MY ATTORNEY, JEANETTE, WAS THE sort of elegant, overaccomplished woman I normally disliked on principle alone. She was brilliant, fearless, and dressed with a panache even Fontaine could not duplicate. Her skin reminded me of a mocha latte, and her dark, soulful eyes saw through bullshit like laser vision.
In a single minute she could switch from demure and persuasive to abrasive and pushy, depending on the situation. She also dropped the f-bomb about as often as she blinked. She intimidated the hell out of me, but she was on my side, and so I loved her almost as much as I hated Richard.
She pulled a few papers from her sleek leather bag, setting them down on the table between us. We had agreed to meet at a coffee shop in Bell Harbor because I couldn't bear the drive to Glenville. Anything that brought me closer to Richard and farther from Dody was too painful.
"I talked to his attorney," Jeanette said. "I think he's trying to scare you. He pitched high so he'd have some bargaining power."
I shifted in my chair. "So what is it he really wants?"
"According to my inside source, he wants the house."
"That's it? He's threatening to take my kids because he wants the house?"
"You know Richard. It's all about the money and the prestige. His apartment is a fucking dump and he's paying the mortgage on a house you're not using. I'd give pretty good odds his lawyer convinced him to play the custody card to freak you out and make you malleable."
Jeanette frowned and adjusted her designer glasses. "Don't let him bulldoze you, Sadie. We can fight him on this."
I had thought about this a lot over the past few days. Incessantly, in fact, between crying jags over Dody's cancer and Des's abrupt departure. He hadn't even said good-bye. I'd gone to the Pullmans' house last night hoping to talk but he was already gone. There were cardboard moving boxes inside, from what I could see by peeking in the windows, but there was no sign of him.
Moving home to Glenville would have been the logical thing to do. I could pick up right where I left off, strolling around a big empty house haunted by the ghost of failure, surrounded by friends who were anything but. Or I could stay here and be useful. Dody needed me now, and frankly, I sort of needed her too.
"I don't care about the house. He can have it as long as I keep full custody."
Jeanette scribbled a few notes in the margin of the paper. "The housing market in Glenville is tanked right now. You could probably find a smaller, decent place to live, but what do you plan to use for money? I don't do pro bono."
"Actually, I've decided to move here. I can live with my aunt until I've figured something else out. I've started working, you know, and there are lots of rich, messy people in this town. I'm not making much right now, but I've got prospects."
Jeanette was disappointed at my capitulation. Me fighting with Richard was money in her pocket, plus she enjoyed putting the screws to him as much as I did. I think he reminded her of her own ex-husband.
"You need to think about this, Sadie."
"Trust me. I have. I'm certain moving here is the right decision. My aunt is thrilled, and so is Fontaine. And my kids think it's like moving to Disney World. You don't think it gives Richard another reason to demand custody, do you? Because if that's the case, I'll have to figure something else out."
"I doubt that will be an issue. Unless he thinks of something else he'd like to screw you out of. You don't have an awesome time-share or anything, do you?"
"I already gave him the time-share."
"Oh, that's right. You need a better lawyer," she teased. Her eyes darted around the kitschy coffee shop. "OK, if you're sure. I'll run the idea past Richard's guy and call you tomorrow. But we can't just give him the house. We should make him buy you out. I promise you, the custody thing won't fly. This business he's trying to stir up about your cousin is complete bullshit. Richard hasn't figured out that by taking your house he's basically forcing you to keep your kids in the living environment he says concerns him. I'll be sure to point that out when the time is right. Don't worry about this, Sadie. I've got your back."
That was the first good news I'd had in days.
I threw myself into planning Dody's party with a vengeful desperation, glad for a project to occupy my mind. Fontaine enlisted Kyle's help, and it wasn't long before we had matching T-shirts declaring us Team Dody. Fontaine insisted every decoration be white, pink, or glittery. It was like coordinating a princess party for Paige. We bought miles of tulle to wrap around the deck, along with twinkly lights and dozens of tiny white candles.
For music, we reluctantly hired some friends of Jasper's. Their garage band had a local cult following, thanks to modest radio play of their one and only original song, "Salami Tsunami." I had my doubts about their talent, but they were available, they were energetic, and they played for beer.
