"Everything you want, you mean." She was angry; there was no mistaking it. "You don’t give two shits about what I want. I’ve poured my heart and soul into this place."
"It’s just a house, Birdie. Four goddamned walls with bad plumbing and windows that leak." He moved toward her. "Does this house mean more to you than I do? You know how long I’ve dreamed about this."
"What do I dream about, Jack?"
"Good answer. I’m supposed to put your dreams first always. When is it my turn?"
"How in the hell is anybody supposed to know that you even want a turn, Birdie? You spend your whole life on the sidelines. You want a turn? Then take a chance like the rest of us, step up to the plate, but don’t rain all over me because I have the guts to go after what I want."
The color faded from her cheeks, and he knew he’d gone too far. With Birdie, you could rant and rave and scream; what you couldn’t do was get too close to the truth.
She took a step back. "I’ll be back. I have to think."
"No, damn it, stay here and talk to me. Don’t run away." He knew it wouldn’t do any good, though. She always walked out in the middle of a fight and came back later, calmed down. She couldn’t stand the intensity of her own emotions.
He touched her chin and forced her to look up at him. "Think about this, Birdie. I’ve spent two years in the middle of nowhere. I’ve commuted three hours a day so you could have your dream house. All this time, you’ve known I was dying here. I did that for you." Then he added softly, "I thought you’d be happy for me."
She sighed heavily. "Oh, Jack. Of course you did."
He didn’t know what to say to that. In silence, he watched her walk out of their bedroom. He didn’t bother following her; he knew there was no point. Instead, he went to the window and waited.
Sure enough, a few moments later, he saw her emerge from the porch. She walked across the darkened yard, toward the prow of their property, where an old, weathered fence ran along the cliff’s ragged edge. She stood at the top of the stairs and stared out to sea.
He had no idea what she was thinking. Yet another sign of how far apart they’d drifted.
Finally, she came back into the house. By then, he’d made a fire in the fireplace and put a frozen lasagna into the oven. The house smelled of baking tomatoes and melting cheese.
She hung her down coat on the hall tree in the entry and came into the living room. For an eternity, she stood there, staring at him, her face streaked by dried tears. Very softly, she said, "I suppose we could live in New York again–for a while."
He pulled her into his arms, swinging her around. "I love you, Birdie."
"It’ll be great this time, you’ll see. No kids to keep you housebound, and no job that keeps me out of town." He could see that she was skeptical, but also that she wanted to believe it.
"Okay. But I want to rent out this house, not sell it. This isn’t a permanent move. I want that agreed upon, or it’s no deal."
"Someday we’ll come back here. We’ll grow old in this house."
"And we’ll live outside of Manhattan. Maybe Westchester County. I’ll start calling realtors on Monday. They should be able to find us a place by summer."
"I start work on Monday."
"That was the deal. They want the show to air quickly."
"What in the hell were you thinking?" She pulled away from him. "We can’t move by Monday."
"They offered me a contract and I signed it, Birdie. With my past, what was I supposed to do–negotiate?"
"You can’t find a decent place to live in New York that quickly. Last time it took us six months."
"We can use their corporate apartment until we find our own place. I’ll fly back on Sunday. As soon as you get this place closed up, you can come and pick out your dream house. Money’s no object this time." He smiled. "Come on, Birdie, don’t look so pissed off. This is an adventure."
"Let me make sure I understand this correctly." She was speaking slowly, as though she thought he’d gone brain-dead. "You have accepted a job without consulting me, accepted use of a corporate apartment I’ve never seen, arranged for us to move across the country, and, as the cherry on top of this sundae, I get to close up the house by myself."
She made it sound so bad. It hadn’t seemed that way to him. Hell, they’d done it this way lots of times. "We’ll give it a few years. If we don’t like it, we can always come back."
She walked toward the window.
He came up behind her, placed his hands on her tensed shoulders, and kissed the back of her neck. "We were happy in New York, remember?"
"No," she said, "I do not remember being happy in New York."
He shouldn’t have said that. Bringing up the past was a bad call. "We’ll be happy this time."
"Will we?" There was a wistful quality to her voice that matched his own deep longings. A subtle hope that a new location could return an old emotion.
"It’s closer to the girls," he reminded her, knowing it was his best argument. "You could take the train down to see them anytime you wanted."
"Trust me, Birdie, it’ll be good for us."
"I’m sure you’re right," she said at last, not leaning back against him the way she once would have. She stepped aside. "I guess I’ll need to get started. There are a million things to do. We’ll have to call the kids. I’ll call the movers tomorrow. . . ." Stress made the beautiful southern lilt in her voice more pronounced.
"We’ll be happy," he said again. "You’ll see."
She sighed heavily. "Of course we will."
