Line of Fire, An Autumn Rain Novel
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Copyright ©2006 Rachel Ann Nunes.
All rights reserved. No part of this text may
be reproduced, in any form or by any means,
without permission in writing from the author
I haven’t kept a journal in more than
thirty years, and I should have. I know a lot of
secrets. Anyway, all the ladies of the
Independence Club have agreed to keep their
journals more faithfully, writing in particular
our feelings and hopes and plans for the future.
Then we’ll get together every Wednesday to talk
about life and sort of brainstorm ideas for each
other so we can be successful. A power group of
Everyone had a say in getting the club started.
Tina Dayley coined the name, not surprising
since her late husband was abusive; Evie
McClaine asked to meet at her favorite
restaurant, Mimi's Café; Rosalva Nolasco chose
Wednesday because of her work schedule; and
Bernice Stubbs, who’s always spouting off about
something we should be doing better, had the
journal idea. I, of course, am the voice of
experience and reason, the glue holding everyone
together. We’re a varied group of women but
united in our determination to make our lives
happy and complete. We all face challenges, some
of us big challenges, but I won’t go into all
that right now. My cosmetic orders are waiting—I
didn’t get them finished because of the wedding
That reminds me. Being at Kerrianne’s wedding
this morning and her reception tonight made me
start thinking about Charles and the almost
forty years we shared. I still love that man,
and I still miss him. But there are some things
about marriage that I don’t miss—and those are
exactly the reasons why I’m not marrying Harold
Perry. For crying out loud, I’m not about to
start having to take care of someone again at my
Not that I’m old, of course. Sixty-two is still
very young, and people always say I don’t look a
day over fifty—probably a big exaggeration. I
mean, I certainly don’t look like Goldie Hawn or
anything. No one could look like that at her age
without serious medical intervention. Quite
frankly, Goldie Hawn and others like her do all
women a disservice. Sure, we can grow old
gracefully, which is what I’m trying for and
part of why I sell cosmetics, but that doesn’t
mean that we must inject our faces with poison
and let some bozo cut into us with a knife.
There I go, speaking my mind again. I get into
more trouble that way, but I can’t help myself.
I’ve been around the block a time or two, and
I’m beyond talking nice just so someone will
feel better about their mistakes. I call it like
I see it. At least I’m only saying this now in
my journal where it can’t come back and bite
me—until I’m dead, and then I won’t care.
For the record, I’m not against widows
remarrying, like my friend Bernice claims to be.
Even Harold started to avoid her because she
kept talking about his wife, who has been gone
nearly two years already. “Harold, what would
your wife think? You know she’d never want you
kissing another woman.” It’s enough to make me
want to slit her tires.
No. I’m kidding, really. When I think about it,
she’s doing me a favor. After all, she’s just
protecting me from Harold. I mean, if I were to
ever get married again, which I’m not going to
do, he’d have to be romantic enough to take my
mind off all the cooking and cleaning and effort
that goes along with marriage. Harold’s only
kissed me once for real, and that was months
ago. No, I’m not going to write how I felt
because . . . well, because I’m not sure myself.
the bell rang, the house had been hauntingly
still. Maxine Madison was almost sure Harold was
at the door—not that she was expecting him or
anyone else this late on a Saturday night. All
her close friends, members of the Independence
Club, had been at their friend’s wedding
reception less than an hour ago and had no need
to see each other so soon.
Harold had been there too, dashing and
gentlemanly as usual.
Maxine took her baby blue sweater from the back
of her chair and pulled it on. The first part of
April had brought not showers but a snowstorm,
and there was still a slushy layer on her lawn
and driveway. That was why if Harold had any
sense, he’d be home sleeping in a warm bed
instead of standing in the cold on her doorstep.
The bell came again, insistently. Too
insistently for an unexpected guest.
“I’m coming,” grumbled Maxine. Despite her
efforts to squelch the emotion, she felt a surge
of . . . something . . . in her heart region at
the idea of seeing Harold. Nonsense, she
thought. We’re just friends. He hasn’t asked me
to marry him since January.
