I'll Be Your Blue Sky, page 1
For Jennifer Carlson,
friend and agent,
who loved Clare Hobbes
from the very beginning
Chapter One: Edith
Chapter Two: Clare
Chapter Three: Edith
Chapter Four: Clare
Chapter Five: Edith
Chapter Six: Clare
Chapter Seven: Edith
Chapter Eight: Clare
Chapter Nine: Edith
Chapter Ten: Clare
Chapter Eleven: Edith
Chapter Twelve: Clare
Chapter Thirteen: Edith
Chapter Fourteen: Clare
Chapter Fifteen: Edith
Chapter Sixteen: Clare
Chapter Seventeen: Edith
Chapter Eighteen: Clare
Chapter Nineteen: Edith
Chapter Twenty: Clare
Chapter Twenty-One: Edith
Chapter Twenty-Two: Clare
Chapter Twenty-Three: Edith
Chapter Twenty-Four: Clare
Chapter Twenty-Five: Clare
Chapter Twenty-Six: Clare
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Clare
About the Author
Also by Marisa de los Santos
About the Publisher
It was what she would remember always: how the second she stepped inside, before she’d so much as taken her first full breath of new air, she was struck by the feeling—the understanding, the certainty—however improbable, that the house was Joseph. Not merely that it felt like something he would choose or that she saw his handiwork everywhere—fresh paint, thick as cream; refinished pine floors; green apples in a glass bowl—but that it was him, sturdy and open, light swooping in through every window, forthright and decent and kind. She would not have supposed that a house could be kind, but this one was.
It smelled like sawdust and lemon oil and reckless salt wind. The tile countertop was pale green edged in black. In the next room, two chairs—modern ones made of curved rosewood and with square gold cushions—faced the fireplace. Three tall windows ran along the back wall, each a lambent rectangle of outside world: emerald yard, iris sky, and a platinum flash that Joseph said was a canal leading out into the bay.
Edith stood still and straight in her going-away suit (even though they’d gone only a few miles down the road) and let herself be held by the house, like a firefly cupped between two careful hands. She felt Joseph waiting behind her, halfway inside the door, one foot on the smooth floor, one on the gray-painted boards of the front porch. He had not carried her over the threshold, knowing she would prefer to walk in and to see the place, for just this first time, alone.
They’d been married two hours earlier in a centuries-old, tiny country church with a clear Palladian window overlooking a bean field, a view Edith would not have expected to be beautiful but was, the breeze threading like fingers through the low rows of ruffled leaves. Edith would have married Joseph in the middle of that field or barefoot on the sand dunes or on a street corner with taxis honking their horns. She would have married him in her oldest dress. But as she’d stood in that church, she had been grateful to be in white lace, her skirt belled like the Campanula carpatica flowers from her childhood backyard. The dress; the window; the chapel’s vaulted ceiling; the quiet voice of the rector; and Joseph’s mother, radiant in her pew, smiling and weeping at the same time: all of it kindled the moment into something bright and splendid. All Edith needed was him, of course, but Joseph deserved splendor.
His mother, Anne, was the only wedding guest, although Joseph’s friends could have filled the church and spilled out into the churchyard, into the old cemetery with its tilted stones, into the bean field. But he’d known that she would have no one, her father gone, her few close friends scattered far and wide. He hadn’t even wanted his mother there for fear his bride, though long accustomed to motherlessness, would feel her father’s absence—he’d been dead ten months—even more keenly. But Edith had insisted on his mother. Anne had loved Joseph unflaggingly his whole life, had written him a letter every day he’d been in Europe photographing the war and even after, when he’d stayed to, as he put it, tidy up. It seemed only just that she bear witness. More than just; the thing was impossible without her.
Edith explored the house, which was larger than she’d expected, bigger than most of the surrounding bayside cottages in this Delaware seaside town, a place Joseph had visited for a week as a child the summer before his father died and had never forgotten. On the first floor, in addition to the kitchen and living room, there was a small bedroom and bath and a large closet that Joseph, with the help of a plumber, had converted into a darkroom. Upstairs, there were two more bedrooms, one big enough to serve double duty as an office, another bathroom, this one with an enormous claw-foot tub, and a small sitting room with a sofa and a squatty black woodstove polished to a shine.
Up a narrow flight of stairs was Joseph and Edith’s bedroom: sun sifting drowsily through windows hung with rose-bouquet-printed barkcloth, a bed taking up most of the room, an oval braided rag rug on the wide plank floor at its foot. And everywhere hydrangeas, enough to make Edith gasp, great bunches billowing from vases on every surface: deep pink on one dresser, luna moth green on the other; light blue and mauve lacecap on the antique writing desk; a single, heavy purple pom-pom nodding from the sink in the bathroom; and next to the bed, a bouquet of bridal white. Edith smiled at the memory of Joseph early that morning, marching into the hotel restaurant with his shirt sleeves rolled up, gardening gloves stuffed into the pocket of his pants, and a sly smile. He had refused to explain his whereabouts, but now she imagined him at daybreak, clipping blooms, maybe even purloining them from people’s yards, striding around town with armfuls of flowers, loading up his car with every shade of sunrise to decorate this room at the top of their house.
