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“Would it make you happy if I said it wasn’t?” He didn’t give her a chance to answer. “As a matter of fact, I’m blissfully happy.”

Bethanne hadn’t realized what a poor liar he was and wondered why she hadn’t seen through him during the years he’d been having that affair. She supposed it was because she hadn’t wanted to know. “I’m sorry, Grant,” she said. She was sincere.

He shrugged in an offhand way.

It was ironic, really, that they’d have their first decent conversation in a parking lot months after their divorce.

“So how’s the relationship with the Boy Toy?” he asked. “Or is it the Toy Boy?”

“Do you mean Paul?” she said sharply. So much for decent. “It doesn’t bother us that I’m older, anymore than it bothers you that Tiffany’s fifteen years younger,” she said. “Besides, I can see anyone I choose. You didn’t want to be married to me, and Tiffany didn’t want to be with Paul. He and I have a lot in common.”

“You got the new hairstyle for him, didn’t you? Are you trying to look younger?”

“Not really.”


“I’d better get back to the house,” she said, eager to leave. She thought of mentioning the Homecoming Dance at the end of the month but decided against it. Grant would learn soon enough that their son had been voted part of the Homecoming Court.

Grant nodded, hands in his pants pockets. “It was good to see you, Bethanne.” He offered her a slight smile. “I do mean that.”

“Thanks. It was good seeing you, too.”

Bethanne started toward her car, but stopped to look back. Grant was still standing in the same spot, staring after her.

She almost gave him a friendly wave. She didn’t wish her ex-husband ill. Okay, sometimes she did, but she’d also made real progress toward forgiveness this summer.

She hated being alone, but in reality nothing had changed. Grant might’ve been living at the house two years ago and sharing her bed, but he’d been emotionally involved with another woman. And that meant he hadn’t been fully committed to his family—as he’d proven since.

Yes, her financial situation was uncomfortable, but she was a fast learner. Yes, she was bound to make mistakes, but she had a new life and a good friend in Paul. She was close to her children.

The odd man out was Grant, who seemed to have some regrets. He’d hinted at it, then claimed, rather unconvincingly, that he was happy. She doubted he’d tell her the truth.



Courtney hadn’t heard from her father in a week. She was growing frightened; that just wasn’t like him. He might go a day or two without e-mailing her, but never a week. While Ralph Pulanski, Jr. had been silent, the e-mails had flown between Courtney, her sister and their older brother. They were as worried as she was. The three of them clung to each other.

Courtney hid her fears from her grandmother as much as she could. Grams was doing a lot of knitting these days—to comfort herself, Courtney figured. Mostly she and Grams said reassuring things to each other, like “I’m sure he’s fine,” and “Maybe his computer broke down.”

Jason had tried to reach their father through the construction company that employed him, but he’d learned nothing concrete. According to the executive Jason had talked to, the area was known to be secure and there was no reason for alarm. The company would try to get in touch with him; that was as much as they’d promise at this point.

Julianna, who was back at school and on a tight budget, broke down and phoned Courtney. They talked for twenty minutes.

“I miss you so much,” Courtney told her sister, struggling not to weep. She clutched the telephone receiver to her ear, as if that would bring Julianna closer.

“How’s school?”

Her sister would ask. “It’s okay.” Courtney tried to brush off the question because they had bigger concerns than her inability to make friends, other than Annie Hamlin, and her sense of being alone.

“Don’t give me that,” Julianna said sternly in a voice so like their mother’s that it took Courtney’s breath away. “I want to know how you’re really doing.”

“Awful.” It was the truth. “I thought if I lost weight I’d be instantly popular,” Courtney confessed. “I thought boys would be asking for my phone number, but it isn’t like that at all.” Of course, there was only one boy who interested her, and that was Andrew Hamlin. Unfortunately, he had a long-standing girlfriend.

Annie claimed Melanie was living in a dreamworld, and Andrew was no more going steady with her than he was with Britney Spears. The evidence, which Courtney had seen for herself, said otherwise.

“Twenty-five pounds is a lot to lose, and I’m proud of you. You feel better, don’t you?”

“Health-wise, you mean? Yeah, I guess.” She did feel better now that those pounds were off. She, too, was proud of that accomplishment, but she’d hoped for certain things that hadn’t come to pass. In fact, everything remained exactly as it was before. When you came right down to it, all that had changed was the number on Grams’s antique scale. Oh, and some of her pants were looser around the waist.

“Call if you need me,” Julianna said. “I mean it, Court.”

“Okay. Keep in touch about Dad.”

