Recap of Chapter 17: After a troubled night’s sleep, Haze awakens to find a huge tree has fallen on top of her house. She phones Jake, who proves himself, once again, to be resourceful and industrious. Bearing a chainsaw, he comes to her rescue, toiling all day to clear the tree. Watching him work while she makes a hearty meal, she marvels at her luck.
Haze rapped on the wall as she pushed open Sydney’s front door. She was expecting her, so no need to stand on ceremony. “Hel-lo-o… I’m coming in,” she called, stepping out of her boots in the foyer.
“I’m in here,” Sydney called, then fell into a coughing fit.
“Oh, man,” Haze said. “That does not sound good.”
Sydney was sitting in the corner of the couch, legs stretched across the cushions, covered with a purple, paisley shawl. The soft glow of the lamp shone onto her silver hair. She was snuggled in a chestnut-colored cashmere sweater. There was a book laying open and several stacked on the coffee table. Jazz was playing softly in the background and there was a fire crackling in the fireplace. Missing was her signature red lipstick.
Haze went into the kitchen to unpack the basket she hefted onto the counter. “I brought some jambalaya, still hot. I was thinking spicy would clear your sinuses. I also brought fresh bread. I can’t take credit, though. I picked it up at Alpine. I also brought my dad’s special recipe for curing coughs. Which do you want first?”
Sydney coughed. “Bring on the cure.”
Haze got a rocks glass from the bar and then rummaged through the pantry for honey. She mixed up the concoction and brought it over.
“What is it?” Sydney asked, peering at the golden liquid.
“Black Label and honey,” she said with a smile. “Works every time.”
“Oh, bless you, Haze. That’s right up my alley!” She took a sip, sighing in pleasure. “Oh, that’s good. It’ll be a bonus if it actually quiets this damnable cough, but either way, I win.”
Haze went to the fireplace to stir up the embers. She looked back at Sydney. “How is it that you could be sick as a dog and yet look so stylish?”
“Seriously, though. Your hair is flawless and even your outfit is remarkably stylish. I look like hell warmed over when I’m sick.”
“You are too kind,” she said, taking another small sip. “If only it were true. You know, all this sitting around nursing this stupid cold inspired me to take a stroll down memory lane.” She reached out to move some books on the coffee table aside, revealing an old-fashioned photo album. “Would you like to have a peek?”
“Are you kidding? I would love to!” Haze said, settling next to Sydney.
Haze thought that taking a peek into Sydney’s past would hold few surprises. She did, after all, have souvenirs from every continent and had admitted her love of adventure upon their first meeting. She also had a worldly air about her that made Haze think of Egyptian pyramids and Paris cafés. But it wasn’t until she saw this album that Haze realized what an adventurer Sydney actually was. It was all recorded here in black and white photographs held in place by black corners. Page after page featured a young and beautiful Sydney in exotic locations. One was taken when she was in Ireland, flanked by two handsome men while she tipped upside down to kiss the Blarney Stone. Another showed her on a sailboat in the Greek Isles. She was laughing, her hair blowing in the wind. She looked like a movie star. There were photos from all over the world and stories to match. Not surprisingly and without fail, Sydney’s photos included beautiful men by her side.
Several pages featured scenes from India. One shot showed a swarthy prince holding the reins of an elaborately decorated elephant Sydney rode. She was exquisite in a sari and veil. Sydney told of how the prince fed her figs and dates while she lounged on a pile of cushions with a canopy of stars overhead. From under the shawl, Sydney lifted her leg to show a slender gold anklet covered in delicate coins. “He gave this to me that magical night. I wear it to this day when I’m feeling sentimental. I came across it today and couldn’t resist putting it on.” She shook her foot and the coins chimed melodiously. “Isn’t it delicious?” She winked.
Even her travels in the states were full of action and fun: Sydney on a burro trekking down a narrow path in The Grand Canyon; Sydney waving from the basket of a hot air balloon in New Mexico; Sydney donning a slicker in the spray of Niagara Falls. There was even a beach shot with a group of men in tight swimsuits. They were holding the edges of a blanket they used to catapult Sydney into the air. Even with arms flailing, she was radiant.
“So many gorgeous men!” Haze exclaimed. “It’s a wonder you never married.”
Sydney raised her eyebrows and shot her a look. “Who said I never married?”
Haze stared. “Do you mean to tell me that you have been married?”
Sydney looked down at the album. “Do you honestly think a dish like this would never be offered a proposal?”
“Uh, I didn’t mean that. Not even close. I would say a mega babe like you would have gathered a proposal on every continent.”
Sydney laughed at that before finishing off her whisky serum. “That does seem to quiet the cough, doesn’t it?” She patted Haze’s leg. “Nicely done. Now, I think… ”
“Oh, hell no!” Haze interrupted. “You don’t drop a bomb like that and then pat me on the leg and dismiss me. I am not leaving until you give me the skinny. You have to tell me about your husband.”
Sydney’s blue eyes sparkled. She smiled wickedly. “Which one?”
Haze’s mouth dropped. She stood abruptly. “I’m pouring myself a drink and you more medicine. And then, I will hear all about the mysterious husbands—that would be plural—of my mild-mannered neighbor.”
“Ha!” Sydney scoffed. “Mild-mannered, my ass!”
Glasses full, Sydney began. “I have been married to four wonderful men,” she confessed, “but only one was the love of my life.”
Haze was rapt. Four marriages and she knew nothing of them. How many times had she poured out every heartache, every trouble, and not once had Sydney delved into her own past. She’d never guessed how full a romantic life she’d had.
“I’ll save the details about each man for another time. It’s Harold who’s been on my mind lately. It’s Harold who was the love of my life.” She sighed and gazed into the flames behind the fire screen. “I was 20. He was British, working in the embassy in Istanbul. My father was a diplomat, which allowed my mother and I to accompany him on his travels. That’s how I traveled so much in my youth. And that’s how it was that we found ourselves in Istanbul where I met Harold.” She flipped to the back of the album and stopped. It was a two-page spread filled with snapshots of a tall, slender man with wavy hair. “That’s him,” she said, gently touching the photo. “His hair was this gorgeous shade of gold—like honey—and he had the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. He was tall and elegant—well, you can see from these photos—and handsome. So handsome.”
Haze watched with admiration. It was clear that she loved this man. Talking about Harold made her look like a girl again.
“We had a whirlwind romance and were wed on Valentine’s Day. That’s probably why he’s on my mind, with Valentine’s Day being upon us. It was a tiny ceremony in the embassy garden—just my parents and a few friends. We had luncheon, and cake, of course.” She pointed out a wedding photo. He wore a suit and tie and she a feminine day suit with a veiled hat. They were quite the handsome couple, posed in front of a small cake decorated in lilies.
“I knew he was the one the moment he took my hand in his. It was a simple gesture, but in that moment, I had never felt such a sense of calm and comfort. It was like… ” She looked up, searching for the words. “It was like coming home.” She sipped from her glass, then shook her head. “I’m not describing it right. Words can’t do it justice.” She turned toward Haze with a wistful smile. “I can tell you this: If you ever get that feeling—that fizzy mixture of mystery and familiar comfort all rolled into one—run, don’t walk, into that man’s arms.”