P PUTNAM'S be DISTRIBUTED BY BEJO READERS DIGEST BOOKS READER'S DIGEST ASSOCIATION (Canada) LTD. CONDENSED BOOKS DIVISION 215 Redfern Ave., Montreal, Oue. H3As 2V9 Editor: Deirdre Gilbert Assistant Editor: Anna Winterberg Design: AndrBe Payette Production Manager Holger Lorenzen (C 1992 The Reader's Digest Association, Inc. (C 1992 The Reader's Digest Association (canada) Ltd. ISBN 0-hhhej-bhj-X All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or parts thereof In any form. FIRST EDITION PRINTED IN THE U.s.a. The apartment building resembled thousands of others in the suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul area-along brick rectangle with three floors, a set of steps on each end, and rows of bruised doors lining stuffy, windowless halls. It was the kind of dwelling where young people started out with cast-off furniture and bargainbasement draperies, where toddlers rode their tricycles down the halls and could be heard through the floors when they cried. Now, at six o'clock on a cold January night, the smell of cooking meat and vegetables sifted under the doors, mingled with the murmur of televisions, tuned to the evening news. A tall woman hurried down the second-floor hall. She looked out of place dressed in a classic winter-white reefer coat bearing the unmistakable cut of a name designer, her accessories--leather gloves, handbag, shoes, and scarf-of deep raspberry red. Pulling the scarf from her head, Bess Curran knocked at the door of number 206. Lisa flung it open and exclaimed, "Oh, Mom, hi! Come on in. I

knew you'd be right on time. Listen, everything's ready, but I forgot the sour cream for the stroganoff, so I have to make a quick run to the store. You don't mind keeping your eye on the meat, do you?" "Stroganoff? For just the two of us? What's the occasion?" Lisa threw on a jean jacket over her dress. "Just give it a stir, okay? And light the candles and put a tape on, will you? That old Eagles one is there that you always liked." The door slammed, and left Bess in a backwash of puzzlement. Stroganoff? Candles? Music? And Lisa in a dress and pumps? Bess wandered into the kitchen. Beyond the galley-style work area, a table was set for four. She studied the table curiously-blue place mats; the leftover pieces of her and Michael's first set of dishes, which she'd given to Lisa; and two blue candles, in holders she'd never seen before, apparently bought specially for the occasion on Lisa's limited budget. What was going on here? She went to the stove to stir the stroganoff, which she couldn't resist sampling. Delicious-her own recipe, with consomme and onions. As she replaced the cover on the pan she realized she was famished: she'd done three home consultations today, grabbing a hamburger on the run. She promised herself, as she did every January, to limit the home consultations to two a day. Going to the front closet, she hung up her coat. She found matches, lit the candles on the dinner table, then lit two others in clear, stubby pots on the living-room coffee table. Beside these a plate held a cheese ball waiting to be gouged and spread onto Ritz crackers. She stood staring at the cheese ball. What the devil? She glanced around and realized that the place was clean for a change. Her old brass-and-glass tables had been dusted, and the cushions plumped on the hand-me-down family sofa. The jet-black Kawai piano Lisa's father had given her for high school graduation hadn't a speck of dust on it. On top of it a picture of Lisa's current boyfriend, Mark, shared the space with a struggling philodendron. The piano was the only valuable thing in the room. When Michael had given it to Lisa, Bess had accused him of foolish indulgence. It made no sense at all-a girl without a college education or a decent car or furniture owning a

five-thousand-dollar piano. Lisa had said, "But Mom, it's something I'll always keep, and that's what a graduation present should be." Bess had argued, "Who'll pay when you have to have it moved?" "I will." "On a clerk-typist's salary?" "I'm waitressing, too." "You should be going on to school, Lisa." "Dad says there's plenty of time for that." "Well, your dad could be wrong, you know”. If you don't go on to school right away, chances are you never will." "You did," Lisa had argued. "Yes, but it was hard, and look what it cost me. Your father should have more sense than to give you advice like that." "Mother, just once I wish the two of you would stop haggling, and at least pretend to get along, for us kids" sake. We're so sick of this cold war" The piano had remained a sore spot. Whenever. Bess came to Lisa's apartment unannounced, the piano held a film of dust on its gleaming jet finish and seemed to be used as a depository for books and scarves and all the other flotsam of Lisa's busy two-job life. Tonight, however, it had been dusted, and on the music rack was the sheet music for Michael's favorite song, "The Homecoming," which in years past Lisa had often played for him. Bess turned away from the memory of those happier times and put on The Eagles' Greatest Hits tape. While it played she used Lisa's bathroom, glancing in the mirror at her disheveled streaky blond hair. After the day she'd put in, she liked undone-her lipstick was gone, her makeup worn away, and there was a small grease spot on the jabot of her raspberry-colored blouse. She frowned at the spot, wet a corner of a washcloth, and made it worse. Just then a knock sounded at the door of the apartment. Bess called down the hall, "Lisa, is that you?" The knock came again, louder, and she hurried to answer it. "Lisa-was She pulled the door open, and the words died in her throat. A tall man stood in the hall-trim, black-haired, hazel-eyed. He was holding a paper sack containing two bottles of wine. "Oh, Michael . . . it's you," she said tightly. He stared in displeasure. "Bess. . . what are you doing here?" "I was invited for supper. What are you doing here?" "I was invited, too."

Bess hustled back to the bathroom to put herself as far from him as possible." The smell of his shaving lotion. She hadn't spent sixteen . setting his bottles on the kitchen counter and taking off his coat. "Cute. "Well. which in years past had seemed endearingly familiar. "Let's get one thing clean" she bellowed down the hall. She's filed for divorce." Bess opened the refrigerator door looking for wine. And-damn you for squandering so much as a second caring what he thinks. She rammed her fingers into her forelock and ground it into a satisfying mess. Inside were four individual salads prettily arranged on plates. hiding?" he called irritably. if it isn't sour cream. were flat with fury. "Your guess is as good as mine." Michael followed her inside. "I didn't know a thing about this 1" "Let's get two things clear! Neither did I! Where is she. Her brown eyes. "She went to the store for sour cream. "What are you doing back there. slashed some of Lisa's scarlet lipstick on her mouth. In the glare of the vanity light she combed her hair hard. "My. Lisa. for catching me when I look this way. where's Darla tonight?" she said. I brought some wine. a bottle of Perrier water. which I'm cheerfully going to stuff up her nostrils when she gets back here. muttering. his hands in the trouser pockets of his gray business suit. in the mirror. . break it out." She took two glasses from the table and held them while he poured the pale red rosy. Damn it. and a pint of sour cream. "What's all this?" he said as she passed behind him. now turned her stomach. She slammed the door. And damn him. and glared at the results." He came and peered over the open refrigerator door. "If you're looking for something to drink. my." Michael was standing by the table studying it. "Dada and I are no longer together. We apparently have a long evening ahead. ." Bess was rattled. and instead released the doorknob and spun away.Bess curbed the desire to slam the door in his face. Michael. anyway?" Bess whacked the light switch off and marched toward the living room with her head high and her hair looking like a serving of chow mein noodles. you don't have to pander to him. After what he did to you. "So . Six years since the divorce. and she still wanted to kill him.

Bess. I don't expect anything anymore." He studied her in silence. Obviously she was happy with the way things had worked out. "Randy doesn't give a damn about seeing me. "Good. "That's right. we'll pretend we're two polite strangers who just happened to meet here. you know that?" "And you're one very contemptible man." Michael prodded. say it. with a store of her own and a newly redecorated house. tossing him an arch glance. distilled moment in which they both saw their entire history in a pure. "Well. I always said it would. "Looks like you gave Lisa the whole living room after I left." which they'd listened to together a thousand times before." "I don't want a rehash. so it was no trouble buying replacements. It was a queer. Until Lisa gets back. The sofa they sat on was one upon which they'd occasionally made love and cooed endearments to one an. "I knew that's what you were thinking." . They sat upon it now. "When was the last time you saw Randy?" she asked." Michael remarked. "You don't expect anything from me anymore. The Eagles were singing "Take It Easy. too?" "I'm not going to get into it with you.years with this man not to feel a mindless shaft of elation at the news that he was free again. "It's making me rich. and met Bess's eyes directly. "So how's the business going" "Gangbusters! I could do half a dozen home consultations a day if there were three of me. took a glass for himself." "Hope. Bess." He shook his head. Michael set the bottle on the counter. All it'll lead to is a rehash of old recriminations. No trouble at all. Bess." Her tone turned accusing. step out on her. Or that he'd failed again. What did you do." "Of course." she replied smugly. resenting one another and the intrusion of these memories. that's funny" She cocked one wrist and touched her chest. "I didn't want any bad memories left behind. "So how's yours?" she inquired. either.j other when they were both young enough to believe marriage lasts forever." "From you. You're one very bitter woman. It serves you both right." They carried their drinks into the living room and dropped to opposite ends of the sofa—com the only seating in the room." "Don't expect congratulations. refined state. way back to the beginning-bath the splendid and the sordid that had brought them to this point." "Oh. She was a certified interior designer now. you had your new business.

But that doesn't excuse you for ignoring him. he had been a happy kid. and hung up. he had changed. He lay on his bed listening to rap music through his headphones." "Still smoking pot?" "I think so. Michael. I'll throw him out." "Randy wouldn't give you a call if you were giving away tickets for a Rolling Stones concert." Bess replied. each of them aware that their divorce had been the blow from which Randy had never recovered. I told him if I ever smell it in there again." Michael said. "But he's careful not to do it in the house. For your information. take him out to dinner. He needs you whether he knows it or not. Our son is a mess. and began coming home at two in the morning with his pupils dilated. "I have called him. Maybe that would straighten him up. If I give up on him.b." "Maybe you should. and we did it to him. "I know he's messed up. take him hunting with you. Bess. When was the last time you made an effort to see him? He's still your son." Their eyes met and held. If he wants to see me. who wore weird hairdos and army jackets." "What do you want me to do." "And he's nineteen. No. their marriage was certainly not their only failure. and eventually found new ones. maybe it wouldn't. didn't we?" He . From the day they'd told him they were getting a divorce. Michael. He stopped bringing his friends home."That's not what I asked. "I've offered him the money to go to college-or trade school-but he doesn't want anything to do with school. Until age thirteen." "Is he still working in that warehouse?" "When he bothers. propping his elbows on his knees. a willing helper around the house. he'll give me a call. He called me an sddo. and graduated from high school with the lowest grade point average allowable. He's my son. the glass in one hand. and I can't straighten him out alone." Michael tipped forward. Bess?" Michael spread his arms wide." "And then. a good student. "I expect you to call him. what hope will he have? He certainly never gets any guidance from his father. He had become withdrawn. uncommunicative-both in school and at home. Make him realize he still has a father who loves him and cares about what happens to him. So what do you expect me to do?" Bess glared at him. He ran away from home when Bess tried to ground him. and I love him.

You're the one who refused to speak to me." Retreating from her mother's arms. "You got custody of the kids because you wanted it. Behind her came the young man whose picture stood on the piano. What about you leaving your family to go to college?" "You still begrudge me that. don't you?" "Mr. Mother. Lisa said. Hello. shaking hands with each . "Missed hugging you the first time around." "If things soured between us. Things had soured between us before I even met Darla. She was nearly his height. Y. but afterwards you were so busy at that store of yours that you weren't around to be their parent!" "How would you know? You weren't around. He's never gotten over you leaving your family for another woman." "Like what?" "Like our marriage broke up because I had an affair with Darla. blame it all on me. Dad. She went neat to hug Bess. "Bess. "Hello. "Don't tell me I wasn't around." She hugged her father first. didn't you? You were going to take those kids and brainwash them and make them believe 1 was the only one in the wrong where our marriage was concerned. don't you. because I've talked to Lisa. and Mrs. but no." Michael leaped to his feet and pointed a finger at her from the far side of the coffee table. with lovely brown eyes. just like you always did. it was because equals The apartment door opened. didn't it?"" He threw up his hands." "That's right. you wanted to show me. and don't lie to me and say different. thereby setting an example for our son to follow. I was willing to be sensible for the kids' sake. Bess clapped her mouth shut but the words of the abandoned argument still reverberated in the air as Lisa rounded the corner into the living room. Mom. dark haired and pretty. take off your blinders. either!" "Because you wouldn't let me in the house! My house! The house I loved just as much as you did!" He jabbed a finger for emphasis. "You both remember Mark Padgett. On the stereo the Eagles switched to "Lyin" Eyes. saying.looked over at her." "Not we. Curran." "Well. Michael? And you still can't believe I actually became a successful interior designer." Mark said. she said. and she's told me some of the garbage you told her.

Tonight is important to me. How'd it go?" she asked blithely. "Just what do you think you're doing!" Bess demanded in a pinched whisper." When they entered the living room. Mother!" Bess. and the brawn of a bodybuilder. and all I'm asking you to do is grow up." Lisa headed jauntily for the kitchen and began filling a saucepan with water. snagging Lisa's elbow and forcing her to do an about-face. I'm putting an end to that. Right behind her came Bess. "I haven't seen either one of you since Christmas. I hope you stirred the stroganoff. "Daddy? Mark? Cheese. had been doing their best at redeeming a sticky situation. "Mark's going to have supper with us.of them. Lisa picked up the plate from the coffee table. "You're forty years old. stunned into silence." Bess snapped. then Lisa carried the plate to Bess. naturally curly brown hair. He had a shiny all-American face. "I certainly did. if I have to humiliate you to do it. seated on the sofa. Mom. "Would you please add these to the water while I finish the stroganoff: Then let's go into the living room and join the men as if we all knew the meaning of gracious manners. "Lisa Curran. "Mother?" she said sweetly. "No. thank you. . What's new?" Somehow they managed to weather the next fifteen minutes. it was clear that the men. Mark and Michael each spread a cracker with cheese. . "Well . glancing from Michael to Bess." she said brightly. From the countertop Lisa snagged a bag of egg noodles and stuffed it into Bess's hands. whispering angrily. but you're acting like a child! For six years you've refused to treat Dad civilly. Well. stared at her daughter. removing the carton of cream. even for your children's sake. Lisa took a seat between the two men. you're not!" Lisa slammed down the carton and faced her mother. your father and I are not a couple of twenty-year olds you can fix up on a blind date!" "No. "There's a pint of sour cream in that refrigerator and you know it! You set us up!" Lisa moved past her mother to the refrigerator. . anyone?" Bess stationed a kitchen chair clear across the room and sat down. full of indignation-and shame-at being reprimanded by her own daughter.

It was one of many small wedges that had insidiously opened a chasm between them. but Bess was discomfitted." put in Mark. bruised at the moment. Mark. breadbasket. and Mark. "recalling that one of the things Michael had criticized after she'd returned to college was her neglecting the chores she'd always done. "You've turned into a good little cook. Finally Lisa took her chair. her forehead shiny." Three people at the table laughed. but that hate stemmed from a fiery pride. too. both parents grossly uncomfortable with Lisa's transparent machinations. you'd appreciate a good home-cooked meal. She still hated him. and pearl barley to thicken it. She had argued. "Mmm . while I get the hot foods?" The older couple sat obediently while the younger one got the sparkling water. "When I found out she could cook.What else do you put in it. so they could scarcely avoid exchanging glances across the candlelit table. Lisa picked up her glass. noodles. Cooking was one of them. pouring. He cubes up a big old slab of sirloin and browns it. . Setting out the four salads. her mother and dad opposite each other. "What about you? Why can't you take over some of the household chores?" But Michael had stubbornly refused to learn. You might at least try for Lisa's sake." "She sure has. "Yup." . I told my mother. while Mark made the rounds. . He had left her for someone ten years younger. "I think I've found the girl of my dreams. Lisa. "Does he ever! His specialty is steak soup." Lisa replied." Bess met Michael's eyes. in the chairs Lisa indicated." The glasses touched. When the glasses were filled. honey?" Bess shot a glance at her daughter. or lunch on her jabot. "Will you open the Perrier. They sat down to eat at seven fifteen. he seemed to be admonishing. conscious again of her disheveled hair and the spot on her jabot and the lack of fresh makeup. Michael tasted his food and said. Lisa requested. Then Bess dropped her gaze. "Mom's recipe. "How about you. "Do you cook?" Lisa answered. stroganoff. and adds potatoes and carrots and. "Here's to a happier decade ahead. and stroganoff. Then Lisa began passing the serving bowls. Mark?" Bess asked.Bess trying to avoid Michael's gaze." Michael was loading his plate. I figured since you're living alone again. was seated. Honey? "Garlic. who undoubtedly never appeared at social functions with her hair on end.

But when did all this happen?" "This weekend. . both of you. Dad ."Mother?" Lisa's eyes settled on Bess.Bess turned to Mark. "Well." The two exchanged another smile." "Now listen." Bess turned from her daughter to her ex-husband. Mark and I love each other. . my goodness. sure. "Well . "My mother made me learn when I graduated from high school. And we want to be married soon. Mother. oh. caught Michael adding it up. . . both of you. Of course. and Mark. They gaped at their daughter. ." Lisa said." "Irons?" Michael repeated. . . but we want to do . "He irons. Congratulations. He thickened his steak soup with pearl barley? Lisa grinned proudly at Mark." Michael cleared his throat. before he swept his uncertain glance back to her. Mark. Lisa announced. and repeat after me. "Daddy. . "Married?" Bess said disbelievingly. We had no idea you were serious about hire." -. "We might as well tell them. as a matter of fact. Lisa. of course. I'm sorry. She works. "Smile. . and Bess His. "What kind of wedding can you plan in six weeks? You can't even find a church in six weeks. I'm actually going to make some woman a I pretty good housewife." "Oh. and she said she had no intention of doing my laundry until I was twenty-five." "Six weeks!" Bess yelped. "We've invited you here tonight to tell you that Mark and I are going to get married." "We can if we're married on a Friday night. "But Lisa. the young man who was shaped like Mount Rushmore." We hardly know this young man. yes . congratulations. too. and we want to get married. . "Oh. . whose neck was so big his collar button wouldn't close. "Mom. "Bess. In six weeks." " Friday night . "say something. They gaped at each other." He forced an uncertain smile." He and Lisa exchanged a smile. Lisa said. Lisa and Mark. dear. . aren't you even going to congratulate us?" "Well . ." With her eyes radiant." Michael admonished quietly." I In almost comical unison. Bess and Michael set down their forks. . Lisa . Congratulations.

say half a year or so. Why shouldn't I wear the dress?" His "I leave that entirely to your mother. . but w'd rather have it-from both of you. "I must apologize. But without . I'm a machinist. "Arid as long as I'm laying out our plans. I've been taken off guard here. We can do this without your cooperation. The truth is. one on either side of me. "I want to wear yours. You were married once. "What about your dress?" "That's where I'll need your cooperation." A meaningful look passed between Lisa and Mark. I want to walk down the aisle between you. You do some kind of factory work. Lisa and I won't have any problems that way. "Oh. and you had me. It's the only wedding present I want from either one of you. I want my mom and my dad both there. I think. I mean. well. I make good the right way. and I have good benefits. Lisa." "Isn't this awfully sudden? You and Lisa have known each other-what-less than a year. and Randy the other. We can be married at Saint Mary's on March second and have the reception at the Riverwood Club." The room fell into silence. "What your mother is trying to say is that she isn't sure it's appropriate under the circumstances. Finally Bess said. Well?"" Bess felt beleaguered. makes last-minute arrangements pretty easy. Mark." "Oh." Bess let her face show clear dismay. couldn't you wait. Randy even said he'll cut his hair. I may as well tell you the rest. whose eyes were very troubled. And I'm pretty sure we can still find a photographer-having it on a Friday night. and you're still my parents. You loved each other. . Mom." "Yes. the tension. Bess?" "Because you're divorced?" Lisa looked from one parent to the' other. please. we're finding out. We both want to have a real church wedding. "I see nothing inappropriate about it at all." Michael glanced at Bess. so here's what we've arranged. I feel as though I barely know you. right. "Mother. what?" Michael spoke. Lisa." Lisa included Michael in her earnest plea. We're only going to have one attendant each-Mark's sister has agreed to be one. and give yourselves time to get to know one another better and .

So none of this was nearly as much of a shock to us as it is to you. and she loves me. We're happy. "Have you told your parents yet?" "Yes. and Mrs. apparently." Bess dropped her forehead into one hand. Lisa. And I do love Mark very much. "I think I should say something here." She bit back a retort about birth control. and we had a little celebration. "and we hoped you'd be. Bess drew a breath and held it." Bess came out of her stupor. We I." Lisa sounded wholly convincing. "You're sure this is what you want to do. naturally. so they got over it. Mark and I had talked about getting married even before I got pregnant. come on now. Lisa and I are going to have a baby. want to get married. relaxed. "We're actually quite happy about it. Lisa?" "Very sure. Lisa sat quietly. asking for our support.. Mr. I think we should give it to them. His cheeks colored." Lisa leaned forward and covered her mother's hand on . This baby could have a lot worse starts than that. Michael covered his mouth with his hand and frowned. "Bess. and we had agreed that we'd both like to have a family when we are young. happy unit? "What did they say?" "Well. but they know Lisa a lot better than you know me. and sat simmering while Michael went on. Mrs. Michael looked up at Mark. he said. Michael interrupted. "You see. remarkably coolheaded. but what could he expect when Mark's family was. "I'm afraid not. I love your daughter. still an intact. without challenge. We've both got jobs and a decent place to live. very much." Mark added. honest we are. His." Michael felt a shaft of disappointment at being list to learn. Curran. and give us a chance to meet your family?" Mark's eyes sought Lisa's." Quietly. Curran. "In this enlightened day and age. Her daughter pregnant and planning a hasty wedding. they were a little surprised at first. last night." An invisible mushroom cloud seemed to form over the table. The kids are doing the honorable thing telling us their plan a wedding properly. Dad. too. and she should be happy? Mark rose and went to stand behind Lisa's chair with his hands on her shoulders.

Good night. Unsure of himself. the product of that optimistic time." "Fine. Bess ing. politely pretending this was not a scenario where parents were running distraught from the announcement that their twenty-oneyear-old daughter was planning a shotgun wedding. Mark hovered. Everyone was waiting for Bess to respond to the news." Michael said. "Thank you. sir. "Would that be okay with you. She felt like breaking down and bawl." They all stood awkwardly a moment. But you aren't leaving yet. Michael and I practically strangers to our future son-in-law. Michael gave Lisa a hug. so Lisa made the move. will you stay and have dessert? It's French silk pie. honey. leaving only the mother and daughter to exchange some good-night gesture." This isn't how it's supposed to be. I've got to be at the store early tomorrow. anxious to escape. Lisa. In the crowded entry. Mom. Lisa.the tabletop. and had to swallow hard before she could speak at all. Curran. she clung. . Whatever happened to girls marrying the boy next door? Those lucky. and Mark gripped it. "Then I'll call you..." Bess rose. Bess found herself unable. I really should be going." "I think I'll pass. "Of course. are you? I've got dessert. too. whom she and Michael had wanted so much. but she wasn't ready yet emotionally. "Mark has wonderful parents. Would you give us a day or two to do that?" "Sure. Lisa.. of rising divorce rates and single-parent homes. . battling tears. however. Michael?" Bess asked him. Bess clutched Lisa and whispered throatily. and finally Bess raised her cheek to touch his gingerly." Then the young man faced Bess." Bess pushed her chair back. I simpler times were bygone with the era of upward mobility. They're anxious to meet you and Dad. Mark." . or Dad will." "It's late. Her precious firstborn." Lisa withdrew her hand and sat back. and right away Mark's mother suggested a dinner party at their house . if you two are agreeable. "Good night. After another clumsy moment Michael offered his hand to Mark. Once Bess felt her daughter's arms around her. her Lisa. "Dad. who now carried their grandchild.". feeling her emotions billow. Mark politely held Bess's coat. Mrs. "We'll talk soon. "Your dad and I need to talk about a few things first.

with his hands in his coat pockets. Michael." For a while neither of them spoke they just stood in the murky hallway. yes. . experiencing a . too. He felt melancholy himself. too. Abruptly she stopped. "I'm sorry." He drew a deep." "No. I've seen you cry before. the other hand to her mouth. I'll call you. I know I should be taking this better." They turned and continued down the stairs. Reluctantly he touched her shoulder." "Then how about The Ground Round on White Bear Avenue?" "The Ground Round would be fine. "t1w. "I just need a little time. her back to him." "When we were married. Bess squeezed Lisa's arm. But this is different. You want to go have a cup of coffee or something?" "Now?" "Unless you really have to hurry home. helpless to stop their daughter's future from taking a downhill dive. He followed. buttoning his coat. "I'm appalled at myself for breaking down in front of you this way. . " j Her words were mined. He stopped on the step above her. "I can't pretend this is anything but terrible. our only daughter and a shotgun wedding." using the pet name Michael had given Lisa long ago." "Of course it is." Michael. For me." His." "Oh. Leelee. but it's such a disappointment. as if she were late for a business appointment. "I know. gripped the rail with one hand. crying. watching her shoulders shape. she sniffed and said." She passed Michael and headed down the hall. Bess. . He opened the plate-glass door for her." Still with her back turned. tired breath and took stock of their surroundings. Mom. in a golden time when they'd all believed they'd live happily ever after. watching her speed along with an air of efficiency. ."I love you. "I don't think I want to discuss it in this hallway. That was just an excuse to escape. waiting with the door open. was touched by Bess's use of the familiar baby name. At the far end of the hall she descended two stairs before her bravado dissolved. . "I love you. Finally she turned to face him.

"Me. the brittleness." Bess said. skeins of gray above his ears. Everything else was new-the professionally streaked blond hair nearly touching her shoulders. Michael. Bess asked." Silence for a moment. . How many times during their courtship and marriage had he opened the door for her? Tonight." "I don't think you're as shocked by all this as I am. and she would damn herself for becoming vulnerable to memory and loneliness. Then reality would return. the expensive clothes. wrapped palm over palm above a paper place mat. Bess had always loved his hands. "this is the last place I expected to end up. . rocky journey back toward amity. The perfume was the only familiar thing about her." "I was shocked when you opened that door. faced with an emotional upheaval. "Listen. wasn't it?" "Yes. Lisa's obvious attempt to revive something between us. Now she drew her gaze from Michael's hands to his face. . Outside. daunted by the admission that she still found him handsome. unexpected moments-in a restaurant or a department storeBess would find herself staring at some stranger's hands and remembering Michael's. For the first time. trailing Bess as he'd done countless times before. She should have known better. when I told Lisa I'd come for supper. Heading in opposite directions toward their cars. she noticed in his head of gorgeous black hair a few His." He chuckled quietly. with long fingers. and the snow crunched beneath their feet. These had all been acquired since their divorce. "Right this way. They sat at a table beside a window and ordered coffee. then. It still is. I'm sorry about all that ." Their coffee came-something neutral to focus on instead of each other." Michael felt the same d6jh vu as earlier. their breath hung milky in the cold air. though. they started the long. it was. .fleeting sense of d6jA vu. too." "It was uncomfortable. He had shapely hands. Bess fixed her gaze on Michael's hands. "I'll see you there." she began. inhaling the faint drift of her perfume the same rosy scent she'd worn for years. the self-assurance. I can tell you that. Chapter Two They met in the lobby of the restaurant and followed a young man who said. discernible only under the direct light. well. "Did you hear what Lisa said to me . it felt reassuring to perform the small courtesy again. When the waitress went away. watching the sway of her coat. at odd. Oftentimes after the divorce. "Well .

