Authors: Eileen Goudge
“Ryan! What are you doing here?” She fumbled with her mike, nearly dropping it.
“I’m up for an award this year,” he reminded her.
“Right! Of course! Um, well, congratulations. I hope you win.” In the blink of an eye, she’d gone from ace reporter to a babbling seventh-grader with a crush on her teacher.
“Thanks.” In his tuxedo, tanned and fit, he could have been a Hollywood player. For what was a player without a tall, gorgeous blonde at his side? “I don’t believe you’ve met my friend Kimberly.” To Kimberly, he said, “This is Stevie. She works for Channel Seven.”
Stevie flashed her a smile as faux as the hedge that snagged her dress as she leaned over it to shake her hand. “Kimberly, hi. Nice to meet you. Is this your first Oscars?”
Kimberly nodded in response. “But not my last, I hope.” She cast a meaningful look at Ryan. “I keep telling Ryan we’ll have to make room on the mantel for all his awards.”
Stevie didn’t think it was an idle comment. Ryan must have told her about them, and Kimberly was letting Stevie know that it was
tootbrush parked in his medicine cabinet now. Which meant that Stevie was still considered a threat. She might have taken some small consolation from that fact, if not for the way Ryan was glancing past her, as if anxious to move on. He couldn’t have made it any clearer that she was yesterday’s news.
Nonetheless, some streak of masochism in Stevie forced her to ask, “So you’re living together?” She
Ryan looked distinctly uneasy. “Well, actually…”
“Just until I find my own apartment,” Kimberly jumped in before he could finish. The way she was clinging to his arm, Stevie doubted she was in any hurry to find a place of her own.
“Kim worked with me on the movie,” Ryan explained.
“We met on location,” Kimberly said. “It was Ryan who convinced me to move out here.” She gave Ryan’s arm an affectionate squeeze, while he stood there wearing a strained smile, looking as if he’d rather be anywhere but here, bookended by his past and present girlfriends. “I was kind of stuck in my career, you know? You can only go so far at a university.” She explained that she’d been working as a research assistant for a professor at WVU who was writing a book about the Marshall County coal-mine disaster of ’24.
“I’m sure it’s opened a lot of doors for you,” Stevie murmured politely.
Including Ryan’s. Clearly, he hadn’t wasted any time.
“I just got hired at DreamWorks,” Kimberly said, beaming.
“Where they actually have budgets for making movies,” Ryan put in, with an ironic laugh.
Stevie turned to him. “You should be proud of your movie. It’s amazing.”
“You saw it?” He looked a little surprised.
“Twice,” she confessed with a sheepish smile.
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of George Clooney as he headed past, but she made no move to grab his attention.
Now I know I’ve got it bad,
she thought, gazing helplessly after Ryan instead, as he strolled off arm in arm with his new girlfriend.
ay waited outside the security gate at JFK, his heart thudding in his chest as he scanned the disembarking passengers streaming down the ramp toward him. When Vivienne had phoned the week before to let him know she was coming home, the news had brought mixed emotions. Not so long ago, he’d looked forward to this day. Now he wasn’t so sure it was what he wanted. He’d been getting along just fine on his own. He’d even found a measure of peace, something he hadn’t thought he would experience again anytime soon.
Franny and Ruth were responsible for that. It took him by surprise each time, the surge of love he felt whenever he looked at his daughter. What had started out as a favor to a friend had proved to be his own redemption. With Ruth had come renewed hope and purpose. These days his step was lighter and he often found himself smiling for no reason. And where he’d once put in long hours at work, often losing track of time, now when five o’clock rolled around, he was eager to be out the door and on his way to Franny’s.
Then with a single transatlantic call everything had changed. What would Vivienne’s reaction be when she laid eyes on his daughter for the first time? he wondered. Would she want Ruth to be a part of their lives…or would she keep her at arm’s length? And how would Vivienne feel about Franny now that she was the mother of his child?
He craned his neck, trying to spot his wife amid the crowd. He’d only been playing house with Franny, he realized, making believe they were a family. The reality was, they were both promised to other people. And soon Franny and Ruth would be living three thousand miles away.
He felt his chest tighten at the thought. How would he handle his daughter growing up calling another man Dad? And Franny…how was he supposed to live without her? He’d become accustomed to seeing her every day, and if they’d fallen into a domestic routine, it was one he’d found comfortable. More than that, he was seeing Franny in a new light, as a woman, not just as a friend. These days even the casual brush of her fingertips brought an answering tug in his midsection, and at night when she kissed him good night on the cheek, it was all he could do not to follow her into the bedroom.
But he couldn’t dwell on it. He had to let her go, for his sake as much as hers. He had his marriage to think of now. If there was anything left of it, he had to work on rebuilding it.
When he finally spotted Vivienne, he scarcely recognized her. The glowing woman walking toward him bore almost no resemblance to the ghost he’d said good-bye to all those months ago. She was still thinner than he would have liked, but her eyes sparkled and there was color in her cheeks. She strode down the ramp with a sense of purpose, a straw bag slung over one shoulder, her loose skirt swinging about her tanned calves.
