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Coming Back to Me: A Novelby Caroline Leavitt
It can take a long time to build up a life, and only moments to destroy it. Gary and Molly met in the way couples do: after a long haul of being single, quickly becoming soulmates and rejoicing in that fact. Beautiful, red-haired Molly ignites a fire in Gary and he eases the pain she feels about her past. Starting a family is something they both want badly to do,
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It can take a long time to build up a life, and only moments to destroy it. Gary and Molly met in the way couples do: after a long haul of being single, quickly becoming soulmates and rejoicing in that fact. Beautiful, red-haired Molly ignites a fire in Gary and he eases the pain she feels about her past. Starting a family is something they both want badly to do, and with great joy, Molly finds herself pregnant.
It is when she leaves for the hospital that things start to go wrong. Only a few weeks later, alone with a newborn and a mountain of medical bills he has no means to pay for, Gary must call on Molly's long estranged sister Suzanne to help. From Sue Miller to Elizabeth Berg, bestelling authors have tackled the challenges of love and marriage. Caroline Leavitt claims the turf in her own exciting way, twisting and turning a medical nightmare into an opportunity for redemption and hope.
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Coming Back to Me
By Caroline Leavitt
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2001 Caroline Leavitt
All rights reserved.
Gary Breyer had first fallen in love with Molly at the Tastee diner. He was not a man who fell in love easily, but he had always hoped he might. People had always told him that he was smart and funny, and although he didn't consider himself very good-looking, women, to his great astonishment, found him handsome. They touched his heavy lashes, his thick mop of black hair curling into the collars of his jackets. They found his sloppy way of dressing in flannel shirts and tees, in faded jeans and high-top sneakers, endearing and boyish.
He almost always had dates, photographers he worked with, a cellist he had met at a concert, a pharmacist who had filled his antibiotic prescription, and once even a hand model who had put a skin of cold cream on her hands before slipping them into her white cotton gloves every night. Sometimes the women fell in love with him and sometimes he fell in love back, but in the end, nothing ever took, his relationships slowly drifted apart, and he never quite understood why. His girlfriends told him he was too intense, or sometimes not intense enough. "The fit isn't right, that's all it is," Emily, his last girlfriend, had said two days before she left him to go back with her ex-boyfriend, a ski bum living in Utah who seemed to fit her just fine. Sometimes, though, he was the one who broke off the relationships. He fell out of love with a nurse because she hated to talk about her feelings. He stopped seeing a book editor after she came home from a two-week business trip and he suddenly realized he hadn't missed her.
Gary began to feel a great, deep sadness, a restless longing as if love were a season that had somehow never arrived for him. He tried to keep busy. He had a job he loved, designing book jackets at Treasures Press in Brooklyn, and he didn't mind working long hours or late at night. He lived in bookstores and at the movies, and he had a network of friends who opened their homes to him Thanksgivings and Christmases and New Years. But gradually, as he and his friends all started getting older, their twenties nudging into their thirties, his friends began marrying and having kids. He rented tuxes for their weddings, he gave fluid, funny toasts and flirted gallantly with all the bridesmaids, and gradually, he even began to attend the christenings and birthday parties, the pint-sized celebrations filled with small, buttery voices calling him Uncle Gary. Uncle. Family. He was and yet he wasn't. And as his friends moved farther and farther away from him, out of his Chelsea neighborhood and deeper into the suburbs or out of New York entirely, he saw them less and less, and when he did, his friends' conversations were peppered with names and places he didn't recognize; their kids sometimes couldn't remember who he was.