"." "So you don't think we should try to talk them out of it?" "No." "She never told me she talked to you so often." "And by the sound of it." Bess said. Why not?" "I didn't say I won't meet them. when she'd talk about Mark's family and how close and loving they are. that's silly.when we were alone in the kitchen?" "No. or Lisa raising a .?" "I have to admit I was impressed with him tonight-facing us head-on instead of leaving it to her to break the news." "So what do you think of Mark. What?" "The gist of her message was. What would the other options be? Abortion." His steady hazel eyes held her brown ones. and that Mark's family knows her better than we know Mark. Doesn't that i impress you?" "I guess so. You've been acting like a child for six years. She sipped her coffee. did you?" "Only in retrospect. Bess. "I can't believe I'm asking this. And now for me it's twice." "When did she talk to you about that?" "I don't know-a couple of different times. I just don't want to. You're putting up a new one right now. It's hard to be with happy families. adoption. "That's what I'm afraid is going to happen to Lisa. and . What it turned out to be was five years of coming to terms with the fact that we really never loved each other." "Well. come on. it hurts to know she's talked to you about these things. After a moment he said. You should see the expression on your face. he comes from a good family." "You put up barriers. . we married each other. but what happened?" He stared at his cup." "Sure it hurts. But why wouldn't the two of them gravitate toward the family that stayed together? It's only natural. Mother." "Aw." li Bess had decided something on the way to the restaurant. "What happened was that Darla and I were the wrong combination from the beginning. that's why. It makes our own failure that much harder to bear. "I don't want to meet them. on the rebound. We were each unhappy in the marriage we had. curious and hesitant. "But the choice isn't ours to make." I had no idea she was so angry about our antagonism. I know what you mean. I don't. . "Grow up." "Yeah. Bess. well.

" "Yup. But the dress. "Oooa . and her wearing my old wedding dress?" They sat silently awhile as they thought about putting on a show of harmony before a couple hundred guests-some who'd been guests at their own wedding." "I thought it was noble of the two of them not to ask for any help." "That's not realistic. it just so happens I'm doing quite well myself. but what kind of scrooge would let his kid lay out money like that when he's earning a hundred thousand a year?" Bess raised her eyebrows. I take it from that that you're going to offer to pay for the wedding. . They eyed each other. Bess?" "I don't know. let's back up to that remark you made about saving five hundred dollars. The idea revolted them both. Well. ." "What do you think about the rest? About us walking down the aisle with her. again." Bess almost laughed. when I bought it. Then she repeated. again. repressing grins." "So you want me to give her the go-ahead for this dinner at the Padgetts'?" "I think we can fake our way through it for her sake." "All right. "You think just because you wore it and the marriage didn't last." Bess sighed. it do if she ware it?" "Oh. I'd foot the bill for the piano moving for life. When the two of them love each other and want to get married? Wouldn't make much sense at all. again. "All right. you dropped that in there very neatly." She looked out the window at passing cars. I say let her wear it. It'll save me five hundred dollars. . And I kind of enjoyed it.What should I say about the dress?" This issue touched closer to home than all the others. Sitting beside him at a wedding banquet . I insist on paying half of everything. imagining herself walking down an aisle with Michael . . . "What do you think. . "I guess I'm just reacting like a mother. "What harm would. wanting a guarantee that her daughter will be happy." "I guess I don't see that we have any choice. Bess." "Need I mention that the piano will have to be moved again?" "I'll pay for it. . the thing is jinxed? Be sensible." "You always were putty in her hands." . Seeing her wedding gown in use .baby alone. "I don't know. Michael. suddenly self-conscious." She looked away. . I told her.

then?" She nodded." "Say hi to the old doll for me. . She'd redone the room since her business had flourished. They paused. Six years before she would gladly have stuck pins in a voodoo doll of Michael Cur ran. and they felt the shock of familiarity. "How's your mother?" "Indefatigable as always. and had gasped in mutual delight. TWENTY minutes later she pulled into the horseshoe-shaped driveway of the house she and Michael had shared. she'd chosen a winner. of security-the kind of house pictured in children's readers-the kind of house where only a happy family would live. in Stillwater." At the door she felt the touch of his hand on her back. then?" "Yes . She shook it. Memories. Minnesota. groping for parting words. Croix River. Tonight. and they hitched their chairs back from the table. They had fallen in love with it on sight. it was a beautifully balanced Georgian-style home. Bess." "I'll do that. good night. she felt an inexplicable touch of pride that once. and from the second story a great fanlight overlooked the front yard. Immediately they broke the contact. on Third Avenue. She still loved it. She heard the growl of Michael's engine as he passed I. and caught a glimpse of a silver Cadillac Seville in the rearview mirror." They turned and went to their separate cars. The place had a look of permanence. long ago. She sighed. "you ready to go. with a center door. will you? I've missed her. and windows on either side. clear across the river to Wisconsin." Michael extended his hand. however. Then Michael spoke."It's a deal. behind her. then they'd gone inside and had seen the magnificent view. "You'll call Lisa. While they were donning their coats he inquired. Bess started the engine in her Buick Park Avenue and sat while it warmed. . She pulled into the garage and entered the service door to the kitchen. Well. The entry was guarded by four fluted round columns supporting a semicircular railed roof. So it was true-he was doing well. . Nothing that had happened since had changed Bess's opinion of the house." Michael said. and had installed plush . and started home." "Night. High above the St. "Well. put her car in gear.

" At the other end of the line. I'm afraid . "The problem is that I'm her mother. "You got home late. What's the problem?" That was one of the troubles with Keith. disconsolate. . and Bess glanced at her watch. Bess dropped her coat onto the long. . thinking of Lisa . but-was "Then what are you so upset about?" . It was difficult to hate a man with whom you were sharing this milestone. "Not so good. . before it. chubby chairs. Of Michael . and of their unborn grandchild." She scooped her hair back from one temple. Keith. "She wants to get married in six weeks. Mark Padgett. He often failed to understand. and how she herself was going to survive this charade Lisa was asking of her." "Then I don't understand. Keith. we're going to have a grandchild. How was the dinner with Lisa?". She picked up the receiver. She wondered what Michael thought about becoming a grandfather. . which was repeated in two deep. . . Bess turned away from the window. My God. She stood looking out at the winter view. The telephone rang." "Oh. The color scheme there was a blend of smoky blues and apricots. She built a fire in the family-room fireplace and sat on the floor . . The thought brought a lump to her throat. Just checking in. "Hello?" "Hi. I want her to marry for love. and she realized there were tears in her eyes. hi. not for expediency. yet in all that time he'd never seemed sympathetic at the moments she needed him to be. Lisa is pregnant. It was going on eleven. loose-cushioned sofa in the family room and went to the window. Keith released a swoosh of breath. and where Randy was. Oh. She had been seeing him for three years. The dots of window light glimmering here and there across the river became starbursts. inspired by the view of the river and the spectacular sunrises that unfolded beyond it." "Doesn't she love him?" "She says she does.cream-colored carpeting in the attached family room. Particularly when it came to her children. Already she was bluer than she'd been in months." I "To the baby's father?" "Yes. and if Lisa truly loved Mark Padgett. The curtains were a blueand-apricot floral.

"I know."It's not that cut and dried."." "Oh. Bess. Known in the trade as a ragman.Michael was there. What was she doing with Keith? Merely using him to slake her loneliness? He had walked into her store one day three years ago." "All right. then made an excuse to leave the apartment so we'd be forced to confront each other. they each . Keith. Yes.. Keith. What time?" "Seven." Silence. Why do you do that?" "Please. Keith" "Well. overnights at her house were out. "Bess. I'd love to go.. I don't like this." Bess became contrite. could we just say good night now? I really have had a rough day. He was a little on the plain side." he said with exasperation. he'd wheeled in a big forty-by twenty-inch sample case and announced that he liked the looks of her store." "Maybe not." "I wasn't asking to stay overnight." After Bess had hung up. but it only took one night to upset you. I haven't spoken a civil word to the man in six years. She invited us both. What I called for was to see if you wanted to go to dinner on Saturday night." He expelled a breath." "My seeing Michael? For heaven's sake. "I won't bother you tonight. not tonight. then?" Bess said. "Keith. and if she would look through his fabric samples while he perused her merchandise." From his silence she anticipated his reaction." "And?" "And it was hellish. and I should go into the shop early in the morning. It's nearly eleven. Bess. Keith." Though Bess and Keith were intimate. "Michael?" "Lisa set us up. I want to come over. I really am sorry. Randy had been hurt enough by his dad. Randy will be home soon. all right.. three years insisting that all men belonged at the bottom of the ocean. when she'd been three years without a man. "You're pushing me away again. of course. He needed a gift for his mother. I mean it. she had made it understood early in their relationship that as long as Randy lived with her. Then. she sat staring at the fire. before Keith said. see you then. but one of the best sales reps she'd ever encountered." Silence again." "I don't think you should. And. what. "I'm sorry.

As she played. he became piqued. he'd never darken her door again. Why she had chosen it. she only smiled. given that Randy was nineteen years old and no dummy. Its rays shone down upon an empty music rest and closed key cover. Bess neither dissected nor cared. the tension . She had tried to explain that she wasn't willing to take that risk again.might find something they liked. Bess switched on the music lamp. If Bess had to say no to him because of a commitment with Lisa. she simply didn't love him enough. He was jealous of Lisa and Randy. never glowed. he had been impeccably polite-no groping. He called a week later and asked if she'd like to go out. After Michael left. He bought a vase trimmed with glass roses. Bess had burst out laughing. a grand piano stood in the shadows-black. and slightly selfish. Michael's song. In the corner where two large windows met. She sighed. She opened the bench and leafed through the sheet music until she found what she was looking for. They had seen each other for six months before their relationship became intimate. The notes shimmered through the darkened room as she found the familiar combinations and struck them. When he kissed her. There were many facets of Keith that displeased her. So the question remained. but when she saw him. that running her business had become her primary source of fulfillment. If not. no sexual innuendos. Then she raised the key cover. "Me Homecoming"-Lisa's song. gleaming. He held that her stand on his sleeping at her house was ridiculous. For two and a half years she'd been saying no and he'd been growing more frustrated by her refusals. Immediately afterward he'd asked her to marry him. There were moments when the sound of the piano would have been comforting. she'd shunned the instrument just as she'd shunned him. On their first date. then rose and wandered into the dining room and on through an archway into the living room. and she was indeed impressed with his samples. Why did she continue to see him? The answer was plain: he had become a habit. So had Keith. Because he had liked piano music so much? How childish. He was nice. The truth was. not even a good-night kiss. never heated. silent since Lisa had grown up and moved away. And of course there was that thing about her children. She wondered why she herself had given up playing. she only warmed. and without him life would have been infinitely more lonely.

and brown eyes with glistening black lashes. She was unaware of Randy's presence. and we watch videos together-stuff like that: She . until she ended the song and he spoke out of the shadows.?" "Randy. get off it. and she began to feel an immense sense of well-being.left her." Randy looked away." Randy worked his shoulders in irritation. I saw him. I think." "Oh. he really loves her. "Sounding good." "I was." "How do you know so much?" "I spend time over there. that's all. and I think she'll be okay. too. I guess you could say that. Now he turned his head infinitesimally and unleashed a lazy quarter smile. one shoulder propped against the dining-room doorframe. dimpled grin. I guess she told you.b. perfect teeth. but now I've had a day to think about it. at first. right. you know? I mean. She cooks me dinner. "I saw him tonight." "Why'd you stop?" "Why'd you stop talking to your dad?" "Why did you?" "I was angry. His hair was black. She wants the kid. "You scared the devil out of me! How long have you been there?" He smiled." He sauntered into the room and sat down on the bench. and had adopted the rough-cut look of the young pop singer George Michael. So you bummed out or what?" "Yeah. Randy was an eye equals Fatcher. and you haven't made any secret of it. "Mom. "How is the sddo. and Mark's okay. "Not long. Now all of a sudden you're buttering up to him?" "I'm not buttering up to him." "Um-hum. trailing in natural curls below his collar in back. You hate his guts as much as I do. "Oh. Randy!" she gasped. like his father's. Mum." "So was L" Bess paused. At Lisa's. with a lopsided. and I won't allow that kind of language. "Been a long time since you played. He was dressed in jeans and a brown leather jacket. and spiked straight up and finger-long on top. you're speaking of your father. He had an unhurried manner. beside her.

but she hated losing him. He reared back and brandished both hands. huh. It probably was time she booted him out of the nest. . Randy went on. then laughed together and hugged. "You're gonna like that. he'll be knockin" on your door again. These children of hers had a relationship that seemed to have left her several years behind. Old love-"em-and-leave-'em Curran." He began to rise. "You better look out.." "Randy Curran." "All right. . someone else moving about." "Lisa told me. alone. there would be only her in this big house." Bess flipped her hands in the air as if to excuse him. "Don't touch. Your father and Darla are getting a divorce. I've told you." "Yeah. Ma?" "You got some girl who's going to miss it?" she teased. He released her." He chuckled. And to cut your hair. "I really don't give a damn. No matter the worries he caused her. karate fashion. no matter how seldom they exchanged banter such as this. reaching as if to pinch his cheek. there was something wonderful about an adult son. When he left. woman!" They poised as if on the brink of combat. moments like this were her recompense. what kind of an-airhead do you take me for?" ." "Lisa said you've agreed to stand up for them . Mom. The next thing you know. but Bess caught his arm. His presence in the house gave her someone to listen for." He rose from the bench. a reason to keep the refrigerator stocked." He gave a disgusted laugh and added. "End of parental duty." Bess's lips formed a silent oh. I sure hope you don't let him do it again."And "And there's going to be a dinner at Mark's parents' home to introduce the two families. I won't embarrass the family. and she smiled affectionately. . He made a fool of you once. . Then she said. "There's one more thing I think you should know. "About the wedding He waited. I know. Can you handle that?" "Lisa and I have already got that covered. and it would be decision time. settling back into his customary nonchalance. "Lisa asked your father and me to walk her down the aisle.helps me get my head on straight. Mark's usually there. Ah. Mom. "Don't worry.

one block beyond. and dried botanicals to a steep stairway that climbed to a tiny loft. Its buildings were of another century-ornate. Even as a child. It appeared. Bess had dreamed of owning her own business. and beneath the molding ran a border strip of blue irises. the loft was an inadequate . Bess's grandmother had grown blue irises in her yard. and turrets-all of them dropping toward the small downtown that rimmed the west bank of the river. Cobbled sidewalks led down the steep side streets on their way to the riverfront. easels. it smelled of the potpourri and scented candles she sold. Stillwater snuggled in a bowl of wooded hills and limestone bluffs that pressed it close against the placid waters of the river. with arched second-story windows above. art prints. then headed for her shop. aoME-SCNPE'S. Cluttered with swatch and wallpaper books. and way back then had known what it would be called. Bess drove down Main Street. It was a frigid. Halfway through it he used it to brake himself and turned back to her. brass picture frames. It was on Chestnut Street. a half-mile strip of commerce. old-fashioned streetlamps out front. "Well. Croix River valley lay under a cloak of winter haze the following day as Bess left home for her shop. The walls were papered in a cream that matched the painted woodwork. mansards. and a sign that read BLUE tats. Chapter Three THE St. peaks. and narrow alleys out back. Croix Club restaurant. you were sitting there playing that sang he always liked. "Yeah. a city of rooftops-steeples. then gave himself a push off the doorframe and left. at first glance. to[*thorngg'I" Randy leveled his gaze on her. Bess had her usual English muffin and coffee at the St. Inside." "It happens to be one I always liked. windless morning. Bess picked her way through the maze of lamps. two doors off Main-an ancient building with two blue window boxes. sure. red brick. with a likeness of the flower underscoring the words. Mom. a blue door.Randy swung away and headed for the dining-room archway." he remarked dryly.

Mrs. and strawberry-blond hair glazed into fashionable disarray. " by any standard. Upstairs. they did. and both appealed to Bess." "Why. we were just delighted. She was staring at a stack of furniture catalogues when the phone rang. Wisconsin. thank you. Curran?" "Yes?" "This is Hildy Padgett. as most were. I know Lisa feels the same way about you. she dropped into her desk chair and opened a turkey-and-sprout sandwich she'd picked up. "Good evening. And thanks. made phone calls. garnet fingernails." "I know. She drove from Stillwater." A friendly voice. and got some designwork done before Heather arrived at nine thirty and called upstairs. Mark's mother. Heather stopped near the top of the stairs-a forty-five-year old woman with stylish tortoiseshell glasses. Padgett. Three house calls left her little time for lunch. it was the loft that kept her there. "Oh. We think the sun rises and sets on your daughter. I know". "And a twelve thirty and a three o'clock. neither cultured nor crude. "Okay. gave her instructions about ordering wallpapers and checking on incoming freight. It's so nice to hear from you." Bess set down her sandwich. It had character and history. Paul. and left the store confident that things would run smoothly while she was gone. across the river to Hudson. "You have a ten-o'clock appointment. Heather." Heather said. Heathen How are you?" "Cold. When they told us they were getting married. Bess flopped onto a wicker settee. It was a hectic day." Heather said. Yet every time she considered giving up the store to get a bigger one." . I'll see you tomorrow." "Mrs." "I understand that Mark and Lisa had supper with you last night and broke the news. you know. Then her footsteps made the loft stairs creak. and got back to the Blue Iris just as Heather was locking up for the night. yes. Bess!" "Morning. Bess headed for the loft." Bess heard the basement door open. exhausted. "Yes. "You had nine calls. hello. and close as her clerk hung up her coat. Blue Iris." When Heather was gone. then to North St. She did paperwork and filing." "I want you to know right up front that Jake and I couldn't be happier. Bess handed Heather various notes.

the same thing happens to Mark." "That's why you really came over. It was at once shattering and gratifying . "Mom. "So how did it go when the two of you left here last night? What did you decide about Mark and me?" Bess's expression became wi/l. and you're only getting married once-at least I hope so." she whispered. "I'm getting married. Bess sat motionless in her chair." "I know. she leaned forward. From the night we met. I just wasn't prepared for it. Just be here at seven. I was sitting there at the store." "Your dad and I just wanted you to know that if for any reason you decide marriage to Mark isn't what you want." Bess sat very still listening to the most stirring description of love she'd ever heard. . we never felt like we had to be phony with each other. Lisa. She hugged Lisa more tightly and a little longer than usual. and we'll get those kids off to a proper start. and that seems to make us stronger. He makes me want to be better than the me I was before. getting all misty-eyed thinking about you. and asked if she might come over for a talk. Mom." Lisa curved an arm around her mother and led her toward the living room. But hove could she put one ordinary date before this? "That sounds fine. what's wrong?" "I guess I'm just being a typical mother." "Saturday night . She longed suddenly to be with Lisa-to touch her. I'm more than I was. When I'm with him. we've given them our blessings." When she'd hung up.Hildy Padgett continued." "Oh. and Lisa put her feet up. dialed Lisa's number. and they want very much for all of us to meet. is all. Thirty minutes later Bess was entering the setting of last night's confrontation with Michael. on Saturday night. "Oh. And the funny thing is. Ignoring the work that needed attention. I love him so much. . not cloistered. "That you're my only daughter. to hold her. It's as if"-Lisa gazed at the ceiling." They sat on the sofa." Her date with Keith. May I bring something?" "Lisa's brother. We can admit our weaknesses. "Well. Mom. in White Bear Lake." "Oh. isn't it? To make sure I'm doing the right thing. and moved to take Lisa in her arms. we'll stand behind you. searching for the proper words-"as if all the negative stuff disappears. either. so I suggested a dinner party here at our house." "Dad wasn't.

and so did Mark." "Good heavens. It was something Bess and Michael had never quite learned. If I had. I wouldn't have been caught so off guard last night. didn't it?" "We've drawn a truce for the duration of the wedding festivities-nothing more. What does Dad think about being a grandpa?" "We didn't discuss it. "You work too hard. "Where have I been while you did all this growing up?" "You were there. The roots are beginning to ." "Mom." "It worked though. "Think about it." "So everything is set for Saturday night? No objections?" "Now that I know how you feel. we're going to lure you away more often. "It's getting late. which translated not only into love but into respect as learn that her daughter had grown up. You handled it okay." "You'll get used to the idea. Lisa said." Rising from the sofa. I'd have seen this relationship between you and Mark blossoming. that Lisa and Mark had discovered how to communicate." "Mark's mother said she was going to call you." "Whew! That's a relief. But I suddenly feel as if I spent too much time at it and not enough with you. Believe me. Then she said. you handled it okay. I can tell you that was an underhanded trick you pulled last night. Mom-Dad and you together again. Have I no privacy at all?" The two of them moved to the apartment door." "You bet you do. Mom. I should go. we'll do it. Now that the emotional part is over. ." "Exactly. What do you think?" "I think my hair needs bleaching." "Oh. I hear a cool note. she did. It's been a long day. huh?" "Yes." "Oooo. Bess tenderly touched her daughter's face. About-the rest-the dress. But I have a feeling that when Mark and I have this baby. Did she?" "Yes. They had found the proper balance between praising one another's virtues and overlooking one another's shortcomings. none." "No. and all of us walking down the aisle together-you'll do it. She's There-nmning my business. yeah? Randy said you were playing "Homecoming' when he got home last night." Bess grinned. Just feature that-my mom a grandma.

" "Oh. he will. you're being intentionally outrageous. Chapter Four SATURDAY night Bess took pains with her hair. The results enlarged her brown eyes and plumped her lips. she wondered why she continued seeing him." "No. I'm really sorry. of course you can't!" Keith snapped. won't he?" "Yes." "Keith. "Keith. Bess. "For heaven's sake." "Yeah. "Well." "Lisa. I can't very well avoid him. Not that she. but I'm going to have to cancel our dinner date Saturday night. Old Keith the ragman is not for you. She had totally lost her earlier melancholy: Lisa truly had a gift for making people laugh at their own foibles. well. Sometimes Keith could be so insufferably childish. Bess. see you Saturday night.Take it from me. fine! Just fine!" Keith shouted into the phone. . She called him the moment she got home. think about it was all I said. and she curled it only enough to give it lift so that it billowed out behind her ears. "Oh. The Padgetts are having a dinner at their house so both sides of the family can meet. wait-was "No." Bess headed for her car. had any intention of reviving anything between herself and Michael. "What's up?" he asked. The thought of Keith brought a frown: he wasn't going to be pleased about her breaking their date Saturday might. Keith. Once again." "Didn't anyone ask you if you were busy?" "Everyone else was able to make it. Bess rubbed her eyes." "I suppose your ex will be there?" Bess massaged her forehead. I hardly thought I could ask them to delay it for me alone. Anyway. give me a call. I understand." Lisa popped a kiss on her mother's mouth. It would probably be best for both of them if she broke it off entirely. when you have time for me." When she'd hung up. Don't worry about me." "Well. there was Keith to consider. "Hey. Just do what you have to do with Michael. It was nearly shoulder the mirror. Her makeup was subtle but applied with extreme care. it's our daughter's wedding. She stared at her reflection.

Unquestionably, she wanted to impress Michael tonight: there was an element of pride involved. Toward the end of their marriage, when she'd been caught up in the rigors of studying for her degree and maintaining a family, he had said during one of their fights, "Look at you-you don't even take care of yourself anymore. All you ever wear is jeans and sweatshirts, and your hair hangs in strings. You didn't look like that when I married you!" How his accusation had stung. She'd been comburning the candle at both ends trying to achieve something for herself, but he'd failed to recognize that her output of time meant some cuts were necessary. So her hair had gone uncurled and she'd forsaken makeup. At the end of a school day, she'd come home to face studying and housework. He'd been raised in a traditional household whose men didn't peel potatoes or run a vacuum cleaner, and when she suggested that he try these, he'd suggested she take fewer credits and resume the duties she'd agreed to do when they got married. His narrow-mindedness had enraged her, and her lack of attention to herself and to the house eventually drove him out. He found a woman at his company, with beautiful curled tresses, who wore Pierre Cardin suits to work every day, and brought him coffee and dialed his clients for him. Had Michael simply left, Bess might have maintained a speaking relationship with him. But he'd left her for another woman-and a stunning beauty at that. The realization had galled Bess ever since. After she'd gotten her degree, one of the first things she did was to lay out three hundred dollars for a professional beauty make-over. She'd learned what colors and styles of clothing suited her best and what shades of makeup to wear. She'd had her hair color changed from muskrat brown to tawny blond, and kept her fingernails meticulously polished in a hue that matched her lipstick. When Michael Curran got a load of her tonight, there'd be no grease on her jabot and no hair out of place. She chose a red-and-black dinner suit with a straight skirt, and with it she wore oversized gold earrings that drew attention to her hair and her rather

dramatic jawline. When the suit jacket was buttoned, she turned to view herself in the mirror, and she was satisfied with her efforts at grooming. She switched out her bedroom light and went down two flights to Randy's room. When he was sixteen, he'd chosen to hole up in an unfinished room on the walkout level because it was twice as large as the upstairs bedrooms. His drums filled one corner, his prized set of Pearls-twelve pieces of gleaming stainless steel. The two concrete block walls behind the drums were painted black. Fanned on one were posters of his idols, Bon Jovi and Motley Crue. One of the two remaining walls was white; the other, covered with corkboard, was i hung with pictures of old girlfriends, band schedules, and prom garters. There was a compact disc player, a television, and a VCR. Among all these, the water bed-sporting disheveled leopard sheets-seemed almost incidental. When Bess came to the door, a Paula Abdul song was blasting from the CD player, and Randy was standing before his dresser adjusting the knot in a skinny gray leather tie. He was dressed in baggy, pleated trousers, a silvery-gray sport coat, and a plaid shirt in muted purple, gray, and white. Though he'd had his hair cut as promised, it still hung to his collar in natural ringlets. Coming upon Randy looking spiffy for once brought a catch to Bess's heart. He was so good-looking, and bright, and charming when he wanted to be, but the path of resistance he'd chosen to take had put so many obstacles between them. She went to the CD player and turned it down. Randy's eyes scanned her outfit. "Lookin' vicious, Mom." "Thank you. So are you. New clothes?" She touched his tie. "It's a hot deal-the elder sister tying the big knot." "Listen, I thought we could take my car and ride over together." "Yeah, sure, whatever you say." She let him drive, deriving a secret pleasure from being escorted by her full-grown son. The ride led them through snow-covered countryside. As they were approaching the city of White Bear Lake, Randy said, "That's where the old man lives-in those condos." Bess caught a glimpse of lights, tall trees, and an imposing building she'd often

admired when driving past. "How do you know?" "Lisa told me." The Padgetts lived on the west side of town in a residential neighborhood. Randy found the house, and they rang the bell. Mark and Lisa answered, followed by a short, brown-haired woman shaped like a chest of drawers. She had a smile that dimpled her cheeks and made her eyes all but disappear. Mark said simply, "This is my mom, Hildy." And Lisa said, "This is my mom, Bess, and my brother, Randy." "Glad to meet you," Hildy Padgett said. They were joined by Mark's father, Jake-straight, tall, thin haired, and smiling. Bess liked the Padgetts immediately. The living room stretched off to the left, filled with people. Standing near the door to the dining room was Michael Curran. Michael had watched Bess come in followed by Randy, looking surprisingly tall in an outsized overcoat with baggy shoulders and a turned-up collar. Lord, Randy had grown upl The last time Michael had seen him was at a distance in a busy shopping center nearly three years ago. When Randy had spied him, the boy had done a brusque right face, disappearing into a store. Now here he-was, taller than his mother and shockingly goodlooking. Michael felt a paternal thrill at the sight of that dark hair so much like his own. He watched Randy shaking hands, giving up his overcoat. Finally Randy's eyes found Michael's, and the smile dropped from his mouth. Michael felt his chest constrict as the past rushed forth to polar- " ize them both. How simple, Michael thought, to cross the room, speak his name, embrace this young man who as a boy had idolized his father, had followed beside him when he mowed the lawn and said, "Daddy, can I help?" But Michael could not move. He could only stand there with a lump in his throat, trapped by his own mistaken past. Bess moved into Michael's line of vision. Her admonitions the other night at Lisa's rang clearly in his head: Randy needs a father. Be one to him. But how? There were four other Padgett children, younger than Mark, and a grandmother and grandfather, all requiring introductions that seemed to shift people like fog. Bess

you know. I couldn't believe it was him. Bess. that happens." "Yeah." he said." "Are you going to talk to him?" "You think he'd talk to me?" "You can give it a try. Michael and Bess were directed to seat themselves side by side at one end of the table. and the others were staggered around." "A band?" "Yeah. still avoiding his father's eyes. nails-mercy. In an undertone he said to Bess. She's right." "How have you been?" Randy shrugged." They trained their eyes on the people in the room. "Your mother tells me you're still working in a warehouse." his eyes casting about beyond Michael's shoulder." Randy said. Michael's stomach felt as if he'd leaped off a second-story roof. As Michael pulled out Bess's chair. In the dining room. Michael. One of them had to make the move. He watched Randy move off. It required a heroic effort. if not more. I'm a failure as a father. "Randy's grown up. "Hello. Mark and Lisa took chairs in the center of one long side. but Michael took the risk. you know?" "You pretty good?" For the first time. "Yeah. "I wasn't sure it was you you got so tall. "Hello. "Hello. then glanced over at Bess and found her watching. hasn't he?" "Has he ever. Covertly he assessed her clothes. Randy stood li across the room with his hands in his trouser pockets. while Hildy and Jake presided at the opposite end. Do you like it?" "What's to like? It's just something to do till I get in with a band." she said. Randy. As much as Randy. had she changed. "Spare me.shook hands with one after another and eventually reached her ex-husband. Jake I Padgett was passing around cups of mulled cider. avoiding the risk of lingering glances. and walked away. Bess said. drums-with a band. glancing I occasionally at his father but determinedly keeping his distance. Hildy Padgett came in and announced dinner. hair." Hildy Padgett came from the kitchen with a tray of canap6's. He crossed the room and said. "I don't . well. Randy looked squarely into Michael's eyes. he caught Randy watching sourly from diagonally across the table.

