Home > The View from Alameda Island(10)

The View from Alameda Island(10)
Author: Robyn Carr

“Be sure to put your things away,” he instructed before their guests arrived. “I don’t want people thinking we have separate bedrooms.”

“Even though we do,” she muttered.

“You sometimes sleep in the guest room down the hall because of your hot flashes,” he said, creating her lie for her.

“No one is going to be wandering around the bedrooms,” she said. “And I don’t have hot flashes.”

He touched her cheek. He laughed. “Any second now, Lauren. You’re not as young as you used to be.”

Feeling a little ancient and emotional with her baby a college graduate on her way to law school, she lashed out. “What do you suppose they’d all think if they knew the truth?”

“Just what I think,” he said easily. “You’re a half lunatic who imagines ridiculous things all the time.”

She gritted her teeth and remained silent, picturing that quaint Victorian in Alameda, how quiet and sweet it was. The girls had gone out to pick up a few last-minute items for the party and would be walking in the house any second. Guests would start to arrive in an hour. The caterers were busy; their van was parked in the garage so they had a clear path from the van to the party site, the kitchen, butler’s pantry, dining room and patio. They were expecting about 100 people. Obviously she couldn’t get into an argument with him now. Actually she couldn’t get into an argument with him ever. Disagreeing with Brad was disastrous.

The last straw should have been when he had given her chlamydia. He denied it, insisted it wasn’t him and his argument was so unflinching and convincing even she began to wonder where she might’ve gotten it. She hadn’t had a lover, not ever. She began to worry about a contaminated tampon or used underwear someone had returned to a store with their germs on them. She knew better, yet her doubts, as ridiculous as they were for a woman who had studied chemistry, persisted. Finally, her gynecologist calmly and firmly said, “You could only get it from a person you had sex with. You can’t even get it from a blood transfusion. Period.”

Of course it had been Brad. He’d been unfaithful before, hadn’t he? Of course it was him. That’s when she stopped having sex with her husband. Three years later she’d been emptying his pockets for the dry cleaner and there it was—a condom. Of course. Because he didn’t want to get chlamydia again.

She’d left the condom on the pillow in his room. He told her she was an idiot—he’d picked up the condom in the nurse’s supply station, they sometimes used them for external catheters and he thought he might need it for a patient but didn’t and hadn’t put it back. Why would he leave a condom in his pants pocket if he was screwing around? But she knew it was a lie and she stayed in the guest room. She told the girls she liked to stay up late reading and their father needed his sleep to be alert for early morning surgeries. They neither noticed nor cared—they were both in college and only home for visits. In fact, the girls liked it. On their visits overnight, the girls often gathered in her room, sitting on her bed, gossiping and laughing with her and at those times she was doubly glad she wasn’t in his room.

She thought maybe they could get through this, weather his anger, but it could be rough and all she wanted was for her daughters to have a positive college experience.

Yes, they were spoiled and she had been complicit. She hoped it wouldn’t lead to their ruin. Above all, she wanted them to be good people.

So what would he come up with to threaten her this time? What threat to keep her? Why the hell did he even want her?

She shook her head and forced her thoughts back to the daughter for whom this over-the-top celebration was planned. Cassidy had made good. She was going to Harvard Law. Tears came to her eyes. Not sentimental tears because of her pride, but sad tears because Cassie’s gramma, her mother, Honey, would not be here. And she missed her so. The last time they were together, they had dinner—just Honey, Lauren and Beth. Lauren and Beth talked about their marriages. Beth’s was usually crazy and dysfunctional in adorable ways and Lauren’s was growing more awful every year. As they embraced to say good-night Honey had touched Lauren’s cheek and said, “You don’t have to give him your entire life, sweetheart. You don’t have to sacrifice your entire life for your daughters, either, for that matter. Maybe you’ve gone as far as you should. And it’s all right.” Three days later Honey was dead and aside from missing her every day, she prayed Honey had not lost all respect for her as she grappled with a bad marriage and indulged two daughters who had already been indulged enough.

But now, Cassie would study law. Lauren was happy for her, even though Boston was so far away. Lauren would go with her to Boston to look around for a place to live. Cassie was going to get ahead of her class, hopefully get a job, get to know the campus and the area, settle in, try not to die of loneliness. She was leaving behind a boyfriend of over a year, her family and many friends.