Dody remained upbeat about her prognosis, encouraged by Madame Margaret's assurance that this was not the end for her this time around.
"She told me she saw feathers floating on a pond and two swans swimming side by side in a figure eight. That means I'll live to see eighty-eight."
"Or the feathers were from an angel's wings and you're a goner," Fontaine quipped.
Dody smiled warmly and caressed his cheek. "Thank you, dear. It means the world to me that you're still making jokes. I can't get Jasper to crack a smile no matter what I say."
"He's frustrated, Dody. He has a lot on his mind," I said.
I had a lot on my mind too, but was trying not to show it. No one needed to hear me crying about my romantic woes right now. They didn't need to know how devastated I was Des hadn't called to offer any closure whatsoever.
And I was so preoccupied with the reality of Dody being sick and the custody and house stuff with Richard I didn't have time to miss Des. Except in the evenings. And first thing in the morning. And sunny afternoons. And when I saw a sailboat or a convertible. Or a man.
I'd called Penny the day after he told me he was leaving. I wanted to cry on her shoulder, but she had a serious case of placenta head and was useless to me right now. Everything revolved around the baby. The baby was the size of a corn kernel, the baby could hear classical music through the uterus, the baby might develop allergies if Penny ate the wrong things. She'd even taken to watching foreign language films, thinking it might make the baby bilingual.
When she took a breath from baby talk to ask how things were in Bell Harbor, I desperately wanted to tell her about Dody's cancer but realized I was sworn to secrecy. Suddenly I found myself in the same situation as Des. Of course Penny should know, and so should my mother. But didn't I owe it to Dody to let her tell people on her own terms? Isn't that what I would've demanded for myself?
I wanted to be mad at Des because it was easier, but the truth was, I mostly felt sorry he'd gotten dragged into my messes in the first place. Yes, it was crappy of him to leave without saying good-bye, but then again, it wouldn't have made any difference in the outcome. And at least with no long, tragic good-bye, I didn't find myself clinging to his leg and begging him to stay. That would have been awkward. Predictable, but awkward.
Dody and the kids were playing a giggly game of Go Fish on the sunporch when I got home the next day after a meeting with Kyle. When I told him I'd decided to stay in Bell Harbor, he was nearly as happy as Fontaine. At least I had two men who loved me. Then I told him everything that happened with Des. I had to unload to someone who wasn't already overwrought about Dody. Kyle promised to keep my secret and to keep me so busy with messy, disorganized people I wouldn't have time to think about anything else. Fine by me.
"Who's winning?" I asked, plopping down on the chair.
"Me! I got the K and another K," said Jordan.
"Those are kings, baby," I told him.
"It doesn't matter which cards you get, Jordan. It matters how many pairs you get," Paige explained.
"But the Ks are bigger than the Qs," Jordan argued.
"Darlings, go in the kitchen and color me some pictures while I talk with your mommy. I'd like one with butterflies and armadillos. Can you draw me that?"
They left the room, already in debate over what an armadillo looked like.
"How was your lunch with Kyle?"
I plucked at the fabric on the sofa cushion. "Fine. He's glad I'm staying."
She crossed her legs, unzipping the waistband of her poodle skirt. "Walter got me this, you know. Olivia Newton-John wore it in Grease. Goodness, she had a tiny middle. And that John Travolta? What a sexpot he was. Speaking of sexpots, where has Des been?"
I saw that one coming from a mile away and was ready with an answer.
"He's busy with some work things. He sends his best and hopes you're feeling well."
Dody's lips puckered in a scowl. "Sadie Turner, that's a big fat lie. I can tell by the way your aura is changing color. Where is he really?"
I feigned nonchalance. "Dody, my aura deceives you. He's busy with work, and that's the honest truth." Technically it was the truth. It just wasn't the entire truth.
She crossed her arms over her ample and righteous bosom. "Did you two have a fight because of me? Is he still mad I didn't tell you all sooner that I have cancer?"
Cancer was the new c-word as far as I was concerned. I hated the way it rolled over her tongue, as if she said nothing more provocative than "I have something in my tooth."
"He's not mad. And no, we didn't have a fight. Don't be silly, Dody."
"Sadie Turner, I did not fall off the tulip truck yesterday, you know."
