Tribute Part Three FINISH TRIM Chapter Thirty

It gave her such pleasure to look through them. It occurred to Cilla that Ford might like to choose some of the photos they'd frame and display. The group shot, for instance. Her father, his mother, her uncle, Janet, and... that had to be a young and handsome Tom Morrow. Brian certainly took after him.

She began to sort them by type, then the types in a loose chronological order.

She watched her own mother grow, from child to girl to young woman. Amazing, Cilla mused, how much better they got along with distance. Not so amazing, she added with a dash of cynicism, how much better they got along when her mother collected strong reviews.

No sour notes, Cilla warned herself, topping her to-be-framed pile with the photo of Janet in the farmhouse doorway.

Had someone in one of these group shots been her lover? she wondered. Had they been careful not to be photographed together? Or had they played it cool and casual on the surface, with all that passion simmering beneath?

No sour notes, she reminded herself. But she couldn't resist speculating, studying. Would it show? It seemed to Cilla that every man photographed with Janet looked half in love with her. She'd had that power.

God, even Buddy looked spellbound-and skinny-in the shot of them on the veranda, and Janet mugging by pretending to brain him with his own pipe wrench.

She'd been irresistible, in baggy jeans or couture. Spectacular, she mused, in a red dress against the white piano. Christmas, she thought, lifting the shot, scanning it. Red candles and holly on the glossy piano, the sparkle of lights in the window.

That last Christmas before Johnnie's death. Her last party. Too painful, she decided, to frame that one. Or any from that night. It twisted her heart a little to see one of her parents, framed together in front of the tree. And the doomed Johnnie grinning as he held mistletoe over his head.

And all the young people-Gavin, Johnnie, Dilly, Ford's mother, and what she knew had to be Jimmy Hennessy and the boy who died with Johnnie that night, crowded together on the sofa in their party best. Smiling forever.

No, she could never frame that one, either.

She set it aside and picked up one of Tom. It took her a moment to recognize the woman beside him as Cathy. Her hair had been mouse brown then, and awkwardly styled in a kind of poofy ball. She looked so shy, so nervous and self-conscious. Baby weight, Cilla remembered, which the dress and the hairstyle only accentuated. Good pearls, the flash of diamonds said money, but she had certainly not yet come out of her cocoon.

Still, she might enjoy having a copy of the shot.

She continued sorting, pausing again when she came to one of Janet perched on the arm of the couch, Cathy sitting, and both women laughing. Cathy looked prettier in the candid, Cilla decided. More at ease, and with the hint of the woman she'd become in that natural smile.

She started to set it on the pile, then frowned as she studied it again. Something nagged at the edge of her mind. As she began to spread out what she thought of as Last Christmas shots, the doorbell rang.

Spock's terrified barking joined the bell.

FORD PUNCHED the button for a Coke on Brian's Sky Box. He was pitiful enough at poker without adding alcohol to the mix. In the pre-game hang-out portion of the evening, men who would soon take his money gathered around the bar Matt had built in what Brian called his Real Man room.

Bar, pool table, poker table, big-ass flat screen-virtually always tuned to ESPN-leather recliners, sofa. A lot of sports decor. And, of course, the secondary TV earmarked for video games.

He needed one of those in his new studio, he decided. A guy had to have his space. He could tell Cilla he wanted it sort of sectioned off from the work area.

Maybe he should call her. He dug in his pocket for his cell, and as he pulled it out the paper he'd stuffed in the same pocket fluttered to the floor.

’’No women.’’ Brian shook his head. ’’Which includes calling one. Hand it over.’’

’’I'm not giving you my phone.’’ Ford stooped, picked up the note.

’’Pussy-whipped. Hey, Matt, Ford's already calling home to check in with Cilla.’’

’’Jesus, even I'm not that bad.’’

’’Phones, both of you. In fact, everybody,’’ Brian announced. ’’No phones at the table. House rules. Lay 'em on the bar. Hand it over,’’ he told Ford.

’’Christ, you're a pain in the ass. Remind me why I like you?’’

’’You can still beat me at Grand Theft Auto.’’

