The second day Evangeline walked along the edge of the water, watching the tide sparkle around her slim ankles like the palest champagne. She had the long stretch of fine white sand all to herself. Gazing out at the broad, endless expanse of grey-green water, she was filled with a deep sense of peace as if the sea air was blowing all of the misery out of her mind. The water wasn’t warm enough for swimming, but the sun felt good bearing down on her back. After a few hours, she strolled back to the cottage, stopping by the back steps to hose the sand off her feet and legs.
Ravenous, she boiled a pot of linguine and tossed it with canned clams, garlic powder, dried parsley flakes and olive oil. The garlic powder wasn’t as good as slivers of fresh garlic would have been, but with generous pinches of salt and freshly ground black pepper – and the appetite sharpening sea air – the makeshift dish was deeply satisfying. When she was done, she poured herself a large bourbon and took her drink and Aunt Grace’s autographed copy of Langston Hughes short stories out to the glider on the screened sleeping porch. She read for a bit, then fell into a deep, dreamless nap.
At night, she listened to Grace’s records and flipped through her photo albums. There were sepia toned shots of Grace and her sister Evangeline, the grandmother for whom she was named. Two slim, dark beauties with heavy curls and sassy smiles, arms draped around each other’s waists as they posed in front of a giant hydrangea bush, a 1930s Ford sedan, at a party in a Harlem nightclub. A handful of publicity stills from Grace’s brief tenure on the stage and copies of ads and stories from black newspapers – heralds of the first Evangeline’s skin care company. Her grandmother’s success had freed her father to do what he really wanted to do: become a public school teacher, rather than a cosmetics mogul. But the elder Evangeline was widowed at thirty and dead of a heart attack at fifty. Her grief-stricken second husband sold the company for much less than it was worth. There was a time when the elder Evangeline Williamson was known as the “sepia Elizabeth Arden”, but all that was left of those glory days were a few clippings and her name on a cold cream produced by a Swiss conglomerate.
There were pictures of her father Cole Williamson and his brother, Clay, as babies, boys and handsome young men. Turning a heavy vellum sheet, she found a professional photo of her parents’ wedding party – her mother Lisa looking like a 1960’s edition of her mother-in-law-to-be: slim, dark, gorgeous in a sleeveless, floor-length white satin sheath; her father, so tall and striking and clearly besotted; best man Uncle Clay, shorter and lighter, with a rakish grin and his arm around a pretty maid of honor.
Gazing at this image of her parents, so young and happy and hopeful, she couldn’t help but think of how their marriage ended: in bitterness and shame when a student accused her father of making an improper advance. Although her father was exonerated of the charge, the school board pressured him to take early retirement. Lisa stood by Cole, but his pride was shattered and he withdrew into angry silence. The following spring, the day after Evangeline called to tell him she’d won her first case, Cole died at 51 of a heart attack. He hadn’t even lived long enough for her to get home and take him and her mother out to dinner to celebrate.
For as long as she could remember, Evangeline had been driven to please her father. He was the reason she worked hard to excel at school, in music and dance, at sports, at the dinner table and in public. She lived for his praise, as rare and thrilling as a rainbow. Anyone else’s exceptional was her father’s standard and she had to be truly outstanding to please him.
Layla, who was born nearly seven years after Evangeline, didn’t bother trying to compete to be Daddy’s girl. Instead of knocking herself trying to be good, Layla surveyed the Williamson family scene and quickly sussed out she could get plenty of attention being bad. When Evangeline started college at Stanford, she came to know the true meaning of frustration: each Sunday she would call home to share that week’s triumphs and challenges with her parents, only to have her father monopolize his part of the conversation with tales of Layla’s exploits.
She recalled the conversation she and her mother had about John when he’d gone home with her for Grace’s funeral. She told her mother she really believed John loved her, but he had a hard time putting his feelings into words. Lisa speculated that perhaps he was like Cole, who was never very good at letting Evangeline know how proud he was of her.
Was it possible that she was working out her daddy issues with John? Was she drawn to John because she’d had to work so hard to get him to reveal even the smallest parts of himself? She’d knocked herself out trying to show him the best, brightest, bravest, most beautiful and compassionate Evangeline she could be and what did he do? He turned to that scheming, needy, uncouth heifer Natalie Vega. Before she could start to cry, she closed the album and got up to fix herself another drink.