“I will,” her sister promised.

Courtney was grateful for her sister’s call. She wished they could talk regularly. Although Julianna was older and had been away from home for nearly three years, she was close to their dad. Caught up in her own woes, Courtney hadn’t spent enough time considering her sister’s feelings.

Wednesday morning, eight days since her last communication with her father, Courtney didn’t feel like going to school. Grams said she understood, but encouraged Courtney to go anyway.

“You won’t resolve anything sitting by the phone all day,” Grams said with perfect logic.

After sleeping fitfully for two nights, Courtney had hoped to rest, but she knew her grandmother was right. While she might not have made a lot of friends yet, she was better off at school than hanging around at home, waiting and worrying.

Mike, Andrew’s friend, picked her up to drive her to school. Courtney paid him ten dollars a week and appreciated not having to take the bus. The only problem was Mike himself, who seemed inordinately shy. He rarely said a word, either on the way to school or on the way home. At first she’d tried to carry the conversation, but after a week of minimal responses, she’d given up.

Wouldn’t you know it? This was the morning Mike discovered he had a tongue.

“Did you hear from your dad?” he asked as she climbed into his fifteen-year-old Honda.

“Not yet.”

“Are you worried?”

“What do you think?” She didn’t mean to be sarcastic, but that was a stupid question if she’d ever heard one.

“I think you’re worried,” he concluded.

Courtney closed her eyes and leaned her head against the passenger window, just praying there’d be an e-mail from her father when she got home from school.

“Are you ready for the English test?” he asked next.

She straightened abruptly. “There’s a test?” Preoccupied as she’d been with her father, she hadn’t paid attention. “On what?”


She groaned. Perhaps if she showed up at the office and claimed she had the flu, they’d believe her and let her go home.

Home. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t think of her grandmother’s place as home. It was Grams’s house, not hers.

Mike parked and they walked wordlessly into the school. Once in the building, they went their separate ways, Mike to the left and Courtney to the right. She had, at best, five minutes to leaf through her book of poems and her English notes before the bell rang. Dickinson. Whitman. Who else?

She stood outside her homeroom, leaning against the wall, as she flipped desperately from one page to the next.

“Hi.” Andrew sidled up to her, books under his arm.

Surprised, Courtney nearly dropped her own book. “I didn’t realize we had a test today,” she declared, her nose in the book as she tried to take in as much information as possible.

“In what?”

“English—poetry. Nineteenth-century American. I think.”

He didn’t seem to know about it, either.

“Mike told me.”

“That explains it,” Andrew said. “He’s in regular Senior English, we’re Honors. Mr. Hazelton didn’t mention a test. I don’t even think we’re studying the same material.”

A wave of relief washed over her. “Thank you, God.” She raised her head toward the ceiling.

“And they say school prayer is dead,” Andrew teased.

She smiled.

“How’re you doing?” he asked.

They stood there for a few minutes before going to their homerooms. Rather than discuss her worries about her father, Courtney merely shrugged. “How about you?”

What a dumb question. She realized it as soon as the words were out of her mouth. Andrew had just been named part of the Homecoming Court, exactly as Shelly had predicted. As head cheerleader, Melanie had also been a nominee. On the afternoon before the big game, the king and queen would be chosen at a school assembly. Again according to Shelly, Melanie and Andrew would take the prize.

“I’m fine,” Andrew said. He didn’t seem that excited about his nomination. “What about your dad?”

“He’s still missing,” Courtney blurted out. She couldn’t hold it in any longer. “Andrew, I’m so worried! I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to my dad.” Tears sprang to her eyes and she tried to hide them by staring down at the floor.

To her shock, he placed his arm around her shoulders. “Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be all right.”

“No, it isn’t,” she cried, sobbing openly now. “I need my father.” He, more than anyone, held the family together. He was her father and she’d already lost her mother, and if her father was dead she couldn’t bear it.

“I know, I know,” he murmured.

She looked up at him with wet eyes, unable to speak.

“If anything happened to my mother,” he went on, “I’d feel just like you do right now, but I will tell you this. No matter what happens, you’ll find your way through it. Isn’t that what you told Annie?”

Courtney sniffed and nodded. She grabbed a tissue from her purse and blew her nose, embarrassed by all the attention they’d attracted. It didn’t seem to bother Andrew, though, and she pretended it didn’t bother her, either.

“That was good advice,” Andrew said. “Annie was close to losing it when you signed up for that knitting class with my mom. I’m so glad you did, because she needed a friend. She’s still got a few problems, but she’s so much better now, thanks to you.”