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Chapter I. Part I
NOVEMBER 15, 2008
“Oh no, why do I always do that?” I say to my fiancé, Ryan, as we walk into the restaurant.
“Do what, baby?”
“Leave my purse in the car.”
We’ve just valet-parked, and as we look out the window, Ryan’s white BMW is being driven off. “I’ll go get it, my forgetful one,” he says, kissing my cheek. “You grab our table. I’ll be back in a sec.”
Four years ago, we had our first date at Le Marche, the French restaurant on Fourth Avenue with a waiting list five months out. Somehow Ryan was able to get us a table, just like he got us one tonight. My fiancé, it seems, can move mountains.
“I want you to have a perfect night,” he said when he surprised me with the reservation. He reached for my hand as if he never wanted to let go, the diamond, much larger than I wanted, sparkling on my ring finger. We’re getting married in July, at the Fairmont.
“Do you have a reservation?” the host asks as I check my coat.
“Yes,” I say. “Two. Under Winston.” It’s hard to believe, but in a matter of months I’ll be Mrs. Ryan Winston; that is, if I take Ryan’s name. He wants me to, and part of me does, as well. I mean, this is the Winston family, confidants of the Gateses and the Nordstroms. This is a family name one doesn’t eschew.
But I’ve always been Kailey Crain. KC, although no one has really called me that since, well, the sixth grade. Still, it’s hard to just let that go. I close my eyes tightly, then open them again, trying to banish a memory that’s fighting its way to the surface.
“Right this way,” the host says, leading me to an intimate table by the window. I peer through the glass, noticing the way the raindrops make the lights outside look like gemstones. Seattle may be an old gray lady, but she still sparkles under cloud cover. I tug nervously at the right sleeve of my dress, pulling it higher on my arm, the way I do when I’m mingling with the type of people Ryan grew up with. He isn’t a big fan of the tattoo on my shoulder, and I suppose I’m not either. Skin inked a decade prior is a glaring reminder of a past that didn’t become a future, of the dreams that evaporated into thin air. I couldn’t hold on to them, and yet the word toujours, French for “always,” remains branded on my skin. I rub my shoulder, wishing for a magic eraser.
I sit down, place my cellphone on the table, and watch as couples stroll by outside, hovering under hoods and shared umbrellas. A woman in her twenties clutches her boyfriend or husband, and they laugh as they precariously dodge a mud puddle. The scene transports me back to age twenty-two, to the year Tracy and I moved to Seattle. Back then, we were wide-eyed and idealistic. We believed in true love and happy endings.
Funny how things turn out.
I catch my reflection in the window. My shoulder-length brown hair is showing signs of frizz, rendering the time I spent flat-ironing my thick, naturally wavy locks a veritable waste of time. But what did it matter — wasn’t Ryan always telling me he liked my natural curls? My green eyes? My nose dusted with freckles? I smile to myself. My life is full now, with my job at the Herald, making plans to remodel the Craftsman in Wallingford, the one I bought with… Ryan, of course.
I smile as he walks into the restaurant with my purse in hand.
“It’s a monsoon out there,” he says, handing me the black Michael Kors bag he bought me for Christmas last year, then smoothing his rain-soaked hair. Handsome is the best word to describe him. Classically handsome. Tracy’s initial impression, whispered in the bathroom of a restaurant the night I first introduced them, was that he resembled a strapping Disney prince come to life. He did, and he does. Tall and toned with a thick head of dark hair: Give him a shield and white horse and Ryan is the spitting image of the cartoon prince who swept Cinderella off her feet. I’m lucky.
He reaches for my hand across the table. “I called earlier and made sure they had your favorite Bordeaux. Remember, our perfect night is just beginning.”
I grin as he pulls my hand to his lips.
“Every detail counts,” he says with a sweet smile. “You’ve seemed a little distracted, and I want to be there for you.”
I tug on my engagement ring and nod. He’s always been able to read me, perhaps better than I can read myself. “It’s been hell at work since I’ve added the business beat to my ongoing reporting on life in Seattle,” I reply. “I’ve been crunching to get that series about Pioneer Square written.”
The first of three pieces was published today. I’m certain Ryan has read it, but we’ve agreed to disagree on the areas where our professional interests diverge. He’s a smart man, sharp enough to know that his taking issue with my article would ruin the night before it has even begun.
He bends the rules by steering the conversation to other people’s opinions, people who are not present at this cozy table for two. “You know, a lot of my colleagues think they should dynamite that six-block radius.”
I shake my head. “Is that you talking or your risk-management team?”
“It’s difficult to ignore the fact that there isn’t much down there but addicts and vagrants. You can barely walk two feet without stepping in human excrement.”
“Well,” I say, weighing the satisfaction of making my case against Ryan’s romantic plans for the evening, “the people there need help, and the Hope Gospel Mission is the only organization doing anything about it. The way I see it, the vitality of a nonprofit is a crucial measure of neighborhood longevity. You can’t blame me for wanting to help them keep their doors open.”
The sommelier arrives and uncorks Ryan’s preselected bottle of red before pouring us each a glass.
“Honey,” Ryan says tenderly as I take a sip of my wine. “You have the biggest heart of anyone I know. How could I ever blame you? For anything?”
I think of the sensitive content of the series, how hard I have to work not to let emotion cloud the impartiality that being a good reporter demands. Earlier today, I spent the afternoon interviewing the mission’s director, a heavyset woman named Melissa.