Between Sisters Page 10

After that, everything happened fast. They fell on each other like animals, scratching, humping, groaning. Behind them, the headboard banged against the wall. Her orgasm, when it finally happened, was sharp and painful and faded much too quickly.

She was left feeling vaguely dissatisfied. That was happening more and more often. She lay back onto the pillows. He was beside her, so close she could feel the warmth of his bare flesh alongside her thigh.

He was right next to her, and yet she felt alone. Here they were, in bed together, with the scent of their sex still in the air, and she couldn’t think of a single thing to say to him.

She rolled over and moved closer to him. Before she quite knew what she was doing, she’d cuddled up alongside him. It was the first time she’d done something so intimate in years.

“Tell me something about you no one knows,” she said, sliding her naked leg across his.

He laughed softly. “I guess you live in Bizarro World, where they do everything backward, huh? First you screw my brains out, then you want to know me. In the bar, you were practically yawning when I told you about my family.”

She drew away from him, pulled back into herself. “I don’t like to be ordinary.” She was surprised by how okay she sounded.

“You’re not, believe me.”

He pushed her leg aside and kissed her shoulder. The brush-off. Frankly, she preferred it without the kiss.

“I gotta go.”

“So, go.”

He frowned. “Don’t sound pissed off. It’s not like we fell in love tonight.”

She reached down to the floor for her Seahawks nightshirt and put it on. She was less vulnerable dressed. “You don’t know me well enough to know whether I’m pissed off. And frankly, I can’t imagine falling in love with someone who used the term ‘ball handling’ as often as you did.”

“Jesus.” He got out of bed and started dressing. She sat in bed, very stiffly, watching him. She wished she had a book on her nightstand. It would have been nice to start reading now.

“If you keep bearing left, you’ll find the front door.”

His frown deepened. “Are you on medication?”

She laughed at that.

“Because you should be.” He started to leave—almost breaking into a run, she noticed—but at the door, he paused and turned around. “I liked you, you know.”

Then he was gone.

Meg heard the front door open and click shut. She finally released a heavy breath.

It used to take weeks, months even, before men began to ask if she was medicated. Now she’d managed to completely alienate Danny—Donny—in a single night.

She was losing her grip. Life seemed to be unraveling around her. Hell, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d kissed a man and felt something more than desire.

And what about loneliness? Dr. Bloom had asked her. Do you like that, too?

She leaned sideways and flicked on the bedside lamp. Light fell on a framed photograph of Meghann and her sister, taken years ago.

Meghann wondered what her sister was doing right now. Wondered if she was awake at this late hour, feeling alone and vulnerable. But she knew the answer.

Claire had Alison. And Sam.

Sam.

Meghann wished she could forget the few memories she had of her sister’s father. But that kind of amnesia never overtook her. Instead, Meghann remembered everything, every detail. Mostly, she remembered how much she’d wanted Sam to be her father, too. When she’d been young and hopeful, she’d thought: Maybe we could be a family, the three of us.

The pipe dreams of a child. Still painful after all these years.

Sam was Claire’s father. He had stepped in and changed everything. Meg and Claire had nothing in common anymore.

Claire lived in a house filled with laughter and love. She probably only dated upstanding leaders of the community. No anonymous, dissatisfying sex for Claire.

Meghann closed her eyes, reminding herself that this was the life she wanted. She’d tried marriage. It had ended exactly as she’d feared—with his betrayal and her broken heart. She didn’t ever want to experience that again. If sometimes she spent an hour or so in the middle of the night with an ache of longing that wouldn’t quite go away, well, that was the price of independence.

She leaned across the bed and picked up the phone. There were five numbers on her speed dialer: the office, three take-out restaurants, and her best friend, Elizabeth Shore.

She punched in number three.

“What’s the matter?” said a groggy male voice. “Jamie?”

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Meghann glanced at the bedside clock. Damn. It was almost midnight; that made it nearly three o’clock in New York. “Sorry, Jack. I didn’t notice the time.”

“For a smart woman, you make that mistake a lot. Just a sec.”

Meghann wished she could hang up. She felt exposed by her error. It showed how little a life she had.

“Are you okay?” Elizabeth said, sounding worried.

“I’m fine. I screwed up. Tell Jack I’m sorry. We can talk tomorrow. I’ll call before I leave for work.”

“Just hang on.”

Meghann heard Elizabeth whisper something to her husband. A moment later, she said, “Let me guess. You just got home from the Athenian.”

That made her feel even worse. “No. Not tonight.”

“Are you okay, Meg?”

“Fine, really. I just lost track of time. I was . . . working on a messy deposition. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

“Jack and I are leaving for Paris, remember?”

“Oh, yeah. Have a great time.”

“I could postpone it—”

“And miss that huge party at the Ritz? No way. Have a wonderful time.”

There was a pause on the line, then softly Elizabeth said, “I love you, Meg.”

