It was a beautiful hot July day in Marin County, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, as Tanya Harris bustled around her kitchen, organizing her life. Her style was one of supreme order. She loved having everything tidy, in its proper place, and in control. She loved to plan, and therefore she rarely ran out of anything, or forgot to do anything. She enjoyed a predictably efficient life. She was small, lithe, in good shape, and didn’t look her age, which was forty-two years old. Her husband, Peter, was forty-six. He was a litigator with a respected San Francisco law firm, and didn’t mind the commute to Ross, across the bridge. Ross was a prosperous, safe, highly desirable suburban community. They had moved there from the city sixteen years before because the school system was excellent. It was said to be the best in Marin.
Tanya and Peter had three children. Jason was eighteen and was leaving for college at the end of August. He was going to UC Santa Barbara, and although he couldn’t wait to go, Tanya was going to miss him terribly. And they had twin daughters, Megan and Molly, who had just turned seventeen.
Tanya had loved every moment of the last eighteen years, being a full-time mom to her kids. It suited her perfectly. She never found it burdensome or boring. The tedium of driving car pools had never seemed intolerable to her. Unlike mothers who complained of it, she loved being with her children, dropping them off, picking them up, taking them to Cub Scouts and Brownies, and she had been head of the parents’ association of their school for several years. She took pride in doing things for them, and loved going to Jason’s Little League and basketball games, and whatever the girls did as well. Jason had been varsity in high school, and was hoping to make either the basketball or tennis team at UCSB.
His two younger sisters, Megan and Molly, were fraternal twins, and were as different as night and day. Megan was small and blond like her mother. She had been an Olympic-caliber gymnast in her early teens, and only gave up national competitions when she found it was interfering with her work at school. Molly was tall, thin, and looked like Peter, with dark brown hair and endless legs. She was the only member of the family who had never played competitive sports. She was musical, artistic, loved taking photographs, and was a whimsical, independent soul. At seventeen, the twins were going into their senior year. Megan wanted to go to UC Berkeley like her mother, or maybe UCSB. Molly was thinking about going east, or to a college in California where she could follow artistic pursuits. She had been thinking seriously about USC in L.A., if she stayed out west. Although the twins were very close, they were both adamant about not going to the same school. They had been in the same school and class all through elementary and high school, and now they were both ready to go their own ways. Their parents thought it was a healthy attitude, and Peter was encouraging Molly to consider the Ivy League schools. Her grades were good enough, and he thought she’d do well in a high-powered academic atmosphere. She was considering Brown, where she could design her own curriculum in photography, or maybe film school at USC. All three of the Harris children had done exceptionally well in school.
Tanya was proud of her children, loved her husband, enjoyed her life, and had thrived in their twenty-year marriage. The years had flown by like minutes since she’d married Peter as soon as she’d graduated from college. He had just graduated from Stanford Law School, and joined the law firm where he still worked. And just about everything in their life had gone according to plan. There had been no major shocks or surprises, no disappointments in their marriage, no traumas with their kids as Jason, Megan, and Molly navigated through their teens. Tanya and Peter enjoyed spending a lot of time with all three of their children. They had no regrets, and were well aware of how fortunate they were. Tanya worked in a family homeless shelter in the city one day a week, and she took the girls with her whenever she could and their schedules allowed. They both had extracurricular pursuits, and did community service through school. Peter liked to tease Tanya about how boring they all were, and how predictable in their routines. Tanya took great pride in keeping it that way, for all of them. Everything about their life felt comfortable and safe.
Her childhood had not been quite as neat and clean, which was why she liked keeping their life so tidy. Some might have called her life with Peter overly sterile and controlled, but Tanya loved it that way, and so did he. Peter’s own youth and adolescence had been very similar to the life he and Tanya had created for their children, a seemingly perfect world. In contrast, Tanya’s childhood had been difficult and lonely, and frightening at times. Her father had been an alcoholic, and her parents had gotten divorced when she was three. She had only seen her father a few times after the divorce, and he died when she was fourteen. Her mother had worked hard as a paralegal to keep her in the best schools. She had died shortly after the twins were born, and Tanya had no siblings. An only child of only children, her family consisted of Peter, Jason, and the twins. They were the hub of her world. She cherished every moment that she spent with them. Even after twenty years of marriage, she couldn’t wait for Peter to come home at night. She loved telling him what she’d done that day, sharing stories about the children, and hearing about his day. She still found his cases and courtroom experiences fascinating after twenty years, and she liked sharing her own work with him as well. He was always enthusiastic and encouraging about what she did.
