Distant Shores Page 11


She was his wife. Every woman knew the secret handshake that went along with the church ceremony. You had signed on to be a cheerleader whether you'd known it or not, whether you felt like it or not. Supposedly what was good for one of you was good for both.

How could she admit to being jealous of her husband's happiness and success? And if she dared to voice those poisonous thoughts to Jack, he'd be hurt and confused. He'd give her that frowning look--the one he always wore when she tried to talk about their relationship--and say, very matter-of-factly, Well, Birdie, what is it you want to do?

She had come to despise that question.

So, instead of telling Jack that she felt lost and more than a little abandoned by his sudden happiness, she ripped the hell out of the dining room.

It had been a perfectly functional, if boring, room before, tucked as it was between the kitchen and living room. Like many of the original cottages built along this part of the coast, the house had begun life as a summer getaway for a rich Portland family. Built for limited, high summer use, it had a big main floor with a large kitchen and even larger living room, and two small bedrooms upstairs. Over the years, under a variety of owners, the house had been expanded and remodeled and reshaped. By the time Jack and Elizabeth had stumbled across it in 1999, the poor place had become a jumbled mess.

All Jack had been able to see was the cost: a run-down house with peeling paint and outdated plumbing fixtures . . . bedrooms that were too small, windows that were too thin, a yard gone bad. Not to mention the commute. Echo Beach was quite a drive from Portland.

But Elizabeth had seen past all that, to a beautiful little cottage with a wraparound porch and view to die for. She fell in love with the pouting lip of land that overlooked a secluded curl of beach.

For the only time in their marriage, she put her foot down, and Jack yielded.

She'd started work immediately. In the last two years, she'd made a remarkable number of changes. By herself, she'd stripped things down to the good, old-fashioned bones. She'd ripped up yards of avocado-green shag carpeting and found a beautiful honey-gold oak floor beneath, which she'd refinished. Then she'd painstakingly removed the white paint from the river-rock fireplace and pulled up the plastic molding that ran along the baseboards. She'd scraped fifty years' worth of paint off the kitchen cabinets and replaced the countertops with exquisite granite tiles.

Because she worked alone, her progress was slow. Although she'd finished (mostly) the kitchen and living room, she was still a long way from done. Only last week, the dining room had seemed to be a low priority, much less important than fixing up the master suite. After all, the kids were rarely here anymore, and when they did come home, they were off with friends for dinner. She and Jack didn't entertain much; it was just too far away for most of his colleagues to drive.

But last night had changed her outlook. She wasn't even sure why.

She and Jack had been sitting in the living room, watching television. The phone had rung every fifteen minutes, and he answered every time, talking endlessly about himself and the story.

Elizabeth had heard the resurrection in his voice and it sparked a lot of memories. Few of them were good.

In the early years of their relationship, she'd loved football. Watching him play in college had been thrilling. For an overly protected southern girl who'd been raised to speak softly and only when spoken to, the high-octane world of football had amazed her. Every time Jack won, he brought a dusting of victory and fame home with him. They'd loved each other then, wildly, madly, deeply.

But time had changed that, had changed them. Somewhere along the way--she thought it was when they moved to New York--he'd become a Star, and stars acted differently than ordinary men. They stayed out all night, drinking with their teammates and slept all day, ignoring their wives and children. They slept with other women.

She and Jack had barely made it through those dark and terrible days. What had saved them, ironically, was the end of his fame. When he'd blown his knee out and gotten hooked on drugs, he'd needed Elizabeth again.

Last night, as she'd listened to him talk ad nauseam about himself, she'd glimpsed their future; it was a mirror image of the past.

And suddenly, she'd looked into the dining room and thought, That wall needs a set of French doors.

The next morning, after he left for work, she went to the hardware store, bought herself a paper dust mask and a sledgehammer, and got to work. Every time the phone rang, she smashed the sledgehammer into the crumbling wall.

Now, almost eight hours later, she stood back from her work. She was breathing hard, and her arms ached.

A huge, gaping hole showcased the wet, winter-dead garden beyond. It was, by her precise calculations, exactly the right size for a standard set of French doors.

She scooped up lengths of thick blue plastic sheeting and stapled it across the opening. She'd have to order the doors tomorrow. Hopefully, it wouldn't take too long to get them in stock.

Whistling happily, she went into the kitchen and made dinner. It wasn't much tonight, just a chicken and rice casserole. Truthfully, her hands and arms hurt so badly she could barely open the oven door.

At almost seven o'clock, she heard Jack's car drive up. She couldn't wait to show him what she'd done. He always teased her about how long it took her to make a decision. Well, not today.

She hurried toward the living room.

He was smiling when he walked through the front door.

"Hi," she said, taking his briefcase and coat. "I want to show you--"

"You won't believe what happened to me today," he said. "I tried calling you, but you must have been out."

