Between Sisters Page 20


Lordy it’s good to see my girl again, she’d cried out loudly enough that everyone nearby stopped to stare. A hushed buzz of recognition twittered through the crowd.

It’s her, someone said. Tara Zyn from Starbase IV.

Claire had fought the urge to roll her eyes. She stood up, her hand clasped tightly around Alison’s. Hey, Mama. It’s good to see you again.

Mama had swooped down on one knee in a movement that sent silk wings flying up on either side of her. Is this darlin’ little thing my granddaughter?

Hello, Mrs. Sullivan, Alison had said, stumbling awkwardly over the name she’d practiced for a week. Claire had been sure that Mama wouldn’t appreciate the word Grandma. In print, she claimed to be looking forward to her fiftieth birthday.

Mama had studied Alison carefully. For a moment, only that, a kind of sadness passed through her blue eyes. Then that smile was back. You can call me Nanna. She reached out one bejeweled hand, stroked Ali’s curly hair. You’re the spittin’ image of your mama.

I’m not allowed to spit, Mrs. . . . Nanna.

Mama had looked up. She’s spunky, Claire-Bear. Just like Meggy. Good for you. It’s the spunky ones that make it in life. I think she’s the most well spoken two-year-old I’ve ever had the pleasure o’ meetin’.

That’s because she’s four, Mama.

Four? Mama popped to her feet. Oh, honey, I don’t think so. Y’all were just in the hospital. Now, let’s hurry along to the snake house. That’s m’favorite. And I’ve got to be back t’my hotel in an hour for an interview with Evenin’ Magazine. Later that afternoon, Meghann had shown up and the four of them had walked silently through the Seattle Center, pretending they had something in common.

It used to hurt Claire to remember that day. Not so much anymore. The wound had healed over, grown a layer of thicker skin. She’d long ago quit wishing for a different mother. It was a hope that had once crippled her; she’d had to let it go. Like her dream of a sister who was also a best friend. Some things just didn’t turn out the way you wanted, and a girl could only cry for so many years.

She glanced up at the clock on the oven. It was almost one o’clock.

In only a few hours, Meghann would be here.

“Great,” Claire muttered.

“My sister called me last night.”

Harriet sat back in her chair. It made a squeaking sound at the movement. “Ah. No wonder you actually kept this appointment. I’d begun to despair.”

“I missed one appointment. That’s hardly a big deal. I called to cancel and I paid for it.”

“You always assume that money is the answer.”

“What’s your point, Harriet? Today you’re being so obscure even Freud couldn’t follow you.”

“I understand that you were upset at our last appointment.”

Meghann’s eye started to twitch. “Not really.”

Harriet stared at her. “Don’t you understand that being upset is part of healing? You need to stop running from your emotions.”

“That’s what I’m trying to do, if you’ll listen. I said, my sister called last night.”

Harriet sighed. “Is that unusual? I was under the impression that you spoke to Claire quite often; you just never talk about what matters.”

“Well, that’s true. We call each other every few months. Always on holidays and birthdays.”

“So what is remarkable about last night’s conversation?”

Meghann’s eye twitch kicked into high gear. She could barely see. For no reason at all, she found it difficult to sit still. “She’s getting married.”

“Take a deep breath, Meg,” Harriet said softly.

“My eye is batting like an Evinrude motor.”

“Breathe.”

Meghann felt like an idiot. “What in the hell is wrong with me?”

“You’re scared, that’s all.”

Identifying the emotion helped. She was scared. She released a pent-up breath slowly and looked at Harriet. “I don’t want her to get hurt.”

“Why do you assume that marriage will hurt her?”

“Oh, please. I notice you’re no longer wearing that one-karat solitaire on your left hand. I don’t suppose taking it off was a song-inspiring moment of joy.”

Harriet fisted her left hand. “Many sisters rejoice when they hear this kind of news.”

“Not the ones who handle the divorces.”

“Can you separate yourself from your job?”

“This isn’t about my job, Harriet. My sister is in trouble. I have to save her.”

“Is she in love?”

Meghann waved her hand impatiently. “Of course.”

“You don’t think that matters?”

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“They’re always in love in the beginning. It’s like going out to sea on a huge throat lozenge. The water disintegrates it. After a few floating years, you’re swimming with nothing to hold you up. Then the sharks move in.”

“That would be people like you.”

“This is no time for lawyer jokes. I have to save my sister before she marries the wrong man.”

“How do you know he’s the wrong man?”

Meghann fought the urge to say, They all are. That admission would only fill up another round of observations and questions. “He’s practically jobless. They’ve known each other less than a month. He’s a musician. He lets people call him Bobby Jack. Take your pick.”

“Are you jealous?”

