She wouldn’t allow them any privacy, though. She wanted to know where they were every minute.
“And where will you be off to tonight, young lady?” Kate heard Nora ask Isabel.
“It’s my night to sing at Golden Meadows,” Isabel answered.
“The men and women at that nursing home are surely going to miss you while you’re away at school.”
“I think I’ll miss them more,” Isabel said. “They’ve been so sweet.”
“You wake me when you get home,” Nora ordered.
Isabel argued. “I’m a grown-up, and I don’t think I need to—”
Nora interrupted her. “I promised your mother I would watch out for you, and that’s what I’m doing. You’re grown up when you go off to college.”
Kate heard the back door open. “I forgot to tell you,” Nora said. “The movers have changed the date on me. They’ll be here on Friday. I expect some help packing my boxes.”
“Of course we’ll help you,” Kiera promised.
“Does that mean you’ll be leaving on Friday?” Isabel asked.
“Yes, it does,” she answered. “But don’t think you’re getting rid of me for good because I’ll be coming to see you as often as I used to visit my daughter. I’ll just be living there instead of here. Now enough of this talk. You’re making me late. Where’s my pocketbook?”
“On your arm,” Isabel said.
Kate heard the door close. She got out of bed, splashed water on her face, and went downstairs.
After dinner Isabel rushed off, and Kiera left to pick up some things at the supermarket, so Kate decided to get a start on the papers the accountant had sent over.
She began with a large envelope from Summit Bank and Trust. Kate didn’t know her mother had done any business with Summit. The household account she had set up was with a local Silver Springs bank. Kate thought perhaps the papers had something to do with the pension. There were several invoices, copies of a loan application, and a letter on top of the stack from Mr. Edward Wallace, senior loan officer.
She read the letter and looked at the loan papers. “No,” she whispered. “This has to be wrong.” She read the letter again. She couldn’t accept what she was reading, wouldn’t accept it.
Yet she knew it was true, for there it was, her mother’s distinctive signature.
“Oh, God,” she whispered. “Mother, what did you do? What did you do?”
There was no pension, no trust, no insurance money, no savings. Her mother had taken out a three-year loan with a balloon payment of almost three hundred thousand dollars, and it was due in just four weeks’ time.
She had put up everything she owned as collateral, and every asset would go to the bank if the payment wasn’t made.
One of those assets was Kate’s company. Another was her name.
Kate was frantic. She held the letter from the banker and copies of the loan papers her mother had signed as she paced around the kitchen. She’d read and reread the documents at least five times now, and still she couldn’t believe what her mother had done.
If the papers were in order—and of course they were; there was no reason to believe they weren’t—then her mother had signed everything away. Everything.
“My God, Mother, what were you thinking?”
Apparently she hadn’t been thinking at all, Kate decided. Had her mother realized what she was doing? Had she considered the ramifications?
Kate understood now why her mother would never discuss finances. She hadn’t wanted any of them to know the truth.
Kate alternated between anger and sadness as she tried to clear her head and come up with a plan to salvage the future. She paced to the kitchen window and looked for Kiera’s car to return. She would give the news to her sister the minute she walked in. Maybe the two of them could make some sense of this.
By the time several minutes had passed with no sign of Kiera, Kate had changed her mind. Although it would be nice to dump some of the worry in her sister’s lap, it wouldn’t change anything. What was done was done. Besides, Kiera had only a few days to rest before her next grueling round of medical school, and she wouldn’t get a break for another eighteen months. This news would just pile more stress on her and keep her up all night. There would be plenty of time in the morning to talk to her about this . . . if Kate decided to tell her at all.
And Isabel? If she did tell Kiera, should she tell Isabel? That thought led to another. What about college? Where was Kate going to come up with the tuition money?
There had to be a solution. Kate sat down at the table, picked up her pen and paper, and ran the numbers once again.
The doorbell interrupted her. When she looked through the narrow window beside the front door, she saw a good-looking man shifting from foot to foot.
