Twenty-five years ago, Martin Roth made the most difficult decision of his life. He gave up the girl he loved, married a different woman, and raised a family. But he’s just been given another shot at happiness.
Sylvia has loved Martin since she was a young girl. They have two great children and a wonderful life together—until a love from Martin’s past threatens everything she’s worked so hard to build.
Jenny McCoy can’t believe she and Martin have found each other again—but she’s never gotten over his cruel betrayal. Is she ready to forgive the sins of the past for a second chance?
Moving between countries and across time, Illusions of Love tells the story of a man, his heritage, and the crisis of faith that brings his life to a crossroads.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
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Illusions of Love
By Cynthia Freeman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1984 Cynthia Freeman
All rights reserved.
San Francisco was thronged with shoppers in those last days before Christmas. They darted in and out of Macy's and I. Magnin's and Neiman-Marcus with gifts that would undoubtedly be returned in the New Year. But for the moment no one was thinking beyond the holiday. On the corner of Stockton and Geary, Santa Claus tinkled his bell as coins dropped into his small pail, and the smell of roasting chestnuts from a sidewalk vendor filled the air. In spite of the soft winter rain, a children's choir filled Union Square singing "O Come All Ye Faithful." People were exceedingly polite as they collided with one another trying to catch the cable car on Powell and Market. Next week would be a different story, but today they apologized, remembering the holy season.
At 6:30 in the afternoon, the office buildings in the financial district were all but deserted. The lights in the Hill Towers Building were being turned off as cleaning ladies closed the doors behind them so that they too could get home and enjoy a mug of hot buttered rum.
Alone in a penthouse office on the forty-first floor, one man sat pensively staring out the window. If there was joy in the world, Martin Roth was unaware of it. He sat in his large swivel chair, consumed with a feeling of loneliness as he watched the early darkness settle over the city. Martin suddenly saw his life in terms as fleeting as the brief twilight. He sighed deeply and continued to stare over the magnificent structure of steel that spread its wings like a giant eagle, connecting Oakland to San Francisco. Although he'd seen it a million times, tonight the size and strength of the mighty bridge left him with a feeling of his own insignificance instead of the opposite, as was usually the case.
No matter how omnipotent we think we are, we have damn little power to control our destinies, he thought. Only that morning he had looked at his life with placid contentment. If his days lacked a certain excitement, they were full, satisfying. Then in a moment everything had changed.
He had bumped into Jenny McCoy, quite by accident, and all the longing and passion of his youth had been reawakened. He realized how terribly much he had missed her, that he had never stopped loving her. Until that moment, he had believed that after twenty-five years he had all but forgotten her. God knows he had tried hard enough. And, in recent years, he'd almost been able to pretend that she had only been a dream. Almost ... that is, until today.
He suddenly stood up, walked across the deep pile carpet, pressed a button, and watched as the doors to a mirrored bar slid back, revealing his white and strained face. Martin stared. At fifty-three, he'd considered himself still young. His belly was flat and firm, and until now he had accepted his thick gray hair as a mark of distinction. Now for the first time he saw himself as middle-aged—a man with the best already behind him.
From the moment he'd given up Jenny he had devoted himself to building the right kind of life. He had taken over his father's brokerage house, married the right woman, a girl he had been friends with since childhood, tried his best to bring up his two children with the right values. Yet two minutes after seeing Jenny again none of it made sense.
The fluorescent lights hardened the planes of his face, leaving dark hollows beneath his deep blue eyes. He wondered what Jenny had thought when she saw him today. The years had been so kind to her. She was still slender, with those incredible Irish amber eyes and hair the color of warm molasses. She was more beautiful at forty-eight, if that was possible, than when he had first met her.
He dropped the ice cubes into the glass, filled it half full of scotch, then added soda. He took a long swallow, then walked back to the desk and sat down. Where the hell had the years gone? More important, how had he spent them?
"In a strange kind of capitulation, that's how," he said aloud. "An acceptance of the very privilege most people spend a lifetime trying to achieve."
He had been born into one of San Francisco's wealthiest Jewish families. His wife, Sylvia, came from the same background. As far as marriages went, he had no reason to complain. Had there been compromises? Of course. But Sylvia had been a good wife, and he was more than aware of her virtues, even if he tended to handle his marriage by trying not to scrutinize it too closely. Today he knew that for all these years he'd been fooling himself. He had never forgotten Jenny.
Even this morning, driving to work, Jenny buried safely twenty-five years into his past, the memory of their affair had been lurking in the back of his mind, waiting to throw his life into turmoil once again.
Thursdays were Sylvia's day in town. She would leave the house in Woodside, in time to meet Martin for lunch at the St. Francis Hotel. Afterward, she would spend the rest of the day shopping, often staying over at the apartment either to have dinner with friends or attend the theater or opera.
