|Publisher:||Graydon House Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.40(d)|
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"I can't do it."
"Yes, you can."
My attorney Trish, who not only happens to be one of the finest divorce lawyers in Chicago but also my best friend from college, stares at me, unblinking in disbelief.
"Sign. The papers. Adie. Lou."
She says this slowly, in a tone like the one my dad used when he caught me trying to sneak in the cottage past curfew.
"I can't," I repeat. They are the only words I can muster.
"You can," she says.
She continues to stare, her brown eyes that match the frames of her expensive tortoiseshell reading glasses still unblinking. Trish graduated top of our undergrad class and her law class at Northwestern. Her gaze had broken some of the most ruthless divorce attorneys and ruthless husbands in Chicago.
She doesn't just stare, I finally realize. She punctures your soul.
"You're freaking me out," I finally say, after an uncomfortable pause. "You haven't blinked in a minute. You look like a snake."
"I am," Trish says. "That's why I'm a great lawyer." She stops. "Actually, you're freaking me out. What's going on, Adie Lou?"
She sits back in the banquette at RL, the posh Ralph Lauren restaurant on Michigan Avenue across from the flagship Polo store, folds her napkin in her lap and then folds her arms over her tailored jacket. The room is beautiful and bustling, and yet still hushed in that way that moneyed places always are. I look around the room. This is where Chicago's elite gathered. The preppy place where the ladies who lunch lunched (and had a glass or two of champagne), the place where businessmen threw back a whiskey to celebrate a deal, the place where tourists gathered to gawk at those ladies and businessmen ...
The place where attorneys bring clients to sign divorce papers, I add, so they can't make a scene.
I set the pen down and push the papers back into the middle of the table, clattering bread plates and utensils together.
"I can see we're going to need a drink," Trish says. "Now rather than later."
"Then we're going to need a double." Trish motions at our waiter, who arrives without a sound, like a well-mannered ghost. "Two manhattans."
"I'll be drunk by one," I say.
"Good," Trish laughs. "Then maybe you'll sign the papers." She stops. "What's going on? Square with me, Adie Lou. What's going on in that head of yours?"
Although the weather is brutally cold — typical for February in Chicago — it is a bright, sunny day. I watch shoppers scurry past the frost-etched windows of the restaurant. Their cheeks are red, their eyes bright, they look happy, alive, excited to be part of the world.
I can feel my lips quiver and my eyes start to tear.
"Oh, honey," Trish says, reaching out to grab my hand.
"I'm sorry," I say, as the waiter drops off our drinks. He thinks I'm talking to him and gives me a sad smile.
"Here," Trish says, handing me my drink. She lifts hers into the air, and a huge smile comes over her face. She removes her glasses and begins to sing our old sorority drinking song.
"We drink our beers in mugs of blue and gray
"We drink to Zetas who are far away
"And seven days a week we have a blast
"And when the beer runs out we go to class
"And when our college days are never more
"We'll be alums and then we'll drink some more
"We are the girls who like to set 'em up and drink 'em up
"Alpha to Omega say oohm-darah, oohm-daray
"Eta Kappa Z-T-A!"
"Cheers!" she says to me, as everyone in RL stares. Trish turns to the patrons and lifts her glass. "Cheers!"
I laugh and take a sip of my manhattan. It feels good to do both.
"That's what I'm missing in my life," I say. "Remember those Zeta girls? The ones who thought they could conquer the world, do anything, be anything they wanted?"
"You did," I say. "I didn't."
"Oh, Adie Lou," Trish says. "Listen. I hear you. I really do. But I have to be honest. I think it's the divorce talking. I've handled hundreds of divorces, and what you're feeling is natural. There's a sense of overwhelming loss, sadness and failure. More than that, many women often feel rudderless and bitter because they sacrificed their lives for their families, and then when the family is grown, their husbands have a midlife crisis and run off with someone half their age. Men used to just buy a damn convertible."
"He did that, too," I say.
Trish stifles a laugh. She stops, smiles and sighs. "But you have the greatest accomplishment I'll never have. A child. Evan is a gift to you and this world."
I match her sigh. "I know, I know," I say. "You're right."
"And let me be totally clear, Adie Lou," Trish continues. "You have the chance to start over."
I take a healthy sip of my manhattan. "That's what I want to do," I say. "And that's why I can't sign the papers."
Trish's raises her eyebrows about to speak, but I stop her. "Hear me out."
She leans back in the banquette holding her drink. "Okay."
I grab my bag off my chair and pull out a sheaf of papers. "I want you to look at something," I say. "I have a plan."
Trish's eyes widen, and she lifts her drink to her mouth. "Oh, God," she says. "A plan. With actual papers. Let me brace myself."
"What if," I ask, my voice rising in excitement, "I kept the summer cottage and turned it into a B and B?"
