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Authors: Luanne Rice

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BOOK: Home Fires
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It was a picture of things Karen loved, all blended together in the epic vision of a preschooler.

It showed her room—everything pink, her favorite color—at home; Mommy, Daddy, and Karen playing in Gramercy Park; Karen and Maggie building a castle at the beach. Between Karen in the park and Karen at the beach were two puzzling white-speckled boxes.

For a four-year-old, Karen could draw beautifully. She gave her people smiles and eyebrows, five fingers on each hand, clothes that she had seen them wear. Her beach had rocks and shells; her ocean had a shark (sharks scared her more than anything—for weeks after seeing
The Little Mermaid,
she'd had nightmares about the shark), a sea horse, and minnows. Gramercy Park had squirrels, a low wrought-iron fence protecting red tulips, and a multistoried white birdhouse. Karen on the beach had red fingernails, like Maggie; in the park with her parents, her nails were unpainted.

“It's my best and favorite thing,” Karen had said proudly, giving the picture to Anne.

Anne had accepted it, delighted. She and Karen had examined it together, not speaking. Except for the white boxes, she recognized every image and knew where it fit in Karen's conception of her world.

“What's this?” Anne asked, pointing at one spotted box.

“Don't you know?” Karen asked, her brow creasing. Suddenly she looked troubled, as if her mother had failed to understand something basic and vital.

Anne shook her head.

“It's paradise,” Karen said.

“Oh, I love you,” Anne said, pulling Karen into her arms. A picture of the people and places Karen loved the most: paradise. The boxes didn't matter. Nothing mattered compared with that.

Now, sitting on the floor of Gabrielle's family room, Anne stared at Karen's picture of paradise. Karen had colored it the morning of her fall. When Anne was alone with the picture, when she blocked everything else out, she could believe that Karen had done it five minutes ago, not seven months. She could believe that Karen was right beside her.

It was a real piece of paper, colored with real Crayola crayons from the big box with all the colors, by Anne's real little girl. Photographs were just frozen moments, but paradise was forever.

The telephone rang. It startled her. She started to stand, but then her gaze was drawn back to Karen's picture. Every time she put the picture away, she had the sense of leaving Karen. She wasn't ready to do that yet today. Not right now. She closed her eyes and smelled the crayon again. She felt full and as close to peaceful as was possible for her. The hollowness would return soon enough.

Sitting on the floor with paradise, Anne blocked out the ringing phone and let the answering machine do its work.

Chapter 3

att Davis had an affair, and it ruined his life. Until it happened to him, until he'd been swept away by another woman, he would have said that he believed unfailingly in marriage. He believed in the love, nourishment, and challenges that it brought two people; he believed in Anne. She had given him so much. Together they'd had a child, the most precious thing in their lives. But by last summer, when Matt and Anne celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary, he was in the midst of a love affair that had been going on for eight months.

Flying home from Paris, he tried to concentrate on paperwork. He was the president of the American branch of a French perfume company; his job was to sell design houses and celebrities on the idea of launching their own fragrance line. He traveled all the time. Although work could be tiresome, it was the only thing that kept his sorrow at bay. He wondered about Anne, alone all the time. Not working. Sometimes when he thought of Karen, it was all he could do to keep from smashing windows, from howling at the moon.

His life was full of glamour. He lived in New York, but kept a permanent bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel and a suite in Paris's Plaza Athénée. He flew the Concorde twice a week, often with a movie-star client. He made frequent excursions to Grasse, in Provence, where the flowers were the most beautiful, their scents the most refined.

He and Anne had planned to buy a farm near Grasse.

Anne had come into his life eleven years ago. They were both twenty-five; he was a perfume executive and she was temping in his New York office. He noticed her immediately. She had big, dark eyes that would have been sultry if they weren't so wide-open and innocent, as if she was taking everything in. She seemed very different from the girls he was dating, and he liked looking at her. He had the feeling she hadn't been in New York for very long.

Even after they married, after ten years on Gramercy Park, Anne hadn't really seemed comfortable in New York. She needed sea air and sand in her shoes. She was always happiest on the island. So, although it made sense to Matt that she would return there now, it scared him because it put her just that much farther out of his reach.

Sometimes he wondered whether Anne would eventually have forgiven him if Karen hadn't died. But his betrayal and Karen's fall were so closely linked in time and event that Matt believed he'd created some evil confluence. If Anne hadn't seen him and Tisa together, if she hadn't had that on her mind, she might have been paying more attention to Karen, and it might never have happened.

The strange thing was, he'd been planning to leave Anne for Tisa. He had fallen in love with another woman. He felt terrible; he didn't understand why it had happened, but it had. For months, he and Tisa had been planning their life together. He knew he would have to tell Anne, and together they would have to tell Karen, but he kept putting it off.

