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Authors: Georgia Bockoven

The Year Everything Changed (7 page)

BOOK: The Year Everything Changed
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She knew better than to argue; he would think it condescending. She eyed him.


“I’m trying to picture you at sixteen.”

He chuckled. “I was short and skinny and had a cowlick that axle grease and a brick couldn’t hold down.”

Their entrées arrived. Lucy made a show of eating her first bite, licking her lips and closing her eyes in rapt appreciation.

“Well done,” Jessie said.

“I want you to remember this when it comes time to answer the other nineteen questions I have coming.”

Chapter Seven

After lunch Lucy drove Jessie to the meeting, insisting, despite his protests, that they enter the law offices through the back entrance. She wanted Jessie at an advantage when he met his daughters, even if it was only making them come to him in this final step of the process. She settled him in the small conference room at the head of the table facing the door, then brought him coffee laced with a splash of his favorite bourbon. He took a sip and shot her a questioning look. She smiled and held up crossed fingers.

“Stop worrying.” He put the coffee aside. “Even if the only reason they’ve come is to tell me that they hope I burn in hell, it’s a whole lot more interesting than sitting and waiting for hell to come to me.”

“Sitting and waiting is your choice. I told you I could find things for you to do.”

“You’ve got enough on your hands as it is.” He gave her one of his slow smiles and a wink. “Now, if you were serious about volunteering to go with me on these excursions, I might rethink the offer.”

The remark left her momentarily speechless. He was flirting with her. Why now? Why not five years ago? Ten? Twenty? “Be careful, Jessie. I just might take you up on the offer.”

In response to her outrageous remark he chuckled and then sighed. “We could have been something special, Lucy.”

“So why weren’t we?” she challenged.

“I would have missed knowing you.” He held her in direct eye contact, not shying away from the words or their meaning. “You’re the best friend I ever had, and I didn’t want to chance losing you.”

She nodded, acknowledging her agreement. If she stayed to answer she would turn the afternoon into something it wasn’t supposed to be. Today belonged to Jessie and his daughters. “I’ll be right back.”

She went down the hall to the glass-paneled waiting room, pausing behind a ficus and at an angle where she knew the women inside were unlikely to notice her.

There were only three, each feigning interest in a magazine while surreptitiously casting sidelong glances at the other two. Lucy could only imagine the thoughts that must be going through their minds. Looking at each other, they were seeing bits and pieces of themselves, trying to figure out how and why they knew each other, just as sure they’d never met.

The features they had in common weren’t startling or unusual—dark hair, lean builds, and square jaws. What set them apart was the sharp intelligence that shone from their eyes and the way they consumed the space around them, filling it with purses and discarded magazines to create a protective barrier.

Lucy glanced at her watch and then at the entrance. She could call the limo service to see if the missing daughter was on her way but decided to give her another minute or two. Even if she was a no-show, three out of four wasn’t bad. More than she’d expected.

Christina was there, obvious in her youth and the bronze skin tone she’d inherited from her mother. She appeared nervous one second and excited the next, smoothing her skirt, glancing at the clock, tucking her long, startlingly black hair behind her ears and then pulling it forward to lie over her shoulder, exposing a flash of brilliant pink. In between she turned the pages of
Sacramento Magazine
, studying it as if it were written in a foreign language she had to translate.

Like Christina, Elizabeth’s age gave her away. At forty-eight she’d developed the same upward-slanting lines at the corners of her eyes that gave Jessie’s face its compelling character. She looked the most like her father—something Lucy had a feeling Elizabeth would not appreciate hearing. Unlike her sisters, who’d worn skirts and heels to the meeting, Elizabeth had come in jeans and a denim jacket. Whether the informal attire was a subtle sign of disrespect or an attempt to downplay the importance of the meeting, she’d negated both by wearing a pair of three-hundred-dollar Cole Haan loafers.

The third woman wasn’t just pretty—with a good haircut and makeup a lot of women fell into that category—she was the kind of woman who made all but the most egocentric men feel inadequate and other women feel intimidated. Hers was the kind of beauty that was an asset only when it was capitalized on—in the movies or on the runway. In ordinary life, under ordinary circumstances, turning heads every time you entered a room was a burden, one that brought little understanding or sympathy from women or men.

