Jordan had never been on time for anything in her life, and today was no exception.
Kate was waiting with her bag at her feet outside the airport doors when her friend pulled up to baggage claim.
Jordan put the car in park but left the engine running, popped the trunk, and got out so she could hug Kate.
“I’m so glad you’re here.”
“I knew you’d come.”
A policeman motioned for Jordan to move the car. Neither Kate nor her friend said another word until they were on the airport exit road heading toward Jordan’s apartment.
“How late was I?” Jordan asked.
“Just fifteen minutes.”
She glanced at Kate, smiled, and said, “You look like hell.”
“You look worse.”
Kate was teasing. Jordan always looked beautiful. Though her hair was a deep auburn color, she had a redhead’s complexion. She usually had that all-American, freckle-faced, Ralph Lauren model look about her, but not today. There was very little color in her face. Even her freckles looked pale.
“No wonder we’re best friends. We’re both painfully blunt.”
She concentrated on merging onto I-90, then cut over to the middle lane and shot forward. “I wish you’d move here.”
“I do love Boston, but . . .”
“I know. You have to keep the home fires burning for your sisters.”
“Mostly for Isabel, and just for a little while. She deserves to have some family at home. Of the three of us, Isabel was closest to Mom, and she’s had a hard adjustment.”
“Is she still headed to Winthrop?”
“Yes,” she answered. “She’s very excited. It’s the perfect school for her.” If I can come up with the money for more than one semester’s tuition, she silently added. “I’m hoping that going away to college will help her grow up a little. Mom always treated her like a baby.”
Jordan nodded. “She is the baby in your family, but she’s got a good head on her shoulders. She’ll be okay.”
“How scared are you, Jordan?”
The abrupt change in topics didn’t faze her friend. Her mind worked just like Kate’s, bouncing from one thought to another. “Very,” she answered.
“What did the specialist tell you?”
“I’ve gotten three opinions, and all of them have poked, prodded, and taken enough blood to fill a bathtub.”
“That’s a pleasant image.”
“They have to prepare me for the worst.”
Kate nodded. “What happens tomorrow?”
“Dr. Cooper will do the surgery. He’s gone over all the options with me. He’ll do the biopsy . . . and then we’ll see.”
Kate took a deep breath. She knew she had to keep it together. Her friend needed her to be strong.
They were on Storrow Drive now, and Kate stared out the window at the Charles River. The sun made the water glisten.
“We’ll get through this,” she told Jordan.
“So what time do we need to be at the hospital?”
“We aren’t going to be late, even if I have to use electric shock to blast you out of your bed.”
Jordan laughed. “You’d do it, too. Dylan threw a soaked towel on my face once to get me to wake up.”
“Did it work?”
“Bet you didn’t wake up happy.”
“You’re right. I didn’t. I wanted to get even, so the next morning I threw a glass of cold water on him. He roomed with Alec, and you know what a slob he is, and I guess I just didn’t think it through. As soon as the water hit his face, Dylan came off that bed . . . I still shudder thinking about it. I’ve never seen anyone move like that. I had my getaway all planned, but I tripped over one of Alec’s shoes and went careening into his bedside table. I cut my knee open and started screaming. I think Alec slept through it all, but poor Dylan ended up carrying me downstairs to Mom. I had to have stitches.”
“How old were you?”
“Ten or eleven.”
“You sound like a hellion.”
“I had my moments. Tell me something. How come you didn’t want Dylan to know you sat with him in the hospital?”
“I was there for you, not him.”
“And if he knew,” she continued, “he’d never let me live it down. Your brother loves to tease and torment.”
“All my brothers like to tease.”
“Yes, but Dylan’s the worst, bless his little ol’ heart.”
Jordan grinned. “You southern girls mask your criticisms behind the ‘bless your heart’ you always tack on the end.”
“Southern girls never criticize,” she said, deliberately exaggerating her accent. “We are raised to be soft-spoken ladies. We always tell the truth but in a kind, genteel way.”
