Julie got up, walked quickly across the hall, and returned with a handful of tissues from the powder room.
"I thought," Katherine said chokily, reaching for a tissue and dabbing at her streaming eyes, "that you'd gone upstairs to pack your bag so you could leave my revolting presence."
Wrapping her in a fierce hug, Julie whispered, "You're still my best friend." Then she let her go and moved to the opposite end of the sofa, blowing her own nose.
After a few minutes, the two girls faced each other, wearing sheepish smiles and dabbing at the last of the tears lingering in their eyes. "What a mess!" Julie said.
Katherine blew her nose. "What an understatement!" With a wobbly smile, she added, "I think what we both need is two weeks at my parents' house in St. Barts. Can you plead exhaustion from your ordeal and get Duncan to give you a short leave of absence? We'll forget all about men and toast ourselves in the sun. What do you say?"
Drawing her knees up against her chest, Julie wrapped her arms around them and perched her chin on her knees, "I say," she decreed, "that you'd better stay right here if you intend to win Ted back before it's too late. He's seeing a lot of Grace Halvers, did you know that?"
Katherine nodded at the mention of the beautiful red-head. "I found out from Mr. Kealing when I took some laundry there last week because my parents' washing machine was broken. Can you guess what he said when he saw me?" When Julie shook her head, Katherine provided miserably, "He looked at me like I was a useless child and said, 'How many husbands are you going to have before you finally figure out how to use a washing machine?' And then," Katherine added, "he said, 'I'll bet Grace Halvers won't make Ted Mathison do the laundry and shopping and cooking if she's lucky enough to get him. Nor will Sue Ellen Jury if she beats Gracie out of the running.'"
Julie frowned in thought, then shook her head. "Despite what I said about Ted and Grace a minute ago, I don't think Ted ever intends to remarry."
Instead of being reassured, Katherine seemed to wilt with guilt. "Ted should be married to someone, even if it isn't me. He was the sort of sexy, tender husband that most women only dream of having for their own. It would be a crime if he never remarried. He was impossible to dominate or manipulate, which drove me crazy when I was young, but he was incredibly gentle, and on those occasions when I had enough sense to simply ask for what I wanted, instead of trying to demand or wheedle, he was amazingly willing to bend or yield." A note of wonder crept into her voice as she lifted her gaze to Julie's and finished, "We may have been terribly mismatched in a lot of ways, but we were in love with each other within hours of when we met. It was like—like spontaneous combustion."
"The two of you still have that," Julie teased, trying to cheer up her friend. "After watching both of you tonight, I think it's safe to say that you are still a highly volatile combination. Poor Carl," she chuckled, "he looked like he wanted to leap for cover when you two started sparring with each other. And you know what?" she finished seriously. "For Ted to react so strongly to you, even in a negative way, he must still feel something for you."
"He does. It's contempt," Katherine provided. Sadly, she added, "If Ted won't give me anything else before I give up and go back to Dallas, I have to find a way to earn his forgiveness. I don't know how I'm going to do that. For one thing, he avoids me like the plague."
Julie flashed her a smile as she got up and began to stack their dishes onto the trays. "I think I can be of assistance there. How about helping me out after school with our handicapped sports program? I need volunteers who are willing to get mowed down by wheelchairs and tripped by flailing crutches on the football field and gymnasium floor."
"It's not exactly in line with my art degree, but it sounds wonderful," Katherine joked, picking up one of the trays and walking with Julie toward the kitchen, "and I accept the offer. Now, what idea did you have to prevent Ted from avoiding me?"
"That was it. Ted works with the kids two days a week—sometimes more often. And I could really use your help teaching my ladies to read. You won't believe the satisfaction you'll get from that."
In the enormous kitchen, Julie put down the tray on the stainless-steel countertop then she turned to look around at the commercial cooktops and ovens that were used for the senior Cahills' famous parties. Preoccupied, she didn't realize that Katherine was standing close behind her until the other girl said softly, "Julie?" When she turned, she found herself wrapped in a tight hug. "I've missed you so much!" Katherine whispered fiercely, hugging her tighter. "Thank you for keeping our friendship alive with your letters and phone calls and the visits you made to see me in Dallas. I wanted so badly to tell you the truth about my marriage to Ted, but I was always afraid you'd hate me if you knew."
"I could never hate you," Julie said, hugging her.
"You're the kindest, sweetest person I've ever known."
Julie pulled back and rolled her eyes. "Right," she teased.
"You are," Katherine persisted. "I used to want to be just like you."
"You're lucky you didn't succeed." Julie said, her face sobering as she thought of Zack. "If you were just like me, you'd have gushed all over Ted tonight about how much you love him, and then he'd have walked all over your heart and sent you home." Katherine started to say something sympathetic, but Julie who was suddenly and perilously close to tears, shook her head to stop her. "I'll be okay in a few days. I'm tired now and my defenses are down, but I'll forget all about him and be just fine, you'll see. Let's call it a night."
Katherine slid a pan of sourdough biscuits into the oven and glanced up in surprise as the intercom at the front gates began to buzz insistently on the kitchen wall. Wiping her hands on a dish towel, she pressed the button. "Yes?"
"Is this Miss Cahill?"
Pointedly ignoring that, she said, "Who is this?"
"Paul Richardson," the voice replied impatiently. "Is Julie Mathison with you?"
"Mr. Richardson," Katherine said darkly, "it is seven-thirty in the morning! Julie and I are still in our robes. Go away and come back at a civilized hour, say eleven. I should think the FBI would teach its agents better manners," she added, then she gaped at the intercom speaker because she thought he actually chuckled at her reprimand.