Trish chokes on her drink. "What?" she asks too loudly, people again turning to stare. "Have you lost it, Adie Lou? Or are you already drunk?"
"Neither," I say, squaring my shoulders.
"You have a great job making great money in a great city with great friends," Trish says. "And you have a great offer on the cottage."
"I hate my job," I say. "I always have. You know that." I hesitate. "I don't want to be miserable any longer."
Trish cocks her head and softens. "I'm sorry," she says. "I didn't realize you were this unhappy."
"Just hear me out a little while longer," I say. "And try to blink."
Trish laughs. "Go on."
I spread the papers I've been holding on to for the right moment across the table. "What if I don't sell the cottage and turn it into a B and B," I start over. "I've been doing a lot of research."
"I hate to interrupt already," Trish says, "but there are a ton of B and Bs in Saugatuck. Isn't it called the B and B Capital of the Midwest?"
"Yes," I say. "But there are only two inns on the entire lakeshore. One is an older motel, and the other is tiny and for sale. Creaky Cottage has the potential to be eight bedrooms if I convert the attic and turn the old fish house out back into a honeymoon suite." I stop and shut my eyes. "And that turret ... wouldn't it be the most romantic place to serve wine at sunset?"
I look at Trish. "I've already talked to a contractor, too," I say, before adding, "Blink."
She does. Once. Very dramatically.
"And what if I kept the wooden boat?" I continue. "And use it for sunset cruises? I would be able to offer something the other inns don't have, something that would make me unique."
"The roses," Trish says, still staring at me. "You forgot about the roses."
"That's not fair," I reply, instantly remembering the first time Trish and I met.
We were eighteen, and we'd just finished sorority rush. It was late, and everyone was either passed out or still at the bars. I couldn't sleep from all the adrenaline, wondering if and from whom I might get a bid, and wandered into the common room to find Trish watching Ice Castles, one of my favorite movies of all time. Not only could we both recite nearly every line — including the big scene where everyone realizes figure skater Lexie is actually blind when she trips over the roses adoring fans had thrown onto the ice — but also immediately knew we'd be best friends forever.
From then on, Trish and I used that line when one of us was about to make a big mistake.
"I admire your enthusiasm, Adie Lou," Trish says, "but now hear me out."
She grabs the divorce papers I had pushed aside earlier and begins to shuffle through them. "Do you remember how many issues the inspection revealed in the cottage?" Trish asks, her voice immediately serious and in full attorney mode. "The roof needs to be replaced, the plumbing is ancient, you still have knob-and-tube wiring in some areas of the cottage, the stairs down to the beach are in need of repair, not to mention erosion that needs to be addressed, the windows are old, the house needs new insulation and shingles ... Need I go on?" she asks. "Okay, I will."
Trish continues to rifle through the papers. "Your gas and electrical bills are astronomical even with no one living there, and need I remind you of the property taxes? Nearly $15,000 a year."
"But I'll be homesteading," I say, my voice still hopeful. "That should knock taxes down by a third."
"Oh, wow," Trish says sarcastically. "You're rich."
She continues, her voice a bit softer. "I'm not counting the upkeep on an old, wooden boat, much less the fact that — oh, yeah — you won't have steady income. How much does it cost to run a B and B? How long to make a profit? What about insurance and health codes and ..."
"But Nate said he'd provide monthly support for me until Evan graduates from college," I say.
"If you agreed to sell the cottage and the boat," Trish interrupts.
"I know I might not be able to do the boat immediately," I say, my voice beginning to rise. "I know I can't afford everything all at one."
"That's an understatement," Trish says.
"Trish," I say, tempering my voice. "For the past twenty years I've raised a child in an emotionless marriage, I've endured a husband who regards me as critically as one of his philosophy books, I've excelled in a job I've despised, I've lost both my parents, I'm about to lose my family cottage ..." I hesitate, trying to rein in my emotions. "I can't lose anything else."
"You realize what's at risk here, don't you?" Trish warns. "You're my friend, but right now I must advise you as your attorney first and foremost."
I nod. I know she cares about me and is just looking out for my well-being.
"You have a great offer — all cash, need I remind you — for the cottage. If you don't sell, you'll be losing a sizable chunk of change that would set you up for life. In addition, you'll be incurring a load of debt, you'll be leaving a city you love to start over in a resort town, you'll be starting a business that you have no experience in ..." Trish stops. "You could lose it all, Adie Lou. Everything. Even the cottage in the end."
"I feel like I don't have anything to lose," I say. "And what if I don't? What if this is what I was meant to do? My grampa sacrificed everything to buy that cottage. My parents loved that cottage more than anything in this world. So did Evan and I. What does it mean if I just walk away from all of that so life is a little easier on me? My mom told me the worst thing to live with is regret." I stop. "That cottage is my history." I stop again. "I think it might be my future, too."
