She has it all: a successful career, a beautiful house, a loving husband, and a son she adores. To top it off, her best friend is getting married. But who is this mysterious man who calls himself Jack and, more importantly, who is Rachel when she’s with him? After a night of drinking gone awry, Rachel is forced to face a dark part of herself she didn’t know existed. She must find a way to cope—with what she’s done, with the kind of person she might be—or lose her life in the process.
They smiled at nothing in particular, walking closely together. His tall body and her small frame morphed into one shadow, preceding them through the nearly empty parking garage. The sound of her high heels hitting the ground echoed around them.
“That was fun,” Jack said. He pressed the key to open the passenger door and helped Rachel into the white Toyota 4Runner. Her stomach fluttered when his fingers gently grazed her back, as she climbed into her SUV. Jack bent down to reposition a small flap of her dress that was hanging out of the car. He closed the door firmly, and before she knew it, he was in the driver’s seat.
“Thanks for driving.”
“Not a problem.” He shut his door. “I’m half Irish. We’re known to hold more than our own.”
His black silk t-shirt hugged his toned shoulders and she could see his arm muscles move when he adjusted the rearview mirror. She watched him clench his jaw and narrow his deep, blue eyes when he glanced at his reflection and fixed his soft dark hair.
“I can’t remember the last time I went dancing,” she said. She lowered the sun visor to check her makeup in the mirror. Her smile quickly faded when she saw her lipstick had completely rubbed off and the mascara smeared. She took out a tissue from her clutch purse and wiped the black marks from under her glassy hazel eyes. “Oh my God, I look like shit. I shouldn’t have had that last drink.” She flipped the sun visor back into place and lowered her window. Rachel held her hand out to feel the cool spring night. “I’m gonna feel this tomorrow.”
Jack slowly pulled the car out of the parking garage and headed north.
“You know,” she looked at him mischievously with a raised eyebrow. “There’s an awesome band playing down on Red River.”
“Let’s go.” He crossed over to the right lane and was about to turn east.
Taken aback by his immediate response, she placed her hand on his forearm. “I’m kidding. It’s too late.” She let her hand sit on his arm for just a moment before she pulled it away. “I want to, but … I really should go home.”
“Whatever you say.” He smiled warmly and made his way back into the left lane and then turned west.
They snaked through lower downtown and were now alongside the running trails of Lady Bird Lake. They drove by Austin High School, which Rachel had graduated from nearly twenty years prior. Shimmering streaks of white, reflections of the full moon above, danced on the black water nearby. Once they got on the highway, Jack picked up speed, turned on the car stereo and cranked up the volume. “Here to Fall” by Yo La Tengo bounced the speakers, filling the car with a melody of electric guitar, keyboards and a haunting string arrangement. Rachel began to wave her outstretched arm to the beat.
“Hey, I love this song. Is this the radio or a CD?” he asked in a loud voice.
“It’s a CD.”
“You like Yo La Tengo?”
She closed the car window to hear him better. “Oh yeah, we saw them in Aspen a few years ago. We were just walking by this tiny venue, and the music lured us in. I was blown away.”
Jack looked impressed. “Huh, and do you know why they’re called Yo La Tengo?”
“Yup,” she said smugly. “I got to meet the band members after the show.”
Jack raised an eyebrow. “Go on,” he said.
“It’s a baseball anecdote from the sixties, I think. Let’s see if I can remember …” She bit her lower lip to concentrate. “Ricky—or was it Richie Ashburn with The New York Mets—and a Venezuelan player named Chacón were running into each other in the outfield. When Ashburn went for a catch, he would scream, ‘I got it! I got it!’ but would run into Chacón, who only spoke Spanish. Ashburn learned to yell, ‘¡Yo la tengo! ¡Yo la tengo!’ instead. And after that, they started using ‘¡Yo la tengo!’ to avoid outfield collisions. But, another player who didn’t know about the term ran into Chacón and later, he asked Ashburn what ‘yellow tango’ meant .… The band liked the story so much, they named themselves after it.”
Jack smiled. “That’s pretty good. They’re one of my favorite bands. I‘ve been following them for years. Not a lot of people know about them.” He nodded. “I’m impressed, but not as much as I was when I saw your husband dance tonight. I had no idea Edward was so light on his feet.”
Rachel laughed. “Neither did I, and he doesn’t even drink. He’s usually so buttoned up, it’s rare to see him cut loose like that.” Her face slowly fell as she glanced out the window and watched the white lane markings on the road race by. “I guess he was just happy to be with the old gang again. It’s been years since both Ben and Elena came out with us.” She turned her attention back to Jack. He was busy happily tapping the steering wheel to the music with his fingers. Rachel’s smile returned. “We used to go out a lot back then, but you hardly ever caught him dancing like that.”
“He was great. And your brother, he came in all the way from Maine?”
“Uh huh. Ben wouldn’t have missed Elena’s wedding. She’s like family.”
“He’s cool.” He stopped tapping and frowned. “It just sucks that Edward and Elena had to rush off to the clinic like that, right?”
“You’re gonna have to get used to that. Elena will be on call a lot. Trust me. It comes with the territory. I used to get upset about it, too, but it’s pointless to get angry.” She slapped her hands into her lap. “You just have to adapt.”
He nodded his head in agreement. “How long have you and Edward been married?”
“Going on twelve years. And Elena was the one who introduced us, back when she was doing her residency.” The taste of olives still lingered in her mouth from her last martini. She searched for a piece of chewing gum in her purse. She held out a piece for him. “Do you want some?”
He gently took the stick of gum from her hand. “Thanks.”
“So, what do you do?” Rachel asked. “Elena told me you work a lot from home?”
