On Mystic Lake Page 2

“She’ll be fine, Annie.”

She stared at the empty doorway. “I know.”

One tear, that’s how long it took. One tear, sliding down Annie’s face, and her daughter was gone.

Annie stood there long after the plane had left, long after the white trail of exhaust had melted into the somber sky. She could feel Blake beside her. She wished he’d take her hand or squeeze her shoulder or pull her into his arms— any of the things he would have done five years ago.

She turned. In his eyes, she saw her own reflection, and the misty mirror of their life together. She’d first kissed him when she was eighteen years old—almost Natalie’s age—and there’d never been another man for her in all the years since.

His handsome face was as serious as she’d ever seen it. “Ah, Annie . . .” His voice was a cracked whisper of breath. “What will you do now?”

She was in danger of crumbling, right here in this sterile, crowded airport. “Take me home, Blake,” she whispered unevenly. She wanted her things around her now, all the reminders of who she was.

“Of course.” He grabbed her hand and led her through the terminal and into the garage. Wordlessly, they got into the Cadillac and slammed the doors shut. The air-conditioning came on instantly.

As the car hurtled down one freeway after another, Annie felt exhausted. She leaned back heavily in her seat and stared out the window at this city that had never become her city, although she and Blake had moved here right after college. It was a sprawling labyrinth of a town, where gorgeous, elaborately appointed dowager buildings were demolished daily by a few well-placed charges, where men and women with no appreciation for art or beauty or constancy set fire to fuses that blasted tons of sculptured marble and glass into piles of smoking, belching rubble. In this city of angels, too few noticed the loss of one more landmark. Before the collapsed building had even cooled, developers swarmed City Hall, climbing over one another like black ants for permits and easements. Within months, a sleek, glass-faced child of a building would rise higher and higher into the smoggy brown sky, so high that Annie often wondered if these builders thought they could access heaven with their leveraged millions.

She was seized by a fierce, unexpected longing to return home. Not to the crowded, affluent beauty of Malibu, but to the moist green landscape of her youth, that wild part of western Washington State where mushrooms grew to the size of dinner plates and water rushed in silver threads along every roadside, where fat, glossy raccoons came out in the light of a full moon and drank from mud puddles in the middle of the road. To Mystic—where the only skyscrapers were Douglas firs that had been growing since the American Revolution. It had been almost ten years since she’d been back. Perhaps she could finally talk Blake into a trip now that they were no longer tethered to Southern California by Natalie’s school schedule.

“What do you think about planning a trip to Mystic?” she asked her husband.

He didn’t look at her, didn’t respond to her question, and it made her feel stupid and small. She pulled at the large diamond stud in her ear and stared outside. “I was thinking about joining the Club. God knows I’ll have more time on my hands now. You’re always saying I don’t get out of the house enough. Aerobics would be fun, don’t you think?”

“I haven’t said that in years.”

“Oh. Well . . . there’s always tennis. I used to love tennis. Remember when we used to play doubles?”

He turned off the freeway and eased onto the twisting, traffic-clogged Pacific Coast Highway. At the gated entrance to their road, he waved to the guard and passed into the Colony, the beachfront jewel of Malibu. Rain beaded the windshield and blurred the world for a split second, before the wipers swept the water away.

At their house, he slowed, inching down the brick-paved driveway. He stopped in front of the garage.

Annie glanced at him. It was odd that he hadn’t pulled into the garage. Odd that he hadn’t even hit the door’s remote control. Odder still that he’d left the car running. He hated to leave the Cadillac out in the rain. . . .

He’s not himself.

The realization sanded the hard edges from her anxiety, reminded her that she wasn’t as alone as she felt. Her high-powered, ultra-competent husband was as fragile as she was right now.

They would do it together, she and Blake. They would get each other through this day, and all the empty-nest days and nights to come. They had been a family before Natalie, and they would be one again, just the two of them. It might even be fun, like the old days when they had been best friends and partners and lovers . . . the days when they went out dancing and didn’t come home until the sun was peeking up from the horizon.

She twisted around to face him, and brushed a lock of hair from his eyes. “I love you. We’ll get each other through this.”

He didn’t answer.

She hadn’t really expected him to, but still the awkward silence stung. She tucked the disappointment away and opened the car door. Tiny shards of rain slipped through the opening, mottling her sleeve. “It’s going to be a lonely spring. Maybe we should talk to Lupita about planning a barbecue. We haven’t had an old-fashioned beach party in years. It’d be good for us. God knows it’s going to be weird walking around the house without—”

“Annie.” He said her name so sharply that she bit her tongue in the middle of her sentence.

He turned to her, and she saw that there were tears in his eyes.

