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"Why should I share what I know with them?" he'd replied, meaning the others in his classes.
"How about with me?" his English teacher, Mr. Knox, had countered.
"You already know the answer."
"But share it with me," he'd insisted.
"Right, sure," he'd said, and nodded, but never had.
Ignoring people or giving them the answers they wanted was always much easier than arguing. He'd been that way with Julia, and maybe that was why she had always worn that expression whenever she asked him a question and whythat expression was indelibly printed on her face in the photo.
"What?" he blurted.
His door was closed, so his mother couldn't hear him talking to a picture on the dresser.
"You want to know why you're dead? Is that what you're asking me? Why did you agree to marry me if you didn't want to have children with me? That wasn't fair. You kept a major thing secret, and it wasn't as if I didn't run at the mouth before we were married when it came to talking about kids and raising a family.
"What's more important than family anyway? Having a bigger, more expensive house, expensive cars, lots of new clothes, your trips, jewelry ... what? What?"
He realized he was speaking too loud even behind a closed bedroom door and stopped.
He lowered his head and clutched his hands between his thighs, swinging his wrist from right to left, pounding each knee. She'd hated that.
"What are you doing?" she would ask.
He'd stop. "Huh? Nothing."
"That's a peculiar nervous action. You really need to talk to someone about it and some of the other weird things you've been doing lately, like breaking all the pencils in two and grinding your teeth at night. You sound like you're sawing wood on a job. Why can't you just snore like most men? And why are you breaking all the pencils? It's weird!"
He looked at the photo as if she had just said this.
"Don't call what I do weird. It's weird to be a woman and not want children. That's weird. You're built to have children. What if no woman wanted to have children, huh? What would happen to the human race? You don't even want children if we hired some surrogate mother to carry the fetus. Don't you think that's weird?"
He waited for her answer, but just as it had been when she was alive, there was no response. She would simply turn away and do something or change the subject.
He'd tried getting her to see it his way, hadn't he? He'd made sure they were friends with couples that had children, but whenever they had attended a dinner at one of those couples' homes, she'd always complained about the noise the children made, or how the children demanded too much attention and didn't let them enjoy themselves.
"They're just children," he would tell her. "You were a child once and just as demanding and as noisy, I'm sure."
"Yes, I was, and that's why I don't want to go through it."
Some answer. She was a miserable kid, so their children had to be? Where's the logic in that? He could ask, but she wouldn't answer. She wouldn't give in; she wouldn't have children.
It didn't matter that he'd said he would volunteer to do everything for their children. He'd cook the meals, clean their rooms, take them for walks or to the playground, whatever. Whatever she didn't want to do for them, he would do.
"You say that now," she'd told him, "but after I give birth, you'll be too busy working or going out with your buddies. I know how it gets. Didn't you tell me it was that way with your own father?"
"I'm better than my father," he'd cried. "I swore I would be and I wouldn't be like him. I made a sacred promise to myself on the day we were married that I'd be a better husband and father, if you gave me a chance."
"Right. Promises are like balloons. They float for a while and then lose their air and sink to earth. There's nothing as ugly or as disappointing as a balloon that's leaked all its air. It feels like ... a glob."
"Feels like a glob." He'd shaken his head. "And you call me weird," he'd told her.
He stood up and walked to the window in his room. He was back living now with his mother in the house in which he had grown up. After Julia's death, he hadn't wanted to remain in the apartment. There was too much of her still in it and so he was back in his old room, which now felt more like a prison cell. He incarcerated himself more than he had to because he knew what his mother would be saying out there in the kitchen or the living room.
"Why don't you go out and look for another nice woman?"
"I didn't have a nice woman. Don't say 'another.'"
"Oh, she wasn't bad. I got along with her."
"She was selfish. I would have hated to be locked in a broken elevator with her. She would have breathed all the air."
"Oh, stop. Don't talk that way about the dead."
He looked out at the house that was practically attached to theirs. In this part of West LA, the developers squeezed every inch into every possible lot. There were homes so close to each other, the inhabitants could reach out of windows to shake hands. But this was the best his father could do and his mother certainly wasn't left with enough money to go find something different. Besides, the mortgage was paid. It was the least expensive living condition for her. Every time he talked about getting her out and finding a better place for them to live, she replied, "This is where I'm supposed to be until I die. Besides, you should be thinking again of a new home for yourself and a new wife and family."
