Between Sisters Page 3


After this meeting, she’d believe it.

Meghann looked at her. “As I told you at our last meeting, May, I hired a private investigator to check into your husband’s financial affairs.”

“It was a waste of time, right?”

No matter how often this scene played and replayed itself in this office, it never got any easier. “Not exactly.”

May stared at her for a long moment, then she stood up and went to the silver coffee service set out on the cherry wood credenza. “I see,” she said, keeping her back to Meghann. “What did you find out?”

“He has more than six hundred thousand dollars in an account in the Cayman Islands, which is under his own name. Seven months ago, he took almost all of the equity out of your home. Perhaps you thought you were signing refinance documents?”

May turned around. She was holding a coffee cup and saucer. The porcelain chattered in her shaking hands as she moved toward the conference table. “The rates had come down.”

“What came down was the cash. Right into his hands.”

“Oh my,” she whispered.

Meghann could see May’s world crumbling. It flashed through the woman’s green eyes; a light seemed to go out of her.

It was a moment so many women faced at a time like this: the realization that their husbands were strangers and that their dreams were just that.

“It gets worse,” Meghann went on, trying to be gentle with her words, but knowing how deep a cut she’d leave behind. “He sold the practice to his partner, Theodore Blevin, for a dollar.”

“Why would he do that? It’s worth—”

“So you wouldn’t be able to get the half you’re entitled to.”

At that, May’s legs seemed to give out on her. She crumpled into her chair. The cup and saucer hit the table with a clatter. Coffee burped over the porcelain rim and puddled on the wood. May immediately started dabbing the mess with her napkin. “I’m sorry.”

Meghann touched her client’s wrist. “Don’t be.” She got up, grabbed some napkins, and blotted the spill. “I’m the one who’s sorry, May. No matter how often I see this sort of behavior, it still sickens me.” She touched May’s shoulder and let the woman have time to think.

“Do any of those documents say why he did this to me?”

Meghann wished she didn’t have an answer to that. A question was sometimes preferable to an answer. She reached into the file and pulled out a black-and-white photograph. Very gently, as if it were printed on a sheet of plastique explosives instead of glossy paper, she pushed it toward May. “Her name is Ashleigh.”

“Ashleigh Stoker. I guess I know why he always offered to pick Sarah up from piano lessons.”

Meghann nodded. It was always worse when the wife knew the mistress, even in passing. “Washington is a no-fault state; we don’t need grounds for a divorce, so his affair doesn’t matter.”

May looked up. She wore the vague, glassy-eyed expression of an accident victim. “It doesn’t matter?” She closed her eyes. “I’m an idiot.” The words were more breath than sound.

“No. You’re an honest, trustworthy woman who put a selfish prick through ten years of college so he could have a better life.”

“It was supposed to be our better life.”

“Of course it was.”

Meg reached out, touched May’s hand. “You trusted a man who told you he loved you. Now he’s counting on you to be good ole accommodating May, the woman who puts her family first and makes life easy for Dr. Dale Monroe.”

May looked confused by that, maybe even a little frightened. Meghann understood; women like May had forgotten a long time ago how to make waves.

That was fine. It was her lawyer’s job anyway.

“What should we do? I don’t want to hurt the children.”

“He’s the one who’s hurt the children, May. He’s stolen money from them. And from you.”

“But he’s a good father.”

“Then he’ll want to see that they’re provided for. If he’s got a shred of decency in him, he’ll hand over half of the assets without a fight. If he does that, it’ll be a cakewalk.”

May knew the truth that Meghann had already surmised. A man like this didn’t share well. “And if he doesn’t?”

“Then, we’ll make him.”

“He’ll be angry.”

Meghann leaned forward. “You’re the one who should be angry, May. This man lied to you, cheated on you, and stole from you.”

“He also fathered my children,” May answered with a calm that Meghann found exasperating. “I don’t want this to get ugly. I want him . . . to know he can come home.”

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Oh, May.

Meghann chose her words carefully. “We’re simply going to be fair, May. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but you damn sure aren’t going to be screwed over and left destitute by this man. Period. He’s a very, very wealthy orthodontist. You should be wearing Armani and driving a Porsche.”

“I’ve never wanted to wear Armani.”

“And maybe you never will, but it’s my job to make sure you have every option. I know it seems cold and harsh right now, May, but believe me, when you’re exhausted from raising those two children by yourself and Dr. Smiles is driving around town in a new Porsche and dancing the night away with his twenty-six-year-old piano teacher, you’ll be glad you can afford to do whatever you want. Trust me on this.”

May looked at her. A tiny, heartbreaking frown tugged at her mouth. “Okay.”

“I won’t let him hurt you anymore.”

“You think a few rounds of paperwork and a pile of money in the bank will protect me from that?” She sighed. “Go ahead, Ms. Dontess, do what you need to do to protect my children’s future. But let’s not pretend you can make it painless, okay? It already hurts so much I can barely breathe, and it has just begun.”

