Between Sisters Page 15


“Yes, you did. Remind me to put a gold star next to your name on the door.”

“Are you sleeping?”

“No. Every time I close my eyes, I see it all again. The gunshot whizzing past my ear . . . the way he dropped the gun afterward and sank to his knees . . . May rushing to him, holding him, telling him everything would be all right, that she’d stand behind him . . . the police taking him away in handcuffs. Today, I relived it in court.” She looked up. “That was lovely, by the way.”

“It’s not your fault. He’s the one to blame.”

“I know that. I also know that I handled their divorce badly. I’ve lost my ability to really feel for people.” She sighed. “I don’t know . . . if I can do this job anymore. Today I completely screwed a client. My partner has asked me—ordered me, really—to take a vacation.”

“That might not be a bad idea. It wouldn’t hurt you to develop a real life.”

“Will I feel better in London or Rome . . . alone?”

“Why don’t you call Claire? You could go stay at her resort for a while. Maybe try to relax. Get to know her.”

“That’s a funny thing about visiting relatives. You need an invitation.”

“Are you saying Claire wouldn’t want you to visit?”

“Of course I’m saying that. We can’t talk for more than five minutes without getting into an argument.”

“You could visit your mother.”

“I’d rather contract the West Nile virus.”

“How about Elizabeth?”

“She and Jack are in Europe, celebrating their anniversary. I don’t think they’d appreciate a guest.”

“So, what you’re saying is, you have nowhere to go and no one to visit.”

“All I said was, Where would I go?” It had been a mistake to come here. Harriet was making her feel worse. “Look, Harriet,” her voice was softer than usual, and cracked. “I’m falling apart. It’s like I’m losing myself. All I want from you is a drug to take the edge off. You know me, I’ll be fine in a day or two.”

“The Queen of Denial.”

“When something works for me, I stick with it.”

“Only denial isn’t working anymore, is it? That’s why your eyelid is spasming, your hands are shaking, and you can’t sleep. You’re breaking apart.”

“I won’t break. Trust me.”

“Meghann, you’re one of the smartest women I’ve ever known. Maybe too smart. You’ve handled a lot of trauma in your life and succeeded. But you can’t keep running away from your own past. Someday you’re going to have to settle the tab with Claire.”

“A client’s husband tries to blow my brains out, and you manage to make my breakdown about my family. Are you sure you’re really a doctor?”

“All I have to do is mention Claire and the walls go up. Why is that?”

“Because this isn’t about Claire, damn it.”

“Sooner or later, Meg, it’s always about family. The past has an irritating way of becoming the present.”

“I once had a fortune cookie that said the same thing.”

“You’re deflecting again.”

“No. I’m rejecting.” Meghann got to her feet. “Does this mean you won’t write me a prescription for a muscle relaxant?”

“It wouldn’t help your tic.”

“Fine. I’ll get an eye patch.”

Harriet slowly stood up. Across the desk, they faced each other. “Why won’t you let me help you?”

Meghann swallowed hard. She’d asked herself the same question a hundred times.

“What do you want?” Harriet asked finally.

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do.”

“Well, if you know the answer, why ask the question?”

“You want to stop feeling so alone.”

A shudder passed through Meghann, left her chilled. “I’ve always been alone. I’m used to it.”

“No. Not always.”

Meghann’s thoughts spooled back to those years, so long ago now, when she and Claire had been inseparable, the best of friends. Then, Meg had known how to love.

Enough. This was getting Meg nowhere.

Harriet was wrong. This wasn’t about the past. So Meg felt guilty about the way she’d abandoned her sister, and she’d been hurt when Claire rejected her and chose Sam. So what? That water had flowed under the bridge for twenty-six years. She wasn’t likely to drown in it now. “Well, I’m alone now, aren’t I? And I sure as hell better figure out how to get my shit together. Thanks for the help with that, by the way.” She grabbed her purse off the floor and headed for the door. “Send tonight’s bill to my secretary. Charge whatever you want. Good-bye, Harriet.” She said good-bye instead of good night because she didn’t intend to come back.

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She was at the door when Harriet’s voice stopped her.

“Be careful, Meghann. Especially now. Don’t let loneliness consume you.”

Meghann kept walking, right out the door and into the elevator and across the lobby.

Outside, she looked down at her watch.

9:40.

There was still plenty of time to go to the Athenian.

NINE

IN THE PASSENGER SEAT OF AN EIGHTEEN-WHEELER, JOE SAT slumped against the window. The truck’s air conditioner had gone out about forty miles ago, and it was as hot as hell in the cab.

The driver, a long-hauler named Erv, hit the Jake Brakes and shifted gears. The truck groaned and shuddered and began to slow down. “There’s the Hayden exit.”

Joe saw the familiar sign and didn’t know how to feel. He hadn’t been here in so long. . . .

