A Good Man

A Good Man

3.7 7
by Judith Henry Wall

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From the acclaimed author of The Girlfriends Club a deeply affecting novel that tests the bonds of friendship against the long-buried pangs of first love
Rhonda, Gina Kay, and Holly were the best of friends in their small-town Texas high school until the day Gina Kay ran off and married Rhonda's boyfriend, Terry Robertson. Now, twenty-five years


From the acclaimed author of The Girlfriends Club a deeply affecting novel that tests the bonds of friendship against the long-buried pangs of first love
Rhonda, Gina Kay, and Holly were the best of friends in their small-town Texas high school until the day Gina Kay ran off and married Rhonda's boyfriend, Terry Robertson. Now, twenty-five years later, news of Terry's sudden death has reunited them, and brought to the surface old bonds and betrayals they thought they'd left behind.
The three old friends share a trip to New York City, where Gina Kay promises to finally reveal why and how she stole the love of Rhonda's life and ruined a friendship that was supposed to last forever. Over the course of that tumultuous trip, the women find themselves reconsidering their lives, the choices they made, the men they married, and all the paths not taken. As girls, they were stifled by their parents' expectations, small-town life, and the inevitability of biology. How many of their dreams did they actually pursue, and how many have they relinquished? If Rhonda had married Terry instead, would all of their lives have turned out differently?
A Good Man is a novel about good friends, first loves, shocking disloyalty, long-held secrets, and that ever-present question — what if?

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Judith Henry Wall has a unique talent for reminding us of our most cherished and fragile gifts: love and friendship."
— Billie Letts, author of Where the Heart Is
Kirkus Reviews
Three high-school chums torment each other with a trip to Manhattan before coming clean about a long-festering secret. Rhonda, Holly and Gina Kay were the three teen musketeers of the small Texas town of Lamberton. Rhonda, the brain of the group, went on to college and a successful legal career after being forcibly separated from her obsession, high-school boyfriend Terry Robertson. Holly had dreams of fashion fame but has settled for a bustling wedding-gown business in Waco. Gina Kay grew up dirt poor in a manufactured home with loving parents. (Her mother, grossly overweight and in need of constant care, was unable to leave her house.) With Holly and Rhonda's support, Gina Kay won the Miss American Teenager beauty pageant title-and scholarship. In college, Rhonda started seeing Terry again surreptitiously, even after he tried to kill her by ramming his convertible into a tree. Although he's heir to a ranching fortune, his dark past and forbidding father have nourished a mean and self-destructive streak. Rhonda and Gina Kay have been estranged since Gina Kay dropped out of college suddenly and eloped with Terry. Cut to the present, when the last of Terry's many vehicular suicide attempts has succeeded, and the trio gathers at Gina Kay's ranch after his funeral. There, a pageant event the pretext, the three, in their 40s now, decide to take a Manhattan reunion-and-reconciliation trip. The women befriend their New York City driver, Russian immigrant G.W., ultimately planning a wedding for his daughter in Brighton Beach. Suspense is of the flashback-fueled, wait-and-hurry-up variety, and narrative padding postpones Rhonda's disappointing assignation with a would-be lover. Worse, Gina Kayrefuses to explicate the Terry situation until trip's end. Along the way, there are large chunks of Manhattan logistics and less-than-convincing apologias for good but dull husbands before getting to the genuinely intriguing questions: What really happened between Gina Kay and Terry, and can Rhonda ever get it out of her system? A morbidly obese novella.

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Simon & Schuster
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5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

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Chapter one

Rhonda recognized him as soon as he strolled into the waiting area for Gate 27 — the guy from the Houston airport.

Every bit as handsome as she remembered, the man looked her way, lifted his eyebrows in recognition, and smiled.

Rhonda was surprised that he remembered her.

She had been returning to Dallas after a particularly contentious meeting with a client's husband and his lawyer. When the flight was delayed while thunderstorms passed overhead, she and the good-looking man had been among a group of passengers who migrated to a nearby concourse bar to watch the end of a Mavericks game. She was aware of him standing next to her and glanced at his reflection in the mirror over the bar. He was still in his thirties, she decided. She was older than he was by at least five or six years. Maybe more. She resisted the urge to smooth her hair, to take out her compact and check her makeup.

Which was silly. He wasn't going to notice her. And what would she do if he did?

Nothing, of course. It was just nice to be admired once in a while. To know that all that jogging and Retin-A were paying off.

