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Authors: Georgia Bockoven

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BOOK: The Year Everything Changed
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“Come on, baby.” He dropped to his knees and clasped her hands. “Be happy for me. For us,” he quickly amended.

“This is my
father
who’s dying, Randy.”

He eyed her. “Like you really care. You don’t even know the guy. Besides, it’s gotta piss you off in a major way that he’s known where you were all this time and he’s never once tried to see you.”

“If you had a kid living in another country and you had to deal with someone like my mother every time you wanted to see her, how hard would you try?”

“Your mom’s not that bad. And you left Mexico almost eight years ago. Why wait until now to get in touch?”

“What you’re really saying is that if I’d been cuter or smarter or—”

“Cut the crap, Christina. You know I think you’re one of the smartest people I know. And I wouldn’t be with you if you were a dog. I care what people think.”

“Thanks. Can’t tell you how much better that makes me feel.”

He moved in closer and nuzzled her neck. “You want our movie finished just as bad as I do. What’s wrong with your father helping us out? Isn’t that what fathers do?” He leaned back to make eye contact. “This could be our big break, baby.” She didn’t say anything. “I’ll dedicate the film to him—and not at the end. Right up front. I’ll say we couldn’t have done it without him. He’ll be famous. Hell, I’ll even make him an associate producer.”

“I can’t tell him that.”

His eyes narrowed as he considered what she’d said. “Yeah, you’re right. You want him to think you came because you care.”

Randy wasn’t going to let go. She either gave in now or spent the next month listening to the reasons she should give in. “I’ll go,” she finally said. “But not for the money.” It was what she needed to believe; what she wanted him to believe.

Randy grabbed her and rolled across the bed, burying his hands in her black and pink hair, kissing her deeply and thoroughly. Coming up for air, he murmured, “That’s my girl.”

Christina listened to Randy softly snoring beside her. She was thirsty but didn’t want to chance getting up and waking him. She wanted time to think about her trip to Sacramento, what she would say, how she would act.

What if it turned out her dad really was rich and what if he wanted to leave his money to her? What if it was enough money for her and Randy to get to L.A. and for her to see agents without having to squeeze in the appointments between work?

Christina glanced at the bedraggled stuffed bear sitting on a shelf beside the bed. Missing an eye and an ear, his arm hanging on by a thread, he was all she had had to remember her father by. She rolled to her side and pressed her face into her arm. Her cheeks were wet. How could she be crying and not know? A wave of aching sadness hit the shores of her heart.
Why did you leave me, Daddy? What did I do? Why wasn’t I good enough
?

Chapter Four
Rachel

“Good morning, Ms. Nolan.”

Instead of simply responding to the usual greeting, Rachel stopped at her assistant’s desk. “So—who won?”

Maria grinned. “It isn’t winning or losing that’s important, it’s whether the kids had a good time.”

“Uh huh.”

This time Maria laughed. “We did, five to four. Sidney scored three goals.”

“I hope you’re writing all this down,” Rachel said, only half teasing. “When
Sports Illustrated
does a cover story on her in a couple of years they’re going to want to know what she was like when she was ten.” Rachel had caught one of Sidney’s soccer games a couple of months ago at an indoor tournament where her own daughter, Cassidy, was playing. Sidney stood out from the other players the way Tiger Woods had stood out in his early years. Rachel left the tournament secretly grateful Cassidy was in a different age bracket and the two girls would never play against each other.

“I try not to think that far ahead,” Maria said, following Rachel into her office.

Rachel pulled her cell phone out of her purse and put it on her desk. “Anything pressing this morning?”

“Arthur Stewart wants to know if he can reschedule your meeting for later in the week. He said he’s still waiting for the reports from accounting. And there was a message from Ms. Hawthorne that she needs the actuary figures on Selman Electronics as soon as—” Maria smiled “—someone came in this morning.”

“I assume you passed that one on?” Madison Insurance’s home office was in Baltimore. Andrea Hawthorne was one of the longtime employees who was slow to adjust to the three-hour time difference and accept the fact that the year-and-a-half-old branch office in San Francisco wasn’t being run by slackers who liked to sleep late.

“Bob is working on it.”

“Good choice. Thanks.” She hung her coat in the closet and dropped her purse in the bottom left-hand drawer of her desk, then opened her briefcase to retrieve the flash drive that held the confidential research she’d been working on the night before. A folded note, written on lined paper, was wrapped around the drive held in place with a smiley-face sticker.

Maria dropped the morning’s mail on Rachel’s desk. “Coffee?”

“Tea, please. Something decaffeinated.”

Maria nodded and left, softly closing the door behind her.

Rachel opened the note.

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Isabel.

Isabel who?

Turn over for answer. . . .

She did.

Isabel broke? I had to knock.

I know, pretty bad, but it was the best I could come up

with this morning. Have a good one, babe. See you tonight.

