Distant Shores Page 34


"Mr. Shore? Your car is here."

"Thanks, Billy. I'll be right down," he said, going back to Jamie. "My car is here, honey. I've got to run."

"But I need to talk to you."

He looked around for his coat. Where had he left it? "What is it?" he asked, checking under the bed. It wasn't there. He kept looking. For a small apartment, he seemed to lose an awful lot of stuff in it.

"I'm quitting the swim team."

Ah, there it was. He grabbed the black lambskin blazer off the kitchen table. Then it hit him. He stopped. "You're what?"

She sighed again; her favorite form of communication lately. "I'm quitting the swim team."

He glanced at the clock again: 6:43. The movie would start in seventeen minutes. If he left right now, he'd be on time. Any later . . . "You're just having a rough time, honey. You've had them before, but you know how much you love the sport. Back when I was playing for the--"

"Not another football anecdote, please. And I don't like swimming. I never did."

It was 6:46.

He sat down on the end of the bed. "You're exaggerating, as usual. Believe me, it's hard to be the best. I know. And sometimes the--"

"--training rips your guts out. I know, Dad. I've heard it all before. But you're not listening. I'M QUITTING! At the end of this season, I'm done. Over, finished, wet no more. If I never see another nose plug, it'll be too soon. I would have discussed it with you last week, but you never called me back. I'm going to tell coach tomorrow."

"Don't do that." He didn't know what to say and he didn't have time to think about it now. "Look, honey, I have to run. Honest. I've got important business tonight. People are counting on me. I'll call you back tomorrow, and we'll talk about this. I promise."

"You do that." She paused. "And, Dad?"

"Yeah?"

"Strangers aren't the only people who count on you. How come they're the only ones that matter?" Before he could respond, she hung up.

What in the hell did she mean by that?

Then he remembered what Elizabeth had said to him on the phone. Something like, I can't keep you and your daughters on track anymore. Your relationship with Jamie is up to you.

They both acted like he'd been distant, unaware of what was going on in his own family. But that was ridiculous. He'd known what was important--to give his girls all the opportunities he'd never had. He'd worked sixty to seventy hours a week to make a good living, and then he'd coached every sports team Jamie had joined.

He slammed the phone onto its cradle and left the apartment. By the time he reached the lobby, he was pissed off. He slid into the town car's backseat and shut the door.

Strangers aren't the only people who count on you.

He flipped open his cell phone and punched in his daughters' number.

Stephanie answered. "Hello?"

"Hi, honey, is Jamie there?" He realized a second too late that he'd been abrupt. Stephanie wore her fragile emotions on her sleeve; her feelings needed Woolite care. Unfortunately, he always seemed to remember that a split second too late. "I'm sorry, babe. Your sister just called. She threw me a real curve ball. I didn't mean to be rude."

"I understand. No one can make you crazier than Jamie."

"Is the princess at home?"

"She just left with her boyfriend."

"Keith?"

"Keith is so yesterday, Dad. You'll have to call more often if you want to keep up with Jamie's love life."

The driver glanced in the rearview mirror. "Here we are, Mr. Shore."

"Thanks. Hang on a minute, Steph." He signed the voucher and got out of the car. Marquee lights tossed yellow streaks across the rain-slicked pavement. A throng of celebrity watchers and paparazzi milled in front of the theater. They stood cordoned behind a red velvet rope. Jules Asner was interviewing some man in a tuxedo.

As Jack emerged from the town car, camera lights flashed in his face. He smiled, waved, and kept walking.

In the lobby, he found a quiet corner. "Stephanie?"

"I'm here, Dad. What's all that noise?"

"It's a film premiere. There's a real crowd."

"Cool. Any movie stars?"

"George Clooney is supposed to show up, and Danny DeVito. And one of those teenybopper girls; I can't remember her name."

"That sounds awesome. Have fun."

"We'll talk tomorrow, okay, honey? You can tell me everything that's going on with--" genetics . . . microbiology . . . physics. He knew she'd changed majors, but he couldn't remember which it was now. Shit. "--your life."

"You promise?"

"You bet. And tell Jamie I'll talk to her, too."

"Okay. We'll be home tomorrow morning until eleven. Will that work?"

"It's a date. Love you, Steph." He snapped the phone shut and put it back in his pocket.

Inside the theater, he found a seat on the aisle.

The theater filled up quickly. Finally, a young man walked onto the stage; his ponytail was at least six inches long and thinner than a pencil. He wore a wide-ribbed red turtleneck sweater with sleeves that hung past his fingertips, and a pair of wrinkled brown corduroy slacks. His shoes were clogs. Clogs.

A hush fell over the crowd.

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"I'm Simon Aronosky. I directed the film you're about to see. True Love is the tragic, yet ultimately uplifting story of a woman in a coma. The deepness of her sleep is a metaphor for life itself. The film explores the hard choices a husband must make to keep his family together. After the show, I'll be available to answer a few questions. Oh, and be sure to fill out the comment cards on your way out. The mice at Disney want to know what you thought."