The house had been part of the proposal.
“I’ve found us a home, Edie, and now you really have to marry me so we can go live in it.”
“We could live in it anyway,” she’d said, tracing the outline of his lips with her forefinger. “We could be a tremendous scandal.”
He had laughed and kissed her and told her all about it. About the house but also the canals—a network of them, like streets made of water—tranquil except for the occasional leaping fish or tiny, pulsing, gossamer sea nettle, barely there, a scrap of living creature like a floating whisper. About the salt marshes and inland bays, and, of course, the ocean.
“You and I have seen too much these past few years, Edie. You with losing your dad; me with the war and the tidying up afterward. We need fresh air, open water, sun rising out of the ocean every morning. We need the ocean, Edie. Can you imagine it?”
She just about could, but she had to ask, “I can see being there most of the year, but what about winter? A beach town might be especially dreary in winter, with freezing wind coming off the water and gray, gray skies. What will we do then?”
Edith shut her eyes, dropped backward onto the bed, and remembered Joseph’s face when she’d asked that question, surprised and bemused, his brow furrowed, as if the answer were obvious.
“Why, I’ll be your blue sky,” he’d said.
What could she do, what could anyone do with a man like that but marry him and live in his house near the ocean?
For a moment, her eyes still shut, Edith lay on her back in the center of her marriage bed inside the house that was Joseph—down to the banisters and the lig
From down below, she heard a faint whine, which she knew must be the back door opening, so she jumped up off the bed to look out the center window. Joseph stood on the back lawn at the edge of the canal, his hands in his pockets, his wedding jacket slung over one arm. Edith tugged open the window and called out, “Joseph!”
He spun around and stared up at her, his face breaking into a broad smile.
“Hey!” he shouted.
“Oh, my darling Joseph. Thank you.” It came out hoarse, too hushed for him to hear, so she cleared her throat and sang it, “Thank you!”
He opened out his arms and said, “Look at all this. Ours. Can you believe it?”
“Yes,” she said, laughing. “Yes, I can!”
“Come down, Edie. Come down and see the rest!”
“Oh, my darling,” she whispered once more before she wiped her eyes, kicked off her shoes, shimmied out of her stockings, and ran down to where he waited.
Until Cornelia piped up with, “You know what? I never liked that iris, either. I mean, it was pretty enough—but bad, a truly bad, bad, low-down, dirty, and despicable iris,” I was so busy composing a mental list of ten reasons to marry Zach that I hadn’t even noticed I was shredding the poor thing to bits. Shredding the iris, I mean, not Zach, although I suppose you could argue that while frantically racking my brain for reasons to marry a man I was promised and slated to marry within thirty hours wasn’t exactly ripping him to pieces, it wasn’t exactly nice, either. In fact, I was fairly positive that it would break his heart if he knew. Especially since I got stuck after reason nine.
We—my mother, Viviana; my almost-mother, Cornelia Brown; and I—were making centerpieces at an outdoor table at the resort Zach had found for our wedding, a pearly, columned, historic dreamboat of a hotel sailing atop an oak-and-pine-studded crest of Blue Ridge. Purple mophead hydrangeas and lithe white irises listed in buckets at our feet. A swimming pool stretched out graciously before us—a fountain like a great hibiscus blossom sprouting from its center—and a swimming-pool-colored sky smiled dotingly down.
Zach had texted the weather forecast to me the night before: three straight days of seventy-two-degree highs, cloudless skies, and zero humidity. Nice weather by any standard; by June in southwestern Virginia standards, a minor meteorological miracle. Perfect wedding weather, which should have made me perfectly giddy. Instead, I found it unsettling, even creepy.
“What is this? Stepford, Connecticut? Brigadoon? Camazotz?” I’d grumbled to myself during my postbreakfast (French toast decorated with edible flowers) walk around the grounds. “Where’s the humidity? Where are the damned mosquitoes?”
I dropped the rags of iris onto the tabletop, stared down at my hands, which were sticky as a murderer’s, and sighed. It wasn’t that it was hard to think up reasons why anyone would want to marry Zach. He was so generally, generically marriageable it was almost funny. Handsome, smart, hardworking. A law school star from a wealthy family. No criminal record. Good manners. Naturally curly hair. A golden boy if ever I’d seen one: wheat-colored curls, tawny brows and lashes, eyes the color of India pale ale. Even his car was gold. The man was a bona fide catch. Give him a chaise and four, an estate, and ten thousand pounds a year, and any Austen heroine would go stumbling over the countryside in her Regency heels to get to him.
No, if my task had been to list reasons why anyone should marry Zach, I could have reeled them off, lickety-split, and mangled no flowers in the process. But here at what was surely the eleventh hour—God, eleventh and a half—I was hell-bent on coming up with reasons why I should, a different matter entirely.
My mother dunked a paper towel into one of the flower buckets and handed it to me. I scrubbed zealously at my palms, as Cornelia and my mother looked on.
“Something on your mind, Lady Macbeth?” Cornelia said. She reached out and tugged on the paper towel until I relinquished it.
