Grand Avenueby Joy Fielding
Looking back, it seemed like paradise: livesfilled with the blessings of friendship, marriage, children, and career. For twenty years, four friends Chris, Barbara, Susan, and Vicki shared everything and faced the challenges of life and love head-on. Now, one sits alone to ponder the strange twists of fate and circumstance. Now, she must sift… See more details below
Looking back, it seemed like paradise: livesfilled with the blessings of friendship, marriage, children, and career. For twenty years, four friends Chris, Barbara, Susan, and Vicki shared everything and faced the challenges of life and love head-on. Now, one sits alone to ponder the strange twists of fate and circumstance. Now, she must sift through the past to discover exactly what went wrong, how dreams turned to nightmares as friendships faded and lives were destroyed....
Joy Fielding unlocks the secrets hidden within even the closest relationships in a powerful and mesmerizing novel that explores the meaning of unconditional love.
- Pocket Star
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- 4.18(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.24(d)
Read an Excerpt
Chris lay in her queen-size brass bed with her eyes closed. Crisp white cotton sheets pulled tight against her toes and stretched up across her body, stopping under her chin. Her arms lay stiff at her sides, as if secured by shackles. She imagined herself an Egyptian mummy entombed inside an ancient pyramid, as hoards of curious tourists flopped about in worn and dirty sandals above her head. That would explain the headache, she thought, and might have laughed, but for the incessant pounding at her temples, a pounding that echoed the dull thud of her heartbeat. When was the last time she'd felt so lost, so afraid?
No, fear was much too strong a word, Chris immediately amended, censoring her thoughts even before they were fully formed. It wasn't fear that was immobilizing her so much as dread, a vague disquiet trickling through her body like a poisoned stream. It was this ill-defined, perhaps indefinable, sensation that was keeping her eyes tightly closed, her arms pinned to her sides, her body rigid, as if she'd died in her sleep.
Did the dead feel this invasive, this pervasive, sense of unease? she wondered, growing impatient with such morbidity, allowing the sounds of morning to creep inside her head: her six-year-old daughter, Montana, singing down the hall; three-year-old Wyatt playing with the train set he got for Christmas; Tony opening and closing kitchen cupboards directly below. Within minutes, paralyzing fear had been reduced to mere unease, which was much more manageable, and ultimately much easier to dismiss. Another few minutes and Chris might actually be able to persuade herself that what had happened last night was all a bad dream, the product of her overheated overwrought, as Tony might suggest imagination.
"It's a heartache!" Montana belted out from her room at the end of the hall.
"Choo-choo-choo-choo, choo-choo-choo-choo," Wyatt whispered loudly, mimicking the whirring of the trains.
Somewhere beneath her, another cupboard door opened and closed. Dishes rattled.
"Nothing but a heartache!"
Chris opened her eyes.
I've got a secret, she thought.
Her eyes scanned the small master bedroom, although her head remained still in the center of the oversize, down-filled pillow. Sun was filtering through the heavy ivory curtains, bleaching the pale blue walls a ghostly white, throwing small spotlights on stray particles of dust dancing in the air above her head. The black turtleneck sweater Tony had worn to dinner last night was flung carelessly across the back of the small blue chair in the corner, one empty arm extended toward the worn blue broadloom, still sticky with long-ago-spilled apple juice. The door to their small en suite bathroom was open, as was the closet and the top drawer of the wicker dresser. The clock on the night table beside her said 9:04.
Probably she should get up, get dressed, see how Wyatt and Montana were making out. Tony had obviously fed them breakfast, which didn't surprise her. It was Sunday, his day to get up with the kids. Besides, he was always extra nice to her after a big fight. She'd felt him quietly slip out of bed at Wyatt's first audible rumblings, feigned sleep as he'd hurried into his clothes before bending over to kiss her forehead. "Sleep," she'd heard him whisper, his breath reassuringly gentle against her skin.
She'd tried to drift off, but she couldn't, and now, just when she felt sleep mercifully tugging at her eyelids, it was too late. Any minute, the kids would grow bored with their solitary pursuits and come charging through the bedroom door, demanding her attention. She had to get up, shower, prepare herself for the busy day ahead. Chris threw the covers off with a determined hand and slid her legs over the side of the bed, invisible cookie crumbs crunching beneath her bare toes as she padded toward the washroom. "Oh, God," she said, confronting the swollen face of her reflection in the mirror over the sink. "I know you're in there somewhere." Her fingers prodded the puffy flesh around her eyes. Wasn't she was getting too old to cry herself to sleep?