’’Oh yeah, that's the reason.’’ He passed over his phone, immediately felt naked and bereft. Phoneless, he thought, poker and, with a glance at the note, soon to be traumatized by a return to high school.

What a man did for love and friendship.

He started to stuff the note back into his pocket, then stopped, took a closer look.

His heart took a hard slam in his chest, dropped to his belly.

The handwriting was a little shaky, a little sloppy. After all, Tom had been standing up, using a stubby pen when he'd written out the information.

The urge to deny pushed at him. He couldn't be sure. It wasn't possible to be sure. At least not until he'd compared the note with the letters, side by side. Or sent them to the graphologist. It didn't make any sense anyway.

It was Brian's father. It just couldn't be.

And it made all the sense in the world.

He stared across the room at Tom standing with his own father, with Cilla's, grinning at Brian as they tapped bottles of Rolling Rock. He thought of how Tom had once helped him fly a kite on a vacation they'd all taken together at Virginia Beach. Pitched a tent for them to camp in overnight in the Morrows'big backyard.

And he thought of Steve in the hospital. Of Cilla staring at broken tiles. And a doll in a pink party dress hanging from a red maple tree Brian had planted.

Walking over, Ford tapped Tom on the shoulder. ’’I need to talk to you a minute.’’

’’Sure. Looking for poker tips?’’

’’Maybe we could walk outside.’’

Tom's eyebrows raised. ’’Sure. A little fresh air before your father starts lighting those cigars. Ford and I are stepping outside so I can give him a few pointers.’’

’’Lots of luck,’’ Brian called out. ’’Make it quick. We'll be anteing up shortly.’’

No point in wasting time, Ford thought. No point in putting it off. And no way he could sit at a poker table with this tightness in his chest.

’’Nights are cooling off again,’’ Tom commented as they stepped out onto Brian's deck. ’’Another summer at our backs.’’

’’You had an affair with Janet Hardy.’’

’’What?’’ Tom's head jerked around. ’’For God's sake, Ford.’’

’’She kept your letters. But you knew that. One of the guys on Cilla's job heard her telling Gavin. Most of them work for you, too. It's good juice. Too good not to spread around.’’

’’I barely knew Janet Hardy. This is a ridiculous thing to-’’

’’Don't. The handwriting matches.’’ He drew out the note. ’’I've got a good eye for that kind of thing. Shapes, style, form. I bet your father taught you to write. He'd have wanted you to get a leg up.’’

Tom's face hardened, the lines around his mouth digging deep. ’’Not only is this an insulting accusation, but frankly, none of your business.’’

There was a coldness inside Ford he hadn't known he possessed. A hard and icy rage. ’’Cilla's my business. What happened to her grandmother, and what's been happening to her, that's my business.’’

’’Her grandmother killed herself. And Hennessy is responsible for what happened at the farm. I'm surprised at you, Ford. And disappointed. Now I'm going back inside. I don't want to hear any more about this.’’

’’I always respected you, and I love Brian.’’ It might have been the tone, very cool, very quiet, that had Tom stopping. ’’That's why I'm standing here with you. That's why I'm talking to you before I go to the police with this.’’

’’With what? With a stack of unsigned letters written more than thirty years ago and a note I scribbled this afternoon?’’

’’I didn't say they were unsigned.’’ Ford turned away.

’’Wait. Now wait.’’ With the first hint of panic, Tom gripped his shoulder. ’’This isn't a matter for the police, Ford. It won't do anyone any good for this to come out. Do you need me to admit the affair? All right, all right. I was mesmerized by her, and I betrayed my wife. I'm not the first man to slip. I'm not proud of it. And I ended it;I ended it before you were born, for God's sake. When I came to my senses, when I realized what I was doing, I ended it. Why would you punish me, hurt and embarrass Brian and Cathy, over a mistake I made when I was younger than you are now?’’

’’You tried to get them back, and put a man in the hospital.’’

’’I panicked.’’ He held up his hands. ’’I only wanted to find the letters and destroy them. I panicked when I heard him coming in. There was no way for me to get out. I never meant to hit him that hard. It was instinct, just instinct. My God, I thought I'd killed him.’’

’’So you shoved the bike on top of him, what, to be sure of it?’’

