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The Bridgea Novel
By Lisa Tawn Bergren
WaterBrook PRESSCopyright © 2000 Lisa Tawn Bergren
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJune 10, 2000
"Oh, c'mon!" Jared Conway yelled, hitting the leather-covered dashboard of his new BMW. Some idiot ahead had double-parked his rig and left it, blocking a whole lane of traffic. The New Yorkers on his left couldn't have cared less-they weren't letting one more car in ahead of them.
"No, not you, Don," he said, speaking into his car phone. "It's this blasted traffic. It's as bad as I've seen."
"Listen to me, Conway. We ye gotta move. Our cotton contracts are down three percent. If we don't sell now, we're gonna lose."
"No. Let's keep it in play. Something'll happen to the Russians' cotton too. We might be facing a drought, but they'll get locusts and a drought. I can feel it. Let's hold on."
There was silence on the other end. "Don?"
"We're gonna risk fifty thousand on another one of your feelings?"
"My company, my call. Call me back in an hour and give me a status on those percentage points."
"I'm a junior partner in that company, and we still gotta talk coffee."
"I'll take mine black, one sugar."
"Don, my cell phone's ringing. Hold on." Jared took a moment to lay on his horn, then set the car phone down to pick up his cellular. He made an angry gesture toward a woman who wascarefully ignoring his attempt to edge into her lane.
"Conway," he answered.
"Mr. Jared Conway?"
"This is Julie Vose, calling from Bigfork, Montana."
"Yeah. What can I do for you, Ms. Vose?"
She paused. "I'm the real estate agent who called last month. You had said you were interested in selling your uncle's cabin?"
"Oh yeah, yeah. Sorry. I'm a little distracted right now."
"Yes, well, I did go by the cabin. It's in good structural shape, could be a real gem with a little cosmetic work, but it's chock full."
"Of stuff. Your uncle was something of a pack rat, Mr. Conway. In the cabin, on the grounds ... everywhere. There's a ton of material made for a garage sale."
"Yes. The neighbors tell me that if one didn't feel like going all the way to town, they would run by Rudy's to see if he had a spare."
"Spare anything. Mr. Conway, there is simply too much for me to take care of. You'll need to come and clean the place out before I can sell it."
Jared groaned. "Can't we hire someone?"
"Well, of course. We could. But there might be some things you'd care to keep in there. Somebody else can't really make those kinds of decisions for you."
Jared's attention was drawn to his car phone, on its side in the passenger seat, where he could hear Don yelling at the top of his lungs. He picked it up and held it to his other ear. "Don."
"It went down again, Jared!"
"Hold on, Don. Do not sell."
"Ms. Vose? Give me your number. I'll call you back." He scribbled it on his mounted notepad on the dash as Don droned on in his other ear. "Thanks. I'll call you soon."
"Tomorrow?" she pressed.
"I'll do my best." He pressed the "end" button, cutting her off, and returned to the car phone.
"Conway! This is my money too!"
"Yeah, Don, but more mine than yours. I said hold. Do not sell." He hung up on his best friend with a grin. Eighty percent of the time Jared was right when he went with his gut instinct. If he was wrong, he'd make it up to Don soon enough. If he was right, Don would be buying dinner.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It seemed he could do his work in his sleep these days. The only thing fun about it anymore was when he could bait Don and watch for his reaction.
Jared sighed in relief as the lane-blocking truck driver returned, climbed into the cab, and put his rig into gear, waving cheerily as if Jared had greeted him with a friendly grin. Jared laughed under his breath, too tired to be angry anymore. Now all he wanted was a quiet evening with Patricia and a chance to pack for their trip. Tomorrow they'd pick up their son at the boarding school and decide where to go on vacation, a vacation two years overdue. He glanced at his watch, his grin growing wider. With any luck he'd still be home a half-hour early. He couldn't remember when he'd ever been early arriving home.
Twelve blocks later he turned and entered a quiet side street. He missed this neighborhood, these old haunts. The big oaks that towered overhead, intermingling limbs. The neatly kept three-story buildings, tightly packed together yet each distinct. There was a wonderful fresh-produce grocer across the street and an ancient used-books store down the block. If things continued to go well with Patricia and they were able to reconcile and remarry; he could move back into his beloved old flat. Maybe they could even bring Nicolaus back home for good, be a family ... He eased into a narrow parking spot and slammed the door, leaving his briefcase behind as the alarm che-cheeped in response to the button on his keys.
He quickly jogged up the brick-and-cement stairs to the heavy front door and glanced at his watch again. The extra effort to extricate himself from the office had paid off. Stuck in traffic but still half an hour early! Maybe he'd make it a habit if it made Patricia happy. Yes, it would be good to be home. And to see Patricia.
