Making It Last - A Novella (Camelot Series), page 1
Making It Last is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Loveswept eBook Original
Copyright © 2013 by Ruth Homrighaus.
Excerpt from Flirting with Disaster by Ruthie Knox copyright © 2013 by Ruth Homrighaus.
All Rights Reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
LOVESWEPT and the Loveswept colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Cover design: Lynn Andreozzi
Cover photograph: Claudio Marinesco
A Note from the Author
Other Books by This Author
About the Author
The Editor’s Corner
Excerpt from Flirting with Disaster
Amber Mazzara stroked the skinny back of her retching son.
“Get it up,” she said soothingly. “Just get it all up.”
He heaved. Amber kept her gaze on the terra-cotta tiles beneath her boots and tried not to think about how many minutes behind schedule for the airport this episode was going to put them.
If we miss our flight, we’re fucked.
That’s what her husband, Tony, had said under his breath right before she escorted Jacob to this attractive raised bed beyond the overhanging roof of the open-air lobby to empty the contents of his stomach.
Crude, but correct. Jacob’s older brothers, Anthony and Clark, had been at each other’s throats all morning, externalizing their eight- and ten-year-old angst about the fact that their vacation was nearly over in a constant stream of taunts, arguments, and posturing. She’d separated them and exiled them to benches on opposite ends of the lobby, but they were still pulling faces at each other and generally being a pain in the butt. Everyone was dressed for the airplane, not the Jamaican climate, which meant they were all hot, itchy, and overtired.
And because they’d bought the cheapest possible tickets, they had three plane rides to endure. If they were lucky, they’d arrive in Columbus around ten and be home to Camelot by midnight.
If they missed their flight out of Montego Bay and had to travel standby, they were indeed fucked.
Jacob heaved. The cotton of his blue T-shirt rose beneath her palm, soft and hot, clammy with his little-boy perspiration. She followed the pronounced bumps of his spine with one fingertip, willing him a peace she couldn’t feel.
He whimpered. “Sorry, Mom. Clark made me do it. He said—”
“Shh. It’s all right.”
His brothers had taunted him into eating half a chocolate bar. Jacob was milk intolerant; whenever he ate dairy, it came right back up.
She loved her boys, but sometimes they were rotten people.
Jacob spat onto the shiny leaf of a dark green plant with yellow and pink spots. A croton, she thought it was called. They had one at home, but it was only about twelve inches tall. Here in Jamaica, they were everywhere, and they were enormous. This plant was a good four feet in both height and diameter, its spots vibrant beneath the gleaming slide of her youngest son’s saliva.
It was the heat, she supposed. The island environment gave this plant what it needed to grow and thrive.
When she got home to Ohio, she would throw the other one away. It would be kinder than keeping it alive on top of the buffet in the formal dining room, stunted and starving, attracting dust.
Her house seemed to manufacture dust. She dreamed sometimes of moving back into the tiny one-story cottage that Tony had owned when she met him, where they’d lived until after Anthony was born and Tony became fixated on the idea of building something bigger.
That old house was too small for them now—the boys would have to crowd into one bedroom, lined up head-to-toe-to-head-again like sardines—but the daydream captivated her anyway, because when she’d lived in that house with Tony, she’d known who she was. She’d felt centered in herself, grounded by her love for her husband and the daily reality of babies and diapers, sticky fingers and Cheerios and bath time.
Overwhelmed, sure. Exhausted a lot of the time. But full of so much love and pride, she’d thought sometimes she might burst with it.
Jacob heaved and spat again.
“Gross,” Anthony said. Amber looked up. Her middle son had drifted over from the bench where she’d put him. Because what was cooler to an eight-year-old than watching his little brother puke? Nothing.
“Back on the bench.”
He’d been the instigator all morning, bickering with Clark, probably masterminding the plan to get Jacob to eat the chocolate. Whining, tormenting Clark, getting up in Amber’s face with that aggressive energy young boys had in abundance—that stiff-armed, rictus-faced Hey, look-at-me look-at-me look-at-me thing they did that pushed her buttons, hard.
“But I wanted to see if—”
“Get your butt over there right now or there will be consequences.”
“That’s so unfair,” he whined. “I was going to tell Jake I’m sorry.”
“Back. Right now.”
She said it loudly enough that he listened.
So did everyone else within thirty feet.
Amber took a deep breath and turned toward Jacob and the plant, because she didn’t want to see the curious stares of the strangers waiting for the airport shuttle van, the passengers who were checking in, or the casual clusters of people lounging on lobby furniture with cool drinks in hand. Their vacations were still ripe with possibility. Amber’s was over, and the puking was a pretty solid indicator of how it had gone, overall.