Love, Jeff

Rachel smiled and taped the note to her computer screen, where she would see it the rest of the day. By habit she moved her chair six inches to the right and with one hand logged onto her computer to check her email and with the other began sorting through the mail Maria had opened that morning and flagged according to urgency.

Outside Rachel’s office window a thick fog hid all but the orange triangular peaks of the Golden Gate Bridge. The fog would dissipate by noon, leaving the bay a blanket of sequined blue. In the beginning she’d been mesmerized by the view and the ever-changing qualities of the city’s landscape. Lately she’d had to remind herself to take the time to look.

Rachel skimmed the names on the email messages. Only one was unexpected. Connie Helgren. She saw Connie in passing almost every day, but the lunch-and-shopping friendship they’d had in Baltimore had become an unanticipated casualty when Connie took a lateral transfer to the new office in San Francisco and Rachel was given a promotion that put her into one of the key positions. Rachel made lunch dates with Connie and worked hard to keep them, but as often as not something came up that forced her to cancel. Then, when they did get together, the conversation was stilted and formal, with none of the quick and easy laughter and teasing that had bonded them in Baltimore.

Rachel missed their time together. Connie was the closest thing she’d had to a real girlfriend since college. Sad commentary for a woman four years short of her fortieth birthday.

Connie’s note was short. She asked if they could get together for drinks after work and suggested a neighborhood bar that was a little on the seedy side but where they wouldn’t have to fight a crowd or talk over a sound system. When Rachel responded, she asked if they could meet at six instead of five-thirty and was surprised with an immediate answer.

She rocked back in her chair and smiled. Why was it that she never knew how much she missed something or someone until that person or thing came back into her life? She hadn’t been the one who’d let the promotion come between her and Connie, but she hadn’t made any concentrated effort to help Connie get beyond it either.

Rachel arrived ten minutes early and was surprised and oddly pleased to find Connie already there waiting. She stood and waved from a booth at the back of the dimly lit room. A year ago they would have hugged. Today, by awkward, tacit agreement, a smile sufficed.

“What a great idea,” Rachel said. “I’m so glad you—”

The waiter interrupted her. “What can I get you?”

Rachel glanced over to see what Connie was having. In place of the stout beer she’d always ordered on their girls’ night out, she was drinking something hard. “I’ll have what she’s having.”

“Vodka on the rocks?” the waiter supplied.

Rachel shot her friend a questioning glance. Connie used to insist vodka was a drink for closet alcoholics. “Make mine a gin and tonic. Bombay Sapphire, if you have it.”

He nodded and left.

“So, have you adjusted to living in San Francisco?” Rachel asked.

Connie let out a humorless laugh. “Kind of an odd question after all this time, don’t you think?”

Willing to let Connie have that one, Rachel tried again. “I’ve been meaning to tell you that I like your hair.” She’d changed the style a while back, going from long and curly to short and sleek.

“I cut it six months ago.”

Rachel sat back and crossed her legs, her knee hitting the table. She grimaced and rubbed the spot, working to hide her disappointment that renewing their friendship plainly wasn’t the purpose of the meeting. A weariness settled through her, and not from the less than four hours’ sleep she’d had the night before.

The waiter brought her drink and a bowl of pretzels. Rachel took a sip, judged the drink weak and made from something bottom shelf. “Okay, I can see you’re upset. Let’s talk about it.”

“What makes you think I’m upset?”

Rachel frowned. She’d seen Connie indulge in game playing with others but never with her. “Am I wrong?”

Connie took a minute to answer. “No—but the reason isn’t what you think.”

“What I think is that we’ve neglected a friendship because we didn’t know how to maintain it, and we should have done something about it months ago.”


We?
 ”

Proof positive that there was nothing as unreliable as an eyewitness account—whether over an accident or a breakup. “You’re right. Rehashing whatever happened won’t change anything.”

“I understand how awkward it was for you, how hard it was to be seen with me.”

It took supreme effort to keep from shooting back an equally caustic reply. “I’m sorry if I gave you that impression. I don’t know how it—”

“It doesn’t matter,” Connie added before Rachel could say anything more. “That’s not why I’m here.” She finished her drink and motioned to the waiter to bring another. “I know how hard you worked for this promotion and what it meant to you. I was there. Remember? If I hadn’t been, I would have thought you’d let the money and power go to your head. But I know that inside you’re the same person.”

Why was Rachel having such a hard time believing Connie? The right words were all there, put together in what should have been a convincing way.

“For you being promoted was like the ugly girl in school making the cheerleading squad. You run with a different crowd when that happens. There isn’t enough time for all those new friends and the old friends, too.”

Kiss, kiss, kill, kill. Rachel just hadn’t waited long enough. She had witnessed Connie’s sarcasm turned on others but had never been the target. It hurt. “Well, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, why don’t you tell me why you really wanted to see me.” It was almost impossible to hide her disappointment.