The new key-given to him just a week prior-slipped into the lock as he pictured his ex-wife dressed for dinner. They were going out to celebrate tonight. One last evening alone before Nick was with them. He'd asked her to wear her black linen dress, and he could already see those long, shapely legs meeting a short skin, narrow waist, and curvaceous top. Nearly as tall as he without heels and with long, straight, white-blond hair, Patricia was certain to turn every head at the restaurant. And once again he would play the part of the happy suitor. Maybe if things went well, a fantastic dinner for two would seal things for her. Convince her it was time to give him, their marriage, another chance. He was banking on it as surely as he was the Russians' cotton failure.
He trudged up the stairs, ignoring the sounds of an argument between the couple who lived in the flat beneath them. He only wanted to think about happy things now-how he and Patricia would go pick up Nick, tell him he was coming home again, tell him they were going to remarry. The boy would be ecstatic. If only he hadn't pushed for the divorce three years ago! Sure, she had slipped into an affair, but it wasn't as if the wounds couldn't be healed. He was ready to forgive, to move on and make a real go of it. Fumbling with his keys, he finally found the right one, turned it in the deadbolt of the front door, and let himself in.
Patricia stood near the couch, a false smile lighting up her face as she pushed back her disheveled hair, even as she finished pulling on the cardigan of a gold sweater set. "Jared, darling! You're home early!"
Surprised by her look of covert panic, Jared's eyes moved to the bedroom-the bedroom they had once shared-where dancing shadows told him she was not alone. "Who's that?" he asked, deadly still, his heart dropping. He held his breath as he slipped the keys into his pants pocket.
But the bare-chested young man appeared, placing a hand on either side of the bedroom doorway and lopping Patricia a lazy smile, before she could answer. "Company?"
"My ex-husband," she said lightly.
"Get out," Jared ordered.
"I can't believe you've done this again."
"No, Patricia. This is it. We're done." He shook his head slightly, amazed at his own stupidity. "You've destroyed everything we've tried to rebuild."
"You don't understand. Eric's just a friend-"
"No, you don't understand. We're through. Don't tell me he's just a friend. You and I both know what was going on here." He sat down heavily on the leather sofa. "I've given you everything I had, and it's still not enough. I thought we'd changed, you'd changed, that I-I don't know what you want. Maybe that man does," he said, hooking a thumb over his shoulder toward the front door as Eric eagerly departed, tugging his shirt on as he went. "I'm through guessing. I'm through trying."
She sank onto the sofa opposite him, the glass coffee table between them. The smile had vanished. "So that's it. After all we've been through."
The accusation in her voice brought Jared's anger forward. "Yes, that's it! You just sealed the deal." He rose. "I was ready to give us another chance, Patricia. But I told you the one thing-the one thing-I couldn't bear would be another affair. This is your doing. Not mine." He turned away from her then, amazed that her perfect features suddenly seemed cold, harsh, rather than alluring. "I'm going to pick up Nick," he said over his shoulder. "He and I will take a short vacation. I'll break the news to him that we're not gonna make it." He paused, waiting for any complaint, but she remained silent.
A day later, Jared pulled into the long, oak-lined drive of Buckley Boys' Academy. The two hundred-year-old grounds brought back happy memories of Jared's own boyhood days, but he still had hoped to give his children a home at home. He had given in to Patricia's pushing as usual. The truth was she was tired of being a full-time mother, and the social prestige of getting into the expensive school hadn't hurt her ego either. He would never forget the look on Nicolaus's face when Jared told his then five-year-old that they were sending him away to school-disbelief, betrayal, disappointment, fear. Nick had adapted well in the last three years at the academy, excelling in both mathematics and field hockey, but the look on his face when they dropped him off that first day still plagued Jared.
Still, this school was one of the best; posh, clean, good faculty, and a Christian history that urged brief nods toward its faith foundations by demanding weekly worship in the chapel. Jared himself was strictly a Christmas and Easter kind of believer, but he fondly remembered the dear old Episcopalian priest who had been at the school when he was a student. Father Frank had had a sparkle in his eye, a bounce to his step, and always seemed completely at ease with himself. At eighty he still served as the school's rector. The image of the kindly priest brought Jared up short; he hadn't thought of him in some time.
Nick was outside the main hall, hanging from an ancient tree above an impeccable lawn as other boys greeted family members and departed for the summer holiday. The child did not recognize his father's new car, so Jared parked in the nearest lot and watched him for a bit. It took a moment for Jared to realize why he was hesitating in retrieving the boy-there had been such hope in Nick's voice when Jared had told him that his mother and he were considering getting back together. Now he was about to dash that dream of a Cleaver family reunion. Would he alone be enough for Nicolaus? Or would the boy rather have his mother?
Jared tried to swallow, but his mouth was dry. Taking a deep breath, he opened the car door and strode across the parking lot toward his son. Nicolaus was upright now, sitting on a fat branch, watching the countless other families, occasionally looking down the road for his own. He was a handsome kid. People said he was the spitting image of his father, which made Jared quite proud. The same dark hair, the green eyes, the cut of his chin ...
