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“I don’t know. I haven’t yet.”

She refused to let that one slip destroy her mood. “I was really glad you phoned.”

“I wanted to see how everything went with the party.”

“I’m so happy and excited, and this…this is just great. I love Mexican food.”

“Me, too.” He reached for his margarita and licked the salt from the edge of his glass before taking a sip.

The sight of his tongue unnerved her. Bethanne immediately looked away, then chided herself for being silly. But perhaps it was a natural reaction. It’d been so long since she’d made love, she could hardly even remember.

“Do you miss…” She hesitated to say it aloud, so she leaned toward him and whispered. “Sex?”

“Sex.” Paul’s eyes narrowed. “What’s that?”

They both laughed as if it was the funniest thing they’d heard in ages.

“Really,” she pressed. “I want to know.”

He nodded. “Big time. What about you?”

She nodded, too. She couldn’t ask that question of anyone else, and it made her appreciate their friendship even more. They felt safe with each other; safe in speaking honestly about their anger and pain. There was something healing in that kind of openness.

“How are things with Annie and Andrew?” he asked, deftly changing the subject.

Bethanne was on her second margarita, which she knew had loosened her inhibitions, probably past the point of decorum. “I’ve had some long conversations with Annie since I learned she put sugar in Tiffany’s gas tank.” At first Annie had tried to deny it, but when she broke down and admitted what she’d done, they’d clung to each other, Bethanne’s heart breaking for her daughter.

Annie had agreed to see the therapist, and after two visits, felt she had a better perspective on the family’s situation and her own feelings. There’d been several tearful discussions between mother and daughter. Annie seemed better now, more like her old self, and Bethanne sensed that her daughter could move forward, with or without her father.

“Has Grant had a chance to talk to Annie?” Paul asked.

Bethanne had mentioned his most recent visit, although she’d left out his inquiry about her relationship with Paul.

“He phoned the house.” Bethanne shrugged. “I don’t know what he said, but Annie was on and off the phone in about two minutes, so it couldn’t have been much of a conversation.”

“From what I understand, the insurance paid for the damage to Tiffany’s engine,” Paul told her.

“Did she contact you?” Bethanne asked. Paul rarely mentioned his ex-wife.

“No, but our agent told me about it. It’s a good thing Tiff continued the coverage for vandalism.”

Bethanne nodded. She wouldn’t put it past Tiffany to have Annie arrested; even worse, she wasn’t sure Grant would stand up for their daughter. Yes, Annie had been wrong and she needed to accept the consequences of her actions, but Bethanne couldn’t bear the thought of her daughter being prosecuted. At the therapist’s suggestion, Annie had written Tiffany a letter of apology and Bethanne hoped the matter would end there.

The waitress came by, and Bethanne ordered the fajita salad, while Paul chose the chicken enchilada plate. He waited until she’d left the table before resuming the conversation.

“How’s Annie now?” he asked.

“She’s dealing with a lot,” Bethanne replied. “She’s coming through it, though, and I think the worst is over, but it’s been a difficult time for her.”

“She needs a friend,” Paul said. “Someone who really understands.”

“I agree, but—” Bethanne stopped in midsentence. “Yes. She does.”

Paul laughed softly. “You’ve got that look in your eye.”

Bethanne sat back in her chair. “She already has one. Only, my daughter is a lot like her mother and isn’t always aware of what’s right in front of her.”

“You seem to be full of good news tonight,” he teased.

She giggled. “I’m full of something, all right.” Suddenly she reached across the table and grabbed his hand. “Oh, my goodness,” she cried, shocked into momentary silence.

“What?” Paul asked in concern.

“Paul, I just realized that I’m happy. I’m actually happy. I didn’t think I’d ever feel this way again, but I do. I really do.”

Paul nodded thoughtfully.

Bethanne leaned toward him. “Has it happened for you yet?”

He didn’t meet her eyes.

“Be honest,” she told him.

“Not yet,” he admitted with a faint smile, “but I can feel it approaching.”

“Good.” She felt better knowing that he was hopeful enough to anticipate the return of joy.

“Seeing you makes me happy,” he confessed.

“Thank you.” Bethanne sipped her margarita and sighed. “That’s sweet.”

“I think about you a lot, Bethanne. About us both.”

“Us.” She choked a little as she swallowed her drink.

“What would you think of the two of us dating?”

She frowned. She’d never asked, but assumed she was older than Paul, possibly by as much as ten years. “I…I like you as a friend, Paul, but as for this dating idea—I don’t know. I’m afraid it might change our whole relationship and I wouldn’t want that. I want things to stay the way they are.”

He shrugged with apparent nonchalance. “That’s all right.”

“Don’t take offense, please. I couldn’t bear it if you did. You’re my friend and I treasure our times together, but…”

“Just think about us dating, all right?”