For the whole weekend, Elizabeth felt like a death-row inmate with a Monday morning execution date.
Jack, on the other hand, was like a kid at Christmas, so excited that sometimes he broke into laughter for no reason at all. This job represented everything he’d ever wanted.
There was no way Elizabeth could raise her hand, clear her throat, and say, I don’t want to go.
There was no reason for them not to go. He was right about that. And it was an adventure.
It was simply someone else’s adventure; Elizabeth was just along for the ride. A companion fare. Buy one get one free.
On this Sunday night, their last together for several weeks, she found herself edging toward depression. Everywhere she looked, she saw something that mattered to her, something she hated to leave behind. This house meant so much to her, more than she could quite express or understand. The thought of leaving it made her sick to her stomach.
After waking up every morning for two years to a picture-postcard view of the Pacific Ocean, how could she waken, go to her window, and see the building across the street? How could she live without seeing the stars at night, or hearing the roar of the sea on a winter’s day? How could she live in a place that was never quiet, where millions of people lived stacked to the sky?
Unfortunately, she had no other option. She was Jack’s wife.
On their last night together, she set the table with care, using her best dishes and silverware. For dinner, she served Coquilles Saint-Jacques on the translucent Haviland china that had belonged to her great-grandmother.
As she and Jack sat across the table from each other, it seemed that miles separated them. They were like some sad scene in a foreign film, a tableau of marital regret, people who had come together in love long ago and become this . . . pale shadows of who they’d once been and paler illustrations of who they wanted to be.
He cocked his head to the left, his fork poised in midair. She knew he was listening to the television in the living room. Howie Long was pitching phones for Radio Shack.
"Maybe someday you’ll get to do an idiotic TV commercial, too."
He grinned. "Wouldn’t that be great?"
She wanted to smack him. "Yeah, great."
"So, what will you do in New York?"
Nice of you to finally ask. She forced the thought aside and said instead, "I don’t know. I would have said gardening, but there isn’t a lot of that in the city."
"Maybe you can plant window boxes."
She thought of the garden in her backyard. She’d spent the last eighteen months designing a plan for it. She’d researched exactly what plant went where. Last spring, she’d planted three hundred bulbs. Daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, lilies. She’d placed each one carefully to maximize seasonal color. "That’s a great idea."
After that, they fell silent. When dinner was over, they went into the kitchen and washed the dishes together. Elizabeth rinsed; Jack loaded the dishwasher. It was a routine they’d perfected over the years.
When the counters had been wiped clean, he said, "I’ll be right back."
True to his word, he returned momentarily, carrying a big, flat box that was wrapped in iridescent pink paper. He took her hand and led her into the living room. "Come on," he whispered, and she was reminded of the day, all those years ago, when he’d held out his hand and offered her his heart. There’s nothing to be afraid of, he’d said then; I’m the one you want.
He grabbed the remote off the coffee table and muted the television.
She tried not to think about this room, her favorite, as she sat down on the sofa. She’d poured her heart and soul into every square inch. Don’t think about it.
He knelt in front of her. "I know I threw you a long bomb on this one."
She didn’t answer, afraid that if she said much of anything, her anger would show. "Yes," was all she dared.
The apology deflated her, even embarrassed her. She truly wanted to be the kind of woman who welcomed change. At the very least, she wanted to be happy for her husband’s success. "I’m sorry, too. I guess I’ve forgotten how to be adventurous."
"We’ll be happier now." The ferocity in his voice surprised her, reminded her that he had been as unhappy lately as she was.
He pushed the package toward her. "I got this for you in New York."
"It’s too big to be a diamond," she joked, opening the box. Inside lay a pair of gray sweats and a hooded sweatshirt that read: Fox Sports. It was a size medium. Apparently Jack hadn’t noticed that she’d paddled into the "large" pond.
"You used to love your college sweats, remember?"
I was nineteen years old. She smiled at him. "Thanks, honey."
He leaned toward her, put his hands on her thighs. "We can do this, Birdie. We can move to New York and start over."
She sat very still, holding in her middle-aged hands the favorite clothes of her teenaged self. He could dream all he wanted. She knew the truth. Things would change for Jack, but not for her. In a few weeks, she’d fly to a new city and settle into her old marriage.
"It’ll be great," she said.
"It will be." He was grinning now. She could see how relieved he was.
Her anger resurfaced.
He slipped an arm around her and pulled her to her feet. "Let’s watch TV in bed. Like the old days."
They climbed into their king-sized sleigh bed and watched Sex and the City and The Practice.
When the programs were over, Jack turned off the light and rolled onto his side.
"I love you, Birdie," he said, kissing her. His hand moved down her back and pushed up beneath her flannel nightgown, coming to rest on her nak*d thigh.