The tires of the red Ferrari squealed, as it came around the corner and dove neatly into the space where Jack Watson always parked it. It was in the parking lot of his Beverly Hills store, Julie’s. Exactly twenty years before, he had named it after his then nine-year-old daughter. It had been a lark to him then, something he was going to do for fun, after deciding to give up producing movies.
He had produced seven or eight low-budget films, none of them remarkable, and before that he had spent half a dozen years, after college, working on and off as an actor. His film career had been relatively minor, filled with all the usual hope and promises that never turned out quite as he planned, and too often turned out to be disappointing. But his luck changed when he got into retail with the unexpected help of an uncle, who had left him some money. Without even trying, it seemed, he wound up with the store that every woman in Los Angeles would have killed to shop in. His wife helped him with the buying at first, but within two years he figured out that he had a better eye for the merchandise than she did. And much to her chagrin, also for the women who wore it. Every woman in town, actresses and socialites, models and just ordinary housewives with money to spend, wanted to go to Julie’s…and meet Jack Watson. He was one of those men who didn’t even have to try. Women were just drawn to him like bees to honey. And he loved it. And them.
Two years after he opened his store, to no one’s surprise but his own, his wife left him. And for the past eighteen years, he had to admit, he had never missed her. He had met her on the set of one of his films, she had come to read for him, and spent the next two weeks lost in passion with him in his Malibu cottage. He had been madly in love with her at first, and they were married six months later, his first and only foray into marriage. It had lasted for fifteen years and two kids, but had ended with all the bitterness and venom that, as far as he was concerned, was inevitable in any marriage. He had only been tempted to try it again once in the years afterward, with a woman who was far too smart to have him. She was the only woman who had ever made him want to be faithful to her, and for once he had been. He had been in his forties then, she had been thirty-nine, French, and a very successful artist. They had lived together for two years, and when she died in an accident on her way to meet him in Palm Springs, he had thought he would never recover from it. For the first time in his life, Jack Watson had known real pain. She was everything he had always dreamed of, and in rare moments of seriousness even now, he still said she was the only woman he had ever loved, and he meant it. Dorianne Matthieu was funny and irreverent, sexy and beautiful, and in her own way, utterly outrageous. She didn’t put up with anything from him, and she said that only a fool would marry him, but he had never doubted for a moment that she loved him. And he adored her. She took him to Paris to meet her friends, and they had traveled everywhere together, Europe, Asia, Africa, South America. To him, it had always seemed that the moments he spent with her were tinged with magic. Until she died and left him with the resounding emptiness and overwhelming sense of loss that he actually thought might kill him.
There had been women since, lots of them, to fill the nights and the days. In the dozen years since her death, he had hardly ever been alone, not physically anyway, but he had never loved another woman either, nor did he want to. As far as he was concerned, loving was far too painful. At fifty-nine, Jack Watson had everything he had ever wanted: a business that seemed to do nothing but grow and crank out money.
He had opened a Palm Springs store, before Dori died, and another in New York five years later. And for the past two years, he had been thinking about opening one in San Francisco. But at his age, he was no longer entirely sure he wanted the headaches of further expansion. Maybe if his son, Paul, would come into the business with him, but so far he hadn’t had much luck in seducing Paul away from his own film career. At thirty-two, Paul was already a very successful young producer. He was far more successful at it than his father had been, and he genuinely loved it. But Jack had a profound distrust of the insecurities of the film industry, and its almost inevitable disappointments. And he would have given anything to lure Paul into the business. Maybe one day. But surely not for the moment. Paul didn’t want to hear it.
Paul loved his work, and his wife. He had been married for the past two years, and the only thing that seemed to be missing from his life, or so he claimed, was a baby. Jack wasn’t even sure how much Paul cared, but it was obvious that Jan did. She worked in an art gallery, and Jack always had the impression that she was just hanging around, waiting to have kids. She was a little bland for him, but she was a nice girl, and she obviously made Paul very happy. She was also beautiful; her mother was the long-retired but spectacular-looking actress Amanda Robbins. She was long, lean, and blonde, still wonderful to look at, at fifty. She had given up an extraordinary movie career twenty-six years before to marry a very staid, respectable, and as far as Jack was concerned, extremely boring banker named Matthew Kingston. They had two beautiful daughters, a huge house in Bel Air, and moved in the most respectable circles.