She pulled open the door. Standing there,
blinking in the sudden light was none other than
Harold. “Hi,” he said with a smile, looking as
debonair and refined as always.
Maxine had to look upward at a fairly steep
angle to meet his gaze. She never minded because
the height was part of what made him remarkable.
No matter how out of shape he might be, his
frame didn’t have the tendency to gain weight.
His hair was dark gray with many bits of white,
and his eyes, which today had taken on the color
of his blue polo shirt, were topped by thick
gray eyebrows. As usual, he wore dress pants and
shiny black loafers. On Sundays and at dances,
he would wear the suit she’d helped him pick out
to replace the old one she suspected he’d bought
years before his wife’s death.
Maxine lowered her gaze. Be strong, she told
herself. Aloud she said, “What are you doing
“I’ve come to help you with the orders. I told
you I would at the reception. Did you forget?”
He reached for her hand, bringing it up to his
mouth as if he were a character in an old movie.
The warmth from his touch spread through her in
an astonishing wave, and she snatched her hand
back. “Stop that! I’ve told you before, we don’t
live in those days.”
“What days?” He lifted a brow.
“In the days when men kiss women on the hand.”
“I’m old fashioned.”
“Well, that’s fine and dandy, but it’s not
getting my orders done.” Maxine felt flustered,
but she did her best not to show it.
Harold smiled knowingly, which infuriated her
all the more. “Then let me in.” He stuck his
hands in the pockets of his open jacket and
leaned back on his heels.
“Oh.” She stepped out of the way and pulled the
door open, feeling unsettled all over again.
“You know, I really don’t think I need the
computer to do the order.” In fact, that was
exactly why she hadn’t responded to his offer to
help. She’d even hoped he’d forgotten.
“You might feel differently once you see exactly
how much it can help you. At the reception Tina
was telling me all about the bonus products you
get when you sell a certain amount. She said on
the website it’s all written out so you know
exactly what’s what without having to add and
re-add your products as you move them around in
the different categories.”
“Well, all that adding is a pain,” she admitted,
“but Tina’s my upline, so maybe we should leave
it to her.”
“It’s no problem.” He flashed her another
endearing smile. Maxine wondered if he’d always
been so dashing, or if he’d just aged well.
“Besides,” he added, “Tina has four kids to take
care of. I only have you.”
Maxine bristled. “I can take care of myself,
thank you very much.”
“Well, I can’t.” He passed her in the direction
of the kitchen. “Now where is this computer of
“In my office. Come on, I’ll show you. And by
the way, you are perfectly capable of taking
care of yourself.”
Harold stopped and turned toward her, taking
entirely too much space in the narrow hallway.
His face bent down to Maxine’s and for a brief
moment, she thought he was going to kiss her. “I
certainly wouldn’t be walking three miles a day
if I hadn’t met you,” he said instead. “I could
barely go down to my basement without breathing
hard, before we met, let alone walk even one
mile. I know I still have a long way to go, but
you’ve changed my life.”
Maxine didn’t want that kind of responsibility.
If you changed a life, you became responsible
for it. Somehow for women that always seemed to
mean washing clothes, cleaning up, making
dinner, devising gourmet desserts such as hot
apple pie served with ice cream. “Oh, no, you
don’t, I hate making pies.” She squeezed by him,
ignoring his puzzled stare.
“There’s the computer,” she said, jabbing a
finger toward the desk.
“Where are your orders?”
“Oh, I left them in the kitchen. I’ll be right
When she returned, he had her computer on and
was logged onto the website. “I’ll need a
“It’s in my one of my e-mail folders.” Maxine
was happy she could say that. Now he’d know that
she at least used e-mail. Never mind that it was
only once a week to children. One e-mail sent to
all five. It beat letter -writing by a long
“Okay, hmm.” Harold clicked his way through
several pages, finally coming to an order form.
