I'd flown all night. Taking off from New York, banking over the Atlantic, the plane had headed east into the darkness, toward Rome. Stars filled the sky. Once the flight attendants dimmed the cabin lights, I stared out the window at a thousand constellations. I don't think I slept a minute. My thoughts were a web, swinging me from one star to the next.
I was alone. I mean, there were other people on the plane, but I was traveling by myself, without Lucy. You don't take little sisters on missions, especially when you are completely unsure of the outcome. My grandmother insisted I fly first-class. It wasn't even a discussion—once I told her that I was going to Italy to see my mother, as much as she disliked the idea, she put me in touch with the family travel agent, with the words "Pell Davis, you've always loved a lost cause."
Travis drove me from Newport, Rhode Island, to JFK. We didn't speak a lot. We each had too much on our minds. He had to get back to his job, I was thinking about what I'd set out for myself on this trip, and we both were considering the weeks of being apart looming ahead.
There were good reasons for this trip. I knew I didn't have to explain them to Travis. He's my boyfriend, but we have an unusual relationship. He's a football star at our school, and therefore tough, but sensitive in ways that belie outward facts.
He drove me through Connecticut, across the Whitestone Bridge, to the Alitalia terminal at JFK. We got there very early, hours to spare. The June midday sun was hot as we stepped out of the car.
Travis lifted my bags and backpack from the trunk, checked to make sure I had my passport. Twenty-four hours earlier, the maximum allowable span, he had printed out my boarding pass for me. I looked at my watch, calculating the time he would need to drive home to Newport. He had signed onto a fishing boat as deckhand, and they went out at dusk.
We took care of each other, just as we took care of our sisters and, in Travis's case, his mother. Both of our fathers are dead. They died too young, beloved men. We are shaped by the loss of our fathers, and others. Perhaps that's what drew me to Travis in the first place, a sense that he understood love and life's beauty are real, but any assurance they will last forever is a soothing lie.
The flight from New York was smooth. Flying eastward across Long Island at sunset, I looked down and saw the North and South forks, the curve of Montauk, the dark water of Block Island Sound beneath scratchy white wakes of fishing boats and pleasure craft. Could one of those boats hold Travis? I chose to think yes, I saw him as I left, and he watched my plane pass overhead.
Love is like that. You can see everything. All it takes is the right kind of attention. When my father taught me to play baseball, we'd stand out in the yard until the light died and fireflies came out. He'd throw and I'd catch, or he'd pitch and I'd hit. He'd say, "Don't take your eyes off the ball, sweetheart. No matter what, just keep your eyes on the ball." That's how to see everything with the people you love—keep watching, stay vigilant, watch the ball instead of the fireflies.
So my last sight over the United States was of Travis's boat. He and his family are looking after my sleepwalking sister while I am gone. An ocean later, I landed at Rome, was met by a driver, and taken to Sorrento. Two and a half hours on the road, a chance to think about what I am about to do.
The long drive from Rome to Sorrento, jet-lagged, horns blaring, my grandmother's style of driver: uniformed chauffeur. I will be straightforward about something right now, just so you will understand. Gossip columns, before and after she left the country, referred to my mother as "Lyra Nicholson Davis, heiress." Now they say the same of Lucy and me. Old money, blue-bloods, heirs to the Nicholson silver fortune. We ignore what is said. They now say of my mother, "reclusive heiress." We overlook that too.
My grandmother arranged to borrow the chauffeur from her friend Contessa Otavia Migliori, who used to spend summers in Newport, at Stone Lea, the property next door to what used to be the Aitkens', parents of Martha Sharp Crawford, also known as Sunny von Bxlow. Another tragic Newport family. I think of Cosima, daughter of Sunny and Claus, her father accused of trying to kill her mother over Christmas holidays by injecting her with insulin, then leaving her in a room with windows open to the frigid sea air. He was convicted, then acquitted.
This is the most terrible thing I ever heard, and it sticks with me over the years, but I once heard my mother crying, shrieking, that something was killing her, killing everything she had inside her. Even as a child, I knew she wasn't talking about a knife or a gun or a drug. She meant her heart and soul. She left us about a week later. And the really unjust, awful thing is, it took a few years, but my father is the one who wound up dying.
