An excerpt from The Last Weekend of the Summer
As the truck slithered to a halt on the gravel road, Susie and Joey took off. It was one of their cottage rituals, running to Gloria who stood waving from the veranda. For the last few years, Joey had let Susie win but had always made it look like he was running as fast as he could. Johnnie and Carol sat back and watched. They always gave the kids a few moments with Gloria before they joined them.
“So, what’s really going on?” Carol asked without looking over at him.
“What do you mean?”
“There’s a little dark cloud hovering over your head.”
“Damn. I was hoping you wouldn’t notice it.”
“Come on, out with it.”
“Dad’s coming too. He’s coming sometime Saturday morning.”
“Does your mother know?”
“I don’t think so. Gloria wanted to break the news to everyone at the same time.”
“Oh dear, so Buddy doesn’t know yet?”
“No, and there’s more.”
There always was with his family, but Carol didn’t say that. Instead, she just sat for a moment taking it all in. And when he was finished, she squeezed his hand and leaned across to kiss his cheek. “I’m so sorry to hear that. Are you going to be okay?”
“Don’t worry about me; I’ll be fine. And we’re all going to have a great time, no matter what.” He smiled and winked at her. “Ready?”
“Showtime,” she smiled back, and she got out and walked towards the veranda. She knew what he was doing; he was getting himself ready for another weekend of enabling his sisters and his mother. She wished he wouldn’t, but there was no point in saying that. Instead, she’d be as loving and supportive as he needed her to be. It was how they dealt with life—along with having a laugh at themselves. “And stop checking out my ass,” she called over her shoulder as she went.
“Better yours than someone else’s,” Gloria laughed as she slowly descended the stairs from the veranda and kissed Carol’s cheek. She still had the most remarkable hearing. “That was something my Harry always used to say.”
“Really, Gloria, I wouldn’t have thought stuff like that would have been a problem for you guys.”
“He was blind, Carol, but he was still a man.”
Carol pretended to look shocked, but Gloria carried on as if she didn’t notice. “But you have nothing to worry about. Johnnie’s still madly in love with you, isn’t he, dear?” Gloria had a twinkle in her eye.
“Of course he is. And I’m still crazy about him—just don’t tell him.”
“I hope so, dear, because I put you two in the east room. I know it’s your favorite.”
“Thanks,” Carol took the old, brittle woman into her arms. “And are you okay, Gloria?”
“Of course I am. Why would you ask such a thing?” But she stayed in Carol’s arms for a little while longer.
“What are you two plotting?” Johnnie asked as he struggled up with their bags. “And don’t worry about me—I’ll just lug everybody’s stuff by myself.”
“And, well, you should,” Gloria reached up and kissed him, and hugged him as tight as her frail old arms would allow. “Your poor wife and children are here for a rest, so don’t be selfish and go around spoiling everything.
“So,” Gloria asked after Carol had gone to settle the kids into the new rooms over the boathouse. “Have you talked with your father?” She waited at the bottom step for Johnnie to take her by the elbow. She could have made it on her own, but she knew he liked to behave like a gentleman.
“Yes, and I hope he knows what he’s doing. It might be asking a bit too much.”
“Not of you, dear, surely?”
“No, I’m okay with it all, and I really want this to work out—for everyone. I was a bit torn up when I first heard, but it’s settled in now and, well, you know . . .”
“Yes, Johnnie, I do.” She smiled up at him and reached up to stroke his cheek. It always reminded her of Harry’s—at least his good side. “Being family means having to go through things like this, and we will all get to play our parts. Hopefully C.C.’s new love interest will provide enough distraction for your mother.”
She paused when they got to the top step and looked up at him for a moment as if she was about to say something else but changed her mind.
“What is it, Gloria? What other secrets are you keeping from me?”
“Far too many for what little time we have left. Now let’s go inside. I have some nice cold beer in the fridge. You might need some fortification before your mother gets here.”