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Authors: Eileen Goudge

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BOOK: Taste of Honey
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In that first startled instant she thought of Lou, before she realized Gerry meant Father Gallagher. “What makes you think that?” she asked. She hadn’t said anything to Gerry about her visit. There was still a little part of her that wasn’t quite sure who to believe.

“Kevin told me you’d been to see him,” Gerry said.

Claire slumped back in her chair, the memory rushing up at her. “It was awful. He denied everything—just like you said.”

Gerry didn’t look surprised, only disgusted. “I suppose he told you I imagined the whole thing.”

“Something along those lines.” Claire ducked her head so Gerry wouldn’t see that she’d had her doubts, doubts that now seemed foolish.

“Well, he knows the truth as well as I do.”

“I still don’t get it,” she said. “What would getting you fired accomplish?”

“I know the way he operates—hide your head in the sand and it’ll go away. It’s worked so far—until you came along. Now he has to cover more than his head. Which means erasing me—
—from the picture.”

“Haven’t you been in the picture all along?”

“Sure, and it was fine as long as I kept our little secret. But now all bets are off. You must have shaken him up pretty badly. If this was to get out, the archdiocese would reassign him to its equivalent of Siberia.”

It still made no sense to Claire. “Even if he can get you fired, it’s not like you’d be dead.”

“As far as he’s concerned, I would be. For him nothing exists outside the Church.”

“What would stop you from going public?”

Gerry’s mouth thinned in a humorless smile. “He knows me too well. I might be inclined, but not if it meant dragging the Church through the mud. For all its faults, I owe it too much.”

Claire sat there, mulling it over. None of this was her fault; she’d only been the catalyst. But she saw now that Gerry’s reluctance to publicly acknowledge her had been rooted in more than a wish to avoid embarrassment to herself.

The hammering in the next room dwindled to a sporadic thud, and the voices in the yard faded as Sam and Mavis made their way around to the front.

“I guess I’ll just have to see how this plays out,” Gerry said, “though God knows patience isn’t my long suit.”

Claire felt guilty all of a sudden. “If it makes any difference, I’m sorry. I should have taken your advice.”

Gerry shook her head. “You did what you had to do.” She quickly turned away, reaching for her purse on the table by the sewing machine, but not before Claire saw the shine of tears in her eyes. “I’d better go round up Sam. If she starts going at those vines, she’ll catch hell from her doctor, not to mention Ian.”

Claire trailed after her into the living room, where Matt was measuring for the wainscoting—his suggestion for making it seem more like a tearoom and less like a house. He was crouched down with his back to her, and she couldn’t help noticing the sweaty patches on his T-shirt that made it cling, outlining the muscles underneath.

She caught herself staring, and looked away. What was the matter with her?

You miss Byron, that’s all.

They were stepping out onto the porch when a car pulled up—a silver Jaguar so stunningly out of place in the neighborhood that Claire’s jaw dropped. A man climbed out, athletic-looking but slightly built, with an elegance about him that matched the Jaguar’s. His wavy hair, she noted, was the same silver as his car’s.

“Aubrey!” Gerry called out, her face lighting up. “What on earth are you doing here?”

“I called the house. Justin told me where to find you.” He paused on the path, looking up at them: a man in jeans and a navy cashmere blazer, with dark brown eyes in a narrow, beveled face that shouldn’t have been handsome but somehow was. A man who could be none other than Gerry’s boyfriend, though she stubbornly referred to him as her
“I thought this was as good an excuse as any to meet Claire.” He stepped lightly up onto the porch, holding out the shopping bag in his hand—bright red, embossed with a discreet gold logo. “This is for you. Redundant, I know—but I couldn’t think what else to get you.”

Inside was an assortment of teas in glossy tins. Claire had only to glance at them to know he’d paid a small fortune. “My cup runneth over—no pun intended.” She smiled and extended her hand. “You must be Aubrey. I’ve heard a lot about you.” She saw him arch an eyebrow at Gerry and was quick to add, “Justin thinks you’re awesome.”

“High praise coming from him. The boy is nothing if not discerning.” He spoke with a slight accent she couldn’t quite place. British … or was it French? More like a mixture of both.

Claire could see why Justin had taken a shine to him: For someone so famous, Aubrey wasn’t the least bit stuck up. “Would you like to come in?” She gestured toward the house.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to take a rain check.” He glanced at his watch, slim and expensive. “I’m due at the airport in a couple of hours.”

“Aubrey has more frequent-flier miles than he could use in ten lifetimes,” Gerry said with a laugh. Underneath it, though, Claire detected a tiny grain that chafed.

“It’s only overnight this time. I’m dedicating a new concert hall in Marin.” He leaned in to kiss Gerry lightly on both cheeks, continental style.

