The next morning the house was eerily quiet when Kaia rose from her narrow bed. She found her mother’s room empty and the other rooms, too, but the beds were neatly made, as if a maid had come while Kaia slept. Chilled by the vacancy upstairs, she took a book and went down to the kitchen, where she found Elisa scrubbing the counter.
“Where is everyone?” Kaia asked.
Her aunt shrugged and offered a vague smile. Then she said, “Oh, I remember now. The boys went on a hike around the island.”
Kaia wondered why they hadn’t awakened her and taken her with them. Maybe they thought she was too young to hang around with them. But why had Mark just disappeared like that, especially after last night, when he’d seemed to seek out her company? And she couldn’t erase the feel of him kissing her knee through her rain-dampened jeans.
When she asked where her mother was, Elisa said she thought she’d gone out. Something in Elisa’s wistful tone made Kaia refrain from asking for more details; surely her mom would return soon, anyway.
Kaia helped herself to a muffin and tea and retreated to the front room, curling up on the sofa with her copy of Les Misérables. She kept thinking about Mark, though, and couldn’t concentrate on the French.
She finally heard her mother’s voice outside and went to greet her. It turned out that her mother had walked with Nico to a neighboring cottage to make a phone call. When her mother suggested they all go to the beach before lunch, Kaia put on a sweatshirt and went down with them. The air was cool, and her mother was the only one to brave the water, while Kaia and her aunt and uncle sat on the shore. If only Mark and Monty had stayed around, it would have been so much more fun. What happened last night had seemed so utterly unexpected. Recalling the thrill of Mark lifting her onto the rock and the gentle pressure of his lips on her knee, the same excitement she’d felt then kept washing over her.
When the two guys finally returned to the cottage around noon, laughing and red-faced, Kaia was instantly cheered. During their picnic lunch, Kaia sought Mark’s eyes across the table, but he just gave a quick smile and glanced away. Maybe he regretted going out into the storm with her—she had made too much of it in her imagination, lying awake in bed last night. She’d never been out with a man on the beach at night before and had never known anyone like Mark. Even though he was her cousin, what was wrong with thinking about him, as long as no one knew? But what was he thinking or feeling now, and what had been in his mind last night?
After they’d all finished eating and the table was cleared, Kaia’s mother marched away with Nico, announcing that they were going for a hike, and indicating by her emphatic tone that no one should even think about tagging along. Why was her mother so driven, always striding off somewhere? Even now, on their vacation. And why with Nico?
Aunt Elisa had retreated to the cottage for a “lie-down,” and Kaia still felt groggy from jet lag and could relate to her aunt’s unwillingness, or inability, to keep up with everyone. But Elisa had seemed almost frail as she floated away, like an invalid trying to muster her strength, an empty bread basket dangling from her hand.
In the past when Kaia’s mother had gone to Maine, she’d referred to Elisa’s condition in vague terms, saying that Elisa was overstressed or having a rough period in her life. Kaia had spent the past six months in a morose state herself after her mother had left; she hadn’t been willing to talk about it with anyone, even with her friend Sigourney.
Kaia watched now as her mother and uncle cut across the grassy slope in the distance and then headed up the shore at a vigorous pace, carrying backpacks. As Kaia strolled toward the beach, she could see them wading through the thick yellow-green grasses, then climbing up the dunes toward the scrubby area of pitch pines in the distance. Beyond that, Nico had mentioned, there were meadows where you could pick blueberries. That might explain the backpacks. But why hadn’t they invited anyone to go with them?
A brown marsh hawk with enormous wings swooped so closely overhead that Kaia could see its black eyes and long, curved beak, and it frightened her. She followed the bird’s flight until it was out of sight, the sky a bleached blue. When she turned to search again for her mother and Nico, they had disappeared into the pines.
Monty had taken his fishing gear out to the dock, and Kaia watched as he tossed a line out onto the water. Then she spotted Mark sitting bare-chested on the beach, playing his guitar. She ambled down and threw herself onto the coarse sand a few feet away from him. Mark glanced at her and smiled, but kept playing a Neil Young tune she recognized. Then he switched to a Latin tune, sensual and rhythmic, a looping melody that reminded her of river water rushing over rocks. He glanced over at her and started playing The Girl from Ipanema, and hummed the tune from deep inside his chest.
Finally he rested his arm on the guitar. “Kaia. Funny your mama would name you that.”
“Why is it funny?”
“Because it was my grandmother’s name. You were named after my dad’s mother.”
“You’re kidding,” Kaia said. “Mom never told me that.”
“I’m a completely serious kind of guy,” he said with a half-smile, then played a few more chords.
“My mom told me my name was Norwegian for earth or something.”
“Earth goddess, no doubt—that fits.” He smiled. “Kaia,” he repeated.
She loved the way he spoke her name, more softly this time, and with his eyes on her.
“Kaia Svendsen was my grandmother’s name,” he went on. “Then she married a Greek named Loukas Karadonis. Supposedly he was following a family tradition of marrying beautiful, blue-eyed women. In fact I think she was Norwegian.”
“Why would my mom name me after her?”
“Maybe your mother met her on one of those trips to Bangor. She probably just liked the name.”
“I was never allowed to go with Mom to Maine. I couldn’t miss school—that was usually the reason she wouldn’t let me go back East with her.”
“Back East? That’s where we are, sweetness, right here in the East.”
He was teasing her again, as if she were a little kid, and it gave her a tight feeling in her stomach.
He squinted at her, then played a few chords on the guitar. “She went back East, to see her sis, to see if anything could be amiss,” he sang to the tune of Blue Tail Fly.
