You Don't Know Me
By Susan May WARREN
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.
Copyright © 2012 Susan May Warren
All right reserved.
Days like today, Annalise Decker's happily ever after almost seemed unbreakable. With the perfect blue sky suggesting the golden days of autumn, the hill overlooking the town of Deep Haven a cascade of jewels—gold oaks, crimson maples, lush green pine—the hint of woodsmoke filling the air, she could stop, breathe in, and believe she belonged here.
Believe that she deserved this life.
"Mom! Watch this!" Henry's voice caught her attention back to the soccer practice—twenty youngsters outfitted in wool hats, fleece jackets under their club T-shirts, and sweatpants under their shin guards. Henry needed a haircut, his own hat discarded on the sideline bench, the wind parting his hair as he chased the ball. She wanted to yell at him to put the hat on, but that might only encourage his sudden propensity to shy away from her good-bye kisses.
She would do anything to keep her eleven-year-old in her embrace, before he was yanked into the world of cell phones, dating, and drama. Perhaps she held him with a tighter grip than her older children, but motherhood turned out to be rife with too many small sorrows for her liking.
Once he was gone, she wasn't sure what she'd have left.
Annalise winced as his kick flew past the goal and into the tangle of forest beyond the field.
His shoulders slumped.
"It's okay, buddy!" she yelled because she couldn't help herself.
"C'mon, Annalise, give me your cookie recipe." Beth Iverson, dressed for soccer in her jeans, boots, a red parka, and a hat over her short brown hair, handed Annalise the Tupperware container, now half-empty. "And I'll promise Nathan my vote."
"You'll promise him your vote anyway," Annalise said as she pinched the cover back on. "He's the only one running."
"You are not putting those away." Lorelei reached for the container to pick out a chocolate chunk cookie, then passed it again to Karin, in the front row, cheering for her daughter as she chased the ball down the field. Their club team still played co-ed. "Jerry never served us cookies."
"Or put up signs or ran ads or hosted a luncheon," Karin said. "Nathan does know that no one is running against him, right?"
"He just wants to ..." Win. For some reason, Nathan breathed and dreamed of this mayoral position. As if his entire life hinged on landing the electoral approval of the town of Deep Haven. Like he didn't already have it? "He wants to do a good job."
Apparently Annalise's role as his wife was to secure votes across Deep Haven, from the PTA to the thrift store to the soccer field. She had Election Day circled in red on her calendar in the wild hope that then the Nathan she knew might return to her instead of this man who crept into their room long after the lights dimmed, after meeting with locals and knocking on the well-worn doors of their neighbors and friends.
As if anyone in Deep Haven didn't know Nathan Decker. Or his family.
Then again, that precise fact might be what drove him. What made him stretch the hours down at the realty office and over at his mother's house, or volunteering at the care center or running the church finances, and generally serving on too many town committees.
He probably didn't even need her campaign cookies with all his activities, but that's what wives did.
They campaigned. They kept everyone's lives running.
They made sure the secrets stayed in the dark.
"Please, Annalise. Tell us your secret," Karin said, catching cookie crumbs on her hand.
For a second, the question jolted Annalise, found the last patch of guarded soil in her heart. She looked at Karin, her brain blank, and couldn't breathe. Shoot, she wasn't made of glass—no one could see inside her.
"Not until after the election," she said, and her voice sounded just fine.
"Which is Minnesotan for no." Beth shook her head. "You Deckers know how to keep us in suspense."
"Uh-oh, here comes Henry." Karin handed her the container.
Annalise watched as her son trudged to the bench, kicked it, and sat down. She reached for her bag. "I think that's our cue."
"You're leaving?" Beth asked.
"I gotta run. The auditions for Romeo and Juliet are today, and I have to take Jason some food before Colleen's game."
Please, please let him get the lead. Because it was the only chance for redemption he had after turning down a job offer at Licks and Stuff Ice Cream. Nathan was always so tied up over finances and their children's education that he'd practically demanded Jason drop out of theater and get an after-school job to help pay for college. But the kid could get a scholarship with his acting abilities. Let him land a role, and then they'd tell Nathan together.
She didn't really want to keep things from Nathan, but she didn't want to cause tension either. Besides, every marriage had secrets, right?
Like Colleen and her new boyfriend. Annalise and her sixteen-year-old daughter had a showdown ahead over that lowlife Tucker Newman. If Colleen came to her senses, Annalise wouldn't have to tell Nathan about finding them in the front seat of Tucker's Jeep parked down by the lighthouse during lunch hour on Tuesday. Really, it wouldn't do Nathan's campaign any good to appear on Tucker's doorstep, ready to tear him limb from limb.
Yes, secrets protected them. The small secrets ... and the large ones. Like the fact that "Nathan Decker for Mayor" just might get her—maybe even all of them—killed. The remote possibility hovered over her with every step Nathan took farther into the spotlight.
