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The Women: Part 2 – Chapter 29

Frankie became aware of the music: first the beat, then the words. “Hey Jude…”

She was in the O Club, dancing with Rye. She felt his arms around her, his hand at the curve of her spine; familiar, where it belonged, holding her close. He whispered something she couldn’t hear. “What?” she said. “What?”

I’m married.

I was always married.

Suddenly the music blared, turned loud enough to break glass.

She opened her eyes. They were groggy with grit, wet with tears.

The music snapped off.

She was in her own house, in her bed.

She sat up, saw Barb and Ethel standing there, looking so sad that Frankie’s wound opened again.

He lied.

She remembered asking him the wrong question in Kauai, and his answer: I swear I’m not engaged. The words played over and over in her head.

“You need to get up, honey,” Ethel said. “Henry is on his way over.”

Frankie couldn’t respond. She’d come home from the air station and climbed into bed and cried herself first to a headache and then to sleep.

She knew her friends were ready to lift her up, buoy her, but this pain, this betrayal, was worse than her grief had been. She’d made her friends stop on the way home to buy a local newspaper. She’d read and reread the article about Joseph “Rye” Walsh, the local hero who had married his college sweetheart just before going off to war and never met the daughter who’d been born in his absence. Josephine, called Joey.

“Frankie?” Barb said gently, sitting on the bedside, pushing the damp hair back from Frankie’s face.

Frankie pushed the sour-smelling covers back. Without making eye contact with her friends (she couldn’t look at them without thinking of Rye), she got out of bed. Love and pain and humiliation almost toppled her again.

She felt so stupid. Hadn’t Ethel warned her early on? The men here, they lie and they die.

She walked to the bathroom and ran a steaming-hot shower and stepped underneath the hot flow, let it pound her while she cried.

In the empty kitchen, her Gunne Sax dress hung limply from a high cupboard. She couldn’t look at it, so she turned and went outside.

Barb and Ethel were in the backyard, which had been transformed for this weekend’s ceremony. Folding chairs—eleven of them, for Frankie’s parents, Barb and Ethel and Noah and Cecily, and Henry’s small family—had been set up in front of a rented wooden arch, which Mom had insisted on festooning with white roses. As if Frankie were a naive debutante instead of a pregnant war veteran.

Two days ago, she’d been almost excited to marry Henry Acevedo and have his baby and start a new life.

Today she couldn’t imagine any of that.

Barb got out of the chair and came toward her. Ethel followed suit.

“Henry loves you, Frank,” Ethel said. “That’s obvious.”

“Do you love him?” Barb dared to ask.

The words submerged Frankie again, left her unable to straighten or breathe. She knew they would support her, these women, her best friends who had flown here at a moment’s notice and were equally ready to stand at the altar with her or stand by her if she canceled the ceremony.

They loved her, were here for her.

But she didn’t want them here now, didn’t want to see their pity.


That was what she wanted. A place to hide.

“If you don’t get married,” Ethel said tentatively, “come back to Virginia with me. The bunkhouse is still empty. Noah will love you and Cecily needs an aunt to play with.”

“Or to Chicago with me,” Barb said.

They were offering her paths, lives. They had no idea how broken she felt by Rye’s betrayal.

But her feelings weren’t the most important anymore. She was going to be a mother.

“I’ll marry Henry on Saturday,” she said quietly. What choice did she have? “He’ll be a great father. Our baby deserves that.”

She knew what the right thing to do was. If there was one true thing in her life, it was that she always knew the right thing, and did it. Even when it hurt so much she couldn’t breathe.

Rye had betrayed her. Didn’t love her.

Henry loved her and their baby and wanted to create a family. The baby deserved that chance, and Frankie owed everything to her unborn baby.

“You sure?” Barb asked, reaching out to squeeze Frankie’s upper arm.

Frankie looked at her two best friends. “I’m going to be a mom,” Frankie said. “I guess my choices have to start there from now on.”

“Then this is our bridal party. Let’s get it on,” Ethel said. She went back into the living room, cranked up the stereo, and opened the patio doors.

The familiar notes of “California Girls” drifted into the backyard.

“This song always reminds me of Frankie’s first day at the Thirty-Sixth,” Barb said to Ethel, pulling Frankie to dance with her on the patio. “Her eyes were so big they looked like burnt holes in my mama’s best sheet.”

“You guys stripped down to bloody bras and panties in front of me,” Frankie said. “I thought I’d landed on the moon.”

The music changed again. Born to be w-i-i-i-ld …

Halfway through the song, Frankie felt a cramp in her stomach. First a tightening, then a pain so sharp she gasped.

A rush of wetness dampened her underwear. She put a hand down her panties. When she brought her hand back up, it was covered in blood.

