Excerpt

Wait For Me

Prologue

Beth Walker stood at the hotel window and stared down at the city street several stories below. It had rained earlier, and the road was still shiny with water. Cars swished past one another, and pedestrians dodged their way along the sidewalk, the colors of their coats and jackets muted in the weak sunlight.

     Beth rested her cheek against the cool glass, trying to muster the energy to set up her computer for the Skype call she had scheduled with her two best friends, Jen and Ellie. She’d spoken briefly with both of them in the immediate aftermath of the scandal breaking, and they’d exchanged emails and texts in the intervening weeks, but this would be the first proper conversation she’d had with either of them.

     I don’t want to look into their eyes and see their pity and have it confirmed that I’m the victim the whole world thinks I am.

     But the three of them made a point of talking once a month, no matter what, and Jen and Ellie would worry if Beth didn’t log in, given the circumstances.

     Beth snorted, the exhalation momentarily misting the glass.   “The circumstances” was such a genteel, discreet way to summarize the spectacularly tacky implosion of her marriage to country music star Troy Banks four weeks ago. It didn’t even begin to cover the three-ring circus her life had become since her husband’s apparently never-ending string of infidelities had come to light.

     The current tally was thirty-four. Thirty-four women whom her husband had slept with during the four years of his marriage to Beth. Cocktail waitresses, strippers, flight attendants, models, nannies… There was barely a profession he’d left unexplored.

     Behind her on the couch was a foot-high stack of tabloid magazines filled with the salacious details, each story more nausea-inducing than the last. Once the first woman had sold Troy out, the rest of them had lined up like dominoes for their chance to cash in. And why wouldn’t they? For years Troy had written songs about love and commitment and family, about struggling through the tough times and celebrating the good. He’d sold the story of his and Beth’s whirlwind marriage as a modern-day fairytale, and the country music world had eaten it up with a spoon.

     And all the time, he’d been fucking his way across America, betraying Beth every chance he got. She’d given up her home in Australia when she married him, put her career as a music therapist on hold, done everything in her power to mold her life to his, and he’d rewarded her with infidelity on such an epic scale that it had already become an internet meme.

     The humiliation was so vast, the betrayal so all encompassing, it had taken Beth several days to get her head around it. She’d left their Belle Meade mansion in Nashville the moment the first tabloid hit the newsstands, but the revelations had kept coming, each one dropping like a hand grenade into her life. It had quickly become impossible for her to leave the central Nashville hotel she’d retreated to, thanks to the tabloid photographers stalking her every move. When she’d gotten wind of an interview one of the papers had secured with her chambermaid, discussing how many boxes of tissues Beth had run through and what she’d been ordering from room service, something inside Beth had finally snapped.

     She’d walked into the bathroom, grabbed the scissors from her manicure set, and hacked off her shoulder-length blonde hair. Then she’d grabbed a baseball cap and dark glasses from her luggage, shoved some clothes, her phone and laptop into a non-descript overnight bag, and walked out the door.

     She’d taken the service exit and made her way to the nearest bus stop. From there she’d hailed a taxi and gone straight to the airport. She’d bought a ticket on the first flight out, and once she’d landed at her destination she’d taken a room in a mid-priced, nondescript hotel where no one would expect to find the estranged wife of a disgraced, multi-millionaire, country music star.

     She’d been holed up here ever since, collecting grubby tabloid magazines so she could gorge on the Technicolor details of her husband’s infidelity and contemplate her own folly.

     Yesterday, she’d roused herself out of licking-her-wounds mode long enough to find a hairdresser to tidy her hacked hair, fully aware that Jen and Ellie would freak if they saw what she’d done to herself.

     Now, she pulled away from the window far enough to use it as an impromptu mirror to assess her new cut.

     She looked like a cancer patient. Or maybe a shorn lamb was more accurate. According to the hair stylist, Beth had cut into her hair so haphazardly, he’d had no option but to go for a pixie cut.

     Beth was pretty sure there had never been a pixie in the history of the world who looked as naked and shorn as she did right now. But at least it made it unlikely that people would recognize her.

     A silver lining, at last. Huzzah.

     It was nearly eleven. Time for her Skype hook up. Turning her back on the window, she grabbed her laptop and walked to the bed. Sitting cross-legged on the mattress, she set up her computer. Then she leaned across to grab the tiny bottle of tequila she’d procured from the minibar. It was part of the tradition of their Skype catch-ups that they all had a cocktail of some kind, the next best thing to a real girls’ night out. But she couldn’t be bothered making one today. Straight tequila would do just fine. And where did it say she needed a glass?

     She launched the program, then took a deep breath. Snapping the seal on the bottle of tequila, Beth hit the button to connect with her friends. It took a second, but suddenly two images filled the screen. Jen was on the left, looking polished and perfect as always, her corporate crisp surroundings revealing she was in her office in Noosa. Working late again, no doubt.  Ellie was on the right, the clear blue of the Wyoming sky visible through the window over her shoulder.

     The familiar sight of her two oldest friends tightened Beth’s throat. These two women had had her back since she was fourteen years old. Then, she’d been a terrified kid starting out a new boarding school in rural Australia, and Ellie and Jen had sensed her fear and loneliness and invited her into the warmth of their unconditional friendship. That act of generosity had been but one of many these two women had offered Beth over the past fourteen years – along with a shedload of laughter, occasional tears and constant love.