He couldn't help but envy his friends' lives. He stood in his married friend Bob's kitchen in Massachusetts, leaning along the adobe tile wall, watching Bob and his wife, Rayanna, cooking, the two of them teasing, every passed spoon so intimate an act, Gary felt like a voyeur. He walked to films in Ithaca with Allan, a copywriter he had worked with and befriended, and Allan's girlfriend, Peggy, but Gary walked alone with his hands deep in his pockets, while theirs were twined together. His friends saw how silent he sometimes got; they tried to keep including him in their lives, they handed him phone numbers of women they thought he might like, they tried to generate romance. "Maybe you want too much," Allan finally suggested. "Maybe you should be more realistic. Stop expecting miracles."
Gary began to feel weary. He began to tell himself that peace and solitude were not such bad things, that a person could be happy in his own company. He began taking drives, exploring, and he began to eat more and more of his meals at a tiny New Jersey diner he discovered, a black-and-chrome shoe box called the Tastee.
The Tastee had chrome tables and soft leatherette booths. There was a rotating neon clock that took up a quarter of the far wall. The diner was fairly crowded, and there were four waitresses bustling around, white aprons snapped about their waists, name tags pinned to their breasts. One of them, a middle-aged blonde with a name tag that said Donna, nodded toward the back. "Spicy fries are good today," she urged.
"Okay. And coffee, too," Gary said. Glen Campbell was crooning on the jukebox about being a lineman for the county. It was one of those corny songs Gary was embarrassed to admit he liked. Gary made his way to the back and sat down in a booth and looked around. There were lots of families here, mothers daubing napkins at their kids' faces, fathers in business suits, leaning forward, talking earnestly to their teenaged daughters who were rolling their eyes or staring blankly off into space. There were some couples, a few groups of elderly women, and there in the back, sitting alone, eating soup, was the most beautiful woman Gary had ever seen.
Her hair was a fiery tangle of curls spiraling down her back. She had a constellation of freckles dotted across her nose, a small pointed chin, and eyes as clear and gray as slate. Her white overalls looked a size too big for her, her white sweater underneath was unraveling at the elbow, and her left high-top sneaker had a blue paint scribble on the toe. She was curved over, one hand cupping her chin, the other on her book, reading so avidly, she seemed to be eating her soup blindly, raising the spoon slowly to her mouth, not taking her eyes from her page. He liked it that she liked to read, that she seemed so at home by herself. He liked it, too, that she didn't act like it was a failing that she didn't have a guy with her or another girlfriend, but rather that she was enjoying herself completely. He watched her for a moment, waiting, seeing if there might be an opening for him, but when she didn't look up, when his fries arrived, he turned his attention to them.
He told himself she could be married. He didn't see a ring, but that didn't mean anything. She could be in love or on her way to France on the next flight out. He ate a fry, crackled with pepper, spiked with garlic, jolting his appetite, so that he was suddenly starving. He pronged a couple more fries on his fork. Beside him, two teenagers in identical blue turtlenecks and jeans got up and began to slow dance to an old Bruce Springsteen song. They crowded the aisle, slinging their arms about each other's shoulders. One of the waitresses was laughing, a high, roller-coaster peal. "I gotta get past you guys," she warned, edging around the dancers, pushing them closer. Gary watched the kids swaying, all that heat and energy and young love, all that promise and purpose, and then, because he couldn't help himself, he glanced over at the redheaded woman again. She turned a page, half smiling as she read, so deep in thought she didn't notice when her sleeve dipped in her bowl, making a wobbly soupy star on her elbow. Gary grinned to himself. He couldn't help watching her a second more, and then he suddenly wished for a book for himself, too, a sketch pad. Next time, he told himself.
He grabbed another fry. He didn't know what it was about this woman, why every time he looked at her, why every time she moved, he felt a change in the atmosphere, a charge. It was ridiculous. He didn't know anything about her, who she was, what she did, whether or not she was smart or funny or even remotely interesting. She could be moody or psychotic. She could be simple as a pane of glass. He couldn't see what she was reading, though he half hoped it was a classic, or something new and good, anything other than a celebrity bio or a lurid True Crime, that was engaging her so much that she didn't look up and see him, she didn't feel his interest.