He did make eye contact with her in the mirror, however, and leaned close to ask if she was a Mavericks fan. If she lived in Dallas. Then he touched her elbow and said, "I love your perfume."

She thanked him. Then they cheered together for the game-winning, at-the-buzzer basket. That was all. Their flight was announced, and it was time to board. Their seats were half an aircraft apart. The seat-belt sign was illuminated throughout the short flight. There was no sign of him when she got off the plane. Shouldering her carry-on bag, she headed up the concourse.

But she had thought about him that night, in bed with her husband. She thought about a stranger while she and Dennis made love and got really turned on — so much so, she had to restrain herself. She had only been away for two nights. Missing Dennis would not be a justification for what she was feeling. It was pretty pathetic, a woman getting aroused just because an attractive younger guy complimented her on her perfume. She didn't usually wear perfume during the business day, but she had freshened up at the hotel before checking out and added just a touch to her wrist, with Dennis in mind. She knew he was planning to pick her up at the airport and take her out to dinner.

If Dennis had noticed her perfume, he didn't say. But he had said she looked wonderful.

Her sexual craving continued long after Dennis had kissed her good night and settled into sleep. Her friend Holly would tell her that she hadn't been getting enough sex lately and advise her to buy naughty lingerie at Victoria's Secret to wake up the sleeping tiger in old Dennis.

But actually, she and Dennis had a good sex life. They both knew what the other liked and needed. Yet she had been more excited than she had been in years and unwilling to reach for her sleeping husband, unwilling to slip her hand between his legs and say she wanted more. It had been years since they had gone for a second round. She wasn't even sure Dennis could manage one. He would wonder what had gotten into her.

That had been over two months ago — the week before she learned about the death of her high school sweetheart.

Now, here was that same man again, apparently booked on the same flight she was taking to New York. Rhonda nodded in his direction, acknowledging his smile, and busied herself fishing for her ticket in her purse, hoping he did not notice the embarrassed flush she could feel enveloping her neck and cheeks. My God, the thoughts she had allowed herself to have about the guy!

She took a seat in the waiting area and, out of the corner of her eye, watched him talking to the gate agent, who was young, pretty, and all smiles. At one point, he touched the woman's hand and pointed in Rhonda's direction. The gate agent looked over at Rhonda then shook her finger at the man and laughed. It occurred to Rhonda that he might be trying to change his seat assignment. To sit next to her. Then she discarded the notion.

But just in case, she headed for the ladies' room to check her makeup. Staring at her face in the mirror, she couldn't decide if she should be pleased at the prospect of spending more than three hours with the man or annoyed that he would be so presump-tuous.

She boarded before he did, stored her carry-on in the overhead bin, and took her seat in the first-class compartment. Almost immediately, he was taking the seat beside her.

"This isn't just a coincidence, is it?" she asked.

"Actually not," he admitted with a sheepish grin. "I work for the airlines, and fortunately this seat was open. I've found that long flights pass much faster if I have a beautiful woman to talk to."

Rhonda took a minute to consider the compliment. "So you're in the habit of rearranging seat assignments?" she asked with a wry smile.

She was glad she had a fresh manicure and a great new haircut. Glad she was wearing a smart pantsuit. Glad she was wearing that same perfume. Glad she had used her cache of frequent-flyer miles to treat herself to first class, a decision that would allow her to change her return flight without penalty, just in case she decided to cut short her trip.

"Why don't you withhold judgment until we have a chance to get acquainted," he suggested. His grin changed into a full-fledged smile. He had wonderful teeth. A great smile.

He was almost too good-looking, she decided. A vain man, obviously, who kept his body professional tanned. Even the skin behind his ears was tan. And with his broad shoulders and impressive thighs, he had that bulked-up look that came from pumping iron on a regular basis. His sleek blond hair was trimmed to perfection, his nails professionally manicured. His sport coat was expensive, his jeans starched and creased. The whole encounter would give her something to talk about when she got to New York, she decided as she leaned back in her comfortable seat and relaxed.

A smiling flight attendant appeared to ask if they wanted a preflight drink. Her seatmate ordered an imported beer, Rhonda a Bloody Mary. Then Rhonda pondered what to do next. Ordinarily she opened a magazine or book so she wouldn't have to enter into small talk with whoever was sitting next to her.

She reached in her purse for her reading glasses.

"How about those Mavericks?" he asked, demonstrating that he remembered their previous encounter.

"It's been a good year," she said. "Of course, I was hoping for a better outcome in the playoffs."

"Do you go to the games?"

