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She remembered the cell phone ringing as she'd pulled into the garage after the garden club meeting-Susan Andrews wanted to discuss the upcoming ballet guild fundraiser. Absorbed by the conversation Mary Beth had wandered inside and tossed the keys ... somewhere. She drew a blank.
Nerves thrumming, she chewed the pad of her thumb, which wasn't as satisfying as biting her nails but protected her bi-weekly manicure. Good thing Stephen wasn't here, because he considered any kind of finger or nail chewing "coarse."
What was it he said last week when she couldn't find her sunglasses? "Forty years old and senile already."
It was a joke but also a jibe. Stephen, who was nearly sixty and neurotically organized, never misplaced anything and didn't understand people who did. Especially his wife.
The minute-hand on the art deco kitchen clock stuttered forward, and she was later still. As breathless as if she was in the middle of a tennis lesson, she rapidly searched the kitchen, the den, the dining and living rooms, and even the powder room reserved for guests. No luck. The keys weren't in any of the bedrooms or bathrooms upstairs, either, or in her purse, sweater, or coat pockets.
"Oh, dear," she muttered, back in the kitchen. Maybe she was getting senile.
It was her day to drive carpool. Aurora didn't like to be kept waiting after swim-team practice, which ended exactly fifteen minutes from now. Mary Beth pictured her daughter's pretty young face tightened into the same scowl Stephen used to convey disapproval. Father and daughter also shared the same intolerance for those who weren't as organized and punctual as they were.
But then lately, Aurora found fault with Mary Beth no matter what she did. At fourteen the world revolved around her, and she expected her mother to bow to her needs no matter what. Teenagers!
Worse, Aurora would whine about this to Stephen tomorrow night when he called from Singapore. Then the chiding would begin.
"There are only three of us in this family, Mary Beth. How hard can it be to run the household smoothly and efficiently?" she mimicked, lowering her voice in imitation of Stephen's. "Surely even you can do that."
"I'd like to see you juggle Women's Club and PTA meetings, the garden club, symphony, art guild, and opera fundraisers, and sit through every one of Aurora's swim meets and clarinet recitals," she muttered under her breath.
Not loud enough for anyone to hear, because Mary Beth preferred to avoid conflict. Of course, at the moment there was nobody around to hear.
Stephen never drove Aurora anyplace, and he rarely attended her activities. He was too busy making money and traveling to Asia to work with clients. He paid the bills and handled the investments. Mary Beth's job was to run the house and care for their daughter, and that meant picking her up on time.
The phone rang-not the cell but the land line. She ignored it. Friends and family would know to try the cell. Anybody else could leave a voicemail message. After five rings, the machine picked up.
There was one last place to check for the keys. By the time she reached the foyer, the phone was ringing again. Her gaze homed in on the marble-top console inside the entry. Though she couldn't recall using the front door or the adjoining coat closet today, her keys lay there, a tangle of silver and gold.
Wouldn't you know they'd be in the last place she looked. At least she had them now. They jingled as she snatched them up.
The phone went silent. Almost immediately it rang again. Odd. She checked her watch, then rushed into the kitchen and picked up.
"Is this Mrs. Mary Beth Mason?" asked a sober female voice.
Too clipped and businesslike for a salesperson. "Yes, it is," she replied, tapping her toe impatiently on the floor. Hurry up, hurry up.
"This is Barbara Collins for Dr. Suzanne Frank at Harborview Hospital in Seattle. Please hold."
Seattle? Aside from a family vacation years ago, Mary Beth didn't know the city or anyone living there. This call made no sense, but while she waited on hold she ran through the possibilities. Couldn't be family, because Stephen and Aurora were her only living relatives. Stephen had a frail brother twelve years older, but he lived in England. There were business associates all over the world, but all their friends lived here in San Francisco.
The line clicked. "This is Dr. Frank," said a soft female voice. "I'm afraid I have bad news. Your husband has suffered a massive coronary."
The words didn't penetrate. Mary Beth frowned. "There must be some mistake. Who did you say you are?"
"Dr. Suzanne Frank at Harborview Hospital," the woman repeated. "You are the Mary Beth Mason married to Stephen Edward Mason III?"
"I am, but-"
"Your husband is in the ICU under my care, Mrs. Mason."
The keys slipped from Mary Beth's fingers, clattering onto the tile. "But that can't be." She sank onto a bleached-wood kitchen chair. "Stephen is a partner at the law firm of Jones, Westin and Hawkins. He specializes in international law. That's why he's in Singapore." Though no one could see her, she shook her head. "He's definitely not in Seattle."