God, it was good to see them, even if they weren’t in the same room.

     “Hey, Ellie, Jen,” she said.

     There was a short pause, and Beth knew she wasn’t imagining the shocked looks on her friends’ faces.

     Definitely the haircut had been a mistake.

     “Sweetie. Where are you?” Ellie asked, her face creased with concern.

     "I’m in some godforsaken dot on the map," Beth said. "I don't even know if it's Oklahoma or Texas. I just needed to get away from the paparazzi.”

"How are you holding up?" Jen asked.

"I'm great now that I'm talking to you two," Beth said, and it was absolutely true.

How could she have doubted for a second that Jen and Ellie would make things better?

She lifted her glass. “My first toast of the night - I propose we send all country and western singers in the universe to the darkest pit of hell."

"That's the spirit." Jen raised her glass, an oversize margarita. "Some men aren't worth the trouble."

"Down with all dickheads." Ellie raised her glass, which looked like an old jam jar.

There was a certain ambivalence beneath Ellie’s words and Beth guessed Ellie was thinking about the man she’d left behind when she departed Australia. Beth latched onto the diversion, keen to shift the subject away from herself. The world continued to spin outside her anonymous hotel room, after all.

"Does that mean you've given up on that boneheaded cowboy of yours?" Beth asked. "About time if you ask me. He's a fool not to appreciate the gorgeous woman in his own backyard."

"I haven't been around him in six years," Ellie said. Ellie’s gaze grew distant for a moment, her expression wistful. 

Beth met Jen’s gaze and knew that her friend was thinking the same thing - no way was Ellie over Rick, even if she wasn’t prepared to admit it.

The moment of unspoken connection triggered a wash of homesickness for Beth. These women knew her so well. They’d been through ups and downs with her, they knew all her dark places, all her secrets, just as she knew theirs. Suddenly the need to be near them, to be on safe ground, overwhelmed her.

“I think I’m going to come back to Australia,” Beth heard herself say.

The moment the words were out her mouth, she knew it was the right thing to do. She’d been in limbo these past four weeks, too shocked by everything that had happened to do anything except react. It was time to do more than simply hide.

It was time to go home.

"A change of scenery will do you wonders," Jen said. "Book into a spa for a week. I'll come, too.”

Ellie gave an excited whoop. “If you two are getting together, then count me in.”

“Seriously?” Beth asked, barely daring to hope.

“I’ll quit my job. We’ll have a reunion,” Ellie said.

It was too much. The thought of being with her friends again, of being surrounded by their unconditional love and support, pushed Beth over the edge.

“Yes. Yes times a thousand," she said, tears spilling down her cheeks as she used a phrase that had peppered many of their teenage conversations.

"I have news, too." Jen paused, almost as though she was bracing herself. ”Karl and I broke up yesterday. It's complicated and I can't talk about it right now, if you don't mind." She managed an almost-smile. "I need more than one margarita for that."

"Shit, Jen, I'm so sorry." Beth reached out instinctively before she remembered she couldn’t touch her friend. "We can cry in our beer together."

"No crying,” Jen said. "Some men aren't worth the trouble, remember?"

Ellie was chewing her lip, a sure sign her mind was working furiously.

"We should do something special… Oh, I know! There’s a Bachelor and Spinster Ball in Dubbo next month,” Ellie said.

Jen brightened. “An Outback Ball, why not? Us, all together again. We'll have a reunion weekend to end all weekends." 

Beth had never been to a Bachelor and Spinster Ball before, but like most Australians, she’d heard of them. They were a tradition in the bush, a way for isolated folk in sparsely populated areas to get together and let their hair down. Among other things.

"Fast food, fast talking, fast men," Ellie said. "It’ll start a new chapter for all of us."

"I'm in for everything but the fast men," Beth said without thinking.

Ellie and Jen exchanged worried looks, and Beth tried to come up with something to say to reassure them.

“Only nice guys in the future,” she said.

In reality, it would be a long, long time before she would be ready to risk her heart again. If ever.

But a reunion with her friends? That she could do. With bells on. They’d dance and get drunk and giggle like idiots. They’d bare their souls and push one another to acts of courage and stupidity.

It would be great. It would be just what she needed. The perfect way to start to heal her wounded heart and kick-start the rest of her life.

She tuned back into the conversation and talk turned to planning the details for their weekend. As often happened when all three of them got together, the conversation got decidedly silly after that. Before Beth knew it, she was daring Jen to wear Ellie’s old cow costume to the ball, Ellie had accepted a dare to let her friends make her over, and Beth had agreed to dance with anyone who approached her, providing they were of sound mind and body and not a creep. Three dares, each designed to help each of them get past a hiccup in their lives.

All too soon, the call was over and Beth was once again alone in her hotel room. It was different now, though. She had a plan. She was going home.

Filled with a rush of resolve, she crossed to the pile of crappy magazines she’d been torturing herself with. Hefting them, she walked to the door, somehow managing to flip the latch and elbow the door open. The magazines made a satisfying thunk as she dumped them in the hall outside her room. Housekeeping could take them away. She was done with them.

She was done with hiding out and flailing around in grief and humiliation, too. She was getting out of here.

She was flying home to Australia, and her friends were going to wrap her in their arms and set the world to rights.

It couldn’t happen soon enough.

Sitting on the bed, she called up a new search screen and started to book her flight.

 

 

 

 


 

 

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