Anyway, the contessa's chauffeur drove me to Sorrento, an ancient seaside city filled with dark and crumbling beauty I felt too nervous to notice. Lucy would have—she loves antiquities, ghosts, and architecture. I felt pricked by guilt; perhaps I should have brought my sister. Will Lucy be okay without me this summer? We're very close. For so long, we've been each other's most important person.
But the alternative was to bring her along, without knowing what to expect. What if our mother rejects us all over again? I am strong. I have Travis. But Lucy is my little sister. I want to protect her.
The limousine snaked down the hill to the port. Bright boats lined the docks, reminding me of Newport. I opened the window to smell the sea air. The chauffeur seemed to know just where to go.
He drove along the quay, past shops selling shell jewelry, colorful pareos, and finely woven sun hats. I saw stalls of fresh fish, their glistening bodies packed in seaweed, yellow eyes flat and sightless. The smell of strong coffee hit me as we passed a cafe. I wanted some, but couldn't bear to stop until I saw if she'd come to meet me.
We drove between a pair of stone pillars, onto a wooden dock. It seemed like a loading zone—fishing boats and small cargo vessels were tied alongside, and trucks filled with supplies for the islands parked along the edge. Metal and wind: halyards clanging against masts, longshoremen swinging big iron hooks. We stopped at the end of the pier. I climbed out. It felt good to stretch my legs, but my chest was in a knot. Had my mother come to meet me? Was I about to see her?
The chauffeur lowered my bags into a yellow wooden boat tied to barnacle-covered pilings. An old man in a blue shirt and rumpled khakis, his face tan and wrinkled and hair pure white, grabbed the bags, stowed them under a varnished wooden seat. I stood on the dock, staring at the man.
"Hello, Pell," the man said in an English accent. "Come along now, and I'll take you to your mother."
"She's not here," I said stupidly.
"No," he said without explanation. I was upset, and he could see. He stared at me with sharp blue eyes. He didn't fill the silence with excuses about a headache, an important phone call, an earthquake, a plague of locusts, any of the many things that could have detained her. Reaching up, he offered to help me down into the boat from the pier.
"Buono viaggio," the chauffeur said to me.
I thanked him. I didn't tip him, knowing my grandmother would have made arrangements with the contessa. Then I took the old man's hand, stepped down from the dock into the yellow boat.
"I'm Max Gardiner," he said.
"Her neighbor," I said. I'd heard the name before, in letters about Capri, the island's expatriate community, all the artists and intellectuals, the fabulous people, the thinkers and writers who so fascinated her, who'd moved to the island from the United States and England, who had become her friends, companions in her desire to insulate herself from the world. From her daughters, Lucy and me. Max owned the land next to hers.
"Yes," he said. "Now sit tight. Prepare for wonder."
Wonder. Had he really said that? I forced a polite smile that hid the pain I felt. I wasn't new to the sea. I'd visited islands before. I'd been on boats every summer of my life. Now I was on the way to force myself in, to spend time with a woman who'd never wanted me, who didn't want me now.
I untied the bowline to be helpful and show him I knew my way around boats, then took my seat as he cast off. The engine sputtered, and we headed out. Bright day, brilliant blue sky, sparkling sea.
It could have been Newport, this atmosphere of the sea, yachts, classic wooden workboats with nets glittering with fish scales; I thought of Travis, in a time zone six hours behind me. He would have returned from a night of fishing; he would be asleep in his family's cottage on the grounds of Newport Academy by now. I hoped my sister was sleeping as well. There was this incident, a dream-state walking-to-Italy kind of thing, that we hope won't repeat itself. I held my backpack tight to my chest. It felt compact, comforting. I had filled it with books, letters, pictures of the people I love.
We puttered out of the channel. I heard a breath come from the water just below the gunwale—a quick, happy intake of air, then a rushed exhalation. Dolphins swimming beside our yellow boat. I glanced over my shoulder at Max. Was this what he'd meant by wonder? He smiled at me, pointed dead ahead.