think Randy likes seeing me with you." "Probably not," she replied. "On the other hand, Lisa seems overjoyed. I've assured them both it's all for appearances. So let's see if we can't keep up the charade for our children's sake." A platter of ham was passed around, followed by vegetables, warm rolls, and salad. Bess watched Michael load his plate with au gratin potatoes and said, "Hildy really hit you in the taste buds, didn't she?" "Mmm . . . I still love 'em." He always had. Her mother used to say, "That Michael is fun to cook for. He knows how to eat." "Did you have that talk with Lisa?" he asked. "Yes, I did. I went over to her apartment the next night." "Do you feel better now?" "Yes. Infinitely." "It's hard to believe she's old enough, isn't it?" he said. "Yes. It seems like only yesterday we had her." "Randy, too." "I know." "My guess is he's watching us right now and wondering what's going on down here." "Is something going on down here?" He shocked her by replying, "You look great tonight, Bess." She flushed. "Oh, for heaven's sake, Michael, that's absurd." "Well, you do. You've really changed since we divorced." Her anger flared. "Oh, you're really smooth. You're without a wife- What? A month? Two? And you're telling me how great I look? Don't insult me, Michael." "I didn't mean to." At that moment Jake Padgett stood up with a glass in his hand. "I think a toast is in order here. Mark's our first to get married, and naturally we hoped he'd pick somebody we liked. Well, we sure got our wish. Lisa, honey, we want to welcome you and say how nice it is to have you and your family here with us tonight." He saluted Michael and Bess and nodded to Randy. "And so"- he raised his glass to the engaged couple-"here's to a smooth road ahead for Lisa and Mark." Jake resumed his seat, and there passed between Michael and Bess a silent message, the kind husbands and wives of long standing can execute merely by the expression in their eyes. Somebody should mininke a toast on our side.

You want to do it? No, you. Michael rose, pressing his tie to his shirt, lifting his glass. "Jake, Hildy-all of you-thank you for inviting us. It's the proper way to, start a young couple off, with the families united and showing their support. Lisa's mother and I are proud of her and happy for her, and we welcome Mark as her husband-to-be. Lisa, Mark, you have our love. Good luck to you." As everyone joined in the toast, Bess felt herself in an emotional turmoil. It was the proper way to start the young couple off, but how bittersweet, having their own immediate family reassembled for the first time amidst all these undercurrents. Coffee and dessert were served-dessert a layered concoction of angel food cake and strawberries. Bess watched Michael watching Randy while he ate. Randy ignored his father and visited with the Padgetts seventeen-year-old daughter, Maryann, on his left. Michael said, "This whole thing is turning out to be tougher than I thought." "Don't give up on him, Michael. Please." He looked at his son again. "He really hates me." "I think he wants to, but it's costing him," "What's your stake in all this, Bess? Why all of a sudden the push to see Randy and me reconcile?" "You're his father-nothing more complicated than that. I'm beginning to see what harm we've done by forcing the kids into this cold war we've waged." He released a weary sigh. "All right, Bess. I'll try." ON equals way home from White Bear Lake, Randy acted surly. Bess said, "Do you want to tell me what's on your mind?" He cast her a glance, then returned his eyes to the road. "What's going on with you and the old man?" "Nothing. He's your father. He's trying to make amends to you." "Great!" Randy shouted. "All of a sudden he's my father and I'm supposed to love him, when for six years you haven't kept it any secret that you hate his guts." "Well, maybe I was wrong. Whatever I felt, maybe I shouldn't have imposed ^th.feelings on you." "I've got a mind of my own, Ma. I didn't need to pick up vibes from you. He had another woman, and he broke up our home I" "All right!" Bess shouted, and repeated more calmly, "All right, he did. But there's such a thing as forgiveness." "I can't believe what I'm hearing. He's getting to you, isn't he? Cozying up to you just as soon as his other wife throws him over. He makes me sick." Guilt struck Bess for having instilled such hate in her son without a thought for its effect on him. "Randy, I'm sorry you feel this way." "Yeah, well, it's a pretty quick switch for you, isn't it, Mom? I'd just hate to see him make a fool of you a second time."

She felt a surge of exasperation with him for voicing what she'd been feeling. Let this be a lesson, she thought. If you mend fences between yourself and Michael, keep your distance while doing it. Chapter Five The following day was Sunday. There was Mass in the morning, prefaced by a battle to make Randy get up and go, followed at home by a lonely lunch of chicken breasts for two, with very little table conversation. Randy left immediately afterward to go to his friend Bernie's house to watch a football game on television. When he was gone, Bess changed into a sweatsuit and returned downstairs, where the silent, familyless rooms held a gloom that was only amplified by bright day beating at the windows. She did His, some designwork for a while, but found concentrating difficult. She I gave up, distracted by thoughts of Michael and their sundered family. She was not a tearful person, yet her aloneness had magnitude enough to force a pressure behind her eyes. In time it drove her to pick up the telephone, dial her mother, and ask if she could visit. "I'd love it," Stella Dorner said in her usual cheerful voice. Stella lived in a town house on Oak Glen Golf Course, on the western edge of Stillwater. She had bought it within a year after her husband died, and had furnished it with sassy new furniture, declaring she hadn't been buried along with him and wasn't going to act as if she had. Though she was nearly sixty at the time, she'd on tir her job as an on-call operating-room nurse, had taken golf lessons, and had even signed up with a dating service. But she claimed that all the crotchety old men she'd been paired up with couldn't keep up with her. Stella answered the door dressed in a sweatsuit the colors of a paint rag-white with smears of hot pink, yellow, and purple. Over it she wore a disreputable lavender smock. "Bess, darling. I'm so glad you called." She hugged her gingerly. "Careful! I don't want to get any paint on you." "Paint?" "I'm taking a painting class. I'm working on my first picture." Stella led the way into the living room, where the west window was unreached yet by the afternoon sun. Before the

. when we were getting the divorce. my. That girl's got style. Can I get you a Coke?" "'Thanks. "I don't know." "It wasn't my place. . on his way to getting another divorce. Mother. Nearly a minute passed before Bess went on. . It's very hard to let it go. then joined Bess.window stood an easel with a partially finished rendering of an African violet. "My goodness. and she's expecting a baby." Stella laughed." Bess entered the room. haven't you?" "Lisa set us up." "Ah." "There's more?" "I've seen Michael." "And how is Michael?" "disDetached again. "Good for Lisa. "How are the kids?" Stella called. "What do you think?" Stella asked. drawing her knees up. . shunning his father." Removing her jacket." She gazed at her knees for a long time." "Oh. "Mother. "Well ." She reached for a rag and cleaned her brush." ." Stella waited. does she want the baby?" "Yes." "It probably won't be. and sat herself on the sofa. Where is Randy in all this?" com"@nlere he's always been very resentful. to take my side-but you never did. "I've been carrying around all this anger for six years. Bess studied the painting. that's a relief" "Guess what else. very much. on the sofa. "Maybe I'd better put these paints away." "When I found out that Michael was having an affair." Stella studied her daughter. "That's what I came to talk to you about. you have had a week. "Mmm . 392 sipping her pop." . She invited us both to her apartment to announce the news. . The class is fun. "Oh-oh." "And you?" Bess sighed and said. "And you're sure you're ready to hear it now?" "Is it going to make me mad?" "That depends on how much you've grown up in six years. and that's the object. but what the heck. No wonder you wanted to talk." "Lisa's getting married ." Bess went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. you never said much. This sounds serious. You keep on with your work. There must have been some reason. . I wanted you to be angry for me-to raise your fist." Bess told her. I'll get it. "Looks good to me." "I could have throttled her.

and I'm . "I went back to college to get my degree! Was that so wrong?" she asked. there." "But I asked Michael for help around the house.I don't know. Because he's just sloughed off another wife and he's probably lonely. "Remember when you were first married. But maybe he'd have helped you if he hadn't fallen to the bottom of your priority list." "That's when Michael accused me of letting myself go." Bess got up and went to stand near the window. I think. But when a man retaliates by having an affair."It was partly my fault. ." . "Not at all." "You didn't have time for it. . then said. I'm asking myself questions. "Because. "It's just that all of a sudden I'm so lonely." "Only he didn't wait. "Those kinds of things should never stop." her mother said." Stella let that sink in. Isn't he partly to blame?" "Maybe. right?" "I thought once I got through school and had my own business. How was your sex life?" "Rotten. you did. and he refused to give it." "Mother. what did I do?" Bess's voice grew defensive. I still had to cook and do laundry and keep the house in shape." "As I recall. you were always rushing between two places." " All right. and I'm caught in this wedding situation. you've put your finger on it. "Last night he told me I looked great. I'd have more time. and do you know how angry it made me?" disfty?" "Because!" Bess flung up one hand. I don't want him crawling back to me at all!" Bess covered her eyes with one hand and shook her head vehemently. her Coke forgotten. how you used to ask Dad and me to take the kids occasionally so you and Michael could go off camping by yourselves? And the April Foals' Day when you had that Fanny Farmer box delivered to Michael's office and it was full of nuts and bolts?" Bess stared at the snowy golf course. But while you were doing it you totally forgot about your husband. after that. and everything would fall back into place. honey." "I did not! He wouldn't let me forget about him. Then she turned to Stella." "I'm talking about your personal relationship. When you'd stop over to see Dad and me. in opening your store. is that what you're saying?" "It always takes two. "You got awfully caught up in school and. and I don't want him crawling back to me under those circumstances. he's usually the one who gets all the blame. there wasn't time!" "Now.

No children were allowed. reflecting off the frozen lake." Bess laughed. I wish I could be more like you. "Why you two devils. . His bedroom vas huge. but you're my idol. made a nebula of light patterns on the ceiling. and from behind massaged Bess's shoulders. the pair of mattresses upon which he lay. and about Lisa's young man. That man is not for you. and most of the wealthy residents had gone south for the winter. "You are a lot like me. so you don't. sort of." Stella said. went to her daughter. Now. you're incorrigible. . "He got upset because I had to break a dinner date with him to go to the engagement dinner." "All right. where the kids are concerned. with sliding glass doors facing the shore of White Bear Lake. You know how he is. stretched. and Bess blew her nose in it." "Have you and Lisa been comparing notes." "I'll tell you something. That's not easy. "It'll never happen. and stacked his hands behind his head." "Then sit down. Here. or what?" "Maybe. Keith." Stella hugged her back. I really don't. "since we're being honest with each other today. about the wedding plans. so he ." "I don't love him anymore. "How do you know? Stranger things have. If you think this wedding is going to get me back together with Michael." Stella asked. "Feel better now?" "Yes." Bess laughed. "You're going through a catharsis that's been six years coming." She gave Stella an impulsive hug. The ten-o'clock sun. speaking of men. it was designed to be. "How does he look? As handsome as ever?" "Moth-er!" Bess looked exasperated. "Mother. loath to stir and rise." Stella produced a tissue. and if you think I might meet any interesting men there. Mother." THAT same Sunday morning Michael Curran awakened. and now you're starting to explore your own fault in the matter. against the wall. you're wrong. and about what I have to wear to this shindig. tell me. how are you and Keith getting along?" "Oh . "Maybe I never told you this before." Bess made a face and shrugged. but it held nothing more than a television set and.Stella rose." "Then why does it hurt so much to see him?" "Because he's making you take this second look at yourself. All the time you've blamed him." Stella put on a smug expression and said. The building was absolutely silent.

and he. And now it was January 1990. Boy-oh-boy. largely against his choice." Bess had said. and he was rolling off his mattresses in an empty condo. Nothing he'd experienced before or since had been any sweeter. even Randy's high school grad. He thought about last night-about his encounter with Randy. and your own kid treats you like a leper. disappointment. how she'd changed. being disowned by one's own child. "He doesn't want you there.uation. Curran. you don't really want her. with him fresh out of college and her with three more years to go. She doesn't want you. That ought to tell you something. He shined to the bathroom. too. June 8. at times. How it hurt. then poured some cereal . a loaf of bread. Michael would have been seeing Randy all along. When she'd walked into that room last night. but in spite of the way she distanced herself from him. ajar of peanut butter. recollections of their beginnings played back through his mind-when Bess was in high school. Instead. a box of Grape Nuts. 1968-their wedding day. It was crazy. whose last six vital growing years had been lost to Michael. They were married two and a half years later. The impact of seeing him came back afresh. Forget it. It was lonely. Why hadn't Bess seen to it that the kid went to college? After the way she had fought to complete her own education. If Bess had encouraged it. Instant coffee. and a feeling of failure that made his chest feel heavy. even in the elevator. he'd bet any money that she felt it. hope. he'd have thought she'd take a strong stand on the issue with her own kids. His son. and it simply hadn't worked. if Randy had not been brainwashed. He stood awhile staring at the collection. As he lay in his unfurnished condominium. Bess. Michael j had been excluded from everything. Maybe she had. His entire pantry stock stood on an island in the middle of the room. That boy-that man was his son. bringing a replay of convoluted emotions: love. he'd actually felt a charge.rarely crossed paths with anyone. then went to the kitchen. went back for homecoming and discovered her-a junior he didn't even remember. already a sophomore at the University of Minnesota. brushed his teeth.

then tried working awhile at his desk. He parked in the underground garage." A long silence passed before she said. he had no idea what he wanted or what would look good in his condo.into a white plastic deli-food container." "It was a nice supper last night. it was. He sure needed it. and returned to his mattresses." "Yes. and found his mind returning to the perplexing string ball of family relationships he was trying to unlmot. and at least in the stores there'd be people. covered it with milk from the otherwise empty refrigerator. . and how to make it through this wedding. He wasn't up to either evangelists or cartons. We went to church. Furthermore. He showered. however. in one of the other two bedrooms. turned on the television. shaved. He decided to go shopping for some furniture. He felt lonely. a melancholy time of day. where he propped his pillows against the wall. Course. "Well. and he'd look like a jerk. but the silence and emptiness were so depressing he had to get out. but discovered that just about everything would have to be ordered and would take six weeks to six months to arrive. and hurting some.randy. Michael. You need a decorator. And fat chance she'd believe he really needed his place furnished. too-knew a damned good one. How to be a father to . "Hi. and wondering where to go next in his life. . and what to make of these nostalgic thoughts he'd been having about Bess. He knew one. It's Michael. this could be just an excuse to call her. and even what to think about being a grandfather. and sat down to eat. Bess answered on the third ring. took a plastic spoon. He went to Dayton's Home Store on Highway 36. Curran. Bess. the idea hit him. "So how's Randy today?" "I haven't seen much of him. she'd think he was nosing around for something else. III It took him until eight o'clock to work up the courage to dial his old number. thinking he'd simply pick living-room furniture and have it delivered. and he left right afterwards to watch the game with his friend." "Did he say anything about last night-about us?" . Taking the elevator up. and dressed. It was twilight when he headed home." The ensuing silence became awkward.

" "All right." "I think I can handle that. We'll just talk. Madame Interior Designer. then burst out laughing. This is probably a mistake." He calmed himself." She paused a beat. "Yes. would you care to design the interior of my condo?" "I'm no fool. He said he hoped you wouldn't make a fool out of me again." "Oh. of M." For a moment he'd flattered himself thinking she'd taken the trouble to look it up. "Let's just forget it. I'm sorry I asked about him. Michael. he did. "Whoa Madame business woman" he said aloud. the house call is primarily a question-and-answer period so that I can get to know your tastes. . which I'll apply to the cost of any furniture you might order."Yes.. Listen. I'm a U. I'll be happy to set up a house call." so just call up from the lobby. "There's a security system. he thought. I'm not a decorator. budget." "What?" "I want to hire you to decorate my condo. life-style-things like that. and I'd like to get back to it. Do you want the job or not?" "First of all." "I already know. I'm malting the effort to call you. Michael. and I'll take notes. Michael sat scowling." "I thought you wanted us to be civil to each other for the kids' sake. "You want to hire me to decorate your condo?" His mouth got tight. I called for something else.." "That sounds fine." "Very well. I do. I'm a businesswoman." "I will." "You do?" "Randy pointed it out to me. Chapter Six . I have next Friday morning open at nine. I won't make that mistake again. let's get one thing straight. I need a decorator. . . Michael. There's a one-time forty-dollar trip charge for that. is there something in particular you wanted? I brought some work home to do this evening. as a matter of fact. I'll tell you how to get here. and I told you!" "All right . I'm an interior designer. and you start slinging insults!" "You asked me what Randy said." "Okay. Good-bye. and besides." "Just so you'll know. graduate with a four-year degree.

"Gol. and a full satin skirt and train trimmed with beads and sequins." "I'm not going to talk about it. up the back of the dress. just promise me one thing." Without warning. dropping to the bed with a photo album on her lap." "Oh." I'WEHave. taking the dress along with her to drop off at tile dry cleaner's. Mom. and I wish you wouldn't. Allowing Lisa to believe that there was a chance of reconciliation was sheer folly.THE following evening Lisa went home to Stillwater to try on her mother's wedding dress. And I wish we could have made a happier ending for you. Mom.Who said anything about marrying anybody? I'm happy as I am. "I want to see how you looked in the dress. The dress had a beaded stand-up collar above a V-shaped lace bodice. And Dad . what are you going to do? Marry Keith? He's such a dork. Wow. . you won't get all ticked off at him." Lisa left soon thereafter. Your dad and I aren't getting back together. She sat down beside her daughter and searched for a balanced response. "Lisa. her bouquet and her veil forming an aureole around them. elbow-length pouf sleeves. I'm healthy. close up. If Dad asks you out or something." The photo caught at Bess's heart. "Be right back!" she called as she disappeared. dear. . There were Michael and Bess. then returned.." Lisa said. look. It was Bess and Michael's wedding album. Lisa spun from the mirror and headed for the door. while Lisa studied the results in the dresser mirror." "Lisa. the business is going good. I saw how he looked at you the other night while you two were sitting at your end of the table. you know. She thumped downstairs. . will you? Because I think he's going to do it." "Mom. but that part of our lives is over. and I have you and Randy. Bess stood behind Lisa and forced twenty satin loops around twenty pearl buttons. She carried it up from-the basement to her old room for the fitting."Dad is one of the truly excellent men around. look at him." "You want to see things the way they used to be." Lisa had opened the album. ." i dis".. you were just beautiful. your dad and I had some wonderful years. "It's going to fit. but it didn't work out that way. "It's beautiful.

Bess. a teal polo shirt with its collar turned up." he said. and a double-breasted white sweater. The driveway led through grounds dotted with oaks. Inside. I've let Lisa put ideas into asn my head that are based on nothing but her sentimentality. Michael took her coat. feeling nostalgic. Bess used the security phone to ring Michael. contemporary smoked-glass chandelier. "Well. The building was V-shaped and sprawling. of white brick studded with royal-blue awnings." There were two doorways to their right. It had balconies. She wasn't three feet inside before exhilaration struck. And it had the lake. 1968. and turned back to her. She heard the elevator hum before its doors split soundlessly and Michael stepped out. Approaching Michael's condominium in broad daylight.After seeing her out. brass carriage lanterns. She arrived in White Bear Lake with five minutes to spare." he answered. "I'll be right down. hung it behind a louvered door.. she was doubly impressed. Or was it? ON FRIDAY morning Bess put on a wool crepe dress in squash gold with a tucked waist. They arrived at an upper level. bound in white leather and stamped in gold: BESS and MICHAEL CURRAN. this is it. There on the bed lay the wedding album.. Whatever she thought she detected between Michael and me the other night was strictly her imagination. Bess returned to Lisa's old room to turn out the light. This is silly. holding the elevator doors open. She sat beside the album and slowly flipped its pages. "These are . She reached out to touch the wedding album. Then she closed the book and fell back on the bed. wearing gray-black pleated trousers with needle-fine stripes. and a lot of glass. I have tears in my eyes and a pain in my heart that w't there before I entered this room. JUNE @. Space! Enough space to make a designer drool! The entry hall was as wide as most bedrooms and held a large. He waved her ahead of him into a door that stood open. "Thanks for coming.

"Ask away." Michael smiled. The master bedroom led off the living room. with blond oak woodwork. . the other held a drafting table and chair. Bess turned in a circle. "You built this building?" "I developed the property and arranged to have it built. The room faced south by southeast. had a marble fireplace. which also had sliding doors to the deck. Michael. "No. "Well. created of four walls and four doorways. "But I can live with it. It was here when I took over the place. living room-dining room. It was connected to a family room. in the center of which hung a second. "Oh." "Do you have a sample I can take along?" . she faced him. He works for me. I must say. and two sets of sliding glass doors that gave onto a deck overlooking the lake and a small park with a gazebo. and pen." Bess said.guest bedrooms. and powder room. done in white tile and Formica. "I'll tell him you said so." Bess's eyebrows rose in approval. with its magnificent scope. "It's very dramatic. Ahead of them the foyer widened out into an octagonal space. The city of White Bear Lake came to me and asked me to do it. This space appeared to be the hub of the apartment. "Now for the questions. Bess. measuring tape. "The architect calls this a gallery. "I had no idea your projects had grown to this size." He studied the floor. "Which would you like to see first?" "Let's see the living room." she said. matching chandelier. Bess said. to be washed in light and delight." They returned to the living room. it wasn't a color she'd have expected him to like." Michael dipped his head in a mix of humility and pride. The kitchen was next. glanced over the rooms as she followed Michael." From the opposite end of the room. Congratulations." "Thank you. One was empty. how marvelous. and a bathroom big enough to host a basketball game." She stepped into it." Off the gallery were the kitchen. utility area." "Did you choose the carpet?" She'd noted that the same grayed-mauve carpet was used throughout." Michael said. ." "Ah . I'm impressed. carrying a clipboard. It had a fireplace. "This architect knew what he was doing." he said.

"Will this be a working kitchen?" she asked.." . I suppose. but she was a businesswoman now. "No. but the question died on her lips. and I trust you. You were always good at it. then stopped in the living room-dining room. because it brought a sharp desire to play housewife. Daytime I'm in the once." "Would that entertaining be formal or informal?" "Informal." she began. . let's move on.All right. . probably.?" Michael repeated." He didn't add. and neither of them needed that. "Will you need a desk in this room?" "That would be nice. "Since Darla and I broke u" but he didn't have to It was obvious he sat here in this room p. regretting some things."In the entry closet. "Do you work every evening?" "I have been lately.. taken in the backyard when they were about seven and nine. I'll give you a piece before you leave. her back to Michael as she waited for an answer. They were freckled and smiling. Have you thought about a range you want me to work within?" "Just do it the way you'd do it for yourself. She knew full well he'd seen her reaction to the picture. On the island sat the pitiful collection of food that created his bachelor's pantry. "Do you work. It took some time before he replied." Bess wandered nearer the drafting table." She gathered her composure and turned." "File cabinets?" "Probably not." "How many might you want to seat at one time? A dozen? Six?" "Six." "Would you place this room high or low in decorating order?" "Low$1". "Would you he entertaining in this room?" "Maybe." They meandered through the rooms. . Taped onto an extension lamp over the drafting table was a picture of the children. "Do you work here much?" "Primarily in the evenings. and squinting into the hard summer sun. She looked away. "Do I work ." She made some notes and then moved into the kitchen." They moved into the room with the drafting table. "Now I guess all that's left to ask about is the budget. . She regrouped her emotions and went on.

" She paused. take him in her arms. Then I'll come up with a furniture plan." "Oh. Michael. for turning the kids against you. "You're forgetting your forty-dollar trip charge. and she followed him. "Thank you." He went into the room with the drafting table." though she knew perfectly well a home full of things could riot substitute for a home full of people. she met his eyes. Michael. . She had the illogical impulse to go to him. She needed to take some measurements. "I'll transfer these dimensions onto graph paper." he said. Michael. room by room. Then they returned to the foyer. yes. She studied it over his shoulder and said quietly. Though he moved not a . while she willed the words forth. and they spent the next twenty minutes getting room and window dimensions. "They were adorable when they were that age. "I told her how difficult it's been seeing you again. but he said nothing. then tore out the check before turning to Bess. The photo was still there."All of it?" "Well"-his eyes met hers-"I hate empty rooms." Still he waited." "So when will I hear from you?" "I'll get on it right away and get back to you within a week. fabric and wallpaper samples. squeezing hard. since you're living in rather spartan conditions. "What happens next?" he asked as he retrieved her coat. He was making out the check. and she said that the reason is because you're making me take a second look at myself and my fault in the divorce. and we'll get together at my store for the presentation. and we had a talk. I'll fill it with things so it isn't so lonely. She looked down at her clipboard. they were. "I think I owe you an apology. "Yes. window treatments. compelling." Struggling far words. and say." Something changed in his eyes-a quick transport of repressed anger. "I visited my mother on Sunday. I'll call you." "Michael. I ." He took it. " pat his back. Why don't I bill you for it?" "Absolutely not. "It'll be all right. . When it's done." She flashed him a professional smile and extended her hand. weren't they?" He looked at the picture awhile. perhaps.