"Sometimes. My husband and I have season tickets, and we make as many of the games as we can." The mention of her husband made her feel immediately better. Virtuous even. So much so, she kept going. "He used to play basketball in high school, as did our sons."

She was ready to explain that her twin sons were now college freshmen, that they had been named second-team all-Dallas guards their senior year in high school and been offered scholarships by two small state colleges but decided to forgo basketball and go to the University of Texas instead. She was saved from prattling, however, by the arrival of their beverages.

Rhonda took a sip of her Bloody Mary and told herself to calm down and shut up.

Then the man leaned quite close. "I still like your perfume," he said. "In fact, I stopped by the perfume counter at Neiman's to try and figure out what it was. Thought I might get some for my wife. What's it called?"

Rhonda couldn't decide if he was being forward or offering a quid pro quo mention of his wife. "Intimate," she answered, keeping her tone a careful neutral.

"Good name," he said and reached for her left hand. She watched with fascination as he lifted her wrist to his nose and inhaled deeply. Then he carefully returned her hand to her lap.

"Oh, my," Rhonda said. "Well, aren't you something!"

He laughed and lifted his glass to her. "And so are you, I suspect."

Suddenly she decided she didn't want a pair of schoolmarmish reading glasses parked on her nose and slid the glasses case into the magazine pocket on the seat in front of her.

His name was Michael. They didn't exchange last names, which Rhonda found reassuring. She could relax and enjoy the flight. She took another sip of her Bloody Mary, already knowing she was going to have a second.

He asked her if she was going to New York on business.

"No, I'm meeting a couple of old high school friends for a reunion of sorts," she explained.

Michael said that he was representing his company at a meeting of airline executives.

When their elbows touched on the broad armrest, she didn't move hers. What harm could elbow touching do? She had no intention of starting an extramarital relationship with this man or any other. She was happily married to a very fine man whom she loved very much.

Minus her reading glasses, she thumbed through the in-flight magazine during takeoff, able to read only the titles of stories and stare at pictures. As soon as the seat belt light went off, the flight attendant took their orders for a second drink.

After they had been served, she asked to see his Rolex. "I've been thinking about getting one for my husband," she said, which was true. Dennis would be celebrating his fiftieth birthday in November.

She drew Michael's wrist closer for a better look. Of course, without her reading glasses, the face of the watch close up was a blur. When she let go of his wrist, Michael's hand brushed against her breasts. Just lightly. It could have been accidental. But then he put his lips close to her ear. "I meant it when I said you were beautiful," he said. Rhonda realized the young flight attendant was looking at her with envy.

"Is your wife beautiful?" Rhonda asked pointedly.

"She is drop-dead gorgeous," Michael said. "What does your husband look like?"

"He's tall, dark, and handsome," she said. Which wasn't true. Dennis was of medium height and his blond hair was turning gray. He was more genial-looking than handsome. But of course, her conversation with this man had nothing to do with truth. It was just a form of in-flight entertainment.

When their meals arrived, Michael ordered another beer to go with his Mexican dinner. Rhonda had selected crab cakes as her entrée and said yes to a glass of Chablis. The food was rather good, but she was too distracted to eat much. Apparently Michael was, too, as he engaged her in a hypothetical discussion about why a younger man might wish to get involved with an older woman. Such a relationship was uncomplicated, he explained. No one expected marriage. Maybe they were both already married. A mature, married woman could be trusted when it came to birth control. Such a relationship was just about a man and a woman enjoying each other's company and having great sex.

She started to tell him that this hypothetical man was just the sort of unfaithful husband she crucified in the courtroom. But she didn't want him to know that she was an attorney just in case he decided to search the Dallas yellow pages for an attorney whose first name was Rhonda. Instead, she asked what happened when the spouses of this hypothetical man and woman found out about their indiscretion.

"If they're smart, that's not going to happen," he said. "And in a way, they are doing their spouses a favor. Good sex breeds good sex, you know."

"No, I didn't know that," Rhonda said, suddenly tired of the game.

She excused herself and walked very carefully to the restroom, acutely aware that she had had too much to drink. Once in the restroom, she realized she had forgotten to bring her purse. Her nose was shiny and her lipstick gone. She blotted her nose with a tissue and fluffed her hair a bit. Back in her seat, she told Michael that she needed to close her eyes for a while.

