"Grandma, what are you all doing?"
"Just what it looks like. Getting a jump on our campaign. This is just the start. Everyone we've told about the carousel wants to help."
Sarah pushed down the hurt that her grandmother had so little faith in her, not to mention the fact that she hated knowing they were on opposite sides of the issue. First, she and Calvin. Now, she and her grandmother--and all of these women.
A sharp pang landed smack-dab in the middle of her chest. They were all against her. The insiders versus the girl who had never belonged.
There were so many things she wanted to say to her grandmother just then, but she made herself stick to her health first. "You're supposed to be resting."
"I'll rest when we're done here."
Fine. Then Sarah would skip right to point two. "I told you I was going to talk to my client about the carousel, Grandma. You don't need to do all of this."
"You gave me no guarantees, and I've always thought it's better to take things into one's own hands."
And the truth was, Sarah couldn't help but be impressed with how quickly her grandmother and her sister and friends had put everything together. A part of her wanted to jump in and help...but she couldn't fight this battle for her grandmother. Not when it would mean fighting against herself, her client, and her future with her consulting firm. And not when it would be one more step toward failing--and away from the brass ring she'd always reached for.
"Don't feel bad," Dorothy said, finally looking up from her computer, where she was doing God knew what. "We know you're just doing your job."
Seeing just how much these women were relishing their task, she decided it would be a good chance to get some more background on the carousel. Something she could share with her clients that would help them understand why it was so important for Summer Lake. "Tell me about the carousel. Tell me what it means to each of you."
Her great-aunt Jean looked up with a smile. "When we were kids, we would always try to stand on top of the horses like we were in the circus."
"Mother thought it was too dangerous, but we never fell. Not once."
Sarah noticed that Dorothy had stopped typing. "What about you, Dorothy?"
"We were very poor when I was a little girl." Sarah was surprised to hear it. Dorothy looked so classy and put together. "We didn't have money for any extras, barely had enough to keep ourselves clothed and fed. Remember, Olive?"
"You used to wear my old shoes."
Dorothy snorted. "Old? You'd barely worn them before you told your daddy you needed another pair, and he bought them for you."
"Did you hate me for it?" Olive asked. Everyone in the room stopped and turned to Dorothy, waiting for her answer.
Sarah could see them so clearly--two girls in school together, two friends who came from such different backgrounds, who had such different things. For a second, she was reminded of the way she and Catherine had once been.
"I hated you sometimes too," Olive said, shocking all of them. "You had so much freedom."
Dorothy smiled. "Well, more than you lot, anyway, with all of your fancy money and expectations. But you were asking about the carousel, weren't you, Sarah? Not the history of two old friends."
Sarah worked to bring herself back to the carousel, but it was hard when she couldn't stop wondering about what her grandmother had said about freedom. What hadn't Olive felt free to do? To love Carlos instead of the man who had become Sarah's grandfather?
"It was five cents for a ride," Dorothy said, "but one day a year it was free."
"The Fall Festival," Jean put in.
"We would finish our chores early and run over to get in line to ride it over and over."
"Why was riding it so great?" Sarah vaguely remembered enjoying carousel rides as a little girl, but she couldn't imagine it being a cherished memory in her eighties.
"You have to understand," her grandmother said, "we didn't have roller coasters or TV or the Internet. Just the sand and the sun and the lake. And the carousel."
"If it was so important to all of you, then why haven't you tried to fix it up or get it running before?"
Sarah's grandmother looked her in the eye. "You're right. We should have done something about it long before now. But sometimes it takes almost losing something to realize just how much it really means to you."
"I have to confess," Sarah said, "I still don't completely get it."
"Maybe that's because listening to our stories isn't the same as telling one of your own."
"I don't have a carousel story." But as soon as Sarah said it, one came to her, spinning back into her conscious mind as if it were the present, not the past.
She'd been five years old and her kindergarten day was over. She walked outside onto the playground expecting to see her mother. But her father had been there instead, saying, "How about the two of us go get an ice cream?"
