It was late Saturday in upstate New York, a perfect early summer
evening on Skaneateles Lake and not the place one would expect to
receive tragic news. On the water, an occasional boat droned past
through the light chop that had been kicked up by a pleasant
breeze. The sun had dropped behind the towering hills and already
overhead the brilliant three-quarter moon danced with tattered
clouds. Jupiter winked nearby, and the soft hum of crickets played
background to the rustling leaves of a tall willow. On the broad
covered patio of the Glen Haven Inn, groups of people sat around
circular tables covered with white linen tablecloths and adorned
with fresh-cut flowers. Peals of soft laughter drifted across the
veranda as if the patrons too were blooming in the first true
warmth of the season.
None, though, seemed happier than the couple that sat by themselves
at a table by the railing on the edge of the night. The man was in
his late forties. His posture was effortlessly upright and his
shoulders subtly muscular. Though he had been dark-haired as a
youth, his asymmetrical face was now weathered and crowned by a
full head of hair frosted by time and care. Either side of his
irregular visage by itself was uninspiring, but together they were
somehow pleasing. His dark brown eyes were a constant
contradiction, brooding fathomless pools one moment, smiling and
luminescent the next.
He had the look of a man who had seen much, yet had somehow
retained at least some of the joy of youth. He appeared both rugged
and gentle, with the outward demeanor of a man whose livelihood
relied more on his hands than his mind. The labels inside his
clothes could betray his wealth if he hadn't removed them all for
comfort's sake. So could his gold watch, but only on the rare
occasions that he remembered to put it on.
The woman looked younger by ten years or more. Her wavy light brown
hair was highlighted with long golden strands and it fell past her
shoulders in wild bunches that might have given her an unkempt
appearance if not for the meticulous demeanor of her clothes and
the perfect features of her face. Her eyes were the color of blue
glass and bright, unspoiled despite the disappointments life had
shown her. Her smile too was as animated as it had been when she
was a young girl, and she was always ready to laugh, even at
She was laughing now while the man recounted for her the verbal
abuse he had taken earlier in the day from his sister. Gracie was
much older than he, and the two of them had a unique relationship.
It was she who for years had helped to manage the domestic affairs
of a man who seemed to care very little for money although he had
vastly more than most. It was Gracie who ruled the mansion in
Greenwich, if not the lake house in Skaneateles and the massive
penthouse apartment on Central Park West in the city. The younger
woman was quite familiar with the sister's austere demeanor as well
as her unabashed and biting criticism of the many things that
didn't please her.
"...So I said to her," the man continued between gleeful gasps, "
'Gracie, if I didn't know you better, I'd say you have a thing for
The woman, Jill, let out a shriek of mirth. "You didn't!" The man
laughed even harder, barely able to catch his breath. "And then she
said...she said,"he howled,bursting into tears of delight. "She
said...'Don't forget, Kurtis Andrew, that I used to change your
Jill shrieked again, wiping tears from the corners of her own
"Holy shit!" Kurt bellowed, still crying. "Can you believe she said
that? Oh God, she sounded like my mother..."
Together they emptied their laughter into the night, unconcerned
with the stares they drew from everyone around them and the
embarrassed smile on the lips of their waiter, who pulled up short
of the table with their coffee and dessert. When they had quieted,
and the waiter had moved on, Kurt reached into the pocket of his
blazer and felt the velvet box he'd hidden there. He gazed lovingly
across the table, moving the flowers to the other side of the
candle so he could see his companion's face without
"My God, I love you so much," he said with quiet urgency. Reaching
out across the table with his other hand, he grasped her fingers
"Oh, I love you too," she said fervently. "Kurt, I love you so
The mirthful tears in his eyes turned sentimental. He thought of
how long it had been since he had allowed himself to really love a
woman, more than twenty years. The last had been his wife, and
since then, although after a while there were other women who had
occupied his mind, none of them had ever truly been allowed to find
a place in his heart.
Even so, he chided himself for being so apprehensive. His intention
had been to present the ring when the champagne arrived, but for
some reason he'd come unnerved. Maybe it was because that was too
formal a time. Their relationship was more casual, born out of
friendship, although lust on his part had been present from the
moment she walked into the boardroom with her flushed cheeks and
her wild hair falling all around the padded shoulders of her trim
business suit. That first jolting impression was what prompted him,
but it was the person beneath that he fell so deeply in love with.
She was brilliant and kind, and she seemed to adore him too.
Somehow, it seemed more appropriate to him now that he give her the
ring, a seven-carat canary yellow diamond, over coffee and apple
strudel. He was certain, or almost certain, that she would accept.
Maybe therein lay the problem. He was either certain or he wasn't,
and if he was almost certain, then he wasn't certain, not really.
They had never talked about getting married, not in any concrete
sense. Oh, there had been romantic whispers deep in the night about
the enduring nature of their love. And it had seemed for a while
now that what free time either of them had, they spent together.
But they'd never really gotten down to the business of it.
She had been married once before. A mistake. Her husband, Kurt
knew, had been possessive, selfish, and generally unkind. They had
argued frequently and he was irrationally jealous. Then they
learned that he was unable to give her children, something she had
always wanted. The tempestuous nature of their relationship only
worsened. He became abusive—not physically, but verbally and
emotionally. Nevertheless, Jill fought hard to keep her marriage
alive. She had confided to Kurt early on that she considered
divorce an admission of abject failure.
Even so, Kurt had been able to become a part of Jill's life, a
confidant and a friend. And, although they were truly just friends,
Jill's husband finally had a palpable target for his burning
jealousy. Jill was working for Kurt's company, then and now, as a
scientist. It wasn't long after they started to become close that
Jill quit without a word, right in the middle of the development of
the project that had first thrown them together.