His weren’t the only pair of male eyes tracking her progress, he noticed, and as she stepped past the security gate and into his arms, he felt a swell of the old pride:
Eat your heart out, boys, she’s all mine.
How had he, a farm boy who’d been poking along on a tractor while she’d been riding around in private jets and limousines, gotten so lucky?
“I can’t believe it. You’re actually here.” He held on to her, breathing in her scent.
She drew back to smile at him. “Did you think I wasn’t coming?”
“No. I just…never mind. It’s great to see you. You look well.”
“So do you.”
“You got some sun.”
“Our cottage was right on the beach,” she told him. “All I did was lie around and let Maman fatten me up.” She took his arm as they made their way toward the baggage area.
“I got your postcard.” He hadn’t even known she was in Majorca until it had arrived in the mail yesterday.
At the hint of reproach in his voice, she paused, turning to look at him. “I’m sorry,
I know I should have phoned. It’s just that every time, hearing your voice…” She let the sentence trail off. “Do you forgive me?” Her eyes searched his face, anxious for reassurance.
“Of course,” he said. Why start off on the wrong foot?
They stuck to safe subjects as they collected her suitcases and made their way to the taxi stand. Vivienne talked about the friends she’d reconnected with in Paris, and how wonderful it had been to visit all her old haunts. Jay, in turn, told her about the campaigns he’d been working on, and how pleased the folks at Uruchima Motors were with the one for the Roughrider SUV; so much so, in fact, that Mr. Uruchima had invited Jay to visit him in Japan.
“Am I invited, too?” Vivienne asked a bit hesitantly.
“Sure. I just don’t know when I’d find the time. It’s been so busy at work.” The truth was, he hadn’t been able to bear the thought of being away from Franny and the baby that long.
He waited until they were back at the loft, relaxing over a bottle of wine, before he raised the subject they’d both been avoiding. “Would you like to see what she looks like?” he asked quietly.
She nodded, knowing he’d meant Ruth. He retrieved the latest batch of photos from his desk drawer and handed them to her. Wordlessly she studied them, her face carefully devoid of expression. “She’s beautiful,” she said at last, handing them back. She appeared composed, but he could feel the tension in her slight frame, held so taut it was almost quivering. “I’m happy for you. Franny, too.”
“Her name is Ruth.”
“What a lovely name—very old-fashioned.”
“It was Franny’s grandmother’s.”
“How is Franny, by the way?”
“A little overwhelmed, but other than that she’s fine. She wants us to come for lunch on Saturday.” He caught the glimmer of tears in his wife’s eyes, and reached to comfort her, lacing his fingers through hers. “I’m sorry, Viv, I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“No, it’s okay.” She managed a tremulous smile. “It may not look it at the moment, but I really am better. I don’t know that I’ll ever be completely over it. I don’t think that’s possible. But I’m ready to get on with my life.
life.” She cast him a timidly hopeful look.
“I’m glad. For a while there, I wasn’t sure.” A lame response, he knew, but what did she expect? All those times he’d asked to visit her in Paris, she’d put him off, insisting it would only make it harder for her. How could he not feel rejected?
“Poor Jay. You must think I’m heartless.” She brought his hand to her cheek. He knew her remorse was genuine, but he couldn’t help noting the perfect picture she made, with her dark hair spilling over her slender shoulders, and the lamplight accentuating the curve of her cheekbone, where a single tear glistened like a dewdrop on a rose.
“I don’t think that,” he said. She wasn’t heartless, just self-centered.
“You wouldn’t have wanted to see me the way I was,” she went on. “Even Maman and Papa couldn’t look at me without shaking their heads.”
I’m your husband!
he wanted to say. Hadn’t he vowed to love her in sickness as in health? But there was no point in reminding her of that. Besides, they’d suffered enough. If they were to make this work, he’d have to concentrate on rebuilding, not tearing down what was left of their marriage.
“Well, the change of scenery must have done you good. You look wonderful,” he said, with a false heartiness so reminiscent of his father’s awkward attempt to cheer him up at the funeral, when he’d reminded Jay in the same hearty tone that he would have other children, that he cringed inwardly.
“It won’t be like before,” she told him. “I know now it’s possible to move on, even after something so terrible.”
But Jay wasn’t thinking about the baby they’d lost. In his mind, he was seeing the way Ruth’s sweet little mouth puckered in anticipation of being fed and the way she looked just out of the bath, fat and pink and delicious. And her scent—if they could find a way to bottle it, there would be no need for antidepressants. All those things that had been denied Vivienne were his to enjoy. How could he not open his heart to her?
Impulsively he leaned over and kissed her on the mouth. The intensity of her reaction took him by surprise. With a low cry, she pressed up against him, winding her arms tightly around his neck and opening her mouth to his, not so much passionately as with a kind of desperation.
“I want to try again,” she whispered when they drew apart. He’d assumed she’d meant
so her next words took him by surprise. “I want another baby.”