Amanda was one of the few women in Los Angeles who never shopped at Jack’s store, and it always amused him, on the rare occasions when their paths crossed, to realize that she absolutely couldn’t stand him. She seemed to hate everything he was, and everything he represented. And it wouldn’t have surprised him at all to learn that Amanda had done everything in her power to dissuade her daughter from marrying Paul Watson. She and her husband seemed to take a dim view of show business, and they had been sure that eventually Paul would turn out to be just as promiscuous as his father. But he wasn’t. Paul was a serious young man, and he had already proven to them that he was a solid, reliable husband. They had eventually accepted him into the fold of their family, although they had never warmed to his father. Jack’s reputation was well known in L.A. He was good-looking, seen everywhere, and famous for cruising in and out of bed with every starlet and model who crossed his path, and he made no apology for it. He was always kind to the women he went out with, too much so, in fact. He was generous, intelligent, nice to be around, and always fun to be with. The women he went out with always adored him, and now and then one of them was even foolish enough to think they might “catch” him for more than just a brief affair. But Jack Watson was too smart for that. He saw to it that they came and went out of his life before they could settle down, or have time to start leaving their clothes in his closet. And he was always painfully honest with them, he made no promises, created no false impressions. He gave them a good time, took them to all the places they had ever read about or dreamed of, wined and dined them in the best restaurants, and before they knew what had hit them, he had moved on, to the next one. And they were left with a pleasant, albeit brief, memory of an affair with a handsome, sexy man, who left them gasping for more, and wishing they had been able to hang on to him for just a little longer.
It was impossible to be angry at Jack, or even stay that way for long. Everything about him was irresistibly charming, even the way he left them. He dated married women once in a while, but had only the nicest things to say about their husbands. Jack Watson was a fun guy, terrific in bed and an incurable playboy, and never pretended for a millisecond to be anything different. And at fifty-nine, he still looked a dozen years younger. He worked out when he had time, swam in the ocean frequently, still had his house in Malibu, and he loved his women nearly as much as his red Ferrari. The only things he really did care about, and was serious about, were his children. Julie and Paul were the lights of his life, and always would be. Their mother was only a dim memory, and one that still made him grateful whenever he thought of her, that she had had the good sense to leave him. For the past eighteen years, he had done exactly what he wanted, even when he was with Dori. He was spoiled, he had money, his business was a huge success, and he was irresistible to women, and what’s more, he knew it. Though oddly, there was nothing arrogant about him. He was sexy, and fun, and almost always happy. He loved to have a good time. “Adorable” was a word women often used to describe him. They liked him, and he liked them.
“‘Morning, Jack.” The manager of Julie’s smiled at him, as he hurried through the store to the private elevator that would take him up to his office. It was on the fourth floor, and was entirely done in steel and black leather. It had been designed for him by a very famous Italian interior designer, yet another woman he had been involved with. She had wanted to leave her architect husband and three kids for him, and he had assured her that living with him would have driven her completely crazy. And by the time their affair ended, he had actually convinced her. Just watching Jack move around his own little world was both exciting and somewhat alarming.
He knew there would be coffee waiting for him upstairs, and eventually a light lunch. He glanced at his watch. He was late for once. He had decided to be half an hour late for work in order to swim in the ocean, although it was January, but the weather had been warm, even if the water wasn’t. He loved swimming in the ocean, loved his house at the beach, and everything about his business. And despite his playing the field with women, he was relentlessly disciplined about his work. It was no accident that Julie’s was one of the most successful small chains in the retail business. Several people had approached him over the years about taking it public, but he still wasn’t ready to do it. He liked maintaining control, and being the sole owner. He had no one else to consult about his decisions, no one to answer to, no one to badger him or explain to. Julie’s was one hundred percent his baby.
