Cover image for The woman next door : a novel
The woman next door : a novel
Delinsky, Barbara.
Personal Author:
[Large print edition].
Publication Information:
Waterville, Me. : Thorndike Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
504 pages ; 23 cm

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X Adult Large Print - Floating collection Floating Collection - Large Print

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Author Notes

Barbara Delinsky was born on August 9, 1945 in suburban Boston. She received a B.A. in psychology from Tufts University and an M.A. in sociology from Boston College. After graduate school, she worked as a researcher with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. After her first child was born, she worked as a photographer and reporter for the Belmont Herald.

She has written more than 60 novels including Shades of Grace, Coast Road, While My Sister Sleeps and Not My Daughter. Some of her novels have been made into television movies including Three Wishes starring Valerie Bertinelli and A Woman's Place starring Lorraine Bracco. She wrote the nonfiction book Uplift: Secrets from the Sisterhood of Breast Cancer Survivors. She has also written under the pen names Bonnie Drake and Billie Douglass.

Barbara's novels, Blueprints and Sweet Salt Air, made the New York Times bestseller list in 2015.

(Bowker Author Biography) Barbara Delinsky lives in Massachusetts.

(Publisher Provided) Since the 1980s, Barbara Delinsky has published more than sixty novels including, most recently, "The Vineyard", "Lake News", "Coast Road", "Three Wishes", "More Than Friends", & "Suddenly". Published in seventeen languages worldwide, her books regularly appear on "The New York Times", "The Wall Street Journal", "The Washington Post", "The Boston Globe", & "Publishers Weekly" bestseller lists. Born & raised in suburban Boston, Delinsky lives in Needham, Massachusetts.

(Publisher Provided) Barbara Delinsky has a B.A. in psychology from Tufts University and an M.A. in sociology from Boston College. Her bestselling novels include "Coast Road", which featured a heroine who was a breast cancer survivor. She serves on the Massachusetts General Hospital Women's Cancer Visiting Committee.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The seemingly bucolic lives of three families living on a cul-de-sac in an upscale suburban Connecticut town are suddenly undermined by the pregnancy of the young, attractive, and reclusive widow who shares their street. Although the three couples seem to have it all, no household is without its difficulties, and the wives can't help but wonder if one of their husbands is the father. Amanda and Graham O'Leary appear to have the perfect marriage, but the ordeal of infertility treatments is making their lives miserable. Karen Cotter has dealt with her husband's philandering before, but now it's affecting their children. Russ Lange is a househusband while his wife, Georgia, travels the country for her juice company. The wives are good friends, yet they have been less than friendly with the widow while their husbands go over regularly to fix one thing or another around her house, thus underscoring their wives' hostility. Each woman is moved to evaluate her life and find out what is important to her; then, in the midst of all this involving introspection, a crisis materializes at the high school, adding to the tensions in each household. Delinsky's adept and compelling exploration of the inner workings of the modern upper-class American family makes for one of her best books to date, an achievement that should broaden her appeal beyond her faithful romance fans. --Patty Engelmann

Library Journal Review

In Delinsky's latest, "the woman next door" is a young widow who becomes pregnant, provoking much soul-searching among the wives on her block. Just whose husband is responsible?(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Prologue Given their druthers, Amanda and Graham would have eloped. At thirty and thirty-six, respectively, all they wanted was to be married. But Amanda's father insisted that his only child have a big wedding, her mother delighted in spending his money, and Graham's family loved a party. So they had a lavish June wedding at the Cape Cod country club to which Amanda's father belonged. The ceremony was held overlooking a salt marsh, with willets, terns, and three hundred guests bearing witness. Then, led by the bride and groom, who walked arm in arm, those three hundred guests trooped across the eighteenth green and around the clubhouse for a buffet dinner in the garden. The place was lush with greenery, vivid with lilacs and peonies, scented with roses, all of which was appreciated far more by the bride's guests, who were into form, than the groom's, who were into fun. Likewise, the toasts ran along party lines, starting with that of the best man. Will O'Leary was the next older brother to Graham, who was the youngest of eight siblings. Champagne glass in hand, he directed an O'Leary grin at his wife and four children before turning to the groom. "No matter that I'm the older of us by a year, you've been a tough act to follow, Graham O'Leary. You always did better in school. You always did better in sports. You were always the one elected class president, and boy, there were times when I hated that." There were chuckles. "Not now, though, because I know something you don't." His grin turned mischievous. "You may have gotten the family's looks and brains, but that doesn't mean much in the dark of night. So. I wish for you and Amanda everything I've had these past fifteen years." He raised his glass. "To you both. May your lives be filled with sweet secrets, hearty laughter, and great sex." There were hoots and cheers, the clinking of glasses, the downing of drink. When the noise subsided, Beth Fisher stepped to the microphone. One of three bridesmaids dressed in elegant navy, she spoke softly. "Amanda was single a long time, waiting for just the right guy to come along. We used to commiserate about that, she and I. Then I met my guy, and Amanda got busy with work and put her own search on hold. She wasn't looking when she first saw Graham, but that's how some of the best things in life happen." She lifted her glass. "To Amanda and Graham. May you love each other forever." * * * Amanda hadn't put her search on hold, so much as despaired that she would find a man she could trust enough to love. Then, one unsuspecting August afternoon, she sought refuge from the heat of Manhattan by visiting her former thesis advisor in Greenwich, and there Graham was, stripped to the waist and sweating beautifully as he planted junipers on a hillside by the woman's home. There were six men at work. Amanda had no idea why her eye was drawn to Graham rather than to one of the others. No. That wasn't true. She knew very well why her eye was drawn to him. He was riveting with his dark hair and close beard, taller than the others and more finely muscled, though she later learned that he didn't often do the digging. He was the brains of the operation. She claimed to have been drawn by that, too. And how had she known anything about brains from the distance of a hundred feet? His eyes. They had found hers over the slant of that dug-up hillside, and had held her gaze in a way that suggested either total brashness or supreme confidence. Both were foreign to her experience with men, and one as titillating as the other. Then, barely fifteen minutes into her visit, he knocked on the door with a drawing of the landscape plans for another part of the yard. The interruption was deliberate. He admitted that right from the start. He had wanted an introduction, and he got it. * * * The groom's oldest sister, MaryAnne O'Leary Walker, came to the mike wearing a green suit that had fit her better before the last three of her five children were born. Undaunted and confident, she turned to Graham, who stood surrounded by friends, an arm around his blond-haired, white-laced-and-beaded bride. "I was twelve when you were born," MaryAnne blurted out, "and changed more of your diapers than either of us cares to admit, so it's your turn now." She