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Jane Isenberg's
A Bel Barrett Mystery
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Chapter One
(Read or print)

Dear Mom,

Keith and I figured we'd better e-mail our big news so you'd have a chance to digest it before we talk, but he's still at work and I can't wait another second to tell you. Keith asked me to marry him! it happened yesterday right after he finished the Seattle-Portland bike race! I saw him ride through the tape at the finish line, so I elbowed my way through the crowd to hug his sweaty body. Just as I got to him, the announcer yelled, "Keith Roche, twenty-eight and a first-timer from Seattle finishing in one day! Keith has a very important question to ask Rebecca Barrett." I thought I was hearing things. Keith got down on one knee and said, "Rebecca, will you marry me!" right there in front of everybody! He didn't even take off his helmet. It was totally awesome. All the guys he trains with were there with their girlfriends or wives. They were taking pictures. They all knew he was going to propose. Can you believe Louise and I drove to Portland together and she never said a word? Anyway, we're getting married out here in January, during my mid-term break. It's so happening.

But that's not all! Are you sitting down? We're having a baby. Mark says you'll be psyched. But if I know you, you'll be worried about how we're going to make it. Don't get your undies in a wad, Mom. Everything's cool. Anyway, gotta study. Summer school is really condensed. We'll call Monday around seven our time 'cause I have to work tonight. That way you'll just be getting home from your evening class.


For the first time in fifteen years, I wanted a cigarette. This was a moment beyond chocolate. When Sol walked into the room ten minutes later, I was still sitting at the computer, staring at the monitor, tears streaming down my face. "Jesus, Bel, what's wrong?" In a few strides, Sol was by my side, reading over my shoulder as I leaned my head against him. "Okay. I get it. She really caught you off-guard, didn't she?" I nodded, allowing him to pull me to my feet. "Come on. Sinatra Drive's closed to traffic on summer Sundays. Let's go for a walk. You just need a few minutes to get used to Rebecca's news. Come on."

Sol believed a walk along what was left of Hoboken's waterfront was the cure for everything from IRS audits to prostate trouble, hot flashes, and mood swings. And usually I too found even a glimpse of the Manhattan skyline therapeutic. But this time even those spires glittering like marcasite in the June sunshine failed to raise my spirits. As I trudged silently beside him, Sol gently pressed me, "So what's bothering you? Rebecca and Keith have been living together for a few years now, right? They're clearly nuts about each other. And you told me last time you were out there that you thought they were in it for the long haul. And I know you like Keith. So are these tears of happiness, or what?"

"She didn't even tell me. I thought we were so close." I let go of Sol's hand to swab my face with a soggy Kleenex. "Even Mark knew about the baby. Andthey've decided everything already." I snorted miserly, into the wadded Kleenex and jammed it into the pocket of my khaki shorts, a pair Rebecca had pickedout for me the last time we'd gone shopping together. I could feel my throat tighten and new tears forming.

Oh now I see where you're coming from. Jesus, Bel, get over it. This is not about you. It's got nothing to with you. It's not even about you and Rebecca. It's about Rebecca and Keith and their baby." Sol's words were harsh, but he grabbed my hand again. He was used to my bratty bouts of narcissism. "Besides, she's probably not more than a few months pregnant. What did you want her to do, e-mail you at the moment of conception?" We had paused at Frank Sinatra Park, Hoboken's new athletic field, a square patch of green partly edged by a brick walkway overlooking the Hudson and the world's most famous skyline. Leaning on the fence and shading his eyes from the glare of the sun on the water, Sol asked, "Want an iced tea or something?" He jerked head in the direction of the snack bar that was crowded with young people in running clothes. A leggy blond with a long ponytail carrying a cup of coffee andSunday Times was striding over to a table. For a second she looked exactly like Rebecca. But no, my daughter was three thousand miles away. Damn.

"No thanks. Listen Sol, I don't want to beat this to death, but what am I anyway? The proverbial chopped liver?" Sol put his arm around my shoulder and pulled me to him. "They probably named the baby already too." I was still pouting in that la-la land somewhere between anguish and acceptance where mothers of adult kids spend a lot of time. "Besides, you know as well as I do that this is ludicrous. Rebecca has another whole year to go in physical therapy school and Keith. . ." I sputtered, picturing my future son-in-law, whose idea of career planning was getting work that didn't interfere with his training. He lived and breathed to qualify for the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. At the moment he worked in a bicycle shop and spent most of his spare time running, biking, and swimming. Rebecca attended classes by day and waited tables weekends and some evenings. "Listen, Sol, I know what I'm talking about here. I see how some of my students struggle. They can't afford good child care. They have to work to pay the bills. They have no time to study."

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Twilight Lane, from Avon Books, at The Online Mystery Network,
is produced and published by Newfront Productions, Inc.

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