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13

It all happened fast. Still in Mayburns car, I made a call to the airlines and found an open seat on a 3:30 p.m. flight to Rome that afternoon. When I heard the price of that seat I must have looked as if a truck had hit me, because Mayburn quickly said hed handle the cost as payment for sending me to Gibsons to meet Dez. He also made me hand over my Vespa keys and said he would pick up my scooter from the museum.

When we reached my neighborhood, Old Town Art Fair was in full swing, the streets lined with canvases and beer tents. It made me wistful. I should be getting together with Maggie, heading to the annual party outside St. Michaels church, drinking beer from a white plastic cup and laughing in the sun.

The good thing was that if Dez and Ransom knew the neighborhood where I lived, it would have been hard to search for us through the hundreds of people strolling the streets. To be safe, I got out of the car and bought a scarf at a tent to throw over my hair. Two minutes later, Mayburn had checked out my place, found nothing and said he would stand downstairs while I packed.

And dont call anyone, he said as I began to climb the steps to my condo, thinking of Theo on those steps, missing him already.

I should tell my mom Im leaving.

Youll call her from a payphone at the airport. Give me your phone.

Why?

I want to check it out.

I really should call my friend Maggie.

No.

I have to at least text

I was about to say Theo, but Mayburn cut me off. No texting, no e-mailing, no calling. I dont know yet how those guys found you or if theyve been watching you.

You think theyve tapped my phones?

Your house phone, maybe. Your cell, unlikely. Very unlikely. Now, give me your phone.

I handed it to him and he flipped out the battery, poked and prodded. Its clean, he said, handing it back to me. But I still dont want you on any phones or sending out any smoke signals. I just want to get you out of here. Now, go upstairs and pack.

Jesus, no wonder Lucy broke up with you. Youre demanding as hell.

Only when Im worried about people I care about.

I put my hand on my hip and looked down at him. His eyes were squinting as if he were thinking too hard. Worry lines cut across his forehead. You care about me? I said.

He groaned. Please. Please go pack.

Thats only the second time Ive heard you say please.

Upstairs, I made sure my passport was up-to-date, then packed it along with outfits Id been wearing lately in Chicago-a few dresses and skirts, a pair of jeans, a bathing suit, a couple of T-shirts. I threw in some slacks and three pairs of sandals of varying heights. I was about to zip up the bag, when I remembered the twisted ankle Id gotten in Rome years ago from attempting to wear high heels on the very cobbled streets of Trastevere. (Id heard that only Roman women could pull off such a feat, and I should have listened.) I opened the bag again, took out the pair of stiletto heels and replaced them with wedges.

As I pulled the bag to the front door, I felt a release of energy inside me-a kind of nervous force, unsure and yet thrilling. Because although Dez Romano had tracked me down, and although I was technically running from him, I was also running toward Elena, and I could ask her whether there was any chance my dad was alive.

When I got downstairs, I asked Mayburn, When can I use my phone again?

Once you get overseas. Then itll be nearly impossible to tap it or trace any calls. He stared at his own phone.

Mayburn, I said, as kindly as possible. I know youre hoping Lucy will reach out, but when someone tells you they need some space, they usually need space.

Yet even as I said it, I thought of someone who had told me he needed space. Sam. It was Sam who made the call that we were done for now, because he wanted us to be firmly into our relationship, no in-betweens, no maybe were dating, maybe were not, well figure it out, well see how it goes kind of thing, while I had grown more fond of, or possibly more comfortable with, the maybes and the in-betweens.

But Sam was still the person I had checked in with every day for years; the person who, for years, had made all life decisions with me. And even though we werent together anymore, I wanted to tell him that I was leaving town. It was a courtesy he hadnt given me last year when hed disappeared, but what was done was done, and I didnt believe in punishing.

I looked at my watch. It was Saturday, which usually meant Sam was with the Chicago Lions rugby team. Sam wasnt one of the starters, but he was one of the guys who trained with the team or helped out when they traveled locally. The Chicago Lions schedule was still in my datebook, because I used to have to plan our social stuff around it. I glanced at the schedule. The team was on a road trip to San Francisco, and Sam didnt usually attend cross-country games. Instead, he was probably at his apartment, strumming his guitar, maybe having a Blue Moon beer. Just the thought made me miss him.