raised her glass. "May you have lots of babies, and lots of patience!" "Hear, hear!" chorused the crowd, echoing itself in diminishing degrees until another bridesmaid in navy stepped up to the mike. "Amanda and I met in graduate school," said Gail Wald, her tone genteel. "We were psychologists in neighboring schools in New York before Graham stole her away, and I'm not sure I'll ever forgive him for it. But the fact is that Graham has been a smile in Amanda's eyes since the day she met him. In a world where smiles often come hard, that means a lot. When you do what we do for a living, you understand this. You know how precious smiles can be. You also know how to spot a real one, and that's the kind my friend wears." Holding her glass high, she faced the beaming couple. "To Amanda and Graham. You may have happened fast, but you're the real thing. Here's to thousands and thousands more smiles, and a life filled with health and prosperity." * * * Amanda didn't usually like things happening fast. She far preferred to explore, ponder, and plan. When she dated, she wanted to know almost everything about a man well ahead of a first kiss, because she was seriously jaded. She had seen the downside of mismatched couples in her own home, long before she began hearing tales complaining about parents from the students she counseled, and she certainly didn't believe in love at first sight. Lust, perhaps, but not love. The therapist in her wanted reason and rhyme. Her attraction to Graham O'Leary made a mockery of that. He turned her into a sushi lover on their first date the day following their meeting in Greenwich, and when they went dancing the night after that, she was lost. Graham was an incredible dancer. He led with fluidity and grace, and she -- independent soul though she was -- followed his lead. One song became the next, and then the next. When he tucked her hand close to his heart, she felt the rest of her being drawn closer as well. For Graham, that was a defining moment. He didn't need a woman who fit the image of his mother or his brothers. He'd already been there. This time, he needed a woman who fit him. Something about the way Amanda settled into his body said she did -- and it went beyond the physical, just as he needed it to. He was thirty-five. He knew what physical attraction was about, but there was more to Amanda than just physical appeal. She was a pedigreed lady, classy and reserved, but she seemed to feel the spark between them as strongly as he did. The surprise he saw in her eyes when he drew her close, seconds before she sank into his body, said that though she didn't trust easily, she trusted him. He would remember that moment until the day he died. He had felt strong. He had felt unique. He had felt needed. * * * Dorothy O'Leary, mother of the groom, didn't raise her glass in toast. Her smile was wooden, her eyes glazed. She stood off to the side with her brother and his family, seeming distant from the party until her third oldest son approached the mike. Only then did her eyes clear and her features soften. Peter O'Leary was a Jesuit priest. Possessed with a remarkable charisma that was only enhanced by the Roman collar he wore, he easily quieted the crowd. To the bride and groom, he said, "I might've worried when you chose a country club wedding over a church one, had I not spent so much time with the two of you these last couple months. If ever a relationship seemed right, this is it." Leaving the mike, he approached the newlyweds. With a hand on Graham's shoulder, he lifted his glass. "Love shines from your faces. May it always be so. May you live long, may you give more than you take, may you serve our Lord in wondrous ways." He paused, let a twinkle enter his eye, and succumbed to the O'Leary in him. "And, yes, may you reproduce well!" * * * Amanda didn't sleep around. She'd had two lovers before Graham, had dated each for several months and given due thought to time, place, and precautions before shedding her clothes. With Graham, everything was different. He had suggested they go hiking, which sounded wonderfully adventurous to Amanda, who envisioned a day trip, only to have Graham show up with sleeping bags, food and drink, and the key to a friend's cabin, four miles up in the woods. It never occurred to her to say no. She wasn't a hiker, hadn't owned a sleeping bag in her life -- at least, not the kind that could insulate a body in the chill of a mountain night, which was the kind Graham had brought. But he was capable and coordinated. He liked explaining things to her and did it well. He had no qualms about asking questions when they got to talking about things she knew more about than he, and then there was his smile. It was relaxed, wholehearted, and wide enough to cut a crease through his beard on either side. All told, being with him was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to her. The mountain they hiked was lushly green, with clear streams, sweet birdsongs, and breathtaking vistas making it a heady climb from the trailhead on up. He knew where they were going, leading as skillfully as he had on the dance floor, and she put herself in his hands as she had done then. They didn't make it to the cabin. They had barely finished lunch when he stretched her out in a sheltered glen just off the path and made love to her, right there, in broad daylight. They were sweaty and dusty and -- she thought -- tired, but once started, they couldn't stop. She remembered thinking that if he hadn't taken the responsibility for birth control, she would have done without. She needed him too badly for caution, felt too whole when he was inside her to care. * * * "My family is incorrigible," declared Kathryn O'Leary Wood from the mike. Her eyes touched briefly on Megan Donovan, Graham's childhood sweetheart, first wife, and still a dear family friend, before settling on Graham and Amanda. "This message is from me and Megan. Amanda, my brother is the best. In addition to being positively gorgeous, he is smart and sensitive and special. It looks to me like you're all of those things, too." She paused and smiled. "So we can expect gorgeous babies that are smart, sensitive, and special. I wish you and Gray all the happiness in the world." Her eyes narrowed on the groom, her junior by three years. "As for you, Graham O'Leary, this is the very last time I'm doing this for you!" The applause was long and loud, ebbing only when Amanda's maid of honor came to the mike. Tall, slim, and shy as she looked over a sea of faces with their wide O'Leary smiles, she said a soft, "I don't have children, or brothers and sisters like you. But I do have a history with the bride. I know her parents, and would like to thank them now for such a beautiful party." She lifted her glass to Deborah Carr on one side of the room and William Carr on the other, and waited for the applause to end before speaking again. "I'm Amanda's oldest friend here. We met in kindergarten and have stayed close all this time. Amanda has been there for me over the years in ways only she and I know. She is the best listener, the clearest thinker, the most loyal confidante. It's no surprise to me that she's so good with teenagers. I've often envied those kids. Now I envy Graham." * * * Graham would have envied himself, if that had been possible. He knew what it was like to stand at an altar and look down a flower-strewn aisle toward the back of the crowd at the moment when his bride appeared. What he didn't know was what it was like to have everything else...totally...fade away. He wasn't prepared for that, or for the little catch deep in his chest that actually brought tears to his eyes. He was that taken with her, felt that privileged to have her. She was smart and cultured and fine -- everything he had always admired but never felt that he was, coming from the family he did. For all their differences, though, he and Amanda had yet to have an argument. They liked the same furniture, the same food, the same music. They wanted the same house, the same big family. From his first sight of her back on that Greenwich hillside, he'd had the absurdly sentimental belief that the single, best reason for the demise of