Home Again





  Dear Reader,

  As I sit down to write this letter, I have just put the finishing touches on my newest novel, Magic Hour, which will be coming your way in late February of 2006. Amazingly to me, it marks the fourteenth novel of my career. I know I’m showing my age when I say this, but it truly seems as if I started writing about a minute ago. The truth is, however, that when I started, I was a new wife, my son hadn’t yet been born (he’s now in his senior year of high school), and Madonna’s “Crazy for You” was the song.

  Between then and now, as life was unfolding on the crooked path of its own design, I wrote one love story after another. Although each novel was the very best that I could write at the time, I would be less than candid if I didn’t admit that some simply turned out better than others. This brings me to Home Again.

  In many ways, Home Again was a turning point for me. It was bigger than the books that had come before it; the characters were deeper and the emotions more honest, somehow. It was my first foray into contemporary fiction and once I’d turned that corner, there was no going back. Quite simply, in writing this story, I found my voice and glimpsed my future. It remains, after all this time, one of my personal favorites.

  I’m glad to be able to say thank you to all of you who wrote to me over the years, asking for a re-release of this classic love story. I’m so pleased to know that it touched your heart as deeply as it did mine.

  So pour yourself a nice cup of hot tea, curl up with a warm blanket, and come along with me to a small house in the Pacific Northwest, where Madelaine, Lina, Angel, and Francis are about to discover the meaning of love.

  Enjoy!

  —KRISTIN HANNAH

  Praise for Kristin Hannah’s novels

  Distant Shores

  “Hannah is superb at delving into her main characters’ psyches and delineating nuances of feeling.”

  —The Washington Post Book World

  “An exquisite tale of a woman at the crossroads of her life … There are real-life lessons here told with truth, humor, and courage. You will love this story.”

  —ADRIANA TRIGIANI, author of Rococo

  “Hannah … proves that her graduation into the big leagues … is well deserved.”

  —New York Post

  “Certain to strike a chord … winning characterizations … and a few surprises.”

  —The Seattle Times

  “[Hannah] writes of love with compassion and conviction.”

  —LUANNE RICE

  Between Sisters

  “Rich in the details and nuances of family relationships.”

  —Library Journal

  “Kristin Hannah touches the deepest, most tender corners of our hearts.”

  —TAMI HOAG, author of Dark Horse

  The Things We Do for Love

  “This wonderful book is a classic example of the enormously touching and thought-provoking stories that are Hannah’s specialty. The warmth and complexities of these characters grab hold of the heartstrings.”

  —Romantic Times Bookclub

  By Kristin Hannah

  (published by Ballantine Books)

  A HANDFUL OF HEAVEN

  THE ENCHANTMENT

  ONCE IN EVERY LIFE

  IF YOU BELIEVE

  WHEN LIGHTNING STRIKES

  WAITING FOR THE MOON

  HOME AGAIN

  ON MYSTIC LAKE

  ANGEL FALLS

  SUMMER ISLAND

  DISTANT SHORES

  BETWEEN SISTERS

  THE THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE

  COMFORT & JOY

  MAGIC HOUR

  Books published by The Random House Publishing Group are available at quantity discounts on bulk purchases for premium, educational, fund-raising, and special sales use. For details, please call 1-800-733-3000.

  This book is about old friends,

  and I dedicate it to the following people:

  Benjamin and Tucker, my deepest loves,

  all the friends from the old days and the old neighborhoods

  —Charlotte Stan, Mary Kay Atchison, Gretchen

  Lauber, Kim Heltne-Newland, Karie Dovre-Bennett, and

  Karen Abner. Out of touch, perhaps, but never out of

  mind….

  And to the newest members of my family—Debbie

  Edwards, Julie Gorset, and John Turner.

  Thanks to you all.

  Acknowledgments

  I couldn’t have written this novel without the help and advice of many people. To Reverend Roger Decker, Rena O’Brien, Cathy Sanders, and Gardner Congdon of the Northwest Organ Procurement Agency; and to Lydia Carroll and Sandy Kruse at the University of Washington Medical Center, thanks so much for your time.

