Read Private affairs : a novel Online

Authors: Judith Michael

Tags: #Marriage, #Adultery, #Newspaper publishing

Private affairs : a novel

BOOK: Private affairs : a novel
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This book made available by the Internet Archive.

For

Ann Patty

Jane Berkey

Andrea Cirillo, Don Cleary, and Meg Ruley

who help make dreams come true

E

♦•

lizabeth and Matthew Lov-ell," the minister announced, as if he were introducing them to each other instead of making them husband and wife. "You may kiss," he said benignly, but they were ahead of him: their hands clasped, fingers twined, as they turned to each other and their lips touched lightly—a promise for later, when they were alone. Then, shading their eyes against the bright June sun, they turned to greet their guests.

Elizabeth's mother hugged her. "I've never seen you look so happy. Both of you." She reached up to kiss Matt. "As if there's not a cloud in the world."

"Not one," Elizabeth said. She looked at Matt, tall and lean, his dark hair unruly in the afternoon breeze, his deep-set blue eyes cool and private until they met her gray ones and then became warm, as if in an embrace. "How could there be clouds? Everything is perfect."

Her father was there, holding his cheek against hers. "Where did the years go?" he murmured. "Just the other day you were the most beautiful baby in the world; suddenly you're the most beautiful bride." He held her at arm's length. "At least you're staying in Los Angeles; we won't lose you entirely."

"Say it softly," said Matt. "My father isn't very happy about—" He stopped as his father appeared. "Dad, I'm so glad you got here!" They hugged each other, Matt a head taller, his dark hair contrasting with the iron gray of his father's as he bent to kiss him. "I was afraid you wouldn't be here at all."

"Couldn't get away yesterday." His father's voice, like Matt's, was deep and easy, with a faint western drawl. He put his hands on Matt's shoulders and kissed him on both cheeks. "Made me mad as hell to miss your graduation. Were you impressive?"

"He was the class star," Elizabeth said, her eyes shining. "They kept calling his name for every prize—"

"Except all those Elizabeth won," said Matt. Gently he adjusted the ruffled neckline of her dress, folded over from all the hugging. "The real star was my bride; everyone predicted she'd be the first of all of us to be famous. Oh, Dad, I'm sorry, you haven't met Elizabeth's parents, Spencer and Lydia Evans. ..."

"Zachary Lovell," Matt's father said, shaking hands. He gazed at Lydia, his grizzled eyebrows raised in admiration. "I see where Elizabeth gets her beauty. Except—you can't be her mother. Her sister, maybe. ..."

Lydia smiled, pleased, but accustomed to it, knowing it was more than gallantry: she and Elizabeth did look alike. Both of them were as slender and graceful as dancers; both looked at the world with a direct gaze through wide-spaced gray eyes beneath dark brows; both were fair, though Elizabeth's hair was ash blond while Lydia's had darkened over the years to a golden bronze.

The five of them greeted the guests in the center of Lydia's garden. Tall delphiniums were a lacy blue backdrop to spikes of bright red Chinese ginger flowers, and, in front of them, a riot of orange and pink snapdragons, white phlox, and golden daylilies. Farther away, bordering the yard, were kumquat plants and dwarf nectarines, and spilling over the high fence behind them, a bright curtain of burnt-orange pyracantha.

Amid that brilliance, Elizabeth was a slender white flower, her long moire dress, full-skirted, swirling as she moved; a white orchid in her white-gold hair. She, and Matt, in a pale gray summer suit, a white rose in his lapel, drew everyone's eyes, their happiness reaching out to all those congratulating them: friends, favorite professors from the university, a few of the Evanses' neighbors, friends and co-workers from their offices.

"The best and the brightest," said a voice at Spencer's elbow, and he turned to see one of the professors who had voted Elizabeth and Matt the Harper award, given each year by the Los Angeles World. It was the first

time in the history of the journalism school that the award had been given jointly. "But we couldn't decide between them," the professor told Spencer. "Every story they were assigned this past year they wrote together. And, do you know, we waited for those stories like kids waiting for Christmas, because any story signed Elizabeth Evans and Matt Lovell would be the best we'd get. They made it exciting to be a teacher."

The professor gazed at them almost wistfully. "They have a bright future; they'll do us proud. Matt will be a publisher and Elizabeth will write that column she's been dreaming of, and someday they'll own their own paper and we'll all nod and say it's just what we expected. They're quite a team, you know."

