nnabel Wish had a fear of closed spaces. A year ago, she'd been stuck, alone, in an elevator for thirty-six hours, and that had simply been too much to bear. When workers had finally pried open the elevator doors on the morning of Annabel's second day of confinement, they'd found her stark raving mad.
That was why she kept rolling her car window down now, despite outdoor temperatures hovering around thirty-two degrees, and despite her husband, Jack, constantly admonishing her to roll it back up.
“Really, Annabel,” Jack said. “You're freezing me to death.”
“I just need the air,” she told him.
He sighed. “We're almost there. We're not more than forty minutes away now.”
Annabel took several deep gulps of air, and then rolled the window up again.
They'd been on the road for three hours. That was two and a half hours too long for Annabel. Even a subway ride from lower Manhattan to Washington Heights left her uneasy. It wasn't that their car was small: It was a good-sized SUV, some name and brand Annabel wasn't sure of. She never paid much attention to such things. But it was an enclosed space, which meant that she couldn't get up and move around, and that made her want to crawl out of her skin. Annabel kept looking out the window, trying to focus on the trees and houses going by and hoping that Jack was right, that this move would be good for her. Good for them. Good for their marriage.
All she knew was that she needed air.
“I remember these roads so well from when I was a boy,” Jack was saying. “In the spring and summer there'd be farm stands all through here, selling beans and corn and tomatoes. Dad would stop and we'd load up the car and take it all back with us to the city.”
Annabel could see only stark, frozen, bare trees.
She had never been this far out into the country before. In her twenty-six years, Annabel had been all over the world. London, Paris, Milan, Sydney, Tokyo. It came with the job of being a fashion editor. But it was always cities that she visited. Annabel had never had any interest in seeing life beyond urban boundaries. Even as a girl, she'd always spent her summers in the city. All the grass and trees she had needed she had found in Central Park, and when she grew tired of natureâwhich was oftenâthere were shops and movies and restaurants and museums. Not for Annabel any regular trips into the pollen-and-ragweed-infested countryside of western Massachusetts of the kind Jack so fondly remembered, visiting his grandfather's rustic old bed-and-breakfast in the village of Woodfield. Annabel had been exquisitely content to remain in the city.
But they were far away from the city now. They were retracing the route of Jack's summer-vacation sojourns to Woodfield.
Except that it wasn't summer. It was the onset of a very cold but so far snowless winter. And the bed-and-breakfast they were heading to no longer belonged to Jack's grandfather.
It belonged to them.
Annabel looked out her window. They were passing a cemetery. A fat black crow was perched on a granite cross. As Annabel watched, the bird flapped its enormous wings.
She rolled down the window again and breathed in some more air.
When they'd put her in the hospital, the worst thing had been the terrible, confining air. She needed air that flowed freely, and if there was a bit of taxicab exhaust in it, so much the better. How Annabel had wanted to send a chair crashing through the hermetically sealed hospital window and just stand there, her face inches from the jagged glass, and gulp in buckets of air. The sounds of traffic rising from First Avenue would have been far more soothing to her than all that canned hospital Muzak.
“Annabel,” Jack said, lifting an eyebrow over at the window and shivering. “Please?”
She rolled it shut.
They were crossing the Massachusetts line. “We'll be there in time for lunch,” Jack said, beaming. “And Gran's making her famous rabbit stew.”
“Jack, you know I've become a vegetarian.”
He frowned. “You can't offend Gran.”
Annabel turned away, resisting the urge for air.
“I'm sure you and Gran will get along just fine,” Jack said. “She'll like that you have an eye for color and design. You know the place is going to need a great deal of fixing up, and I'm counting on you, sweetheart, to really give it your signature pizzazz.”
“I'm not so sure I'm all that pizzazzy anymore,” Annabel said, her eyes searching out the window for something. But all she saw were trees and more trees.
“Oh, come on, sure you are, sweetheart. You haven't lost your eye.”