his marriage to Megan was that Amanda was waiting for him. This day, all else had indeed faded. He had seen only her, walking toward him down that grassy path, and when his heart shifted in a way that he knew would be permanent, he let it be. * * * Concluding her toast, Amanda's maid of honor caught Graham's eye. "My friend is precious. Take good care of her, please." She raised her glass. "Here's to you both. Let the wait have been worth every minute." There were sighs and soft words of assent, then a deep-voiced, "Speaking of the wait..." and the inevitable approach of Malcolm O'Leary to the mike. The oldest O'Leary sibling -- proprietor, along with the second oldest, James, of their late father's hardware store and father of five himself -- raised his glass. "I have one piece of advice for my handsome brother and his beautiful bride. Go to it, Amanda and Gray. You're starting late." * * * Amanda and Graham celebrated their first wedding anniversary by looking at a house. They had seen others before it, but none as large or as handsome, none in as upscale a community, and none that excited them as this one did. The asking price was definitely a reach. But Graham's work as a landscape architect had grown enough for him to hire a full-time assistant, and Amanda had just been appointed school psychologist in the same town as the house. That town was Woodley. Prosperous and pristine, it lay in a cluster of rolling hills in western Connecticut, ninety-some minutes by car from New York, and counted among its fourteen thousand residents half a dozen CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, innumerable lawyers and doctors, and a growing list of the Internet-riche. The population was increasingly young. As new, large homes sprang up on wooded lots, or older residents retired and moved south, the town's streets were seeing a growing parade of Expeditions. The house itself, barely ten years old, was the first in a circle of four Victorians that had been built around a wooded cul-de-sac. With its generous yellow body and white trim, wide wraparound porch, quaint picket fence and gaslights, it was as picturesque as its neighbors -- and the beauty didn't end at the front door. The entry hall was open and bright, flanked on either side by living and dining rooms with carved moldings, mahogany built-ins, and high windows. At the back of the house was a large kitchen with granite counters, wood floors, and a glassed-in breakfast area. A winding staircase, replete with window seats at each of two landings, led to four bedrooms on the second floor, one of which was a lavish master suite. As if all that weren't enough, the real estate agent led them to a pair of rooms over the garage. "Offices," Amanda whispered excitedly when the woman turned away to take a cell call. Graham whispered back, "Could you counsel people here?" "In a minute. Could you draw landscape plans here?" "Big time." The whispering went on. "Look at the woods. Smell the lilacs. If not here, where? Did you see the bedrooms?" "They're huge." "Except for the one right next to ours. It could be a nursery." "No, no." Amanda envisioned something else. "I'd put the cradle in our room and make the little room into a den. It'd be perfect for reading goodnight stories." "Then we'll give Zoe and Emma the room across the hall, and put Tyler and Hal at the end." "Not Hal," Amanda begged. It was a long-standing debate. "Graham, Jr. And if they're anything like you and your brothers, they'll be into mischief, so they should be closer." "Hal," Graham insisted, "and I want them farther off. Boys make more noise. Trust me on this." Slipping an arm around her waist, he drew her lower body close. His eyes grew heavier, the color on his cheekbones warmer, his voice deeper, a whisper. "Diaphragm put away?" Amanda could barely breathe, the moment was so ripe. "Put away." "We're makin' a baby?" "Tonight." They had deliberately waited the year, so that they could have each other for an uninterrupted time before their lives inevitably changed. "If this house was ours" -- his whisper was more hoarse -- "where would you...?" "In the breakfast nook in the kitchen," she whispered back. "Then, years from now, we'd look at each other over the heads of the kids and have our little secret. What about you?" "The backyard. Out in the woods, away from the neighbors. It'll be like our first time all over again." But it wasn't their first time. They had been married a year, and they had pressing dreams. "This house is perfect, Gray. This neighborhood is perfect. Did you see the tree houses and swing sets? These are nice people with kids. Can we afford to live here?" "No. But we will." * * * They celebrated their second anniversary by seeing Amanda's gynecologist. They had been making love without benefit of birth control for a year, and no baby had come of it. After months of denial, months of reassuring each other that it was only a matter of time, they were starting to wonder if something was wrong. After examining Amanda, the doctor pronounced her healthy, then repeated the verdict when Graham joined them. Only when Graham flashed Amanda a broad smile and pulled her close did she allow herself to be relieved. "I was frightened," she told the doctor, sheepish now that the worst had been denied. "People tell awful stories." "Don't listen." "That's sometimes easier said than done." The worst storytellers were her sisters-in-law, and what could she do? She couldn't turn and walk away when they were talking, and it wasn't as if they spoke from personal experience. Their stories were about friends, or friends of friends. O'Learys didn't have trouble making babies. Amanda and Graham were an anomaly. The doctor sat back in his chair, fingers laced over his middle in a fatherly way. "I've been at this for more than thirty years, so I know what problems look like. The only one I see here is impatience." "Do you blame us?" Graham asked. "Amanda's thirty-two. I'm thirty-eight." "And married two years, you say? Trying for a baby for just one? That's not very long." He glanced at the notes he had scrawled earlier. "I'd wonder if it was stress, but you both seem happy with your work. Yes?" "Yes," they both said. It had been another banner year. "And you enjoy living in Woodley?" "Very much," Graham said. "The house is a dream." "Same with the neighbors," Amanda added. "There are six kids, with great parents. There's an older couple -- " She stopped short and gave Graham a stricken look. He pulled her closer. "June just died," he told the doctor. "She was diagnosed with cancer and gone six weeks later. She was only sixty." Amanda still felt the shock of it. "I barely knew June a year, but I loved her. Everyone did. She was like a mother -- better than a mother. You could tell her anything. She'd listen and hear and make solutions seem simple. Ben's lost without her." "And what did June say about your getting pregnant?" the doctor asked. Amanda didn't deny having discussed it with her. "She said to be patient, that it would happen." The doctor nodded. "It will. Truly, you do look fine. Everything is where it should be. Your cycle is regular. We know you're ovulating." "But it's been a year. The books say -- " "Close the books," he ordered. "Take your husband home and have fun." * * * For their third anniversary, Amanda and Graham drove into Manhattan to see a specialist. He was actually their third doctor. The first had fallen by the wayside when he kept insisting that nothing was wrong -- and it wasn't that Amanda and Graham were convinced that there was, just that they thought a few tests were in order. So they met with the second, a local fertility specialist. He blamed their problem on age. "Fine," Graham said, voicing the frustration he and Amanda shared, "so how do we deal with it?" The man shrugged. "You can't turn back the clock." Amanda reworded the question. "How do you treat...older couples who want to have kids?" Graham gawked at her. "Older couples? We average out at thirty-six. That's not old." She held up a hand, bidding him to let the doctor answer. "There are definitely things you can do," the man said. "There's AI. There's IUI and ICSI. If all else