Of course, he thought about it, but he wanted to be extra cautious this time, extra sure. God forbid that he would make another mistake similar to the one he had made with Julia. It was highly likely these days, too. Women these days were so into themselves that they made Julia's self-centeredness look absolutely altruistic. Most of them weren't interested in getting married early anyway. All the women he met were thinking about career first and a family second. They wanted to realize their potential, whatever that meant. They were competitive with men and didn't see why they had to be the ones to stay at home and raise the family. Remember Mr. Mom? Or look at a woman running for president ... or what about all the women who run big companies? Marriage and an immediate trip to the maternity ward were seen as a personal defeat.
Go romance one of them? he thought. Maybe he should take his mother out with him so she could see for herself. That possibility amused him. He could just see her sitting there beside him, sipping her famous whiskey sour, practically the only hard drink she would ever drink, and listening to the conversations he was having with possible candidates for romance. He would turn to her after a while and she would shake her head.
"Next," she would say.
"Next? Next is the same, Mom, but I'll call up another one for you to see and hear."
Maybe then she would stop her nagging.
He watched the shadows spread and slowly thicken until it was dark. She was calling him to come to dinner. He had almost gone out to eat tonight. She was still a good cook and all, but the conversation would inevitably return to his starting anew, finding another wife.
"Julia's dead now two years," she had reminded him. She'd paused and shaken her head and said, "I still don't understand what happened that day on your boat. I can't get it through my head."
"That's because you never would go on my boat, so you don't understand what's involved. You can't be careless on a boat in bad weather," he'd repeated-chanted, he should say. That was what it had become, a chant. "Navigating in the ocean is serious business. You can't be doing your fingernails at the same time or sitting there with earphones on, listening to some stupid music while I'm telling you what to do."
"But didn't you hear the weather before you went out? You told me you always check on the weather before you go out to sea."
"Weather can change quickly over the ocean," he'd told her. "Let's stop talking about this already. It won't bring her back and it doesn't make me feel very good."
"I can't help feeling sorry for her," his mother had said. "I think about her a lot lately. You think a shark ate her body, or what?"
"Whatever did eat her soon after surely had a bad case of heartburn."
"Stop that talk. I did get along well with her. She was like a daughter to me."
That was true, he thought, although he didn't know why there had been any affection between them. Why hadn't his mother resented Julia for not giving her grandchildren as much as he had resented her for not giving him a son or a daughter, or both? It was at her insistence that he had put up a tombstone in the cemetery just so she could have a place to go to pay her respects. How stupid was that?
"I would have had a daughter, you know," his mother told him. "They told me it was a female. You would have had a younger sister. I had that miscarriage and then your father wouldn't try again."
He never understood that.
Why wouldn't he try again?
Did that mean they didn't have sex again?
All she would tell him was his father had said, "I don't want to go through that again."
"What did he go through? He wasn't the one who was pregnant. You were," he'd replied.
"A pregnant woman is not an easy woman to live with sometimes," she'd said. "Both husband and wife share the ordeal. I was also very depressed after the miscarriage and he lost patience with me. It wasn't his fault."
"Of course it was. He was a self-centered bastard."
"Don't speak of your father that way, and never talk that way about the dead."
"Ma, please," he'd moaned, and rushed away before he said anything worse. He always fled from these conversations. And she always sat there looking stunned by her own words and thoughts as if she didn't know she was capable of saying them or thinking them.
"Dinner is ready," she said, knocking on his door.
He rubbed his cheeks and stretched.
On the way out he paused at Julia's portrait.
"I'll tell you why you're dead," he said. "You're dead because no one really cares about your being dead. My mother moans about you once in a while, but she didn't go to your tombstone this year. She doesn't lose sleep over you, and your parents are both gone. We had no children, Julia. There's no one to go visit your grave, not that you really have one. There's no one even to think about you under the water, your bones rotting under the sea. How's it feel, being all alone down there with fish making homes in your skull?
"Family, that's what gives us immortality and a reason to live. Maybe your cosmetics advisor or your clothes saleslady talks about you once in a while, huh? Don't bet on it, Julia. I doubt they even remember who you were.
