Between Sisters Page 16

He stumbled, came to a stop at the bottom of the porch steps, and glanced back down the road, thinking, Maybe I should turn around.

The memories here would ruin what little peace he’d been able to find. . . .

No.

He’d found no peace out there.

He climbed the steps, hearing the familiar creaking of the boards underfoot. After a long pause in which he found himself listening to the rapid hammering of his heart, he knocked on the door.

For a moment, there was no sound within; then the clattering of heavy-soled shoes and the called-out “Coming!”

The door swung open. Gina stood there, dressed in baggy black sweats and green rubber clogs, breathing hard. Her cheeks were bright pink, her chestnut brown hair a bird’s nest of disarray. She took one look at him, mouthed Oh, then burst into tears. “Joey—”

She pulled him into her arms. For a moment, he was dazed, too confused to respond. He hadn’t been touched in so long, it felt wrong somehow.

“Joey,” she said again, putting her face in the crook of his neck. He felt her warm tears on his skin and something inside of him gave way. He brought his arms around her and held on. The whole of his childhood came back to him then, drifted on the baking-bread smell of the house and the sweet citrusy scent of her shampoo. He remembered building her a stick fort by the fish pond long after he’d outgrown it himself, and baby-sitting her on Saturday mornings and walking her home from school. Though they were seven years apart in age, they’d always been a pair.

She drew back, sniffling, wiping her red-rimmed eyes. “I didn’t think you’d really come back.” She patted her hair and made a face. “Oh, shit, I look like the undead. I was planting flowers in the backyard.”

“You look beautiful,” he said, meaning it.

“Pretend that Grandma Hester’s ass hasn’t moved onto my body.” She reached out for him, took hold of his hand, and dragged him into the sunlit living room.

“I should take a shower before I sit—”

“Forget it.” Gina sat down on a beautiful butter-yellow sofa and pulled him down beside her.

He felt uncomfortable suddenly, out of place. He could smell his own scent, feel the clammy dampness of his skin.

“You look sick.”

“I am. My head is pounding.”

Gina popped up and hurried from the room. All the while she was gone, she talked to him from another room. No doubt she was afraid he’d vanish again.

“—some water,” she called out, “and aspirin.”

He started to say something—he had no idea what—when he saw the photo on the mantel.

He got slowly to his feet and walked toward it.

The photograph was of five women crowded together; four of them wore matching pink dresses. They were all smiling broadly and holding up wineglasses, most of which, he noticed, were empty. Gina was front and center, the only woman in white. Diana was beside her, laughing.

“Hey, Di,” he whispered. “I’m home.”

“That’s one of my favorite pictures,” Gina said, coming up behind him.

“At the end,” he said softly, “she talked about you guys. The Bluesers. She must have told me a hundred Lake Chelan stories.”

Gina squeezed his shoulder. “We all miss her.”

“I know.”

“Did you find it out there . . . whatever you were looking for?”

He thought about that. “No,” he said at last. “But now that I’m here, I want to be gone again. Everywhere I look, I’ll see her.”

“Tell me that wasn’t true out there, too.”

He sighed. His sister was right. It didn’t matter where he was. Diana filled his thoughts, his dreams. Finally, he turned around and looked down at his sister. “What now?”

“You’re home. That counts for something.”

“I’m lost, Gigi. It’s like I’m stuck in the ice. I can’t move. I don’t know how to start over.”

She touched his cheek. “Don’t you see? You already have. You’re here.”

He placed his hand over hers and stared down at her, trying to think of something to say. Nothing came to mind, so he tried to smile instead. “Where’s my beautiful niece? And my brother-in-law?”

“Bonnie’s over at River’s Edge, playing with Ali.”

Joe frowned, took a step back. “And Rex? He doesn’t work on Sundays.”

“He left me, Joey. Divorced me.”

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She didn’t say, While you were gone, but she could have. His baby sister had needed him and he hadn’t been there for her. He pulled her into his arms.

She burst into tears. He stroked her hair and whispered that he was here, that he wasn’t going anywhere.

For the first time in three years, it was the truth.

Meghann’s desk was clean for the first time in more than a decade. All her pending cases had been portioned out to the other attorneys. She’d promised Julie that she’d take at least three weeks of vacation, but already she was having second thoughts. What in the hell would she do with all the hours that made up an ordinary day?

Last night and the night before, she’d gone out for dinner and drinks with some lawyer friends. Unfortunately, it had become obvious that they were worried about her. No one mentioned the drama with the gun, and when Meg made a joke about her near-death experience, it fell flat. The two evenings had only served to make her feel more alone.

She thought about calling Harriet, then discarded the idea. She’d studiously avoided her therapist in the past few days, even going so far as to cancel her regular appointment. Their late-night session had been depressing and disturbing; frankly, Meghann was doing a good enough job at depressing herself. She didn’t need to pay a professional to help her.