Evangeline passed two days in this self-imposed exile. She sang along to Grace’s records and napped all over the house. She played dress-up and read, strolled along the beach and concocted crazy-delicious pantry meals. She felt closer to her aunt, moving among her rooms, wearing her clothes, surrounded by her possessions and memories. She was able to mourn and remember in a way that had been impossible when she took John home with her for Grace’s funeral. She had been so anxious and so overwhelmed by her family’s harsh reaction to this “white small-town detective from Atlantic City” that she couldn’t keep her mind on what they were doing there in the first place. But here in the spot Grace loved best in all the world, she knew her aunt had had a rich and mostly happy life. And Evangeline was grateful they’d been able to share so much of their lives with each other.
Focusing on Grace made it easier – but not impossible – for Evangeline to avoid thinking about what awaited her back in Llanview. The color of the sea reminded her of one of John’s shirts. And the clear May sky was his eyes. She found an Eve McBain album among Grace’s records, but she couldn’t bear to play it. Awakening in the night, she reached for him and listened to her heart race as her arm swept along the empty expanse of mattress. Sometimes, she felt his presence so strongly it was as if her soul was conjuring his. She thought she could feel his breath on her face, see the wondering look in his eyes and hear him calling her. And when she remembered why she would never touch him again, why she vowed never to give her heart so fully without the promise of love returned, she found herself sprawled flat on the floor like that first night at the cottage, sobbing and hanging onto the leg of a chair or a fist of rug, afraid if she let go, her body would fly into a million pieces.
On the third morning, she awakened, showered, made the bed, finished a jar of peaches with a side of crackers and black coffee, washed the dishes and donned Grace’s grey dress with the dark red flowers. She twisted her wavy hair into a knot at the base of her neck and raided Grace’s jewelry box. She threaded the gold wires of a pair of carved red coral roses through her ears and slipped handfuls of Mexican silver bangles on her arms. She packed a few of the suits and dresses, the cashmere sweaters and the Adrian gown in a pair of garment bags and draped them across the back seat of her car. She knocked her knuckles against her cell phone as she settled the jewelry box into her satchel. She looked at the palm-sized leash and clicked it on: 42 messages. They could wait.
She shut the windows, put the bag of trash in her trunk to dispose of in the dumpster at the entrance to the beach road and locked the doors. She got into her car, took a deep breath and pulled out of the sandy yard and onto the road. It was time to begin the next chapter of her life in Llanview.
* * * * *
Evangeline was about a quarter mile inside the Llanview city limits when she heard the whooping of a siren behind her. She pulled over and rolled down her window.
She thought she recognized the young sandy-haired officer from the LPD break room. “Is something wrong?” she said.
“Ms. Evangeline Williamson?” Randall Muxworthy glanced from her face to a piece of paper in his hand.
“Yes,” she replied, trying to crane her neck to get a look at the paper he was holding. “Was I doing something wrong?”
“Miss, we have an APB out for you. I’m under orders to bring you into the station.”
“What? What are you talking about? I haven’t done anything.”
The officer’s attention was divided. He was talking to the dispatcher on his headset. “I have Ms. Williamson here. Patch me through to the lieutenant.”
“What!” John McBain was behind this?
“Yes sir, Lieutenant. I have Ms. Williamson here. We’re just south of Frontage Road. Yes sir, we’ll be at the station in 10 minutes.”
“Like hell we will!” Evangeline screamed, reaching for the ignition.
“Ms. Williamson. Please stop right there or I will be forced to arrest you.”
Suddenly, she was so angry she could hardly see straight. Who the hell did John McBain think he was?
“Then arrest me so I can sue you and everyone else associated with this abuse of my civil liberties.” She peeled away from the curb as the officer called for backup.
Within half a mile, her Mercedes was surrounded by seven LPD patrol cars. Dennis Lloyd, a tall, attractive black officer she recognized from the squad room, approached the driver side door. “Ms. Williamson, I’m going to have to ask you to get out of the car. We have orders to deliver you to Lt. McBain.”
“Dennis – I haven’t done anything. I just want to go home.”
“Please Ms. Williamson,” Lloyd lowered voice and leaned down to peer in her window. “He’s turned this county upside down looking for you. As soon as he could, he issued a missing person’s report, but he’s been looking for you on his own for three days now.”
