The Tides of Memory by Sidney Sheldon

“I’m sorry, Alexia.”

She looked down and saw that her hand was still in his. Not knowing what else to do, Alexia left it there. But the comfort that hand had once held for her was gone now, gone forever.

Like everything else. Like my children, my career, my marriage, my future.

Piece by piece, brick by brick, the fortress that Alexia De Vere had built around her life was being dismantled by some unseen hand, some cruel, relentless fate.

“You haven’t told the police, have you? About Billy.”

Teddy pulled his hand away. “No. And nor must you. They’ve no reason to connect either of us to that case, and we’ve no reason to give them one.”

“Yes we do, Teddy. We should tell the truth.”

“Nonsense, Alexia. What’s truth compared to family honor? Compared to reputation? If the police knew about Billy, they’d have to know about your past life. Is that what you want? Is it?”

Before Alexia could answer, the door opened. Two court officers walked in, followed by Angus Grey.

“Time to go.”

Angus wrapped a comforting arm around Alexia’s shoulder as they left the building. “Is there anyone I can call? You shouldn’t be alone tonight.”

“Thanks,” said Alexia, “but there really isn’t.”

It was true. Teddy had always been her rock, her protector. But in the harsh light of the truth, he’d melted away, like butter in the sun. And now he was behind bars, unreachable. Both Michael and Roxanne were lost to her. There were people who would give her a bed, of course, out of pity, or propriety, or some other British notion of doing “the done thing.” Sir Edward Manning, other political colleagues with whom Alexia had forged alliances during her long years in the trenches. But no one she considered a true friend. Not here anyway.

“Should I take you home?” asked Angus.

Home, thought Alexia. Where is home?

In that instant, she knew where she should go.

“Can I get you anything, love? Cup of tea? Some toast?”

Summer Meyer smiled at the ICU nurse but shook her head. It amused her the way the British considered a “nice cup of tea” to be the panacea for all life’s ills. Terminal cancer? I’ll put the kettle on. Boyfriend in a coma? Have a cuppa. It was an attitude that reminded her of her mother and home, although with Lucy food was the great cure-all: muffins, cookies, cupcakes. Lucy Meyer was a big believer in the healing power of baked goods.

But not even Lucy Meyer’s magic baking could have handled the latest twist in the De Vere family’s falling fortunes. The discovery of Andrew Beesley’s body in a shallow grave on the home secretary’s estate was the story on all the British news channels. Alexia had resigned, and now Teddy—Teddy!—had been charged with Andrew’s murder. A less likely killer than the soft, warmhearted Teddy De Vere would be hard to imagine. Although in some ways picturing Teddy as a killer was easier than recasting Alexia as a selfless, loving mother. Apparently she’d concocted the story about driving Andrew away, taking the blame for years solely to protect Roxie’s bond with her father.

Summer stroked Michael’s limp hand. “I love you,” she whispered. “But your family is insane. You do know that, right?”

“Not all of us, surely?”

Alexia stood in the doorway. Thin and stooped, she wore baggy trousers and a white cardigan that hung off her bony frame like feathers on a dying bird. Her usually perfect hair was limp and tangled, and her eyes and cheeks bore the hollow look of acute suffering. If Summer had to pick one word to describe her, it would have been a word she had never associated with Michael’s mother before: frail.

“You look terrible.”

“Thank you, Summer.”

“No! I mean . . . I’m sorry. That came out wrong.” Summer blushed. “Please. Sit down.”

“I’m not disturbing you?”

“Not at all.” Summer released Michael’s hand and Alexia took it, tracing slow spirals across her son’s palm with her thumb. “Any change?”

Summer shook her head.

Both women sat in silence for a while. Then Summer said, “Mom said you might be flying out to the Vineyard. Laying low for a while.”

Alexia nodded. “I can’t stay here. The press won’t give me a minute’s rest.” She gazed at her son’s inert body. “Do you think he can hear us?”

“I don’t know. They say not. Sometimes I feel as if he can but . . . I don’t know.” Summer took a deep breath. “I heard they charged Teddy.”

“Uh-huh. It’s like a soap opera, isn’t it?” Alexia giggled inappropriately, high on exhaustion. “Except that the characters and the plotlines are all real. Andrew Beesley’s really dead. Michael’s really lying here, like this. Teddy’s really in jail. He confessed, you know.”

