He’d be over the moon. But would he ever have put himself in Tyler’s place? Would he ever have asked Pete if she loved him, asked her to marry him? No, it wasn’t his place to do so. It would never be his place. He was not one of them.
After dinner, in a spasm of traditionalism, Pete banished Tyler from her sight until the morning’s ceremony. It was bad luck, she said, for him to see her again until she was in her wedding gown, approaching the minister—her own father—on the arm of old Adam Strong, Tyler’s uncle.
As the dishes were being cleared, Pete appeared at Colin’s side.
“I need a walk on the beach. Will you come?”
She smiled and took his arm.
The two of them sloshed along the tide line for a while in companionable silence. To the west, the sun had dipped behind the fir-clad hills and the cobalt blue sky began fading to the color of robin’s eggs.
Across the outer harbor and beyond the low hills of Maury Island the almost iridescent white cap of “the mountain,” as everyone here called towering Mount Rainier, had turned the color of pale Spanish sherry. All around them the visible world seemed to slip from three dimensions to two, the low hills flattening to a navy blue screen.
Colin finally spoke. “You okay, luv?”
Pete squeezed his arm against her side and smiled but said nothing.
A little farther on, looking out across the darkening water, she said, “It’s what was meant to be. All along. This is where it’s all been going.”
“Well, marrying Tyler, anyway.”
“You act as if it was inevitable.”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
“What would you say?”
She paused. “Preordained. I think that’s what I’d say…preordained.”
“As in, not a choice?”
“As in part of the plan, part of the natural order of things.”
“I never took you for a fatalist.”
“Life is what you’re given; this is what I’ve been given.”
“That’s bullshit. Life is what you make of it.”
To his surprise, she giggled.
She hugged his arm again. “If I’d been given as little as you were, I’d believe life was what I made of it, too. But I have had a certain degree of privilege, haven’t I?”
“With no mother and an absentee father?”
“No, with the interwoven safety net of the Petersens, the Strongs, and, to a lesser extent, perhaps, the Rutherfords, not just here on the beach but in town, too. We’re like a tiny galaxy, held together by our own form of gravity. That’s part of what draws Tyler and me together, what keeps us together.”
“The weight of history?”
“No. Or at least not just that. Something else, but I think it’s related We are known to each other. Do you know what I mean? I think everyone, deep down, longs to be known—truly known—to someone.
There is such a comfort in that. I think that’s the foundation of love. Tyler and I, we’ve always had that.”
Colin wanted to argue with her, but there wasn’t any point. He’d never pressed his case and this wasn’t time to start. He nudged the conversation off on a tangent.
“If that’s the case, what’s up with Tyler this afternoon? Where’s the dazzled groom?”
Pete said nothing for a moment. She used the soles of her feet like paddles to spray seawater out ahead of her as she walked through the shallows. Finally, she spoke.
“I think it’s his mother. She’s not coming.”
“Mother? He’s never said a thing to me about his mother.”
“No, I don’t suppose he would have.”
“Tyler’s dad, Richie Strong?” she said finally. “He was a famous pilot.”
“So he said, but he’s never told me much about him, either.”
“He seldom does. But I will. You deserve an answer. Tyler’s dad was something of an aviation hero. Went to Billie Boeing’s flight school down in Oakland before the war. He was maybe twenty. Came home with a commercial pilot’s license and a wife, Amanda James. She was a secretary at the school; I don’t think she was even eighteen yet. American Airlines, which was only a couple of years old, had already heard about Richie from Boeing and they snapped him up.”
“Yeah. And then, in World War II, the president of American Airlines, a guy named C. R. Smith, was made head of something called the Air Transport Command. Their job was to ferry planes filled with equipment and soldiers back and forth across the Atlantic. Tyler’s dad was one of the first pilots Smith commandeered under the war powers. Apparently, Smith already had Richie on his radar screen. Tyler’s uncle…”
“Yeah, well Old Adam told me Smith used his brother for all kinds of top secret missions. One story is he took General Mark Clark, who was tight with Eisenhower, deep into North Africa to oversee the campaign against Rommel there. The plane he piloted was flanked by a dozen fighters.”
“Yeah. Old Adam’s crazy about his kid brother. It’s very sweet. Anyway, after the war, Richie went back to American Airlines. He was already one of their most senior pilots and he was only thirty. Flew for them from then on, from prop planes to jets. Then he was killed.
“What, he crashed or something?”
“Yeah, he did.”
“In a car.”
They’d reached the far west end of the beach, where the sand gave way to sharp, barnacle-encrusted rocks. When they turned, they could just see the tip of Rainier, above the hills across the harbor, glowing as if aflame.