The door in front of the receptionist’s desk opened, drawing Lucy’s attention. In seconds her position would be exposed. A quick assessment of the new arrival told Lucy that this was the executive daughter from San Francisco, which meant the beauty in the waiting room was the singer’s daughter, the one who’d been adopted.

Lucy strode toward the woman dressed in an Armani suit, one that she’d tried on during an annual seasonal shopping trip to San Francisco and rejected as too expensive. Her hand extended, she gave Rachel a welcoming smile.

“So glad you could make it, Ms. Nolan.”

Rachel shifted the narrow strap of her Marc Jacobs purse higher on her shoulder before shaking Lucy’s hand. “You’re . . . ?”

“Lucy Hargreaves,” she supplied. “Your father’s attorney.”

“Is he here?”

“He’s waiting for you in the conference room.” She hesitated in adding the rest but realized it was pointless to delay any longer. “Your sisters have already arrived.”

“I don’t have any—” The indifferent mask slipped. “I suppose I should have expected something like this.” She drew in a deep breath. “You said sisters—plural. How many are there?”

“Your father has four daughters.”

“That he knows of, I presume.”

The hostility was disappointing, but not unexpected. “If you’ll follow me I’ll introduce you to your sisters first, and then I’ll take you all in to see your father.”

“We’re all to see him at the same time?”

“If you’d prefer a private meeting, I can arrange that for you.”

“Never mind. I just want to get this over with.”

Chapter Eight

Two women came into the waiting room, drawing Elizabeth’s attention. She put her finger on the paragraph she’d been reading in
Architectural Digest,
about using color to make a small room appear larger, and looked up. Both women appeared stamped from the same mold, a type that was everything Elizabeth wasn’t—career-oriented, self-assured, independent. Women who could wear linen and not look as if they’d slept in it.

Abandoning the article, she closed the magazine and put it aside. Her hands felt clammy, her mouth dry. For the first time she was sorry she’d refused Sam’s offer to come with her. She’d wanted to do this on her own—Jessie could have met Sam at her wedding but had chosen not to. It was the last time she’d asked her father for anything.

The older of the two women introduced herself. “Good afternoon. I’m Lucy Hargreaves, your father’s attorney.” She indicated the woman beside her. “And this is Rachel Nolan, your sister.”

Convinced she hadn’t heard correctly, Elizabeth stared at Lucy and then Rachel. She glanced at the other two women. They were looking at Rachel also, seemingly as confused as Elizabeth.

“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth said. “Were you talking to me?”

“You’re Elizabeth Walker? Jessie Reed’s daughter?”

“Yes.” She heard a quick intake of breath from the two women seated opposite her and turned to look at them. Of course. Whatever made her think Jessie hadn’t had more children?

“Wait a minute,” the young one said. Her gaze swept the room. “Are you telling me these women are my

“Half-sisters,” Elizabeth supplied.

She turned to Elizabeth. “You can’t be my sister. You . . . you look old enough to be my mother.”

“What does that tell you about your father?” Elizabeth snapped.

“He’s your father, too,” the girl said coolly.

“You must be Christina,” Lucy said stepping in to referee and redirect the conversation. “How was your trip from Tucson?”

“Great,” Christina said. “Terrific. Tap-danced the whole way along that yellow brick road in the sky. Damn near wore out my shiny red shoes. I’m not sure I would have made the sacrifice if I’d known I was being called to a gathering of the clan.”

I wouldn’t have come.” The third woman uncrossed long, elegant legs and came forward in her seat. “I don’t know what made Jessie Reed think I’d be interested in meeting his dysfunctional family, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. I’m only here today to tell him to stay the hell out of my life.”

“And you must be Ginger,” Lucy said.

Elizabeth had to give the attorney credit. She took the salvos without flinching. But then, unlike them, she’d had time to prepare.

Elizabeth surreptitiously studied her “sisters,” seeking something that connected her to them. She saw nothing, felt nothing other than a knot of anger in her stomach. The woman the attorney called Ginger was plainly used to having things her way, her startling beauty a coin spent with mercenary abandon.