Connie waited for her drink. “I want you to know that this isn’t easy. For a long time I’ve gone back and forth over whether I should say anything.” She ran her fingertip around the rim of the glass, avoiding Rachel’s gaze. “I know you’re not going to thank me. No one likes hearing this kind of thing. But sometimes, when it’s a friend and you know you’re her only real friend, you have to do what’s right, not what’s easy.”

Connie moved to the edge of her seat and leaned close. Plainly whatever she was so eager to tell wasn’t a secret. A little investigation and Rachel could find out for herself. She was tempted to leave, to deny Connie the satisfaction that danced in her eyes.

“Jeff is having an affair.”

The words hit hard and low and left Rachel reeling. Her salvation came from a childhood that had taught her how to mask her feelings, to keep quiet when someone expected a response, letting them fill the silence, learning more from what was said in those awkward moments than the main text.

“It’s been going on for months.” Connie picked up her drink. The paper coaster stuck to the glass for several seconds, then fell onto the seat. She didn’t bother retrieving it. Still Rachel said nothing. Connie added, “Everyone at work knows. They’re all talking about it. Some days it’s all they talk about.”

“I assume I have you to thank for telling them?” Rachel immediately regretted the question. Not only had she given validity to the insane accusation, she’d given Connie the satisfaction of seeing that she cared about being the subject of gossip.

Connie glared at Rachel. “I’m not going to dignify that with an answer.”

“You’re telling me about this alleged affair because . . . ?” Was that really her voice? She sounded so composed, so detached.

“You’re my friend,” Connie insisted. “And no one else would. They’re all afraid of you.”

“But you’re not?” Rachel said softly.

“Why should I be?” The challenge was unmistakable.

“It’s all in the pecking order, Connie. After a while, if you don’t move up. . . .” She shrugged. “You move out.” Rachel cringed. Had she really just threatened Connie? She had to get out of there. She ran her hand over her skirt, smoothing the exquisite, silk-like wool of the Armani suit, stalling, composing herself, determined she would not let Connie see the devastation she’d come there to create. It was a small thing, but all she had at the moment. She reached for her purse. “I assume that’s it?”

Clearly unexpected, the question caught Connie off guard. “You don’t want to know who Jeff is seeing? How long it’s been going on—or where or when they meet?”

Rachel took enough money from her wallet to cover her drink and a tip, pointedly leaving Connie to pay for her own. She stood and slipped her purse strap over her shoulder. Digging deep, she found the strength to pull off a smile. “Not nearly as much as you want to tell me.”

Numbness replaced bravado on the ride home. Her driver was accustomed to her working in silence during the forty-five-minute trip from the city to Orinda. No reason for gossip later. Nothing to tell the guys back at the limo office.

The wife being the last to know was such a cliché. One Rachel had never believed and had trouble reconciling. If that amount of self-delusion was really possible, she should be more surprised. She must have known on some level.

Until now it had been easy to find explanations for all the clues, the times she’d called his cell and had to leave a message, the fact they hardly fought anymore, his easy acceptance when she pleaded she was too tired for sex. Most damning of all, Jeff was happy. Happier than he’d been in years. She’d put it off to their private celebration that past New Year when they’d shared a bottle of obscenely expensive champagne and toasted the new century by vowing to make the rest of their years even better than the ones before.

Jeff’s happiness had seemed contagious. Rachel had even noticed a change in the kids. Cassidy seemed to be outgrowing the need to dominate her brother, John, and John had stopped looking for ways to get under Cassidy’s skin.

Jeff was the hands-on parent; she was the breadwinner. A stupid, old-fashioned term. She didn’t win the bread her family consumed, she worked damn hard for it. They lived well because of her. Better than well. They lived in a thirty-five-hundred-square-foot home that sat on the side of a hill in one of the most prestigious communities in the Bay Area.

The money Jeff brought in from the part-time consulting work he did from home barely covered the taxes and utilities. He could earn more, he was a genius at taking an impossibly difficult architectural design and fitting an air conditioning and heating unit into that design that would actually function the way it was supposed to. But as it was, it took her income to pay the mortgage, the children’s tuition at their private school, the country club membership, the retirement plan, the Range Rover, the Lexus—everything else fell on her shoulders.

How could Jeff do this to her? To them? To their family? Was he so unhappy? Why hadn’t he come to her? Why hadn’t he given them a chance to work things out before he threw it all away? Did she mean so little to him?

The driver pulled up to the house and started to get out to open her door. He normally carried her briefcase and whatever work she’d brought home that night, then handed them to Jeff. Lacking the patience to listen to the small talk the two men customarily exchanged, Rachel waved the driver off with, “I’m fine.”

He nodded and closed her door. “Have a nice weekend.”

“You, too,” she answered automatically.
At least one better than mine.

BOOK: The Year Everything Changed
11.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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