Her house–no, it was the Pedersons’ house now– was empty. Instead of bedrooms and a designer living room and a granite-layered kitchen, she had a sizeable amount of money in the bank, a storage facility filled with fifty percent of their furniture, and a car trunk full of suitcases.
Angie sat on the brick hearth, staring out across the gleaming gold of her hardwood floors.
There had been blue carpeting in here on the day she and Conlan had moved in.
Hardwood, they’d said to each other, smiling at the ease of their agreement and the power of their dream. Kids are so hard on carpet.
So long ago …
Ten years in this house. It felt like a lifetime.
The doorbell rang.
She immediately tensed.
But it couldn’t be Con. He’d have a key. Besides, he wasn’t scheduled to come by today. This was her day to pack up the last of her things. After fourteen years of marriage, they now had to schedule separate time in the house they’d shared.
She got to her feet and crossed the living room, opening the door.
Mama, Mira, and Livvy stood there, huddled together beneath the entry roof, trying to keep out of the rain. They were trying to smile, too; neither effort was entirely successful.
"A day like this," Mama said, "is for family." They surged forward in a pack. The aroma of garlic wafted up from a picnic basket on Mira’s arm.
"Focaccia," Mira said at Angie’s look. "You know that food eases every trouble."
Angie found herself smiling. How many times in her life had she come home from school, devastated by some social slight, only to hear Mama say, Eat something. You’ll feel better.
Livvy sidled up to her. In a black sweater and skintight jeans she looked like Lara Flynn Boyle on Big Hair Day. "I’ve been through two divorces. Food so doesn’t help. I tried to get her to put tequila in the basket, but you know Mama." She leaned closer. "I have some Zoloft in my purse if you need it."
"Come, come," Mama said, taking charge. She herded her chicks to the empty living room.
Angie felt the full weight of it then: failure. Here was her family, looking for places to sit in an empty house that yesterday had been a home.
Angie sat down on the hard, cold floor. The room was quiet now. They were waiting for her to start talking. They’d follow her lead. That was what family did. The problem was, Angie had nowhere to go and nothing to say. Her sisters would have laughed about that on any other day. Now it was hardly funny.
Mira sat down beside Angie and scooted close. The rivets on her faded jeans made a scraping noise on the floor. Mama followed, sat down on the brick hearth; Livvy sat beside her.
Angie looked around at their sad, knowing faces, wanting to explain it for them. "If Sophie had lived–"
"Don’t go there," Livvy said sharply. "It can’t help."
Angie’s eyes stung. She almost gave in to her pain right there, let it overwhelm her. Then she rallied. It wouldn’t do any good to cry. Hell, she’d spent most of the last year in tears and where had it gotten her? "You’re right," she said.
Mira took her in her arms.
It was exactly what Angie needed. When she drew back, feeling somehow shakier and steadier at the same time, all three women were looking at her.
"Can I be honest here?" Livvy said, opening the basket and pulling out a bottle of red wine.
"Absolutely not," Angie said.
Livvy ignored her. "You and Con have been at odds too long. Believe me, I know about love that goes bad. It was time to give up." She began pouring the wine into glasses. "Now you should go somewhere. Take some time off."
"Running away won’t help," Mira said.
"Bullshit," Livvy responded, offering Angie a glass of wine. "You’ve got money. Go to Rio de Janeiro. The beaches are supposed to be great. And practically nude."
Angie smiled. The pinched feeling in her chest eased a little. "So I should buy a thong and show off my rapidly dropping ass?"
Livvy laughed. "Honey, it wouldn’t hurt."
For the next hour, they sat in the empty living room, drinking red wine and eating, talking about ordinary things. The weather. Life in West End. Aunt Giulia’s recent surgery.
Angie tried to follow the conversation, but she kept wondering how she’d ended up here, alone and childless at thirty-eight. The early years of her marriage had been so good….
"That’s because business is bad," Livvy said, pouring herself another glass of wine. "What else can we do?"
Angie drifted back to the here and now, surprised to realize that she’d left for a few minutes. She looked up. "What are you guys talking about?"
"Mama wants to sell the restaurant," Mira said.
Angie straightened. "What?" The restaurant was the hub of their family, the center of everything.
"We were not going to speak of it today," Mama said, shooting Mira an angry look.
Angie looked from face to face. "What in the hell is going on?"
"Don’t you swear, Angela," Mama said. She sounded tired. "Business at the restaurant is bad. I don’t see how we can keep going."
"But … Papa loved it," Angie said.
Tears sprang into her mother’s dark eyes. "You hardly need to tell me this."
Angie looked at Livvy. "What’s wrong with the business?"
Livvy shrugged. "The economy is bad."
"DeSaria’s has been doing well for thirty years. It can’t be–"
"I can’t believe you’re going to tell us how to run a restaurant," Livvy snapped, lighting up a cigarette. "What would a copywriter know about it?"