fails, there's IVF." "Translate," Graham ordered. "Yes, please," Amanda added. "Haven't you read up on this yet?" the doctor asked. "Most couples in your situation would have done research." Amanda was taken aback. "The last doctor we saw kept saying nothing was wrong. He told us just to keep on doing what we were doing and not to worry about special procedures." "Do you want a baby, or don't you?" It was less question than statement, and wasn't spoken harshly, but it had that effect. Graham stood. "This isn't a good match." Amanda agreed. They needed someone who was understanding, not judgmental. The doctor shrugged. "Go to ten others, and you'll hear the same thing. The options are artificial insemination, intrauterine insemination, intracytoplasmic sperm injection, and in vitro fertilization. The procedures get more expensive as you progress from one to the next. Likewise, you get older and less apt to conceive." When Graham caught Amanda's eye and hitched his chin toward the door, she was by his side in a flash, which was how they found themselves in New York on their third anniversary. Seeming empathetic and resourceful, this newest doctor started with a battery of tests, some of which, for the first time, were on Graham. When the immediate results showed nothing amiss, he gave them a pile of reading matter and a folder filled with instructions and charts. Assuring them that he didn't expect any surprises from the results of the remaining tests, he sent them home with a regimen that had Amanda identifying her fertile periods by charting her body temperature, and Graham maximizing his sperm count by allowing at least two days to pass between ejaculations. They joked about it during the drive back to Woodley, but their laughter held an edge. Inevitably, making love wasn't as carefree as it used to be. Increasingly, the goal of making a baby was coming before pleasure. With that goal unrealized month after month, their uneasiness grew. * * * They spent their fourth anniversary quietly. Amanda was recovering from minor surgery performed by yet another doctor. This one was female, and ran a fertility clinic thirty minutes south of Woodley. She was in her forties, mother to three children under the age of six, and disgusted with colleagues of hers who blamed things they couldn't diagnose on emotions, as finally the doctor in Manhattan had done. This one insisted that they call her by her first name -- Emily -- and not only asked questions none of the others had, but did different tests. That was how she noticed a small blockage in one of Amanda's tubes, and while she wasn't sure that it was severe enough to be causing the problem, she advised a precautionary cleanup. Amanda and Graham readily agreed. By now they had hoped to have three children -- Tyler, Emma, and Hal -- born in three consecutive years. As things stood, the house that they loved for family space was starting to feel too large and much too still. And though they tried not to obsess about it, there were times when each wondered whether children would ever come. There was no lovemaking on this fourth anniversary. Amanda was still too tender for that, and even without the surgery, the timing wouldn't have been right for sex. So it was a morning for gentle exchanges. Graham brought her breakfast in bed and gave her a pair of heart-shaped earrings; she told him she loved him and gave him a book on exotic shrubs. Then he went off to work. Indeed, work was the good news on their fourth anniversary. O'Leary Landscape Design flourished. Graham now rented a suite of rooms in the center of Woodley to house two full-time assistants and a business manager. He was given preference for the best materials in the three largest nurseries in western Connecticut, had ongoing relationships with tree farms in Washington and Oregon, and shrub farms in the Carolinas. He kept two of Will's crews busy planting on a regular basis. For her part, Amanda had been named coordinating psychologist for the Woodley school system, which gave her the power to bring a slightly antiquated system into the modern day. That meant getting to know students in nonthreatening situations such as leadership seminars, lunch groups, and community service programs. It meant opening the door to her office, allowing for five-minute sessions as well as forty-five-minute ones, and communicating with students by e-mail, if that was the only way they could handle a psychologist. It meant working with consulting psychologists on difficult cases and with lawyers on matters of confidentiality. It meant forming and training a crisis team. So she and Graham had their house, their jobs, their neighborhood, and their love. The only thing that would have enhanced their fourth anniversary celebration was a child. * * * Two months shy of their fifth anniversary, with Amanda feeling more like an egg-producing robot than a woman, she and Graham met for lunch. They talked about work, about the weather, about sandwich choices. They didn't talk about what Amanda had done that morning -- which was to have an ultrasound that had measured her egg follicles -- or the afternoon's activity -- which would entail Graham producing fresh sperm and Amanda being artificially inseminated. They had already failed the procedure once. This was their second of three possible tries. A short time later that day, Amanda lay alone in a sterile clinic room. Graham had done his part and gone back to work. Emily had poked her head in with a greeting on her way down the hall. After what seemed an interminable wait, a technician Amanda didn't know entered the room. Amanda figured she couldn't have been more than twenty-one, and "technician" was the proper word. The girl had neither social skills nor personal warmth, and Amanda was too nervous to make more than a brief attempt at conversation. When that attempt got no response, she simply stared at the ceiling while the girl injected Graham's sperm. Once that was done, she was left alone. Amanda knew the drill. She would lie there for twenty minutes with her pelvis tipped up to give the sperm a nudge in the right direction. Then she would dress, go home, and live with her heart in her mouth for the next ten days, wondering if this time it would take. But today, lying there alone with Graham's silent sperm, Amanda felt a pang in her chest. She wanted to think it was a mystical something telling her that a baby was at that instant starting its nine-month intrauterine life, but she knew better. This pang came from fear. Copyright © 2001 by Barbara Delinsky Chapter One Graham O'Leary shoveled dirt with a vengeance, pushing himself until his muscles ached, because he needed the exertion. He was filled with nervous energy that had no place to go. This was Tuesday. That made it D-day. Amanda would either get her period or miss it. He hoped desperately that she would miss it, and only in part from wanting a child. The other part had to do with their marriage. They were feeling the strain of failing to conceive. A wall was growing between them. They weren't close the way they used to be. He could feel that she was pulling away. For Graham, it was déjà vu. Grunting at the unfairness of that, he heaved an overloaded spadeful of dirt from the hole, but when he lowered the shovel again and pushed in hard, he hit rock. Swearing angrily, he straightened. Sometimes it seemed that rock was all he found. Forget the historic bit about stone walls marking one man's land from the next. He would bet that those walls were built just to get the damn rocks out of the fields! Put 'em over near the other guy's land, he imagined the old-timers saying. Only they'd missed a few. Annoyed, he bent, worked his shovel under the rock, levered it up, and hauled it out. Clear of that impediment, he tossed spadefuls of dirt after it, one after the other in a steady rhythm. "Hey." Oh, yeah, he knew what pulling away looked like. He had seen it in Megan, building slowly, mysteriously, reaching a point where he had no idea what she was thinking. With Amanda, he knew the cause of the problem, but that didn't make it easier to take. They used to be on the same wavelength on everything. Not anymore. Grunting