A thin shaft of morning sunlight knifed between the drawn curtains. Across the room Gail was still asleep. The rest of the house was quiet. Sandy Harden lay on her back, looking up at the ceiling, hoping the others were taking advantage of their chance to sleep in on Sunday morning.
She had spent the last hour replaying Rick’s parting words, tingling with nervous excitement at the prospect of their clandestine escape to the coast. Twice she had slipped out of bed to get a closer, squinting look at the unlit clock on the dresser she shared with Gail. It was too early to get dressed, and she was too wound-up to sleep.
Laying there, her thoughts turned to the emphatic, perhaps frantic reaction her absence was bound to create. Her mother was not the kind to accept her daughter’s flight calmly. She would certainly be disappointed and angry. There would probably be tears.
Once again Sandy asked herself if it was fair, putting her mom through that. Without bothering to answer she returned to the one question that really mattered. At the end of the day, when she returned to face her mother, would she regret having been part of Rick's adventure?
Being in trouble....facing her mother’s frustrated anger was not an entirely new concept. She and Gail had come home too late on occasion or been in the wrong place, perhaps with the wrong friends. They knew what was expected of them and understood they would have to answer when they strayed over that line. In their young lives they had faced those consequences from time to time.
As a rule, however, Sandy preferred to think of those indiscretions as accidental....losing track of time, dealing with unplanned changes, episodes that had unfolded in ways she had not expected. She could not remember a single time when she had deliberately set out to break the rules. That was not her way. At that moment, lying there in bed, she could scarcely believe that she was calmly calculating how to make her get away without being detected.
She paused to mentally leaf through a gallery of young faces....boys from school who might have been bold enough to ask her to take part in such an adventure. She could think of no one in that population who would have been able to convince her to join him. Why then had she said “yes” to that quiet Indian boy? Was it his easy smile and low key humor, or the promise of a new brand of excitement?
By then she realized that her decision had come down to a single overriding reality. She trusted Rick as much as she liked him. She would be safe in his company. It was that quiet conviction that had won her anxious willingness. Now, if she could just get out of the house without being seen or heard.
Finally, slipping out of bed, Sandy was dressed in only a minute or two....unaware of the curious, slightly bewildered witness to her leaving. Gathering her shoes and floppy denim handbag, she started for the hallway door. Only then did she look back to see Gail laying in her bed, following her every move.
With a cautionary finger to her lips. Sandy pleaded for silence. She paused for a moment, wondering if she should answer her cousin’s obvious question. But why? There was no reason to get Gail in trouble. She could not be punished for what she did not know. Better to tell her nothing.
At the door she looked back one last time. It was only a wink and a silly grin, but Gail seemed to understand. Her eyes were laughing as she waved her exaggerated good-bye.
As planned, the rest of the household was still asleep as Sandy made her way to the kitchen. From the cupboard she took a half-full sack of two-day-old doughnuts, then let herself out the back door.
By then her heart was racing with a warm, happy kind of excitement. She started down the sidewalk in a leisurely stroll, but was soon half-running to the end of the block and around the corner to Hampton Street. She was early, but so was he. The maroon Audi was pulled up to the curb, awaiting her arrival.
“Did you have any trouble getting away?” Rick asked as he made a U turn to drive back down Hampton Street, rather than go past the Asylum. He was doing his best to remain straight-faced and calm. Inside he was laughing out loud.
“Gail saw me go. But that’s okay. She won’t say anything.”
They hurried on to the Old Highway, then off toward downtown Tanner. Sandy handed him a hard, heavy donut, then leaned forward to decipher the unfamiliar radio buttons, looking for some decent music. She paused long enough to look around the interior of the car which in its day, ten years earlier, had been an upscale model.
“This is nice,” she said. “Is it really going to be yours when you get back home?”
“That’s my plan. I’ll have to see what Dad thinks. If he wants it for himself I’ll try to hold out for something just as good.”
They drove through central Tanner, across the river, and on toward the west-side farm belt. It was new country to Rick, a pleasant blending of prosperous farmsteads and lush green cropland, all of it framed by the string of dark Coast Range mountains that stretched across the western horizon.
“Will you get in big trouble for this?” Sandy asked, breaking into his quiet sightseeing. “Will your Dad be mad?”
