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Authors: Barbara Delinsky

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Twelve Across

BOOK: Twelve Across
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TWELVE ACROSS

by

BARBARA DELINSKY

WORLDWIDE BOOKS

LONDON SYDNEY TORONTO

DID YOU PURCHASE THIS BOOK WITHOUT A COVER?

If you did, you should be aware it is stolen property as it was reported unsold and destroyed by a retailer. Neither the Author nor the publisher has received any payment for this book.

All the characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the Author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the Author, and all the incidents are pure invention.

All rights reserved. The text of this publication or any part thereof may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, storage in an information retrieval system or otherwise, without the written permission of the publisher.

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shalt not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the prior consent of the publisher in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without out a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

First published in Great Britain in 1987

Reprinted in Great Britain in 1994 by Worldwide Books, Eton House, IS-24

Paradise Road, Richmonq Surrey ? "W91SR

(C) Barbara Delinsky 1987

ISBN 0 373 59316 3

99-9409

Made and printed in Great Britain TWELVE ACROSS

LEAH GATES MADE A FINAL FOLD in the blue foil paper, then studied her creation in dismay. "This does not look like a roadrunner, " she whispered to the woman at the table beside her.

Victoria Lesser, who d been diligently folding a pelican, shifted her attention to her friend's work. "Sure, it does, " she whispered back.

"It's a roadrunner. "

"And I'm a groundhog: Leah raised large, round glasses from the bridge of her nose in the hope that a myopic view would improve the image. It didn't. She dropped the frames back into place.

"It's a roadrunner, " Victoria repeated. you're squinting: '

"It looks like a roadrunner. "

"It looks like a conglomeration of pointed paper prongs: ' Lifting the fragile item, Victoria turned it from side to side. She had to agree with Leah's assessment, though she was far too tactful to say so. "Did you get the stretched bird base right? "

"I thought so: ' ' And the book fold and the mountain fold? "

"As far as I know: '

"Then there must be some problem with the rabbit-ear fold:'

"I think the prob leni s with me: '

"Uh-uh: '

"Then with you, " Leah scolded in the same hushed whisper' It was your idea to take an origami course. How do I let myself get talked into these things? "

"Very easily. You love them as much as I do. Besides, you're a puzzle solver, and what's origami but a puzzle in paper? you've done fine up to now. So today s an off day. "

"That's an understatement, " leah muttered.

"Ladies? " came a call from the front of the room. Both Leah and Victoria looked up to find the instructor s reproving stare homing in on them over the heads of the other students "I believe we re ready to start on the frog base.

Are there any final questions on the stretched bird base? "

Leah quickly shook her head, then bit her lip against a moan of despair.

The frog base?

Victoria simply sat with a gentle smile on her face. By the time the class had ended, though, the smile had faded. Taking I. eah by the arm, she ushered her toward the door. "Come on, " she said softly. "Let's get some coffee: '

When they were seated in a small coffee shop on Third Avenue, Victoria wasted no time in speaking her mind. "Something s bothering you. Out with it: ' leah set her glasses on the table. They d fogged up the instant she d come in from the cold, and long-time experience told her that they d be useless for several minutes. The oversize fuchsia sweater Victoria wore was more than bright enough to be seen by the weakest of eyes, however, and above the sweater were the gentlest of expressions.

It was toward these that Leah sent a sheepish look. " My frog base stunk, too, huh? "

"Your mind wasn't on it. Your attentiori s been elsewhere all night.

Where, if I may be so bold as to ask? "

Leah had to laugh at that. In the year she d known Victoria I. esser, the woman had on occasion been far bolder. But not once had Leah minded.

What might have been considered intrusive in others was caring in Victoria. She was compassionate, down-to-earth and insightful, and had such a remarkably positive view of the world that time spent with her was always uplifting.

"Guess, " Leah inviteqd with a wry half grin.

"Well, I know your mind'q not on your marriage, because that's been over and done for two years now. And I know it's not on a man, beqcause despite my own considerable -" she drawled the word pointedly "-efforts to fix you up, you refuse to date. And I doubt it's on your work, because crosswords are in as much of a demand as ever, and because just last week you told me that yqour contract's been renewed. Which leaves your apartment: Victoria knew how much Leah adored the loft she d lived in since her divorce' Is your landlord raising the rent? "

"Worse: '

"Oh-oh. He s talking condo conversion: '

"He s decided condo conversion: '

"Oh, sweetheart. Mucho? "

"Mucho mucho : ' " lnheri s it happening? "

"Too soon: Idly Leah strummed the rim of her glasses, then, as though recalling their purpose, slipped them back onto her nose. " I can look for another place, but I doubt I'll find one half as nice. Waterfront buildings are hot, and most of them have already gone condo. Even if there were a vacancy in one of the few remaining rentals, I doubt I could afford it: ' "Thank you, New York: '

"Mmmm: Seeking to warm her chilled fingers, Leah wrapped her hands around her coffee cup. " Prices have gone sky high in the two years since lrrented the loft. The only reason I got it at a reasonable rate in the first place was that I was willing to fix it up myself. It was a mess when I first saw it, but the view was.. ineffable: '

"Ineffable? "

"Indescribable. It isn't fair, Victoria. For weeks I scraped walls and ceilings, sanded, painted, and now someone else will reap the fniits of my labor. " She gave a frustrated growl. "I had a feeling this was coming, but that doesn't make it any easier to take: ' Victoria s heart went out to this woman wlio'd become such a special friend.

They d met the yqar before in the public library and had hit it off from the start. Victoria had enjoyed' Leah subtle wit and soft-spoken manner.