again as he dug deeper, he remembered the tiff they'd had the week before when he had tossed out the idea that she might be more relaxed, and therefore more apt to conceive, if she cut back on the hours she spent at school. She didn't have to be the head of a dozen different programs, he had said in what he thought was a gentle tone. Others could do their part. That would allow her to come home early one or two afternoons each week; she could read, cook, watch Oprah. She had gone ballistic over that. He wasn't suggesting it again. "Gray." Gritting his teeth, he hauled out another rock. Okay, so he was working longer hours, too. But he wasn't the one whose body had to provide a hospitable environment for a child to take root. Not that he would even breathe that thought. She would take it as criticism. Lately, she misinterpreted lots of what he said. "Hey, you." She'd actually had the gall to accuse him of being absent for the second artificial insemination -- like the thing could have been done without his sperm. Okay, so he'd gone back to work after producing it. Hell, she had told him to leave. Of course, now she was claiming that what she'd said was that he didn't have to stay if he was uncomfortable. "Graham!" His head flew up. His brother Will was squatting at the edge of the hole. "Hey. I thought you left." The crew worked from seven to three. It was nearly five. "I came back. What are you doing?" Planting his shovel in the dirt, Graham brushed spikes of wet hair back with an arm. "Providing a hospitable environment for this tree," he said with a glance at the monster in question. It was a thirty-foot paper birch that would be the focal point of the patio he'd designed. Not just any tree would do. It had taken him a while to find the right one. "The hole is crucial. It has to be plenty wide and plenty deep." "I know," Will replied. "That's why I have a backhoe coming tomorrow morning." "Yeah, well, I felt like getting the exercise," Graham said offhandedly and went back to it. "Heard from Amanda yet?" "Nah." "You said she'd call as soon as she knew." "Well then, I guess she doesn't know yet," Graham said, but he was pissed. They hadn't talked since he had left the house early that morning. If she'd gotten her period, she was keeping it to herself. His phone was right there in his pocket, silent as stone. "Did you call her?" Will asked. "No," Graham said, pedantic now. "I called yesterday afternoon. She said I was pressuring her." "Moody, huh?" He sputtered out a laugh and tossed up another shovelful of dirt. "They say it's the Clomid. But hey, it's not easy for me either, and I'm not taking the stuff." Under his breath, he muttered, "Talk about feeling like a eunuch." "No cause for that," Will said. "You haven't lost it. You have an audience, y'know." Graham paused, pushed his arm over his brow again, shot his brother a wry look. "Yup." He went back to digging. "Pretty lady." "Her husband's an Internet wizard. They're barely thirty and have more money than they know what to do with. So he plays with computers, and she watches the men who work on her lawn. It's pretty pathetic, if you ask me." "I'd call it flattering." Graham shot him another look. "You talk with her, then." "Can't do. I gotta get home. Mikey and Jake have Little League. I'm coach for the day." He pushed himself up. "Don't stay much longer, okay? Leave something for the machine." Still Graham dug for a while more, if only to bury the idea of Little League under another big mound of dirt. By then his muscles were shot. Tossing the shovel out first, he hoisted himself out of the hole and made for his truck, a dark green pickup with the company logo in white on the side. He took a long drink of water from a jug in back, doused the end of a towel, and did what he could to mop sweat and clean up. A short time later, he pushed his arms into a chambray shirt and set off for home. * * * "Your move," said Jordie Cotter from the edge of the deepest armchair in the office. He was fifteen and as sandy-haired as his three younger siblings, which Amanda knew not because she kept detailed files on every student, but because the Cotters lived two doors away from Graham and her. In fact, she had no file on Jordie at all. He wouldn't be in her office playing checkers with her if he thought he was being counseled. For the record, he was here to discuss his community service requirement, since she headed the program. This was the third time he'd come, though. There was a message in that. Grateful to be distracted from thinking about the baby that was or wasn't, Amanda studied the checkerboard. There were five black pieces, four of them kinged, and three reds, all single. The reds were hers, which meant she was definitely losing. "I don't have many choices," she said. "Make your move." Picking the lesser of the evils, Amanda moved in a way that she figured would sacrifice only one piece. When Jordie jumped two, she sucked in a breath. "I didn't see that coming." He didn't smile, didn't pump a fist in the air. He simply said again, "Your turn." She studied her options. When she looked up at the boy, he was somber. "Do it," he challenged. When she did, he jumped her last checker to win the game and sat back in his chair. Still, though, there was no sense of victory. Rather, he asked, "Did you let me win on purpose?" "Why would I do that?" He shrugged and looked away. He was a handsome boy, despite the gangliness that said he was still growing into his limbs. But his T-shirt and jeans were several notches above sloppy, his hair was clean and trimmed, and he didn't have acne, not that many students here did. In affluent towns like Woodley, dermatologists did as well as orthodontists. "You want to be liked," he answered without looking at her. "It helps if you lose." Amanda drew in a deep breath. "Well, I do know how that is. I used to do it in school sometimes -- you know, deliberately blow an exam so that I wouldn't look like a geek." "I wouldn't do that," Jordie said. Amanda didn't believe him. Oh, maybe it wasn't the geek factor. With Jordie, there were other possibilities, not the least of which was the tension she knew existed at home. But something was definitely going on with the boy. His grades had taken a dive at midterm, and the expression he had taken to wearing around school was the sullen one he wore now. His eyes met hers. They were dark and wary. "Did my mom say anything to you?" "About the grades? No. And she doesn't know we've talked." "We haven't talked. Not like, talked." He glanced at the checkerboard. "This isn't talking. It's just better than doing homework." Amanda touched her heart. "Ach. That hurts." "Isn't that why you have things to do here? To make kids want to come?" "They're called icebreakers." He snorted. "Like Harry Potter?" he said with a glance at the book on her desk. "I think Harry's cool." "So do the twins." His twin brothers were eight. "I tell them Harry flies through our woods on his broomstick. That keeps them from following me in there. Our woods are cool. They're real. Harry's not." Sitting forward, he began resetting the checkers on the board. "About the CS requirement? I'd do peer counseling if I thought I could, but I can't." "Why not?" "I'm not good at talking." "Seems to me you talk with your friends." "They talk. I listen." "Well, there you go," Amanda said in encouragement. "That's what peer counseling's about. Kids need to vent, and you're a good listener." "Yeah, but sometimes I want to say things." "Like what?" He raised unhappy eyes. "Like school sucks, like home sucks, like baseball sucks." "Baseball. I thought you liked baseball." He had just come from practice. It must have been a rough one. "I'd like it if I played, but I don't. I sit on the bench all the time. Know how embarrassing that is? With all the kids watching? With my parents watching? Why do they have to come to games? They could miss one or two. I mean, my mom is always at school. Julie loves it, but what does she know? She's only six." "Your mom does good stuff for the schools." "Know how embarrassing that is?" "Actually," Amanda said, taking a calculated risk, "I don't. My parents were too busy fighting with each other