The doctor cleared her throat. "Look, I don't know anything about your husband's travel itinerary. All I know is, if you want to see him alive you'd better get up here right away. I don't think he's going to make it through the night."
Mary Beth slumped in the hospital-beige lounge chair outside the Harborview Hospital Cardiac ICU. It was nearly one in the morning, eight hours since she'd received the call that had brought her here. She'd arrived at the hospital only twenty minutes ago, but it felt like days.
Stephen had suffered a second coronary, the nurse at the ICU desk had informed her, and the doctors were working to save him. So here she sat, numb and waiting. Yet nagging questions hummed through her brain like irritating gnats.
For starters, what was Stephen doing in Seattle when he was supposed to be in Singapore? Why hadn't he told her where he was?
Mary Beth hugged her Prada handbag close. It was cold and hard when she needed warmth, a comforting touch, or at least a sympathetic smile. But at this late hour she was the lone visitor.
If only she'd brought Aurora. Her distraught daughter had begged to come along, but Mary Beth hadn't wanted her to see her daddy this sick. So she'd called Ellie Saunders, her oldest and dearest friend, and asked her to stay with Aurora. Stephen didn't approve of the never-married Ellie, whose father once had served time for passing bad checks and who worked as a paralegal at a non-profit law firm specializing in immigration. But the woman was like a sister to Mary Beth and a godsend of a friend, and she lived in nearby Oakland. She'd packed a bag and come at once, offering to stay with Aurora until Mary Beth brought Stephen home.
The elevator pinged and a weary-looking but beautiful woman stepped from the cage, balancing a large cup of Starbucks coffee and a jumbo Godiva chocolate bar. She wore strappy heels that had to hurt her feet, and shimmery off-black stockings. Her legs were long and shapely, and she walked like a woman used to high heels, an art Mary Beth had never mastered.
Blowing a strand of thick, blond hair from her face, she took a seat across from the white coffee table in the same waiting area. Her hair was shoulder-length, wavy and glamorous, and the color looked natural. She set down her things and shrugged out of her black dress coat, which looked to be cashmere.
The coffee smelled good. Mary Beth tucked her limp, brown, chin-length hair, which she dyed to hide the gray, behind her ears. She and the blonde exchanged weary, sad smiles.
The woman was a good ten years younger than she. Judging by the slinky black cocktail dress clinging to her body, she was slimmer and shapelier than Mary Beth had ever been. She put on weight just thinking about candy, but this woman probably ate all the chocolate she wanted and never gained a pound.
Mary Beth envied her. She also felt frumpy and fat. She tugged her gray cardigan over her ample hips and wished she'd changed out of her old gray wool trousers, striped blouse, and loafers before rushing to catch the plane.
Not that different clothes would help. She was and always had been on the chubby side of petite.
The woman ignored her coffee and tore open the candy bar. Mary Beth couldn't help but notice her nails. Short but not chewed, and no polish. Mary Beth's were acrylic, moderately long, and a tasteful sea-shell pink. She flexed her fingers proudly. She definitely had this woman in the nail department.
Her companion noted Mary Beth's open study and quickly swallowed a mouthful of candy.
Shamed by her petty, vain thoughts when her gravely ill husband lay fighting for his life down the hall, Mary Beth flushed. "That's a lovely name."
"Thank you." Caroline held out the candy. "Would you like some?"
Hugging her purse to her waist, Mary Beth shook her head. "Thanks, but I'd better not. I'm Mary Beth."
"Nice to meet you," Caroline said. "I feel so silly wearing these clothes to the hospital," she gestured at her sheath and shoes, "but my husband and I were about to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. We live on Bainbridge Island, and he was supposed to pick me up at the dock and take me to dinner and dancing. But he never made it. Apparently he collapsed while waiting for me in the parking lot. Massive coronary." Frowning, she absently rolled a corner of the wrapper around her finger. "I never did get dinner, so I guess this is it. I'm not really hungry, though." She tossed the candy bar onto the table, then picked up the coffee, raising it as if in toast. "Cheers."
"I'm so sorry," Mary Beth replied. "You seem much too young to worry about old-age diseases like heart attacks."
"Actually, my husband is quite a bit older than I am. He was a widower when I married him. I was a baby, barely twenty, but I knew he was the man I wanted."
Mary Beth knew about marrying young, and nodded. "We have a lot in common. I was also twenty when I married. My husband, too, is older, by twenty years. He'd been divorced quite awhile and couldn't wait to get married. Neither could I."