Jordan rolled her eyes. “That’s a load of . . .”
Kate laughed. “What?”
“I’m cleaning up my vocabulary now that I’ve got nieces and nephews. I’ve got to set a good example. That’s what Theo and Nick tell me anyway.”
“Your brothers are telling you to clean up your vocabulary?”
“Speaking of Dylan . . . I think he’s kind of sweet on you.”
“Dylan’s sweet on all women.”
“True, he does like women,” Jordan said. “But he especially likes teasing you because you embarrass so easily.”
“His accidentally walking in on me taking a shower the first time I visited Nathan’s Bay didn’t help any. I don’t think I’ll ever live that down.”
“Oh, I forgot about that.” Jordan laughed. “No wonder he has such a big grin whenever your name comes up.”
She turned a corner and spotted a prime parking space directly in front of her brownstone. It was an extremely rare occurrence. She also noticed a black Hummer had just turned the corner and was coming from the opposite direction. The driver obviously wanted the same parking spot because he gunned his motor and came racing toward her. Jordan was quicker. She parallel parked like a pro. The driver of the Hummer made an obscene gesture as he drove past, which Jordan and Kate thought was hilarious.
Several years before, the brownstone had been converted into three spacious apartments, one on each floor. Jordan’s was on the top. Kate had lived with her during school and was used to the squeaky stairs and narrow corridors.
Jordan had made a fortune for herself with a computer chip she had designed, and she could live anywhere, but she, like Kate, was a creature of habit. She loved her old, worn-out apartment and didn’t have any plans to move.
Kate loved the apartment, too. It was warm and inviting even on the coldest of days. It always smelled clean and fresh. Jordan, showing her loyalty to her friend, had placed Kate’s scented candles on almost every table. She had Kate’s body lotions in the two bathrooms and on the bedside tables as well.
There were three bedrooms. The guest room was at the end of a long hall and was large enough to accommodate the king-sized bed two of Jordan’s brothers had purchased for her so they could sleep over when they were in town. Their parents’ home on Nathan’s Bay was a good two hours with traffic.
The third bedroom had been converted into an office, and bookcases lined all four walls. The shelves were bowed from the weight of Jordan’s books. The office was open to the dining room on one side and the hallway on the other.
The hardwood floors were as dark as midnight. Splatters of color came from oriental rugs strewn about. The huge windows in every room were covered with plantation shutters. One of Kate’s favorite study spots was the window seat in the living room that overlooked the Charles River.
The only sterile room in the apartment was the galley kitchen. Jordan didn’t cook. She lived on carryout or frozen food. If it couldn’t be microwaved, she didn’t buy it.
Kate immediately went to the guest room and put her bag next to the bed. She cut through the office to get to the dining room. She noticed all the papers on Jordan’s desk and backtracked. As cluttered as Jordan’s bookshelves were, her desk was always immaculate. Aside from her computer and a stack of Post-its, one or two pencils, and a phone, her work area was usually as sterile as her kitchen counters.
Jordan walked into the office, noticed Kate looking at the layers of papers on her desk, and said, “It’s a mess, isn’t it?”
“For you it is,” she said. “You always keep a clean desk when you work. You’re kind of obsessive about it. You’ve had a lot of stress lately, though, and I would think paperwork would be the last thing on your mind.”
“Most of the papers are legal documents. I’m being sued.”
After dropping that bit of shocking news, she turned around and walked into the living room. Kate chased after her.
“You’re being sued?”
“That’s right,” she said as she dropped into an easy chair and swung her legs over the arm.
“You’re being awfully blasé about it.” Kate stood in front of the coffee table with her arms folded, frowning at her friend while she waited for an explanation.
It didn’t come soon enough to suit her. “Okay, I’ll ask. How come you’re being sued? And how come you’re so calm about it?”