Except she hadn't slept. Not once all night. "Chris," she'd heard Tony whisper in her ear at repeated intervals throughout the night, withdrawing to his side of the bed when she failed to respond. "Chris, are you awake?"
So, he hadn't slept either, she thought with no small degree of satisfaction as she splashed cold water on her face, held a cold compress against her eyes, gradually feeling her tired skin shrink back to its normal size. "Who are you?" she asked wearily, not for the first time, pushing several strands of matted blond hair away from her cheeks. "Beats the shit out of me," her reflection answered in Vicki's voice, and Chris giggled, the sound scratching at her throat, like a cat at a screen door.
"It's a heartache!" Montana sang out from behind the bathroom wall.
You can say that again, Chris thought, stepping into the shower, turning on the tap, welcoming the assault of hot water on her arms and legs, feeling it whip across her back like thousands of sharp, tiny lashes. What had happened last night had been her fault as much as Tony's, she acknowledged, positioning herself directly under the shower's spray, the water roughly parting her hair in the center before cascading down over her face.
Had the kids heard them fighting? she wondered, hearing the distant echo of her parents shouting at one another beneath the steady onslaught of hot water. Three decades later, and their voices were still as loud, as potent, as ever. Chris remembered lying in her bed, listening as her parents argued downstairs, their angry words knocking against the walls of her room, as if determined to include her, impatiently circling the hallway, eventually slithering through the vents on the floor, filtering into the very air she breathed. She'd pressed her small pillow over her face, so as not to inhale the poison, covered her ears with her trembling hands, tried to muffle the unpleasant sounds. Once she'd even climbed out of bed, buried herself at the back of her closet, but the voices only got louder, until it seemed as if someone were in the closet with her. She'd felt invisible fingers poking at her from the hems of the dresses hanging above her head, alien tongues licking at her cheeks, and she'd run crying back to her bed, pulled the covers tightly around her, lying rigid, arms at her sides, eyes squeezed tightly closed, staying that way till morning.
Hadn't she done essentially the same thing last night?
Hadn't she grown up at all?
Chris turned off the water, stepped out of the shower, bundled her head in one soft blue-and-white-striped towel, her body in another, grateful for the steam that rendered the mirror opaque. She opened the bathroom door, felt the cold embrace of the surrounding air immediately wrap itself around her. How had she ended up here? she wondered, shuffling back into the bedroom. In the middle of her parents' nightmare.
"Hi, sweetheart," Tony said softly from beside the window.
Chris nodded, said nothing, her gaze directed at the floor, her nose twitching at the scent of freshly made pancakes.
"I brought you breakfast in bed," he said.
Chris sank down on the bed, leaned back against the pillows, watched as a stack of blueberry pancakes miraculously materialized on a tray in front of her, next to a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and a pot of wonderful-smelling coffee. A stainless steel butter dish sat beside a small white ceramic pitcher of real maple syrup. A plastic, red daisy leaned against the side of a glass bud vase. "You didn't have to do this," Chris said, eyes still averted, voice low. She didn't deserve this, she thought.
Tony sat at the foot of the bed. She felt him watching her as she buttered the pancakes, smothered them in the warm syrup, carefully lifting one forkful, then another, into her mouth. Paradoxically, she grew hungrier with each bite, thirstier with each sip. In minutes, the pancakes were gone, the juice glass empty, the coffee finished. "Good?" Tony asked expectantly. She could hear the smile in his voice.
"Wonderful," she told him, determined not to look at him, knowing if she looked at him, it was game over.
"I'm so sorry, Chris."
"You know I didn't mean it."
"You know how much I love you."
Chris felt her eyes fill with tears. God, did she never stop crying? "Please, Tony..."
"Won't you even look at me? Do you hate me so much you can't even look at me?"
"I don't hate you." Chris lifted her gaze, swallowed her husband with one quick gulp of her eyes.
While Tony would never be described as gorgeous, like Barbara's husband, or distinguished, like Vicki's husband, or even kindly, the first word that came to mind when describing Susan's husband, once he trapped you in his gaze, there was no turning back. A man of mystery, Barbara had pronounced. A formidable presence, Susan offered. Sexy, Vicki summed up succinctly. A diamond in the rough, they all agreed.