to have the time or energy for either my school or me." Jordie lifted a shoulder. "Mine fight. They just do it when they think we can't hear." Amanda made a noncommittal sound, but didn't speak. Taking the moment's space to gather his thoughts, Jordie went off in a direction that was slightly different, but clearly upmost in his mind. "And even if we can't hear, we can see," he said. "Mom hardly ever smiles anymore. She doesn't plan fun things like she used to. Like sleepovers for all our friends." He caught himself. "I mean, it's not like I want those anymore, I'm too old, but Julie and the twins aren't. Mom used to have twenty of us over at once with popcorn and pizza and videos, and I didn't even care if the little kids were bugging me and my friends, because that was all part of it, y'know?" His enthusiasm gave way to a somber silence, then anger. "Now she just pokes her head in my room asking nosy questions." "Fuck it," came a high, nasal voice. Amanda frowned at the neon green parrot in a cage at the end of the room. "Hush up, Maddie." Jordie stared at the bird. "She's always saying that. How come they let you keep her?" "She only swears for kids. She knows better when it comes to Mr. Edlin or any of the teachers. She's perfectly polite when they're in here." Like checkers, Maddie was an icebreaker. Some students stopped by daily for a month to give the bird treats before they felt comfortable enough to talk with Amanda. "She's a good bird," Amanda cooed in the direction of the cage. "I love you," Maddie replied. "She flips?" Jordie asked. "Just like that? Is she a good guy or a bad guy?" "A good guy. Definitely. Good guys can say bad things when they're upset. Maddie learned to swear from someone who used to chase her with a broom, which was how I came to adopt her. She knows what anger sounds like. She gets upset when kids get upset, like you just did about baseball." "I wasn't talking about baseball when she swore," Jordie said. No. He had been talking about his mother. But, of course, he knew that, which was why he was on his feet now, hoisting the backpack to his shoulder. Talking about parents was hard for kids like Jordie. Talking about feelings was even harder. Jordie needed an outside therapist, someone who didn't know his family. For that to happen, though, either he or one of his parents had to take the initiative. None of them was doing it, yet. So Amanda went out of her way to be there when Jordie came by. Unfortunately, she couldn't make him stay. Before she could utter a word, he was out the door and tromping down the empty hall, lost again in whatever dark thoughts were haunting him. Wait, she wanted to say. We can talk about it. We can talk about moms fighting with dads, how you feel about it, what you're doing when you're supposed to be studying, what you're thinking when you're blue. I'm free. I can talk. I can talk as long as you want. I have to keep my mind busy. But he was gone, and as they had been doing all day, her eyes went to the desk and Graham's picture. It was in a neat slate frame, his smile beaming at her through his trim beard. It was a face that many a female entering this room had remarked upon. Graham O'Leary was an icebreaker, too. She had to call him. He would be waiting to hear. But she didn't know anything yet, and she might not for hours. Besides, lately it seemed that the only thing she and Graham were about was having a baby -- and, oh, did she feel the pressure of that. He had done his part successfully, and more than once. Her body was the problem. Of course, he didn't say that in as many words, but he didn't need to. She felt his impatience. But what more could she do? She had followed Emily's instructions to the letter -- had eaten well, rested well, exercised in the most healthy and normal of ways, except for today. Loath to do anything that might bring on her period, she was moving as little as possible. It was nonsense, of course. Normal physical movement wouldn't wreck a normal pregnancy. At this point, though, she was desperate. She hadn't left her office since lunch, and though she might have liked to use the bathroom, she quelled the urge. As a diversionary measure, she sat back in the sofa, checked her watch, and thought about Quinn Davis. It was five-thirty. She had told the boy she would be in her office until six, and so she would be. His notes unsettled her. They had come by e-mail, the first sent early that morning saying, "I need to talk to you, but it's private. Is that okay?" "Private is definitely okay," Amanda had written back. "What you say is between you and me. That's the law. I'm free third period. Would that work?" He hadn't shown up during third period, but another e-mail arrived during fourth. "Would my parents have to know that we met?" "No," Amanda replied. "That's part of the confidentiality rule. They wouldn't know unless you sign a form saying it's okay. I have a free half hour right after school, but if you have to be at baseball practice, we could make it later. I'll stay until six. Will that work?" She hadn't heard back. Nor had she heard footsteps in the hall to suggest that Quinn had come while Jordie was there, and she'd been listening. Something was up with Quinn. Her instincts told her so, and it had nothing to do with the fact that he approached her by e-mail. Many students did that, precisely because it was more private. She often suggested meeting times, often never heard back, and other than keeping an eye on the student or perhaps sending a follow-up note, there was nothing she could do. She couldn't force the issue. But Quinn Davis wasn't her usual case. He was a star. In addition to being sophomore class president, he was a peer counselor, high scorer of the varsity basketball team the past winter, and now he was the wunderkind of the baseball team. Two older brothers, both leaders at Woodley High, were currently at Princeton and West Point. Their parents were local activists, often in the papers, forever in Hartford lobbying for one cause or another. Amanda wondered if Quinn would show and, if so, what he would say. It could be that he wanted to tell Amanda about a student who needed help; part of the point of the peer leadership program was to identify problem students before they exploded. Student referrals were responsible for easily a third of the students she regularly saw. But she doubted that was the case here, with the student insisting on confidentiality from his own parents. Slipping off her shoes, Amanda folded her legs beside her. She was tired emotionally; that was a given. She was also physically tired, though if she dared think that it might be the earliest sign of pregnancy, she got a nervous knot in her belly. In any event, she was grateful that her job allowed for casual dress. Allowed for? Demanded. The students had to perceive her as both professional and approachable, no mean feat for someone like Amanda, whose small size and wayward blond curls made her look more like she was twenty-five than thirty-five. The challenge was to appear more sophisticated, yet not formidable. Today's outfit worked. It was a plum-colored blouse and pants, both in a soft rayon. A noise came from the hall -- a muted sound that could have been an anguished shout -- then silence. Fearing that it was Quinn and that something was terribly wrong, Amanda jumped up from the sofa and went to the door. Down the hall, immobile and alert with his mop protruding from a pail-on-wheels, was the janitor. "Heeeere's Johnny," sang out Maddie from the depths of her office. Amanda let out a breath. "Mr. Dubcek." The man was white-haired and stooped, eighty if he was a day, but he refused to retire. He was remembered not only by parents of current students, but by grandparents as well. That gave him clout in the respect department. He was never spoken of as Johann, always Mr. Dubcek -- except for Maddie, but then, Maddie didn't know about respect. She only knew that the old man fed her and cleaned out her cage and took her every night to his small apartment in the basement of the school. "I was listening for voices," the janitor told Amanda in a rusty voice. "I'd'a gone away if you had someone in there. I