Authors: David Matthew Klein
To my family: Harriet, Julia, and Owen,
who are always there for me
I’d like to thank early readers of this novel for their encouragement and feedback: Caroline Barrett, Aurora DeMarco, Robert Jaffe, and Phyllis Jaffe. Stephen Maher advised me on legal and criminal matters. David Haar offered insight into the pharmaceutical industry. Sam Russem and Fred Edmunds inspired elements in this story. Michael Neff of the Algonkian Writer Conferences helped me position the novel. I learned how PTAs function from the folks at Elsmere Elementary School. I relied on the wonderful book
by Robert McKee to help shape later drafts. Owen and Julia taught me how children speak and think. And, of course, this book would not exist without the support and efforts of my agent, Loretta Weingel-Fidel; my publisher, Diane Salvatore of Broadway Books; and my editor, Lorraine Glennon. Most important, thank you to my wife, Harriet, who has stayed by my side every step of the way.
Gwen arranged to meet Jude at ten, after dropping the kids at their morning camps. She’d already delivered Nate to Nature’s Workshop, and now drove her daughter to the pool. It was Nora’s last day of swim camp and Gwen had baked a tray of cupcakes, vanilla with whipped cream frosting and red, white, and blue sprinkles left over from July 4th.
Nora balanced the tray on her lap in the backseat, snitching frosting edges under the plastic wrap. Two cupcakes were missing, eaten by Nora and Nate in the car, wrappers discarded on the floor, crumbs flattened into the seats.
“Honey, will you be able to carry the tray if I drop you off in front?”
Nora hesitated. “I might spill them.”
“Not if you’re careful.”
“Will you do it?”
Because she was anxious to get downtown, Gwen almost snapped back at Nora about being old enough for this small responsibility. But she reminded herself that Nora was only seven, a loving, intelligent girl, tall and strong and for the most part capable, yet fearful of small things going wrong—such as dropping a tray of cupcakes. You had to accept your children were people, with their own quirks and limitations as well as talent and potential. Once you realized you couldn’t mold them into
robotic perfection, you could do a much better job parenting; for instance, by carrying the cupcakes for your daughter who was afraid of spilling them.
“Okay, sweetie. You carry your towel and backpack and I’ll carry the tray.”
Gwen parked in the drop-off zone in front of the pool complex, navigating a place between the other cars coming and going.
“Mom, you’re not supposed to park here, it’s for drop-off only,” Nora told her.
“It’s just for a minute—you want me to carry the cupcakes, don’t you?”
“You might get a ticket.”
Nobody issued tickets at the Morrissey town pool.
Gwen lifted the tray from Nora’s lap and waited while her daughter located her flip-flops, centered her backpack on her shoulders, got out of the car without her towel, and climbed back in to retrieve it after Gwen reminded her.
“Come on, honey,” Gwen urged her.
“I’m not late.”
“Mommy has a lot to do today,” Gwen said. “Remember, you’re going home with Abby. Mrs. Fitzgerald will drive you and I’ll come get you this afternoon.”
“And then we’re going up to the lake?”
“As soon as Daddy gets home.”
“I can’t wait to swim in the lake.”
And Gwen couldn’t wait for the getaway with her husband and family. Four entire days at their house on Tear Lake, which they’d hardly been to this season because of camp schedules and Brian’s work. Four days of rest, relaxation, and love.
They walked to the entrance where Nora stopped to remove her backpack and look through two zipped compartments to find
her pool ID card. Gwen explained to the desk attendant that she was just delivering cupcakes for her daughter’s camp party.
The party consisted of two picnic tables pinned with paper tablecloths on a grassy area between the kids’ pool and the big pool. A breeze flapped the sides of the cloths and rippled the surface of the water. Not a great day for swimming, not for Gwen anyway, who liked hot weather and warm water. The pools would close for the season in another week, right after Labor Day.
She found a spot for the cupcakes on one of the tables and spent a few minutes thanking the instructors—college kids home for the summer, heading back to school this weekend—and when she turned to leave she was waylaid first by Carly Eller asking Gwen which teacher Nora got for third grade, and then by Heather John who reminded Gwen about their annual open house on Sunday, one of the few adults-only social gatherings among their circle. Gwen apologized for having to miss out. If they were in town it would have been fun to go; the Johns played great music and hosted a karaoke contest that commenced after everyone had spent an hour or two loosening up at the patio bar.