"I hated you for it. lit on hers." she said quietly. losing them. . It's not the appropriate time. that you loved them. "I'm sorry. she'd made things better or worse between them. she found him already stalking back into his condo. I guess I just need to deal with them once and for all and put them behind me. I shouldn't have brought it up today." "But that was another matter entirely-what was between us. She said that when I went back to college. I don't see any point at this late date." Her cheeks were hot as she accepted his check and said. "I swore I wouldn't do this-mix business with anything personal-but it's been bothering me. and all these ugly emotions that kept roiling around inside me.muscle." "Why did you bring it up at all. I realized that . He nodded stiffly." They stared at each other until the silence in the room seemed to be compressing them. "Mother said something else. while his hazel eyes remained steady upon hers. Bess?" "I don't know. and today. you know. . Is that true?" "I'm not going to answer. fair enough. I don't understand myself lately." Ire thought about it for passing seconds before speaking in a low tone. hard as chips of resin. and pushed the elevator button. he seemed more rigid. you fell to the bottom of my priority list and that's why you found another woman. When she turned to offer a conciliatory smile. "Thanks for coming. It seems as if there were so many things between us that were never settled. and she stepped in. Apology accepted. "Why did you do it?" "Because I felt hurt. "All right." He found her a carpet sample. Bess. She looked down. The door opened. Chapter Seven RanDY Curran dropped into a lopsided upholstered rocker and reached into his pocket for his . and how it must have hurt you." He handed her the check. ushered her out. well." "Yes. right?" His eyes. too. That's what apologies are all about. She rode downstairs wondering if by her apology." "I know that now. and wronged. I really should get down to my once now. Michael. I know. when I saw their picture here.

"I met this girl. And of this pigsty of Bernie's. Bern?" "No way. too.bag of pot. Problem was. It was eleven p. Lisa is marrying her brother . The floors were crooked. and then you're walkin" out with somebody else's old lady and your kids are bawlin'.." "Yeah." "why?" "Cause she's a good girl. and there stood Michael. Did I say that already?" "What girl?" "Maryann Padgett. Bernie's place was a dump. He had to be up at six.m." Jake shook his hand. What the hell was he doing here? Who was he getting even with? His father. He walked into Gingiss Formal Wear at two o'clock Saturday afternoon to pick out his tuxedo for the wedding. Randy had known Bernie Bertelli since the eighth grade. so most nights they had the place to themselves. thanks for coming. the top can wedged against the ceiling. he was getting pretty tired of that stinking job at the warehouse. the old man didn't really give a damn. next thing you know. Randy came up short." "Sure. Bernie's mom had put the top one there herself. do we." A while later Randy felt the lethargy lifting. We don't mess with good girls. Mark spied him and came forward. . two old dogs. though. talking with Mark and Jake Padgett. extending his hand. And of Bernie. ." Bernie digested that a long time before he asked. Not where anybody could see me. She scares the hell out of me. . RANDY hadn't thought about his dad's being there. Actually. as usual. The radio was tuned to Cities 97. Skipper and Bean. that's who. and they were waiting for midnight. "You bawl when your old man left?" "Sometimes. no problem. Why should we?" Minutes later Randy said. you're marryin" "em and you got kids. were presently stretched out on the davenport. man. me. the Grateful Dead hour. "You can't get serious about girls-you know what I mean. Hey. too. She was a cocktail waitress. Randy. and Bernie's mom was out. when Bernie had moved to town right after his parents got divorced. The friends had done a lot of dope together since then. Against one wall stood a pyramid of beer cans. hell. and that left only . and the walls had a lot of plastic knickknacks hanging on them. After a while he said. man? I mean. Randy struck a match and lit up. "Here's our last guy.

trading glances in the mirror before looking discreetly away. Dad. and thought about when they were a boy and a young father and Randy had put shaving cream on his face and shaved with a bladeless razor. while he feared Randy's rebuff. they put on their street clothes again and shuffled from the store into the mall. Michael spoke. His father's hand waited." "The bridesmaid's dress is apricot. their emotions in turmoil. "Hi. have you?" He strove for an offhand tone. Then might I suggest ivory with apricot cummerbunds? We have several styles ." "Ah. "Randy. "Do you think I'll ever be taller than you. Dad?" And now he was. Michael felt his chest contract as his chance slipped away. "You sure? I'm buying. Once Randy had asked. that held tuxedos in every color. while his dad stood beside him and shaved with a real one. They removed their jackets." Michael flushed. from black to pink. . "I haven't had lunch yet. . who offered his hand." Randy looked into his father's somber eyes and felt a sick longing to hug him and say. She said I could decide what color the tuxes should be. and gripped Randy's hand. leaving Michael and Randy to follow. and had their measurements taken. needing to be spoken. A question danced on tilde his tongue." But he had not called Michael Dad in a long time. faced a wall of mirrors. Long after the contact ended. wishfully.Michael." They followed him into a room." Randy lied. They buttoned on pleated shirts. "Gentlemen. Every step of the way. . "I presume you've talked with the bride about colors. "Yeah." . good. Randy felt the imprint of his father's palm on his own. At last he put his hand in Michael's and said. Just before they reached the plate-glass doors. but his heart was in his throat. A clerk intruded. carpeted and mirrored. Mark and Jake headed straight toward the exit." While the clerk prattled on. too. needing to be repressed. by a good inch-all grown up and capable of holding grudges. The clerk told Mark. experimented with bow ties. Michael and Randy remained intensely aware of each other. "Hello. if you'll step this way. I grabbed a burger earlier. The word seemed to fill his throat. When the fitting was done.

" Keith took a sip of wine. but not in the way you infer. "No. "I went to see his condo. I'm going to decorate it for him. "I'm sleeping with you. they sat over wine and spumoni." "Yeah. "The night Lisa set you up and the night of the dinner at the in-laws. where the minestrone was thick and spicy." Six years was a long time. went their separate ways." He leaned closer to her and whispered fiercely. will you stop haranguing me?" He stared at her awhile before nodding stiffly." He pulled back. and remarked." She said gently." "If I tell you. and some sins go beyond forgiving. With the engine and headlights off. Now could we just finish our spumoni and go?" "Are you coming to my place tonight?" "I don't think so. He passed it and pulled into the garage. and the chicken parmigiana exquisite. at the foot of his driveway. I have a lot of work to do at home tomorrow. and his glasses were thick enough to magnify his eyes. "Well." "You put everything else before me. "I'm waiting to hear about the third time you saw him. Hope took on new meaning as Michael sensed Randy vacillating." "iny?. . THAT NIGHT BESS FINALLY HAD her date with Keith. His face was round. and I have to get up early. the pasta homemade." He pushed aside his spumoni and said. When was the third time?" "Keith. I'm meeting some friends. haven't you?" "I've seen him three times. maybe some other time." Keith said." "Three times?" Keith began ticking them off on his fingers. I'm sorry. "Well. and clung to their separate hurts. The . "You demand a lot. "I've been waiting for you to mention Michael.. you've been seeing him lately." "I've been married. tired of fighting this fight. "S. but no. Don't I have a right?" She found herself unmoved by his resentment." Michael gave away none of the crushing disappointment he felt. I don't appreciate being grilled like this. sure. thanks." They left the restaurant and drove to where she had left her car parked. . When their plates had been removed. they sat in blackness. fixing his stare on Bess. So they left the shopping center by separate doors. lowered the glass. "No.For a moment their gazes locked. They ate at Lido's. and I never want to go through that again. "I think we'd better go. "I've asked you so many times to marry me.

" she said. Keith had been the one calling out apologies." He kissed her heavily. I'll try to change." he whispered again." They struggled. and found herself shuddering as she peeled out of his driveway." "No!" he cried. Bess. Bessl" he called. running the last several yards after she heard his door opening. His last word was cut off as she slammed and locked her car door. "Stag UP' His breathing beat heavily in the confined spate." She grabbed her purse. And perhaps Michael did play a part in her rather sudden severing of ties with Keith. but perhaps it was she who owed them. ." " Groping for her. he tried to kiss her again. "I'm forty-four years old. "Keith. "Please. "I think maybe we should break it off. She rummaged in her purse for her keys. "I have to go. yet her revulsion and fear had ." she said. The absence of warmth in her heart chilled much more. "I can make you love me. As he grew desperate his voice became pleading. just give me the chance. We'll work things out. Bess." He took her in his arms. Hampered by their heavy coats. eager i to be away from him. Please. She had often put her children first. waitl I'd never hurt you. hard. "I'm sorry. the embrace was bulky. I'm just not the right one. "You've never given us a real chance.absence of warmth from the heater chilled Bess's legs. I love you. though. and she shoved him back. she had frequently put him off in favor of business that could have been delayed." i . Bess. "Keith. stop it. What had happened to her back there? She knew full well Keith would not hurt her. She hurried toward her car. I want to marry you. "Bess." "I can't marry you. I don't want to start looking for someone else. Please. Keith. She found herself slightly revolted. A quarter mile up the street she realized that tears were running down her cheeks. If it's something I've done. "That's not what I want. scrambling out. He was right. Bess. been genuine. "You have a lot to offer a woman." She had no desire to hurt him further. Chapter Eight .

and touch up her hair. and at the rear of the store. the place smelled of fresh coffee. Sometimes she pictured him moving about there in intimate disarray-the kind only a wife or lover can know-or in a freshly dressed state. leading the way to some wicker seats. Bess went forward. potted plants. When Michael came in. She called him on Thursday. Friday. put on fresh makeup. with his skin still flushed from a shave and his lips still shiny from the shower. wallpaper. shrugging off his coat. she went home at three thirty to change. and gray. "You've done a lot with this place. photographs. After considering the samples. While she leafed through wallpaper and furniture catalogues. "May I get you a cup of coffee?" "Sounds good. Then she turned. "We'll start with the living-dining room.BESS thought of Michael too much during the week that followed. amid the wicker furniture. "I've got your design all worked up. before he sat. he . the materials for Bess's presentation stood ready-fabrics. "Hello. the window lamps were lit. It's cold out there. and wondered when you can come to the store and go over it. Michael. She returned to the store in time to dismiss Heather early." The following day." she said. How are you?" She locked the door and reversed the OPEN sign so that they wouldn't be interrupted." He waited until she'd set the cup and saucer on the coffee table and taken a chair." "When would you like?" "How's five o'clock tomorrow?" "Fine. mauve. smoked-glass tables. vertical blinds. I'll be there." he said. she presented scale drawings of his living room the way she envisioned it-subtle wallpaper of cream. an upholstered furniture grouping facing the fireplace. she pictured his rooms." Surrounded by samples. smiling. It was hard to remember a job she'd enjoyed more or had designed with as much confidence. "I've got everything at the back of the store. She had to shinny past him between tables and glassware to hang his coat on the back of the basement door.

while he studied the lists in detail." Michael studied the solar brochure of the curved sofa. "Now. She handed him a sheaf of papers and said. for the family room." "The Natuzzi sofa by itself is eight thousand. I went with some pretty classy designers." Bess began gathering up the floor plans. I would. I thought you might enjoy the luxury. "Since you gave me carte blanche on the budget. You own your own firm now. "I think I like it." Michael ran a hand over his hair. a sumptuous cream Natuzzi Italian leather on a sofa that stretched out into forever and turned two corners before it got there. dislaying out her suggestions-for the formal dining area. for the gallery. "Seventy-six thousand . "I haven't heard that expression in years." Michael looked as if he'd been poleaxed. Michael. too-Jay Spectre. "It's a lot of money. three hundred dollars. it was seven thirty. twelve weeks." She smiled and went on." she told him. She recognized the look of covetousness on his face. room by room and item by item." "Mmm. No question. The grand total is seventy-six thousand. Do you have any problem with that?" "No. I'll be in and out of your place a lot. "Italian leather is the finest. . for the master bedroom. I should warn you. you're very successful. It's only right that your home should reflect that success. You're the only one I ever knew who said it. By the time she'd covered the highlights.. . Window treatments and wallpaper.said. "Custom orders. A breakdown. Finally. here's the bad news. "You take care of all that?" "Absolutely. sooner." "May I think about it?" . There were more samples to be considered. "How long before I get this stuff?" he asked." She sat back with her eyes leveled on Michael. LaBarge. "Criminyl" Bess threw back her head and laughed. .

Inside. "It's been a long time since I've been here. Michael spoke to the hostess." When the waitress went away." Michael said. Outside." She locked up. The Freight House was exactly what its name implied-a red brick relic from the past. "We could go to the Freight House." she suggested. "We drank a lot of beer together over the years." Their gazes met as they stood. Michael said. Would you-was He cut himself off and weighed the invitation before issuing it. Michael fixed his eyes on her and . "It'll be about fifteen minutes. yeah-a lot of hot summer evenings on the deck watching the boats on the river. the wind was biting. But the truth was. . that she had to get home. and they left the Blue Iris." They kept their coats on and perched on hip-high stools on opposite sides of a tiny square table. "It's almost eight o'clock. "I'll have a bottled Michelob. with six wagon-high. The wind bulldozed them from behind. it smelled wonderful. "They still make that dynamite seafood chowder?" " Absolutely." "Then let's go. He checked his watch."Of course." "Mmm . and after they'd each taken a deep swallow. "I'll have the same. "If I remember right. But it was only two blocks. and I'm starved. and I'll call you." Bess smiled in reply. He smiled. "Would you want to grab a bite with me?" She could have said no. this is where we came to celebrate our tenth anniversary. arch-top doors through which freight had been loaded and unloaded in the days when both rail and river commerce flourished. and they decided to walk. She could have simply said no. without qualifying it. You can have a seat in the bar if you'd like. His hand felt both familiar and welcome against her elbow." Michael remarked. . and Michael took Bess's elbow and held it hard against his ribs while they burned along with their shoulders hunched. A waitress came to take their order." Their beers arrived. Unbuttoning his overcoat. facing the river and the railroad tracks. she enjoyed his company and wouldn't mind spending another hour or so in it.

" Michael's cheeks turned ruddy." . We both worked long hours and afterwards just sort of occupied the same lodge.asked. cut it out. and said. "With Darla. I should have done mare to help you." "Did you ever help Darla with the housework?"' "No. He made no remark. "I suppose you were right about me helping around the house. "I've been doing some thinking since the last time we talked-about fault. This was too intimate already. Michael only glanced at it." He took another swig of beer. When he didn't. What do you do?" He thought awhile. "You've been staring at me ever since we came in here. then Michael said. "You look good. Michael?" "Of course. feeling his eyes come and go while he waited. "Statistics show that mast second marriages don't last as long as the first ones." j A waitress came." Bess was afraid to ask. "At least you didn't get mad this time when I told you. She sat across from him. his eyes still on her. She studied him awhile. then said. After you started college. "What do you do now on hot summer evenings." "I will if you don't stop it." She waited for him to add "b" and offer excuses. "May I ask you something." "Sorry. While Bess spent sometime perusing the menu. forming a three-sided box that was lit by a single hanging fixture. When it arrived." he said." "Oh. she looked good. The hostess came and said. they dipped in." She felt a blush start. "We have a booth for you now. . Bess?" "I'm usually doing designwork at home. Michael. but went on staring. but they both thought about the conversation as they finished dinner. Man-oh-man. I can see now that it wasn't fair to expect you to do it all. She closed her menu and looked up. she was pleasantly surprised. They both asked for seafood chowder. primarily because people go into them making the same mistakes. "What?" she said. sir." The backs of the booths went clear up to the ceiling. nothing memorable.

sign a contract or something like that?" "Yes. "I've decided to give you the job decorating my." "y darned right it is. I met him at my exercise class. I do. "Mom." " better outrageous than senile." Stella replied. do you think I have to get plain white cake. or can I have marzipan?" "Mom. When they reached the door of the restaurant. Michael pushed it open and held it. "Mother. she went on. "I'm the great-grandma. while Bess passed before him into the cold." As she unlocked the door of the Blue Iris. which whistled in their ears." "Then let's go. What do I do. Chapter Vne FEBRUARY-SPED along. you're outrageous. . Stella. right?" "Actually. and they headed into the wind. if that's the only reason. she hoped it was. The telephone calls from Lisa to Bess came daily." He forced her to keep walking. Bess. "Wait a minute. turning up her nose at the grandma image. The wedding was fast approaching." "Who's Gil Harwood?"' "the man I've been dating. have you bought your dress yet?" Since she hadn't. while Bess chose a more sedate sarong suit in palest peach. At Lillie Rubin." He took her arm commandingly. "Just a joke. "Michael." "And you've got one all made up back at the shop. condo.". But she felt a flurry of reaction at the mention of his name. by a clerk who was approaching. where they browsed from shop to shop. So how are things between you and Michael?" Bess was saved from answering. something like that. . Bess gave Stella the once-over. "Maybe I like having you poke around my house." Perusing her reflection in the mirror. Who's the grandrria here?" "You. Bess set aside an afternoon. and Stella's sly glance said very clearly she knew it.Afterward comthey divided the check. and she and her mother drove into downtown Minneapolis. I'm bringing Gil Harwood along. To her back he said. "Now this is how I feel!" "It's very jaunty. "Why are you doing this?" Bess shouted." She balked. Bess released a gust of laughter. . When they stepped out of their dressing rooms. and I'm thinking of having an affair with him. found a hot little silvery number with a threetiered skirt.

. and I'll add the same. do you?" "Not at all. "You never answered me. She called him the neat day to ask if he was satisfied. So would you be j willing to give her two thousand dollars. and washed and dried the outside. He vacuumed the floor. It looks perfect. "Yeah . wishing they could undo the negative part of their past and recapture what they'd once had. She quelled it and said. what a disappointment. but we did straighten out some leftover feelings that have been lingering since before we got the divorce. Whatever fell. but when she went over to check it. sure. "Michael. I know. When they were in Bess's car." Michael cleared his throat." "Fine. But I don't mind spending it. Bess felt an undeniable stirring. "More than satisfied." "Yes. Lisa can put it into her savings account and draw on it as she needs it? Then what's left over we can split. Michael wasn't there. emptied the ashtrays. The day of the groom's dinner and rehearsal he took the battered '84 Chevy Nova to the car wash and mucked it out. dirty sweat socks. good. How are things between you and Michael?" "Very businesslike. and I." The chance remark left the phone line silent while they reached back to their beginnings. and said in a curiously flat voice." "Such as?" "We both admitted we could have worked a little harder at holding things together. She's our only daughter. some of the bills for Lisa's wedding have come in." BESS had little occasion to run into the good man between then and the wedding: The paper was hung in Michael's condo. You really think we'll see any leftover money?" Bess chuckled. . unpd parking tickets-all got relegated to the bottom of a fifty-gallon garbage drum." "He's a good man. Bess." Bess paused before changing the subject." "I told you. heading home.They bought the dresses and went on to search out matching shoes." "Oh." "Ah. stayed. Mother. . Fastfoad containers. I'm not interested in getting tangled up with him again. then. polished the vinyl. Stella resumed their interrupted conversation. "I guess I'll see you at the rehearsal." RANDY kept his car like the bottom of a birdcage. "No.

" "Yeah? Oh." She thought awhile and said. When he walked into St. close enough that if you kissed her properly. and Randy was captivated. He'd never wanted to impress anyone so badly in his life." "I used to go to the street dances there in the summer during Manitou Days. hoping his eyes wouldn't pop out of their sockets. isn't it?" "I don't know. you'd kiss it. Really knocked her prim little socks off with that one. and Lisa left to talk to someone else." "Oh. "You and Maryann are going to be first up the aisle." Inside his new sweater he was warm and quivering. and went home to daydream about Maryann Padgett." "You like music?" "Music is what drives me: I want to play drums in a band." "Me. They'd get some good bands. you. Curran. She was a throwback." he said." "It's exciting. proper terms." Bravo. She was wearing a prim little navy-blue coat. either. you glob rascal. too. Maryann said. She probably went to Bible camp in the summer and edited the school newspaper in the winter. Mary's and saw Maryann. the oxygen supply in the vestibule seemed to disappear. Randy searched for something to talk about. The rehearsal was scheduled for "six o'clock. Lisa. I never had the chance to find out. isn't it?" "Yes. In the lull. He nodded to Maryann. and talking to Lisa in prim. the same priest who'd married Bess and Michael twenty-two years before. Maryann Padgett was wearing her Marionthe-librarian dress. He planned to ask if he could drive her home after the dinner. "Hi. and pretty lips." Father Moore. with a dinky white lace collar. and they all laid their coats in the rear pews. "Have you always lived in White Bear Lake?" "Born and raised there. and probably a prim little Sunday dress. bought a new pair of trousers and a sweater. hey-how about that. . it is.Then he drove to a mall. came in. Sure enough. "It's kind of a tough lifestyle. The vestibule was crowded. "I was just telling Lisa that I've never been in a wedding before. She had this little pixie face with blue eyes about the size of Lake Superior. with the tiniest mole above the upper one.

Randy.He was standing in the aisle." he said. . but when no response came. this is the first wedding I've ever been in. "Randy. where the Padgetts had reserved a private room for the groom's dinner. "Hi. I'll be seeing you. She saw him. he drifted away." Maryann whispered. How's it going?" Randy turned to encounter his father. too. Father Moore asked for silence. letting his eyes shift to Randy. Maryann." . and waited in the lobby for Maryann." "I guess it is for me. saying. other than my own. continuing to be dumbstruck by her. He removed all expression from his face and said. . they all went to a restaurant called Finnegan's. "Hi. and the smile thinned. when someone rested a hand on his shoulder blade. both of them. "Hello. side by side. and Randy said it is for him. that was your father! How could you treat him that way?" "The old man and I don't talk. . as if it wasn't his fault the family broke up? When the business at the church ended. but I don't mind. How could she sit there beside him as if they'd never split up. "Well . wanting to impress her." She smiled. a smile on her face." Michael nodded to the girl. "Except for his own ." "Don't talk! How can you not talk to your father?" She stared at Randy as if he'd just tripped an old lady. After the whole day of thinking about Maryann Padgett. Randy drove alone. the whole thing had been shot by the old man's appearance." As Randy's expressionless gaze followed Michael he repeated sarcastically. feeling self-conscious. "Okay. The door opened. "Hello again. Randy remained put out with Michael for intruding on what had begun as a conversation with some possibilities. her speech faltered. "Hello. . acting as if everything was just peachy." Michael waited. speaking with her father and mother. and she stepped inside." "Do you mind if I sit with you?" "You'd do better to sit with your father. too. I was just saying. and the rehearsal began. Why can't he just lay off me? During the rehearsal Randy was forced to observe his mother and father together.

" He tried to think of something more to say. "Would you please pass the salt?" She did. she remarked. He thought about writing a song about her hairsornething slow and evocative. peered around Maryann to study Randy a moment. My folks wanted something fancier for the groom's dinner. "Boys don't do that much anymore-open car doors. we do." She turned to Randy.He felt himself blushing. don't you?" "Yes. which fell to her shoulders. "I guess that would be all right. Randy wants to drive me home. and they followed her parents into the room where a long table waited to accommodate the entire wedding party. "I kind of suspected you'd ask me. but nothing came to mind." "Yes. Finally he said. he studied her hair. "Listen. Maryann talked and laughed with her parents. "Daddy. Walking behind her. and as she began removing her coat he said." She turned to her father. okay?" Jake leaned forward. I guess-your family. "Straight home. "You mean you want to?" he asked." He knew." He hung it up along with his own. and said. and Mark said it was fine as long as Mom didn't have to do all the cooking herself. on her right. amazed." "You all get along really well. She said nothing to Randy. He was one of them." "I'll have to ask my dad. Now he felt all glowy inside and decided if she could be . but this was all they could afford. He walked around to open the passenger door for her. I'll help you with that. Finally he asked. I mean." When the meal was over. but you have things to do early tomorrow. Daddy. When he was sitting behind the wheel. "Okay?" " He raised his right hand like a Boy Smut." He hadn't heard that answer since he was in the tenth grade. "Um-hum. with a polite smile that was worse than none at all. huh?" he said. While they ate. eager to extend every courtesy ever invented by men for women. his stomach in knots. I'll get in early. "Here. I was wondering if I could drive you home. there was a jumble of good-byes at the door. "Good food. putting his keys in the ignition. He and Maryann walked across the parking lot to his Nova.

"Okay. I work in a nut house.honest. pistachios." he replied." "And meanwhile?" "Meanwhile. But I will from now on. And you know what? Other' than for my mother. I don't do it much. "It's a warehouse. "Jesus." "A what?" She was already amused. It offends me." "I'd just as soon you didn't say Jesus that way. don't go with anybody. so I'll need a scholarship. It really gets crazy in a nut house at Christmas. He hadn't even realized he'd said it. and I spend a lot of time studying." If he told her how he'd skated through high school. "How about you?" she asked. but the comparison between their ambitions was pointed enough to sound ludicrous. she'd ask him to stop the car and let her out right here. cashews. he'd have her home in ten minutes. Just high school. I package fresh roasted nuts--peanuts." "Yes. I've . . otherwise. stalling for time." She laughed. as people always did. He adjusted the heater. Halfway to her house. driving twenty miles an hour in the thirty-mile zone through the residential district. He put the car into gear and headed toward White Bear Avenue. Christmas is our biggest season. he said. I really sound like a loser. ." "Say it. even to him." "And as for being a loser . "Could I ask you something?" "What?" "Are you going with anybody?" "I don't have time. "You got it." She buckled her seat belt-something else he rarely did-but he fished around." "College?" I "No. so could he. and I work on the school paper. "It felt good doing it. don't I?" "Randy. either. "Me? Nope. My folks can't afford college tuition. After a silence he said. which means I have to keep my grades up. well." "And you want to be a drummer. I'm in girls' basketball and track. I need to say something right up front. too. and engaged it. found his buried buckle." That was the last thing he'd expected.

"The hell with you. she gave Michael a hug. "Maryann. I kind of drifted through. Your sister made it. Especially school. "You said Jesus again." . Everything just sort of fell apart after that-home. Why didn't you?" He threw himself back into the corner of the seat and pinched the bridge of his nose. and said. but maybe you'd like to hear why. "See you tomorrow. I'm sorry! It just slipped out!" When the house door slammed. "Christ. Dad. and peeled down the street. He had a couple of good hits. He was smiling when he either said or didn't say. but the truth is. you can't blame him for that. he slugged the car roof with both fists. and married somebody else. "Listen." They reached her house." "When I was thirteen. gunned the engine. If you started sloughing off in school. Go to school. Your mother's done all right. I'm a good listener. "What are you doing. chasing this uptight broad!" He flung his body behind the wheel. studied her awhile." WHEN LISA SAID GOOD NIGHT to her mother and father at the restaurant. aren't we smug?" he replied. Randy parked on the street. He ran two stop signs and braked beside some strange house and got out his marijuana." "You think so? You aren't going to like what I have to say. "He messed up our family.always thought if a person feels like a loser. The lights were on." "Sure. he said." "Jesus. Curran. do something to boost your self-esteem. I know you think I'm a jerk because I don't get along with my dad. cursing a blue streak. and I'm leaving." He turned his head. school. he had an affair and divorced my mother. I'm sorry!" "I said you weren't going to like what I had to say. get a different job. Maryann Padgett." "And you're still feeling sorry for yourself. and cars were in the driveway. Looking straight out the windshield. each of us is responsible for ourself." "All right. He opened his door and shouted. he ought to do something about it. I don't know!" She was out of the car like a shot and heading for the house before he realized what he'd said. Do it once more.

