Garden of Lies (47 page)

already said that, didn’t I? ... Let’s see, um ... yes, here ... till death do you part?”

Brian looked into her eyes for what seemed a very long time, and she felt the love in them

reach out, reach down inside her and catch hold of her heart.

I should stop this ... tell him now ... before it’s too late. But if he knew I couldn’t give him

children, would he still want to marry me? Would I be enough ... ?

Yes, she knew she must tell him. This very minute. While he could still change his mind if he

wanted to. But the words she felt duty-bound to say would not come; they seemed stuck in her

throat. She couldn’t bear to stop Brian from promising to love and cherish her forever ... to be her

husband. ...

[279] And then she heard Brian say, “I do.”

Suddenly Rachel was too happy to concentrate on anything but Brian embracing her, kissing

her, lifting her so that her toes barely grazed the floor, his body, his mouth, fusing into hers.

Flashbulbs popped, blinding bursts of white, making red pinpricks swarm before her eyes.

Married! She and’ this wonderful, brave, gentle man were married. ...

With the tip of her finger, Rachel traced the scar which crisscrossed Brian’s belly like a

crimson thunderbolt.

“Right now, you remind me of Flash Gordon,” she teased, wallowing in contentment as she lay

naked beside him on the bed, the sheet tangled about her feet. “I loved those old episodes on

television. He was a big hero of mine, back when I was in Spanky pants and Mary Janes.”

“What about now?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I think I prefer mad Irishmen. Brings out the Maureen O’Hara in me.”

“Maureen O’Hara?”

“Didn’t you ever see her in
The Quiet Man,
that feisty redhead just asking to be put in her place

by John Wayne.”

“And just what place was that, I wonder.”

Rachel grinned, feeling naughty. “In bed, where else?”

Right now, this decrepit bed with its sag in the middle felt like the most wonderful place in all

the world. And this seedy hotel room, too, with its rickety bamboo chairs and yellowing prints of

the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.

Now, in the first light of day, it looked even more dingy than last night, when their taxi had

rattled through a maze of frighteningly narrow alleyways to this hole-in-the-wall, the Hotel Arc

de Triomphe. Rachel noted the bare wood peeking through the chipped spots on a red lacquer

cabinet. And the window’s shutters with several slats missing, through which filtered, along with

the milky light, a jangle of sounds—water slapping against the sampans in the adjacent Saigon

River, the clanking of pots, a babble of singsong voices. She caught the fragrant cooking smells

of ginger, steamed [280] rice, kim chee. And underlying them, the faint stink of rotten fish and

urine.

Then she remembered, and felt a surge of joy.
We’re married, truly married. And tomorrow

we’re going home!

Home.

Mama, God help her, would probably faint when she heard the news. No nice Jewish doctor or

lawyer for a son-in-law. Instead, here she was, Sylvie’s daughter, the bride of a penniless Irish

Catholic. But, damn it,
she
was happy. She felt happier than she ever believed could be possible.

Mama would see that, and she would come to love Brian just as much.

And Daddy would have approved of you, Brian,
she thought, smiling.
You’re strong like him,

you know, and gentle.

“I love you,” she said, rolling over and nestling herself against his side, her curves fitting

snugly with all his hollows. “Have I told you how much I love you?”

“Tell me again when I’m fully awake, otherwise I might think I dreamed all this.”

He held her tightly. She could feel his heart beating fast. She wished they could stay like this

forever, just the two of them; and then they’d never have to explain themselves to anyone else.

But a dream, a ridiculous dream, wasn’t it? Sooner or later, they would have to face other

people. And when that came, she wanted to be on firm ground.

“Tell me about Rose,” she said softly.

Rachel felt him immediately stiffen. She was struck by an awful jolt of fear. If just the mention

of Rose’s name still had such power over him, God, what might happen when he saw her again,

as he inevitably would?

There was a long, terrible silence before Brian said, “I grew up with her. She and I ... I guess

you could say she was the girl next door.”

“Would you ... have married her?” And then waiting for his answer, Rachel held her breath.

Brian lay rigid as a plank of wood in her arms, silent for what felt like an hour. “I married
you,

isn’t that what matters?”

“Yes, but only if it’s what you truly want. If you’re sure you won’t regret it someday.”

[281] Why was she doing this? Why was she torturing herself this way?

Beside her, Brian lay without speaking. Rachel felt terror gather in her chest. Suppose he was

already regretting it? Had Rose—or did she still—mean that much to him?

“Let’s not talk about ‘someday,’ ” Brian said at last. “Let’s just think about now. I love you,

Rachel. More than any other woman.”

That’s not good enough,
she wanted to shout.
You’re not answering me, not telling me!
But at

the same time, Rachel felt ashamed for wanting him so desperately to reassure her. She was being

a little hysterical, wasn’t she? After all, he had married her, not Rose. God forbid she should ever

turn into one of those wives always clinging, always begging for proof of her husband’s devotion

like a dog begging for scraps under the table.

Leave it alone,
she ordered herself.
Why force him into confessing something you couldn’t bear

to hear?

He stroked her breast, then cupped it, gently teasing her nipple with his thumb. “Mrs.

McClanahan. Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? The last woman in my family to take that

name ended up having seven kids. Think you’re up for it?”

Now she felt herself grow cold, rigid.
What a hypocrite I am!
she thought.
Asking him to tell

me all about Rose, while I hold back the truth about myself.

No, she thought. A marriage had to be built on honesty, total trust. She had to tell him. He

would have to know eventually. From the very beginning, back when she used to sit on his bed at

Corpus Christi, reading his journal, listening to him dream aloud about the future, he’d been plain

about wanting a family.

“Brian ...” But her throat seemed to seize up.