When he got to his office, there was a stack of messages neatly laid out on his desk, a list of appointments he had that afternoon, and some swatches he had been expecting from Paris. They were nothing short of splendid. It was Dori who had introduced him to the miracle of French fabrics…and French food…and French wine…and French women. He still had a soft spot for them, and a lot of the merchandise he carried at Julie’s were imports. The best of everything, that was what they promised, and delivered.
The phone rang almost as soon as he sat down, it was the intercom, and he pressed the button as he continued to glance at the French fabrics.
“Hi.” He spoke into the machine casually, in the voice that made women ache for him, but not his secretary, Gladdie. She knew him too well to be affected by him. She had worked for him for five years, and knew everything there was to know about him. And the one group of women who were sacred to him, that he never messed around with, were the ones who worked for him in his office. It was one of the few rules about women in his life that he had never broken. “Who is it?”
“Paul’s on the line. Do you want to talk to him, or shall I tell him you’re busy? Your ten-fifteen should be here any minute.”
“He can wait.” It was an appointment he had made to talk to a handbag manufacturer from Milan who dealt mostly in alligator and lizard. “You keep track of the guy for a few minutes when he gets here. I want to talk to Paul first.” If possible, he tried not to put off his children, and he was smiling as he picked up the receiver. Paul was a great kid, he always had been, and Jack was crazy about him. “Hi there, what’s doing?”
“I thought I’d call and see if you wanted me to pick you up, or if you’d rather meet us there.” Although he was quiet by nature, unlike Jack, today he sounded unusually somber.
“Meet you where?” Paul’s offer to pick him up touched no chord of memory. He had no recollection whatsoever of making an appointment with him and usually, when it concerned his children at least, he remembered, but not this time.
“Come on, Dad.” Paul sounded mildly exasperated and somewhat stressed. He was clearly not amused by what his father was saying. “This is serious. Don’t joke about it.”
“I’m not joking,” Jack said, setting the handful of French fabrics down, and glancing at the papers on his desk for some clue to what his son was saying. “Where are we going?” And then in a rush of embarrassment, he remembered. “Oh Christ, I…” Paul’s father-in-law’s funeral. How on earth could he have forgotten? But he hadn’t written it down, and he must not have told Gladdie he was going, or she would have reminded him both the evening before and that morning.
“You forgot, didn’t you, Dad?” Paul’s voice was suddenly full of accusation. It was obvious that he didn’t want to be messed around with. “I can’t believe it.”
“I didn’t forget, I just wasn’t thinking about it.”
“Bullshit. You forgot. The service is at noon, there’s a luncheon afterward at the house. You don’t have to go to that, but I think it would be nice if you were there.” His sister, Julie, had also promised to be there.
“How many people do you think they’re having?” Jack asked, wondering suddenly how to rearrange several of his afternoon appointments. This wasn’t going to be easy, but it meant something to Paul, so he would try to do it.
“At the lunch? I don’t know…they know an awful lot of people, probably two or three hundred.” Jack had been stunned to see more than five hundred people at his son’s wedding. People had come from all over the country, mostly because of the Kingstons.
“Then they’ll never miss me at the lunch,” Jack said matter-of-factly, “and thanks for offering to pick me up. I’ll meet you there. You should probably be with Jan and her mother and sister anyway. I’ll stay somewhat in the distance.”
“Make sure Amanda knows you were there,” Paul instructed. “Jan would be very upset if her mom thought you hadn’t come to the funeral.”