More rough than sparkle, Chris thought now, watching as her husband inched forward on the bed, his hand grazing the damp skin of her legs, sending a current, like a wayward electrical charge, racing toward her heart. Up close, Tony was smaller, more compact, than he first appeared, barely five feet eight inches tall, although he was more muscular than his narrow shoulders would indicate. He was wearing jeans and the moss green sweater she'd bought him for his last birthday, the soft color of the wool underlining the harsher green of his eyes. His hair was thick and brown, except for a small patch of white near his right temple. Tony told everyone the patch was the result of a childhood trauma, although the precise trauma tended to shift with each telling, as did his explanation for the scar that scissored through his flesh from the base of his left ear to the curve of his jaw. Over the eleven years of their marriage, Chris had heard so many versions of how he got that scar that she was no longer able to recall whether it was the result of a near-fatal childhood fall, a death-defying car crash, or a barroom brawl. The answer, she was sure, was something infinitely more prosaic than any of these alternatives, although she would never think of questioning Tony's story. Tony had a need for the dramatic. He exaggerated life's mundane details, enlarged the ordinary, enhanced the everyday. It was part of his charm, part of what drove him, made him so creative. You couldn't open a newspaper without seeing one of his ads; you couldn't walk a city block without seeing a billboard he'd designed. The "Cat's Meow" campaign for VIP Cat Food, the "Really Cheese Them Off" campaign for Dairyvale cheeses, both were his. Hadn't he been promoted to senior art director faster than anyone else in the history of Warsh, Rubican? And wasn't this natural flair for hyperbole at least part of what had attracted her to him in the first place? In those early years, Tony had made everything seem so exciting, so limitless, so possible.
Chris smiled, all the encouragement he needed. She watched him immediately move forward on the bed. Tony lifted the tray, laid it gently on the floor, took her hands in his.
"It'll never happen again, Chris. I promise."
"You scared me."
"I scared myself," he agreed. "I heard this voice yelling. I couldn't believe it was me. The awful things I was saying..."
"That's not what I'm talking about."
"I know. Please forgive me."
Could she? Chris wondered. Could she forgive him? "Maybe we should go for counseling." Chris held her breath, braced herself for the outrage she was sure would follow. Hadn't Tony made his opinion of marriage counselors painfully clear? Hadn't he told her that there was no way he would ever allow some overeducated quack to interfere in his private life?
"Counseling won't help," he said quietly.
"It might. We could at least give it a try. Whatever problems we're having "
"I got fired."
"What!" Chris was sure she'd heard him incorrectly. "What are you talking about?"
"They let me go," he said without further elaboration.
Chris saw the words bouncing around in front of her eyes, like the errant particles of dust hanging in the sunlight, and tried to grab hold of them, get them to stay still long enough for her to understand their implications, but they refused to be so easily corralled. "They let you go?" she repeated helplessly, the words making no more sense for her having said them out loud. "Why?"
Tony shrugged. "Dan Warsh said something about the need for fresh perspectives, new ideas."
"But they've always loved your ideas. The 'Cat's Meow,' the 'Really Cheese Them Off' campaigns, I thought they loved those."
"They did last year. This is 1982, Chris. We're in the middle of a major recession. Everyone's running scared."
"But..." Chris stopped. Wasn't Tony always complaining she didn't know when to leave well enough alone? "When did this happen?"
"Friday! Why didn't you tell me?"
Tears filled Tony's eyes. He turned away. "I tried to tell you last night."
Chris took a deep breath, tried to recall the sequence of events of the night before, the precise order of everything that was said before things began spiraling out of control. But she'd worked so hard to suppress the angry words that they now refused to come forward, and she was left with snarled snatches of indistinct utterances, potentially potent images shooting toward her only to blur into passivity, like snow hitting a car windshield during a winter storm. Tony was always accusing her of not listening to him. My God, was he right?
ar"I'm so sorry," she told him now, taking his head in her hands, cradling it against the towel at her breasts.
"We'll be fine," he was quick to assure her. "It's not like I can't find another job."
"Of course you'll find another job."
"I don't want you to worry."
"I'm not worried. I just wish I'd known. Maybe last night wouldn't have..."
"I'm not trying to make excuses for my behavior last night."
"I know you're not."
"I was way out of line."
"You were upset about losing your job."
"That doesn't give me the right to take it out on you."
"It was my fault as much as yours. Tony, I'm so sorry..."
"I love you, Chris. I love you so much. I don't care about the damn job. I can lose a million jobs. I can't lose you."
"You won't lose me. You won't. You won't."
