Jake spotted his wife as soon as she appeared from behind the sign that pointed out the parking lot of the Summer House. It was an unseasonably warm December day. She was wearing the streamlined gray coat that he had always found particularly flattering. Even if he hadn't seen the coat or the long, red hair flowing down from under her white knit hat, he would have recognized her from her gait alone.
He watched her through the floor-to-ceiling window knowing that the sun was reflecting off the glass, making it impossible for her to see him. Motherhood had changed her, but not in any way that made her less beautiful. If anything, she looked like she'd finally grown into her frame. As beautiful as she'd been when they first met, there had been something impossibly ephemeral about her beauty. These things might be easier if she'd faded with time instead of becoming more beautiful.
There was something unusual about the way she walked up the path. It took Jake a minute to recognize what was different. Her step was lighter and more confident than it had been in a long time. In short, it was unusual in that it was the gait he'd gotten used to seeing for nearly four years before things started to go wrong.
At first, he thought she must have taken another lover. But, her arms swung freely at her sides and there was no sense of furtiveness about her. Since no one was watching him, he allowed himself a small sigh of relief. He didn't know why it mattered to him now, but it did.
If it wasn't another affair, it probably meant that she'd come to an important decision. Of course, Jake didn't need to read her body language to figure that out. She'd called him and asked him to join her for lunch after two weeks of only talking through lawyers.
He looked to see if Hazel was leaning forward as she walked. It would indicate that she was scrapping for a fight. But, she'd already entered the restaurant while he was thinking.
Rising, he went to the entry room where Hazel was handing her coat to the check girl. When she saw Jake, she smiled. It wasn't the most radiant smile he'd ever seen on her face, but it seemed genuine, which was puzzling in and of itself.
Having been relieved of her coat, she put a hand on Jake's arm, went up on tiptoes, and kissed him on the cheek. Jake watched her suspiciously, but was too surprised by the gesture to hide the expression on his face.
"Don't scowl at me, Jake," she said gaily. "You're not going to scare me, but you might make the flowers wilt."
Jake let his face fall back to its traditional neutrality, "How are you, Hazel? You look well."
"I feel well," she said. "Have you gotten a table yet?"
"No," he said. "I was sitting in the solarium."
"Good," she said. "We should be able to get a table in the garden. By the way, how did you know about this place?"
"I've been here on business," said Jake. "I never got to eat here, though. I thought it looked interesting."
Hazel slapped him gently on the arm, "You should have told me sooner. If I'd known, we could have come here together."
Jake didn't bother to point out that they were here together now. He knew what she meant. As he watched her walk towards the back door, he wondered if picking this place had been a tactical error. He'd only been here on business once. When he drove up, he saw her car in the parking lot. At the time, it had been two months since he'd realized that she was sleeping with another man. If he'd gone into the dining area, he could have seen who that man was. He didn't go. Since he had no intention of doing anything about the other man, it did him no good to know who it was. Besides, he didn't particularly blame Hazel for sleeping around at that point. They'd been unhappy together for a long time. She never left their son alone for her dalliances. And, two or three nights a week, it gave him a night he could spend alone with his son and not have to worry that he and Hazel would get into another screaming match.
Still, when Hazel had asked Jake to meet her at some neutral location without their lawyers, this had been the first place he'd thought of. He'd suggested it because he knew she wouldn't be able to admit her reason for not wanting to meet there and it might keep her off balance to be on the site of her infidelity.
It had seemed reasonable to expect that he would want her off balance. Two weeks ago, Hazel had served him with divorce papers. More than a month ago, she'd waited until he went to work, packed up their son, left their apartment in Boston, and come back to their house in Mannsborough.
"How's Darwin?" Jake asked as they sat down.
"He's doing well," said Hazel. "He's with my sister right now."
"Your sister is in town?"
Hazel nodded, "She came in last week to help me out with... things."
"So," asked Jake. "What did you want to see me about?"
Hazel looked at him over her menu as if she were about to impart a great secret. She looked almost mischievous, "Jake, can I ask you a favor?"
Jake considered the question. Eleven days ago, in a particularly brutal blow up, this woman had called him a "hollow second-hander," a "fraud," and a "rapacious looter." That had been the last day that he'd seriously considered fighting the divorce. Since then, he hadn't been in much of a mood to do her any favors.
If there had been less at stake, he might have told her no. He was angry and wanted to lash out like she had. But, he had to do whatever it took to get custody of Darwin.
Of course, if he had told her that, she would have taken everything and fought for custody. So, he played it close to the vest and he played it by the book.
"What favor, Hazel?"
"Could we just have lunch together and not talk about the divorce?"
Jake considered the request. Was she trying to get his guard down so that he would say something she could use against him later? When she'd first asked for this meeting, Jake had been confused enough to call Anders back at the office and ask his advice.
"Don't go," said Anders. "You have lawyers. That's what they're for."
"I've already decided to go," said Jake. "How can I handle the meeting?"
"Wear a wire," said Anders.
"Christ, Andy. Be serious."
"I am serious," said Anders. "Jake, this is not the woman you fell in love with. Once a woman decides to divorce you, particularly if there are children involved, she becomes like a wounded animal. She'll do anything to keep Darwin. Has she accused you of molesting him yet?"
"No," said Jake. "And she won't. I know how bad your split with Katrina was. But, Hazel isn't capable of that level of malice."
"All right," said Anders. "Obviously, you know her better than I do. Just keep in mind that every man who's ever been through a divorce has been surprised by the level of malice his wife was capable of."
Jake sighed, "I'm not wearing a wire."
"Well," said Anders. "You'd better assume that she is, then."
"Right," said Anders. "She's not capable of that. All right, then. Behave like she's wearing a wire. If you say anything incriminating, she'll remember it all the way to court."
Jake considered that conversation now as Hazel ordered her drink. Could she be wearing a wire?
Still, Jake knew that, if it came down to a question of who could play it cooler, he had the edge. So, he said, "I would like that, Hazel. But, I can't promise. It's been on my mind a lot lately."
She smiled a little at his joke, "We have been kind of rough on each other lately, haven't we?"
Jake nodded. Admitting that they'd been hard on each other during divorce negotiations wasn't liable to surprise anyone, but the less he said out loud, the better.
"You're scowling at me again," she said. "But, it's not going to work. I'm in too good a mood."
"What do you have to be in such a good mood about?"
"It's a secret," she said. There was definitely mischief in her eyes this time.
As tempted as he was to go along with the farce of amicability, he decided to see if her good mood were real by throwing out a line to gauge her reaction.
"You can tell me," he said. "Did you convince the city to close down a soup kitchen?"
Hazel laughed somewhat harder than the joke really warranted. But, the laughter was tinged with genuine relief, "God, I've missed your sense of humor. Can you remember the last time we shared a joke?"
"It's been a long time," he said.
"Jake, I'm sorry I put you and Darwin through all of this. It's almost over. I promise."
Jake knew that his concern was showing in his face, but he couldn't help it, "Hazel, are you all right?"
Her smile didn't falter, "I told you. I'm in the best mood I've been in since... well, I don't know when. The last time I can remember being this happy was right after we first met."
"What happened then?" asked Jake. "As I remember, we knew each other for six months before you would give me the time of day."
She brushed a stray lock of hair out of her face, "All right--not after we first met. I meant after that day at the cottage. It wasn't six months."
"We met the day you walked out of Dr. Collins's macroeconomics class. That day at the cottage was in late June."
"June twenty-second," said Hazel.
.... There is more of this story ...