In THE SUMMER WIND, Dora’s life couldn’t possibly get any more complicated: with an Aspergian son, a crumbling marriage, and a house that doubles as a virtual money pit, she has plenty on her mind—until she suffers a health scare that makes her rethink her life’s priorities, and allows Dora to find herself again.
Check out this exclusive sneak peek from THE SUMMER WIND, on-sale today from Gallery Books by New York Times bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe!
For a moment, Dora felt almost hopeful. Maybe there was a way they could still work this out, still be a family. They owed it to Nate to try. She was about to utter those words when Cal spoke again, his tone suddenly businesslike and strained, any hint of a remorseful father wiped clean.
“Anyways, Dora,” he said, his eyes focused on a point just over her shoulder, “that’s not what I’ve come to talk to you about.”
Dora felt her stomach rise to her throat and a burn blaze across her cheeks. Against her better judgment she’d let her guard down for a moment, thinking he might have changed. And she knew he was about to stomp all over that vulnerability.
“I see,” she said in a carefully measured voice. “What do you want to talk about?”
Now Cal was studying the wineglass as if it held the secrets of the universe. After a moment he folded his hands together on the table and met her gaze.
“I came to discuss an amicable divorce.”
“An amicable divorce?” she repeated, not comprehending the meaning of the phrase.
“Yes.” Cal leaned forward slightly and began to speak in a controlled and deliberate voice, as though he’d memorized each word. It frightened her more than if he’d shouted.
“You see, a divorce doesn’t have to be a free-for-all. You saw how much tension and anger was pent up in the lawyer’s office this morning. Divorce can be amicable if the divorcing couple communicates frankly about their needs and desires while resolving the issues they face.”
“The divorcing couple,” she repeated, incredulous and enraged by his pretentiousness, his distance. “Lord in heaven, Cal, you sound like you’re on some advertisement. The divorcing couple? There’s just you and me.”
Cal sat back, slightly insulted. “Right,” he said.
“Go on. I’m listening.”
He continued. “Basically, you and I will work out the details ourselves,” he said, dropping the officious tone. “Not the lawyers. If we ask the attorneys to resolve our issues, it can get nasty and our case can go on forever and cost a fortune in legal fees. Look at what happened today. Your lawyer was blindsiding my lawyer. It was getting contentious. The way I see it, we can make a settlement plan ourselves, have our lawyers look at it, and we can remain friends. I’d like that, wouldn’t you? It’d be better for Nate, too, don’t you think?”
Now that Cal had effectively burst her bubble of denial, Dora could listen to his words and hear the veneer he was spreading on thick. Her lawyer blindsiding? It had been just the opposite.
“I don’t think so, Cal,” she replied in an even tone. “I heard what you offered today. If that’s your idea of working things out, then you can take your settlement and stick it where the sun don’t shine.” She smiled sweetly.
Cal’s face colored. “So, you’re going there, are you?”
“I’m only continuing down the path you started us on.”
“I thought, well . . .” Cal sat back in his chair, slapping his palms on his thighs in a gesture of impatience. “I don’t know why I’d expect you to be reasonable.”
“You thought I’d just sit back and do whatever you told me to do, like I always did. Didn’t you? Good ol’ Dora. She’ll toe the line.” Dora jabbed her finger at him. “You left, Cal. You walked out that door, not only on me but on your son. I expected a man who did something like that would feel some guilt. I expected you to be generous. To be reasonable.” She laughed insultingly. “I saw how reasonable you were. Nate and I can’t live on what you offered!”
“If I had more I’d offer more!”
“I know exactly what you make and I know when I’m getting the short end of the stick. You always were cheap, Cal. But I’m not just talking about the money. We always said if anything ever happened to us that the antiques you inherited would go back to your family and mine would go back to mine. But now you want my family antiques, too.”
“Everything we own, including the furniture, is considered communal property. The lawyers explained that. We have to divide it equally.”
“Have to? If we do this amicable divorce thing, we can do what we want. You just said so.”
Cal set down his glass and stood abruptly. His chair scraped the wood floor. “I can see there’s no discussing anything when you’re in this mood. This is where Nate gets it from.”
Dora gasped and felt a sharp pain, as though the words had stabbed her heart. She’d always known that deep down he’d blamed her for Nate’s autism. Dora’s heart began pumping hard in her chest and her mouth felt so dry that she couldn’t respond.
“I’d better go,” he said.
“Yes, go. You’re good at that!”
His face pinched and he turned to leave.
“You didn’t just leave me, you know,” she cried after him. “You left Nate.”
He turned back to face her. His own face was set in resolve. “Yes.”
Her heart ached for her son, her sad, lonely boy. “You haven’t called or visited him. You’re a lousy father, do you know that?”
She could feel the emotion rising and was powerless to stop it, didn’t want to stop it. “You never even once took Nate fishing!”
“Fishing? What the . . . Where did that come from?”
“He wanted to learn how to fish. What boy doesn’t? Mamaw taught him. Not you. You never taught him anything. He was always a disappointment to you.”
“Dora, we’re getting off track. Why are we digging up all this anger when the only reason I came over tonight was to try to find a peaceful settlement? You always do that. You get so emotional.”
“You want to see emotion? I’ll show you emotion!” Her voice rose to a shout. “Why did you leave me? You never told me. Why?”
The louder she yelled, the more withdrawn Cal became. He blew out a plume of air. “I hated my life,” he answered simply.
Dora went silent, mouth agape, blindsided.
“Every night when I came home I stood at the door and resented that I had to enter this house.” His gaze swept the room. “I hate this goddamn house,” he said in a cold monotone. “It’s been an albatross around my neck. Then the minute I’d walk in you’d start rattling on and on about Nate’s problems or the house’s problems, or the yard’s problems. There were always problems! I couldn’t get five minutes to sit down and relax before you’d start right in wanting to discuss some earthshattering problem, like the garbage disposal was broken.”
“You could have told me! I’d have given you space.”
“It’s not only that.”
“What about us?”
“There is no us!” Cal exploded. “There hasn’t been for a long time. There’s only you and Nate. I’m the odd man out. Sure, I understand that Nate needs a lot of your time. I get that. But once you got his diagnosis you were obsessed. You couldn’t do enough. You’ve been overinvolved. Our entire lives revolved around him. Dora, you hover. You plan every moment of his life.”
“It is my job!” she cried, almost in tears. “I’m his mother!”
“You were also my wife! You forgot that part. I became an afterthought in this house.”
“An afterthought? I cooked your meals, cleaned your house, did your laundry.”
“I want a wife, not a goddamn maid!”
Dora sucked in her breath. More than all the words spoken in the lawyer’s office, more than all the lists on ledgers, this moment told her for certain that her marriage was over. He didn’t love her, had not loved her for some time. Would never love her again.
“I . . . I didn’t know you felt that way.” She choked back tears.
Cal wagged his head with exhaustion. He was the picture of a man throwing in the towel. He softened his voice. “Don’t cry, Dora. Please . . .”
His words just made her sob harder. She gulped for air, unable to catch her breath. It felt as though he’d taken her heart in his hands and was squeezing it, tighter and tighter. She felt pain under her rib cage and, clutching her chest, she doubled over.
“Dora, what’s wrong?” he asked, taking a step toward her.
Her heart was pounding so hard she could barely hear him for the thundering in her ears. She staggered forward, her knees buckling.
“It’s my heart. I can’t breathe.”