Waiters put up round tables, swiftly set them with china, silver, and crystal, and, when everyone was seated, served dinner. A flute and guitar duo played show tunes and ballads, and voices and laughter mingled with the music as the breeze quickened, curling Elizabeth's skirt around her long legs and lifting the ends of her long hair.

Spencer stood beside his chair, lifting his glass of champagne. "To Elizabeth and Matt, our dearest daughter and son: a long and wonderful life, filled with love and dreams, fulfillment and success. We wish you good fortune in your new jobs and everything else you do, not only for yourselves, but also for your professors who are counting on you to bring them the prestige of their top students' winning a Pulitzer Prize." As the guests laughed and applauded, he added, "May you have everything you dream of. Nothing stands in your way; the world waits for you to conquer it."

He drank from his glass, Lydia drank from hers, Elizabeth and Matt drank to each other; and Anthony Rourke snapped their picture.

"Thank you, Tony," Elizabeth said. "We didn't want a professional photographer; it was sweet of you to offer."

"Dear Elizabeth, I like being needed," he said. "Especially by you. After all these years of friendship, I mean. Have you met my wife? Ginger, this is the Elizabeth Evans I talk about all the time. No, no . . . it's Elizabeth Lovell, now. That is it, isn't it, Elizabeth? With the emphasis on love?"

"That's it," she said, smiling because he was being dramatic as usual, pretending to be frivolous and slightly foolish instead of intense and driven to prove himself, as he'd been ever since she could remember. "I'm glad to meet you," she said to Ginger Rourke, and then, a little nervously, she turned back to Tony, "I saw you and Matt talking before dinner, so of course you've met."

"Matt and I found a great deal in common," Tony said promptly.

"Past histories, for one." Elizabeth glanced swiftly from Matt's noncommittal face to Tony's smiling one. Tony paused, timing it like an actor. "Fathers," he said. "We have the same kind of fathers."

Tony's father, Keegan Rourke, arrived at the table in time to hear the last words. "Weddings are not occasions for complaining about fathers," he said, pulling out his chair to sit down. Tony's face darkened; he shifted his chair away from his father, but no one noticed except Elizabeth—and Rourke, who missed nothing, even when he was talking. "Lydia. Spencer. Wonderful to see you again; it's been far too long. And Elizabeth. We've missed you. All these years of separation after we'd been so close."

"Who was the one who moved away?" demanded Lydia. "We're still here; you moved to Houston."

"And bought an apartment big enough to welcome all of you for visits." Rourke paused, and Elizabeth contemplated him, wondering why it never occurred to him that others wouldn't follow or seek him out just because he was Keegan Rourke. He was strikingly handsome: she had to admit he was the most impressive man she'd ever met. Black-haired, with heavy brows and a square chin with a cleft, he was as tall as Tony and Matt—in fact, the three of them were the tallest men at the wedding—but heavier, though his bulk and powerful shoulders were slimmed by an impeccably-cut suit. He was an older, more polished version of Tony, whose slender handsomeness seemed young, even at thirty, beside his father's dominance. "Sometimes," Rourke was saying, "I'm almost sorry I moved away."

Not sorry enough, Elizabeth thought. Moving made you a millionaire —how many times over?—and that was the most important thing in your life. Maybe it still is.

"Is this your father-in-law?" Rourke asked Elizabeth. He held out his hand to Zachary. "Keegan Rourke. Houston. Old friend of Spencer and Lydia and Elizabeth."

Zachary's eyes gleamed. "Zachary Lovell. Santa Fe. Father of Matthew. Old friend of Luke and John."

Instantly, Rourke came back. "You win. There's not a single Keegan in the Bible."

They grinned at each other. "Rewrite it," suggested Zachary.

Rourke shook his head. "Couldn't get away with it. No matter how much money I make, some things resist my touch."

Zachary appraised him. "Not many, I'd guess."

"Not many. I make sure of that. Were you born in Santa Fe?"

"Nuevo." Zachary dipped an oyster into hot sauce and slipped it into his mouth. "You never heard of it. A small town tucked away in the

mountains, only an hour east of Santa Fe, but another world." He looked up, his eyes on a distant point. "There's a long valley, twenty miles or more, and part of it, maybe four miles long, is so narrow at each end it's almost cut off from the rest. That's where Nuevo is, with a stream mean= dering through it and the town nestled in the center, isolated, quiet, so beautiful. ..."