Instead. Reaching their cars. "Keep up the good work. then stood looking at each other across the lot." "Why's that?" She gave no answer. Michael and Bess were the last two in the place. and mine will pick you up." "Uh-huh. "Only a dummy would say no to that. I think you're makin' points with Mom.gggreater-than It was a sterling." "Fine. "Well. walking at a forty-fivedegree angle away from one another. "Let yours take Lisa. "I wish I was going home with you and Lisa.. at his ear. I guess. one of the last times he'd do so before she took another man's name." "Not as much as it used to." They started toward the parking lot. the kind lovers . What do you say? Wanna ride to the wedding in a white limo?" She grinned. pleased." "Or treat ourselves. "I understand you're staying at the house tonight with Mom. while Lisa went out the door with Mark. Good night everyone!" Michael hid his surprise." "Good:" He smiled. "I've planned a surprise for Lisa and Mark. Four forty-five. "Hey." He held her extra long. Dad. The rest of the Padgetts said good night and left. "So did I!" "Are you serious?" "Nat only that. I've ordered a limousine to pick them up tomorrow." Then. Split the loss. standing near the door. "You know what?" Michael said." She broke away and smiled. Mom. I'll be ready. "I thought it bothered you to be around wonderful families. they unlocked their doors and opened them. she whispered. "They're a wonderful family. he said." "So did I" They began laughing. "What?" Bess said softly. "I don't know."Absolutely. We'll get there in time for pictures. He'd intended to say." Michael remarked. aren't they?" Bess said. dawdling. Michael said. Bess?" " llat". I had to pay for it in advance. clear moment.. putting on their gloves. what are we going to do about it?" Bess shrugged. "It looks to me like something-is cooking between Randy and Maryann. buttoning their coats." Bess's eyes widened. When they stopped. "See you at home." but thought better of it.

Michael. so unwilling . It was rare that Randy was home at this hour. Same crisscross curtains. It's hair in the morning and be at the church by flue for pictures. She opened the door and peeked inside." She looked around her room." To Lisa." "Well." "I don't think so. hey. Cupid seemed to have released his arrow and watched to see what mischief it might arouse. Sweet dreams. too. It's so great to see you side by side again. A light was on. Same rocking chair in the corner . honey. facing the wall. spending her wedding eve in her childhood home seemed meet. Mom. Mom was in her bathroom cleansing off her makeup. still dressed. "No. facing her closet. so she indulged herself and continued down to the walkout level. It almost seemed as if Dad would shut off the hall light. "You know what I'm happiest about. Things were much as they'd been when she was a teenager. . She went and sat down in it. though?" Lisa asked. stop in the doorway of her room. She smiled and replied." Bess went to Lisa and kissed the top of her head. that's a start. happy to be in love. but Lisa would. where to she knocked softly on his door." "Love you. and say. . but it failed to beckon her into those bygone days." Bess said. "You look all grown up sitting there. She felt ready for marriage: Nostalgia was fun. Bess appeared in the doorway rubbing lotion on her face. but no answer came. little bride. so hurt. . The arrow hit Bess smack in the heart. Same tiered bedspread. Music played low." "Well. "G'night. Her son-so proud. It's a wonderful feeling. Good night. Randy lay an his bed. where her wedding gown now hung on the door. "You and Dad. Bess went down to turn it off. She was happy to be altarbound. "I feel all grown up. "Would you call tomorrow a date?" Michael called." The light over the kitchen stove was still on. for no particular reason except that in the midst of it. I love you.remember for years after. I was just thinking how absolutely ready I am for marriage. "I'm going to get a full night's rest and wake up bright and early. isn't it?" "Is there anything you want me to do for you tomorrow? I'm taking the whole day off." she said. so I've got time." "We're getting along remarkably well. Randy was down in his roam with his radio tuned low. Same pale blue flowered wallpaper.

by nails. stood motionless." Neither of them moved toward the other. and Lisa spoke. Chapter Ten THE next day Bess had her hair appointment. "Hello. She forced herself to take one deep breath. Two things happened at once: Lisa came in from outside and Randy arrived from downstairs. turned out the lamp. Michael spoke first. Michael. and Lisa smiled up at her. dressed in an ivory tuxedo and apricot bow tie. "Mom. "Oh. and Randy kept asking for things-an emery board. She studied him a moment more. Upstairs. followed. She hurried to the window and held back the curtain. An awkward pause ensued. then turned to look at the place he'd once called home. Ill be part of the reason. Michael watched his daughter. Randy. in personal happiness. Randy halted abruptly at the sight of his father standing in the front hall. this is just great!" . She didn't know how to handle this young man. too. was hugging Lisa. "Two limos!" She wriggled from his embrace and danced outside. the handsome bend. then collected her purse and hurried out of her room. the two of them smiling and elated. Lisa returned. smiling. Michael was entering the house for the first time since he'd collected his power tools and left for good. Bess's stomach went fluttery. in business. in the front entry. really?" Lisa was squealing. taking in his surroundings like a man who had missed them very much. The familiar dress. Below her. For that moment it seemed Bess was looking down at herself. BY QUARTER to four I she was frazzled. some mouthwash. look what Mom and Dad ordered-two limos!" Bess started down the stairs. hen last-minute wedding errands to run. "Hey." "Hi. and hummed while putting on her makeup and donning her gown. He. If he fails. the calmest one of the trio. and most important. who hovered on a brink where an influence in any direction might decide his fate for years to come. Lisa wasn't home yet. There on the street were two white limousines. handsome. and quietly slipped from the room. gazing down at his wide shoulders in the tuxedo. a shoehorn. She dropped her shoes and makeup into her overnight bag and arranged everything I in the front hall for removal to the car when her father came. I He rang the bell at precisely four forty-flue. Randy. Downstairs. Bess remained motionless. She saw clearly that Randy could be a failure-in human relations. Daddy. she stopped. At the top of the stairs.

the soft smile on her lips. Randy. you can escort Lisa . Pictures at five. "Something's going on between those two. Neither of them denied that the past and the present were both at work." They rode the remainder of the distance." He smiled at her for interminable seconds before becoming aware that his children were observing." Bess said quietly." he decided. "Bess.". . and Randy. The climate was right-seductive even-and the trappings romantic. you look sensational. so threatening. Their gazes riveted. without speaking. The entire party went inside. "I know what you mean. an idiot could have detected the magnetism between them. Liveried drivers were standing beside them. and bewilder s ing. We'll be bumping up against nostalgic feelings all evening long. The Padgett family had already arrived at the church. "Hello. and it was exhilarating. Michael. her hand on the newel post. if that's okay with you. in the lead car." When the limo doors had closed everyone inside." "Haw are we doing this?" Randy asked as they headed out to the waiting cars." "All right. I hope so. taking in Bess's pale peach suit and matching pumps. . Michael said. "Your mother and I thought we'd ride in one. Michael turned his gaze on her and said. "Bess?" Michael covered her hand on the seat between them." In the trailing car. but that doesn't change what is. "Absolutely. Michael. "That felt just like when we used to leave for church on Sunday mornings." Bess said. where the photographer was setting up. "Well. and oh. It took a great deal of self-restraint for her to withdraw it. "if that's the way you want it. said." Lisa said." He stepped back. wooing and weakening them. "Now we should go." The day suddenly became charged with possibilities. rd say we all look great. "Let's be sensible. "Oh. The women went to the bride's changing room.Michael looked up. but she felt his eyes on her a lot. She stopped on the last step. The flowers were wait ing there in flat white boxes. Michael and Bess sat on the white leather seat. a careful space apart. .

and I believe this is both. will you? Maryann." he said. There. stopping before him. was a bouquet of apricot roses and white freesias that exactly duplicated the one Bess had carried at her own wedding. "It's working. too. They stood so close she caught the scent of his after-shave. You were right." "No girl ever made me watch my mouth before." Bess said emotionally. and j eyes." . but he represented an element of risk toward which she gravitated." Lisa said. Maryann walked toward Randy thinking that in her entire life I she'd never met anyone as handsome. i "You took our wedding pictures to the florist. Her hair hung in a cloud against a dress the color of a half-ripe peach." she said quietly. bouquet. darling. Mom?" Bess opened one of the boxes. Her collarbones showed. "There's a flower in there for Daddy. "Maryann?" She looked up. "All's fair in love and war. "Hi.Bess helped Lisa don her veil before a full-length mirror. conniving. would you do Randy's?" In the vestibule." Lisa approached her mother and lifted Bess's chin." Was his heart racing like hers? "I'm sorry. conscienceless girl. "They sent me with your flower. "I'm really sorry about last night." "Okay. as all habitually good girls will at least once in their lives." Lisa laughed and said." "You naughty. while the Padgett ladies fussed with their own last-minute adjustments. "Now my bouquet. and I'll try to watch it today." "No." "I probably could have been a little more tactful about it. I'm supposed to pin it on you. She'd certainly never gone with wild boys. I smiling into her glistening eyes." Bess felt her composure giving way as she lifted the. Go pin it on him. of course. "No fair. bow tie were created to be modeled against his dark skin. "Would you get it. too. His ivory tuxedo and apricot I. and the entire sweep of her shoulders above the wide V neck. She pulled the pearl-headed pin from an apricot rose and slipped her fingers beneath his left lapel. I think." "Of course. nestled in waxy green paper. Randy saw Maryann coming toward him dressed like some celestial being. hair.

" "I wondered if it was just a coincidence. "I suppose you noticed Lisa picked the same colors we had in our wedding. you get better-looking every six years! Now come on-you. and when the boutonniere was anchored. "I'm so happy." For the next hour the photographer set up pose ." The photographer interrupted." They had barely shaken hands with Gilbert Harwood. "Is this the fellow who's been " sending me Mother's Day cards for six years?" It was Stella." "And we're happy for you. Dad. His obvious infatuation with her resounded within some depth of womanliness that had lain dormant in Maryann until now. the dress rustled just as it had when Bess wore it." "It isn't. "Everyone. Bess-I want you to meet my main man. He was so handsome. and both Michael and Bess lost communion with everything but her. a goo1looking silver-haired man with a firm grip. "Mom. he was beautiful.She finished pinning on his flower and looked into his face again. Michael." "Would you mind pinning it on for me?" "Not at all. "Honey. As Lisa began moving toward them Michael's hand found Bess's and gripped it." she said. had taken a boutonniere from the box. too. Michael added. too. you look absolutely beautiful. please! I need the wedding party at the front of the church right now. she stepped back. isn't she?" dust then someone interrupted. and gone out into the vestibule to find Michael. "Ah." She slipped her hand beneath his lapel. coming at Michael with her arms spread. for just one day I will bend my own rules. when the bride appeared. "You beautiful dame!" They hugged with true affection. "Michael. She was so pretty-the synthesis of her mother and father-and as she moved." "This girl is serious about her matchmaking. I have your boutonniere. She stepped into the vestibule." Bess said. she thought. BESS. The bouquet might have been preserved intact from that day. reaching them. Today. much as when they were dating years ago. When she saw him. embers were I stirred. "Stella" he exclaimed.

Moments later there they were-Michael. DuRI-RRC the" final minutes with the photographer.after use. Please let this work. "Let's have Mom and Dad on the top step. the church where Michael and Bess had been married. And Michael thought. "A little to your left. put your hand on his shoulder. where Lisa and Randy had been baptized." then escorted Bess to the front pew. where they had gone as a family during all those happy years. Mary's. And Randy thought. guests began arriving-neighbors. comBess and Michael took their positions on either side of Lisa and watched Randy head down the aisle with Maryann on his elbow. so it feels quite fitting that I should be the one conducting this ceremony today.i lions running as close to the surface as at any time since the plans for this day began. Bess. and Lisa's old high school friends. and the strains of Lohengrin filled the church. Keep me here forever. It was time for the ceremony to begin. and Randy-on the steps in St. Now everybody squeeze in a little tighter. The organ rumbled. Hurry or I'll cry. aunts and uncles. They passed a sea of faces and gave up their daughter to the waiting groom. I know many of you who have come as guests today to witness . seated side by side." Michael placed his hand on Randy's shoulder and felt his own heart swell at touching him again. When their turn came. where they took their places. And Bess thought. Father Moore smiled benignly and told the gathered witnesses." the photographer said. Lisa. And Lisa thought. Soon the last of the guests were seated and the vestibule quieted. He pointed to Randy. And Dad. Dad's hand feels good. they stepped out with Lisa. "I've known Lisa since the night she came into this world. "Her mother and I do. their envo. and you two in front of them. then stood side by side until the traditional question was asked: "Who gives this woman?" Michael answered. Finally he called for members of the bride's family only.

. during whose reign as the center of their world they had been so unutterably happy. promising their fidelity and love to one another till death do them part. Lisa. Her concentra. for she was squeezing his right back." Bess saw Michael turn to look at her. but you express your own faith in the very institution of marriage-one man. Mark. . one woman. ." Lisa. Mark spoke clearly. "I." i Lisa and Mark joined hands. "I. . and moved on to others. take thee. Michael put a handkerchief in her hand. received Communion as they had in the past. their guests burst out right behind them. . his gaze steady. . their firstborn. In consolation? Regret? Affection? It mattered not. following their children up the aisle. and the words of the priest became lost on her." "Till death do them part . Bess and Michael participated in the remainder of the Mass together. "How wonderful that by your presence you not only do honor to this young couple who are about to embark on a lifetime of love and faithfulness to one another. in whom so many hopes had been realized. and tried to figure out what it had meant when they'd held hands during the vows. She squeezed back. She emerged from her preoccupation to find the guests getting to their feet. Now Lisa had them holding hands again. Michael squeezed Bess's hand so hard she feared the bones might snap." Tears rolled down Bess's cheeks. . His expression was solemn.tion was besieged. When they sat once more. and she followed suit." His eyes touched Bess and Michael. they were smiling. . "During the exchange of vows the bride and groom invite all of you who are married to join hands and reaffirm your own wedding vows along with them. When the organ sounded the recessional. When the bridal party burst from the doors of St. then found her other hand and squeezed it hard. I now pronounce you man and wife. She felt it as one feels a change of season on a particular morning when a door is flung open to reveal that winter is gone. Father Moore said. "By the power vested in me . You may kiss the bride. Mary's. She looked down. Lisa. The hugs and felicitations on the church ." these vows. ." While Lisa raised her happy face for Mark's kiss. for all to hear. mark. take thee.

each on half of the seat. Every table held a candle. and a retreat to the waiting limousines. on the other side of the car. but I intend to get my money's worth. and she released her disappointment in a careful breath. Dark had fallen. Above its sweeping front stairs. their dozens of flames reflected in a wall of glass that looked out over the river. "So this is what we're paying for. "Nothing.steps were accompanied by a quick shower of wheat. Finally Michael turned. They mounted the stairs and opened the heavy front door." he said at last. in the leather-wrapped privacy of the limousine. and a magnificent free-flying staircase. letting his knee cross the halfway point on the seat." Michael remarked as they mounted-the stairs. I don't know about you. and Bess had to search out his face. The Riverwood Club sprawled high above the banks of the St." "Mother. "What. which led to the ballroom above. Croix River. Michael?" He drew a breath and hesitated. Round tables with apricot-colored cloths circled a parquet dance floor. Chapter Eleven BE-SS and Michael rode to the reception. yet Bess could pick Michael out in the crowd within seconds of trying. too. She was studying him from clear across the room when Stella came up behind her shoulder and said. "He's easily the best-looking man in the place. "Well. at the Riverwood Club. "Bess?" he said. A fountain of it flowed just inside the ballroom. tilde He asked Bess. you're incorrigible. six tall fluted columns set off the grand front veranda." Randy and Maryann showed up with Hildy and . Gil thinks so." He started with the champagne. Michael helped Bess alight from the limo. The entry held a chandelier the size of Maryland. his pale tuxedo and dark hair beckoning from wherever he stood. "How about you? Champagne?" "Why not?" With their glasses in hand they parted and headed into the crowd to mingle. as if what he was about to say had taken great mulling. It was a huge room.

" "Besides school." He told her the truth." he said in his flintiest fashion. which pleased him. Lisa and Mark appeared. and her laughter died." She laughed. and go without baths for a week. "So tell me about these sports you're in." Once again. Mix concrete. though." The concept boggled him. She blushed and transferred her attention to her plate. "For a beautiful girl you sure are vicious. you're at the head table with us. "I suppose you've lettered. holding hands. You don't expect me to believe that." "Pardon me. but nothing serious." "I do a lot with my church group. I've taken girls out since then. "The last girl I dated seriously was Carla Utley.Jake. Bess and Michael found themselves seated together. you tilde aren't exactly Elephant Man. and we were in the tenth grade." "It's true. put roofs back on. come on. covering her mouth with a napkin. Mom and Dad." He studied her and asked. then she flashed . "Is that the line you use on all the girls?" "All what girls?" "I figure there must be plenty of them. being hugged and kissed by everyone." "All three years." "You do a lot of one-night stands?" He leveled his dark. "I think they're ready to start serving dinner now. I love school." "Oh. Bess hadn't realized that Michael had drifted up behind her." he said. long-lashed eyes on hers and said. At the same time Randy took his place beside Maryann." "Ocom course." She blushed again. We're thinking of going to Mexico this summer to help the hurricane victims there. until Lisa said. After all. "What'll you do there?" "A lot of very hard work. "You smell good tonight. "So what do you do for fun?" "What do you mean? That is fun. but if you go without baths. sleep in hammocks. those Mexicans are going to want you out of there long before a week is up." "And you get straight Z.

THE meal ended. "Who's Keith?" "This man I've been seeing. "Dance?" he asked. conscious of Lisa's wide smile. nobody knows how to waltz anymore. The music got louder and faster as the night wore on." Jake Padgett stood and said to his wife. It happened once again. . "let's have the other members of the wedding party join them. then another. including Michael and Bess. It was easy to forget they were divorced. great to do this with somebody who knows how?" "Boy.a quick. "I think we should. and a band started setting up. They had danced together for sixteen years. She moved into them. Flushed and exuberant. they captured the attention of everyone in the room. for the merest fraction o* a second her eyes detoured to his lips. "We always did this well. embarrassed glance his way. who'd been partners the entire time. you said it." "Is it serious?" "No. I swear." she answered. it's over. "Mother?" Michael glanced at Bess." Everybody got sweaty. The band leader called. Finally Michael hauled Bess by the hand back to their table. but as her glance fled away. RANDY and Maryann had also danced the entire time. It lasted only long enough for Maryann to grow more flustered. Darla surely doesn't. Michael?" "And we haven't lost it." After a time Michael asked." They remained on the floor for another song. and he followed her onto the dance floor. they collapsed into their chairs." "Isn't it. The band leader called the bridal couple onto the floor as the group struck up a waltz. As Lisa and Mark danced. had always attracted the admiring gazes of onlookers. He winked at the bride and turned to open his arms to Bess. didn't we. "I guess that means us. luring even doubtful middle-agers onto the floor with numbers like "La Bamba" and "The Twist. as they stepped with flawless grace into the three-quarter rhythm. As a matter of fact. wholly glad to be with him again." "Neither does Keith." Randy turned to Maryann and said. and another.

" "I haven't been around many girls like you. . . playing eye games." "What kind am I?" "Goody two shoes. He lowered his head and kissed her the way he used to kiss girls when he was in the seventh grade. nothing else touching. "It scares me. Randy drew his shoulder from the column and turned to her." "Have you?" she asked. walked down the grand staircase. standing close without touching. She put her hands on his shoulders." "Scares you! Why should my straight As scare you?" "It's not just them. Then he looked over at her. Want to go outside and cool off?" "Sure." they stood awhile looking." "Well then?" Her invitation was just reserved enough to make it acceptable. I guess so. "You must get it from your mom and dad. . stood waiting. . When one set ended. do you?" He shrugged. They looked great on the dance floor together." They left the ballroom." "Too busy getting straight As?" "You don't like that." "I never really danced much. you know . "It's hot in here. He embraced ." "Not even if you asked first and she said yes?" Miss Maryann Padgett. I bet. The fecund smell of thawing earth lifted from the surrounding grounds and farmlands." Maryann said as he released her arm and braced his shoulder against a fluted column. stars shone. Randy took Maryarm's arm and walked hey to the far end of the veranda. in her proper little navy-blue coat.talking little in the raucousness. out over the river. "I've been thinking about you a lot since I met you. "You're a good dancer. the moon as thin and white as a daisy petal. while he freed leis bow tie and collar button and said." "Yeah. and collected her coat: Outside. "Yeah. Lips only. it's the kind of girl you are. Church group." "Yes. she fanned herself with a hand. And National Honor Society. "So a guy like me just doesn't. make a play for a girl like you.

. where are you?" She shaded her eyes and scanned the room." Smiling. but a throng of his ." "Yes?" "Yes-with my parents" approval. but all the while." "All right. and he experienced a return to the innocent emotions of first kisses. she said. "Yes. but she kept hold of his hand. "It's my special night. everybody. and picked up the beat of "Good Love." "I wish I had my car tonight so I could drive you home. listen up" When the crowd noise abated. "A lot of you don't know it. "Pretty wild. Nol Not without getting wrecked first! But everyone was looking at him. will you?" Randy suffered some friendly nudging. come up here. Maybe I can drive you home. pretty wild. do you. As kisses went. while panic sluiced through him. but he stopped her. joined. "Let me think about it. right? Well. He lifted his head and kept a little space between them. "You and me. "Randy. melded into the edge of tilde the crowd on the dance floor. I want my little brother up here be Randy. "Hey. knowing he wanted more of this girl than he either deserved or probably ought to dream about. of course." She smiled. "I have mine. it remained chaste. Only their fingertips were." Now he took a turn at turning away." When the song ended. "I've thought about it. huh?" He smiled. Lisa and Mark?" "Yeah. There was no way he could slip outside for a hit. Would you go out with me next Saturday? To a movie or something?.her cautiously." "Oh. Jay?" Randy was genuinely embarrassed. they returned to the festivities. "One other thing." She turned to the lead guitar man. so to be I get what I want." he said." She started to turn away. Randy heard Lisa's voice over the amplifiers and turned in surprise to see her standing onstage with a microphone. sweetness coursed through him. but my little brother is one of the best drummers around." "I accept. "You don't mind if Randy sits in on one.

giving Randy a solo. he doing working in that nut house?" "He's scared. "Good job. From the dance floor." Randy . then did a riff from high to low across the five I drums circling him." the band's drummer said. "Go ahead. "Okay. said. "How "bout a little George Michael? You guys know "Faith"?" ."Yo! "Faith" we got. It's the only thing he really cares about. he wondered if Charlie Watts felt like this after performing with the Stones-the rush." "What's. "You ought to get yourself an agent. Randy. Then some silent signal was exchanged. "Who did you say you play with?" "I don't."Give him a little "Faith. the exhilaration. "Thanks." he said. Randy." With his palms sweating he removed his tuxedo jacket and handed it to her." A roar of applause went up as Randy struck the cymbals for the last time and the song ended.peers had circled him and Maryann. "He's good. holding his jacket while he slipped it on. "Yeah. "You're really good. shaking Randy's hand." And to the band. the high) Maryann was smiling proudly. isn't he?" "When did this happen?" "It's been happening since he was thirteen." "Thanks. entranced. then taking his arm. He selected a pair of sticks from a quiver hanging on a drum. Please. Randy. stared at Randy. His intensity was total." None of the applause counted as much as her approval. At Michael's side Bess said. Randy. and the band dropped off. Michael watched.gave them a lead-in and struck into the driving. man." The band's drummer stood as Randy leaped onto the stage and picked his way around the bass drum and cymbals." on his beat. straddled the revolving stool. and said to the lead guitar man. and straddling his seat. The crowd had stopped dancing and stood awestruck." "Of what? Success?" "Possibly. saying. but don't run away. Then suddenly his . More probably of failure." The drummer stopped cold a moment. as his son became immersed in the music." On his way back to Maryann. Maybe I will. do it!" Maryann took his hand and said. syncopated beat of the song.

He smiled blearily at the group. and the moment was lost. and held it deep in his lungs. thank you. And thanks for playing. it's off. Maryann. "Hey. Said she'd be right back." . But how could he do that with Maryann looking on? And his mother? Then Lisa and Mark were there." he said. Jamming in somebody's basement had never been like this. Instead. then followed her out into the hall. Randy. took the hit. Go smoke your pot and be a loser. He packed his bat. "She went to the ladies" room. It didn't take long. I don't-was "Don't lie." "Listen. sure. "You've got to bet out of that nut house. Randy knew." Her eyes were like ice as she turned to him. he'd be in his arms." If he moved. I don't care. "No. "let's dance. and this stellar moment would be complete. She was sitting at a table with her parents. Randy. blocking out the stars. as she jumped to her feet. lit it. Maryann looked as if she hated him. "I think you know what I mean. "What do you mean?" She jerked her arm free. By the time he left the veranda. . he gripped her arm. Randy returned to the shadows at the far end of the veranda. okay?" "Yeah. . He felt like a zinging neon comet and thought if he didn't smoke some grass to celebrate. and I saw you with that little pipe! You can find your own way home. "Where's Maryann?" he asked Lisa. and as far as Saturday night goes. little bro. "Hey. wait." If he hadn't been stoned. he believed he was Charlie Watts." she said." he said. I came outside looking for you. he'd never have another chance to get the. highon-high. I gotta go outside and cool off some. even half moved toward his dad. "I don't hang around with potheads. his eyes closed. You're too good to squander all that talent. and Maryann was gone. It'd be wildl He looked around. He went inside to find Maryann." Outside." Everyone at the table was watching. Lisa.mother was there kissing his cheek: And his father was clapping his shoulder with immense pride in his smile. "Sorry. he might have done the sensible thing and backed off.

reclined in the back seat of the limousine. but instead. The two men carried the gifts inside . "you fit in so remarkably well. "Shall I help you carry the gifts inside. his breath warm against her cheek. The driver stood beside the open trunk. and they rode. and soon they'd reached the house on Third Avenue. Michael Curran?" "I'm feelin' goodl" he said. She could feel his heartbeat beneath her jaw. You and I are divorced. It was the familiarity of that first step on the dance floor magnified a thousandfold. she kissed him back. tipped her his way.She turned and horned away. and the subtle euphoria created by the dancing and drinking. sir?" "I'd appreciate that. BESS and Michael." "You don't dance much like a grandpa. no you don't. Bess interrupted their idyll. "You know what?" [*thorngg'ationrhat?" "I don't feel much like a grandpa. She thought of the dozens of arguments she ought to voice. and put an arm around her. He drew away. In time. neither of them surprised it had happened. "This is ridiculous. without saying a word. Michael rolled his head to look at her. And. their eyes-closed. curled his hand around her far arm." "Hey. it felt good. and the presence of each other." Smilingea"she settled beneath his arm and decided to enjoy being there. in silence thinking about what they'd just done. She laughed. and kissed her. Bess. nestling her close." Bess led the way." "I do. come here. a faint sense of motion massaging the backs of their heads through the supple leather. You're staying right here. "The trouble is. the leather seat soft against her head. my. unlocking the door." she said quietly. "Just what do you think you're doing. he just leaned forward." He clamped her wrist. don't I?" They spent time with their private thoughts. Then. "Oh. only wondering what it portended. They enjoyed the silence. What are we doing snuggling in the back seat?" She tried to pull away. turning on lights.