This was such a perfect moment, perhaps the most wonderful day of their lives; it wouldn’t be

fair to spoil it. No, not now. It was too soon. And it was too late as well. She felt like a coward.

She should have told him before, given him the chance to back out before that drunken chaplain

slurred his final blessings. But everything had happened in such a blur ... except for the one thing

that stood out clearly, then and now. She could not lose him. Not again. It would shrivel her up,

make her want to die.

“... don’t stop,” she murmured instead, letting herself feel the [282] delicious chill of his hand

sliding down her belly. She opened her legs, allowing his fingers to move into her. “Oh yes, oh

God, like that, just like that ... oh darling, if you don’t stop I’m going to come.”

“Wait ...”

Then he was inside her,
really
inside, moving on top of her with strong, trembling thrusts of his

body, each one bringing its own small burst of pleasure. She arched her spine, curving to meet

him, and at the same time running her hands over his buttocks—oh, the lovely concave shape of

them!—feeling the pebbly tightness of his gooseflesh and, reaching lower, the little puckered

seam leading like a trail to his testicles.

Oh Brian, if only I could give you a child someday ... if only ...

She felt a hot burst of sensation, a sexy powerful rush all through her, one made all the more

exquisite by the fierce intensity of her longing.

Then Brian was coming too, she could feel him spilling into her. And at that moment she felt

suddenly lost, cut loose from Brian, spinning out of his orbit.

No way to start a marriage.
It’s wrong,
she thought,
all wrong, deceiving Brian like this.

Tell him,
she commanded herself.
He’ll understand. He loves you.

She opened her mouth, tried to whisper the words, but she could not push them past her throat.

For a horrid moment, she once again saw in her mind the blue-white light on the surgical steel

curette in David’s hand, and heard David’s angry, frightened voice:
You’ll regret this someday.

You’ll regret making me do this.

Then the image faded. There was only the moist warmth of Brian’s body enveloping her, his

hands cradling her head to him—hands so big they made her think of when she was very little,

her earliest memories of her father holding her, her tiny skull nestled like an egg in his hands.

She let out a muffled sob.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Nothing,” she lied. Then, her arms about the birdcage of his ribs, she squeezed so hard she

could hear the sharp chuff of air leaving his lungs. “I’m so happy, that’s all. I cry when I’m

happy, and when I’m upset or nervous, I laugh, really giggle like a madwoman.”

[283] “In that case, I hope I never make you giggle.” And what Rachel hoped with all her soul

was that it would stay just like this between them. Always. And she
would
tell him about the

abortion ... soon. And he would understand. He would. Then it really would be perfect. No lies

between them. The way it had been between Mama and Daddy.

Chapter 17

Since Brian had gone overseas, Rose had become an avid newspaper reader, sifting both the

Times
and the
News
every morning for reports of battles, bombings, any progress in peace

negotiations, any scrap of information, however slight, to bolster her hope that the war might

soon come to an end, that Brian might come home before his tour was over.

She had gotten through the
Times
on the subway, and now she settled in at her desk—always

immaculate and clear of papers first thing in the morning, pried the lid off her coffee container,

and opened the
Daily News.

On page three, she saw a Vietnam story, and a grainy photo caught her eye—a guy in a tuxedo

jacket embracing his bride. The caption read: WEDDING BELLS FOR HERO AND HIS LADY

DOC.

Rose skipped the opening lines full of names and ages, and jumped into the story, skimming

quickly through it. A riveting tale of a woman doctor in a combat zone, and the dying soldier

whose life she saved. The same soldier who later, defying orders, went AWOL to go behind

enemy lines to rescue her. A love story, a fairy tale. Rose smiled, her heart lifting a fraction.
You

see, happy endings do sometimes exist. They’re not impossible.

Rose glanced up again at the first paragraph, wanting to know these people, their names, where

they were from. One name jumped out at her:
Pfc. Brian McClanahan. 121st Infantry.

The newsprint swam before Rose’s eyes, the photo blurred. Not her Brian, no, this had to be

another soldier with the same name. A coincidence, of course, that’s all it could possibly be.

So then why was her heart burning so? Why this icy feeling in her gut? Oh Mother of God,

could
it be him?

She felt dizzy, her mind whirling madly, as if she might go insane. And yet she knew she

wouldn’t. Sanity was right here, all [285] around her, this desk, her work. Yes, this was what was

real, sane, this steaming paper cup on her desk, this cassette of dictated letters waiting to be

typed. And in a few minutes, Max Griffin striding down this corridor, flashing her his you-and-

me-against-the-world grin, and wishing her a good morning that always lifted her spirits.

But this photo, this face posing as Brian’s, was choking her, opening a black abyss in her mind

that she could feel herself beginning to tumble into.

Now the room was somehow tilting, her chair and the carpeted floor beneath it rolling out from

under her. She grabbed the edge of her desk to steady herself, and knocked over the steaming cup

by the phone. Coffee poured over the open paper, seeping through to the glass-topped desk,

dripping onto her lap. And then she felt the heat, searing pain, as if a hot iron were pressing

against her thighs.
Hurts ... oh, it hurts ... Brian ...

She forced herself to peer at the photo, closely this time, straining to bring it into focus. His

face, oh God, it was his face. Even though now the photo was sodden and buckled, she

recognized that face, its long beveled shape, those haunting eyes.

Brian.
Her
Brian.

Her worst fear of all. Brian in love with someone else. No, even more monstrous than that ...

worse than she could have imagined. He was married.

Black fury gripped her.
He should have been killed, that would have been better. At least he’d

still be mine.

Rose sat back, trembling. God, she really was losing her mind. Had she actually thought such a

thing? Brian dead? No, not that ... never that.

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