Read Immediate Family Online

Authors: Eileen Goudge

Immediate Family (2 page)

“Him.”

Spring

spring
v.
sprang,
(spr«AA»ng) or
sprung
(spr«AB»ng)
sprung, spring«AC»ing, springs
v. intr.
1. The season of the year occurring between winter and summer; a time of growth and renewal. 2. To move upward or forward in a single quick motion or a series of such motions; leap. 3. To become warped, split, or cracked, as if with excessive force.

Chapter One

D
ammit, guys, where are you?” Franny muttered, wondering what was keeping her friends.

Stevie, at least, had an excuse—her flight had been delayed. And Emerson was back at the hotel nursing a hangover from last night’s reception at the Graduate Center. She’d muttered groggily from under her pillow, as Franny was leaving, that she’d get up as soon as the room stopped spinning. Jay, though, was unofficially MIA. Franny had been going it alone for close to an hour, smiling until her face hurt, seemingly the only one at this function who didn’t have a spouse, or tennis elbow from whipping out snapshots of kids to show off.

She felt like a crasher at her own college reunion.

She deposited her empty champagne flute on a passing tray and helped herself to another mimosa, sinking down on the wrought-iron bench by the koi pond. Surveying the grounds, with its well-tended lawn and trees, where her former classmates milled about, chatting with each other and nibbling on canapés, she thought:
Who are these people?
Even the radicals who’d tilted at windmills alongside her at the
Princetonian
in their torn fatigues and Doc Marten boots had morphed into lawyers and bankers and hedge-fund managers, all married and with kids. Kids, who to hear them tell it, were the cutest, most gifted children on the planet.

Where had
she
been all those years? Franny wondered. Okay, so she’d been pursuing her career. Albeit not one with a high six-figure salary—unless you were Mort Janklow or Binky Urban, being a literary agent was more about cachet than cash—though there was always the hope she’d discover the next J. K. Rowling. But where was the husband who she’d naively assumed, back when she was graduating, would be standing beside her today? The photos of children to fill up the empty plastic sleeves in her wallet?

Was it some failure on her part?

True, she wasn’t drop-dead gorgeous like Emerson; but she wasn’t chopped liver, either. “Earthy” was the word most commonly used to describe her, with her profusion of curly dark hair and a body that, while not exactly
Playboy
centerfold material, manufacturers of under-wire bras and stretch jeans salivated over. Nor was she all that picky. A guy didn’t have to have movie star looks or be at the top of his profession. He didn’t even have to be Jewish—her mother, may she rest in peace, would be none the wiser. He just had to be smart and kind and good in bed…and to want kids as much as she did.

Just then, she spotted a rangy figure jogging toward her across the emerald expanse of lawn, where it sloped up from the roadway toward the knoll on which the Hartleys’ residence—as in Pamela Hartley, née Bendix, who was hosting this event along with her husband—nestled amid the sheltering arms of venerable old elms. She’d have known it was Jay from half a mile away, with his loose-limbed grace and swoosh of wheat-colored hair that flopped over his forehead as he ran. He had on a pair of jeans worn to snow at the knees and his navy blazer that had to be at least ten years old. Which meant that without even trying, he fit right in with the old-money crowd, many of whom were similarly attired; at the same time, reminding her that she was
over
dressed, the only woman here in Prada heels.

He spotted Franny and waved, breaking into a wide grin, oblivious to the female heads turning toward him—part of Jay’s charm was that he never seemed to notice the effect he had on women. “Sorry. You wouldn’t believe the traffic on the turnpike,” he apologized breathlessly when he’d caught up to her. She gave him a stern look, and he confessed, with a shrug. “Okay, I got a late start. Viv was feeling a little under the weather.” She’d needed him to pick up an herbal something or other at the health food store, he explained.

Franny didn’t doubt it. Since she’d become pregnant, Vivienne had become obsessed with health. She consulted her nutritionist daily and was an authority on homeopathic remedies. If she had so much as a sniffle or a twinge, she was on the phone with her doctor. Jay hadn’t known a moment’s peace since the pink line had appeared on the EPT stick.

“What she wants to know,” he went on, “is how
I
can be so calm about this baby.”

Franny scooted over to make room for him on the bench, hooking an arm through his. “Easy,” she said, feeling a pinprick of envy, as she always did whenever the subject of his wife’s pregnancy came up. “It’s like when a building’s on fire, there’s always this one guy telling everyone not to panic. One of you has to be that guy.”

“I guess it helps that I grew up on a farm,” he said.