"Creative director. And it’s running a restaurant, not performing brain surgery. You just give people good food at good prices. How hard can–"
"Stop it, you two," Mira said. "Mama doesn’t need this."
Angie looked at her mother, but didn’t know what to say. A family that only moments before had been the bedrock of her life felt suddenly cracked.
They fell into silence. Angie was thinking about the restaurant … about her papa, who had always been able to make her laugh, even when her heart had felt close to rending … and about the safe world where they’d all grown up together.
The restaurant was the anchor of their family; without it, they might drift away from one another. And that, the floating on one’s own tide, was a lonely way to live. Angie knew.
"Angie could help," Mama said.
Livvy made a sound of disbelief. "She doesn’t know anything about the business. Papa’s princess never had–"
"Hush, Livvy," Mama said, staring at Angie.
Angie understood everything in that one look. Mama was offering her a place to hide out away from the painful memories in this city. To Mama, coming home was the answer to every question. "Livvy is right," Angie said slowly. "I don’t know anything about the business."
"You helped that restaurant in Olympia. The success of your campaign made the newspapers," Mira said, studying her. "Papa made us read all the clippings."
"Which Angie mailed to him," Livvy said, exhaling smoke.
Angie had helped put that restaurant back on the map. But all it had taken was a good ad campaign and some money for marketing.
"Maybe you could help us," Mira said at last.
"I don’t know," Angie said. She’d left West End so long ago, certain that the whole world awaited her. How would it feel to be back?
"You could live in the beach house," Mama said.
The beach house.
Angie thought about the tiny cottage on the wild, windswept coast, and a dozen treasured memories came to her, one after another.
She’d always felt safe and loved there. Protected.
Maybe she could learn to smile again there, in that place where, as a girl, she’d laughed easily and often.
She looked around her, at this too-empty house that was so full of sadness; it sat on a block in a city that held too many bad memories. Maybe going home was the answer, for a while at least, until she figured out where she belonged now.
She wouldn’t feel alone at the cottage; not like she did in Seattle.
"Yeah," she said slowly, looking up. "I could help out for a little while." She didn’t know which emotion was sharper just then–relief or disappointment. All she knew was this: She wouldn’t be alone.
Mama smiled. "Papa told me you would come back to us someday."
Livvy rolled her eyes. "Oh, great. The princess is coming back to help us poor country bumpkins run the restaurant."
A WEEK LATER ANGIE WAS ON HER WAY. SHE’D SET OFF for West End in the way she started every project–full speed ahead. First, she’d called her boss at the advertising agency and asked for a leave of absence.
Her boss had stumbled around a bit, sputtering in surprise. There had been no indication at all that she was unhappy, none at all. If it’s a promotion you want–
She’d laughed at that, explaining simply that she was tired.
She needed time off. And she had no idea how much. By the time the conversation had wound around to its end, she had simply quit. Why not? She needed to find a new life, and she could hardly do that clinging to the hemline of the old one. She had plenty of money in the bank and lots of marketable skills. When she was ready to merge back into the traffic of real life, she could always find another job.
She tried not to think about how often Conlan had begged her to do this very thing. It’s killing you, he always said. How can we relax if you’re always in overdrive? The doctors say …
She cranked up the music–something old and sweet–and pressed her foot down on the accelerator.
The miles sped past, each one taking her farther from Seattle and closer to the town of her youth.
Finally, she turned off the interstate and followed the green Washington Beaches signs to West End.
The tiny town welcomed her. Light glinted off streets and leaves that were still wet with rain. The storefronts, long ago painted in bright blues and greens and pale pinks to reflect the Victorian fishing village theme, had, in time, weathered to a silvery softness. As she drove down Front Street, she remembered the Fourth of July parades. Every year the family had dressed up and carried a DeSaria’s Restaurant banner. They’d tossed candies to the crowd. Angie had hated every moment, but now … now it made her smile sadly and remember her father’s booming laugh. You are part of this family, Angela. You march.
She rolled down her window and immediately smelled the salty tang of sea air mixed with pine. Somewhere a bakery had opened its doors. There was the merest hint of cinnamon on the breeze.
The street was busy but not crowded on this late September afternoon. No matter where she looked, people were talking animatedly to one another. She saw Mr. Peterson, the local pharmacist, standing on the street outside his store. He waved at her, and she waved back. She knew that within minutes he would walk next door to the hardware store and tell Mr. Tannen that Angie De-Saria was back. He’d lower his voice when he’d say, Poor thing. Divorce, you know.
She came to a stoplight–one of four in town–and slowed. She was about to turn left, toward her parents’ house, but the ocean sang its siren call and she found herself answering. Besides, she wasn’t ready for the family thing yet.
She turned right and followed the long, winding road out of town. To her left, the Pacific Ocean was a windblown gray sail that stretched to forever. Dunes and sea grass waved and fluttered in the wind.