’’I tell you, I was in shock. I thought he was dead, what else could I do? I could only think it had to look like an accident. He's fine now. He's all right now,’’ Tom insisted in a tone of quiet reason. ’’What point is there in making an issue out of any of it?’’

Ford could only stare. This man he'd respected, even loved, one he'd thought of all his life as a kind of second father, was shifting in front of his eyes. ’’He nearly died, Tom. He could have died. And you did that for what, to save your reputation over a slip? To cover up something you thought was already buried?’’

’’I did it to spare my family.’’

’’Really? What else have you done to 'spare your family'? Let's go back. Let's go all the way back. Did you kill Janet Hardy?’’

MILDLY IRRITATED by the interruption, Cilla went to the door, peeked through the sidelight. Irritation turned to puzzlement as she opened it for Cathy.

’’It's okay, Spock. See?’’

He stopped quivering to prance forward and bump Cathy's legs in greeting.

’’I'm so sorry. Not five minutes after Penny dropped me off, I realized I'd left my rings at your place.’’ Cathy pressed her ringless hand to her breast. ’’I always take them off at the kitchen sink. At least I hope I did. God, if I lost them... No they're there. I'm just a little frantic.’’

’’I'd be, too. I'm sure they're there. We'll go get them right now.’’

’’Thank you. Cilla, I feel so stupid. I don't know what I'd do if I lost them.’’

’’Just let me grab my keys.’’ She snagged them off the little table by the door. ’’Come on, Spock, let's take a walk.’’

The walk word had him shooting through the door to dance on the veranda.

’’They'll be there,’’ Cathy reassured herself. ’’I'm sure they'll be right there. I lost my wedding and engagement rings down the drain years ago. I'd lost weight, hadn't had them resized. I was terrified until Buddy-whom I called in hysterics-took the pipes apart and found them. So I always take them off before I shower or do dishes, or... I'm babbling.’’

They crossed the road in the moonlight. ’’Don't worry. I'm sure they're right where you left them.’’

’’Of course they are.’’ But the strain in her voice had Spock making concerned whines. ’’I put them in a little glass-I remember-at your sink. If someone didn't see them in there, and-’’

’’We'll find them.’’ Cilla put a hand on Cathy's trembling arm.

’’You must think I'm an idiot.’’

’’I don't. I've only had my ring for a day, and I'd be a basket case if I thought I'd lost it.’’ She unlocked the door.

’’I'm just going to-’’ Cathy made a dash for the kitchen, and, hopeful, Spock raced behind her.

Cilla closed the door, plugged in the security code to offset the alarm, then followed.

Cathy stood in the kitchen, tears streaming down her cheeks with Spock rubbing against her legs in comfort. ’’Right where I left them. Right by the sink. I'm sorry.’’

’’It's all right. It's okay.’’ Moving fast, Cilla got an old stool out of the utility room. ’’Just sit down a minute.’’

’’God, thank you. Now I do feel like an idiot. They're insured, I know, but-’’

’’It's not about insurance.’’

’’No, it's not. Look at me. I'm a mess.’’ She pulled a tissue out of her purse to dry her cheeks. ’’Cilla, could I have a glass of that?’’ She gestured to the bottle of wine on the counter. ’’And an aspirin.’’

’’Sure. Aspirin's upstairs. I'll be right back.’’

When she came back, Cathy sat at the counter, her head propped in her hand, and two glasses of wine poured. ’’I know I'm taking up some of that quiet time you were after, but I just need a few minutes to calm down.’’

’’It's no problem, Cathy.’’ Cilla set down the aspirin.

’’To wedding rings-engagement rings-and all they represent.’’ Cathy lifted her glass, held it expectantly, then tapped it to Cilla's when Cilla picked hers up.

’’And I hope that's the last time you find me knocking hysterically on your door.’’

’’I thought you held it together pretty well. They're beautiful. I've admired them before.’’

’’Tom wanted to buy me a new wedding ring for our twenty-fifth. I wouldn't have it.’’ Her eyes sparkled as she sipped. ’’So he gave me a diamond bracelet instead. I've got a weakness for diamonds. I'm surprised I haven't seen you wear any, other than your spanking-new ring. Your grandmother had some fabulous jewelry.’’