"You only get this chance once," he said.
"What chance?" I asked.
"To arrive on Capri for the first time. I feel privileged to witness it."
It's an island, I wanted to say. Far from home. A mountain, a harbor. Marine mammals, yes, but no Lucy, no Travis. I faced forward again, my posture stoic as the boat gained speed.
And as I stared ahead, I saw: the white rocks of Monte Solaro, craggy against the sapphire sky, a precipitous drop down to the radiant sea. I smelled lemons, verbena, and pine, their scents carried on the wind. Terraces of olive groves, leaves flashing silver in the sun. Capri rose from the waves, and I realized how often I'd dreamed of this. The island was the most beautiful place I'd ever seen, and not because of the scenery.
Because my mother lived there.
* * *
Max had left the villa just before dawn. He'd crossed the broad stone terrace, made his way down the steep, winding stairs, through groves of olive and fig trees. The sharply pitched land was terraced, overlooking the Bay of Naples; he used a flashlight, but he could have found his way blindfolded—he was seventy-two, and had lived here over half his life. There was such beauty on Capri; he wanted to shout, wake up the island, tell Lyra, Rafe, all the islanders, to open their eyes. Love one another, be happy, life is short!
Two levels down from the villa, he had passed the small white cottage, saw one light burning. Lyra was already awake, keeping vigil. Last night's almost full moon had hung low in the sky, casting silver light across the water, pulling at the tides. Low tide was treacherous twice each month, when the water ebbed under the new and full moons, exposing rocks and stranding sea creatures in tidal pools that wouldn't fill until the lunar cycle came round again.
Now, steering his yellow boat back from Sorrento, he had Pell safe and sound, on her way to Lyra. Max saw his grandson walking the rocky shore, rescuing invertebrates. Capri was a blue mirage, the massif of Monte Solaro floating above the sea. Max looked up, seeking out the whitewashed cottage on the hillside. Sunlight glinted off binoculars held by Lyra, standing among olive trees.
"She's waiting for you," he said.
"My mother," Pell said.
"Yes," Max replied. He slowed the boat down, steered toward the private dock.
"Where?" she asked, shielding her eyes.
"Up there," Max said, pointing.
Pell's expression made his heart catch. He glanced up, wondering if Lyra could catch the full impact of her effect on her daughter through the binoculars. The young girl's head was tilted back, her mouth open. There was joy in hope.
As Max pulled up to the dock, the dolphins leapt and dove, swimming away. Dolphins were emotional creatures, just like people. They were capable of love, great loyalty, staying together for life. If ever they were separated from their children, one ripped from the other, the parents grieved and keened. He'd observed that in dolphins, just as he had in humans.
"Ready?" he asked Pell.
"Ready," she said.
He looked around, wanting help with the lines, but Rafe seemed to have disappeared. So Max climbed up on the wooden dock, and tied the boat fast.
* * *
Lyra braced her elbows on the wall, to steady them. She finally pressed the binoculars to her eyes. Max docking the boat. And up forward, in the bow, a lovely young girl. Shocking, stunning, take-your-breath-away beauty. Long dark hair tied back, tendrils blowing around her face. Pell stared straight up the hill, as if she could see Lyra behind the stone wall, and maybe she could. Even as a baby she'd had an intense, seeking gaze.
The sight of her daughter made every muscle in Lyra's body jump, as if her skin had memories all its own. She felt pressure on, not in, her chest: a six-pound, seven-ounce weight. Pell, just born, wet and slippery, hot as a coal, bellowing. Lyra had held her daughter. Taylor was right there, standing beside them, but the moment was Lyra and Pell's. It's not every day you have a daughter, and as much as you might love her father, he'll never know the wild electricity you have with her.
Standing in her Italian garden, Lyra Davis stared down at the small yellow boat and thought of that tiny baby. She pictured the six-year-old girl that baby had become. Pell had been six, Lucy four, when Lyra left—ten years since Lyra had seen either of her daughters.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Deep Blue Sea for Beginners by Luanne Rice. Copyright © 2009 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.