Distant Shores Page 17


She kissed him back. They made love in the quiet, familiar way that had evolved over the last decade. When it was done, he rolled away from her and went to sleep.

Elizabeth inched away from him. She laid her head on her pillow and listened to the ordinary rhythm of his breathing. She couldn't help but remember how wonderful their lovemaking used to be. For years, even as the marriage had begun to go stale, their passion for each other had remained. Now, even that spark had gone out.

Still . . . they'd been married so long. More than half of her life had been spent with Jack. She'd thought they'd grow old together in this house. Foolishly, she'd believed his promise to live here forever.

Even last week, when she'd looked into her own future, she'd seen them on the porch together, white-haired and smiling, sitting on the wrought-iron garden bench, watching their great-grandchildren play.

Now when she looked into their future, she couldn't see anything at all.

TEN

Jack walked up Broadway, elbowing his way through the crowd. He'd been in New York two weeks, and already he felt like a local.

It had always been one of his favorite cities. As a boy, growing up in the small, depressed logging town of Aberdeen, Washington, watching his parents work themselves into early graves, he'd had two dreams--one was to play football in the NFL, the other was to live in a city full of lights-camera-action. He'd always longed to be a big fish in the biggest pond, and now, after fifteen anonymous, wasteland years, he was BACK.

Fox's corporate apartment was right in the thick of it all: Midtown. It was a killer location, with great restaurants on every block. If you had a craving for a Krispy Kreme doughnut at three o'clock in the morning, by God, there was a way to get one. He loved everything about this city, but mostly, he loved that in only two weeks he'd become someone again.

It was only going to get better. The show, Good Sports, hadn't aired yet, but the industry talk was already hot, and in television, buzz was the Holy Grail. Fox had been running an endless series of We've-Got-Jumpin'-Jack-Flash-and-Warlord-together-again promotions. Their faces were everywhere, on billboards, on busboards, on commercials.

It would gather steam, Jack knew. The celebrity thing always did. It was like the old commercial: she told two friends . . . and he told two friends . . . and the next thing you knew they were saving you a corner table at Le Cirque.

He turned onto Fiftieth Street and headed home. Funny how he already thought of it that way. An impersonal one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen smaller than most bathrooms, and it was home.

A doorman let him into the building. He walked through the narrow, marble-floored lobby to the elevator. On the twenty-fourth floor, he got out.

Inside the apartment, everything was exactly as he'd left it. There was a half-empty bottle of beer on the kitchen counter, and the latest Sports Illustrated lay open on the coffee table. In his absence, no one had come along and tidied up after him. He could pick up reading right where he'd left off.

He walked past the shadowy minikitchen. In his bedroom, he kicked off his shoes. One hit the wall with a thunk; the other tumbled across the creamy berber carpet and disappeared under the unmade bed.

He sat down on the twisted pile of white sheets and blankets. He hadn't made the bed since he'd moved in. That was only one of the changes Elizabeth would make.

Elizabeth.

He flicked on the bedside lamp and saw the apartment through her eyes. It wouldn't be good, her reaction to these tiny rooms. Birdie, who loved color and texture and art, would label this place boring. She'd immediately begin a frenzied search for "the" place to call home. The thought of it exhausted him.

He loved her, but lately, it was easier to be apart. It made him feel like a real shit, that admission, but there was no reason to lie. Not here, sitting on this bed that was big enough for two but had been damned comfortable for one.

Here he was at last, poised on the ledge of everything he'd ever wanted. The city, the money, the fame.

But his dream wouldn't match hers. Whatever it was that she longed for--the "turn" she whined about (and he had no idea what that was)--she wouldn't find it in a one-bedroom apartment with a bathroom too small for a towel rack. Her window box would have to be the size of a TV dinner, and she'd rather look down on a toxic waste site than a busy street.

She'd want to live in an established suburban neighborhood, maybe in Connecticut or Westchester County, in a traditional house with a yard big enough to hold her precious roses and a living room capable of displaying all her carefully chosen furniture.

But he'd done it her way.

He'd spent two years in that godforsaken soggy rain forest, miles away from anyone who mattered. He'd done it because it was her "turn" to have the house of her dreams, but had she really thought they'd live there forever? Hell, the only place in the United States with worse year-round weather was Barrow, Alaska.

When he'd lost football and kicked the drug habit, he'd tried to settle onto the responsible adult track. He'd lived in respectable houses in good school districts in towns so far from the limelight they were pitch dark by eight o'clock at night. No more.

Now it was his turn.

His stomach grumbled loudly, reminding him that he hadn't eaten since breakfast. Without bothering to check the fridge, he grabbed his coat.

Outside, the streets were busy. He ducked into one of his favorite new haunts, a bar-and-grill that boasted a big-screen television and all-you-could-eat buffalo wings on game nights.

He waved at the bartender and settled into a booth in the back. When the waitress came to his table, he ordered a beer and a cheeseburger. Within minutes, she was back with his beer.

He was reaching for a napkin when a woman scooted into the seat opposite him.

"Can I sit with you a second?"

