Between Sisters Page 21


Harriet looked pained. “Meghann.”

“What?”

“Why don’t you try that story again? My memory is not as poor as you’d like to think.”

Meghann looked down at her fingernails. For years she’d told stories about Eric’s infidelities. The remark about his ardent pursuit of silicone always got a laugh. It was better that way, she’d learned; better to think of him as a villain. The truth hurt too much. Even Elizabeth didn’t know what had really happened in Meghann’s marriage. But now, somehow, Harriet had ferreted out the facts. “I don’t want to talk about this.”

“Of course you don’t,” Harriet said gently. “That’s why you should.”

Meghann released her breath slowly. “He didn’t go after waitresses. Not as far as I know, anyway. He was faithful to me . . . until he met Nancy.” She closed her eyes, remembering that terrible day when he’d come home crying. I can’t do it anymore, Meg. You’re killing me. Nothing I do is good enough for you. And your love . . . it’s a cold place.

And then, just when she’d felt the start of her own tears and tasted the desperate plea in her mouth, he said, I’ve met someone. She loves who I am, not who I could be if I were more ambitious. And . . . she’s pregnant.

The memories twisted Meghann’s insides, made her feel needy and weak. She couldn’t hold it all inside anymore. “It was so romantic,” she said softly. “The night he proposed to me. The white rose petals were true. So was the music. He poured a glass of champagne and told me that I was his whole world, that he wanted to love me forever and be the father of my children. I cried when he said it.” She wiped her eyes of tears that should have dried long ago. “I should have known how fragile love was, given my family history, but I was reckless. I handled a glass bubble as if it were made of steel. I couldn’t believe how quickly it broke. He left because I didn’t know how to love him enough.” On that, her voice cracked. “You can’t blame him.”

“So, you did love him.”

“Oh, I loved him,” Meghann said quietly, feeling the dormant pain well up and become fresh again.

“It’s interesting that you readily remember the pain of your divorce, but you have to be reminded of the love.”

“No more,” Meg said, standing up. “This is like open-heart surgery without anesthesia.” She looked at her watch. “Besides, we’re out of time. I told Claire I’d be there this evening. I need to go.”

Harriet slowly removed her glasses and looked up at Meghann. “Think this thing through, Meg. Maybe this wedding could bring you and Claire together, give you some new ground to stand on.”

“You think I should just let her marry Bobby Jack Tom Dick and say nothing?”

“Sometimes love means trusting people to make their own decisions. In other words, shutting up.”

“Women pay me handsomely to tell them the truth.”

“Your version of the truth. And Claire is not one of your clients. She’s a woman who is getting married for the first time. A thirty-five-year-old woman, I might add.”

“So I should just smile and hug her and tell her I think it’s great that she’s marrying a stranger?”

“Yes.”

“What if he breaks her heart?”

“Then she’ll need her sister. But she won’t turn to someone who’ll say, I told you so.”

Meghann thought about that. She was opinionated and abrasive, but she wasn’t a dimwit. “Sorry, Harriet,” she said at last. “I don’t agree. I can’t let him hurt her. Claire’s the best person I know.”

“The best person you don’t know, you mean. Clearly, you want to keep it that way. You want to keep her at arm’s length.”

“Whatever. Good-bye.” Meghann hurried from the office.

Harriet was wrong. It was that simple.

Meghann had let Claire down once; she wouldn’t do it again.

It’s stupid to marry a man you just met.

“‘Stupid’ is not a good word choice.”

It’s inadvisable to—

“You’re her sister, not her lawyer.”

Meghann had been carrying on this demented conversation with the rearview mirror for more than an hour. How was it that she came up with closing arguments that would bring a jury to tears and she couldn’t find a simple, compelling way to warn her sister of impending doom?

She drove through the stop-and-go traffic of downtown Seattle and into the flat green farmland of the Snohomish valley. Towns that in her youth had been sleepy little dairy towns now wore the glitzy facade of bedroom communities. Big, brick-fronted, porticoed suburban homes sat on chopped-up pieces of land, their driveways cluttered with SUVs and recreational vehicles. The original clapboard farmhouses had been torn down long ago; only rarely did one peek out from behind a billboard or beside a strip mall.

But as the highway began to climb, that yuppie sheen disappeared. Here, in the shadow of the lavender-gray peaks of the central Cascade Mountains, the towns were untouched by the march of progress. These towns, with names like Sultan, Goldbar, and Index, were too far out of the way to be gentrified. For now.

The last stop before Hayden wasn’t a town at all; rather, it was a collection of buildings on the side of the road, the final place to get gas and supplies before the top of the pass. A run-down tavern—the Roadhouse—sat huddled beneath a blinking neon sign that recommended Coors Light.