Trish nods and then smiles. "Okay, then should I remind you that you don't particularly like random strangers, and I haven't seen you make anything except reservations since I've known you."
"Hey!" I protest. "I cooked when Evan was young, but then Nate said he hated the 'smell of food' in our house. And he only really wanted to hang out with people he liked, intellectual elites who didn't understand the joy of eating a pint of Ben and Jerry's and watching Sex and the City reruns on a rainy afternoon." I stop to catch my breath, my anger rushing forth like the waves of Lake Michigan during a storm. "And I just don't like the people I work with or for ..." I stop again and look at my friend.
"My God, Trish," I continue. "Look at me. I mean it! Look at me! Who am I anymore? I've gained twenty pounds. I wear sweater sets now. A man at an account meeting who's older than me called me 'ma'am' last month. I'm an online click away from purchasing a rose-colored sweatshirt with cardinals perched just-so on a snowy branch with matching sweatpants and giving up." I stop, and my lips quivers. "I need a new beginning. I've lost who I am. I'm trying to find that girl again. Help me."
Trish's face softens.
"And it's my summer cottage, not his. Nate always hated it. I don't know why I listened to him in the first place about selling it."
Trish looks at me for a long time, not blinking, and takes another healthy sip of her manhattan. "Give me a few minutes," she says. "Let me call his attorney." She stops. "He does owe you, and I'll make sure they know that."
As she walks away, I take a sip of my drink, and my head grows light. The world seems to fall away in sections right in front of my eyes — the walls of the restaurant first, followed by the tables, then the waiters and the diners, before the buildings outside slip into the ground, leaving me alone with only the sound of my heartbeat in my ears.
What am I doing? Trish is right. I could be making the biggest mistake of my life.
"Well," Trish says, walking back to the table startling me, "Nate doesn't want you making a big deal to the university, especially with his tenure review coming up and since Evan is a student there." Trish winks. "I might have made it seem as if you were going to storm into the chancellor's office or call the student newspaper if you didn't get your way." She continues. "And Illinois is a dual classification state. As I told you before, it separates marital property from separate property. Your parents left you the cottage. It's yours legally. It's separate property. It's not Nate's. So he has no rights to it."
She continues. "But the mortgage on your Chicago home is in both names. It's marital property. Illinois is an equitable distribution state, but equitable does not mean equal, or even half, but rather what the circuit court considers fair. The court divides the marital estate without regard to marital misconduct."
"Where are you going with this?" I ask nervously.
She smiles. "You have a deal. Nate will continue to give you two-plus years of support, only until Evan graduates. But he now wants two-thirds of the cash from the sale of the Lake Forest house."
I begin to protest, but Trish holds up a hand. "Hear me out. I can contest that, and chances are you'd likely get a fifty-fifty split of the home, if not more, but then they could contest the level of Nate's support, and I know how much that means to you moving forward. It extends your runway, gives you a little more time to get the plane off the ground." She continues. "And Evan goes to school free because Nate works there, so they have that in their back pocket to argue against the level of support."
I take a deep breath as Trish takes a seat.
Trish raises her glass. "Cheers!" she says. "I still think you're crazy, but I'm so proud of you, Adie Lou."
"Thank you," I say, the gravity of what just occurred hitting me with full force. "Cheers back," I add, taking too big of a drink.
"And I'm sorry," Trish says. When I look up, her eyes are filled with love. "For not asking how you were really feeling more often. For not being there for you. For not seeing that your marriage wasn't fine. For ..." She hesitates. "... well, everything. You're taking a risk, and that is admirable. I envy and adore you, Adie Lou."
I reach across the table and take my friend's hand in mine, and give it a big squeeze.
"Thank you," I say.
"To no regrets," Trish says, before adding, "Promise me one thing?" "Okay."
"Just watch out for the roses," she replies.CHAPTER 2
I am always taken aback when I hear my son's voice. I still expect him to sound like he did when he was a boy — high-pitched, singsongy, begging for me to hold him or help him — instead of the baritone that booms forth from his six-foot-two-inch, nineteen-year-old body.
"Lose my number?" I tease. I'm on my cell phone, sitting in my Volvo, which is packed with boxes from my office. It's amazing how a career that can consume every minute of your life becomes insanely irrelevant the very moment you leave to follow your passion, I think. "It's been a while."
"I'm sorry," he replies.
I move on cautiously because I don't want to worry Evan. "I have some news."
"I heard already," he says, cutting me off at the pass. "Dad told me."
Of course he did, I think, annoyed.
"Oh," I say, bracing myself. "What did he tell you?"
"You want the sanitized version?" he asks.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Summer Cottage"
Copyright © 2019 Viola Shipman.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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