Now I went into my mother’s office, pushing the curtain aside. On the shelf next to her desk, there was a stack of papers: the new novel, or what there was of it so far. I pulled it into my lap and tucked my legs up underneath me, flipping the pages. When I’d last left Melanie, she’d been facing a cold marital bed with a distant husband, realizing her marriage had been a mistake. That had been about page 200, and by 250, she had left Paris and was back in New York, working in fashion design for a nasty woman with villain written all over her. Apparently, coincidence of coincidences, Brock Dobbin was also back in New York, having been injured during some kind of third world riot while working in his prizewinning career as a photojournalist. At the fall shows, they’d caught each other’s eye from across the runaway, and a romance was reborn.
I skipped to page 300, where things had obviously gone bad: Melanie was in a mental hospital, doped up on painkillers, while her former boss took credit for her entire fall line. Her estranged husband, Luc, was also back in the picture, involved in some kind of elaborate financial scheme. Brock Dobbin seemed to have disappeared entirely, but I found him on page 374, in a Mexican prison, where he was facing dubious charges of trafficking drugs and falling for the charms of a local beggar girl named Carmelita. This, I figured, had to be where my mother was losing her train of thought, but by 400 she seemed to have her steam back, and everyone was in Milan preparing for the fall shows. Luc was trying to reconcile with Melanie, but his intentions weren’t good, while Brock was back on the job, chasing a story about the dirty underside of fashion with his trusty Nikon and a sense of justice that no injury, not even a rock to the head in Guatemala, could quell.
The last sheet in my lap was numbered 405, and in it Melanie and Brock were drinking espresso at a café in Milan.
They only had eyes for one another, as if their time apart had made them hungry for each other in a way that could be conveyed solely by a glance, forbidden to be expressed in words. Melanie’s hands were shaking, even as she wrapped them in her silk shawl, the fabric providing little comfort in the stiff breeze.
“And you love him?” Brock asked her. His green eyes, so deep and probing, were watching her intently.
Melanie was shocked at his bluntness. But it seemed the time in prison had given him an urgency, a need for answers. He stared at her, waiting. “He is my husband,” she said.
“ That is not what I asked.” Brock reached over and took her hand, folding it within his. His fingers were calloused and thick, rough against her pale skin. “Do you love him?”
Melanie bit her lip, forcing down the sob she feared would escape if she was pressed to tell the truth about Luc and his cold, cold heart. Brock had left her all those months ago with no other choice. She’d given him up for dead, their love as well. He had been like a ghost walking up to her as she sat at the café, crossing over from that world to her own.
“I do not believe in love,” she said.
Brock squeezed her hand. “How can you say that, after what we had? What we still have?”
“We have nothing,” she said, and took her hand back. “I am married. I will make my marriage work because…”
“Because this man loves me,” she finished.
“ This man,” Brock said, his voice grave, “loves you.”
“You are too late.” Melanie stood. She had put Brock Dobbin from her mind again and again, telling herself that she could make a life with Luc. Luc, so suave and debonair, so steady and strong. Brock was always coming in and out of her life, making promises, the love they shared so passionate, and then just gone, leaving her behind in a cloud of memories and train smoke as he disappeared, heading across the world, chasing the story that would never be theirs. Maybe Luc wasn’t ever going to love her the way Brock had, filling her body and mind with a joy that made the world fall away. But that joy never lasted, and she wanted to believe in a forever. Even one that sometimes left her wanting at night, dreaming of better things.
“Melanie,” Brock called after her as she started down the cobblestone street, wrapping her scarf around her. “Come back.”
They were words she knew well. She had said them herself, at the station in Prague. Outside the Plaza, as he’d climbed into a cab. On the deck of the yacht, as his boat sped away, riding the waves. He always did the leaving. But not this time. She kept walking, and did not look back.
Go Melanie, I thought, turning the last page over on the stack on my lap. But I had to admit, it was not typical of my mother’s heroines to turn from a man of passion to a faulty man who provided a steady hand, if not a passionate one. Was my mother preaching settling? It was a discomforting thought. She’d been so quick to tell me I was wrong about love. But it was too early to know: there were always more pages to go, more words to be written, before the story was over.
“Pull over at this store up here,” Paul called out to Trey, who was driving. “Okay?”
Trey nodded and put on the turn signal. In the front seat, Lissa turned around to look at me, raising her eyebrows as she nodded toward the backseat console, where there was not only the standard ashtray and cup holder but also a separate CD player and a video screen.
“This car is amazing,” she whispered. I had to agree with her. Trey drove one of those huge SUVs, fully loaded. It reminded me of a spaceship, full of glowing buttons and levers, and I half expected that somewhere to the left of the steering wheel would be a small switch marked WARP SPEED.
We pulled up in front of the Quik Zip and Trey cut the engine. “Who wants what?” he asked. “It’s a long ride ahead.”
“We definitely need provisions,” Paul told him, opening his door. A small, polite chiming noise sounded, bing bing bing. “Beer and…?”
“Skittles,” Lissa finished for him, and he laughed.
“One pack of Skittles,” he said. “Okay. Remy?”
“Diet Coke,” I told him. “Please.”
He hopped out of the car, shutting his door behind him. Trey jumped out as well, leaving the keys in and the radio on low. We were on our way to the drive-in one town over that played triple features on summer nights. It wasn’t a double date, since Trey had a girlfriend at school, and we’d originally invited Chloe and Jess as well. But Jess had to baby-sit, and Chloe, having already dumped her nerd boyfriend, was now pursuing some guy she’d met at the mall.