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Honest to God, she wanted to pull over, walk into that crowded tavern, and lose herself in the smoky darkness. It would certainly be better than saying to Claire after being separated all these years, You’re making a mistake.

But she didn’t slow down. Instead, she drove the nine miles to Hayden, veered into the exit lane and turned off the freeway. The road immediately telescoped down to two lanes bordered on either side by towering evergreens. The mountains were jagged and cruel-looking. Even in the summer months, snow lay atop their inaccessible peaks.

A small green sign welcomed her to Hayden, population 872. Home of Lori Adams, 1974 State Spelling Bee Champion.

Nineteen seventy-four.

Meghann had first seen this sleepy little town only three years later. Back then, Hayden had been nothing more than a few run-down buildings. The city fathers hadn’t stumbled across the Western motif as a tourist attraction idea yet.

The memory of driving into town was still fresh. She could practically smell the musty odor of Sam’s old pickup truck, practically feel Claire’s thin body tucked in close beside her. Does he really want us? her sister had whispered every time Sam got out to pump gas or check them into a cheap motel. They’d driven from California to Washington in two days; in that time, almost no words had been exchanged between them. Meghann had felt sick to her stomach the whole time. Each passing mile had made her more afraid that calling Sam had been the wrong thing to do. By the time they’d actually reached Hayden, Meg had run out of optimistic answers to her sister’s questions, so she’d simply tightened her hold on Claire. Sam must have been uncomfortable in the silence, too. He’d cranked the radio up. Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” had been playing when they’d pulled up to the resort.

Funny, the things one remembered.

She slowed down. Hayden still looked like the kind of place that welcomed newcomers, where women brought homemade tuna casseroles to the families who moved in across the street.

But Meghann knew better.

She’d lived here long enough to know how cruel these nice-looking people could be to a girl who ran with the wrong crowd. Sure, a small town could comfort a person; it could also turn cold fast. When you’d been raised by a stripper and grown up in a trailer on the wrong side of town, you couldn’t move to Mayberry and fit in.

At least, Meghann hadn’t been able to. Claire had been a different story.

Meghann came to the one and only stoplight. When it turned green, she hit the gas and sped through town.

A few miles later she came to the sign.

River’s Edge Resort. Next Left.

She turned onto the gravel road. The trees on either side were gigantic. Salal and Volkswagen-size ferns grew in their immense shadows.

At the first driveway, she slowed again. A cute mailbox, painted to look like a killer whale, read: C. Cavenaugh.

The once-wild yard had been tamed, trimmed, and planted; it now looked like an English country garden. The house was Martha Stewart perfect—pale, butter-yellow clapboard siding and glossy white trim, a pretty white wraparound porch decorated with hanging pots of geraniums and lobelia.

Meg had been here only once, after Ali was born. All she remembered about that day was sitting on a shabby sofa, trying to make conversation with her sister. Then the Bluesers had descended—Claire’s friends—they’d swarmed into the house like locusts, chattering and buzzing.

For an endless hour, Meg had sat there, sipping weak lemonade, thinking about a deposition that had gone badly. Finally, she’d made some idiotic excuse and slipped away. She hadn’t been back since.

Now she parked and got out of the car. Lugging gifts, she walked up to the front door and knocked.

No one answered.

After a long wait, she walked back to the car and drove the five hundred or so yards to the campground’s main office.

She walked past the swimming pool, where kids were playing Marco Polo, toward the long, narrow log building that served as the registration office. A bell tinkled overhead as she opened the door.

Sam Cavenaugh stood behind the desk. At her entrance, he looked up. His ready smile faded slowly, then reinforced itself. “Hey, Meg. It’s good to see you. It’s been too damn long.”

“Yeah, I’m sure you missed me.” As always, she felt uncomfortable around Sam; angry. Harriet claimed it was because Claire had rejected Meghann in favor of him, but that wasn’t right. She still remembered the day he told her, Go, just leave. He’d thought she was a bad influence on his daughter. But what she’d really hated, the one that stayed with her was just like your damn mother.

They stared at each other. Thankfully, he kept his distance.

“You look good,” he said at last.

“You, too.” Meghann glanced down at her watch. The last thing she wanted to do was stand around not talking with Sam.

“Claire told me to watch out for you. She’s running a little late. The Ford family, over in campsite seventeen, had a little emergency with their stove. She had to go help them out, but she should be back any minute.”

“Good. I’ll wait for her at the house, then.”

“She should be there any minute.”

“You just said that.”

“You’re still tough, aren’t you, Meghann?” he said, his voice soft, a little tired even.

“I had to be, Sam. You know that better than anyone.”

“I didn’t kick you out, Meghann, I—”

She turned and walked away, let the door slam shut behind her. She was halfway to the car when she heard his voice again.

“She’s happy, you know. With this fella,” he said.

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