“Oh, I’ll hear about it all right. There’ll be a lecture about being more responsible, and probably another earful about all the family stuff....how I’m causing trouble for his granddaughter.”
If that was a hint of dejection he saw on Sandy's face he was not about to let it dampen the mood. “Don’t you worry. This is a very good idea. I want to see the ocean and that’s what we’re going to do.”
“You said before he was going to take you there.”
“He told me he would. But he kept putting if off. Besides, I’d rather see it with you. This is lots better.”
“Why thank you. I think it’s better too. In fact I’m glad it worked out this way.”
A moment later she was laughing quietly to herself. When that brought a wondering glance from Rick, she answered his unspoken question.
“I was thinking about it this morning, lying in bed. I’m really glad that my grandpa isn’t your real dad.”
“Because if he was, that would make you my uncle,” she giggled. “I don’t think that would work, running off to the beach with my uncle. Would it?”
With traffic backing up on the winding two-lane highway Rick backed off the accelerator, curbing his natural inclination to pass everything in front of him.
“You’re probably right,” he nodded. “In most places, uncles who run off with nieces are considered bad guys. Does it work that way in Tanner too?”
“Rick Levant, you just be careful what you say about my town.” A playful jab at his ribs helped make her point. “Tanner has lots of nice people. Most of them are not as messed up as this Fedder bunch.”
They rounded a sweeping curve at the top of a long hill and suddenly a panoramic view of the green and hazy mountains stretched before them. “Isn’t that pretty,” Sandy noted. “It seems like they go on forever.”
It was a pleasant setting. Rick was willing to grant that, especially with the promise of the ocean just beyond the farthest peaks. But when it came to judging mountain ranges he was not overly impressed.
“We need to get you to Montana, girl, to see what real mountains look like.” For a moment he was tempted to explore that idea....'getting her to Montana.' On second thought, however, he chose to concentrate on the day ahead.
They were quiet as they started into the mountains. Sandy was shifting mental gears again, returning to her earlier thoughts of the sometimes dysfunctional Fedder clan. Finally she reached over to turn off the radio and ask, “Have you ever wondered what he did?”
“What who did?”
“Your dad. Tom Fedder,” she said. “You know, when he had to leave town. You must have wondered about that.”
“I never knew about it before. So I hadn’t given it any thought until I got here. Besides, who says he ‘had’ to leave town. What makes you think it was something he did? Maybe it wasn’t his fault. Maybe someone else did something to him.”
“You know him better than I do. Is he the kind of guy who’d let someone chase him away from his own family?”
She had a point. “I don’t think so," he answered. "But it’s hard to imagine what he could have done to make him want to leave.”
“My Mom has tried to get Grandma to talk about it. But she won’t. She never has.”
“Does your Mom have any ideas?”
“I think so,” she nodded. “She’d never say it to Grandma’s face, but she's always wondered if there was another woman. That’s usually the way those things work.” Sandy was grinning now. “It’s always you men and your roving eye that causes the trouble.”
“You’ve been watching too many bad movies.”
For a minute or two Rick was silent, processing the unflattering possibilities she offered. Nothing about the dismal picture she painted described the old man he knew so well. “It’s hard to imagine he’d do something like that,” he finally said. “He’s not that kind at all.”
“He was certainly nice to me. At least until I asked about Mom.” A moment later her thoughts had turned to the other player in that long-ago drama.
“There’s something else I’ve always wondered about," Sandy continued. "Why didn’t Grandma get married again? She was still young. I’ve seen pictures of her from that time. She was a pretty lady. She could have found a husband”
“She must have had some boy friends.”
“I don’t think so. Mom told me once that when Tom Fedder left it seemed like Grandma just sort of gave up on men.”
By then the girl was retrieving snippets of conversations heard over the years. “I’ve never heard anyone talk about her having a boy friend, or even a date. She just kind of wrapped herself up in her family.”
What did Rick know of how his dad had handled that parting from Linda? Very little, he decided.
“It must have been something like thirty years after Dad left here before he hooked up with my mom," he said. "He’s never talked much about what happened during that time, only that he spent too many years drunk and wasted.
“I know he worked hard once he got the hardware store. But other than that he’s never talked about it. That’s why I was so surprised to find out he had family out here, besides his Mom and Dad."