“Yeah. I want to marry an itinerant Country and Western singer who can’t even headline at Cowboy Bob’s Western Roundup in Lake Chelan. Yes, Harriet, you’ve hit the core of it this time. I’m jealous.” She crossed her arms. “He’s probably marrying her for the so-called resort. He’ll try to talk her into building condos or dentists’ offices.”

“That would show some initiative.”

“Claire loves that tired piece of land. She would hate to pave over it.”

“I thought you said the land was underdeveloped and that Claire was wasting her life there. I believe you mentioned building a spa on the property.”

“You’re completely missing the point.”

“The point being that you need to ride in on a white horse and save her.”

“Someone has to protect her. I want to be there for her this time.”

“This time.”

Meghann looked up sharply. Of course Harriet had pounced on the two words that mattered. “Yes.”

Harriet leaned forward. “Tell me about the day you weren’t there for your sister.”

Meghann stiffened, drew back. The chair squeaked as it rolled backward. “That’s not what this is about.”

“You’re smarter than that, Meg. I don’t have to remind you that everything between you and Claire is about the past. What happened?”

Meghann closed her eyes. Obviously, she was in a weakened state, because the sour memories were there, waiting to crowd to the front of her mind. She shrugged, tried to appear casual as she opened her eyes and looked at Harriet. “You know it all. You just want to hear me go through it.”

“Do I?”

“I was sixteen. Claire was nine. Mama went to Los Angeles for the Starbase IV audition and had so much fun she forgot about the kids she left in Bakersfield. For her, it was a common oversight. Then Social Services started poking around. They threatened to put us into foster care. I was old enough to run away, but Claire . . .” She shrugged. “So I pulled a Nancy Drew and tracked down Sam Cavenaugh—her biological dad. I called him. Sam couldn’t save his daughter fast enough.” Meg heard the adolescent hurt in her voice. Even now, all these years later, the memories of that summer were hard to bear. She hated to remember how much she’d wanted Sam to be her father, too. Meg straightened. “None of this old shit matters. Sam was a great father to Claire. Everyone ended up happier.”

“Everyone? How about the girl who lost her mother and sister and had no father to turn to?”

The observation hurt. Meghann had never been able to discover her own father’s name; all Mama ever called him was That loser. “Enough. Tell me this, Harriet. Is it smart to marry a man you’ve known a few weeks? Would you like it if your daughter did what Claire is doing?”

“I’d have to trust her, wouldn’t I? We can’t live other people’s lives for them. Even if we love them.”

“I do love Claire,” Meghann said quietly.

“I know you do. That’s never been the issue, has it?”

“We have nothing in common. It doesn’t mean I want to see her throw her life away.”

“Oh, I think you have something in common. You lived together for nine years. That’s a lot of shared memories. I get the feeling that you used to be best friends.”

“Before I dumped her off with a man she barely knew and then ran away? Yeah. We were best friends before that. But Claire wanted a daddy, and once she got one . . . well . . .” Meghann glanced at the intricately cast crystal desk clock. It was 4:00. “It’ll take me almost two hours to reach Hayden at this time of day. Our traffic is just terrible, don’t you think? If we would elect a mayor instead of—”

“Meg. Don’t go off on one of your rants. Today is important. Claire may harbor certain animosities against you.”

“I’ve told you she does.”

“And yet you’re going to race up to Hayden in your expensive car and butt into her life.”

“I’d characterize my involvement as saving her from herself. Just handing out some obviously overlooked information.”

“Do you think she’ll appreciate your help?”

Meghann winced. Claire would probably not be pleased. Some people had trouble accepting certain facts. “I’ll be pleasant about it.”

“You’ll pleasantly tell her that she shouldn’t marry a singer with no real prospects.”

“Yes. I know I can be abrasive at times, and opinionated to the point of oppression, but this time I intend to choose my words carefully. I won’t say loser or gold digger or stupid. She’ll be hurt, but she’ll see that I’m only trying to look out for her.”

Harriet seemed to wait an inordinately long time before she asked, “Do you remember how love feels?”

Meghann couldn’t follow the segue, but she was glad to quit talking about Claire. “I married Eric, didn’t I?” Number two on the hit parade of bad decisions.

“What do you remember about your marriage to Eric?”

“The end of it. I’ve had headaches that lasted longer than my marriage.”

“Why did it end?”

“You know this. He cheated on me. With most of the Seahawks’ cheerleaders and half the wait staff at the Bellevue Hooters. He was absolutely ardent in his pursuit of silicone. If only he’d shown so much drive in his career.”

“Do you remember when he proposed?”

Meghann sighed. She didn’t want to think about that day. It had all happened so long ago. The candlelit room, the trail of white rose petals that led to the king-size bed, the music coming from another room, a soft, instrumental version of Air Supply’s “All Out of Love” that was playing on the radio. “I proposed to him, if you must know. I’ve never been good at waiting, and it took Eric an hour to pick out a pair of socks.”

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