“She’d probably be a lot happier if I didn’t,” Jack laughed, making no bones about the mild animosity between them. He had danced with her a couple of times at the wedding, and Amanda Kingston made it clear without saying a word that she thoroughly disliked him. Like everyone else in town, she read about him constantly in the papers. And since giving up her career, she had adopted her husband’s very sober view that one should only be in the newspapers when one was born, died, or got married. Jack was usually in the papers for being seen with some moderately well-known actress, or budding starlet, or for giving a bash of some kind at Julie’s. The store was famous, as was he, for its fabulous parties for their designers and clients. People begged for invitations to them, but certainly not the Kingstons. And knowing they wouldn’t come, he had never bothered to invite them.
“Anyway, be on time, Dad. You’d be late to your own funeral, if you could.”
“Which, hopefully, won’t be for a while, thank you very much,” Jack said, thinking of the heart attack that had killed Matthew Kingston. He had died four days before, on the tennis court, and he was two years younger than Jack. Amanda had just turned fifty. The men who had been playing tennis with him had done everything possible to revive him, but they had been unable to do it. At fifty-seven, he was being mourned by his family, the entire banking community, and all those who knew him. But Jack had never liked him. He thought he was pompous, stuffy, and boring.
“I’ll see you there, Dad. I have to pick up Jan at her mom’s. She spent the night there.”
“Does she need anything? A hat? A dress? I can have one of the girls pull some things for you to pick up on your way over there if you need it.”
“That’s okay, Dad.” Paul smiled at his father’s voice. He was a pain in the ass sometimes, but he was basically a decent guy, and Paul loved him. “I think Amanda got them everything they needed. She’s in pretty bad shape over Matt, but she’s incredibly organized, even now. She’s an amazing woman.”
“The Ice Queen,” Jack said, and then regretted it instantly, but the words slipped out before he could stop them.
“That’s a lousy thing to say about a woman who just lost her husband.”
“Sorry. I wasn’t thinking.” But he wasn’t far off the mark. She always looked and seemed totally in control, and absolutely perfect. Just looking at her always gave Jack an almost irresistible urge to mess her up and take her clothes off. The very thought of it even now somehow struck him funny as he hung up the phone, and thought about her, which was something he did very seldom.
He was sorry about her loss, and he still remembered all too well how he had felt when Dori had died, but there was something so distant and cold about Paul’s mother-in-law that it made it hard to really empathize much with her. She was so goddamn unbearably perfect. And she still looked incredibly like the way she had when she was Amanda Robbins, and left the screen at twenty-four to marry Matthew Kingston. It had been a huge Hollywood and society wedding, and for years people had guessed and made bets about whether or not she’d get bored and come back into the business. But she didn’t. She kept her looks, and her icy beauty, but her career was over forever. It was also easy to believe that Matthew Kingston would never have let her. He acted as though he owned her.
Jack opened the closet in his dressing room, and was glad to see he had left a dark suit in it. It wasn’t one of his best, but at least it was appropriate for the occasion, although all the ties he found in the small collection he kept there for emergencies were either red, bright blue, or yellow. He quickly strode out to his outer office to find Gladdie.
“Why didn’t you remind me about the funeral?” He scowled at her, but he wasn’t really angry and she knew it. He was one of those rare people who always took responsibility for his own mistakes, which was one of the many reasons why she loved working for him. And despite his reputation for being flip and irresponsible, she actually knew him a great deal better. As an employer, he was caring, generous, reliable, and a real pleasure to work for.
“I just thought you had it worked out. Did you forget?” she asked with a smile, and with a sheepish grin, he nodded.
“Freudian, I guess. I hate going to the funerals of men who are younger than I am. Do me a favor, Glad, run down the street to Hermès and get me a dark tie. Nothing too miserable, but just serious enough so I don’t embarrass Paul. Nothing with naked women on it.” She laughed at him, and grabbed her purse just as the handbag manufacturer and his assistant came in. It was going to be a very quick meeting.
Jack had ordered a hundred bags by eleven o’clock, and Gladdie was back from Hermès by then with a slate-gray tie with tiny little white geometric figures on it. It was perfect. “You do good work,” he said gratefully, as he put it around his neck and tied it impeccably without looking in the mirror. He was wearing a dark gray suit and a white shirt, and handmade French oxfords. And he looked incredibly handsome with sandy blond hair, warm brown eyes, and chiseled features. “Do I look respectable?”