’’My mother has it. And the kind of work I do?’’ Cilla shrugged, drank a little more wine. ’’Doesn't lend to glitters.’’

’’You don't need them with your looks. Neither did she. It's us lesser mortals who require the enhancements. Of course, beauty fades if you live long enough. Hers didn't. She didn't.’’

’’I was just looking through some old photographs and thinking...’’ Cilla pressed a hand to her temple. ’’Sorry. I didn't realize I was so tired. The wine must've topped it off.’’

’’You'll need to drink the rest of that. And one more, I think, to finish the job.’’

’’I'd better not. I'm sorry, Cathy, but I feel a little off. I need to-’’

’’Finish your wine.’’ Cathy opened her purse, drew out a small revolver. ’’I insist,’’ she said as Spock began to grumble.

’’JANET COMMITTED SUICIDE. I've regretted whatever part I might have played in that for more than thirty years.’’

’’She was pregnant.’’

’’She claimed...’’ Something in Ford's eyes had Tom pausing, nodding. ’’Yes. I didn't believe her, not until we spoke face-to-face. After, after she died, the day she died, in fact, I went to my father. Confessed everything. He was furious with me. He had no tolerance for mistakes, not when they affected the family name. He handled it. We never spoke of it again. I assume he paid off the medical examiner to omit the pregnancy.’’

And his political career, Ford thought, had gone down the toilet.

’’It was the only thing to do, Ford. Imagine what the public would've done to her if it had come out? Imagine what might have become of my family if I was named the father?’’

’’You spoke, face-to-face.’’

’’I went to the farm. I wanted her to leave it alone, to move on, but she persisted. So I went to see her, as she demanded. She'd been drinking. Not drunk, not yet, but she'd been drinking. She had the results of the pregnancy test.’’

’’She had them with her?’’ Ford prompted. ’’The paperwork.’’

’’Yes. She'd used her real name, went to a doctor who didn't know her. Personally, that is. She said she'd worn a wig and used makeup. She often did when we'd meet somewhere. She knew how to hide when she wanted to. I believed her then, and I believed her when she told me she intended to have the baby. But she was done with me. I didn't deserve her, or the child.’’

Ford's eyes narrowed. ’’She dumped you?’’

’’I'd already ended it. I suppose she wanted the last word on that. We argued;I won't deny it. But she was alive when I left.’’

’’What happened to the doctor's report?’’

’’I have no idea. I'm telling you, she was alive when I went home, and looked in on my daughter. I thought of all I'd risked, all I might have destroyed. I thought of Cathy, and the child she carried. How I'd nearly asked her for a divorce only months before so I could be, openly, with a woman who didn't really exist. I might have done that. I nearly did that.’’

He leaned heavily on the deck rail, closed his eyes. ’’It was Cathy telling me she was pregnant that helped me begin to break the spell. I lay down on the cot in the nursery with my daughter, thought of the baby Cathy would have in the fall. Thought of Cathy and our life together. I never saw Janet again. I never risked my family again. Thirty-five years, Ford. What would it accomplish to bring it out now?’’

’’You terrorized Cilla. You nearly killed a man, and when that wasn't enough, you terrorized her. Breaking into her house, writing obscenities on her truck, her wall, threatening her.’’

’’I broke in. I admit that, too. To look for the letters. And I lost control when I couldn't find them. It was the anger, the impulse that had me smashing the tiles. But the rest? I had nothing to do with it. It was Hennessy. I realized the letters didn't matter. They didn't matter. No one would connect me.’’

’’Hennessy couldn't have done all the rest. He was locked up.’’

’’I'm telling you, it wasn't me. Why would I lie about a stone wall, the dolls?’’ Tom demanded. ’’You know the worst of it.’’

’’Your wife knew. Janet called her. You said so in the letter, the last letter.’’

’’Janet was drunk, and raving. I convinced Cathy that it wasn't true. That it was alcohol, pills and grief. She was upset, of course, but she believed me. She...’’

’’If you could live a lie this long, why couldn't she? You claim you slept in the nursery the night Janet died.’’