She opened the door and said, “Yes?”
He took a step toward her, and she instinctively stepped back to get away from the smell of stale beer. He reeked of it. His eyes were bloodshot.
“Is Isabel here?”
“No, she isn’t,” Kate answered.
“Where is she?” he belligerently demanded.
“Who are you?”
“Reece. My name’s Reece Crowell. Now where is she?”
The man standing in front of her was in his mid-twenties. He wore khaki pants and a button-down shirt with the cuffs rolled up to his elbows. His dark hair was slicked back from a rather angular face, but he was handsome in a soap opera way. Kate had never met him and was surprised that Isabel had dated someone so much older. They were definitely going to discuss this later.
Reece took another step closer. Kate hadn’t opened the door wide enough for him to step inside . . . unless he walked through her. From his angry expression she thought he might just do that.
“I know she’s here,” he muttered. “I want to see her.”
“She is not home,” Kate said. She kept her voice firm. “And Isabel has said she doesn’t want to see you again.”
“We’re getting married.”
The guy was definitely out of it. “No, you’re not. Isabel is going to college, and you’re going to leave her alone.”
His hands balled into fists. “It’s your fault. Isabel wouldn’t do this to me. It’s you. She said you wanted her to go to college. She’s throwing away her career because of you and your bitchy sister.”
She wasn’t going to argue with him. “Isabel has moved on, and you need to do the same.”
He tried to push past her, shouting Isabel’s name. She stood her ground and used her hip to brace the door.
“If you don’t leave now, I’m calling the police,” Kate warned.
“You don’t get it, do you? She’s mine. We’re going to Europe next week, and we’ll be married before we come back. I’ve put too much time into her singing career to let you mess it up for me.”
He came at her again, and this time she shoved with her whole body. She slammed the door and bolted it.
Kate leaned back against the door as Reece pounded on it and shouted obscenities. He stopped for a second, as if waiting to see if the door would suddenly open to him, and then he resumed the pounding and the screaming. Kate stood on the other side terrified that he was going to break the door down.
Suddenly the pounding stopped, and at the top of his lungs Reece bellowed, “This isn’t over, bitch!” Then it was eerily quiet. Kate waited a second before she peered through the side window. Reece was staggering across the lawn. He turned at the sidewalk and kept walking.
Kate’s heart was racing. She rushed to the phone to call the police, and then she stopped. What could she tell them? Aside from being drunk and obnoxious, Reece hadn’t threatened them with violence or done any damage. Maybe when he was sober he’d come to his senses.
But his parting words, “This isn’t over,” echoed in her head.
The phone call came in the middle of the night.
Kate was awake. She hadn’t slept at all. After Kiera and Isabel had returned home, she had told them about the incident with Reece. When she had seen the worry and fear on their faces, she simply couldn’t tell them about their financial problems as well. They had had enough anxiety for one night. She wasn’t about to burden them with more.
She had pored over the records multiple times hoping against hope that she might find a solution before she had to reveal the problem to her sisters. The ringing jarred her from her thoughts and she quickly snatched the receiver so it wouldn’t wake the rest of the household. No one ever called with good news at two in the morning. She feared it might be Reece on the other end of the line as she answered.
“Did I wake you?” Jordan asked.
Kate let out a quick breath in relief. “No, I’m wide awake. What’s going on?”
“Why don’t you answer your e-mail? I’ve been sitting here in front of my computer since nine o’clock.”
“I’m sorry. I was going through bills.” Kate could hear the anxiety in Jordan’s voice and knew something was wrong. It had to be something awful, too, or she wouldn’t have called in the middle of the night. Good news could always wait until morning.
Kate knew better than to come right out and demand to know what the problem was. She and Jordan had been best friends for a very long time, and Kate understood how her mind worked. When pressured, Jordan closed up.
“What’s going on there?” Jordan asked.
“Not much. Just the usual stuff.”
“What usual stuff? Kate, I need to talk about mundane things for a minute. Okay?”
