BOUNDARIES: A LOVE STORY
PINE TREE ISLAND
CAPE COD 1980 CHAPTER ONE
Afraid she’d been forgotten, Kaia Matheson stepped onto the dock and searched for the boat that was supposed to take her across the channel to Pine Tree Island. Although it was early July on the Cape, the air was cold and damp, and she hugged her arms in the buffeting wind. Bulging, steel-gray clouds hung in the sky, casting shadows over the choppy waves. She could barely make out the island, obscured in the distance by a white haze.
During the long taxi ride from the Boston airport to the Cape Cod dock, Kaia had pictured her mother waiting for her, but when the driver had finally pulled into the gravel lot, no one was there, and it caused an ache in the pit of her stomach; the only car in the lot was a rusted old Saab. Kaia had asked the taxi driver to wait for her until someone came to take her across the channel—he’d snorted in exasperation before turning off the engine.
Now, shifting from one foot to the other to warm herself, she wished she’d worn jeans instead of shorts for the plane trip. Luckily she was wearing her denim jacket. At last she spotted a small boat bucking against the waves, heading in the direction of the dock. As the boat came closer, she saw that the rower appeared to be using his entire strength against the water’s pull. There was a quality of fierceness, an emphatic determination in his rowing, that made her recognize her cousin, Mark Karadonis.
When he glanced in her direction, she waved, and he continued to lever his upper body resolutely against the waves. She hadn’t seen him in eight years; he would be twenty-two now, a grown man, she realized nervously, and more or less a stranger to her.
She jogged back to the taxi and paid the driver. He drove off, the tires flinging gravel behind the car, as if in reproach. Returning to the dock, Kaia watched as Mark continued rowing toward her, and her disappointment at not seeing her mother fell away. When the boat pulled alongside the dock, he stood up, appearing flushed and exhilarated, and grabbed onto a post. Despite the gloom of the afternoon, he was wearing dark shades. A slight growth of beard shadowed the lower half of his face. It amazed her, how tall he was—six feet at least—and massive in the shoulders. When she’d last seen him, he was fourteen and she was eight; she remembered him as rather wild and disobedient—often getting into trouble with his dad. She’d admired the way Mark seemed to get away with so much.
“There’s a stiff southwesterly,” he said, not bothering with any preliminaries.
He was a man, she would learn, who didn’t put much stock in preliminaries. She hesitated, thinking he might offer her a hand, but he merely motioned for her to come down, as if he expected a teenage girl to know everything about boats and how to board them. But she sensed a certain restraint in the way he simply watched her, his arms tensed at his sides, as if ready to assist if needed, and this pleased her.
Kaia tossed her duffel bag to him and peered into the algae-green seawater. She stepped gingerly into the boat, causing it to rock unnervingly. Mark reached out and clasped his fingers firmly around her upper arm until she was steady on her feet. He stepped back and did a quick scan of her from her bare legs upward, stopping for a second at her midriff, which was partially exposed beneath her halter top. She buttoned her jacket, her fingers trembling, then looked up to study his face, his expression hard to read behind the sunglasses. His arms and legs were padded with muscle, his legs sunburnt; he didn’t appear to be the slightest bit cold in his tanktop and cut-offs—he was probably used to the cool summer weather here.
She sat down, and he took a seat on the opposite bench. As he pushed off from the dock, she wondered why he wasn’t using the outboard motor; but she didn’t ask, afraid to expose her ignorance.
“California tan,” he commented, flashing a grin at her. “New denims, too,” he added, indicating with a nod her shorts and jacket.
Embarrassed by his scrutiny, she turned her head to the side as the boat moved out onto the waves. “I’m naturally dark,” was all she could think to say.
It would have been easier if her father had flown here with her; she wouldn’t have been so anxious, waiting alone at the dock. Of course he hadn’t been invited, because of the divorce. She’d promised to call him when she arrived at Logan Airport but had forgotten in her frantic search for a taxi. And there would be no phone at the cottage on Pine Tree. She would have to send him a postcard later—otherwise he would be upset about not hearing from her.
Glancing at her cousin, she was sorry she couldn’t see his eyes behind the shades. Her mother had once remarked that Mark’s eyes were as blue as glaciers, exactly like Kaia’s. People always noticed Kaia’s eye color, apparently her one remarkable feature.
“I guess you were the only one who was available to row over to get me.” She cocked her head, trying for a disdainful look, but a gust of wind blew her long hair into a tangle over her face, spoiling the intended effect, she was sure. She wished she were more in control, the way Mark was, pulling the oars through the water with such sturdy competence.
“My father’s out boating with my buddy, Monty, so I was the only one around. I don’t mind, though. I like to be out on the water when it’s like this. Or any time, really.”
She silently watched him row for a few minutes, then said, “I heard you just graduated from Boston University.”
“Yep. Monty and I are both headed for law school in the fall.”