When he turned to Claire, she saw the light in his eyes. He was clearly as crazy about Gerry as she was about him. “I’m glad we had a chance to meet. You’re every bit as lovely as Gerry said.” He touched her elbow, smiling.

Sam and Mavis wandered over, and he waved to them as he started back down the path, calling, “Another time, ladies.”

Claire’s gaze fell on the clippers in Sam’s hand.

“I tried to stop her. She wouldn’t listen.” Mavis waved toward the small pile of clippings by the garage.

“If you don’t watch out,
be delivering your baby instead of Inez,” Gerry scolded. She marched down the steps and held out her hand, forcing Sam to relinquish the contraband clippers, which she must have found in the garage.

Claire heard an engine gun, and looked up to see the Jag streaking off down the street.

“Well, at least you got to meet him.” Gerry spoke cheerfully, as if it meant no more than a neighbor dropping by.

She was obviously crazy about the guy. What had made her so gun-shy? Was it because of her divorce or … Another thought occurred to Claire: that it might have something to do with
Giving her up had to have affected Gerry as much as it had her. While she was growing up, blissfully ignorant, Gerry had been left to battle her demons. Demons that might have led her to marry unwisely—and to distrust a good thing when it came along.

Claire became aware of the phone ringing in the house. She was turning to go back inside when Matt stuck his head out the door. “It’s your dad. He sounds kind of upset.”

Claire raced into the house and snatched up the phone. “Dad? What is it? Is everything—”

Her father didn’t let her finish. “I’m at the hospital. It’s your mom. Her heart—” He let out an odd, gasping little breath. “I think you’d better come.”


had a chance to reflect, what struck Gerry most was that she hadn’t hesitated. No stopping to consider the potential fallout: Claire’s family and her own, even the day of work she’d be missing at such a crucial time. One look at her daughter’s pale, stricken face, and she did what she should have years ago: She took a stand.

“I’m coming with you,” she said.

But Claire wasn’t hearing. She sat on the floor with the receiver in her lap, staring vacantly ahead. Her face was the color of the Sheetrock stacked against the wall.

“She was fine. I talked to her just this morning. This wouldn’t have happened if—” Her mouth snapped shut, her lips pressed together so tightly they quivered.

Gerry crouched down in front of her, gently taking hold of her shoulders. “Listen to me, Claire. People get sick for all kinds of reasons. No one’s to blame. And it might not be as serious as you think. There’s no sense in even speculating until you’ve seen her. Now why don’t you pack some things while I call and book us a flight?”

Claire blinked, bringing her into focus. “Us?”

You and me.”

This time it sank in. Claire gaped at Gerry as if she’d suggested they firebomb the house next door. “What? Are you crazy? You can’t go anywhere

“I should have done this weeks ago.” Gerry stood up, the popping in her joints a reminder that none of them were getting any younger. “Seeing me couldn’t be worse than what she’s imagined.”

She and Claire had grown closer these past few weeks. but no amount of bonding would ever fill the gap of all those lost years. It was something she’d had to make peace with, something that ought to bring comfort to Millie Brewster as well: Even if Gerry wanted to take her place, there was no way she ever could.

“I couldn’t do that to her.” Claire was shaking her head.

As she struggled to her feet, Gerry noticed the part in her hair was crooked, and remembered when she used to patiently comb and braid Andie’s, a section at a time.
If only I’d been able to do that with Claire.
But she wasn’t a child; she was a grown daughter in need of more than a mother’s touch.

“It might be the best thing for all of us,” Gerry said.

The room had grown still, and sunlight slanted over dusty floorboards ghosted with overlapping shoeprints. Matt was nowhere to be seen, though evidence of his handiwork was all around: the partially installed tongue-and-groove wainscoting, the newly stripped lintels and molding, the shelving on the wall where the display case would stand. On the floor at Claire’s feet was the red shopping bag from Aubrey—Gerry recognized its embossed logo as that of Celi Cela, a pricey Santa Barbara gourmet shop. Tea for a tearoom, that was Aubrey for you. She smiled inwardly at the reverse subtlety of something so obvious. Like the catcher’s mitt that had arrived in the mail the other day for Justin: an ordinary Spalding like every other boy’s, remarkable only m the fact that neither she nor Mike had thought to replace the old one of Kevin’s he’d been using.

“I used to think I knew what would make her happy,” Claire said with a sigh. Some of the color had crept back into her cheeks; now she merely looked tired. “I thought it was my job to … fill in the blanks. But I can’t anymore. I don’t know that I ever could.”

“Oh, honey, it doesn’t work that way. We have to fill in our own blanks.” Gerry’s heart ached for her daughter. For it was becoming increasingly clear to her that the Brewsters, however well-meaning, hadn’t always had her best interests at heart.