As usual, Martin had met her at precisely noon for a light lunch; neither wanted a heavy midday meal. After all these years they could talk in an easy shorthand: about their house, the apartment they kept on Nob Hill, the children. At 1:30 they descended the broad stone steps of the St. Francis, crossed Powell Street and walked past Union Square, where the children were assembling to sing Christmas carols. They stopped in front of I. Magnin's. Before hurrying in, Sylvia kissed him gently on the lips, then stepped back and said, "Now, be nice to the Grants tonight, Martin."
"I'm always nice."
"No, you're not. I know you think Craig is a bore, but you have to do this for my sake. Laura's indispensable to me. I need her for the upcoming Spring Ball ... I really do. So be a darling—and don't argue politics, for heaven's sakes!"
"I'll try my best."
She smiled and said, "Thanks. You know, Martin, you can be a complete charmer when you put your mind to it."
He looked at her and smiled. "Well, that's comforting to know. I'll see you back at the apartment."
It was while he was waiting for the light to change that he saw Jenny walking past Gump's. For a moment he thought he was dreaming. His pulse raced and he stood frozen. Then, barely waiting for the traffic to stop, he ran across the street shouting her name.
She turned slowly, uncertain whether someone was really calling her. Then, all at once, they were face to face as the crowd flowed around them. Finally Jenny found her voice.
"I simply can't believe this."
Martin shook his head yes. "In one split second I might have missed you."
"How did you know it was me with my back toward you?"
"I'd recognize that walk anywhere."
"Even after all this time?"
"Yes, even after all this time. You haven't changed at all."
She laughed. "Of course I have. We've all changed. You look wonderful, Martin."
"Really? Thank you ... But life seems to have stood still for you."
"Hardly. Are you happy, Martin?"
"Yes, I suppose. And what about you?"
"I'm just trying to keep adrift these days."
"What are you doing in the city?"
Jenny hesitated a moment.
"I'm on my way to the Orient. The firm I'm with has a number of Japanese accounts."
"Where are you staying?"
"At the Fairmont."
"For how long?"
"Only until tomorrow. My plane leaves at seven in the evening."
"Oh well ... maybe we could have a drink in the afternoon some
"Oh well ... maybe we could have a drink in the afternoon sometime."
"Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"I'm not sure if it's good or bad. I'd just like to see you."
"That seems harmless enough."
"What name shall I ask for?"
"McCoy, Jennifer McCoy. Same as when we met. It's been extraordinary, Martin, meeting so unexpectedly."
He wanted to take her in his arms, hold her close, and this time never let her go. Instead he said, "I'll call."
Then she disappeared inside Shreve's. Martin didn't know how he made it back to his office. Yet suddenly he found himself standing in front of the massive oak doors, looking at the names of Roth, Seifer, Roth, Stearn & Hines. He remembered how unsure of himself he'd felt that day his father had added the second Roth to the prestigious roster. He hadn't believed he was worthy of mention in the famous brokerage firm his great-grandfather had founded ninety years before.
It was strange about the accident of birth. If he had not been heir to the Roth firm, or if Jenny McCoy were not an Irish Catholic, how different their lives might have been. Seeing Jenny had threatened his resolve to carry on the traditions of his family. A small voice within him wanted to cry out: You must forgive me, Papa. I know I disappointed you in many ways, but when it came to Jenny I did as you wished. I gave her up once but I can't do it again. Please forgive me but I feel I have a right now to reach out for the thing I need so much in my life. I don't want to hurt anybody, but something inside me can no longer be deprived.
Abruptly shaking off the ghost of the past, Martin turned the knob on the door and walked down the hall toward his office. He was almost there when Charles Hines called to him through his open door, "Come on in, Martin."
Obediently he stood framed in the doorway.
"Jesus, Martin, I'm glad you got back. I need your advice on what to do with this order of Normal Bells." He waved a yellow memo in the air. "It's imperative that we get into the market on Monday morning because ..."
Martin knew he would never be able to muster a logical reply; he was too distracted. Cutting off Charles's explanation, he said, "Okay, hand it to me and I'll take a look."
Without glancing at the page he backed out of the office and continued on down to his own where his secretary, Nancy, was waiting. Nancy occupied a position of some importance since she had been with the firm even longer than Martin and knew his moods even better than Sylvia. The moment she saw his face she said, "Is everything all right, Martin?"
But he just mumbled that he didn't wish to be disturbed and closed the door to his private office. He tried going over the portfolio on his desk but he could only think of Jenny. If he had been one minute earlier or later crossing Stockton Street, he would never have spotted her. It was as though fate wanted them to have a second chance.
He sat lost in the past, unaware of the passage of time. He was shocked when Nancy knocked on the door and he looked up to see that the desk clock said six.
"Is there anything I can do for you before I leave?" She stood in front of the desk and seemed reluctant to go, but it was Christmas Eve and she wanted to get home.
"Why are you still here?" he asked.
She smiled. "Because I'm an old campaigner. And I had to finish up some loose ends. Merry Christmas."
He got up and embraced her. "You too, Nancy."
After closing the door behind her Martin knew he should go, but he'd remained, sipping his drink. Now it was fully dark outside and he knew he'd be late. In a flurry of guilt, he got up, grabbed his raincoat, and walked out of the office.