Someone knocked on the door. Before anyone could answer, the front door opened. Henry walked into the backyard. “Hey, gals, that’s some good music, and—”

He saw the blood.

Frankie looked at him. “This can’t be happening. I haven’t done anything wrong.”

Henry bounded into action, sweeping Frankie into his arms, carrying her out to the car, settling her in the passenger seat. He backed out of the driveway so fast, Frankie smelled burning rubber.

He sped up to the Coronado hospital emergency entrance and slammed on the brakes.

Lifting Frankie out of the car, carrying her into the bright white emergency room, he shouted, “We need help here. My fiancée is pregnant and something is wrong.”

Frankie woke in a darkened room that smelled of disinfectant and bleach.


The previous night came back to her in a rush—blood running down her legs, a terrible cramping, a young doctor saying, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Acevedo. There’s nothing I can do.”

Her saying, ridiculously, “I’m Frankie McGrath.”

She heard a chair creak beside her, saw Henry sitting there, slumped over.

“Hey,” Frankie said; just the sight of him saddened her. He was such a good man and he deserved better.

She pressed a hand to her empty abdomen.

“Hey,” Henry answered, rising, taking her hand in his. He leaned down to kiss her cheek.

“Was it—”

“A boy,” Henry said.


“The doctor said we can try again,” Henry said.

There was a knock at the door.

It opened.

Mom stood there, dressed in a rust-colored suede skirt with a print vest over a blouse buttoned up to her throat, and knee-high boots. “How is she?”

Henry answered, “She’s—”

“She’s right here, Mom. And conscious.”

Mom’s smile turned brittle. “Henry, darling, would you go get me a coffee from the cafeteria? I’ve got a headache.”

Henry kissed Frankie, whispered, “I love you,” and left the room.

Mom approached the bed slowly.

Frankie thought her mother looked tired. Her makeup had been applied a little too heavily and she couldn’t hold a smile. As usual, when she was tired or stressed, the effects of her stroke were more noticeable. There was the slightest downturn to one side of her mouth. “I am so sorry, Frances.”

Tears scalded Frankie’s eyes, blurred the image of her mother. “God is punishing me. But I was going to do the right thing.”

“It’s nothing you did.” Mom reached behind her neck, unclasped her necklace, and handed it to Frankie.

As a child, Frankie had been obsessed with the necklace, wondering how that delicate gold chain could hold the obviously heavy heart.

Mom pulled out her silver cigarette case, lit an Eve cigarette.

“You’re not supposed to smoke, you know,” Frankie said.

Mom made a dismissive gesture. “Look on the back of the heart.”

Frankie turned the necklace over, saw an inscription on the back. Celine. She frowned. “Who is Celine?”

“The daughter I lost,” Mom said. “The baby I was carrying when I married your father.”

“You never—”

“And I won’t now, Frances,” Mom said. “Some things don’t bear the weight of words. That’s the problem with your generation, you all want to talk, talk, talk. What is the point? I thought … you could give your … child a name and engrave it there, below your sister’s, and wear it.”

“He was a boy,” Frankie said. “We would have named him Finley.”

Mom blanched.

Some things don’t bear the weight of words.

“I’m so sorry, Frances. Put the pain away, forget about it, and go on.”

“Were you able to do that?”

“Most of the time.”

Mom reached into her purse, pulled out two prescription bottles. “I know you’re a nurse and all, but I swear by these pills. Cheryl Burnam calls them ‘Mother’s Little Helpers.’ The white ones help you sleep and the yellow ones keep you awake.”

“I am a nurse, Mom. And I read Valley of the Dolls.”

“Pooh. Those were bad girls. You just need something to take the edge off. These have hardly more kick than a gin martini.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

“I’ll put them in your purse. Trust me, you and Henry will be married and expecting again in no time.”

Frankie sighed. “Do you remember the man I fell in love with in Vietnam?”

“The pilot who was killed?”

“Yes, he—”

“Frances, enough Vietnam. For God’s sake, that was years ago. Let it go. He’s not coming back to you.”

She closed her eyes in pain, unable to look at her mother anymore, unable to see pity and sorrow and know that it was for her.

Barb and Ethel stood at Frankie’s bedside.

Their mission was obvious, to keep up a steady stream of banter, to talk about whatever they could think of: the commutation of Charles Manson’s death sentence to life imprisonment, the rockiness of the Taylor-Burton marriage, the uproar over a movie called Deep Throat.

Frankie couldn’t listen anymore. She raised a hand.

Ethel stopped talking—Frankie had no idea what she’d been talking about—and leaned in. “What is it?”

Frankie sat up, staring dry-eyed at the wall. “I’m not going to marry him,” she said. “It wouldn’t be fair.”

“Give it some time,” Ethel said. “Don’t decide now, after…”

“Say it. After losing my son.”