"Turnip, not tulip," I corrected automatically.
"Oh, there you go again," she snapped. "Not seeing the forest for the breeze and missing the whole grand tamale."
"What?" She could make my head hurt faster than a shot of Jack Daniels.
"He should be annoyed with me. Just because I wanted to get my ball bearings before letting you all know, I was wrong to put him in that awkward position. I realize that now, but I suppose he got angry with you instead?"
"No, I got angry at him!" I snapped. Darn it. Darn it. Apparently I had the right to remain silent, but not the ability.
Dody almost smiled. She was a bloodhound on the trail. "Why are you mad at him?"
"I was upset he didn't tell me. It was practically the same as lying. But I'm over it." I flung myself back against the cushion.
"Oh, pish-posh, Sadie. A little white lie to protect me. You can't be mad at him for that."
"I'm not mad." The tears I'd held at bay for days burst forth and poured over my cheeks. "He's moving to Seattle."
Dody scooted closer, hugging me, patting my head like I was a toddler. And like a toddler, I pressed my face against her softness and let the tears flow.
"Seattle?" she said at last. "Well, that's simply ridiculous. All they have there is coffee and rain. Doesn't he realize how you feel about him?" She pulled the ever-present tissue from her cleavage and tried to wipe my nose.
I sat up. "It wouldn't make any difference, Dody. We both knew at the start this was short-term. He didn't trick me. And even if he'd stayed and I'd stayed, I bet we would've broken up eventually anyway."
"Oh, that's a fine attitude. You sound like your mother."
"That's mean to say. Don't you think I feel shitty enough already?"
"I'm sorry, but it's true. No one deserves to get cheated on, Sadie, and I think you were right to leave Richard. He is not a good person. But the truth is your mother started pushing your father away long before he did anything wrong. She's my sister, remember, and I could see their marriage was in trouble, but all she could focus on were his mistakes, never her own. Then he finally left, and she's been miserable ever since. Is that what you want? To mope around for the next thirty years?"
"What do you want me to do, Dody? He's moving to Seattle!"
"He hasn't moved yet, has he? You march your tushy down there right now and tell him how you feel."
"He already left. I went down there a couple days ago and the house is all closed up. And when I tried his cell phone, the message said it was out of service."
"One little phone call? That's the best you can do? Call him again."
Dody's words bounced round and round in my head. Maybe I should call him again. Since I wasn't able to leave a message last time, it was possible he never knew I called.
He could've called me, though, if he wanted to talk. He was the one leaving, after all.
Still, I didn't want to end up like my mother, bitter and vengeful. I called his number and this time got his machine.
"Des, hey. It's Sadie. Listen, I was hoping we could talk. Give me a call, OK?"
I hung up, satisfied. At least I had tried. And when he called back? Well, I'd figure out what to say when that happened.
But it never did.
Three more days dragged by with not a word from him. It hurt. A lot. I deserved at least one more conversation, but I guess when he was done, he was done.
Missing him made me lethargic and empty. Once more love had tied little cement shoes to my heart and tossed me in the river of denial. The bluebird of happiness had crapped on my shoulder.
I tried to put on a good show for the sake of my kids and for Dody, but they were on to me.
The only bright spot that week came when Jeanette called.
"We have a deal," she said. "Give Richard the house and he'll drop the custody request."
An ounce of the burden weighing me down was lifted.
Jeanette continued, "And here's some good news: Richard has to pay you for your half. Like I said before, the market has tanked, but he has to give you fifty percent of its current value. That's not a huge amount, but it should be enough to get you settled in Bell Harbor."
Another tiny victory.
"That is good news, Jeannette. Thank you."
"You're welcome. I'm not sure how fast this will all play out. Richard is antsy to get in the door, but legally he can't enter the premises until you sign off on it, so his lawyer is drawing up the papers ASAP. As soon as I've gotten a copy and reviewed it, I'll give you a call. Don't let him in the house until I've said so."
So that was it then. It was all decided. Once again the flick of a pen would alter my entire future.
"That's fine. Whatever."
"I have to say, Sadie, you're taking this really well."
I was, kind of, wasn't I? Maybe I was finally learning which battles were worth fighting. Or maybe I just didn't have the energy to fight for anything at all.