Remembering, she smiled. She and Stephen had been so much in love that nothing mattered but sharing wedding vows and setting up house. "He was starved for feminine attention."
"I know exactly what you mean. Taking care of my husband was so time-consuming, it took me three years to get the fifteen credits I needed for my graphic arts degree."
"At least you got it." Mary Beth had wanted to earn her bachelor of arts in history, but Stephen had said she didn't need a degree because he would take care of her for the rest of her life. Wanting to please him, she hadn't argued.
"I not only graduated, I run a successful graphic design business from home," Caroline said proudly. "What do you do?"
"Compared to you, not much. I'm a housewife and mother. Lately though, I've been thinking about going back to school-I'm not sure what field-and then getting a job. Our daughter's nearly grown and I need to find something to fill the time."
Mary Beth shut her mouth. She'd never admitted her dream aloud, and here she was, telling a stranger.
Caroline threw her a thumbs-up. "Good for you, Mary Beth. I say, go for it."
"Maybe I will." Though Stephen wouldn't like the idea of her working. He was old-fashioned that way. "But not right now." Mary Beth glanced at the closed doors of the ICU. "Like your husband, mine also suffered a massive coronary. The weird thing is, I don't know what he's doing in Seattle." She massaged her temples, which had started to pound. "We live in San Francisco. He was supposed to be in Singapore on business."
"You're a good eight hundred miles from home." Caroline's big, blue eyes filled with sympathy. "If God forbid it had to happen, it should have happened in your own city. My husband travels to Singapore, too. He's a lawyer."
"No kidding. Mine too, specializing in international law. Who knows, maybe they know each other. Who does he work for?"
"He's self-employed. Wouldn't that be a sad coincidence." Caroline's mouth hinted at a smile. "They could talk business through their oxygen masks."
Mary Beth grinned. Given the gravity of their situations, an eavesdropper might be appalled at their light banter. But talking with this friendly stranger helped keep her from drowning in worry, and she clung to their conversation like a lifeline.
She liked this woman and her dry sense of humor, and wanted to know more about her. "Any children?" she asked.
"One daughter, Jax." Caroline caught a lock of her wavy hair between two fingers and absently tugged it. "She's seven, and the apple of her daddy's eye. How many do you have?"
"Same as you, a daughter. Aurora's fourteen, and a lot like her father. He's her hero, the man who can do no wrong." Mary Beth glanced at the forbidding ICU doors and bit her lip. "If anything happens to him ..."
"I know." Caroline leaned forward, caught Mary Beth's hand and squeezed it.
Mary Beth squeezed back, then let go to hug herself. For a moment neither of them spoke, each lost in the grip of fear and uncertainty. Sharing the pain with someone who understood was a great comfort.
"So Aurora puts her father on a pedestal," Caroline said after a while. "Are you up there, too?"
"I wish. Her dad's gone so much that I get stuck with the discipline and the unpleasant stuff. You know what I mean. Making sure the homework is done, and keeping an eye on the amount of time she spends on the computer. If I didn't limit her phone and TV time, too, she'd fritter away her life on them. That makes me the evil mother."
"Jax isn't into chat rooms or cell phones yet, but like you, I'm the disciplinarian." Caroline sighed. "Why do husbands do that to their wives-force them to be the mean taskmasters?"
"Isn't it obvious? To make themselves look better."
"Huh. I never saw it that way, but I think you may be on to something."
"Took me a while to figure it out, but I've got ten more years of marriage than you. I'm sure you'd have figured it out sooner or later. You think you have it rough now, just wait 'til Jax reaches puberty," Mary Beth added. "Then life gets really fun."
"I'll just bet." Caroline wrinkled her nose. "Is it as awful as they say?"
They smiled at each other as if this were a mundane conversation at the dentist's office.
Suddenly the ICU doors swung open and a slender, fifty-something woman in blood-streaked scrubs strode toward the waiting room. Mary Beth caught her breath.
"I'm Dr. Suzanne Frank." She glanced at Mary Beth. "Mrs. Mason?"
Her heart in her throat, she jumped up. "Yes?"
Caroline also rose. "I'm Mrs. Mason," she said, shooting Mary Beth an odd look.
As if she were crazy.
"Now this really is a coincidence," Mary Beth said. "Both of us with the same last name, with husbands who travel to Singapore and are here in the ICU."