“I heard.”

“I never liked Andrew. But I hadn’t realized just how much Teddy hated him. To shoot a man in cold blood like that.” She shook her head disbelievingly. “That’s not the man I married. It makes no sense to me.”

Summer said thoughtfully, “I think it makes sense. Just not the sort of sense we want to acknowledge. I’m not defending it, obviously. But I understand. People do crazy things when they love someone.”

Alexia smiled wanly. “You’re a smart girl. I can see why Michael fell in love with you.”

“I misjudged you, Alexia,” Summer blurted out. “I didn’t know, about Teddy and Andrew, and you taking the blame so that Roxie wouldn’t hate her father.”

“Of course you didn’t,” Alexia said kindly. “Nobody knew. That was the point.”

“I don’t think I could do something that unselfish.”

“You’re here every day, aren’t you? I’d call that pretty unselfish. It’s more than I’ve managed to do. And I’m his mother.”

“You had a big job. You couldn’t just leave it.”

“I could have, and I should have. But what’s done is done. The irony is that now that I’ve actually resigned, I don’t care at all. Isn’t it bizarre how it takes awful, horrendous things like this to make one see what’s important in life?”

Summer nodded. Alexia didn’t take her eyes off Michael.

“Teddy thinks he must have found Andrew’s body and reburied it, when he was excavating the pagoda. He kept it quiet to protect me.” She stifled a sob. “That was the ‘secret’ he was hinting at to you. My son crashed that bike believing that I’d murdered Andrew Beesley.”

“We don’t know that, Alexia.”

“It was bad enough, Roxie thinking the worst of me for all those years. But at least I’ll have a chance to put things right with her, eventually. Michael might never wake up. I might never be able to tell him the truth.”

Summer put her arms around Alexia. She could feel every one of her ribs, like bars on a xylophone.

“He will wake up. I’m sure of it. I’ll leave you for a while.”

Alone with her son, Alexia began to talk. She thought she’d feel awkward and foolish, but now that she was here, she found the silence comforting. Michael’s presence was enough.

“So many secrets, my darling. So many lies. And I started it all! I thought I could run from the past, from my mistakes. But there’s no escape.”

The machine at Michael’s side inflated his lungs with air then emptied them again, its gentle, rhythmic whooshing filling the silence, like waves lapping against the shore.

“I’m so desperately, desperately sorry, Michael. Please forgive me.”

Michael De Vere had no answer to give his mother.

He simply lay there, motionless as a corpse.

Part Four

Chapter Thirty-four

Spring came slowly on the Cape. While the rest of Massachusetts burst forth in a riot of color and warmth and life the moment February turned to March, winter clung to the Cape and islands like a wizened old man clinging to life. Long after the last of the snow had melted, Martha’s Vineyard was still being whipped by bitter Canadian winds. Any primrose or daffodil foolish enough to allow its head to peek above the soil was dashed into oblivion for its presumptuousness, and islanders continued wearing their gloves, scarves, and mufflers as they went about their errands in town. When the long-awaited warmer days finally arrived in early May, the mood among the locals was euphoric.

Alexia De Vere felt particularly privileged to witness the late changing of the season. Unlike her friend Lucy Meyer, Alexia hadn’t minded the prolonged winter. Somehow the bitter weather and heavy blanket of snow had felt like an extra layer of protection from the cruel world that lay beyond the island’s shores, the world Alexia was escaping from, hiding from like a prisoner on the run. At the same time, spring’s new beginning seemed to echo the sense of renewal she felt inside.

Physically she’d made a remarkable recovery from Gilbert Drake’s attempt on her life. Her ribs had healed completely. A small, half-inch scar where the bullet had pierced her side was the only reminder that the incident had ever happened. For a woman her age, she was very, very lucky. But it was the emotional shifts that affected her the most profoundly. Huge, important chapters in Alexia’s life had come to an end. Her political career was over. So was her marriage, at least in the form she had always known it. Teddy was still in custody in Oxford, awaiting sentencing—cutbacks in the British courts meant there was a huge backlog of cases and Crown v. De Vere was unlikely to be heard before late summer.

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Categories: Sidney Sheldon