“Easy for you to say. You have so much. My mother—” The urgency of the situation sank in, and Claire glanced about with something close to panic. “I have to go.” All at once she was dashing down the hall. She emerged minutes later wearing a clean blouse tucked into her jeans and carrying an overnight bag.

Gerry had used the time to phone her travel agent and was just hanging up when Claire walked in. “I booked us seats on the four-forty to San Francisco,” she said, her tone leaving no room for argument. “We’ll take my car.” Sam could give Mavis a ride home.

Claire hesitated, looking torn. Then she seemed to come to a decision. “All right, but on one condition—you don’t go anywhere near my mother unless I okay it.”

Gerry nodded. “Fair enough.”

Then they were stepping out onto the porch, where Mavis and Sam sat gossiping on the steps, oblivious to the drama unfolding. Gerry drew Sam aside. “Something’s come up. I have to fly to San Francisco with Claire. Could you keep Andie and Justin overnight? I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.”

Sam gave her a curious look, but all she said was, “No problem. I’ll swing by your house to pick them up after I drop off your mom.”

Gerry silently blessed her for simply knowing what needed to be done—a reminder of why they’d stayed friends all these years: There was never any fuss with Sam.

A short while later, as they were making their way over the hill, Gerry pondered what lay ahead. For close to three decades—nearly half her life—shed wondered about the people raising her daughter. The only image that had come to mind, those long nights as she’d lain awake in bed. staring up at the ceiling with tears drying to a crust on her temples, was of the mother and father in the old
Dick and Jane
readers: a bland, nondescript couple in fifties attire. The kind who would attend church regularly, serve three balanced meals a day, and engage in conjugal relations as opposed to making love. They would never swear, or lose their tempers, or drive outside the speed limit. In short, they were everything she wasn’t.

Not until she’d had Andie did she realize it wasn’t about being perfect, that it didn’t really matter how often you went to church, or how many men you’d slept with, or if you drove within the speed limit at all times. The only thing that truly mattered was whether you loved your child. Everything else came second.

They arrived at LAX with nearly an hour to spare. After they’d checked in, Claire insisted on writing Gerry a check for her ticket, and Gerry relented only because it was easier than having to explain that this was something
needed as well. She’d given these people the gift of her child. The least they could do was allow her—and Claire—the chance to get to know each other.

Half an hour after takeoff they were touching down in San Francisco. They made their way to the Avis desk, where there was a long line followed by an even longer wait for the shuttle bus. It wasn’t until well after seven that they found themselves inching along the freeway in rush hour traffic. Gerry tried to remember when she’d last been in the Bay Area. When Kevin’s restaurant had opened? It seemed that decades had passed since then.

Her thoughts turned to Aubrey. At the airport she’d found herself keeping an eye out, her pulse quickening at every silver-haired man glimpsed from afar, never mind that he was probably in a different terminal. That she hadn’t spotted him seemed beside the point; she’d been
to see him. For months he’d been tidily tucked away in a box, and now he was out playing havoc with her life. Befriending Justin, and now Claire. Even Laura had taken her aside at the wedding to confide that she thought he was “absolutely perfect” for her.

What made it so unsettling was that Aubrey, unlike some of the men she’d been with since her divorce, had no ulterior motive. He was merely being
Which worried her more than if he’d been angling to marry her. Dammit, why couldn’t he have been a shit? Or, at the very least, a shit with redeeming qualities.
she could relate to.

“We’ll never get there at this rate,” Claire fretted.

“If I go any faster, we’ll be eating that guy’s exhaust.” Gerry glared at the dark blue Subaru creeping along in front of them as if it were the cause of the jam.

“I wish I bit my nails. It’d be something to do.”

“Justin cracks his knuckles.”

“I’ve noticed.”

“It drives me up a wall.”

Claire gave a tiny smile. “I’ve noticed that, too.”

“You’ll see when you have children of your own.”

“That might not be for a long time.”

Gerry caught a note of yearning in her voice. She asked pleasantly, “How does your boyfriend feel about kids?” The traffic had slowed to a near standstill, and she eased her foot off the accelerator just in time to keep from kissing the Subaru’s bumper.

“Oh, he wants them … one of these days,” Claire said.

“Well, that’s a start at least. By the way, when am I going to meet this guy?”

Claire stared distractedly out the window. “Soon, I hope. It’s hard for him to get away.”

“He’ll be here for the opening, won’t he?”

“He said he’d try.”

Gerry sensed there was more to it than her boyfriend’s busy schedule, but she let it drop. Whatever was going on with them, Claire didn’t need her putting her two cents in. She thought, too, of Matt. She couldn’t help but notice he and Claire had gotten pretty chummy. Was he giving the boyfriend a run for his money?