She leaned over and touched his cheek in a fleeting, tender caress. “I’m going to miss her, too.”

He looked away and sighed heavily. “You don’t understand. I want a divorce.”

Chapter 2

“I meant to wait to tell you . . . at least until next week. But the thought of coming home tonight . . .” Blake shook his head and let the sentence trail off.

Very slowly, Annie closed the car door. Rain hit the windshield and ran in streaks down the windows, obscuring the world outside the car.

She couldn’t have heard right. Frowning, she reached for him. “What are you talking about . . .”

He lurched against the window, as if her touch—the touch he’d known for so long—were now repugnant.

It all became real suddenly, with that gesture he wouldn’t allow. Her husband was asking for a divorce. She drew back her hand and found that it was trembling.

“I should have done this a long time ago, Annie. I’m not happy. I haven’t been happy with you in years.”

The shock of it was unlike anything she’d ever experienced. It was everywhere, spreading through her in wave after numbing wave. Her voice was tangled deep, deep inside of her, and she couldn’t find the frayed start of it.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” he said softly, and she heard the choked-up thickness of his breathing. “I’m seeing someone else . . . another woman.”

She stared at him, her mouth hanging open. He was having an a fair. The word sank through her, hurting all the way to the bone. A thousand tiny details slipped into place: dinners he’d missed, trips he’d taken to exotic locations, the new silk boxer shorts he’d started wearing, the switch in colognes from Polo to Calvin Klein after all these years, the love they made so rarely . . .

How had she been so blind? She must have known. Deep inside, in some primitive feminine core, she must have known what was happening and chosen to ignore it.

She turned to him, wanting to touch him so badly it was a physical ache. For half her life, she’d touched him whenever she wanted, and now he had taken that right away. “We can get over an affair. . . .” Her voice was feeble, not her voice at all. “Couples do it all the time. I mean . . . it’ll take me some time to forgive you, time to learn to trust, but—”

“I don’t want your forgiveness.”

This couldn’t be happening. Not to her. Not to them. She heard the words and felt the pain, but it all had a dizzying sense of unreality about it. “But we have so much. We have history. We have Natalie. We can work this out, maybe try counseling. I know we’ve had problems, but we can get through it.”

“I don’t want to try, Annie. I want out.”

“But I don’t.” Her voice spiked into a high, plaintive whine. “We’re a family. You can’t throw twenty years away. . . .” She couldn’t find the words she needed. It terrified her, the sudden silence she found in her own soul; she was afraid there were words that could save her, save them, and she couldn’t find them. “Please, please don’t do this. . . .”

He didn’t say anything for a long time—long enough for her to find a strand of hope and weave it into solid fabric. He’ll change his mind. He’ll realize we’re a family and say it was just a midlife crisis. He’ll—

“I’m in love with her.”

Annie’s stomach started a slow, agonized crumbling.

Love? How could he be in love with someone else? Love took time and effort. It was a million tiny moments stacked one atop another to make something tangible. That declaration—love—and everything it meant diminished her. She felt as if she were a tiny, disappearing person, a million miles away from the man she’d always loved. “How long?”

“Almost a year.”

She felt the first hot sting of tears. A year in which everything between them had been a lie. Everything. “Who is she?”

“Suzannah James. The firm’s new junior partner.”

Suzannah James—one of the two dozen guests at Blake’s birthday party last weekend. The thin young woman in the turquoise dress who’d hung on Blake’s every word. The one he’d danced with to “A Kiss to Build a Dream On.”

Tears stung Annie’s eyes, turned everything into a blur. “But after the party, we made love. . . .”

Had he been imagining Suzannah’s face in the darkness? Was that why he’d clicked off the bedroom lights before he touched her? A tiny, whimpering moan escaped her. She couldn’t hold it all inside. “Blake, please . . .”

He looked helpless, a little lost himself, and in the moment of vulnerability, he was Blake again, her husband. Not this ice-cold man who wouldn’t meet her gaze. “I love her, Annie. Please don’t make me say it again.”

The sour remains of his confession tainted the air, left her with nothing to breathe. I love her, Annie.

She wrenched the car door open and stumbled blindly down the brick walkway to her house. Rain hit her face and mingled with her tears. At the door, she pulled the keys from her handbag, but her hand was shaking so badly she couldn’t find the lock on the first try. Then the key slipped into the slot and clicked hard.

She lurched inside and slammed the door shut behind her.

Annie finished her second glass of wine and poured a third. Usually two glasses of chardonnay left her giddy and reeling and trying to remember song lyrics from her youth, but tonight it wasn’t helping.

She walked dully through her house, trying to figure out what she’d done that was so wrong, how she’d failed.

Prev page Next page