“For years,” Pete continued, “everyone said it was an accident; Richie was driving his car, a convertible, too fast. Hit a telephone pole. Nineteen sixty-two.”
“Shit. All those years in the air and he dies on the ground. That’s so ironic.”
“Yeah, that too.”
“No, I mean it didn’t happen that way.”
“Tyler’s father killed himself.”
Colin stopped and stared at her. “Jesus, Pete!”
“It’s all about Amanda.”
“I got this from Old Adam, after several bourbons, okay? Tyler doesn’t know I know. Please don’t say anything.”
“Old Adam and his wife Emily made room for Richie and Amanda at the beach house, right here, after they’d married. Emily was the only daughter of Silas Wolfenden, the founder of Wolfenden Industries, the timber giant, and Silas gave Adam and Emily the land here on the beach. Silas had cut all the timber decades before and it was all new growth then. Old Adam’s got a big heart; he built the smaller Strong beach house next door to his own for his brother and Amanda. But Emily never trusted Amanda. Figured Amanda had seen that Richie was going places and just latched on to him for the ride.”
Pete paused and looked out over the darkening water.
“And?” he said after a few moments.
“And she was right. American Airlines based Richie in Chicago. Richie was gone a lot, building a career, and Amanda landed a job as a stewardess. For the next ten years they both flew, though not together, and put off having kids. Adam said word was Amanda was a quite a party girl. In 1950, when Amanda was twenty-nine, Jamie was born. But she didn’t settle down.”
“Okay, I’m not following here. I thought they were married a long time. They had two kids.”
“Right, but Tyler came along much later, when Amanda was nearly forty.”
“And Tyler’s father killed himself? I don’t get that.”
“Old Adam told me his brother Richie came home early from a trip, found the house empty, Jamie with a sitter, and went looking for his wife. Found her at her favorite bar, right there in their neighborhood outside Chicago. She was wrapped around the bartender. Not the first time, either.
Richie turned around, climbed in his car, headed out fast into the countryside. Police figure he drove straight into that pole. Died instantly. Or maybe he really died back at the bar, you know? I mean, how can someone who has a kid commit suicide? I think some part of them has to be dead already to do that.”
Pete had stopped, and, reflexively, Colin put his arms around her. She did not withdraw.
“Man; that must have been hard on Tyler.”
Pete pushed away and continued walking.
“Tyler wasn’t even born yet. He came along eight months later.”
“Wait. Was Richie even Tyler’s dad?”
“He doesn’t know?”
“He believes he’s Richie’s son, the son of a hero and flight pioneer; it’s Amanda who doesn’t know.”
“She swears he is. Problem is, as Old Adam tells it, the math doesn’t work. Richie couldn’t have been the father; he was away, flying.”
“This is tough.”
“But Amanda wasn’t done.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It wasn’t enough for her.”
“Having a dead hero for a husband. She wanted a son who was a hero, too. She wanted a fucking parade of heroes, if only to put the spotlight on her mothering instead of her adultery.”
“You’ve lost me.”
“It’s simple; when Richie died, she pushed Jamie to live up to Richie’s legend. The kid joined the Marines first chance he could, got sent to Viet Nam, and was so gung-ho he’d already been made a company commander by the time they sent his unit to Khe Sahn. The battle of Khe Sahn, which was at the end of his tour, was a bloodbath. A week before he was to be discharged—he already had a Purple Heart by then—Jamie dug a hole, climbed into it, and issued orders to his company from it. He didn’t want to get shot just days before going home.”
“That makes sense.”
“Yeah, except he took a direct shell hit instead. Nothing left of him but the dog tags.”
They were now nearly parallel to the Petersen compound. Pete stopped and looked at her friend.
“So Amanda drilled it into Tyler that he had two heroes to live up to, his father and his brother. And she never let him forget it.”
Every summer for generations, three families intertwined by history, marriage, and career have spent “the season” at their beach cottage compounds on an island in Puget Sound. Today, Martha “Pete” Petersen, married to Tyler Strong, is the lynchpin of the “summer people.” In childhood, she was the tomboy every girl wanted to emulate and is now the mother everyone admires.
Colin Ryan, family friend and the island’s veterinarian, met Pete first in London, years earlier, when she visited his roommate, Tyler. He’s loved her, privately, ever since. Born in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, son of a bar owner, he’s always been dazzled by what he sees of the sun-kissed lives of the summer people.
But this summer, currents strong as the tides roil: jealousies grow, tempers flare, passions clash. Then, on the last day of the season, a series of betrayals alters the combined histories of these families forever.
As in previous novels, The Long Walk Home and Water, Stone, Heart, with Seasons’ End, Will North weaves vivid settings and memorable characters into a compelling tale of romance and suspense.
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Genre – Women’s Contemporary Fiction
Rating – PG-13
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