Authors: Cathy Holton
NE WEEK BEFORE
the dinner party where she found out the truth about her cheating husband, Eadie Boone sat in her car outside the offices of Boone & Broadwell waiting for Trevor and his new girlfriend to appear. She was parked in a no-parking zone across the street from the old columned mansion that housed her husband’s law firm. It was five o’clock in the afternoon and Ithaca’s thin stream of rush-hour traffic moved sluggishly along the street.
Sunlight fell from a wide blue Georgia sky and slanted through the arching branches of the live oaks. The air was cool and sweet with the scent of wet grass. Fall was Eadie’s favorite time of year. It reminded her of football games, and new school bags, and the hope and promise of good things to come. Other people think of spring as the season of renewal, but there was something about autumn’s dark wet corruption that appealed to Eadie’s nature. In the damp sunshine of an autumn afternoon Eadie felt there was nothing she could not do. Even become one of the greatest artists of the twenty-first century. Even make her husband love her again.
Not that Trevor had ever stopped loving her. Eadie knew, deeply and intuitively, that he had not. Eadie believed a good marriage was a fight to the death, a long slow clamp on the jugular by two equally determined adversaries, and given this definition, she and Trevor had one of the best marriages around. Trevor liked a good fight as much as she did. But somewhere along the way, he had forgotten all this. Waiting in her car, protruding like a jetty into the slow-moving stream of rush-hour traffic, Eadie felt it was her duty to remind him.
Still, the sight of the girl with her husband stunned her. They appeared minutes later, walking arm in arm, heads close while they shared some secret moment. Looking at the two of them, Eadie realized how much reminding Trevor needed. The girl could not be a day over twenty-two. She had the pliant, eager look of someone with low self-esteem. Eadie bet she didn’t even argue with Trevor. She probably listened intently and did as she was told and wasn’t even selfish in bed. Poor Trevor must be bored senseless.
She watched them disappear around the back of the building, and a few minutes later Trevor’s old Mercedes rattled past, shooting out a plume of dark smoke that disappeared lazily among the arching branches of the trees. Eadie started her car and followed them. Five minutes later Trevor parked in front of the Pink House Restaurant, and Eadie pulled to the side of the street and watched them cross between traffic, holding hands and laughing like a couple of teenagers. A woman with less self-confidence than Eadie Boone would have been crushed, seeing how much they seemed to enjoy each other’s company. But Eadie was feeling nothing more than a growing sense of impatience with Trevor’s stubborn stupidity.
She waited for thirty minutes, until she was sure they were seated and beginning to enjoy their meal, and then she picked up her cell phone and called the Pink House and asked to have Eadie Boone paged. It was one of her favorite tricks. She’d follow Trevor and then have herself paged, knowing he would spend the rest of the evening looking over his shoulder to see if she was there. She also liked to call his apartment when she imagined him in the middle of sex, and leave loud messages on his machine—
Bad news, Trevor. The sheriff called. That client who vowed to kill you has jumped bail,
The lab called with the results of the herpes test. You might want to call me.
Her phone beeped. Eadie checked the caller ID but stayed on the line with the Pink House hostess. The call was from Lavonne Zibolsky, who was ringing, no doubt, to beg Eadie to help her plan the Boone & Broadwell party that had been dumped on Lavonne just a week before. The annual dinner party that was only a week away, and that Eadie wasn’t even invited to, now that Trevor had left her for his secretary. She could hear the hostess’s footsteps and a minute later her tired voice. “Sorry, there’s no Eadie Boone here.”
“Thanks,” Eadie said and hung up. She had her work cut out for her, but she wasn’t discouraged. She hadn’t dragged herself up out of a life of poverty and adverse destiny by thinking like a defeatist. She hadn’t overcome a tragic childhood and become an artist by thinking it couldn’t be done. To admit she might have made a mistake about Trevor Boone would have been like admitting the whole code by which she had lived her life up to now was wrong, and this was something Eadie Boone just wasn’t willing to do.
She waited ten minutes and then called the restaurant again. She imagined the two of them crouched guiltily over their entrées, afraid to look around.