She'd been excited, so excited that she ran away from Calvin and Catherine without saying good-bye. She remembered getting a double scoop of rainbow sherbet, but she was so intent on holding her father's hand that it kept almost falling over in her free hand.
Her father had wanted to sit and eat their ice cream on the carousel. He held her cone while she got on one of the matched pairs of horses, then he climbed onto the other. She'd loved it, just the two of them. The carousel didn't even run anymore at that point; it hadn't been running since long before Sarah was born. But it had been fun to sit on it and pretend with her father. So much fun she could hardly believe it.
He'd been smiling, a bigger smile than she'd ever seen before as he'd said, "The brass ring used to be a real part of the carousel ride. You'd reach out and grab it as you went by." She loved the picture he was painting for her, wishing there was still a brass ring she could reach for right then. "Now it has a different meaning--to always do your best to strive to achieve your goals. Promise you'll never forget to always reach for the brass ring, Sarah. No matter what the obstacles are, always go for what you want and don't give up."
Sarah started in her seat in her grandmother's cottage. That had always been her father's mantra for her. "Always reach for the brass ring, Sarah." But until now, she hadn't realized that was the first time he'd said it to her.
"Sarah, are you all right?"
She looked up at her grandmother. "How old was I when Daddy won his first election?"
Olive thought about it for a moment. "You must have been around five."
Sarah worked to keep her expression clear. All these years, she'd thought her father had been so happy because he'd finally been able to spend the day with her. Now she realized--that was the day he had become senator.
He'd chosen her to celebrate with him, but only that once. After that, he'd been busy in Washington, DC, always gone when she needed him.
Was this the reason she hadn't cared about getting rid of the carousel? Not only because it was falling apart, but also because instead of associating joy with it, there was pain?
The pain of being left behind.
Calvin was impressed with the night Sarah had set up for them. She'd taken him to Loon Lake, another Adirondack town thirty minutes down Route 8, and she'd introduced him to families who had bought into the condominiums that had been built on the lake a hand
ful of years ago.
Again and again, people told him how thrilled they were to own a small piece of property in the Adirondacks. For some of them, it was an escape from the pressure of their regular nine-to-five. For others, it had been a chance to start over again, to build a new life.
She took him down the main street, busy and beautifully lit even on a weekday in the fall, and introduced him to store owners who told him how glad they were to be able to keep their doors open year-round rather than having to rely on a big summer and winter to sustain their bottom lines.
She pointed out how careful the town had been with its expansion, showed the ways in which the people had been firm about staying away from chain stores, fast-food restaurants, and arcades like the ones they found in nearby Lake George. According to Sarah's research, Loon Lake was making a name for itself as not only the perfect weekend getaway from nearby cities, but also as an ideal place to summer and retire and start new businesses as well.
"Loon Lake embodies everything I've been talking about. Development without going in the wrong direction. No casinos. Not too many tourist shops. The only thing about it that isn't really ideal is the fact that the lake is so small. They can't have any motorized boats on it or even the bigger sailboats." She turned to him, a small smile on her lips. "You've had a good time tonight, haven't you? Talking to everyone, learning about their town."
"I have. I should have done it before," he admitted. "You're a very impressive salesperson, Sarah."
She had made reservations at a restaurant on the lake, and they'd stepped out onto the porch with their drinks. Clouds had come in during the past hour, completely covering the moon. Calvin could smell rain in the air.
But the weather wasn't the only thing shifting. The wall that had been so firmly between them that first night seemed to be shifting too.
"I met your sister today at Lakeside Stitch & Knit." Sarah was so beautiful in the faint moonlight that his breath hitched in his chest as she said, "She's fantastic."
He didn't bother to hide his pride. "Jordan is a really good kid. I got lucky with her."
"And she got lucky with you." Her voice was soft, filled with emotion. "I realized the other night that it's been a long time since I've been in the lake. Any lake."
He couldn't stop himself from moving closer, unable to keep his distance after such a great evening. "How long?"