didn't want to interfere." "No one's here," she said with a smile, but the smile faded when, standing now, giving gravity its due, she felt an unwelcome rush. Heart pounding, she went down the hall to the lavatory. Well before she closed the stall door and lowered those soft plum pants, she knew. In that instant, pummeled by a dozen emotions, not the least of which was a profound sense of loss, her mind closed down. Sinking onto the toilet, she put her elbows on her thighs and her face in her hands and began to cry. She must have been there a while, because the next thing she knew, there was a loud knock on the outer door and the janitor's frightened call: "Mrs. O'Leary? Are you all right?" Mrs. O'Leary. Ah, the irony of that. Professionally, she had always been Amanda Carr. She had surely introduced herself to the janitor that way four years before. At the same time, though, she had introduced him to Graham, who was helping her set up her office. She had been Mrs. O'Leary to the proper old gentleman ever since. And what was wrong with being Mrs. O'Leary? On a normal day, nothing at all. She was proud to be married to Graham. She had always believed that once they had kids she would use O'Leary more often than Carr. Once they had kids. If they had kids. And that was what was wrong with being Mrs. O'Leary today. Without the kids, did she have a right to the name? Tears came again. "Mrs. O'Leary?" the janitor called again. Sniffling, she wiped the tears with the heels of her hands. "I'm fine," she called in an upbeat, if nasal, voice. "Be right out." After dealing with necessities in the stall, she washed her hands and pressed a damp paper towel to her eyes. A headache was starting to build over the right one, but she didn't have the wherewithal to pamper it here, much less the strength to deal with whatever was ailing Quinn Davis. Praying that the boy would not show up, she returned to her office, repaired her face in a hand mirror, shut down her computer, locked up her files, and, waving at the janitor's distant figure on her way down the hall, left school. * * * Graham considered prolonging the trip home. There were places he could stop, ten minutes here, ten there, giving Amanda more time to call. But the suspense was too much. He kept the truck on the highway and his foot on the gas. The phone rang. His heart began to pound. "Hi?" he answered as much in question as greeting, but it wasn't Amanda. It was a woman who owned a real estate firm and had hired him to redo the office grounds. The job was small, the potential large. The woman's clientele was high-end. If she liked what he did, she would recommend his work, and while he had plenty to keep him busy, he always welcomed more. Lately, given the tension between Amanda and him, his work was his salvation. "I was just wondering when I'll be seeing you," she said warmly. He drove with his left hand while the right opened his little black book. "You're on my call list. I'll have your plans ready by the first of the week." He flipped several pages, darting glances at each. "How does a week from today sound? Say, four?" "Perfect. Next Tuesday at four. See you then." Graham barely ended the call when the phone rang again. Again, his heart began to pound, but it wasn't Amanda this time, either. It was his brother Joe. "Any news?" Graham let out a breath. "Nah. I'm headed home." "Mom was asking." "I'll bet she was. I have to tell you, there are times when I wish I hadn't said anything to anyone." "We asked." So they had. The questions had started one month into his marriage, and they hadn't stopped. In hindsight, he should have said that he and Amanda didn't want children, and would they please bug off. Having his entire family know what they were going through was nearly as humiliating as jerking off into a jar. O'Leary men didn't have to do things like that. Hell, Joe had recently had his fifth child, and Graham suspected he and Christine weren't done yet. "She's beginning to despair," Joe said now of their mother, Dorothy. "Says she wants to see your kids before she dies." "She's only seventy-seven." "She says she's growing frail." Graham felt a cursed helplessness. "What more does she think I should do?" "She says this is her last wish." "Joe. Come on. This isn't what I need right now." "I know. I'm just putting you on notice. She keeps saying it should have been Megan." That was nothing new. "Well, it isn't Megan -- it can't possibly be Megan -- I don't want it to be Megan," Graham declared. "Help me out here, Joe," he pleaded. "Remind her I'm married to Amanda. If I'm going to have a baby, it'll be Amanda's. Hey, there's my call waiting," he lied, but he couldn't keep this particular conversation going. "I'll get back to you later." He disconnected without another word and drove on in brooding silence. This damned day was nearly done. He didn't know why Amanda was keeping him in the dark. Even if she didn't know anything yet, she could have called and told him that. She knew he was waiting. Turning off the highway, he drove along roads that he knew now like the back of his hand, and there was some solace in that. He loved Woodley, loved the way the town roads twisted and climbed through forested hills. A map of the town was like a tree -- a trunk that rose from the highway and forked way up at the crest of the hill, spilling off in two directions with limbs bearing town buildings, offices, and stores, branches off those limbs for houses, and, farther down the branches, neat cul-de-sacs like the one he and Amanda lived on. No road in the town was barren. Each was bounded by white pine, beech, and hemlock, or maples, or birches, or oaks. Climbing into a curve now, he passed a meadow of red trillium. Farther on, he saw yellow trout lily, and beyond that, a dense stand of mountain laurel with its perfect white blossoms. A less-knowing passerby wouldn't have picked out the jack-in-the-pulpit with its maroon hood from the shade at the side of the road, but Graham did. Likewise, at a glance, he could differentiate maidenhair fern from oak fern or bracken, or lichen from moss. These woods had them all. Graham took pride in that. His own hometown, where much of his family still lived, lay only fifty minutes to the east, but the two towns were worlds apart. That one was a working-class enclave filled with good folk who dreamed of living here. For Graham, the dream had come true. At least, one part of it had. They were still working on the other part, and if the news was good today, he would be doubly thankful he lived here. When it came to hospitable environments in which to raise kids, Woodley took the cake. The town center was nestled around the fork in the road at the top of the hill. The three streets intersecting at its core were lined with beech trees, wood benches, and storefronts that were as inviting in winter white as they were now in May. The smells were as rich as the populace -- hot sticky buns from the bakery, a dark roast blend from the café, chocolate from fresh dipped fruit at the candy store. Give or take, there were a dozen small restaurants on side streets to serve an upscale population of fourteen thousand, but the food staple was on the main drag, a chic little eatery that served breakfast, lunch, and dinner at wrought-iron tables in a glassed-in patio in winter and an open one in summer. Several doors down, past an art gallery and an antiques store, a bookshop was stocked to the eaves, and what parent in his or her right mind would go elsewhere when this one employed a full-time storyteller for kids? There were boutique-type clothing stores scattered around, a drugstore whose owner cared enough about his clients to advise them when medications clashed, a hardware store, a camera shop, and -- the latest -- a tea café. Some of the stores took up the two floors that the town fathers had decreed would be the height limit, but those second-floor spaces also housed lawyers, doctors, interior designers, and the like. Graham's office was over a housewares store that had sent more than one newcomer to Woodley his way. He didn't stop at the office now. Nor did he stop at Woodley Misc, the general store, though an SUV pulled from