Since she was still on dial-up, the pages didn’t
load as quickly as they had when Tina had showed
her the website at her house.
He eyed her stack of orders. “Want to read off
the product numbers for me? Since you don’t have
high speed Internet, this quick form looks like
it’ll be easier than clicking on each product.
Otherwise we’ll be here all night, and what
would the neighbors say?”
Harold chuckled. “Ready when you are.” He didn’t
know how to type properly, but his pecking
method moved things along nicely.
“So when have you been walking three miles?”
Maxine asked when all the products were in, and
they had shifted to the shopping cart to see
what bonus products she could qualify for.
“In the mornings. Like you.”
Maxine narrowed her eyes. “Are you following
“It’s still mostly dark when you go. I wouldn’t
want anything to happen to you.”
Maxine tried to be angry, but the idea of his
wanting to protect her sent an odd shivering
kind of feeling up her spine. “You might just go
with me, instead of spying,” she suggested.
“Okay.” The quick response told her he’d been
waiting for the invitation, and that made her
feel set up somehow, though she wasn’t sure why.
Friends could walk together. Being friends with
Harold meant no more than being friends with the
women in the Independence Club.
She glanced over at him and saw that he was
watching her. She knew the expression all too
well. This couldn’t be happening. He was going
to do it again—ask her to marry him.
“Maxine,” he began. Was she imagining the
huskiness of his voice?
“It’s up to you, but I really think you ought to
switch these three items down to your ‘Host
Special Products’ section, since you can get all
three of them for twenty bucks.”
“Uh, um, yes. You’re right. And I want those two
travel kits I qualify for as well.”
He started clicking, and Maxine’s heart rate
slowed. When it all boiled down to it, she was
just an old fool. She wanted to laugh, but
somehow she couldn’t.
“There, all done. I’ll need your credit card.”
She handed it to him, but instead of grasping
the card, his thumb pressed down on the back of
her hand, the thin piece of plastic caught
between their fingers. “Maxine, I know you’re
happy with your life as it is, but did you ever
think that together we could be even happier?”
She felt relieved it was out in the open,
instead of lurking between them like some fatal
disease. Now she could set him straight once and
for all. She opened her mouth to speak, but he
rushed on. “Now, Maxine, don’t go start talking
about apple pies. Or hand kissing. I know how to
kiss for real.”
She had her doubts about that. The one time he’d
kissed her had been so long ago, she might have
even imagined it.
Avoiding his eyes, she stared at the white
eyelet curtains she’d put up four years ago when
she’d changed the room from Charles’s office
into her own. He’d been dead a year at the time.
“I’m a practical woman,” she told Harold. “I’m
not going to pretend I don’t like you because I
do, but I’m—”
Her words were drowned out by a frantic pounding
came from the other room, accompanied by a voice
calling something unintelligible. Harold looked
at her expectantly.
Shrugging, she jumped to her feet and hurried
down the short hall, with Harold on her heels,
moving somewhat faster than his usual slow gait.
She yanked open the front door.
“Sister Madison! I need your help!” A wet young
boy stood on the porch, his eyes wild. It took
Maxine a moment to realize that he was Skip
Dayley, her friend Tina’s thirteen-year-old son.
He wasn’t wearing a coat, though it was raining
softly and the night air was cold enough to bite
Maxine’s lungs as she took a breath.
“Come in, Skip. It’s freezing out there!”
He shook his head. “My mother needs help.”
“What’s wrong with her?” Maxine was instantly
alarmed. Tina was her closest friend in the
“I don’t know. She just suddenly freaked out.”
Skip’s eyes filled with tears, and his next
words came in a jumbled rush. “Ashley and I were
arguing in the kitchen, and I was mad at her so
I pushed my book at her, but her glass was in
the way and it fell off the counter. There was
red juice and glass everywhere. Mom sort of
froze. Then she started shaking and breathing
funny. I thought she was going to yell at us,
but she only stood there. The little boys came
running in from their beds and started yelling,
and Mom didn’t even notice. She turned and ran
down the hall to her room.”
