"You’re the best friend a girl could have."
They each drank two straight shots before another word was spoken. Finally, Meghann scooted back and leaned against the sofa. "So, kiddo, how the hell are you?"
Elizabeth sighed. "It’s pathetic, Meg. For years, I dreamed of starting my life over, but now I’m too alone. I’m scared to death. What if I’ve done the wrong thing? What if–"
"Everything you’re going through is normal, believe me. It’ll get better."
"Tell me you can do better than fortune-cookie scribblings."
"You don’t normally want my advice. I’m too harsh."
"I know, but I’m desperate now. What would you tell me if I were a client?"
"Get out your checkbook."
"Very funny. Come on, help me."
Meghann leaned toward her. "I’d tell you that sometimes decisions are made too quickly. You’ve loved Jack for a long time."
"You mean go back to him." Elizabeth had thought that herself, mostly at night when loneliness and fear crept into bed with her. She knew it would be easier to go back. But she was tired of taking the easy road. "It was like living in quicksand, Meg. I was getting pulled under; more and more of me was disappearing. I can’t go back to that."
"Tell me what happened."
"In Tennessee I wrote him a letter. It just said I didn’t want to move to New York, that I was going back to Oregon."
Elizabeth ignored that. "When he got here, I told him I needed some time alone. That’s actually as far as I thought it through."
"I take it Jack saw the big picture."
"He used the word ‘divorce.’ I hadn’t even thought it."
"Jesus, Birdie, what did you expect? He’s a man, for God’s sake. You abandoned him, refused to follow him. It’s like ripping their balls off."
"Unfortunately, I was unaware that his balls were the issue. I thought we were talking about our hearts."
"With men, it’s always a dick thing. If I had a daughter, that’s the real-world advice I would give her."
"Reason enough to keep you taking your birth control pills." She smiled, then sighed. "I guess I should have been prepared for his anger–he’s always had a healthy ego–but I know he was unhappy, too. I figured he would welcome a little time apart."
"He probably didn’t think you meant it–the letter, I mean. And then, when he found out you were serious, he blew a gasket. Just because he said ‘divorce’ doesn’t mean he really wants one."
"I know. So, give me some advice here, Meghann. I feel as if I’m treading water in the deep end of the pool. I need your three-hundred-dollar-an-hour plan."
Meghann took a sip of tequila, then said slowly, "Well, for a woman like you, I usually–"
Meghann winced. "Great mother, decent income, no real work experience."
"Oh, a woman like me. Go on." Elizabeth decided on another shot.
"Anyway, usually I recommend finding a job. It’s good for the self-esteem, not to mention the bank account. However, I drove through Echo Beach."
Elizabeth tossed back the drink. "Yeah. Maybe the fish market needs someone to wipe up salmon guts. God knows I have enough cleaning experience."
"I think you should cast your net a little farther. No pun intended."
"Like Cannon Beach?"
Meghann scooted closer. "I thought about this on the drive down here. You always wanted to get your master’s degree in fine arts, remember? This would be a great time to do it."
"That was a long time ago."
"Your excuses are wearing thin, Birdie. You could have gone to graduate school twenty years ago; you chose not to. Do you really want to leave Jack and fall into the same old patterns?"
It was true. She could have gotten her master’s before the kids were born. Why hadn’t she?
Because it would have made life difficult. What if Jack’s dinner had been late? Or she’d had a midterm on a game night?
What if she hadn’t been talented enough?
"I guess I didn’t want it enough." That much was true, at least. She’d never been good at taking big risks unless it benefitted her children. And so she was here, a woman "like her," with nothing to fall back on and nothing to reach for.
"Be bold, Birdie. Apply. Take the road you turned away from. Isn’t that what this is all about?"
"Come on, Meg. I’m forty-five years old and I haven’t painted in twenty years. Sometimes, you really don’t get a second chance." She didn’t want to talk about this anymore. "I can’t imagine applying for grad school on my credentials."
Meghann was clearly disappointed. "What about painting class, then?"
Elizabeth shuddered at the thought. Sitting in a room with a bunch of strangers, pretending she’d refound a lost talent? Hardly.
Meghann looked at her. "Okay, okay. Your eye is twitching. I’ll change the subject."
"How about this: I need your help. I’m trying to change my slutty ways. The problem is, I need to figure out how to get turned on by a man my own age."
Elizabeth laughed. "Start slowly. Quit dating men who say things like awesome, dude, and that’s tight."
"And make conversation? I think not. Let me tell you, Birdie. The dating pool is damned shallow out there. You’ll see. My last date wiped his nose on the tablecloth at Canlis, which actually placed him on a higher evolutionary rung than the guy who blew his nose out the car window because the Kleenex box was empty. Just wait, Birdie. In about six months, the fish-gut guy will start looking hot. When you finally realize what men our age are like, give me a call. I’ll talk you down from the ledge. Wait! Better yet, move up to Seattle. You could have my second bedroom."
