“My grandson, of course. He takes advantage of my fading eyesight.”
“Don’t listen to her, Bret. Your grandma sees everything.”
“You would like to join us, sí?”
“I don’t think so.” He ruffled Bret’s hair—a substitute for time and intimacy, he knew—but it was all he could manage.
“You sure, Dad?” Bret’s disappointment was obvious.
“I’m sure, buddy. Maybe later.”
Bret sighed. “Yeah, right.”
Liam headed toward the stairs.
“Dr. Liam, wait.” Rosa stood up in a single, fluid motion and followed him into the dining room.
There, in the dark, quiet room, she stared up at him. Her eyes were as black as pools of ink, and as readable. “The children … they are much quiet today. I think something is—”
“It’s our tenth wedding anniversary.” He blurted the whole sentence out at once, then he slowed down. “The kids … knew I’d bought Mike tickets to Paris.”
“Oh. Lo siento.” Something close to a smile breezed across her mouth and disappeared. “She is lucky to have you, Dr. Liam. I do not know if I have ever told you this.”
It touched him deeply, that simple sentiment from this woman who spoke so rarely. “Thanks, Rosa, I—” He started to say something else—what, he didn’t know—but all at once his voice dried up.
“Dr. Liam.” Her soft voice elongated the vowels in his name and turned it into music. “Come play a game of Yahtzee with us. It will help.”
“No. I need …” A bad start. There were so many things he needed. “I have something to do upstairs. Jacey needs to borrow one of Mike’s dresses for the winter dance.”
She leaned closer. He had an odd sense that she wanted to say something more, but she turned away and headed back to the game.
Liam went into the kitchen and poured himself a drink. The Crown Royal burned down his throat and set his stomach on fire. Holding the drink tightly, he moved up the wide staircase to the second floor. He could hear music seeping from beneath Jacey’s closed door. At least it was considered music by Jacey, some jarring, pounding batter of drums and electric guitars.
With a glance down the hallway, he turned into his bedroom and flicked on the light. The room, even in its current state of disarray—unmade bed, shoes and clothes and bath towels scattered across the floor—welcomed him as it always did. The creamy walls, stenciled with stars and moons, the gauzy drapery of the canopy, the creamy Berber carpet. If he closed his eyes, he could imagine Mike standing there at the French doors, looking out at the falling snow. She would be wearing the peach silk nightgown that fell in graceful folds down her lithe body.
He refused to close his eyes, but it was tempting, so tempting. Instead he stared straight ahead.
The door to Mike’s walk-in closet seemed to magnify before his eyes. He hadn’t ventured into it since the day of the accident, when he’d naively packed her a suitcase full of things she might need at the hospital.
He crossed the room and paused at the closet, then he reached for the knob and twisted. The oak door creaked and swung inward easily, as if it had been waiting for this moment for weeks.
A floor-length mirror along the end wall caught his image and threw it back, a tall, lanky man with unkempt hair and baggy clothes parenthesized by colorful fabrics. On either side of him, clothes were hung on specially ordered plastic hangers, the colors organized as precisely as an artist’s wheel. The ivory plastic of Nordstrom’s designer departments hung clustered in one area. Her evening clothes.
It took him a minute to get his feet to move. He began unzipping the bags, one at a time, looking for the dress Mike had worn to the Policemen’s Ball. At about the sixth bag, he reached inside, and instead of finding a gown of silk or velvet as he’d expected, he found a pillowcase, carefully hung on a pants hanger.
Frowning, he eased it from the bag. It was an elegant white silk affair, not the kind of pillowcase they used at all. On one end was a monogram: MLT.
Mikaela Luna … Something.
His heart skipped a beat. This was from her life before.
He should turn away, zip up this bag, and forget its existence. He knew this because his hands had started to sweat and a tickling unease was working its way down his spine.
Over the years, he’d collected so many questions, stroked them in his mind every time she’d said, Let’s not go there, Liam. The past isn’t something that matters now. Every time he’d seen sadness darken her eyes or known that something had smoothed the edges of her laugh to a quiet mournful sound, he’d wondered why.
The past mattered, of course. Liam had been willing to pretend otherwise because he loved his wife, and because he was afraid of who or what had caused the deep well of her sorrow, but the moment he touched the pillowcase, made of a fabric so expensive he didn’t know anyone who would know where to buy such a thing—certainly Mike wouldn’t—and saw the tantalizing mystery of the MLT monogram, he was lost. The past they’d all ignored was here; it had lived with them all these years, hidden inside a Nordstrom bag in his wife’s closet. And like Pandora, he simply had to look.
Once he had the pillowcase in his hand, he could see plainly that it was stuffed full of something. He felt strangely detached as he walked back into his bedroom and sat down on his big, king-sized four-poster bed, dragging the pillowcase up beside him. He stared down at it for a long time, weighing the danger, knowing that sometimes there was no way to undo what had been done, and that some secrets were composed of acid that, once spilled, could burn through the fragile layers of a relationship.