“I might as well be calm,” she said. “Getting all worked up won’t do any good.” She kicked off her sandals and leaned back. “I’m being sued by a man named Willard Bell. He seems to think he came up with the design for my chip before I did, and I figured out a way to steal it from him.”
Kate sat in the opposite chair and crossed her feet on the ottoman. “Have you ever met this man?”
“No. He lives in Seattle,” she said. “My attorney told me that Bell is a computer geek who makes his living suing people. A very nice living,” she stressed. “He doesn’t really ever have a case, but it’s cheaper to settle than fight because of all the legal expenses.”
“What are you going to do?”
Jordan looked exasperated. “What do you think I’m going to do? You know me better than anyone.”
“You’re not going to settle. Bet your attorney wants you to, doesn’t he?”
“You’re right, he does. I’m not going to, though. I don’t care what it costs. What Bell’s doing is wrong, and I’m not going to give him a dime. His attorney is playing hardball,” she added. “He’s frozen all of my accounts. That just means I won’t have money for a while. I’ll get them unfrozen soon,” she hastened to add. “So there’s no need to worry.”
“What does Theo think about all this?”
“I haven’t asked him for advice. In fact, I haven’t even told him about it.”
“Why not? He’s an attorney, for heaven’s sake. You could use his advice.”
“Theo’s overworked and underpaid, and with a new family . . . no, I’m not going to bother him.”
“What about Nick?”
“He graduated from law school, but he doesn’t practice,” she pointed out. “Besides, I don’t want to involve any of my brothers. My attorney is very capable, and any other problems that come along I can handle on my own. All of my brothers have a habit of taking over, but they’re going to stay out of this. I’m a big girl now. I can fight my own battles.”
“Why do you have to be so independent?”
Jordan smiled. “You make ‘independent’ sound like a bad word. I’m just like you, Kate. We both like to control everyone and everything.”
She didn’t argue because she knew Jordan was right. They were overachievers and did like to have complete control over every aspect of their lives. Other people’s lives, too, when they could get away with it, she admitted.
“How come we’re so smart about business matters and so stupid about men?”
“Oh, that one’s easy. We tend to date men we can walk all over, and then we don’t want them.”
“You know what I think?”
Kate wrinkled her nose and made a pathetic face. “We’re really screwed up.”
Jordan laughed. “I’m so glad you’re here. Listen, I realized after our phone call that I hadn’t really been paying any attention to what you were telling me. You know, when I asked what was going on with you. It was very self-centered of me, don’t you suppose?”
Kate grinned. “I do suppose.”
“Okay, I’m paying attention now. Did you say your mother gave away your business?”
“Close. I’ve just hit a couple of bumps, that’s all.”
“You know that if you ever need anything from me, it’s yours, don’t you?”
“That’s very sweet,” she said.
“I know you’d do the same for me.”
“I would,” Kate agreed. “But don’t worry. I’ll work this out. You’ve got enough on your mind right now.”
Jordan’s face turned pensive as if she were trying to re-create their phone conversation in her head. “And did I hear you say you almost blew something up? All I could think about was the surgery, so I was only half listening. Were you trying to cook again? Lord, I hope not. You could have blown up your house.”
Kate protested. “Just because of one little mishap in your kitchen you assume—”
Jordan snorted. “Little mishap? The fire department showed up.”
“All this talk about cooking has made me hungry. Do we go out or would you rather order in?”
They spent at least ten minutes deciding and ended up walking two blocks to a neighborhood bistro that Kate thought served the best seafood chowder in the city.
They chose a booth in the back of the restaurant so no one would bother them, but neither of them ate much. Jordan looked worn out.
Kate’s stomach ached from the knot that wouldn’t go away, but the rest of her body was numb. She knew if she allowed herself to feel, she’d melt into a pool of tears. She decided to try to take Jordan’s mind off her worries for a few minutes.
“Don’t you want to know how I almost got blown up?”
Jordan stopped swirling her spoon in the now-congealed chowder she’d barely tasted and smiled. “I’m waiting for the punch line.”