“I’m not sure that’s a word I’d use for you…maybe beautiful is more like it.” She smiled at him, totally inured to his charms, which he always found very pleasing about her. Being with Gladdie was always very soothing. She didn’t give a damn about his looks or his reputation, or his womanizing, just about his business. “You look great, honest. Paul will be proud of you.”
“I hope so. Maybe his charming mother-in-law will even refrain from calling the vice squad when she sees me coming. God, I hate funerals.” He could already feel a pall falling over him, it still reminded him of Dori. Christ, that had been awful…the shock, and the unbearable pain of it. The sheer misery of trying to understand that she was gone forever. It had taken him years to get over it, although he had tried to fill the void with a thousand women. But there had never been another woman like her. She was so warm, so beautiful, so sexy and mischievous and appealing. She was sensational, and just thinking about her, as he rode the elevator downstairs in his somber outfit shortly before noon, genuinely depressed him. It had been twelve years since she died, and he still missed her.
Jack didn’t even notice the women watching him admiringly as he left the store, and slid behind the wheel of his Ferrari. He peeled it away from the curb with immediate speed, and a roar of the powerful engine, and five minutes later he was on Santa Monica Boulevard, heading toward All Saints Episcopal Church, where they were holding the service. It was ten after noon by then, and traffic was worse than he had expected. It was a warm January afternoon in L.A., and everyone in the world seemed to be in their car and going somewhere. He was twenty minutes late when he got to All Saints and slipped quietly into a pew at the back of the church. He couldn’t even imagine how many people were there. From where he was sitting it looked like seven or eight hundred, but he was sure it couldn’t be that many.
He tried to catch a glimpse of his daughter, Julie, but she was lost in the crowd somewhere. And he couldn’t even see Paul at the front of the church, sitting between his wife and her sister. And his view of the widow was completely obscured. All Jack could see and think about was the inexorable inevitability of the coffin, so stark and severe, a rich mahogany with brass handles, covered by a carpet of moss and tiny white orchids. It was beautiful in its own grim way, as were the rest of the flowers in the church. There were orchids everywhere, and somehow without thinking about it, Jack knew that Amanda had done it. There was the same kind of impeccable attention to detail, even at a time like this, that she had shown during their children’s wedding.
But Jack quickly forgot about her, and sat lost in his own thoughts, reminded of his own mortality, during the High Episcopal service. A friend spoke, and both sons-in-law. Paul’s words were brief and to the point, but very moving, and in spite of himself there were tears in Jack’s eyes when he praised his son for it after the service.
“That was very nice, Son,” he said, sounding hoarse for a moment. “You can speak at mine, when the time comes.” He tried to make light of it, but Paul shook his head with a look of disgust and put an arm around his father’s shoulders.
“Don’t flatter yourself. I couldn’t say a single decent thing about you, and neither could anyone else, so don’t bother.”
“Thanks, I’ll keep it in mind. Maybe I should give up tennis.”
“Dad…” Paul scolded, with a quick warning look. Amanda was approaching, moving quietly through the crowd to the place where she would stand to greet a few of the mourners. And before Jack could move, he found he was looking right at her. She looked amazingly beautiful, and in spite of the years since, still very much a movie star. She was wearing a huge black hat and veil, and a very distinguished black suit, which he suspected immediately had probably been made by a French designer.
“Hello, Jack,” she said calmly. She seemed very much in control, yet the huge blue eyes held so much pain, that he actually felt sorry for her.
“I’m sorry, Amanda.” Even if he wasn’t fond of her, it was easy to see how ravaged she was by the loss of her husband. There wasn’t much else he could say to her, as she looked away and bowed her head for a moment, and then an instant later she moved on, and Paul went to find Jan, who was standing with her sister.
Jack stayed for another minute or two, saw no one he knew, and then decided to leave quietly without bothering his son. Paul obviously had his hands full.