“That wasn't what Carmine thought.”
Carmine had been her boss at
. The magazine had just launched when Annabel had had her breakdown. She'd been the fashion editor for the premiere issue, but by the time she had come back, after all those months in the hospital, there had been three more editions that had hit the stands. Carmine had brought in what he'd assured Annabel was just a temporary replacement, but the new girl had proven so fresh and hip and original that no one had wanted to let her go. Annabel was offered a “contributing” editorshipâwhich was a nice way of telling her that she was no longer needed.
“I just don't want you to overwork yourself again, baby cakes,” Carmine had said, trying to sugarcoat his decision.
Annabel had told him what to do with his contributing editorship and stalked out of his office, breaking a heel on her Manolo Blahnik Sorrita shoe as she did so, much to her humiliation.
“Well,” Jack said, “Carmine doesn't know what he lost by letting you go, sweetheart.”
But he did. Carmine had known full well what he was losing. A woman who drank too much, who snorted too much cocaine, who thought the world owed her fame and fortune. Annabel had worked herself to a very lofty place in New York society, but she had burned every bridge she'd crossed to get there. She might have been the city's new fashion darling, but she was tired and angry and frustrated and jealous and insecure. That was hardly the recipe for success in New York. Or success anywhere.
Annabel had thought that success would drive away all those feelings, which stretched all the way back to her childhood, but in fact success had only made them worse. And so when the day came when the elevator up to the
penthouse got stuck between the forty-first and forty-second floors, Annabel had simply crumbled. The poised, articulate woman dressed in Givenchy and Karl Lagerfeld who had stepped into the elevator late one Friday night had been reduced to a sobbing, quivering mass of jelly on the floor by early Sunday morning, when a janitor discovered the malfunctioning lift. Annabel was once again a child terrified of being eaten alive by a little blue demon named Tommy Tricky.
“We haven't had any snow yet this winter,” Jack was saying, drawing Annabel's thoughts back to the present, “but western Mass can really get sucker punched by nor'easters.” He smiled over at Annabel. “So when we get all snowbound, sweetheart, and the power goes off, we're going to use the time to get creative. We can scrape old paint and wallpaper off the walls, and polish the antiques that Gran has down in the basementâthere's a mother lode of treasures in that dark old space, Annabel, you'll see.”
Air. Oh, how she needed air.
“And we'll go snowboarding and cross-country skiing and skating on the pondâ”
Suddenly, Jack slammed on the brakes and yelled. There was something ahead of them in the road. Something big. Something with antlers.
“Jesus Christ!” Jack shouted. “That's a moose! A goddamn moose!”
The animal was standing perfectly still in the middle of the narrow, two-lane road. It was at least six feet tall and probably nine feet long, with an enormous head crowned with a rack of sharp antlers. Black eyes stared serenely through the windshield at Annabel and Jack.
“Holy shit,” Jack said in a sort of awe. “I'd heard of moose out in Worcester County, but never out this way before.”
He tooted the horn.
Annabel stared at the creature. Its black eyes unnerved her.
Finally, the moose began to move, plodding the rest of the way across the road and then disappearing into the woods.
Jack was grinning like an idiot. “Who'd ever have thought we'd see a goddam
?” he asked as he began moving the car forward again.
Annabel couldn't speak.
“Wait'll I tell Morrison,” Jack was saying. “He's gonna have a stroke when I tell him we saw a moose!”
“I . . .” Annabel tried again to speak.
“I wonder if the moose population is spreading westâ”
“I can't do this,” Annabel finally said, very softly.
“What'd you say, sweetheart?”
“I said I can't do this,” she repeated, louder now, looking over at her husband. “I want to go back to New York.”
“Now, Annabel, we've been over thisâ”
“I want go back to New York right now!”
Jack quickly pulled the car over to the side of the road and threw it into park. He turned to face Annabel. “Now, look, sweetheart. You know this is the only way we can move forward. You know there is nothing left for you in New York. . . .”