She wanted to drift off for a few minutes in order to clear her head, but random thoughts kept popping into her mind. Had she remembered to sign her time sheet at the law office? Had she packed a bathrobe? Just on the verge of dozing, she realized she hadn't reminded Dennis to leave a check for the cleaning woman. If she weren't sitting next to a hunk named Michael, she would use the air-to-ground phone to call her husband. Except the real reason she felt the need to call Dennis was because she was feeling guilty about the whole flirtatious episode. Michael was not a worthy man, and her husband was.

She and Dennis had never flirted much. They simply met, started going out together, and had sex when they could find the time. He was in the third year of a very demanding five-year thoracic surgery residency at the Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas; she was finishing her first year at the Southern Methodist University law school. The following year, when the sex led to pregnancy, they got married — not the greatest romance the world had ever known. She had been surprised that the marriage endured.

She dozed off for a time, waking when the plane began its descent. She pulled out her compact and emitted a frustrated sigh as she attempted to fluff her hair back into shape.

"You look lovely," Michael said.

Her first thought was to argue with him. She did not look lovely. She looked like a reasonably youthful, reasonably attractive woman who would soon celebrate her forty-third birthday. But she decided to accept the compliment for whatever it was worth. "Thanks," she said. "I'm just feeling a bit nervous."

"Has it been a long time since you've seen your friends?"

"Actually, I saw them both two months ago. But that was the first time I had seen one of them since our freshman year in college. I'm meeting them in New York because I didn't have the guts to say that I didn't want to."

"How long are you staying?"

"Several days," she said, deliberately keeping her answer vague.

"I'd very much like to see you while you're here." He took one of her hands in both of his.

"I don't think that would be a good idea," she said, gently pulling her hand away.

"How about giving me your cell phone number?" he asked. "That would be safe enough, wouldn't it?"

God, he was handsome. And sexy. Very sexy.

"This entire encounter has been good for my ego," she acknowledged, "but I am not interested in turning it into a relationship."

"A faithful wife," he commented. "Your husband is a fortunate man."

"Oh, I'm not so sure about that."

She stared out the window as the plane landed and began its long taxi to the gate. Holly and Gina Kay had departed from the Waco airport on an earlier flight. Unless their flight had been delayed, they would be waiting for her outside of the baggage claim area.

Whatever had possessed her to say yes to this trip? She didn't have the time to spare.

And she had never forgiven Gina Kay.

• • •

Rhonda's suitcase was one of the first down the chute. She wrestled it from the conveyor belt, attached her carry-on to it, and pulled them behind her as she headed toward the exit.

And there were Holly and Gina Kay, with their suitcases already collected, smiling and waving. They were standing next to a man in an ill-fitting blue jacket and a billed cap. He was holding a sign with robertson printed on it.

Rhonda started in their direction, when suddenly Michael was at her side, his hand on her arm. "You left this," he said, holding out her glasses case. "My name is Michael Forester," he said. "I put the name and telephone number of my hotel inside. I want you to call me."

"But...," Rhonda began.

"I know," he interrupted. "You love your husband and need to spend all your time with two friends from high school. But I bet you can get away for an hour or so." He put his hand on her arm. "I would really like to see you again."

• • •

On the ride into Manhattan, Holly asked Rhonda about Michael. "A friend of yours? God, what a hunk! A young hunk."

"No, not a friend," Rhonda said, feeling a flush taking over her neck. "He sat next to me on the airplane."

She thought of the glasses case in her purse, which had his New York phone number inside. Michael Forester's New York phone number. He had taken a next step by telling her his last name.

Did women really get so needy for a romp in the hay that they fucked strange men they met on airplanes?

But she had been attracted to him, no denying that, she thought, remembering the contours of his face, his knowing smile, his powerful body. Now she was in turmoil, and Holly was looking at her, an odd, questioning look on her face.

Okay, Rhonda told herself. Let's get a grip here. At the first opportunity, she was going to tear up the piece of paper tucked inside her glasses case.

If she hadn't come on this stupid trip, she would not have met that man and would not now be facing this crisis of conscience. She either needed to turn around and go back home or try to remember what her expectations had been when she agreed to this trip.

As late as yesterday evening, she had considered backing out. She imagined calling Holly and making her voice scratchy and hoarse as she explained how rotten she was feeling.