He had planned to tell Anne before they went to the island. Then she and Karen would go away alone; by the time they returned to New York, he would have moved out. But when the moment came, he couldn't do it. Karen had spent winter Saturdays learning to swim at the Y, and he didn't want to miss her first summer in the waves.

He'd made the mistake of giving Tisa the island house's phone number. She was furious, and she called constantly. When Anne or Karen answered, she would hang up. Matt took to diving for the phone. Suddenly all those months of excuses seemed to add up for Anne. She didn't say anything, but Matt could see that she knew. It was mysterious, her sad anger, and he couldn't bear to confront it.

Instead, he picked a fight with her one morning before breakfast and was on a plane to New York by sunset.

Stupid bastard, he thought, staring at the airfone on the seat back ahead of him. Anne caught him two days later, when she herself returned home early. She'd left Karen with Gabrielle and Steve, flown to New York to try to patch things up with Matt.

Or maybe she'd had an inkling and wanted to catch him in the act.

Which she did. In their own bedroom at the rear of the building, with late-afternoon light streaming in, the light Anne had always loved most because it would turn their white sheets peachy rose and make their glistening bodies appear even more flushed. In her own bed, in her favorite light, Anne discovered her own husband fucking his girlfriend.

She kicked him out instantly. Tisa lost a diamond earring in the process. Matt left without his underwear. Standing on Gramercy Park West, dazed and ashamed, he hailed a cab. He held the cab door for Tisa; before following her, he looked up and saw Anne standing at the window of their fourth-floor apartment. She was staring down at him. From that angle he couldn't see for sure, but he thought she was crying. In that split second, before he climbed into the cab, he realized that his marriage was over. That he would never hold Anne again.

He was wrong. Eight days later he held her in his arms in the emergency room at Bellevue, where they had brought Karen's body. And two days after that he held her again, at Karen's funeral. That was the last time.

Now, thinking of Anne, he reached for the airfone. He zipped his credit card down the magnetic slot and dialed the island house. He got the same damned recording he'd gotten last night: “The number you have reached is not in service at this time. . . .”

He pulled out his green lizard Hermés agenda, looked up Gabrielle's number, and dialed it.

“Hello?” came Maggie's voice crackling through the air.

“Maggie? It's your uncle Matt. Do you know where Anne is?”

A long silence so venomous, Matt could taste it on the back of his tongue. “Just a minute,” she said.

“Hello.” Anne's voice didn't sound familiar. It was flat, with no welcome in it.

“I was worried about you,” Matt said. “I've been trying the big house, and something's wrong with the line.”

“There was a fire.”

“A fire? Are you okay?” Matt sat bolt upright in his seat, picturing flames engulfing Anne's beloved home.

“I'm fine. I'm staying here for a few days, until I find a place to rent.”

“Anne,” Matt said, overcome with grief and frustration. “What the hell are you doing out there in the middle of winter? You have the apartment. You know I want you to have it.”

“I don't want it,” Anne said.

“Anne . . . it's your home. Please.”

“I don't want it,” Anne repeated, with all the animation of a hypnotized drunk.

“I just think you're in no shape to be making crazy decisions right now. After everything . . .” Matt's throat closed over. His eyes stung, and he blinked away tears.

“I have to go now,” Anne said. But she didn't hang up.

“Don't do this,” Matt said. “Don't you need me?”

“I can't have you,” Anne said, her voice so full of anger and grief that Matt thought his heart would break.

“Forgive me, Anne,” he whispered. “Please.”

“You live with her, don't you?”

He didn't reply. After a moment the line went dead.

Matt stared blankly at the airfone for a minute. He remembered the first time he and Anne had gone out. He had planned to stop for roses on his way to pick her up, but he was late leaving the office. So he'd plucked one peach-colored rose from an arrangement on a table in the reception area. Standing in the tiny, dirty vestibule of her building, waiting for the elevator, he had felt so nervous.

When she opened the door, she looked so beautiful in black velvet, so sexy and pink-cheeked, that he tripped going in. She was thrilled by the rose; she found a glass vase, way too big for one flower, and filled it with tap water. But there was something about her, something so straightforward and guileless, that made Matt confess where he'd gotten it. He told her that he had wanted to bring her a dozen. But Anne had smiled, saying that a single rose was even better.

The next day, when he got to his office, he found eleven roses, of a similar peachy shade, in a vase on his desk. With a card blank except for the letter “A.”