Kaia laughed, and he switched into a fast bossa nova tune. She lay back and closed her eyes, taking in the sand’s heat as it seeped into her muscles and bones. She wondered if music and human voices had physical properties that could become part of a person. It felt like that—as if Mark’s voice and the guitar music were soaking into her body along with the warmth of the sand.
After a while, Mark stopped playing. “Nod if you can hear me,” he said.
Shading her eyes with her hand, she peered up at him. He was smiling, his face relaxed. His eyes were a clear blue against his reddish-brown skin.
“I’m awake,” she said.
“Watch out, you’ll get burned.” His eyes skimmed the length of her, and a shiver ran through her.
She was wearing shorts and a tanktop but wasn’t worried, since she rarely burned. “I’ll be okay.”
He set his guitar in its case and then looked out toward the ocean. He sat cross-legged on the sand in his cut-offs, his hands resting on his knees, his back straight, his face serene, like a guru. Lying this close to him, she caught a whiff of his salty skin. He seemed to fully absorb the glow of the sun and the sand, as if there were no boundary between him and his surroundings.
She sat up and wrapped her arms around her knees. “I guess your parents made you come here,” she said.
“Not really. I wanted a little relaxation before starting law school. I actually wanted to take more time off, maybe do some farming up at our cabin in Beaulieu. A whole year, snow and all. That would have been great. But dad insisted I start law school right away.”
“Anyway, I like being here on the beach, or out on the water. There’s nothing I like better.”
“So you’ll be in Berkeley in September.”
“Yep, figured it would be good to get as far away from Maine as possible.” He looked at her and smiled. “And maybe I’ll see a little more of you.”
“That’d be cool.” It would be more than cool, actually.
He rested his eyes on her face and leaned slightly toward her, and she had the feeling he was about to reach over and touch her. She held her breath, realizing how much she wanted him to do that.
“Anyway,” he said, “I like it when I can get away from the others—the old folks are getting on my nerves.”
“Mom and Elisa are really different, aren’t they? Your mom’s kind of dreamy at times, and other times she seems sort of excitable. She’s not down-to-earth like my mother.”
He winced, glancing away, then turned back to her. “My mother’s manic-depressive, you know.”
She paused, taking this in. “No, I didn’t. God, that sounds serious. When did that start?”
“It was a long time ago.” Mark briefly studied Kaia’s face. “You knew my mom lost a baby, didn’t you?”
“Yes. That was before you were born, right?”
“Yeah, a crib death, here on Pine Tree. My dad and your mom were supposed to be watching the baby. Her name was April. She was only a couple months old.”
Kaia gasped. “Really? My mom never said she was there when it happened.”
Mark blew out a long breath. “I guess it was right after that when my mother started having serious problems—the hospitalizations and all.”
“There have been a few over the years.” Mark frowned. “Once she tried to kill herself.”
“Oh my God.”
“That was a few years ago. You were probably too young to know about it. She’s doing better now, taking her medication. But there are too many people here now—it’s too much stimulation for her. Her mania usually builds up gradually, over a few days, especially when she drinks.”
Kaia hadn’t noticed anything unusual, except for last night when she’d come in from her walk on the beach and had run into Elisa upstairs. Her aunt had kissed her effusively on her cheeks, and Kaia had detected the perfumy odor of brandy on her.
“It must be really hard for you, Mark.” Without thinking, she touched his hand, and he enfolded her hand in his, squeezing it firmly, his grasp strong and warm, making her heartbeat pick up.
A moment later he let go and stared over the sound again. “It’s all right, Kaia. I’ve lived with it. It’s something that can’t be fixed. I love my mother, but it’s frustrating to see what she’s going through. My dad’s no help, that’s for sure. And this religious conversion of hers—it’s just another way for her to fool herself into thinking she’s all right.”
“Maybe she needs it.”
“Maybe she does,” he said in a conclusive tone. “Anyway, when I’m in Berkeley, I won’t have to be part of this whole scene anymore.” He reached over and clasped her shin with his hand, then pressed down lightly as he got to his feet. He peered down at her, then turned toward the dock. “Think I’ll do a little fishing. Looks like Monty-boy could use some help.”
He picked up his guitar case and made his way across the sand. Kaia watched until he reached the pier and took up a fishing rod next to Monty. Didn’t Mark see how much she wanted him to stay here on the beach with her? Unreasonably disappointed, she wondered if her walk with Mark in the lightning storm was merely a random incident, not to be repeated, something utterly insignificant to him. She was clearly too young and dull to keep him interested. He probably had girlfriends, and a car he drove them around in, maybe a Dodge Challenger, something cool and irresistible. But she hoped he wasn’t that kind of guy. He’d mentioned having a motorcycle, and Monty had driven them to the Cape in what Mark had referred to as a junkheap of a car. So maybe Mark had no car and no girlfriend. But none of that mattered, of course, since he was her cousin, and so much older.
She stared at a skiff tied to a pole in the shallow inlet and at the glassy green sea beyond, sparkling in the blaze of the afternoon. Turning back to the sandy beach, she saw that people had gathered some distance away. Two teenage girls in bikinis had hopped onto two boys’ shoulders and started pushing at each other and screaming. The boys’ heads were barely visible, buried in the girls’ stomachs and thighs. Several other boys stood and watched, as if they were dying to have the girls’ legs wrapped around their own necks, the girls’ bellies pressing against their heads.
If only she and Mark could be out there with them.
Excerpted from "Boundaries: A Love Story" by Christine Z. Mason. Copyright © 0 by Christine Z. Mason. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.