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Between Sisters


Dr. Bloom waited patiently for an answer.

Meghann Dontess leaned back in her seat and studied her
fingernails. It was time for a manicure. Past time. "I try not to
feel too much, Harriet. You know that. I find it impedes my
enjoyment of life."

"Is that why you've seen me every week for four years? Because you
enjoy your life so much?"

"I wouldn't point that out if I were you. It doesn't say much for
your psychiatric skills. It's entirely possible, you know, that I
was perfectly normal when I met you and you're actually making me

"You're using humor as a shield again."

"You're giving me too much credit. That wasn't funny."

Harriet didn't smile. "I rarely think you're funny."

"There goes my dream of doing stand-up."

"Let's talk about the day you and Claire were separated."

Meghann shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Just when she needed a
smart-ass response, her mind went blank. She knew what Harriet was
poking around for, and Harriet knew she knew. If Meghann didn't
answer, the question would simply be asked again. "Separated. A
nice, clean word. Detached. I like it, but that subject is

"It's interesting that you maintain a relationship with your mother
while distancing yourself from your sister."

Meghann shrugged. "Mama's an actress. I'm a lawyer. We're
comfortable with make-believe."


"Have you ever read one of her interviews?"


"She tells everyone that we lived this poor, pathetic-but-loving
existence. We pretend it's the truth."

"You were living in Bakersfield when the pathetic-but-loving
pretense ended, right?"

Meghann remained silent. Harriet had maneuvered her back to the
painful subject like a rat through a maze.

Harriet went on, "Claire was nine years old. She was missing
several teeth, if I remember correctly, and she was having
difficulties with math."

"Don't," Meghann curled her fingers around the chair's sleek wooden

Harriet stared at her. Beneath the unruly black ledge of her
eyebrows, her gaze was steady. Small round glasses magnified her
eyes. "Don't back away, Meg. We're making progress."

"Any more progress and I'll need an aid car. We should talk about
my practice. That's why I come to you, you know. It's a pressure
cooker down in Family Court these days. Yesterday, I had a deadbeat
dad drive up in a Ferrari and then swear he was flat broke. The
shithead. Didn't want to pay for his daughter's tuition. Too bad
for him I videotaped his arrival."

"Why do you keep paying me if you don't want to discuss the root of
your problems?"

"I have issues, not problems. And there's no point in poking around
in the past. I was sixteen when all that happened. Now, I'm a
whopping forty-two. It's time to move on. I did the right thing. It
doesn't matter anymore."

"Then why do you still have the nightmare?"

She fiddled with the silver David Yurman bracelet on her wrist. "I
have nightmares about spiders who wear Oakley sunglasses, too. But
you never ask about that. Oh, and last week, I dreamed I was
trapped in a glass room that had a floor made of bacon. I could
hear people crying, but I couldn't find the key. You want to talk
about that one?"

"A feeling of isolation. An awareness that people are upset by your
actions, or missing you. Okay, let's talk about that dream. Who is

"Shit." Meghann should have seen that. After all, she had an
undergraduate degree in psychology. Not to mention the fact that
she'd once been called a child prodigy.

She glanced down at her platinum and gold watch. "Too bad, Harriet.
Time's up. I guess we'll have to solve my pesky neuroses next
week." She stood up, smoothed the pant legs of her navy Armani
suit. Not that there was a wrinkle to be found.

Harriet slowly removed her glasses.

Meghann crossed her arms in an instinctive gesture of
self-protection. "This should be good."

"Do you like your life, Meghann?"

That wasn't what she'd expected. "What's not to like? I'm the best
divorce attorney in the state. I live--"


"--in a kick-ass condo above the Public Market and drive a
brand-new Porsche."


"I talk to Elizabeth every Thursday night."


Maybe it was time to get a new therapist. Harriet had ferreted out
all of Meghann's weak points. "My mom stayed with me for a week
last year. If I'm lucky, she'll come back for another visit just in
time to watch the colonization of Mars on MTV."

"And Claire?"

"My sister and I have problems, I'll admit it. But nothing major.
We're just too busy to get together." When Harriet didn't speak,
Meghann rushed in to fill the silence. "Okay, she makes me crazy,
the way she's throwing her life away. She's smart enough to do
anything, but she stays tied to that loser campground they call a

"With her father."

"I don't want to discuss my sister. And I definitely don't want to
discuss her father."

