The Beach Trees
The moving new novel from bestselling author Karen White.
From the time she was twelve, Julie Holt knew what a random tragedy can do to a family. At that tender age, her little sister disappeared-never to be found. It was a loss that slowly eroded the family bonds she once relied on. As an adult with a prestigious job in the arts, Julie meets a struggling artist who reminds her so much of her sister, she can't help feeling protective. It is a friendship that begins a long and painful process of healing for Julie, leading her to a house on the Gulf Coast, ravaged by hurricane Katrina, and to stories of family that take her deep into the past.
The canopy of large oaks on St. Charles gave way to gated gardens of flowering trees and shrubs, none of which I recognized, decorating the mansions behind them like frilly aprons. I slowed to take it all in, accepting that my knowledge of New Orleans had consisted mostly of what I’d seen of Hurricane Katrina news footage and Monica’s references to Mardi Gras parties and her years spent at Sacred Heart. But none of that had prepared me for the fantasy of it. I couldn’t think of another word that would adequately describe the exotic, historic otherworldliness of what I was seeing.
A car honked behind me and I realized I’d stopped completely in the middle of the one-way street. I pulled ahead, searching for the house number, then slid into an open spot at the curb as I approached the right block. Iron gates in rose patterns and fleur-de-lis tops separated the gardens from the cracked and uneven sidewalks, roots of nearby oaks showing their impatience with human encroachment by pressing against the flagstone and brick pavers.
I rolled the window down a few inches and breathed in, smelling air that was green, moist, and fragrant. For the first time in my life, I wished I could paint, or draw, or somehow capture this street with its marred roads and walkways, the pristine houses with their eccentric gardens of overabundant flowers and foliage. Chelsea could have. Chelsea would have known how to translate all of it onto paper or canvas.
Glancing across the street, I spotted the chipped blue tile numbers embedded in the sidewalk: 1520. I should have recognized the house from Ray Von’s description of the pink Victorian with the beautiful garden, but I’d been too busy gawking at its neighbors to notice. Wide front steps led up to a gracious front wraparound porch dotted with wicker rocking chairs and more plants hanging from the porch ceiling. Matching turrets framed the front of the house like parentheses, giving it the dubious impression of a castle. Large double wooden doors sat in the middle, long rectangular windows in each polished door like drooping eyes staring warily at the encroaching garden.
Switching off the ignition, I turned to look at Beau, who’d fallen asleep with his thumb in his mouth and his mother’s hat balled into a pillow for his cheek. Wanting to assess the situation first, I decided to let him sleep for another minute. Carefully, I cracked the windows, then opened the door and locked it quietly, not wanting to wake him. Checking for traffic, I crossed the street to the house and stopped. Monica had never painted this house for me, and for that I was grateful. Because if I’d known what to expect beforehand there was no way I’d have found the courage to park in front of the house and expect to walk up to the door and knock.
Reprinted from The Beach Trees by Karen White by arrangement with New American Library, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright © 2011.
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