Read an Excerpt
March 1985. Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Julia would never know what made her turn around. Perhaps it was the familiar reddish glint of the Irish setter racing along the brilliant white beach, followed by its master. Perhaps it was her desire to escape what she was doing, making the supposedly easy climb up Dunn's River Falls, an intimidating drop of several hundred feet of slippery limestone terraces. Or perhaps it was fate, an unexpected tipping of life's scales.
Whatever the reason, she nearly fell when she saw the man. His hair was the same color as the dog's. A shining, almost incandescent russet, it hung to the middle of his broad shoulders. His back was to her, but his body — slim, tapered hips balanced on sinewy legs — and his precise, graceful motions were unforgettable. He wore a torn T-shirt that revealed muscular arms and cutoffs which left little doubt as to the firmness of his well-proportioned buttocks.
It can't be, Julia thought, stopping in mid-step, much to the dismay of the people in line behind her. As instructed by the Jamaican guide, they'd formed a human chain, holding hands to support each other. The pudgy fellow behind Julia gave her an encouraging shove, but she stood frozen to the spot, a broken link.
Only Winnie sprinted like that, a physical fitness buff before it became a requirement of a generation that had once denigrated clean living. "I don't believe it," she said, not aware she was speaking. "What could Winnie be doing here?" She'd last seen him fifteen years earlier at Hayes University, in a small college town in Ohio. Soldiers were fighting in Vietnam, the campuses were engaged in a different kind of battle. She and Winnie had been in bed, naked.
"Move along please, lady," the guide urged in his soft Jamaican cadence. Accustomed to doing what was asked of her, Julia took a step forward.
Not that she'd always been so accommodating. During the days of Winnie and her best friend Valerie, she'd believed she'd seized control of her life. But since then, she'd learned to pick up cues from her environment, to follow the most propitious route. As when her husband, a United States Congressman, became tied up in a subcommittee and was unable to accompany her on this cruise. "Go anyway, Julia," he'd urged. "Time away from the pressures of work and the boys" — Adam and Abe, their 7-year-old twin sons — "will only do you good."
And so she had, inviting her friend Rachel, a freelance artist like herself, along as a companion. And it had been fun to a point, and relaxing. With a few vicarious thrills thrown in, such as watching newly divorced Rachel flit from shipboard romance to shipboard romance in the brief span of a week. Not for Julia, the roller coaster of involvement, innocent or otherwise. That sort of thing was in the past.
But now this particular remembrance seemingly materialized before her, rudely throwing her back in time. And all the anger, anguish, and passion she'd suppressed for nearly a decade and a half suddenly roared to the surface of her consciousness. She simultaneously wanted to strangle Winnie and go to bed with him. Valerie had been right — love and hate could be two sides of the same emotion. Fifteen years later, Julia finally grasped the essence of that statement.
The same force that had initially drawn her to Winnie now propelled her down Dunn's River Falls. Unassisted she began the perilous slide towards the beach. Like the murmur of the water that grew increasingly strong towards the peak of the falls, annoyed comments arose in proportionate crescendo from the climbers behind her. In a country where everyone said, "no problem" Julia was definitely creating one.
The guide reached for her arm, but she pulled away, eluding his grasp. In her scramble towards solid ground, she nearly fell several times on the wet limestone rocks.
She stumbled onto the beach. For a moment, the sun blinded her. The falls had been a cool, leafy refuge from the dazzling Caribbean heat. She couldn't see the man or the dog, only the glistening sand and the blazing midday sky. But then her eyes adjusted and there they were - cooling off at the Jamaican version of a snack bar, a wooden hodgepodge of buildings and picnic tables. The man, still with his back to her, stooped down, giving the dog something to drink.
What if he wasn't Winnie? Somewhere, they said, everyone has a double. The face could be that of a stranger, indifferent and amused by her flustered case of mistaken identity. Julia's eyes dimmed with more than adjustment to the light. Perhaps it would be for the best... Did she really have the courage to confront Winnie? To grapple the demon of unrequited love that had grown from the seeds of his casual attentions? A feeling of unreality, the likes of which she hadn't experienced since Hayes, engulfed her.
The guard came abreast of her. "Lady! Why you run away?" He seized her elbow.
The man looked up, and Julia came face to startled face with what had nearly destroyed her an era ago.
PART ONE: THE DREAM
May 1969-May 1970. Hayes University, Hampton, Ohio
On the evening of the May Music Fest, Julia Brandon sat with her sorority, wondering why she was there. The air was unbearably close, despite the cloudless, pink-streaked dusk. And Julia sweated, even though she wore a lightweight dress. Yet with her dark hair, seaforest eyes, and satiny skin, she looked cool and composed. But it was a deception, like most of her life at Hayes.
