Authors: Kate Vale
This book is about finding the courage to be true to yourself again in mid-life. It’s well written and will take you on a great trip to beautiful Montana.
A real page turner that is very well worth reading. – Sue Cox
Suzanna Wallace stared, her heart aching
. I can’t take this anymore.
“You were the one who wanted to celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary here at the beach. To renew our vows, you said. But what do you do? You’re on the phone—every day, talking to that woman. Twice today already.”
Brad, frowned. “She’s my paralegal, Suzanna. The call was business.”
“Not for billable hours, it wasn’t.” Her voice dead calm, belying her growing anger, her pulse climbing by the second, she shook her head. “She’s your latest lover, isn’t she? Why do you do this, Brad? Why do you deny that you’re cheating? You pay more attention to other women than you do to me.” She glanced nervously at his hands, which were now fisting. She edged out of range.
“Suzanna…” His voice held that dangerous quality she knew so well.
“I’m so tired of your lies—and your lovers. Don’t you touch me! I’m calling an attorney. I want a divorce. When we get home—maybe before we get home.” There, she’d dared to say it, what she’d been thinking for so long but been afraid to expose to the light of day. Her nerves were frayed. She picked at the edge of her blouse. At least she’d managed to get the words out. Finally.
Her husband’s thinning hair stood out from his head in a grotesque sandy halo in the afternoon light. His impatient pacing, a clear sign his anger was building, suddenly ceased. His gray eyes locked on her. He lunged. One fist shot in her direction.
Before she could duck, his knuckles caught the side of her face, his law school ring slashing her cheek. She gasped and backed away. He reached for her, grasping her arms in the vise of his meaty hands as his mouth twisted into an ugly scowl.
Lovers? You can’t prove a thing. Anyway, they’d never support your claim if you try to use them against me.” He panted as if trying to catch his breath. “We’re not getting a divorce. My position in the community demands we keep up appearances. You know that.” Another thought seemed to occur to him. “If you try, I’ll make sure you get nothing. What would you live on? Think about
while you’re watching your soaps.”
He had always insisted she stay at home, never work. She shook her head, unable to answer, wishing she could wash away her humiliation that he was right. She had no professional skills. Her shoulders slumped, defeated again in the face of his arrogant taunting.
He gasped once before going on, his voice now hoarse. “It doesn’t matter what you—” His eyes widened then stared as if in blank surprise as his body canted sideways. His hands fell away from her arms, his head grazing the edge of the dining room table as he slid to the floor and landed heavily on his left side.
Suzanna watched as beads of sweat popped out on his face. He gulped like a newly-landed fish. “Brad?” She moved closer, no longer afraid for herself. What was happening? As if in slow motion, his lips turned from pink to a pasty white then to a dusky blue.
His only response was a half-hearted groan. She stared down at him, her pulse racing, her feet seemingly rooted to the floor. “Oh my God.” Had she killed him? No matter his actions of the previous two days or two decades, he was still her husband. She turned on her heel, ran to the phone and dialed 9-1-1. “My husband. He just collapsed. I think he hit his head. Please hurry!”
After providing the address to the beach house, Suzanna raced outside and frantically looked up and down the beach. So many people had been there earlier—and during and after the wedding festivities the other day, too. Now she saw only two small boys flying kites far out over the water: one, shaped like a fish with oversized red and yellow scales, swooped and soared before dive-bombing the kite with crescent moons in different colors. Then the boys pulled their kites closer to the beach, their laughter barely audible above the crashing of the surf.
Her heart thumping in her chest, Suzanna ran to the beach cottage next door, but no one answered her frenzied knocking. No luck at the next two houses, either. She tried to ignore her panicky gasps as she raced toward the fourth house, so much farther down the beach road.
Still at a distance, she saw the cottage door open and a young couple emerge, followed by an older man. He opened the rear door of a stretch limousine parked in the road and waited as the couple climbed in.
People! Thank God!
Suzanna stumbled once, twice, and forced herself to catch her breath before running again. When she looked up, a younger man, stood in the doorway of the cottage, one arm raised, as if waving off the big car. She called out, “Wait.” The older man, his blue eyes startling in his tanned face, glanced at her and hesitated as he reached for the driver’s door.
“Help me,” she gasped. “Please.”
He turned in her direction. “What is it?” His deep voice was an ocean of calm in the face of her panic.
But a woman’s voice from inside the car said, “Dad, we need to go.”
The younger man at the door of the cottage gestured to the people in the limousine. “You go on, Dad—the plane’s waiting.” He trotted toward Suzanna. She nearly collapsed in his arms as the car lumbered off.
“My husband,” she blurted out. “He’s hurt. Maybe a heart attack. Can you help me?”
“Where is he?”
“Guest cottage,” she panted. “Fourth one down.”
“Did you call 9-1-1?”
She nodded as she tried to catch her breath.
“We’ll take my car. Climb in.” The young man pointed to the sports car parked next to the cottage. As soon as she was seated and her door closed, he wheeled the car around and sped down the beach road, arriving just before an ambulance pulled up and two paramedics climbed out. Suzanna directed them into the dining room. Brad lay sprawled on the floor where she’d left him. Spittle oozed out of the side of his mouth. His eyes were half open, but they didn’t seem to be focused on anything. She put her hands to her mouth to stifle a scream.
“I should have introduced myself. I’m Neil Kingsley,” the young man said. He guided Suzanna into the kitchen and over to a chair at the table.
“I should go in there.” She pointed with a shaking finger.
“Let the pros do their job.” Neil glanced in their direction. Suzanna leaned past him enough to see one EMT checking Brad’s pulse. The other one was administering CPR.
Neil scooted his chair in front of her, blocking her view.
“Is he dying?” she dared to ask, afraid of the answer.