" He gave a boyish smile. "Let me know if you change your mind. He ignored the voice. Dad. "I had fun today. Michael Curran stood at the window of his sixth-floor St. he was down in his room asleep. "We shouldn't. A lull fell. congratulations. They weren't sure if Randy was home or not." he replied. I'll be out in just a minute. Their arms slipped around each other as they sauntered. "Thanks for your help. dipped his head. In his saner moments he agreed with her.and stacked them in the family room on the floor and the sofa." she said with a throaty chuckle." Chapter Twelve Tlast of the March snows had come and gone. "So did L" She turned to face him. Michael followed the drivel to it and said. He linked his hands on her spine. followed by the sleety. . Bess. He opened the door and flashed a sudden. I know. An inward voice warned it was unwise. I devilish smile. Mom. hip to hip." he said. and against all his basic instincts. awaiting only sun to set them free. The buds on the trees were swollen." Michael said. The front door stood wide open. If so. perused an . Paul office watching a wedge of returning ducks landing on the river." His glance tinned to her. she whispered. He sat down at a drafting table. and kissed her-fully and without restraint. He'd called Bess twice in the past month and asked her out. he stepped away from her. steely days of early April. "Walk me to the door. I like what you've done with this room. he thought about her a lot. to the door. Would they or wouldn't they? The question glimmered between them. From outside came the faint note of the limousine engine." Michael slowly walked the length of the hall back to the family room. When he lifted his head." "Yeah. "The house looks nice. but I she'd said she didn't think it was wise. Still. . "Congratulations. "Thanks. "Well .

Paul. And one vacant parking lot owned by Michael Curran. The meeting was held in an elementary school lunchroom. Now. he had purchased a prime lot on the corner of Victoria and Grand.architectural drawing I of a two-story structure he proposed to build for retail stores and parking. Victoria and Grand-known familiarly as Victoria Crossing-had in the late "70's sported no less than three vacant corner buildings. Jim Stringer. who'll be co-owner of the building with me. Michael had enlarged the area planned for parking and hired a public relations firm to create a friendly letter of intent. yuppie. What we want all of you to think about is this. Nearly two hundred copies of the letter had been distributed to business owners and homeowners in the vicinity. That lot is going to be built on eventually whether you like it or not. which included the architect's concept of the building. The Crossing was now one of the premiere shopping areas in St. Eventually Grand Avenue had been rediscovered. the firm's architect. . flower boxes. met Michael there. and three charming malls at the major intersection. "People can't shop if they can't park!" complained the merchants. and all that clientele needed parking space. commercial intersection flanked by upscale. redone. "This is my architect. you . Four years before. Michael stared at the drawing-remembering the brouhaha his proposed building had caused at last month's Concerned Citizens' meeting: "More stores mean more cars on our side streets!" was the cry of the nearby homeowners. showing that the proposed parking would hold more cars than the flat lot presently there. an upscale. yuppie residential streets lined with Victorian mansions that had regained fashionable status during the last decade. Tonight he'd see if any minds had changed. Michael was allowed to speak first. and wondered if it would ever get built. Now its turn-of-the-century flavor was back in the form of Victorian streetlights. revitalized. The meeting had ended in a standoff. He rose and said. Jim Stringer.

the cooking school and latchenwares shop right across the street from that lot. I think a half-dozen more tasteful specialty shops will be good for business all around. It was pleasant. The . I say let him put up his building. and she told him. do we invite in our own competition?" The discussions went on for some time. the citizens had not voted to allow Michael's building." They shook hands. Radway"-he extended his hand-"I want to thankeay for what you said in there. That happened a week later. She was perhaps fifty-five. That piece of land is too valuable to remain a parking lot forever. What about my view?" Someone else demanded. we've scaled down the number of square feet in the commercial building and increased the area for parking. that's what makes the Crossing thrive." He thought about her on his way home. but you people have to bend a little. afterward he wandered over to the shop. "My name is Sylvia Radway." When the meeting ended. was I only said what I believe. and I own The Cooks of Crocus Hill." Someone stood up and said. deciding that next time he was up at the Crossing he'd stop at her store and buy something. He was having lunch in the area. We want to keep the flavor that's been so carefully preserved here because. Radway at the door. and I think Mr. since our last meeting. but the tide of objection had clearly moderated. It made all the difference. until a woman stood up at the rear. I've been listening to everything that's been said here.can wait for someone to come along who's going to build today and be gone tomorrow. "What kind of shops will be in there? If we say yes. Now. Curran is right. by way of showing his appreciation. or you can go with Jim and me. and the smile on her face looked habitual. and watch our property values rise. after all. too. That's our bid toward compromise. smelling j of herbal teas and exotic spices. Michael caught up with Ms. "Ms. "I live in the apartment building next door.

" "Ah . "Steam a few fresh asparagus spears. look who's here." His "Do you have an equipped kitchen?" Sylvia Radway asked. did you. Mr. She smiled." She paused. AT THE Coors of Crocus Hii. When Michael hesitated. the class numbered eight. nothing. "No. Have a look. then you actually prepare food yourself. felt foolish saying so.. Mr. . He thought about Bess. "Trouble is. "Probably because nobody's ever turned you on to it. Sylvia Radway stood behind the counter. and imagined her surprise if he sat her at a table and pulled a gourmet supper out of the kitchen. I take it you're single. Mr. she waved him in.i. "What in the world is pecan praline mustard glaze?" "Delicious on a baked ham. Curran?" He smiled. Curran. to a large. "Well. She'd get up and search the broom claret for the cook! "What do you say. "Would you like to see our kitchen?" She led the way to the second floor. yes. you'll pay for any extra classes you want to take. I won't sell you a thing that's unnecessary." "Then I'll make you a deal. Today's women love men who cook for them. Come to sign up for cooking class. a couple of new potatoes with the skins on." she said. And the pact was made. "Come "on.shelves were loaded with everything for the gourmet kitchen. How does that sound?" It was tempting." "Oh." he admit be ted. Just smear it on and bake. Our instructors demonstrate. "We teach you everything from basic equipment to how to stock your kitchen with staples. Curran?" j "Not exactly. He loved baked ham. I don't cook. and you have a meal fit for a visiting dignitary. I'll give you your first cooking class free if you buy your ldtchenwares from the shop. If you enjoy it. "I can't even . We have a lot of men in our basic classes. yeah?" he said. Michael felt less stupid when one leaned closeand quietly confided to him." He glanced at the assortment of jars on the j counter. and five of them were men. gleaming whitetiled kitchen." She made it sound so easy. He meandered farther inside. and for the first time ever.

He bought cookware. Then. and get the whole works cooking at the proper time so it all ended up on the table together-hot and pretty and perfect. They spoke briefly of the children." "Fine. he discovered a growing satisfaction with his life. and omelets. Michael hung up. I can leave the key with the caretaker. and approval for himself as a person. she wanted no more of them or of him on a personal level. He discovered the wonders of fresh garlic. More important. she said. in a more intimate voice. Michael Curran felt as proud as the day he'd received his college diploma. Evenings he'd stop at Byerly's for fresh meat and vegetables.make Kool-Aid. dishes. but in mid-May she called to say the first of his living-room furniture had arrived. crack and whip eggs. Later he learned how to roast a chicken and how to make gravy. He hadn't seen Bess since the wedding. When he sat down to taste the fruits of his labor. "Also." but to what avail? She had made it clear the kisses they'd shared had been ill advised. and silverware from Sylvia and was amazed at how his outlook had changed." He wanted to say. dice ham and onion." Their teacher was not Sylvia Radway herself. disappointed. of stir-frying. "How have you been. but a portly woman with a knack for making them laugh at their own clumsiness and revel in each small success." "Me. too. the window treatments are ready to install. Busy. After a brief lecture they made applesauce muffins. Michael?" "Okay. and of old-fashioned meat loaf. Can we set up a date for me and my installer to come out and do that?" "Do I have to be there?" "Not necessarily. "I'm learning to cook. mix batter." A pause followed. His singleness now took on a quality of peace rather than loneliness. then there seemed little else to say." "Then any day is okay. What had he wanted of her? Her . They learned how to measure flour and milk.

How unwelcome the thought of being no more to her than a client. as if she belonged there. How welcome the idea of her in his personal space. things are going to be coming in .approval of the strides he was making in his life? No. hil How do you like the furniture?" "Furniture looks great. like that following a lovers" quarrel. I like it. One evening Michael arrived home to find his living-room sofa and chairs before the fireplace. "Hi. but apparently that was not to be the case. striving to keep his voice casual. He looked around with a queer feeling in his chest. Listen. In those moments he missed her with a desolate longing." "So do I. Simply to be in the condo when she came by with her worlanen to bring furniture or trim windows. He phoned her. and his windows sporting vertical blinds." "Michael. Bess. realizing Bees had been there putting his house ifi order. He realized he had been subconsciously planning on seeing her repeatedly during those times.

" She was wearing a classy yellow sundress. no." She got to her feet and began ." "Oh. overlooking the lake. He signed up for another series of cooking classes. usually. Finally. He went to Bess. "Bring them over. pulling oversized staples out of its four feet with a pair of needle-nosed pliers. the message he'd been waiting for: "It's Bess. I'm only too glad to see the place tilde up. so I have more chances to bump into you. or keep bringing them out as they arrive?" As they arrive." "I don't." "Well. A long smoked-glass table was in place. He put them away in a drawer and made out one last check for his lawyer. hello. a floor lamp. and opened one of the sets of sliding glass doors. This is my job.m." He came home the next day at four p. "Well . "Here." She was on her knees beside an upturned chair. and ate his meals on the deck. His divorce became final in late May: He received the papers feeling much as he did when a business deal was concluded. I didn't think you came home this early. "Thanks. to find her in his living room-dining room removing the wrapping from his six upholstered dining-room chairs. its matching jacket draped on the sofa." He grew accustomed after that to coming home and finding another item or two in place-the living-room tables. You're all dressed in your good clothes. huge potted plants that made the room look complete. "Michael. . Talk to you soon. Would you like me to hold them and bring the pieces out all at and heavy now." He took the pliers out of her hand." He removed his suit coat. let me help you with that. "Here. knelt. so are you. and began pulling the remaining staples. . Just called to say your dining-room table is here and your leather sofa is on its way. bought a patio table. then receded to a faint breeze. give me those. He stopped in the doorway and said. The summer air bellied in. tossed it onto the 444 sofa. on his answering machine in late June.

aren't we. so I've been knocking off a couple hours early once a week and lying in the backyard. he said. I have to admit. and I sit out there in the evenings and enjoy the water. it's felt heavenly." She prattled on while they busied their eyes with more sensible pursuits. You really know your business. Bess. a soft expression in her eyes." He finished with the chair. . let them drop." She nodded. . Their gazes remained twined while seconds tiptoed past. "I guess that's it. and when the entire dining room set was in place. they stood at opposite ends of the table admiring it." He was closer to the jacket and was holding it for her . "You've got a suntan. this place is coming together so beautifullyl Are you pleased. Bess broke the spell. or is there anything you don't like?" "No! No. "I talked to Lisa yesterday. I'd better. Looking at Michael. and his steady hazel eyes hinting he might be having the same thoughts as she. "I got myself that patio table. "Now. and she slid over another to be unwrapped. "Heather's been scolding me for working too hard." "We're slowing down some." he said. "Well. exchanging glances of approval. then. with his open collar casting shadows on his throat. I like it all. I have to hand it to you. "We deserve it at our age. He finished unwrapping the chairs. It was armless. while he loosened the knot in his tie and freed his collar button. I'd better get home. She became conscious of his attractiveness as he knelt beside the chair. and headed for her jacket. Michael." He nodded toward the glass doors. Setting back to work. these are smart. Bess experienced a rekindling of old feelings. Michael?" He stopped working and lifted his gaze to find her studying him.examining one of the unwrapped chairs. or I won't have it long. with a solid upholstered back covered in a subtle design of mauves and grays." "I've been doing the same thing on my deck." "Well." Bess lifted her shoulders.

"I have to hand it to you. When it arrived." Chapter Thirteen tilde sttilde cHnEL had thrown himself upon the mercy of Sylvia Radway and admitted. He shrugged and raised his palms to hip level. Y. I'm cookin". "You'll miss the chance of a lifetime. When she turned. So what was wrong with that? They were single and uninvolved . I'll see you then." "Six thirty?" he asked. opened it. "Are you putting me on? Do you really know how to cook?" He laughed and replied. "Yes." she replied cockily. Okay. cloth place mats and napkins. chilled white wine from France." . Michael. At ten to six on Saturday evening Michael paced around the table he'd just finished setting. a hand at her chest. and a detailed menu plan. "Wait till Saturday night and see.". j "How about having dinner with me on Saturday night?" "Me?" she asked. Curran. and turned. giving him a distinct advantage. Michael. Disgustingly obvious. her eyes wide. and watched her as she pushed the button for the elevator. "I want to impress a woman." She was unable to speak. What do you say?" She realized her mouth was hanging open. a bowl of fresh white roses and blue irises. changed her mind. We'll christen my new table. She slipped it on. "This I've got to see." He walked her to the door. "be "Dinner here." "comfoul" Her expression of surprise lit him up inside. and shut it. "Good. You still have the ability to shock me. she began to step aboard.before she could reach it. But he wanted to knock her socks off. surveying the results. What should I do?" The result was a pair of candleholders with blue tapers. "I took it up. Obvious. he admitted he wanted more." "I don't think so. then picked up a black patent handbag. "All right. he was standing very near.

he barricaded the way. "Why." With his hands on the doorframe. what elegance!" she said. luxury. She was waiting. waiting for her reaction. Michael passed her and led the way toward the rim. looking back over his shoulder. "Did you do all this?" He rose and went up behind her. and Bess was dying to see it. She called from the lobby at precisely six thirty.with anyone else." She nestled deeper for a moment and then got up. . now that he'd set the stage. Michael." She stepped aboard. Still. He let himself get thrust out of her disway. He smiled." She entered his condo ahead of him. White pleated jeans. you don't really want to see it. for the family room. . had finally arrived. He remained where he was. and he left his door open and rode the elevator down. . She looked as studiedly casual as he. He checked his watch and hit the bathroom to shower and change: Because the table suddenly looked so overdone. "Let me see!" she said impatiently. a polo shirt in primary colors. where he stopped in the doorway and deliberately blocked her view. moccasins. She headed straight for the Natuzzi. "Are you kidding? Does a man like a Porsche? A World Series ticket on the first-base line?" "Mmm. he himself purposely set out to look underdone. wearing white slacks and a periwinkle-blue cotton sweater. and bare feet in a pair of white. "You ready for this sofa?" he teased. "You didn't need to come down. She dropped onto it and snuggled deep. "Blame it on good breeding. Michael figured Bess would be back in her car before he could say Casanova. Do you like it?" He sat down at a right angle to her. "I didn't get a chance to look at it before it was delivered. "Ah." "mom whom?" She was caught in the throes of disbelief. I know the way up. The cream leather sofa. nudging him. "So how do you like the dining-room furniture by now?" she asked as she walked toward the dining room. do you?" "Michael!" she exclaimed. "Aw. "Not without a little advice.

" He could tell she was surprised by his sentimentalism. not at all. "When did you take this cooking course?" "I started in April. They sat on either side of the patio table. Her expression became wi/l as she continued admiring the table. is she someone important?" "No." "Be right back." She looked back at him. and I happened to meet a woman who owns a cooking school there. Finally Bess broke the silence. blue irises . They watched some sails on the water and listened to the soft slap of waves meeting shore. "Please. . and said. he found Bess standing before the open door enjoying the view. he checked the glazed ham in the oven." His answer wrought only the subtlest change in Bess. actually. but he detected it in the faint relaxing of her shoulders. Everything had changed with the sight of that dining-room table: there was no question anymore. turned on the burner under the tiny red potatoes. . I'm doing some developing over at Victoria Crossing. in cushioned chairs angled toward the lake." "You went to cooking school?" she said in amazement. and opened the wine." In the kitchen. ."A lady who owns a cooking school. this was a stab at a new beginning. "Yes. and sat unnaturally hushed. "Shall we go out?" he suggested. but suddenly they found themselves tongue-tied. Returning to the living room. "All this-roses. experiencing the uncertainties of forging into that second-time-around. "Would you like a glass of wine. I guess I just came to the realization that you can't always rely on somebody else to take away ." "I'm stunned." "Like the cooking?" "Yes. "I've been doing more things for myself lately. centered the cheese sauce for the fresh asparagus in the microwave. the evening jewel clear." She swept a hand toward the centerpiece. I did. . handing her a goblet. Bess?" "Yes." "This woman . The setting was lovely.

"I've got some last-minute things to do." "Can you blame me? This is incredible. Michael was measuring Parmesan cheese into a bowl. and the sky became purple. Then he came in with two loaded plates." He opened the refrigerator and took out two bowls of salad." "Is it working?" She looked over at him. not a thing. The sun lowered." When she was seated. She took her empty wineglass and went inside to the kitchen. "Oh. as if she'd met this attractive stranger only that night. standing there watching me. If you want to do something." He smiled and left. The picture he made was so unexpected. "Could you be more specific?" She looked up to find two candles and an iris directly in her line of vision. "I knew you'd say that. "Holy cow. "hope. motioning. he placed before her a plate of steaming. .he said." "Yes. She stared at it. a dish towel over his shoulder. "there. She craned to one side to see around them. He laughed and said. "Listen. brought a welcome serenity. "Anything I can do to help?" He looked around and smiled. It really is. That's growth. times change. "Who really cooked this?" she asked. dumbfounded. "Sit down. Everything's under control"-he laughed nervously-"I think. I'm happier than I've been in years. coupled with the sense of dissolving friction between her and Michael. Michael. while he seated himself opposite her.your loneliness. "Yes. still staring at his accomplishment. she felt a thrill. the wineglasses were filled and the salads were on the table. and by the time she'd lit the blue candles. savory food." "That's wonderful." He checked his watch. A person's got to change with them."." He searched the kitchen drawers." "Matches?" she asked. She listened to sounds drifting out from the kitchen and wondered what he was making. The coming of evening. You've got to do something about it yourself." She spread her napkin on her lap and sampled . you're making me nervous. go light the candles. Why don't you just sit here and relax. came up with matches. well . ." she said.

Now let's get this meal off to a proper start." she seconded. this time when I got my divorce papers. "More coffee?" "I'd love some. Toying with his coffee cup." He felt as if he'd just landed a job as head chef at The Four Seasons." "To bygones. trying not to let their total freedom cloud judgment. "You've got them already?" dis. leaving her?" "Absolutely. I'm coming down there." Bess felt a pleasant shock. ." . She shut her eyes and murmured. She was filled with praise. "To bygones. and she followed suit. I just put them away and thought. "To ." He picked up his wineglass and slid his place mat down near her end of the table. When I left. and it's great." He thought awhile. fantastic. "There. So be it. their gazes fused. while he watched closely for her reaction. They ate and drank and talked. Now. I feel like I'm on Dallas. their glasses poised.yuP. "Why do you suppose we were both so hateful?" "I don't know. then abruptly clacked down his silverware onto his plate. "With Darla it was different. "Mmm. "Aw. then relaxed over coffee and dessert-a sinful-looking chocolate cake from Byerly's. All I know is. They drank. I finally managed to get over the feeling. "Well!" he said. . Michael said. tilde For a minute they studied each other.the asparagus first. that's better. "Sure different from you and me. I just sort of"-he shrugged-"walked out and felt relieved." Bess said." He lifted his glass. I moved into her place. that's not true anymore. breaking the spell." In silence they compared that scenario to their own upon divorcing-all the bitterness and anger. He peered around the centerpiece. and he with pride. "and letting them be. "You want to know something? Ever since I divorced you I've longed to live back in our house in Stillwater." He looked very self-satisfied as he continued." he said. so it never really felt like ours. Bess." "It really was that simple. for the first time.

and you don't even remember the remarks?" "No. He ran water into the roaster in which he'd baked the ham." He set down his cup carefully. What do you say?" "All right. "I go through six years of obsessive selfimprovement. and all I wore were jeans and sweatshirts." "You named it earlier--comgrowth: his She wiped off a cabinet top. But if I made them. You implied that I'd gotten fat and seedy. I'm sorry. but when it came to stepping close and bringing the dance to its logical conclusion. Bess. . and in all these years I've never put on a pair of jeans again. hell!" She covered her face. "I said that?" "You mean you don't remember?" "No. "Tell you what. You know what that did to me? No matter how I look." She felt one corner of her mouth threaten to grin.He poured the coffee. it was as simple as that. Michael. Bess followed with their cups and saucers. disturbed by her quick change of mood. and when he was seated again. Neither of them moved. They were doing a mating dance. "What?" "Something you said to me just before we got divorced that's been aggravating me ever since. They had loved and lost once before and were terrified of the same thing happening twice." "Oh. There. she said. I don't. "We've covered a lot of ground tonight. And there's nothing wrong with your shape. "Let's go out and walk along the lakeshore. I'm still critical of myself. may I tell you something?" She was glowering at him." he said." she said. and both knew it. They might very well suspect the outcome. She remarked. "What did I say?" I "You said I'd stopped taking care of myself. then pretended to pound on the table with both fists." He stared at her in astonishment. Michael took their dessert plates to the kitchen. both backed off. He began putting plates into the dishwasher. closing the dishwasher door. Finally they walked over to the public beach. now I've gotten it off my chest.

and . while they held one another tentatively.speaking little. Bess said. crossed it. In one fluid motion he stretched beside her and kissed her." he said. "I'm not at all sure this is the right thing to do. as if his decision had been made. "Do we need this?" he asked. and he entered the family room." The tone of his voice became sultry. and stopped several feet from her. after which he searched her eyes. For moments he remained so. Cautiously she sat up in a last-ditch decision for common sense. fearing. and fear of repeating those failures. hope. The choice 's mine. "Neither am L" "But I've been thinking about it all night. while Bess continued to the family room and flopped onto her back on the leather sofa. Their breakdown marked the end of a long abstinence for both of them. needing time before taking one more step. his voice gruff with emotion. Michael stopped off at the bathroom. They looked at each other-uncertain." He kissed her againa long kiss." he said. "So you planned on this." She lifted her arms in welcome. we need that." "Let's just say I was hoping. too. "Come here." "Yes." "Yes. while past and present welled up arid became enmeshed in this embrace-desire." "Familiar. bringing with it a rightness he welcomed. Their kisses became stormy. "Stop." Familiarity had caught him." Michael said. Smiling. "What do you think?" he asked. "I liked you better lying down. He drew a foil condom packet from his trouser pocket. in the pose of deep reflection. risk it or risk nothing. feeling the sand close in around their shoes and hold them rooted. past failures. amity. Grandma. so do you. and his grin was teasing as he reached for her. He moved toward her smilelessly. lingering question. a soft. grasping her shoulders and pressing her against the pliant cream leather. "You feel good. 1 can stay or go. In his condo." "Ah. Then they turned and walked back. The bathroom door opened. desirous.

" "All right." "We could just keep having a torrid affair." "A torrid affair? Michael. She felt reality return with every minute. while . I will." "Good luck. "Aren't you?" He studied her eyes for some time before answering." "Yes. IN nm afterglow. But be serious. "Yes." "Answer it. "What are we going to do about this?" he asked quietly." After a long pause she asked. what have you been reading?" "We're awfully darn good together." he said.they ended six-nearly seven-years of separation." "Then I'll just go home and pretend this never happened.if I ever heard one. Bess looked at Michael and found him studying her without the smile she'd expected. How much do you think we've changed since our divorce?" "That's a loaded question . they welcomed the breath of early night drifting in through the doors to cool their skins." "I'm scared to. watching her go toward his bathroom. "I don't know. I know. Bess.

Maybe. She went to the doorway and called." He stared at her with a hurt look." She stood across the room. Reality was the two of them. She returned to the family room. . her heart racing with fear because of what he had almost suggested. but what assurance was there? What fool would put his hand in the mill wheel after his finger had been cut off his She said." A great. Michael. They had changed a lot. " She ran out of words. Maybe it's not such a good idea. She found an Ace bandage. "Yeah. why are you blaming me? You were planning on it just as much as I wall" "Yes. Michael. leaving a sense of grave emptiness. that it's. "Listen. I was. "Should I call you?" "I don't know. Michael was standing at the sliding glass door. feeling like she was probing his private domain. terrifying void reared up before both of them.she donned her clothes. . obviously troubled by the same misgivings as she." "Sure." She began opening his vanity drawers. so he was single. I just think . "I don't know. But she didn't like being duped inffbelieving this was an uncommon occurrence in his life! She slammed the drawer and did what she could with her hair. Alka-Seltzer. I think I'll go. You could use some more small items on the tables here. "Well. . "What? A mistake?" She remembered the condoms. and an entire box of condoms. "May I borrow a brush?" "In one of my bathroom drawers. I'm not blaming you. "Thanks again. Michael. dental floss. failures the first time around. Her anger dulled. fine. It was wonderful. An entire box! Bess found herself blushing with anger. but I think it's best if you find them on your own." His expression grew angry." He dropped his chin to his chest and whispered. All right. "Bess. and single guys probably bought condoms by the dozen." he answered. "Damn. Michael." and he made no reply as she saw herself out and . "Thank you for supper. wearing only his jeans. . He was staring out at the darkness. I've been thinking." He swung to face her.

ran from the idea of starting again. First you divorce him. snagged a robe." "Okay. agents. Mom? I've been hangin" around here all night waiting to tell you." When Bess came out of the bathroom. "What's wrong?" "Nothing." "Turns out old Gilbert used to own the Withrow Ballroom. all the lights were on." "With Dad?" Randy's ebullience fizzled. club owners. "And all because I played at that wedding. I got an audition! Grandma's old dude. basically. with its pastel stripes and cabbage roses. Come upstairs with me. Great." Bess got up and walked to the dresser. and tell me about this band. and look what happens. and he knows everybody-bands." "I was with your dad.fourteen tilde tilde rr Bess got home. then fell pensive for a time. I've got to call them tomorrow. calling through the door as she changed. Randy. Then she turned. "Ma." Randy sat looking at her. and went into her bathroom. "I thought it was some catastrophe. When's the audition?" "I don't know yet." "Yeah. Gilbert. fiddling with some bottles and tubes. "I just don't understand you." He clambered off the bed. huh?" "That's wonderful." "Dad cooked dinner?" "Yes. Can you believe that?" Randy wobbled his head in amazement. She had barely sttilde put her foot inside when Randy came charging to the front door. Randy was sitting on the bed looking out of place in her boudoir. "Old Gilbert. got me one with this band called The Edge!" Bess released a breath. "Why?" "He caked dinner for me." "You see? Just a little courage." She led the way to her bedroom. . He's been talking to guys about me since Lisa's wedding. sometime in the afternoon. Where were you. that's all. "So what's this between you and the old man?" "Nothing. she sat down in a chintzcovered chair. "So what kind of music does this band play?" "Rock. where you been? I thought you'd never get home!" Terror struck. "We're just friends. Chapter . A mix of old and new. And a very good one at that. Gilbert said.

