In the kitchen, Olivia discovered the sink filled with sudsy water for the pots and pans.
“You don’t need to do this,” she told Stan.
“I want to.” He stacked plates and cutlery in the dishwasher and she put the leftovers in containers, storing them in the refrigerator.
“I’d forgotten how good your stuffed green peppers are.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed them.”
He grew quiet then. She found his somberness a little unexpected after all the happy chatter during dinner and afterward.
“I guess I might as well tell you,” he suddenly said, his back to her as he rinsed off dishes.
“Tell me what?” She laughed. “Marge is leaving you?” She smiled at her own joke.
“Yes—sort of.” The laughter had drained from his eyes. “Marge and I are separating.”
Olivia couldn’t hide her shock. Her silly, flippant remark had been correct. “Oh, Stan, I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah, I am too.”
“Why are you—” She raised her hand. “No, it isn’t necessary for me to know. I just didn’t expect this.”
“Neither did I.” He returned his attention to the dishes. “It’s been a pretty rough year for us, and we decided last week that it would be best all the way around if we took a break from each other.”
Olivia couldn’t think of anything to say.
Reaching for a towel, Stan wiped his hands, keeping his eyes lowered. “This evening with James and Justine here, seeing both our children so happy and so much in love—I don’t know, something happened.”
“I’m not sure how to explain it. We’re grandparents, Olivia, and we’re about to become grandparents a second time.”
“Sitting at the table with our children made me realize how badly I wish I could undo the past. I wish you and I were a couple again.”
“I know, I know, I shouldn’t have said that, but it’s true. It hit me between the eyes at dinner. You and I always belonged together. I made a terrible mistake when I left you, and I can’t help regretting it.”
A hundred times over the years, Olivia too had regretted the divorce. Had she been stronger, better able to deal with Jordan’s death, she would have fought to keep the marriage, the family, together. But it was too late to recover something that now belonged to the past. Olivia recognized this, and in his heart, so did Stan. She was sure of it.
Maryellen was impressed with The Lighthouse. Justine and Seth had done a first-class job with the renovations to The Captain’s Galley. Her mother had attended the function with her and was sipping wine, talking to Olivia in a corner of the restaurant. Apparently they had a lot to talk about, because their heads had been together from the moment Grace arrived.
The hors d’oeuvres on their silver platters were laid out on long tables draped in white linen. Anticipating a feast, Maryellen had eaten sparingly all day and was famished. Taking a salad-sized china plate, she stood in the buffet line and chatted with other members of the Chamber of Commerce.
The expression might be clichéd, but Justine truly looked radiant, Maryellen thought as she watched the husband-and-wife team greet their guests. She and Justine had talked about their pregnancies and learned they were due to deliver a few weeks apart. They’d known each other their entire lives, but other than the fact that their mothers were best friends, they didn’t have a lot in common. For one thing, Maryellen was seven years older and in childhood that was significant. Justine had been in fifth grade when Maryellen graduated from high school.
In the years since, life had taken them in opposite directions. Only now that they were both pregnant and having their babies close together had they spent any significant time together. They regularly compared notes about their pregnancies and had recently taken a day to shop for baby furniture.
Maryellen sat at one of the newly upholstered booths and made small talk with Virginia Logan, who owned the bookstore two doors down from the Harbor Street Gallery. As they discussed the town council’s motion to arrange stone planters along the main streets, Justine approached.
“Maryellen,” she said, holding out her hand. “And Virginia. I’m so glad you came.”
“This is lovely.”
“Yes, it is,” Virginia added.
“So, what do you think?” Justine asked them both. “Any changes you’d suggest?” Maryellen understood how important this venture was to the young couple. Still, Justine wanted their sincere opinions, not just flattery and compliments. That was the very reason they’d decided to hold this open house.
“Everything’s fabulous,” Virginia said, reaching for a second crab puff. She popped it into her mouth and then closed her eyes to savor it. “The food is incredible.”
Maryellen nodded agreement.
“We have our chef to thank for that. He’s wonderful.”
“Where did you find him?” Virginia asked.
“Word of mouth. He applied for the job, and Seth interviewed and hired him. I don’t think we realized how good he really is until now. Would either of you like a tour of the kitchen?”
Virginia shook her head. “Not me, but thanks, anyway.”
“I would,” Maryellen said, more to be polite than from any desire to study the internal workings of the restaurant.
With Maryellen following, Justine wove her way around the people sipping wine and sampling the wide assortment of offerings. As they passed the buffet table, Maryellen grabbed a napkin and a pickled asparagus spear. She’d never been fond of asparagus until this pregnancy. These days she couldn’t get enough of it. She supposed there were worse cravings.