’’Yes, I... I fell asleep. I woke when Cathy came in to get the baby. She looked so tired. I asked if she was all right. She said she was fine. We were all fine now.’’ In the moonlight, the flush of shame died to shock white. ’’My God.’’

Ford didn't wait for more reasons, more excuses. He ran. Cilla was alone. And Cathy Morrow knew it.

’’YOU PUT SOMETHING IN THE WINE.’’

’’Seconal. Just like your whore of a grandmother. But it was vodka for her.’’

Queasiness rose up to her throat. Fear, knowledge, the mix of drugs and wine. ’’The couch wasn't pink;the dress wasn't blue.’’

’’Drink some more wine, Cilla. You're babbling now.’’

’’You saw the couch, the dress the night... the night you killed her. That's what you remember-that night, not the Christmas party. Tom wrote the letters, is that it? Tom was her lover, the father of the child she carried.’’

’’He was my husband, and the father of my child, and the child I carried. Did she care about that?’’ Fury blasted across her face. Not madness, Cilla thought, not like Hennessy. Sheer burning fury.

’’Did she give one thought to what marriage and family meant before she tried to take what was mine? She had everything. Everything. But it wasn't enough. It never is for women like her. She was nearly ten years older than he was. She made a fool of me, and even that wasn't enough. He went to her, left me to go to her that night while I rocked our daughter to sleep, while our baby kicked in my womb. He went to her, and to the bastard she made with him. Drink the wine, Cilla.’’

’’Did you hold a gun on her, too?’’

’’I didn't have to. She'd been drinking already. I slipped the pills into her glass. My pills,’’ she added. ’’Ones I thought I needed when I first learned she had her hooks in him.’’

’’How long? How long did you know?’’

’’Months. He came home and I smelled her perfume. Soir de Paris. Her scent. I saw her in his eyes. I knew he went to her, again and again. And only touched me when I begged. But it changed, it started to change when I got pregnant. When I made sure I did. He was coming back to me. She wouldn't allow it. Kept luring him back. I would not be pitied. I would not see myself compared to her and laughed at.

’’I'll shoot you if you don't drink. They'll call it another break-in. A tragic one this time.’’ She reached back into her purse, pulled out the large plastic bag, and the doll trapped inside it. ’’In case you'd rather go with the bullet, I'll leave this behind. I bought several of them years ago. I couldn't resist. I never knew why until you came here.’’

Struggling against the dizziness, Cilla lifted the glass, wet her lips. ’’You staged her suicide.’’

’’She made it easy. She invited me in, like an old friend. Apologized for what she'd done. She was sorry she'd hurt me, or caused me any pain. She couldn't undo it, wouldn't if she could. Because that would undo the baby. All she wanted now was the baby and a chance to make up for past mistakes. Of course, she'd never reveal the name of the father. Lying bitch.’’

’’You drugged her.’’

’’When she started to slide, I helped her upstairs. I felt so strong then. I nearly had to carry her, but I was strong. I undressed her. I wanted her naked, exposed. And I gave her more pills, gave her more vodka. And I sat and I watched her die. I sat and I watched until she stopped breathing. Then I left.

’’I'd drive by here. After they'd taken her away to where she never belonged, I'd drive by. I liked watching it decay while I... emerged. I starved myself. I exercised until every muscle trembled. Beauty salons, spas, liposuction, face-lifts. He would never look at me and want her. No one would ever look at me with pity.’’

An image, Cilla thought. An illusion. ’’I've done nothing to you.’’

’’You came here.’’ With her free hand, Cathy added more pills to Cilla's glass, topped it off with wine. ’’Cheers!’’

’’I was wrong,’’ Cilla mumbled. ’’You're as crazy as Hennessy after all.’’

’’No, just a lot more focused. This house deserved to die its slow, miserable death. She only went to sleep. That was my mistake. You brought her back by coming here, shoved it all in my face again. You had my own son plant roses for her. You seduced Ford, who deserves so much better. I'd have let you live if you'd gone away. If you'd let this house die. But you kept throwing it in my face. I won't have that, Cilla. I see what you are. Hennessy and I are the only ones.’’

’’I'm not Janet. They'll never believe I killed myself.’’

