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Bethanne's spoon hovered over her bowl of soup as they sat at a window table in their favorite cafe. This wasn't actually news and shouldn't have come as any surprise. Didn't come as any surprise. She'd seen the signs, as recently as this morning. These days Grant was inventing excuses to call her.
Six years ago her world had imploded when her husband confessed that he'd fallen in love with another woman. With barely a backward glance, Grant had walked out-out of their home, their marriage, their lives. And now he wanted back in.
"Don't you have anything to say?" Annie asked, toying with her fork. She watched her mother intently.
"Not really." She swallowed the soup and lowered her spoon for another taste.
Annie, it seemed, had forgotten. But not Bethanne.
The morning Grant told her he wanted a divorce would stay in her mind forever. He couldn't seem to get away from her fast enough. He'd retained a lawyer and advised her to do the same, then coldly informed her that all future communication would be through their lawyers. The less contact with her and their children, the better, he'd said. A clean break was best.
Grant's decision had struck Bethanne with the force and unpredictability of a hurricane. She'd stumbled blindly through the next few months, trying to hold her family together, clinging to the semblance of normality while her world disintegrated around her. "You really don't have anything to say?" Annie prodded.
"No," Bethanne said shortly. She swallowed another spoonful of soup and reached for the herb scone. "What disturbs me is that your father would let you do his talking for him."
Annie had the grace to look chastened, but she pushed her food away as if she'd suddenly lost her appetite.
At one time Bethanne had dreamed Grant would regret what he'd done, that he'd seek her forgiveness and come crawling back to her. She'd wanted him to suffer for the way he'd treated her, for the hurt he'd inflicted when he'd turned his back on their children.
But in the years since the divorce, Bethanne had gradually found her footing and, in the process, discovered a self she didn't know existed-a stronger, independent Bethanne, a woman forged in the fire of despair. Now her two children were on their own; her oldest, Andrew, was engaged to be married in a few weeks, following his graduation from law school. As for her daughter, Annie was a year from obtaining her MBA. She worked part-time with Bethanne on the creative end of the party business Bethanne had established in the wake of her divorce.
During her twenty years of marriage, Bethanne had become known for her lavish and inventive parties. She'd taken pride in making Grant look good by hosting unforgettable events for clients and potential clients-an invitation to Grant's home became a sought-after privilege in certain circles. Her birthday parties for Andrew and Annie were legendary. But never once had she
dreamed that her party-giving skills would eventually be parlayed into such a success.
She'd started the business, which she called simply Parties, as a way of making enough money to continue living in their family home, although she'd had to take out a substantial second mortgage to get Parties off the ground. Grant had paid the required support, but depending on that would've meant moving to a smaller house in a different neighborhood. If ever her children needed stability, she knew, it was in the period after the divorce. She'd since paid off both mortgages.
To Bethanne's astonishment, the business had taken off immediately. She'd started small, with themed birthday parties for children. The Alice in Wonderland Tea Party had been the most popular of the dozens of concepts she'd created. With busy schedules, parents were looking for an easy, economical way to make birthday parties special. Bethanne's company had filled that need.
Currently, there were five Parties stores in the Seattle area, including the original location, and she was considering a deal that offered national franchising opportunities. The key was to keep the ideas fresh and the prices reasonable. This past winter she'd added a "birthday party in a box"-more scaled-down, do-it-yourself versions of her trademarked theme parties.
A year earlier Bethanne had hired Julia Hayden as her corporate operations manager. Julia was efficient, dedicated and gifted. She loved the job and had begun overseeing the company's day-to-day activities, freeing Bethanne to focus on creative development. Annie worked with her, and the two of them had recently developed birthday party ideas for cats and dogs, which was now a popular trend, especially among childless, affluent professionals. They'd expanded into other types of parties, too-anniversary and retirement celebrations, Christmas and even Halloween events.
Bethanne signaled for the check, and they went their separate ways with a quick hug and a wave. Annie was walking back to the office, while Bethanne headed for Blossom Street and A Good Yarn. Knitting had become one of her favourite activities. When
she needed to think, nothing helped more than sitting down with a knitting project. She felt a sense of happy anticipation as she parked in front of the yarn store, which was owned by her dear friend Lydia Goetz.
With the wedding only six weeks away, she'd wanted to knit something for Courtney, her almost-daughter-in-law, to wear during the wedding.
The wedding. It was why Grant had called her two weeks ago- their son's marriage had given him a legitimate excuse-and he'd called twice since then, including this morning.
Other than the occasional joint decisions they'd made regarding their children, they'd had little personal contact since the divorce. Then Grant had phoned her with a question about a wedding gift for Andrew and Courtney. He'd been friendly and relaxed. And this week, he'd asked her to dinner.