a spot right in front. Not so long ago, he would have swung in and run inside to buy an Almond Joy for Amanda. Amanda loved Almond Joys. This day, though, he didn't have the patience for chitchat, which was what one could count on getting at Woodley Misc. Besides, he was annoyed at Amanda for not calling, for not thinking about him for a change. He was annoyed at her for not being long since pregnant, period. That thought stopped him cold. He knew it was unfair, but his mind didn't take it back, which left him feeling more than a little guilty. It was with a deliberate effort that he propped his left elbow on the open window, draped his right wrist over the back of the passenger's seat, and made like all was well and that he was cool. * * * Amanda's numbness wore off during the drive home from school, and the enormity of the situation sank in. There would be no baby. Again. No baby. She felt empty, barren -- frustrated, bewildered, sad. She and Graham had been so cautious this time, not daring to get carried away. Still, they had talked of hanging a stocking on Christmas Eve for the baby about to be born, and of having something new to toast this New Year's Eve. They had talked about how much easier the O'Leary holiday bedlam would be if they were about to have a child of their own. Pulling the tortoiseshell comb from her hair, she shook her head to spread out the curls and tried to relax with positive thoughts. She had plenty to be grateful for, plenty that others didn't have. For starters, she had a beautiful house on a charming wooded cul-de-sac in an upscale neighborhood -- a perfect place for kids. Only she didn't have the kids yet. But she did have three neighbors, two of whom had become close friends. The third, Ben's young widow, kept to herself, but the others more than compensated with front-yard visits in spring, backyard cookouts in summer, leaf-raking parties in fall, and Sunday-night pizzas in winter. More important, there were countless woman-to-woman talks on the phone, on porch steps, or by the Cotters' pool. She could use one of those talks now. Either woman would tell her how envious they were. Neither of them had the kind of career she did. Karen worked hard without benefit of either a paycheck or respect, and the trade-off for Georgia, who got a large paycheck indeed, was being out of town and away from her family several days a week. Amanda wasn't paid a lot, but her career wasn't about money. She simply loved the work -- and talk about convenience? The school was ten minutes from her home. If she had a baby, she could exchange her full-time position there for one as a consulting psychologist. She would have as large or small a caseload as she wanted, and could see students right at the house. The office over the garage had its own entrance. If she had kids, it would be perfect for that. She even had a car for kids, an SUV that was de rigueur in Woodley. Granted, it was four years old and starting to show its age. In the past few months, they'd had to replace the fuel-injection system, the suspension, and the battery. They talked about getting a new car, but then month after month passed without her conceiving, and it seemed foolish. The car purred happily enough now as she turned off the main road and drove through a gently winding stretch of wooded land. A final turn, and the cul-de-sac came into view. Graham's truck was not in the driveway. Not quite sure how she felt about that, she opened both front windows and, with the flow of warm air through the car, let the circle soothe her. With May just days old, the landscaping around the four houses was coming to life. The grass had greened up and just been cut, leaving horizontal swathes and a lingering scent. Huge oaks ringing the dead end had leafed out into a soft lime shade; paper birches with curling white bark were dripping with buds. The crocuses had come and gone, as had the forsythia blossoms, but patches of yellow daffodils remained, and tulips were starting to bloom. Clusters of lilacs stood tall and fat at each porch rail; though still a week shy of full bloom, they were budded enough to perfume the air. Turning into her driveway, Amanda breathed it all in. Spring was her very favorite season. She had always loved the freshness, the cleanness, the sense of birth. Sense of birth . Shifting into park, she stepped on the emergency brake and wondered why it always came back to that. Many people went through life without being parents. Some women she knew were actively choosing not to have kids, and they were perfectly satisfied with their lives. The thing was that she did want them, only it wasn't happening, and she didn't know why. Was this her punishment for wanting a career of her own? For keeping her maiden name? For delaying parenthood? Yes, she would have had an easier time conceiving ten years before, but she hadn't been ready to have a baby at twenty-five. She hadn't even known Graham then. And he had been worth the wait. She still believed that. Her mother believed otherwise. She believed that the genetic differences between them were simply too great for conception. Graham was tall, solid, and green-eyed; she was small, lean, and brown-eyed. He had straight dark hair; hers was curly and blond. He had seven siblings; she was a lonely only child. He was athletic; she was not. As far as Amanda was concerned, her mother was a snob, and her theory was hogwash. But that didn't lessen the pain she felt now. They'd had such high hopes this time. Graham was going to be upset. She should have called him. Cell phones, like e-mail, were less intimidating than having to say some things face-to-face. She might have broken the news that way. Shared the sorrow. Confessed to failure. She could still do it. But her courage failed her. Disheartened about that failing on top of the other, she gathered up her briefcase and had straightened when a movement in the rear-view mirror caught her eye. It was the widow, Gretchen Tannenwald, wandering along her newly edged flower beds. She had spent long hours the fall before putting in bulbs, working with her back to the neighbors, keeping to herself even when others were out and about. Attempts at friendliness on their part were met with the briefest possible response. Even Amanda, who was supposedly good at it, had made a try or two, but Gretchen was no talker. Hard to believe that she had been married to the ever-genial Ben. Then again, not hard to believe at all. Gretchen was barely half Ben's age and the total antithesis of June, but he had needed a drastic change to pull him from his grief. The neighborhood men were sympathetic. "You can see she idolizes him," said Russ Lange, the romantic. "Any man would love that." Leland Cotter, the dot-com chief, was more blunt. "What's not to love? She's a looker." Graham suggested that Ben loved her energy. "She has him traveling and hiking and playing tennis. He and June led a quieter life. Gretchen opens new doors." The neighborhood women were less generous. As far as they were concerned, the Tannenwald marriage was about two things: sex for Ben and money for Gretchen. Of course, that didn't explain why Gretchen was hanging around without Ben. Amanda had thought she would sell the house, take the money, and run. But here she was, wearing a short, swingy dress that made her look even younger than thirty-two. Actually, Amanda decided with a start, the dress made her look pregnant. Unsettled by that, she twisted around to look out the rear window. It was a minute before the light caught Gretchen's body in profile again, and there it was, something that did indeed look like a belly -- which was a curious prospect. Ben had been gone a year, too long to be part of it, and Gretchen had been a virtual shut-in since his death. She didn't date; surely they would have noticed. To Amanda's knowledge, the only men who had been in the house for any period of time were the plumber, the carpenter, and the electrician -- and, on one mission or another, Russ Lange, Lee Cotter, and Graham O'Leary. Copyright © 2001 by Barbara Delinsky Excerpted from The Woman Next Door by Barbara Delinsky All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.