With a grinning wink he added, "You can bet that was a shock, to find out that I had such a cute niece, who I’d never even heard of. ”
That earned him a rap on the knee. “I’m not your niece. And don’t you dare go spreading that rumor. There are people in the North End who’d believe that, just because I’m a Fedder.”
“It will be our little secret.”
Their rambling "family history" conversation had Sandy tracking off to what seemed an unlikely coincidence. “You know," she said. "My own dad left us when I was barely two years old. The same as my Mom’s dad. I wonder sometimes if that kind of thing can be inherited? It seems to run in our family. Do you suppose I should be worried?”
“Don’t be crazy. No guy in his right mind is going to run off and leave you.”
Was he teasing? She replayed his words and concluded that she was hearing conviction, not humor. Without asking, she decided she would accept that as a compliment.
Minutes later, from a high hill just outside Lincoln City, they had their first view of the ocean, stretching blue and gray across the horizon. A half-mile later they dipped down into a valley and that ocean disappeared behind the next wave of rolling hills.
Finally, in downtown Lincoln City, Sandy directed him to the crowded parking area she had described the day before. As advertised it was just yards from the broad, sandy beach and crashing surf. Overhead, bright-colored kites drifted high on the steady ocean breeze.
“This the place, isn’t it? It looks just like you said it would. Shall we check it out?”
Without waiting for an answer, Rick parked and hurried from the car to the heavy pipe railing that circled the overlook. This was what he had come to see. There before them, to the right and left, were sandy beaches, crashing waves, and the steel-gray ocean stretching to the horizon. Smelling the ocean smells and feeling the salty wind in his face, he took it all in.
For an hour after Sandy’s early morning departure Gail lay under her covers, sometimes dozing, sometimes feigning sleep....having already decided she would not be the first one out of bed. Someone else must discover Sandy’s absence.
So she lay quietly, mulling fanciful scenarios of what her cousin might be doing at that moment. Though she no idea where she might have gone, even before the bedroom door had closed behind her Gail was sure that Rick must be involved in her mysterious departure. Sandy’s parting grin had been a sure giveaway.
Meanwhile down the hall, in the room she shared with Sue Ann, Linda Fedder was also wide awake. For the last half hour she had mentally composed and edited the sad message she must deliver to her brood. For days she had wondered if there was some way to make the bad news sound better, or at least less-bad. By that Sunday morning she realized that would not be possible.
Her Friday afternoon meeting with banker Ron Clifton had effectively erased the last hope of avoiding what she had long dreaded. The bank was no longer willing to carry her ‘non-performing debt.’ She had owed too much, for too long, and had not been ‘servicing’ her loan as agreed.
Although ‘non-performing debt’ and ‘servicing of loans’ were not part of Linda’s everyday vocabulary, she certainly understood the concept of ‘foreclosure.’ That possibility, which had weighed on her for months, could no longer be pushed aside.
Her response to that depressing meeting with Mr. Clifton had been to schedule an appointment with a local realtor for the following Wednesday afternoon. There was no longer a choice. Selling the house was bound to generate a better result than allowing the bank to sell it at a foreclosure auction. She had run out of options. It must be done....soon.
Now came the hardest part, explaining to her girls that there was a new ‘normal’ on the horizon. Their lives would soon be lived on an even more-modest scale.
The most upsetting part of that new normal would be asking Bonnie to adapt to a home or apartment that would not include even the minimal, accommodations she enjoyed at the Asylum. Their move would be hard on all of them, especially Bonnie. For now, however, Linda could no longer avoid her most immediate responsibility..... preparing her girls for what lay ahead.
Meanwhile, in the back bedroom Gail lay restlessly, waiting for the others to be up and around.
Finally, at seven-thirty, Sue Ann pushed the bedroom door open and poked her head inside to ask, “Are you two going to sleep all day?”
Gail rolled over and lifted her head, doing her best to look as though her sound sleep had just been interrupted. Seconds later came Sue Ann’s next question. Noting her daughter's empty bed, she asked, “Is Sandy up already?”
“She must be in the bathroom,” Gail mumbled.
“I just came from there.” Sue Ann pulled the door closed behind her and started toward the living room.
Gail had slipped into her jeans and tee shirt by the time Sue Ann returned with new questions. “Do you know where Sandy is? I can’t find her anywhere.”