He sighed, still holding the airfone. He thought about calling Tisa, just to hear a familiar voice. She'd be waiting for him at home, in the apartment he'd taken across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She loved Matt. She would hold him through the night, to protect him from the dreams he had about losing Karen. That's what he needed now: love and protection. He wanted to give as well as take it. But he'd lost the privilege. Anne couldn't stand him, and he couldn't blame her.


Anne hung up the telephone, Maggie could see that her face was pure white. Maggie had the refrigerator door open, trying to decide what she wanted for a snack. But she was watching Anne surreptitiously. Anne didn't look very good. Maggie was sure her mother would have made Anne sit down. Maggie was tempted to push her into a chair, but that would mean talking to her. And she didn't know what to say.

Anne looked over, and their eyes met. Maggie tried to smile.

“Sounds like he was calling from a plane,” Anne said.

“Yeah,” Maggie said, but she had no idea of how a call from a plane would sound, or that such a thing was even possible. Except for the Island Commuter, a six-seat puddle jumper, Maggie had never flown.

“Mmm,” Anne said, frowning. Lost in her own thoughts.

“So, you two split up?” Maggie asked.

“Yes.” Anne gave Maggie a funny eyebrow sort of look. “Are you surprised?”

“Huh? I don't know. Not really. Well, sort of.” God, Maggie felt so stupid. She had been one hundred percent totally amazed and flabbergasted when she heard the news, about a week after Karen's funeral. She had a million questions she wanted to ask Anne, but right now she felt dizzy and disoriented. There were so many things she wanted to say about Karen, it seemed strange that her first conversation with Anne would be about Matt.

“I never thought Matt and I . . .” Anne said. “I never would have
believed . . .” She looked at Maggie, as if she were seeing her for the first time. “Maybe I did see it coming.”


“I mean, it has nothing to do with what happened. To Karen. I've been afraid you might be thinking that.”

“No, I wasn't,” Maggie said, even though she was.

Anne leaned against a kitchen counter and folded her arms. She wore an enormous gray Champion sweatshirt, faded jeans with frayed holes in the knees, and dirty white sneakers. Her hair could stand a shampoo. Maggie took all this in without actually looking at Anne. She could feel herself being watched.

“You haven't been around much, since I came to stay,” Anne said.

“I've been pretty busy,” Maggie said.

“What are you, a junior?”


“Oh. Junior year.” Anne just stood there. Maggie could practically feel Anne's mind working, trying to find something to say. She was making conversation, just like every other adult. It had never been like this between them before. Anne had always given Maggie the feeling she could tell Anne anything, and Maggie had sometimes taken her up on it.

Last summer she had been bombed on peppermint schnappes, and Anne covered for her. She'd held Maggie's head while Maggie threw up into the toilet, and she'd let Maggie spend the night, telling her mother that Maggie and Karen were telling ghost stories to each other. Naturally, the next day, Anne gave Maggie the obligatory lecture on how everyone tries things like drinking, it's natural, but never ever get into a car with someone who's had more than one beer.

It depressed Maggie to have Anne suddenly talking to her just like any other adult.

“Junior year,” Anne repeated. “Getting ready to look at colleges?”

“Yes,” Maggie said, wanting to scream.

“That's good.” Anne brightened, as if she'd discovered the perfect conversational groove. “Still painting your nails, I see. Nice color.”

“It's called Very Cherry,” Maggie said. She'd borrowed the polish from Vanessa, and they'd both had a good chuckle, seeing as neither of them had been very cherry for quite some time.

“Pretty. Goes well with—”

“So, why did you and Matt break up?” Maggie asked in a rush. She thought her head would explode if Anne didn't quit being so polite.

“I caught him with someone else.”

“You're kidding. Another woman?”


“Uncle Matt?” Maggie was blown away. She had to steady herself, leaning against the refrigerator.

“Uncle Matt. Remember last summer, when he flew home to New York on business and I went back after him?”

“Right, and you left Karen with—” The words were out, and Maggie couldn't get them back. A gush of heat spread through her face.

“With you. Thank you, by the way. In case I never actually thanked you before. You were such a big help,” Anne said, as if she were just thanking Maggie for any old babysitting job, as if there would be a thousand more to come.

“Oh God. You're welcome.”

“I guess I was a little preoccupied, when I came back to the island,” Anne continued. “See, Matt hadn't gone to New York on business. He had a girlfriend. Tisa. It's really pathetic, but I found them in bed.”

“Oh my God.” Maggie's eyes glittered with the delectability of having this conversation with Anne. She had once caught Kurt making out with Shelly Marshall, and she remembered that ice-cold shock, that heart-stopping moment when you realized that you were seeing exactly what you thought you were seeing.

BOOK: Home Fires
9.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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