Tanya had been a freelance writer ever since she’d graduated from college, and through all the years of their marriage. She loved doing it because it fulfilled her, added to their income, and she worked at home, without interfering with their children. She led something of a double life as a result. Devoted mother, wife, and caregiver by day, and singularly determined freelance writer at night. Tanya always said that to her, writing was as essential as the air she breathed. Freelance writing had proven to be the perfect occupation for her, and the articles and stories she’d written had been well reviewed and warmly received over the years. Peter always said he was immensely proud of her, and appeared to be supportive of her work, although from time to time, he complained about her long work nights, and the late hours when she came to bed. But he appreciated the fact that it never interfered with her mothering or devotion to him. She was one of those rare, talented women who still put her family first, and always had.
Tanya’s first book had been a series of essays, mostly about women’s issues. It had been published by a small publisher in Marin in the late 1980s, and reviewed mostly by obscure feminist reviewers, who approved of her theories, topics, and ideas. Her book hadn’t been rabidly feminist, but was aware and independent, and the sort of thing one would expect a young woman to write. Her second book, published on her fortieth birthday, two years earlier, and eighteen years after her first book, had been an anthology of short stories, published by a major publisher, and had had an exceptionally good review in The New York Times Book Review. She had been thrilled.
In between, she had been frequently published in literary magazines, and often in The New Yorker. She had published essays, articles, and short stories in a variety of magazines over the years. Her volume of work was consistent and prolific. When necessary, she slept little, and some nights not at all. Judging by the sales of her recent book of short stories, she had a loyal following both
among average readers who enjoyed her work and among the literary elite. Several well-known and highly respected writers had written her letters of warm praise, and had commented favorably about her book in the press. As she was in all else, Tanya was meticulously conscientious about her work. She had managed to have a family, and still keep abreast of her work. For twenty years, she had set time aside every day to write. She was diligent and highly disciplined and the only time she took days off from her writing mornings was during school vacations, or when the children were home sick from school. In that case, they came first. Otherwise, nothing kept her from her work. In her hours away from Peter and the children, she was fanatical about her work. She let the phone go to voice mail, turned off her cell phone, and sat down to write every morning after her second cup of tea, once the kids had gone off to school.
She also enjoyed writing in a more commercial vein, which was the profitable side of it for them, something Peter respected as well. She did occasional articles for the local Marin papers, now and then for the Chronicle, on an editorial basis. She liked writing funny pieces, and had a knack with comedic work, in a wry, witty tone, and now and then she wrote pure slapstick when describing the life of a housewife and mother, and scenes with her kids. Peter thought it was what she did best, and she enjoyed doing it. She liked writing funny stuff.
The real money she’d made, compared to what she made on her articles and essays, was writing occasional scripts for soap operas on national TV. She had done quite a number of them over the years. They weren’t high literary endeavors, and she had no pretensions about what she did. But they paid extremely well, and the shows she wrote for liked her work, and called her often. It wasn’t work she was proud of, but she liked the money she made, and so did Peter. She usually wrote a dozen or so scripts a year. They had paid for her new Mercedes station wagon and a house they rented for a month at Lake Tahoe every year. Peter was always grateful for her help with tuition for their children. She had saved a nice little nest egg from her commercial writing work. She had cowritten a few miniseries, too, mostly before the market for miniseries and television movies had been impacted by reality TV. These days no one wanted miniseries or TV movies, and the only regular work she got for TV was on her soaps. Her agent called her about a script for a soap at least once a month, and sometimes more often. She knocked them out in a few days, working late at night while the rest of the family slept. Tanya was lucky that she needed very little sleep, much to her agent’s delight. She had never made gigantic money for her work, but she had produced steadily for many years. She was in effect a housewife and writer with stamina and talent. It was a combination that worked well.