Maybe he'd go over to the redheaded woman's table, ask to borrow the salt or the pepper, start a conversation and see what happened. People met people anywhere. In movie lines, at supermarkets. He had had one friend who had met his wife when he had stumbled on the street, reaching up to grab something to steady himself, and he had grabbed her, instead, ripping her skirt hem, tumbling her down with him. "I beg your pardon," she had said, and two months later, they were married. What did Gary have to lose?
He grabbed up one last fry, studded with pepper, intensely salted. He got up, taking the fries with him, and walked toward her table. Outside, it had begun to snow, damp, heavy flakes that clung to the glass window. He could see bits of gold glinting in all that red hair. He could see her paperback, the title like a beacon. Truman Capote. She read Truman Capote. Something tightened and pulsed, zipping up his spine. She was smart. He was about to introduce himself, to ask if she'd like to join him, when she looked up. Her eyes were flickering with light. "Hey, I know you," she said.
"Don't I?" Her voice was low and rich. She leaned forward, nearly toppling her glass, water sloshing from its lip. They both reached for the glass at the same time, and his fingers touched hers. A jolt of heat moved up through his fingers. She looked up at him, waiting. "Don't you want to sit down?"
Her name was Molly Goldman and as soon as he sat down, he couldn't stop talking to her. He told her about growing up without his parents, about growing up with Pearl, and about his job. She told him she lived in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where she taught third grade.
"A teacher!" he said. It tickled him. He could just see her in the classroom, paint on her clothes, chalk in her hair. Kids clamoring at her feet.
She looked at him curiously. "Is that a funny profession to have? You're smiling so hard."
"No, no, it's perfect. It's a great thing to be."
"I think so. I mean, I really love it. The only thing about it is that sometimes it's a little insulating." She looked happily around the diner. "That's why I come here. The noise. The commotion. Seeing different people. Especially adults. You come here enough times you start feeling like family. I know all the waitresses here. And they don't care if I read or work here half the night and order only grilled cheese." She told him she had thirty kids and while most of them were workingclass baloney-sandwich-and-milk type of kids, some of her students had more money in their bank accounts than she ever would, and they all knew it. She laughed. "Last Christmas two of my students came to my house in a caroling group and I invited all of them in. They kept opening the closet doors, sure there must be another room in there and not just my old moth-eaten coats."
"I admit it, I fall right in love with my kids. I worry about them and champion them and I start feeling like they're mine. And I always forget that they're just on loan. That they only love me for a year, then they move on and change and fall in love with their new teacher and bang — I'm history. It's sort of sad."
"But they must come back and visit, don't they?"
Molly shrugged. "Sometimes. Some of them do. But it's always just to reminisce. I'm not a part of their lives anymore. Which, I guess, is the way it should be." She looked over at his fries. "Can I have some of those?" she said, and he pushed the plate over and she picked one up with her fingers. "Anyway," she said. "It's a weird universe, teaching. The other teachers I work with are mostly married women and they drive me crazy always trying to fix me up." She reached for another one of Gary's fries. "They're always trying to push me together with this guy Jack, who teaches kindergarten. They keep saying, 'Oh, you make such a cute couple! You look so good together!' One of the teachers even bought me this joke T-shirt she said I ought to wear so Jack might get the hint. TEACHERS DO IT WITH CLASS. When I finally took Jack aside and told him, he laughed. 'Gee, should I tell my Andrew?' he said."
Gary laughed and took another spicy fry from the plate, his fingers brushing hers.
By the time Molly and Gary were on their fourth cup of coffee, the snow was so heavy you couldn't see out the windows, the radio was predicting a state of potential emergency, and Gary was so enraptured by Molly he didn't care if it snowed forever. The lights flickered and went out. "Oh, hell," said the waitress.
"Is this okay, staying here in all this snow?" he asked her.
"I like dramatic weather."
