Between Sisters Page 25


“No. Yes. Sometimes. You know how it is when you’re drinking margaritas on a bad day. Karen calls her sister Susan the Soulless Psychopath. Claire calls you Jaws.”

Meghann wanted to smile but couldn’t. “Oh.”

“I remember when she moved here, you know,” Gina said softly. “She was quiet as a mouse and cried if you looked at her the wrong way. All she’d say for years was that she missed her sister. I didn’t find out until after graduation what had happened to her.”

“What I’d done, you mean.”

“I’m not one to judge. Hell, I’ve waded through some ugly shit in my life, and motherhood is the hardest job in the world. Even if you’re grown-up and ready for it. My point is this: Claire was wounded by all of that, and sometimes, when she hurts the most, she turns into Polly Politeness. She’s really nice, but the temperature in the rooms drops about twenty-five degrees.”

“I’ve pretty much needed a coat all day.”

“Stick with it. Whether she admits it or not, it means a lot to her that you’re here.”

“I told her I’d plan the wedding.”

“You seem perfectly suited for it.”

“Oh, yeah. I’m a real romantic.” She sighed.

“All you have to do is listen to Claire. Really listen, and then do whatever you can to make her dream come true.”

“Maybe you could get the info and report back to me. Sort of a CIA-like mission.”

“When was the last time you sat down for a drink with your sister and just talked?”

“Let’s put it this way: We wouldn’t have been old enough to have wine with our meal.”

“That’s what I thought. Go with her now.”

“But Alison—”

“Sam can take care of Ali. I’ll let him know.” She opened her purse and dug through it, finally pulling out a scrap of paper. She wrote something down and handed it to Meghann. “Here’s my cell phone number. Call me in an hour and I’ll let you know Ali’s schedule.”

“Claire won’t want to go with me. Especially not after I nixed the dresses.”

“And fell asleep. The snoring was especially poignant. Anyway, I got the impression from Claire that other people’s needs or wants didn’t matter much to you.”

“You don’t pull any punches, do you?”

“Thus, the divorce. Take Claire out for dinner. Go see a movie. Look at wedding flowers. Do something sisterly. It’s about time.”

THIRTEEN

CLAIRE KNEW HER LIPS WERE DRAWN IN A TIGHT, unyielding line that communicated displeasure. She’d honed that skill; the ability to convey anger without having to form the words that would make her feel regret afterward. Her dad often remarked on this talent of hers. Lordy, Claire, he’d say, no one else can yell at me without saying a word. Someday all that silent anger of yours is gonna back up in your throat and choke you.

She glanced sideways at her sister, who was behind the wheel, driving too fast, her black hair flapping behind her like some celebrity starlet’s. Sunglasses that probably cost more than Claire’s net worth covered her eyes. “Where are we going?” she asked for the fourth time.

“You’ll see.” Always the same answer. Clipped and unadorned. As if Meghann were afraid to say more.

She’d fallen asleep.

It wasn’t as if Claire asked much of her sister. Hell, nothing was farther from the truth. She hadn’t expected her sister to join in the fun of buying a wedding gown. God, no. Meghann enjoy a day with girlfriends? Hardly.

What galled most was that Claire had asked Meg’s opinion first, even with Gina and Charlotte right there. Claire had put her neediness on the table: What do you think, Meghann?

She’d asked her twice. After the second time, she rectified her mistake and ignored Meghann completely.

Then she’d heard the snores.

That was when she’d felt the sting of tears.

It hadn’t helped, of course, that all of the dresses had been wrong, or that even ugly dresses were expensive these days, or that, by the end of the afternoon, she’d actually begun to think that a white sundress might be more practical. That had only brought the tears closer. But now Claire was just plain mad. Meghann would ruin this wedding; there was no doubt about it. Her sister was like an airborne virus. Ten seconds in the room with her and you began to feel sick.

“I need to get back to Ali,” Claire said, also for the fourth time.

“You will.”

Claire took a deep breath. Enough was enough. “Look, Meg, about planning my wedding. Honestly, you—”

“We’re here.” Meg tucked the silver Porsche into an empty parking spot on the street. Before Claire could respond, Meghann was out of the car and standing by the meter. “Come on.”

They were in downtown Seattle now. Her sister’s territory. Meg probably wanted to show off her hugely expensive condo.

Claire frowned. They were parked at the base of a long, slowly rising hill. Up ahead—maybe six blocks away—she could see the Public Market. Behind them, also several blocks away, was the ferry terminal. A street musician played a sad tune on a saxophone; the music floated above the traffic noises. To their left, a waterfall of concrete steps spilled down the courtyard of a condo complex. Across the street was a Diamond Parking lot, the stalls mostly empty on this non-game day.

“Do you live here?” Claire asked as she grabbed her bag and climbed out of the sports car. “I always pictured you in some sleek high-rise.”

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“I invited you to my place a ton of times.”