Okay, the very remote possibility. So remote that Annalise shrugged off the brush of fear that had traveled up her spine when Nathan announced today at breakfast that the media would be interviewing him—and her—at tomorrow's luncheon.
After all, they lived in a town of less than two thousand, in the northern tip of Minnesota. And after twenty years, she could stop looking over her shoulder.
"Of course you're taking Jason dinner. Probably some homemade energy bars or a plate of casserole you have cooking in the Crock-Pot," Beth said.
Actually, yes, but she must have frowned because Beth laughed. "You're such a curve wrecker. Can't you leave some of the all-star mothering for the rest of us?"
Annalise stared at her.
"You're at all the practices—too often with cookies. You make bread from scratch. You attend every PTA meeting, every field trip, every school party. You make the rest of us feel like we're bums when we serve a frozen pizza."
"There's nothing wrong with frozen pizza—"
Karin had turned, listening to the conversation. "When is the last time you cooked a frozen pizza?"
"I happen to like homemade—"
"And let's not talk about the Christmas decorations." This from Lorelei, who tossed her long black ponytail over her shoulder as she gathered her stadium blanket and rose from the bench. "I feel like I'm the Grinch with my wreath and twinkle lights. I think Deep Haven needs its own electrical grid just for the Decker Christmas display."
They laughed, and Annalise forced a smile. "I'm not that bad...."
Beth shook her head. "Oh, Annalise, we're just giving you a hard time. Listen, you're not bad. You're wonderful. And Nathan is a shoo-in for mayor, so please don't tempt us with cookies next week." She leaned forward and caught Annalise in a one-armed hug.
"Uh-oh. Kelli Hanson just made a beeline for Chip," Beth said, releasing her.
Annalise glanced at the field as Kelli sidled up to Beth's husband, the assistant coach, catching him in conversation. A tie-dyed bandanna caught her long cherry-red hair, the rest of it blowing in the afternoon breeze. She wore green Army pants and an oversize wool sweater, a pair of purple Converse, and looked like she might still be in high school and not married to a local landscaper. She waved to her sixth-grade daughter, Marin, playing midfield. Her son, Casey, played football for the Huskies—Annalise remembered seeing him make the front page a few times.
"I better get over there. She doesn't mean to, but she's a natural flirt, and my husband is befuddled by her."
"Kelli is a flirt?"
"I know you've only lived here for twenty years, Annalise, so you'll have to trust me—Kelli is a little bit of trouble. You know she had Casey when she was seventeen." Beth raised a perfect eyebrow. "And she has a tattoo." She leaned over to Annalise. "A tramp stamp—right here." She placed her hand at the small of her back. "That should tell you something." Beth's mouth tightened into a knot of disapproval. "I know I shouldn't be judgmental, but ... a gal can't be too careful. You might want to keep an eye on her around Nathan."
Annalise had no words for that. She'd always considered Kelli ... well, original, if not pretty. She watched Beth climb down the bleachers and jog onto the field.
Not that Nathan would notice Kelli, anyway. He barely noticed Annalise these days.
"Are you kidding? Nathan's only ever loved Annalise. I've known him since grade school, and he was a changed person when Annalise came to town. I've never seen him so happy as the day they got married." Lorelei winked at her. "They were love at first sight. A storybook romance."
Well, not really. But they had managed to build a life together. "See you all next week," Annalise said.
Sunbaked, crispy leaves tumbled along the edges of the field as she tucked the empty container into the bag, then pulled out her keys, heavy with pictures of her kids and emblems of her life—a plastic volleyball, a Decker Real Estate fob, her Java Cup discount tag.
Henry trudged by her, and she jumped off the bleachers to catch up to him.
"It's okay, Henry," Annalise said as he reached the Suburban. He opened the hatch, then slid onto the bumper and began to pull off his cleats. "You don't make every shot."
"I quit." He wiped the back of his hand across his face, leaving a trail of grime. "I hate soccer. Why did you have to sign me up?" He turned and climbed through the car, disappearing behind the backseat.
"You hate soccer? Since when?" Ten minutes ago he'd been waving for her attention on the field.
"Sheesh, Mom. Since always."
Annalise checked her watch. They had about an hour before Colleen's game. As she closed the tailgate, she glanced around the parking lot for Nathan's Ford, but clearly he hadn't been able to make it to practice. Not that she expected him, but ...
"Can you drop me off at the skateboard park?" Henry shoved his uniform into a ball in the backseat and climbed into the front.
"What about supper? You need to eat something before Colleen's game."
"I'm not hungry. Besides, Grandma always brings snacks."
"Popcorn isn't dinner." At least it shouldn't be. But even she looked forward to Helen's contraband volleyball snacks. What were grandmothers for but to spoil their grandchildren?
She often wondered how her own mother might have spoiled her kids. Would she have made them her homemade hot chocolate? Maybe the snickerdoodles that Annalise just couldn't seem to perfect?