Before Gail could answer, Linda called for them to help get Bonnie out of bed. Five minutes later the four of them had assembled in the kitchen.
“Where could she be?” Sue Ann asked again, giving voice to her mounting anxiety. “She wouldn’t just walk off.”
Bonnie shifted in her wheelchair to make eye contact with her daughter. “Come on, Gail. What do you know about this?”
“Mom.” They all knew Gail’s innocent whine well enough. “I was sleeping. How could I know where she went?”
Finally Linda motioned for quiet, hoping to cut through the questions and calm Sue Ann’s near panic. “Honey, she wouldn’t just go off by herself. Surely she knows better than that.”
“But she’s gone.” Sue Ann was doing her best to hold back the tears. “If she went with someone, who would it be? Who does she know who would do that?”
“The only one I can think of is that Rick boy.” Bonnie offered.
“And that’s probably a good guess,” Linda agreed. “It seemed to me they were getting along rather well. Does he have a car, or would they be on foot?” She was asking Gail.
“I don’t know, Grandma.”
Sue Ann was in no mood for her mother’s accepting tone. “You make it sound like that would be okay, running off with that Indian boy. But we don’t know that. We don’t know anything about him. Nothing.”
“He’s nice,” Gail offered. “I know she likes him. I can’t believe he’d hurt her.”
“How can you be so sure?” Sue Ann’s mind was churning now, imagining one dark possibility after another, all at the hands of the long-haired Indian boy.
“Kids today sneak around so much," she said, pacing anxiously to the dining room and back. "My own daughter can have a boy friend, even run away with him, and I don’t know anything about him. How do I know she’s okay?”
Slipping an arm around her daughter’s shoulder, Linda steered her to a chair at the kitchen table. “What you’re describing sounds a lot like you and Jim, when you were in high school. I remember waiting up a few times until the wee hours. You do remember that, don’t you. Your watch had stopped. Or you had a flat tire. Or some other lame excuse.”
“At least I always came home,” Sue Ann countered. She turned back to Gail, ready to consider a more sinister possibility. “She’s not silly enough to run off to Reno with that boy. Is she?”
“Of course not,” Gail replied. “She didn’t even take her toothbrush.” The notion of a Reno elopement had not crossed her young mind. Now that it had, it sounded rather exciting.
Sue Ann, however, was not about to be satisfied with Gail’s dubious evidence. “What does that mean?” she asked. “When things get crazy, it’s easy enough to forget your toothbrush.”
“Please, dear. Don’t get so worked up,” Linda urged. She too could remember moments when things turned crazy. Not once did she recall ever thinking about her toothbrush at a time like that.
“Sometimes you just have to hope they’ve learned the difference between right and wrong, or maybe it’s 'smart and dumb.' Either way, if they don’t know that by now it’s too late to teach them. That’s the way it was with me. I had to hope that you’d remember which was which.”
Though Linda understood the logic she spoke of, given her own experience with the male of the species her personal prognosis was not overly optimistic.
Still, Sue Ann was not ready to give up. “Shouldn’t we call the police or something?”
“What would you tell them? We don’t know if she’s on foot or in a car. Is she with that Rick boy? And if she is, did he force her to go?”
Gail was shaking her head. “Nobody forced her to do anything. When she left, she absolutely wanted to be going wherever she was going.”
“I thought you were asleep.”
“Well, I’d just woke up. She saw me and told me to be quiet. She was smiling. A lot.”
“Did she say she was going with the boy?”
“No. But I could tell she was.”
Linda was looking for a way to end their standoff before Sue Ann grew even more anxious.
“Honey, I know that waiting is the hardest part. But it sounds like she’s with the Indian boy. If she thinks that’s a safe place to be, I suppose we have to trust that she’s right.”
“I do trust her,” Sue Ann nodded, wiping her eyes. “It’s him I’m not sure about. How do we know we can trust him?”
“It seems that your daughter does,” Linda said. She stood, ready to return to the quiet of her room, knowing that her announcement of a new ‘normal’ would have to wait until Sandy’s disappearance played itself out.
“We’ll just have to trust her judgment," she repeated. "Let’s wait until noon and see if they’re back by then. If they’re not, we can decide what to do next.”
“Are you sure?”
“Sue Ann, you’ll have to be patient. That’s how it is. You say your prayers and trust that she knows what’s right.”