Page 44

She had so much confidence when she was in that pseudo-office of hers, with her fingers on the computer's keyboard. If only she felt so sure of herself now.

She stood in the front of the classroom, with a green blackboard behind her. In the desk/chair sets in front of her, a dozen or so bored-looking kids slumped in their chairs; more than a few appeared to be sleeping. Beside her, the professor—a young guy with long, shaggy hair, wearing Air Jordans and camouflage pants—waited patiently.

Kate took a deep breath and began to read: "The girl in the small room in the ramshackle house was all alone again. Or she thought she was. In this place where the lights didn't work and the windows were covered in black paper and duct tape, it was hard to tell the truth. Should she take a chance and try to escape? That was the question. The last time she'd tried to run, she'd miscalculated and it had cost her. Unconsciously she rubbed the still-tender area along her jaw . . ."

She lost herself in the words she'd written, in the short story that was hers and hers alone. All too quickly it was over, the last sentence read, and she looked up, expecting to see a new respect in the faces that stared up at her.

No such luck.

"Well," the professor said, coming forward. "That was entertaining. It seems we have a budding genre writer in our midst. Who has a comment?"

For the next twenty minutes, they dissected Kate's story, looking for flaws. She listened carefully, refusing to let herself be stung by the criticisms. Who cared that she'd spent almost four weeks on these six pages? What mattered was that she could improve. She could tighten her story and try to master viewpoint and be more careful with her dialogue. By the end of class, instead of feeling wounded or dejected, she felt empowered, as if a heretofore unseen path had just been revealed. She couldn't wait to get home and try again.

As she packed up her stuff to leave, the professor came over to her, said, "You show real promise, Kate."

"Thank you."

Beaming, she hurried out of the classroom. All the way across campus and through the student parking lot, she imagined new directions for the story, ways to fix it.

So caught up in her imagined world was she that she missed her exit and had to backtrack.

At just past 1:20, she pulled into the parking stall under the cement viaduct and walked across the street to Ivar's Restaurant. Her mother was already seated at a table in the corner. Through the wall of windows, Elliott Bay sparkled in the sunlight. Seagulls wheeled and dropped and dove for french fries thrown by tourists on the pier outside.

"Sorry I'm late," Kate said, sitting down across from her mom, unhooking her fanny pack and letting it rest in her lap. "I hate driving in the city."

"I ordered us both shrimp louies. I know you have to catch the two-ten boat." Mom leaned forward, put her elbows on the table. "Well? Did your professor think your story was better than John Grisham?"

Kate couldn't help laughing at that. "He didn't use those exact words, no. But he did say I had talent."

"Oh." Mom sat back, looking disappointed. "I think your story was brilliant. Even Daddy thought so."

"Dad thinks I'm better than John Grisham, too? And on my very first story. I guess I'm a genius."

"Are you saying our opinion is somewhat inflated?"

"Somewhat. But I love you for it."

"I'm proud of you, Katie," she said softly. "I always wanted to find something like that for me. I guess I made afghans instead."

"You raised two great kids—well, one great one and one pretty good one," Kate teased. "And you stayed married and made everyone happy. You should be proud of that."

"I am, but . . ."

Kate placed her hand on her mother's. They both understood; every at-home mom in the world understood. Ultimately there were prices to be paid for the choices a woman made. "You're my hero, Mom," Kate said simply.

Mom looked at her, tears bright in her eyes. Before she could answer, the waitress returned with their salads and lemonades, put the lunch on the table, and left.

Kate picked up her fork and started eating.

The nausea hit without warning.

"Excuse me," Kate mumbled, dropping her fork and clamping a hand over her mouth as she ran for the restroom. There, in a stiflingly small cubicle, she threw up.

When there was nothing left in her stomach, she went to the sink and washed her hands and face, rinsed out her mouth.

Her whole body felt trembly and weak. Her face in the mirror was bone-pale and drawn. For the first time she noticed the dark shadows under her eyes.

Maybe she was coming down with the stomach flu, she thought. Everyone at playgroup was sick this week.

Still feeling shaky, she returned to the table, under her mother's watchful gaze.

"I'm fine," Kate said, taking her seat. "I took Marah to playgroup this weekend. All the kids were sick." She waited for her mother to respond. When the silence went on and on, Kate finally looked up. "What?"

"Mayonnaise," her mother said. "It made you sick when you were pregnant with Marah, too."

It felt as if the chair beneath Kate just evaporated—poof! disappeared—and she was falling fast. Several annoyances clicked into place and became clues: tender breasts even though she wasn't having her period; trouble sleeping; exhaustion. She closed her eyes and shook her head, sighing. She'd wanted another baby—she and Johnny both did—but it had been so long, they'd given up. And now everything was going so well with the writing. She didn't want to go back to sleepless nights and crying babies and days that left her too tired to answer a question at the dinner table, let alone write a story.

