On Mystic Lake (Page 4)

On Mystic Lake(4)
Author: Kristin Hannah

Terri forced a bright smile. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s just a midlife crisis and he’ll get over it.”

They spent the next few hours talking. Time and again, Annie pulled a memory or an anecdote out of the black hat of her marriage and tossed it out, as if talking about her life, remembering it, would bring him home.

Terri listened and smiled and held her, but she didn’t offer any more real-world advice—and Annie was thankful. Sometime around noon they ordered a large lamb sausage pizza from Granita’s, and they sat on the deck and ate the whole thing. As the sun finally set across the blue Pacific, Annie knew that Terri would have to go soon.

Annie turned to her best friend. Finally, she asked the question that had been hovering for the better part of the afternoon. “What if he doesn’t come back, Terri?” She said it so quietly that, for a moment, she thought the words were buried in the distant sound of the surf.

“What if he doesn’t?”

Annie looked away. “I can’t imagine my life without him. What will I do? Where will I go?”

“You’ll go home,” Terri said. “If I’d had a dad as cool as Hank, I would have gone home in an instant.”

Home. It struck her for the first time that the word was as fragile as bone china. “Home is with Blake.”

“Ah, Annie.” Terri sighed, squeezing her hand. “Not anymore.”

Two days later, he called.

His voice was the sweetest sound she’d ever heard. “Blake . . .”

“I need to see you.”

She swallowed hard, felt the sudden sting of tears. Thank you, God. I knew he’d come back. “Now?”

“No. My schedule’s kind of tight this morning. As soon as I can break free.”

For the first time in days, Annie could breathe.

When Blake stared at the soaring white angles of the house, he felt an unexpected pang of loss. It was so beautiful, this home of theirs, so stunningly contemporary. A real showpiece on a street where teardowns routinely cost five million dollars and nothing was too expensive.

Annie had conceived, created, and designed this place. She’d taken the view—sea and sand and sky—and translated it into a home that seemed to have grown out of the hillside. She’d chosen every tile, every fixture; all through the house were incongruous little items of whimsy—an angel here, a gargoyle there, a ratty old macrame plant hanger in the corner of a room with thousand-dollar-a-square-foot wooden paneling, a family photo in a homemade shell frame. There was no place inside that didn’t reflect her bubbling, slightly off-center personality.

He tried to remember what it had felt like to love her, but he couldn’t anymore.

He’d been sleeping with other women for ten years, seducing them and bedding them and forgetting them. He’d traveled with them, spent the night with them, and through it all, Annie had been at home, baking recipes from Gourmet magazine and picking out paint chips and tile samples and driving Natalie to and from school. He’d thought sooner or later she’d notice that he’d fallen out of love with her, but she was so damn trusting. She always believed the best of everyone, and when she loved, it was body and soul, forever.

He sighed, suddenly feeling tired. It was turning forty that had changed his outlook, made him realize that he didn’t want to be locked in a loveless marriage anymore.

Before the gray had moved its ugly fingers into his hair and lines had settled beneath his blue eyes, he thought he had it all—a glamorous career, a beautiful wife, a loving daughter, and all the freedom he needed.

He traveled with his college buddies twice a year, went on fishing trips to remote islands with pretty beaches and prettier women; he played basketball two nights a week and closed the local bar down on Friday nights. Unlike most of his friends, he’d always had a wife who understood, who stayed at home. The perfect wife and mother— everything that he thought he wanted.

Then he met Suzannah. What had begun as just another sexual conquest rolled into the most unexpected thing of all: love.

For the first time in years, he felt young and alive. They made love everywhere, all times of the day and night. Suzannah never cared what the neighbors thought or worried about a sleeping child in the next room. She was wild and unpredictable, and she was smart—unlike Annie, who thought the PTA was as vital to world order as the EEC.

He walked slowly down to the front door. Before he could even reach for the bell, the hand-carved rosewood door opened.

She stood in the doorway, her hands clasped nervously at her waist. A creamy silk dress clung to her body, and he couldn’t help noticing that she’d lost weight in the past few days—and God knew she couldn’t afford it.

Her small, heart-shaped face was pale, alarmingly so, and her eyes, usually as bright and green as shamrocks, were dull and bloodshot. She’d pulled her long hair into a tight ponytail that accentuated the sharp lines of her cheekbones and made her lips look swollen. Her earrings didn’t match; she was wearing one diamond and one pearl, and somehow that little incongruity brought home the stinging pain of his betrayal.

“Blake . . .” He heard the thin lilt of hope in her voice, and realized suddenly what she must have thought when he called this morning.

Shit. How could he have been so stupid?