"I love it here, you know that."
"Here? It’s another damned planet–and an uninhabited one at that. And let me tell you, that is not an ordinary rain. I’m a Seattleite; we know rain."
Laughing, Elizabeth slipped an arm around her friend’s shoulders and drew her close. "The beach is beautiful."
"When you can see it. On the way down here, I saw a group of Japanese tourists lashed together for a beach walk. They’ll probably never be found."
"When the sun shines–"
"Twice a year."
"It’s the prettiest place on earth. You can breathe here."
"I can breathe in Beirut. It doesn’t mean I want to live there."
The alarm on the oven beeped. Elizabeth stood up, realizing abruptly how drunk she was. Her legs felt rubbery and she couldn’t feel the tips of her fingers at all. It made her giggle. "Come with me."
Meghann crawled to her feet. "Where are we going? Dancing? I love dan–" She frowned. "What was I talking about?"
They clutched each other like eighth-grade girls, their heads cocked together, giggling. Elizabeth led Meghann through the kitchen.
At the front door, Meghann stumbled to a halt. "Outside? It’s raining hard enough to put your eye out."
"A little water won’t hurt you."
"I’d rather not."
"We’re going down to the beach. I go every night at this time. It’s become a new ritual for me. Sort of a fear antivenin."
"That’s because you have no life. For the next two days, I’m here for entertainment."
Elizabeth dragged her forward. "Hurry up or we’ll miss them. My whales are very punctual."
Meghann stopped dead. "Whales? You’re kidding, right?"
Elizabeth laughed. Damn, it felt good. "Come on, Counselor. For once, you’re going to follow instead of lead."
Elizabeth stepped into the darkened yard. Meghann stumbled along beside her, grasped her hand tightly. Rain fell hard and fast, turned the yard into a giant mud puddle.
"Be careful, it’s slippery," Elizabeth said.
They were halfway across the yard when the first call sounded.
"Hurry up," she said. "They’re here."
"You need help," Meghann said, spitting rain. "Serious, long-term, probably medicated help."
Jack arrived at the studio a little later than usual. He’d been out late last night, tossing back brewskis with Warren at Hogs ‘n Heifers. He barely remembered getting home.
He’d had good reason to celebrate: Good Sports had premiered last week and become an instant hit. Ratings had gone through the roof.
Jack was hot again.
In the conference room, he went straight to the coffeemaker and poured himself a cup.
"Good God," Warren said, laughing, "you look like hell. Just can’t party like the old days, eh, Jacko?"
Smiling, Jack eased into the leather chair. "You’re looking a little the worse for wear yourself, Butterfingers. Maybe you shouldn’t have had that last plate of nachos."
Before Warren could answer, the door opened. The show’s executive producer, Tom Jinaro, walked briskly into the room. His assistant, Hans, trailed along behind, his violin-bow arms loaded up with yellow notebooks and reams of paper.
Tom took his usual seat at the head of the table. A moment later, Warren’s assistant came into the room and sat beside him.
Jack sat alone on his side of the table.
Tom looked down at his notes, then up at the faces around him. "Hans thinks we should do something on ephedrine in supplements. Sort of the secret-deadly-killer kind of thing. What do you think, Warren?"
Warren shrugged. "If someone dropped dead, there’s probably a story there."
"Jack? What’s your opinion?"
"Truthfully, Tom, I think it’s dull as mud. The kind of story that 60 Minutes or Dateline might do because they’re on-air so much. We should be pushing the envelope a little more, making people think. I read this article the other day–I think it was in The Christian Science Monitor, but it might have been the Times–anyway, it was about the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland. Comparing it to the U.S. after September eleventh. The Irish know about living in dangerous, uncertain times. There’s got to be a way to tie it to sports."
Tom tapped his pen on the table. After a long minute, he said, "Jack’s right. I don’t know shit from Shinola about Ireland, but it’s a better hook than some drug no one can pronounce." He turned to Hans. "You know anything about Ireland?"
Hans frowned, pushed the glasses higher on his Ichabod Crane nose. "There’s a sports camp in the Mideast where they bring Jewish and Palestinian kids together. Maybe there’s something like that in Ireland. You know, Catholics and Protestants coming together on the soccer field or some damned thing."
Tom smiled. "That’s why you’re my guy, Hans. Check it out. Give me a report by tomorrow a.m." Then he thumped his hand on the desk. "Okay, sports fans, let’s go through today’s script."
They spent the next two hours reading through and editing the script. Then Jack and Warren went into the studio, where their guest–an Olympic long jumper who’d recently been diagnosed with MS–was waiting.
After the show, Jack hung around the studio for a while, talking to the various staffers who’d also stayed late. An hour or so later, when the building was nearly empty, he returned to his office.
He sat down at his desk and picked up the phone, dialing a number from memory.
She answered on the third ring. "Hello?"