Across the blistered expanse of prairie grass, a row of windmills dotted the cloudless horizon. Their thick metal blades turned in a slow and steady rhythm. Sometimes, when the weather was just right, you could hear the creaking thwop-thwop-thwop of each rotation.

Today, it was too damn hot to hear anything except the beating of your own heart.

Joe Wyatt stood on the poured-concrete slab that served as the warehouse’s front porch, holding a now-warm can of Coke, all that was left of his lunch.

He stared at the distant fields, wishing he were walking along the wide rows between the trees, smelling the sweet scent of rich earth and growing fruit.

There might be a breeze down there; even a breath of one would alleviate this stifling heat. Here, there was only the hot sun, beating down on the metal warehouse. Perspiration sheened his forehead and dampened the skin beneath his T-shirt.

The heat was getting to him and it was only the second week of June. There was no way he could handle summer in the Yakima Valley. It was time to move on again.

The realization exhausted him.

Not for the first time, he wondered how much longer he could do this, drift from town to town. Loneliness was wearing him down, whittling him away to a stringy shadow; unfortunately, the alternative was worse.

Once—it felt long ago now—he’d hoped that one of these places would feel right, that he’d come into some town, think, This is it, and dare to rent an apartment instead of a seedy motel room.

He no longer harbored such dreams. He knew better. After a week in the same room, he started to feel things, remember things. The nightmares would start. The only protection he had found was strangeness. If a mattress was never “his,” if a room remained unfamiliar territory, he could sometimes sleep for more than two hours at a time. If he settled in, got comfortable, and slept longer, he invariably dreamed about Diana.

That was okay. It hurt, of course, because seeing her face—even in his dreams—filled him with an ache that ran deep in his bones, but there was pleasure, too, a sweet remembrance of how life used to be, of the love he’d once been capable of feeling. If only the dreams stopped there, with memories of Diana sitting on the green grass of the Quad in her college days or of them cuddled up in their big bed in the house on Bainbridge Island.

He was never that lucky. The sweet dreams invariably soured and turned ugly. More often than not, he woke up whispering, “I’m sorry.”

The only way to survive was to keep moving and never make eye contact.

He’d learned in these vagrant years how to be invisible. If a man cut his hair and dressed well and held down a job, people saw him. They stood in line for the bus beside him, and in small towns they struck up conversations.

But if a man let himself go, if he forgot to cut his hair and wore a faded Harley-Davidson T-shirt and ragged, faded Levi’s, and carried a ratty backpack, no one noticed him. More important, no one recognized him.

Behind him, the bell rang. With a sigh, he stepped into the warehouse. The icy cold hit him instantly. Cold storage for the fruit. The sweat on his face turned clammy. He tossed his empty Coke can in the trash, then went back outside.

For a split second, maybe less, the heat felt good; by the time he reached the loading dock, he was sweating again.

“Wyatt,” the foreman yelled, “what do you think this is, a damn picnic?”

Joe looked at the endless row of slat-sided trucks, filled to heaping with newly picked cherries. Then he studied the other men unloading the crates—Mexicans mostly, who lived in broken-down trailers on patches of dry, dusty land without flushing toilets or running water.

“No, sir,” he said to the florid-faced foreman who clearly got his kicks from yelling at his workers. “I don’t think this is a picnic.”

“Good. Then get to work. I’m docking you a half an hour’s pay.”

In his former life, Joe would have grabbed the foreman by his sweaty, dirty collar and shown him how men treated one another.

Those days were gone.

Slowly, he walked toward the nearest truck, pulling a pair of canvas gloves out of his back pocket as he moved.

It was time to move on.

Claire stood at the kitchen sink, thinking about the phone conversation with Meg yesterday.

“Mommy, can I have another Eggo?”

“How do we ask for that?” Claire said absently.

“Mommy, may I please have another Eggo?”

Claire turned away from the window and dried her hands on the dish towel hanging from the oven door. “Sure.” She popped a frozen waffle into the toaster. While it was warming, she looked around the kitchen for more dirty dishes—

And saw the place through her sister’s eyes.

It wasn’t a bad house, certainly not by Hayden standards. Small, yes: three tiny bedrooms tucked into the peaked second floor; a single bathroom on each floor; a living room; and a kitchen with an eating space that doubled as a counter. In the six years Claire had lived here, she’d painted the once moss-green walls a creamy French vanilla and replaced the orange shag carpeting with hardwood floors. Her furniture, although mostly secondhand, was all framed in wood that she’d stripped and refinished herself. Her pride and joy was a Hawaiian koa-wood love seat. It didn’t look like much in the living room, with its faded red cushions, but someday, when she lived on Kauai, it would stop people in their tracks.

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