"I made a couple of trips to the hardware store."

"This was too cool to leave on the message machine. Come here." He looped an arm around her and led her to the sofa. They sat down. He stretched his legs out, planted his feet on the coffee table.

From this angle, she could see through the house to the dining room. A long strip of blue plastic showed. She tapped her foot nervously, waiting for him to notice.

"Guess who called me today?"

She was no good at this game, but it never stopped him from playing it. She glanced at the dining room again. "Just tell me, honey."

"Come on, three guesses."

"Julia Roberts. Muhammad Ali. President Bush."

He laughed. "Close. Larry King's executive producer."

"No kidding?"

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"No kidding. He booked me for Tuesday. He bumped some political bigwig to get me scheduled. And it's not one of those via satellite gigs. I'll be in the studio."

She sat back. "Wow." This was big. She felt a flash of the old pride in him. "You're on your way now."

Your way. She'd chosen her words badly; they excluded her somehow, left her behind.

"He's sending two first-class tickets. We'll have a great time. There's a restaurant I've heard about--Birdie?"

She looked at the dining room, at the gaping hole in the wall. There was no way she could get it finished in time to go with him, and she sure as hell couldn't go out of town with the house like that. There wasn't much crime on the coast, but you still couldn't be crazy. She tried to think of someone she could call, but all of her friends had kids and husbands. They couldn't just pick up and move into this house for a weekend. She supposed she could close the gap with sheets of plywood--if she could find them locally on such short notice--but in truth, the thought of spending a few days all alone was pure heaven.

"What is it, honey?"

She pointed toward the dining room. "I knocked out the wall today."

Frowning, he stood up. As he crossed the room, she knew he was seeing more and more of the plastic. In the archway that separated the two rooms, he stopped and looked back at her. "What in the hell?"

"You know I wanted a bigger window there. It overlooks the garden. Today, I decided on French doors instead."

"Today? You decided today? It takes you seven months to choose a paint color for the kitchen and twenty-four minutes to decide to smash out a wall?"

She lifted her hands helplessly, feeling more than a little stupid. "How was I supposed to know Larry King was going to call you?"

Jack sighed heavily and stepped over the rubble on the floor. Without turning to look at her, he said, "You can't leave the house like this."

She picked her way through the two-by-fours and crumbled bits of Sheetrock on the floor, and came up behind him. Wrapping her arms around his waist, she pressed her cheek to his back. "I'm sorry, Jack."

He turned, took her in his arms. She could see how hard he was trying to be fair. "It's not your fault. I didn't mean to sound like an asshole. You did a lot of hard work here. I'm sure it'll be great."

Why was this always the way of things these days? Nothing came easily anymore, not even a romantic getaway. She ought to want to go on this trip with him. In the old days, she would have moved a mountain to make it possible. "It shouldn't be this hard," she said softly, realizing that he'd said the same thing to her only a few weeks before.

"Not tonight, Birdie," he said, drawing back. She knew what he meant. She didn't have the energy for another what's-wrong-with-us discussion, either.

She forced herself to smile. "Well. Let's go figure out what you're going to wear. I might need to get Mrs. Delaney out of bed for a rush dry-cleaning job."

He smiled back, and though it was tired, that smile, it was the effort that mattered. "I was thinking about that navy suit you bought me at the Nordstrom's anniversary sale this summer."

"With the yellow tie and shirt?"

"What do you think?"

What do you think? That was a well too deep to explore; better to keep on the surface of the water. "I think you'll look incredibly handsome."

"I love you, Birdie."

"I know," she said, wishing the emotion came as easily as the words. "I love you, too."

WINTER

Woman must come of age by herself . . .

She must find her true center alone.

--Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

SEVEN

On this cold, bleak winter's day, not a glimmer of sunlight pushed through the heavy gray clouds.

Jack checked into the hotel and went up to his suite. There, he hung up his garment bag and immediately headed for the ornate cherry armoire in the sitting room. He chose a tiny bottle of Chivas Regal from the minibar and poured himself a drink.

The phone rang.

He knew it would be Birdie. She'd always had an uncanny ability to pinpoint the very second he'd arrive in his room. "Hello?"

"Mr. Shore?"

He sat down on the bed. The ice rattled in his glass. "This is Jack Shore."

"I'm Mindy Akin, one of the producers. A car will pick up you and Ms. Maloney tomorrow afternoon at three o'clock."

"Thank you."

You and Ms. Maloney. There was something ominous in that sentence. He wondered--and not for the first time--if it would have been better to come alone.

But Sally had earned this trip. And they'd sent two first-class tickets; it would have been stupid to waste one.

Besides, he wouldn't have invited Sally if Elizabeth had come. So, really, it was his wife's fault that Sally would be staying in a room right down the hall.

He had barely hung up the phone when it rang again.

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