You name it. with Watson singing lead. and the band struck into the song." Randy reached up. and adjusted the height of a cymbal. She sat on the bed trying to make sense of things. The band had their equipment set up onstage for their evening gig and were working on balancing sound when Randy walked in with a pair of drumsticks in his hand. "So what do you know?" Randy shrugged. "Randy Curran. "our man is here. how about a little of "Blue Suede Shoes"?" "Great." He stared at her. for better for worse . and look what their gullibility had cost. guys. keyboard man. : His She glared at him. THE audition was scheduled for Monday afternoon at two o'clock at a club called Stonewings. "You were never this touchy about Keith." Randy tapped out the pickup beat on the rim of the snare. Then he turned to introduce the other band members-the bass player.. "And now you will kindly give me the same respect I give you in personal matters. Bess. Playing was . extending his hand. and rhythm guitarist. "All set. They had believed it once. . tested the distance again. Michael .and now." Randy settled himself behind the drums. . . "Anything. just before leaving the room. ." he said. Then Watson asked. He drew the stool an inch forward. "You know what. looked up. and what was the logical conclusion of falling in love if not marriage? 1. The idea of risking it all again seemed immensely foolhardy. torn by ambivalence-one facet of him leavened by the possibility of her getting back together with his father permanently." Bess studied the empty doorway when he was gone. For Randy. won-." "Pike Watson. take thee. playing was therapy. and said. found the pedals of the bass. till death us do part." "Okay. . Mom?" Randy said. "Hey. the other facet curdled by the idea of having to make peace with Michael at last. She was involved with Michael and more than likely falling in love again. dering what the outcome of tonight would be." the lead guitarist said. shaking hands. realizing he was right.

okay?" "Okay. guys who'd played with wellknown bands. It went through his body faster than a hit of marijuana. Listen. "Who have you played with?" "Nobody. It seemed instead to have played him. and returned his gaze to Randy. Curran. we'll let you know. But I will be if you say so. Watson asked. "Hey. having little recall of playing it measure for measure. longing for a hit of something to relax the tension." He left them and stepped outside. we want you to be our rimshot." "Can you travel?" "Yes.forgetting anyone else existed." Shock suffused Randy." It was. "Thanks for letting me sit in. then three more songs. When the song ended. he was surprised. but he'd face it if and when. Sweet-playing with real musicians. He pinched the cymbals quiet." Watson raised an eyebrow. not so fast. and craned around to find that Pike Watson had thumped on the trunk to stop him. What were his chances of competing with them? He got into his car and began pulling out of the parking lot. "What have you got for drums?" "A full set of Pearls." Randy backed off the stool and shook hands all around." "What have you got for wheels?" "That's no problem. Hope pressed up against his throat. "How about another one?" They played a little twelve-bar blues. When they broke. It was living in total harmony with two sticks of wood and a set of percussion instruments. "Listen. Something hit the car like a falling rock. over which he seemed to have some sort of mystic control. They had undoubtedly auditioned other guys with plenty of experience." "It was me. rapping out a rhythm against his thigh. "You union?" "No. rototoms and all. Felt better. too. Pike Watson appeared pleased. But The Edge was a long shot. He moved toward his car. He braked." I With a glance Pike Watson consulted the others. This is my first audition. "You serious?" . You guys are great. he realized that. making his head buzz." "Was that you? I thought I ran over a kid or something.

" "All right." "So I guess we shouldn't see each other anymore. If he wants the job badly enough. IT HAD been three days since Michael's evening with Bess. he's out shopping for a used van to haul his drums in. I suppose he's really excited." Michael paused. "Bess" he exclaimed. Then. At work he had been withdrawn. Michael dialed the house the next morning expecting Randy to answer. Then Lisa told him that Randy had auditioned for a band and was hired. He's quit his job at the nut house and practices here every morning and with the band every afternoon. Finally Michael said. Today. no answer. he'll work it out. "Let me park this thing. and so he resisted the urge. "What are you doing home?" "Picking up catalogues before I head out for an appointment. he wanted to reach out and dial Bess's number and say he was sorry. about Saturday night ." Neither of them spoke for a time. But to call her was to place himself in a position of vulnerability. though. I won't offer. are you ." "I didn't expect you to be there. . "Bess. " t1ll week long I've been thinking I should call you. "I think you were right. It only complicates matters. To his surprise Bess did. When he spoke again. Then they walked back to the club. Lisa tells me he's found a job with a band. I called for Randy." "No. Randy matching him pace for pace as he headed toward paradise." When he stepped out onto the blacktop. I wanted to congratulate him." "Has he got any money?" "Probably not."We knew before you went out the door. no one person decides. Wanna come back inside and get in a couple hours of practice?" Randy smiled. That wasn't a very smart thing we did. We just have this policy-we all talk it over. At home he'd spent a lot of time sitting on the deck staring at the sails on the water." She said nothing. Pike Watson shook his hand. huh?" "Is he ever. should we?" Again. His heart was drumming. the Words emerged in a ragged whisper. . Every time he passed a phone." "What do you think? Should I?" "I think it's best to let him struggle and find his own way to get a van. But I didn't volunteer any. "Bess.

"One! And that was in my pocket before you got there that night.there?" Her voice." "Michael. A whole box!" "So that's why you got all huffy and walked out?" "Well. what would you have done?" She sounded very angry. too." "I'll tell him. "Michael." "I thought we'd been through all that and agreed that it was both i our faults." After a broad silence he responded in a sound of pinched anger." He hung up without a good-bye. "Damn" He banged on his desk. My feelings are involved here just like yours are. anyway. What did she want of him? He hadn't done a thing wrong s not one Damn women. . when I went into your bathroom to look for a brush." "Oh. when six years ago-sevenIt's a good part of what broke up our marriage. I can't fight this for the rest of my life. "till right. Hell. I'm scared of getting hurt again. come on. he said. Bess. sounded strained." "Nobody asked you to. I found a whole box of condoms in the drawer. that's certainly clear enough. Don't give me that double-standard business." "And you think I'm not?" "I think it's different for a man. Now here we go again. the truth is that I'm scared." "How can I know it. And this one in particular. Bess. I don't sleep around and you know it. Tell Randy I called. "Did you notice how many were used?" When she made no reply. will you? Tell him I'll try hire again later.

. He had tried to call and congratulate Randy three times. was He counted clear to eleven. you see?" He looked up at her. "You should just see yourself. three ." "And that's my fault?" "Yes! You accused me of sleeping around. count "em! One missing. rang the bell. wearing a thigh-length thing made of white terry cloth. drove to her house. "Now do you believe me?" . Finally. too. "One. so you came to throw that up in my face. I came to tell you that ever since that night everything's been lousy. . After a delay the hall light came on. and his disposition hadn't improved. and there she stood. That irritated him. which further piqued him. he went into his bathroom. always without getting an answer. Randy's out playing." "Good. two. Bess. the door opened. it's got to be ten thirty!" "I really don't give a damn. at ten thirty one night in late July. and she smelled good enough to bottle and sell. She was leaning against the wall. covering her mouth with a hand." He grabbed the box and sat down on a step just below her feet. did you?" "No. But for heaven's sake." He headed that way. dumbstruck. then tried to give it back to him. and I didn't!" He grabbed her hand and slapped the box of condoms into it. Two weeks passed. what in the world are you doing here?" "I came to talk. "Herd." He burst inside.The next weekend Michael went up to the cabin that he had purchased a few years earlier for hunting." "You go straight to hell. "Wait just a minute there!" He charged after her. You look absolutely ridiculous sitting there counting those things. Michael Curran! You can just get out. I believe you. He returned to the city still fuming. and got eaten up by I mosquitoes. is it?" "Oh. "Are you alone?" "Yes. picked up the phone on Sunday night. Let's go into the family room." . put them away. "Michael. "You're not going anywhere until you-was comrake your hands off me!" "That's not what you said that night at my place. got the box of condoms. and lock the door when you go!" She headed up the stairs. and stood on her doorstep waiting to tie into her. laughing. catching her halfway up. "There. and that's all!" She gaped at the box. "Don't be absurd!" "Either you count them or I will. barefoot." "Bess. do you believe me now or not?" "Yes. Her hair was wet. and slammed it back down without dialing Bess's number. "Michael.

and her arms went around his shoulders. "I've been thinking about a lot of other things. sometimes even in the evenings." She looked at him. "I suppose so." Michael whispered. "Really?" His smile was disdelicate. precious moment each was afraid to speak further. If I tell you I'm going to a city council meeting. too. "Trust would be the biggest factor. whose beat seemed to suddenly fill the world. BESS'S hair had dried and spread a floral scent upon their shared pillow." "Do you think we could make it if we married again?" "I've been spending a lot of time lately wondering. What do you think?" Bess asked." she said. will you believe me?" "I don't know. don't you?" he said. wondering herself. He clasped her against his breast. Finally he drew back. "I'm crazy. Michael sighed and said quietly. all right-crazy about you." For that trembling. tenderly brushing the hair from her face. Soon he spoke again. "Bess?" "Hm?" "Are you ready to hear that M word yet?" "I don't know. I'd be willing to share the housework. touching each other's face. He looked devastating with his hazel eyes snapping. temple. "You're plumb crazy. doing business with people." she answered honestly. Then they went up the stairs together. "You get out of here. "I think I've fallen in love with you. We'll each be meeting people. "Really. throat each touch a reiteration of the words they'd spoken. I realize now that I when both people are working. to move." They kissed with exquisite tenderness. "You don't think you can ever trust me again?" She only studied him. "I think we'd better talk about it. I missed you." He kissed her mouth. too-so near and warm and seductive. it's got to be a . "I think I've fallen in love with you again.Michael rose to his feet and climbed the two steps to reach her. "Bess." She went still-all but her heart." He kissed her neck. and he felt inviting. surprised.

Randy's home." "Mmm . RANDY got home at two fifteen. He started up the steps. his "Bess. I'll only stay for a half hour or so. He braced a hand on either side of her. so he stepped inside. Then he nestled on his side with his forehead near hers and thought. when he awakened. -." "You're not the one he'll be angry with. . man. "Michael. the entry chandelier was aglow. as well as the lights in the upstairs hall. just a min equals But Randy was gone. "He probably won't get up till nine or so. If I leave the light on." Michael sat up on the edge of the bed. "Know what?" "What?" "I like being convinced: Go on. what time is it?" "Two fifteen . no answer. at her hip. we can take turns cooking. They smiled at each other a long time. "Mom. "So we got caught. Michael awoke.". huh?" "Did we ever. It's so nice here beside her. So now he knows." she said. are you sleeping?" Her breathing was" regular. You got any ideas?" Bess braced her jaw on one hand and reached over to ruffle his hair. . it'll wake me up again in a while." She smiled. he found Bess studying him. please. He proceeded to the doorway. What he saw made Randy's face flame. It was one of those . Bess squinted awake. too. "Well. "Hey. At the end of the hall his mother's bedroom door was open." Michael shut off the lamp. . I'm not leaving you here to do my dirty work." ." Bess was getting sleepy.Hi. I can talk to him. Shut off the lamp. "Randy?" "You got nerve. "Hi. Bess.cooperative effort. and sat staring at the silver Cadillac Seville. Randy. and that light was on." Randy sneered. ." "What are we going to tell him?" "I don't know. his footfalls thundering down the steps. IN TM morning. . What the hell is he doing here? Inside. No answer. It'll be me. pulled into the driveway. "Mom?" he called. "coming here like this. He reached for the bedspread and pulled it up. you all right?" Again." "Oh. but just as he moved to retreat.

bare but for his blue jeans.sterling stretches that come along rarely in a relationship. . It's your turn next time. that's how it feels!" ." The tone of her voice was tantamount to a reaching hand. I wasn't going to skip out and leave it to your mother. "Randy. I need time to think things through. what kind of-was "That's not what I'm saying. too! Well. flung it over her. She hated to tarnish it." He strode toward the door. and you're saying no. I suppose you loved her when you j walked out on her. . listen." "Okay." "I didn't mean it that way. and stood before him. but he'd already disappeared into the hall.” He rose and dressed. "I've called you twice. "You don't have to. saying angrily. "Michael. I supposed you loved me and Lisa. We'll be setting a great example for our kids." j "Love-don't make me laugh." I "Oh. Well." he said. well. then continued more slowly to the bottom of the steps. You want to know how it feels to have your father write you off? Ft hurts. He called back as he reached the top of the stairs. . that's the way it liked to me. This-this affair we've started . "Tell Randy I'll call him and explain." "I'll just bet you are. that's all. then so be it." she began. if Randy has trouble adjusting to it. . a little angry. "I want to marry you. you'd rather have an affair. that's why. ." She grabbed her terry cover-up." Randy's voice came from below. a little repentant. yeah? Well. but I won't vindicate myself with a lie. Why don't you just leave her alone?" "Because I love her. "Michael. where Randy stood. He's here. I'm sorry we woke you. "I'm not going to tell Randy you and I are getting married again." Michael's footsteps faltered. because it's just not true. that's some way to show your kids you love "em. I had every intention of talking to you j about this. Do you understand what I'm saying?" "Sure. won't we? Michael. "I don't want to make the same mistake again.

"I'll see you. "that you owe us both an apology. Tears spurted into his eyes. either. IN ins room. But I cannot allow you to stand there berating your father and me. man. Ma. When he was gone. Bess felt her cheeks burning. and left. yealeft her."I didn't write you off. before spinning and heading downstairs for his bedroom without another word. wanted a mom. "Michael." "Randy!" She started down the stairs." He didn't know what he'd do. Randy sat on the edge of his bed. He wanted a dad." "Aw." she said quietly. who stood forlornly studying his shoes. "I'm sorry I had to do that. Randy. Now here you are. Well maybe I should smash it now. doubled forward. "You will apologize to him at once." she whispered. She turned to Michael. falling back together this way for convenience? It wasn't as if they talked about getting married again. "Randy!" His icy eyes looked up. Then Mom finally tells me you had another woman. adding in a choked voice. closing the door behind him. and I wanted to find you and smash your face. huh?" From the top of the stairs Bess reprimanded. I'll." He pulled back. and he doesn't deserve you!" She slapped Randy's face. But why did it have to be so painful getting it? He'd been hurt so much by their divorce. but he couldn't make that marriage stick. He's a loser. I think. "Why are you taking his side? Can't you see he's just using you again? Comes down here saying he loves you. Why shouldn't he be allowed to vent the fury that had been building in him since they'd split? Couldn't they see what jerks they were making of themselves. I'm sorry. Back at her." Randy stared at her." Randy's face wrinkled with disbelief. wanted love. He stared at her in shock. and put her arms around him. . Crying. Damn Lisa for . At Michael. You know how a thirteen-year-old thinks? I figured it must've been my fault. "It's been coming for a long time. "I'd better go. Bess. Now. . holding his head in both hands. like other kids. He probably said the same thing to that floozy he married. back again." he said. "This is between him and met Ma. you left us l I was thirteen years old.

Somebody help me understand! "Randy?" His mother had come to his door and knocked softly. Your dad asked me to marry him again. "it hurtsl"-that was what he'd wanted. and pretended to be busy at the CD player. well . ." "Randy. Maryann." She came up behind him and touched his shoulder." Randy blinked. he loves you very much. It's open. 1 wish 1 had somebody to talk to." "I'm never apologizing to him. And whether you believe it or not. It had been bad holding things inside all these years. . "Yeah . I just want you to know something. Never. hopped up. "Yeah. 1 was going to show you 1 could be worthy of you. but I'm the one who said no. I shouldn't have slapped you. He swiped his eyes with the bedsheet.stirring this all up. . and smoke pot. . but he does. "Randy. . 1 talk like a gutter rat. and the tears dropped onto his chest. and even my own mother slaps me. either. . I know you don't believe that. wasn't it? To hurt his old man the way the old man had hurt him? So why was he here bawling like a baby? I'm so confused. but letting them out hadn't felt much good. But I'm not." "I'm sorry. "Why?" "Because I'm afraid of getting hurt again-the same as you. you love him." He watched the knobs on the control panel blur as his eyes refilled with tears. somebody who'd listen and make me understand who I'm angry at and why. Seeing the look of pain on his dad's face when he had yelled. . That's why you're hurting so .

Or worse. don't wait too long." She paused before continuing.badly now. declining to ask anything personal or to thank her for recommending the gallery. he didn't think the kind of bars he played in would be her style. it only reminded her she would soon be a grandmother facing old age alone. She submerged herself in work. Then she found a batik wall hanging that would have been stunning in Michael's dining room. Randy. but she refused to call him for fear he'd treat her rudely again.m. She told Randy she wanted to come out some night and hear him play. But how did people manage to do that after they'd been hurt this bad? Affix the night Randy discovered them in bed. She and Mark had already asked both the Padgetts and Bess and Michael to be present for the birth. wanted to see her again. Michael didn't call Bess. She missed him horribly. he'd grunt. he said no. about all your feelings. it helped little. Mark would call to tell her when it was time. Their relationship had been bumping along since the day she'd slapped him. But there was no reason for Bess to come to the hospital yet. She would talk. She made an effort. Please. She attended a baby shower for Lisa. He was brusque. and he remained in his windowless room. she told him no. willing away tears that refused his bidding. he made none. and in early August broke down and called him on the pretext of advising him about some nice pieces of sculpture on display at a gallery in Minneapolis. Bess canceled two appointments." She left. . He imagined going to his father's place and knocking on his door and simply walking into his arms and hugging him hard enough to snap their bones. "The two of you will have to talk someday-really talk. given by Mark's sisters. on August 16 and said she had gone into labor. Keith called and said he missed her. without anger. then called Randy. what if she broke down and suggested their getting together for an evening? Chapter Fifteen Lcalled the Blue Iris at eleven a.

Bess found it comforting to be at this hospital. along with a smiley nurse whose name tag read JAN MEERS. Hi. And this is the lady who's going to put me through the seven tortures. and Bess barely took time to hang up.." as if pronouncing the actual words was more than he could manage. I just wanted you to know that Lisa's gone into labor. . It was hard to concentrate on work knowing Lisa was in labor. She announced herself to the nurse on duty in the obstetric wing and was led to a birthing room." "Can't you tell her yourself?" . Lisa was lying on the bed. "Yeah. Meers laughed. honey. "Randy. Mark How's everything going?" "Pretty good. the same one where Lisa and Randy had been born." She rested a hand on the machine where an orange digital number glowed beside a tiny orange heart that flashed in rhythm with a sound like a . "Oh.n. I hope not. "Hi.m. wondering how to mend these fences between herself and Randy. "The band's heading out for Bemidji at one o'clock.Now he answered on the third ring. their leads dropping to a machine beside the bed. I love you. but listen. When will you be back?" "Sometime tomorrow moaning: We're playing in White Bear Lake tomorrow afternoon. Ma." Ms." "Bemidji. I'm so glad you're still home. understanding how Michael had felt all these years. Otherwise." "Okay. . Bess hung up feeling like a failure as a mother. call me at the store. Mark was there wearing sterile blue scrubs. tell her good luck. She waited on customers and checked her watch a dozen times an hour. before grabbing her purse and running. Then Mark called shortly before three p. same here. Bess kissed Lisa." "I'll leave a note at home if the baby is here. Got me all hog-tied to this machine so we can tell if the baby changes his mind or something. . Look here now." "Yeah? Well." He paused too long before replying. with two sensors attached to her belly. R. I gotta go:" "All right. Lakeview Hospital was less than two miles from her store.

Her hair was stringy." Ms." . while Mark remained a bastion of strength. watching Lisa ride out the pain." Bess stood by uselessly. "I guess Dad's not coming. Mark's mother arrived. "Okay. "I want him here. straight from work. Remember. And this one"-she indicated a green number beside the orange one equals "shows your contractions. Bess took his place beside the bed. It'll take about thirty seconds for the contraction to reach its peak. greeting everyone. pant. smiling into Lisa's eyes. But if it's a girl. "I called his once a long time ago. blow. feeling her own innards seizing up. "Why don't you sit dawn awhile. and Bess left the birthing room because it was getting too crowded. before rubbing Mark's shoulder and suggestiLg. pant. "I don't know why." From his chair Mark murmured sleepily. "I don't know. It was three nineteen p.because we haven't thought of a boys name yet. and he reminded her. Lisa smiled weakly. Pant." Mark sank gratefully into a chair. That's the baby's heartbeat you hear. now again. we're going to be in trouble. They said they'd give him the message. It was hard for Bess to watch Lisa suffer. one of your jobs will be to watch it." The contractions came and went. She returned at seven and watched two more contractions. The instant you see it rising. sweetheart. I think I can do this. "It's going up!" Lisa stiffened. you should remind Lisa to start breathing." Lisa said." Bess took her hand. three pants arid one blow. but I think it's going to be a boy. "This is the ultrasound. her face slightly puffy.m. Bess checked the clock. Between contractions it'll read around thirteen or fourteen. here we go now. Lisa. Mark." "If it is. and by forty-five seconds it'll be tapering off. Okay. Meers had scarcely finished her instructions before Mark said. it'll be Natalie. Hildy kissed Lisa's cheek and said. At six thirty Jake Padgett arrived. giving Mark a quick squeeze.scratchy phonograph record.

"What's wrong?" "Nothing. and Lisa needed to rest. I got that mess straightened out down on Victoria and Grand. And remembering. The anesthesiologist was called into administer an epidural." he said against her temple. Michael. they were. They grow up. really." . "I've been thinking about when the children were little. Bess felt her eyes grow misty." Then she confessed." "That's good. She thought of warm summer nights like this. I'm usually not so sentimental. I don't know what's come over me tonight. . who said she wouldn't clutter up the proceedings. "I'm sorry. those were wonderful days. "So do I" It was true. and the pressure of his embrace was firm and reassuring. Oh. "I just got the message. Mark napped. Then Bess wandered into the solarium. when someone touched her shoulder. I know. which would make Lisa unaware that she was having the contractions. "Bess." She turned at the sound of Michael's voice and felt an overwhelming sense of relief. While she had watched Lisa laboring she had wanted Michael beside her as strongly as ever in her life. across the street." "And now Randy is out on the road somewhere. "You're here. probably high on pot. and Lisa is in there going through all this. a room with windows overlooking Lily Lake. The Padgetts closed their eyes. in front of the TV." Bess whispered."Yes. . Michael ." "That's how it is. but wanted updates." The strength of Bess's embrace surprised him." "Oh. weren't they?" "Yes. By ten o'clock there'd been no change. weighted by the bittersweet tug of nostalgia." She stepped into his arms. and Bess went out to find a pay phone to call Stella. I'm just so glad you're here. Building's going to get under way soon. Bess. She'd been staring out the window a long time. of herself and of Michael when Lisa and Randy were little.

Dr. Lisa's eyes were closed. They waited in the solarium. their stubbornness. A new nurse. "Hi. honey. Each of them felt grateful that some force outside themselves had thrust them back together. "How do you feel?" "Scared. By two a. This is what she wanted. "Well. The doctor swept in. "We're just being typical parents. "Hello. The nurse explained they gave her something to help her rest for a little while. "I made it. Lisa's contractions were five minutes apart. Lisa?" she asked. and her face was glistening with sweat. and Michael went to put on the scrubs." Michael said. Michael's mask billowed as he asked Bess. Jake Padgett decided to wait in the family lounge next door. "You're both here." Michael replied. When they entered the birthing room again. Lewis. alternately dozing and waking. "Dad?" she said with a weak smile." Bess and Michael exchanged glances that said. finding her mother's eyes. found her hand. Marcie Unger. The anesthesiologist cut the epidural. above the blue mask. How about you?" "The same." "If I don't faint on the delivery-room floor." Lisa said without much enthusiasm. She opened her eyes and found her father's. but Hildy.m. and the birthing roam came to life." He sat down in a chair beside Bess. and held it. which had brought them both nothing but loneliness." she added in a whisper. "Did you stop by Lisa's room?" "Yes." "And Mom. Everything will go fine." He moved close to squeeze her hand. They thought about their time apart. how are things going. Those who wanted to witness the birth were asked to don sterile scrubs. and Mark held Lisa's hand. "Let's see if we can't get this baby into the world and have a look at him.She drew away self-consciously and dropped into a chair." While the doctor was giving Lisa a monologue on what she was about to do. guiding her through her breathing. stayed with Lisa every moment. Bess. Things will happen pretty fast now. Bess .

There. Bess?" It did. "Are you all right?" He nodded. doesn't it. "It's a gull" the doctor announced. and laid her on Lisa's stomach. "Okay. while her fists remained tightly shut. "Here it comes. but she could tell he was not. disinclined to ever leave him again. Dr. the birth they had just witnessed melding with the birth of Lisa in their memories. his voice was gruff with emotion. "Wow. isn't it?" "A part of us. trying to keep her eyes open. She felt Michael secretly groping for her hand in the folds of their scrubs." Natalie Padgett was then being passed around from hand to hand-to her father. "I never thought I'd feel like this . Lisa smiled. wonderstruck. all alone. Bess and Michael stared through their tears. and she gripped his hand and squeezed it. It does something to you. The doctor clamped the cord in two places and handed a pair of scissors to Mark. wordless for a long time. scooped the infant into it. catching the infant as it slipped forth. her grandmother. Lewis said. When Michael spoke. She was about as pretty as a baby bird. her grandfather. . still plastered with afterbirth. that's it. testing out its arms in the confines of the towel. "You get to cut the cord. One more push brought the full birth. coming into the world again." and all eyes were fixes upon Lisa's body and the tiny head that emerged." The baby was wriggling. . It brought a lump to her throat and a yearning to her heart as she stood in Michael's arms. Mark cried. Complete. pulled down their masks." she said. Daddy." Lisa breathed. "She's really here. Lisa's next pain made her cry out. A nurse came immediately with a soft blue towel. . they turned to each other. then went out to tell Jake. . Bess and Michael had one lavish minute with their grandchild before Hildy returned with Jake in tow and the birthing room became crowded." "Yes. repairing to the family lounge. Bess and Michael left. "Yahool" Hildy rubbed Mark's back. Then Michael .whispered to Michael. and embraced.

"See ya. me. When she was gone. . he screeched to a halt and opened the car door even before the engine stopped running. but they stood in the parking lot holding hands until it made no sense anymore. He jogged up to the front door and thumped on it several times. a bubbling rebellion that said. I'll probably sleep for a few hours. and remained behind feeling empty and lost as he watched her drive away." In the room next door. thinking. One of them had to move. "Do you have to work today?" "I think I'll let Heather handle it alone. What are we waiting for? He started his engine and tore out of the parking lot on Bess's trail. I guess there's no reason for us to stay. You?" "Exhausted." "Yeah. . his future. redfaced infant between them. We both want this family back together. He stepped back as it began to roll. promising to return in the afternoon. then stood waiting with one hand braced on the doorframe. It was time to part. The parking lot was almost empty. He went to his car. It began deep down within him." she said." "Yeah. About himself. and say gad-bye to Lisa." he repeated. "See ya. the new parents. . as if against her will. Then they left the hospital together. Thinking. We both love each other. . wrapped now in a pink blanket.asked. Why? Why must it be that way? We've both changed. too. Bess and Michael congratulated and hugged them. and how empty it would remain without Bess. created a heartwarming tableau with their clean. Outside. At the house. "Tired?" "Yes." There seemed little else to say. Let's go see the baby once more. As they approached Bess's car Michael took her hand. then come back to see Lisa and the baby again. against her hair." Bess pulled free.eawell. radiant with love and happiness. and got into her car. Well. it was nearly dawn. doing a good fifteen miles above the speed limit. he sighed deeply and tried to gulp down the lump in his throat.