I told Mayburn Sams address. I need to stop by on the way to the airport. When he opened his mouth to protest, I held up my hand. Look, if I cant make any calls, then I have to stop by. Im not getting on a plane unless I talk to him first.


Sams apartment was in Roscoe Village, sandwiched next to a bar called the Village Tap. Hed been there for years, to the chagrin of his mother, who, every time she visited, told him he should move out of his bachelor-esque pad and head downtown into a place more grownup. The plan had been that Sam would move in with me when we were married, but since that hadnt happened, the apartment with the funky gray door was still his home.

Hurry up, Mayburn said, pulling up to the curb, putting on the hazards and focusing nervously in the rearview mirror. I jumped out.

The Tap, as everyone in the neighborhood called it, already had a hopping lunch crowd. You could hear happy outbursts of laughter from the beer garden in the back.

Sam had stopped carrying my keys a few months ago, a fact that had surprised and wounded me, but Id never stopped carrying his. I guess I wasnt ready to put away the idea of Izzy and Sam.

If he was home, Id tell him I was going out of town, and if he wasnt, Id leave a note and call him when I landed. But at least Id make the effort. He would know that I still missed us. I still thought about us. I still thought there was a chance for us.

I got out my keys, opened the street door and walked up the flight of stairs. I rapped lightly on the door, the way I used to, then let myself into the apartment. The living room was dark and looked the way I remembered it. His leather couch was slouchy and slightly dusty looking. The blue afghan with the Cubs logo, which Sams grandmother had knitted for him, was tossed over the side of it. On the coffee table were financial papers and magazines like Barrons and the Fenton Report, and next to those were two empty Blue Moon beers. Sam had stayed home last night apparently, a fact that made me feel slightly sick with guilt, since I had spent the night, and the last few, with Theo.

Something glinted on the coffee table, something next to the beer bottles. I looked closer and saw they were two tiny diamond earrings, set in gold. I picked them up. For a moment I thought they were mine, but my diamond earrings were fake and set in silver. As I held them up to the sunlight filtering through the window, I could see that these were clearly the real thing.

Sam didnt wear earrings.

A shuffle from one of the bedrooms. I froze, irrationally scared for a second. What was I scared of? I looked down at the earrings. I thought I knew.

The door to Sams bedroom opened, and there he stood. He was wearing boxer shorts, only that, over his short powerhouse of a body. He wiped sleep from his eyes, despite the fact that it was already noon.

Iz? He pushed up at his cropped blond hair, making it sexily jagged with angles. He blinked his eyes, which were a sparkly olive color, so much so that Id always thought of them as martini-olive eyes. But he was staring curiously at me now, and his eyes didnt seem to be sparkling so much as squinting. What are you doing here?

He pulled the bedroom door closed behind him as he asked the question. And it was that movement, more than the earrings, that told me everything.

So, you have a date? I said.

More blinking. Something like that. Were you and I supposed to meet or something? He said it in an irritated way. He knew we had no plans to meet.

Im going out of town. I wanted to let you know, and they told me not to make any phone calls.

Whos they?

I shook my head. Its a long story. But Im going away.

Where?

I could almost hear Mayburn screaming, Dont tell anyone where youre going! Im not exactly sure yet.

For how long? He shifted his arms over his chest as if he were suddenly embarrassed to be seen by me-by me!-in his near nakedness. He was so cute, though, his trim, compact body so delicious in person-and in my memory-that I couldnt get worked up about his modesty.

But what happened next made it easy to get worked up.

Yes, of course the bedroom door opened, and yes, of course a girl in panties and Sams Jeff Beck T-shirt, the one I used to sleep in, poked her head out. But that wasnt what left me speechless.

It was the fact that it was Alyssa.

Alyssa Thornton was Sams ex-girlfriend, the one Id been crazy jealous about since I met her at their high school reunion and had seen two things. One, she was ethereal, stunning, and, as Id always said, thin as a bag of doorknobs, which, with my curves and my envy, was not intended as a compliment. With her white-blond hair, Alyssa almost looked like a miniature, female version of Sam. The second thing I had noticed at that reunion? Alyssa still loved Sam. She glowed when she gazed at him. Just like I did. But Sam had told me he was the one who broke up with her a few years into college, that they were just friends, only that.

