Authors: Karen White
She sighed, letting the phone go to voice mail. “I'll just text him. He's very insistent on talking with me, and it's hard to tell him no.”
“Welcome to my world,” I muttered. I nestled the bag handles into the crook of my elbow. “I won't be long.” I glanced at the still-sleeping JJ, then kissed Sarah's cheek as I left the room, the bag bumping against my leg as I ran down the stairs, each brush and clattering noise a recriminating nudge, reminding me that despite promises to change, I was still the old Melanieâuncertain, fragile, and pathetic.
slowly jogged down Broad Street the following morning, paying more attention to the uneven sidewalks than to who or what was in front of me. I had enough going on in my life that I didn't need a twisted ankle, too. I preferred to run down the small side streets south of Broad, but I'd had to change my running route to avoid South Battery and any chance of seeing Jayne or her house.
Sophie ran next to me, her breathing easy and her gait just a little faster than mine to keep me motivated. Not that I needed the motivation. I eagerly approached our little runs with enthusiasm now, if only because my struggle for a deep breath took all my concentration so that for at least half an hour I didn't have to think what a mess my life was in.
We passed Henderson House Realty, and I was glad for the darkened front reception room. I still went in to the office each day, but usually very early in the morning or very late at night when nobody else was there. I didn't want to take the chance of Jack stopping by and catching me. I'd do some paperwork, take anything I'd need to work from my mother's house, and go through the pink message slips Jolly left on my desk. Most of them were from Jack and Suzy Dorf, with a few from Rebecca. I didn't read any of them, taking unusual pleasure in the
sound of their being crumpled in my fist before I dropped them in the wastebasket.
We were almost at East Bay when Sophie slowed her pace. I glanced over at her to see what was wrong, then followed her gaze toward the next block as she stopped completely. Rebecca, in a different pink jogging suit than I'd seen before, was approaching us, Pucci in her pouch on her chest, pink bows in her ears. It was hard to judge which one of them looked more idiotic.
I began to turn around but Sophie grabbed my elbow. “She wants to talk to you.”
I tried to pull away, but she held tight. “Am I being ambushed?”
“I'm sorry, Melanie, but I can't stand to see you so unhappy. Ignoring people will
make your problems go away. Rebecca called me yesterday and told me she'd been trying to reach you but couldn't get past your mother or father or the receptionist where you work. She's desperate to talk with you, so I said I'd help.”
“Oh, great. So you're the missing link.”
She wrinkled her nose. “I think you mean âweakest link,' but yeah, that would be right.”
Rebecca drew closer and Sophie's grip tightened. “You're going to leave a bruise if you don't let go.”
Sophie narrowed her eyes at me. “Only if you promise not to bolt.”
“Fine. But I won't promise I'll actually speak with her.” She let go and I folded my arms over my chest, prepared for battle.
“Good morning,” Rebecca said. She at least had the decency to look chagrined.
“It was,” I said, staring pointedly at her.
“I guess I deserve that. And I don't blame you for being angry. That's why I needed to talk to you. Not only to apologize, but also to help you.”
“How can you possibly help me?”
“I've been having more dreams. More specific dreams, and I know they have something to do with Jayne's house.”
I started to back away. “I have no further connection with the
Pinckney mansion, so you might want to save your breath and go find Jayne to let her know.”
“They involve your mother.”
I stopped and looked at her. “What do you mean?”
“The girl in the white nightgown keeps showing me a staircase with no door, and when she gets to the bottom step, she pulls up a board and pulls something out.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“I don't know. She won't show me.”
“But what does that have to do with my mother?”
“I hope this means more to you than it does to me, but she keeps saying that Button did the right thing, and that your mother should forgive her.”
I stepped back. “What did Button do?”
Rebecca shrugged. “I don't know. The little girl is very faint when she comes through, and I don't always hear her clearlyâlike she's being blocked.”
“Well, if that's allÂ .Â .Â .” I said, unimpressed and impatient to get away from Rebecca.
“One last thing. She also said that you should listen to Sarah.”