Rourke was concentrating on his oysters. "Who lives there now?" he asked.

"Hispanics, a few Anglos—only about thirty families left. The Indians settled the place but moved on in the early 1600s. Later, when the Spanish were kicked out of Santa Fe in the Indian revolt, some of them fled to the mountains and settled there; they named it Nuevo, Spanish for new: a new beginning. Later some Anglos came: ranchers, a couple of black-smiths, maybe some escapees from jail—nobody asked. They all lived together, still do, no fights, no crime—not much money, either, but it's a good place. My grandfather was one of the ranchers; he bought some land, built a house; my father and uncle were born there. Matt and I are the last of the family; a friend works the land for us and watches the house. I'm planning to retire there someday. Long way off, of course, but—"

"I'd like to see it," Rourke said. "I'll come to Santa Fe one of these days and you can take me there." He turned to Elizabeth. "And you and Matt will visit me. You will, won't you?" He dropped his voice. "I really have missed you, my dear. I always wished you'd been my daughter. Did you know I even had plans once for you and Tony?"

A startled look, confused and embarrassed, swept across Elizabeth's face. "Forgive me," Rourke said smoothly. "It's bad form to revive old romantic schemes at a wedding. Have you and Matt found a place to live?"

"A wonderful apartment," Elizabeth said, her face clearing. "Only three rooms, but they're huge. We have space to work at home if we need to, and there's a deck off the living room with a perfect view of the mountains. A friend at the paper told us about the ad when it was phoned in, before anyone else had a chance at it."

"You're having lots of luck, aren't you?" Tony's wife, Ginger, said abruptly, her first words all afternoon. "I mean, an apartment and prizes and getting that award . . . didn't you win some kind of award?"

Zachary stabbed an oyster. "To work in Los Angeles."

"Dad," said Matt quietly.

"Well, I know it's a good job," Zachary said gruffly. "Did I ever say it wasn't? And your professors tell me how much you deserve it; how tal-

ented you are. / know you're talented; I knew it before they did. But am I allowed to say I'm not dancing for joy because after I spent years building a company for my son, he's not interested? And I won't have you with me now that I'm getting old and gray and feeble—?"

"Dad." Matt laughed, but his eyes were somber. "You're fifty-six and feeble is hardly the word for you. And you know you built that printing company for yourself; it's been your whole life."

"I wanted to have something to leave to you."

"That's years in the future ..." Matt began with a trace of impatience.

"But we all think about the future," Lydia said. "Especially at our age. Spencer and I are already planning our retirement. . . ."

"Weddings and retirements," Matt said. "Quite a combination." He was smiling, but his voice was firm as he led them to other subjects, and the talk around the table turned to Los Angeles, and Santa Fe, and then Houston.

"A rampaging city, crude, no class." Tony's criticism was bitter.

"A lot of anger there," Matt murmured to Elizabeth.

"I'm not sure it's Houston he hates," she said, her voice low. "It's probably working for his father instead of being an actor. He's dreamed of acting all his life; I don't know why he ended up in an oil company in Houston."

"I'll bet morale is terrific in his part of the company," Matt said dryly.

The wedding cake was cut, a dozen toasts proposed, the champagne dwindled, and the talk turned back to the jobs Elizabeth and Matt would begin after a honeymoon trip to British Columbia. Even Zachary joined in, his unhappiness eclipsed by his son's excitement and Elizabeth's radiance. And later, as Spencer and Lydia said goodbye to the guests, he kissed Elizabeth. "You're all right; you're sweet to an old man and you're pretty and it looks like you appreciate Matt the way you should. You go ahead and write your column and publish your own newspaper; I promise I'll read it. If my eyesight holds up."

The echo of his father's voice, wistful and pugnacious at the same time, stayed with Matt through dinner and into the evening. "He won't forgive us," he said to Elizabeth as they sat on the deck of their new apartment beneath fading streaks of sunset. "He feels abandoned, and he'll remind us of it every chance he gets."

"I feel sorry for him," Elizabeth said. "He's been waiting all these years for you to come back."

"He has friends; we'll visit him; he'll visit us. That's the best we can do." He stood, bringing Elizabeth to her feet with him. "And it's time we

stopped worrying about him. We have some personal matters to take care of."

Elizabeth put her arms around him. "Do you know, I haven't called you my husband yet."

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