She felt the start of tears. Those were the words she’d needed, even if they came from far away; they made her feel less alone, less vulnerable. “I love you, too, Birdie. Good night.”

“’Night, Meg. Sleep well.”

She slowly hung up the phone. The room seemed quiet now; too dark. She pulled the covers up and closed her eyes, knowing it would be hours before she fell asleep.

SEVEN

THEIR FIRST GATHERING AT LAKE CHELAN HAD BEEN IN celebration. Nineteen eighty-nine. The year Madonna urged people to express themselves and Jack Nicholson played the Joker and the first pieces of the Berlin Wall came down. More important, it was the year they all turned twenty-one. There had been five of them then. Best friends since grade school.

That first get-together had happened by accident. The girls had pooled their money to give Claire a weekend in the honeymoon cabin for her birthday. At the time—in March—she’d been head over heels in love with Carl Eldridge. (The first of many head-over-heels-in-love relationships that turned out to be a plain old kick in the head.) By mid-July, on the designated weekend, Claire had been out of love, alone, and more than a little depressed. Never one to waste money, she’d gone on the trip by herself, intending to sit on the porch and read.

Just before dinnertime of the first day, a battered yellow Ford Pinto had pulled into the yard. Her best friends had spilled out of the car and run across the lawn, laughing, holding two big jugs of margarita mix. They’d called their visit a love intervention, and it had worked. By Monday, Claire had remembered who she was and what she wanted out of life. Carl Eldridge had most definitely not been “the one.”

Every year since then, they’d managed to come back for a week. Now, of course, it was different. Gina and Claire each had a daughter; Karen had four children, aged eleven to fourteen; and Charlotte was trying desperately to conceive.

In the past few years, their parties had quieted; less tequila and cigarettes came out of suitcases these days. Instead of getting dressed up and going to Cowboy Bob’s Western Roundup to slam tequila and line-dance, they put the kids to bed early, drank glasses of white wine, and played hearts at the round wooden table on the porch. They kept a running score for the week. The winner got the keys to the honeymoon cottage for the next year.

Their vacation had evolved into a sort of slow, lazy merry-go-round rhythm. They spent their days by the lake, stretched out on red-and-white-striped beach towels or sitting on battered old beach chairs, with a portable radio set up on the picnic table. They always listened to the oldies station, and when a song from the eighties came on, they’d jump up and dance and sing along. On hot days—like this one had been—they spent most of their time in the lake, standing neck-deep in the cool water, their faces shielded by floppy hats and sunglasses. Talking. Always talking.

Now, finally, the weather was perfect. The sky was a bright seamless blue, and the lake was like glass. The older kids were in the house, playing crazy eights and listening to Willie’s ear-splitting music, probably talking about the latest, grossest R-rated movie that everyone else’s mothers allowed their children to see. Alison and Bonnie were pedaling a water bike in the cordoned-off section of the lake. Their giggles could be heard above the others.

Karen sat slouched in her chair, fanning herself with a pamphlet from the water-slide park. Charlotte, completely protected from the sun by a floppy white hat and a diaphanous, three-quarter-sleeved cover-up, was reading the latest Kelly Ripa book club choice and sipping lemonade.

Gina leaned sideways and opened the cooler, rooting noisily through it for a Diet Coke. When she found one, she pulled it out and snapped it open, taking a long drink before she shut the cooler. “My marriage ends and we’re drinking Diet Coke and lemonade. When Karen’s dickwad first husband left, we slammed tequila and danced the macarena at Cowboy Bob’s.”

“That was my second husband, Stan,” Karen said. “When Aaron left, we ate those pot brownies and went skinny-dipping in the lake.”

“My point remains,” Gina said. “My crisis is getting the Sesame Street treatment. You got Animal House.”

“Cowboy Bob’s,” Charlotte said, almost smiling. “We haven’t been there in years.”

“Not since we started dragging around these undersize humans,” Karen pointed out. “It’s hard to rock and roll with a kid on your back.”

Charlotte looked out at the lake, to where the little girls were pedaling their water bike. Her smile slowly faded. That familiar sadness came into her eyes again. No doubt she was thinking about the baby she wanted so much.

Claire glanced at her friends. It startled her for a moment, as it sometimes did on these trips, to see their thirty-five-year-old selves. This year, more than any other, they seemed quieter. Older, even. Women on the edge of a sparkling lake who had too much on their minds.

That would never do. They came to Lake Chelan to be their younger, freer selves. Troubles were for other latitudes.

Claire pushed herself up on her elbows. The scratchy cotton of her beach towel seemed to bite into her sunburned forearms.

“Willie’s fourteen this year, right?”

Karen nodded. “He’s starting high school in September. Can you believe it? He still sleeps with a stuffed animal and forgets to brush his teeth. The ninth-grade girls look like Solid Gold Dancers next to him.”

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