The theater lights dimmed. The credits started.

A Northwest Diversified Entertainment production . . . A Simon Aronosky film . . .

George Clooney.

Thea Cartwright.

The film, shot in black and white, opened on a close-up of Thea's face. She was sitting at a kitchen table, making out a grocery list. She was illuminated by a single candle. Her blond hair, long and a mass of curls, seemed to be woven of a dozen shades of gray and white. But it was her eyes that held the camera. Big, smoky-dark eyes that seemed to promise the world.

God, she was beautiful.

Jack tried to concentrate on the film, but he'd never liked black and white much, and it was definitely one of those chick tearjerkers that no one really liked but made a shitload of money.

He was awakened by the sound of applause.

The lights came up.

Simon walked, slump-shouldered, back onstage. He was smiling and laughing. "Thanks. I'll answer any questions you have, but first I'd like to introduce you to our star. Ladies and gentlemen, Thea Cartwright."

Jack straightened.

Thea walked onto the stage, and even from this distance, she was radiant. Flashbulbs erupted, cameras clicked and whirred, people applauded wildly.

She wore a skimpy black top that plunged almost to her nipples, and a pair of skintight, flare-bottomed low-rise jeans. Her belt buckle was a rhinestone-studded T. Her black sandals had knife-sharp stiletto heels.

She waved to the crowd, then ran a hand through her chopped blond hair. "Hey, New York," she said, grinning, "how'd you like my movie?"

The audience went wild.

"Who wanted to try kissing my character to wake her up?"

More applause. For the next thirty minutes, Jack watched her seduce a room full of strangers. By the end, they were eating out of her hand. There was something in her luminous black eyes that made every man--including Jack--think she'd singled him out, that her smile meant something.

"Well, guys," she said, lowering her voice to a sexy, disappointed purr, "I've got to run now. They've scheduled me for a few more things tonight. Ciao."

And she was gone.

The director came back onstage. Jack couldn't hold back a groan. The last thing he wanted to do was listen to Mr. Generation-X wax poetic about art in a chick flick. He left the theater. There was an after-premiere party scheduled at a nearby restaurant. He'd go, have a drink, then head home.

He was the first one to arrive at the restaurant. A guard at the door asked for his invitation, looked it over, then nodded. "Go on in."

Jack walked past an open-air, stainless-steel kitchen where chefs in white hats were working their magic. The tables were empty now; waiters in tuxedos stood around, waiting for the party to start.

He walked up to the bar, ordered a Dewar's on the rocks.

Someone came up beside him. "Hey, Jack. I see you got my invitation."

He turned, and there was Thea, smiling at him. "You put me on the guest list?"

"I needed something to look forward to at this grinfest. So, where's your handler?"

"Sally?" He laughed. "She's running down facts for an upcoming show. She wanted to see your movie, too. It was . . . good, by the way."

She smiled, a little too brightly to be real. "I hope so. My last one bombed so fast I saw it on the airplane on the way to the premiere. I need a hit." As if she realized what she'd just revealed, she laughed easily and took a sip of her cosmopolitan.

In the other room, a band started to play. Soft, romantic mood music that no one would be able to hear when the crowd hit.

"Dance with me," she said, putting her glass down on the bar.

"Thea . . ." His mouth was so dry he couldn't manage more. He understood suddenly why a man lost at sea would finally drink the ocean water.

She snuggled closer, slipped her arms around his neck.

They stood eye to eye. She moved slowly, seductively. He couldn't help himself; his arms curled around her. He frowned, noticing how thin she was. Bony, even.

It was the first time in more than a dozen years that he'd held another woman, and it reminded him of his old life. Images of other women tumbled through his mind, memories of long, hot, wet nights spent in hotel beds.

And of the night it had come to an end.

He'd been at Tavern on the Green with a woman he couldn't now remember. Another pretty blonde. It had been one of those flawless late spring days in New York; the smog and humidity of summer hadn't yet arrived.

They'd been outside, dancing cheek-to-cheek beneath the light of a hundred Chinese silk lanterns. The band had been playing "My Romance." That, he wouldn't forget.

Jack had heard a sound, something out of place. He'd turned, and there was Birdie, standing on the edge of the grass with her handbag clutched to her chest and tears streaming down her cheeks.

Before he could get through the crowd, she was gone. When he'd gotten home that night the house was empty. She'd taken the children to a hotel.

There was no note. Instead, on their big king-size bed, Birdie had left an open suitcase beside a framed picture of their family.

Her point had been obvious: Choose.

He'd stared at the open suitcase forever.

Then he'd closed it and put it away.

Thea drew back. "Is something wrong?"

He was saved by a sudden noise. People streamed into the restaurant in a buzzing, chattering throng.

"Damn." She eased away from him, smoothed her hair. "I'm staying at the St. Regis, Presidential suite. I'm listed as Scarlett O'Hara. Come see me after the party."

He wanted to say yes.

We're separated, for God's sake. And at Birdie's insistence. That gives you carte blanche, Jacko, said his bad side, the part of him that had been quiet for years.

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