"Nick!" Jared's voice sounded unnaturally bright.
"Dad!" the boy turned toward him and jumped down, then ran, stumbling over a tree root, then pushing on, ecstatic to see his father. "Dad!" he said again, jumping into Jared's arms. After a brief, fierce hug, Jared set him down.
Jared glanced at the ground, kicking at another root. He forced himself to meet his son's look. "She's at home, Nicolaus. She isn't coming."
"At all? On our vacation?"
Jared shook his head, placing a reassuring hand on his son's shoulder.
Nicolaus glumly pulled on his backpack straps and then picked up his two duffel bags, the crisp, formal Buckley insignia monogrammed on one side, his initials on the other.
Jared guided him away from the nearest family, the perfect family-father, mother, daughter, two sons in Buckley uniforms. Why couldn't Patricia have seen the importance, the beauty of it? Why'd she have to go and trash all of his dreams, and Nick's too? "Your mother's got other plans. Come here." He sat down on a wrought-iron bench and urged Nick to do so too, but the boy refused. "Nick, we tried to get back together, but it didn't work. I'm sorry. We've called it quits again." When his son didn't respond, Jared adopted a lighter tone. "So it's just you and me. I promise it won't be so bad."
"Can we go?"
"Sure," Jared said slowly, spotting the hint of tears for the first time. "Want me to carry-"
"No. I got it," the boy said gruffly. All traces of joy were gone, crushed in the wake of his mother's absence. Jared sneaked another look at him, noticing changes, evidence of maturation. He was growing up. Fast. It made Jared worry that he had already missed too much. There was a hardened pain in the clench of the boy's jaw, a tired worry in the corner of his eye that reminded Jared of his own image in the mirror. The boy had already inherited his looks; now he was inheriting his pain.
Nick threw his bags into the trunk of the BMW, not even commenting on his father's new car. He slumped to the passenger-side door and dropped inside. Jared did the same on the driver's side, then quickly cranked the engine to get the air conditioning going. The humidity in upstate New York was already outrageous.
"So, where we goin'?" Nick asked dully. The ache in the boy's voice made Jared want to take him to Europe, do anything to distract him, if it would ease the agony.
"Anywhere. I'm packed; you're packed. The Great Lakes? Grand Canyon? We could go camping! There's Florida and Disney World. Or we could take old Route 66 ..."
"What's Route 66?"
"An old highway down south." Jared cast about for a few more alternatives, willing Nicolaus to see the lengths he would go to to make him feel better. "We could hop a plane for Germany ... or the Bahamas!"
Nick remained silent.
Sighing, Jared glanced from the boy, along the dashboard, to his own window. Pausing, his eyes retraced their path to the number on his notepad. "What about Montana? My uncle died last winter and left me an old cabin on a river. I have to go empty it out. It's not-"
"You mean it?" Nick asked, eyes wide, practically bouncing in his seat. "A cabin in Montana? Can we go fishing? Go hiking? I have a friend who went fishing last year with his dad, and he said it was cool." His face fell.
"I don't have a pole."
Jared smiled and pulled out his Rand McNally map, looking for the M states. "That, my boy, I can fix. Let's go to Montana, and I'll buy you a pole. Heck, I'll buy myself a pole, and we'll fish together." He opened the map and gave a low whistle. "What?"
"Montana's a big state. And quite a drive. It'll take us three, maybe four days. Still up for it?"
Jared sighed and then put the BMW into gear. Why not? he asked himself. He had plenty of vacation time, and there wasn't anything he'd rather do at the moment than spend time with Nicolaus. Besides, he'd empty out Uncle Rudy's cabin and be done with it, a hundred thousand richer for his efforts when it sold.
* * *
When the nurse discharged her three days after her son's birth, Anna wearily gathered their things together-a change of clothing, the hospital's gift of a thin baby blanket and cap, a few cloth diapers, and her toiletries-then looked around the room. She was loathe to leave the clean, quiet place, afraid that bringing the baby home to Rick might not do all she dreamed for them-make them a family at long last.
Anna glanced at her watch and then moved a little faster. The bus would be outside any minute, and if she and her son were to get home before dark, they would need to make this connection. A part of her had hoped that Rick would borrow a friend's car and pick them up, but she understood that was a foolish dream. After all he hadn't even stopped at the hospital to visit since the night she went into labor. He was just busy at his new job; that was it. Working hard to provide for his new family.
A nurse walked in then, smiling and cooing over the baby in her arms. She handed him to Anna, saying, "Take good care of that baby boy. And yourself. Let us know if you have any questions once you get home."
"I will," Anna promised.
Excerpted from The Bridge by Lisa Tawn Bergren Copyright © 2000 by Lisa Tawn Bergren
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.