  Many thanks to Dr. Barbara Snyder, who set aside her own incredible workload to check the accuracy of this books. I owe you a big one.

  And to Andrea Cirillo, angent extraordinaire, who believed in this book from the beginning … and kept believing.

  Chapter One

  Reporters had been circling the event for days now. Headlines flourished. Innuendo about drug use and illicit behavior nipped at the heels of the celebrities who’d congregated in the small Oregon town. It was a wrap party for a major motion picture, and things like this didn’t take place in LaGrangeville. The Elks Hall hadn’t been used for anything other than quiet meetings in years, but tonight it pulsed with loud, discordant music. Townspeople and photographers swarmed the narrow main street, seeing themselves in the mirrored windows of the limousines that prowled past, waiting for something explosive, something totally Hollywood, to happen.

  But even so, even with all the articles and interviews and paparazzi, no one knew how close to the truth the Enquirer’s headline sentence would be: It was a party to die for.

  Angel DeMarco emerged from the temperature-controlled cocoon of the limousine. Through a blur of cigarette smoke and drizzly rain, he saw the crowd gathered across the street. Faceless bodies huddled behind a long, yellow police line.

  “It’s him, DeMarco!”

  Cameras erupted in buzzing bursts of light. The rain looked surreal, streaks of prismatic silver, puddles of impossible light on the black street.

  “Angel… look this way! AngelAngelAngel…”

  Their adoration swept through him in an exhilarating wave. God, how he loved his fame. He took a long drag off his cigarette and exhaled slowly, then flashed them the smile, the grin that just last week People magazine had labeled the “twenty-thousand-megawatter.” He waved. The gray trail of his cigarette smoke snaked through the air.

  He stepped sideways to allow his date—he couldn’t remember her name—to get out of the car.

  She surfaced slowly. A high-heeled black leather shoe and long, slinky leg shot out of the darkness. Her heel clicked hard on the pavement. She leaned forward, thrust her teased pile of peroxide-yellow hair forward, followed it with a magnificent amount of cleavage, and thrust out of the car. Instinctively she turned to the crowd, adjusting her pink rubber dress as she smiled and waved.

  Angel had to give her credit: the woman knew how to make an entrance.

  He took her hand and pulled her toward his adoring fans. Her ridiculous heels clicked and skidded on the slick pavement, but the sound was soon drowned out by the roar of the crowd, when they realized that he was coming toward them.

  Young girls screamed and reached out for him. A few of them, he recognized—they were the same freckle-faced small-town teenagers who had skipped school to watch the filming of his movie. They’d stood on the perimeter every day, bunched together behind the barricades, screaming and giggling and crying when he emerged from his trailer to shoot a scene.

  They asked nothing of him, this crowd of admirers, nothing except his presence. He could be wild and immature and s
elfish, and they didn’t care—they only cared that he gave his all to the screen. He gave them his biggest, sexiest smile, allowing his gaze to scan the crowd. He presented each girl a moment, a single heartbeat of time when he was looking at her alone.

  “Angel, can we have your autograph? What do you think of LaGrangeville? When will the movie be out? Will you show it here first?”

  The questions came as they always did, shooting from the rain like darts. Some he heard, others he didn’t, but he knew it didn’t matter. They didn’t expect an answer, they just wanted to be around him, to see if a few drops of his Hollywood glitter would dust their ordinary lives for a second.

  “Angel, could I get a picture taken with you?”

  He glanced up from the autograph he was signing and looked at the young girl who’d asked the question. She was short and round, with cheeks that looked like china plates, and waves of frizzled brown hair.

  He knew her in an instant—she was the girl who never got invited to the best parties, and tried desperately not to care.

  He knew all about that. Even now, years later, he could remember what it felt like to be a teenaged boy on the outside looking in. How much it hurt.