’’She did. Your mother attempted it-or pretended to-twice. You're fruit from the tree.’’ Casually, Cathy tucked back her swing of hair with her free hand. ’’Pressured into becoming engaged, distraught over causing the death of a man whose life your grandmother ruined. I'll be able to testify how anxious you were for everyone to leave you alone. If only we'd known.’’

’’I'm not Janet,’’ she stated, and tossed the remaining contents in her glass into Cathy's face.

The action had Spock leaping up, the grumbling going to a snarl. As his head rammed against Cathy, Cilla grabbed for the bottle, saw herself smash it against Cathy's head. But, impaired by the pills, she swung wide and barely grazed her temple.

It was enough to have Cathy tipping in the stool. Cilla lurched forward, shoved while the dog jumped against the teetering stool. The gun went off, plowing a bullet into the ceiling as the stool toppled.

Fight or flight. She feared she had little of either in her. As her knees buckled, she let herself fall on Cathy, raked her nails down Cathy's face. The scream was satisfying, but more was the certainty that even if she died, they'd know. She had Cathy Morrow under her nails. She grabbed Cathy's hair, yanked, twisted for good measure. Plenty of DNA, she thought vaguely as her vision dimmed at the edges. And Spock's snarling barks went tinny in her ears.

She swung out blindly. She heard shouting, another scream. Another shot. And simply slid away.

FORD'S HEART SKIDDED when he saw Cathy's car in his drive. He wouldn't be too late. He couldn't be. He slammed to a stop behind the Volvo and ran halfway to his door before his instincts stopped him.

Not here. The farm. He spun around, began to run. It had to be at the farm. He cursed, as he'd cursed for miles, the fact that his phone sat on Brian's bar.

When he heard the shot, the fear he thought he knew, the fear he thought he tasted, paled against a wild and mindless terror.

He threw himself against the door, shouting for Cilla as he heard Spock's manic barks. Someone screamed like an animal. He flew into the kitchen. It flashed in front of him, etched itself forever in his memory.

Cilla sprawled over Cathy, fists flailing as if they were almost too heavy to lift. Cathy with blood running down her face, her eyes mad with pain and hate as Spock snapped and growled. The gun in her hand. Turning, turning toward Cilla.

He leaped, grabbing Cathy's wrist with one hand, shoving Cilla clear with the other. He felt something, a quick bee sting at his biceps, before he wrenched the gun from Cathy's hand.

’’Ford! Thank God!’’ Cathy reached for him. ’’She went crazy. I don't know what happened. I don't know what she's on. She had the gun, and I tried-’’

’’Shut up,’’ he said coldly, clearly. ’’If you move, I swear to God, for the first time in my life, I'll hit a woman. Spock, knock it off! And I'll make it count,’’ he told Cathy. ’’So shut the f*k up.’’ He aimed the gun at her as he edged toward Cilla. ’’Or I may do worse than knock you out. Cilla. Cilla.’’

He checked for wounds, then lifted her eyelid as Spock bathed her face frantically with his tongue. ’’Wake up!’’ He slapped her, lightly at first. ’’Move one more inch,’’ he warned Cathy in a voice he barely recognized himself. ’’Just one more. Cilla!’’ He slapped her again, harder, and watched her lids flutter. ’’Sit up. Wake up.’’ One-handed, he pulled her up to sit. ’’I'm calling for an ambulance, and the cops. You're all right. Do you hear me?’’

’’Seconal,’’ she managed, then braced herself with one hand. And shoved her fingers ruthlessly down her throat.

LATER, A LONG TIME LATER, Cilla sat under the blue umbrella. Spring had gone, and summer nearly, she thought. She'd be here when the leaves changed and burned across the mountains. And when the first snow of the season fell, and the last. She'd be here, she thought, in all the springs to come, and the seasons to follow.

She'd be home. With Ford. And with Spock. Her heroes.

’’You're still pale,’’ he said. ’’Lying down might be a better idea than fresh air.’’

’’You're still pale,’’ she countered. ’’You were shot.’’