“You’re going to have to charge me,” she said, stepping out of the car with her hands raised. She lowered her bangle-laden wrists in front her. “Cuff me.” Ten officers stared incredulously at their boss’s gorgeous, furious girlfriend. “I said, ‘Cuff me’ dammit!”
Muxworthy gently slid her bangles up her arms and clamped the handcuffs around her slim wrists. He seemed afraid to touch her, as if the Lt. would find his fingerprints on her soft cocoa skin. He glanced at Lloyd, who nodded and opened the back of his patrol car. Evangeline slid in. “Would you get my skirt?” she asked, flashing a glare from Lloyd’s face to the folds of embroidered charcoal cotton blooming from door. He tucked the dress in around her, fastened her seatbelt, turned on his siren and lights and sped to the LPD.
“Are you sure you want to enter the station in cuffs?” Lloyd said as they paused at a light. “Todd Manning is planning to run a story about your ‘disappearance’ in tomorrow’s Banner. You haven’t done anything wrong. You’re the best lawyer in town. Do you really want anyone to get a picture of you in handcuffs?”
Evangeline was so furious with John she wasn’t thinking straight. “What does my image matter when that lunatic you work for has turned this town into a police state?”
Lloyd pulled up to the back of the station and tossed a jacket over her cuffed wrists. He tucked her bag under his arm and guided her to the freight elevator. “Lieutenant, we’ll meet you at the south elevator. Ms. Williamson insisted on being taken into custody.” He jumped as John screamed into the phone. “Sir, you’ll have to discuss that with her.”
As the elevator door opened, Evangeline shook the jacket off her cuffed wrists. She understood Lloyd was trying to help her, but she wanted John to see how stupid and cruel he was being. When the door opened, Lloyd guided her out, handed John her bag and jetted down the hall, muttering, “My name is Bennett and I’m not in it.”
John barely recognized her and yet, he couldn’t recall ever seeing her more beautiful. She was wearing a dress from another era, the full skirt accentuated her tiny waist and slim calves. Her hair was twisted into a knot at the base of her neck and gold and coral roses danced at her ears. Her heart-shaped face was clean of makeup, except for a slick of red-brown lip gloss. Her eyes were on fire. He was afraid to touch her and yet he wanted nothing more at that moment than to take her in his arms and kiss the Valentine of her widow’s peak.
Seeing John for the first time since that afternoon in his office, Evangeline wished she wasn’t handcuffed. She was so furious she wanted to claw his eyes out of his face.
“Are you happy now?” She fairly vibrated with rage. “Are you?”
Her anger unleashed all the fear, anxiety and shame he’d been feeling since she vanished from his office three days earlier. “Where the hell were you?” he thundered.
“That’s none of your business. Nothing about me is any of your business any more.”
Sensing she was about to cry, he lowered his voice. “Let’s not do this here. Come to my office.” He reached for her wrists.
“No. Not there. Not there,” she said backing away. He heard real panic in her voice. What was he thinking? Of course he couldn’t parade her past Natalie’s reception desk and back to the place where everything had gone up in flames.
John stepped closer and reached a hand towards her face. She twisted away from him, bent and vomited on the floor. He jumped back when the sour puke splashed on his dark leather boots.
“Oh God, help me,” she gasped, straightening and turning her face from him, trying to wipe her mouth with her shackled wrists.
Startled, John and Evangeline turned to see Nora Buchanan Colson round the corner by the elevator. She looked even more astonished than the two of them to see her best friend handcuffed and teary-eyed while Llanview’s chief detective stood in a pool of fresh vomit. “I could hear you two down the hall. What the hell is going on here? Why is she in handcuffs? What have you done to her?” she screeched, glaring at John and throwing a sheltering arm around Evangeline.
“Nora, please, get me out of here,” Evangeline murmured, averting her eyes and twisting her face towards her shoulder. Her face was hot with shame and anger.
“McBain, give me the damn key!” Nora said slapping the startled detective’s face.
Stunned, John handed her his handcuff key and Evangeline’s bag and watched as she shepherded his broken flower of a girlfriend back into the elevator.
“I’ll deal with you later, McBain,” Nora hissed as the elevator doors began to close. “Clean up this mess!”