Of course, Rhonda had felt a need to make a pilgrimage of sorts to New York since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. She loved the city and had spent one glorious summer there studying family law at New York University. She had enjoyed her time in New York so much that she'd considered transferring, but she had a scholarship at SMU and was on track for Law Review and other accolades. But oh, how she would have loved it. New York was so full of life and endless variety, just walking to class had been a thrill. Not like the small Texas town where she had gone to high school, or like Dallas, where she now lived. There was no variety in small Texas towns, and the state's cities lacked the density that made New York the city that it was. In Dallas, one spent mind-numbing hours each day in a car. In New York, those hours were spent on sidewalks or subways, immersed in a swirling stream of life. In New York, as a fair-skinned, brown-haired, hazel-eyed WASP with a Texas drawl, she had felt almost exotic. Certainly not the norm. Which was fun. Sometimes she had even played up the drawl, peppering her speech with flirty y'alls and sure 'noughs.

She didn't talk like that anymore. It didn't play well in courtrooms.

The only trip she had taken to New York in the intervening years was the mandatory take-the-kids-to-visit-the-UN and see the sights. She'd found the trip almost painful and realized that she should have taken the risk, even if it meant taking out student loans, and stayed in New York to finish her law degree. If she had done that, she probably could have gone home to Texas and the rest of her life without this feeling that maybe she had missed something important. As it was, she got pregnant the first week back and ended up marrying Dennis.

Why had she agreed to this trip to New York, Rhonda pondered. Certainly not because of some silly promise she and Holly and Gina Kay had made at their senior prom.

When it came right down to it, she needed something from Gina Kay. An apology maybe. Certainly an explanation.

Probably, she never should have gone to Terry's funeral.

Copyright © 2005 by Judith Henry Wall, Inc.

Meet the Author

Judith Henry Wall is the author of several previous novels, including The Girlfriends Club, My Mother's Daughter, If Love Were All, Blood Sisters, and Love and Duty. She lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

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A Good Man 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The characters who make up the book reflect friends who re-connect. I found it to be very different from what I expected..which depending on why your reading the book may also depend on your reaction to the plot. It was a fast read and one that once you got into the book you really didn't want to put it down. The main character in the beginning did not remain the main character in the end. Join three lovely ladies who re-connect for a high school re-union and share in the laughter, smiles and tears that go along with their story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At first I really didn't think I would like this book at all, but it ended really well and she did a wonderful job really bringing the story to life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book with a gift certificate that I received at Christmas. It was bargain-priced and had some pretty good reviews. I also bought 4 others. Out of them all, this was my favorite. It lagged in some areas but I finished it with tears in my eyes. I think the story line was the perfect mix of sadness, anger, love and forgiveness. The author touched on 9/11 through the New York City trip the characters took and, while not delving too deeply, was able to express the mix of awful emotions that came with that tragedy.It was a very easy read. Although one could easily put it down and pick it back up, I found it hard to put down about halfway through. I would highly recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found the characters in this book poorly developed. The storyline was cliched and the language amateurish. In short, don't waste precious time reading this one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read The Girlfriends Club. It was great. But this one, A Good Man, was even better. The author explores the boundaries of deep affection, friendship, first love, and commitment...I highly recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While I was certainly hooked early on needing to find out the 'why', I was a little disappointed at how long it took and what little soul searching went on after all was disclosed. I still recommend the book, just wish it was done a little differently.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Lamberton, Texas Rhonda, Holly and Gina Kay were best buddies attending high school together. Rhonda had one foible: her obsessive love for her boyfriend Terry Robertson, an heir with a suicidal attitude. Her parents forced Rhonda to leave Terry to attend college; eventually she became a lawyer. In high school Holly fantasized of becoming a famous fashion designer, but instead runs a successful wedding-gown business. Gina Kay was impoverished with an ambulatory mother until she won the Miss American Teenager beauty contest that included a college scholarship. The friendship between the three buds ended when Terry eloped with Gina Kay........................... The threesome is together for the first time in two decades at Terry¿s ranch now owned by his widow Gina Kay following his funeral. After numerous attempts to kill himself and passengers by vehicular suicide, Terry lived up to the mantra of if at first you don¿t succeed try again. With the object of their schism interred Rhonda, Holly and Gina Kay head to Manhattan to exorcise his ghost find reconciliation, and start new adventures with Russian immigrants in Brighton Beach............................. This profound character study looks deep inside the three amigas and through them at the late Terry. The story line hooks the audience who want to know more about Terry and his relationships with the trio. Though the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn enable further glimpses at the lead protagonists, that sidebar takes away from the critical essence of how a male can break up the strongest sisterhood bond (explained via well designed flashbacks). Judith Henry Wall paints a powerful family drama although the childhood friends are not related by blood, they act like siblings........................