He has blue eyes, too, like that other man.
“They’re working on him. You are?”
“Suzanna Wallace.” Her hands shook in her lap. She listened to the staccato comments of the paramedics as they talked to someone at the hospital. But their words made no sense.
“Would you like me to drive you to the hospital? That’s where they’ll take him.”
Suzanna’s hands and feet tingled and she imagined herself watching from somewhere near the corner of the ceiling as the two men worked on her husband. Her heart continued to thunder in her chest, even as confusing messages competed for her attention. She licked her lips, feeling light-headed.
The sandy-haired young man gazed at her, looking concerned. “Are you okay? Your face is so pale.” He reached out as if to touch her arm.
She sat there, her throat so dry she was certain she couldn’t utter a sound. Then the room started to spin.
“Mrs. Wallace?” The voice now sounded far away, as if the young man was retreating.
She felt herself start to slide to the side of her seat as a strange buzzing filled her ears.
“You’re going into shock. Let’s get you down on the floor. Put your head between your knees.”
Who was talking to her? The young man? Those other people were too busy.
Moments later, someone—she wasn’t sure who—moved a wand of something foul-smelling under her nose and she jerked back to greater awareness. “We’ll take her in the ambulance.” Someone helped her up and walked her out to the ambulance, following the gurney on which Brad was strapped.
They reached the hospital after what seemed an interminable length of time, but her watch told her barely ten minutes had passed before she was seated in a waiting room.
The young man who had brought her back to the cottage took a seat next to her. She looked at him. “I don’t think I know you.”
“Oh. That’s right.” Hadn’t he told her that already?
“My dad had to take my sister and her husband to the airport, or he would have stayed to help you.”
“The tall man?”
He smiled. “That’s him, the tall one.”
“How tall is he?”
“Six four. What about your family? Can I call someone for you?”
Her lap was empty. She looked around. “I must have left my purse at the cottage. I need to call Penny, my daughter, and Kevin.” She gulped. “My son.”
“You can use my cell.”
She looked down at the strange phone, and ran a hand past her cheek and into her windblown short hair. Why couldn’t she remember their numbers? She looked toward the swinging doors through which they had wheeled Brad. They were still working on him. That had to be a good sign. “I’ll call them after I know something.” She returned his phone.
“I’ll stay with you.” Neil patted her hand.
Hours later, Suzanna waved to him as he drove away from the beach cottage, her friend, Margaret’s place. Suzanna huddled under the blankets and dialed Kevin.
“Darling, I’m so sorry. Your dad had a heart attack.”
“Is he okay?”
She gulped and blurted out the words. “He died, sweetie.”
Kevin was silent for a long minute. “I’ll meet you at the airport. Just tell me when you’re coming back. Want me to call Penny?”
“I’m calling her next.” She gulped down the sob that threatened, hung up and speed-dialed her daughter.
“Penny, please. Listen to me.” She waited for her daughter’s near hysterical sobs to lessen. “There’s no point in cutting short your business trip. I still don’t know how long before they release
… before they let me bring your father home.”
She shivered in the aftermath of her announcements to her grown children as she peered out the windows at the beach. Her previous trips to the beach had always been with the children, often without Brad. So many times, she’d sat on the sand, watching the children play, or enjoying the sun on her own when, as teens, they had sought out their own friends. Always before, the sounds of the waves, the cries of the birds, had soothed away her Brad-induced hurts. She’d been alone except for the presence of the children, lonely in spite of their presence. Still, she’d felt safe. Not like now.
Brad was dead. Because of their argument? Maybe she should have accepted his initial denial. He so hated to be challenged.
He’d always frightened her into sullen silence when she questioned his explanations for his absences, his lateness after work. Now he was gone. He’d always seemed to be in the best of health. Maybe his weight was the cause. Over the years, he’d developed a paunch and rarely exercised. Hadn’t his father had heart disease? But Brad’s father had lived into his seventies. She’d tried to get Brad to cut out the extra helpings when his waist had thickened. But, she, too, had added pounds over the years. Maybe she really had killed him, her husband, her children’s father.
Two days after Brad’s death, she was still walking through a kind of mental quicksand, the suddenness of his death pulling her into a quagmire of guilt fed by her relief that she had finally confronted him, that he was dead and that he couldn’t hurt her anymore. She sat on the porch of the beach house, staring at the waves, their constancy hypnotic as they receded from the shore and then slid in her direction, creeping over the sand, edging closer.
Suzanna slipped out of her sandals, rose from the chair and headed toward the wave-dampened sand. She walked north, into the wind that dried her tear-stained cheeks. The sand revealed others had traveled the beach before her. Someone with a long stride walking next to what must be a large dog, its footprints leaving deep indentations in the hardest-packed sand.
She picked up her pace, feeling the need to move, to fight the wind that held her back, as it sought to push her toward the cottage where so much had happened, a cottage she now couldn’t stand to be near. When she slowed to catch her breath, she saw other marks, large elongated triangular indentations in the hard-packed sand, a smaller almost squarish dent behind each of the larger prints. The offshore wind shifted momentarily and blew her hair into her eyes before she again turned her face into the salt-tinged breeze.
Puzzled by the unusual prints preceding her, she continued her jog up the beach, pounding steadily down the long spit of land, certain the fear demons would devour her if she stopped running. Soon a dull ache in her side combined with the fire in her lungs forced her to slow. But she didn’t dare move into the softer sand dunes. They held her back and mirrored the way she had felt that day at the hospital, sinking with each step, unable to catch her breath as she fought to survive her shock in the hours after Brad’s collapse.
She was still panting, her pulse a too-fast throb in her ears, when she saw a man stretched out on a log, tooled leather boots on his feet, a Stetson covering his face. Those strange footprints on the sand. But who wears cowboy boots on the beach?