“You won’t be there to defend your karaoke crown,” Heather said.
Last year, Gwen and Brian were voted karaoke king and queen for their Sonny and Cher duet, “I’ve Got You Babe.” In a silly rush of sentimentality, Gwen had felt tears when she sang, “So let them say your hair’s too long, ’cause I don’t care, with you I can’t go wrong,” and Brian, sporting a fresh haircut, had answered, “Then put your little hand in mine, there ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb.” In her acceptance speech, margarita in hand, Gwen had reminded everyone she’d played the role of Maria in her high school’s production of
West Side Story
, sans the painted-on Hispanic tan that Natalie Wood sported in the movie version.
“Some other lucky talent will have to go home the winner this year,” Gwen said. Using talent in its loosest meaning.
“We’ll miss you guys,” Heather said.
A last check with Nora. Did she have the gift cards for her instructors? Her goggles? Hairbrush? Love you, sweetie. A final hug and Gwen made her way back to the car, stopping once to dig a stone from her sandal, then driving downtown to meet Jude.
In the car she called Brian. He didn’t pick up—no surprise. Whenever he planned time off work, the few days leading up to it were crazy. She knew he had a big presentation today. When she got his voice mail she said, “Hi love, just wanted to wish you good luck again in your meeting. I dropped off the kids and am running errands, then going home to pack. I can’t wait for the weekend. Love you.” Then she added, “Call me if you need anything.”
She parked in a metered spot across the street from Gull. She checked herself in the rearview mirror and played with the flip in her hair, without success, then touched up her lips. She found two quarters in her purse to feed the meter, which gave her thirty minutes.
A neon sign with blue lettering hung perpendicular from the transom over the door to the restaurant, with the L’s in Gull tipped to the side to resemble a bird’s wingspan. A pair of real gulls, up from the river, circled overhead, screeching.
Gwen expected the restaurant to be empty—it didn’t open for lunch until 11:30—but she was greeted at the hostess stand by a short, dark woman with bangles running up and down both wrists.
“Do you want to fill out an application?”
“Are you applying for the cocktail waitress job?”
“Oh, no. I’m here to see Jude.”
“Who should I say is asking?”
“Gwen Raine. He’s expecting me.”
“Why don’t you wait in the bar?” the hostess suggested. “I’ll find him for you.” She reached for the phone next to the reservation book.
Gwen sat in the bar. Three women occupied other tables. They all appeared to be in their early twenties, long hair, each wearing at least one article of black clothing—miniskirt, cami with bra, spandex T-shirt—each with dark lipstick and piercings. They all displayed a degree of cleavage.
The women were filling out job applications. Could Gwen really have been mistaken for a potential cocktail waitress? How could she—with her Eileen Fisher tee and khaki slacks and sandals—even if she had carefully picked out her clothes this morning and spent an extra minute in front of the mirror before coming in? And with the real giveaway: her crow’s-feet ticking off time like the markings of a clock around her eyes.
Gwen had worked in a bar once, but that was almost nine years ago, during law school. She never finished law school, even the first year, but she’d had a blast working in the bar. It’s where she first met Jude, who hired her, and later, Brian, who married her.
The woman at the table closest to Gwen tore her job application and shoved the pieces in her handbag. She was the one with the miniskirt, and when she stood, Gwen got a look at her trim, tanned legs all the way up to where her skirt just covered the curve of her butt. Not an inky vein or cellulite crease in sight. I was like that, Gwen thought, two kids ago, sigh, although she never wore her hem that high.
The woman who ripped her application left the restaurant, averting her face from the hostess.
A moment later, Jude appeared from the dining area. He approached Gwen’s table, his pace slow and unhurried. Gwen
remembered that even on the busiest nights at the Patriot, Jude never rushed around, appearing calm and poised amid the chaos of the dinner crunch.
She stood and hugged him briefly, catching a drift of the same cologne he’d worn when she worked for him. Whether it was Armani or Old Spice, she didn’t know: it was Jude. She’d recognized the scent a few times over the years, on a stranger standing nearby or walking past her; every time it reminded her of Jude, and every time she looked around expecting to see him.
“You must have had a great summer, you’re so tan,” he said.
“A lot of pool time with the kids. One of the advantages of being a full-time mom.”