She rolled her eyes. “I’m looking for a husband and you’re talking animal husbandry.”

“You’re in the right place, at least. There’s no shortage of candidates,” remarked Jay, his gaze falling on a group of men chatting nearby.

“All married. Though from what I’ve seen,” she added, thinking of the family photos she’d dutifully oohed and ahhed over, “they’re plenty virile.”

“I brought my turkey baster along just in case.” Jay’s blue eyes twinkled with merriment. All week he’d been teasing her about this reunion being a chance to scout for potential sperm donors.

Franny shot him a dirty look. “Please. You make it sound like I’m shopping for a new car.”

“All I’m saying is that there’s more than one way to skin a cat, as my ma would say. Anyway, here’s to finding Mr. Right.” Jay lifted the mimosa he’d snagged off a passing tray.

“Make that Mr. Right on Time.” According to the experts, at thirty-six she was already approaching the outer edge of viability, her eggs shriveling as they spoke. If she didn’t get started soon, she’d be looking at the front end of baby strollers for the rest of her life.

“What about Stu? Didn’t you used to date him in college?” Jay pointed out a stocky, dark-haired man in the requisite khakis and creased linen blazer pacing back and forth nearby, conducting what appeared to be urgent business over his cell phone.

“For all of five minutes,” she reminded him. Her short-lived romance with Stu Felder had ended with her informing him, as he was groping her in the library late one night, that she wasn’t going to have sex with him, not then or ever. More puzzled than anything, he’d asked if she was into girls; naturally it wouldn’t have occured to Stu that it could have anything to do with
him.
“Anyway, if I asked, he’d think it was because I was gay and couldn’t have a baby the regular way. Either that, or he’d insist we forgo the turkey baster.”

“Would that be so terrible?”

She eyed Stu thoughtfully. “He’s okay looking, if that’s what you mean. Not my type, though.”

“I thought we were talking about sperm donors, not potential partners.”

“Yeah, well, shouldn’t I at least
like
the person?”

Jay idly rolled his glass between his hands, sunlight sparking off its rim like in a “Diamonds Are Forever” commercial, as he sat leaning forward with elbows resting on his knees. He tilted his head to peer up at her, pushing back the lock of hair forever falling over his eyes—eyes the blue of a prairie sky in haying season, with tiny creases radiating from their corners like sunrays. “You could make it easier on yourself, you know. No hassle, no ties.”

In other words, why not save herself a lot of grief by heading straight for the nearest sperm bank? The answer was simple: Bobby. Her brother, who’d jumped to his death on the tracks of a Brooklyn-bound D train, no doubt attempting to escape the imaginary government agents forever pursuing him. The memory brought a dull ache. Poor Bobby; he hadn’t asked to be born that way. And what if the same time bomb was lurking in her own DNA? How could she compound that risk with some anonymous donor who might have a family skeleton or two stashed in his own closet?

“No one said it was supposed to be easy,” she replied, with an airiness that didn’t fool Jay for an instant, from the way he was eyeing her. “Look how long it took
you.”
When Jay finally tied the knot, she, Em, and Stevie had all breathed a sigh of relief. They’d been so sick of their girlfriends asking if he was up for grabs, Franny had been ready to marry him herself just to shut everyone up. Abruptly, she rose to her feet. “I have to pee. Why don’t you keep an eye out for Em and Stevie? They should be here any minute.” She started off toward the house, feeling a little wobbly from the two mimosas she’d downed and trying to walk a straight line. In college, her friends used to tease her about being a cheap date—three beers and she was under the table.

She was on her way back to Jay several minutes later when she bumped into Stu Felder. “Well, well. If it isn’t Franny Richman,” he greeted her, his swarthy face, with its perennial five o’clock shadow, lighting up. “You haven’t changed a bit. Still as luscious as ever.”

Franny felt anything but, with her hair frizzing in the damp air and sweat oozing from her armpits. But she smiled anyway. “Hey, Stu. You’re looking good yourself. What are you up to these days?”

“Making money.” His wry tone kept it from sounding too smug.

“You’re in real estate, right?” She’d looked him up in the alumni directory.

“Something along those lines,” he replied, just modestly enough to let her know it wasn’t houses in the ’burbs he was brokering. “What about you?”

She shrugged. “Making a living.” She explained that no one got rich in the book business.

“Married?” When she shook her head, he commented with a wry chuckle, “Thank God. I was beginning to think I was the only one here without a charge account at Toys ‘R’ Us.”

