“Plans? I wish…” Olivia said. “Do you have any suggestions?” she asked with a little more enthusiasm.
“How about taking in a football game?” Grace said. “We could go to dinner afterward. It’s been ages since we had a chance to catch up.”
Olivia was delighted that Grace had called her. During the months since Dan’s disappearance, Grace had closed herself off from almost everyone. She’d kept her conversations brief and superficial, clearly unwilling to disturb the bedrock of pain and grief that had become the basis of her life. Again and again she’d found excuses to postpone visits or social plans. Olivia was concerned, but she respected her friend’s need for privacy. It was no reflection on their long and very solid friendship. Grace was dealing with the loss of her marriage. Olivia stood by her, encouraged her with notes and cards and called frequently, just to maintain communication and to let Grace know she was there. This was the first time in a long while that Grace had called her to suggest an outing.
“I’d love to take in a game,” Olivia told her friend.
“I thought you would,” Grace said. “Have you heard from Jack yet?”
“Not a word.”
Grace had that right. Olivia was tired of making excuses for him, even in her own mind. He’d been absent from her life all week. He hadn’t called once. Nor had he shown up for their usual Tuesday night get-together. She couldn’t help being disappointed that he’d had to break their date on Saturday; she certainly understood. But at the same time she’d hoped he would, at the very least, leave a brief message telling her how Eric was doing—and maybe saying he missed her. He could’ve called to make a tentative plan for next week or even the week after that. Instead, he’d ignored her.
“Meet me at the football field at seven,” Grace said.
“I’ll be there.”
Olivia was grateful to have somewhere to go and something to do. Especially with her best friend, who seemed to be emerging from her self-imposed isolation. Her social life had revolved around Jack for months. Almost always, they spent part of a weekend together.
At seven o’clock, Olivia met Grace just outside the chain-link fence at CedarCoveHigh School’s football stadium. The field was ablaze with lights and the stands on both sides of the field were quickly filling up. Grace had dressed in gray wool slacks with a blue-and-green plaid wool jacket. She wore her thick salt-and-pepper hair shorter these days, and it suited her. Dan had always preferred a shoulder-length style, reminiscent of her high-school appearance, but Grace didn’t need to please Dan anymore.
“You look great,” Olivia commented as they stood in line to purchase their tickets.
“Of course I do. The only thing you ever see me in these days is my sweats for aerobics class.”
Olivia smiled because it was all too true.
“Remember in high school when we used to come and cheer on the team?” Grace asked as the line moved slowly toward the ticket counter.
“Do I ever. Bob Beldon and Dan were our football heroes—” Olivia paused. She regretted bringing Dan’s name into the conversation.
Grace touched her arm. “I was thinking the same thing. Dan was a wonderful athlete when he was young. I still remember the year he scored the winning touchdown that put Cedar Cove in the playoffs for the first time in a decade.”
“So do I,” Olivia said, glancing at her friend. “It doesn’t hurt to talk about Dan?”
Grace gazed into the distance. “Not really. But it’s easier to think about the early years, before Vietnam.” She was silent for a moment. “I don’t know why he left me the way he did. I’ve gone over it a thousand times and can’t come up with an answer. I just don’t understand how he could do this. I realize I might never know. All I can say is that this was his choice. I have my own choices to make, and I need to move forward with my life.”
“You always were a strong woman,” Olivia said, not hiding her admiration, “but you’re stronger now than ever.”
“I wish that was true,” Grace murmured and then she changed the subject, looking up at the night sky. “I love this time of year.”
“Me, too.” The weather in the Pacific Northwest had taken a decided turn in the last couple of weeks. Soon the autumn rains would start, and the clear bright evenings would become storms of wind mingled with a steady drizzle.
After paying for their tickets, they purchased a program from one of the drill team members hawking the small booklets just inside the field. Making their way toward the stands, Olivia paused to see what seats were still available.
“Olivia! Grace!” Charlotte’s voice rang out from the home field section.
Olivia glanced around until she found her mother waving her right arm high above her head. Charlotte sat next to Cliff Harding about halfway up. Her lap was draped with a small red quilt and Cliff was wearing a fringed leather jacket and his ever-present cowboy hat.
“Do you mind sitting with Mom?” Olivia asked, although her real question had to do with Cliff Harding.
“No it’s fine.” Grace’s eyes were on Cliff and she gave a slow smile.
Now, that was an interesting development, Olivia mused as they climbed the steps.
Olivia hugged Charlotte as she edged past her mother. Moving down, she left plenty of room for Grace. Cliff sat on the outside of the row, closest to the stairs.