I shrugged. “Guess I’m just a little nervous.”
“Completely normal,” said my mother, briskly.
“Oh, yes,” Cornelia said, nodding. “Classic, even. Prewedding jitters. Cold feet. Absolutely everyone gets them.”
“Did you?” I asked.
Cornelia suddenly became occupied with poking a single iris into a hillock of hydrangea, narrowing her eyes, positioning the flower just so.
“You didn’t, did you?” I asked.
“Oh. Well. Gosh. I . . .”
She gave me an apologetic smile and shook her head. “Nope. I was actually even a little impatient.”
“A little?” said my mother, with a snort. “I know it was over a decade ago, but I seem to remember your trying to browbeat Teo into eloping with you even after you two had set a date and signed the catering contract.”
I laughed. For my professional party-planner mother, the catering contract marked the point of no return.
“I may have done that. Once or twice.” Cornelia laughed. “Per day, every day leading up to our wedding, including at our rehearsal dinner. But I’d known him since I was four years old. It was time to get that show on the road.”
“What about you, Mom? Jitters?”
“Oh, not with Gordon, but remember, I was twenty years older than you are now. With my marriage to your father, though, God, yes. Jitters upon jitters.”
“Your marriage to my father lasted all of three years,” I pointed out.
“Three years and nine months, actually. I just kicked him out after three.”
“Oh, much better. Very reassuring.”
Simultaneously, my mother’s and Cornelia’s faces softened into looks of concern. Oh, those two women. Suddenly, all I wanted in the world was to sit there with them, blessed by the beam of their gaze, watching the sun glance off their glossy heads of hair, and tucking flowers into other flowers, all day. Or for the next three days. Or for a lifetime. Sit, bless, beam, glance, tuck. Yes, a lifetime would be good.
“Darling,” said my mother, quietly, “do you need reassuring?” just as Cornelia reached across the table and pressed her hand over mine.
“Of course not,” I said, my eyes filling with tears. “It’s just—” A sob snagged in my throat.
“It’s all right,” said my mother. “Whatever it is it’s all right.”
“Of course it is, sweetheart,” said Cornelia. “Never fear.”
I planted my elbows on the picnic table and covered my face with my hands.
“Please,” I said from behind my hands. “Just—”
“What?” said Cornelia. “We’ll do anything.”
I flapped my hand in their direction. “Talk!” I squeaked.
“About what?” asked my mother.
We sat, tinsel threads of birdsong drifting and tangling in the air around us. Finally, Cornelia said, “I’m calling it. Time of death 9:41 a.m.”
Through a gap in my fingers I saw her holding the remains of the iris. She lifted it to her nose.
“Well, that’s interesting, Viviana,” she said.
“What?” asked my mother.
“This flower has been lacerated, mutilated, has suffered devastating internal injuries . . .”
“And external,” supplied my mother.
“Profound external injuries,” agreed Cornelia.
“She was twisting it,” observed my mother, “in addition to ripping it.”
“I saw,” said Cornelia. “The thing is horribly injured and irreversibly dead. And yet it still smells lovely.”
“Precisely,” said Cornelia.
“Oh, and what about that mad dog in To Kill a Mockingbird?” said my mother. “The one Atticus shoots and then says is—”
“Just as dangerous dead as alive,” finished Cornelia, grimly. Through my fingers, I watched her nod. “Actually, I looked that up once.”
“I thought maybe you had.”
“And what I discovered is that the rabies virus can live on for months in the body of a dead animal in freezing temperatures.”
“But it never gets that cold in Alabama,” said my mother, skeptically.
Cornelia smacked the tabletop. “Exactly what I said to myself! Alabama is such a warm state that it isn’t even that cold in February, which is when Atticus shot the dog. However, even in warm temperatures, the virus can live for hours and can be transmitted as long as the saliva is still wet!”
“Saliva is such an unappealing word. And I wouldn’t say that that accounts for the statement that the dog was as dangerous dead as it had been when it was alive and staggering toward them down the street.”
“No. But I suspect Atticus exaggerated in the interest of protecting his children.”
“That would be just like him,” said my mother. “Oh! And then there’s the praying mantis.”
“Ah, yes,” said Cornelia, with relish, shifting into a nature show narrator’s voice. “During the mating act, the female savagely bites the head off the male, and, undaunted by his headless state, he continues to thrust—”
“Okay!” I said. I took my hands away from my face. Cornelia handed me a paper towel, and I dabbed at my eyes.
“Was that possibly not the best example to bring up at the moment?” asked my mother.
I smiled. “I’m physically incapable of laughing right now, but I do appreciate the effort.”
We sat together in the lemony morning light, not speaking, my mother and Cornelia with their hands clasped on the tabletop, the centerpiece making temporarily suspended, and for one lovely, breathing moment, everything felt suspended, as if we three, the birdsong, the crisp, weightless air, and the wealth of flowers hung outside of time, so that it wasn’t the day before my wedding or any day. No irrevocable catering contracts, no hordes of guests arriving in waves over the next twenty-four hours, no gifts amassing like tires in a junkyard.
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