June was convinced Allen hadnt married her for Grandmother Joness stocks and bonds. Allen was a pleasant man, handsome and charming, but severely criticized behind his back. Apparently, during the past year, Allen had squandered a few hundred thousand on bad business ventures in Florida. Thurman money. For that reason, sister June may not have been feeling fully secure that year. Paula wondered if her accusations amounted to a form of projection.
June seemed to have her mothers attitude in bringing up her familyfour children, each one striking and intelligent, two girls and two boys, including Jamie who resembled his father. June dominated her young, except for Jamie. He had a mind of his own, though was respectful of his mother. He listened, with his dark eyes sparkling with independence. Paula held real hope for Jamie.
After a disagreement with his mother during the reunion, Jamie sought Paula out as though she were one of his peers. She was flattered.
My mother doesnt seem to understand I have a mind of my own, he said. She never asks me what I thinkjust tells me what she thinks I should think. And she has the unmitigated gall to think I should go right along with her. Dont you find that amazing?
Jamie paced back and forth at the picnic table where Paula was feeding Christopher strained peaches from a jar. Her response was cautious. Jamies love for his mother was plain. Paula envisioned herself forced to deal with a strong-willed teenage boy one day.
It will probably take her time to learn who you are. You need to be patient, Jamie.
Patient? Well, thats not going to be easy!
Dans other sister, Theresa, two years Dans senior, was married to lawyer Harold Simpson and resided in Philadelphia. The Simpsons liked to travel, and even though they were conventional, Paula really liked them. Theresa was small and petite like her mother with a wry sense of humor. They had two sons and a daughter, Sharon, the same age as Michele. The two girls became fast friends that year.
With Junes four children, Theresas three, and Paulas two, there were nine grandchildren in the Thurman clan that summer. Dan had adopted Michele the prior year which made her a Thurman by nameand Dan never treated her like anything less.
That summer seemed very long ago as Paula was reminded of the virus violently raging inside her. So Jamie Remington was in California, he had to be nineteen or twenty by then. Had the Thurman blood in his veins cooled his boyish curiosity, she wondered, with a crystal-clear image of young Jamie in her mind, as she drifted off into a deep, sound, peaceful sleep.