She retrieved her briefcase and handbag from the bottom desk drawer and headed for the door. She allowed herself a last look at the room that was more of a home to her than her condo and quietly closed the door.

As she walked down the wide marble hallway, she noticed that her colleagues were avoiding her. Success was a virus everyone longed to catch. Not so failure. The watercooler whispers had been rampant in the past weeks. Dontess is losing it . . . cracking up . . . just shows you what happens when you have no life.

The comments were quietly made, of course, in hushed and hurried tones. She was a senior partner, after all, the second name on the door in a business where pecking order was everything. Still, for the first time in her career, they were questioning her, wondering if the Bitch of Belltown had lost her edge. She sensed the same curiosity from her lawyer friends.

At the closed door of Julia’s corner office, she paused and knocked gently.

“Come in.”

Meghann opened the door and entered the bright, sunlit office. “Hey, Jules.”

Julie looked up from her paperwork. “Hey, Meg. You want to go out for a drink? Maybe celebrate your first vacation in a decade?”

“How about celebrating my decision to stick around?”

“Sorry, Charlie. I’ve taken a month a year for the last decade. Your only time off generally comes with novocaine.” She stood up. “You’re tired, Meg, but you’re too stubborn to admit it. What happened last week would mess with anyone’s mind. Let yourself feel it. You need a rest. I recommend at least a month.”

“Have you ever seen me rest?”

“No. That makes my point, not yours, counselor. Where are you going to go?”

“Bangladesh, maybe. I hear the hotels are dirt cheap.”

“Funny. Why don’t you use my condo in Hawaii? A week by the pool is just what the doctor ordered.”

“No, thanks. I can’t drink anything that comes with an umbrella. I think I’ll just watch Court TV or CNN. Listen for my voice on Larry King Live.”

“I won’t change my mind, no matter how pathetic you seem. Now, go. Your vacation time can’t start if you don’t leave.”

“The O’Connor case—”

“Continuance.”

“Jill Summerville—”

“Settlement conference on Friday. I’m handling it personally, and I’ll conduct the Lange deposition next Wednesday. Everything is handled, Meg. Go.”

“Where?” she asked quietly, hating the neediness in her voice.

Julie moved toward her, touched her shoulder. “You’re forty-two years old, Meg. If you don’t have anywhere to go and no one to visit, it’s about time you reassessed. This is a job. A damn good one, to be sure, but just a job. You’ve made it your life—I let you, I’ll admit it—but it’s time to make some changes. Go find something.”

Meghann pulled Julie into her arms, gave her a fierce hug. Then, feeling awkward with the uncharacteristic display of emotion, she stumbled backward, turned around, and strode out of the office.

Outside, night was closing in, drawing the warmth from a surprisingly hot day. As she neared the Public Market, the crowds increased. Tourists stood in front of flower shops and outside bakery windows. She cut through Post Alley toward her building. It wasn’t a route she often chose, but she didn’t want to walk past the Athenian. Not now, when she felt vulnerable. This was the kind of night where it would be easy to slip from grace and, honestly, she was tired of the fall. It hurt too much to land.

In the lobby of her building, she waved at the doorman and went up to her condo.

She’d forgotten to leave the radio playing. The place was jarringly silent.

She tossed her keys on the entryway table. They clanged into a floral-carved Lalique bowl.

Her place was beautiful and neat, with not so much as a paper clip out of place. The cleaning lady had been here today and carefully removed all evidence of Meghann’s natural disorder. Without the books and folders and papers piled everywhere, it had the look of an expensive hotel room. The kind of place people visited, not where they lived. A pair of blue-black brocade sofas faced each other, with an elegant black coffee table in between. The west-facing walls were solid glass. The view was a blue wash of sky and Sound.

Meghann opened the antique black-and-gold lacquered armoire in the television room and grabbed the remote. As sound blared to life, she slumped into her favorite suede chair and planted her feet on the ottoman.

It took less than five seconds to recognize the theme music.

“Oh, shit.”

It was a rerun of her mother’s old television show—Starbase IV. She recognized the episode. It was called “Topsy-Turvy”; in it, the crew of the floating biodome was accidentally transformed into bugs. Mosquito-men took control of the laboratories.

Mama hurried on-screen wearing that ridiculous lime-green stretch suit with black thigh-high boots. She looked alive and vibrant. Beautiful. Even Meg had trouble looking away.

“Captain Wad,” Mama said, her overly plucked eyebrows frowning just enough to convey emotion but not enough to create wrinkles. “We’ve received an emergency message from the boys in the dehydratin’ pod. They said somethin’ about mosquitos.”

Dehydratin’.

As if a microbotanist on a Martian space station had to be from Alabama. Meg hated the fake accent. And Mama had used it ever since. Said her fans expected it of her. Sadly, they probably did.

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