The Music Fest, which fell on the last weekend before finals, usually served as a barometer by which Julia measured her year. When she was a freshman, she'd regarded this tradition, in fact, the entire Alumni Reunion Weekend, with enthusiasm and awe. She'd been a pledge and the older girls seemed so polished and self-assured, handling the alumnae Beta Gamma Phis with charm and facility.
When Julia was a sophomore, she was thrilled to be part of the festivities. She helped organize the tea for alumnae and their husbands, and led the sorority in its theme song during the Music Fest. She'd felt so proud standing with the BGPs, one of the top sororities on campus.
Now, in her junior year, Julia was less enthusiastic. She noticed chinks in the girls' behavior; barbs masked with delicate laughs, whispered comments not meant for all ears.
And she had a growing certainty her presence in the sorority had been a case of mistaken identity. During rush week last fall an outstanding freshman candidate, a National Merit Scholar and former prom queen, had been dropped from consideration when the sisters learned her last name was "Goldberg." Would they have accepted Julia, had they known about the "stein" Julia's grandfather had excised before debarking on Ellis Island?
Which was why Julia's roommate, Valerie Stazyck, was as refreshing as a spring charging through a desert. Valerie had been assigned to the room at the beginning of spring quarter. Nancy, her predecessor and Julia's former "big sis," had dropped out due to "family problems," BGP lingo for "knocked up." Poor Nancy had been grist for the sorority gossip mill, although Julia refused to discuss the matter with anyone.
"Look, you're a sorority chick and I'm a hippie," Valerie had announced, plunking her carpet bag down on the empty bed. "And the goddamn Administration thinks it can suppress me by putting me in a dormful of Greekoids. As long as you do your thing and I do mine, they can continue with their delusions." Then Valerie proceeded to plaster her side of the room with black-light Peter Max posters and pictures of President Nixon grinning under the captions "Would you buy a used car from this man?" and "Dick Nixon before he dicks you."
Rather than being appalled or even slightly offended by Valerie's brash dress and language, Julia was fascinated. Valerie radiated spontaneity and humor, two things Julia's life lacked.
Soon the girls became friends, although they never ate at the same times or went anywhere together. An unspoken agreement to maintain their separate lives made their relationship almost clandestine.
Valerie was careful not to push her radical ideas on Julia, although she used any conversational opening to espouse her beliefs on ending the war in Vietnam, free love, and the legalization of marijuana and LSD. Then one day at the Student Center she stopped Julia in the cafeteria line and introduced her to Adrian. Julia had never met a man interested in a woman's mind before, although his satirical humor was often biting. And his discourses on Lenin vs. Marxist philosophies and surrealistic vs. street theatre confused her. The sorority she at least understood.
So when Valerie and Adrian invited her to participate in an anti-Vietnam demonstration to be held during this May Music Fest, Julia gently refused. She told them of her obligation to sit with her sorority. Besides, she asked herself, what did she have to gain by refusing to stand for the national anthem? A chance to antagonize the Administration? To be ostracized by her sisters? The last thing Julia wanted was to make a spectacle of herself.
Adrian volleyed a witticism about Julia's lack of commitment and Valerie shrugged, her impish mouth a straight line, her stonewashed blue eyes downcast.
Now, turning her attention to the crowd, Julia told herself she was foolish to feel guilty. She'd only known Valerie and Adrian two months; relationships and loyalties in the sorority had taken years to establish. BGP wasn't perfect, but it was familiar. Be honest with yourself, Julia, she thought. Where would you be on this big, lonely campus of 12,000 plus bodies without your Greek security blanket of ready-made friends and dates?
Not that the dates were much. Mostly Betas and Sig Eps who tried to slip sweaty hands under her skirt and sweater as soon as they were alone. But at least they reassured her that she was attractive, although she often wondered why they never bothered to get to know her first. There was a mating ritual, and Julia could nearly always anticipate the boy's next move.
Lately it depressed her so much she'd confined her longings to a handsome profile glimpsed on the Slantwalk or a nice build in the back row of class, where Julia rarely sat. In addition to being pretty and poised, BGPs were expected to maintain good grades so they stayed in the front of the room next to each other, of course.
From her vantage point at the topmost bleacher, Julia viewed a scene straight out of Norman Rockwell. Administrators, leading citizens from the adjoining village of Hampton, and assorted honorees sat in front of the steps leading to the portico of the Performing Arts Center. Behind the VIPs stood the singing groups and soloists resplendent in long, flowered dresses or suits or matching robes. On the side lawn to the right was the band, clad in military-looking uniforms of red and yellow, the school colors. On the left sat the orchestra in somber grey.