The waitresses lit candles. Customers got up, putting money down on the bill, bundling into their coats, their hats, pulling the brims down low. The waitresses glanced at the clock.
Gary looked at Molly. "Could I call you some time?"
Gary told himself to take it slow. He hadn't been lucky in love before. The best thing to do would be to give them both room and not rush into anything. He had her home and school phone numbers tacked up on the bulletin board in his office in his apartment. Today was Monday. He didn't want her to think he was crazy or desperate. He'd wait until Wednesday, maybe even Thursday to call her.
He tried to bury himself in his work. He came in early to find Ada, his secretary, setting something up on a tray. Ada was young and pretty and anorexic-looking, with a blaze of blond curls, and nine times out of ten she was dressed in blue because she claimed it was a calming color for her. She grinned at him and held up the tray. Brownies were arranged on it. "Carob brownies today," she announced. "Fruit juice sweetened." She waited, expectant.
Ada was macrobiotic and was always trying to gain converts to her cause. A week didn't pass when she didn't bring something in, and even at the end of the day, when all her goodies lay untouched, she didn't get angry or depressed. She took them home, whistling. She came back the next week with more.
"Try one," Ada pressed. Maybe it was thinking about Molly, feeling as if something were sparkling inside of him. Maybe it was feeling so good. But Gary took a carob brownie from Ada. She looked at him, shocked and delighted. "Why, Gary!" she said, "good for you!" and he took a bite.
The brownie broke apart in his mouth in dry little pebbles. He couldn't swallow. Ada's smile grew. "What did I tell you?" she said happily.
"Mmm," he said, and excused himself, shutting the door to his office. He grabbed a Kleenex, spat out the rest, and tossed it, along with the rest of the brownie, into the trash, burying it under a shelf of paper. He searched his desk for the cough drops he kept around and tucked two into the side of his cheek to kill the papery taste.
All that day, he couldn't stop thinking about Molly. He ran out for a quick lunch at a local sandwich shop, but as soon as he sat down, he saw a flash of red hair from the corner of his eye. He looked around for Molly, confused. A woman with glasses was walking past, balancing a tray. A deeply tanned woman was waving to a friend. The red hair — and Molly — were nowhere to be found. He suddenly wasn't hungry anymore. He got up and went back to work and stared at his layout for the cover of a boating book called Ships Ahoy! The information he had on the book itself was sketchy, but he knew editorial wanted something streamlined, something technical-looking, despite the dopey title. He bet the marketing V.P., a recent MBA graduate fond of catch phrases, wouldn't like the bold typeface he wanted against a bold design. "All bold is no bold," she'd admonish. He crumpled the layout up and threw it in the trash. He clicked the computer on again and made a pale gray screen. Molly's eyes are gray, he thought, and then, despite himself, he picked up the phone and called Molly at school. "Is this an emergency?" the school secretary asked him.
"Why, yes, I believe it is."
As soon as he heard Molly's voice, he was grinning again. The words seemed to spill out of him. "I know we just met yesterday. But what about dinner tomorrow night?"
She laughed. "I thought you'd never ask."
He wanted to talk more with her. He could have stayed on the line all afternoon, but she interrupted him. "Gary, listen," she said hurriedly. "We're not supposed to get personal calls. They really frown on it." Her voice lowered. "But listen, too, I know this great place we can try for our dinner. The waitresses sing opera. They're absolutely terrible, but that's what makes it so much fun."
He promised he wouldn't call her at work, that he'd see her for dinner, six o'clock so they could catch a movie afterward. "Or two," Molly said. "Two's okay with you?"
Excerpted from Coming Back to Me by Caroline Leavitt. Copyright © 2001 Caroline Leavitt. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.
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Meet the Author
Caroline Leavitt is the author of six previous novels. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, with her husband Jeff and their son Max.
Caroline Leavitt is the author of several novels, including Girls in Trouble and Coming Back to Me. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, with her husband Jeff and their son Max.
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