The idea for Andie’s character came about by my worrying about those John plus Kate plus eight minus one kids. The entire country watched that family unravel, and it wasn’t pretty. So I began to think about what those kids will be like in a few years, and how they might feel about their parents and siblings.
When the cell phone on Andie Crystal’s desk rang, her assistant stared as if her boss had received a call from beyond the grave. “Is that your cell phone?” Jasmine’s wide eyes met her boss’s. “In all the years I’ve worked for you, I don’t think I’ve ever heard that phone ring.”
Andie ignored the comment and picked up her phone, but the skin at the back of her neck prickled. Only a handful of people had her cell number, and most of them were her coworkers. None of the others would call unless they had news of a bona fide emergency.
She glanced at the number in the viewer, then told Jasmine they could finish the reports later. After tossing Andie another bewildered look, the assistant backed out of the office and closed the door.
Something inside Andie went still as she pressed the receive button. “Mr. Rueben?”
Her lawyer’s baritone chuckle put her at ease. “Andie, how are you this morning?”
“Fine, but I was surprised to see your number on my cell. Is everything okay?”
“I’m not sure how to answer that.” His sigh echoed over the airwaves between Providence and Chicago. “I’m calling for three reasons. First, I wanted to thank you for the nice birthday card. Getting older’s no fun, but thoughtful people like you help take the sting out of the passing years.”
Andie smiled. “After all you’ve done for me, remembering your birthday is the least I can do. I hope the celebration was fabulous.”
“My wife and kids seemed to enjoy watching me sputter over all those candles—sixty-two this year. Soon my cakes are going to be a fire hazard.”
Andie waited, knowing the man hadn’t called to talk about his birthday.
“The second reason I called,” he continued, “was to let you know we’re putting your check in the mail today. It’s not the windfall I wish we could send, but it’ll be a nice addition to your retirement fund.”
Andie moved to the window, which offered a view of a busy downtown street. “That’s okay—I’m amazed every time I get a check.”
“I’m not. TV Land loves the show, and in his cover letter Oliver mentioned that Nickelodeon just picked up the series. So it’s a fair bet that you and your siblings will be earning residuals for months to come.” He chuckled. “Everybody loves reruns.”
Did they? Andie grabbed a hank of her hair and glanced at the ends to be sure the color was holding. She was blond in those reruns, and sometimes she suffered from nightmares in which her copper color washed away, leaving her with the pale hair of her teenage years . . .
“I hate reruns.” She blurted out the words without thinking, then realized that her lawyer must think her awfully ungrateful. Embarrassment burned her cheeks as her words hung in the silence. “I mean—I wish—”
“I know you wish someone would lock those old episodes in a vault, but your mother depends on her residual income. I would imagine that your siblings don’t complain about unexpected paychecks, either.”
“I didn’t mean to whine. Sorry about that. But those reruns keep the Happy Huggins alive, and as long as they’re alive, the tabloids keep manufacturing wild stories. Just last week I saw a headline that said I’d been kidnapped by aliens.”
“I can’t believe people buy those rags.” The lawyer snorted softly. “I know you’re not ungrateful. You were always a good kid, maybe the best of the bunch. And that brings me to the third reason for my call—and I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news.”
“Did someone die or something?” Andie offered the question in jest, then slowly sank into her chair when the lawyer didn’t answer. What was going on? Thomas Rueben rarely called; he usually mailed her checks along with a cover letter and his best wishes. He must have spectacularly bad news if he felt compelled to pick up the phone. The skin at her neck prickled again. Had something happened to one of her—
“It’s your mother,” he said, his voice flat. “Oliver said she hadn’t been feeling well, so he finally got her to a doctor.”
“Mom is sick?”
“Cervical cancer. The prognosis isn’t good.”
His news whirled in Andie’s head, intelligible, specific, and complex, yet her brain reduced the report to one succinct conclusion: her mother was too stubborn to die on a doctor’s schedule. She might be too stubborn to die at all.
“Andie? Did you hear what I said?”
The thought of her mother being terminally ill was so absurd Andie almost began to laugh. Mona Huggins, dying? She’d seen her mother fly in the face of network executives; she’d seen her bully her way into a bat mitzvah at the Beverly Hills Hotel so their band could play for a talent agent. The woman was half superhero and half politician.
“No way,” she said. “No way my mom could be dying.”
“Christy,” he spoke the name slowly, as if to remind her that she had once been someone else, “denial is quite natural when one receives upsetting news. You’ve probably read about the stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression—”
“I’m not angry,” she answered, her voice clipped. “And I’m not Christy Huggins, not anymore. You know that better than anyone.”
“I know you’re a sensitive young woman who’s borne more than her fair share of grief. I know that years ago you divorced yourself from your family personally and professionally. But I also know that you care about these people, and though you may not realize it yet, you care deeply about your dying mother.”
She pressed her hand over her mouth to squelch the sob that threatened to rip from her throat. How could this man—her own lawyer, for heaven’s sake—call with news like this? She had finally managed to reach a place where she thought about her family only a few times a week, when she could almost resist reaching for the tabloid that reported on her sister’s new baby or her brother’s DUI arrest. She had worked so hard to put distance between her past and her new reality, but with one phone call Mr. Reuben had bridged that space and brought back all the pain . . .
She swallowed hard. “Cervical cancer.” Her voice sounded thin and frightened in her own ears. “What do the doctors say?”
“They give her four to six weeks. I’m so sorry, Andie.”
She gripped the armrest of her chair and waited until she had control of her voice. Mr. Rueben had caught her by surprise and yes, for a moment or two she’d spun in a cyclone of emotions. But she’d deal with them later. Alone.
Certain that her lawyer had been reluctant to make this call, Andie shoehorned a note of gratitude into her voice. “Thank you for telling me. I appreciate hearing about this before reporters break the story.”
“Oliver’s going public with the news next week. And Andie, there’s something else.”
His comment distracted her from dark thoughts of gossip journalism. “What’s that?”
“Your mother wants to get the family together. She wants one last reunion . . . with all of you.”
Andie heard his subtle emphasis on the word all, then she lifted her chin. “Impossible. I’m living with the aliens.”
The lawyer’s voice gentled. “Perhaps you should call—”
“I’m not calling her.”
“I was going to suggest that you call Oliver. I’m sure he’d love to hear from you.”
For half a minute Andie considered calling her former agent, then she shook her head. “He’d tell her I called, and somehow she’d find a way to ruin my new life.”
“Your mother is not a malicious person.”
“I know, I know, you don’t have to tell me what kind of person she is. She may not be malicious, but she is ambitious, and her ambition ruined our family. I’m sorry, Mr. Rueben. I’m not heartless, really I’m not, but I have to protect myself. I’m not Christy Huggins any more.”
He hesitated, then spoke in a gentle whisper. “But you are still your mother’s daughter.”
She sagged in her chair when his words struck a nerve. But he didn’t understand everything she’d been through.
She was her mother’s daughter. But she was also her father’s daughter, and Cole’s big sister.
And she could never forget that her mother was the reason her dad and Cole were dead.
Tomorrow: meet Matthew