“Sarah?” Sophie said in surprise before I could. “As in her little girl Sarah?”
“Unless you know another one,” Rebecca said. “I'm guessing she's inherited the family gift. Is that right, Melanie?”
I kept my face expressionless, not wanting that little nugget of information to be confirmed and used relentlessly as Sarah got older. Whatever had gone wrong between my mother and me when I was little was not going to happen with Sarah and me. It was the only thing I was sure of right now.
Eager to change the subject, I said, “You mentioned something about an apology.”
She looked down at Pucci's head and began playing with the pink bows clipped onto the furry ears. I wondered if Pucci liked wearing them any better than Sarah did and realized suddenly that they were
the same bows I put in Sarah's hair. I made a vow right then and there that I would never put them on her again.
Without looking up, Rebecca said, “I know I'm partially responsible for this thing between Marc and Jackâ”
“It's not a âthing,'” I interrupted. “It was Jack's idea, his book, and his career that Marc stole from himâwith your help, I might add.” As angry and hurt as Jack had made me, the whole scenario still burned.
“I know. That's why I'm here. Because I know something that Marc doesn't that I believe will help you and Jack.”
I sent her a skeptical look. “Why would you tell me, Rebecca? And expect me to trust you?”
“Because we're family, Melanie, even though sometimes I know I don't act like it. And we share this gift, or whatever you want to call it, and feel no need to question when we talk about dreams and seeing dead people. I love my husband, but Marc can never understand that part of me.”
I met her gaze, wanting to tell her that Jack did understand. That he wasn't even disappointed to know that his daughter had inherited the same gift. Instead I said, “So, what do you know that Marc doesn't?”
“Marc knows that Jack is having money issues and that his next book isn't going to help. When Marc first approached Jack about using your house to film the movie, Jack said absolutely not, even after Marc told him some of the inside juice he'd received from his agent about how word in the publishing world is that Jack's career is on the way out.”
I swallowed, wondering why Jack hadn't mentioned it to me. Wondering if he'd been trying to protect me from an unpleasant truth.
“But the second time Marc approached Jack, he knew Jack was getting a little more desperate. Jack had made the mistake of telling another writer that his publisher wasn't thrilled with the book he just turned in, and even if they don't cancel the next book in the contract, they probably won't take the option book, and the news got back to Marc. That's how Marc knew he might be more willing to listen.”
I swallowed, wishing the lump in the middle of my throat would dislodge itself. “Is that when Jack agreed?”
She shook her head. “No. That's the thing. He never officially agreed. But he did tell Marc that he was in the middle of researching a new book idea, and that it would blow everybody out of the water. That his agent was excited about it and had already approached several big publishers who were interestedâassuming his current publisher drops him. The only problem was that the story could hurt people he knew and loved, and he needed to talk to them to get their permission. And if they said no, then he'd have no other option except to sign the agreement to use your house for filming our movieâfor a lot of money, I might add. But only if you signed it, too. It was never his intention to do it behind your back.”
“So what was that announcement about at the launch party?” Sophie took a step forward, her hands on her hips.
I put a restraining hand on her arm, secretly pleased to have her on my side. Despite her New Age hippiness and her uninformed choices in apparel, she was the best friend I could ever hope to have.
Rebecca sent a worried glance at Sophie. “Marc got a little ahead of himself. Since Jack wasn't returning his phone calls, Marc assumed that Jack's hoped-for book deal wasn't going to happen and that he was free to make the filming location official. Getting you to agree was going to be Jack's problem, not his. The big announcement at the party was supposed to be that two Hollywood A-listers have signed on for the movie to play Louisa Vanderhorst and Joseph Longo. That's itâI swear. I was as surprised as anybody that Marc said what he did.”
I stared at Rebecca, torn between hugging her and slapping her and then deciding to do neither. Jack wasn't worth it. He might not have intended to enter into an agreement without me, but he was still an unfaithful jerk who'd broken my heart. “Thank you for telling me. It's all a little too late, but I'm glad I know now.”