She was surprised when Claire volunteered, “The truth is, Byron’s not exactly thrilled about all this.”

“The tearoom?”

“Let’s just say it wouldn’t exactly be to his advantage if it’s a roaring success.”

“How so?”

Claire frowned. “Well, for one thing, Carson Springs isn’t exactly where he planned on opening a practice … and I wouldn’t exactly be in a position to move.”

“They’re building a new medical center out near Dos Palmas,” Gerry told her. “I’ve heard they’re looking for doctors.”

“It’s a thought.” Claire perked up a bit, then went back to staring gloomily out the window. “Either way, we’ll be strapped for cash. Let’s face it, even if I can pull this off, you’re not likely to see Tea and Sympathy in the Fortune 500.”

Gerry gave a knowing laugh. ‘“The same is true of Blessed Bee. I guess neither of us is in it for the money.”

Her stomach did a nosedive at the thought of Sister Clement, who’d arrived earlier in the week. What would she say if she knew about Claire?

“Byron and I’ll work it out,” Claire said. “We always do.” It sounded more like bravado than conviction.

“The real test comes when you’re married.” Gerry thought of her own marriage, which had been a rude shock after the wine and roses of their courtship. “This might sound strange, but I sometimes think that if Mike and I had lived apart, we’d still be together.”

Fog was rolling in off the bay in soft gray bales, cocooning them in a heavy, gray mist, and making the cars ahead look as if they’d been sketched in pencil. After a moment Claire said, “Would you have married my father if he’d asked?”

Gerry shrugged. “Let’s just say I’m glad he didn’t. It would have been a disaster. The one thing I
know is that I wouldn’t have married Mike if it hadn’t been for Jim.”

“Why is that?”

“I couldn’t see past the fact that he wanted kids. And I was desperate to be a mother.”

“Ironic, isn’t it?” Claire’s voice was flat.

Gerry felt something come loose inside her chest, like a cog holding some vital piece of machinery in place. She asked softly, “Do you think you’ll ever forgive me?”

“There’s nothing to forgive.” Claire shot her a cool glance.

“What is it, then?”

Claire hesitated a moment, then said, “It’s not about what happened then. It’s just that I can’t help wondering if you’re ashamed of me

Gerry was so startled she nearly plowed into the car in front of her, and had to bring her foot down hard on the brake. “Ashamed? Why on earth would you think that?”

“That first weekend, when you didn’t introduce me to your friends, I got the feeling you didn’t want me to be the scarlet A on your chest.”

Gerry was stung by the unfairness of it. All this time she’d been holding back because she’d thought
was the one who’d have been embarrassed.

“If you only knew,” she said, her voice trembling. “I’d have shouted it to the heavens if I’d thought …” She pulled in a deep, steadying breath. “I was afraid that if I came on too strongly you’d run in the opposite direction.”

Claire was looking at her in a new way—thoughtful and considering. “I guess we were both wrong.” She seemed to be struggling to hold her emotions in check. A moment later she pointed toward a sign up ahead. “It’s the next exit.”

It was well after dark by the time they turned off Highway 17 onto the Pacific Coast Highway, which became the main road into town. They cruised past tourist shops and boat dealerships and eateries with names like Rusty Anchor and The Crow’s Nest. Gerry found Miramonte to be pretty much as she’d remembered it except for the newer-looking houses and condos now interspersed with the older beachfront cottages.

Dominican Hospital lay at the southernmost end of town: a modern concrete-and-glass building with a steel cross above the lighted sign out front. Gerry pulled into the parking lot to find it full, the only spaces available those for staff. She circled it several times before nosing their rented Taurus into the slot labeled

“If we get towed,” she said, “we might as well go out in style.”

Claire looked as if she were about to protest, but said nothing.

They walked along the juniper-lined path to the main entrance, where they pushed their way through thick plate glass doors into the lobby. Wall-to-wall glass soared to meet the solar-paneled ceiling, which at this hour gave it the look of a cavern. At the far end was a reception desk flanked by rows of chairs. Claire hurried over to it, returning moments later wearing a distraught look.

“She’s in the CCU.”

“Go on. I’ll wait here,” Gerry told her.

Claire shot her a grateful look, then made a dash for the elevators, leaving Gerry to wonder if this would turn out to be a wasted trip.
she thought. If nothing else, she’d been given the opportunity to set the record straight with her daughter—a misunderstanding that, if left to fester, would have had consequences far beyond anything the Brewsters could dream up. As she made her way over to the waiting area, she offered up a little prayer of thanks. God did indeed work in mysterious ways.

BOOK: Taste of Honey
10.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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