Harriet tapped her pen on the table. "Okay, how about this: When
was the last time you slept with the same man twice?"

"You're the only one who thinks that's a bad thing. I like

"The way you like younger men, right? Men who have no desire to
settle down. You get rid of them before they can get rid of

"Again, sleeping with younger, sexy men who don't want to settle
down is not a bad thing. I don't want a house with a picket fence
in suburbia. I'm not interested in family life, but I like

"And the loneliness, do you like that?"

"I'm not lonely," she said stubbornly. "I'm independent. Men don't
like a strong woman."

"Strong men do."

"Then I better start hanging out in gyms instead of bars."

"And strong women face their fears. They talk about the painful
choices they've made in their lives."

Meghann actually flinched. "Sorry, Harriet, I need to scoot. See
you next week."

She left the office.

Outside, it was a gloriously bright June day. Early in the
so-called summer. Everywhere else in the country, people were
swimming and barbecuing and organizing poolside picnics. Here, in
good ole Seattle, people were methodically checking their calendars
and muttering that it was June, damn it.

Only a few tourists were around this morning; out-of-towners
recognizable by the umbrellas tucked under their arms.

Meghann finally released her breath as she crossed the busy street
and stepped up onto the grassy lawn of the waterfront park. A
towering totem pole greeted her. Behind it, a dozen seagulls dived
for bits of discarded food.

She walked past a park bench where a man lay huddled beneath a
blanket of yellowed newspapers. In front of her, the deep blue
Sound stretched along the pale horizon. She wished she could take
comfort from that view; often, she could. But today, her mind was
caught in the net of another time and place.

If she closed her eyes--which she definitely dared not do--she'd
remember it all: the dialing of the telephone number, the stilted,
desperate conversation with a man she didn't know, the long, silent
drive to that shit-ass little town up north. And worst of all, the
tears she'd wiped from her little sister's flushed cheeks when she
said, I'm leaving you, Claire.

Her fingers tightened around the railing. Dr. Bloom was wrong.
Talking about Meghann's painful choice and the lonely years that
had followed it wouldn't help.

Her past wasn't a collection of memories to be worked through; it
was like an oversize Samsonite with a bum wheel. Meghann had
learned that a long time ago. All she could do was drag it along
behind her.

Each November, the mighty Skykomish River strained against its
muddy banks. The threat of flooding was a yearly event; in a dance
as old as time itself, the people who lived in the tiny towns along
the river watched and waited, sandbags at the ready. Their memory
went back for generations. Everyone had a story to tell about the
time the water rose to the second floor of so-and-so's house . . .
to the top of the doorways at the grange hall . . . to the corner
of Spring and Azalea Streets. People who lived in flatter, safer
places watched the nightly news and shook their heads, clucking
about the ridiculousness of farmers who lived on the flood

When the river finally began to lower, a collective sigh of relief
ran through town. It usually started with Emmett Mulvaney, the
pharmacist who religiously watched The Weather Channel on Hayden's
only big-screen television. He would notice some tiny tidbit of
information, something even those hotshot meteorologists in Seattle
had missed. He'd pass his assessment on to Sheriff Dick Parks, who
told his secretary, Martha. In less time than it took to drive from
one end of town to the other, the word spread: This year is going
to be okay. The danger has passed. Sure enough, twenty-four hours
after Emmett's prediction, the meteorologists agreed.

This year had been no exception, but now, on this beautiful early
summer's day, it was easy to forget those dangerous months in which
rainfall made everyone crazy.

Claire Cavenaugh stood on the banks on the river, her work boots
almost ankle-deep in the soft brown mud. Beside her, an out-of-gas
Weed Eater lay on its side.

She smiled, wiped a gloved hand across her sweaty brow. The amount
of manual labor it took to get the resort ready for summer was


That was what her dad called these sixteen acres. Sam Cavenaugh had
come across this acreage almost forty years ago, back when Hayden
had been nothing more than a gas station stop on the rise up
Stevens Pass. He'd bought the parcel for a song and settled into
the decrepit farmhouse that came with it. He'd named his place
River's Edge Resort and begun to dream of a life that didn't
include hard hats and earplugs and night shifts at the paper plant
in Everett.