. and I don't know what's going to become of Randy. . too. We'll try harder this time. That's no way for us to act-not when we could be together and happy." "You do? I'm falling off my feet. "Oh. but we've got to try. yes.. holding his hand. "Michael." Bess said. sealed together full length. "I really think we can make it this time. . "I'll see you at the hospital later.." "And we'll tell the kids today. And I want us to try to make up for what we did to Randy. I want that. I love you. marry me again. and all of us together on Christmas mornings after Santa Claus comes. Whatever you say. The scent of heavy summer was rising from the warming earth. Bess. to hold her to his breast. "All right. Walk me to my car?" She walked outside with him. holding her face in both hands. You and me. pleading. so am L" He caught her hands and stepped back. and we'll compromise-for both us and the kids. and scooped her into his a". Bess. out know what's wrong. At his car Michael got in and rolled down the window.Bess answered the door." Bess smiled through her tears." "So do L" Chapter Sixteen ." He interrupted himself to kiss her. living separately. being divorced when we love each other the way we do. earnest with passion. what's wrong?" He burst inside." "On second thought. "I feel like I could do a few myself. He needs us so much. "Please. "I want Lisa and Mark to bring that baby to our house. I love you." They kissed the way they'd wanted to in the hospital comparking lot. As soon as possible. This is the way it should be I" She was crying long before he finished. and I want all those things." "Lisa will be doing cartwheels.y rms. Can't you see? Lisa was right. I want that so much. Michael. the two of us waiting with outstretched arms. "Let's get married right away." He drew back. slammed the door.

He was a tough-looking little punk with an I-don't-care way of standing that reminded Randy of himself at that age. trotting up and down the steps. at five this morning. hauling anything Randy would hand him. groggy. Then you can come back for the cymbals. though.. . to get to his two p. see what you think about being a roadie. Ain't got any of my own yet. At the festival there would be parades and bingo. Now the en tire length of the main street was barricaded off. Randy got home at seven o'clock to find his mother asleep and a note on his bed: Lisa had a girl.m. Here." He had a voice like sand in ball bearings. and she was gone by the time he rose. "Hey. he was unable to make it to the hospital that afternoon.Tband quit playing at twelve thirty a. But I will have someday. Trotter. What's your name. "Yup. and a bandstand set up at the south end." Randy took the load up the back steps onto the stage. The kid was perhaps twelve years old. "Yeah. too-in the band at school.m. White Bear Lake had a pretty little downtown with brick sidewalks and fancy. take this stool. He was still asleep when his mother got up. And then look out. Natalie. you play those things?" the kid asked in a cocky voice. Mom But the way it worked out. hove. contests and street dances. While the rest of the band was setting up. and his hair was jelled up into a flattop. 9 lbs. old-fashioned storefronts." Trotter was as good as his name. Everybody's doing fine. He turned to find a boy watching him. I'm not going into the store. but hope to see you at the hospital later. "Well. I The kid offered." Randy smiled and pulled another load out of the van. It took them one hour to load up. kid?" "Trotter. The " boy was still there when he returned. "Want me to help you carry some of that stuff?" Randy turned and looked the kid over. at the White Bear Lake festival. 12 oz. "I play drums. A crowd was beginning to gather. and over five hours to drive back from Bemidji.. gig. Randy stacked a pair of drums and lifted them from the rear of the van.

Actually.". "I don't know. Trotter. "Cool. "I guarantee you'll play like Charlie Watts. Trotter. it was hero worship." "How do you know? One little snort and you're Batman." Pike tapped his guitar case. You can stop trains and start revolutions. . You're okay. I always wanted to play like Charlie Watts." "Hey. Nearly as sensational as the high that was coming on. he saw Trotter out in front of all the others on the street. this one's for you." Trotter beamed while Randy rapped out the beat to "Pretty Woman. When he opened them. and looked at Randy. I got some really good stuff here. "Cocaine.yeah. if you're scared of flyin' ." "For me?" His eyes filled with worship." He handed the kid a pair of royal-blue drumsticks. "Yeah. They started the first set. listen. Go for it. Randy rubbed his face with both hands and flexed his shoulders." Pike gave a mischievous grin. and for a while Randy played with his eyes closed. and the next . man?" Randy shook his head to wake himself up. "Here. Randy was zoned. Pike Watson came around the back of the stage carrying a guitar case. That stuff freaks me. "You droned. He blew out a blast of breath and said. One minute Randy was watching the kid idolize him. kid. all right. and it felt sensational. As he headed onto the stage he felt wildly exhilarated. "I'd like to send this next song out to one terrific little roadie." the kid marveled as he moved o@. It made his nose sting. With the help of the tough little groupie the last of his equipment got to the stage. "What the hell." "Well." He snorted the cocaine off a mirror in the back of Pike's van just before they started playing. thanks." It happened as they began the song. with his eyes riveted on Randy. Between numbers Randy put his lips to the mike and said. the kid was a godsend. What do you say?" Randy tipped his head to one side. man. "Hey. operating on four hours of sleep and too much pot last night. you mean? Naw. Major droned.

. "My heart. . . angry. . so dizzy . the sticks on the rim of his Pearls . . Randy lay there. . murmuring.. . . stole a kiss in the hall. "Anybody know what's wrong with him?" the policeman asked. . . The band members had crowded round. . "Call my mom. dizzy . dizzying anxiety. . get auto here . Randy mumbled.he was struck by apprehension. . BLISSFULLY unaware of the events at White Bear Lake. tick . . . . had to make it to the end of the song . man. Then his heart started racing. "Pike. . . Don't want you to see this . ." Pike leaped off the stage. . and entered Lisa's room holding hands. "No! This'z bad. I think I'm dying . The crowd pressed forward. . The floor coming up to meet him. . His heart! What was happening with his heart? It was pounding so hard it seemed to be lifting the hair from his skull. Pike said nothing. . Help me. . ." he whispered. . "Pike! Pike!" . coming between him and the crowd. Bess and Michael met at the hospital. . Randy lay in a haze of fear with the sound of his own heart gurgling in his ears. and Pike did an about-face to follow. And Pike's face leaning close. "Oh-oh. The kid was watching . and the new baby was malting ." Clutching Pike's hand. pretty woman!" The song ending. The cop grabbed the radio off his belt and called for help. Pike's face appeared above Randy's. . Without a drumbeat the music dribbled into silence. Give it a minute. "Let it ride. . My heart. . man. He grabbed Pike's shirtfront. my heart. the kid watching from down on the pavement . The new mother was asleep in her bed. . Now give us a damn lead-in!" Tick. no breath . Kid. It'll go away. tack. "A phone! Anybody! Where's a phone!" He saw a policeman run right past him and onto the stage. . terror in his eyes. It always happens at first-you get a little uptight. . "It's all right. and the apprehension became fear. . . ." Pike. scaredlike.

We'll spoil you plenty. Grandma?" "You bet we will. And someday. "Bess. "What are you two whispering about over there?" She looked sleepy. wonderful hunk of a son-in-law you!" He scooped her up. You're going to get married again. three-way embrace. "Your mother and I have something to tell you. clasping her parents in an awkward. for forcing two stubborn people back together. "May I get in on this celebration?" "Grandma. "Wait till you're one or two or so. you guys. when you're old enough. "Thank you. Bess whispered simply. "We did it." He let Bess speak the words. these are delicate ears!" From the bed. "Come here. Stella approached the bed. "Oh. Of course. smiling widely. won't we. "I knew it!" She kissed Bess first. He said. "Do you think it would be okay if we picked her up?" Michael smiled conspiratorially at her. come in! Mom and Dad have some great news!". Lisa. the fact that Bandy hadn't called or stopped by. Michael." A radiant smile lit Lisa's face as she lunged forward. we'll tell you all about how your birth brought us back together again. with her arms up. will you?" They took her the baby. Against Lisa's hair. then sat one on each side of her bed. and she lifted Natalie from the bassinet. you handsome. Then Bess glanced at Michael and sent him a silent message. the baby still on her right arm. When . "Bring my baby here. isn't she beautiful?" Bess whispered. when Mark was expected to return. Lisa spoke. They talked about how Lisa was feeling. then went at Michael." Bess nodded. "Don't tell me. Stella said. I'm so happy!" Lisa held Natalie straight out and rejoiced. kiddo. We did it!" From the doorway Stella said. darling." Lisa kissed them both. but wore a soft smile. "We're going to get married again. He kissed the baby's forehead. we'll have to edit out the part about-was Michael smothered a laugh.mewling sounds in a glass bassinet. then said. "Oh.

"Are you saying you want to live there?" "Where do you want to live?" "In my condo. And after all. "You know. "Don't you think? He has a job now. followed by the rest of the Padgetts. he looked serene. Friends. you don't have to convince me." It was an afternoon of celebration." she said. "You know what?" Bess said as she got out of the car." "Listen. sharing it leaning against her car. When Michael lifted his head. The condo is a fresh start. It's time he got out on his own.he released her. . but where are we going to live?"' . Bess . There's only one question. It was grand while the kids were little. but I thought you'd have a fit if I said so. "Now let me see the new arrival. feeling happier than he could recall being in years.. "I suppose we should discuss it." she said. we did decorate it together." "Agreed. Michael parked behind Bess. "Of course I want to come over. "We haven't talked about it yet. it's time to move on." They entered the house to find the phone ringing." She burst out laughing. As a matter of fact." "You're sure?" "I'm sure. "in more ways than one we sort of outgrew this house. Want to come to the house?" Michael grinned and said. Bess and Michael's news was received with as much excitement as was their new granddaughter. and we'll tell him together.. well. I absolutely love your condo. They left the hospital at four fifteen. but now. "I've discovered something that surprises me. . she turned toward the bed. Bess said." They let a kiss seal their decision." They drove separate cars but arrived at the house simultaneously." He couldn't have been more surprised. I'll be overjoyed to stay there." "What?" "That I really don't care about this house as much as I used to. What about Randy?" "It's time to cut him loose. Bess. "I'm staying till he gets home. Mark arrived.eaI don't know.

" She hung up. catching a mere glimpse of Randy as they ran behind the gurney bearing him inside. "No. one of the guys in Randy's band. and he's not ." "Let's go." Three patches were already pasted on Randy." "Heart: bad. It's something with his heart is all I know. and they ran out to his car.. and they're taking him to the hospital. Curran?" "Yes. can you hear me? Did you take anything?. "His blood pressure: one eighty over one hundred. speaking in brusque spurts. Listen." Michael answered. "Michael. They reached the hospital emergency room at the same time as the ambulance. . state for the voice at the other end of the line. I think it's serious. Someone said. who hovered on the sidelines. connected to monitors." "Which hospital?" "Lakeview. .and rapid. "Randy. it's Randy. His eyes were wide open as a doctor leaned over him. They've already left. and a . "No. unprepared in her radiant." "What? A car accident you mean?" Bess's terrified eyes locked on Michael's.". "Diabetes? Seizure disorders?" "No. Marijuana sometimes. "Mrs. "Are there any congenital heart problems?" he asked them. and ignoring Michael and Bess. the hospital. something's happened to him." "This is Pike Watson. Intermittent beeps sounded." The doctor caught sight of Bess and Michael. and all of a sudden he's lying on the floor. "His parents are here. We were just playing." "Thank you. Something's wrong with his heart. An alarming number of medical stag" materialized at once.answered. Irregular. well. focused on the patient with unquestionable life-and-death intensity. "Respiration: poor. They're taking him by ambulance to." "Does he use cocaine?" "I don't think so." An alarm sounded on one of the machines." He grabbed her hand.

nurse said, "Blood pressure's dropping." The doctor shouted, "Code Blue!" He made a fist and delivered a tremendous blow to Randy's sternum. Bess winced, and placed one hand over her mouth. She stared, caught in a horror beyond anything she'd ever imagined. More staff came running-two more nurses; an anesthesiologist, who inserted a pair of prongs into Randy's nose; a doctor, who began administering CPR. "Grease the paddles!" the doctor ordered. "We have to defibrillate!" A nurse turned on a machine that set up a high electrical whine. She grabbed two paddles, on curled cords, and smeared them with gel. The doctor ordered, "Stand back!" Everyone backed away as the nurse flattened the paddles to the left side of Randy's chest. "Hit him!" The nurse pushed two buttons at once. Randy grunted. His body arched. His arms and legs stiffened, then fell limp. Bess uttered a soft cry. Electric current zapping through her son's body . . . Please, don't! Don't do that to him again! The room fell silent. All eyes riveted on a green screen and its flat, flat line. Dear God, they've killed him! He's dead! There is no heartbeat! "Come on," the doctor whispered urgently. "Beat, damn it." Bess and Michael stared with the others, in near shock themselves from this quick plunge inffdisaster. The green line squiggled. It squiggled again, lifting to form a tiny hillock on that deadly, unbroken horizon. And suddenly it picked up, showing a regular rhythm. Everyone in the room sighed. "Way to go, Randy!" one of the medical team said. Michael put both arms around Bess and hauled her close. "Randy, can you hear me?" A doctor was leaning over him. Randy made a wordless sound. "Do you know where you are, Randy?" He opened his eyes, looked around at the ring of faces, and abruptly tried to sit up. He said belligerently, "What the hell- Let me outa"Whoa, there." Hands pressed him down. "Not much oxygen getting to that brain yet. He's still

light-headed. Randy, did you take anything? Did you take any cocaine?" Randy wagged his head. "I'm Dr. Fenton, Randy. We're not the police here. Nobody is going to get in trouble if you tell us, but we have to know so we can help you. Was it cocaine?" Randy fixed his eyes on the doctor's clothing and mumbled, "it was my first time. Honest." "Okay, no need to get scared," the doctor said. "Just relax." At that moment the cardiologist swept in, moving directly to the gurney. Dr. Fenton said, "Randy, this is Dr. Mortenson." While the specialist took over, Dr. Fenton approached Bess and Michael. "I'm Dr. Fenton," he said, introducing himself. Then he said, "Let's step out into the hall, where we can talk privately." There was a line of chairs across from the emergency room, and when they were seated, Dr. Fenton said, "I know you have ,a lot of questions, so let me fill you in. Randy took some cocaine, which can do a lot of nasty things to the human body. This time it caused an abnormally high heart rate. And then you saw him arrest. The cardiologist will probably prescribe some medication to prevent fibrillation from recurring. I have to warn you, though, that this can happen again during the next several hours. The problem with cocaine is that we can't go in there and get it out like we could poison, for example. We can only offer care and wait for the effects of the drug to wear off." Michael said, "You're saying there's still a chance he could die?" "I'm afraid so. But his youth is a plus. And if he does go into a fast rate, chances are we can control it with the drugs." The cardiologist appeared at that moment. "Mr. and Mrs. Curran?" Michael and Bess both stood. "I'm Dr. Mortenson. Randy will be in my charge for a while yet. His heartbeat has leveled off now. If we can keep it reasonably steady for--oh, say, twenty-four hours he'll be totally out of the woods. Right now the lab people are drawing blood. We'll monitor him

here in the ER for a while; then he'll be transferred to intensive care." "May we see him?" Bess asked. His "Of course." The lab nurse had finished drawing blood and was leaving, when Bess approached the gurney, with Michael several steps behind. Randy looked ghastly-sickly white, his eyes closed, and his nostrils occupied by the oxygen prongs. "Randy?" she said softly. He opened his eyes. "Mom," he managed in a eroaky voice. She leaned down and put her cheek to his. "Oh, Randy, darling. Thank God they got you here in time." She felt his chest heave as he held sobs inside, felt his warm tears mingling with her own. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm sorry, too. I should have been there for you, talked to you more, found out what was bothering you." "No, it's mot your fault. It's mine. I'm just rotten." She looked into his eyes, so like his father's. "No. You're our son, and we love you very much." "How can you love me? All I've ever been is trouble." "Oh, no. . . . No." She smoothed his hair, then braved a wobbly smile. "Well, yes, sometimes you were. But when you have babies, you know that sometimes they'll be less than perfect, and that's when you find out how much you love them." She kissed his forehead and stepped back so Michael could take her place. He moved into Randy's line of vision and said simply, "Hi, Randy." Randy stared at his father, while his eyes filled once again. He swallowed hard and said, "Dad?" Michael braced a hand on Randy's far side, bent over, and kissed his cheek. Randy's arms went around his father's back. He hauled Michael down as a sob broke forth. For a long time they embraced. "Dad, I'm so sorry." "I know. . . . I know. So am L" Ah, sweet, sweet healing. Ah, welcome love. When they had filled both then hearts, Michael drew back. He looked down into his son's brimming eyes. "But this is the end of all that, huh? You and I have some time to make up for, and we're going to do it. Everything Mom just said goes

Once when he opened his eyes. "She's a beaut. Lisa. and awaken to find the clock had moved a mere ten minutes. his eyes saying. Not when I've just gotten you back again. Then I think we'd better let him rest for a while. . dreaming. When they dropped. "And besides that. I love you. wearing her smug Ali MacGraw smile. . Natalie. Lisa must have made Mom and Dad so happy . and we're going to work on it. . "Hi." "Yes. . just in case if he doesn't make it through the next twenty-four hours. Lisa was standing beside his bed holding a baby in her arms. . Jeez. huh? Say hi to Uncle Randy. ." Bess added. showed him the baby's face. "Your dad and I are going to get married again. . I love you." Michael squeezed Bess's shoulder. of course. Cute baby. Lisa always did. he felt Lisa kiss his forehead.starting today. . . "I guess you'd see it that way." Randy whispered. . I love you. What are you doing here?" "Came to show you your new niece." He reached for Bess's hand. I'm sorry." His eyes locked on hers for a time. "Hi." Michael went on. "We'll talk about it more when you're out of here. Natalie." Michael. you've really got guts." A nurse interrupted. I hurt you.double for me. DURING HIS CRTTICAL TWENTY-FOUR hours Randy would sleep as if for eons." Just don't die. we fell in love again. He drew Bess forward and stood behind her." "Yeah?" He managed a weak grin. Grandma Stella was . We think we've grown up a lot in the last six years." "Hi. "Now listen. Such effort to get words out ." Together they went out to the waiting room to face the long vigil that would either take or give them back their son. he was tired . His eyelids grew too heavy to keep open." she said quietly. She slipped her palm under Randy's and said. "Well. "We're going to move Randy to intensive care now. . too. The next time he woke up." Bess kissed Randy. . "Rest. "your mother has something to tell you. kissed Randy.

there. and she asked me to come see you." He told her. looking haggard and worried. the same soulful expression in her eyes as in Lisa's. and I'll call you if anything changes. everyone was exhausted. Lying on his hospital bed." Bess said. unless. of course." he answered. he'd already died and this was heaven. Meanwhile." Maryann joined the family in the waiting room. Then his mom and dad again. and he knew undoubtedly he was dying. and he lay down withtheeareassurance that they'd wake him if Randy showed the slightest change. "you'll be hearing from me when I get my act together. and there was no sign of any more problems with his heart." Less than twelve hours to go before he was totally out of the woods. he'd smoked his last joint and snorted his last coke. Get some rest. "He had a very good night-slept straight through. "I'd pretty much given up on you. Randy's condition seemed stable. rather. which made no sense at all. he promised himself that if by some miracle he got out of here. listen. and I'll see you in the morning. "Maryann?" he said. And then-too unreal to believe-Maryann. his heartbeat regular. "I was here visiting Lisa. Michael said. The crazy thing was." "I'd given up on you. Michael went to find a bathroom. Maybe now you'll get some help. don't go falling in love or anything. A nurse brought Michael a pillow and blanket. He awakened after what seemed a very brief time. "Why don't you all go home and get some rest." Reluctantly they went. By ten o'clock that night. . and lurched up when his watch showed five thirty-five a. and closed his eyes because he was so tired not even Maryann Padgett's presence could keep him awake. "Hey. he wanted to be that kind of man for her." he said from the pleasant darkness behind closed eyelids. he asked about Randy. "But Michael-was "No buts." " She wasn't an easy woman. an exacting one-a throwback to a time when parents taught their daughters to seek a man who was pure in heart and mind. Though he remained in intensive care. "I guess ids time. At the nurses' station. too.m. I'll stay here and nap.

"You beep here all night?" "I slept some. and Maryann. It made him feel a little scared. "Dad?" he said." . A dozen times. "Dad?" Michael whirled and moved to the bed. Just ten more. the other with his life in the balance. he thought. whose rumpled clothes and shadowy growth of whiskers bore witness to his night's vigil. Nobody'd said as much. "I made it. and why Grandma came. to visit Lisa and the new baby. Poor Lisa had had a shock. but she'd handled it like a trooper." It struck Randy in that moment how hard it must be to be a parent. I want to get well. taking Randy's hand. his voice breaking with emotion. Randy opened his eyes and found his father standing at the window. well.where he splashed cold water on his face. He stood in the doorway of Randy's room watching him sleep." Randy looked up at his tired father. getting permission to bring the baby down here to show Randy in case he died. and how little he'd considered that fact until now. learning about Randy. Ten more hours." "Yeah." "I'm sorry I put you through that. It seemed half a lifetime since he'd come to the hospital." "I won't do it again. both of his children in the same hospital-one bringing in a new life. What irony. As if the thought had penetrated his sleep. He wondered how they were. Michael wasn't going to tell him. yes. "You 0 thought I'd die." "Oh." "That was a possibility. right? That's why Lisa brought the baby for me to see. I just didn't say it out loud. He walked to the window and stared out. smiling. "You didn't give me hell for using cocaine. l must be growing up." "Yeah." Michael said. I did. but they all knew that was the reason." "You've been here all night. If Randy didn't know he needed ten more hours to be out of the woods. I promise. sometimes that's what we do to people who love us-we put them through things without really meaning to.

once and for all." Then he'kissed her lightly on . "Damn right. "I'll be back soon. Michael picked up one of the matchbooks and folded it into her hand. Michael vowed silently. on an Indian summer's day in mid-October." Randy said. AND MRS. Then he leaned over and kissed Randy's cheek. RANDY was released from the hospital shortly before suppertime that day. Bess and Michael Curran were married in a simple service in the rectory of St. After he'd seated Bess and was taking. seemed to say." "I love you. . And with those words another fragment of pain dissolved." Randy said. which radiated hope. and said. It's about time. His mother and father walked him out into the sunshine of late afternoon. which held a promise. Father Mire opened his prayer book. cornshocks. CURRAN. To Lisa's. "Sounds fine with me. The personalized matchbooks awaiting them at their table said Ma. and scarecrows. And so they took the next halting step in their journey back to familyhood. You'll live with us. in the back seat. son. To Stella's. The small wedding party went to dinner afterward at a restaurant overlooking a beautiful walled garden decorated with pumpkins. which shone with happiness. And even to Natalie's as she lay on her daddy's arm and studied the glistening silver frames on the eyeglasses of Gil Harwood. "Where to?" Michael asked. I love you. Mary's Catholic Church. too. Six weeks later."That's what we all want." Michael put his hand on Randy's hair. Another window of hope opened. To Randy's. "I'm starved. ." His remark brought smiles to the assembled faces. "Would anyone like to pick up some sandwiches and eat them down by the river?" Michael turned to glance at Randy. which was touched ever so slightly by smugness." Bess replied. which . To Bess's. smiled at the bride and groom. into a setting crowned by a cobalt-blue sky and a world where people moved about their pursuits with reassuring normality. To Michael's. sitting behind the wheel of his Cadillac Seville. We're root abandoning you-not this time. here we are again. a chair himself. The ceremony was performed by the same priest who'd married them twenty-two years before. "S. Another beam of sunlight radiated into their future.

At the other end of the condo the door opened. calling. look what my bride is wearing." He ambled toward her. Grampa and Grandma and Uncle Randyl" And the simple joy of the day Michael had car trouble and called home. I . I did it. but the fringe benefits are great-sitting around jamming whenever the place isn't busy. fears." Randy stepped to the kitchen doorway. when Randy finally announced. when in truth they were impatient to have total privacy.485 Bygones merits and giving drum lessons to little kids. Dad. THERE were. named Steve. "Yo. of friends. There were Michael and Bess themselves. "I got a job at Schmitt's Music selling instru. "Damn. ." . ." And one day Bess went out and bought herself a pair of jeans. and his search for inner strength and positive relationships. his loss of a way of life. He stopped in the kitchen doorway and tossed his car keys onto the cabinet top. Her arms crossed behind his neck. "How "bout that. too. wrinkles that needed smoothing in that bittersweet autumn. whom he'd met in therapy and who wanted to start a band that would be drug free and would play for school kids to spread the message "Say no!" There were days when Lisa and Mark would come breezing in with the baby. "Looks good. as in all relationships that matter most. but there were blessings. Hope we're not disturbing anything.the lips and smiled into her eyes. "Well. Ah. and mistakes. There was Randy. She smiled back over her shoulder and twitched her hips. a pretty young woman with . There was family therapy and the painful resurrection and obliteration of past guilts. to hear Randy volunteer. "I really don't care if they do or not. "How was your day?" she asked.brought someone home for supper. How was yours?" "Mmm . They feel good. "Pretty good." he said in wonder. Dad. I'll come and get you." she said when they'd shared a nice long kiss. "You wanted him back. There was Michael and Bess's frequent frustration at living with an adult son. readjusting to married life and its constant demands. This is the best part of it so far. She had them on when Michael came home from work and found her in the kitchen-it was her turn to cook." she chided gently. Michael dropped his head back and said quietly." He drew her forward by a hand. "Hang on. "Mom. now. of drug dependency. "y know what?" she said. hi." And one day. coming home one day and bringing a new friend. Pay's lousy." He turned her fully around and caught her against himself." "Now. There was Randy's intense counseling.

the happy ending was particularly meaningful. for her own parents divorced when she was young. Minnesota. don't you?" Two parents turned. LaVyrle Spencer says she could never live there. I always want things to be romantic. Dan Spencer. she believes in working hard to keep a marriage fresh and vibrant. "This story is the fantasy of every child from a divorced home. and a development of condos she'd been admiring for years worked perfectly. In the case of Bygones. their embrace dissolving as they reached out to welcome her. "In a world where we're assaulted by reality on every side." she says.LaVyrle Spar Stillwater. joy on their faces. She and Dan'live in a Victorian-style house. Her fifteen novels. "You remember Maryann." Obviously." Spencer understands such children well. For Bygones she placed Bess Curran in the town where the Spencers themselves live. and to keep a fam ily whole. Then she and Dan simply drove around looking for just the right settings. "My heart is in the Victorian era. When she was creating Bess's and Michael's homes. many people share her feeling. A Geozgian style house with a river view. iI ABOUT THE AUTHOR LaVyrle Spencer likes happy endings. local design shop and interviewed an interior designer to get an insight into that profession. she visited a. This author also likes authentic settings--her novels take dace in actual towns that readers can locate on a map.shoulder-length hair and a smile that had put a boyish look of eagerness on Randy's face. including Morning . this is a ray of hope for children of divorce. has lasted for thirty marvelous years. Like Stella in Bygones. I like candles and cutwork linens. Though she likes the decor of the condo she created for Bygones. Her marriage to her high school sweetheart.

a Condensed Books selection. have fold more than thirty million copies since the first one was .Glory.

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