“Dad said you’d be in Berkeley, going to Boalt.”
“Right. But for now I’m just trying to enjoy the summer while I can. I’m not looking forward to the grind of studying again.” He was quiet for a minute, then broke into a grin. “Last time I saw you, your dad was giving you a spanking.”
“Oh, my God.” It was the summer the Karadonises had come to Berkeley, when she was eight. Her uncle and her father had been lounging on the deck that day, drinking beer and smoking, and Kaia had grabbed her dad’s cigarette pack from his hand and run into the yard with it. Her father had yelled at Mark, who was up in the treehouse, to go get her. Mark, a lanky teenager then, had jumped down and begun chasing Kaia through the high grass. When he caught her, he half-dragged, half-carried her over to the deck while she screamed and struggled. Her father reached for her, pried the cigarette pack from her fist, swung her over his knees and slapped her bottom hard a few times while Mark and his father watched.
“I thought I could make Dad quit smoking,” she said, trying for a sardonic tone. “They must have been drunk. It was awful.” Where had her mother and aunt been? They’d never once come outside, hadn’t been around when the men got boisterous. After the humiliation of the spanking, Kaia had been wary, though intrigued, whenever the men were out on the deck; she always sensed she was in for something whenever she got too close. She’d been drawn to them out of curiosity, she supposed, or was it just boredom? At least her father hadn’t spanked her in front of the relatives again.
“Don’t worry,” Mark said now, barely suppressing a grin. “We won’t try anything like that here. As long as you behave.”
“That’s not funny, Mark. I’m sixteen, you know.”
She leaned over the side and dragged her fingers through the slick, cool saltwater. Where had he learned to tease like that? He didn’t have any brothers or sisters. It was the only thing the two of them had in common—their lack of siblings—except, of course, that their mothers were sisters.
“Where’s my mother, by the way?” she asked, making her hand resist the pull of the water.
“Back at the house with Elisa, drinking iced tea on the porch.”
Kaia lifted her hand from the water and shook it off. She wondered why he’d referred to his mother as Elisa. “Why didn’t my mom come with you?” she asked.
“Jean doesn’t like boating.”
“That’s true, I guess. She likes tennis and golf. Better for business.”
Mark kept his eyes on her, no doubt catching the bitterness in her tone. He looked away and maneuvered the boat over a large swell, then, once they were in a calmer stretch of water, he glanced back at her. “You haven’t seen your mom in a while, have you?”
Startled by his bluntness, Kaia shook her head. She stared at his hands as he rowed; they were an older person’s hands, thick and wide, with prominent veins. Still avoiding his gaze, she raised her eyes to the brown tufts of hair sprouting from beneath his tanktop. She wasn’t willing to admit it had been six months since she’d seen her mother—as if that were her own fault.
It was sickening, how swiftly her mother had managed to get a divorce, then relocate to Manhattan—a move she’d claimed would “present more opportunities,” whatever that meant. Kaia recalled her mother standing at the curb beside the taxicab, briefcase in hand, waving good-bye. Her mother had promised to keep in close contact, but of course it hadn’t turned out that way. There had been the sporadic phone calls, and then finally in June her mom had mentioned she was spending a couple of weeks at Cape Cod and didn’t suppose Kaia could fly out on her own.
Kaia had quickly jumped at the offhand invitation—how pitiful. Now she wondered what she could have done to be more exciting, engaging enough to keep her mother’s interest. Even with her father around, their house felt empty. What would have made her mother stay?
Kaia wondered, too, what could possibly make her return.
Once they’d docked at Pine Tree, Kaia tramped up the weather-beaten boardwalk while Mark strode on ahead, carrying her duffel bag. He had an athletic walk, and his back and shoulders were broad and solid. As they passed fields of marsh grasses, blown into whorls and scattered with orange wildflowers, an updraft of misty air gusted against Kaia’s legs and neck. The air felt deliciously moist on her skin, and was milder here than on the water.
She hurried to catch up with Mark at a fork in the walkway. An enormous brown house sat amongst the trees in the distance, a white boat cocked against its side. “Where’s the cottage?” she asked.
“You’re looking at it.”
“You’re kidding. You call that a cottage?”
“I never kid.” He placed his hand on her back, startling her with its warmth and heaviness.
She squinted up at him. “Thanks for coming to get me.”
He nodded and motioned for her to go on ahead.
When the boardwalk ended, they hiked up a dirt path, passing an orchard of dwarf apple trees and a garden of corn and vegetables, then stopped to watch the crows circling over the garden. Kaia wanted to stay here with Mark for a few more moments, inhaling the grass-scented breeze, but he turned and started up the path again, and she followed him.
Soon she caught the sound of women’s voices carrying over the field and spotted her mother and Elisa sitting on the porch, as if they’d been painted into a picture of the old, shingled house.
Suddenly her mother stood up and came forward. “Kaia!” she shouted in her contralto voice, then walked down a few steps.