The audience, too, reflected Rockwellian decorum. Alumni lounged in folding chairs or blankets on the grass. Some strolled through the adjoining, full-bloomed Formal Gardens. Their children stayed close, undoubtedly discouraged from racing about by the heat. The rest, undergraduates, grad students, and an occasional professor, sat directly on the lawn below Julia. Only sororities and fraternities had the privilege of bleachers and a total view of the goings-on.
Julia's "little sis" Betsy leaned over and said, "It's beastly, isn't it?" Betsy waved her program back and forth, a makeshift fan. "I thought it'd cool down when the sun began to set"
Julia examined a strand of what once was her perfectly straight, shoulder-length flip and sighed. "I'd say the humidity's about 95 percent."
She started to ask Betsy if she could borrow her hair-straightening iron when they got back to the dorm. But Lydia, president-elect of the sorority, shushed the group, telling them the program was about to begin.
Julia searched for Adrian and Valerie during President Carrell's opening speech about the greatness of the University and its tradition of excellence. She didn't spot them until just before the band struck up "The Star Spangled Banner."
They sat a few feet away from the bleachers while the audience rose en masse. Julia had a good view and could see the five of them: Adrian, Valerie, an overweight couple with an American flag draped around their shoulders, and an aesthetic-looking blonde holding a sign bearing a blue-and-white peace symbol. Adrian and Valerie waved placards labeled "Stop the War" and "War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things."
With a mixture of relief and disappointment, Julia realized the demonstration was doomed. Not only did their distance from the portico render them practically invisible to the crowd, but they'd been swallowed up by the standing, singing audience. With their small number and poor location, no one would notice the demonstrators unless they really looked.
Julia began to check out a groovy-looking guy a few rows below her when a blur of blue caught her eye. She leaned forward, astonished, as three Hampton sheriffs approached the protesters. Her first thought was, what are the police doing here? Valerie and the others aren't breaking the law.
Yet two officers seized Adrian and the couple by the scruff of their necks, dragging them towards an unmarked, idling van. The protesters offered no resistance. The blonde girl followed peacefully.
But Valerie's reaction was different. Struggling violently, she kicked and shouted at the third sheriff, a heavyset, bulky man. In his attempt to restrain her, he hit her in the face. A ribbon of steel flashed across his fingers.
Iron knuckles, Julia realized in horror. She'd seen prison movies where guards used them to torture inmates. Little did she know they'd be employed on her own roommate.
Valerie's outcry alerted the audience that something was amiss. Heads began to turn and bodies shifted, making it difficult for Julia to see. But she couldn't miss the blood streaming from her roommate's cheek, nose, and mouth. Bright red rivulets ran down her neck, staining her loose cotton top. And it wasn't cushioned by celluloid like film clips of the Chicago riots or the makeup used in movies. It was real.
The policeman shoved Valerie in the back with the others, jumping in the driver's seat and slamming the door. The van jounced down the gravel side road, just as the band finished the last strains of "The Star Spangled Banner."
Julia was stunned. The altercation had been so sudden, so cruel. And Valerie and the others hadn't done anything wrong! Pointing in the direction of the retreating van, Julia shouted, "I can't believe it! Did you see what just happened?"
Several of the sisters stared at Julia. Betsy said, "No, I didn't, but you'd better sit down. Everyone is looking at you."
"I don't care," Julia was filled with helpless rage. "Those," she wanted to say "bastards" but didn't dare, "those cops just brutalized my friends for exercising their freedom of speech. This is America, not a dictatorship. They had no right to do that!"
Betsy laid firm hands on Julia's shoulders, forcing her to sit like the others. "Calm down, Julia. If you're referring to that crazy roommate of yours, she probably asked for it. You should have requested a transfer — there are plenty of empty rooms on my floor."
If Betsy hadn't been her closest friend in the sorority, Julia would have pulled a Valerie and told her where to get off. How dare Betsy talk that away about someone she didn't even know! Julia fumed while the Hayes Choraliers stepped onto the portico and began a tune about being on top of the world.
Julia squirmed, conscious of the sweat between her breasts and under her arms. Between the heat and the curious eyes of her sisters, she felt physically and mentally stifled. Valerie could be bleeding to death, and here she sat with these pampered princesses as if nothing had happened. And what of Adrian and the other protesters? What kind of treatment would they be receiving, alone, in the hands of the police?
There was a $100 bill stashed in her suitcase back at the dorm. In case of an emergency, her Mom had said. It might be enough money for bail. And she couldn't think of a more justified use. So without a word of explanation, she clambered down the rickety metal bleachers.
"Julia, where are you going?" the soon-to-be president, Lydia, demanded in her haughty voice.
But Julia didn't answer. And as soon as she was out of sight of her gaping sisters, she started to run. She'd explain her abrupt departure later. Right now she had to help Valerie and Adrian.
Order THE PIPE DREAMERS.