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Authors: Lela Gilbert

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Interlude

Interlude

Interlude

Lela Gilbert

INTERLUDE

Copyright © 1995 by Lela Gilbert. All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any form, except for brief quotations in reviews, without written permission from the publisher.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:

Gilbert, Lela.
    Interlude / Lela Gilbert.
      p. cm.
      ISBN 0–8499–3397–8 (Trade paper)
      ISBN 0–8499–3880–5 (Mass paper)
      I. Title.
    PS3557.I34223I57 1992
    813' .54—dc20

92–21871
CIP

Printed in the United States of America

5 6 7 8 9 OPM 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Contents

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1

E
ver the poet, Elisabeth Casey sat gazing at the wild October sea, occasionally scribbling lines on a legal pad. She was supposed to be listing people to invite to her upcoming wedding, writing letters to old friends, and prioritizing dozens of things to do. Instead she intermittently composed verse, daydreamed, and reminisced about all the years she'd returned faithfully to Laguna Beach to sit right here, on this very rock, in the shadow of the old stone tower.

The wind lifted her blonde hair as a drowsy, pensive mood overtook her. She was vaguely aware of the turbulent tide occasionally thundering against the rocks and sending plumes of spray sparkling across the clear California sky. And she was ever conscious of her fiancé Jon's absence, wondering how long it would be before they were together again. Most of her thoughts, however, focused on years past and on the extraordinary course of life that had brought her to this place today.

Elisabeth was a woman who understood the concept of metamorphosis—she had, in many ways, led several lives. And none of those lives had borne much resemblance to each other. The only thread of continuity was her own persona, coursing from one existence into the next, transfigured from one character into another as she moved along.

At least Shirley MacLaine had the decency to die between her past lives,
she mused.
I keep changing into new people, too, but I'm stuck with the same old body.

Betty was about to become a married woman for the second time, but not without a few fears and misgivings. Jon Surrey- Dixon, her groom-to-be, was a man who had won her heart on several counts. He enjoyed her poetry; a fact which could only mean that he knew something about who she was and liked her anyway. Jon had also proved to be spiritually in tune with her, which she found both encouraging and extraordinary. But it was an unexplainable, almost mysterious connection between them that both delighted and disturbed her.

What is it about him that makes me feel like I've known him all my life? Why do we seem so right together?
Again and again her thoughts repeated the most pressing question of all:
Will it last?
The words echoed in her mind, and never seemed to be followed by a clear answer. She unconsciously touched the jeweled locket that hung at her neck, Jon's first gift to her.

Elisabeth, or Betty, as Jon preferred calling her, was ashamed of the fact that she was divorced. And the unhappiness of her previous union had left her sorely skeptical about her capacity for remaining married. Granted, she hadn't really been in love with Carlton, her first husband. But she couldn't wholeheartedly blame him for every unpleasant aspect of their failed wedlock.

Carlton had been somewhat older than she, and he was anything but a passionate lover. He had been set in his ways and detached in his involvement with her— either sarcastically critical or not there at all. Nevertheless, she was the one who walked out, leaving him with little explanation for her abrupt departure. All she really understood about it herself was that she simply could not tolerate being married to him for one more day.

Maybe I'm incapable of making a lifelong commitment. On the other hand, Jon is nothing like Carlton. Nothing at all.

She looked down at the poem she had begun writing:

Then, spurning seas and spanning worlds,
You smiled ‘til shadows fled . . .

It somehow brought Jon's face to mind. Tears stung her eyes. How she missed him!

Elisabeth Casey and Jon Surrey-Dixon had spent less time together than either might have wished. His professional photography assignments kept him overseas much of the year, and his stopovers in California had been few and far between. Of course the couple had delighted in every moment they'd shared. But the visits always ended in tearful good-byes, the shrill whine of jet engines, and the despairing thought,
I wonder if I'll ever see him again.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder . . . ,” Betty's father Harold Fuller had often commented with a cynical grin, “. . . for somebody else.”

No wonder I'm so insecure . . .
Betty couldn't help but smile at her gruff old father's peculiar brand of folk wisdom. Harold had never exactly made it his business to build up Betty's confidence. In fact, he held that self-esteem and conceit were identical. Consequently, he felt that his daughter's attractiveness and lovability should be ignored at all costs.

A wave suddenly exploded against the rocks in front of Betty and shattered her reverie. The fine mist of salty spray wet her face. Was the tide coming in or going out? Considering the sequence of the breakers and their gathering intensity, she moved to higher ground. She seated herself on the old weatherbeaten steps that led to one of the flower-skirted beach houses at the top of the cliffs.

“I've got to get something done!” she reprimanded herself aloud, frustrated by her lack of discipline. “I took the whole day off to get organized, and what do I do? I sit on the beach and daydream!”

“Excuse me?” a passing fisherman said as he stared at her curiously.

“Oh, sorry, I was talking to myself,” she mumbled, shaking her head in embarrassment and immediately fixing her eyes on her legal pad.
He probably thinks I'm nuts. Well maybe he's right.