And half an hour later, Jack was back in his office, but he was quiet all afternoon, thinking about them, the family that had lost the man who held them all together. Even if he hadn’t liked him, one had to respect him, and feel sorry for the loved ones he had left so swiftly. And all afternoon, no matter what he did, Jack was haunted by Dori. He even took out a photograph of her, something he rarely did, but he kept one way at the back of his desk, for just such moments. And looking down at her smiling face on the beach at Saint-Tropez made him feel more bereft than ever.
Gladdie checked on him once or twice, and sensed that he wanted to be left alone. He even had her cancel his last two appointments. But even depressed, he looked great in the dark suit and the tie she had bought him. And he had no idea that, at that exact moment, in the house in Bel Air, Amanda Kingston was talking about him.
“It was nice of your father to come,” she said to Paul, as the last of their guests finally left them. It had been an endless afternoon for all of them, and despite her unshakable poise, even Amanda looked exhausted.
“He felt very badly about Matthew,” Paul said, touching her arm sympathetically, as she nodded and looked at her daughters.
Both girls were devastated by the loss of their father, and for once, they had even stopped fighting. Jan and her sister, Louise, were only slightly more than a year apart, but in every possible way they were entirely different. And they had battled with each other, night and day, ever since their childhood. But, at least for now, they had made peace in order to comfort their mother. And Paul left them alone quietly, as he went out to the kitchen to help himself to a cup of coffee. The catering staff was still there, clearing away the dishes and glasses left behind by more than three hundred people who had come to pay their respects to the Kingstons.
“I can’t believe he’s gone,” Amanda said in a whisper, standing with her back to both girls, looking out over their perfectly manicured garden.
“Neither can I,” Jan said, as tears rolled down her cheeks again, and Louise sighed audibly. She had loved him, but she had never gotten along with her father. She always thought he’d been harder on her than he was on Jan, and expected more of her. He had been furious with her when she had decided not to go to law school and had gotten married right out of college. But the marriage was a solid one, and in the first five years she had borne three children. But he had even had something to say about that. He thought she was having too many children. It didn’t bother him at all that Jan had never had a real career, nor even wanted one, and had married a man who worked in show business and had a father who was nothing more than a Rodeo Drive merchant. Louise didn’t like Paul, and made no bones about it. Her own husband was a Loeb and Loeb attorney and more suitable for a Kingston to marry.
But as Jan cried on the afternoon of the funeral, all Louise could think of was how much her father had criticized her, how difficult he had been, and how often she had wondered if he even loved her. She would have liked to say something about it, but she knew that neither her mother nor sister would understand. Her mother always hated it when she said anything critical about her father. And as far as her mother was concerned, he was already a saint now.
“I want you both to remember how wonderful he was,” Amanda said as she turned back to them, her chin quivering and her eyes filled with tears. She wore her blond hair straight back in a bun, and as they were both acutely aware, she was far more beautiful than they were, and always had been. She was an extraordinary beauty, and Louise always hated that about her. Her mother was almost impossible to live up to, and she had always expected both of them to be so perfect. Louise had never really understood the more human side of her, the vulnerability, the insecurities that had followed her throughout her life and lurked behind the exquisite facade. It was Jan who was much closer to their mother, which spawned the continuing resentment between both sisters. Louise had always accused Jan of being their parents’ favorite, and Jan had always felt unfairly accused and couldn’t see it.
“I want you both to know how very, very much he loved you,” Amanda continued, and then couldn’t go on as she began to sob softly. She couldn’t believe he was gone, couldn’t believe he would never hold her in his arms again. It was her worst nightmare come true. He had been everything she depended on, and she couldn’t even begin to imagine a life without him.
“Oh, Mom.” Jan cradled her mother in her arms like a child as her mother sobbed, and Louise quietly left the room and found Paul in the kitchen. He was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of coffee.
