Peter wedged his jacket into the hall closet beside the girls coats, their cheerful colors standing out against the tan of his jacket and the sober maroon of Anns coat, the same one shed had for years. Boots stood on the floor belowMaddies mauve leopard print, Anns stubby brown ones, and a sleek black pair with designs stitched into the leather with white thread. Kates, probably. Shed always loved cowboy boots. He remembered her first pair, a bright cherry color, that she loved so much she insisted on wearing them everywhere, to the store, on playdates, even to bed. After shed fallen asleep, either he or Ann would tiptoe in and gently ease the boots off her feet. But then, sure enough, the next morning shed appear in the kitchen doorway, yawning, still in her nightgown and wearing those boots. How old had she been, two? Maybe three. Shed cried so when she finally outgrew them and Ann couldnt find a pair in a larger size.
In the kitchen, Ann was tearing open a box of pasta and dumping its contents into a pot of bubbling water. She looked up as he approached, and she swept back a strand of hair from her face with the back of her hand. Its just sauce from a jar tonight.
Peter thought of her homemade marinara, rich with chopped onion and garlic and bell peppers. He wondered if this hasty meal was a result of her working full- time or if this was just the way she and the girls ate now. Somehow, hed thought all three would be frozen in time, doing the same things the same way they always had, just without him. Smells good.
Get out the Parmesan, Maddie, Ann said. Kate, please set the table. She glanced over her shoulder at Peter. I think theres a bottle of wine in the basement if you want to hunt it up.
He found it easily enough, lying in the wine rack above the mini- refrigerator, just where hed left it. Rubbing away the dust from the smooth glass shoulders of the bottle, he came back into the kitchen. Maddie was pouring cheese into a small bowl while Kate spread place mats across the kitchen table. Shazia stood by the sink, a water glass in her hand.
He winked at her and she smiled.
Ann stirred the pasta. Do you have a lot of family in Cairo, Shazia?
All my familys there, Shazia replied. My brother, my sister, my parents. My father comes from a large family. Hes one of ten children.
Ten! Maddie said. Thats practically a soccer team.
Shazia smiled. I have a lot of cousins.
I can imagine, Ann said. What does your father do?
Hes a medical doctor.
And youre getting your PhD. He must be very proud of you.
Shazia went to Oxford. Peter opened a drawer and began hunting for a corkscrew among the rattle of spoons and spatulas. And she got her DVM in Cairo.
Impressive. Ann brought out a loaf of bread and began to slice it. So, youre making the switch from veterinary medicine to research? Peter knew what Ann was thinking. Hed made the same career jump. He remembered telling Ann he was entering research. Hed leaned across the table and clasped her hands in his. Later, shed confided she thought he was about to propose. When that time did come, it was over a table, too, and there was candlelight and wine. He looked down at the bottle in his hands and got busy.
I read one of Peters articles online, Shazia said. It was very persuasive. He said the best way to make a real difference in animal health was through research.
I like your phone, Kate said. Its such a cool color.
Excerpted from The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley Copyright © 2010 by Carla Buckley. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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