Not laughing now,
she thought, closing up her phone. She considered going inside and causing a scene, but decided against it. She was tired. She decided to go home and take a hot bath instead.
Following a wayward husband was hard work. Trying to convince that same husband that what he needed was not a change of wives but a change of careers was even more exhausting. Trevor would never be happy until he quit practicing law and moved home to write the Great American Novel he had always promised himself he would write.
Eadie knew this even if Trevor didn’t.
in the car-pool line reading
Captive Bride of the Choctaw.
The love scenes were graphic, and made her feel restless and slightly queasy. She had started out reading Harlequin Romances but had quickly progressed to the harder stuff, and now she read about masters and slave girls, Indian braves and captive white women. No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t stop. She had seen women like herself on afternoon talk shows, sad women who were addicted to alcohol, or food, or the Home Shopping Network. She wasn’t sure what a woman addicted to soft porn romance novels would be called, but she was pretty sure there was a name for it. She was pretty sure Oprah or Dr. Phil would know what it was called.
Nita slid the novel down behind her steering wheel so Susan Deakins couldn’t look in her rearview mirror and see what she was reading. Nita was certain there must be other women in town hopped up on soft-porn romance novels; she just didn’t know who they were. Being addicted to soft-porn romance novels in Ithaca, Georgia, was like filling a prescription for head lice or genital herpes. It just wasn’t the kind of thing you went around bragging about, not if you were a good Southern girl, anyway, from a good Southern family.
Nita read for a while and then closed her eyes and leaned back against the headrest of her seat. Her heart pounded like a piston. There was a sound in her ears like water running in a sink. Lone Wolf, a full-blooded Choctaw Indian chief, had his captive white slave, a red-haired beauty named Lydia, staked out in the middle of his teepee. Nita imagined herself as Lydia. She imagined Lone Wolf’s hard, muscled chest. He reminded her of Jimmy Lee Motes, the twenty-six-year-old carpenter she had hired to fix her pool house. Jimmy Lee had dark hair and dark eyes. He looked like he could be part Choctaw.
Behind her a horn honked and Nita opened her eyes and sat up suddenly and slid the novel into her purse. She put the car into drive and followed the slow-moving traffic as it inched toward the school portico, trying to clear the gyrating images of Lone Wolf and Lydia that drifted through her mind like an X-rated hologram.
She had started reading soft-porn romance novels with the idea of trying to put the zip back into her sixteen-year marriage to Charles Broadwell, but so far the only person Nita had been able to fantasize about was Jimmy Lee Motes.
Sunlight glinted off the Gothic towers and red-bricked façade of the tall buildings circling the courtyard. A throng of bored children stood around the school fountain, an exact replica of the Little Mermaid of Copenhagen, lethargically tossing quarters into the foaming water and waiting for their mothers to come. Nita searched the crowd anxiously for her children but could not see them. Far off in the distance, past the polo field and the lacrosse practice field, the sharp-edged shape of a scull glided on the river, oars moving rhythmically.
Nita’s children, Logan and Whitney, attended Barron Hall, the old and prestigious prep school for which Ithaca was famous and which Nita’s husband and his father before him had attended. Nita, born Juanita Sue James, had grown up in Ithaca, too, but she had attended public school. Charles Broadwell was four years older than she, and she’d known who he was, of course, but he had existed in a world so alien to her own that she’d never paid much attention to him. The Broadwells lived in a big columned house out by the river that Judge Broadwell had built and filled with the mounted heads of numerous murdered animals. They belonged to a small select group who lived in big houses, sent their children to Barron Hall and weekend dances at the country club, then off to small liberal arts colleges in Atlanta and Richmond and Birmingham. If growing up with money and attending one of the finest prep schools in the Southeast had been enough to guarantee happiness and emotional stability, then Nita’s husband and children should have been happy and well-adjusted people. Unfortunately, life was not that simple.