Kurt was no scientist himself, but he was the source of almost
every successful idea the company had developed. Whenever a new
product or a line of business was being pioneered, he would be
heavily involved until things were up and running smoothly. That's
how he had built Safe Tech into a billion-dollar business and
that's how he intended to keep it that way.
But when Jill inexplicably left, Kurt forgot all about business for
the first time since his son had gone away to college. He moped
about for a week or so feeling sorry for himself, going through the
motions of being the important CEO of a major corporation. Then he
literally just went and got her. She was coming out of her house in
Long Island, sharply dressed in a dark brown business suit, her
wild hair tightly constrained with clips and a comb. She looked sad
and beautiful and was so preoccupied that she was in the middle of
the driveway with her hand on the car door before she realized he'd
pulled up to the curb and was walking toward her.
"Kurt?" she'd exclaimed in a voice laced with fright. "Why are you
"I had to see you," he told her. "You just left. Why didn't you say
anything to me?"
"Can we go somewhere?" she asked, looking nervously around.
They went to a nearby diner and had coffee until it was time for
lunch. She told him everything that day, and he had been her true
confidant ever since. She'd been his as well. But even though he
was able to save her, so to speak, the marriage ended quite
messily. Her husband dug in and made everything as painful as
possible. And although she returned to Safe Tech, she insisted on
keeping their relationship purely platonic until her divorce was
final. While that time had seemed agonizingly slow, Kurt thought
now that their relationship was even more special for having been
built on the solid rock of friendship and gen-uine respect.
That was more than three years ago. Of course she would marry him,
Kurt told himself. She was still young enough that they could have
children. He would do that for her. He had always sworn to himself
that he would never have another wife and certainly not another
child. But...well,he really believed that it was what Annie would
have wanted him to do. He never told anyone, not even Jill, but
instead of talking to himself, he talked to Annie, as he had done
since the day she died. And so he knew that she wanted him to do
this, to marry this wonderful woman—to make himself happy,
and to make her happy as well.
The tears were now close to spilling from the corners of his eyes.
Oh God, Annie, he said to himself. You know I wouldn't
do this if I didn't think you really wanted me to.
"Jill," he said out loud, closing his fingers around the velvet box
and taking it from the pocket of his blazer, "I have to tell you
something. I mean, I have to ask you something..."
She gave him a puzzled look, which transformed into something
between fear and excitement. He opened his mouth to speak, then
"I just..." "Yes?" she said softly.
"I love you so much," he said, exhaling his words as he fumbled
with the box, "and I want to know if you'll marry me..."
He placed the black velvet box on the linen tablecloth in front of
her and opened it to reveal the enormous yellow gem.
Jill felt an indescribable numbness. It was unlike any other
combination of emotions she'd ever known before: pure joy mixed
with a sense of relief so strong it was almost painful. This was
exactly what she wanted. It was what she'd hoped for, even though
lately she had begun to despair.
As her good friend Talia always told her, she was smart in
everything but men. The two had been friends since high school, and
they were roommates at Cornell. Through the years, Talia would
openly marvel at Jill's ineptness when it came to relationships
with the opposite sex. "Your IQ drops from a ski size to a shoe
size," she was fond of saying.
And until this moment, because of her past, Jill had irrationally
suspected that something with Kurt was about to go wrong. Their
relationship had matured to the point where the next logical step
was marriage, but that seemed almost too good to be true. Part of
her apprehension came from the notion that she was getting old. She
was secretly desperate to have a child, and time was running out.
She felt the panic of a final exam coming to a close with a dozen
pages left to finish. The unwarranted thought of having to find
someone new and start all over from the beginning again filled her
All that was annihilated in an instant. Tears streamed down her
face. Words backed up in her throat, but a bubbling laughter
escaped in their stead and she nodded her head vigorously and left
her chair to throw her arms around his neck.
Kurt laughed too and said, "I guess that's a yes..." "Of course it
is," she said, embracing him with all her might. "Then can I kiss
Jill kissed him, gently at first and then passionately before
breaking, rising up from his lap and composing herself as best she
could. She put the ring on her finger. Then they clasped hands over
the table and beamed at each other in silence for several
"Are you happy?" he asked. "I've never been happier," she told him.
"When can we be married?" Kurt laughed tolerantly and replied,
"Whenever you want. Tomorrow."
"Kurt, really," she said, her smile reaching up and touching the
corners of her eyes. "I mean it," he said. "Whenever you want."
Kurt swung his head around with the smile still fixed on his
"Mr. Ford," the manager said in a distressed, apologetic tone. "I
have an emergency phone call for you, sir."
Jill saw the alarm on Kurt's face, and her stomach dropped a
million miles. She'd never received such a phone call, but she knew
Kurt had. Its meaning was written clearly on the manager's face.
Her expression was a universal sign. The harbinger of death.
"You can take it in my office," the manager said under her breath.
The Glen Haven Inn was at the far south end of the lake, where the
steep ridges of the lofty hills prevented the use of cell
Kurt offered Jill a faded smile and gave her hand one last gentle
squeeze before he rose from the table and followed the manager
inside. With a blank face, Jill watched him cross the veranda. She
fought against it, but her instincts told her that, like a young
girl being rudely awakened from a dream, the most magical moment in
her life was now over.
Excerpted from THE FOURTH PERIMETER © Copyright 2005 by
Tim Green. Reprinted with permission by Warner Books, an imprint of
Time Warner Bookmark. All rights reserved.
The Fourth Perimeter