“Yes, there is! It's my home!”
Jack looked wearily into her eyes. “We've talked about this many times, Annabel. We made a decision! Dr. Adler helped us make the decision. Remember? And we all decided that the best way for you and I to start over was to leave the city and to accept Gran's offer to take over running the B&B. . . .”
“No, you decided. I just agreed. There's a difference.”
Annabel turned to look out the car window. How she wanted to roll the window down and climb through it. How she wanted to get out of this car and just start to run. She didn't care where she ran. She'd just run any which way, simply because she
, because she was
. She hated being closed up in a car for so long. It was like being closed up in that hospital . . . which, of course, was like being put in that closet in her stepfather's apartment and told that if she made a sound, Tommy Tricky would hear her and chop her up with his little blue axe.
“Annabel,” her mother had told her, “there's no such thing as Tommy Tricky. Your dad just tells you that so you'll be a good girl.”
Except that he wasn't her dad. Her dad, Malcolm Wish, had been killed in the first Gulf War. Annabel's stepfather was a loathsome man she was forced to call Daddy Ron. And he didn't tell her about Tommy Tricky to induce her into being good. He told her about Tommy Tricky because he was a sadistâa terrible, evil man who got his jollies from scaring little children.
“Tommy Tricky is a little blue boy with a very sharp axe, and he's always hungry,” Daddy Ron had told her, as he put her in the linen closet. “He sleeps in here, somewhere under that pile of sheets and tablecloths. So if you make a sound or move around, you'll wake him up. And if Tommy Tricky wakes up, he'll chop you up with his blue axe and eat you up, lickety-split, with his blue lips and blue tongue and big blue teeth.”
She jumped as Jack touched her arm.
“It was bad in New York,” he said quietly. “Do you remember how bad it got?”
She nodded, slowly.
“So this is the only way,” Jack told her.
Annabel said nothing more. Her husband put the car into drive and steered it back onto the road.
She was moving to Woodfield because it was the only way she could keep Jack. He'd leave her otherwise. Annabel knew that. And Jack was all she had left. She couldn't lose Jack, too, not after losing everything else.
She wanted this move to work. She
want to start over, to find happiness once again in her life and in her marriage. Jack was right that there was nothing left for her in New York. Her friends had all turned on her, put off by Annabel's excesses in those last frantic, hedonistic months before the breakdown. She didn't want that life any longer. She never really had; she'd just gotten caught up in the idea of success, intoxicated by glitz and access. What Annabel wanted was what she'd always wanted, deep down, ever since she was a little girl treated cruelly by her stepfather and ignored by her mother. She wanted a place where she mattered, where she fit in, where she was loved.
And where she could move around freely, without any constraints.
Maybe, then, this
be the place for her. True, she sometimes felt a creeping sense of claustrophobia knowing that theaters and museums and couturier shops were hours awayâand reachable only by car, and Annabel hated to driveâand that western Massachusetts got very dark at night, and frequently lost power in storms, and was susceptible to being snowbound. But in good weather she could take long walks, or ride a bike into the village. It would be a very different way of life, to be sure, but it needn't be too restrictive. And there was more to recommend Woodfield, too: All of the temptations of Annabel's old life, which had dragged her down to the depths, were very far away.
Finally, there was Jack.
Annabel glanced over at her husband. How happy he looked. How excited for their new venture. Jack had stuck by her through the worst. He was the only one who had. She owed him this much. But she also had no choice. Jack had been wanting out of the city for the last several years. His own career had stalled as Annabel's had skyrocketed. He had thought he was going to be a big, important writerâbut after his first book tanked, he couldn't get another advance. He was done with writing, he said; he hadn't opened his laptop in nearly two years. Annabel knew that Jack would have left New York whether she had agreed to go with him or not. He saw it as the only way forward, for him and for them.