He was so surprised he couldn't do anything but nod.

She looked incredibly out of place in the bar. She was wearing a flesh-colored floor-length strapless gown that tucked in at her tiny waist. A huge white silk flower was pinned between her breasts. She looked like an extra on Sex and the City.

--- Read books free online at novel68.com ---


She gave him a tired smile and raised her hand. When the bartender saw her, she yelled out, "Double tequila straight shot with a Budweiser back. Patron tequila, please." She grinned at him. "Thank Jesus there was a bar nearby."

She was beautiful, and young. Maybe late twenties.

"I'm Jack," he said.

She plopped a glittery designer handbag on the table and scouted through it, finally finding her cigarettes. When she lit up, he smelled cloves. "I'm Amanda." She looked at him, exhaled. "I know you. You're the new guy over at Fox Sports, right? They're spending a buttload to promote you and Warren. I work at BBDO, by the way. Sports ads are my life."

"Really?"

"You're better looking in person. I guess you hear that all the time."

He tried not to be pleased, but the compliment poured through him like a restorative.

"You're probably wondering why I'm wearing this ridiculous dress. My sister just got married. I was in the wedding."

The bartender came over and set her drinks on the scarred table between them. He looked at Jack. "You want another one?"

Jack noticed that he'd drained his glass already. When had he done that? "Sure."

"You got it."

Amanda picked up the first shot glass and drank the tequila in one head-thrown-back swallow. Then she drank the second one, slammed her flat palm on the table and giggled. "Yee-ha. I needed that." She looked at him, smiling brightly. "I'm not an alcoholic, not even of the Bridget Jones variety, but this wedding has been a nightmare. My sister, who is all of twenty-four, by the way, has snagged herself one of those Ferrari-drivin', TriBeCa-livin' dot.com boys. And I have to show up at the wedding without a date. You'd think with eight months' notice, I could at least find one man worth spending the evening with but noooo. I have to show up alone and hear every white-haired lady in the place say, 'So, Amanda, when will we be coming to your wedding?' Christ." She looked at him. "You'd certainly shut the old biddies up."

He had no idea what she was talking about, so he smiled politely and nodded.

She grinned, leaning forward. "Will you do it?"

"Do what?"

"Come to the reception with me. It's at the Marriott. We could have a few free drinks, eat some of the food that's costing my dad more money than a trip to Greece. There's a great band."

He leaned back, trying suddenly to put distance between them.

She looked down at the ring on his finger. "It wouldn't be a date. Really. Just a fun night out."

Promise me, Elizabeth had said to him only two weeks ago, promise me you won't become the man you were before.

"You'd be saving me. Really." She raised her hand to signal the bartender that she was ready to pay; then she stood up and reached for his hand.

At the last second, he drew back. If he touched her, he might weaken, and it was weakness that had sent him down that forbidden road so many years ago. "I can't do it," he said softly. "I'm sorry."

She stood there a minute, looking down at him. Finally, she smiled. "She's a lucky woman. Well, wish me luck. I'm back into the fray."

After she left, Jack looked down and saw that his hands were trembling. He felt like a man who'd swerved just in time to avoid a head-on collision.

Elizabeth looked down at her list. After two weeks of working like a dog, she was nearing the end. Only the kitchen remained unpacked.

She stood in the empty living room. Gone were the beautiful striped chairs she'd re-covered herself, and the down-filled blue-and-yellow toile sofa. Gone, too, were the family photographs that used to line every available surface. Most of them had been put in storage; a few, the ones she couldn't live without, had been shipped to Jack in New York.

In place of her many treasures stood cardboard boxes. Dozens of them, each one marked with a title she'd chosen carefully. In two days, the movers she'd hired would come for this final load, truck them over to the storage facility, and it would be time to go.

She released her breath slowly. It was better not to think about that. If she looked too far ahead, she lost strength.

It was just a house, after all. She reminded herself of that at least fifty times a day.

She had spoken to Jack daily since he'd left. He sounded happier than he'd been in years. He adored his new job. Each time she hung up, she found herself praying, Please, God, let me find that again, too . . . let us find it.

At four-thirty, the doorbell rang. She'd been expecting it, but still she jumped at the noise.

I'm not ready yet.

Not that she had a choice. She squared her shoulders, smoothed her wrinkled clothes, and went to the door.

Sharon Solin stood on the porch, with her arms pressed close to her sides. She wore a blackwatch plaid skirt and a navy scoop-necked angora sweater. Elizabeth was reminded of Love Story--Jenny Cavilleri doing her first walk-through of a potential rental house.

"Mrs. Shore?" she said, extending her hand. "I'm Sharon Solin."

"Call me Elizabeth, please. Come in."

"It's beautiful," Sharon said when she stepped inside.

Elizabeth had no trouble seeing it through Sharon's eyes. The living room was bright, with butter yellow walls and glossy white crown molding. A pair of oversized windows let in a glorious amount of sunlight, even on this dreary winter's day. The oak floors, stripped and refinished by her own hand, seemed to capture all that golden light.

Prev Next