Home.

No. It was where he’d grown up; home was something else—or, more accurately, someone else—and she wouldn’t be waiting up for him to return.

The off-ramp looped over the freeway and flattened out onto a tree-lined road. On the left side was a small shingled gas station and a mini mart.

Erv pulled up in front of the pump and came to a creaking stop. The brakes wheezed loudly and fell silent. “The store there makes some mighty fine egg-salad samiches, if you’re hungry.” Erv opened his door and got out.

Joe wedged the handle down and gave the door a good hard push. It creaked wearily open, and he stepped down onto the pavement of western Washington for the first time in three years. He broke out in a cold sweat—whether from the fever or his arrival home, he didn’t know.

He looked at Erv, who was busy pumping gas. “Thanks for the ride.”

Erv nodded. “You don’t talk much, but you were good company. The road can get lonely.”

“Yeah,” Joe said. “It can.”

“You sure you don’t want to go to Seattle? It’s only an hour and a half away. There ain’t much here.”

Joe looked down the long, tree-lined road. Though he could only make out the barest hint of town, his memories compensated. “You’d be surprised,” he said softly.

His sister was just down that road, waiting for him in spite of everything, hoping he’d knock on her door. If he did, if he found that courage, she’d pull him into her arms and hold him so tightly, he’d remember how it felt to be loved.

The thought galvanized him.

“Bye, Erv.” He slung his backpack over his shoulder and started walking. In no time, he came to the small green sign that welcomed him to Hayden, population 872. Home of Lori Adams, 1974 State Spelling Bee Champion.

The town where he’d been born, where he’d grown up and moved on from, hadn’t changed at all. It looked precisely as he remembered, a pretty little collection of Western-themed buildings dozing peacefully beneath this warm June sun.

The buildings all had false fronts, and there were hitching posts stationed here and there along a wooden boardwalk. The stores were mostly the same—the Whitewater Diner and the Basket Case Florist Shoppe, then Mo’s Fireside Tavern and the Stock ’Em Up grocery store. Every sign sparked some memory, every doorway had once welcomed him. He’d bagged groceries for old Bill Turman at the grocery store one summer and ordered his first legal beer at Mo’s.

Once, he’d been welcomed everywhere in town.

Now . . . who knew?

He let out a long sigh, trying to understand how he felt at this moment. He’d dreaded and longed for this return for three years, but now that he’d actually come home, he felt curiously numb. Maybe it was the flu. Or the hunger. Certainly a homecoming ought to be sharper. Returning after so long an absence, after all that he had done.

He made a valiant effort to feel.

But nothing seized hold of him, and so he began to walk again, past the four-way stop sign that introduced the start of town, past the Loose Screw Hardware Shop and the family-owned bakery.

He felt people looking at him; it beat him down, those looks that turned into frowns of recognition. Whispers followed him, nipped at his heels.

Jesus, is that Joe Wyatt?

Did you see that, Myrtle? It was Joe Wyatt.

He’s got some nerve—

How long has it been?

Every one made him hunch a little farther. He tucked his chin close to his chest, rammed his hands in his pockets, and kept moving.

On Azalea Street, he veered left, then, on Cascade he turned right.

Finally, he could breathe again. Here, only a few blocks from Main Street, the world was quiet again. Quaint wood-framed houses sat on impeccably trimmed lawns, one after another for a few blocks, and then the signs of inhabitation grew sparse.

By the time he reached Rhododendron Lane, the street was almost completely deserted. He walked past Craven Farms, quiet this time of year before the fall harvest, and then turned into the driveway. Now the mailbox said Trainor. For years and years, it had read: Wyatt.

The house was a sprawling log-built A-frame that was set amid a perfectly landscaped yard. A mossy split-rail fence outlined the property. Flowers bloomed everywhere, bright and vibrant, and glossy green boxwoods had been shaped into a rounded hedge that paralleled the fencing. His father had built this house by hand, log by log. One of the last things Dad had said to them, as he lay in his hospital bed dying of a broken heart, was: Take care of the house. Your mother loved it so . . .

Joe felt a sudden tightening in his throat, a sadness almost too sweet to bear. His sister had done as she’d been asked. She’d kept the house looking exactly as it always had. Mom and Dad would be pleased.

Something caught his eye. He looked up, caught a fluttering, incorporeal glimpse of a young woman on the porch, dressed in flowing white as she giggled and ran away. The image was shadowy and indistinct and heartbreaking.

Diana.

It was a memory; only that.

Halloween. Nineteen ninety-seven. They’d come here to take his niece trick-or-treating for the first time. In her Galadriel costume, Diana had looked about twenty-five years old.

Someday soon, she’d whispered that night, clinging to his hand, we’ll take our own child trick-or-treating. Only a few months later, they found out why they’d been unable to conceive. . . .

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