He sat back. “Are you sure it’s not too soon?”
He felt her stiffen. Clearly it wasn’t the response she’d expected. “I know we can never replace Stephan,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love another child just as much.”
Jay thought again of Ruth. Didn’t Vivienne deserve to know that joy? But as tempted as he was to give in, he knew it would be a mistake. First, they needed to shore up their marriage.
“I don’t think we should jump into anything just yet,” he said.
“It’s been six months,” she reminded him. Her voice was cajoling, but the expression on her face said,
How can you deny me this?
“You just got back. You don’t think it can wait a week or two?” he said more gently. This wasn’t the time for a conversation as important as this. They’d talk again in a few days, after Vivienne had rested up from her trip.
“Mais oui, chéri.”
She recovered, saying lightly, “I didn’t mean now, this minute.”
But he knew Vivienne all too well. That was exactly what she’d intended, that he throw her down on the rug then and there. Not that his libido wouldn’t have been happy to oblige. He’d been living like a monk these past months. But this wasn’t just about satisfying his sex drive. Was he ready to stake his entire future on a wife who’d walked away when he’d needed her most?
At the same time, he didn’t believe it was hopeless. Okay, so they didn’t have a lot in common, but wasn’t that true of a lot of couples? Look at his parents. He couldn’t think of two people more unsuited to each other, his taciturn dad and his high-strung mother who dissolved into tears at the drop of a hat, yet they’d been happily married for more than forty years. Who was to say he and Vivienne wouldn’t be just as happy in the years to come?
There was only one thing holding him back, and it wasn’t uncertainty about what lay ahead. It was Franny. He couldn’t stop thinking about her. How she looked in the morning just out of bed, with her hair a mass of curls, and cradling their daughter in her arms as she nursed her. They had more than a child together; they had a history. They fit together, pieces of a quilt made from snippets of cloth from various periods of their lives.
But dwelling on that wasn’t going to do him any good. He had to concentrate instead on putting the pieces of his life back together. In time, the rest would fall into place. “We’ll get there,” he told his beautiful, broken wife, lightly stroking the back of her neck. “There’s no rush.”
“I need you to behave yourself today,” Franny said, peering down into Ruth’s scowling red face.
On any other day she wouldn’t have minded the baby’s being fussy, but today she was having Jay and Vivienne over for lunch and the last thing she needed was for Ruth to be the center of attention the entire afternoon. After what Vivienne had been through, she’d need time to adjust.
But Ruth apparently had other ideas. She’d fussed all morning, breaking into full-scale wails whenever Franny put her down. With Jay and Vivienne due to arrive any minute, Franny felt like crying herself. She was already so nervous, not just about how Vivienne would react but how it would feel being around Jay now that Vivienne was back, she was about to jump out of her skin.
She tried nursing her, but Ruth wasn’t interested in food, either. “What, not good enough for you?” Franny cajoled, tickling the baby’s feet to get her to latch on. “Do you know how many guys would kill to be in your shoes right now?”
Ruth’s only response was to let loose with another wail. “Do you need to be changed, is that it?” Franny unsnapped the baby’s fleece jumper to check her diaper, only to find it dry.
The only thing she wanted, it seemed, was to be held. Franny paced the floor, jiggling her up and down while she hummed a lullaby her mother used to sing to her when she was little. Oh, how Mama would have loved this baby! Franny understood now why she’d worked herself to the bone to give her children a better life and why she’d worried herself sick over Bobby. Franny felt the same way about Ruth.
At the moment, her entire life revolved around her daughter. Ruth consumed every waking hour, making sleep a thing of the past. On the plus side, it kept her from fixating on her current dilemma. Lately Keith had been pressuring her to set a date for the wedding. He didn’t mind waiting, he’d said. He just wanted to be able to start making plans.
But how could she think about a wedding when she couldn’t plan any further ahead than the next feeding? She knew deep down, though, that it was only an excuse. The real reason she’d been putting it off wasn’t just because she was tired all the time or in no rush to pack up and move. It was Jay: She would miss him too much. Learning that Vivienne was coming home had come as a bit of shock—an unwelcome one, she was ashamed to admit. Her mind reeled back to the other day, when Jay had been taking care of Ruth while Franny ran to the laundry room downstairs to put a load of dirty clothes in the washer. She’d returned to find him on his cell phone.
“That was Vivienne,” he told her when he’d hung up. “She’s flying home on Tuesday.” Jay had looked a little shocked himself.
“That’s great!” Franny had cried, a bit too enthusiastically, after the moment of leaden silence that followed his announcement.
“Yeah.” Jay had looked preoccupied, staring off into space.
“Jay, what is it?” she’d asked gently, touching his elbow.
He’d brought his gaze back to her, wearing a wan smile. “Nothing. It’s just sort of unexpected, is all. I know that must sound strange, considering that for the longest time I was counting the days, but…” He shrugged, not finishing the sentence.
been a while,” she said. “But once you see her, it’ll be like she never left.” Franny was doing her utmost to convince herself that this was for the best, but her words rang hollow.