She wasn’t in the mood for her family’s sympathetic monitoring, either. Caleb and Ellen had moved on to their private couples-only honeymoon resort, but the rest of the gang all seemed to be on this shuttle—her parents; her aunt Jamila and Jamila’s latest boyfriend; her sister, Katie, with her new guy, Sean. Other relatives milled about. Too many witnesses.
Her mom was huddled in conversation with Jamila, and the sisters kept looking in Amber’s direction, their foreheads identically concerned. Which wouldn’t normally bother her, except the same concern had been aimed in her direction ever since the two of them had found her on the beach after Caleb and Ellen’s wedding ceremony, crumpled against the trunk of a palm tree, unable to stop crying.
Worse yet, Jamila had decided this morning to cut her Jamaican vacation short in favor of following her sister back to Camelot for a few days, saying she and her boyfriend had been having so much fun visiting with Amber’s mother and the rest of the family that they didn’t want it to end. Which meant Amber would likely be seeing more of those concerned foreheads back home.
Her mother was nosy and pushy. Jamila was well-off and indulgent. The two of them together were a force to be reckoned with, and Amber didn’t have the energy to reckon with anyone.
Jacob drew in a deep, sniffly breath and straightened up.
“You think it’s done?” she asked.
He sniffled loudly. “Yeah.”
“Let’s sit here for a minute to be sure.”
She took a seat on t
He tipped water into his mouth, swished it around, and spat. Then he swallowed some.
“Not too much,” she warned.
She took the bottle back when he handed it to her, then turned and dumped the remaining contents on the soiled leaves of the plant and the mess Jacob had made in the mulch.
When she looked up, Tony caught her eye from the other side of the lobby, near the shuttle van. He raised his eyebrows.
Amber lifted her hand, fingers spread. Five minutes.
She could count on Tony to keep the shuttle driver’s impatience at bay a little longer. Five minutes of stomach-settling time, and they could all squeeze into the van and spend an hour on bumpy, winding roads getting back to the airport.
If she was lucky, Jacob wouldn’t throw up in her lap, all their flights would be on time, the kids wouldn’t embarrass her on the plane, and she’d have a few minutes between all their demands to read a magazine.
Maybe she could actually sit by Tony and talk to him about something other than the boys. Or the work he needed to do in the coming week. Or how worried he was about his brother Patrick.
Amber scanned the lobby again. Clark had disappeared from his bench. She located him with Tony’s fingers wrapped around his elbow, being frog-marched toward the van. She could see from her husband’s expression that Clark had done something worse than just getting up from the bench. Removal to sit in the van alone must have been the best punishment Tony could come up with.
She repressed a sigh, wishing it hadn’t been such a long day already. It was only nine a.m. That left at least fifteen hours before she got to bed.
“Do you have any snacks?” Jacob asked.
“Not yet, okay?”
“I know. But wait until we get on the shuttle so we can make sure your stomach is settled.”
“What do you have?”
“I want some chips.”
“Maybe you should count your blessings.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you’re lucky not to be in trouble right now, and you’ll eat what I give you.”
Jacob scooted closer, wrapping his hands around her biceps, forming his body to her side. Seeking protection against the snappy edge to her voice.
She petted his hair, feeling guilty on top of sweaty, grouchy, and doomed.
“Mom, can I go sit in the van?” Anthony asked.
“Why not?” he whined.
Because you’ll harass your brother.
“Because I said so.”
“I hate you.”
“You just lost a day of screen privileges.”
“What? No way! You didn’t give me a warning first!”
“I don’t have to warn you not to tell me you hate me. Telling me you hate me is an automatic loss of a day.”
No TV, no iPod Touch, no DS. He’d be at loose ends, which meant she’d suffer as much as he did.
“That sucks,” he said.
It did. But she wasn’t about to raise three monsters.
“For saying suck.”
Anthony’s ears and neck flushed bright red. He stood up, hands bunched into fists, and bellowed, “Dad!”
Tony looked over, in the middle of helping the shuttle driver wrestle their luggage into the van. “What?”
“Mom just took away two days of screen time for nothing!”
“It’s between you and your mom. I don’t overrule.”
Tony handed the last suitcase to the driver. Amber could see Clark through the open door, kicking the back of the seat in front of him. Seething. He probably wouldn’t speak again for hours, if not days. Her eldest son knew how to hold a grudge.
Off to one side, her father was talking to Aunt Jamila’s boyfriend, and Katie leaned against a column with her hands tucked behind her butt, smiling up at her new boyfriend like love was the answer to everything.
Amber looked away.
Her mom and Jamila broke apart. Mom went over to the bench to talk to Anthony. Jamila headed for the van, where she pulled Tony away from the luggage to talk.
“Okay!” the van’s driver called. “Let’s get all the people onto the shuttle for the airport now. Everyone taking the shuttle to the airport, please bring your luggage to me!”