"Fine. Buckle up."
"It's two blocks."
"I don't care. It's the law."
Henry rolled his eyes, and she quelled the urge to push his hair from his face. He looked so much like Nathan's boyhood pictures—round face, dark hair, vivid green eyes that took in the world. So much energy—just not for sports. The kid could probably win an Xbox gaming competition.
Henry also reminded her too much of her little brother, Ben.
Someday she'd love to see him again, know the man he turned out to be.
Annalise pulled into the parking lot of the skateboard park. "I'm going to get some coffee. Walk over to the school for Colleen's game. I'll meet you there. Do not go anywhere else."
"Thanks, Mom," he said as he slid out of the car. And he gave her a real smile as he tucked his skateboard under his arm.
Almost as good as a kiss.
She passed Marybeth Rose in her RAV4, dropping her daughter off at the curb for tonight's volleyball game, and lifted her hand to wave. Colleen had stayed after school to practice her serve. At least, Annalise hoped that was the truth. Just in case, she searched the parking lot for Tucker's Jeep and hated herself a little for it.
But she saw herself—too much—in Colleen, and it raised the tiny hairs on the back of her neck.
She drove down the hill toward the coffee shop, her hand closing around her phone. Maybe she should text Nathan, remind him about Colleen's game. Poor man spent most of last night going over his responses to the preposted questions for tomorrow morning's radio call-in show.
She passed houses decorated for Halloween—orange lawn bags packed with leaves, hay bales stacked in yards with stuffed scarecrows or hoboes leaning against them, a display of pumpkins. They still had weeks to go before Halloween—a holiday she'd forever been trying to get Nathan to celebrate. But their church had a moratorium against Halloween in any form and, well ... she didn't like to make trouble.
One of these days, however, she might like to dress up. Maybe as Alice in Wonderland. Days like today, she could relate to Alice.
A local had propped up a homemade sign with Go Husky Volleyball written in blue paint against the white background. A win at tonight's final regular season game would take them to the conference sectionals.
How Annalise loved volleyball nights. They helped her remember who she'd been—the good parts—and added a little flavor to their weeknights, something different from the usual dinner and homework. On every other night, for high fun, she might read a book while Nathan went over his campaign finances.
Then, if she were extra lucky, he'd come to bed the same time she did. Maybe give her a good-night kiss.
Okay, a lot of people longed for their kind of ho-hum. A life without drama. She should be thankful for a man who came home every night, lived a life of faithfulness. And just because they'd never had the type of romance with sparks, candlelight, and swooning, that didn't mean they didn't love each other. Not every marriage had to come from a romance novel.
Besides, she probably didn't have the right to long for anything more.
Yes, volleyball nights made her realize how grateful she was for all of it—her safe, ordered, happy life.
The Java Cup hosted a giant painted moose on its window—a nod toward the Moose Madness celebration this weekend. A tourist town, Deep Haven depended on visitors from the south craving fall color and perhaps a glimpse of wildlife—eagles, bears, foxes, deer, and especially moose. So the tourism board created an entire community event around the hunt for moose, including this weekend's Mad Moose community dance. This season, Indian summer eluded them, so they'd had to move their booths and outside activities to the local community center.
"What's in a Wild Moose Mocha?" Annalise said, reading the menu.
Kathy, the blonde owner, wore a fuzzy brown headband with giant moose ears. "It's a dark chocolate mocha with whip and a caramel drizzle."
"I don't know ..."
"C'mon, Annalise, you only live once."
Actually ... "Okay, yes. That. Please."
Nathan didn't need to know she was annihilating her diet. Again. Another secret kept for the sake of their happy life.
For a late afternoon, the Java Cup buzzed with conversation. She nodded to Jerry, the incumbent mayor—talking with Norm, who ran the fish place, in the corner easy chairs. At a long table sat the football coaches, Seb Brewster and Caleb Knight.
On the bulletin board, someone—possibly Nathan—had hung a Decker for Mayor pin. She'd handed them out at Nathan's booth at the Fisherman's Picnic this summer. Seeing all those faces, shaking all those hands—it made her realize just how embedded she'd become in Deep Haven.
"One Wild Moose Mocha," Kathy said and handed her the cup. "Careful, it's hot."
Annalise paid Kathy with the card on her key ring.
"See you at the game? I just love watching Colleen play. She's got a good future in Husky volleyball." Kathy handed the card back.
"She's thrilled to be a starter," Annalise said. She took her cup to the coffee counter to grab a stir stick and work in the whipped cream. Indeed, at any other school, sophomore Colleen would sit the bench until her junior year. Being in a small town gave all of them opportunities unheard of in a big city.
Excerpted from You Don't Know Me by Susan May WARREN Copyright © 2012 by Susan May Warren. Excerpted by permission of TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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