She backed away from the door, smoothing a nonexistent wrinkle from her dress. “Come in, come in. You . . .” She looked away quickly, but not before he saw her bite down on her lower lip—the nervous habit she’d had since she was young. He thought she was going to say something, but at the last minute she turned and led the way down the hallway and out onto the huge, multitiered deck that overlooked the Colony’s quiet patch of Malibu beach.

Christ, he wished he hadn’t come. He didn’t need to see her pain in sharp relief, in the way she kept smoothing her dress and jabbing at her hair.

She crossed to the table, where a pitcher of lemonade— his favorite—and two crystal glasses sat on an elegant silver tray. “Natalie’s settling in well. I’ve only talked to her once—and I was going to call again, but . . . well . . . it’s been hard. I thought she might hear something in my voice. And, of course, she’ll ask for you. Maybe later . . . while you’re here . . . we could call again.”

“I shouldn’t have come.” He said it more sharply than he intended, but he couldn’t stand to hear the tremor in her voice anymore.

Her hand jerked. Lemonade splashed over the rim of the glass and puddled on the gray stone table. She didn’t turn to him, and he was glad. He didn’t want to see her face.

“Why did you?”

Something in her voice—resignation, maybe, or pain— caught him off guard. Tears burned behind his eyes; he couldn’t believe this was hurting. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the interim settlement papers he’d drafted. Wordlessly, he leaned over her shoulder and dropped them on the table. An edge of the envelope landed in the spilled lemonade. A dark, bubbling splotch began to form.

He couldn’t seem to draw his eyes from the stain. “Those are the papers, Annie. . . .”

She didn’t move, didn’t answer, just stood there with her back to him.

She looked pathetic, with her shoulders hunched and her fingers curled around the table’s edge. He didn’t need to see her face to know what she was feeling. He could see the tears falling, one after another, splashing on the stone like tiny drops of rain.

Chapter 3

“I can’t believe you’re doing this.” Annie hadn’t meant to say anything, but the words formed themselves. When he didn’t answer, she turned toward him. Sadly, after almost twenty years of marriage, she couldn’t bear to meet his eyes. “Why?”

That’s what she really wanted to understand. She’d always put her family’s needs above her own, always done everything she could to make her loved ones feel safe and happy. It had started long before she met Blake, in her childhood. Her mother had died when Annie was very young, and she’d learned how to seal her own grief in airtight compartments stored far from her heart. Unable to comprehend her loss, she’d focused on her grieving father. It had become, over the years, her defining characteristic. Annie the caretaker, the giver of love. But now her husband didn’t want her love anymore, didn’t want to be a part of the family she’d created and cared for.

“Let’s not rehash it again,” he said with a heavy sigh.

The words were like a slap. She snapped her head up and looked at him. “Rehash it? Are you joking?”

He looked sad and tired. “When did you ever know me to joke?” He shoved a hand through his perfectly cut hair. “I didn’t think about what you’d . . . infer from my phone call this morning. I’m sorry.”

Infer. A cold, legal word that seemed to separate them even more.

He moved toward her, but was careful not to get too close. “I’ll take care of you. That’s what I came to say. You don’t have to worry about money or anything else. I’ll take good care of you and Natalie. I promise.”

She stared at him in disbelief. “February nineteenth. You remember that date, Blake?”

His million-dollar tan faded to a waxen gray. “Now, Annalise—”

“Don’t you ‘now, Annalise’ me. February nineteenth. Our wedding day. You remember that day, Blake? You said—you vowed—to love me till death parted us. You promised to take care of me on that day, too.”

“That was a long time ago.”

“You think a promise like that has an expiration date, like a carton of milk? God . . .”

“I’ve changed, Annie. Hell, we’ve been together more than twenty years; we’ve both changed. I think you’ll be happier without me. I really do. You can focus on all those hobbies you never had time for. You know . . .” He looked acutely out of his depth. “Like that calligraphy stuff. And writing those little stories. And painting.”

She wanted to tell him to get the hell out, but the words tangled with memories in her head, and it all hurt so badly.

He came up beside her, his footsteps clipped and harsh on the stone flooring. “I’ve drafted a tentative settlement. It’s more than generous.”

“I won’t make it that easy for you.”

“What?”

She could tell by his voice that she’d surprised him, and it was no wonder. Their years together had taught him to expect no protest from Annie about anything. She looked up at him. “I said, I won’t make it easy for you, Blake. Not this time.”

“You can’t stop a divorce in California.” He said it softly, in his lawyer’s voice.

“I know the law, Blake. Did you forget that I worked beside you for years, building the law firm with you? Or do you only remember the hours you put in at the office?” She moved toward him, careful not to touch him. “If you were a client, what advice would you give?”

He tugged at his starched collar. “This isn’t relevant.”

“You’d tell yourself to wait, spend some ‘cooling off’ time. You’d recommend a trial separation. I’ve heard you say it.” The words tripped her up in sadness. “Jesus, Blake, won’t you even give us that chance?”