She liked the musical sound of his accent. The way he said “pee-puhl” for people and danced, tongue tapping, over the word shuttle.
She thought she might have liked this place if she’d come at a different time, or in some other, completely different set of circumstances. When Caleb told her back in the fall that he and Ellen were going to get married here, she’d mentally packed herself a suitcase full of new sundresses and beach paperbacks. She’d laid by the fantasy pool on a fantasy lounger in a fantasy bikini, skin shiny with oil, holding Tony’s hand. She’d looked fantastic—the product of months of work at the gym with Marc, sculpting her body back into shape. And Tony had noticed. He’d stared at her. He hadn’t been able to keep his hands off her.
In her fantasy.
Over by the column, Katie smiled, and Sean leaned down and kissed her. It was the kind of kiss that Amber had almost forgotten existed—a long and lingering kiss that wasn’t meant to go anywhere in particular. A kiss like breathing, like saying I love you, I want you, I need you with every shared breath.
It kept going. Her chest got tight and achy. Her eyes hurt in that tired, watery way, like she’d been staring at the roadway of her life through the high beams for too long, and she just wanted to close them. She wanted to rest.
Tony kissed her before bed and when he left for work—quick and perfunctory.
They kissed when they were going to have sex.
They didn’t kiss out in the open, for no reason but the pleasure of it.
You’ll lose that, she thought.
And then she hated herself for being such a bitter old hag.
Hated that the thought made her want to cry even more, and that there wasn’t any place or any time for her to cry. Not for hours and hours.
She hated that she’d become the kind of woman who looked forward to the next time she could be alone to cry.
In the last few months, Amber had felt herself slipping off course—moving in a misshapen orbit that pushed her farther and farther away from the life she wanted to live. When she tried to figure out the when and the why of it, she couldn’t put her finger on any one thing that had changed. It was more like a hundred little asteroids had come along and knocked her out of alignment. Her dad’s stroke over a year ago. Tony’s mom dying a few months later, and Patrick tucking himself into a tight downward spiral that had culminated in his decision to quit working for Mazzara Construction.
Longer ago, the housing bubble popping with a wet splat. Tony starting to work more hours for less money. Then more hours. More.
Jacob starting full-day school, leaving Amber alone in an empty house for the first time in a decade, and her realization that she was supposed to feel elated, but really what she felt was alone.
She’d lost whatever sun she’d once orbited around, and without it—without that feeling of knowing herself, of being known—there was a part of her that never warmed. A part of her that was always shivering and cold, right on the verge of tears, and loud in its misery. Loud. So that the real work of her days, even as she took the kids to play dates and bought milk and gassed up the car, became keeping it quiet. Shushing it sternly, yelling at it if she had to, because if she didn’t keep it in check, she ended up crying in the kitchen in the middle of the day with no one around but the
It wouldn’t do at all.
“Do you have any crackers?” Jacob asked.
“Just the ones with peanut butter.”
“Do those have milk in them?”
“Yeah. But I think I have one of those Rice Krispie bars in my purse, too. If you can keep down the pretzels, I’ll give it to you at the airport.”
Jacob perked up. “I thought it was for Ant.”
“Ant just lost it.”
Though it looked like Anthony was getting a consolation prize. Over at his bench, her mother had produced a red bag from her purse full of some kind of candy he immediately tore into. They probably had the dye in them that made him absolutely apeshit. He shoved several in his mouth, and her mom started steering him toward the van.
“You ready to try this, bub?” Amber asked Jacob.
She stood up. When he held out his arms, she lifted him to her hip, even though he was too big for it. Six years old—people gave them funny looks sometimes. But he was her baby. Her last baby. When he stopped wanting her to carry him, no one ever would again.
They walked across the lobby. Jacob rested his head against her neck, and a rogue tear got away from her. It worked its way down her cheek to her neck before she could free a hand to wipe it away. When she’d managed to take another deep breath and get herself under control, she looked up to see Tony watching her.
Not looking at her impatiently, or looking through her or past her—really looking at her.
She stopped. Another tear fell, and she brushed it away.
There was something about the way his mouth was set. Something in his eyes, like anguish. Like longing.
She couldn’t understand what it meant. She was right here.
He closed the space between them and took Jacob by the armpits, hoisting him into his arms.
“You okay now, buddy?” Tony asked.
“Yeah, but I want Mom,” Jacob said.
“I know. We’re just getting in the van, though. Give Mom a minute, okay?”
Jacob made a faint noise of protest, but Tony was already bundling him through the door, and Amber was left alone in the middle of the bustle. She could hear the ocean. The driver talking as he loaded in Sean and Katie’s bags. Her kids’ voices inside the van and the low, familiar register of Tony soothing Jacob.