  He smiled at her, and her eyes widened in surprise. She stared at him as if he’d hung the moon, and that was all it took—that one look from a stranger shot through his bloodstream like a drug.

  “Why, darlin’, I’d be honored.” He pulled away from his date and ducked under the police tape. He felt hands all over him, smoothing along his jacket, tangling in his hair. It used to bother him, that unsought intimacy, but he’d learned to live with it, even enjoy it if they didn’t go too far. He slipped an arm around the girl and drew her close, huddling beneath the overhang of the old brick building. Another girl—tall and gangly—flashed a quick photo of them.

  “You look awfully pretty tonight,” he said. The girl was wearing a floor-length white satin dress.

  “It’th Homecoming,” she lisped, almost blinding him with the silver from her braces.

  Homecoming. It was a word he hadn’t heard in a long time, a lifetime, and suddenly he felt old. If he were this girl’s father, he would have watched her get dressed in sparkles and beads for a school dance. He wondered what that would have felt like….

  He brushed the vague sense of regret aside. “Where’s your date?”

  A blush crept up her fleshy cheeks. “I don’t have one. Me and thome … girlfriends thought we’d just watch. We were on the decorating committee….”

  For a split second he wasn’t Angel DeMarco, movie star; he was Angelo DeMarco, the kid from the wrong side of the tracks. “Where’s the dance?” he asked softly.

  She pointed down the street. “At the high thchool … the gym.”

  Before he had time to think about it, he grabbed the girl’s hand and led her down the street. The crowd hushed, then parted for them.

  “Angel!”

  He heard his name and paused, turning around. Val Lightner, his agent and friend, was standing alongside Rubber Dress. They were both waving at him. “Where are you going?” Val yelled, flicking his cigarette into the street. “They’re waiting for you inside.”

  Angel grinned. That was the greatest thing about fame—they always waited. “Be right back.” Still smiling, he led the awestruck girl across the street. Together they slipped into the gymnasium. The place was decorated with what must have been ten reams of toilet paper. Up onstage, the band was pounding out a horrible rendition of Madonna’s “Crazy for You.”

  He heard people gasp as he led the girl onto the dance floor. Fingers pointed, drinks fell, giggling stopped. But he didn’t look around. He looked at the girl, only the girl. “May I have this dance?”

  She opened her mouth to answer, but nothing came out except a high-pitched squeak.

  He took her in his arms and danced with her for the last thirty seconds of the song, and when it was over, he drew back.

  Feeling surprisingly good, he strode from the auditorium. The kids were swarming their new queen.

  “How very touching,” drawled a voice from outside.

  Angel forced a grin. “Eleven to seventeen,” he said harshly. “It’s my audience.”

  Val clapped Angel on the back and pulled him out into the rainy night. “You’ll have women sobbing on “Hard Copy,” for God’s sake, and teenaged girls sending you invitations to the prom.”

  “Yeah, yeah. I know. Now, let’s get to the goddamn party. I need a drink.”

  They raced back across the street. Angel’s date was standing exactly where he’d left her, in the rain. For a split second he wished he’d brought someone else—someone who mattered—but he couldn’t think who the hell that would be.

  Irritated by the thought, he grabbed the woman’s hand and pulled her toward the Elks Hall. Together, ducking from the rain, they surged into the building and climbed the rickety stairs to the huge lobby. Weak overhead lighting pushed through the murky interior, creating pockets of marshy gold amidst the shadows. Upstairs, a heavy metal band rocked the floorboards. Dust filtered from the cracks. Along the far wall, a makeshift bar had been set up, and dozens of celebrities mingled with wannabes and slurped up booze.

  Angel felt as if he’d come home. He drew in a deep, satisfied breath, loving everything about this moment—the raucousness of the music, the sickly sweet scent of marijuana, the humid odor of too many bodies in too small a space. Val muttered a quick good-bye—something about getting laid—and disappeared into the crowd.

  “You thirsty?” his date asked prettily.

  Angel started to answer, but before he could get the word out, he felt a tightening in his chest. He winced, rotated his shoulder to work out the kink.

