Between Sisters Page 42


“I wanted children.” She practically hurled the words at Meg. “He was the one who didn’t. He should have to pay for that, too. He took away the best reproductive years of my life.”

“Robin. You’re forty-nine years old.”

“Are you saying I’m too old to have a child?”

Well, no. But you’ve been married six times and frankly, you have the mental and emotional stability of a two-year-old. Believe me, your never-conceived children thank you. “Of course not, Robin. I’m simply suggesting that the children approach won’t help us. Washington is a no-fault state, you remember. The whys of a divorce don’t matter.”

“I want the dogs.”

“We’ve discussed this. The dogs were his before you got married. It seems reasonable—”

“I was the one who reminded Lupe to feed and water them. Without me, those Lhasa Apsos would be hairy toast. Dead by the side of the pool. I want them. And you should quit fighting with me. You’re my lawyer, not his. I can hardly live on twenty grand a month.” She laughed bitterly. “He still has the jet, the place in Aspen, the Malibu beach house, and all our friends.” Her voice cracked and, for just a moment, Meghann saw a flash of the woman Robin O’Houlihan had once been. A now-frightened, once-ordinary girl from Snohomish who’d believed a woman could marry her way to the top.

Meghann wanted to be gentle, say something soothing. In the old days, it would have been easy. But those days were gone now, stamped into muddy nothingness by the stiletto heels of a hundred angry wives who didn’t want to work and couldn’t possibly live on twenty grand a month.

She closed her eyes briefly, wanting to clear her mutinous mind. But instead of a quiet darkness, she flashed on an image of Mr. O’Houlihan, sitting quietly in the conference room, his hands clasped on the table. He’d answered all her questions with a sincerity that surprised her.

No prenuptial, no. I believed we’d last forever.

I loved her.

My first wife died. I met Robin nearly ten years later.

Oh. Yes. I wanted more children. Robin didn’t.

It had been one of those uncomfortable moments that occasionally blindsided an attorney. That sickening realization that you were leading the wrong team.

Simply put, she’d believed him. And that was no good.

“Hel-lo. I’m talking here.” Robin pulled a cigarette from her quilted Chanel bag. Remembering suddenly that she couldn’t smoke in here, she jammed it back in her purse. “So, how do I get the house in Aspen? And the dogs.”

Meghann rolled the pen between her thumb and forefinger, thinking. Every now and then the pen thumped on the manila folder open in front of her. It sounded vaguely like a war drumbeat. “I’ll call Graham and hash this through. Apparently your husband is willing to be very generous, but trust me on this, Robin. People get pissed off over a lot less than a beloved dog. If you’re going to go to the mat for Fluffy and Scruffy, be prepared to give up a lot. Your husband could yank the houses from the table in an instant. You better decide how important those dogs are.”

“I just want to hurt him.”

Meghann thought of the man she’d deposed more than a month ago. His look had been sad—worn, even. “I think you already have, if that’s any consolation.”

Robin tapped a long scarlet fingernail against her teeth as she stared out toward Bainbridge Island. “I shouldn’t have slept with the pool guy.”

Or the meat delivery boy or the dentist who bleached your teeth. “This is a no-fault state, remember.”

“I’m not talking about the divorce. I’m talking about the marriage.”

“Oh.” There it was again, that flash of a real person hiding behind the decoupage of expensive makeup. “It’s easy to see your life in retrospect. It’s too bad we don’t live life backward. I think it was Kierkegaard who said that.”

“Really.” Robin was clearly disinterested. “I’ll think about the dogs and let you know.”

“Act fast. Graham said this offer lasts for thirty-six hours. After that, he said it was ring time. Round one.”

Robin nodded. “You seem awfully timid for someone they call the Bitch of Belltown.”

“Not timid. Practical. But if you’d prefer other representation—”

“No.” Robin slung her purse over her shoulder and headed for the door. As she opened it, she said, “I’ll call you tomorrow.” Without looking back, she left. The door clicked shut.

Meg let out a heavy sigh. She felt pummeled, smaller somehow.

She set the file aside, and as she did, she thought of Mr. O’Houlihan’s sad face again.

No prenuptial, no. I believed we’d last forever.

This was going to rip his heart out. It wouldn’t be enough to break his heart. Oh, no. Meghann and Robin were going to take it one step further and show him the true character of the woman he’d married. He’d find it damn near impossible to trust his heart the next time.

With a sigh, she checked her schedule. Robin had been her last appointment. Thank God. Meghann didn’t think she could handle another sad story of failed loved right now. She packed up her papers, grabbed her purse and briefcase, and left the office.

Outside, it was a balmy early-summer night. The hustle and bustle of rush hour traffic clogged the streets. In the market, tourists were still crowded around the fish stand. White-aproned vendors threw thirty-pound king salmons through the air to one another: at every toss, tourists snapped photographs.