Dinner. She and Grant. After six years?
She'd heard from Annie that his marriage to Tiffany had ended in divorce the previous year-after a brief separation-and felt genuinely sorry for him. This was a second divorce for Tiffany, as well. In fact, Bethanne had briefly dated Paul, Tiffany's first husband, shortly after the divorce, although date wasn't exactly the right word. They'd been more of a two-person support group, helping each other grapple with their betrayal by the people they loved. Unfortunately, Andrew's relationship with his father remained cool. Her son had met his father's desertion with a bitter resolve that only seemed to harden as he grew older. Andrew was polite but kept an emotional distance from Grant.
For Annie, sixteen at the time, the divorce had been nothing short of devastating. Always a "daddy's girl," she'd acted out her shock and pain as only a willful teenager can. Annie blamed Tiffany for stealing her father away and had done everything she could to sabotage the marriage. But Bethanne was also a target for her rage during those early months. Annie had railed at her for being too "boring" and "clueless" to keep her father happy. Bethanne had never responded to Annie's accusations about her failures as a wife, afraid to reveal how close to home her words had hit. Eventually, Annie had adjusted to the new reality, although she still referred to Grant's second wife in sarcastic tones as "the lovely Tiffany."
Bethanne thought about her conversation with him that morning. His excuse for calling this time was so flimsy Bethanne couldn't even remember what it was. He'd kept her on the line, relating office gossip as if she was still intimately familiar with the goings-on at his workplace. After several minutes of chatter, he reminded her that she hadn't given him a definite answer regarding his dinner invitation.
"Grant," she'd said bluntly. "Why are you doing this?"
For a moment there was silence on the other end. When he spoke, any hints of lightheartedness were gone. "I made a mistake, Bethanne." His voice caught, and for once he seemed at a loss for words. "A major one." He left the rest unsaid, but she knew what he meant. He wanted things back the way they used to be.
Well, good luck with that. Bethanne wasn't the same naive woman he'd divorced, and she wasn't interested in retracing her steps.
After six years on her own, she'd discovered she didn't want or need a man complicating her life. Years ago she'd read somewhere that "it takes a hell of a man to replace no man." At first, that remark had seemed merely humorous; she hadn't completely understood what it meant. She did now.
While she was flattered that Grant wanted to reconcile, the situation wasn't that simple. He'd had his chance. He was the one who'd deserted her, who'd left her floundering and shaken. Without ever thinking about the consequences of his actions, he'd ripped apart their family, betrayed her and their children, robbed them all of their security.
Now he was sorry. Fine. He'd seen the error of his ways and realized what a terrible mistake he'd made.
So of course he wanted her back. She was a successful businesswoman with a growing company that received lots of media and corporate interest. In six short years she'd made a name for herself. She'd been interviewed by Forbes and the Wall Street Journal. A piece had been written about her in USA Today. Her ex had his nerve.
Contrition was all well and good. Bethanne felt a certain vindication in hearing Grant admit how wrong he'd been, a certain sense of righteousness. She'd forgiven him to the best of her ability, refusing to let herself be trapped in the mire of resentment. He had a new life and so did she. But forgiveness, she'd learned, was tricky. Just when she felt sure she was beyond rancor, she'd find herself wallowing in indignation. Like the night three years ago when the pipe burst in the basement and she couldn't figure out where to turn off the water. If Grant had been there he would've known what to do. By the time she found the tap she'd been shaking with anger, and as unreasonable as it seemed, she'd blamed Grant. This was all his fault. He should've been there. How dared he do this to her and, worse, to their children!
She should reject his invitation, she told herself now. Laugh in his face. Tell him to take a hike.
To her astonishment she couldn't.
It had taken courage for Grant to approach her, courage and, yes, nerve. She'd give him that. Crazy though it might be, Bethanne realized she still had feelings for Grant, feelings she'd pushed aside for the past few years. She didn't love him, not in the all-consuming way she had when they were married. Back then, she'd been blind to his flaws and his weaknesses, blind to what should've been obvious, especially after he'd started the affair. His betrayal had revealed that the man she'd married was selfish and shallow. And yet he hadn't always been like that. She couldn't forget the companionship-and the passion-of their early years together .
She loved him.
She hated him.
Both emotions warred within her.
"Dinner for old times' sake," he'd almost pleaded. "Besides, we need to talk about Andrew's wedding."
Six years ago Bethanne had been desperate for him to come home. Her pride was gone. What she'd craved was exactly what Grant wanted now-for everything to go back to the way it had been. At the time she'd believed she could fix whatever was wrong. They'd been happy, and could be again.