  She frowned. “You okay?”

  The pain eased, and he smiled at what’s-her-name. “My body’s reacting to a lack of alcohol,” he said easily, slipping his hand down the rubber-coated curve of her waist, settling on her hip with a familiarity he didn’t have, didn’t need with a woman like her.

  She flashed him a bright, cap-toothed smile. “Tequila?”

  He grinned. “You’ve been reading the Enquirer. Naughty girl.” He pulled her close. The gardenia scent of her perfume filled his nostrils. “Have you heard what I do to naughty girls?”

  She wet her lips and all but purred. “I’ve heard.”

  He stared into her eyes, heavily mascaraed, blue-shadowed, and saw his own reflection. For a second he was disappointed that she was so easy, that it was all so easy, and then the moment was gone. He was too sober, that was the trouble. He thought too much when he was sober, wanted too much. When he was drunk or high, he was Angel DeMarco, Academy Award-nominated actor. He was somebody, and he needed that feeling like air.

  “Get me that drink, willya, darlin’?”

  She gave him a quick peck on the cheek and wiggled away from him, oozing across the room, toward the bar. Her surgically enhanced body was perfect—all dips and swells coated in pink rubber. His heartbeat sped up, his throat went dry. He leaned against the splintered wooden wall and started to think of ways to use that delicious body of hers, thought of them tangled together, buck naked and stoned and going at it like …

  Nausea prickled his stomach. At first he thought it was nothing—a lack of booze—then his vision blurred, his stomach lurched, and he knew what was happening.

  “Oh, God …” He pulled away from the wooden wall, and felt it—the invisible fist squeezing his chest.

  Warning bells sounded in his head, loud enough to drown out the throb of the music. He sucked greedily at the smoky air, gulping, gasping, trying to fill his lungs. Pain chewed across his chest, bled down his left arm until his fingers were tingling and hot. He clutched the slick wooden handrail, but it was as loose as an old tooth and wobbled in his grasp.

  “Oh, Christ…” Not now, not here …

  Sweat slid in a cold streak down his hairline. The rickety wooden steps that led up to the dance floor seemed to magnify before his eyes
. The dark slats blurred into one another, elongated like the hallway in that movie Poltergeist, For a split second he saw JoBeth Williams, racing down the doorless expanse, screaming.

  What had she been screaming about? He tried to concentrate on that single meaningless question. Anything to still the racket in his chest.

  “Angel?”

  It took a moment to recognize his own name. When he understood, he tried to look up, but he could barely move. His heart clattered and pounded, an unoiled gear slipping on and off its track. He wet his powdery lips and tried like hell to smile as he slowly lifted his head.

  The woman—Judy, he remembered suddenly—stood in front of him, holding a bottle of tequila and two shot glasses. A shaker of salt lay cradled in the vee of her cleavage.

  Her pretty, made-up face scrunched in a thoughtful frown. “Angel?”

  “Don’t…” The word shot out on a wheezing breath and hung there. He tried to add to it, but he couldn’t think straight, couldn’t see. Christ, he couldn’t breathe, it hurt so bad. “Don’t feel good. Get Val over here.”

  Panic darted across her face. She glanced quickly up the stairs, to the throng of partygoers, uncertainty pulling at her penciled brows.

  He let go of the handrail and grabbed her slim wrist. She made a quiet gasping sound and tried to pull away. He wouldn’t let her, he held on with everything inside him. He stared at her, trying to remain calm, trying to breathe. “Get—”

  It hit. Red-hot pain, exploding, crushing his chest. He couldn’t do anything except stand there, swaying, gasping, his hand clamped over his heart. Hurting, oh, Jesus, hurting like he hadn’t hurt in years.

  “Please …” he wheezed, “don’t let… me …”

  Die. He wanted to say, don’t let me die, but he couldn’t get the word out before the world went black.

  He woke to the electronic blip-blip-blip of the cardiac monitor. Computer-generated sound, electrical and inhuman.