Meghann barely noticed the familiar show. She was past the fish market and down to the vegetables when she realized what route she’d chosen.

The Athenian was the next doorway.

She paused outside, smelling the pungent familiar odors of cigarette smoke and frying grease, listening to the buzz of conversations that were always the same, ultimately circling back to Are you here alone?

Alone.

It was certainly the most accurate adjective to describe her life. Even more so now that Ali was gone. It was amazing how big a hole her tiny niece had left behind.

She didn’t want to go into the Athenian, pick up some man she didn’t know, and bring him back to her bed. She wanted—

Joe.

A wave of melancholy came with his name, a deepening of the loneliness.

She pushed away from the doorway and headed home.

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In the lobby of her building, she waved to the doorman, who started to say something to her. She ignored him and went into the elevator. On the penthouse floor, the elevator bell clanged, and she got out.

Her apartment door was open.

She frowned, wondering if she’d left it that way this morning.

No.

She was just about to slink back into the elevator when a hand appeared in her doorway; it held a full bottle of tequila.

Elizabeth Shore stepped out into the hallway. “I heard your transatlantic cry for help, and I brought the preferred tranquilizer for the slutty, over-the-hill set.”

To Meghann’s complete horror, she burst into tears.

TWENTY-THREE

JOE WAS ALMOST FINISHED FOR THE DAY. IT WAS A GOOD thing because he actually had places to go and people to see.

It felt good to look forward to something, even if that something would ultimately cause him pain. He’d been drifting and alone for so long that simply having an itinerary was oddly calming.

Now he lay on his back, staring up at the dirty underside of an old Impala.

“Hey there.”

Joe frowned. He thought he’d heard something, but it was hard to tell. The radio on the workbench was turned up loud. Willie Nelson was warning mamas about babies that grew up to be cowboys.

Then someone kicked his boot.

Joe rolled out from underneath the car.

The face looking down at him was small, freckled, and smiling. Earnest green eyes stared down at him. She squinted just a bit, enough to make him wonder if she needed glasses, then he realized that his worklight was shining in her face. He clicked it off.

“Smitty’s in the office,” he said.

“I know that, silly. He’s always there. Did you know that the sand in Hawaii is like sugar? Smitty lets me play with the tools. Who are you?”

He stood up, wiped his hands on his coveralls. “I’m Joe. Now, run along.”

“I’m Alison. My mom mostly calls me Ali. Like the gator.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Ali.” He glanced up at the clock. It was 4:00. Time to get going.

“Brittani Henshaw always says, ‘See you later, Ali Gator,’ to me. Get it?”

“I do. Now—”

“My mom says I’m not ’posed to talk to strangers, but you’re Joe.” She scrunched up her face and stared up at him. “How come your hair is so long? It’s like a girl’s.”

“I like it that way.” He went to the sink and washed the grease from his hands.

“My backpack has Ariel on it. Wanna see?” Without waiting for an answer, she scampered out of the garage. “Don’t go anywhere,” she yelled back at him.

He was halfway to his cabin when Alison skidded in beside him. “See Ariel? She’s a princess on this side and a mermaid on the other.”

He missed a step but kept moving. “I’m going into my house. You better run along.”

“Do ya hafta poop?”

He was startled into laughter by that. “No.”

“You wouldn’t tell me anyway.”

“I definitely would not. I need to get ready to go somewhere. It was nice to meet you, though.” He didn’t slow down.

She fell into step beside him, talking animatedly about some girlfriend named Moolan who’d cut off all her hair and played with knives.

“They have school counselors for that kind of behavior.”

Alison giggled and kept talking.

Joe climbed the porch steps and opened his door. “Well, Alison, this is where—”

She darted past him and went inside.

“Alison,” he said in a stern voice. “You need to leave now. It’s inappropriate to—”

“Your house smells kinda funny.” She sat on the sofa and bounced. “Who’s the lady in all the pitchers?”

He turned his back on her for a second; when he looked again she was at the windowsill, pawing through the pictures.

“Put those down,” he said more sharply than was necessary.

Frowning, she put it down. “I don’t like to share my stuff, either.” She glanced at the row of photographs. There were three of them along the living-room window and two on the mantel. Even a child recognized an obsession when she saw one.

“The woman in the pictures is my wife. Diana.” It still hurt to say her name aloud. He hadn’t learned yet to be casual about her.

“She’s pretty.”

He gazed at a small framed montage of shots on the table nearest him. Gina had taken those pictures at a New Year’s Eve party. “Yes.” He cleared his throat. It was 4:15 now. Getting late. “Don’t you have someplace to be?”

“Yeah.” She sighed dramatically. “I gotta go give Marybeth my Barbie. Mine.”

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