Eighty-five-year-old Adele, Brad’s mother, arrived in her town car, leased for the day complete with driver. She looked...rich. Rich and pinched and miserable. Beth, Chip and the boys arrived and it was all Beth could do to keep them from falling on the hors d’oeuvres like locusts. Ruby arrived and Lauren fell into her arms. “How are you holding up, girl?” Ruby asked.

“I’m fine,” she said. “How’s Ted?”

“The same,” Ruby said. “I’m not going to stay long, I’m sure you and Cassie understand.”

“Absolutely. Let me know if there’s any way I can help.”

“Thank you, but we’re getting by just fine.”

Ruby’s husband had had a stroke and he was coming along fairly well, home from rehab now. But there was no getting around the facts—he’d taken a life-threatening blow and at seventy-five, progress came slowly and Ruby felt the need to stay close.

She could not visit her troubles or plans on Ruby.

This was Ruby’s third marriage. The first took up nine years and brought her two sons. The second was very brief and painful, Like a woman who had learned nothing on her first terrible match, she had said. A few years later she married Ted, with whom she shared a warm and compatible relationship. It was Ruby who had said to her, Do what you can to try to make your marriage work. If you don’t try, you’ll have regrets. But listen to me—don’t wait too long or you’ll find yourself a trapped old woman with no options and a beastly old man who has perfected abuse. Someday one of you will be sick, dependent on the other. That’s hard enough when there’s love.

She hoped she hadn’t waited too long.

“I’ll stop by and see Ted soon,” Lauren said.

“He’d like that,” she said. “Everything looks so beautiful, as usual. You really know how to throw a party.”

“There sure have been enough of them, haven’t there?”

“A good many,” Ruby said.

The Delaneys were known for their wonderful parties—with delicious food and good company—if you liked a lot of medical people and a few others. There was always an extraordinary atmosphere. There were plastic water lilies holding votive candle holders floating around in the pool, classical music, a complete uniformed wait staff circulating with champagne and hors d’oeuvres. The great room doors were open to the patio and the party flowed through the house. A plentiful buffet was set up in the dining room complete with a waiter slicing prime rib. The caterer had set up a series of round tables and chairs on the massive patio.

Over the years Brad and Lauren had hosted brunches, dinners, cocktail parties, summer pool parties, retirement parties, even a couple of wedding receptions.

For a moment she felt a touch of melancholy. She’d done a good job under difficult circumstances. Only once had she invited the people she worked with to a party exclusively for them and Brad had charmed them. Afterward, when they’d all left, he complained for at least a day. He didn’t like a one of them.

Their entertaining was mostly Brad’s suggestion. “I think we should have a Christmas party this year—we’ll invite the office staff, a few friends, family. Let’s say sixty people. Can you get it done?”

She never said no. She’d hire a piano player for the grand piano that occupied the foyer, sit down with the caterer, have Brad’s secretary work up some nice invitations, put together a guest list for him to review. He’d look it over and invariably add names or say, “Adults only, all right,” upon seeing her nephews on the list.

“But it’s Christmas!”

“They can come to Christmas but children don’t come to fancy cocktail parties and pour punch on the carpet!”

Just then she saw Sylvie Emerson walking toward her, Andy trailing behind her. Brad always invited the Emersons.

“Sylvie! How thoughtful of you to come!”

“How could I miss a chance to congratulate our future lawyer,” she said, pulling a card from her large purse. “And to say this—I realize you’ve been very busy with all this going on, but when things settle a bit, I’ll be waiting for the phone call about lunch.”

“Absolutely,” Lauren said. “I’m going to help Cassie get settled back east, then I would love to get together.”

“Perfect. Take me to the graduate,” Sylvie said. “We’re not staying long. We have somewhere to be a bit later.”

“Of course. And I’d like you to meet my sister and brother-in-law. He’s an Oakland police officer and the daughter of his late friend was a recipient of one of your scholarships.”

“Oh yes, please! It’s funny that Brad never mentioned that connection,” she said.

And Lauren wondered if Brad even knew.

The second Brad noticed Sylvie and Andy, he rushed to them and usurped Lauren’s place as escort. She let them go, confident that Sylvie would insist on meeting Beth and Chip and congratulating Cassie. She knew she’d have a chance to thank Sylvie again before she left.

   
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