When it became apparent that his affair with Tiffany wasn't a fling and Grant fully intended to go through with the divorce, an all-consuming rage had taken root. She couldn't sleep, couldn't eat. At night she lay awake plotting revenge. One day Grant would be sorry. He'd beg her to take him back and she'd laugh in his face. He would pay for what he'd done.
Then, several months after the divorce was finalized, she woke with that familiar ugly feeling in the pit of her stomach and realized this corrosive, soul-destroying bitterness couldn't continue. As the saying had it, the best revenge was living well-living a successful, independent life. So Bethanne had dedicated herself to her business.
Gradually, she'd stopped thinking about Grant. She embraced her new life, her new identity. Indirectly, she had Grant to thank for her flourishing business, her circle of loyal new friends, for the strength and confidence she'd never known she had. It felt odd to her now that she'd once been content to be simply Grant's wife, looking after his social affairs and staying in the background.
Dinner for old times' sake? Just the two of them?
In the years since the divorce, Bethanne had dated a number of men. Besides Tiffany's ex, a couple of them stood out in her mind. But she'd been so focused on building her business that neither relationship had lasted more than six months. She wasn't ready or willing to make a serious commitment to anyone. Those relationships, albeit short, had boosted her depleted ego. She'd enjoyed them but she wasn't looking for a long-term commitment.
Bethanne had concluded their phone call without giving Grant an answer. She needed to ponder her ex-husband's newfound contrition, and there was no more effective way of doing that than knitting. It was both productive and contemplative; you created something while you meditated on your problems. That was why she'd stopped at Lydia's-to pick up yarn for the elegant fingerless gloves she'd make for Courtney's wedding.
Lydia glanced up from the display she was working on and smiled when Bethanne entered the store. "You got my message! The cashmere yarn's in."
Bethanne smiled back. "I can hardly wait to get started." Knitting had seen her through the darkest days of her life. Annie was the one who'd signed her up for classes, because even dialing the phone number for the yarn store was more than she could manage back then; the smallest tasks had seemed insurmountable. In retrospect, Bethanne knew she'd fallen into a dangerous depression.
Annie had enrolled Bethanne in a beginners' sock-knitting class. Meeting the other women had been a turning point for her. Her new friends gave her courage and the determination to emerge from her ordeal a stronger woman. Not only that, it was through the knitting class that she'd met Elise, and through Elise, Maverick. He'd ended up being the "angel" who'd helped her launch Parties. Her classmates had reminded Bethanne that she wasn't alone, rebuilding her confidence one stitch at a time.
That class was the beginning of Bethanne's new life. And Part Two turned out to be better than Part One had ever been. Was it possible to knit the two halves together again? Did she want to?
"The pattern isn't difficult," Lydia told her as she brought the yarn to the cash register. "Once you do a couple of repeats, I'm sure you won't have a problem, but if you do, just stop by and I'll help you figure it out."
Bethanne paid for the purchase, grateful that Lydia had wound the yarn, saving her the effort. At first, she'd considered knitting Courtney's veil, but there wasn't time. Although a bit disappointed, she knew fingerless gloves were a far more manageable project. Her hope was that the gloves would be beautiful enough to become a family heirloom, passed down from one generation to the next.
"Alix was in this week and brought Tommy with her," Lydia said as she handed Bethanne the yarn. "You wouldn't believe how much he's grown. It's hard to believe he's nearly a year old."
Alix, a friend of theirs, was employed as a baker at the French Cafe across the street. "She's gone back to work?"
Lydia nodded. "Just part-time. Now with Winter pregnant there must be something in the water over there." Lydia grinned. "Or the coffee."
So many changes on Blossom Street, and all of them good.
"How's Casey?" Bethanne asked about Lydia's adopted daughter. A couple of months before, when Casey turned thirteen, Bethanne had planned her birthday party.
"Casey's fine," Lydia assured her. "She had a few academic challenges and will be attending summer school again. It's not the end of the world but Casey tends to get down on herself. We're working on that." Lydia leaned against the counter. "The poor kid came to us with a lot of baggage."
"No doubt about that." Bethanne had to admire Brad and Lydia for opening their hearts and their home to the troubled girl.
"It helps that she's so close to my mother . My biggest fear is what'll happen once Mom is gone," Lydia said, her voice subdued.
"Is your mother doing okay?"
Lydia rubbed her eyes. "Not really." She gave a small, hopeless shrug. "She's declining, and that's so hard to watch. You know, she sometimes forgets who I am but she always remembers Casey. I think it's one of those small miracles. It makes Casey feel important and loved, which she is. Everyone at the assisted-living complex adores Casey. I wouldn't be surprised if they hired her once she's old enough to have a job. Her patience with Mom and Mom's friends is amazing. She loves hearing their stories."
Bethanne nodded sympathetically.
