At seven a.m., Daisy Tucker paused at the foot of the stairs to smell the laundry she held in her arms. She had gotten up an hour early to wash her daughter's clothes, throwing an extra sheet of fabric softener into the dryer the way Sage liked it.
Mounting the stairs, Daisy wondered why her heart was pounding. She felt nervous, as if she were applying for a new job instead of waking up her sixteen-year-old with a pile of clean clothes. The house was quiet, flooded with thin morning light. While waiting for the laundry to finish, Daisy had gone to her spare-room jewelry studio to work on a bracelet that she hoped to finish that afternoon. But she had been too upset to concentrate.
Daisy and Sage lived alone. There had been no witnesses last night to hear Daisy screaming like a banshee, see her pulling her own hair like a caricature of a maniac. There had been no one present to watch Sage sit back in her inflatable chair, messy dark hair falling across her face, observing her frustrated mother with cool detachment in her wide green eyes, no one to watch that composure crumble under Daisy's words.
Sage had been wearing the clothes Daisy now held in her arms, and they had been mud-stained and sopping wet. She had been out with Ben Davis, her boyfriend, until midnight, even though she had promised to be home by nine. They had gone canoeing and capsized. In late October, Silver Bay, Connecticut was frosty and cold, and all Daisy had been able to think about was how they might have drowned in the dark.
The phone rang. Still holding the clothes, Daisy walked to her bedroom. Wondering who it could be, ready to be stern to Ben, she picked up.
"Hello?" she said.
"How's my wayward niece?"
"Sleeping," Daisy said, relaxing at the sound of her sister's voice. "But it was touch and go last night. When she walked in all soaked and bedraggled, I wanted to kill her."
"'Kill'?" Hathaway asked. "That seems like a strong word. Perhaps you mean 'maim.'"
"Oh, Hath," Daisy said, almost laughing. Talking to her sister could break the tension like nothing else. "She was bad, but I was worse. The mad twin took over. I was standing over her, slavering—truly, foam was dripping from my mouth—"
"Did you ground her until college?"
"Yes, and I told her only stupid girls go out canoeing with boys until midnight on school nights," Daisy said, cringing as she remembered her words, her tone of voice. "Stupid, slutty girls."
"I hope you told her she could never see Ben again," Hathaway said, knowing that, last night notwithstanding, Daisy liked Ben. He was polite, serious about his schoolwork, too mild to ignite any real passion in Sage.
"Of course I did." Daisy stared miserably at the clothes she held, knowing that the hour of truth was at hand.
"She did come home late," Hathaway said. "On a school night. Plus, there was ice on my birdbath this morning. Just a thin coating, but still. It was cold out—no wonder you lost it."
"I hate that I called her slutty."
"No, you just compared her to slutty girls. That's different."
"I feel awful." Standing over her sulking teenager, looking into those huge eyes, Daisy had felt as if her heart could break. She was an overprotective mother, and she knew it. Sage's twin brother, Jake, had disappeared when he was three, and that fact informed every decision Daisy had made ever since regarding Sage. All Daisy had ever wanted was to protect her children. With a slim body, full mouth, and wide, knowing eyes, Sage had lost the last vestiges of babyhood. Still. Daisy had looked straight past those features to see the infant she and Sage's father had brought home from the hospital sixteen years ago.
"I don't want her to get hurt," Daisy said.
"I know," Hathaway said gently.
"But I said some awful things. I could see it in her eyes. I have to go wake her up now. I did her laundry, and now I want to sit on the edge of her bed."
"And tell her you love her."
"And everyone makes mistakes."
"But you'll ground her for life if she ever does it again..."
"Right," Daisy said, laughing.
Hanging up, she felt a little better. Talking to Hathaway had helped her put the situation into perspective. A single mother raising a smart daughter, Daisy was ultravigilant about keeping Sage's focus on schoolwork, away from boys. Generations of daughters had been staying out too late, falling into lazy rivers. That didn't make them bad children, and it didn't mean they had bad mothers. Many years had passed since Jake's death, time for Daisy to tell herself again and again she wasn't to blame.
Sunlight streamed through the bedroom windows, into the upstairs hall. The wood floors were waxed and polished. Walking toward Sage's room, Daisy thought about what a nice house they lived in. It was a small saltbox, safe and enclosed, with a sliver of view down the cove. Daisy had bought and paid for it herself, selling the jewelry she made and saving her money. Sage might dream of riding the range, living the ranch life, but Daisy reassured herself that she was doing a good job, making a fine home for herself and her daughter right here on Pumpkin Lane.
Taking a deep breath, Daisy took hold of the doorknob to Sage's room. She said a prayer, that she could stay calm no matter what, that she wouldn't rise to any bait Sage might float her way—intentionally or not. This only felt like a war, and merely because Daisy loved the girl so much. Forcing herself to smile, she entered her daughter's bedroom.
The room was empty.
Sage's bed had not been slept in. It was neatly made, the Indian blanket drawn up over the pillows. Daisy could see the outline of her daughter's body, where she had lain outside the covers. A drawer was partly open, and Daisy saw that clothes were missing.
Posters of Wyoming hung everywhere. Purple peaks—the Wind River Mountain Range, the Medicine Bows, the Big Horns, and the Snowies—filled the walls, along with blowups of cowboy corrals and galloping mustangs. Her father had sent her a rack of elk antlers, and she had turned them into a shrine: The single picture she had of him hung among turquoise beads, horseshoes, the pelt of a jackrabbit, and her brother's blue booties.
A note lay on Sage's desk. The second Daisy saw it, a small sound escaped her. She dropped the neatly folded laundry and touched her heart.
Her hands shaking, she picked up the note.
Sage had been upset when she'd written it. Daisy could tell by the spidery handwriting, the way the ink had blotched and trailed off, the terrible terseness of the message from a girl who had always loved to talk, more than anything.
Daisy stared at the words. She looked for "Dear Mom" and "Love, Sage," but there were only four words, and in the time it took to read them, Daisy felt the world cave in around her:
"I HAVE TO GO."From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Dream Country by Luanne Rice. Copyright © 2001 by Luanne Rice. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.