“Yep. I sell computers. Mostly to universities and big corporations. Nothing too exciting.”
“And, what about you, do you work?” he asked, lowering the volume on the stereo.
“I’m a family therapist,” she said almost apologetically.
“Really?” He looked surprised.
“Yes, really. Why? Don’t I look like a family therapist?”
“Um … no. I would have taken you for a yoga instructor or something like that. No offense, you’re just in great shape, and I figure you don’t have to work,” he said, keeping his eyes focused on the traffic in front of him.
Rachel blushed and unconsciously pulled her dress down to hide her semi-exposed thigh. “I want to work. I like helping people. I can only hope I make a difference in someone’s life. Elena and her father always say you should help those in need and strive to leave this earth better than it was when you entered it. She’s pretty remarkable, you know?”
“That’s why I’m marrying her,” Jack said. “Well, that and the free healthcare.” He grinned at Rachel playfully and batted his thick lashes.
Rachel became still and wrinkled her brow. “How did you guys meet, anyway?”
Jack face grew serious. “Elena didn’t tell you?”
Rachel shook her head. “She said y’all met at the park, but she didn’t go into any details.”
He stretched out his arm and moved it across the horizon. His voice animated. “It was a gorgeous day. I was minding my own business, on my bike …”
Rachel shot him a quizzical look.
He flashed his palm in her direction. “A ten-speed, not a motorcycle,” he said.
“Oh.” She smiled and nodded.
He cleared his throat. “As I was saying… I was riding my bike at Zilker Park, and all of a sudden, I saw the most beautifulwoman talking to some kids by this huge tree.” He extended his hand in front of him as if he could actually see the tree again. “She turned,” he glanced at Rachel, “and looked at me with those big green eyes. And I was instantly mesmerized. Completely taken in by her spell .… Then bam!” He slammed his hand on the dashboard. “I crashed straight into a parked car.” Rachel couldn’t help but let out a short laugh.
Jack turned to Rachel with a look of horror. “It’s not funny. I ended up flat on my back…There was blood.” He pointed to his forehead. “I had to get three stitches.” Rachel put her hand over her mouth and tried to contain her smile. He looked into her eyes. “You can see the scar. In direct sunlight. At just the right angle.” Rachel’s smile grew.
He turned back to look at the road in front of him. “Anyway, she rushed over to help me and well, what can I say, the rest is obvious. She just couldn’t resist my striking good looks and irresistible charm.” He shook his head. “Poor thing. Didn’t stand a chance.” Then they both laughed.
Rachel suddenly raised the volume on the stereo a notch or two. “I love this part.” She started swaying from side to side, dancing in her seat.
They exited the highway and drove past the affluent area of West Lake Hills, where there was significantly less activity compared to downtown. The specialty stores they passed were closed and the streets were mostly empty with the exception of the passing headlights of a random car. When they approached a dark area off the main street, Jack turned west and continued to drive quickly up a long, narrow, winding road.
Rachel sat up straight. “Careful,” she said soberly. “Slow down. You don’t want to drive off here. You can’t tell right now, but there are pretty big drop-offs on either side.” She pointed to the small white cross with flowers mounted to the side of the railing, where someone had already been in an accident. Jack leaned forward and slowed the SUV down considerably. Rachel relaxed. She lowered the car window and leaned her head out, closing her eyes and embracing the fresh air as it brushed her face and long, dark hair. She always thought it was amazing how quickly the landscape changed from the high-rises, bright lights and swarm of activity downtown to the quiet peacefulness and serenity just a few miles out in West Austin.
They pulled into Rachel’s driveway about five minutes later. It was a red-brick, two-story house surrounded by tall oak trees. Rachel and Edward had spent the last seven months replacing the downstairs with dark hardwood floors and custom window treatments. Although she was fond of it now, it wasn’t the house Rachel had wanted to move into initially. She wanted a small, charming home close to downtown, but Edward convinced her that this house was a better investment. At first she thought it was too big and lacked character. Too cookie cutter. But over the years she was able to make the changes she wanted, and after Jacob was born, the house didn’t seem that big anymore.
Jack parked the SUV next to his black Jeep Wrangler, which was sitting in the driveway. Before Rachel could unfasten her seatbelt, Jack reached for the knob on the stereo to turn up the volume. They sat there, with eyes closed, half-smiling so the final track could finish. As Rachel grabbed her purse from the floorboard, ready to exit the car, Jack looked at her intently and tightened his jaw. “Do you mind if I come inside to use the bathroom?”
“Not at all,” she said without hesitation.
At the dimly lit doorstep, he handed her the keys; she fumbled to find the one to open the front door. There was insistent barking and growling coming from inside the house. The rapid sound of clawing nails rose from the foot of the door.
“I didn’t realize you were harboring Cujo,” Jack said.
Rachel laughed. “It’s Ben’s baby, Homer. He’s harmless, just really spoiled.” She opened the door and staggered into the house. Jack followed her in.
“It’s this way, right?” he asked, walking down a small hall to the right of the foyer.
“Uh huh,” she replied. She hushed the miniature schnauzer and led him outside through the back door. Closing the screen, she then used her fingers to carefully remove long strands of hair that were stuck to her face. She felt warm. She grabbed her hair, pulling it behind her head. She twisted it up into a loose knot and secured it together with a hairclip that was sitting on the table.
She started feeling the full effect of the alcohol, swaying and taking hold of the back of a chair for stability. With some difficulty, she made her way to the kitchen and turned on the light. Her mouth was parched. She poured herself a large glass of water from the sink and drank the entire glass without coming up for air. When she finished, she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and placed the glass on the granite countertop. She heard Jack walk out of the bathroom and was about to ask him if he wanted any water when she suddenly felt his warm presence behind her.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.