After the reunion, I tried to put a lid on the jealousy, but it kept bugging me, especially because I knew they e-mailed often. Finally, I asked Sam if hed stop e-mailing her. I knew my jealousy was irrational, I told him, but it wouldnt go away. Sam had smiled at me. And he agreed.

As Sam and I continued to date and then got engaged, I got over the thought of Alyssa. But then Sam disappeared, and I found out that he went straight to her for help when he did so. I later learned his reasons. But still. But still. I hadnt gotten over that.

Clearly, Sam hadnt, either, because there she was. There she was positively glowing at him again as she peeked from behind his bedroom door.

If my insides had been slightly twisted with guilt over the fact that Id spent the night with Theo, my stomach filled with bile now. Its one thing to learn your ex is dating someone else. Its another thing to find out that someone else is the girl you always had the bad, bad feeling about.

And it was a whole other bag of cherries to see them post-romp.

Hi, Alyssa, I said.

Hi. There was no triumph in her voice. Ill give you guys some time.

She pulled her head back inside the room. Click went the door of Sams bedroom, then click again, because it had to be pushed twice to keep it closed. The fact that Alyssa knew that slayed me. Tears sprang to my eyes as I stood there looking at my fantastic, adorable, beloved ex-fianc'e, who had clearly moved on with his life.

I thought she lived in Indianapolis, I said.

She moved here a few weeks ago.

To be with you.

No, to work at Rush Medical Center. Shes in geriatric-

I cut him off. I remember. Alyssa was a researcher in the geriatric field, working to improve the quality of life for the elderly, particularly those who were bedridden. She was, essentially, an angel of mercy. Which, Id always said, made it pretty tough to compete with her as an ex-girlfriend. Or maybe she wasnt the ex anymore. It appeared she was the girlfriend now, and I was the former.

The energy Id had in my apartment crashed, replaced by a sorrow so deep I took a few steps to the couch and sank into it, putting my face in my hands.

Im sorry, Iz. He sat next to me and put his arm around me.

I didnt think there could be anything worse than finding Alyssa in Sams apartment, but this-this-was worse. Sam awkwardly patting me on the shoulder, trying to comfort me, sure, but making it somehow clear in his stiff body language that his body didnt belong to me anymore, nor, apparently, did his heart.

And what of my heart?

I thought of Q, my former assistant. Q had just entered the gay world when wed met, and as such, he took any and all breakups hard.

One day we were discussing his latest, and he had asked me when my heart had last gotten broken.

Never, Id told him. And it was true.

The guys Id dated before Sam-Timmy, my boyfriend in college, and Blake, the one I dated during law school-had been such insignificant relationships compared to the one I had with Sam. I was the one who broke up with Timmy-his love of beer bongs got old after freshman year. And Blake and I were on again-off again and had finally decided to part when we couldnt find time to get together with our busy law school schedules and also found we really didnt care. And when Sam and I split, wellHow to explain it? I guess I never saw it officially as a split. Even when he disappeared and even after that, when he said he needed to move on, I didnt really expect him to move on. I assumed that Sam and Izzy, Izzy and Sam was still an option that hung in both our horizons.

Now I felt the heat of his skin as he sat next to me. I breathed in that Sam smell. Both of these things had brought tears to my eyes in the past, and this time was no different. And yet those tears definitely were different. They werent the sweet tears that glitter from your eyes when a deep connection makes you so happy, so filled with joy. No, those were tears Id never felt before-hot, almost burning tears that must have come from the skin that protected my heart, the skin that felt sliced now, carved deep.

Im sorry, Sam said again. He turned and gave me a half hug, and the self-consciousness of it cut me even deeper.

Its okay. I stood, wiping tears. They splashed on my cheeks and chin. They felt as if they were leaving marks, burning me. I have to go. My voice sounded like someone elses. And as I looked at Sam, my eyes clouded, making him look different, too. Ill talk to you later. My voice sounded strangled.

God, Iz. He started crying now. He stood, grabbed me fiercely, wrapped his arms around me in a way that felt so Sam, so us. We stood together, a tight mass, quietly choking out sobs.

I heard a persistent bleat, bleat, bleat, bleat. Mayburn honking from outside.

I have to go.

He nodded, sniffed, stared into my eyes. And that stare said it all. It said, Goodbye.


| Red, White & Dead | PART II 14