Christina was a smart-mouthed kid who must have come thinking she was going to slide down a rainbow and land in a pot of gold. It probably wasn’t discovering her father’s lack of moral fiber that had Christina upset, but the idea of sharing what she’d believed was hers alone. Typical for someone her age and generation. Elizabeth flinched at the depth of meanness in her bitter assessment. Whatever Christina might be, she hadn’t asked for this meeting any more than the rest of them.

The third woman, Rachel, exuded confidence, as comfortable wearing a designer suit as Elizabeth was with dirt under her fingernails. This type of woman was as alien to Elizabeth’s world as debutante balls.

The questions Elizabeth had come to ask were answered. She’d discovered the reason Jessie had abandoned her and her mother. He hadn’t had time for them, for
. New women, new daughters had taken her place in his life. If she’d gained nothing else by coming there, she finally understood that much.

She tucked her purse under her arm and stood. “I don’t need this. Please tell my father that I only came here today to tell him that when he chose to live without knowing me, he chose to die that way, too.”

Lucy nodded. “I understand why you’re upset. But you need to know that I’m not here to act as intermediary. Whatever you want said to your father, you’re going to have to say yourself.”

“What point is he trying to make by having us all here at the same time?” Rachel interjected, her cool demeanor slipping.

“I don’t know,” Lucy admitted. “You’ll have to ask him. I’m sure your father is prepared to answer all of your questions.”

“He’s not my father,” Ginger said emphatically. “My father is in Denver. Jessie Reed was a sperm donor. He means nothing to me.”

Rachel shot Ginger a questioning look. “If you feel that way, what are you doing here?”

“I received—” Ginger turned on Rachel. “I don’t have to explain myself to you.”

Rachel studied Ginger for several seconds. “What are you—about thirty-six?”

Ginger flinched. “What has my age got to do with anything?”

Rachel laughed. “I’m thirty-six, too. Now what does
tell you about our father?”

Christina looked from one to the other, reaching behind her neck and pulling her long, black hair forward, twisting a strand around her finger in a nervous gesture. “This just gets better and better.”

Elizabeth was overcome with memories of herself at twelve asking, begging God to find her father and send him home. He was the only one who could make her mother stop crying, the only one who could make her care there was no food in the house because she never went shopping, the only one who could convince her that going to the cemetery every day wouldn’t bring Elizabeth’s brother back. Now, knowing where Jessie was and what he’d been doing was like tossing kindling on a fire that had been smoldering for over thirty years. With her illusions destroyed, the thought of seeing him again actually made her physically ill.

“Okay, so what kind of man
my father?” Christina’s youthful bravado slipped. Disappointment hung heavy in her voice.

Before anyone could answer, Lucy stepped forward. “You can answer that question for yourself. Your father is waiting in the conference room. If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to see him.”

Elizabeth held back when the others moved to follow the attorney. She’d come thinking she had the upper hand, believing her father couldn’t hurt her anymore. God, she could be such an idiot.

Sam was right. She shouldn’t have come. The speech she’d prepared wasn’t going to set her free. Nothing would. The mark Jessie Reed had left on her was indelible.

Elizabeth left the waiting room. But instead of following the others, she headed for the etched glass doors opposite the receptionist’s desk.

Lucy caught up with her at the elevator. “Please don’t go.”

In the time it had taken Elizabeth to walk away, a profound weariness had settled over her, dampening her anger and allowing her to answer without rancor. “There isn’t anything for me in there.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I don’t care anymore.”

“You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t care.” The elevator doors swung open. Lucy put her hand on Elizabeth’s arm. “Please, see him just this once. For your sake, if not for his.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “I’m sorry . . . I’m not going to put myself through that.”

“There isn’t time for you to change your mind later,” Lucy said gently. “He really is dying. This could be your last chance to see him.”

Elizabeth put her hand out to keep the door from closing. “Has he told you how many times I begged to see him after he left my mother and me?” Lucy didn’t answer. “I didn’t think so.”

Elizabeth stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for the first floor. Lucy didn’t try to stop her again.

BOOK: The Year Everything Changed
7.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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