Table for five - By Susan Wiggs

chapter 1


2:45 p.m.

“Hey, Miss Robinson, want to know how to figure out your porn-star name?” asked Russell Clark, bouncing on the balls of his feet toward the school bus.

“I think I’ll make it through the day without that.” Lily Robinson put a hand on the boy’s shoulder to keep him from bouncing off the covered sidewalk and into the driving rain.

“Aw, come on, it’s easy. You just say the name of your street and—”

“No, thank you, Russell,” Lily said in her “enough’s enough” tone. She hoped he didn’t really know what a porn star was. “That’s inappropriate, and you’re supposed to be line leader this afternoon.”

“Oops.” Reminded of the privilege, Russell stiffened his spine and marched in a straight line, dutifully leading twenty-three third-graders to the area under the awning by the parking lot. “I’m going to Echo Ridge today,” he said, heading for Bus Number Four. “I have a golf lesson.”

“In this rain?”

“It’ll clear up, I bet. See you, Miss Robinson.” Russell went bounding toward the bus, hopscotching around puddles in the parking lot.

Lily doled out goodbyes and have-a-good-days to the rest of her students, watching them scatter like a flock of startled ducklings to buses and carpools. Charlie Holloway and her best friend, Lindsey Davenport, were last in line, holding hands and chattering together while they waited for Mrs. Davenport’s car to pull forward.

When Charlie caught Lily’s eye, she ducked her head and looked away. Lily felt a beat of sympathy for the little girl, who was painfully aware that her parents were coming in for a conference after school. The child looked small and fragile, trying to disappear into her yellow rain slicker. Lily wanted to reassure her, to tell her not to worry.

Charlie didn’t give her a chance. “There’s your mom,” she said, giving Lindsey’s hand a tug. “’Bye, have a good weekend,” she called to Lily, and the girls dashed for the blue Volvo station wagon.

Lily smiled and waved, making an effort not to appear troubled, but seeing them like that, best friends skipping off together, reminded her of her own childhood best friend—Charlie’s mother, Crystal. This was not going to be an easy conference.

“Hey, what’s the matter?” asked Greg Duncan, the PE teacher. After school, he coached the high school golf team, though he was known to be a full-time flirt.

“You’re not supposed to notice that anything’s the matter,” Lily told him.

He grinned and loped to her side, a big, friendly Saint Bernard of a guy, all velvet brown eyes, giant paws, a silver whistle on a lanyard around his neck. “I know exactly what’s wrong,” he said. “You don’t have a date tonight.”

Here we go again, thought Lily. She liked Greg a lot, she really did, but he exhausted her with his need for attention. He was too much guy, the way a Saint Bernard is too much dog. Twice divorced, he had dated most of the women she knew and had recently set his sights on her. “Wrong,” she said, grinning back. “I’ve got plans.”

“Liar. You’re just trying to spare my feelings.”

Guilty as charged, Lily thought.

“Is he hitting on you again?” Edna Klein, the school principal, joined them under the awning. In her sixties, with waist-length silver hair and intense blue eyes, Edna resembled a Woodstock grandmother. She wore Birkenstocks with socks and turquoise-and-silver jewelry, and she lived at a commune called Cloud Mountain. Yet no one failed to take her seriously. Along with her earth-mother looks, she possessed a Ph.D. from Berkeley, three ex-husbands, four grown children and ten years of sobriety in AA. When it came to running a school, she was a consummate professional, supportive of teachers, encouraging to students, inspiring confidence in parents.

“Harassment in the workplace,” Lily stated. “I’m thinking of filing a complaint.”

“I’m the one with the complaint,” Greg said. “I’ve been hitting on this woman since Valentine’s Day, and all I get from her is a movie once a month.”

“At least I let you pick the movie. Hell on Earth was a real high point for me.”

“You’re a heartless wench, Lily Robinson,” he said, heading for the gym. “Have a nice weekend, ladies.”

“He’s barking up the wrong tree,” Lily said to Edna.

“Are you this negative about all men or just Coach Duncan?”

Lily laughed. “What is it about turning thirty? Suddenly my love life is everyone’s business.”

“Of course it is, hon. Because we all want you to have one.”

People were always asking Lily if she was seeing anyone special or if she intended to have children. Everyone seemed