“What a pleasant surprise to run into you two,” Charlotte said, sounding positively delighted. “Cliff’s never been to a Cedar Cove football game. My column in the newspaper this week was about supporting our youth, you know?”
“I read it, Mom, and it was a great piece.” Her mom derived real pleasure from writing the Seniors’ Page for the Chronicle.
“Cliff read it, too, and I told him he’d never be part of the community until he’s cheered for our football team.”
Cliff was studying the program and seemed impressed with all the community advertisement that supported the team. “The last time I was at a high school football game was when I was in high school myself.”
“This town takes its football seriously,” Olivia told him.
“I can see that.” The game was about to start and there was standing room only. In addition to the football team itself, the school band, the cheerleading squad and drill team were all present.
“Do you two have plans for after the game?” Cliff asked, but Olivia noticed that he directed the question at Grace.
“Olivia and I are going to dinner,” Grace explained.
“Cliff invited me out, as well,” Charlotte said. “Why don’t you two join us?” She glanced from one to the other.
“Sure, that sounds like fun,” Olivia said. From Grace’s reaction to seeing Cliff, she knew her friend wouldn’t object.
The game was close, and at halftime the score was tied. Olivia was, once again, amazed by how many people her mother knew. Not a moment passed without Charlotte calling out to one person or another. Her weekly column had increased her recognition among the townspeople, and she was obviously well-loved for her charitable activities, including her volunteer work at the local convalescent center where she’d met Tom Harding.
Cedar CoveHigh School won in the last five seconds with a field goal. The mood was festive as the stadium emptied. Since the PancakePalace would definitely be crowded after the win, Cliff suggested The Captain’s Galley in the downtown area.
They met there and were quickly escorted to a table for four. Olivia noticed that Cecilia Randall still held the position of hostess, but there wasn’t time to chat with the young Navy wife. Once they were seated, conversation was light and flowed smoothly both before and after they ordered.
Try as she might, Olivia found her thoughts wandering to Jack, and that distracted her. Without being obvious, she’d searched for him throughout the game. He generally wrote the sports articles for the high school teams, simply because he loved going to the games. Olivia had given up counting the number of sporting events they’d attended together. But if he was at the game tonight, she hadn’t seen him.
Of course, she could phone him. They weren’t fighting, although she had to wonder why he hadn’t called her. Perhaps Eric was still with him, but his son couldn’t possibly take up every minute of Jack’s time. Olivia was getting downright irritated.
Conversation ceased as their meals arrived and then it resumed. They’d moved from the football game to the state of the local economy. Olivia added a comment every now and then as she nibbled at her crab salad, but her spirits weren’t high and she struggled to keep her thoughts away from Jack.
Even though she’d dated occasionally since her divorce, she hadn’t gotten close to another man the way she had with Jack. Because their personalities and backgrounds were so different, he brought balance and spontaneity to her rigid schedule. With him she was free to laugh and shed the formality that had taken over her life after she was elected to the bench. Jack was unconventional, witty, fun—and, damn it all, she missed him.
The bill came, and before anyone could argue, Cliff reached for it. “My treat, ladies,” he insisted.
Olivia objected. She’d never have agreed to join them if she’d known Cliff was buying. “I can’t let you do that,” she said.
“Hey, how often does a man get the chance to be seen with three beautiful women?”
“This is very thoughtful of you,” Charlotte said and patted his hand, sending Olivia a sharp glance. Sighing, Olivia decided to accept graciously and murmured her thanks.
Grace chuckled. “Are you sure you’re not using my credit card?”
They all laughed and after savoring the last of their coffee, they parted for the night.
“Is everything okay?” Grace asked as they strolled to the parking lot next to the library. “You’ve been quiet all evening.” Olivia had hoped for a few minutes to speak privately to Grace, but with her mother and Cliff present that hadn’t been possible.
“Who can get a word in edgewise with my mother?” Olivia joked.
“Is everything okay between you and Jack?” How like Grace to care about her friend’s petty concerns when she was the one whose life was in upheaval.
“I think so,” Olivia told her, and then added. “I hope so.”
“So do I.”
They parted with promises to talk soon, and Olivia drove home. As she walked into the hallway, she saw that the message light on her answering machine was flashing. She stared down at it for a few hopeful seconds. Pressing the button, she waited and was rewarded by the craggy sound of Jack’s voice.
“Olivia, hi. Sorry I haven’t been in touch lately, but I’ve had my hands full with Eric. I was hoping you’d be home so we could talk. You’re not out with some other guy, are you?” There was a forced laugh. “Listen, I’m really sorry about last week, but I hope to make it up to you. Phone me back, all right? I’ve got a special birthday gift for you. Can we get together soon?”