Hearing Charlie lecture me made me want even more to torture him with doubt. But I didn’t want Ivor or Matt or any of my family to have to deal with police officers. I dialed Charlie’s office number, figuring at one in the morning New York time, he wasn’t likely to be there. “Charlie,” I told his voice mail. “It’s me. Kidnapping? Bullshit. The kids are safe. You’ll see them when I’m ready.” I hung up.
That night I lay awake for a long time arguing with Charlie in my mind, thinking how things were likely to end for us. Ivor’s marriage had already ended. When I first heard that, I’d wondered if it had something to do with our childhood turmoil. After all, I’d always believed Darby’s problems were because of it, and Matt’s too. But if our parents’ experiment had made him unfit for marriage, he certainly didn’t realize it. He was, so far as I could tell, deeply in love with his new partner.
It wasn’t until the next day, when we were already on the road heading for the tony little suburb where Laura lives, that I realized I didn’t want to see her. The falling sensation that hit me when Ivor talked about visiting Laura slowly intensified into queasiness. I sat with my eyes fixed on the road, unable to contribute to the conversation. Ivor had put a Rafi tape in the car stereo, and Andy and the kids were both trying to babble over it, so for fifteen minutes nobody noticed my silence. Then Andy looked over at me and his smile retreated. “Are you okay?”
As Ivor’s Explorer drew in to Danville, I was wondering why I’d ever agreed to go along on this ride. I was curious what had become of Laura, sure. But if she had any feeling for me at all, Laura probably hated me. She’d only agreed to see me out of politeness, and would keep me at a frosty distance for however many interminable hours we were stuck in the same house. “Ivor?”
He couldn’t hear me over Rafi’s rendition of The Itsy Bitsy Spider, Dante and Gabriel firing imaginary broadsides at the minivan in the lane next to us.
He turned the volume down.
“I’m not feeling well,” I said. “I think maybe I shouldn’t do this.”
In half a minute we were standing in the parking lot of a Texaco. “It’s only another five minutes,” Ivor told me. “You can lie down and rest there.”
Andy put his arm around my shoulders. “Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly.”
I shook my head. “I’m just… not up to this.”
Andy and Ivor looked at each other. “Okay, listen,” Ivor said. “We’re so close. Let me just drop the kids and Andy off at my mother’s then I’ll take you back to the house or to a park or something. Wherever you want to go.”
For lack of a better idea, I forced myself back into the SUV.
Laura’s house was a three-story colonial with gables, black pseudo shutters, white clapboard-style siding and a sharply peaked roof. Its baronial dimensions left almost no room for a front yard. There were a lot of houses being built in this style in Pleasant Valley, but mostly not so hulking. While the Wrightsons and Andy went in, I stayed in the car with Dante and Chloe, trying to square the house I was looking at with my image of Laura; in my mind’s eye she still lived in a bungalow with a rusty pickup in front and crops planted round.
The door opened, and I glimpsed a tan face. Brown arms pulled in the two grandchildren jumping with excitement. Andy and Ivor followed. Dante peered through the Explorer’s tinted windows. “Why can’t we go in?” Gabriel had spent the morning spinning out exciting tales of the toys and movies at his grandma’s house.
“I’m just very tired,” I said.
“Then why can’t Chloe and I go and you can sleep?”
“Dante, I’m sorry. It’s grownup reasons that I can’t really explain. But we’ll do something else fun, okay?”
“We’ll have to see.” We went on like that for four minutes – I couldn’t stop checking my watch – when finally the front door opened again. But instead of Ivor, out came Laura walking alone down the short path to the street.
The last I’d seen of her, at the softball group reunion, was around the time the money from the sale of the Mendocino property had run out. I remembered her long hair uncombed, her clothes faded, figure almost gaunt.
The new Laura had swelled back to the plump proportions she’d had when I first met her, and she bobbed down the path toward me with a cheerful buoyancy. She was wearing crisp tennis whites that showed lots of deep bronze skin. Her hair was tidy and short; its fire burned to ash. But above all, her face had relaxed again. She looked ready to laugh, as if my appearance in Ivor’s SUV after eighteen years was one of his practical jokes. “Adrienne?”