She gave me a tentative smile. “I hope this doesn't come between us or ruin our relationship.”
I heard Sophie shift beside me, knowing she was thinking exactly what I was.
“Of course not,” I said truthfully. “But next timeâif there is a next
timeâplease tell me sooner rather than later. It would have saved us all a lot of grief. Especially you, who will have to tell Marc and the film people that I would dye my hair purple and restore another old house before I would
allow that film to be made in my home.”
“So you're still thinking about it?”
I felt Sophie move beside me and I held her back before it turned physical. “No. There's no more thinking. There never was. My answer is no. Not maybe, but no.”
She frowned as if not understanding and then stepped forward as if to hug me. I stepped back and she recovered nicely, but not before I saw her embarrassment. I had no idea how I could be related to someone so clueless about human relationships.
“Yes, well, I guess I'll be seeing you later. Maybe we can all go out sometimeâyou, too, Sophie. Have a little date night with just us couples. Wouldn't that be fun?”
“I could straighten my hair and wear a Lily Pulitzer sundress. And heels,” Sophie managed to say with a straight face.
Rebecca's smile dimmed for a moment, leaving me to wonder if she really did want some sort of relationship with me. We were connected by more than blood, after all.
Sophie took my arm and began leading me away. We called back a hasty good-bye and then headed in the opposite direction. Sophie spoke first. “So, what are you going to do now? Talk with Jack?”
I shook my head. “What's the point? He's always talking to me about sharing my problems and telling him things, and yet it's clear he's been hiding a lot of stuff from me.”
“True, but he was doing it to protect you.”
“Yes, well, when I ignore stuff it's usually to protect me, too, so I guess that makes us even.” I frowned. “He could have told me we were having financial issues. I turned over the household expenses when the kids were babies because I was so overwhelmed and I haven't been involved since because I was terrible at balancing the checkbook. I could never get the numbers to work out and Jack said it was too painful to watch. But I never would have done that if I'd known he wouldn't
have felt like he couldn't come to me with any problems. It's not like I don't know how to cut expenses, or would even resent it if I had to. I thought that's what marriages were all aboutâsharing everything.”
Sophie stopped to look at me and I flinched as I recognized her professor-about-to-lecture mode. “Sometimes you can be a little self-absorbed, Melanie. You're a new mother of twins, you're resurrecting a career, and you're also dealing with body issues. Jack probably didn't want to burden you. And let's not forget the male ego hereâhis career and ability to be a breadwinner is very closely linked to his self-identity. It would be difficult to admit that to you.”
“Body issues? What body issues?”
“Really, Melanie? Is that all you heard?”
“Of course not,” I said, resuming walking while scanning my brain for whatever came after the words “body issues.” “Trust me, there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with Jack's male ego. I found him in a pantry embracing another womanâour children's
, for crying out loud.”
We walked in silence, our jog long forgotten, until Sophie spoke again. “Is there any chance you might have misread the situation? You're not really known to use patience to analyze a situation, so I was thinking that maybeâ”
I stopped abruptly in the middle of the sidewalk, staring at my soon-to-be-former best friend. “Et tu, Brute? And besides, weren't you the friend who warned me about how attractive Jayne might be to Jack? Remember thatâwhen we were walking in the park?”
“Yes, and I'm sorry about that. I didn't really know Jayne that well at that point, and I think I misread the situation and jumped to conclusions I shouldn't have. Maybe you're rubbing off on me.” She tried to smile but failed. “But what I do know for sure is that you love Jack and he loves you, and I'm just asking that you think back really hard. To maybe consider that there was more to the situation than what you thought you saw.”
“I know what I saw,” I said, feeling the anger rise. “It's kind of hard to miss your husband embracing another woman.”
“Were they kissing?”
I started to say yes, then stopped. “Not when I saw them. But his head was turned toward hers, like he was about to. Or he'd just finished.”
“So you didn't see them kissing.”
I slowed my pace. “No. Butâ”
“Do you hug your children?”
“Yes, of course I do. Butâ”