Her unfinished poem caught her attention again, and she frowned as she searched for words.
It's not a bad poem. I wonder if Jon will like it? Maybe I'll give it to him in a wedding card . . .

Another smile played across her face. All at once dreams of the wedding began to drift through her mind, momentarily sweeping away her various uncertainties. The little chapel would be lit with candles and fragrant with flowers. The ceremony was scheduled for the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and they would leave on a month-long trip that would find them spending Christmas in London.

She closed her eyes and tried to remember every detail of her wedding dress. It was ice-blue silk with long sleeves, a drop-waist and an ankle-length full skirt.
Blue silk. I've always wanted a blue silk dress.

Memories carried Betty back to her early years, to yet another lifetime, to party dresses that were forever marred with bloodstains on the sleeves and necks. Skin disease had been her constant companion until her twenty-first year, and it's residual unpleasantness had affected every area of her life—most notably her personal appearance.

Two decades of itching, bleeding, and peeling skin had ended abruptly several years ago with an unexpected healing—an event that Betty could only attribute to divine intervention. Again Jon's face flickered in her mind. He thought she was beautiful, and by the time he'd met her a lot of other people thought so too. Could he have possibly loved her before, when her skin was at its worst? Probably not, she concluded.

Betty had a secret yardstick in her heart—and no one had yet measured up to it. Could someone, somewhere out there in the world have loved her, even on her ugliest, most broken-out days—a sort of Beauty-and-the-Beast tale in reverse? Perhaps some magnanimous gentleman would have overlooked her flaws and treasured her strengths. Their mutual happiness would have healed her.

Of course life had taken a different course. Her healing had happened, and a so-called Prince Charming had married her. But, unfortunately, he had turned out to be something of a toad. So here she was, ready to try again.

Oh God, help me! I get so scared sometimes.

One of the greatest sources of her present fretfulness was a simple matter of communication—she hadn't heard from Jon in more than a week. Granted, he'd been traveling in Asia where there were neither phones nor faxes—even electrical outlets were few and far between. She understood that perfectly well. She was reassured when she recalled that their relationship had survived many such separations.

But after three or four days, strange doubts always began to creep into her thoughts, subtly intruding on her peace of mind.
He doesn't miss me as much as I miss him. If he did, he wouldn't leave me. If he really missed me, he'd keep in closer touch. I know I'd keep in touch with him . . .

These anxious thoughts made Betty more miserable than she'd ever admitted to Jon or anyone else. They made her feel guilty because she instinctively knew once she had seen Jon she had been unreasonable. They hindered her appreciation of the tender times they'd shared. And every time Jon left, these doubts haunted her, gradually and inevitably chasing away her joy.

A chill flickered along her spine. The sapphire blue sky seemed to pale. She sighed. “He says he loves me. I just have to believe it,” Betty spoke out loud again, hoping that the fisherman wouldn't reappear just in time to verify her apparent insanity.

By now Betty's earlier tranquility was gone, and in its place fear was beginning to ripple and swell. She glanced at the nearly illegible poem resting on her lap and impulsively wrote one final line, almost as a silent plea.

Still burn, Love. Never die!

Betty rose to her feet and brushed the sand off her jeans.
Maybe he tried to call today while I wasn't home. Or maybe he wrote a card . . .
Impatiently, she all but ran to her car, driving at least ten miles over the speed limit all the way back to Pasadena.

Once the car was parked, she rushed to her mailbox, turned the key and yanked it open. Two bills and a catalog. Annoyed, she hurried inside and checked the answering machine. Its green light indicated one message. She played it hopefully.

“Hi, Betty! Hope you're having a great day getting your wedding organized!” Her friend and coworker Joyce Jiminez's cheery voice went on to remind her about an important conference in the morning. “Now don't forget the meeting just because you're in love.”

Right. And I'm in love with a man who's forgotten I'm alive.

Frustrated, she sank into her chair and turned on the television. She restlessly flipped through all the channels, finally stopping at CNN. A grim-faced Bernard Shaw announced, “. . . Lebanon hostage Terry Anderson celebrated another birthday in captivity. His friends and family are asking people everywhere to remember the hostages . . .”

Hostages! I'm tired of hearing about the hostages!

Betty clicked off the television in irritation and glanced out the window at a smoggy horizon. She was annoyed with herself for not accomplishing anything all day. She was tired from driving too far, too fast. She was apprehensive about everything that could go wrong with her upcoming wedding.

But Betty's frustration was rooted in her silent telephone. In her empty mailbox. And in her father's oft-quoted aphorism: “Out of sight, out of mind.”

If Jon were here, he'd tell me to write something . . .
Jon's encouragements to put her thoughts on paper had helped Betty to understand something about herself— something she had always known in a semiconscious way. When she found the words to communicate her feelings, she was able to sort out her emotional enigmas. She sat staring at her legal pad, disregarding the paean of praise to Jon's virtues she'd penned earlier in the day.

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