And then they were in each other's arms, and he was kissing her the way he'd kissed her when she was nineteen years old and he was trying to convince her to run away with him, the way he'd kissed her the first time they'd made love, the way he always kissed her when they were making up after a fight, short, tender kisses that barely flirted with the outlines of her lips, that seemed almost afraid to overstay their welcome. And then suddenly she felt him releasing the towel around her head, felt it collapse and drop around her bare shoulders. Damp hair fell about her face in careless waves. Automatically Chris reached up to tuck the hair behind her ears, but Tony's hands were already pulling at the towel at her breast, throwing it open as he pushed her down on the bed.
"Mommy!" came the sudden cry from outside the closed bedroom door.
Immediately Chris felt Tony's body tense, and she held her breath, waiting for his reaction. But Tony only laughed, and in that unexpected, full-throated sound Chris heard all the reasons why she'd agreed to run off with him so many years ago. The sound promised both safety and permanence, qualities missing from her childhood.
"Mommy's a little busy right now, Montana," Tony called out, his hand on the zipper of his jeans.
"I want Mommy," the child persisted, jiggling the handle of the door.
"I'll be there in a minute, pumpkin," Chris told her, trying to sit up, feeling Tony's unexpectedly firm grip on her shoulder as Montana continued pushing at the bedroom door. Why had Tony locked it?
"Mommy! Mommy!" Wyatt's small voice joined his sister's in the hall.
"Remember what we talked about at breakfast, kids?" Tony asked, his noticeable erection pushing at the front of his jeans. "How Mommy wasn't feeling too well, and you were going to let her sleep real late? Remember that?"
"But she's up now," Montana persisted. "I heard you guys talking."
"Yeah, but she's still not feeling very well."
"What's wrong with her?" Montana's voice carried more accusation than concern.
"Mommy! Mommy!" Wyatt cried.
"Tony," Chris whispered, kissing his chin. "We can do this later."
Tony's grip on her shoulder tightened. "Go back to your rooms, kids. Mommy'll be there real soon."
"Now!" Montana insisted.
"Tony, please," Chris said. "There's no way I'm going to be able to relax."
"This won't take long." Tony pushed his jeans down his thighs, drew her head toward him. "Come on, Chris. You can't just leave me like this."
"Mommy! Let me in."
"Why don't you sing Mommy a song?" Tony suggested, guiding Chris's mouth around him, his hand moving her head slowly back and forth.
"What'll I sing?"
"Whatever your little heart desires," Tony said, his fingers digging into Chris's scalp.
"It's a heartache!" Montana began singing at the top of her lungs. "Nothing but a heartache!"
Dear God, Chris thought. Was this really happening?
"Gets you if you're too late. Feels just like a clown."
Was she really going down on her husband while her six-year-old child sang about heartache outside their bedroom door? No, she couldn't do this. It was too ludicrous, too bizarre.
As if sensing her growing discomfort, Tony picked up his pace. Chris grabbed the side of the bed to keep from losing her balance.
"Oh, it's a heartache..."
"God, Chris, that's so good. I love you so much."
"Nothing but a heartache..."
"Now, Chris. Now!"
Chris felt Tony's body shudder around her, his hand in her hair relaxing as he withdrew. He quickly pulled his jeans back up over his hips. Chris swallowed, wiped her mouth, massaged her jaw as Tony went to the bedroom door and opened it. Immediately, Montana and Wyatt flew inside, jumped on the bed and into Chris's lap, jockeying for position.
"You smell funny," Montana said.
"Morning breath," Tony said with a wink, lifting Wyatt into the air, holding him high above his head as the boy shrieked his approval.
"Yuck," Montana said, sliding out of her mother's arms and throwing herself against Tony's legs.
Tony effortlessly scooped her up with his free hand, dangled her at his side. "Who's going to win the Super Bowl?" he challenged.
"Bengals!" Wyatt shouted.
"That's my boy."
"Bengals, Bengals!" Montana screamed even louder, not to be outdone.
Good God, the Super Bowl, Chris thought, self-consciously covering her mouth with her hand. She'd forgotten all about it. She had so much to do, and she hadn't even thought about what to serve for dinner.
"Chris," Tony was saying as he ushered Montana and Wyatt out of the room. "Look, if you wouldn't mind not saying anything to anyone about my losing my job..."
"Of course not."
"At least not today."
"No point spoiling the party."
"I understand." Chris smiled.
Now I have two secrets, she thought.
Copyright © 2001 by Joy Fielding Inc.
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