Though at the age of thirty-three Leah was twenty years younger, they shared an interest in things new and different. They d gone to the theater together, tried out newly opened restaurants together, taken classes not only in origami but in papier mqche, conversational Russian and ballet.

Victoria had come to know Leah well. She d learned that Leah had been badly burned by an unhappy marriage and that behind the urban adventuress was a basically shy woman. She also saw that Leah had constructed a very tidy and self-contained shell for herself, and that within that shell was a world of loneliness and vulnerability. Losing the apartment she loved would feed that vulnerability.

"You know, " Victoria ventured, "I'd be more thaqhappy to loan you the down payment on that condo The hand Leah pressed over hers cut off her words. " I can't take your money"

"But I have it. More than enough " It's not my way, Victoria. I wouldn't be comfortable. And it's not as much a matter of principle as it is the amount of money involved. If I had to make loan payments to you on top of mortgage payments to the bank, I'd be house poor Another few years..

That's all I'd have needed to save for the down payment myqelf: It might have taken less if she d been more ftugal, but Leah lived comfortably and enjoyed it. She took pleasure in splurging on an exquisite hand-knit sweater, a pair of imported shoes, a pieqce of original art. She reasoned that shed earned them. But a bank wouldn't take them as collateral. "Llnfortunately I don't have another few years: '

"You wouldn't have to pay me back right away. "

"That's bad business: '

"So7 It's my money, my business-"

"And our friendship. I'd feel awkward taking advantage of it:'

"I'm the one who s made the offer. There d be no teking advantage involved: ' But Leah was shaking her head. '"Thanks, but I can't. I just can't: ' Victoria opened her mouth to speak, then paused. She d been about to suggest that Richard might help. Given the fact that Leah had been married to him once and that she had no other family, it seemed the only other option. He had money. Unfortunately he also had a new wife and a child. Victoria knew that Leah's pride wouldn't allow her to ask him for a thing. "What will you do? "

"Look for another place, I guess. If I have to settle for something less exciting, so be it: '

"Are you sure you want to stay in the city7 Seems to me you could get a super place somewhere farther out: ' Leah considered that idea. "But I like the city " you're used to the city. you've lived here all your life. Maybe it's time for a change: '

"I don't know-"

"It'd be good for you, sweetheart. New scenery, new people, new stores, new courses-"

"Are you trying to get rid of me? "

"And lose my companion in whimsy? Of course not! But I'd be selfish if I didn't encourage you to spread your wings a little. One part of you loves new experiences. The other part avoids them. But you're young, Leah. You have so much living to do: '

"What better place to do it than here7 I mean, if New York isn't multifarious-"

"Leah, please: '

"Diverse, as in filled with opportunities, okay? If New York isn't that, what place is? "

"Just about any place. Perhaps it'd be a different kind of experience..

: The wheqels in Victoria's mind were beginning to turn. " You know, there's another possibility entirely If you were willing to shift gean, if you were game. : ' She shook her head. "No. Maybe not: ' " lnhat? "

"It'd be too much. Forget I mentioned it: '

"You haven't mentioned anything, " Leah pointed out in her quiet way But she was curious, just as she was sure Victoria had intended. "What were you thinking of? "

It was a minute before Victoria answered, and the delay wasn't all for effect. She hated to be devious with someone she adorqd as much as she did Leah. And yet. and yet.. it could possibly work. Hadrt t a little deviousness brought two other good friends of hers together?

"I have a place. It's pretty secluded: ' '" The island in Maine? " '"

There s that, but it wasn't what I had in mind: The island was totally secluded.

She diddt want Leah to be alone; that would defqat the purpose. "I have a cabin in New Hampshire. Arthur bought it years ago as a hunting lodge.

I've been up several times since he died, but it's a little too quiet for me: She shook her head again. " No. IYD be too quiet for you, too.

you're used to the city"

"Tell me more: ' " You like the city"

"Tell me, Victoria: ' Again Victoria paused, this time entirely for effect. "It's in the middle of the woods, and it's small, " she said with caution. q "Go on: '

"We re talking mountain retreat here: '

"Yes: ' " There are two rooms-a living area and a bedroom. The nearest town is three miles away. You d hate it, leah: ' But Leah wasn't so sure. She was intimidated by the idea of moving to a suburban neighborhood, but something rustic.. It was a new thought, suddenly worth considering'i don't know as I could buy it: '

"It's not for sale, " Victoria said quickly. "But I could easily loan-"

"Rent. It'd have to be a rental: '

"Okay. I could easily rent it to you for a little while. That's all you d need to decide whether you can live outside New York. You could view it as a trial run: '

"Are there people nearby? "

"In the town, yes. Not many mind you, and they re quiet , private types:

'

So much the better, Leah thought. She didn't care to cope with throngs of new faces. "That's okay. I could do my work at a mountain cabin without any problem, and if I had books and a tape deck-"

"There s a community of artists about fifteen miles from the mountain.

You once mentioned wanting to learn how to weave. You d have the perfect opportunity for that: ' Victoria considered mentioning Garrick, then ruled against it for the time being. Leah was smiling; she obviously liked what she d heard so far. It seemed that reverse psychology was the way to go. " It's not New York, " she reminded her friend gently.

"I know. "

"It'd be a total change: '

"I know: ' ' A few minutes ago you said you didn't want to leave New York:'

"But my apartment's being stolen from under me, so some change is inevitable: ' " You could still look for another apartment: '

"I could: '

"Or move to the suburbs: ' Leah's firm head shake sent thick black hair shimmering along the crew neckline of her sweater.

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