He glanced down at his bandaged arm. ’’Grazed’’ was the more accurate word. ’’Yeah. Eventually, that'll be cool. I got shot once, I'll say, rushing in-just a little too late again-to save the love of my life before she saved herself.’’

’’You did save me. I'd lost it. I CSI'd her,’’ she added, wiggling her fingers. ’’But I was done. You and Spock-fierce doggie,’’ she murmured as she bent down to nuzzle him. ’’You saved my life. Now you have to keep it.’’

He reached over, took her hand. ’’That's the plan. I nearly went in the wrong house. That's it, Cilla. No more two households for us. I nearly went to the wrong one. Then I would've been too late.’’

’’You figured it out, and you came for me. You can draw all the heroes you want. You're mine.’’

’’Hero, goddess and superdog. We're pretty lucky, you and me.’’

’’I guess we are. Ford, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry for Brian.’’

’’We'll help him get through it.’’ No question there, Ford thought, no choice. ’’We'll find a way to help him get through it.’’

’’She carried that betrayal with her all these years. And couldn't stand what I came here to do. In a way, this house was a symbol for both of us.’’ She studied it-her pretty home, the fresh paint, the windows glinting in the early morning sun.

’’I needed to bring it back;she needed to watch it die. Every fresh board, every coat of paint, a slap in the face to her. The party? Can you imagine how that must have gnawed at her? Music and laughter, food and drink. And wedding talk. How could she stand it?’’

’’I knew them both all my life and never saw through it. So much for the writer's power of observation.’’

’’They put it away. Locked it in a closet. She watched Janet die.’’ That still twisted in her heart. ’’She had it in her to watch. And she had it in her to put it away, to remake herself. To raise her family, to shop with her friends, to bake cookies and make the beds. And to drive by here, every once in a while, so she could let it out.’’

’’Like a pressure valve.’’

’’I'd say so. And I locked down the valve. My grandmother didn't commit suicide. That's going to be major news. Cameras, print, movie of the week-perhaps a major motion picture. More books, talk shows. Much.’’

’’I think I've got the picture by now. No warning necessary. Your grandmother didn't commit suicide,’’ he repeated.

’’No, she didn't.’’ When her eyes filled, the tears felt like redemption. ’’She didn't leave my mother, not in the way Mom always thought. She bought a lipstick-pink couch with white satin cushions. She grieved for a lost child and prepared for another.

’’Not a saint,’’ Cilla continued. ’’She slept with another woman's husband, and would have broken up his family without a qualm. Or much of one.’’

’’Cheating's a two-way street. Tom betrayed his wife, his family. And even when he claimed he'd broken it off, he slept with Janet again. He had a pregnant wife and a child at home, and slept with the image-and refused to take responsibility for the consequences.’’

’’I wonder if it was the brutality of that last letter that snapped Janet's feeling for him, had her come back, face him down with the facts. 'I'm pregnant, the baby's yours, but we don't want or need you.'’’

She let out a breath. ’’I like to think so.’’

’’Plays, doesn't it? Sure jibes with what Tom told me. Cathy took and destroyed the pregnancy results, but she didn't know about the letters. She didn't know about Gatsby.’’

’’Janet kept the letters, I think, to remind her that the child was conceived in at least the illusion of love. And to remind herself why it would belong to only her. I think, too, she made certain the farm couldn't be sold because she wanted the child to have it one day. Johnnie was gone, and she knew my mother had no real ties to it. But she had another chance.

’’And maybe there will always be questions, but I have the answers I needed. I wonder if I'll still dream of her, the way I always have.’’

’’Do you want to?’’

’’Maybe. Sometimes. But I think I'd like to start dreaming about what might happen, about what I hope for, rather than what used to be.’’ She smiled when he brushed his lips over her fingers.

’’Take a walk with me.’’ He got to his feet, drew her to hers. ’’Just you. Just me.’’ He looked down at Spock as the dog did his happy dance. ’’Just us.’’

She walked with him across the stones, over the grass still damp with dew, with roses madly blooming and the last of the summer's flowers unfolded like jewels. Walked with him while the sweet, ugly dog chased his invisible cats around the pond strung with lily pads.

With her hand in his, she thought this was dream enough for her. Right now. With the three of them happy and safe and together.

And home.


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