Oh, Lord, the news was bad all right. Kate felt a knot form in her stomach. “Okay,” she said. “I’ve been going through bills, and guess what I found? Never mind, don’t guess. Before she died, Mom signed away the house, the car, and all other assets, including my company and my name. She took out a loan the size of Nebraska and only paid the interest for the last three years. The balloon payment is due in thirty days. Oh, and last night, I almost got blown up.”
“I miss talking to you.”
“You didn’t hear a word I said, did you?”
“I’m sorry? What did you say?”
The question wasn’t a joke. Jordan sounded a million miles away. The knot twisted in Kate’s stomach.
“I was saying it’s hot here, hot and humid. What’s going on with you?”
“I found a lump.”
Four little words and everything changed in that instant. The worry about the house and bills and tuition was forgotten, and all that mattered was her friend.
“Where? Where is it?” She tried to keep the urgency out of her voice.
“Have you seen a specialist yet? Have you had any tests?”
“Yes and yes,” she answered. “Surgery’s scheduled for Friday morning. The surgeon wanted to do the biopsy tomorrow, but I wouldn’t let him. You need time to get here . . . right?” She sounded like a little girl now, a scared little girl.
“Yes, that’s right. I can be there tomorrow.”
“I’ll book you on a flight. I’ll e-mail you times and flight numbers, and I’ll pick you up at the airport.”
Kate knew Jordan was focusing on the details as a way of staying in control. It was the same thing she would have done. Control was one way to combat fear.
“I’ll be waiting at baggage pickup.”
“Yes, okay.” Kate was so shaken she couldn’t think of what questions to ask. Her hand was aching and she realized she was gripping the phone. She forced herself to relax.
“Listen. I’ve decided not to tell the family, not yet anyway. After I know what I’m dealing with, then I’ll tell them. I couldn’t stand all of them hovering around me. Mom and Dad have really been through it the last couple of months. As proud as they are of my brothers, having most of them in law enforcement has taken its toll. When Dylan was shot on duty, I think they aged twenty years. For a while there, none of us knew if he was going to make it or not. You were there. You know how bad it was.”
A shiver rushed down Kate’s spine. “Yes, I remember.”
“And you saw how the stress affected everyone, especially my parents. Now that Dylan’s home and mending, the family’s calming down. Just the other day Mom called and mentioned that it had been eight weeks since that nightmare phone call, and she’s just now able to take a deep breath. What was I supposed to say to that, Kate? Brace yourself? I’ve got more bad news for you?”
“You don’t know if it’s going to be bad news or . . .”
“Right, but it’s the not knowing that gets everyone all stirred up. It’s better to wait until I find out . . . everything.”
“Whatever you want . . .”
“Besides, Dylan is sending Mom and Dad on a cruise.”
“That’s sweet of him.”
“Are you kidding? He just wanted to get them out of his hair. Mom’s been driving him crazy, showing up at his place at least once a day with food. He’s not used to being pampered.”
“What about your sister? I know how close you and Sydney are. Aren’t you going to tell her?”
“Have you forgotten? She’s in L.A. She starts film school in just a couple of weeks, and she’s busy getting settled.”
“That’s right, film school. I forgot all about that.”
“If Sydney knew about the surgery, she’d come home, and I don’t want her to do that. If it’s bad news, then of course she and Mother will need to know right away.”
“But for now it’s just you and me. Are you up for this?”
They talked for another few minutes and then hung up. Kate stayed in complete control while she gathered up the papers from the table and dumped them into a laundry basket. She wanted to put it all in the trash, but that wouldn’t solve anything.
She still had a little time before the roof came crashing down and the creditors were banging on the doors. There was enough money in the checking account to pay the current bills. When she returned from Boston, she would figure out what to do. She wouldn’t tell her sisters about the financial disaster until then.
She turned the lights off and carried the laundry basket upstairs to her room. She put it in her closet and got ready for bed.
She didn’t start crying until she was under the sheets.