The doctor frowned from one to the other. "There's only one patient with the last name 'Mason' here-Stephen. Which of you is Stephen Mason's wife?"
"That would be me-"
Mary Beth and Caroline replied at the same time. Clearly the blond woman was delusional. Mary Beth gaped at her. "I ought to know who my husband is. We've been married twenty years."
"Who your husband was," the doctor gently corrected, her expression both grave and sympathetic. "I'm sorry, but he died on the operating table."
She waited for grief to flood her or her heart to break. But she couldn't feel anything, couldn't think, couldn't cry, as if her body, brain, and heart were shrouded in thick cotton. She observed this as if from a great distance, curiously detached, yet deeply interested in her surroundings and in everything she said and did.
A shiver shook her, causing her to tremble violently. She chafed her arms, a useless motion given that her very core was frozen. Too cold to feel.
Maybe she was in shock. If she could just crawl into her and Stephen's king-size bed and burrow under the cashmere blankets, maybe she'd warm up and awaken from this nightmare.
But the woman standing on the other side of Stephen's body was no dream. Nor were the big, silent tears rolling down the perfect, smooth skin of her high cheekbones.
Excerpted from ANOTHER LIFE by Ann Roth Copyright © 2007 by Ann Schuessler. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted April 23, 2007
Is it possible to lead a double life? After reading Ann Roth's debut into women's fiction, I actually think so......one reads about it all of the time, a man who travels, has wealth, prestige, and comes with a 'Knob Hill pedigree'? It makes a believer out of me! Picture this, a hospital waiting room......you live in San Francisco and think your international lawyer husband is in China on business and you get a call he's suffered a heart attack. How would you react? So you make arrangements for your teenage daughter and fly to his bedside in Seattle. While in the waiting room this lovely woman enters.....you feel frumpy as she's dressed in evening wear, is younger and seems to have it 'together' but she's distressed as well. You both talk about your husbands, your family and feel a bond due to the fact that the 'men' you both love are in critical care. Then the doctor comes and says 'Mrs. Mason and both of you answer 'yes'? 'I'm sorry but your husband has passed'......and the nightmare begins. Another Life, what an appropriate title, is a wonderful book and I honestly could not put it down once I began reading the story of Beth and Caroline. Even though in the beginning they bonded at the hospital, they both have a lot to loose......not just the man they both loved, but two girls from each marriage could be badly hurt, their finances in serious trouble, reputations marred and gossip a plenty! Were they both angry? Of course, did they resent each other? Yes! But who would think that months later they would turn to each other because they were both going through the same thing and could relate to their horrible loss and financial situation! What a message this book gives the reader. I suggest you read the book and learn from the experience and you might ask what that would be? If you're married, in a relationship, take the time to get involved, ask questions of your partner, plan ahead and protect your family. Being a partner is just that, an equal in all aspects of your relationship. I'm very passionate about this as I was blessed with a wonderful marriage and it ended suddenly with my husband's unexpected passing. Thank God we had incredible years together, shared everything in our marriage and planned ahead. If you haven't or even if you single, take a look at Ann's website. She has a guide for women that is so worth taking a look at, I promise. And if you want an entertaining read, one that delves into who you are, what you can be, how to make lemonade out of lemons and most importantly friendship and understanding, then Another Life is for you! Ann Roth, bravo......an excellent and entertaining book!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
In San Francisco, Mary Beth Mason is stunned when her beloved spouse of two decades Stephen dies from a heart attack. She initially grieves her loss and worries about their daughter. However, she soon wonders if she knew her husband as she finds herself in major debt instead of the affluence she thought would continue even with her husband¿s death as he made a bundle as a high priced elite attorney.----------- On the other side of the state Caroline Mason grieves the death of her beloved husband Stephen, a high priced attorney who traveled all over California and worries about the impact on their daughter. She is shocked to find mountains of debt instead of the affluence she expected.------------ When Caroline and Mary Beth meet they forge a deal once each overcomes the shock that their beloved Stephen was a bigamist. Instead of outrage at one another, the two widows help one another and their offspring as a bond forms between the four female survivors left behind by Stephen.------------- This is an interesting family drama starring a solid cast stunned by whet they have learned about the man each adulated. A late romance seems unnecessary and the adjustments made by the widows and their daughters seems a bit to easy considering how deep the betrayal must be as Stephen was a hero to the four women, but his legacy proved false. Still Ann Roth provides an intriguing look at moving on while grieving more than just the loss of a loved one.------------ Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 25, 2011
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Posted May 23, 2011
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