At first he'd worked after hours and weekends. With a chain saw, a
pickup truck, and a plan drawn out on a cocktail napkin, he began.
He hacked out campsites and cleaned out a hundred years' worth of
underbrush and built each knotty pine riverfront cabin by hand.
Now, River's Edge was a thriving family business. There were eight
cabins in all, each with two pretty little bedrooms and a single
bathroom and a deck that overlooked the river.

In the past few years, they'd added a swimming pool and a game
room. Plans for a mini golf course and a Laundromat were in the
works. It was the kind of place where the same families came back
year after year to spend their precious vacation time.

Claire still remembered the first time she'd seen it. The towering
trees and rushing silver river had seemed like paradise to a girl
raised in a trailer that only stopped on the poor side of town. Her
childhood memories before coming to River's Edge were gray: ugly
towns that came and went; uglier apartments in run-down buildings.
And Mama. Always on the run from something or other. Mama had been
married repeatedly, but Claire couldn't remember a man ever being
around for longer than a carton of milk. Meghann was the one Claire
remembered. The older sister who took care of everything . . . and
then walked away one day, leaving Claire behind.

Now, all these years later, their lives were connected by the
thinnest of strands. Once every few months, she and Meg talked on
the phone. On particularly bad days, they fell to talking about the
weather. Then Meg would invariably "get another call" and hang up.
Her sister loved to underscore how successful she was. Meghann
could rattle on for ten minutes about how Claire had sold herself
short. "Living on that silly little campground, cleaning up after
people," was the usual wording. Every single Christmas she offered
to pay for college.

As if reading Beowulf would improve Claire's life.

For years, Claire had longed to be friends as well as sisters, but
Meghann didn't want that, and Meghann always got her way. They were
what Meghann wanted them to be: Polite strangers who shared a blood
type and an ugly childhood.

Claire reached down for the Weed Eater. As she slogged across the
spongy ground, she noticed a dozen things that needed to be done
before opening day. Roses that needed to be trimmed, moss that
needed to be scraped off the roofs, mildew that needed to be
bleached off the porch railings. And there was the mowing. A long,
wet winter had turned into a surprisingly bright spring, and the
grass had grown as tall as Claire's knees. She made a mental note
to ask George, their handyman, to scrub out the canoes and kayaks
this afternoon.

She tossed the Weed Eater in the back of the pickup. It hit with a
clanging thunk that rattled the rusted bed.

"Hey, sweetie. You goin' to town?"

She turned and saw her father standing on the porch of the
registration building. He wore a ratty pair of overalls, stained
brown down the bib from some long-forgotten oil change, and flannel

He pulled a red bandanna out of his hip pocket and wiped his brow
as he walked toward her. "I'm fixing that freezer, by the way.
Don't you go pricing new ones."

There wasn't an appliance made he couldn't repair, but Claire was
going to check out prices, just the same. "You need anything from

"Smitty has a part for me. Could you pick it up?"

"You bet. And have George start on the canoes when he gets here,

"I'll put it on the list."

"And have Teena bleach the bathroom ceiling in cabin six. It got
mildewy this winter." She closed the pickup's bed.

"You here for dinner?"

"Not tonight. Ali has a Tee Ball game at Riverfront Park, remember?
Five o'clock."

"Oh, yeah. I'll be there."

Claire nodded, knowing that he would. He hadn't missed a single
event in his granddaughter's life. "Bye, Dad."

She wrenched the truck's door handle and yanked hard. The door
screeched open. She grabbed the black steering wheel and climbed up
into the seat.

Dad thumped the truck's door. "Drive safely. Watch the turn at
milepost seven."

She smiled. He'd been giving her that exact bit of advice for
almost two decades. "I love you, Dad."

"I love you, too. Now, go get my granddaughter. If you hurry, we'll
have time to watch SpongeBob SquarePants before the game."


The west side of the office building faced puget sound. a wall of
floor-to-ceiling windows framed the beautiful blue-washed view. In
the distance lay the forested mound of Bainbridge Island. At night,
a few lights could be seen amid all that black and green darkness;
in the daylight, though, the island looked uninhabited. Only the
white ferry, chugging into its dock every hour, indicated that
people lived there.

Excerpted from BETWEEN SISTERS © Copyright 2003 by Kristin
Hannah. Reprinted with permission by Ballantine Books, a division
of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.


Between Sisters
by by Kristin Hannah

  • Genres: Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345450744
  • ISBN-13: 9780345450746