“And she won’t come out?” Maxine prompted.
“She’s not there! Ashley went to see what was
wrong, but she was gone. We don’t know where she
went. We’re scared because . . .” Whatever the
reason, he couldn’t finish the thought. “Well,
we’re just scared.”
This didn’t sound like Tina at all. “Did you
hear a door shut?” Maxine asked. “Is her car
Skip’s body convulsed with a suppressed sob. “I
don’t know. I didn’t look. But she wouldn’t
leave us!” His eyes, so like Tina’s hazel ones,
were wide with fright.
“Of course not.” Maxine touched his shoulder,
which was stiff from either cold or worry—or
both. “Maybe she went to buy something to clean
Skip didn’t reply, and Harold looked at her as
if to say, “That’s it? That’s all you can come
up with?” Maxine ignored him.
“Look, Skip,” she said,. “let’s go back to your
house and take a look around. I can’t believe
you came all the way over here in this rain.”
Skip gave a helpless shrug. “I ran. Ashley tried
your phone number, but it was busy. Our neighbor
wasn’t home, and the other ones, well, I don’t
really know them. Ashley said I should get you.
She’s looking around the yard.”
“Come on,” Maxine urged. “Let’s go through to
the garage. I’ll get my keys.”
Harold stopped her with a touch on her arm. “I
can drive you. My car’s blocking your garage
“You don’t have to come.” Maxine felt bad as she
said the words, but she didn’t want start
depending on him too much.
“Tina’s my friend, too.”
Maxine couldn’t exactly argue with that. He’d
gone to enough LDS singles events to become well
acquainted with all her friends. “Okay, but let
me do the talking.”
He grinned. “Don’t I always?”
Maxine gave him a disgusted stare, but he was
already heading to the door. She grabbed a lap
quilt from her sofa and wrapped it around Skip’s
shoulders. “It’s going to be all right,” she
told him. She hoped that was true. After
spending most of his life with an abusive
father, this boy had already suffered enough.
Tina lived only few blocks away, the farthest of
all her friends except Rosalva, but she wasn’t
in Maxine’s stake. That was how it went in Utah,
where sometimes the members across the street
weren’t even in the same ward.
When they arrived at the Dayleys’ Tina’s two
younger boys and her teenage daughter, Ashley,
were waiting in the living room. The bottom of
Ashley’s pants were wet halfway to the knees,
and her red hair hung in moist ropes around her
face. “I didn’t find her,” she said, looking
“Her car is out there.” Maxine removed her coat.
The heat was always stifling in Tina’s house,
though the children didn’t seem to mind. “I’m
sure she didn’t go far. Stay here, okay? I’m
going to the bedroom.” The children nodded,
their faces tight with fear.
The house was small, but the master bedroom did
have an adjoining bath. Maybe Tina had gone in
there to recover from whatever had happened.
When she didn’t find Tina in the bathroom,
uneasiness filled Maxine’s heart. “Tina?” she
called. “It’s Maxine. Look, you have some very
worried kids out there. If you’re here, you
might as well say something because I’ll find
you if I look.”
Maxine thought about searching under the bed,
but why would Tina be there? She had no reason
to hide from her. More likely, she’d felt sick
and gone to the neighbors and they’d taken her
to the doctor.
That’s right. I’ll call the emergency room.
She was almost to the door when she heard a
small sob. Whirling on her feet, she scanned the
room, her eyes searching and discarding every
place except under the bed and the closet.
The double folding doors were slightly ajar, and
Maxine walked toward them with determination.
She pushed the doors open. On the far right
side, wrapped in a blanket, sat Tina, her
strawberry blonde hair looking as though the
blanket had at one point been over her head. Her
thin face, normally made up to perfection, was
streaked with tears and mascara.
Giving a little groan, Maxine fell to her knees
and put her arms around her friend. “Oh, Tina,
honey. What happened?”
