The Tides of Memory by Sidney Sheldon

“You must think I’m awfully heartless,” Roxie blurted out. “Not going to visit Michael.”

“I don’t think any such thing,” Summer assured her.

“The truth is, I simply can’t cope with it. Hospitals still give me dreadful panic attacks. That hospital in particular.”

Summer had forgotten that Roxie had recuperated at the John Radcliffe after her suicide attempt. No wonder she couldn’t face the place.

“I totally understand. And so would Michael.”

“Daddy’s been twice, but he hates it too. He says he feels like a spare part. He doesn’t know what to say or do.”

“I’m not sure it matters what you say. And he’s doing something just by being there.”

“Spoken like a true woman. But you know men, especially British men. They want to ‘fix’ things. I don’t think Daddy can stand the fact that he can’t fix this for Michael. Just like he couldn’t fix things for me. He thinks it’s history repeating itself.”

“The curse of the De Veres,” Summer mumbled under her breath.

“The only curse on this family is my bitch of a mother,” Roxie said bitterly. Pushing the wheelchair from behind, Summer couldn’t see the cloud of hatred contorting Roxie’s face.

They walked on in silence. Eventually the village hove into view, a pretty cluster of wisteria-clad, stone cottages huddled around a triangular green, in the shadow of a squat Saxon church. A sleepier, more idyllic spot than Kingsmere would have been hard to imagine. Summer half expected Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle to emerge from one of the cottages, or to discover that Jemima Puddle-Duck was the proprietress of the village store.

This isn’t a place where bad things are supposed to happen.

In reality, the village store was owned by a grumpy old woman with prodigious facial warts called Rose Hudgens. Rose nodded a curt acknowledgment to Roxie when they walked in, but blanked Summer completely when she bought Teddy’s paper, returning her smile with a sullen scowl.

“Is she always like that?” Summer asked Roxie after they left the store.

“I’m afraid so. Rose isn’t too keen on newcomers. Especially Americans.”

They’d been walking for an hour and Summer still hadn’t broached the subject of Michael’s list, or of the mysterious secret he’d alluded to the night before his accident. Now seemed as good a time as any.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you, did Michael say anything to you, anything unusual, in the run-up to your father’s summer party?”

Roxie looked up sharply. “ ‘Unusual’ in what way?”

“In any way.”

“No, I don’t think so. Why?”

“It’s probably nothing. But the night before his accident, when I came to Oxford to see him, he said something to me about a secret. He said he was talking hypothetically, but I got the feeling that he wasn’t. That he’d found something out and that it was worrying him deeply. I thought he might have mentioned it to you.”

“No. He never said anything like that. All he talked about was the party, to be honest. He was consumed by it in those last few weeks, especially building this ridiculous folly for Dad. That was stressing him out, because it was all going wrong and he didn’t want Dad to worry. Do you think that could have been it? Although I can’t see why it would have been a secret.”

“Like I say, it was probably nothing.” Summer smiled reassuringly. It wasn’t fair to burden Roxie with her fears and suspicions. Not unless she had hard evidence to back them up. Whatever Michael’s dark secret was, clearly he had not confided in his sister.

Back at the house, Roxie delivered Teddy his Times while Summer went upstairs to make her bed and pack. She’d just zipped up her overnight bag when a voice behind her made her jump.

“You will stay for lunch?”

Teddy stood in the doorway. He was wearing a yellow sweater stretched tightly over his paunch, giving him the look of an elderly Winnie-the-Pooh. It occurred to Summer for the first time that he looked absolutely nothing like Michael. Not one grain of De Vere genes seemed to have been passed down from father to son.

“You scared me! I thought you were downstairs with Roxie.”

“I was, but she told me you were leaving, so I came up straightaway. Surely you don’t have to disappear so soon?”

“I’m afraid so. You’ve been incredibly kind and hospitable, but I have to go and see Michael.”

“Yes, but that won’t take all day.”

“I also have things to do back at the flat.”

“What things?”

“Just paperwork. But there’s a lot of it, believe me.” She yawned loudly. Teddy enveloped Summer in a big, paternal bear hug.

