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Nine Lives(5)
Author: Danielle Steel

       Maggie had a good job then too, working in the finance office of a TV network. She made a respectable salary and had a small apartment in Chicago. Her mother and Harry had finally moved to the suburbs. Harry was sixty-one and planning to retire in four years, to play golf, watch TV, and drink beer with his wife, which was enough for both of them.

   Maggie had discovered that she had a knack for finance, and had put her dreams of art and design aside. She wanted a solid job she could count on, and not have to take a risk by trying to develop a talent that might never pan out. She had learned from her mother the value of a sure thing, and how important being safe was. She set her sights higher than her mother had, but Emma had convinced her that safety was vital for a happy life.

   When Tommy was twenty-three, flying for the Navy, they sent him to Iraq, which drove his mother into a constant state of anxiety. She quit her job at the hotel and sat glued to the TV every day, watching CNN, terrified of what she would see there. He had been in Iraq for four months, when her worst nightmare happened. His plane was shot down and exploded during the bombing of a convoy. There was no body to send home, and Emma looked like a zombie at the funeral. She never recovered. She clung to Harry as though she were drowning. He and Maggie got her up and down the aisle behind an empty casket, draped with a flag they folded and handed to her, just as they had the one on Kevin’s casket nineteen years before.

   Maggie was so worried about her mother that she quit her job, and spent three months taking care of her, but Emma was never the same after that. She looked dazed and distracted, and was frightened of everything. She cried when Harry left for work, and she rarely left the house. Her hands shook violently, and six months later, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and dementia, but Maggie knew her mother was dying of a broken heart. Losing her son had killed her. She had lost two men to their love of flying planes, and their love of their country. And Maggie had lost a father and a brother. She was twenty-eight when Tommy died, and she felt different too. She understood better now what her mother had been trying to teach her, the importance of a stable, safe life. She never wanted to go through this again. She had nightmares every night, dreaming either of her father or her brother crashing in their planes.

       She finally started looking for another job, when Harry hired a woman to take care of Emma in the daytime. She thought of looking for a job in a museum or an art gallery, but instead wound up working as a receptionist for an accounting firm. It wasn’t an exciting job, but it was the best offer she had at the time, with a good company that had a fine reputation. The pay was fair and they let her do some minor bookkeeping. She told herself she’d find a better job later. She didn’t intend to stay there forever, just for a while to get back in the workforce. It was a gentle way to start again after the trauma she’d been through. She liked the people when she interviewed. They all seemed straightforward and friendly and had integrity. It was privately owned by an older man, and run by his son, Brad Mackenzie, who was thirty-three years old and would inherit the business one day. They were considerate and kind. They knew she’d lost her brother and had been nursing her mother, and were compassionate about it.

       Two months after she started working there, Brad asked Maggie out, and she hesitated. She didn’t think it was a good idea to date the boss’s son. If it turned out badly she could get fired or have to quit. It seemed too risky, but he was so nice to her and so insistent that she finally succumbed, and they started dating. Even in her diminished state, her mother said Brad was perfect. The Mackenzies were a solid family and Brad was their only son. He had gone to Northwestern, played football in college, loved baseball, went to Stanford Business School for an MBA, then came home to run the family business and enjoyed it. He and his father got along well, and Brad told her repeatedly how much he had learned from his father. He was an all-around wholesome, decent guy.

   A year after they started dating, he proposed, and they got engaged. She couldn’t think of a single reason not to. He was the kind of man every parent wanted for their daughter. He wasn’t exciting, but he was someone you could count on. And in a quiet, gentle way, she loved him. It wasn’t a wild, passionate love, but she could see growing old with him. Their life wasn’t thrilling, but it was predictable and solid, and having lost a father and a brother, with a mother slipping away quietly, he was a rock she could hang on to, which was important to her. She had no family left, except a mother with dementia.

   She was twenty-nine when they married. They bought a home in Lake Forest, and she got pregnant almost immediately. Their son, Aden, was born when Maggie was thirty and Brad thirty-five, and they were the perfect suburban American family, the poster children for a happy life. Maggie’s mother died shortly after Aden was born, which wasn’t unexpected, and was a release from the grief that had drowned her. Maggie was glad she had at least seen the baby, although she thought he was Tommy, and didn’t really understand by then. There was nothing left of the woman she had been before Kevin died, when Maggie was a child. The hard blows and the losses in her life had destroyed her.

       Maggie had stopped working for Brad full-time when the baby was born, and helped him out two days a week when Aden started kindergarten. She liked working in the office with him. He had inherited the business by then, it was doing better than ever, and Brad was proud to own and run it.

   He and Maggie were happy, more than she had ever expected to be. She had always thought she would marry a man like her father, handsome and rakish, daring and brave. Brad was an attractive man, but he had none of the wild impulses of her father or brother. He was what she had wanted, a man who was never going to surprise her or frighten her with a roller coaster ride through life. She didn’t want that. She loved knowing that their life would continue on the same reliable path forever. She needed that now. Brad and Aden were all she had.

   Her only worry was that Aden had the Kelly bloodline in his veins, and as much as she preached the same things that her mother had, about the value of stability and leading a safe life, risk-taking came naturally to him. He had climbed a tree at five and she had to call the fire department to get him down. He had gone too high on the jungle gym at school, fallen, and broken an arm. He was a ski racer at thirteen and fourteen, had a concussion at fifteen when he fell off a horse, and wanted to get right back on. She was constantly trying to tame him. He wanted to try every dangerous sport he could think of, and he loved going to skateboard parks with his board and learning terrifying tricks from the pros. It was hard to keep him down. He played lacrosse briefly in high school, which was a brutal sport, and rapidly switched to hockey, which was more so. He was a good athlete and had a natural aptitude for it. Maggie did everything she could to discourage him. Brad worried about it less than she did and said he was “just a boy,” but she had seen firsthand what that could lead to, and she kept a tight leash on him, as best she could. She didn’t want Aden to get hurt.

       In his junior year in high school, he joined the ice hockey team and was the best player on the team. In his senior year, he was applying for hockey scholarships in college, which limited him to schools in the Northeast and Midwest.

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