“How is she?” he asked, looking concerned, and Louise shrugged, her own pain visible, but, as usual, mixed with anger. Her kids had gone home with the baby-sitter, and her husband had gone back to the office. And there was no one else but Paul to talk to,
“She’s a mess. She was completely dependent on him. He told her when to get up and when to go to bed, what to do, and not do, and who she could be friends with. I don’t know why she let him do that to her. It was disgusting.”
“Maybe that was what she needed,” Paul said, looking at his wife’s sister with interest. She was always so filled with anger and resentment, and he secretly wondered how happy she really was with her husband. Like all families, they all had their secret agendas and hidden undercurrents. And it always intrigued him to hear the girls talk about their mother. They each saw her differently, but the woman they knew was so different from the cool facade she presented to the world. They saw someone completely dominated and privately frightened. He wondered if that was the real reason why she had never gone back to making movies. Maybe aside from Matthew not wanting her to, she was just too afraid to do it. “She’ll be all right,” he reassured Louise, not knowing what else to say to her, as she poured a glass of wine for herself. She showed too many of the signs of an unhappy woman.
“Jan’ll keep an eye on her,” he said to soothe his sister-in-law, but the remark only enraged her.
“Yeah, I’ll bet she will. She’s always sucking up to her. She always did, even when we were kids. I’m surprised the two of you don’t offer to move in with her, that might really impress her. You know, she’ll need a lot of help with settling the estate. I’m sure you and Jan will be only too happy to help her do it.”
“Why don’t you relax, Lou?” he said, using Jan’s name for her, and she glanced at him with smoldering eyes that were surprisingly like her mother’s. But other than that, she looked just like her father, handsome, but no more than that. Between the two, Jan was the better looking. “No one’s trying to hurt you.”
“Too late for that,” she said, pouring another glass of wine as soon as she finished the first one. “They’ve been doing it for years. Maybe Mom’ll grow up now, without Daddy. Maybe we all will,” she said, set down the glass and walked out into the garden, and Paul made no move to follow.
And from inside the study where they sat, Jan and Amanda saw her through the window. “She’s mad at me again,” Jan said. “She’s always mad at me about something.”
“I wish you two would stop fighting,” Amanda said sadly, looking at her younger daughter. “I always thought when you grew up it would be different, that you’d be the best of friends, especially once you were both married and had children.” It was all she had ever envisioned for them since they were babies, but there was a look of sorrow in Jan’s eyes almost as soon as her mother said it.
“Well, I don’t…do I….”
“What?” Her mother looked confused for a moment, and so sad it broke Jan’s heart to see her.
“Have children.” Something about the way she said it caught her mother’s attention.
“Don’t you want to have children?” Amanda looked shocked, as though the very idea that her daughter didn’t want children would be a betrayal.
“Yes,” Jan nodded, and looked at her sister through the window. Lou had had three kids in five years, as easy as pie, as soon as she wanted. And this time it was Jan who was jealous of her. “Of course I do. We’ve been trying for a year, and nothing has happened.”
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Amanda smiled at her. “Sometimes it takes a while. Just be patient.”
“It didn’t take you ‘a while.’ You and Daddy had us in the first two years you were married.” She sighed then, as Amanda patted her hand, and then she looked up at her mother. And what Amanda saw in her eyes tore her heart out, it was not only grief, but fear and bitter disappointment. “I want Paul to go to a doctor with me, but he won’t do it. He thinks I’m crazy to be worried.”
“Did you talk to the doctor yourself, does he think there’s a problem?” Amanda was beginning to look seriously concerned about her.
“He doesn’t know, but he thinks it’s worth looking into. He gave me the name of a specialist, but Paul was furious when I told him. He said his sister has kids, and so does Lou. There’s no reason why we should have a problem. But it’s not always that simple.” Amanda wondered suddenly if there was something she didn’t know, a terrible disease in her daughter’s youth, an indiscretion, an abortion, but she didn’t dare ask her. It was better to leave that to her doctor.
“Well then, maybe you should listen to Paul, at least for a while, and try not to worry about it.”