"You'll just take a little longer to get published," her mother said. "You'll be able to do both."

"We wanted another baby," she said, trying to smile. "And I'll still keep writing. You'll see." She almost had herself convinced. "I can do it with two kids."

On Thursday, two days later, she found out she was having twins.

Part Four


A Moment Like This

some people wait a lifetime


By 2000, Kate rarely paused in the whirlwind chaos of her everyday life to wonder where the years had gone. Contemplation and reflection, like relaxation, were thoughts from another era, ideas from another life. The road not taken, as they used to say. A woman with three children—a ten-year-old girl who was fast approaching puberty and twin boys under two—simply didn't have time to think about herself much, and the number of years that separated her kids' ages created almost two families. She knew now why women had their children closer together. Starting over doubled a mother's exhaustion level.

Her days were consumed by details, and this surprisingly sunny morning in March was no exception. The chores stacked up, one on top of another, until she found herself running from sunrise to well past sunset. The crappy part was that she never seemed to accomplish anything substantial, yet she almost never had an hour to herself. The at-home mother's life: it was a race with no finish line. That was what they talked about in the carpool line as they waited for their kids to leave school. That, and divorce. Every month lately it seemed that one seemingly solid marriage had shown its crumbling clay foundation.

Except today wasn't just another ordinary bead in the strand of her life. Today, Tully was coming to Seattle for a promotional tour. It would be the first time they'd seen each other in months, and Kate couldn't wait. She needed some girlfriend time.

She hurried through her To Do list—dropped Marah off at school, spent too long at Safeway, bought all-new makeup at Rite Aid, made it to the library in time for reading hour, picked up Johnny's dry cleaning, got the boys down for their naps, and cleaned the house.

By two-thirty, as she pulled out of the carpool lane—again—she was exhausted.

"Aunt Tully's coming to spend the night tonight, right, Mommy?" Marah said from the backseat. She looked tiny, wedged in as she was between the boys' dump-truck-sized car seats.

"That's right."

"Are you gonna wear makeup?"

Kate couldn't help smiling at that. She wasn't quite sure how it had happened, but somehow she'd raised a tiny beauty queen. At ten, Marah already had more fashion sense and style sensibility than Kate ever had. She watched in amazement as her tall, slim ten-year-old daughter poured over the teen fashion magazines and memorized designer names. School shopping was a terror. If Marah didn't find exactly what she wanted, she went ballistic. There was rarely any doubt in Kate's mind that her daughter was judging her appearance. More often than not, she knew she was found lacking. "I will definitely wear makeup. I'll even curl my hair, how's that?"

"Can I wear lip gloss? Just this once? All the girls—"

"No. We've had this discussion, Marah. You're too young."

Marah crossed her arms. "I'm not a baby."

"You're not a teenager, either. Believe me, there will be plenty of time for all that." She pulled the car into the garage and parked.

Marah was out of the car and into the house before Kate had time to ask her to help carry stuff in. "Thanks for the help," she muttered, releasing her boys from the car seats. As toddlers, Lucas and William were wild separately; together they were a tornado.

For the next few hours, she did more afternoon chores: in addition to all the regular things, she arranged vases of flowers and placed them throughout the house, positioned and lit scented candles on dressers too high for the boys to reach, and thoroughly cleaned the guest room in case Tully decided she had time to say. Then, with dinner in the oven and the boys trailing along behind her, she went upstairs to get ready. As she passed Marah's room she could hear the patter of feet that meant her daughter was pulling one outfit after another from her closet.

Smiling, Kate went to her own room, parked the boys in the playpen, and, ignoring their screams, took a shower. When she finished drying her hair (trying not to notice how dark her roots were), she opened the bathroom door.

"How you guys doing now?"

Lucas and William sat side by side, their bare pudgy legs splayed out in front of them, babbling to one another in baby talk.

"Good," she said, patting their heads as she passed them.

In her closet, she sighed. Everything she owned was either out of date or too small. She still had some baby weight to lose—the twins had turned her stomach into the Kingdome; that kind of stretching didn't bounce back easily.

Exercising would have helped, and she wished fervently now that she'd fit it into her schedule this winter.

Too late now.

She chose a nice pair of her favorite broken-in Levi's and a pretty black angora sweater that Johnny had given her for Christmas a few years ago, right after he'd taken the job at KLUE. It was one of her only designer garments.

"Come on, boys," she said, scooping them up with practiced ease. Settling one on each hip, she carried them to their bedroom, changed their diapers, and dressed them in the darling sailor boy outfits Tully had sent for their birthday. Then, because it took forever to let them walk down the stairs, she carried them, plopped them on the living room floor with a pile of toys in front of them, and popped in a Winnie-the-Pooh tape. That gave her twenty minutes if she was lucky.