The Kept Woman(7)

By: Susan Donovan

"If I drink more than one glass of this, Simon won't be the only sleepover guest tonight," Monte said, folding her legs under her.

"The more the merrier," Sam said with a sigh. "Oh, I forgot to tell you—Kara's on her way over. She said she wanted to discuss something with me."

"Kara? What in the world? On a Monday night?"

Sam shrugged. "She just said it was important and that she needed to see me right away. I told her to come over after the kids were in bed."

Monte frowned. It wasn't that she didn't like Kara DeMarinis—Sam had been cutting her hair for a decade and had brought her into the D & D club six years ago. It was just that Kara seemed a little distant at times. Snooty even. She was some kind of big-shot political consultant with an office in one of the new downtown buildings, an attorney who ended up on Sunday afternoon TV talk shows, arguing about laws and the politicians who made them. Monte knew that Kara leaned way too far to the right for her tastes, but she had to admit Kara was smart. And both she and Denny Winston had done some free legal work for Sam a couple years ago, trying to help her track down Mitch after the divorce went through. That had been nice.

It was just odd that Kara was coming over to Sam's on a school night.

"Did you screw up the woman's color or something?"

Sam laughed. "You and I both know that that's never gonna happen. She said it was something to do with her job."

This was getting stranger by the minute. "Her job?"

"You're off tomorrow, right?" Sam asked absently, as if she didn't even realize she'd changed the subject.

"Yep." Monte studied her friend. Sam was looking more washed-out than usual. Monte wanted to come right out and ask her if there was something wrong—or something newly wrong—but the slight slump in Sam's shoulders told her to go easy tonight.

It sometimes amazed Monte that Sam had held it together as well as she had these last three years. She'd remained strong when Mitchell announced he was gay and left town. She'd juggled the demands of raising three kids while standing on her feet sixty hours a week at the salon. Monte knew that if Sam had finally reached her breaking point, the girl was entitled to have it.

"So, what do you think of the salon renovation?" Monte waited for Sam to respond, but her friend looked far away in thought. "As long as I got enough natural light at my station, Marcia could do up the place in early train wreck for all I care, but if you ask me, she's taking the desert thing too far—a big ole cactus in downtown Indianapolis? Puh-leeze. Next thing you know she'll be bringin' in Gila monsters or some shit and makin' us wear turquoise, and you know I don't look good in anything green."

Sam finally giggled and looked up at her friend. "Early train wreck has always been my preferred period, obviously." She waved her hand around like a game show hostess. "How'd I do?"

Monte quickly scanned the living room and grinned. The small space featured an indestructible microfiber couch and love seat in a stain-camouflaging beige, an inexpensive entertainment center in an oak finish, an oval coffee table, and a couple floor lamps. All of it was accented with the by-products of family life—various book bags, a stray sock or two, clumps of dog hair, Greg's comic books, CDs that belonged to Lily, and little Thomas the Tank Engine pieces strewn all over the carpet.

"Mmm-hmm." Monte nodded with approval. "You did a bang-up job, girl."

Sam sighed, and Monte watched quietly as her friend began her ritual. She would stare at each of the eight paintings that hung on the off-white living room walls. She would allot three seconds to each painting, making a silent evaluation of her art and her life, then move on to the next, until she'd reviewed them all.

Monte didn't need to look along with Sam—she knew each of her friend's brush strokes by heart, even the ones Sam hid in the basement, covered by a drop cloth and years of dust. The combination of tiny dots and broad sweeping arcs defined all of Sam's oil paintings. The colors were so bold and rich it didn't seem possible that they'd come out of the petite, pretty, auburn-haired mommy sitting on that couch. But they had. And Monte knew those paintings were as much a product of Sam as her children were.

Also By Susan Donovan

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