Over the years Tanya’s freelance writing had been a steady, satisfying, and lucrative career, and as the kids got older, she had plans to write more. The only dream she had that hadn’t been fulfilled yet was to write the screenplay for a feature film. She had persisted in pushing her agent about it, but to some extent her work in TV made her ineligible. There was very little, if any, crossover between television and feature films. It irritated her because she knew she had the skills to do movies, but so far nothing in that vein had come her way, and she was no longer sure it ever would. It was an opportunity she’d been waiting for, for twenty years. In the meantime, she was happy with the writing she did. And the system and schedule she juggled so successfully worked well for all of them. She’d had a steady flow of work during her entire career. It was something she did with her left hand, while she tended to her family with her right and met all their needs. Peter always said that she was an amazing woman, and a wonderful mother and wife. That meant far more to her than favorable literary reviews. Her family had been her first priority during all her years of marriage and motherhood. And as far as Tanya was concerned, she had done the right thing, even if it meant turning down an assignment now and then, although that was rare for her. Most of the time, she found a way to fit it in, and was proud of having done that for twenty years. She had never let Peter or her kids down, nor her work, or the people who paid her to do it.
She had just sat down at her computer with a cup of tea, and was looking over the draft for a short story she’d started the day before, when the phone rang, and she heard the answering machine pick it up. Jason had spent the night in San Francisco, the girls were out with friends, and Peter had long since left for work. He was preparing for a trial the following week. So she had a nice, peaceful morning to work, which was rare when the kids were out of school. She wrote far less in the summer than she did in the winter months. It was too distracting trying to write when the children were home on vacation, and around all the time. But she’d had an idea for a new short story that had been bugging her for days. She was wrestling with it, when she heard her agent leave a message on the phone, and strode rapidly across the kitchen to pick it up. She knew that all the soaps she wrote for were on hiatus, so it wasn’t likely to be a request for a script for a soap. Maybe an article for a magazine, or a request from The New Yorker.
She answered the phone just before her agent hung up. The message he’d left was a request for her to call him. He was a long-established literary agent in New York, who had represented her for the past fifteen years. The agency also had an office in Hollywood, where they generated a very respectable amount of work for her, as much as in New York, sometimes more. She loved all the different aspects of her work, and had been dogged and persistent about pursuing her career through all the kids’ years of growing up. They were proud of her, and once in a while watched her soaps, although they teased her a lot, and told her how “cheesy” they were. But they bragged about her to their friends. It was immensely important to her that Peter and her children respected what she did. And she liked knowing she did it well, without sacrificing her time with them. There was a sign on her office wall that said “What hath night to do with sleep?”
“I thought you might be writing,” her agent said as she picked up. His name was Walter Drucker, and he went by Walt.
“I was,” she said, hopping onto a high stool near the phone. The kitchen was the nerve center of the house, and she used it as an office. Her computer was set up in the corner, next to two file cabinets bulging with her work. “What’s up? I’m working on a new short story. I think it may turn out to be part of a trilogy when it grows up.” He admired her, and the fact that she was unfailingly professional and conscientious about everything she did. He knew how important her children were to her, but she still stayed on track with everything she wrote. She was very serious about her work, and everything she touched. It was a pleasure to deal with her. He never had to apologize for her missing a deadline, forgetting a story, going into rehab, or blowing a script. She was a writer to the core, and a good one. Tanya was a true professional. She had talent, energy, and drive. He liked her work, although usually he wasn’t a short-story fan, but hers were good. They always had an interesting twist, a surprise. There was something very quirky and unusual about her work. Just when the reader expected it least, she came up with a stunning twist, turn, or ending. And he liked her funny stuff best. Sometimes she made him laugh till he cried.
“I’ve got work,” he said, sounding vague and somewhat cryptic. She was still thinking about her story, and not entirely focused on what he’d said.
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Bungalow 2 by Danielle Steel Copyright © 2007 by Danielle Steel. Excerpted by permission of Dell, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.