She could see her children waiting beneath the school portico. Logan stood with his jacket slung over one shoulder, his fourteen-year-old face fixed in its usual expression of disappointment and adolescent rage. Whitney stood with Miss Carlton, the car-pool monitor, idly plucking at the torn hem of her uniform skirt that hung down around her plump legs like a flag at half-mast. She saw her mother and launched herself off the sidewalk, stumbling toward the car with an odd rolling gait, laboring beneath her overfilled backpack and holding her arms out stiffly in front of her as a counterweight. Logan saw Nita, and scowling, slouched toward the car. Watching her children drag themselves toward her, Nita smiled and gave a hopeful little wave. As a child, she’d dreamed of a happy family, the way some girls dream of wedding days and Miss America crowns and award-winning performances on the silver screen.
“Shotgun,” Whitney shouted breathlessly, reaching the car.
“Get in, retard,” Logan said to his little sister.
They followed a long line of expensive imported cars and SUVs through the expansive school grounds to the highway. Nita glanced at Whitney and adjusted the rearview mirror so she could see Logan. Still smiling, she said tentatively, “Did you have a good day?” Other than trying to put the zip back into her marriage, the one thing Nita wished she could do above all else was to make her children happy.
Logan slumped against the door and stared bleakly at his reflection in the window glass. A pimple had risen in the thick brush of his left eyebrow, he had not made the cut for the fencing team, and he was too cynical to believe that life would ever get any better than this. His mother’s false enthusiasm brought out the worst in him. “I flunked my algebra test,” he said despondently. “And Mr. Johnson gave a pop quiz in history and I probably flunked that, too.”
Whitney, at eleven, was only slightly more encouraging. “Madison DeVane’s having a slumber party,” she said, “and I’m not invited.”
They drove for a while in silence. Nita was pretty sure that whatever was wrong with her children had something to do with her. In between her soft-porn romance novels she had read numerous books on childrearing written by psychologists and psychiatrists and counselors and experts who didn’t even have children but who had managed to pick up a lot of information by studying them in labs. Nita must have read over fifty books on how to raise happy, well-adjusted children, and so far the only thing she’d managed to learn from these books was that she had done everything wrong.
Someone had asked her once if she was raised Catholic, and she’d gotten kind of confused and flustered and said, “No, Baptist,” and the woman said, “Because you wear your guilt like a hair shirt.” Nita didn’t know what in the world she was talking about. She didn’t even know what a hair shirt was. All she knew was that when her children felt sad or lonely or got left out of slumber parties, she felt bad.
“How about some ice cream?” she said brightly. “We can stop for ice cream if you like.”
“Can I go to a different school?” Logan said. “I hate this place.”
“Rocky road, bubble gum, mint chocolate chip—it’s my treat,” Nita said, holding tightly to the steering wheel.
“I’d give anything to go to a public school,” Logan said.
“Butter pecan, almond delight, blue moon . . .” Nita felt like a drowning woman clinging to debris in the middle of a stormy sea. “How about you, honey?” she said, looking desperately at Whitney. “Would you like some ice cream?”
Whitney played with the edge of her skirt and thought about it. “Charlie Mosby had a fit in Latin class,” she said finally, “and they had to stick a ruler in his mouth to keep him from swallowing his tongue.”
Nita slumped against the steering wheel of the big car, exhausted. She hadn’t done a thing all day, but being with her children always made her tired. She remembered she had to call Lavonne Zibolsky to discuss details for the firm’s party next weekend. Charles had been very specific about this. She made a mental note to remember to pick up Charles’s shirts at the dry cleaner. She had forgotten yesterday and he had been sullen and rude, standing in the doorway this morning in his undershirt and bare feet while she made breakfast for the children.
“Is it too much to ask?” he asked politely from the doorway while the children cowered behind their cereal boxes. “Could you possibly find time in your busy day of shopping, bridge, and tennis to stop by the dry cleaner and pick up my shirts?” Charles prided himself on his skillful use of sarcasm, but today he could see it was having little effect on Nita. She continued to stir the eggs, her eyes fixed dreamily on the skillet, a slight smile on her lips. She was imagining herself hunched over an open fire, while in the teepee behind her Lone Wolf slumbered peacefully. She could see his smooth chest rising and falling with each breath. His black hair spread out on the animal skins beneath his head like wings. He looked peaceful and content.
That’s what Jimmy Lee Motes looks like when he sleeps,