“Twice. You invited me over once that day Mama was in town for the el creepo convention and once for Christmas dinner. You canceled the Christmas dinner because you got the flu, and Mama took us out for dinner at Canlis instead.”

Meghann looked surprised by that. “Really? I thought I was always asking you to see my place.”

“You were. You just never set up a day and time. I was always supposed to stop by when I was in town. News flash: I’m never in town.”

“You seem a little hostile today.”

“Do I? I can’t imagine why.” Claire slung her purse strap over her shoulder and fell into step beside Meghann, who was marching uphill like Patton. “We need to talk about the wedding. Your performance this morning—”

“Here,” Meghann said, stopping suddenly in front of a narrow white door flanked by windows on either side. A small iron-scrolled sign read: By Design. A man in a severe black suit was busily undressing a mannequin behind the glass. He saw Meghann and waved her in.

“What is this place?”

“You said I could plan your wedding, right?”

“Actually, that’s what I’ve been trying to discuss with you. Unfortunately, your listening skills are seriously underdeveloped.”

Meg opened the door and went inside.

Claire hesitated.

“Come on.” Meghann waited for her in front of an elevator.

Claire followed.

A second later, the elevator pinged and the doors slid open. They went in; the doors closed.

Finally, Meghann said, “I’m sorry about this morning. I know I screwed up.”

“Sleeping is one thing. Snoring is another.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

Claire sighed. “It’s the story of our lives, Meg. Don’t you get tired of it? One of us is always sorry about something, but we never—”

The elevator doors opened.

Claire gasped.

Meg had to lay a hand on her shoulder and gently shove her forward. She stumbled over the off-kilter threshold and into the store.

Only it wasn’t a store. That was like calling Disneyland a carnival.

There were mannequins everywhere, poised perfectly, and dressed in the most beautiful wedding dresses Claire had ever seen. “Oh, my God,” she breathed, stepping forward. The gown in front of her was an off-the-shoulder creation, nipped at the waist. Ivory silk charmeuse fell in folds to the floor. Claire felt the fabric—softer than anything she’d ever touched—and peeked at the price tag. It read: Escada $4,200.

She let go of it suddenly and turned to Meghann. “Let’s go.” Her throat felt tight. She was a little girl again, standing in the hallway of a friend’s house, watching a family have dinner together.

Meg grabbed her wrist, wouldn’t let her go. “I want you to try on dresses here.”

“I can’t. I know you’re just being you, Meg. But this . . . hurts a little. I work at a campground.”

“I don’t want to say this twice, Claire, so please listen and believe me. I work eighty-five hours a week, and my clients pay almost four hundred dollars an hour. I’m not showing off. It’s a fact: Money is something I have. It would mean a lot to me to buy you this wedding gown. You don’t belong in the dresses we saw this morning. I’m sorry if you think I’m a bitch and a snob, but that’s how I feel. Please. Let me do this for you.”

Before Claire had come up with her answer, a woman cried out, “Meghann Dontess. In a wedding shop. Who would ever believe it?”

A tall, rail-thin woman in a navy blue sheath dress strode forward, her impossibly high heels clacking on the marble floor. Her hair, a perfect combination of white-blond and silver, stood out from her face in a Meg Ryan–type cut.

“Hello, Risa,” Meg said, extending her hand. The women shook hands, then Risa looked at Claire.

“This is the great one’s baby sister, yes?”

Claire heard the barest hint of an Eastern European accent. Maybe even Russian. “I’m Claire.”

“And Meghann is letting you marry.”

“She’s advised against it, actually.”

Risa threw back her head and laughed. “Of course she advised against it. I have heard such advice from her twice. Both times I should have listened, yes, but love will have its way.” She took a step back, studying Claire from head to toe.

Claire fisted her left hand, hiding the tinfoil ring.

Risa tapped a long, dark fingernail against her front teeth. “This is not what I expected,” she said, glancing pointedly at Meghann. “You said your sister was a country girl. Getting married in the middle of nowhere.”

Claire didn’t know whether to smile or smack Meghann in the head. “I am a small-town girl. Meghann used to be.”

“Ah. That must be where she left her heart, yes?” Risa tapped her teeth again. “You are beautiful,” she said at last. “Size ten or twelve, I expect. We won’t need to pad your bra.” She turned to Meghann. “Can she get an appointment with Renaldo? The hair . . .”

“I can try.”

“We must accentuate those beautiful eyes. So blue. It makes me think of Brad Pitt’s wife. The nervous one from Friends. Yes. This is who your sister looks like. For her, I think the classics. Prada. Valentino. Armani. Wang. Maybe a vintage Azzaro. Come.” She turned and began marching away. Her hand snaked out now and then to grab a dress.

Claire looked at Meghann. “Armani? Vera Wang?” She shook her head, unable to say, You can’t do this. They were the right words, the thing she should say, but the denial of this moment caught in her throat. What little girl hadn’t dreamed of this? Especially a girl who had believed in love even after so many broken promises.

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