Tina didn’t speak, though her unfocused eyes
said it all. She was afraid—no, terrified. But
of what? Her husband was a year dead in a car
accident and couldn’t hurt her anymore.
“It’s okay,” Maxine assured her. “Everything is
okay. Skip came to get me, and that’s why I’m
here. Ashley stayed with the boys. They’re all
right as rain. And Harold’s here. He was trying
to ask me to marry him again when Skip came.
Good thing, too. Anyway, I daresay Harold’s
telling your kids boring stories about when he
was a dentist. That means he’ll be at least an
hour, so you just take your time. You know, I
think he should have been a farmer, not a
dentist. He takes a long time doing anything.
It’s like watching corn grow.”
Tina’s color was better now, and her eyes were
A movement in the hall called Maxine’s
attention, and she spied Harold peeking around
the door. She gave him a thumbs up to tell him
she’d found Tina, and then she made a shooing
motion so he’d know to keep all the children
away. Good thing he came along after all, she
Tina didn’t notice Harold, or Maxine’s signal.
She lowered her head onto Maxine’s shoulder and
let out a long breath. “That’s it,” Maxine said.
“Breathe deeply. In and out. Everything else can
wait.” She breathed with Tina, and for a moment
their breathing was their entire world. In and
out. Slowly, evenly.
Maxine’s knees felt stiff and her shoulder
muscles ached by the time Tina finally spoke,
her voice soft but steady. “I’m okay,” she said.
“I just . . . I just . . .”
Maxine shifted her weight and sat beside her.
“Don’t try to gloss over this, Tina. I know you
like to look on the good side of things, but I
want you to tell me what happened.”
Tina’s hazel eyes looked black in the darkness
of the closet. She crossed her arms over her
chest as though to protect herself, looking much
younger than her thirty-nine years. “Ashley and
Skip were fighting. The glass broke. There was
blood—juice, I mean—everywhere. And suddenly I
was back with him that day my arm broke. My nose
bled a lot.” She gave her head an abrupt shake
as though to force the memory from her head.
“All I wanted was to climb under the table and
hide. It’s a trigger, that’s all. I see or hear
something—and I need to get away. Usually, I’m
okay if I sit on my bed for a while, or if I go
into the bathroom. But today the kids were so .
. . challenging, and everything happened just
right—or just wrong, rather.” She blinked and a
mascara-laden tear slid down her right cheek.
“But I didn’t go under the table. I didn’t do
that in front of my kids.”
Maxine reached out for her hand. “No, you
didn’t. You did fine. But I’m thinking that
maybe you should see a counselor again. For a
Tina shook her head. “I’m all right, really. I
know how to deal with it. I took all the
classes. It was just today. The kids were—I do
still take them once a month to their counselor,
in case you’re wondering about that. They’re all
doing really well, and so am I. Everyone has
days like this, right?” She gave Maxine a
tentative smile. “Tomorrow will be better.”
“I’m sure it will. Do you think you can get up?
Would you like me to help you into bed?”
“I need to see my children, make sure they’re
okay.” Tina arose unsteadily, but her smile was
firmly in place.
Maxine wanted to shake her. Most of the time she
was grateful for Tina’s normally cheery outlook
on life, but sometimes she wished Tina would get
angry at how her husband had treated her and the
Tina touched her arm. “I’m okay, Maxine. I
promise. Thanks to you. I’m so lucky to have you
as a friend. I have so many blessings in my
life.” She hugged Maxine.
Tina had firmly retreated behind her positive
mask, and Maxine knew she had no choice but to
bite her tongue. Of course that didn’t mean she
wasn’t going to keep a good eye on Tina these
next few weeks. “Okay, then. Do you need help
with your makeup?”
Tina managed a laugh. “I’m the one who got you
into selling cosmetics, remember? Go on, tell
the kids I’ll be right there.” She gave Maxine’s
arm a gentle thrust.
When Tina emerged from her tiny bathroom ten
minutes later, there was no trace of tears or
upset. It was as though nothing unusual had
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