Franny gave a knowing laugh. “Tell me about it.”

“So you’ve never taken the plunge?”

She shook her head again. “Though I’d like at least one kid before it’s too late.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me you’re thinking of going the solo route?”

“More than thinking.” Franny kicked herself as soon as the words were out. Damn. Why had she opened her big mouth? To Stu, of all people.

“Well, if you’re looking for a volunteer…” He waggled his brows suggestively. Suddenly she was back in the carrel at Mudd Library, Stu with a hand up her shirt and the other one wriggling its way down the waistband of her pants.

“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind,” she replied dryly.

“Why don’t we continue this discussion over dinner some night? You free next Saturday?” he asked. She recalled the alumni directory’s listing a Manhattan address for Stu, and her heart sank. What had she gotten herself into?

“I’m afraid not.” Franny took a step back, her smile fading as the lie rose to her lips. “I have a client coming in from out of town. In fact, my calendar’s pretty full at the moment. Plus, I’m up to my ears in manuscripts.” She shrugged helplessly, taking another step back. “Listen, I should go. It was good seeing you…”

She started to move away, but he took hold of her arm, leaning in so close she could smell his breath.
I’m not the only one who’s had too much to drink,
she thought. “You don’t know what you’re missing.” His tone was teasing, but his coolly assessing eyes were those of a man on a mission: Stu wasn’t used to losing, and she was no doubt the one deal he hadn’t closed.

“In that case, I’ll just have to dream on, won’t I?” she told him, freeing her arm from his grasp.

Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Jay walking briskly toward them. From the look on his face, it was clear he’d witnessed enough of the exchange to feel the need to come to her rescue. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” he said when he’d caught up to them. His tone was mild, but he flashed Stu a narrow, assessing look.

Stu’s grin remained intact. “I was just offering Franny here my services.” His tone made it clear it wasn’t a business deal they’d been discussing. “But maybe she has a better offer.”

“As a matter of fact, she does.” Jay looped an arm around her shoulder. “Me.”

“Why did you tell him that?” Franny hissed as they were retreating across the lawn. She felt unreasonably annoyed, where moments before she’d been mentally blessing Jay for coming to the rescue. “Now he’ll go around telling everyone we’re lovers.”

Sure, she’d briefly toyed with the idea in college—what straight female wouldn’t?—but he’d been involved with Megan Keisser at the time, a leggy blond poli-sci major who’d gone on to marry a state supreme court judge. Franny was glad now that they’d never gone down that road. Lovers came and went, but friends were there to stay. Besides, she couldn’t imagine loving Jay more than she already did.

He grinned and puffed out his chest. “Guess it’s never too late to be the campus stud.”

Franny groaned. “Knowing Stu, he’ll have you sleeping with Stevie and Em, too.”

“My own harem? Hmmm…now there’s an idea.”

“With Em, you’d have to get in line.” As long as Franny had known her, Emerson had had men clustering around her, though since her divorce she’d sworn off on dating. “And it looks like Stevie’s down for the count, for now at least.” Franny told him the most recent news, that Ryan and Stevie had broken up; Stevie had phoned her the other night in tears.

Jay frowned in commiseration. “Poor Stevie.”

“First, she finds out her dad’s the infamous Grant Tobin. Now this.” Franny sighed, tucking her arm into Jay’s and leaning in to him slightly to keep her high heels from sinking into the soft turf. “Though I can’t say I blame Ryan. All he did was ask her to marry him. It’s not his fault that Stevie’s a commitment-phobe.”

“From what you’re telling me, it doesn’t sound like she turned him down flat,” Jay said.

“She didn’t exactly jump at the chance, either. I guess from Ryan’s point of view, no answer is as good as no.” Franny shook her head, wondering how someone as smart as Stevie could be so thick-headed when it came to love. “I just wish she’d make up her mind one way or the other and put us
all
out of our misery.”

“Maybe it’s better to be like Em, and know what you
don’t
want,” he commented.

“Speaking of the devil, I wonder what’s keeping her?” Franny glanced at her watch and frowned. It had been an hour and a half since she’d left Emerson nursing her hangover back at the hotel. Had she decided to skip the brunch altogether? No, that wasn’t like her. When she said she was going to be somewhere, you could count on it. If Franny had to use one word to describe Emerson, it was focused. Even with the four vodka gimlets she’d downed at last night’s reception, she’d managed to line up two prospective accounts for her PR firm. Unless the roof had caved in at the Nassau Inn and she was buried under the rubble, she’d be here.

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