“Yeah,” Barb said, holding Frankie’s hand. “After losing your baby. I can’t imagine your pain.”


“He lied to you, Frank,” Ethel said. Her voice had a sharp edge, but the tears in her eyes were obvious. “He had his men lie to you. Or he lied to them. Either way, he’s not good enough to lick shit off the floor, and if I ever see him…”

“I’ll help you kick his ass,” Barb said. “I’ll pay people to help us.”

“You can go home,” Frankie said. “There’s no wedding to stay for. Ethel, your husband and daughter need you, and Barb, I know Operation PUSH’s convention is coming up and Jesse Jackson is probably counting on you.”

“We don’t want to leave you,” Barb said.

“I’m fine,” Frankie lied. She touched the golden heart necklace at her throat. All three of them knew the truth: that it would be a long time before Frankie was really fine, but whatever that journey looked like, however she healed, it would fall on her to do the heavy lifting. Her friends could be there for her, help her stand, but she had to walk alone.

They kissed her forehead, Ethel first, Barb next, her kiss a moment longer. “We will call you tomorrow,” Barb said.

“And the day after that,” Ethel added.

Frankie was relieved when they left. She lay back into the pillows, feeling exhausted. And afraid.

The hospital door opened and she winced.

Henry stepped into the room, closed the door behind him. He looked as tired and beaten as she felt.

He came to her bedside, held her hand. She couldn’t find the strength to squeeze his hand back.

He smoothed the hair back from her face. She knew how badly he was hurting, how much he needed to share that with her, but she was a closed door.

She closed her eyes, hating that she would hurt him.

“Don’t shut me out, Frankie,” Henry said. “I need you … us. This happened to both of us. The doctor says we need to put it aside and try again. We can do that, can’t we?”

Forget it, in other words. The same old advice, given for a brand-new pain.

God help her, she wasn’t able to mourn with him. Even now, with loss all around her, in her own body, she couldn’t help thinking of Rye. His was the touch she wanted.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and his voice broke. “I should have been there earlier.”

She looked at him, felt a hot rush of self-loathing. “It would have happened anyway,” she said tonelessly.

“I know, but—”

“No buts, Henry. I don’t want to talk about the baby.” She took a deep breath. “I want to talk about the wedding. About us.”

“Us? Oh, babe, don’t worry about the wedding. We have time. Let’s just get our feet under us.”

She looked at him, seeing how deeply he loved her.

“Henry.” She sighed, played with her engagement ring—his grandmother’s. “You remember I told you about Rye? The man I loved in Vietnam, Finley’s friend?”

He drew back, let go of her hand. “Sure. The pilot who was killed?”

“He didn’t die over there. He’s been in prison. He got back to the U.S. yesterday.”

“Oh.” He said it lightly, and then he frowned, said it again. “Oh. You saw him?”

“I did.”

“And you still love him?”

“I do,” Frankie said, starting to cry. She wanted to tell him about Rye’s betrayal, about how the pain of it had somehow caused her miscarriage, and still she couldn’t stop loving him. But Henry was too good a man for that. If she told him the truth, he’d stay with her, give her time, tell her she deserved better than a man who’d lied to her. She had no doubt that there was no future for her and Rye. She didn’t fool herself about that. But just knowing that he was alive made it impossible for her to pretend to love Henry enough to marry him.

Slowly, she took the engagement ring off her finger, gave it back to him. “I can’t marry you, Henry.”

She saw his struggle with emotion. “You should talk to someone, Frankie. The new VA medical center offers therapy for vets. It can really help to talk to someone.”

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“I love you, Frankie,” he said, his voice cracking on emotion.

“You’ll find someone better.”

“Jesus, Frankie. You break my heart.”


“And for a woman in love, you have the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen.”

Frankie left the hospital in a wheelchair, like an ancient woman, wearing a pad to absorb the bleeding. Dad pushed the wheelchair and ordered the local nurses around as if they were employees under his charge.

Mom pulled up in front of the hospital and they both helped Frankie into the passenger seat of the new Cadillac.

At home, Frankie crawled into bed. Mom stayed in the bungalow, trying to distract her—as if such a thing were possible—until Frankie begged her to go home.

I’m fine, she kept saying, until at last there was nothing left for Mom to do but leave.

Alone, Frankie reached for the purse on her nightstand. She took a pill for pain and then two sleeping pills.

She closed her eyes, lay back. Drifted. Through a haze that captured her heartbeat, she heard the door open.

Frankie didn’t open her eyes. She was hanging on by a thread here; the last thing she needed was an audience.

She could feel her mother watching her, worrying, but she didn’t open her eyes. She was deeply, profoundly tired. Exhausted, actually.

Her last, terrible thought was, He’s alive. And then: It was all a lie.


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