Still, the lure of finally knowing was too powerful to resist. For years he had longed to tear the lid off her jar of secrets. He’d always thought that if he knew her pain, he would understand. He would be able to help.
These were the lies he told himself as he turned the pillowcase upside down and watched as photographs, newspaper clippings, and official-looking documents, all bent and yellowed, fluttered onto the comforter. The last thing to fall out was a wedding ring with a diamond as big as a dime. Liam stared at it so long his vision blurred, and then he was seeing another ring, a thin gold band. No diamonds, Liam, she’d said softly, and though he’d heard the catch in her voice, he’d paid it no mind. He’d thought how nice it was that she didn’t care about such things.
The truth was she’d already had diamonds.
Turning away from the diamond ring, he saw a photograph, an eight-by-ten full-color glossy print. It was half covered; all he could see was Mikaela in a wedding dress. The groom was hidden behind a carefully cut-out newspaper article. He wanted to pick it up, but his hands were shaking too badly. He thought, crazily, that if he didn’t touch it, didn’t brush away the newsprint, the man in the other half of the photo wouldn’t exist.
He hardly recognized Mikaela. Her wavy black hair was drawn up in a sleek, elaborate twist that glittered with diamonds, and makeup accentuated the catlike tilt of her brown eyes, turned her pale, puffy lips into the kind of mouth that fueled a thousand male fantasies. The sleeveless gown she wore was a soft, opalescent white—completely unlike the conservative cream-colored suit she’d worn for her second wedding. There were oceans of pearls and beads sewn into the silky sheath, so many that the dress appeared to be made of crushed diamonds and clouds. Not a thing of this earth at all.
She, his wife, was a woman he’d never seen before, and that hurt, but the pain of it was nothing compared to the way he felt when he looked at her smile. God help him; she’d never smiled at Liam like that, as if the world were a shining jewel that had just been placed in the palm of her hand.
Slowly he reached for the picture and picked it up. The newspaper clipping fell away and he saw at last the groom’s face.
For a dizzying moment, Liam couldn’t breathe. He could actually feel the breaking of his heart.
“Jesus Christ,” he whispered, not knowing if the words were a curse or a prayer.
She’d been married to Julian True, one of the most famous movie stars in the world.
“Daaaaad! Dinner’s ready!”
Liam rose unsteadily to his feet and walked away from the pictures on the bed. Closing the door behind him, he moved forward only when he heard the muffled click of the lock. There was no point in staying up here. The things he’d seen wouldn’t change; he’d carry those burning images in his heart forever.
He clung to the slick oak banister and went down the stairs, drawing a heavy breath before he turned into the dining room.
Bret was already at the trestle table, looking dwarfed in the big oak chair that his grandfather had crafted by hand. Jacey sat beside him, just now putting the checkered red-and-blue napkin in her lap. “Hi, Dad,” she said with a smile.
She looked so much like Mike that he almost stumbled.
Rosa came around the corner, carrying a glass bowl of salad, with a bottle of dressing tucked under her arm. She paused when she saw him, then she smiled softly. “Good, good, you are here. Have a seat, Dr. Liam,” she said as she plunked the bowl onto the table and took her own place.
As usual, no one looked at the empty chair at the opposite end of the table.
Liam made it through dinner like one of those Disney robots. He forced his dry mouth to smile. He could feel the way Jacey and Rosa were staring at him. He tried to act as if this were a normal dinner—at least as normal as their meals had become in the past month—but he was weary and the veneer had worn thin.
He looked up from the chicken enchiladas, realizing that he’d managed to push them around on his plate into an unappetizing pile of orange mush. “Yeah, Jace?”
“Did you find that dress for me?”
“Yeah, honey. I found it. I’ll give it to you after dinner. Maybe you and Grandma can practice fixing up your hair.”
She smiled. “Thanks, Dad.”
The word had a hook that drew blood.
Jacey had called him that almost from the start. She’d been a little bit of a thing back then, a baby-toothed four-year-old with jet-black pigtails and ears that seemed so big she’d never grow into them.
He could still remember the day Mike had shown up in the clinic, carrying Jacey. It was only a few months after Liam’s father had died, and he’d been trying to find an excuse to talk to Mikaela again.
Jacey had had a dangerously high fever; convulsions racked her body. One minute she was stretched taut and shaking, and the next, she was as limp as a rag doll, her brown eyes drowsy and unfocused.
“Help us,” Mikaela had said softly.
Liam had canceled his nonemergency appointments for the day and rushed to the ER with them. He’d stood in the OR, watching as the surgeon gently sliced through Jacey’s abdomen and removed her burst appendix. His was the last face she saw before the anesthesia took her, and the first one she saw when she woke up in Recovery. He transferred his patients to Dr. Granato and spent the next three days in the hospital with Mikaela and Jacey; together they watched the Fourth of July fireworks through the rectangular window of Room 320.