It was 7:30 when he reached the apartment and walked to the bedroom, where Sylvia was applying makeup. "For heaven's sake, Martin, you're late."
"I know—I'm sorry."
"Well, for heaven's sake, you could have called."
"You're absolutely right. I'm so sorry."
"Well, don't just stand there. You've got exactly twenty minutes to shave and dress. I've got your clothes laid out on the bed."
Watching Martin sitting on the edge of the bed, her annoyance faded. He looked so tired. In a conciliatory voice she said, "I'm going to fix a drink. Do you want one while you're dressing?"
"Please." He needed a moment to pull himself together. To remind himself that this was Sylvia, whom he loved, and that Jenny was a dream he hadn't enjoyed for nearly a quarter of a century. He was finished in the bathroom and nearly dressed when Sylvia came back with his scotch. "Here, darling," she said, kissing him on the cheek. "Sometimes I sound just like a nagging wife."
"No, you don't. I was late and I'm sorry."
"Well, now that makes two of us. I wasn't exactly charming. Okay, finish up and I'll call down for the car."
Martin wasn't listening. He despised cocktail parties and tonight he sure as hell wasn't up to one, but he couldn't think of an excuse not to go, especially when he noticed that Sylvia was looking particularly radiant.
By the time they arrived at the penthouse atop Nob Hill, the party was in full swing. A number of guests were sitting on the stairs as Sylvia and Martin made their way to the second floor. The living room had been transformed into a winter wonderland. Trees in huge tubs from the Podesta Baldocchi florist were decorated with tiny Christmas lights. The room smelled of pine and expensive perfume. Martin found he could barely breathe. "Darling," said Laura, embracing Sylvia. "I'm so glad you came! I was beginning to wonder ... you're so late."
Sylvia laughed. "How could you have possibly missed us with this galaxy?"
"I'm terribly good at keeping track. And how are you, Martin?"
"Good. You look lovely," Martin said, trying to escape the cloud of gin and Joy.
"So nice of you to notice. Now go have fun, both of you!"
Sylvia began to circulate, and Martin wandered about the room, idly listening to fragments of conversation. "I think she looked perfectly dreadful. She has no right to wear a dress that tight ..." Martin moved on. "You know they're having an affair ..." He plucked a scotch and soda off a waiter's tray, wandered over to a quiet corner. He was startled when Sylvia materialized at his elbow and said, "A penny for your thoughts, Martin."
"You'd get robbed, they weren't worth that."
That strange feeling she'd had earlier persisted. "Well, what are you doing here, standing by yourself?"
"Trying to avoid the stampede."
Looking at her husband, Sylvia felt guilty. She knew that he hated big parties, but all her friends gave and went to them. She and Martin were like the couple in which the wife loved the seashore and he loved the mountains. Well, she wasn't going to think about that now. "Maybe a little food will soothe whatever it is that ails you," she said.
A wave of guilt washed over him, as though he'd already called Jenny. How did Sylvia know that anything ailed him?
Taking him by the hand, Sylvia led him to the buffet table.
It was overwhelming: a whole salmon glazed with mayonnaise and truffles; pâté in an aspic glaze; caviar and cucumber aspic; lobster cooked in brandy with toasted almonds. And at the other end of the table stood a ham en croute and a chafing dish filled with beef bourgignon.
"Isn't this the most sumptuous thing?" Sylvia said.
He looked at the enormous buffet. It was indeed incredible, but he seemed to have lost his appetite.
Sylvia handed him a plate and took one for herself. Tasting the lobster, she said, "This is simply marvelous." He remained silent. She watched as he stared blankly at the food.
"Aren't you going to eat, dear?"
She was suddenly afraid. Martin liked good food, and even though he was careful about his weight he never skipped a meal. Sensing her worry, Martin seemed to pull himself together. He ate a few bites and began moving through the crowd, saying hello to their friends. He even went over to Laura and Craig and smiled while Sylvia made plans for the Spring Ball.
It was after eleven when they finally got away and almost midnight before Martin turned off the bedroom light in their apartment. But even in the dark he could not escape his wife's growing concern.
Sylvia knew Martin hated being fussed over, but he had been acting oddly ever since he came home from work. Suddenly her pulse raced. Martin had been to the doctor a few days ago for his annual checkup, and maybe ... maybe ... God, she wasn't going to look for trouble. Yet three of their best friends had dropped dead from heart attacks in the last year or so. That's enough, Sylvia. The only way she'd find out would be to ask. "Darling, are you feeling all right?"
"Yes, of course. Why do you ask?"
She shrugged. "I don't know, Martin ..." She hesitated.
They lay silently for a few moments in their separate beds. Sylvia had never felt so lonely. Finally she said, "You were so dreadfully quiet tonight, Martin. Are you worried about something?"
Martin's heart beat a little too rapidly. It was as though she were clairvoyant. He was worried, worried about hurting her.
Excerpted from Illusions of Love by Cynthia Freeman. Copyright © 1984 Cynthia Freeman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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