“If I may say so, my dear, I think you’re overdoing it. Your parents are right, you know. You should go back home to America.”

“I couldn’t possibly leave Michael.” Summer sounded shocked.

Fighting back his emotion, Teddy said, “Michael’s gone, Summer.”

“He isn’t gone.”

“Not in body, perhaps. But in every way that really matters. His mother’s right.”

“His mother is not right!” Hot tears stung Summer’s cheeks. “I’m sorry, Teddy. I know you love Alexia. But she’s not right about this. She wants to turn off those machines because it would be easier for her. Because it would put an end to a situation she doesn’t want to deal with.”

“That’s not true, my dear.”

“It is true. She’s too busy trying to hang on to her glittering career to be concerned with a little thing like her son.”

Teddy shook his head. “Alexia may not be demonstrative. But she loves Michael dearly. The doctors have told all of us that there is almost no chance of Michael ever regaining consciousness.”

“Almost. Almost no chance. That means there is a chance, right? Who’s going to fight for him, Teddy, if not us?”

Teddy stroked Summer’s hair tenderly. She was a sweet girl. Misguided but terribly sweet. “When you reach my age, Summer, you learn that there are some fights you simply cannot win.”

“If you really believed that, you’d do what Alexia wants and turn off Michael’s life support. But you haven’t.”

“I do believe it,” Teddy said soberly. “I’m just too weak, too sentimental, I suppose, to act on what I know is the truth.”

“I guess no one could accuse Alexia of being weak and sentimental,” Summer said bitterly.

“Alexia prefers to remember Michael the way he was. You mustn’t hate her for that, just because you want someone to blame.”

They were the same exact words her mother had said to her yesterday. It baffled Summer that Alexia De Vere seemed to inspire such deep loyalty in those closest to her. Teddy. Michael. Even Summer’s own mother, Lucy. What had Alexia ever done to deserve such devotion? Of her inner circle, only Roxie appeared to be able to view her mother as she really was.

Teddy was still talking, his eyes misting over with love as he spoke of his wife.

“Through all the tragedies of her life, Alexia has found solace in her work. It gives her a sense of meaning, a purpose and a function that transcend the pain. You could do worse than follow her example.”

“Go back to work, you mean?” said Summer.

“Yes. Go home to America. Go back to college, back to your job in New York. Don’t sacrifice yourself for my son, my dear. It won’t help Michael, and it will most certainly harm you. Why blight two lives, instead of one?”

Because I can’t not. Because I can no more leave Michael and go back to New York as if nothing’s happened than I can fly to the moon.

“At least say you’ll think about it.”

“I’ll think about it,” Summer lied.

Teddy carried her bag downstairs. “You will come again, won’t you?”

“Of course I will.” Summer kissed him on the cheek. “And I’ll give Michael your love . . . Oh.” An envelope on the hall table caught her eye. Addressed to Michael, it had the red-and-black Ducati logo embossed on the back. “Is he still getting mail sent here?”

“Occasionally,” said Teddy. “I believe we’ve always been his permanent address for passports and licenses and things like that. This only arrived this morning. I assume it’s the registration papers for that damn-fool motorbike.”

“Do you mind if I take it? I’m doing all Michael’s filing at the moment. Gives me something to do between visits. You wouldn’t believe what a mess his flat’s in.”

“Oh, indeed I would.” Teddy chuckled, handing her the Ducati envelope. “You should have seen his childhood bedroom. It looked like the wreck of the Hesperus.”

A few minutes later Teddy watched from the doorstep as Summer’s car pulled away.

Poor child.

Young love was so very hard. And loss at that age was quite unbearable.

The sooner Summer Meyer went home and forgot all about Michael, the better. For all of them.

Michael De Vere lay prone and all but lifeless on his hospital bed. Tubes ran from his nostrils and mouth to a ventilator at his side. Two round electrical pads just above his nipples sent a read of his heart rate to the beeping monitor at the foot of the bed. Amid all the high-tech equipment, Michael looked as white and peaceful as an alabaster statue, still and silent as the grave.

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Categories: Sidney Sheldon