Justine held open the swinging door to the kitchen and they stepped aside as a waitress carried out a platter displaying an artichoke cheesecake, complete with a paper-thin phyllo crust. Maryellen had tried it earlier and marveled at the unexpected blend of flavors and textures.
The kitchen sparkled with polished steel, a bevy of pans suspended from a rack above the workspace. Two men in white with tall chef’s caps were working efficiently, moving about the room in an almost synchronized fashion.
“Let me introduce you to our chef,” Justine said. “Jon, this is a good friend of mine, Maryellen Sherman. Maryellen, this is the chef I mentioned, Jon Bowman.” She paused, frowning. “Oh, wait. You two know each other from the gallery.”
If there’d been time, Maryellen would have turned tail and run. Instead she was forced to put a smile on her face and hold out her hand, praying Jon wouldn’t say or do anything to embarrass her.
“Nice to see you again,” Jon said but his gaze rested directly on her midsection.
“Maryellen and I are both due in the same month,” Justine said as if to cover for Jon’s all too-obvious attention to her pregnancy.
“I see.” He met Maryellen’s eyes now, his own narrowed.
She was tempted to grab onto the counter because her legs felt as though they were about to give out. “You’re a very good chef,” she murmured. “Um, the hors d’oeuvres are excellent.”
“Thank you,” he said grimly. Obviously he was no better at small talk than when she’d known him.
“Over here is Ross Porter, the pastry chef,” Justine said, leading her away from Jon. “We captured him from André’s too,” she said with a gloating smile. “Come and check out our walk-in refrigerator. Who’d have guessed a year ago that I could get so excited about something like that?” Justine laughed.
The rest of the tour was a blur as Maryellen obediently trailed Justine around the kitchen.
“About the staff…” Too late Maryellen realized it was impossible to form a coherent question.
“Oh, you mean the staff from the old Captain’s Galley?” Justine asked. “We kept a number of the waitresses and one of the hostesses. You might know her, Cecilia Randall. Her father used to work as a bartender. He moved to California shortly before we bought the restaurant.”
Maryellen was only slightly acquainted with the staff from The Captain’s Galley, but was pleased to hear that some of them had been retained. Her head was whirling. She’d be astonished if she managed to ask anything intelligible.
“You’ve done a marvelous job,” she said when they returned to the main part of the restaurant. That was the simple truth.
“Thank you,” Justine said as Seth joined her. He placed his arm around his wife’s waist and smiled down at her.
Maryellen was impressed with the way they’d become a real couple, a partnership in every sense. Impressed and a little envious. Investing in a restaurant was a bold move, but they seemed determined to make a go of it.
As soon as she could, Maryellen made an excuse to leave. Her heart was pounding so loudly she could barely think as she drove home. She knew without his saying anything that Jon would want to talk to her, and soon. She wanted to reassure him that she wasn’t going to ask for any kind of monetary support. He obviously had no interest in the baby, and as far as she was concerned, Jon Bowman was free and clear on all counts. Once he understood that, she was sure he’d rest easier.
Maryellen hadn’t been home an hour when her doorbell rang. Already? It looked as though their confrontation would occur that very evening. She certainly wasn’t expecting anyone else.
He stood like an avenging angel in the doorway of her small rental home, his face dark, staring down on her when she opened the door.
“I, uh, thought you might want to talk,” she said, letting him in.
He strode into the hallway. “You said there weren’t any consequences from our night together.”
“I lied.” Her honesty seemed to unnerve him further.
“Because it was obvious that you were worried I might be pregnant. You wanted an easy out and I gave it to you, so you have no reason to be angry now.”
“Like hell!” he shouted.
“Please.” She gestured for him to sit down. “Yelling isn’t going to help. I’m sorry this came as such a shock, I really am, but there’s no need to be upset.”
He ignored her suggestion to take a seat. “No need to be upset?” he bellowed. “The hell there isn’t. You’re pregnant—I’m going to be a father.” His scowl challenged her to deny it.
“Yes, but…” Her voice trailed off. She had no intention of pretending he wasn’t the father of her child.
“Don’t you have anything to say?” He started to pace.
“Would you kindly stand still?” Even if he wasn’t going to sit down, she had a sudden need to do so. Sinking onto the sofa, she placed her hands over her stomach. “Please…”
“Please what? Please leave?”
“No…It’s probably best that you know the truth.”
“Probably?” The word exploded out of his mouth.
Maryellen held up her hand. “Listen—you’re upset and—”