“Okay, but…Okay, okay, I’ll think about it.”

“Good.” He appeared to relax then. “I’m glad, Bethanne. You’re exactly the kind of woman I can imagine myself with.”

She glanced around to make sure no one was listening in on their conversation. “This is because I asked you about sex, isn’t it?”

“No,” he said abruptly. “This has to do with the fact that I really enjoy being with you. Not you, the ex-wife of the man my ex-wife left me for, but you, the person I’ve come to know and trust.”

“Oh.” After two margaritas, she found it difficult to frame a response.

“That surprises you?”

“No.” Bethanne answered from her heart. “The truth is, I find your interest a very big compliment. For now, I’m more comfortable just being friends, but I’m willing to see where things go.”

“You’re a beautiful woman, Bethanne,” he said in a serious tone.

“That’s the lack of sex talking,” she teased.

“Hmm—that could easily be fixed,” he joked back.

Bethanne giggled. “I think it’s time we cut off the margaritas.”

Paul smiled. “Let’s not be hasty. The conversation’s just getting good.”



It’d been a pleasant surprise to hear from Annie, especially after the way their last meeting had ended, with Annie storming out of Courtney’s bedroom. Courtney had wanted to ask Bethanne about her during knitting class. She hadn’t, because she didn’t want to put Annie’s mother on the spot.

Courtney was afraid for the girl, afraid of what she might do. She’d tried to talk to her, to help her, and explain that she understood—she’d gone through this horrible emotional pain herself. But Annie had made it abundantly clear that she wasn’t interested.

Then, on a Monday afternoon, after no contact in almost two weeks, Annie had phoned and invited Courtney to her house. Her grandmother dropped her off at the Hamlins’ on her way to the church, where Vera volunteered at the library once a month. Before she moved to Seattle, Courtney had assumed her grandmother sat in front of the television and knit most afternoons. Boy, had she been wrong. Vera was at the pool four mornings a week and ate a robust breakfast. Then she worked in her yard and garden. She probably spent as many hours doing volunteer work, including various church committees, as she would’ve spent on a full-time job.

As Grams drove off, Courtney stood on the sidewalk and examined Annie’s house. She immediately liked the brick structure with its steep front steps, rounded door and the gable that jutted out over the small porch. It reminded her of homes in some Chicago neighborhoods.

Homesickness rushed through her. Chicago was where she had friends, where everything was familiar. Courtney hated having to rebuild her life in her senior year of high school. She’d worked for eleven years to reach this point, and she’d looked forward to being with her friends, some of whom she’d known nearly her entire life.

She found it hard not to feel sorry for herself, but Courtney knew, and had long ago accepted, that this sacrifice was necessary. Julianna had recently reminded Courtney that next year, when she left for college, she’d be experiencing the same kind of dislocation, so in essence Courtney was simply making the move a year earlier than she normally would. She’d be that much more prepared for college, Julianna said, and Courtney appreciated her sister’s insight. She relied on the contact with her family, especially Julianna, to ward off feelings of isolation.

Annie opened the door before Courtney had even rung the bell. “I saw your grandmother pull up,” she said. She wore tight shorts, a loose T-shirt and big fuzzy slippers.

And she wasn’t smiling. Their conversation had been short, and she wondered if it’d been prompted by Bethanne or if Annie was sincere about wanting to see her. At the time, Courtney had been too grateful to question the other girl’s motives.

“How’s it going?” Courtney asked, walking into the house.

“All right, I guess.” Annie turned and headed up the stairs.

Courtney followed her, although she wished she could look around a bit more. The house was beautiful, with cream-colored walls, furniture upholstered in dark reds and greens, shining wood floors, simple but expensive-looking area rugs. Fresh flowers graced the mantel. As she’d expected, Bethanne had gorgeous taste.

Photographs lined the wall, and she paused long enough to look at the family portrait, obviously taken in better times. Andrew resembled his father, with deep blue eyes and a strong square chin, and Annie took after her mother. “Where is everyone?” she asked, trudging up the carpeted stairs.

“Out,” Annie responded. “Why? Is that a problem?”

Courtney decided to ignore the lack of welcome. “It’s fine with me.”

“Good.” Annie had reached the top of the stairs and frowned when she saw Courtney regarding the framed portraits. “I told Mom to throw those away, but she wouldn’t do it.”

The glass in the most recent family photograph was cracked, and Courtney wondered if Annie had tried to destroy it. “There’s pictures of my mother all over our house in Chicago, too.” Or there had been before the house was rented. “I used to come home, all excited about something, and rush into the house. Then as soon as I saw Mom’s photo I’d start to cry.” Talking about it still had that effect on her, and she turned aside to blot her eyes with her sleeve.