“It’s all I think of, Mom,” she confessed, as tears ran down her cheeks and spilled onto her dress as her mother watched her in anguish. “I want a baby so much…and I’m so scared I’ll never have one.”
“Of course you will…” She couldn’t bear the thought of seeing her daughter so unhappy, especially now, with having just lost her father. “You can always adopt, if it doesn’t happen later.”
“Paul says he’ll never do that. He wants his own children.” Amanda had to hold her tongue, so as not to tell her that Paul sounded not only difficult, but extremely opinionated and selfish.
“You can cross that bridge later. For right now, why don’t you just try to relax, and I’ll bet you anything, it’ll happen before you know it.” Jan nodded, but it was obvious from the look in her eyes that she was anything but convinced now. She had been worrying about it for an entire year, and concern was rapidly turning to panic. But if nothing else, a door had opened between mother and daughter.
“What about you, Mom? Are you going to be okay without Dad?” It was an agonizing question, and brought tears to Amanda’s eyes again as she shook her head and wept.
“I can’t even imagine living without him. There will never be anyone else in my life, Jan. Never. I couldn’t bear it. We’ve been married for twenty-six years, more than half my lifetime. I can’t even begin to think about what I’ll do now…how do I wake up every morning….” Jan took her mother in her arms and let her cry, wishing she could promise her that she’d feel better, but she couldn’t imagine her mother living without him either. He had been the life force of their family, he had shielded Amanda from the world, told her what to do about everything, and although he was only seven years older than she, in some ways he had been like a father to her. “I just can’t live without him,” she said, and Jan knew she meant it. They sat and talked about him for another hour, and then finally Paul came back into the room. Lou had left without saying good-bye, she had been crying when she left, after watching them through the window, and Paul had work to do at home. It was nearly six o’clock by then, and sooner or later, they had to leave Amanda, no matter how hard it was for her. She had to learn to face life alone.
She looked so pathetic as they left, standing on the front steps of the Bel Air house in her black suit, waving at them, that Jan burst into tears again the moment they turned the corner.
“My God, Paul, she’s just going to die without Daddy.” She couldn’t stop crying at the thought of the father she had lost, the sister who hated her, the mother who was in so much pain, and the baby she feared would never come her way. It was all completely overwhelming, and Paul held her hand as they drove home and tried to reassure her.
“She’ll be fine in a while. You’ll see. Just look at her, she’s still young and beautiful. Hell, in six months, she’ll have all of Los Angeles pounding on her door, asking her out. Maybe she’ll even go back to the movies. She’s certainly young enough to do it.”
“She’d never do that, even if she wanted to, because she knows that Daddy never wanted her to go back to making movies. He wanted her to himself, and she did it because she loved him.” Paul didn’t say that if that was true Matthew Kingston was probably the most selfish man who had ever lived, because he knew Jan would have killed him if he said it. “And how could you suggest my mother would go out with anyone? That’s disgusting.”
“It’s not disgusting,” he said quietly. “It’s real. She’s fifty years old, Jan. And your father died, she didn’t. You can’t really expect her to stay alone forever.” He said it with a small smile, and Jan looked furious as she glanced at him.
“Of course she’s not going to go out with anyone. She’s not your father, for God’s sake. She had a wonderful marriage, and she loved Daddy.”
“Then she’ll probably want to get married again. It would be a crime if she didn’t.”
“I can’t believe what you just said,” Jan said breathlessly, pulling her hand away from his, and staring at him. “You actually think my mother is going to go out with men? You’re sick, and you have no respect for anything. And furthermore, you don’t know my mother.”
“I guess not, sweetheart,” he said soothingly. “But I do know people.” She said not another word to him, and stared out the window away from him, furious at what he’d said, as they drove home in silence. Jan would have willingly sworn on a stack of Bibles that her mother would be faithful to her husband’s memory for the rest of her life.
Excerpted from Special Delivery by Danielle Steel Copyright © 1997 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.