"I might as well go to the cemetery and scrape your name off that stupid tombstone. What good's a name to a woman without any children, dead or otherwise?"
"It's getting cold!" his mother screamed.
He glared at the picture and then he turned it down on its face. He still couldn't make himself get rid of it. If he did that, his mother would never stop asking him why he had done so. He hated the image of her suspicious eyes, but at least he didn't have to have her staring at him and asking him questions all night, even when he was sleeping.
And dreaming about that day on the boat and the look on her face when she was struggling to stay afloat in those rough waves, screaming for him and reaching up for his hand while he knelt there looking down at her. He'd watched her swallowing water and spitting and gasping. She'd extended her fingers and he had almost touched them, but then he'd quickly pulled his hand back and shaken his head.
He was confident that someday he would forget that look of surprise on her face, the way she had simply accepted his refusal. Was she smiling? Did she dare smile? He was confident that when the right time came, that image would sink to the sea as well, and in its place much-welcomed darkness would come.
Good night and good-bye, he thought, and went to eat his mother's dinner.
It didn't surprise Megan that Scott didn't believe her. He lived in a world where 90 percent of what people said was either exaggeration or outright untruth. She also had the sense that Scott believed she simply wasn't capable of striking out on her own. She needed him too much, was far too dependent upon him for nearly everything. Why, she didn't write a check without his approval and got her spending money weekly like some child getting an allowance. Her girlfriends teased her about it and she pretended it didn't bother her. Her comeback was always, "I hate bothering with money." All this surely contributed to his lack of respect for her.
Actually, she couldn't blame him for this opinion of her. Because she had come so much later in her parents' marriage, nearly eight years after Clare, she had been coddled by them. They had been nowhere near as wealthy as Scott's parents of course, but that hadn't stopped her father from lavishing gifts upon her, buying her anything she wanted or even simply gazed at with interest. No matter what childhood illness she had, her mother had treated it as if it were nearly fatal. This overprotective childhood had continued into her teen years and even into her first year at college. Clare had teased her about it. She was already married and had her three children, so there hadn't been the usual sibling rivalry for their parents' attention. For Clare it had been more a subject of amusement.
She'd had the foresight to kid her after she married Scott and say she thought Megan had leaped at Scott Lester's marriage proposal to get away from her overwhelming parents.
Of course, now she was prone to look for every excuse to explain how or why she had gotten into this marriage. The truth was, she really did love Scott, and all through their dating, he was one of the most sensitive, loving young men she had ever met-not that she was any expert, when it came to that. She would never call herself experienced when it came to boys and young men.
Throughout high school, she had been quite shy. No matter whom she liked, her mother or her father seemed to be able to find something to criticize, something to use to discourage her from getting too deeply involved. Consequently, she never had. In fact, even though she tried to hide it from her roommates at USC, she'd been a virgin.
She'd tried to imitate the other girls, to be just as carefree and wild when it came to meeting boys. The truth was, she was uncomfortable with the pursuit, and for the most part found that most of the boys who showed interest in her were quite immature. She was afraid of being thought a snob, so she'd dated even when she had little enthusiasm for the boy asking her out. Her parents were always asking her about it. After all, she was away from home and beyond their protective reach. And then there was Clare, always telling her to "start having a good time, Megan. You don't get to do it over." Maybe Clare had regretted her own quick marriage and motherhood.
Megan had met Scott quite by accident. Her roommate, Dana Morris, was meeting her cousin Alice who had flown in from Dallas to audition for a Hollywood agent. They'd met Alice in Brentwood at a coffee bar. Scott, who had already graduated Harvard Business School, was meeting a client. His client never showed. Afterward, both of them thought that proved they were meant to be. At least, she had.
Excerpted from Guardian Angel by Andrew Neiderman Copyright © 2010 by Andrew Neiderman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted January 30, 2010
Welcome back - Andrew Neiderman - this novel was one I couldn't put down! Seems like it was one of the best done of Andrew's for awhile (although I normally count on him for a good book)! I'll be looking forward to the next book from this author.
The suspense was great! You felt like you were with the character in this book and wanted to help her open her eyes! A page turner - highly recommend this book if you like thrillers (and I sure do!).