“Hi, Mom,” Kaia called as she approached. She climbed up the stairs to receive her mother’s quick hug and peck on the cheek and caught her familiar fragrance, like spice cake. Her mother’s hair was brown and shorter now, feathered around her face—much more chic than her previous frosted-blond look. She wore a gray, button-up blouse, white skirt and paisley scarf—rather conservative for a vacation, Kaia thought.
“How was your trip, sweetheart?” her mother asked as they climbed the steps together, with Mark coming up behind them.
At the top of the stairs, her mother looked her up and down. “You’re taller,” she said in an approving tone.
Was that all she could say? “I don’t think so,” Kaia mumbled. How could she possibly have grown much in the half-year since her mother had left? And what was so great about being big, anyway? Her mother and aunt were both quite tall—five-foot-nine, admittedly more imposing than Kaia’s five-foot-three. Their height was the main thing that made the two women appear at all like sisters.
Elisa strolled over with her arms outstretched and hugged Kaia, holding her in a firm embrace for several seconds. Kaia had forgotten how comforting it felt to have her aunt’s arms around her. Up close Elisa looked anemically pale, but her long, curly hair was a vibrant red in startling contrast to her face. She wore a flowing lime-green dress.
“I haven’t seen you since when?” Elisa asked in her lovely mellifluous voice. “Christmas, three years ago?”
Kaia nodded. For reasons she never understood, her mother had usually made her trips to see the Karadonises at their home in Maine during the school year, when Kaia and her father couldn’t accompany her. The Christmas Kaia and her parents had all flown East was the only time the two families had been together for the holidays, except that Mark had been off skiing in Vermont.
Her cousin was now leaning with his forearm propped against a post, exposing his bushy underarm hair, and pointed to Kaia’s duffel bag, which sat on the porch. “Where should I put that?” he asked his mother.
“Kaia can have the room next to Jean’s. Would you take it upstairs, please, darling?”
“Sure,” he said and winked at Kaia as he turned toward the house.
“Mark’s friend Monty is here, by the way,” her mother said. “He’s out fishing with your Uncle Nico. You’ll get to meet him later.”
“Great.” Kaia turned to her aunt. “Could I go inside and take a look around?”
“Of course, my dear.” Elisa came over and placed her cool hands on Kaia’s cheeks, kissing her on the forehead. “It’s your home, too. I’m just so glad you’re here.”
Following her mother into the house, Kaia stepped into the ample front room, taking in the smell of leather and old wood. A sofa and several armchairs encircled a rock fireplace, and the burnished mahogany floor gave an ancient, rich feel to the room; it was a room made for drinking tea and reading. There was nothing the slightest bit synthetic here. No television set, of course, since there was no electricity, so no one would be watching the stock market report every night. Kaia imagined having little chats with her mother in front of the fireplace, a fire burning in the evenings.
“So this is the summer cottage,” she said.
“Yes, Nico’s family has owned it forever.”
“I take it you’ve been here before.”
“A few times, over the years,” her mother said.
“It’s so beautiful here. I had no idea.” Kaia was curious about the trips her mother had taken to the island, but this wasn’t the time to ask. “So how’s Manhattan, Mom?”
“Fabulous. You’ll have to come visit.” Her mother stepped closer to Kaia and placed her arm stiffly around her shoulders.
“Do you miss Berkeley?”
“I’m doing all right.” Her mother’s voice had a clipped edge to it, as if she thought Kaia was leading up to something.
In fact she was leading up to something, like when in the hell was her mother going to visit her in Berkeley? But now her mom had dropped her arm and was easing away, obviously finished with tedious questions. Kaia wondered why she had missed her mother so much. Her mom had never been around much, at least during the last few years. Since she’d become a realtor, she was always out showing properties, closing deals, celebrating a big sale. Whatever you did, the important thing was to maintain contacts—her mother’s manifesto. How ironic.
“You’ll find your room upstairs; Mark can show you where it is,” her mother said. “Nico and Monty will be coming back in the boat soon. I’ll go out and watch for them.”
Kaia headed up the stairs. On the second floor, she strolled down the hallway, peering through several open doorways until she found the bedroom with her duffel bag on the floor. Entering the room, she took in the narrow bed and antique writing table. She liked the room’s spareness, and, stepping to the window, was struck by the expansive view of the ocean with its muted teals and grays. The island seemed like a place Thoreau would have loved; she thought he’d even spent time at Cape Cod—he must have liked its peaceful landscape and isolation.
Thinking she had heard a creaking outside the room, she strode into the hallway and once again searched the upper floor. But unless Mark was behind one of the closed doors, he was not around. Disappointed, she headed for the bathroom at the end of the hall to freshen up, before going down to join the others.
Excerpted from "Boundaries: A Love Story" by Christine Z. Mason. Copyright © 2017 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.