"No one seems to have enough time for the elderly anymore ." Lydia shook her head. "I'm guilty of rushing visits myself, but not Casey. She sits and listens for hours and never seems to get impatient, even when Mom repeats the same story over and over again."
"And Margaret?" Bethanne noticed that Lydia's older sister, who often worked with her, wasn't in the store.
"She took the day off. Wednesdays are slow, and she had a dentist's appointment at eleven. I told her to enjoy the afternoon."
Margaret was a store fixture and so different from Lydia that new customers often didn't realize they were sisters. Margaret was good-hearted but tended to be gruff and opinionated, and took a bit of getting used to. "How's business going?" she ventured, aware that she was the only person in the store at the moment.
"Surprisingly well." Lydia cheered visibly. "People turn to domestic pursuits during recessions, and lots of people want to knit these days."
"Have you talked to Anne Marie and Ellen since they moved?"
Lydia returned to arranging the yarn display. "Practically every day. Ellen didn't want to leave Blossom Street but I see her as much as ever. She has plenty of friends in her new neighborhood and has definitely made the adjustment."
"I'm so happy for her." A young widow, Anne Marie had adopted the girl after volunteering at a local grade school. Although Lydia had never said so, Bethanne knew that Ellen's adoption had influenced her and Brad to make Casey part of their family.
"Do you have a few minutes for tea?" Lydia asked.
Bethanne checked her watch. "Sorry, no, I'm on my way to the office. I'm supposed to meet with Julia."
"Soon, then." Lydia waved as Bethanne opened the door.
"Soon," Bethanne promised.
"Stop by if you have any trouble with that pattern," she called over her shoulder. "I will." As she unlocked her car, Bethanne looked over at the French Cafe and was startled to see her ex-mother-in-law, Ruth Hamlin, sitting at an outside table eating her lunch.
Despite the divorce, Bethanne had a warm relationship with Ruth. For her children's sake she'd kept in touch with Grant's mother and his younger sister, Robin. But as Lydia had so recently reminded her, no one had enough time for older people anymore. Bethanne felt guilty as charged. She rarely saw Ruth these days, and it had been several weeks since they'd talked.
Ruth had been horrified by Grant's decision to walk away from his family. She hadn't been shy about letting her son know her feelings, either. She'd always been generous and supportive to Bethanne, making her feel like a beloved daughter in every way. Ruth had stood at Bethanne's side through the divorce proceedings, convinced that Grant would one day realize his mistake.
Bethanne rushed impulsively across the street. She really didn't have time and the ever-punctual Julia would be waiting. As it was, Bethanne had spent far longer with Lydia than she'd intended. In addition, she had a tight afternoon schedule that included a meeting with her managers. But Bethanne was determined to make time for the woman who'd once been such an enormous encouragement to her.
Her mother-in-law looked up from her soup and sandwich plate and instantly broke into a smile. "Bethanne, my goodness, I never expected to see you here."
The two women hugged. "I was picking up some yarn I ordered. What are you doing in this neighborhood?" Bethanne pulled out the chair opposite Ruth's and sat down.
Her mother-in-law placed both hands in her lap. "Robin suggested we meet here for lunch. It's not that far from the courthouse, but you know Robin."
"Has she left already?" Bethanne looked around, then down at Ruth's barely touched plate.
"She didn't show up," Ruth said, coloring slightly. "I'm sure she got stuck in court ." Robin was with the Prosecuting Attorney's office in Seattle, and frequently dealt with violent crime.
Bethanne frowned. "Did you call her?"
Ruth shook her head. "I refuse to carry a cell phone. They're an intrusion on people's privacy and-well, never mind. Although I will admit that at times like this a cell would come in handy." "Would you like me to phone?"
"Oh, would you, dear?" Ruth squeezed her hand gratefully. "I'd appreciate it."
Digging in her purse, Bethanne found her cell. She had Robin's number in her contacts and, holding the phone to her ear, waited for the call to connect. Robin's phone went directly to voice mail, which meant she was probably still in court.
"I think you must be right," Bethanne told Ruth.
The older woman exhaled. "I was afraid of that. I don't know when we'll have a chance to meet again before I leave." Ruth straightened and picked up her sandwich. "But it doesn't really matter, because my daughter is not going to change my mind."
"Change your mind about what?"
Ruth lifted her chin. "Robin wants to talk me out of attending my fifty-year class reunion." She took a determined bite of her turkey-and-bacon sandwich.
Why would her sister-in-law do such a thing? "I hope you go," Bethanne said.
"I am, and nothing she says will convince me otherwise." Bethanne had never seen Ruth so fired up.
"Good for you." She watched in amusement as her ex-mother-in-law chewed with righteous resolve.
Swallowing, Ruth relaxed and sent Bethanne a grateful smile. "And I intend to drive to Florida by myself. That's all there is to it."